Sunday, November 28, 2010

The 1W CW v 1W WSPR question - and the excellent KC1XX receiver

Last weekend I enjoyed running my 1W WSPR system up on 7MHz and was surprised by just how far it went. I wondered how a 1W CW signal would fare this weekend on the same band, given the activity in the CQWW CW contest. The activity of course is both a good thing; plenty of people to call and a bad thing; lots of interference.

After I'd finished writing my Practical Wireless column today I tuned up 7MHz and checked the output was set at 1W. I did what the low power guys recommend and called the loud ones. After all, if they're way over S9, I shouldn't be *that* many dB down!

First in the log was EA2EA, quickly followed by DF0HQ. RX4W, 9A1A, YL9W and OG2A all get the 'Golden Ears' award! By that stage I'd lost interest, having proven that it worked, but made a note to try 7MHz later when it opened to the USA.

I was curious whether 28MHz would be open. Certainly not in a major way, but I could hear some African activity and some meteor bursts from European activity. I kept tuning up and down waiting to see what would appear. What appeared was PJ4A. They took a little working, but after a minute or two I had them in the log. Also coming in from the Caribbean were ZF1A (great to hear, as I've operated from there!) and KP3Z though I only heard those two briefly. Some US stations were heard, though not worked; KC1XX, W4SUL, AD4ES and K1TO amongst others. An hour or so later, I checked the band again and was interested to hear C5A coming through. To my surprise, and how often does this happen when you run 100W to a vertical, they came back first call.

After supper, I thought it was time to see if I could work the US on 7MHz with 1W. KC1XX was the poor unfortunate I picked. But we did it! It took a few repeats but the team there pulled all the information out and I was glad to hear that they took a lot of care to make sure they'd got the information ok. Next time guys, I promise I'll call with higher power and make an easier QSO for you.

I enjoyed the 1W challenge. No doubt Justin will be pleased I played 'real radio', but I suspect that my next 1W operation will probably be on WSPR again!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Allow WSPR to 'frequency hop'

Not too much time to spend here today, but I just saw an interesting blog from Sivan, 4X6IZ about getting WSPR to 'frequency hop'. In other words, you could operate on several bands at the same time!

Have a look here


Monday, November 22, 2010

An afternoon's WSPR on 7MHz

It's a long while since I spent a whole afternoon on a single HF band, but it's quite an interesting thing to do, watching the propagation change. I decided I would try my 1W WSPR tests again. I started off at around 1230z.

Reports from around the UK and near Europe were constant, with distances as little as 20km (thanks to Peter, 2E0SQL just over the hill in Oxford!) and further into Germany. Interestingly, Peter, running 5W was heard at consistently further afield than me, as you'd expect, but I was keen to stick at the 1W power level and see how it performed.

As the afternoon wore on, some of the UK stations faded, and I started to be heard by LA9JO in the far north of Norway at just under 2200kms. Late afternoon too, I heard UA3ARC in KO85 (though he did not report hearing me until much later in the day). After around 1815z or so, I stopped copying very much at all and wondered whether I should continue transmitting.

I was glad I did though, as around 1915z I was reported in Spain and Portugal and I wondered whether this was a precursor to the path to the USA opening. Sure enough it was and on the next transmit period, I was very pleased to be heard by K1JT and WB2JEP. After a few minutes more, reports dried up for a while, though then things seemed to swing around to the east with reports from EW1LN and UA3ARC, as well as some Italian stations.

Just before I closed at around 2230z, there were more reports from further into the USA, with AD3X at 5683kms and most distant for the day's trials was W3GXT at 5747kms.

Lots of fun and I was pleased to see how the 1W signal propagated. With the CQWW CW contest set to take over the bands next weekend, I think I can guarantee it won't be worth playing WSPR, But it might be interesting to spend some time at the 1W power level and see just how many contacts I can make on CW. I'm guessing not many, but I'd love to be proven wrong!

VHF/UHF QSOs of the week

Continuing my idea of plotting up what I hear on VHF/UHF from the car, here's the map from last week. Nice to get back on GB3FX (Farnham 50MHz) for a couple of QSOs with Roger, G4HZA who I used to work often in the mornings. I was also pleased to work M1ELK/M on Beacon Hill near Newbury on 145MHz simplex (those simplex contacts are gold-dust) and interested to hear a mobile on the hills near Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, which is a good haul from here

View Heard this week 19/11 in a larger map

Not shown on the map are D-STAR QSOs made from home, of course. But I had a particularly enjoyable QSO on Wednesday evening with Keith, WD8AFB in Orlando. I've spoken to Keith a couple of times before and we share an interest in low power HF portable operating which it's always fun to talk about. Keith had just got an FT817 and was trying to find the optimum antenna to use from hotel rooms when he's out on the road.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A weekend WSPR

I should share with you that after my blog post about the Marconi Memorial CW contest last weekend, I had an e-mail from a friend who will remain nameless, who said 'Nice to see you doing some real radio for a change'. I replied that it was nice to keep the 'Wireless Preservation Society' in business...

So this weekend I thought it would be nice to play around with some digital modes on HF. I didn't know, but apparently it was the WAE RTTY contest taking place. I tuned across the digi bands and there was RTTY everywhere. Somehow, I didn't fancy doing that, though I decoded a few for fun, using MMTTY. I'd read some things about the PSK Reporter network in the week, so I thought it might be fun to play some PSK. I set up Digital Master (DM780)'s Superbrowser, so I could sit my receiver on 14.070 and the Superbrowser would decode the streams of all the different QSOs going on. Quite interesting - but didn't grab me as far as transmitting was concerned!

I decided I was more interested in playing with WSPR again. I had the software on my laptop from the last time I used it at the end of last year. I quickly set it going on 7.038MHz (this was mid afternoon) and was soon logging other WSPR users across the country, across Europe and as far away as UA3ARC (KO85). I couldn't get it to transmit though. When it was time to transmit, the speaker emitted a click and that was it.

I couldn't understand what was up - and frankly gave up for a while and just ran it on receive, as that was interesting enough anyway. But of course, curiosity got the better of me (must be the cats' influence) and I tinkered around a bit, without success. I googled around and found that someone had similar issues solved by a reinstall of WSPR.

I removed the program directory, deleted all the files and reinstalled WSPR 2.11. It worked! I could hear tones on transmit! No idea why this had happened, but glad to be QRV again.

By the time all this had happened, 7MHz was starting to be swamped by the WAE contest stations, so a mere watt or so of WSPR wasn't going to go far was it? To my surprise, my 1W signal was heard by a number of German stations as well as in northern Italy. Later on, I set the transmitter going for a period or two and was heard in Serbia at around 2000km.

With the contest out the way, I might try and run the 1W WSPR signal in the evenings this week and see how I get on. It ought to go a reasonable way...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Heard on VHF/UHF from the mobile this week

Last week's map of what I'd heard from the mobile seemed to cause a little interest (thank you!), so I thought I'd keep a mental note of what I heard over the week and put a map together. It gives an idea of what conditions have been like, which I hope you find of interest

View Heard this week 12/11/10 in a larger map

A couple of 'spots' that I didn't hear last week. GB3LW in Central London came through on 433.150 (same as GB3DI near Didcot) a couple of times, with good signals. GB3SN on 145.725 was weak but audible this morning and GB3WR was consistent through the week, but a little louder than usual this morning.

Something as yet unidentified is coming through weakly on 145.750. I will keep an eye on this one and see what it turns out to be.

Most active repeater in the morning when I'm listening seems to be the GB3FN Farnham box with a good number on their commuter net. Rob, G4XUT and I do our best on GB3TD!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

QSO with G8DDY, Marconi Memorial CW and AO-51

Not had a chance to write things up since the weekend. But I had quite a varied and interesting time on the air at the weekend. Didn't spend too much time, as is often the case, but it was proof that a few quick visits to the radio can be interesting.

First interesting contact was from the mobile, as I was driving to get some catfood on Saturday morning. I had the FT8900 scanning and as it went through GB3RD, it stopped and I heard 'Golf Eight Delta Delta' in a very distinctive voice and then the rig resumed scanning. I recognised the voice and went back to GB3RD. As I'd thought it was Peter, G8DDY from the Isle of Wight, who was mobile on one of the highspots of the island. I remembered Peter as being my first QSO from the Isle of Wight on both 144 and 432MHz way back in the early 1980s.

By the time I'd got the rig back on GB3RD, Peter was already in QSO, but I listened and waited for the QSO to end. It did and I called in. It was fun to speak to Peter and compare notes of operating from the island. He knew the apartments where we have stayed and how good a radio spot it is! A lovely QSO and nice to catch up again after all this time.

The first weekend of November is always the Marconi Memorial CW contest on 144MHz. Though I don't treat it as a contest, I always tune around as it's interesting to see what can be heard. This year was no exception and there were some nice contacts to be made. Conditions weren't brilliant, but I was pleased to make some reasonable contacts - mostly from Continental Europe. The best DX was F8DGY in JN18. The two gotaways, at greater distance were DK0BN (JN39) heard for a reasonable period on Saturday afternoon, just above the noise and TM0W (JN36) again, heard for a good period on Saturday evening, but not QUITE strong enough to work! I did hear TM0W again briefly on Sunday, but conditions were poorer and tropo was very weak by this time (there were some good MS bursts though!).

The other experiment was to listen for the AO-51 satellite (repeater in the sky). I was inspired to do this, after seeing a tweet from Paul, 2E0BHA. I'd hoped to try and work him. However, the experiment was only partially successful in that I heard signals on the IC-E92 handheld. But despite the overhead pass, signals were weak. After the event, I discovered that the satellite had not been operating at full strength, so I shall have to try again on a more auspicious occasion.

Friday, November 05, 2010

What I hear on VHF/UHF from the car

Over the last few days, I've been using the scan feature on the FT8900 a bit more from the car. I'm scanning particular channels, rather than the whole of the band, but it's interesting to see what coverage I'm getting. I'll probably add more channels to scan when I identify likely targets of semi-distant stations to listen for.

I thought it might be fun to try and put together a Google Map of what I heard this morning - I've colour coded the different bands.

View Heard by G4VXE this morning in a larger map

As you can see, GB3CF up in Leicestershire is probably the most distant station heard this morning. It fights it out on 145.600 with GB3WR. But I didn't hear WR this morning and GB3CF was clearly audible just around Abingdon for a few hundred yards.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

VHF Tropo forecasting using William Hepburn's tropo pages

About a week or so, I got an e-mail from Matty, MD0MAN drawing my attention to some propagation forecasting websites. One that I hadn't come across before, though somewhere at the back of my mind, I think I've heard it mentioned, is William Hepburn's Tropospheric Ducting Forecast site.

The site allows you to select the area of the globe that you're in - so in my case, I selected the North West Europe page but if you're in North America, this is your map

But how well does it work? After Matty's e-mail, I looked at the maps for the UK and NW Europe last weekend and could see that there would be a chance of some tropo to the South West towards the end of this week, from Thursday onwards.

Driving to the station this morning, with one VFO going on 145.650, there was another repeater just breaking the squelch - something not normally audible. Purely a guess, but I'll bet it was the GB3TR repeater, to the South West of me, in Torbay.

An interesting site - I'm looking forward to keeping an eye on it. Thanks to William for some fascinating data and to Matty, MD0MAN for the tip-off.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Not the CQWW SSB weekend...or shouting Elephant at contest stations!

Over the years, I've developed an aversion to having anything to do with major HF SSB contests unless I've got at least a beam antenna. Of course, you don't *need* a beam antenna and you *can* make contacts and good ones at that, with a dipole or vertical and perhaps 100w or less. The trouble is that each contact seems to go something like this

DX Station: QRZ Contest
Me (enthusiastically): Golf Four Victor Xray Echo
DX Station: QRZ the X-RAY
Me: Golf Four Victor Xray Echo
DX Station: Gee Four Vee Ex I you're five nine twenty eight.
Me (starting to lose enthusiasm for this): No, it's Golf Four Victor Xray Echo, Golf Four Victor Xray Echo, OK?
DX Station: QSL, Golf Four Victor Xray India you're five nine twenty eight. What's my report?
Me (thinking why did I bother....): No, the last letter is Echo, Echo Echo. Like Espana, Ecuador, Elephant (actually, I've never used Elephant as a phonetic, but I might now I've thought of it)... QSL
DX Station: QSL - Golf Four Victor Xray Echo - you're five nine twenty eight OK?
Me: Roger roger (Thinking thank heavens for that...) you're five nine one four. OK?

Disclaimer: I'm not singling out zone 28 stations! I was just listening to one last night. They're super operators with great ears...

So, you can see that each contact, even with a semi decent setup is a bit of a trial of patience and I have learned it's not good for my blood pressure. I'm quite happy to accept that I could put up a bigger antenna (but then it works ok most of the time for CW and data contacts) and that perhaps my voice isn't that clear (well, sorry, I'm stuck with that).

It's not that I don't like contests - I love hearing the activity generated, and I love hearing DX coming through from all parts of the globe. I'm inclined to think, though that there is now so much interference and general aggro that anyone with a normal suburban station is unlikely to have a great time in the major SSB events (CW and data are usually better options).

Anyway, that's a long way of telling you that I didn't have any contest QSOs over the weekend. Still, I did have a listen on 7MHz last night about 2100z and very interesting it was too. In between the very loud Europeans there was some great DX from the Far and Middle East. JA3YGP (from memory) and 9K2HN were doing great business and good signals on the vertical and there was an Indonesian station coming through too..

Having switched the HF rig on, I listened around a little more. The 5MHz channels were quiet, though I did hear some Spanish fishermen on 5398khz! Listened on 27.555MHz too - someone told me recently that this is a CB frequency that shows activity even when the 28MHz amateur band is quiet. Not much doing there, though I heard some meteor bursts!

It was nice to listen on HF again though. I realise that I have missed playing HF recently, although not shouting Elephant at contest stations!


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