These are some of my adventures in my Amateur Radio Career. I'l cover all kinds of topics within the HAM Radio field. Some topics may be : Antennas, APRS, Digital Modes, HF, DX, VHF, UHF, Repeaters, SDR, Arduino, and many others.
What a great night last night for some quick DX on 20M. Today is Canada Day, and with that comes the Radio Amateur's of Canada and their contest. Along with a special event station for World Cup 2014 out of Brazil, I worked 20 or so Canadian operators in the matter of about 60 minutes. What a lot of fun. I think I'll be sending my logs in.
This month I participated in the Midstate Amateur Radio Club (www.midstatehams.org) Field Day event at the Johnson County Emergency Operations Center. KB9BVN and I were selected to help with food, and took care of grilling some hot dogs throughout the night for the hungry hordes of amateur operators we had funnel in and out of the station throughout the event. I also have been coordinating a MARC sponsored Tech to General Upgrade Class. Due to a low number of signups, we have postponed this class from June to September. The class will be held on Wednesdays in September and October at the White River Township Fire Department, #51 on Olive Branch Road in Greenwood Indiana. Signups will be available on the MARC website, or on my blog at http://n9awm.blogspot.com.
This year's field day activities varied quite a bit from the original plan. I had planned on playing radio with a couple of other HAMS at a local park, utilizing my trailer, and a couple of our ten-tec radios. Due to some issues with the park space, we were forced to scrap those plans. Without any place to put the camper, we joined up with the local ARC group's Field day at the Johnson County Emergency Operations Center.
Field Day had to take a delayed start for me, as I had some baseball league trophies to hand out, and a couple of pies to take in the face. See below.
N9AWM taking a pie in the face!
The kids had a great season, and for the first time in a few years, we actually had some great weather on closing day! The kids had a great time getting to pie me in the face, jump in bounce houses, as well as having their faces painted and caricatures drawn.
But once that was over, it was time to head down to the EOC. My dad (KB9BVN) and I were elected the chef's for the event, so a quick run to the store was in order. We picked up enough hot dogs and chips to feed a small army of field day amateur radio operators.
With gas grill in hand, and all the provisions, we made way to the WA9RDF station setup at the Johnson County Emergency Operations Center located at the Sheriff's department. The group had 4 stations up and running on the air, setting us up as a "4F Indiana" exchange. On the air we had had a TenTec Scout, an Icom 710 and 718, and a Yaesu 857. Throughout the night and next day we had close to 30 amateur radio operators as well as other visitors to our station. All together I believe we landed close to 250 or so QSOs, and I think I logged about 25 of them myself. It was a great time this year, and the first time that I had ever done field day with the club.
My daughter getting some air time on field day.
Here one of my kiddos got a chance to warm up the microphone. Not only did she bring in a couple of Field Day QSOs, she had a great time, and now wants to get her Ham license just like her mom and dad!
My wife also got a chance to work out on her first ARRL Field Day event, and got a real taste of high stakes contesting! Since passing her ham exam, she's had several repeater based VHF QSOs, but has really enjoyed listening to HF with me on my QTH radio, a Ten Tec Jupiter. Upon putting the cans on during field day, she was blown away by the number of concurrent QSOs. ARRL Field Day 2014 will go down in my log as one of my favorite, as the whole family was involved, and got a chance to make several QSOs during the contest period. Special thanks to the Midstate Amateur Radio Club for having such a fine station available to its members.
I had my very first few DX contacts this weekend on my Ten-Tec Jupiter and Eagle One HF Vertical. I have to say, that it was AWESOME. I've had the radio and antenna setup in its current configuration for the past 3 weeks or so, and not really even heard many DX stations. I've worked quite a bit of the ARRL Centennial QSO party, and been having a lot of fun with that. But last night around 9:30pm EDT, I started to hear quite a few DX stations on 20m.
It all started with VV2CSI out of INDIA! I couldn't believe that I could hear someone on the opposite side of the earth from me on my system. I listened to him have a few QSOs, and then I decided to jump in. I threw out my call at his next QRZ, and WALA! He picked me out of the pileup, and gave me a 57 signal report out of India! Not bad, for my first ever DX station.
After that, I tooled around the band for a bit, and watched the cluster reports from DXspots.com. If you haven't checked out dxspots.com, you have to. It's invaluable information on band conditions, and what's being logged where. Anyways, I worked the band for another 30 minutes. In that time frame I worked Serbia, Finland, and Russia. I was also in a pile up for a station in the Azores, but I never seamed to make it through. All in all, what a great weekend of radio, and my first true DX work. I couldn't believe it.
All of my DX contacts this weekend were on 75 watts of SSB power on 20 meters.
It's been a few weeks since I have had time to put a post out, for that I apologize. It's baseball season, and with that small fact, my time to do anything other than coaching, or umpiring vaporizes.
However, even with the baseball, I've still had a chance to move the construction of my QTH - HF station forward. As a quick review, I started out with a Kenwood TS-520S. I mighty fine tube driven hybrid radio. However, in my trip home from Dayton, I found a steal on eBay, and picked up a new to me TenTec Model #538 Jupiter. Wow, what a radio. I'll be doing a write up on it, sometime this summer. So I have the radio. I picked up a free power supply from my buddy W9ILF, a decent RadioShack 25A switching job. It so far has been doing the job fairly well. I have an MFJ Versa Tuner 2 to do the antenna tuning.
So with all that said, the final piece de resistance is an antenna. This is another area where I had made an early decision to get an Alpha Delta - DX-CC that I would just hang up in the attic, similar to how my dad's station works. This just never came to fruition. I ordered the antenna, and I still have it. In the bag, all nice and shiny, but no place to go. The attic is a hostile world of high temperatures, and over flowing with insulation. I just could never bring myself to go up there and give the antenna a proper hanging.
With that on my mind, I began polling the local amateur radio community, and was overwhelmingly pushed to a vertical, given my HOA restrictions. One vertical that kept coming up in conversation was the "Eagle One HF Vertical Antenna". This antenna is built by a HAM and his wife over in Ohio. I checked out their web page, which was pretty simple but focused. I ordered one. I figured I'll sell the AD, or maybe use it on field days, or when NVIS may tickle my fancy. I ordered the complete kit. It included the antenna, a tripod, and a mounting pole. It also included 3 rather long copper grounding rods.
I installed the tripod out in the back of our home, and put in the ground rods. I only had time to attach a single 34 foot counterpoise, and hooked up my RG-8X coax between the tuner and the antenna. When hooking up the counterpoise, I ran a peice of 14awg grounding wire of about 2 foot in length, over to an aluminum grounding block. I then ran my counterpoise, and future radials from the grounding block. I have also thought about running a grounding braid over to the tripod itself, just to ensure that it was participating as well.
In a few hours time, I had racked up several QSOs. Most of them on 40m, and most of them in the eastern US. I did hear quite a few DX stations, but I just wasn't making it through the pileups with just the single counterpoise. Over the next few weeks, I hope to get the number of radials up to around 24 of the 34' length. When running the radials, I also used some landscaping staples from Lowe's to secure the radial to the ground. This should keep them from getting caught up in the lawn mower.
If you are looking for an HF Vertical Antenna, I highly recommend the Eagle One.
Like I said, since going to the TenTec factory in Sevierville, TN, I have wanted to own one. I've spent months combing through ebay every couple of days looking for that deal. Each time I'd have an Argosy II, or Jupiter at a reasonable price. And then, it would happen. I'd lose the auction in the final five seconds.
Well, over hamvention weekend, I guess not too many folks were watching eBay, or maybe just not as many. I was able to land a great deal on a TenTec 538 Juniper. It came with the external hand mic, the external speaker, and a radio in near mint condition. I'll do an unboxing video, and maybe some video tonight and post it back here on the blog.
Finally. I'm so close to being on the HF airwaves I can taste it.
Woohoo! Heading to Dayton on Saturday. Its going to be an adventure. I've never been to the Hamvention before despite being a ham for 15 years, and living only 3 hours away. I don't know why now, I'm finally getting a chance to go.
I'll be running my APRS beacon in KB9BVN's vehicle the whole day. That can be tracked via the web on the APRS.FI website.
So, here are my open projects / shopping list
1.) Digipeater for APRS to run at the house. I have a couple of 2M radios, and some arduino's laying around. Surely there is a way to make this work. I'll be digging around for ideas and parts.
2.) Another 2M antenna for the house. Maybe a beam or something cool.
3.) Radial Wire for my Eagle One
4.) Ladder Line for making some slim jim 2M jpoles as a Boy Scout Radio project
5.) All the various connectors and PL259 connectors I can get my hands on.
6.) Maybe a newer HF radio if the opportunity presents itself.
But before we get to that, a little regression. In the months after getting home from Ten-Tec, I've wanted one so badly that I could taste it. I probably pulled up the Ten Tec website at least a hundred times! But alas, being a father of six, I just don't have the money to splurge on a new Argonaut or Omni. So I turned to eBay. For months, I searched for any new listings. I was looking for anything HF that did SSB. I started to narrow my search down to Argosy II's, Jupiters, and older Omnis. But each time I thought I had one on the hook, WHAMMO, I'd get sniped, and lose it in the final seconds.
Fast forward to March 2014. I had all but abandoned my quest to get an HF rig up and working at my house, when something great happened. I'm a member of the Midstate Amateur Radio Club here in Central Indiana. One of the great benefits of being a member of an ARRL based Club came shining through. Someone had donated several radios to the club to sell. When they offered a Kenwood TS-520S of unknown condition at $75, I jumped at the chance. $75, that price couldn't be beat. I thought that even if it didn't work at all, I'm sure some of the parts would hold some kind of resale value.
So I go back in the radio room and check it out. There it is, all wrapped up in its original packaging. The cardboard was pretty old, and needed trashed, but the radio itself was in almost immaculate condition for being close to 40 years old. I leave the meeting, and rush my new found radio to KB9BVN's house to fire up and check out. Wow, this radio was heavy. I pulled it from the packaging and set it up on the bench. Hmm.... something is missing. The radio didn't come with an AC power cord, and my DC power supply at 10A, was nowhere near powerful enough to get the tubes going.
So, after some talking with local HAMs that are knowledgable about the radio, I found a new power cord on eBay. I would have tried to make one myself, but the cord had an adapter on it that was like 12 pins, and did some interconnect in the back of the radio as well as supplying the power.
With that power cord, I only needed one more thing for SSB operation: a microphone. I began to search high and low, watching ebay, reading eham reviews, all kinds of searching. I was coming up empty for something that was either affordable and known good, or a nicer mic with known issues. Well, luckily participating in the local HAM community saved me again. I am also a member of the local BSA HAM group, WD9BSA. The station had an old Electra Voice that was hooked up to a Kenwood TS-530. They were willing to loan me the microphone for test purposes, or until I can get one of my own worked out.
Well, the perfect storm of timing finally came together on May 10, 2014 around 11:00pm UTC. Hooking the radio up to KB9BVN's TenTec tuner, and his attic dipole, I began to turn the dial. My first contact on the radio was a station in northern Texas on 20 meters. I picked up a 599 signal report, and boom the night started! Over the next two hours I made 14 more contacts with stations up and down the east coast, Ontario, and Wisconsin on 40 meters. It was a blast.
In the next part I will move the TS-520s over to my home, and get it rigged up with the MFJ Versa Tuner II I bought, and an Eagle One Vertical Antenna. I can't wait to get it fired up.
Usually when I start to explain APRS to someone, the first thing out of their mouths is: "Why would you want to do that?"
It's a fair question. Why would someone want to put out a beacon giving information like their GPS coordinates, speed, and elevation? Or why would you want to send a text message to another APRS radio? Why would I want to do any of that with a radio, when my trusty iPhone is so capable. For me, I have lots of reasons.
One, I don't want to depend on my smart phone for everything. It's too dependent on things that are way outside of my control to operate in any kind of emergency or distressed event. Two, I just like playing with Radio, and figuring out all the different modes and things I can do with it.
I didn't want to spend a ton of money on APRS, and really have no interest in being able to text people via the service. My main goal was to put up an APRS radio beacon, that my kids at home could then track on http://aprs.fi, and see where their dad's work travels were taking him that day, or how close to home I was.
With the small scope of what I wanted to do, I could have just used an iPhone app called OpenAPRS if I wanted, but to me that's cheating. It had to be a signal transmitted on 144.39 to count. So I went with the MicroTrak - All in one from Byonics. That unit puts out a beacon every 2 minutes, and has a 2m transmitter putting out 10w. It also comes in an excellent pelican case that is shock-proof, water-proof, etc. I have that transmitter hooked up to a 1/4 wave mag mount antenna on top of my truck. The system works very well. Usually enough of my beacons get picked up in the rush hour traffic that my travel lines make sense.
My next foray into APRS I think will include putting together an arduino powered iGate. More on that later.
Last October, my family and I took a great vacation down to Gatlinburg, TN. The Gatlinburg area is home to many fine things: Pancake Houses, Candy Makers, Wineries, Mountain Music, Dixie Stampede, Smoky Mountains National Park, and fantastic views. The family had rented a nice cabin up on the mountain just south of the main drag in town. It was excellent. One of the other fine things that calls the area home is TenTec. TenTec produces some very popular and well built radios for the Amateur Radio community. I had never really seen much of their stuff outside of an antenna tuner my dad had (KB9BVN), but upon booking the trip, he insisted that we make the visit over to their headquarters. With the entire family in tow, spread across two SUVs, we made the journey to Sevierville, TN. Wow. What a place. Compared to the massive warehouses that I have become accustomed to over the years, the place wasn't very big. But, Wow, did they have some cool stuff. After about an hour inside, and playing on their open to the public station, I had caught the bug. The HF bug. I had to get on HF. At the time I was only a General. I know that I could get on HF with that license, but I'd always be worried about tracking what parts of the bands I was allowed to operate on, and where all the action was. So about 30 days after the trip, I tested and passed my Extra Class Exam.
Since then I have been on a mission. A mission to get on HF at my QTH. All I've ever really done involved VHF/UHF from my vehicles and home. HF is a totally different animal, requiring gear that I've not had much exposure to as of yet.
I'd need a few new pieces of kit:
1.) An HF Radio
2.) An HF Antenna System - There are so many options here. I'm leaning towards a dipole or Vertical to keep the HOA happy.
3.) Possibly an antenna tuner
4.) Nice to Have - Antenna Analyzer
5.) Coax Feed line
I'll document the rest of the adventure later in this series. Thanks for reading!