APRS Madness Part 1

Posted on Posted in Ham Radio, Tech

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So this week I took the plunge and picked up a Yaesu FT1XD Handheld. This is one of the new Yaesu HTs that supports C4FM Digital (ie: Yaesu SystemFusion). Since we now have two SystemFusion repeaters here in Fargo (WØHSC at NDSU and WØJPJ in Moorhead) I thought it was worth picking up and trying out. I may do a full review later, but right now I’m still trying to get familiar with the radio.

One additional feature it has that I haven’t had in previous radios is APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System).  APRS is a single frequency (144.390 MHz here in North America) that gives the mobile ham a place to monitor Announcements, Bulletins, Messages, Alerts, Weather, etc. It also takes location coordinates (if equipped with a GPS) and can map out stations across the web, such as aprs.fi. My Icom ID-880H supports DPRS (which is kinda the same thing but with D-STAR) but I’ve never had any luck with it. There’s a lot more to APRS than what I just described. If you’re interested check out APRS.org for more info.

So wanting to get my hands on APRS, I got it setup on my HT yesterday. But I quickly realized that I wasn’t getting anywhere, because for some reason there isn’t a single APRS reporting station (either iGate or Digipeater) in the Fargo area. APRS is only useful if there are stations receiving or transmitting info. The main thing I was trying to do was to get my coordinates onto aprsi.fi, and for You can guess where that got me thinking next.

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The APRS iGate setup in the shack… it simply consists of a PC and scanner with some special APRS software.

Bulding the KDØTGA APRS iGate

A little bit of googling later and I came across a video from KD8RTT that shows how to throw together a receive only iGate. This is all I would need to get my APRS info onto the web. All you need to do this is a computer, a sound card, and a radio or scanner that can tune to 144.390 MHz. Being the resourceful person that I am, I have all of that.

Since Tony’s video is very well done I won’t bore you with instructions. Go watch the video if you want to find out how make your own.

So I got to work and got it running in about an hour (most of that time was spent trying to find an audio cable for my scanner). I am pleased to report my iGate is gathering APRS data and successfully uploading it to the web.

The only I’m noticing is my limited receive strength. My scanner is hooked into my N9TAX Slim Jim that I’ve talked about many times, up in the corner of my office. It’s only a total of 25 feet off the ground, and that’s where the problem is. I’ve picked up some traffic on the iGate (I also live right by a major Interstate highway, so there’s that), but the range is limited.

If I could add some height to the receive antenna it would help a ton. And (again) being the resourceful person that I am, I have an idea on how to make a very large APRS iGate. But THAT will have to wait until Part 2.

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