The KD2OTG amateur radio station

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About me

• First licensed in 2017 when a box fan sparked my interest in amateur radio

• I created the free FRG software app in Mar ’20 during COVID-19 quarantine

About my gear

About my software

Frequency Recorder/Graph by KD2OTG is an application that monitors a radio frequency, recording .WAV audio files and plotting a usage graph

Click here for free software download or to watch a 4-minute video demo.

No reason to feel intimidated taking your first amateur radio license exam

Originally published December 10, 2017

It was five minutes to noon and cold rain fell hard against a troop of girl scouts as they ran with poster-board projects from the door of the Hopewell branch public library to their parents’ idling cars.

I’ll wait five more minutes, I thought as I sat dry in my own car watching through the rear-view mirror.  The exam doesn’t begin until twelve-fifteenMaybe I’ll catch a break in the rain.

I spent two months preparing for my Technician exam and set my eyes to attend the closest license session, a twenty-minute drive from my home that was sponsored by the Delaware Valley Radio Association.  By the time exam day arrived I had taken several online practice tests and passed most with a comfortable margin, missing only two or three questions on each attempt.  I’ve got this, I thought.

Once inside the library meeting room, three welcoming gentlemen from the DVRA sat at a table in front.  I took an available seat at a folding table and was surprised to see I was one of about fourteen people in attendance.  I had expected three.  The exam-takers were like me, mostly men in their thirties and forties, but there were two women and two high-school aged young men as well.  With fourteen people in attendance, clearly amateur radio isn’t a dying hobby.

At the scheduled start time the Volunteer Examination Coordinators (VEC) from the DVRA explained a little bit about the test and walked the room distributing the materials, checking photo IDs, and collecting the nominal examination fee.  And with that, we were free to begin the exam.

The room sat quiet for ten minutes until the first exam-taker, one of the high-school aged men, brought up his exam.  The VEC sprung into action and each began the grading process.  Another man then brought up his exam.  Then another.

The noise level in the room grew a bit as the VECs spoke quietly grading the exam, calling out names and giving a “thumbs up” sign indicating to those that they passed.  At this point I was only about 2/3rds of the way through the exam.

It was at this moment I felt like I was back in grade school.  My heart raced a bit as I envisioned myself being the last person to complete his exam.  This is silly, I thought.  So what if I’m the last person to complete the exam.  I want to pass.  I sat back in my chair, took a deep breath, then finished the questions at a leisurely pace.  Don’t let the noise level rattle you, I thought.  You know the content well!

I spent another five minutes revisiting each question and I changed my answer to only one.  Surprisingly, it was a question that I had never encountered during any of the practice exams but felt eerily familiar as if it was likely the inverse of another question with which I was familiar.

I waited five minutes until my name was called and I was flashed a thumbs-up sign.  Phew!  A few minutes later I was called up to the table and asked to sign my examination form, then handed the top-sheet of a three-sheet carbon copy stack.  I quietly collected my pencils, pushed in my chair, and left the room.

Twelve calendar days passed while I patiently checked the FCC Universal Licensing System page for validation of my call sign record.  On November 30, I was officially assigned the call KD2OTG.  I am now a licensed amateur radio operator.

Are toy kites a viable option for elevating ham radio wire antennas for field use?

Yesterday afternoon was gray, blustery, and a little wet here in central New Jersey as a result of the remnants of Hurricane Ian. Coupled with the afternoon off from any work or household commitments, it was the opportune time for me to settle a 5-year question that has nagged at me:

Are toy kites a friend or foe to elevating ham radio wire antennas for field use?

A toy kite and a cup of coffee overlooking Joseph Lawrence Park in Bordentown NJ.

Whoah!” — not the namesake of THAT Joseph (Joey) Lawrence

It’s been well over 35 years since I’ve last flown a kite, which was on the beach at the New Jersey shore. I remember my uncle affixing a delta kite to a fishing rod for me, and within seconds the kite shot straight up 200-feet (60-meters). Although I was ten years old, I remember there was quite a steady pull on the pole, and once I grew tired we placed the pole in a rod holder, affixed the line around the bumper or grille of his pickup truck, and there the kite flew unattended for several hours.

Remembering this experience, when I first got interested in amateur (ham) radio in 2017 I wondered if this could be an answer to the age-old “height is might” metaphor when it comes to antennas. The trouble is, I’ve never seen or read about anyone trying it at the annual June Field Day events. Surely I could not the first person to give this a try?

I took a short drive to a brand-new parking lot overlooking Joseph Lawrence Park in Bordentown NJ. The wind here was blowing toward the west instead of the usual east, which likely was coming from the ocean fifty miles away as remnants of Hurricane Ian.

To my back on the opposite side of the two-lane road was a several acre soybean field, and in front of me was a large grass field that looked like it in the final phases of being prepped to accommodate several new soccer fields. Between the wide-open location and the wind, I don’t think I could have found a more perfect kite-flying location.

As for the setup, my vision was similar to that I experienced as a kid. If I could fly the kite up about 100-feet (30-meters) and then place a mid loop knot in the line and affix one end of an end-fed half-wave (EFHW) antenna cut for the 40-meter band, there should be enough pull on the kite to raise my antenna the 65-feet (20-meters) into the air to begin operating on the 20-meter and 40-meter ham bands.

Getting the kite up in the air was … well … it was a breeze. The kite wanted to fly. But once it climbed to 75 – 100 feet (20 – 30 meters), the slightest drop in wind speed would cause the kite to float back down toward ground until another gust of wind picked up. So for every three minutes of passively holding the kite line, I’d have to actively draw the line taught again to get the kite to climb in the air once more. It was a constant dance of putting tension on the line.

There was a bit of pressure tugging on the line between me and the kite. It was maybe 10 – 15 lbs of force that should have easily lifted a length of 14g – 18g antenna wire into the air. But due to the active work of flying the kite, I never had the opportunity to tie off the line to the car, set up the EFHW antenna, and then actually work the bands.

The streamers on the kite were annoying, tangling around my legs in the grass and in the hatch of the vehicle. I cut them off, and this seemed to later inhibit the kite from getting off the ground. I think I remember hearing or reading as a kid that a kite’s tail is more than aesthetic, but actually contributes to flight. But by this time I had had enough kite-flying fun for the afternoon.

So was this a successful ham radio activation?

No. Being alone and actively flying the kite gave me no time to affix the antenna, tune up, and attempt to make contacts.

Is it plausible to think a toy kite and raise an antenna?

Yes, I think it is plausible if wind speeds are significantly faster, and/or one has a helper to tend to the kite while the other makes contacts.

Is it economical?

A $9 toy kite does make this approach economical if the aim is to get an 80-meter or 40-meter EFHW elevated as high as possible.

Is it worthwhile?

No, not at all. I could have easily parked my car next to some trees and thrown my EFHW antenna up over a limb and begun making contacts in a fraction of the time.

Is it fun?

Yes. Experimentation is always fun. Even if the outcome wasn’t what was imagined or deemed “a success”.

Lessons learned from my first portable ham radio Parks on the Air activation

This past Saturday I pulled off my very first portable high frequency (HF) operation by participating in Parks on the Air (POTA), an amateur radio event that promotes portable operation from national/federal and state/provincial level parks.

It was nearly one o’clock in the afternoon by the time I swallowed down a quick lunch and headed into the basement to hastily pull together some assorted radio and outdoor gear. My plan was to take the fifteen minute drive from home to the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area in Robbinsville, New Jersey and operate my radio gear from there.

Radio gear

  • ICOM 7100 VHF/UHF/HF radio
  • 50-feet (15 meters) of RG8X Coax
  • Bioenno 12v, 20aH LiFePO4 battery
  • Powerwerx DC inline power analyzer
  • BridgeCom Systems 40-meter End Fed Half Wave antenna
  • Baofeng VHF handy-talkie radio

Outdoor gear

  • Jacket
  • Sunscreen and bug spray
  • Can of sparkling water
  • Delta kite
  • Notebook

Upon arrival, I planned to park and set up my equipment at the shotgun and archery ranges as I’ve never seen them in use over the last forty years I’ve driven into the property. Except of course that day, as both ranges were packed with archers and sharp-shooters.

I continued driving past the ranges deeper into the property toward the lake and boat launch, then veered off onto a dirt path that split between two narrow corn fields. Pulling off the path, I parked and connected together my equipment to my brand-new Bioenno battery. My equipment came to life, and this part of the experiment was a success.

Because the cooler temperature made it feel like New Jersey’s first autumn day of 2022, a second experiment of the day was to attempt to to launch a toy delta kite about 150-feet (45 meters) into the air and to attach my end-fed wire antenna to the last 65-feet (20 meters) of kite string. But the wind was uncooperative and wouldn’t lift the kite, so this part of the experiment failed. Having no place nearby to hang my antenna wire, I packed up and moved my vehicle to the lakeside asphalt parking lot of the boat launch area.

I must have proved to be entertaining to watch at the boat launch as I enacted my Plan B by affixing my antenna and paracord to a ratchet strap that served as an impromptu throwing weight. It took four attempts to heave the ratchet 30-feet (10 meters) into the air and over top a tree limb. On the third attempt, I felt my wedding band slip off my finger and heard it bounce and skid across the asphalt to my right. Thankfully I found the wedding band within seconds, and was fortunate it slipped off my finger on my downswing, as my throwing arm was mostly aimed leftward toward the woods where it’s unlikely I would have recovered my band.

After the requisite sigh of relief, I affixed my wedding band to my car key ring and made another throwing attempt, finally positioning my wire antenna over the desired tree limb and pulling it back down to the ground where I tied it off to a tree trunk, forming my antenna into an inverted V shape.

By now I was back at my vehicle when my friend Jeff KD2SCR arrived and set up his own equipment. We each enjoyed two hours of company in the sunshine as Jeff successfully activated on the 40-meter band, and then when he was finished I made my contacts on the 20-meter band. All but one of my contacts were domestic to the United States, with the exception of Italy.

My QSOs from my first portable + Parks on the Air activation on September 24, 2022

I enjoyed operating my equipment portable outside on an autumn afternoon where the dropping sun glistened on the water and the sounds of birds and spinning reels could be heard in the distance. This peaceful experience is a stark contrast to my usual operating position in the basement beside painted cinder block walls and the ever-present hum of a dehumidifier.

I definitely see more portable operation in my future.

How a box fan sparked my interest in amateur radio

Originally published September 30, 2017

In 2015 I experienced an interesting phenomena. An inexpensive (dare I say, cheap plastic) box fan randomly behaved like a low-volume, flat-sounding AM radio whenever positioned next to a particular window in my home.

At the time I had already owned my fair share of electronic devices. I was familiar with the FCC part 15 label included with electronics that stated something like: this device must accept interference from, but not interfere with, other electronic sources.

In thirty-something years I never gave that label much thought, that is until the characteristic tone of AM radio emanating from box fan gave me a flashback to age nine, sitting in the orthodontist chair within a converted row-home in Trenton. I can still recall with clarity the bitter taste of impression putty and listening to afternoon call-in programs emanating from a 1950s-era radio positioned next to the window overlooking Quimby Avenue. This was in the late 1980s, by the way, which was in a decade well beyond useful life of the AM band in the opinion of a nine-year-old boy, clearly evidenced by the proliferation of Transformers robots popular of the era.

Back to my box fan. A device with no purpose-built speaker resonating faint audible voices across the room? That got my attention! I suppose it shouldn’t be all that surprising, however, as a speaker and a fan are both devices designed to move air. I chalked this up to cheap electronic components manufactured for pennies on the dollar.

In the two years that followed I often caught myself thinking about science, specifically how we are bombarded with particle waves that carry human-embedded signals. I thought about and researched questions like, “What kind of radio waves are surrounding me? How does SiriusXM prevent me from listening to music when my vehicle’s one-year trial membership expired? And how are radio signals encoded and decoded?” This of course led to the ultimate techie question: “How can I build my own radio receiver?”

Via the power of Amazon Kindle, Internet blogs, and YouTube, I inadvertently learned about the amateur radio community and neat homebrew projects like building antennas, receivers, and digital and long-range communication. My journey in amateur radio happened to start by reading Amateur Radio for Dummies by Ward Silver.

What began as casual research has morphed into a hobby.

Watch amateur (ham) radio operator make his first two satellite contacts using the ISS passing overhead

I was excited to assist and record amateur (ham) radio operator KD2SCR (Jeff) make his first two satellite contacts relayed using the International Space Station (ISS) as it passed overhead on February 12, 2022.

In 60 seconds, watch and listen as KD2SCR (Jeff) makes his first two satellite contacts using the International Space Station as a relay repeater.

In the video, Jeff sits in my New Jersey home’s basement while talking on a radio that is connected to a Yagi antenna in my backyard that is aimed in the northwest direction.

As Jeff transmits, his signal is received by a relay repeater radio aboard the ISS that is traveling eastwards at 17,400mph. Jeff`s signal is received and re-transmitted on a different frequency back to Earth where it is heard by other amateur radio operators.

Explanation of the short exchanges

First, you`ll hear N3NJ (Mark) respond to Jeff stating his Maidenhead Grid Square FN20 (foxtrot november 2 0). This grid square covers eastern Pennsylvania and central New Jersey. Mark was located in Pennsylvania at the time of contact as noted by his grid square.

A second amateur operator, KD4QNA (Pete) then calls to Jeff stating his grid square FM17 (foxtrot mike 1 7). Pete was located in eastern Virginia.

An amateur radio operator has approximately ten minutes of direct “line of sight” to the ISS before its path of travel puts it out of range due to the curvature of the Earth.

Amateur operators intentionally keep exchanges brief to give others the opportunity to make contacts in the short ten minute time window.

The featured image shown in this article is a screen capture from NASA’s Live Space Station Tracking Map that displays where the station is located at any time above Earth. The tracker shows current position and its path 90 minutes ago (-1.5 hr) and 90 minutes ahead (+1.5 hr).

Frequency Recorder/Graph by KD2OTG


When I earned my first amateur radio license in autumn of 2017 and purchased a hand-held transceiver, I wanted to know what frequencies, modes, repeaters, and times-of-day that were popular with other amateur operators near me. To accomplish this, I created a heatmap – a grid on a sheet of paper showing hours of the day down the left-hand column, and various modes and frequencies across the top of the page. Over the period of several weeks I listened to my transceiver and placed checkmarks in the grid whenever I heard activity. After some time and effort, I had a visual heatmap representation of the popularity of amateur radio in my area.

It is now two and a half years later and I continue to enjoy the amateur radio hobby, therefore I decided to take this concept to the next level by creating a software application that can run unattended while I am at work or asleep.
I have successfully used the application for:

  • Determining popularity of local 2-meter and 70-cm analog and digital repeaters
  • Determining popularity of 2-meter SSB by monitoring 144.200 MHz
  • Monitoring the International Space Station for unscheduled 2-meter FM voice transmissions on 145.800 MHz
  • Monitoring popularity of the 40-meter AM calling frequency on 7.290 MHz
  • Monitoring VHF air band frequencies, amateur simplex frequencies, and rail/public transmissions

Download and Use for Free

Visit https://mattrobb.net/frg/