First Australian SOTA and VKFF DMR contact?

After weeks of poor weather in Queensland, Saturday 10th November dawned bright, sunny and hot. This would be the perfect day to head for the hills and make a DMR contact, in simplex, on Talk Group 99 in Time Slot 1.

At first, my plan was to climb to the summit of Mt Beerwah (VK4/SE-057) but on reading a few blogs about the climb and what it entailed, I decided that discretion would certainly be the better part of valour on my part as I am not as young as I’d like to be. Much of the way up is undertaken on all fours, so the bloggers said; I didn’t want to chance becoming a helicopter Medivac casualty. Moving about on all fours isn’t advisable especially if you have gear that includes a rather long and unwieldy ‘squid pole’ to contend with.

So I set my sights a little further up the Sunshine Coast and settled on Mt Coolum (VK4/SE-114). And to make things even better, it falls within the Mt Coolum National Park (VKFF-0344).

My gear for this activation was my Elecraft KX1 (with six internal AA cells) and 24 ft long wire antenna with two counter-poises of 16ft and 32ft respectively. For seating arrangements I took along my Helinox Chair One.

Mt Coolum is the second largest solid rock mountain in Australia; the largest is Uluru (previously known as Ayers Rock) in the Northern Territory. This fact alone made it fitting that I should climb it as I had visited Uluru in July.

The way up to the summit is very steep but the path is excellent, consisting of suitably arranged rocks that act as steps. It is a very popular outdoor venue with the locals and as a result the way up and down is very busy.


The was a constant stream of people making their way to the summit.

As soon as I arrived at the top I put out a call to Greg, VK4MHC, on DMR simplex with my CS750 hand held radio. He replied and sounded as if he were a few feet away, so strong and clear was the audio. And considering he happened to be at a local resort some 2km away, the quality of the signal was nothing less than astounding.

The simplex calling frequency in Australia is 439.200 MHz.

This I believe is the first time DMR has been used as a mode for SOTA and WWFF in Australia. (Our local VKFF representative in VK4 later told me after I had submitted my log that he was unable to process the DMR QSO as the system wouldn’t accept a Digital Voice call even though it’s listed as an accepted mode. He has progressed the issue further up the line, something that tells me it hasn’t been encountered before.)

We then proceeded to talk on 2m and 70cm FM; I used my Yaesu FT-70D and he used his Yaesu FT-818.

I then looked for a suitable spot out of the way of curious onlookers to set up my HF station. That spot turned out to be right in the middle of a thicket of sharp bushes that I cleared just enough for the chair.


Keeping out of the sun was the name of the game.

Once my gear was in place, I settled down into my chair and uploaded a spot to SOTA Spotter. Who said the bands were dead? Here’s the list of the stations I worked using only 2W.

VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 22:39 VK4/SE-114 433MHz DV VK4MHC. (First DMR call in VK?)
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 22:43 VK4/SE-114 144MHz FM VK4MHC
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 22:44 VK4/SE-114 433MHz FM VK4MHC
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 23:26 VK4/SE-114 14MHz CW VK7CW
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 23:30 VK4/SE-114 14MHz CW VK1MCW
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 23:35 VK4/SE-114 14MHz CW VK3CAT/P
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 23:37 VK4/SE-114 14MHz CW VK3ARH
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 23:40 VK4/SE-114 14MHz CW VK3IL/P
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 23:43 VK4/SE-114 14MHz CW ZL3GA
VK4JAZ 09/11/2018 23:53 VK4/SE-114 7MHz CW VK2IO/P

In addition, VK3CAT, VK3ARH and VK3IL were also summit activations.


At leas the view was good amongst the prickly shrubs.








Getting to grips with DMR

I’ve been monitoring developments in the amateur radio world for quite a while now, eager to keep abreast of the latest trends as the world dashes headlong down the slippery road of technological advancement. Most of the action seemed to me to be happening in the digital domain.

Digital voice is where most of the commercial and military world is headed, so I zeroed in on DMR as an emerging amateur radio mode.

D Star has been operating in this space for quite a while now but the proprietary nature of this venture has many sitting on the sidelines. One of the reasons is probably because of the high price of the hardware needed.

Being an open source computer fan for many years now, I became aware of a new mode that is gathering pace world-wide: DMR-MARC.

DMR-MARC is an all-digital group of over 500 DMR-MARC repeaters in 48 countries with 33036 registered users. And both lists are growing all the time. In Australia there are repeaters in NSW, VIC, WA, QLD, with the latest in the ACT currently being commissioned as I write. These repeaters operate on the 70cm band.

My friend Wallace, VK4CBW, also became interested in this fast-growing mode. He decided to take the plunge and imported two DMR hand-held transceivers from a factory in China. The brand is Vitai, which neither of us had heard of before.

When they arrived, we were very pleased with the quality of construction.


The Chinese make excellent rigs these days.

The first thing we had to do was to register as a DMR user. This we did through the DMR-MARC web site and it wasn’t long before we received our new ID numbers.

2016-07-01 (1)

Now it was time to sample the marvels of digital voice communications. We began by working simplex between us; what quality! And our conversations were private too; no other user could listen to our conversations.

It was now time for me to try for some DX. For this, I discovered that most operators monitor a very useful web page, which acts as a control centre for VK operators: it allows us to see who is working on the various channels or talk groups.


All I had to do now was to select the talk group of interest and hit the PTT button on my hand-held and I would be up and away.

So far I have worked stations in Malta, South Africa and Finland, all with 4 Watts from a hand-held transceiver!