Dave Richards AA7EE

February 15, 2011

A Listener Report and The Magic Of Radio

Filed under: Amateur Radio,Ham Radio,QRP — AA7EE @ 9:45 pm
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I don’t know what happened.  I lay on the bed a couple of hours before bedtime last night for a quick nap and the next thing I knew it was 2:30 am and my nap had turned into half a night’s sleep. This was not a bad thing as it meant I was now awake and could turn the radio on to see what was cooking on 40.  The only antenna I currently have is a co-ax fed 40M inverted vee at 47 feet above ground. In theory, the only 2 bands I can operate with this antenna are 40 and 15, but I received a 599 from W5TTW on 10M yesterday using this antenna (tuned at the transmitter end).  He was 1600 miles from me in Texas. It never hurts to try!

Back to this morning and 5W of CW on 40. I worked K4TE 2000 miles from me in Alabama, and K9KHJ 1800 miles distant in Wisconsin. Although our QSO was brief due to the high band noise at my end, it was a pleasure to work him. His callsign is a tribute to the station KHJ in Los Angeles, which was legendary in the boss jock era. It was that callsign that first caught my attention when Danny left a comment on a previous blog post about powerhouse amateur stations. As a former DJ/voiceover/production person, the letters KHJ just popped out. Great that we got to QSO and it happened without the aid of Twitter, e-mail or Facebook; it happened the old-fashioned way – we were both on 40M at the same time. After that, an exchange with W2ZRA in Long Island confirmed that 40 was in good shape (with the exception of high band noise) and I was a happy camper. I did call CQ one more time but didn’t try too hard; I was becoming sleepy.

About an hour later, just as I was thinking a few more zzzz’s might be a good idea, an e-mail from Steve KC2VBU landed in my inbox. He had heard my final CQ on the direct conversion receiver of his Rock-Mite at his QTH in New Jersey. Given that I was only a 229, on the wrong side of his rockbound frequency of 7028 and his Rock-Mite puts out just 600mW, he didn’t call me, figuring a QSO was unlikely to ensue.  Steve wrote:

GM.  As is my habit most every  morning as I putz around before heading out to work I fired up my SWL Rockmite (have two) and listened in a bit on 40M.

About 12:37z (7:37ET) I thought I heard a “7” call and after listening to a few CQ’s I had your call down AA7EE. This is unusual for early mornings on the Rockmite so I looked you up in QRZ (nice pic ha!) and saw you were most likely operating QRP so I had to let you know ur sig this morning went ~2550 miles (if you were operating in the the Oakland area) at least to the NYC metro area. Maybe this is not unusual for you but it is on this end and I do a lot of listening on 40 & 80M.

I just replied to Steve, thanking him for taking the trouble to send an e-mail report. Part of my reply read as follows:

Even in this age of being able to use the internet and the Reverse Beacon Network to see where I am being heard, the extra personal touch of an e-mail report is very welcome.  To think that as I was sitting in my room on the west coast in the early hours of the morning, someone was straining to hear my signals on the east coast, and successfully decoding them (especially with a Rockmite!) is a thrill.  It’s the magic of radio.

That pretty much sums up a lot of the magic of radio for me. It’s a combination of the technical aspect and the personal aspect that gives radio a mystery and a romance.  Thanks for the report Steve!

January 21, 2011

Etherkit – A New Kit Company

If you follow Jason NT7S’ blog, you’ll be well aware that he has been developing a QRP CW transceiver with low receive current drain that looks like it would make a good trail-friendly radio. He has just publicly announced that his open-source amateur radio company will be called etherkit:

Sorry for lifting your logo Jason.  I know that strictly speaking it’s a breach of copyright, but I’ve linked it to your new site, so hopefully it qualifies as “fair use”!

The first kit offered will be the CC-40, and lifted from this blog post on Jason’s site, here are initial specs.  They may have changed somewhat since he posted these, but it gives you an idea of what will be on offer:

  • RX current draw is now around 30 mA, but I’d like to squeeze it down further if I can
  • TX is Class E, so TX current draw should be pretty good as well
  • Nominal TX output power is 2 W
  • MDS should be around -130 dBm (500 Hz BW)
  • VFO tuning range approximately 40-50 kHz
  • VFO stability is very good (~2 MHz VFO frequency)
  • ATmega88 microcontroller for built-in keyer, mute, frequency counter, battery status, etc.
  • Other planned bands are 80 m, 30 m, and 20 m. Would like to tweak design for upper bands as well for a future date

You can glean some more info from the various posts on Jason’s blog here.

I think the part that interests me is the low current draw on receive.  I already have visions of running my own 40m station with a CC-40 powered entirely by a small solar panel.

Fingers crossed that the beta testing goes well and we’ll be able to buy the CC-40 soon!


May 25, 2010

I Finally Made It!

I finally made it – into print in a national publication, that is. It’s funny really – in my former career as a DJ/announcer/voice-over person, my voice has been heard on radio and TV in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, San Francisco, Boston, Columbus and a bunch of other cities as well as on in-flight audio on airplanes.  I don’t think I’ve ever been mentioned in a national publication though and although it was a fairly brief mention, I got a real kick from seeing the Fort Tuthill 80 I made on the contents page of the June issue of CQ magazine:

This image belongs to CQ Magazine - hope you guys don't mind me using it.

That’s my Tut 80! I get a bit more of a mention on page 72, as does this blog (which explains the sharp spike in page views).  Thank you to Cam Hartford N6GA for the mention – a hearty welcome and congratulations on a fine first QRP column for CQ magazine.

February 9, 2010

The Fort Tuthill 80 – A Direct Conversion Transceiver For 80M

A week ago, the Arizona ScQRPions released their Fort Tuthill 80M TX/RX kit. I’d been keen to build it ever since I became aware of it (thank you AE5X) due to a long standing interest in DC receivers, and the fact that the first transceiver I ever built was also for 80M and also utilized a DC receiver. That was back in the early 1980’s.  I brought that rig with me to the US when I moved here from the UK in 1987 and then fried several of the active devices in it by accidentally connecting the power the wrong way round.  Yes I know – for some reason I didn’t want to use a diode to polarity-protect it (probably didn’t want to lose the 0.6V forward-bias voltage drop).  At the time I was going through a phase of my life in which I was distinctly uninterested in amateur radio, so rather than replace the fried devices, I threw the whole thing out and somewhat regret that decision to this day.  I don’t remember it suffering from any of the problems normally associated with DC receivers – microphony and hum pickup. However, this could very well be a case of my looking through the past at rose-tinted glasses.  As it was the first transceiver I had ever built, it was the apple of my eye, and well, proud parents can be quite good at ignoring flaws in their offspring.

OK, here’s what you get for your $53.  The silvery bag contains the active devices, and you also get 2 sets of decals:

Considering the amount of work that goes into designing something like this, designing the PCB, sourcing and ordering all the parts, as well as bagging them all up ready for delivery to you, the end consumer, $53 is a steal. Dan N7VE, the designer of this transceiver, knows a great deal about active filtering in receivers and has applied his expertise and knowledge to the design. Look here for a presentation he gave on the subject of active filtering in receivers.

A closer look at the board that Dan designed for this radio:

One of the many great things about the internet is that manuals for kits can be more detailed, with more pictures than ever before.  Dan’s manual makes building this little radio a lot of fun, and with the help of the Yahoo Group, expert advice from the designer, or other builders, is not far away.

The build went smoothly.  As tends to be the case with these things, I stayed up all night to finish it off and ended up finally hitting the hay at 9am.  I find that it’s easy to get so engrossed in a project that I’ve barely noticed that it’s something like 3am.  By that time I’m within spitting distance of finishing – or so it seems.  I’m not fast at doing things, tending to get distracted easily by things like the need for coffee breaks, the urge to look at something on the internet etc, so what some might call an 8 hour kit build, is closer to 3 times that for me. Next thing I knew it was 9am, but the board was finished, and all the external connectors temporarily connected:

The board with external connectors temporarily attached. On the far right just above the middle you can see the 2 PA transistors epoxied to the heatsink. Just above that is the trimpot for controlling output power. The VFO toroid is on the far left about 2/3 of the way up the board.

Initial impressions are favorable. Although some of the capacitors are microphonic (to be expected in a DC receiver), I can tell that this is not going to be a problem in use, especially when the board is mounted on standoffs in a case.  The other main problem with DC receivers is the issue of hum pickup.  I’m a little concerned, because I am getting quite a lot of hum pickup through the antenna connection. I’m hoping that enclosing the board in a metal case will help.  An enclosure will be arriving later this week, so we’ll see how that helps.

The receiver is sensitive and VFO stability seems to be good enough for regular usage.  Using my FT-817 as a reference,  I measured about 60Hz of drift in an hour from the VFO after it had already been on for several hours, operating in a room of reasonably constant temperature. I then measured the frequency drift every hour for 6 hours. After 6 hours, the VFO had drifted 90Hz higher than the original frequency; the maximum drift from the original frequency within the 6 hour period was 150Hz. Not bad! I intend to fix the VFO toroid more firmly to the board with a nylon nut, bolt and washer to help improve the resistance of the VFO to physical impact.

At this point, my main concern is that of hum pickup in the receiver.  We’ll see what happens when I’m able to install it in a metal case. To be continued………..

Postscript – nothing better to do with my time this morning than stare lovingly at the PC board and ponder on what a thing of beauty it is:

The board after disconnecting the temporary knobs, switches, power etc and before mounting in a case.

Hum Problem Solved – I haven’t begun to put the FT80 in a case yet, but the hum issue has already been resolved.  The radio was connected to an antenna via an LDG Z11 tuner, which was powered by an unsmoothed wall wart transformer.  On unplugging the wall wart from the wall, the hum all but disappeared.  There is still a very low level of background mains hum, but only at the level you’d hear in a mains powered receiver with a well smoothed power supply. At this point, the radio is very usable in just the current bare board situation; things can only get better when it is installed in a metal case. Dan N7VE made the point that if you mount the board close to the bottom of the case, as the traces are on the bottom of the board, and the top of the board is mainly ground plane, then the traces will be sandwiched between two ground planes. The FT80 looks like it is going to be a very usable little transceiver. I’m really looking forward to when QRP Kits start stocking versions for other bands.

January 26, 2010

The Perfect CW QSO

I’ve started the packing process for my sojourn to Southern California (see previous post) and it looks like this particular move will be the most enjoyable so far.  I’m putting much of my stuff into storage in the Bay Area and moving down to So Cal with a small truckload of belongings.  Because I’m a QRP’er,  there will be no big heavy radio gear, and due to the tall trees at the property I’m moving to,  a roll of dacron antenna rope, a couple of hundred feet of stranded insulated wire and a pulley or two will pack into a small space and should make for a great antenna (with the help of a slingshot to get it up there.)

The ham radio gear at this end may well be some of the last stuff to be packed.  It gives me a good diversion from packing every now and then. Trust me – you don’t want to own 10,000 CD’s – it’s more music than anyone can properly take in during a lifetime, and all those boxes weigh a lot.

So while plonking CD’s into the umpteenth box this afternoon, I heard a very weak but fully copyable CQ on 7030 from KG6SNV. I called him back and we had a brief but very enjoyable QSO.  I gave him a 519 (he gave me a 529), but it was armchair copy.  I don’t have an S-meter on the Norcal 2N2/40 but band noise was probably at about an S4.  His sigs were almost imperceptible at an S1 (and below the band noise) but due to no QSB, no QRM and his excellent sending (his speed and rhythm were perfect for the conditions) copying him was a breeze.

I’m not sure how to put this into words, but any CW operator reading this will be able to identify with these sentiments. There was something very satisfying about receiving a signal so weak that I was able to copy with ease. There was nothing groundbreaking about our QSO; we were only 61 miles apart, in adjoining counties.  Mario was running 10 watts into an indoor vertical at 20 feet (apartment antenna maybe?), and I was running 4 watts to an outdoor vertical also at 20 feet. The thing that made this QSO so much fun was that I was able to take such a weak signal and decode it in my head. For anyone who is either thinking of learning morse code, or who has started and is having trouble becoming fluent, take it from me that your effort will be rewarded many times over if you keep on plugging away. Your brain has an amazing number of built-in algorithms and a lot of  “filtering”, and using it to decode CW signals is fun.  Just think – free DSP!

I’ve had one or two e-mails in the past from folk reading this blog who are learning the code and have taken inspiration from some of the blog posts here. I hope that if you’re on the fence about either beginning to learn, or continuing, that you’ll take heart from reading this.

Incidentally,  I’m no veteran CW op.  My speed lies somewhere in the 10 – 20 wpm range and I have a long way to go with the code, but I’m on course.  I guess a good analogy would be with learning the guitar.  Let’s just say that I’ve taught myself to play 3 chords and can bang out a lot of rock n’ roll songs at this point. I haven’t learned to play like Mark Knopfler or The Edge yet though.

On a side note, it looks like the Fort Tuthill 80M Direct Conversion CW Transceiver Kit is days away from going on sale and I hope to bag one of the kits in this first run of 100. Dan N7VE has just uploaded the assembly manual to the Yahoo Group and this looks like it’s going to be one fun rig to build.

November 20, 2009

The Norcal 2N2/40 CW Transceiver Kit

I’ve been wanting to build a kit for some time now.  I built the Softrock 40 a few months ago as my re-entry into the world of building radio gear. It was my first experience with SMT devices, and it went quite well. However, I really wanted to build a complete transceiver – something I can solder up, stuff into a case, and use to talk to someone on.  It’s been years since I’ve done that.

As a kid I spent countless hours with my nose buried in RadCom, Practical Wireless and various books from the RSGB, staring at the schematics and pictures of all kinds of wonderful homebrew projects.  I built a few too, but spent many more hours just gazing at this stuff.  As an adult, I haven’t changed much, except that we now have the internet, so the opportunities for hours of happy browsing are even more numerous.

I spent a lot of time familiarizing myself with the various QRP CW transceiver kits out there and I don’t think there has ever been a better time to be a kit builder, there are so many good kits available. I looked at the kits from Wilderness Radio – the SST series of rigs (very appealing because of their simplicity),  the Norcal 40A and the Sierra transceiver. Then of course, there is the early 21st century version of Heathkit – Elecraft, and their excellent K1, K2 and KX1 kits. Steve Weber’s PFR3, Weber Dual Bander and MMR-40 from Hendricks kits all received good long looks from me as well. There are some really interesting SDR transceiver kits out there too, but I wanted to build a more traditional little QRP radio this time around.

Phew – so many kits to consider, and the problem for an internet “window shopper” like me is that I often spend so much time reading up about things that I can get to the point where I don’t feel the urge to do them any longer. It has something to do with the art of delayed gratification, which I learnt a little too well as a kid.  The good side of it is that it does save me a lot of money.  The bad side is that I spend a lot of time indoors reading about things instead of doing them.

OK, apologies for the digression. There was one other design that caught my attention, and that was K8IQY’s 2N2 series of transceivers.  The design was K8IQY’s response to Wayne Burdick N6KR’s challenge to design a transceiver that used no more than 22 2N2222 transistors.  No PNP transistors, voltage regulators or IC’s were allowed – the 2N2222 was the only active device to be used.  Dayton 1998 was where the judging was held, and Jim Kortge K8IQY took the prize. For about 10 years, a lot of folk built these neat little transceivers manhattan style until the Norcal QRP Club came along to help those of us who still want to build things, but like to have them in the form of a ready-to-assemble kit. The Norcal 2N2/XX series of kits included a double-sided PCB and to many, this was just too good to resist.

The original run of 500 kits looked like they were close to sold by the time I arrived on the scene.  The club had suspended all online ordering (and as of today, I notice that they have decided to suspend all order processing for a year in order to give their volunteers a good break.)  I lucked out and found an amateur on the Yahoo Norcal 2N2 Group who had a spare unbuilt 2N2/40 kit to sell.  40 meters was my preferred band,  so this was an exciting find for me – thanks Cameron!

While waiting for the kit to arrive, I built an RF probe.  I don’t own an oscilloscope, so the next best thing was an RF probe.  This would allow me to test each stage as I proceeded. The instructions are here. I built mine in an old 1/4″ jack plug.  The body was metal so that the probe would be properly shielded.  The test tip was a piece of stiff wire soldered to the end of the plug, with a piece of heat-shrink tubing placed over the joint:

Then I slid the insulation over the whole shebang, screwed on the body of the plug, added some leads, and voila – an RF test probe for around $2:

The kit was well packed and arrived intact.  Cameron, who had bought it from Norcal months earlier, and hadn’t had time to build it, also included all the replacement parts and updates that Norcal sent out.  A view of the entire kit laid out on my deck:

and a close-up  of the update packets that Norcal sent out (ignore the transparent packet of trimmer capacitors – that was part of the original kit):

From finish to end, it took me about 10 days to build this great little radio. I have no idea how many hours I spent on it.  Some days, I worked for a couple of hours, and then went off to meet a friend for the rest of the day, coming back to put in another couple of hours in the evening.  Other days I worked on it while entertaining company at home, and then there were the marathon sessions where I started in the evening and worked until the wee small hours of the morning when sleep got the better of me.  One time I started work at around 8pm and after many hours of toiling away with the soldering iron, realized that it was 6 o’ clock the next morning! Funny how times just melts away when you’re engrossed in a project.

Here’s a view of the board after I had built and tested the power protection, the receive active power decoupler,  receive main audio amplifier,  receive/transmit keying,  receive mute,  receive audio pre-amp,  receive local oscillator,  receive product detector, receive post IF amp crystal filter, and the receive IF amplifier. That sounds like a lot, but some of the stages were literally just a few components:

Same board, same point during the construction, different view:

While we’re at it, here’s a picture of my workbench/operating position. The candle isn’t evidence of any kind of gothic leaning  – I was using it to help strip the enamel from the ends of toroids after I had wound them:

Speaking of toroids, there are a fair number to wind in this project.  Some folk love winding toroids, more seem to dislike the process.  I take what I think of as a more “zen” approach, which is the same approach I take to all kit building. I take my time when I’m building; I don’t feel any rush to get it done and get the project completed.  Part of the enjoyment for me is in building the kit, so I take my time doing it.  While I’m doing it, whatever needs to be done gets done.  Some things are simple, like stuffing resistors into holes and soldering them, while some things, like winding toroids, take more time. While building, I may be listening to the radio – either some CW on 40 meters or my local college station KALX, which comes from the Berkeley campus.  I take frequent coffee breaks, and may also have company over.  The point is that the most detailed laborious task (such as winding a toroid) can be made more enjoyable by becoming engrossed in the process, or at the very least having something interesting playing in the background! The main point of kit building for me is the journey rather than the destination. Having said that, my toroids, though perfectly serviceable and not all bad looking, are still nowhere near as beautiful as K8IQY’s. He uses a #2 crochet hook to pull the wire through the toroid, and also mounts the core in a small vice while winding.  I hold the small toroid cores in my hand while winding and don’t use any other tools to help the process, so I may think about trying Jim’s technique for my next project.

Here’s the board with the receive chain finished and fully operational. The controls are temporarily wired in for testing purposes. In the center of the board, instead of T6, there is a jumper wire.  This is because on 40 meters the RF receive amp isn’t used:

Wow.  Exciting! There are two crystal filters in this radio – a 4 pole (the main crystal filter) and a 2 pole filter just after the IF amp. The bandwidth of 500Hz sounds just about right.  I have not used a lot of narrow filters in my life, but compared to the 300Hz filter I have installed on my FT-817 (which is a little too narrow for everyday use) this one sounds like a good width for regular CW use.

By the way, in these pictures, the radio is sitting on a schematic of the actual radio being built.  As suggested in the excellent assembly instructions available on the Norcal website, I printed a large version of the circuit diagram to use as a reference while building.  It makes a pretty backdrop for pictures of the 2N2/40 as well.

Here’s the finished board with the temporary wiring for all controls removed, ready for installing in the case:

I’m breezing through the construction in this blog, but a look at Norcal’s assembly instructions will show you that there is a fair amount of work involved in putting together this transceiver. It’s definitely not for beginners, but if you’re good at soldering and have some circuit building experience, it’s not hard. You’ve just got to put in the time. After you’ve built each section, the instructions show you how to make a few measurements to verify that the stage is working as intended.  Don’t skip these tests.  The peace of mind you get from knowing that everything you’ve completed so far is working is well worth the time.

Here’s the board mounted in the case with all the controls attached. Is this thing beautiful or what?

I think it looks decidedly less pretty when fully ensconced in the case, but that’s only because I love looking at components and circuit boards:

A head-on view of the front panel, showing the lettering:

I was keen to see how stable the fully free-running VFO would be.  I haven’t made any measurements but as expected, the VFO does drift quite a bit in the first few minutes after initial switch-on.  If your main experience is with commercial radios controlled by PLL or DDS synthesized VFO’s, you’ll have to get used to the fact that you shouldn’t be switching the radio on and transmitting almost immediately.  I had intended to run some tests to determine the minimum amount of time I should leave the radio on before operating, but since finishing it, I’ve left it switched on nearly all the time.  It uses such little current (measured at around 135ma) that it’s convenient for me to leave it on, so if I wake up in the middle of the night (a regular occurrence) I can listen to the radio and immediately respond to any stations I might hear calling. I will say this – when the radio has settled down to a stable internal temperature, it is easily stable enough for serious CW operating.

The night I finished the radio, I went to sleep, woke up just before 3am, put the earbuds in and worked JM7OLW.  He gave me a 419 with the 4 watts from the 2N2/40.  Not a stellar report, but my first confirmed contact – and it was with Japan!

The sidetone is a little loud for me, so I’ll be adjusting the value of resistor R14 to reduce the monitored transmitted signal to a more comfortable level. The other change I’m going to make will be to add a digital frequency display (probably the KD1JV Digital Frequency Dial.) With these two changes made, the 2N2/40 will be a very serviceable TX/RX for everyday use in the shack.

A few more thoughts on this radio.  If you’ve come from a position of operating mainly commercially built rigs, you’ll probably go through a short period of adjustment when getting used to this radio (or many other similar types of designs.)  As previously mentioned, it has a free-running VFO,  so it needs to be switched on a while before you plan to operate.  It doesn’t have any AGC, so you may need to be a bit more nimble with the AF gain control from time to time to compensate.  The radio does need to be powered by a well regulated power supply, as it has no regulator of it’s own (due to the original design criteria.) Another difference I noticed was the inability to switch to a wider receive bandwidth.  As this is a CW only rig, you may not see the need to be able to set the receive filter something wider than 500Hz. I spend a lot of time at home, and often leave the radio monitoring 7030.  When doing so with my FT-817, I tune to about 7029 and leave the filter in SSB mode.  That way, I can hear anyone calling from about 7029 to a little over 7031KHz. On hearing a call,  I can then zero beat the other station and switch to a narrower filter if necessary before replying. I am not able to do this with the 2N2/40 and feel that I may be missing out on the occasional QSO because of it.

All this being said, it isn’t fair to perform these types of comparisons, as the 2N2 was designed to meet a strict set of criteria for the Dayton 1998 contest, the main one being that the only active device to be used should be the 2N2222, and no more than 22 of them. No “complex” active devices, such as IC’s or voltage regulators could be used either.

Should the above deter you from building this radio? If you specifically want a radio for backpacking and portable operations, there are others that are better suited.  If you’ll be using this at home though, it is a very worthwhile project with plenty of room in the case for you to add your own extras if you wish, such as keyers or frequency displays. I built it because the original design concept caught my imagination, and the changes that Jim has made to the design in the years since haven’t caused it to stray too far from the original idea.

August 25, 2009

My 5 Watt Sigs Heard (Well) By A One Tube Regen Receiver at W7QQQ

I’ve worked W7QQQ 3 times now over the course of 4 nights, and each time has been a pleasure. Jack is a retired engineer who lives in Sierra Vista, Arizona, and is an accomplished homebrewer. However, in this case he’s not whipping together small solid state rigs and fitting them into Altoids tins. There are no surface mount devices or printed circuit boards in Jack’s projects, because the home brew station that he used in our QSO’s consisted of a one tube regenerative receiver and a one tube transmitter.  You can see a picture of his homebrew station here on his QRZ listing. There are also some pictures of his station here on Flickr. When we were chatting, he had the output of the one tube TX fed to a pair of 813’s in grounded grid.  He gets about 500 watts out this way, and his signal sounded great at my QTH in Oakland. What was pretty cool was that I gave him a solid 59, and he was hearing my 5 watt sigs at 57 on his regen receiver!

Jack’s crystal controlled TX operates at about 7050.5 KHz give or take a few hundred cycles. One thing I love about his transmitter is that it has it’s own distinctive sound. The note has a great timbre, and occasionally a bit of chirp creeps in; when that happens, you’ll hear Jack key down for a few seconds and retune to stabilize the note. Listening to him tune up and getting ready to call CQ, I thought to myself that this must have been what the bands sounded like 70 years ago – the majority of operators rock bound on their own frequencies, operating transmitters, each with their own distinctive sound. I don’t know how to explain this, but I’ve really enjoyed listening to him work stations on 7050 these last few nights. Even if I’m not decoding his code; if I’m doing other things and letting the CW float around the room as background, there’s a magic and romance to the sound of the CW notes from his one tube rig making their way the 800 miles to my apartment in the Bay Area.

This evening when I heard someone key down and send QRL? on 7050.32 I knew who it was.  Before he even had a chance to call CQ, I called “W7QQQ W7QQQ de AA7EE AA7EE AA7EE KN”  The combination of knowing what frequency his crystal controlled transmitter operates on, and knowing the sound of his TX helped me recognize his signal before he had even sent his callsign. I think the amateur bands must have been a very warm and friendly place back in the 30’s and 40’s. We chatted back and forth for just under 45 mins, mainly about homebrewing, before I mentioned that hot chocolate was calling me and I’d need to say 73.

If you haven’t QSO’ed with Jack before, listen for him a few hundred cycles above 7050 in the evenings and give him a call.  He’s great to talk to, and a knowledgeable and generous conversationalist.

August 14, 2009

In Which Dave Experiences The Odd Feeling Of Having A QSO With Himself

Filed under: Amateur Radio,Ham Radio — AA7EE @ 3:21 am
Tags: , , , ,

Lately, I’ve been keeping the radio on 7030 when I’m at home – even in the middle of the day when there’s not much (if anything) on the band.  Occasionally if I hear a CQ, I can call right back, shock the other station’s pants off and hopefully get a pleasant QSO to boot.

Around lunchtime, I heard someone calling CQ – pretty strong signal too.  I called him straight back, and as he was coming back to me, pulled up hs profile on QRZ.  AE6PX – it was a station in Oakland – same city as me. I was kind of hoping that he’d be just a little farther away. The propagation aspect of radio adds extra interest for me.  I love to wonder at how my modest 5 watt (or lower) signals are somehow making it to the other station’s receiver.  In this case of course, it wasn’t too amazing, as he is about 5 1/2 miles away from me. Still, I always need someone to practice my code on, and it’s good to speak to a ham that I haven’t spoken to before.

He mentioned his name – Dave. Hang on – that’s my name.  So I’m speaking to another radio ham called Dave who also lives in Oakland.  It got better.  On his QRZ page is a picture of him riding a bike.  Criminy – I ride a bike too – although Dave is into Ultra Marathon Cycling, whereas a bike for me is my sole mode of transport – just a way to get around and get some exercise at the same time.  Even so, I was now chatting via morse code with another ham called Dave who is also in Oakland who also rides a bike.

At this point, Dave mentioned that we were having a Twilight Zone moment.  A bit later I said that I had to go because I had a dentist appointment. Dave came back to me and said that he went to the dentist yesterday. Yikes! We were separated at birth!

In reality, we are probably very different, but it sure was a nice twist to a QSO with a local amateur.

Update: A week after having this first QSO with AE6PX, I QSO’ed (on 40m CW again) with KE6YX – another guy called Dave who also lives in Oakland, and who also rides a bike.  In fact, he works as a bike repair technician on the weekends.  We’re multiplying!

August 10, 2009

K3WWP Has A QRP CW QSO Every Single Day For 15 Years

Filed under: Amateur Radio,Ham Radio — AA7EE @ 6:45 am
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John Shannon K3WWP has been running a web site to promote the use of morse code on the amateur bands since about 1996.  I discovered his site for the first time in around 2002 and was impressed that he was so singular minded in his devotion to the use of QRP CW on the HF bands.  The only mode he ever uses is CW with a power of 5 watts or less into simple wire antennas.  From his QTH, which is on a small lot in a valley in the town of Kittaning, PA he has had at least one CW contact a day – not pre-arranged, by the way.  He just goes on the air and looks for QSO’s. Think about this – he has done this every single day for 15 whole years, without missing a day.  Quite amazing.

John’s web site is well worth a visit. There is a lot of information and reading there,  so you might want to bookmark it and visit regularly. He just passed the 15 year mark of his daily QSO streak and to mark the occasion has been publishing an interview with himself divided into 6 parts.  I’ve been eagerly looking forward to this.  John has been such a figurehead to me for QRP CW that I was keen to know a little more about him and about his 15 year streak. His diary is here (opens in a new browser window), and the interview starts with the entry marked Wednesday August 5th 2009.  I submitted 5 questions for John and was thrilled to find that he answered 4 of them in his interview – the other one had already been asked by someone else and answered by John earlier in the interview series. I wasn’t expecting John to answer even one of my questions, but for him to answer 4 was very exciting.

John is also an officer,  co-founder and member of the North American QRP Club (NAQCC). The club is free to join,  and one of the benefits of membership is your own unique membership number that is good for life and will never expire.  You can exchange the number with other club members in club contests and activity days. The club is not big on web-based activities – the web site exists mainly for informational purposes, and to encourage members to get on the air with CW.  They really want to encourage and promote the use of CW on the bands, as does John; a read of John’s site makes this very apparent.

One of the things I love about John’s site and his approach is that it doesn’t concentrate very much on equipment or fancy antennas.  The focus is very much on operating using low power and simple wire antennas. I really hope that CW is around on the bands for a long time to come.

July 22, 2009

The KK1 Straight Key From American Morse Equipment

Filed under: Amateur Radio,Ham Radio — AA7EE @ 3:15 pm
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A couple of days ago, this turned up in the mail:

Almost as exciting as getting Lego for my birthday as a kid - a package containing the KK1 Straight Key kit from Doug at American Morse Equipment.

Almost as exciting as getting Lego for my birthday as a kid - a package containing the KK1 Straight Key kit from Doug at American Morse Equipment.

Now, you have to understand how exciting this was for me. I’m trying to find an analogy here.  Mmm….the first time I made out with a girl? Well, I’m not THAT much of a nerd, but close.  For a start, I haven’t owned a straight key in about 15 years, and the ones I owned in the past weren’t of very high quality.  My last key was a cheap practice key, and I only had a few on-air QSO’s with it. So…….this was going to be my first decent straight key.  Secondly, seeing this key in the flesh is a bit like seeing your favorite celebrity in person. You’ve seen them in magazines and on TV, and you can’t quite believe that they are really in front of you.  Well, I haven’t seen the KK1 on TV, but I’ve seen it plenty in magazines and online and have been considering it for a while now.  I was thinking that for the main station key, perhaps I need something a little larger and heavier, but my ham budget is limited.  Doug Hauff, the chief bottle washer at American Morse Equipment told me that it didn’t need to be held down while operating, so I thought that perhaps this little key was going to be substantial enough to be the main key while using my FT-817 at home, as well as while on portable operations.

Ordering is a breeze.  You click the appropriate button on Doug’s website, pay by Paypal, Paypal send you an acknowledgement of your payment, and that’s it. A couple of days later the above package turned up in my mailbox.

Here’s what I got when I opened the packet:

IMG_7280On opening the outer plastic pack, here’s a look at what’s inside:

IMG_7286I like the fact that instead of including an assembly manual, Doug points you to his website, which has a downloadable pdf file with complete assembly instructions. This is really the way to go.

Before doing anything, I spent a good 15 minutes looking the parts over, and in particular, marveling at how well machined the aluminum base, operating lever and other parts were.  It’s a pleasure to look at well made parts like this, so I did.  I had a good look at everything before proceeding.

I emptied the parts into the lid of a Quaker Oats box.  The lid has a small lip that prevents small washers, screws, springs etc from escaping. Lots of things you could use here.  An egg carton would work also:


I eat a lot of oatmeal, so it’s nice to find a use for the lid before I toss it.  I’m thinking I should get back into building crystal sets so that I can use the cylindrical card oatmeal containers for winding coils on.

Although some owners spend quite a bit of time polishing and buffing the aluminum base and brass parts of the key, as well as performing other customizations, such as fixing a knob to the paddle, the only thing you do need to do before assembly is to deburr the clevis (it’s the two vertical “posts” sticking up out of the aluminum base).  I used a fine file; you can also use fine sandpaper or a small pocket knife.  Only a light touch is required here, so go easy on it; it doesn’t take much.

I won’t say much about the assembly. The instructions are detailed and straightforward to follow. Anything in the instructions that doesn’t make immediate sense to you will most likely become apparent after looking at the pieces and the photos in the instructions. I only had one slight uncertainty during the assembly process, and that was the following instruction:

“Locate the 4-40 x 1/2 ground end machine screw. There are two ½ inch screws, the smaller is the 4-40; you can easily see the ground end.”

The other 1/2 inch screw, according to the parts list, is a 6-32 x 1/2.  Well, the problem I had was that both my 1/2 inch screws looked exactly the same.  The pitch was the same and the ends both looked the same.  Although the ends of both my screws were ground a little,  but as this screw is going to be used as the electrical contact for the key, I think that perhaps the end was supposed to be ground smoother than it actually was. Anyway, the thread on the screw fit the thread in the hole easily, so I went ahead with the assembly, deciding that if I had problems further down the road, I would contact Doug for a replacement part.

I had one extra part – an extra #0/1 washer.  No problem.  I’d rather have one part too many than one too few.

The assembly didn’t take long, at the end of which, I had this:

The finished KK1 Straight Key

The finished KK1 Straight Key

Yours could look even more beautiful if you want to polish the main parts.  It looks perfectly nice to me the way it is, so for the time being, it stays the way it is. Maybe one day I’ll find myself with a little time on my hands and a can of brass polish to hand.

One more thing before it could be used – a cord and plug.  I found an audio connecting cable that had come from Radio Shack and hadn’t been used in a long time.  It had a molded 1/8″ jack on each end.  I cut it in half, and used one half to make a cord for this key, along with heat-shrink tubing.

Here’s the finished item:

The KK1 Straight Key from American Morse Equipment - A solid little key.

The KK1 Straight Key from American Morse Equipment - A solid little key.

I have never used a straight key that was this small before, and was pleasantly surprised.  For the size (approx 1.5″ x 3″ x 1.375″ tall), it is quite heavy, and it definitely stayed put on my wooden desk top while I was keying it.  It’s not very apparent from these pictures, but the key comes with 4 clear rubber “bumpers” that you stick to the bottom of the base, and these do a splendid job of keeping the key in place while you’re pumping brass.  I also tried it on a tile countertop with no problems, so if you have any concerns about the possibility of a small key scooting all over the place while you’re trying to key your transmitter, I don’t think that’s going to happen with the KK1.

I did at first find it a little unusual using a straight key with a paddle instead of a knob.  Some have attached their own knobs; I will most likely keep my key the way it is.  I seem to be getting used to it.  Having not used a straight key in 15 years, I was disappointed to find that I need to work on my sending in order to develop a more natural rhythm. At first, I wondered if a larger key with a knob would help.  It may, but I think that lack of practice is the bigger factor here.

This key was fun to assemble and will be a pleasure to own.  For $36 plus shipping you have a straight key that can be used as the main key in your station as well as an excellent key for portable ops too. It’s well made and looks great.  I can’t keep my eyes off it. Kudos to Doug Hauff W6AME, and his company American Morse Equipment.

Now please excuse me while I go make a cup of tea and come back to the computer to apply for my FISTS and SKCC memberships!

This news just in: I just heard from Doug that he has turned the 6-32 x 1/2 inch screw into a 4-40 and eliminated the end grind, so I did have the correct part. He just hadn’t made the change in the documentation.  You can grind this screw yourself with a piece of sandpaper if you wish; my key is working fine using the screw as supplied.

More news just in: I’ve been using this key for almost a week now and have gotten fully used to using it.  I’m pleasantly surprised at how such a modestly sized key not only feels solid and stable on my desk, but also feels natural for sending code.  Any shortcomings in my sending are due to operator error, and not to the key. I wholeheartedly recommend this key.  Great value for money!

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