Category Archives: Amateur Radio

True Ladder 240 foot doublet install complete

With some help from my friend and fellow operator Josh, KD9DZP and no help from the weather I was able to complete the installation of my new True Ladder Line 240 foot doublet. It was 28 degrees F and windy. In other words great antenna weather. Thankfully there wasn’t a lot of outside work to complete. We largely had to mount the balun and then run the ladder line over to it.

I’m using a Balun Designs 4115. While the Balun Designs package is very hardy and should be fine in a Wisconsin winter, I placed it in a utility entry box that Josh had in his junk box. It might be belt and suspenders but it will be bearing the direct brunt of winter so it seemed like an easy bit of added insurance.

Feedline and balun

All buttoned up for winter

Once everything outside was closed up the last bit of work was to route the coax into the workshop for the run to the shack.

With the coax work complete I made a quick scan with my AA-55 Zoom:

Initial scan

This is the 240 foot antenna with approximately 50 feet of feedline.

I’ll have some time this week to do make some additional measurements and do some tuning. For now it’s time to continue thawing, have a bowl of chili, connect this thing to my Dentron Super Tuner Plus. and operate on 80m and 160m tonight.

 

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First SDR!

SDRPlay RSP1A

After a number of years of hemming and hawing I finally purchased my first SDR! Yesterday morning I was up at my usual 4:00 AM CST thanks to the recent daylight savings time change. The clock may say that it is 4:00 AM but my body still thinks that it is 5:00 AM. In any event, as I was nibbling on some breakfast and sipping a cup of coffee I was making a pass through some blog updates and noticed a post earlier in the week on The SWLing Post blog about the recent release of the SDRPlay RSP1A. It was apparently just released on Wednesday, 11/15. In addition to the announcement regarding the release there was also a very nice first review of the device which I read with great interest.

After reading the review and watching this video interview with Jon Hudson of SDRPlay and this video that presents a nice comparison of the various SDRPlay SDR receivers I decided that it was time to wade into the world of the SDR.

As I began the order process on the SDRPlay site the first selection is the country to which the radio will be delivered. Upon choosing “United States” I was immediately informed that SDRPlay products are available from Ham Radio Outlet. Given that I live about 13 miles as the crow flies from the nearest HRO (much too close in some regards,) I checked their site to see if they even listed the new RSP1A, much less had them in stock. Given that they were just released less than 48 hours previously, my expectations were calibrated to the fact that they likely wouldn’t have them listed yet. I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only was the RSP1A listed but they also indicated stock in two locations, unfortunately neither of which was the Milwaukee store. Oh well, I placed the order and chose to have it shipped to the store expecting that I’d get it early next week. At 12:48 PM CST I received a call from Mark, KD9EEE at the Milwaukee HRO store informing me that my RSP1A was ready for pick up! Perhaps HRO is using drones to rapidly move product (don’t tell the FAA) or quite possibly, SDRPlay and HRO did a great job of filling the supply chain prior to announcing the release. In any event I had the RSP1A in my hands late in the afternoon, well less than 12 hours after I first learned of its existence.

After some jiggering around with the USB driver (Microsoft’s problem, not SDRPlay’s, more on that later) the device was working and SDRuno was running.

SDRPlay SDRuno

This thing is fantastic! The notion of receiving an entire band at once as opposed to peering through a keyhole at one thin slice at a time is fascinating. Yes, I know, I’m late to the SDR party. I’m usually a late adopter. And yes, I’ve seen and fiddled with SDR-in-a-box radios like the IC-7300, but owning an SDR and being able to sit and play with it for awhile is very interesting.

I’m not giving up my knobs and buttons anytime soon. In fact, I’ve only been using this thing for several hours and I’m already missing a VFO knob. Thankfully SDRPlay has a suggested solution, the Griffin Powemate USB Multimedia controller. Amazon will have it here tomorrow.

My intention for today was to finish the installation of my new antenna however as I was writing this post this began to appear outside:

First snow

The weather is supposed to improve tomorrow, with Monday even nicer. The antenna will need to wait a day (or two.)

Weather forecast

I guess I’ll have to declare this SDRplay day and have fun with my new SDR!

 

USB driver: Regarding the USB driver. The driver would install but would not start due to a Windows error, “Windows cannot verify the digital signature for the drivers required for this device. A recent hardware or software change might have installed a file that is signed incorrectly or damaged, or that might be malicious software from an unknown source. (Code 52).” Argh. It was already  late on Friday so I called it a night and planned to start fresh (at my usual 4:00 AM CST) on Saturday morning. I was able to get the driver to load after disabling the driver signature enforcement on boot however this was not a good long term solution. I opened a support ticket with  SDRplay via the support page on their site and had a response in less than 40 minutes (this is Saturday morning at my QTH in Wisconsin and they are in the UK.) They said to install a Windows patch, Microsoft security advisory: Availability of SHA-2 code signing support for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2: March 10, 2015.

After the installation of the patch all was well. The driver starts and functions correctly. My OS is Windows 7 SP1.

 

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.

 

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.