Listen a Lot, Talk a Little (Part 2 of 3)

In the first part of this post, we had a quick look at a conversation taking place between ham radio stations in Ontario Canada and Venezuela where I just happened to be in the right place, Phoenix Arizona, to “hear” both of them.

But that conversation wasn’t the only thing taking place at that time.

Seen here is the striped window that shows a single line, a summary of the current conversations if you will, for each of the four conversations with the thick yellow lines in the “waterfall” in part one.

This “current conversations in brief” window doesn’t show the one station that was tuning up. Instead, it shows only those that are actually transmitting (saying) something, and only if they’ve done so in the past 30 seconds.

In this window, the high-lighted line near the top is, again, Tomas and Warren. To get this screen capture, I was watching all the conversations and, when these two guys got started, I clicked on them in this window and then waited until the text area in the first window got filled up with their back and forth conversation. That’s when I snapped the screen capture that you see now.

Also in that window you can see one line in red. That’s because that one station is sending a “CQ” message. A “CQ” message asks, “Anyone want to talk?” The ham radio station that’s looking for someone to talk with is CO6RD. He’s in Cuba, not just because he said so, but also because you can look up any ham radio station by his call sign at (“QRZ” is shorthand for “Who is that?”). Give that link a try and look up the stations (people) I’ve mentioned here. There’s some interesting details at that web address. (I usually have Firefox or some other internet browser open while I’m on the radio so I can look up the stations I hear.)

When I transmit (which I did not do for these screen captures), the “Psk Scope” window seen here shows me the ideal waveform and, when I transmit, it is filled, or over-filled, with my signal in one of three colors: green is good, yellow is a little too much, and red means I have the audio turned up too far and my signal is distorting.

When that happens, I turn the computer’s speaker level down until the transmit level goes back to green — the radio is transmitting the sound coming from the computer, and the computer program for the radio makes that sound do what BPSK-31 requires.

But since I was only listening when I made this screen capture, there was no transmit signal to show you. Sorry.

The conversations we have on the radio are sometimes not much more than “Hello” and “Goodbye.” Some hams like to make long lists of contacts around the world and after a quick exchange of information, they’re off to find someone else.

Other hams can be more talkative and will tell you all about their equipment, how high and how many antennas they have, what awards they’ve won, where to find pictures of their grandchildren on the web, their illnesses and surgeries — if you get the idea that this is mostly an older crowd, that would be accurate. While there are a few “youngsters” out there, you’ll generally find that most ham radio operators are retired and this is what they do for fun. (Kind’a like shooting Bullseye.)

But that’s enough about us old farts.

In the next and final section, we will look at the particular mode being used here called BSPK-31 and find out just what it takes in terms of equipment and expense to talk to someone thousands of miles away.

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