Sunday, October 24, 2010


Over the last few days a North American ham has been operating a beacon at the top end of the 30m band on the frequency that has been used for many years for HF APRS. At times this has made HF APRS operation impossible. After some difficulty, due to the fact that the beacon operator's contact information was incorrect, someone managed to get in touch with him to point out the problems he was causing and ask politely if he would move the beacon. This is part of the reply that was received, copied verbatim from an APRS mailing list:

"Last week I  moved the beacon when  some other hams we're bitching at me  about 'their'  all important!!!   ham activity......   PSK,  RTTY   what ever!!! . 

I move AGAIN then another cry baby bunch CRIES about 'THEIR'  ALL IMPORTANT    activities  like weak signal CW QRRS CW  whatever!

We have to SHARE the frequencies   I will think about the  QSY  .....  if I get Bitching from so other ham 'group' like the DX cluster folks who are  'DXing'  fish in a BARREL for some  ALL IMPORTANT  'certificate'     What am I to do???  I am an experimenter /builder  when do I get to use a frequency????????

WHY is 'APRS'  more important than MY activity?  I look in the regs and I  see NOTHING about one  ham activity has  priority over another!"

I have left out the individual's details as I don't want to start a personal attack that could be counterproductive by leading him to entrench his position. But whatever happened to good manners, politeness and consideration for one's fellow amateur? When, as a young teenager, I first began listening on the amateur bands, I used to be impressed by the politeness and courtesy of the conversations I heard. No longer is amateur radio a gentleman's hobby.

This OM is quite correct that we have to share the frequencies. It is a common courtesy that if a frequency is in use then you don't use it, even if you have a net that has been meeting on that frequency every day since Marconi invented the spark transmitter.

But in the digital parts of the bands which can be used for more than conversations between two or more people, checking whether a frequency is in use may involve more than just sending "QRL?" or listening for a couple of minutes. Activities like APRS, packet radio, Winlink and so on are effectively nets that operate 24/7. If you don't hear anything for a while that may just be because propagation isn't sending anything your way at the moment.

This is how Chris, G4HYG prepared to select the frequency to use for APRS over PSK. He recently wrote: "Before I released the HF version of APRS Messenger I spent some time checking  various frequencies on the 30m band. I found that the section from the 300 bd APRS frequency to the band edge appeared to be clear. I then started a period of monitoring the band from 10.1494 to 10.150 on a receiver with a digital mode program running with a very slow waterfall to catch anything I heard. This ran for a month from mid January to mid February." It's a pity the developer of the ROS digital mode that has caused so much disruption to other established activities could not have been as thorough and considerate in selecting operational frequencies.

To those who will trot out the response that activities like APRS have no more right to use a particular frequency than anything else I would say first of all that some types of activity need a specific frequency where other users can find it. It isn't a matter of one activity being more important than another. If you had to hunt to find what frequency everyone is using today, some types of worldwide net operation would not be possible. In any case, a frequency that was clear in, say, North America might well be occupied in Europe. Allowing legitimate activities sole use of an established frequency by gentleman's agreement is the only option. There is still plenty of room for other activities including ad-hoc beacons.

In activities like APRS, many dozens of stations all use the same frequency, making this a very efficient use of bandwidth. If users are driven off these frequencies or prevented from using these modes the result would be even less space left for other activities.

What people who object to this argument really mean is "I don't have any interest in that mode and I don't give a fig about those who do." Is ham radio a fraternity? Yes, we are like a family of brothers who are forever breaking each other's toys and beating the shit out of one another.


Tim, N9PUZ said...

I wish there were an efficient way to determine if a frequency you are considering for a beacon, QRSS, etc. were being used for another or the same purpose by others. Just as important, that information needs to expire or be manually renewed periodically. If there were a master list and an entry stayed on forever the list would quickly be useless.

As for the demise of politeness and courtesy my observations are that it is not limited to Amateur Radio.



Theodore said...

Your correspondent seems to be just voicing frustration - and I feel he was being rather restrained.
After all APRS over HF is an automated process that has only a tenuous right to exist on sparse HF frequencies at all.
For those of us who have to avoid packet mailboxes which BRAAAAAAP for some ham to exchange email (what happened to the internet?) APRS is just another obstacle to be avoided by people who like to communicate PERSONALLY.

I am afraid if I were your correspondent I don't know if I were to be as restrained as he was.
It seems experimenters have to take a back seat to those who want to build clunky automated tools which will, like the terminator movies, become huge QRM generators when conditions improve.

Also, it is bad form on your part to exploit this blogs readership for your own personal vendetta against an individual who does not have the advantage of your audience.
It is simply becoming bullying and as we have seen with the CMSK ZL, you are rapidly becoming pathological in this behaviour.
Once is forgiveable - but who is next on your list?

As for ROS - agreed - but how is HF aprs better, when it is does not even have a human at the controls?

Death to all robot controlled modes.

Unknown said...

I'm sorry Theodore but you are just talking nonsense. How can this be a personal vendetta when I deliberately don't mention the beacon operator's name, call or any other detail that would identify him personally?

APRS is an activity that has just as much right under the regulations as any other mode to take place on HF. If you think APRS should not be on the bands because it doesn't have a human at the controls, presumably you feel the same way about beacons?

APRS is an efficient use of bandwidth as it enables many people to operate on one frequency. One of the purposes of APRS (and Winlink, since you mention it) is that it is used by people to keep in contact when they are out of range of cellphone access and internet coverage. In that respect it is more deserving of space than the vast swathes of spectrum given over to making meaningless random contacts.

Finally, I'm getting just a little tired about you lecturing me about what I should or should not say in this blog. It's my blog and I will say what I damn well like in it. If you find what I write so strongly offensive, don't read it.

Theodore said...


Paul Stam PAØK said...

Hello Julian, I agree with you. It's your blog and you are free to write what ever you want. 73 Paul

Phil Terkoff said...

Hi Julian, I too fully agree with you and admire your equanimity in the face of the ugly side of our fraternity. I subscribe to your blog (usually as a lurker) because what you write is interesting, well-written, relevant to the hobby, and always informative. Most of what you do is above my technical ability, but that is one of the reasons why I try to follow it: to learn. I came across your blog and webpage because you gave me some sound advice on for which I am grateful.
We must not let the coarser side of humanity take over amateur radio as it has so much of society.

Fenris said...

Well Phil, I'm sorry to say that it's too late for that, and to be honest it's not something that has happened recently either, there was a lot of nasty stuff going on before I was licensed and I've been around for over 30 years now.

I too agree with Julian that this is his blog and he is free to say what he likes, it's always couched in well considered language and is thought provoking even if you don't agree with him.

I'd be fascinated to see what would happen if there were suddenly a return to the conditions of the sunspot maximum of the late 1950s, I wasn't there but even in 1979 propagation was considerable and the HF bands simply did not have any quiet spots and that was before the existence of many of the digital modes and automated stations of today.

One of the big attractions of amateur radio is that you can do what you like and experiment, but then one of the negatives in that is that there is no master control and even mandatory band plans (which some countries are forced to use) are not perfect in ironing out the problems.



Phil Terkoff said...

That's a well-made point, Brian, about what it would be like if we had super DX conditions like in the late 50s. I started as an SWL back then, but my receiver was an R1155, which had about one inch available for 20m and no extra bandspread, so picking out signals from the bedlam required lots of concentration. However, our equipment nowadays is several orders of magnitude more sensitive and selective, and much more suited to crowded conditions, so world-wide propagation as it was back then would not be a problem. In addition, we have the WARC bands now, plus extra room on 40m that wasn't available back then, and AM wasn't exactly narrow-band either;-)

BTW, my name is Colin (GM4JPZ) and I still haven't found a way to change my stupid pseudonym on the google blogs site)