Saturday, 27 March 2010

Code Keys

I am still practising my CW, trying to bring my speed up using a combination of PC based training and on air listening. In the meantime I have been considering getting a "paddle" Key. In the past when I first used CW on the air I just used a straight key, the one in fact that is pictured above. I tried a paddle belonging to another amateur, but at the time it seemed to me that it would take some time to get used to using such a device. So I am monitoring a few suitable keys on Ebay and hopefully I will get a suitable one.
If you look at the key in the picture you will notice that:

1) It is dusty- maybe I should have dusted it BEFORE I took the picture!

2) It has a large wooden knob which makes the key much easier to use.- this type of key normally came with a flat, round knob about the size of a ten pence piece. The wooden one in the picture was handmade for me by a kind local amateur (now sadly silent key) who was a member of the Port Talbot Radio club- the first radio club I joined as a youngster some 25 years ago or so. In those days the older radio amateurs very much encouraged and helped the new younger ones. I hope that this still goes on today, although of course its also important that they new amateurs want to learn! That is not always the case.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

A Little extra

I was not at work today so after some chores I had a little time for Radio :)

I worked DM8JH, Juergen on 30 metres PSK. After the usual exchange of Macros, Juergen went on to tell me about some of his other interests. He then made a very good point by saying wouldn't PSK be more interesting if everyone didn't just say "Hello" and then "Goodbye"? Of course I had to rise to the challenge and send an over typed "live" at my keyboard. Now that's not easy for me (Even though I once held the title of the fastest one-finger typist in the office!) but with a few typos I did manage a more natural QSO then just sending Macros.
Maybe this means as well as relearning my CW skills I now need keyboard skills as well......

Hunting for noise

The other evening I had to take a walk to the postbox at the edge of our housing estate. I took a small portable shortwave receiver with me, tuned to around 11Mhz to see if I could get any idea of the source of the PLT noise that I have been picking up here.
I think I have found the noise, coming from a house in the next street, I would estimate about 100 metres from my QTH. Certainly the awful PLT noise is receivable outside the house even with the telescopic antenna collapsed.

I should emphasise that (Luckily) this noise does not affect the amateur bands, but in parts of the broadcast HF bands it is quite bad. For example on 11620Mhz this afternoon it is S9.
At least if I decide to report this problem to Offcom I can now give them a general idea where the noise comes from. It is a pity people are using these devices and I wonder why they are in use. Surely a wireless system would be better for distributing internet around the house?
Here is the PLT noise on the Digpan waterfall with my TS450 on 11620Khz.

Saturday, 20 March 2010


I had an interesting comment on my previous report regarding my Pye MX294 4 metre rig.
Ian, MW0IAN informed me that the MX294 should be capable of around 20-25 watts output. My rig was giving an output of 6watts. A little internet research showed that adjusting the power should be fairly straightforward. Opening the rig up revealed (as hopefully the picture above shows) that there are several adjustments possible, all of which are clearly marked. Connecting the rig to a dummy load, I set the RF Power adjustment to give approximately 18 watts out.

This was by no means flat out but I don't want to overdrive or overheat the rig. Having replaced the covers, a quick test with a local on 4 metres confirmed all was ok. At the 18 watt setting the rig is only drawing 4 amps from my PSU although it it getting slightly warmer than it was running 6watts! Here is the rig, back in its operating position and screwed back together.

Friday, 19 March 2010


Last year as my old  paper logbook was filling up I decided to buy a "Deluxe" logbook as offereed by the RSGB (Radio Society of Great Britain). I have written about logging before, personally although we are no longer obliged to do so in the UK I still like to log all my contacts. Whilst all my data mode contacts get automatically logged in the DIGIPAN software  I think its good to have a written records also.
Anyway, back to my deluxe logbook, it was very nice packed full of information about bandplans, repeaters, country prefixes and so on. There was even a diary section, oh and of course a logbook section. I started this new logbook in October last and and by the middle of this week I had filled it. That may sound like I am a very active Radio Amateur but thats not really true. You see with all the additional information built into this logbook there isn't much room left for actual logging. I worked out that the Deluxe logbook could hold details of a maximum of 600 contacts. The traditonal logbook which doesn't have all the additional pages can take over 2000 contacts. No prizes for guessing which type of log I am using now. I guess I should get used to doing all of this electronically on the PC. In fact all of my contacts up to the year 2000 are on an electronic log, but not since then. I don't really want to spend hours inputting old logs either, so I will carry on with using paper for now!
I have had some recent success decoding OLIVIA transmissions on 20 metres. I note that most stations seem to use the 32/1000 settings. I still haven't tried a CQ call in that mode yet. I have also head some of the new mode ROS around the same frequencies although that mode doesn't seem particularly active.
This week I was operating on 4 metres using my loft mounted dipole. I received a report of "5 and 9" from a station I could barely hear, in fact he was only just above the minimum squelch threshold on my Ascom SE550 rig. I immediately suspected that my rig was more than a little deaf. Since I have only used 4 metres from this QTH for very local contacts it would be difficult to tell.Anyway up into the loft I went and dug out my other 4 metres rig, an old, 16 channel Pye MX294. No bells and whistles on this rig, and with a TX power output of only around 6 watts the range should be down on the 25watt Ascom rig. Early indications are though that this rig has a much better set of ears!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Random Ramblings

Radio time this weekend has been a bit limited so yesterday I set up the TS450S and inverted L on WSPR and let it run on 30 metres whilst I was doing other things. In fact I let it run overnight on Saturday and was interested to see that the 30 metre band didn't die at all during the night- previously I was lucky to hear anything after 2200. In the wee small hours my 1watt signal was heard in VK land as well as Stateside and throughout Europe. On Sunday morning I switched over to 10 metres, with no results but moving down to 12 metres heard an EA station.

Interestingly I worked a bit of 40metres SSB this afternoon on my Random wire ("The antenna that shouldn't work") and spoke to a G3 station with an interesting antenna. He was also using a random long wire which started within the integral garage at his home and was actually wound around the garage several times. He told me he didn't use an ATU, he simply adjusted the length until the antenna resonated on 40 metres. The only problem he had with thus setup was that if he removed his car, or any other metal items that were stored in the garage the antenna went off resonance and refused to match! Its amazing at what can be made to work as an antenna on the HF bands!
A random picture accompanying this entry- an EQSL recently received from DL9SUB.

Friday, 12 March 2010

So Many modes....So liitle time!

My first experience of HF data modes was in the 1980s was as a Short wave listener decoding RTTY (Commercial and amateur) using a Microwave Modules decoder fed into an old black and white portable TV. Many years later, as a licenced  ham I used a PK232 terminal, mainly on RTTY again, but I also recall dabbling in AMTOR and even monitoring some HF packet.
These days with PC soundcards taking care of most of the decoding all we need is a simple interface between radio and PC and we can transmit and receive so many different digital modes.
In this respect perhaps I am a little lazy as the only Digi Mode I really use at the moment is PSK31. I do from time to time notice other modes in the "waterfall" display, particularly OLIVIA with its distinctive sound. Recent entries by some of my fellow bloggers have inspired me to Download the FLIDGI software and try to see if I could find some OLIVIA contacts.
So far I have limited success I have managed to decode a few OLIVIA QSOs but it seems quite difficult to determine what particular settings the are being used e.g 8/250, 8/500, 16/500 etc- is there a standard setting I wonder? Most times I cannot find the settings in use so can't get a decode. This morning, before leaving for work I even saw a very wide looking signal on 20 metres using 32/1000.
This leads me on to the number of different digi modes available. Just look at all the modes listed on Flidgi. Just as an experiment a couple of evenings ago myself and another local amateur found a quiet spot on a dead 10 metre band and ran through a couple of the modes to see how they worked.
We tried OLIVIA, FELD-HELL and THROB. FELD-HELL in particular was a very interesting mode. Its output on the screen looks almost like a FAX printout. I believe by the way that HELL is a shortened version of the proper name HELLSCHREIBER.
I wonder what the advantages of each of these modes is? It would require  some time to familarise yourself with each of these modes and their advantages. Yet in the meantime new modes are being developed- all quite confusing.
Myself the only modes I really hear on HF( I am not counting SSTV and the digital DRM version)  these days are PSK, OLIVIA and RTTY, but maybe other modes are in use. Does anyone use HELL on HF now, and what ever happened to AMTOR and PACTOR?

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The Antenna that should not work!

When I first moved to this QTH I hurriedly put up and end fed long wire for the HF Bands. This antenna was to be used for both HF Amateur bands and shortwave listening. It consisted of a 50 metre roll of wire which snaked over my back fence, into the empty field behind, over a few tree branches and back towards the house!! It was fed at the far end of the garden with  a 4:1 balun and a series of wire radials buried under the lawn. It worked OK, but was a bit noisy and difficult to tune on some bands. Later I put up a vertical for 10, 15 and 20 metres and made up an inverted L for the other bands. The original wire was cut at the house end, I guess some 15 or so metres was cut off, the remainder, still connected to the balun was thrown over the shrubbery behind my garden. I used that old wire for a while as an SWL antenna but then when the PLT noise (which luckily doesn't affect the ham bands) became too much, I bought my Wellbrook loop. Now the wire is attached to my TS830 and allows me to monitor the bands while my other rig is busy on PSK31.
I have noted that on 40 metres this low slung, random "shortwire" receives very well. I decided to see if I could tune it on transmit and with my MFJ ATU it tunes nicely on 40. Yesterday I tried I few calls on 40 metres and was getting reports, inter-G of 20db over 9. Given that this antenna, at its highest is not more than 4.5 metres up this was surprising, Its nice to use the TS830 again on SSB but I am amazed how well this low wire is working.The question is now do I leave it alone or try and improve it by maybe trying to get it a little higher or measure and cut it properly for the band. No doubt as soon as I try to "Improve" it the performance will get worse!!
I wasn't at work yesterday and in between trying to tidy up the garden and other household chores I managed a short listening session on my Sony 7600 in the sunshine! with the fine weather approaching I am again regretting that I sold my Yaesu FT817 some years back!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

A New one for me!

Last night on 30 metres PSK31, amongst all the European callsigns I saw an unusual one- VR2LXN, in Hong Kong. I got a 579 report from Clive and he was a genuine 599 here. 30 metres is a very unpredictable band. Normally Stateside stations begin to come through on 30metres at around 2000 if the band is open at all. but this is the first time I have seen the Far East. VR2LXN is not listed on so I just hope its a genuine call!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Media Network

Readers of this blog will have noticed that there is a link on the blogpage to the "Media Network" page of the Radio Netherlands Website. Today Media Network has only a web presence.If you are an SWL, who like me, has been around for a few years you may remember the Radio Netherlands Shortwave programme "Media Network" presented by Jonathan Marks. This programme was in its day one of the best sources of shortwave news as well as general media related items. Jonathan Marks apparently still works in the media industry and has his own blog at
It seems Jonathan has decided to upload some recordings of the original Media Network programmes. They are in excellent quality and can be found here.
Well worth a listen if you fancy a good old bit of shortwave nostalgia.

Monday, 1 March 2010


I first learnt Morse Code or CW when I was 19 years old. I remember learning it... but I don't exactly remember HOW I learnt it if you see what I mean. I have memories of a Morse code tutor program on a borrowed ZX81 computer (remember those?). I remember Morse code practice sessions at the weekly radio club meetings in Port Talbot. In fact I seem to remember this Morse business went along fairly easily, and before I knew it I had passed the 12 words per minute test, as was required in those days and I earned my full UK licence.
Its not as if I threw away the key, and forgot all about Morse (as many did after gaining HF access). No sir, I promised the amateur who taught me CW that my first QSO on the HF bands would be on CW, and it was, on 40 metres. I went on to use CW fairly frequently after that. Of course at that time I was somewhat younger- about 22 years younger in fact!
Over the passage of time there have been times when I wasn't active on the HF bands, house moves, relationships etc etc meant that at times I was a fairly inactive radio amateur. When I did eventually get re established with an HF station I guess my confidence in CW operating had gone and I became an SSB and latterly data modes enthusiast.
So this year as I mentioned a little while back it is my intention to get back on the air with CW. Now It shouldn't be that hard-should it? I remembered most of the code-so its just a matter of practise and getting my speed up! Its funny but I don't rememer first time around having problems confusing the letter B with the number 6, the letter H with 5 and so on- but I am having those problems now!!
As much as I hate to admit it but it must be AGE. I am someone who has been lucky to enjoy good physical health, in fact I don't feel much different in that way to how I felt 20 years ago. But my brain obviously does! Still I will keep plugging away at the CW. This time however, when I do get my CW up to speed I will be making sure I practice enough to keep it that way.