Friday, 30 April 2010

A surprise contact

Last night I was tuning around the 40 metre band when I came across a station just signing off at the end of a QSO. The callsign sounded familiar- it was fellow blogger Adam M6RDP.
Adam and I had a pleasant contact and it was great the put a voice to the name. Lets hope it will be the first of many contacts. Perhaps we should introduce a "worked all bloggers" award!
I used my old TS830s and "random shortwire" for my contact with Adam. Whilst European stations and those farther afield are usually stronger on my inverted L  I have noticed that inter-G contacts are normally better on the horizontal wire. This shouldn't really be since the wire is quite low down, not resonant and literally thrown over the random shrubbery in the empty field behind my garden. Of course  the inverted L on 40 metres  is largely vertically polarised, which is better for the longer distance stuff.
I think it may be worth my while getting the random wire cut to a resonant length for 40 metres and trying to get it a little higher as it seems to be an effective inter G antenna.
I doubt I will have the chance for any antenna work this weekend however as the weather has already reverted to bank holiday mode-wet and windy!
HF conditions seem to have declined, it is some weeks since I have had a qso on 15 metres, there still seems to be fairly regular activity on 17 metres, over the last few evenings I have heard Stateside stations on PSK and a 4X4 on SSB.
I try to make a point at the moment of tuning across the 6 metre band and from time to time 10 metres in the hope detecting some sporadic E openings but so far I have not heard anything.

Pictured is the TS830S and MFJ tuner, note the frequency, at this time the 830 was doing duty as the PSK rig, now replaced in that mode by the TS450.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Keeping an ear open...

The recent sunny weather here in the UK has mixed blessings. Its great to get outside and see some sunshine, but all the gardening and outdoor chores mean less time for radio! still I have been managing to keep an ear on the bands, have a few QSOs and still do a bit of CW practice. I haven't found the higher HF bands to be very lively of late. As a result its been back to 30metres for much of my operating. Still lets hope the Sporadic E season brings us some activity. I hope we will see some 10 metre and six metre activity soon. When 6 metres is open it can be an amazing band. Even with my simple loft dipole on 6 metres last tear some of the signals on the band were very strong. Looking back at my logbook I see that most of the sporadic E contacts I had were in June and July so perhaps we have a while to wait. The most surprising contact of 2009 was for me on 70mhz (4 metres)  FM  where I worked S51DI (Slovenia) using an indoor wire dipole!, it was a true chance contact, he was calling on 70450 we managed to exchange reports and then he was gone.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010


As part of my CW practice I have been listening to CW on the bands (mainly 40 metres). What has struck me is the speed of some of the CW being sent. Much of it I would estimate is in excess of 25WPM. I remember the first time around when I used CW on the bands it was relatively easy to get a QSO at around 12 WPM or so, today the average speeds seem much quicker! Personally I will happy if I can get to a reliable speed of around 20WPM. I wonder how much of this morse is keyboard/machine sent.Personally I don't really see the point of machine morse. The reason CW appeals to me is mainly its simplicity- no PC required. If I was using the PC I would rather send PSK or RTTY or another data mode.

Friday, 16 April 2010

More Awards

I was pleased to see that a few days after my blog referring to the problems with the EPC award software, the system seems to be back up and working again. Pictured is one of my latest EPC awards.
Generally speaking as far as I can see the HF bands have been in pretty poor shape over the last few weeks. As I result I have migrated back to the 30 metre band where I am operating PSK31. Even 30 Metres has been quiet from time to time. here's hoping that conditions will pick up again soon!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010


Whenever I am in the car, as a matter of habit I tun on my mobile VHF/UHF rig and let it scan the bands. I have various frequencies programmed into the rig- repeaters 2metre and 70cms frequencies, some marine band frequencies and so on.
One of the frequencies in the rigs memories is 433.050- this is a repeater frequency, fiorgive me but I cannot remember which repeater, but I can occasionally hear it when in the Cardiff area, about 20 miles away from where I live.
Yesterday as I was just about to arrive home I heard a VERY strong signal on 433.050. Initially I thought that there must be a very good lift on 70cms, but hang on this didn't sound like an amateur radio repeater.
"Two and Two 22"  "on its own number 8", and then "please leave your empty glasses at the bar" and then a sudden cry of "House!!"  Now it can be no coincidence that at the time I was driving past the local social club, it was around 4pm and my guess is that there was an afternoon game of bingo going on. But why was this appearing on 433.050? Are they using some sort of wireless microphone system?
A mischievous person could I suppose sit outside with a 70cms handheld and add some confusion into the bingo game. I had heard of  unlicensed Low Power devices being allowed within the 70cms band but I didn't think that would include wireless PA systems. I'm just glad I don't live near this club as I should think 20 watts of UHF would probably wipe their system out.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Software Troubles

The European PSK Club (EPC) of which I am a member runs an extensive programme of awards for those who like to work data modes. All the awards must be applied for using their "Ultimate EPC" software, into which you load your electronic logbook.
Intially this worked fine for me and I successfully applied for a couple of awards. However over the past month or so the software appears not to run properly. I have tried using both my windows 7 and windows XP based machines. The software keeps telling me it is out of date-even though I am using the latest version, uninstalling and reinstalling a fresh copy does not work. So for now my EPC awards collection is on hold.The software provided by the 30 metre Digital Group "U30", although very similar in design seems much more robust and user friendly its a shame the two software authors can't get together. If anyone reading this uses the EPC software perhaps you can let me know if you've had problems.

Saturday, 10 April 2010


Pictured is my Trio R1000 communications receiver. I bought this from Ebay years ago, its a good little receiver but nothing really remarkable but this one is slightly different from the usual.
A few years back I purchased a little circuit board, which when fitted to the R1000 gives me a 12Khz output from the IF of the receiver. This output can then be connected to the input of a PC soundcard.
The reason for doing this was in order to decode something called DRM. Now this is not another amateur radio data mode, nor am talking about  the digital slow scan TV which is sometimes referred to as DRM, although I think the software technology is similar. This DRM is a transmission used by International Shortwave broadcasters. This mode was supposed to revolutinise shortwave radio. it offered  the potential of clear, FM- like transmission, even in stereo with a text display similar to that seen in todays DAB receivers. And when it works, it is impressive. The first time I decoded a DRM transmission I was amazed at the quality, better than the sound you get from web based streaming for example. So what happened? Why hasn't DRM taken off? Well for one thing Shortwave has been overtaken by the internet and many of the larger broadcasters have left the Shortwave spectrum. The other problem is that receivers for DRM are not and never have been widely available. Some PC based SDR type radios (like the WinRadio for example) have the facility to receive DRM but apart from that it is not possible to buy DRM receivers easily. Lastly and perhaps more importantly the mode isn't at its best on Shortwave. Like many digital mediums any interference or fading and the reception breaks up very quickly. To illustrate this, in my experience a signal strength of around S9+10db would be a minimum for reliable reception. If you want to hear a DRM signal try tuning arround 6090 khz, if you can hear a sort of "white noise" thats it.
I think Medium wave would have been the best band for DRM, allowing us to have high quality reception on the band, but for some resaon DRM on the Medium Wave  just didn't happen. So for the present quite a few international broadcasters put out these DRM signals. Who is listening? Very few I suspect!
Pictured below is the "DREAM" software I use for DRM decoding.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Paddle your own boat!

Here is the latest addition to my shack. A Kent Paddle key, which will connect to the keyer mentioned in my earlier blog entry. For someone like me who a) Is re-learning CW and b) Has only ever used a straight key in the past learning to use the paddle is quite a challenge, but it is fun. So far I have not ventured on the air with CW, and I wont do so for a while yet, not until I feel relaxed with the mode. In the meantime I will practice off air with the paddle.

A local amateur has recently purchased a Flex Radio transceiver. This is one of the new generation of transceivers that is controlled entirely by the PC. I had a quick test QSO with him on 10 metres this evening and it sounded very nice indeed. He tells me that the receive side is excellent, pulling out signals that he can barely hear on his more traditional HF rigs. I hope to get over to his place and take a look at the rig sometime this week and hopefully find out a bit more about it. However personally I would not want to have to use a PC to control all of a rigs functions, sometimes it is nice to switch the computer off! It may be though that this is the way of the future, who knows?

Thursday, 1 April 2010

New additions

Here are a couple of new additions to my shack, courtesy of Ebay. First up is an antenna splitter which will allow my Wellbrook loop to feed both my R5000 and R1000 receivers. It in fact has provisions to connect up to four receivers. I have been on the look out for one of these for a while. These devices are surprisingly expensive when new but I think I have had a bargain with this one and it has had better reviews than some of the more commonly available units. I will have to decide now how to fit the R1000 back in the "Shack area" as it is currently sitting on top of a bookcase behind me.

Second is a keyer. In order to use a paddle key you need one of these. Many if not most modern rigs have built in keyers. My Ft1000MP does but my old  Kenwood TS830S and the slightly more modern TS450S dont. Since the TS830 has excellent filtering for CW use I thought I might use that rig for CW, hence the keyer. Of course now I need a paddle key and I need to learn to use it! More about that soon.