Enjoying WSPR over the holiday season

Busy doesn’t even begin to describe my life over the past several weeks. Things never slow down during the holiday season. I love spending time with family and friends, but the hustle and bustle of the holidays just gets to me. It’s hard to squeeze out even just a few minutes of operating time! That’s when I switch over to operating WSPR on HF for awhile. Allows me to still get a piece of the ‘action’ while I patiently wait for the busyness to subside. Speaking of which, I hope all of you had a great holiday season with family/friends as well!

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I’m still thrilled I was able to grab one of these WSPRlites before the holidays got here, SOTAbeams has a hot little product right now! Consistently sold out everytime he produces a batch! Low pass filters are now available through SB as well.

I have this 20,000mAh power pack w/ 3¬†USB ports, but I was having a problem with the power pack shutting off, presumably because the WSPRlite barely draws any current. So I saw another WSPRlite user use one of these USB power output meters, and as you can see the WSPRlite pulling around .10A on transmit (I’m not sure how accurate the meter is – I just wanted something to pull enough juice). But the power pack still shut off even with the meter, maybe there are other ones out there that pull a bit more juice. But I just threw my RTL.SDR on there, which pulled a bit more juice, and the power pack decided to stay on ūüôā

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Results from using 200mW on my 137′ OCF dipole:

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Over the course of 24 hours, I’ll usually have quite a bit of DX on WSPR, but the past few days haven’t been so great, just a few hopped the pond:

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A few WSPRlite users are already using small 1w/5w amplifiers on their device which is silly IMO. I really have learned to scale back the power on WSPR, and usually with phenomenal results. Remember, if band conditions are right, it doesn’t take very much to get your signal out, it’s during those moments that I see my signal hop the pond, that I want to get on and start calling CQ!

73

K5ACL

Panadapting with the Kenwood 590SG

You know the articles where other radio operators mention that once you go to a spectrum display, you never wanna go back? Well, that’s pretty much true for me. Not only does panadapting give you a real time spectrum display, but a waterfall display which displays the history of the signal for the last 10-30 seconds (or however your settings are tweaked). This provides for a unique SWL experience, in that it allows you to identify signals easier.

The waterfall never ceases to amaze me, in that it’ll reflect a signal on the screen, that I probably wouldn’t have noticed just scrolling with the VFO searching for signals. Don’t get me wrong though, I still enjoy turning all of my computers/speakers/mixer/SDR/etc off, and listening with nothing but a good pair of headphones & scrolling with the VFO! The receiver in the 590SG is top notch!

Happy Holidays to All!

73

K5ACL

Using a GPS Repeater Antenna with the Yaesu FTM400DR

My Yaesu FTM-400DR has had a difficult time ascertaining a GPS lock inside of my vehicle. Some others have also¬†complained of this, but when my radio is in my 2nd story shack @ home, or if its out in the open during field day, it picks up a signal relatively fast (<30 seconds usually). I’ve decided to keep the FTM400DR in the truck due to the interactive screen (as opposed to the plain ole TM-V71A’s face). I just found that having a touch screen in a vehicle can be really convenient, especially for quick adjustments when your stopped.

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On a trip out a few weeks ago, the FTM400DR took almost 30 minutes before it was able to get a lock. I figured it was the laptop blocking the signal, so I completely rotated it out of the way, but still no dice. Found another YouTube video by KC8MTV showcasing this GPS repeater antenna he found that just might be a good option.

I paid about $25 for quick shipping w/ Amazon, but you can find them cheaper on eBay (or possibly other retailers). If so, and you’d like to share, please comment below! I think this is a relatively easy and cheap enough fix.

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A GPS lock is not exactly necessary to do C4FM, but it is necessary for the APRS modem to start sending out your beacon. Plus it also puts some¬†additional ‘neat’ factor in – when you know exactly how far away the other guy is! Even when it would get a lock on a signal, it would occasionally lose signal. So this device is a huge boost because of the external antenna having a clear view of the sky. My truck is essentially a big shield, this is why HT’s never work well with their attached antennas inside a vehicle. To add to the mix, my truck was tinted by an aftermarket guy, and I’m pretty certain it’s¬†a metallic tint of some sort (as opposed to ceramic) which blocks signals even further. Putting the FTM-400DR on the dash, just wasn’t an option for me, that would’ve been the only ‘patch’ that I could apply, but with this, the unit has a clear view of the sky. I’m guessing this device could also provide a better GPS signal to your phone, but phones primarily use cell towers anyways to obtain a gps lock.

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The external antenna is magnetic, but I plan on mounting something under the unit to prevent the usual problems associated with mag mounts. We’ll see how long the unit lasts in the brutal Texas heat, i’ll have to keep an eye on it over the coming months. I’m tempted to silicone the coax attachment point better, as I see this as¬†the only¬†possible point of water ingress. The coax was thin enough that I was able to slide it in between the rear window and rubber seal, the¬†coax was¬†extremely long though, I had lots of excess so had to loop it up and stow it away. The wires really are starting to pile up in my truck, I’m determined to keep them neat and tidy though!

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As I understand it, the FTM-400XDR has an improved GPS antenna (it has an improved 66 channel GPS receiver)¬†and doesn’t suffer from the same ailments, but even a good GPS antenna inside a shielded car will still suffer from occasional spottiness I imagine. I’m sure this is no new device to most, but I had no clue GPS repeater antennas existed, so I had to share!

73

K5ACL

 

Reports of Kenwood TS-590SG Fans Installed Backwards

Initial reports are trickling in over on the Kenwood TS-590 Yahoo Group that a certain number of Kenwood TS-590SG owners have reported their fans being backwards (facing towards the display, and not towards the rear of the radio like they should be). My serial number begins with a B56, purchased in late 2015, and was not affected. As I understand it only a small batch was affected, some saying from 2016 specifically, but just to be sure, I wanted to check, as something like this could drastically reduce the life of the radio if not corrected. The 590SG already has phenomenal cooling, so users might not even know that the fans are backwards. Another test one user mentioned was to hold tissue at the rear of the radio, and once your able to get the radio to kick the fans on, hold a small piece of light tissue at the rear of the radio and see if it sucks it towards the radio or blows it away. The latter didn’t seem as scientific to me, LOL, so I popped open the radio just to be sure:

Kenwood will do the fix for free, even for models that might happen to be out of warranty that were affected. Some have just fixed it themselves to avoid sending in their radio, it’s a simple enough fix I would guess, but still annoying nonetheless. That’s a ding on quality control Kenwood, but no worries, this radio is so beautiful, I can’t hold it against ya’ Kenwood.

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73

K5ACL

Mobile HF with SDRplay

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McKinney Falls State Park

Took a trip out to McKinney Falls State Park here in Austin, TX a few days ago during lunch¬†to do some mobile HF operating with my SDRplay. I’ve always been interested in operating my SDR from a quiet & remote location. A state park was as close to that scenario that I could get, lol. You have to imagine that living in the 11th largest city in the United States, I’m bound to run into some RFI here and there. It occurs in the weirdest of spots too. Occasionally i’ll drive around with my HF rig on in Austin and especially in an urban environment, i’ll experience all kinds of interference, most commonly I experience it close to businesses & structures.

I scored a contact with W6VAH, the VA hospital out in Loma Linda, California, they hold a regular net on 20 meters, so snagged them on 14.258. Snagged a few others on 20 meters, but the bands as of late have been extremely noisy.


Speaking of noise… i’m currently considering investing in an active magnetic loop antenna for the home shack. I figured being in the HOA where I’m at, and my inability to get a full size dipole up in a flat top configuration, an active mag loop might help since its independent of ground, and it has the ability to null out interference. Usually if it’s interference that I’m experiencing, it’s coming from a nearby neighbor or company. I’ve tried regular transmitting mag loops before, and to be honest I wasn’t particularly impressed, but one that’s preamplified? I’m wondering if one is worth a try. They’re not cheap either… The Pixel loop from DXE is almost 500 bucks, the Wellbrook loop is just a tad less around $460 shipped from England. More to consider regarding my home QTH antennas! I refuse to give in to the QRM! Anyone with experience with these two antennas?

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73 & Happy Friday

K5ACL

WSPRlite (WSPR Beacon)

SOTABeams (SB) recently developed a new WSPR beacon called the WSPRlite. A small, light, & super portable WSPR beacon that transmits a WSPR signal on 20 or 30 meters. Lower bands are also possible with the use of a low pass filter. I jumped on purchasing one of these, and I’m glad I did because they sold out in a matter of days! More units are currently in the works though.

Checking my 20 meters spots on my mobile device

The transmitter requires the use of a 5V power supply & a USB Type¬†A¬†to USB Type B Micro cable (not all cables work, needs to be capable of sending data so the unit can be programmed). I tried a few laying around my house, and a few of them provided power only. I suggest using a USB power bank battery or clean 5v power supply of some sort. Some guys have resorted to using¬†cigarette lighter adapters and phone chargers to power these, but I’d suggest using a clean power source as the latter will most likely present problems for obvious reasons. I tried using a Mophie USB power bank, but the current draw is so low, that the battery shuts down the USB port. There are reports of powerbanks that will stay on though with such low current.

When you first receive the unit, you’ll need to download the drivers which can be found here. Even though the instructions page says Windows 10 will automatically download the drivers, I still had to manually download mine (to both my W7 & W10 machines). It will then need to be programmed with the WSPRlite configuration software. Programming is a snap, just fill in the info. fields & save your settings. The software will then give you a link which you can save to access your results on DXplorer.net. A free one year subscription is included to this online software with your WSPRlite. However, you can also access your data through the regular WSPRnet website. DXplorer includes some different features though, and uses a different interface – a much needed refresh in the area of WSPR!

Using DXplorer.net to check my spots on 30 meters

I’ve been amazed at the results I’m getting with just 200mW of power! This has made me realize that using 5 watts in most cases is even unnecessary! I haven’t had any spots yet that jumped the pond, but I’m getting spots upto 3000km away on 20m. My OCF has a sweet spot in the 20 meter digital range, on 30 meters my SWR is a bit higher so the spots have less distance.

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WSPR results on 20 meters using the WSPRlite 12/14/2016 – 200mW & OCF

WSPR data can be extrapolated to do antenna comparisons, check propagation conditions, or just have plain ole’ fun getting spots. I decided to try mine out on the mobile HF antenna, results were much less than that of my home station antenna, which was expected.

Testing out my Wolf River Coil Silver Bullet with the WSPRlite!

I just love the portability of this thing, it can be taken anywhere! I did have an issue initially with my first WSPRlite, but SOTABeams immediately sent me a replacement. Great customer service! This little guy has gained quite a bit of popularity since it came out. Its a bit more portable & easier to use than a WsprPi or a Ultimate 3S beacon.

WSPRlite transmitting its signal

One important thing to note regarding WSPR beacons –¬†it’s just as¬†important to operate a ‘receiving’ station when operating with WSPR. The system works best when there¬†is a balance (in general) between¬†receiving stations &¬†beaconing stations. If you’ll note the data on the WSPRnet website – since March 2015, the number of receiving stations increased at a slow rate, but the number of beaconing stations has skyrocketed, probably due to the popularity of such devices.¬†To¬†listen, you don’t even need an HF transceiver, you can use an RTL-SDR stick with some software, so I encourage WSPR users to ‘listen’ as well!

I give the WSPRlite 5 stars. What a neat little device!

Hope to catch you on WSPR sometime!

73

K5ACL

Shortwave Listening with the SDRplay & SDRConsole

I wanted to try and start a series of shortwave listening videos. Just simple enjoyment of¬†the shortwave bands. I’m learning how to tweak my audio so it’s a bit better for the end listener, this first video was made with nothing more than my microphone in front of my computer speakers, so I apologize for the crummy audio. The audio was also from SDRConsole (and not the 590SG – although I had the panadapter going), guess I need to make that clear next time too, lol! I generally always prefer the audio coming from my rig, even when just shortwave listening, so I think that might be a nice comparison to show the difference & the minor delay in the audio in a future video.

Enjoy.

73

K5ACL

Decoding Digital Modes with an SDR

Time for some more fun with the SDRplay! I usually have to leave my HF rig & power supply on to decode digital modes. Well it’s required obviously if I want to transmit, but I wanted to be able to decode signals w/ my station without having to consume much power for a ‘receiving’ station. With nothing more than a low power PC & an SDR of some sort (even the RTL_SDR’s work for something like this), you can effectively listen for digital modes, decode them, and have your data uploaded to the PSK network/WSPR network, etc.¬†You’d be surprised at how well your $20¬†SDR dongle can pull in signals, give it a¬†try!

Virtal audio cables make this all possible by allowing digital audio data to be passed from one application to another without any loss of signal. Pretty cool stuff eh? I have a goal one day to be constantly monitoring¬† ALL bands for digital modes. For now, this is a good start ūüôā

On a side note… I finally figured out why I haven’t been able to use my screen capturing software (OBS). A wide screen 34″ monitor is no easy task¬†for any PC to try¬†& capture, so I swapped monitors on my Mac Mini & my Windows machine & voila!¬†Screen capture works like a charm now!¬†So now my panadapter will be on the smaller screen, but this makes better sense to have my ‘SDR’ computer with a lighter load as far as my GPU goes. I even noticed a slight decrease in CPU & GPU usage when I switched over to the smaller monitor. But now I can share tutorials and SDR operations much easier! So bigger isn’t always better with a panadapter screen – lesson learned!

73

K5ACL

ARRL 10 Meter Contest

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K5ACL’s 10-meter SSB contacts

Decided to try my hand at the ARRL 10 meter contest this weekend for a few hours. I operated from about 10am-12pm local on Saturday Dec. 10 & worked 24 SSB contacts to my surprise! I was using my OCF primarily, it seemed to be performing a bit better than my vertical. I was using 100 watts for the entire contest.

I would not have been as patient if it weren’t for the SDRplay panadapter. Searching for signals in such a big band can be quite tasking for someone doing ‘search & pounce’ like me. I was having some issues w/ SDRConsole v3 & Omni-rig though, granted I had the beta version from August, and I realized there’s a newer version out released in October so i’ve upgraded everything.

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Screenshot of SDRConsole v3 & SDRplay in action during the ARRL 10 meter contest 12/10/2016

I tried my hand at CQ’ing solo for a bit, but only garnered 2 contacts that way. I’m sure most of the guys that I was replying to were ‘big-gun’ stations, so thanks to all those hams who run directional antennas! The band was initially all over the place it seemed, I would wait until their signal came up audibly & clearly enough before I would reply. The band quickly dissipated after lunch time though, and most stations dissappeared. I would try again the following morning only to gain 3 more SSB contacts early in the morning. It seemed as if the band was less cooperative the following day!

I’m pretty happy for only casually operating for a few hours and netting 27 SSB contacts in total. Pretty funny how the higher bands tend to come alive when everyone is saying it’s not worth it due to the solar minimum right now. I even made a few local contacts here in the Austin area!

Thank you to all who participated & made this contest possible, looking forward to the next one.

73

K5ACL

 

Updates from the ham shack

I just got word that Radio Australia & ABC Shortwave are both shutting down. Just as I was preparing to write this blog post. It made me think twice about the future of ‘amateur’ radio. But then I realized, that ‘amateur’ radio & shortwave broadcasters are two different animals in today’s world. I commonly see articles and posts all across the internet about folks worrying about the future of shortwave broadcasts. They are indeed fizzling away at an alarming rate (especially this past year).

I enjoy listening to shortwave broadcasts around the world. When they don’t intrude on amateur radio frequencies that is… lol. No, it’s all good because we have to learn to share the airwaves. They provide a critical service IMHO. Only 40% of the world’s population has internet access. Would it be safe to say that almost ‘all’ of the world has access to shortwave? A crystal radio can be made from next to nothing. The cost of a simple commercially made shortwave receiver is much less than that of a computer with internet capability – then again devices like the RaspPi, BeagleBone Black & ChromeBook are looking to change that!

The internet used to provide a challenge for tinkerers, but now its all just blas√©. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that you have to change with the times, and technology is ever advancing. I just feel like there’s too much automation being placed into everything – but then again here I am in love with SDR! lol. It’s just sad to watch so many stations going off the air. I only feel as if my journey into ham radio has just begun and I’ve seen more than my fair share of stations going off the air this past year. Hopefully another service will step up where these other stations have gone off the air. How cool would that be to start a shortwave broadcasting station of your own?!

R.I.P. ABC & Radio Australia – you will be missed.

….

On a positive note, I was able to put the finishing touches on the mobile setup. So I took a trip out to my local park & attempted some late night CQ’ing on Sunday night, but no dice. I had one guy come back to me from 4 land, but couldn’t make out his call. I attempted calling CQ for 45 minutes. It doesn’t happen often, but every once in awhile, i’ll have a ‘zero’ contact operation. I know my mobile setup probably isn’t the most efficient on 40, but its always worth the try ūüôā

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I was able to use a RAM hourglass mount to hold the head of the TS-480SAT in where the cupholders used to go. (There’s no way I’m carrying drinks in the center console anymore anyways! there’s spare cup holders everywhere in this truck!) It does have a bit of shake to it going over larger bumps, but it’s plenty secure. RAM mounts are the bomb. I won’t trust my equipment to anything else.

 




I’ve also just begun to get my feet wet with WIRES-X. There’s a repeater here in Austin that just enabled their WIRES-X node, which is on 146.880 & located at the 3M plant here in Austin. Thinking about possibly joining this club, so I can respectfully use this cool service that club is providing!

This was the first time I had ever used that scary red button on the Yaesu… It’s what I termed the Yaesu “Infinite Improbability Drive” button. Get the reference? ūüėČ

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Now it’s no longer that scary red button I’m afraid to press! LOL. Now it’s just time to explore WIRES-X a bit more. I was informed of the WIRES-X Bible, so I’ve got a bit of reading to do… phew.. 200 pages? Maybe that’s some material for the holidays coming up! I basically just got a 5 minute rusty run down lesson on how to connect really quick, so I haven’t yet attempted a QSO. This to me feels a bit different than EchoLink in that your connection to the “node” is through an RF link (well, then again, come to think of it, your cell phone connection also uses RF ūüėõ ).

More changes are coming up to the mobile HF setup. I’m going to be experimenting with a mounting solution that isn’t particularly meant for amateur radio antennas, so stay tuned for some experimentation! I want to basically ‘center mount’ my antenna more. It currently sits on the right rear quarter panel, and as so is quite directional in terms of its radiated signal. The antenna is also incredibly unstable where it sits… constantly vibrating, moving back & forth due to the lovely city pot holes everywhere. I’ve had to sandwich copper tape in between my REP Design Toyota Trac mount just to get the antenna to stand ‘some-what’ straight, I’ve emailed the company to see if this is typical of these mounts to be so slanted.


I was thinking about having a custom mount made, but I think I’ve found a really neat alternative that’s worth trying. The Tacoma is definitely a challenge because of the composite material the bed is made out of. It makes it easy to cut into & attach to the frame, but it doesn’t provide for the best ground plane, so I’m going to have to try some different things. More to come!

Wishing you the very best in DX.

73

K5ACL