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.