Laugh or Cry, It's Ham Radio in Costa Rica!

Posted this in QRZ forums, copying word by word here... Thought it worth a laugh.

I moved to Costa Rica in 2008. At that time, any U.S. or Canadian ham got automatic operating reciprocity via a "letter of understanding" between the countries, so no official application was required.

Around 2015, two agencies, SUTEL and MICITT (ministry of telecommunications), basically copy-n-pasted Panama's ham regulations into theirs and required formal application for reciprocity. I finally made such application in January 2016, which required a tedious, detailed form (including a listing of all rigs, gear and antennas). I had to search in roundabout ways to find the right contact person to process my application via email (was not going to make the seven-hour roundtrip to their San José office if I could help it).

During that effort to obtain reciprocity so long ago now, there were about 4-5 people on a months-long email thread. About every 3 months, I had to ping them and each time it was obvious that they had done nothing in the interim to move things forward, but each ping gained a little progress. Finally, in early 2017, I got a lengthy legalese document signed by the President of Costa Rica in PDF form granting me permission. I then sent this on to ARRL/LOTW to reinstate LOTW access.

They got a good laugh at the ARRL, because I hadn't noticed that buried in that document MICITT had gotten the call sign wrong. Completely wrong! The ARRL contact said they were so surprised that I'd actually made it through the process that they granted me LOTW access anyway. I simply e-mailed the main person at MICITT about the wrong call sign. That email was never replied to.

So, I'm going along happily since then making QSOs, until today, over 2 years later, out of the blue, MICITT sends me another 8-page legalese document whose sole purpose is correction of the call sign and stating that I had 3 work days (how generous given how long they took) to raise any issues with this correction.

Surprise and laughter were my reactions. Of course, this would only bring a shrug of shoulders from my Tico neighbors.

73 es gud dx,

Casey, TI2/NA7U

Back on the Air

My hiatus from ham radio was longer than usual, in part due to the lost year waiting for the Costa Rica ham radio authority to approve my reciprocal permit vis-a-vis their new-ish regulations. Seriously, that was a nightmare and in the end they got the call sign wrong in my permit and now don't pick up the phone, hihi.

ARRL was very sympathetic and congratulatory that I'd gotten any response from them at all. They would have been happy to renew my LoTW authorization without having tried for the permit it turns out because they know how bad the situation wrt licensing is here. Sigh ...

The 10W K2 in operation at the "shack" in the house

The Long-Awaited Reciprocal Permit Feels Like an Anticlimax

When we last left your hero (me!) in No Wonder Ham Radio in Costa Rica Is a Deadster, he (I) had been wading and waiting through a process for a reciprocal operating permit from the telecommunications powers-that-be for about seven months, which ended in them telling me there were in fact several other steps yet to be taken and I should expect another four months of waiting.

The waiting is the hardest part ...

Well, four months plus I waited and then decided to ping the people who I hoped were still involved to get a status update. A few days later after my request for status via email was made, I received a plain, non-congratulatory response (not mentioning a result in the message) with an eight-page PDF attachment. Quickly scanning that document, I saw that they spelled my name correctly and in accordance with a barrel-full of cited laws and regulations I had been granted reciprocal permission to operate on the HF bands and it was signed by the President of the Republic! By the way, I did not request specifically to operate on the HF bands, but that's what they gave me. Good thing I don't own an HT ...

No Wonder Ham Radio in Costa Rica is a Deadster

As I think I mentioned here somewhere, I finally applied for reciprocity to the powers that be (there are actually two government agencies that must get involved) back in late Februrary. All done by email, so at least I didn't have to make an all-day trip to San José (yet).
ham radio frustration

There seemed to be much confusion on their end about how the whole process was going to work, even though I know for a fact that at least a couple of visiting hams were able to do this before and no rules have changed in the interim.

Finally, around the middle of March I was told that everything I'd submitted was OK and that the opaque-to-me process was rolling but that it would take five months to complete. I thought at the time "Blimey! Five months?" but being much more inured to Costa Rican bureaucracy than I was when I first came here that actually did not seem unreasonable.

The Gringo Ham Awakens from His Slumber

I'm a little embarrassed to reveal to my ham readers that it has been well over three years since I set ham radio aside ... temporarily. I'm also a little amazed at how fast that time went by. Whooosh! No, there was no sudden, severe illness or anything that interfered with my hobby. I simply got busy with other things and as the time went by, the inertia to get back in the game grew steadily.

Well, that changed about 10 days ago, when as a side-effect of a long overdue spring cleaning in my workshop, I decided to revive the station down there, which, despite being a bit dusty, was still in good working order save for the power pot on the K2. The station still looks like this: 

The only real change there is a different computer and a new, 1/4-wave, window-line fed vertical on the roof. I also took down the 400' loop, which was simply than repairing it, but not an easy task in itself by any means. Even using my truck to pull the wire from the trees, I still managed to strand a 30-foot section of wire.

After many, many hours of cleaning, repairing the 200' doublet and re-installing programs and re-educating myself, that station became operable. I ran out the bugs by working a dozen or so digi-mode stations.

Homebrew Ladder Line for my 200 Foot All-band Doublet

Drilling the Zareba insulators for 14 AWG wire
Drilling the Zareba insulators for 14 AWG wire
After my last post, there was still another day and a half of trimming trees to get a clear path for the doublet. I cut or trimmed at least twice what I thought I was going to when I started, which came to least three pick-up loads of trimmings. It was difficult work to say the least, running up and down rough terrain and tending to the hoists at each end of the antenna, which is about 100 meters long including the support ropes. Finally, Saturday, the rope and wire had a clear shot and I was able to pull it all the way up in the clear. 

In the middle of that, I took a break to start making the homebrew ladder-line with which I would feed the doublet. 

Back of the Zareba fence insulators package
Back of Zareba Package

As I'd mentioned in the previous posting, I ordered some Zareba (which I always remember as Zebra) fin insulators, a tip I'd picked up on an eHam page. These are small, lightweight, made from UV-stabilized polyethylene and just 10 cm long. Perfect. They come in packages of 50 for $4. I set up a quick jig on my drill press and made holes on each end 2 mm wider than the insulated 14 AWG solid conductor copper house wire I would use for the feed-line. Center to center the holes are 86 mm apart.

Argo V PSK working now, WSPR not so much

Update 2016: As my original post below notes, I was unable to get CAT to work with my Ten-Tec 516 using the default settings in the WSPR program a few years back. I just came back to that problem, did a Google search and the top 4 results were this post and my 3 queries on various reflectors on this topic, which were unanswered.

So, I took another crack at it and voilá it is now working. The default settings in WSPR are just plain wrong and here is a screen shot of the correct values to put in the user parameters:

Naturally, your choice of CAT port depends on your own PC, but all the fields below that are the ones you should choose if you have an Argonaut V longing to transmit WSPR. Judging by the lack of response to my previous queries, probably no one cares about this, hi hi, but it is now here for reference at least.

========================= Original Post ======================
Instead of guessing at the right values for a voltage divider attenuator, I wired in a 100K audio pot to the audio out line from the Ten Tec Argonaut V. Setting it right about in the middle gives me a lot more wiggle room on the Windows mic level control now. I may just use it this way or measure the values and use fixed resistors all shrink-wrapped up.

Clearly, the waterfall is now cleaned up as it should be.

Little joy on the TT516 for WSPR use, however. There the CAT control seems entirely broken. Can't change frequency, can't PTT. Just gives protocol and command rejected errors. I did manage to receive by changing frequency manually and was able to transmit using the PTT control in Flrig, but that's hardly a solution.

I've seen indirectly that a few folks have gotten it working with their Argonaut V, though. I have an e-mail out to VK4CRO to see how he did it. I hope I don't have to make up a special mic cable and trigger off DTR or RTS on the serial port directly. I wonder why the TT516 control commands don't work in WSPR 2.11 anyway. Perhaps they were never tested?

Costa Rica Call Sign Prefixes and Foreign Operating Requirements

Costa Rica's Call Sign Prefixes

Every once in a while, a radio amateur contacts me about the rules for foreign operators, which leads to the question of which call sign prefix they should use for their final destination. I don't have them memorized, they are hard to find on the Internets and I can never find a file showing them on whatever computer I'm using. So long as I can remember that I put it here, I can access it quickly and send the link to others.

Costa Rican mainland amateur radio call sign prefixes
The seven Costa Rica mainland call sign prefixes. TI9 is Cocos Island. Prefixes may start also with TE.
The new SUTEL radio regulations that I wrote about previously are continuing to be fleshed out. They are silent about the use of TI0 or TI1, but I assume those are reserved for clubs or special events. The latest link to Costa Rica's Amateur and CB radio regulations is here.

As of late 2014, SUTEL now has a more organized web page for Costa Rica and foreign hams.

Cocos Island - Rare DX and Great Scuba Diving

TI9 is Cocos Island, which is uninhabited except for park rangers. By the way, why such a small country needs all these different prefixes is beyond me.

 It's a dream of mine to operate from Cocos Island someday. My pile-up skills may never be adequate for manning a station at that rare DX however. I can imagine the grumbling by DX spotters already, hihi.

Additionally, it's a logistical difficulty to operate from there because visitors are not allowed to stay overnight and it's a 340 mile boat trip from Costa Rica's Pacific shore. Perhaps one could operate from a boat anchored off the island. Even if I could not manage to operate from there, the diving is supposed to be superb. Cocos Island makes worldwide top ten lists regularly for the best scuba diving destinations.