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Legacy vs. Digital on Ten Meters!

July 02, 2021 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News

“Let’s do something really challenging in June!”

So why not choose 10 meters and have a legacy modes (CW, SSB, FM, AM) verses digital (FT4/8, PSK, etc) competition?

Wythall Radio Club has had monthly challenges for its members for some time, but this was something different! 

And so was the DX – countries worked including Argentina, Algeria, Faroe Islands, French Guyana, US Virgin Island and Asiatic Russia.

Ham Radio - QRP: TEN-TEC Century 21 --- Vintage Novice CW RigDespite 10m being quieter than expected much of the time, members took the June Challenge to heart and focused on this band.

Legacy vs. digital gave the Challenge a different flavour and brought a zing to our exchanges on the Club’s Telegram channel!  Some members even managed a net on 10.

Digital mode operators managed 190 qsos against 107 for legacy modes.  The operator contacting the greatest number of unique DXCC entities (Chris G0EYO) was using FT8.  He achieved 57 countries against the highest placed legacy mode operator – John 2E0XET – with 26.

Either way, they were great results for a month’s operating on 10 meters at this point in the sunspot cycle, and with some very sporadic ‘sporadic E’ conditions at the start of June, fading to poor band conditions in the second half of the month.

For July, we are continuing the legacy vs. digital challenge on 20 meters, but limiting power to 10 watts.

Full results are here

 

 


Chasing TZ4AM in Mali on 6 meters

June 26, 2021 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News

Recent openings on 6 meters have kept Lee G0MTN busy. Here’s his story of trying to get that elusive QSO with Jeff TZ4AM…
 
I’m still keeping focus on 50 MHz, and reached my all-time 100 DXCC target last week.  A special event from Guadeloupe popped up and has been active late evenings. 
 
The summer solstice appeared to provide a path north to Svalbard and JW7QIA, and the Finn’s OJ0C expedition to Market Reef – the little island with a lighthouse near Aland Islands – gave me the needed numbers.
 
One I have been chasing for weeks is Jeff TZ4AM in Mali. Primary Image for TZ4AM
 
He is on the ON4KST chat, and often announces he is beaming north and calling for Europe on FT8 or CW.  And I imagine dozens of antennas then simultaneously beam south and everyone listens expectantly
 
But time and time again there is no path between us. 
 
Except occasionally there is.  But it’s not strong enough here with me.  Or I only catch up after the fact.  Leaving FT8 running gives you cold hard evidence of just who you missed and how strong their signals were.
 
Then last week the stars aligned.  Conditions were incredibly good.  FT8 signals rose to +15 – good enough for SSB, let alone CW.
 
There was a pipeline to the UK.  Lots of well known calls go through.  It becomes a lottery then for who gets picked. 
 
Some FT8 software will not pick your call if you are too strong.  Then you worry you are transmitting on the same frequency as someone else, perhaps someone in your skip that you can’t hear.  You look at the geography of who is going through – stations to the north and south, so you should be in a good position.
 
Geoff G4FKA in Bath gets his contact with TZ4AM and he’s using a wire dipole – I use a 6 element beam (photo).  The signals remain extremely strong.
 
Then I’m called!!!  I reply, but rather than the RR73 message confirming the end of the contact, I’m asked to repeat my report.  Jeff has high local noise, and the path appears to be failing.  It does fail and the contact does not complete. 
 
So close…. literally 30 seconds too late.  Aarrghh!!
 
There was no repeat of the same conditions when both Jeff and I were on….  until last Sunday, when I was out for Father’s Day with the family.
 
I popped into the shack to check on things, and found the tail end of another good opening.  So good in fact conditions had opened up to reach Andy 5Z4VJ in Kenya.
 
I found Jeff on FT8 and called.  Something was wrong.  I’d left the speech processor running and changed the drive levels after playing in the 50 MHz Trophy contest on SSB and CW earlier.  Argh again!!  Fixed that, but Jeff had gone.
 
I saw on the ON4KST chat he was trying CW, working split +1.  I spun the dial and heard Jeff through the noise.
 
When beaming to Africa I have to beam over a neighbour’s property, and something in their house produces QRM periodically.  I put my call in a few times.  Not ideal, the mast was wound all the way down after being out, and the hills to the south are much taller than the current height of the antenna.
 
But then, I heard my own call, sent a 539 reply, and (I think!) the QSO was complete!  Later I did have a quick chat with Jeff online and he thanked me for the QSO, which was a great reassurance.  It had been quite a memorable chase over many weeks. 
 
Soon after, Mike G4VPD – another Wythall club member – also made contact with Jeff TZ4AM on 6 meters CW.
 
Now to see if the path to Kenya will return….

Workbench Review – QRP Labs QCX+ Kit

June 19, 2021 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News

Earlier this year Ian M0IDR reviewed the original QCX kit from QRP Labs.  Now it’s been redesigned as the QCX+, which Chris G3YHF reviews here. 

I have added comments from Hans G0UPL of QRPLabs to my original post – these are in italics.

QRP Labs have recently started shipping the new QCX+, a single band CW/WSPR transceiver kit.  Mine arrived carefully packed along with the additional metal enclosure.  

Although the QCX+ as delivered is CW only, the original QCX has been modified by experimenters to enable SSB and digital modes.  The QCX+ is likewise a rig designed for modification – with lots of spare pin headers and a separate development board.  

I built the 30m version, pictured above. 

There is an impressive downloadable manual running to almost 200 pages, covering the build, alignment, operating features, fault finding, facilities for experimenting and more! 

The build instructions are very detailed and easy to follow, with a large diagram illustrating each step.  The proof is that my rig worked first time!!  That was a relief!

I initially checked and sorted all the components, putting them in labelled envelopes to make them easier to find. 

The trickiest part – winding the four section RX transformer (centre top of picture) – is the first task and gets this job out of the way.  Then each type of component is installed in turn.

The silk-screen printed PCB is a delight to work on.  My trusty 25 watt Antex iron was just right for soldering the components to the 2 PCBs.  Although there is more room on these PCBs than on the original QCX, a small tip is required to keep the solder points neat and avoid problems. 

Thanks to Ian M0IDR for advice on this, as the QCX+ was the most complex build I have attempted.

The manual emphasises that the enamelling on the wire used for toroid windings needs to be burnt off during soldering, and that failure to achieve this is the most common reason for a QCX build to be unsuccessful first time. This requires the soldering iron to be applied longer than normal.  Continuity testing for zero ohms across the winding is recommended.  I had a couple of instances where I needed to resolder to completely burn off the enamelling.

In fact, I continuity tested each component before triming any loose wires.  I find my analogue multimeter is better to use for this than a digital one, as the needle flicking right across the scale clearly indicates a good connection.

Alignment is simple process using the rig’s inbuilt test equipment, which includes a signal generator. 

I had two small self-inflicted problems in the build. 

I discovered that I had soldered the ends of one of the RX transformer windings the wrong way round, having already trimmed off the wire.  Luckily, I also found that I had wound one too many turns.  I managed to unwind the extra turn without having to desolder the other 6 connections on this toroid, and then had enough spare wire to solder this winding back on to the PCB.  Phew!

This error arose because I wanted to finish installing the transformer even though it was late in the evening.  The moral is: stop before you get tired!

The second problem was that when I switched the rig on, the LCD lit up but didn’t show the initial ‘choose band’ screen.  A quick check and I discovered I’d omitted to install the microcontroller into its socket. 

The rig in test mode is shown above, before fitting in to the enclosure.  This is a sturdy 4mm/2mm thick with laser etched lettering.  The 2 PCBs – one holding the LCD – join at right angles and slide easily into the enclosure. 

It’s easy to remove the top of the enclosure or slide the PCBs out to make mods to the rig.

The rig is easy and intuitive to use.  As a 99% CW op, I was impressed at how clear the CW signals were in such a small rig.  The 200hz filter must help in this regard, and although it’s a sharp filter there is no ringing. 

With masses of audio gain available, and no RF control, I found winding the ‘VOL’ control back helped bring any weak signals out of the noise.  There is full QSK, although this can be switched off.

Tuning rates are 1kHz, 500Hz, 100Hz and 10Hz – selected by depressing the tuning knob.  This scrolls in a loop – so from 10Hz it goes round to 1kHz.  A long hold on the tuning knob is supposed to enable the cursor to move to the left, i.e. from 10Hz to 50Hz.  However I found it difficult to avoid starting my stored CQ message, which is also activated by depressing the same knob.  

Hans G0UPL: Have a look at menu “7.1 Dbl. click” which defaults to 300 milliseconds; this is the length of time that you must hold a button, in order for it to be recognized as a long press.  If you are having difficulty making the SHORT press that is necessary to move the cursor, then you can increase this value beyond 300 milliseconds, so that the threshold for identifying it as a LONG press, is slower. 

Keyer speed and RIT are available with one and two presses of a button.  There are twin VFOs and memory functions, as well as a message facility and CW decoder.  Many other functions are available and adjustable.

There are sockets to enable CAT control and to connect an external GPS RX to the rig’s GPS interface. 

The rig is specified to deliver up to 5 watts depending on supply voltage.  Using a 13.5v PSU, my QRP power meter read 3.5 watts out (normal power meters don’t give accurate readings at QRP levels).  As I don’t have a variable power supply, I tried the rig connected to a SLAB measuring 12.3v and it delivered 2.75 watts out. 

According to the data sheets in the manual, it should deliver 4 watts at 13.5 volts.  The manual – and discussion on the QCX forum – advise taking a turn off each of the low pass filter torroids in case the cut-off frequency is too low.

Hans G0UPL: About power output… since writing the manual, there have been improvements to the technique of optimizing power output.  It is not merely a matter of lowering inductance so as to increase the cut-off frequency.  It is also necessary to match to the Class-E PA output impedance which is evidently not precisely 50-ohms.  This is a process of trial and error as it can be different in each case.  I recorded a YouTube video on this topic, see https://youtu.be/eN7wER05T-c

Overall, I’m delighted with successfully building this kit and with it’s performance on air.  My first 3 qsos received reports of 549 from Italy and 559 from Germany (another QRP op) – both in response to my CQs – and 569 from Norway.  Later in the evening I worked east coast USA, receiving 559.  I heard a VK, although only S3.  The RBN for my CQ calls gave very good SNR reports.  The antenna was a dipole at about 25 feet.

So I’m looking forward to having some fun on 30 meters with this QRP rig! 

The kit is suitable for someone who has undertaken some basic constructional projects, can solder effectively and wants to move on to something more complicated.  It certainly left me feeling much more confident about tackling an advanced project.

 


Looking inside the United Radio QSL Bureau

June 17, 2021 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News

Wythall Radio Club member Tim M0URX updates us on the United Radio QSL Management Bureau
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I started the QSL bureau way back in 1993 long before I was even licenced.  It was only in 2007 however that with the “internet of things” I was able to form a network of UK QSL managers to work together to bring down the postal costs for everyone, not just here in the UK but worldwide. 
 
Working together we were able to use one mailing account where we pooled our mailings to get the very best shipping prices worldwide.  This is especially beneficial for DX-peditions, where they might post 5,000 letters in one mailing.
 
A look back at what we have done, what has been achieved and where we go after covid-19.  In 2010 I set up an outgoing QSL Bureau here which has since shipped over 300,000 Bureau cards worldwide (photo shows some of the outgoing QSL cards mailing for VP8PJ dxpedition).
 
Also in 2010, I looked into the feasibility of designing an online QSL management tools OQRS specifically for DX-peditions and rare DX and to reduce the workload and labour needed by the QSL manager to process all the work. 
 
It was 2013 before we found the right partners to do that.  It was impossible to find a volunteer as we were looking for someone to design from scratch an Online QSL Request System with very bespoke requirements –  which required 1,000 hours of coding / programming.  Umm, who on earth would volunteer? Nobody did!
 
So with a working partnership of HA5AO Pista, K5GS Gene and later joined by M0OXO Charles, we found an IT company in Asia that was keen to take on the work and at a favourable labour costs.  Lots of flow charts were sent to design the new tools that we needed.
 
 
It was 2015 before it was ready to be used on the first major DX-pedition with TX3X Chesterfield Islands.  It worked extremely well considering it was designed with just flow charts.  In 2016 the OQRS was now ready to be installed and as a Bespoke OQRS for my QSL management and also for my work partner Charles M0OXO. 
 
Since 2016 new features and tools have been coded every year as DX-peditions have more specific requirements, and also DX’ers require faster and personal LoTW uploads, so a  log inquiry form which cuts down on unwanted emails was installed and lots more. 
 
Covid-19 has for my work devasted the work flow here.  The worldwide travel bans had the effect of cancelling all the DX-peditions planned since March 2020. 
 
RV Braveheart | Kermadec Expedition | Auckland MuseumBut worse than that was the lack of air freight capacity between all countries of the world which means that cost have sky rocketed, for example a 20 kg parcel to JAPAN ARRL QSL Bureau which cost £50 pre covid is now about £150. 
 
2022 was to be the year things improved as we had two major DX-peditions where Charles and I were to be QSL managers.  But again, events in New Zealand have again hit us hard. 
 
The MV Braveheart vessel (seen here at Kermadec Island) which carries DX-pedition team to the Southern Ocean / Antarctic areas ran into financial difficulties last year and was sold, and two more DX-peditions cancelled. 
 
The MV Braveheart has been a major player for DX-peditions for over 20 years, and will be dearly missed by the DX fraternity.

On a positive note, a DX-pedition team going to SvalbardJW5E clubhouse view from east JW0X, early next year is still on (photo shows Svalbard club station).  They will be dedicated to satellite operating which apparently is a first from Svalbard as far as DX-peditions are concerned. 

This meant that the OQRS has had to be adapted to SAT QSL confirmation which gave the developer another 35 hours work to update the programming.  We are now testing that update live and I think it is good to go!

 

Foundation licence exam successes

June 15, 2021 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News, Training

New Foundation licence holders will hopefully soon be on the air, reports Chris G0EYO, our Training Coordinator.

“In our last on-line Foundation course, which finished in May, 9 students completed the course. 

Seven have let us know their results, and 5 passed – the youngest was 10 and the oldest was 80.   Most of our candidates were Midlands based.

We send our congratulations and hope to contact you ‘on the air’ with your new call signs!”

Our next online Foundation Course will start in August 2021.

Please contact Chris G0EYO at  [email protected]  if you would like to take the course – more details on our Training pages.


Commitment to learning Morse Code

June 12, 2021 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News, Training

Stuart M0SRZ is the 2021 recipient of Wythall Radio Club’s Lew Williams Shield.

This annual award recognises a member’s progress with CW (Morse Code), and is in memory of Wythall Radio Club’s former CW tutor and President. 

Stuart obtained his Foundation Licence in 2016, followed by Intermediate and Full in the same year.  He took the CW Academy Beginner Course in spring 2019, and has been making great progress ever since. 

Stuart won the Lew Williams Shield in 2020, but his commitment to continuing with the CW Academy course since then means he holds the award for another year.

Stuart tells us: “The CW Academy courses have been instrumental in my progress. However, the vital element is the support, encouragement and example of a club such as our own.

The gentle introduction to the mysteries of Morse, and the inspiring, consistent example of John 2E0XET, began my present endeavour to learn and, hopefully, attain some degree of proficiency.  And that banner is now carried on by the Club’s current CW tutor David G0HVN.  

A history of CW teaching that started with Lew Williams, long before I joined this Club, continues to this day. 

Reading about the CW exploits of many club members provides further encouragement.

I shall try to earn that honour during this year by taking the CW Academy Intermediate course during September/October – and that is going to demand a lot of practice between now and then! ” 

Stuart commends the free CW Academy courses: “They are quite intensive – two online hour-long sessions each week – and you really have to put in the practice every day. If you’re interested take a look at https://cwops.org/cw-academy/

 


Amateur Radio Courses available now

June 02, 2021 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News, Training

Latest News from Training Co-ordinator, Chris G0EYO is that the next on-line Intermediate Course is planned for a 28th June 2021 start and will last for 10 weeks and the next on-line Foundation course is expected to start in August.

Please register your interest now with Chris G0EYO at [email protected]

The Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) is now offering remote invigilation in people’s own home for online examinations at Foundation, Intermediate and Full Licence level. You can read further information on the RSGB website here

We are not yet in a position to offer paper examinations at the Radio Club.

The RSGB have also permanently removed the need for practical assessments for the Foundation course at this time. Practical assessments at Intermediate level are currently suspended until such time as the Covid lockdown regulations permit their resumption. We hope that they will remain suspended for the duration of the next Intermediate course.

CURRENT COURSES

ONLINE INTERMEDIATE COURSE starting 28TH JUNE 2021 TAKING NAMES NOW

FUTURE COURSES PLANNED

ONLINE FOUNDATION COURSE starting AUGUST 2021 TAKING NAMES NOW

ONLINE FULL LICENCE COURSE.  We will not be running our own Wythall Radio Club online Full Licence course but I am a tutor on the Bath Based Distance Learning Group’s Full licence course, run by Steve Hartley. Steve will run two courses per year, March and September. Contact me Chris G0EYO on [email protected] for up-to-date training news


Out portable in the Lake District

May 27, 2021 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News

Wythall Radio Club member Clive M7OCB has been making the most of his new call while out portable on the high ground!

My wife, Penny and I have a static caravan in Cumbria on the edge of the Lake District and spend a good deal of time in the area throughout the year.

We enjoy walking the Fells and sometimes the lower Peaks with our two dogs. Following on from the restrictions due to Covid being lifted we were keen to visit the van for the first time this year.

Keen too to give my trusty Baofeng handheld a chance at some high level QSOs in the outdoor environment!

So to the Lakes at the end of April for 2 weeks. I have become more confident in using my radio and keen to add more QSOs to my Log Book and this trip seemed to be the ideal means to do this.

On the first day we were doing some minor maintenance on the van.  I had the radio on the van decking and overheard a SOTA activator calling CQ SOTA on Coniston Old Man. Didn’t manage to get back to him but it inspired me to actively listen out for CQs.

Over the next few days I had SOTA contact from a High Fell Whitbarrow (a QSO of 31 miles) which further inspired me.  

On Black Crag (323m) I called CQ and had a number of QSOs. 

At this point I learned the importance of a note book as I was unable to Log these contacts! Another successful session on Birkrigg Fell (116m) furthest QSO to mobile at 33 miles.

I have now registered myself on the SOTA web site and plan to do some Activation during the summer when we visit again.

 


Big scores in April DX Challenge

May 04, 2021 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Fun, News

Big scores were reported in Wythall Radio Club’s April DX challenge – but it was a two-horse race!

With warm Spring weather tempting members’ activities outside the shack, it was left to Chris G0EYO and Lee G0MTN to chase the DX.

Using the 80 and 20 meter bands, all continents were contacted except Australia/Oceania and Antarctica (always a challenge!). 

Well done Chris on 126 countries worked using a long wire and FT8.  And even though the nights are getting shorter, 80 meters still produced 42 countries!

The countries that Chris and Lee contacted in the other 5 continents included Hong Kong, Venezuela, Mozambique, Canada and Albania.

In addition, Lee worked 10 countries on 6 meters.

For a full list of countries, click here

 

 


Low power fun in Easter Contest

April 28, 2021 By: Chris G3YHF Category: Club, Contest, Fun, News

“How low can you go?” was a theme of Wythall Radio Club’s Easter Contest 2021.

Chris G7DDN made his 37 contacts with other Club members using his trusty FT817 running 5 watts into a 2m/70cm collinear, and achieved 3rd place in the VHF/UHF category.

Not to be outdone, Allen M0PPX made a 0.3 watt QSO with Kev 2E0NCO whilst en route to the Lickey Hills using his new Yaesu FT3D.

Meanwhile, Lee G0MTN connected his Kenwood handheld to his EME antennas (normally used for moon-bounce contacts), wound the power down to 50 milliwatts, and also made a contact with Kev 2E0NCO!

On the space theme, Chris G3YHF send a greetings message via the International Space Station digipeater – 00:00:01:40 : G3YHF]CQ,NA1SS*,qAR,CT1EBQ3::NWS :Happy contest Wythall RC g3yhf via ISS 

This didn’t count for the contest, which requires QSOs with any of the Club’s 80 or so members, but is in the spirit of our motto – ‘Having fun with RF!’.

John 2E0XET also tried some novel QSOs.  Normally found on CW and often using QRP, he was tempted to have an HF SSB QSO and also try out his new Baufeng handheld on 2m to have his first contact with Kev 2E0NCO!

First place in the 2m/70cm section was Kev, 2E0NCO. 

Although a big signal from home, he also spent several afternoons on the Lickey Hills and managed a contact with Rob 2W0MEX in South Wales – one of several members spread across the UK and abroad.  This was no mean feat on 2m FM!

Kev wins the Colin Baker G6ZDQ Shield.

Miles 2E0YZW was a close second and Tim M6OTN and Clive M7OCB tied for the highest placed foundation licencee in this category.

In the ‘all modes and bands’ category, David G7IBO amassed a huge lead over second and third placed Chris G3YHF and Lee G0MTN.  He made 71 contacts over the 5 days of the contest and worked 28 members for a score of 1344, more than double the second place score!  He wins the David Dawkes G0ICJ Shield.

Juliet M6RSC was the highest placed Foundation licencee in this category.

With May approaching, Club members now turn their attention to their annual More Appreciation Month and the Lew Williams Shield.