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!
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.
Now that it’s February and well into the new year I might as well get around to making some resolutions. Not really resolutions so much as an attempt to set targets for a variety of projects I attempt each hear. 2013 is no different. I only have the cash to fund some of them but you just have to do your best.
One of the things I’ve been busy with lately is the WD9BSA Memorial Scout Radio Station. It’s located at Camp Belzer in Indianapolis. I just recently became active with the group, but the other dedicated members have been working on it for over two years. Tabb, W9TTW, has been helping me with this, and together, we’re launching a social media blitz to try to get the word out about it. We’re also the only ones who know much about digimodes so we’ve made it our mission to get those up and running in the station as well.
Here at my home shack I’ve been busy updating the computer to the latest and greatest new software for the Flex5k. This has been surprisingly painless, and each new upgrade yields new features or better performance. Going along with this theme is an upgrade to Ham Radio Deluxe Ver. 6. I paid for the subscription to the new version when it becomes available. I have it downloaded but not yet installed. It’s still a Beta, but nearly ready for release. I’m looking forward to taking it for a test drive.
For projects I’m planning a tape measure beam. One of the events we’d like to plan for the WD9BSA station is fox hunt. It would be a good outdoor activity for the boys that incorporates radio and physical activity. There are a lot of plans for these and parts are cheap.
One last item is to recreate a solid state linear amp from an article in the Oct. 2012 QST. It only uses one transistor in the PA and is good for up to 1kW. The one in the article was for 2m EME use but the transistor is very broad banded and there’s no reason it can’t work on HF. With proper low pass filtering on the output, I think it would make a great no-tune amp for the shack.
FreeDV is another item I might actually get going fairly quickly. Since it’s really just software it shouldn’t require too much in the way of construction and building. I found out about it from a post on the Flex Radio Reflector while back. Then I saw further discussion about it on Episode 47 of Ham Radio Now. It was the topic of one of the talks from the TAPR/ARRL DCC conference. Nick, N9SJA, beat me to the punch on getting it up and running. We hope to experiment with it some here locally, maybe on 6m SSB. You can see his impressions of the software so are at his webpage here.
That’s all for now, folks. This should be enough to keep me busy for years to come! It also breaks a two month streak without a post. All the best!
Friday, Dec 7 was Pearl Harbor Day. To remember this historic event the local volunteers of the USS Indianapolis Memorial Radio Station held an open house for anyone to come and see their display. Visitors came from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM on both Friday and Sunday. Being that I had to work Friday, that left only a small window of opportunity for Sunday. It turned out to be a nice chance to get out of the house since the weather was pretty dismal. The USS Indianapolis story is quite interesting as it played an integral part in WWII by carrying the first operational atomic bomb.
I’d been meaning to go for a visit now for a few years. Their display is located inside the Indiana War Memorial in Downtown Indianapolis. It’s really impressive the way they were able to recreate the actual layout and dimensions of the original USS Indianapolis. Unfortunately, it was sunk out at sea so everything had to be figured out from pictures and first-hand memory of survivors. They have a very nice collection of period radios and accompanying gear in the display. Much of the vintage gear is good, operational condition. They also have a compliment of modern ham radios and antennas for special operating events. Their biggest event is the Museum Ships Weekend in June.
Here are a couple shot of the back wall.
And here’s a shot of the side wall operating position with one of the amateur radio stations.
Lots of stuff in this post. Really should be three posts but everything is pretty much intertwined. I guess this is what happens when you wait too long between posts…too much stuff! Consider yourself forewarned.
I’ve been contemplating an antenna project for quite some time. I recently attached a fiberglass cross bar on my tower with pulleys and rope in hopes of raising something interesting. I’ve actually had it since I put the tower up but just never got around to attaching it. The idea was that I could easily raise and lower a project antenna because of the pulleys. I still have a lot of interesting ideas but with winter upon us it was time to act. I decided to buy a Carolina Windom 80 from Radio Works. I guess it’s really just a hybrid off-center fed dipole that’s supposed to work all bands with a tuner. It has some kinda special matching balun and line isolator to allow part of the feedline to radiate while also keeping RF out of the shack. It was supposed to go in the top of the oak tree at about 65′ but there were too many uncooperative branches. For now it’s pretty happy at about 38′ from the tower cross bar. Thanks a lot to Tabb and Nick. Time will tell how this works.
I’ve had the FT-897D complete radio station in a go box since the trip to Dayton this year. There’s a post about it somewhere down in the previous blogs. Until now it’s been sitting in my shack playing second fiddle to the Flex 5k. Now it resides in my family room with the server and old desktop computer to keep it company. It’s actually a nice fit in this location. I’ve had a radio in here before but due to little children it had to get relocated for its own protection. The boys are older now and somewhat interested in the thing. For now it’s something of a fascination for them. This may be just the right time to introduce them to the magic of ham radio. Since I have a new antenna and plenty of feedline why not hook it up to the go box radio in the house?
This is where the linux stuff comes into play. Now that I have the nice, new antenna connected to a suitable radio station I need a way to log and also run digimodes. I could just use my old paper log but this is the 21st century, right? I carry a radio all day at work so it’s nice to work digimodes and not have to talk…or even listen since all there is to hear is tones. They’re pretty efficient and seem to overcome the local noise I get due to having power lines around three sides of my house. Several years ago I converted my old Gateway desktop to a linux box. It’s currently running the latest version of Ubuntu. I was going to need some linux-friendly software for logging and digimodes. I was able to install a logging program called CQRLog (CQRL) that reads the band, mode, frequency, etc from the radio and also completes logging fields using QRZ.com lookups once the callsign has been entered. It’s nowhere on the scale of Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) but about as good as it gets for linux. For digimodes I installed Fldigi. Something neat I found is that it works with CQRL similar to how Digital Master 780 works with HRD. All I have to do to go from operating SSB or CW to digimodes is select Remote Mode in CQRL and it automatically opens up Fldigi. CQRL goes into an offline mode and accepts all logging fields and radio parameters directly from Fldigi. I’m pretty impressed! As usual with linux the install was a little quirky. I could get the programs from Ubuntu’s software repo’s but they weren’t the most current. I ended up having to do some manual installs. Also had to open a terminal window and work with the command line. Still not bad for free stuff that actually works. I usually end up learning something in the process, too.
So this takes up us back to the beginning…how’s it work? The 10M band was open all weekend. Since this antenna isn’t really resonant there I figured it would be a good test. Well, the LDG AT-897 Plus tuned it right up. Was able to work Brazil and also a strong station in California that was part of a 10-10 special event station. Switched to 20M and worked a strong station in Michigan on psk-31. He helped me get the transmit level set on the SignaLink USB so it wasn’t overdriving the waterfall display. Well, there’s three QSO’s on two bands. It’s a good start. Jared seems to be interested in what I’m doing. He even made his own lego radio to set next to mine. All is well in the world for now….
Last weekend I though I’d totally miss out on the scouting program’s Jamboree on the Air event, or JOTA, as it’s called. Kinda rhymes with GOTA (Get on the Air) and serves the same purpose, for the most part. My boys had a Cub Scout pack activity planned the same day. The objective would be to race cubmobiles in the school parking lot of the elementary school, not eject RF energy into the ether.
I the past I’ve gotten together with several local hams to assist a Boy Scout troop in making some ham radio contacts and also earning their Radio merit badge. I was invited this year, too, but due to being a parent and leader of my boys’ scouting unit I had to bow out. The weather wasn’t that great and we managed to pull off the race in record time with an abundance of smiling faces. The boys had a great time, which is most important. But what to do for the afternoon…?
Amber and I pack up the kids and headed down to Camp Belzer in Indianapolis. There we found the Bert Johnson Memorial Station WD9BSA. This was their inaugural event and really the fist time on the air. “Murphy” was at work to a minor degree but the organizers were able to find solutions. Didn’t really matter, though, because there were good, strong signals and some of the boys were making contacts.
The volunteers did a good job on the station. They have some nice equipment and a professional-looking console that can easily accommodate two operators and assistants. Like I said previously, the organizers did a good job of planning and displaying the many aspects of ham radio. As Eagle Scout myself, I sure wish there were opportunities like this when I was a boy! I look forward to many future visits to WD9BSA.
My buddy Darrin (n9jpi) held an antenna/tower raising party last weekend. I was able to stop by and assist Sunday afternoon and into the evening. We’ve been working together on the project for probably over a month now. After a bit of an absence Darrin got bit by the ham radio bug in a big way. Part of it’s due to a nearby lightening strike that took out some shack gear and other consumer electronics in the house. Must’ve been a sign from above. New radio, antennas, accessories…. It’s always fun to visit another ham’s shack and play with their goodies.
One thing that made this endeavor nice was a man lift. Darrin could work up in the tower and I could get things staged on the ground as we were ready for them. He had a rope up there to haul the various parts and pieces up to the bucket.
We installed two antennas on the sixteen foot mast. At the top is a Cushcraft triband VHF/UHF antenna for 6m, 2m, and 70cm. The 6m portion is horizontal and the 2m/70cm portions are polarized vertical. Below it we installed a typical Cushcraft A3S tribander for HF. A Ham IV is used to rotate this assembly. Another nice touch is a cross beam with eye bolts at the ends that can be used to haul up additional wire antennas. Once you have a tall antenna support structure (like a tower!) you just have to hang a bunch of stuff off of it.
We worked well after dark into the night with the aid of spot lights and some lights on the ATV. When I left all the work up in the man lift was done and all connections were made. Darrin reports that so far the measurements on the antenna have been good. This has been a challenging project that required some custom fabricating and a lot of patience. I think this winter the rewards will be well worth the effort. On last pic below of the tower just before sunset. I thought it turned out nice.
Last Sunday was a great day for a hamfest. I don’t think the weather was much over 75 degrees the whole time. Local ham buddy Darrin (n9jpi) drove us up to the event. We were in search of new/used shack goodies for his current shack update project. After several years of being inactive, the bug has bit again. How could I resist an invite to tag along on a hamfest recon and gathering adventure.
Although I didn’t need anything I brought along a customary $100 just in case. I did turn up a neat vacuum tube voltmeter. Heathkit VTVM model IM-5228. I does all the customary functions as modern DMMs but it also has an RF volt meter, too. It should be useful for the many boatanchors in the shack. It also has a HUGE analog meter movement–retro cool! I still have to do some checking on it to see how good it is and also locate a manual and a couple missing knobs. Google should help with this.
Darrin ended up some discount goodies, too. The used military VHF vertical salvaged from a dumpster for $10 was a real score. He had it playing up in the windmill that afternoon. A B&W coax switch and some random antenna insulators and rope rounded out the finds. Also a lead on a free tribander with mast and rotor…just some time to help take it down. Best of all it was from a former high school sports rival back in the ’80s. It’s great to run into old friends.
I had a good time visiting with some friend, too, but I’ll stop short of calling them “old”. It was good to see everyone out enjoying the day. Let’s see if I can remember everyone: Crockett (wa9zce), Terry (wx9d), Rick (kc9rmt), Frankfort Nick (kc9prh), Bobby (kp4ci), Charlie (n9qa), Bob (k9foh). I hope I didn’t forget anyone…it’s been a couple days. Until next time, regards.
Summertime seems to be a busy time for me. As much as I’d like to get on the radio and work some exotic DX, the time often escapes me. Here lately we’ve been busy with Cub Scouts and 4H. I also worked through summer shutdown at the plant. Since I’m working in maintenance this is a mandatory part of the work schedule. The items worth blogging about seem to come along rarely when I’m not on the radio much.
I was listening to Pandora radio the other night and hear a song by the Foo Fighters. It’s not the song that got my attention but the cover art for the album. Clever artistic ability to turn a vacuum tube into a bomb. I have no idea what type of tube it may be, but I like old tubes–whether they’re in ham rigs or guitar amps. Since I have no artistic bone in my body just admire the creations of others.
Lafayette Nick (N9SJA) got us some tickets to the Brickyard 400. I haven’t been in years and Amber and I are big fans of NASCAR racing. It was a lot of fun to spend the day out at the track. Since I don’t own a scanner I just programmed in some of the drivers’ radio frequencies into my Yaesu VX-7R. It was really loud with the rumble of high-octane V8’s roaring around the speedway. Fortunately I was able to monitor some of the drivers communicating with spotters and their crew during the pit stops. The VX-7R is quite a versatile radio!
This past weekend was the ARRL June V/UHF QSO Party. I’ve gotten on and played in the past but hadn’t planned to try this year. Thanks to my group leader at work wanting to go home early on Saturday night, we all got to go home early. Bonus! I was able to pull out one QSO on 2m SSB Saturday evening before heading in the house to watch some movies. Sometimes it’s all about the small victories since I’m not a hard core weak signal guy.
After watching the NASCAR race Sunday afternoon I found myself with nothing better to do. Unfortunately, 144 MHz seemed pretty dead–even with a 13b2 Cushcraft to pull out the signals. So, instead, I dialed up the Flex to 6m and it was on fire. In a short time I was hearing many western and mountain states. I was able to rack up a bunch of grid squares in no time. I even persuaded Amber (KC9TAH) to get on the air with me and make some contacts. We just took turns at the mic and worked up and down the band. We even made some comments on the local 2m repeater in case anyone else was interested in playing the game.
Above is a Google Earth map that show my location and the path to all the stations we worked. The Ham Radio Deluxe Logger program will allow you to export the callsigns in your log and display them on the Google Earth map. It’s a neat little feature that gives you a visual aspect to the imaginary lines in which radio waves travel.