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 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, 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 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.