For some people this could be as easy as grabbing a radio as you head out the door; I have found that some more planning is required to get the most from my portable Ultralight FM radio sessions. This is especially important now with COVID-19 restrictions in some areas and changes due to this. I am now making a point of keeping a good distance away from people and limiting how much time I am out and about in public. I am now focusing on more remote / less used areas. For those in areas with current COVID-19 restrictions, it is vital that all rules and guidelines are followed. Local health advice must be the overriding decider on what you are able to do.
When I am planning a portable Ultralight FM radio session, my first step is to arrange a suitable day and time. Work and family responsibilities play a large part in this.
Once a suitable day and time has been found the next step is to check the weather forecast for that day. In the past when I was involved in the amateur radio / radio scanning hobby, I used to undertake quite a bit of out and about scanning which involved sitting on hill tops, lookouts, mountains and so on, from doing this I learnt two VERY important lessons:
- Sitting in the sun for hours at a time is not fun and this reduces your enjoyment of the hobby.
- Sitting in the cold for hours at a time is not fun and this reduces your enjoyment hobby.
Based on this I like to make sure the weather will be suitable. While the cold can be overcome with extra clothes, being too hot is much harder to control and in extreme cases this can be quite bad for your health (dehydration, sun stroke and so on). Storms and other weather extremes are also not fun to be out in so I like to try and avoid these if possible. During our Australian summer, bush fires are a very real risk and given most locations are prime fire spots, the fire danger rating (FDR) and a safe access / escape are very important to consider.
Next you need to decide on a location, I like to have a mix of new locations and some proven ones. Some are quite close and others are quite a distance to drive. The things I consider when deciding on a location include:
- Distance to drive (The cost of fuel is a factor in this, as is the amount of time I have for my DXing session)
- Access (some areas are locked after hours)
- RF profile (Some locations are better due to distance from high power transmitters)
- Comforts (Shops, toilets, etc.)
- Personal Security / Safety (See notes below)
With my focus on the FM band, height is one of the most important elements and this guides me on the most suitable locations. I balance this out against the distance to travel. I am testing a few locations at the moment. The Talbot Road Lookout is one of my go to locations and I have also found Mt George near George Town to provide some excellent results.
All these points are fairly easy to assess except for personal security, yet this is the most important.
The city I live in is fairly safe and crime it is not always the first thing I think of, yet personal security and safety is very important. Sitting in your car or walking in the bush with multiple radios, by yourself, around and after dark, in locations such as lookouts or hill tops, beaches, parks or car parks can expose you to an increased risk to your personal safety. These locations at times can be used by people for a number of reasons which may not be legal or which may cause you to witness things you don't want to witness. Some of these locations are used for drug dealing, exchanges or people meeting others whom they are not married to in a "lover’s lane" type situation. Generally locations with a good level of passing traffic or close to houses are better than isolated spots. Good lighting is also a benefit as is having multiple entry and exits points. The best advice is to keep your doors locked if in your car and to be aware of your surroundings both in your car and while on foot. If you feel unsafe or uneasy it is better to cut your session short than get caught up in somebody else's problems or risk your personal safety. Having a torch and a mobile phone plus telling somebody where you will be and when you will be home are all good safety tips. Some larger torches can be used as a weapon is the most serious of situations.
My planning really starts the night before or early in the morning when I prepare everything I am going to take, charge batteries and pack up my gear. My normal kit consists of this:
- Receivers (1, 2, 3 or more in my carry case)
- Batteries (Fully recharged and also some spare alkaline AA's and AAA’s)
- Aerials – The size and weight of these can vary and needs to be considered.
- Head phones (I prefer the ear bud type and these are easier to carry)
- Log book / sheets and pen + spares
- Torch (Now using my phone / torch in my radio)
- List of all frequencies
- Blanket (if it is cold)
- Spare jacket / vest
- Digital camera (I am now using my phone)
- Food and drinks
- Band-Aids and a small towel
- Mobile phone
- Identification such as a driver’s licence (which you should be carrying anyway if you are driving)
In the past I have used digital camera bags and hard ABS type cases, these types of cases / bags each have advantages and disadvantages. ABS cases stand out and make it look like you are carrying expensive equipment, which might not be a great idea in some remote locations. Soft cases on the other hand don’t provide enough protection in some circumstances. I now have a hard carry case which I can easily place inside a backpack if I need to or which I can just as easily carry by itself. This is the best of both worlds and provides a great level of protection to my radios.
Before leaving home, I check my kit and confirm I have everything I need. When I arrive onsite I do a quick recon of the area to make sure it is safe, no dodgy people around and I feel comfortable. Then I do a quick scan of the bands and check for the normal stations, now I can sit back, relax and get serious about logging. I also try to eat something and drink to keep my fluids up. I like to also get some photos each time I go out for the report on my blog. If I am going portable I like to try a few different spots and also interact with anybody I see, even if this is just a passing hello on a track.
On returning home I make sure I spend some time with my wife and children before checking my loggings and entering these into my frequency database.