The Last Warm Weekend of 2011?

We have had a few of what I have been calling bonus days in October. Today was one of those with temperatures in the low 60’s. I packed up all of the gear and headed to the club house grounds to set up the radio. The solar flux is up at 170 with a low A index of two so I knew ten and fifteen meters would be good. I did not bother with the Hamsticks this time as I do not have any higher than the twenty meter band yet. The string left in the tree from a few weeks ago was ready and waiting. I found an old tripod pole mount by the building and so was able to get the fifteen meter folded dipole up a bit higher. It was seventeen feet high at it’s center.

The first station worked was a station in Mexico followed by Slovakia and then Pennsylvania. After checking ten meters I built a ten meter folded dipole from parts and pieces I had. I now know that the inverter in the car will power the soldering iron. With ten meters up and ready I worked Washington state and California and enjoyed a good bit of listening. The bands were full of DX and the couple that I worked heard me right away.

A few weeks ago I also had fun working the Pennsylvania and Arizona QSO parties. After those and the California party I might have to start watching for the state QSO parties.

I did not quit so much due to the coolness of the air today as the fact that I had run out of battery power. Running one hundred watts really drains the battery compared to QRP operation. So the plan is to buy an A&A smart battery charger and use that to keep the batteries charged. So far though charging has been exclusively provided by the 15 watt solar panel.

The Icom-703 is installed at work with the exception of the ability to transmit. Plan A for winter is to wire transmit capability and use with Ham Radio Deluxe. It has been used for several weeks for listening. I am still thinking about a Plan B.


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Yaesu Day and CQP

The local ham store had a Yaesu day Saturday. The store was packed full of hams. The first prize that was given away was a fifty dollar coupon toward any Yaesu purchase. That would have been very useful as I am still waiting on the power supply for the FT-897D. I did look at the radios on display, an FT-2000 and FT-450. I also was able to look at the Lakeview Hamstick dipole mount which is very simple and “wired” correctly, but twice the price of the other mount. I did think about buying and now wish I had bought a set of fifteen meter Hamsticks as they would have been handy Sunday.

The weather turned nice over the weekend. Sunday afternoon was great outside so I packed up all the gear and drove over to the club house to check out the band conditions. I made one contact in Pennsylvania and then found stations calling for the California QSO Party. Forty eight contacts later the contest was over and I needed to get home.

The twenty meter hamsticks were raised on the thirty foot mast, but after a short time I realized that the fifteen meter band was probably going to provide more contacts. So I put up a recently repaired fifteen meter folded dipole. The problem with wire dipoles is that they must be hung for north-south contacts due to the trees and the tower by the building. After a couple of rough contacts I found a saw horse by the building and moved the far end of the dipole out to the street using the saw horse as a tie down point. This made the dipole slope with the center at maybe twenty feet, but it faced the right direction for California contacts. After that contacts were easy again. I had a good time, but forgot to take pictures.

One thing I have avoided thus far is to include computer logging. It is just one more thing to unpack, set up and power. If I had been using a computer to log I would not have forgotten one callsign and issued the same QSO number twice. Computer logging might become a reality for the next Field Day.


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On Vacation

I am on vacation this week so operating is a bit different. I am using the family car and for the time I have opted not to use the masts to set up antennas. This evening I hung the twenty meter folded dipole between the car and the tower at the ham club house and had a nice contact in San Antonio, Texas. I have begun repackaging all the needed items for this kind of operation.

My next time out I strung the antenna between the tower and a tree so the antenna was maybe twenty feet off the ground. Two contacts were worked, Lithuania and North Carolina. All three contacts were made with the Yaesu FT-897D, one hundred watts for the first and seventy five watts for the last two. I have been working on the mental process to make a CW contact. The paddle is wired and ready. It is encouraging in that I have heard some nice slow CW even on twenty meters.

A friend found that we can avoid using Skype with Ham Radio Deluxe. He has a new TS-590 from Kenwood. This is a radio that I plan to buy eventually. The control software that you can download from Kenwood for this radio has voice over IP capability. The nice part is that like Skype it is merely addressing the sound card. The brand radio you use is not important. Just start up HRD and the Kenwood software and enjoy. Thank you Kenwood.

Kenwood is still the company I look to for a good solid desktop radio. Kenwood did not have what I was looking for when it came to portable and low power operation. This is why I have an Icom 703+ and a Yaesu 897D. They are great radios, but I am looking forward to having a real base station again in a few years and Kenwood will take the center of the desk.

By the way, HRD has been sold to three ham operators who live in the US.  If you have not downloaded a copy it might be a good idea.


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More Antenna Work

In order to simplify antenna setup in a city park I purchased some Hamstick antennas. I had never used any before and so far they seem to do a nice job. I also bought the “DAKAD” mount that is available at R&L Electronics. I think it is a good buy, but if you really want your Hamsticks to function as a dipole you will need to make two small modifications. The mount will support two Hamsticks in a dipole configuration. Here is a picture of an unmodified mount.

un-modified dipole mount

Notice that the back element support is fully insulated and just floats. It is not in the circuit at all. The front element support is mounted as it normally would be for simple vertical antenna use. The left hand side is isolated from the mount and the right hand side is connected to the mount. If the mount is grounded then the shield of the coax is grounded at that point. You can install two Hamsticks to the mount, but you will not have a dipole and the feed impedance will be half that of a dipole, about thirty six ohms.

Last time I was out getting ready to make a few contacts I discovered what is above by double checking with an ohm meter. So I used some electrical tape and wire and made the system into a real dipole mount. After a few contacts I packed it up making plans to make the modifications permanent. I really feel like I lucked out at a small local hardware store. They had the exact size and type washer needed. The one on the left is the new washer.

modified mount with insulating washerAs you can see there is a white washer on the right hand side on the front support. The washer had the same characteristics as the black washers, but just a bit thinner. No matter there as I do not plan on running a full 250 watts with this setup. I also did have to find a nut to screw on to the SO-239 to hold the wire that ties the shield side of the coax to the other element mount.

modified with shorting wireThere is a difference in height in the above picture, but the wire works. A solid piece of copper strap could also be placed between the two element supports. So the shield is tied to the element support on the right that was originally just floating with no connections. There is no electrical connection to the mount.

The next step was to fashion a balun. Going from unbalanced coax to a balanced antenna will function, but not as well without the proper match. Feedline radiation is one problem associated with not using a balun. I read that a coaxial air core balun should be made up of eighteen to twenty one feet of coax and was recommended that it be wound on a four inch form or PVC pipe. I had lots of three inch pipe and so that is what I used. What you see below is 20 feet of coax held by wire ties on each end.

home made balunFor size perspective remember that this is RG-6 quad shield coax. ($70 for 1k feet.) The center impedance of a dipole is ideally seventy two ohms. RG-6 is seventy five ohms. The Icom 703 handles the “mismatch” if any just fine. Most modern radios are designed to handle fifty to seventy five ohms at the antenna terminal. What most people forget is that a fixed system that operates on only one frequency can be designed by the book and the feed impedance seen by the transmitter can be precisely matched. However for Amateur radio just tuning down the band causes the impedance your transmitter sees to change.

Dipole and balun at thirty feet.While I heard several foreign stations and their pile-ups I had two short contacts. The operating location was just outside the WØSV St. Cloud Amateur Radio Club’s building. The first was with a station near Augusta, Georgia. We both had about 57 reports with heavy fading. The second contact was with a station in Roanoke, Virginia. I received a 58 report with ten watts from the Icom 703+. Those contacts were on twenty meters. After swapping the elements and seeing what forty meters sounded like and how it measured I packed up as it was almost too dark to see where the coax was on the ground.

Today I received a 1:1 current balun from Balun Designs. It is the same brand balun that I use to match three hundred ohm ladder line to the radio with a 4:1 balun. My goal is to see if there is any difference using an air wound coax balun and a balun with a toroid core. I don’t think I have ever taken the time make that measurement.


I like the store bought 1:1 current balun better than the air core baluns although I need to test the air cores again. On forty meters I had to remove the white insulator in order for the antenna to work. I would guess that it has to do with the design and original intent of the antennas although I need to double check that. I think there is an intermittent connection in the system. The MFJ-259b showed 54 ohms at the radio end of the feed line with RG-6 coax. and the commercial 1:1 balun.


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Club Picnic and Portable Setup.

Today was the Saint Cloud Amateur Radio Club annual picnic. It was a small gathering at the club house, donated by the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railroad. Saint Cloud has the best hamfest in the state of all that I have attended. If you were to attend only one hamfest in Minnesota the St Cloud winter time hamfest is the one to plan.

I had thought to set up my portable station in a city park for practice this morning, but decided to combine the picnic with the setup. This time I tried using the twenty meter folded dipole with the 30 foot mast. The far end is hooked to the crank up tower as seen in the picture below.

Setup at the club picnic

Notice how the pole bends and leans over the truck. Three ten foot masts that would probably not be such a problem, but then they would have to be carried on top of the truck. The bending pole is another reason I do like the idea of rotatable dipoles. The six meter rotatable dipole from Alpha 2 Zulu works very well. I have ordered two forty meter Hamsticks to give that a try. Although full size dipoles are preferred even the fifteen meter size would probably be difficult to push up. The mast is mounted on a door hinge that is mounted to a piece of two-by-six board under the rear tire. A board leaning against the truck protects it from the pole. Here is a picture of a previous build for work in Tennessee. A larger hinge has been used on the new pole.

Showing door hinge mount

I did set up a variation of this Friday and heard Croatia and Sweden on twenty meters. This is the twenty meter folded dipole that is still resonant just below fourteen mHz and even after resoldering connections has a 1.7:1 vswr. I have tried trimming the three hundred ohm ladder line as well. It doesn’t have to measure correctly until next Field Day so there is time to work on it. Even still I have chatted with a station in Texas and did just fine with ten watts.

[Monday update] I replaced the three hundred ohm ladder line with RG-6, but did not trim the antenna yet. It is good to make only one change at a time. The vswr is now 1.3:1 at 50 ohms with the RG-6 so that is an improvement.

40 meter Hamstick dipole and a 6 meter full size dipole.

[Wednesday update] The twenty meter folded dipole is back to three hundred ohm ladder feed line and is now resonant at 14.13 mHz. I had a nice chat with someone near Milwaukee with the forty meter hamstick dipole.



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City Park Antenna Tests

After Field Day I went to Whitney Park here in town. At one time it was the city airport so although there are not a lot of tall trees there are some around the north edge of the park. That day I put up my fifteen and twenty meter folded dipoles around twenty feet. The MFJ-259b did not give me good news. The actual antennas are 450-ohm ladder line shorted at the ends and fed with 300-ohm ladder line. I use the Ten-Tec center to give the center connections support. At that time I did not have a balun so I just fed the 300-ohm line to ground and the center pin of the SO-239 on the top of the unit. The analyzer said that the fifteen meter antenna was resonant around forty megahertz and the twenty meter antenna did not seem to have a null at all.

Yesterday, in between some rain, I had an opportunity to retry my previous measurements. This time I also took a ten meter dipole with a 1:1 balun at the center. I also had a 4:1 balun to test the ladder line fed antennas. This time I was able to get one end of the antennas up about forty feet. It was forty feet at the tree with the antenna sloping gently down toward another tree.

The first test was the ten meter dipole. I made two measurements. The first was with twenty five feet of some very old Tandy RG-8 mini from the analyzer to the balun. The antenna had been cut for around 28.3 mHz if I remember correctly. When I cut an antenna I use 468/f mHz. For HF I also tend to be a bit sloppy on the long side, maybe as much as three to six inches, because you can always cut some off easier than it is to put it back on. The antenna showed resonance at 28.65 mHz at fifty ohms. Then I replaced the fifty ohm coax with thirty one feet of RG-6. The resonant frequency showed  28.15 at fifty ohms. As I moved the frequency to 28.6 the standing wave only went as high as 1.7:1 at about seventy five ohms.

For those who don’t memorize such things RG-8 is fifty ohm coax and RG-6 is seventy five ohm coax. RG-6 is commonly used for cable TV and is very well shielded and cheap to buy. I have been using it for years for my antennas. Most radios, as I understand, are supposed to be able to handle fifty to seventy five ohms at the antenna terminal. Dipoles are naturally resonant with a seventy two ohm center resistance. A tuner can handle the difference if the radio can not.

A few hours later after a brief rain I went back to the park. I left some fishing line in the tree so putting the antennas up with the same nice height was just a matter of pulling string back through with the fishing line. It’s still there by the way. So I put up the fifteen meter dipole mentioned above, but this time using a 4:1 balun and a short coaxial jumper to the MJF-259. The antenna showed resonance at the bottom end of the fifteen meter band which would be consistent with my antenna cutting method. I did hook up the Icom 703 for a few minutes. The antenna was oriented for north-south reception. There was very little signal, but I did hear a CT1 chatting with stations on the east coast. He was 100% copy and if my antenna had been situated properly I might have chatted with him. That was all I heard on fifteen meters.

I then put up the twenty meter antenna and found it resonant at around seventy megahertz. So there is something wrong with that antenna. I took it apart this afternoon and could find nothing obvious. I will remeasure and solder all of the connections to check it tomorrow.

There are people living across the street from where I was working on the antennas. It was at about this time that a young woman came over letting me know that they had been curious as to what I was doing. After explaining, I packed up as it began looking like there might be more rain coming.

So I learned that I need to work on the twenty meter folded dipole and that, as experience has taught me, using RG-6 for feed line is just fine.


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Field Day 2011

It was good to get to operate Field Day again. The station consisted simply enough of an Icom 703 Plus set for five watts and a G5RV up about thirty feet. The power source was a small seven amp hour battery charged by a solar panel. For the site we selected a small private campground just east of St Cloud, Minnesota. They have a few primitive campsites toward the back of the property. Campsite rules required one site per tent, not counting screened in tents, and so we rented two sites for two tents on what must have been about a half acre. That gave us plenty of room for antennas and I did not have to worry about waking people while operating.

A few months ago I went to Batteries Plus and purchased two seven amp hour batteries. I thought it might be good to have a spare or even have a second station. Hopefully one of the children will someday upgrade or get licensed. I never did get around to charging them before FD. I am very glad that I put together a G5RV a couple of weeks ago as the fifteen meter folded dipole had a fight with the trees at the back of the campsite and the twenty meter folded dipole was broken and I forgot to repair it. There was no point in putting up a forty meter dipole since the G5RV was ready to go and time was short until it was time to begin to operate. Before that though we went to watch a parade at St. Cloud.








Instead of sitting with sweat dropping while I tried to write down contacts and keep cool hoping for a breeze I wore a jacket for a good part of the time I operated. I prefer the need for the jacket! It has been a bit cooler this Spring than is normal. The only problem with the weather was the lack of sunlight to power the solar panel. It still charged the battery, but I never saw the battery voltage increase except after taking a break to eat or sleep.  Toward Saturday evening we did have some sun and I moved the panel every little bit chasing what sunshine was available. As in the last few years I did not operate all night. I called it a night around ten. I had worked the night before, Thursday night/Friday morning, and was only able to get about three hours sleep. Friday night was on the cool side and we woke up a good bit. The lights hanging above the table are from K-Mart in the camping section. Walmart has some as well, but they are not as well made. One hanging from the center of the tent plus these made the tent very well lit.

So with only one duplicate contact the total came to eighty contacts all voice mode. The majority of contacts were on fifteen meters followed by ten, twenty, six and forty meters. The solar flux was thirty points higher than my last FD in 2009 so the bands were in much better shape. There was no problem with static or noise. All bands but forty were noiseless. Propagation on the bands did change a good bit and signals faded rapidly.

Next year I must have better antennas. As good as a G5RV is, it is a compromise antenna. I did not hear much from either coast. I did hear a weak Alaskan station calling a station I was also trying to work and a station in Barbados handing out contacts on the top end of fifteen meters. Other than a few exceptions most of the stations I worked were between five hundred and fifteen hundred miles.

It was nice having some of the family along camping this year. The family is very supportive of the hobby and that really helps to make it a good experience. This was our first time out camping in several years so it was a good test for us and convenient since we were only five miles from home.

By the way, I just repaired the twenty meter folded dipole and put a new center support on it. Maybe I’ll find myself in a city park this weekend trying it out.


ARRL Sections Map Worked

Click for full size.


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Listening and Field Day (FD) Preparation.

With some help from a friend I now have the ability to listen to HF from the apartment. In the evening at home I can listen to eighty, forty and twenty meters fairly well although there is some noise.

I repaired the 80 meter antenna with a new center piece. The old center feed had no connectivity to the antenna. The problem was just rusty connections. There is a new center piece now and it is all coax fed. Twenty meter wires have been added to the antenna.  Normally I use a balun, but just wanted to test with out one and will eventually swap one into the 80/20 antenna. I put together a forty meter dipole,  a fifteen meter folded dipole fed with 300 ohm ladder line and a G5RV. The plan is to test these before FD with the MFJ-259b which had to go to the factory for repair.

The MFJ-259b was damaged by static in the middle of the antenna experimenting the second day I had it. All I can say is ground everything before plugging into the device. There are some very easily damaged diodes on the input.

I am on vacation this next week and plan to try to test the antennas here at the apartment or at a park. This afternoon there are plans to check out another area park for field day.



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Yesterday I went to Midwinter Madness in Buffalo, Minnesota. It is dubbed as a hobby and electronics show. It was well attended. Radio City and an antenna supplier out of Chicago were there. There were a couple of others selling some new or almost new radios. The rest of the show could almost be summarized as a used computer show. I was happy to see representation by some of the area clubs such as TwinsLan and MNQRP.

Last month I went to the St. Cloud hamfest. Radio City and an antenna distributor were there as well. While there were plenty of used computers I was amazed at the number of unique amateur radio transceivers and associated equipment that I saw. I have not seen this kind of hamfest in a number of years. For it’s size St. Cloud has a very good gathering and well worth the trip.

The St. Cloud event is now in my top hamfest list. I think concerning size the Huntsville, Alabama hamfest is probably the best and for the smallest hamfest that would have to go to Cave City, Kentucky. I am not including Dayton as it is in a class all it’s own. It is held during the television ratings period and so many of us who work in television just can not go. My trip there last year was me taking advantage of my move to Minnesota.

I will be going to more hamfest as they occur this year so I may have more to say about this later. I will say that I actually spent a good amount of time at Midwinter Madness chatting with people at the show. One ham recognized me from about 14 years ago when he bought some packet equipment from me at a hamfest on the north side of the Twin Cities. I and another local ham I met at a club meeting and Radio City chatted for a while as well. That is after all a good part of why we attend hamfest. I had the same fun at Cave City chatting with others that I know.


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Inspired to Set Up the Station

A friend instant messaged me the other night and told me that he had his new Yaesu FT-450 connected using Ham Radio Deluxe software. He then connected it to the internet. We tried to make connection, but could not make it work. Perhaps my friend had not opened the appropriate port on his router? Either way it inspired me to set up my station at work, a television transmitter site.

Today I installed a coax feed from the radio to outside and hung half of a dipole antenna. It may act very much like a G5RV? I went to a sporting goods store and purchased a new band for my slingshot. Then, next time I am at work I will finish the installation of the antenna.

I also ordered the Icom level converter interface from our local ham store. Once the antenna is up I can test it when I am at work. However I will not be able to use it remotely until the converter is installed. At that point I am hoping to be able to operate from here at home in our apartment. If it all works I will be prepared the next time the solar flux hits 150.


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