Monday, 11 December 2017

The FA-VA4 Vector Antenna Analyzer (LF-100MHz)





For some time I had been considering the purchase of the MFJ259 antenna analyzer but after a little online sleuthing, came across this little beauty, the FA-VA4 Antenna Analyzer by Funk Amateur in Germany and available through their Box73 website here.





I liked the fact that the cost of the analyzer was about half that of anything else comparable ($140 US including shipping) and that it covered the new 2200 / 630m bands!

I think many amateurs planning on building a system for either of these new bands will find the very affordable FA-VA4 a handy piece of equipment when it comes to working on their LF / MF antenna since most available SWR meters do not cover these frequencies accurately.

Delivery time was fast and everything was very well packaged. The FA-VA4 comes in partial kit form and requires only a short amount of time to put together.


The necessary assembly consists of soldering pin strip connectors, switches, AA cell holders, and the BNC connector. All of the tricky SMD components have been pre-mounted ... total assembly time was less than 60 minutes and everything fired-up nicely, without problems, thanks to the well written instruction / user manual.


Included with the kit are three BNC connectors needed to calibrate the instrument for the highest accuracy. These consist of a 'Shorted' connector, an 'Open' connector and a 50 ohm 'Load' connector (SOL). A simple three-part calibration procedure for all frequencies takes about 15 minute to complete, while the instrument calibrates itself as it scans through all frequency ranges with each connector plugged into the output. Once this task is completed, the analyzer is ready for use.


If you're like me, I think the main use will be to check out and tweak some of your HF antennas using the SWR or Z sweep function. This allows you to set a desired 'center' frequency along with a + / - sweep range and have the display draw a nice plot of your system.

Had my 630m antenna not already been tuned and matched, I would have found the analyzer to be a great help but, thanks to my 'scopematch', that antenna has already been optimised.

All menu features and data entry is via three momentary-contact push switches. Although this might initially seem awkward, it is not, and operation is pretty intuitive.

The main modes of operation are:

Single Frequency SWR  Measurement

courtesy: http://www.box73.com/product/5

Single Frequency Impedance Measurement

courtesy: http://www.box73.com/product/5

Single SWR Measurement Run

courtesy: http://www.box73.com/product/5

Single Run For Impedance Measurement (Resistance and Reactance)

courtesy: http://www.box73.com/product/5

SWR Measurement On Five Frequencies (5 Band Measurement)

courtesy: http://www.box73.com/product/5

As well, all of the above can be viewed in a continuous 'cycle' mode, as inputs are changed and all screens can be saved for future reference.

Additional capabilities include use in an HF Signal Generator Mode (~ 1V square wave @50 ohms), the ability to measure C and L at a given frequency, as a 'dip meter' and to measure cable resonances and determine lengths.

The complete manual may also be downloaded from their website here.

I will soon put all of my antennas to the test and see what work might need to be done to optimize them, particularly my HF half slopers, which, in spite of their great performance, have always proven a bit of a mystery when it comes to pruning them to resonance ... I rather suspect that the sloping wires are more of an impedance tuning stub than a radiator and that most radiation comes from the vertical support tower, not the sloping wire.

All-in-all, the FA-VA4 appears to offer very good value for the money and is a well built, quality test instrument. I think it will become a popular choice among hams, especially those on LF / MF. The only thing different that I would have liked, would be to have a UHF (SO 239) connector rather than a BNC on the output, since most amateurs are using these on their HF systems ... or, the inclusion of a BNC-to-UHF adapter.

If you already use this device, please feel free to add your comments below!

Monday, 4 December 2017

Upcoming '29 BK QSO Party

courtesy: Lou, VE3AWA




This Saturday night as well as the next will be the annual Bruce Kelley 1929 QSO Party, otherwise known as the '1929 BK'.





Only transmitters that are 'era-appropriate' are allowed to be used. More specifically, transmitters must employ tubes that were available in 1929 or earlier, and transmitters must be self-excited. No crystals allowed! Crystals were new and largely unaffordable for most hams back in the depression days.

1929 marked a real turning point in amateur radio as governments finally cracked-down on things such as frequency stability, out of band operations and re-alignment of call districts. In short, hams were henceforth required to behave themselves and to clean up their signals and methods of operation.

courtesy: http://www.arrl.org/
Although the new rules did a lot to improve things when it came to 'signal purity', there was still a long way to go ... but the wheels of improvement had been officially set in motion. The next decade would see monumental changes in both transmitter and receiver architecture, as engineers along with some particularly gifted amateurs, strove to unlock the challenges of this relatively new technology.

If you tune across the CW bands during the next two Saturday nights, you will have the rare opportunity to hear exactly what the bands must have sounded like back in the early '30s'.

For the most part you will hear single tube Hartley, Colpitts or TNT oscillators along with a few two-tube MOPAs thrown in. Many of them will suffer the same problems encountered by the boys of '29 ... chirp, drift, buzzy notes and frequency instability from antennas swaying in the wind.

This year, signals should be a little louder as well, since the previous power limitation of 10W input has been increased to 25W.

The MOPAs will sound much better but some surprisingly nice-sounding signals can be heard coming from properly tuned and optimised single-tube oscillators. I recall being blown away by the lovely sounding signal I heard from such a rig when first tuning into the BK activity several years ago, only to learn that it was a self-excited Hartley using 1/4" copper tubing for the oscillator tank circuit!

The '29 watering-hole on 80m will be around 3550-3580 kilocycles (be careful not to confuse this with kilohertz!) while the early afternoon to post-sunset 40m activity will be found from 7100-7125 kc. There may even be a few on the very low end of 160m. Although many of these transmitter styles were used on 20m and higher, BK rule-makers have wisely decided not to inflict these sounds on the present populace as it would likely keep the 'Official Observers' busy for several days writing pink-slips.

You can learn more about amateur radio happenings leading up to and following the 1929 crackdown in my earlier series of 'Why '29' blogs here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Those wishing to put something together for next year's event can find everything needed here:

Introduction To Building ... '29-Style

Building '29-Style - Part 1

Building '29-Style - Part 2

Heck, there me even be time to throw something together for the following Saturday if you have a few parts and an older tube or two ... the '27 comes to mind and is readily found in many junk boxes. Maybe you know an old-timer or two with lots of parts that could help you out.

Let's hope for good conditions for this event as the last few years have been adversely affected by geomagnetic storming. Poor propagation or not, I guarantee there will be plenty of '29ers busy calling 'CQ AWA' on the low bands.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

CLE 225 Results


The recent CLE activity saw mixed conditions throughout North America. The general consensus was that propagation was just 'OK' but lightning noise continued to be a problem for some beacon hunters.

Here in B.C., propagation was fairly flat on all three nights, with Sunday night providing the lowest noise levels. Signals were generally weak and somewhat 'mushy' at times, with propagation still being affected by high speed solar winds and an elevated 'K' index.

North America  results show the following stats:

23 Reporters
184 Different NDBs heard
934 Reports

Most Heard NDBs:
Rprts QRG ID Name ITU
=============================================
18 216,0 CLB Wilmington / Carolina Beach USA
14 198,0 DIW Dixon USA
14 223,0 YYW Armstrong CAN
13 200,0 UAB Anahim Lake CAN
12 206,0 QI Yarmouth CAN
12 214,0 LU Cultus' Abbotsford CAN
12 218,0 RL Red Lake CAN
12 227,0 CG Castlegar CAN
12 233,0 QN Nakina CAN
11 235,0 CN Cochrane CAN

I was happy to see that 'LU' near Abbotsford, B.C. and pictured in the last blog, was well heard. Reports of the mountain-meadow beacon came from Hawaii in the west to Illinois in the east and everywhere in between.

The following NDB's were heard here on Mayne Island, B.C., using the Perseus SDR feeding my low frequency inverted-L antenna, resonated to 200 KHz for the weekend event:

25 05:00 198.0 DIW Dixon, NC, USA
25 05:00 200.0 YJ Sidney Island, BC, CAN
26 10:00 200.0 UAB Anahim Lake, BC, CAN
25 07:00 201.0 ZWN Winnipeg, MB, CAN
26 09:00 201.0 YKX Kirkland Lake, ON, CAN
25 18:00 201.0 IP Y Mobile, AZ, USA
27 21:43 201.0 BV Bartlesville, OK, USA
25 07:00 203.0 ZKI Kitimat, BC, CAN
25 07:00 203.0 YBL Campbell River, BC, CAN
25 07:00 203.0 TCY Tracy, CA, USA
25 06:00 204.0 ZQR Regina, SK, CAN
25 10:00 204.0 YFY Iqaluit, NU, CAN
25 11:00 206.0 SOW Show Low, AZ, USA
26 06:00 206.0 IIB Independence, IA, USA
25 05:00 206.0 EF Castlegar, BC, CAN
25 10:00 207.0 YNE Norway House, MB, CAN
25 10:00 207.0 PY Fort Chipewyan, AB, CAN
25 09:00 208.0 YSK Sanikiluaq, NU, CAN
26 09:00 209.0 ITR Burlington, CO, USA
25 08:00 209.0 IB Atikokan, ON, CAN
25 09:00 209.0 HGT Jolon, CA, USA
25 06:00 209.0 CYT Yakataga, ALS
25 09:00 211.0 HDG Gooding, ID, USA
25 10:00 212.0 YGX Gillam, MB, CAN
25 10:00 212.0 CGL Juneau, ALS
26 13:00 212.0 CFV Coffeyville, KS, USA
25 05:00 214.0 LU Abbotsford, BC, CAN
27 06:00 214.0 CHX Choix, MEX
25 09:00 215.0 ZAB Edmonton, AB, CAN
25 08:00 216.0 GRF Fort Lewis, WA, USA
25 08:00 216.0 CLB Wilmington, NC, USA
25 06:00 218.0 RL Red Lake, ON, CAN
25 05:00 218.0 PR Prince Rupert, BC, CAN
26 08:00 218.0 AL Alton, IL, USA
25 06:00 219.0 ZRS Regina, SK, CAN
26 08:00 220.0 RBJ Tucson, AZ, USA
25 07:00 220.0 HLE Hailey, ID, USA
25 08:00 221.0 QU Grande Prairie, AB, CAN
25 08:00 222.0 WY Wrigley, NT, CAN
26 10:00 223.0 YYW Armstrong, ON, CAN
25 05:00 223.0 YKA Kamloops, BC, CAN
25 13:00 223.0 AFE Kake, ALS
25 05:00 224.0 DN Dauphin, MB, CAN
25 11:00 224.0 BK Baker Lake, NU, CAN
25 14:00 225.0 X5 Vegreville, AB, CAN
25 14:00 225.0 LWG Lewisburg, OR, USA
25 07:00 227.0 YAC Cat Lake, ON, CAN
27 09:00 227.0 FZ St. Louis, MO, USA
25 05:00 227.0 CG Castlegar, BC, CAN
25 05:00 227.0 9X Brooks Apt, AB, CAN
25 07:00 229.0 AKW Klawockt, ALS
25 06:00 230.0 YD Smithers, BC, CAN
25 09:00 230.0 VG Vermilion, AB, CAN
25 13:00 230.0 BI Bismarck, ND, USA
25 07:00 233.0 QN Nakina, ON, CAN
25 07:00 233.0 OKS Oshkosh, NE, USA
25 06:00 233.0 ALJ Hinchinbrook Island, ALS
25 11:00 236.0 YZA Ashcroft, BC, CAN
25 11:00 236.0 FOR Forsyth, MT, USA
26 11:00 238.0 K5 Maple Creek, SK, CAN
25 11:00 239.0 OJ High Level, AB, CAN
26 12:30 239.0 BBB Benson, MN, USA


The logs / reports from all participants may be viewed here on the NDB List website. 

As luck would have it, the three nights following the CLE have been fantastic on MF which seems to happen all to often.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Hunting For NDBs In CLE 225

LU - 214 KHz

This coming weekend will see another monthly CLE challenge. This time the hunting grounds will be: 190 - 239.9 kHz PLUS normal NDBs on 'half-way' frequencies nnn.5 kHz (from 190.5 - 999.5 kHz).

For those unfamiliar with this monthly activity, a 'CLE' is a 'Co-ordinated Listening Event', as NDB DXers around the world focus their listening time on one small slice of the NDB spectrum.

 

A nice challenge in this one is to hear the Abbotsford (BC) NDB, 'LU', on 214 kHz. This is the beacon associated with Abbotsford Int'l Airport, Vancouver International's alternate for foggy conditions. It is located in a breathtaking mountain meadow location at the foot of the North Cascade Mountains. It's 500W Nautel drives a 100' vertical and with all of that space, I suspect a very robust ground system.

'LU' gets out very well and has been heard from Hawaii to New England and should be a good propagation indicator for many North American participants.  Look for 'LU's upper-sideband CW identifier, repeated every 10.4 seconds, on 214.404 kHz with your receiver in the CW mode.

Usually November provides some excellent propagation as the summer thunderstorms have pretty much run their course but the recent warning of upcoming geomagnetic activity may, once again, mean something else in store for us. Often these 'warnings' are not as dire as they might appear and MF propagation remains robust or even enhanced. 

If you are interested in building a system for the new (U.S.) 630m band, the CLE will give you the chance to test out your MF receiving capabilities and compare against what others in your area might be hearing.

When tuning for NDBs, put your receiver in the CW mode and listen for the NDB's CW identifier, repeated every few seconds. Listen for U.S. NDB identifiers approximately 1 kHz higher or lower than the published transmitted frequency since these beacons are modulated with a 1020 Hz tone approximately.

For example, 'AA' in Fargo transmits on 365 kHz and its upper sideband CW identifier is tuned at 366.025 kHz while its lower sideband CW ident can be tuned at 363.946 kHz. Its USB tone is actually 1025 Hz while its LSB tone is 1054 Hz.

Often, one sideband will be much stronger than the other so if you don't hear the first one, try listening on the other sideband.

Canadian NDBs normally have an USB tone only, usually very close to 400 Hz. They also have a long dash (keydown) following the CW identifier.

All NDBs heard in North America will be listed in the RNA database (updated daily) while those heard in Europe may be found in the REU database. Beacons heard outside of these regions will be found in the RWW database.

From CLE organizer Brian Keyte, G3SIA, comes the usual 'heads-up':


Hello all,

Do try not to miss our 225th co-ordinated listening event - it starts this
Friday at midday. We can hope for good conditions, some comfortable
listening and opportunities to catch some good DX.
This should be ideal to try out a CLE for the first time.

Days: Fri. 24 - Mon. 27 November, Midday-Midday, your local time

Frequencies: 1) NDBs from 190 - 239.9 kHz

PLUS: 2) Normal NDBs on 'half-way' frequencies nnn.5 kHz
(from 190.5 - 999.5 kHz)

So for all of us it is a CLE in two parts - the first part is hunting for
the NDBs whose published frequencies are lower than 240 kHz.
The second part is hunting for the NDBs whose carrier frequencies
are 'half-way'. E.g. 284.5 DY, 333.5 VOG, 370.5 LB, 381.5 SJX (in MI),
390.5 ITR, 433.5 HEN ( Not nnn.6, etc. )

'Normal' NDBs - no DGPS, please.

(Most Europe listeners will hear few or none from part 1, while
listeners away from Europe will hear few or none from part 2)

The Seeklists from REU/RNA/RWW will help you – you will find them
from the link on the CLE page http://www.ndblist.info/cle.htm

Please send your CLE log to the List, if possible as a plain text email and
not in an attachment, showing 'CLE225' at the start of its title. (Loggings
from both parts can be shown together in the same list if you wish)
Please include on EVERY line of your log:

# The date (or just the day 'dd') and UTC (days change at 00:00 UTC).
# kHz - the beacon's nominal frequency.
# The Call Ident.

It is important to show those main items FIRST - any other optional
details such as Location, Distance, etc. go LATER in the same line.

Don't forget to give your OWN location and details of your receiver and
aerial(s), etc. Others will be interested to know, especially new members
- and old ones with memories like mine!

Also, please ALWAYS send your last log with ‘FINAL’ in the subject.
## That is important even if you send no interim logs ##

Listening on the 'half-way' frequencies means we might also catch some
interesting non-CLE beacons - please tell us about those too, but in a
separate list. If any of them are UNIDs whose carriers seem to be on
'half-way' frequencies include them in your main list of course.

Joachim and I will be processing the incoming logs – please look out for
our 'Any More Logs?' email at about 18:00 UTC on Tuesday evening,
with a list to let you check that your log has been found OK.
Joachim will again be making the combined results for us.

Do make sure that your log has arrived on the NDB List at the very latest
by 09:00 UTC on Wednesday 29 November.

Good listening
Brian
----------------------------------------------------------
From: Brian Keyte G3SIA ndbcle'at'gmail.com
Location: Surrey, SE England (CLE Coordinator)
----------------------------------------------------------

(If you wish you could use any one remote receiver for your loggings,
stating the location and owner – and with their permission if required.
A remote listener may NOT also use another receiver, local or remote,
to make further loggings for the same CLE.

These listening events serve several purposes. They:
  • determine, worldwide, which beacons are actually in service and on-the-air so the online database can be kept up-to-date
  • determine, worldwide, which beacons are out-of-service or have gone silent since the last CLE covering this range
  • will indicate the state of propagation conditions at the various participant locations
  • will give you an indication of how well your LF/MF receiving system is working
  • give participants a fun yet challenging activity to keep their listening skills honed

Final details can be found at the NDB List website, and worldwide results, for every participant, will be posted there a few days after the event. If you are a member of the ndblist Group, results will also be e-mailed and posted there.

The very active Yahoo ndblist Group is a great place to learn more about the 'Art of NDB DXing' or to meet other listeners in your region. There is a lot of good information available there and new members are always very welcome. As well, you can follow the results of other CLE participants from night to night as propagation is always an active topic of discussion.

You need not be an ndblist member to participate in the CLEs and all reports, no matter how small, are of much value to the organizers. 

'First-time' logs are always VERY welcome!

Reports may be sent to the ndblist or e-mailed to either myself or CLE co-ordinator, Brian Keyte (G3SIA), whose address appears above.

Please ... give the CLE a try ... then let us know what NDB's can be heard from your location! Your report can then be added to the worldwide database to help keep it up-to-date.

Have fun and good hunting!
__._,_.__

Monday, 20 November 2017

Best Digital Mode? ... Not Really

For the past year, as interest in the digital modes began to skyrocket, I have been reading the topical discussions and questions posted in the WSJT Yahoo Group.




Since the introduction of FT8, the group's daily traffic has soared and easily occupies the vast majority of inquiry.

Far and away, most questions either involve software / computer configuration problems or inquiries involving the operational use of the software itself. I am often surprised at the range of inquiry and in almost all questions involving the software itself, it just comes down to 'reading the manual' ... it seems that hams, like so many others, just don't like to read manuals and for a technically-oriented hobby, I find this peculiar. Perhaps it's because I'm just the opposite, and will usually go over instructional material, more than once, before plugging something in or installing any new software.

Not all digital modes are 'created equal' nor with the same purpose in mind and for those new to these modes or making the transition from traditional mode operations, sorting them out can often be a source of confusion. One such user broached this very topic with his recent inquiry:

I have been using JT65 and FT8 a lot, mainly on 6m DX to receive weak signals in the noise floor. QSB is acting fast there and the 15s intervals are a major advantage of FT8 to be able to complete rare contacts.
But which algorithm is better to decode weak signals in theory and practice? Do the long intervals allow the JT65 algorithm to decode weaker signals than FT8?
If both modes are equivalent is there any reason to use JT65 rather than FT8?

Bill, G4WJS, has been handling most of the technical inquiries and I thought his reply might help others that could be wondering the same thing:

... simple answer, neither wins in all situations. Each mode in WSJT-X is designed for a certain set of requirements and given those the protocol and the decoders try to optimize sensitivity and robustness.
JT65 was designed initially for EME where ultimate sensitivity was necessary and one minute T/R periods with variable bandwidths between 180Hz up to 400Hz, to cope with Doppler spreading, was deemed acceptable for practical QSOs.

FT8 is not as sensitive, a few dB behind JT65A but as you point out it is particularly suitable for multi-hop 6m Es propagation where openings can be very short. This is no surprise as it was crafted for exactly that. OTOH FT8 has become *very* popular on HF, probably because most HF QSOs do not need ultimate sensitivity and the 15s T/R period makes QSOs four times as fast compared with JT65. This last attribute is surely what is driving the massive uptake on HF on the current "easy DX" propagation bands like 20m for daylight paths and 40m for darkness paths.

JT9 was designed for HF and uses about 1/10 of the bandwidth of JT65A along with even better sensitivity. Unfortunately many users use ancient software with no JT9 support or are working through JT65 goals like WAS mode specific endorsements so JT9 does not get the attention it deserves. Although JT9 works for many on 6m, the tighter frequency tolerance required is a limitation for many with older rigs.

Both FT8 and JT65A have two pass decoders that can dig out multiple overlapping signals (similar techniques could be developed for JT9 but the need has not been seen yet).

FT8 has the AP decoder which gets a couple of dB extra sensitivity for critical decodes and also helps with truncated or interrupted messages in some cases.

WSPR is a pseudo beacon mode that uses a short message and two minute T/R period that has greater sensitivity than even JT9 despite the signal being only 6Hz wide. WSPR like JT65A and FT8 uses a two pass decoder capable of decoding overlapping signals.

There is also MSK144, QRA64, JT4, the fast versions of JT9, ISCAT, FreqCal and Echo mode. Each with a specific purpose and maybe for other opportunities they were not initially designed for.

For myself, I have yet to download the latest WSJT-X release, as I presently have no need, nor see the need to use FT8. To utilize the new release, I think I'll need to delete my older (pre-FT8) version, in order to avoid file confliction problems. My older version works very well for what I do need, and that is JT9. There are a few features on the software that I also find handy, which have been removed in the newer versions ... I think.
I can however, visualize losing out on some great DX opportunities on 6m during the summer, if the huge exodus from the CW DX mode to the FT8 mode continues to escalate. I really hate the idea of this happening but if that's what it takes, I'll install the FT8 version on my small contest-logging laptop which means building a new interface to run the 756PROIII on FT8.

Of course there is always the possibility that the trend will reverse as many eventually find that FT8 contacts are not all that interesting. The inability to exchange anything other than minimal required QSO information is the price paid for that extra sensitivity ... fine for that once in awhile new one in the log but not very satisfying for everyday communications.

The 'reversing trend' was also addressed in a recent posting to the WSJT Yahoo Group:

In my opinion it is nice to see a steady return to JT65 & JT9.
An all round better mode.
Still a bit short on the DX stations but I am sure they will follow soon.

Pretty much what a lot of us said would happen: an initial surge to FT8 and then things would settle down. Just another tool in the toolbox that does not have to be “better” or “worse” than anything else that has a few advantages over some modes in some areas (Es, for example) and disadvantages over others. None of these modes has to be classified as “good,” “bad,” “better,” “worse,” etc just like I don’t consider a screwdriver “better” overall than a hammer but each tool does a different thing. I suppose it’s human nature to attempt to classify things that way.

I have also seen some confusion when some are describing WSPR 'QSOs'. This is disturbing since there can never be a two-way exchange of information, all via radio (a QSO) using the one-way WSPR beacon-mode. Some may be confusing 'WSPR QSO's' for the actual Weak-Signal two-way 'WSPR QSO'  modes such as JT65, JT9, FT8 etc. 

Since WSPR relies on an internet back-channel exchange of information (to see where you've been heard), there is no actual on-air exchange of the data needed to claim a legitimate contact. To make such a claim would be no different than two stations, each running a beacon and calling each other up on the telephone to say that they can hear each other and calling it a two-way 'QSO'!

I have been using, and will continue to use JT9 on the new 630m band where signal levels are often too marginal for CW work but easily handled with this digital QSO mode ... otherwise I'll keep pounding brass whenever I can!

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

It's 'Bug Roundup' Weekend!

Vibroplex "Blue Racer"



Ever since earning my ticket as a teenager back in '63, almost all of my on-air activity has been focused on CW ... I've always loved it.




Back when I first got on the air there were very few amateurs using keyers. Most used bugs and the remainder used hand keys. It was very easy to tune across the band and identify any of the locals just by the sound of their fist ... like snowflakes, no two were the same. The same went for most stations that were very active. DX or otherwise, one could usually tell who it was, long before the callsigns were sent.
So much has changed now with the almost exclusive use of electronic keyers and everyone pretty much sounds the same, which is rather unfortunate I think.

Once my interest in building vintage-style vacuum-tube transmitters evolved, my interest in bugs was reactivated and over the years I have purchased a few more.

I'll do everything I can to promote and encourage the use of CW and especially hand-generated CW. That's why I was excited, once again, to read a recent e-mail from W6SFM, posted to several lists that I read, announcing the Bug Roundup!

The Samuel F. Morse Amateur Radio Club, a Sacramento, California based CW enthusiast club wanted a special time to bring bug operators together on the air. In the same spirit as ARRL's Straight Key Night, participants are encouraged to make simple, conversational, “chewing-the-fat” QSOs using their bug type key. This is an opportunity to exercise, share and exhibit your personalized fist. This is NOT a contest. 

However, there is a very easy and quick required signup form found at https://w6sfm.com/bug-roundup/

Once you are registered for the event simply call "CQ BR" so folks know you are a Bug Roundup Participant. So lets grab that bug, clean those contacts, and let’er fly! We want to hear that “Banana Boat / Lake Erie Swing" or that commercial KPH/WCC quality fist.

Reserve the date! The event begins on Friday November 17th (00:00 UTC) and concludes Sunday Nov. 19th (23:59 UTC), 2017.


That's 4:00 PM Friday evening until 3:59 PM Pacific Time (LOCAL)

For more information, to register your station, and to help assist in spotting, potentially increasing QSOs, an On-line chat window link can be found near the bottom of Bug Roundup home page located at https://w6sfm.com/bug-roundup/ We hope to hear you all on the air! 73, W6SFM


courtesy: arrl.org
Sounds like a fun event and I'll have a tough job deciding on which bug to use but it'll probably be the Blue Racer once again. Please be sure to register for the event and see if you can squeeze-in a few hours of nice old bug-generated CW!

Monday, 6 November 2017

An Old Friend Found






Several years ago, like many other hams, I was stricken with 'Tuna Tin fever' and purchased a Tuna Tin II kit from the Norcal QRP group.





Escaping the summer heat a few months later, I put it together over one weekend in July. As it turned out, it was probably the best $13 I ever spent on my hobby.

I fired it up the next morning and put out my first 250mW 'CQ' on the 7040 KHz 40m QRP calling frequency. Back then, 7040 was ground-zero for forty meter QRP fanatics and there always seemed to be folks monitoring while working at the bench on their latest project. Given the time of day and the mid-summer propagation, I really didn't have high hopes but I was immediately answered by KJ7AN in Dallas, Oregon who gave me a 579 report!

Over the next three days I worked several more stations in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and even California. I was truly delighted with the little rig's performance but assumed that my pint-sized signal would probably not go much farther than the nearby western states and maybe, if I was very lucky, a few more Californians.

All that changed early on the morning of August 6th! About an hour after sunrise, my tentative hand-keyed 'CQ' was answered by Steve, NØTU in Colorado!! Steve had been enjoying his morning coffee while the quiet hiss of 7040 in the background was broken with my very weak 'CQ'. We had a good solid QSO and after it was over, I realized that the little Tin had a lot more potential than I had realized. It seemed to me that if my little signal could skip all the way to Colorado in August, then it should go a LOT further during the winter DX season ... perhaps far enough to work all fifty states? It was at that point that I decided to give it a try.

I re-pruned my 40m half-sloper as well as adding 35 buried radials and as the fall DX season approached, I watched 7040 every weekend ... the new states soon began piling up.


To shorten the story, in early December of that winter, I worked WG7Y in Wyoming for state #50 to claim the first-ever Tuna Tin 'Worked All States' ... all on 7040 KHz. Unfortunately the ARRL does not have any special endorsements for Tuna Tins but they did stamp my 'WAS' certificate with a 'QRP' notation!

At some point in the intervening years, the little Tin's final amplifier, the ubiquitous 2N2222, went south. As I removed and examined the tiny old battle-scarred soldier, I remembered so many hours of late-night pleasure it had brought me, along with some memorable sessions ... one being a snowy late Friday night opening to the east coast that put the last three needed New England states into my log in less than thirty-minutes.


I carefully placed the little transistor in a piece of anti-static foam, not that it needed protection, but as a keepsake and a reminder of its noble past. Possibly I would mount it on a nice hardwood base in the future.

Earlier this year I noticed, when cleaning the shack, that the little black keepsake could not be located ... I figured that it must have got sucked-up in the shop-vac during one of my rare shop clean-up days.

I always empty the shop-vac, which consists mostly of fine sawdust or wood shavings, onto my large pile of lawn-mower clippings, which seems to stay about three-feet high no matter how much I keep adding.

Emptying the grass catcher last week, during the final mowing of the season, a small black object sticking out from mid-pile caught my eye. It was indeed my old friend and, after reaching out to 50 states, she still had enough left for one last call to me! I'll take much better care of her now and keep her in a safe place, away from the nasty shop-vac.


I eventually went on to build a 20m Tuna Tin, also crystal-controlled on which, at last check, had brought 46 states and a DXCC total of 21 countries. This inspired a 'mini-tuna', built into a small cat-food tin and using just a barebones 2N2222 crystal oscillator. This one has brought 33 states over the years.



I have more Tuna Tin info, along with circuit information on my main web site here ... but be warned -- 'Tuna Tin fever' can strike anywhere at anytime.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

160m FT8 - The End Of An Era?

courtesy: https://pskreporter.info/pskmap.html
If you follow any of the numerous ham radio-related discussion groups then you know that every once in awhile a thread pops up that triggers some extended and often heated chat.

One such thread on the Topband reflector, is now finally starting to gasp its final breath but not before running through several dozens of well-thought replies and opinions. I can easily imagine a similar thread, had the Internet been around, when SSB quickly began taking over the phone bands!

The thread began when veteran 160m DXer Steve, (VK6VZ) posted an observation that also hit home with me ... the seemingly overnight disappearance of a huge percentage of CW / SSB activity on the HF bands.

Steve's comments are directed towards 160m, where weak signal work has always been an enjoyable but challenging activity but I have noticed the same effect on my other favorite band, 50MHz. With the sudden popularity of the new FT8 weak-signal fast-mode, the bands have changed.

As I and others have often stated about Topband DXing, 6m weak-signal DX as well as EME, "if it were easy, it wouldn't be fun" ... perhaps that is what has now happened. Both Steve and myself see many of the things we have cherished and enjoyed about ham radio for so many years now harder to find and wonder ... is it the end of an era or not?

G'day

As a committed (yeah, that’s probably the right word - complete with white
jacket that laces up at the back) topbander since 1970, I’ve never been so
intrigued and disturbed by anything on the band as the emergence of the
Franke-Taylor FT-8 digital mode.

For me, radio has always been all about what I audibly hear. I love all the
sounds that radio signals make - and even miss the comforting sound of Loran that I grew up with around 1930kHz as a teenager in south-east England. Yeah, I am one sick puppy.

With the emergence of high resolution bandscopes through SDR technology over the last decade, I embraced that as it meant that I could find what DX stations I wanted to hear and contact quicker and more easily (and, in particular, before those stations who didn’t have the same technology).

It was really exciting and enhanced the sensual experience of radio by being
able to see what I could hear (and no dinosaur me, I was an SDR fan boy!).

During this period, there has also been an extraordinary development in digital
radio modes, in particular by Joe Taylor K1JT.

As a topbander I could see that these modes in which you ‘saw’ signals through the medium of computer screen or window as being a remarkable technical achievement, but had relatively little to do what I and the vast majority of active radio amateurs practiced as radio on 160m, as it had nothing to do with the audible.

The good thing was that I could see that good old CW and Silly Slop Bucket (you can see where my prejudices lie) that I like to use were still the modes of choice for weak signal DX topband radio contact as these fancy digital modes were either very slow or, if they weren’t, were not good at dealing with signals that faded up and down or were covered in varying amounts of noise. 
 

While some amateurs seemed to have lost the pleasure of actually hearing
signals in favour of viewing them on their computer screens, I felt secure that
these digital modes were just a minor annoyance and any serious DXer or
DXpedition was never going to seriously going to use them, particularly on my
first and all-time love topband, for other than experimentation.

Then, out of the blue, along comes FT-8. Joe and Steve Franke K9AN have quietly created the holy grail of digital operation with a mode that can have QSOs almost as fast as CW and SSB and over the last eight weeks 160m DXing has changed, perhaps for ever.

Where once there were a few weak CW and SSB signals (I am in VK6, which is a looong way from anywhere with a population so we only ever hear a few), I can see that the busiest part of the band is 1840 kHz – FT-8 central.  On some nights I can see FT-8 signals on the band but no CW or SSB.

There are countries I’ve dreamed for 20 years of hearing on 160m SSB/CW (for example, KG4) regularly appearing on DX clusters and I can see the heap of FT-8 activity on my band scope.

Frustration sets in and I even downloaded the FT-8 software but, when it comes down to it,  I just can’t use it. My heart isn’t in it.

My computer will be talking to someone else’s computer and there will be no
sense of either a particular person’s way of sending CW or the tone of their
voice (even the way some my SSB mates overdrive their transceivers is actually creating nostalgia in me). The human in radio has somehow been lost.

I think back to my best-ever 160m SSB contact with Pedro NP4A and I can still
hear the sound of his voice, his accent, when he came up out of the noise and
to my amazement answered me on my second call, with real excitement in his
voice. Pure radio magic!

So I am sitting here, feeling depressed and wondering if overnight I have
become a dinosaur and this is the beginning of the end of topband radio as I’ve
always enjoyed it.

Now, over to you other topbanders, especially those who have dabbled with FT-8 and live in more populous areas. Has the world really turned upside down and what do you think the future holds?

Vy 73

Steve, VK6VZ/G3ZZD



Here are just a few of some of the comments elicited by Steve's post:

... we are not forced to use the new modes. On the other hand, these new modes enable a whole new layer of operators. A new target rich environment for more opportunities to work new DX. The RF still has to go from A to B to be decoded 

I think the game changing aspect of FT8 is that many folks who would normally be available to work on CW or SSB  will now be on FT8.   The amount of activity on the FT8 frequency of any band is phenomenal.

... he was sending (me) a text message that he was sending me RRR and I needed to be sending him 73! Who needs a radio?

I turned off the radio and uninstalled WSJT-X.

Pure and simple —- No skill, no thrill.

I hear a lot of moaning that there is not any cw ....... well quit moaning and call CQ for a while ... do it often, not just listen .

Stu W1BB had the attitude of do whatever you have to to make the DX contacts. There is no doubt in my mind that he would be using JT9, FT8, spark or whatever it took to make new country contacts.

FT8 is already falling victim of its own success. In my case, the number of incomplete QSOs is increasing, due to QRM caused by 'over population' in the FT8 segment.

There was a time when SSB was considered evil.

If using a digital mode keeps someone involved in ham radio or generates new interest, then I'm all for it.

On the other hand, these new modes enable a whole new layer of operators. A new target rich environment for more opportunities to work new DX. The RF still has to go from A to B to be decoded.

A similar situation regarding digital modes took place on 50 MHz this summer. In the case of 6 meters, JT65 and FT8 are now the predominant modes for DX work on 6 meters. During terrestrial sporadic-E openings, there are very few DX stations now operating CW or SSB on 6.  Meteor scatter is the realm of MSK144.  If you want to work DX on 6 meters now - digital is where it is at.

Like FT8 or dislike it, it's really not the end of Ham Radio.

Technology is constantly changing. Get on the air.  Do your thing. Have fun.  When it ceases to be fun for me, then I know I'll move onto something else.

I've been licensed for over 60 years, and have been a thankful participant in ham radio's golden years, but if continuing on means having to make qso's that I don't hear and that I can't understand without a computer, then it's of no further interest.

I almost bought the new transceiver I've been wanting this year .... until I saw the reflector post about the gentleman who "worked 20 new ones this season, and I couldn't hear any of them!" The new purchase is now on hold, until I see how this plays out. If there is a rapid change to digital only DXing on 160, I'm going to be happy I saved my money for one of my more interesting hobbies.

The problem is not the type of mode but the Internet. We're spending too much time ragchewing on these groups instead of tickling the ether.

However, the trouble with the computer-based Digital modes is that there is no SKILL involved in having a contact - it's your Computer having a contact!
 

You still need to set up a radio, antenna, and, of course, the computer and software to do the digital modes. Making QSOs after all of that is not a given. Different skills than CW or SSB I'll grant you but skills none the less.

Put me in the group who of those who arrived kicking, screaming and being drug from Tubes to Solid state. From AM to SSB. From Analog to Digital. It is called advancements in technology. I still dislike cellphones. But I use them. And also all other forms of Ham Radio. 


You guys should have been around for the AM versus SSB discussions/wars without the use of the instant communication internet.

VERY SORRY, BUT if 50 mc and also 1.8 mc is going to be the same this and coming 2018 season,  I stop my ham-radio and will do something else. I give it to end of 2018 to see if any changes will come.

Well said. . .I totally agree.

I’m sure there will be people who say FT8 is just “progress.”  But some psychologists divide people according to whether their preferred mode of experience is auditory, visual or kinesthetic (touch).  I think most of us who are addicted to radio are primarily auditory – on one level, that’s why we’re in this hobby.  So, no surprise that we find radio without the auditory component to be unfulfilling.

... let's all maintain our ham licenses and continue using our favorites modes.

... don't give up. There is still plenty of magic in ham radio.

I'm not knocking the guys using the digital modes. It's obviously a new and interesting technology and they are having fun, which is the reason we do this, right? I just have ZERO interest in it all and still get my fun actually hearing and working another station.

When it comes to actually making a QSOs, I really don't know what you get out of the process where two computers communicate with each other using signals that are not audible.

The new digital mode is an evolution of doing nothing. Skype would be more fun ... digital mode is boring and soon the FT8 user will feel that way too.

Call CQ 5 times and then turn your computer on, every day, if all of us do it once a day, the band will be fun again.

JT modes were originally designed for VHF. No reason to use them on HF and especially on Top Band.

I guess I don’t understand what makes the new Digital modes any different from old RTTY. There will always be a place for CW and voice modes in ham radio for those that want to practice those ... and remember one of the major facets of ham radio is to “advance the state of the radio art” which surely describes the new digital modes.

People should be excited that there are now so many signals on 160!

It is allowing people who have smaller stations the opportunity to get on and use their radios and a computer to make contacts they never would have been able to make. This is great for ham radio!


Steve's final comments summed-up his thoughts:

G’day

Thanks very much to all those who contributed to the thread following my ‘FT8 - the end of 160m old school DXing?’ post. Here is a summary of what appeared in my ‘In Box’.

First, special thanks to CJ Johnson WT2P for bravely giving the ‘new school’ perspective and actually taking radio, in FT-8 form, into his workplace . As CJ says, FT-8 is just another natural progression of the hobby, which actually appeals to the ‘20-somethings’ we need to join us (and who just happened to be brought up with lots of screens rather than cardboard loudspeakers and bakelite headphones). Vive la difference!

In regard to the emails received via the reflector  or privately, there were three things that came through very loud and clear (actually deafening).

1. There are lots of long-time, old-school topbanders (and 6m users) like me who enjoy chasing weak signal DX on CW and SSB and are now worried about the future of this activity because of the current high usage rates of FT-8 on those bands. Always better when you aren’t alone!
---------------------------------------
2. We can band together and do something about this - the solution for us old school ops who want to keep CW and SSB vital on the two magic bands is to go back to first principles – lots of CQing, tuning the band regularly and answering CQs – rather than just watching our bandscopes and DX clusters.  We all know that only activity breeds more activity. Duuh! (I feel really stupid now).

As JC N4IS said:

”With the computer our habits are different. Nowadays we turn [to] the PC first and if we see a spot or a RBN entry we try to call.... We should [go] back to call[ing] CQ for the fun to work someone. Call CQ five times and then turn your computer on, every day. If all of us do it once a day, the band will be fun again.”

We’ve all got CW memory and/or voice keyers – if we don’t want to actually CQ manually, we can use them for lots of daily CQing and make sure we answer anyone who calls us.

We also need to answer those who we hear calling CQ to keep the band alive, even if we worked them the day before – as we did in the older, less hurried, more polite days of yore.    
--------------------------------------------
3. The ARRL could be encouraged to change the DXCC program and add a new mode-specific category for the evolving ‘new wave’ (i.e. WSJT) family of digital modes, where contacts can be made with stations that are basically inaudible (i.e. as Hans SM6CVX suggested, where the signal levels are –1dB or more below the noise).

To keep the peace with existing DXCC holders, one potential solution is those traditional modes which generally need audibility – typically CW, SSB, RTTY  and PSK-31 – would count for the long-standing Mixed mode, but the inaudible ‘new wave’ digi modes would not.

However, the growing and evolving family of inaudible ‘new wave’ digital modes could have a whole, bright, shiny new DXCC category to themselves, for which all the current WSJT modes and their evolving, successor modes would count. 

This ‘new wave’ digital award could have a new cool, 21st century-looking certificate (are holograms 21st century?) , would give new wave digital operators the chance to be among the first to get this award and would also give the ARRL DXCC program the chance to potentially get some extra revenue in issuing these awards.  Of course, all the contacts would be submitted electronically. ;-)

Another different but related idea came from Mark K3MSB  - why not ask the ARRL to consider awarding band-specific DXCC awards with mode endorsements (i.e. 160M DXCC-CW,  160M DXCC-FT8,  40M-Digital, 17M-SSB etc).

If we want to get this kind of change to the ARRL’s DXCC program, then as Mark suggests we need to make our voices heard. This could be simply done by creating an electronic petition to the ARRL signed by as many current members of the DXCC program as possible, clearly spelling out what sort of change the petitioners think is needed. There is a great website which can be used for this purpose -   see https://www.change.org/start-a-petition – and it should be easy to publicise a petition of this kind, using reflectors.

For many years I was involved in administrating amateur soccer and have experience of using electronic petitions as a means of showing an administrative body the level of support for specific changes to the way the game is run.  In my experience, electronic petitions are a viable way to get rules changed these days. Some people hate them, but BIG petitions actually do get results.

Hope the above summary of ideas was of interest. Please excuse me now and I’ll get along to the low end of 160m, start doing something practical like CQing and stop worrying about the demise of old school radio (which I’ve probably greatly exaggerated).

Vy 73

Steve, VK6VZ/G3ZZD


All-in-all, some food for thought! Personally I exploit the weak-signal properties of the WSJT JT9 mode on 630m, but only when conditions are too poor for CW. I dearly miss the drop-off of CW DX activity on Topband and on the magicband. For now anyway, I will continue to avoid the use of FT8 on the HF and 6m bands, keep flogging CW, and hope that things are not as dire as some have suggested. Times are indeed interesting and changing ... and as always, eventually time will tell.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Hunting For NDBs In CLE 224

"OO - 391" - Oshawa, Ontario


It's hard to believe but this coming weekend will see another monthly CLE challenge. This time the hunting grounds will be:  385.0 - 399.9 kHz.




For those unfamiliar with this monthly activity, a 'CLE' is a 'Co-ordinated Listening Event', as NDB DXers around the world focus their listening time on one small slice of the NDB spectrum.

A nice challenge in this one is to hear the Oshawa (Ontario) NDB, 'OO', on 391 kHz. 'OO' is an amazing 7-watter that has been heard on both coasts as well as in Europe!  Look for 'OO's CW identifier, repeated every 10.2 seconds, on 391.400 kHz with your receiver in the CW mode.

Usually the Fall season provides some excellent propagation as the summer thunderstorms quiet down but the recent warning of upcoming geomagnetic activity for the weekend may mean something else in store for us. Often these 'warnings' are not as dire as they might appear and MF propagation remains robust or even enhanced. 
If you are interested in building a system for the new (U.S.) 630m band, the CLE will give you the chance to test out your MF receiving capabilities.

When tuning for NDBs, put your receiver in the CW mode and listen for the NDB's CW identifier, repeated every few seconds. Listen for U.S. NDB identifiers approximately 1 kHz higher or lower than the published transmitted frequency since these beacons are modulated with a 1020 Hz tone approximately.

For example, 'AA' in Fargo transmits on 365 kHz and its upper sideband CW identifier is tuned at 366.025 kHz while its lower sideband CW ident can be tuned at 363.946 kHz. Its USB tone is actually 1025 Hz while its LSB tone is 1054 Hz.

Often, one sideband will be much stronger than the other so if you don't hear the first one, try listening on the other sideband.

Canadian NDBs normally have an USB tone only, usually very close to 400 Hz. They also have a long dash (keydown) following the CW identifier.

All NDBs heard in North America will be listed in the RNA database (updated daily) while those heard in Europe may be found in the REU database. Beacons heard outside of these regions will be found in the RWW database.

From CLE organizer Brian Keyte, G3SIA, comes the usual 'heads-up':


Hi all,

Our 224th Coordinated Listening Event is less than a week away.
The Northern Hemisphere summertime storms have subsided, the equinox
has passed and we can all hope for some good reception conditions.
Whether you are a keen propagation watcher or just a take-what-comes
listener, please join in.

    Days:    Friday 27 October - Monday 30 October


    Times:   Start and end at midday, your LOCAL TIME
    Range:   385.0 - 399.9 kHz



    (Most of us in Europe, will be altering our clocks this weekend – UTC time continues unaffected)

Please log all the NDBs you can identify that are listed in the range
(it includes 385 kHz but not 400 kHz) plus any UNIDs you find there.
Please send your CLE log to the List in a plain text email if possible
(not in an attachment) with 'CLE224' at the start of its title.

Show on each log line:

# The date (e.g. 2017-10-29, etc., or just 29) and UTC.
(the date changes at 00:00 UTC)
# kHz (the nominal published frequency, if known)
# The Call Ident.

Show those main items FIRST - other optional details such as Location
and Distance go LATER in the same line.
If you send interim logs, please also send a 'Final' (complete) log.

As always, tell us your own location and brief details of the equipment
that you were using during the weekend.


To help your listening, seeklists and maps for your part of the World


are available via the CLE page http://www.ndblist.info/cle.htm

Good listening - enjoy the CLE


----------------------------------------------------------------------

From:   Brian Keyte G3SIA           ndbcle'at'gmail.com
Location: Surrey, SE England        (CLE coordinator)
----------------------------------------------------------------------

These listening events serve several purposes. They:
  • determine, worldwide, which beacons are actually in service and on-the-air so the online database can be kept up-to-date
  • determine, worldwide, which beacons are out-of-service or have gone silent since the last CLE covering this range
  • will indicate the state of propagation conditions at the various participant locations
  • will give you an indication of how well your LF/MF receiving system is working
  • give participants a fun yet challenging activity to keep their listening skills honed

Final details can be found at the NDB List website, and worldwide results, for every participant, will be posted there a few days after the event. If you are a member of the ndblist Group, results will also be e-mailed and posted there.

The very active Yahoo ndblist Group is a great place to learn more about the 'Art of NDB DXing' or to meet other listeners in your region. There is a lot of good information available there and new members are always very welcome. As well, you can follow the results of other CLE participants from night to night as propagation is always an active topic of discussion.


You need not be an ndblist member to participate in the CLEs and all reports, no matter how small, are of much value to the organizers. 


'First-time' logs are always VERY welcome!

Reports may be sent to the ndblist or e-mailed to either myself or CLE co-ordinator, Brian Keyte (G3SIA), whose address appears above.

Please ... give the CLE a try ... then let us know what NDB's can be heard from your location! Your report can then be added to the worldwide database to help keep it up-to-date.


Have fun and good hunting!