Sunday, September 06, 2009

A Rosetta Stone

As I mentioned in my post earlier today, I'm using a new service that allows me to post to multiple locations at once. As I mentioned, I'm still "tuning" that service a bit, so some of you saw my post about ham radio who hadn't seen any of my previous posts.

For a while now, I've been posting to a blog about my ham radio activities. If you care to read it, it's located at In many of the posts, I'll either directly post an explanation about an unfamiliar term, or at least provide a link to a place where you can learn more information about that term. In the post earlier today which many of you saw via Facebook, I used a fair amount of jargon without explanation. So far I've gotten one "Huh??" (sorry Mona) and I suspect that there are a bunch of you who were thinking the same thing. In an attempt to provide at least a vague idea of what the heck I was talking about, I'd like to try to explain a few of the terms that I used.

DX - DX is ham radio shorthand for "distant station". In the context of the subject of my last post ("Finally, some new DX"), it means that I have made contact with a station relatively far away, and in this case, as the posting goes on to explain, I contacted a station in a new country.

Country isn't actually accurate. I participate in a program where you can earn awards for contacting stations in different locations. For the most part, a "location" is a country, but because of distance and other rules that I won't go into here, Alaska and Hawaii, although both states, count separately from the continental US. These locations are referred to as DXCC Entities, because DXCC is the name of the awards program. (If you're still interested, drop me a note and I can explain further.)

20m - That's short for 20 meters, which refers to the general radio frequency that I was using. It's a shorthand way to tell fellow hams where the contact was made. 20 meters is pretty much the same as saying 14 megahertz, and megahertz (abbreviated Mhz)is a term that you might be a little more familiar with. For instance, in the US, broadcast FM stations transmit between around 88 to 108 Mhz. (e.g., in the NY City area, a popular Classic Rock station is Q1043, which broadcasts on 104.3 Mhz.

CW - Most people know this as Morse Code. The abbreviation of CW stands for "Continuous Wave", which is a description of how morse code is actually transmitted most of the time on the radio.

Split up 2 - I'm going to gloss over this (because I'm trying not to write War and Peace - The Amateur Radio Years), but it has to do with where the operator running the remote station is listening for people calling him versus where he is transmitting.

K2DBK vs. K2DB - Ham radio operators (or hams) are licensed by their country governments. (In the US, the FCC issues licenses). By international convention, each station licensee receives a callsign, just like a commercial radio station. In the example above, the station known as Q1043 is actually licensed as WXRK, and if you listen, even though the DJs refer to the station as Q104 or Q1043, they will "ID" using the WXRK callsign periodically, as required by law. Callsigns for all types of radio stations (including amateur, or ham stations) are determined by international convention. Part of that convention says what a callsign can look like, including numbers, letters, and so on. Skimming over a lot of things, in the US, most callsigns start with W, N, K, or A, and there are rules that specify that there must be so many letters and where the number goes. (For any fellow hams reading this, yes, I am oversimplifying this.) My personal callsign is K2DBK. In this particular case, it's what's known as a vanity call (very much like a vanity license plate) with the "DBK" at the end being my initials. It turns out that K2DB is also a valid call, which is assigned to a nice guy named Paul.

599 - When two stations make a contact with each other, each station has to make sure that they have received the other station's callsign correctly, and generally there is an exchange of a report of signal strength. (How well can the other station hear me, and how well do I hear him.) 599 is a shorthand that basically says "I hear your loud and clear". As it turns out, quite often, a 599 report is sent even if you don't hear the other station that well, but it fills the requirement.

Solar Flux, A and K index and solar conditions - Solar Flux, A and K are numbers used by those interested in propagation. For long distance communications, we bounce our radio signals off the ionosphere. In very simple terms, the more sunspots there are, the easier it is to bounce our signals. You may have read that we are at a point of very low solar activity (virtually no sunspots), which makes communicating via radio over these long distances much more difficult. A simple way to understand this is to imagine someone holding a mirror 10 feet above you at night. If the mirror is dirty (bad solar conditions), a flashlight beam will bounce off of it, but not very well. On the other hand, if the mirror is nice and shiny, the beam will travel better.

So I hope this is helpful to some of you. If you're interested in more information, please don't hesitate to ask.

Posted via email from k2dbk's posterous