Amateur Television: Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to be a member of HOTARC to watch ATV?
What are typical ATV projects and activities in HOTARC?
What do I need to get started in Amateur Television?

Do I need to be a member of HOTARC to watch ATV?

No, all you need to do is tune into the TV channels for our ATV signals to see our pictures. However, by being a HOTARC member, we'll allow you to control our Skycam with your 2-meter radio. And, of course, we'll help you get on the air and send your own ATV pictures!

What are typical ATV projects and activities in HOTARC?

Some past projects and activities are:
  • W5ZDN ATV-repeater. We have mounted an ATV repeater atop the Hillcrest Medical Tower, one of the highest points in McLennan County. The repeater listens on an input frequency of 429.25 MHz (cable channel 60), and retransmits on an output of 421.25 MHz (cable channel 57). The repeater enables ATV communications from almost anywhere within McLennan County, and with a little extra effort, in adjacent counties. There is usually a group of ATV/SSTV enthusiasts on the HOTARC ATV repeater every evening, starting around 8:00 PM, using 147.24 MHz repeater, (tone 97.4) for voice communications. The repeater is currently operational and open to any amateur use.
  • HOTARC Skycam. We have mounted a color video camera atop the Waco Hilton Hotel across the street from the Waco Suspension Bridge and Indian Springs Park. Using 2-meter FM radio signals, members can activate the camera and transmitter to control a pan-tilt head and point the camera in almost any direction. The video signal is beamed to the HOTARC ATV-repeater. The Skycam is and open to all HOTARC members, but currently not operational.
  • Sky-Eye. For Field Day 1999, John Gafford N5XAK (SK) built a small, low-powered ATV transmitter and camera for the purpose of tethered flying high above the HOTARC Field Day site. Unfortunately, the wind on Field Day didn't cooperate and we were only able to get a few minutes of pictures. We attempted the Sky-Eye again in 2000 with ballons, only to be hampered by high winds again. Finally, in 2002, the winds cooperated and we were successfull in our quest to loft a ATV transmitter. A helium-filled balloon, with Sky-Eye attached, was teathered at a height of several hundred feet above the Field Day site before the balloon burst. The well-constructed Sky-Eye survived the fall unscathed.
  • Special Events. HOTARC is a dedicated supporter of area special events (foot races, bike rides, etc), and typically supplies a radio communications trailer which is also equppied with ATV receiving equipment (antennas, rotors, downconverters, television monitor). For many special events, ATV operators position themselves around the event and beam pictures back to the trailer where spectators can view the pictures. David Bush KC5UOZ has personally assembled an ATV Van loaded with radio equipment, including ATV and SSTV support.
  • NASA-TV. One of our members, David Bush KC5UOZ, has a satellite dish to receive NASA-TV. Whenever there is interesting NASA activity, such as space shuttle missions or ISS spacewalks (revised 97.113 now permits this!), David sends the NASA-TV signal to the ATV repeater and we all get to see live space video right in our homes! A few years ago, we had a night-time shuttle re-entry right over Waco. We were able to monitor the progress of the re-entry via ATV, watch it's brilliant pass overhead, and then see the landing in Florida a few minutes later via ATV. Wow!

What do I need to get started in Amateur Television?

The first thing is tune into the nightly ATV "show" almost every evening, usually starting around 8:00 pm. Here's how:
1) Connect an outside (UHF) antenna to the cable input on your TV (or VCR).
2) Point the antenna towards the Hillcrest Medical Tower in Waco (the ATV repeater location). If you're within a few miles of the Tower, simple rabbit ears may do!
3) Tune your TV (or VCR) to cable channel 57. (Note: This is NOT the same as UHF station 57.)
The quality of picture and audio will largely depend on your proximity to the repeater when using this simple setup. If you are a ham, check-in on 2-meter FM using the W5NCD repeater on 147.24 MHz (tone 97.4) and let us know you're watching!

The next thing you'll want to do is improve your antenna system. Invest in an ATV yagi antenna and good quality coax. Mount your antenna outside, as high as possible, horizontally polarized, where you can get as clear a view as possible towards the repeater, yet as close to your TV (i.e., short length of coax) as possible. Buildings and trees definitely degrade the signal, so again: get as clear a view as possible in the direction of the repeater site. Use high quality coax, such as Belden 9913 (not just RG-8). Note that your received pictures will not be as good as they can be, until you amplify your received signal...that can come later.

The third thing is to begin planning for a transmit capability. First, get a video camera with A/V out jacks. Most old camcorders, security cameras, desktop cameras (for PCs), and such, will work just fine.

The fourth thing: you must invest in an ATV transmitter or transceiver. The transceiver will have a built-in downconverter and pre-amp to really improve the received signal. You can often find these at hamfests or from hams who have lost interest in ATV. Or you can buy a new one from a dealer. One of our favorites is P.C. Electronics.

The last thing you might want to pursue is portability. It's pretty fun to send a video picture from a remote site, for example, during a special event. Primarily, you'll need 1) a source of power for your camera and transmitter, and 2) a quick, portable antenna setup. Of course, your transmitter, camera, and cabling must follow. This takes planning and practice, but will give a real sense of accomplishment when you can pull it off! How many folks do you know who can transmit a video signal from a portable station?

For all of these steps, HOTARC members are eager to give advice, lend a hand, and maybe even share/loan/give/sell some equipment to get you started. Give us a call!

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