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Ham Radio Helps With School Fund Raiser

December 1, 2012
Mt Pleasant High School

What would a ham radio enthusiast do to combine his hobby with another passion, volunteering his time supporting the local schools’ music programs?

For Scott Augsburger WR0U of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, he saw an opportunity to combine those two interests.

Scott and his wife Lisa have always been very involved with their two daughters’ school activities, especially attending their band concerts. The couple took it a step further than most parents, becoming very involved with the behind the scenes activity that surrounds supporting the public school’s music programs, whether it be helping with marching band uniforms, offering technical help for concerts and shows, and as trip chaperones.

As with any school music program, parents are always involved in fund raising activities, and Scott found himself right in the middle of all the activity surrounding the Mt. Pleasant Music Boosters, a dedicated group of volunteers supporting the K-12 music students.

Scott has always provided technical support for various aspects of the modern day music programs, especially high school Show Choir and Marching Band. Along with his friend and fellow Music Boosters member Dave Schneider WD0ENR and Dave’s wife Julie KA0UCN, he has used his technical expertise for stage lighting needs, powering electronic instruments on a football field, and configuring wireless microphone needs both in an indoor stage and outdoor marching band environment.

Therefore, when a big fund raising event needed an efficient communications system, everyone turned to Scott.

A yearly fundraiser involves students selling fruit and other food items. When these ordered items arrive, parents and students - around 270 vehicles - arrive over a three-hour period to pick their orders up from a local warehouse made available for the group. Information on who has arrived must be relayed to those inside the building so that their order, comprising of multiple food products, can be quickly filled and ready to be delivered to the waiting vehicle. 

It seems simple at first glance. Just have someone outside with a two-way radio relaying the arriving students name so that volunteers inside can begin processing the order.

Actually, for a number of years, that is exactly how it worked. However, it did not work very efficiently. Volunteers used Family Radio Service (FRS) radios operating in the 462-467 MHz range. Radios operating in that band are susceptible to user interference, and the low output power was almost not enough to penetrate the metal clad building. Students’ names often had to be repeated several times to be understood.

“Was that Hamm or Lamm”, a frustrated parent volunteer would respond when they did not quite catch the name. Adding to the woes would be wind noise from the outside unit.

Therefore, when Scott got involved in the event, he quickly saw an opportunity to use amateur radio to improve conveying the information. With other hams involved with the activity anyway, it just made sense to use ham radio.

Workers inside need to know the student’s name and a vehicle description. That information is written on a dry-erase board so that volunteers delivering the finished order can be united with the correct vehicle.

For a couple years, Scott and Dave used packet radio, realizing that it was much easier for volunteers to read the information off a computer screen rather than hearing it over the radio. Besides, a short history of the previous few incoming names is available for a time on the screen for reference.

This year, Scott decided to try something new. He invested in a couple new radios - an Icom IC2200H and an Icom D880H, complete with the D-Star module. On the laptop computers, he used the D-Star Chat application for Windows. 

To insure solid reception, the indoor station was connected to Scott’s homebrew two-meter halo set for vertical polarization and mounted outdoors on a 30-foot “extend stick” secured to his pickup truck’s bumper.

The fiberglass “extend stick” is what electric utility workers commonly use. Scott has found it extremely useful for a quick and safe way to raise an antenna in a portable application.

For the outdoor station, Scott borrowed an enclosed truck from a local auctioneer to protect the operator from the weather. The antenna utilized there was a Hustler G3-144, mounted on a TS-70B speaker stand bought at Guitar Center. 

Scott has found this stand, normally used to support portable speakers, to be perfect for antennas because of its durability and portability. The tripod stand can easily be folded up and stored in a car’s trunk.

In both setups, he used Belden 9913 coax and kept the antennas far enough away to avoid RF problems with the computers. Operating frequency was 145.07 MHz.

The system Scott used for the event worked flawlessly. It was especially nice that with this D-Star digital system both data and voice could be used with the same radios on the same frequency. The Music Boosters were impressed with the efficiency that the hams’ system worked. “It was so handy to just read the names and vehicle description off the computer screen and not have to listen intently to that information being relayed by voice” , a parent volunteer said. “Before, if I didn’t hear it clearly, I’d have to have them repeat it. Now I could just look at the screen and see the last several names.”

Not only did Scott and Dave have fun setting up and running this equipment, but also they helped expose what one aspect of the hobby can do.





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