Ham Radio Station Contingency Planning

When the power went out, my UrbanBeam was useless as a multi band antenna

During our PG&E “emergency” (when they shut power off for a day and a half for windy dry conditions), two pieces of ham gear became useless – my Array Solutions Ratpack antenna switch and my UrbanBeam.

Since I will use solar charged batteries instead of a generator, I will need to conserve power usage. Sure, I could purchase 3 more batteries, and devote one to the switch and two to supply the 24 volts the SteppIR needs, but instead, I’d rather think about a better solution.

Turns out, turning my UrbanBeam into a wire beam will be the answer.

Luckily, I had the UrbanBeam set to 40M, so it was still 100% useful. I also have the Diamond 80/40 inverted vee. I simply bypassed the antenna switch with a barrel connector.

One thing that all of this does is gives me a good excuse to get the AB-577 up 65′ and add those last two sections. Ive been watching the antenna during breezes, and it seems like there is no problem.

Without the SteppIR motors, as a wire beam, the antenna would be about 20 pounds max, or basically “featherweight”.

I’m willing to take a chance of getting the antenna up higher because if and when the UrbanBeam craps out I’ll turn it into a 40 / 20M wire beam.

In other words, I am no longer worrying about equipment failure.

I guess the point here is to plan what to do when power goes out or where your gear fails. I tried to avoid purchasing a SteppIR, but try to design an antenna that works well on 40 – 6M – what SteppIR has done is a real feat for sure.

I certainly don’t have an “UrbanBeam Death Wish”, but I do expect there will be a day when one motor craps out. It could be 10 years, which is what I have heard is the life cycle of these motors, but in any case, if and when something goes awry, I can either replace the motor as a Plan B or turn it into a wire beam as a Plan C.

I like playing these mental games and thinking ahead of time. It frees me up from worry, and turns a potential bad situation into an opportunity to be creative before it even happens.

It’s a good game to play ….

Mother Nature Bats Last

Will rain soon be on its way to the West Coast? This system is falling apart – but does look like a seasonal change is in the works

After our recent “Diablo Winds”, most people are looking forward to the return of the rainy season. We have no rain from about the second half of May until October – where we usually get one storm, then it goes back to dry until about Thanksgiving time. We also hardly ever get lightning – something most Hams have to worry about.

Last year we received more rain than usual, and the aquifers around my area filled so much that the creeks did not get as dry as they usually do – several have been flowing with more water than usual at this time of the year. Its always really hard to tell what kind of year we will have rain wise until the first few storms in December happen. If they are big – that usually sets the stage.

Unrelated to weather – last night we had a 4.5 Earthquake – it shook the house in a sharp bang and just a few things fell off a bookshelf. The epicenter was about 10 miles from my QTH. It was strong enough to wake me up. It rolled through very fast – like a freight train that is right next to a house.

Besides the “Trump Daily Horror Show”, its a slow news day here in Orinda.

Have We Passed “Peak DX”?

Is it just me – or does it seem like we are past the “heyday” of DXing?

It must have been that 2016 was quite the incredible year – there were 5 Top 10 DXCC activations. That felt like the “grand finale” of a fireworks show. Since then, the number of activations – especially rare or ultra rare seem down in number.

One thing that does seem likely – is that the “run of the mill’ activity in the CW DX portions of the bands seem to be on the wane. The FT8 frequencies are always humming like a bee hive. So it could be that MY idea of DX-ing is CW.

But we have had several mega DXpedition leaders “retire” and some go SK. Then there has been the costly run up and ultimate failure to activate Bouvet – by 2 different teams.

To me, it seems like “attrition” is the operative word when it comes to DXing and DXpeditions.

Solar Cycle 24: How Low Can We Go?

A flat lined Solar Cycle 24 – from https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/solar-cycle-progression

Gee, I guess the bottom of the cycle could go on longer than I had first thought. Its OK because 40M is still quite good – and the noise level in the wee hours of the morning is a low S6 – which means I do have a relatively quiet QTH. I do get some RF hash from the neighborhood, but only for certain hours – usually when people are binge watching mind numbing TV. I killed my TV more than 12 years ago and have never missed it. I also got rid of my car, and don’t miss it a bit. A young woman at the hardware store was very impressed that I get around on my bike. Its nice to see young people who value such things – if I had to do it all over again – there are just a few things I would do differently – and I would have gotten rid of my car years earlier. Funny how easy it is to live without something that used to be a way of life. In fact, I will go as far as saying by getting rid of these “modern conveniences” – it has forced me to see things around me that I would just take for granted. But as always, I digress.

New Solar Charging arrangement at KY6R  soon to be properly mounted

I initially thought using a solar charged battery for my QRP pursuit would result in less noise, but I’m not so sure, and the real reason to do this is to get used to not always having electricity – in fact, getting my pinkie toe in the “living off grid” pool.

Aspens turning color in our recent Colorado – Utah and Nevada trip

Its funny, but the Fall Colors have everything to do with the sun and photosynthesis. I don’t know what it is – but seeing the Fall colors is one of the most relaxing, satisfying feelings that I have ever experienced. It doesn’t matter whether the tree or bush or shrub is landscape planted or natural / native. To me, its the magic of the change, the weather and the sights and smells of Autumn. Lately, there is a sort of toasted smell out side – of the fallen leaves getting dried out. Ironically, that also means its a dangerous time when the “Diablo winds” kick up – but I am hoping that we are over that for this year. My guess is they might return one more time. Southern California – with their “Santa Ana winds” is experiencing their rough fire season right now. Soon the rainy season will be here, but just this fleeting moment in time is a highlight of the entire year.

Black cats and witches . . . 

Trick or Treat! She is missing her Crystal Ball!

I’ll take the Halloween Treats with such nice weather and fall colors – and leave the high fire danger and Diablo Winds for another time. If I only had a crystal ball, a lucky rabbits foot – or whatever else I could use to predict or better yet – influence the future.

A bike stop along Moraga Way to take pictures of the changing fall leaves

Now what was this blog post about? Oh yeah – the Solar Cycle. Hey – its all about the sun, so I suppose I have been in a dream state all weekend – a trance even. I didn’t even need to go to a yoga class to get “in the zone” . . .




Autumn, Glorious Autumn in Northern California

This weekend was the most beautiful of the entire year – and we are only just starting Fall here in NCAL

I grew up near the Delaware Water Gap on the Jersey Side – in Newton, NJ. Fall colors were superb, but alas – the Fall season was very short – it seemed to only last 4 – 6 weeks, and then either a big rain or the cold weather would come in – and we went from glorious Fall to Winter. It got grey pretty quickly. Snow was actually a treat – it kept the scene interesting. The East Coast Peaks out about now. My giant Chinese Pistachio tree is days away from bursting out in a neon Orange. I’ll post photos then. We don’t hit our peak here for a couple weeks – maybe the beginning on November.

Orchard Nursery in Lafayette has the best Autumn happenings going on

Quite the cool and even creepy gourd . . . 

The Spooky Ghost Circus is underway here in Lamorinda

Happy Black Cats – 50% off even . . . 

We are only just getting started – stay tuned – some amazing Fall colors are on their way


Solar QRP Station at KY6R

20W solar panel with PWM charge controller and 12v 7 ah battery

One of the good parts of the blackout this week was that it finally got me to get on the stick with solar powered Ham Radio. With the KX-3, I can easily switch to a solar charged battery and get my station “off the grid”. Well – at least the radio, anyway.

These items were purchased on Amazon:




Its great – I can see what the solar panel is putting out, and the charge-controller ensures that the battery is charged correctly, and of you add a load it regulates that as well. Today I set it up just to see what was happening at each device, and I used my Fluke DVM as a load – to see how the Charge – Controller read out jived with the DVM.

I just have to create a power wire that goes from the battery to my Anderson Powerpole DC distribution panel.


Indian Summer in Northern California

The stunning autumn colors and weather in is full force in Northern California

It was quite the week – but we woke to just a stunning day here near San Francisco. The air is clear, the skies are blue, the sun is warm but with that fantastic coolness in the air that makes the combination “luscious”.

Under the “big top” at Orchard Nursery in Lafayette, California

After a day of great exercise riding our bikes – we stopped in at Orchard Nursery in Lafayette – a “must see” place at Halloween time.

Classic Fall scene

We bought a Nyssum Salvatica tree – or Tupelo – which makes this our third in our front yard.

The theme at Orchard was a sort of “spooky circus”, and it was really great fun

The Apple Harvest is in . . .

Cool cats ready for Trick or Treating . . . 

They had a golf game with pumpkin pie – very funny . . . 

The leaves steal the show . . . 

Ahhhh – tobacco sunburst – the color of that mandolin that just might end up in my hands . . . 

Yes, I even have decorated my bike with this cool pumpkin skull blinky light ornament . . . 

This guy really cracked me up

Special effects!

Our solar charged Halloween lights that actually helped us a lot during the Blackout

A summer “whirlygig” gets its last sun and shadows . . . 

The seasons have changed now – and there is no looking back. While we get that PITA “Diablo Winds” weather for a week or so in October, they pass and then we have a solid month or two of heaven. I’m hoping we are past the “changing winds” and marching towards Winter. I look forward to our rainy season – but for now – I’m really enjoying this “Indian Summer”.