Revised: Aug 2019, CC BY-SA = open in new tab ]

1) Background

One of the challenges we faced during the flood that wreaked havoc in our area in 2013 was that our community was separated into "islands" that were physically cut off from each other and the rest of the world by the flood waters.

Having lost power, internet, landlines, and cellular service, we also were cut off from communicating with anyone outside our islands, including emergency services. For the better part of three days, we were in a very strange limbo.

1a) Emergency Preparedness

To address this type of vulnerability in the future, as well as to enhance community emergency preparedness in general, we formed Lyons Prepared, a volunteer citizen partnership with our Lyons Fire Protection District.

Lyons Prepared logo

At the recommendation of our fire chief and sheriff's department, we adopted MURS radios to provide backup communication between our neighborhoods and local emergency services.

1b) Amateur radio

My personal desire for even more robust communication capabilities inspired me to also get my ham radio license.

As I've gotten more involved in amateur radio, I've grown to appreciate what unique and wonderful opportunities it presents to serve our communities, learn new things, enhance emergency preparedness, and have a good time.

Many thanks to my many mentors!

Many hams, mentioned throughout these pages, have been mentoring me. I deeply appreciate their generosity and patience.

2) Reflections of an amateur

Although I'm still relatively new to the universe of amateur radio, where there are active hams who have been playing around with it since the 1950s, I've already enjoyed enough interesting learning experiences as well as stubbed my toes enough times to have gained a few insights.

I'm a non-technical user figuring things out as I go along, and I'm writing these notes as my way to keep track of what I'm learning (and also just for fun, as I love writing as much as learning). Basically, this is a collection of info I wish I had found online when I was browsing for insights.

2a) Base: my "shack"

Yep, I'm a bit scrappy. My shack is a corner of a desk in my workshop, which is primarily a haven for my woodworking passion. My small shop is so full of woodworking tools that there's not a lot of free space, so I have to make use of every cubic inch, for example, the monitor I use when logging into the Raspberry Pi is balanced (securely) on top of the water heater next to my desk, and a phonetic alphabet chart is taped to the side of that water heater. Hey, it works!

Base station

VHF/UHF – Dual band Kenwood TM-V71A with an RC-D710 control panel for APRS. It's a good base station for my purposes, given my focus on local-area emergency communications.

My radios and power supply sitting on the corner of my workshop desk

More about my "shack"

2b) Base: mobile install

I'm not much of a car guy, so I'm pretty satisfied with (and a little surprised by) how well my installation of a Kenwood TM-V71A turned out, thanks to a combination of lots of sweat and even more luck.

Kenwood TM-V71A front panel and KES-3S speaker mounted in the cubby hole

More about my mobile install

2c) Diving into D-STAR

When I first dove into D‑STAR, I knew nearly nothing about digital voice and quickly found myself drowning in a big bowl of bewilderingly murky information soup. If it's so bewildering, why even bother?

I'll jump a bit ahead here and share one tidbit: at one point early in my exploration of D‑STAR, I linked to a reflector and heard a guy in San Diego, California chatting with a chap in Yorkshire, England. That was the moment I became hooked. Just think of it: worldwide communication with a Technician class license, a bit of effort and learning, and some fairly simple equipment!

Diagram of DV HTs connecting via personal access points to reflectors

More about D-Star

2d) Discovering DMR

After weeks of intense learning and effort, I felt like I was just beginning to get a handle on D-STAR, having put together a nicely working solution for my shack as well as for mobile. So why did I so quickly adventure off in a new direction?

I guess I must be a bit crazy, but a learning opportunity presented itself, so I decided to dive right back into another bowl of baffling info-soup and learn how to swim all over again, this time in the DMR soup bowl.

Time slots interleaved on the signal

More about DMR

2e) Hanging out with hotspots

A hotspot (personal access point) is a combination of hardware, firmware, and software that enables a ham with internet connectivity to link directly to digital voice (DV) systems around the world. Hotspots can link to DV repeaters, DMR talkgroups and reflectors, D-STAR reflectors, YSF rooms, QuadNet Smart Groups, and so on. Basically, hotspots act as your own personal digital voice repeater and gateway, which can be really fun.

Minimalist ZUMspot mobile hotspot

More about hotspots

2f) Playing with Pi-Star

Pi-Star is great software for digital voice hotspots and repeaters. It can handle DMR, D-STAR, and YSF, and when used with an MMDVM-capable modem, even P25, NXDN, and POCSAG, as well as YSF and DMR cross modes.

Paired with a compact board like the ZUMspot, Pi-Star is a great solution for use both as a base station and as a mobile hotspot.

Pi-Star dashboard

More about Pi-Star