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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Winter Field Day - 2 Weeks Away


Winter Field Day is just two weeks away, are you ready? I will be participating this year with a group of local hams here in Central Indiana including Ivin - W9ILF. However, unlike the ARRL Field Day event held in the middle of summer, we won't be setup outdoors. The weather here has been very cold and snowy already this winter. The plus is we have access to an oven and lots of frozen pizzas! It should be a fun adventure and I'll be sure to share it with you here.

The original Winter Field Day was held back in 2007 and has been growing every year since. For more information about Winter Field Day, just CLICK HERE to visit their website.

Until next time, 72 de Mike KQ9RP

Sunday, January 7, 2018

RTTY Roundup 2018

Early Electromagnetic Teleprinter
Radioteletype (RTTY) is a wireless telecommunications system that has been around for over 100 years. The system consisted of two or more bulky and heavy electromagnetic teleprinters that connected via radio. Today RTTY is sent with computers that run software to emulate electromagnetic printers.

The ARRL RTTY Roundup was created by Jay Townsend - WS7I and Hal Blegen - WA7EGA in 1988. Today I participated for very the first time!


Up until yesterday morning I had never even sent a RTTY transmission, but my little RS-918 radio made the setup very simple. Thank you to Bob - W9BU, for helping me set up FLdigi and test my station before the contest started. My station was simple and consisted of my RS-918 SDR QRP radio, dell laptop running Fldigi software, and 5 watts being pushed up to my inverted L "gutter antenna" on the back of the house.

The weather here in Central Indiana has been very cold lately and this weekend was no exception, so it was a great weekend to order a pizza and hang out in the shack contesting. Not only was this my first time operating RTTY, this was also my first time participating solo in a contest longer than a sprint. The ARRL RTTY Roundup is a 36 hour contest with a limit of 24 operational hours. I knew going in that I was not going to run away with any prizes for a high score, but I did have a few goals in mind when I started. Number one was to have fun, number two was to beat Ivin - W9ILF's score, and number 3 was to work as many states as possible. I achieved all my goals!

I operated off and on Saturday afternoon, evening, and also on Sunday afternoon. Ivin, Bob and I stayed in touch throughout the contest just to check in with each other. I never could get the N1MM logging software to work with my radio, so I decided to log on paper which slowed my down a little as I needed to verify that I had not worked a station by reading down my log before answering any CQ calls to prevent duplicates. 

My Results:
  • 153 QSOs
  • 41 States
  • 7 Canadian Provinces
  • 4 DX Countries
I may have not set any records, but considering the fact that I was QRP, had first time jitters, and used a paper log I think I did okay. At one point I thought I had a chance for all 50 states, but ran out of time before I was able to finish. One of my biggest highlights was working Alaska for the very first time. Thank you to Stephen - KL7SB for working my station this afternoon. I look forward to participating in more contest like this in the future. I had a blast!

Until next time, 72 de Mike - KQ9RP

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Straight Key Night - 36 hours away...


We are just 36 hours away from Straight Key Night, are you ready? Straight Key Night is a 24 hour event, not a contest, that is held every January 1st from 00:00 UTC to 23:59 UTC.

Straight Key Night dates back to 1970. Harvey Savage - K4MD has been credited by QST magazine as the creator of this fun event in their March 1971 issue of QST. The original purpose was to share the operators skill and passion for "pounding brass" with a straight key, however over the years has evolved to include operating vintage radios as well. So dust off that boat anchor under your desk, warm up the tubes, get on the air and have fun!

Please don't worry about your skill level. Since this is not a contest most operators will have no problem slowing down to complete a QSO with you. The only requirement that they ask is that before you send RST, you send the letters SKN first. For example, "SKN RST 559 559". For a complete list of rules and more information about this fun tradition you can visit the SKN ARRL website by CLCKING HERE.

Do you enjoy operating CW? The fun does not have to last just one night a year. The Straight Key Century Club operates a Straight Key Night every month along with several other sprints and events that you can participate in throughout the year. For more information about SKCC, just CLICK HERE.

Best of luck to everyone participating in Straight Key Night and Happy New Year.

72 de Mike - KQ9RP

Thursday, December 28, 2017

PSK31 - QRP

With a few inches of snow on the ground and overnight temps dropping below zero I think it's safe to say Winter has arrived here in Central Indiana. I am not equipped at this time to do any type of outdoor adventures with temps as low as they have been so my ham radio activities have been limited to what I can do here from home. But... that does not mean that I am still not trying new things, this past week I dove into the mode of PSK31 for the first time.

PSK31 Waterfall

The setup was simple, all I needed to do was install the latest version of Fldigi onto my laptop, connect my RS-918 to the laptop with a USB cable, change a few settings and I was on the air. Fldigi makes operating PSK31 very easy with the use of fully customizable macros and easy to read waterfall. After one or two QSOs I had the hang of it and was having a blast.

Screenshot of Fldigi Software

PSK31 (Phase Shift Keying, 31 Baud) is a sound card generated radio-teletype mode used by amateur radio operators around the world to conduct real-time keyboard to keyboard QSOs. It has a very narrow bandwidth and it is specifically tuned to have a data rate close to typing speed. The narrow bandwidth of this mode makes it a great fit for QRP (low power) operators and when conditions are right you can communicate around the world. The reason why I like PSK31 a little better than modes like JT-65 is that it allows you to ragchew a little and not just exchange signal reports.

Looking back through my log I can tell you that I've already had QSOs with stations in GA, CT, TX, WA, MD, FL, WV and Canada in the last 3 days using just 5 watts. I have had a lot of fun both learning more about and operating this addictive digital mode. While the weather may be cold outside, that wont prevent me from having fun indoors and continuing to try out new modes with ham radio. 

Have a PSK31 or digital mode story of your own to share? Please comment below. 

I hope you like the new look for the blog? The photo was taken by myself when operating from Cataract Falls earlier this past summer. II spoke with Ivin today, he plans to post about Straight Key Night (SKN) which is coming up this weekend! Stay tuned...

Until next time, 72 de Mike KQ9RP

Thursday, December 7, 2017

My antenna is in the gutter, literally

Back around the beginning of August I posted about my new "EFG" (end fed gutter) antenna that I made using the downspout and continuous gutter system on my 2-story house. I have been asked several times lately to share an update about how the "EFG" is performing and what I have been able to accomplish with it so here we go.



The Background
First, if you are new to the blog and not sure what I am referring to when I say "EFG" let me share with you the background of how and why this came about. I live in an HOA restricted community that currently does not allow me to put up any kind of tower or outdoor antennas. This really was not a big deal to me because my favorite part of the hobby was setting up and operating outdoors at places like state parks, lakes, and landmarks. Fresh air and ham radio with a view! That being said there would be days or nights I was at home and wished I was able to get on the air. I did some research on a variety of stealthy antennas and after much reading I came up with a project that I thought would be fun, creative and educational for me. I was going to turn the continuous gutter system across the backside of my house into an  antenna, and that is just what I did.

The Original Construction

The Construction
I wish I could tell you that this was some type of elaborate project that took days to plan and build but in all reality it took me about an hour to do and cost me less than $5.00 in parts. I simply took an SO239 connector out of the drawer and connected it using a single wire to the "un-painted" side of my aluminum downspout, reinforcing the connection with screws. I also reinforced the connection point where the downspout and horizontal gutter connect with screws to ensure a solid connection. From the corner (ground) of the SO239 connector I ran several wires out onto the ground for counterpoise. I originally started with just 2 ground wires but eventually added several more. Once that was complete I simply connected my feedline coming from the antenna tuner inside my shack to the SO239 connector and I had an antenna. I just had no idea at the time how good of an antenna I really had.

The "EFG" Inverted L

The Initial Test
Now when I set this up I had an idea that it would work, but I had no idea that after checking the antenna system with an analyzer that I would be almost 100% resonate on 40 meters and have very low SWR on several other bands including 20 and 30. I powered the radio up, not expecting much, but was surprised to hear signals from across the country blaring across my speakers. You can read about my first two QSOs with this antenna by CLICKING HERE. Wow, it worked! I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked and eager to continue to experiment with this antenna more and more.

Where I am Today
As of today I now have over 30 states and 10 countries confirmed using my "EFG" or inverted L gutter antenna. I have had QSOs on every band 10m-160m except for 60m. While those QSOs have been mostly using CW they also include SSB, Digital Modes like FT8 and more. Oh, and don't let me forget to mention this was all done using 5 watts or less QRP power. My goal now is to Work all 50 states using this unconventional antenna and CW. While I know the ARRL probably wont send me a "gutter endorsement" with my WAS certificate, it sure will make for great conversation at ham fest and amateur radio gatherings. I will be sure to keep you all updated on my progress.

What is Next?
I am not sure what is next. I will admit the success I have had with this antenna project has got my wheels turning on what else I can use as an unconventional antenna. Do you have any ideas? Please comment below. For now I will enjoy sharing my stories with others who may be in the same situation I am in with HOA restrictions and limited space and helping them get on the air.

Please comment below with questions or perhaps with an unconventional antenna story of your own.

Until next time, 72 de KQ9RP Mike

Monday, December 4, 2017

Sprints!

12/01/2017

Where did November go?  November as all seasoned ham radio operators know is contest month.  This year I did enjoy the major contests as much as my time/scheduled made reasonable.  I’m not so diehard about contesting that I block out days.  If it works out that is fine and if it doesn’t, well, I will probably participate and turn in the score I have.  I’m sure most of us are like that.

I want to talk about SPRINTS!  I have been working QRP sprints for many years.  These are short contests.  The two major QRP sprints monthly are the Run For The Bacon and NAQCC.  This November I also participated in the North American SSB Sprint.  Wow!  That was fun.  the North American SSB Sprint lasted 4 hours and has special rules.  The biggest loop it throws is that if you answer a station and exchange a QSO that other station must relinquish the frequency to you and then you have it to call CQ and make one QSO.  Once you do then you must move off and give it to the person you just worked.  That made it so friendly and fun.  After many exchanged the station would tell me “It’s all yours.  Good Luck!”  I worked the QRP class so I would call and sometimes I’d catch a QSO.  Other times I found nothing and left the frequency to hunt down my next QSO.  I am putting the next one in my calendar and hope I catch it.  

The Run For The Bacon sprint is hosted by the Flying Pigs QRP club.  It is very easy to turn in a log.  They just ask for basic information and then details on your QSO totals.  You don’t have to provide your log at all.  It is faster paced though.  Some are going slower but many are using paddles and moving right along.  Some slower CW ops may find the speed challenging but it is very good natured and runs just 2 hours.

The NAQCC is the other QRP sprint I mentioned.  This one promotes using straight keys and bugs.  They give extra points to make using a straight key worth your while.  They also promote simple wire antennas.  I have enjoyed this one for years.  Pay attention to the results page on this one.  It gets all divided by call region, kind of keying used, and gain vs. simple wire antennas.  This does let you see how you did compared to others in your region with a similar set up and overall you can always just see your overall score to the entire pack.  

So for 2018 I want to make an effort to work more sprints and I hope you are a little inspired to check out the next sprint as well.

Ivin W9ILF