Saturday 28 August 2010

Tuning up

Here is my LDG IT100- my latest purchase- is an auto ATU that connects to the Icom 706 that I use mobile. Its a compact unit- you can see my mobile phone on top to give an idea of its size.
It is now living in the boot of my car and seems to work well. Its capable of tuning my 20 metre whip on both 18 and 7mhz, of course that whip won't work well on those bands but it gives an idea of the capabilities to the ATU. Basically as long it it gives me full band coverage on the whips I will be happy.
It came with a connecting lead for the 706 (about 15cm long, I had to extend it to about 1.5 metres) and a short patch lead to go between rig and ATU.
Although the ATU instructions say that the unit can be used mobile there are no provisions for any sort of mounting bracket, I have managed to mount it in built in plastic tray that sits in the Volvo boot.
In a quiet shack you would notice this ATU as the relays clatter quite loudly, not a problem mobile of course particularly as its in the boot!

The quality of the unit seems OK, but is does seem similar to the sort of construction of MFJ equipment in other words not really up to the standard of the likes of Yaesu, Kenwood and Icom.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Going mobile

My mobile setup for HF appears to be working well, on receive at least. I have ordered a small auto ATU to broaden the bandwidth of my mobile whips as at the moment the TX bandwidth is very narrow. Nevertheless on 20 metres I have heard stations In Austrailia, Indonesia and the USA as well as the Carribean, all on 20 Metres, note I say heard the only transmitting I have done so far has been a local QSO in order to get an audio report!
I am happy to report that my car does not seem to generate much QRM at all on HF and what little there was (on 40metres) the noise blanker on the 706 deals with.
I am not so pleased with the boot mount I bought for the HF antennas. It looks like the one below

Mine is unbranded but I have seen these branded as Sirio mounts. The connectors to the centre pin and earth under the mount are not in any way weatherproofed. Worse than that tightening the nut (as I needed to do) around the SO239 connector can cause the coax to disconnect and break away from the mount. This happened to me and I had to remove the mount from the car and solder the coax back on. Yes the mount does work and it holds the HF whip on fine. It is however poorly designed and its a pig to fit!  Not clear in the picture  is the plastic dome on which the SO239 sits which is mounted on a smaller metal dome. The plastic dome is free to slide over the metal one below altering the angle of the antenna. All very well but there doesn't seem to be a way of stopping it moving. So the antenna will not stay at the exact angle you want.
I guess its a case of you get what you pay for as these mounts are fairly cheap. I am looking for something better now as I don't think mine will last to long!

Saturday 21 August 2010


My Trio R1000 receiver is working again! I didn't even take off the covers either. It seems the action of removing it from the shack desk has cured it for now, obviously a dry joint or loose connection then but I will have to wait for the fault to re-occur before I can Investigate.

My laptop is running Winrad nicely now with the loaned Elektor SDR receiver attached. I now have three receivers connected to the Wellbrook loop and it is interesting to compare them.
Findings so far are that the Kenwood R5000 is the best receiver, the R1000 a close second and the Elektor a good way behind these two. Weak signals that are audible on the two old receivers are not present on the SDR. It does however sound very lively on Medium Wave so I will give it a try on that band tonight.

This weekend there are many "Special Event" stations on the Air. I believe it is international lighthouse weekend and many lighthouses around Europe have been activated on the bands. I have worked a few, mainly on 80 and 40 metres but band conditions are not too good. A pity as the weather here is so bad its an ideal day to spend in the shack!

Thursday 19 August 2010

Battling with SDR

I thought I had the answer to my problems with the Elektor SDR yesterday. The Winrad software would not run under Win 7 properly and my base Unit XP machine seems just to slow to cope. As a last resort I dug out my seldom used Win XP laptop, Installed Winrad, hooked up my external soundcard and............It worked! But hold on, the audio is a bit distorted, and now the machine wants to switch off. Guess what? My laptops power supply has died! Oh well, I have ordered a replacement so hopefully I will soon have the loaned SDR receiver in operation. Watch this space!


Well I have been having fun adjusting my HF whips for 40 metres and 20 metres. On 40 metres all seems to be ok, I have a reasonable bandwidth and pretty much in the middle of the band.

On 20 my antenna seems to want to resonate on 13.9Mhz, there is no moving it, shortening the whip section results in a very poor SWR. This means the antenna is just about useable uo to 14.2Mhz, its a very good match on the CW end of 20 but I am not sure CW mobile is a good idea!
I have heard mixed reviews of this type of antenna, some users have reported they cannot get a reasonable match at all so perhaps I am doing fairly well. In any case I have head Indonesia and a mobile VK station on 20 so far so the antenna is certainly receiving ok.

Both antennas are the kind with a rigid helically wound base and an adjustable steel whip. The total antenna is around  7 foot (2 metres) long with the adjustable whip section being around 4 feet (1.2 metres). I also need to change the site of the HF antenna to the right (offside) of the car, the spot where the VHF antenna is located. The reason for this is the HF whip keeps hitting overhanging tree branches. changing the antennas over will mean re routeing the cables in the car so that may have to wait for a while. I have now added a spring at the base of the mount to give a bit more flexibility.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Reaching Higher

The photo above shows my old Trio (Kenwood) R1000 receiver. You will see the frequency readout shows 39.545 Mhz.
Now this is not a good thing, the R1000 is only supposed to cover up to 30Mhz. Mine is now locked, it cannot be tuned, the bandswitch has no effect and there is no sound- it has tin fact died.
An internet search reveals this is a common problem with the R1000 as they get older- this one must be close to 30 years old, and it is normally caused by dry joints in various places. I have a few pointers to look for when I get the time, I want to try and get the Elektor SDR running first. Until then my trusty R1000 is out of service.

Sunday 15 August 2010

Computer woes

In earlier entries I have mentioned the Softrock SDR receivers which I have been loaned and have been playing around with.These little receivers are single band, fixed frequency affairs. Basically you just feed their output into your computer soundcard, chose one of the many SDR software packages and away you go.
My local amateur friend who loaned me the softrock has recently purchased a Flex Radio HF transceiver. I called around to see it in his shack last week and had a quick tune around and it looks an impressive piece of kit. He is still learning how to use it and this is where I think the SDR rigs fall down at the moment. They are nowhere near "Plug and Play". Now thats fine in itself as part of the hobby is about learning and self improvement. The problem here thogh is you don't need to learn about radio its computer knowledge that counts. Knowing which operating system will or wont work with your software, installing USB drivers, dealing with incompatible soundcards, not your usual radio related problems.
I have been dealing with some of this myself this week. My friend having purchased the new rig offered me the loan of his Elektor Hf receiver. Covering up to 30 mhz this little receiver is an interesting device but:

The best way to control it is to use the "Winrad" software to which a file can be added that allows it to fully control the Elektor receiver. The problem is however that my main PC uses Windows 7. Windows 7 doesn't like Winrad- it says it is incompatible. Now Windows 7 isn't telling the full truth as I did have the little SDR working well for about 10 minutes or so before Winrad and Windows 7 disagreed and the PC locked up. Now of course Windows 7 won't even open Winrad, or if it does the software instantly locks and cannot be closed!

This isn't too bad a problem because I have an older PC here, which I use for HF data work that runs Windows XP. The only thing now is it is a slow machine 1.3Ghz CPU and 512Mb of memory, it doesn't seem to want to run Winrad. I am going to try to remove as much unnecessary software as I can from this machine and see if I can get it to work but this may take some time.

My point is this, no doubt many SDR transceivers offer superb facilities. But this morning I was able to pop into my shack- I had a few free minutes and take a quick listen on the bands. I turned on my 20 odd year old Kenwood R5000 receiver. I didn't have to wait for it to boot up, it didn't need to recognise a soundcard or any drivers- it was on- instantly and ready for use! What's more, when I was finished it switched off just as easily. As well as this it doesn't have any noisy monitors or peripherals that cause hash on the HF bands. At the moment I am not sure that there are any SDR radios that rival it!

Saturday 14 August 2010

4 Wheels on my wagon

Today I have managed to Install the Icom 706HF rig in my car. Actually I am quite pleased with the mount of the Head Unit- it looks quite neat. In order to get the space to mount the head unit I had to remove the factory fitted double size radio/cd unit and replace it with a single DIN sized unit. Here is the old Volvo unit I removed.
And here is the 706 head unit with the replacement CD player below.

The 40 metre whip on the boot mount rather dwarfs the VHF/UHF dual bander!. I am not too happy with the quality of the boot mount I have used, it was the only one a could get at the last rally I went to, I may have to change it later.

Si far I have two HF whips, one for 40 metres and one for 20. I have done some preliminary tuning and managed to get them both fairly close to where they should be in terms of resonance but there is still a bit of work to do. I am thinking of getting hold of an auto ATU which would make life easier. The only problem is I don't know where I would put it. Under the driver's seat is my remote head VHF/UHF rig and now the body of the 706 is under the passenger seat.

Saturday 7 August 2010

Wspring again..

Various household chores prevented much radio operation this morning. However I set the TS450 to run 1 watt on WSPR on 17 metres- I have been neglecting WSPR of late but I still thinks its a great way to test propagation. not a great deal of activity of note on 17 today but my single watt of RF did find its way into Germany and Austria.
I have at last started the groundwoork for fitting my Icom 706 HF rig into my car. Today I ran a power cable from the engine bay into the car, routing it through to the space underneath the passenger seat where the 706 will be located. I still have to install ther boot mount for the antenna, sort out an external speaker and of course fit the rig itself! I am also considering one of the reasonable priced LDG Auto ATUs which would help extend the bandwidth of my single band HF antennas.

On a totally different note and I apologise in advance for this non radio related snippet, I took a trip to the cinema last night to watch the film version of the TV series "The A-Team". I guess I am giving my age away when I say that the A team, was a favourite series of mine when it was first shown in the 1980's. Action packed fun, with a tongue in cheek approach it was an instant hit with many.
I went to see the film therefore with mixed feelings.Often when a TV series transfers to the big screen, with a higher budget and different actors the outcome is not always a good one. For example I could never get on with the "Batman" films having grown up with the 1960's Batman TV shows starring Adam West and Burt Ward.
With The A-Team I needn't have worried. The film was good action packed fun, the actors carried their parts well and I was able to accept them as their characters quickly, without thinking back to the original cast and comparing. So All in all I can recommend this film!!

Thursday 5 August 2010

Latest Activity

Most of my recent radio activity has been confined to SWLing and a few local chats on 2 metres.
However today I did a little HF operation and worked 3Z1BLH on 20m PSK. This rather exotic sounding callsign is in fact on Chelminek Island in Poland. Its hard to keep up with callsign allocations sometimes and I wonder why this station didn't have an SP prefix? However I guess the UK allocation with its G's M's and 2's must be confusing too!