Operating HF during the bottom of the 11 year solar cycle can be frustrating. Even though my antenna is actually fairly decent (for a “compromise” wire antenna), the HF bands have been tough and pretty dead during the hours I can actually hop on the radio. Sometimes I only have 30 minutes where I can be alone in the shack between hanging with the kiddos or working. This is where D-STAR comes in.

D-STAR is a digital mode made popular by Icom a little more than ten years ago. I won’t go into the technical advantages of this mode but one of the things I love about D-STAR is that you can link D-STAR repeaters together or even join reflectors. Reflectors are essentially servers that act as online repeaters for D-STAR. I have a hotspot running on a Raspberry Pi 3 that I use with my D-STAR radios to connect with hams all around the world.

Today I had a couple of QSOs that really stood out. I hopped onto reflector REF030C, which is used by hams around the world and just threw my callsign out. Michael KN4WQH replied to my call and we stated to chat. Micahel lives in Savannah, GA and with D-STAR, it sounded like he was right next door. During our conversation we realized that we both had the same last name: Maher. Speaking to other Mahers is not super common, yet alone on the air. Turns out through our conversation that we are both from the same distant Irish linage of Maher and we even work in the same field of software engineering! Later on during our QSO, Michael’s brother Dan KN4YII hopped on the air to chat. He is also a software engineer! It’s not everyday to meet other Mahers on the air who happen to be in the same field! We spoke for awhile and really enjoyed the conversation.

This is another example of some of the “magic” of ham radio. You really never know who you will meet when you put your callsign out there. This QSO was a highlight of the weekend and I look forward to chatting with these guys down the road.

Even with HF propagation in a sub-optimal state now, you can still “work the world” with a little hotspot and D-STAR. I recommend it for anybody who just wants to get on the air and have crystal clear audio while meeting new folks. It makes for a fun time!