Prepping and Portable Ops – My Favorite YouTube Channels.

yt_logo1Over the years, I have watched many YouTube videos on Ham Radio and hobby electronics.  With so much content out there I thought that I would list some of my favorite YouTube channels that show portable radio operations and give them a bit of a review.  This list is based on my opinion and there are a lot of other fine YouTubers out there I am sure, so if you have a favorite that I do not have listed, please don’t take offense.  I may just have not gotten around to watching their videos yet.  With that said….let the show begin!

goldstar1goldstar1goldstar1goldstar1  4/5 Stars:  K9ARV Radio:

K9ARV Radio is the YouTube channel of Tony Valentin – K9ARV.  Tony who is located in Wesley Chappel, Florida (just north of Tampa, FL) will often venture out to local parks, fields, or operate mobile from his beloved Jeep.  Tony reviews many products such as different QRP radios, antennas, camping/hiking gear as well as shows techniques that he has learned from operating portable throughout the years.

His videos have become quite well produced throughout his tenure on YouTube and the videos are always in high quality (at least 1080p HD, if not 4K now).  The production with the music, sound is always pretty well done with several shots of him coming and going.  He does tend to show the “drive” to his local operating site which at times I find to be tedious as he speeds up the video and superimposes music over the “hyperspeed drive” so to speak.  As long as the driving video isn’t too long, its not too bad.  But where Tony’s videos really shine is where he shows the setup of his gear and the QSO’s that he makes.  There is usually something for everyone as he does some videos about DSTAR, QRP HF, Antennas, portable gear and setups.  Occasionally he will take his gear with him on trips (there was one this fall where he traveled to upstate New York), but mostly you will find that his outings are the ones that most of us hams love to make….quick outings to local parks and rural areas.  No Survivorman type stuff here, but I’m not into that anyway.  It’s just nice to be outside and operating a bit of radio, and he does a good job showing it.

I really envy Tony in the winter time as he is out portable when it is snowing and cold up north here in Indiana.  His videos keep me going until spring time when I can get out for some of my own adventures.

Tony has a great personality on camera and watching his channel is like hanging out with any of your ham buddies.  This is definitely one of my favorite channels and I urge anyone that is interested in QRP portable operations to subscribe to his channel.

 


goldstar1goldstar1goldstar1goldstar1  4/5 Stars:  Radio Prepper

The Radio Prepper Channel is run by Gil Gruson – F4WBY of Lille France.  Gil shows portable operations from a disaster preparation point of view.  His content is not quite as polished with music and fancy graphics as other YouTubers, but the information provided is great.

You will find a great deal of CW operation from Gil and he usually always shows the text of the decoded CW for those people not familiar with morse code.  Gil also shows various QRP outings with minimal setups such as the Webber MTR style rigs and even the QRP Pixie kits, showing us that worldwide communications can even fit in the pockets of your jacket.

Reviews and builds of different QRP radio kits, antenna building, and even VHF SSB operation round out the content of the channel nicely.  In particular I like his QRP radio kit builds, as I find these videos the most interesting.  Portable ops are typically to local parks, but on occasion you will see him venturing to other counties on holiday.

Mostly the videos are in English, but there are times that he will make the occasional video in French for his amateur radio countrymen.  Gil is an fervent anti-contester and at times will complain about contesting on the bands.  I personally think that he should embrace contesting.  I think that he would make some more contacts during contests as they can bring out more DX than usual.

Overall I really love what Gil has done and his channel is always interesting and enjoyable to watch.  I highly recommend anyone into QRP portable ops, kit building, and antenna building to subscribe to his channel.  You will enjoy it.


goldstar1goldstar1goldstar1  3/5 Stars:  Anything With Wheels

Anything With Wheels is the YouTube channel of Tom Newcomb – N9YO.  Short outings to parks operating QRP CW or voice as well as overnight camp-outs in the state of Missouri with radio highlight his channel.  No highly polished production here, but the videos are well done and the quality is good.

The channel name is kind of misleading as this was probably a channel with other content when first conceived, slowly converting over more to portable Amateur Radio operating videos.  For a little while there were some strange video rants where he was burning NFL jerseys, and expelling his disdain for the NFL after the Colin Kaepernick national anthem deal.  Personally I agree with Tom as the NFL was on the wrong side of Patriotism, but I just don’t think making a rant video about it when most of his subscribers were wanting radio videos was progressing the cause.  I in particular shy away from political rantings and demagoguery as there is enough of that on the news and look to YouTube and Amateur Radio as an escape from that kind of content.

Tom usually shows the text of his CW QSOs onscreen so that viewers that do not know morse code can follow along which is great.  He also shows a “LETS GO!” graphic that is quite enthusiastic when he finally gets that QRP contact that I really enjoy.  Most of his videos are operating and setup with only the occasional review of gear, with also some setups of antennas.


 

goldstar1goldstar1goldstar1  3/5 Stars:  SurvivalTech Nord – OH8STN

SurvivalTech Nord’s YouTube channel is more about using radio in extreme survival conditions.  I would classify this also as a “prepper” type of channel.  Julian – OH8STN is a radio amateur and survival enthusiast from Finland.  There are many views of setups of power (solar and battery packs), QRP operation, and camping out in extremely cold conditions.  Julian’s videos include some reviews of equipment and also quite a bit about operating digital modes.

His videos are semi produced with graphics and transitions and the video quality is always HD (if not 4K).

For a while he was really stuck on different power setups and batteries.  Putting together battery packs and such, which I found to be a bit boring since there were already so many videos about that sort of thing. The power consumption reviews for different radios have a wealth of great info, but the videos can be boring…

The portable operations that he does with the small tent in the middle of a snow-covered field where he is operating completely off the grid are most interesting.  This would be the more extreme portable operations than the causal ham would be into, but it is very interesting to see Julian’s approach to survival communications.

 

Simple reception of ISS SSTV Images

Salut6-img1Want to try something cool with stuff that you most likely already have?  Downloading images from the ISS space station is so much fun and really easy to do with a handheld receiver and a smartphone!

The international space station is manned by Astronauts and Cosmonauts that are licensed Amateur Radio Operators.  On-board the ISS is a small VHF/UHF amateur radio station used to talk to children during school events and other Amateur Radio Operators.

Every so often the crew of the ISS will transmit images from a computer that they have connected to the VHF/UHF transceiver using a mode called Slow Scan Television or SSTV. SSTV is a long popular mode used by ham radio operators on HF frequencies to send still images.  However this mode is also used on VHF/UHF frequencies as well and is easy to decode using a smartphone with a free app.

 

What you need:

  1.  A handheld receiver that can tune into the 144 MHz -2 meter Amateur Radio band.  A 2m HT works great!
  2.  An android smartphone or tablet.
  3.  The “Heavens Above” satellite tracking app (or similar app to track the ISS and or other satellites.  You can open the following link on your Android device to download the app:  https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.heavens_above.viewer
  4.  “Robot36” or similar SSTV decoding app.  You can open the following link on your Android device to download the app:  https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=xdsopl.robot36

*This can also be done with an Apple iPhone or iPad as well with apps available from the Apple App Store, so look for equivalent apps if you have an Apple device.

 

Finding out when the ISS is transmitting imagery:

You can find out what the current status is of the Amateur Radio Station on the ISS by visiting this site:  http://www.ariss.org/current-status-of-iss-stations.html

They also announce activities about ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station) on the ISS fan site:  https://www.issfanclub.com/

The AMSAT website is also very informative and will post news on ISS radio transmissions:  https://www.amsat.org/amateur-radio-on-the-iss/

 

Tracking the ISS in orbit:

Once you find out when they are transmitting images, you will need to know when and where the ISS will be over your geographic area to receive the images.  You can track the ISS online using a PC by visiting NASA’s “Spot The Station” website:  https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/home.cfm

But it is far better to have a real-time tracking app installed on your Android device like Heavens Above:

HA3 One of the best things about the Heavens Above app is that every time you start the app the “Keplerian” elements are automatically updated.  Keplerian elements are the numbers that define a satellite’s orbit.  So these “Keplerian” elements are also known as Orbital Elements.

Obviously to update the elements the app will need access to the internet.  Either via cellular connection or Wi-Fi.

Once Heavens Above is started you will see several choices.  “ISS” is listed as the 3rd option down.

Click it to open a menu that will show the dates and times for various passes of the ISS.

 

 

HA2

 

Since the app is made by a European developer please note that the dates are in YEAR-MONTH-DAY format.  The times are in your local time zone based on the time set of your device.

Click on one of the passes at a reasonable time in the future that you are available to be present for the pass.

There are many “glancing” passes where as the ISS will not be directly overhead, but will be on the edge of your horizon.  It is possible to decode the images from such a pass, but the pass will not last as long and their also could be large buildings in your way that will degrade the signal.

An overhead pass would look like this:

HA1

 

This image is an example of a more or less direct overhead pass and will give me the best opportunity to receive the images of the ISS.  As you can see the ISS will start to appear at about 230 degrees (Southwest) and then fly overhead with a bearing of about 56 degrees (Northwest).

The information at the bottom of this screen will show you exactly when you will start to be in range of the ISS for the reception of the signal:

Exit Shadow: This shows you the AOS (acquisition of signal) time.  The time that the ISS starts to be within your range.

Max Elevation:  This shows you the time where the ISS will be at it’s highest elevation point in its orbit.

Below 5 degrees:  This shows you the time where the ISS will be starting to be out of range from you (flying away over the horizon).

Sets:  This shows you the time at which the ISS will leaving your area and will be out of range.  Also known as LOS (loss of signal) time.

The ISS travels at 17,150 miles-per-hour or about 4.76 miles per second, so it is really traveling fast!  It has to in order to stay in a stable orbit and not come down into our atmosphere.  This means that generally on an optimum overhead pass you have approximately 15-18 minutes where the ISS will be in range to receive its signals.

The ISS orbits the earth approximately every 92 minutes, so you will have another opportunity in 92 minutes to receive the signal again, but with a less optimized path overhead, meaning that you will have less time that the ISS is within signal range.

 

Setting your handheld receiver up to receive the ISS signals:

The transmission of the SSTV images is done using FM (Frequency modulation), so you can receive the images using a standard FM Handie Talkie (HT) or scanning receiver.

uv5r

Program the frequency of 145.800 MHz into your receiver, and then adjust your squelch setting to wide open (you want to hear static).  You can adjust the volume a bit so that it is not super loud.

 

Using your smartphone and HT to receive the SSTV Images:

In general is is a good idea to choose a location to receive the images that has a clear path to the horizon. Large buildings or other structures will block the signal from reaching your radio receiver properly.  I like to go to an open field or top of a parking garage, but a residential neighborhood would be OK as long as there is no large buildings or houses blocking your path directly to the satellite for the pass.

On your smartphone, open the Robot36 app,  and place the smartphone within close proximity of your HT speaker.  As soon as the satellite comes within range you will start to hear some high pitched tones.  Adjust the volume and closeness of the smartphone or tablet to get the best image.

You may also have to move the handheld radio around a bit in your hand orienting the long sides of your antenna toward the position of the satellite in the sky. Try moving the radio about to get clear tones with minimal static keeping the smartphone close to the speaker of the radio.

Maker:S,Date:2017-3-17,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E-Y

In the photo you will see that the radio is under the smartphone and the antenna instead of being straight vertical is orientated with its long side toward the ISS in the sky.

I needed to move the radio around a bit as the ISS passed overhead keeping the smartphone’s microphone within close enough proximity to pickup the audio from the radio.

Screenshot_20180501-090614

You should start to receive an image in the Robot36 screen.  If you have clear loud tones and are not receiving an image, be sure to set the receive mode to AUTO MODE receive from the menu (the 3 dots in the upper right bit of the display).

You should start to receive the image line by line.

interkosmos_40-img

This image is one that I received on April 13, 2018 from a ISS pass and shows a retrospective of Salyut 6 Cosmonauts .  Salyut 6 was a Russian space station that was in orbit from 1977 to 1982.

Here is another great image received that is part of the Salyut 6 retrospective:

Salut6-img1
To save the images you can click on the little disk icon on the Robot36 app.  The ‘X’ icon will clear the display so be careful that you don’t inadvertently hit that button.

 

Conclusion:

Receiving these images has been a lot of fun, but does require a bit of practice to get the best and cleanest images.  The green lines are a result of noise or weak signal beacuse of the orientation of the radio’s antenna, but the above images are pretty darn good.

The ISS crew does transmit these SSTV images fairly regularly to promote the space station and respective space agencies.  So next time they are transmitting get outside and receive these images directly yourself!  This would be an excellent family activity as kids would love to know that they are receiving signals directly to their phone from the International Space Station!

Other setups using directional antennas, SDR receivers and laptop computers can yield better results, but require more setup time before AOS (acquisition of signal) and can be cumbersome compared to an HT and a smartphone.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post.  Satellites operations have been a new interest for me over the past year, and I have had a blast talking on a few amateur radio satellites and receiving images from the ISS and weather satellites.  If you are interested in Amateur Radio satellites AMSAT is a great resource:  https://www.amsat.org/

73! de Nick N9SJA

The EFW “Skookum Choocher” 40-6m Portable Antenna w/ 9:1 Un-un

 

Over the past few months I have taken a fancy to QRP portable operation.  It has been a big thrill for me to go to a local park or forest and throw up and antenna to see what stations I can work with 5 watts.

I decided to invest in a small portable HF radio, the Elecraft KX-3.  I chose the KX3 mainly because of its ultra small size and awesome receiver performance.  But having a good QRP radio is only part of the equation.  Having a good antenna is also just as important as the radio as you need to get those 5 watts to work for you.

I checked out several designs online.  From the humble dipole to portable vertical style antennas.  Although I don’t plan on just using one particular antenna, I wanted something that I could deploy quickly and as easily as possible.  After searching about, I found plans for a End-Fed random wire antenna that was fed by a 9:1 un-un that would work mult-band 40-6m.  Seeing from the plans that this antenna looked easy enough to build I started construction on my own antenna.  *Note – this antenna will require a tuner for multi-band use!

I had just a few requirements really…I wanted to build this antenna with things that I found lying about so that I spent really nothing to build it.  However it really wouldn’t cost much in parts anyway to build.  I found an excellent PDF article from EARC Amateur Radio Club.  Here is a link to this PDF file:   http://www.earchi.org/92011endfedfiles/Endfed6_40.pdf

Here is a parts list that I used to build my 9:1 un-un box:

  • The box.  Plastic would probably be better for water resistance, but a metal box will be fine if you keep it dry.
  • A powdered iron toroid core T-130-2 (I used a slightly larger toroid because that is what I had lying about).
  • 3 20″ pieces of 22-18 AWG wire (solid conductor works best -red, green and black colors).  However I used different wire that was white, red and black because that was what I had laying around.
  • 2 binding posts (this can be also bolts with wing-nuts and lock washers to fasten to the un-un box).  I had binding posts so I used them (and they work nice to quickly remove wires!)
  • A Chassis mount SO-239 connector.
  • Various nuts, bolts and fasteners (depending on your construction).
  • A soldering iron, solder, and a bit of RA flux
  • A hot-glue gun (used to secure the toroid in the box)
  • Basic hand tools (screwdrivers and pliers)
  • 30′ of 18 AWG stranded wire
  • 1 qty large diameter ring wire terminal lug (this is used to put a ring on the end of the wire antenna so that you can hang it or raise and lower the wire antenna.

After looking through my junk box (it would seem that every ham radio operator has a box of junk lying about) I found an old TV signal amplifier box.  The box is an all aluminum box, so I thought this would be good to ground connections and keep everything contained.  I gutted all the electronics (it was a good thing anyway since this device had a live chassis to mains voltage! – If you have one of these laying about don’t use them.  They are not safe).  I drilled some holes in the metal box to accommodate a SO-239 and the binding posts that I could connect my antenna and counterpoise to.

The gutted Wineguard TV antenna amplifier box I used as the chassis.
(Note the SO-239 connector – I drilled out the hole and used rivets to attach SO-239 to chassis)

 

Next I needed to wind the toroid.  This was actually pretty easy and I learned a few things to help make it an easier process.  I found that if I used zip ties that I could hold the wire in place easier.  This may not be the best solution for you, but for me it did help.  Every time that you put a wire through the center of the toroid core means that the wire has been wrapped once.  So that is an easy way for you to keep track of how many turns you are making.  Since this is a 9:1 un-un, you will make 9 turns around the core.  (Easy right?)  You start by taking all 3 wires (red, green, and black) and wrapping them 9 times around the core.

The 3 wires wrapped 9 times around the toroid core.  Try to keep the coils around the torid core evenly spaced.  Make sure wires do not overlap.

 

 

Once that is done you will connect the left hand black wire and the right hand red wire.  You will need to trim the wire a bit since they still may be long:

The wound toroid with the red and black wires

 

For the last bit with the winding of the toroid you will need to connect the other end of the red wire with one end of the green wire:

The black and the green wire.  Leave them long as you will need to connect these.  Also you can add ring terminal lugs if you wish to the red and green wires to more easily connect them to the biding posts, or bolts with wingnuts that you will use for the counterpoise and wire antenna.

 

The twisted green and black wire will be soldered to the SO-239 connector’s center conductor.  The end of the green wire with no connector will be soldered to the shield of the SO-239 connector and the green wire with the ring terminal will be attached to the binding post or bolt that you use to connect the counterpoise wire to.  The red wire with the ring lug is used to connect to your antenna binding post or bolt.

Here is a picture of the assembled antenna showing the connections in an enclosure:

That photo really shows the connections to very well.  You can see that the bolt with the wingnut that is on the top is connected to the red wire.  This is the antenna connection and where you will connect your 30 feet of wire that you will use as the antenna.

The bottom bolt with wingnut is the counterpoise connection.  You can add 15-20 feet of wire to get your SWR just right, however you may not need a counterpoise most of the time for this type of antenna design as it will use the shield of your coax cable as the counterpoise.

The SO-239 coax connector is used to connect your radio to the antenna.  If you use this type of antenna a minimum of 20 ft of coax is recommended as the shield is used as a counterpoise.  If you want to use a shorter piece of coax to connect to your radio, then attach a 20 ft piece of wire to the counterpoise connection and lay it on the ground.

Here are pictures of my particular build:

This is my toroid that I wound.  Note the white, black and red wire (I had this wire lying around so I used it).

 

My box with the binding posts, 9:1 toroid transformer and SO-239.  (Note the terminal strip a the bottom right.  This was already in the box so I decided to use it as a convenient place to make my connections!)

The end product with the case on and my custom labels!

 

After the build I decided to take it out and give it a try.  I connected my 30 foot piece of wire to the antenna binding post and then sent the other end skyward into a tree getting it up around 25 feet or so (I could have probably got it higher, but this was good enough for testing).  I connected my 20 ft of coax to my Elecraft KX-3 and then powered it on.

Using the built-in tuner on the KX3 I was able to tune up on the 40m band with a 1.2:1 SWR on 7.185 MHz.

I tried the antenna on several other bands, taking note on how difficult it was to tune using the KX3’s ATU.  I also tried it on 80m and was able to tune it with a decent SWR (2.2:1) Although this antenna just wont work well on 75/80m (it is to short and the wire is not high enough).

Just in the front yard, I decided to setup my QRP portable station:


I used my KX3 transciever, the PX3 panadapter and a 6AH Bioenno branded LiFePO4 battery to power it all.  I made several US contacts using 5-10 watts and the end fed antenna that day, including a QRP contact to Ireland on 20m!  I found performance on 20 and 40m to be superb with only 30 feet of wire.  Conditions were good as it was spring time 2017 and the bands were in good shape.  I am always blown away by the fact that you can use 5 or 10 watts and talk so very far away.  QRP has been a lot of fun and I cannot wait until the winter is over so I can get back outside.  (At the time of writing this article it is January 2018 and is -15 degrees here at my QTH in NW Indiana).

My verdict is that this antenna is a quick, cheap, and easy to build and deploy antenna that should be considered for QRP portable ops.  I still tend to use dipoles as they work very well, but there are times when you may not be able to have 3 supports for the center and two ends of a dipole antenna.  This antenna solves a lot of problems for portable ops such as the support of the antenna, quick deployment and stealthy deployment if you don’t want to attract a lot of attention.

If your into portable ops I urge you to give this a try.  Although you can buy antennas like these for $40 – $100 I urge you to build it yourself.  The satisfaction from building something, putting it on the air and making contacts with it is a joy to behold!

73! de Nick N9SJA

A tale of two Drakes.

Recently I found myself with some extra money that of course for an Amateur Radio op, just seems to light a fire right in your pocket when there is some sort of hamsexy radio gear around.  The conflagration of my wallet started when my very good friend Jeff N9IZ and myself took a trip over to another collector’s home Ward K8FD.  Ward is into collecting military radios and wanted to clear out bits of his other collection to facilitate his collection of military gear (when we visited we saw 6 R390’s there).   Ward had a complete C-line set that he was wanting to part with, and with my trusty wallet on fire I was soon carrying the C line out to the car.

drake-twins1
My haul:

1.  Drake T-4XC Transmitter – Excellent cosmetic shape.  Works perfectly.
2.  Drake R-4C Receiver – Very Good cosmetic shape.  1.5 kHz/500 Hz/250 Hz filters installed.  Various Sherwood Engineering modifications installed.
3.  Drake MS-4 external speaker – Very Good cosmetic shape.  Speaker sounds great.
4.  Drake AC-4 power supply – Power supply is original, and it also works just fine.
5.  Drake C-4 station monitor/control – Excellent cosmetic shape.  Works fine.
6.  Drake RCS-4 remote coax switch – NEW OLD STOCK IN BOX.  Never removed from box, purchased 1977.

When I got my haul back home I did bring up the AC4 power supply, the R-4C and the C4 up on a variac.  I first connected the AC 4 to the variac and also connected my Fluke ammeter so that I could monitor the current.  After about 24 hrs, the power supply and the other gear were all brought up to modern line voltage on the variac (120 VAC).  Since there were no sharp increases in current, and nothing went “bang!” and let the magic smoke out, I figured I was good to go to bring them on the air.

I didn’t have a microphone for this gear yet, but my friend Jeff N9IZ was kind enough to let me borrow a Sure 444 microphone so that I could get them on the air.

After getting the myriad of interconnecting cables plugged in and working I was ready for my first QSO using this old gear.

My first contact with the Drakes was with W5FMX Scott – in Texas on 7/4/2017.  I had an excellent signal report and Scott told me that my audio was fantastic.  After hearing the encouragement I went on to make about 25 more QSOs (many with the 13 Colonies special event stations) of which I made about 5 DX contacts on 20m.

I love collecting radios.  I decided perhaps the Drake line of gear was for me.  It is a bit cheaper to collect than the Collins stuff and is fairly available at hamfests and online at places like QRZ Swapmeet and QTH Swapmeet.

Tuning up old tube radios is a lot of fun.  These older radios require a bit more interaction than newer radios.  But that is some of the fun.  I’m always tweaking that preselector on the R-4C along with the tuning dial to get stations tuned in just right.

Recently I just purchased a used ElectroVoice 664 microphone to use with the Drake station.  This microphone was first designed in 1955, and was sold until the early 1960’s.  A thing of beauty, the chrome microphone sitting on it’s grey base brings a smile to my face every time I lay eyes on it.

Drake-ev664

The EV664 is a unidirectional cardioid dynamic microphone.  They were sold for use as a general purpose/communication/PA microphone.  Big and beefy there is no plastic on this microphone (well, except for the small switch).  It weighs in at a hefty 1 lb, 12 oz (without the base).  The 419 desk stand is also a heavy chunk of metal weighing over 2 lbs.  This isn’t the type of microphone that you are going to just knock over.  If you were to say drop this on your foot, your toes would most likely be broken.

I did order some cable for this guy so that I can get it cabled up.  I think I am going to have to wire up also a foot switch for this since there is no PTT (push-to-talk) button and I really don’t want to mod the base with a switch.

I am having a bast operating with this gear, and when I get some more of the station setup, I will write another post.  In the mean time, 73! and gud DX.

Nick N9SJA

Messy Ham Shack (Chronicles of the Ham Radio Horder!)

Does your shack look like this?  I know most of the time mine does.  For the past year I have been contemplating just how to get a handle on the massive mess that is my shack.

It didn’t always used to be this way.  When I first bought my home, I saw the potential of a finished basement area that would be the ideal man-cave.  I had visions of all my favorite toys/hobbies neatly co-existing in one harmonious space.  In my mind I saw neatly built shelves displaying my massive ham radio collection with plenty of room for a dart board, a pool table and all my favorite bobbles on display while Kate Upton brought me a cold beer in a bikini.  So how did all this just go so terribly wrong?

Now my beloved man cave is a crazy mish-mash of wires, half completed projects, and parts all over the place.  I have noticed that I have small baggies with various parts still in new in unopened packages because I thought I would use it for a project, or something later.

Now, as a Ham I love a good hamfest (who doesn’t?) and find myself going to half a dozen of the flea market fests every year.  I seem to go berserk at these shows every time.  From buying some bits and parts to someone else’s junk that in my mind is the perfect project.  After the trip I seem to go down to the shack and deposit the bag of goodies that I just bought with every good intention on the desk, just to be forgotten in the rest of the clutter.

The Author’s messy workbench.

The Author’s clean workbench (a rarity!)

The worst bit for me is the workbench.  It seems to collect my mess like a huge magnet.  I have purchased the little organizer cabinets and the shelves to properly put things away, but they seldom if ever make it back to their little homes.  Every now and then I can convence myself that if I clean up first, then I can work on whatever project I want to.  This seems to help keep things tidy for a little while at least.

For me the mess just feels so overwhelming at times.  Like I don’t even know where to start with it.  I say things to myself like “If I just had some cabinets, or more shelves, I could keep things tidy.”

But the truth is that I buy and bring to my house too much stuff.  If I didn’t have 1/2 of the stuff I have now it would be easier to manage and keep things clean.  Us hams seem to have the dream of 90 MINT Collins radios <or substitute your favorite collectible boat anchor here> all on display for others to gawk at.  But the reality for most of us is quite different.  Boxes of parts for those favorite boat anchors to get them working stacked on the floor and wires all over the place.

My non-radio appreciating friends call my shack the “Cold War Nuclear Bunker” for it’s resemblance to such a place.  (First off it is underground in my basement, I have a lot of cold war era radio equipment, and lots of old radio books from the 1950’s and 60’s).  What I want is something…well….more….refined.

So, I have put a bit of a plan together.  My plan is to first move everything from my “bunker” place it in boxes and store it neatly in my utility room.  Once everything is moved out, I plan on cleaning the floors and painting the walls (perhaps the shack could use a new fung-shui by a lovely color of paint!)  Then installation of some shelves and cabinets.  Once it is clean to then move back in just the things that I need.  For the remainder, that is stuff for my entry into the flea market of the next local hamfest and or put it on QRZ.

(we’ll see what actually happens here – I am terrible at sticking with plans to clean up my shack).

George Ulm W9EVT’s awesome and tidy shack! (why can’t my shack look like this???)

Perhaps it would be inspirational to look at some clean and organized shacks.  I know there must be some neat and tidy shacks out there (although I would venture to say those shacks would be in the minority for us hams).

I have seen some guys with custom consoles with their gear installed that looked totally awesome.  Some shacks with all rack mount equipment and even built-in shelving systems with automatic doors!

More shelving and cupboards would be nice.  Modern desks seldom come with drawers anymore for whatever the reason, so where do you put things that would be nice to just shove in a cabinet and shut the door on?

Recently I have purchased several of the plastic see-through bins from my favorite local retailer.  I thought these might be good to put various bits and pieces in, but I could still see what was in them, so when I wanted something I can just look at them and see what was inside.  I think this might be a good way to store and organize everything.

My biggest problem really seems to be that when I go down to organize and clean everything, if I cannot get it done the way that I want to, perfectly, then I become disillusioned by the whole process.   This is a bit of perfectionism creeping in which is not a good thing.  People that are perfectionists are known for not getting anything finished beacuse they mainly find out that the world is not perfect and nothing they can do is going to make it so (hey at least I realize my main fault).

Anyway…that’s about enough for this blog post.  I plan on my spring cleaning to start soon and over the course of the next few weekends get things cleaned up a bit at a time.

Now…if I can just stay off the darn radio enough when I’m down there to clean…ta ta for now.

73! de Nick N9SJA

POWER TO THE PowerSDR

Nice information from Jeff N9IZ about some ongoing development for PowerSDR.

N9IZ Amateur Radio Blog

After Flex Radio’s newest Signature series software defined radios hit the market there’s been a steady decline in value and interest in their original Flex series radios (Flex-5000, 3000, 1500).  The only one still marketed is the Flex-1500, and only time will tell how much longer it will last.  Flex now refers to these radios as their “legacy” series of radios and unfortunately has ceased developing software for them as well.  To the best of my knowledge the Flex-1000 was their first radio and is considered first generation SDR technology as it required a soundcard interface with the computer.

In spite of the excellent performance of the newest generation of SDRs on the market there still remains a dedicated core group of Flexers using their “legacy” radios.  Recently I’ve found a bit of good news for those who haven’t yet jumped ship to the current offerings available from Apache Labs…

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The Ten-Tec 507 Patriot – 40m/20m QRP Open Source Transciever

IMG_20150807_205149This past May during a trip to the Mecca of Amateur Radio in Dayton Ohio, I ordered a Ten-Tec 507 Patriot QRP rig at the 2015 Dayton Hamvention.  I have been having a blast playing about with this small yet robust little rig!

I have always heard about the joys of QRP operation and I do love to operate portable.  It’s always a lot of fun to take a small bit of HF kit, a dipole that I can throw up into a tree or something, and a battery to power everything.

I have decided to make a quick post to share my operations with the Ten-Tec 507.


Open Source meets Amateur Radio:

This particular rig is one of two now “open source” transceivers made by Ten-Tec.  The first reiteration was the Ten-Tec 506 Rebel, a small 40m/20m CW transceiver.  The Patriot continues from the heritage of the Rebel but this time gives you SSB phone as well as CW capabilities.

The thing about the Rebel and Patriot that makes them “open source” is really the fact that they both use a ChipKit 32 Uno microprocessor for DDS (direct digital synthesis) and is the overall “brains” of this radio.  The ChipKit 32 Uno is a Ardunio compatible micro controller.  The microprocessor code is easily changed to add/change features and capabilities.  With all that being said, there is still much that you cannot change about the Rebel or Patriot.  They are both locked into the bands that they have been designed to work on.  This is because of the filters and other parts of the radio that are specifically designed to operate in those frequency areas.  The Rebel is also always going to be a CW only rig because of a lack of other circuitry that would enable phone modes, however there are ways around that doing digital voice modes for example with a connected PC.

The main source for alternate forms of firmware worked on by the community is the Patriot Yahoo! group at https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/TenTec507Patriot/info.  This is a closed community group and you must register to join.  I generally do not care for Yahoo groups, however the people on this group seem cooperative and always ready to help.  A few months after I joined I decided to start my own group on Reddit.  This way nobody had to register or sign in to gain access to the information and files created.  My Reddit site is more of a brain dump style site so that anyone with information can post there.  My Reddit site for the Patriot is at http://www.reddit.com/r/TenTecPatriots/.

A plain wrapper with lots of potential!

When you first purchase your Ten-Tec Patriot it is a seemingly basic radio with few options, but the potential for it to be much more is brewing from beneath it’s black aluminium chassis.  The stock version has no display, which is a bit of a pain in the rear since the only way to know what frequency you are on is to press and hold the SELECT button to “announce” the frequency in CW using a tone over a connected headset or speaker.  Additionally the TT logo has a LED that also flashes the CW announcement.  SSB phone operation is automatic when the microphone is connected and is automatically set to LSB for 40m and USB for 20m.  If you connect a key to the rear jack then CW can be uses on those bands as well.  There are 3 select-able tuning steps for the patriot 100 kHz, 1 kHz and 10 kHz (for fast tuning) by default with the factory firmware.  Additionally there are 3 bandwidth filters: W (wide ~2.5 kHz), M (medium ~1.5 kHz), N (narrow ~800 Hz) and a RIT control.  There is code to support an optional 20×4 LCD display with the factory code.

Stock507    Stock507-rear
A stock Ten-Tec 507 Patriot.

Patriot Alliance Modification (PAM) ver 1.2:

The latest code to be floating about the Internet for the Patriot is the Patriot Alliance Modification ver 1.2 written by PA3ANG and modified by various other hams, or PAM 1.2 for short.  PAM 1.2 introduces a great deal of features that were not available with the Ten-Tec stock firmware.  The code is based on the original Ten-Tec factory code but also ads the following features:

IAMBIC (type A or B) keyer with keyer speed on front panel ‘CW SPD’ (A7).
Detection of Straight Keyer (middle ring 3.5mm stereo plug to ground).
Automatic mode change to CW (Key) or SSB (Ptt).
CW offset (parameter) during CW reception.
Frequency announce in CW when > .5 seconds SELECT.
Tune Carrier when > .5 FUNCTION.
CAT based on K3 protocol (tested with HRD).
Added support for OLED 128 x 32 pixel displays.

Furthermore they introduced a number of improvements:

DDS offset compensation (parameter).
Faster display routines (no updates when no changes).
Improved display layout and added S-meter and CW speed.
Easy selection of starting band and default frequencies.

After I loaded this code, I absolutely loved the features that were added.  I ordered a 128×32 pix OLED display from Adafruit to use as the display on this rig.  After a bit of tinkering about and picking the brain of fellow ham and good friend Mike, AC9ID we together got the display working, and it looks great!  It can be seen well even in bright sunlight without being washed out and has quite a bit of information on the display.

Patriot-OLED-close up
The display has the frequency shown at top.  Then on the next line starting at the bottom right is the bandwidth selection (W/M/N), the tuning step indicator (10 Hz/100 Hz/1 kHz), the mode (USB/LSB/CW), the keyer speed for CW (mine is set at 14 wpm), and finally an S-meter.

I loved the feature of holding in the FUNCTION key to transmit a tone carrier for tuning.  The Iambic keyer setting is nice so that you can use a paddle for CW or a straight key.  It will detect the type based on the how many conductors the 3.5mm plug has that is inserted into the keyer jack.

CAT rig control can be used by connecting the ChipKit 32 UNO’s mini USB cable to your PC and using HRD or other software.  Using the K3 rig control options, this seems to work very well, however there is no means of keying the transceiver that I know of using CAT control.  This would be immensely helpful for running data modes.

Users of the Patriot can easily change firmware parameters to customize the radio in several ways:

  • Change the starting band and frequency once the transceiver is powered on.
  • Change the frequency limits (for US 40m change 40m band limit to 7.000 to 7.300 MHz).
  • Change the display layout.

My experiences with the Ten-Tec 507 Patriot:

The receiver:  I have found this small radio to be actually quite a good performer as far as QRP rigs go.  The receiver performance seems to be fairly sensitive however there is a potential for overload of strong signals.  I would suspect changes to the AGC circuit would help with the strong signal overloading.  I found the bandwidth filters sufficient to reject adjacent channel interference to some degree, however they are fairly basic DSP filters and cannot perform miracles.  The RIT control is very nice to tweak stations that are slightly off frequency and is intuitive to use.  Although it is NOT the receiver in a KX3, it does perform surprisingly well overall with only the strong signal overload to be of minor issue.

The Transmitter:  Feeding this rig with 13.8 V with a power supply able to provide at least 5 Amps I have found that I can get just over 5 watts out of the transmitter into a dummy load on both 40m and 20m.  The mic gain control was really pretty weak set from the factory, so I had to turn up the mic gain (MIC LEVEL IN) pot a bit in order to get adequate modulation to drive the transmitter.  I am running the mic gain almost fully open, but I had a friend listen to me on another radio and the audio sounded good, not distorted using a Yaesu style 8-pin hand microphone.  I may need to turn this down when using a headset such as my Heil Pro7 or other microphone or headset.

My Setup for QRP portable ops using the TT-507 Patriot:

My setup for portable operations consists of the following equipment squeezed into 2 small go boxes:

  • A 12 VDC 2 Amp AC adapter for running the QRP rig from 120 VAC mains.
  • A 12 Volt 5 Ah AGM battery for running the rig off battery power.  This should give me several hours of operation with minimal weight, however I am looking into a LiPO sytle battery for increase operation time and decreased weight.
  • A small PowerWerx DC voltage/power meter to monitor battery condition
  • Various power connectors using Anderson power poles for easy connection to other power sources.
  • A small tackle box containing a USB to mini USB cable for connecting the rig to a PC, BNC to SO-239 RF adapter, and other various RF adapters such as a SO-239 female-female barrel adapter.
  • 50 ft of 550 paracord to hang antennas
  • A WindCamp multiband dipole antenna with 4:1 balun
  • 50 ft of RG-8x coax cable

The verdict:

At $299.00 US, the Ten-Tec 507 Patriot is a bit expensive for a two band QRP rig.  I think a better price point would be $199 for it.  The unit comes with the stock firmware, and paper manual and that’s it.  No cables, no microphone, no key or paddle.  Everything else is up to the operator to supply.  However it is a solid little performer and is not a kit.  You CAN operate this radio right out of the box if you supply the microphone and power, and antenna for it.

I have made several CW and SSB contacts using this little radio and have been absolutely ecstatic each time I do so.  I guess there is a thrill of operating on 20m and chatting to a ham that is several states away with only 5 watts.  I haven’t had this much fun with amateur radio since I first got my general license and was able to get on the HF bands!  Going to a local park and setting up on a hill with a dipole in some trees is a lot of fun and it’s always good to be outdoors.

I did use my Patriot on field day and had an absolute blast, although it was a challenge to get through with QRP power.

Overall I would recommend this radio.  QRP operation requires a great deal of patience, and so does tinkering and modifying the Patriot.  The patriot isn’t something for the instant gratification crowd, so by that virtue it isn’t for everyone.  There are other radios out there, but this one is a lot of fun if you like to tinker about with your radios and antennas.

You can find more information about the Ten-Tec 507 Patriot at Ten-Tec’s web site:  http://www.rkrdesignsllc.com/products/transceivers-receivers/507-patriot-open-source-arduino-based-ssbcw-qrp-transceiver/

Do you own a Patriot, Rebel or other QRP rig?  Let me know about your setup in the comments below!  Also if you are a Rebel or Patriot owner or want to chat with others that have these rigs, please visit the Ten-Tec 506/507 Reddit subreddit at http://www.reddit.com/r/TenTecPatriots/

 

73! de Nick N9SJA