Ham Radio Deluxe – A tale of the worst case scenario

Back in 2010, I was getting back into amateur radio. I wanted to do more with hobby other than hanging out on the local repeaters. I wanted to communicate with the world. Until then I never made a true “DX” contact. I’ve upgraded my license and soon as I made my first DX contact, I was hooked. It was easier than I thought, I was working the world on a simple doublet antenna.

The DX contacts started rolling in. I was having fun until I got my first QSL card. “Oh no! What now?” I thought. Did I make contact with the person? Their callsign sounds familiar. From then on I knew I had to log my contacts. There must be some kind of software that will help me out. Of course I found many types of software but this one piece of software was glaring out from the rest. It was Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD).

At the time HRD was being developed by Simon Brown. He did a very excellent Job with the software and had it easily hooked up to my FT-857D and was logging contacts with it in no time. I then notice Digital Master 780 (DM780) and it opened my eyes up to the world of digital communications. I purchased a soundcard interface and was tearing up PSK, RTTY, FELD HELL and all sorts of other modes. I was now more on digital than compared to SSB with thanks to HRD.

Fast forward a few years and I noticed that Simon’s attention started drifting elsewhere. He is now working on SDR-Radio. Ham Radio Deluxe wasn’t getting as many upgrades as before. I honestly thought HRD was going to be a lost and forgotten project. Word through the grapevine was that a group of hams got together and would purchase the software from Simon and continue where Simon left off.

I was looking forward to see what the new version 6 would have to offer. I’ve had some issues with the software randomly shutting down. Since I wasn’t paying for it, I didn’t mind. I was hoping the new crew would fix the issues and the software would improve.

Sometime later version 6 came out.  I was excited until I went to the new website and saw the $100 price tag for a lifetime license of that revision. Thankfully they released a trial version and I gave it a go. I’ve noticed some changes but nothing that really stuck out that was wanting me to pay for it.  The other thing that turned me off is that after the first year, if you wanted to continue with support or receive updates, it would cost an additional $50 annually. Just not sure if it’s worth it.

Let me just state that this has nothing to do with being a “cheap” ham. I don’t mind shelling out the money knowing that I am getting a quality product that lasts. This has more to do with having a free product that does almost the exact same thing compared to the paid version of the same product. At this point I decided it wasn’t worth the money and I’ve decided to switch to DXlabs suite. I would periodically check back to see if there were any major improvements that would make me want to purchase HRD. However there wasn’t. Awards tracking seem to improve but since my trial expired, I couldn’t confirm it.

For the record, I LOVED HRD. Their DM780 program is what got me into PSK and since I’ve switched to DXlabs, I haven’t been able to comfortably do digital modes using Winwarbler. It’s not the same. I couldn’t get myself used to it. I wanted to use HRD. I would constantly read the reviews over at eham and I would pay attention to their press releases over at QRZ.com to see if there was something that would attract my wallet. There were rumors of adding JT modes to DM780 so that really got me looking into it.

As I’ve looked into reviews and postings on forums, I’ve noticed that support from HRD is questionable. Sometimes they give excellent service, sometimes they give horrible service. I always take reviews from hams with a grain of salt. I understand that some people don’t bother to read the manual, some are lazy and some are flat out incompetent. There are some people who take the term “The Customer Is Always Right” out of context and demand way too much. With a piece of software that has to support so many different pieces of hardware, it will be impossible to please everyone.

Recently there was a review on eham.net from N2SUB about HRD, He gave it 1/5  and offered in great detail about his issues and he even gave them a tip on how to make it better. It wasn’t one of those cranky “this sucks” type of review because the reviewer couldn’t instantly get it to work and is too good to read the manual or search for similar issue. It was a legit review.

In the background a much bigger story was unfolding. N2SUB reached out to HRD support to figure out what was going on and how to fix it. According to the support ticket, HRD  instructed him to download the latest version. Soon as the user installed the new version and started it, it quickly shut down. When he asked HRD support about it, they responded that his support was expired and they requested that he doesn’t renew support because of the review on eham. HRD then referenced section 8 of their EULA that states “We reserve the right to refuse service and disable a customer’s key at any time for any reason”.  They also stated in order to have access to the software, he would need to remove the negative review from eham.

What HRD just did was extortion, N2SUB (Jim) paid for the software and now he can’t use it at all until he removes his review from eham.net. In some countries this is flat out illegal. Just recently, US president Obama signed the “Customer Review Fairness Act” into law which basically forbids what HRD just did.

Jim posted his experience on the QRZ.com forums. So far it was just hearsay until he posted his support ticket for all to see. Over on Twitter.com, @textfiles (Jason Scott) who is a well known internet archivist, questioned HRD about the support ticket. HRD replied that the ticket is “copywrited” and shouldn’t be posted and will be looking into alleged libel issue.

It appears HRD is doubling down in attempts to remove and/or coverup what happened. According to Jim, Rich Rhul (W4PC) called him on the phone and left him a voice mail where Rick threatened to sue him and will have Fred (Owner of QRZ.com) remove the thread. A short time later, the thread on QRZ.com was removed.

However it was too late. Since then news of what happened were posted on eham.net and the amateur radio subreddit over on reddit.com. As a moderator of the subreddit, this where I started following the story. At first I thought this was an isolated incident and that maybe the support staffer was having a bad day.

A bit later Fred (Owner of QRZ.com) posted his own version of what happened and his explanation for deleting the thread is that is was full of “misinformation”.  He then added “QRZ would also like users to note that HRD is not a QRZ advertiser and other than for free technical exchange we have no business relationship.” In Fred’s version, he forgot to address the part about the extortion. This got the people on /r/amateurradio to really start looking at the actions of HRD and the relationship between QRZ.com and HRD.

Full out Streisand Effect.

In attempts to cover up HRD’s wrong doings, It caused more people to pay attention to what’s going on. It got people looking and many interesting things came up. There is indeed a business relationship between HRD and QRZ.com. There have been many times where Rick (co-owner) of HRD mentioned that him and Fred are “Business partners” and that HRD gave QRZ.com $$$ over the years for advertising. It’s also clear that QRZ.com staff delete threads and banned some of the users who were critical.

There is also a history of horrible abuse of customers by the HRD staff. HRD has license check server. When the software starts, it will check your callsign against their database. At the time, it would return one of three replies. You had valid, deleted and blacklisted. All of this was plain text on an un-encrypted server. The “blacklisted” return is what got the people over at amateur radio subreddit interested. User /u/fohdeesha started polling the server against negative reviews posted on eham.net and noticed that at least 50% of the negative review came back as “blacklisted”.

Since then many people stepped forward and shared their experiences with HRD. It’s apparent that this is no longer an isolated incident. People are being “blacklisted” because of poor reviews. They were even banned from the software because they were on a Yahoo group.

There was one thing in common… Rick. It’s apparent that he is the main source of all the negative issues. He is a co-owner, lead programmer and handling support. Most of the negative experiences users shared were in result of dealing with Rick. It appears he is a bully and very vindictive. Even support volunteers were stepping aside because of his actions.

Some time goes by and there is finally a response from the HRD staff. Rick replied on the thread on QRZ.com and on eham.net the following

We we have an official statement soon, but we do not condone anyone that blacklisted any ham for a bad review

As of today, Randy, Mike and I went though the license server and removed all blacklisted hams. That’s not good business or good policy.

More to come.

It was rather odd considering there is overwhelming evidence that he was the person that was blacklisting hams for bad reviews. From the looks of it, they were getting ready to blame someone else.

A short time later, another co-owner (Mike, WA9PIE) of HRD chimed in with a more official apology.

I want to make a statement of apology on behalf of HRD Software.

We regret that we have been unable to maintain our high standards of quality in our service to one of our customers. I have reached out to this customer to correct this regrettable situation. I am looking forward to speaking with him.

We apologize for what has happened here. I have stepped in and personally taken corrective actions to ensure that this mistake does not get made again.

It is not the policy or practice of HRD Software, LLC to retaliate, in any way, when negative reviews are made about our company, its products, or our employees. If this has happened in the past, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. We will strive to avoid, even the suspicion of, such things in the future.

Best wishes in your continuing enjoyment of our hobby.

Regards,

It seemed to be a heartfelt apology and I personally thought it would end there. However some of the wording of the last couple paragraphs didn’t sit right. “It is not policy” and “If this has happened in the past” stuck out. Well it was policy because it was being done and it did happen. There is no question of IF.

Then Rick chimed in with

Jim,

No one is going to be sued. I made a serious mistake and error of judgement in this and many cases and I am truly sorry.

Jim, I apologize publicly to you. I do have diabetes and sometimes this affects my judgement and it did in that voicemail I truly regret it. I’m talking to my Doctor about changing my medications so I wont have any more low sugars.

Randy, Mike and I are discussing my future with HRD.

It appears both Rick and Mike were treating this whole situation as an isolated incident. It was clearly not. Rick also blamed his poor treatment of Jim as a reaction to his low blood sugar at the time of the phone call. Their reactions angered me. Their attempts at an apology made it even worse. It also appears the Mike isn’t not really privy to what is really going on over at HRD. He does mention that he doesn’t participate in the day-to-day operations over at HRD and that he claims he had no idea of what was going on. Personally I believe for that to be false because there has been years of abuse and even other HRD staffers (volunteer) knew what was going on. However Mike is insisted that he did not know.

Why Should I Care?

I care about what is going on because I really do like the software and there is a chance that it will go away. I actually want to purchase it at some point. I’ve also been treated horribly by other amateur radio software developers. I was told by the support of a popular software that they weren’t going to support my homebrew hardware and that I should purchase the real thing instead of looking into my issues. That’s what I get for trying to shake the “appliance operator” that gets attached to newer hams.

Digging A Deeper Hole

One of the co-owners of HRD stuck around in the ongoing thread on QRZ.com in attempts to take blame and recover from the damage that was done. Even though he had good intentions, he made things much worse. This started getting the attention of some news markets. A major international IT related news publication, The Register (el reg)  released an article about the whole HRD situation. They reached out to HRD for comment and HRD released a press statement that was basically deflecting what was going on and trying to define what they meant by “blacklisting”. HRD also claimed that it was “outside support staff” and not the co-owner that was responsible. That lead to a much bigger response to where The Register had to release another story about Ham Radio Deluxe a couple days later. HRD also deleted their twitter account which to me was an attempt to cover up some of the public tweets from HRD staff.

Since then there have been articles on Slashdot, Techdirt and many others about what has been going on. It even got attention from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). These aren’t some blogging websites like mine, these are some respected international publications and digital rights group. It’s not looking good for HRD and I honestly don’t want to see them go away. I wouldn’t want people to be out of work and I didn’t want to see this software tossed aside. But the actions from HRD are not helping.

About a week later, HRD annouced that co-owner Rick stepped aside and is now retired. HRD also claims they will be editing their EULA to renew their commitment to their customers. This is a step in the right direction. Some were sad to see Rick go but I feel it had to be done in order for HRD to move forward. I’ve publicly spoken with Mike and it appears he really cares about the company and HRD users. Even though I don’t agree with everything he said, it appears he is sincere and wants to improve.

HRD now faces an uphill battle. They no longer have their lead programmer, there are known bugs within the software and they are now swimming in a sea of negative press. I really hope that the staff from HRD learn from this and I hope other amateur radio developers learn from this as well. It goes to show that even one bad experience could lead to major trouble. Even though the term “The customer is always right” is often taken out of context, you should at least take the high road and respect those who prove to be difficult.

The future and their actions will set a precedence on what type of company they will be. I really do hope HRD recovers and even prosper from what happened. There are thousands of satisfied customers, hopefully there will be thousands more. Only time will tell.

Thanks for reading.
– Jeff (NT1K)

This article is of my opinion. I’ve came to this opinion based on what I’ve read throughout the past couple weeks. I try to be un-bias as much as possible. Since I do not work or have never worked for HRD, I am uncertain of what exactly happened. Just sharing what has been said elsewhere. I could be wrong. Please view the evidence for yourself.

 

 

 

 

Portable Operations – What I Carry

I guess I should post up something that isn’t about contesting. I am often asked about my portable setup so I figured just to post it up here to show all.

This setup works for me but it might not work for you. I attempt to pack as small and minimal as possible when it comes to portable. I know some who pack everything including the kitchen sink so opinions will vary.

Here is my portable setup

20150816_165422

That’s basically it. Here is a break down of the above picture

Elecraft KX3 – This is the most important part. When I was getting into portable operations, I wanted a radio that wouldn’t waste energy. The KX3 was just released and it met everything that was on my list. It can use AA batteries, the antenna match option works wonderfully, it has multiple modes and nice sized screen. I will admit it was expensive but I felt if I use it 50 times, it would be worth the cost. If the KX3 is not an option than an Yaesu FT-817 will do or those CW QRP kits like KD1JV’s MTR/Sprint radios.

G5RV Jr Antenna – Some people question as to why I went with a G5RV jr antenna and the answer is simple as that I had one laying around so why not use it. When stored properly, it doesn’t really take up much room. I had great luck with it so I kept using it.  However the one I had wasn’t suited for portable use. It was breaking apart and used solid core wire for the 450ohm “ladder” line.

20140308_121257

I ended up making a smaller one. I made custom end insulators that act as winders. I also used polystealth wire and a BNC port. The new antenna is much smaller and is somewhat easier to deploy.

Here is the radio with the G5RV jr working some DX while portable in Vermont.

EARCHI end fed antenna – This is my other antenna that I use if I want to be very quick or the local environment prevents me from using the G5RV. It’s just 31 feet (around 15m) of wire that is hooked up to a 9:1 UnUn. Even though I much prefer the G5RV, the end fed works okay.

portableKX3SC

Here is the Endfed on the beach in South Carolina. Salt water works wonders. Setup was less than 5 mintues and it didn’t take up much room in the car.

Jackite Telescoping Kite Pole (Mast) – For a long time I would tie rope to rocks and throw them over tree branches. In some locations there were no trees which made it much more difficult. Even though a portable mast is bulky for me, I think it’s necessary. I ended up going with Jackite’s 31′ Fiberglass pole because it was 31′.  It is designed for windsocks/kites but hams use it for antenna supports. It made portable communications much easier.

kitepolesota

Should have added something for scale. My only complain is the caps can easily come off which sucks when you’re in the middle of the woods when it happens. Little bit of electrical tape does the trip.

Logbook – I use two logbooks during operations. One is just a regular notebook that can fit in my bag and the other is the voice recorder on my phone. That way I can make youtube videos and also go back if I messed up my paper log. The notebook is just full of scribbles. Soon as I get home I enter them into the proper logging software or website.

Foam Pad – I carry a foam pad that gardeners would kneel on. It provides some cushion and ground isolation. It’s a must have and fits nicely in my bag

Misc Antenna Items – I usually carry a roll of RG-58 with BNC ends, tent stakes, small spool of nylon high vis mason rope and bungee/tie down cords. I avoid using any type of nail or screw. I do not want to disturb the environment. I say the stretch/bungee cords is what I use the most to secure the mast to trees and/or benches.

Dedicated Bookbag – When I was at costco I saw some bookbags on sale for $15USD and couldn’t resist. I dedicated it to portable operations since I usually don’t plan my operations.  When I get home after each portable operation, I make sure to organize my backpack and have it ready for the next time. I leave almost everything in the bag so I can almost grab and go since I decide to go out usually at the last second.

Future Plans

I’ve been trying to learn CW for a long time now. I am getting better but once I am confident that I can do CW without any kind of assistance, I will go out with a smaller rig and different antenna. I want a smaller light weight pack. I would also like to find ways to go without a mast but there are times where the area is unknown.

Thanks for reading,
NT1K

ARRL Sweepstakes Recordings

Here are all the MP3s.

For now, press CTRL-F and search for your call. They are sorted in alphabetical order. I am working on ways to make all my contests recordings searchable.

Callsign Mode Date Time Band Link
AA1HK LSB 20151122 200238Z 7MHz Listen
AA2VK LSB 20151122 203045Z 7MHz Listen
AA7V USB 20151121 215817Z 21MHz Listen
AB1J LSB 20151122 174711Z 7MHz Listen
AB1WQ LSB 20151122 175440Z 7MHz Listen
AC2MT LSB 20151122 143124Z 7MHz Listen
AD0H USB 20151122 192449Z 21MHz Listen
AD5XD USB 20151121 212557Z 21MHz Listen
AD6NR USB 20151121 222657Z 21MHz Listen
AE0EE USB 20151121 220709Z 21MHz Listen
AK3V LSB 20151122 143304Z 7MHz Listen
K0BBB USB 20151121 220648Z 21MHz Listen
K0BUD USB 20151122 165747Z 21MHz Listen
K0CN USB 20151122 162320Z 21MHz Listen
K0EJ USB 20151122 161312Z 14MHz Listen
K0EU USB 20151122 163418Z 14MHz Listen
K0FD USB 20151121 220041Z 21MHz Listen
K0GND USB 20151122 180904Z 21MHz Listen
K0HC USB 20151122 172539Z 21MHz Listen
K0OB USB 20151122 172114Z 21MHz Listen
K0OU USB 20151121 210446Z 21MHz Listen
K0RJW USB 20151122 164506Z 21MHz Listen
K0TT USB 20151122 154747Z 21MHz Listen
K0VXU USB 20151122 194252Z 21MHz Listen
K0ZL USB 20151121 224506Z 21MHz Listen
K1DCT LSB 20151122 141426Z 7MHz Listen
K1DQV LSB 20151122 143040Z 7MHz Listen
K1JB LSB 20151122 200151Z 7MHz Listen
K1KG LSB 20151122 144341Z 7MHz Listen
K1NSS LSB 20151122 200800Z 7MHz Listen
K1RX LSB 20151122 140943Z 7MHz Listen
K2DBK LSB 20151122 200819Z 7MHz Listen
K2PO USB 20151122 162249Z 21MHz Listen
K2RQ LSB 20151122 140616Z 7MHz Listen
K2WJL LSB 20151122 201802Z 7MHz Listen
K2ZR LSB 20151122 174206Z 7MHz Listen
K3CWF LSB 20151122 142852Z 7MHz Listen
K3TW USB 20151121 215552Z 21MHz Listen
K4GAA LSB 20151122 202956Z 7MHz Listen
K4HPS LSB 20151122 143510Z 7MHz Listen
K4MTI USB 20151121 215634Z 21MHz Listen
K4NM USB 20151122 164226Z 21MHz Listen
K4ORD LSB 20151122 143815Z 7MHz Listen
K4OV LSB 20151122 201725Z 7MHz Listen
K4PV USB 20151121 210337Z 21MHz Listen
K4XD USB 20151122 163714Z 14MHz Listen
K4ZIN USB 20151121 214806Z 21MHz Listen
K5LLA USB 20151122 153719Z 21MHz Listen
K5TA USB 20151122 161753Z 21MHz Listen
K5TR USB 20151122 153825Z 21MHz Listen
K5VIP LSB 20151122 142442Z 7MHz Listen
K5XU USB 20151121 214925Z 21MHz Listen
K5YAB USB 20151122 192520Z 21MHz Listen
K6DN USB 20151121 215655Z 21MHz Listen
K6HRU USB 20151122 191204Z 14MHz Listen
K6LA USB 20151121 214346Z 21MHz Listen
K6LL USB 20151122 204113Z 21MHz Listen
K6NO USB 20151121 220827Z 21MHz Listen
K6TD USB 20151122 173051Z 21MHz Listen
K7CF USB 20151122 161432Z 14MHz Listen
K7IR USB 20151122 170518Z 14MHz Listen
K7RI USB 20151122 193922Z 21MHz Listen
K7SS USB 20151121 222227Z 21MHz Listen
K7SV LSB 20151122 143009Z 7MHz Listen
K7UT USB 20151122 163325Z 21MHz Listen
K8GU LSB 20151122 143906Z 7MHz Listen
K9BGL USB 20151121 213825Z 21MHz Listen
K9CT USB 20151121 213909Z 21MHz Listen
K9FRO USB 20151122 150910Z 14MHz Listen
K9JF USB 20151122 154413Z 21MHz Listen
K9JM USB 20151121 220907Z 21MHz Listen
K9NSE USB 20151122 165044Z 21MHz Listen
K9UQN USB 20151122 191103Z 14MHz Listen
K9WZB USB 20151122 171850Z 14MHz Listen
K9ZO USB 20151122 145001Z 14MHz Listen
KA1IOR LSB 20151122 141021Z 7MHz Listen
KA2BKG LSB 20151122 141250Z 7MHz Listen
KA3YJM LSB 20151122 142223Z 7MHz Listen
KA9PCU USB 20151121 213401Z 21MHz Listen
KB0DNP USB 20151122 150358Z 14MHz Listen
KB1GKN LSB 20151122 201931Z 7MHz Listen
KB1JJX LSB 20151122 175403Z 7MHz Listen
KB1JL LSB 20151122 200736Z 7MHz Listen
KB3DC LSB 20151122 201707Z 7MHz Listen
KB8O LSB 20151122 174102Z 7MHz Listen
KC0W USB 20151122 204513Z 21MHz Listen
KC1CBL LSB 20151122 174623Z 7MHz Listen
KC2IXN LSB 20151122 202216Z 7MHz Listen
KC3DIG LSB 20151122 144500Z 7MHz Listen
KC5CMX USB 20151122 150732Z 14MHz Listen
KC5RPF USB 20151122 164617Z 21MHz Listen
KC8AZB USB 20151122 165625Z 21MHz Listen
KC8HQS USB 20151122 170153Z 14MHz Listen
KD1O LSB 20151122 175057Z 7MHz Listen
KD4D LSB 20151122 140157Z 7MHz Listen
KD5LNO USB 20151121 220513Z 21MHz Listen
KD7RUS USB 20151121 211107Z 21MHz Listen
KD8MQ LSB 20151122 202708Z 7MHz Listen
KD8RYP USB 20151122 190551Z 14MHz Listen
KD8SWT USB 20151122 150550Z 14MHz Listen
KD9MS USB 20151121 215116Z 21MHz Listen
KD9ST USB 20151121 214458Z 21MHz Listen
KE7X USB 20151122 162554Z 21MHz Listen
KF3N LSB 20151122 203019Z 7MHz Listen
KF4WEX USB 20151122 164921Z 21MHz Listen
KF4ZZ USB 20151122 194559Z 21MHz Listen
KG4TEI USB 20151121 215043Z 21MHz Listen
KG7LKI USB 20151121 214838Z 21MHz Listen
KH6LC USB 20151122 171156Z 14MHz Listen
KJ0P USB 20151122 165857Z 21MHz Listen
KJ8O LSB 20151122 143644Z 7MHz Listen
KK4PUX USB 20151122 151006Z 14MHz Listen
KK4QOE USB 20151121 215951Z 21MHz Listen
KK4R LSB 20151122 201955Z 7MHz Listen
KL7JRC USB 20151122 190208Z 14MHz Listen
KN1FE USB 20151122 165517Z 21MHz Listen
KO4PM USB 20151122 154606Z 21MHz Listen
KO7SS USB 20151122 154940Z 21MHz Listen
KP2XX USB 20151122 173437Z 21MHz Listen
KR4YO LSB 20151122 203431Z 7MHz Listen
KS7T USB 20151122 171630Z 14MHz Listen
KT4ZB LSB 20151122 202831Z 7MHz Listen
KT7AZ USB 20151122 164552Z 21MHz Listen
KU1N LSB 20151122 143835Z 7MHz Listen
KU2M LSB 20151122 140335Z 7MHz Listen
KU7K USB 20151121 211415Z 21MHz Listen
KV2R LSB 20151122 144428Z 7MHz Listen
KV4JK LSB 20151122 141358Z 7MHz Listen
KV7N USB 20151122 180955Z 21MHz Listen
KW4CR LSB 20151122 144029Z 7MHz Listen
KW8N LSB 20151122 175212Z 7MHz Listen
KX7YT USB 20151121 220443Z 21MHz Listen
KY7M USB 20151121 213027Z 21MHz Listen
N0AKF USB 20151122 164528Z 21MHz Listen
N0BUI USB 20151122 150203Z 14MHz Listen
N0ECK USB 20151121 215906Z 21MHz Listen
N0KK USB 20151122 151857Z 14MHz Listen
N0MA USB 20151122 194110Z 21MHz Listen
N0XR USB 20151122 163759Z 14MHz Listen
N1CC USB 20151121 215755Z 21MHz Listen
N1DID LSB 20151122 141750Z 7MHz Listen
N1IXF USB 20151122 153644Z 21MHz Listen
N1LN USB 20151122 150840Z 14MHz Listen
N1MLO LSB 20151122 142820Z 7MHz Listen
N1RLR LSB 20151122 142705Z 7MHz Listen
N2CU LSB 20151122 174646Z 7MHz Listen
N2DM LSB 20151122 142755Z 7MHz Listen
N2ED LSB 20151122 143102Z 7MHz Listen
N2IC USB 20151122 195617Z 28MHz Listen
N2MUN LSB 20151122 140656Z 7MHz Listen
N2WK LSB 20151122 143421Z 7MHz Listen
N3FJP LSB 20151122 174316Z 7MHz Listen
N3FM LSB 20151122 142529Z 7MHz Listen
N3LT LSB 20151122 142027Z 7MHz Listen
N3MWQ LSB 20151122 144107Z 7MHz Listen
N3RR LSB 20151122 142328Z 7MHz Listen
N3UA LSB 20151122 174902Z 7MHz Listen
N3UR LSB 20151122 144313Z 7MHz Listen
N3VYZ LSB 20151122 175028Z 7MHz Listen
N4BP USB 20151122 153106Z 21MHz Listen
N4FX USB 20151122 150822Z 14MHz Listen
N4OX USB 20151122 144937Z 14MHz Listen
N4PN USB 20151122 194350Z 21MHz Listen
N4SVC USB 20151122 165305Z 21MHz Listen
N5DO USB 20151121 214240Z 21MHz Listen
N5JR USB 20151122 153501Z 21MHz Listen
N5KAE USB 20151121 224300Z 21MHz Listen
N5LFE USB 20151122 154511Z 21MHz Listen
N5UM USB 20151121 220413Z 21MHz Listen
N5ZC USB 20151121 210554Z 21MHz Listen
N6JV USB 20151121 215524Z 21MHz Listen
N6LB USB 20151121 220759Z 21MHz Listen
N6NF USB 20151122 192553Z 21MHz Listen
N6RK USB 20151122 151516Z 14MHz Listen
N6WM USB 20151122 152833Z 14MHz Listen
N6WS USB 20151121 220243Z 21MHz Listen
N6ZFO USB 20151122 193020Z 21MHz Listen
N7WY USB 20151121 221112Z 21MHz Listen
N8FU LSB 20151122 142941Z 7MHz Listen
N8KAM LSB 20151122 202926Z 7MHz Listen
N8OO USB 20151122 204630Z 21MHz Listen
N8PPF LSB 20151122 203205Z 7MHz Listen
N8RMA LSB 20151122 183651Z 7MHz Listen
N8VV LSB 20151122 202505Z 7MHz Listen
N8WS LSB 20151122 203318Z 7MHz Listen
N9CK USB 20151122 150933Z 14MHz Listen
N9DR USB 20151122 190754Z 14MHz Listen
N9QWV USB 20151121 220016Z 21MHz Listen
N9RV USB 20151122 151444Z 14MHz Listen
N9WKW USB 20151122 150255Z 14MHz Listen
NC1I LSB 20151122 140417Z 7MHz Listen
NC8N USB 20151122 191031Z 14MHz Listen
NJ1F LSB 20151122 140503Z 7MHz Listen
NJ8M USB 20151122 180619Z 21MHz Listen
NK7J USB 20151122 193651Z 21MHz Listen
NL7V USB 20151122 195011Z 21MHz Listen
NN5T USB 20151121 220548Z 21MHz Listen
NN5V USB 20151122 195735Z 28MHz Listen
NP4G USB 20151122 162718Z 21MHz Listen
NR4N USB 20151122 164824Z 21MHz Listen
NR5M USB 20151122 153905Z 21MHz Listen
NT5V USB 20151122 153554Z 21MHz Listen
NU4X USB 20151122 152924Z 14MHz Listen
NX6T USB 20151122 153224Z 21MHz Listen
VA3SWG LSB 20151122 201152Z 7MHz Listen
VA3ZV USB 20151122 195138Z 14MHz Listen
VA6SP USB 20151121 220328Z 21MHz Listen
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VE2OCH LSB 20151122 142116Z 7MHz Listen
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VE3CX USB 20151122 151550Z 14MHz Listen
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VE3SD LSB 20151122 142144Z 7MHz Listen
VE3WRL LSB 20151122 195941Z 7MHz Listen
VE4DXR USB 20151122 173000Z 21MHz Listen
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VE5SF USB 20151122 155332Z 21MHz Listen
VE6EX USB 20151122 190933Z 14MHz Listen
VE6SV USB 20151122 145226Z 14MHz Listen
VE8EV USB 20151121 212728Z 21MHz Listen
VO1BQ USB 20151122 162430Z 21MHz Listen
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VY1MAB USB 20151122 204346Z 21MHz Listen
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W0CN LSB 20151122 140255Z 7MHz Listen
W0EAR USB 20151121 211839Z 21MHz Listen
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W0OR USB 20151122 190833Z 14MHz Listen
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W1HY LSB 20151122 202413Z 7MHz Listen
W1PR USB 20151122 172201Z 21MHz Listen
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W1S LSB 20151122 200359Z 7MHz Listen
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W1YV USB 20151122 165929Z 21MHz Listen
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W2EFI LSB 20151122 174732Z 7MHz Listen
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W5JJ USB 20151122 173204Z 21MHz Listen
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W5RU USB 20151122 161536Z 14MHz Listen
W6AEA USB 20151122 193220Z 21MHz Listen
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W7ZRC USB 20151122 191136Z 14MHz Listen
W8PS LSB 20151122 175318Z 7MHz Listen
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WA0CSL USB 20151122 162110Z 21MHz Listen
WA0N USB 20151121 212301Z 21MHz Listen
WA1ABC LSB 20151122 200935Z 7MHz Listen
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WA1T LSB 20151122 200716Z 7MHz Listen
WA2RXS LSB 20151122 143238Z 7MHz Listen
WA4YJB USB 20151122 151207Z 14MHz Listen
WA6FGV USB 20151121 211724Z 21MHz Listen
WA6ZTY USB 20151122 154858Z 21MHz Listen
WA7GVT USB 20151122 165015Z 21MHz Listen
WB0N USB 20151121 211536Z 21MHz Listen
WB2HRK LSB 20151122 175251Z 7MHz Listen
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WB2ZAB LSB 20151122 202603Z 7MHz Listen
WB4OMM USB 20151122 164433Z 21MHz Listen
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WD0T USB 20151121 210644Z 21MHz Listen
WD5HJF USB 20151122 154536Z 21MHz Listen
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WG3J LSB 20151122 141055Z 7MHz Listen
WH7W USB 20151122 180220Z 21MHz Listen
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WP2B USB 20151122 181051Z 21MHz Listen
WX4G USB 20151121 221213Z 21MHz Listen
WX6V USB 20151121 222940Z 21MHz Listen
WY7SS USB 20151122 152717Z 14MHz Listen

CQWW SSB 2015 Extended SoapBox

CQ World Wide Contest for SSB was just this past weekend. For those who are unaware, it’s basically the largest Phone contest of the year and it’s the un-official kickoff to the contest season. Now that I have a beam, I wanted to play and put an honest effort in making as many contacts as possible. I want to put in a serious effort and help my local contesting club but the real motive is to get all time new DX contacts and increase my DXCC per band counts.

Getting Ready

If you want to do well with any contest, preparation is important. You want to make sure your station and antennas are in working order, you want to make sure all your software is working and up to date and you want to have a good idea of what band to be on and when throughout the contest.

In the weeks prior my CL-33 has not been behaving and I was seeing 7.0SWR across 10, 15, and 20. I am thinking water got into something because it happened right after a bad rain storm. I wanted to get on the roof to clean and reseal all the connections but now there is some mental block about getting on my own roof. Thankfully the SWR returned back to around 1.0 the week of the contest.

Thinking the beam was toast, I revisited my Butternut HF9V that I’ve basically never used. I switched between that and the G5RV using the heathkit SA-2060 tuner I had.  I never liked the butternut as the G5RV seemed to out perform it almost every time. I tried adding more radials during the summer and even tried re-tuning without much difference. I’ve been planning to add Inverted V antennas for 80 and 40, I purchase a used B&W Coaxial 5 position switch to replace the 2 position switch that was switching my beam or the tuner. I took the butternut off the SA-2060 and fed it directly to the new switch. There was a major difference to where the Butternut was just as good, if not better than the G5RV.

For this contest I will be using the CL-33, Butternut Vertical and my G5RV dipole.

A couple days before the contest I went to VOACAP to get an idea of what band to be on and when. Since I now have a directional antenna, I have to also think about when and where I need to point it in order to utilize my rates.

Running as SOAB (A) HP

I decided to run SOAB (A) HP which means Single Operator, All band, (A)ssisted, High Power.  Depending on the contest, you have a choice which class you want to enter. Sometimes it’s wise to pick a class that the big guns won’t use or one that no one uses. I know for a fact that I won’t win ANY of the classes that I would try out for. Even though I think I have a great station, in this contest it’s menial compared to others in the area. I cared more about DX contacts than points so I wanted to use the amplifier and make use of the spotting network to assist me in making contacts.

Let the games begin!

Contest starts at 00:00z which is 8pm ET. I was able to help out my local club with a VE session and had enough time to get on when the contest starts. I didn’t follow my own advice and my station was not setup for contesting. I had to find and plug in the headset and configure N1MM+ for the new contest. I ended up starting late.

Problems right out of the gate

Soon as I transmitted on 20m, bye bye N1MM. RF is getting into my computer and it was nasty. Things were typing itself and my computer was making restart attempts. I immediately suspected the keyboard. I unplugged the keyboard and sure enough my computer RFI went away. My expensive (to me) DAS mechanical keyboard is not ham radio friendly. I plugged in my backup keyboard and sure enough, windows decided to take forever to install the driver. I ended up using a PS/2 keyboard and had to restart the computer.  I ended up starting almost an hour late. This is why you should prepare your station before the contest.

Things are getting better

Once my computer issues were fixed, I was back on the air.  10m was closed for me and 20 and 15m were meh. 40 meters seemed to have all the action so I was fighting the contest with the G5RV and vert. Not a good way to start but at least I am making contacts.

CQWW1540m

Here is a view of 40m about 2 hours into the contest. I have my SDR taping the IF stage of the K3 and I use it as a pan adapter. It gives me an idea of what the band is like. I can cycle through the bands and stop on the most active one for contacts.

I made as many contacts on 40m as possible. I decided to give 80m a try and wasn’t able to make many contacts. I can hear a lot of stations but even with 500w, they couldn’t hear me. I ended up giving up the fight and went to be around 1am ET (5z).

I ended the night with about 50,000pts.  I was sort of bummed out about it and I was thinking that I wasn’t going to break my 300k I made in 2011 before I lost power due to a really bad snow storm.

A New Day

After waking up, getting some much needed food and coffee in the system, I went back to station and thankfully the bands were open. I spent the morning working as many mults and double mults as possible and then circled the bands for contacts. I was depending more on the cluster but as time went on, I started to use the dial.

15mCQWW

15 meters seem to be the place for me. I spent a good part of my day on 15 spinning to SA and EU and sometimes out West/North.

Night Time Asia

Up until now, I had a very hard time working ASIA. I almost NEVER hear anything in Asia. I would be lucky to hear Japan every once in awhile but this night was different. Not only did I make Japan contacts, I also made contact with China, Singapore, Asiatic Russia and even heard South Korea.  I was a very happy ham radio operator.

Things are looking better!

Even though I walked away to spend some time playing with the kids and doing some work around the house, I crushed my 2011 record. I was now in “contest mode” where that was all I thinking about. Once I started struggling on 40m, I went to bed hoping conditions will stay the same for sunday.

I went to bed with 700,000pts. I now had dreams of making my first ever 1,000,000pts from home.

10 Meters was alive and business was a booming

I missed grayline but after my Sunday Morning coffee and Bagel, I went back on the air to find 10, 15 and 20 booming with activity. 40m was booming but I was hearing mostly the big guns working people that I couldn’t even hear. After clearing out any possible mults I went to work at my rate. I was clicking and spinning as fast as I can. If I couldn’t establish contact in two tries, I moved on unless it was a multiplier or much needed DXCC entity.  Western Sahara (S0S) took a good hour to break.

cqwwsb10m15

10 meter was just amazing. People were complaining about 10m band conditions a week prior but by looking at the above spectrum, 700Khz were packed with stations. I spent a good part of my day on 10 and 15.

15m open to Japan

Towards the end of the contest, 15 meters opened up to Japan. When everyone was on 40, I was still on 15 working as many Japan Stations as possible. My rates suffered but I was having to much fun working areas I never worked before. I’ve exceeded my goals so now it’s just working mults and needed DX.

I will say that the K3 with the 1.8KHz filter worked like a charm. However the best option for the K3 was the Digital Voice Keyer. I control the DVK using CAT commands through N1MM and it made contesting much easier. I can still talk after the contest!

The fun must come to an end.

I went back to 40m for the last 5min of the contest and watched my pan adapter to see the entire spectrum that was alive with signals fade out to just a few. I am sure the ragchewers and net participants jumped for joy but I was also jumping with joy. It’s done. I can return to life.

Claimed Scores

NT1KSCreenShot

I ended up with over 1.25 million points. I wanted to stop at 1 million but when I reached it, I had around 890 contacts and I started concentrating at making at least 1,000 contacts. Too bad I wasn’t focusing on countries worked because I would have pushed harder to get 3 or 4 band DXCC instead of putting around towards the end.

It felt great. I’ve broke many personal records and now I’ve set the bar high when it comes to future contests. I also felt like I am finally helping out the Yankee Clipper Contest Club (YCCC) in which I was logging for. I often feel intimidated by the YCCC members due to the massive score submissions and their station. Even though every point counts, 50k or even 100k appears to be small potatoes to them. I know I can run with the best of them on phone, but I don’t have station to prove it. This year was an improvement for sure.

Lessons learned

No matter what I do, I try to walk away with learning something. Even though I participated in many contests, I am still learning and being reminded about things I forgot about or don’t care about.  I need to work on antennas for 80, 40 and maybe even 160 meter. The solar cycle is not going to improve and if I want to maintain 1 million points, I need improve my antenna situation.

Due to my property size, I am looking at some options. I think I could get away with a double L antenna for 80/160. However I feel I might end up with inverted V dipoles. I also need to complete my 300′ receive beverage antenna that is looking at Europe. I may even upgrade to a reverse-able beverage so I can hear SA better as well.

I was reminded to make sure my station is in COMPLETE working order. CQ World Wide CW is a month away and I need to make sure my homebrew winkeyer can do the job. I

Overall thoughts

It was fun and thanks for reading my Soapbox. Scores have been submitted to CQ and YCCC and logs have been uploaded to LoTW and Clublog. Now I  get to see what LoTW confirmations come through. So far two new DXCC contacts and a ton of band confirmations. Well worth getting on the air.

  • Jeff (NT1K)

ISS We Meet Again

It appears that the International Space Station (ISS) was transmitting slow scan television (SSTV) off and on for the past couple of days. The Russian ARISS team was transmitting images commemorating the 80th birthday of Yuri Gagarin, the first human to orbit earth. It was being transmitting from the Russian service module using only 5 watts of power. I wanted to see if I can get one of these images on my own. They were using 145.800Mhz as the downlink frequency so at least I have the radio for it.

It was advertise that they were going to be transmitting on December 20th starting around 12:40z and will end around 21:30z . So from about 7:40am to 4:30pm locally which is almost a 9hr run. Due to its orbit, it only allows me a couple of chances to receive the transmissions

ISSpass3

Due to work schedule, I was not going to make the 17:17z pass so I concentrated at 18:52 because the elevation would put the ISS right over my house instead scanning the horizon. It was my best chance.

At around 1:00pm, I made sure everything is in working order. The equipment I was going to use was a Radio Shack police scanner, Elk antenna, my laptop with a USB sound card, audio patch cable and the software MMSSTV.  At around 1:30 I took everything to the much colder outside and setup shop. Now that I think back, I should have also setup my home 2M using the vertical antenna on my roof to decode as well.

20141220_135105

I stated waving the antenna around at 1:50  and finally around 2pm is when I started hearing the ISS. If you want, you can watch the following video. Please ignore everything wrong. I thought of recording it last second and would have at least not wear my work clothes.

Once I locked onto the ISS, It was already too late. The ISS was already transmitting an image. But I was able to decode the majority of the image

Hist5

That’s not bad. All I am missing is the RS0ISS header which is the callsign used by the Russians on the space station.

I had a blast doing this. It was really fun and I hope NASA and Roscosmos would do more things like this in the future. It could really encourage people to join into the amateur radio community.

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.

20140506_215401

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.

smttsd

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.

9xY2xy6

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.

20140525_093919

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.

20140525_094159

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.

20140525_095042

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.

20140525_100322

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

 

 

 

NT1K Op-Ed: The Start!

I am going  to try out posting my thoughts and opinions when it comes to Amateur Radio here on NT1K.com. Reason I’ve been holding back is that I consider myself to be nice guy… Well, most of the time. I do “bust chops” but I try to let people know that I’m not after them. Most times, I am just trying to help. I don’t want to be just another blogger complaining about things and cast myself in a negative light. When it comes to talking about any subject, I always try to keep an open mind and look at ALL sides of the topic. Everyone is different and I try to write for everyone but at times, it proves to be difficult. When it comes to Amateur Radio, there is always someone who is never happy and will find any excuse to make it known.

One of the big reasons why I created this website was to help people by either showing them how to do things in an easier way to understand. I often come across articles that either don’t give much information or the information is so complex that you’re left scratching your head. The original goal of this site was to make it easier for those who are just getting into the hobby to understand how to do things from scratch and why. I am still going to do that but at the same time I am going also going to tell you my thoughts and how I see amateur radio. So if you can withstand my horrible grammar and spelling, please take your time to read what I have to say. Who knows, you might enjoy it!

Thanks for reading,

Jeff – NT1K

 

New changes in the Shack as well as on this Site.

Things have been kind of slow since Field Day. I Don’t have the drive to pickup the microphone (or practice on the key). It doesn’t stop me from doing stuff in the background. I was looking at my station and was disgusted by how it was setup. I had equipment on top of equipment and a rat’s nest of  wires behind my desk.

I recently saw an Antenna Tuner” come up for sale on eBay that matched what I needed which consisted of having a variable inductor and that it can handle at least 1000 watts. It was also within the price range that I could afford so I took a chance.

It was the Heathkit SA-2060A tuner. After reading review after review, I put this on my list of potential tuners. The only complaints I hear about this particular tuner is that  the hardware becomes loose after use. Since they are kits when they were first sold, The build quality depends on the operator who built it. When I received the tuner, I opened it up and made sure everything was tight and soldered correctly. It appears that it’s in great shape and I did no work to it other than some light sanding using a fine scotch-brite pad.

The reason I decided to get a tuner is because of my antenna(s). At the time I really have only one HF antenna which is my home-brew G5RV wire dipole antenna. Once you started getting away  from 20 meters, the mis-matched antenna places a strain on my tubes that are located in the amplifier. The “tuner” should help that out.

However I had no room for it. I didn’t want to stack the amplifier or anything else on it so I decided that I need to do something about my desk to keep everyone happy. I ended up fabricating a shelf that spans across the entire desk which would allow for me to put more stuff on my desk.

I’m liking it better than the previous setup. The most important piece is right in the middle and a tiny bit easier to get  to.

I had a chance to work some DX with the new layout. Here it is in action with LA4UOA (Tor in Norway)

Now I just have to clean the rest of the office.

Site Updates 

I am debating on placing advertising on this site. I am not a fan of advertisements and wanted to keep this site AD free but running this site isn’t free. It’s not much compared to other websites but any income I can get  that would offset the costs would help greatly. I also might place ads on my YouTube videos.  Not looking to make AMAZING profits but hopefully enough to cover the hosting.

New Gear: Heil PR-781 Microphone

I almost have my station setup to where I’m satisfied. Everything is controlled within arms reach to where I can operate the computer and radios at the same time and with ease. During  2011 NEQP, It got un-comfortable operating a couple of hours in while lurched over my  Yaseu MD-100 desktop microphone. I think it led to less operation and just a lack of motivation. For the 2012 NEQP I wanted to be more comfortable. I purchased a  Heil Pro Headset ($140 + Cable) and modified a Radio Shack tape recorder foot switch to work with my  FT-950. This years contest turned out to be a lot different in 2012. I doubled and almost tripled last years score. It was due to being comfortable and dedicated  to staying on the air.
I love the Heil Pro Set but I don’t like the way it sounds. The one I purchased uses the HC-4 Element. From what I’ve read on the Heil website that the HC-4 was designed for mainly contesting or DX. It cuts off the low frequency and focuses on the HIGH parts of your voice. Meaning the rumbling lows in your voice (if you have any) will be mostly removed.

Here is a youtube video of how I sound on the Heil Pro Set using a SDR Receiver

You will notice there is little to no bass on my audio. It has a narrow bandwidth which is great for contesting. It Could help you break a pileup because your “Cutting” in with the sharp audio. In my personal opinion (I am not a audio expert by any means), it’s a great microphone but it’s not for everyday use or ragchewing. Maybe the Pro Set Elite has a much wider response  and would be worth  the extra $$$ for it to be used as a everyday microphone.
Now I am back to being hunched over the Yaesu MD-100A8X ($150). I am getting more uncomfortable the more I’ve been talking on the air. It ended up where I was propping up my head with me arm while talking. The constant pressure from my arm caused some issues with my Jaw. I ended up grabbing the mic stand by the stem and using it that way which was awkward. YAESU claims the microphone could be separated from its base but I am not sure what they mean by that. Could the microphone be used without the base? It does have a TX button on it and it has a 8-pin port on the back of the microphone itself.  The cable that comes out of the base to connect the microphone is very short (6 or so inches?) and would not really allow you to “Seperate” the micrphone unless you somehow make a cable that connects from the back of the actual microphone to the transceiver.  I wasn’t sure of the pinout of the actual microphone and I wasn’t going to open it up to find out.

Here is a video of what I sound like using the MD-100

After being uncomfortable and  finding out that a lot of  my Jaw pain was insult of applying pressure to it often (I also do it at work), I decided enough is enough and wanted a new microphone. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the MD-100 and after tuning the FT-950 Parametric EQ to my liking, I’d often get reports on  how “GUD” my audio was. I actually took pride on getting positive comments and people asking what microphone I was using.

So now that I need a new microphone, I figured I can upgrade at the same time.  The only true requirement is to be able to mount the microphone on a boom. I was also thinking to use the microphone if I ever get into Podcasting. This led to a major road block. There are hundreds of  different microphones out there. There are  some that should not be used in Amateur Radio but there are many that could. I wasn’t sure what to get so whenever I heard a really nice signal on the air, I would look up the call to see if I can get what kind of microphone was being used. It helped a little bit but there is still a wide range of microphones that are out there. From the very expensive condenser microphones down to microphones that are used with computers. I also had a budget of $150-$200 for a microphone and really didn’t want to go over it.

I ended up going with Heil PR-781.

Heil PR-781 W/ Yaesu Bal Cable

The reason I wanted to get the 781 is because it’s designed with Ham Radio in mind. I know I can get a microphone that could do almost all the same things for cheaper but I’ve purchased Heil Sound products before and had nothing but good things come from them. And if something does happen, their support/customer service is outstanding. Try getting support for your drop shipped microphone and you will know why.

I wanted to go all out and get EVERYTHING for the microphone.  That includes the microphone ($175), shockmount ($100), cable ($40), and boom arm ($120) which would end up costing  $415. That costs more than what I paid for my Amplifier. There is no way that I am going to spend that much money when I am already spending a lot on something that I already have. I ended up buying  just the microphone and cable which with the sales HRO is having at the time, I ended up paying less than $200.  The reason I paid for the cable instead of making my own is that I don’t have XLR connectors, 8-Pin connectors or any cable to wire one up with. I also read that the FT-950 needed a balanced input and there  a issue with the FT-950 can get RF  into the cable so I bit the bullet and got the cable.

The only issue I have is to where I am going to mount the microphone since I didn’t purchase  a mount/boom. I went up to the attic and sure enough I found some desk lamps that had booms. I thought the lamp head was similar in weight to the microphone  so I thought I can get rid of the Lamp, keep the boom and fit it to the microphone holder. It ended up to almost a perfect match. I wouldn’t be able to swivel the microphone left and right but I didn’t mind. Once I mounted the microphone, I found out that the mic is a lot heaver than  the lamp and was pulling down the springs and not staying where I placed it. The solution that problem was rubber bands. I placed a bunch of rubber bands along the spring and balanced the microphone perfectly. Also got  rid of any spring noises.

Another great thing about the FT-950 is that it has a decent parametric EQ built right in. I can adjust how I sound from the radio instead of buying a mixer board. I used the settings suggested by Heil Sound but tweaked them so my lows would stick out and give my voice a bassy feel to it.

Here are my FT-950 Settings

  • Menu #62 – TX BPF (Maxium Signal Width) = 1-29 (100-2900hz wide) or 2-28
  • Menu #91 – Frequency = 200hz
  • Menu #92 – Notch or Boost = -4 (db) (Heil Suggests -15 which eliminates a lot of bass, Good for DX)
  • Menu #93 – Bandwidth = 6 (Heild Suggests 5)
  • Menu #94 – Frequency = 700hz (Heil’s site says 400hz which the radio can’t do. 700hz is the minimum)
  • Menu #95 – Notch or Boost = -0 (db)
  • Menu #96 – Bandwidth = 5
  • Menu #97 – Frequency = 2400hz
  • Menu #98 – Notch or Boost = +8 (db)
  • Menu #99 – Bandwidth = 5

Menu items 91, 92 and 93 are for your low range. This will give or take away all the lows or bass in the signal. Items 94, 95 and 96 are for your mids and 97, 98, 99 are for your highs and will make your voice more coherent (unless you have marbles in your mouth) . Well… That’s what I think it does for me.

These settings are the ones that I use for Ragchewing (seem to be doing more and more). It wouldn’t be much for contesting or chasing DX. At this point I will change the Settings to narrow up the signal and get rid of some or most of the bassy lows that are in my audio.

Here is a Youtube video on how I sound

After watching the video a couple of times, I think it’s great for 75M Ragchewing but not so good chasing DX. I will have to find a happy medium and remember the settings.

Just for reference, I also made a video of what the MH-31 hand microphone that comes with FT-950 sounds like.

It’s been a week since I’ve been using the microphone and I really like my purchase. Already got some good audio reports. Now I want to get the podcasting side of it going.

Thanks for reading

 

Obtained DXCC Mixed Status

After a year of chasing stations, waiting hours in pile-ups, chasing LoTW DX ops and checking LoTW whenever I uploaded my logs. I finally got enough entities to apply for my DXCC award.

My DXCC Certificate

 

Earlier this week I have DX Labs Spot collector running and with 20m acting the way it has been for the past week (very good), I saw a couple stations being spotted that I’ve never worked on before. I got to work ZL2WL (Wayne, New Zealand) and MD0CCE (Bob, Isle Of Man). MD0CCE uses LoTW and confirmed to be  my 100th entity. Then last night I made contact with MW0ZZK (Steve, Wales) that confirmed my 101 entity.

DXCC on LoTW

Now I need to apply and get the paper. Then I’ll start working on 5-Band DXCC and finishing up my WAS

Thanks to all who use LoTW!

Edit 6/7/2012: I submitted my application using only LoTW credit and using the LoTW website on 6/1/12 and I got the actual certificate in today.