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It’s meme Friday & SWL on the beach!

Oh Elecraft, you’ve really engineered a fine piece of equipment I must say. Being able to take this radio with me ANYWHERE is a big plus!

Pretty soon i’ll be headed to the beach, and i’ll be taking my Elecraft with me and a good ole’ wire antenna! I’ve heard that operating on the beach can offer somewhat better results due to the conductivity of the salt water in the ground & in the air. I’m a bit nervous to get sand in the receiver, but i’ll be careful enough and probably keep it on my tailgate (there are certain areas along the Texas coast that allow you to drive & park on the beach). I really wish I could take a trip out to Big Shell, but unfortunately you must have a 4×4 vehicle to get out there. I posted a poll below to find out how most folks have their end fed wire antennas configured. What works for one person may not always work for another, but I’d rather start with tried and true methods. Once I pull that wire up in the tree, I’m really hoping not to have to take it down and readjust. I’ve also switched the rechargeable batteries from Lennar (found them at Fry’s) to Eneloop:

 The Lennars just weren’t holding a charge that long, I forgot to get slow discharge batteries, so i’ll have to open up the Elecraft case and swap these out. Don’t make the mistake of getting some off brand or cheap rechargeable battery (the Lennars were actually more than the Eneloops – but they had 2700 mAh of capacity). I had an old NiMH battery charger that I acquired while in the military (made by Rayovac?) that works great still. I’ll use this to charge my spare sets & leave a set in the Elecraft (is that safe?)

Edit (12/14/15): I’ve been thinking of upcoming trips, and do I really want to rely on QRP to enjoy the HF bands? I’m thinking I may even take my HF rig with me. We’ll be camping in an RV with some friends, they have no problem with me using the radio in their RV, I’m just not sure if the Astron power supply will draw too much power for a 30amp hookup, I’m guessing only if the A/C or heater were running, maybe even the refrigerator, not sure, i’ll have to find out that one too, geez so many questions!

Another QSO for the mag loop

I haven’t had much time to operate lately. Don’t we all wish we had more time to operate!? Oh, believe me, when I retire, I’m moving to the country side, and putting up huge Yagis and multiple towers! Can’t keep me off the airwaves then! But alas, as I still sit here and wait for my end fed antenna to come in the mail, I called out to W7P, a special event station in Arizona last night at about 11 pm local CST. The 40m band was outstanding last night! Solar data indicated that the 40m was at its peak, which is probably why I was able to make a contact!

 Received a 4,4 report. Not bad for being behind an aluminum framed window surrounded by electronics!  I didn’t record my QSO, but the few minutes Norman decided to stay on the net, check out the short vid, enjoy!

I think I really do need to get an external speaker, my headphones are great for listening, but i’ll want to record videos like this in the future. I have some studio monitors, but haven’t figured out how to integrate them into the system. For now the headphones work great though, they’re crystal clear and allow me to search for signals. Hydrogen times pi! *wink*

I still haven’t been able to make a contact on the loop with the Elecraft, I’m not sure if my settings are off or what, still learning the KX3 though, I’ve learned to appreciate the Kenwood & its ease of use! I really like this rig now that I’ve used a KX3!

I find myself checking the solar conditions more throughout the day, because if there’s any signal noise above S1-2, then there’s no way I’m getting any signal at my house until I rectify the antenna situation.

Frustrated with HF

Time & time again I browse the amateur radio forums & blogs, and the single most mentioned item would probably have to be the HOA. Ah, the good ole’ Homeowner’s Association. Some say they help keep communities safe & clean, others just hate them! I’m still on the fence about them. I’ve only been a homeowner for a few years, but thus far it has proven difficult to get on HF radio. I live on a lot that is 4,500 sq. ft., so space is precious. What do we do when we want to get on HF radio, but can’t because of where we live?

One option was brought up to me about having a vertical antenna mounted on one of those DX engineering tilt mounts, that way when I’m done using it, I can just tilt the antenna back down. Problem being, is that the DX engineering verticals are 43 feet tall! Granted they work every band from 10m-160m, I think I’d be find with one that supported 4 or 5 bands, just need to find the right one. I would also like to keep the height down to a minimum (my 2 story house can only hide so much in the backyard, a 43 foot vertical might stand out like a sore thumb! Not to mention that the 43 footer requires radials (recommended 65 feet long!). Here’s a pic of the antenna folded on the tilt mount:

There’s no way I have space for that, I don’t even have 65 feet across in my backyard! Question is, is there a vertical that will meet my needs that requires shorter radials? Should I get one that doesn’t require radials? I’m sure there would be some type of compromise with that antenna. More to think on that one, if anyone has any ideas, please feel free to comment. Below is a picture of my house (ignore the graphics, I was putting up a fan dipole under my eaves of the house indicated by the yellow & green lines in the below pic, but it picked up so much noise (probably from coupling to electrical wiring in the house) that I had to take it down.

The only space I have to work with is really the backyard, which will also need about 125′ of coaxial run, but as you can also see, there’s not much room to lay a vertical down unless I were to put it in one of the corners of the backyard and layed it down during the day when not in use. These vertical antennas though are pretty expensive, and I want to make sure that whatever I get next is going to work.

So until I get my HF working, it’s back to VHF. What is it about HF that draws amateur operators in? Is it the fact that your making a contact further away? Its basically the same principle of radio operation, except that your contacts are local! VHF can be fun, if you’ve got a good repeater your hanging out on. So far the guys on N5OAK have been really friendly, and always willing to give signal reports if needed! I took disconnected the discone antenna in the attic & connected the Arrow J Pole in its place. Luckily I had just enough room to squeeze the antenna in the attic vertically. The antenna is about 57 inches tall, and is built like a brick compared to my diamond discone. I can see why these j poles have had such success, they may not necessarily be the best antenna for your purpose, but they’re built solid, will last for years to come, and get the job done for most people!

Here’s the antenna after assembly & before I placed it in the attic:

So far I’ve gotten great reports on it, but have only connected to repeaters about 30 miles away (Cedar Park, TX) using full power on the FTM-400DR (50 watts). I’ve just started researching EchoLink as well, which is apparently a way to communicate with hams all over the country using 2m frequencies. Interested to try that out!

Edit & update: After asking the question over on eHam & Reddit, it seems that the best option would be to go with a Hustler 5BTV or 6BTV. They’re relatively inexpensive, so if it doesn’t work, it won’t be too big of a hit. Some folks were also suggesting trying different configurations of wire antennas, but what I’ve done thus far hasn’t worked. Not only will I have to buy the vertical antenna, but the radial plate, the tilting mount, the radial wires, and the long coax run, probably almost 400 in total!

Mondays suck… Usually!

I dread going back to work on Mondays. Why is it that my oh so precious time on the weekend always seems to fly by. I guess when your having fun time flies right? Or so they say…

I’m breaking that cycle today! As I sit here waiting for my usual chorizo con huevo taco in the cafeteria, I’m pondering just where I want to do my first portable operation! I finally got everything in order that I needed to go portable. I was just waiting on some Anderson Powerpoles to get all the power connections standardized. I chose to solder them on, I wish I would have bought the crimping tool now, because the connectors you solder to the ends of the wires are very small!

Here’s my go kit:

(Thanks to N0HYD’s YouTube video on the Pelican case)

All in all, approximately 20 pounds for all the gear I need to make a contact hopefully, but, lets face it, i’ll only make a contact if conditions are good, and the past couple of days, they haven’t been. As of right now the 20m & 30m bands are “good”, which is great because the loop is optimized for those bands (to an extent). Hopefully I can pop on over to a local park during lunch or after work and give it a go! I won’t be disappointed if I can’t though, as I’m still learning the KX3. I read the owner’s manual last night… surprisingly… I usually don’t read manuals. I liked the KX3 manual & the simplicity that it was written in. My Kenwood owner’s manual was horribly written, and doesn’t even take into account the more modern connections that these transceivers can make to computers and the like. Great job Elecraft!

Still……….

I hate Mondays……

Where’s my coffee?!

Update: Zero QSO’s for the day. Reason: Forgot BNC adapter at home for KX3. What a moron…

73’s

Having fun with Yaesu FTM-400DR

So I decided to throw the discone antenna back up this time in the attic, I suspended it from the rafters until I can get my j pole up.

There was a minor geomagnetic storm this morning, and apparently VHF was even affected:

 

Really enjoying the FTM-400DR, love the TFT touch screen. You can even send digital messages with this radio (not sure if i’ll ever have the need for that function, but Yaesu even has a hand mic with a camera built in to it!) Too cool! The bandscope is a nice function, but it is a tad slow to react to the signals, still very nice to have built into a 2m base station. I downloaded the Yaesu software for this model & the driver & all worked well on my windows computer. I’ve also heard of folks using WSPR with their 2m/70cm base stations, I wasn’t able to find this radio in the WSPR program though.

So onto my 2m/70cm antenna options… apparently the discone has no gain, a j pole has no gain, my next option would be to run a vertical, but then I imagine i’d need to run ground wires of some sort. I’ll stick with what I have for now, I need to get on simplex & get some signal reports from some fellow hams around town, more to come on those reports!

This radio is also capable of WIRES-X. But i’d need to purchase an additional piece of equipment, the HR-210, which is almost another $135 as of today’s writing. I think i’ll pass, would have been nice if that feature was included on the radio, but wishful thinking 🙂 So far i’ve been using just 5w and i’m able to reach into the local repeater no problem. This radio is also capable of 25w, & 50w. which I usually reserve for simplex testing or to reach distant repeaters. 2m/70cm repeaters are pretty thick in Central Texas it seems, I can easily ping 80-90 repeaters (both 2m & 70cm).

The blue force tracker

Thought I’d share a quick story about my good ole buddy the blue force tracker…

See that nifty (yet extremely dirty) computer installed in my truck below?

(Note the Mt. Dew & Dr. P – these were worth their weight in gold where I was stationed, we rarely got supplies)

Here’s some other close up pics of this system:

 

 

That’s what got me into ham radio you could say. At least gave me the itch. That’s Martin (my driver) looking over in the distance admiring my expanded knowledge of this really cool piece of equipment. See I had to take this special class when I was in the military called Electronic Warfighters Course. We learned how to burn cell phones from the air, how to jam IED radio signals, and of course how to master communication with military communication equipment. Included was this blue force tracker (BFT). Most of my buddies in the Army used to either detach this monitor or just swing it out of the way. This system allows real time monitoring of the battlefield, and a bunch of other really cool things, but it was so complicated to use, most sergeants would not use it. Being the tech guy I was, I took it to the next level. The Army invested a lot of money in this technology and I wasn’t about to let it go to waste. I was fascinated at how this thing operated over the HF/VHF/UHF bands! Highly encrypted of course, this technology has also since been replaced with even more sophisticated equipment. I found this picture in my archives.
I reminisce about my military years. Such cool equipment I got to play with!
Who needs wifi when you have ham radio? lol
Heck even the loop antenna I’m using uses the army loop concept shown here on another hummer:

 

My truck used verticals, usually with spotty performance too, the antennas were crap that the army used, we usually had to rig some radials or some other bizarre design!
God bless the troops this holiday season. We’ve got you in our prayers.
73’s.

Assembling the Elecraft KX3

So I decided to jump on the Elecraft KX3 bandwagon. I love travelling and being outside, this radio will allow me to enjoy both activities at once. Best part is, I get to pick the best spot to put up my antenna! I foresee many trips up hills and possibly mountains with this thing! I was going to video the assembly of the kit, but I kept getting distracted assembling the kit (hey, life happens!). So it took me about 6 hours to assemble the kit.

I’d never assembled a radio before, although I had a few computer builds under my belt, this device was much smaller than a desktop PC! I had to use tweezers to insert most screws and washers, but eventually got the task accomplished, it wasn’t easy, I’m not sure if I should have just paid the $100 to have it assembled? I don’t think assembling the radio made me understand the circuitry any better, but I did see how everything was pieced together. The manual was very clear and concise, I think anyone could assemble this kit with a bit of know how.

Really excited to try this radio out with the Chameleon F Loop. Plans are to hike up Mount Bonnell and Shingle Hills and try it out! Those are the two highest points near me at about 900 ft. & 1,400 ft elevation. I’m just curious as to if that will have any bearing on making a better contact!

     (Mount Bonnell @ Sunset – overlooking the Colorado River)

TGIF!! It’s radio time!

Christmas Lights & Coax!

Last night was spent putting up about 20 strings of Christmas lights on and around the house. My wife absolutely loves Christmas, as do I. Such a wonderful time of year when you finally get to see family and friends that you haven’t seen in awhile.

I figured while I was up on the roof that I was going to remove the RG6 quad shield coax that I had feeding my discone (which I also removed). The discone just hasn’t performed as well as I thought it would. It has nominal gain, and it’s an eye sore to say the least. Also the quad shield coax was 75 ohms, an oops on my part. While it worked perfect for receiving, if I were to hook it up to my 2m base station i’d lose half the power instantly because of the 75 ohm rating.

Hopefully the new j pole from Arrow that i’ll be installing in the attic will be a bit better. I ran a 25′ run of LMR 400 up into the attic from the QTH to connect the j pole. I’ll have to mount it at some kind of an angle, just not sure what angle, if any is best, i’ll have to pop on over to eHam to ask that question!

I decided that I don’t want any coax or ladder line to be visible from the outside of the house. Period! I want to keep it clean and tidy, so I’ve decided to run all my cables up into the attic. There isn’t much space up there though because it’s a 2 story house, so I’m limited on what I can put in the attic. My other wish was to install an MFJ loop in the attic as well! But that’s another project down the line. So I drilled a hole in the ceiling of the closet to run the LMR400 to:

Since I didn’t have much space to work with I grabbed a long pole saw and removed the saw portion, the other side had a hook which I used to extend all the way over to where the coax was coming in and grab the cable! It’s hard moving around in an attic that has 20 inches of blown in insulation, & is probably only big enough for a 2 foot human!

Advice for next time I hop in the attic: wear a dust mask! Luckily I had safety goggles on at least. Don’t forget long sleeve clothing to protect from the insulation & rubber gloves, especially if your working with fiberglass insulation! That stuff sticks in your skin & hurts!

I will get this antenna situation sorted out! If its the last thing I do!

73’s

Kf5ZhJ

First VHF contact today! I’m on a roll!

When all else fails and you can’t get on HF, then VHF never fails right? I hooked up my Baofeng UV5R5 to my discone antenna using alligator clips because I didn’t have the right PL259 adapter for the Baofeng. I finally figured out the whole PL tone thing with the Baofeng, that’s why I wasn’t able to get in to the repeater. I also figured out how to program the offset. These little radios work great for how much they cost once you get to learn all the different functions and menu options. The software & cable would make it much easier, but who does things the easy way?!

So I called CQ into the N5OAK repeater -[147.320 PL tone 114.8] (a repeater I’ve been listening to on and off for some time now) – they even have a live streaming service into a server that you can listen in on – there’s about a minute or two delay on the audio, but works when I’m at work inside a basement and can’t bring my radio in! KG5CDP answered my call (Brandon), I introduced myself, and he did the same. We chat a little bit about the club and I expressed my frustrations with living in an HOA! Brandon was VERY helpful and said not to worry, that there’s plenty of options for guys living in an HOA. (relieved me a bit) I’m not into the formal type of amateur radio clubs, I think there’s too many politics and I don’t think anyone should have to pay dues to be in a group to learn about ham radio, but i’ll gladly support groups who are non profit and try to spread the word about this wonderful hobby.

Hobby?…. I almost hate calling it that…

A hobby is an activity that you have on the side that keeps your mind occupied when your bored (at least to me). Ham radio is more like a passion! And for some hams a way of life! I only wish that I would have learned more about this sooner in life. So that was my first VHF contact, thanks Brandon! The signal was so loud and clear! I can’t wait to get a 2m base station setup with my j pole, going to try putting the j pole in the attic at an angle (there’s not enough room to put it vertically). Although i’ll probably quickly find out that it needs to be outside again!

On a side note, I made another QSO on the Chameleon F Loop antenna to Kansas City, Missouri using 15 watts with the antenna inside my QTH. My report was horrible, like a 4-1. But he said he could hear me! Below was me behind the microphone when the receiving station responded to my CQ:

LOL!

I just made my first HF contact!

Holy smokes! I just made my first HF contact! I’m hooked! My patience has paid off! Thank you Chameleon Antenna! More to come on this beautiful antenna!

 

This antenna has out performed every single wire antenna i’ve tried here on my HOA restricted lot!

I was using only 10w!

The details: QSO was with W6KV out of Los Angeles, California at a distance of 1,975 kilometers! Luckily he had a Yagi which he could point in my direction, but a few other folks heard me from Kansas too! So I quickly snagged a few other QSO’s! I was using 10w, but soon increased it to 15w.

Here’s the power specifications for the loop (copied directly from the manual):

Power:
Band Switch in “A” position (5.3 – 7.299 MHz): 10W continuous duty cycle (CW, AM, FM, RTTY), 20W intermittent duty cycle (SSB and SSB-based digital modes)


Band Switch in “B” position (7.3 – 29.7 MHz) Switch Setting: 7W continuous duty cycle (CW, AM, FM, RTTY), 15W intermittent duty cycle (SSB and SSB-based digital modes)

Inside, the antenna does not work so well, I can receive pretty well if I’m close to a window, but transmitting with such low power (10w) I’m not being heard, so looks like placing this antenna outside and away from things helps. When I had it near my window inside (with aluminum framing) it was difficult to reach a low SWR (the manual even says to keep it away from everything!), but when it’s this cold outside in Texas I’m keeping my butt warm! I’ve come to the conclusion that where I live & with all the noise & what not that it’s going to be best if I get out and away from my subdivision to do some work, however that’s going to come at a price. When I’m QRP, I can only use up to 10 watts on my Elecraft transceiver, although this may be great for CW and some digital modes, for SSB, I’ve heard more power is better. So for a new ham, this may be a bit of a challenge. Starting with QRP I’ve heard can be frustrating, but hey, if my first contact was with someone 1,975 kilometers away on this antenna, if I improve my surroundings and conditions it should be easier right? Wishful thinking 🙂  Here’s a few pictures of the antenna:

(Luna approves of the packaging!)

(mounted to an existing camera tripod I had bought off of amazon)

 

(quality dx engineering cable & connectors)