2014 Tech study guide: receivers, transmitters, and transceivers

This section was changed quite a bit. It used to include four block diagrams, but the question pool committee eliminated all of them. Bravo! Dan

In the early days of radio, amateur radio operators used separate receivers and transmitter units. Nowadays, however, most use radios called transceivers. A  transceiver is a unit combining the functions of a transmitter and a receiver. (T7A02)

There are many different types of transceivers. A multi-mode VHF transceiver is the type of device that is most useful for VHF weak-signal communication. (T7A09) Instead of purchasing a multi-mode VHF transceiver, many amateurs use a transverter to convert the signals from their HF transceiver to the VHF, UHF, and even microwave bands. For example, a device that would take the output of a low-powered 28 MHz SSB exciter and produces a 222 MHz output signal is a transverter. (T7A06)

Many, if not most, new amateurs purchase a handheld transceiver, sometimes called a “handie-talkie,” or HT, as their first transceiver. One disadvantage of of using a handheld transceiver is that the maximum output power is generally only 5 W, and because of this, they have limited range. To increase the low-power output of a handheld transceiver, and therefore its, range, you can use an RF power amplifier. (T7A10)

When talking about a transceivers specifications, we still refer to its receiver and transmitter. The two most important specifications for a receiver are sensitivity and selectivity. Sensitivity is the term that describes the ability of a receiver to detect the presence of a signal. (T7A01) The term that describes the ability of a receiver to discriminate between multiple signals is selectivity. (T7A04)

To improve the sensitivity of a receiver, you can use an RF preamplifier. An RF preamplifier is installed between the antenna and receiver. (T7A11)

Most HF transceivers have some version of a superheterodyne receiver. In a superheterodyne receiver, we first convert an incoming radio signal from its frequency to an intermediate frequency, or IF. The circuit that does this is the mixer. A mixer is used to convert a radio signal from one frequency to another. (T7A03)

When transmitting, we want to generate an RF signal with a specific frequency. To do that, we use an oscillator. Oscillator is the name of a circuit that generates a signal of a desired frequency. (T7A05)

To transmit a voice signal we have to combine an audio frequency signal from the microphone with the RF carrier signal generated by the transmitter. Modulation is the term that describes combining speech with an RF carrier signal. (T7A08) Modulators use a type of mixer circuit to accomplish this process.

2014 Tech study guide: operating controls

Question T4B12 about the function of automatic gain control was added to this section…Dan

To properly operate a transceiver, you need to know how to use the controls. Perhaps the most important transmitter control is microphone gain. If a transmitter is operated with the microphone gain set too high, the output signal might become distorted. (T4B01)

You also need to know how to set the operating frequency of your transceiver. The keypad or VFO knob can be used to enter the operating frequency on a modern transceiver. (T4B02) A way to enable quick access to a favorite frequency on your transceiver is to store the frequency in a memory channel. (T4B04)

A common receiver control on VHF/UHF transceivers is the squelch control. The purpose of the squelch control on a transceiver is to mute receiver output noise when no signal is being received. (T4B03) If set too high, then you will not be able to hear low-level signals.

Another common setting on VHF/UHF transceivers is the offset frequency. This is especially important when operating repeaters. The common meaning of the term “repeater offset” is the difference between the repeater’s transmit and receive frequencies. (T4B11)

A common receiver control on HF transceivers is the RIT control. The term “RIT” means Receiver Incremental Tuning. (T4B07) The receiver RIT or clarifier are controls that could be used if the voice pitch of a single-sideband signal seems too high or low. (T4B06)

Another common control on a receiver is the automatic gain control, or AGC. Its function is to keep received audio relatively constant. (T4B12) This is important because HF signal strengths can vary widely. and that can cause audio levels to vary widely as well.

HF transceivers are often equipped with a variety of different filters. The advantage of having multiple receive bandwidth choices on a multimode transceiver is that it permits noise or interference reduction by selecting a bandwidth matching the mode. (T4B08) For example, 2400 Hz is an appropriate receive filter to select in order to minimize noise and interference for SSB reception. (T4B09) 500 Hz is an appropriate receive filter to select in order to minimize noise and interference for CW reception. (T4B10)

2014 Tech study guide: station setup

There were two question changes in this section. Question T4A02 was changed from a question about headphones to a question about using computers in the shack. Question T4A05 was changed from a question about band-reject filters to one about using an SWR meter. I’ve added that question to the appropriate section…Dan

When setting up an amateur radio station, choosing the radio itself is the most important consideration, but you must also choose a wide range of accessories, such as power supplies and microphones. In addition, how you set up the station is important for it to operate efficiently.

One accessory that you’ll definitely need is a power supply to provide the DC voltage and current that your radio needs. A good reason to use a regulated power supply for communications equipment is that it prevents voltage fluctuations from reaching sensitive circuits. (T4A03) When choosing a supply, check the voltage and current ratings of the supply and be sure to choose one capable of supplying a high enough voltage and enough current to power your radio.

If you are going to operate with one of the voice modes, you’ll need a microphone. When considering the microphone connectors on amateur transceivers, note that some connectors include push-to-talk and voltages for powering the microphone. (T4A01)

A computer has become a very common accessory in an amateur radio “shack.” All of these choices are correct when talking about how a computer be used as part of an amateur radio station (T4A02):

  • For logging contacts and contact information
  • For sending and/or receiving CW
  • generating and decoding digital signals

If you plan to operate packet radio, you will need a computer and a terminal controller, or TNC, in addition to the radio. A terminal node controller would be connected between a transceiver and computer in a packet radio station. (T4A06) The TNC converts the ones and zeroes sent by the computer into tones sent over the air.

A more modern way to operate digital modes, such as RTTY or PSK-31, is to use a computer equipped with a sound card. When conducting digital communications using a computer, the sound card provides audio to the microphone input and converts received audio to digital form. (T4A07) The sound card may be connected directly to the radio, but it’s usually better to connect it through a device that isolates the radio from the computer. This prevents ground loops from causing the signal to be noisy.

Audio and power supply cables in a amateur radio station sometimes pick up stray RF. At minimum, this RF can cause the audio to be noisy. At worst, it can cause a radio or accessory to malfunction. To reduce RF current flowing on the shield of an audio cable (or in a power supply cable), you would use a ferrite choke. (T4A09)

Modern radio equipment is very well-designed, and harmonic radiation is rarely a problem these days. Even so, there may be times when it does become a problem, and you’ll have to take steps to attenuate the harmonics. To reduce harmonic emissions, a filter must be installed between the transmitter and the antenna. (T4A04)

Good grounding techniques can help you avoid interference problems. When grounding your equipment, you should connect the various pieces of equipment to a single point, keep leads short, and use a heavy conductor to connect to ground. Flat strap is the type of conductor that is best to use for RF grounding. (T4A08)

If you plan to install a radio in your car and operate mobile, you have a different set of challenges. One is connecting the radio to the car’s power system. Some amateurs connect their radio with a cigarette lighter plug, but this plug is not designed for high currents. Instead, a mobile transceiver’s power negative connection should be made at the battery or engine block ground strap. (T4A11) The positive connection can also be made at the battery or through an unused position of the vehicle’s fuse block.

Another challenge is noise generated by the car itself. One thing that could be happening if another operator reports a variable high-pitched whine on the audio from your mobile transmitter is that noise on the vehicle’s electrical system is being transmitted along with your speech audio. (T4A12)

The alternator is often the culprit.  The alternator is the source of a high-pitched whine that varies with engine speed in a mobile transceiver’s receive audio. (T4A10) Should this be a problem, there are filters that you can install to mitigate the alternator whine. One thing that would reduce ignition interference to a receiver is to turn on the noise blanker. (T4B05)

2014 Tech study guide: digital modes

Three questions in this section were updated. The answer to TD802 was changed from “Automatic Position Reporting System” to “Automatic Packet Reporting System.” T8D05 was changed from a kind of irrelevant question about Techs being able to use data in the 219 to 220 MHz range to one about an application of APRS. T8D11 was changed from a question about the parity bit to one about ARQ transmission….Dan

When hams talk about “digital modes,” we are talking about the ways in which we use a computer in conjunction with a radio to communicate with one another. They all involve sending digital data back and forth to one another. All of these choices are correct (examples of a digital communications method) (T8D01):

  • Packet
  • PSK31
  • MFSK

Packet radio was one of the first digital modes. It is called packet radio because the data to be sent from station to station is separated into a number of packets which are then sent separately by the transmitting station and received and re-assembled by the receiving station. All of these choices are correct when talking about what may be included in a packet transmission (T8D08):

  • A check sum which permits error detection
  • A header which contains the call sign of the station to which the information is being sent
  • Automatic repeat request in case of error

Some amateur radio digital communications systems use  protocols which ensure error-free communications. One such system is called an automatic repeat request, or ARQ, transmission system. An ARQ transmission system is a digital scheme whereby the receiving station detects errors and sends a request to the sending station to retransmit the information. (T8D11)

APRS is one service that uses packet radio. The term APRS means Automatic Packet Reporting System. (T8D02) A Global Positioning System receiver is normally used when sending automatic location reports via amateur radio. (T8D03) Providing real time tactical digital communications in conjunction with a map showing the locations of stations is an application of APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System). (T8D05)

A popular digital mode on the HF bands is PSK. The abbreviation PSK means Phase Shift Keying. (T8D06) PSK31 is a low-rate data transmission mode. (T8D07)

2014 Tech study guide: SWR and antenna measurements

In the 2010 study guide, this section was part of the section on feedlines and connectors. I think it makes more sense to separate it like I have here. There is one added question in this section T7C13 asks what a dummy load consists of…Dan

Standing wave ratio is a term you’ll often hear when talking about antennas and feedlines. In general terms, standing wave ratio (SWR) is a measure of how well a load is matched to a transmission line. (T7C03) In this context, the “load” is the antenna. When we say that an antenna is matched to a transmission line, we mean that the impedance of the transmission line is equal to the impedance of the antenna.

The reason it is important to have a low SWR in an antenna system that uses coaxial cable feedline is to allow the efficient transfer of power and reduce losses. (T9B01) The bigger the mismatch is between the feedline and the load, the higher the SWR will be, and the more power you will lose in the feedline. Power lost in a feedline is converted into heat. (T7C07) Power converted into heat is not radiated by the antenna, meaning your radiated signal will be weaker.

You can measure the SWR of your antenna system with an SWR meter. You usually connect the SWR meter near the output of your transmitter because it is important to have a low SWR at that point. A directional wattmeter is an instrument other than an SWR meter that you could use to determine if a feedline and antenna are properly matched. (T7C08)

1 to 1 is the reading on an SWR meter indicates a perfect impedance match between the antenna and the feedline. (T7C04) 2 to 1 is the approximate SWR value above which the protection circuits in most solid-state transmitters begin to reduce transmitter power. (T7C05) An SWR reading of 4:1 means that there is an impedance mismatch. (T7C06)

One way to ensure that the impedance of the antenna system matches the output impedance of transmitter is to use an antenna tuner. An antenna tuner matches the antenna system impedance to the transceiver’s output impedance. (T9B04)

In addition to the SWR meter and the directional wattmeter, there are a couple of other types of test instruments commonly found in an amateur’s “shack.” One instrument that every shack should have is the dummy load. A dummy load consists of a non-inductive resistor and a heat sink. (T7C13) The primary purpose of a dummy load is to prevent the radiation of signals when making tests. (T7C01)

Another common test instrument is the antenna analyzer. An antenna analyzer is an instrument that can be used to determine if an antenna is resonant at the desired operating frequency. (T7C02) You can also make a number of other measurements that will help you set up an antenna system, such as SWR, capacitance, and inductance.

From my Twitter feed: spy tech, signal sampler, SWL guide

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Interesting bit of RF engineering leaksource.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/nsa-an… (cc @kb6nu)


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Variable RF signal sampler goo.gl/f7vIMM


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I wrote this yesterday for the AmateurRadioSupplies.Com blog…Dan

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Get tips on #HamRadio PR & promotion! The December issue of #ARRL‘s CONTACT! has been posted! bit.ly/bRzdks

Being the greedy sot that I am…

…I’m going to try another way to “monetize” this website. What I’ve done is to add a page thats list ham radio products sold on Amazon. If you purchase a product on Amazon using one of the links there, I’ll get a cut. You can get to that page by clicking on the “Ham Stuff (from Amazon)” link above.

Taking that a step further, I’d love to get your suggestions for products to list there. You don’t have to have purchased it on Amazon, but it needs to be sold by Amazon. Please feel to either e-mail me your suggestions or enter them in the comment section below.

A quick comparison of the Baofeng UV-5RA and Wouxun KG-UVD1P

About eight months ago, I purchased a Wouxun KG-UVD1P two-band HT. Overall, I’ve been very happy with it. Last week, I purchased a Baofeng UV-5RA. Apparently, Baofeng is coming out with a new model soon, and as a result, are trying to dump these units. I bought mine for $30 from some vendor selling through Amazon, although now it looks like the cheapest price is $33.55.

Wouxun KG-UVD1PBaofeng UV-5RA

It’s been interesting to compare the two units. This is by no means an exhaustive comparison, but just a few things that hit me from playing with the Baofeng for the last couple of days:

  • Programmability. As is commonly noted, the Wouxun is much more easily programmed than the Baofeng. It was relatively easy for me to figure out how to program the memory channels of the Wouxun. So much so that I decided not to purchase the programming cable. I still have not been able to program the memory in the Baofeng. Unlike the Wouxun, you have to separately program the transmit frequency and the receive frequency. I still have not mastered this procedure.
  • User documentation. The user documentation for the Wouxun is much better than the documentation for the Baofeng. The Wouxun comes with both a user manual and a quick reference card. The Baofeng come with a very thin manual that doesn’t seem to include instructions on how to program repeater frequencies into the memory channels.
  • Voice. Both radios can be programmed to announce, in either English or Chinese, things like operating mode and memory channel. The Baofeng voice sounds much more like a computer generated voice. The Wouxun English voice has a notable Chinese accent.
  • Antenna. Since I purchased it, I’ve only been using the  antenna that was supplied with the Wouxun. It seems to perform pretty well. I’m not so impressed with the Baofeng antenna. Not only does it not do a good a job as the Wouxun, it actually gets a little warm when I transmit on high power. I’m going to have to replace it.

All things considered, I’ve decided to do one of two things with the Baofeng. I’m either going to pass it on to one of my Tech class students or hack it like KK6BWA has done. I think that either would be a worthwhile thing.