Wednesday, February 29, 2012

UK amateurs can now apply for special callsigns for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics

I've just applied for the Notice of Variation to allow me to change my callsign during the period of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee where it will become GQ4VXE and then during the Olympics when it will become GO4VXE

Should be fun!

The process is simple. As long as you have your OFCOM Lifetime Licence Number! I didn't and had to scrabble around on the OFCOM site to get that. Once I had it, I had the online forms filled in and the NOVs in the form of PDF documents emailled back to me immediately.

You can apply here

Sunday, February 19, 2012

QRV on VHF digimodes using a ZLP interface

If you've been reading the blog for a while, you'll know that I have been keen to get going on the VHF datamodes, particularly the WSJT modes. I'd been thwarted up until now by the lack of an interface and I'd been reluctant to part with money until I could verify that things ought to work ok! I'd had some bad experiences with the FT-847 and interfaces in the past.

The random trigger for getting this sorted out was seeing a tweet from Colin G6AVK on Twitter that he had ordered a ZLP interface for his laptop. I hastily Googled ZLP Electronics and discovered a range of interfaces very competively priced. I e-mailed Neil, G4ZLP to ask his advice about interfacing with the FT-847 and he recommended the Pro Plus interface. On the basis of his advice I placed an order.

Two days later it arrived, well packaged. Getting the FT-847 setup proved very simple indeed - although I'd had a bit of fun and games getting the levels right from the Pro Plus interface to my FT1000MP. However, it was the VHF/UHF rig that I really wanted to interface with.

Armed with the interface and the WSJT software, I popped onto the ON4KST chat server to see if anyone was around to try a JT6M test with. Although I only have the vertical up, I thought it would probably yield some results. And so it proved, as I was quickly able to exchange signals with Pat, EI8IQ on 50MHz although the reflections ran out before we could complete a 'proper' QSO.

Yesterday evening, I set the receiver running on 144.370 with the FSK441 decoder going and I was pleased to decode a meteor burst from Martin OK1UGA. I shall be keen to try and work him sometime soon.



Will 50W from the FT-847 be enough? I have a 4CX350A amplifier here, but I'm sort of trying to avoid using it! And I wonder if I can make some JT6M QSOs with the vertical, or will I have to try and erect a dipole or a low beam? It'll be fun finding out!

A rig for £30 - the Baofeng UV-3R 144/433MHz dualbander


I’d had the chance to play with one of the Baofeng UV-3Rs a few weeks ago and quite liked it. Like most people, I’d seen them advertised in the UK amateur radio press at around £50. On e-bay you can get them for £20 plus £10 postage. I thought I’d plump for one of those and see what happened.

The radio arrived in about 8 days from ‘RadioBanker’ in Hong Kong, beaufifully packaged and with some nice stamps! It was neatly boxed and pleasingly presented. The box includes the transceiver, the battery, VHF antenna and UHF antennas , power charger and leads as well as an earpiece and microphone. Assembly was straightforward and just required the battery to be clipped into the body of the transceiver and the cover slid down and clipped in place. I’d opted for the jaunty blue model!


The rig fits neatly into the hand. Sorry about the grubby fingers - I'd been digging the garden!


Because I had put the battery into the transceiver, I did not need to use the ‘shell’ supplied for charging the battery and just plugged the lead from charger into the DC socket on the side of the rig and set it to charge overnight. The charger supplied was a wall-wart designed for UK 3-pin plugs, unlike some suppliers who, I understand ship a US type charger and adapter.

I’ve found that battery life was good. Not quite ‘charge and forget’ like some of the larger handhelds and bigger battery capacity, but certainly good for several  days operation during walks and monitoring whilst I was in the house – the battery life of 10 hours quoted by the manufacturer seems realistic.

The build quality of the rig is good. Clearly it’s not as good as rigs from the mainstream manufacturers (which are, after all, several times the price) and perhaps not quite as good as the Wouxun models. But it is entirely satisfactory. The ‘L/R’ button on the side of the rig as well as the p.t.t. button were absolutely fine but were of the type that made you wonder how they would last over time. The rig fitted nicely in my hand and also in my coat pocket, so ideal for taking out on a walk.

The manual? I should probably start by saying that if you are the sort of person that likes things to be ‘just so’ and for the manual to guide you effortlessly through the operation of the rig, then this is not the rig for you. The manual is one of the poorest that I have read. To me at least, it isn’t logically organised.
The ‘Getting Started’ section covers switching the rig on, adjusting the volume and that’s it. Then it’s onto the ‘Advanced operation’ section which is just a description, sometimes clearer than others, of the different menu items. One of the more mysterious items reads (sic), “ELAYM (Repeater Sound Response). The UV-3R comes with the Repeater Sound Response feature. When the feature is activated, the handheld transceiver will hear the sound from the repeater, that means the handheld transceiver is working via the repeater’. What?! Certainly the intent wasn’t clear to me. This is probably the most mysterious and cryptic description in the manual, but it is by no means unique. Incidentally, the ELAYM feature appears to be intended to suppress K tones from a repeater.

It all gets better from there. If you are happy to accept the manual as it is and work with the information provided you should soon get to grips with the radio. For example, though the manual says how to store frequencies in the memories, it doesn’t tell you how to recall them, but with some (not too much) experimentation, I discovered how to do this.

Programming the rig with repeater and simplex frequencies is reasonably straightforward once you master the menu system.  I found programming my most used frequencies into memory was the easiest way to use the rig, because the rig didn’t automatically sense repeater channels and apply repeater shift as some do. Not wanting to be fiddling around with changing the radio’s menu items with cold hands on a walk, then setting up the memories seemed to be the most convenient solution. Programming software and a USB lead 
is available, though I’ve not taken the plunge yet (it would double the cost of the rig!)

Having set up the rig with the local repeaters and a few simplex channels I made some experiments from within our house. The antenna on the UV-3R is quite small and I found that I couldn’t hear the 144MHz repeaters GB3WH and GB3RD (both about 15 miles distant) as well as on a ‘full size’ handheld such as my Icom E-92, but I could still get into them if I chose my spot. Likewise on 433MHz, GB3TD at Swindon could be heard weakly and accessed from the first floor of our house. So, if you are planning to use one of these handhelds inside your house to access repeaters or work local stations, you’ll probably need to be within 5 to 10 miles of them.

However, I was more interested in how the rig would perform when I was out for a walk in the Oxfordshire countryside. I ventured to our allotment which just happens to be on the ridge of the hills with a clear take off from west, through north to the north east. The 430MHz repeater GB3UK on Cleeve Hill in the Cotswolds is about 40 miles distant and I tried a call through it using the UV-3R. To my slight surprise, the repeater heard me easily and I put a call through it. Richard, G4ERP was operating mobile on horseback and responded to my call, as did Mike, G3TSO. Both Richard and Mike were able to confirm that the audio from the rig was good, although the deviation was just slightly low but in general the quality of my transmission was excellent. I could easily access the GB3DI repeater at Harwell and worked John G6LNU at Wantage. Rob G4XUT heard me on GB3TD and we QSYed to simplex and made a nice contact with me on the footbridge over the A420 to the south of our village and Rob at home – a distance of around 20 miles. Not bad for 2W and a small antenna! Experiments showed that the speaker/mike gave a better audio level than the internal microphone.

One issue discovered at this stage was the fact that even at bare minimum, the volume is quite loud. Sufficiently loud that if the rig is in your pocket and someone pops up on a repeater, their voice may be loud enough to surprise your walking companions or passers-by! Various modifications for this have been mooted from modifying the board to sticking some tape over the speaker. The supplied earpiece/microphone proves quite beneficial from this point of view too – the lowest volume setting seemed quite bearable through the earphone.

The UV-3R also features the capability to listen to F.M. broadcast radio, which the manual stated covered 87 to 108MHz. Somewhat intriguingly, when I first switched to F.M., it displayed a frequency of 65MHz! The tuning range appeared to be 65 to 108MHz for wideband F.M.. The tuning step is 100khz – so I was unable to tune to 70.450MHz (UK 70MHz F.M. calling frequency). However,  I did verify that I could receive my own transmission on 70MHz! Given that the receiver is set up for wideband F.M. and amateur transmissions are narrowband F.M., this will be of limited use, but it may prove a useful facility. Also, in Es season, it may provide the ability to listen to Eastern European broadcast F.M. – though presumably the small antenna may prove something of a handicap. The F.M. feature does what it is supposed to do, receive F.M. radio stations. Sensitivity seemed reasonable and I was easily able to receive our favourite local radio station from Oxford, Jack FM. I enjoyed that when a station popped up on the repeater that I was monitoring = even if I was listening to F.M., the rig would switch over to V.H.F./U.H.F..

A more serious, well documented issue with the UV-3R is that the second harmonic of the V.H.F. transmitter is not well suppressed and is only around 30dB down. Since I was planning to use the rig on 70cms, I didn’t really care. However, Steve G1KQH kindly provided a link to a site where a mod to improve the VHF performance is available. 

I enjoy having the UV-3R around. It is perfectly sized to fit in a pocket to take with you when you are out for a walkto the shops or on a hill. Good things about the rig are value for money, wideband receive coverage and excellent 433MHz performance. On the downside, the manual was very poor, especially for a beginner and the second harmonic of the V.H.F. transmitter gives cause for concern. Neutral points, but ones to be aware of, include relatively low power and small antenna will restrict the range and performance of the rig, balanced by reasonable battery life and easy portability.

For £30, I think this represents exceptional value – I’m delighted. And you can also get the rig in red, yellow, camouflage as well as regular black!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

One of those QSOs....in a good way!



I've mentioned before that some contacts really grab your imagination. This evening was one of those. Generally, over the last few weeks 10m has been closed by the time I have got to the car on the way home from work. However, this evening, when I switched on the 10m rig I could hear a station close to 28.400MHz where the rig was 'parked'. As I drove over to the supermarket, I could hear W8ERN in Michigan working his way through a steady stream of callers. Driving through urban Didcot is quite noisy on HF, so I hadn't really expected to hear any more on 10m by the time I had finished my shopping for a Valentine's meal for Julie.

But as I drove away from the supermarket, with goodies in my shopping bag, I switched on the 10m rig and he was still there, if anything, stronger! To my surprise, Angelo, W8ERN heard 'mobile' as someone else called him and asked for the mobile. I called and was thrilled to get a 5/8 report from him.

We had a very easy QSO and I was able to explain that I was running around 10W from the Anytone AT-5555 to a CB whip on the car. Angelo told me about his website and I told him about this one!

Great to make my first inter-continental QSO from the car on 10m with the Anytone rig! Thanks Angelo!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chris N7ICE's first steps with the Flex-1500 SDR

If like me, you're interested in seeing how SDR performs 'for real' you may well enjoy Chris, N7ICE's HamBrief video about getting started with his new Flex-1500. As with all Chris' podcasts and videos, it's fun and informative in the right proportions! Take a look



Not for the first time, I am tempted to save up for one of these!

A visit to the Harwell Radio Rally, 2012

Although we had a busy weekend, I was keen to visit the Harwell Radio Rally at Didcot yesterday. After all, it is only half an hour's drive from home and many friends were planning to be there.

I arrived just as the doors were opening - and delighted to meet Pete 2E0SQL, his Dad, Paul M3JFM and David, 2E0DAB in the queue. The queue wasn't too long, but it was good to see plenty of people wanting to visit.

Once inside, I had a quick spin around; great to see my bosses from PW there; Rob, G3XFD and Tex, G1TEX with Phil, G3XBZ who often features in the magazine. The Harwell club had a good 'junk' stand and it was great to see many familiar faces there, including Des G3NNG, John G3VPW and Mike G0MJW. Mike was kind enough to mention that I hadn't updated my blog much recently.

This is true! It's not a lack of interest, so it's just a temporary thing. Unfortunately Julie's Mum has been quite ill for the last month, so we have been doing a lot of travelling back and forth to Cheltenham Hospital where she's being looked after (happily, we hope that she is slowly, very slowly, on the mend). Add to that the fact that the recent Blogger changes mean that I can no longer update the blog from work in the lunchhour (we're on IE7 at work...) and you can see why updates have been sporadic.

Another stall that I enjoyed was being run by my friends from the Cheltenham ARA; Derek G3NKS and Tom, G3XMM. They had some really lovely classic Drake gear with them which was from a silent key sale. I hope it found a good home - it truly deserved to. I should really have bought the enormous, but lovely NATO style morse key that was on the stand but it was a bit big and I don't use a hand key much!

I met lots of other people whilst I was wandering around including Andrew M6BBP, who I first met when I was very first interested in amateur radio, probably over 30 years ago! Andrew is friends with Jon, G6BHS who lived three doors away from me in Cheltenham. I first realised I was living close to a radio amateur when I heard Jon and Paul G8VSH on my airband receiver! Exciting times.

So - a great hour spent with friends. Congratulations to the Harwell Club for organising such a successful event. Here's to next year.

Oh - and I bought a copy of RadioUser magazine - not too expensive a  morning!

Friday, February 10, 2012

G4VXE's QRZ.COM biography updated

For ages, I'd been intending to update my QRZ.COM biography! Finally got around to doing it this week. Hopefully it may even bring a few new viewers to the blog!

See the bio here

The picture is a little out of date. The HF rig is no longer in the lounge and sadly, Bitzy the cat is no longer with us - but it is a happy picture!

Operating from Gibraltar with VA3ITA

Back in 1987 I first operated from Gibraltar as ZB2/G4VXE and then the following year, as part of the Square Bashers DXpedition group we visited again, operating this time as ZB2IQ.

It was fun. therefore, to see this video from Ed, VA3ITA of his trip to Gibraltar, some of the sights and sounds (and the apes) as well as some operating on 50MHz. It's quite a long video, but I enjoyed it!



Good also to see Ron ZB2B featured as part of the video!

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