CQ WW WPX SSB Contest! (Video)

It was search & pounce time this weekend on the HF bands! Propagation was tough… I won’t lie… I edited out quite a bit of unsuccessful contacts on the video… but was still lots of fun nonetheless.

Thanks to all who participated & worked me out of the noise this weekend!

73

K5ACL

Using the W4OP Mag Loop indoors!

When HF conditions suck this bad (yes – I’ve spent countless hours the past few weeks with not much success on single side band)… I become a little bit more active on using digital modes! We haven’t had this low of sunspot activity since the last solar minimum! Digi modes really cut through due to their narrow bandwidth & the amazing software that’s able to really dig the signals out of the noise! I figured why not try it out indoors with the W4OP Mag Loop!?

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LNR Precision decided to come out with the tripod adapter plate for the W4OP magnetic loop just right after I had received it – so I placed another order for the tripod plate. I was originally going to make something of my own, but there’s nothing I could have made that would have compared to the craftsmanship of this tripod plate. It’s machined aluminum, exactly what I needed to ensure that the loop stays put on the tripod.

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I’m really loving the fact that they use heliax on this loop. If you’ll notice other mag loops that use LMR400 (or worse), the coax starts to droop after awhile, not with heliax – it stays put and maintains its shape – the only thing I’m concerned with is the repeated flexing of the heliax – time will tell.

I setup the loop -purely by using the noise level on the speaker on the Kenwood TS-590SG & tuned into the 40 meter WSPR frequency -7.038600  – immediately started to pickup spots as I could see the faint lines appearing in the WSJT-X waterfall. So I left it on overnight hoping to at least pickup some stateside contacts – but I was surprised to pickup VK & ZL land last night on 40 meters!

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The loop really provides for a much lower noise level @ my QTH – probably due to the fact that I live in suburbia electrically surrounded by who knows what?! After all, – reception depends more importantly on your signal to noise ratio – not antenna gain or efficiency. Don’t get me wrong though – an outdoor deployment is always recommended – but I’m interested in experiencing the same kinds of challenges on HF that so many other hams are!

I also made my first ‘indoor’ digi mode contact with AC6EG out of California on 20 meters using JT9 & 10 watts on the W4OP loop – 10 watts is the max for digi modes on the loop, whereas 15 watts can be used on Phone & CW.

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I was considering using the W4OP loop this weekend in the CQ WW SSB contest if it isn’t too crowded (even though I say the bands are dead – they seem to come alive during contests when a lot of folks are pumping out 1.5kW!). Might be a good opportunity to get some practice in before I head out for one of my first activations. Speaking of which – I checked into SOTA – there just really isn’t a lot of opportunity to participate in SOTA here in Central Texas due to the fact that almost all of the SOTA summits that are even relatively close to Austin are on private property – or just too far. Recently I heard about a program called the Worldwide Flora & Fauna (WWFF) program which is similar to National Parks on the Air (NPOTA), but a worldwide program so that everyone can participate! The spots are also located in or near public areas, almost always ensuring public access.

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SOTA Spots near Austin, TX

 

The WWFF program provides a bit easier access to some activation points closer to Austin. But I plan on trying to participate in both – as I really am anxious to try out each one! I’d hate to drive to a summit that hasn’t been attempted before only to learn that I’m unable to access the site. So I may play it safe and try to activate summits that have already been attempted.

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WWFF Spots near Austin, TX

 

Good luck to everyone participating in the contest this weekend…

73

K5ACL

Review – Bioenno Power LiFePo4 Batteries

I’m a bit of a battery snob – I like having backup power & the option to take my equipment wherever I choose. You no longer have to be glued to the shack in fear of carrying that beast of an SLA (Sealed Lead Acid) battery around with you anywhere you go! Battery technology has been quickly evolving – just take a look at the advent of electric cars these days! I was turned onto a company called Bioenno Power – which I’ve mentioned a few times in previous posts – but never took the opportunity to discuss such a great product – and great company!

I’ve been using Bioenno’s 9aH LiFePO4 (Lithium Iron Phosphate) for over a year now with great success – even to power my 100 watt rig (dialed down a bit)! Initially it started out as my Elecraft KX3 battery – it lasted FOREVER with the KX3 – granted not so long on a 100 watt rig – but a little power pack being able to handle 18 amps of discharge (20 amp peak for 2 seconds) that’s this small? Sign me up!

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Battery powered VHF station with the Bioenno 9aH LifePO4

 

Bioenno has geared some of their lineup specifically towards the ham radio community – how cool is that? They also show up to hamfests all around the country & answer all kinds of questions from folks seeking this kind of power option. Don’t be afraid to take that 100 watt setup portable! I see so many hams concentrating on QRP rigs & trying to keep the weight down – maybe I’m just used to carrying the typical heavy military man-pack radio’s from the Army, but with the new advances in batteries – I would never hesitate to carry a 100 watt radio with me portable now. Which is why I went a step further and obtained Bioenno’s entry level battery for a 100 watt rig, their 20aH LifePO4 battery:

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Testing out the new Bioenno 20aH LifePO4 Battery with the Kenwood TS480SAT

 

Bioenno Power informed me that this battery would provide ‘approximately’ 10 hours of operating time – assuming an average 20% Transmit/80% Receive operating profile for a 100 watt setup. I wanted to be able to power my TS-480SAT or TS-590SG from the field with a battery that wasn’t too heavy – and this one fit the bill perfectly. I was considering the 30aH to be honest – but considering I’ve never even came close to using the entire capacity of my 9aH even on QRP levels – I went with the 20aH to keep weight at an acceptable level for hiking even the most extreme of heights. The 30aH would have added another 3 pounds – not bad though. Want to take an SLA that’s capable of the same thing this battery is? Double your weight immediately – if not more… IMHO SLA batteries will soon become a thing of the past. I have a few left hanging around for backup purposes – but after their service life – I’ll probably never purchase another!

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Working QRP from the garage! (It was raining crazy that day!)

 

A great company to deal with and a great product! I priced these batteries locally from a company here in Austin, TX, the only difference was the type of enclosure used for the battery – and the cost was phenomenal, over $600ish for something that would have been close to their 20aH battery w/ charger. Safety is also paramount when transporting batteries – & LiFePo4 batteries are extremely safe when compared to even it’s immediate predecessor, the Li-Ion battery – just take a look at the FAA’s battery incident chart if you don’t believe me :).

Longer life…. less voltage drop… less weight… what’s not to like about LiFePO4? If you say price – immediately yes – but in the long run – the LiFePO4 works out to be the winner. Now that the Spring Equinox has passed – and the weather is warming up – the 20aH will be put to the test.

Just my .02 on this great company – Bioenno.

73

K5ACL

Longest GoPro Telescopic Pole Ever – Awesome way to inspect your antennas or get a great shot @ field day! (Vid & Pics)

Just had to take advantage of the new Spiderpole that came in recently (the telescopic pole I use for antennas). I use a GoPro Session 5 which is probably the smallest camera i’ve ever used. I thought – why not put the camera at the top of the pole to see what kind of views we can get? Spiderbeam actually sells a mount that goes over like a cap on the end of the pole (which i’d imagine would be better for a heavier camera/camcorder of some type).

The Hero Session 5 is so small & so lightweight – I was certain this old bike handlebar mount would work on the pole – sure enough, after an application of some vinyl electrical type to the pole, the mount was rock solid. Now if I was trying to mount a DSLR or a handheld camera of some type – you’d better believe i’d be using the Spiderbeam mount made for the pole!

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Cool thing is I can actually stream video from the Session 5 to my phone while its on the pole, though any higher I imagine i’d start losing connectivity – though the WiFi remote on the Session will work upto 600 feet away depending on what kind of device your using to connect to it.

First test was @ Jacob’s Well in Hays County. The weather was absolutely beautiful this past weekend here in Central Texas – if you don’t take advantage of this weather – it’ll be scorching hot before you know it! It’s only a short 40 minute drive from Austin, so if you’ve never been – make sure to visit this gem. Development around the area has sky rocketed though – which is why Hays County purchased 50 acres surrounding the site to protect it. It’s a shame the water wasn’t flowing more – it used to gush out of the ground nearly 6 feet in height way back before our insatiable demand for water began!

 

 

73

K5ACL

Experimenting with my first remote antenna tuner!

Welcome to project #37859 – the never ending saga of improving my signal!

I’ve tried all sorts of different wire antennas here at the house in suburbia, and all have performed about as well as I’d expect them to given their compromised position & setup. However, I took a step back after I started realizing that I was consistently pressing the tune button [AT] on my Kenwood TS-590SG to tune the antenna. Problem is I was using multiband antennas that had a really narrow bandwidth in any given band, especially 30 meters & down. It’s kind of what I had to deal with, I wanted the ability to hop on as many bands as possible using the smallest amount of space possible. Kind of hard to do that with ham radio efficiently when you think about it. Not to mention that the SWR feedline loss was probably killing me on certain bands. I was probably transmitting at QRP levels in certain areas of the spectrum which will definitely work when the conditions are right, but be tough otherwise. While I’m tickled at everything I have accomplished on HF thus far, I know I can do better – and I know I can make my setup more efficient.

Antenna ‘systems’ can be complex things – some of which I still don’t understand – but I’m getting there. After a long read of “Another look at reflections” by W8KHK (M. Walter Maxwell), (a long read BTW – but probably the most informative document I’ve read on transmission line theory). One statement Maxwell wrote really stood out to me & helped explain a lot:

“The transmitter doesn’t “see” an SWR at all — only an impedance resulting from the SWR. And the impedances are matchable without concern for the SWR. This is one of the most important points of confusion at issue.”

This was definitely a point I was confused on, but it’s all that much clearer now. In a perfect world, we’d all have perfectly matched systems, but I’ve realized that things don’t have to be ‘perfect’ in order for them to work, or even work good! There are compromises in every signal chain, and that’s OK!

My viewpoints on tuners in the shack have started shifting a bit though – while I understand the appeal/convenience/simplicity, practically speaking a remote tuner is really the way to go after further consideration. The cost of remote tuners seem to be coming down as of late, and more and more I’m seeing antenna wizards even crafting their own or even modifying existing in the shack tuners to perform as remote! Some ingenious stuff!

I discovered a product made by LDG called the RT-100. It’s a 125 watt (peak) coax in & out remote tuner for $229. Say what? Wait… I paid $199 for the KT-100 auto-tuner which just sits inside my shack, and presents an impedance that’s more acceptable to my transceivers (works with both my 590SG & 480SAT to give them a bit wider range than the internal tuner). I’m not sure how ‘new’ the RT-100 is, though the earliest review I can find on eHam is November 2013. So this product has been around for a few years,  & there’s some reviews online but not like the reviews for the tuners inside the shack, which leads me to believe that remote tuners are not as common of a product with hams. Initially LDG sold the RC-100 controller separately, but it’s now sold as a combo (it can also be used with other Bias-T boxes).

 

I’d heard of remote tuners from other hams, and that if tuners were used at all, then remote is definitely the way to go. I didn’t understand this initially as a new ham & the importance of matching the antenna as close to the feedpoint as possible. Now keep in mind, it usually takes a pretty high SWR & high attenuation in order for any significant loss to occur on the feedline. A 6:1 mismatch will double your feedline loss, but unless your run is long (over 100′ I’d say?) and you are using low quality coax, you might not see much of an improvement. But in my situation, where I like to take my antennas vertical, the remote tuner will allow me to match the antenna perfectly at the feed point, so I’d be able to deploy a flagpole type vertical of a very short height, and be able to work multiple bands somewhat efficiently. (Actually this tuner will work on ANY coax fed antenna so the options are pretty wide!) Matter of fact, I  plan on using it with the 9:1 unun I just built a few weeks ago coupled to a fiberglass pole to test out capability for portable use!

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What really interested me in this product was the flexibility with the coax in & out ports. You can essentially hook this thing up to a number of different baluns and experiment, or if you prefer you can immediately split the coax out port with one of these guys:

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PL259 to Binding Post Adapter

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have a resonant monoband antenna perfectly matched for every band available, but being realistic – that would take up a huge amount of space! Not to mention a lot of feedline to get them all spaced out properly! Even the remote tuner is sort of a Band-Aid in the whole process, but I consider it to be a ‘more-efficient’ Band-Aid!

The build quality is typical LDG stuff – seems like it’ll hold up well to the elements, I may house the external unit in another box just to keep it even further weather protected. The sun can be absolutely brutal in Texas! This was the only barefoot power remote tuner that I could find on the market today, surprised there isn’t more since I’m sure the majority of hams operate at barefoot power.

More to come on the LDG RT-100. Lets make some contacts!

73

K5ACL

Crohn’s Disease Awareness

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~Ok – so most of my posts have been ham radio related – but from time to time – I’d like to use this platform to talk about other things that are of great importance to me! ~

For anyone that’s ever known someone that suffers from Crohn’s disease, you know that’s its one hell of a disease to deal with. It’s basically an auto-immune disorder of the digestive system – that can affect everything from the tip of your tongue – to… yup – you guess it – the ‘other end’ lol. Well it certainly hits the digestive system hard, but what it also does is cause a whole plethora of other problems – because your body is constantly attacking its own immune system. I’ve encountered several folks in my life that suffer from this ‘bitch’ of a disease.

Why am I talking about this here? Because my ‘other half’….. my rock…… my wonderful wife – Shannon – suffers from one of the worst cases of Crohn’s disease I’ve ever seen or heard about. I’ve lost count of the number of operations she’s gone through – she’s gone through more than any person should ever have to. That’s why I want to raise awareness about this auto-immune disorder. Its hard to believe that 4 months into our relationship, she fell gravely ill – and here we are 6 years later still fighting it! She’s basically gone through a complete digestive reconstruction, but it didn’t end there. Even after all the procedures, her Crohn’s ‘symptoms’ still persist (includes severe abdominal pain, nausea, you name it – the worst of the worst). Now she’s on a medication that if it weren’t for insurance – we’d never be able to afford it – each injection is in the ‘thousands’. New medications are constantly coming out – none of which she has really responded to, i.e. Humira, Entyvio, Cimzia, some other ones that I can’t even remember…. and now the new one she’s trying is Stelara. These are all biological medications that in some chemical way – attempt to block the mechanism that’s telling her system to attack itself. But you can imagine the complications that come with injecting a biological drug into your system. It’s almost like chemotherapy – your basically injecting something very foreign into your body in the hopes that its benefits outweigh the side effects. Not to mention the other cocktail of drugs that the doctors keep telling her to take.

Crohn’s disease isn’t exactly visible – except for maybe the life it may steal from your aura. Some folks even live perfectly healthy lives with the disease. But it affects everyone differently. What can you do for someone with Crohn’s? Most importantly – just be understanding – and provide support during the tough times!

Can you believe that Crohn’s stands as one of the MOST expensive disorders to treat in the American healthcare system?  (Pretty sure my wife has gone over the ‘million mark’ so far!) Scientists are working hard as we speak to try and figure out what exactly causes Crohn’s disease – it’s been thought to have existed for a lot longer than it has been recognized though – it’s just due to recent advancements in the medical field – they’ve started identifying the markers for the disease better – there’s only ONE laboratory in the United States that even does the Crohn’s specific marker testing!

I’m sitting here writing this at the hospital as we speak. My wife is such a regular on the ‘5th floor’ here – the nurses know my wife very well! Not sure if that’s a good thing though! lol….. She’s been such a trooper through all of this – and incredibly brave.

For more information on Crohn’s, or other types of inflammatory bowel disease, please visit: “Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America.”

73

Johnny

K5ACL

The W4OP Magnetic Loop Antenna (Video)

Introducing the newest antenna in my arsenal. The W4OP Magnetic Loop Antenna (MLA)! A mag loop that does 60m-10m (with a 6 meter option planned in the future). I must say that my initial impressions of this antenna are much better than I anticipated. I know the inherent limitations of MLA’s, but this one seems to be pretty darn efficient & has a super high-Q. I’m still getting practice in at being able to zero in on the frequency I desire!

Here is a short video introducing the antenna.

Lots of adventures are being planned already with this little guy!

 

 

 

 

Ton o’ fun in the ARRL International DX Contest

It has been a cold & rainy past few days in Austin, TX. The type of weather suited for a warm cup of joe, hot cup o’ soup, and my pups snuggled by my side in the radio shack!

I just had to get in on the action this weekend after I pulled up my spectrum display to check band activity – it lit up like the 4th of July! I’d never seen so much activity on the bands, what a treat! I was able to operate for several hours this weekend doing the whole ‘search & pounce’ method using my panadapter & was able to snag 56 contacts on 80/40/20/15/10! I added 9 new countries to my DXCC count, for a grand total of 50!

My furthest contact was to EI7M in Ireland at about 4,600 miles on 20 meters. I operated barefoot (100 watts) the entire contest. My off-center fed dipole was the clear winner in this contest hands down, I tried switching back and forth several times throughout the contest, and especially for noise purposes it beat out the Hustler. Many times when the other station couldn’t hear me on the vertical, I was booming in with the OCF. Maybe because most of my contacts were < 5,000 miles though, seemed like a large concentration of Central & South American stations. Most were using high power (thanks for that!), however I was able to snag several other barefoot DX stations as well. The preamplifier on the Kenwood TS-590SG really came in handy this weekend on the higher bands, I’d never really taken the time to tinker with it much before. It seems to do a really good job of amplifying just what needs to be heard in those weak signal situations.

I hope to continue improving & getting better by refining my contesting skills, it’s definitely not for someone who doesn’t like fast paced operating! I like it though, it’s almost like a rush comes over you when you snag a contact! I’m hooked. Not only that, but keep working on my antennas to improve efficiency! I’d like to be able to work those weak stations better! 

A big thanks goes out to everyone who participated, and a special thank you to those who took the time to dig me out of the noise! 

Made a short video excerpt of some operating last night, forgive the muffled audio when I go to transmit, I forgot to turn my transmit monitor on for the microphone! Next time…. 😋

My first 9:1 unun for an End Fed Antenna

Well hello there little guy! Welcome to Planet Earth!

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Say hello to my first born 9:1 unun. He was born last night, at around 8:30 p.m., weighing in at just over 10 ounces! I’ve named him Old Glory, after good ole’ red, white & blue! 😛 Take a look at my color combination for the 3 wires 😛 Was purely coincidental though, I needed a third wire of the same gauge and it just so happened to be blue!

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What is this little guy? Well it’s called a Transmatch/Matchbox/Matching Network (take your pic) if you will. Since most modern transceivers are designed to operate at 50 ohms, the ‘matchbox’ will bring the impedance down enough for you to be able to use multiple bands on a single wire antenna (with an antenna tuner). Very popular with folks in an HOA or for portable use. I’ve probably seen more end fed antennas in use than anything in my first couple of years!

I may have gone a little fancy on this one by using banana plug terminals instead of wingnuts, but it was extra hardware that wasn’t being used, and the banana plug terminals are a nice touch because the banana plugs can be easily inserted into another insulated length of wire while your finding the ‘right’ lengths that work with the matchbox instead of adding a new terminal to each piece of wire you try.

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I followed the EARCHI plans for a 40m-6m end fed antenna. I tested continuity between all the wires inside the matchbox with a multimeter. I soldered a 470 ohm resistor on between some alligator clips (need to shorten the leads) to test between the antenna & ground lead and came back with a graph that was a tad bit on the high end.

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Though this may be typical for a T130-2 toroid analyzer sweep? There is so much information (a lot of which is conflicting) on Powdered Iron Toroids & Ferrite Toroids on the internet. So I’ve invested in several other types, including the T200-2 & FT-240-43 to see what different kinds of results I get with different toroids. As you can see SWR for 20 meters is around 1.6, but the impedance value was still a little high (about 90).

Surprisingly, the best length that I’ve found yet has been a 21′ piece of wire for 40 meters, but gets worse as you go higher in  bands. Initially I had thrown a 31′ piece on there to compliment the 31′ Jackite pole in my backyard, but that was more resonant towards the 60 meter band! So I tried others, including a 28.5′ piece & a 43.5′ piece (suspended as a sloper from roof). When I added the counterpoise wires, it seemed to make things worse (generally speaking – on most bands). So I left them off & used a 50′ piece of RG213 to the analyzer, with shorter pieces of coax, the SWR shot up a bit, still need to try a 25′ piece though. I’m still baffled as to why the counterpoise wires would make the situation worse.

I’ll admit I tried setting all this up in my cramped backyard up against the fence, where the radials may have been interacting with the current radials laying under the sod for my Hustler vertical. Need to get into an open space, but need to develop a stand or stake of some sort to hold the Jackite pole up.

Here’s some useful articles from ARRL on Transmatching & Antenna Tuners if you are so inclined to learn more about them : ARRL Transmatch/Antenna Tuners. If you’re thinking about trying an End Fed antenna, build it! You’ll save a lot of dough & learn some in the process! I’m guilty though, I’ve used commercial end feds, nothing wrong with that, sometimes you just need to get on the air! I’m not sure how I would do this without an analyzer though, I know some have said they did manual SWR plotting, I can’t imagine how much of a pain in the butt that is though!

More to come……

Happy Hump Day!

73

K5ACL

 

 

 

 

 

New record set on 2 meter FM – Tropospheric Ducting

I usually don’t have the chance to partake in tropo events, but tonight was my lucky night! Just so happened we were holding our Thursday night net with the N5OAK Amateur Radio Club, and afterwards the VHF Tropo Maps started lighting up like crazy! So a bunch of us hopped over to 146.520 tonight, and sure enough, I start hearing stations all the way from Louisiana to the southern tip of Texas! The map only continued to get more intense as the night rolled on.

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Only problem during these events is there’s so many stations that popped on during this event, it was hard to hear who was replying to who! I’ve never heard so many people on the National Simplex frequency at once! It was crazy tonight!

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I was able to snag 3 QSO’s, with my furthest contact being W3OQ in Brownsville, TX, at almost 300 miles away! Wow! That’s another new record, i’m just on a roll lately! And here I was complaining about HF band conditions lately. Go figure! Everyone was very cordial on .52 and allowed for as many folks to snag as many QSO’s as they could! Very cool. Not too shabby for the antenna I use for FM! Rig used was the TMV71A @ 50 watts. Antenna – Tram 1480. I’ll have to try and hop on more often when I see these events occur!

Big thanks to K5RZQ, W3OQ & KA5LYL for working me!

**Update (about 10 hours later)… the tropo event is still going on!

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73

K5ACL