CQ WPX SSB

This weekend I took a little time to try my luck/skill at participating in an international amateur radio contest. It’s called the CQ WPX SSB contest and the purpose of the contest is to try and work as many stations as possible throughout the world and also trying to get as many different call sign prefix variations as possible. Unfortunately, with my limited power output and very low antenna, along with my limited time over the weekend, I was only able to make contact with about 50 other stations.

My estimated standing in the contest. Pretty poor, but I had fun!

Regardless, I went through the process of completing A digital log of the contacts and submitted it to the organizing entity. It was the first time I’ve ever done anything like this and despite not being even close to winning, I was able to make some new country contacts which are always fun!

Satellites! It’s a Small World!

I am so very excited!

I worked a 15 hour shift yesterday having had to drive into work twice as at 5:30 PM, when I arrived home, I discovered that there was no power in Steinthal.  I need power to run my work computer.  Turns out the winds took out a bunch of WPS customers and they were giving me an ETA for electricity restoration sometime on Friday (48 hours later….)

I frantically made it back to work to cover my call and didn’t get home until around 11:45 PM last night.  This morning, exhausted on my day off, I was working around the house when my phone sent me an alert that AO-85, an amateur radio satellite, was currently over Russia and quickly heading towards the United States.  It travels at 16,904 miles an hour and at peak elevation over Steinthal, it was about 647 mi away from me.

Tracking software showing AO-85 to my north

The concept of satellite communication in this case is that I transmit a low power signal to the satellite on one frequency and the satellite re-transmits my signal back to the earth on another signal for other listeners to hear.  In this case, my signal traveled 647 miles to the satellite.  The satellite signal then travels anywhere from 329 miles to 900+ miles back to earth depending on where the receiving station is.    The foot print the satellite covers is huge (in this case, the entire US and Canada or about 9 million square miles).

As I fumble with my antenna and radio, I suddenly hear the AO-85 satellite and then a few others making calls on it.  When there was an opening I decided to give it a shot and see what happened, being completely unprepared at this point and having failed to even hear the SO-50 satellite a few days earlier.   To my surprise, I gave out a call and instantly heard someone reply to me!  The conversation is VERY brief with mainly an exchange of our respective calls and our grid square (an alphanumeric designation of our location on the earth).  I was able to tell the other operator thanks and that he was my first satellite contact ever and that was it.  Conversation done with the satellite barreling over the horizon at over 16,000 mph, I ran inside to look up the other operator’s call to see who I was able to contact?  Hoping for a contact many thousands of miles away and bragging to my friends and family how I was able to do that with a small hand-held radio at 5 watts would be enjoyable dinner conversation for sure.

However, as looked up the call-sign on a website,  I found out that the person I just got off the air with lived only 20 miles away in a small town called Whitehall, Wisconsin.  I found this fairly humorous at the time and was able to track down his email address so I thought I would write him a quick email thanking him.  He responded shortly afterwards and I learned that not only did he live 20 miles away from me, but his daughter and my daughter were high school classmates and friends. In fact he has been to my house in the past to pick up his daughter from a slumber party. Of course then neither one of us knew the other was an amateur radio operator.

So my Radio signal traveled over 1300 miles at 5 watts, potentially heard by anyone in the United States, but at that point in time the first person I talked to was in the same county as me. Small world…….

Looking forward to more satellite contacts later this summer when the weather warms up and enjoying company with friends and family while camping and boating.

 

AO-85 – the actual satellite I was able to contact

Satellites?  Absolutely!!

During the long winter months, I’ve had time to do a lot of research on amateur radio satellites. This is something that has always been a mystery to me and I’ve never really had the resources or time to spend learning what I needed to learn in order to actually utilize them. Well that has changed.

I finally decided to purchase a high gain dual band hand-held UHF antenna along with a radio (or possibly two or three) that would finally provide me with the opportunity to do something I dreamt about since I was a teenager.    I’m also hoping that this could be a fun activity during the summer weekends while camping.   Perhaps I will be the only nerd even remotely interested in this while sitting around the campfire enjoying a beer at night, but at this point my life I’m totally fine with that.

The satellites have changed over the years and are actually easier to make contact with them they were when amateur satellites originated. So to that end I am hoping that on Tuesday or Wednesday I will have the final pieces of hardware needed to try my hand and talk to somebody thousands of miles away using somewhere between three and 5 W of power.

SO-50 Will be the first satellite that is flying overhead and I should be able to reach it Tuesday night at 8 PM.  There is amazing software available now that makes it even easier to find the “birds” and know where they are while operating.  Since they are a moving target hundreds of miles above the earth, it’s very important to know exactly where to point the antenna while operating.   Wish me luck!

The first satellite opportunity I will have tomorrow night


An iPhone app that helps direct the antenna.  Found this from an operator I chatted with on Twitter today.  Makes me feel like I am in a Jedi Fighter!


The handheld antenna that will make everything happen (besides my hand holding the antenna and my other hand which will be on the radio)

The Tower

Finally have the 105 foot tower up and shed built!  I have everything mounted inside and the solar panels are charging the batteries!   I need a little help getting the steel pole up and secured for the panel brackets, but for now the panels are leaning against the shed and doing the job while on the ground.   I plan to install the FM repeater next week.

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Paul, the very brave climber that installed the 105 foot tower.

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The view from Steinthal Road. If you look closely, you will see Paul above the trees

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Completed and getting ready for the antenna mount.

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The solar panels temporarily leaning against shed.

The solar panels temporarily leaning against shed.

Charge controller running and charging the batteries!

Charge controller running and charging the batteries!

Radio Shed

Starting to build the radio shed which will house the charge converter, inverter, repeater and duplexers to name a few things.    Fiber optic cable is terminated in the residence and will be terminated in the shed next Tuesday.  Time crunching now with tower going up in less than a week….  Solar panels are in need of mounting, but I am hoping I can lean them up against the shed until I get the brackets which are about 6 weeks out….

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Building an Off Grid Solar-Powered Amateur Radio Repeater

I’m in the process of designing and building my first (and hopefully last) off grid solar power system to power an amateur radio repeater on my site.   This has been quite the undertaking, but soon we will have 2-meter amateur radio coverage within the Steinthal Valley.

The Problem

The problem I have been faced with for years has been that my residence is in a valley with approximately 100 feet elevation of hills on all sides making it virtually impossible for operation placing a tower in the valley (and close to the residence) nearly impossible and extremely costly as the heights I would need in order to have effective VHF coverage would require a tower nearly 200 feet tall, requiring FAA clearance.  Additionally, I am unable to obtain high-speed internet in the valley due to the lack of service in my location.  A secondary benefit of internet service via a radio link with a local provider will finally be a reality for the property.  In order to effectively kill two birds with one stone, I have elected to place an amateur radio tower in field located on the top of the hill to the northeast of the residence, but unfortunately this meant that it would be at least 1000 feet away from any power source and getting power to that location would require directional boring through a large area of wooded land.  The quoted cost of just the boring would be over $25,000 and cable would be another $5,000.  That simply is not in the budget for me.

The Solution

Why not build an off-grid photo-voltaic system that will allow me to install my amateur radio repeater in a more favorable location on my residence and provide me with high-speed internet at the same time?  This is exactly what I have set out to do.

The Parts

  • Repeater:  Bridgecom BCR-50V
  • Duplexers:  Bird Technologies Vari-Notch (6″ cavities) Model 28-37-02A
  • Antenna: Tram-Browning 6dB VHF omnidirectional antenna
  • Solar Panels: Two Solarworld 320 Watt  Sunmodule SW320 panels.
  • Panel Mounts:
  • Fiber Optic Cable:  CORNING I 006KUC-T4130D20 – ALTOS Lite(TM) Loose Tube, Gel-Free, Single-Jacket, Single-Armored Cable, 6 fiber, 62.5 µm multimode (1000 feet)
  • Media Converters: StarTech 10/100 Fiber to Ethernet Media Converter Multi Mode SC 2 km (MCM110SC2).
  • Tower:  110′ Rohn 25.
  • Charge Converter: Blue Sky Energy Solar Boost 3024iL with factory installed DUO-Option.  Charges the 24v battery bank via solar panels.
  • Inverter:  Converts 24DC to 110V AC to power equipment.
  • Batteries: Universal 12v 250 AH Deep Cycle Sealed AGM Batteries – UB8D hooked in series for a 24 V system
  • Meter:  Bayite DC 6.5-100V 0-100A LCD Display Digital Current Voltage Power Energy Meter Multimeter Ammeter Voltmeter with 100A Current Shunt

     The Repeater System

    The Radio

Bridgecom BCR-50V 2-meter repeater

Bridgecom BCR-50V 2-meter repeater

A repeater is simply a combination of a radio receiver and a radio transmitter that receives a weak or low-level signal on one frequency and re-transmits it at a higher level or higher power on another frequency, so that the signal can cover longer distances without degradation.   The repeater I own, a Bridgecom BCR-50V is programmed to receive signals on 144.850 MHz and transmits on 145.450 MHz.  It will be housed along with the duplexers at the base of a guyed Rohn-25 100 foot tower in the northern field of my property.

I recently received my frequency allocation from The Wisconsin Association of Repeaters and for the sake of completeness the information regarding the repeater is as follows:

System Type: Repeater
Transmit Freq: 145.450
Receive Freq: 144.850
Callsign: NJØY
Transmitter Latitude: 43-58-44N
Transmitter Longitude: 87-59-55W
City: Kiel
State: WI
ERP (Watts): 47
EIRP (Watts): 77
Site Elevation (AMSL): 951
Antenna HAAT (ft): 163
Antenna Pattern: Omni Antenna Height AGL (ft): 100
Antenna Gain (dBi): 5.7
Primary Emission Designator: 14KØF3E
Tx CTCSS: 146.2
Rx CTCSS: 146.2

The Duplexers

Bird Technologies Vari-Notch Duplexers

Bird Technologies Vari-Notch Duplexers

Duplexers are large canisters that are tuned to the send and receive frequencies of the repeater and allow bidirectional communications to occur with one antenna.  In other words, the duplexer enables the repeater to transmit and receive simultaneously on a single antenna and feedline without interference to each function by providing the necessary “isolation” between the transmit and the receive frequencies.

The Antenna

I am placing a Tram-Browning 6dB VHF omnidirectional antenna on top of the tower.

The Fiber

Finally, I plan to put a fiber media converter at the base of the tower so I can run a 1000′ fiber optical cable back to the residence allowing me to monitor and control the system remotely.  The cable run back to the residence is too long for a traditional CAT5 cable which has a maximum acceptable distance of approximately 328 feet.    This won’t be an issue with fiber optic cable, however,  which would allow me to have a single run of several miles depending on the cable I use.   I will need to convert the CAT5 input from the tower base into a fiber signal for the 1000+ foot run to the residence where I will then convert it back to a (utilizing a second media converter) to be connected to my local router at the residence.

Powering the System

Because of the remote location, I was faced with the challenge of powering the system without access to nearby 110 VAC.  I currently have a 20kW grid tied solar array on three trackers providing near all the energy needs of my residence and lodge, but this new system will be much smaller and completely off the grid.

Determining the System Size

Calculating the size of the system was a challenge and it has been somewhat difficult given the number of unknown variables within the calculation.  Given my northern latitude and seemingly never-ending winters, I tried to build enough redundancy into the system to ensure that it would provide at least 3 days of autonomy (i.e. it will continue to run without any sun to charge for at least three days) and for those of you interested, this is how I calculated the system size:

STEP 1 – Calculate Average Daily Watt Hours (Wh) Needed

(AC Average Daily Wh ÷ Inverter Efficiency ) + DC Average Daily Wh = Average Daily Wh

There are many variables in this calculation.  Basically, what you need to do is calculate what the total power consumption will be in Wh of all items that you plan to power with the system.  For example, in my case I will be powering a 2-meter ham radio repeater. The repeater will be idle most of the day and I know that it draws about .5A when at idle.

Over 24 hours this equates to 12 Amp hours (Ah)

(0.5A X 24 hours) = 12 Amp hours.

(12 Ah X 12 VDC) = 144Wh per day while idle

When transmitting at full power (50 W) it actually draws about 8 amps.  Assuming 1 hour of transmitting operation a day = (8A X 1 hour) = 8Ah

(8Ah X 12 VDC) = 96Wh per day at full power

So total daily power consumption of the repeater will be around:

(144Wh + 96Wh) = 240Wh per day.

I will also have a fiber media converter which I calculated will use a total of 288 Wh per day.

Finally, I have built into the system an additional load of 2Ah at 12 volts for additional radios and internet routers for a total additional power consumption of

(2A X 12 VDC X 24 hours) = 576Wh.

So my average daily Wh needed will be (240Wh + 576Wh) = 816Wh

This is probably overkill, but my primary concern is to ensure without any doubt that in the dead of winter (when the batteries are cold and there is limited daily sun available at my location) I have a system that is up and running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

STEP 2 – Determine the battery bank capacity in Wh

(Avg daily Wh) X (Days of Autonomy) X (Battery Temperature Multiplier) ÷ (Discharge Limit) = Battery Bank Capacity in Watt Hours

The number of “Days of Autonomy” is the number of days the system would run without any sun to charge the batteries.  I am going to choose 3 days of autonomy.  “Discharge Limit” is the percentage of discharge the system is allowed.  In order to ensure longevity of the battery system, I am going to try and not allow more than 50% discharge.  Therefore, I want my system to last for three days with no sun after which there is still 50% charge remaining (again more wiggle room if the weather gets unbearably bad in the winter).  Finally there is a battery temperature multiplier that takes into account the average temperature of the system and the fact that the batteries will be much less efficient at lower temperatures.

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Because of my extremely cold winters (at least in my mind), I will use the worst case scenario of 20 degrees which gives me a multiplier of 1.59.

My equation would therefore be:

816Wh X 3 days X 1.59 ÷ .50 = 7,784 Wh

STEP 3 – Determine battery bank capacity in Amp hours (Ah)

As you probably already know, Ohm’s Law states that P=IE or Power = Current (I)  X Voltage (E).  So in order to calculate the current (I) we simply apply this law to our equation and solve for I.

(Battery bank capacity in Wh) ÷ (System Voltage) = (Battery Bank Capacity in Ah)

Since I have chosen to use a 24 V system, my equation would look like this:

7,784 Wh ÷ 24 Volts = 324 Ah

STEP 4 – Determine the number of parallel strings

Batteries can be connected in series (i.e. positive pole to negative pole) which will effectively increase the overall voltage of the system, but the current will remain the same.  They can also be connected in parallel (i.e. positive pole to positive pole and negative pole to negative pole).  This effectively maintains the system voltage which will be held at a constant and is identical to the individual voltages of the batteries, but the actual current (Amps) will increase in additive fashion to the whatever the value is for each battery.  So for example:  Two 6 volt 200Ah batteries hooked in series will result in a 12 Volt 200 Ah system.  The same batteries hooked in parallel will result in a 6 Volt 400 Ah system.  I will need something in the neighborhood of 324Ah at 24 volts.  I have decided that two 12V batteries rated at 250 Ah each should probably do the job.   In my case, I have decided to use Universal 12v Batteries 250 AH Deep Cycle Sealed AGM Batteries (UB8D) hooked in series for a 24 V system  I will therefore have a 24V system and 250Ah.  I can always double my AH in the future if needed by adding two more batteries and a second parallel string.

STEP 5 – Determine the number of batteries in each series string

(DC System Voltage) ÷ (Battery Voltage) = # of batteries in each string

I am going with a 24V system and 12V batteries.

24V ÷ 12V = 2 batteries per string

STEP 6 – Determine the total number of batteries needed for the system

(# of Series Strings) X (# of batteries in each series string) = Total # of batteries needed

In my case as I have discussed above, I will have one string of two batteries for now.  I may add to that if needed in the future.

The Battery Box

I originally planned on making a battery box and placing it at the base of the tower, but after more thought I decided the better thing to do was to build a small shed and insulate it so that I had a more secure structure on site for all the gear.

Battery box construction will be more than large enough to house the batteries, charge converter and inverter for the system...

Battery box construction will be more than large enough to house the batteries, charge converter and inverter for the system…

Solarworld 320 W panels delivered and ready for install

Solarworld 320 W panels delivered and ready for install

The Rohn-25 Tower Base in place and ready to be extended.

The Rohn-25 tower base in place and ready to be extended.

In weekend warrior mode, even though it's Thursday....

In “Weekend Warrior Mode”, even though it’s Thursday….

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Rolling the fiber into the field prior to trenching

The not so enjoyable task of pulling cable up a 100+ foot hill, through dense woods in the rain...

The not so enjoyable task of pulling cable up a 100+ foot hill, through dense woods in the rain…

When I got through the woods, I further tweaked the location of the fiber and later this weekend I will begin the process of trenching and burying the cable.  The portion through the woods will ultimately be placed in conduit for added protection.  The cable is armored already, but I really don’t want to have to worry about this leg of the fiber run.

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Finally made it to the top of the hill and through the woods 1000 feet from the residence! And it was raining too!

This weekend I will begin trenching and getting the cable buried.  I have to complete the battery box on site and hope to get that completed by Tuesday May 3rd at when the fiber will be terminated in the residence and at the base of the tower.   May 10th will mark the completion of the tower and placement of the antenna.  I will be very busy over the next couple of weeks hoping I can get everything coordinated as planned…..  WISH ME LUCK!!!

 

 

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Tower work…

I’m in the process of constructing a 2-meter amateur radio repeater to be located on the hill on the north end of my property.  Base is in and waiting for warm and dry weather conditions so the rest of the tower sections can be added.  Goal is to go 100 feet up!  YIKES!  For the record, I am not going to be putting up the sections.  That is going to be all professionally done.    The radio will be powered by a small off-grid solar installation that I AM going to be doing myself.  More on that whole process when I am done with it.  Never a dull moment for me…..

 

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The 10 foot Rohn-25 tower base anchored into the ground on the hill overlooking the residence. Future home of the Steinthal amateur radio repeater.

VK0EK – DXPEDITION to Heard Island

I just find this fascinating and have to share.  This is a team of guys from the US and Canada that for three years have planned an expedition to this subantarctic island!  They are mostly scientists in various academic fields, but more importantly, they are amateur radio operators and their primary purpose in doing this is to set up radios on this island and try to communicate with as many individuals from around the world.  This is where the term DXpedition comes from.  DX means to talk to someone far away (usually in another country) on the radio.

The Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands are an Australian external territory and volcanic group of barren Antarctic islands, about two-thirds of the way from Madagascar to Antarctica. Discovered in the mid-19th century, they have been territories of Australia since 1947 and contain the only two active volcanoes in Australian territory. The uninhabited islands are among the most remote places on Earth.

The team goes by the callsign: VK0EK and you may CLICK HERE to be taken to their blog which is a good read, if you are a geek and into ham radio things.

As of this moment they have worked a total of 33,985 contacts (QSOs), the majority of which are in Morse Code (CW), followed by voice (SSB) and a few digitally as well.  I plan to try contacting them in the next few days and will need a lot of luck not having practiced much Morse code in over 25 years.

The current status of VK0EK (Click Image to be taken to their site)

The current status of VK0EK (Click on the image to be taken to their data site)

The Team on Braveheart departing for Heard Island

The Team on Braveheart departing for Heard Island

The tents at the VK0EK camp after a major storm

The tents at the VK0EK camp after a major storm yesterday.

I talked to a guy in Virginia on Sunday!

I have been waiting a while for the weather to finally improve here in Steinthal so I could finish putting up my amateur radio antenna. There’s an old TV antenna tower next to my house that has been sitting there just waiting for an update and I decided to start the process on Sunday. I was finally able to climb up the tower and hang a multiband dipole wire antenna.

The Alpha Delta DX-CC Multiband dipole

The Alpha Delta DX-CC Multiband dipole

The installation took a while longer that I thought, with a big part of the project requiring a 1 inch hole being drilled into the stone masonry of my house right outside my office.  While that was a chore, the most daunting part of the day was realizing just how long the copper grounding rods are which need to be driven into the ground and hooked up to the radio in order to prevent or at least diminish the possibility of a catastrophic electrocution.   That sucker was 10 feet long!   I started hitting it with a hammer while on a ladder and slowly but surely was able to get nearly the entire rod into the ground!  After hooking it up to my radio and with only one arm of the dipole up and the other on the ground, I ran into the office to see what I could hear.  I was able to hear a guy in Clarke County, Virginia (857 miles from me) and decided to give him a call.  IT WORKED!!!  So after that, I headed back out and finished putting up the rest of the antenna and I am officially up and running on the air again after nearly 25 years of absence!

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The 10 foot grounding rod that I pounded into the ground..

The drill and bit used to drill my hole for the coax..

Drilling the hole for the coax..

Radio Hobby Revisited…..

Yes, I’m an amateur radio operator…..

I’ve done this since I was 11 years old back in 1978.  Back then, this WAS what the internet is today… a way to communicate and share ideas with people all over the world.   My first call sign was KA0CDM and I was a novice for many years, at that time relegated to only being able to communicate with others using Morse code (I know it well, even to this day…..very nerdy…..), until I turned 17 when I took my General Class test and then shortly afterwards my Extra Class test becoming NJ0Y.

Now licensed radio operators are able to get “vanity” call signs by applying for them through the FCC, but back when I received this one it was completely by chance.  I remember very clearly how I found out I had such a unique call sign while I was driving my grandma’s 1973 brown Chevy Vega hatchback to my grandparent’s house from NE Iowa where I lived.  I was a page in the State House of Representatives and was home for the weekend with my family, but my grandparents lived in Des Moines so I stayed with them while I was serving as a page.  Before the days of cell phones I was unable to call her to see if she received the FCC document in the mail and I was about 60 miles outside of Des Moines desperately curious to know if my new license came in the mail.  I got on my radio and called another radio operator in Des Moines and asked him to call my Grandma on the phone for me.  She answered and told the friend that I did in fact receive some mail from the FCC and she opened the envelope while I was driving.  My friend reported back to me that my call was now N0JOY.  “NO JOY” he said!!  Kinda depressing….but my Grandmother quickly corrected him and said it was NJ0Y.  “ENJOY !!!”  he exclaimed!…. and that is how I learned my great call sign.

Over the years I enjoyed doing club activities and meeting up with some very interesting people.  Some of them were quite strange, but still enjoyable in their own right.  There was always something or someone fun to look at while at the various meetings, hamfests and Field Day excursions.  I was even the Winneshiek County Emergency Coordinator while I was attending Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.  Since my college days, however, I lost interest and was simply too busy raising kids and dealing with my demanding education and subsequent career.

Then about 3 months ago, I started thinking about getting back into the hobby while constructing a tower in my north field to someday house an amateur radio repeater on 144 MHz.  As I was applying for the coordinated frequencies for my repeater, I began thinking about my old mentor, Gary.  The very same day that I mailed out my application, I got a surprise call from none other than Gary (W4GAL)who now lives in sunny Florida.  I hadn’t heard from him in probably 30 years.   He’s in his mid 70’s and enjoys his retirement and is a VERY active and accomplished amateur radio operator holding many coveted and difficult to obtain awards and has even written for the definitive journal of the hobby, QST.  He has travelled the globe to promote the hobby and it is a great honor for me to have had him as my teacher and the administrator of my novice examination.  I remember crying in great despair because I was struggling with Morse code part of the exam, but his patience with me was well worth it in the end and I eventually passed.

Now Gary is planning a move and wanted to sell a radio and some other equipment.  I ended up being very much in the market and have recently purchased an excellent radio that I hope to use in the very near future.  In the meantime, the hobby has changed so much with the advent of the internet that I am able to use his radio in Florida, having near complete control of everything on his radio while sitting at my laptop.   Truly amazing to me having been out of this hobby for so long!

I have plans to get my antenna up in the very near future and hopefully can enjoy listening and talking to many new people.  I am especially interested in some of the new digital modes that didn’t exist when I was active and I have always wanted to do EME communications (Earth-Moon-Earth….  bouncing a radio signal off the moon and having it reflect back to the earth to communicate with someone on the opposite side of the earth)…  I own the domain njoy.net and for now it forwards to this site.  Also I recently discovered a subgroup of the Wally Byam Caravan Club (The world’s largest Airstream club) that has a subgroup of amateur radio operators called the WBCCI Amateur Radio Club and I am a new member of that group as well.  Greatly looking forward to having some fun with my newfound, but old hobby.