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Microwave Activity Days or MADs

Last Updated on April 1, 2024

Every so often here in Victoria (VK3) we have Microwave Activity Days otherwise known as MADs. These usually ad-hoc, but sometimes planned events, are where amateur radio operators with a passion for microwave communications find themselves on hilltops working other like-minded amateurs. These events don’t tend to be on any club or organisation’s calendar, they just tend to occur as the need arises. It’s an event where microwave enthusiasts can put their gear through its paces.

Microwave Activity Days - VK3KRD Mt Macedon
Rob VK3KRD on Mt Macedon
Microwave Activity Days - VK3HY Kallista
Gavin VK3HY at Kallista

Going Portable

Microwave Activity Days are all about using the bands and microwave radio gear that you’ve accumulated. Getting out of the shack and up on a hill is the key to successful microwave contacts. You may be lucky and have a high QTH, but most people don’t. MADs foster portable hilltop operation where the journey and destination is half the fun of the day. It’s not until you’re a long way from home that you quite often realise you’ve left something at home. Improvisation then becomes the name of the game.

When and where is the next MAD?

A good question you should ask. Microwave communications are more popular in some states of Australia than in others. The reason I’m guessing, is due to the amateur population in respective states. Queensland (VK4) and Victoria (VK3) actively promote MADs through social media and email. The Brisbane VHF group is worth watching as well as subscribing to VK3-Microwave on groups.io. This group is for Victorian (VK3) Amateur Radio operators interested in operating in the microwave bands – 23cm and up. Any licensed operator is welcome, and you don’t have to be a local.  The purpose of the group is to set up spontaneous activities around the state without the need to send group emails.

Communing with Nature

According to the Collins dictionary, if you say that someone is communing with an animal or spirit, or with nature, you mean that they appear to be communicating with it. [literary]

Here Ray, VK3ACR is doing just that with a herd of cows. In the outer metro and semi-rural areas around Victoria, farmers tend to own the hilltops and there are gates for good reason. You have to head out of town if you’re after a vegetation-free hilltop that you can drive to the top of.

Microwave Activity Days - VK3ACR with cows
Ray VK3ACR spending some quality time with a few cows
Microwave Activity Days - Nik VK3BA on Mt Buninyong near Ballarat
Nik VK3BA on Mt Buninyong near Ballarat

In this otherwise cow-free location, Nik VK3BA has set up his portable station on Mt Buninyong which is near the central victorian town of Ballarat. Trees are not microwave-friendly, so finding the sweet spot where you can work all remote stations can be quite tricky.

In an earlier attempt to work from Mt Buninyong to Mt Martha on 10 GHz over 130km, Nik and I had no success, but in a more recent attempt, signals were exceptionally strong which is what’s to be expected of such a short distance. The reason for the marked improvement was a tree in the path.

Lightweight Gear

Microwave Activity Days - Rob VK3KRDs 5 GHz rooftop setup.
Rob VK3KRDs 5 GHz rooftop setup at Mt Leura

Another reason to try and get the car to the top of the hill, depending on the type of vehicle you have, it can make antenna mounting a breeze. Below Heath, VK3TWO mounts his antenna to the back of the tray.

Microwave Activity Days - Heath VK3TWO's vehicle mounted antenna
Heath VK3TWO's vehicle mounted antenna

Note the biquad on the roof. Small lightweight antennas are key to successful portable operation. It’s OK to sacrifice a bit of gain in antennas as you’ll well and truly make up for it in shot coax runs and elevation.

Microwave Activity Days - Nik VK3BA's IC-905
Microwave Activity Days - Nik VK3BA's IC-905

If you can’t get your car to the top of a hill, then you’re going to have to carry gear that last hundred meters or so. Icom’s IC-905 is a compact radio which has 2m, 70cm, 23cm, 13cm, and 6cm on board.  It also has an optional 10 GHz module as well as a proposed 24 GHz option but the more you add, the more you have to carry. Pictured is Nik’s IC905 with the head mounted on a photographic tripod. It’s nice to be able to set up gear where you park.

Microwave Activity Days - Andrew VK3FS's 5 GHz transverter and panel antenna
Andrew VK3FS's 5 GHz transverter and panel antenna

Mounting transverters directly on the back of antennas also makes life easy. All you need to provide is power and an IF.

Views, views and more views

This 360-degree photo below is the view from John’s Hill in Kallista which is located in the Dandenong Ranges to the east of Melbourne. This photo was taken on February 10 2024 when Gavin VK3HY and I went portable for an impromptu MAD. Gavin brought 5 and 10 GHz, and I brought 3.4 GHz along with a lot of video gear. It’s days like this that make going portable all worthwhile.

This 360° photo below is from Mount Martha on a Microwave Activity Day in March 2024.  The following stations were heard in and around Melbourne on SSB and ATV.

 

VK3HY SSB VK3BA SSB ATV VK3FS SSB VK3ACR SSB VK3VRS ATV SSB VK3KRD SSB VK3BCU SSB VK3MVS SSB VK3TWO SSB VK3KMZ VK3JMA ATV SSB VK3TWO SSB

The MAD Gallery

This 360° photo below is from Mount Martha on a Microwave Activity Day in February 2024