Snow Static??

Recently, I posted a question to our club’s mailing list regarding a QRN problem I was having. I said:

“I have an odd QRN problem here that seems related to snow. It sounds like some kind of electrical switching noise, similar to what you’d hear from a bad dimmer switch. I only get it, however, when there’s snow it seems. Earlier this morning, for example, the 20m band was very quiet. Now, after the snow has started, the noise is up around S9.”

Both George, K9KAZ and Clay, W8JNZ replied that what I may be experiencing is “snow static.” Apparently, snow flakes pick up a charge as they form and fall, and when they strike your antenna, discharge. You hear this discharge as noise.

George wrote, “We had the same problem with rain static
in commercial service. Sometimes so bad communication was impossible.” Clay noted, “Charges can build up in some cases to quite large voltages being generated, even harmful for delicate equipment. Rain has also been known to do the same thing.”

George also passed along the following URLs:

http://www.austin-insulators.com/radio/insulators.html

http://www.qsl.net/k1fz/2wirenotes.html

http://larc.unl.edu/log.issues/log1098.html

http://www.weathernotebook.org/transcripts/1997/05/22.html

http://stories.contesting.com/ARRLDXCW/arcw96_k1ki.html

This phenomenon is quite interesting. It’s certainly another reason to make sure your station is well-grounded. While I’m pretty sure that the noise source that’s giving me fits is electrical and not snow static, I do now note that falling snow does increase the overall QRN level.

As for the electrical noise, it seems to have gone away for the time being. My plan is to purchase and build the Sniffer field strength meter kit. Then, when the noise reappears–and you know it will–I’ll wander around the neighborhood with the FSM and try to locate the source. More on that later.

My First Award

This has been a year of firsts for me in ham radio. Now I can claim my first ham radio award.

I’ve just been awarded the FIST Century Club Award for working 100 different FISTS members. I’m CC #1389.

And they gave me the award even after I goofed up the dupe sheet! Thanks, K6DF! :)

HamCables.Com?

Building the cables for my EchoLink project was, to put it bluntly, a royal pain. To build these cables, I had to find sources for the connectors–including a semi-oddball 8-pin mike connector for my Icom–and then wire it all up. The wiring wasn’t a real problem, but running around for the plugs was a hassle.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a website that not only carried the connectors, but would also build the cables for you? Being a website developer, I got to thinking about how to go about doing this. It shouldn’t be too difficult to write a web application that would let a ham choose the connectors he or she wants, the type of wire that the cable will use, and then specify the wire list for the cable.

Once the ham has entered that info, the website would calculate a price based on the cost of the connectors and an estimate of how long it would take to actually build the cable and give the ham a quote. The ham could then proceed to a checkout screen, where he or she could input a credit card number.

Once the card has been verified, the website would transmit the information to someone who would actually build and ship the cable. I suppose I could also program the website to ship kits to hams that don’t want to pay for the cable assembly. That would save them a few bucks, yet provide an easy way to purchase the cable and connectors they need.

So, what do you all think? Is this a service you might find yourself using? Or, is there perhaps a service like that out there already?

Oh no! KB6NU gets on SSB!

If you read the previous blog entry, you know that I worked some of the DX contest this weekend. Well, after the Saturday afternoon session, I was kind of burned out on CW, so I thought, that I’d tune up the band and see what was happening on SSB.

Now, you have to realize what a big step this was for me. Up to this point, I’ve made probably less than 100 SSB contacts in my entire ham career. The main reason for this is that I’ve always operated barefoot, and since my antennas have always been less than stellar, my signal is usually one of the weakest on the band. Even so, I thought I’d give SSB a shot.

Since I cut my ground plane antenna for the CW portion of the band, I wasn’t sure what the SWR would be in the SSB portion. That being the case, I decided to stick down below 14.250. After tuning around for just a few minutes, I heard a very strong station from MA calling CQ. I answered the call–and what do you know–he came right back to me.

Of course, I was weaker than he was–he was 59+, while my report was only 57–but we had a nice, although short, chat. I faded out on him before long.

My second contact was a DX contact! After ending the QSO with the MA station, I tuned down towards 14.200 and heard S51CK calling CQ. Again, he came back to me on the first call! (S5, by the way is the prefix for Slovenia.)

Today, after dinner, I wandered down to the shack and again started looking around for SSB contacts. This time, I made contact with a station in Lawrence, KS. Again, he was stronger, as he was running a Drake transceiver putting out 200W, while my Icom IC735 is rated at only 100W. Even so, conditions were decent, and we had a nice long QSO before the band dropped out on us.

Does this mean I’m going to abandon CW? Hardly. Does it mean I’ll look to get on SSB more than once every 15 years? Probably. SSB is yet another fun thing to do with ham radio.

More DX!

I hadn’t planned on working the ARRL International CW DX Contest this weekend, but got caught up in the action. I worked a total of about three hours in three separate shifts. As always, I worked only the 20m band.

This really was a helluva contest. I’d never heard so many DX stations on at any one time. And the beautiful thing is that the DX stations were actually listening for you! The only way they could score points was to work US stations.

Overall, I worked a total of 31 stations from 20 different countries. New countries for me included Yugoslavia, Turks and Caicos Islands, Bermuda, Aruba, China (!), Dominican Republic, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal, and the Slovak Republic. What a blast!

In addition to working all these cool countries, I’m happy to report that my code speed is increasing, too. I cranked up the keyer to send at 22 wpm, and my copying skills were nearly as good. Only a few stations did I have to copy multiple times to log their correct callsigns.

More Meeting Ideas

I was talking to Kurt KC8ULG just now and we got to talking about antique radios. He has a small collection, including a Korean war vintage receiver and a Hallicrafters HT-32 transmitter. He’s also just purchased a regenerative receiver kit, which is not strictly an antique, but the design certainly is. I have a few vintage radios myself, including a couple of Hallicrafters receivers and a 1940s Philco.

Since our monthly club meeting was just yesterday, that got me thinking that having an antique radio “show and tell” might make a good program for an upcoming meeting. I know there are others who also have some cool old radios they could show off.

Kurt also mentioned that he has an old Dumont Oscillograph, one of the first oscilloscopes. That got me to thinking about yet another topic for a meeting–how to use an oscilloscope.

Do you have any suggestions for up coming meetings? If so, please comment below. Thanks!

My First Contest

I participated in the FISTS Winter Sprint yesterday, which ran from 1700Z to 2100Z. While I have taken part in other contests, I’ve never done it seriously. During last year’s Field Day, I worked a little CW for our club, and during the 2002 CW Sweepstakes I got on and handed out a few QSOs, but in neither case did I submit logs.

So, this was my first contest as a serious competitor.

1700Z is noon here, so I got on a little earlier to make a few QSOs and warm up. The last of these contacts ended about 1650Z, and I tuned up to 14058 to wait patiently. The anticipation was actually kind of exciting. Time seemed to slow down as I watch the clock: 1652, 1653, 1656, 1658, 1700!

As soon as the first station started calling CQ FISTS, all the others jumped in. My first contact was with K5TPC on 14057. I then camped out a little on 14057.5 and had some success there, working four or five stations in very short order.

Then, the activity slowed down a little and I decided to go searching for other stations calling CQ. I think, in retrospect, that that was a mistake. I should have perhaps tried to keep my position on 14057.5, calling CQ, but I think that I’d have eventually been forced off the frequency by the higher power stations.

I spent the entire first hour, scanning between 14057 and 14060, totalling about 15 contacts. Then I went through a real dry spell. Tuning around a little, I found that the contest had spread down as low as 14050, so I set up down there and began calling CQ. I had some success, but the bulk of the stations were still up around 14058.

For the next three hours, I split my time between 14057 – 14060 and 14050-14055. When one went quiet, I’d tune over to the other. For a while, I tried calling CQ FISTs down around 14051, but didn’t have all that much success.

The third hour was the worst. I think I only made six or seven contacts from 1900Z to 2000Z. I was thinking about calling it quits, but then I figured that since I’d stuck it out this long, I might as well finish.

I’m glad I did. Activity seemed to pick up the last hour, and I not only picked up more contacts, but more multipliers as well. In the last 15 minutes alone, I made six contacts, including three multipliers (WI, TN, and LA).

All in all, I think I did pretty well for my first “real” contest. I had a total of 43 contacts, yielding 212 QSO points (one of the contacts was not a FISTS member). With the 25 multipliers, my score was 5,300. 20m was pretty much open all over, except to the west coast, which accounts for the high number of multipliers.

For most of the contest, I had the keyer cranked up to 20 wpm. That seemed to work just fine for most contacts. A couple of times, I had to slow down, but since the format was pretty cut and dry, most all the ops could go at least 20 wpm.

I also made use of the memory function of the keyer, programming in “CQ FISTS DE KB6NU.” It did save a little wear and tear, but working a paddle really isn’t all that much work. I probably should have also programmed in “UR 599 MI DAN 9342,” which is the standard QSO, but it wasn’t so bad sending that.

To sum up, I learned something about contesting, and even more importantly, had a lot of fun. I’m definitely going to seek out more contests, so that by the time the 2003 Field Day rolls around I’ll have that much more experience to bring to the party.

Quad or Beam??

Last Sunday, the 20m band was in odd shape. I could only hear a few domestic stations, but quite a few DX stations. The problem was that while I could hear them, my signal was just not strong enough to work them.

This is partly due, of course, to my antenna installation. I am currently using a ground plane antenna made from antenna wire, supported at the top by a handy tree branch. The antenna is about 15 feet behind the house, but past that, the ground slopes upward, effectively shielding radiation in that direction. Believe me, if I’d been more active in ham radio when I was looking for a new house, I’d never have bought this place.

At any rate, this frustrating turn of events got me to thinking about how I can upgrade my antenna farm. I suppose I could go whole hog and put up a 50′ tower and a full-size beam, but that’s quite costly and I doubt I’d make many friends with the neighbors.

Another idea is to put up a small tower on the roof and on top of that install a compact beam. Glenn Martin Engineering makes a couple of roof-top towers that are reasonably priced. Their eight-foot model is about $240, and since the house is already 25 feet high or more, the antenna would be 35 feet above ground.

As for the antenna, I did a little Web searching and found several manufacturers of compact beams, including:

  • Mosley Electronics, makers of the TA-33jr,
  • TGM Communications, which makes a whole line of compact beams, and
  • Hex-Beam. The HexBeam is an unusual design. The elements are full size, but folded to require less space., which

The more I think about it, though, I think a quad antenna might be a better choice. They’re usually ligher and smaller. Here are a few that I found on the Net:

I also think I could build my own rather than buying one. That would not only make it cheaper, but it would be fun, too. Hams on eHam have recommended the following as good sources of information for building your own:

  • The book, Cubical Quad Antennas : How to Build and Adjust Quads by William I. Orr, Stuart D. Cowan. Unfortunately, this book is now out of print.
  • The article, Update on the Pfeifer Quad System, appeared in the September 2001 QST.

The ARRL website also has a number of other articles on the topic.

In a way, I’m kind of geeked about doing this. Despite my protestations earlier, that I’m not an antenna genius (and I’m still not, believe me), I have gotten several to work here. It’s also a lot of fun to build them and get them to work.

FISTS Frustration

It’s gotten to the point where I’ve worked just most of the active FISTS members on 20m. That’s OK with me, but while I’m not that big on awards, I would like to get my FISTS Century Club award. I think I’m close to 75 points now, but at the rate I’m going, it will take me another six months to get there.

I suppose that what I really need to do is to put up another antenna so that I can work 40m or 80m.

I’m also going to give the Winter Sprint a go on Saturday, Feb. 8. It runs from 12 noon to 4 pm EST. I should rack up a few points then.