Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Interview with Patrick Stoddard, WD9EWK

The first time I found out about Patrick was after an APRS session through the International Space Station. I was brand new to my Yaesu FT-3. I had just finished the programming of the radio and it was one of my first passes if not the first, I received a transmission from WD9EWK and I saw that it was from someone in Scottsdale! Only 4 miles away. I ran it through QRZ.com and found that it was Patrick and he was really into Satellite Amateur Radio. 

Wow, cool.

"I want to meet this guy one day" I thought to myself.

I think the second time I read about Patrick was in an AMSAT article that I was researching. I saw another article from Patrick when I was investigating "full duplex HT radios."

As my interest grew in Amateur Radio, I thought to myself that perhaps I should build a web site. I already had a template that I used for another community that I was involved in, tenkara-fisher.com and I knew that Patrick would probably be a very interesting first interview.

A few months passed and my radio skills grew. I made my first QSO on a LEO satellite, sstv from the ISS and I found myself at the ARRL Field Day in Flagstaff with my mentor, K7TEJ. As I sat there watching him work a satellite, I heard the QSO, WD9EWK, "thanks for the QSO Patrick" and I knew, this guy should be the person I interview first.

I found his web site and crafted a brief e-mail, much of what you see here and I received a response a few days later, "Sure Adam, I remember you, yeah, I'll answer a few questions."

And so we are up to date and I'll begin my interview with Patrick Stoddard.

"I'll start the interview with you, go ahead Patrick, you can introduce yourself, ask me a question or anything you want."

Patrick Stoddard: Thanks! I have been a ham for a long time, getting my first amateur radio license in 1977. I also have a Canadian amateur license (VA7EWK), which I have had for almost 20 years. I have operated in Mexico, Argentina, and Australia over the years, as well as from many locations across the continental USA and Canada. 

Adam Trahan: Our audience may not know but the type of interview that I conduct is done in one whack. I write the interview in whole and send it off for the person to answer. I try to make the questions interesting and flow like a regular in person interview.

In a way, they are like voice on a radio frequency. There is no interruption. 

I've meet some really cool people from my transmission on radio frequencies.

"Who is the coolest person you have meet from your radio contact? Someone you meet purely on the radio that you really enjoyed meeting in person."

Patrick Stoddard: Two people would take the title of "coolest people", and both are NASA astronauts. I made contacts with Bill McArthur when he was on the International Space Station operating as NA1SS in late 2005 and early 2006. Later in 2006, I met him at an AMSAT Symposium in San Francisco. Bill chatted for a few minutes, stood for a picture with me, and autographed the NA1SS QSL cards I received for my contacts with him. This was repeated a few years later, when I worked Doug Wheelock when he was on the ISS in 2010. I met Doug at the Dayton Hamvention in 2012, and he also autographed the NA1SS QSL cards I received for my contacts with him. 

Adam Trahan: I've meet some very cool people, my mentor, K7TEJ, Rick Tejera for one. After decades of using radios for communication with a driver chasing me cross country as I flew my hang glider, I finally got my Amateur Radio license and now I could use the full capacity of my radio. As I struggled with knowing I was doing it right, calling CQ, Rick was my first ham radio contact. He answered me through the repeater on John C. Lincoln hospital, "Adam, you are going to enjoy this hobby, why don't you join a club" which I did, his club and subsequently the ARRL Field Day that the club sponsored. There are more but this isn't about me, its about you.

"Where has Amateur Radio taken you? Have you travelled because of it?"

Patrick Stoddard: I have travelled to amateur radio events over the years. Since I started working the satellites, I usually try to add onto any trip I take, so I can operate from different places. This has led me to operating from locations in 26 US states and Washington DC in the USA. I have operated from many different locations in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Ontario, and I have even worked satellites from Mexico in 2009 and 2010 when it was possible to get a temporary permit to operate down there. 

Adam Trahan: Perhaps I am doing it backward, I don't know. I've learned that every hobby I get into, travelling to do it is my favorite. I got into it because of cross country travel and now that I am on my way, I configure my kits to be compact and able to bring with me where ever I go. My very first radio was a Kenwood TH-25AT. I really liked it because the display was on top and I could look down to my chest and see the radio display without having to let go of the control bar of my glider. Decades later when I got into Amateur Radio, I bought a Kenwood TH-D74 and a D72, radios that I could explore the capabilities of. Nice sound and an easy to use menu. Recently I purchased a TM-D710GA and I am putting together a nice mobile kit to use for satellite and light base station use.

"Patrick, can you tell us a little bit about your current equipment?"

Patrick Stoddard: I have lots of different radios. For HF, I have an Elecraft K3S HF/6m transceiver I won at the Yuma Hamfest a few years ago. Great HF radio! When it comes to working satellites, I like to experiment with different radios or combinations of radios... 

For the FM satellites, I use handheld radios like the Kenwood TH-D72 and Wouxun KG-UV9D Plus. For packet via satellite, the TH-D72 and Kenwood's TH-D74 are the radios I normally use. Mobile radios... the Icom ID-5100 is my go-to radio for FM satellites now, but I also have a Kenwood TM-D710G if I want to work packet via satellite.

When I work the linear transponders (SSB satellites), two Yaesu FT-817s are ready to go. Sometimes, I will use other radios in place of one FT-817 for the downlink receiver - an Icom IC-R30, the TH-D74 (it has an all-mode receiver that works well with SSB downlinks), and sometimes even SDR receivers like a FUNcube Dongle Pro+ or an SDRplay receiver with a laptop or tablet. 

Adam Trahan: Although I have been using radios for decades, I've only begun to explore the capabilities of Amateur Radio for the last six months. YouTube and all the great teachers there have been amazing. Virtual teaching is great but there is nothing like a real person to watch and ask questions and then return demonstration.

"How did you learn? Who are your mentors?"

Patrick Stoddard: I attended a licensing class in the 1970s before I got my original amateur license. For the satellites, most of my learning has been done by reading books and online materials, then listening to satellite downlinks for months before I transmitted to them. Over the years, I have written articles detailing some of my satellite operating - trying different modes of operation, and operating from different places around the world. I may not have had a mentor when I started with satellites, but I have been trying to help anyone who comes to me with questions about this corner of the hobby. 

Adam Trahan: I enjoy studying my interests. I really like APRS and the capabilities of it. Bob Bruninga and Don Arnold are two radio guys that are so interesting. One day I would like to interview them as well but until then, I will learn from their interests and teaching. My mentor really guides me through the aspects of my interest because he has those same interests as well and has been doing it for so long.

Locally, I recently meet Jack Lunsford. Jack has been at this for quite some time and it is my mission to show just how much he has taught so many people in the community. He opened his self designed and built home to the field day. We talked in the quiet of the forest about Amateur Radio and where it has come from and I must say, Jack is a legend.

Amateur Radio is well established and here to stay.

"Patrick, where do you think it's going?"

Patrick Stoddard: Amateur radio will have to continue adapting to a changing world. In the past, almost all hams worked to get on the HF bands. Now, there are hams who have no interest in working HF, and enjoy experimenting on the VHF and UHF bands. The hobby needs to embrace this. I enjoy HF, but I have had a lot of fun on the VHF/UHF bands since I started working satellites in 2005. 

Adam Trahan: As I grow older (I am sixty as of this writing) I am learning NOT to dislike something or someone. For me, the more I know, the more I know that I don't know. Amateur Radio through the internet?

I haven't explored it and I don't know much about it.

My non-ham friends tease me, "why don't you just use a phone?"

They do not understand and that's ok. I also use a phone and a radio because I want to know more how it works. I sort of feel like a sailor using the wind (of fun) to explore my interests. Where ever the fun is, that's where I want to go but there is a lot of math involved. This is the first time in my life where I have really been interested in learning that math on my own instead of having to learn it to pass classes, or certifications.

Back in the old days, morse code was a requirement in being tested. Ultimately, that is what prevented me from getting my license in the 80's. I was taking classes and learning it but, I was using my radios already on licensed business bands. 

In the 80's, I had a Motorola "brick" phone. I was on an open heart team and it was necessary for communications with my team. I remember camping on Mingus Mountain back then, my ham pilot friends hitting the Shaw Butte repeater and making a telephone call with their radios. I was paying a dollar a minute and that brick phone only worked in the city let alone on a mountain top so many miles from Phoenix. That was the first time I learned about DTMF and just how cool Amateur Radio was...

I'm understanding that there is this whole aspect of radio through the Internet! At this time, I have no interest in that but it does not mean that I won't like it. I just don't have the self interest in learning it.

"Is there anything that you really don't know much about but want to learn about?"

Patrick Stoddard: There's a lot I could learn in amateur radio. I have dabbled with many different aspects of this hobby. At this point, I'm focusing on aspects I enjoy - satellite operating, along with the occasional venture on the HF bands. 

Adam Trahan: I am still very new to this. I am a rank amateur at best. I have the greatest respect for my peers that are knowledgeable and excelling in their interests. My favorite hams are teachers of sorts but I do know there are those that don't teach but are really good at what they do.

I can't remember where I heard or read it but I recollect something to the effect of, "If you need help, look for the person with the biggest antenna..." and I am seeing that in our community.

I do feel like the whole of Amateur Radio is a greater community with sub communities within.

My studies in satellite always involve AMSAT. As I explore and educate myself, I am seeing your name in AMSAT materials. 

"Please tell us your involvement in AMSAT and how you got into it."

Patrick Stoddard: I joined AMSAT in 2001, years before I started working satellites. I had read about satellites in publications like QST and CQ over the years, but never had the motivation to try working them until FM satellites came on the scene. Once I started working the FM satellites, I wanted to do more, and also try more than just the 2m and 70cm bands. I also saw that I could operate away from home, and be as successful as I had been when operating from home. Along with articles I have written over the years, I post on mailing lists and online forums related to amateur satellites about my exploits, and post videos on YouTube. 

Adam Trahan: I will join AMSAT soon. My interests have been local at this time but I am realizing that there is a greater community besides the city and state that I live in.

"For those of us getting into Amateur Satellite Communications, what organizations and what materials do you suggest for us to support and study?"

Patrick Stoddard: The best thing to do is start listening to satellite passes. Do not worry about transmitting. The satellites can hear us, but we have to do some work to hear the satellite downlinks well. AMSAT's Getting Started with Amateur Satellites book, which is regularly updated, is a great resource. Lots of information about the different satellites, stations used to work the satellites, and operating techniques. Organizations... AMSAT and AMSAT-UK have been building and launching satellites we can use. 

Adam Trahan: Patrick, I'm a book person. I know, books get outdated very quickly but I really enjoy collecting and reading books. I guess it is my age, but I like good books on my interests.

"Can you suggest some good books for Satellite Communications?"

Patrick Stoddard: The best book is the Getting Started with Amateur Satellites book I previously mentioned. That's really the only introductory book that does a good job for someone starting out in this corner of amateur radio. The AMSAT and AMSAT-UK web sites also have good introductory or "how-to" articles. 

Adam Trahan: I've had the wonderful opportunity to be around enough hams to know that there are some great stories to be told. When I first got started earlier this year, I thought my interest was going to be just getting on a repeater and talking with others at random times. 


That practically never happens.

...and instead of having conversations, my interest has taken me to a place that involves much more than just the radio. Satellite communications are very brief. A lot of it is programming the radio to include brief "text" type messages to send, a sort of canned response.

I use social media to answer some of the questions that I have about my interests. There are a lot of really nice radio people online in those forums willing to help. I recently asked for help in increasing my chances in using my radio to listen and talk to others. I was informed of a "net calendar" which was exactly what I was looking for. On any day, I can look at this calendar and tap into a net and listen and voice my opinion on a guided net question or a open forum.

Yes, ham radio operators often have great stories.

"Patrick, do you have any sort of story you would like to tell us?"

Patrick Stoddard: I started out working HF, and came to trying satellites in the mid-2000s after making a contact with an astronaut on the International Space Station. I had been listening to satellite passes and ISS passes during 2005, and late that year there was an astronaut regularly using the ham station (Bill McArthur KC5ACR, operating as NA1SS during ISS Expedition 12 in late 2005 and early 2006). After reading about Bill's activity from NA1SS for a few weeks, I decided to try this for myself. I used an Icom IC-T7H dual-band handheld radio with a telescoping whip antenna while standing outside my office in central Phoenix, and was able to make a contact late in an ISS pass. It was this contact that finally pushed me to trying other satellites, and I had the pleasure of meeting Bill in late 2006. 

Adam Trahan: I want to thank you for participating in this. I really appreciate it.

"Please take this opportunity to tell us anything you would like. I personally would like to know more about satellite communications, but that's just me! Thank you so much Patrick, I really appreciate you."

Patrick Stoddard: Thanks for the interview. 73!