Category Archives: Amateur Radio

Antenna season is upon us

With a shiny new BITX40 sitting in its box waiting to be assembled and a True Ladder Line open wire fed doublet sitting in its box waiting to be deployed I took one look at the weather and decided to head outside.

Antenna weather

The warmth of a soldering iron was indeed preferable but given that winter is closing in fast combined with rolling back to standard time from daylight savings time having pushed outside work in the daylight to the weekends, I’m probably not getting too many more “nice” weekend days.

My main wire antenna has been a Cobra UltraLite Senior. I put it up just over ten years ago and it has served me well. The Cobra antennas always need a tuner. Initially I used it on 10-160m with an LDG AT-100Pro and my IC-718 and later with a Kenwood AT-230 and my TS-830S. These tuners always found a match. With the addition of the 4-BTV I’ve primarily used it on 80m and 160m with a Dentron Super Tuner Plus and my TS-590SG. As expected, the Dentron always finds a match. (In some cases the internal tuner of the 590SG would find a match but most times I just used the Dentron.)

Over the years I’ve had a growing interest in operation on 160m and while the Cobra version that I have will work there it’s not terribly efficient. With the addition of an SB-200 to my station I was interested in improved efficiency on 40m and 80m at power levels around 500W and even though I’ll still only have 100W on 160m an improvement in efficiency would be welcome there as well. As always a wire antenna is nice to have in addition to a vertical and finally, a longer wire antenna will get me closer to what I’ll need when I’m ready to operate on the new 630m band.

My initial thoughts for replacement of the Cobra was to build an Off-Center Fed Dipole (OCFD) however after a lot of research and exchanging some emails with Brian, WB2JIX I elected to purchase one of his 240 foot open wire fed doublets. Brian was very responsive and informative in our exchanges. The information that he provided in our email exchanges and on his site, coupled with some additional reading tipped the balance.

The new antenna and feedline arrived within a week of placing the order.

New antenna

Packed in the box is 240 feet of antenna and 100 feet of open wire ladder line.

Antenna and ladder line

The antenna is well made out of good quality materials. One of the appealing things is that each leg of the antenna is a continuous wire from the tuner to the end of the antenna. I did the build or buy analysis and figured that by the time I purchased the wire, purchased material for the spreaders, fabricated a bunch of spreaders, and assembled the thing it would be next spring and what’s the fun of putting up an antenna when it’s sunny and warm?

In addition to replacing the antenna it was time to replace some of the rigging that supports it in the trees. While the end supports had been replaced over the years the center support was the original lines and pulley.

10 years of service

After a quick consultation with my friend Bob, The Boat Doctor, I purchased some nice new Harken 340 blocks (and I had one used 348.) Harken blocks are made here in Wisconsin, about 25 miles southwest of my QTH, in Pewaukee.

Harken Blocks

These new blocks are much lighter (at least 3 times lighter) and spin much more freely than the hardware store versions I’ve used previously. Due to their construction they will last much much longer than my prior hardware. I also laid in a supply of nice new black Dacron line.

Given that this new antenna is 100 feet longer (240 feet vs 140 feet) I had done some initial rough measurements and it appeared that I could accommodate an additional 100 feet without moving the end supports. I replaced the original halyard and center support line, and added a second center support halyard and support line so that the antenna would be pulled into the clear away from its supporting trees. Once this work was complete I laid out the antenna and feedline on the ground.

Ladder on the ground

The center support lines were fed through the center support tube:

Center support

Upon beginning the operation of raising the antenna (with the assistance of my two sons) it quickly became apparent that I had done my trigonometry or analytic geometry or some kind of math wrong. Or maybe I should have used a tape measure instead of just pacing it off. The north end of the antenna was hoisted as far and high as it would go, the center was where it needed to be for feedline position, but the south leg was sagging to about 15 feet off the ground. Oops. I hauled the south end down and after re-positioning the support line farther south and a bit higher all was well.

Antenna in place

Thus far it is sitting much nicer than the Cobra ever did. The antenna wire itself is arguably lighter even though it’s 100 feet longer, as the Cobra was actually three parallel conductors (thus the Cobra.) Hopefully it will be less of a wind and snow load as well. The Cobra wire would always load up with snow and sag. Additionally, the open wire feedline is laying nicely and may arguably be less wind and snow load as well. Supposedly open wire feedlne is less susceptible to rain and snow build up. The 450 ohm window line of the Cobra was always effected by rain and snow. The SWR would always move around when it was wet.

By the time I had the initial placement complete it had started to drizzle and the sun was well on its way down. I called it a day, cleaned up, and went inside to thaw. I need to do a bit more work on the center and end points including the addition of tension relief with some additional blocks and weights. I also need to make some initial measurements and work on getting the feedline positioned. Unfortunately I’m not able to run the feedline all the way into my shack. It will terminate outside at a Balun Designs 4115 balun with the run to the shack in coax. This will need to wait until next weekend and the following week with some vacation days for the Thanksgiving holiday. I’m really looking forward to getting this thing on the air.

 

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FT-221

A few months ago I obtained a nice old Yaesu FT-221 with the original Yaesu mic and a CommSpec TE-32 that was added in order to use it with repeaters. The FT-221 is a 2 meter all-mode radio that was produced in the mid-1970’s. I got it from a friend and fellow operator, Tom, W9IPR. It was his, then it was his mom’s, and then it was his again. Tom was selling it and I have a soft spot for radios of the 1970’s. The price was right so it followed me home.

FT-221

While I know the Kenwood 2 meter all modes of that time (700A and 700SP) the first I’d heard of the FT-221 was the day that I bought it. It reminds me of the Kenwood’s.

It was cold and rainy today and while there were things that I needed to do what I wanted to do was to check out this radio after it had been sitting on my bench for a bit.

It’s a very nice radio that is really well built. Each subsystem is on its own board which plugs into what is essentially a backplane on the bottom of the chassis.

FT-221 inside

Being an old radio I searched for and quickly found the service manual. It is highly detailed and very well written, going through each board and its interactions with the overall. The service manual mentioned extender boards for service. It seemed like a good item to have on hand but I figured that it would be unobtainium but John, WA1ESO builds them along with a number of other similar boards. The extender board essentially moves the edge connector up from the backplane so that you can plug a board in and access signals and components for troubleshooting.

FT-221 with extender board

After a bit of research I found that Yaesu produced an FT-221R sometime after the FT-221 that apparently allowed for other than 600 kHz repeater offsets. The FT-221’s were replaced by the FT-225 which among other things added a digital display. A digital display was an option for the FT-221’s, the YC-221. A bit of searching shows that this may indeed be unobtainium but maybe one will show up some day.

I don’t operate 2m SSB all that often but it is fun when I do. I have an old Kenwood TR-9000 and a TR-9130 that I use with my Elk Antennas 2M/440L5. It’s not a great VHF station but I can make contacts with it.

2 meter all-mode radios

I like the old dedicated VHF\UHF all-mode radios of the past. I don’t believe that anyone makes one today. I realize that there are a few radios (IC-9100, TS-2000, IC-7100, FT-857, FT-817) that have VHF\UHF support but they are shack-in-the-box radios with HF capabilities as well. Nothing wrong with that. I have some of these radios and like them just fine. There’s just something neat about the old dedicated radios like the TS-700A\700SP, TS-600, FT-847, IC-290, TM-255, TS-60, TR-751, TS-711, IC-211, IC-271, IC-275, etc. At one time there were quite a few of them. Now you’re shopping the used market to find one.

I’m glad to add the FT-221 to my station and pleased that it came from W9IPR. Now I’m almost going to have to add a Kenwood TS-700A\700SP to balance the FT-221.

I told you that I have a thing for radios of the 1970’s.

 

W0AIH Antenna Farm

My wife and I just returned from a long weekend visiting family in Minneapolis. On the drive up Friday we went past W0AIH’s antenna farm. When I pointed it out to my wife she made a somewhat emphatic statement regarding how many towers she’d like to see at our QTH. I can tell you that it was a number much lower than that of W0AIH’s count!

As we were preparing to leave this morning I pinged Paul, W0AIH via his website contact form and asked if it would be possible to stop for a quick visit to see his antenna farm. It was early Sunday morning and I figured that it was a long shot and that I should have planned this well in advance. About an hour later as we were at breakfast with my wife’s family my phone rang and it was Paul! He said it would be fine to stop over!

After breakfast we plotted a course for W0AIH’s QTH. We were a bit over two hours away. Paul lives on a 120 acre farm whose primary crop is towers and antennas. He told me that if I was within a mile of his home and couldn’t see his farm that I didn’t belong on the road! : ) He was right! Driving up the long driveway, before you is a scene that you imagine would have been in one of Jeeves’ dreams (W1CJD, Gil) and would cause the average HOA busy body a terminal case of the vapors. There is a lot of steel and aluminum sticking out of the ground!

W0AIH Antenna Farm

Paul is 84 years old and a retired Lutheran minister. He was outside working on his Beverage antennas (he has seven of them) as we drove up and was very welcoming. After introductions he started his tour. He said that he honestly doesn’t know how many towers he has but every one of them has a story. He has obtained most of them from decommissioned commercial radio and TV stations combined with being in the right place at the right time with the right equipment. This coupled with being exceptionally skilled with all things electrical and mechanical has resulted in a lot of amazing towers and antennas.

More of the farm

How about a homebrew three elements on 80 meters?

Three elements on 80m @ 140 feet

3 on 80 @ 140

And of course it rotates!

Not all of the antennas are on a tower. In addition to the seven Beverages there are a lot of wire antennas strung between the towers.

Beverage antenna

Paul and his fellow operators run a big contest station in contests like CQ WW, the CW contest being his favorite. You can read a lot more about Paul’s station on his website here and watch a drone video of the 80m Yagi here.

W0AIH and KA9EAK

We had a great visit with Paul and his wife Mary, WB0PXM. They were very gracious hosts. Superb examples of the fellowship of Amateur Radio operators. They even sent us home with a box of apples from their orchard.

One of Paul and his wife’s cats sat staring out the window, front paws resting on the back of a kitchen chair, as we stood in their kitchen talking. I guess after all these years it’s not that interested in talk of towers and antennas or perhaps it’s thinking, hmm…two elements on 160m, why not?

Cat rest

If I visit Paul’s station again I’ll bring my KX2 and try it out on the three element 80 meter Yagi or 4 over 4 for 20 meters on the 180 foot rotating tower. That would give a whole new meaning to QRP!

As we drove away I assured my lovely wife that I would never go that far while at the same time thinking, it all started with one…

 

Last camping trip of the season

The last camping trip of the year is done. It was a great week with NO RAIN for the first time this year. Every other trip this year featured rain on way too many days. The temperature was right on the edge of warm at the start of the week and cooled each day. As with most trips there was plenty of bike rides, walks, naps, and reading, with a bit of radio operations tossed into the mix.

Q: Why is this man smiling?  A:It’s night in Wisconsin and there are no mosquitoes!

As usual conditions were up, down, and sideways so you need to have options. Based upon how conditions seemed I operated SSB with 10W using my KX2, SSB with 100W using my TS-480SAT, or FT8 with 5W using my KX2 on either the 20m or 40m bands using my LNR Precision EF-Quad antenna strung across the campsite. With the KX2  I was able to make a fair number of contacts including nice QSOs with AE8O in New Mexico, N4AVV in Myrtle Beach, and AE2B in Macon, GA. All with good signal reports. FT8 operations were good but five watts wasn’t enough to get outside of North America.

The best contact of them all was with Rich, K2RLF in New Jersey. He is newly licensed and had literally just got his antenna up and his station going. I was his first HF contact. That’s a better contact than the rarest of DX.

There were a few openings to Europe in the afternoon on 20m and later into the evenings on 40m. I made contacts with stations in Scotland, Belgium, France, Slovenia, Italy, Madeira Island, Austria, and the DXpediton of 5T5OK in Mauritania. That one surprised me the most. They were working split on 20m. I heard their call and “5 up.” I quickly put the split into the 480SAT, made one call and instantly got a response.

Late night operation

Most every night was beautiful, clear, and insect free so if the bands were open I was outside at the picnic table operating for awhile.

Moon at camp

For some new reading material I loaded a bunch of old 73 issues on my tablet. It was fun to read articles and reviews from years ago.

The squirrels were busy with their pine cone gathering.

Red Squirrel

Squirrel lookout

And someone clearly has a caffeine issue:

When one is not enough

Other than the rain this was a good camping season. I’ve got my portable station pretty well sorted out. The only additions I’m going to make for next year are a 20Ah Bioenno Power battery and I need to sort out the interface for  my SignaLink USB so that I can use it with the 480SAT to have some more digital options.

Last campfire of the year

 

POTA: KFF-4354 Point Beach State Forest

My XYL and I just returned from another camping trip. This trip almost didn’t happen as my XYL’s appendix decided that it needed to be removed a few days before our planned departure day. After a run to the emergency room at 4:30 AM and subsequent surgery I was sure that the trip was off. However the surgery went well and the surgeon said that she could go if she was feeling OK with some restrictions (such as no bike riding.) Within a couple of days she was feeling well enough so we departed one day later than planned. I guess the outdoors is good for what ails you.

XYL @ camp several days after an appendectomy

While at camp, in between taking care of my XYL, I was able to squeeze in some radio operation. When I started operations the band conditions were:

Band conditions – 9/6/17

Given conditions, it appeared to be a 100W day as opposed to a 10W day so I left the KX2 in its bag and pulled out my TS-480SAT. I used my LNR EF-Quad antenna strung across the campsite with one end at about 30 feet and the other at about 8 feet.

EF-Quad Matchbox view

The 40m band was pretty dead but I was able to make about 15 contacts calling CQ for POTA with some stations interested in the POTA numbers and others not. There wasn’t really any pile-up and it was more like a nice bunch of casual contacts.

480SAT @ camp

While calling CQ between contacts I was observing a red squirrel collecting green pine cones. It would grab a pine cone from a group of them about 20 feet in front of the picnic table I was sitting at in my campsite, run about 30 feet to a stump, stop, drop over the side of a slight depression, pop back up on a stump adjacent to the one that it just was on, look around, run to a portion of a hollow log, look around some more, proceed back to the pile pine cones, pick up another, and start the whole process over again. It must have made at least 15 trips following the same process.

Squirrel process flow

After about 2 hours of calling CQ, making an occasional contact, and watching the squirrel, local weather was closing in (passing bands of mild rain) so I ceased operation for the afternoon. I believe that the squirrel did as well.

Damselfly visitor

Later that evening the local weather had cleared and conditions were dramatically improved (I forgot to capture the chart.) It was a clear night and about 50 degrees F so I set the station back up on the picnic table and found the 40m band was very much alive. I found a clear spot to call CQ for POTA and while it started a little slow, after about 40 minutes and a spot by Mike, KK4KHS, I had a nice pile-up going.

Night operation

Over the next 1.5 hours I made 78 contacts. It was a lot of fun. I was actually quite amazed at the amount of interest. It reminded me of an NPOTA activation. It’s nice to see the interest in POTA. There were some calls that I recognized from NPOTA and when I added the contacts to my ACLog there were quite a few that I had worked during the NPOTA event.

Among a bunch of very nice contacts, there is one of note. I worked NU0C, Jim in Nebraska early in the pile-up. About 35 minutes later he called me back to tell me that he had been reading a recent blog post in which I mentioned that the last state that I needed for an FT8 WAS was Nebraska. He wanted to tell me that he’d be happy to setup a sked to put Nebraska in my log with FT8. I told him thanks but I had already logged a Nebraska station. It was very nice of him to call back with the offer. What a fine example of an Amateur Radio operator.

After shutting down for the night my XYL and I walked out to Lake Michigan and were treated to a nice moon over the lake.

Moon over Lake Michigan

While I had planned to be on the air more, as it turns out that was the extent of radio operation for the trip. Between the local weather (more rain) and band conditions I wasn’t able to get on the air again.

Band conditions 9/8/17

It was a nice trip that almost wasn’t. My XYL is doing very well and we’ve got one more trip planned before we put the camper away for the season.

 

FT8 WAS: One more to go

It’s over. I’m all in on FT8. It actually is very interesting and a lot of fun. Over this last month aside from some WSPRing the day of the eclipse and some SSB contacts mobile while driving to and from work, home operation, which actually hasn’t been all that much in the face of other non-radio projects, has been 99% FT8 on 20m and 40m. I’m down to one more state, Nebraska. I’ve got multiple contacts in Alaska and Hawaii and even Washington, D.C. but I haven’t found a station in Nebraska yet, but I’ve enlisted the help of PSK Reporter to find the needed station.

FT8 WAS

WSJT-X provides the ability to send all of your decodes to PSK Reporter.

WSJT-X PSK reporter Spotting

My understanding is that WSJT-X reports a spot for every station that you decode, not just those that you work. Using PSK Reporter in combination with WSJT-X effectively closes the loop on your digital operations. With the spotting information available you can use PSK Reporter to determine who is hearing your signal including signal strength in a manner similar to that of WSPR. I’ve been varying my power output to see how it impacts signal reports. Additionally, the spotting information can be used with FT8 to attempt to make a directed contact with a station. I had this happen once to me while in an FT8 QSO. I noticed a call to me in the Band Activity pane (left pane) from a call different than that of the station I was communicating with in the Rx Frequency pane (right pane.) Once my QSO was complete I  responded to the other stations call on the frequency upon which they called me. I adapted a form of this technique to get my North Dakota contact with KDoUXO. I noticed in PSK Reporter that he heard me but didn’t see his call in the Band Activity pane so I picked a clear spot on the waterfall and called directly for him. After a few rounds of calling CQ he responded to my call and I put my first (and only thus far) North Dakota FT8 contact in the my log. Given a bit more time and observation of PSK Reporter I should be able to put a Nebraska station in my log for the fastest WAS I’ve ever completed.

FT8 cat

Our youngest cat appears to like FT8 as well, while our older cats find it too fast paced. Or it could be that they can’t fit on my desk between the keyboard and radio.

UPDATE: FT8 WAS is complete! AJ0Z confirmed Nebraska.

 

Eclipse WSPRing

In the run-up to the eclipse there was plenty of information concerning the eclipse and its relation to propagation. Of particular interest to me was the Eclipse Experiment proposed by HamSCI and especially their use of data from WSPRNet and PSK Reporter as well as the Reverse Beacon Network. There is an amazing amount of data collected each day by these systems that has a practical use for checking propagation conditions and a scientific use for observing the affect of events like the eclipse. WSRPNet alone averages around 1 million spots per day. Yesterday was over 1.2 million. The spots per hour broke the chart:

WSPR Spots per Hour

About 1600 UTC of the morning of the eclipse I started my WSPRLite on 20m. Band conditions were as follows:

Band conditions @ 1631 UTC

I was using my 4BTV with the WSPRlite transmitter at 200mW. I let it run for a couple of transmit rounds as a test and obtained the following results:

WSPR @ 200mW (1637 UTC)

As you can see, all the spots are in North America. I then changed to my TS-590SG and WSJT-X with the 4BTV so that I could both transmit and receive. I set the TX power to 5 W and started to WSPR on 20m.

By 1709 UTC the map looked like this:

WSPR @ 5W  (1709 UTC)

As you can see a lot more North America stations and VY0ERC on Ellesmere Island in the Arctic Ocean. VY0ERC claims to quite possibly be the most northerly Amateur Radio club in the world. At 79 degrees 59 minutes N there really isn’t all that much latitude remaining for challengers.

By 1742 UTC I received my first spots in Central and South America as well as the first spot by a station in Europe, F4GUK in France.

WSPR @ 5W (1742 UTC)

According to this NASA map, in the US, the eclipse started at 9:06 AM PDT\16:06 UTC in Madras, OR and ended in the US at 4:06 PM EDT/2006 UTC in Columbia, SC, so the US time window for the eclipse was roughly 1600 to 2000 UTC.

WSPR @ 5W (2100 UTC)

WSPR @ 5W (2100 UTC)

By 2100 I received a spot in Australia, VK2CBD and Europe as well as South America had opened up to some degree and a spot by VE8GER, northwest of Inuvik, Northwest Territories. I had two odd ones, KG9BEP that appears to be in the middle of the Sea of Okhotsk and KC6EVC which was off the top of the map. Neither were legitimate callsigns.

US WSPR detail @ 2100 UTC

I forgot to capture band conditions at 2100, but at 2153 they were as follows:

Band conditions @ 2153 UTC

The most noticeable changes were that A dropped to 11 from 22, and K from 3 to 2 over the course of roughly 5 hours. I want to say that conditions improved over the course of the day and the data supports this to large extent, though what portion of this is attributable to the eclipse or just the fluctuating conditions that we find ourselves in is hard to say.

By the time that I pulled the hook at about 2200 UTC I had received 1868 spots. I placed all of my spots in Excel and made a simple chart of the number of spots per time period. I hesitate to put this up as there are about 34.785 variables at play so don’t take this too seriously:

Spots over time

The red lines are the time boundaries of the eclipse. The time runs from 1628 UTC to 21:58 UTC. The maximum number of spots was 99. The first two points were at 200mW and the rest were at 5W. That explains the jump to the third datapoint. As I said, 34,785 variables. My station was heard by 297 unique stations and I heard 179 unique stations. There were a lot of receive only spotters.

As for what all of this means, that I’ll leave to the actual scientists, based just upon WSPRnet they certainly obtained a pile of data. My conclusions are that WSPRing continues to be intriguing and as always, Amateur Radio is an interesting hobby.