Sunday, January 24, 2016

A JT9 Kinda Sunday

Running JT9 with 5 Watts and Indoor EndFedZ 
Today was spent doing my usual indoor "getting ready for the work week" work, but I did leave a little time to get on the radio. I decided to play on 20 meters with JT9. The band started out up and down a bit but finally came to life this afternoon. I'm running the setup shown to the left, my Icom IC-703+ with an output power of 5 watts. My antenna is an EndFedZ 20 meter wire antenna stretched from my upstairs running down into my shack. Nothing earth shattering but I can honestly say I've worked Europe and Asia with this antenna the way it's currently configured. As I've mentioned many a time, I'm at the mercy of propagation with my QRP / indoor setup but using weak signal modes such as JT9 can easily add QSO's to the ol logbook. Today, I added 13 of em.

AK7DD Heard List
It's nice to have numerous resources to see how well you're hearing, or how well you're being heard. My favorites are of course the PSK Reporter page (not just for PSK) or my other favorite, Hamspots. Like a reverse beacon, this will show you how well you are being heard on the "other end" of the propagation hop. And when you have an indoor station like I do, it's crucial to check propagation numbers and bands for your best opportunity for successful QSO's. It also helps to run digital modes that are great for less than optimal conditions, either shack or propagation.

Waterfall & QSO's
I very much enjoy the WSJT software that allows me to operate both JT65 and JT9. I've been defaulting my activity to JT9, only due to it's narrower bandwidth. This allows me to normally find an unoccupied part of the digital spectrum to set up shop and try to work a few stations. And anytime that I work the digital modes, I make sure before transmitting that my ALC and any compression are turned off along with making sure my power is turned down (I run 5 watts or less). I don't want to pollute the waterfall with an excessive signal. I've seen stations so wide that they are decoded on more than one frequency and their callsign shows up twice in the RX frequency window! It's not hard to spot those wide signals on the waterfall. With my log snapshot, you will see JT65A on the left, and to the right of that, JT9 transmissions. An obvious visual difference between the two modes. And with the JT9 transmissions, you can tell which signals are stronger / wider than the others. Another simply addicting mode available to us ham radio operators.   

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Few Hours Of Sunshine Make For A Decked Vertical Test

TRX-80 Decked Vertical - Blending In

I decided to take advantage of a bit of sunshine in between storms to tune around the bands with my portable TRX-80 vertical. Like many small, portable antenna's, there are limitations and hooking a coax up to such an antenna will not necessarily open up the world. But, with propagation on your side and a bit of elevation, an antenna such as this could yield some fun.

As mentioned, this antenna does have limitations (especially on the low bands). I found tuning it was not as simple as just moving the tap ring up and down the antenna coil. You can do that to find the "sweet spot" but to obtain a flat match or respectable SWR, it required a bit of patience. The tap ring (depending on band) might only need a slight adjustment to move the SWR up or down. The counterpoise length is also crucial. My plan is to use my Buddipole counterpoise & wrap to make it easy to deploy and pack. I will fine tune this antenna once I get a bit more time and when the weather cooperates for more than a few hours. I at least wanted to make sure my soldered connections were good and compare it to my indoor EndFedZ antenna's. 

As you can see from the photo at left, I was able to tune the antenna for a respectable SWR on 20 meters. I opted for 14.100 as I normally do CW or digital. I did not try to make it flat, only get it close. I figured I'd try to see how low it could go, so on down to 80 meters I went. 

I was able to obtain a near flat match on 80 meters (photo at the right, actually easier than 40) but of course, it's less than optimal for this band. But hey, it might yield a few contacts during a contest if the band is good enough. I'll take it. With favorable propagation, one can be pleasantly surprised what might end up in the logbook. But all in all, once I get the counterpoise dialed in and get the coil marked, it should not take me long to deploy this small vertical. I will gladly add it to my portable equipment as another field option. It breaks down into a small package with the tripod being the largest part. I'd love to try a portable loop antenna but I'll have to wait until the shack fund increases by a few hundred bucks.  

Having a small antenna analyzer is important and I'm glad I picked this up at Dayton. Having one that would sweep the bands would be nice. Either way, as I continue to build my portable setup, I'm making way for some outdoor fun. Testing equipment in a controlled setting ensures things are working as they should. Better to find out at home rather than miles from the vehicle.   

Sunday, January 10, 2016

SKCC January WES And My TRX-80 Vertical Close To Hook'n Up

Mini Vertical
The bands for this indoor antenna'd QRP station were pretty rough this weekend. With that being said, my main goal was to fire up my straight key and work a few stations in the Straight Key Century Club (SKCC) Weekend Sprintathon (WES). I accomplished that goal only after working just two stations on 20 meters. I worked Tony, K6ELQ and of course Ed, W7GVE (always easy to work, even with my current setup). Both had great signals here into southern Oregon, but others just did not seem strong enough for me to work. I did hear a few signals on 10 meters but they were very weak, so I just kept to tuning 20 meters when I was at the desk.

I'm still working on purging much of my shack and downsizing, focusing on a more portable perspective. Several months ago, I purchased another addition to my portable antenna arsenal, that being a TRX-80 vertical antenna. It's small and should allow me to operate without a tuner on most of the bands, 40 and higher. If the bands are favorable, it should yield a few QSO's with any luck. I have yet to connect it to a transceiver but my goal is to use this with my Yaesu FT-857D at 100 watts or less. With NPOTA in full swing, I need to get working on getting on the air from the office (Crater Lake National Park) for National Parks On The Air (NPOTA). 

With the winter weather of the last several weeks, I've spent more time with my snow shovel than I have in ages. Having had a few extra days off has allowed me to wade my way back into the shack and turn on the rig for a few hours. I found it easier to stay in my shack while living in Alaska during the winter months when the temperatures would plummet to -30F or colder. Not that same issue here, so my shack time has decreased dramatically. Having a 100% indoor setup that's QRP also does not draw me to the shack, but it's here when I need my CW fix. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

Easy Programming

rt Systems 
It's been a pretty busy few months but having a few extra days off has allowed me to think radio. The Spaceweather conditions have made it pretty tough for a small station like me to make QSO's, so I'm working on other ham projects. I began doing a bit of coax work preparing a new portable vertical I plan on using for NPOTA and for other portable operations this year. Working where I do, NP13 (Crater Lake) is my focus since my office is there. It's been a very busy winter and if you've not been following the weather out west, we have plenty of snow! If you click over to my YouTube page, you will see a few videos I posted from my daily drive home. Since October 1st, Crater Lake National Park has received well over 220 inches of snow. So, being busy around the office has kept me from even thinking of dragging my portable equipment to work with me.
Coax Prep

With modern technology, it's so easy these days to program radios. When I attended Dayton in 2014, I picked up rt SYSTEMS hardware and software for programming my Kenwood TM-D700A.  I have two of these rigs and I currently run APRS in my truck, which due to our weather, I'm driving more. Although this package is a bit on the pricey side, I found it easy to use and it made programming my rig extremely easy. With several online frequency guides, you can download lots of repeater and ham radio (along with non-ham) frequencies in an rt SYSTEMS format for quick import into the software. It's only taken me over a year to finally use this but hey, it's better late than never, right? 

It looks like winter is here to stay with several feet here at the home QTH. A much different picture than last year as I never even broke out the snow shovel! I'm ready to divorce my snow shovel and open the windows but I'm afraid that's a few months away yet. We need the snow pack with the drought conditions so I'm hopeful many more inches of snow are on the way.

I find it hard to believe that we just entered into a new year. I'm hopeful that 2016 will be a good year for not only me, but for those reading this. Propagation will probably continue to be challenging but I will get on as time allows. I've yet to work a NPOTA station or even a SKCC K3Y station! I loved operating from Alaska during the month of January with my straight key. And with any luck, I'll have that opportunity again. But for now, I'll be chasing those that I hear and hope that my QRP / indoor setup can snag a few. Always a fun way to start a new year!