Monday 31 August 2015

Lightwave Scatter

Looking down the road at possible future 'clear-air scatter' or 'cloudbounce' lightwave tests with stations (VE7CNF and VA7MM) on the other side of Georgia Strait, I spent a few minutes breadboarding a more stable modulator for my lightwave system.

As it is at present, the modulator consists of a 556 tone generator, capable of either a steady tone for CW keying or a two-tone FSK 'beaconing' signal used to help the other station in aiming alignment.

For the slow QRSS CW narrow-bandwidth modes required for the scatter tests, I've always known that a tone which is much more stable and of precisely known frequency would be needed. The tone from the 556 does well as an aural CW keyed tone but would probably be all over the place when viewed in a very narrow-bandwidth and not nearly as stable as it sounds by ear.

The little modulator uses a 4500 KHz crystal (pulled from a old VCR several years ago) in a 4060 oscillator-divider. In this case, output from the chip is taken from either the 'divide-by-8192' pin 2, which outputs a precise frequency of 549 Hz or from the 'divide-by-4096' pin 1, which outputs a frequency of 1099Hz.

courtesy G3XBM:

This tone is then used to drive an IRF 540 power MOSFET which controls current through the 1W Luxeon Deep Red LED in the transmitter. The 4060 modulator will be keyed via a QRSS software keying program that I have used for many years to key my LF transmitter.

The lightwave receiving station will look for the QRSS audio signal with an audio spectrum viewer such as Argo or Spectran. The ability to make automatic overnight screen captures will allow the receiving operator to get a good night's sleep while the system diligently watches for any traces of a signal.

An example of a strong signal capture showing a repeating "SL" identification is shown below, as it would appear in a perfect world. In this case (QRSS3), the short 'dots' are 3 seconds long while the 'dashes' are 9 seconds.

Huge signal gains (the ability to dig into the noise for signals) can be had by slowing things down and using narrower receiving bandwidths. Just going from a normal 12WPM speed CW (aural copy) to QRSS3 yields a gain of ~15db. At QRSS10 (10 second dots), an additional 5db is gained while slowing to QRSS60 (60 second dots), a whopping 28 db over 12WPM CW is gained!

Of course all of this extra 'hearing power' comes at a cost and in this case, the cost is 'time'. On an overnight of automated computer monitoring, time is not much of an issue ... it only becomes critical in 'QSO mode' when some QRSS QSOs can take several hours to complete. In any case, it will be interesting to see if any traces of lightwave signals will show up while bouncing around in the clouds.

The Georgia Strait scatter tests will not take place for some time but in the meantime, I hope to do some local tests here, from one side of my island to the other but will build a new portable receiver for these tests and leave my main system intact.

Saturday 29 August 2015

Sparking-Up On 2200m

I haven't been on 2200m (135.7 - 138.8 KHz) for some time ... my last transmissions on this band were almost three years ago. The recent acquisition of the 630m band has refocused a lot of my attention but Canadian activity has never been very high on the real 'top band'. Hopefully when the U.S. gets the 2200m band soon, activity will increase on both sides of the border.

An e-mail alert from Toby, VE7CNF, on the other side of Georgia Strait, indicated that everything was ready for a two-way test on 2200m and he was looking for his initial contact on the band. Having not been on the band for such a long time, some review of my 'tune-up' procedures were in order as well as the need to burn out the spider webs in my outdoor loading coil.

Since being on 2200m, I had modified my 2200m kilowatt transmitter so that it could also be used on the new 630m band. To change bands from 630m back to 2200m, I needed to swap the frequency-sensitive power divider back to 2200m as well as re-set the DDS frequency.

2200m Power Divider
Setting my DDS to the correct control frequency and keying the driver stage revealed no sign of a signal on 137.779 KHz. This was puzzling and several re-checks turned-up no reason for the problem ... it seemed as if there was no signal from the DDS into the transmitter. I set everything back to 630m, just to confirm that there wasn't a more serious problem but everything worked just fine. It was then that I realized my error.

When modifying the transmitter, three years ago, I had also changed the transmitter's input frequency divider from a 'divide-by-four' to a 'divide-by-two' scheme. My original system on 137KHz started with a DDS frequency in the 5.48MHz range and then was divided by ten before being fed to the transmitter's input where the 548KHz signal was then divided by four. Using a higher DDS frequency allowed for greater frequency resolution at 2200m and allowed for very small frequency adjustments across the band. I would have kept the same system for 630m except that my 'divide-by-ten' chip was not very happy at 18MHz and refused to divide.The newer system now only allows me to move around the band in 4.5Hz steps. It's really not much of a problem as there is presently a minuscule amount of activity in Canada on 2200m, but as previously mentioned, this may change when U.S. amateurs gain access to the band.

Having sorted out my transmitter problems and confirming that all was well, the next task was to check antenna resonance and impedance matching as it would more than likely not be the same as I had left it. A low-power check using the 'scopematch' indicated that both resonance and impedance were not optimized. Tapping down on the loading coil by one-turn took care of resonance while adjusting the impedance tap in my matching transformer to its lowest value (see matching scheme below) resulted in a near perfect match on the scope.

I'm guessing that the resonance change was due to the recent heavy trimming of the 80' Balsam that supports one end of my 'inverted-L' and large three-wire flatop.

The tree's crown had previously been very dense and some of the branches were almost touching the flatop. The close proximity always made me worry about possible flashover at the antenna ends as voltages here would be several kilovolts. Removing much of the wet green tree branches directly beneath the flatop also likely contributed to the slight change in resonance.

Impedance Matching Transformer On TV Flyback Cores
The change in impedance to a lower value may have been due, in part, to the removal of the tree branches as well but more likely it was reflecting the change in my ground system. When I had last been on (in mid-winter), the ground was well saturated and the water table at normal heights. The present conditions are just the opposite as things are drier than they have ever been and the water table has certainly dropped substantially.

The sked with VE7CNF went smoothly and it was nice to see another new Canadian station taking an interest in the band, along with all of its challenges. Toby's 200W signal was a solid 559 here even with his small antenna system yet to be fully optimized. As well, he was bothered by heavy switching-power supply QRM from a nearby neighbour. Unfortunately, such noise sources seem to be increasing in numbers and are making operation on LF, already a big challenge, even more challenging. Toby has taken up the challenge with enthusiasm and has now had contacts on 2200m well as on 630m, adding to the ranks of active VE7's on LF and ... demonstrating yet again that amateurs can enjoy the LF bands with small 'backyard' antenna systems. Don't let living in the city be a reason to avoid our new LF bands.

Wouldn't it be great to see some activity from our neighbours in VE6 or VE5, both easily workable on both bands from the west coast... maybe you're up to the challenge!

Thursday 27 August 2015

Tuna Tin Fun

I was doing a little housekeeping in the shack this past week and ran across small piece of  anti-static foam with a transistor sticking out of it. It was the transistor from my Tuna Tin II final amplifier's stage ... the actual transistor that I had used to 'Work All States' on 7040KHz using my Tuna Tin back in 2000. Looking at it in my hand brought back a lot of wonderful memories from the fall of that year when I spent so much of my time looking for new states.

Like many others at the time, I was swept up in the second 'Tuna Tin revolution' when the NorCal QRP Club released a very inexpensive kit for the Tuna Tin II. It turned out to be the best $13 I had ever spent on ham radio bits as it brought me so much operating fun while making many new acquaintances in the process.

I recall the afternoon that I completed the kit ... attaching my antenna and calling 'CQ' on 7040 with a hand key plugged into the Tin. My afternoon call brought an immediate response from a station in Oregon who gave me a 579 report! Needless to say I was elated that it's ~360mw had done so well.

Over the next few days I worked a few more stations in the western states even stretching out to northern California and had pretty much decided that most of my QSO's with it would be fairly short range ... until the pre-dawn hours of August 6th when my hand-keyed 'CQ' was answered by NĂ˜TU (Steve), in Colorado! We had a nice solid ragchew until we ran out of darkness but the contact had given me re-newed optimism. If I could get a decent signal into Colorado, then perhaps I could actually work further afield ... maybe it was even possible to work all 50 states!

With that, I set myself a goal of trying to work them all. Although my 40m half-sloper was well matched and had proven to be a good performer in the 40m pileups, it only had four buried radials. The first thing I did was to bury another 30 radials around the base of the 48' tower, hoping to lower my ground losses as much as possible. With just one-third of a watt, there was no power to waste.

Back in those days, I was still working and could only get to the Mayne Island QTH on weekends. With the Friday night ferry arriving at around 8PM, by the time the woodstove had been fired-up and dinner taken care of, I very often didn't get to the Tuna Tin until around 11PM. As it turned out, the late hour operation worked out well and it didn't take long for my state total to climb. The toughest states were the New England '1's and as I neared the end, I still needed several. In late November, 40m revealed its magic-side and an early-evening 'CQ' brought replies from three W1's, all at once, each one a new state. Finally, in early December, I worked Wyoming for state number fifty!

The fifty QSL's were duly gathered and  sent to the ARRL for an official "WAS" award. Although there was no special endorsement for the Tuna Tin, other than for 'QRP', there was a nice note about it in the 'ARRL Letter' as well as in QST:

First Tuna Tin 2 WAS claimed: When the Tuna Tin 2 low-power transmitter article appeared in QST in 1976, its author Doug DeMaw, W1CER (later W1FB), envisioned it as a weekend project that could be used for short-range contacts.
Now, a quarter of a century later, a Canadian amateur has claimed the first Tuna Tin 2 Worked All States Award! Steve McDonald, VE7SL, got caught up in "Tuna Tin 2 Mania" and bought one of the popular TT2 kits. After working about 30 states with the little rig, WAS suddenly seemed plausible. McDonald realized his dream several months later when he turned in his cards for WAS. All contacts for the award had been completed while he was running about 400 mW from a Tuna Tin 2. As far as the ARRL awards folks know, this marked the first time WAS was achieved with a Tuna Tin 2--although there is no special endorsement for having done so. "Doug DeMaw knew in his heart that the rig would be useful and popular, but I don't think he ever envisioned that this little transmitter would still be working its QRP magic over 25 years after it first appeared in the pages of QST," said ARRL Lab Supervisor Ed Hare, W1RFI--himself a QRP and TT2 aficionado who has promoted the Tuna Tin 2 Revival and was McDonald's Connecticut contact for WAS. Congratulations to VE7SL on a tremendous operating accomplishment.--Ed Hare, W1RFI

Holding the battle-scarred 2N2222 in the palm of my hand reminded me of just how much excitement can be had with just a few simple parts and the magic of radio.

Tuesday 25 August 2015

CLE197 Results

It seems that our medium-frequency NDB CLE's (Co-ordinated Listening Event) go hand-in-hand with solar disturbances and wacky geomagnetic conditions. If you want to know when the next big geomagnetic upset will be, just check the date of the next CLE!

Along with a half dozen M-flares and auroral-producing 'K' indexes of 5-6, most of North America was blanketed with severe thunderstorm activity, always typical of this time of the year. In spite of the poor conditions, several signals did manage to find their way into my log. Sunday night provided the best conditions, with far less thunderstorm activity and a slight improvement in propagation. Saturday night's lightning map looked like this:



Loggings in RED where made on Friday night, GREEN on Saturday night and BLUE on Sunday night.

All stations were heard on the Perseus SDR while using my LF 'inverted-L' resonated at 300KHz.


DD UTC    kHz     Call       mi    Location

22 06:00 240 BVS   48      Burlington, WA, USA
22 10:00 241 YLL   648    Lloydminster Municipal Apt, AB, CAN
22 12:30 242 ZT    223      Port Hardy, BC, CAN
22 10:00 242 XC   342     Cranbrook, BC, CAN
22 10:00 244 TH   1166     Thompson, MB, CAN
23 07:00 245 YZE 1890    Gore Bay, ON, CAN

22 12:00 245 HNS   865    Haines, ALS
24 09:00 245 FS   1311    ROKKY - Sioux Falls, SD, USA
22 10:00 245 CRR    821     Circle Town County Apt, MT, USA
24 05:00 245 CB   1528    Cambridge Bay, NU, CAN
23 12:00 245 AVQ    1298    Marana Regional Apt, AZ, USA
22 09:00 246 ZXJ   517   Y'Taylor' Fort St. John, BC, CAN
22 09:00 248 ZZP   486     Dead Tree - Queen Charlotte Is, BC, CAN
22 09:00 248 QL   471    Lethbridge, AB, CAN
22 09:00 248 QH    811   Watson Lake, YT, CAN
22 09:00 250 FO   1002    Flin Flon Municipal Apt, MB, CAN
22 12:30 250 2J   220    Grand Forks Municipal Apt, BC, CAN
22 09:00 251 YCD   32    Nanaimo, BC, CAN
22 09:00 251 PWD    850    Plentywood, MT, USA
22 12:30 251 OSE   1708    Oscarville - Bethel Apt, ALS
23 11:30 251 AM   1445     PANDE - Amarillo, TX, USA
24 08:00 253 GB    1324    'Garno' Marshall, MN, USA
22 09:00 254 ZYC   441    Calgary, AB, CAN
22 09:00 254 SM   891    Fort Smith, AB, CAN
24 11:30 256 TQK   1322    Scott City Municipal Apt, KS, USA
22 12:30 256 LSO    188    Kelso - Rocky Point - Kelso, WA, USA
22 12:00 256 EB   537    Namao - CFB Edmonton, AB, CAN
22 09:00 257 XE   757     Saskatoon, SK, CAN
24 09:00 257 SAZ    1329    Staples, MN, USA
22 09:00 257 LW    192    Kelowna - Wood Lake, BC, CAN
22 09:00 258 ZSJ   1324    Sandy Lake Apt, ON, CAN
23 08:00 420 FQ    1422   MONTZ - East Chain, MN, USA
24 09:00 428 POH   1433    Pocahontas Municipal Apt, IA, USA
22 12:00 429 BTS   1571    Wood River - Dillingham, ALS
24 09:00 434 SLB   1410    Storm Lake Municipal Apt, IA, USA

Thankfully, by this time next month and into October, quieter nights and better propagation will prevail ... fall often produces the best propagation of the year and has always been my favorite time of the year, outdoors and at the dials.

Sunday 23 August 2015

Another VE3KCL Balloon Adventure

courtesy: and
Dave, VE3KCL launched his latest balloon, 'S-4', on Friday, August 21st. He timed the launching very well as it was immediately swept-up by high-speed winds and, unlike earlier attempts, shot up to the north and out over the North Atlantic very quickly.

Like earlier flights, 'S-4' also uses a special U3 firmware version on an Arduino Nano board, with a QRP Labs Synthesiser, along with two hydrogen-filled party balloons with HF antennas hung between them. You can read all about Dave's previous flights here and keep up on the balloon's track here.

The balloon is transmitting data regularly on the following schedule:

0:00 CW ID, and 22wpm CW on 30m, 20m and 17m bands
0:01 JT9 on 10,140,450: "#CS#AT" (callsign, altitude)
0:02 JT9 on 10,140,450: "#LT#A0" (latitude, temperature on analogue A0)
0:03 JT9 on 10,140,450: "#LN#A3" (longitude, battery on analogue A3)
0:04 JT9 on 10,140,450: "#M6#GS" (6-char Maidenhead locator, groundspeed)
0:05 JT9 on 14,078,450: "#CS_#M6" (callsign, 6-char Maidenhead locator)
0:06 WSPR on 10,140,250 (standard WSPR transmission)
0:08 WSPR on 10,140,250 with special data telemetry encoding
0:10 22wpm CW on 15m, 10m and 6m bands
0:11 Calibration
0:12 Repeat...

Frequencies to listen on are:

Minute Mode Tag Frequency (Notes)
00:00 CWID. 10.140450 (GPS off)
00:12 CW 05 10.139150
00:27 CW 05 14.100550
00:42 CW 05 18.109150
01:00 JT9 00 10.140450
02:00 JT9 03 10.140450
03:00 JT9 04 10.140450
04:00 JT9 01 10.140450
05:00 JT9 02 14.078450
06:00 WSPR. 10.140250 (normal WSPR)
08:00 WSPR. 10.140250 (encoded WSPR)
09:50 CW 05 21.150150 (GPS on)
10:05 CW 05 28.205150
10:20 CW 05 50.070150
10:35 QRSS. 10.140450 (continuous 'space')
10:55 calibration
12:00 restart the sequence

Let's wish Dave luck and hope that this one makes a successful circumnavigation. It would be the first by a Canadian amateur I believe.

Saturday 22 August 2015

Regen Wrap-Up ... What's Next

For those of you following this summer's regenerative receiver building adventure, I am pleased to say that all testing has now been completed. My earlier doubts about receiver-performance have now been totally resolved.

I've also published a new page on my website which contains more pictures and details of all phases of the project. The page also has a recording of the 40m CW band, made a few evenings ago, which really best demonstrates how the receiver is working.

In the meantime, much consideration has been given to the next project work ... it will be a return to my earlier lightwave experiments. During the recent visit here by Toby (VE7CNF) and Mark (VA7MM), both expressed interest in building some lightwave equipment (in fact ... 'parts' have been ordered!) to try some direct LOS work as well as to try some QRSS clear-air scatter / cloudbounce work. It's really exciting to see some new interest in this fascinating mode as the field for experimentation in both transmitting and receiving systems is quite vast.

My first task will be to build a 4" optical tube receiver or another boxed Fresnel-lens type for portable operation, here on Mayne Island, to see if I can scatter a signal to the other side of the island and detect it while operating in the field. There are a couple of nearly 600' peaks on Mayne which should provide a good shielding effect for testing ... maybe too good. Time will tell.


Wednesday 19 August 2015

Hunting For NDBs In CLE 197

'ZSJ-258' Sandy Lake, ON
Yes ... it's CLE time once again! For you low-frequency buffs, another challenge awaits. This month's frequency range covers two sections of the MF band, 240-259.9KHz and 420-439.9KHz. Both regions have plenty of targets for North American and European beacon-hunters.

A list of all of the North American  targets in this range can be found in the RNA database, while targets for European DXers will be found here... specify the frequency range wanted and check 'show all results'.

An excellent target for this CLE is 'ZSJ', the Sandy Lake, Ontario NDB (258KHz) shown here. Its 500W signal and big antenna get out very well ... it has been heard in Europe as well as in Hawaii.

From CLE coordinator Brian Keyte (G3SIA) comes the following reminder:

Hi all,

Here are the final details for our 197th co-ordinated listening event this
weekend. First timer logs too? Yes, please!

Days: Friday 21 August to Monday 24 August
(that's a week earlier than usual)
Times: Start and end at midday, your LOCAL TIME
Range: 240.0 - 259.9 kHz plus 420.0 - 439.9 kHz
(BOTH ranges are for ALL listeners)

Please log NDBs that you can positively identify in the ranges, plus any
UNIDs that you come across there.

Send your CLE log to the List, if possible as a plain text email and
not in an attachment, with CLE197 at the start of its title.
Show on EVERY LINE of your log:

# The Date (or day 'dd') and UTC (the day changes at 00:00 UTC).
# kHz - the beacon's nominal published frequency (if you know it).
# The Call Ident.

Please show those main items FIRST on each line, then any optional details
such as Location, Offsets, Distance, etc.
If you send interim logs, do make sure that you also send a 'Final' log
containing all your loggings. As always, please make your log useful and
interesting to everyone by including your own location and brief details
of your receiver, aerial(s) and any recording equipment that you used.

I will send the usual 'Any More Logs?' email at about 17:00 UTC on
Tuesday so that you can check that your Final log has been found OK.
Do make sure that your log has arrived on the List at the very latest by
08:00 UTC on Wednesday 26th August.
I hope to complete the combined results later on that day.

You can find CLE-related information from the CLE page, , including access to the seeklists
that have been made for the event from REU/RNA/RWW.
(NB: To also see a MAP of the seeklist NDBs around you, just change
'List' to 'Map', select 'All Results' and uncheck 'Clustering')

Good listening
From: Brian Keyte G3SIA ndbcle'at'
Location: Surrey, SE England (CLE co-ordinator)

(Reminder: You could use any one remote receiver for your loggings,
stating its location and owner - with their permission if required.
A remote listener may NOT also use another receiver, whether local or
remote, to obtain further loggings for the same CLE).

These listening events serve several purposes. They:
  • determine, worldwide, which beacons are actually in service and on-the-air so the online database can be kept up-to-date
  • determine, worldwide, which beacons are out-of-service or have gone silent since the last CLE covering this range
  • will indicate the state of propagation conditions at the various participant locations
  • will give you an indication of how well your LF/MF receiving system is working
  • give participants a fun yet challenging activity to keep their listening skills honed

Final details can be found at the NDB List website, and worldwide results, for every participant, will be posted there a few days after the event. If you are a member of the ndblist Group, results will also be e-mailed and posted there.

The very active Yahoo ndblist Group is a great place to learn more about the 'Art of NDB DXing' or to meet other listeners in your region. There is a lot of good information available there and new members are always very welcome.

If you are contemplating getting started on 630m, listening for NDBs  is an excellent way to test out your receive capabilities as there are several NDBs located near this part of the spectrum.

You need not be an ndblist member to participate in the CLEs and all reports, no matter how small, are of much value to the organizers. 'First-time' logs are always VERY welcome!

Reports may be sent to the ndblist or e-mailed to either myself or CLE co-ordinator, Brian Keyte (G3SIA), whose address appears above. give the CLE a try....then let us know what NDB's can be heard from your location! Your report can then be added to the worldwide database to help keep it up-to-date.

Tuesday 18 August 2015

630m Trans-Pacific Path Alive

In spite of the recent high levels of geomagnetic disturbance (or maybe because of it), just as it did last year at this time, the path between North America and Australia has sprung to life once again. Last night saw the reception of  both WH2XND (NI7J), in Phoenix and WG2XXM (K5DNL), near Oklahoma City, by VK2XGJ in New South Wales, Australia. Not to be left out, VK2DDI, also in NSW, copied WG2XXM as well. Some of K5DNL's 630m gear can be seen here.

courtesy: John Langridge (WG2XIQ / KB5NJD)

The American beacons were operating in the WSPR mode, which has become very popular amongst 630m experimenters as well as those just interested in listening-in. WSPR is not a QSO mode but strictly a one-way 'beacon' mode. Although two stations may each spot each other, it is not considered to be a valid two-way QSO. A check of evening  WSPR activity will often reveal dozens of stations actively spotting what they are hearing.

VK2DDI runs the Berry Mountain Grabber, providing other VK and ZL experimenters a handy way of checking their system progress or propagation conditions but during good T-P nights, it can be a good place for U.S. stations to watch for their signals as well.

If you have been doing any WSPR work on HF, you might be surprised at what you can hear down on 630m, even without a dedicated antenna for that band. Surprisingly good results can often be had with a non-resonant antenna as the signal to noise ratio can often be better even though signals may sound weaker. Give it a try and spot what you hear!

If you are interested in learning how to receive WSPR, here is a nice tutorial by ZS6SGM. 

Should you be interested in knowing more about obtaining a Part 5 licence to transmit on 630m, John, KB5NJD / WG2XIQ, has a wonderful 630m resource page here, as well as more details about the recent down-under receptions. While there, be sure to check out his up-to-date 630m links page. He can be contacted via email or you can find him hanging-out most nights on the ON4KST kHz (2000-630m) chat page.

To keep on top of what is happening or who is on-the-air, most LF'ers rely on three sources:

Radio amateurs in Canada have had 630m as an amateur band since May of last year but unfortunately are not allowed to contact any of the experimental stations. Hopefully the U.S. will also obtain 630m as a ham band some time soon. In the meantime, a Part 5 licence for any U.S. amateurs would be a good way to be all set when that day eventually comes!

Sunday 16 August 2015

The Best Laid Plans ...

I am often brutally reminded of how much influence our Sun has on propagation, both good and bad!

Hoping to enjoy some further contest work and improve my ear-brain-keyboarding skills, I had prepared everything for this Saturday's 24-hour 'KCJ' Contest. The 'Keymen's Club of Japan' is an annual affair that seems to attract a lot of domestic JA activity, with bonus points when they work any DX stations. I checked my N1MM Logger software but it didn't seem to have the contest. I did find it in the program's UDC (User Defined Contests) section but had to download and install a unique 'Sections' file from a Japanese website, as the contest requires the Japanese to exchange their Prefecture abbreviations. I eventually had N1MM working perfectly for the KCJ contest and with the contest starting at 0500 locally, I tuned up everything for the normally excellent 40m path to Japan in the morning and went to bed.

Rising just a few minutes before the contest start, a quick check of 40m indicated that something was not right ... not a JA to be heard, in fact almost no signals to be heard! Checking the web for more info, I quickly discovered a 'K' index of '7', indicative of very disturbed conditions. Along with a strong southerly pointed Bz, it seemed that we were in the middle of some strong auroral conditions ... back to bed with hopes of the afternoon 15 or 20m path to Japan being better.

The afternoon path never really materialized either. Normally, propagation between the west coast and Japan is very good, with lots of strong signals being the norm ... but not today. Over the course of several hours, only four JA stations found their way into my log, and they were all a struggle.


The earth had been hit, rather unexpectedly, by another whopping 'coronal hole stream' and propagation was truly dismal. With only a smidgen of keyboarding practice, I had to admit defeat ... the Sun had messed things up once again, as it has been doing for the past year as Cycle 24 slowly slides downhill. Unfortunately there is always a lot more flaring and streaming on the way down than on the way up. Hopefully the Sun will soon get this out of its system and radio conditions will quiet down and stabilize for the upcoming fall and winter DX season.

There is one more chance left, this evening, to get in some more keyboarding practice. The 'Flying Pigs QRP Group' holds their monthly 'Run For The Bacon' CW QSO party, starting at 0100Z tonight. Non-members may also join in the fun by sending their 'power' level instead of a membership number ... so maybe I'll run into you tonight.

Now it's back to N1MM to reconfigure for the QRP Party and hope that old Sol will co-operate for the Sunday night crowd, but you know what they say about the 'best laid plans...'

Friday 14 August 2015

Canadian 630m Ops Meet

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting VA7MM (Mark) and VE7CNF (Toby) along with their respective XYL's May (VA7MAY) and Nancy. They have been spending the week cruising BC's Southern Gulf Islands and made a stop here on Mayne Island.

Hakuna Matata under sail

After a visit to the boat, a magnificent fractionally sloop-rigged 32' Beneteau, the Hakuna Matata, we all returned here to the house for refreshments, dinner and a station / antenna inspection. Part way through the visit I realized that our group contained 50% of Canada's active 630m operators, a rather sorry but true fact. In actuality, five out of the six Canadian 630m ops are VE7's! With such a special occurrence, a picture of the somewhat motley but enthusiastic crew was in order, with arms appropriately folded for the formal occasion.

Mark (VA7MM), myself and Toby (VE7CNF)
Both Toby and Mark have plans for improving their 630m systems once the summer weather forces them back to the workbench and both look forward to more 630m operation this coming season ... Canada, the west-coast is waiting for you.

Canadian amateurs have been fortunate enough to gain operating privileges in this very interesting part of the spectrum (472-479KHz) where surprisingly good results can be had with small backyard antenna systems. Hopefully with more activity from the west coast, amateurs in the prairie provinces and further east ... especially in highly-populated VE3, will take more interest in the band as two-way communications between the provinces can readily be done during the quiet winter nights.

With the USA well on its way to getting 630m operating privileges as well, it would be nice to see more Canadians on the band to take advantage of what is bound to be a flurry of activity from our southern neighbours ... there are already a dozen or more experimental stations there, just waiting to make the switch when the word comes.

For more information on 630m operating and equipment see three related blogs:

630m Resources - Part 1

630m Resources - Part 2

630m Resources - Part 3 

For a listing of all 630m-related blogs, click here.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Perseids Peaking

It's been a few years since I have been active on 2m meteor scatter during the Perseids meteor shower. The year's largest shower peaks tomorrow night, although the peak is sufficiently broad to provide activity over several days leading up to and after the night of August 12/13.

Nowadays, using FSK441 WSJT software, a lot of good fun can be had most non-shower mornings on meteor scatter, just using random meteors. My experience when using the same software during an actual shower has been disappointing, as often the signals are too strong or too long for the software which is looking for shorter, weaker signals. During a large shower such as the Perseids, where typical burns can be quite lengthy, my own experience has given better results with good old SSB or fast CW.

I clearly recall my first-ever meteor scatter QSO, made during the May Aquarids,  back in the early 70's. I had arranged a sked with Ken, W7JRG, in Montana. I had grown up reading about Ken's VHF exploits in both QST and CQ as a teenager and was excited about the possibility of finally possibly working him. My station was homebuilt, using a 6360 transverter driven from my Heath HW-100, and feeding a homebrew 5894 amplifier with 1/4" copper tube plate lines. The amplifier produced just a shade over 100W output. My antenna, also homebrew, was a 24-foot 13 element Yagi ... probably not the best for meteor scatter although it worked well enough for me to ragchew every night with stations in Portland, Oregon on SSB.

A few minutes before our sked, I decided to make one final check of my system. Our sked was to be on SSB, using 15 second sequences. I keyed down at full-power and did a final tweaking of plate tuning and antenna loading, and unkeyed, back to receive mode after about 30 seconds of tuning up. My receiver immediately sprung to life with a very loud SSB signal, slightly off-tune. Thinking it was my local buddy, VE7BLF, calling me before the sked, I was surprised to hear a different voice ... it was Ken in Montana at S9++ ..."I've been holding my breath waiting for you to unkey there Steve ... thought you would never finish!"

Needless to say I was just as surprised as he was. We talked back and forth for about another 60 seconds before the burn finally dissipated and signals were gone. What a great introduction to meteor scatter, with the QSO completed before the sked even started! Ken later told me that of all of the meteor contacts he had made, it was one of his best ... I guess we just hit it right.

Of all the showers, I always found that the December Geminids was the best, even better than the August Perseids, at least for the North-South path. Having said that, my longest meteor contact was made during the Perseids, with Arliss W7XU in South Dakota ... just a shade over 1300 miles while running just 40W SSB to a 9el Yagi.

Good luck if you are doing some meteor scatter tomorrow or even if you are just watching the shower visually ... conditions should be ideal, if the skies are clear, as the very new moon's sliver does not rise until near dawn.

Sunday 9 August 2015

SKCC Sprint

I've spent a couple of hours this weekend (so far mainly on Saturday), playing in the SKCC Sprintathon CW contest ... the rules demand that only hand keys, including bugs, be used. I hauled out my original gray Vibroplex, purchased back in 1964, when I decided that using a straight key was just too slow. I was doing a lot of DXing and contesting back then, with my trusty DX-20, VF-1 VFO and assorted groundplanes on top of my parents three-story house in the middle of Vancouver ... it's hard to believe that it was quiet enough there but those were the days before computers, switching power supplies and and so many other noise-making devices that we have today. They truly were the 'good old (quiet) days' of radio. My favorite contests back then were the 'W-VE', where any 'VE' became instant DX and the subject of good-sized pileups and the CW 'Sweepstakes' ... back when the exchange was, if I recall correctly, just NR, RST and QTH.

My antenna farm sat on our high, peaked roof and consisted of groundplanes for 40m, 20m and 15m ... these were made of inexpensive galvanized drain pipe, about three or four inches in diameter. The 40m one was guyed and also had one end of my 80m dipole attached to it, which ran out across the yard and across the back lane, terminating on one of BC Hydro's wooden (telephone) poles. Every once in a while the telephone guys would take it off and toss it over the fence whereupon I would get out the ladder and re-attach it, where it would stay for another year or so.

For this weekend's CW party, I have put my 'Tri-Tet-Ten' on 20m, doubling from a 40m crystal to 14051.5, placing me pretty close to the Sprint's watering-hole QRG of 14050. I have had way too much fun with this simple one-tube radio since building it, mainly for 10m CW, in anticipation of the present solar cycle's peak years. Although it puts out almost 5W when quadrupling to 10m, I can get a whopping 13W from it on 20m, which is plenty of power to have some fun.

So far I've worked about 40 stations, all on CQ's, since I can't really QSY to answer others ... so if you are around this afternoon, please give me a call should you hear my little rig. It's a real nice change to hear non-machine sent CW for a change and fists ranging from one end of the scale to the other ... really a nice reminder of what the bands used to sound like when I first got on the air.

Friday 7 August 2015

Straight Key Century Club's Weekend Sprintathon

Can't wait 'til New Year's Eve's Straight Key Night? Enjoy CW as it has been sent since the earliest days of Amateur Radio in the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon! The SKCC regularly celebrates the joy of CW ... sent by either hand key or by bug:

The SKCC WES aims to bring together operators with different skill levels in a regularly scheduled, informal operating event lasting 36 hours. The event starts at 1200 UTC on the Saturday following the 6th of each month and ends at 2359 UTC on Sunday. Participants can operate for a total of no more than 24 hours. This event runs from 1200 UTC Aug. 8 to 23:59 UTC Aug. 9.

Non-members are encouraged to join in on the fun and, better yet, get an SKCC number by signing-up. Most of the action will congregate around the SKCC watering-hole frequencies:

Participants may sprint on 160-6 meters, excluding the WARC bands (60, 30, 17, and 12 meters). Suggested frequencies are on or around the SKCC calling frequencies: 1.820, 3.550, 7.055 and 7.114, 14.050, 21.050 and 21.114, 28.050 and 28.114, and 50.090 Mhz. K3UK's sked page or other spotting tools are permitted for this event.

I'll be on 20m for a few hours with my single 6L6 Tri-tet crystal oscillator running about 10 watts ... hopefully within a few KHz of 14.050, doubling from a 40m crystal along with my faithful Vibroplex, purchased as a teenager back in the early 60's.

For all of the details, visit the SKCC WES Rules page here ... so put away your keyers and have some real old fashioned radio fun.

Wednesday 5 August 2015

1933 Regen Project

Monday was spent finishing the coil winding for my present bench project, a 3-tube regenerative receiver. The receiver first appeared in the January '33 QST article, "Rationalizing The Autodyne", by George Grammer. I tried to stay true to the original design, both physically and electrically, as much as possible. Where period components were not available, they were manufactured. Several capacitor are 're-stuffed' cases and some resistors have been physically altered to resemble era-appropriate styles. The one deviation I made from the original circuit was to remove the B+ (200VDC) from the headphones by going to impedance-coupled audio, which blocks DC from the headphone circuit. After finishing the coils and doing a quick re-check of the wiring, I held my breath and applied the power.

Much to my surprise and delight, the receiver worked immediately. It took me some time to find the correct control settings and combinations that seemed best but eventually its operation became familiar.

Now although the receiver appears to be working, I'm not 100% convinced that it is working as well as it should. It's difficult to know exactly how it should perform when at its best as it really can't be compared to any of our modern-day receiving systems. Just what did 'good performance' sound like in 1933?

I have some reservations about one of my tubes. It's a '78' from my junk-box stash and has a large red '?' inked across the glass envelope. I may order some NOS '78's or even some more modern '6D6's, to see how they perform. On the plus side, the oscillator seems very stable and there is absolutely no 'hand-effect' on tuning, a common problem with many regens. Peaking up the RF stage tuning causes no pulling of the oscillator but the '78', although a hot-performer in 1933, provides plenty of tube noise as well, if the gain is set too high. I think the main advantage of having the tuned RF stage is to add RF selectivity and eliminate any bleed-through from some of the blowtorch shortwave signals just up the band. Tuning seems best when its gain is set between fifty and seventy-five percent of maximum. The large drum dial, in combination with the small bandspread capacitor, spreads 40m across most of the dial and makes for easy tuning although there is a small amount of backlash.

Another thing I noticed is that it seems to be very receptive to spurious computer birdies, with the laptop sitting just a foot away. Perhaps its unshielded top and bottom are the cause of this as I don't hear any of the signals on my main station receiver.

Comparing it to the two-tube regen in my Paraset, the Paraset sounds much quieter and generally sounds more sensitive ... but it uses more modern tubes, '6SK7's, first introduced in 1938, five years after the '78'. The selectivity seems as good, if not better, than the Paraset, which I consider an excellent performer. The Paraset also sounds just as good as my National SW-3, which was produced in the early 30's ... so the new regen is likely not as quiet nor as sensitive as the SW-3, probably the best simple regen of its day.

Perhaps some newer tubes will make a difference in performance and maybe my expectations are too high. In any event,  the closing paragraph of Grammer's article may be more telling that I originally thought:

"The set as it stands is not perfect, of course; nothing ever is."


Monday 3 August 2015

CW Contesting


It's been a few years since I've done any CW contesting, mainly because the laptop I have always used became slow and sluggish as well as developing a keying glitch when keying was done via the serial port connection. Apparently it is, or was, a fairly common problem with some operating systems when serial port keying was employed.

Last year I purchased and built the WinKeyer USB keyer, mainly to use as a USB keying interface, and hopefully kill the keying stutter. The stutter would manifest itself in the form of delayed element spacing. For example, the 'C' in a 'CQ' would sound like 'NN'- every once in awhile ... not every time, but often enough to drive me crazy. From lots of 'Googling', I learned that USB keying should solve the problem.

The first thing I did was to download and run 'CCleaner' to scrub the computer of unused files and clean up the registry. My contesting laptop uses Windows XP, which I've always liked but my old system was taking about eight minutes to boot-up from a cold start! Following the CCleaner run, I did a hard drive defragmentation, shut the system down, and pressed the 'on' button. This time the system booted completely in less than two minutes, the fastest in several years!

After, interfacing everything with a half-dozen clip leads (I didn't have the required cables), configuring the WinKeyer and setting up the N1MM logging software for this weekend's NA CW QSO Party, I cautiously waded into the fray.


Like riding a bicycle, it all came back to me quickly. The NA guys are hardcore CW fans and send fast, typically 30WPM or better. I started in the 'Search & Pounce' (S&P) mode to ease into the logging software's required keystrokes but soon felt comfortable enough to change to the 'Run' mode.

Handling the pileups and typing fast enough to keep up was challenging yet exhilarating ... it had been a few years since my last test, the 160m Stew Perry Contest, my favorite. I could only take the heat for so long and after about two hours of steady operating decided to call it a day. It was nice to shake out the new interface and also test my own skills once again. I completed my short test with 137 QSO's and 5891 points ... not much by 'NA' standards but still, for me, a ton of fun and a good 'back-in-the-saddle' re-start.

Now that the software is working well (there were zero keying glitches during the test), I'm looking forward to getting back into some CW contesting again and to improve my ear-brain-computer skills.

Time to get busy and build some interfacing cables and get rid of the clip-lead rat's nest for the next exercise.

Contesting events can be found at WA7BNM's excellent WA7BNM Contest Calender website

Saturday 1 August 2015

More 'Hydroponic' RF

I see that the ARRL has filed three more formal complaints to the FCC concerning the bone-crushing HF emissions being produced by off-the-shelf grow light ballasts. The complaint also includes detailed lab data collected on all three devices and it is not pretty. One wonders why it is necessary at all that the ARRL be the industry watchdog instead of the FCC ... why aren't they being more diligent in filtering out these products before they hit the market? If importers and dealers are simply bypassing regulations for the sake of a quick-buck, then heavy fines must be imposed until someone 'gets the message'.

Some of the test products were ordered and purchased through Amazon and through Sears ... the ARRL's thorough report makes it obvious that rules are being ignored and amateurs are paying the price.

“The level of conducted emissions from [these devices] is so high that, as a practical matter, one RF ballast operated in a residential environment would create preclusive interference to Amateur radio HF communications throughout entire neighborhoods,” ARRL General Counsel Chris Imlay, W3KD, wrote in each complaint. The devices exceeded conducted emission limits under all test conditions, “sometimes by extreme margins, throughout most of the HF range ...”

In a similar vein as its recent complaint about marketing of certain RF lighting devices by The Home Depot, the ARRL pointed out that there were no FCC labels on two of the devices mentioned nor any FCC compliance information “anywhere in the documentation, or in or on the box, or on the device itself,” in violation of FCC Part 18 rules.

The League asked the FCC to require removal of all such illegal “grow light” devices from retail sale and marketing and the recall of those devices already sold or available for retail sale, and it said the device importers should be subject to a forfeiture proceeding.

With the proliferation of both legal and illegal 'hydroponic' operations, this kind of QRN is probably just the tip of the iceberg. It's good to see the ARRL slowly pounding away at the rule-breakers on behalf of American amateurs.

I see these same devices being sold on E-Bay, where presumably, they could be purchased worldwide and installed anywhere. As well, several of the U.S. online dealers state "We ship to Canada" ... just great.

Hopefully Industry Canada and RAC are gearing-up for the fight.