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Thursday, January 18, 2018

2018 Novice Rig Roundup Prep

It's that time of year....the Christmas tree is sitting outside waiting to be hauled away, decorations are boxed up and back in the basement, New Year's Resolutions are in danger of being broken and I'm getting ready for the Novice Rig Roundup.

One of the big pluses for the NRR is that it is a nine day event with the only prizes being for participation. QSOs can go beyond "5NN MN 73" to include real ham-to-ham communications. In addition, the nine day window allows operating times that miss the popular weekend contests and, possibly, hit a day or two of decent propagation. It doesn't hurt that the equipment celebrated by the NRR happens to be some of the same that I dreamed about in 1966 when I was first on the air as a novice.

This year I'm hoping to have several stations up and running.

National NC 303 - Eico 720 I used a '720 as a novice. This one is a no brainer.  It has great looks, outstanding design and some personal history. The Eico 720 is down as the last piece of vintage gear I'll get rid of. I do need to repair mine though. The power transformer rebelled a couple of months ago. I have a replacement that may, with some circuit changes, work . I have a little time. The NC-303 I'm mating with it is a classic of the 50s...built like a battle ship and painted gray to match. It was one of the last true boat anchors to be introduced. How could it not be in my NRR lineup?

Drake 2B - EF Johnson Adventurer This is sort of an odd couple. The 2B represented a new direction for ham radio equipment. It was small and light weight with performance that matched the heavy weights. The Adventurer, on the other hand, was a basic, classic transmitter designed for new novices on a budget. Both have a place it history. They will work well together come March 3.

Collins 75A4 - Central Electronics 20A Here's a pair that did not show up in many Novice stations. It's a mid/late 50s single sideband station. Still, though, it would fit as a family station. The chief op would have single sideband phone capability to match the latest technology while the '20A can be operated crystal controlled CW to meet the needs of the novice / junior operator. The 75A4? What a boon over the basic superhets common among novices. As a novice in 1966 I certainly wouldn't have complained.

Another possibility? I have a simple 1951 novice station built around a 6AG7 sucker stick transmitter and a NC-57 receiver.

See you in the NRR!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

AWA Bruce Kelley 1929 QSO Party

The 2017 AWA Bruce Kelley 1929 QSO Party wrapped up a few weeks ago and tonight is the 2018 AWA Linc Cundall Memorial CW Contest.

My total for the BK was nine contacts covering both 80 and 40. For me, nine is better than some years and worse than others...sorta of average. It could have been better, though.

The first evening of the BK I had an S8-S9 noise level here. I blamed the poor band conditions of late and soldiered on working only KB0ROB that first night. Sunday afternoon I decided to make certain the noise was really not my problem. With a battery powered receiver on 40 meters I killed all of the power to the house. Surprise, my noise dropped from S8 to S3. Eventually I traced the problem to the wall wart charger for a new Dust Buster. I had time for one more contact that first afternoon. Unfortunately band conditions weren't as good this last weekend but, at least, I know it wasn't my problem.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Signal Quality

I've read in the late 20s QSTs of the need to lightly load a self excited oscillator-transmitter (such as many of us use in the Bruce Kelley) in order to have a nice sounding signal. See Ross Hull concluded that any self-excited oscillator should be loaded to only about half power in order to produce at acceptable signal.

How bad do I sound? Might I rate one of those notices from an OO? When I try to listen to my own signal I'm always overloading the receiver and my signal sounds really bad. Instead I called upon my good friend KC0P who lives about 3 miles from me to listen to me and record what he hears.

Here are three snippets from that QSO using my PP 210s TNT transmitter:

- 3565KHz at 4 watts into a low endfed wire:
Click here
- 3565KHz at 8 watts into a low endfed wire:
Click here
- 7115KHz at 8 watts into a 32' vertical with two radials:
Click here

This really pointed out some weaknesses and strong points of my '29 station. First, this station really is more stable and sounds much better on 80 rather than 40. Next, upping the power on 80 from 4 to 8 watts does make a difference in quality but that difference is not real noticeable.  Finally, pushing this transmitter/antenna to 8 watts on 40 produces a noticeably bad signal. For tonight I'll run 8 watts on 80. I'll have some '29 character but not enough to rate an OO notice. On 40 I'll back off to 4 watts while limiting operating to the late evening. Next week I want to try different power levels and antennas on 40 to see how much things can be improved.

Friday, December 1, 2017

AWA Bruce Kelley 1929 QSO Party

Coming up in a little over a week is the AWA Bruce Kelley 1929 QSO Party. See .

My 2017 "BK" station is built around a   TNT transmitter using 210s in push-pull.  With it I'll use a two tube regen and/or Elecraft KX3 depending on band conditions.

In the front left of my BK operating position is a small table-top rack holding the two receivers plus an audio output transformer connected to a battery powered amplified speaker. Like many early receiver designs my regen has B+ flowing through the headphones. The external output audio transformer makes it safe to use and allows connecting to my amplified speaker. The regen B+ supply is off to the left. I use a power supply built from an Antique Electronics Supply kit. Sitting on the ledge behind the receivers is a regulated high voltage supply. This provides B+ for my transmitter. The TNT transmitter is sensitive to B+ voltage swings. This regulated supply helps control the "whoop". Next to the power supply is a Simpson Wavemeter. This allows me to easily get my transmitter in the band. Exact frequency setting of both the transmitter (and the regen) is done using my KX3 as a frequency monitor. Next is my TNT transmitter. This one is fairly stable and produces a nice note on 40 and 80. I can see why QST featured it in 1930. To the right of the transmitter is a plate current meter. This year BK is limiting input power to 25 watts and power is part of the QSO exchange. This meter is needed for accurate reporting. The wooden box on the far right is my filament supply. It provides both 7.5 volts to the transmitter and 2.5 volts to the regen receiver. On top of the filament supply is a QRP watt meter. This is handy for setting up the transmitter for maximum output. The switch on the table switches the antenna between transmitter and receiver. The key is a Kent Straight Key used for several years by my mentor/step-father K5CF (SK). Optional equipment includes a good cup of coffee, useful while trying to make those late night contacts with the east and west coasts.

In the backyard are my winter 80/40 mtr vertical and 95' inverted L antennas.

Counting down to the 2017 AWA BK

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Winter Contest Season

With cooler weather my operating has moved indoors. Here in Minnesota it's a little cold for QRP in the park. Now I'm on the air using my boat anchors in the basement. Real radios keep you warm in the winter.

December kicks off the winter contest season for me. This is the month for the AWA Bruce Kelley 1929 QSO Party. See . This QSO Party has a strict equipment requirement that sets it apart of most other ham radio operating events. Any transmitter used must be of 1929 (or earlier) design and use tube types available in 1929.

The ARRL sponsors Straight Key Night on New Year's eve and day. See . Participants are encouraged to get on the air and simply make enjoyable, conversational CW QSOs. While not specifically oriented towards vintage gear it is certainly boat anchor friendly.

The AWA Linc Cundall Memorial CW Contest occurs in early January. See . Here the objective is to contact the greatest number of participating stations using pre-1950 designed gear.

 In early March there will be the Novice Rig Roundup. This is a nine day operating event encouraging the use of vintage ham radio equipment from the early era of the Novice License. See for the details.

 During the last few days of the Novice Rig Roundup, if you are looking for another contest/event in which to use that novice gear, there is the AWA John Rollins Memorial DX Contest. See . It is open to all and runs on 40 and 20 meter CW. Pre-1960 equipment, such as 1950s novice gear, earns a multiplier and also various power levels including below 75 watts, the original "Novice gallon".

Sunday, June 4, 2017

QRP in the Park .... 2017

I had a nice time at the park today ... sat in the shade, sipped on my Pepsi, and worked MD, ME and NY on 20 meter CW using my KX3 running about 5 watts. Signals were perfectly readable, typically S5-6.

Essex Park here in Rochester, MN (and most any other place with a shaded picnic table) is my summer shack. During the winter I can play with boat anchors in the basement but operating HF QRP during the summer lets me get out to the park and away from neighborhood static/noise. I can also put up a higher antenna than in my own yard.

What's this like? Take a look at this youtube video: I'm ten years older, I've added feedline to the antenna, the rig has changed and the brand of pop has changed but Essex Park still has the same tall trees, picnic tables and shade.

Now, where's that second Pepsi?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Novice Rig Roundup

The Novice Rig Roundup is an nine day operating event "where radio amateurs contact stations using vintage ham radio equipment from the early era of the Novice license."

I ended up putting 6 transmitters and 7 receivers on the air, everything from a 6AG7/Regen combo to a Drake B Line. It was great to get these guys on the air. Now that they are out of mothballs I'm looking forward to putting them all on the air on a more regular basis. Next year? That 75A4 and CE 20A should make a nice CW station.

To find out more take a look at NRR website at

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

AWA Linc Cundall Memorial CW Contest Recap

I've wrapped up another LC ...
... certainly not a barn burning score but I did get two of my vintage stations on the air. 

On Saturday, January 14, I ran my Utah Jr driving push-pull TZ20s at about 35 watts output. While only a 3-4 x power increase over my Wednesday 6J5-6L6 rig, I did find it easier to make contacts.  Was the power the difference or propagation or noise or weekday vs weekend participation or something else? I can't tell based on only this one contest.

Winter includes two AWA CW Contests, the Classic Exchange, and the Novice Rig Roundup. Each of these gives me a chance to get my old gear on the air. I haven't decided yet if I'll be in the CX or not but the NRR is relaxed enough to fit my non-contest operating style. I'm starting to think about which of my rigs will get operating space and time in this event.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

AWA LC CW Contest

Right now we are in the middle of the AWA Linc Cundall Memorial CW Contest. See

Last Wednesday evening I used my early 40s homebrew pair, a 6J5-6L6 transmitter (1940) and a simple superhet (1941). Results were disappointing. A high noise level here, limited operating time, and, possibly, low activity level resulted in only three contacts and 36 points.

Tonight I plan to move to my HRO Sr and Utah Jr driving a TZ-20 amplifier. Compared to many of the rigs I put on the air this one is QRO running 70 watts input and about 35 watts output.
I've configured my mid 30s operating positions so that the TZ-20 amplifier can be shared between the Utah Jr/HRO Sr and my 1934 "CW Jr"/FB7.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

ARRL Straight Key Night

This afternoon I got on the air for the ARRL Straight Key Night (SKN). The receiver this year was my improved Simple Superhet . Along with it I used my 6J6-6L6 transmitter running about 10 watts to my winter vertical (with the Christmas lights still hanging off of it). Straight Key Night, as the name implies encourages the use of straight keys. I put away my keyer and used a military surplus J-37 mounted on a bakelite "I" base.

As usual my QSO count was not very high, in fact only one, NI9Y, but I enjoyed the QSO. Getting 70-80 year old technology on the air, even for one QSO, brings with it a lot of satisfaction.
Click here

Up next in my winter operating event schedule is the AWA Linc Cundall Memorial CW Contest.  I'll probably use this station for at least part of this contest.