Thursday, October 27, 2011

Two Transistor Tranceiver for Ten

With ten metres opening up it seemed the right time to try building Roger G3XBM's latest project: the XBM10-2. Roger describes it as probably just about the simplest CW transceiver possible for use on 10m, using just two transistors to produce about 60mW out.

This was my first attempt at construction since my radiotherapy and chemotherapy and I found it to be quite a struggle. First of all I found it difficult to concentrate while trying to work out the perf board layout. After that I got a bit frustrated with constantly juggling three pairs of spectacles due to my eyes apparent inability to focus at different distances. I also found soldering difficult due to my hands shaking whenever I brought the iron bit close to a component. I created quite a few solder bridges which I then had to clean up.

Construction took much longer than I would have taken a few months ago. But in the end it did work. Though not on ten metres yet. I'm waiting for a 28.060MHz crystal from the G-QRP club shop before I can try it out on the air.

One issue I have found (which Roger also comments on) is that the rig has a major chirp. It is definitely not T9 and I don't know whether it is possible to improve on that. But at least it has character. If you hear a weak, chirpy signal near to the 10m QRP activity frequency give it a call. It might be me!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Happy Birthday Olga!

Today is my wonderful wife Olga's 60th birthday. Without her amazing help and support I don't know if I would have the strength to cope with this brain tumour. I keep up the fight so that I will still be here to help celebrate the next one. Happy 60th birthday, Olga!

Albrecht AE 2990 AFS mods

With propagation on 10m being so good I have been trying to make some contacts using the Albrecht AE2990AFS multimode handheld using a whip antenna. No luck so far, however.

One annoying aspect of the Albrecht is that it tunes in 10kHz steps since it is essentially a CB radio. There is a step control that lets you choose 1kHz or 50Hz tuning steps, but this only works within one 10kHz or 1kHz range. You can't tune the whole band in these smaller steps. Not only that but the clarifier control (better known to hams as RIT) shifts only the receive frequency and doesn't have a centre detent so you can never be sure you are calling a station on his exact frequency.

An eBay seller of the Super Radio SS-301 - which seems to be the same radio as the Albrecht under another name - claims that the clarifier works on both TX and RX. So there is presumably a modification that would make the clarifier work like a VXO. But I'm darned if I can find any details of it. Has anyone made such a modification to this radio?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Radio Tirana

Propagation on 10m today is as good as I can remember. I made a few nice contacts using SSB including Japan, India and Bahrain. I heard several Chinese stations as well but have yet to work one.

Not really DX but a new country for me was Albania, in the shape of Dik, ZA1E. Decades ago as a teenaged short wave listener I remember hearing Radio Tirana, a huge signal on 7.065MHz, smack in the middle of the 40m phone band. I wonder whether anyone ever listened to its broadcasts? They were pure anti-capitalist tirades read by a woman announcer who sounded like she had a beard and no sense of humour. They actually used phrases like "capitalist running dogs" if I remember correctly. At least Radio Moscow tried to make life on the other side of the iron curtain sound attractive.

I don't think there was any ham radio activity in communist Albania and there still aren't all that many hams there now so I was pleased to work Dik for a new one.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Battery boost

A couple of years ago I won a 25 year old "spares or repair" Kenwood TH-205E for a few pounds in an eBay auction. I successfully repaired it, but the ni-cad pack had failed short-circuit. I then had a stroke of luck as I found someone selling an 25 year old but unused KNB-4 battery pack for a couple of quid. It held a charge, so the problem was solved. The only disadvantage was that it was the large high capacity battery pack, much taller than the original, making the radio even bulkier than it already is. I nicknamed it "the brick."

A few days ago I was looking at the Strikalite web site and noticed that they do battery pack refurbishment. I enquired whether they could repair the 205E's original battery pack. "Send it to us and we'll take a look at it" they said, so I did.

A few days later I received a phone call from Strikalite saying "We need to take some money off you." I was a bit concerned as to how much it would be as they had not provided me with an estimate before starting. But I need not have worried. The total cost including postage and VAT was £19.99 which I think is very reasonable. They did quite a neat job, with only a little marking of the case where they had to pry the two halves apart.

£20 may seem like more than a 25 year old boat anchor that doesn't support 12.5kHz spacing nor CTCSS for repeater access is worth. But actually the TH-205E has the best, most intermod-resistant receiver of any of my HTs due to the fact that it is designed for the 2m band only, not wide band coverage. If I ever get out on the fells again, the TH-205E would be a strong candidate to take. There's life in the old thing yet!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Radio Therapy

Ten metres has been really lively today. I made several contacts including some with the USA. The highlight was working Osama, 9K2OD in Kuwait City who came back to my first call (SSB) even though he had a bit of a pile-up! Perhaps my attic dipole and QTH are not so shabby after all!

It's great to experience propagation conditions like this again and it cheers me up no end. Real radio therapy!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

JT65A QSO on 10m

Who says JT65A is not a chat mode? :)

It's always nice to meet on the air one of my blog readers.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Long wave goodbye

I never did get the Spectrum Communications Off-Air Frequency Standard kit working. Now it is looking as though it would be a waste of time anyway as the BBC will be closing down the Radio 4 long wave transmitter that is used as a frequency standard.

An article published yesterday in the Guardian Online explains that the Radio 4 long wave transmitter uses valves (tubes) that are no longer obtainable. The BBC has the only ones still in existence. The transmitter uses a pair and they can last as little as one year. When the last valve blows, Radio 4 on long wave will become a thing of the past.

Building a new long wave  transmitter using up to date technology would cost millions which the BBC can no longer afford due to the need to cut costs as a result of the government's decision to freeze the licence fee.

There are many other ways to receive the Radio 4 programming if the long wave transmitter closes down. But none of them involve a powerful 500kW transmitter whose frequency is maintained accurately enough to be used as a frequency standard.

Friday, October 07, 2011

20 over 9 into Michigan

Propagation has again been excellent on 10m. I heard many US stations and other DX at good strength. I didn't make many contacts, though. Most of the stations I was hearing were enjoying 5 or 10 minute QSOs. You can use up a lot of time listening to such contacts, especially when you make your call and the station you are hoping to work replies to someone else and not you, so you get to wait another 5 or 10 minutes for the next chance.

Not that I'm complaining. But it doesn't help that I refuse to use bad operating tactics to get a contact. One station I waited for got angry and went QRT because other European stations were calling over the final of the station he was working. If I can only hear the DX side of the conversation I won't call until I hear the DX call CQ or say QRZ or listening for any calls. Others do, and too often they get rewarded with a contact. It makes me angry, too.

My first contact of the day was with UT1AN Alex on 10m FM. His QTH is not far from Kharkiv, Olga's home town. Alex gave me an S9+20dB report.

The last - so far, anyway, was on 10m SSB with W8ERN Angelo in Brighton, Michigan, pictured right. I waited a long time before my call was heard. But it was worth the wait because Angelo replied with are you the G4ILO that wrote the VOAProp software? I 'fessed up and Angelo told me how much he liked the program.

We also talked about web pages and logging programs. Angelo's web page is produced using a software program called CommCat Live. You can hear live streaming audio from his station and see a graphical S meter plot of the station he is receiving. He told me my signal - 100w to the attic dipole - was almost peaking 20 over 9 and sure enough when I looked at the screen it was. Perhaps my QTH is not so bad after all.

Here is the proof: W8ERN's web page snapped while I was in QSO with him.

CommCat certainly adds interest to a ham radio web page. Unfortunately - but not surprisingly - it doesn't support my home-written logging program KComm.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

CB interlopers

Propagation remains good on 10 metres. I left the K3 on 28.076 running JT65-HF for most of the day. I made several contacts including N3CAL, WA2CRB, PY8ELO, KE1AF, WB9OTX, WK8G and SV4FFK. The map shows where my signal was heard. I was even spotted by Joe, W6CQZ/4, the author of the excellent JT65-HF software.

JT65 is addictive. It's also a very relaxing way to make QSOs. It's ideal for me at the moment because my eyes tire very easily. I end up with blurred or double vision if I read or stare at the computer screen for too long so modes like PSK31 aren't really a good idea. Thanks to the JT65-HF add-on JT-Alert an alarm sounds if a station I haven't worked before calls CQ and another sound wakes me up if a station replies to me. This means that I can look out the window or something and only need look at the screen when I have something to do. The print in the JT65-HF program window is nice and big too.

Listening on 28.076 I heard some strange noises which I eventually realized were FM transmissions being received in SSB mode. CBers transmitting out of band I presume.

I don't suppose many CBers read this blog but come on, guys. It's none of my business if you choose to operate illegally but if you do, please stay below 28MHz. You may not hear our weak JT65 signals with your FM radios but we sure as hell can hear you.

Update: Just worked Joe "The Man" W6CQZ/4 in Florida. He was running 5W to what I seem to remember him posting once in the JT65-HF Google group is a Hamstick on a mag mount stuck to the roof of his shed. Thank you Joe for the contact and for the fantastic JT65-HF software!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Nothing but whispers

In the last few days several people have posted in their blogs or in forums that conditions on 10m have been great. Either I have been listening at the wrong times or this QTH is as bad on the higher HF bands as it is on VHF. When I have tuned across the 10m band I have found only one or two signals strong enough to be heard above the S4 noise level I now have on this band and none loud enough to work.

It's probably my QTH. Last year when Olga was away in Ukraine I operated from the car with my QRP K2 and an MP-1 antenna on a mag mount and from just a few miles away but overlooking the coast I worked DX on 15 and 17m that I had never heard from home. Unfortunately going mobile is no longer an option as I am not allowed to drive due to my illness.

Something must be working right though. Most of the day I have been running WSPR on 10m with 5 watts to the dipole and my signal was spotted on 5 continents. It's good, but it isn't the same as having an actual conversation. You can see why my interest these days is turning more towards things like EchoLink.