Morse on Morse

Recently, Ron WB3AAL met Diana Morse, who as it turns out, is a distant relative of Samuel B. Morse. Ron introduced her to ham radio, and now she is KB3NNP and an avid CW operator.

Dave Bushone of 99 Hobbies interviewed her in his latest podcast.

Shining a Light on the SG-239 Antenna Tuner

This spring, I volunteered to help Colin KD8CCQ get on the air. He had an Icom IC-706 and an SG-239 antenna tuner, and was trying to figure out the best type of antenna to use with this combination. My solution was a doublet fed with ladder line, so one cool spring day, we strung one up and connected it to the SG-239.

Unfortunately, we did not get the results we were looking for. The tuner never did find a sweet spot, and we ran out of time that day to play with it more, and before we got back to it, Colin had decided to purchase an Alpha-Delta multiband dipole. We put that up, and it did work, so fortunately, Colin was able to get on the air.

After this experience, Colin thought that the SG-239 was defective, and was ready to send it back, but I wasn’t so sure about that. I convinced him to let me take it home with me so that I could play around with it. I wanted to hook up my dummy load to the antenna input. If it could tune a dummy load, that would, at least indicate that it was somewhat working.

Well, it sat on my shelf for a couple of months, but this weekend I pulled it down to run some tests. The first thing I did was to read the manual. (I know this is against FCC rules, but I had to chance it.)

It outlined a test procedure for the tuner that harkened back to the early days of ham radio–it suggested using a light bulb as a dummy load! Back in the days of tube gear, it was very common to use a light bulb as a dummy load. True, most light bulbs are not 50 ohms, and their resistance undoubtedly changes as the wire inside heats up, but most tube gear had matching circuits on their outputs that you tuned when you fired up the rig on a particular frequency, and they were beefy enough to tolerate more than a wimpy 1.5:1 SWR.

Besides, in this application, it’s probably a good thing that the load presented by the light bulb isn’t 50 ohms. Not being 50 ohms, will make the tuner actually do a little work. The 60W bulb I had measured 17.5 ohms, which should yield a 3:1 SWR.

Anyway, I first had to make some cables: a power cable for the tuner, a cable to connect the output on the antenna tuner to the light bulb, and a coaxial cable to connect the rig to the tuner.

After hooking it all up, I fired up the radio. The tuner clicked and whirred, and in a couple of seconds, had found a match. The tuner’s TUNED light came on, and the bulb glowed brightly. So, apparently the tuner works just fine on the bench with a dummy load attached.

Next, I plan to try it with either a homebrew end-fed Zepp similar to the one on eBay or a W3EDP antenna. Maybe I’ll finally be able to get on 80m.

For more information on the SG-239 antenna tuner, read N9ZRT’s All About The SG-239 Antenna Coupler: A Simple, Imperfect Tutorial

This Item’s for the Birds

The following is from the July 28, 2006 issue of the ARRL Letter:


Wildlife researchers are asking radio amateurs and VHF monitoring enthusiasts to help listen for radio tag signals from migrating birds. A non-profit organization in New Mexico wants to find the wintering grounds of the burrowing owl, which summers in the grasslands of Kirtland Air Force Base.

“Twenty-eight of the birds have been fitted with pulsing radio-tags near 172 MHz, and attempts will be made to track them by aircraft to see if they go east toward Texas, west to California, or south to Mexico,” says ARRL Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF) Coordinator Joe Moell, K0OV. “It’s likely that aircraft will lose contact with most of the owls, so volunteers throughout southwestern states and northern Mexico are being asked to listen for them.”

Moell said July 25 that the birds “will start moving any day now.”

Meanwhile, researchers at two Toronto universities are radiotagging 20 young purple martins at a breeding colony in Edinboro, Pennsylvania.

“These beautiful birds are expected to start flying south in mid-August, probably to winter grounds in South America,” Moell says. “Hams in southern states from Texas through Florida are asked to be listening and possibly detect the flyovers.”

He says those living in the migration zones and can receive 172 MHz signals can help. “If you have radio-direction finding equipment for VHF, so much the better,” he adds.

Moell’s “Homing In” Web site has much more information on these projects. The site includes frequencies and equipment suggestions as well as a descriptions of the unique characteristics of wildlife tags to help listeners distinguish them from other signals they may encounter at 172 MHz. The site also tells how to join the BIOTRACKERS mailing list for the latest updates and discussions of wildlife-tracking topics.

My Four QSOs Yesterday

As I’ve mentioned before, I try to make three QSOs every day. Well, yesterday I made four contacts and all of them DX (well, sort of, anyway)!

I started out on 30m where I first worked. When I first switch over to 30m, I tune into 10.1008. On this frequency, you’ll find DDK9, a commercial RTTY station running at 10 kW. It’s a good gauge of propagation to Europe. Last night, DDK9 was booming in at 10 dB over S9.

Tuning around a bit, I found Norbert DJ9RQ calling CQ. He gave me a nice 559 report. Then, tuning up the band, I found OK4RQ calling. He was just working them one after the other, so I almost didn’t bother to call, but then decided to anyway. He gave me a 579 report.

Later that evening, I QSYed to 40m. The first station I worked on 40 was VE2CBW. (OK, it’s not great DX, but it does count in many DX contests.) After working Claude, I gave out a CQ and Bern DJ4XD called.

The bands have been in pretty good shape lately. I need to get a 20m antenna back up in the air so I can see how things are on 20.

From the Mouths of Babes…

Yesterday, ARROW members met for the monthly AMPTeam meeting. I had intended to play around with the crossband repeat function of my IC-207 VHF/UHF transceiver, figuring that crossband repeating could be useful in an emergency. After some manual searching, however, I determined that it doesn’t have that capability! I don’t know how I got the impression that it did. Oh, well.

Instead, I set up the KX-1 as usual. For an antenna, I use the antenna described in the antenna tuner manual, namely a 28-ft driven element and a 16-ft. counterpoise. I actually use three counterpoises–that seems to work much better than just a single one.

In my toolbox, I have a tennis ball and a ball of nylon twine. I poke the twine through the tennis ball, and then throw the ball over a convenient tree branch. The last time I set up out in a park, I snagged the perfect branch on the very first throw. Last night, however, I wasn’t so lucky.

The problem seemed to be that there was just too much friction between the tree bark and the twine. I’d get the ball over the branch easily enough, but the ball was too light to come down far enough to grab it and attach the antenna wire.

All this was quite amusing to the kids who’d come over to watch me. At first they asked what I was doing, and when I explained, they seemed really interested. After a couple of tries, I said to them, “The ball is going over the right tree branch, but it’s not heavy enough to come down the other side.”

I poked around in my toolbox, trying to find something that might make the ball a little heavier, but nothing seemed very easy to use. When I mentioned this to the kids, one of them piped up, “Why don’t you put some rocks in it?” What a perfect solution! They scouted around for some small rocks, which we poked through the hole in the tennis ball, and voila, it was heavy enough now to not only go over the branch, but pull the twine down the other side. I thanked my assistants, who seemed very pleased with themselves.

After untangling the coil of antenna wire and pulling it up into the tree, I got the KX-1 all hooked up and let them listen to some Morse Code. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring along my battery-powered speaker, so we couldn’t all listen to it at the same time. Next time, I’ll remember, though.

I made three quick contacts. The first with K1NUN, yet another card to my collection of QSLs from stations whose callsigns spell words. Next, was KE4RUN, another guy whose call spells a word, but I already have his QSL. Then finally Bob KB3ENU. Although Bob was also QRP, he was peaking at S7 here in Michigan, and we had a fine QSO.

Overall, it was another fine outing for the AMPTeam.

Two Interesting Items from the 6/21/06 ARRL Letter

The June 21, 2006 ARRL Letter had two items that seemed worthy of comment. The first, “FCC SUSPENDS HAM LICENSES FOR FAILURE TO MAINTAIN MAILING ADDRESS” reported on the suspension of five licenses for failing to maintain a valid mailing address in the FCC database.

Part 97.23 of the Amateur Radio Service regulations require licensees to notify the FCC when they change addresses. The rule also says that “revocation of the station license or suspension of the operator license may result when correspondence from the FCC is returned as undeliverable because the grantee failed to provide the correct mailing address.”

In all cases, the FCC was trying to contact the licensees about allegations of harmful interference, and in most of the cases, the licensees failed to responded to warning notices. In one case, the licensee simply turned in his license rather than respond to the warnings.

All of this is very puzzling to me. The report did not make the incidents sound all that serious, and the alleged interference could have been incidental and not malicious. Why didn’t these guys simply respond, say “I’m sorry,” and learn from the experience.

The second item is “FBI’S “INFRAGARD” PROGRAM COURTS AMATEUR RADIO AS ALLY.” InfraGard is an FBI program whose goal is to promote dialogue between the private sector and the FBI “concerning critical infrastructure protection issues.”

If you go to the InfraGard website, the first thing you note is that it’s really not clear what InfraGard really does. Their mission statement reads:

It is our goal to improve and extend information sharing between private industry and the government, particularly the FBI, when it comes to critical national infrastructures.

Does this sound like Big Brotherism or what?

Secondly, how is amateur radio supposed to fit into this mission? Amateur radio is, undoubtedly, valuable in providing communications during an emergency, but I don’t see where InfraGard is involved with emergency response. Rather, InfraGard’s goal is to prevent emergencies from happening in the first place.

Not only that, InfraGard is soliciting private companies to become members. and that “InfraGard members gain access to information that enables them to protect their assets…” Should amateur radio be used to protect the assets of corporations?

I hate to be skeptical, but it seems to me that there are already plenty of other organizations out there that we should serve before we get involved with something like InfraGard. Let’s concentrate our efforts on serving groups like the Red Cross and local emergency management departments—where we can really make an impact— rather than some amorphous federal program with vague goals.

Yet More Links

Here are yet more websites that I’ve had occasion to visit recently:

  • Fox Tango International—The Yaesu Users Group. If you own a Yaesu, you should know about this website. They run a BBS and several mailing lists that discuss Yaesu gear. Also available, are manuals for discontinued Yaesu gear. I just came into possession of an FT-757GXII, and I found all of the manuals for it here.
  • The Prince of Mars in Morse Code. Using the G4FON CW Trainer, AC4FS is converting the William Edgar Burroughs novel, The Prince of Mars into Morse Code. He’s up to Chapter 9 (of 28) already.
  • Videos of amateur radio on the WWII submarine USS Cod. The USS COD is a WWII Gato Class Fleet Type submarine. It is now a Museum Ship and Memorial to the 3900+ men who have given their lives to the Silent Service and remain on eternal patrol. It is permanently docked in Cleveland, OH. Her original Navy callsign is NECO, but now the USS Cod Amateur Radio Club operates a station on the sub using the callsign W8COD.

    On his website, Bill KA8VIT has videos of the sub and radio room, as well as a video of a QSO made from the club station.

Knots and Ham Radio

I did not have an illustrious Boy Scout career. I think I lasted three weeks, a month tops. The reason? I couldn’t quite fathom why I should learn all those knots that seemed to be the basis of Boy Scouting.

Now I know. Knots are extremely useful, even if you’re not going to be going camping a lot. In fact, they’re extremely useful in ham radio, especially on Field Day.

With that in mind, the ARRL published the article, “The Knots of Ham Radio” in the June 2006 QST. The most useful knots covered in this article are the sheet bend, the bowline, and the clove hitch.

The sheet bend is a good knot to use to connect two ropes of different diameters (the square knot is prone to coming apart). The bowline is a good knot to attach a rope to the end insulator of an antenna, and the clove hitch is useful for tying the other end of that rope to a tree branch.

One knot that the author did not cover, but that I learned from Bruce KD8APB is the taut line hitch. This knot allows you to quickly and easily adjust the tension on a line, which is a good thing when you’re playing around with antennas. You can find out how to tie that knot at the I Will Knot website.

It does take a little practice to master these knots, but not overly long, especially once you recognize the utility of them. I’m sure that learning them will make my ham radio life easier.

ARROW and the Red Cross

Although I’ve never been big on emergency communications, public service, is one of the main reasons amateur radio exists. With that in mind, ARROW recently participated in two public service events. I chronicled these in an earlier post. Now, we’re getting involved with the local chapter of the American Red Cross.

Over the last couple of months, I and a couple of other ARROW members have been meeting with local Red Cross people, trying to find out what their communications needs are and then devising a plan to satisfy those needs. After several meetings, we still don’t have a complete plan, but we have enough knowledge now to get started. That being the case, I put out a call for ARROW members that were interested in working with the Red Cross to attend a volunteer orientation meeting.

I expected maybe eight guys to show up. Instead, sixteen hams showed up on Thursday. I told the Red Cross folks that we’d get a good turnout, but I didn’t expect this many! And more are on the way. There were at least three others that couldn’t make the meeting last week and plan to attend a future meeting.

After the orientation meeting, we toured the radio room, such as it is now, and got a close look at the 70-ft. tower. We also began some informal planning:

  • One group started talking about the antenna system, discussing how to mount the antennas, how many feedlines to run, etc.
  • Another group will be forming to install the Red Cross’s 47 MHz radios. They have several base stations–although they’re a little on the ancient side–and some very nice mobile radios. The current plan calls for testing the base radios and getting two of the mobile radios programmed and installed in vehicles.
  • A third group is forming to assess amateur radio equipment needs. The RC folks think that they may have found a source of funds for amateur radio equipment, but our club also has some equipment that we could station at the Red Cross. We plan to investigate what other Red Cross chapters have and see how that would work in our situation.
  • I’m also trying to interest the Red Cross folks in offering a Tech Class course to their volunteers. Bruce KD8APB suggested that we target the youth volunteers for this class. I’m hoping that they’ll be receptive to this and that not only the kids get licensed, but many of the Red Cross staff as well.

This is really exciting, and I think it will be a good thing for ARROW, the Red Cross, and the people of Washtenaw County. If you have any experience with your Red Cross, I’d love to hear from you.

More Links

The latest in some cool stuff I’ve come across while surfing or digging through my e-mail inbox:

  • Zerobeat.Net’s QRP Links. Zerobeat.Net is the work of Thom K3HRN. This page has lots of links to interesting places, including a tutorial on winding toroids and the searchable archives of the QRP-L mailing list.
  • Make Magazine. The coolest hams are “makers.” Make Magazine was made just for us. If you’re like me, though, you just can’t justify buying yet another magazine, especially one that costs $15/issue. Fortunately, for cheapskates like us, Make magazine puts a lot of its content on its website, and you can access it for free. You can also subscribe to their newsletter, and get lots of interesting stuff in your inbox every week.
  • American Science and Surplus. This is one company that the Make newsletter turned me onto. The website is interesting–I can only imagine what the retail stores (in Chicago and Milwaukee) are like.