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Amateur Radio: National Traffic System (NTS) – When all else fails. Or, When Twitter is down!

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There are a lot of people who read this blog that know nothing about Amateur Radio. Perhaps some of you are wondering about the doomsday scenario – no doubt to befall us at the end of the Mayan calendar in December 2012. Or perhaps it’s a lesser event, such as a hurricane or some other disaster.

No more global communication for you…

So what do you do when your smartphone is down? You know, that global communication device in your pocket. If you lose that no more texting, no more twittering, you can’t send a photograph, you won’t know your GPS location, you won’t be able to stream a movie. If you lose the capability of that smartphone device you won’t be able to pay for the mocha latte at Starbucks. If you lose the capability of that device you won’t be able to have a video chat with aunt Mary to see if she is OK. Forget the face-time video, you won’t even be able to talk to her.  Given this new situation, you won’t be able to update your Facebook status and alert your friends of your situation.  Surely,  in the context of our always-connected digital life, the world has ended.

In short, your global communication device and all the infrastructure that has to be working to support it – is gone.  What now?

Amateur Radio National Traffic System

Never fear. Amateur Radio has something called the National Traffic System (NTS). In brief (there are a lot of links to detailed info below) Amateur Radio operators, using a network of point to point private radio systems will get your all important message to just about anywhere in the world.

The NTS  is “idling” when not in use for the Mayan end of the world or a local or national disaster. Amateur Radio operators are sending self-generated messages to constantly ensure that the network of volunteer operators, the network, and the radio equipment is up and working.

How it works…

The Wikipedia has a somewhat colorful example of how the Amateur Radio National Traffic System works. Here it is:

This process is best explained by an example. Let’s say that someone in Minnesota wants to send a birthday greeting to Aunt Mary in California. They telephone their local ham friend and give him the message.

At 6:30 local time, the Minnesota ham attends (“checks in to”) the Minnesota Section net. One station there has been designated to accept all outgoing messages, and Aunt Mary’s message is sent to that station.
At 7:45, the station who received the message checks in to the Region net. This net consists of representatives from all the section nets in the region, and one station has been designated to accept all traffic that flows out of the region. Aunt Mary’s greeting will be sent to this station.
At 8:30, the station from the region checks into the Area net and sends Aunt Mary’s greeting to the designated representative from the Pacific area.
At 8:30 Pacific Time, the Pacific Area net meets. (All the area nets meet at 8:30 local time; since they are in different time zones there is no overlap.) At this point the process is repeated in the opposite order
The area representative sends the message to the appropriate region representative,
The region representative meets a later session of the region net and sends the message to the appropriate section representative,
The section representative meets a later section net and sends the message to the closest operator to Aunt Mary’s home
The final recipient calls Aunt Mary on the telephone and delivers the greeting.

Perhaps this sounds rather complex, but it really isn’t. Each net uses the same procedure and operating techniques, so as novice operators gain experience they can “graduate” from section to region to area nets. Every message is placed into the same format. The operation is disciplined but not unduly complex.

The NTS uses a variety of modes of Amateur Radio communication to transmit your message. Of special interest is the Brass Pounders. These are folks, that, with a bit of nostalgia, use Morse code and (brass) telegraph keys to transmit the message.

Try it for yourself…

You, the private citizen might want to try this NTS system out by contacting a local amateur radio operator and having them send a “Radiogram”.

What says “Happy Birthday” to Aunt Mary better than a Radiogram sent through the Amateur Radio National Traffic System and perhaps handled by a Brass Pounder? That, for sure, beats an e-Card from Hallmark or even a talking birthday card sent through the postal mail.

Read (lots) more

You can find out what the NTS is all about in this presentation.

Below are lots of references where you can read more about the NTS

What is the government doing to ensure survivability of communications – Presidential Executive Order


Written by frrl

July 11, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Main Trading Company – A Success Story

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In the past, I purchased some items from Main Trading Company.  I first found them on e-bay.  They had what I wanted at the right price.  So I made my purchase. I received more than what I expected, it was packed well, and the shipping was free on an item with a competitive price. Good for me; good for them.

From time to time they send me an e-mail telling me about new products or special deals. They do not overwhelm my e-mail box to the point that I un-subscribe to their mailings. All in all – A++. I would buy from them again and recommend them to others.

So, big deal. I am a happy customer, and they are selling stuff and making money. Case closed.

Adversity as Opportunity

But today I got another e-mail from them. This time it was different.

Richard Lenoir-KI5DX, the owner of Main Trading Company sent an e-mail to his customers with a success story.

It was his success story of how he, along with his wife, started a new business Main Trading Company after losing thier jobs.

I know this message is way too long and if I have not lost you so far I hope it doesn’t sound like we are bragging. We are not. This is just one amazing story and it has to be shared. We stand amazed every day. With all the negative stuff around us, we just feel we have to share this.

At the end of the email I wanted to name many folks that have helped us and made this business possible. The truth is, I cant. Every time I think I am at the bottom of the list , we come up with a few more. We have some pretty amazing friends, family and customers. Thank you so much for sharing this and making this ride possible. Without you it could have never happened.

So, I am posting this story, because I agree with Richard, that even though the economy is down and you may have lost your job, there is always a way to get back on your feet if you have an idea, drive, motivation, friends, and business sense. When faced with a job loss some people just give up, get depressed, or try to work the entitlement system living off other people’s wealth and labor. Other people use adversity as opportunity. I think “adversity as opportunity” is the story of Main Trading Company.

So, if you need a little inspiration, and the proof that it can be accomplished, here it is

Hello Friends!

Don’t click away just yet! We are not selling anything! We just wanted to take a minute to say thanks. It was three years ago today that we turned the lock for the first time and turned the first home made sign around at MTC. Many of you have been with us from the very beginning when we first started in the little restaurant building downtown. . Do you remember? We couldn’t afford a sign, shelving or anything. How we started is quite a long story as many of you know already. I hate to tell it again but it is really worth telling. We are amazed and very thankful to you, our customer.

In February 2009 I (Richard Lenoir) lost my job in sales. With the terrible local economy we didn’t know exactly what to do. We started buying a little surplus from home and putting it on ebay. Our ebay user name was maintradingcompany. Kind of a goofy name huh? I was going to DFW maybe once a week bring back a load of stuff to sell locally and on the net.

Many locals looked forward to me getting back to dig through the fun. Christy, my wife, worked in radio at the time and would help me unload the pick-up onto the patio. When she and the kids would leave for work and school in the morning our living room would be transformed into a warehouse. I would list all of the stuff and then pack and ship everything that sold the night before.

Packing peanuts get really messy. We still find them at times when we move something. I started bidding on several pallets at a time and was shocked when we won our first 8 pallet load. We ran into our first problem. How do we get eight pallets from DFW to our patio? We hired a moving company to move them. We continued to use the moving company for over a year to move the freight until we found out how to hire freight companies. We really thought we were big time when the driver showed up at our house and lowered the pallets down and rolled them up under our patio! I think Christy was actually having second thoughts although she never said a word. We sold all of that first load and got another. We then thought it would be a good idea, or at least I did, to put in a store front to let people look through the stuff before it went to ebay. After looking we found the perfect spot. It was the old Tropicana Restaurant Downtown Paris. It was just a little bigger than our living room. The owner agreed to rent it to us very cheap.

Christy and I had $2500, that is it. We were broke. We bought a few shelves, a computer and since we already had the assumed name certificate of Main Trading Company, we used that. We had some lettering done on the window and on June fourth we opened for business. Being a ham radio operator I wanted to carry a little used ham gear in the store too. As we sold our surplus we put the money back in inventory and equipment. We cut our living expenses way back. We prayed allot. We needed a little more capital. My parents helped out and I went to see our banker at the best local bank in town. I told him what we were doing and asked for a small loan. For some reason he let us have it. We were in big business now! With more product we started getting more walk in business.

Next step was the website. We had to have one. We got the site up and running and started putting our wares online. I remembered I had several hundred email address from promoting the Paris Hamfest so I started emailing many of you back then. Our business grew. We are not business people at all but we believe in treating

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Written by frrl

June 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Saturday Night Live on Amateur Radio

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A thousand television channels and nothing to watch?  A million movies on Netflix and nothing interesting?  Every track of music every recorded available to you on-demand and nothing you want to listen to?

Why not listen to the Amateur Radio Liberty Net?  Don’t have a radio?  – not a problem.  Not available when it’s on live on Saturday night? – not a problem, you can listen to recordings of past Liberty Nets anytime.

Check out The Liberty Net – live on Saturday night.  Not a ham?  That’s good, listen anyway.  Participate over the internet via live chat.

The rise of wireless also set off a popular movement to democratize media, as hundreds of thousands of “amateur operators” took to the airwaves. It was the original blogosphere. “On every night after dinner,” wrote Francis Collins in the 1912 book Wireless Man, “the entire country becomes a vast whispering gallery.”

Here’s your chance to listen to the legacy of the  wireless “whispering gallery” of Amateur Radio that Collins wrote about 100 years ago.

Written by frrl

May 6, 2012 at 3:25 am

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The Answers: Why pay $1,300 for an unbuilt Heathkit? Why be a Broadcast Engineer?

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The Human side of Technology

Behind those people who have a passion for what they do – be that engineering or otherwise – there is sometimes a very human story. It’s too bad that education in electronics and engineering do not tell any human stories of the people behind engineering.

You can find these stories but they are not in the books that engineers typically read or the education that is provided in formal engineering courses.

Why would anyone pay $1300 for an un-built Heathkit GR-54 General Coverage Communications Receiver ?

So, on my perusal of e-bay one day I saw that someone bid in excess of $700 for a un-built Heathkit radio. Up for bid was a Heathkit GR-54 General Coverage Communications Receiver. I picked up that same radio for $25. Why would anyone bid $700+ for a 40+ year old box parts?

Well, the e-bay auction closed with a winning bid of $1,378.57.

I posted an article about the auction on this site. The winning bidder of the Heathkit GR-54 found us.

So, do you want to know why someone would pay $1,300+ for a box of parts?

Here is the explanation of the winning bidder, Mark Grandy WD8RJJ, on why he bought the radio. It’s a great story

I am surprised to find comments regarding the GR-54 which I purchased a few years ago. Yes, I’m the guy who paid almost $1400.00 for a box of parts…. I thought you’d like to know why.

Read the entire article and Mark’s story here

Why be a Broadcast Engineer?

That question was posed to me this afternoon by a coworker. It is, indeed, a good question. Certainly, broadcast engineering is more of a vocation than a career, especially where it concerns radio stations. Why would anyone work for low wages, long hours, little or no recognition, 24/7 on call, and or unappreciative management.

Further, in this risk adverse, zero defect, micromanaged environment, what is the upside to being a radio, RF or broadcast engineer?

Another great question.  And, another great answer from Paul Thurst

Read Paul’s reason  here and visit his excellent website here:

Too bad books on electronics engineering do not tell the human side of technology. Too bad many engineers don’t seek out these stories and preserve them.  Too bad that executives as well as society and media sometimes casts engineering into the stereotype of geek and nerds (read) (read)

What could be learned if more engineers could tell stories like Mark and Paul?  There is more to engineering than a passion for technology and this is the reason that certain people persist in vocations, careers, and jobs even, in some cases, as Paul puts it “[they work for] low wages, long hours, little or no recognition, 24/7 on call, and or unappreciative management.  Or, even as Mark demonstrated, they pay $1300+ for an old box of parts.  For Mark the Heathkit which he bought has far more value as emotion and remembrance than simply a box of parts from a once great company.  The value, in non-technical terms, is the difference between what he paid ($1,300) and the salvage value of the parts, perhaps $25.

Where are the rest of these stories of passion, dedication, and a drive for excellence?

Written by frrl

March 31, 2012 at 4:02 pm

When all else fails

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Part of the relevancy of Amateur Radio in the 21st Century is the idea that “When all else fails” Amateur Radio will be there.

From the ARRL

Despite the complexity of modern commercial communications – or perhaps BECAUSE they are so complex – Amateur Radio operators are regularly called upon to provide communications when other systems are down or overloaded.

You can check out what the ARRL has to say here:

What is the “else” in…When all else fails?

Did you ever wonder what has to fail? Curiosity led me to find the Statewide Communications Interoperability Plan for my state – Illinois

Here is the scope of that plan

The Statewide Communications Interoperability Plan, or SCIP, serves as the operational blueprint for the conceptualization, procurement, implementation, and usage of interoperable communications by Illinois’ public safety agencies and non- governmental/private organizations. The development of the SCIP was a cooperative effort by a consortium of federal, state, and local public safety practitioners working through the Illinois Terrorism Task Force’s Communications Committee and the Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee. Annual reviews/updates to the SCIP will be conducted under the auspices of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

The SCIP is much more than a user’s guide to radio communications. The plan outlines Illinois’ interoperability vision, its mission, and the goals, objectives, and strategic initiatives that will be employed to achieve that vision. It establishes standard operating procedures that will be followed by public safety practitioners when responding to disasters or significant incidents and underscores Illinois’ adherence to the tenets of the National Incident Management System. The plan sets forth the methodology that will be used to assess Illinois’ current interoperable capabilities, defines the governance role of the Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee, and details funding strategies to achieve Illinois’ interoperability vision.,, Most importantly, however, the SCIP demonstrates Illinois’ uncompromising commitment to bring communications interoperability to all of its governmental/non- governmental public safety agencies.

It’s a fascinating read.  In this plan you will find tons of frequencies providing the opportunity to “listen in” on drills and actual emergency communications  (link)

The Bigger Picture

The bigger picture, for Illinois, is located here

Illinois Emergency Management Agency

Disaster Preparedness, Response & Recovery

And then there is FEMA.

Check out the National Response Framework

FEMA offers more than 100 training courses on-line for free

So how does all this fit in with Amateur Radio?

Read the Public Service Communications Manual from the ARRL

Here are some resources from an Illinois ARES group

Mystery Projects – FEMA/DHS AM backup transmitters

And finally, this  article from the Radio Engineering Blog

What is the deal with those FEMA/DHS AM backup transmitters?

Back last February, it was reported that FEMA/Department of Homeland Security was mysteriously constructing prepackaged AM transmitter buildings at various PEP (Primary Entry Point) transmitter sites across the country as something call “Primary Entry Point Expansion.” These buildings contain a 5 KW Nautel AM transmitter, EAS gear, satellite equipment (the exact equipment list is undisclosed) and a backup generator all in a shielded (Faraday Cage), prefabricated building placed inside of a fenced in compound at the station’s transmitter site. The buildings are being put in place, but not connected to anything in the outside world. They are planning to have about 80 (the number keeps increasing) of these structures in place when the project is completed by mid 2013.

Read the entire posting here –

The Take

If all the above is the “else” … and  “If all else fails” I’m not sure I want to be around. Or perhaps, if all else fails, none of us may have a choice to be around or not.

Read a related article on this site –

Written by frrl

February 4, 2012 at 7:44 am

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Engineering Radio

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For those interested the technical aspects of Radio… and the really big stuff of commercial broadcast transmitters… and radio history … and some editorial comments thrown in for good measure… then this is a heck of a good find… and a tremendous effort by Paul Thurst…

Check out this web site –

Written by frrl

February 3, 2012 at 7:44 pm

A 1960’s Astatic D-104 Mic in the 21’st century – a real baby boomer

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I made a pass through my basement to see what “valuable radio artifacts” (some call it junk) I could unearth.  I discovered a couple of Astatic D-104 Microphones.  (See more old Mics).  These Mics were made a long time ago and Astatic has a rich history going  back to 1933.

Here is a bit of history from the Wikipedia on Astatic and the D-104

Introduced in 1933, the Astatic model D-104 was popular for its high frequency response which resulted in very intelligible audio.

Its high output voltage was characteristic of crystal elements and its high impedance allowed for direct grid input. The early D-104 mikes used a 1″ thick case and have a large ID tag along with tapped holes for “ring & spring” mounts. The case thickness was reduced in April 1937 and smaller tags were then used and the ring holes eliminated. The “grip” switch stand (“G” Stand) was introduced in January 1938 but didn’t become popular until much later. The early “G” stand bases were gloss black with metal ID tag.

The D-104 continued in production with little change until the 1960s when a solid-state amplifier was added to the “G” stand. In 1976, an eagle and shield was added to the rear cover to commemorate the US Bicentennial. Other variations appeared from time to time until 2001, when production ceased, 68 years after the first D-104 was offered. [4]

The D-104 is often used by CB radio hobbyists and vintage amateur radio enthusiasts as part of their operating activities.

I bought the D-104’s about 5 years ago for use with my collection of vintage Kenwood (see them) and Heathkit (see them) radios.

It Worked the last time I used it !!

Once unearthed I found that one of the D-104’s worked and one did not.  “It worked that last time I used it” is a familiar phrase well known by all  who attend hamfests or flea markets.  At a hamfest or flea market the seller wants to dispose of items in the most expedient way possible.  To say that it worked the last time they used it is a good use of plausibility deniability for the seller (but bad for you the buyer).  If you’re a seller, don’t test the item.  Ignorance is bliss… and this blissful strategy could make a fast sale.  If you are a buyer, don’t forget to ask the seller about the 30/30 guarantee – 30 feet or 30 seconds.  Doubtful you will get any more than this.

But, both D-104’s really did work that last time I used it.  Really, no kidding. So I have plans for both of these D-104 microphones.  Use one.  Gut one and find out why it doesn’t work – (stay tuned for a posting on this)

The D-104 on a modern radio – the Yaesu FT-7800

The Astatic D-104 was designed in the age of tube radios which require a high impedance microphone.  High impedance is usually 5,000 – 10,000 ohms.  Modern solid state radios generally want a microphone of about 600 ohms impedance.

Would the Astatic D-104’s work with my modern Yaesu FT-7800 dual band VHF/UHF radio?   (read my review of this radio)

Nothing like giving it a try.

Spit and Bailing Wire

Since I was not sure if it would work I jury rigged a setup using a terminal strip, alligator clips, a telephone extension cable, and some paper clips.  It took about 10 minutes to set this up.

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Written by frrl

January 28, 2012 at 8:24 am

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