Thursday, June 28, 2012

A visit to the Wythall Club and some 50MHz bicycle portable....

On Tuesday evening, I made the 80 minute or so trip up the M40 to visit the Wythall club in south Birmingham to present the 'My World of VHF' talk to them. It was a very enjoyable evening - the meeting was well attended and there seemed to be more interest in VHF matters than there sometimes is. Thank you to all everyone at Wythall for their warm welcome and a fun evening. It's always interesting presenting the talk as it's a reminder to me of the various aspects of VHF/UHF operation. Somehow talking about simple 50MHz portable activity struck a chord with me.

And so it was this morning that I headed out on my bike with the FT-817, the ATX Walkabout antenna and the Baofeng UV-5R. I rode up onto Windmill Hill, a couple of miles from here.

I knew 50MHz had been in and out as I'd made some QSOs from home before I headed out. Although I didn't make any 50MHz QSOs, it's always interesting to listen on the little whip antenna - and to hope that signals will come up. The furthest I heard was an LZ2 station and the strongest was an EA5, but not really strong enough for a low power QSO. Once again the GB3MCB beacon from Cornwall was audible and I heard a station from the South West (IO70) - so it's a fair path over the Ridgeway.

Funnily enough as I was packing up, I overheard a QSO on a 145MHz repeater about how there was never any activity on 50MHz. Really?

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Six Metre vertical is full of surprises!

With the IARU Region 1 50MHz contest over the weekend, I heard a few grumbles that conditions weren't that good. Certainly it wasn't end-to-end Es but I thought it was interesting.

For me, I worked a few 9A, YU, E7 and S5 stations at the outset and then it went quiet. Actually, that was interesting as I could concentrate on working some of the more distant UK stations on 'tropo'. GJ6YB/P was a nice one - I waited for signals to fade up and worked them on CW on a peak of QSB. Typically, their signals were much louder on Sunday! Whilst I was listening to them GM2T called and worked them. What propagation was that? Not Es or MS, but very solid. Tropo scatter? Impressive copy on the vertical.

GW2OP/P in IO71 was another nice one over a decent distance, as was the Five Bells Group, G5B.

On Sunday morning IF9/I2ADN came up and caused a stir (and some not great operating from people who clearly spend their time in HF pileups. Nuff said).

By the time we got back from family visiting, the contest was over, but there was a little Es with 4O3A, 4O4A and IW4AOT worked amongst others and a weak IK4 heard on 70MHz.

And the birds find the vertical useful too.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sending a message to Bletchley Park

A couple of weeks ago when I was out for a walk I had a nice QSO with Giles, G0NXA who told me that the Cheltenham Amateur Radio Association were planning an interesting event in conjunction with the Milton Keynes Amateur Radio club as part of the Cheltenham Science Festival.

The plan was to establish a station in Imperial Gardens in Cheltenham where the public could write messages which would then be encrypted by an Enigma machine (owned by GCHQ!). The messages would then be sent to Bletchley Park using morse code. A special NOV was required for the messages to be sent in encrypted format.

At Bletchley Park, the messages would be received by members of the Milton Keynes radio club, where they would be transcribed and passed to the 'Bombe Team' who would try to decrypt the message using a replica of Alan Turing's Bombe.

Decrypted messages would then be passed back to Cheltenham by Twitter.

This morning as I was going to the allotment, I worked the special event station in Cheltenham, GB5CSF and wished them well for the day. Then this afternoon, I was watching tweets from both Cheltenham and Milton Keynes clubs. Somewhat tongue in cheek, I asked if I could send a message to be encrypted, by Twitter. Very kindly, the Cheltenham team agreed.

I wasn't sure what to send but settled on 'LONGWORTH SENDS GREETINGS TO M-K'. I was later told this was one of the longer messages of the day!

I had a tweet back to say that the message had been successfully encrypted by the Enigma machine and was ready to be sent to Bletchley Park. I was able to see that the morse traffic between Cheltenham and Bletchley (GB5AMT and GB2BP respectively) was on 7.035 so I was fascinated to listen and copy the morse transmissions.

On Twitter, I saw that the Bletchley team had received the signals successfully and were collating them ready to be decrypted by the Bombe Team! Exciting.

After a very brief period of about 15 minutes, Bletchley tweeted the decrypts, including my message - to which they were kind enough to reciprocate the greetings! Fascinating and my very grateful thanks to everyone involved in the project for their efforts.

And of course, though it made for a fun afternoon, this was once very serious business. I remember with respect and admiration, teams of people, including Alan Turing who made this work when it really counted.

(Photo of my encrypted message is courtesy of Cheltenham Amateur Radio Association)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Activity breeds activity: or the difference your CQ can make

When I'm mobile with the FT8900, I generally have one of the VFOs on one of the local repeaters and the second one scanning about 40 channels for activity. This morning, the scanning stopped on 145.500 and I heard G4APL/M call CQ.

It's fairly rare for me to hear a simplex CQ on 145.500, so after a quick bit of button pressing, I called Paul G4APL/M. It turned out that he was on the A40 between Witney and Burford, some 15 miles away from me. We had a good QSO, with signals getting weaker as I approached Abingdon.

I signed with Paul and was pleased to be called by Alan, G3SLI in Wootton near Abingdon. I occasionally work Alan on 70MHz FM and it had been quite a while since we spoke. I got the impression speaking to Alan that he hadn't made too many QSOs recently - so a bit of simplex activity was welcome. We could also hear that Paul, G4APL/M was working a portable station closer to him in Burford on another frequency. I told Alan that I'd come across his callsign in connection with his activities frrom Gibraltar on 70MHz in the early 1960s when I was looking at Mike, G3JVL's QRZ page the other day. A really nice QSO with Alan, talking about aerials and VHF propagation.

It struck me that unless Paul had made his CQ on 145.500 - those great QSOs wouldn't have happened. A great reminder that activity really does breed activity and that I should call CQ on simplex myself more often!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

When I worked TF3ML/P, little did I expect....

I was delighted to work TF3ML/P on 70MHz last Friday. I hadn't really thought much else about it, until Stewart, G0LGS posted a link to TF3ML's QRZ page on Facebook this evening.

Why? You have to go and have a look. Oli's portable station is really something!

Oli's QRZ page

Oli's Facebook page

Monday, June 11, 2012

Sunday evening DX on 50MHz

When I made my 70MHz posting last night, I expected that was it for the day. Around 2130 local time, I popped up to the shack to have a listen to 50MHz and was surprised to hear some signals from UW2ZM and an LZ. Neither was particularly strong, although I thought it was unusual to hear them at that time. I'd have liked to work UW2ZM as he's in KN58, but he was pretty weak.

Just before turning in for the night (we had a 04.30 alarm set this morning), I checked 50MHz again and CW was buzzing! Lots of I, SM coming in. But to my enormous surprise, I could hear a number of US stations taking part in their VHF contest. The first station I heard was NN1N, who astonished me by coming straight back to a very tentative call. The other stations I heard had big pileups and I didn't get involved, but it was particularly good to hear the Mt Greylock Expeditionary Force, W2SZ coming through. There was a very loud K1 who had an enormous pileup.

No doubt for those with a bigger aerial than a vertical, there was some really great DX to be had, but I was quite satisfied with my transatlantic QSO.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A good weekend on 70MHz

Back in April, for my birthday, both Julie and my Mum very kindly gave me some money. I decided to put it towards a new 70MHz transverter. I had been undecided whether to try and improve the FT-847 performance to an acceptable level or to go the transverter route. I didn't really fancy some of the modifications required to the 847, so the transverter beckoned.

I decided to try one of the Spectrum transverters - the price was fair and the other options seemed to require importing. I ordered a transverter in mid-April and Tony, G4CFY told me that because he would be so busy, there would be some delay. I was ok with that and Tony was very good on keeping me informed.

Last Thursday a box arrived at home! It was the transverter. I was able to get it setup pretty quickly and found that I could receive the GB3RAL 70MHz beacon at Harwell by sticking my finger in the aerial socket of the transverter! Applying an antenna produced even better results but the band was quiet.

When I got home from work on Friday I had a quick listen around 70MHz before our customary Friday night homemade pizza. To my surprise and delight, I worked 2 stations; OK1TEH and TF3ML/P - Iceland was new on 70MHz for me!

This morning, as soon as I switched on 50MHz the band was open into southern Italy, so I wondered if 70MHz would be open. Sure enough it was and I was quickly working stations all over Italy on Es. Most stations were in the area of Rome, but I was pleased to work IF9/I2ADN (JM67). Later in the morning, the opening moved and I was able to work EA6SX and several 9A and S5 stations.

I definitely feel that the new transverter is working much better; the receive is much more sensitive than the FT847 and of course, 25W is proving handy. For now, I have used the FT847 at 28MHz as an IF. I just need to remember to drop the power down when I switch over to the transverter to avoid bad things happening.

Clearly this weekend has been a good one on 70MHz, but I hope to be able to devote more time to the band in the future

Monday, June 04, 2012

On yer the hilltop - bicycle portable on 28/50/144 and 432MHz

It seemed ages since I'd taken the FT-817 and a whip antenna out on the bike. After a very wet Jubilee day yesterday, although there were some dark clouds about I decided to get out this morning before any rain could fall.

My simple 28/50/144/432MHz setup carried on the bike is the FT-817 and an ATX Walkabout antenna which I use on 28 and 50MHz. This morning, I took the Baofeng UV-5R for 144/432MHz FM.

A favourite spot to cycle to is Windmill Hill which is a couple of miles from our house. It's not that high, but it's open, quiet (both electrically and not too many passers by) and it's also a pleasant place to sit for an hour or so.

There's usually something to listen to. This morning 28MHz was pretty quiet. I heard beacons from Finland and Norway quite weakly and IK8JWY was heard CQing weakly on CW - not strong enough to work. 50MHz was quiet too, but interesting to hear the GB3MCB beacon on 50.042 from IO70. I don't hear it from home, so just goes to show what difference a quiet band can make.

Just as I thought I was going to have to pack up without making a contact, Matthew 2E0RNM popped up on the GB3WH repeater so it was good to chat with him.

Picture shows the relaxed operating position - and the Palm Paddle used for CW.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Putting the bunting out for the jubilee on the radio

Although the special callsigns for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee have been available for some weeks, I had decided only to use mine over the immediate Jubilee period.

I'm only using it for a bit of fun rather than to generate pileups!

As I said to Richard G4ERP last night, it's the radio equivalent of putting it the bunting and celebrating our Queen's jubilee.


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