Amateur Radio Station
50 years on, a trio of WAZ awards: 5BWAZ, 160 (37 zones), & Digital
THESE JOIN MY ARRL DXCC AWARDS: #1 (2007), 5B (1991, initial. Plus 160, 30, 17, 12 and 6m), Mixed (not shown), SSB, & CW Honor Roll
Thanks to LoTW, application for my WAZ awards was easy and convenient. Also kudos to John Bergman, CQ Awards Manager.
5 Band WAZ - (a little hard to see, compared to the large, red WAZs on the other certificates). Last zone was 19, RM0F, worked on CW, Feb. 6, 2021.
160 WAZ - Initial certificate is 34 zones, and 3 additional have been confirmed for 37. I'm still missing 23, 24 and 26 and it may be a long time before I work those with my middling 160m antennas. A good goal though!
WAZ Digital - I applied for this as a confirmation of the worldwide activity on FT8 on a variety of bands. I have worked 40 on RTTY only, but did not apply for that award.
Ever wonder what a soaring bird sees? This is the view looking west from my house at 400 feet AGL.
No birds were harmed in the production of this photo. (Thanks to Scott, K4SFT, for the shot from his Mavic-2 Pro.)
Where Am I on Digital?
What have I worked on FT8? FIRST FT8 QSO ON 7/10/2017
FT4 Footnote - 40M WAS HARD TO RESIST ANOTHER CLEAN SHEET CHALLENGE
20M FT8 is often so crowded that I have trouble finding a spot to squeeze in and my old Core2Duo PCs ($40-60 plus monitors) have trouble decoding 45 stations in a cycle. So, I've headed to less crowded bands, all the while willing to battle 20M for entirely new entities. So, looking for a little breathing space, on 5-3-2019, I got on 40M FT4. The WAS goal came later, probably around September, based on a cluster of US stations worked on 9-1-2019. The "rapid fire" characteristic of FT4 (to a sloth, a turtle is a warp speed traveler), finds me dabbling with it, so I decided to set a modest goal—WAS on 40M (a 50-year favorite band, especially for the 24 years I had a 2 element yagi at 110 feet).
May 10, 2020, after a year on FT4, I got up a little earlier than usual, to be rewarded with state #50 from Chip, KH6AP. As always, it takes two to tango. Thanks Chip!
P.S. It's Mother's Day as I write this, and my wife of 43 years and mother of our two grown sons, has been to every state in the contiguous United States as well as HI (2005, we spent a week in Maui). But her WAS will be completed with AK. Someday? Maybe mine on 6M will be also.
6M Station Upgrades GIVING THE MAGIC BAND A LITTLE HELP
Spring, 2021. After 20 years of the same 6M antenna and amplifier, I've improved both with the hope of catching the next elusive layer of stations I've heard but have been unable to work. My homebrew pair of 4CX250Bs with an overkill power supply (leftover from a homebrew 160M 4-1000 amp) and M2 6M5X 5 el. yagi, which netted 131 countries, 764 gridsquares worked, and 6M WAS have been real workhorses. Detailed interior shots of the amplifier and power supply are on the Amplifiers page, accessed through the menu at the top of this page. But there have been too many that "got away" in the last couple seasons and leaving things unchanged and hoping propagation would make the difference seems like a fool's errand. Although a 60s oldie, the new 6M amplifier is a converted BTI LK-2000, with a 4-1000A for added toughness for digital use vs. the 3-1000Z which was the standard tube. The shot of the antennas below includes the new 6M antenna, an InnovAntennas 7 el. LFA on an 8.9M boom (longest of the stacked antennas) which is up 63 ft.
After being cautioned about the doubtful ability of the
Same plate dissipation, but big differences in internal structure and external structure too.
6M Stats 7/2021
DXCC-134 W, 132 C
GRIDS-899 W, 795 C
InnovAntennas LK-2HD, 7-element LFA (loop fed array) is visible just above the A3S tribander. The LFA features a square boom, Stauff-type element clamps and all stainless steel hardware and hose clamps for the sleeved elements. The element-to-boom clamps are affixed by bolts into captive hardware pressed into the boom as supplied. A rope truss assists with boom sag, and the square boom assures cross-boom horizontal element alignment. (Most of us have played with U-bolts for element mounting on a round tubular boom, and know the alignment challenges, and movement over time.) Finally, a 2KW ferrite sleeve balun attached to the loop results in an excellent match and pattern.
Part of the quietness of the antenna results from its excellent pattern and rejection from the back and sides (two sides of the same coin). The boom dwarfs that of my little A3S with the A-743. Thanks to Justin Johnson and the team at IA for all the support.
And now, for something completely different... SSTV FROM ISS VIA 2M FM
August 5, 2020. My experience with SSTV is limited, to say the least. In the 1970s, SSTV was an exotic mode requiring specialized hardware for decoding (Robot), and high-persistence phosphor cathode ray tubes. All I knew was that a company called "Robot" made this equipment, and it that it had a price tag higher than I could afford. I never explored Amateur Fast Scan TV, although I was aware of it.
I've played with SSTV in its current forms on HF by using MMSSTV. But by the time I really got involved, sending images via email and chat-based Internet apps had become so much better, faster, and easier that I've pretty much stopped fiddling with it.
So when K3TRM, Frank, shared a photo via Google Hangouts of SSTV images from the ISS that he copied on August 4, I decided to see if I could do the same on the second pass later that day. The fast passes reminded me of my only satellite operations from back in the early 1990s on RS-12. I operated SO2R and using my 4 el. 15M monobander for the uplink rig, and a 3 el. 10M monobander for the downlink rig. It was a crude affair, with Doppler shift compensated for by manual VFO tuning and antenna tracking was done by pressing switches on two Hy-Gain rotator control boxes. It was decidedly NOT the way to do things, but with my good antennas and the ability to do full duplex, I had fun.
For this foray, I downloaded, installed and ran RX-SSTV on a laptop connected to my IC-706MKIIG, aimed my 15 el. C3I K1FO yagi at the midway point of the pass, and came back after lunch to find nothing but a couple captures of noise. Clearly, something was not right. RX-SSTV is a wrapper around the MMSSTV engine, which I have some familiarity with—far more experience with MMTTY as the starting point for RTTY DXing and contesting. But, the sound devices are simply numbered in the setup of RX-SSTV and the laptop has a total of 4 devices, the microphone and speakers in the laptop, the microphone and speakers via the dock, a USB soundcard for announcements of JTAlert alerts, and a virtual cable (VB Audio) leftover from SDR experiments. After sorting out the devices by transmitting SSTV on 20M with my IC-706MKIIG, I baited the "trap" to try and capture images from the early pass on August 5, but alas, apparently Windows 10 renumbered the devices during "sleep" overnight, or I failed to save the settings properly. Again, no pix. :-(
One last pass was available for this special MAI-75 experiment prepared by the Moscow Aviation Institute. Again, I aimed my yagi at the midpoint of the pass, set the squelch, and did not "sleep" the laptop. Returning two hours later after a trip into Warrenton, and time at a playground with my wife and granddaughter. (they played and I mostly watched), I came home to find the images which appear below. A local ham, Travis, W8BT, captured images of nearly identical quality with a Baofeng HT, and an app on his cellphone. I probably over-prepared, but used what's already in the shack (materials of convenience, as my cousin Art, W4ACM, often says when describing his homebrew yagi antennas). This does help answer the oft-asked question by visitors, "Do you need all this stuff to 'do' ham radio?" Well, sometimes I do! Events did also prove the amateur axiom, that (on VHF especially) antenna height is king. In this case, 254 miles of height.
From Winged to Round (WE to RE)
I've documented elsewhere on this site my acquisition of a Collins S/Line in 2008 from its original owner, including a fair amount of paperwork. It was in outstanding condition overall, with the exception of a hole drilled in the receiver's front panel for a RTTY BFO crystal switch. Later, as I used the station, I bumped into the inherent limitations of the S-1/Line, despite a few mods I made. They were, of course, Winged Emblem radios and accessories. I moved then to a 32S-3 and 75S-3, with the receiver needing some more extensive restoration (PTO rebuild) than the refurbishment I had done on previous units. But, it's a beauty that l miss now that it's gone (but the new owner dubbed it a "doll," and enjoyed it so much that I'm glad it found such an appreciative owner). Both of those units appear further down this homepage, but are also Winged Emblem models. The two Round Emblem Collins rigs I had were my 30L-1, which came to me from Air America via a yard-sale (You can't make this stuff up), and the 312B-5 that is attached to my Winged Emblem KWM-2A. Rather than enumerate all of them in a tedious progression, I'll cut to the chase.
With each successive update, I hoped to arrive at a full Round Emblem station in very good condition. Not concours perfection (despite the appeal) but an above average, fully operational, nice-to-look-at example of this classic American lineup. When an S/Line from a local ham's estate became available, I was able to acquire it, add some elbow grease and solder smoke, and cherry pick parts to end up with the Round Emblem station pictured below.
In honor of the occasion, I purchased covers for the KWM-2A and 312B-5, but I'm too cheap to replace the WE covers on the receiver (75S-3B) and transmitter (32S-3). The old S-1 covers remind me of the journey from WE to RE, fit well, and still have plenty of dust catching capability left in them.
Collins desk and shelves with accessories. Technics EQ for gooseneck mounted EV-638, Vibroplex Bug (thanks W2PA), Datong speech processor (blue device on EQ, thanks W4ACM), Hallicrafters HA-1 T.O. Keyer (vacuum tubes), Numechron Tymeter with Call- Ident Timer and Collins tuning knob on top (photo bomb), Heathkit SB-614 monitor scope in TX path only, Ameco preamp (to liven up the beverage antennas) Heathkit SB-620 panadapter (connected to 75S-3B), Spectronics Digital Display DD-1C, Magnum Six RF speech processor (used with S/Line, KWM-2A has DX Engineering [the original one] internal unit), Bird 43 (thanks Dad) with peak reading board by K4DPK, EV-638 dynamic microphone for KWM-2A, and Vibroplex single-action paddles for the HA-1.
The reveal (from under the dust covers):
>>>>> : : : : <<<<<
This S/Line belonged to K3VB, Vincent Braxton, who I had the privilege to know for the last several years of his life.
He was one of the most humble, kind, gracious, and grateful men I have ever known. It's an honor to use this gear.
He is missed by many inside and outside of the hobby. RIP OM.
The Original Magic Band AN AMAZING SWL EVENING INTO JAPAN ON 6 METERS
June 18, 2020 This brief tale is about the most impressive JA opening I've seen on 6M, with a final twist. Not to be outdone by my January experience in the next item down this page, 6M showed its ability to amaze even some of the most seasoned 6M DXers (I'm not including myself in that group) in the Mid-Atlantic region with an evening opening starting at around 22:00 UTC lasting at my QTH until about 23:31 UTC. I successfully worked a couple stations, but decided to just watch the fun. I was fortunate to work three JAs in 2018.
It was wild! I snapped just a couple screenshots with my phone, since at the time of the peak, I was still trying to work folks, not capture high-quality electronic screenshots. The quality is a little sketchy, but you get the idea. Be sure to look for the yellow highlight in the third picture. Well-known superstation contester and DXer, Frank, W3LPL, reported working 60 JAs during this opening. Unprecedented. (Click on each for a larger view in a new tab.)
There was no "next day repeat" like we had in 2018. My first JA QSOs on 6M were on the second day of a three day event in 2018. 6M is both magical and fickle. No wonder it's so much fun to operate. Have fun on the "Original and Best" (a la Kellogg's) Magic Band.
1. Decoder shows the band bursting open at one minute in—17 JAs in a single period.
2. JTAlert shows a peak of 29 JAs during a single cycle.
3. A tantalizing decode, albeit for just one cycle, of HL3GOB! More QRO and a larger antenna may put this one in the log someday! (Aim High :-)
The Other Magic Band A WILD MORNING RUN INTO JAPAN ON TOPBAND
January 6, 2020 Most DXers will affirm the axiom that you need to "be there" at the right time and looking in the right direction (if a truly directional antenna is involved) to work a rare or simply needed entity. Six meters has long been known as the "Magic Band" for its fleeting openings (or sometimes long ones), highly focused propagation, and longer legs to faraway spots than is generally deemed possible. It's a band where you certainly need to be there at the right time and looking in the right direction. It's no wonder that I see many calls on 160M that I recognize from 6M.
Today's operating aids include cluster spotting, unattended receivers posting 20–30K spots a day, and even localized skimmers. Add the attendant alarm options (emails, texts, sounds, etc.), or even a phone call or call on the local repeater by a friend, and you have a pretty good chance to not miss out altogether. This assumes you can do something about that information, of course, and with remote operation of your station a real possibly, (even at the workplace these days), you can take action on that information. So, "there" means in control of the rig, even if not present (some of us operate from a tablet or cell phone, without even getting out of bed.) But sometimes, you just get up early or stay up late, and find out you're "there."
Such was my experience on January 6, when I finished breakfast and headed down to the shack about 15 minutes prior to local sunrise, to see if I could work my first JA on FT8 on topband. I have been fortunate to work JA on topband on CW 17 times over the years, with the first one in 1993. So it's a pretty infrequent thing for me. Here's where the "magic" comes in.
The QRN was low on the NW beverage, which is about 750 feet long, but it terminates out near the road and our telephone poles. Years of on and off attempts have not eliminated line noise from that direction, so there's frequently some of that present. I set up the rig to receive on 1.908, turned off Split in JTDX, and manually set split on the K3, with the B VFO on 1.840. I hit tune for a second, and listened on my IC-706 on 1.908 to be sure I was really split. Then, almost immediately, I received a couple of JAs (and a US station who was still working out the whole "side split" thing in FT8). At 12:19:45, I called JA4LKB without success and decided to just CQ, and see what would happen. I was not prepared for what happened next.
At 12:20:40 UTC I called the first CQ. At 12:21:45 (approx. 7 minutes before local sunrise) I called the third CQ, and got my first strike (CQing is radio-based fishing, after all). JA5EXY called me with a -10 report and I responded with a -06 and he was logged at 12:22:49. Then for the next 26 minutes, without another CQ, a string of JAs were worked, with as many as 7 calling me simultaneously. At a full 20 minutes after sunrise, the waterfall faded away, and there were 21 JA stations in the log. Whew! The next day netted 4, and the following day, I stayed out of the way and just watched. As I write this on January 10, there was just one JA copied this morning. Thanks to all who worked me
I managed to capture a few screen shots in the heat of the moment, and one from the iPhone camera to show the window and the waterfall. Sunlight and lit pixels, in the same shot (see below). It never occurred to me to turn on the save function in JTDX to save a .wav file before the torrent began. Maybe next time. Maybe for me, there won't be a next time. That's the magic after all.
The band is beginning to open. I had the bandwidth slightly reduced, since they were all pretty much at 2200 Hz and down. Promising, but I still didn't anticipate what was coming.
Now, there are 3 stations calling me, and 5 potential callers or QSOs.
Things are looking up. The waterfall is getting more crowded and signals are getting louder.
Activity is peaking. 8 new callers as I finish up with
JA1RTX. Several of these callers were worked, but
some moved on to take advantage of the opening.
Even some orange on the waterfall now. Look how orderly the JAs are at maintaining a clear frequency and not calling on top of each other.
Parting shot still showing activity on the waterfall, and a sunlit horizon, well into daylight. This is a topband DXing experience I won't soon forget. Now, SSB! There's always a new challenge, and we like it that way, don't we?
CU in the pileups. - SO
Remember SSB and Ragchewing? HAVING NEW FUN WITH A (RELATIVELY) OLD MODE
December 2019 A nearly continuous run of FT8 since summer 2017, SSB and CW DXing and some light contesting has been interrupted by some old fashioned ragchews lately. These were the mainstay of my early operating, once I upgraded from Novice in 1971. Before I had antennas good enough for DXing, and way before I could try and compete in contests, ham radio was about talking with friends on the air. In addition to checking into ECARS, and moving friends off the net frequency, "one-ringers" to save a long distance bill and get friends on the air on a pre-determined frequency, there was just calling CQ and ragchewing.
I've kept a remnant of this with very enjoyable Saturday morning multi-hour ragchews with W2PA and W1JA, using my boatanchor-of-the-day. Lately, they are discussing the latest updates for their ANAN SDRs, and some automatic antenna tuner woes, but both have some extremely nice boatanchors, and join in the hollow-state fun too. They also have a similar history in length of time on the air, and the teenage years of ragchewing.
A new addition to the shack, a Drake TR-4CW/RIT (sitting on the Henry amplifier in this picture, but now on the shelf where the HW-101 was, with the monitor moved and the 101 in its place), has me cruising the bands (mostly 80M and 40M, my 70s favorites) on weekdays and tuning in a good QSO for "background music" as I work at the bench, answering a CQ, or even entering a roundtable or the CANAM net. With the exception of ECARS in my early years of hamming, I'm not usually a net participant. This bunch caught my ear as especially welcoming and they even do CW! The Internet has a part too, with an online logging app called NetLogger. Who knew? Take a listen at 7.153 at 9AM and following to see how it works.
The first step on the TR-4 was a cleanup and as much "restoration" as was practical (it didn't need all that much). This is an aspect of the hobby I have long enjoyed, and this process was shared with a local friend who now has a TR-4C, which he has also brought up to a high standard. A couple bad tubes, and some AC-4 power supply problems slowed me down, as well as new territory in terms of PTO drive mechanisms. The C-Line has quite a different drive-train from my B-Line, and although sharing the concept of two dials moving at different rates with my Collins gear, it's got its own ways. As with most of these projects, there are some moments of wondering if success is just around the corner, or somewhere in the distance. But, there is the satisfaction of figuring out the problems and putting the rig on the air.
The latest predictions say band conditions will likely bottom out in April 2020 (+/- 6 months) and Cycle 25 will peak in July 2025 (+/- 8 months). That's plenty of good 80/40M conditions for a daytime or evening ragchew. And, it's a great way to warm up the shack this winter.
The Band is Dead IS IT REALLY? IT MIGHT SURPRISE YOU. HERE'S A DEAD BAND TALE.
August 8, 2019 After a good summer E-skip season on 6M (4 new band countries 5T5PA, 6W1TA, C31CT, and JW7QIA), I was checking for "maybe just one more." Finding no activity, I decided to descend through the upper HF bands, checking for FT8 activity. I was surprised to see one lonely trace on 10M. Coincidentally, the yagis were aimed almost due north, including my little A3S with the 30M kit. That antenna doesn't compare with past arrays, but I've been happily surprised with its performance as "good enough" on 20-10 with 3-6 dB available through QRO. It's also been a delight on 30M, my first rotatable antenna on that band, albeit a trapped, rotary dipole. But, I digress.
The lonely FT8 trace triggered JTAlert to announce "DX!" in its male voice. I use different voices on each of my stations, so I can tell which one has a nibble. I looked at the yellow-colored alert, meaning a new band country, and thought the AP Deep decode was playing games with noise or QRM. But neither were present, just a clean decode, "CQ SA RV0AR NO66." On the next transmit cycle it changed, but not to something entirely different, indicating a bogus decode, but rather "CQ NA RV0AR NO66." Frantically, I pressed the ON button on my old Alpha, knowing I was facing what I call, "the longest three minutes in ham radio," as the filaments warm and the standby condition clears. I began calling at 100 whiskies immediately but Pavel just CQd in my face. However, he didn't answer anyone, and the waterfall continued to increase in intensity. Three minutes later, I added 10 dB to my signal, and after two or three calls, he replied with "R-09" and we even exchanged 73 pleasantries. Within another five to seven minutes, he was gone, As the waterfall slowly dimmed. I sent the screen captures below to him, but did not receive any reply, so I began to fear that I'd worked a pirate. In the meantime, at the suggestion of my neighbor Rich, K1HTV, I dropped a note about the QSO to Tad Cook, K7RA, who writes the weekly Solar Report which appears on the ARRL website. Happily, I received LoTW confirmation of the QSO the next day from Pavel, so it was confirmed as legit. I also received an email from WV7S (ex - KH6XT) who saw the mention in Tad's column. I had worked him 20 years ago on 10M and he recounted some details about his past 10M operating and our past QSO. Another surprise!
The latest predictions are for a 3-cycle lull in propagation, unlike the "usual" 11-year cycles I have experienced. From 1970 when I was first licensed, until Cycle 23 I saw only a gradual decline. Then, Cycle 24 happened. With a Medicare card now in my wallet, I won't live to see those days again if it takes 33 years. So, this may be the type of thing I watch for instead. Amateur radio still retains unpredictability and challenges — lures that first brought me into this hobby. New modes and methods will continue to mine nuggets, even on a "dead" band. GUD DX.
FoxTango8 FRANKE TAYLOR 8
AMATEUR RADIO'S "BRIGHT SHINY THING" IN 2017 — MY MODE OF CHOICE IN 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021
After moving to Amissville in 2011 and finding myself without my 100 foot tower and fairly extensive antenna farm, a startling (for me) statistic emerged. For the following five years, I made a higher percentage of QSOs on CW than any other mode. In 2013, it was 66.48% That was a major shift, in over 40 years of hamming. The reason? Well, I love the K3 as a CW rig, and have found both DX chasing and limited contesting more enjoyable on CW. In that same period I've also had a growing percentage of "data" QSOs, since I've rediscovered RTTY with today's software and radios. That reached 27% in 2016. As 2017 drew to a close, Clublog reports that in 2017, 58% of my QSOs are "data." Although there are some RTTY contacts included, the difference is due to the introduction and my extensive use of FT8. As you can see, nearly 75% of my QSOs in 2018 were "data," again almost exclusively FT8.
There's no doubt that my embracing of FT8 was based on my experience in June of 2017, when I copied 35 unique JAs on JT65 on 6M during an opening that lasted well over an hour. With 400W and a 5 element yagi, coupled with inexperience and general fumbling around, I managed to work none of them. But, despite my ineptitude, it was clear that the 5-minute duration of a JT65 QSO was also a hindrance. Each distinct opening for a given station just didn't last 5 minutes at my station. The ones that did, were with very loud JA stations that had scads of callers, including my neighbor Rich, K1HTV, who has a highly effective 6M station with a K3, solid state KW, and outstanding LFA on a long boom. Add to this Rich's exceptional operating skills, and he managed to work two or three of the JAs during the opening. Afterwards, when we discussed what we'd seen and heard, we pretty much agreed that the length of a QSO on JT65 was a clear deterrent. I saw received signals of -01 to -21, with many in the low teens. Signals were plenty loud enough for a faster mode, where a slight loss of sensitivity would be acceptable.
A bump in CW activity in 2020 and 2021 shows the effect of COVID-19 keeping me close to home, and the lack of new DX activity on FT8. Most of my FT8 activity tends to focus on new countries or at least band countries. With less to chase, there's fewer entries in the log. 6M wakes that up with the seasonal e-skip and grid chasing. Grid chasing was especially fruitful in 2021, with my new antenna providing greater success, as well as a slight power increase with the 4-1000A doing the heavy lifting.
Enter FT8, just a month or so later, in July 2017. Rich made me aware of it, as he passed along details of how to get the tools to "build" a new variant program of WSJT (-X), which included a new, fast mode called FT8. Rich's enthusiasm was infectious, and with the shack coming back together (see below), I guess I was in the mood for something new. The fresh memory of the missed JAs was still a stinger too. I had avoided use of JT65 on HF, favoring RTTY for "digital" but no doubt, the turnaround time for a QSO was part of my choice. The 15-second intervals of FT8 gave it a different feel, and the daily appearance of new DX entities to the mode gave it a "DXpedition-a-day" quality that kept it interesting. The tally sheet started at zero, and even close-by DX stations added to the total. The fact that HF conditions on the high bands were/are really starting to decline, and the spotty nature of Cycle 24, made a weak-signal mode more attractive too.
I'll essentially sidestep the controversies about the "realness" of the use of FT8 on ham radio, but mention a few things that encapsulate my views. I can't copy RTTY by ear, and I don't own a spark transmitter. Time marches on. The FT8 sub-bands occupy one SSB signal's worth of bandwidth (and not Voodoo audio SSB) and I frequently see 36 decodes (the 4 x 9 limit of how I have JTAlert configured). You can't tell people about your grandchildren with FT8. But I didn't do that when I sent "TU 599" to Scarborough Reef in 2007 for my last DXCC entity for #1 HR. (Now I've opened another can of worms. Insert a "real" country instead, if you like). I move my fingers back and forth to send the exchange on CW, I copy the CW in my head, and I press a foot switch and use my vocal cords for SSB DXing. I double click with a mouse and then use my fingers to re- position my transmit frequency split when DXing on FT8. I have spent more time wiring, installing software, and achieving interoperability with FT8 than other modes, all of which contributes to working DX on FT8. It keeps a whole bunch of hams having fun in a tiny slice of the spectrum. The layout of the shack shown below allows for two radios on two bands concurrently, and a SDR to monitor FT8 on a third one. As 2017 closes, I've worked 204 countries, 40 zones, and 50 states, while missing a few rarer ones. .
Love it, hate it, or couldn't care less, FT8 operating tipped the balance at K4SO in 2017, and dominated my day-to-day operating in 2018. We'll see what 2019 brings (227 worked, with 207 confirmed in June, 2018 and 250 confirmed and 264 worked as of October 2019). There's lots of excellent information in print and online if you're interested. NEWS FLASH: FT4, with rates suitable for what most consider "contest worthy," has been introduced, and the first FT4/FT8 contest has been run in late summer 2019. Automation is still the principal objection, and just like contests or DXing in general, you can always just turn the dial, or flip the switch. With such a small bandwidth footprint, it's a small effort to find another place to operate. This is primarily for fun, after all.
CU on the waterfall and the Band Activity window!
P.S. from late May 2018. The FT8DMC (a group of about 5,500 as I write this) offers awards for the fun of it. It's free and you just pour in your log and the submission software sorts out the results, passes them to a "director" of a particular set of awards, and after review, you download the certificate in PDF and/or JPG format. It's all FT8, and the awards are colorful, including DX, IOTA, WAC, WAZ and WAS awards at various levels, with others created just for this group, related to countries and their call districts (Indonesia, Italy, Great Britain, New Zealand) and country groups like the Arab Gulf states,
P.P.S. from early March 2019. DXing gets harder as you go along, in any "flavor" (total, mode-only, single-band, etc.) FT8 has been no exception. Moving from 200 worked countries to 250 took almost a year. I was actually at 250 about two weeks prior to this application/receipt of #0005, but my own bookkeeping was incorrect. I never credited T64LC from last August, so I was reporting 1 less than actual. When I thought I reached 250 with XR0ZRC on March 11, it was actually 251. (Thanks to Rich, K1HTV, for letting me know they were on, running a multi-stream FT8 variant application, but not in Fox/Hound mode, and on a non-standard frequency!). Anyway, don't hold your breath for 300. That may be a LONG time coming. With almost 10,000 members in FT8DMC, I wonder who will be the first to reach that milestone.
Two days later, I successfully worked 4X4DK, an unexpected prize, after copying A45 and 9K2 in the same mid-June time period, but never for more than one or two sequences. I didn't think to grab a screen shot of that one, before restarting the program, when it went into NA VHF Contest mode, and I restarted it. Although I try and get screen captures of significant DXing (to build a case for a QSO, mostly), working it comes first. The QSO with 4X4DK was a "there and gone" propagation event for me, only eclipsed slightly in terms of nearby geography by my July 2021 QSO with OD5ET. I had a partial (all but the RR73 and 73) with OD5KU a year prior but it was not confirmed.
And from mid-June 2018. The goal of working Japan on 6M has been accomplished. After a great opening on June 20, when I was not at home, amazingly, there was also an opening the following evening. I had all but given up, listening at 50.323, and bouncing back to 50.313 occasionally, with many stations calling and working JA to the west and southwest of here. Then at 23:36, JG1TSG responded to my call. He was -03 and gave me a report of -08! A minute later, he was in my log. After 19 years on the band, I had my longest distance QSO ever on 6M. As the opening continued, 16 minutes later, I worked JH2FXK with even stronger signals "for insurance." I decoded as many as 5 others at a time, nowhere near the 35 I copied last June, but this time, I got one in the log. JAs were copied each of the following two evenings. The Magic Band indeed!
First FOX/HOUND FT8 DX
In late June 2018, I added KH1/KH7Z to the list of HF FT8 countries worked, using the DXpedition mode which allows the DXpedition (Fox) to divide his transmissions into as many as 5 concurrent streams to increase throughput. 17M was the first band for an FT8 QSO for me, followed by 20M. The band remained well open past midnight local time (04:00Z) with many mid-west and JA stations forming a "wall" but the second evening of attempts resulted in a QSO. This was the group that had so actively assisted in the development and shakeout of the DXpedition mode in the early part of 2018.
(Re)Starting Over, Again
So, after a process that took longer than I might have expected, I'm back in the same corner of the basement where I "started over" back in 2010. But, it's a very different place! Part of our basement remodeling included carving out a bit smaller area in the same corner I had occupied, but with some significant amenities, like walls, a suspended ceiling, and short pile industrial type carpet tiles on the floor. Spiders no longer take over the lower-down equipment, and I will not have to wear gloves this winter while operating. The upside of being in the same area is that work to clean up antenna ingress and switching was preserved, and is now in a closet (which still needs bypass doors, so I'm not "done" yet). There is less dance floor space, and two 30-inch wide tables had to be eliminated, but the availability of walls opens up possibilities for shelves. Like a modern city with limited horizontal space, you have to go vertical. (This is a panoramic shot from my phone. Shelves are NOT curved. :-)
A useful by-product of moving the gear out of storage boxes, back into the new shack is that each piece could receive a well-deserved cleaning. The worst of the "dirt" was on the gear that was deployed down here while the sawdust, drywall dust, and other concrete dust (from the uncarpeted floor) settled.
The other significant benefit is a chance to rethink the ergonomics of the operating position. Finally, years after building a YCCC SO2R box, it is now fully operational with the K3 and IC-765, and the antenna switching is right in the middle of the two. All antennas, including my VHF antennas, are selectable from the SixPak, Ameritron RCS-8V, and homebrew VHF antenna switch controls. I still need to add beverage antenna sharing, and a beverage switch to the IC-765, but that's an easy, desktop modification. Also, the PC monitors are on a desktop shelf, providing straight-ahead viewing. With the HF operating focused on FT8 DXing and state chasing since its introduction in the summer of 2017, there's a lot of monitor viewing going on.
The next steps are to bring the second Collins station online, as well as the Drake 4-Line, which needs a Harbach relay retrofit. Oh yeah, then there's the SB-220 I'm converting to 6M, and the vacuum relay switching of the two additional antenna tuners which are yet to make their way in here. (Done) As my wife so wisely observed, "What you really like about ham radio, is that it's never finished." Owned.
Homebrew VHF Selector: Antenna and also RF path through preamps and "brick" amplifiers (D1010, B1016). Also, control for WX0B SixPak SO2R manual antenna relay box, and finally, the control Ameritron RCS-8V, 5-position switch placed halfway to the drain field in front of the property. This switches the 160M T vertical, inverted vees for 80M and 60M, and 40M NW/SE dipole.
2019 Update: Second Collins station in and operational (see photo above), Drake Line has its new relay (problem turned out to be a heater to cathode short in a final) and the Heathkit HW-101 generously given to me over a year ago, is working and has been refurbished with new capacitors and a few worthwhile mods) My wife is STILL right. ("What you like about ham radio is it's never finished.")
See you on the bands! - SO
Kitchen Counter DXing & Card Table Contesting
March 2017 - Essentially five years after I reflected on "2011-Starting Over" further down this page, I am starting over again. This time, the location is the same, but the corner where my gear was first placed, is now bounded by walls. My station remained as a small island in the basement, right up until the night before the general contractor arrived to begin the remodeling. For the most part, I was QRT for the first three weeks of the studding out process, but as I watched some DXpeditions appearing on the bands, and on the horizon, I got itchy to be able to put a signal on the air. After all, with a little ingenuity to power external antenna switches and the use of barrel connectors, I could still access all my antennas. So, the question became, "Where do I put the gear, and what is the minimum configuration I'll need?" I still wanted some of the support services I've come to use and enjoy, like the spotting network, and computer logging, including an interface to the rig. With dust still flying in the work zone, I didn't want to break out my K3, and risk sawdust, concrete dust, and drywall dust ingestion. That led me to wanting a setup so simple that I could move it all from the emerging shack, upstairs to the kitchen counter.
There was a period that when there was simply too much dust, noise and activity to even consider being in the basement, which pushed me to think about how to get to the antennas, via a coaxial feedline, from somewhere upstairs. Since the kitchen is on the first floor and near snacks and drinks, I decided to try the built in 75 ohm coax outlet for TV use. Our house was built before wireless streaming of TV content, so there are coaxial feeds from the basement to the kitchen, living room, and bedrooms. A few adapters later, and with the use of a small LDG external tuner, I found that my IC-706MKIIG was being heard in some pretty distant spots. I have to admit that some of the simplicity (and no access to QRO), gave me a little more of a thrill when DX returned to my calls. As the hammering, sawing, nail-gunning, and even a couple days of jackhammering for plumbing adjustments in the slab were easily heard directly below me, I enjoyed my new Field Day-style operation from the kitchen counter.
Not wanting to miss all the contests or the wintertime, lowband DXing (always a favorite time for this activity, with the quieter band conditions, and early onset of darkness), I looked for a "portable" way to leave a table in place in the new shack, which by this point had new electrical service (a new sub-panel), walls (which had to be mudded, sanded, and primed) for access to antenna switching along with computer logging and rig control. I made a few Qs in the ARRL VHF Contest, using the new 432 antenna described below, then got RTTY going with the laptop for a couple RTTY contest outings. The 706 allows for the narrow filter (such as it is) when in SSB for AFSK, which makes it a pretty serviceable rig for this use. Finally, when it was time for some CW contest activity, I tested the weight bearing of the card table, unpacking the IC-765 (1990 vintage) but with substantially better CW performance. I used an external keyer and its memories for the ARRL CW, since the exchange doesn't include a serial number. My Super CMOS Keyer (MK I), has no facility for serial numbers, but since the rig itself has no memories, that was still a big help.
At this writing, the shack has paint on the walls, but no flooring or ceiling, but the dust has settled, and a little work in the breaker box has my Alpha 89 available again along with the K3, and my LP-Pan-based panadapter, which has been a most sorely missed accessory. The additional power helped me with three new countries on 160M, 5U5R, EK/RZ3DJ, and MJ5Z, while missing a couple also. Interestingly, I worked MJ5Z in the Russian DX Contest, giving him serial number 1, which resulted in a request for a repeat. His number at the time was 1,265 :-)
The expectation of a more orderly and intentional shack layout than I've had these past five years of "temporary permanent" setup, along with this time of recent nomadic operating has turned out to be a lot of fun.The new space will not allow me to sprawl out into the basement as in the past, but the rest of the basement is being prepared for other, far more useful purposes, and boundaries are very often a real benefit.
Antenna Repair & Upgrade
After several months of use of my tower and the antennas it supports, I suffered my first failure. A passing cold front, which sparked thunderstorms, and swirling high winds, gave the tower and antennas a real test. All but one thing passed the test pretty well. The small tribander suffered a little twisting of elements and alignment on the boom, but the casualty was a Cushcraft 719B, provided by Dave, N3DT, which suffered a snapped boom. Being the antenna at the top of the mast, on a conventional, guyed tower, it would have been the most difficult to reach and repair, requiring removing all the antennas and lowering the mast inside the tower, or steps on the mast, which are not feasible on this lightweight mast (plus, I wouldn't climb it, even if it was feasible). The foldover allowed me (with the assistance of a friend, and potential new ham) to bring the damaged antenna to ground level for removal and replacement. Once it was down, I could see why it failed; the weakening caused by the element attachment hole, coupled with the weight and "sail" effect of the plastic balun box created the leverage needed to break the boom at the perforation, near the boom to mast plate. I have yet to find the element, which blew away somewhere. It will be interesting to see if it ever surfaces.
The "repair" was a two-step process. Although the 719B was a reasonable antenna for my infrequent use, my relatively poor VHF transceiver for 432, a 706MKIIG, and lack of preamp, left me wanting to improve my 432 antenna. A recently added 100W brick, thanks to a family discount from my cousin Art, W4ACM, improved my transmit signal considerably. But I knew I needed to improve the receive capability. A mast-mounted pre-amp is really needed (since built and added in March 2018 with very good results), even with the 7/8" hardline I use, given its length, but I decided the broken antenna was sufficient impetus to upgrade the antenna first. This benefited both receive and transmit. At my Nokesville QTH, I had used a C3I, 25 element K1FO yagi with great success. It was at 103 ft. and my view to the NE was basically unobstructed. That provided reliable Qs in contests with the big guns in New England, with my 100W and an SSB Electronics preamp. The preamp and antenna were generously provided by K4ENE, when he moved from this area. Knowing the performance of the antenna, and the fact that it had survived at that height for several years, I decided on the Directive Systems & Engineering antenna of essentially the same design. Having met and operated with Terry, W8ZN, the owner of DS&E, I was confident what I would be getting. I was right, and very satisfied. If you'd like to see the build and some details, here's a link: DSEFO432-25 Build at K4SO
The finished antenna has already shown promise, with my test path to Ed, W3EKT, improved over previous tests with the old antenna and low power. There are still geographic obstacles to the northeast, which I can't realistically overcome, but improving the antennas, radios, and related items like a receive preamp, and feedline will take me as far as possible. We're not moving to find an ideal radio QTH, and there's plenty of potential here, even with the limitations. I'll be looking for you in the upcoming fall, winter, and summer VHF contests, on 432, as well as 6 and 2 meters.
- May 2016
160M Season (2015-2016) ALWAYS A CHALLENGE, TOPBAND YIELDS NEW ONES, OTHERS MISSED
Given the limitations of my 160M antennas, it's getting harder and harder to find new, workable entities on topband each "season". Many that I need cross the hemispheres, so my "season" is NOT their season. When it's winter, and quiet here, it's summer, and noisy there. Still, there are surprises. DXpeditions add another dimension to DXing, especially on the lowbands, and topband in particular. Effective antennas are still moderately large, often fragile, and without an operator or two with a passion for low band DXing, these challenges are just too much to overcome. In the middle of all of the logistical, financial, operational, and personal demands on those who plan, go, and operate, it's understandable when the low bands (necessarily) have to take a back seat. I do my best to remember that it's their operation, and if I want to plan, finance and carry out a DXpedition (fat chance), I can prioritize things the way I see fit. Short of that, you fire up the rig, play the game, and see what happens.
So, this past winter (2015-2016), I can easily remember the DXpeditions and perennial lowband DX that I didn't work, and will not elaborate on each. Faithfully active stations not worked (yet again), HL5IVL, DU7ET, and DXpeditions missed (and well received at my QTH), 7P8C, C91B, and most recently FT4JA (three long nights of multi-hour calling, and a few recorded snippets of their signal are all I have to show for it. But that's DX!).
However, there were three high points! The first two were related. I was able to work VP8STI and VP8SGI on 160M for new band countries. The path was good, their signals were good, and with a beverage in that direction, I could hear well. I have become a true believer in QSK, since my Alpha 89's outboard circuit has given me confidence in its reliability, but I do not have dual receivers in my K3, so despite looking for the "last called" station on my panadapter, and judicious use of the REV button (which I can activate with a mouse click), it's still a little harder than having a receiver in each ear. I can use the NaP3 program as a subreceiver, but given my aging PC, it's definitely "sub." Even with essentially just one receiver, the K3's NR is extremely helpful, even on a quiet night, at sucking the weaker signals out of the noise, and up to Q5. My approach on 160M is aided by the fact that I can most often hear and see the callers, and so I can use the panadapter to quickly asses the edge of the pileup, or an open spot in the feeding frenzy. Part of the dynamic is that when I hear the DX better (in the long, slow QSB that is characteristic on 160M), so can everybody else and the pileup grows accordingly.
Finally, the jewel of the season, because it was probably the most unexpected, was my QSO with VK0EK. It seemed that after the similarly unexpected QSOs with the VP8s, it was unlikely that I'd nab VK0EK also. Instead, for whatever combination of reasons, including good ears and dedication by K3EL on Heard Island, I put it in the log without multi-night, multi-hour effort. Seeing his call on Clublog as the op. who worked me, I sent David an email while he was still on Heard Island, thanking him and the whole team and he took the time to email back! That was as unexpected as the contact itself.Their use of the DXA realtime feedback was extremely helpful too, and within moments of the QSO, I grabbed the screen capture below. I often neglect to record these QSOs and always regret it later, and this QSO was no exception to that but I do have the card and this unique real-time memento.
As we head into the nosier months in the northern hemisphere, I send a hearty thank you to the dedicated OMs who continue to operate 160M, both from their home stations, and DXpeditioners. It is a difficult, but highly satisfying place to work DX!
Tower is finally up! THREE YEARS OF PLANNING, ROADBLOCKS AND SLOW PROGRESS - ANTENNAS ADDED
After bucketing, and hand digging out the mud, we were underway again, with forms prepared, rebar bent and built into cages Gravel was put in the bottom of the holes for drainage, and to fill in some "overage" in the guy anchor holes caused by the inevitable scraping of a 3-foot backhoe bucket digging a 3-foot square hole. The operator was quite skilled, but we sill ended up with a total of seven yards of concrete in the ground, instead of the 5 actually needed to meet spec. Still, it's a professional job, with a 1 inch fall for drainage, and guy anchor points that will not be going anywhere! A single 10-foot section was put in place, used to maintain a plumb orientation for the concrete-encased short section, and the area has been mostly graded, and the concrete is cured. The first 32 feet were added in the next couple weeks (up to the foldover hinge), and the final 26-foot top was pulled up intact, and bolted at the hinge, then winched upright after adding antennas.
It's been a slog, but the payoff has arrived, and this should serve me until I hang up my radio spurs 25 years or so from now. The foldover should allow me to change antennas and "follow the sun," and the high-frequency bands die off for the next several years. Of course, we don't know that they'll ever return to even what we've enjoyed in Cycle 24. Still, having the ability to change the "main" yagi to something for 30 or 40 meters will be potentially beneficial and something new. The previous tower and antennas I had, at least at the top, were unchanged over 24-years. A 40 meter yagi and a tribander were sufficient, supplemented with two VHF antennas to take advantage of the tower height, and other monobanders added to the side of the tower at various heights.
With the help of W4ACM, W4GO, K3TRM, W8KRZ, KK4KM, and K1HTV, the new tower is up and the first antenna to be used, a Cushcraft 10-4CD, provided good performance for the 2015 ARRL 10M contest. VHF antennas followed, then the monobander was removed and replaced by an A3S tribander with a 30M kit, to be followed in the springtime by something with interlaced monobanders. I do have some weight limitations to permit me to fold the tower over, but there are several possibilities including Optibeams, JK antennas, and maybe Force12. As the bands wane in coming years, I will have the option to replace that with a 20M monobander, or a 17/20M duobander, 30M Moxon, or something else. The foldover design gives me a lot of options, which was a big factor in my choice.
As for the actual erecting of the tower—the first 32 feet gave us a little trouble with sections not fitting (all sections were previously used), We had to remove the first section used to keep the base vertical in the concrete, and use the cantankerous section at the base, and move the previous lowest section up. The rest of the tower sections had been pre-fitted, and gave us very little trouble. My cousin, Art, W4ACM, who provided the tower in the first place, and had erected it for the previous owner, scripted the method of pulling the assembled top half of the tower into place. He manned the hinge point and with some considerable pulling and hauling, (Alex, KK4KM, doing the lion's share of the pulling at the ground level) and W4GO guiding the top end of the tower, Art directed the 200+ lb. structure into place. When he got the first bolt in, we cheered, and when the second was installed, it felt like the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Summit, Utah, where the east and west sections of the transcontinental railroad met.
The initial stack of antennas as of 12/2015, from top to bottom: Cushcraft 19 el. 432 MHz yagi (now replaced with a DSE 25 el. K1FO), 5 el. M2 6M5X, 15 el. C3I K1FO for 2M, and 4 el. Cushcraft 10-4CD for 10M. Now that the 2015 ARRL 10M contest has passed, the 10-4CD has been removed and a Cushcraft A3S with the 30M trapped dipole kit (A-734) is in place as shown below left. As of fall 2019, it's still providing good results, and replacement can wait. The tower works as smooth as I could ask, and I thank all involved once again. Here's a link to the entire photo album, with the hope that some of the details may benefit someone else putting up a similar tower.
Another Icom Rig in the Shack THIS TIME, AN OLDIE BUT GOODIE. SIMPLE BUT COMPETENT!
After getting the bug to try HF mobile, moving my Icom 706MKIIG to my compact pickup truck, left a hole in my HF "arsenal" on the desktop.I had been offered the use of friend's spare rig(s), a pair of Icom IC-765s, which had served well as CW contest radios before being replaced by a TS-950SDX and K3. Later a second K3 joined the lineup, and there has been nothing to displace them so far.I had only used the 765 very briefly during their fairly long run there, impressed by the way the C-IV sensed the VFO use on either rig, and swapped focus in CT (for DOS!). Back then, SO2R was less formalized, with support by external devices, and you only needed the logging software to grab the second rig, when it was used for transmitting. The seamless way the Icoms were supported was quite efficient and basically followed your actions at the rig, rather than being controlled by the keyboard.
As it turns out, one of the 765s had a case of deafness, and the other had a tuner problem, and, as I delved further, a transmitter feedback problem on SSB. This mode was rarely used in their years of contesting service. I started with the rig with the lively receiver, only to discover the SSB problem once I'd made room on the operating desk, so I tried the second, older rig (the one with the deaf receiver) as an SSB transmitter, and found it was fine. Opening the cabinet, I decided to pull and reseat connectors, in hopes of a quick fix for the receiver. No joy, so I moved on to the next "easy" attempt to find the problem, by slightly moving potentiometers and coils in the RF signal path, in hopes that something just needed a swish to clean it up and restore the signal path. When I tried R465, I found the problem. The pot was not dirty, but turned down, reducing the receiver gain. After stumbling on this adjustment, I looked in the Service Manual, and found that it was one of a pair of pots used to set the overall receiver gain. That encouraged me that there was a logical reason that it made the difference, even though I'd found it by blind reckoning. I tweaked the associated coils and found a couple dB or additional sensitivity, then "calibrated" the gain by setting it to yield S-meter readings approximately the same as my K3.
A 1990 QST review of the rig explained a few other behaviors, such as the IF SHIFT function (the button in particular), which also removes one of the cascaded filters, which is a big help on SSB to open up the 2.2 kHz bandwidth for daily use, and let the 2.8 kHz filter take over. This rig has cascaded
500 and 250 Hz filters, and the optional 6 kHz AM filter as well. The antenna tuner problem in its twin turned out to be a worm gear that had crawled up the shaft of the drive motor for one of variable caps, which was quickly fixed. A loud hum was actually the motor running freely, trying to find a home position for the tuner to start, but being unable to drive the gears where it needed to be. The most obvious missing piece on this rig, compared to the 950SDX and FT-1000D that I had, of similar vintage, is a sub-receiver, but that's a DXing function more than a SO2R contesting need, and I'm very pleased to have this rig on the operating table. Hopefully, my small problems and their resolution will be of help to someone else.
When the envelope is as cool as the QSL . . . PHILATELY ANYONE?
Not to demean the FT4FA DXpedition QSL card, but rather to commend them for this extra dimension of their QSLing process, I share this picture of the envelope which contained the QSL card. Not since the "first day issue" envelope of Radio Nederland International, on the event of opening their Bonaire relay shortwave station, have I received such a notable envelope. The RN envelope is postmarked 6 March 1969, and is also shown below. That's a lot of years in between. When my neighbor Frank, K3TRM, told me he got his card and the envelope was also a prize, I was only guessing what it would look like. Unfortunately, the card enclosed in my envelope didn't have a 160M QSO included, but the packaging helped with my disappointment at not being able to work them on topband. Thanks again Lyon DX Gang!
Above: Recently received envelope containing
QSL card from FT4TA DXpedition
Right: Envelope containing Radio Nederland
QSL card from their new station on Bonaire
Below: The FT4TA QSL. The wraparound
design is a real favorite of mine.
Here's an envelope from 2019 FT8 DXing
that's especially colorful— C21WW from
Latvian, Yuris Petersons. I was able to work
their DXpedition on 4 bands, including 80M.
I do appreciate the planning and effort
of the smaller DXPeditions, as well as the
bigger ones. Thanks for the Qs!
Smallest HF Rig I've Ever Owned
100 WATTS, LOTS OF BANDS INCLUDING VHF, AND NEW OPTIONS
After selling my trusty, venerable FT-1000 (almost a D) to a friend, I felt the loss of not having a reasonably modern backup, and second rig for "light" SO2R use. A deal for a very well-equipped TS-930S fell through, and I got thinking about the possibility of a rig for both HF and VHF and the option of trying HF mobile. My K3 is great for serious DXing and contest dabbling, and I decided to take a different tack than buying a 10- 15-year old mainline transceiver. I called a local friend who had mentioned that he had an Icom 706MKIIG that was excess to his needs, but he'd already sold it to a newly licensed local ham. I had used a 706MKIIG which was borrowed from K3TRM, during a VHF contest in 2011. I was impressed by how much functionality was squeezed into this small package. At that time, my K3 had its drivers blown for the second or third time by my ornery Alpha 89. I recalled that another local ham had mentioned that he was going to sell his 706 back in February. A quick email confirmed that he still had the rig, and was still interested in moving it along, in favor of a newer, compact HF/VHF rig. With little haggling, we came to terms, and a brief demo convinced me to take the plunge. Not knowing too much about the options for this rig, I was delighted to find that this one has the 350Hz CW filter, DSP, and high-precision crystal, in addition to a USB to CI-V cable, and a plug in module from "The Better RF Company" (now defunct, the company, not the board), which uses the antenna tuner port and provides a 10W tuning carrier for antenna tuner use.
First experience with an IC-706MKIIG from K3TRM in June 2011
It fits right in on the desktop, not taking up much room and only displaced an old multi-position speaker switch and my LP-Pan for the K3. They were easily moved (just visible on the left in the picture above), and not in the sight line of the monitor. The receiver isn't contest grade, with its broad filter skirts evident on very strong signals, but overall it's very competent and a ball to use. Paired with an LDG Z-100Plus that I bought for quick bandswitching at low power for the K3, I've had lots of fun already working some pretty distant DX, with 100 watts on both CW and SSB. I need a mobile mount before I can install it in my pickup truck, but this rig is definitely the right format, making the K3 look large by comparison! The addition of a cable for amplifier keying, and an adapter for the RJ45 mic. connector has allowed integration with the YCCC SO2R box, which you can see on top of the K3. For the moment, it's enjoying the role of "first responder" to DX spots, and providing the fun of DXing and ragchewing, all from this small package.
Another Collins Station Added
A DEAL I JUST COULDN'T PASS UP - 2015
I wasn't really looking for another Collins station, but when a comment was made about some "Collins gear that you might want to take a look at" at a hamfest about a year and a half ago, the bait was set. What I thought might be a "purchase, clean up and sell" transaction, tuned into a buy, sell, donate and keep one, series of events. I've had an interest in a KWM-2 since I got my first S/Line many years ago, and again when I got an S-1/Line about 6 years ago, and replaced it with an S-3/Line about a year ago. It's a very rudimentary rig, lacking anything but AF and RF gain (well, and emissions, and RF bandswitching controls) in the receiver, but stuffing the essence of the S/Line in a single box intrigued me. When I saw the first pair of KWM-2A and 312B-5, and got it going, it wasn't long before I asked the seller if I could "take a look" at the other two pairs he had. After some excellent information and coaching by K6XYZ on how to further improve the stock radio, I have an excellent performer, at least on SSB, and a station that's just plain fun to use. I share the 30L-1, around the corner from this station in the picture above, between the M-2 and the S/Line. The 312B-5 is a RE, matching the 30L-1 in that regard, and although it had some serious thumb rash on the panel, and a cabinet with a few prominent scratches and flaws, a bit of touch-up paint and a cabinet overspray brought it up to very acceptable condition physically. Electrically, it was already fully functional, and a bit of cleanup resulted in bringing the innards to very nice condition
Here is the rig, as received. Note the discolored trim ring (plastic), and the aftermarket emission knob. The usual problems were present, nicotine, scratched knob inserts, and yellowed lines in the knobs. I purchased the rig without ever opening the cabinet. Imagine my delight, when I found a DX Engineering speech processor topside, and the Teflon wiring and plug-in relays below decks. I figured there was enough to work with in the transceiver, power supply, and external VFO (PTO), but when everything powered up, I was really motivated to clean things up. Once I got things spruced up, I was further motivated to find a way to keep it in the shack, at least for now. As you refurbish gear, the particulars emerge, and in this case, the yellowed trim ring (which I'd avoided previously, with painted, metal ones on the other Collins gear I have), and the installation of service bulletin upgrades were part of the M-2 involvement. The construction of the M-2 is both similar, and quite different from the S/Lines I have worked on, using "turrets" to provide the component density needed to get everything into this package. Invariably, the components you need to change or add, seem to be on the inner layer of parts that are placed on the turrets early in construction. Those who have worked on these rigs, have developed techniques to reach, remove, and replace what needs to be done. One of the hallmarks of the Collins construction, is the wrapping of leads, and generous use of solder, finished up with a dab of red inspection "paint" on each connection, indicating that it's been checked for correctness, both electrically and physically. Easy removal of these component leads later is not a consideration. I don't own a Haako desoldering station, which is almost universally celebrated as the way to go when doing this work, but after using a roll or two of Solderwick (desoldering braid) for these operations, I pulled out the old manual plunger-type solder sucker for initial solder removal, and almost by accident (at first), created intentional cold-solder joints that allowed some careful clipping, and unwrapping of leads with a dental pick. These techniques allowed the use of less heat, and original technique when installing the new components.
These turrets are numbered, and as you can see in the photo, there are letters indicating the particular lugs. The manual identifies the turrets, and even the lettering of the lugs, which go clockwise, with A-F on the top layer, and G-L on the bottom. This was all new to me, and while I'm glad I made the changes to the circuits, and enjoyed the process overall, I'm not looking for a steady diet of this work! To those who routinely maintain this gear, you have my respect and a tip of my hat. Thanks Dave, for your patient coaching, which resulted in a rig that sounds really excellent. I have taken a number of other photos, as is my practice, and while not an exhaustive recipe for SB8, one of the most critical, may help you if you are making these changes to your KWM-2(A). Just click on the photo of the turret to reach the entire album, with captions. The album includes details of the trim ring restoration as well.
Snow vs. The Ground-mounted Rotator
IT'S STILL EASIER THAN CLIMBING
The snowstorm on February 13, 2014, which dropped 14–16 inches of snow, left the rotator system for the Spiderbeam HD just barely visible. The counterweights and steering strings need space below them to operate, and so a little shoveling was needed to get things operational for the ARRL DX CW Contest the following weekend. 15 minutes later, with all control and coax lines still deeply buried under the snow, things were turning again. The antenna itself was safely above the snowline, so only the rotator and associated items needed the snow cleared away from them. I look forward to a no-climb tower installation in the spring of 2015, but this is still even easier to maintain. With over a foot of snow, I didn't think I could wait for natural melting in the sunny, 52F weather that followed the next day. Also, this storm started with cold temps and powdery snow, and the power stayed on for the duration. I know those south of us really suffered in this storm, with ice in NC, GA, and even snow down in AL. I also read of antenna failures due to the ice. The fact is, we're still pretty small compared to "the weather." A good reminder...
Removing snow from the small road that runs along our property, out to the "main" road, with our 1986 Ford 1710. This was my first time needing the tractor to clear us out. The forecast for the 2014-15 winter makes me think it won't be the last. A more suitable blade (rear grader) is on the tractor now for snow removal tasks.
The short boom and the tip of the rotator protruding from the snow, with the Spiderbeam safely "parked" on the short mast, above the snow line.
Rotator dug out and area cleared for the rotation of the short boom and counterweights on the end of the "steering strings" which attach to the antenna's boom. Ready for DXing!
Updated! OVER 3 YEARS LATER, A NEWER "CERTIFICATE" IS ADDED
Newest “Certificate” at K4SO PROBABLY MORE EXPENSIVE THAN DXCCs WITH POSTAGE
This building permit was the latest wallpaper in my shack back in 2013. It is now back indoors, and the tower is not complete, as you can see from the story above. Just below it, you can see the newest certificate, a flimsy piece of paper that belies the expense, time, and labor of many that it represents, the Final Inspection receipt, with the unassuming text, "ok for use."
I never calculated the cost of all the QSL postage, KwH of power consumed, or my hourly labor rate for working the DX to obtain my DXCC certificates, but this piece of laminated paper is probably right up there in terms of comparative cost. since it has not been manufactured since the late 1970s, the tower I now have had to be re-engineered to meet current IBC 2009 commercial specifications for wind, snow, and ice, and all the mechanical considerations for weight and wind load of the antennas, The existing Rohn documentation was not nearly sufficient for my local jurisdiction (county), so this had to be prepared by a PE licensed in VA. In the end, I employed the services of a local contractor to do the excavations, build forms and rebar cages, haul the concrete, and babysit the project during the initial inspection. Zoning was a snap, with the location required to be only 25 feet from the property line, regardless of tower height (up to 200 feet without any special waivers), and 125 feet from the centerline of the road on the "frontage" side of the property. That is defined as the shortest side, not the one that fronts the public road. Neither of those considerations make much sense to me but at least that part of the process was easy.
Thanks to Don Daso, K4ZA, I obtained the services of an excellent and very reasonably-priced (considering the work involved) PE, and the approval only took 5 days once the documents were submitted. That's the good news. What then remained was excavation for some very substantial guy anchors, and well as possible removal of a large oak tree by a tree service (later deemed unnecessary). The guy anchors are one cubic yard each, and there are four of them, plus another cubic yard at the base. The total amount is still less than some self-supporting or crank-up towers (it finally took 7 cubic yards total, with the overage by the backhoe's excavation). For comparison, my previous 100-foot tower had only 1 cubic yard at the base, and used large screw-in guy anchors. The upside with this design is that the footprint is only out 19.5 feet from the tower base. Regulations vary, but if you need a PE in the state of Virginia, drop me an email at email@example.com, and I'll pass along the particulars.
My last tower was erected when I was only 33 years old. I had an intense desire for a "real" tower, coming from a 40-footer with a house bracket, drive in base (no concrete), and the "ask forgiveness, not permission" approach. Although this tower will likely be my last, the challenge is that I'm less motivated, given the great results the last one produced. I postponed this one's construction almost three years after we moved here, until fall 2015, and used a Spiderbeam hanging in a tree with surprisingly good results, using techniques learned with several "temporary" antennas as shown below on this page. Oh, and I'm not 33 anymore...
Final Inspection receipt. "ok for use" never sounded so good!
It's now "in use," thanks to the work of many, mentioned and shown in my Google Photos album of tower construction. Thanks to all involved! - SO
REPLACES MY 32S-1
The updating of the Collins station is now complete, with a 32S-3 replacing my venerable 32S-1 which gave five years of excellent performance. I previously replaced the 75S-1 with a 75S-3 (see below), and knew I wanted the 32S-3 for three reasons: 1.) It generates CW in a manner which will not cause multiple signals on the band, due to a lack of carrier and sideband suppression, 2.) it has a CW CAL control to allow quick and accurate spotting of the transmitted signal, when using the transmitter PTO, and 3.) it uses an air variable neutralizing capacitor, which allows for use of later generation 6146s, including As, Bs, and Ws. This could be retrofitted to the 32S-1, but I decided to leave it stock in that regard.
After missing some eBay offerings, and inquiring about breaking up full S/Lines to purchase just the transmitter and being declined, I purchased one that had already been substantially cleaned up and already recapped (failure-prone capacitors replaced). It was much further along as a starting point than the eBay-purchase 75S-3, but still required some detailed cleaning to "make it mine." The dials were only lightly discolored by smoke or sunlight, but happily it doesn't smell like smoke. The chassis and controls were all very clean, likely due to the work of the most recent owner. It's a 1966 model, so it's 7 years newer than its predecessor on my operating desk, but despite its cleanup, will never be as "original clean" as the S-1. I'm glad to have the 3/Line now and have made good use of it on both SSB and especially CW. The cabinet needed some minor paint repairs, so I just kept the one from my 32S-1, but I couldn't wait for a shakedown cruise, as shown in the picture.
REPLACES MY 75S-1
Five years of enjoyable operation with a 1958/59 S-1/Line convinced me that I would be keeping a Collins station in the stable, if possible, from now on. The one-owner S/Line (W4HYB) was operationally very good, but the S-1/Line has some limitations for daily use, which were addressed in the S-3/Line. Since keeping both was not a viable option, I decided to upgrade the receiver first to gain three useful features, then the transmitter. The 75S-3 features an adjustable BFO, two AGC time constants (a feature I had added to the S-1), and rejection tuning (a notch filter, which I had available on the 75S-1 by using an external Heathkit QF-1). The BFO allows easy zero beating for transceive, and changing the tone of SSB by shifting the signal in the mechanical filter, as well as changing the pitch of the CW signal in the stock 200-cycle crystal filter. It can also act as RIT when transceiving, without having to go split. Of lesser importance, the additional controls add two additional knobs with alumin um inserts, which brighten the front panel and create a more balanced look. The 75S-1 has an open area under the meter that is occupied by the BFO control on the 75S-3.
This receiver was an eBay purchase, at a good price, but was a bit of a diamond in the rough, dirty and neglected for many years. From what I could see in the pictures, it appeared not to be damaged in any way with scratches, dents or extra holes, and when I received it, my assessment proved largely correct. It was operational out of the box and cleaned up very nicely. The receiver included a weighted VFO knob, a bonus usually costing in excess of $100 by itself, when you can find one for sale.
There was a "gotcha" though. The permeability tuned oscillator (PTO), which I consider the heart of the receiver, had a serious mechanical flaw. It would spring backwards when turned in the clockwise direction. There was also slipping in the dial drive, as a result of the high resistance when tuning in that direction. It seemed to improve with use, but it soon became clear that I would have to remove and service the 70K-2 PTO. Many avoid this procedure, and not without cause, but with the coaching and encouragement of several on the CCA email reflector list, I decided to service it. Although sophisticated in its engineering, with reasonable care and documenting the order of assembly (digital photos are a great tool for this), I successfully disassembled, cleaned. lubricated, reassembled, and calibrated it. The final result is very satisfying. It's perfectly smooth, light, and should outlast me!
I have documented the process, not as an absolute recipe or step-by-step guide, but hopefully enough detail to encourage others to not shy away from this procedure. The link below places you within the larger album on this receiver, and as you advance forward, includes detailed close-ups and written descriptions.
Don't be surprised if you find me using this gear especially on 17M, since I obtained crystals for that band a couple months back. I have also added crystals for 30M and 12M as well, so the pair is WARC-capable.
160M QSL Favorites
FT5ZM - AI
Yes, AI stands for Amsterdam Island, but might as well be Antipode Island. As tough as Yemen was to work (see below), this station was easy to copy, in terms of signal strength, but perhaps even more sought after. The T vertical and beverages once again earned their keep. The QSO was right at peak grayline time, 23:56Z, but still a surprise to me that I got through. I never heard them as well again on 160M. I worked them on 18 band/mode slots, but the Q on topband is the prize. Thanks to all involved in this very well planned and executed operation.
9U4U - Burundi
Clearly the wraparound design is a popular format. This card arrived after a request on the OQRS system. This one also included a 160M QSO, much appreciated.
7O6T - Yemen
This fold-open panorama card from 7O6T is a prize. I worked this excellent DXpedition on quite a few bands, including 160M, which was the jewel for me. Reading K1ZM's description of what they had to do to operate on topband, I feel especially fortunate and appreciative. The card for additional contacts that didn't fit in this card used a simple design with the national flag, which was also a nice touch. Thanks to the crew for their dedication and operating skill and the management of QSL and LoTW confirmations!
After learning that Hartzell was no longer refinishing Drake cabinets, I decided to repaint the one on the T-4XB. There was substantial variation in the finishes of the gear over the years, and since the MS-4 and the R-4B cabinets were in somewhat poor condition when I received them, I sprung for the refinish job by Hartzell. By comparison, the T-4XB was mostly unscratched, but had an almost matte finish, and a much smoother surface. I decided to cover the scratches, and try and minimize the gloss differential, by repainting the cabinet with Rustoleum Satin Black, my go-to paint for most anything black that I want to restore.The result was very good, and highly cost effective. The R-4B cabinet refinish from Hartzell was $90, the MS-4 $45 (per piece pricing, not surface area), and the T-4XB was $4.97, plus my time ($0). Once painted, it seemed like the station should be deployed and with the wide open shack in the basement, it was easy enough. With much of my daytime operating using 17 meters, I added two crystals for that band and they also include crystals for 30M and 160M. There are still plenty of Drake radios being sold, and they're a good value and great fun to use.
LoTW comes through with 100 countries on 30M
I have always considered the WARC bands to be "for fun" (I know, aren't they all?), and haven't sought QSLs or confirmations with the same aggressiveness as I have on the other bands. I did work 104 countries on 30M with my Drake B-Line, just for the fun of it, and have been trying to work what's spotted on 30M for the last couple years. My antennas have been simple dipoles for cut 30M, or other bands and used with an external antenna tuner. When checking 6M DXCC counties, I noticed that I had 100 on 30M, so I applied for the award. The turnaround was just a week or so. Thanks for the Qs, and thanks ARRL for the quick turn. (49 more have arrived as of 12-31-2012)
8-2021 Update-With the help of FT8, the total is now 310 confirmed)
LoTW also provided 100 countries confirmed for 12M
I was on 12 meters the day it opened, with a 4 element monobander and a separate tap on the B&W850A in my multi-band homebrew 4-1000 amplifier (built by Jeff, WA8SAJ). I worked a bunch, but like 30M, didn't chase the cards. They trickled in, and when the band opened up again this year (2013), I started looking for LoTW users to work and finish up DXCC confirmations. Most of what was added was via wire antennas and CW is a great help, when the antennas are not terribly effective.
8-2021 Update: 275 confirmed
LoTW-based Digital DXCC
I have operated RTTY since very early on in the hobby, and never considered chasing DXCC until LoTW and the use of computer decoders. MMTTY, and now 2Tone provide lots of fun for contesting with RTTY, and I use MMTTY for day-to-day DXing. With many major DXpeditions including RTTY, I have a somewhat high percentage of exotic countries on this mode, and should spend some time chasing the easier ones, I guess. These days, I let Spotcollector alert me to new RTTY countries, and if the station is an LoTW user, I am doubly motivated. Like the other DXCCs, just working 100 on RTTY doesn't represent anything terribly difficult, but another fun award to chase and track. Modern tools for all these things makes it very enjoyable. Give it a try!
8-2021 Update: 305 confirmed
2011 = Starting Over at New QTH
After 24 years in our former home, with family grown and gone, it was time to make a move to a home more suited to our age and purposes. For me, that meant starting over in the ham shack too. At that time, I was on the air with wires and rotatable antennas in the trees as shown elsewhere on this page, having fun in a somewhat simpler way than when I had a 100-foot tower and a bunch of yagis. I do have much of the same gear, having shed the largest amplifiers and some peripherals. Being somewhat temporary, the shack was set up in the corner of the basement, and nearly everything is on one "level" so I can reach all the connections and reconfigure when needed. I also have room to walk behind the operating position. While shelves and a position flush to the wall are attractive, this arrangement allows flexibility, since I wasn't sure how things would be changed.
The new start also means a new website, having retired the old one when I had to change ISPs. I'm trying to retain some of the fun links and background that was there, but emphasize what's new here rather than chronicle the past as my homepage. QRZ.com has a briefer overall history. One of the things that has been a useful addition to the free web tools from Google, has been Picasaweb (now gone the way of the dinosaurs), and its utility as an efficient way to create online photo albums. I've taken many (sometimes, too many) pictures of projects as I've gone through them, and if the project's name piques your curiosity, take a look. Some are more step-by-step, and some have been found and used by others to assist them in related projects, if only as encouragement that "This guy did it, I can dive in too."
K4SO QTH and Antennas - Winter 2020
TOTAL PROPERTY IS 5.22 ACRES
Tower and yagis (white) were erected in the fall of 2015 in the position shown. (Antennas on tower are not to scale. See description above.) They include a Cushcraft A3S with the A-734 kit for 30M, and a stack of VHF antennas above it, with a C3I 15 el. 2M K1FO yagi, an InnovAntennas 7 el. LFA for 6M, and a Directive Systems 25 el. yagi for 432.
Beverages (orange) run NE and NW and SE (not shown). A reversible two-wire beverage was added in early 2021 with matching and switching from QRO.cz (RemoteQTH.com). Jan Sustr (OK2ZAW) has an excellent line of kits, parts, and even built units. He was incredibly helpful with the build, and highly responsive to answer questions. The new beverage is that "little bit extra" for the AF and due west Pacific DX, just as I had hoped. A new control setup in 2021 allows combining any two beverages, and splits them to either of my K3s.
Wire antennas (turquoise) are open wire-fed dipole (125 ft. long) at 85 feet, and open wire-fed inverted vee (255 ft. long) at 85 feet. Also shown are the low 40M dipole (high angle) at 33 ft. and 40M NW/SE dipole at 75 ft. for Asia and Caribbean (the 80M open wire dipole is used as 2 half-waves in phase for NE/SW, Europe and Pacific.) A dedicated 60M inverted vee was added for anything off from the NE/SW orientation of the 80M dipole which is also used on 60M.
Tree branch suspended antennas (yellow) are in the woods to the northeast of the house and is shown by the yellow yagi, and supports a Cushcraft A3WS for 12/17M or a Cushcraft 10-4CD 4 el. monobander for 10M, typically hung for the ARRL 10M contest.
The 160M T vertical with folded counterpoise (FCP): (green) as designed by K2AV, this has been an outstanding performer for me overall. There is no free lunch, but the lack of an extensive radial field helps me maintain my drain field where the antenna is located. The line indicates the approximate direction and length of the top loading horizontal wire. The FCP is located in nearly the same orientation as this wire, but elevated at 10 feet above ground. The horizontal portion of the antenna is 71 feet high, with the resulting vertical portion of 61 feet. A newly constructed FCP with better spacers for the 3-wire side was added in December 2020. More pictures of the initial configuration, testing, and FCP isolation transformer are at:
The Radios that got my dad started in electronics, and got me started in Ham Radio
There is a short thank you tribute about my dad, Charles F. Killmon accessible from the menu on this site. My interest in radio was his doing, and that, based on his early exposure in WWII as a radio operator on B-29s in the Pacific (Tinian and Saipan)
Fast forward 48 years—I get the chance to see how he got his start in radio...
After email and telephone correspondence with KC0TEG, Paul, last summer, I learned of the efforts by the Collins Radio club to refurbish the radio operator's position in FIFI, the Commemorative Air Force B-29, and only flyable B-29 left in the world. He had stumbled upon the details about my dad, which I had shared on QRZ.com, and here on the website. I was intensely interested in the project, but was unable to attend the commemoration of the station at the CAF base in Texas. Later, I had the thrill of working FIFI, and received a special QSL for the contact with N9A/B29. I heard them on 40M in some of the initial, in-flight tests, and could clearly hear the engines over the air! Paul later sent me the documents distributed at the commemoration of the station, which I greatly enjoyed seeing. After reports of a B-29 in the airspace around Warrenton, VA (the largest town near our home in Amissville), on June 1, 2013, a little Internet research revealed that FIFI was at the Manassas Airport nearby. We jumped in the truck and went over for a cockpit tour and took some pictures, as shown above, and in the related Google Photos album. The guys did a fantastic job, including a paint job on the BC-348, and a meticulous job of cleaning and wiring, as you can see in the pictures in the album. My wife asked about the wire, running from the top of the fuselage to the tail, which I identified as the antenna, and she pointed out that my model of the B-29 did not have that detail. I'll be adding a thread to the model. After all, the model had been built for my dad, and spent many years in his radio shack, without an antenna!
The BC-348 on Aluminum Overcast. It's real, but non-operational. It was still a thrill to sit at the radio position and think about my dad's training in 1943 or so in B-17s in the same seat.
The fully operational radio position in FIFI. Click for a link to the details of the restoration project. As the son of a B-29 radio operator, I sincerely thank those who did this work, giving me a chance to both work it and see it!
Click on the shot of FIFI for an album of other still shots.
A few years prior, on 9-10-2010, I took the opportunity to take a flight in EAA's "Aluminum Overcast," a flying museum that tours the country. Knowing my dad trained in B-17s, and not sure I'd ever get the chance to fly in FIFI, I took a half-hour flight out of the Leesburg Executive Airport. On the flight was another guy whose dad was a radio operator, so he sat at the operating table for takeoff, and we switched places for landing.