After a year or so of trying, I finally got the ARRL’s WAS award. For those who don’t know, WAS stands for Worked All States. In order to get the award you have to prove that you talked to someone in every state in the US. You can prove it by either getting QSL cards and having them checked and/or using Logbook of the world (LoTW).
ARRL has an online QSL service that allows operators to upload their logbooks into a giant database. After the log is uploaded, the contacts are crossed checked against other uploaded logs from other operators. If a match is found then the contact is confirmed. Those confirmations can add up and be used for all sorts of awards that the ARRL and CQ.
Before LoTW you would have to use QSL cards that involving printing, sorting, labeling and mailing. Most people want a SASE (Seld Addressed Stamped Envelope) to be included with the card. For other countries, you could save some money by sending the card through the Bureau. With LoTW it makes the process much easier, After setting up an account and confirming it, you can sign and upload logs to LoTW. No cards, SASE, postage necessary.
I wish that all operators would use LoTW. Some choose not to use it for one reason or another. Some people that don’t use it give the excuse that it’s too hard to register and use. I wouldn’t tell you that it’s easy but it’s not that difficult if you follow directions on the ARRL website. It seems difficult because of the security involved in making sure that you ARE the operator uploading the log and that the log belongs to you. If it wasn’t secure then LoTW couldn’t be trusted so that is why I support what the ARRL is doing.
So if you don’t have an account and you use an electronic logging, I strongly suggest getting an account with LoTW
I have the Basic WAS award. It just means that I made contact with every state. It doesn’t matter how you did it. You can get multiple WAS awards for each band and mode. You can the triple play award by working each state using Morse code, Voice and Digital.
Hopefully I can get triple play by the end of the year.
The Quick Way!
You can get the WAS award by casual contact with operators but if you want to make things go faster, there is a couple things you can do to make getting the award a lot easier.
RBN (Reverse Beacon Network) – With SDR technology, computers are scanning the bands and looking for CW contacts. If someone is calling CQ, there is a good chance that an SDR receiver heard it and posted (spotted) your CQ on the internet for all to see. You can use RBN to find state and/or country you need.
Ham Spots – This website collects and indexes the “Spots” from all different networks. It allows you to pick and choose who to make contact with without having to search the bands
Those two services depending on operators “Spotting” other operators. Even though the CW contacts are automatic. The state or country you want to make contact with might now be on the air. You can schedule (sked) a contact with an operator from the state or country needed.
K3UK’s sked page – This is an online chatroom/forum that allows you to schedule contact with other ops in the room. You will both get on the air, make contact, log it and then return to the website to work more
Over the Air Nets – There are many nets on the air that are meant for chasing awards. You check in and wait your turn to make contact with another operator on the net and vise verse. One that comes to mind is the OMISS Net
Hope to catch you on the air. If you need Massachusetts for anything, you can contact me and I will set time aside to help you!
Thanks for reading,
This past weekend I had time to play in the North American QSO Party (NAQP) with my new SDR Attachment to my FT-950. The results in my book are mixed. There were two reasons why I wanted the FT-950 to go along with a SDR. The first and most important reason to me was to have a band scope. The second reason is to take advantage of the filtering done by the software. I wanted to apply both of these features to contesting to hopefully improve my search & pounce QSO rate.
At the moment of writing this I am using SpectraVue software to display the SDR as well as controlling the VFO of the FT-950. SpectraVue is an excellent piece of software but is very basic. It has some software filtering but doesn’t compare to HDSDR or SDR-Radio. I prefer SpectraVue because it’s minimal and runs smoothly on my somewhat dated computer (Quad core AMD @ 2.3Ghz, 4GB Ram, ATI [512Mb memory] video card).
For contest logging I use N1MM. My personal opinion is that N1MM is hands down the best software for contest logging. The software has so many options that it’s difficult to find something that it can’t do. It has so many options that some people think it’s too much and won’t use the software. It’s free and there is a huge community that is there if you were to find yourself in trouble. It maybe overwhelming at first but it’s not that hard to setup and use.
COM PORT FIGHT!
Running N1MM and SpectraVue that both want to control the radio leads up to an issue. The serial port is currently being used by one piece of software which blocks out the other software from controlling/reading the radio. There is a way around it by using another piece of software call a “Virtual Com Port”. The fine people that make the LP-Pan has thought of this and released software called “LP Bridge” that will allow multiple software to use the com port all at the same time. It works well and it’s free! There is also “Virtual Serial Ports Emulator (VSPE) ” that also does the job but is not free.
When everything is up and running and your hardware is working with your software and your software is working with your hardware, you will have a busy screen.
Here is my small computer screen sharing N1MM with SpectraVue. In the center you will see SpectraVue displaying 200Khz worth of bandwidth from 14.814Mhz to 14.344Mhz which is the majority of 20M voice band. What you see is a “Water Fall” with conversations trickling down the screen and the waveform of the signal above the waterfall. Just by glancing at the waterfall you can have an idea on how busy (or dead) the band is. You can also tell how strong some of the signals are by their brightness compared to other signals. By clicking on the left side (or right if using LSB) of a displayed signal, you will focus the receiver to that conversation. Depending on your setup, the radio will also change its VFO to that frequency so you can initiate contact.
Mixed in around SpectraVue you will see N1MM software also running waiting for me to log contacts instead of taking screen shots.
Here is a shot of what 40M (7.1MHz – 7.3MHz) looks like during NAQP
I will say that having a panadapter does help me (and possibly you) when It came to search and pounce contesting. Instead of spinning the dial looking for a station, I can now just click on a station and the software and radio will do the rest. It has improved my QSO rate much better.
It’s not the best thing since slice bread.
I just want to add that I did have an Issue when it came to contesting with SDR capabilities. It may be just an issue of mine but I have a feeling it applies to anyone with a similar setup. One of the great things about SDR is to let the computer and its software to do the filtering instead of the radio. It could allow you do use all different kinds of filters and filter widths that could really pull that signal “Out of the air” When I’m using the SDR standalone, there is no problem what-so-ever. But when you hook it up to the radio that is already processing the signals, It’s very clear that there is a delay between the two. That is because of the SDR and computer are processing the signal coming out of the radio and takes longer than the radio.
In contesting that delay is annoying. More so if you have the volume up on your radio. In the cut throat world of contesting and chasing DX. That delay will end up costing you points and some angry ops (when isn’t there angry ops) because you’re not in-sync with them.
It’s not the end of the world. I found that using the audio from the radio and using the software as band scope proved to be beneficial.
Not sure about CW contesting.
At this point I am in the early stages of learning CW so I am unable to comment on anything having to do with CW. I am going to assume that it just like voice contesting. Zoom in until you see all the CW and click on the signal you want to make contact with.
I’m in dream land again!
If I had the skills I would love to have software that is designed for SDR contesting. Combine the logbook and waterfall into one impressive package. Then allow to do digital work like PSK and RTTY on the same waterfall.
Thanks for reading,
Jeff – NT1K
When I first saw the FLEX3000 in action while I was at W1AW, I was suddenly interested in Software Defined Radio (SDR) and didn’t really have much idea about it. After playing around with it, I was amazed that you can see 96Khz of bandwidth. That means I can potentially see up to at least 24 SSB QSOs all at the same time. After leaving W1AW, I wanted to buy a flex but the problem is that I just spent a lot of money not to long ago on my FT-950. So I put the FLEX radio in the bin of dreams with the rest of the toys I wanted. When I was looking up the FT-950, I notice the DMU-2000 which provides a “Band Scope” which is like SDR. However the $1000 price tag and multiple negative reviews made that decision quick to make. Now I’m certain that I wouldn’t be using SDR.
Then one day I was looking around Youtube and saw a video of someone tuning around a FT-950 with SDR. I got excited thinking that I can finally have a SDR. After doing some more reasearch, I found that there is a company that makes a board that installs where the DMU-2000 would be installed at and it will provide an IF out signal. For $200 I was thinking that it would be well worth the money. What I didn’t know is that I still need another piece of hardware that takes the IF Signal from the radio converts it and sends it to the computer for processing. The same company (RFSpace) sells that hardware (SDR-IQ) for $524.00…. WOWZAS!!! It has great reviews and nothing but praise but it’s too rich for my wallet. That’s $724 to look at signals on a screen (it does more than that, I’ll explain later). The DMU-2000 is starting to look promising again.
There must be a cheaper way. I have to live up to one of the stereotypes of an amateur radio operator and find a cheaper way. Well… There is… Sort of. I already know that In order for me to play with SDR and my FT-950, I would have to buy the RF-Space IF-2000 card. But there was no way in hell that I am going to get the SDR-IQ. So I went ahead and purchased the IF-2000 as it’s a must. The next best thing that kept coming up was the LP-Pan. For $225 (Now $250) I thought wow, I can do the same thing for half the cost. YES!!! Then I kept reading… You should always keep reading! I found that in order to get full use of the LP-Pan, I would have to purchase a Sound Card. Not just any ol’ sound card but one that has 192KHz of bandwidth on the input. Those can get expensive so now you have to tack on another $100 and more cables to run back and fourth. Unless you already have a 192kHz card, you can get away with the one built into your computer. However you’ll only get 96 or most likey 48kHz of bandwidth.
CHEAPER!!! CHEAPER!!! CHEAPER!!!
If I were to get the LP-PAN, I would get the costs down from $724 to $550. I’m also sacrificing features as the price goes down. Is there anything out there that is cheaper? Is there? Yes there is and it’s called SoftRock. You can purchase the Softrock Lite II (For 30M, Just tell him what you’re doing and ask for the correct crystal) for around $20. There are many SDR receiver options out there now. As long as it can receive a 10.55MHz signal then it can be used with the IF-2000 card. I ended up using a Softrock Ensemble II as I had one at the shack. With my computers built in sound card, softrock rcvr and IF-2000 board, I was able to add SDR to my FT-950 for around $220. THAT’S CHEAP!… Well is it? It’s cheap but you get what you pay for. Most of the money is spent just getting the IF signal out of the FT-950. You can use the softrock indepently. Since I didn’t invest in a decent sound card, I am stuck only receiving 48kHz of bandwidth. That means if the radio is on 14.160MHz, I can see anything going on from 14.112Mhz thru 14.208Mhz. If you were to get the proper sound card, you would be able to see from 13.968Mhz thru 14.352MHz which is the entire 20M US amateur band.
For the FT-950, the IF-2000 is a must. At this point in time, there are no other mass produced boards that can hook into the FT-950 (or FT-2000) that will give you an IF out. Here is the installation of the IF-2000 into the FT-950
IF-2000 In box form…. Whoopie dooo. Well, it’s not just going to sit there
Insides of the box. Doesn’t look like much for $200. But at least you get a serial cable to hook up the FT-950 to either the computer or SDR-IQ. This is if you didn’t hook up the radio to the computer for control (CAT)
To get at where you have to install the IF-2000 in the FT-950, remove all the many screws (except the feet) that hold on the bottom cover on. Once removed you will see this void with the taped wire. That is where the DMU would go. Bah! We’re putting the IF-2000 there instead.
Look at that pretty board installed. Not even 5 minutes of work.
Cable from the IF Out of the IF-2000 is hooked directly into the Softrock. You also can’t go wrong with the gold plated Radio Shack patch cable. Gold plated cables is what keeps Radio shack in business (Sense my sarcasm?) What you see is the USB cable that controls the Softrock, Audio cable that is hooked up the the Line input of the sound card, Power cable and the BNC cable from the IF-2000.
I am not going into detail about getting the SoftRock going as it’s a project by itself and not the point of this article. There are so many different SDR related software, it’s very hard to give you a how-to on each software. Please refer to other sites that provide help with getting the Softrock going.
Now that I have the Softrock hooked up to the computer and I have the IF-2000 hooked up to the softrock, time to have some fun!
I’m using SDR# as a panadapter. As you see (above image in green), I tuned the Softrock to 10.55Mhz which is tuned to the converted signal that the IF-2000 is putting out. So now if I spin the dial, I can see 24Khz of activity on each side of the center frequency which is giving me 48Khz of bandwidth (see above image in red). This is now just a basic panadapterY. If you have a decent sound card, you can display 96kHz or even 192kHz of bandwidth which is possibly all you need. The software (SDR#) doesn’t have rig control so it’s pretty difficult to link your transceiver to the software. Other software like SDR-RADIO, HDSDR, SpectraVue, Power SDR-IF and some others will allow you to link your rig and allow complete control so when you click around on the waterfall, the radio will be in sync for TX
As I mentioned before, you get what you pay for! Even though the softrock is a great and cheap way into SDR, it has it’s problems. If you look at the above picture, you will notice that in the center of the waterfall there is a big line (or sets of lines). The big line is the result of the SoftRock picking up groundloops. If you were to “Listen” to the hump you will get instant feedback which is very annoying. There are ways to combat this (using batteries instead of wall-warts amoung other things) to where it’s more manageable. Most operators offset the signal away from the DC offset.
I WANT MORE!
At this point all I have is a Panadapter that can see 48KHz. An extra $100 on a sound card would get me 96kHz or 192kHz which would be great. Just having the Panadapter capabilities allows me to find and tune into signals much faster. I can also find “Holes” in a packed band where I can setup shop and talk (or contest) much faster. I tried it in a contest and it made search and pouncing much more faster. It improved my Q rate by almost half. Well worth the money just having it as a panadapter. But depending on the software and your computer, you can do a lot more with SDR than just displaying signals. The software is now doing most of the filtering. You can adjust the filters really quickly to grab that SSB or CW signal. I am not saying in any way that the FT-950 w/ SDR is better than Flex-3000 or Flex-5000 but you now have similar features. A really good feature that I like compared to a Flex radio is that I still not dependent on having a computer hooked up to the radio. I can simply disconnect the IF out cable and will be able to still use my radio out in the field or during emergency power situations. I would lose SDR but I can still have a usable radio.
I am satisfied with that setup but I WANT MORE!
I hate having 48kHz of bandwidth and I hate having that DC Hump in the middle of the screen. I also want the software to control my rig and allow me to know exactly where that signal is. So I want more bandwidth. Well I could spend around $100 for a sound card to get 192kHz of bandwidth but I’m still stuck with the DC Hump in the middle of my screen. I could add toroids and use a battery pack to power the softrock which would dampen the DC hump. It would be okay if I were just using as a stand-alone receiver but when combining it with a radio, it makes it difficult to know what frequency your listening to than what is displayed on your VFO for TX.
That means I have to upgrade to a new SDR unit. As mentioned before, If it can tune to 10.55MHz then I can use it. I could get the LP-Pan or the SDR-IQ which was designed for my situation but that was a couple years ago. There are now other products out there that will give you similar or better results for a cheaper price and possibly while your reading this article, someone somewhere is making even something better. I ended up buying the AFEDRI SDR-NET.
Here it is! Awww so sweet. I lived up to the cheap ham stereotype and purchased the unit without a case to save $50. If you happen to buy one, I strongly suggest to buy it with the case. The case is made out of extruded aluminum and is well worth the the $50. Let me repeat, I strongly urge you to buy it with the case.
The AFEDRI SDR-Net costs around $250 (with the case). That is the same price as a LP-Pan. Why didn’t I just get the LP-Pan? Because the AFEDRI has much more to offer for the same price. With the AFEDRI, there is no need for a sound card which saves me an extra $100. It also samples at 1.2MHz!!! That means if I’m centered on 14.200MHz, I can see from 13.600Mhz to 14.800MHz!! I Can see activity on the entire 20M band and more! I can see almost 6X more bandwidth compared to the LP-Pan and SDR-IQ. The AFEDRI is compared to some of the more expensive SDR units and it can hold it’s ground.
Hooked up and ready to rock.
Getting the AFEDRI to run could be a little difficult. If it wasn’t for a fellow ham that owned one walking me through it, I would’ve had a hard time even though there are instructions sent over from the person selling these boards. To get full use (1.2Mhz bandwidth) you want to use the AFEDRI on your network (that is if you have one) or hooked directly to your LAN port on your computer. You can use USB but your limited to around 200KHz of bandwidth. That’s like buying a HF/VHF/UHF multimode base rig just to talk on a repeater. I have the AFEDRI hooked up to my switch/hub located in my office. When you first program the AFEDRI, you will need to also have it hooked up the USB on the computer. After it’s programmed and working (through the network), you can disconnect the USB. If you can make or get your hands on a 7.5V LINEAR power supply, that would work great on powering the AFEDRI (It does come with a DC plug). DO NOT FEED THE AFEDRI WITH 12V !!! I got lazy and had a bunch of cell phone chargers that had the Mini USB plug and 5V . I powered the AFEDRI through the USB port. It works but the problem is that it’s a switching power supply that creates noise. It is noticeable but not as bad as the softrock.
The AFEDRI is great but it does lack one thing… On board filtering. Due to the lack of filtering and being near (within 2mi) of 3 AM broadcast transmitters, The front end is overloaded when using the AFEDRI SDR-Net stand alone (without the FT-950)
YIKES! The Image above shows exactly what my problem is. What your seeing is 1.2Mhz of bandwidth showing the same 3 AM broadcast stations that are near my QTH. That almost makes the SDR useless unless I add filtering to get rid of the AM BCB signals. But when I hook it up to the FT-950, it shows something different.
Much Much Better… This is showing the 80/75m band even though the display says 10.56 (should be 10.55). At this point I am still using the software as a panadapter tuned the converted IF output frequency of the IF-2000 . I’m assuming it’s better because the signal is passing through the FT-950′s bandpass filters before the signal is sampled. I am assuming this because If I made adjustments to the Attenuator and pre-amp on the front of the rig, I can see instant changes on the screen. If you are going to use the AFEDRI by itself. Don’t be alarmed. You can purchase or even make your own high pass filters that will solve a lot of the issues.
You will also notice that I am sampling at 1.2MHz even though I am using the FT-950 w/ the IF-2000. The reason why I brought this up is that RF Space claims on their website that the IF-2000 adds a 190KHz of display. That was my biggest fear when I was purchasing the AFEDRI that when I hooked it up to the FT-950 and IF-2000, I was only going to get 190KHz of bandwidth due to any limitations on the IF-2000. When I hooked it up, I was glad to see that I am taking full advantage of the AFEDRI.
The only issue I have at this time is calibration. If you spin the dial to a known frequency and listen it to it on SDR, you will notice compared to your radio that the signal is off. This can be fixed partially by calibrating the AFEDRI using the supplied software. I am now within 1-3Hz of a signal on LSB. However when I switch it to USB, I am off by .500KHz. Depending on the software, you can make a different correction (offset) for each mode.
Now I have a pretty Panadapter that allows me to view the entire band for most of the HF bands. It makes it easier to see if the band is “alive” and it allows me to dial in a station faster but what if I could just “CLICK” on a signal and have my radio automatically tune the VFO to that frequency so I can talk?
The AFEDRI by itself is a receiver. You can hook up your antenna to it and away you go! But I have it hooked up to my transceiver which adds a whole new element to having an SDR rig. by having it as a panadapter, I can just spin the dial to the signal on the screen and talk. But what if the signal is 100Khz away? I would have to spin the dial pretty quick. Depending on your rig and SDR software being used, it’s possible just to click on a signal that you see on the screen and the radio will automatically put will put it’s VFO right on or near the frequency you want to talk on. During contesting, that would allow me just to click on signals instead of spining the knob during search and pounce.
The ability to “Click And Tune” all has to do with the software. The software has to have a CAT control option. I ended using a slightly older version SpectraVue because of it’s ease of use but I also successfully used HDSDR and SDR-RADIO to where both the FT-950 and AFEDRI work together in RX and TX.
Here is a video of the FT-950 and AFEDRI in action
I find that SpectaVue is the easiest to use but lacks features found in both HDSDR and SDR-RADIO.
LOOSING A COM PORT
I like to use software such as N1MM, HRD and DX Labs Suite for logging, contesting and working “Digital” stations. However I won’t be able to use my SDR software because the port is being used by the logging/CAT control software and vise versa. For me, logging software is just as important as having SDR in my book. Have no fear but yet another piece of software to use to “Emulate” the com port allowing multiple applications to share the same com port. One such software I has success with is “Virtual Serial Ports Emulator”. If you happen to use the same software. “Create a new device” as a “Splittler”. Choose the regular comport that was normally used with the FT-950 and then choose the “Virtual” port. You will have to reconfigure all the software to communicate with the “Virtual” port. Another tip is to make sure the settings in VSPE are the exact same as what is used in the other programs used with your rig.
SO FAR SO GOOD
I’ve been messing around with this setup for about a week now and I am impressed. SpectraVue doesn’t allow custom offsets per mode (just has one main offset) but I fixed that by using the “Shift” feature on the FT-950. There are a couple issues that I see but don’t annoy me enough to get rid of SDR and I am sure it’s going to improve as more people get into SDR. The biggest annoyance is that when I TX, the software doesn’t catch on for a bit and I can hear my TX audio for a second. There is also a slight delay (as expected) between hearing the signal on the radio and the computer. I am not sure how it’s going to fair in a contest but the worst case is that I’ll use the SDR as a controllable panadapter and use the audio from the radio instead of the SDR.
Now I have to make a case!
Thanks for reading,
Jeff – NT1K
IF-2000 from RF Space – Allows the FT-950 to become a whole different beast
Softrock Lite – A simple means of SDR with the FT-950 and IF-2000
AFEDRI SDR-NET – My personal choice for SDR. Alex is a great guy and is very helpful
SpectraVue – SDR software that I use. It’s also on RF Spaces website. I suggest getting a version previous to 3.25 if your using the AFEDRI.
HDSDR - Another SDR software that I use. A modified version that works with the AFEDRI is included on a CD that comes with the AFEDRI.
Virtual Serial Ports Emulator – Allows the FT-950 to be used with both logging/CAT control software and the SDR software at the same time
I’ve been wanting to do a SOTA (Summits On The Air) activation for quite some time and I finally had the chance to go so I took advantage of it. For those who don’t know, SOTA is “Summits On The Air”. Take your equipment, climb a mountain (or hill) with your gear and make at least 4 contacts in order for it to be a successful activation. What’s great about SOTA is that it gets you off your butt and go outdoors. Another great thing about it is that there is a website where you are allowed to self spot so at least others know where you are. After you are done you upload or enter you logs into the website and you can start competing with others in the area and possibly get awards.
In my last article, I made a 3EL Yagi using a tape measure that I didn’t use other than waving it around like a mad man in my back yard. I built the Yagi so I can participate in outdoor activities like radio direction finding and SOTA. So for the past month or so I’ve been itching and looking for any excuse to use this antenna. Nick (K1MAZ) mentioned that he was going to activate Mt. Norwottock after he gets out of work alone. Since my night was free and available, I contacted nick to see if I can tag along which he said sure.
Since this was last second, I ran around the house trying to locate the things that I would think I need for a SOTA activation based off of what I’ve read from other peoples SOTA adventures. I took along my Yagi, Two 2M HT’s, adapters, lots of tape, extra stubby antennas, multi-tool, knife, stuff to keep me warm. Away I went into the dark to drive to “The Notch”.
Here is a map of the State park. The line is red is that path from the visitors center to the summit.
Here is the APRS map of our hike. You will notice that we sort of took a wrong turn. Trail markers are a lot harder to see at night! After we fixed our headings, the climb started and I realized a couple minutes into the “climb” that I am out of shape. I kept stopping, huffing and puffing while Nick was having no issue with the climb. I wasn’t sure if it was all due to being out of shape or wearing very thick clothing .
Once we reached the summit, I was hot to trot so I immediately got the Yagi going and left Nick to assemble his HF wire antenna. I should have helped him but I was a little to excited and wanted to get on the air right away. After making the bulk of my contacts, I’ve stopped to help him finish installing the antenna.
This was the setup that I was using. My homebrew 3EL Yagi and the Wouxun kg-uvd1p handheld.
Since there was cell/data coverage on the summit, I spotted my self on the local clubs FaceBook page and thought I spotted myself on SOTAwatch. Got on 146.520 Mhz (AKA National calling freq) and started calling CQ. As there is little to no activity around here on 146.520, I decided to stay on that frequency as it was not causing any harm. Not even a minute of calling CQ, I was contacted by ED (KB1NWH) from his QTH 22Mi away from my location as well as Mike (N1TA). At the point I was assuming that they and some of the SOTA regulars in the area were going to be my only contacts. I was wrong… One of the people that worked me or saw my post on Facebook went on the local repeater and announced that I was up there. That opened up the flood gates and I worked the following
- AB1RS – Rich
- KB1PWH -
- WD1S – James
- W1MSW – Matt (SOTA Jerks)
- N1FDC – Phil
- KB1VPN – Jake
- K1YO – Bob (Mobile)
- KK1W – Jim (SOTA Jerks)
- WI1N – Charles
- WC1Y – Rory
- KB1JFQ – Chuck (SOTA Regular)
- WW1X – Rockwell (SOTA Regular)
- N1KXR – Rich
A total of 15 Contacts on VHF.
All these people coming out to work me made all the troubles I had getting up there worth it. I was going up there thinking that I wouldn’t have enough contacts to make the activation count but thanks to those listed above, I now have 1 activator point.
I’ve learned a lot by this one trip. The tape measure yagi turned out to be a success! Almost everyone that contacted me on VHF was strong and DFQ.
I plotted out all the contacts I made based on their address on QRZ.com, Two of them were mobile stations so I just put markers to area where they reported they were.
Everyone was pretty much “From The Valley” and all contacts I’ve had were crystal clear. I had a backup two meter radio and I should have used it to compare using the rubber duck to using the yagi but that thought escaped me.
HF Side of Things
Nick was more interested in the HF side to the hike. He brought along his FT100, MFJ Tuner, G5RV and coax. When we reached the summit area, Nick when right to work putting up his antenna in the dark. He didn’t get the antenna as high as he wanted it (8-10ft off the ground) but used it anyways. Once everything was set, Nick spotted then went on the air.
Here is a little video I took.
At first all the locals were calling and then some of the SOTA regulars started contacting him as well.
Between 80M and 40M, Nick had 15 contacts and I had 7.
This was just a quick last minute thing for me so I didn’t have much time to plan. I quickly gathered anything that would fit in my pockets of my cargo pants and was more worried about staying warm than anything else.
Even though the Yagi I was using didn’t weigh much and it didn’t give me an issue during the climb, It started to “feel” heavy while I was using it. Holding that and the radio at the same time made logging contacts very difficult. Not sure if it was me or the cold weather but the radio kept changing frequencies which made things a little more difficult. I am going to modify the yagi so I can put it on a Tripod and I am going to make it so the radio can be mounted to the tripod as well and use a speaker/mic to make contacts.
Overall I had a great time and I want to do it again with VHF. If I keep doing it, I might pickup some portable HF gear.
Thanks for reading
This is the 3rd and update to my HeathKit SB-200 Amplifier Project.
The amp has been running fine since I’ve got it going. I had a resistor pop in the parasitic suppressors and I think that the amp is running too hot in temperature for little time I use it. At this point I am placing the blame on the two muffin fans that are currently “Cooling” the tubes. I am thinking that the fans are not providing enough air to cool the tubes fast enough. When I was replacing the parasitic suppressors, I performed some modifications (see update #1) and ordered a new fan from Harbach Electronics to see if it would make a difference.
I also held out on performing a couple more modifications because I had to fabricate some parts to encase the glitch resistor so if it were to pop, most of the resistor mess would be contained. The fan was placed on back order so It gave me time mark up and cut the lexon glass to sandwich the resistor with.
The fan kit does come with installation instructions which at first were a little difficult for me to understand. This was due to the fact that the new fan is a modified replacement of the original fan that came from Heathkit and I had purchased the amp with PC type fans. There is pre-assembly you have to do to the fan before installing. It involves removing a couple of screws on the fan that stick out and replacing them with shortened screws. Then you have attach aluminum spacer blocks to the fan which the block also has holes spaced out to fit in the orignal pattern of the fan from Heathkit.
The installation is pretty simple and straightforward. The kit comes with new rubber grommets to absorb any minor vibration that the fan causes.
You can either cut the wires near the old fan and tie into them or what I did was un-solder the old wires and wire the new ones in place.
I initially wrote this article in early may. I wanted to do some other upgrades at the same time but the New England QSO party was really close so I decided just to do the fan. The install went easy and would like to thank those at Harbach for rushing out the part. I made sure the fan was balanced as much as possible and I was able to use the amp during the entire contest. It’s a tad bit louder than the PC Muffin type fans that were in there but you can actually feel more air being pushed with the replacement fan. Over the past months the amp has performed very well. I should find more screws to secure the hood and the sheet metal covering the tubes/rf deck as it tends to rattle during operation.
That’s right! I went to ARRL HQ again. With it being in reasonable distance from my QTH, how can I NOT resist on going there often. I try to go at least once a year. I also try to see and or do something different everytime I go. Last year when I went down, the Lab where they test a lot of the things you read in QST was being remodeled so I made it a point to go back when it was operational again.
Here is ARRL HQ which is located directly behind the Hiram Percy Maxim W1AW building. They have scheduled tours provided by a great bunch of Volunteers whom take pride in their work. I had the same person as last time which was Dan Arnold (W1CNI) who gave the tour. Since I was the only one there, I only expressed interest in the lab and wanted to visit the VEC so I can take care of some VE stuff. I figured to kill two birds with one stone. If you didn’t read about the last time I went to ARRL HQ, Read about it here
Here is just a part of the ARRL Lab. At lot about the product reviews you read have most likely been tested here.
Here is where a lot of tests take place. The walls, floor and ceiling are lined with metal and RF absorbing material. You also see a lot of equipment that I wish I had (A HP Network Analyzer would look really good on my bench). In the photo is Ed Hare (W1RFI) who does a lot of work in the lab and is very passionate concerning RFI (Hence the call). Very nice person to talk with and I’m glad he does what he does and he’s an asset for the League.
This is why I came down. It’s the W1AW building. It’s where all the toys are at.
Looks small but it’s packed full of fun. In the background you’ll see one of the many towers on the property. At one point this was a lonely building on a hill and now it has neighborhoods all around it and with HQ in the back. I Guess nobody can complain about the towers since they were there before their house was.
MORE TOWERS!!! Oh man I wish I had just one tower…. Okay, maybe two. A lot of these are fixed beams that are used for the ARRL Bulletins and some of them are on rotors to be pointed where needed.
Here is studio one. You have a Yeasu FTdx9000D in the foreground and you have the Icom IC-7700 in the background. I wanted to use the 7700 because of the PR-781 microphone that was attached to it. I was interested in how they hooked it up. Since I am Biased towards the Yeasu, I got to say that I really like the 7700 If by some miracle I have that kind of money the throw at a rig, I would consider getting the IC-7700 over its Yaesu counterpart. I like the nice clear screen, The VFO knob with nice and smooth, All the important adjustment that are needed are up front, None of that menu driven stuff and the audio sounded great coming out of it.
Here I am at the control of the IC-7700. Muahahahahah!! I started off on 20M SSB calling CQ, the band wasn’t open so I made a lot of US contacts. I then went on 15M finding that it also was just as dead. Not sure if I was allowed to but I played with the Rotor and had the 4 El beam pointing South East (135 Degrees) and got a lot of people calling with the occasional pileup. It was great hearing some people say, “I always wanted to make contact with W1AW. This is my first time!” I’ve also heard a couple of people tell me their W1AW stories. It’s also fun when Saudi Stations are calling me (Well… W1AW) when I’m the one fighting in pileups to contact them.
Overall has a really fun day trip. Wish I could have stayed a lot longer but was worth it. Maybe I can squeeze in another trip. If you happen to be in the Hartford CT area or you know you’re going to be. Give the ARRL a call to make sure they will be ready when you get there. Getting to use the W1AW call is fun because most times there is a pileup
Even though Field Day (FD) is weeks away, the planning of it gets me excited knowing that it’s near. Field day is the basically the main reason why I got my license. During my CB days, someone brought me to a field day hosted by the MTARA (Mount Tom Amateur Radio Assn.) on top of Mount Tom around 1995. I recall being on 14mhz using a Kenwood TS-440 and was making contacts all around the country. Compared to CB I was amazed about the contacts I was making considering I would never hear the stations, let alone make contact with them on CB. Field day was the kick in the ass to get my license and pretty much put CB behind me.
For those who don’t know what Field Day is, I would check out this website that would explain it in more detail then I could. It’s a emergency preparedness exercise where operators try to contact with as many other operators as possible. Even though you don’t have to, it’s encouraged that you bring your gear and communicate from a field, hence “Field” Day. A lot of local Amatuer Radio Clubs put on events related to FD to have fun and also promote Amateur Radio to the general public at the same time.
Last year I participated in Field Day with the Hampden County Amateur Radio Association running the digital station.
This year I will be running SSB on 40M (7mhz) with the HCRA again at Dufresne Park in Granby MA. If you are in the area. You should stop by and check it out. Go Here for more information
As this blog is geared to newer hams, you’ll sometimes hear the word “contesting” or “radio sport”. Sometimes I think it’s funny seeing or hearing Ham Radio and sport in the same sentence. It reminds me of a scene in the movie “King Pin” where the character played by Randy Quaid says, “It’s intimidating to be in the presence of so many great athletes.” Then the shot pans to a bunch of fat guys smoking, eating and drinking. Sort of an oxy-moron if you ask me.
So what is this “contesting” and what’s it about?
As simply as I can put it, Contesting is where a operator or operators try to establish contact with as many other operators as possible within a certain period of time. What makes each contest unique are the rules and regulations that govern each contest. Most contests have the operators send a piece of information to the other operator and vise versa. This “Exchange” is used by sponsor of the contest to ensure that an actual contact actually happened. Once the contest is over, all the operators that took part in it will send in their logs to the sponsor before a deadline. The sponsor will then enter all the logs into a database and it will cross check all the logs and award points. The points are awarded depending on the rules of the contest. It can be as simple as one point per contact or 2 or 3 points. There are also Multipliers (mults) which are defined by the rules of the contest, making contact with a mult will multiply your entire score by that amount.
The one with the most points wins is a general way to put it. Depending on the contest, there could be multiple winners for all the different categories they have. Some of those categories could be QRP, Low Power (>100W), High Power(<250W), Emergency Power, Single Operator, Multiple Transceivers with Multiple Operators, Single Transmitter with Mulitple Operators, Rover/Portable (Driving around) are just some of the categories that could be used in a contest. Just read the rules of the particular contest and you will know where to fit in or what to aim for.
Is contesting for me?
That all depends on you. Some operators love it. They eat, drink and don’t sleep contesting. The only time you will see them on the air is during a contest. There are even clubs dedicated for contesting. I belong to the “Yankee Clipper Contest Club” (YCCC) and they take contesting very seriously. If you are into contesting I would suggest to join one. As I did with the YCCC, you can learn a lot about contesting . It’s not necessary but If you get bitten by the contesting bug, the information and help from fellow members is worth the membership fee.
Some of the operators who do a lot of contesting, setup their stations with only contesting in mind. Some ops go as far as buying property and building their station around contesting.
I had a chance to visit one of these contest stations and I was quite impressed with the setup. The station I got to visit is built and owned by Dave Robbins (K1TTT). I got to operate at his station with the BSA Venture Crew 510 (NE1C) for both the North American QSO Party (NAQP) and WPX SSB.
Here is what is station looks like
Pictured: John (Kx1x) and Nick (K1MAZ)
You’ll notice that there are multiple transmitters scattered throughout his station. Each area is basically dedicated for a single band. If the contest allows, there can be 6 to 9 transmitters being used at the exact same time. The software (N1MM) that is being used is networked throughout his entire shack. This will show real time progress of the contest and predict a very accurate score. It could also lead to a little contest between operators to see how many QSOs each operator can make.
Here are some of the Antennas that make this station possible
I didn’t have time to take photos of all of his antennas but it’s quite impressive. If you want more information about K1TTT, you can visit his website.
With this Station/Setup, It’s NOT hard to have a high score. Since this is what is considered to be a “BIG GUN” station, it’s easy to take command of a frequency and “Run” for a good portion of the contest. Let the contacts come to you. The only thing I did not like about using his station is when I returned home to use my equipment only to hear a fraction of what I just heard at the contest station. But if you ever have a chance to use a contest station, go for it! You can learn a lot about contesting just by watching someone who has done it for a while.
Now don’t let me scare you out of contesting by saying you need to have this “BIG GUN” station. The truth is a lot of the stations that participate in contests have what is considered to be a “Normal” setup. If you’re still on the fence about contesting, my advice would be to find someone or a group within a reasonable distance and shadow them for a contest. If you join a contesting club (if it’s possible), there are contesters who are looking for more operators as they work in “Shifts” depending on the contest. Another thing you can do is wait for Field Day. Even though the ARRL calls Field Day a emergency preparedness exercise, it’s could be considered a contest or even both. You get points for making contacts and points for doing certain things and they publish the results every year. Visit a Field Day site and you will get a general idea on how it works. If you don’t want to transport to another station, as long as you have the equipment, there is nothing to stop you from contesting from your home (other than your license limitations).
The Dark Side of contesting
Not all Hams enjoy contesting. Actually some Hams just flat out HATE contesting and anything to do with it. Some of them beleave that contesting actually ruins amateur radio because it’s turning a leisurely hobby into a “Sport” and it’s congesting the airwaves with nothing but false exchanges transmitted by operators who are over-driving their signal and using more power than the legal limit to force other ops off the frequency and/or band. You’re not learning about the person on the other side, you’re just establishing contact and moving on.
That is basically what you will hear from the “Anti-Contesters” and I think it’s a half truth. There are operators that show no respect and do all of those things. But it also happens when there is not a contest going on. When a major contest is going on, depending on the contest, there is a lot of activity going on. There is so much activity that it’s very possible that the entire band is being consumed by contesters. There is refuge from all this chaos however. Most, If not all contests do not allow contesting on the WARC bands (60m, 30m, 17m, 12m) so if you don’t like contesting, you can use these bands. The downside to the WARC bands is that you have limited space and there are not many antennas designed for the WARC bands which keeps some operators off.
Most contests take place during the weekend. A good amount of the contests are mode specific. So if it’s a RTTY contest, most of the activity will be around the RTTY calling frequencies and the SSB portion will be not effected. Same with CW or PSK or SSB only. However there are contests that any and/or every mode can be used.
If you’re an avid “Rag Chewer” contesting might not be up your alley. Don’t knock it down until you at least put a serious effort into contesting. If you’re going into contesting with a negative attitude, you’ll have negative results. If it ends up that you don’t like contesting for whatever reason, please don’t turn into a “Anti-Contester”. Just because you like telling your story to every ham that you come across doesn’t mean that every single amateur radio operator should be doing the same thing. Some hams are in it for CW, some are in it for Ragchewing, some are in it for chasing DX, some are in it for EmComm (Emergency Communications), some are in it for contesting and yada yada yada ya. Ham Radio is a big melting pot of all different types of people and the different ways they communicate. It shouldn’t be subject to a single use.
I want to try contesting, what do I need?
As I stated earlier, you don’t need a “Big Gun” station to participate and have fun in a contest. All You need is time, will and determination more than anything else. Oh and at least some equipment. If you already have a transceiver, antenna and a way to log the contacts then you are all set for contesting. If you’re comfortable with just that then hopefully you’ll have a fun time contesting.
There are things out there that will make your contesting experience much more enjoyable and will give you a better chance of a higher score. In my personal opinion, the biggest contribution to contesting is the personal computer. With that and CAT control and possibly an internet connection, it will make you much faster in the contest. With a computer you can use logging software in combination with rig control to log the frequency, time, call-sign and exchange. Depending on the software, it will estimate your score. That depends on if the other stations you’ve contacted submitted their logs.
Some other things that can help you in a contest are a Headset (For SSB) with either a foot switch or the VOX (Voice Operated Transmission) enabled on your radio (if you have one). That will free up your hands for logging and other things. It will also block most of the noise happening in your environment. A memory keyer (CW/SSB/Computer) would be beneficial for both CW and voice contesting. What the memory keyer does is store messages that you will be sending over and over again. For example if you say “CQ Contest CQ Contest This Is November Tango One Kilo Contest” hundreds or thousands of times throughout a contest, it can get tiring and you’ll sound horrible towards the end of the contest. The memory keyer will store the message and play it over the air whenever you push a button. So you can store things like CQ, Your exchange (if there is no serial number involved or anything that is different per contact), “Thank you, 73″, “QRZ This is NT1K” and other things that you might say repeatedly. Same with Morse code. A lot of this can be done with the computer. However, you might have to add an additonal piece of equipment called a “Sound Card Interface” like the Rigblaster or SignaLink for voice and/or some kind of CW interface like WinKey. You can also just buy the hardware (linked earlier). There are many options out there, some people use a couple of Audio cables and the VOX on their radio as an interface.
In short, a ideal contest setup would consist of your transceiver(s), antenna(s), computer w/ appropriate software, headset and/or memory keyer (either software or hardware).
I have what I think is needed for contesting. What do I do?
First off, see what contest(s) are out there that you are interested in and see when they happen. This website catalogs the upcoming contests and gives you the basics about each one. Most contests have a website that is dedicated to the contest in question. I would visit that web site, read and understand all the rules for that contest. Nothing is more embarrassing then not reading the rules and participating in a contest where all the work that you did could be flushed down the toilet.
Next thing to do is to set your goals. You can aim to beat your last years score, the score of a rival operator or operate for X amount of time or X amount of contacts. You can aim really high and set your goal to WIN the contest.
If you are brand new to contesting, I would read the rules and listen in on a different contest before taking part in the one that you’re interested in. That way you have a feel for what’s about to happen. If you’re in a contest that is using a “Digital” mode (such as RTTY, PSK, CW, FeldHell, etc.. ) it would be wise to setup “macros” or scripts needed for calling CQ and making exchanges. Nothing is more irritating when you’re in a PSK or RTTY contest and the persons macro is a mile long causing the QSO to take way longer than it should.
About a week before the contest begins, start checking your equipment and software to make sure everything is in working order. That way you’re not running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off looking for hardware to replace your non-working hardware or trying to fix the software you’re using.
The day before the contest starts I would check your equipment again and configure your software (if you’re using it) to the contest that you will be participating in. If you’re using rig control, make sure that it works and everything communicates with each other. Then I would test your setup by getting on the air and making contacts. If you happen to have towers and beams or directional antennas, have them pointed in the direction you need them in.
Get a good nights sleep. You don’t want to be exhausted when getting into the contest. Depending on the contest, you might NOT be sleeping for the next 48 hours. So plan accordingly. Hours before the contest starts, I would do one final check of you’re equipment. Depending on how serious you want to be, I would also take this time to setup your area. Make it as comfortable as possible since you might be planted there for a long time. Things like having a stocked cooler and/or coffee maker within arms reach can really make things easier. Same thing with snacks and/or meals. If you’ve ever done gaming then you should already have an idea of what it’s going to be like. This may sound extreme but that’s how some people do it.
Contest Started. What do I do?
To answer that easily… GO GO GO!! What are you waiting for?!? Start!.. Every couple seconds of just sitting there wondering could cost you points. The ideal thing to do would to take command of a un-used frequency (good luck) and start calling “CQ contest…” (running) and start racking up those contacts. However depending on the contest, you might get pushed off by the “BIG GUNS”. It’s happened to me (even when I was using a “BIG GUN” station) a lot and I am sure it will happen to you. It’s hard to compete when the “Big Guns” are hogging up the band. Don’t let that make you lose hope. Use that to your advantage. Work all those “Big Gun” Stations and do what it called “Search & Pounce (S&P)”. Start from the beginning of the band and turn the dial towards the end of the band, working as many stations as possible. Depending on the contest or the rules or the category you’re running in, once you reached the end of the band, go the next higher band and do the same thing over and over. If you happen to find an empty frequency that can be used then stop S&P and go back to Calling CQ (Running) and repeat.
Another way people contest (if it’s allowed in the contest) is to utilize the Spotter/Skimmer/Packet networks that are out there. For those who don’t know what this is, it’s the exact same thing as a “DX Cluster”. What happens during the contest is after the operator makes a contact, the frequency and callaign will be “Spotted” on the network. For CW there are computers that use SDR (Software Defined Radio) that can look at almost 200Khz worth of bandwidth, decode the CW and post the spots on the cluster. They call this skimming. If you have the appropriate software and it’s setup correctly, you can have all this information displayed on your computer and all you would have to do is click on the callsign you want to make contact with and it will automatically put you on the frequency they are on and partially fill out the log book. The downside of this is that it could possibly put you into a different category. It’s may be fine for some contests (because you’re already in that category) but will make it difficult for you to even place in other contests because there is a possibility that you will be lumped in with the bigger stations.
What can I do to have the Highest Score Possible?
Well, that depends on you and your will, determination and the goals you set before the contest. If your goal was to operate for at least a couple hours and you did then your Goal has been achieved and your score will reflect it. However there are things that you can do to get the highest score possible. The fastest way to a high score is to work multipliers(mults). I brushed on this earlier but depending on how the contest is setup and governed, certain stations are considered multipliers. If you work that station and get confirmation, your score will multiply by that amount. So if you worked 54 (1X) multipliers, each contact (QSO) would be 54 points. If you’re working assisted and depending on the logging software, it will tell you that you’re working a multiplier and your predicted score will change.
Another thing to do is stay active. Some people are only active when the band is “Open” and go off to do other things when the band dies down. Spend some time before the contest looking at and learning HF Propagation charts (Link 1|2|3|4). Make a print out of what bands will be active at certain times and try to get on before the band “Opens” up. Hopefully that will give you a jump and possibly a running frequency. If the contest involves working stations in Europe, you most definitely want to be on the air when the band opens up to Europe due to the massive amount of stations and countries in that area. If the contest is a “work anyone anywhere” type then when the band dies down, concentrate your efforts to working contacts in your area/country. There might be a time were it seems dead. At this point find the most “Active” band and setup camp calling CQ. Contacts will come trickling in but it’s better than not making contacts at all. I also have either my laptop/tablet/smartphone going so I can be doing other things while calling CQ and stopping to make the contact.
Quick Notes On Contesting:
- Set your goal – Is it to be on for X amount of hours? or to make X amount of points? or to beat last years score? or to WIN!
- Check Check Check your equipment – Don’t want to spend the first 3 hours of the contesting fixing things.
- Be comfortable – Setup the area to be as comfortable as possible. Possibly have food and drinks within arms reach.
- Know band openings\closings – Use HF propagation prediction software/sites so you know when a band is opening/closing
- Three tries – If you can’t get the station within three tries, move on or say “Sorry, I can’t work you, please try again later. QRZ” . If they are strong, the chances of them of being there on your next go-around will be high.
- No Ragchewing – The point of a contest is to make as many QSOs as possible. Talking to another contester will end up costing you potential contacts and will annoy the other contester.
- Start low and repeat – If you’re S&P, start at the beginning of the band and work your way to the end. At the end, move to the next band higher until you’re high as you can get and then start over at the lowest possible band and repeat. Like a cirrrrrrcle.
- Follow the DX Code of Conduct – Even though this should be followed at all times. It’s more important during a contest. Not everyone follows this but after some time contesting, They stick out like a sore thumb and will be labeled a LID (poor operator)… Don’t be a LID.
- Keep going - Make as many contacts as you can within the time period you’re allowed. Try to stay at your station
Contest is done… Now What?
After you recover, I would glance over the logs to see if anything sticks out that is wrong like invalid callsigns or bad exchanges and see if you can fix them or possibly remove them (I would try to fix them). Some contests will give kudos to those whom submitted error free logs.
After checking the log, export it in the format the sponsor asked for (mostly carbrillo format) and check the rules of the contest to see how or where you have to submit/upload/e-mail your logs to.
Even if you were in the contest for 10 minutes, If you made contacts, I would submit a log file. There is no FCC Law saying you have to submit a log, but depending on the contest, it might take points away from the other operators since it’s won’t be a true contact since there is no confirmation from you. So if you take part in a contest, please submit a log. Even if it doesn’t benefit you. It’s just good practice.
Was it worth all the time and trouble?
Once again, that all depends on YOU! Did you have a fun time? Did you reach your goals that you’ve set before the contest started? Was this your first time participating in this particular contest? Did you end up getting a certificate or winning a category? All of these questions will tell if you if it was worth it. A great thing about contesting is that you can use the contacts that you made during the contest to count towards awards like DXCC or WAS (that is if you were using YOUR callsign). And if this was your first contest, now you have a base to set your goals for.
NT1K Experiences in Contesting
At the time of writing this article, I’ve participated in a few contests. I am nowhere near being an “expert” at contesting and I don’t have what is considered to be a “BIG GUN” setup. I’m writing this hoping to drum up at least some interest in contesting from those who are just getting into the hobby. There are other articles by veteran contesters that are much better. If you have the chance to join a contesting club, go for it! If you didn’t learn anything from joining and participating in a contest club then I would question what type of club it really is. Some clubs even hold “Contesting Classes” where they will walk you through the details of contesting. You can also attach yourself to a group within the club (and hopefully near your QTH as well) and shadow them to see how it’s all done. Some of these contesters are begging for ops to come over and operate using their callsign (or club call) so they can take a break. Some are willing to teach you (isn’t really hard to say you’re 59 and the exchange) so they can have a semi warm body at the radio making contacts.
My Contesting setup is made up of the following
- Transceiver: Yaesu FT-950 HF/6M - It’s no K3 or IC-7800 but I like it!
- Personal Computer: Quad-Core @ 3.2Ghz using Dual boot Windows 7/Ubuntu
- Software: N1MM Logger, MMTTY(RTTY), FLdigi(PSK) and Ham Radio Deluxe. MMTTY and FLdigi works within N1MM
- Soundcard Interface: SignaLink USB. This is used so I can send Voice CQ and AFSK from the digi programs
- Headset: Heil Pro Set
- Antenna(s): G5RV, ButterNut HF9V (Not Used Yet)
- Amplifier: Heathkit SB-200 w/ 600w out (Not Used During a Contest…Yet). This is optional and can change your category
Contests I’ve actively participated in (So Far)
- Various Field Days (1995-2011) – Even though it not considered to be a contest, I think it is! Field day with the MTARA, PRA and HCRA
- New England QSO Party (2011,2012) – Actually won a plaque for winning first place in Hampden county in 2011. It also means that I beat 6 other ops. Doesn’t matter, still won. Single Op from home using low (1oow) power, submitted as high power by mistake.
- CQ World Wide SSB (2011) - 144,026 points. Would have had more if my power didn’t go out (Oct storm). I’m still getting logbook of the world confirmations from this contest
- CQ World Wide CW (2011) – 12,000 points. My goals were to make 100CW contacts which was achived. I used a computer for the contest so I was only able to make contact with strong stations that were also using a computer. This contest gave me a push to learn CW
- ARRL 10M contest (Dec, 2011) – Approx 8,000 pts. Spent only a couple of hours operating as I don’t have very good 10m coverage (Dipole in attic)
- North America QSO Party – (Score Unknown) Participated in NAQP from K1TTT contest station using the call NE1C.
- CQ WPX SSB – Approx 10,000,000 points. Multi-Op From K1TTT using call NE1C. Was the only op on the night shift for the second day. It was a slow night making abt, 100,000pts but when Europe opened on 20M, I made around 1,500,000 points in the first couple hours. Had a great time, I wish it was my call being used from the stations. I worked countries that I never even heard (Thailand, Mongolia) from at my QTH.It was pointed out that there is more pride making contacts from your home QTH and your setup which I fully agree.
(ARTICLE STILL UNDER REVIEW)
I felt that it was time to put some “Fire In the Wire”. However I wanted to learn about amplifiers since I have no clue how one really works other than giving my signal a boost. The original plan was to build one from scratch but after some attempt at collecting parts I decided that building one from scratch was not going to work out since I didn’t have knowledge to even start one. The next best thing was to buy an amplifier and rebuild it.
I ended up getting a Heathkit SB200 Amplifier. The reason I went with the SB200 is that it appears to have a huge following and (some) parts are still being sold for it. There are also many articles written about this amplifier and it’s still being used in a lot of stations to this day.
What is an amplifier and what does it do? Or what does an RF amplifier do since we’re dealing with RF (Radio Frequency). A RF amplifier is a electronic device that takes a low-power radio frequency signal and turns the signal into larger signal with more power without changing the characteristics of the signal . This can be done by at least a couple of different ways. It can be done using Vacuum Tubes or Field Effect transistors (FET) which act very different but produce similar results. Vacuum tubes use High voltage with low amperage and FETS use low voltage with high amperage. There are many different types of amplifiers that are divided into classes depending on the type of circuitry used in the construction and its final use.
Do you really need an amplifier? This question could lead to a lot of debate between hams. There are hams that take pride on making all their contacts by only using the power provided from the transceiver (and some using under 10 watts/QRP) and there are hams that prefer using amplifier at almost all times. It all depends on your situation and needs. I would prefer a nice antenna setup that can be directed and have gain over a amplifier but at this point in my life, it’s very unlikely that it will happen. I went with an amplifier as a “Pile-Up” buster. An example for me is when 9K2UU (Barrak in Kuwait) was on the other day. There were so many people trying to contact Barrak that it felt impossible that I was going to establish contact with him. The last time he was on I tried for over an hour to make a QSO without luck. Mostly due to the other operators using Amplifiers. This time I had the amplifier so after a couple of times of trying to contact him, I turned on the amp and made a QSO with Barrak with the first try.
So how does the SB200 work. We know it takes the signal from the transceiver, amplifies it and sends it out to the antenna. But how? The SB200 has three areas that make amplification possible. You have the power supply, input circuit and the output circuit. There is a relay that is controlled by either a switch or the transceiver that activates the amp. The signal comes out transceiver into the “Input Circuit of the amp. The input circuit consists of coils and capacitors that are adjusted and controlled from the band switch on the front panel that provide the tubes with the proper impedance. The signal then passes through the tubes where amplification takes place using the components in the tubes and the very High voltage provided from the power supply to power the tubes. After the tubes do their work the signal passes through the “Output Circuit” consisting of more capacitors and Coils to clean up the signal even more and is fed to the antenna. This is just a basic summary of how the SB200 works. There are websites that explain how amplifiers work in great detail and I’ll link to them at the end of the article.
Now to my SB200. I found this amp on the for sale section on QRZ.com. The amp needed work and thought that this amp would be the perfect project to get my feet wet in amplifier building. Thing about Heathkit amps is that they are kits. They are as good as the person that built the amp. If the original builder had no clue what they were doing (examples are cross wiring, swapping components and poor soldering to name a few), the amp will perform poorly if it performs at all.
The seller did a poor job at packaging the amp for shipping and my pants almost turned brown when I saw the box come off the truck. The seller then blamed me since “I didn’t pay enough for shipping” when it was the seller who gave me the shipping quote. The amp showed some signs of damage from shipping which appears to be cosmetic but I was worried about the High voltage power supply so I hooked it up to find that I was getting the 2300-2400vdc that I needed. A bit of relief. I’ve learned to inquire how the item is going to be shipped from now on.
When I got this amp it was in the middle of being restored. There were no tubes, the components were missing on the tube sockets and there were no parasitic suppressors (Which I was well aware). It appears that previous owner replaced the original cooling fan with a couple of PC type fans and installed a “Soft-Start” circuit as well as “Soft-Key” circuit but removed the “Soft-Key” before it got to me. The power supply that provides the High Voltage also appears to been replaced/upgraded. Since this amp was designed back in the 1960′s where the circuit that activates the amplifier used -110vdc. It would ruin modern transceivers keying circuits by putting high voltage into the transceiver. To combat this people install a “Soft-Key” which basically converts the -110Vdc to around 1Vdc which plays nice with the modern transceivers. Another modification that was done before I got the amp was the addition of a “Soft-Start” module that prevents a “Rush” of current hitting the tubes. when you push the on button, the amp is supplied with a load that is restricted for a couple of milliseconds and then switches to the full load using resistors and relays. Even though I’ve read on many sites that the “Soft-Soft” is not really needed for this amp but since it’s installed, I’ll keep it. It can do no harm.
The previous owner also shipped some components that will make bringing this amp back to life a lot easier. I received the filament choke and a couple kits from AG6K (Not sure if he still sells kits) with detailed instructions on installation.
The only thing I have to do is obtain the rest of the parts. The tubes were available from RF parts. The tubes were about $120 for the pair, A new “Soft-Key” kit for around $30 from Harbach electronics and the rest of the components were about $20 from Mouser. I have around $350 invested in this project.
After all the parts came in. I found a manual with a schematic online and used it to install all the missing parts and installed with “Soft-Start”. After installation of the parts I went back to the manual and double checked the entire installation and everything seemed to check out.
Before turning the amplifier on, I preformed some checks to lower my chances of a smoke and/or light show. The manual states to perform a couple of “Resistance” checks. The first one is to put a multimeter on the anode clip (nipple of the tube) and the chassis. When the meter stabilizes, it should read around 180k ohms. However I was seeing 240K ohms which made me a little bit worried. After searching google I learned that this is due to the replacement of the High voltage board. The other resistance test is to place an ohm meter on lug 3 (V3) of the tube and place the other lead to the chassis. The resistance should be somewhere between 5k-15k ohm. I ended up with 10K which is right in the middle.
After performing all the checks I can do with the amp off, I was still hesitant on turning the amp on since I never really messed around with an amplifier before. I wanted the amp to be checked out by someone else but I got impatient one weekend and decided to go for it. I removed the tubes from the amplifier and powered the amplifier. To my relief there was no smoke/light show and was still seeing around 2400v on the meter. I turned the amp off and waited till the caps were discharged. Placed the tubes in and turned the amp back on. To my amazment, the tubes sprung to life and produced a comforting glow. I left the amp on for an hour and nothing happened in that time so I decided to put a signal through the amp to see what happens. I went on the 20m band, put the radio into CW and did a tune. I was glad to see around 600W on my watt meter.
I decided at that point to make some contact with the amp on. Spinning around the dial I hear a Northern Ireland DX station and threw my call out. He responded to my call the very first time and gave me a report of 59 20+. That made me a very happy operator to know that my amp was working.
The only place where I have 220V that I can get to was in the basement. So that’s where my equipment was until I had the chance to get 240v wired to my office. Once in my office I wanted to really use it so I turned it on and went through all the check to find that I was not seeing any grid current show up on my meter. That started to scare me so I shut the amp off and went searching for the answer to “What’s causing this to happen?” I asked the HeathKit Amps Yahoo group and I also asked help from my local club. There was a major block in the road and it seemed that the help I was getting was leading me to nowhere. Some people said I have shorted tube(s) and others said that something is wrong with the wiring. Both can be plausible since I never really worked on an amp and I’ve heard of people receiving bad tubes. But then someone ask me if I had a dummy load. Of course I don’t! So another member of the club let me use his Oil can dummy load. When I hooked up the dummy load I noticed everything is now looking good.
I now have a working amplifier! Just in time for the ARRL DX SSB contest. I was happy that I was going to get to use my new amplifier and put it to the test. On Sat morning well into the contest I decided to start. Amp on and 20m is quite busy. I was making a good amount of contacts while only searching & pouncing until I started to hear a sizzle sound coming from the amp. Found out that one the resistors in the parasitic suppressor kit has become broken and was arcing to the resistor it broke from. That kept me out of the contest till I had the nerver to solder it back together and get back on towards the end of the contest.
I still have some issues but I am leaning toward my antenna setup to be the cause. For some reason the tubes get very hot on 80 and 40m. I would have to either get a tuner that can handle the power or get a resonate antenna before I can continue on other things. I am also thinking that the PC type fans are not doing their job. The chassis and case get hot to the point where I can’t touch it. Tubes are not glowing but I want to keep it that way.
Future plans for the amp are the following
- New HV board – The one I currently have is newer that original but I think if I’m going to keep this amp that it should have a new board
- Glitch Resistor – This will save the tubes if anything goes wrong with the HV board.
- Meter Protection – Since the meters are rare and get expensive when they come up for sale, I’d rather spend a couple cents on some diodes.
- LED Meter Conversion – I want some nice white/bluish LED to light up my meter to match my FT-950
- Various upgrades – There are websites out there that have a ton of things to do to this amp to make it much better. I already got the parts for most of the mods but want to make sure the amp is fully functional before I even attempt modifying the amp.
- New Chassis, Cover and face – I want to design a more modern looking case around the same chassis and incorporate some more RFI shielding and better ventilation and the use of a thermostat for fan operation.
- Clean Up – When the new chassis is made I would like to DE-oxidize all connections, coils and plates.
Some cool sites I cam across when rebuilding this amp
Rick Measures (AG6K) - Boat loads of AMP info
Yahoo groups – HeathKit HF Amps - Helped me out a couple times, worth joining
Robert Norgards (KL7FM) SB200 page – I plan on doing almost all his suggestions
I decided to participate in CQ Magazine’s World Wide CW (Morse Code) contest. It’s one of the, If not the biggest CW contest of the year.
I have been trying to learn CW off and on since the summer so I needed some help if I were to even make one QSO on CW. I setup N1MM logging software for the contest and used DM-780 that comes with Ham Radio Deluxe to decode and encode the CW.
Since I never participated in a CW contest before I wanted to see how it worked so I can configure my macros to work with the contest. I was very impressed on how fast contacts and exchanges are made. It’s way faster compared to SSB, RTTY and PSK31 and I felt even more compelled to learn CW after playing in this contest. I worked the contest off and on so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed about the activity. I started off searching and pouncing (S&P) on only the strongest signals. I would wait until I have their full call and exchange before even attempting to contact the station. N1MM does help out by looking up the CQ zone which came in handy a couple of times. After establishing contact I would get the typical 599 and zone exchange. After the first night working the contest. I have learned what my new call sounds coming back to me and phrases like “TU”, “TEST”, “?” and some of the shortcuts ops used to make a faster contact like instead of a RST of 599, it will be 5NN and A5 would be zone 15. I went to bed with code buzzing around in my head. I woke up the next day to play again. I’ve managed to make 100 contacts even though I know for a fact that I can make more. I just wanted to see what it was like to play in a CW and I liked it. Nothing like just jumping right in with both feet and absorbing everything. Once you learn the key terms in code the contest went much easier. I would encourage ops who want to learn CW to work in a contest. After learning what some of the stuff sounds like, the only trouble would be on decoding the call sign. I just hope that the people on the other end got my call right.
This now leads me to my rant. I lurk around on a lot of Ham radio related forums and also hear it by ear. I see a lot of people saying something along the lines of “These No-Coders are going to ruin HF” and “Amateur Radio is going to be just like CB” because the FCC dropped the Morse code requirement years after many other countries dropped the requirement. Now all these “Techies” or Technician license holders are upgrading to general and/or extra without passing a Morse code proficiency test.
After spending a couple of years on HF I have not seen much (or any) evidence to support this claim that has been spewing out of the elders mouths for over 4 years now. A lot of the Issues I see have a lot to do with elder hams. For example, when it comes to contacting a DX station I see a lot of things happening. Things like after the DX station acknowledge someone, there are still people trying to crowbar their callsign in because there is a second of silence. I also hear 1KW amps tuning up RIGHT on frequency of the DX station then spew out their call (like we don’t know who you are when you’re 40+ on my meter). Then you got those that see a massive pileup trying to contact the station and when acknowledged, will try to strike up a rag chew session by describing their town and the weather and their medical ailments even though there are 100′s of people waiting. And if the DX working split… FORGET ABOUT IT! They endlessly send their call even though you have a bunch of people telling him that the DX is listening 5KC up. Try listening to the RX Frequency of the DX station working spilt. Wholly crap there are a lot of people who don’t even come close to following the DX code of conduct. I’ve jotted a bunch of these calls down and looked them up on QRZ to find out that a majority of them are elder hams (By the age of their call and station setup).
For a Hobby that is so-called “Dying”, I wouldn’t spend much time complaining about those who are actually trying to stay interested in Ham radio. Not only should you welcome these “No-Coders”, you should thank them for showing interest. Because with that negative attitude you will drive away the young Hams that are genuinely interested and you will see a truly dead hobby. After a couple of years on HF and thousands of contacts, It’s rare that I run into someone around my age (28). I basically think that those who bitch and moan about it are just jealous or feel that they are “A class of their own” because they had to pass a 20wpm (or 5wpm) CW proficiency test. The funny thing is that since I’ve upgraded, I wanted to learn CW more than ever so I can make even more contacts farther away.
This is just my personal opinion, I could be wrong.