Friday 26 February 2010

A new country

Monitoring 40metres PSK last night I saw 1B1AB, Soyer, calling CQ. I mentioned this station in My blog back in December, I had heard/seen him on PSK before but not managed to make a contact. Well I made the contact last night so that is North Cyprus in the log! 40 metres last night seemed particularly busy with several stations transmitting on top of one another. As I write this entry today I am on a day's leave from work (Car in garage being repaired) and I have the opportunity to monitor the bands in daytime. So Far 15 metres seems quiet but there is some activity on 17 metres and I have made a few European contacts.

Thursday 25 February 2010

Slightly Underwhelmed!!

I saw a CQ call on 20 metres PSK this evening from an unusual callsign- LZ10ARDF.
I went back to his CQ, hoping to find out a little about the station, thinking that perhaps it was a special event callsign. Sadly all I got was my callsign back with a 599 report and then he began to call CQ. Classic "contest style" operating- but for a special event why do this? It would have been nice to hear about the reason for the special call. With operating PSK it would have been easy to set up a short macro that would give the basic details.
Some years back when I lived in Cardiff I was a member of quite an active radio club and was involved in helping with a number of "special event" stations. We always tried to give our contacts some idea of what the special event was about, who was running it, where we were and so on. If this is not done, what is the point?
Anyway a search on the "QRZ" website revealed that the station was run by the "Bulgarian Federation of Radio Amateurs-ARDF club" I guess they wanted to work as many stations as possible, but they didn't seem to be getting many takers and I left 20 metres slightly underwhelmed by this particular contact!

Wednesday 24 February 2010

The mystery of the upside down antenna....

Last summer I made up a half wave dipole out of some wire and strung it up vertically in the roof space of the house. The dipole was for 4 metres (70mhz).Some years back I had purchased a couple of second hand, ex PMR 70 mhz sets, since moving to this location I hadn’t used them and so I thought I would dig one out and put it back on the desk. Added to this there are a couple of stations here locally that use 4 metres FM and I thought it would be nice to chat on this band. All went well with my wire dipole, I was able to work my local friends and during a surprise bout of “lift” conditions I even managed to work S51DI in Slovenia, on 4 metres FM with my wire attic dipole.
Inspired by my success,( and the fact that the wire dipole was fragile and was always getting knocked around when I went into the loft to store or retrieve things!) I purchased a rigid aluminium dipole.
I adjusted for the correct part of the band, and it works as well as an indoor antenna can. However there is one strange thing….
I have to mount this dipole “upside down”- as I said it is vertically polarised, but the only way I can get it to match properly, with a decent SWR is to have the radiating element of the dipole at the bottom, not at the top as it should be.With the active element at the top there is a very high VSWR. Swinging the dipole into the horizontal plane wont work either it results in an SWR in excess of 5:1. Now this doesn’t really matter, the antenna works and I can use it for local contacts as I intended. It is however a puzzle as clearly something in the loft is affecting it. Incidentally I have a 6 metre dipole mounted horizontally in the same roofspace and that works fine!

The Answer is of course to get that dipole up outside. With my current setup the only way I could do this would be to mount it horizontally beneath my VHF/UHF vertical. Signals should of course be better if the antenna is outside but the drawback is that most FM stations on 4 metres are vertically polarised. Maybe what I gain with the antenna outside will be lost in the effects of cross polarisation?

Sunday 21 February 2010

Radio Rally part 2

Well I attended the radio rally, held by Swansea ARS  today and was quite impressed especially considering the change of venue. I believe however a number of people were disappointed at the poor parking facilities. In fact one local amateur having driven around 20 miles to attend the rally and being unable to park, turned around and went home. Lets hope if this venue is used again the parking is better organised.

I think it is important to try and support local radio rallies, certainly they are not as numerous as they were in these days of web shopping and mail order.
I came away with what I needed- not much- a new logbook (I still keep a paper log), some rechargeable batteries and some antenna wire. I also had the opportunity to say hello to a few people who I know are licensed but I never hear on the air!
Its always best not to take a cheque book or credit card to rallies and to remember the difference between " I want" and "I need". In any case, on this occasion my wallet emerged reasonably unscathed! There was some interesting gear for sale including the vintage FR50B receiver pictured above but for now at least I won't be adding any additional equipment to the shack.

Saturday 20 February 2010

Radio Rally time again

Tomorrow I will be attending one of the few local radio rallies that are held these days. This one is at Neath, it should have been at a sports centre in nearby Port Talbot (The Afan Lido- pictured above) but sadly that venue was destroyed by fire earlier this year. The new venue was a last minute arrangement so it will be interesting to see what the new site will be like.
One I first became interested in Amateur Radio it seemed like there were radio rallies to attend almost every week. That's not the case today and those that are left are generally smaller events. Still it is nice to catch up with familiar faces and obtain those bits and pieces needed for the shack.Myself I am not intending to purchase much, but I do need a new logbook and some plugs and connectors.
The higher bands continue to prove interesting and most of my recent PSK activity has been either on 21 or 18 Mhz. I have heard a limited amount on 24Mhz, but as yet nothing on 10 metres. When I have had the opportunity to listen in the daytime I have also noticed that 40 metres seems very lively with stations from the UK and Europe boomimg in.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

The Bands they are a changing....

Working at home for part of the day today allowed me to have a quick daytime listen around the bands.
On 24mhz (17metres) today I was hearing OLIVIA (I think) and RTTY signals but no PSK31. I did however manage to work YO4RST on 21Mhz PSK.
Biggest surprise was 40metres when tuning round on SSB. Lots of strong signals from G, GI and GM. In fact the band sounded like it used to years ago when I was first licensed.
A couple of local stations around here managed to work into Venuzuela on 20 metres the other night around 2100 and I have been hearing Brazilian and Caribbean stations on 20 on a couple of occasions on my ground mounted Hygain AV12.
So all in all things are looking much more lively. I should really look into fitting HF equipment in the car, its something I have wanted to do for a while. Funds and time allowing I am hoping I will be operating HF mobile before the next sunspot peak at least!

Saturday 13 February 2010

Things are looking up

This week I have not been home early enough from work to check the higher bands, but I have been told on the air and read on the internet that things were picking up, especially in the case of the 15metre band.On Friday I was in the shack a little earlier, in time to catch 15 metres open and managed to work a couple of stations using PSK31, including SV3DCX. Not DX I know but it is some time since I worked anyone on this band. It seems that 24Mhz had also been open as there were still a few weakish signals around at around 1600, however I didn't manage any contacts on that band.
Today I have had a few household chores to do, but I did manage a few QSO's,again on 15 metres so it seems the sunspot cycle is now improving and we should have better conditions ahead. I hope we will see a consistent improvement in the coming months.
A little while ago I mentioned in this blog that I felt the magazine "Practical Wireless" which I believe is the only independent Amateur Radio magazine in the UK was "dumbing itself down". The reason I felt this way was because the magazine was and still is running a series of articles called "What Next". The series has taken the reader step by step on how to turn of and transmit with an FT817 (I Kid you not!), how to attach an antenna to the rig, and how to have a QSO through your local repeater! I felt that the level of these articles was insulting. I am the first to admit that I am not the most technical of people in this hobby but surely if people have obtained their licence they will have at least this level of knowledge?
Anyway at the time I was considering whether to continue to buy the magazine, and, for now at least I have decided to do so.In the March Edition of PW there is a letter from an amateur regarding the "local" QRM many amateurs have in their shacks I don't mean the YL or XYL shouting at you to come out of the shack and get on with your chores! This QRM is from the PCs, monitors and associated power supplies that many if not most amateurs have in the shack. It Seems that Practical Wireless is going to publish an article on this problem and how to solve it. I am looking forward to this as I noted in an earlier blog entry that the PSU for my monitor generates QRM on VHF. I  have also become aware that one of the PCs or peripherals here is generating around S6 of noise on 20 metres.Since I like to use the data modes its not practical to switch the PC off when I am operating so I need to try and trace exactly what is causing the interference.

Sunday 7 February 2010

International radio

A recent post by Adam M6RDP got me thinking about the former  shortwave broadcasters who are now to to be found on the internet. I was already aware that Radio Netherlands, who still have a shortwave presence have over the years moved more towards web-based broadcasting. Others to be found on the web include Radio Romania, Radio Prague and Radio Sweden to name but a few. Of course sitting at the computer to listen to radio is a little restrictive so a wifi radio like the one pictured above is useful. It also gives the impression that you are listening to a "real" radio! As well as the former international broadcasters internet radio gives a choice of thousands of national and local stations from all over the world. The 'Reciva' WIFI radio I use offers over 18,000 stations most of which can be received in good quality stereo. Once set up to connect to your wieless network these sets are also easy to operate. Its quite amazing to be listening to a local FM station from say, Barbados, in excellent quality! Bearing this in mind its is not surprising that shortwave broadcasting in Europe at least is on the decline- it just cant compete with the ease and quality of the web based platform. As a lifelong SWL I think this is a pity- but I guess its progress.
In previous blogs I have mentioned the Award Schemes offered by The 'European PSK Club' and the '30 Metre Digital Group' both clubs offer software which automates the award applications, feeding from your computer logbook. Unfortunately over the last couple of days the 'Ultimate EPC' software has refused to work on my PC. Despite uninstalling and reinstalling I cannot gey anywhere. An attempt to install the software on the Windows XP based "Shack" computer met with the same lack of success. So for now at least, my EPC award activities are on hold. In the meantime I have received another award from the 30MDG for my 10 Mhz activities, a band which at the moment I use for most of my HF data work.
As far as the other HF bands are concerned I have noticed that 18mhz has been increasingly open, mainly to Europe but I have seen (but not yet worked on 18mhz psk) a few U.S Stations.Not much heard here on 15 or 10 metres yet so it seems we are still in the sunspot doldrums.