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Sunday 29 September 2019

National Hamfest 2019 - I missed it this year...

However I am already planning 2020's visit to the Hamfest, this year was down to tight finances even though I had been paid because of my emergency trips to the continent last month, as well as not being given this whole weekend off as, as it has now transpired, I booked it far too late, as soon as my holidays for next year are allotted I intend to book it off, however as I intend to look for a second job, for reasons I shan't go in to, I will have to book this off with the second company I work for once this happens.

I still intend to get a larger tent, the same one I've been looking at since last year, this means I can set up a station at the Hamfest location, if my wife returns and she gets at least her foundation then this could be very useful if not I'll need to take a CB set as well.

I do have a project and it should be in full swing by the time of Hamfest 2020, as well as a YouTube video of the event, I will be looking at all the latest news for this hamfest, though I was not in attendance.

If you are already planning for Hamfest 2020, keep an eye out for me and say hi, and until then listen for me on the air, I do also monitor GB3IR, an Echolink enabled and IRLP enabled repeater, during my shifts at work so feel free to give me a call, I usually do not respond when in the shop because I generally do not take a HT into the shop as it is a very busy environment, my delivery windows are 30-minutes max (though I aim for 25) so QSOs will be short.

73 de M0WNU

Monday 23 September 2019

My journey to finally getting on the HF bands from home and the Slinky antenna idea

With my full licence out of the way I can focus on the other things in Amateur radio I want to do, this includes operating HF from home (without upsetting the neighbours of course), a thin wire antenna strung in the nearby trees should do it (with an ATU preferably fed with balanced feed up to the shack window then a coax into the shack (may need a second CTC-50)) though other antenna ideas are out there and one that would probably attract people into the hobby, and show you can make an antenna out of almost anything, is the Slinky antenna, which has been proven to work though Slinky toys are usually made of cheap steel so don't lend themselves to great antennas and would corrode if left untreated outside, in general this should require at least two Slinkys attached to a dipole centre and preferably fed with 300Ω or 450Ω ladder line into an appropriate balun (just to eliminate common-mode currents on the coax feeding it as this may pose interference and tune problems), suspended taut with a piece of rope running through the Slinkys as they don't lend themselves to staying suspended horizontally.

With no HF set it is not possible to actually test this out, though some say it could work for 80-meters it may work better for higher up, say 20-meters but nothing to stop adding more Slinkys to make it longer and closer to resonance at the lower frequencies, which would require longer ropes for holding it vertical, however the real added bonus is that this makes a crude portable antenna that can collapse down to a very small size indeed, and also extremely cheap to make.

The Slinky antenna is listed in the Stealth Antennas book by Steve Nichols G0KYA, though I first had the idea when I saw Slinkys in a local branch of Boyes (a chain of cheap department stores in the North of England) before I read it in the book (which I purchased to come up with a good way of getting on HF without drawing too much attention, though a Slinky might draw some attention though a theory is that if an antenna is mounted high up and no one looks up it goes unseen and unnoticed for some time (until of course RFI becomes an issue which as responsible Amateurs we are obliged to resolve as part of our licence terms), and hiding a wire antenna in trees might work better though I do want to try out the Slinky idea anyway because I am all for experimenting.

The only thing I don't know yet is how bad the noise level around here is on the HF bands, there are no houses with solar panels on my street at present, but there are plenty of houses and three other identical blocks of flats which means potentialy battling the dreaded PLT and nasty electronics that have had all levels of filtering removed from production models, however when I checked the noise floor on 11-meters it was not dire (about S4 at worst) and my wife and I were able to use the band to communicate successfully during her visit to the UK while I was at work or otherwise out in the car while she was at home, hopefully I have that same luck on HF no matter what antenna I use.

The biggest concern I naturally have is causing RFI to neighbours, and potentially my own gear, so I plan to from the start keep a log of all my transmissions on HF, I rarely do this for 2-meters because FM is usually benign and at worst generates a buzz on things, my poorly shielded computer speakers in my shack being a good example of this, also I plan to do plenty in the way of RF housekeeping so that any RFI issues should not occur, however with modern electronics that are not adequately immune then even this may not be enough however I still plan to operate until such times as I am told by neighbours that I am causing them interference, and it is for this reason I intend to keep a log to make sure that the neighbours are in fact telling the truth (I have had an instance already where my 10/11-meter antenna on my car has been complained about, to me fortunately, for causing TVI yet it was not connected to a radio at the time, my mobile antennas do get noticed, though the person that made the accusation had no understanding of radio at all, all I could do was brush it off and tell the truth, that the antenna was not plugged in and I was not transmitting), filtering out the true interference reports from the false one will always require a log.

The radio is the next hurdle, should I make it to Newark this year (which has been in doubt since I was told I could not have the weekend off), I will see what I can find there, if not the other radio I have in mind is the µBitX from India (which is now into version 5 after the American scaremongering about spurs forced the designer to redesign part of it) which is just a shade over £100 and can do up to about 10-watts on 40 and 80-meters (my two main HF bands of interest though I may want to operate top band later), though I am tempted to measure this, there are other "cheap" HF rigs out there such as the Xeigu radios from China (though the price point of some of these is not really cheap) and the unauthorised Chinese copies of the mcHF (which I would never buy as the designer of the real mcHF put a lot of work into it and the real thing would be my preferred choice could I afford it right now), though with the µBitX you get satisfaction from assembling the non-assembled parts and can design it into a case of your choosing (you get the same satisfaction assembling the genuine mcHF or even a transceiver of your own design if you're truly inclined), but I will see what happens there, or if all else fails I could borrow the Kenwood radio from the club as we use a Yaesu rig for HF operation at the club, though I'd need to borrow the manual tuner as well as that is another hurdle to overcome in the grand scheme of things.

I look forward to operating HF hopefully with a mix of portable and home operations because I want to be able to show to the world that Amateur radio is actually exciting and still relevant in the 21st Century, and I am hoping to sit down at some point and actually start teaching myself Morse code properly, will have to listen to some as well as practice sending it to get tuned to it (no pun intended).

73 de M0WNU

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Pager revisit

In June I posted about how POCSAG pagers were being used in Amateur radio and had been for some time by the Germans using the DAPNET, further investigation led me to discover that ETCC had been able to get Ofcom to issue NoVs for some POCSAG transmitters on the Amateur bands, specifically a spot frequency in 70cm, located in the south of England, I believe there are 4 of them all with callsigns MB7Pxx (where xx is two letters), and Pi-Star, as I posted about, can transmit POCSAG messages on the same spot frequency used worldwide (with some regulatory exceptions).

This is all part of a German system called DAPNET, the Decentralised Amateur Paging Network, and because I am a fan of older technology, as it has been proven to work hence one reason I enjoy Amateur radio as a lot of old radio gear is still in working order or has been restored to working order, pagers simply add another aspect to this, they are in very seldom use by commercial users now and only one paging network exists in the UK now, so us Amateurs can keep it alive, though we cannot use it commercially as that would be against the terms of the licence in every country and against the nature of Amateur radio in general.

Pagers have to be assigned a RIC to work, a radio identity code I believe, the system is, like a commercial pager system, one-way, so good for transmitting information on local clubs, nets, SOTA spots, or any other bit of information of interest to the Amateur radio community, the DAPNET has something called 'rubrics' which you can choose to receive information from.

Now I have my full licence I plan to play with this, though I need to put through a new DMR ID first as I believe a pager RIC would be derived from that (though pager RICs don't go up as far as DMR IDs from what I understand), though I plan to run an APRS igate which would require a NoV, running a pager gateway would require a second NoV which would be required to allow me to run both, as demand for pager use is lower than APRS-IS access then I don't have to worry for now.

73 de M0WNU

Tuesday 10 September 2019

A project for my YouTube channel

I've not uploaded much in the way of new videos lately, however I have had time to think about future videos, particularly a series project which will take some work to pull off, this will be a series filmed in locations or localities in where I have lived with myself operating on the 2-meter band, the order will be as follows:

  • Berwick-upon-Tweed (note that as it is still on the English side of the border I will not need to add the RSL for Scotland)
  • Brixham, Paignton and Torbay area (probably focus on Brixham however will not be at Berry Head due to a DVOR array there, the existence of which I learned from Lewis M3HHY of YouTube channel 'RingwayManchester')
  • Richmond, North Yorkshire (I have lived in Richmond for a significant time twice, this reflects moving there initially in the mid 80s until leaving in the mid 90s
  • Colsterdale, near Masham, North Yorkshire
  • Sedbergh, Cumbria, though perhaps operating from easy to access points on the Howgill fells
  • Sunderland, Tyne & Wear (potentially operation will take place from Penshaw Monument, or the hill on which it stands, reflecting my two years of college within the city)
  • Northallerton, North Yorkshire (the final location as I moved back to Richmond in mid 2003 until 2 years ago in which I moved to Catterick Garrison, operation on 2-meters will take place above the town at Bullamoor).
With doubt raised on whether I can attend this year's National Hamfest I will see how my days off fall and get the Berwick video done and out of the way, Brixham will probably be late March to Early April, Richmond can be any time however I want to keep the videos in sequence as much as possible, Colsterdale and Sedbergh will require the weather to be good, Sunderland and Northallerton are also not problematic with weather.

I cannot obviously publish exact dates and times of when the filming will take place nor what equipment I will be using on the days of filming, however I will post something in the days leading up to filming and operating taking place, and also if you don't want your QSO with me on the film do let me know and I will ensure it's edited out.

73 de M0WNU

Sunday 1 September 2019

The saga of 2-meters

in the last few months there has been a situation where a commercial entity, Thales of France, has wanted to allocate the 2-meter band (144-146 here in region one) to primary status for aeronautical mobile applications either removing the incumbent primary allocation, or reducing it to secondary status, given the application Thales wanted to use it for, the potential for interference should Amateurs have been relegated to Secondary was too great, in the last few days the proposal was rejected and Amateurs retain primary status, however this got me thinking.

At the end of August I was on the continent twice, driving to Dover and back from there I heard some stations call CQ on 145.500, however all I heard on the continent was APRS packets, and very little if anything on 2-meter simplex (I have my FTM-400XDE preset for UK repeaters and had not had any time to look up French, Belgian and German repeaters, nor would have been able to use them at the time as I only held a UK intermediate licence as my full had not come through until after the trips).

After my second trip out to France it made me realise why Thales thought they could try for the band, because it is under used in those places, but also here too, however after returning I saw a video by Mike M0XMX operating 2-meters portable from a high location not too far from his home QTH, and this showed the band as being used here in the UK, and one French station was heard, the consensus with all our bands is use it or lose it, while my wife is not in the UK, she's back in the US at the moment, our CB antenna won't be going back up and I will be building a new 2-meter groundplane antenna to similar design as that done by Lewis M3HHY before his hiatus a few months ago so I can return to 2-meters from the home QTH with the KT-8900D, though that radio does suffer a wee bit of pager noise and can put out 25 watts comfortably, it rarely gets used right now though because it's on a cheap indoor magmount antenna.

I have not been as active in radio as I'd like while the wife has been here, in particular around the time of our marriage a few weeks ago, however I'm going to find sometime to get out and play radio again, my studies are done, my exam passed, all I have to study now is Morse code which will happen a little later down the line and I will try and put some of my activities on 2-meters on to YouTube in the coming weeks, there's not much of summer left so it stands to reason I must pick up where I left off and help keep 2-meters active so we do not lose it to the commercial entities that want whatever frequencies they think they can get their hands on.

73 de M0WNU