Been a busy boy

Been very busy with the day job and too busy playing radio so this post will be a bit of a catch up!

JT-65HF
I have been using my newly built datamode interface in anger.

As well as running WSPR on occasion I have also been active using JT65-HF.

JT65 is a communication mode developed by Joe Taylor, K1JT, (specification here) originally intended for amateur radio communication with extremely weak signals such as Earth-Moon-Earth (EME) contacts on VHF it has gained popularity on the short wave bands using JT65-HF an adaptation of the JT65A protocol.

Being restricted to 10W it is an attractive method of making contacts. The protocol includes error-correcting features that make it usable even when the signals are too weak to be heard or are being subject to interference.

There are several how-to guides available
Get On the Air with HF Digital (from the ARRL)
JT65-HF — an ‘Odd’ but Fun Digital Mode (from eham.net)

A number of software packages support JT65, the most popular being JT65-HF originally developed by Joe, W6CQZ. Sadly Joe is no longer developing the software, but the last version released still works, and is available at http://sourceforge.net/projects/jt65-hf/ 

Thankfully the project was open source and Beat Oehrli, HB9HQX as developed his own version with the catchy title JT65-HF-HB9HQX-Edition, available at http://sourceforge.net/projects/jt65hfhb9hqxedi/ This is the version I have been using with great success, the colour coding and simple button pressing makes a QSO straight forward and the built in logging and exporting make uploading to QRZ, eQSL and HRDlog painless.

Whilst to a traditionalist amateur operator it is perhaps a little slow, remote and impersonal (each exchange occurs during alternate minutes) I really like it! One advantage is I can set up the radio in the shack with CAT control via HRD and then have QSOs while VNC’ing into the computer from the laptop whilst in front of the TV with the wife and the dogs! (Thanks Tim G4VXE for that suggestion!)

I have been active on the 10/20/30 and 40M bands over the past few weeks making contacts with Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Sweden, Thailand, Ukraine, USA and Venezuela.

Contesting ‘DX’ Headset and Interface

I have become hooked on the RSGB UKAC VHF contests, operating on a Tuesday evening on different frequencies (50MHz, 144MHz, 432MHz depending on which week of the month) Whilst my results are small-fry compared to the big guns I have been more than happy with my modest antenna set up and less than ideal location (previous blog posts)

I soon appreciated that using headphones rather than the speaker made life easier but I was still using the stock supplied hand microphone. Several times I have found it difficult to make myself understood and suspected that not only am I plagued by my ‘Black Country‘ accent and poor enunciation but maybe the microphone wasn’t quite cutting it.

Not able to afford or justify the purchase of a Heil headset just yet I took inspiration from Charlie M0PZT and his recommendation for a budget solution using a £10 computer headset from CPC (product AV21444).

On the Yaesu FT-857D the microphone connector is a 8-pin RJ45 socket which is behind the removable front panel with the lead coming out of one of a number of openings. Whilst the panel is easily removable I didn’t want to keep removing it when switching between microphones, also re-purposing an obvious CAT5 network lead was problematic as they are often thicker than the openings.

The lead removed from MH-31, RJ45 on interface

A quick look at the supplied Yaesu MH-31 microphone revealed it can be unplugged, so what I needed was a interface box where I could plug in the headset and the microphone lead. This would also allow me to try different headsets in the future.

Mic lead connected and headset
The budget ‘dx’ headset

My solution as pictured above is quite simple, I won’t include any pictures of the interior as it is a bit messy and not my best work! It is built from salvaged parts, including the box. The RJ45 socket came from an old network adapter, but beware some sockets are only 6 pin not the 8 as needed here. The headphone part of the headset is a simple connection to the rear socket on the FT-857D (the grey cable on the picture above)

Yaesu FT-857D mic socket as view from front

Most microphones designed for computers use electret elements which require a bias voltage, this is quite simple as the Yaesu microphone connector supplies 5V, so a simple resistor (8.2K) will supply this, also by using a couple of different capacitors and a switch I can select a ‘thin’ higher frequency response (for DX work) or a more normal ‘fatter’ response. A circuit can be found on George Smart’s webpage, the bias is simply applied to the tip of the microphone jack.

The box also has a PTT switch, this could have simply grounded the PTT line but I wanted to have a LED indication on the box and again I could have just wired a LED and resistor to 5V and to the PTT line so it would light when the switch was closed, pulling PTT to ground and completing the circuit. I opted to use a simple transistor open collector switch to add a little isolation.

The interface works well and I used it for the first time last night in the 50MHz UKAC with my homebrew MOXON antenna…

6M/50MHz MOXON
My first contest back in January was the 50MHz UKAC and as I blogged I made a solitary contact due to antenna issues, i.e I didn’t really have one!

I missed the February contest so this month I really wanted to have a decent stab at it which meant building an antenna. I decided early on that a Moxon was probably the easiest to construct, so I downloaded the MoxGen program to calculate the element lengths.

Using 1mm diameter ‘garden wire’ for the driven element and reflector. I had various bits of flexible plastic pipe kicking about and decided to use them to construct an x-shaped spreader, unfortunately the pipe was obviously from different batches and as soon as it was tensioned by the wire it bent into all sorts of strange shapes due to the different elastic properties so I abandoned that design.

I had left the build to the last minute and needed a quick solution, so yesterday morning plan-B was to go an get some cheap timber from the local B&Q on the way to work and build a simple frame to wrap the wire round.

Moxon on garage floor
Coax and common-mode choke, and sturdy support!

I impressed myself by completing the construction of the frame in the short time I had at lunchtime!

One thing I hadn’t appreciated was just how big the final antenna was, it wasn’t heavy just big! So last night an hour before the contest started I fitted the choke balun and coax to the terminal block. To be safe I removed the other antenna from the mast and hoisted her up.

Up in the night sky

Moment of truth, thankfully the VSWR was around 1.5:1 at 50.2MHz, rising to nearer 2:1 at the top end of the band. Not ideal but close enough. The VSWR measurements would suggest that the Moxon is a little bit long, interestingly some online Moxon calculators suggested dimensions for a slightly smaller Moxon than the downloaded Moxgen program did? Something to tweak/experiment with possibly using some thicker wire to increase the bandwidth.

50MHZ UKAC 25 March 2014
I was sorted! Moxon antenna up, contesting headset and interface plugged in and a quick scan up and down and I could clearly hear several stations testing and setting up. I poured myself a beer and soon the contest started.

Time between QSOs for a ‘selfie’

I finished the night with just 14 QSOs, more would have been nice and it wasn’t through lack of trying I could hear many more operators but simply couldn’t make myself heard either because the antenna was in wrong direction or due to low power and getting lost in the pile ups to stronger stations.

I was not disappointed in fact I was quite happy with what my 10W, my new headset and home brewed antenna had achieved. The Moxon showed great promise and directional characteristics but for some reason just couldn’t get south as the map indicates.

Out of interest I wondered what the line of slight view from my mast looked like so I strapped a camera on to the moxon this afternoon..

Need more height I think, especially if pointing South and a rotator would be nice!
Well that wraps it up for the moment.. 73

Rebooting a lapsed hobby

My current equipment

Ever since I was old enough to handle a screwdriver and a soldering iron I have had an interest in radio communications and electronics. I spent many a hour in my childhood scanning the Medium and Short Wave bands with various receivers (usually scavenged from family, neighbours or saved from the dump!) I constructed numerous long-wire and other bizarre antennas. I even did a presentation on my hobby for my English Language O-Level exam – I really did confirm my status as a weirdo!

I played with borrowed CB radios and would have loved to progressed into owning one or becoming a proper radio amateur but unfortunately I simply didn’t have the money.

Then the home computer revolution started and my Dragon32 and Tatung Einstein took up most of my time. I left school and went off to University and when I came back home and got a job I spent some of my money on a new fangled radio scanner, a Realistic PRO2022 from Tandy.

A scanner is a radio that covers a wide frequency range, they are controlled my microprocessors and allowing you to listen in to a huge range of different communications including air traffic control, hobbyists (Citizens Band, Amateur radio), security guards, taxi’s and a lot more. Back in the late 80s, and early 90s they also allowed access to the emergency services and the old analogue cellular phones! Connecting it up a computer and using some software you even decode pager messages!

Gradually all the ‘fun’ stuff disappeared, the mobile phones became digital, so did the emergency services. This along with other commitments, such as moving across the country to a new job, getting married and other demands on my time meant the scanner ended up collecting dust in the attic.

Several years ago I briefly dusted it off and brought a couple of other second hand scanners including a Realistic PRO2006 and a brand new Alinco-DJ3X. I also played around with some PMR446 systems, but sadly again they all ended up collecting dust.

Well once again they are out of the boxes and I am having a fun time scanning around for interesting signals, well if you can count listening to the radio microphone at a local church interesting!

I am thinking of buying a CB as it seems to have evolved from the bad old days into something more grown up. Even becoming a DX amateur type system using something called freebanding not legal mind, but then technically using a scanner isn’t!

I am even contemplating taking the Radio Amateur exams and actually achieving a childhood dream, well I do now have access to money and did do an electronics degree!

This time I hope it doesn’t all fizzle out and it is looking more promising as plans are a foot for me to have my own shack and I won’t be spending as much time on my other hobbies next year.