Those Wacky Japanese Hams

As I sometimes do, I fire up the rig for a while before getting down to work. I wasn’t expecting much as conditions on 20m have been very poor lately. You can imagine how surprised I was to hear a bunch of stations between 14050 and 14055 working some kind of contest!

I ran up to my office to see if I could find any information on the contest, but none of the usual suspects had any data on it. So, I went back down to the shack to just listen and figure out the exchange. After I’d done that, I tried calling a few stations, but none of them could hear me, even those coming in at S3+.

Actually, I think a couple of them did hear me after I bumped up my power to 100W. They called QRZ?, but I still wasn’t strong enough for them to copy my call. Oh well…

What I want to know, though, is what wacky organization schedules a contest for Monday evening (which it then was in Japan)?

Another Product Idea: The Computer-Controlled Antenna Analyzer

There are several antenna analyzers on the market:

While these are good products, there missing one thing–a computer interface. If the MFJ or my Autek analyzer should have either a built-in computer or a computer interface or both. With that interface, you could make automatically tuning antennas. For example, if you were using a Slinky antenna, you could make a device that would allow the analyzer or computer to control how many windings were in the active coil. For a base-loaded antenna, it could automatically adjust the tuning components at the antenna’s base.

For non-tunable antennas, it could automatically plot frequency vs. SWR curves. It could also store this data and you could plot how an antenna system’s SWR changes over time and in conjunction with various weather conditions.

Wouldn’t that be cool??

Contests, Slinky Antennas, and Antenna Analyzers

Last weekend, we set up a multi-transmitter station to participate in the Michigan QSO Party. The goal was to have two transmitters operating during the contest, one on 40m and the other on whatever band was open.

One of the antennas we put up was a “Slinky antenna,” so named because it uses two big Slinky coils as the radiating elements. To tune the antenna, you vary the number of windings that are active. You do this by shorting out a number of them on the end of each element.

When we first put it up, we used the tuning chart in the documentation to adjust the length of the antenna and the number of windings to expose. When we measured the standing wave ratio (SWR) with an antenna analyzer, it was about 7:1, not very good even for amateur operation. So, we increased the number of windings on each leg by 5, and the SWR dropped to about 3:1. We let out five more and the SWR dropped to about 1.25:1.

BUT, the guy who was reading the meter said the readings were jumping all over the place.

Hmmmm, I thought. What could be wrong? Did I perhaps not solder something correctly? Is the coax bad? Is the antenna inherently unstable?

I went down into the basement to see for myself, and sure enough, the readings would settle down and then bounce around for a while. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out that the problem was that while we were making these measurements, our second transmitter was busy trying to make contacts on another band. What we were reading as a reflection was actually RF being output by our other transmitter!

After we all got a good laugh out of that, we hooked it up to one of the transceivers and it worked pretty well for the remainder of the contest.

URLs from the April 2003 QST Classifieds

Last night, I found myself paging throught the April QST classifieds. Here are a few of the URLs I found interesting:

  • Sells an odd assortment of stuff, including keys and paddles, capacitors, tubes, and oil paintings. Yes, I said oil paintings.
  • Sells the Digi-Field Field Strength Meter. The meter has a digital readout, and they claim a bandwidth of DC to 12 GHz, but it seems kind of expensive at $219.
  • This seems to be yet another ham radio classifieds website. Unfortunately, there’s hardly anything for sale here. The only categories with more than 2 or 3 items are the accessories categories, and these have mostly old Motorola stuff in them.
  • I was hoping to find a source of aluminum tubing for antenna projects. Instead, the main product of this company is a set of military surplus masting tubes. They also sell telescoping fiberglass poles that look like a decent deal. A 22-ft., heavy duty (whatever that means) pole is $45.
  • Joel Thurtell, K8PSV is the Radio Finder, and this site is devoted to his business of buying and selling boat anchors. It’s a very interesting site.
  • Apparently a German company has purchased the rights to produce the callbook, and they plan to produce both a CD version and a printed version. The CD is already shipping; the printed version is to be available May 2003.
  • PowerWerx sells a bunch of accessory-type stuff, but specializes in kits consisting of RigRunner, 12V distribution panels and the Anderson PowerPole connectors and power cable to go along with them. If you buy the kit, you save a few bucks over the piece prices.
  • Ed Romney self-publishes a bunch of books on camera repair and a single volume on antique radio repair. It’s a bit hard to find on the website, and imho, kind of expensive at $35 a pop.

Macho CW

A couple of days ago, I had a contact that I could only describe as “macho CW.” We were both using keyers at 20+ wpm, and it was clear that neither of us was copying the other 100%, but neither of us would ask the other to slow down. The one doing that would be, of course, admitting that the other was the better operator.

Something similar happens in the cycling world. Sometimes two or more riders will be in a pack, cranking along at a pace that none of them can really sustain, but none of them wants to be the wimp that asks the group to slow down. What usually happens in that case is that the slower riders eventually just give up as they tire out.

Since operating CW isn’t such a physically tiring activity, what usually happens is that one of the operators says something like, “SRI OM, MUST QRT NW” or “XYL CALLING ME TO DINNER.” It’s a way of saving face. The contact ends with neither operator admitting defeat.

This is, of course, poor operating practice, and I won’t try to justify my behavior, except to say, that if it were an emergency situation, I doubt that I would have been so stupid. If the communication definitely had to be made, I would not have been too proud to ask the other op to QRS. At least I think so….

Antenna FUBAR Again

Last night we had pouring rain, followed by some freezing rain. Looking out the kitchen window while making breakfast, I could see a coating of ice on both the coax and my 20m ground plane antenna.

After breakfast, I went down to the shack to work a little CW, I found the SWR to be way up again, measuring about 1.7:1 at 14050 kHz. I went outside and wiped off the coax, but that didn’t seem to do anything.

I’ve been waiting for it to warm up and for the ice to melt, but the temperature’s been hovering around freezing all morning, and I’m not sure it’s going to get much higher today.

Maybe it’s time to replace that coax. It is, after all, a piece of coax that I’ve had laying around here for years. I can’t imagine that it’s a problem with the antenna itself, but I suppose that’s a possibility.

Update: 4/6/2003, 1130am
Well, this morning, the antenna was back to normal. That coating of ice must have been what was causing the high SWR. As I’ve said in the past, I’m no antenna genius, so I don’t have a clue as to why this should have been so. Anyone have an idea?

Unfortunately, the band conditions this morning aren’t all that hot, and there are a couple of contests, including the Polish DX contest and the QCWA QSO Party, on 20m this morning, so I haven’t been too successful making contacts. I did call one of the Polish stations, and he heard me, but I wasn’t strong enough for a solid contact.

AC6V’s FM101x: A Book for the New Tech

Back in the old days, the first license most amateurs received was the Novice license. When new hams got their Novice licenses, they put up an 80m or 40m dipole, fired up the transmitter, connected their key, and started pounding out CQ. There were plenty of books that not only showed them how to do that, but also how to make CW contacts.

Nowadays, of course, the first license most hams get is the Technician license, and their first rig is an HT that they’ll use to talk over the local repeater. Most of these radios already have an antenna, so getting on the air isn’t a problem. What to do when you get on the air can be, though.

That’s why Rod Dinkins, AC6V (of fame) wrote AC6V’s FM101x: A Guide to Your First VHF/UHF Radio and Using FM Repeaters. In this book, Rod, who was a technical writer for Hewlett Packard for more than 20 years, clearly explains not only how to choose and use a radio, but also what to do with it once you have it.

The book includes chapters on:

Your First FM Radio. This chapter will help you purchase your first FM radio. Discusses advantages of Handi-Talkies vs Mobiles, antennas, batteries, features to consider. All mode radios and multi-banders are discussed. Mobile installation, Mobile Antennas, DC power supplies, Noise Abatement, Mobile Power considerations, Coax Considerations, and VSWR checks.

Operating Simplex. This chapter discusses simplex operation, or operation without a repeater. It describes the range you can expect, antennas, cross polarization, and protocol. Includes a complete list of simplex frequencies from 2 meters thru 1.2 GHz including the recommended National Calling frequencies.

How Repeaters Work. This chapter tells you everything you need to know about how a repeater works, and includes a simplified pictorial of a repeater. This chapter covers simplex, half duplex, and full duplex operation. It explains offsets, splits, input and output frequencies and lists the standard offsets for USA repeaters – 10 meters thru 2.4 GHz. Thoroughly covered are CTCSS, PL, subaudible tones, tone squelch, DCS, CTCS, tone burst, DTMF, and other repeater beeps and bebops.

Programming a Rig. This chapter walks you through the process of programming your radio. It shows you how to make a cheat sheet and use programming cables.

Antennas, Power Sources, VSWR, and DeciBels. This chapter explains why the rubber duck antenna is a mediocre antenna at best and describes more effective antennas. such as the quarter-wave, half-wave, ¾- wave, and 5/8-wave antennas. It also cover Yagis, and J-Poles and gives numerous tips for building your own antennas. The concepts of VSWR, and dB are covered in an accessible, non-technical way. The power sources section discusses the different types of batteries, including sealed lead acid (SLA), Lithium, NiCad, and NiMH batteries.

Using Repeaters. This chapter tells you how to find repeaters, including how to use repeater guides on the internet. Then, once you’ve found a repeater, it gives you a complete rundown on repeater protocol, soliciting a conversation, asking for information, jargon heard, radio checks and signal reports, what to say, breaking in, multiple conversations – rotations, nets, roll calls and demos, autopatching. Also listed is a complete listing of 2 Meter repeater pairs, packet simplex, and voice simplex frequencies.

Phonetics, Q-Signals, and Callsigns. Confused by Q-signals? This chapter not only explains the Q-signals used on repeaters, but also the phonetics you’ll hear.

Funny Repeater Sounds. Repeaters produce a myriad of strange noises, and helps you determine what these sounds mean, including path noise, distortions, alternator whine, ignition noise, capturing, Morse characters, hum, over and under deviation, kerchunk, desense, CB talk, i.e. ten codes.

Cops and Jammers. This chapter will help you determine when and when not to play repeater cop and how to deal with jammers and interlopers.

Inside A Repeater. This chapter includes detailed block diagrams of the elements of a repeater and discusses in plain language how duplexers, limiters, discriminators, deviation, bandwidth, channel spacing, modulation index, and FM modulation work.

Interconnecting Repeaters. This is one of the most exciting new ways to use a repeater. Discusses how amateurs are using IRLP, ILINK, and crossband repeating to extend the range of their systems.

Glossary and Jargon. This chapter includes 16 pages of terms, slang, and repeater speak.

While not for the experienced operator, this book is quite comprehensive and is sure to help the most intimidated get on the air successfully. It really is a great book for the Technician who’s wondering, “Now, what do I do?”

You can buy this book on QTB.Com. Just click here.