Thursday, May 24, 2012

Static Interference & Inrad Filters

I've been busy stuck with work all this week so have had very little time to play with the radio. However when I have had the chance to listen to the bands they have been extremely noisy especially 40 and 80 meters.
Lots of static, presumably thunderstorms over Europe, no doubt due to the warm weather they have been having, however in saying that, our cold patch seems to have moved away and the last few days have seen the temperature pick up with the good weather arriving over the UK.
I’m never sure how much the weather conditions play on the part of radio waves, many amateurs will tell you that it is very little and others will tell you a lot. All I know is the bands seem to get noisier in warmer weather and rightly or wrongly I reckon the higher bands like 15 and 12 meters seem to pick up. When the weather feels close though, I find DX is poor but when it’s cooler and fresher the DX seems better. In rainy conditions sometimes you get what sounds like a scratchy interference which is obviously rain drops on the antenna (especially the cobweb) and it is gone when the rain stops. So am I talking complete rubbish or is some of it true?
I cannot believe the difference the filters make on the FT1000MP V, especially the improvement kit. The background noise/hiss has dropped by at least a couple of db, also when you buy the kit you get an extra capacitor which once attached to the main receiver does much to improve the sound of CW. Certainly now when listening out for the weaker stations the filters come in to their own especially when there is QRM about, I can quickly cut the QRM using the filters, DSP and other assorted goodies I have at my disposal.
Since on the odd occasion when I have had to drop the cobweb through bad weather it obviously reduces my antennas, especially since I now have the W3DZZ on the same mast, so consequently if I drop the cobweb the other antenna has to come down as well. So I have raised an old home brew Windom antenna up in the silver birch tree that I had hidden away in my garage, (i'd actually forgotten I'd built it)! It’s set up for 40 meters but with my tuner I can use 30, 20 and 15 without a problem although signals are not nearly as strong as the cobweb or the W3DZZ, but in an emergency it does mean I can get out which is good news.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rigs that I have Owned

I was thinking the other day how many receivers and transceivers have I owned over the years (well since 1996) and decided to do a quick list (see below). I was actually amazed to find that the total was 14 pieces of equipment.
Looking back I wish I had kept some of the older equipment particularly the Sommerkamp receiver and transmitter which were great heavy pieces of equipment but had oodles of power (200 watts) and treated correctly were a joy to use. The Murphy receiver was huge and heavy and I remember collecting it from a second hand shop and requiring the help of two others just to get it in to the back of the car! But once set up it proved to be one of the most sensitive receivers I ever owned.
The Howes was one of my very first kits and taught me so much about the intricacies of the receiver which was especially useful to me as at the time I was taking my amateur exams. Like many amateurs the FT 101ZD was my first transceiver, a wonderful rig, tough as they come and would happily take all the rough treatment a newbie could throw at it and still come out smiling.
The Kenwood 850 was given to me by an amateur friend. It had been damaged when his house had been flooded and he believed it to be in a pretty poor state. I took it apart and sure enough it was covered in a green gunge! I set to work thinking that I had nothing to lose and gave it a good clean and with a little patience it slowly came back to life. Unfortunately I never got the auto ATU to work, but for a freebie it was one great rig.
The TS 950SD was a nice rig, but unfortunately for me my Brother in Law had the SDX and we did a comparison, naturally the SDX won hands down and I promptly traded it in for the then fairly new 1000MP! Sadly for me I was the owner ot the 1000MP for a short period of time, it had to go fairly quickly as I had been made redundant from work. It was a real shame but money was tight and there was nothing I could do, I swore then that I would at some stage I would get hold of another one when I could afford it.
And when times did pick up about a year later I bought myself a Kenwood TS 570D, which was a great little rig, I say little because I’d been used to these larger radios and here I was with something half the size. But it packed a good punch and was a very good CW rig and really got me to follow CW in a serious way. Unfortunately though, through work and other family commitments I started to do less and less amateur radio, until I finally realised that there was lots of radio gear lying around not being used so I went QRT and sold off most of my equipment.
A few years later when I began to have some spare time again I started to get back in to the radio scene and bought myself a second hand FT 990. I can’t say enough about the FT 990, it’s wonderful rig built like a rock with an ATU that would tune a piece of wet string, but I always knew I’d end up with another FT1000MP and once I had heard that a friend was selling a MK V I knew I had to have it and sadly to finance the new rig the 990 had to go.
I’m pretty content now, although I would fancy a crack at building a K3 or maybe one day owning an FTdx 5000, well, I can dream can't I?

The List:
Hallicraft S-38A
Uniden CR-2021
Murphy B40
Howes DRX10 receiver kit
Yaesu FT 101 ZD
Sommerkamp FRdx-400 receiver
Sommerkamp FLdx-500 transmitter
Kenwood TS 850S
Kenwood 950SD
Yaesu FT 1000 MP
Kenwood TS 570D
Yaesu FT 990
Yaesu FT 1000 MP Mk V

Monday, May 14, 2012

Rude Operators & CW Talk

I’ve read about rude operators but rarely heard them, but today whilst listening on 40 meters LSB I heard a local station tentatively calling CQ, he sounded like a newbie and was obviously quite nervous. 
Almost immediately a station came back giving their call sign and report, the initial caller then thanked him and proceeded to give his station information, part of which he said he was transmitting with “15 whiskeys”, the reply came back “how can you transmit with whiskey? There was a pause and the chap asked him to repeat his message, another pause and the answer was, “oh just go away and drink your whiskey!” 
Ok so the guy was probably an old CB user, but so what, the answering station knew exactly what the chap was on about and had no reason to be so rude or arrogant. What if another new amateur had been listening to that conversation? It would have probably put them off and I was very tempted to step in and say a few words but wisely I kept my mouth shut. Thankfully the calling station had enough sense to continue on his way and got some replies with some sympathetic messages of support from other stations who had obviously like me been listening.
 Whilst I agree our hobby will never be perfect and will always have the few bad or rude operators who act as if they are on a higher level to others it’s a shame they can’t guide instead of just being plain arrogant.
Interestingly when on CW the other day I had some German station giving me grief when I got his call sign wrong. I added an extra letter by mistake and he shot back a reply really letting me have it with both barrels and then proceeded to speed up his sending probably knowing full well that I would be unable to keep up. I just ignored him and continued on at my pace apologising and wishing him 73s before hastily departing. But for a few hours afterwards I was hesitant to continue transmitting, it is funny how little things like that make you lose your confidence and put you off.
Some days for no apparent reason my CW receive brain slows right down and I find it difficult to pick out the most basic of Morse, almost as if I'm CW saturated! Normally I can work 18/20 wpm but at the moment I’m going through another slow phase; I cannot explain why but over the weekend I was having all sorts of problems. Thankfully through experience I know to just continue on and normally just find a station transmitting at a good clean 12 wpm and go back to basics.
Whilst every operator is different there’s no question in my mind that spacing is the key for me, I can translate an operator sending 30 wpm providing he/she is sending good Morse with the correct spacing, but will struggle if I come across an operator sending at 12 wpm if their spacing is all wrong. A lot of operators send too quickly, some just to prove how proficient they think they are, if only they could hear how they sound, I think it would make them realise that speed is not always the answer!
Many operators myself included find they inadvertently start to speed up when transmitting and wonder why the returning CW comes back at a higher speed, if I start to do this I just ask the sender to QRS and that normally seems to do the trick. My other problem is long QSO’s, this simply through lack of practise. It’s easy to have a quick QSO with the basic RST, name and QTH etc. But if the conversation turns to a long chat it can become difficult to work simply through lack of concentration and just not being used to general CW conversation.
To get round this I turn the antenna westwards and start a CW conversation across the pond, find a good reasonably slow US station and guaranteed they will always veer away from the basics and have a good ragchew. Rarely do I find a European who wants to have a good chat, unless of course it’s a local club member on 80!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

More work on the Ground Radials

As an experiment before replacing the radial box with the new radial plate, I’ve added some extra radials on my 30 meter vertical but this time instead of burying them I have pinned them to the lawn to see if it is any easier. I have to be honest it’s actually quite time consuming and requires a lot of pins to keep the wires in place, even now I’m not sure if they will stay in place especially with two Labradors running all over them, but we will see.

Just attempting my first video upload as the camera has definitely packed up, I'm afraid the picture quality is not that good, but it gives you a rough idea. The video shows the vertical in all its glory together with the extra ground radials. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Inrad Filters and the Radial Plate

At last the Inrad filters and receiver mod for the FT 1000 MP V finally have arrived, so today I’ve been busy fitting them all in. A wee bit of soldering was required, but nothing too difficult except I’ve realised my eye sight is definitely going downhill, I found myself having to wear two pairs of glasses just to see exactly what I was doing! I’ve also realised my camera is faulty so I will add a picture when I sort the problem out.  

As I write I haven’t reset the menu settings but will do this when I’ve read up on the manual so I get them spot on. It should be very interesting to hear the difference and of course I will report back.

The ground radial plate for the 30 meter vertical is coming on nicely, I have added the SO239 and drilled all the holes around the edge and begun to measure and trim the wires adding a connector to every three wires. I hope it will make some difference but the irony is I am getting out fairly well because today I had a good QSO with a ham in Tennessee who gave me a 589 report.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I Want a K3!

The other day someone on QRZ asked the question what was the best CW transceiver available in the current market, there were lots of answers but the majority all pointed to one rig, the Elecraft K3. Well I had to check out this wondrous piece of equipment for myself and see what all the fuss was about.
Of course I’d heard about the Elecraft company and the K2 and K3, but never really read up on them or reviewed their performance; cut a long story short, after a good read and pondering over the Elecraft website I’ve decided I’m jealous of all Elecraft owners! Having done the research all I can say is, I definitely want one; in fact I want the K3 and as soon as I can I’m going to buy the kit.

I just love the look and the design, what a beautiful looking radio and of course you have the fun of putting it all together. I’ve even read through the manual to see how difficult it is too build and quite simply it’s not! There’s no soldering required, it’s rather like a jigsaw puzzle but with instructions; and from reading all the reports you have fabulous back up from Elecraft and an online support forum.
But best of all is the price, a brilliant radio that’s in the big boy league but for a lot less money with the added ability to buy and fit the optional extras when you can afford to.