Category Archives: Amateur radio

Tropo update October 2018

After several decades absence I have been operational on 2 metres SSB since the end of February 2018. I have been using an old Eighties FT290R and a small amplifier running only 25 watts to a 7-element antenna.

I have not observed any spectacular tropo openings, but last week we had some propagation into Scandinavia.

On 8th October in the evening I worked

OZ6OL JO65dj 878 km

SM7DTT JO65lj 923 km

SM7NR JO76rc 1091 km

And on the morning of 9th

SM7NR JO76 again with minimal activity from UK.

On 70 cms with one watt SSB from an FT790R I worked on the morning of 9th:

OZ9FW JO65co 882 km

And in the UKAC 70 cms contest in the evening of 9th with one watt:

SK7MW JO65mj 923 km

OV2T JO46qh 774 km

The opening seemed very localised. There was not much good propagation in between, at least as far as my location in Hockley, Essex was concerned. However, good results can be had with a modest station. I am hoping to have a bit more power soon.

 

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New antennas and activity

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View from the front of the house

After the trials and tribulations getting planning permission for my mast, and several setbacks since then I have finally got the antennas up and certainly working, at least on 2 metres and 70 centimetres. I have not yet fired up the transverter for 23 cms (I hope it still works after all these years), but I am operational on the two lower bands.

So how is the receive set-up? On 2 metres I can hear the Belgian beacon ON0VHF on 144.418MHz consistently just above the noise, but at least as well with my 7 element yagi as the Hockley shop down the road used to with their 20 elements. This is in flat conditions, even poor. I have a GaAs FET preamplifier for 2 metres and am using Ecoflex 15 feeder, but to my ears the readability is not improved by the preamp, which says a lot for the “front end” of the old FT290R I am using as the main transceiver for the moment.

Much to my surprise I can also hear ON0VHF above the noise on 70 centimetres using my 2 metres rig’s stablemate, an FT790R, also dating from the early Eighties.

Currently I have 25 watts on 144 MHz and have got into Lincolnshire with 1 watt on 70 centimetres, a distance of about 87 miles in flat conditions, and my report was 57.

There is a lot to come, especially when conditions may be more favourable.

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7 element LFA yagi for 2 metres, 13 element LFA yagi for 70 centimetres and 23 element Tonna for 23 centimetres.

The problem with LED light bulbs

I had read something to do with electromagnetic interference from LED bulbs in one of the radio magazines but had not given it too much thought. I am in the process of setting up my station and will operate primarily from 144 MHz up, at least initially. My radio room is upstairs in our small house.

I do not have equipment for measuring radio noise. One generally accepts what we have and without specialist gear it is hard to know what the noise floor is on any particular rig. However, the other evening, while I was listening in my vertical collinear with my FT290R in SSB mode, my wife switched on the bathroom lights, and immediately the hiss or hash increased, which would have drowned out a weak signal had I been listening to one.

The bathroom lighting consists of two LED spotlight bulbs. Further experimentation has caused me to realise that there is also an issue with the LED bulb in the radio room.

Naturally I have looked at what alternative might be available. Currently we can still buy halogen bulbs in the UK, but according to the local shop sales person and as apparently confirmed elsewhere, from September 2018 we will not be able to obtain other types than LED.

There is no doubt there is an issue in the general consumer market with interference to DAB radios

My local issue seems mainly to affect 144 MHz with little noticeable interference at 432 MHz, and although I have not looked at every amateur band, in my case there is not any perceivable hash as low as 3.5 MHz, but of course there my noise level is typically S7 anyway.

More on this issue can be found here and it is well worth watching the video by DL9KCE who shows that even a bulb made by a well-known European manufacturer causes a problem at 144 MHz.

We need to launch a campaign although it seems we may be overwhelmed by an inexorable tide to LEDs. What will become of 2 metres weak signal work in an urban environment?

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.

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.