Work is progressing well on the remote antenna tuner, more pics to follow soon. I am already thinking of the next project and decided I need an accurate 10Mhz frequency source for my counter and other stuff. In the past I have used a surplus rubidium standard and when that popped a GPS locked crystal oscillator.
That was over 10 years ago and things have changed. Used Racal Rubidium boxes are on ebay for between, £550 – £811. Bare bones Rubidium standards which need control circuits are priced at £157. These are often units removed from cell phone installations with an unknown lifespan remaining.
There are also lots of ready built Chinese boxes using 1PPS GPS sync for around £100 but in the spirit of making everything myself either from kits or self sourced components I decided to make my own.
QRP Labs have the QLG1 GPS Receiver kit and the ProgRock kit which makes a very cost effective combination. I have no connection with them except being a satisfied customer. Adding a box, power supply and other bits and pieces the estimated the overall cost will be below £40. The kits are ordered and I will share the build here soon.
See my build of a QRP Labs 20m QCX transceiver here
An Extron ADA4 300MX video distribution amplifier can make a cheap way of distributing the 10Mhz signal around the shack/workshop. See this page.
This is where I spend a lot of time. It is part of an old converted barn that was a coaching stop between Manchester and Sheffield. It built into a bank with walls 2-3 feet thick which makes it very quiet and cool all year round.
Next project on the bench will be a remote antenna tuner using a couple of Arduinos with an RS485 link. See this F4GOH web page
The construction area. Note the solder fume extract pipe.
The fume extractor is an inline ventilation fan bought from a hydroponics shop. It has a variable speed control and works very well.
The SMD rework area. The heated tweezers will soon be joined by a hot air gun.
I could not resist this! A RAT5 160m AM receiver in a Pure Evoke DAB radio case. It came into a repair cafe where I volunteer. It had been well and truly zapped when the PSU went faulty. I asked if I could have it for the bits. The case is a bit battered, but I am sure it will be fine.
Last week I heard a QSO on 80M SSB where each op was using 400W and each gave the other 5-9+20db One op said ” I always use QRO, life is too short for QRP”. Reducing their power to 6.25W would have resulted in report of 5-9+2db. Why waste so much power?
Interestingly I found this today on the North American QRP CW club web site; “According to Rich Arland, K7YHA (now K7SZ), in World Radio magazine (Feb. 1990, year 19, issue 89, pp. 46-47) the long-distance low power record is held by KL7YU and W7BVV using one micro-watt over a distance of 1,650 mile 10-meter path between Alaska and Oregon in 1970. This is the equivalent of 1.6 billion miles per watt.”
That is why I use CW with a 5W power output limit and often use much less. It takes more effort to work some stations and more skill and patience but the rewards are well worth it especially when using homebrew gear.
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!
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.
Why do I like using SMD? Let me explain, I began making radios using valves, it was all there was at the time. When I started work in the industry the first training courses were on valves and how they worked. Then the transistor came, then integrated circuits followed by surface mount devices, SMD. I guess I have followed the technology.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by progress and stick with what you know but there are many advantages to using SMD:
individual components, resistors and capacitors, are very cheap
many older devices are no longer available as wire ended e.g. the SA612
PCBs are smaller due to high packing density
high frequency boards are easier and cheaper
An SMD VFO module
Above is an SI5351 board (ready made apart from soldering the SMA connectors) it is just 30mm wide and can used with an Arduino to make VFO with 3 programmable sine wave outputs. Current cost is less than £5 on ebay plus the Arduino.
You might need some new tools like a magnifier, fine tipped soldering iron and good quality tweezers. There are more including heated tweezers and a hot air gun for component removal but they can wait for a while.
So, my advice is do not be put off and have a go. Find a simple kit to practice with and then progress to more complex circuits. It helps if you know something about how SMD components are sized. Srat with the larger sizes and work down.
1206 and 0805 are popular SMD sizes
This is another good one to print out.
Over the coming month I will add to this series of posts and share some of the projects I am working on which include: a remote tuner, vector network analyser (VNA), wide range VFO/signal generator, a switched attenuator.
The antenna is back up after 6 years! Nothing fancy just an inverted L at about 11m (~35ft) and around 38M (125ft) long. Still need to put in a counterpoise in the lawn but the ground is rock hard after weeks of drought, so it will have to wait.
I have a nice waterproof box that housed a commercial tuner to house it and will probably make it solar powered to avoid have to DC up the coax. Hope to get the coax in this week, it is something like a 40M run of RG-213. So, work to do before winter!