Dave Richards AA7EE

December 31, 2012

The ARRL 10-Meter Contest and Checking In To SSB Nets with QRPp

A few days ago, Bryan Herbert KE6ZGP, posted on Facebook that he’d come first place in his section for Single Op QRP phone in the 2011 ARRL 10-Meter contest and posted a picture of his certificate. I thought it was pretty neat-looking and gave him my congratulations, telling him that I was envious, but happy for him, and also noting that I’d never won anything like that, as 2 hour sprints were about the most I had any kind of stamina for.

Then a little over an hour later, the front doorbell rang.  It was the mailman with a few packages for my neighbors and a large brown envelope for me, containing this -

I had completely forgotten entering the ARRL 10-Meter contest.  It was almost a year ago!  I had participated (casually), submitted my log, and promptly forgotten about it.  Now I know that I am by no stretch of the imagination even a semi-serious contester, so figured that there probably hadn’t been many other QRP CW contenders in my AARL section.  On checking the ARRL site I found that there had been just one other. Nevertheless, I was very happy to have this piece of paper, which is already framed and hanging on the wall.

In other news, I have been doing no home-brew – sorry about that. My INTJ mind is either very pre-occupied with something, or not noticing it at all. Currently, I am engrossed with the task of committing as many music CD’s as possible to hard drive in order to de-clutter my living space. It’s all part of a long-term plan for the future which may include living in an RV, or simply another apartment.  Either way, I want less stuff, and 10,000 music CD’s are awful heavy when it comes to moving time. While busying myself with the task of ripping and scanning during the day, I have had the K2, my main station rig, tuned to 40M and in particular, the Noontime Net on 7268.5 KHz. My mind works in strange ways, and for the 3 years I was into CW, that was all I was interested in.  I had spent plenty of time operating SSB (and FM on the 2-meter band) in the past and it no longer held any interest for me – it really didn’t.  Every now and again, I would tune up to the phone portion of whatever band I happened to be in and after just a few minutes of listening, wonder how anyone could remain interested in amateur radio if SSB was their main mode of operation. I like the mental challenge of decoding a CW signal in my head, and that is as much of an attraction to me as the radio part.  Decoding SSB in my head was a skill I learned when very young, so there’s not much challenge there!

Nevertheless, while busying myself with the task of ripping CD’s and scanning all the artwork, I had the K2 tuned to 7268.5 KHz from about 9:30am – 2pm every day to listen to the Noontime Net.  I have never done a lot of listening to nets before and at first, couldn’t quite understand the attraction of checking in to a net on a regular basis when the main purpose of doing so seemed to be to just check in and then not do much else. However, there is a little bit more to it than that, and after a few weeks of listening, I started to get a feel for it and checking into the net became a welcome part of my daily routine. EDIT: After a few months of checking in daily to the Noontime Net, it has become a very welcome part of my daily routine and to amend what I said a few sentences earlier, there is a lot more going on with a net like this than first meets the ear. It is a very well-run net that manages to check in a lot of people every day, while still having time for the occasional bit of friendly chat. It never wanders into the territory of “clique-ness”. The balance between the business of checking in a lot of people, while retaining a sense of camaraderie and connectivity is perfect. KV7L Lynn is the net manager, and along with every single one of the net controllers, is to be commended for pulling off this feat. It’s not an easy thing to do.

The Noontime Net is a traffic net, and traffic is indeed passed on occasion.   After a few weeks of listening almost daily (at first on the WBR regen receiver when I was still fresh out of building that) I began to recognize the regular characters,  including the very distinctive voice of Clyde AA7WC who took early check-ins daily until his recent illness. I checked in a few times, and then having the radio on and listening to the net in the background as I did other things around the shack, checking in on an almost daily basis started to become a welcome part of my daily routine. Many days, I will check in fairly early, and the re-check later.  It’s also interesting to listen to many of the same stations regularly to see how propagation affects how we all hear each other – and this brings me to the aspect of the net that has interested me the most in the last week or two.

I had been checking in to the Noontime Net with my K2′s full output power of 15W.  About 10 days ago, I decided to dial down the power to see whether I could still check in with one of the net control stations.  On CW, you can turn the power down to 100mW, and on SSB, 1W.  I dialed down to minimum SSB power and called Lynn KV7L in Princeton, Oregon. I thought I was running 100mW but forgot that on SSB, even though the K2 may indicate an output power of 0.1W, it is actually putting out 1W. To my surprise, Lynn gave me a 58 report. He is 412 miles from me. I also got a 59 report from a station in Bakersfield, about 245 miles to the south.  Thinking I was running 100mW, I was ecstatic but in retrospect,  a 58 report from a station 412 miles distant when you’re running 1W of SSB is still pretty good.  Since then, I have regularly checked into the net with just 1W and am heard well by KV7L in Princeton, OR, W6FHZ in Reno, Nevada and N7WH in Boise,  Idaho.

I often received unprompted reports of good audio too, for which much of the credit has to go the K2.

All of this has gotten me quite excited about seeing how low I can take the power and still successfully check in to the Noontime Net. I cannot dial the power on my K2 below 1W on SSB,  so the next step is an attenuator.  Even though I have not been doing any home-brew and am concentrating most of my efforts on non-ham radio pursuits, I think an attenuator is in my immediate future.  I would love to be able to tell net control that I am running just 50mW – or even 10mW! Stay tuned to this space.  Maybe I can get something together in the next few weeks. (EDIT – I ordered an attenuator online before this post was even finished – keep reading.)

The upshot of all of this is that although when people think of QRP, they usually think of CW, and the 13dB disadvantage of SSB compared to CW is well-known, you can still achieve things with QRP SSB. Bryan Herbert KE6ZGP has made many great DX contacts with just 5W of SSB (and even FM during 10M openings) and he told me recently how he thinks the potential of QRP SSB is underestimated.

On another tack, I was in Cost Plus the other day and saw a mint tin that was just crying out to have something built in it.  Some people think of electronic gadgets as boxes of “black magic” and indeed, even us hams think of radio as quite magical.  I like to put as many of my mint tin projects in different looking tins as possible, to make them easier to tell apart from each other. I think this tin fits the bill perfectly. What piece of black magic could I build into this enclosure?

My recent experiences successfully checking into the Noontime Net with just 1W PEP of SSB made me keen to see if I could check in with even less power.  The minimum amount you can dial the power down to on the K2 on SSB is 1W, so to get it down further I would need an attenuator.   I was looking for a cheap way to do this without having to build anything, and settled on this 20dB inline attenuator that I got from eBay for $6.99 including shipping -

I like it because unlike the step attenuators in regular enclosures, I don’t have to come up with an extra BNC to BNC cable.  It’s quick n’ dirty n’ cheap. Without setting up a separate receive antenna, the attenuator also attenuates the signal on receive, but as I plan on initially using it to check in with net control stations that are very strong here, that won’t matter.

In theory, when I set the K2 to 1W and connect the output of it to the attenuator, which is terminated in a 50 ohm load, the 1 watt should be attenuated by 20dB, giving me a final output signal of 10mW into 50 ohm, but when I connected the output of the K2 (set at 1W in CW mode) to my OHR WM-2 QRP Wattmeter, the output of which was terminated  in a 50 ohm load, I measured 40mW and not 10mW.  I do believe the meter to be calibrated accurately  so I am not sure what is going on here.

The next step should be to construct my own attenuation pad to verify these results but for the meantime, the Noontime Net was in progress and I wanted to see if net control could hear me. KD7RTE was taking check-ins and couldn’t hear me, but Lynn KV7L in Princeton, OR gave me an S3. He is 412 miles distant – not bad for 40mW of SSB.

I have gotten into the habit of checking into this net with 1W PEP and I think I will continue to do so, but the quick n’ dirty experiment with QRPp was pleasantly fruitful. I kind of wish it was possible to use the front panel control on the K2 to dial the power all the way down to 100mW on SSB, the way you can on CW – or even lower. QRPp is fun! 40mW is flea power, and it’s especially gratifying for a signal of such low power to be copied 412 miles away on SSB.

In other news, it has become harder to operate the radio, because Sprat The QRP Cat has decided that she likes biting the fingerpieces of my Bencher paddle.  I try to put the K2 in test mode so she doesn’t transmit. When she’s not practicing the code, she just likes to get in the way when I’m trying to operate the radio, and steal the spotlight -

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18 Comments »

  1. Congrats with the nice certificate. I like the photo from sprat the QRP cat. The light is exceptional on this photo. Great looking cat…..and she likes ham radio that’s clear. 73 and the best for 2013. Bas

    Comment by Bas PE4BAS — December 31, 2012 @ 12:22 pm | Reply

    • Thank you Bas. When taking photos of people and animals, I like to try and get light into their eyes. Other than that all I did was shine a light on her, take about 10 photos, and posted the best one!

      Comment by AA7EE — December 31, 2012 @ 4:32 pm | Reply

  2. +1 on the cert from a fellow INTJer, even if the field was a little bare

    Comment by KK4ARJ — December 31, 2012 @ 1:50 pm | Reply

    • There are quite a few of us around – though we don’t congregate as much as other types, due to our nature!

      Comment by AA7EE — December 31, 2012 @ 4:30 pm | Reply

  3. Sprat is certainly one purrrity cat! Happy New Year Dave!

    73 de Jeff KE9V

    Comment by Jeff, KE9V — December 31, 2012 @ 4:30 pm | Reply

    • Thanks Jeff. She’s quite a character and is great company around the shack.

      Comment by AA7EE — December 31, 2012 @ 4:33 pm | Reply

  4. Always enjoy your posts Dave. All the best to you and your crew for ’13.

    Comment by Elwood Downey, WB0OEW — December 31, 2012 @ 5:46 pm | Reply

    • And to you too Elwood! I notice from your QRZ page that you have a TR-4CW. Fabulous radios – I have fond memories of Drake gear.

      Comment by AA7EE — December 31, 2012 @ 5:52 pm | Reply

  5. I too always enjoy your posts Dave!

    I was wondering what microphone you use with your K2. I am going to build the SSB adapter for my K2 #7375 soon and I’m going to need a mic. The hand mic Elecraft sells seems rather large for the K2 and the cord is so heavy the radio moves around when you try to extend the coil cord.

    Anyways love the cat! Makes my wife sad though, we lost our cat last fall. 73 Keith N8CEP

    Comment by Keith Hamilton — January 1, 2013 @ 7:45 pm | Reply

    • Keith – I had an old Heil Traveler headset lying around unused, so I pressed it into service. I got rid of the clunky adapter cable and custom-wired an 8-pin plug for the K2. I configured the jumper blocks on the control board for the standard Elecraft mic configuration i.e. adjacent pins connected to each other. I figure that for any mics I connect to the K2, I will either wire the plugs accordingly, or make my own adapter cables. Because the standard Elecraft jumper block configuration is for a dynamic mic, I wired an 1/8W bias resistor in the mic plug for the Traveler headset.

      It seems to work fine. I have received several unsolicited reports of good audio with the BFO on the SSB adapter at the default settings.

      Comment by AA7EE — January 2, 2013 @ 11:38 pm | Reply

  6. Dave, I check in to that net from time to time myself on my MST400 at about ten watts. If the Beach 40 went up that high in frequency, They would probably hear me on 3 watts, but I can only pull the 7.200Mhz ceramic resonator up to about 7.243 with the variactor diode I’m using. Good Blog, thanks.

    Comment by Joel KB6QVI — January 2, 2013 @ 8:04 pm | Reply

  7. Congratulations Dave, that certificate is the proof of my idea….always send the log in, no matter how many Qs you did.
    Congrats and hope to QSO with you very soon
    Stefano

    Comment by IZ3NVR — January 4, 2013 @ 12:31 pm | Reply

  8. Congrats Dave, great post and photos as usual. Like you I’m more a CW fan but occassionally I get hooked to listening on an 80 meter net and it becomes a routine, sadly I become mute and just listen! My next project is the K2, just completed the OH100A all went well, now just saving up the funds for the Elecraft………..Any tips mucho apreciated!

    Comment by Richard Hull M0AUW — January 15, 2013 @ 9:01 am | Reply

    • Richard – it sounds as if we are following similar lines of progression. Like you, I built a few simpler QRP rigs to before tackling the K2. I do have a couple of tips actually, but they are very minor. I want to make sure that I give them to you in sufficient detail, so will have to consult the K2 manual first, and will post them here (and e-mail them to you) a bit later this morning. They are not so much tips, as the way I did something that differed slightly from the manual, and they are by no means deal-breakers.

      Yes – about the SSB. I have been spending quite a lot of time recently listening to folk rag-chewing on 40 and 80 and I wonder how they manage to think of so many things to say! It’s probably why my SSB operating so far has been mainly confined to checking in to nets. Not sure if I have said this to you before, but you live in a lovely part of the country by the way. Talk soon,

      Dave
      AA7EE

      Comment by AA7EE — January 15, 2013 @ 1:49 pm | Reply

    • OK – 2 cups of coffee in me, and Sprat the QRP Cat, after 2 hours of running around and scratching and biting everything in sight, has finally gone to sleep. I’ll try hard not to be too wordy but here are my tips.

      Firstly, you may well not need this as you’ve already built a few things, but I read the Elecraft Soldering Tips at http://www.elecraft.com/TechNotes/N0SS_SolderNotes/N0SS_SolderNotesV6.pdf In fact, I was trying so hard to do a great soldering job on the K2 that at first, I was putting too little solder on the joints (most people who don’t solder correctly apply too much solder). If you put too little solder on a board with plated-through holes, it will form a concave shape in the hole, instead of a small fillet up to the edges of the component lead. I found .02″ (.05mm) solder to be very useful for carefully controlling the amount to apply to the joint.

      The next 2 tips are specific to the building process and will only make sense when you are actually putting the kit together.

      Firstly, when breaking off the spacers for the push-button switches (page 23 of the manual), the instructions lead you to think that you should break the spacing tool into 4 separate parts. If I remember correctly, there will be a point later on when you’ll need to do that but in the beginning, breaking the PC board into just 2 longer spacers worked well, as I could seat 2 switches at a time.

      The only other thing I did that differed slightly from the instructions (and once again, this is a minor point) came when installing the BFO crystals X3 and X4 (page 54 of the manual at the bottom left). The instruction says to trim the leads of X3 and “fold them down flat against their pads, before soldering.” This is so that when you later install the rubber stem bumper for L3, (page 60 right-hand side of the page) it will sit flat against the board. In my desire to have things as perfect as possible, I figured that it would be better to pre-trim the leads of X3 so that they don’t quite protrude from the underside of the board. Because it’s a plated-through hole, you can still solder the leads, make a good electrical connection, and have the rubber bumper sit completely flush against the board. That’s what I did anyway.

      That’s it. Quite honestly Richard, the fact that those are the only two things I did slightly differently from the manual, it is a testament to how detailed and thorough the assembly instructions are. I have been getting very tempted to build the 100W option as well as the 100W ATU, but it’s just not in the budget (yet!) One day, one day……..

      Comment by AA7EE — January 15, 2013 @ 5:34 pm | Reply

  9. Hi Dave,

    I think I may have heard you check into the Noontime Net today. (And I think I’ve heard you in the past.)

    Today, I was able to check via Jim in Reno with 500mw using my FT-817. He gave me an S2, slightly above his noise level. This is about the third time I’ve tried it. With 2.5 watts, I’ve checked in mobile using the mini-shark antenna. One of these days I’d like to find a way to go below 500mw but without an attenuator.

    Two nights ago I was able to check into Western Public Service at 3952 with one watt. Last night, it was 2.5 watts. Band conditions vary. There are nights when they can’t hear me with 100 watts. The Noontime Net is much easier for me than Western Public Service but when conditions are good, it’s pretty amazing. I was S3 the other night in L.A. with my one watt.

    My antenna is just a 120 foot long wire in a zig-zag pattern in my backyard about 7 feet off the ground. It’s grounded to the metal frame of a sliding glass door. I threw up the antenna in about 15 minutes as something temporary but now I’m afraid if I try to improve it, I won’t get as good results.

    It was interesting to read what you wrote about CW. I too have had a similar experience. Learning the code was a pain but now my mind enjoys the challenge. Funny how that works.

    Keep us posted on your QRP adventures.

    And I’ll be listening for you on the net.

    Robert

    N6AIR

    Comment by Robert Wright — January 27, 2013 @ 10:40 pm | Reply

    • Robert – I usually listen to the entire Noontime Net from 10am until it wraps up around 2pm. Sometimes, I listen to the RV Service Net that takes place on the same frequency immediately before. Today though, I was away from the radio until I checked in, then had to go out to run some errands. If I’d stuck around I might have heard you. I’ll keep an ear out for you in the future.

      You have better luck than me on 80M but then your antenna is a lot longer than mine. Mine is a 40M doublet (fed with balanced line) so understandably, it’s pretty crummy on 80. One of these days I’ll find a way to extend it for some lower band action.

      Perhaps we’ll get to QSO at some point,

      Dave
      AA7EE

      Comment by AA7EE — January 27, 2013 @ 10:56 pm | Reply

  10. Good morning Dave, very nice certifacate and as with me it does not take to long to get hung on what my wife calls the ” I love me wall” As for QRPp it sure is addictive once you understand how far such little power can go it seems over time that 5 watts is QRO power!! As for Spart the cat…I have Oliver the cat and he too wanted some rig action. I had the room to put a small hand towel beside the rig and he was satified with that!
    Mike

    Comment by Mike — February 21, 2013 @ 11:52 am | Reply


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