Contesting… Huh?

As this blog is geared to newer hams, you’ll sometimes hear the word “contesting” or “radio sport”. Sometimes I think it’s funny seeing or hearing  Ham Radio and sport in the same sentence. It reminds me of a scene in the movie “King Pin” where  the character played by Randy Quaid says, “It’s intimidating to be in the presence of so many great athletes.” Then the shot pans to a bunch of fat guys smoking, eating and drinking.  Sort of an oxy-moron if you ask me.

So what is this “contesting” and what’s it about?

As simply as I can put it, Contesting is where a operator or operators try to establish contact with as many other operators as possible within a certain period of time. What makes each contest unique are the rules and regulations that govern each contest. Most contests have the operators  send a piece of information to the other operator and vise versa. This “Exchange” is used by sponsor of the contest to ensure that an actual contact actually happened. Once the contest is over, all the operators that took part in it will send in their logs to the sponsor before a deadline. The sponsor will then enter all the logs into a database and it will cross check all the logs and award points. The points are awarded depending on the rules of the contest. It can be as simple as one point per contact or 2 or 3 points. There are also Multipliers (mults) which are defined by the rules of the contest, making contact with a mult will multiply your entire score by that amount.

The one with the most points wins is a general way to put it. Depending on the contest, there could be multiple winners for all the different categories they have. Some of those categories could be QRP, Low Power (>100W), High Power(<250W), Emergency Power, Single Operator, Multiple Transceivers with Multiple Operators,  Single Transmitter with Mulitple Operators, Rover/Portable (Driving around) are just some of the categories that could be used in a contest. Just read the rules of the particular contest and you will know where to fit in or what to aim for.

Is contesting for me?

That all depends on you. Some operators love it. They eat, drink and don’t sleep contesting. The only time you will see them on the air is during a contest. There are even clubs dedicated for contesting. I belong to the “Yankee Clipper Contest Club” (YCCC) and they  take contesting very seriously. If you are into contesting I would suggest to join one. As I did with the YCCC, you can learn a lot about contesting . It’s not necessary but If you get bitten by the contesting bug, the information and help from fellow members is worth the membership fee.

Some of the operators who do a lot of contesting, setup their stations with only contesting in mind. Some ops go as far as buying property and building their  station around contesting.
I had a chance to visit one of these contest stations and I was quite impressed with the setup. The station I got to visit is built and owned by Dave Robbins (K1TTT). I got to operate at his station with the BSA Venture Crew 510 (NE1C) for both the North American QSO Party (NAQP) and WPX SSB.

Here is what is station looks like

Pictured:  John (Kx1x) and Nick (K1MAZ)

You’ll notice that there are multiple transmitters scattered throughout his station.  Each area is basically dedicated for a single band. If the contest allows, there can be 6 to 9 transmitters being used at the exact same time. The software (N1MM) that is being used is networked throughout his entire shack. This will show real time progress of the contest and predict a very accurate score. It could also lead to a little contest between operators to see how many QSOs each operator can make.

Here are some of the Antennas that make this station possible

I didn’t have time to take photos of all of his antennas but it’s quite impressive. If you want more information about K1TTT, you can visit his website.

With this Station/Setup, It’s NOT hard to have a high score. Since this is what is considered to be a “BIG GUN” station, it’s easy to take command of a frequency and “Run” for a good portion of the contest. Let the contacts come to you. The only thing I did not like about using his station is when I returned home to use my equipment only to hear a fraction of what I just heard at the contest station. But if you ever have a chance to use a contest station, go for it! You can learn a lot about contesting  just by watching someone who has done it for a while.

Now don’t let me scare you out of contesting by saying you need to have this “BIG GUN” station. The truth is a lot of the stations that participate in contests have what is considered to be a “Normal” setup. If you’re still on the fence about contesting, my advice would be to find someone or a group within a reasonable distance and shadow them for a  contest. If you join a contesting club (if it’s possible), there are contesters who are looking for more operators as they work in “Shifts” depending on the contest. Another thing you can do is wait for Field Day. Even though the ARRL calls Field Day a emergency preparedness exercise, it’s could be considered a contest or even both. You get points for making contacts and points for doing certain things and they publish the results every year. Visit a Field Day site and you will get a general idea on how it works. If you don’t want to transport to another station, as long as you have the equipment, there is nothing to stop you from contesting from your home (other than your license limitations).

The Dark Side of contesting

Not all Hams enjoy contesting. Actually some Hams just flat out HATE contesting and anything to do with it. Some of them beleave that contesting actually ruins amateur radio because it’s turning a leisurely hobby into a “Sport” and it’s congesting the airwaves with nothing but false exchanges transmitted by operators who are over-driving their signal and using more power than the legal limit to force other ops off the frequency and/or band. You’re not learning about the person on the other side, you’re just establishing contact and moving on.
That is basically what you will hear from the “Anti-Contesters” and I think it’s a half truth. There are operators that show no respect and do all of those things. But it also happens when there is not a contest going on. When a major contest is going on, depending on the contest, there is a lot of activity going on. There is so much activity that it’s very possible that the entire band is being consumed by contesters. There is refuge from all this chaos however. Most, If not all contests do not allow contesting on the WARC bands (60m, 30m, 17m, 12m) so if you don’t like contesting, you can use these bands. The downside to the WARC bands is that you have limited space and there are not many antennas designed for the WARC bands which keeps some operators off.
Most contests take place during the weekend. A good amount of the contests are mode specific. So if it’s a RTTY contest, most of the activity will be around the RTTY calling frequencies and the SSB portion will be not effected. Same with CW or PSK or SSB only. However there are contests that any and/or every mode can be used.

If you’re an avid “Rag Chewer” contesting might not be up your alley. Don’t knock it down until you at least put a serious effort into contesting. If you’re going into contesting with a negative attitude, you’ll have negative results. If it ends  up that you don’t like contesting for whatever reason, please don’t turn into a “Anti-Contester”. Just because you like telling your story to every ham that you come across doesn’t mean  that every single amateur radio operator should be doing the same thing. Some hams are in it for CW, some are in it for Ragchewing, some are in it for chasing DX, some are in it for EmComm (Emergency Communications), some are in it for contesting and yada yada yada ya.  Ham Radio is a big melting pot of all different types of people and the different ways they communicate. It shouldn’t be subject to a single use.

I want to try contesting, what do I need?

As I stated earlier, you don’t need a “Big Gun” station to participate and have fun in a contest. All You need is time, will and determination more than anything else. Oh and at least some equipment. If you already have a transceiver, antenna and a way to log the contacts then you are all set for contesting. If you’re comfortable with just that then hopefully you’ll have a fun time contesting.
There are things out there that will make your contesting experience much more enjoyable and will give you a better chance of a higher score. In my personal opinion, the biggest contribution to contesting is the personal computer. With that and CAT control and possibly an internet connection, it will make you much faster  in the contest. With a computer you can use logging software in combination with rig control to log the frequency, time, call-sign and exchange. Depending on the software, it will estimate your score. That depends on if the other stations you’ve contacted submitted their logs.

Some other things that can help you in a contest are a Headset (For SSB) with either a foot switch or the VOX (Voice Operated Transmission) enabled on your radio (if you have one). That will free up your hands for logging and other things. It will also block most of the noise happening in your environment.  A memory keyer (CW/SSB/Computer) would be beneficial for both CW and voice contesting. What the memory keyer does is store messages that you will be sending over and over again. For example if you say “CQ Contest CQ Contest This Is November Tango One Kilo Contest” hundreds or thousands of times throughout a contest, it can get tiring  and you’ll sound horrible towards the end of the contest. The memory keyer will store the message and play it over the air whenever you push a button. So you can store things like CQ, Your exchange (if there is no serial number involved or anything that is different per contact), “Thank you, 73”, “QRZ This is NT1K” and other things that you might say repeatedly. Same with Morse code. A lot of this can be done with the computer. However,  you might have to add an additonal piece of equipment called a “Sound Card Interface” like the Rigblaster or SignaLink for voice and/or some kind of CW interface like WinKey.  You can also just buy the hardware (linked earlier). There are many options out there, some people use a couple of Audio cables and the VOX on their radio as an interface.

In short, a ideal contest setup would consist of  your transceiver(s), antenna(s), computer w/ appropriate software, headset and/or memory keyer (either software or hardware).

I have what I think is needed for contesting. What do I do?

First off, see what contest(s) are out there that you are interested in and see when they happen. This website catalogs  the upcoming contests and gives you the basics about each one. Most contests have a website that is dedicated to the contest  in question. I would visit that web site, read and understand all the rules for that contest. Nothing is more embarrassing then not reading the rules and participating in a contest where all the work  that you did could be flushed down the toilet.

Next thing to do is to set your goals. You can aim to beat your last years score, the score of a rival operator or operate for X amount of time or X amount of contacts. You can  aim really high and set your goal to WIN the contest.

If you are brand new to contesting, I would read the rules and listen in on a different contest before taking part in the one that you’re interested in. That way you have a feel for what’s about to happen. If you’re in a contest that is using a “Digital” mode (such as RTTY, PSK, CW, FeldHell, etc.. ) it would be wise to setup “macros” or scripts needed for calling CQ and making exchanges. Nothing is more irritating when you’re in a PSK or RTTY contest and the persons macro is a mile long causing the QSO to take way longer than it should.

About a week before the contest begins, start checking your equipment and software to make sure everything is in working order. That way you’re not running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off looking for hardware to replace your non-working hardware or trying to fix the software you’re using.

The day before the contest starts I would check your equipment again and configure your software (if you’re using it) to the contest that you will be participating in. If you’re using rig control, make sure that it works and everything communicates with each other. Then I would test your setup by getting on  the air and making contacts. If you happen to have  towers and beams or directional antennas, have them pointed in the direction you need them in.

Get a good nights sleep. You don’t want to be exhausted when getting into the contest. Depending on the contest, you might NOT be sleeping for the next 48 hours. So plan accordingly. Hours before the contest starts, I would do one final check of you’re equipment. Depending on how serious  you want to be, I would also take this time to setup your area. Make it as comfortable as possible since you might be planted there for a long time. Things  like having a stocked cooler and/or coffee maker within arms reach can really make things easier. Same thing with snacks and/or meals. If you’ve ever done gaming then you should already have an idea of what it’s going to be like. This may sound extreme but that’s how some people do it.

Contest Started. What do I do?

To answer that easily… GO GO GO!! What are you waiting for?!? Start!.. Every couple seconds of just sitting there wondering could cost you points. The ideal thing to do would to take command of a un-used frequency (good luck) and start calling “CQ contest…” (running) and start racking up those contacts. However depending on the contest, you might get pushed off by the “BIG GUNS”. It’s happened to me (even when I was using a “BIG GUN” station) a lot and I am sure it will happen to you. It’s hard to compete when the “Big Guns” are hogging up the band. Don’t let that make you lose hope. Use that to your advantage. Work all those “Big Gun” Stations and do what it called “Search & Pounce (S&P)”. Start from the beginning of the band and turn the dial towards the end of the band, working as many stations as possible. Depending on the contest or the rules or the category you’re running in, once you reached the end of the band, go the next higher band and do the same thing over and over. If you happen to find an empty frequency that can be used then stop S&P and go back to Calling CQ (Running) and repeat.

Another way people contest (if it’s allowed in the contest) is to utilize the Spotter/Skimmer/Packet networks that are out there. For those who don’t know what this is, it’s the exact same thing as a “DX Cluster”. What happens during the contest is after the operator makes a contact, the frequency and callaign will be “Spotted” on the network. For CW there are computers that use SDR (Software Defined Radio) that can look at almost 200Khz worth of  bandwidth, decode the CW and post the spots on the cluster. They call this skimming. If you have the appropriate software and it’s setup correctly, you can have all this information displayed on your computer and all you would have to do is click on the callsign you want to make contact with and it will automatically put you on the frequency they are on and partially fill out the log book. The downside of this is that it could possibly put you into a different category. It’s may be fine for some contests (because you’re already in that category) but will make it difficult for you to even place in other contests because there is a possibility that you will be lumped in with the bigger stations.

What can I do to have the Highest Score Possible?

Well, that depends on you and your will, determination and the goals you set before the contest. If your goal was to operate for at least a couple hours and you did then your Goal has been achieved  and your score will reflect it. However there are things that you can do to get the highest score possible. The fastest way to a high score is to work multipliers(mults). I brushed on this earlier but depending on how the contest is setup and governed, certain stations are considered multipliers.  If you work that station and get confirmation, your score will multiply by that amount. So if you worked 54 (1X) multipliers, each contact (QSO) would be 54 points. If you’re working assisted and depending on the logging software,  it will tell you that you’re working a multiplier and your predicted score will change.

Another thing to do is stay active. Some people are only active when the band is “Open” and go off to do other things when the band dies down. Spend some time before the contest looking at and learning HF Propagation charts (Link 1|2|3|4). Make a print out of what bands will be active at certain times and try to get on before the band “Opens” up. Hopefully that will give you a jump and possibly a running frequency. If the contest involves working stations in Europe, you most definitely want to be on the air when the band opens up to Europe due to the massive amount of stations and countries in that area. If the contest is a “work anyone anywhere” type then when the band dies down, concentrate your efforts to working contacts in your area/country. There might be a time were it seems dead. At this point find the most “Active” band and setup camp calling CQ. Contacts will come trickling in but it’s better than not making contacts at all. I also have either my laptop/tablet/smartphone going so I can be doing other things while calling CQ and stopping to make the contact.

Quick Notes On Contesting:

  • Set your goal – Is it to be on for X amount of hours? or to make X amount of points? or to beat last years score? or to WIN!
  • Check Check Check your equipment – Don’t want to spend the first 3 hours of the contesting fixing things.
  • Be comfortable – Setup the area to be as comfortable as possible. Possibly have food and drinks within arms reach.
  • Know band openings\closings – Use  HF propagation prediction software/sites so  you know when a band is opening/closing
  • Three tries – If you can’t get the station within three tries,  move on or say “Sorry, I can’t work you, please try again later. QRZ” . If they are strong, the chances of them of being there on your next go-around will be high.
  • No Ragchewing –  The point of a contest is to make as many QSOs as possible. Talking to another contester will end up costing you potential contacts and will annoy the other contester.
  • Start low and repeat – If you’re S&P, start at the beginning of the band and work your way to the end. At the end, move to the next band higher  until you’re high as you can get and then start over at the lowest possible band and repeat.  Like a cirrrrrrcle.
  • Follow the DX Code of Conduct – Even though this should be followed at all times. It’s more important during a contest. Not everyone follows this but after some time contesting, They stick out like a sore thumb and will be labeled a LID (poor operator)… Don’t be a LID.
  • Keep going – Make as many contacts as you can within the time  period you’re allowed. Try to stay at your station

Contest is done… Now What? 

After you recover,  I would glance over the logs to see if anything sticks out that is wrong like invalid callsigns or bad exchanges and see if you can fix them or possibly remove them (I would try to fix them). Some contests will give kudos to those whom submitted error free logs.

After checking the log, export it in the format the sponsor asked for (mostly carbrillo format) and check the rules of the contest to see how or where you have to submit/upload/e-mail your logs to.

Even if you were in the contest for 10 minutes, If you made contacts, I would submit a log file.  There is no FCC Law saying you have to submit a log, but depending on the contest, it might take points away from the other operators since it’s won’t be a true contact since there is no confirmation from you. So if you take part in a contest, please submit a log. Even if it doesn’t benefit you. It’s just good practice.

Was it worth all the time and trouble?

Once again, that all depends on YOU! Did you have a fun time? Did you reach your goals that you’ve set before the contest started? Was this your first time participating in this particular contest? Did you end up getting a certificate or winning a category? All of these questions will tell if you if it was worth it. A great thing about contesting is that you can use the contacts that you made during the contest to count towards awards like DXCC or WAS (that is if you were using YOUR callsign). And if this was your first contest, now you have a base to set your goals for.

NT1K Experiences in Contesting

At the time of writing this article, I’ve participated in a few contests. I am nowhere near being an “expert” at contesting and I don’t have what is considered to be a “BIG GUN” setup.  I’m writing this hoping to drum up at least some interest in contesting from those who are  just getting into the hobby. There are other articles by veteran contesters that are much better. If you have the  chance to join a contesting club, go for it! If you didn’t learn anything from joining and participating in a contest club then I would question what type of club it  really is. Some clubs even hold “Contesting Classes” where they will walk you through the details of contesting. You can also attach yourself to a group within the club (and hopefully near your QTH as well) and shadow them to see how it’s all done. Some of these contesters are begging for ops to come over and operate using their callsign (or club call) so they can take a break. Some are willing to teach you (isn’t really hard to say you’re 59 and the exchange) so they can have a semi warm body at the radio making contacts.

My Contesting setup is made up of the  following

  • Transceiver:  Yaesu FT-950 HF/6M  – It’s no K3 or IC-7800 but I like it!
  • Personal Computer: Quad-Core @ 3.2Ghz using Dual boot Windows 7/Ubuntu
  • Software: N1MM Logger, MMTTY(RTTY), FLdigi(PSK) and Ham Radio Deluxe. MMTTY  and FLdigi works within N1MM
  • Soundcard Interface: SignaLink USB. This is used so I can send Voice CQ and AFSK from the digi programs
  • Headset: Heil Pro Set
  • Antenna(s): G5RV, ButterNut HF9V (Not Used Yet)
  • Amplifier: Heathkit SB-200 w/ 600w out (Not Used During a Contest…Yet). This is optional and can change your category

Contests I’ve actively participated in (So Far)

  • Various Field Days (1995-2011) – Even though it not considered to be a contest, I think it is!  Field day with the MTARA, PRA and HCRA
  • New England QSO Party (2011,2012) – Actually won a plaque for winning first place in Hampden county in 2011. It also means that I beat 6 other ops. Doesn’t matter, still won.  Single Op from home using low (1oow) power, submitted as high power by mistake.
  • CQ World Wide SSB (2011) – 144,026 points. Would have had more if my power didn’t go out (Oct storm). I’m still getting logbook of the world confirmations from this contest
  • CQ World Wide CW (2011) – 12,000 points. My goals were to make 100CW contacts which was achived. I used a computer for the contest so I was only able to make contact with strong stations that were also using a computer. This contest gave me a push to learn CW
  • ARRL 10M contest (Dec, 2011) – Approx 8,000 pts.  Spent only a couple of hours operating as I don’t have very good 10m coverage (Dipole in attic)
  • North America QSO Party – (Score Unknown) Participated in NAQP from K1TTT contest station using the call NE1C.
  • CQ WPX SSB – Approx 10,000,000  points.  Multi-Op From K1TTT using call NE1C. Was the only op on the night shift for the second day. It was a slow night making abt, 100,000pts but when Europe opened on 20M, I made around 1,500,000 points in the first couple hours. Had a great time, I wish it was my call being used from the stations. I worked countries that I never even heard (Thailand, Mongolia) from at my QTH.It was pointed out that there is more pride making contacts from your home QTH and your setup which I fully agree.


Homebrew 5 Element VHF Yagi


Okay, enough of UHF/GMRS antennas. Now it’s time to step it up (just a little bit) and fabricate a bigger antenna.
Due to material, I decided on a 5 element Yagi built for VHF since all I would have to buy is more 3/8″ round stock. I’ve taken what I learned from the GMRS Yagi and applying it to the design and fabrication of this VHF Antenna. I am writing this article in a way in which I hope newer hams can understand, build and learn about antennas. So please excuse if I go into details about things that you consider simple and  “common sense”.

In order to design a Yagi we have to learn what a Yagi is.  A Yagi is a Directional antenna made of up elements.

The 3 Major parts which make a yagi are the driven element, reflector and director.  When cut and placed at a calculated distance (On a Boom), the elements will cause the RF (Power) to be sent (radiated) or received in whichever direction the antenna is pointing to. In the radio world this is a great because you can basically “Focus” the power and direct it in the direction you want. Whereas a Vertical (Omni-Directional)  radiates its energy in a 360 degree pattern (think of throwing a rock in a still lake and watch the ripple pattern in the water.) which will send out your signal “everywhere” but will dissipate quicker.

On the lower frequencies (HF), a Yagi would be the antenna of choice by Hams. Well then how come every ham doesn’t have a Yagi (on HF)? There is a couple of down sides to having a Yagi or Beam antenna (on HF). First off, HF Yagis are huge. In order to use a Yagi/Beam to it’s fullest you would have to install an antenna tower/mast and rotor. HF Yagis are expensive and so is the tower and rotor, so the parts alone could add up to couple thousand dollars. I’ve seen cases where someone moved or is SK (Passed on) and sold their equipment cheap.  There are also several other factors that would steer someone away from a Yagi. Those factors could be age, housing restrictions, living in an apartment, permits, handicap, property size, neighbors, and more stuff than I list. However the Yagi I’m building does not take much space and could be transported to be used in events where I am portable. Yagi’s come in many different sizes depending on the frequency and the efficiency of the antenna. The lower the frequency, the larger the antenna. The higher the frequency, the smaller at antenna. The length of the antenna will vary depending on how much efficiency/gain you want. Increasing the length (boom) and adding more director elements will increase the gain/efficiency of the antenna. On the Yagi that I am building, the design is based on the length of the (boom) antenna rather than the gain.

So you want to build a Yagi. To start off your going to have to know what material your going to be using. Most Yagi antennas are built using Aluminum since it’s light and is a great conductor (Well, compared to steel/stainless). There are many different types of aluminum and I would say that 6061-T6 Aluminum would be the best choice for antenna building.  The reason is that 6061-T6 is more weather durable and easier to work with compared to other aluminums. The downside of 6061-T6 is when it comes to bending. 6061-T6 tends to crack when bending using a tight radius. Since we’re not bending anything on the yagi we’re building then It won’t matter. If it comes to other designs of yagis that use a Hairpin or folded dipole then I would take the type of aluminum into consideration.

Okay, we’re using Aluminum. What’s next? Now we need to figure the sizes of the material we’re going to use. This all depends on personal preference. For HF Yagis, you’re going to need Tubing ranging from 2″,  telescoping in diameter down to 1/2″  because the antenna is going to be big and will need to support the weight of the elements. Since we’re dealing with smaller VHF/UHF antennas, the material doesn’t have to be large. For the antenna that we’re building we will be using 3/8″ (.375″/9.5mm) round solid aluminum and 1″ (1.00″/25.4mm) square tubing to mount the elements to. You can also use 1/4″ solid round aluminum instead of the 3/8″ to save a couple of dollars but realize that it’s easier to damage 1/4″ rod. If you decide to go with 1/4″  round please note that the dimensions and calculations you see in this article will NOT work using 1/4″ rod because 3/8″ rod has more surface area for the signal to travel on and all the calculations are made with 3/8″ In mind. You can change it to work with 1/4″ which I will cover later on.

Now that we have the material and size in mind that we’ll need, we now need to know what frequency we want to transmit on. Since this is a VHF yagi that we’re building, it will most likely be in the 144-148 range. Are you going to use this antenna for sideband (ssb/usb) only, or both ssb and FM (repeater/general operation)? Reason I ask that is if your designing this to be on sideband only, you will only need it to design it to work best over the span from 144.000Mhz to 144.500Mhz whereas FM would need to be designed over the entire band (144.000mMhz to 148.000Mhz). Since we’re building an antenna for the entire 2m band, we going to use 146.000Mhz as the design frequency  since it’s directly center of the band and would allow for a somewhat even performance throughout out the band.

Another downfall of the Yagi is that it has a narrow bandwidth.What I mean is that the antenna will work the best over the span anywhere from  100khz to 10mhz depending on the design (Could be more or less).  If you start transmitting out of that span, it could create signal loss and high SWR causing the transmitter to step down power to prevent damage (or actually damage older radios). Why build an antenna that is not going to radiate the power going to it?  If the antenna is designed and fabricated correctly and you have at least a SWR Meter/Bridge then this should not be an issue.

So now we have everything we need to start designing a Yagi-Udi Antenna. Well… How do you design one? This is a fork in the road and there are many different ways you could design one (too many to list). There are different programs for different types of Yagis and there are different mathematical formulas for different (or the same) types of yagis.  The method I am going to use is a Antenna modeling  (software) program called 4NEC2.  This program is based off the Numerical Electromagnetics Code for modeling antennas. The great thing about 4NEC2 is that you can model almost any antenna and the best part is that its FREE!  What this software allows you to do is to design/draw an antenna using X,Y,Z Coordinates and then run the antenna through a simulator to see it’s efficiency, SWR, impedance and many other things that I have yet to look at. Basically it will tell you if your antenna is going to work and how well it will work on or near the frequency you designed it for. Another great thing about 4NEC2 is that it will perform adjustments on your antenna to optimize it for the best results. So if you are somewhat close to a good antenna, the software (if the programed right) will make it even closer. This software however is slightly (or very) difficult to use for a new person in the hobby. I adapted to the design portion of the software because I have knowledge in CAD (Computer Aided Drafting), but I had to do a lot of reading about the electrical properties and how to make the software do what I want. I am not going to dive in depth explaining this software. However, I will show you how I used the software to create the antenna. If you find the software to difficult then skip the section and use the final results in building your antenna.

Before we start using the software, we’re going to need to know what dimensions to input in the software. We can’t just throw random numbers into the software and expect magic to occur and produce the “Perfect” Yagi antenna. The U.S Department of Commerce and the National Bureau Of Standards released a document which helps in Yagi Design. Information based off the manual has lead to the following Dimensions

300 (speed of light in meters)/146.000(mhz) = 2.0547 wavelength or(WL) (in meters). This will be used as reference for the following dimensions.

Length of each element as follows:
Reflector Length = 0.493 X WL=1.01297m (or 39.880″)
Driven Element Length = 0.473 X WL = 0.971873m (or 38.262″)
Director 1 length = 0.440  X WL = 0.904068m (or 35.593″)
Director 2 length = 0.435 X WL = 0.893795m (or 35.188″)
Director 3 length = 0.430 X WL = 0.883521 (or 34.7843″)

Spacing of each elements from the reflector as follows (WL = 2.0547 in meters)

Reflector to Driven element = 0.125 X WL = .256838m (or 10.1117″)
Reflector to Director 1 = 0.250 X WL = .513675m (or 20.223″)
Reflector to Director 2 = 0.500 X WL = 1.02735m (or 40.446″)
Reflector to Director 3 = 0.750 X WL = 1.54103m (or 60.670″)

Now that we have all the dimensions that will put our Yagi in the “Ball Park” of a good VHF Antenna. The software will end up fine tuning the elements and spacing between elements to obtain the best SWR for the giving variables (i.e Element diameter, Boom length and etc).

Open the 4NEC2 and plot the antenna using the dimensions above. At some point in the near future, I will post a video on how I plotted the antenna. If you don’t know how to use 4NEC2 I suggest searching using google for results because that’s how I learned.

Please note that using the “Optimization” will give different results what I came up with. So do not get alarmed or worried. If it was done right then there shouldn’t be any issues to the design that the software gave you. DO NOT START CUTTING ANYTHING!! These dimensions will change!

Here are the Dimensions and spacings from 4NEC2 that I got! (Note that these dimensions will be the ones used for the rest of the article and that they will be different than your results if you decided to use the software)

Spacings (Each from the reflector)
S1 =12.469″
S2 =20.492″
S3 =37.933″
S4 =58.000″

Element lengths
RL =40.495″
DE =38.363″
D1 =36.056″
D2 =36.086″
D3 =34.074″

Now you should have all the Dimensions (lengths) of the elements and the spacing. Now we need to work on the BOOM. The Boom is the tube that we are going to mount the elements on. At this point we have to decide what material, size and length we’re going to use for the boom and how we’re going to mount the elements. I have decided on 1.000″ square aluminum tubing because it’s commonly used and that it’s easier to work with compared to round tubing. The length that we’re going to need is based on the location of your last (furthest away) director.

I also decided to mount the elements by drilling through the boom and using plastic shoulder washers so we can slide the elements through the boom without the elements contacting the boom. At any point we DO NOT WANT THE ELEMENTS TO CONTACT THE BOOM!! Because we’re putting the elements through the boom, the elements will become electrically shorter because of the inductance change. So we would have to increase each element which is called “Boom Correction”.

There is a formula to calculate the “Boom Correction”. In fact, there are many different formulas to calculate the correction so I am going to use the one that I see most on the internet

C= (12.597B) – (114.5B^2)
The C equals the correction, and B equals boom diameter in wavelengths. This formula will work on boom diameters smaller than .055 wavelengths (Smaller than 4-1/2″ boom diameter on VHF and smaller than 1.5″  boom diameter on UHF). So let’s dissect this problem to make it easier.

To find B we’re going to need the wavelength of the frequency (146Mhz) that were going to use in millimeters.
300/146 = 2.0547 meters or 2054.7 millimeters.

Now we need to take the boom diameter in mm (1.0″ = 25.4mm) and divide it by the wavelength (in MM) of 146Mhz
25.4/2054.7 =0 .012362 (B is .012362)

Now we can do the problem

Now we take the correction and multiply it by the boom diameter (in MM)
.138226X25.4 = 3.510mm or .138″ is out correction

We now have to ADD .138″ to EACH element.  So our NEW element lengths (in inches) are as follows.

RL = 40.633″
DE = 38.501″
D1 = 36.301″
D2 = 36.224″
D3 = 34.212″

At this point we should have all the lengths of the elements, spacing distances from the reflector to each element, boom diameter, boom length and the type of material we’re going to need for fabrication… Right?

We need to go shopping before we build. Here is a list of what we need to build

  • 5ft (60″) of 1X1″ Sq Aluminum tubing (1/16″ Wall/Thick)
  • 16ft (192″) of 3/8″ Round Aluminum Rod

I would suggest that you google for a local “metal supply” shop. I would avoid the big chain stores (like Home Depot, Lowes) or stores that have every type building material under one roof because the markup on material is very high. I was able to purchase 12ft of sq tubing and 24ft (2 12ft lengths) of rod for around US $30. There was enough material to build this antenna and two UHF 3 Element beams.

  • 8pcs – 3/8″ Inside Diameter Plastic Shoulder Washer
  • 6pcs – 3/16″ Inside Diameter Plastic Shoulder Washer
  • 1pcs – 3/8″ Inside Diameter X 3/4″ Diameter X 1-1/2″ Long Plastic Spacer

These Items will be a little tricky to get. If you’re in the US, you can go online and order from a company called McMaster Carr. I have the part numbers listed on the blue prints that I’ve used. However when I put the antenna through the ringer (tests), I will see if I have to change the part numbers to something else. I have been considering using plastic rivets instead of shoulder washers because I am afraid that the adhesive (epoxy) will not hold the plastic shoulder washers to the boom. If you get different washers or insulators, The dimensions will differ from what I have on my blue prints, so please change dimensions accordingly. If you do order through McMaster Carr, They will only sell the washers and spacer in packaged amounts. If I recall the small shoulder washer came in a pack of 100pcs, the larger shoulder washers came in a pack of 50pcs and the Spacers came in a pack of 10. It’s great because I ended up making a bunch of antennas w/o having to make an extra order.

  • Glue or  epoxy.

Anything that you know will bond plastic to metal and will survive the elements (rain, cold, ice, snow, heat, wind). Still a good idea to use even if your using plastic rivets.

  • 6pcs – 9/16″ Long #8-32 Screws

I would suggest using stainless steel screw as it will survive in the elements longer

There are optional things that you buy like Sq caps for the boom and vinyl caps for the ends of the elements for water and safety protection.

There is some more paper work to do (Grrrrr). Now that we have all these neat numbers and material, We should at least have some kind of drawing to help us when it comes to actually cutting, drilling and tapping these parts. I assume that your building the antenna for one or two reasons which are that you either don’t have enough cash to purchase a commercially made (and tunable) Yagi, or that you actually want to learn how these types of antennas work. So let’s take some more time to layout the antenna so we can have something to use when we’re cutting, drilling and tapping.

I am going to use software called “AutoDesk Inventor 2011” which is a 3D design software that is used for CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) purposes. This software will let me make each part in 3D and assemble all the parts to make sure of proper fitment. This software will also let me create Blueprints based on the information I typed into the software. If you can’t get your hands on any type of this software, no worries. You can do the same thing on graph paper.

My Results are posted below. Please note that I’ve included all the information that is needed IN the Blueprint for those who just want to download the prints and fabricate w/o reading this article. However the information listed on the prints (other than the dimensions) have only basic information for experienced fabricators/ antenna builders.

(Still working on them, please check back)

Now that we have all the dimensions and a print, LETS GET FABRICATING!

Here is a list of basic tools that are needed. Most Hams have these tools or can get access to them. Following this list will be a list with the preferred tools that would make the job faster, smoother and more accurate. However the majority of people do not have a lot of the items

Basic Tools Suggested:

  • Hacksaw
  • Measuring Tape
  • Marker
  • Drill
  • *Various Drill Bits (Ranging from .125″ to .750″)
  • 8-32 Bottoming Tap (With T Handle)
  • Bench Vise
  • Sandpaper (120 grit)
  • Scratch Awl/Scriber/Etching pen (or anything that has a sharp point that you can easily handle)

Preferred List Of Tools

  • Metal Chop Saw (With vise)
  • Vernier Calipers (6″ or bigger)
  • Automatic Center Punch
  • Marker
  • Drill Press (With a vice able to hold SQ and Round tubing/stock)
  • *Drill Bits (Various to .750″ [or 3/4])
  • Files or deburring device

* – For those who don’t have .750″ drill bit, depending on where you live,  a 3/4″ Drill bit can get expensive. I would suggest either a step bit (still expensive) or a 3/4″ countersink (at 82 degrees). Drill the specified hole up to the biggest bit and then finish it off with the 3/4″ countersink. Since it’s aluminum, it will not damage the countersink and you will be able to counter sinks holes on other projects (DO NOT COUNTERSINK HOLES ON THIS PROJECT!

Lets start off by cutting all the aluminum rods (elements) and tubing (boom) to the correct lengths by using the tape measure. The blueprint posted in this article shows both decimal and fraction to the nearest 32nd of an inch.

(elements shown cut to size with a band saw)

After you cut the elements and boom to length, It’s time to layout the hole pattern on the boom and each element

I used a red pencil to mark the location along the boom. Then I marked the center of each location using a pair of verniers and used a marker to make the center point more visible.

When marking the elements it’s a good idea to mark the center point twice. Once from each end so you know that your exactly on center of the element. With the driven elements, you just need to place a mark at 3/16″ in from only one edge.

Using a drill or drill press with a small (>.125″) drill bit. Drill pilot holes on every center mark on the boom. DO NOT DRILL THROUGH THE BOOM! Only drill through the side you marked unless your using a bridge port mill that has a perfect 90 degree head.

Also drill pilot holes at the marks of each element. Once again, DO NOT DRILL THROUGH THE ELEMENT! You will only want to drill half way through the element. A bit of advice is to measure from the tip of the drill bit 1/4″ up and use the edge of some masking tape to tell you where to stop when drilling.  If you feel un-easy about drilling the element, you should have a couple of inches of scrap rod that you can test both drilling and tapping on.

This photo shows pilot hole being drilled into the boom

This photo shows the Pilot Holes drilled in each element

After drilling the pilot holes, time to open the holes according the blue print. With the elements, I suggest using a .120″ (or #31) drill bit as the element could wobble causing the hole to open up a little more. With the boom I would start with opening the holes where the elements slide through first! Then switch to the 3/4″ bit and open up the holes where the driven element slides through. Switch back to the pilot drill bit, insert the plastic spacer that will hold the driven elements and using the two holes on the top of the boom as guides and drill halfway through the plastic spacer. Then open the rest of the holes to the correct size.

The next step is to tap each element with a #8-32 bottoming tap. If you can get your hands on a bottoming tap, you can take a regular tap and break the head off it and grind/file it flat.

This photo shows a element being tapped. Try to make sure your tap is 90 degree and straight.

After everything is cut and drilled and tapped to size. It’s time for assembly. Assembly is pretty stright foward.
Glue/Epoxy all  shoulder washers/rivets into place and let dry. The driven elements are going to slide into the plastic round spacer. Make sure that each side of the driven elements does not come in contact with each other. Then slide in the reflector and directors and secure them with the 6-32 screws. When finished I placed more epoxy around the elements (NOT THE DRIVEN ELEMENT) at the point where they meet the boom. I did this because I don’t plan on taking apart the antenna.

Attache your coax to the driven element making sure you don’t have the connections contacting the boom.

You should hopefully have a functional 5el VHF Yagi

Here are some reading I’ve taken with a analyzer that I borrowed.

At 144.42Mhz, I got a 1:1 SWR with an Impedance of 48ohm.


At 146.02Mhz, I got a reading of 1:1 SWR with an impedance of 46ohms

At 147.72Mhz, I got a SWR of 1:1 and an impedance of 44Ohms
These readings were taken in my house with the antenna mounted to a wood broom stick. When I got the antenna into the attic I took another set of readings before I gave the meter back and I saw that a slight change on the values. Can’t wait to get it outside.

If you plan on making your own Yagi, please take ALL SAFETY considerations into effect. Know and respect all the tools you are using and when it comes to installing your Yagi,  make sure the antenna with not come in contact with any utility lines.

If you are using the plans from this page, please note that your results may/will vary from what I’ve made. Since I’m new to antenna making, I would not want you to risk any material/money. Please confirm your findings with someone who does know before purchasing or building. These are just my notes on what I did to create an antenna.




Sources Of Information:

Peter P. Viezbicke, National Bureau Of Standards. “Yagi Antenna Design”. U.S Department of Commerce/NBS  Tech Note 688 (Dec 1976). PDF (Sept 2011)

G.R Jessob, and  R.S. Hewes. “Radio Data Reference Book” (ISBN: 1872309305)  Radio Society of Great Britain; 6th edition (November 1995)

Unknown Author (N4UJW?). “Basic Yagi Antenna Design For The Experimenter”.  YAGI ANTENNA DESIGN BASICS. Web (Sept 2011)

Martin Steyer (DK7ZB). “DK7ZB Yagi – 144Mhz-Yagis”. DK7ZB Website. Web (Sept 2011)

ARRL, R. Deam Straw. “The ARRL Antenna Book: The Ultimate Reference for Amateur Radio Antennas, Transmission Lines And Propagation.” American Radio Relay Leauge; 21st edition (May 2007)

Peter Knott. “Wire Antenna Modelling with NEC-2”. Antenna Engineer 8/12/2009. PDF (Sept 2011)

Daniel C Lester (KE9SE). “The Effects Of A Conductive Boom On Element Lengths”. VHF-UHF  Basics (9/17/2009). Web (Sept 2011)

Guy Fletcher (VK2KU). “Effects of Boom and Element Diameters on Yagi Element Lengths at 144, 432 and1296 MHz”. ARRL QEX Magazine (Jan/Feb 2000).

Software Sources:
Arie Voors . “4NEC2” – Web – (Freeware) Program Used to Design and Simulate Yagi (and other) antennas
Autodesk Corp. “Autodesk Inventor 2011” – Web – (Trial/Edu/Paid) Program used to Design and create blueprints

Hello APRS My old friend.

I’ve come to talk with you again.

APRS – ™ By:  Bob Bruninga, WB4APR Http://

Back in 2001 when I first got my license. I was interested in APRS because it was something I can do with my new license. I went as far as setting up a part time digipeater and after only a couple of months, the digipeater went down and lost interest in APRS because the cost of a GPS receiver at the time (even though GPS is NOT a requirement to listen or participate on the APRS network).
GPS receivers are a lot cheaper compared to 10 years ago and I have a old Garmin GPS-V lying around. So I figured this would be the perfect time to get back into APRS. For those who don’t know what APRS is, It’s Automatic Packet Reporting System which is an Amateur (Ham) based system for real-time communications of information using a digital protocal (AX.25). There are many possible things you can do with APRS. You can send (Short) text E-mail, SMS Messages,  send weather data (Which the NWS uses) and when hooked up to a GPS , will send position data.  I am not going to go into much detail because there are websites that are dedicated to APRS.
I am going to be doing a couple of things with APRS. One thing is that I am going to set up a part-time iGate (internet gateway) to make use of the frequency scanner and antenna that is not being used. Packets of Information received from the scanner (tuned to 144.39mhz) will be sent over the internet using the APRS-IS network so it can be databased and displayed on such websites as .

The other thing I want to do is location tracking. In order to do tracking you’ll need 2 or 3 things. You’ll need a GPS receiver that has an output for NMEA data, TNC (Terminal Node Connector) and a transceiver (VHF [144-148mhz] is Most used). As stated earlier, I have a Garmin GPS-V lying around and I also have a Kenwood TH-78A.  All that is missing is a packet TNC.  A Real TNC can cost $100+ and needs a computer. However there are units designed and built for APRS that will encode the data from the GPS to the AX.25 protocol and transmit the signal using the transceiver. I’ve purchased one of these units called ” TinyTrack3+” from a company called Byonics. It’s as basic as it gets. You can either buy it as a kit or assembled, with or without a GPS Receiver, with or without cables for your transciver or with or without cables for various GPS models.  I ended up going with a solder and assemble your self kit without any extra cables because I wanted to invest the least amount of money in it as possible.

Here is the kit as you would get it in the mail. It comes with the componets, board, case and instructions.

Here is the board soldered up. I used a 35W Pencil type soldering Iron. I filed the tip a little bit to assure that solder flows to the tip. It took about 1/2 to 3/4 of an hour to solder. If your new to assembling boards, I would go to the Byonics website and download the manual because the online .pdf manual will cover the assembly and everything else in great detail. As long as you follow the step by step instructions, it will turn out great. For newbies make sure the diodes are going in the right direction, LEDs in the right direction and make sure the notch (little cutout) is aligned with the silk screen image.

Now that board is done, time to make some cables! (Since I didn’t order any)

Here is the cable all assembled! It’s a DB-9 Connector  (Radio shack P/n: 276-1538 US$2.69) , Pos and Neg power cords with Anderson power poles attached so it could powered by many different sources (7-35vDC), Sacrificed  speaker microphone from the Wouxun for its cable, Ferrite Core choke (Optional, Radio Shack P/N: 273-105) and the DB-9 Case (Radio Shack P/n: 276-1539 US$2.09). I Got the wiring diagram from the  Byonics website and took about 1/2 hour to make which ended up costing me around $5 since I already had the cable, choke and power connector

Just an FYI, I sacrificed a speaker microphone from my Wouxun. Power-Werx which distributes Wouxun products (as well as the power poles), has the exact same cable for this application for sale on their website. They also have a similar one but with a cigarette lighter plug (Both for US$20). Byonics also sells cables for this and many different radios. Also note that that wouxun speaker mic layout is the same for kenwood HT’s!

After you assemble the tracker and the cable. Apply power to unit and hopefully it comes to life by flashing the yellow and green LEDS three times. Only thing left to do is to program the tracker using your computer. This point it can get tricky. The TinyTrak3 needs a NULL modem cable (Or adapter) to program it and possibly a gender changer. I found that I didn’t have a null modem cable, all I have are straight through cables. Since I didn’t want to wait for an adapter I made one from old computer parts lying around my house

Here is the cable that I made from parts out of an old 486 that I had in the attic. It’s not pretty or rugged enough for daily use but once you program the Tracker and are satisfied with the operation then you will most likely not have to program it again.

Here is the complete setup. Right now I have the unit running off a 9V battery. I also used a cigarette lighter plug with power poles connected to it. Depending on how you programmed the tracker, It will only send when there is data from GPS. There are limitless things you can do with this setup. For SOTA members (Summits On The Air), They can bring this along with them so others can see their progress in their hike. If you helping out in a public service or public events which ham radio operators are helping, you can show your location to HQ without even telling them. It makes things a lot easier.

Here is my first track. I learned a lot when doing this. I found that my handheld in the truck has a hard time communicating with the digipeaters in the area. I might purchase a small 1/4″ wave mag-mount  or a duplexer and switch to my dual band antenna for when I am running APRS in the truck.


I added things to the Tinytrak3+ which I think will make it better for me to run. If I had to be really critical about the tracker is that the DB-9 connectors did not come with mounting screws. The first test out with my truck the power/radio connector became loose and eventually lost power to the tracker. To fix this I went scavenging parts off  a old computer.

Now I can secure both the power and GPS connections. The screws came off the LPT and monitor ports of an old mother board. There is a small amount of space between the back plate of the connector and the board. So I had to grind down the bolts and nuts so It would not touch the board.

Another issue that might come is when I am portable (walking). More likely the power source for the tracker for this purpose will be a 9V battery. The tracker with all the LEDS running will consume around 18.6ma which means a 9V battery (.370Ah avg) could possibly last for about 9-12 hours (60% discharged). If  you turn off the LEDs, the power consumption is 6.6ma. On a 9V battery, the tracker could last around 30 hours. The TinyTrak3+ can run without the LEDS by cutting a lead (tells you how in the directions). If you using a high-capacity 9V (.580Ah)with no LEDs it could last for more than 50 hours so it might be beneficial to cut the lead and add a jumper. The down side is that you will not know the status of the Tinytrak.

So what I did is cut the lead on the board and installed a bridge (shown in the picture above with the blue jumper). When jumped the LEDs are operational.
Also pictured are 2 bridges installed (on the left side) for jumpers J5 (outside pair) and J6 (inside pair). If J5 is jumped it will switch to what was programed in the secondary tab in the program (Program 2) . This would work great for an event which required either a different call and/or different settings. After the event, you can switch back to the primary settings. If J6 is jumped it will send a signal to power on the transceiver. This would involve another board with a relay to put power into the transceiver or modifying the transceiver. I don’t plan on messing around with it any time soon but since I am soldering on jumper bridges, why not.

Overall it was a really great build and I am having a blast with APRS. My plans are to find a way to make it all fit into a nice tiny package that I could carry when hiking or driving.

73 and thanks for reading!


HCRA Field Day 2011

This year I participated in Field Day with the Hampden County Radio Association. Instead of dropping by a site and using their equipment, I decided to offer up my equipment for use as the “HF DIGITAL” station. Other than a couple of software issues, the Digital station was a success with over 170 contacts.

Here are the pictures I’ve taken from Field Day

Check out Hampden County Radio Association’s Website for information about Field Day.
Continue reading “HCRA Field Day 2011”

FIELD DAY – 2 Weeks!

I will be participating in Field Day this year with the folks from the Hampden County Radio Assocation ( HCRA ). I’m excited because I will be using my FT-950 as the site’s HF Digital station (Mostly PSK, RTTY). So if you live  or will be in the Western Mass area on the 25th and 26th of June and want to see Field Day up close, we’re going to be at Dufresne Recreation Area in Granby, Massachusetts. All are welcomed, licensed or not.  Please visit the Field Day page on HCRA’s website. Also check out pictures and data from prior years

For those who don’t know about Field Day, It’s basically an event that takes place on the 4th weekend of June to test emergency communications and it’s deployment. Over 30,000 operators across US try to communicate with as many other field day operators as possible. Points are awarded to operators and/or clubs that make contacts and perform other tasks that would allow for more points ( For example: media coverage, getting Non Hams on the air [GOTA], Copying/fowarding messages). Some Hams treat this as  contest even though the ARRL considers it  an exercise. Whatever the case may be, it’s really fun and it can get you out of the house.

I’ve participated in Field Day multiple times at multiple hosts over the years. I’ve had a Digital setup back in 2004 and had a blast. I recall being very busy using digital back then, I hope that it’s even more popular this year compared to 2004 and hope to be more busy making contacts all over HF.

What: ARRL Field Day Hosted By the Hampden County Radios Association
When: Saturday, June 25th, at 14:00 (2pm), untill Sunday, June 26th
Where: Dufresne Recreation Area, Granby MA, 01033
Why: Because it’s fun, social and you get to operate all different type of equipment.

Hope to hear or see you at Field Day!!

APCO 25 (P25) and DSD

Since I have a radio capable of transmitting Digitally using the Project 25 protocol. I wanted to test it out. The only issue is that there are no P25 ham radio repeaters in receiving distance from my house and I do not have another P25 radio to communicate with. After searching around Google, I found some websites discussing software that will decode the digital signal and convert it to analog over your computer’s sound card.

Hardware Needed:
Scanner – I guess it can be any kind as long as you can get at the discriminator output. I used a Radio Shack PRO-97.
Audio Patch cable – From the discriminator output to the computer
Computer – Not sure what the minimum requirements are. I used a 1.5Ghz single core AMD (Circa 2003) and a motherboard with a built-in sound card.
Sound Card (If you computer doesn’t have Sound Card) – I don’t think there is a need to go out and spend hundreds on a card that your going to use for this purpose. The money spent on a expensive card could have been spent on a scanner that can decode APCO25. I’ve found that a sound card using the AC97 Codec works the best.

Software Needed:
Linux OS Or Windows – That’s right L-I-N-U-X!! DSD Will NOT run on ANY KIND OF WINDOWS OS. Let me type that again. DSD DOES NOT RUN ON WINDOWS!!!  Sorry but I had to do that.  I’ve used UBUNTU Ver 10.04 . At the time of writing this, the current version of Ubuntu is 11.04 . For some reason DSD DOES NOT WORK WITH UBUNTU VERSION 11.04 . The reason I choose Ubuntu is that it’s downloadable,  free and has a Graphic user Interface. Since I never Ran Linux before, I felt a little more at home with Ubuntu. You can run a Dual Boot system so that when you start the computer, you can have a choice of which Operating system to boot into. With Ubuntu you can also run Ubuntu off the CD instead of installing the OS on the computer.  Please note that there is a lot of reading in installing Ubuntu which I will not cover on this website. Google questions you have and I’m sure there is an answer out there


DSD (Digital Signal Decoder) – This is the software that actually takes the digital signal and decodes it.
– This software actually takes the decoded information and synthesizes it so you can hear the decoded audio.

DSD and mbelib can be downloaded from here (See note at the end of this writeup)

After modifying your scanner and getting Linux to run, download Mbelib and DSD in Linux and remember where they are located. In terminal CD (Navigate) to the directory where both Mbelib and DSD are located, Unpack both Mbelib and DSD and then install Mbelib first then DSD. If your very new to Linux and have some computer skills, this thread helped me out.

After installing everything, in Terminal type “dsd” (without quotes) and If all goes well. The last line should be “Audio In/Out Device:  dev/audio”
Errors that I got at this point mostly have to do with sound.  Either your sound card is being used by another application (even the sound control panel) or DSD is not calling up the correct sound card. DSD is defaulted to use sound card device 0 (zero). So if your sound card device is in a different spot then you need to tell DSD the location for the sound card. You can check where your soundcard is (if it’s installed) by typing “aplay -l ” into terminal. If it’s device 2 for example then you type in terminal “dsd -i /dev/audio2 -0 /dev/audio2”

I’ve uploaded a video showing up how DSD works with APCO 25 (P25, Project 25). It also works on other digital modes but I have not yet tried.

I am loving this software. It’s not the easiest software to install or use but if your into scanning and just even wondered about Linux. This is the perfect project to get your feet wet in Linux.

Please note that I am not an expert on the DSD software or Linux. Most likely I will NOT be able to help you if you’re experiencing problems. The install went so great for me and worked so well that I wanted to install it on another computer. After installing it on another computer, I had nothing but trouble. The good that came out of having a hard installation is that I learned a bit about DSD and Linux.

Thanks for reading

UPDATES 10/24/2011
I haven’t been using DSD much as I’ve been out of touch with APCO but I was informed by a user on Youtube that There is a verison that runs in windows.

Here is the link to the RadioReference Thread

Basically what the Author did was compile all the stuff from the linux version of DSD into a windows .exe file.  If you just want to listen to P25, Download the version in the 3rd post of the thread. All you have to do is un-zip everything into a folder and run dsd.exe

I’ve tested it against my XTS3000 (P25) and everything looks and ran great. I think the Audio was a little better sounding on my Linux box but the audio is still legible and I’m glad to now have it on a windows box. Maybe I’ll listen to it more often.

Make sure to plug into the discriminator tap and put the other side into the LINE-IN (Blue). Before loading DSD make sure that the LINE-IN is your DEFAULT recording device and you should be all set. If you try to do this while the DSD is running you can run into issues just like when it was in Linux.

Thanks to the RR crew because it makes scanning more fun and less expensive.

Up, Up and Away! (Diamond X510 Installed)

This weekend I worked up the courage and installed my Diamond X510 on my roof. It wasn’t easy due to the pitch of my roof and lack of any safety gear and also making sure the ladder was secured to the house. I don’t picture myself climbing up onto that roof again.

In the above picture I designed and fabricated my own mounting straps to mount the antenna to the cast iron vent pipe.

The support pipe is  galvanized dipped and  then powder coated white to survive the elements

Here are roof brackets just after being cut with the 4kw laser. Brackets are made of 14ga (0.074) Staintless
All the hardware used in the installation was made out of stainless. I didn’t want a nice trail of rust running down my roof.

Other than the anxiety of climbing onto my roof , It was fun.  I couldn’t wait to get back into the house, run the RG213 through the wall and start transmitting.

Using Diamonds radiation pattern on the antenna I calculated the coverage of my antenna.

I think it calculated a little too much but it’s pretty close. From moving my antenna from 5ft off the ground to the top of my house using low loss cable and Type-N connectors, I see a major difference and wondered why I never bought a commercially built antenna. I notice that I can now hit stations further north from my QTH. before I couldn’t get past 10mi north. Now I can hit the W1UWS repeater on top of  Mt. Ascutney in Ascutney VT (100mi north of my QTH) and I could now hit Mt. Graylock in N. Adams MA  (60mi Northwest of my QTH) and many repeaters in the Berkshires. In the south direction I can now get repeaters in Litchfield and Hartford Counties in CT.  Compared to the J-Poles I can now contact 40 additional 2m repeaters. So overall I am extremely pleased of the results.

Now to get the Butternut Installed.


My Diamond X510NA 2M/70CM Antenna

Last week I managed to get a Diamond X510NA antenna for free! The only issue was that I had to go and retrieve the antenna off the roof and also remove another antenna which I also got to keep. Not sure what the other antenna is but my focus is on the Diamond X510NA. This is my first “Commercial” VHF/UHF antenna. All my previous antennas were home brews which performed just great.

When I got the antenna down, nature has taken it’s course and there was corrosion of the visible metal parts and the white lacquer coating is gone exposing the fiberglass tube. However the tubes were still intact and the copper inside looked great for the most part

In this closeup you can see the minor issues that nature caused.


I was determined to get this antenna looking and performing like it was new.  So I went to the hardware store to look for plastic spray paint  and rubber foam strips for sealing  joints around doors to keep drafts at bay.

Here is a photo with the Rubber foam stripping rolled around where the old foam was. I am doing this to prevent the actual antenna from rattling around inside the tubing.

I designed a bracket to use for the roof  installation. The straps will be made out of 14ga (.074″) stainless and I already acquired a 1.25″ I.D. galvanized pipe and had it powder coated white to match the rest of the antenna. I don’t want any rust up there.

Here is the finished antenna. I mounted it to the deck with zip-ties to make sure the antenna works before going onto the roof.

Here is another angle of the antenna. The joints and feedline were taped with “X-Treme Tape” which is a silicone based
tape that will make a watertight seal. I also used “Undercoat” rubberized spray where the radials are mounted to prevent any more corrosion to the base.

There is a night and day difference compared to my home made antennas. Even though it’s 5ft off the ground and the huge aluminum siding wall right next to it, I am hitting repeaters that I never could hit before. Can’t wait to get this up on the roof.


New Radio (Hand Held) – Wouxun KG-UVD1P

Wouxun KG-UVD1P
New Radio

Today I gave my self a Christmas present.   Before this purchase I did not own a working VHF/UHF Radio. I have a Kenwood TH-78a that I love. It just needs a new battery pack to get me going. I went out following a snow storm and drove 40mi to Lentini Communcations in Berlin CT. which is my nearest “HAM” radio store and purchased the WOUXUN KG-UVD1P Dual Band  (144/440) Transceiver. I was a bit skeptical about buying a Chinese branded ham radio that is not one of the big three (Yaesu, Kenwood and ICOM), but I figured the price is right ($130 w/ programing cable) and QST magazine gave it a good review.

First impression was not bad. The box looks nice and everything was neatly packaged. If I were to be over critical, I would say that the programing/usb driver CD’s should be regular sized instead of the Mini-CD that was given to me. I like that the battery is fully charged and it includes a drop in charger which I think should be a standard with any handheld that is purchased.  The manual just gives the basics and has a lot of engrish so for those who depend on reading a manual rather than trial and error to operate a radio will find it a tad difficult to follow. You can also tell the radio is designed for general public use and not for amateur radio but that doesn’t phase me considering I’ve owned Motorola radios which I think they are harder to program.
After attaching the battery pack and the antenna, I powered on the unit to hear a voice speaking to me. It took me around 5min to look around, input a frequency, input a tone, set the offset, assign a offset and start talking on a  repeater 50 Miles away. I wasn’t crystal clear but I can hear the other station and the other station could make me out.

I am going to start off with the cons

– Antenna connection is reversed (SMA FEMALE ON THE ANTENNA, SMA MALE ON THE RADIO)
– Not true Dual VFO. You can monitor two freq’s but locks out the other on activity.
– Hard to program through keypad
– S-Meter doesn’t seem accurate. I was barley getting a repeater and the S-Meter was showing full bars
– Can’t program both side keys

– PRICE PRICE PRICE!!! $130.00 US for everything
– Desktop Charger!
– Great receive
– Great Transmit
– Long lasting battery (7.4v 1300 mAh Li-Ion)
– Decent Size  (2-1/4″ Wide X  4-1/8″ Tall X 1-1/2″ Thick)

As of right now I would recommend this to anyone. However I strongly suggest if you purchase this radio to also get the programing cable and software (you can download the software from their website) .