Fine Business, Good Buddy: Amateur Radio For Truckers

Summer is the season for family travel here in the US, and my family took to the outdoors this year. We moved cross country from Connecticut to Idaho. Five days on the road means a lot of pit stops and we should see a lot of truck stops and therefore a lot of long distance truck drivers. I thought about their unique way of life and tried to imagine myself doing this job. I wondered what I would do hour after long hour, alone in the cab of my truck. I thought I’d probably end up just listening to a lot of audio books, but then I realized there was a perfect hobby for the road — ham radio. So I decided to see how ham radios are used by truck drivers and think about how my version of a truck driver might practice The best hobby in the world.

CB or no CB

Trucks have long been associated with Citizens Band (CB) radio. A portion of the 11-meter amateur radio band was set aside by the FCC in 1958 as a business radio band for the poor, and by 1970 CB platforms were in every truck. CB radios are still a tool that every trucker seems to have, but even with ridiculously powerful linear RF amplifiers, the CB has serious problems in the range department. With the FCC out of action on the enforcement front, the 27 MHz band is a wild and wild place where it’s hard to reach more than a few miles with a cell phone.

In addition to range issues, CB conversations aren’t exactly engaging stuff. Of course, as a truck driver I’d like to know about the traffic five miles ahead or which weigh stations are open, but other than that I couldn’t imagine getting into the typical profanity that seems to be heard on CB. But it’s not really even that. See the article : Japan Finance Minister backs new SDR allocation, U.S. calls for minimum corporate tax. Rather, the lack of technical challenge makes CB unattractive to me. Buy CB equipment, install equipment, start talking on channel 19. Where’s the sport in that?

Local and long distance with repeaters

Enter amateur radio. Ham radio in the driver’s cab over long distances is a much better technical challenge. All in all, it wouldn’t be much different than working mobile like radio amateurs do every day. But most hams don’t end up 600 miles down the road at the end of the workday, and therein lies the challenge.

ICOMs D-Star digital system. source: I’M COMING

Most of the time, hams who operate on the move do so on either the 2 meter VHF band of 144 to 148 MHz or the 70 cm UHF band of 420 to 450 MHz. FM is usually the mode of choice on these bands, although there are many other modes available to radio amateurs, including the increasingly popular digital modes such as D-star or System merge. But VHF and UHF signals have even worse propagation characteristics than CB – in general, the higher the frequency, the harder it is to achieve truly long-range communications via ionospheric hopping. Even with the higher legal power limit that hams enjoy on these bands, it’s really hard to reach out and touch someone right after about 10 miles.

To circumvent line-of-sight limitations, mobile radio amateurs typically rely on fixed repeaters. Repeaters allow radio amateurs to maintain contact over much larger areas, but there is still a requirement for direct line of sight between each mobile unit and the repeater. Repeaters associated with such protocols as IRLP extend coverage by simultaneously transmitting signals from one repeater to all repeaters connected to it. But repeaters are expensive beasts to install and operate, so they’re spread out pretty thinly and tend to be concentrated in population centers. In populated areas east of the Mississippi and along the West Coast, VHF and UHF repeaters might work well for truckers, but on the highways that circle the vast expanses of America’s plains and mountains, not so much.

Another way for the trucker to use his ticket is GPR. Automatic Packet Tracking is a digital protocol that, among its many capabilities, allows radio amateurs to transmit their current location to a central network and display it on a map for all to see. I can see how this would be a great comfort to my family: “Look, Dad’s between Rosebud and Forsyth I-94 in Montana.” And with the right equipment, the ham would be able to see the location of other mobile hams for the chance of a quick car connection. Again, this would require access to repeaters, but would still be a good option to have in the cabin.

Long distance transport, long distance calls

As useful as VHF and UHF are in the cabin, the best mobile radio amateur experience should operate in the high frequency bands between 3 and 30 MHz. Access to the HF bands is the main reason most Technician class radio amateurs move to the General or Extra class. This may interest you : Undercover Police Sting Thieves At East L.A. Nike Store, Arrest 10 In Ongoing Retail Crime War – Deadline. HF privileges allow you to use frequencies that are easily refracted by the ionosphere so you can reach hundreds or thousands of miles. Many hams operate the high frequency bands with mobile equipment in their personal vehicles, so it’s not hard to imagine a rolling ham shack in the cab of a truck.

However, HF antennas are a bit of a problem for radio amateurs. Most fixed ham antennas are large, unwieldy, necessarily due to the long wavelengths in the HF bands, and would not work well on a truck. But fortunately, by making a few compromises from the quarter-wave dipole to the gold standard, hams can still get HF antennas that perform well. Hamstick is the generic name for such antennas and they are easily accessible for each lane from 6 to 75 meters.

Ready to talk to the world – a remotely adjustable HF antenna. source: Hi-Q antennas

18-wheel humps have a significant advantage over their four-wheel counterparts. Most off-road trucks come from the factory with plenty of places to mount antennas and radios. Plus, a big truck can carry a big antenna; A 75-foot hamstick that would look awkward on a Kia would blend right in with a Freightliner or Peterbilt.

And OTR trucks generally have more powerful electrical systems than passenger cars and light trucks. HF units draw a lot of juice – a 100 watt output ham will want almost all 20 amps at 12 volts. You can easily get that kind of power in a truck, while it takes some effort in a passenger car.

So I guess my dream mobile shack would be a two-band FM system for local repeater and APRS work, along with a good HF system for DX work. I’d mount a 20m hamstick on one mirror and a 40m on the other and probably stick a laptop in the sleeper compartment to log in and access the WinLink system for email over HF – no need to rely on truck stop spot WiFi coverage to keep in touch

Oh, and I guess I’ll have to have a CB in the cab too. But that would be just for work. Radio amateurs would be in for a treat.

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