Sunday 29 November 2009

Weekend update

I have been  busy playing around with the new addition to the shack the TS450S. Before pressing it into service on data modes I have been tuning round the bands and having a few SSB QSOs on 40 and 80 metres. All in all it seems to work well, it is quite fussy about various settings, the ALC in particular must be kept at a reasonable level or the rig won't operate properly, the Auto ATU works reasonably well (Apart from 160 metres where it doesn't work at all- the manual warns you of this).
As a receiver it seems quite lively, though if you are interested in receiving Medium Wave it wouldn't be much use as sensitivity is deliberately much lower in that part of the spectrum. The connections on the rear include a small 13 Pin DIN socket for use on data modes. Although I made up the leads between my data interface and my TS830 I didn't fancy my chances of soldering up a tiny 13 pin connector so a quick email to Dave G3VFP of EZE UK confirmed a lead for the 450s was available, so that has been ordered and hopefully will arrive soon.I have always liked Kenwood/Trio Gear and am not disappointed with the 450S so far. My main rig is a Yaesu FT1000MP which is a superb rig but I feel its complexity means its not the most suitable rig for data modes.
In the meantime, last night whilst chatting to a few local amateur friends on 2 metres we also exchanged a few pictures on SSTV on 20 metres. The band was otherwise dead, as it seems to be here after dark, but it was interesting to use this mode as it is years since I have used SSTV. The software we used was MMSSTV, which seems to work really well. I have in the recent past also tried digital SSTV using a program called Easypal and the quality of pictures this produces is amazing. It does however seem to be quite a resource intensive program and the old PC which I use for radio applications struggles to run it.In addition I don't think it is a mode which is very tolerant to QRM.If you are interested in receiving Digital SSTV then on 80 metres around 3730Khz in the evenings is the best place. It sounds quite unlike analogue SSTV. As I understand it the software technology is based on the DRM transmissions that some international shortwave broadcasters now use.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

A new addition

Pictured is a Kenwood TS450s, not a new rig by any means but the latest addition to my shack. I am hoping to run this rig on the data modes, but tonight I have been running it on 40metres and 80 metres SSB just to test it. The rig seems to be working OK although it has had a slight modification made to it, on the picture of the rear panel you can see an RS232 socket, that shouldn't be there- its a mod by a previous owner. I have tried connecting this this to my PC but Ham Radio deluxe doesn't want to work with this rig. It may be possible to computer control the rig using one of the original ports on the rear, in any case luckily I am not too worried about computer controlling the rig.
First impressions of the TS450 is that it is a little quirky to operate but seems to have a nice receiver.
Next step is to get a lead sorted out between my data interface and the rig.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Spreading the word

Having discussed WSPR with a few local amateur friends we now have 5 local amateurs in this area using the software and finding it very interesting. I had a listen on 10 metres yesterday and had a reprt from France. I tried 15 metres for a short while but heard nothing. Apart from that I have been concentrating on 80 metres where my 1 watt has been heard in the USA. In addition I have also heard fellow bloggers PE4BAS and G4ILO! I note from time of time unusual or impossible callsigns appear in WSPR and am wondering whether this is corrupt data, badly decoded or someone unlicensed messing around?
I note that there is a new version of WSPR, I may download that in the next few days and give it a try.

Thursday 19 November 2009

30 metres again

It is fairly clear now that the 30 metre band is likely to be pretty dead over the winter once we are in darkness.Running WSPR last night on 30 metres I noted that I didn't hear anything past 1930 UTC though the 40 metre band was still very active.
My TS830 is becoming a little temperamental, with a tendency to drift at times, making it very difficult to use for Data modes. This is however an intermittent fault and having consulted the excellent TS830 survival guide I think I know what the problem may be. Even so I am still considering looking for another HF rig for the data modes and semi retiring the 830!

Whilst driving today I was listening to a local 2 metre repeater. Two stations were in QSO and it was clear that someone was trying to jam the repeater and interfere with the conversation. The stations in QSO were aware of this, in fact one station commented that the jammer was wasting his time as both stations could hear each other 5 and 9 on the repeater input!Which rather begs the question why were they using a repeater at all?? It seems locally at least the standard of repeater operation is going downhill-another reason to avoid them I think.

Monday 16 November 2009

Quiet Evening.

Conditions seemed poor this evening. 30 metres is dead, which seems to be the case often now that winter is coming. I dropped down to 40 metres and managed to work UA1TAN and S51PL (pictured) on PSK31. But even 40 doesn't seem as lively as usual.

Sunday 15 November 2009


No Luck with picking up Radio St Helena last night. I was not too suprised as its a difficult catch at the best of times but the main problem here was QRM. I Had S8 of interference on the frequency of 11092. Doing a little research from the UKQRM website  it seems the interference I am getting is from someone nearby using the BT Homeplug system to distribute their internet. It seems this QRM is strong across 11 Mhz here, including the more traditional broadcast frequencies between 11.5 and 12 mhz.I Guess I am lucky that this interference is not affecting the amateur bands at the moment, but it is extremely annoying and seems to crop up all over the place, at varying strengths between around 4Mhz and up to 30 Mhz.

Today I took my Sony ICF7600 portable receiver out and walked a little way around the estate here, but I could not trace the interference source. As I understand it it could be coming from anything up to 500 yards away. I Am very glad I haven't got one of these things next door to me as I don't think I would be able to use HF at all.
I will have another go at trying to pinpoint where the QRM is coming from soon and then consider reporting it to Offcom, in the meantime I am just thankful its not wiping out the amateur bands.

Saturday 14 November 2009

Listening Around

Last night I was away from home, visiting the YL's family, so no radio operating! In common with most of the UK the weather here has been awful with high winds and torrential rain, so when I arrived back home I was pleased to see that my antennas had all survived.A quick PSK contact with an RA1 on 30 metres confirmed all was OK.
Tonight I am hoping to have time to do a little bit of shortwave broadcast listening, listening for a very special station.

Radio St Helena transmits once a year only from the tiny island of St Helena. Tonight at 2200 they will be beaming towards Europe on 11092 USB. Since I am not normally in the shack this late I think I will set up my digital  sound recorder and leave the rig on frequency.
Given the location of St Helena (See the picture above) and the current conditions I am not too hopeful of getting anything but I will give it a try. I have picked the station up in years past and have a tape recording of it somewhere.
Radio St Helena I believe uses an Amateur HF transceiver and around 1000W, that may seem a lot but its flea power for a broadcast station!!

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Normal Service has been resumed.

Good news for me. My TS830 is back up and running. I was concerned that it may have a fault of some sort but since replacing the fuse all seems ok. Whilst I had everything on the deask pulled out of its place I took the opportunity to calibrate the low power scale on my MFJ antenna tuner. I can now read powers down to 1 watt or less. Careful adjustment of the soundcard volume and the TS830 Mic gain has allowed me to get my power on WSPR down to 1 watt.
This evening so far, with just my single watt on 30 metres  I have been reported in WSPR by U.S German and one Austrailian station- Amazing!!

I had similar reports last night on 30metres, yet when I moved up to the PSK section of the same band I was only able to hear and work one OK2 station, apart from that the band was dead.
I don't think I will be able to get the TS830 down to much less than 1 watt reliably. I am considering at some point getting a slightly more modern rig for data modes and using the TS830S as a backup to my Yaesu FT1000MP main rig, The 830S is capable of superb transmit audio and is slightly wasted on PSK!

I am rapidly becoming convinced that 30 metres is quite a seasonal band. Certainly as winter approaches it seems to "drop out" around 2100 UTC , something that was not happening in the summer. If I am operating any later I find I have to drop to 40 or 80 to make contacts.

Monday 9 November 2009

POP......Goes My TS830!!

Well there I was, in my shack, tuning up my TS830  so I could do some operating in PSK on 30M when Pop!!! the rig went dead. Once the initial panic had passed I found that the screw in AC fuse at the back of the rig had blown. This is a 4amp fuse and of course I didn't have any. I replaced it with a 2amp, which will run the rig on receive OK. I am hoping to get some replacement fuses in Maplins  on the way home from work tomorrow. Until then its receive only on the data modes here!

Saturday 7 November 2009

Rising to the challenge

Well I had some limited success on 17metres this afternoon. I was heard by W1BW and heard several spots from LA3JJ. Now darkness is upon us I think I will put the TS830 back on 30 metres PSK. I may give 15m WSPR a try tomorrow if I get time.

Believing the worst?

Yesterday I was driving home from a work appointment. In my car I have a VHF/UHF rig coupled with a dualband Antenna. I don't like using a hand microphone in the car so I have a 20 year old Yaesu switchbox which allows me to just switch between tx and rx. Whilst motoring along I heard a very strong station calling CQ on S20, quite an usual event these days, so immediately I returned his call.
When I replied, unknown to me my trusty PTT switch had failed and I ended up transmitting a blank carrier with no audio. Now the reason I am relating this fairly mundane tale is that at this point, the other station assumed I was an idiot, a jammer,an IQ0 whichever term you prefer. To be honest his response was perfectly polite but it was clear he thought I was someone who was out to disrupt. Realising what had happened I didn't transmit again, and today I have fixed the fault, a bad solder joint on the plug from the microphone that goes into the PTT box.
This got me thinking- how often do we  dismiss someone as a poor operator or an idiot when in fact they are a genuine amateur perhaps with a problem with their equipment or perhaps lack of operating experience? Now I am not talking about the misguided souls who insist on jamming and blocking repeaters with inane comments and strange noises. I am sure they know what they are doing! What I mean are those stations with poor audio or perhaps have not adjusted various settings properly or with what to us is poor operating technique. The latter often occurs when the newcomer doesn't have experience of listening on the amateur bands.Years ago most amateurs started out as shortwave listeners and by the time they obtained an amateur licence that already had a good idea of operating procedure.In these days of repeater abuse and the general poor operating that seems to happen in the UK on 2 metres in particular,it is all too easy to dismiss someone as an idiot. The next time I hear A blank carrier on 2 metres FM I will try to see if I can help first!!

Bas, PE4BAS has challenged me to try WSPR on one of the more difficult bands following my good results on 30 and 40 metres.This afternoon I tuned up my 830S on the 17m WSPR frequency and unleashed my 5 watts on the unsuspecting radio world. Nothing heard as yet but I will report back. I suspect in any case there are far fewer stations using WSPR on 17m than on 30 or 40 metres so that will limit my results but we will see. As an aside my inverted L is a fairly good match on 17metres, It shouldn't be really but I was suprised to see the ATU was not required.

Thursday 5 November 2009

Quick update

Having read on G4ILOs blog yesterday that last night was an activity evening on WSPR on 40metres I duly tuned up the TS830, cranked down the power and set up WSPR on that band at 5 watts. After wondering why nothing was happening, i.e no decodes I realised that I had not Synchronized the PC clock! Once this was done I was up and running.So Last night my 5 watts was heard in the USA, Brazil and Austrailia!! truly amazing. What a superb piece of software. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could dig SSB and AM signals out of the noise the way WSPR does? Maybe in this day and age of SDR receivers, some of which are apparently very impressive we are not so far way from this.
Tonights picture has nothing to to with radio, rather its my excuse as to whay there hasn't been much radio done here this evening as I went along to the local firework display!

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Thoughts for a new month

Well November is here and winter approaches fast. In August of this year I decided to concentrate most of my HF operating on 30 Metres (10Mhz) as this is a band I had almost totally ignored in 25 years of being a licenced amateur. I had wondered if after a few months I might have worked all the "regulars" on that band and would have difficulty makiung new contacts. Three months later and several hundred QSOs on I am still working new stations and have worked farther afield than I expected.Now I am using WSPR running 5 watts  from time to time and am amazed at how a 5watt signal from a less than ideal antenna can be heard so well.
I am making an effort at the moment to make a few PSK QSOs at the 5 watt level as well and I have had some success although there is a temptation to turn up the power if the going gets tough..
What I like about this hobby is that there are so many angles to it. From my own point of view I can chat to the locals on 2metres, work HF SSB and have voice contacts, use the data modes or simply turn on one of my receivers and tune around the bands, amateur broadcast or utilities. I have always thought it such a shame that some people take the trouble to obtain their licence and just  operate through the local VHF repeater. maybe thats something peculiar to this area but there are a number of stations you will only ever hear via a repeater. There is so much more to the hobby than that.
For the past few months I have made a conscious effort, wherever possible to have at least one QSO per day! I haven't set any specific rules about this just that it must be a direct contact, repeaters don't count! This may not sound like much (and normally I manage more contacts than that) but I think if everyone that could did this we would see much more activity. Look in a callbook if you have one? How many amateurs are in your area? How often do you hear them? Yes they could be operating CW or data where its not so easy to hear them but many are simply not active, or at least they don't transmit! I know from experience of local clubs that you will meet amateurs face to face that you never hear "on the air".
Anyway I will try and maintain my activity and I think I will stick to 30 metres for a while. When the band is quiet I do pop on to 40 or 80 and I keep an ear on the higher bands but since CQ WW a few weeks back they seem rather dead. I really should put up a monoband antenna for 10mhz. My inverted L was designed for 40 and 80 metres but it does work OK on 30. The layout of my garden means that I am unlikely to get away with another vertical for transmitting, particularly as I am planning to install an active loop for listening, but more of that another time!

The picture accompanying this entry is of one of the most used pieces of equipment in my shack the Kenwood R5000 communications receiver along with a Yaesu ATU. I have lost count of the number of receivers I have owned over the years but this is one of the better ones.