Sunday 27 June 2010

Way out West

Today I attended the West of England Radio Rally held at Frome, Somerset. This is not exactly a local rally as it involves a round trip of around 160 miles (250 Kms) but once you get of the motorway it is actually a very scenic journey particularly with the lovely weather we are enjoying at the moment. Leaving home at around 8am, I arrived at the rally at around 940,  in plenty of time for the opening at 1000. At that stage there was already a queue of fifty or more waiting to go in.
The rally itself is relatively small, with the major traders in a main hall under cover and other traders in a car park area at the side of the building. There were a few "main dealers" there but in the main the traders were mainly selling components, antennas and accessories and various second hand items.
I had a successful visit as I managed to get what I was looking for- a boot mount for an HF mobile whip  and a 20 metre whip. There were a number of items that I would have liked if funds allowed but they didn't. There was a good selection of portable antennas, masts and fibreglass poles as well as some interesting second hand HF gear.
Sadly as with almost all radio rallies there were the usual few unwashed bodies, the stench from which would clear a room in 30 seconds! I am not sure why this seems to affect radio rallies so much, perhaps the people concerned wish to clear others away from the traders stands to get a better view! It must be said that today those people were in the minority, I have experienced much worse. Why people cannot have a quick shower and change of clothes before leaving home is a mystery, an unanswered question in the same league as- 'if so much CB equipment is advertised on Ebay, why is nobody on 27mhz?'
Anyway a good day, with a pleasant journey and I even got back in time to see the England v Germany world cup game- but now I rather wish I hadn't!

Saturday 26 June 2010

Out and About

I had the opportunity to go portable again today.The weather was superb and the nice cool breeze on top of the mountain was very welcome. This time I took my old camera tripod and used this rather than the little Buddistick tripod. It was much more stable and the antenna stayed upright.

Here are the things I needed to carry from the car to the operating spot. Its lucky that it was just a 5 minute walk. The Buddistick, a flask of tea and some snacks are in the rucksack along with my 2 metre handie and the MFJ ATU.

I also gave in and took an ATU with me, which made things a lot easier as the Buddistick can be difficult to tune. Here is my Portable shack.

I had a few HF contacts, one on 40 metres, a couple on 20, although there was a contest on and two on 17 metres, a nice band which I should use more. Although the Buddistick is designed to operate on 40 metres, results are rather disappointing although if you consider the size of the antenna perhaps this is not surprising.A better option would perhaps be a dipole or doublet supported by a fibreglass pole for the lower bands. I may make such an antenna up, but no doubt if I do I won't get a chance to do any more portable ops this year! The only problem with such a setup would be finding a way to support the pole when there are no trees or fences nearby.

2 metres was very quiet from this location today. Surprising as it was the weekend and a really good VHF location. In the 1990s when I used to operate from this spot you could spent all day on 2 metres FM, no longer, even the repeaters were quiet-is this a sign of the times?

And finally here is the view from the operating spot. I could keep an eye on my car from here (the one on the left) although this is a quiet location.

Wednesday 23 June 2010

General Update

I haven't made an entry for a while, mainly due to less time in the shack (due to the good weather we have been enjoying) but there have been a few radio related activities going on here.
I am still enjoying playing around with the little Softrock SDR radio. The one I have covers roughly from 7070 to 7020 Khz on 40 metres and is well down in the CW end on 80. I have settled on the Winrad software and am slowly getting the hang on it. Since the Softrock is connected to the same antenna as my R5000 receiver it is easy to compare the two. So far there has been nothing I have heard on the Softrock that I could not hear as well or better on the R5000. Of course the little SDR radio has the advantage of a spectrum display and infinitely adjustable filters but my practical experience is that its not noticeably better than my traditional receiver. From my experience SDR radio is not "plug and play". There is quite a steep learning curve in using the software and I still haven't worked out how I can decode PSK etc as the soundcard is tied up with the SDR rig. I believe I need a "virtual audio cable" and indeed I found and downloaded some software, could i make it work? No! I'm afraid it was beyond me at this stage- further research required.

I have now assembled most of the items I need to install the Icom 706 HF rig in my car. Since it also involves changing the in car stereo unit (to free up space on the dashboard) I am going to have to set at least a day aside to install it. Other commitments hear mean that won't happen for a few weeks yet.Rest assured news of the HF mobile will appear here when its underway. In the meantime the Icom 706 will continue to be my portable rig.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Beefing up the Buddistick

A fine afternoon after work and the fact that the YL was working late gave me the opportunity to play around with the Buddistick .
Firstly I attached it to my old camera tripod which is bigger and heavier than the tripod that came with the Buddistick. It would be much less likely to blow over than the standard tripod but will be heavier to carry!

Then I cut some quarter wavelength radials, one each for 40 metres, 20 metres and 10 metres, I also added one for 6 but again I could not get the antenna to tune anywhere near 6 metres.

The antenna does now tune more easily on 40, 20 and 10 metres but it is still quite a difficult process to get it just right. I may have to resort to an ATU just to get the SWR down a little more easily.

One thing I have learnt is that the built in SWR meter on the IC706 transceiver is useless. It was indicating a 1.5:1 SWR when two external meters both agreed on 3:1. I just hope the SWR protection circuitry is better than the meter!
And here I am in the garden, with My 706 and the obligatory mug of tea!. Since the camera tripod was supporting the antenna I was using the Buddystick tripod for the camera. It seemed to work!

Sunday 13 June 2010

First Steps in SDR

I mentioned in an earlier entry how a local amateur friend had purchased an Elektor, general coverage SDR receiver board. After some initial problems , he is up and running with it and it sounds like quite a promising piece of kit.
In the meantime he has loaned me a Softrock receiver board which he built some time ago.
The Softrock is a crystal controlled receiver. This one covers both 40 and eight metres.  But only a portion of those bands. With my sound card I get a 96khz section of both bands (largely the CW section).You may not be able to tell from the pic but it is very small in size with lots of tiny components on the board. I wouldn't fancy my chances at building one!

Initial impressions of using the Softrock is that I have a lot to learn! In addition to your receiver and antenna your results are also affected by the quality and type of the sound card you use. The SDR software seems quite confusing to someone like me who is used to turning knobs and pressing buttons. In any event I have the receiver up and running. I have decided to use the Winrad software with this board, after having compared a few programs including the "Power SDR" program pictured.

Friday 11 June 2010

Out in the open

Today I had a day off work and since the weather was good I decided to pack up a rig and antenna, a flask and some sandwiches and go portable!
I drove to Bwllch-y-Clawdd, a high spot  about 30 minutes drive from where I live. This location overlooks the Rhondda Valley  and the views are pretty amazing from here.

I set up the Icom 706 and  Buddistick antenna, powered from my portable 20ah battery (weighs around 705Kgs!) and I was ready to go. This is a very peaceful location, for the three hours or so I was there I saw no-one else. I have operated VHF previously  from this location and know that its a good site. However I had not tried HF before and I wondered if with my limited small vertical antenna I would be able to work anything. I was able to vary my output power but for the most part I was running around 30 watts.
Initial attempts were not too promising with just a marginal QSO with a mobile station on the Isle of Man on 40 metres SSB.
Switching to 10 metres I had a little more success working into Germany and Italy, one of the Italian stations was running only 900 milliwatts!

6 Metres was also open, but try as I might I could not get my antenna to a good match on 6 metres although it is supposed to work on that band.

All in all an enjoyable few hours using the radio in the fresh air. A couple of learning points too.
1) The Buddistick on its little tripod is prone to blow over in a strong breeze, I need to look into a way of weighting or anchoring the tripod better.
2) The Buddistick whilst a clever antenna can be VERY tricky to tune. I have read that the radial length is important but varying the radial length didn't seem to make much diffeence for me.
3) I could not tune the antenna on 6 metres at all. I need to look into this as I like to operate 6 when the band is open.

I do have a small MFJ ATU which I could take with me but I would like to get the antenna to match as closely as I can without an ATU, after all its just more weight in my rucksack!!

Saturday 5 June 2010

Practising for Portable

Here is the latest addition to my shack. Well its not actually for the shack. this is the rig that I intend to fit into my car so I can go HF mobile. Its an Icom 706Mk1. Quite an elderly set now but it works well. I have had it running here in the shack and strangely enough it seems more sensitive on 145Mhz than the Yaesu FT857 which I normally use. This is odd as I believe the early 706 had a reputation for being deaf on this band.

I revisited an old friend today in the form of the "Buddistick"  USA made portable HF antenna. I purchased the antenna a few years back, it is very well made and can be put up from scratch in a matter of minutes. It can cover from 40 metres up to 2 metres.I haven't had the time to do any portable operation for a while but am hoping to do so this year so I thought I had better familiarise myself again with this excellent antenna.

Here it is in its carrying bag.

And here it is fully erected in the garden

Since the Icom 706 was doing nothing better at the moment I set it up in the garden with the Buddistick and monitored 20 metres in the sun!