Friday, April 30, 2010

Got the HF rig and the logging software interfaced

I had the most extraordinary coincidence happen on Wednesday morning. But as I am not a great believer in coincidence, I attribute apparently small miracles to cosmic forces . . . and I'm not talking about F2 layer propagation!!

What the hell am I talking about, you ask? I decided to head to Maplins to buy an RS232 cable to interface my Yaesu FT-1000MP with my logging software, LOGic 8, something I had been threatening to do for an age.

While waiting for Maplins in Dundalk to open, I wondered if I should bother to hang around or head to the office. Something compelled me to wait around for the 15 minutes. Within moments, who appears in the car park, walking towards me, waving?

No, not President McAleese. Nope, not Steve Staunton. It was Charlie, EI8JB! As well as writing the weekly IRTS news bulletin, Charlie is also an all-round nice fellow and it's always nice to meet someone so positive and friendly. I hope he won't mind me saying it but Charlie smiles all the time - he's that type of guy - as you can see in the above photo.

Anyhow, after a brief banter we headed into the shop where, after a few minutes of looking, I found an RS232 cable with 9-pin female serial plugs on each end. Great, except one thing - my laptop doesn't have a serial input!! I needed a serial-to-USB converter, which Maplins did not have on the premises. Damn! Would I ever get my rig and laptop inferfaced?

Well here's why my chance meeting with Charlie in Dundalk was such a great "coincidence". Apart from the fact that I live in Drogheda and Charlie lives in Meath, and the chances of us meeting in the same spot in Dundalk might seem remote, it turned out that Charlie had, in his van, a serial-to-USB converter! Would you credit it?

I couldn't wait to get home that evening to try get everything connected. After downloading a driver for the Serial-USB converter, I had the radio and the computer "talking" to each other in no time! Now logging is so much easier. I don't have to manually enter the person's name and country, nor do I have to fill out the frequency and mode - it all happens automatically. So thanks indeed Charlie for helping me out on that one - it really is appreciated.

This new link-up helped enormously when I decided to put out a "CQ" call on 40 metres last night. I was pleasantly surprised that my new magnetic balun and longwire antenna were working so well on 40. I pulled in some stateside, and even Brazil, and had some nice QSOs with various stations in Europe, including a gentleman in the very northern part of Norway. He told me he lived in a cabin with his two dogs and his radio, and that in the middle of winter he only gets one hour of sunshine per day! At this time of year, of course, things are a lot different. He said there were only three hours of darkness at nighttime now.

It's amazing who you meet on the bands, and where they are located. It's even more amazing when you meet friendly faces in Dundalk and they happen to be carrying an item that you need that might otherwise have taken a week to get from the internet!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dundalk IRTS weekend was a wonderful success

The 78th Annual General Meeting of the Irish Radio Transmitters Society (IRTS) was held in Dundalk last weekend in conjunction with a radio rally. What a fantastic weekend it was for the amateur radio hobby and the Dundalk Amateur Radio Society, which hosted the event.

The IRTS dinner on Saturday night at the Fairways Hotel, which I attended with the XYL, was a great evening with plenty of nice food (and drink for those who were having it) and good company. Sunday's rally was packed from the off with lots of radio amateurs, shortwave listeners, CB enthusiasts, general gadget freaks and lots of other nerds (myself included) hovering around a multitude of stalls. It was a nice big room but it was still full at times with bargain-hunting radio hams swarming like busy bees around tables full of everything from expensive HF rigs to second-hand single morse keys to mobile antennas, plugs, co-ax, tape and assorted bric-a-brac.

The IRTS AGM was held immediately after the rally at 2pm on Sunday.

Great credit for a fantastic weekend is due to the Dundalk Amateur Radio Society (EI7DAR). The event was even blessed with the presence of some De Lorean cars, and also the Amateur Radio Emergency Network (AREN) vehicle. Also in attendance were CTI computers and Astronomy Ireland. There was a stand highlighting the activities of EI7DAR, including live air traffic displays, an IRTS stand and a section devoted to microwave and ATV.

Dave Deane EI9FBB was present at the rally for card checking, and a number of hams seeking awards were availing of his services. Congratulations to Gerry EI6GWB who passed the morse test - well done Gerry, and no doubt you will find CW a fantastic mode as I have done.

Congrats to the committee and well done to all the club volunteers who were of such enormous help on the day.

Monday, April 26, 2010

New 50m longwire is definitely working!

Saturday afternoon was spent in the company of my "antenna man" and all round great helper Tony Allen EI4DIB. Tony won the Michael Collins Memorial Trophy at the IRTS AGM at the weekend for his dedication to the amateur radio hobby over the years and for all his help and support to other budding hams. It's easy to see why. Without Tony's help, I would simply not be QRV. He has installed all of the antennas at my QTH, and I do mean all. They include an Antron 99 vertical, a Butternut vertical, the half-size G5RV which was replaced at the weekend, a 2m dipole and a 6m dipole.

Due to the limited use of my half-size G5RV and its limited effectiveness, we decided recently to source a magnetic transmitting balun and see how that would work with a wire antenna. So Saturday we took down the half-size G5RV, which only just fit between the chimney and a pole on the wall at the end of the back garden, and set about erecting a wire antenna. The guage of the wire is probably a bit heavier than needed but at least that will give it good bandwidth. We ran the wire from about six or eight feet outside the shack window, up to the chimney, back down again to a pole in the corner at the rear of the garden, and then back along the side of my semi-detached house. So basically it is a W-shaped longwire, probably not ideal, but the only practical solution in restricted space.

To our delight it tuned on all the bands, from 160m to 10m, but I only intend to use it on 160m, 80m and maybe 40m.

Of course 160m was completely dead Saturday night and again early on Sunday morning so I wasn't able to test it on that band. I did, however, make a contact into Thailand on 40m CW on Sunday night, so I was delighted. I got 559 each way with HS0ZCY/4 after trying about six or seven times working through a pile-up. The wire works well on 30m too and is marginally quiter on receive than my Butternut HF-V9. I got into Lebanon on 17m with OD5NH Puzant giving me 55. I also worked Scotland on 80m and was a solid 59 no problem.

I hope to make some contacts on 160m over the coming nights if possible. I will give a further update then as to the antenna's effectiveness. I might also try to take a couple of photos to illustrate how it was put up.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A brilliant night on 40m CW and some new countries

Last night I visited Thos EI2JD to check out his new station (well, newly reorganised station). I am impressed. Well done Oleg!! (Yes folks, Thos had some "help", as usual!)

I decided to try 40m seeing that Thos had recently erected a purpose-built homebrew quarter-wave 40m vertical with eight quarter-wave verticals. It's working well if the night's contact were anything to go by.

I brought my own Kent paddle. I can't get used to Thos' home-brew saw-blade key just yet. Before hitting CW I worked A92IO, David in Bahrain. David is also licenced here as EI3IO. That was a new country for me and indeed I got an AG eQSL when I got home from David so I'm up to 55 confirmed countries.

I started CQing on 7.024.0 CW and was pretty soon working a pile-up. There was, as one might expect, lots of European stuff with prefixes such as SM, DL, YU, EA, G3, OK, PA, OE, LA, Z3, 9A, IK, F5, SV, GM, EW, EI, and SP and not forgetting lots of Ukraine and Russia. But there were a few good DX contacts also. I nabbed LW6DJQ, Luis from Argentina, which was a very nice one, and also PR7GY in Brazil. Probably the nicest contact of the night, and a new country for me, was ZP5KO in Paraguay. I was particularly thrilled with that one.

I had to give up at midnight (work in the morning etc etc) but when I got home there was a nice email from one of the Italians I had worked. Apparently I was his first ever CW contact! Here's what he said:


we had a contact on 40m CW abt an hour ago, and it was my first CW
contact ever, so I wanted to let you know :-)

Also, I was using a homebrew rig, the NorCal 40A from Wilderness Radio,
with only a couple of watts into a random wire on the roof, which makes
this first contact even more remarkable to me!

TU fer ur time, hpe to work you again soon!

73 de Carlo, IZ4KBS

Thanks indeed Carlo, and best of luck with CW - it really is a great mode!

Friday, April 16, 2010

The view from the mountain - CQing portable from the Dundalk repeater site

It's amazing what you can do with 100 watts and a cheap multi-band whip and a magmount. And, not to forget, a bit of altitude! I went up to the site of the Dundalk Repeater (EI2CCR) on Clermont Cairn mountain at lunchtime and spend an hour CQing as EI2KC/P on 20m CW. The repeater is 510 metres above sea level and has great coverage to the south and also into MI land (Northern Ireland). The site itself gives stunning views across the landscape, and the Cooley Mountains and the Mourne Mountains look spectacular from up there.

I started calling as EI2KC/P on 14.005.00 CW and pretty soon was getting a nice pile-up going.

I worked all over Europe, including prefixes such as OH, OM, OH, OK, I, M0, DL, SQ, YU, HA, UA, RA, RN and more and also pulled in a few stations from North America. It was a fantastic day up there. I was just sorry I had to come off the mountain and go back to work!! I'd love to have stayed up there all day. It is a beautifully clear day today and surprisingly warm too.

The photo above shows the view as I began the journey down the mountain from the repeater site. I took this photo about 20 metres from where I had been parked while working the radio. Thanks to all that worked me, and sorry for the occasional mistake - I am still learning!! Sorry also that I couldn't work UP but 14.006 was in use. I think I managed the simplex pile-up quite well, making 54 contacts in about an hour. Great stuff. Thanks again, and sorry to those who didn't get through this time.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Some nice DX worked in recent days

I've worked some interesting DX over the past couple of days. Not content with working Europe, I found myself trying to pick out interesting prefixes and some of the slightly rarer and farther stations. Following my great run with YI9PSE in Iraq (he has only credited me with 6 of our 7 QSOs, oh dear) I found myself looking for stuff that was slightly off the beaten track. And I got a bit of it. Here's some of the stations I've worked in the past three or four days, following the winding down of YI9PSE:

3W6C - Con Co island, Vietnam, DXpedition. I mentioned that already. Got him on 30M CW
EX2A - Kyrgyzstan - 30M CW
6W1SJ - Senegal - 30M CW
CN8KD - Morocco - 17M CW
EI4KC - not DX but my friend Brian who passed the morse test on the same day as me and has a similar callsign!!
VO1HP - Newfoundland - 30M CW
VQ9LA - Chagos Islands, Indian Ocean - 30M CW (Particularly delighted with that one!)
7X4AN - Alergia - 20M CW
ER1DA - Moldova - 30M CW
EX8MLE - Kyrgyzstan - 20M CW
FM5FJ - Martinique - 20M CW
VP9KF - Bermuda - 20M CW and 40M CW!!!
5N50K - Nigeria - 30M CW
VO1MCE - Newfoundland - 40M CW

As you can see, I'm doing well on 30M. It's CW only, which is great. I was still hearing signals on 30M up until midnight tonight (Wednesday night). Great stuff.

My best station of the above has to be 3W6C. I might not get to work them again. They had some difficulties on the island and now have a reduced setup, with no antennas for 160M or 80M. I will try to nab them on another band but it will be a challenge.

Here's my up-to-date stats:

CW: 113 countries worked
Phone: 103 countries worked
US States worked: 44 out of 50
AG eQSL: 51 countries confirmed
Total QSOs logged: 1,900

I recently received some QSL cards from the bureau. I will make a video about that for the next update hopefully. In the meantime, best DX . . . and, try to get some sleep, roger!!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Yes!! - just worked YI9PSE on 7th band slot!!

Having never really worked any rare DXpeditions in the few months I've been on air, I've made a concerted effort to work YI9PSE which is based in Kurdistan in Iraq. I would have been perfectly happy to get YI9PSE into the logbook just the once, but I've beaten all my expectations by getting him seven times - on 80m CW, 40m CW and SSB, 20m CW and SSB, 17m CW and 15m SSB.

I worked him twice from the shack of EI2JD (Thos) on Friday evening, having nabbed him first from my own modest station on 40m CW on Thursday night. In Thos' I nabbed the DX station on 15m USB and 20m CW. Then in the past 24 hours I've managed to work him on another four slots from the home QTH. I got 40m LSB last night by lucky chance. He was CQing North America but didn't hear anything so gave a general call and I worked him first time on a big split - he was TX on 7.066 and I TX'd on 7.185.

They say if at first you don't succeed, try try again. This is exactly what I did on 80m CW. I tried him for about 45 minutes before he went QRT so I was very disappointed but he came back on after midnight this morning and I eventually worked him after trying for a solid hour. No joking. That's dedication for you! Again he was split, TX on 3.504 and RX on 3.506.5. Thanks lads!!

But not satisfied with five slots, putting me in 10th place on the list of EI's who have worked YI9PSE, I decided to give a concerted go on 17m CW this afternoon (Sunday), despite the fact that he was quite weak on 18.074, listening up. I didn't have to try very hard. I had only tapped out EI2KC a few times when he came back with "dah dit dah, dah dit dah dit, dit dit dah dah dit dit", which, for those non-CW folk among you means "KC?" so I gave him EI2KC another couple of times to which he replied "EI2KC 599". Brilliant!! I gave him "R R 599 73 TU". Six times baby!!!

At 17:25 local time I managed to nab him on 20m SSB, which I was surprised about, mainly because I was battling with lots of Italian, Spanish, Romanian, and other powerful European stations, and also plenty of North America. I managed to get him after about three or four calls having thought I'd be an hour trying. So that was very nice indeed. He was TX on 14.195 and RX on 14.200. Thanks again guys. They're winding up the station tomorrow I believe. I heard them briefly on 15m CW this afternoon but they vanished again. That's one I need. I also need 30m but haven't heard them there yet. Fingers crossed I might get them again some time later!!!

You can check his log on the Clublog website and enter "EI2KC" and it will show you where I have worked him. And remember, I hope this provides some encouragement to those stations who have modest antennas and modest power. On four of those slots I worked him with 100w and my Butternut vertical. So keep trying, and happy DX.

Update: 18:49: Just worked 3W6C, Con Co Island in Vietnam, a DXPedition, on 30m CW. He was working a huge European pile-up but I got him 5.5KC up!! He was strong too!

73 de EI2KC Tony.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Two more AG eQSLs bring me up to 49 countries!

This is what my EI2KC eQSL inbox looked like just a few minutes ago. In there are AG eQSLs for two new countries - Qatar (A71) and Senegal (6W). That brings me to a total of 49 AG countries on eQSL. Not bad for a newbie I'd say.

Update: I worked another new country today. I nabbed Brunei on 20M CW, which wasn't bad considering it was 18:21 here and the band is not usually open to the Far East at this time. I worked V85SS just now on 14.002 working a split on 14.004. He gave me 599. Thanks indeed!! I also grabbed E21EJC on 17M USB in Thailand. And I got T77C in San Marino on both CW and SSB on 17 metres. I got 7Z1HL in Saudi Arabia on 15m CW.

I haven't been doing a huge amount of radio this week. I felt a bit burned out with everything that was going on (I have just finished making a documentary about The High Man) and felt that radio was taking over things a bit so I haven't worked much this week really. But that's not a bad thing. I'm still doing plenty of 2m and I intend to "pick off" a bit of DX on the HF bands but I just won't be sitting in front of the radio 24/7 that's all.

The number of people who've been commenting on my new callsign is incredible. Almost everyone I've spoken to think it's a great callsign. It's nice and short and easy to say, but it's particularly easy to send on CW. It's actually rhythmic too. I have to admit that I have found it a million times easier to send than my old callsign EI8GHB. EI2 is good but EI2KC is very good! I was speaking to my friend Brian (EI4KC) this morning and he's thoroughly enjoying the CW too. Great stuff. He had a bit of trouble with his Antron - it broke - so he will be buying a new one. A couple of operators in MI land across the border had damage to their antennas from the snow a few days ago but thankfully it hasn't kept any of them off the bands!

73 for now.
EI2KC Anthony.