Friday, March 30, 2012

An object lesson in DXing

This evening, as I was driving home, I was reminded of an object lesson in DXing; sometimes it is better to call the weak ones.

As has become customary, I switched on the Anytone AT5555 10m rig and tuned around a little as I headed back from Didcot towards home. The band was going out, but as usual there were some South Americans coming through. LU7DP was loud, working mostly Spanish and Italian stations. A little further down I found CE2WZ also at good strength, working mostly southern Europeans, including my old pal Cedric CT3FT who I couldn't hear today. I tried calling CE2WZ but he kept CQing. My little signal wasn't quite enough to get to Chile tonight.

A few kHz further down, I found PU2RJF calling CQ. Betto wasn't so strong but was coming through ok. He didn't seem to be getting many callers, so very much tongue-in-cheek I called. To my surprise, he heard me straight away and we had a simple but enjoyable contact.

Fun to remind myself, that although when running low power, it makes sense to call the loud stations, sometimes you should call the weak ones too as they may be running simple stations and will hear you just as well as you hear them.

Obrigado Betto!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A hint of changing conditions and a trip to White Horse Hill

As I was driving home last night, I was looking around on 28MHz SSB as I usually do. In addition to the 'usual' South Americans that I've been hearing for a few weeks there were a couple of fairly weak French stations. This interested me as I suspected I was hearing them via Es propagation. If that's true, then with any luck we will start to hear more Es on 28MHz and then hear it rising in frequency towards 50MHz and beyond.

This afternoon, in celebration of the gorgeous weather, Julie and I decided to go up White Horse Hill, which is about 10 miles to the south of where we live. Although it was a little misty up there, we had a great time walking, listening to the skylarks, watching the buzzards and picking out some of the local villages. I took my Icom E-92 handheld and had a tune around on 145 and 433MHz. I was particularly pleased to have a nice 145MHz simplex contact with Mike 2E0YYY/P who was on the Long Mynd in Shropshire. I suppose the distance between us was around 80-90 miles.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Another rig for (almost) £30 - the Baofeng UV-3R plus

A few days ago, I was chatting to a friend on the repeater about the Baofeng UV-3R and what a useful radio it was. He was interested in getting one, but explained he didn't use eBay. Rather than have him pay £50 in the UK, I said I would order him one.

It arrived today. I had ordered a UV-3R Plus, rather than my Mark 1 model. What are the differences?

The Plus has dual band display. In practice, I don't think this is a big deal.

The Plus came with a dual band antenna rather than two mono band antennas

The Plus comes with a drop in charger. The charger tray can be powered from the USB style charger that comes with the rig, although I plugged the lead to an iPhone charger.

Although it is entirely adequate, I feel the build quality on the Plus is not quite as good as the Mark 1. What do I expect for £32.90?

Although I have not had any QSOs - it is my friend's rig, after all, performance of the rig seems as good as the Mark 1. I was able to blip up GB3TD and GB3UK from inside the house.

The Plus came with two earpiece/ microphones - the standard one and an added bonus.

I hope my friend will be pleased with it!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

28MHz mobile update

After the 'screaming' incident with the AT-5555 rig a couple of weeks ago, the rig has seemed quite happy. With the lighter evenings, the band seems to have been open a little longer. By the time I get to the car in the evening, around 1820z there seems to have been just a little propagation left on 28MHz, usually to South America.

For the last couple of evenings, there have been Brazilians to listen to, whilst driving home. Signals have been weak, but I'm hopeful of a contact soon.

Driving around at the weekend, during daylight hours there have been plenty of contacts around Europe and Russia which is good fun for mobile operation.

Soon the Es season will be starting which should be fun on 28MHz.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

ZD7XF and some reminiscences!

I was really pleased to work Nigel, ZD7XF at the weekend for a new country.

You might be interested to see a few pictures of Nigel's previous operation from St Helena here

Nigel is, of course, G3TXF at home and is a very well-known and respected contester and dxpeditioner. He's also a fine man. Some years ago, I had the absolute pleasure of working with him and Roger, G3SXW on a project building a website and database reporting on the financial performance of Telecom companies. In fact, on Nigel's amateur radio website, there's still a bit of code that I wrote which shows all of Nigel's DXpeditions that a particular callsign has worked, band by band!

So, whenever I work Nigel from a faraway place, it's always a particular pleasure.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The ups and downs of amateur radio!

There are some days when things don't go quite right. In fact, nothing goes quite right.

Yesterday morning, I thought I'd have a look on 28MHz JT65. I plugged the interface lead into the sound card on the computer but there was no receive noise. Fiddled and faffed and discovered that there was a problem on the socket with the computer.

Managed to get around that by using an external USB sound card which came with the ZLP interface. That worked great with WSJT, but with the W6CQZ JT65-HF program which I use on HF there wasn't enough gain using the basic interface that I have from the FT1000MP. In the shower, I realised the simple way around that was to run all the digimodes from the FT847 which had previously just been used on VHF/UHF. Got that going and in fact, the receive on 28MHz seemed to be better than from the old setup. I had some contacts to test it and all seemed ok.

Later in the day I was playing around on FSK441 on 144MHz and I noticed the output was down! I had a sinking feeling that I had done something horrible to the PA whilst on HF JT65A. Fortunately, it proved to be the patch lead between the FT847 and the amplifier. I removed the patch lead and everything seemed ok. Need to grab some more connectors from Maplin tomorrow and make another up.

Then I got panicky about a noise that the FT847 made when going back to receive on JT65. That proved to be something to do with the JT65-HF program - WSJT was fine. I think it was just a slightly different click of the relays on HF. But I'm not quite convinced!

Playing around on JT65 on LF I realised that the filters in the FT847 weren't anything like as good as the FT1000MP. I decided to connect the MP back up. On LF, the lack of gain really wasn't an issue compared to my findings on 28MHz earlier. So that's good, I can still use the MP for JT65 on 7 and 3.5MHz.

About then, I saw a tweet from Paul, M3JFM to say he'd just worked ZD7XF on 10m. Now, I'm pretty sure that I haven't worked St Helena from the UK, so I thought I'd better do something about that.

I found Nigel, ZD7XF on 7MHz easily, but what a pileup! I decided to admit defeat somewhat grudgingly and went to bed.

The cats asked to get up at 0530z so I had a quick check on the bands after testing them out. ZD7XF was audible on 3505. I tried a couple of quick calls, but it was clear I wasn't getting anywhere. Back to bed!

By 0800z ZD7XF was on 21MHz. The Butternut isn't great on the band, but it works - just. After just a few calls, Nigel was in the log! Already, today seemed more positive. After breakfast, I thought I had a few minutes before I needed to start my jobs! I checked 28MHz and he was there - not strong, but workable. It took a few goes, but I made it. Thank you, Nigel!

It all worked out in the end. Need to get that patch lead sorted and take a look at the socket on the laptop.....

And a quick 'get well soon' to Paul, M3JFM who inspired the ZD7XF chase!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Why is my Anytone AT-5555 screaming at me?

This evening as I was driving home, I noticed a loud station on 28.475 running a pileup of mostly Spanish stations. Although my Spanish is sadly very poor, it is good enough for me to realise it was PP5BS. I haven't worked Brazil yet from the mobile, so I wanted to have a go.

I pressed to transmit and there was a loud whistle. Initially I thought it was feedback or that I was in PA mode, but no. Pressed again and it was fine. Intrigued now, I moved off frequency and kept going over to transmit to see if it would do it again. Once every few it would, but I couldn't fathom out why.

When I got close to home, I stopped to try and find out more. Associated with the 'scream' I could now see that the display said something that looked like '5 H 1'.

Great! Back home now, let's see if I can find a list of Anytone AT-5555 status codes on the web. Um, not really. Back to the manual. Then I found that in the menus there is SWR protection. If turned on, it threatens to give a voice alert and switch off the transmitter. Of course, I had switched off voice alerts, so it was giving me a warning tone. And the display? Really, it was showing S HI which probably translates to SWR HI!

Now it makes some sense. When I mounted the transceiver, the PL259 for the antenna lead seemed a bit close to the floor, but I didn't worry. I think the car was bumping on bits of road and a poor connection occurring.

I've now sorted that out, so I'm hopeful my rig will stop screaming at me!

Saturday, March 03, 2012

A morning's radio including a QSO from the shed roof


This morning, with a few different jobs to do I enjoyed some diversity in my radio activity. Before breakfast, I put the VHF rig on 144.370 and looked for meteor reflections. Although there weren't lots of bursts, I was pleased to log YU1IO which is a good distance, especially with my little antenna.

After breakfast, I headed over to Abingdon to do a little shopping and had the 28MHz mobile rig running. I heard a few pileups going on, which I didn't get involved with, but was pleased to hear Achim EA8/DL7PV calling CQ from Tenerife. I called him and we had a really nice QSO. It's becoming apparent that it's relatively unusual to hear mobile stations on HF these days, as it's usually a nice talking point and people are surprised at the simple system.

With the winter winds, the roofing felt on the shed at the allotment had become a bit ripped, so I wanted to replace it. It was quite a nice job cutting the felt and then, from the stepladder nailing the felt on the roof in the sun! I had my little UV-3R in my pocket as you can see and was pleased to make a QSO with Ann, G8NVI through the Didcot 70cms repeater. Following that, I walked over to the edge of the allotment field where you look across the Thames valley and enjoyed another QSO through the GB3UK repeater on Cleeve Hill - a decent distance for the little handheld!

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