Every year on the fourth full weekend of June, the ARRL (American Radio Relay League) and the RAC (Radio Amateurs of Canada) sponsor Amateur Radio Field Day, when amateur radio operators all across North America practice emergency communications, operating either from outdoors stations they set up for the event using non-commercial power, or from Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs).
In addition to providing ham radio operators with the opportunity to practice operating in challenging conditions, Field Day is also an opportunity to give amateur radio greater exposure in the public eye as our sites are open to general public and many include a GOTA, or Get On The Air station where unlicensed persons can experience communicating on the ham bands with the help of a licensed operator.
This is the second time that I have participated in Field Day with the MARC/WARG folks, and once again I had a great experience. My ongoing amateur radio resolution for this year has been to work on improving my CW (Morse Code) skills and Field Day provided a great opportunity to practice my ‘fist’ as I signed up to take the graveyard CW shift from 2:00 – 6:00 am along with my friend K1STM, Anne.
Anne has been a licensed ham radio operator longer than I have been alive, and her CW skills are amazing. Not only can she copy Morse Code sent at a much faster speed than I can, she can also pick out the faintest Morse Code signals burried under the background noise that I completely miss!
In preparation for the start of my 2 am shift this morning, I went to bed early last night (before the sun set!) and set an alarm for 1 am. Before turning in, I had the coffee maker programmed to brew a pot of coffee which I brought along in my trusty Stanley vacuum bottle.
Arriving at the Wallingford EOC around 1:30 am, I met up with KC1SA, Steve, who was wrapping up the prior shift. He walked me through some of the basics of operating the club’s Yaseu FT991A transceiver which is linked to the N1MM logging software and controlled by the shack PC.
Operating CW in a contest from a PC keyboard is pretty easy. The software allows for the easy transmission of several pre-recorded messages such as our club call sign, the basic Field Day exchange, etc.
I operated the first ninety minutes of our of shift and made 13 contacts on the 40 meter band between 2:00 and 3:30 am. The band was not crowded and most ops were sending at a speed I was comfortable copying at, right around 20 words per minute. I was able to work several stations on the west coast in Arizona, California, some in Florida and even one station in Hawaii.
Anne took over around 3:30 and she also made 13 contacts on 40 meters before our shift ended at 6:00 am. Anne is blind so she relied on me to log the contacts she made in the N1MM logging software. Instead of using the computer keyboard to transmit, Anne operated using the Bencher paddles.
By the time our shift was over, I was exhausted, but felt good about the work we did. We were rewarded with a feast of a breakfast that included omelets, pancakes and Chorizo. In addition to making contacts on the air, we hams really love to eat too. Last night at the EOC, John Bee, served his famous “road kill stew” – a MARC/WARG Field Day staple for years.
After breakfast, I drove Anne home and then decided I would make a few additional contacts from my home station. I worked another dozen stations, mostly in the midwest, running 100 watts on 40 meters using my Kenwood TS2000 radio to my G5RV antenna.
So, Field Day 2019 is done and I had a great time once again. Did you operate Field Day? Let me know how it went!
The National Institute of Standards and Technology Radio Station WWV will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary in October 2019. The oldest continuously operating radio station in the world deserves a
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Northern Colorado Amateur Radio Club (NCARC) have reached an agreement and are working together to organize the event.
NIST will focus on the plans for Tuesday, October 1, when they will host a recognition ceremony and an open house at the radio station north of Fort Collins.
NCARC will operate a special event amateur radio station, call sign WW0WWV, on the WWV property starting September 28, and going 24-hours a day through October 2. The goal is to make as many U.S. and world-wide contacts during the 120-hour period as possible, using multiple bands and multiple modes on at least 4 simultaneous transmitters. The effort will require hundreds…
As I have previously blogged about in this space, my ham radio resolution for 2019 has been to get on the air and make contacts with the low-power or “QRP” kits – transmitters, receivers, transceivers, and accessories, that I have built.
Today I write to report that I have achieved my goal, having made my first two QRP contacts today with W1NVT in Vermont and N1QLL in Maine on 40 meters.
my G5RV antenna running N-S about 70′ up in the trees parallel to my driveway in Cheshire, CT.
QRP: What and why?
Operating QRP (ham radio slang for ‘low power’) is a distinct niche within the hobby. The generally accepted definition of what qualifies as QRP, is using a transmitter putting out 5 watts of radiated RF power, or less. By comparison, most commercial high frequency amateur radio transmitters today are capable of transmitting 100 watts. Many hams will use amplifiers to increase the 100 watts up to 1.5 kilo-watts. Operating high-power is known as QRO, as opposed to QRP.
QRP operations attracts tens of thousands of hams, including yours truly, but why? After all, conventional wisdom holds that more power = more contacts as a stronger single may be received further away and be easier to copy.
Speaking for myself, there are several factors that have attracted me to QRP. Here are the top five:
1.) Building and operating my own gear
Any regular reader of the AB1DQ.com blog will know that I love to melt solder, to build kits and home-brew projects, and to troubleshoot and repair vintage electronics.
It all began when as a child I would while away the hours in my grandfather’s workshop. As a younger man, Grampy had enrolled in the DeVry Institutes home radio & television repair course (originally known as the DeForest Course) and his workshop contained not only all of his text books and tools, but also a cornucopia of old radio an TV carcasses for me to ‘work’ on. (I let out more than my fair share of magic smoke in those days, and blew the house circuit breakers more than once!)
Today when I am in my workshop, I feel a connection to my late grandfather, especially when I am using his vintage test equipment that I have restored and kept in service.
And, as magical as it is to have someone on the other side of the planet respond to a signal I transmitted using a commercial radio, it’s just that much more special when I hear my call sign coming back to me on a radio I built from scratch.
Amateur radio is the only citizen radio service sanctioned by the FCC that not only allows, but encourages, its licensees to build, modify and experiment with their own transmitters and QRP allows me to do just that.
2.) The challenge & satisfaction of using minimal power
Quoting the FCC rules §97.313 Transmitter power standards… (a) An amateur station must use the minimum transmitter power necessary to carry out the desired communications.
Because the communications I desire is anycommunication with another station using a transmitter I built myself, 5 watts is more than enough power to get the job done – and its going to provide me with plenty of fun
One S-unit, the minimal change in signal strength that is noticeable, is equal to 6 db. For one S-unit increase in gain you would need to quadruple your power output. To gain one S-unit from 5 watts output, you would have to go to 20 watts to increase your signal strength by 6 db.
K3WWP, a co-founder of the North American QRP CW club NAQCC has provided this handy table on his excellent website addressing the matter:
This suggests that all other factors being equal, an operator could expect his signal report to go from a very good 579 report to a perfectly copy-able 559 when running 5 watts vs. 100 watts barefoot.
What I know from first hand experience is that I have on occasion logged successful contacts on SSB from Connecticut all across the US to the west coast running 5 watts on my Kenwood TS2000. If I can make transcontinental contacts running QRP phone, it should be that much easier to do so with the narrower bandwidth needed for CW.
3.) QRP is inexpensive
A lot of hams get their General class ticket giving them access to the HF bands but then discover that commercial gear, can be cost-prohibitive.
The popular basic Icom IC-7300 currently retails for $1,099 and the bare-bones IC-718 (the very first HF radio I purchased back in 2002 when I was first licensed) costs $599 new today.
Compare those prices to the cost of my QRP station above…
The WA3RNC transceiver base model without the digital dial, retails for $99, the 4S Tuner retails for $53, the VEC201 CW keyer is $30 and the MFJ-813 QRP wattmeter costs for $40 new. That comes to under $220 for everything (sans paddles, power supply and antenna—all of which you would need to get on the air with either basic Icom radio above).
4.) QRP is portable
The small size of most QRP radios and equipment makes it ideal for portable operations, easily fitting in a backpack or suitcase. Many QRP operators enjoy taking their stations with them when they travel and operating from hilltops, campsites, or hotel rooms is very popular.
Although I have not yet done so, it is my desire and part of my 2019 radio resolution to go portable with my QRP station. This weekend I attended NEARfest in Deerfield NH as I do most years. The weather was a washout for the most part, but I did stop by the Quick Silver Radio table in the commercial building to address my need for portable power.
Proprietor John Bee, N1GNV, a good guy and fellow member of the Meriden Amateur Radio Club here in Connecticut, hooked me up with one of their new Hammo-PWR power boxes, which contains a 12 aH rechargeable battery in a compact water resistant ABS case and some PowerPole connectors.
The only piece I am now missing for my portable QRP operations is a very good portable antenna. In the coming weeks as the weather improves I plan to experiment first with my Buddi-Stick antenna as well as some wire antenna ideas including easily transported dipoles and end-fed wires – stay tuned to this space for updates!
5.) The QRP community is awesome
There are many excellent radio clubs dedicated exclusively to low power building and operating and I am a member of several of them.
The QRP Amateur Radio Club International publishes my hands-down favorite ham radio magazine, the QRP Quarterly. I read every issues cover-to-cover as soon as it arrives as it is chock-full of excellent articles including technical pieces, equipment reviews, hints and kinks, and experiences of fellow QRPers.
The North American QRP CW Club is a dynamic club dedicated to the promotion of QRP operations. Each month the NAQCC operates a fun month-long on-air challenge and a sprint. There is no membership dues and the club also publishes an excellent online newsletter each month.
The QRP Club of New England is another fine local club to which I belong. The club holds a weekly CW net on 80 meters on Thursday nights and always presents well attended informational sessions and a buildathon at the Boxboro New England Hamfest each September. I really enjoy meeting other club members and melting some solder with them each year.
For many years I have enjoyed building various QRP kits and feel I have learned a lot about radio fundamentals along the way.
This year I am finally venturing into going on the air with the radios and equipment I have built and the prospect of making contacts with homemade is very exciting.
I invite other QRP enthusiasts whether old timers, noobs like me, or prospective QRPers to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share their experiences.
Stay tuned for future blogs about my experiences and in the meantime,
Following up on last week’s successful build of the Four State QRP Group TRF one transistor radio kit, The Murania, this Sunday I thought I would tackle the build of their 4S Antenna Tuner kit.
As I wrote in last week’s blog, I have been a long time fan of the great kits the 4SQRP Group develops and sells, so I was excited to tackle this project. My overall ham radio goal for the spring is to assemble and put a completely home-built portable QRP station on the air this spring, and the 4-S Tuner should prove to be an essential component of my station.
Like the Murania kit I built last week, the 4S Tuner was designed by NM0S, David Cripe, and both kits share several of the same features including “Pittsburgh construction” where the backside of the PCB doubles as the front panel, and a case that is cleverly assembled by soldering six pieces of PCB together.
The fist step in building the tuner is to construct the inductor which is mounted directly to the back of a rotary switch. For many folks, winding toroids can be a chore. I’ve messed them up myself several times in the past, but as a general rule, I don’t shy away from kits that require toroid windings.
I found that winding the 4S Tuner toroid was actually a pretty straight forward task. For one reason the toroid itself was large enough to manimpuate easily in my hands. Another factor that made the project easier was that the kit comes with BUSS wire instead of enameled wire which is difficult to create taps with as the insulation must completely removed at each tap… a fiddly prospect at best.
But best of all, because the toroid is mounted directly to the back of the rotary switch, “stitched together” if you will by the windings, the overall construction was very straight forward.
The instructions provide two options for the builder, whether to place maximum inductance at the first, “A” position on the rotary switch, or whether to place maximum inductance at the last, “L” lug. I chose the first method.
Once the inductor/switch assembly ws completed it was time to move on to attaching components to the PCB. The kit contains a nominal amount of parts – 6 resistors, 3 ceramic capacitors, 2 LEDs, 2 transistors, and 3 diodes.
“Pittsburgh” construction is sort of a large scale surface mount method where there are no holes and components are soldered directly to pads on the PCB. Pittsburgh native Joe Porter, W0MQY is credited with developing this construction method. and this is my second 4SQRP kit built in as many weeks using the Pittsburgh construction method. I have found it to be especially beneficial when removing components – desoldering is a snap and there is no need for a desolder pump or wick to remove solder from plated holes. In the case of the Murania last week, the ability to unsolder and swap out components made modifying and experimenting with the radio a true joy.
The next steps involved attaching the inductor, tuning caps, a FWD/REV DPDT switch and a pair of BNC connectors. The entire build took less than three hours and was a wonderful way to waste a blustery spring Sunday.
“The transceiver drives R1, R2, and R3, three 47 ohm resistors, with the antenna forming the fourth leg of the bridge. If the antenna is 47 ohms the bridge is balanced, and the differential RF voltage between the two legs (between R1-R3 and R2-Antenna) is zero.
“The diode-capacitor circuit D1-C4 detects any differential RF voltage present and generates a negative DC voltage across the capacitor proportional to the amount of mismatch.
“The benefit of using a resistor bridge, as opposed to a more conventional transformer-type bridge, is that regardless of the impedance of the antenna, the worst VSWR ever seen by the transmitter while tuning up is 2:1. For QRP rigs without internal VSWR protection, this should prevent damage to the finals.
How does it work?
You will need to stay tuned for my on air review. As I mentioned above, my overarching project for this spring/summer is to put a completely home build QRP station on the air and while several components have been built, I’m not quite there yet.
Future blog posts will describe some of the QRP transmitters, receivers and transceiver projects I have worked on.