Category Archives: Operating

Home construction, QRP, solar power 8 months on

When I came back to amateur radio in March 2018, I set myself some aims, more aspirations really.  I said that I wanted the station to be QRP, all homebrew and solar powered.

I have always enjoyed making stuff and now I have finally retired I have a lot of time to do just that. Second, I have previously thrown money at the hobby, got on the air and become bored.

QRP? Life is too short say the kilowatt cynics. Over the years I have enjoyed using a lot of small, home made radios with spectacular results. It takes more effort to winkle a signal out of the noise, but the rewards are bigger. Like many things in life it takes effort and patience to get results but the reward are higher.

uBITX

As the solar power I am trying to reduce my carbon footprint as I fear we are on the brink of a climate catastrophe.  You may not agree but I would urge you to read the evidence, from climate scientists, not newspaper articles, who agree that there is a big problem. Besides saving energy in the home saves money!

80w folding solar panels

So, 8 months on I am back on the air with a uBITX with the mods to reduce spurious emission and harmonics. Next is the AGC board. Using a LiPo battery I can get near 20W output but that is trimmed down to 5W. I also have a 20M QSX and am eagerly awaiting the launch of the multiband QSX.

20m QCX

The auto antenna tuner is nearly finished but in the mean time I have a 9:1 balun at the bottom of the antenna and an L match at the radio end. I can get below 1.5:1 from 106m to 10m which is fine for now.

The only thing to sort out now is a more permanent solar panel battery charging facility. I have the gear from ‘the van’ but want something more permanent.

80M DX on the uBITX

This is a recording of W1MBB on 3.798Mhz at 0754 this morning. My antenna is a long wire strung between two trees with a homemade tuner. I also heard a ZL this morning.

 

So, what does this prove? That the uBITX receiver works well although I must add the AGC board! That there is DX out there if you know where to look. That amateur radio need not cost a lot. And, most of all, there is nothing to beat the kick of building a radio and using it on the air.

I know I could never work him on the uBITX but I also know that using higher bands it is perfectly possible to work across the pond on 2W of CW.

Contest time again

Having and SDR receiver makes it very easy to look at band activity. Today is the start of the two days of mayhem that is called the CQ WW Contest. What is interesting is the number of stations on the air when the bands are supposed to be dead!

A quick look at 20m at 1104 UTC showed wall to wall phone stations. The antenna is still a mismatched long wire so I guess I was missing the weaker signals.

There were a few stations on 17m but more on 15m. That was surprising and a quick listen found that they were all in eastern Europe and Russia. Good steady sigs with no QSB.

What interests me most is that the bands were not ‘dead’, there were people using them. There may not be the exotic DX out there but even that is still possible at times.

So, the only time we speak to each other now is to scream CQ CONTEST followed by 59 QSL. I bet that could be automated with voice talkers and some nifty software, if it has not been done already.

Update 29/10/2018 I dropped in on a mate working /P from the top of a local hill during the contest. He had modest antennas, a doublet and a 20m vertical both quite low. True he had a bit of power but barely 400W PEP. He had worked all over the world including VP8 on Sunday morning. His comments were the same as mine – who says the bands are dead! Don’t wait for a contest get on the air!

 

 

Last transmission from KPH/KPS/KSM

Just love this video on Youtube. It is the last transmission from KPH/KPS/KSM

UA1OM decoded the Morse:
CQ CQ CQ DE KPH/KFS/KSM NW PLEASE JOIN US FOR THE TRADITIONAL CLOSING MESSAGE # DEAR GODDESS THE MEMBERS OF THE MARITIME RADIO HISTORICAL SOCIETY ARE YOUR HUMBLE SERVANTS AND WE THANK YOU FOR PROTECTING US THIS PAST YEAR AS WE CONTINUED OUR STEWARDSHIP OF THE STATIONS KPH AND KSM THE MUSIC OF MORSE HAS GLADDENED THE HEARTS OF MANY AS WE HAVE CROSSED THE BARRIERS OF TIME AND SPACE WE ASK YOUR AND GUIDANCE IN OUR DECISIONS AND ACTIONS DURING THE COMING YEAR THAT WE MAY BE WORTHY OF THE EQUIPMENT AND TRADITION THAT HAS BEEN ENTRUSTED INTO OUR HUMBLE HANDS BLESS ALSO THE EARS AROUND THE WORLD THAT SHARE THE FRUITS OF OUR LABOURS Z UT 73 / 88 DA DE KPH/KFS/KSM CL AR”

A lost age – marine HF radio

My first job was as an apprentice at a Post Office HF radio station, Bearley near Stratford-upon-Avon. It was part of the HF point-to-point system that provided worldwide telecommunications. It was state of the art in 1967 and scrapped in 1980.

The station had 50 of the first professional, transistorised communications receivers,  Plessey PVR800s. The early versions had some germanium transistors which proved to be unreliable. They were replaced by the ultra modern silicon types!

They were used for telephony, 4 voice channels on double side band reduced carrier. The audio was inverted so that short wave listeners could not eaves drop.

There were also 50 Marconi HR11, valve telegraphy receivers. Each had the capability running 48 telex services on one radio channel using time division multiplex.

As services were transferred to satellites the station took over the maintenance of UK coast stations used for marine communications. They also suffered the same fate. Eventually all HF communications was taken over by satellites and the point-to-point and coast station were closed down. This Post Office film from 1979 shows something of what HF coastal communications in the “good old days”.

It was then end of an era and still saddens me to think that all the old skills have been lost, particularly commercial Morse.

If you want to read more about the HF point-to-point HF radio network, then see this book by Paul Hawkins who worked at the Dorchester TX station. (click the image >)

Remember, radio amateurs still use Morse!

Also see the Radio Officers Association

Topband 160m links and info

Here are some links to Topband, 160M, web sites in no particular order nor offering any sort of endorsement or recommendation. I am sure there are many more but for the newcomer they offer an insight into what the band is about.

I am about to order some relatively simple gear for 160M in the form of AM receiver and transmitter kits. More to follow.

The RAT5 RX and FAT5 TX kits
Simple but effective, AM,  RX and TX projects for 160m

160 Meter Radio Propagation Prediction Table
The table above represents a rough approximation of radio propagation conditions on 160 meters (affectionately known as Topband). It is to be used as a guide only and is not a definitive forecast. It is based upon selected high-latitude magnetic observatory data which is used to estimate the influence of the auroral oval on 160 meter path propagation (refer to the March and April 1998 issues of CQ Magazine for details: “160 Meters: An Enigma Shrouded in Mystery”, by Cary Oler and Ted Cohen).

The fabulous G4FPH topband WebSDR
Welcome to this WebSDR receiver (running PA3FWM dist11 software – big thanks to Pieter-Tjerk), located near Stafford in central England (IO92AS).

160mt
160 metres being a band like 6 metres offers challenges just above the AM broadcast band is not the easiest band to work DX, operating portable or mobile ETC.
Some AM portable radios can be adjusted to receive 160 metres by adjusting the local oscillator, Car radios can be also adjusted up but they can be very difficult and would suggest using an old unit with AM only.

160m am radio conversion
If you don’t have a general coverage receiver you can convert an ordinary am wireless. As most
broadcast sets cover up to about 1630khz it is possible in most cases to tweak them up to above 1.8mhz.

ONE SIXTY METER CROSSBAND RADIO
Stay tuned to this spot for the latest information on the regular one sixty meter crossband transmissions from vk3ase. Listen from 2230hrs Saturday evening till 0200hrs Sunday morning.  And Wednesday night/Thurs morning (Australian eastern time)on the one sixty, eighty and two meter bands for the largest  amount of bilge imaginable. The content of these missions range from discussions about radio, audio, computing and other related subjects through to social techno babble. Actually most of it is very silly and serves to modulate the carrier to comply with regulations. The program material is drawn from the extensive crossband archive going back 40 years and live missions.

Getting on 160 Meters on a Budget
There are very good reasons why you should not let this fascinating band “slip through your fingers“. The first is propagation. It typically is the last and least likely band to fail under adverse propagation conditions. It is primarily a night time band when it comes to DX due to D-Layer Absorption during the day. At that time, in particular the morning, and at night, it can provide NVIS (Near Vertical Incidence Skywave) mode propagation for local contacts. In times of local disaster when a repeater is down, this mode can get communications over mountains. 80, 60 and 40 meters can equally be used in NVIS mode propagation, depending of ionosphere conditions, but I’m only concentrating on getting you on 160.

160m-top-band-endfed-antenna-g3yeu-iss1-31.pdf
Links to a PDF file to download

Topband in Hawaii
The topband is rough in Hawaii with everyone else 2800 miles or more away. There can be significantly less thunder crashes much of the time versus the mainland. However we get fishing floats. These are believed to be illegal locator transmitters sending slow CW from top to bottom on the band. They are used by fishermen to relocate their drift nets in the Pacific ocean. They send a CW id and then some long dashes typically. The usual “Call Sign” uses three randomly letters, sometimes with a number mixed in.

Topband – 160 meters – Power Line Noise, de NØRQ
The 160 meter band, often affectionately called Topband by enthusiasts, is unique among all the amateur band allocations.  It is the lowest frequency range we can transmit on, and it presents technical challenges similar to the 80m band but in greater degree.  It is also called “the gentleman’s band”, because almost all the operators you’ll find there are good ones.  Technically, I believe that Topband is actually a MF (medium frequency) band, not HF, but those are artificial distinctions.

Top Band Magic: The Inverted L on 160M – brushbeater
JohnnyMac shows the radio world how it’s done. The ability to make and rig your own antennas is one of the cornerstones of communications preparedness- and his success demonstrates the praxis of what I teach. 160 is a big time challenge for a number of reasons- the antenna size being one- and his success at not only making solid regional QSOs but at QRP power levels on SSB no less demonstrates not only what’s possible  but how to do it on the cheap.

http://www.ok1cz.ddamtek.cz/160m_70s.html
160m is a special band. Like many fellow Topbanders I love it for its magic and challenge. I don’t feel like an old timer yet but I thought some of the memories would be of interest to those of my generation and possibly to the younger ones.

http://www.robkalmeijer.nl/techniek/electronica/radiotechniek/hambladen/pw/1991/08/page19/index.html
There’s been a lot of interest in 1.8MHz a.m. operation recently. To get you on Top Band’, the Rev. George Dobbs G3RJV and Ian Keyser G3ROO, have come up with the PW Chatterbox, a complete a.m. station.

160m – Topband – best for solar mimimum

I was digging around on the net today looking for simple deigns for Topband,  160M gear.  I found this article saying that it was best for solar minimum:  “The 160-Meter Band: An Enigma Shrouded in Mystery” which first published in CQ magazine in 1998. Here is some of what it says:

“Topband is one of the last frontiers for radio propagation enthusiasts.”

“The correlation between sunspot numbers and signal strength is only about 5% as strong as the correlation on higher frequencies.

”There are several important components that can improve your chances of successfully working DX on Topband. […] The trick here is to wait for sustained intervals of quiet conditions over the high latitude regions.”

It used to be the band for local rag chewing and I get the feeling it is either classed as just that or seen as the preserve of DX chasers with huge antennas farms. It can be both, but we can all have fun on Topband over the coming years without the constant depression of low or non-existent sunspots. I have a 38m long inverted L and had reasonable results on 160M a few years back so please do not dismiss the band without giving it a try.

It also appeals to me because it was my first intro to amateur radio. I used to look out of my bedroom window across the road to an aerial pole in the back garden of the next street. It belonged to G3LIO, Jim Gibbs. He was the first licensed amateur that I knew, and he and his father were very generous in helping me to start short wave listening back in the mid-1960s.

I have a few projects to complete to get back on the air but over the coming months I will make some Topband gear and give it a try. It will be low(ish) power AM to begin with. I also like the idea of working /P with long wire antennas supported by tall trees. It is time to modify the catapult launcher!

Can we talk?

After 6 years away from the radio what is different? Everything and nothing. Still the same camaraderie and immense kindness in the hobby. That has not changed. The difference is there seems to be a growing reluctance to actually talk to each other on the air.

What has become apparent is the reliance of the internet. I saw a message on the net recently from a VHF op who said he had spent a long time calling CQ with no response. The reply was that he needed a ‘spot’ on the ON4KST site and then people would know he was there. I assume from that nobody turns on the radio and tunes around anymore.

Then there is ‘the HF bands are dead’ mantra usually followed by it’s not worth turning on the radio as there is nothing much on the DX cluster. Again, it looks as if ops are sitting in front of their computers waiting for to see something happen instead of using their radios.

And the automated digital QSOs, jt8? And digital propagation checking where you don’t even need to contact another human being to know how far you signal has travelled.

Is that what it is all about now? Only operate when there is DX around? Never call CQ because nobody is listening?  But what gets me most is never ‘talk’ (voice or CW) to another human being? Have radio amateurs lost the ability/desire to speak to each other?

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for using the latest technology and moving with the times but if we insist on removing the human element or reducing it to the shortest possible exchange for the points or to bag another country then we lose the very basis of the hobby. There must still be a place to rag chew on 160m or 80m or 2m, I want to talk to another human being and not a computer.