Xmas WAX Present

I follow a lot of Ham Radio websites, groups and email reflectors and there’s a ton of great information on many of them.WAX logo final

A new one to me is the Barrie Wireless Amateur Experimenter Group (WAX Group). WAX consists of a bunch of Hams in Barrie, Ontario who like to get together to talk about and build different projects.

Meeting at a local Tim Horton’s coffee shop the group is growing and if you’re in the Barrie area (about 60 kms north of Toronto on Hwy. 400) why not drop by and say hello.

The website has got tons of great links. Check it out. This is good stuff. (If Ham Radio is getting old for you, look at this page of 100+ Things to do in Ham Radio!)

 

Milton Flea Market

Perfect weather for the annual Milton flea market with lots and lots of real bargoons available for the discerning shopper.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For example I picked up a 15 amp Amston power supply for $20 and a Nye straight key on a heavy plastic base for $10.

Best of all I grabbed another NorCal20 (and this one with tons of mods) for half the original asking price. While not quite the giveaway I got on my first NorCal 20 bought at Dayton, this one still comes in at a great price.image

The NorCal 20 was hearing all of Europe yesterday afternoon during the IARU contest and surprisingly was pretty much single signal and not prone to overloading in the midst of pileups. Very impressive for a rig that costs way way less than the Bengali paddles I was using.

Interestingly the two NorCal 20s seem to be about the same in A/B testing on the same antenna so think I’ve got a couple of winners here.

The NorCal 40 on the other haOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnd is an entirely different radio. At just under 2 watts this rig on 40 meters is optimized for low power consumption.

You could take this rig to the cottage or camping and depending on your usage get weeks of action on an 8-amp gel cell battery.  The receiver on the NorCal 40 is exceptional.

So all you guys with your 100 rigs might consider a QRP rig just to keep your CW sending and receiving skills up to par.

Back to Milton: Bob Heil of Heil Sound (In photo above) gave several enlightening talks thanks to sponsorship by RadioWorld. Thanks RadioWorld for sponsoring Bob who BTW is a genius when it comes to audio.

There wasn’t the usual food booth this year which was a disappointment as I look forward to a greasy hamburger around 11am with my free coffee.

Also missing in action was the Radio Amateurs of Canada table. Seems there was some issue with the $20/table the organizers wanted. Next year if nobody else can find the cash I’ll fund the $20 out of my pocket.

Radio Amateurs of Canada is our national association (I wore my RAC golf shirt yesterday.) and despite how we may feel about how it’s being run (Why not email your local RAC director and tell them what you think of the current situation!), we need to support it.

The current situation can’t last forever especially as it seems nobody but nobody is stepping in to volunteer and once we’ve got some new thinking installed we’re going to need all hands on deck to turn the worrisome future for Amateur Radio in Canada around.

Getting cheap over a $20 table isn’t the answer and it’s a pretty small gesture 😦 It also lessened the fun at the Milton event.

QRP Powerhouse

Here’s the new QRP triple threat:image

On top is the 3-watt rock bound on 7030 CRK-10a.

In the middle is my newly acquired 2-watt NorCal 40a.

On the bottom is the 5-watt NorCal 20 at 5-watts.

Stacked in the centre is my Logikit keyer on top and Logikit SCAF-1 filter.

The new Wilderness Radio has amazing ears. Seems to hear signals at the noise floor that my Drake 2B isn’t hearing at all. This needs further exploration.

The NorCal 20 now has been upgraded to include a Tick memory keyer.

The SCAF is a treat on the CRK-10a. The switchable capacitive audio filter has the ability to roll off all frequencies above a certain point. On a direct conversion radio it eliminates a whole lot of interference.

Just worked W1SFR in Vermont on 40 with signals 569 both ways so the NorCal40 is fitting in just fine.

3 Watts Of Joy

Three watts and a dipole make for challenging QRP especially when you’re rock bound on 7030 but I finally did it!

I actually had a whole QSO with Saul running a special event 13 Colonies station WM3PEN from Philadelphia PA where American independence was declared.

How cool is that? And happy Independence Day to our American cousins.

Saul was running an old IC-730 (which was one of my first rigs way back when) and I was running my CRK-10A CW transceiver.CRK10A

Saul, BTW, is a pretty good operator. Due to QRM which I couldn’t move away from due to being crystal controlled signals were okay but QRM was louder. We started the QSO with neither of us getting the other guy’s callsign straight and I missed Saul’s name the first time around. But like I said, Saul seems to be a pretty good op and we pieced our information together.

I’ve been running CW for years in contests and I can copy pretty well but I can’t send with a darn anymore. You see when contesting we use the software logging program to send the reports by pushing a button. I’m real good a button pushing but not so good with a set of paddles. Thus the emphasis on ragchewing with the QRP rig to get my sending back.

Thanks Saul for putting up with my bad fist. It will get better and happy 4th of July OM.

 

QRP On The Cheap

One of the easiest and cheapest ways to get onto the shortwave bands after you’ve passed your exam and got your ticket is to buy a used rig (often referred to as a boat anchor) for somewhere between $500 and $1,000 put up an antenna and get on the air.FT101B (Medium)

But not everyone can drop that much cash so quickly on an HF rig especially if they shelled out $100 to $500 on a VHF/UHF hand held.

So I would offer that going QRP (5 watts or less) isn’t a bad thing.DSCF2052

You’ll hear a lot of the old sparkies say that newcomers should avoid QRP as trying to talk to other guys at five watts or less is too frustrating. I’m here to say to that “Nutz!”

I regularly contest with my FlexRadio 1500. True at $500 used it’s not dirt cheap but this software defined radio (which needs a fairly robust computer to make it work) runs circles around rigs costing ten times as much. (See Sherwood Engineering’s Receiver Data site.)

Besides the difference from running 100 watts compared to 5 watts is an S9 signal compared to an S7 signal. That’s it. Two S units. If you weren’t watching your S meter your ears would never be able to tell the difference.

As I am typing this post I again am listening to 40 meters alive with signals on 7030. My rig? It’s the Chinese-made CRK-10a CW transceiver that runs a staggering 3 watts and costs $65 new! crk10a_front

Now this isn’t necessarily a rig I’d recommend as your first rig but it’s a contender even though it doesn’t have any controls and is fixed on one frequency only (thus the low price). But it does have a built-in keyer and honestly there is something very nice about listening to a direct conversion radio. There are none of the artifacts generated by radios that use IFs to change the frequency of the radio or even SDR rigs that used a computer’s soundboard and tons of processing.

So where do we start when it comes to QRP?

First many if not most QRP rigs come as kits. You’ll need a soldering station and some basic tools but these will last you a lifetime.IF

When it comes to really simple kits you can’t get much simpler than a Tuna Tin 2.

This transmitter only runs 330 milliwatts (1/3 watt) and needs a receiver and an antenna to make lots of contacts on 7030 kHz the QRP watering hole on 40 meters, I’ve got one and it actually works. Takes an hour or so to assemble.

Next up there’s the slightly more sophisticated rig I really like which is my HB1A (aka the Ten Tec 8263R4020). This 5-watt dual-band (40 and 20 meters) vfo controlled rig has a built-in keyer (it can also take a straight key) and runs off internal or external batteries or a 12-volt power supply. It has a variable filter and can hear sideband as well as CW although it only transmits CW. It originally cost around $200 and there’s a new four-band model at $300 but used you might find a used HB1A around $100 or so. Really good rig for the $ but early versions had reliability issues as it was made in China.

Just about any rig from Elecraft (if you can afford it) or Wilderness Radio or Oak Hills Research (which sells a very nice QRP wattmeter. See photo.).

DSCF1187Some of the new radios coming out of China are dirt cheap but as I said reliability has been an issue in the past so you take your chances.

A new all-band CW/SSB rig out of China, the X1M Pro is about to be replaced by a seven-band version.

These rigs are coming in around $500 to $700 which is a bit of gamble but sure attractive based on price.hand-v3

QRP is an excellent solution to finding a nice rig for very little cash outlay. Have fun and hope to hear you on the bands.

 

When You Care To Send The Very Least

My new CRK-10A 3-watt QRP 40-meter transceiver arrived in the mail today. And I do mean literally in a mail envelope to the door 10 days from QRVTronics.com in Idaho.10491120_10152204299611169_4876216711074622905_n

In the photo it’s the little box sitting on top of the autotuner next to the Flex 1500 with the wires for headphones and paddles plugged into it.

I bought the assembled version (for an extra $15 or so) for a grand total of $86.10 including mailing.

So what kind of rig is it?

Well it doesn’t have a volume control or a VFO! HI. It does have a keyer built-in and as I’m xtal controlled on 7030 kHz I can hear a bunch of guys sending CQ all around me. Even had a guy send me a ? but I didn’t have the keyer speed set right to reply.

You’ll notice I do have the rig sitting on top of an LDG Z-11 Pro autotuner as the rig likes to see 50 Ohms for full output. My extended 40-meter dipole on the Hy-Gain Explorer seems to be the rig’s favourite antenna. The end-fed sloper causes the rig to dial up a nearby religious broadcaster as does my Alpha-Delta shortened dipole.

I’m comparing the receiver to the Drake R8 and it would seem the little rig hears just about everything the Drake hears and the bandwidth is a soft 600 Hz or so which isn’t necessarily so bad when it comes to QRP. The receiver is direct conversion and there is a two-pole crystal filter and an audio filter which helps. Anybody who is a Kc away on either side can’t be heard and anybody on frequency sounds pretty good.

Because this is a direct conversion rig there is a curious CFW button which helps identify which sideband you’re listening to. If the sound of the CW note goes high when you push the button it’s likely you’re listening to the wrong sideband and since you’re crystal control there’s not much you can do about it.

Anyway hope to hear you on 7030 some night.

 

How To Win The CQ WW WPX CW*

You may not be a big gun running in the single-operator, high-power category with big antennas and the ability to run CW for 48 hours without sleep but you can still win the CQ WW WPX CW.Simplex_Pro-1

And what I am suggesting is you can win a *category.

Some categories are pretty easy to win and some are much more competitive but submitting your log in just one category gives you a much better chance at winning some wallpaper.

For example, this weekend, I’m going to be running five-watts QRP and I’ll start working guys on all bands. I’m pretty competitive for a QRP station on 40 through 10 but I just don’t have competitive quality antennas for 80 or 160 meters.

I’ll be using Writelog as my logging program. I want to get used to N1MM which has seen a substantial revamp which was demonstrated at Dayton during the contest forum but this would offend my don’t change anything 48-hours before a contest rule.

At the end of the contest I’ll have a look at my scores and then and only then will I create my Cabrillo log file and pick my category.DSCF2059

This is a welcome feature in the WPX contests. Depending on conditions I might go all band or single band but I can wait until the end to make this decision.

For example, unlikely as it maybe, if 10 meters opened up and I did a mere 62 contacts I’d beat last year’s top 10 meter score. To take top all band score for Canada I’d need to work at least 500 Qs and 1100 to take the top category. Fifteen is pretty open but 20 single band is very competitive.

As I’ve said before, working QRP during a CW contest doing search and pounce operation isn’t any handicap when compared to running 100 watts in decent conditions. In awful conditions (of which we’ve had a lot of) it’s nice to have the 100-watt rig to fall back on and I’d cheerfully run a KW in some contests (especially on phone).IMG_0169

Now if I was really brave I’d fire up the new NorCal 20 and work QRP single band 20 without benefit of a keyer. Now that would be a hoot. Maybe next year 🙂

The Real Ham Radio

Here it is! My newest rig from Dayton!IMG_0169

No it’s not a Flex 6300 but that’s on the list; It’s a NorCal 20 putting out a staggering 5 watts and  I just worked Z35G with 579 (I’m sure he was being nice.) and 5nn from me (which is all I can send after years of contesting).

I bought the NorCal 20 for $35 and it works just fine with built-in keyer and frequency announcements in CW.

I got it to compare as I build my own brand new NorCal 20 I bought years ago and never had the nerve to build. In the photo, the NorCal 20 is the white box with the three knobs (volume, RIT and tuning), It tunes about 70 kHz of the 20 meter CW band and the receiver is sensitive and very quiet. Highly recommend this little rig.

And somebody tell Z35G thanks for me as my sending needs work 🙂

QRP – QRO – FlexRadio

Thanks to an article in the National Contest Journal where author Mike, VE3GFN (Good For Nothing but a pretty good contester especially on CW) interviewed me on being a QRP contester I’ve been getting quite a few emails asking my opinion on QRP, contesting and, of course, the viability of the FlexRadio SDR as a contesting radio.2014 NCJ Jan Feb Cover.indd

First let me say if you’re planning on running five watts QRP as a contester you need a five-watt contesting radio.

That means most of the kits you can buy for under $200 won’t cut it in the contesting world. On the other hand you won’t want to carry let alone power a standard big box contest rig out to some field or remote location regardless of power out. So most “trail” radios are out with the exception of the amazing Elecraft KX3 which is on my wish list.

The first requirement of a contesting rig is ease of operating. You don’t want to be swapping out cables or soldering connectors on old coax at 2 am.  What you want here is absolutely no surprises.DSC_0003

The second requirement is a brick wall front end on the receiver. Yes you can contest with an IC-703 (or a 756 like my old rig) but 48 hours of SSB splatter in your ears will convince you that there has to be a better rig out there for contesting.

There is a reason why you can buy 100-watt rig for $1,000 or $10,000. Most of the difference in price is in the receiver.

Third requirement is to remember the best contesting rig you’ve got is the one in front of you. While a K3 is a really excellent contesting rigs, the base price is the price you’ll pay after you’ve added filters, panoramic displays, auto tuners, amps and more can end up over $5000.

Suddenly our used IC-703 at $400 looks pretty good as does the Flex 1500 at $600 (with all filters built in). What you want to do is pick your contests. A QRP on 10 meters when there’s a substantial opening is a killer. I worked a guy the other day contesting on 10 running five watts mobile!

So would I recommend a FlexRadio for contesting?

The answer right now is no.

As much as I love my FlexRadios they are not plug and play. Most complaints about the rigs can be laid at the feet of operator error and there is a learning curve. Contesters need simplicity and the Flex rig setup isn’t simple. (It’s not brain surgery and you do need a pretty robust PC to run the software.)

Also the ergonomics associated with which window is active on the computer screen and how a 2 am slip of the mouse can create untold problems with sudden unexpected frequency change (caused by typing in the logging program window with a mouse that’s still pointing to the SDR window) will be too much trouble for most contesters.

Having said that a $600 Flex 1500 alone or with a $1,000 five-hundred watt amp will outperform just about any rig ever made IMHO. While this might attract some rabid comments (and has in the past), I find the Flex audio to be much much more listenable over a 48-hour contest than any big box rig I’ve ever used.

My new Flex 3000 at under $2,000 is an amazing 100-watt rig and setup with two monitors makes for a killer digital rig and one of the best CW contesting rigs ever. (There’s something about tuning down the band in 200 Hz slices working one guy after another that can’t be duplicated by rigs without lots and lots of front-end and IF filtering which at 200 HZ tend to ring like a church bell.)

I’m still working on my FlexKnob lagging when tuning on the Flex 3000 and not on the knob2Flex 1500 (seems the SDR tuning window is getting commands after the knob stops rotating). I’ve bought a new FireWire cable and card. I’ve vaporized ports and changed the aggressiveness of the devices to no effect. (Turning on spur reduction eliminates the issue which makes me suspect a software issue Flex!) It’s a work in progress.

Also maybe it’s just me but I work more guys on my FlexRadios because the transmitter note or sound stands out in a crowd. There’s no other way to explain how easily I can bust big pileups with the 3000 and even the 1500 at five watts.

Yes, yes I drank the FlexRadio Cool-Aid but honestly these are wonderful rigs and even best of all can be run sitting on the floor invisible in our home office setup.

All you need on your desk is the monitor, a keyboard and a mouse. I keep a set of CW paddles just to make a style statement and a glowing Drake 2B in perfect condition to keep my hands warm during our Canadian winters.

CQ WW RTTY DX And Terminal Weirdness

I started the CQ WW RTTY DX contest saying I’d kill for a 100 watts. Problem is at 5 watts I could work everybody I could hear (and the only exception to that was a station in Indonesia who I could print (that’s what it’s called in RTTY) and who sent me a couple of ?? on Friday morning but couldn’t work) and 100 watts would be overkill.Sunspots-Oct18-2010

But that’s not to say I didn’t have my challenges and none of them had to do with power.

First my wireless keyboard function keys stopped working. Now that’s weird as it’s worked for a year without issue with Writelog.

Next my rotor stopped working. It is now pointed directly toward Saudi Arabia, which I worked at 5 watts, and is useless for working JAs or anything for that matter to the west. The California QSO Party is next weekend so this issue is way up the urgent and important list.

Finally Sunday morning I got port issues with the SDR interface to the computer. Have no idea what happened but had no xmit switching. Lots of receive and the transmitter worked but no switching from Writelog.

Vapourized the virtual ports and still nothing.

Then I got smart and reset the computer to a restore point back a day or so ago and Ta Da  everything is working again.

Finished the contest with over 200 Qs which is barely okay but good enough. Band conditions, especially on 15, were as good as I’ve heard in years (and years). Very quiet with lots of activity. 20 was good and there was even activity on 10 meters.History_of_solar_cycle_341px

Most of you are too new to remember the around-the-clock openings on 10 meters where a converted 5-watt CB set on AM could work the world. The sunspot cycles in the late 1950s and late 1970s and 80s were amazing. Cycle 24, the one we’re in now has been called the weakest in 100 years.

So while some may think they need a kilowatt or so to have fun, there’s still lots of fun to be had at 5 watts despite conditions which are unpredictable at best and lousy at worst.