PUTTING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
By Paul Toth-NB9X
I have recently been streaming episodes of the Fox Television series “24” and taking notes while doing so. For those of you who never caught up with “Jack Bauer” when the series first aired in the early 2000s, the post-911 show depicts several different domestic terrorism incidents that each plays out over a twenty-four-hour timespan and features the Los Angeles-based Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) and superhero Bauer as they try to defeat the bad guys.
I watched the series when it first aired because it was a good drama and well-produced. Now in reprise and almost twenty years later, it is fascinating to see how much the technology used in the series has changed. For example, you won’t find a “smartphone” anywhere to be found, at least not on most of the episodes. It hadn’t been created yet. Instead, the “flip phone” was the leading edge appliance of that era. Some of those phones were outfitted with still image cameras with a substantially lower resolution than those that are standard fare now. But if you needed to look at an image in any detail, it needed to be sent to a computer or a PDA (remember those?). (..more..)
-September 13, 2021
Holiday Repeaters Status
The new Riverview repeaters are now on the air and on their new antennas. From my home location, the 442.550 analog repeater has a comparable signal. The NXDN repeater appears to be a little weaker but still an acceptable signal.
We have some fine tuning to do, particularly with the IP side of the operation. The replacement wireless router for the platform did not work satisfactorily. As a result, the original router is still in the cabinet. I will be visiting Riverview tomorrow to determine why some stuff is not working correctly.
But for now, the Riverview site is back on the air.
73 de Paul-NB9X
-August 17, 2021
THE LAST MILE OR THE EXTRA MILE
By Paul Toth-NB9X
Some of you who are reading this article have no memories or recollection of those days when the telephone was ONLY a wired device. You simply hadn’t been born yet. Up until the early 1980s (and that’s not all that long ago), telephones required a wired connection. Touch-tone phones were even more demanding as they required a wired connection that observed polarity, that is, one wire was positive, the other was negative.
Sure, there were “wireless” communications devices and systems out there, primarily for Public Safety and Amateur Radio. It was half-duplex, Push-To-Talk two-way radio and not all that different than what still is in use today. Wireless communications for the masses, as we know it today, is a relatively recent development. It was followed shortly thereafter by something even more robust, Wireless Internet. And, yes, it has changed our lives in many significant ways.
When cellular and wireless networks were first introduced, they were billed as “Last Mile” technology. (..more..)
-August 3, 2021
A WHOLE LOTTA NOISE GOIN’ ON
By Paul Toth-NB9X
Some years ago (I am not telling just how many), a lot more of my Ham Radio time was taken up on the HF bands. I will admit I did have a lot of fun contesting. I also enjoyed my time on the MARS bands. But, like anything, you can get too much of a good thing and after a while some other events in my life caused me to move away from HF.
For those operators who have never explored HF, it is a substantially different operating platform than VHF and UHF. With a few exceptions, everything is in SIMPLEX mode. Yes, there are some 10 Meter FM repeaters on the air. If the band is OPEN (and depending on the sunspot cycle that can be a BIG if), you might be lucky enough to have a QSO on one. But most HF operations today are either Single Sideband (voice) or they use some digital mode. For those of you who think VHF-UHF Digital Voice is a free-for-all, just look sometime at how many low throughput HF digital modes there are.
There are many other challenges with HF. Chief among them is the size of the antenna needed to operate on every band. If your backyard space is limited, so, too, maybe your options when looking to erect an efficient antenna. The size of an HF antenna is “significant” compared to most VHF-UHF antennas. But, don’t feel bad if you are relegated to operating with a simple wire antenna like the G5RV. I have had many, many contacts with the G5RVs I used. One plus of the G5RV: The cost of this antenna will not break your budget.
Some other challenges are far more difficult to overcome. Two of them are your neighbors and the impact of “new technology” that you have no control over. I, personally, never have had to deal with the “grouch” who blames you and your Ham Radio station for all the woes in their life. But I have heard horror stories from many other Hams who have. There is nothing more annoying and psychologically debilitating than having to deal with someone who knows nothing about RF and is blaming you and your “Ham Radio Station” for everything that makes them unhappy. There are also the people who live by the motto “My Way or the Highway”, although most of them have now moved into Deed Restricted neighborhoods, are busy running the HOA and driving everyone nuts. (..more..)
-July 20, 2021
GETTING READY FOR THE NEXT STORM
By Paul Toth-NB9X
By many accounts, our brush with Hurricane Elsa was a good warm-up exercise. Wind damage was minimal. Coastal flooding was also a lot less than it could have been. Our biggest problem was inland flooding caused by significant rainfall. In some cases, that rainfall occurred many miles removed from where the worst flooding has occurred. That certainly has been the case in Northport (Southern Sarasota County) where rainfall runoff from the Northern part of Sarasota County and Eastern Manatee County filled the streets in some Northport neighborhoods for the first time in five or more years.
The influx of new residents into many of our communities has areas that were previously undeveloped has created a new severe weather baseline. It created a first time experience for many that should not be ignored. And, this new normal is something community leaders cannot afford to ignore either because if it can happen once, it will happen again.
Every Tropical Weather event is also an opportunity for new Hams and not-so-new Hams alike to, as the saying goes, “get their feet wet” with their radios. I was a bit surprised by the sheer number of operators with KM4, KN4 and KO4 prefix call signs requesting on-air radio checks during the Tuesday night and Wednesday morning of Elsa. On one hand, it was gratifying to know these Hams were there and wanted confirmation they could be heard on the NI4CE repeater system. On the other hand, as a Net Control Station, these radio check requests also served as a distraction during a time when the weather was changing minute by minute.
I have been thinking about how we can help all operators, particularly new ones, be better prepared for the next storm. Here are a couple of thoughts. (..more..)
-July 12, 2021
HATS OFF TO THE VEs
By Paul Toth-NB9X
Recently, I had the distinct honor to help five new Amateur Radio license candidates earn their first Amateur Radio license. At a time when many people think Amateur Radio is a thing of the past, something relegated to some museum somewhere, it is heartening to know there are still some people interested in jumping into the “RF Pool” and who are willing to do the work to earn their license and all that comes with it.
Amateur Radio Test Sessions, with very few exceptions, were put on hold during the pandemic. That’s because the testing of a license candidate must be in the presence of three licensed Amateur Radio operators (usually Amateur Extra class license holders) who have also earned their Volunteer Examiner accreditation.
The process of how Amateur Radio Test Sessions are conducted date back to the early 1980s when the FCC turned over its responsibility for conducting the licensing sessions to the Amateur Radio community. I know the process may seem a bit archaic in the day and age of computers, videoconferencing, and Remote Learning. But this important requirement, testing, in person and before a panel of your peers, is not all that different than that required by many professional licensing and accreditation organizations. The biggest difference with VEs is they are all volunteers. (..more..)
-June 21, 2021
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Communication is an essential part of any Emergency Plan, be it personal or for business. The following link is to a video recorded recently with WCFG, Inc. President Paul Toth-NB9X. It explores the communications options that are available to everyone and how they can be used in an emergency.
-June 10, 2021
WHERE ARE THE ANSWERS?
By Paul Toth-NB9X
During the last few weeks, I have had an opportunity to do some work-related traveling. It allowed me to note some important changes taking place to the landscape, not just here in Florida but in several other neighboring states.
There are new subdivisions and new commercial and industrial developments cropping up all over the place. As people re-locate from the Northeast and other locales, they need a place to live, to shop, to work. I also noticed another kind of development, rows upon rows of solar panels now dotting the countryside. Some of these solar farms are very visible from major highways; I-75, i-95, and I-10 to be sure. Some are off the beaten path, what you might say “out in the middle of nowhere”, occupying land that had previously been used for raising cattle, grouping crops, or on property (particularly in Georgia) where trees are the renewable cash crop, used for everything from lumber to Kleenex and other paper products. And while there still appeared to be a lot of forested land remaining, it is highly unlikely these not so insignificant plots now home to rows of solar panels will ever be forested again.
I am not against capturing and using energy from the wind and sun. B8ut what is the Master Plan here? And if there is one, why isn’t it out in the open for public view, being discussed and debated? Or is this whole effort to obsolete fossil fuels one of those “throw as much stuff against the wall and let’s see what sticks” endeavors? (..more..)
-June 1, 2021
BASIC EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS
By Paul Toth-NB9X
This past weekend, members of the West Central Florida Group, Inc. Board participated in the St. Pete Beach (Pinellas County) Hurricane Expo. It afforded us a great opportunity to speak with a number of people about Ham Radio and basic Emergency Preparedness.
Yes, we live in a part of the world that is prone to not only hurricanes and tropical weather events as well as tornadoes, hail and flooding rainfall. Now that our Summer time thunderstorm season is about to begin, it is a good time to make sure we are ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at us. That means plenty of “essential supplies” on hand; water, non-perishable food, basic and prescription medications, batteries, lanterns and flashlights. If you are a homeowner, you might consider a “Blue Tarp” or two.
But not every emergency is weather-related. Just last week, the lights went out at our house right as we were sitting down to eat dinner. Nine and a half hours later, power was restored after Duke Energy crews located and repaired a relatively new (two years old) underground feeder line that broke. Another part of our “emergency preparedness” is having a generator and about ten gallons of fuel on hand at all times just for events like this one. (..more..)
-May 17, 2021
KINKS IN THE ARMOR
By Paul Toth-NB9X
If someone told you one hundred years ago that you need to live without electricity, you would have probably laughed them right out of the neighborhood. If that same person told you the Global Positioning System (GPS) was vulnerable and you would have to find a way to live and work without it, you would have probably given them the proverbial “Deer in the Headlamps” look and uttered a questioning “Huh”.
That was then. This is 2021. There are few places in the U.S. where electricity cannot be found. Life without it for most people is considered “extreme” hardship. And life without GPS, something that wasn’t even invented until the latter part of the last century, that, too, would stop a lot of things cold! So, why then are our elected Representatives in Congress ignoring these two critical issues? Must the Electric Grid and the GPS system FAIL before they will act? (..more..)
-April 5, 2021
THE CHALLENGES OF SPRING
By Paul Toth-NB9X
Yes, Spring (the season) is officially here. For many Floridians, that means warmer temperatures, greener trees, the sweet scent of orange blossoms wafting through the air and, of course, the return of Daylight Saving Time. For those Floridians with allergies, the last couple weeks of March and the first couple weeks of April can also be one aspect of Spring you can do without.
Spring can also have a dramatic impact on Amateur Radio, particularly on the VHF and UHF bands and frequencies even higher. The lack of tree foliage during January and February spoils us. The leaves that populate Florida’s vast tree population have run their life cycle and are now on the ground. That creates new openings for radio waves and improves the usability of the VHF, UHF, and microwave bands, particularly by low-power, portable radios. Just as those leaves block sunlight, they also inhibit radio signals, sometimes dramatically.
Along comes March and like magic, Mother Nature waves her magic wand signaling all those trees that lost their precious foliage to open the waiting buds and bring forth a new crop of glorious green leaves. (..more..)
-March 27, 2021
WHEN THE ELECTRONS STOP FLOWING
By Paul Toth-NB9X
Last month’s disruption to the Texas Power Grid left millions of people not only in the dark but in the cold, too. Frozen windmills and solar panels stopped producing electricity. Even fossil fuel generating stations were offline for several days. Over thirty people died. Businesses of all sizes and shapes were disrupted. Travel, at best was dangerous, at worst, impossible.
Now if you think such a calamity cannot happen here, well, you just moved to Florida. All you have to do is think back to the impact Florida’s major hurricanes have had on electric service. In 2004, Charley left some parts of Florida in the dark for well over a month. Just four years ago, Irma caused major, multi-week outages in some high-density population centers, including the TampaBay area. Just after Irma’s landfall here, Hurricane Maria wiped out the entire power grid in Puerto Rico, something the residents who remain on the island are still living with.
Let’s face it: We take electricity and the way of life it affords us for granted. Most Floridians have never known a time when there was no electricity. We have always had the modern conveniences: refrigerators to keep our food and medicine cold, microwave ovens for cooking, hot and cold running water made possible by electric pumps and lights so bright you can light every nook and cranny in our house. Now add to all those basics all the information technology we now rely on: Computers, tablets, routers, Ethernet switches, Wi-Fi, printers, LCD and LED displays, television, and radio. And lest we not overlook our own hobby, Amateur Radio transceivers, RF amplifiers, battery chargers, and more. (..more..)
-March 1, 2021
BEING IN THE RIGHT PLACE(S)
By Paul Toth-NB9X
The events of the last few months have resulted in a dramatic migration of people from all over the country to our little piece of Paradise. No doubt, some of the folks migrating to Florida are licensed Amateur Radio operators or maybe looking to become a licensed Ham. For them, the old real estate saying “Location, Location, Location!” becomes a prime consideration.
Yes, there are many properties in Florida that are not encumbered by Deed Restrictions and Covenants, otherwise known as the dreaded CC&Rs. These are generally in rural locations or in urban areas that have not been recently developed. If you are a Ham and are fortunate enough to locate and purchase one of these properties, you are in what is proverbially known as “Fat City”.
However, if you are not so fortunate and find yourself located in a Deed Restricted development, all may not be lost when it comes to your hobby and exercising your Amateur Radio license privileges.
When we started building the NI4CE Repeater System twenty years ago, one of our main goals was to construct a system that could be used to connect Hams located in many counties. We looked for tall towers to enable our VHF and UHF repeaters to reach out forty miles or more from the repeater site. This was a tall order (no pun intended) to be sure. With several of us being either active or retired broadcasters, we were able to develop the relationships needed to get the job done. (..more..)
-February 23, 2021
By Paul Toth-NB9X
Birthdays and anniversaries are generally considered “momentous occasions”. Later this month, specifically on February 23rd, NI4CE celebrates one of those milestones. That is twenty years of continuous service to the Amateur Radio community of West Central Florida.
For those of you who may not have been around twenty years ago, this juggernaut culminated over a year’s worth of planning, preparing, and fundraising. There were times when I thought we were never going to get there. But at 4:52 PM on that cloudy Friday afternoon, we threw the switch, powered up the original Verna VHF repeater on 145.430, pressed the Push-To-Talk button on a radio and announced to the world the K4WCF (the original callsign) was “on the air”. A couple of days later, the original Verna UHF repeater on 442.950 MHz joined its VHF brother on the air. Thanks, again, to the folks at Cox Media Group-TampaBay for allowing us to occupy a spot on their tower and for continuing their support of Amateur Radio.
Little did we know when those repeaters went on the air just how much things would change and so quickly. It turned out the repeaters would be needed for some SKYWARN events in 2001. We also saw some wildfires that Spring where Amateur Radio sprung into action. But nothing would compare with two events that occurred during the second week of September. First, there were the attacks on 9/11 that took over three thousand lives and changed history forever. President George W. Bush was here, in Sarasota, just a few miles from the Verna site when the first plane flew into the World Trade Center. Within minutes of that event, an ARES Net was started on the repeater system. (..more..)
-February 6, 2021
A LOOK BACK AND A LOOK AHEAD
By Paul Toth-NB9X
Every year, about this time, the West Central Florida Group, Inc. conducts its Annual Meeting and provides a report to the organization on the state of the NI4CE Repeater System and what we envision for the coming year. Because of the CoVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Annual Meeting and the report will be virtual to minimize the exposure and threat from the virus.
I am pleased to report that even with much of this past year being enveloped by the CoVID threat, we were still able to move our piece of the Amateur Radio pie forward. Among the accomplishments:
• The re-location of the Pasco NXDN Repeater to the Holiday tower site where it now operates alongside the NI4CE analog repeater (443.450). We are also pleased to report the coverage footprint of this NXDN digital repeater closely mirrors the footprint of the analog repeater, providing portable coverage over Northern Pinellas, Northern Hillsborough, Pasco, and much of Hernando Counties with mobile/base station coverage North into Citrus County and South and East over the entire TampaBay Metro area.
• Along with the addition of the Pasco NXDN repeater, some recent development work by the authors of the NXCore software used to network the several NXDN repeaters together, now enable the use of Short Digital Messaging between NXDN stations. This text messaging capability gives Hams yet another way to communicate.
• We were also able to put another APRS automated Weather Station and Digipeater on the map from the Holiday site as well.
• The “refresh” and updating of the NI4CE Riverview site has been partially completed with the installation of new weather instruments and RF technology for the NI4CE-11 Weather Station and Digipeater. New analog and NXDN repeaters and antennas have been procured and staged on the ground at Riverview, awaiting the final leg of their journey to the 805-foot platform.
• Our SKYWARN operations (thankfully) were not as numerous as they could have been. In a year that saw a record thirty (30) storms, Florida, somehow, lucked out with only one storm (ETA) making landfall in the Sunshine State. But when it did, NI4CE was in full SKYWARN activation mode. Thanks to all the NWS-trained spotters for their 2020 efforts.
All things considered, including the restrictions encountered because of CoVID, that’s pretty good. (..more..)
-December 3, 2020
NXDN HAM RADIO:
It’s All About Choices
By Paul Toth-NB9X
For those of you who have discovered Digital VHF-UHF Ham Radio, particularly NXDN Ham Radio, you know just how good the audio quality is. You know the number of Talkgroups and other features that come with your NXDN radio are growing, allowing you to talk (and soon text) to many places in Florida, the USA, other portions of North America and, for that matter, the world.
For those of you who haven’t discovered NXDN Ham Radio, good news! You live in one of the most NXDN pro-active locales in North America. A growing number of Hams are wrapping their arms around NXDN as their digital mode of choice for communicating with other Hams across the street and Hams in my other places far removed from West Central Florida. And here is why.
The TampaBay area is blessed to have several high-profile NXDN repeaters on the air. If you can currently use any of the NI4CE analog repeaters, you should be able to access one (or more) of the NXDN repeaters. These digital repeaters are co-located with the NI4CE repeaters at Verna, Riverview, and Holiday. There are also NXDN repeaters in Pinellas and Polk Counties that provide fill-in coverage and extend the coverage footprint further East toward Orlando. Unlike some other digital modes, there is no loss of coverage when you compare an NXDN repeater to a comparable Wideband FM repeater. In fact, coverage is usually better! (..more..)
-October 29, 2020
THE RIVERVIEW SITE REFRESH
By Paul Toth-NB9X
Managing a resource as large and expansive as the NI4CE Repeaters comes with a set of challenges. One of those challenges is acknowledging that every repeater, every antenna, every power supply and all the other components you will find at each site is a resource with a finite life expectancy. Another reality is some of these components require replacement sooner than others.
We have now arrived at that point in life for the Riverview repeaters. We added the Riverview site to the NI4CE system thirteen years ago in 2007. We have been extremely fortunate all the components that make up each repeater have been more than reliable, particularly when you consider the operating conditions on a platform eight hundred feet above ground. The antennas have been exposed to the constant bombardment from the sun and wind (far greater than what you might think and sometimes EXTREME – as has been the case during the several hurricanes that have impacted us since 2007). And then there is the Salt Corrosion on the exposed metal of the antennas!
So, today, the West Central Florida Group, Inc. has launched a Go Fund Me page to help us address the need to replace the several components that are at Riverview. To help us complete this project, open your Web Browser and go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/riverview-site-refresh
Your donation will help ensure the completion of this important project to maintain the readiness and reliability of the Riverview site. As, as always, your donation is fully TAX DEDUCTIBLE!
We have already received a couple of generous donations. Thank you! But we need to raise an additional four thousand dollars to put us over the top and ensure timely completion of this Site Rehabilitation effort. Your contribution will be most appreciated!
-July 16, 2020
Enhance your Amateur Radio experience now. Just click on one of the buttons below to make your tax-deductible contribution via PayPal. The West Central Florida Group, Inc. also accepts checks and money orders which can be mailed to:
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Largo, FL 33773-4321
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More pertinent articles about Amateur Radio and Repeaters are located under the Articles navigation tab.
One or more websites may be intermittently streaming the NI4CE repeater system audio. None of these sites are affiliated with the West Central Florida Group, Inc. or our ni4ce.org website. The West Central Florida Group, Inc. has not authorized these streaming websites and has no control over the content, quality or availability of the audio product being streamed.
NI4CE Operating Code
The NI4CE Repeater System provides all licensed West Central Florida Amateur Radio operators with a “regional” communications resource to advance Amateur Radio commitment to public service and encourage fellowship among all operators.
The NI4CE System serves all or parts of fourteen counties. It is a shared communications resource for the over twenty thousand Amateur Radio licensees who live here and the hundreds of visitors who join us annually. When using the NI4CE System, the West Central Florida Group, Inc. asks you to:
• Keep your transmissions as brief and to the point as possible. Please keep the Total Run Time for each QSO to ten minutes or less. Remember, there are many other operators waiting to use the repeaters.
• Please leave pauses between transmissions, particularly when there is weather in the region that may be severe.
• Please observe FCC Part 97 Rules at all times, particularly the provisions of 97.113.
• Transmit power in Florida is limited to 50 watts in Florida.
• Please turn off special features including WIRES and other “sounders” that may delay your communications. Kerchunking is frowned on.
• Observe the “Golden Rule”. Common sense, courtesy and respect is contagious!
If you have an NXDN Digital Radio, Talkgroup 65000 can be used to connect to the NXDN Worldwide Network.
Here is the information the National Weather Service is most interested in knowing during any SKYWarn ACTIVATION ON on the NI4CE Repeater System:
• Winds of 35 MPH or higher
• Rainfall of two inches or more in an hour
• Hail of any size
• Weather caused damage
• Street closures
During Tropical Weather Events, Barometric Pressure data is also helpful.
Keep reports SHORT AND CONCISE. During bad weather, repeater time is valuable. Think about what you are going to say before you say it. Avoid unnecessary comments and verbiage.
It is requested that you NOT report non-severe weather, such as “It’s cloudy with light rain” or “the rain is letting up here”. The National Weather Service has radar and knows where it’s not raining. Reports such as this tie up valuable repeater time.
When reporting severe weather activity, please provide your Amateur Radio Callsign, your National Weather Service SKYWARN ID (if you have one), the location of your report and an approximate time of the severe weather event (if other than NOW).
Please turn off any “Roger Beeps”, “WIRES” signaling or the use of DTMF tones as they will interfere with your report.
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A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE 800-435-7352 WITHIN THE STATE OF FLORIDA. REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE OF FLORIDA.
REGISTRATION INFORMATION CAN BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES AT www.FloridaConsumerHelp.com