YOTA Month 2014

As well as helping to co-coordinate a summer camp each year, such as YOTA Finland, the Youngsters on the Air programme also has a project known as YOTA Month. YOTA Month is an activity month held during December which allows each country in IARU Region 1 to operate a Special Event Callsign, using the suffix “YOTA”. The purpose of the month long event is to encourage youngsters to get on the air and develop an interest in the hobby.

This year saw a record number of participants, with 37 nations taking part, from Algeria as 7X2YOTA to South Africa as ZS9YOTA. You can see the full list here.

An award scheme also exists where amateurs are encouraged to work as many of the YOTA stations as possible. The level of awards ranges from bronze, consisting of working 10 different YOTA stations, to platinum where all 37 stations are worked.

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An example of the award certificate

In the UK, YOTA Month was the first project to be led by the newly formed RSGB Youth Committee. Thanks to Ofcom’s support, the committee were able to secure the callsign G15YOTA, as well as the national variations (GM15YOTA, GI15YOTA etc.). A number of schools and clubs took part in the event, as the callsign toured the UK; such as The Priory Academy LSST, Silcoates School and Wirral & DARC. This was the first time that the UK had participated in YOTA Month and it was clear that it had been a big success in giving young amateurs a chance to operate a sought-after callsign and for some, a taste of what amateur radio was all about.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have easy access to a radio throughout December, so was only able to have a single QSO with a YOTA station, which was LX4YOTA in Luxembourg. I made the QSO on New Year’s Eve, with literally hours until the end of December!

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My LX4YOTA QSL card, with a picture of me (1st photo, 2nd on the left)

After the event, a total of 37,037 QSO’s were made across all 37 YOTA stations, showing an impressive amount of activity.

To read more about YOTA Month in the UK, including a report from a number of schools, check out Pages 44-45 of the March 2015 (Vol.91 No.3) edition of Radcom. Or check out the news items on the YOTA website, including a detailed analysis of the final QSO count.

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A snapshot of the YOTA Month Radcom article

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Formation of the RSGB Youth Committee

After returning from Finland in July, I gave a Skype interview with Bob, G0FGX from TX Factor as well as Martin, M1MRB from the ICQ Amateur Radio Podcast. I discussed the activities that we had been doing in Finland and also the feeling from the UK team members in Finland that there should be a space for young amateurs in the UK to get their voice heard. Whilst I was in Finland, YOTA UK was happening simultaneously and the feeling there was much the same; that there should be a group of young amateurs who can represent our collective views and help to encourage more youngsters into the hobby.

It was put to Steve Hartley, G0FUW the then chairman of the RSGB Training and Education committee that perhaps such a committee should be formed within the RSGB. Having a “Youth Committee” within the RSGB would give young amateurs in the UK a clear voice, being part of the hobby’s largest national organisation and ensure that the RSGB would be able to target and meet the needs of young amateurs. Steve was very sympathetic to our cause, as he was responsible for helping to organise YOTA UK as well as select a team to attend YOTA Finland.

It was in early September that the RSGB board approved the formation of a committee to represent young members and the committee was to be known as the Youth Committee. Members of the Youth Committee were to be under 26 years old and members of the RSGB. Membership is free to RSGB members under the age of 18 and free if under 25 and in full-time education. The committee’s principle aims are to be responsible for establishing and organising youth participation in events (YOTA etc.) as well as to promote amateur radio to young people in the UK and to increase the number of young RSGB members. Applications to become a member of the committee opened up in early September and after a number of weeks, Mike Jones 2E0MLJ was appointed as Chairman of the committee. I also applied to become a member of the committee and was elected a few weeks after submitting my application. After the committee’s first official meeting on the 26th November, I volunteered to take on the role of Financial Advisor and was also elected into this position at the next meeting on the 15th December.

The future now looks very bright for young amateurs and I’m grateful to the RSGB board for giving us this platform in which to promote the hobby to young people and also to assist the RSGB in their approach to attracting more youngsters.

You can find out more information about the Youth Committee and their aims/projects here, as well as read the minutes from the committee’s meetings. The Youth Committee meets monthly on Skype, usually on the 3rd Monday of the month.

CQWW SSB 2014

It was time again for CQWW SSB. However, this year was going to pose a potential problem, as I had just started a full time job in Aberdeen in September. Normally, I travel to Stirling and contest with the Stirling & DARS, but I was quite busy and it seemed doubtful whether I would make the contest at all.

However, a few months back, I approached Stewart GM4AFF and explained that I would be living and working full time in Aberdeen, now that I had graduated university and was now in full-time employment. Contesting from the Stirling Club would become difficult and time-consuming to get to, so I enquired as to what contest opportunities were available in the North-East of Scotland. Stewart confessed that there was little interest or activity in HF contesting in this part of the world, but he was happy to see I was interested and ultimately offered to host me at his shack for CQWW SSB, operating as GM3F Multi-One High Power Assisted. I was very grateful to Stewart for the opportunity and accepted his offer. This was not going to be a serious effort; having only 2 ops for Multi-One operation is close to suicide, as Colin MM0OPX and I found out at CQWPX SSB earlier this year. Additionally, Stewart explained that he was in the process of revamping his antenna system and so capabilities would be somewhat reduced, especially on 20m, where we would only have use of a vertical. Stewart also explained that due to the topography of the local area, we couldn’t be a serious contender, but I reassured him that I would be using the contest as an experience builder and to gain more confidence running long shifts in a contest.

Due to work commitments, I couldn’t make the contest start on Saturday morning, so Stewart began the contest just after midnight. I took the train from Aberdeen to Montrose early on Saturday morning and arrived in Montrose at around 7:30am. Stewart picked me up and drove me to his house, around 10 minutes from Montrose train station. When we arrived, I was given a quick tour of the shack and then it was time to get to work. Conditions seemed good and the morning and afternoon flew by. It was then time for dinner and I was very appreciative of Stewart’s family for allowing me to join them. Stewart then spent some of the evening operating, before I took over again to do some more operation on 15/20m until around midnight. I then decided to head to bed and Stewart offered to do a small shift into the early hours.

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Stewart operating on 40m late on the Saturday night

Sunday morning and it was another early start. I began by clearing up some multipliers on 40/20m, whilst waiting on 15 and 10 to open up. It was just after lunch (approx. 12pm) when 10m exploded. US, South America, Europe and even some African stations were booming in. Although I have only been licensed for just over 3 years, so I can’t say what the days of old were like on 10m, it was truly incredible. 28.300 to 28.800 were wall-to-wall with signals, with only a few spaces here and there that were truly QRM free. It was unprecedented seeing so much bandwidth filled with stations! I worked a large pile of US stations, but found that there was just so much activity on the band, that it was hard to stand out from the crowd unless you were spotted. The afternoon continued with some good pile ups, as well as a frantic hunt for more multipliers.

Before long, it was late afternoon and I wanted to get back to Aberdeen before dinner, as I had some work stuff to do before Monday morning. I thanked Stewart’s wife for her hospitality and Stewart ran me to Montrose train station. We had a chat about the contest on the way there, commenting on the good conditions during the contest. The train was on time and after around 40 minutes, I was back in Aberdeen.

Reflecting on the weekend, it was great to have the opportunity to contest from another location other than the Stirling Club and I was privileged to have operated alongside Stewart, given his impressive DXpedition and contesting history, most recently when he was a referee at WRTC 2014. I was very humbled with Stewart and his wife’s hospitality and I hope to contest with Stewart again very soon. In terms of the contest, the bands were in great condition and I was really impressed with the condition of 10m, something which I’m sure I’m unlikely to hear again until the next sunspot cycle! The contest was a great experience in a multitude of ways, including the fact that we had to operate some very long shifts as there were only 2 of us. I look forward to taking the skills I’ve learned into next year and utilising them in the WRTC 2018 qualifying contests.

EDIT – July 22nd 2015: A few months ago, the final results of the CQWW SSB 2014 contest were announced. On the 22nd July, Stewart received a certificate awarding us with #1 in GM within the Multi-One High Power Assisted category with 2,645,050 points. A very good achievement, given the antenna set-up, having only 2 operators and only operating for around 30 of the 48 hours!

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Some nice shack wallpaper!

YOTA Finland 2014 – A Review

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It’s been just over 3 weeks since returning from the 2014 meeting of Youngsters on the Air (YOTA) in Finland.

The event was hosted by the SRAL, the Finnish Amateur Radio League and was supported by IARU Region 1. The event was also supported by funding from the EU+ Erasmus programme and for the UK team; the RSGB covered any remaining expenses.

The purpose of the Youngsters on the Air programme is to bring together young people aged between 15-25 from IARU Region 1 countries; to develop skills, meet new people and have fun! There were a number of events aimed at building better relationships; such as team building activities, discussing stereotypes and developing communication skills. But of course, there was a whole host of radio activities; from ARDF to construction and everything in-between.

In all, there were 15 EU countries who attended, represented by 4 young people as well as a team leader. The UK team consisted of me, Dan M0WUT, Jonathan M0ZJO, Ricky MW6GWR and team leader Gervald G0GNF.

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Left to right; Gervald G0GNF, Jonathan M0ZJO, Adam MM0KFX, Ricky MW6GWR, Dan M0WUT

Day 1 – Tuesday 15th July

The first day was largely spent travelling. My journey to Finland began early in the morning, when I had to catch a flight from Edinburgh to Manchester. I met up with the UK team at Manchester airport and we then flew to Helsinki airport. We were met in Helsinki by some of the other YOTA teams and we eventually made our way to the coach which had been arranged to take us to the camp where we would be staying. This was around 4 hours away, but the bus had free Wi-Fi, much to everyone’s delight!

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YOTA 2014 participants arriving at Helsinki Airport, ready to board the coach to the camp

On arrival at camp Marttinen, around 5 kms from Virrat, which would be our base for the next week, it started raining very heavily. We were met by Kati OH2FKX and Martti OH2FPK. We were quickly shown to our dorm and left our bags there whilst we made our way back up to the main building for dinner.

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A wet arrival – a typical Finnish summer’s day, apparently!

After dinner, once the rain stopped, we were given a quick tour of the camp, including the antenna farm for the Special Event Station OH2YOTA, which all teams would operate throughout the week. We then made our way back to the dorm to unpack. Most people then came down to our dorm for a small party, but I’d been up for 20+ hours, so it was time for bed!

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Antennas in use at OH2YOTA as well as a glimpse of the shack

Day 2 – Wednesday 16th July

We were up early, around 8am for breakfast, with the first activity starting at 9.15am. As it turned out, this would be the schedule for the rest of the week, with the first activity always being an “energizer”. This was essentially an “ice-breaker” and warmed us up each morning and got people talking to each other. They usually lasted for around 20 minutes and each team would take turns throughout the week hosting one.

We then made our way into the main hall and were given a brief outline of the week ahead. We had to write down our hopes, fears and expectations of the week ahead on post-it notes and these were placed on the mirror in the hall. We then received an update as to what had been going on behind the scenes since YOTA 2013. This included QSL matters as well as an introduction to the new and improved YOTA website.

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Our hopes and fears for the week, along with receiving our YOTA T-shirt and name badge

It was then time for the first lecture of the week, which was on VOACAP by Jari OH6BG, a founder of the programme. I’ve known for a while about being able to gauge what you can work, given your set-up and current propagation, thanks to tools in Clublog, but had no idea VOACAP existed. I’ll certainly be using it to plan when to work the DXpeditions!

After lunch, we had another energizer and a small talk on the rules and procedures for using the Special Event Station OH2YOTA. All teams had the opportunity to book two, 2 hour slots during the week.

The evening was then spent preparing for the Inter-cultural evening. This was an opportunity for each team to show off it’s food, drink and national traditions. Team UK brought along a small selection to showcase the nations of the UK. I of course brought along the Irn-bru, shortbread and Tunnock’s to represent Scotland! Irn-bru proved to be really popular and people kept asking me throughout the week where they could find it in Europe!

The Inter-cultural evening dragged on into the night and everyone had a great time.

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The Inter-cultural evening

Day 3 – Thursday 17th July

Today, there would be two main activities taking place; ARDF and an electronics/antenna building workshop.

ARDF, or Amateur Radio Direction Finding, involves a number of teams who must compete against each other to find the hidden transmitter, or “fox”. There are a number of foxes hidden around a specific area, with each fox only transmitting for around 10-15 seconds each. To be successful, teams must be able to locate and pin-point the locations fairly quickly, but devise a plan on the order in which to find the foxes. ARDF combines amateur radio along with navigational skills and plenty of physical exercise!

The morning was spent learning about the rules of ARDF and as soon as this finished, the teams were split, with half going to do ARDF, whilst the others went to construct a Slim-Jim 2m antenna or build a CW oscillator. I went off to build the CW oscillator, which was a relatively easy kit project. I haven’t done many kit projects before, so it was really enjoyable to do something different and to develop my soldering skills!

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Constructing the CW oscillator

After lunch, it was our turn at ARDF. I formed a team of 3 with Dan and Jonathan and the aim was to find 10 foxes using a small receiver on the 80m band. There were 5 foxes which sent fast CW and 5 which sent slow CW. The aim was to hunt down the slow ones first, then go for the fast ones, or vice versa. The fast foxes transmitted at the top of the 80m receiver, whilst the slow ones transmitted at the bottom. It was very easy to “bump” the VFO and switch between the two, which happened all too often…

We eventually managed to find all 10 foxes in just over 1 hour. The best time was just under 40 minutes. We certainly learned a lot and had fun at our first ARDF event!

Check out Miguel, EC1DJ’s video here

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Hunting down the foxes

Another presentation was then held in the evening by the Spanish team, discussing SDR’s, IRLP and Echolink.

We then spent the rest of the evening in the room just behind the radio shack chilling out. Jurek SP3SLU, the Polish Team Leader, brought along a guitar; so of course, there was a lot of group singing going on!

Day 4 – Friday 18th July

Today was another exciting day, with two field trips planned!

We either had the choice of visiting a SOTA summit, or visiting Scandinavian Weekend Radio (SWR), which is located close to Virrat and is the only commercial radio station in Finland which still broadcasts on LW and MW.

The morning consisted of a presentation on linked repeater systems by Marko OH8WM, which was very interesting. As Finland is very large, with a very sparse population, you can see why usage of 2m and 70cm FM repeaters is low. The purpose of a linked repeater system is to generate a wider user base and ensure that VHF/UHF FM remains active.

The second presentation of the day was on Radio-astronomy by Jonathan from team UK and was fascinating. Jonathan uses a small parabolic satellite dish, similar to a standard commercial satellite dish for use at home, to receive thermal pictures of the sun. Interesting stuff!

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Jonathan discusses the use of Parabolic Antennas

After lunch, it was time to head off on the respective field trips. I chose to go to the SOTA summit, as did the rest of the UK team and many others. We got aboard the coach and the journey would end up taking about 40-50 minutes. Our destination was the summit of Kiiskilänmäki, SOTA reference OH/JS-016. The summit is the highest point in southern Finland, at a massive 268.8m ASL! This just goes to show how flat Finland really is.

SOTA, or Summits on the Air, “…is an award scheme for radio amateurs and shortwave listeners that encourages portable operation in mountainous areas. SOTA has been carefully designed to make participation possible for everyone – this is not just for mountaineers! There are awards for activators (those who ascend to the summits) and chasers (who either operate from home, a local hilltop or are even Activators on other summits).” The programme receives a worldwide following, combining amateur radio and the great outdoors, with a mix of portable and low power operating.

On arriving at the site, after passing down narrow gravel roads in the coach, the rain started. We were met by Toni, OH3T who explained what would be happening at the summit. Those who held a full licence, thus a CEPT reciprocal licence, would be operating as OH/ their own callsign. For example, I could operate as OH/MM0KFX. Those who did not hold a full licence could operate as OG3X under supervision and those without a licence all together, could have a go at using the CB radio.

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Raining heavy on arrival at the summit. Tony OH3T, on the right hand photo, with the umbrella

There were 3 stations in operation at the summit. For SSB, there was a KX3 with a small linear amplifier to provide 100w, with a Hexbeam antenna at the top of the tower at the centre of the summit. There was also a CW station, using a small QRP rig and an inverted V antenna. For 2m FM, there was a handheld hooked up to a “Slim-Jim” antenna.

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The SSB station at the base of the tower

There were around 20 or so who held full licences, including the team leaders. SOTA rules dictate that 4 successful contacts are needed to successfully activate the summit. Therefore, it was decided that we would make 4 QSO’s with our own call, before handing over the microphone to someone else. The vast majority of us operated the SSB station, but Juri ES5JR was certainly keeping the CW QSO’s flowing!

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Juri, ES5JR on the key

Whilst not operating the radio, there were plenty of opportunities to admire the 360 degree views from the top of the tower and take plenty of photos!

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Photo showing the tower at the centre of the summit, with a collection of photos taken from the top of the tower

After travelling back to camp, it was time for the Treasure Hunt, which was organised by the PA team. We split into groups of 3-4 and were given a map of the camp. There were various points marked on the map and at these locations we had to find an orange flag, with a question card attached. The questions were amateur radio related and we had to report back to the PA team and give our answers. This went on for what felt like hours, but eventually team LZ won the prize which wasn’t a handheld or even a book, but rather, a watermelon!

Day 5 – Saturday 19th July

Saturday would be mostly contest related, beginning with the “AF” contest organised by team ES. This game involved 3 benches representing 3 HF bands. The contest was held in a “Sprint” format, whereby you could sit on a bench and call CQ. Someone would then come running up to “work” you. The exchange was signal report and serial number. Once you had called CQ and worked a station, you then had to QSY and work others who were calling CQ. This differs from a traditional contest, whereby you can sit on the same frequency and “run”. Of course, you could also get multipliers by working the same calls on the different benches, or bands. This was great fun and very chaotic! There were also participants posing as rag-chewers and DQRM’ers who were causing all types of general QRM. Check out the video here

After lunch, it was time to start the European Radio Team Championship (ERTC) contest. This contest was a mock of the World Radio Team Championship (WRTC) which was held in New England, USA a week prior. The WRTC is held every 4 years and is the “Olympics” of contesting. Competitors are chosen from a variety of qualifying zones throughout the world and qualification is based upon contest scores 3 years prior to the event. It is a two-man team event, forcing competitors to operate from the same geographical location, using the same antenna and similar radio equipment, therefore ensuring that contest results are based on operator skill, rather than other exogenous factors.

The ERTC contest consisted of two-man teams, representing each of the 15 EU countries participating at YOTA. For team UK, there was myself and Dan M0WUT. Instead of using RF, we would be using the software programme Hamsphere. Hamsphere is a programme allowing licensed and non-licensed users to communicate with each other over the internet, using VOIP but imitating real world HF conditions.

The contest did not get off to a good start. A large thunderstorm was moving through the area and caused intermittent power failures. Eventually the storm passed and power was restored 10 minutes before the contest started, leaving many teams panicking trying to get their laptops set-up. However, at 12:00 UTC (14:00 local) the contest begun.

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…and the contest begins!

Myself and Dan got off to a good start. Our QSO rate was good and we worked some of the other ERTC stations who were worth 100 points each. However, we realised that the logbook was not recording our serial numbers correctly. It was after 30 QSO’s that I realised this and we had to quickly improvise and move to paper logging. As it turned out, other teams had this problem and suddenly everyone was forced to log on both the Hamsphere programme and on paper. Massive thanks to Jonathan M0ZJO for stepping in to help us out!

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The contest in full swing, with Jonathan M0ZJO doing a paper log!

Before we knew it, it was 5pm and dinner time, marking the end of the first session of the contest. We felt we had done well and knew we were contesting for the lead, so we could only hope that tomorrow would go in our favour.

The evening was spent around the camp-fire, with many using the Sauna. I decided to go for a long boat ride and take some photos. It would be an early rise tomorrow morning for the second half of the contest!

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Chilling out beside the lake after a long day contesting

Day 6 – Sunday 20th July

The second half of the ERTC contest commenced at 6am local time, so it was a very early start to the day. Once 6am came round, it was time to re-start from where we had left off. However, although we were continuing with the serial number we finished with the previous evening, we could now work everyone across all three bands again.

Things got off to a good start and after an hour I went off to have some breakfast and left Dan in control. On returning, I took some photos and videos of the other competitors before taking over from Dan and completing the sprint to the finish.

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Sprint to the finish!

At 9am, the contest was over. We had no idea where we would finish, but we were confident of a top 7 finish. Our QSO count was competitive, but we were worried about multipliers. We hadn’t worked many of the other ERTC teams the day before, so this was a slight concern. However, Hans PB2T, IARU Region 1 president and adjudicator of ERTC 2014, explained to all the teams that the first 20 minutes of the contest would be declared void. This was due to the problems with logging and Wi-Fi which we all experienced at the start of the contest yesterday afternoon. This was both good and bad news for Team UK. Bad news, in that we were the leading team by QSO count after the first hour of the contest and good news, in that we had incorrectly logged around 30-40 QSO’s in this 20 minute period. However, this was the right decision by Hans in my opinion and it was good to wipe the slate clean after all the issues we had.

The results weren’t confirmed until a few weeks after the contest and once we had returned home from Finland, but the results were as follows:

TEAM                          CALL            CONTACTS   MULT   ACCURACY          SCORE

1: Czech Rep.             OJ45OK             157                61           0.1%                 430.172

2: Italy                         OJ78IT               166                60           0.5%                 397.914

3: Estonia                   OJ56ES               159                57           0.1%                 382.838

4: Slovakia                  OJ37OM             138                60           0.7%                 350.584

5: Croatia                    OJ349A              154               41            1.0%                  341.682

6: UK                           OJ54UK             142               48            0.6%                  325.185

Congratulations to the Czech Republic team of Sarka Vavrova OK2SVA (age 21), Jindrich Kostal OK1NOR (age 24) and Jan Honza Dohnalek OK1JD (age 20) and of course, to everyone else!

After the contest was over, it was time to head to the large lake across the road from the camp for the longboat race! We split up into teams of 14 and each team got familiar with the procedures of rowing before they were timed on how fast they could complete a small course. It was great fun and very exhausting. Especially when it was 30+ degrees!

After the boat race, we made our way back to the camp. On returning, each team was tasked with doing a small presentation on a specific aspect of the week. Team UK chose to do the presentation on SOTA. We prepared a short presentation (lasting 5 minutes) by discussing what SOTA was as well as showing off a few pictures. After lunch, all teams gathered in the hall where all the presentations would be held. The presentations were designed to show members of the SRAL and representatives from the IARU, as well as to refresh all the teams on what we accomplished during our week in Finland.

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Presenting the weeks activities to visitors and to all participants

After dinner, it was Team UK’s turn to hold the energizer, which consisted of blindfolding someone and leading them round an obstacle course. You could only use commands such as; “Stop”, “go”, “left” and “right”. This definitely helped to develop communication and trust skills! After the energizer, it was time for another stereotype game which was then followed by a presentation on Interference by Edwin PA3GVQ.

The remainder of the night was spent rowing around in the lake, as well as trips to the Sauna and hanging out at the campfire!

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Enjoying the night taking pictures, rowing, swimming and going in the sauna

 

Day 7 – Monday 21st July

After the morning energizer held by team ON and LZ, it was time for another lecture, this time by William IV3BAB. The topic was on EMCOMM and discussed the procedures in place by amateurs in Italy to any disasters which may need support from amateur radio operators. The infrastructure in use is impressive, with a vast network of repeaters linked together which are also supported with backup power. These ensure reliable communications across the various regions in Italy and even link in with a dedicated facility, where disaster relief can be co-ordinated. This facility also has HF capabilities and the HF antennas do look impressive!

After the lecture, it was time to say goodbye to Team ES. It was a rather sad time and a reminder that we too would be leaving in just under 24 hours’ time.

Just before lunch, we had another energiser by the OK team and a quick presentation on HamWorld by Karol SP8HMZ. HamWorld is a social network for amateurs, allowing individuals to create an account and network with others.

After lunch, we had a communication workshop hosted by Edwin PA3GVQ. This involved a series of activities all over camp which helped to develop our communication skills in a variety of ways. One workshop involved spelling out a sentence, but using phonetics from your own language. For example, saying “Valencia” to communicate the letter V might seem perfectly understandable for those who speak English, but not necessary to those who don’t. It was very confusing when we went round the circle and we had to spell words using the phonetics from everyone’s native language. Now I know why they developed the NATO alphabet!

Another exercise involved someone building a model from Lego. This person then had to explain to someone on the other side of the room how to build a model identical to theirs, but only by communicating using a 2m handheld. This was hilarious and some “interesting” models came to life, albeit not quite what the original designer had in mind!

It was then time to take some of the last pictures of YOTA 2014, which meant it was time to get the flags out! All teams gathered for a YOTA 2014 group picture, but before long, people were swapping flags and posing for more photos.

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Everyone having fun posing for photos!

After dinner, we had a quick discussion as to what could be done better for YOTA 2015, whilst we also completed a few questions on what we thought of our experience in Finland and what we learned over the course of the week. It was then time to head back to the room and pack everything up, ready to leave in the morning.

There was also an opportunity for Team UK to operate OH2YOTA before it closed down, so we took it. I was able to talk to a few friends back home in Scotland, including my club station, Stirling & DARS (GM6NX) on 20m SSB. As you will see from my other Blogs, I was involved in securing the callsign GA14CG at the club during August to celebrate the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. I (OH2YOTA) was the first QSO in GA14CG’s log and it was a privilege to speak to the members before they got to work on racking up the QSO count.

That night was the last opportunity to chill out at the campfire, head out in the rowing boats or make use of the Sauna. A few people, including myself, decided to stay up and watch the sunrise even though we had an early rise the next morning. It was definitely worth it!

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Enjoying the last night in Finland and welcoming the sunrise

Day 8 – Tuesday 22nd July

In the morning, it was time to leave camp Marttinen and Finland. The bus was to leave at 10am bound for Helsinki airport, so the morning consisted of getting ready and ensuring that everything and everyone was packed and ready to go. We also had to make sure that the accommodation was tidy and clean before leaving. It was also time to say goodbye to team EA and team SM, who would be travelling home separately from the rest of the teams.

We left camp Marttinen at around 10am and made our way towards Helsinki, which would take about 3 1/2 hours. It was another glorious day, with some of the warmest temperatures we had experienced. However, most of those on the bus decided to catch up on some sleep after the early start, as well as catch up on missed sleep from throughout the week!

On arriving at Helsinki airport, it was time to say goodbye to all the teams and we made our way through check-in and security to wait at the gate. The flight was on time and before we knew it, we were back in Manchester. It was then time for me to say goodbye to the rest of the UK team and I made my way back through check-in and security to get the flight to Edinburgh. Unfortunately, the flight was delayed for 50 minutes, so it was a long wait in Manchester before I could finally get on the plane home to Edinburgh.

Finally, I was home, having been on the move for around 18+ hours. Time for some sleep!

Evaluating the trip…

I thoroughly enjoyed the trip to Finland and I am both very lucky and privileged to have secured a spot on the UK team. I met some great people, whom I will try to stay in contact with and I also learned some very valuable skills relating to the hobby as well as learning more about other cultures. It’s great to see so many young people interested in the hobby and I hope what we accomplished as the UK team can inspire more young people in the UK to take up the hobby.

Here’s to the future and to YOTA 2015!

GA14CG: Golf Alpha One Four Commonwealth Games – The Report

Between the 21st of July and the 3rd of August 2014, the Stirling & District Amateur Radio Society (GM6NX) hosted a Special Event Station to celebrate the 2014 Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow, Scotland. The Special Event Station was run at the Stirling & DARS’ QTH, located a few miles east of Stirling and approximately 25 miles north-east of Glasgow.

It was decided that to mark this special occasion, a suitable callsign would need to be chosen. Throughout 2014, stations located in Scotland can apply via an online NoV to use the prefix GA, MA or 2A to celebrate Homecoming Scotland. It was therefore decided that using the prefix GA would not only capture the spirit of the Commonwealth Games as part of Homecoming Scotland, but that GA is in itself a rare prefix and would certainly attract a lot of interest from prefix hunters. Therefore, with permission from Ofcom, the callsign GA14CG; Golf Alpha One Four Commonwealth Games was chosen for the operation. The activation would begin at 0:00 BST on the 21st of July and run part-time until the 3rd of August at 23:59 BST. It was agreed that a target of 20,000 QSO’s would be set for the duration of the activation.

The aim of the Special Event Station was threefold; to have fun running a large Special Event Station, to celebrate and represent the Commonwealth Games using Amateur Radio and to allow clubs and individuals from across Scotland and beyond to participate in the activation. The club wanted to promote its open door policy and encourage as many people as possible to join in with the celebrations, with the aim of fostering greater links within the amateur community. Invitations went out to many clubs and groups as well as adverts in many amateur radio news outlets about the activation.

The Stirling & DARS has excellent facilities at its QTH, including 3 HF stations  and a 6m VHF station which are permanently on air and available to club members and visitors throughout the year. The three HF stations utilise similar set-ups, consisting of Icom IC756 Pro IIIs, Acom 1000 amplifiers and networked computers for logging. Each station is set-up to work on a specific band(s) and antennas range from the Optibeam OB9-5 on a 70 foot tower for 20-10m, to the Cushcraft XM-240 2 element Yagi for 40m on a 60 foot tower. There is also a quarter-wave vertical for 160m. Throughout the activation, GA14CG would be QRV from 160 through 6m; using SSB, CW and Data.

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Antennas in use at GA14CG. Photo Credit: Col, MM0NDX

As soon as the station went on the air at 0:00 BST on Monday 21st July, the station was immediately generating a lot of interest within the UK on 40/80m, whilst 20m was yielding good results into both North and South America. Within the first 24 hours of the operation, almost 1,500 QSO’s had been made.  As the activation progressed, the pileups continued, forcing some of our operators to run split, or even “work by numbers”. Whilst HF conditions were generally disappointing, 40m continued to surprise, with lots of VK and JA being worked during the evenings. After almost 4 days since the start of the operation, a QSO was still to be made on the 15, 12 and 10m bands. This was very disappointing, but a result of poor propagation. Even 10m E’s were virtually non-existent.

However, by the end of the first week, conditions began to improve and the QSO count on 15m was starting to ramp up, but both 12 and 10m remained disappointing. At around 10pm BST each night, 17m would open to North America, bringing in the west coast of the US with strong signals. Working into CA, OR and WA was as easy as working the east coast of the US and Canada, with the large pileups continuing well into the early hours of the morning. Even during the day, 20m proved to be popular into Europe and Clive, 3B8CW from Mauritius even found the time to call in and spot us on the cluster!

The 40m station was also proving very popular, as the band was always open to somewhere in the world. The nights would bring in lots of exotic DX, whilst the band was open for Inter-G and Europe during the day. Several highlights on 40m included working a young amateur who was at his local club studying for his Foundation licence as well as operators who had just received their licence and were contacting GA14CG for their first ever QSO!

There were a number of dedicated operators who ensured that the GA14CG call was on the air as much as possible. Jonathan, MM0OKG used his holiday off work to keep at least one station on the air throughout much of the day and night, which resulted in him working very long shifts throughout the operation. Robert, GM3YTS, chairman of the GMDX Group ensured that the call was very active on CW whilst Frank, MM0HST was able to put in a number of long shifts and managed the pileups well into the night. John, MM0GCF was one of the many volunteers working at the games and his role as a Team Leader Driver was to transport competitor’s family members across venues throughout Glasgow. John also managed to attend and operate the station and his contribution to the successful outcome of the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the GA14CG activation were much appreciated.

John, MM0GCF operating the 40m station

After 14 days of part-time operation, the station went QRT on the 3rd of August at 23:59 BST and achieved 22,234 QSO’s, breaking the original 20,000 QSO target. It was clear the callsign was well sought after and that the station was delivering a strong and reliable signal across the globe, despite the often poor conditions. On the final night of the operation, GA14CG was the most active callsign on Clublog, having been in the top 3 for a number of days. Even after going QRT, GA14CG remained in the top 10 for a number of weeks. The callsign also attracted over 1,470 spots on the DX cluster with many stations working us for additional band and mode slots. Special thanks and congratulations goes to Roland, G3VIR for working GA14CG on an impressive 7 bands and 9 slots, with just 12 and 10m missing! Roland will be receiving a special prize to commemorate his achievement and support of the activation.

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Celebrating the 20,000th QSO

As well as an impressive QSO count, the station also worked 173 DXCC entities; with 92 confirmed on phone, 71 on CW and 101 mixed via LoTW at the time of going to print. 32 of the 53 Commonwealth Nations were also worked during the period of the activation, including all Commonwealth Nations located in the Caribbean and Americas.  The station also achieved basic WAS as well as WAS on phone, with 45 states confirmed on CW via LoTW. Only a confirmation from MT is missing to complete WAS on both 20 and 17m. Finally, 912 prefixes have been confirmed on LoTW to date across multiple bands and modes, resulting in the achievement of the CQ WPX mixed award.

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Operating all 3 HF stations simultaneously

Surprisingly, the GA14CG activation was able to beat the QSO and DXCC count of the 2012 Welsh Olympic station 2O12W, which ran for 6-7 weeks as well as matching the QSO count of the London Olympic station 2O12L on most days, despite our activation being a part-time operation and only lasting for 14 days. It is believed that GA14CG has set a new record for the number of QSO’s by a Scottish Special Event Station, something which the team is very proud of.

The activation was well represented on all forms of social media and in the Amateur Radio Press, receiving coverage on TX Talk, DX World, Southgate Amateur Radio News and on many other outlets. The GA14CG Twitter and Facebook accounts were used to share news and photos from the activation, announce operating frequencies and provide updates on QSO progress. The activation was also supported with a website, providing information on everything from QSL procedures to allowing visitors to book an operating slot. The GA14CG QRZ.com page received around 54,000 lookups in only 14 days, with most people visiting the page to find out more about the operation and to check the real-time online log, hosted by Clublog. Additionally, various Youtube videos were posted to the GM6NX Youtube Channel showing off the shack and the various operators who attended the operation. Some videos were even uploaded to Youtube from operators all over the world who had worked the station.

The event was supported by amateurs from right across Scotland and beyond, which was one of the original aims of the operation. Visitors from Ayr ARS, Dundee ARS and the GMDX association operated various slots throughout the 14 day activation, with other individuals travelling great distances to support the event. Even a member of Ofcom staff stationed in Glasgow for the duration of the Games found the time to visit the club and operate the station. A tribute to all clubs and individuals who operated and supported the activation can be found on our website.

The Stirling & DARS would like to thank the support it received from the RSGB as well as the GMDX association, who not only helped to operate the station, but who also provided a loan of an HF Yagi for the duration of the operation. Thanks also go to members of the Stirling & DARS who not only operated the station, but who also provided logistical and moral support. An operation of this size required a great deal of planning and had it not been for the technical and logistical expertise of John, GM1BSG in particular, the station would not have been a success. It was clear that the technical and operating aspects of the hobby came together successfully at the event and much experience has been gathered with respect to planning and hosting large events at the club. The friendly characters at the club also ensured that everyone had a great time and that visitors were made to feel very welcome. We hope to see many of them back!

Finally, thanks to everyone who worked the station and remained patient in the pileups! Without your support, we would not have reached our 20,000 QSO target or achieved our other equally impressive milestones and awards. We hope you enjoyed the activation!

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Some of the GM6NX members who operated the station throughout the activation

QSL for GA14CG is via e-QSL or LoTW. Paper QSL’s can be requested using Clublog OQRS. Please don’t send cards direct or via the bureau, as they will not receive a reply.

Commonwealth Games – GA14CG

The evening of the 23rd of July marked the opening of the XX 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.

It was at the beginning of 2014, when it suddenly dawned on me that hosting the Commonwealth Games is not only a huge achievement by the people of Glasgow and Scotland, but that Amateur Radio should play a crucial role in supporting and celebrating the Games.

I quickly put around the idea of hosting a Special Event Station to members of the Stirling & District Amateur Radio Society, where I am a member. The idea was well received, so I decided to knuckle down and do some planning.

I then got in touch with the RSGB who also seemed very supportive of the idea and gave me a direct contact at Ofcom, with whom I could arrange the NoV. As we wanted to set ourselves apart from a “traditional” special event station, we decided on the callsign GA14CG; Golf Alpha One Four Commonwealth Games.

Usually, special event stations in the UK start with GB1 or GB2 and are then followed by 3 letters which usually represent the nature of the activation. For example, GB1JSS (Golf Bravo One June Summer Solstice) which the Essex Hams ran last month to celebrate the longest day of the year (21st June). As Scottish stations are permitted to use the Prefix MA, 2A or GA throughout 2014 to celebrate “Homecoming Scotland”, we thought it made sense that our station should also make use of the GA prefix as a special event station, with special permission from Ofcom.

As we are making use of the existing facilities at the Stirling & District Amateur Radio Society, we have been well prepared on the equipment side of the event. We have 3 HF stations and 1 VHF station, all of which can be used simultaneously. Each HF station uses an Icom 756 Pro III and Acom 1000, whilst the 6m VHF station utilises an Icom 7600 and Acom 1000.

Antennas range from our Optibeam OB9-5 for 20-10m, to our Cushcraft X240 Yagi for 40m and 1/4 vertical for 160m.

The activation began on the morning of the 21st July and at the time of writing this post (evening of 25th July), we have made 8,160 QSO’s.

The activation closes on the evening of the 3rd August and our target is to reach 20,000 QSO’s.

You can keep up to date with the activation through Facebook, Twitter (@GA14CG) or by visiting our website.

Visitors are most welcome to the station to operate. Just complete the booking form found on the GA14CG website!

See you in the pile ups or at the club!

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John, GM0FSV on 20m

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Optibeam OB9-5

Antennas

All antennas in use at GA14CG

GA700BOB – Battle of Bannockburn

On the 28th and 29th of June, the Stirling & DARS operated GA700BOB, to celebrate the 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. This event was unique, as it was the first Special Event station permitted by Ofcom to use the GA prefix, which is available to Scottish stations throughout 2014.

The main station was hosted at the Bannockburn Live event, where a simple station consisting of an Icom IC 7600, an Acom 1000 amplifier and a vertical antenna was used to showcase Amateur Radio to the public.  On both days, outside of the event opening hours, the operation moved to the Stirling Club premises, which are only a few miles from Bannockburn. There, the club utilised its 3 HF stations and 6m VHF station.

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Robert GM3YTS on 17m CW at the Bannockburn Live event

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From left to right; John MM0GCF, Frank MM0HST, Jonathan MM0OKG, Jim GM4VGR and Hugh GM4UYE at the Bannockburn Live event

The event was a huge success, with a large number of visitors to the station, including interest from younger people who were keen to learn more about the hobby. Pile-ups lasted throughout the duration of the event and it was evident that the callsign was highly sought after. Highlights on Sunday evening included working Iran on 17m, the 34th most wanted DXCC, when they called into the pile-up and VK7AC calling in on 40m. West coast US was loud and easily workable at 23:00, with only an hour left of the operation!

By the end of the 48 hour activation, having only operated for around 20 hours, around 2,700 QSO’s had been made in 76 DXCC entities; using a mix of SSB, CW and Data.

I’m now looking forward to GA14CG! That’s sure to bring in some major pile-ups!

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From left to right; Adam MM0KFX, Frank MM0HST and John GM1BSG at the GM6NX shack, after the Bannockburn Live event

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GA700BOB QSL card