Dave Richards AA7EE

September 24, 2011

The CC-20 First Beta Version

Phew.  I’ve finally finished the first CC-20 beta and fitted it into a case.  I can now sit back, look at it and listen to it! In this post a few weeks ago, I showed the unpopulated board with the connectors lying on a sheet of the red PCB material I was planning to use to fabricate an enclosure. By the way, the 6 pin connector you can see at the bottom of the board in the center in the photo in that post is one thing that makes this rig different from many others. It is marked ICSP, which stands for “In-Circuit Serial Programming”.  Etherkit bills itself as an open-source amateur radio company and the hope is that code-minded amateurs will write their own code for this rig if they feel they can add features, or improve on the code that the micro-controller in the kit will come programmed with. If you don’t write code, by the time the kit is available to the general public, the stock code will be solid, so no need to worry if, like me, you’re the type of person who needs others to write your programs for you. I did build a USBtinyISP so that I could flash the firmware on my beta though – the beta kit was shipped to the testers with a version of firmware that is not the final version.

Before we go any further, just in case you’re wondering what the CC-20 is, it’s the first transceiver in what will be known as the CC-series, designed by Jason NT7S.  These are a series of monoband trail-friendly QRP CW transceivers with a DDS VFO, superhet receiver with 3 pole crystal filter, and TX that puts out about 2W.  The kit makes copious use of SMT devices. If you’re good at soldering, have reasonable eyesight and a steady hand, you should be able to assemble this kit, but I wouldn’t recommend attempting it if you have never soldered SMT parts before – it would be best to get your practice on a smaller and easier kit (I built 2 KD1JV Digital Dials, which also uses SMT devices, but is a much simpler project, taking less time to complete).

In that previous post, you saw what the board looked like. Here’s what it looks like when fully populated with connectors and controls wired in. Bear in mind that the final board will be a little (though probably not much) different. This board has some blue wire jumpers that will not be present on the final board:

Of course, the first thing to do after completing the board was hook it up to a paddle, earbuds and antenna, and see if it would work.  The first QSO was with W7VXS in the Salmon Run.  I then rattled off 8 more Salmon Run QSO’s – looks like this little rig works! I also had a regular QSO with K1CTR in Denver, CO.

At some point afterwards (I think it was during an extended key-down period while tuning the TX) the finals overheated and fried. The production version will have a redesigned driver and finals and will most likely have an automatic dotting mode programmed into the firmware to prevent overheating of the BS170 final transistors.  For this version of the rig however, to help guard against this happening again, I epoxied a small chunk of aluminum to the new finals to act as a heat-sink.

Here’s the enclosure I fabricated from PCB material. The great thing about making enclosures this way is that you can make it to whatever size you need.  Finding ready-made enclosures to specific sizes can be a lengthy task that doesn’t always end in success but this way,  I got a case for the CC-20 sized exactly how I wanted it – a nice low-profile enclosure just a little over 1″ high:

The next image is of the CC-20 in it’s enclosure. You can’t see them, but I fitted 4 rubber feet to the bottom of the case. You can see where I accidentally drilled a hole in the side of the chassis, redrilled it in the correct place, and filled in the mistake hole with JB Weld. I did make a number of mistakes on this case from which I will learn if I make any more. I say “if” because making these PCB enclosures is quite time consuming and I’m feeling the strong urge to use ready-made enclosures for future projects:

On the front panel, from left to right, is the headphone jack,  the AF gain control, the CMD button, the FREQ/OK button, and the tuning encoder.  The tuning control tunes in either 100Hz or 20Hz steps, switchable by pressing the tuning knob. The CMD and FREQ/OK buttons are used to access much of the functionality of the rig,  functions which include:

– changing keyer speed

-selecting straight key or paddle

-recording to and playing back the keyer memories

-reading out supply voltage (in Morse code)

-reading out SWR (to be implemented later)

-reading out operating frequency to the nearest 100Hz

-reading out keyer speed

A lot of functionality is controlled from quite a minimal front panel:

What a cracking little radio:

Oh yes. One thing I almost forgot to mention is that after fitting the new finals, I called CQ on 14061 and was replied to by Steve the Goathiker WG0AT. Now that’s a good omen!

Mikey WB8ICN, Paul K3PG and Brian N1FIY are getting close to finishing their CC-20 betas, and I’m looking forward to comparing results. Mikey has already finished the receiver part of his, and our results are similar.  There are a few issues with the first beta that Jason will be working on to fine-tune. This, of course, is the whole purpose of beta-testing.  I was also thrilled to hear that John AE5X will be joining us for the second round of beta testing. I think we will also have one or two more beta testers joining us for the second round, but I’m not sure who they are.

In the meantime, I now have 20M capability and this little radio is fun to operate. Thanks Jason!

September 12, 2011

Is Internet Radio “Real” Radio? (Alternate Post Title: My New “Shortwave” Radio)

Filed under: Broadcast Radio — AA7EE @ 7:38 pm
Tags: , ,

Every now and again, I post about something a little off-topic from the subject of amateur radio, though still related to the topic of radio, so please excuse me if the following is not of much interest to you.

A couple of weeks ago, acting on a tip from an old friend and colleague from my days in broadcast radio, I bought an internet radio.  Best Buy were (and at time of writing, still are) offering the Tangent Quattro Internet Radio at a clearance price of $99.99. From time to time I listen to the streams of terrestrial broadcast stations but, as weird as it sounds, listening to them on a computer just doesn’t feel like “real radio”. I’ve been wanting a stand-alone device to listen to online streams for a while now.

I’m reminded of the debate that raged among hobbyists when digital photography was still new. Some claimed that digital photography wasn’t “real” photography because the images weren’t captured on film and printed on papers with silver-based emulsions. I didn’t get that argument at all because it was the message (i.e. the image) rather than the medium that was more important to me, and digital just seemed like a much more capable medium to act as a carrier for the message. Similarly, although I do have an attachment to the medium of radio, I’ve come to realize that over 50% of my enjoyment of shortwave broadcast listening was for the actual content – and there is plenty of easily accessible content on this internet radio.

Apologies for the lack of a more set-up shot, but I didn’t want to stop listening.  The little black box on top of the radio is my flash recorder that plugs into the line out on the radio for recording programs, and unrelated (though very topical) you can see the various connectors from the CC-20 transceiver beta board poking out to the left. The telescopic whip sticking up at the back is for reception of local FM stations if you want to use the built-in FM tuner:

The sound is really good, thanks in part to the bass port on the back of the radio:

The shortwave broadcast bands have not been what they were for quite a few years now, and many international shortwave broadcasters continue to scale down and cease their operations altogether – particularly transmissions to the developed world. Unless you like listening to endless religious broadcasts, the pickings here on the West Coast are pretty slim. In sharp contrast, I have 15,349 stations immediately available on this internet radio to choose from – and that doesn’t include the fact that if a station isn’t included in the list on my receiver, I can add it as a separate stream. Oh – and it does podcasts too – I already have Soldersmoke programmed in. I remember when I was a much more active SWL being able to listen to the foreign services of many countries on the shortwave bands, but wondering what their domestic broadcasts sounded like. Now I wonder no more because not only can I listen to the foreign services of stations like Radio Tirana, Albania and Deutsche Welle, there are even more domestic broadcast stations to choose from. Even the low bit-rate streams from less developed countries give more consistent and better quality reception than the shortwave bands ever have.

Of course, all these streams are available to listen to on a computer, but the convenience of a dedicated stand-alone box to listen to them makes the process of “tuning in” a whole lot simpler.  In the morning I hit the power button and after the internet radio has logged onto my WiFi network and buffered enough audio, it automatically begins streaming from whatever station I was listening to last – just like a regular radio. Sure it takes a minute or two to fire up, but so did vacuum tube radios in the old days 🙂

I’ve found stations with fabulous music from Senegal, Mali and Algeria, to name just a few. There is a News/Talk station in Jamaica that is very entertaining, as I have never heard serious social issues discussed in heavy Jamaican patois, interspersed with reggae songs and streamed with the production quality of many great reggae songs recorded in Kingston in the ’60’s. That is to say, the audio is poor quality but somehow, it adds to the aesthetic of that particular station. I own a number of good music compilation CD’s from Radio Nova in Paris, France and have finally been able to listen to the station (it’s quite good and plays an interesting musical mix).

Best of all though, I’ve been listening to a lot of BBC Radio. From the news and current affairs of BBC Radio 4, to the comedy and drama of BBC Radio 4 Extra, to the musical shows of BBC Radio 6, it’s a reassuring reminder that first-rate broadcast radio is not dead. Anyone who listens exclusively to the commercial stations on the AM and FM bands in the US could be forgiven for having given up on broadcast radio. In my humble opinion, the medium of radio is just too good to trust to commercial forces alone. When you place broadcast radio in the hands of people who just want to use it to make money, you end up with stations that broadcast to the lowest common denominator. Whether it’s talk designed to infuriate listeners and increase ratings rather than inform and educate, or music stations that play the same tired small list of songs out of fear that they might play something different and interesting that would cause listeners to tune out, the end result is mass mediocrity.

Thanks to Randy K7AGE, for letting me know that just after I bought my internet radio from Best Buy, that they lowered the price for a few days to $79.99.  I called them up and was able to have the price difference refunded to me.

Is internet radio real radio? In my opinion, the answer to that is yes.

Blog at WordPress.com.