DMR for Beginners

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 10.12.33 PMOne of the hottest sellers at Dayton in 2016 was the Tytera MD-380 handheld UHF radio. At just over $100 dollars it opened the door for many more hams to explore Digital Mobile Radio (DMR). There are a lot of great web resources to learn about DMR. So this piece will be brief, just enough to whet your appetite and give you some places to go to learn more.

There are a number of digital technologies hams use for voice communications. P25, D-Star, Fusion and DMR are three of the more well known. Each has it’s pros and cons but over the last year, DMR has emerged as one of the most popular digital protocols for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the standard is open and there are a lot of manufacturers making radios. So it can be inexpensive to get involved.

D-Star, for example, has largely been the province of Icom. In the past, you’ve typically had to rely on Icom radios and repeaters, although smart hams have figured ways to leverage the D-Star infrastructure with things like DVAPs and hot-spots. There are DMR radios available at about 1/4 the price of a comparable Icom rig.

DMR repeaters have been almost exclusively Motorola machines due to the ways that hams interconnect them with one another. Both DMR and D-Star have functionality which allows many people to converse within a series of common audio chat rooms. DMR nomenclature calls these Talk Groups. D-Star calls them reflectors. In Echolink language, they are conference servers. Their allure is that it’s possible to talk with someone on the other side of the continent and around the world with a low power handheld, regardless of sunspot conditions.

The hard work in the DMR world is the upfront time spent programming your radio to work within the system. DMR uses a combination of codes that are programmed into radio memory via something called a Code Plug. Local DMR groups often distribute code plugs for various makes of radios, making it easy to quickly program your radio for use on local DMR repeaters.

Your radio is identified by a numeric identification code which can be obtained through the DMR-MARC organization. Once you get the code, you add that to your code plug. This identifies your radio and admits it to the DMR-MARC network.

Within the code plug are numbers associated with popular talkgroups that are local, statewide, regional, national and international in scope. Radio memory also allows for programming a variety of zones into your rig which allows you to easily reorient your radio, depending on where you may travel. I grabbed a codeplug for Jacksonville, Florida from the excellent First Coast DMR group when we were visiting our kids, input my radio ID and was up and running quickly when we headed south recently. When we returned to East Lansing, reseting the radio was as easy as plugging it into my laptop and reloading the MI5 code plug.

Which brings up another point. You’ll need software and a computer to program your rig, or an appropriately equipped friend nearby who is willing to help get you going. Motorola radios require expensive, proprietary programming software, but there are a number of solutions that can save you from having to make the investment. With the plethora of new manufacturers in the DMR space, you’ll find that people like Tytera and Connect Systems provide the programming software for free.

There is a learning curve to understand how DMR works, especially programming code plugs. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll be DMRing with the best of them with confidence. The audio quality is great and your ability to talk to interesting people well beyond the typical range of the local FM repeater is great fun.

So give it a whirl! On VHF/UHF, all you need is a Technician license and you’ll soon be talking to the world. If you’re in Michigan, look for me on the MI5 Network – Statewide2 Talkgroup. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that your radio can also be programmed to work with the analog FM machines in your area. DMR rigs were originally made for commercial use, so the dual-banders we’re used to that handle both 2 meters and 70 cm aren’t widely available yet. That’s ok, because in most places, DMR can be found almost exclusively on 44o, so you’ll only need a 70cm rig to get rocking.

Learn more about DMR through the links, below. And I hope to hear you on the digital airwaves soon!

The Ham Radio 360 Podcast on DMR

What to do with your ham magazines when you’re done reading them

QST_magazine_april_1947I’m at the ARRL Rocky Mountain Division “Hamcon 2016” in beautiful Keystone, Colorado this weekend in my role as chair of the League’s Public Relations Committee. So naturally, I’ve been on the lookout for good ideas about how to promote the hobby. Here’s a really good one.

One of our Section Managers takes a sharpie to the address fields on his ham magazines when he’s finished reading them. He then creates a series of labels with this message on it:

For more information about amateur radio,
Contact Me at this email address: (his ARRL email info goes here)
This is an exciting hobby. Come join the fun!

He then distributes them to local doctors, dentists and places where people do a lot of waiting.

He said he’s had over 50 people respond, leading to a number of new licensees.

Give this idea a try and see how it works for you!

ARRL’s President Addresses Hamcon 2016

Seven years ago I first had the honor of meeting K5UR at the Rocky Mountain Division gathering in Taos. Rick Roderick was an ARRL vice president in those days and his message still resonates: Relevant, Resilient, Ready. He touched on those points and many more in an inspiring address at the 2016 Hamcon conference in Keystone, Colorado this weekend, only this time, he speaks from the podium of ARRL President. A great listen.

Another storm spotter season is here..

Be safe out there!


Real-time Lightning Strike Data

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 6.49.59 PMHere’s a way cool website that displays worldwide lightning strike data in near real time.

Receiving images from NOAA Weather Satellites

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 6.46.46 PMAn oldie but goodie.. A tutorial about how to get weather images directly from the satellites that take the pictures.

Follow Storm Chasers – Live

TVWeather Storm Chaser FeedsHow DO those guys get all that cool video of tornadoes? Most hams know about the culture of storm chasing, where enthusiasts try to track down weather action and document it.

Here’s a site that aggregates live storm chaser streams from across the country.

WWI Ingenuity

The Fox Hole RadioBeyond the horrors of interrogation and torture, lack of information about what’s happening on the outside is was a huge challenge for prisoners of war during World War II. Here’s how POW’s kept informed by  making their own radios while in captivity.

Upcoming Hamfests

Upcoming hamfests:

May 7, 2016 Cadillac Hamfest, Cadillac, MI
May 14, 2016 Chassell Hamfest, Chassell, MI
May 20-22, 2016 Dayton Hamvention, Dayton, OH
June 5, 2016 Chelsea, MI
Jun 11, 2016 LARS Swap, Newberry, MI
Jun 18, 2016 Midland Hamfest, Midland MI
Jun 19, 2016 Monroe Hamfest, Monroe, MI
Jul 8-9, 2016 MI Section Family Outing, Hale, MI
Jul 16, 2016 Lowell Youth Club, Lowell, MI
Jul 30, 2016 CMARC, Lansing, MI

MI QSO Party Report

Michigan QSO PartyWe had a good turnout with a good mixture of both students and alumni for this weekend’s Michigan QSO Party.

Ed Oxer and I opened up the shack to find that our primary radio was on the fritz. Good thing we had a back up rig. We also had several non-ham and new ham visitors drop by to take a peek at our operation. Here’s the score as submitted by me this morning.

426 QSO’s
3) DX
33) counties worked ( 83 possible)
Score: 86,640
stats breakdown:
CW QSO’s total 144
80 meters 24
40 meters 111
20 meters 9
Phone QSO’s total 282
80 meters 7
40 meters 186
20 meters 84
15 meters 5

A FB job by all who came out to participate with us this weekend. Hopefully this will bring back the “Ol Michigan Log” to MSUARC. I’d like to thank everyone who turned out for helping us have another great contest here at W8SH.

73 Gregg WB8LZG