My Amateur Radio Bucket List. What’s Yours?

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

New QSL Card… Finally

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

More Kool-Aid Please! New Rig In The Shack

 

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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.

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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)

 

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

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.

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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.

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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)

My Mountain Topper Radio project

After doing some portable operations with the KX3, I felt that having something smaller and lighter would allow my pack to get smaller and smaller. The only problem is that there is nothing smaller than the KX3 that is comparable unless you get a CW only rig. I decided to get the MTR (Mountain Topper Radio) that was developed by Steve Weber (KD1JV). It’s a 2.5-5W QRP CW rig that gives you the options for two bands.

The problem is that the MTR kits are produced and sold in small quantities with high demand.  I’ve learned that Steve developed a version 2 of the MTR (3 bands) and had a pre-sale. Even though he gave out the wrong URL, people managed to figure out the correct URL and sold out within hours. I found out a tad too late and ended up having my money refunded.

I was a little bummed out. I was very excited that I might get this kit. I’ve never worked with surface mount devices and the CW only aspect of the rig would sort of force me to actually learn CW. After making my disappointment known, a local ham mentioned that he had an unbuilt kit from the orginal run that he might be willing to sell to me. Making fun of him didn’t help but I think the fact that I might learn CW might have compelled him to sell me his kit.

What did I just do?

Once I got my hands on the kit and took it home I inspected it (what ham doesn’t when they get a new toy?). That’s when I saw the components I’ll be dealing with. Very tiny resistors, capacitors and IC’s. The toroids were tiny and were not wounded.  Everything is so… small. I have built ham radio related kits before but they were all through hole meaning that the parts like the resistors and IC’s had legs and pins the fit into the holes. They were large enough to where I can easily work with them.

I am not prepared for surface mount work. My soldering iron is this $10 Radio Shack 35W fixed iron. I knew it was not ideal for SMT as I have tried and failed using that iron. I need to learn how to solder surface mount and I need the proper gear to do it with. I’ve learned over the years that working with the correct tools makes the job much easier.

New Tools In The Shack

I’ve learned the hard way many times over that having the proper tools can make things a lot easier. I feel that I have everything needed for the job except for a soldering iron. I looking at the sub $40 Chinese type irons but I stopped myself from purchasing one. I wanted an iron that can last me for many years so I ended up purchasing a Hakko 888D soldering iron. At around $100 I felt that it was worth the purchase.

The Build. Day One!

Soon as I got the iron in, I went straight to work. Following the assembly guide I started with the IC’s and the MCU. I felt that you are starting with the hardest part of the job by soldering small SMT IC chips with small leads and small gaps. I avoided installing the MCU and DDS chips until the other ICs were installed.  Once all the IC’s were installed, I used a jewelers loop and checked my connections. The MCU was crooked a bit and thought it was still good so I kept chugging along. I installed the resistors on the bottom of the board and called it a night.

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My working area. You’ll see the board with solder, tweezers, assembly manual, solder, 10X  Jewelers loop, desk lamp with magnifying glass and my new soldering iron. When I purchased the soldering iron, I also purchased different sized and shaped tips.

The Build. Day Two

Next day I got back from work and installed everything else.  It wasn’t really bad as I thought. The soldering Iron was tight in some places but it appeared everything went quite well.

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Here is a close up of my soldering. It could be better but I would say not too bad considering I’ve never done SMT work before.

Power On Time.

I didn’t want to wire up the power, headphones or anything else because I was going to design a case but in order to make sure it worked. I needed to wire it up.  Soon as I hooked up the battery… Nothing!  It did’t lite up, It didn’t beep. The only thing I notice was a slight noise in the headphones. Sounded like the noise of when you turn something on.

What Went Wrong?

As panic starts to set in, I was worried that I now have a nice new expensive brick  on my hands. All that time, energy and money spent on the kit and tools needed seemed be wasted. Out came the jewelers loop and soldering iron. I double checked every connection. Then I took out the multimeter and followed the troubleshooting guide in the manual and started checking voltages coming out of the regulators. Everything was checking out. The only thing I see is that the MCU was a little bit crooked.

I tried re-soldering the MCU but it proved to be very difficult. I used solder wick and suction tools that did not help, the chip would not move for me. For me the only choice was to remove the MCU. But how? After some internet searching I decided to use enameled wire and snake it under the chip where the leads meet the chip. I then touched the soldering iron to the leads and slowly pulled the chip off.

eIpMXvS

Using that method allowed to me to remove the chip, but in the process I damaged the MCU. The above images is not representative of my soldering work. It was more of a panic move and I just wanted to get the chip off without damaging the pads or board. The pads were in great shape and I’m just lucky nothing else happened.

Dealing With Steve Weber

Well it’s obvious the chip will need to be replaced. There are two options available. Beg steve for a new chip or purchase the MCU and flash it using a MSP Launchpad. I almost went the latter because Steve just released V2 and I am sure he was busy dealing with that and life in general but I decided to e-mail him anyways.

Dealing with Steve was a pleasure. I know these radios is not his full time job but he replied within a reasonable time and he was willing to send out a pre-programmed chip for my version of the MTR. Since I was having him sending me stuff, I purchased a case because the price he was asking was more than fair.

Attempt #2

Now that I have the new MCU, I promptly installed it. This time I quadruple check to make sure the chip was aligned properly before soldering. It went much better.

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When I applied power I jumped for Joy as I saw the LED come to life and the sounds of CW in my headphone. I did some initial testing and then installed the last toroid.

It’s… ALIVE!!! ALIVE!!!  

Now that it turns on, it’s time to make the adjustments needed for proper operation. Thankfully I have Acquired the test gear I needed over the years from mostly local hams looking to clean their shack. I have a decent frequency counter, oscilloscope and a station monitor.

The manual found on the Yahoo Groups page provided step by step installation and tuning. It made things a lot easier.

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First thing I did was adjusted the reference oscillator frequency to match exactly 10MHz. This was very easy. Just pushing a button until I see 10Mhz on the counter. There are reference points on the board to where you can easily measure things.

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Adjusting the LO to find the center of the passband. This was a little tricky because I didn’t fully understand the manual and process. In the tuning mode the MCU sends out a tone and I adjusted it by watching the signal peaking on my scope while counting the steps between the peaks. I then went backwards only half of the steps. Hopefully it was done correctly. For me, this was the hardest part of tuning.

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Here I am adjusting the receivers filters. With the station monitor I injected a signal into the MTR through the antenna port and adjust the band capacitors until the signal was at it’s loudest. I did the same thing on the other band. This was quite easy.

Last thing I did was hooked it up to a dummy load and checked for output wattage. Using a variable power supply and a DMM hooked in-line, I’ve sent out a tuning signal and adjusted the power supply until the DMM read 9Vdc with a TX load. I was seeing approx 2.5W which is within spec.

Time to get one the air

Now that it’s built and tested, It’s time to get on the air and see what I can (not) do.

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Heh, it’s smaller than my paddle.  What’s great about CW is that you don’t have to call CQ over and over again hoping someone would come back to give you a signal report. Just call CQ a couple times and head over to the Reverse Beacon Network where you can see almost in real time where your signal is being heard. There are receivers all over the world scanning the bands for signals.

TdHhvUi

Here are my results using just a crappy 9V battery. I am pleased to see that not only are stations hearing my signal, but they are on the frequencies that the MTR is tuned to. While I was testing the worst thing happened… Someone replied. I tried very much to work the person. I know the call was a K2 something but that’s all I could make out.

Final Thoughts

This was my first actual kit that I built, It’s also the first time that I ever worked with tiny surface mount devices and even though I messed up the MCU, it was really fun to build. Soldering SMD seems to be a nightmare but after the first couple of parts, it felt real easy and it felt that I was working much quicker compared to through hole parts. This project is also a big kick in the ass to learn CW because I want to use this rig. I’m all about packing very lite when it comes to SOTA and even though I love the KX3, I feel it would be more of an adventure using the MTR. We’ll see.

Thanks for reading!

– Jeff

 

 

 

Portable Antennas: The EARCHI End Fed

In the search for the “Wonder Antenna” that is small, portable and easy to setup, I’ve decided to build an Endfed antenna using a 9:1 match. This antenna has been made popular by the Emergency Amateur Radio Club of Hawaii (EARCHI). It consists of 30ft of wire fed into a 9:1 UnUn (Unbalanced to Unbalanced).

Plans for the Antenna are available from EARCHI’s website 

I’ve been wanting to make the antenna for quite a while but I’m lazy when it comes to ordering things online.  During the spring of 2013 I went to a regional hamfest located in New Hampshire hoping to find the T106-2 toroid that was called out for in the plans. I saw a bunch of red toroids and decided to purchase them hoping it was the correct mix and size.

I ended up with what appears to be a T130-2 toroid. It’s a little bit bigger than the T1o6 but uses the same mix.

The Build

It wasn’t that bad… If you follow the instructions the build only takes about 15 minutes or so. I mounted everything inside of a plastic tooling container. Instead of using a chassis mount SO-239 I went with a small length of RG-58 coax with a BNC at one end. The reason I did that was because there is always a strong chance that I’ll forget the coax and could at least use the pig tail connected to the radio.

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The plan is to get this into even a smaller container.

Let’s hook it up to the Analyzer.

Before attaching it to my radio, I wanted to hook it up to the analyzer just to make sure I have the correct toroid being used. When it comes to buying toroids at hamfests, you could be taking a gamble unless it’s clearly marked. I might have purchased a different type even though it’s red in color.

IMG_0672

What I’ve done is hooked up a bunch of resistors to the output and ground of the unit. The resistors should add up to 450ohms. Since it’s a 9:1 balun (or unun in the end use),  9 goes into 450 50 times which we should see 50ohms on the otherside if all is correct.

EarchiScreenShot

With the 450 ohm load. The analyzer is see approximately 50ohms across the HF bands allocated for Amateur Radio. However on 6M the SWR and impedance is quite high. However this is most ideal situation. That’s not going to happen when the wire is hooked up as it will not have a 450ohm resistance.

Here is a video I made testing the EARCHI with the MiniVNA PRO

What about the counterpoise or the other half of the antenna?

If you look at the design, you will see that the “ground” is hooked up to the shield of the coax, so it would be suggested that you run some length of coax between the match box and your radio.

Testing the antenna in the real world

One could sit there and talk all day about using the antenna. Let’s see what it can do

I tested this right outside on my deck using a 31 foot fiberglass pole.  The wire is 30ft of #18 Poly-stealth.
The antenna only took around a minute or two to raise. I wasn’t really planning on making a video or even using the antenna that day so the batteries on the KX3 were not charged nor did I have it hooked up to an external source. I was using 3watts to conserve battery.

I went onto 15m and within minutes I managed to make a DX contact with LY10NATO which is a special event station in Lithuania. Not bad considering my conditions. The bands must have been in good shape. I then went to 20 and made contact with W1AW/4, an ARRL Centennial station in Tennessee.

I know it’s not proper to judge an antenna based solely on contacts but it just proves  that it works. If you need a QRP antenna that is portable and can get you on the air quickly then I would suggest the EARCHI to anyone. It’s easy to build and if you don’t have the time you can purchase one from EARCHI. It’s not a “Wonder Antenna” by any means but it’s hard to beat consider the cost and ease of use. Also having a decent match (tuner) helps.

Edit (4/3/2014): Someone on Youtube asked about SWR reading with the EARCHI. I decided to hook up the antenna to the KX3 with the internal ATU option using a couple configurations and here are the results. Please keep in mind the ATU in the KX3 has a wide ratio and could match a lot of wire. Doesn’t make the antenna any more efficient but it makes it work.

KX3 With KXAT3, EARCHI Antenna with around 30ft of #18 Poly Stealth and around 20ft’ RG 58 coax

Band Ratio
160m 18:1
75M 1.1:1
40M 1.0:1
20M 1.1:1
17m 1.1:1
15m 1.1:1
12m 1.2:1
10m 1.0:1
6m 1.0:1

KX3 With KXAT3, EARCHI Antenna with around 30ft of #18 Poly Stealth and around 1ft’ RG 58 coax

Band Ratio
160m 17:1
75M 4:1
40M 3:1
20M 1.1:1
17m 1.0:1
15m 1.0:1
12m 1.0:1
10m 1.0:1
6m 1.1:1

You’ll see that adding a length of Coax will help you out in the lower frequencies. Please note that results will vary depending on your equipment.

Let’s hook up the analyzer using the EARCHI w/ approx 30ft of #18 wire and approx 20ft of RG58 Coax

earchi20ftcoax

Thanks for reading!

 

My Offset Attenuator Project

Even though I have yet to participate in any type of Radio Direction Finding (RDF) event, I find myself buying and building stuff for it.  This time I decided to build an offset (active) attenuator as I think it’s a must need for RDF. When I was testing out my 3EL tape measure Yagi, I placed a transmitter on my property and tried to find it with a Yagi and found that it was near impossible to pinpoint the source as my radio was showing full scale and dead full quieting no matter where I went.

Since I’ve been reading a lot about fox hunting, I knew I needed an attenuator. However there are different kinds of attenuators that you can make or buy commercially. I wasn’t sure what to get at the time. I narrowed it down to the offset attenuator and the  step attenuator. I went  with the offset attenuator because it appears to be cheaper, easy to make and better than a step attenuator.

The attenuator that I went with was found on HomingIn.com’s  Website. The article was writen by Joel Moell (K0OV) and explained in detail about the attenuator. What the offset attenuator does is “Offset” the received signal by 4MHz using a diode, oscillator and some other passive components. You are now listening to the signal away from it’s transmitting frequency. Your antenna and radio is no longer being overloaded and you’ll be able to get even closer to the signal.

It appears to be quite easy to build, even for me!  So I went with it. The parts that are listen in the article are a little outdated

Here is an updated list of parts that I purchased. I usually use Mouser for components but I wasn’t satisfied with their shipping to the North East so I used Digi-Key with better results

Qty Desc Price P/N Source
1X CAP CER 470PF 2KV 10% RADIAL $0.23 ea 1286PH-ND Digi-Key
2X CAP CER 4700PF 50V 10% RADIAL $0.30 ea BC2683CT-ND Digi-Key
2X RES 2.2K OHM 1/4W 5% CARBON FILM $0.10 ea 2.2KQBK-ND Digi-Key
1X RES 4.7K OHM 1/4W 5% CARBON FILM $0.10 ea 4.7KQBK-ND Digi-Key
1X DIODE SMALL SIG 100V 200MA DO35 $0.10 ea 1N4148TACT-ND Digi-Key
1X OSC 4.0000 MHZ FULL SIZE $2.49 ea CTX774-ND Digi-Key
1X BNC FRONT MT RECEPT SHORT $4.67 ea ARF1064-ND Digi-Key
1X 5K Audio Tape Pot $3.49 ea #271-1720 Radio Shack/In-Store
1X Perf Board/PC-Board $2.49 ea Radio Shack / Instore
1X SPST Swith $2.49 ea Radio Shack / Instore

Total project cost:  Approx $8.00-$18 USD

Making Sure Everything Works

Before putting it on any type of board I wanted to make sure that It works. I never really messed around with making electronic devices from a pile of parts. I put the entire project onto a breadboard  following the schematic as close as possible

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Here it is being tested out on the breadboard It went together pretty easy. I used a voltage meter to make sure the correct voltage is coming out of the LM7805 regulator. I was seeing around 5V

Here is a video of it in action

Now that I know it  works, it’s time to transfer the design to a more permanent home. I wanted to compact it as short as possible to get it to fit into a small PVC box.  Since I had a PVC box I wanted the board to go into, I measured a piece of perf board and cut it up

After cutting the board, I laid out all the components and attached all the wiring I could from underneath the board

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Here its with most of the stuff attached.

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Here is the Top view of the board. I had to use some jumpers (red and green wires) to get some of the components to make contact.
The black wires you see leading away from the board are for power and the adjustable resistor. I tried to test it out at this point to make sure it works before adding the coax and other things but It turned out not to be worth doing. But I did check the circuit wiring a couple times  to make sure.

Final Assembly

Getting it jammed into the small box was going to be difficult. I knew right away that I wouldn’t be able to fit the 9V  battery and the circuit board into the same compartment without using a larger box.

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Here is the PVC junction box with the circuit board, switch, POT and cabled jammed into it. I had to have shave some of the flange off  on the cover as the Pot is almost the same size as the Inside dimension of the box.

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To solve the battery issue, I fabricated a small aluminum box that can hold a 9V battery. I drilled a small hole in the side of the PVC case to route the power cable through. In the above picture you can also see the on/off switch and adjustable pot. I mounted the switch sideways to avoid any accidental switching even though it’s still possible.

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Here is the fully assembled antenna. The PVC junction box is also used to mount the grip handle. This way most of the weight is sitting on top of my hand instead of  out on the boom. I also didn’t want to put any kind of electronics/metal between the reflector and driven element. Not sure if it would make a difference but I think it’s better off this way

Lessons Learned

I learned a lot while making this attenuator.  The circuit was simple enough to where I can understand what is going on.

If I were to build another one, I would make some changes to make it even better.  The big problem is that the coax runs from the driven element straight into the attenuator from inside the PVC. This doesn’t allow me to swap out antennas. What I would do is put a BNC connector sticking out of the PVC box and have the coax come out the boom to make the connection.  I could  just make an attenuator that is seperate from the antenna but that is just another bulky piece of equipment to carry around. I wouldn’t want to attach it directly to the radio because I think it would put strain on the  connector that is in the radio.

You also can’t TX using this antenna. If you do, you can kiss the diode and possibly other parts goodbye. I would try to install some kind of switch that would allow me to TX but I’ll just carry an extra antenna or extra radio for now.

Hopefully it will see a lot of use.

Thanks for reading!

73,
Jeffrey Bail (NT1K)

 

Power Pole Distribution Block

Now that my station has grown, I have quite a bit of equipment that requires 12-14Vdc of power. In the past couple of years I decided to start using Anderson Power Poles. I decided to use them as it’s starting to be the standard of some organizations and It’s easy. My only complaint that I would have is that sometimes the connectors can loosen up and doesn’t require much force for them to come apart.

At this point I have a very minimal setup that needs to be expanded. I have a pigtail off the power supply and set of power poles on each device. If I wanted to use one device, I would have to disconnect power from one device and put it on another.

The obvious solution to my problem is the use a distribution panel. There are some commercially made panels that use Anderson power poles but being the cheap ham that I am, I figured I can find a cheaper way.
While at a local hamfest this past weekend, One of the vendors had a bunch of products that use the Anderson Power pole. Two of those products has caught my interest. One of the was the “EZ-Gate” by ham source and the other was distribution block by Quiksilver. The EZ-Gate is similar to the PWR-Gate by West Mountain Radio but doesn’t have LEDs or Fuses. The EZ-gate is half the cost of the PWR gate and this would allow my station to instantly switch to battery backup during events like field day or when the power goes out in my house.  The power distribution block was just a simple 4-way connection using power poles and priced at $20. I thought the price was fair but I thought would be cheaper and fun to make my own at home, For the price of one block, I decided to get  twenty pairs of power pole connectors.

Having no clue how the little distribution blocks were made,  I thought of way that I think it was done with the commercially available ones.  I used 12ga soild copper wire to connect everything together.

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Here is a photo of what I started with and the final product.

I cut 4 wires about 1.5″ long and placed the connectors on each end and did a quick assembly to check the gap between the sets. I wanted the gap to be short as possible so the entire block would remain rigid. I also cut and bent two additional wires to act as a “link” to the top and bottom sets.

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Here is one of the wires that I crimped the ends on. After crimping I soldered each end to make sure of a good connection. Please note that the connectors on each wire are opposite angles from the other side. At this point I installed the wire and marked the location where the link will go with a sharpie.

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Two of the four wires, I soldered one “link” favoring one side of the wire.

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Here it is halfway assembled. you will notice the link on the positive side very close to the connector. When the other side will be installed, the other link will be close to the negative block on the opposite side.

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Before connecting the other side, I used a pair of pliers and curved the links around the top stack of the link.

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After completely soldering the links and installing the other end, I wrapped the positive side in plastic. If I were to do this again, I would solder, install heat shrink tubing both leads and then install the other set of connectors.

For what I would have paid for ONE commercially produced block, I’ve made two blocks and had and also have an extra set to make a patch cable or pigtails/adapters.

It’s no rig runner but it works and does what I need it to do.

Thanks for reading!

 

My FT-950 Now Has SDR!

NT1K SDR Intro

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.

IF-2000 Installation

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

All Hail RFSpace

 

IF-2000 In box form…. Whoopie dooo. Well, it’s not just going to sit there

All Hail RF Space
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)

FT-950 Bottom cover off

 

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.

IF-2000 Installed

Look at that pretty board installed. Not even 5 minutes of work.

Softrock ready

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!

SDR Softrock FT-950

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.

AFEDRI SDR

 

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.

 

Running SDR

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)

AFEDRI Stand alone

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.

SDRFTIF

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?

 

TRANSMIT TIME!

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

Resources:

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

VHF 3EL Tape Measure Yagi.

After seeing a lot of articles written about making a three element Yagi using PVC and a tape measure, I was interested but not excited about it. That was until I made a QSO with K1MAZ (Nick) while he was doing a SOTA Activation. I decided to try to make contact with Nick on VHF as it was spotted on the SOTA website. Nick was on top of Burley Hill in Union CT which is about 30mi from my QTH. He tried using his stock antenna on his Yaesu Handheld but it’s just a little too far out of range. I knew someone was trying to get in but there was no copy. A couple of minutes later I hear him again, but it sounded like he was in front of my house. He was S9+ and very clear audio. After meeting up with him I asked what antenna he used and he said  that he was using his Tape Measure Yagi. I was somewhat amazed that it worked that well.

Now I want to make this antenna. It appears to be real easy to make and requires only hand tools. I ended going with a mixture of three designs

The first design I went with was from WB2HOL which appears to the origin of this particular antenna. It’s designed to be a RDF (Radio Direction Finding) antenna. It could also be used in portable operations like SOTA or Field Day. I obtained all the dimensions needed from his website.
http://theleggios.net/wb2hol/projects/rdf/tape_bm.htm

I got the boom design from the Camden County Radio Society’s website which is slightly different from WB2HOL. It replaced the tee used by the director with another cross tee and added a  5″ stub. I have no particular reason why I went with this book design. I just liked it and it avoids adding a different part even though  it’s no big deal.

Finally I got the choke from an article published in QST Magazine (May 2007)
http://www.arrl.org/files/file/Technology/HANDSON.pdf 

Is the choke/balun needed? I’m not experienced enough to give you a yes or no answer. I decided to use it because it wasn’t going to cost me anything to do it. If it didn’t work our or was causing an issue then I  can just simply un-wind it.

I am not going to go into detail about making the beam as it’s already done for you in the those articles that I linked to above.
However I will provide a detailed blueprint that is a little better than what I’ve seen out there.

Please use all safety cautions while working with tools and parts!

3EL Tape Measure Yagi PDF

I tried as best as possible to get the exact dimensions of the PVC caps and cross tees but I found that the dimensions vary between manufacturers. That will explain the 0.060″ (1.5mm)  differnce in element spacing as noted on the print.

Along with the instructions on the blueprint, I would like to share some of my personal experiences when it comes to building and using the antenna.

Working with PVC Tubing

I didn’t have a PVC cutter as I rarely do PVC work. I also didn’t have a vice or clamp setup to use a regular saw or sawzall with. I ended up using a tubing cutter that is normally used on copper tubing for plumbing. It worked but it wasn’t pretty. It pushed the PVC to form a flange or lip around the entire diameter of the tube. I had to use a sander  to remove the burr/lip.

PVC Cut into lengths

I also decided NOT to use PVC primer and cement. The parts fit together so tight that I didn’t even bother using it.

Antenna Boom Dry Fit – PVC was so tight fitting that I didn’t bother using glue

Tape Measure Sharpness

The tape measure  is somewhat sharp along the long edge. It’s not razor sharp but it’s sharp. Cutting the tape measure creates a real sharp edge. You can combat this by either wrapping the exposed edge with electrical tape or cutting a chamfer (corner) or both. I’m going to use a product call “Plasti-Dip) and coat the tips of each element with it.

ChamferEdgeReal
(Chamfering the corners and sanding  down the points)

Hopefully you will be careful running around with the beam. Doing this will make things just a tad bit safer.

I’d would either dismantle or cut out the bad sections of tape. If you already have a 1″ wide (or bigger) tape measure, I’d suggest buying a new one and cut apart your old one. I’ve notice coating usually wears out within the first couple of feet. My suggestion would be to start cutting the tape up from the oppisiet end.

Soldering the Hairpin and Coax

There is also an issue when it comes to soldering the tape measure. If you have normal flux core solder, you might have a hard time soldering the wires to the tape measure to where it won’t stick. I ended up using a liquid flux that is commonly used in the plumbing/welding industry. It’s an acidic flux that works great.
After grinding away the paint/coating on the tape measure, I put just a teensy drop of flux on the exposed metal of the driven elements. After soldering the hairpin match and coax using a 100W iron, I took it over to the sink and washed off any left over residue that was still on the tape. I’ve been told and I’ve read that using this type of flux is pretty corrosive and will eat away at the metal it was applied to causing a bad connect. So please be careful. After a week of playing around with it, I have not noticed anything.

Running the cable through the boom. 

You will notice that I drilled some holes extra holes. I want to run the coax through the center of the boom, have it come out to start the coil and back through. I did that so the cable couldn’t drag across or get snagged in the reflector and to provide a little more security with the coil. It’s not a big deal but I found it to be cleaner than having it zip-tied or taped to the boom.

Cable Through Boom

Prices Involved 

You can build this antenna for under $20. Since I work in trade where a lot of people accidentally cut off or destroy their tape measures, I have quite the collection of tape measures.

8FT of 1/2″ Schedual 40 PVC Pipe  – $3 (Home Depot)
3  PVC Cross Tees 1/2″ –  $1.50 Ea ($4.50) (Home Depot)
2  PVC Caps 1/2″ – $0.40 Ea ($0.80) (Home Depot)
6 SS Hose Clamps – $1 Ea ($6.00) (Home Depot)
1 Tape Measure – $3 (Harbor Freight)

Grand Total –  Approx $17

If you already have a 1″ wide or bigger tape measure in your tool box, I’d suggest on purchasing a decent tape measure and use your old one for this project. When it comes to using used tape measures, I would make my cuts starting from the other end of the tape. Most used tapes have lots of wear and tear on the first 12″.

Also don’t cheap out and get regular steel and electrical grade PVC conduit. The clamps will rust and the electrical PVC has a thinner wall and will easily flex. It may not happen right away but time will take it’s toll. I know it’s a cheap antenna but it would be more cost effective  in the long run.

End Result

Well Did it work? I would say so, I don’t have an analyzer to tell you for sure. I hooked up the antenna to a SWR meter (bridge) and was seeing 1.2-1.5 on the meter. I went out in the back yard of my house and I’m sure my neighbors think  that I’m training to be a JEDI fighter or something with the way I was waving the antenna around. I ended up hitting a couple of repeaters that I couldn’t normally hit with the stock antenna

Here is a video I made really quick to show it in action

Nothing exciting but it was fun.

Here is the complete setup. I gave myself enough slack on the coax incase I decided to mount the yagi on a tripod.


Here it is with the elements folded up.  I would do this before a fox hunt so I can place it in the back of my truck


Here it is folded up for extended storage. I use the clamps that hold on the driven element to secure the tape measure to the boom

3ElyagiVNA

Here is a plot of the Yagi using the miniVNA Pro. Testing conditions involved hooking the calibrated analyzer to the  end of the feed line and taking multiple readings while holding the antenna in my office. Increasing the gap lowers the center frequency.

Overall it was a really fun build. It didn’t require any type of heavy equipment or  tedious work. I have a feeling that running around the woods with a tape measure will end up with crimped or broken tape measure. However it would be much better that running around with 1/4″ (6.35mm) aluminum rod. Replacing the director and reflector would be easy as cutting the tape measure. So fart so good!

Thanks for reading,
73