Activities

TS-450SAT

I have a feeling this is going  to be a long blog post.  But hey, sometimes I have a lot to say.  Occasionally, it’s even interesting.  If you like older Kenwoods or just playing around with different rigs, then this will be for you.  It’s not really a product review, just some general observations.

TS-450Over the weekend I hooked up a nice, old Kenwood TS-450SAT.  This is one of the radios I got from Mark Quebe N9EKG over the summer.  Some readers of this blog will remember my previous post on this adventure.  Sure was glad to have Dad and my sidekick Nick N9SJA there for the long day of work.  Initially, I’d hooked the radio up just to try it out and didn’t have spectacular results.  I could hardly make it work at all.  With disappointment I’d packed it away for another day.  Having  nothing better to do, I hooked it all back up again.  I think the cabin fever is setting in.  What I found out is that it seems to receive quite well, but has very little AF output.  This is likely something easily fixed.  Even better, it was now showing full power output into the dummy load.  I don’t remember it working at all last time so maybe it’s had some group therapy sessions in the shack with the other gear I’ve banished to the shelves.  Either that or reading the operator’s manual has paid off.  I don’t know which?

I attached an MC-60 mic and hooked it up to the hexbeam for some real testing.  This proved to be successful as I made several contacts on 17m, including DX.  For a smaller radio it has a good, solid feel to it.  Kenwood built some quality into these back in the day.  In spite or converting to a Flex-5000A as my main shack radio, I still love to spin the dial and push buttons.  But what to do about rig control?  I’ve gotten used to having all my gear interfaced to the computer with the Flex.  I had to keep reminding myself to manually input band, freq, mode, etc into the HRD logbook.  Then I remembered USB interfacethis USB rig interface kit I built years ago for an original Icom IC-756.  It was designed by N0XAS HamGadgets.  Sadly, it’s no longer produced, but it worked quite well on the 756 and also a Yaesu Ft-736R.  After I dug it out I found that it even had the correct 6-pin DIN plug on it for the TS-450, and it was wired correctly!  When you’re hot, you’re hot.  After a little bit if research I found that Kenwood used inverted TTL for their serial rig control.  I can’t even guess why they would do that other than to be different.  This normally requires buying their interface box or a homebrew lashup with opto-isolators and such to deal with the inverted logic.  Fortunately, the rig interface had a utility program on the software disk called MProg.  It allows you to change the settings and configuration for the FTDI chip and then flash them to it.  It worked quite well and I’m pleased to report that the radio is now communicating happily with the HRD suite.

Other than having to run the AF gain all the way up I’m pretty pleased with this radio’s performance.  The antenna tuner seems to be jammed up so I don’t use it.  Maybe when I dig into the low audio issue I can check out the tuner, too.  As I’ve researched it on the web there are very few known issues requiring mods.  That says a lot about the radio’s design.  It’s not fair to compare it with the Flex but it does perform solid.  I could improve it a little by adding better filters and maybe a Heil mic.  International Radio has an excellent assortment of them available.  Unfortunately, I could spend more than the radio’s worth on filters!  It’s still going to be an early ’90s compact HF transceiver, though.  I don’t want to try and make it more than what it is.  I think I’ll just enjoy it for now…and then on the the next project!

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Categories: Activities, Amateur Radio, Computers/Software, Projects | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

CENTENNIAL QSO PARTY

Sunday afternoon I finally had a chance to get on the air.  After the annual Cub Scout Blue & Gold Banquet with Amber and the boys, I found myself with a few hours of non-designated free time.  This is a rare treat for me so I chose to check out the bands rather than do the work I really should be taking care of.

2014 is a big year for the ARRL.  We’re celebrating 100 years of the League advocating for our amateur radio hobby.  They’re planning many activities to celebrate this occasion.  One of them is called the ARRL Centennial QSO Party.  The League is using the special callsign W100AW from headquarters in Newington, CT.  In addition, they’re using volunteers in all fifty states to operate portable.  The idea is to allow hams to earn Worked all States by the end of the year working only W1AW/P stations.  Here’s the schedule for the year long operating event.  In addition, there’s a quasi contest for those who are so inclined.  Stations and operators are worth varying points that will be tallied at the end of the year.

I heard W1AW/6 on 17m this afternoon and had to give them a call.  That was kinda cool so I continued to tune around the bands looking for some action.  I managed to work Belize on the first try.  Love a little DX.  Tuning around some more turned up W1AW/6 on 15m.  The bands seemed to be in great shape I even heard stations operating on 12 and 10M.  While tuning around 10m I hear yet another W1AW/6 station.  This one was definetely the hardest.  I could hear the YL op easy 59 but she couldn’t hear me at all.  It took an hour of frustration and tuning around different band, but I finally worked her.  Now I’m motivated to try to pick my missing WAS states by using these W1AW/P stations.

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PROJECT APRS DIGIPEATER

TMD700New year, new projects.  Trying to kick off 2014 in grand style.  I’ve been so busy working on ham radio projects I’ve hardly even gotten on the air.  My online logbook looks pittiful!  Projects are really enjoyable for me…and often are very good learning experiences.  But I do miss making radio contacts.  One of my recent projects involves setting up an APRS digipeater.  Not a wide area one like in big cities, but something local that will help get packets from mobile or low power stations out to the bigger stations and onto the world wide networks.  This interest all started back in November when my buddy Nick N9SJA and I went chasing a high altitude balloon that had APRS tracking.  You can read about that adventure in my previous post.

I’m happy to say that the project is successful and fully operational.  However it’s potential is not yet fully realized.  I feel like I’ve just begun and have so much to learn about best practices and proper setups for a local digipeater station.  My choice of radio is a Kenwood TM-D700.  This radio is no longer in production, having been replaced by the TM-D710, but it’s still a good radio and available at a discount used.  It’s mounted in my family room and connected to a dual band J-pole antenna in the attic.  The antenna is one of those homebrew arrangements constructed from a piece of 450 ohm ladderline.  The nice thing about the Kenwood is that it has built in APRS capabilities that can operate on one band of the radio while letting the other band function for normal voice duty on 2m/70cm, simultaneously.  Right now this is a very simple arrangement.

The D700 has a serial port on the front of the radio that will allow it to interface with a computer.  This will allow you to get a visual on what the radio is hearing.  One of the programs I’ve used for this is called APRSISCE/32.  It can operate as a monitor only or can actually control the radio.  After getting a passcode, it’ll allow you to beacon packets from the radio and also directly to the APRSIS network if connected to the internet.  With some modification to the XML file it will also act as a digipeater.  So now I have multiple options on how I wish to operate the station.  An added bonus is now I can monitor local simplex and repeaters without having to go out to the shack.

So where do I go from here?  I think I’ll mount it all in a box and do a little cable management so it looks better in the main room of the house.  I also think it would benefit from having a backup power supply in case of power outages.  This happened just last fall when a tornado ripped through my part of the county.  It’s my hope that the local ARES/Skywarn volunteers might be able to make use of my digipeater when needed.  When the weather gets up somewhere above freezing I plan to construct a new and improved antenna and locate it outside for better coverage.  This attic antenna is deaf compared to the Diamond X500 I have connected to the dual bander in the shack.  Crossband repeat might also be handy as I have a couple dual band HTs that could be pressed into service.  A final option is to setup different operating modes using the Kenwood Programmable Memory function for each scenario.  This allows for five completely different setups that can be programmed into preset buttons on the radio control head.  I’ve rambled on long enough.  Stay tuned for another upcoming project blog coming soon.  After that I may get around to making some contacts!

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FT WAYNE HAMFEST ADVENTURE

The weekend of November 16-17 was the annual Ft. Wayne Hamfest and Computer Expo.  It’s also the annual ARRL Indiana Section Convention.  For my friends and I it signifies the end of the yearly hamfest circuit until the “Big One” in Dayton.  I try to attend when I can.  It’s held at the Allen Co. War Memorial Coliseum and is all indoors.  A real bonus this time of year in Indiana.  My travelling buddy, Nick N9SJA accompanied me to the event.  We didn’t go to any of the convocation lectures that were held, but did enjoy looking at all the wares on display.  There was quite a variety of new and used radio gear and accessories for sale.  I somehow managed to spend a couple hundred dollars on random goodies.  Nick had more self control than me and only came away with a neat book on cold war missiles.

In addition to the commercial vendors and swap meet sale tables, there were several displays.  I enjoyed the FlexRadio display since I’m a proud owner.  That new 6000 series SDR is really something.  One display that really caught my eye was an APRS demo.  I think their main emphasis was targeting the EMCOMM community but it’s applications are far reaching.  As we were watching the display we saw the Purdue University AMET high altitude balloon beacon come across.  The students are doing upper atmosphere and near space research.  The W9YB Purdue Amateur Radio Club was partnering with them to provide tracking and comms.  As members of the Purdue ARC, Nick and I were quite interested.  The members had texted us earlier to let us know when it launched.  It was really neat to actually see the W9YB balloon beacon on the screen as it floated through the area.

The Purdue chase team already had two van loads of students on the way to track the balloon to the landing point.  Since The Nickster has a Yaesu FTM-350 mobile in the mighty F-150 we would be able to directly intercept the APRS packets.  We decided to join in the hunt.  Off came the shorty dual band antenna and on went the big 5/8 wave for better signal reception.  It also turned out to be of assistance in comms with the other chase team since they only had HT’s.  We were able to access good maps using our smartphones and aprs.fi.

After a hearty dinner we headed out on our adventure.  The last beacon was heard just south-west of Kalida, Ohio.  It was just under 3000 feet in altitude and travelling about 40 MPH.  We estimated where it might go down based on it’s direction of travel and approximate rate of descent.  You can’t believe our surprise when we saw the first directly-received packet come across the display on the Yaesu!  We were only a half mile away.  Soon after that we got a call on the radio and the AMET/PARC students had recovered it in a field.  They had thought ahead and covered the payload with blue LED’s in addition to multi-colored flagging to make it easier to visually locate.  An excellent idea as it was fully dark by this time.  They saw a glowing blue light in the field that led them right to it.

If you’ve read this far you might be interested in some further information.  Here’s a nice article and video from the local station WLFI TV18.  The AMET crew has loaded several videos from the on-board GoPro camera on their Youtube channel.  A lot of this was boring as there wasn’t much to see besides clouds.  I skipped a lot of them but really enjoyed the take-off and landing.  Warning!  the camera spins around a lot and can actually make you dizzy just sitting on the couch.  Still, pretty neat to actually see the curvature of the earth from so high up.  Finally, there are some nice pics on the TechPurdue flickr page.  They show some really great detail.  This was probably the most enjoyable ham radio activity in which I’ve participated in a long time.  Nick and I definitely want to do this again.  Now I guess I’m going to have to start building an APRS station for the “Zed Sled.”

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POWER UP

One of the radios I received from Mark Quebe N9EKG was an old Hallicrafters S-40B.  I was hanging out with my buddy Nick N9SJA and we decided we should fire it up.  Seemed like a good idea since he was there with me when I got the radio.  I used my trusty method of bringing up the power slowly by inserting various wattage light bulbs in series with the hot lead in order to drop the voltage.  This is a crude method but it works.  I’m pleased to say that Nick and I both now have proper 20A variacs for this chore in the future.  I haven’t done anything with the radio but wipe it down with some Armor All and blow out the dust.  It isn’t perfect but it plays pretty well on the AM broadcast band.  The caps definitely need replaced and the pots need sprayed with some DeoxIT but you have to love it when a radio from the early ’50s is still working with no catastrophic failures.  It’s fun to listen to some old AM on the boatanchor radio.

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SOME NEW-OLD GEAR

I recently received an offer to remove a tower/antenna system and a collection of amateur radio gear from a ham in my old hometown of Indianapolis.  Actually, he’s the father of a high school classmate of mine and his wife is a former co-worker of my mom.  Mark N9EKG and his wife Susie got in touch with my mom to see if I was interested.  This was an offer too good to refuse for a cheapo like me.  Sometimes telling everyone you’re a ham can pay off.  I did a little Google Map recon and determined that it was a little more than I might want to tackle alone.  So, I enlisted the help of Nick N9SJA and also my trusty Old Man.  There was a narrow window of opportunity to pull all this off so we hit it hard and managed to knock it all out in one long day.

Originally, I’d hoped to save the tower but it was not in very good shape.  At least it was safe enough to climb on.  It did have a nice tribander on it and a Cushcraft R7 vertical.  The beam will need a little refurbishing but the vertical looks great.  I think it might be fun to try it out and see how it compares to my hexbeam.  It might be nice to have a multi-band omnidirectional antenna for listening and the switch to the beam if there’s a station I want to work.  We were actually able to dig a little around the base and pull the whole thing down while pulling the concrete base out.  My Old Man working the saws-all made short work of the tower and it can now be scrapped out.
N9EKG tower

After lunch we headed to the attic.  There were boxes full of treasures and some of the older radio gear.  This had been the original station while the kids were growing up.  He build a custom bench with many electrical outlets and a panel to fish the wires through.  He’d even had an air conditioner up there to keep it comfortable.  Unfortunately, that A/C was long gone.  We put some real sweat equity into retrieving that gear and hauling it down the spiral staircase.  Especially the Viking Valiant transmitter!

When the kids got older he was able to move his operation into a spare room on the main floor.  I bet that was a welcome treat!  He had a nice Kenwood TS-450 and TS-930 down there.  There was also an Amp Supply LK-500NT no tune amp.  This must’ve been a nice little station as he was able to work over 300 dxcc entities operating cw and phone.

It was a lot of work, but we still had fun.  I always enjoy visiting with another ham.  Thanks go out to Nick and my dad.  I also have to thank our hosts Mark N9EKG and Susie for their generosity and hospitality.  They provided some tasty sandwiches and chips and refreshing iced tea.  I hope to get as much enjoyment from the gear as Mark did.

I included a few shots of the gear all over the floor of my living room and then when I finally got it moved out to the shack.
N9EKG gear1N9EKG gear3
N9EKG gear5

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HAMVENTION RECAP

Dayton 2013
Dayton Hamvention 2013 is now a memory for the mental log book.  Only a matter of weeks has passed since the annual pilgrimage of hams, tech geeks, and wearers of tin-foil hats to a wonderous, though aged and smelly, facility named Hara Arena.  We battled some rain, we battled some hot sun, and even a bout of Dayton Flu.  We must’ve picked it up from some crotchety old geezer pawing our stuff only to complain that he could buy it brand new for a mere $300 more.  With the exception of feeling like crap by Sunday it was a nice trip.  We sold most of our wares and made enough money to pay for expenses.  Even in a weakened condition we managed to enjoy some excellent dining and cold beverages.
Rye

Some highlights

I found a Baofeng UV-5RA dual hand HT complete with drop-in charger, earpiece mic, and USB programming cable for $46.   That was a deal too tempting to resist even though I have a perfectly usable Yausu VX-7.
Baofeng

Bob Heil personally signed my copy of his Heil Ham Radio Handbook second edition.

HHH sig
 

I met Tommy Martin N5ZNO, one of the hosts of AmateurLogic.tv.  He was very friendly and personable.
Tommy M

The new IC-7100 was on display in the Icom booth.  I really want one of these when they’re cleared by the FCC.  The touch screen worked better than I’d anticipated.
IC-7100

By Sunday the Dayton Flu had weakened us to the point that even sleeping in and a big Waffle House breakfast couldn’t overcome.  We returned early back to Hoosierland with some goodies in our bags and lots of stories.  I already can’t wait for next year!

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DAYTON BOUND

Only days remain until the largest ham radio convention, flea market, commercial display in the nation begins.  Yes, it’s once again time for the annual Dayton Hamvention.  The event formally begins Friday, May 17 this year.  There are actually several groups that are starting their get together a day ahead of time like the ARCI QRP group’s Four Days in May.

I’ll once again be attending with friends Nick N9SJA, Dave KF9IZ, and Craig KB9JDW.  Nick and Craig have been going for over ten years now.  Dave and I just started tagging along a couple years ago.  It’s now turned into something of a tradition for us.  Unfortunately, Craig will have to catch up with us a day late do to work responsibilities, but he’s still planning to meet up with us when he can.

Each year we hope to sell enough stuff in the flea market to pay for our trip.  And since we cleaned out room in the shack, it must be filled with new gear to take it’s place.  Who really needs an excuse to stimulate the economy with the purchase of cool ham stuff!  We pull out in the Mighty Ford on Thursday afternoon.  Come and visit us in the flea market.  We’ll be in section F, spaces 521, 522.  In the past we’ve seen local friends stop in for a chat.  Namely, Tabb W9TTW, Bobby KP4CI, and his son Michael KC9MOD.  Weather forecast only looking so-so, but spirits are still high.

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THE IMPORTANCE OF ANTENNA PLACEMENT

The antenna is often the unsung hero of our amateur radio station.  An efficient, resonnant antenna is a beautiful thing.  As proven over and over, even a mediocre antenna can get you on the air, but you also miss a lot of the weaker stations.  Unfortunately, a lot of people stop at this point and never try to do better.  Sometimes it seems easier to just buy a new radio with lots of gizmos instead, and hope for the best.

The antenna has to be viewed as part of a whole system.  Even the most sophisticated radio known to man is useless without it.  In fact, many will argue that the antenna system (antenna, feedline, switches…) is far more important than the radio itself.  Money spent on an antenna system often yields more rewards than if it were spent on other radio accessories.  Unlike amplifiers, any gain realized by a more effective antenna is useful for both receive and transmit.

Recently the importance of antenna placement was displayed to me in a very real way.  At the WD9BSA Scout Radio Station we have two HF antennas.  Both are multi-band and shortened antennas.  Outside we have a what’s become almost a standard among muliti-bander–the G5RV.  Loved by some and reviled by others.  Mounted in the station attic is an Alpha Delta DXCC–another very popular multi-bander.  I haven’t checked the numbers but I suspect they’re both capable of the the same performance levels when averaged across all bands.

We were working a station on 40m using a Ten Tec Argonaut V into the G5RV.  We were hearing him well, though he reported that we were a little down.  This is probably due to the fact that the Argo only makes about 25W PEP max.  We thought we should try working him on the Yaesu FT-900 since it’s a standard 100W radio.but he seemed a little weak on receive.  We actually had a hard time hearing him.  So we hit the Tune button and cranked up to 100W and tried him on the DXCC.  Our patient operator said he could hear us better with the Argo…we were barely readable on the Yaesu even with four times the power.

This prompted us to do some testing.  We put a coax switch on the Yaesu and connected both antennas.  We then tuned around and copied different stations and compared the receive signal.  What we found was a 10dB improvement by using the outdoor G5RV over the attic mounted DXCC.  To put this in another way, just under two S-units improvement (1 S-unit=6dB)  In addition, we found that on the DXCC not only was the station we were listening to lower in signal, but the noise level was higher (probably due to noise generated in the building).  Talk about a worst case scenario–weaker signal and higher noise to overcome!

So never fear…I’m not hating on wire multi-band antennas.  If that’s the best option given your situation then that’s what you should use.  I believe any antenna that allows you to put QSO’s in the log is better than sitting around wishing.  I love my hexbeam on the tower, but I still make a lot of contacts on a Carolina Windom 80.  My suggestion is to make the best with what you have and enjoy making QSO’s.  However try to maximize your signals if possible by not adding additional handicap to your efforts with poor placement.  I’d really love to see what that DXCC could do out in the open!

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BACK TO WW2IND

Last week I got an invite to take the family back down and visit the WW2IND radio station again.  It was a lot of fun the first time but it was about over when we got there.  The members are very friendly and knowledgeable.  They were impressed that we were all interested in the hobby.  Every time I’m there I notice something new.  It’s hard to take it all in at one visit.  One of the fellows had just gotten an old transmitter up and running on 6m when we were there.  They had to build a special power supply for it since it wasn’t designed to operate from regular mains power.

So…off to the Indiana War Memorial we went on a dismal Sunday morning.  The sunspots haven’t really been behaving and the storm front was moving in at around the state line.  Band conditions weren’t the greatest but we did get to make some contacts.  Amber worked four or five stations on the Icom 756 Proiii using a 4BTV antenna on 20m.  I was able to work a DX station OT4A on a Ten Tec Jupiter using a long wire matched with an antenna tuner on 17m.  It took a little getting used to working that Jupiter being a long-time Icom guy…recently converted to a Flexer.

I’m hoping to make it back down there again sometime when I can clear my schedule.  This spring is incredibly busy and I’m afraid it’s going to spill over into summer.  At least I’m busy doing fun stuff!  The guys are usually at the station on Sunday mornings from 9:00 AM to noon.  Maybe also one day during the week but I can’t remember when.  I recommend it for anyone interested in radio and military history.  The War Memorial itself is pretty neat, too.

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