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!