Category Archives: Amateur radio

Planning permission granted for antenna mast

IMG_1031The local council has granted planning permission for my mast. Despite there having been a complaint when I first put up the basic structure on the wall, there was not a single objection to the application. I know the neighbours were consulted by the council because they have told me. Of course, I did speak to all of those I thought had an interest prior to making the application.

As I have previously mentioned, the plan is to have 7 elements LFA Yagi from Innovantennas for 144 MHz, a 13 element from them for 432 MHz, and a 23 element Tonna Yagi for 1296 Mhz.

Within a couple of months, I hope I shall be QRV on those three bands, while at the same time I am thinking about what might be done on 50 MHz and 70 MHz.

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Setbacks and progress on the antenna front

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The “offending” mast

Back in January Gary, MM0CUG, visited the QTH to install a mast on the side of our house to support the three antennas I have in mind. For various reasons outside his or my control he was not able to finish the job, so we had the mast up with no antennas.

Gary was scheduled to return to put the antennas on the mast for me, but in the intervening period someone complained to the Planning Department of the local Council. I have spoken to all the obvious neighbours and none has admitted to complaining. I believe all of them, so it is a mystery as to who objected.

One of the planning officers came around, and although many amateurs around here have antennas up without Council approval, I was told that I would have to apply for planning permission, which I have now done. Unfortunately, I must wait up to eight weeks to know whether my application is successful. There is a possibility I will have to take the mast down, although feedback I have received from the Council so far leads me to be cautiously optimistic.

The plan is to have 7 elements LFA Yagi from Innovantennas to 144 MHz, a 13 element from them for 432 MHz, and a 23 element Tonna Yagi for 1296 Mhz. These were the bands on which I was most active over thirty years ago and I hope to make a decent comeback. I am aware that activity is much less than it used to be, but I aim to contribute to a considerable increase.

I just cannot wait to be back doing what I used to. My current restriction to a collinear for 2 metres and 70 cms is very frustrating and I am just not an HF person at heart, though I understand that even if I were, conditions are very poor due to where we are in the Sun’s cycle.

I will be back, by hook or by crook.

How did I get into amateur radio? Part 3

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Belcom Liner 2

What a sheltered life we led, back when I had just left school and gone out to work. All that discovering girls was a terrible distraction, plus actually having to go to work every day. Well, five days a week and hardly any holidays. I had no time for radio.

However, after nearly five years I started to think about amateur radio, still with top band in mind, and started back on broadcast DX listening. I bought a communications receiver, a Codar CR70A. People eulogise about that radio, but mine was not very good, and I have read about other amateurs / SWLs who were unlucky with their receiver.

I decided to get my RAE and be a thoroughly legal station on the radio. In 1974 I enrolled at Southend College for evening classes leading to the Radio Amateurs Examination, to be taken in May 1975. It was taken by G8GUO, Charlie. He was very good and I learned a lot from him. I have no idea what happened to him as he has disappeared, or changed his call sign, or something.

After a year of taking the train straight from work in London all the way to Southend Victoria, I took the RAE and passed. I have a copy of the May 1975 exam and am amazed how difficult it looks now. There was no multiple choice. We had to answer eight questions; two compulsory questions on licence conditions and six out of eight technical questions, the answers to be written with diagrams. The exam was three hours on the evening of Thursday 15th May 1975. And I passed!

I had thought I would take the Morse test, so waited for a while before applying for a licence. I did not make much progress in that direction, so in January 1976 I got the call sign G8LFJ. This was a Class B licence, two metres and up. I then got an FM rig for two metres with I think eight crystal channels, an IC21A. I put up a ten-element beam and after a while it dawned on me that I had the wrong polarisation for FM. I wanted to work more than eight channels too, so I bought a Belcom Liner 2 SSB VXO rig. This was in June 1977.

The first station I worked on 144 MHz SSB was SM7FJE. I thought this was fantastic. Of course, there was a tropo opening, I did have ten elements for my 10 watts out and (most significant) Bo, SM7FJE near Malmo had an EME array of multiple yagis. Just over an hour later I worked OZ5QF, and that is how I got the VHF DX bug.

A few thoughts of then and now….

No electrical junk shops

When I was a lad there was an electrical junk shop in Brentwood and some of us boys used to go there after school. I suppose working electrical items were for sale, but we foraged for old capacitors and transformers and other bits. We built things from the bits, such as power supplies for our army surplus equipment.

Now, every component we need is small and comes in a small plastic bag. We did have small plastic bags back in the Sixties of course. I bought silicon rectifier diodes in them for the aforementioned power supplies. However, I miss the junk, and having to send off for new everything, even though it is cheap and easily obtainable from eBay. It is just not so much fun, though.

UK amateur radio licencing

One of the biggest changes for one who has been absent from amateur radio for so long is the changing to the system, such that there are three tiers of licence, Foundation, Intermediate and Full. I can understand that people need to be encouraged into our hobby. After all, there are so many other geeky type things to do, the SWL path so many of us followed is not there in the same way (“hello to the listeners”) and broadcast DX is less abundant. That was a useful indicator of conditions.

The first two tiers are I assume easier to attain than passing the old RAE. Why are there so many M3s, M6s and 2 type call signs who have not upgraded to full after quite a few years, though? (Ducks head to avoid missiles.)

OK, the May 1975 RAE I passed was jolly hard. I have a pdf copy of it now. I did a full year of evening classes at Southend Technical College to get it, too. Whatever happened to my teacher, Charlie G8GUO?

Two metres and above

The other major licence change is allowing all licencees to venture onto the HF bands, or at least nearly all the bands below 144 MHz in frequency. That seems harmless; even sensible with the abolition of the Morse test requirement.

The bad news is that 2 metres and above see far less activity. After I passed my RAE I initially balked at the Morse test. I had a Class B ticket, G8LFJ. (I wish I could still have the call sign, but apparently not.)

Anyway, I served an apprenticeship on 2 metres and 70 cms, and learned how fascinating those bands were with exciting propagation; tropo, aurora and Sporadic E. I passed the Morse test in 1981 simply to work more DX on 144 and above. However, no one seems so interested in the higher frequencies when they can work longer distances on the lower ones using a piece of wet string as an antenna. These newcomers do not know what they are missing.

Digital and so on

I am not sure I am very interested in digital repeaters. Repeaters have their uses for mobiles and for local social ham gatherings. Weak signal work using digital modes is another interesting ballgame though. As an ex-high-speed Morse enthusiast for meteor scatter this sounds a fascinating possibility. I am not a total Luddite, you see, and am quite good at software techie stuff. I may need some help of course.

What is amateur radio, then?

It is not one hobby but many, or it is an umbrella term for many different niches, and many more than it used to be.  Assuming we stick together and hold our territory when so many other forces vie for our bits of the electromagnetic spectrum, we should be OK. Let’s not be complacent, but use it so we don’t lose it, especially above 30MHz.

How did I get into amateur radio? Part 2

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Radio Caroline ship Mi Amigo. Photo credit Albertoke

I became a listener on Top Band AM with my Nineteen Set, which could be tuned down, the intended frequencies of use being 2 to 8 MHz. It was not difficult to get it working down to 1.8 MHz. I also found I could listen to the locals by turning some pots in a couple of transistor radios we had. I owned only one (the other was my Mum’s), which was a pocket -sized radio with the trade name of the local high street dealer. It was fiddly to tune, but I could listen in my bedroom and it worked. Remember the Nineteen Set was very heavy and dusty, so I had to use that in my den in the loft.

There was a local Top Band pirate who was very active. He boasted of a Codar AT5 transmitter. I do not now remember what his receiver was. No, I was never a Top Band pirate, or indeed any sort of pirate on the amateur radio bands.

In 1967 the then Government was trying to close down the offshore pirate radio stations. I was a Radio Caroline fan, and had listened late into the night (well, until about 11 o’clock) most evenings on the same pocket-sized radio. I was supposed to be asleep, having done my homework. My parents’ expectations were different to those of parents these days.

From August 15th 1967 the Marine Offences Act came into force, making it illegal to operate and service the pirate radio stations anchored off our shores, or operating from offshore forts as one or two did. At 3 o’clock on 14th August, Radio London (Wonderful Big L), Caroline’s neighbour off the Essex coast closed down.

Radio Caroline soldiered on, but there were many of us who believed in “Free Radio” and did not accept the Government’s premise that the BBC should have the monopoly on radio broadcasting in the UK. After all the pirates (commercial radio) had given everyone freedom of choice and had also given a chance to many pop, rock and other bands and solo artists. The pirates made a huge contribution to the cultural changes in the Swinging Sixties.

Some among us protested by putting out our own shows around 195 metres. That is about 1.54 MHz.  The Nineteen Set was well capable of that, with a quarter wave antenna (my parents had a large plot of land). I am not saying I participated, and after all, doing an hour’s pre-recorded show regularly would have been a lot of work, but I was a juvenile.

The antenna was very thin and hard to see, being wire off an old transformer carefully unwound. It was surprising it did not break more often than it did. A Post Office detector van did drive down our road once, but no one came to call.

I had a lot of fun with the Nineteen Set. It covered 80 metres as well and was a good old war horse, with the Variometer (ATU) very effective.

Of course, I had some growing up to do, and at the end of the decade I left school and went out to work. This was a culture shock for me, becoming responsible in part for my own welfare, and there were distractions from radio such as my first girlfriend. The radio story rests for a while, but more soon….

How did I get into amateur radio? Part 1

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Wireless Set No. 19

I won a scholarship to a posh school. I was very unhappy there, and one of the things which made me unhappy was that when we were around fifteen, we boys all had to join the cadet force. This was split into two main groups; RAF and Army. The RAF group got to play with gliders, so everyone wanted to do that. I was not one of the lucky ones chosen. I had to join the Army group.

Being in the cadet force meant that the school bullies usually got made sergeants, so that they actually had some authority as bullies.

The first year of the cadet force involved a lot of drilling and marching. Also, one stormy March evening we were dropped off in groups of about five all over the Essex countryside, and required to make our way in the dark to an army camp out in the marshes. We could have got lost, but by the middle of the night the clouds and blown away and the rain stopped, and one of our number could navigate by the stars. I could do that myself now, but I knew little of astronomy then. Incidentally, our navigator later became a radio amateur.

At the beginning of the second year in the Army cadet force, we could choose to specialise. Some sections still involved drilling, but the two “skive” sections were perceived as the Signals and the Bearer section, which involved First Aid and stretchers. I wanted to join Signals, but again was “unlucky”. I got Bearer Section. On the plus side, I learned CPR and how to bandage people’s wounds, and it was useful grounding with later refreshers at various work places. I might still be able to be useful if called upon, though I never have been required.

However, back to radio. I and a couple of other lads hung about the Signals hut. It was full of old Army radio equipment. I remember they mostly used a WS C12 to talk to other cadet force teachers and lads around the country. I was most impressed.

That is when I got the radio bug, and I and a couple of my friends each bought a Nineteen Set (Wireless Set No. 19). Mine cost £12 in around 1967. It was a fortune in pocket money.

So, I discovered Top Band AM. I had a huge amount of fun with my Nineteen Set, but more of that later.

Did you start in radio with gear from ancient times?

Wood and Douglas and the 70 cm amplifier

Wood and Douglas ampA while back I bought a rig on eBay, but the seller had included this with a job lot of miscellaneous items.

In the box were three linear amplifiers. One was for 27 MHz which is of no interest to me and I will sell on. Another is one for 144 MHz. That is going to need a workaround as it was made for a specific transceiver way back, and I need to find a way to switch it as it has no RF sensing and I have no manual yet.

The third item was a Wood and Douglas amplifier for 432 MHz. It must date from the late seventies or early eighties. It is a solid piece of equipment. The seller said on eBay it was a maximum of 10 watts in for 30 watts out, but I have been reluctant to put it on dummy load to test it. I had no manual and there was nothing on the internet to help. It is a rare beastie.

Wood and Douglas was started by two radio amateurs in the late seventies to build and sell amplifiers, preamps and other amateur radio gear, but since has become a grown-up player. It has moved far beyond its original business.

On the off chance I sent an email via the website to ask if they had a manual or some instructions for this ancient amplifier. They emailed me back the next day with the instructions / spec which would have been sent out over thirty years ago when the amp was new.

This is absolutely brilliant customer service provided to someone who was not even a customer, but just someone asking a favour.

It is great credit to the company that they helped me out, so three cheers for Wood and Douglas. Thank you very much.

One more thing. The amp is a maximum 3 watts in for 30 out according to the manual, so it is just as well I did not try to overload it having relied on the seller. I am sure he had forgotten after not using it for many years. With any luck I have a usable amp for 70 cms.