GB8EMF @ EMF Camp 2018

EMF Camp 2018 was enjoyed by more than 2,500 people and we were privileged to have run an amateur radio installation entitled “Communicating around the world without the Internet”.

Our first time at EMF Camp (2016)

EMF Camp is run every two years and Rebecca (M6BUB) and I (Derek, G7LFC) first encountered EMF Camp in 2016 when it was located in Guildford. We were amazed at what was going on – communities of people (who didn’t always know each other) coming together and freely sharing what they do in their spare time, or at work in some cases, with lots of other people they didn’t know. There was everything from knitting to metalwork, flame-throwing to launching weather balloons, electronics and computing to lock and safe cracking.

At that event we ran an installation, a specific demonstration, of how wireless radio systems can be used to communicate around the world without using the Internet. We thought that this was particularly pertinent given the explosion in the use of the Internet for global communications and our growing reliance on cables.

We demonstrated PSK digital communications which was probably at, or nearing, its peak of popularity at the time. The installation went pretty well given that it was our first year and we were on the periphery of the site – foot-fall suffered a little as a result.

EMF Camp 2018 bigger and better

GB8EMF - Operating FT8
GB8EMF – Operating FT8

We were both invited to attend the launch party for this year’s EMF Camp back in January. It was a dark and dingy venue, but the camaraderie we encountered in 2016 was very much in evidence and we were made most welcome as the plans for 2018 were announced. They were ambitious and, if they came off, it was sure to be an event to remember. During the party were invited back to run our installation again for the 2018 event which would be run at a new venue; Eastnor Deer Park near Ledbury in Herefordshire.

For this event we chose to demonstrate the latest digital data mode to take the amateur radio community by storm, FT8. It’s a controversial mode with many ‘traditional’ amateur radio operators claiming that it’s not real amateur radio as the signals are encoded and decoded by machine (computer). But I remember feeding punched tapes in to radio-modems years ago and receiving RTTY messages automatically on a Siemens T100 more than thirty-five years ago – mechanised radio transmissions and reception are nothing new.

Quantum Technology Club at EMF Camp 2018

This year we added my wife Alison (M6COV) and son David (M3LFC) to the team and expanded what we demonstrated to include some more of the activities that members of the Quantum Technology Club (of which we’re all members) partake in; jewellery making and music making – Alison’s the master-crafter and David is studying towards a Music Production degree back home at Edge Hill University.

FT8 enthuses many

Despite the few predictable dissenters who put down FT8 at every opportunity we were amazed at how many folk were enthused by what this ‘new’ mode was capable of (in terms of distances worked, contact rates, reliability) and how it could be used to predict band conditions and see what was going on high up in the ionosphere. We were kept busy all weekend with licensed and non-licensed folk alike.

GB8EMF - Talk to the world (without the Internet!)
GB8EMF – Talk to the world (without the Internet!)

We got to meet with quite a lot of ‘lapsed’ amateur radio operators who were licensed but haven’t operated for many years. Several of these were surprised over what had happened to the hobby since they last turned their transceivers on and how we were making so many contacts of some distance right at the bottom of the solar cycle. Quite a few of them seem to have been energised by our demonstration to return home and reactivate their stations once they were shown how easy it was to setup such a station and how little extra cost was involved.

GB8EMF station at EMF Camp
GB8EMF station at EMF Camp

Many of the visitors to our installation were currently active in the hobby and had already tried the ‘new’ mode and were fervent fans of it; a few of them operating their QRP (low-power) stations at the event too. Others, who hadn’t tried it yet, saw the number of contacts we were making and said that they were definitely going to give it a go.

We also had a lot of enthusiastic users of £6-10 RTL-based SDR (Software Defined Radio) receivers who weren’t licensed amateur radio operators. Many of them didn’t know much about amateur radio and were unaware that there was a national ‘hobby-radio’ organisation (the Radio Society of Great Britain). Quite a few of them that did know about the hobby said that they didn’t want to become licensed because they didn’t want to talk to folk on radios, or learn Morse code. However, when they realised that there were lots of digital modes that they could experiment with they were more open to considering obtaining a licence. There are a few lessons that we can all learn from this.

All-told, we had a great weekend extolling the exciting opportunities the hobby offers to lots of techies enthused by our FT8 demonstration.

Crafting workshops

Late night crafting @ EMF Camp
Late night crafting @ EMF Camp

Alison received quite a bit of interest too with her drop-in crafting workshops. Throughout the weekend she had quite a few folk taking time out of all the excitement and relaxing as they sat down and made their own necklesses and bracelets.

They were so well received that Alison is already thinking about what she can do at the next event in 2020. She had several comments from visitors as to how little crafting was happening and they’d love it if she ran a larger workshop in one of the main tents. So that’s something to start working towards and collecting resources over the coming months.

Charity Shop Pop does EMF

David entertained the visitors with his latest releases under the artist name of Charity Shop Pop. Fresh from being chosen for the Merseyrail Sound Station music development programme, David brought his mobile recording and mixing station with him to demonstrate the process of recording and producing tracks.

By the time EMF Camp 2020 comes around David will have completed his second year at university, and a sandwich year, so we’re hoping that he’ll be able to expand his side of the installation too.

GB8EMF amateur radio special event station

As well as enjoying many a good chat with visitors to our installation we did find time to operate on the HF bands using FT8.

GB8EMF night-time operations
GB8EMF night-time operations

In just over two days (Friday lunch-time to Sunday tea-time) we worked 300 FT8 stations (71 contacts using my callsign, G7LFC, on Friday to qualify as point towards my ARRL International Grid Chase entry and 229 using our special event callsign, GB8EMF).

Propagation wasn’t great, but we still managed to work far and wide and right up to 10m (28MHz).

Equipment used was a Yaesu FT-857 transceiver, running about 30w, and a Snowdonia Radio Company HF-360 vertical antenna mounted about 6′ off the ground on a speaker tripod.

That’s it for another two years

Reflections at EMF Camp 2018
Reflections at EMF Camp 2018

We were all hugely impressed with this year’s massive technology and making camp. It was great fun, the organisation was brilliant, the weather just what was required (sunny and warm most of the time – it was a bit chilly on Friday evening) and there were lots of people to network with.

We can’t wait for EMF Camp 2020 – we’ll be there (hopefully)!

Next weekend it’s GB6CCC

This coming weekend, the same team are off down to Coventry to run another amateur radio special event station. They can be found at Christ Church running GB6CCC between 10:00 and 16:00 to celebrate the church’s 60th anniversary on Churches on the Air (CHOTA) Day (8th September).