Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Good Old W3DZZ and the Tokyo ATU

The weather this week has been horrid, mostly gales and rain, consequently the cobweb has been lowered right down and the moxon placed to one side via the tilt mast.

The only antenna in operation at the moment is the W3DZZ which is doing a sterling job as it’s taking a real hammering from these storms and gales we've been recently suffering from. 

It's one of the first antennas I ever built and was taken from a brilliant article I read by GM0OMX Len Paget which is so easy to follow that it made me realise that I could become an antenna builder. Strangley enough by shear chance our paths crossed via email and I told him how his article had inspired me to take up antenna building. He wrote me a wonderful reply and told me that the article was a "rush job" sent in to Practical Wireless at the very last minute. How disastrous would that have been for me if he had missed the deadline!!

The W3DZZ has always proved to be invaluable and more importantly in bad weather such as the stuff we are having this week utterly reliable. Although not designed as an all bander (the traps are set for 40 and 80 meters), I have it connected up through the Tokyo ATU and I  can happily tune up 30 and 20 meters and have this week successfully had a couple of qso’s on each band.

Tokyo Hy-Power HC-400 ATU

The Tokyo Hy-Power HC-400 ATU was picked up via Ebay many moons ago and is one of the most useful bits of kit I own. That ATU will tune up a piece of wet string and if you ever see one for sale my advice is go buy it!
Sometimes I'll turn off the auto ATU in the FT1000 MP V and just use the Tokyo, it's that simple to set up.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Moxon Update

Building the moxon has certainly given me an appetite for beam antennas. Having managed to get hold of an antenna rotator the moxon has definitely proved itself and I have been having great fun especially with early morning contacts to VK, ZL and J stations, I even had a BA over the weekend.

 Looking good but before I'd got the rotator!

The rotator was bought from Conrad Electronics for £49.00 and is a standard TV rotator, but ideal for something light like the moxon. The only problems I faced were that the instructions were in German (my German is not good), and so in my haste I did not realise that the separately supplied 3 pin plug just allowed the European 2 pin plug to just slot in to it. I thought I had to rewire and so I cut the 2 pin plug off..........oops! A quick bit of reconnecting and soldering fixed the problem and I soon had it all attached to my mast and was rotating away to my hearts delight.

So I've decided the next step for me is to plan a 10 meter yagi something with 3 elements and then have a go at building one in the New Year. I’ve had a look at some designs on the web and they don’t look too difficult to construct although the gamma match is something new to investigate but again doesn’t look too complicated.

The weather forecast this week is for gale force winds so for the first time I have dropped the cobweb and mast right down to its lowest level. Last week we had some quite high winds and the mast was weaving about all over the place and I decided there is no point in taking any risks so everything has been lowered and I only have the W3DZZ active at the moment.

Whilst building all my antennas I borrowed an MFJ antenna analyzer from my brother in law, he now wants it back as his Hygain came down in last weeks storms and he needs it to reset the vertical. Without an analyzer I feel slightly lost and so I took the plunge and bought a Feature Tech AW06A which is a basic analyzer covering just the SW frequencies. The few reviews I’ve managed to read give it a good write up and compared to the MFJ is fairly basic, but it should do the job. Fingers crossed I will receive it before Christmas and I will give it a proper write up in a later post.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Learning DX

Becoming more experienced in DXing, its funny how you find yourself getting better at picking out stations of interest. I’ve learnt to now put myself in to what I call “receive mode” which means I set up the FT 1000MP to how I specifically want it and together with a good set of earphones close myself off from any outside noise and almost go in to a receive trance.

One thing I’ve noticed is a distant station has a particular sound, a sort of distant echo, I thought at first it was my receiver playing up but after researching on the web I found out this is well known and is called “artic flutter” what a wonderful term!

Now through practise I concentrate on only a particular part of the band I am working on and without thinking just slowly trawl up and down mostly with the filters set at narrow. Unfortunately I only have the standard filters on the FT which I am hoping I will be able to rectify as soon as I can afford it. Never the less even with what I currently have and putting certain skills I’ve learnt in to practise has proved very useful in picking out a very faint signal and on a number of occasions I’ve managed to get in first before the rush starts.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not the greatest DXer going and I won’t deliberately set out to find a particular station, I haven’t got a large beam or tower but with the setup I have I am able to just amble slowly along the band to find a VK, J or ZL who is calling CQ. However with my newly made 10m Moxon which is currently pointing west, (I have no rotator at the moment), I can pick out a lot more faint stations than with the cobweb and this is proving fascinating and giving me a better insight in to why DXing is so popular.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Update on the Moxon Build

Well it’s finally completed with a mish mash of bits and pieces mostly nicked from the junk box. The only expense was the tubing and two plastic garden stakes for the spacers which I got from a local hardware shop for the princely sum of £24.00.
The SWR readings are spot on at 1:2:1 from 28.050 right up to 28.450 which will do nicely considering I’ll be mostly using it for CW.

Have now got to mount it on to my test mast which I will do over the weekend, I'll then have a play and report back!

A few pictures below; two from the beginning of the rebuild when assembling the old TV boom and making the reflector and one of the finished product in the advancing evening dusk (shows how keen I am)!

 Dismantled after the first attempt where I re-calculated the dimensions, the center block is an old bread board.

 The join for the reflector, a simple bit of carpentry an some jubilee clips

  The finish product in the evening dusk, not bad for a days work!

A final view from  from above!

Well this morning I did some more testing and all is working is it should so connected up to the FT1000 and fired it up, a definite improvement on 10 meters against the cobweb, especially with the Moxon pointed west where the US stations were booming in. The other good news is that with the ATU on the Yaesu I can add 12 meters and had a good CW qso's with a Russian station that gave me  a 579 and then a Japanese station who came back with a 589. The plan now is to find myself a light weight TV rotator and have some fun spinning it round! More updates to follow.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Building a 10M Moxon Antenna

Since the 10 meter band is now well and truly open I’d love to have a yagi for a bit of directional activity, but unfortunately I don’t think I will get the official stamp of approval so I’ve been pondering what else I could use similar to a yagi.

I did some searching on the web and came across the Moxon Antenna which looked to be just the job and fairly easy to build. I didn’t fancy the standard wire antenna with the cross support poles, I wanted something a little sturdier, and found this website which describes all the details for constructing a tubular Moxon including the Moxgen software for working out the dimensions. I inputted the information but setting the thickness was a bit tricky because I had different aliminium tube sizes throughout the rectangle (bought on the cheap from the local hardware store). Bending the tubing proved interesting but I managed to borrow a small pipe bender that proved very useful. Eventually I set it at an average of 12 mm on the Moxgen calculator thinking that if I overestimated I could always trim. (Better to have the length than it being too short).

So far the rectangle has been built and I have used an old TV antenna as the boom and pinched the plastic feeder complete with circuit board, but on testing I think I have over complicated the build so have removed the TV feeder (the circuit was shorting) and literally just attached the end of the coax using jubilee clips to each side of the antenna. First results show the SWR to be very high at 28.100 but an acceptable 1.3 at approx 26.500 so some trimming will be required.

Having done further checks on the thickness of the tubing I realised I had over compensated. The tubing is a mixture of 8, 10 and 12mm with the majority being at 10mm. so I have recalculated at 10mm and of course my original dimensions are slightly out, hence the high SWR. So last night I dismantled the rectangle and will now begin to re-trim to the correct lengths for 10mm, lets see if that makes difference, I’m told that the space between the reflector and driven elements are very important so I must make sure I get that absolutely correct; Any advice would be mucho appreciated……..more updates and pictures later!

Monday, October 24, 2011

RSGB and finally Building My Antenna

Reading the new RSGB forum website I am somewhat dismayed. The site was set up for members to share views about various proposals the RSGB board is putting together to get them out of the very serious mess they find themselves in.

I am not presently a member of the RSGB I found it was too expensive for what it provided; it was run by out of touch/distant folk that either didn’t want or wouldn’t listen to their membership. Finally and more worryingly even back in the 90s it did not seem to have a structured future. Reading the forum seems to concur what I thought back in the 90s and nothing has changed. Indeed from reading some of the posts I really don’t think the RSGB has long to live.

I don’t know how they are going to get out of their mess and to be honest I really don’t care, I don’t want to be part of a LTD company that tries to represent the UK amateur population when in fact realistically they only represent about 40%, the other 60% have seen the light and stayed away. Don’t get me wrong I love my hobby and actively spend at least an hour a day on the radio communicating to various parts of the world. But to me that’s all it is, a hobby I’m not interested in the politics associated with something like the RSGB. I’d far rather start all over again and have a national club that deals with the government (OFCOM) in covering the basics of managing the frequencies, everything else can be extra or arranged separately.

Changing the subject I managed to put together a nice little dipole connector over the weekend following a very good instructional video off You Tube (see previous post). It didn’t take me long to put together but finding the PVC caps in the UK proved interesting but finally after much searching I traced some off Ebay. I now have a very nice 30 meter inverted V antenna that will replace the old antenna that presently hangs at the top of my mast. The past few days have been extremely windy and the poor old antenna is suffering somewhat and will soon break apart, hence the reason for building the new one. So far having trimmed it up I am getting good SWR readings of 1:3 across the band, hopefully provided I have the time I will hoist it up next weekend.

 An easy to build dipole connector

Monday, October 17, 2011

Work on the Antennas and Some DX at Last

I’ve been thinking about improving my 30meter inverted vee. Although it’s a great little antenna it was really built as a quick fix (it only took me an hour to build) and I would like to make something more substantial with 14gauge wire and a strong centre piece. I found an interesting site on YouTube which shows how to build a good strong feed point out of PVC caps and plugs, I’m hoping to have a shop this week and see if I can pick up the necessary bits and have ago at building one next weekend.

The airwaves were buzzing last week and besides numerous contacts with the States I managed at last to make a strong CW contact with ZL, the first for a number of years, more importantly to prove to myself that my home made Cobweb antenna is working well. It's amazing when you hit some DX, I was punching the air and shouting away, I suspect the next door neighboors were wondering what the hell I was doing!

Most mornings now when I switch on the radio before going to work I hear quite a few VK stations which just goes to prove that at last the bands are picking up. 10 meters was wide open this weekend and there were loads of stations calling from the US, I think there must have been a contest on, unfortunately I was busy with other things so could not get in the action but it's another sign that things are changing for the better.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Radio 4 and the Long Wave Band

Evidently only ten remain and if they were to be replaced with newer valves and these were slightly faulty then all sorts of problems could occur.

So how, does one ask, did they get round this in the old days? Presumably there was some test facility (a dummy load of sorts) or something similar. You’d think with all the thousands of radio Amateurs around the country or for that matter around the world who still use valves for their transmitters and receivers would be able to advise the BBC on valve manufacturing and service and would it really cost millions of pounds to build a new long wave transmitter?

I have to be honest here, I don’t trust the digital age, I don’t like the fact that the frequencies are pre set and that I have no choice in being able to wander the bands to select what I want, I suspect I’m not alone in this thinking. I for one will be hanging on to my old radios for as long as I can, so that I’m free to roam the airwaves and select what I want to listen to!

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Cobweb is Back Up

Last evening I managed to pop up a ladder and re raise the mast so that the Cobweb is back up to 35 feet. I’ve decided to keep the Mystery antenna up in the silver birch and have raised the 30 meter inverted V on the mast via a flag pulley system. I did a quick check with the antenna analyzer and everything was spot on with a good 1.2:1 swr at 10.120 MHz.

Interestingly though when using the auto tuner on the FT1000 Mk V it tunes as normal until you get to10.107, for some reason between 10.100 to 10.107 it struggles, but eventually after 10 seconds or so tunes up. It’s the same on 40 meters down around 7.000 - 7.007 the ATU struggles. I thought this was just the limit of the bandwidth for each antenna, but when doing a check with the analyzer the readings are still good, I think the trouble is I was so used to my old FT 990 that used to tune anything that I expect all auto tuners to be instantaneous which of course is not the case.
Anyway it’s no big deal as the system all works well and I can happily transmit and receive with no issues.

Very tempted now to start thinking about some sort of Top Band antenna, although what sort/type, I just don't know yet. I have the usual constraints, limited room and limited height, but that's half the fun, trying to work out what will fit and to get the optimum performance!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cosmic Morse Code

Here's a bit of fun for all you funky people out there! Cosmic Morse

And then there was the serious stuff, this is unbelievable! Super Morse

Finally this is just plain weird Beethoven's Morse

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mystery Antenna and Strange CW Moments

Readers will remember in my previous post I had lowered the cobweb antenna and mast in anticipation of the predicted severe weather.  At a loss without my beloved cobweb and with the current mast height set at a mere 20 feet there was a noticeable drop in signals. So having a brainwave I decided to drop the 30 meter antenna hanging up in my silver birch tree and replace it with the mystery antenna just so I have some reasonable coverage while this stormy weather continues, to be honest I doubt if I will have time this week to raise the cobweb back up, so it will be a while before things are back to normal.

Because it’s been some time since it was last used I’d forgotten how good the Mystery antenna is especially on 20 meters and with a bit of tuning on the ATU I can work most of the bands from 40 up, except 15 which for some reason the old antenna really dislikes, not sure why this is but I shall trawl the net and see what comes up, unless someone else has an explanation?

Had one of my weird CW moments yesterday, just sat in front of the radio and no matter how I tried I couldn’t get my brain in to the receive mode, either everything was too fast or my writing skills were up the shoot, and when something did sink in I froze on reply, very strange!

In the end I gave up and in desperation had a listen to the local sideband chat on 80. The main topic seemed to be the bad weather that was heading our way, but unfortunately the chaps talking had very dull monotonous tones and soon I was so bored I fell asleep and was only later awoken by some chap trying to tune up his amp, it does make a great alarm clock!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Windy Weather on the Way

I knew there was a good reason why I changed my scaffold pole for a proper mast. The Met office has issued a weather warning for possible gales but certainly heavy winds, so I have dropped the cobweb down 15 feet so that it's nice and secure and hopefully no chance of blowing away.
After I'd dropped it down I did a quick tune up and it's suprising how much it effects the receive/transmit capability, the signals were very much down but I had no problem contacting Europe and happily did a quick qso with a French station to make sure everything was as it should be.

Living up in the Cotswolds at 800 ASL I've learn't to realise that that it can get quite windy up here and if the forecast is for gust of 45 mph you can bet your bottom dollar that where we are they will easily reach 55mph and possibly higher. If you hear no more after this post you'll know we been blown away!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Q Code

Whilst happily tapping away the other day my mind started wondering about the Q code. Who started it and what as it really used for? Interestingly when looking it up in Wikipidia  it was created around 1909 by the British Government for the use by British ships and coastal stations.
When you see the full list it’s quite large and the code pretty well covers everything for maritime use, well that’s what it was set up to do!

Some of the more obscure ones include, QUQ which is “ Shall I train my searchlight nearly vertical on a cloud, and if your aircraft is seen, deflect the beam upwind and on the water?" QRC "By what enterprise are the accounts for charges for your station settled?" And a personal favourite, QUB "Can you give me in the following order information concerning: the direction in degrees and the speed of the surface wind, visibility, present weather and amount, type and height of base cloud above surface elevation at ........?" All excellent stuff!

Of course intermingled within the original code is our own amateur radio Q code, three of which I find interesting mainly because I don't remember them from my CW course many moons ago. QRA - Name, QRB - Distance and QSD - Defective keying (I could have certainly used that one on a few occasions. - Happy Tapping!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Search Continues

The story continues for the ultimate 30 meter DX antenna but so far with little luck. However I should point out that my little inverted vee performed remarkably well this week by having two contacts with US stations, one from Connecticut and the other from Texas the latter I am particularly proud of.
Got some good contacts with the home brew cobweb especially a couple of stations from Japan, so all things considered I’m pleased as punch since all my antennas are home made. 

Searching around the shack I have realized I have a number of antennas sitting there doing absolutely nothing, a Carolina Windom, a standard Windom, a Mystery Antenna and a 30 meter Delta Loop and my 30 meter Vertical, seeing some of the stuff that’s being sold on EBay I thought I might give a go at selling them off, or if that doesn’t work giving them away to a worthy cause, well see what happens and I’ll let you know!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Contesting Weekend and Planning a Vertical

I have to be honest, I’m not a great contest fan but I do realise that there are loads of operators out there who love it and it’s a big part of our hobby. This weekend when switching on the rig I tuned up on 20 meters and heard the familiar TEST on cw. Checking 40 and 15 meters it was the same and there was a hive of activity as the contester were busy calling cq. 10 meters seemed closed, so all the contesters were concentrating on the 3 available frequencies, the noise was incredible and I found it hard to understand any of the cw either because it was just too quick or it seemed to me it was overlapping, (just goes to show how much I still have to learn).

So I switched over to the WARC bands (30 meters to be precise) which was also very busy, no doubt others like me had switched over to see if they could just have a chat on 30 or 17! For the first time in a while I heard some VK stations but had no luck as I was up against many of our European cousins who were busily turning up the candle to try and get in on the action. So I had a quick cw chat with a couple of stations and then decided to spend some time working out how I was going to improve my 30 meter antenna.

I’m still looking for the ultimate 30 meter DX antenna, but am like most realistic as to what I will be able to achieve. However I did manage to put up my 30 meter vertical (see earlier post) and tried to compare it to the inverted v and the loop I had raised the week before. There is no question the quietest antenna is the loop but not far behind is the vertical, which by all accounts from such a simple antenna works very well. But with the usual difficulties of how to fit each different antenna in to my garden without upsetting the XYL I decided for the moment to stick with my inverted v, at least until next week when I am taking a holiday. I may well then decide to really start having ago at building a sturdy 30 meter vertical and hopefully have the time to do some proper planning and have a good think where to bury all those ground radials!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Frustrating Times

I’ve decided the more I’m learning about antennas the more frustrating it can get. I suppose it’s because I’m a bit of a perfectionist and like to have things set up and working absolutely top notch, if it’s not I find it annoying.

Currently the W3DZZ in the inverted V position is up on my mast and the 30 meter inverted V is hanging off the silver birch tree. The 30 meter is made of uncovered flexi cable and is rubbing against the many leaves and smaller branches, I doubt it makes much difference but I do read that having unprotected wire against the leaves and twigs will not help. The W3DZZ is using standard electric cable about 14 gauge but is covered and the traps are heavily protected, so it would probably be better if I swapped them around, which I shall do this weekend.

I am still not happy with the 30 meter though, I’m sure I can do better and having read up on loops I’m positive I was going wrong with my first attempt. I think I’m now going to have a go with Skywire loops and see if I can progress, if not I still have my vertical which I made some time ago for portable use, maybe I could incorporate that in to my little antenna farm?  

The idea of the 30 meter antenna is purely for DX work so besides having the correct antenna I need to get the positioning right, especially if using the inverted V. The height is unfortunately set at around 35 feet and I can go no higher but I can move the antenna’s azimuth which may help. Having the vertical may prove a better DX antenna in the long run we’ll just have to see.

The cobweb works well especially on 20 and 15 meters where most of the time what I hear I can contact, but the bands are quiet, it’s just not the same as the last sunspot maximum which is a real shame, especially for all the new arrivals to amateur radio, they just don’t know what they are missing!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Further Learning About the FT 1000 MP V

 I was busy this weekend playing with the 1000 MP V, I had a really good read of the manual and managed to set the rig up to how I wanted it. There is an excellent website dedicated to the Yaesu FT 1000 MP and Mark V  which has now helped me out twice on either an issue or for general help. Interestingly this particular rig I have has been set to transmit out of the amateur bands, which for me is great when it comes to CB work. Living on a farm all the workers have CB in their tractors so it’s quite nice to be able to chat to them and should any emergency arrive they also know they can contact me via the radio.

But there’s a cautionary tale here which I have just had this morning; yesterday when contacting the farm community on the CB frequency I was using the FM mode and obviously had set the squelch set up high.
This morning I switched on the rig and tuned up on 30 meters having my usual hunt for any DX. As I was tuning down the band the receive went dead, the radio was still on but nothing was coming out of the speaker. This was happening intermittently just for a few seconds and then it would come back up. Panic, had I somehow broken the receive? After doing some thorough checks I was completely baffled and went to the website I have mentioned to see if there was an obvious answer I had missed. Hopefully you’ve guessed the problem; the squelch was still set high for the CB frequency!

I have taken the 30 meter Delta Loop antenna down and replaced it back with the inverted V. To be honest although a quieter antenna, the difference in receive was pretty small and to be fair already having a mast with the cobweb and the W3DZZ trap, the Delta Loop was a bit of an eye sore that was making the garden look like a telephone exchange! My family are pretty good when it comes to my hobby but even I realised that sometimes I can go a bit too far!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Panic! The Toy Stops Working

Turning on the FT 1000 MP V this morning I checked I was connected to the correct antenna and proceeded to tune up on 30 meters by pressing the ATU button. The transmit indicator appeared but just stayed on transmit there was no movement from the ATU and no sound, it was as if the tranceiver had frozen. I switched off the radio and and then turned it back on, all was back as it should be with the receiver working correctly, so I attempted it again, same thing happened the radio froze. Panic, "I've only had the radio for a week or so, Hell and damn" (or words to that effect), "I'll have to return it to the shop", all these things went through my mind. But then I took a deep breath and had a think and went through each switch to check everything was as it should be, and bingo I found the problem.
............................Can you guess what the problem was?
The Mox button was on; I must have accidently hit it when switching on the radio, one click and panic over!

A further note; I found out when actually sitting down and reading the manual that the ATU stores 39 memories, if you go over this total and try to tune up, the system may well freeze. I suspect many owners will already know this but it's worth mention for the newbies like me!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Experimenting with a Delta Loop

Using an inverted vee for the 30 meter band I have had some good results but quite frankly the noise level is fairly high so I have been searching around looking for some other type of antenna which will give me good dx capabilities but will have a quieter noise level. After trawling the internet and seeing various ideas I came across the sloping delta loop and having checked the dimensions to make sure it would fit within the garden boundary went ahead with building one.

It didn’t take me too long and within a day I had set one up at 30ft with the feeder at the top so it was radiating horizontally. To be honest it was quieter noise wise, but from reading all the reports I should have also been getting better reception but it seemed the same as the inverted vee, so I decided to try and raise the whole antenna to make it a level loop to see if there was any difference. Again a similar response so either I’m not doing something right or I have tweaked it all I can, it still has the shape of a triangle but no longer sloping, any ideas?

What I might try next is a quad simply by changing the shape but keeping the antenna at the same height, see if that makes any difference.

- The Next Day:
An update: Just goes to show if you read up on the internet you can find out where you are going wrong! Checking out horizontal loops I read about ”cloud warming” and realised that my radiating signals were going straight up, a confirmation of this was when I heard a UK station who was around 50 miles away with a 5/9 signal.

So I reverted back to a sloping delta loop with the base being about 10ft off the ground, not perfect I know but at least it should stop the cloud warming. This morning before going to work I switched on the Yaesu and tuned in to 30 meters, blow me, there was a VK station coming in at 579!
Just goes show a little bit of tinkering and internet knowledge can go a long way.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A New Mast

I currently have a collection of light weight scaffold poles bolted together to create a 35 foot mast which is attached to the side of my house. The home brew cobweb is bolted to the mast and an inverted vee for 30m is attached via a winch system.

Although secure via 3 wall brackets and a set of guy wires, I am always wary when the wind gets up (I live on a hill), the cobweb can be seen swaying when the breeze starts blowing and I always have a panic when it really starts to move although it is pretty secure. However, If the wind did rise rapidly and I needed to take action fast I’d have very little chance of dropping the mast quickly, mainly because it is very heavy and it’s really a two man operation although I can manage it on my own but it does take time.

So I have bought a 40 foot telescopic mast which in theory should provide me with the option of being able to reduce the height of the antenna quickly without having to remove any of the wall brackets should the weather turn very bad.

The mast arrived the other day and on first inspection looks ideal for what I require, the base being approximately 7 feet in length and just over two inches in width which is roughly the same width as the scaffold pole, so I should be able to use the same brackets. The beauty of the new mast is that at each section there are 4 metal eyes for attaching guy wires, so that the mast will be much more secure when raised to its full height. Come the winter gales I will be able to zip up the ladder and reduce the height of the mast without too much bother.

 The new mast in all its glory, the line going across the pic is a telephone cable which is actually some distance away!

The 1000 MP V has settled in to its new home and I am quickly learning how to use the various controls as well as getting to grips with setting the menus up to how I want them.
I’m still amazed at how good the receiver is especially using the standard filters, heaven knows how good it will be when I manage to get the optional filters! So far I've had a few qso’s and reports coming back are very good. The other day whilst listening on 20 meters I heard an American station calling CQ and there were quite a few stations trying to reply. For a quick test, I went straight in at 150 watts and was immediately given a 599, not bad although normally I’d never go above 100 watts!

The Yaesu FT 1000 MkV

The FT 990 is currently on eBay and hopefully fingers crossed I should get a reasonable price which will help to cover the cost of the new rig. Although it’s a pity I can’t keep the FT 990 as my second rig, but sadly at the moment money comes first!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A New Toy

Well I’ve gone and done it, I’ve bought a Yaesu FT 1000 Mk V!
To be honest I’ve been hankering after the Mk V for sometime, having owned a 1000 MP many moons ago and although the FT-990 is a great rig, my preference was to always go back.

The FT 990 is a superb radio with a great receiver and ATU but compared to the FT 1000 MP V I had to do a double take because the difference was very noticeable. Receive on the FT 1000 MP V is a real treat, you have a much better filtering system so that you can narrow down interference and grab those stations right in the background.

So far I’ve only done one  qso with the new rig but got good reports and it was very easy to use. My only complaint so far is that the spot tone adjustment is situated at the back of the radio (unlike the original FT1000) which can be a pain, also the spot button is right underneath the sub receive dial so you need a delicate touch. Obviously this is a used radio but it has been thoroughly serviced even to the point that some of the lubricant sealant was still visible when the radio first arrived so a good clean was required. No extra filters have been fitted but I am already thinking about purchasing some, we'll just have to see what pops up on Ebay!

It’s early days yet and I need to thoroughly go through the manual, the FT 990 did not have menu settings etc so it’s a big change that I need to get used to, but so far I am very pleased and early worries about spending such a large sum of money have changed to why didn’t I do this before?
The FT990 will always be a real favourite and it’s a shame because I would like it as my second rig, but sadly it will have to be sold; I need to balance the books for buying the FT 1000 MP V!

Messing Around with an FT 1000

I’ve recently had to do some dog sitting whilst friends were away. Looking after three German Pointers can prove quite interesting but luckily having previously owned a GP I know how they behave and the few days I stayed at my friends house went pretty well.

One of the reasons I volunteered is that my friend owns a very nice FT1000 and as I am thinking of replacing my old FT990 I thought it would be worth a play just to see the differences and how the radios match up together. Now I know the FT1000 is as old as my FT 990 but eventually I hope to purchase another 1000MP (I had one for a short time many moons ago) and so having owned one knew that the FT1000 would be similar since the 1000MP is based on the FT1000.

After successfully disengaging myself from the dogs and getting them settled, I sat down in my friends shack/office to have a play with the FT1000 and the first thing I noticed is that my friend has a strange set up between radio and antenna. He uses a Hustler antenna with the ground radials spread out at only a 100 degree angle (pretty small). Also the antenna is raised next to a telegraph pole with two wires (one electrical and the other a telephone cable) either side of the hustler; this was not a good start!

Switching on the FT 1000 my initial suspicions were correct, the background noise was extremely high not only from where the antenna was placed but also from the internal wiring in the shack/office, he also had two computers nearby, (after all it is his office) and with the main lights on the noise was deafening! Only strong signals were getting through everything else was drowned by the background noise, such a shame but there was very little I could do except turn all the lights and computers off and see if it got any better. Compared to my cobweb setup at home I suddenly realised how lucky I was with reception.

I nearly gave up there and then but thought I might as well continue to have a play and the first thing I noticed was how big the radio is compared to the FT 990. It was amazing how sensitive the main dial was, just a touch could send it moving across the band, very nice compared to the FT 990 but took a little getting used to.

As I’m a CW fan I went straight to the key and immediately loved the way that a small green light appears when you are on spot frequency, something that the FT 990 is sadly lacking. Contacting a German station who was calling CQ I had a quick chat and he gave me a 579 report although I could only give a 559 with loads of QRM mainly due to the background noise which I was suffering with, it was very frustrating to have a wonderful radio in front of me but unfortunately with horrid noises coming out of the speaker. I soon realised that I could not do a proper test as the background interference was so bad, but it highlighted to me just how lucky I was with my own noise free set up at home.

However, I did manage to have a play with the general set up of the rig and was extremely impressed, no manual was available so I went on memory from the using the 1000 MP and within a short period I was switching to the sub VFO and playing with all the filtering which was great fun.  But in reality the test could not be completed properly so I will borrow my friends FT1000 and take it home for a few days.
However, the initial play certainly gave me food for thought and has strengthened my resolve to purchase either a good FT 1000 or an FT 1000MP Mk V.
Watch this space!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

First CW Contact for a Few Days

Is it just me or does everyone suffer with the same problem?
Whenever I leave CW for a few days my qso’s are terrible, I’m slow and find it difficult to engage my brain in to morse mode. Just had a qso with a guy in Sweden (SA5ACN) nice chap, but I almost felt embarrassed my morse was so bad! Anyway we got there in the end and I hope things will pick up once I have a few more qso’s!
Joakim if your reading this sorry!!!..............Now back to the key for some practice!

Monday, July 11, 2011

What Sunspots?

When it comes to working the radio I seem to have got myself in to a daily routine. First thing in the morning around after making myself a strong cup of coffee I switch the rig on and generally have a listen on 30 meters just to see if there is anything interesting happening.

Sometimes I get lucky and hear a distant station but more than not it’s very quiet. Whether it’s me I don’t know but so far the present so called sunspot maximum seems to be a complete washout. Occasionally you will hear something interesting, for instance today I heard a station from Tennessee calling CQ unfortunately due to lack of time before departing for work and the fact that there were many stations trying to reply I didn’t bother having a go myself.

But it did make me wonder, during the last sunspot maximum Tennessee would have been a run of the mill station to contact. So far this year I have heard New Zealand and Australia but I can count the number of times on one hand and only on 20 meters. I remember back during the last maximum when living in town regularly having conversations with a chaps in ZL and VK with 5/9s both ways on 20, 17 and 21 MHz. The house that I lived in was in a built up area and about 50’ above sea level and I was using a standard G5RV.

Today I live at 900’ ASL out in the middle of nowhere with a clear take off area surrounding the house and without doubt far better antennas, but the contacts are not nearly the same as back in the nineties. I even got to the stage wondering whether my antennas were not working correctly, but after a thorough check I know everything is running as it should.

Reading up on the web I note that the present reports for sunspots are pretty weak and like everyone I am hoping that things will soon pick up. ............For the moment it seems long gone are they days you could fire up the rig switch over to 10 meters and get a taxi driver in New York on just a wet piece of string!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Building a 30m Vertical in a Couple of Hours

As I like to get out and about I wanted something reasonably small and easy to carry for portable work, I came up with this simple solution for my 30 meter work.

1. Find a choc block connector (11 or more connectors) and attach by screwing it inside a small waterproof 100mm x 100mm plastic box, I used a spare 11 choc block connector which fitted snugly in my small box, but obviously the bigger the box the larger the connector.

2. Using some thick copper wire (20 gauge) I cut 9 x 1” inch lengths and bent each one in to a U shape and joined up 10 of the block connectors, this meant that 20 connectors were now electrically joined together to be used for ground radials connections.

3. Drill out 20 holes in the each side of the box (10 each side roughly aligned to each connector slot) then measure and cut 20 pieces of cheap multi strand telephone wire (minimum of 4 to a ¼ length) to use as ground radials. (Any wire will do, I had some telephone wire hanging about, the beauty being its 4 stranded so therefore quadrupling the wire).
Thread through and attached the radials to the 10 connectors of the choc box.

4. Take some antenna wire, (I found some spare copper flexi weave to use for the main radial) and cut to size for 30meters (approx 23 and 1/2’), drill a small hole at the end of the plastic box which has the remaining unused connector block, feed through the wire/flex and attached to one side of the remaining connector in the choc block.

5. Drill a final larger hole in the side of the plastic box in line with the wire antenna connector (this is for the coax).

All completed except for adding a few more radials; note that the top connector takes the centre coax wire and the antenna. The earth from the coax attaches to the second connector in from the top.
6. With the coax fed through attach the centre wire of the coax in to the choc block connector hole opposite the antenna wire and connect the brazed outer ground to one of the block connections holding a radial.
Fix a PL259 to the other end of the coax.
Close the box up.

7. Test and trim the antenna length accordingly.
Do not plug in to the radio without testing.

After screwing up the box up I took it out to the garden, laid out the ground radials and hung the antenna up in a tree, did a quick trim and check with an MFJ 259 to get a 1:4:1 SWR. Then connected up to the radio and was soon tapping out to a chap in Sicily who gave me a 599 with 10 watts. Isn’t Amateur Radio fun?

Incidentally, the beauty with this antenna is you can have various ground radials lengths to cover whatever band you choose. So by just inserting the correct antenna length you can quickly change frequency. I have two wire antennas set for 30 and 40 meters and with a minimum of 4 ground radials set for ¼ length of the lowest band.
With the ground radials and antenna rolled up I have a small portable antenna.
I also have a 9 metre fibre glass pole that I can break down in to 3 single metre lengths so I can hang the wire off a 9 metre pole if no trees are available.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sending Good Code

I’ve got to ask is it just me or do a number of operators speed along unnecessarily as if trying to "keep up with the Jones" and therefore end up sending unreadable CW.

I am I suppose the average CW operator who happily taps away at approximately 16/18 wpm. I’m a member of the FISTS club who actually taught me a lot, mainly to be patient with other operators and simply send clearly and if necessary slowly, their aptly named motto being “accuracy transcends speed” is certainly very true.
I rarely call CQ nowadays, simply because half the operators who come back to me do not try to reply at my speed but insists of rattling away at 20/25 wpm or more and inevitably its bad cw. I have asked operators to QRS and many have, but others just go away as if telling you they have no time for your low speed. So I just gave up sending CQ and thought better to just reply to someone you hear sending good code at a reasonable speed.

Please don’t get me wrong there are a lot of very good CW operators out there but sometimes you come across the odd one who is diabolical.
I am never going to be the best CW operator going, or a 30 wpm man but having gained some experience there is no question, when I wander around the airways listening to all the CW operators out there you soon pick out the good and the bad, for me its more the correct spacing and gaps, I’ll happily to listen to a 30 wpm conversation if its sent well because even I can then pick up snippets of the conversation quite easily.

Interestingly when I do manage to pick up USA the CW operators there are normally very good, they use the full punctuation and instead of the usual RST, Name and QTH then close the call will happily have a casual conversation with you and to the inexperience European user this can for a time be quite off putting. But I found it taught me a great deal as I suddenly realised I was getting to the habit of guessing the letters/ words but with casual conversation you just cannot do this, it certainly keeps you on your toes.
So to all operators out there, have some patience we are not all speed merchants sometimes it’s nice to slow down and have a casual conversation!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fun with Antennas - Part 1

Having been licensed for a number years I like many have gone down the commercial route in both rigs and antennas, buying various base units from Kenwood’s, Icom’s to Yaesu’s and using different commercially made antenna’s having little or no patience to build my own.

A while back I took a break for a year or two and came back in to the hobby with a slightly different attitude, especially with regard to antenna’s and understanding how they work. Having sold all of my equipment I had to start all over again and in my search came across a local radio amateur who was selling a Yaesu Ft990 belonging to the late Frank Watts G5BM.

The legendary frank watts G5BM
Frank was a bit of a legend round these parts, a confirmed CW enthusiast I actually visited the legendary Frank years before when starting out on CW. I watched him do a few qso's and was amazed at his speed and light touch, he was a master of all types of CW keys. He was also kind enough to show me all his homebrew equipment including a fair few antennas he had made over the years. I always remember him saying, “You may own a nice rig but remember it is the antenna that does most of the work”.

Remembering our conversation all those years ago got me thinking that I should really start making my own antennas, partly because of cost and more importantly because I could learn another part of Amateur Radio. I figured the best way for me to learn was to start tinkering and having a go at building a simple antenna, that way I get the satisfaction of  knowing that when I hit the jackpot of a DX station I’d  know that I’d done a lot of the work to make it all happen!

Since having the break I had moved house and with a nice new garden to play in I could start afresh. The whole plot was nearly half an acre and the amount of the garden I had negotiated with the members of my family for radio work was approximately 90’x 50’ which gave me plenty of room for some reasonably sized antennas. At one end of the garden is a silver birch tree about 40’ high which could give me and ideal spot to hoist a dipole and at the other end I had managed to raise an old aluminium scaffold pole with an extension to give me a similar height of about 40’. If necessary I could also use the roof apex of the house which again was around 35’.

Whilst searching around in the shack I found I still had an old Carolina Windom 80, it was very long but with a bit of planning it would just squeeze it in the garden, however it would definitely look odd and out of place. So I did some research on the web and came up with the idea of reducing the size to make a Carolina Windom 40; 66’ in total, which would fit snugly down the length of the garden. After much measuring and re measuring I did the deed and cut the antenna to its new length 25’ short and 41’ long and reducing the size of the vertical element from 20’ to 10’. Borrowing an MFJ 259 I did some quick checks and trimmed each side to get a reasonable SWR reading of 2:1 for the whole of the 40m band, further checks showed acceptable SWR readings for 20m, 15m, and 10m and using my tuner I could happily use 30m 17m and 12m with no major problems. 80m could be tuned up with patience but since I rarely used that particular band I thought I could live with this problem. All in all the Carolina Windom 40 was a good antenna and produced great results but to be honest it still felt like I had cheated and was still using a commercially made antenna.

I have to be very careful when it comes to antennas, I happened to live in an area of outstanding natural beauty (the Cotswolds) so there is no way local residents are going to enjoy seeing a very high antenna or tower! What I needed was to build something that would happily fit in the garden be fairly discreet and be a true home made multi band system.
I trawled over the internet looking at various designs of multi band antennas, seeing what would be relatively easy to build and more importantly put out a good signal.

There’s no question that before the yagis and beams the old boys had some brilliant and intuitive ideas when it came to antenna design. I came across two easy designs; the classic random length dipoles fed with open wire feed line and the W3DZZ a simple a multi band trap antenna. The W3DZZ was cheap to build and a reasonable size to fit neatly in the garden. More importantly I could learn about traps, something in my early radio days I didn’t really understand and yet are actually quite simple to build, especially coaxial traps.

Taking the sensible route, I decided to start with the basics and chose the random length dipole with an open wire feeder which was even easier to build. I had some spare 14 gauge wire and trimmed to a half wavelength for 40m. Another rummage in the shack and found some 300 ohm ribbon cable. Within a short time I had completed the dipole and connected the feeder, now to connect to the rig; but there was a problem; my ATU would not accept the open wire feeder. Back to the web I searched frantically for an answer, how to transfer a 300 ohm feeder in to a 50 ohm cable for a connection? I quickly started learning about baluns; this is what is so great about the internet, by the end of the day and after some experimentation I had built my first 4:1 balun. I connected up my newly made balun and plugged the coax in to the back of the tuner and switched the rig on, hey presto I was up and running and within minutes was talking to a Frenchman who was giving me a good 5/9 report.

Pleased as I was, this antenna was definitely fine for local European traffic but was quite weak when it came to DX. Within days of realising this I immediately set about building the W3DZZ hoping that I might have some better luck.  Following instructions from various websites the coax traps were fairly easy to build although getting the coax to right length sometimes proved a little tricky. I used an MJF 259 to check that all was well they tuned up nicely, 1:1 right on the cw frequencies I required. For my first attempt the traps worked well on 7 and 3 MHz and I was getting some great contacts on these bands but disappointingly although titled a multi bander it was very quiet on the other bands compared to the Carolina Windom and the random dipole.

I was still certain that I could build an antenna which was better than the Windom and so once again I did some research on the internet and quite by chance came across the Mystery antenna. This very simple to build antenna used a mixture of coax and 14/16 gauge wire, it only took me a day to construct and after a quick tune and trim I soon had it hanging up in the Silver birch as an inverted vee.
First results were fairly good and unsurprisingly matched against the W3DZZ it was down on 3 and 7 MHz  by a couple of Db. But it worked extremely well on 14 MHz and as a multi bander it easily matched the Carolina Windom, at last I had built something that was near to matching a commercially made antenna.

Morse Code - Come Over to the Dark Side

It’s outdated, it isn't that easy to learn, it can be a real pain! 
But if you perceiver Morse code can be a real reward that I guarantee will give you hours of fun. It's the mode that can get through the static, the QRM, the QRN and other interference. Its the mode that will get you across the world with 5 watts of power, you'll never master it because your always learning it, but it's the mode that does become the most fun to use!

I think it took me about 6 months before I could say I was actually proficient at CW, which means I could understand and reply to a conversation of perhaps 12 words per minute. Like all learners I struggled, god knows how many pencils I broke in frustration, but I had an excellent teacher who had the patience of a saint and just told me to keep going, practise each night, don't give up. Each operator is different, some will pick it up easily, others will really struggle; it is after all learning another language. 

But once you have mastered CW it is a great form of communication and I find it fascinating, simply because I am having a conversation with someone in a completely different language that a lot of people don’t understand. It’s a bit like someone speaking Gaelic or Welsh, it’s actually a rare form of communication and one that should be treasured. Also in radio terms when other forms of communication are unable to get through Morse code can be a good last resort.

Some operators use paddle keys others use straight, some fast some slow and some can be mind bogglingly bad and others can make the code sound like a wonderful tune. The bad ones will make you shake your head in disbelief (the majority of the bad are simply because they are sending too fast)! But when when you hear someone sending good morse it is music to you ears and will make you smile!

The two keys I use most often are the Kent and the Czech paddle key

So to anyone learning the fine art of Morse Code I would simply say, practise and practise and more practise. Oh and practise, once you have a basic knowledge of about 5 words per minute get on the air and force yourself to do as many QSO's as you can every day, no matter what. Honestly it's the best way to speed up and nothing to worry about, there are CW experts out there who will reply to you and most importantly go at your speed.
You will make mistakes, it doesn't matter, it happens, so what? It's your hobby, enjoy it and just continue on.

Recently an old timer I know with 40 years CW experience said to me "when starting out, if you do 3 to 5 QSO's every day for a minimum of 1 month I guarantee you will be at around 12 wpm by the end that month and wandering what all the fuss was about"! Do you know I think he's right, (I didn't and it cost me 6 months of hard work!)
And one more thing.............Practise!

Further Fun with Antennas - Part 2

So now I had three antennas the W3DZZ, the Mystery and the Carolina all working reasonably well but unfortunately my garden had taken on the look of a large antenna farm with wires criss crossing all over the place and members of my family were none too pleased. I must admit looking at all these wires did make me think that there must be an easier way.

Back when I first started amateur radio the best antenna I ever owned was the Cobwebb, a five band omni directional dipole which at 8’ square could fit in a small sized garden with little trouble, a simple compact layout that worked extremely well. But I had made a promise not to buy another commercially made antenna and in any case the price of £300 was out of the question.

However the thought did cross my mind that now I had some experience I could possibly have a go or at least an attempt at building one and I reasoned that other hams must have tried and succeeded. 

Once more I trawled through the internet and found a number of hams who had successfully built their own Cobwebs. Reading up on their experiences and by coming across the detailed plans of the original Cobwebb I thought it was worth a go.

The next day after making the decision to build I promptly went down to Maplins to buy the necessary kit, I ended up spending approximately £45 mostly on speaker cable and the junction box together with the connection wires. 

Within 3 days I had completed the connection box and by a stroke of luck also found an Australian ham on “YouTube” who had recently completed the antenna, (any potential builders out there it's well worth a view). Through following his video and reading the design plans it all seemed to come together pretty smoothly. My only problem was finding fibreglass poles to support the speaker wire and in the end I popped down to my local hardware store and located some lightweight wooden poles and after a good soaking in wood treatment they seemed to be fine for the job.

Overall the Cobweb took me ten days to build but I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. The antenna looked just like an original and seemed to weigh about the same. I mounted it on a 5ft pole to do some testing, fearing the worst that it would be a nightmare to trim, it was by all accounts one of the easiest parts of the job. The Cobweb is now mounted 35’ on my aluminium scaffold pole that has been moved so that it is attached against one of the walls to my house.

The finished product

The Windom and the W3DZZ have been taken down and stored away. The Mystery antenna is still up in my silver birch as an inverted vee and this covers the 80 and 40m bands when required. 

Since progressing with my CW I have also built a simple 30 meter inverted vee as I have found that neither the cobweb nor the Mystery covers that band particularly well but otherwise everything now seems to work fine. I  have now had good contacts from the US and Australia (atmospheric conditions permitting). 

The Cobweb is slightly above house height but no one has complained except for one neighbour who asked me what sort of TV reception did I get with that?
The next plan is to build myself a tilt over mast so that i don't try to break my back everytime I want to do adjustments, watch this space!

The Beginning

First licensed back in 1996 I‘ve always had a fascination with communications, I think it really kicked off back in the late 70s and early 80s when I was in the RAF, I managed to get in to the communications side of the RAF Regiment squadron I was serving in and it snowballed from there.

In 1979 I served for 6 months in Belize and one of my jobs was to set up comms with our main depot at RAF Bruggen back in Germany. This is where I first learnt about the art of atmospheric conditions, antenna designs and the intricacies of setting up a radio station. From then on I always had some kind of interest in radio first becoming a shortwave listener and then finally buckling down to take my Amateur radio exams. Once qualified (M0AUW) I managed to pass the 12 word a minute morse test and by the end of 96 had my first real amateur station up and running.

My main interests are building antennas and CW, with antennas it’s not so much theory or design, but getting my hands dirty. With CW it’s simply because at first I found it so much of a struggle to learn  but gradually rather like listening to a piece of music for the first time that you don’t really like, it slowly begins to grow on you and eventually you can’t get enough of it.

Some of my friends think that Amateur radio is a dark art full of strange people and others are actually fascinated by it, particularly with morse code, most believing it went out back in the 80s. However, it’s always a conversational opener especially when I have visitors; the first thing they notice as they arrive at my house is a whopping great antenna 40 feet up in the air!