Monday, May 8, 2017

Contemplating Remote Ops

Well, it's been quite a while since my last post, and unfortunately there's not much good news to report.  The city council decision to deny my request for ANY antenna has stood and I think I've given up pursuing any kind of external antenna at the current QTH.  We love our house and it will suck to move again but luckily with the way the market is, we still stand to make a fair bit when we do sell.  That said, we'll still be stuck here for another year until we can avoid capital gains taxes from selling.  All the better, values will continue to rise so that helps ease the pain some.

I have been able to do some operating in the meantime.  N3BBQ lent me his MFJ magnetic loop antenna and I've had that in the attic for a few months.  When it works, it works pretty well, and I've had several QSOs on it but nothing spectacular by any means.  Most of the time when I turn the radio on and tune around, either the noise level is too high to bother or I just don't hear a thing so my motivation to actually get on has been quite low.

I did toy with the idea of remote operation and actually setup RFCforb with KG6EYC out in CA and made a few contacts using his station.  It worked surprisingly well but I don't want to tie up his station and it was quite clunky to operate from macOS which is my preferred OS for my radio stuff.

So right now I've got to decide if I want to limit the majority of my operation to contests at N3BBQ (which are actually really good) or if I want to invest in the Remote Ham Radio infrastructure.  I've spoken with the guys at RHR a few times at Dayton and their system looks really neat.  The whole thing is based on the web so you can run the station from ANY operating system, and even the demo videos all show macOS, so that would be a good fit for me.

The system cost is not terrible at $99 per year plus a per-minute charge depending on the remote station you chose - beams and power cost more.  If you don't plan on doing contesting from the remote stations, the cost is pretty nominal, although its hard to estimate how much operating I'd do.  As a CW operator, I might have some difficulty enjoying operating without a real key.  The default way to send CW with RHR is by keyboard input in the web form.  I've tried this when I was practicing >40wpm with the QRQ guys but it really does not interest me very much.  There is a way to incorporate an entire "real radio" feel to the RHR experience though, with an Elecraft K3/0 mini.  The K3/0 even adds a local sidetone, RX audio and everything, just like you're sitting right at the remote radio.  This seems like a very viable option for me, aside from the $700 price tag for the K3/0.  Comparing to Elecraft's other offerings, such as the KX2, $700 seems a little steep for a faceplate and a USB controller.  That said, its the only way to get that tight connection to the radio operation.

So what do you guys think?  Should I spring for RHR and see how it goes?  I really wish they'd offer a monthly option so I didn't have to do a whole year at a time, I don't like that much commitment.