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