NT1K – Welcome

My Yaesu FT-840 “Project”

by on Aug.14, 2015, under Annoyances, HF

After the K3, I had no real intentions of obtaining another HF rig. But when a deal comes by, I couldn’t resist jumping on it. There was an SK estate sale that I found out through another ham. However the estate was not located near by so everything had to be shipped. Among the items, the Yaesu FT-840 stuck out at me as the perfect HF for someone who is getting involved in the hobby. The guy was asking for reasonable offers. I didn’t want some commercial seller to swipe it. Since I had no need for the radio, I put in a low bid and sure enough it was accepted.

The horrors of buying before trying

Since the price was so tempting, I made a foolish mistake of buying the radio without seeing a picture of the radio, without asking questions and placing my trust in people I don’t know. I’ve done this a couple times in the past and thankfully I never had a problem. This time wasn’t the case.

When I received the radio, it didn’t look good. Knobs were bent and there was a giant dent in the corner. The dented corner had some very shiny metal expose with no rust/oxidation. However the box it was shipped in was in excellent condition. It led me to believe that the radio was dropped just prior to shipment. There was also a missing part. I’ve contacted the middle man explaining what happened and that’s when I’ve learned that other shipments from the estate were just as bad, if not worse than my radio. According to the middle man, the handler of the estate didn’t seem to care and that I would have to take it up with the shipper’s insurance company. I wasn’t even close to being happy with the situation.

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Mic Gain / PWR adjustment pots after some attempt at strightening. Still rubbed and was bent so I had to strip it to the chassis

I’ve learned from this though. I will never jump on anything until I am certain that I am getting what exactly I want. Even if the deal seems too good to be true, It’s better to pass up the unknown rather than getting stuck with an expensive brick. I guess I am keeping the radio

Fixing the unknown

Soon as I started tearing into the FT-840, It started to look promising. The front panel chassis was bent and thought I can strip it down and straighten everything out. I was able to do just that. While I was in there, I cleaned everything I could and replaced the internal battery. When I thought I was finished, everything went back together nicely and now all the knobs move smoothly. the VFO wasn’t sticking and it looked much better than when it came in. I thought I was done. But once again, I was wrong.

Who needs ALC?

While checking power output, I found that when I went the SSB modes, the ALC meter was showing  either almost nothing or full scale with only a minor adjustment to the pot. I thought something was wrong with the mic at first but it turned out to be okay. Once again I contacted the middle man and was informed that the seller was aware of the issue but didn’t think anything of it. So now on SSB, I will either be barely heard or my signal will be overdriven. It made me more angry knowing that seller was aware.

I ended up tracing it to the pot that controlled the mic gain being faulty. It was also the same pot / knob that was damaged during shipping. With a DMM I checked the resistance while adjusting the pot. There wasn’t a consistent change throughout the adjustment. The service manuals were online and I was able to find the part numbers of the pot

 The hunt for the dual pot

Pulling the number from the pot itself found many hits online. However the part sources didn’t have any in stock and were not planning to put them in stock unless there was a 10,000pc minimum order. I thought I was out of luck and called Yaesu USA in California and contacted their parts dept as a last resort. Sure enough they had them in stock. They had the pots and they had the sub assembly.  I must say that it was wonderful dealing with Yaesu. The parts were here in just a couple days.

It’s FIXED!!! YESSSS! Or so I thought.

The pot was easy to replace and I thought the radio was finally fixed. I turned on the radio and I am now able to adjust the mic gain to where I am no longer over driving the ALC while outputting the proper wattage. I was happy! Until I heard it.

What’s going on now? 

While playing around with the radio I noticed something weird. I would tune into a conversation and while I was listening, I would notice the conversation start to move around and sound off frequency. OH WHAT NOW!!! Now I am back to being angry. Thinking something was up with the oscillator, I left the radio on and took a walk with the family. Upon return I notice the drifting was no longer happening, That led me to believe that the changes in temperature both in the air and in the case caused the drifting to happen. It would drift up to 400hz. The new operator in me never had a radio without some kind of controlled LO so I never had to deal with drift.

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Put a jacket on that LO!

Why should I care about a slight drift? Well if you are into digital modes. If you are into low noise modes like JT65 and WSPR, having a stable LO would be beneficial. There is an TCXO or Temperature controlled oscillator that would help keep drift at bay but it’s not easy to get due to the age of the radio. There are not many 10.48576Mhz TCXOs out there either. So the next best thing is to insulate the LO to keep it from changing temperature drastically. I’ve do stuff similar to icom rigs using cotton balls. It appears FT-840 owners used styrofoam. I guess I will follow suite and make a nice little foam block to protect the sensitive LO.

I took a nice little block of foam, placed it on top of the reference LO and press down a little bit. I would remove the box and hollow out the impression. I kept doing that until the block sat flushed with the PC board. The crystal and trimmer is now shielded from quick changes in temperature. I’ve also adjusted the reference trimmer using WWV to make sure it was close to being on frequency as possible.

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Much improvement

The LO insulator is doing it’s job quite well. The radio doesn’t noticeably drift around anymore. Been able to make many contacts with it. Too bad I didn’t have a soundcard interface because I would like to try out WSPR to see what I was getting back from those who could hear.

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I think it’s safe to say that the FT-840 is now back in working order. However I may not hang on to it long enough to enjoy it. But I sort of grown attached to it now.

Thanks for reading,
Jeff (NT1K)

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SOTA Activation Report: Bare Mountain, Amherst MA (W1/CR-014)

by on Aug.12, 2015, under SOTA

The KX3 isn’t getting much use as I would like. So far I only used it one other time this year while camping in Vermont. I need to get out more so I took advantage of mild day and decided to go out and activate a local mountain. I decided on Bare Mountain located on the Amherst, South Hadley and Granby border here in Western Mass.

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Mt Holyoke Range State park had two SOTA summits on the property. I’ve chosen Bare over Mt. Norwottuck because it’s a faster hike even though it’s more rocky. It allowed me to get up the mountain with time to spare to setup the antennas

Bare mountain is approx 1018ft (309m) height in elevation

The Hike

Since I haven’t done any hiking in a long time, the hike up was not great. I was huffing and puffing. The last time I did Bare Mountain, it was covered with snow and ice. I can tell I am out of shape because I felt I hiked up much faster in the wintertime even with the trying to navigate through ice. I really need to get out. I managed to make the

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View of the CT river from my operating position.

Track

APRS Track of my activation. I used the Internet Gateway along with my phone to let people know I am at least moving around.

Getting on the air.

Soon as stopped huffing and puffing, I was up and running within a few minutes. I currently use an Elecraft KX3 with the internal Antenna Match, internal batteries and for the antenna I use a G5RV jr supported by a 31ft fiberglass pole. The antenna is setup in an invert V configurations. I secured the ends of the antennas to near-by trees using bungee cords.  The mast was also secured to a smaller tree with elastic cord as well. It allows for a quick setup and everything breaks down to fit into my pack with the exception of the mast that I use as a walking stick.

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Once the stations was setup, I found what I thought was a clear frequency and posted it up on SOTAwatch. Sure enough, soon as I sent the spot, someone came on frequency. My QRP signal was not going to compete with a DX station constantly going “Ooooola, OOooooooola”. After a couple more frequencies, I found a nice spot and went on the air.

Here is a video I made of my SOTA experiance.

Contacts Made

Time Freq Callsign Sent Rcvd Notes
23:48 14.307 K4MF 59 56 FL
23:49 14.307 KC5CW 59 57.TX
23:50 14.307 NG6R 59 43 CA
23:50 14.307 K1MAZ 59 59 MA
23:50 14.307 KK1W 59 59 MA
23:51 14.307 KK4ASA 59 59 MA
23:52 14.307 K5IIK 59 59 AR
23:52 14.307 K5IIK 59 59 AR
23:55 7.198 KF7MQZ 59 59 NY
23:57 7.198 K2JB 59 59 NC
23:57 7.198 WW1X 59 57 GA

Since it’s 0:00z, it’s considered a new day so people get to work me again for an additonal point. However I won’t get credit for it since technically I already activated it the day before even though it was only a couple of minutes.

Time Freq Callsign Sent Rcvd Notes
00:01 7.198 KK1W 59 55 MA
00:01 7.198 WW1X 59 57 GA
00:02 7.198 K2JB 57 59 NC
00:02 7.198 K1MAZ 55 55 MA
00:03 14.307 KC5CW 59 44 TX
00:04 14.307 K4MF 59 57 FL
00:04 14.307 NG6R 59 32 CA
00:05 14.307 KG5EIU 57 33 TX
00:10 146.520 N1FTP 59 58 MA
00:11 146.520 N1TA 59 59 MA
00:15 146.520 N1IVT 59 59 MA
00:16 146.520 N1FDC 59 59 MA

Not too bad. This was all using AA’s in the KX3 so the power was around 5W. I started getting battery low alarms towards the end of my activation. I’ve since “blew up” my lipo pack so if I keep doing activations, I will get my hands on a battery pack so I can run up to a whopping 12 watts.

Hike Down

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View of Hadley, Amherst and UMASS from the summit

There was twilight on top of the summit made me think I can navigate down the mountain before it gets too dark. I was very wrong due to the thick amount of trees that blocked out any possible light. I was almost pitch black with the exception of the street lights at the base of the mountain. However I knew this was possible and packed flashlights and headlamps that made the hike enjoyable. I also used my cheapie HT to talk to locals on the repeater that made the hike feel much faster.

Overall thoughts

I always to learn from anything I do. I’ve learned that I need to get out more (doi!) but I also see the importance of a “Go Bag”. I often don’t plan my SOTA adventures until the last second. Because of other vacations and other portable operations, all my gear was spread around in different places. I’m going to purchase a dedicated pack just for summits on the air. I’m not going to make the typical whacker go-box. I like to pack minimal so it will be just what I need to get on the air. I don’t need the kitchen sink. Funny thing is that I tend to make more QSO’s with the less gear I bring. However self spotting on SOTAwatch does make things a lot easier. I still want to try a SOTA activation without advertising it. I had an excellent time like usual.

Thanks for reading. Hope you like the youtube video.

– Jeff NT1K

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This blog/website is 5 years old. Some changes will be made.

by on Aug.05, 2015, under Annoyances, Op-Ed

This week marks the 5th anniversary of my website. I’ve created this website when I upgraded my license to general as a way to show others my adventures in amateur radio from there. Anything that I’ve done that was worth sharing was put onto this site. That way if anyone asked or I started to brag, I can point them to my website for a more detailed explanation. If others happened to stumble upon it then I  considered it an added bonus.

According to my stats, I’ve received over 300,000 views. Not bad considering it’s a personal amateur radio related blog. However I also did some number crunching. I’ve spent quite a bit of money as well as a ton of time working on this website and it’s content. It was a wake up call that I am spending money on this with no benefit other than possibly helping out other hams. I don’t mind putting in the time but I would like to avoid any more out of pocket costs. There are ways to offset my spending. Don’t worry, I am not going to annoy you with kickstarter or gofundme campaigns nor will I beg for donations. But I have to do something.

There will be advertisements 

I have enabled advertisements on certain youtube videos to get an idea of how things would work. My videos are nothing special and really don’t get many views, I use them to mostly compliment articles on my website. So as expected, I am not seeing any income. Do I care? A little. Otherwise I wouldn’t really be mentioning it. I’ve decided to give advertising a try here on the site since it generates way more traffic. Unless you have adblock installed, you can take a look on the right side of the screen and you will see an advertisement. You will also see one at the end of every post. I am trying to make it as less intrusive as possible but yet still be visible. Even though I resorted to using banner ads, I won’t stoop lower by trying to trick you, split articles onto multiple pages or have annoying pop-ups. If you would like to support this site, all you would need to do is just enjoy and come back. If you are running some form of ad blocking program, consider adding this site to your white list.

The goal is to offset the costs. Not to profit but If I do, I am not going to complain.  It may make me work harder on the site.

Other Changes 

The website needs some slight changes. I’ve made a mistake with wordpress when I created N1BMX.com and now NT1K.com. I downloaded a theme and modified it to the point where trying apply updates would have made things worse. I should have made a child theme of a popular theme but I was very new to wordpress at the time. This site is no longer mobile friendly and since more and more people are using their phones and tablets, I think it’s time for a change to be more mobile friendly. You will see layout changes in the near future.

Thank You

So far it’s been a fun 5 years in the HF game. I thought I would never participate in the hobby again but upgrading to general and getting HF has changed me. I’ve accomplished so many things, met so many people and had a lot of good times. It’s also great to see people benefit from my articles even though they articles are nothing special. I haven’t re-invented the wheel or found some technological break-thru. A lot of what I write is already all over the web but they are mixed with my opinions. So I am grateful to those who visit and more so to those who follow me on here and other social media platforms such as twitter.  Thanks!

Thanks for reading!

– Jeff (NT1K)

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My Amateur Radio Bucket List. What’s Yours?

by on Aug.04, 2015, under Op-Ed, Projects

I’ve been interested in radio/rf every since I laid my eyes on a radio shack catalog when I was a kid. I’ve just always had this attraction to it.
25 years later, I am still into it. I’ve been licensed since 2001 and I’ve upgraded in 2009 and 2011. For some of you, that’s not a long time but I feel it is… for now.
I have accomplished many goals I’ve set in amateur radio. Got my license, got my extra, made DX contacts,  got my VE creds, taught a class, held my own exams, operated at W1AW, operated a large multi-multi contest station, ISS contact and many other things, but there is still so much to do. That’s what’s great about amateur radio. There is just so many possible things you can do within the hobby that it could possibly take a lifetime to achieve. Even though some hams lost their marbles, I think ham radio will keep your mind sharp as long as you put the effort into learning and keep an open mind.

I still have a list of things I would like to do in Amateur Radio. Here they are in order of most importance.

  • Learn Morse Code – Ever since I upgraded, I wanted to learn Morse Code. Even though I am a “Dittless wonder” according to some, I understand the importance of CW. I do a lot more with CW than phone. It would especially help out in multimode contest where CW contacts are worth more points. But knowing that my CW signal will travel farther than my phone signal is why I really want to learn. This is extremely important to where I am spending more time learning CW than being on the air at this moment in time.
  • Phone EME contact – I’ve always wanted to bounce a signal off the moon. It would be much better if I can bounce my voice off the moon and get a reply. I have really never dabbled in the VHF/UHF spectrum other than hopping on a repeater here and there and participating in a VHF contest or two. There is a chance where this is possible since there is an array close by.
  • Win a major contest – I’ve always wanted to win a major contest. Sure that is easily said than done but it would be great to get a plaque from participating in a major contest. However I doubt it would be from my home. Maybe I can sweet talk a near-by big gun station for just one contest. I would like to win it solo under my callsign.  However learning CW and being able to contest with it is key.  This is reserved for later in life.
  • Build an SSB transceiver – Even though some harp on the AM’er on 80m, I am amazed that a lot of them are talking on homebrew equipment with studio sounding quality to their signal. That is some talent considering we’re now living in a consumer age where everything is software based and on proprietary IC chips that fit on the surface area of a postage stamp. I would like to build my own rig from scratch. I don’t care if it’s someone elses plans, I just want to build my own rig. I want to know what exactly every component is doing and why it’s there.  If I were to start now, the MiniMA radio would be perfect.
  • DXpedition – Also reserved for later in life. I would love to take my equipment and run off to an island or a semi rare spot to do an DXpedition. Be on the other side of a major pileup for a change. So far the biggest pileup I’ve ever had was for W1AW/1 (MA) and I had an absolute blast doing it. I would love to be part of a team but I just don’t have the time or money to make it happen.
  • Aeronautical mobile on HF – I would love to be able to do HF from an airplane high up in the sky just once. That is very difficult but I just wonder what the traffic would be like on the frequency. How packed would it be? I do have an option to try it on VHF so I will try to take advantage of it.

That’s about it really. I am sure many other things will come up as technology improves and my interests change. DXCC honor roll and other awards should be up there but at this point in time, they don’t really seem important to me. After getting DXCC basic, chasing paper sort of went downhill.

Thanks for reading. What is on your bucket list?

–  Jeff NT1K

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IARU HF 2015 Contest: Soapbox

by on Jul.12, 2015, under Contesting

Even though Field Day was a few weeks ago, I am still “exhausted” from it. There is really not much motivation for me to get on the air after. Usually my station is still in pieces but for some reason I wanted to particiate in the IARU HF contest. Ealier in the week I manged to get my station back together and chased stations on the cluster to make sure I was back where I was before Field Day.

I am currently trying to put an honest effort into learning CW which will be another article. I wanted to use the IARU contest to see how well I can contest with my limited CW knowledge. It’s a perfect contest for those who are trying to learn CW for the purpose of contesting. Other than the HQ stations, the exchanges are short and somewhat simple, the logging software (N1MM+) already gives you an idea of the exchange is going to be. All you have to do is listen.

I was looking forward to the contest all week but the weather in my area was very excellent. I couldn’t resist going outside and playing with the family so the contest became an afterthought. I would go on here and there when I got tired from doing work outside in the sun.

Getting on the Air

Even with the amp and beam, there is still no way I was going to “run” or call CQ and hold a frequency. The 20 meter band seemed really packed so it was the band of choice for me during the contest. Nice propagation to Europe so I took advantage of it. Since I was doing this very casual, I depended on the use of the cluster to find stations/mults. I didn’t really spin the dial. Even thought it puts me into a different category, I didn’t mind.

Where’s the cold?

Weather is warming up here in New England and it was predicted to be around 90F degrees today. I decided that having the central air would be a nice. However a few hours into the running the AC, I noticed the air coming out of the vents were warm. Uh ohhhhhh. Contest was now put on hold. After doing some troubleshooting, I narrowed it down to the AC condensor/compressor. Soon as I removed the panel, I saw this.

2015-07-12 10.22.51

The capacitor that helps run the fan and compressor decided to go out in a blaze of glory.  Thankfully it was easy to spot… Oh well. Opened the windows and took out the fans. I consider AC to be a luxury, even though I love it, I can deal without.

Not much contesting

With the nice day and the AC kicking the bucket (for now), I didn’t get much air time. CW was slow for me because I listening to the operator make exchanges with other operators to make sure I have it correct before sending out my call. I hope to improve on that.

IARUresults

It appears I made a 127 contacts and got a score of 24.5K.  Nothing to be proud of but it’s better than nothing and I will most likely get a bunch of LoTW confirmations on CW which I badly need.

It was fun, can’t wait for CQWW now that I have some aluminum in the air.

Thanks for reading,
Jeff – NT1K

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K3 and Beam: 6 months update

by on May.29, 2015, under HF, Op-Ed

At the end of 2014 two major upgrades took place in my shack. First was a new Elecraft K3 to replace the Yaesu FT-950. The reason I got the K3 was because I wanted a new radio that was easier to use and had better filtering/options. The other major upgrade was that I’ve added a 3 element tri-band yagi to my antenna farm. This is my first ever HF directional antenna.

I decided on the major upgrade because Amateur Radio is basically the only hobby that I’m active in. I’ve felt that I got the most out of my radio and especially my G5RV. There was no more enthusiasm to get on the air anymore. I never went a week without turning on the radio but I noticed I was slipping away from getting on the air. Nothing was exciting me other than a contest here and there and field day.

K3 6 Months In

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I made a joke when I purchased the K3 that Elecraft will release the K4 not far after I purchased my K3. The reason I made this joke is that Kenwood came out with the TS-590S soon after I purchased my FT-950 and I knew the TS-590s was a better radio for the price. Sure enough a couple months after I purchased the K3, they release a new synth board that makes the K3 better and is now standard on the K3. Then in May, elecraft releases the K3S which is even better. Another punch to gut. I wasn’t really happy to be honest.

But…

Compared to the FT-950, I am having a much better time with the K3. There is some things I missed about the FT-950 but with what the K3 has to offer, it made me not look back. The K3 is much easier to use. I can easily adjust power, DSP settings, filtering and even have the radio perform a custom set of functions with just a push of a button. With my two “Custom” buttons I am able to cycle through different TX EQ profiles and easily switch between my headset and my front panel mic.

I also want to believe that the narrower filters I’ve installed made NEQP more enjoyable. I was able to test the difference between the 2.7Khz filter and the 1.8Khz filter with a packed 40m band and there is a difference. During the QSO party I took the 1.8Khz out (through software) and did some comparisons using the 2.7Khz filter at 1.8Khz. To the ear there was some differences, Adjacent signals on the 1.8Khz were not as pronounced as the the 2.7Khz turned down.

So even though there is the new K3S, my K3 was still worth the purchase. I just wish it felt and looked better to use but it doesn’t matter during a major contest when you need a radio that will not only work but it will work well.

3 Element Yagi 6 Months In

Up until I installed the beam, I never really used directional antennas.  The only time I ever used directional antennas were at K1TTT and W1AW. Those stations are pretty much optimized and there is no way I could compare to my home setup. So for the past 5 years I’ve been active on HF, all my contacts from home were using a G5RV or G5RV jr.

I was used to the wire antennas and basically told myself  “that’s it!”. I thought it would be only antenna I will ever use. It has served me well but I knew I could do better. But what are my options considering I live in a semi urban area with a 150ft steep hill directly behind my house? Of course I wanted 70ft+ tower with at least a tri-bander (20/15/10m) stacked on top of a 40m Beam but that wasn’t going to happen. The wife wanted no guy wires and the cost of red tape,  pouring a base, tower and other stuff exceeded what I can really afford. I thought it was out of the question but someone suggested a roof tower and it seemed to be the only logical choice. I have a very tall house which would put the antenna at least 40ft up in the air. Thankfully someone local was moving and wanted to get rid of his roof tower and antenna. I ended up with a 4.5ft tower and a Mosley CL-33 (Classic 33).

NewBeam1

Why didn’t I get a beam sooner?

There was an instant major difference. I was able to play in the ARRL 10m contest that year and did quite well. I never really liked 10m because it was never open to me. Now that I have an antenna for 10m, it proved to be an enjoyable band. On 20m and 15m, this antenna is excellent. Of couse it’s better than my G5RV but having the beam really opened things up. It’s easier to navigate pileups and I have increased the amount of DX contacts I am making drastically. Contesting is much easier and even rag chewing is easier. I mostly rag chew with newer ops and most of them are on wires like I was and being able to do some of the heavy lifting on my end has made contacting newer ops much better.

Overall thoughts

Should you drink the Elecraft Kool-Aid? That depends. As much I joke around, I wouldn’t suggest the K3(S) to a casual operator. I wouldn’t suggest it to the guy who doesn’t contest and just gets on the air every once in awhile to make an occasional DX contact or rag chew. The Kenwood TS-590SG is a really excellent radio packed full of options for considerably less. The money you would save could be put into your antenna which is just as import, if not more important than the radio.

But if you’re into contesting, I would suggest the K3(S).

With the antenna, I’ve always suggested to people to just get (or make) an antenna that could get you on the air. But that has since changed. I would strongly suggest a beam but I know not everyone can have one. Just make due with what you can do.

Thanks for reading!

– Jeff

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NEQP 2015 Soapbox

by on May.05, 2015, under Contesting

This past weekend was the New England QSO party (NEQP). There was also 7th area QSO party, Indiana QSO party, and Delaware QSO party happening during the same weekend. Even though I love contesting, I really don’t do much from my house because it does create a disturbance and I would like to keep that at a minimum. However I do make an effort to participate in CQWW SSB and NEQP. I really like NEQP because I’m the wanted station and a lot of local operators are active on HF. Now that I have a new beam and a new radio, I wanted to really see what I can do with it compared to years past.

QSO Party VS. Contest

Some people put QSO parties into a different category when compared to contests like CQ World Wide. QSO parties are advertised to be more laid back and welcoming to new hams and new contesters. So you will see a lot of different operating habits. You will see more conversation, real signal reports and you will see a mix of seasoned contesters, new contesters, award chasers and even old timers. Large contests like CQWW are about making the contact as fast as possible and as many as possible.

Getting Ready

There wasn’t much I had to do to get ready. I’ve recently installed the DVK/DVR in the K3. It’s a device that can record and play audio clips. This is a great tool in contesting because I can record things like calling CQ and even the exchange and play them over and over. I much prefer using the recorder in the K3 than using wav files over my soundcard. I found that when using .wav files and a soundcard interface, the audio sounds much different from the radio’s microphone. With the DVR/DVK built into the K3, I can control it using the logging software and the audio is pretty much match up.  It helped out quite a bit during the contest as my voice was dropping out.

Let’s Go!

What I like about NEQP is that it starts at 4pm local time. I am not sure if they do it because of the New England Amateur Radio Festival  (NEARfest) or for other reasons but I had plenty of time to get stuff done around the house.  Soon as 4pm rolled around, I was on the air.

nt1kneqp15sm
(Me During NEQP 2015)

I didn’t spend the entire time on the air. I’m not as serious as other contesters that have an iron butt and won’t move from the chair. I went to the park, fixed some things around the house and did some other things instead of contesting. Even when I was on the air, I wasn’t really serious as some others might be. I was chatting it up with people, giving honest signal reports, trying to help people with audio issues and even ragchewing with other operators. Even though I would like to win my county, it was more about having fun. I’ve received many compliments and tried to give out as many as well. The last 20min of the contest I was in “contest mode” trying to hand out contacts as fast as possible. I have yet tried to participate in a contest from home that involved fast contacts. I’ve only done “Contest Mode” during multi operator events at other stations

Pan adapter usage during contesting

Even though I was mostly calling CQ and not bouncing around looking for contacts, I had the pan adapter running and I felt it made a big difference. I can switch to a band and see that it’s not alive instantly. I could also find “holes” in the band much easier for me to park and call CQ. It made it much more easier and faster to get up and running.

Differences between years past

Having a new antenna and a new radio does make things feel different. The K3 performed well as expected. I think the K3’s DVK/DVR (Digital Voice Recorder) is worth getting even if you have a soundcard interface.  I also purchased the 1.8 Khz filter knowing that I will be doing contesting where the bands could be packed. At first I wasn’t a fan of how the filter sounded until it was suggested by Jim (KK1W) to shift the filter. Adjusting the shift made a world of difference and I was able to enjoy what the 1.8kHz has to offer. The bands weren’t as packed compared to the likes of Field Day or CQ Worldwide but it helped with stations that were QRP or in the noise. I purposely setup shop near other stations calling CQ for NEQP and didn’t get much interference from strong near-by stations. Every once in a while someone would setup shop in my passband. Most times it’s an accident but sometimes they do it on purpose with hopes that I would move. depending on the band, I might move slightly up or down but most times I just stay on the frequency and eventually it will clear up. However it does cost me potential points.

Having a beam also made a huge difference of course. When it was just the G5RV, I had a hard time working West Coast stations but that changed. It seemed like I had a pipeline into the Southeast as the majority of my contacts where from 4 land. I’ve also worked some South American DX stations and a couple EU stations off the back of the beam. Even though I was communicating with a narrow signal both in TX and RX, I still received many compliments about my audio with the exception of one person who said I was too narrow for a QSO party. I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes using a wider bandwidth.

However the biggest difference compared to previous years is that I didn’t have to fight anyone on the air. Every previous NEQP, I would end up getting into an argument with someone because I dared to operate near their precious net or someone would purposely jam me. This year I had none of that. Everyone I contacted was nice and wasn’t interrupted by a net or some other type of rag chew. I am not sure if was because the bands weren’t in great shape, that I have new gear, more experience or a combination of everything? Who know, maybe my previous setup was causing more harm during contests.

Getting Spotted

NEQPspots

With NEQP, I didn’t use the cluster or any kind of spotting assistance.
I had no idea that I was being spotted but I had an idea when I was getting a trickle of contacts then all of a sudden I was getting pileups out of nowhere. Thanks to those who spotted me.

Overall Experiences

I had a great time. It would have been better if my voice wasn’t cutting out but it was great.

neqpscores15

Overall I made 664 contacts. Most of them were on 20 meters. However I am impressed with my 40m contacts as I was using my G5RV to make them. 40m helped out with a lot of local counties. My claimed score is 36,521 points. I didn’t think that was a good score until I started comparing them against other claimed scores on 3830scores. I also need to look at my log a little closer because you will see that I made 619 SSB points but yet I made 664 contacts. I feel that something is not correct with my log. It’s possible that the DE contacts I made for DEQP are counted as errors because I put their county as part of the exchange. So it’s possible I have 39K points.

Improvements for the future

After looking at what’s coming through 3830 scores, I have a high amount of SSB contacts. At this point in time, I have the most SSB contacts on 3830 for my category. but yet I have half the points compared to the CW only ops. This means I really need to know CW in order for me to place higher in future contests. I have now set a goal to make at least 60% of my contacts in next years OSO party on CW. I can’t really do much to improve my signal or my SSB rates so I will have to start looking at CW for the points.

I had fun, thanks for reading.
Jeff – NT1K

 

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New QSL Card… Finally

by on Apr.29, 2015, under General Ham Radio, Projects, QSO

About 5 years ago I received my first QSL card in the mail. I didn’t really have an idea what to do with it but  I knew I had to respond with a card of my own. Since then I’ve received many cards both domestically and from the bureau. I  need to make a card for response before I get more overwhelmed. Some of the cards I’ve received are well thought out and have really excellent quality. I didn’t want to reply with some generic card using one color on card stock. I wanted high quality glossy cards and I wanted to put some serious effort into the design. Well… That was 4 years ago. I still don’t have a card because I set my goals too high. That was until I found my doppelganger. There is a person out there that looks very similar to me. He Photoshop himself into a couple images and one of them made me burst out laughing. I thought it would be a great QSL card. The picture was of him riding a “40 ounce” bottle of in space with rainbow coming out the end of the bottle. Instead of a bottle, I thought it would be funny if I was riding my K3 instead.

One night I finally decided to do it. I setup my camera on a tripod in my shack, sat on a stool and took some pictures with me holding a bottle of beer.

First Draft. 

After some Photoshop work later, this was my first draft.

NT1KQSLOG

I thought I was done and posted it up on twitter and some amateur radio related chat rooms I hang out in. Suggestions started pouring in on what I should add to the card to make it even better. At this point I didn’t care and wanted to go for shock value. So I added almost everything that was suggested. However I didn’t want the additions to take away from me riding a K3.

Here was the final image I’ve sent to the printer

QSLFinalNB

Now it’s a very busy card. They are mostly filled with internet memes along with some semi-random stuff.
An internet meme is  “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture through the internet” according to Wikipedia.

I will break down each one.

On the top left you will see a man peeking out from the side of the card. That man is Chris Hansen from NBC’s dateline.

Chris-Hansen-Take-A-Seat-Meme

He’s known for his “To Catch A Predator” series where he catches child predators.  This image is often used across the internet when someone makes certain comments about underage people. There is no particular reason I used it other than it being a suggestion from someone on IRC.

Right below Chris is Wilford Brimley

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He’s an actor that appeared in many movies and television shows but on the Internet he is known for his appearances in commercials for a medical supply company. The commercials focus on Diabetes related supplies. The commercials are sort of funny because of the way he pronounces Diabetes as diabeetus. He is often used when people are discussing deserts, candy and the obese. I can actually relate to this because I have Type II Diabeetus. When someone suggested to use him, I went with it right away.

Between Chris and Wilford, you will see the Kool-Aid man.

ElecraftOhyeahKX3

Except I photoshopped the Kool-Aid man to be holding a K3 and KX3 and saying Elecraft instead Oh yeah!
Even though at times I may be critical of Elecraft, I own a couple of their radios. People often say I was “drinking the kool-aid” which is a term that is associated with giving in because of popularity, peer pressure or persuasion. It can be also associated with those who have a strong belief of something without really looking into it. This references the Jonestown Deaths where cult followers lead by Jim Jones consumed poisoned flavor drink (it was actually Flavor aid) which caused the deaths of over 900 people.

In various internet forums and chat rooms I frequent, I often joke around saying that you should only purchase Elecraft products. The same way some might tell you to get a mac, pc, or android device.

To the right of the Kool-Aid man you will see a teletubby.

purpletubby

I added the purple teletubby for no reason other than it was suggestion to add it from Tom, @AJ4UQ on Twitter.

Teletubbies is a BBC childrens TV show that ran in the late 1990’s. If you ever look at the teletubbies in the group you will see something familiar
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Look on the top of their heads. You have a Delta Loop, Vertical, Magnetic loop and a Vertical with a loaded coil antennas.
Even though they are supposed to be TV antennas, They have some relation to ham radio. I went with the Delta Loop

To the right of the teletubby is a T-Rex trying to eat bacon

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Both were suggestions by those in the Internet Relay Chatroom (IRC) #redditnet on irc.geekshed.net . Since I love bacon I figured why not put it into the card. I am not a fan of the T-Rex but it’s the most recognizable dinosaur so I figured to use it instead of a triceratops which is my favorite.

Below the T-Rex is Giorgio Tsoukalos, AKA the “Ancient Aliens Guy”.
This is a really famous internet meme of Giorgio from one of his many appearances on the show “Ancient Aliens”. The show tried to connect origins of technology used in history to aliens. He was singled out because of his very noticeable hair style that appears to get larger throughout the series.

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I don’t really know why I put him in the card other than being an internet meme. However it’s a joke in my house that aliens were responsible for anything that happened but could not be really explained. “Who spilled the cereal all over the floor? Aliens!”

Finally, to the pièce de résistance. Me riding a K3  expelling rainbows.

QSLFinalK3ride

Me riding the K3 is an idea I saw from my what is known as my twin on the internet. He was riding a 40oz bottle of beer. I am riding my K3.  Frank (KG6EYC) from FBOM suggested that I should the K3 into a Nyancat which is a very popular internet meme of a part cat, part pop tart flying through the air with a rainbow trailing.

So instead of a pop-tart and Nyancat, it’s now a K3 instead of poptart and we call it Nyancraft.

On the very bottom of my card you will see my 3 element yagi tri-bander. The card is now complete.

So what the deal, I don’t get it?

That’s the point. It purpose was to make people go “What the heck is that!?!”. Since I know in the amateur radio community there will be a few who actually get what’s going on, it will confuse most. It’s not some plain boring 2 color QSL card that will be glanced at and thrown in a drawer or in the trash. This card will be looked at. So I did it just to be different. There are no hidden meanings or messages. It’s was done just to be different.

If you receive my card, I hope you enjoyed it. I’ve been backlogged with cards for about 4 years now so I am replying to all those who sent me their QSL cards with a SASE first. Then I am sending out cards for twitter and reddit contacts. after that I will reply to all domestic cards and finally I will make a batch for the bureau that will included replies and much needed entities.

If by any chance you are offended by my card or you feel it has hidden messages or meanings then I think you need to lighten up and not get easily offended. It was meant to confuse not to offend.

If you enjoyed it. Thanks!
– Jeff, NT1K

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More Kool-Aid Please! New Rig In The Shack

by on Jan.07, 2015, under General Ham Radio, HF, Projects, SDR

 

ElecraftOhyeah

Along with recent antenna improvements I felt I needed to improve my rig. I had the Yaesu FT-950 that provided me thousands of contacts, countless hours of entertainment and awards such as DXCC and WAS.  It was an excellent radio but it also had its issues. The most annoying thing for me was the menu driven system that Yaesu loves to use. In order to adjust some of the DSP settings or even the power level, you had to dive into the menu system. To make things worse, Yaesu decided to abbreviate the menu items which makes it almost impossible to adjust without memorization or referring to the manual. However the FT-950 was a good radio, I never had a problem with it and received many reports about how good and clean my audio is. It just worked. The IF output option from RF-Space was a big plus. I could have kept using it but I felt I just need a new radio and sell the FT-950 while it still has value.

What to get?

I wanted a new radio but I wasn’t sure what to get. My budget was a little over $2,000USD. I had to sell most of my station off to obtain the funds needed for a new radio. This left me with a decent amount of choices. I can choose either the Yaesu FTdx-3000, Kenwood TS-590SG (The new version), Flex 6300, ICOM IC-7600 or the Elecraft K3.

FTdx-3000 – Didn’t want to get another Yaesu rig. Looked more menu driven than ever and wanted to stay away from having to constantly dive into menus. Not saying it’s a bad rig, I just want something other than Yaesu.

TS-590SG – Great radio and really great price. Obtaining IF output is very difficult. If they were able to have an IF output, I would have purchased the TS-590SG

Flex 6300 – Very tempting.  I love SDR and love being able to scan an entire band in one shot. Point and click tuner with one heck of a receiver and filtering is a plus. However it’s not a proven contest rig, it’s dependent on a computer for operating and I am not a fan of having to pay for software upgrades. Still very tempting.

Icom IC-7600 – Excellent radio but the price is too much for me.  I also think for the price they would have a better receiver compared to my other choices. I’ve used the 7700 multiple times and really love the radio. It’s more fitting for 756-Pro users

Elecraft K3 – Even though I am not a fan of the ergonomics and the cheap looking aesthetics, it’s a proven contest and DXpedition radio. People often compare their radios to the K3 which means a lot. It has a very excellent receiver and you can basically make the radio work for what you need it for. It can be a $1700 radio or a $7000 radio depending on what you’re willing to spend.

As you may have already guessed, I’ve decided on getting a K3. It seems to be the best for what I’m willing to spend. Even though I wanted something that was new on the market, The K3 still met my requirements even though it’s already a 7 year old radio. The amount of available options and excellent receiver is what won me over. The K3 also allows me to build up the radio over time. When one of the big 3 discontinues a radio, they often discontinue options/upgrades for that particular radio making it much harder to upgrade the older it gets. By going to Elecraft’s website, you’ll see they’re still offering previous radios as well as their options/upgrades. That means I won’t have to worry about the K4 (if there is a K4) coming out and losing out on possible upgrades for the K3 over time.

You already have a KX3. Why not purchase the KXPA100?

I purchased the KX3 as a portable rig to use for things like Summits on the Air (SOTA), Parks on the air (POTA), camping and other portable operations. Even though the KX3 has an excellent receiver, It couldn’t compete with the possible options the K3 has to offer and I honestly didn’t want a mess of cables on my desk in plain sight.

If someone from elecraft reads this, I would suggest to add a docking port on the KX4.

Kx4dock

Have a slide cover on the rear that would expose an MCX connector and a pin header that could be used to plug into a dock or cradle that is attached to the KX4PA100 to make it look like a base rig.  That would avoid having a bunch of cables coming out the side of the KX4 when it’s “at home”. Maybe put a better speaker into the docking bay. If this was available then I would have got the docking amp over a K3. Having a Dual purpose radio without the mess would be nice.

Okay, out of fantasy land.

Getting The Radio

Being the cheap Ham I am, I had to come up with the funds to purchase the K3. I sold my FT-950, FT-736R and almost everything that I didn’t need in my shack that I’ve purchased over time. I was able to get enough saved up for just a basic K3 in kit form with no options other than the 100 watt PA. I ordered it Christmas week and figured it would be awhile before it would show. Elecraft did a really good job getting me the radio quick. I’ve learned USPS from CA to MA is much faster than UPS.

A Little Overwhelming

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I was very excited when the packaged arrived and I wanted to tear into it. However I knew I should carefully read everything to avoid having a $2000 brick on my table.  I opened up each box and was overwhelmed by the amount of bags and envelopes containing just nuts and bolts. I couldn’t imagine if this were to be full-on solder kit.

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The first hour was spent making sure every single nut, knob, board and panel was accounted for. Thankfully everything was accounted for and even had extra parts. I didn’t have to jump into the “Spare Parts” bag.

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My only suggestion is to keep the parts and fasteners in their respective bags and envelopes. Don’t dump everything into one big sorting case because you will be working in stages and some require special sized screws.

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I also had an organizer box with little post-it notes stating what is in each slot. That helped quite a bit

It’s Assembly Time

Now that everything is there and counted for. It’s time to assemble. I decided to stream my assembly which gave people some insight as to how one is assembled. I managed to record 1/3 of the build.

You could watch the video but I admit it’s real boring. I was even bored. There are a ton of assembly videos and there are a ton of website/blog postings about the assembly of the K3 so I won’t bother going into great detail.

The build went quite smoothly and only had two moments of stupidity. The first was that I missed some masking left on from their metal fabricator/powder coater on the front panel and noticed After the front panel was sub assembled. A razor type blade and a pair of needle nose pliers took care of it. My other moment was that I plugged the synth board into the wrong spot. However I caught that before it could cause any trouble.

Overall it took around 5 hours to build. I don’t know how long it normally takes but I wasn’t trying to win any time trial. I wanted a working radio and I didn’t want to hear screws bouncing around the case a month or two down the road.

Is it worth getting the kit version over the assembled version? That depends on how much you value your time. I value my time but knowing I could apply the savings to options, I’d  much prefer the kit. Plus I get to get hands on with my radio and see what part does what.

It’s alive… It’s alive… IT’S ALIVE!!! 

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Once the radio was on and calibrated I wanted to get on the air. Thankfully a couple of people were watching my stream and hopped on the air willing to make contact with me. I scrambled to get on the air but had much trouble because I installed the filter in a different spot. I’ve read the assembly manual over and over but failed to read the operation manual which made getting on the air a little tricky. For some reason the speaker wasn’t working and couldn’t get the filters to default to the spot I put them in. After a couple minutes I was on the air and made my first contact with a local. It’s was really nice to know it actually works. After making a couple contacts, I went back to work and installed the 100W PA.

Initial Thoughts

After messing around with it for a couple hours I started to get buyers remorse. It felt small and it felt cheap. The main VFO didn’t have that smooth action that I am used to. It felt like I was turning a sanding disk. Nothing was impressing me which started to make my stomach turn as if I just wasted all the time, effort any money for something that was less than what I had before. It felt like my dream rig was being crushed right in front of my eyes.

But then I tried making a voice contact with someone in the noise on 80M with a strong signal nearby. I narrowed the filter and shifted the IF and that took a lot of the nearby signal out. Not bad considering all I have is a 2.7Khz stock roofing filter. I then applied noise reduction and that weak station that I could barely catch a couple words is now coming in much clearer. I can now fully understand the DX and managed to make contact. The adjustment took just a couple seconds and that knot in my stomach started to fade away the more I dived into the K3. I am now satisfied and I now feel I’ve made a wise purchase.

Let’s Compare the K3 to the FT-950

After playing around with the K3, I started comparing the mental notes I had about the FT-950 against the K3.  The K3 pretty much beat my FT-950 in almost every aspect… almost. The FT-950 looked better and felt better than the K3 but that doesn’t really matter in a contest on an extremely packed band. The FT-950 has an excellent receiver but it shadows in comparison to the K3 with even just the stock 2.7Khz 5-pole filter installed. I guess I traded an aesthetically pleasing radio for one with better performance.

The K3 even does things right out of the box that I wish the FT-950 could do. With the K3 I am able to switch from a desktop microphone to a pair of headsets quite easily because the headsets could be plugged into the back. I could get away without using an soundcard interface since there is  audio line in/out ports. I could use the headphones and have the internal speaker working at the same time which is good for field day. I have two custom buttons that I could program macros in that would allow me to do many things.

What makes the K3 really stick out in comparison is that I rarely have to dive into the menu system to make adjusts to the DSP or even the RF power level. When I do have to dive into the K3 menus. It’s much easier to navigate. I flat out hated having to dive into the FT-950’s menu system. It wasn’t in really any order and it was abbreviated or numbered. If I haven’t been in the menu for awhile, I would have a real hard time trying to adjust simple things like DNR/DNF and even my TX bandwidth. It’s much easier in the K3

What’s next with the K3?

I purchased the bare minimum when it comes to the K3 with the exception of the 100W PA. Now that I’ve played with the K3, there are some much needed options that I am starting to save for. Of course I would like a completley decked out K3 with EVERYTHING but that isn’t going to happen.  So here is my list of options I would like in order of importance starting with what I feel is the most needed with a short reason why

KXV3A – RX Ant, IF out, Xverter Interface – I love SDR and want a Panadapter
KFL3A – 1.8K – 1.8 kHz, 8-pole filer – For SSB contesting and packed bands
KDVR3 – Digital Voice Recorder – For SSB contesting, Can control with N1MM. No more WAV files
KFL3A-250 – 250 Hz, 8-pole CW Filter – For when I get into CW.
KFL3A-6K – 6 kHz AM / ESSB, 8-pole Filter – I like ESSB at times and would need this
KBPF3 – General Coverage RX Bandpass Module – I listen to more than just hams. I have SDR rig for now
K3EXREF – External Reference Input – I am bit of a time nut. I would love to use either a GPSDO or Rb Atomic Clock.

That is my “wanted” list. Of course I won’t be purchasing it all at once but I would like to have at least the 1.8Khz filter and DVR options before field day. You won’t see the 2nd receiver option unless I win the lottery. I am interested in SO2V and even SO2R operation but I would rather go all out on SO2R. I never felt a need for a sun receiver so I’ll save my pennies for something else.

Overall thoughts

It was a fun build, dealing with elecraft was great (because i didn’t), assembly went great and I don’t have buyers remorse (anymore). It’s an “American” radio and it’s a damn good one. Hopefully I don’t drown in the kool-aid

Thanks for reading!
– Jeff (NT1K)

 

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New Beam In The Air and I’m Swinging It Like I Just Don’t Care.

by on Dec.27, 2014, under Antennas, HF, Homebrew, Projects

Since I got my first HF station up at my house, I’ve only used the G5RV (Both Jr. and fullsize) and the 10M dipole in my attic which is surrounded by aluminum siding. With these antennas I’ve been able to make thousands of contacts. I’ve manged to get  basic DXCC and WAS awards. Even though a lot of people harp on the G5RV, it provided me countless hours of contacts and I think  it was well worth putting up. I would still suggest the G5RV or its variants to others.

However I think I pushed the G5RV as far as it could go. The antenna has since stretched. More ladderline is laying on the ground. New entities are getting harder and harder and there are bands I haven’t really explored. 10 Meters on my G5RV hasn’t been really good to me and the dipole wasn’t going to cut it since it was basically surrounded by aluminum. I was also starting to get bored. I would only hop on to see if I can work a DX expedition or random JT-65 contacts. I needed an upgrade.

My first solution was to get a multiband vertical. In 2011 I purchased a used Butternut HF9V at a local hamfest. In 2013 I finally buried some coax and installed the antenna with a bunch of radials.

gBdIlsE

Upon getting it on the air, I found that it wasn’t really a performer. In a lot of cases, the G5RV was much better. The HF9V didn’t really give me the “WOW” factor I was looking for. But it work so it stays in my backyard. I needed something better. I needed a beam.

What Beam Should I Get?

That was one of the many questions I was asking myself. I didn’t want anything massive or anything that would require a large tower or rotor. I kept focusing on a Hex Beam type antenna, log periodic or a 3el tri-band antenna like the Mosley TA-33jr or Cushcraft A3S. I ended up going back and forth between the K4KIO type hex beam or TA-33.

The Hex Beam offers more coverage. It’s possible to get 20 through 6 meter coverage which includes the WARC bands. That’s 6 bands. In simple terms, it’s basically a 2 element beam with the elements folded in such a way that it still works. There is a claim 5dbi  (or 2.95 dbd) gain. The claimed F/B (Front to Back) varies from approx 25db to 30db depending on the band.  So in theory with perfect conditions and zero loss, if the antenna was fed with 100W, it would radiate around 192 watts. The hex beam would also attenuate signals from the back of the beam by 27db.  This allows you to hear signals better in the direction it’s pointed in.

The TA-33jr can only really be used on 20, 15 and 10 meters. The antenna could be adapted for other bands with the addition of the WARC kit. The TA-33jr has anywhere from 5.8 to 8.0 dbd  or claimed gain (or  7.95 to 10.15 dbi gain) and has a claimed front to back ratio of 20db. So once again, in theory with perfect conditions and zero loss, if the antenna was fed with 100W it would radiate anywhere from around 380w (on 20M) to around 631w (on 10M) and would also attenuate signals from the back of the beam by 20db

These comparisons are based from figures provided by manufacturers. That doesn’t mean that is how the antenna will perform in real world conditions. Things like height about ground, the type of ground, coupling to nearby antennas or other thanks and losses from coax and connectors play a major role in the performance and efficiency of the antenna.

On paper, the TA-33jr offers more gain on 10, 15 and 20 and looks easier to assemble but the multi band hex type beam has a better front to back (F/B) and offers more gain on the WARC bands. The TA-33 types of antennas have been in use much longer than the Hex type. If you were purchasing a beam on a small budget, the TA-33 type of beam would be much cheaper on the used market because they have been in use for decades (at least 50 years). I’ve seen TA-33 in decent shape for as low as $100.

How am I going to Mount The Beam?

No matter what I decide, I would need to mount the antenna to something. My first option was to obtain a tower and have it bracketed to my house at about 70′ in height. However that did not meet XYL approval because of possible guy wires in the yard and I want to keep my neighbors happy. Since a bracketed tower is out of the question, my next best bet was a roof mounted tower. My house at the peak is approx 40 feet above the ground level. With a 9ft roof tower and decent mast, I could get my beam 50 feet above the ground.  So a roof tower it was.

Going Shopping

I priced out a new Hex Beam from K4KIO, 9.5′ Tower from Glenn Martin, A new Rotor and Rotor Controller (Yaesu G-450), Mast, thrust bearing and cables. The price tag totaled almost $2,000. That is something I can not afford. However I was able to find a used TA-33, 5ft tower and rotor for much cheaper locally. I ended up purchasing the TA-33 package over the hexbeam. I am losing out on the WARC bands but the price made up for the loss.

A Pile Of Aluminum

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Upon receiving the antenna, I noticed right away it’s not a TA-33 that I thought I was getting. The Boom is 2 inches in diameter and longer than the TA-33jr. After a little bit of investigation, I found that the antenna is a CL-33 or a TA-33 Classic. The CL-33 is 6ft longer and provides slightly more gain and slightly higher F/B ratio compared to the TA-33jr. I was trying to go as small as possible but since I already have the beam, it will have to do.

The tower and thrust bearing was in great shape but the rotor appears to seen better days. The terminals were rusty and the rotor would “struggle” in certain areas when turning it without an antenna attached. I need to restore the rotor.

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I stripped the rotor down and found a group of really rusty ball bearings. I soda blasted and powder coated the case, ordered new ball bearings, new brake parts and a new style connector. After some cleaning and re-wiring, the rotor is good as new.

The antenna was taken apart and traps were checked for debris and broken parts

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For the most part the traps were clean but some of the coils had cracks and even chunks of plastic missing. I ended up filling the cracks and voids with epoxy. Worst case is that I would have to get replacement traps. Being such a well-known antenna, it’s little easier to find parts.

After repairs I cleaned all the aluminum with scouring pads and applied an Anti Oxidation grease that will prevent the sections of elements from sticking to each other. I also applied anti-seize lubricant on clamps and other things.

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I did a test fit to make sure everything is working and bolting correctly to the tower. You will notice a different rotor.

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I have went with a Yaesu G-450 rotor because it was almost new and got it for much less. You will see WRTC spray painted on the rotor. It was used during the World Radiosport Team Championship (WRTC) here in New England. It’s not as heavy-duty compared to the Ham IV but I feel more safe using it.

There was only one concern I had with the tower and that was protecting the thrust bearing. I didn’t want rain, snow and ice to build up around the TB so I designed and fabricated a cone to slip over the TB shedding away anything from above.

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Now it’s time to test the boom mounted to the mast

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So far so good. The only concern I had was that the cone now provides a great home for hornets. I guess we’ll see.
The tower and antenna are now ready to be mounted on the roof.

Hurry Up And Wait… Now Hurry Up!

House

Now we have to get the tower mounted to my roof. I decided the best course of action is to mount the tower towards the rear of my house. That will allow the beam to clear a near-by tree and it makes it less visible from the street. Two trees in the front of my house hides the tower and beam quite well. I might provide some signal problems but we’ll see. I planned on using 10″ carriage bolts going through the roof into my attic and brace it using 2×4’s and a metal channel spanning over multiple rafters. I designed everything in CAD and put it through stress analysis. According to the results, it looks good.

Here is the problem. I don’t like going up on my roof. When I installed my X510, I almost fell off the roof and sort of been scared since. I don’t have the proper equipment to go up on my roof safely. the 10:12 pitch takes a toll on me. I am also stubborn and have a “do it yourself” attitude so I put the project off. It was planned to be put up in April before the New England QSO Party, but it’s now November and I still don’t have a tower on the roof.

I needed some roof work done before it got real cold outside. I had to hire a roofer to install venting and asked if he could install the tower at the same time.

20141101_163234

Thankfully he agreed and there is now a tower on the roof. Ignore my leaning diamond X510. It could have been prevented from leaning if I used a couple of self tapping screws. Due to the weather and hourly cost of the roofer, I decided not to install the antenna on the same day. Let the neighbors sort of get used to the tower on top.

TowerBrace

From inside my attic, I braced the antenna using 2X4’s and a large metal U channel covering 5 rafters. Very sturdy.

I Wanted To Get It On The Air

There is an upcoming 10M contest in December that my local club is involved in. I wanted to participate and I know my G5RV, HF9V or my 10M dipole wasn’t going to perform. I finally folded and contacted members from my local club to come help me install the antenna. A lot of people responded and on cold windy Sunday in December, a bunch of people came to my house to help install the beam.

TowerEd

A Major thanks to Ed, KB1NWH for staying up on my roof for hours.

We removed the Diamond X510 as it would be in the way and decided to assemble the beam on the roof since the tower isn’t tall.  We then installed the boom, each element and then the Diamond X3200. I didn’t want the X510 on the mast as it’s a much larger antenna.

NewBeam1

Finally. I now have a beam! There is still cable work to be done but everyone was able to leave in just a few hours. I was on the air just after noon.

I would like to thank Ed (KB1NWH), Jim (KK1W), Steve (N1SR), Frandy (N1FJ) and Dave (AA1YW) for taking time out of their life to help me get an antenna on the air.

 

What’s the difference?

I never had a beam before and I have no clue how one would perform at my house. I hooked my radio up to a A/B switch so I can switch between the G5RV and the Beam. The bands were not great when I finally got on the air but I was able to hear a lot of West Coast stations on 20M. I had a real hard time getting my signal out west and was amazed to see the difference. Stations that were S2 on the G5RV were coming in S8-9 on the beam. The front to back ratio was okay. I was pointed to EU and hearing a Texas station at the same time. When pointed to EU the Texas station was S7 and when I turned the beam toward the Texas station, he became a S9+. I will have to do more comparisons.

Here is a quick and dirty A/B video I did for a Fellow redditor. I should have found a week station but that will be for another video. I just wanted to show the obvious difference in antennas.

Contest Time

Having the beam on the air for the ARRL 10M contest was great. I have never participated in it and felt the beam proved to work quite well. 10 meters was open to Europe both Saturday and Sunday morning. I did about 100,000 points which is not bad considering I operated only 10 hours using low power (Around 100W) and was not using spotting assistance. I knew I would not win SOHP so the amp stayed off.

Overall Feelings

I should have done a beam much sooner. Or maybe I shouldn’t. Starting off on wires provided a challenge. With the wires I was able to make contact with a lot of operators and even won some awards and contests. Now that I have a beam, hopefully it opens up the door to even more contacts with those ham radio operators around the world. My signal will now be a little bit stronger and I will be able to hear farther away. Getting the beam on the air has renewed my interest in actually getting on the air.

Thank for reading,
Jeffrey Bail (NT1K)

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