Tag Archives: ham radio

Hamfest Review: HAM RADIO convention in Friedrichshafen, Germany

Better Late than Never

I know I’m a little late in posting this, so I figured I’d better get to it.  I’m going to write this from the perspective of an American amateur radio operator and also one who’s experience with the large ham conventions involves the Hara Arena.  If you read nothing else below this paragraph, just read the following line and go away:
Seriously.  It’s that good.

I have a ton more pictures than I could ever fit into this blog entry.  At the very bottom I have links to my Picasa albums.  Feel free to take a peek!

The Messe Friedrichsafen sign. It means you’re there. It’s almost as reassuring as seeing the “MONTGOMERY COUNTY” water tower as you round the curve on Shoup Mill Road/Turner Road in Dayton. Almost. AD8BC Photo


HAM RADIO (yes, that’s the name of the show, in ALL CAPS) is the premiere European ham radio convention, held annually at the Messe Friedrichshafen (roughly translated as “Friedrichshafen Fairgrounds”) in Friedrichshafen, Germany.  For the past few years, they have also teamed up with Maker World, a parallel “Maker Faire” style event at the same venue, which is a match made in heaven.  According to rumor, the HAM RADIO is the third largest amateur radio convention in the world, the Dayton Hamvention being #2 and the Japan Ham Fair in Tokyo being #1.  I can’t yet find where the 2015 numbers have been released, but HAM RADIO in 2014 brought 17,100, up from 15,300 in 2013.  In contrast, the Dayton Hamvention topped 25,600 in 2015.

Yes, the Messe Friedrichshafen has a courtyard with a nice fountain. The HARA Arena in Dayton had a fountain once, too.We don’t talk about that anymore. AD8BC Photo

As much as I had promised myself that I wouldn’t compare this show to Dayton, I’m going to anyway.  Just as a frame of reference.  There are two marked differences between HAM RADIO and the Hamvention, the first being that the Messe Friedrichshafen is incredibly beautiful compared to the HARA Arena, and the second being that it appears that the HAM RADIO is a professionally run convention vs. the all-volunteer Hamvention.  Let me stop there for a second — this is in no way saying that I’m favoring the professional approach over the volunteer approach.  The HARA Arena works for Hamvention (it’s about the most suitable place for Hamvention within a two hour drive of Dayton) and I always really like to see how the Hamvention is pulled together each year by an all volunteer crew.  But it’s refreshing to see a ham radio show run very professionally in a beautiful place.

The Messe Friedrichshafen from the air. HAM RADIO uses the large building on the left, and the third and fourth buildings from the left. The fifth from the left houses the Maker World event. Wikimedia photo.

The HAM RADIO show exists in three large airplane-hangar size halls that are well lit and clean with beautiful wood ceilings.  Plenty of room overhead to display antennas.  The largest building, Hall 1, houses the commercial exhibits and the national radio clubs from all over the world, including the ARRL.  The Dayton Amateur Radio Association is represented as well.  In buildings three and four, you’ll find the all-indoor flea market.  In some ways it lacks the charm of the

Well-lit, wide open spaces and beautiful wood ceilings at the Messe Friedrichshafen puts the Hara Arena to shame. AD8BC Photo.

outdoor flea market in Dayton on the broken blacktop, but this is easily made up for by the fact that, well, it’s inside.  Building 5 houses the Maker World exhibits, and admission to Maker World is included with your HAM RADIO ticket (and vice versa).

If you have been to Dayton, you have definitely noticed that it draws an international crowd. The HAM RADIO does as well, and they celebrate it!  A tradition among the international clubs is that many provide snacks from their home country at their booths.  My favorites included sliced fresh prosciutto ham and parmigiano reggiano cheese.

The flea market tables were all indoors, and it seemed comparable to the flea markets at Hamvention and other large hamfests.  Be assured that it’s not just American hams that load up a U-Haul trailer with “junque” year after year to sell.  It was different junque with a European flavor, but still junque.

Maker World

Every one of those LEDs is surface mount. Visitors would be given one of those panels and be taught how to solder the LEDs. When finished, their panel would be clamped to the two powered hanger wires. AD8BC Photo.

At the end of the weekend the LED panels stretched to the ceiling. AD8BC Photo.

Maker World was held on that Saturday and Sunday in  Building 5, and the HAM RADIO ticket also gained admission to this show as well.  I have never been surrounded by so many 3D printers in my life.   There were some robots (including a cool underwater robot), a case modding contest, a place to practice soldering surface-mount LEDs, and lots of Arduino and Raspberry Pi stuff.  And a lot of people dressed in weird interesting costumes.

The “Floppy Organ” makes music using the stepper motors in old floppy disc drives. I saw this in person. Click on the photo to see their YouTube video of the organ in action. AD8BC Photo.

I have never been to a Maker Faire or similar show in the US, but it was obvious to me how well these two shows coexisted.  Hams were the original makers, and there are so many parallels between the Maker Movement and ham radio in general.  If the Hamvention ever shrinks down enough to free up a room (and this may not happen anytime soon given that the Hamvention this year only had a handful of empty tables!) I think it would be worth the effort to set aside space for Maker-type vendors and exhibitors.

Getting There

So, you’ve put the HAM RADIO show on your bucket list.  You may be asking now if it’s difficult/expensive to get there.  I’ll be honest, it ain’t cheap.  But it ain’t difficult either.

The two most expensive parts of this trip were flights and lodging.  Even using my frequent flyer miles, I still had to cough up about $900 for the airline ticket from Chicago to Zurich.  It probably would have cost me $1600-$2000 without the miles.  I was blessed to have a metric ton of IHG (Holiday Inn Priority Club) points, and they had a brand new Holiday Inn Express a few blocks from the Messe, so that worked out swell for me.  Most of you would probably need to pay for a hotel, and if you are used to American hotels, if I were you I’d try for this one.  It’s an easy walk to the Messe, and they will call a taxi cab for you if you want to go into town.

Everything else was easy.  As in really easy.  In fact, I’ll put it to you this way.  Let the only barrier be the expense of the flight and rooms.  Even dining isn’t that expensive.  Everything else is simple and not worth worrying about.  You won’t get lost or stranded, and it’s a pretty safe area.

I flew from Chicago to Zurich Switzerland with a stop at London Heathrow, where I caught a train direct from the airport to Romanshorn Switzerland, and then crossed Lake Constance on a ferry which takes you right into Friedrichshafen, where I caught a cab to the Holiday Inn Express.  The only time I needed to show my passport was when I landed in Zurich, and American citizens are very welcome there with no special visa.  Everybody seems to know enough English to help you, whether they are selling you a train ticket or driving you in their taxicab.

The trains in Switzerland are almost painfully on time, and right there in the Zurich Airport you can buy a round trip combination train/ferry ticket that will take you right to Friedrichshafen and back to the Zurich airport when you return.

So let me say this again: Let the only barrier be the expense of the flight and rooms. This may not be as easy to get to as Dayton.  But set a goal, save up, and do this at least one time.  Don’t worry about not speaking the language, don’t worry about getting around once you get there.  Don’t worry about getting lost.  Friedrichshafen is a wonderful town with friendly people and good food.  Visiting Friedrichshafen won’t be an annual trip for me (like Dayton) but I will definitely try to go every five years or so.


I’m not a professional photographer and I have a ton of pictures, so I’ve opened up these albums on my Picasa page.  Feel free to look around and if you have questions about anything, please email me or comment below!

HAM RADIO Friedrichshafen Friday pictures

HAM RADIO Friedrichshafen Saturday pictures

HAM RADIO Friedrichshafen Sunday pictures


Published about three months too late from DFW, Texas.

Interesting Ideas: Using 75Ω RG-6 or RG-59 Coax in Ham Radio Applications

F type coaxial connector commonly used on 75Ω RG-6 and RG-59 coax. (Wikimedia photo)

I ran into this article from January tonight while cruising Facebook.  Michael Martens KB9VBR writes about the advantages and disadvantages of using cheap, easy-to-come-by RG-6 and RG-59 coaxial cable in amateur radio applications.  Of course, this type of cable, normally used for cable and satellite TV, closed circuit TV, and even some popular industrial automation networks (Allen-Bradley ControlNet and Modicon Remote IO) has a 75Ω impedance instead of the 50Ω impedance of coaxial cable that we normally use in radio, such as RG-58, RG-8, RG-8X, etc.  Is this a problem?  It can be, and it is more pronounced on VHF and UHF than it is on HF… which is kind of cool, because it’s more easily abated on UHF and VHF than it is at HF.  From Michael’s article:

The first method is to measure and cut your coax so the entire cable run can be measured in 1/2 wavelength multiples. For the two meter band, a half wave is approximately 38 inches. Keeping your cable length within these 1/2 wave multiples will present a near 50 Ohm match at the transmitter end of the line. But how does this work?

Say you where to take a length of 50 Ohm coax and put a 100 Ohm resister at the end. If you where to measure the impedance at the other end, what would it be? Not necessarily 50 Ohms. The reason is that coax offers a mix of resistive and reactive elements that change with the length of the coax. For example, using 1/4 wave length multiples of 75 Ohm coax will give you your 100 Ohm resister a 50 Ohm impedance at the transmitter end. Now if you were to substitute that resister with a 50 ohm antenna, using 1/2 wave multiples of 75 Ohm coax would give you a 50 Ohm impedance. Not too shabby.

This practice works well with VHF as the 1/2 waves are relatively short, so you don’t need to contend with a bunch of extra coax cable. But as you lower the frequency, those wavelengths increase, to the point were you’ve got up to 120 feet of extra cable on the 75 meter band.

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Crosstown Traffic: Ham Radio 2.0 Webcasts with KC5HWB

Jason Johnston KC5HWB, owner of the Grapevine Amateur Radio dealership, host of the Grapevine Ham Radio blog, and now also hosting the Ham Radio 2.0 webcast. Photo credit KC5HWB

I’ve been busy.  Ever since I got back from Europe (and yes, I’m still putting together a post I am writing about HAM RADIO in Friedrichshafen, it’s coming, I promise), I have had so little time to maintain this blog, much less watch the ham radio webcasts that I used to not miss an episode of.  I am literally about two months behind for both Ham Nation and Amateur Logic.

And now here’s another show that I don’t have time to watch, although I skimmed through the last one and thought it was pretty good.  My friend Jason Johnston KC5HWB, sole proprietor of Grapevine Amateur Radio and owner/operator of the Grapevine Ham Radio blog has been getting into the video game with Ham Radio 2.0 (YouTube archive here). Actually, it looks like he’s been dabbling in it for about a year but he’s really taken off over the past month.  It’s on my list of things to catch up on.  Nice job Jason!

Current episode featured below.

In the News: Celebrating the “normalization” of relations with Cuba with Ham Radio

Although the Cuban political system leaves a lot to be desired, the Cuban government has allowed (and in come cases, even encouraged) amateur radio within it’s borders, despite it’s oppressive regime.

Today, the US flag has been raised at the US Embassy in Havana, the first time it has flown there since President Eisenhower (yes, most people think it was JFK bit it was really Ike) ceased diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961, after good ol’ Castro kicked out most of the US diplomats.

Yet, somehow, Cuba still allowed ham radio operators to continue their hobby, even allowing them to contact other stations overseas.

Anyway, even though their government pretty much sucks, their citzens are still good people, and it’s nice to see that this October, US and Cuban hams will come together for a joint US-Cuba DX operation to be operated under the callsign T42US.

From the ARRL:

“The combined group will be operating under the call sign T42US between October 21 and October 28, including during the CQ WW DX SSB Contest,” the announcement from The 7163 DX Group and the Federacion de Radioaficionados de Cuba (FRC) said. “There will be nine operators from the USA and approximately the same number from Cuba. The T42US group will operate 160-10 meters, SSB and CW.”

The US Team leader is Jim Millner, WB2REM, and the Cuban Team Leader is Bob Ibarra, CM2KL. Millner said the T42US operation will be among the first of its kind in Cuba and will involve a joint effort between the US and Cuban teams.

Other operators who are expected to join the operation include Jorge Novoa, CO2II; Nancy Yoshida, K9DIG; Mark Wohlschlegel, WC3W; Amed Santana, CO2AME; John Sweigart, KK4SHF; Ruthie Sweigart, KC4BAB; Gordon Blumenfeld, WB0TKL; Rolf Seichter, KE1Y, and Stephanie Koles, WX3K

Published (fittingly) from Miami, FL.

Hamfests: Checking in from Friedrichshafen

DSC00316Three days have gone by quickly here at the HAM RADIO/Maker World show at the Messe Friedrichshafen in Germany.  I had every intention of doing blog posts at least a couple of times from here but this has been three days of pure exhaustion.  Good exhaustion though.  Dayton-esque exhaustion.  I took over 400 pictures and it was murder getting them to Picasa over this hotel internet connection.  But I will tell you all about it, I promise!  I might even do a KØNEB-type slideshow if I can think of a suitable song to go behind it.  Joe already used “Der Kommissar” last year so I need to think of something else–maybe “99 Luftballons” or something like that.  Probably not the theme song to Hogan’s Heroes–that might be too over the top.

In a nutshell, it was a fantastic show.  Really, be prepared, I’m going to try to talk you into coming here sometime.  I may not come every year, but I’d be willing to bet I’ll return to this show sometime in the next five years or so.  It’s that good.

Tomorrow I go to London for a few more days of vacation (er-holiday) before I return to the ‘States on Friday in time for Independence Day (which they may still not be too fond of in England so it all works out).

Auf Wiedersehen!

Published from Friedrichshafen, Germany.



Interesting Ideas: A counterpoise for your HT

“Tiger Tail” counterpoise wire on a Yeasu VX-5 HT (hackaday.com photo)

Saw this idea earlier today on the Ham Radio Go Kits group on Facebook.  It’s called a “Tiger Tail” – something I’ve never heard of in my 26 years in ham radio.  Turns out it’s actually a thing, and not a bad idea, in theory – you attach a quarter-wavelength piece of wire to the ground side of your antenna connector on your handy-talky and just let it hang down — making your vertical HT antenna a full dipole. I’m not certain exactly how much this would improve things if you were actually holding the radio–the fact that you are holding the radio, especially if it’s made of metal, actually makes your body part of the antenna system and probably throws it off anyway.  God knows what happens to your antenna system if this thing is clipped to your belt.  But if you had the radio sitting on a wooden table, it might really help.

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In the News: KWQC profiles Quad Cities ham James Mayfield W9WRL

I dug this up early this morning, an NBC affiliate in the Quad Cities profiled a ham last week from Moline IL.  Fran Riley of WWQC-TV6 in Davenport, Iowa spent some time with James Mayfield W9WRL and put together this story, which is one of the best news stories I’ve seen about ham radio in a long time (with the distinctive exception of this piece which is one of my favorites).  Mr. Riley obviously took his time in learning about the hobby and really put together a story that made all of ham radio look good.  The video features a lot of vintage gear, including the radio set that Paul Tibbets K4KVZ (SK) used on the Enola Gay when it bombed Hiroshima.

I would have embedded the video here but wasn’t able to so you’re going to have to go to the WWQC site and check it out for yourself.


Published from Chicago, IL

In the News: Euless Ham Radio Club featured in Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Jason KC5HWB over at Grapevine Amateur Radio shared this today on their Facebook page.  Always good to see a reasonably well-written article about Amateur Radio, and it’s even better when it’s about a local group of guys.  The Euless Amateur Radio Club (W5EUL) was featured on Tuesday in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

From the article:

“We promote public service as back-ups to the police department and communication support for the Community Emergency Response Team,” which is a national organization under the Department of Homeland Security, said James Knighton, president of Amateur Radio Euless. “CERTS can do basic first aid, assess situations to tell the city’s responders where and whether help is needed.”

Some club members are also Skywarn storm spotters with the Tarrant County branch of Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES), among hundreds of North Texas operators trained by the National Weather Service, Knighton said.

“We have eight or 10 members in RACES,” Knightson said. “We’re called up by the county during bad weather. But we’re storm spotters, not chasers. We looking for wind speeds above 50 mph, water coming up over curbs, and hail bigger than three-quarter inch.”

Euless Police Lt. Joe Kraft recognized how vital amateur radio operators can be in crises, so when he became the department’s emergency management coordinator, he sought out and joined Amateur Radio Euless.

Published from DFW, Texas

In the News: 11 Year Old joins the DX Century Club

Ahhh, HF. It’s been a long time since I called CQ on 20 meters. When I lived in Grand Rapids, our local club (The Grand Rapids Amateur Radio Association) opened up our radio room at the Red Cross on Wednesday nights, and I loved playing on 20 and 40 meters. Even some 10 meter contacts when the sunspots were just right.

Brandon Byrd KF5NYQ proudly displays his DX Century Club award from the ARRL (Photo Credit: WLOX)

Since I moved to Texas, I haven’t had the time or opportunity to set up on HF. But this kid in the news is much luckier. WLOX TV in Biloxi Mississippi reports that Brandon Byrd KF5NYQ, an 11 year old General class ham operator (which is impressive enough) has earned his DX Century Club (DXCC) certificate–for those not familiar with this prestigious Amateur Radio award, this means he managed to contact 100 different countries.  Which is about 90 more than I have managed to do in my 25+ years in ham radio.

Congratulations, Brandon!  Great achievement.


(Published from DFW, Texas)


From my Facebook Feed: Could this finally be the end for Radio Shack?

Mike KM5Z posted this article from Bloomberg.com on the Dallas Amateur Radio Club Facebook page that outlines the current negotiations that Radio Shack is making with Sprint Corp.  In the proposed deal, Radio Shack would sell around half of their store leases to Sprint, and close the rest.  The locations sold to Sprint would operate under the Sprint name, effectively ending the Radio Shack brand after 94 years.

Was nice to see the nod to Radio Shack’s roots in the Ham Radio business.  From the article:

The discussions represent the endgame for a chain that traces its roots to 1921, when it began as a mail-order retailer for amateur ham-radio operators and maritime communications officers. It expanded into a wider range of electronics over the decades, and by the 1980s was seen as a destination for personal computers, gadgets and components that were hard to find elsewhere. In more recent years, though, competition from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and an army of e-commerce sellers hurt customer traffic.

Radio Shack is the company that was responsible for my entry into the electronics hobby, which went on to define my career.  In my personal opinion, and I will probably come up with a lengthy editorial about this, Radio Shack numbered it’s days when it left the hobbyist market in the 90s and went on to become a place where you would go to buy a cell phone or maybe an audio cable.  Radio Shack could have saved itself by watching the market when the maker movement started exploding over the last 10 years and re-entering it with more electronics stuff, which they ended up doing by getting into the Arduino and Raspberry Pi market, but it was too little too late.  Online companies like Allied, Digi-Key, and Jameco (to name a few) had beaten them to the punch.  When I was young, if Radio Shack didn’t have it, you didn’t build it until you decided to cough up the high minimum orders, or you just bit the bullet and waited until the next hamfest and hoped you could find the part.  Now, there are many local electronics shops, and the major vendors no longer have insurmountable minimum order policies.  Or you can go on Ebay and get twenty times what you need at the same cost as just a few, if you can wait a week or two for it to get here from China.

Soon it will be time to say goodbye to the Jap Shack.  May they rest in peace.


(Published from DFW, Texas)

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