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Thursday, April 17, 2014

In The Beginning

I've been a  ham, now, for over 46 years. Hams sort of relate to their calls, their shacks and their radios. I'm no different. 

In the beginning...

I was 15 and a sophomore in high school when I passed my Novice test. The FCC  issued me the call WN6ULH. No one else in the world had that call. It was mine and mine alone. Anyone world wide hearing "WN6ULH" would know it was me at the radio, quite a trip for a 15 year old.

 We lived in Santa Rosa, California and had recently moved across town to a new home. My grandfather, a retired building contractor, remodeled the kitchen for us. He then partitioned off part of the garage for me to use as a shack. He even included the old kitchen counter recovered with plyboard. I had my own work bench and even a built in 3' x 4' table for my station. 

Vance, W6ZZL, helped me find the radios I would use for that first station. In 1967 most ham gear, especially those a 15 year old could afford, had tubes rather than transistors and many were WWII military surplus. Mine were no different. My first receiver, a BC-342, had a "function before beauty"  blockish sort of look that fit the battle field it was designed for but it worked fine for me in that northern California ham shack. The Eico 720 transmitter Vance and I found had great 1960 style with its black low slung cabinet, copper trim and satin finished  front panel.  Used together those two allowed me to work hams all over the US at a time when long distance telephone calls were always expensive.

Some 15 year old boys might have dreamt of getting their first car. I already had my radios. I guess I was, without knowing it, firmly establishing myself as a nerd.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Clotheline Dipole

My Christmas list this year included two Coleman Clothesline/Laundry Reels ( ). I replaced the clothesline with 25' of stranded/insulated wire and made up a center insulator with a coax fitting.

Now I have a field configurable 30-10 meter dipole. All I need to do is attach the coax and wire/clothesline reels to the center insulator, roll both sides out to the proper dipole length for the band of choice, lock each leg by wrapping the wire around the tab on the reel and then hoist it up in the air. The wire still coiled on the reels at the two ends of the antenna should not be a problem.

Spring is close here in southern Minnesota. Soon I'll be able to take it out and give it a try.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Surfing the Web for Radio Reading

We're under a blizzard warning today here in SE Minnesota. 10"-12" of heavy snow is forecast along with winds up to 50mph. My KX3 is in the shop and somehow the power supply project in the basement isn't calling to me. Instead I've been surfing the "net" looking at my favorite sites. Here are some I've found:

Vintage Radio Magazines on line - this includes ones like Shortwave Craft and Radio News. These are great sources of radio/parts/company information and potential projects

Notes on Amateur Radio Transmitter Design, James Millen, 1938

National Radio Products catalog, 1947

Radio Design Practice (mechanical drawings of lots of radio parts including National dials and caps), James Millen and MB Sleeper, 1935

Technical books online - This one includes full scans/PDFs of the 1936 and 1941 ARRL Handbooks, 1938 and 1940 Radio Handbook and the 1959 edition of Bill Orr's Radio Handbook

The VE7SL  Radio Handbook - Steve has posted details many of his projects here. Take the time, also, to go to his 1929 TNT transmitter page and then scroll down to see his photo gallery of homebrew '29 style rig.

ARRL HF Verticals    Links to many QST articles about vertical antennas. Use the sidebar to find articles about other types of antennas.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Boots for my KX3?

My effort to build a relay box so that I can use my grounded grid 572B amplifier with my KX3 has hit a major bump. A few seconds of transmitting destroys the KX3 power amp / final transistors. Did I say major bump?, obviously this is a killer.

My design is straight forward and I use PTT rather than VOX for both CW and SSB so I'm not transmitting when I switch. There doesn't appear to be any shorts between the relay contacts. The problem, I believe, must be the open frame DPDT relay I'm using for bypassing the amplifier. On transmit the amplifier output and the KX3 output are both routed through the relay armature. The two signals are only about an 1" apart for 1.5". I suspect there is a lot of coupling between them. Some of the 90 watts meant for the antenna is feeding back into my KX3. I can imagine this extra power, if it doesn't directly destroy the KX3 finals, could screw up the KX3 final mismatch detection circuitry. I may be running the finals into a load they aren't designed for while the extra RF from the amplifier is causing the mismatch detection circuit to say everything is cool.

The possible solution: a relay designed for RF switching, namely back-to-back Dow-Key relays. Now if I could just tell if the KX3 finals are being stressed I'd be comfortable. I'd hate to blow another set.

I'm afraid this project is going back on the shelf. I'm having plenty of fun with my KX3 barefoot. No need to risk the finals a third time.

Monday, February 3, 2014

New Paddle for my KX3

The homebrew paddle that I pack with my KX3 is durable but weighs in at 2.2 lbs, a heavy weight by any standard. I finally looked around for a lighter weight replacement and found the Palm Pico Paddle. At only 1 oz this one will certainly pack easier. I've now had a few QSOs with it and I couldn't be happier. This one works fine and will pack along on my next hike a lot easier.

The Pico Paddle comes with a magnetic base and a cord for connecting to the KX3. The size is perfect for the right hand side on the KX3, fitting just below the right hand endplate mounting screws and above the antenna connectors. Elecraft does recommend a right angle plug. I found one at Radio Shack. Palm Radio offers a steel KX3 endplate that works with the magnetic mount, but not one with handles. Instead I ordered a piece of steel that sticks on the KX3 endplate to provide something the Pico Paddle magnetic mount will stick to.

I wondered about using the Pico Paddle stand alone. It is a little small for sitting by itself on the desk but I found that the magnetic mount works great with a blank steel electrical box cover.

Phil Moorey has a good suggestion:
You might want to hot glue a piece of metal to a plastic sheet about 5" by 6". You can use the plastic as a clipboard for notes and the weight of your hand secures it when sending. A couple of rubber feet helps prevent sliding on a flat surface. I have been doing this for years.

Addendum, Feb 6, 2014
After seeing Phil's suggestion above I was motivated to return to my local big box hardware store in search of a different stand alone base plate. This was to be used only in the shack so weight was not a big issue. What I found in the plumbing department was a 5"x8" 16 gauge "Steel Safety Plate". I then located soft rubber non-skid "Gripper Pads" designed to stick on the bottom of table legs to keep them from moving.

I now have a base for my Pico Paddle that works great at the shack operating position.

Monday, January 20, 2014

AWA Linc Cundall Memorial OT CW Contest

Between 80 and 40 I managed twelve contacts using my National HRO Sr and TZ-20 transmitter with a low hung inverted L antenna. By contesting standards not a lot but still better than any of my LC QSO counts going back 20 years.

I worked nothing to the west but I did manage Qs to Canada, the east coast and southwest. I heard N2BE a lot. Too bad I could only work him once per band. I was surprised to not hear many of my MN friends on the air. Of the eight I worked in the BK I only heard three on for the LC.

I have grown to depend on the Reverse Beacon Network to help me decide if the band is dead. If I call CQ and I don't get a lot of feedback from the RBN with reasonable signal strength it's time to change bands or go to bed.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Straight Key Night

Last night and today was the ARRL Straight Key Night . This 24-hour event (00:00-23:59  GMT, January 1) is not a contest; but a day to get on the air and simply make enjoyable, conversational CW QSOs. There are no points scored. Hand sent CW (either straight keys or bugs) is preferred and, in fact, helps identify those in the event. SKN certainly fits my operating style.

I did need to wire up a cable to plug a straight key in to my KX3 but, with that, I was on the air. 20 seemed to be fairly active this afternoon. Running my usual 5 watts I got a 589 from WA9ZWA, Terre Haute, IN, a 559 from W2LG, Leesburg, FL and a 599 from AE1T, Plymouth, NH.  No DX but with the outside temperature hovering around zero today it made for a relaxing time in the basement with my radios.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

KX3 Filter Settings for SSB, CW and Data

While setting up for the AWA '29 QSO Party I started playing more with the KX3 filtering and audio response....mostly because 80 meters seemed particularly noisy that night. I found something that really helped me see the interaction of the various receive selectivity options: Rcv Audio Equalization, Notch, APF, Data/RTTY mode, Passband Width, Passband Shift and Passband Hi/Low Cut.

I downloaded DigiPan from (Freeware) onto my laptop, not for the PSK31 function but for the waterfall. I then configured DigiPan to use my laptop built-in mic as the audio input/source. With my laptop sitting next to my KX3 I tuned to a unpopulated but white noisy frequency. This may require the preamp to be turned on. While watching the white noise on the DigiPan waterfall I tweaked the various filter settings. The white noise waterfall display changes to reflect the filter settings, clearly showing me the impact of what I was doing. SSB, CW and data signals can even be tuned in and viewed as the various selectivity options are changed. The KX3 CWT Aid and the Filter Passband Graphic show some of this but not to the detail of the DigiPan waterfall.

For example here's a sample waterfall showing the impact of narrowing the KX3 bandwidth setting followed by adding the Audio Peak Filter (APF). The horizontal scale is frequency (in Hz) and time is the vertical scale.  The CW signal of interest is the yellow streak at 520Hz. Interference is the yellow (stronger) and blue (weaker) around the 520Hz signal.

Friday, December 20, 2013

1929 BK QSO Party

The past two weekends I spent 4-5 hours operating in the BK. I had 16 QSOs
and worked five states including NC, MT, MI and ME. Background noise levels were pretty high but even with about 2 watts out I still made contacts.

I'm not pleased with the way my TNT transmitter sounds on 40. After an initial excursion into that band on Dec 7 and then critically listening to my own signal I decided to stick to 80.

Friday, December 6, 2013

1929 BK QSO Party

I'm set up for the AWA Bruce Kelley 1929 QSO Party. This year I'm using my TNT transmitter with two 45 triodes in push-pull .  This transmitter has an output of only 2-3 watts with 10 watts input, about typical for self excited oscillators like this connected directly to the antenna. At first I thought I'd also use a vintage receiver but I switched to my KX3.

Tonight I did work KK4HCF in TN and WA1KPD in CT  heard me so there is hope for the QSO Party.