Tuesday, 31 December 2013

QRP DXCC Count 2013

I know the year is not quite over yet, so things may change a little, but I have been working out some stats on this years operating at the M0TEF station.

This year I have worked 79 DXCC entities, 44 of them worked at 5w or below. That makes 56% of my countries count over the last year have been made by using QRP. In reality though I worked several countries several times on different bands all at QRP or QRPp power levels. My best DX was working VY2TT on 10m with 500mW SSB. This effort has come from very casual operating and a relaxed style using the radio every now and again to make the score. I wonder what could be done with a really solid effort and schedule of operation, let alone better wire antennas with decent gain.

I had a quick total up of my points based on our unofficial QRP challenge. I have a grand total of 81 points and at this stage Keith G0RQQ has 94, I have been beaten because there is no way I can get that many extra points in one day with less than great conditions. I am not sure about Tim M6ZRT's score but I am pleased to see how well I have done with such low power. I put Keith's success down to his contacts made with 500mw for a 4 point score. Keith managed 35 out of 67 DXCC entities at QRP making his a 52% QRP effort. I think he has clearly won it on the bonus for lower power operation. I need to do more like Keith and work more at 500mw next time. Here goes with a slightly premature well done Keith as we wait and see what Tim has come up with.

Happy New Year, good DX and good QRP efforts. If you make one resolution let it be to listen out for those quiet stations, it might just be us QRP ops calling.

73 DE M0TEF ES HNY  .  .

Friday, 27 December 2013

Busy times and a Christmas break.

It has been a while since I have had the time or the enthusiasm left to post to my blog. There is something that happens in education as things enter the autumn time. I have been flat out with my day job of preparing lectures, marking assignments and general administration duties. This has left me with little energy to play radio, let alone any QRP activity.

The good news though is that working in education allows me a decent sized break over the Christmas period. The first thing I have done is to modify the shack slightly So that I only have the FT-847 on the bench for the time being. I have to get the FT-1000MP Mark V repaired for a minor relay fault on the band pass filters and I should make sure it gets done really. I am enjoying the simple operation of this radio and basic layout to my shack. I have at the most 100w and two antennas at present and it is working well when I get the chance to play. Most of the time the FT-847 is dialled up to just 2w output power.

Today is the first real chance I have had to turn on the radio for any amount of time following the mayhem of having a small family at Christmas time. Today I wanted to see if I could work anything extra on QRP to add to my total before the end of the year for the QRP challenge with M6ZRT and G0RQQ. I must sit down and work out my score, I have a feeling it will take me some time to check my logs though. (See the post on the QRP challenge.)

I have just completed a QRP SSB QSO with K0TT on 10m at 5w and it reminded me I really must add to the blog. Denny was a decent signal here, he was 59 peaking 59+10db but he was using a 5 element monobander with 800w. He gave me a 52 report but said i was perfectly readable and managed to break through a small number of europeans calling him at the time. It seems my little station is once again proving itself and providing me with the enjoyment that QRP radio seems to do.

I must make a small confession though and say I still have the Drake TR-7 under the desk and can connect this to the antennas easily. It isn't really part of the QRP shack but I like to use it on the low bands and this time of year that seems to be the band of choice once I am home from a busy day. As you may recall the Drake is not QRP but I have managed to have some interesting QSOs at a mediocre power level and have not had to result to putting the PA back in the shack. I have noticed though that the Drake has a RX that beats all of my more modern radios for listening on 160-30m, there is something very special about the way this radio works considering its 1979 vintage.

The next mission for me... I must get my CW going again and work hard to get on the air with it before I go back to work in the new year.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Time for a change... and the amplifier gets kicked out.

Today was that day we all have to go through but all put off as much as possible. The dreaded shack clear up, it had to happen and today was as good as any other day. Of course before I did anything I worked a station in Oman on 10m FM A41LD/ND, Waleed, oddly he was calling CQ but had no takers, it as nice to have a decent QSO with a DX station without having a 59 - 73 type QSO and moving on.

I started my shack clearing work by taking everything off the bench and emptying the small computer desk I use and then slowly built the whole thing back up, once it was done I noticed that the bands seemed to be poor despite them being much better before I did anything. It turns out I had some losses somewhere from a combination of switches and patch leads. I undid the whole thing thought up a new plan and started again.

Thankfully now it all works well and to test it I had a nice QSO with K8NY ( Bob) on 12m using the Drake TR-7 and Butternut HF-9V. The new setup has the Drake set up permanently in line with antennas and microphones and connected to its own power supply and ATU/antenna switch. The most important thing about this move is that the Drake takes up the space where the linear amplifier once sat. Yep, I finally did it and took the linear away ready to sell it.

While in QSO with Bob, K8NY, I mentioned my boredom with high power and easy QSOs, he said he had been thinking the same and although he has an amazing setup he finds no thrill in using it like he does to use his old radio into a G5RV antenna on 80m CW. We talked about QRP and simple setups for a while and I left the QSO challenging him to work some DX on 500mw from his FT-817 for a real buzz in radio, Bob said he may just take me up on the challenge.

The images below show the linear free shack ready to work some interesting stations, This is a very small and simple shack space, I hope that what I have keeps me happy because unless I buy a much bigger house or build on a extension this is going to be it for some time.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Firing up the Drake TR-7 and training new amateurs

This morning I have visited the Lincoln Short Wave Club shack at Aisthorpe in the hope of infecting a few of the members with the QRP virus, sadly the shack was in use to check a repaired linear amplifier. No luck there to convert them to QRP then.

I got talking with Mark M0ZLE about his training sessions planned to get some trainees on the air for the practical part of their exams. I offered to make sure I could monitor their activity to call in should they struggle for contacts, as it was they created their own mini pile up of short contacts wishing the well with exams and encouraging their progress. I had a chance to discuss with them that low power can work. Here in the UK foundation licensees are restricted to 10w PEP and sometimes don't see that it can work as well as it does.

I had decided this weekend would be a chance to catch up playing some radio and relaxing from the stresses of everyday work. So far it is a success. Part of that was to fire up the Drake TR-7 for a longer test period after realigning it a few weeks ago. I got a report suggesting the audio was a little on the low side so I set about setting it up correctly, so far it seems much better now.

I am hopeful that I can squeeze in a few QRP contacts today but while I am testing the radio a little more I am on VHF waiting to assist the trainees again. With some luck and effort I hope to be posting a great success story about another good QRP contact, or if very lucky several.

For now the Drake running barefoot will have to satisfy the radio requirements. QRP activities to follow.

Monday, 4 November 2013

RF problems - The cure... QRP

I have had a rather boring weekend stuck mostly at home feeling sorry for myself since my youngest daughter passed me her cold. I did however get a chance to enjoy some time playing radio.

I worked EA3EVL on sunday morning on 12m using 2w. When I exchanged my conditions and power output details with Pablo I was met with a comment of very fine business with 2w QRP for a 59+10 report. Now I wish I had got around to building the attenuators I have been looking at plans for. I am sure I could quite easily have worked him with 100mW or maybe even less.

My Sunday afternoon however was spent fault finding for RF problems at the shack of M0SIY, Simon is not really a huge fan of QRP and likes the dials turned full right most of the time. (Although I have seen him work several occasions QRP and, dare I say it, have fun.) Simon has a new installation at his place and we were trying to get something set up to reduce RF problems for him, we almost got there but his current setup seems delicate on 80m when there is more than 10w of power used. The good news was we did get him working on 40m and up ok using his (new to him) Tentec Orion - A nice radio but one that is large enough to require its own dedicated shack.

On the way home I received a message from Keith G0RQQ who asked if I would be able to do some on air tests to help him fault find distorted audio. To keep things short we found it... Keith had only gone and turned the power up above 5w! His indoor loop antenna was a little close to his radio - Another RF problem was on the cards. I will let him off because he was trying to work back into the area of Canada where he lived for so long.

It left me thinking after talking to Keith for a while about some of the advantages of QRP. It really seems that although it may be some recent good band conditions the low power doesn't seem to get in the way of making contacts. IT certainly never stopped me as a foundation licensee when all I had was the FT-817 and 5w max.

In addition and unexpected bill has made me consider the rehoming of my linear amplifier even more so, it has only been turned on once in the last 12 months, I think that means I don't really need it. If I actually get my CW skills honed to a competent level I can even take advantage of a better mode for QRP.

Final QRP thoughts, I am on a mission to get M0SIY to do some QRP even if it kills me trying. I managed to get Bob G7AVU working some QRP and with some good successes too. Go on Bob join us in the competition when we start it again in January.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

QRPp Contesting, 500mw amazement.

I have been working a few stations this evening in the CQWW SSB contest, I have made my station basic and low power on purpose, it is all about the QRP challenge this year and my setup reflect the rewards that basic operating can give. 

I have worked the following stations already with 500mw SSB using the butternut HF9V antenna and patience. Of course it's a standard 59 report being in contest, a shame really that I didn't get a true report from the other side of the QSO. 

DF0HQ on 80m
DF0HQ on 40m
K1BX on 10m
VY2TT on 10m 
RL3A on 15m
RN3F on 20m

The mission is to see if I can match Keith's (G0RQQ) 7 band 1000miles per watt award but over a weekend, I'm not far off. I may sneak onto 160m later or wait until morning for 12/17m although I have already got one qso for 1000miles per watt on 12m from a couple of weeks ago with an EA8 station. 

Keith has had a run if success on 10m with five 500mw contacts across the Atlantic. Hopefully more QRP DX will follow for us both. 

Below is a picture of the basic station a it stands this evening. You may start to notice I am forever shifting my radios to allow for work and experimenting. 

Modifying the FT-1000MP mark V Noise Blanker

I have been reading that the noise blanket mod for the FT-1000mp mrk V helps to improve the rx performance. I spent some time taking the radio apart to find the mod had already been done but after checking the resistor used with the DVM it was not quite the value recomended. I swapped it for a new 220 ohm resistor and put the radio back together. 

The verdict...
I always wondered why my radio performed better under contest conditions than the identical radios with the same filters at the radio club, now I know. 
Did the resistor swap I did help? Yes, a small but noticeable improvement especially when listening to weak CW near strong signals. 

Happy :)

Thursday, 24 October 2013

QRP super low power awards and achievement

Keith G0RQQ has contacted me today to let me know how he is getting on with the QRP challenge, he has taken to trying to work everyone with 500mw SSB on all bands possible.
So far he has managed to work: -

Austria, Belarus, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, England, Finland, Germany, Gran Canaria, Italy (on both HF and 6m), Portugal, Russia, Sicily, Slovenia, Spain, Ukraine. 

All these with just 500mw of SSB power into a roughly 20m horizontal loop in the attic.

The other part of the news was that Keith has gained an award for what he has achieved. He now has a 7-band 1000 Miles per watt award from the QRP Amateur Radio Club Inc (QRP-ARCI.) The bad news is there is a delay in the award, the reason... Keith is only the second person ever to claim the award and the only one person to manage it using just SSB. Keith is now aiming to complete the feat on more bands and see if there is a the chance of creating a higher number of bands award.

Of course the total list of countries are many more when you add the 1w, 2.5w and 5w contacts to the list. Remember that the list above is just since January 2013 with causal operating.

Well done Keith... Please slow down so I can catch up on the challenge.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

QRP, Camping and lots of rain.

I haven't posted for a few days because I took a few days out to go camping, to enjoy the outdoors and reset my brain after a first term of chaos at the college I work at.

I met my brother at Robin Hood's Bay in North Yorkshire to take a few days off. I am trying my best to get him licensed for Amateur radio, so far he hasn't given in but I will be delivering an Old FT-101 that has no output but still an active RX. I hope he can start to listen and pick up the bug.

First off the weather was awful, it rained on and off for most of our stay with the exception of a few hours of nice weather in between. The tent, Jetboil stove and radio provided the entertainment when the weather was not good enough to get out walking comfortably. 

I planned to take my ft-847 and large battery with me but changed my mind last minute to take only the ft-817 and QRP kit only. I took my portable vertical antenna and my HF 9-band multiranger antenna. I had very little luck with the vertical but more with the mobile whip. I think this was down to the radials I had made up for the vertical, I really need more tuned radials and to get the whole thing elevated. 

The best results for me came on 10m working into Turkey and Romania on 2.5w with the mobile whip on the car.

The real shock was what could be heard on 40m late into the evening. I was hearing lots of JA stations booming in, this is not a thing I am used to hearing and wished I had my larger Butternut vertical and one of my other radios to take advantage of the cliff side location looking out over the sea.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Making an OK radio a great radio

Some time ago I treated myself to a Yaesu FT-847, I wanted a radio I could use on the higher bands and it had the option to use 4m (Although I am still waiting to experiment with this band.)
Everywhere I read about the radio, the comments made it out to be a poor performer on HF, although I wanted the radio for higher bands it seemed a decent backup option for HF and portable operation too. It even had the option to turn the power down as low as 2w.

I set about finding out how I could improve the performance of the radio, and among all of the mods out there the easiest one to do that would not impact on an otherwise mint condition radio was the mod to add INRAD filters to the unit. When I first got the radio I was planning a visit to the Isle of North Uist in the Outer Hebredies and decided to take the radio with me to see how it would perform in a low noise environment. While I was there I spoke to a fellow amateur on 40m who had the same radio but with the filters installed. He gave me glowing reports about huge improvements in the performance of the RX once added.

I have already experienced adding extra INRAD filters to the FT-817 and liked the results it produced. I opted for the 2.1kHz crystal filter to see if it would improve things. It took some time to get the filter due to a mix up with shipping but it did turn up several weeks later, might I add with excellent customer service to sort out any problems.

I installed the filter in the radio on the RX path and using the coax jumpers installed it in the location suggested in the instructions. (See the image for exact location) All I can say is wow, what a difference! I am now able to tune across the bands and notice less noise, more separation between the signals and hear more on busy bands like 40m and with a marked improvement in the ability to read weaker signals near the noise floor. I expected a small improvement but not quite what came.

I have done side by side comparisons with my FT-1000MP MrkV and have found that in a contest there are occasions when the 847 hears better than the 1000 with both 2.0kHz filters in the RX. I will have to get some videos put up on Youtube of the radios in a large contest on 40m.

The next step for me was to consider if I am to be serious about working on CW and QRP. It made sense that I needed to make sure I added the 300Hz CW filter too. This time I opted for the mechanical filter to save a few pounds, after all this is only my backup radio.

So after all the effort and considerable expenditure I now have a half decent performing FT-847 on HF and on CW. I really like the small footprint and simplicity to flip from band to band on a radio that can go as low as 2W QRP.

Next time you think about spending lots on a new radio think about how much you may be able to improve the one you have with a much smaller price tag, but when it comes to it we also all like new toys. Until I can save enough for a KX3 or even a K3 I will have to do with what I have.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

A quiet week on the radio

This time of year my day job takes over as the first term gets fully underway at my college. I like to squeeze in time to unwind and play some radio but it doesn't always work out thy way. 
I did get to spend a short time doing radio related activities though. 

On Tuesday evening I joined Tim M6ZRT and Keith G0RQQ for some activity on 70cm for the UKAC contest. There were quite a few local contacts and after I left some of more distance. This always happened when I leave the portable site. They were using an Elk antenna with 10w from the FT-857 to work stations all over the UK. 

After heading home I received a text message asking for assistance. It seems Tim had forgotten to run the engine occasionally and had a flat battery. I had to nip back out to te remote location with a spare battery and jump leads. I hope I don't make the same error in the future. Perhaps I should always operate from an alternative to the car's battery. Still a fun evening and some interesting stations worked from a very basic setup in IO93RH. 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

A new one for me QRP

A short note about today's QRP contact. I was using the ft-1000 tuned down to just below 2w when I worked EA9IB on 12m SSB. He was shocked to hear my power when he gave me a 5/8 report and complimented my QRP efforts. Of course in terms of the QRP challenge with G0RQQ & M6ZRT it is more points in the bag. 

Try working a quiet band, you may be surprised with the results.

Last night I had been using the Drake TR-7 again on the bands and decided to try calling CQ on 17m SSB. The band was empty but a few spots existed on the cluster from some big station in Europe. I was surprised to be calling CQ for only a moment when K7PN came back to the call from California. I wish I had been on a radio that allowed me to turn down the power for QRP.

Being quite pleased I carried on and was called by a few other stations and the weak spot in the Drake was easily seen, the lack of a preamp made some of the signals too weak on the vertical antenna, it was quite clear I was transmitting enough but the Drake could just not keep up. I may have to check over its alignment again.

This led me to start altering around the shack again to allow me to get the Drake on the test bench to get it aligned up. For the time being I pressed the FT-1000MP Mark V back into service and sat the FT-847 up on top of it. I forgot how wonderful the RX on the FT-1000 can be and it can be turned down very low on output power. I will have a play with it over the next few days until I have some of that precious spare time to spend a few hours on the Drake with all the test gear set up.

In other news I still had no need to use the amplifier even for some substantial DX with a vertical ground mounted antenna.

Friday, 27 September 2013

A great evening for radio

This evening I felt the need to put out a cq on 40m I had brief qso with M0OTT followed by a lengthy conversation with G4ALH. Rob called me after I mentioned the Drake TR-7 I was using. Rob is a fan of the Drake radios and had a few pointers and a bit of advice for keeping the old machine in good order and on frequency. It was a pleasure to have a lengthy chat on 40m with Rob about radios, QRP and a shared interest in a glass of wine on a Friday evening hihi. Rob also has a FT-817 and encouraged my ventures into CW which are evolving... Slowly. 
Tomorrow I have a plan to visit the National Hamfest where my club run the event. Sadly my day job does not allow me time off for the set up or Friday and my Doctor has insisted I do not do anything strenuous. This year I will visit and take photographs to be published in the amateur radio publications we so often see. 
I will look for interesting things to add to the blog at the show. 
--... ...--

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Fun with the Drake TR-7 and sadly no QRP

Another evening on the bands for me while my wife watches some TV and a few contacts on 40m two of which were SQ9OUB and IV3WTJ.

I have left QRP alone this evening.... Why? I have been demonstrating my station to a fellow Ham using the Drake TR-7 and I had the antenna connected to that radio. Some of you may be aware that there is no power output adjustment for that radio on SSB aside altering the ALC circuit. It is a wonderful radio that was given to me by the family of the late Sid, G4CTQ/ET3SID SK (among other amazing DX calls). I like to be able to use the old radio, have fun and remember a good friend at the same time. It is not QRP but then Sid was not one for keeping the power low when calling CQ. I guess having been DX for most of his life travelling around the world then he needed to be heard to make an impact on the air.

When I was given the radio I spent some time servicing it and getting it back to where it should be and discovered that the serial number made the radio the exact same age as myself give or take a month. Ok so QRP gets set aside for the evening but I do get fond memories of a friend, make contacts and most importantly enjoy my hobby. There was still no need for the amp though. :)

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Great day for QRP and a bit more power.

I sometimes wonder why it can be so easy to work a station when QRP while, at the same time, low power can be like a huge brick wall in the way of any contacts. 
A few days ago I mentioned the importance of patience when working QRP. Today I took my own advice and stuck with it. I struggled to work very much at all for most of the day but didn't give up. 

We had a BBQ lunch catching the last fine day of summer (well I expect it will be.) We returned home, I turned on the radio and started to work my way through a few stations. I started on 12m and had to turn up the power. N2UJN could not quite hear my 2w but did confirm he heard someone calling. I tuned the power up to allow us a short chat and explain the QRP challenge with my friends. The good news is I answered my own question about the amplifier. It is definitely not required, 100w was enough to work DX. 

I moved on from QRO to work ON/PA5Z/P on 40m SSB with 2w, R1AN on 20m SSB with 2w, JW9JKA on 20m SSB with 2w but did have to crank it up to a full 5w to work CU7MD in the Azores on 12m SSB. 

All in all a good day for some casual contacts even if I did have to use 100w for one, but, the spirit of amateur radio was there even so. 

Finally today I had a huge breakthrough before going QRT for the evening. I popped the radio on to 30m and caught some nice slow morse. Not too slow, but I got it. I actually copied most of what was being sent. The challenge is on for me now to be brave enough to reply to a CQ, at the right speed, and have a basic exchange. I know that if I can do this well with SSB, I can certainly do well with CW. 

Try turning the power down, it might just surprise you. 

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Hamlog App and the forgotten contacts

I have just been sitting down to try and work some stations on the bedside radio and realised the iPad and laptop were downstairs. I normally log using Apple kit and use the RumLog software and the iPad App too and share the log using Dropbox. Instead I turned to my iphone and recalled that I have the Hamlog App for portable operations.

On opening the App I discovered that I have a run of contacts I had forgotten to export to my main log, all of them are QRP and most count towards the unofficial challenge with G0RQQ and M6ZRT. Maybe I am not so far behind and I had no recollection of working Cyprus with 2w but it is in the log. I am glad that this technology exists and will be exporting the log and adding it to RumLog later today and then maybe have a look at my points gained this year to see where I fit in the game. 

Do I need the amplifier?

After a discussion last night and a few beers with G0RQQ and M6ZRT I began to question if I really need to own my amplifier. These are expensive toys and even more expensive when they are hardly used. So far my contacts using it are so few and far between it would be fair to say it has perhaps cost me £25-50 per contact when you divide the purchase price over the contacts made using it.

I thought I always wanted or needed a decent amplifier, as it turns out it might not really make that much difference to my radio hobby after all and may just be a very expensive thing to have sat there doing nothing. Sure I know there is a place for higher power in the hobby but my question is do I personally need it. It can help with contacts, but I never feel a sense of achievement when I have used it like when using 100w or even on QRP.

Conditions have been good recently and the one thing that makes me think twice is that conditions will drop off again soon, but then when they were low before for a long time I only had a FT-817 and 5w maximum power. Did I have fun with that radio? Sure I did and I enjoyed the feeling of achievement that came from every QSO no matter how near or far.

What do you think? Is there a need for an amplifier? Comments welcome.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

A slow evening for QRP

I must have ruined my chances with all of the good luck at the weekend. I have struggled to work two stations this evening. I have worked TM35CDXC on 40m SSB using 2W and SV130PAP 20m SSB having to crank things up to a full 5w after struggling with 2W.

There was lots of DX calling even Brazil on 10m at times but sadly none of them could hear my low power signal and tonight I was determined not to turn the power above 5w to try and add a few more countries for the mini QRP competition with G0RQQ & M6ZRT. Recently they seem to be romping off into the lead of countries and points. (See my earlier post 15/9/13 for details of our QRP challenge)

I am hopeful that at some point this weekend I will find some decent strong signals to attempt a QSO with or a station with good RX and not many callers.

I remain hopeful I can work a few more on perhaps even 500mw to improve my score. Maybe I will have to make a decent QRP effort in large contest to see if I can bump up the numbers.

For now maybe I will flick over to CW and sit listening to some morse to hone my skills ready for the inevitable first step I need to make into CW QSOs.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

QRP and a Single Malt

I am sitting here trying to make a few contacts this evening running 2w SSB into the butternut HF-9V antenna so far I have managed a special event station in Bulgaria LZ1406SK and nothing much else.... yet.

I have been enjoying a glass of single malt thinking that not only is this a great way to relax at the end of a day but that maybe there are some similarities between fine whiskey and QRP operation. 12 years to mature is about patience and commitment, the same delayed gratification could be said for QRP radio; it may take longer to call and get through, but once you do it makes it all the better.

A great way to enjoy radio :)

Monday, 16 September 2013

Who said 10m was dead?

This evening I turned on the QRP station around 1900UTC to find 10m full of signals. I didn't manage any amazing DX but did sped some time trying to call in the pileup for Bob VP8LP, sadly my 5w was not enough to compete on this occasion. I had the same result trying to work PY2VI, sometimes QRP isn't quite enough but then if it was all easy it wouldn't have quite so much appeal.

I did manage to work Manuel EA8JK on 10m running 5w into the attic dipoles. I did try on lower power but he just couldn't hear me this evening. Maybe I will be lucky enough to catch another opening soon and grab a few DX contacts before the pileups begin.

Lets hope for more 10m openings soon.

QRP and the Attic Dipole

I have been lucky enough to be blessed with enough space to play with a few antennas and mini beams here at my current QTH, I have also been blessed with a tolerant wife; she has put up with lots of aluminium and wire all over the garden not to mention the small mast mounted on the side of my house. My current antennas on the main station on HF are the MQ-1 mini beam for 20,15&10m and a butternut HF9-V vertical antenna covering 160m through to 6m. 

I really wanted to put a second radio next to my bed for the evenings when insomnia grips. This means that with a small set of headphones I can listen to CW on the bands to practice my copying skills. The big issue was what antenna to use. I made up a few different experimental antennas and had some success with a wire and a small QRP homebrew 9:1 transforming unun. 

The thought came to me to try and fit a small set of nested dipoles for 40, 20,15&10m fed with RG-174 mini coax. It took me about an hour to get a dipole squeezed into the attic space and then another two hours of fine tuning, rafter traversing and ladder climbing to make it all work. There was nothing complicated and it was made with very simple engineering and junk box bits and scraps of wire. The beauty of attic antennas is there is no need for weatherproofing at all.

The nested dipole attic antenna I now use is a 40m dipole bent into a square and a 20m and 10m wire added below them. A rough drawing is shown below. I make use of the 40m dipole on 15m with some good results. So far the best DX is KP4 on 15m at just 5w SSB. Do not underestimate the performance of simple wire antennas, a wire dipole and QRP can perform very well indeed. 

The real test for me now is to get confident enough with my CW to progress to some contacts using a more efficient mode. I am confident that once I make that jump I will be spending more time at low power and may even consider taking down the mini beam and masses of metal from the mast.

Below you can see a rough plan of how I have had to bend the wires to fit them in, the good news is it works very well and my wife hasn't noticed yet that I have an extra three antennas.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

EG8BFS -12m with 1w ssb and a dodgy antenna

I just received a text message from Tim M6ZRT alerting me to a special event station in Tenerife on 12m. The radio was set up at the side of the bed on the 1w power setting. I managed to get the contact on my first call although he did ask for a repeat of my call sign. We exchanged the standard 59 reports and moved on. He was a genuine 57-9 here with QSB but I very much doubt I was 59 in return. After my success Keith G0RQQ messages me to let me know he heard me and worked the same station with 500mw - Another qrp success and my second QSO breaking the 1000m per watt threshold. The station was my ft-817 into my attic dipoles. The twist is I don't have a 12m antenna and quite a high SWR on the 10m part of the fan dipole. Still, the contact was made all the same.

Old radios

I have been helping to sort through things for a silent key sale and brought this old FT-101B home to test at my station. This is my first real experience of a valve radio and I have really enjoyed the receive quality of the radio and the receive audio is a joy to listen to. It out performs my more modern radios in a way that can't really be described. It is nice to go back to basics and it has made me want to add an old valve radio to the shack here as a permanent addition. I just hope it doesn't find a new home just yet to allow me to listen on it some more. I think along with the Drake TR-7 I am starting to really appreciate the older radios and the way they are so easy to work on and repair.

The main station for QRP as it stands today

Here is my main station radio that gets used for QRP, I can turn down the power on the FT-847 to as low as 2w on HF. For the QRO work the radio is hooked up to a Linear Amplifier or I make use of the excellent Drake TR-7 that once belonged to a dear old friend before they went silent key this time last year.

QRP - the unofficial challenge

Not so long ago three of us hatched a plan to add some competition to our radio activities. While enjoying a beer one evening along with Keith G0RQQ and Tim M6ZRT we decided we should set up a small competition that rewarded our QRP efforts, placed us all on even ground and that would give us things to talk about amongst ourselves.

It was decided that we would work on a system of awarding points for each DXCC we could work and the score would increase as the power reduced. This wasn't about furthest DX or how much further we could get but to see how many entities we could work while enjoying the hobby and being active on the bands.

This was early in 2013 and we are now well on through our year, we have all had some great contacts and even some decent DX. I know that Keith has worked into South America, Tim has worked into the South Atlantic and North America and I have worked into the Caribbean and as recently as today Japan. We have all worked lots of european countries too. Being that our challenge is all about reducing power many of the QSOs have been at the 500mw level where possible to produce some 1000 mile per watt or better contacts. It is all about the fun but we have become competitive with this too.

At this stage it may shock some people to know that most if not all of these contacts have been in SSB. It really is true QRP SSB can be effective and can allow you to work some interesting and varied stations, even DX.

OK so I may have had to apologise to my long suffering wife for having my additional QRP station set up at the side of the bed but when you hear a KP4 station on the bands in the middle of the night with no takers you have to have a go... right? She kind of understands, even if it did make her somewhat grumpy at me exchanging signal reports while she tried to sleep. The extra station is really only there for me to practice my CW skills when my insomnia kicks in, but hey why not make SSB contacts too when the chance comes up.

Day one, the start of the blog

Ok so here we go. I have been thinking about blogging about my radio activities for some time now and really just needed a push to get on with it and start.

So here we are blogging on day one with view to adding more over the coming weeks.

I have always had an interest in QRP since first being licensed with the UK system allowing foundation licensees a maximum of 10w power output. I know that being self regulating not everyone sticks to this but I had a limit of my first ever radio being a Yaesu FT-817 and a maximum output power of 5w into a long wire antenna with my initial call of M3LRJ.

At the time of my journey into radio no one bothered to tell me about the limits of low power or that the age old comments of life being too short for QRP. I read a few books that said you can work with 5w so I tried and only when I realised that most other people were using more elaborate antennas and more power did I realise the successes appearing in my log were really quite unusual. If I had been warned about the ineffective efforts QRP sometimes yielded I would never have even said my call, instead I called out ignorant to the challenge and people came back to my call.

I did get further along the license system and get more available power in the shack and even now still own a PA for the very rare times when I feel the need to turn it on. But, I can work it QRO most or all of the time but the real buzz is working it on the power it takes to light a small night light or even less.