Monday, April 29, 2019

#radio by Rammstein

It is a while ago I found a interesting video relating radio, last time was in 2016 when I posted a video/music from Peter Gabriel. I was attended to this video from the German musicgroup Rammstein by a colleague. And although I am a fan from Peter Gabriel's music I don't really like Rammstein music at all. Their music sounds all the same to me. It's loud and it's hard. However, I like this video, it is absurd and not for the faint of heart. Rammstein is not a typical popmusic band and not rock or heavy metal or whatever you call it. They got their own sound and that makes them very special. This video was just brought out to the world, it's about radio....and it is in German and quite unique...turn it on loud and enjoy ;-)

....und der Deutschen kurzwellen sender, wir senden tanzmuzik....

(Verse 1)
We were not allowed to belong
See, talk or hear nothing
But every night for an hour or two
Am I gone from this world
Every night a bit happy
My ear very close to the world receiver

Radio, my radio
I let myself suck into the ether
My ears become eyes
Radio, my radio
So I hear what I do not see
Silence secretly wanderlust

(Verse 2)
We were not allowed to belong
See, talk or disturb nothing
Every body of song was forbidden
So dangerous foreign notes
But every night a little happy
My ear very close to the world receiver

Radio, my radio
I let myself suck into the ether
My ears become eyes
Radio, my radio (my radio)
So I hear what I do not see
Silence secretly wanderlust

Every night I secretly climbed
On the back of the music
Put the ears to the wings
Sing quietly into the hands
Every night and again I fly
Just away with the music
Float through bright rooms
No borders, no fences

Radio, radio
Radio, radio

Radio, my radio (my radio)
I let myself suck into the ether
My ears become eyes
Radio, my radio (my radio)
So I hear what I do not see
Silence secretly wanderlust

The video made for this title takes place in post-war Germany, showing us how radio is the main protagonist. The video revolves around the role and power of radio during the world wars, censorship and persecution of those who listened to foreign stations during this period. The words "Radio" recall a time when listening to the radio at night was an act of freedom.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

ES season ready!

It seems for now this was the last day with good weather this week. So I decided to get a day off the job to get ES season ready. It was a so called antennaday.

The HF5B beam was removed. I don't think I will have it in the mast again. I definitely need a 5 band beam that works a bit better. Although 10m and 15m does very reasonable the rest is not that good. Although I made QSOs on both 17m and 12m but could have done it on the inverted-V as well.

I decided to mount the 5 element ZX yagi on top and below the HB9CV for 10m. Actually I have been thinking about mounting the 4 element LFA yagi and I might do that later this year. But the HB9CV is a proven design that gave me many DX contacts in the past. Is the LFA that much better? Most antenna designers probabely say yes. But I want to test it. I have had several directional antennas in the past but the HB9CV always surprise me. It is definitely better as a 3 element beam but can it compete with the 4 element LFA yagi?

Well, everything went very well and all was mounted before the afternoon. Then other chores did take my time as usual. I was only able to test the antennas in the evening and didn't expect any propagation. But I was surprised by good ES and even some DX on 10m...I made I few contacts on both 10m and 6m to test the antennas and all looks well. Unfortunately I had to stop early since me daughter her clockradio can't handle to big signals, she like to listen some music in the evening. I think I have to find a solution for that...

Red markers are 6m, pink markers are 10m. I made the QSO with XT2AW in Burkina Faso on 10m CW. Was heard by 5T5PA in Mauritania but since I had to stop I couldn't make the QSO. I hope to meet 5T5PA this year on 6m. That would be a new one on 6 for me.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

So how is #60m these days?

Since it is close to the ES season I'm planning to remove the HF5B and replace it for the 5 element 6m beam again. The days are getting longer and we look towards the summer. Actually I didn't expect the 60m band in good shape for DX since so far I thought long distance could only be made when it is dark or just before/in/after greyline. But since the KH8 DXpedion from American Samoa is on 60m sometimes I thought it would be interesting to see if I could receive them. Well so far that didn't happen. But surprisingly I was spotted every morning at ZL4YL in New Zealand last week. This sunday morning I was surprised by the constant signal from V31DL (Belize), the sun is already up for at least 2 hours! It's a sunny warm day and still V31DL is received with at least +1dB on FT8 60m! And not only him but some USA stations as well. To me the excellent greyline propagation on this band at this time of the year is really a big surprise.

At the moment I post this it is 8:35 local time. Greyline is long gone. But V31DL is still received with -5dB. Following PSK reporter my 15W signal is still spotted with -17dB by him. It is incredible the path is still there...

Update 21-4-2019 end of day:
I left my computer on to see when the signal from V31DL would disappear. You see him still calling but no one answering. I wonder I was the only one still receiving? Still after almost 3 hours after my sunrise I still received him with -9dB. And I guess then he stopped calling...

Friday, April 12, 2019

PA0DR - follow up surprises

Following part 1 at my blog this is not yet the part 2 I wanted to write about. It is just something in between I wanted to share. With the help of others and specially my neighbourstation PA3BCB Gerard who wrote me after I published the dutch PA0DR story in our local magazine Hunsotron and on my blog. He knew Dirk personally and saved some valuable memorabilia after Dirk died in 1991. Some of the items don't fit into part 2 of the stories but are interesting to show I think. Gerard sent me some scanned pictures from the items he has but after some e-mail exchanges decided to give almost the whole package to me for the story and to show others that are interested in the history of this dutch HAM. On top you see a first edition (1959) of Quad antennas by William Orr, Dirk was very interested in quad antennas and had one himself. Just when I'm interested in a quad antenna to replace my HF5B. Is this a coïncidence?

A QSL card by a SWL (RA89) from New Zealand was sent to Dirk in 1939 when he witnessed a first with Peru for PA0DR. The card has very nice details from a short wave receive station at that time.

You can click on the pictures to enlarge. Notice the QSL came via dutch radio organisation NVIR (Nederlandsche Vereeniging voor Internationaal Radioamateurisme). After the war NVIR was one of the organisations that united with others to form the VERON which is still the largest radioamateur organisation in my country. Dirk became a member a year after the war.

It is unbelievable I got this piece of evidence in my posession now. I guess this can be called a real museum piece. And I got so much more I want to show you. But you have to wait till I finish my story...

Wait, there is more to tell. If you read my last months article well and followed the link to the picture from the possible "Winchester" transmitter you see a nice picture from a home made replica transmitter. It's the kind that could have been used by the resistance in WW2. I didn't notice that this article was written by PA3BCB's XYL. Gerard has this replica in posession and brought it with him to the radioclub evening to show us. I really don't know what kind of bulb is on there but this transmitter features some nice details like square wire to connect all individual parts.

According to Gerard there are few components and/or wiring missing and to get it to work on the 80m band another coil is needed. The coil at the side of the bulb is for 14MHz I believe. There is a possebility that this replica has been made by Dirk PA0DR but so far we didn't find any evidence for that. It is Gerard's intention to restore the transmitter and make at least one CW QSO with England with it like the resistance did in WW2. Of course I'll keep you readers informed about this.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The quest for a homemade multiband beam

The butternut HF5B I use now.
I've been looking for a multiband directional antenna since my antenna tower is finally standing. I've seen several commercial options, some of them are expensive, some less expensive. Last year I had the opportunity to buy a commercial made HF5B antenna. It's a 5 band antenna 20,17, 15, 12 and 10m. It should be directional on 20m, 15m and 10m and a dipole on 17m and 12m. In reality I found the antenna only being directional on 15m and 10m actually, on 20m it is behaving like a dipole. I would like to have a antenna with some more gain and a good front/back ratio. Most ideal would be a antenna like the SteppIR urbanbeam but the price is much too high for a average radioamateur like me. Ultrabeam makes similair beams for example the 20MX which is sold for about the same price as the SteppIR.

LZA10-5 with  a price of only €470 a good alternative
if room is no issue 
A bit cheaper are the aluminium beams like the Force12 XR5, LZ antenna 10-5 or Optibeam 10-5M.  But viewing the specs of those last 3 I think it's just as good as the HF5B. No one will ever see or hear the difference between 3 or 4 dB gain, however front/back ratio will be much better I guess. Even cheaper are multiband wire beams like the hexbeam but due to the unusual shape it is not always a antenna for everyone. Let's be honest, look at the specs from all these wonderfull antennas, they all have nearly the same specs which are not even far away from the HF5B I have in my tower now. Buying or building a multiband beam with better specs is just a dream which will never come through. But building my own antenna would be just more satisfying! So, that is what I'm going to do. Building my own 5 band directional antenna with specs that are as good as a commercial one.

Since a fullsize horizontal 5 band beam is no option here I'm thinking of a alternative by using lineair loads or capacitive hats . I've used the lineair load principle on my alutape multiband vertical in the past with success. There are several designs that can be found but which one suits me best? I think it is a trail and error path because what works well at someone else could be not working at all at my QTH. Other possebilities are capacitive hats and helical loading. I have to investigate these options. I don't like antennas with coils so that is something I absolutely want to avoid.

Best photo I could find from a 3 band BBQ quad
Another option is to build a 5 band cubical quad. I made quads in the past and also used a PDL2 quad on 11m and 10m. It was all with mixed success. The homemade quads didn't do what I expected and the PDL2 quad did but was of course only suitable for just 2 bands. The nice thing is that quads don't need that much height to work well on DX. The width of a 20m quad is about 5,5 meters measured from side to side when the antenna is configured as a cubical. That is reasonable and I think I can have it in the mast. If it is still too big I can downsize it using lineair loads. A good example has been made by Degen BBQ quads in the past. However as far as I know they don't make them anymore, at least they are not listed on their website. The concept is interesting though especially for those that have not much room. The lineair loaded 20m quad is only 3,4 meter wide.

I will study these options and there might be even more? Anyone have any ideas? I prefer to build the antenna by myself but any commercial option is fine, I guess it can always be build, However time is as always a issue. But as always....let me dream on...

Thursday, April 4, 2019

15 things on FT8

I read this most interesting article from VK3BVW Rob lately. He did some observations on FT8 last year and it gives a insight on some techniques that are available with FT8 QSO mode. Some of them are already known some not. You can always learn from it. I lately hear and read complaints about not needing any kind of techniques or operating practise with FT8 as DX mode. Indeed the classic techniques you use with CW and SSB are not usable. You have to learn new techniques. Some of those are already described in ZL2IFB's FT8 operating guide. But the observations done by Rob are certainly interesting. However Rob didn't describe them on his blog but instead made a video. Personally I'm more of a reader. Watching some video doesn't impress me and most of the time I forget what they told. So, I hope Rob doesn't mind, I will point out the 15 observations/techniques and ad my own thoughts to it. Hopefully we will learn from it.


#1 WSJT-X on OS X
I can't tell about it. But I know it can also installed on Linux and works well from what I heard. Personally I have W10 on all computers. Lately I went back to JTDX since it features some configurations that are very interesting for the DXer.

#2 The ALC debate
Many times you hear that if you're transmitting and your meter shows a ALC reading your signal will be distorted. I own a Icom and a Yaesu. With the Icom I sure try to minimize ALC till it is not readable. With the Yaesu I need some ALC reading otherwise it will transmit only 50% of max. power choosen. Rob is using a Yaesu FT3000DX and observed a similair thing.

#3 Using Pre-amps, NB and AGC
Although it is better to leave everything off sometimes you can need some help. Especially on 15m and up it can be beneficial to use a bit of pre-amp. Same for ATT (attenuation) on 160m-30m. Rob does consider RF-gain at a later point.

#4 Notch filter use.
I think it is controversial. However under difficult circumstances it can be your last help to receive the DX station. JTDX has a kind of "notch" filter on board although it receives everything but only displays the station that you pointed at on screen. It is not really a notch filter...
The only problem using a notch filter is that if the station decides to transmit somewhere else in the waterfall, since they noticed you are having receive problems, you will miss the signal! So be aware of that using a notch both on radio or the JTDX filter option.

#5 Taming the RF gain.
This is something I never tried. A new one trick for me. I think it is very important to set both RF gain as Audio input at the right level. Something that can vary between bands. I tried this trick and found it very useful when I had difficulties receiving 3D2AG, very useful trick especially when using it in combination with a noth filter or CW filter in my case.

#6 Pitfalls in the waterfall
The waterfall is no spectrum analyzer or panadaptor. It is just a representation from signals on air. A easy way to find a station or find a quiet spot to transmit on. Don't use it to determine signal quality.

#7 Getting a eyeful & #8 The colour palette
Well it is obvious that most radioamateurs are getting old. And so do our eyes. You can set fonts and colors in both WSJT-X and JTDX to your own needs. Rob gives a good example in his video.

#9 That darn noise floor
Absolutely true. Something I experience regularly. Overall I have a low noise floor compared to other stations. Most of the time that results in reports that are way worse as the reports I give. These days most stations have a high noisefloor especially when living near or in a city. However I experienced some ocassions when the opposite station had a lower noisefloor. Most of the time those stations are using a dedicated receive antenna.

#10 Work Split
This I've always told from the beginning of FT8. Split is most important. Don't transmit on the frequency of the calling station, reply anywere else in the waterfall were no signal is appearing. It is for that matter also important to view at least 2 time slots before transmitting. The reason is that there is a possebility that more stations are replying at the same time. If everyone is transmitting on the same frequency there are no decodes.

#11 A couple of QSO strategies
Now it gets interesting. I guess everyone has his own techniques. But it can be worth to try another spot in the waterfall or even transmit on the callers frequency if everything else fails. Moving your transmission frequency however is a difficult decision because the opposite station could use a notch filter or the semi-notch filter from JTDX and completely miss your signal. I lately noticed another technique from the calling station. Transmitting TX MY QRG. I already made a preset message for that as well, till now never used. But it can be handy!

#12 Studying the propagation
Propagation changes every minute. It can be there and next minute it can be gone. Rob does also propagation research and uses PSKreporter, Hamspots and WSPRnet. Personally I prefer PSKreporter for FT8. You can gather much info if you monitor a band for 24 hours. However I noticed that not all stations heard are being send to PSK reporter. For example my QSO with 3D2AG was never found in PSKreporter while other stations were reported at the same time...

#13 Digital in times of poor propagation
The time choosen for exposure of FT8 is just right. We are at the bottom of the solar cycle and the popularity of these modes are certain, thanks to these circumstances. Besides that even a modest station can get to the DX that was impossible to work before.

#14 QRP is fun
Well, it is indeed. Why using 100W if you can do it with just 5W. It's just fun! Unfortenately FT8 is not as sensitive as JT9, I made regular DX contacts using my FT817 with 5W JT9. It's harder with FT8 but still it is fun.

#15 Don't forget WSPR!
Rob promotes WSPR when not using FT8 or other digimodes. It gives important info. I like to do some WSPR as well collecting DXCC with just 1W. I'm now counting 91 DXCC so far but it is difficult to find some new DXCC. I hope the activity will increase. I would be nice to see that a DXpedition would setup a cheap WSPR TRX for propagation research for themselves and for others. Till now only VK0EK did something like that I believe. Unfortunately never received it.

I lately read a lot about the 60m band as I'm interested in the propagation there. Many times I read that oldtimer HAM operators are abandoning the 60m band since there is only computergaming on there according to what they write. I can imagine their grief, they had to earn their contacts and DXCC with CW and SSB in previous years. Now everyone can DX easily and especially FT8 is very populair on 60m. Personally I have a lot of fun DXing with FT8 and it requires a totally different operating technique compared to CW and SSB. On the other hand the fox/hound mode doesn't need that much technique, you only need to search for a free place to transmit and wait because you're the next in line. However the 15 things above can help you with the technique when fox/hound mode is not used at the DX station and considering the popularity of FT8 I think many will find this a very interesting read.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

CQWW competition

Unexpected we got a 2nd place in the CQWW SSB 2018 with our contest station PA6AA. We were 24th of the europe and 47th of the world. The last year contest story can be read here. Considering our fieldday style operation and experimental antennas it is not a bad result at all. PI4COM became first but they are a real static contest station. We have to build everything every year at the excellent contest location. We had to do with one operator less last year as well. Of course it is not only the 4 operators with their years of operating and contesting experience, it is also thanks to the support of people that work behind the contest scene building and helping with the equipment and antennas. Teamwork is working together and do extraordinary things!
I have to say that we are extremely proud of this result...

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

#cqww #wpx SSB contest 2019 review

Event: CQWW WPX SSB 2019
Section:  Single Operator Low Power  All Band SSB
Logger: N1MM+ newest version
Station: Icom IC-706 MK2G 100W
Antenna 1: Multiband Inverted-V 2x20m ladderline fed, apex @12m agl
Antenna 2: Butternut HF5B @14m agl
Antenna 3: Shuntfed tower (unipole fed with CG3000 autotuner)

Well the WPX SSB contest this year was one with a lot of frustration. These kind of contests are very good for antenna testing but I had the idea the HF5B was not working that well compared to my previous years used multiband vertical. The difference between my inverted-V, which works best on low bands, and the HF5B which works best on high bands was big. Although in the end it might be a propagation issue. I know 20m is not my best band but most of the DX could be worked there and of course because of that stayed on this band too long trying to work stations that were all real 5/9 but didn't hear me at all. Actually the station that gave me most frustration was 5T5PA (sorry Johannes!) a dutch operator from Mauritania, he was real 5/9 both on saturday as sunday evening on 20m. But no matter how many times I called I couldn't get my signal to him. Especially when you hear other dutch operators work him with ease the frustration level becomes very high. Is it the antenna? 100W not enough? Propagation not reciproke? We'll never know. Luckely I worked 5T5PA on 80m FT8 very early monday morning after he was spotted there and this took away some of the frustration after all.

Indication of DXCC worked

I did hear nice DX like V85RH (Brunei) and some others but I was unable to get my signal to real DX stations although I worked some nice DX after all. Why not concentrate on 80m and 40m then? Oh yes, I did work most of the stations on those bands and calling there is a lot of difference compared to 20m. I never had to call 10 times to get my signal heard or not heard in the end. 80m/40m is my money band, only one call whatever the pile-up is and running there was a trill. I was even called by stations from China on 40m, not something you experience every day! On 40m at the end of the contest I experienced something odd, something I never ever experienced before. I was calling E77C who was running on 40m, after we made the QSO he told me he did quit and if I would like I could take over the frequency to continue running! Wow, this is really friendly, thanks Zeljko! I did give my thanks and took over the frequency to continue and it gave me some nice stations in the log after all. Have you ever experienced such a friendly operator?

I operated almost 24 hours of the 48 availabe according to the log analyzer. I did stop early, my goal was 700 QSOs and I did manage to make them. I did make a large run on 80m to get to those 700, actually I was anticipating on that. You can see a "rate" of 68 QSO/h at 22 UTC sunday. Another pile up occured at midnight the day before with 84/h. It gives a trill when working pile-ups and stations keep coming to your signal. The 2x20m inverted-V does very well on 80m of course and on sunday morning I received many USA/Canadian stations with real 5/9 signals on that band. The 20m band however was a constant struggle. 10m didn't open here but 15m did for a while on saturday evening with south america and sunday afternoon with a few east european stations. The HF5B does well on 15m, as soon as a signal is received I can most times work it without any problems.

I worked 77 DXCC, I think that is not bad considering the propagation and my not so well working antenna on 20m. So unfortunate I could not work some DXCC that could be worked last year. KL7RA (Alaska) was one of them. I heard him several times but again my signal didn't travel good enough to his station although he was at least 5/5 peak here on 20m. I'm shure this wouldn't be a problem if still had my multiband vertical up.

So what interesting DX was worked on which band?

15M: PR7AA (Brazil), D4C (Cape Verde)

20M: UP2L (Kazakhstan), JH4UYB (Japan), D4C (Cape Verde), A42K (Oman), VE3EJ (Canada), PJ4K (Bonaire), K1LZ (USA), PZ5RA (Surinam), HZ1HZ (Saudi Arabia), A61ZX (UAE), PR7AA (Brazil), ZP5AA (Paraquay), LU5FB (Argentina), VP5V (Turks&Caicos isl.), WP4X (Puerto Rico), 9K2HN (Kuwait), RW0A (As. Russia), ZS6S (RSA), V51WW (Namibia), 6W1SU (Senegal), CE3CT (Chile), P40L (Aruba), BD7DT (China)

40M: WA1Z (USA), TI7W (Costa Rica), PJ4K (Bonaire), P40L (Aruba), D4C (Cape Verde), UN5GM (Kazakhstan), A41NN (Oman), JH4UYB (Japan), HZ1TT (Saudi Arabia), VE9CB (Canada), BI8FZA (China)

80M: K4XL (USA), VA2EW (Canada), WP4X (Puerto Rico), P40L (Aruba), 4Z5UN (Israel), D4C (Cape Verde), UA9MA (As. Russia), VP5P (Turks&Caicos isl.), PJ4R (Bonaire)

160M: VY2ZM (Canada)