Sunday, December 01, 2013

SALT WATER BEAMS: Where to go from here?

As previously reported on this website, experiments with centre fed two and four element beams have been done on 10 metres with some degree of success. The design is easy to set up and can be rotated without a huge degree of difficulty and does give some gain, all important factors in my operating. I also tried a two element phased switchable end fire-broadside array with inconclusive results.

However, those antennas have some issues, namely:
- The centre fed design gets to be pretty big for lower bands, requiring bigger supports and/or guying.
- The coax feed did not give me much confidence, difficult to keep it coming off at a right angle, and "hot" mic was a sure sign of common mode currents on the outside of the coax cable.

Since those experiments last autumn (2012), I have been thinking about different options, that might keep the good points of the centre fed designs, and overcome their issues. When considering antennas, I consider them for two different kinds of use. One is for "working a new one". For this kind of use, I put more weight on a quick setup, high gain antenna, and less weight on rotatability.

Parallel to that though, I was also wondering how much of a difference there was between setting up a 3 element yagi and two x two element phased yagis. I asked Elías if he could do the simulation for this one for me and this is what he came up with:



His conclusion is that the 3 element yagi is probably a better choice, giving a broader pattern, easier installation, and only a fraction less gain on the main lobes.

END FED DESIGNS

I have used commercialy made end-fed antennas with some success, both at my mountain house in EA1 (on 20m) and also portable (on 10m). After the difficulty installing the centre fed two element phased beam, I looked at the possibilty of using end-feds for this.

I mentioned this on the air one day to my friend Jim ZL1BOS, who suggested I contact KH6MB Martin, a gentlemen he'd met on his travels in Hawaii and who used end fed beams by the water there. As luck would have it, that very same day Martin answered one of my CQ calls and we talked briefly about the matter. I zipped off an email and got some info back from Daryl W7TAE but never did get all the information I needed. However there is a nice pic of Martin's variable matchbox kit at http://ham.aditl.com/ham-radio/techie-stuff/efhw-tuner/ and some nice photos of their setups on the KH6TE QRZ.com page

The nature of end fed antennas, with high impedance feedpoints, worried me with possible problems with common mode currents, so I had a look to see what W8JI had to say on the matter. And basically he says that while these antennas can be made to work, there are significant possible problems. Since these antennas are often used QRP or low power though, the symptoms at this power level are often not appreciable and therefore go unnoticed. You can read the full story here.

So, although I haven't completely discarded the endfeds, especially thinking of low power and perhaps phased antennas on the higher bands, the end fed is not without its problems.


ROTARY YAGIS

When considering possibilities for a fixed antenna on a tower, in the case that one day I might be granted permission to do this at the port, I thought about rotary vertical yagis, using the same design criteria I used for my fixed centre fed yagis, but set up like a traditional yagi, the only difference being that the elements are vertical instead of horizontal.

The 2 element design was quite easy to make, using the MFJ 2299 as the basis for this. It could be set up quite easily on a mount like the one I used for the 2 element quad for 15m:



The two-dimensional design of the yagi would make it much easier to install, I could use a rotator, it wouldn't be too hard to change bands, and it would be easy to tune each element with the analyser and then short out the reflector just by screwing in a shorted PL connector.

One of the disadvantages of this system is that it can only be either 2 or 4 elements, since a 3 element design would put the bottom part of the centre element right next to the metal mast. 2 elements is maybe not enough gain, 4 elements is starting to stretch the mechanics of the thing. I couldn't think of a suitable non-conductive support, so I asked on eham just how much the metal mast was change the pattern in any case of a 2 element design. A kind person modelled this for me and you can see the difference here . It shows a significant distortion of the pattern which whilst not making the antenna unuseable, does mean I should probably keep thinking about other options.


TRAILER TOWER / TRAILER YAGI

If you're wondering why I'm not considering using the quad in the photo, it's because the setup is really difficult. However I did look at the option of using a trailer tower for this. I guess there are more manufacturers, but the ones I was looking at were made by Tennamast , a good scottish company :)

Whilst looking at the trailers, and seeing if there was a local manufacturer who might do something similar, it struck me that I might be able to use a trailer as a basis for a three or even four element vertical yagi. But instead of being a vertical dipole design, it would use the "vertical with two elevated radials" design. This way, I could overcome the metal mast problem. And being on a trailer with wheels, to rotate the antenna was a simple matter of turning the trailer round.

I really like this idea. It makes for a really quick setup, since much of the hardware can be left assembled on the trailer and its a case of installing some pre-assembled elements and away you go (a very important aspect for me).

What has made me decide not to go for either of the trailer options in the end is a practical problem of where to store it! In my underground car park at the home QTH there is no space. And whilst I could keep it at my QTH in La Eliana during the Winter, I'd need to move it for the summer for when guests come to the house.

MY CURRENT "BEST IDEA"

As a "variation on a theme", I reckon I can probably make the "vertical yagi with elevated ground planes" work on my car, placed on a roof rack or ladder rack. At first sight it sounds like something that our 11m cb brothers use, but from what I can tell, their installations don't seem to be very well optimised and looks like they get more benefit out of their 10kW amps than the antennas! Installation would not be as quick as on a trailer, but I reckon with a bit of careful thought and planning, I will be able to make this work.

I already tried a basic version of this (see http://www.ea5on.com/2012/11/more-on-2-element-vertical-beams.html) but neither element used tuned radials, nor was the spacing optimum, which would lead me to hope that a properly installed one should work better.

 At this moment in time I am sourcing parts if I don't come up against a "DUH I hadn't thought of that" moment, this will sooner or later become a reality.....watch this space, but don't hold your breath!





Saturday, November 30, 2013

EA5ON CQWW CW 2013

CQ Worldwide DX Contest, CW

Call: EA5ON
Operator(s): EA5ON
Station: EA5ON

Class: SOSB(A)/15 QRP
QTH: Valencia
Operating Time (hrs):

Summary:
Band  QSOs  Zones  Countries
------------------------------
  160:                   
   80:                   
   40:                   
   20:                   
   15:  351    28      100
   10:                   
------------------------------
Total:  351    28      100  Total Score = 93,056

Club: Torrent Contest Club

Comments:

Wow! What a fun time!

I am an almost exclusively phone op and only started very low-key CW contesting
in 2010. This year I hadn’t taken any decision about CQWW until the Thursday
evening when I decided I would once again do a s+p QRP monoband effort. I also
decided that since I hadn’t done any practice in the last year, and hardly
any CW DX QSOs, it would be a good idea to go assisted. Normally I don’t use
the cluster for SO phone contesting but for this event it would probably reduce
my busted calls a lot and help me out a bit. It looked like I had an SWR
problema with the antenna and was all set to do 20m but a niggling thought made me take
the amp, ATU, and low pass filter out of line and test directly at the rig.
Bingo! Low SWR, so I decided on 15m. I downloaded N1MM to my new PC, did a half
hour session on Morse runner, and went to bed.

Saturday looked good to start off and I managed to make a good number of QSOs,
once I remembered how to send my call and check the cluster calls were OK. No
CAT from computer to rig, so I had to tune the rig manually to the spot
frequencies and do all the sending with the paddle. After a while I tried CQing
at the top end of the band, but following a couple of disastrous attempts at a
QSO I decided to revert to s+p. There were lots of calls not on the cluster but
a lot of those ops were so fast it was impossible for me to copy, so I decided
to concentrate on getting multipliers. Some of the pileups were pretty tough
and no way to break the KH0 or KH2 piles, I could also hear KL7 but didn’t
even attempt it. Slowly the count kept creeping up, but unlike other contests,
very few USA stations spotted. At evening mealtime the band was dead, a quick
check revealed a half time score of 178 qsos, 22 zones, and 73 countries. This
was already better than my best previous score. After dinner I decided to take
a spin round a dead band and was rewarded with multipliers from HK and Z8.

Sunday I decided that it would be hard to pick up many more multipliers with my
puny 5w and decided to try to work the bandmap a bit more intensively. At first
most eastern stations did not copy, with their beams all towards JA, but slowly
but surely the band opened up a bit and I was able to get a few in the log. I
was also able to work Japan, China, and Mongolia, all for double mults. As we
were sitting down for lunch I saw a spot for VK2IM pop up and I tuned to his
frequency, there he was and no pileup! But the dirty looks from the family put
paid to that and by the time I got back, he was gone. Another afternoon without
much in the way of spots so I ended up using my ear, who knows what my busted
call rate will be for those ones. I managed to break a few pileups for mults
like Iceland, Greenland, and Isle of Man, but no such luck with Jersey,
Shetland, or Crete. Once the band was almost devoid of stations I tuned around
again and to my astonishment a barely audible 9L1A pulled me out of a pile for
country number 100. I then tried for ZF1A but no such luck and finally after
working a few Brazilian stations, called it a day.

I realized after doing this that I could have tried using skimmer/RBN for this,
as a phone op I forget these things exist! This might have helped me boost my
score. I also continue to be amazed at the skill of so many ops who were able
to pick my 5w signal out of the noise over and over again. I take my hat off to
these people, hardware helps make a big score but in the end these guys are
just super ops and I congratulate all those who made a big score through their skill
and effort.

Thanks to all for the QSOs.

Rig: IC765
Pwr: 5w
Ant: Optibeam OB6-3M

73 de Duncan EA5ON

Thursday, November 07, 2013

ED5T CQWW SSB 2013

The link is posted on the contesting page too but here it is again:

http://www.3830scores.com/showrumor.php?arg=kJaRzLfcmamiX

The video:


And the spanish extended text:

Por fin llegó la hora de la verdad, la prueba del algodón: CQWW! El momento de poner en marcha todas las mejoras de la estación para ver si todo funcionaba en su conjunto.
 
ED5T tiene su QTH en el alto de El Vedat (Torrent). Es desde luego un lugar privilegiado para hacer radio, y no es por nada que allí estamos rodeados de torres de radiodifusión, televisión, y telefonía. Para una estación de concursos de HF tiene una ventaja adicional, que es la caída brusca del terreno hacia el norte. No obstante, tener una estación de estas características no está exento de problemas. Al pertenecer al ayuntamiento y estar cedido a la STL de URE, estamos sometidos a una serie de restricciones en cuanto a qué antenas podemos montar y luego mantener. Y, cada vez que hay que hacer algo, tenemos que desplazarnos de nuestras casas. Esto quiere decir que muchos de los trabajos se hacen contrarreloj y no se puede hacer pruebas exhaustivas. También quiere decir que algunas cosas se tienen que montar de forma provisional cada vez que hacemos un concurso.
 
Durante el último año se han hecho bastantes cambios. Es cierto que la yagi de 40m se había probado bien en el concurso de la ARRL, y después de hicieron unas mejoras en base a los resultados. Las dos antenas para 15m se probaron bien en el concurso de la IARU y funcionan correctamente. Pero teníamos las antenas nuevas para 10m que no se habían probado apenas, y también la L invertida para 160m que no se había hecho ni un solo contacto, solo habíamos comprobado el ROE. Los juegos nuevos de stubs para combatir la interferencia entre las dos estaciones se había hecho esta vez meticulosamente usando el mini-VNA y mostraron un rechazo muy bueno, pero se habían montado en su caja el miércoles antes del concurso y sin hacer ninguna prueba de si funcionaban o no. Un año más, habíamos decidido montar antenas de recepción tipo Beverage. Esto implica montar dos antenas muy largas a poco altura, en un bosque donde hay senderos y pueden pasar personas, bicicletas, y hasta caballos. Se monta a última hora, y como siempre, nos pilló el toro, poniendo las picas y coaxiales con linternas, todo el mundo sudando y jurando.
 
Con esto quiero decir que aunque a priori una estación de este tipo tiene buena ubicación para radio, normalmente llegamos todos muy cansados antes de siquiera empezar a operar. Por lo menos este año hemos introducido un elemento lúdico que es la barbacoa antes de empezar el ´test.
 
Arrancamos muy bien. Yo me había ido a dormir y al venir a las 7 de la mañana me encontré con Victor EA5KV. Primero me contó las buenas noticias, que en lugar de quedarse en las bandas bajas, se había quedado en 20m haciendo running de americanos casi toda la noche. El horario ponía que se turnaba con nuestro invitado Andreu EC5AA pero Andreu quiso quedarse haciendo multiplicadores y la verdad es que los dos hicieron una noche memorable, ayudado por Elías EB5KT y Juan Carlos EA5UF. Las malas noticias, que nadie le había dicho a Andreu que el rotor T2X en torre 2 se engancha con frecuencia y que no se debe acercar a los topes por si se enganchaba allí. Tuvimos la mala suerte que pasó justamente eso y se nos quedó la yagi de 40 mirando hacia el este y la yagi de 15 mirando hacia el sur. Intentamos arreglarlo de noche y a lo bruto, pero no funcionó. Afortunadamente Andreu pudo encontrar una solución y cuando era de día ya giraba todo otra vez.
 
En ese momento, parecía que la meta que había propuesto quizás se podría alcanzar. No obstante conforme iba pasando la mañana, se nos iban disipando las esperanzas. Nos costaba mucho mantener buenos rates en 10 y en 15 metros, a pesar de tener un SFI de unos 160. Al parecer, la buena propagación se había quedado más al norte, y aunque pudimos trabajar bastantes multiplicadores, no entraban una gran afluencia de corresponsales, ni de Asia ni de Europa. Por la tarde cuando ya debían estar entrando USA con fuerza, notamos otra vez lo que había sido la tónica de la semana anterior, que era la banda abierta hacia el este hasta bien entrada la tarde, con algún americano intercalado, y luego sobre las 6 de la tarde, alguien abrió la propagación a Norteamérica de repente. En este sentido fue de gran ayuda tener este año los stacks, pudiendo trabajar en dos direcciones a la vez, y luego tener más zona de USA abierta al mismo tiempo.
 
Por la noche probamos las bandas bajas en running pero en 40 era imposible encontrar un hueco para trabajar USA en simplex y acabamos en Split, como en los buenos tiempos. Aunque las antenas de RX no estaban pensados para 40, hicieron un papel bajando bastante el splatter que había, así no era tan cansado para el operador. A pesar de todo llegamos a tener buen rate y solo decidimos volver a 20 al ponerse uno muy fuerte al lado de mi frecuencia de TX. El FT2000 parece que tiene algún problema con el segundo receptor, así que transmitía con la sub y escuchaba el Split en el Main, que era donde llamaba la mayoría de la gente. Más de una vez me llamó algún americano en mi frecuencia de TX. Y lo divertido era ver que los canadienses, que pueden usar toda la banda, llamaban indistintamente por un oído o por otro! 80m era terrible, oíamos que contestaban americanos pero el ruido era tan alto que no se entendía nada. Así que, otra vez a 20m a terminar la noche, pero esta vez sin la gran afluencia de estaciones.
 
El domingo era una repetición del sábado pero que se notaba durante el día que era más difícil oír a las estaciones más débiles. Aun así, fuimos capaces de trabajar algún que otro multiplicador durante el día y poco a poco iba subiendo la puntuación. Notamos por la tarde en 10m que la antena de abajo era la que mejor funcionaba para la costa oeste, mientras que la de arriba iba mejor para el centro y costa este. Llegamos a pensar que estaban conectados al revés! Pero no, era así, incluso con esa antena y haciendo americanos, me llamó E51USA desde las islas Cook y un neozelandés. A dos horas de terminar, Elías me pasó los cascos, que había americanos débiles que a lo mejor yo podría sacar con más facilidad que él. Me puse, y opté por cambiar de frecuencia, buena decisión porque pude hacer un run de unos 400.000 puntos en una hora, que nos acercaba otra vez a la posibilidad de igualar el record de EA en Multi Single. A falta de una hora, me empezaba a notar cansado y que me bajaba un poco el rate así que se lo pasé a José para que terminara. Hizo todo lo que pudo pero al final nos quedamos un pelín por debajo de los 12 millones de puntos. A destacar en esa última hora, un minuto donde hicimos 4 multiplicadores!
 
A partir de allí, otra vez a desmontar. Ya habíamos quitado los beverage por la tarde (1km de antenas y 400m de coaxiales), y cuando ya no quedaba propagación en 10, quitamos los cables del stack de 10m, pero aun así tocó recoger los radiales de 160m, bajar la torre motorizada y dejarla arriostrada, recoger los equipos, amplis, cajas de antenas de RX, volver a poner los equipos que normalmente están, y hasta barrer el suelo…..
 
No somos una estación líder en EU, ni lo seremos nunca, pero este año nos ha dado mucha satisfacción tener una buena puntuación y sobre todo, ver que todo el trabajo hecho nos ha valido la pena. El único ataque de Murphy fue el rotor, el resto de las cosas han funcionado según previsto. Aunque nunca estás a salvo del todo de Murphy, también es cierto que las cosas bien planteadas y bien acabadas suelen dar menos problemas. En este sentido es destacable la labor de nuestro amigo Juan EA5GIE, con un montonazo de experiencia en temas tanto mecánicos como electrónicos. Juan siempre está a pie del cañón con sus ideas, sus inventos, y sus sugerencias. No opera fonía, pero eso no ha sido motivo para no estar con nosotros este fin de semana, hasta el final de la recogida de trastos a las dos de la mañana. Desde aquí, gracias Juan, por tu incansable aportación al equipo.
 
Como siempre, nada de esto sería posible sin la ayuda de mucha gente, nuestras familias, el ayuntamiento, y nuestros compañeros de URE Torrent, gracias a todos por la ayuda, directa o indirecta, que nos permite disfrutar de esta afición.
 
 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Countdown to CQWW

Two weeks to go and as usual we still have loads of things pending.

Today we had a short morning session to do a few more things. First off was to prepare the new stub location. Up until now the stubs were just thrown on the floor of the shack, since as we used to use two tribanders, we often needed to change the stubs on the coax of both tribanders. Now that we have monobanders for 10 and 15 metres, there will be virtually no stub changing to do, so we are going to locate the sixpack (and later eightpack) relay box and all the stubs in a cabinet outside the bunker.

The cabinet came from a scrapped tile factory and our first job was to empty it, here is Victor with the completed article:


 
 
Next, we needed to make sure that the stubs would fit. The biggest one is still missing, but we reckon it'll be ok.
 
 

A nice job by Juan and Elías, especially the double stub for 40m. These have been tested on the VNA and give over 50dB attenuation.

Here's the cabinet ready for hanging and then installing the relay box and all the stubs.


That will be a job for another day.

 
We then went on to look at the cabling for the 10m stack, which we finished last week and looks as above. Elias couldn't come today so we were left wondering which of the following cables was the one for the stackmatch controller:


Jose and Juan helped Victor get this all sorted while I went away to the bunker to check the EQ settings on the FT2000D. When I finished, the guys had already got it all hooked up, and also reeled together with the coax cable and rotator cable, all ready to roll out to the tower on our new hose reel, courtesy of Juan.


Eventually we will bury all of this but in the meantime this is a quick and practical solution.

More updates to follow as and when available.

Only two weeks to CQWW phone!




 


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Stacked yagis - getting closer to completing our 5 over 5 stack on 10m

As usual in the summertime our antenna antics take a back seat. Metal is too hot to touch, we are all busy doing other things, and its not until summer is almost over that we get back to work.

In July we already had a lot of the prep work for the tower and antennas done. In fact the yagis were already assembled and we had done some provisional tuning of one of them.

Yesterday we got together to do a bit more work. First, we had to tilt over the tower. Right now its just 6 metres high with a rotator cage and mast at the top


This tower is on a hinged base


We turned the antenna round so we could remove the 1:1 balun and replace it with the phasing lines to the stackmatch, with rf choke coil incorporated


Elias and I each brought our own RigExpert AA-30 analysers


These are great little toys. They are not at all affected by the high level of RF radiated by the cellphone tower nearby. Our old MFJ 259 was completely unusable here. Antenna number one was checked, approved, put up in the air to ensure it was the same at 8 metres high, then taken down and taken off the tower. Antenna number two was put in place and we did the same, putting on the coax and choke assembly and checking resonance.

Both antennas are home made, built to the YU7EF specs you can see here

Next job was to cut and prepare guy wires. The tower had been held up over the summer with provisional ropes.


The tower went back up, and while Elias and I checked out the curves on the analyser, Jose Belar and Vic got to work on terminating the bottom ends of the guy wires.

Here's Belar tightening the tensor clips at one end.


And here's what it looks like after finishing. We did a quick test hooking it up to my car to make sure the SWR on the rig was the same as on the analyser, and also to check there is no QRN problem. I made a quick contact with a UA6 station with the antenna pointed towards the states, seems all is OK.


Hopefully in the next couple of weeks and before CQWW and the wet weather come around, we can put up the complete tower with both antennas, rotator, and stack match.














Thursday, September 05, 2013

HamLog from Pignology, a solution to portable logging

I'm an old fashioned kind of a guy and pretty much behind the times in a lot of things. I guess it runs in the family, since my dad classifies himself as "low-tech" :). Although for contesting we have lots of fun devices and use computer logging etc, I've only just started using computer logging at home this last year (I use logger32, after seeking a lot of advice). And in the car, since I don't have a computer, its old fashioned log book and pen.

However I suppose its inevitable to get caught up in change and last year I found myself wondering if any of the electronic gadgets I carry around in my bag could be used for logging. I shot out a few questions on forums and while it seems like Android users had an option with Amateur Radio Call Log, there was nothing for BlackBerry or for iPod. I asked the Maclogger developers if they were considering making that App available for iPod touch but no reply.

Whilst looking something up on QRZ.com the other day, I saw a banner ad for a firm called Pignology, and out of curiosity clicked to see what it was. Pignology is a small company run by Nick N3WG that produces apps for amateur radio, amongst which is HamLog, an logging App available for iPhone, iPad, and,...iPod touch! So, 89 cents and a download later, I am now set up to run a digitalised log, which in theory I will be able to export later to my PC via iTunes. This is not only great for the car, but also for when I finally manage to get my bicycle mobile back on the radio. Thanks, N3WG!





Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Metron 1000 amplifier

The Metron 1000 was probably the first commercially made solid state mobile amplifier, from circa late 1970s. Rumour has it that the same design is still in use today by the military under the Datron name. From what I can tell, the amplifier is basically bulletproof, unless you do either of two things: One, drive it with more than 70w, or two, let it get too hot.

I had the opportunity to get one of these amps in the states, however it had to sit on a friend's desk in the New York office for about nine months before one of my colleagues brought it back with him on the plane (big TNX to Julio, Cristi, and Lenny). As expected for the era, it weights a ton and was not designed to fit in the back of a modern day 2013 car!


Good chunky heatsink on it, but no fans.

I finally got a chance to test this out in the car last sunday, and took down my MFJ989 to use as a power meter (it's the only one I've got!)

Here's what the mess looked like all hooked up in the back


It took me a while to figure out how to hook it all up. It came with a home made remote system which is not marked at all! At least I had been told it was wired for Kenwood and when the 8 pin DIN plug was plugged in and the mic keyed, a relay went "clunk" somewhere....



As far as I could tell, you can choose between using the front panel bandswitch, or, putting that switch to remote, and using the remote. I could not get the front panel to work at all. And on the remote, I found two positions where 20m would work more or less the same. On 15, all OK, but no way to get it to work on 10. I didn't try on any of the other bands. I guess old wiring and the strange cinch Jones connector will probably need a bit of going over



Power-wise, it seemed like it was putting out slightly more than the ameritron, but I then noticed power was reducing. The heatsink was pretty hot to the touch so maybe it was that, or maybe low charge on the battery. When I get some free time at home I'll go over the wiring and test it with a fixed PSU, before trying to put it back in the car again. In the meantime my ancient but stalwart ALS 500 is back in its usual position.






The new improved EA5ON/M

At the beginning of July, my 14 year old Opel Corsa sprang a leak in the cooling system, leading to all sorts of problems that meant a repair was not an economically viable option. So, I went and bought myself a new car. I chose a fairly similar type of car, but different brand, this time going for a Toyota Yaris. I decided on a small petrol engine since most of my driving is in city traffic and also it was a lot cheaper not only to buy but to tax and run. Although being without a car never comes at a good time, it was an especially bad time for me as I was really busy. And so it wasn't until last week that I finally got round to installing the radio.

First disappointment was the hustler ball mount I ordered, which is much flimsier than the one I had on the Corsa. EA7JX says Hustler moved their manufacturing to Mexico and a lot of the stuff is slightly changed from what it used to be. Second disappointment was the tin foil like roof of the Toyota, having been used to my chunky old Opel. However the guys who helped me fit everything (Marpi car audio) did find a cross plate underneath the centre and bolted through that but it's still pretty flimsy and I do not want to be putting my screwdriver on it:


Here you can see it with the 17m quarter wave. And yes, it's not quite vertical either....:(

All the rest of it went OK and the basic format is as before, rig connected to the main battery and the amp connected to the back battery. What I did change for this one is that the rear battery is also connected to the alternator, using a relay and a timer. It means that the amp will run off 14V and so put out a few more watts, and a cleaner signal, while lasting longer between charges at home. Sorry don't have any photos of that yet.

So it's great to be back on the air! This week I have a bit more time on my hands and have managed a few more radio hours than normal and it's been great to catch up with lots of old friends and make some new ones too.



Sunday, August 04, 2013

EF5HQ, IARU HQ station 2013

This year the Torrent Contest Club repeated as part of the spanish HQ station in the IARU HF championship. Also this year I was one of the three organizers of the HQ team, together with two top contesters, EC1KR (owner of ED1R) and EC2DX.

A full writeup of the contest will be published in the autumn in the URE "Radioaficionados" magazine. In the meantime, here's a link to some of the photos I took

https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/101937876209995832182/albums/5908332355215315937

Thanks to everyone on the team (all 62 operators I think we were), plus everyone who supported us and everyone who called us. In February we'll know how the extremely close claimed scores look after the WWROF publishes the results.

King of Spain SSB 2013

Another one we weren't going to do, but on the eve, decided we would have a "just for fun" entry in the multi-operator class.

From a spanish station point of view, if you want to win you concentrate your efforts on the lower bands, working other spanish stations who are worth more points, plus getting more mults. However, if everyone were to do that, nobody would be working the DX, so we decided we would just get on the air and give out a few points to whoever called us, without making much of an effort to work spanish provinces. In the end it was mostly Victor EA5KV and myself, working "one and a half" stations. We didn't have any filters or stubs installed, so there were a lot of combinations that were pretty much unusable. We stayed on the saturday afternoon until it was time to go for dinner, then came back up on the sunday morning until about 1pm. Our score was low, we came 7th in the multi op category, but we had a good time, were able to do a bit more testing of the 15m yagis, and also use our new air conditioning for the first time!

Here's me on run 1

 
Vic on run 2
 
 


Jose EA5GS


And Belar EA5YI, trying to remember how to use SSB :)

DVGE contest 2013

OK, I had sworn I wasnt going to do it. But I couldn't help myself, and sure enough on friday 8th June after work, I went scouting for a Trig point to actívate for the following days DVGE Trig point contest, organised by Radioclub Henares. I needed a place close to Valencia where I could just park up and operate. I liked the look of one in a paddy field, but the trig point was located on the roof of somebodys house and a chain across the driveway was not very inviting. Another one in El Saler was OK but had been activated twice before. So, I stumped for reference VGG-218, in the village of Pinedo, right next to Valencia on the south side of the river. This is not an easy one for working portable and has only been activated once, with a small number fof QSOs. So on saturday morning I rolled up early and parked up at the closest posible spot:


The trip point is on top of the building directly behind the antenna in this photo, less than 200m away

I started on 40m at 10am local time and it was slow going for a while. However I soon got into my stride and worked away until 1230, when I went up to 20m for the last half hour and got a nice surprise with the band open locally. I ended up with 150 qsos in the log, much better than last year.

By the time we finished the car park was absolutely chock a block, if I show the view from the other side you can appreciate why:


Right on the beach front on a lovely sunny day. However I couldn't stay, busy as usual doing other things. So busy in fact that I forgot to send in my log or upload the info to the web to validate the reference. Sorry for those of you who might have needed it. I might go back again when I have more time in the autumn and do a proper activation and upload the logs.



Saturday, June 29, 2013

ZL1BOS, back in Spain

For those of you who frequent 20m SSB, the signal put out by ZL1BOS from New Zealand is legendary. Jim is very well know not only in Europe but all over the world, but not only over the air, but also in person. Jim and his wife Maureen have been travelling the globe for many years, and I was fortunate to first meet them here some 10 years ago.

It was with great pleasure that I got news from Jim in early spring to tell me that they would be back again around the usual time, in May. And sure enough, the last weekend in May I had the pleasure of spending a fun sunday with them, plus a few visits which we managed to fit in around my work Schedule.

Check out the photos here

Thanks, Jim and Maureen, for the visit, next time maybe in ZL?


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Stacked antennas: our new 4 over 4 stack for 15m at ED5T

6 months after our Winter barbeque, and the second part of the new antenna system has become a reality! ED5T is now the proud user of a stack of 4 over 4 element phased monoband yagis for 15m.

A big thank you to EA Antennas owner Rod EA7JX for providing us with these great antennas, (2 x 15MDY4)

A full writeup and review will follow once we've given the antennas a thorough trial. But for now, suffice to say that the few tests that we've had time to do look very positive.

Check out the photo gallery of the installation

Enjoy!

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Mobile rig comparison: TS-850S, TS-590, and Tentec Eagle

If you read my mobile setup page you'll see that I have been using the TS850S with good results. I list there the reasons why I ended up using this excellent rig, as well as what its shortcomings are and what rigs I'd like to try, to see if I could redress those small points and perhaps even improve performance.

TENTEC EAGLE

In January, I had the opportunity to put the Ten Tec Eagle through it's paces. The rig I had was fully loaded with the ATU, roofing filters for SSB and CW, and also the amp buffer for connecting up to the ALS500 in the back. It came with a Heil hand Mike specially for Ten Tec.

I have to say that I had really high hopes with the Eagle. Its a rig that in principle dealt with my main "gripes" about the 850 (heavy and big for the car, difficult to read display in sunlight). The receiver performance published by Sherwood engineering show the close-in dynamic range figures were up there with rigs costing twice and three times the cost of an Eagle. When I took the rig out of the box, it was certainly a nice size, perhaps slightly bigger than a Yaesu FT897, and with a nice uncluttered front panel. The display is nice, and connections were a breeze (I already had a powerpole connector made up for the car from when I had an Elecraft K2). The amp buffer comes with an RCA connector for connecting to the back of the rig for 12VDC power, no need for extra wiring. So, I switched on and made a few contacts.

The rig is pretty easy to use, on the whole. It has a few neat features, like the continuously variable bandwidth from the front panel, which is connected to the optional roofing filters. As soon as you dial the DSP controlled bandwith lower than an optional roofing filter, that optional filter is put in place automatically. For example, I am using the 2400KHz filter and have the final bandwidth set at 2100. If I get some strong adjacent interference, and dial down to 1750KHz, automatically the optional 1800KHz roofing filter kicks in, thereby increasing the rejection before the first mixer of all signals outside the 1800 KHz bandwidth and further reducing the offending interference. It works pretty well, and as is to be expected, even more so on CW. Another thing I was worried about was the quality of the transmit audio. Both the IC7000 and the TS850S have consistently netted me unsolicited reports of excellent audio. No need to worry with the Eagle, since I also received several reports of nice full bodied clear crisp audio, without asking. 

So what DIDN'T I like about the Eagle? Well, as others have already reported, if you aren't familiar with Ten Tec radios, the logic behind some of the functions isn't always straightforward. All the front panel buttons are marked with secondary functions which are accessed by pressing the F key first. However, there are some cases where it doesn't happen. For example, the BAN button has a secondary function which is MON. What happens when you press F+BAN? Does it switch on the Monitor? No! What it does is instead of scrolling bands upwards, it scrolls the bands downwards. I had to get the manual out to find out that to access the monitor function, you need to key the microphone while pressing F, then release the mic and press BAN. Also, there are times when one doesn't know if a function like for example the ATU is engaged or not, since there is no front panel indicator. If you press the ATU button momentarily, it will beep to tell you if it's on or off....if you can remember which beep means what! None of these things are show stoppers though, and no worse than trying to work Split with the TS850s whacky dual VFO system.

So did I want to keep the Eagle? Well, no. There was one important thing that I didn't like and that's something that I guess is personal to me, the tones of the receiver. I found that the RX quality was a bit bassy, and there is no way to change that. I found it difficult to read weak stations. I did an A/B test with the 850 to see if it was really the case, and after a couple of days, confirmed my thoughts. RX of weak signals on the TS850 was much easier for my ears. So, with a lot of sorrow, the rig went back to its owner and is now sitting happily on a shelf next to a big Kenwood TS990S!

KENWOOD TS-590

Shortly afterwards, I got a chance to try out a TS-590, since a couple of the guys at the radio club had purchased them. This radio is a bit bigger than the Eagle and a bit heavier, but certainly no way near as big or heavy or the 850. The front panel has more knobs and buttons than the Eagle, but is not cluttered or difficult to find things. My last Kenwood rig in the car was the 480, and I had always marvelled about how they had managed to make a perfect front panel on that radio, it had everything I needed, where I needed it, and there was nothing missing, and also nothing superfluous that I didnt need. The 590 isn't quite that perfect, but it's not bad. It also redresses the shortcomings that I found on the Eagle, on this rig, everything is where you expect it to be, the display tells you everything you need to know without anything extra, the button sequences are all logical, and even the menú settings have a scrolling description of what they do, which means you do not have to get the manual out very often. Important things for when you are out on the road, or just have a few minutes to spare, and you want to make the most of your radio time making contacts and not trying to figure out why the radio isn't doing what you want it to do!

So much for ergonomics. How about performance? Well, RX audio good, IMD seemingly good, low noise floor, all the things they said were true about this rig. I didn't even notice much difference on the bands which are up-conversion (10. 12, 17m) instead of the theoretically superior down conversion. On transmit, as already noticed by most people and already briefly mentioned by me, the meter does not show 100w or anything near it on SSB. On CW however it does, and with only 30w output I am able to get over 400w out of my ALS500 linear.
 
How about audio? As I already said before, all other rigs tested have good TX audio. This is a Kenwood, so should be good. It has an equalizer with a high boost, so I just assumed it would be like the high boost on the 850, set it up and off I went. I made lots of contacts, no comments. Until....one day I had a long chat on 20m with VK3MO, and unbeknown to us, we were being recorded by my friend EA5DFV. Click here to watch

We both had similar signals but Ian was so much more readable than me. I was not impressed. Shortly afterwards, I spoke to my old friend George W4UWC. After an over from me, he simply said, "I don't know what you've done, but I can hardly understand what you're saying, that's not your normal signal". To know what I normally sound like with the TS850, check this video by my friend Derek MI0SDR (who it just so happens is a satisfied user of a TS590):



Pretty self explanatory.

I was pretty downhearted by this but thankfully my good friend José Ramón EA7KW, who also had some issues setting up his TS590, sent me a link on how to set up the audio, from the G3NRW website. This is a super and really complete page on the TS590 covering a huge amount of topics. I took the rig home one day and started following the step-by-step instructions, listening on the monitor, and lo and behold, things started looking up. After a lot of fiddling, I managed to find a setting that sounded pretty good. I did a couple of on air checks. Good too.

As in the past, the only way to find out which rig is "better" at this stage, is to do A/B testing. I tested with over 20 stations, almost all of whom coincided that setting A (TS590) was slightly better than setting B (TS850). I didn't tell people what changes I had done until after they'd given me the report in order to try to reduce bias to the mínimum.

Another interesting point that came out of this test that in spite of the 590 not showing 100w on the meter, signal reports were always identical between the two rigs.

Also interesting to note was that plugging in the 850 after a few weeks of using the 590, the initial sensation was that that the 850 receiver was a bit noisier. In practice and changing between the two rigs, it was only a very slight difference.

Finally, I changed the kenwood hand mic (MC43) for my heil Proset 5. The general comment is that the Heil gives a slightly higher tone, a majority prefer the heil, some prefer the mc43, and some notice no difference. Listening to it in the monitor, I prefer the Heil. I don't want to use my headset in the car, but it just so happens that a friend of MI0SDR has an HM10 dual mic for sale, so it's on its way!

CONCLUSION

The TS-850S continues to be a great option for those looking for a high-performance radio at a budget price.

The Ten Tec Eagle offers high performance in a small and simple box, although a bit quirky. Recommended for those who are already Tec Tec users.

The TS-590 requires time to get set up properly, but once set up, provides excellent performance in TX and RX, with a host of features, and at a really competitive price. I do not forsee that I will be changing this radio in the near future for everyday ragchewing and DXing, and the only reason I might not use it for contesting is that it doesn't have a second receiver. Well done Kenwood!



Sunday, April 14, 2013

Random bits and pieces

It's been a busy few weeks and haven't had much time to sit down in front of the computer. He's an update on some of the things that have been going on....

MOBILING

Finally I have the Kenwood TS590 installed and running in the car. I don't really have much to add to what has already been said about this rig on many internet forums: It has a great receiver, and it has a bit of an issue with SSB transmit power. This "issue" isn't really a concern for me since I use the rig to drive an amplifier, but I can imagine it might be an issue for those who don't. Also, the fact that the TX audio has so much choice means it's a bit tricky to set up. I haven't as yet connected it up to a computer to use the software controlled 14 band graphic equalizer, nor have a I really taken the time to get someone to help me through the different settings and see if maybe one of the predefined options, with the gain and processing set properly, will be adequate. Once that's done, I will also try it out against the TS850S, which up to now is "the one to beat", performance wise. Certainly from an ergonomic point of view I love the 590, a great improvement over the Tentec Eagle, in my opinion. One thing I really like is the backlit LCD screen, the TS850 falls down in ths respect although to be fair it wasn't designed to be used in bright sunlight!

DX wise, I haven't been able to work all the DXpeditions I had hoped to work. In fact, of all the recent ones, I have only managed to work A3EAQ in Tonga, for country 306. I could hear T2GM, T2YY, and XR0YG loud, but between the fact that they were almost exclusively on CW (I am a very poor CW op) and my very limited operating time on those dates, it wasn't to be.... Maybe next time. So I am keeping my ears open for the next upcoming expeditions to places I need, namely V6 and ZK3. Fingers crossed!

The good news is that I received a card for Eritrea recently, so I now have the magic number of 300 countries confirmed from the mobile!

I was asked the other day if I was the world number one mobiler, I would have liked to say yes, but I had to confess that I know of at least 3 people who have done better than me. One had 307 confimed last time I heard, another has 325 confirmed, and a G station has only 2 countries to work for a clean sweep! And those are only the ones I know of, I'm sure there are more. I still have a ways to go.....

 EA5ON/1

I was active from the station in the mountains of León for about a week over easter. Upon arrival, I set to work putting the antennas back up, a job I hadn't done at christmas due to lack of time. Unfortunately,when I started to use the EZ-hang catapault I used to do the job the first time, the elastic broke. After trying to use a fishing rod (like GM1DSK does), I had to admit my fishing skills are zero, and I ended up resoting to throwing the tennis ball up into the trees. After countless tries,I finally managed to get over a limb at about 14 metres high. Here's how it finally looks from down below, with the 20m end fed antenna:


I was active for a bit in the CQ WPX contest on 20m, and made about 120 contacts. This QTH is surrounded by really high mountains, and while I am planning to improve the antenna setup here, there is no way this will ever be more than just a fun distraction when we are in the mountains.

NOVEL ANTENNA TUNING METHOD

As previously reported, our 2 element yagi for 40 at ED5T did not give us the results we expected. On friday, we set to work to try to retune the elements, in an effort to improve the forward gain and front to back / front to side ratio.

Our aim was to ensure that each element of the beam resonanted on the correct design frequency. We wanted to check the resonant frequency at the feedpoint (no coax run to possibly distort measurements) and to do so at the expected working height. In order to do this, we used "EB5KT ingenuity". We brought the antenna down on the motorized tower and removed one element. An SWR meter was inserted at the feedpoint, with the line running down to the shack as usual. A small remote camera was installed in front of the SWR meter. Both were attached to the boom of the antenna and then it was raised to the operating height. Elias was on the shack roof watching the SWR on the screen of his laptop, and instructing Jose EA5GS to move up and down the band while watching the SWR change. The tower then came down, Vic EA5KV and Juan EA5GIE moved the lead shorting out the linear loading up or down, and repeated until the element was tuned exactly.

Then, the element was taken off the boom, the other element put on, and the performance was repeated until that element was tuned too.



Finally both elements were installed and a check was made to ensure that the final SWR was exactly what we needed. The antenna is perfect a 7.070 and covers 200 KHz either side under 2:1. We didn't have much time to test, but F/B looks at a first glance to be around 15 to 20 dB. Let's see how it works next time we have some time to test it properly.

A VISIT TO EA5/GM0OPK

GM0OPK Paul and myself have been friends since we were teenagers. Paul lived here near Valencia for a number of years, and when he went back to Scotland, kept his house here in the village of Villamarchante. He gets over from time to time, and his plan from now on is to come over more often. That means he is planning a station upgrade, and to that effect, he forwarded on his FT1000 from Scotland to me, to replace his trusty, but old, FT902DM. He popped by work on friday afternoon to pick it up. Another station upgrade that he'd put in his hand luggage is a new Prosistel rotator, and when I went up yesterday afternoon, the rotator was already installed:


We had fun working a string of stations on 15m, then had a wee chat to catch up. The next part of the upgrade will be to bring his 18m versatower down, and probably change the venerable KT34XA tribander for something more modern. If those on the other side of the world already think he is strong, wait until the new antenna system is up!




The new GM0OBX

GM0OBX was my original A class callsign, issued back in the autumn of 1990. I let it lapse in 1995 after deciding that it wasn't very practical to keep the call.

A few months ago I had a contact with Billy, then 2M0CSP (an intermediate licence), and had a nice chat with him. Billy is from Airdrie, near where my father was born, and works as a policeman in Stirling, near where my parents live. He is also a member of GM6NX, the Stirling radio club. After the QSO, Billy sent me an email to tell me that he was about to sit the full licence exam, and that if he passed, he'd be interested in taking my old call. I thought about it, and decided it would be nice to see somebody from the area with my old callsign, so I sent him off the required letter. Billy passed the test, sent off his application, and is now the NEW GM0OBX! Congratulations Billy!

Click to shrink...

Monday, March 18, 2013

ED5T and the 2013 Russian DX contest

Once again, conflicting agendas meant that I wasn't able to take part in this years Russian DX contest. However, Vic EA5KV and CW wizz Belar EA5YI got together with our contest mentor José Miguel EA5DFV and long time contest partner Pascual EA5CLH, for a multi-single entry. I was finally able to get up on sunday morning to witness the end of the contest, and find out just why those who participate say this is a great contest!

The guys managed a nice rate throughout the contest (over 2700 contacts in 24 hours) but looking at the scores posted so far, seems that the score was pretty average, there are a lot of big numbers out there! To be fair, the antenna situation meant that there weren't antennas available for the mult station, only one tribander, the 40m yagi, and wires for 80 and 160. The 40m yagi was shown to tune up nicely on 15 though and some multipliers were caught that way!

Here's a shot of the summary at the end of the 'test:


This gives an idea of why its a nice test: 24 hour format, CW and SSB modes, and countries + russian oblasts as multipliers, makes for an interesting exercise in strategy planning.

And at the end of the day, what counts is "having fun", and I think the final photo shows some pretty happy faces! (How much iof that is also to do with the fact that we got to put José Miguel's Elecraft K3 through its paces?!)


From L to R, EA5DFV, EA5KV, EA5YI, EA5ON, EA5CLH

Lets see if next year I'm able to participate in this one.



Monday, March 04, 2013

ED5T ARRL SSB PHONE 2013

It seemed like a good idea at the time, I suppose.... But really, I am not cut out for 40m contesting. Or any low band contesting, come to that. It's incompatible with my lifestyle, but more importantly, it's incompatible with my circadian rythmn.

The reasons for deciding 40m were simple enough: Firstly we didn't have many operators, with only two of the TCC club members available for the whole weekend, so no option to do a serious multi-single entry. Last year when this same situation occured, we did two SOSB entries on 10 and 15m. But this year, we had just installed a new 2 element yagi for 40m and this was an ideal chance to try it out. Also Elías EB5KT had never done a single op entry, in spite of operating in many multis at ED5T. So it was decided: I would do 40m SOSB HP and Elías SOSB 10 or 15, depending on the solar flux.

As usual, the runup to the contest was hectic. We finally managed to get the yagi installed and tuned 3 days before the contest, but no chance to even leave the tower cranked up due to very high wind and rain right up until the eve of the event. At work things were hectic too, with power cuts and system crashes all through friday leaving us with fraught nerves. I finally made it up to the station around 1900, just in time to raise the tower in twilight and leave it guyed. Elías had already set up the gear, except the Acom 1000 for his station which I brought up, so we were able to go home for dinner and I even managed an hours sleep before heading up to begin.

It looked promising to start with. After a few teething problems with headsets and the audio settings, I found a good frequency and started QSOing in the runup to start time. But, 30 seconds before starting, big signal EI7M started up only 1kc away from me, rendering the frequency useless. After a brief fight, I decided to work the band, and got a few in the bag before deciding that my option was to work split. I was lucky to find a clear transmit frequency but was often having to change my receive due to others using the same one, plus heterodynes from broadcast stations. And so I continued with a slow but steady rate for 3 hours, until the band almost dried up. I finally managed to find a spot to run in simplex, but by the time the sun was well up, I had only got 382 QSOs in the log and 43 multipliers. Two years ago in Multi Single, we had over 700 QSOs in the same period.

Here's the new yagi at sunup on satruday morning:



I went home, exhausted, but unable to sleep more than an hour. In the afternoon, I managed another hour, but by the time I got back up to the station, I was already experiencing the disoriented feeling that comes with sleep depravation. Elias left the shack around 2200 after putting 800 qsos in the log on 15, and I got back on 40. This time I was able to find a simplex run frequency and managed OK up until midnight. But when the rate meter started dropping, so did my eyelids, and in the end I stumbled out to the car, pulled out my yoga mat, dropped it on the floor, and fell asleep instantly....

Two and a half hours later I got up again and back on the radio, and from then until breakfast time managed to get another almost 350 odd QSOs in the log before the band started dropping out. This time when I went home, I managed to sleep fine! Here's my not-too-pretty face before heading home:



Sunday evening I headed up early and while Elías continued working the pile on 15, I got a message from Vic that high wind and heavy rain was forecast and could I please lower the tower. At this time I was thankful for that thoughtful christmas present from my brother-in-law, a head torch! Very useful for trying to find the guy ends in the vegetation at night. Shame I forgot to pull out the safety rod installed through the tower to prevent it completely collapsing in the case of pulley failure. The motor then stuck and I started cursing.....thankfully 10 minutes later it decided to come back to life and I was able to complete the job.

Back in the shack, I got on 40 once Elías finished on 15. After a while I thought the rig was a bit deaf, and after checking, seems like the relay in the AL1200 was sticky. We gave it a bash and it came to life, but at that stage, with the dipole instead of the beam, and a sticky linear, I decided to call it a day, with 745 qsos and 54 multipliers in the log. I hadn't set myself a goal, but I certainly was not satisfied with the result.

However, on reflection and as Bob K8IA says, doing this is good experience. I'd never done 40 SOSB before and while I don't think I'll be doing it again in a hurry, I'm sure the experience will help me in future multi-op contests.

I was also able to get a good chance to try out the new home-made 2 element yagi against the dipole, one of the main objectives of this contest. I have to say that I really didn't notice much difference, so it's perhaps back to MMANA modelling software to see where we maybe went wrong.

And of course everything is relative. I was comparing my score with our previous effort two years ago, and also to EF7X who was operating in the same category as me and with who I was in constant contact with throughout the contest via the EA-contest whatsapp group. José Ramón did a magnificent effort, putting in twice my score. However I also have to remember that not too long ago, I could only have dreamed about working all states bar Utah in one weekend on 40 metres!

Thanks to Elías EB5KT for his moral support and accompanying me some of the time, here he is "noshing on a sandwich", as he was spotted by K9PG:




Also thanks to the rest of the Torrent Contest Club for letting me do the SO effort. In 2 weeks time we hope to be back to Multi Single in Russian DX!

Thanks to all for the QSOs and  C U in the next one!





Sunday, February 17, 2013

JW7XM, beyond the 59

Around 25 years ago, I found myself in New Haven CT, home amongst other things to Yale University. I remember at that time seeing a poster somewhere, inviting students to join the Yale University amateur radio club W1YU. The sales pitch was, that it was a unique way to meet people in very different walks of life and it was equally possible to talk to people such as the king of Jordan, or a russian coal miner. I really liked the poster but didn't stay long enough to meet any of the group.

Nowadays, internet is very much present in the developed world and in some repects we have become pretty blasé about the size of the world. Also in ham radio, many of us know that while its true that you CAN talk to such far away and interesting people, if you are lucky enough to talk to for example a foreign King, there won't be much chance to chat and see what the kings life is like. In the case of the russian coal miner, you are more likely to work them, and they'll have time to chat, but there is then the language problem in many cases.

What happens is that often, the contacts we make are with people whose culture is known to us, often because of our modern news media and internet, and some of the¨"magic" that used to exist is a bit lost.

On friday night, I was lucky enough to be able to talk to a rare DX station and have a half hour chat with him. The station in question is Harald, JW7XN, on the island of Svalbard, north of scandinavia. Whilst not the only licenced operator there, he is the only active operator, although it is true that the radio shack at club station JW5E is available for rental and quite often put on the air. The fact is that being the only operator there, every time he calls CQ, he generates huge pileups for people wanting to contact Svalbard as a new country. But, like most hams, he also likes a chat from time to time, and as luck would have it, he stumbled across my CQ call on a relatively empty 20m band and came right back to me. He also speaks perfect english!



We talked about many things, both of his life there and also my life here. One of the fascinating things he told me about was the difference in daylight hours between winter and summer. There, they know exactly what day they will start to get sunlight after a period of 24 hour darkness in winter, they know how many minutes earlier the dawn will come every day (27 minutes every day!!), and exactly which days they will have 24 hour days in the summertime.

Another thing that struck me was when he said that the signals were a bit degraded by the aurora that they were having at the time. I came back and mentioned the alternative name of the "northern lights", to which he commented that they are so far north, that on some days, and it was one of those days, the aurora actually formed SOUTH of him, and so to him, the aurora was actually a southern light!

Harald is a telecoms engineer, and his job for the following day was to travel to a remote repeater site to do some maintenance work. The trip was 100km....on a snowmobile, and in -20ºC temperatures! He said he would probably see some polar bears on the way. Summer can be a bit nicer, he days, with average daytime temperatures between +3 and +8 degrees, with an all time recorded maximum of .... +14ºC!

Harald eventually had to leave to go for dinner, and commented that in the 2 hours he'd been in the club shack, he'd left his car running outside, otherwise it would have been tough to start and freezing cold to drive home. It made me feel lucky to be sitting in +15 degrees.

Thanks Harald, for taking the time to give me an insight into an unknown world, and to bring back a little bit more of the old magic via ham radio.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

ED5T Barbecue 19 Jan 2013

After all the christmas and new year festivities, it was time to get back to the serious business of contesting.

However, since we didn't have any contests in mind and we had lots of stuff to talk about regarding antennas and future plans, we decided on having a barbecue instead :-)

Juan EA5GIE has some orange trees and a small shed for his agricultural implements near Picaña, just outside Valencia, with a bbq/paella setup on site, so we gratefully accepted his invitation to hold the "meeting" there. And so, after a foray to the local mercadona supermarket to stock up on provisions, we rolled up at Juan's. It was cold and windy, and started to rain a bit, so we took refuge in the shed to set up shop.

Here's José EA5GS and Juan Carlos EA5UF, feeling the cold a bit:



And Juan EA5GIE and Belar EA5YI, slaving over the coals:



After a great lunch of roasted artichokes, sausages, pork, chorizos, and black pudding, with baguette and "all i oli" garlic mayonnaise, we got down to the serious business of tackling the proposals made regarding future plans at ED5T. Here's quick shot of Vic EA5KV, Jose EA5GS, and Elías EB5KT, tucking in:



And after a long session, with lots of strong coffee and stronger liqueurs, we finally managed a consensus about the road we will be travelling down at this humble contest station. Info about the specifics will be published as and when it happens, but the basic idea is that we will upgrade from being "two tower, two tribander" station, to a "three tower, with some stacked monoband yagis" station. This will be a lot of work and will take a lot of time, so don't hold your breath!

Thanks to Juan for providing the great location, no distractions and great food! Ah, and yes, we did pick mandarins straight off those trees for dessert, here we are almost caught in the act:  (Not the kind of folks you'd like to meet on a dark night, EA5ON, EA5KV, EA5GS)




Telescopic whips: MFJ 1956 vs MFJ 1977

Many years ago, I bought the MFJ 1664 screwdriver antenna, and since then this has been the basis of my mobile antenna system. It is comprised of a manually tuned screwdriver coil at the base, a small 4 and a half foot telescopic steel whip for using while driving, and a 10' telescopic aluminium whip (sold separately as model 1954) for using while parked.

The 10' whip is a little bit fragile, as many users have already testified on user reviews at www.eham.com and other sites. My first thought to improve on this was to purchase a solid steel whip, but since these aren't readily available in Spain, I had to wait a few years. It was by chance that one day my friend and customer Pablo Baulies was in New York and I asked him to pop into a nearby radio shack and pick on up for me. He obliged, although if he'd known the problems Air France were going to give him to bring it back, he'd have said no! The steel whip is great, but a bit heavy when its windy, putting a lot of stress on the base mount, and also is too big to be hidden away in the back of the car.

I continued to use mostly the 1954, having them break from time to time either at the base, or in between sections when they got corroded. These antennas do not like water! It's not a problem living in Valencia, but I would hesitate to use them in a wet country.

A couple of years ago my friend Rod EA7JX started stocking the new 12' version of this whip, the 1956, at his shop in Seville, www.hamradio.es , so I got one, this making it easier to install a full size 20m quarter wave using the whip, a 3' dx engineering mast, and the coil, with no turns added. However the first one suffered the same fate as the 10 whips and after about a year, failed between the second and third sections, rendering it useless.

The other day, local ham EA5FBD mentioned he had a 12' whip he wasn't using so we agreed that I would take it off his hands and give it some use. To my surprise, when we met, I saw that it wasn't the 1956, but a new model called the 1977, made of stainless steel. This looks to be a big improvement on the aluminium design. It's the same light weight, but the joints between sections are well defined and look to be much better (1956 left, 1977 right)




 The base also looks to be a more solid design and also should be less prone to failure.




There's only one way to tell, so I have already pressed it into service and looking forward with interest to see how it fares with high winds, rain, and salt spray. I'll post an update in a few months time.

I see that MFJ also now make a 17' version, the 1979, which in principle should allow users to make their own quarter wave vertical for any band between 20 and 6 (and maybe even 2) metres. Good news for portable and semi portable operators like myself looking for a small lightweight antenna that will give full monoband performance with easy deployment.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Food for thought

These last few days, we have experienced some of the best days of the current sunspot cycle, with the solar flux index being up around 170. Even though it's midwinter here in the northern hemisphere, and 10 metres hasn't opened up like it would at equinox with these SFI values, propagation has been nevertheless pretty good. It means that not only is propagation into the pacific good at sunrise, but also into places like Alaska and Japan at the same time, not to mention very strong local signals. It has also meant coast to coast openings into the USA later on, mostly on 17 and 20 metres, and allowing 59 contacts into Hawaii plus good contacts into southern Africa too.

This afternoon I found myself home alone in front of the radio and since things had been good from the car, I thought I'd switch on, something I haven't done for at least a couple of months (from home). First contact was with PH9HB/AM, piloting his Boeing 737-800 over Mauritania, on a flight from the Gambia back to Amsterdam. I've already had a number of contacts with another pilot on one of these planes, Cyril DF1CHB. Not surprisingly they are friends!

Next contact was with New Zealand station ZL2JBR. I was extremely surprised to hear his 59 signal punching through the high QRN with the beam still pointed to west Africa, which is sort of long path to his area, since normally in our afternoon/evening, signals would normally come through on the short path. After turning the beam back and forth a bit, I settled on a heading over south east Africa, a setting many spanish stations had used to work ZL9HR last month. John came back to me with a 59+ and we had a nice long chat. While talking, we both looked at each others respective QRZ.com profiles. John's profile shows a ham dream location, perched on the top of a 300m high cliff right on the ocean:



I also learnt how, after he had read Les Moxon's famous book "HF antennas for all locations", he tried experimenting with different antenna heights on his tower, finding on the 20m band two heights where the signals into Europe were signficantly stronger than others. And, contrary to poplar wisdom, the highest was not the best! On the 22m tower, the best spot by a long chalk was at 11m high. This goes to prove that whilst on flat land an antenna will pretty much follow a pattern of "the higher it is, the lower it radiates", on uneven terrain things can change quite signficantly due to reflected signals.

While talking, John also looked at the photos of my mobile station on the profile and wondered if I'd ever operated by the sea with a cliff either behind me or beside me. His experience is that this kind of setup can also produce extremely high gains in the direction of the reflection.

So, after this stimulating chat, we will see about using the motorised tower at ED5T to see if we can find any interesting differences at different heights, and also I will be checking out google maps to see if there is anywhere near here where I can go park up next to the sea in front of a cliff and see what happens! Results will be posted here....




Tuesday, January 01, 2013

VISIT TO ED1R

ED1R is without a doubt one of the top contest stations in Spain nowadays. At ED5T we have followed the fortunes of the group from their humble beginnings through to the present station they have in the small village of Papatrigo, a rural area in the province of Avila, northwest of Madrid.

The mastermind behind all of this is Jesús, EC1KR, a 29 year old native of the village but resident in the provincial capital, 20 minutes away. Jesús and myself, together with EC2DX Imanol, are the organisers of the 2013 URE team in the IARU HF championship, and since URE approved our proposal last month, we have been talking about getting together. This is not easy, since the nearest common point to the three of us is over 3 hours drive, but as luck would have it, during a christmas family visit I found myself an hour away from Papatrigo and with a morning to spare, so Jesús kindly agreed to come over and show me the station.

I arrived a bit before Jesús and his mum opened up for me so I could see around. The first thing that struck me was that the antennas are all in a relatively small lot. Basically the station has been set up in an old cowshed in the middle of a vegetable garden! There are four towers there, and the second thing a visitor will notice is that the 10 and 15m antennas first installed are really rather low. A fifth tower is "in process" but like many things in Spain, the economic situation means this plan is on ice for now.

I won't go into details about what's there, if you are interested there is plenty of detailed information on www.ed1r.com , but will comment on some things I thought of interest.

First of all the antenna setup is designed to give rapid movement in different directions. There are both fixed and rotatable antennas, plus the addition of a TH5 tribander using the novel 4O3A triband splitter (see http://www.4o3a.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=127&Itemid=509 ). All of this uses custom designed software by Pablo EA4TX (http://www.ea4tx.com/wp/?page_id=59) for easy on-screen point and shoot, plus Pablos software controls stack selection using the SJ2W stack match (http://www.sj2w.se/contest/?page_id=1557).

All of these technological innovations were very interesting to see working, and I was able to sit down at one of the stations and see how easy it was on 20m to use the 4 element DX beam pointing towards the USA, together with the TH5 fixed towards Europe, and choose between one, other, or both, either at the press of a button or at the click of a mouse. Jesús tells me it's even possible to TX all your power through one antenna, but RX through both, a nice option thought out for trying to work the states but not wanting to miss out on EU calling off the side.

Before getting down to business though, in traditional style Jesús brought some "churros y porras" and we had coffee and churros while chewing the fat a bit! Here's a photo of the two of us getting ready for the station tour:


And with that, seasons greetings to all, may 2013 bring us all lots of sunspots, good DX, and fun contesting!