AB1DQ-QRP is on the air.

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 station today consisted of:

AB1DQ QRP station on the air today.: The WA3RNC 40M transmitter is the yellow device on the left. Clockwise, above, is the MFJ 913 tuner, the 4S Antenna Tuner, and the VEC-201 CW keyer. To the right of all and behind the paddles is the speaker for the LM386 antenna. I built all equipment seen here excepting the wattmeter and the Vibroplex paddles.

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!)

`This article from the July 1967 issue of Pop’Tronics, found in my grandfather’s workshop, first introduced me to the concept of QRP decades before I got my ham ticket.

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 any communication 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.

QRP ARCI’s QRP Quarterly is one of the most fascinating and useful ham radio publications available today.

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.

In conclusion…

For many years I have enjoyed building various QRP kits and feel I have learned a lot about radio fundamentals along the way.

Some of the many QRP transmitter and receiver kits I have assembled over the years.

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 james@ab1dq.com to share their experiences.

Stay tuned for future blogs about my experiences and in the meantime,

72 de AB1DQ/QRP

©2019 JMSurprenant

The Murania “One Transistor” Boy’s Radio Kit

INTRODUCTION & CONSTRUCTION

The Four State QRP Group (Oklahoma – Kansas – Arkansas – Missouri, in case you were wondering), founded in 2003, is one of the best developers and retailers of high quality and reasonably priced QRP (low power) ham radio and other do it yourself electronics kits.

I have a few of their kits over the past few years, most recently including the Bayou Jumper Paraset transceiver last year. I presently have the NM0S 4S-Tuner/Antenna Coupler kit on order.

Tonight I tackled one of their popular new non-ham radio kits, the Murania, a one transistor Tuned Radio Frequency (TRF) AM broadcast band receiver kit. The kit was designed by NM0S, David Cripe, who has engineered several of the 4SQRP kits.

The documentation for the Murania tells of the advent of transistor radios in the 1950s and how radios with 1 or 2 transistors were considered toys and therefore not taxed like radios containing more transistors. These 2 or less transistor “toy” radios became known as “Boy’s Radios” and are highly collectible today.

The designers of Boy’s Radios employed some creative design techniques to maximize the performance of these minimalist circuits, with sometimes amazing results. The Murania kit was inspired the design of those simple high performing transistor radios.

Unpacking the Murania kit.

My Murania kit arrived quickly within 2 days of placing my order online….WOW!

The Murania features a unique construction technique called “Pittsburgh Construction” developed by W0MQY , Joe Porter, in which components are soldered to the surface of pads on a silk screened double sided PCB.

Like other 4SQRP kits, the assembly manual needs to be downloaded from their website. Documentation is very good with clearly expressed step by step directions, but lacks pictures which might be helpful in illustrating potentially confusing steps for the newbie builder, such as the correct orientation of a polarized component such as an LED, diode or electrolytic cap.

The 4SQRP website suggest the kit can be built in about 2 hours time, and that was my experience. The radio is built in five stages… (1) wind the coil, (2) build the voltage regulator, (3) build the audio amp, (4) build the RF circuit, (5) final assembly.

1. Winding the Coil

The first task is to wind the coil which consists of 37 turns of No. 22 AWG enamel wire around a ferrite core. The instructions call for covering the core with a layer of masking tape first and using masking tape to hold the first and last winding in place.

My first attempt at
winding the coil.

I chose to use black electrical tape, and that was definitely a mistake – the electrical tape made it difficult to compress each winding snug against the previous winding and it didn’t do a very good job of holding the first and last winding in place.

I believe this may have also affected performance of my radio (see below). I am planning on modding the set and rewinding the coil with 61 turns (also, see below) and will use the recommended masking tape at that time.

2. Voltage Regulator

The first circuit constructed is the power supply/voltage regulator which consists of installing the volume control pot and attached power switch, one electrolytic capacitor, the battery connector, another capacitor and a resistor and the LED which serves three functions – power on lamp, signal strength indicator, and voltage regulator delivering 1.6 – 1.8 +VDC to power the radio.

I appreciated that the instructions called for testing the voltage regulator circuit before proceeding on to the audio amp stage. My Murania was putting out 1.792 VDC+ within the acceptable range of 1.6 – 1.8 volts.

3. Audio Amplifier

The Murania has a single stage of audio amplification based on the 2N3904 NPN transistor that drives the speaker through a matching transformer.

Other components in the stage included a pair of capacitors, a single resistor and of course, the transformer and speaker.

4. RF Stage

The bulk of the RF work is handled by a single IC, the TA7642, which has its origins in the late 1960s. Equivalent to the ZN914 and MK484, the TA7642 contains ten transistors and performs the task of RF amplification, audio detection, and automatic gain control. The documentation points out that with the TA7642, it is possible to construct a Tuned Radio Frequency receiver with useful sensitivity and selectivity, using only a handful of components and that this device served as the basis of many radio receivers that were the successors to the Boy’s Radios.

The 10 transistor equivalent circuit of the TA7642 per the datasheet.


Like the voltage regulator and audio amplification stages the RF stage went together without a hitch. All parts in the kit were properly identified and clearly referenced in the assembly manual. The etching on the circuit board made mis-installation pretty much an impossibility if you’re paying attention to what you’re doing.

The assembled Murania TRF radio ready for testing.

5. Final Assembly

After testing the radio to make sure it works (it did), the last step was to assemble the rest of the cabinet which is comprised of five additional pieces of yellow PCB material with pads strategically placed to match up for soldering to connect.

The pieces fit together perfectly, although I should have taken time as recommended in the directions to file off burs and rough spots so the pieces fit together more perfectly. Overall this is a pretty ingenious way to build a radio cabinet.

PERFORMANCE AND MODS

I was very pleased that the radio worked right away. I was able to pick up several AM stations with ease. Stations received were clear and the audio, while not as loud as I would have liked, was not distorted.

One problem I did encounter that is worth mentioning is that after I tested the radio on my bench I attached the back to the radio and brought it to my wife to show off my handiwork.

She was impressed, however when she turned the radio on, the LED lit up but there was no sound coming from the speaker – absolute silence – UGH!

I took the back off and quickly diagnosed the problem – the top of the 9V battery was shorting the speaker terminals – a problem easily fixed with a piece of electrical tape across the speaker terminals.

I did expect the radio to be a little more sensitive than it was initially and I realized that the radio’s performance might have been inhibited by my sloppy coil winding.

The unmodified Murania Schematic ©NM0S, 4SQRP Group

Online I found a list of three simple mods for the radio published by Jim Marco, WB2LHP in MI, the third of which that involves additional windings on the coil so I thought I’d give them a try.

Here are Jim’s mods…

1. Detector Gain Control…

FLOAT the wiper lug of R3 and place a jumper between the PADS for the R3 wiper and the high side of R3.

Lift the leg of R1 that intersects with R2 and R3 and connect a jumper between the floated leg of R1 and the wiper of R3.

According to Jim, this allows R3 to control the gain of the detector stage in the TA7642 acting similar to a regen control where there is both volume and gain reaction. The audio amp runs wide open and R3 should be adjusted for the best sounding audio.

2. Reduced audio distortion…

Changing R2 from 1K to 2.7K biases the output stage of the TA7642 for linear operation.

3.Frequency coverage and dial mapping…

Increasing L1 from 37 turns to 61 turns and removing C8 centers the frequency coverage and makes the dial tracking spot on…

The revised schematic based on WB2LHB’s mods

I am pleased to say that the mods were easy to accomplish and I had no difficulty with any of them. I did not have a 2.7K ohm resistor on hand so I tied a 2.2k and a 470 ohm resistor in series for R2. Using the recommended masking tape instead of rubbery electrical tape on the ferrite rod made a world of difference too – winding the 61 turns was a snap.

My modified Murania – notice the new ferrite coil, the replacement of R2, the removal of C8 on the right, and the jumper going from R1 over the speaker to the VR R3.

And how did it work? Even better than before – the radio seems to be more sensitive and is picking up more stations and the audio is definitely more crisp as promised. If you’re looking for a fun one-evening project that will take you back to your earlier days of melting solder – the Murania TRF receiver is worth building.

©2019 JMSurprenant