Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Productive Test Sessions

This past weekend, I helped bring a few people into the amateur radio hobby. On Saturday, I was one of the three administering Volunteer Examiners at a test session sponsored by the Central Ohio Amateur Radio Emergency Service (COARES) group and the Ohio State University Amateur Radio Club. We had about seven or eight people show up. If I remember correctly, three people were already licensed, but the others had no amateur radio license. Everyone from that session came away with either a new license or an upgrade to their existing license. One person went from no license to a General class license. That was a pretty good session. It lasted about two-and-a-half hours.

On Sunday, I had volunteered to be a VE for an early evening session. I had also volunteered to help out with a HamCram session that led up to the exam. I had never heard the term HamCram before, but as the name suggests, it is a cram session for the test. There were two of us reading the Technician class question pool and reading the correct answer along with a brief explanation on each. Both of us were VEs, and about a half hour before the exam, our third VE arrived. There were five people attending the HamCram. One person sat in only for a refresher, as he already had his Technician class license. He stepped out during the exam, but another person took his chair during the exam to upgrade to General. So we had five people on Sunday who all came away with a new license or an upgrade. That exam was sponsored by the Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism (CICJ) and held at their headquarters. Two of the new amateur radio operators are associated with that group. Both exams this weekend were under the ARRL-VEC umbrella.

If you earn your General or Amateur Extra class license, I encourage you to become a Volunteer Examiner. I find it rewarding to help others obtain their licenses. These two sessions mark the seven and eighth for me. Becoming a VE is pretty straightforward. You download a VE Manual from the ARRL's website, study it as long as you need to, then take an open-book exam, and send the answers back to the ARRL along with a photocopy of your license (and maybe something else I'm forgetting). It takes them three weeks or so to review your materials and issue you your credentials. Then you just need to make yourself know to a VE team. Of course, the ARRL is not the only Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC) out there. You can be accredited with more than one VEC and some have reciprocal accedidation.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Thinking About a New Radio

I'm always looking at the new radios that hit the market. Right now my eyes are on a radio that may not even hit the U.S. market for a year or so, and when it does, I may not even be able to afford it. That radio is the Icom IC-7600 that I briefly mentioned in a recent post. The speculation is that the 7600 will build upon the IC-756 PRO series of radios, but also borrow technology/features from the IC-7700/7800 series. If the speculation promises to be true, it should be a great radio.

My main radio currently is the Kenwood TS-2000X, with the Yaesu FT-897D as my secondary radio. The 897D is a great radio and I've made some DX contacts. I've added the LDG FT-897 autotuner, and the SSB and CW filters from W4RT. It's just that I've noticed when operating the digital modes on the TS-2000X that good IF filtering comes in handy. It's nice to be able to narrow the passband to remove offended signals, and particularly to keep them from driving the AGC. The narrowest IF filter that I have on the 897D is the 500Hz CW filter, and there is some IF shift that you can perform on that radio. Any tighter filtering is done with the DSP circuitry in the AF stage. The AF stage is past the AGC circuit. If you play with a digital mode program such as MixW for a while, you will notice that it will properly decode any one signal that you put the cursor on. As long as all signals are of equal strength you can actually have the passband wide open. So it really boils down to the effects of the AGC circuit and the AGC circuit will act on anything that makes it past the IF filtering. Rarely are signals of equal strength so the AGC will act on the strong signals and drive the remaining signals into the noise. If you can just filter them out at the IF stage, the AGC can't act on them and drive the desired (albeit weaker) signal into the noise.

So one of my main reasons to look for a new radio is to acquire one that has good IF filtering but is also portable. The radio that I am looking at is the Icom IC-7000. It has many features, including the IF-DSP filtering, but is somewhat smaller than the 897D. It is more expensive than the 897D and I will need to add an autotuner (my newly acquired Palstar AT2K is not really portable). LDG sells the AT-7000 specifically for that radio. I will also need Heil cables for my microphone and Proset Plus, and a CI-V interface for the computer control.

If I end up buying the IC-7000, I will likely sell the 897D and everything specific to it.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

VHF/UHF Operating

I've been thinking about doing some VHF and UHF SSB operating. I've had plenty of experience with 2-meter and 70-cm FM repeater and simplex operation, but I have not had much operating time using SSB on these bands. Specifically, I am talking about 6-meters, 2-meters, and 70-cm. I remember about eight years ago at a Field Day, I made a contact on 6-meter sideband from here in Columbus, Ohio to a station somewhere in Florida. That contact was not made on my station. If I remember correctly, the radio was some Icom IC-706 variant (it might have even been the original IC-706; this was probably in 2001), and the antenna was a three-element beam. Even though the contact was not made using my station, it was exciting nonetheless. I'm not sure what recently got me interesting in this aspect of amateur radio, but it was probably just a magazine article or a web page.

I realize that the convention for VHF/UHF sideband is horizontal polarization, but I don't really want to mess around with tower sections and a rotator. I'm looking at antennas that provide an omnidirectional, horizontally-polarized radiation pattern. I realize that such an antenna would not provide the same gain that the antenna pictured above would, but I believe that if you stack them and phase them accordingly, you will add gain. The antennas that I am currently researching are manufactured by KU4AB. Phil offers horizontally-polarized antennas for 10m, 6m, 2m, 1.25m, and 70cm. I'm interested in the ones for 6, 2, and 70cm. The antennas are supposedly tuned for the SSB portions of the bands. They are made using solid aluminum rod, and have stainless steel hardware. The KU4AB.com website claims that pairs of their SQ-432, SQ-144, and SQ-50 can be nested on a mast and only take up 12 feet. Also, according to a claim on the website, Gordon West, WB6NOA, was able to make a 2-meter contact from California to Hawaii using the SQ-144 antenna. That's a distance of 2400 miles. That's exciting. I'm going to continue to look at these (they do get good reviews on Eham.net), but I'll see what else is available, too. I'll have more to report.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Power Back On

Well after 53 hours, my electricity is finally back. As many of you may know, the remnants from Hurricane Ike swept through the Ohio Valley on Sunday, September 14th. Port Columbus International Airport clocked a wind speed of 75 mph. Needless to say, winds that strong for several hours snapped many tree limbs and as a result about 400,000 homes in central Ohio were without power immediately after the storm. Now on Thursday, about 83,000 homes are without power.

Several items helped me during the power outage: a crank-up AM/FM portable radio, flashlights, amateur radio, and my cell phone with web browser. The crank-up radio is made by Freeplay. I won it several years ago at an amateur radio club meeting. It is the type of product that sits on the shelf for years at a time. About thirty seconds of cranking provides about thirty minutes of listening. The audio is surprising good. I used this radio to listen to 610 AM WTVN for updates on the storm damage and also to listen to the call-in talk shows where people were describing the storm and its aftermath from their perspective. As far as flashlights go, I have several, but the ones that I recommend are made by Pelican. One of my Pelican flashlights runs off of three C-size batteries and has an incandescent bulb. I don't use that one too much anymore. Another Pelican flashlight that I have closely resembles the first one but has two distinct differences. The first difference is that the shroud is photoluminescent. Therefore the flashlight is easy to find when the power has gone out. The other difference with this flashlight is that the light source is an LED. This LED points rearward into the reflector, and maximizes the light output. My favorite flashlight over the past few days however was my new Pelican headlamp. I wear it on my head and it runs off of two AA batteries. The LED light source is a one-watt LED and the lamp has three brightness settings. I used the brightest setting when walking around at night and the lowest setting when reading (it was still plenty bright). It make look silly, but it leaves my hands free to do things such as cook (I have a gas range, which was unaffected by the outage). My cell phone's browser allowed me to pass the time by browsing some of my favorite sites. It's not the same as browsing on a full-fledged computer, however. I was able to recharge the cell phone's battery at work, where they never lost power.

Finally, I did enjoy amateur radio a little bit. I think that my sealed lead-acid battery needs to be replaced, so I didn't place any large demands on it by transmitting, but I did listen to 40-meters, 30-meters, and 20-meters a little bit. Of course, it is simply amazing how noise free the bands are when the power is out and no appliances or other electronic items are operating in the area. There were many stations on the bands and they were easy to copy. That tells me that my best operating will probably be done away from my suburban neighborhood.

The Freeplay AM/FM radio, Pelican 2010 SabreLite Recoil LED Photoluminescent flashlight, and the Pelican 2630 HeadsUp LED flashlight.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

My Station Equipment

I figured it was time that I talk about my station equipment. In this post, I will mainly talk about my base station equipment. In some future post, perhaps I will talk about my two HTs.

In this first photo, I have pictured my two VHF/UHF mobile radios that are currently serving duty as base stations. In the photo, you can see two mobile radio main units as well as two control heads. The main unit on the bottom is for my Icom IC-2820H and the main unit sitting on top of it is the Kenwood TM-D710A. As far as the control heads go, the 2820's head is in the foreground and has the green backlighting. The D710 control head is in back. Of course, the main reason for having the D710 is for its APRS capabilities, and my main reason for having the 2820 is for its D-Star features. These radios may never get installed in my car, but I would like to make up a box that these two radios can be mounted in and then quickly connected to the car battery and a mag mount antenna. In this photo, you can also see my Bencher iambic paddle. I barely know the Morse Code, but I have this paddle so that others can use it, particularly during Field Day.

In the photo below, you can see both of my current HF rigs, a pair of wattmeters, a pair of speakers, and a pair of radio interfaces. The larger radio is the Kenwood TS-2000X. This radio covers 160 - 6-meters, 2-meters, 70-cm, and 23-cm, but it does not cover the 60-meter channels. It has IF-DSP capabilities, satellite operating feaures, and a built-in TNC. The radio sitting on top of the Kenwood TS-2000X is the Yaesu FT-897D. The 897 has the LDG Electronics AT-897 autotuner attached. On top of the 897D are two Tigertronics SignaLink USB units. The one is the rear is connected to the Kenwood TS-2000X and has seen quite a bit of use lately. The one in the foreground is new and is connected to the 897D. I have not had a chance to tweak its settings yet. To the right of the TS-2000X, you will see a pair of speakers. The Kenwood SP-23 is sitting next to the TS-2000X, and a Vertex speaker (the MLS-100, I believe) is to the right of the Kenwood speaker. I've added both of the speakers fairly recently as I prefer their forward-firing sound better than the top-firing sound of the transceiver's speakers. On top of the Kenwood speaker, you will see the Powermaster wattmeter. That is the main display for the wattmeter. The Powermaster also has the HF coupler that samples the RF energy. It is shown in another picture. The LDG Electronics FT-Meter sits atop the Powermaster meter. As its name implies, it is connected to the FT-897D. I must say that it is nicer to read this meter than the 897's built-in one.

The next photo simply shows my sealed lead-acid battery in its battery box. Sealed lead-acid batteries are safe for use indoors as the hydrogen levels during charging are never high enough to be dangerous.

This photo shows a number of station accessories. The large black box on the floor is my Astron linear power supply. I believe that it can supply 35 amps continuous. There are two things sitting on top of it. You can see the Palstar DL2K dummy load with its backlit analog power meter. Sitting to the right of the DL2K, is a Bencher low pass filter. It's designed to not pass anything above HF frequencies, hopefully ensuring that I do not cause any unnecessary interference. I will have to remember to bypass it, if I want to operate 6-meters, though. By the way, neither of this two accessories block the ventilation on the power supply. The gold-colored box on top of the DL2K is the HF coupler for the Powermaster meter. Sitting on the floor next to the power supply are first, the Rigrunner 4008, and second, the Super PWRgate (both are products of West Mountain Radio). The green object with the small LCD display, is a meter that simultaneously measures voltage, current, DC power, and several other parameters. The sealed lead-acid battery and the Astron power supply simultaneously feed the Super PWRgate. The Astron normally runs the station, and it trickle charges the battery. If commercial power fails, the Super PWRgate allows the battery to immediately take over. The DC meter (the green thing) samples the output of the Super PWRgate immediately before it goes to the Rigrunner for DC power distribution to the other station gear.

Some of the things that I haven't pictured are my Palstar ZM-30 antenna analyzer (perhaps a future post), my HTs as mentioned before, antennas, my computer, Heil Sound Proset Plus boomset, Heil Sound Goldline GM-4 microphone (was free with the TS-2000X), and a Palstar DL1500 dummy load. I'm hoping to add the Palstar AT2K manual tuner to my station in a couple of weeks. I'll probably be talking about that, too.


Saturday, September 06, 2008

One Missed Contest; Another Upcoming

I did not actually miss the Ohio QSO Party (OQP). I had put it on my calendar at least a month out, and the reminders popped up on my computer screen at the appropriate times. I just decided to sit it out this year. I'm in an apartment and currently my antenna is indoors. I normally try to keep my RF power set at lower levels, which have been fine so far for PSK31 and other digital modes. I was actually quite surprised when I ran my numbers through the RF Safety Calculator on the University of Texas website. The highest power setting that I think that I have ever used for PSK31 is 40 watts. However, PSK31 is a 100% duty cycle mode (there are always tones being emitted), so 40 watts is also the average power. The calculator asks for average power, so I use 40 watts. It also asks for the frequency of operation. I used 7, 10.1 and 14 MHz, and it asks for the gain of the antenna, and suggests 2.2 dB for a dipole. I have a Buddipole, which is a form of dipole, so I use 2.2 dB. On the 40 meter digital segment, a person in the uncontrolled environment has to be 2.04 feet from my antenna. On 30 meters, that number increases to 2.92 feet, and on 20 meter digital, one has to be 4.03 feet from my antenna. Keep in mind that the calculator asks for average power at the antenna. So I could have subtracted off losses in the coax: I'm using a combination of RG-58 and RG-213. I think that it is also implied that antenna inefficiencies could be weighed in, too. Obviously, antennas that are not resonant, or use things such as loading coils, will take some of the RF and convert it to heat in the coax or the antenna itself. That RF won't be radiating and potentially exposing someone. The point is that my neighbors are easily at a safe distance away. Things look even better when you talk about SSB, which is what I would have used in the OQP. In the OQP, I probably would have gradually worked the RF setting up to the full 100 watts that the TS-2000X is capable of, but SSB is not a 100% duty cycle mode. The characteristics of speech are such that the average power of SSB is about 20% of the peak power. Therefore, on the RF Safety Calculator, I would have put in 20 watts for average power, even though my radio is set at 100 watts. The 20% number assumes that a speech processor is turned off and you aren't using heavy equalization.

To make a long story short, I sat out the OQP because I wanted to be able to set up my antenna outdoors (not because of RF safety, which appears to be under control, but because 100 watts will create havoc in the shack), and I hadn't made arrangements to do that yet.

I will have my big chance to enter a contest in a matter of weeks. For a 48-hour period starting on October 25 (UTC) and running through October 26, the CQ Worldwide DX SSB Contest will be going on. Last year, I made six DX contacts during the contest, but I never officially entered. In other words, I did not submit a log. This year I will probably enter in the Single Operator Low Power category. I did notice the other day, that the logs from 2007 are available for viewing on the web. I checked the six logs for the stations that I worked: VP5T, ZY7C, ZF2AH, 6F75A, VP9I, and V26B. I appeared in four of the six logs. For whatever reason, I was not in the ZY7C log nor the 6F75A log. The operators probably misread my call. 6F75A is Mexico (yes, last year's CQWW DX SSB contest was my first real exposure to unusual callsigns). I've got Mexico (XE3RR on PSK31) confirmed on Logbook of the World. ZY7C is Brazil. It would've been nice to ask for a confirmation for that, but there is no point, since I'm not in their log. Assuming 15 meters opens up again this year like last year, Brazil and other DX should not be too hard to obtain, but 20 meters should work, too.


Thursday, September 04, 2008

International QSLing

I believe that I mentioned in an earlier post that at least for now, I am going to send out QSL cards for all of my contacts on HF. I purchased my QSL cards over a year ago from CheapQSLs.com. They are decent cards. I had passed out a couple to friends here in town, just for a token simplex contact on 2-meters. Now that I started making HF contacts about a month ago, I'm actually preparing my cards and mailing them out, and I'm getting a few in return. I've also signed up with eQSL and Logbook of the World (LoTW).

As far as my domestic contacts are concerned, unless I feel that I really have to have a card, I'm just sending my card as is, with its 27 cent stamp affixed. With all other cards I will include a return envelope and postage. I've been doing a lot of reading about how to deal with QSLing the DX contacts. Most of my research has centered around the postage part of the equation. In many countries you can purchase International Reply Coupons (IRCs) at a post office. When they are sent to a foreign radio amateur he can exchange them for one unit of standard airmail postage. Apparently in a few countries, the weight of our QSL cards and the return envelope is more than one unit of postage will buy, so two IRCs are required. I've got about six DX contacts in my log, so the other day on my lunch break I stopped at the nearby post office. They appeared to have heard of IRCs, but they didn't carry any. Later that evening, I stopped at the post office near the Port Columbus International Airport. That post office, up until recently was open 24 hours a day. It still has very late hours. I figured if any post office in Columbus sold IRCs, it would be that post office. I got there shortly before the Guaranteed Mail cutoff time apparently. I had to wait in line about twenty minutes. As before, the postal clerk here seemed to know what an IRC was, and I was hopeful that they had some, but she consulted with a fellow postal clerk, who indicated that IRCs were "being phased out". I wasn't in the mood to argue, so I left and headed home. A little later that evening I got on the computer and did some more research. I saw two things that should help. First, the Universal Postal Union, that established the IRC program is accepting designs for the next IRC to take affect in June of July of 2009. That tells me that they are not being phased out. Second, I read a post on some site that says if you get the line about IRCs "being phased out", it's because the postal clerk is too lazy to deal with the issue. The message poster indicated that the U.S. Postal Service's own International Mail Manual (May 2008 edition) says that IRCs can be requistioned just like any other postage product. It doesn't say that the have to have them in stock, but suggests they do if they have demand for them. Radio amateurs are probably one of the few segments of the population that use them. Anyway, I guess I need to return to my local post office branch and enlighten them on their international mail manual and get them to order me some IRCs.

On a parallel track, I have been working on the envelope system. Last Saturday, I went to my local Staples office supply store. I just assumed that they would have envelope systems consisting of a return envelope and an outer cover envelope. I was wrong, unless you are talking about envelopes for wedding invitations and the like. I don't think they would hold my card, they are heavier than necessary, and are not really appropriate anyway. So, when I got back home I got on the computer and did some more research. I found at least two people that carry DX supplies including envelope systems. I decided to place an order with James Mackey, K3FN, at Air Mail Postage. His prices seemed reasonable. He sells three different types of envelope systems: normal, European, and plain. At first I figured the Normal system was appropriate, since the web site mentioned that Normal is common in North America, but then I realized that my card will fit in both Normal and European, but I need to consider what system will accomodate the DXer's card. I asked Jim, and he quickly indicated that the European would be best. Jim also sells foreign postage. If the IRC thing doesn't work out, I can order postage stamps from Jim, and if that gets to be too cumbersome, there is always the Bureau System, but not all DXers or their managers use the Bureau.

As an update to my IRC quest--many of my posts on here take several days for me to compose and edit--I stopped by the local post office again only this time I had an excerpt of the USPS International Mail Manual in my hand dealing with IRCs. It didn't help. When the postal clerk was unsure about IRCs, I calmly asked to speak to her supervisor. Naturally, he was on vacation. I've got his name and phone number, and I may try to call him in a week or two. I also asked a well-connected friend of mine if she knew someone (an avid DXer) that I could contact and help me understand the QSLing process better. She gave a name and email address. I'll send him an email shortly.


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Icom IC-7600 Announced

Just a short post today.

About a week ago, I received an invite to a new Yahoo Group devoted to a new Icom HF/6-meter transceiver, the Icom IC-7600. It seems that this new radio has been unveiled at the Tokyo Hamfair. As of this morning, there are only 17 messages on the Yahoo Group, and there is a lot of speculation about this radio. Some people believe it will be quite some time until it hits the U.S. market; perhaps a year from now. Other people are speculating on where in the Icom lineup this radio will go. Some of those people believe that it will replace the Icom IC-756ProIII, but fall somewhere below the IC-7700. With a model number like IC-7600 that makes sense, but you can't trust model numbers. Finally, some of the messages on the group are talking about the price. I would imagine the price would fall somewhere between the IC-756ProIII and the IC-7700.

This brings up a dilemma for me. I would like a nice, small radio for portable operations. The current IC-7000 fits that bill nicely. However, I am also interested in a radio that has a better receiver than my Kenwood TS-2000 (which, by the way, has held its own quite well). I'm sure that the IC-7600 (assuming that it is a 756ProIII "Plus", or a IC-7700 "Minus") has a pretty good receiver, and assuming that its price is not too far removed from the 756ProIII, at least I stand a chance of being able to buy one. I always have my Yaesu FT-897D for portable operations.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

More Digital Contacts on 30 and 20 Meters

I've been having a lot of fun lately on the HF bands. Of course, I've operated SSB before, both at my own station and at numerous Field Days. But over the past couple of weeks I have operated nothing except for the digital modes, including PSK31, MFSK16, Olivia, and Hellschreiber. Many of my earlier contacts were on 40 meters. Lately I have been using 20 meters or even the fairly unique 30 meters. I would eventually like to try a mode such as PSK31 on 80 meters, and when the sunspots return, I'll definitely be using 15 and 10 meters. 30 meters, as I mentioned, is a fairly unique band. In the U.S., amateur radio operators use 30 meters on a secondary basis to a fixed service. I wonder what fixed service that is. Every evening when I turn the radio on to 30 meters at around 2000Z on roughly 10.130 MHz, I hear a signal that sounds a little bit like RTTY, but this transmission has a fairly wide shift. By playing around with MixW, I can determine that the shift is 850 Hz, but I apparently don't have the baud rate set correctly, because nothing meaningful ever decodes. If anyone knows what this is, let me know. I routinely hear other digital transmissions, including one that I guess is PACTOR. In the U.S., we are limited to 200 watts PEP on this band (presumably to avoid interference to the primary users of the band), and although I haven't looked at the Part 97 FCC rules lately, I know that you cannot use phone or image transmissions. They are just too wide. On the other hand, I have read about people trying Olivia 1000/32 on 30 meters, so I presume that at least 1 kHz bandwidth is allowed; at least in certain segments. I just checked my meager log (I've been operating the digital modes less than a month): I've got five QSOs on 30. Four are PSK31 and one is Olivia (which I assume is Olivia 500/16 since I've never tried 1000/32 and only tried 500/8 once).

20 meters has been somewhat more productive for me. I currently have 13 QSOs in the log for 20 meters. All of those contacts are using PSK31, except for one which was PSK63 (very similar to PSK31 but with double the baud rate and, I believe, double the width). As I suspected 20 meters works better for DX than 30 meters, and 30 meters may be slightly better than 40. Of course, I believe the reason is simple. My antenna is a fixed height above ground and is not particularly high to begin with. Many hams realize that an antenna needs to be a certain fraction of a wavelength above ground in order to have the lower takeoff angles (for the RF energy), in order to work good DX. When the antenna is too close to the ground for the band in question, you have what many refer to as a "cloudwarmer". Going back to my log (which has less than 50 entries, because I have only been doing this less than a month), I have no problem working the eastern provinces of Canada, and I can easily work 500 miles out or so in the U.S. I have no other DX on 40 meters. On 30 meters, I only have seven log entries, but I have Cuba. Station CO8LY is located in Santiago de Cuba, which is 1430 miles from me. Not too bad. On 20 meters, my DX gets even better: Mexico (Cancun), Venezuela, and Colombia. The Venezulean station, YV4OW, is located on Margarita Island (which happens to be SA-012, one of the Islands On The Air). Margarita Island is 2300 miles from me. I can also hear TG9AHM in Guatemala and TI2CCC in Costa Rica. It's just a matter of time before I work them.

I can't wait until the sunspots return, because I suspect that my workhorse DX bands will be 15 meters and 10 meters.

As a final note, I started working on this post about a week ago, after I first worked a station on 30 meters. In the meantime, I received a comment on my post entitled "The Internet and Radio Propagation". David, K2DSL, left a comment for me about another web-based propagation tool (which I plan to take a closer look at and blog about), but he also left me an email where he indicated that he has an amateur radio blog, and that he had similar radio equipment to mine. I was encouraged by his post about the SARTG RTTY Contest that was recently held. David has very similar gear and was able to work all sorts of DX. Good job, David, and it's certainly encouraging for me.

Until next time,

The Internet and Radio Propagation

I wanted to share with you three web sites that I am aware of that can show you how propagation is faring on the various amateur radio bands. These propagation tools don't attempt to explain the propagation modes, such as sporadic-E, tropospheric ducting, F2 layer skip, etc. They just present the user with a map depicting the actual propagation.

Here are the sites:

I'm going to discuss the first one in this post and leave it to a future (but soon) post to discuss the other two sites.

The VHF Propagation Map can display a map of North America, Europe, Australia, Minnesota, Missouri, or the world. I understand the emphasis on Minnesota. If you examine the URL of the site you will notice that the VHF Propagation Map is hosted on a site for a Minnesota school system. I'm not sure why Missouri gets special emphasis. The map attempts to display various 2-meter radio paths with the different color-coded swatches (for lack of a better word). Yellow colors represent shorter paths; orange a little longer, and red being the longest paths. The data behind the map is obtained from the APRS-IS system. Basically in the early days of APRS, the packet-radio system was entirely RF-based, but then the Internet became commonplace, and the data from the RF side of things was fed to the Internet. The "IS" stands for Internet System. It is all of the APRS data traveling on the APRS-IS system that makes sites such as Findu and this propagation map possible. The VHF Propagation Map site does explain that some HF data may be mixed in, but I figure the percentage of HF data is pretty low. I don't pretend to know everything about APRS, but I believe earlier on, HF (and in particular, 30-meters) was used for long-haul transmission of APRS data. The Internet does that now. Anyway, this website looks at the APRS-IS data. It knows where each station is because position is reported as part of the packet, and it knows where the packets came from that the stations heard, because the transmission path is part of the packet. The website analyzes that data and plots the map.

From a practical standpoint, the user of the VHF Propagation Map, clicks on an area of interest, such as North America. If their geographical area is covered by a yellow, orange, or red swatch or blob, they can expect enhanced communications on 2-meters. If the patch is red, they should probably be able to hit distant repeaters, or communicate long distances on SSB, or CW. During the 2008 summer sporadic-E season, I visited this site a few times. Sure enough, large sections of the eastern U.S. where covered with red criss-crossing swatches. Why not the western U.S.? This site does rely on actual APRS stations. There are sections of the country (Rocky Mountain region, Nevada, Montana, and so on) that just don't have as many amateur radio operators.

So try out this site, and when color appears over your location, fire up your radio and try to hit a distant repeater, or see how far you can talk on simplex, or get out your all-mode rig and work on picking up some more grid squares. Although this site relies on data from the 2-meter band (specifically the 144.39 MHz APRS network), you might look at the higher bands such as 222 MHz, or 430 MHz, if 2-meters starts opening.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Back on APRS

After a little bit of a delay, I am back on APRS. APRS is an acronym for the Automatic Packet Reporting System. I've probably been on APRS off and on for about nine years. Nine years ago is about the time that Kenwood introduced their TH-D7A handie-talkie (HT). It was fairly groundbreaking at the time, and until recently was the only HT that could do APRS, let alone packet radio. Around the time of the 2008 Dayton Hamvention, however, Yaesu (Vertex Standard) announced the VX-8R, that promises APRS and packet capability.

Well, anyway, I was an early adopter of the TH-D7A, and used it quite a bit when I first acquired it. A few years later, Kenwood indicated that they were introducing a "G" version of the TH-D7A. I'm not sure what the letter "G" meant, but this new radio added some incremental features to the APRS capabilities. One of the more notably features, if I remember correctly, was the ability to do 9600 bps APRS and packet. Around the same time Kenwood said that for a fee, owners of the non-"G" version could ship their radios to a Kenwood Service Center for a firmware upgrade. I did not do that right away. I probably waited a year or so, but I eventually sent it off. I continued to use the HT off and on, but at some point my usage declined and the radio stayed in my carrying case. When I decided to start using it again, I first discovered that all of the batteries that I had wouldn't hold a charge anymore, so I had to buy a new battery. Sometime after buying the new battery, I used that radio and an Arrow Antenna to make my first contact through the AO-51 satellite. I talked about this in an earlier post. A little more time passed and the radio itself developed a problem. Everything was fine except for the display. The display is a dot-matrix type of display, but it was showing strange characters. They were characters from the ASCII set, but nonetheless I could not understand why they were there, and I tried everything to correct the problem including a full reset. At that point, I decided to sell the radio on Ebay. I fully disclosed its problems and the radio was sold.

Meanwhile, I had purchased a Kenwood TM-D700A at the Dayton Hamvention, I believe. I had every intention of installing the radio in my car, but that never happened and the radio never left the box. I eventually sold it on Ebay.

This spring, however, I was helping my local ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) group, the COARES (Central Ohio ARES), provide communications support for the Tour of the Scioto River Valley (TOSRV). The COARES leaders indicated that APRS would be used this year, and that volunteers would space digipeaters about every two miles along the 100+ mile course (leapfrogging no doubt). I knew that my newer TH-D7A (G)--forgot to mention that I bought this radio brand new to replace my failing TH-D7A--would probably have problems in the hilly areas of southern Ohio. I decided that I would buy a Kenwood TM-D710A (the successor to the TM-D700) and become active in APRS. So I bought the radio a couple of weeks ago and got it set up last night.

I'm currently operating it as a base station under the callsign of N8OIF-9. You can view my position at the Findu site. The position is slightly off because at the present time, my position is hard-coded into the radio. I'm waiting on a GPS receiver to arrive that should provide better precision.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Second SignaLink USB on the Way

I noticed yesterday that my credit card had been charged for the second Tigertronics SignaLink USB that I had ordered. That was nine weeks to the day from when I ordered it. Since Tigertronics is located in Grants Pass, Oregon and I am in Ohio, it will take another week to get here via UPS Ground. I already have one of these devices to interface my Kenwood TS-2000X to the computer. This second one will be for my Yaesu FT-897D. Coincidentally, the wiring and cabling required to interface the SignaLink USB to the 897 is the same required for the Icom IC-7000, which is a radio that I plan to buy shortly.

For those who think that nine to ten weeks is a long time to wait for one of these interfaces, please realize that they are worth the wait. They get their power from your USB port and they have their own built-in sound card. Only two cables are required: one back to your computer for USB, and one to the radio (many times the radio's Data port). You are able to set volume levels once and regular operating system sounds still go to your regular speakers, and not out over the air. I notice in my PSK31 QSOs that many people mention they are using a Signalink USB.


QSL Cards

I've been operating the digital modes on HF for about three weeks now. I've sent out a few QSL cards, and I've received a few. If you are not familiar with QSL cards, they used to be the primary way for amateur radio operators to confirm their contacts with each other. For some people, the cards form a collection and allow the operator to recall contacts made in far-away places. For others, the cards represent proof that the contact did indeed occur, when that amateur radio operator seeks an award.

The methods for confirming contacts got a fairly recent update (within the past ten years or so). An operator can use a service known as the Electronic QSL Card Center, or more succintly eQSL.cc, which is the URL for the website that this service runs on. The other method for confirming contacts is the American Radio Relay League's (ARRL) Logbook of the World (LOTW).

At least for a while I think that I am going to use all three methods to confirm my contacts. I don't think that I operate enough that postage is going to be a problem. eQSL and LOTW are free services, sort of. eQSL allows you to custom design your electronic QSL card and grants you access to other features assuming that you contribute a certain dollar amount in a certain time frame. LOTW is free until the time that you need to apply your confirmed contacts towards an award. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of the different methods? Both eQSL and LOTW allow for almost instantaneous confirmation of contacts. I've noticed after some of my QSOs, that the other station has immediately loaded the QSO information in eQSL for our contact. That brings up what I see as one of the flaws of eQSL: since the other station shows up on your Inbox, what is to stop you from entering reciprocal information even though the contact was not complete. You will not see the other station on LOTW until you upload your information, or at least that is the way it seems. Other differences: Some consider the ARRL to be more prestigious. To apply for those awards such as the ARRL's Worked All States, you can either make your cards available for possible inspection or you can use the LOTW; you cannot use eQSL for ARRL award credit. Some people might consider LOTW to be more secure and immune from fraud. The normal sign-up process for hams in the U.S. for LOTW involves the ARRL sending a postcard to your FCC-listed address. That postcard has a unique code or password that is used to complete the registration process. Also, to add your contacts to LOTW, you either enter them directly after logging in to LOTW, or you digital sign a file from an ADIF-compatible logging program. eQSL also has its Authentication Guaranteed process. It can piggyback off of the LOTW authentication, eQSL can review your license, or they can send you their unique code-on-a-postcard.

For me, getting my QSOs confirmed will be easiest on eQSL. I just export an ADIF file from my program, currently Amateur Contact Log (AC Log), and upload it to eQSL.cc. LOTW takes slightly longer to load, because the ADIF file has to be digital signed and compressed first; but then you upload it. Actually, keeping track of postcards back and forth in the mail will probably be the most time consuming, but at least for a while, I'll do it.

On a slightly different topic, if you had asked me a month ago (before I got on the digital modes), if I was interested in awards, I would have said "no", but now I definitely say "yes". First of all, striving for an award, gets me on the air. Second of all, it requires me to hone my skills. I'll probably never have a contest-level station, so I will have to concentrate on my operating skills. I don't care as much about having a certificate or plaque for my achievements, but it would be neat to say, for example, that I worked all 50 U.S. states with my mediocre set-up. Contesters can probably work all states or achieve DXCC in a weekend.

As I receive QSL cards, either from eQSL or in the mail, I plan on posting them to my Picasa QSL album.


my card (front):

my card (back):

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Trying to Pick a Logging Program

Now that I am becoming active on the HF bands, I need to settle on a logging program. I purchased a license for Writelog about a year ago, but as I started using it a couple of weeks ago for my initial PSK31 contacts, I noticed that it does not seem to handle general purpose logging. I could be wrong. I admittedly have not spent much time learning how to use it. I then started doing a little research on what program to use for general purpose logging. My first visit was to eHam.net--a site that I regularly visit. In the Reviews section of that site under the category of logging programs, I looked for the program that had the highest ratings. The program that had the highest score with the highest number of reviews seemed to be AC Log written by N3FJP (Scott). I went to Scott's website and downloaded a trial copy. Once I started it up I could tell that it was a very straightforward program to use. I've now got about 16 contacts logged so far. This is a trial version and I have about another month to complete my evaluation. Registration, I believe, is $19.

I've noticed in several of my PSK31 QSOs and other in-progress QSOs that some people mention the use of Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) for logging. I was not even aware that Ham Radio Deluxe had a logging capability, but it does not surprise me. It is a quite comprehensive program. I have used it for rig control before. It handles my Kenwood TS-2000X and my Yaesu FT-897D effortlessly, and it is a program that I still have loaded on my computer and have kept up to date.

Before I send off my money to N3FJP, I am going to give Ham Radio Deluxe's logging a try. I am assuming at this point that both AC Log and HRD support the ADIF file format. I hate to make the switch to HRD and not be able to transfer my existing log from AC Log. Of course, I may settle on AC Log and not have to transfer my log. Ham Radio Deluxe is free; AC Log is not, but I have always believed that good things are worth paying a little bit for. After all, the developer had to expend a lot of time and resources (application development software, etc.) to provide the program to the amateur radio community.

I will let you know what program I settle on.


Saturday, August 09, 2008

My First Hellschreiber Contact

A couple of evenings ago I made my first contact using the Hellschreiber mode. The contact wasn't a regular QSO either. I had never used the mode before. I had only decoded a couple of QSOs in progress. I decided to jump right into a Hellschreiber net, specifically the Feld Hell Club 40-meter Net which meets every Thursday at 0200Z (10:00 pm for me in the Eastern time zone). I was check-in number 4 or number 6. I can't exactly remember, and I didn't write it down. I was easily able to copy W8LEW, Lou, the net control station at the beginning of the net and I assume that he also able to copy me well. I also copied a station up in the Cleveland, Ohio area, and a station in Alabama. The net lasted nearly two hours. About half way through the net the conditions on 40-meters deteriorated somewhat. Lou had us switch to a mode called FM105. For the first half of the net, we had been running the Feld-Hell mode of Hellschreiber. When we made that switch to FM105, the readability did improve, however, near the end of the net, the conditions had fallen off so much that I could not read anybody.

I don't know much about Hellschreiber, but I do know that it was patented in 1929, so it is not a new mode by any means. However, until recently it was probably sent and received using an electromechanical device. Now, it is more than likely sent and received using a computer sound card. The sound that the Feld Hell mode makes on the air sounds quite a bit like clicking. This represents each pixel. Hellschreiber is a visual mode. In other words, it paints the pixels on the screen representing the characters. It is then up to the human operator to determine what was said. The human, many times, is better than the computer.

I have two things that I want to do pertaining to Hellschreiber. First, I want to get a firm grasp on what frequencies are most typically used for contacts. It seems that some of the websites conflict with each other. Once I figure out the frequencies, I can start calling CQ, or at least listen for someone calling. The second thing that I want to do is check into more Hellschreiber nets. On Sunday evenings (in my time zone), there is a net that meets on the 30-meter band (a band that I recently started using). I'll see if I can check in.

I did sign up for membership in the Feld Hell Club. I received an email back from the membership person. I am member number 1087.

Hellschreiber is pretty neat. Check it out.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Attended the Columbus Hamfest

Yesterday I attended the Columbus Hamfest. It is a fairly small hamfest. I overheard someone say that about 450 tickets were sold. The hamfest is hosted by the Voice of Aladdin Amateur Radio Club at their Aladdin Shrine Complex. This facility is located in the Easton area for those familiar with Columbus. Things are straightforward. An admission ticket is $5, and tables inside are free, and spaces out in the parking lot are free. The admission ticket is placed in the prize drum. They held hourly door prizes, and also smaller door prizes every fifteen minutes or so. They also were giving away a Yaesu VX-7R as the grand prize. I believe that our local Universal Radio donated many of the items for the prizes. I won one of the smaller prizes and got to take my pick. I choose the 2008 edition of the Passport to World Band Radio. There were two forums: a traffic handling forum, and an ARRL forum. There was also a testing session. I attended the hamfest primarily to help represent the Capital City Repeater Association (CCRA). Our club was able to handle a few renewals and about three former members signed up again.

Initially, I had not planned on buying anything. It was fairly late in the morning before I even left the CCRA table. I took a quick walk around the inside tables. There is never very much that I am interested at those tables: laptop computers (when I already have a laptop), LED flashlights, disk drives, connectors, and so on. I then walked outside. There were only about eight or so people set up out there. There were also a couple of neat static displays. The Red Cross Disaster Relief Services had their communication truck there, and there were two other rather impressive communication trucks supposedly belonging to the City of Columbus, and Franklin County. I did spot one thing that intrigued me however, and I made an impulse purchase. A husband and wife team, S & G Engineering, were selling what they call the Eagle One antenna system. It is designed for 80 through 10 meters. It consists of a wire element inside of a collapsible fiberglass pole (the orange and black poles in the picture below). That pole is clamped to a metal pole that fits inside a tripod. An antenna tuner, and some counterpoise wires attached to the tripod are necessary. We'll have to see how it works.

I received an email before the event from one of the organizers. They implied that this may have been the last year for the Columbus Hamfest. I have attended the hamfest before, and attendance seemed at least as strong as last year. Hopefully, they will continue it.


My First Olivia Contact on HF

Within the past week, I've been starting to use some of the digital modes on HF. I first tried PSK31 by successfully making a few contacts. Then I made a contact using MFSK16. Very early this morning I had a successful QSO using Olivia. Specifically the mode was Olivia 500/16. The 500/16 designation means that the occupied bandwidth is 500 Hz and the number of tones used is 16.

My QSO was with WB8ROL. His name is Gary and he is located in Ludlow Falls, Ohio. It's a town I've visited a few times, when I used to live in Dayton. Ludlow Falls always had a rather impressive Christmas light display at the Falls. The town recently discontinued the display due to funding issues. Ludlow Falls is about 80 miles from me, so this contact was decidedly not DX. It was a memorable contact nonetheless. Gary was using a Yaesu FT-100D and running about 30 watts. I very quickly noticed that Olivia 500/16 is not a particularly fast mode, but my copy on Gary was 100% complete. He explained to me how he has had Olivia QSOs that he could neither hear on the speaker, nor see on the waterfall display of the software. He only knew that there was a Olivia transmission because it started decoding on his screen.

Gary made a suggestion that we each try to lower our power levels to see how well the copy would be. For the last five to ten minutes of the QSO, he was at 2 watts and I was at 5 watts (the lowest the Kenwood TS-2000X will go) and we still had perfect copy on each other. We briefly tried the 500/8 (500 Hz, 8 tones) variety. The copy was almost perfect. I saw on my screen was could have been a typo or was a mis-decoded character. Whatever it was, I was able to figure out what was said. Olivia 500/8 is noticeably faster than 500/16. Band conditions on 40-meters this morning must have been fairly decent as I was able to hear the transmission and see it on the waterfall the whole time. My QSO with Gary was also my longest at about a half-hour. The QSO came to an end at 0451Z on 3 Aug 2008. The center frequency was 7.0733 MHz.

I did briefly have a problem with my station. During the middle of a transmission my radio switched back to receive. At first I thought that a time out timer that I had set on the TS-2000 had kicked in, but I believe that instead RF was getting into my Tigertronics SignaLink interface. At the beginning of the QSO, I was running 35 watts.

You should give Olivia a try. Olivia 500/8 might be a good compromise between perfect copy and speed.


Saturday, August 02, 2008

QRZ.com Announces New Call Lookup

I've been visiting QRZ.com quite a bit lately as I look up the callsigns of stations I might try to work on HF. I noticed on their home page tonight that they are announcing a new callsign lookup designed for PDAs and cell phones. I've been looking for such a tool for quite some time. QRZ does have one of the better callsign lookups in my opinion as it allows you to look up non-U.S. stations. Until recently the only callsign lookup that I was aware of that was designed for cell phones was the one introduced by KC8KOD. I applaud KC8KOD for bringing his search to the amateur community, but sometimes the data got rather old. QRZ does update its search every day with data straight from the FCC. I'm not sure what sources it uses for non-U.S. calls.

When I acquired my LG Voyager phone (on Verizon) about a month ago, its full HTML browser was able to display the regular QRZ.com page, but that included pictures and advertisements. I don't need that on my cell phone. I have an unlimited data package, so it's not about the data, but about the time it takes all of that extra information to download and render.

QRZ.com indicates that initially this new search will be free, but will probably be part of its premium subscription service eventually. That's fine with me. It runs about $30 a year. I think I can afford it. They did ask for comments about how the search worked. I noticed what I consider a glitch when looking up club callsigns. I reported that issue in the thread that had been started.

As you may know, I was in the initial phases of developing my own callsign search on the web specifically for cell phones. I will probably abandon most of this now, but in particular I will abandon my attempt to gather the non-U.S. data I was looking for such as Canada, and Australia. I would like to still work on the U.S. search. It gives me the opportunity to learn Visual Basic .NET.

The new QRZ.com search for cell phones and PDAs is at http://www.qrz.com/pcs.

Friday, August 01, 2008

My First MFSK16 Contact

Last evening I made my first MFSK16 digital contact on HF. What an amazing mode MFSK is! My QSO was with Tom, K5VJZ. Tom is located in Russellville, Arkansas. This location is about 650 miles from me. We were on 40-meters at approximately 7.07 MHz. Our contact specifically ended on 1 Aug 2008 at 0149Z. Tom was running 25 watts from an Elecraft K2/100 transceiver. His computer was running a program called Fldigi and his operating system was Ubuntu, which if I am not mistaken is a Linux variant. I was using my Kenwood TS-2000X. For most of the QSO, I was also running 25 watts, but towards the end I ran 30 watts. The copy was almost perfect on my end which is amazing considering the RF power level used and the distance.

Just a little background on this mode. It consists of 16 tones that occupy a total bandwidth of a little over 300 Hz. Forward Error Correction (FEC) is involved. Some have equated it to a souped-up version of RTTY (radioteletype).

I've only made five digital contacts on HF so far, but I really enjoy them. This particular QSO with Tom lasted about ten minutes. I had the chance to ask him about a Palstar tuner that he uses in his station. He also explained that he did not have the best of luck with the Tigertronics SignaLink interface, which is what I use.

Another thing that I am noticing is that I am starting to get the urge to chase some of the awards. I never thought I would be interested in that, but going awards should certainly help me improve my skills and also encourage me to improve my station.


Monday, July 28, 2008

My First PSK31 Contacts

I made three PSK31 contacts this evening. They are my first ones. All occurred on the 40-meter band. The first two were at 7.0725 MHz and the third one was at 7.073 MHz. The actual QSOs however fell where they may on the waterfall display. If someone can explain how to read out the exact frequency, I would appreciate the tip. Or does it really matter?

My first contact was at 0045Z on 29 Jul 2008 with Ken. Ken, was doing the typing, but the station was under the control of Tim, WB8UHZ. Ken and Tim are located in Hemlock, Michigan. I gathered that Ken was a former ham who let his license lapse. I got the impression that he would probably get back into the hobby based on the fun he seemed to be having during the QSO. They were running an Icom IC-746 or IC-746Pro at about 40 watts. I was using my Kenwood TS-2000X with about 25 watts. Hemlock, Michigan is about 250 miles from me.

My second contact was with Jim, KB4MSU, at 0102Z on 29 Jul 2008. He was using a Kenwood TS-430S transceiver. Jim lives in Eaton, Ohio, which is near the Indiana border and west of Dayton. I used to live in Dayton and drove through Eaton before. Jim is west of downtown Eaton, however. Eaton is about 100 miles from me. I believe that Jim said I was his first PSK31 contact.

My last contact of the evening was with Patrick, AE5PW. Patrick is located in Newport, Arkansas, about 550 miles from me. This contact occurred at 0204Z on 29 Jul 2008. His radio was a Yaesu FT-950 and he was using a Butternut HF9V vertical antenna. He was the most prepared for the QSO. He already had macros made up with his personal information and his station information. He kept track of the number of PSK31 contacts that he has made. I was number 1900-and-something, so, of course, he had macros in place. I'll have to work on mine.

I had a very fun evening with this mode. I'll definitely be trying it again. I did notice that my logging left something to be desired. I use MixW version 2.18 but I am not used to its logging system. I also have Writelog version 10-something. I will need to become much more familiar with both applications.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Antenna Tuners

I'm considering the purchase of a couple of antenna tuners to add to my station. Currently, my Kenwood TS-2000X has its own built-in tuner and I add a LDG Electronics AT-897 to my Yaesu FT-897D. I noticed recently that LDG has released a new autotuner dedicated to Kenwood transceivers. This model is the KT-100. It is similar to LDG's other autotuners in that it can tune across a wide range of impedances. This is something that the TS-2000's internal tuner cannot do. Its tuner has a fairly narrow range. The inability of the Kenwood tuner to find a successful match many times is what leads me to use the FT-897D on the HF bands. With the KT-100, however, I should be able to use the TS-2000 much more often. I do have a commercial Buddipole antenna and a Palstar ZM-30 antenna analyzer, and so I try to first make adjustments to the Buddipole (the taps on the coils and the lengths of the whips), but sometimes this is inconvenient, so I hit the tune button on the radio. Of course, I realize that by not making adjustments to the Buddipole, and letting the autotuner make the match that I am losing quite a bit of energy in the tuner.

Another tuner that I am looking at is the Palstar AT2K. This is a full legal limit manual antenna tuner. Like the LDG tuners, it can match antennas over a wide range of impedances. There are several reasons to consider a manual antenna tuner (and one that can handle higher power). First, by virtue of the tuner being manual, you can dial in the match exactly. Most autotuners, but not all (notably the Palstar AT-AUTO which uses stepper motors to drive conventional variable capacitors and variable inductors), rely on discrete capacitors and inductors and a number of relays to switch those capacitors and inductors in and out of the circuit. This will mean that the match will always be close, but not quite on. Also, some of the autotuners won't even run through a new tuning cycle if the SWR starts out less than 1.5:1 (although you can usually force them to re-tune). The second reason to consider a manual tuner is when you are only receiving. Your radio will not broadcast a carrier for any tuner if you outside of the ham bands (unless you have performed some sort of mod). When you are shortwave or utility listening, you can still use a manual tuner and tune for the strongest signal. A third reason that I see to purchase a manual tuner, but specifically the Palstar AT2K, is that the tuner is overkill for the power levels I will be using (barefoot at 100 watts or less). From some of my reading, it appears that under certain conditions, tuners can start arcing over. I suspect that arcing is more of a problem for stations running QRO, but it is probably also a problem in a small autotuner when running 100 watts because the autotuner's components are not rated for the really high voltages and currents involved. Finally, the fourth reason to consider a manual tuner, is that it doesn't care what radio it is connected to. All you have to do is put it in line between the transceiver and the antenna. With an autotuner, you more than likely need a dedicated set of cables for each radio that you are going to connect it to. If it doesn't rely on control cables, then it requires you to supply the carrier first, and then you hit the "tune" button. Of course, the main drawback to a manual tuner is that it takes more time to make the necessary adjustments.

Down the road, when I buy my Icom IC-7000, I will probably pick up a LDG AT-200Pro. I realize that LDG manufactures the AT-7000 specifically for the IC-7000, but quite frankly, the AT-200Pro has more lights and buttons. However a more appropriate reason to choose the AT-200Pro over the AT-7000 is that you can manually adjust the capacitance and inductance values (based on discrete components, though) on the AT-200Pro and improve shortwave reception.


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

2008 Field Day

The annual amateur radio Field Day event is now over until next June. I had a lot of fun this year, and, of course, that is what Field Day is all about. Having watched the weather reports in the days leading up to this past weekend, I knew that it was not going to be pleasant the whole weekend. Also when I first showed up, it seemed that there was going to be a real issue with my station getting on the air. It seems that this year something happened to the first set of deep-cycle batteries that we were going to use. Most people simply decided to rely on generator power and use a power supply. I didn't pack a power supply. Fortunately, a second smaller set of batteries was brought out and my station ran fine the whole weekend. I set up my Buddipole antenna. One station was already running 20-meter PSK, so I configured my station for 20-meter phone. I used the station quite a bit and also gave other people a chance to use my radio, which, by the way was a Yaesu FT-897D. My radio was used on 20, 15, and 10 meters. I was really surprised on Sunday morning to notice that 10-meters was open. I did not expect it to be considering the level of the solar flux. I personally probably made about 70 contacts on my radio on the three different bands. Of course, numbers like that will not win awards, but I did have fun. Other people used their radios on 80-meters and 40-meters. While I used the search-and-pounce technique, some of the other people found a frequency and stayed put and called CQ. That method seemed to be more productive for them. I also spent the weekend taking photos and shooting video of the Field Day event, and I spent time just watching other people operate their radios, or listening to the stories that people told. This year, I did try out some relatively new equipment. The radio itself is less than a year old. I almost exclusively used my Heil Proset Plus boomset with the handswitch. That worked out great. Sunday morning I tried to copy the ARRL Bulletin. At first I tried to copy it on 15-meters, but then I found it was much easier to copy on 17-meters. It was easier to copy in the sense that there was less QRM (because 17-meters is not used for the Field Day contest), but the bulletin is read fairly quickly. So next year, I will be packing at least two extra things: a power supply, and a digital recorder. Another thing that I noticed at this year's Field Day, that I've noticed before but not recently, is the interference between radios. I was operating 15-meters while another station was operating 40-meters. Every time that they would key up to call CQ, it severely distorted my received audio. That was probably the third harmonic, or simply front-end overload from the main transmission. I think that I am going to pick up a set of bandpass filters between now and next year's Field Day. That pretty much sums up the Field Day that I attended: WC8OH, West Central Ohio Amateur Radio Association, 3A, OH. 73, N8OIF

Sunday, June 22, 2008

More Ham Radio Purchases

I've been doing quite a bit of buying and selling lately with regard to my amateur radio equipment. Last summer I bought a second HF rig, the Yaesu FT-897D. Actually, it is a MF/HF/VHF/UHF radio. It's a great little rig and includes features such as AF-DSP, a TCXO, and coverage of the 60-meter channels. I also bought an AT-897 autotuner made by LDG electronics. This tuner bolts to the left side of the radio. That rig is rounded out with LDG's FT-Meter. This adds an analog meter to the 897D. I placed my order for a second Tigertronics Signalink USB, that will interface this radio to my computer for sound card HF digital modes. I have recently sold three HTs. The first to sell was a Yaesu VX-7R. It was a great radio, but I had four HTs and that was too many. The second HT to go was my Kenwood TH-D7A. Again, a great radio with APRS and packet capabilities, but I have other plans. Finally, the HT that I sold most recently was my Icom IC-91AD FM and D-Star radio. The reason that it had to go was because I had purchased the IC-92AD (a beefed-up, submersible, more-versatile version of the '91). Another purchase that I made at the 2008 Dayton Hamvention was a new mobile rig, the Icom IC-2820H. A few weeks after the show, I added the UT-123 digital voice and GPS board. Earlier I mentioned that I had other plans for packet and APRS. In a couple of months, I plan to buy the Kenwood TM-D710A mobile radio. There are times when I would like to run APRS but I need more than five watts of power. Another purchase that I will make shortly is a third HF rig, the Icom IC-7000. I will talk more about these purchases in a future post. 73.