Monday 10 December 2012

Shortwave Listening.

I managed to do quite a bit of shortwave listening over the past weekend and have been putting my new SDR4+ receiver through its paces. Rather than clog up this post with my ramblings about my new toy you can click here to find out a bit more about it.
Suffice it to say I am rather impressed with this little rig!

Sunday 2 December 2012

Christmas is coming.....

Well in my shack anyway! An early Christmas present in the form of an SDR shortwave radio. This is the Cross Country Wireless SDR4+ which I received last week.

It covers from around 900Khz to 30 Mhz and so far I am very impressed. In the main I have been using the SDR-Radio Software to control the radio.

I have even managed to set the radio up so I can remotely tune and listen to it over the internet. If you visit SDRSPACE.COM and down load the software you will see a number of receivers that you can remotely use. Mine isnt on 24/7 at the moment though.

I will write further on the SDR4+ soon but for now I am enjoying tuning the bands with it.

Saturday 24 November 2012

Latest Addition

Latest addition to the shack is an "Isoterm Multicon USB" soundcard interface for PSK/DATA etc wired for my FT1000MP. Whilst I dont find the FT1000MP ideal for data modes it does allow me to clear a bit of space on the desk as the Kenwood FT450 I was using as a dedicated Data modes rig can now become a backup rig.
I am very Impressed with the construction of the unit and once I had downloaded the right driver for it all was quickly up and running. Trying a bit of PSK on 10 metres, running around 20 watts  resulted in QSOs with VE3FGU and LU3CM.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

40 Metres

A pleasant evening in the shack tonight. I had a couple of hours to spend and ended up having a few nice QSOs on 40 metres SSB.
I had a nice surprise when just as I was about to close down I was called by PC4T, fellow blogger Paul.
Its always nice to have a QSO with one of my Blog friends.
So thanks for calling in Paul. It was great to work you. Lets hope its the first QSO of many.

Sunday 7 October 2012

Antenna update

The "Western HF 10" antenna I recently install came with an information sheet recommending that it is installed with a centre support. At my QTH I have a small mast mounted on the back of the house and another at the end of my garden. In other words-no central support. The antenna although in itself lightweight has quite a large balun at the end of the 450 ohm ladderline.

 I quickly found that if the balun was left hanging freely it put too much strain on the coax cable going into the balun. The result was the cable was pulled out of the PL259 connector requiring re-soldering.
I have now installed a short support pole underneath the feedpoint of the balun and anchored the balun and the coax to it-that appears to have solved the problem.

I am very impressed with the antenna. It can be operated without an ATU on a portion of 80 metres and 20 and a large portion of 10 metres also. On the other bands down to 80 metres the internal ATU in my rig tunes it easily.The antenna seems very lively, especially on the higher bands. It will tune on 160 metres using an external ATU but signals on that band seem very low (The antenna is far too short for the band) and I think that anything other than local contacts on 160 would be unlikely.
It has coped well with the 300+ watts I have occasionally used when trying out the borrowed vintage KW1000 linear amplifier I have in the shack at the moment.
 As an added bonus this antenna seems very useful as a general shortwave listening antenna. I have hooked it up to my R5000 receiver and had some good results from around 3Mhz up to 30. On medium wave it does seem a little "deaf" obviously this is the same problem as 160 metres and I wouldn't have expected this antenna to work well on MW.
All in all as a compact antenna this one is really quite impressive and the quality of construction is excellent also.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Antenna Work

Since I moved to this QTH I have not been that happy with my HF antenna. At first I put up a half size G5RV antenna and added an inductor to each leg to allow it to tune up on 80 metres. That lasted a few months but after a while the antenna wouldn't tune, try as I might i could not find out why, eventually I replaced it with a home made doublet.
After having my shed demolished I lost one of my antenna supports and for a while the far end of my antenna was simply tied to the fence.Earlier this year my next door neighbours were having some work done on their garden. They removed an old metal pole, 4 metres or so long which they had used to support a washing line. They offered me the pole, asking if it would be any use for my antennas. (I am lucky-I have good neighbours). Of course I accepted the pole and set about making use of it.

First I dug a hole at the end of the garden

And placed the old washing line post in it, filling the hole with concrete.

I now had a "Stub mast" which would form the support for my new antenna pole. 
I then ordered a hinged bracket from a seller on Ebay 

Yesterday I had a 20 foot (approx 6 metre) thick walled aluminium pole delivered and today along with a local Radio Amateur friend we put the whole lot together to make a decent antenna support.

There is a pulley at the top of the pole so the antenna wire can be easily lowered or the whole pole can be easily dropped using the hinged bracket which is attached to the stub pole. We also installed a new HF antenna the "Western HF10 " which I bought some months ago.

Here you can see the shack end of the antenna (the wire is below the VHF/UHF colinear and above the TV antenna)

First impressions of the new antenna are good. It seems very lively particularly on the higher bands and I also had some good reports on 40 metres this afternoon. I will write more on this interesting antenna when I have had a chance to fully test it but it does seem a significant improvement on the previous wire.

Monday 10 September 2012

Difficult programming

My  holiday in Cornwall a few weeks back went well, however there wasn’t much time for radio.
I did set up my FT857 and Buddistick antenna on a couple of evenings but operating time was very limited and apart from the odd QSO on 20 metres not much was worked.
I also took my Chinese made dualband “Luiton”  VHF/UHF handheld along hoping I might hear some local activity on 2 or 70 cms. Before setting off I programmed a few local repeater frequencies into the rig using my laptop PC and the software as programming vis the rigs keypad is difficult to say the least.
Now the Luiton is identical to the more commonly seen TYT UVF-1 the software, cable etc for the TYT all work on my Luiton.
Unfortunately due to a “slip of the mouse” I programmed a wrong CTCSS code for the very repeater that was the loudest and closest to where I was staying. “No problem” I thought I will just manually alter the CTCSS using the rigs keypad and menu system. However there was no way I could do this whilst I was away, I could access the menu setting for the CTCSS code but it would not let me change the code. Putting the rig into VFO (as opposed to memory) mode made no difference, I still could not alter the CTCSS. I still haven’t found out why, the only option is now to reconnect the rig to the PC and see what I can do. To add insult to injury only my ancient Windows XP laptop will recognise the rig and adapter lead. The Win 7 PC in the shack won’t do it.
I have mentioned the “quirky” user interface of this handheld before. The scanning facility on this rig is almost useless and some time had to be spent using the software to adjust various settings before the TX audio was at an acceptable level. The user friendliness of these rigs is really light years behind that of the mainstream rigs from Yaesu, Icom and Kenwood etc. Yes they are much cheaper and RF wise they seem to work OK but the are nowhere near as easy to use.
I now see one of the Chinese manufactures is offering a dualband mobile rig at a cost not that much less than the mainstream Japanese manufacturers. I hope the user interface on these rigs is better, if it isn’t I don’t think the established manufacturers will have much to worry about!

Saturday 1 September 2012

Contest surprise

Tuning around the 10metre band I heard V55V/P in Namibia. A contest station they were easily the strongest signal on the band. A quick call resulted in a 59 (!) report and a new one in the log for me.

Friday 10 August 2012


Since I am hoping to take a trip to Cornwall for a few days shortly I thought I would assemble and test out my portable station. The fine weather this evening provided the ideal opportunity.
First I dug out the Yaesu FT857, removing it from the shack an replacing it with this old Yaesu FT211 which is fine for 2 metre FM use.

Next I took out my 12 volt portable pack and set up the FT857, Buddistick antenna, MFJ tuner and my "new" mini CW key and set it all up in the back garden.

The Buddistick was set up on the lawn and tuned for 40 metres

After tuning around a very lively 40 metre band I tried listening on CW. I was rewarded by a QSO with G0NXA. I was running 25watts and got a 559 report, not bad for the tiny Buddistick with two radial wires laid on the lawn!
At least I know the setup is working, hopefully I will have time to use it when I am Away.

Friday 20 July 2012

Key decisions

Following on from my last post I had also decided that I might try some CW operating when I next use the portable gear. In the past I have worked SSB only but with my very limited antenna system I should get better results with CW. I have two keys here in the shack, both my paddle key and the straight key are too large and possibly too fragile to take along in my portable kit. I mentioned this fact in a conversation on 2 metres a few days ago and a local GW3 friend told me he had three keys that he would be interested in selling.
A few days later he called around with the keys, leaving them with me to try them out and choose the one I liked.

You can see my own "Straight Key" at the rear to give some idea of the size of the smaller keys. Although initially I liked the look and feel of the key on the left,and it had quite a weighty base it wasn't the one I chose. I found it very difficult to adjust and wasn't too happy with the way that the lead that connects it is on the right hand side of the key rather than at the rear. The little key at the centre was my final choice although I really need to find a base for it now. Note the lever to the right of the key. Moving this closes the contacts so that the key is continuously  "down". I wonder was this designed to help "tuning up" so that you don't have to press the key down?

Portable power

The Yaesu FT857D that sits in my shack is slightly wasted in its current role as a two metre rig. I originally bought it some years ago to use for portable work and got to thinking that perhaps I should actually use it for that purpose.I also have a portable "Buddistick" vertical and  two suitable portable twelve volt power packs here. 
The first pack  large heavy unit which contains a 20ah battery which although its a few years old now still seems to hold a charge.

This is a useful piece of kit buts its heavy, not suitable for a long walk and too weighty to pop into a rucksack/backpack

The smaller pack is a lot lighter, it is a 12 volt 4.5ah rated pack. This unit  is older and I have recently found that even after a full charge it was only showing just over ten volts.
With nothing to loose I opened it up and found it contained two 6 volt batteries.

Luckily the electronics supplier Maplin stocks identically rated and sized batteries and I was able to replace these worn out items leaving me with a useful small pack again.

Amazingly for less than the cost of the new batteries I could have bought a whole new unit. I didnt do this because none of the new units I saw were as compact and light as this one and they had features I didn't need such as compressors for inflating tyres and jump leads for starting cars. All this unit has are the twelve volt sockets seen in the picture and a useful light at the rear.

Now all I need is some fine weather and free time to go portable again!

Monday 25 June 2012

Museum piece?

Last weekend I was lucky enough to take a trip up to London. Whilst there I visited the Science Museum.
Amongst the many exhibits there was a section on telecommunications. Since this is a museum I wasn't surprised to see exhibits such as the one below which shows a ships radio room from the early 1900's.

A little more of a surprise was the fact that there was a small section on Amateur and Citizens' band radio with exhibits that looked familiar, in fact the equipment on display is the same as that used by many radio amateurs today!

I am sure most of you will recognise the two amateur "rigs". The small transceiver on the bottom right is an "SMC Oscar One" mobile CB for the UK FM citizens band.
I guess these rigs are museum pieces being in excess of 30 years old now but I wonder how many museum goers will realise there are still plenty of similar radios in daily use!

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Sad News

If you are  in any way interested in Shortwave listening you may already have seen or heard the news that the English service of Radio Netherlands is closing down at the end of this month.
This in itself is not that surprising, many international broadcasters have left shortwave, generally replacing their broadcasts with an internet based service.
The shock news here is that Radio Netherlands is also closing its English webstream. so no more Radio Netherlands via my internet radio. This is a real shame RN's programmes were high quality and very informative in fact they were easily the most listened to station on my Internet Radio. So maybe we are not just witnessing the demise of shortwave broadcasting but also international broadcasting via the web. It is puzzling as in the past such broadcasters have always maintained an internet presence, In any event I will miss Radio Netherlands!

Saturday 12 May 2012

Adventures in Audio

Whilst I haven't been able to operate HF from home for the last few weeks I have been considering some small improvements I could make to the station. My Yaesu Ft1000MP which I have owned from new is capable of producing excellent transmit audio. I had always felt though that I hadn't really taken advantage of this.,
I was recently inspired by watching an episode of Ham Nation (well worth a look if you don't already know about it) a U.S based internet videocast full of amateur radio features and hosted by Bob Heil. In episode 36 there is a feature on improving audio.
Anyway I now have a "studio" type microphone hooked into a small mixer

Initial tests running the rig into a dummy load and monitoring on my R5000 receiver seem quite positive with punchy audio which is adjustable using the 3 band EQ on the mixer. The Microphone by the way is a fairly cheap "pro sound" unit obtained from Maplins.

Hopefully I can soon get this set up "on air" and get some audio reports.

No Shed, No antenna!

When I first moved to to this QTH I surveyed the garden looking for a suitable place to anchor the far end of my HF wire antenna.
At the end of my garden was this monstrosity

It was ugly, it leaked, the door didnt close properly and the window was missing! However it was a convenient place to bolt a pole to so that it could hold one end of my doublet antenna.

But it had to go and it now looks like this

So for now I have no HF antenna. I now need to to set up a pole and pulley system so that I can erect my new wire antenna. I have bought a commercial antenna called the Western HF10. There is a review of it on G0KYA's blog here. This antenna should just about fit in a straight line down my garden.
In addition I still have to put up my 10-15-20 hygain vertical. Sadly the poor weather and the amount of other household work I have been doing has got in the way!

Saturday 24 March 2012

How not to do it

From time to time its possible to hear bad signals in the amateur bands. Wide SSB signals, overdriven audio. In fact about a week ago I discovered I was getting some RF into my Kenwood MC80 base Mic and have swopped to a hand microphone whilst I get the problem sorted out.
But take a listen to this, far worse than any amateur signal I have ever heard.Its a Broadcast station on the 49 Metre band. I have noticed this awful transmission for a few weeks. It is I believe Radio Cairo, the signal splatters all over the band and is impossible to demodulate. Just to show its not a problem with my old Kenwood R5000, I switch quickly in the video to a "normal" AM signal.

In fact since taking this video I have found that Radio Cairo is supposedly transmitting on 6270, reception was no clearer there but with my R5000 tuned to 6285 you can see how wide and awful their signal is!


Saturday 11 February 2012

A Pleasant suprise

Calling CQ on PSK 31 on what appeared to be a dead  30 metre band here  tonight resulted in a a couple of Stateside QSOs with KA1KE and WA1TFV. I seems my doublet, despite being fairly low at the moment is working quite well on this band. 10 Mhz is quite often overlooked being such a narrow band but it can prove interesting.

Saturday 28 January 2012

January Update

When I moved to this QTH one of the first things I did was to hang the Wellbrook receive loop in the shack window to see what I could receive.
In the past although I had read that the loop could be successful indoors I found that mine picked up too much noise in the shack. I have to say that using it at this location. it has proved pretty effective indoors. I guess this is a quieter location Yes of course it will be better when it as eventually located outside but for now it has proved a very useful receive antenna particularly on the lower bands and considering its location it has worked surprisingly well.
As far as HF transmitting antennas are concerned I was until two weeks ago using a half size G5RV with inductors on it to allow it to tune on 80 metres. The main reason I was using this antenna was that it was quick and easy to erect and I just wanted something to get me on -air again. The '5RV worked fairly well until about a month ago when we had some very stormy weather here in South Wales. Although the antenna stayed up it refused to tune up! Bringing it down I checked the feedpoint, the coax cable, the inductors. I could not find the problem. In desperation I put  up a doublet antenna I had made some time ago. It was a bit of a challenge to fit the 40 metre long doublet in my 20 metre long garden. However folding the ends back I have done it and I am fairly pleased with it on 40 and 80 metres. It also seems to receive well enough on 160metres but a few tests indicate its not very effective on transmit there. Neither is it as good as the little 5RV on the higher bands. Anotherincentive to set up my HYGAIN vertical for 10, 15 and 20 I think!