Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Digital modes - Check your gain and ALC...

Many of us work the digital modes like the various PSK's, Olivia, Hell, ect using a sound card interface of some sort. They work pretty darn good in transmit more, if you pay attention to your gain settings and the ALC level of your rig. I hear signals every now and again that are totally whacked out, and most of the time it turns out to be an over driven transmitter from the sound card audio.

I snapped this pic a couple nights ago while operating on 40m PSK31. When the station in Cuba would transmit (his primary signal is on the left in the waterfall), an image would appear abt 700hz up the band (seen on the right in the waterfall). His signal sounded horrible, folks were trying to get him to try turning his gain down, but I don't think he understood what was going on. I'm not picking on him by any means, but you do see a lot of this on the air. I suspect his digital interface was over driving the bejesus out of his transmitter...


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Vintage Ham Radio stuff, Hallicrafters, Schlitz...

This isn't much of a blog post, but I wanted to put these things out there for those of you who also love old ham radio related stuff like me. A good friend, Joe (who owns Dit & Dash), found this old unused 1964 Hallicrafters Log Book and sent it to me. Having had my license since 1974, I remember the paper logs and the requirement to log everything, including tune up and test transmissions. I took a few pics of it, it really brings back fond memories.

Next, here's an old 1952 Schlitz beer advertisement, featuring a rendering of a typical 1950's hamshack. This pretty cool, I'm gonna try to turn this into a poster for my hamshack Studio B with my vintage gear.

Thanks to Joe over at Dit & Dash. Here's his Facebook link if you do Facebook:


Friday, December 23, 2016

Computers with Legacy Com Ports, & RTTY Interface

I was stranded an d unable to use my RTTY interface on HF, after a near lightning strike blew the 9-pin serial port on my hamshack computer. Thanks to Matt Harris KD4PBS, he had a spare plug-in card for my computer's PCI slot, to add on outboard serial ports! This provided the 9-pin legacy serial port I needed to get my RTTY hardware back working. Once I found the drivers for it, my old box was back up on RTTY.

For those of you who work digital modes, this is something to think about when you build or buy a computer... While you can use soundcard software to work most digital modes (including RTTY), it typically doesn't allow for hard-keying the FSK port of your rig for true RTTY, and often doesn't allow for hard keying your rig for CW. This means you're unable to use your narrow RTTY or CW filters (since you're usually in USB mod for all digital modes). The receiver can easily get overloaded and the waterfall gets washed out by strong stations on nearby frequencies.

There are almost no USB-to serial port dongles that support the 5-bit stream or reprogramming to 45.5 baud for this, so a USB converter is almost out of the question.

Most HF rigs have a terminal in the aux port on the back of rig for FSK control. Even my old Yaesu FT-901's have dedicated FSK and sharp receive filters for this. The majority of the digital mode interfaces that provide an output for FSK keying require a legacy serial or parallel port on the computer for this, and the majority of computers (esp laptops) have only USB ports and such, no physical 9-pin or 25-pin legacy ports. By controlling my RTTY shift through the FSK port, instead of using RTTY TX audio on USB like in DM780, I can use dedicated programs like MMTTY (love it!!) and work RTTY even in crowed contest band conditions. You might want to buy a computer that at least has an expansion port to allow for a serial port card with legacy ports for this.

Anyway, thanks again to Matthew Harris KD4PBS for the card to get my RTTY station back on the air!

Here's a pic from inside the computer, below the new add-on legacy com port card. This gave me a new com 1 & com 2 port, and disabled the old on-board port that was blown.

Another pic of the board, from inside the PC...

A pic from outside of the PC, showing the new com ports just below the ethernet card. I'm using com 2 for my RTTY interface.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Respect Your Antenna Insulators!

OK, so I got a little re-education on something I had forgotten tonight. Had a little time before dark to tweak on the 40m elements of my hexpole antenna (had to give it a snazzy name, it's just 3 dipole/inverted V antennas fed from the same feedline). Anyway, the 40m portions have been acting goofy and tougher than usual to tune.
The 40m legs needed to be lengthened a bit to move the resonant freq down a little. I made a pigtail, and attached it to the ends of the antenna. I didn't want it just hanging down (not that it matters), so I pulled it across the end insulators, and zip tied it to the paracord on the other side of the insulator. The paracord was a little damp, but didn't give it any thought. It's a synthetic cord, so no biggie, right?

I went in the shack, and checked it at 100w, and found the SWR dip to be about where I wanted it. I kicked on the amp, and loaded it up to 1,499 watts, and noticed the reflected powder to be a little quirky. Suddenly, everything went nuts and I shut it down. I walked out, looked up, and found one of ends of the 40m antenna to be hanging down by the tower, and the guy cord to be on the ground.

Duh, the high voltage points on that type of antenna are at the ends. The damp paracord, was not a good insulator. Arcing at the ends of the 40m elements had literally burned the cord off, flush with the ends of the antenna. I repaired the cord connections and let the ends of the tuning pigtail hang down (not across and against the paracord). All is well.

Gives new meaning to putting some "fire in the wire" :-)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Friday, December 16, 2016

Amateur RADIO is _our_ social media....

I'm not very good at putting my personal feelings in print, but here goes... While fumbling around on the web last night, trying to figure out why I couldn't import a piece of local weather code into a QRZ page via iframe, I ran across a discussion on reddit at . I was sort of dumbfounded, and a little put off by some of the assumptions about some of us long time hams.

I thought about it all day. I wanted to go back and post my thoughts , but I feel I'm a different kind of ham than perhaps many of those on those threads (if some of those folks are actually hams). Reason being, I prefer to be on the air, working others, hunting DX, building, restoring, etc...actually participating in the social media platform of ham RADIO. I know, no matter what I say, there will be a bunch of comments that will try to draw me back into the internet arguments that no one can ever really win. The interwebs seem to be full of trolls that dominate various forums with their 1000's of posts that somehow make them king. Not that it matters, I personally like the layout on the site they were taking shots at and am able to find my way around just fine. It doesn't have to look like my banking website, in fact, I'm glad it doesn't. All too often I've tried to log in and do basic banking, only to find their programmer has screwed it up with some bunch of cutesy moving pictures and fancy crap in their "recent update" that requires the latest browser or plug in update before I can pay a bill. To me, that's not "value added", it's more of a reason to change banks. I don't care about the fluff, I just want it to be functional so I can do my thing and get out of there.

There were many comments that somehow attempted to classify those of us who are actually into RADIO, as being dinosaurs or second class people because our websites are built with frames or old basic HTML1 technology, that we somehow still enjoy email reflectors for sharing messages, and that many of us don't want to update our computers with the latest of everything. There was one sub-thread that poked fun that we (some of us older hams) seem to embrace the "don't fix it if it ain't broke" theory. Another thread seemed to make jabs at because many of us seem to like the the old comfortable structure used in it's design. Yet another thread poked fun at the old technologies that many of us still employ (vacuum tubes, AM, etc).

After pondering this today at work, I came to realize a lot of the younger folks (and perhaps those lesser involved in the RADIO aspect of ham RADIO) don't understand: RADIO is the magical aspect of this hobby to many of us have come to love and identify with. Not the internet. The web is neat, but RADIO is our hobby. Our social media _is_ radio...the fun of tinkering with radios & antennas, and the magic of communicating with others over the air. Tonight, before I could even start to put my thoughts down on the computer, the freakin' browser hung up during an update (that I really didn't was working fine this morning!), and took about a 1/2 hour and 3 reboots to get it running again. Whew. I submit that we spend far too much time fixing stuff that wasn't broken in the computer, when we really just want to be playing radio.I _know_ I have to spend more time fiddling with computer updates & patches, than I do in maintaining / repairing one of my 1960's vintage radio stations that's a daily user! Think about that for a minute...

Now that my internet stuff is working again, I type this as I listen to a couple of guys on 3.885 mhz AM talking about how they use remote SDR receivers from the web with their activities on AM...a strange blend of technologies to many, but it made perfect sense to these whom I know to be a very experienced ham...Don, K4NYV. He has forgotten more than most will ever know, yet he still strives on the air to learn and enjoy new things. He's a builder, and experimenter, and a radio guru who puts many hours on the air with interesting and technical discussions.

From my perspective, and I'm sure that of many others I know, the internet is nothing more than a tool. It annoys many of us to the point that we really just want our browser to start so we can search the web for something, want to be able to connect to the DX cluster feed, and maybe LOTW at the ARRL for our QSL management. Beyond that, it does nothing more than take time away from the  enjoyment of our Social media... Amateur _RADIO_.

I've been a ham since 1974. I restore and operate lots of old stuff, build new things, and work many modes. I'm on the air at every opportunity. The fact that even my website is built with frames and basic HTML doesn't make me a relic, it just means I have less interest in the newest whiz-bang web building techniques, and much more interest in the RADIO part of amateur radio. My website isn't built to impress the CEO of Sass, it's place where I store photos, schematics, etc so I can find them when I want them. I put them on the web so I don't loose them in a computer crash (sort of like the cloud, before that became a big deal), and so others might find something useful in that pile of stuff on occasion.  Pretty straight forward stuff.

I'm not dissing those who spend most/all of their time on the web, but simply reminding them that many of us are way more into radio than the internet, and computers in general are secondary to our interest in the hobby of amateur RADIO, at best.

Dave WB4IUY (crappy frames based webpage) (thoughts and stuff I'm actually building and doing on the air)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

160 Meter antenna up!

After finishing up a bit of Christmas shopping on Monday, there was time before dark to get the 3rd antenna up at about 70' in the group of HF dipoles I'm pulling up on my tower. These are being installed in a way that will allow for moving to a higher location in the future, as the tower work continues through the winter. Since winter caught up with me, I decided to get some low band stuff up, and will continue with the tower work as weather permits. All of these are fed with a common feed line, making expansion pretty easy. You can see the center insulator / feed point design a few blogs back. So far, this provides operation on 160m, 80m, and 40m (bottom end of all bands for CW operation) without a tuner. The 40m antenna also resonates on 15m nicely with a decent match.

There was an unexpected perk of 17 meters...I still can't figure out why, but SWR is pretty much flat on that band and it's working like gangbusters. It must be one of those situations where the feed line length is somehow hiding the reflected power, since I don't see a mathematical relationship with 160/80/40 & 17m. I don't care. it's working great :-)  I can also work 20, 12, 10, & 6 with a tuner, but they're probably very much a compromise at best. So, it'll work 160, 80, 40, 17, & 15 without a tuner, and i can crowbar it to work with a tuner on the others.

There's a separate sloper up at about the same height on 30 meters. I worked the Gambia tonight on 30m with my fan dipole and got a 559 report... I couldn't even hear them on the resonant 30m sloper, but then it is facing southwest. Anyway, here's a few pics...

The first picture is a zoomed in shot of the top of the tower & side arm, Taken from the sorta northeast. You can see the 3 dipole legs going north as leaving the sidearm and heading off the RH side of the photo. The 3 legs going south are those leaving the side arm and heading off of the lower LH corner of the photo.

Here's a "zoomed out" picture from pretty much the same location. This puts the height somewhat more in perspective.

 Adding the 160 meter antenna proved to be a bit more difficult. Since the tower is only 70' tall thus far, and the 160 m antenna is about 129' long on each side (!!! almost 260' of wire!), I had to get more creative then int he previous installation. My property is heavily wooded, so finding a clearing in the direction I wanted was tough. I intentionally wanted to install these antennas with the wires being north / south, so the strongest pattern would be east / west. To the north and south, the woods begin only about 70 away from the tower, meaning that I would only use up about 100' of wire before Id be in the trees. Wanting to keep it in an inverted V configuration (more omnidirectional), I attached an insulator to a tree in the edge of the woods at about 15' up, passed the antenna through the insulator, and tied it off to another tree about 30' away at about 15' up. When viewed from above, it would look like a mild "Z" shape. Here's a pic of the "feed-thru" insulator on the north side...

 Here's a shot of the "feed-thru" insulator on the south side. I used my tree-trimmer to clear a path through the vines and undergrowth, to give the antenna lead to stay free of things that might impact tuning.

In the center of the last photo, you'll see one of the white terminating insulators that attaches the whole lash up to a tree about 35' into the woods. one would thing this would be difficult to tune, but it wasn't. I cut the antenna length with the typical formula of 468 / Fmhz, and it worked out pretty close. The antennas are all built from 12 ga stranded THHN insulated single conductor wire. I find the insulation really helps with rain and snow static, as well as discharge noise on windy days.

After a brief test tonight, I got a signal report of 599 from KP4TF in Puerto Rico, a 559 from  SM5EDX in Sweden, and a 559 from 4O/KC0W in Montenegro. Nothing earth shattering, but I'm back on 160 meters for the winter. Once the tower is finished, I'll get it pulled up to about 130' at the apex, and it should play fine from there. To previous 160 V was up at 105', and it did great, working into Africa, Australia, New Zealand, etc.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Dirty Balun - Common Mode Choke Info

I stumbled across this on the web, and snagged it for my website. Great info from G3TXQ on the subject. I plan to buy some Amidon FB-31-1020 ferrite beads and rework my common mode choke at the feed points of my antennas, when I move them to a higher perch.

I've used the air-core version wound from feed line on my yagi's and dipoles since the 1970's to keep stray RF out of the shack, but it's easy to see the improvement in EMI blocking with the FB-31-1020 ferrite beads simply slipped over the feed line at the feed point connection. Here's his chart.

Be sure to check out his website for load of great info at


Saturday, December 3, 2016

40 meter CW Antenna Up!

I'm moving along, slowly but surely... With winter moving in, I'm trying to get some antennas up and tuned, to hold me through the winter months. I'm laying them out with the ability to move them up to a higher perch, once the rest of my tower sections are stacked and readied in the spring.

Today, I had a little time before sunset and installed another antenna onto the center insulator I built a few blogs back. The way the side arm / current choke / center insulator are built, it's easy to add more antennas to the same feed point and feed line. I cut a new dipole to be resonant at about 7.050mhz, pulled it up the tower to the 65' point, connected it to the same feed point as the 80m inverted V, attached insulators to the far ends of the wire, and pulled it out to new anchor points that were basically north & south. The makes the antenna radiate a little more to the east & west, but being an inverted V, it is somewhat omni-directional anyway.

It worked out great, and didn't impact the operation of the 80m CW inverted V previously installed. Another added bonus, in addition to automatic band switching between 80 & 40 meters, is where the antenna is accidentally resonant across the 17M band. It's probably some unknown quirk where the current choke and length of feedline is hiding reflected power, but I don't care... the rig is happy, and it's working great on 17 meters to boot.

I've already worked in to the Czech Republic and Western Sahara with only 100 watts, and am thrilled! The match looks good, and the amp is very happy (for a change). It's time to grab a cold 807, put the headphones on, and get into some DXing! Here's a few pics...

The new 40m CW antenna seen from the south side of the tower. The 40m wire is the wire going towards the top of the pic with the insulator about 1/2 way out. The 80m wire is just above it...

The 40m CW antenna seen from the north side of the tower. You can see the 40m wire with the insulator in the upper center of the photo. The 80m antenna is almost invisible, just below and to the left of the 40m wire. 

Another pic of the antenna & tower, looking up the 40m CW antenna north leg. Can't wait to get the rest of the tower stacked up there!

I anchor my dipoles with "Para-Cord fro Walmart. Very inexpensive, strong, and is UV protected. This is about $3 for a 50' pack. It's easily joined if you need it longer, and it doesn't abreaid from tree limbes rubbing against it like the masonry cord I've used since the 70's. It's available in several colors, but I like this color as it blends in with the trees nicely. 

I drive a couple of 16P nails in the tree, splay them out slightly from one another, and use it to attach the paracord and wind the excess. It's easy to unwind when I want to drop an antenna for work. 

I ran a few tests and the new 40m CW antenna addition also tunes up on 15m (as it should) nicely, can't wait for the band to open tomorrow and give it a test.