Growing problem: Pot lights give ham radio operators a buzz

The Lowell Sun

POSTED:   02/28/2017 08:04:05 AM EST
In this Feb. 21, 2017 photo, lifelong ham radio operator and expert tinkerer Tom Thompson, holds a radio wave filter he invented, inside his basement home

In this Feb. 21, 2017 photo, lifelong ham radio operator and expert tinkerer Tom Thompson, holds a radio wave filter he invented, inside his basement home office, where he operates a ham radio and other devices, in Boulder, Colo. After discovering that radio interference was being caused by high-powered lights from home marijuana growers, Thompson built an electronic filter and has given them to nearby growers. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley) (Brennan Linsley)

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Retired Coast Guard officer Roger Johnson sometimes notices a harsh buzz when he turns on his amateur radio, and he blames high-powered lighting used to grow pot.

Amateur radio operators say the legalization of marijuana is creating a chronic nuisance thanks to interference caused by electrical ballasts that regulate indoor lamps used to grow pot. The American Radio Relay League wants the Federal Communications Commission to take a stand against devices that give off much more interference than federal law allows in homes.

Ham radio operators generally say they don’t have a problem with pot but worry amateur growers may not be aware that cheap ballasts can have phony FCC-compliance stickers. The operators point out they serve as backup communication during emergencies — but concede it’s unlikely any lighting devices would still be on if the power goes out.

Johnson, one of the radio league’s 166,000 members, said he worries interference will only become a bigger inconvenience in years to come in Maine, which recently legalized growing up to six flowering marijuana plants, 12 immature plants and unlimited seedlings.

When he recently heard suspicious noisy static, Johnson said, he drove up and down side streets with a spectrum analyzer hooked up to his laptop to determine the source, which turned out to be a licensed grower a mile away who said he had no idea he was causing a disturbance.

“My prediction is that as more and more states legalize marijuana, the number of growers is going to increase exponentially and overwhelm the FCC’s ability to regulate it,” he said.

The American Radio Relay League has filed four complaints against the FCC and said it hasn’t heard back, and says complaints concerning alleged interference continue to trickle in, particularly in Colorado and California. Cultivation of recreational marijuana is also now legal in Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Alaska, Washington state and the District of Columbia.

Will Wiquist, an FCC spokesman, said the agency takes all interference issues seriously and sends out warning letters after receiving complaints about unlawful interference, including from lighting. He declined to comment further.

Grow lamps are distinctive because they power on and off for 12 hours at a time, and marijuana grow lighting can be powerful enough to produce the same amount of radio interference as a 1,000-watt AM radio station, said Bill Crowley, the Maine section manager of the Radio Relay League.

One inexpensive ballast sold by big-box retailers produced 640 times the level of interference of a legal unit, said Mike Gruber, the league’s resident radio interference expert, who did the test.

The interference often sounds like the kind of harsh, grating static generated by a lightning strike — except it doesn’t stop, said Tom Thompson, an amateur radio operator in Boulder, Colorado.

Thompson said he has dealt with independent pot growers causing interference a half-dozen times. Given the weak federal enforcement and declining FCC manpower, he said, he has created his own solution: a filtering device that almost eliminates the static by suppressing interference from non-compliant ballasts.

“Some won’t cooperate, but most do,” he said. “I go to their places and give them a filter and give them instructions how to install it.”

Last year, Kalkaska, Michigan, began requiring medical marijuana growers to use FCC-compliant lighting equipment. Scott Yost, the village’s manager, is an amateur radio operator himself.

In Maine, Johnson wants legislators to get the state to step in and ban ballasts that produce radio frequency noise extending beyond the user’s property. Out-of-compliance ballasts could be refunded or replaced with a unit that doesn’t produce noise, he suggests.

Several legislators said such a move would likely pre-empt federal law, and a committee recently voted to kill such a bill. Other ham radio operators say the federal government should do its job.

Crowley said he has experienced a disturbance himself, and hopes President Donald Trump’s new FCC chairman, Ajit Varadaraj Pai — who has praised pending federal legislation aimed at helping amateur radio operators — will be more sympathetic.

Education might be the answer and could make growers more aware of the need to use ballasts approved by the FCC, said Erin Worthing, of Cape Elizabeth, a recreational marijuana caregiver.

The FCC-approved grow lighting he uses for his crops lead to a higher-quality product, he said, as noncompliant ballasts also tend to be cheap and poorly designed.

The White House said last week that the Justice Department will begin stepping up enforcement of federal laws prohibiting recreational marijuana. Noting that marijuana remains federally illegal, Worthing said, “Under the current climate, we don’t want feds knocking on doors.”

 Some news from USA – Great to hear the hobby is thriving there.

Another Outstanding Year for Amateur Radio Licensing!

02/01/2017Last year — 2016 — was another outstanding one for Amateur Radio licensing. So says ARRL Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC) Manager Maria Somma, AB1FM.

“New Amateur Radio licenses issued were up by 1% over 2015, and this is the third year in a row that the total number of new licenses has exceeded 30,000,” Somma reported. She said 32,552 were granted in 2016, 32,077 in 2015, and 33,241 in 2014.

Somma said that while 2014 was a record-setting year for new licenses issued, ARRL VEC “continues to see an elevated interest in obtaining an Amateur Radio license.”

The overall trend continues to be up, up, up! The total number of US Amateur Radio licensees has continued to grow each year since the FCC eliminated the Morse code exam requirement in 2007. Over the past decade, the net number of Amateur Radio licensees has risen by nearly 87,000, according to statistics compiled by Joe Speroni, AH0A, who is ARRL Pacific Section Manager.

As of December 31, 2016, the total number of licensees in the FCC database was 742,787, topping the 2015 total of 735,405, but down just slightly from the all-time high of 743,003 reached last November.

Somma said license upgrades were down by 5% compared to 2015 — 10,617 versus 11,224. “A new Amateur Extra class pool took effect on July 1, 2016, which may have impacted upgrade totals in the second half of the year,” she speculated.

As of December 31, according to figures compiled by Speroni, there were 143,337 Amateur Extra licensees, 45, 071 Advanced licensees, 172,807 General licensees, 371,560 Technician licensees, and 10,012 Novice licensees. The FCC no longer issues Advanced and Novice class licenses. The General and Technician licensee totals at the end of last year were all-time highs, and the Amateur Extra total was nearly so.


AM Rally Set for April 1-3 — No Fooling!

02/01/2017Ever wonder what that “AM” button is for on your transceiver? Well, if you don’t know about full-carrier amplitude modulation (AM) or have never used it on the air, you’ll get the chance during the AM Rally, April 1-3, on the HF bands between 160 and 10 meters (except 30, 17, and 12 meters) plus 6 meters. Amateur Radio voice-mode transmissions on the HF bands into the 1960s were AM, the same mode that used to predominate in radio broadcasting. Single-sideband (SSB), a form of AM, gradually took over the phone bands, although not without some pushback! Today, a group of dedicated radio amateurs keeps the magic flame alive, getting on AM frequently, and for many of them, AM is their primary operating mode. The AM Rally gives the uninitiated a chance to dip a toe into the pool, so to speak.

A cooperative event organized by AM, SSB, and, yes, even CW operators, the AM Rally aims to encourage fellow operators to take this “sister mode” for a spin, make a few contacts, and have a shot at earning some nice certificates.

“We plan to make the AM Rally fun for everyone, but we also want to help ops who might be new to the mode get their rigs set up and sounding the best they can in time for the event,” said Clark Burgard, N1BCG, who is spearheading the event with Steve Cloutier, WA1QIX, and Brian Kress, KB3WFV. “Whether your rig is software defined, solid state, vacuum tube, hybrid, homebrew or broadcast surplus, you’ll be a welcome part of the AM Rally.”

The event website ( has complete AM Rally details, contact information, award categories, logging, and tips on how to get the most out of your station equipment in AM mode.

The AM Rally begins on Saturday, April 1 at 0000 UTC (Friday, March 31, in US time zones) and concludes at 0000 UTC on Monday, April 3.

It’s open to all radio amateurs capable of transmitting full-carrier AM, using any type of equipment, from vintage to bleeding edge. The event is sponsored by Radio Engineering Associates (REA), in cooperation with ARRL, which supports all modes of Amateur Radio operation.

If you like to get on the air and have fun and now operate — or would like to operate — AM mode, then you’re good to go!

Participating stations earn 1 point for each station worked per band, and you may work the same station on more than one band. They also earn 1 point for each state, Canadian province/territory, or DXCC entity worked. Both stations must be using AM for a contact to count.

Certificates will be awarded to stations scoring the highest number of points in each of the five power classes, regardless of rig category, both for most contacts and most states/provinces.

“All it takes is a turn, push, or click to participate!” There’s also plenty of time to dig out and dust off that old AM-capable tube gear sitting in your attic or basement.



The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has successfully launched several satellites carrying Amateur Radio payloads. Satellites put into orbit includeSwayam-1, a 1U CubeSat that carries a digital store-and-forward messaging system for use by the Amateur Radio community.

“We are eagerly waiting for your reception report of the CW beacon at 437.025 MHz. You can also get the decoded beacon data by entering ‘beacon’ in Swayambeacon signal decoder available on our website,” said Rupesh Lad, VU2LRD/VU2COE of the College of Engineering Pune CSAT team.

Swayam-1 is in a low-Earth polar orbit. It operates on 437.025 MHz with a power output of 1 W.

Other satellites on the launch that carried Amateur Radio payloads include BEESAT-4 (435.950 — 4800 bps GMSK, CW); BIROS (437.525 — 4800 bps GMSK; Max Valier (145.860 MHz down, 145.960 MHz CW beacon), and Sathyabamasat (145.980 — 2400 bps BPSK).




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