Monday, December 26, 2011

HS0ZEE multipath echo on 10m CW

This is Don, HS0ZEE in Thailand, on 10 metres (28 Mhz) CW. His signal is coming from multiple paths, hence the echo. I had just worked him a few minutes previous to making this video. I had also worked him on 80 metres as a new country overnight.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Two nice presents for Christmas

I have received a nice Christmas present from the ARRL. Santa has come early. I have achieved confirmation of 100 DXCCs on 40 metres and 101 on 12 metres through Logbook of the World.

That makes a total of three bands (including 20m) on which I have passed or equalled the required 100 countries to claim DXCC. I also have DXCC on mixed, CW and phone. So I am eligible to apply for six awards in total.

Another Christmas present came two mornings ago when I worked ZL3NB on 80 metres. To be honest I never thought I would work ZL on that band from my current QTH. I am using my old Butternut HFV6 and just a 12 metre random wire for listening. We were both on the grey line at the time which helped and exchanged 449 reports either way. The operator, Bill, has since confirmed our QSO via LoTW. He says the following in an email:

"Thanks for the Qso and what a rare occasion to work two Irishmen one after the other on 80 meters...Actually that's rare to do that on any band so now feeling lucky and should buy me a Lotto Ticket. Hi"

Bill had just worked EI7AU before me. So a great thrill for him and indeed a great thrill for me.

Happy Christmas to all amateurs and listeners!!

Friday, December 16, 2011

EI2KC being worked from a field in Ukraine!

Interesting video showing some Ukranian hams working 10 metres with 5 watts from a field! They worked me also, at around 16:36 in this video. I was running 100 watts into an Antron 99 at the time. Just shows how great conditions on 28Mhz have been.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chipping away slowly at 80 metres

The ground-mounted Butternut.
Recently I took it upon myself to have another look at the old Butternut HFV6, which has been a major performer for me here at the shack over the past two years. It had snapped for a second time during a wind storm and this time I had written it off, but something told me I should try to get it back up and running again, especially as it might be helpful to me on 80m.

So I ground-mounted it this time. Previously it had been bolted to a garden wall about 5ft off the ground. I put in a good ground spike and also ran a couple of radials, one of which was approximately one quarter wave on 80m. After a session of RTFM (Reading The Feckin Manual!) I discovered that I was able to tune the Butternut quite flat in the middle of the 80m band. 3.650 is not a great frequency to be resonant on. If there were going to be new countries to be worked, they would either be on the CW portion just above 3.500 or at the DX end of the band near 3.800.

After some experimenting with the 80m coil, plus the Q coil, I found I was able to get a 1.5:1 SWR around 3.515. This was fantastic. I could tune up the Acom 1000 and managed to get 400 watts out. So over the past week or so since I finally got back up and running on 80m, I have increased my tally of countries worked from 87 to 95. Eight new ones in a week!!

Now,  tonight, I have discovered the exact right settings for the 80m coil for both the CW end and the DX end. I nabbed SV9IOM just a few moments ago on the top end of the band with 400 watts for a new one. It's not the most practical thing in the world to have to adjust a nut on a coil in the dark every time I want to jump from CW to SSB, but it's a solution nonetheless and allows me 80m action whether I'm in the mood for CW or SSB. All I need is a torch and a small pair of pliers!!

I am thrilled to be back up and running finally on 80m. I hope to work DXCC on that band and maybe get my total number of confirmations up from the current 55, which is quite low. We'll see how it goes. I need some solution for listening though. At just 26ft tall, the Butternut HFV6 is not very sufficient for picking up weak DX on 80 so I will maybe have to put up a long listening wire or make some sort of loop. Suggestions welcome. Bear in mind that my garden is 35ft long x 25ft wide!!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Nice morning time conditions on 10 metres

After a bit of a lull this week when it seemed like the sun might be just ogoing back to sleep, I hit the radio this morning at around 10am to find that 10 metres was nicely open. There were mornings during the week when hardly anything could be heard, as reported by other EIs. But today there were VKs and other Pacific and Asian calls on the cluster. So I hit 10m sidebands and gave a CQ with 400 watts, asking for "Asia and Pacific",

My DXCC worked and confirmed status
First caller in the log was Max, UK7AL in Uzbekistan, a new band slot for me. He was followed by VK5PAS, Paul, near Adelaide in South Australia, who was 5 and 8 on the S-meter. A65EE Adil in Dubai was bombing in using his Optibeam with a solid 59 signal. UN7QF, Genna in Almaty, Kazakhstan, gave me a new band slot with a 5 and 9 signal report each way. 9K2VO, Mohammed in Kuwait, also gave me a new band slot with a 59 signal each way. VU2HOT, Jag in India, was difficult to pick out, although after a couple of minutes trying and a slight turn of the beam, I got him in the log with a 4 by 3 signal for another new band slot.

BG0ARQ, Lu in the People's Hospital, Kelamayi City, Xinjiang, China, was 5 and 8 and gave me 59. Thanks Lu. HS0ZIN, Paul in Thailand, also gave me a new band slot. He was 5 and 8 here on my FT-1000MP, while I was 5 and 7 with him. He was the last contact on 10m before I went QRT.

A92IO, Dave (also EI3IO), gave me a new country on 15m when I worked him on USB with a 57 exchange. Thanks Dave!

5Z4HW was a brand new DXCC for me, never worked before, when I put him into the log on 40m LSB at 19.30 this evening. I was running 350 watts from the Acom 1000 linear into a homebrew inverted V. And another nice one was 9V1YC on 40m CW. Singapore was a new country for me on 40m. It's been a good while since I gave my DXCC worked and confirmed totals, so here goes.

Total DXCC Worked: 243 Confirmed: 191
160m: Worked 63 Confirmed 39
80m: Worked 87 Confirmed 59
40m: Worked 157 Confirmed 99
30m: Worked 153 Confirmed 98
20m: Worked 203 Confirmed 129
17m: Worked 173 Confirmed 96
15m: Worked 166 Confirmed 87
12m: Worked 162 Confirmed 96
10m: Worked 167 Confirmed 80
6m: Worked 55 Confirmed 35

Interesting that at the turn of 2011 I had only 35 countries worked on 10m and now have 167. That's my third best band now!! No progress yet this winter on 80m but I'm hoping to get a dipole up for that band because my Butternut is sadly out of action - it won't tune on 80m now.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A long-standing RF feedback problem solved

For a long time now my Yaesu FT-1000MP has been suffering from a problem where the radio does an automatic factory reset when I am on 10 metres (28 Mhz). This doesn't happen every time. Sometimes I can run 100 watts for ages without a problem. At other times, the radio resets once I go above 80 watts.

So I spoke to a couple of ham friends about the problem, determined to fix it. It seemed that some RF was getting back into the radio somehow and that this was causing the CPU to reset. It was only happening on 10 metres. One time I mistakenly called CQ on my Icom 746 through the Antron 99 with the FT-1000MP switched on and the MP reset!! The problem was a puzzle for me, but clearly it was related to RF feedback or a problem we hams know as "RF in the shack".

One ham friend said that as 10 metres was the shortest wavelength, it was highly likely that at least one of the cables running into the radio was of such a length that it was picking up RF from a harmonic of 28Mhz and feeding it back into the radio.

So I set about transmitting on 10 metres with various cables removed, or choked. Obviously the AC cord cannot be disconnected, so I choked it with a couple of ferrite beads. No improvement. I disconnected the coax from the Butternut vertical which feeds into antenna socket B (I was using the MA5B minibeam on socket A to transmit). No improvement. The radio was still resetting.

The I disconnected the earth wire from the back of the radio. I have a station ground, a copper rod, sunk into the ground just outside the shack. Disconnecting the ground wire did not make any difference. The radio was still resetting.

At this stage I decided to try to disconnect leads that were running into the front of the radio. I plugged out the desk mic and keyed up on CW. Radio still reset. I disconnected the lead from my Signalink USB. Still resetting.

There was only one cable running into the radio which I hadn't tried. And that was the cable running from my Kent morse paddle into the CW Key socket on the front of the radio. So I disconnected that and keyed up on 100 watts in FM and . . . . . . no reset!!!

I started to get excited. I powered up the Acom 1000 linear and decided to put more power out to see if the radio would reset. I plugged in a homebrew CW paddle which has a much shorter lead and keyed up in CW. No reset. I put the power up to 400 watts. Still no reset!! Oh boy was I happy.

Given that it was Sunday and the CQWW CW contest was on and Irish hams are now allowed to run 1.5kW in contests I decided to put out even more power. I managed 1 kW without a reset.

The solution, given that the Kent key cable seemed to be causing the issue, was to shorten the cable to the same length as the homebrew paddle. A couple of snips with wire cutters and a bit of soldering later, problem solved!! I was able to run 600 watts on 10 metres Sunday evening without any problem.

Hopefully this might provide some assistance to anyone who may be experiencing a similar problem.

I have to put ferrite beads on the cables running into my laptop. Certain peripheral devices, such as the external keyboard, mouse etc, are malfunctioning because of RF in the shack. I will let you know how that goes when I acquire some ferrites in the coming week.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

CQ WW CW . . . anyone for morse?

I didn't have much time for the bands today until it was getting dark. I collected my new (second hand actually but new for me) Acom 1000 linear today and needless to say it has been put to good use in the CQWW CW contest which is on this weekend.

Just dipping in and out on 20m and 40m I have worked 75 countries and 29 zones with just 120 QSOs. I nabbed at least six new ones on 40m so from that point of view it has been a great night. The highlight perhaps was EL2A, Liberia, but others included 8P, PJ4 and ZF.

With increased power limits in certain contests, EI ops are now allowed to run 1.5 kW in the CQWW contests. I was able to push the Acom to 1250 watts on 40m into the inverted V but only very briefly as I do not want to be working it to the max. Generally QSOs are being made at anywhere between 400 watts and 1 kilowatt.

As someone who has always used a maximum of 100 watts at this station I have to say the extra power has been a revelation. It certainly is easier to break the piles. I worked a number of VKs on 20m in the late afternoon. Most were easy to work. I can see the Acom coming in useful . . .

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One day's work gives a good snapshot of conditions

Right, before I start, I have to give you a health warning. This blog may contain traces of HF DX!!! There you have it. Conditions have been nothing short of fantastic this past few months, as you might have gathered from reading my enthusiastic musings on this site.

The 9N7MD Nepal team - worked a few times, thanks!
Today might, as a snapshot, give you some idea of just how good things are. This morning at 8.13am I worked 9N7MD (Nepal) on 10m CW for a new band slot, having worked them on 17m CW yesterday as a new band and 10m SSB as a new one. That was followed by BA5HAM in China on 10m CW at 8.21am. It's great how early ten metres is open in the mornings. I have worked DX at 7.30am, before sunrise!!

V31QS in Belize was a new country on 12m when I worked him at 5.41pm on that band. I used 400 watts from the Acom 1000 linear which I have a loan of currently and it didn't take long to break the pile.

E51MAN (Bill N7UO) on Manihiki, North Cook Islands, was put into the EI2KC log for the second time, this time on 12m CW. I had to give him 400 watts and it took a while, and he was very light on the MA5B which is a rotary trap dipole on 12m, but I made it through. He had both Europeans and North Americans calling him. Yesterday evening I worked him on 10m CW at 17.58 with 150 watts. It was a brand new DXCC for me yesterday and now I have him on two bands.

This was followed shortly afterwards by E51CG on South Cook Islands on 10 metres SSB. This time I was running just 90 watts. I heard him working MI6CWC and figured he must be hearing Ireland so gave him a call and I was next in the log. South Cook Islands was a new one for me last month (Oct 23rd) when I worked Bill N7OU who was at that stage E51NOU on Raratonga. A month ago I had never worked E51-S. Now I have South Cook on four band slots.

PZ5T in Suriname was a new country on 12m when I worked him at 19.18 this evening with 300 watts.

VP2MWT in Montserrat was worked on 15m CW with just 100 watts as a new band slot at 19.50.

VP8LP, Bob in the Falklands, was a new DXCC on 20m when I nabbed him with 220 watts at 20.13.

And this was followed by XW3DT in Laos on 30m CW at 20.24, using 400 watts.  A week ago I worked XW3DT on 20m CW as a brand new DXCC so two band slots is nice.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

It's November, but it feels like summer on the bands!

You might be puzzled as to the heading above, but let me be clear. This time last year there was no action to be had on 10 metres or 12 metres. 15 would close at sunset, and 17m might just stay open a while longer. Guys like me would arrive home from work - after dark - and find everything from 20m up closed.  Not so this year!

10 metres has been open as early as 8am. One morning this week I worked China on 10m CW at 8am. Nice. But the liveliness of the bands, and the wealth of DX available, shows just how much conditions have changed in recent months. This weekend has been no exception, with great openings around the world on 10 and 12.

This morning I called CQ DX on 10m SSB using 200 watts. I got a couple of VKs coming back, solid 5 and 9, like European stations. Then I ran a pile on 12m for the afternoon, mostly into the States, but also snagging a couple of new DXCC, like V51B in Namibia and 3A2MG in Monaco. The USA was bombing in on 12m SSB, where, with the help of a borrowed Acom 1000 linear amp, I was able to run 400 watts for the afternoon. There were many states worked during the session, including: WA, CA, UT, NH, SC, LA, PA, MO, MN, ID, CT, TX, WV, IL, NC, OH, FL, NM, GA, VA, AZ, AR, WI, NY, ME, MT, CO, NE . . . the list goes on and on.

To top it all off, I nabbed E51NOU, South Cook Islands, on 15m CW, a new one on that band, followed by ZK2V (Nieu) as an all-time new DXCC on 10m. I worked him with 75 watts on 10 m, and about 40 minutes later I got him on 15m CW with just 100 watts.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Now this is one I am very proud of!

I just received Logbook of the World QSL confirmation of a QSO I made on September 15th this year with VK9OL, Lord Howe Island. Celebrating his 75th birthday (and 60th year in ham radio) Merv N6NO was active from Lord Howe island as VK9OL between September 10-18, 2011. I was absolutely thrilled to get him into the log on September 15th on 30m CW. What particularly impressed me was that there wasn't a huge pile calling him, which gave me a better chance with my 100 watts and homebrew inverted V. I have also sent a direct QSL card to Merv and am looking forward to getting his card in return for this rare one. That brings to 183 my total number of DXCC confirmed via LoTW.

UPDATE: I just received a paper QSL from VK9OL with a note attached, saying that, out of 882 QSOs with Europe during his operation on Lord Howe Island, only two EIs made it into the log, and I was one of them!! Chuffed . . .

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Just made my 10,000th QSO, and I'm licenced two years today

The FT-1000MP on the frequency where I worked VK6DXI
I just made my 10,000th QSO on the bands, and to make that milestone more significant, I am two years licenced today. I received my licence on October 30th, 2009.

What a tremendously exciting two years it's been. I have thoroughly enjoyed the hobby, and despite having limited space and small antennas, I have managed to work the world.

The 10,000th QSO was with VK6DXI on 10m SSB, something that simply wouldn't have been impossible a few months ago. Conditions are wonderful right now. QSO 9,999 was ZD8O, also on 10m SSB, a new country on that band.

Here are my current standings:

160m  63 worked  39 confirmed
80m    87 worked 57 confirmed
40m   146 worked 95 confirmed
30m   150 worked 93 confirmed
20m   194 worked 122 confirmed
17m   170 worked 92 confirmed
15m   154 worked 80 confirmed
12m   146 worked 82 confirmed
10m   131 worked 60 confirmed
6m     55 worked 34 confirmed

Overall: 233 worked 180 confirmed

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Butternut back in action, and resonant on 80, 40 and 30

The new ground-mounted configuration
Following another recent wind storm in which the Butternut HFV6 was snapped again, I decided that I would reinstall it, but this time mounted in the ground. Because the short evenings have returned, the weekend is the only time this work can really be done now, so I tackled it today.

I found a piece of galvanise pipe which just happened to fit snugly into the bottom "mounting pole" of the Butternut, so I hammered this into the ground at the bottom of the garden using a lump hammer. If course this flattened the top of the pipe a bit so after a small amount of sanding I was able to slide the Butternut mounting pole down over it as far as ground level. Then the somewhat shortened Butternut (only about 3cm) was positioned onto the insulator and the Q Base Matching Coil was attached. I also ran one 25ft radial attached to the bottom connector of the Q coil. I know ideally I should have a decent ground system, but a small garden, coupled with the fact the Butternut is in a corner, coupled with the fact I have young kids, means that having wires running all around the garden is simply not practical.

Anyway, I did a small amount of guying work with 50kg fishing tackle, but will look at something more durable down the line. I made a couple of contacts on 80m and 40m after tuning with the FT-1000MP's internal ATU. But then I took it upon myself to do something I have not done properly before - to try to get the Butternut resonant on some of the bands!!

First I tackled 80m by adjusting the large 80m coil assembly to see if I could get a lower SWR somewhere in the middle of the band. As I use both CW and SSB it was not practical to flatten it at one end of the band or the other. I also compressed the Q Base Matching Coil significantly and this brought VSWR to about 1.6:1 on 3.690. Then I decided to try 40m and a small adjustment of the 40m coil gave me a VSWR of about 1.7:1 between 7.100 and 7.200. The SWR rises below this, to a 2:1 at 7.050 and 2.5:1 on 7.005. Not too bad, and nothing the tuner won't handle!!

Then it was onto 30m, where analysis found the Butternut was resonant on about 9.9Mhz. A quick read of the manual revealed that to raise the resonant frequency, the wing nut on the 30m coil assembly should be loosened and the coil stretched. This was done, although there was only a few centimetres available. I came back to the shack to find the antenna resonant without a tuner on the whole band (admittedly 30m is a narrow band). The VSWR reads about 1.3:1 over most of the band, but 1.4:1 at 10.100.

I later checked 20 metres only to find, to my delight, that the Butternut is resonant over the ENTIRE 20m band!!It is also quite flat on much of 15m, although it's 1.9:1 on 21.001 and 1.2:1 on 21.350.

Anyway, I am thrilled to have the Butternut back in action. Admittedly it has not had much use lately since the installation of the MA5B, and the Antron 99 is better on 12m and 10m where conditions have been great. But I have had nothing on 80m recently and missed a chance to work MU/PA9M on that band over the past few nights. So maybe I will nab some new ones on 80m again this winter. I currently have 87 DXCC worked. I would be thrilled to get over the 100 mark this winter.

In the meantime, I will let you know of any interesting contacts I make on the lower bands with the Butternut, which has seen over 20 years of action at various QTHs and is now on its third resurrection at this station!!

PS: Just ran a test with the Reverse Beacon Network on 30m. On the Butternut I was being received by TF3Y at 29dB snr and by KM3T at 9db. On the resonant inverted V I was 31dB with TF3Y and 12dB with KM3T. It's very marginal.

PPS: Worked Japan on 30m CW with the Butternut.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

EI2KC Anthony featured on The History Channel

I had the pleasure of being featured on The History Channel in the USA this week. I have written a book about ancient Ireland called 'Island of the Setting Sun - In Search of Ireland's Ancient Astronomers' and was invited to feature as a Newgrange expert on the popular series 'Ancient Aliens'. I can be seen from 11 minutes onwards in the above clip. Hope you enjoy! I suppose it proves that there's more to life than amateur radio!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Now they've busted my call on 40m !!!!!

I worked T32C on 40m CW this morning. They were very weak, just on the very edge of audibility, on 7.001.5 and I worked them up 1 but of course I couldn't be sure I heard my complete call coming back. This evening I find that EI2KC is NOT in the log but EI2CC is for 40m CW. Oh no, is this going to be another long-running saga?

I might have to get up early again tomorrow and try to work them a second time . . .

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The long-running saga continues: T32C worked on 10m again

I worked T32C for the fourth time on 10m CW tonight. So far they have busted my call three times. They have me in the log as EI3KC, EI2KM and EI2CC. I must admit that the QSB and polar flutter on their signal can be something serious. So it is not surprising, and I won't blame it on bad operators, that my call might not have been perfectly clear. Indeed I was not certain at any stage that I heard EI2KC coming back. On the third QSO I heard EI2 ending with C and it turns out they had EI2CC. So tonight I am hoping to finally get that slot in the log properly.

The first three QSOs were at 7.01pm local, 7.23pm local and on the second day 6.31pm local. Tonight was much later, at 7.57pm. They had been very weak, only coming up occasionally out of the noise, but all of a sudden I could hear "T32C UP". So I gave it a blast and got them pretty much first call. But when they gave me the "5NN" and turned it back to me I was careful to slow down my CW and send back "EI2KC, KC, KC, EI2KC 5NN". I am pretty sure they gave me "EI2KC TU" back but I couldn't be 100% sure, so this saga could continue to run for a while yet !!

UPDATE: I am in the log, finally, for 10m CW!!!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bad news - third time unlucky, they busted it again!

T32C does not have EI2KC in the log for 10m CW. They do, however, as of this morning, have EI2CC in the log for 10m CW. Looks like I will never get in there on 10m CW. It's so frustrating.

Friday, October 14, 2011

T32C and 10m - third time lucky?

Christmas Island
It would be ungrateful of me not to thank the propagation gods for significant lifts on 12 and 10 metres in recent weeks. Conditions have been fantastic at times, with lots of new entities making it into the log on those bands. I just recently passed 100 DXCC worked on 10m, standing now at 109. I am at 140 worked on 12m.

T32C, the Dxpedition to Christmas Island, has been a challenge but nevertheless I have them on six band slots and lots of EIs have made it into their log.

When I saw them spotted on 10 metres CW the other evening I couldn't resist a listen. It was grey line time here, just after sunset. They were there alright, fluttery and weak, but there all the same. They were working split. Within a minute of calling I could hear a very flutter EI2KC or something resembling it coming back through the murk. So I gave my call a couple of times and a 599 and heard 599 TU. I punched the air. A new and rare DXCC in the log on 10 metres.

But something was niggling at me. I hadn't heard my full call coming back. I heard EI and something that sounded like 2KC. So I decided to try to work them again just to be sure. About 20 minutes later I heard EI2 coming back again and gave them my call twice and a 599 and punched the air again.

The next morning I checked their online log only to find they had busted my call - TWICE!! I was not in the log for 10m, but rather there were two similar calls, EI3KC and EI2KM. I was gutted.

Just now, a short time ago, with the sun below the horizon here, I worked T32C for the third time on 10 metres CW. As usual he was split, listening up 2. Now I can't be 100% sure that I'm in the log properly this time, except that I know they asked for "EI2?" and when they gave my call and report it ended with "C" so I am keeping the fingers crossed.

Hopefully this is a case of third time lucky and not Murphy's law . . .

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Guatemala makes it 100 DXCCs worked on 10 metres!

It has taken a long time, almost two years in fact, but about five minutes ago I finally broke the 100 "DXCCs worked" target on 10 metres. TG9AGM in Guatemala was the 100th DXCC worked. I had been on 97 for the past week and needed only three more. Another of those was VK4CT in the Oceania contest. Australia was a brand new DXCC for me on 10m. It took me a while to get through but I got there after about 10 minutes trying with about 90 watts into my Cushcraft MA5B. A few minutes after TG9 I worked H77REX in Nicaragua, making it 101 DXCCs worked!

My DXCC worked total on 12 metres, meanwhile, continues to climb. T32C Christmas Island (also Kirimitati in native language) made it 137 countries worked on that band, and I managed to nab them on both phone and CW.

I look forward to getting more DXCCs into the log on 10 metres. Conditions have been fabulous on the higher bands of late, with 12 metres often open to the USA until 10 and 11 at night. So we will continue to try and harvest those conditions.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Two band new DXCC in the log!

Yesterday proved to be a successful day of hunting on the bands. I worked 3D2R on Sunday morning on 17m CW having spent about half an hour trying. 3D2R is a dxpedition to Rotuma Island in the south Pacific.

This was followed yesterday evening by T32C, Christmas Island, also in the Pacific, and also on 17m CW. They were calling EU and were very, very light, but I managed to get through after just a short time. I was beaming north with my MA5B.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A homebrew longwire antenna launcher!

I thoroughly enjoyed this video as much for its entertainment value as its practical advice on how to get longwires into trees. The "launcher" is made from a fishing reel and a catapult!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Early morning aurora borealis over Ireland

I have a confession to make. Something to own up to. Something I'm ashamed of. It's difficult for me to open up in front of the whole world (or more like the 50 people who will visit this sad blog today) and tell you my innermost secrets. But here goes . . .


An aurora I photographed from my QTH in 2003
Never have been. Always found it tough getting out of the old scratcher in the mornings. It can take me a good while to wake up too. And in that period between getting out of bed and waking up, there is one warning for all of those around me: "Don't kick the bear!"

So when my phone beeps (loudly) at 4.47am, with me entranced in some wild dream (probably about working a pile-up into Oceania on 10m HI!) I was startled beyond silly. I thought, "who the heck is texting me at this ungodly hour?" Mind you, the auld eyes were not exactly wide open and I had to squint like a geriatric monkey to see the numerals on the clock. Yes, 4:47. I was right, it was that hour between early morning and slightly later early morning. Otherwise known as the "Do Not Disturb" hour.

It turns out that the text message was from a well known insomniac at Astronomy Ireland. He was texting me to let me know that he was standing staring up at an aurora borealis display in Dublin. "Great, sounds lovely," says I to myself before turning over. The bed was nice and cosy and I was fit for a few more hours' sleep. It was about five minutes before the information actually sank in. "There's an aurora," I says to myself before leaping up in the bed.

An aurora means two things for someone like me. (1) There's some nice photos to be got and (2) there might be some skip on 2 metres. It was another ten minutes before I decided to brave the cold and actually get out of the bed. But rather than go to the trouble of getting dressed and going outside, I stumbled to the window, opened the blind, opened up the window and looked out. I could see some stars and some clouds but no aurora. So I closed the window and went over to shack B (yes, the "B"edroom shack) and turned on 2 metres and could hear nothing at all.

So the bed-loving animal in me decided that this whole aurora thing shouldn't disturb me any longer and went back to sleep. Not sure I regret it that much. I was too tired to sit at a radio and too comfortable to be getting dressed and looking for camera equipment to take out into the garden.

But it's a promising sign. It's six years since I last saw an aurora display. The sun was pretty dead in 2008 and 2009, and not much better in 2010. Now, in 2011, it's finally showing signs of awakening from its slumber. Maybe the sun, like me, is a bit fond of the bed . . .

Monday, September 26, 2011

CW with a computer mouse - I love this guy!

This is PY2MAJ CQing with an, aghem, home-brew CW key, made out of a computer mouse. I've seen all sorts of improvised CW keys and this is one of the novelty keys that I like best. It puts the idea into my head to make another CW key from something unusual. I once saw a video of Brendan EI1429, a short wave listener, who had made a straight CW key from a computer hard drive. Yes, you read right! 

I would gladly take ideas from my readers for a suggested CW key home-brew project. Comments below please or drop an email to hamradioireland (at) gmail (dot) com

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Timor-Leste, Atauro Island, finally in the log!

It has been a long and interesting week on the bands, with a high Solar Flux Index meaning the higher bands have been open, sometimes well after dark. 12 metres in particular has been excellent here, with a number of new ones put in the log since that great day last Saturday.

Timor-Leste is located between Malaysia and Papua New Guinea
However, during the past week, for one reason or another, I found myself busy and when I was on the radio I wasn't able to hear the 4W6A most of the time. One or two days I could hear them on 20m CW in the morning time but I wasn't able to spare the time to sit and try to work them.

So it came to today, Saturday, and with the Dxpedition drawing to a close, I was more anxious about working them. I sat for over an hour, perhaps two, trying to work them on 12m CW but just after they worked my friend Thos EI2JD, they said "QSY 20m". So I missed 12m. But in the meantime, they showed up on 15 metres. So I set the radio up with 21.023.5 as the VFO A frequency and started listening on VFO B to see if I could hear where they were listening. As is always the case with big pile-ups, it was wide enough, and he was working stations anything from 1 to 5 kc above his calling frequency. As usual I turned the beam 180 degrees to see which path he was stronger on and sure enough the long path seemed to be better, so that's the path I kept the antenna on.

But my consistent searching for his QSX frequency paid dividends and after about an hour, with his signal getting stronger, I finally heard my call coming through the noise. I gave him a 599 TU and punched the air cheering. After nearly two years on the air, I can say there's still nothing that beats the thrill of putting a new DXCC into the log!

For the record, that brings my total DXCC worked to 228, although five of these have been deleted so I can only claim 223. Of these I have 175 confirmed, mostly through ARRL's Logbook of the World, which is a brilliant ham facility.

By the way, congratulations to all the EIs who have got 4W into their log. It is difficult for EI to work because on the short path we are beaming across Europe and have all of EU to contend with! As of this moment, there are 24 EI callsigns in their log. Not bad at all. I should be the 25th!

Update: 17:38: Just put them into the log on 20m SSB after about 10 minutes calling. Yes!!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A proper photo of the newly refurbished shack!

Here, as requested, is a better photograph of my refurbished shack. It should be a wee bit clearer than the previous one which was taken on my phone!  I've added the old CT 436 Oscilloscope onto the desk as well just for effect.

Monday, September 19, 2011

EI2KC's new look shack in progress

This is the new-look shack almost finished. I was fed up with the haphazard arrangement of radios so I went to a DIY store on Sunday and picked up some wood to build a shelf to act as a second tier for my computer, monitor, speakers, VHF radios etc. As you can see if is very neat. Compare it with old photos of the shack and you'll see what an improvement it is. It looks so much tidier.

The DIY did not prevent me from working a bit of DX on Sunday. I had very little time in front of the radio, but I did manage to bag T8XX, Palau, a brand new country for me. So I was thrilled.

Here is a quick guide to what's on the desk: Bottom row, from left: 2m amplifier (25w in 160w out) and Uniden Bearcat scanner, Watson 25a PSU, Yaesu FT-1000MP, my main rig, and on right the Icom IC-746 which I use for 6 metres and 10 metres and will soon be attached to an 8-element XY beam for 2 metres. Beyond that on the right are two external hard drives for my laptop.

Top shelf, from left: 4m radio with 2m radio on top and speaker for 4m, then IC-735 for listening on 80m, rotator for MA5B on top and above that speaker for 2m. Beside those is my Signalink USB interface for digimodes for the MP, then my monitor and then my laptop.

Sorry about the quality of the photo. It was taken on my Android phone.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A brief summary of an extraordinary day

Yesterday, Saturday, with the sunspot number at 173 and the solar flux index at 143, it was always likely to be a good day on the bands. 12 metres opened early in the day and was still open here to South America at 10.30pm local time. 10 metres gave me no less than eight new DXCCs on that band, and I managed to get some new ones on other bands too. Here is a brief summary of my efforts:

YS3CW in El Salvador gave me a brand new country today
New Zealand 20 CW
New Zealand 17m CW
Grenada J3 20m CW
Azerbaijan 10m CW
Kazahkstan 10m CW
Thailand 12m & 10m CW
Hong Kong 10m CW
Bahrain 10m SSB & CW
West Malaysia 10m SSB
Madagascar 10m SSB
West Malaysia 10m CW
Singapore 17m SSB
Trinidad 12m SSB
Brunei 17m CW
Guyana 12m SSB
El Salvador 12m CW
Panama 12m SSB
Isle of Man 10m CW
Guadeloupe 12m CW

Singapore and Guyana were both brand new countries for me. It really was a brilliant day to be on the bands. Lots of other EIs are reporting similar successes with new ones on various bands. Well done to all.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Look at those sunspot numbers - get on 10 metres now!

I have not seen the sunspot number this high in a long, long time. The sun is literally bursting with activity. Right now the sunspot number is 173, which is the highest I've seen it since I was licenced in 2009. Right now, I am listening to T88TO on Palau island in the Pacific on 10 metres CW. I suggest you QSY to 28 Mhz as soon as possible because there's sure to be some good DX and to be worked with the numbers that high . . .

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A rare one indeed - Lord Howe Island VK9L

Lord Howe Island, from where VK9OL is operatingLord Howe Island VK
Recently Lord Howe Island, located off the east of Australia, was activated by the VK9HR dxpedition. Because of its location, almost exactly opposite Ireland on the far side of the globe, it is a tough one to work from EI. Nevertheless, four EIs made it into their log. An exclusive club you could say! (Read more about the EIs who worked Lord Howe Island in the forthcoming issue of Echo Ireland, due out within the week).

Lord Howe is being activated again this week, this time by N6NO, Merv, who is not only celebrating being 75 years old this year, but he is also marking his 60th year in amateur radio. He is celebrating all this by activating Lord Howe and what a very special way to do it!

Earlier this evening, September 15th, I managed to work Merv, who is using the callsign VK9OL, with my homebrew inverted V for 30m and 100 watts from the Yaesu FT-1000MP. I had been trying for about ten minutes and found it very difficult to hear him in strong QSB and QRN at times. But I heard a strong OH station working him and called him on the same split frequency and within a moment I could hear "EI?" so I gave him my call twice and he came back with EI2KC and my report and I gave him 559 and thanks and 73. I'm thrilled to get this rare one into the log. It is a brand new DXCC for me, never worked before.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

She works! - an old oscilloscope kicks into life

An old CT 436 Oscilloscope by Hartley Electromotives Ltd, recently came into my possession. I had left it in the shack for a few days to make sure it was dry and warm and plugged it in to find it is still working. I believe from reading on the web that these were built for the British Military back in the early 1960s, but maybe earlier. Now all I have to do is figure out how to use it to make measurements! It's a beautiful looking machine in my opinion and perhaps those little "moving lights" on the screen will fascinate the kids. I was able to download a manual on the CT 436 so I will digest that and see how I can use it to make a proper measurement. The above video was shot on my Android phone.

I can tell you that after just a few minutes' use, the casing got quite hot on top. Perhaps that's a good thing. The shack can get quite cold in the winter - the oscilloscope will double as a heater! 73 for now.
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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

6 metres, solar flare, Rugby World Cup

Sorry I haven't blogged for a while. We had a bereavement. My wife's father, John, passed away last Thursday. He had been sick for quite a long time. We remember him dearly. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis. 

6 Metres (50 Mhz) was open last night. I worked France, Austria, Germany and Italy, just four QSOs but enough to brighten up my evening. In 2010 my last QSO on 6 metres was in August so it was nice to hear it open again in September. 

Sunspot 1283 has been crackling with flares and on September 6th sent an M-class and X-class flare in the direction of earth. According to, "The flares produced waves of ionization in Earth's upper atmosphere, briefly altering the propagation of low-frequency radio signals around our planet." Sunspot numbers have been generally high for the past few weeks, with a Solar Flux Index over 100 for most of that time. The SFI currently stands at 112. There has been some interesting propagation on 12 metres in recent weeks, with P29 Papua New Guinea and VK6 West Australia both being worked at my station. Fingers crossed for some good openings on 10 metres before year's end!

Hams should keep an ear out for special callsigns for the Rugby World Cup which kicks off in New Zealand this weekend. ZL4RUGBY and ZL6RWC have both been worked from EI in recent days. Both calls are active until October 31st so keep an eye on the cluster and an ear on the bands.

My latest HF Happenings column has been sent to the Editor of Echo Ireland magazine, so hopefully you will have your copy in the next week or so. Look out for a special report on the handful of EIs who worked the recent VK9HR Lord Howe Dxpedition, and also congrats to Ireland's third 10-band DXCC award winner. Plus lots more.

Don't forget the North Cork Radio Group rally is on this Sunday, September 11th, in Blarney Golf Resort, Tower, Co. Cork. Doors open at 11.30am and admission is 5 euro. See the club's website for more details.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The 172 countries I have confirmed QLSs for through LoTW

The following is a list of the countries which I have received confirmed QSLs for through ARRL's Logbook of the World. It makes for interesting reading. I have worked a total of 218 entities so to have 172 of those confirmed is a great delight for me.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

IRTS 2 metres counties contest

This is the portable 8el beam I will use.
Tomorrow, Sunday August 28th, the IRTS autumn 2 metres counties contest takes place. The contest will run from 2pm to 4pm local time. I will be participating in the contest as EI2KC/P from Bellewstown Hill in County Meath. I plan to use an 8 element beam and my Yaesu FT-897 although I am not yet decided on which section of the contest to enter. Previously, I have entered high power fixed from the home QTH but this will be my first portable effort.

The aim of the contest is to work as many Irish Counties as possible. Stations in GI the rest of the UK can participate also, and indeed their points are very welcome !

For contest rules, visit the IRTS website.

Hopefully as many EIs as possible will be active during the contest, if not to win, at least to give out some points. It is very enjoyable to hear the activity on the band, and to work various counties, so even the non-competitive ops among us can have a bit of fun. I hope to get you into the log sometime tomorrow afternoon. Good luck.

PS: Thanks to Pat EI2HX for a loan of one of his portable antenna tripods.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The little mini beam antenna that works the world . . .

I am in no doubt now whatsoever that the Cushcraft MA5B minibeam is far outstripping the Butternut HFV6 vertical for working DX on HF. Just perusing the log for the past few days it becomes obvious that the DX is coming in much better and easier than before.

The latest DXCC confirmed on eQSL is South Korea.Total now 122
My very latest QSO as I write this was with Ian VK3MO in Australia. I beamed him long path while he was beaming short path and he picked me up out of the pile. Just before that I had worked KP3A on 15m CW. Here is a list of the nice DX worked in the past few days, all on the MA5B (and all with 100 watts):

S79DO (Seychelles) 20m CW (New one on 20)
YB3JBJ (Indonesia) 20m CW
KH6MB (Hawaii) 17m CW (New one on 17)
D9A (South Korea) 17m CW (New one on 17)
JG1SIS (Japan) 17m CW (I got lots of JA on 17m this week)
HP1/IZ6BRN (Panama) 17m CW
CE2/VE7SV (Chile) 17m CW
VK2GWK (Australia) 17m CW (New one on that band)
9K2HN (Kuwait) 17m CW (New one on 17)
T6MO (Afghanistan) 17m CW (New one on 17)
BD1BYV (China) 17m CW
D9A (Korea) 20m CW
TL0A (Central African Republic) 12m SSB (New DXCC on 12)

And the list goes on . . .

The MA5B is a minibeam, a compromise antenna. Mine is at least ten years old. It had a burnt out trap. It is a bit dirty. It's not up high enough, standing at about 25 feet, not even clearing the rooftops!! And it's not resonant on 15m. But it's doing a great job. If I could say anything to other hams out there with small properties, it's this : "Don't despair - you can work great DX with modest equipment".

Here's wishing you all great DX in the coming weeks. 73 for now.

PS: D9A have me as EA2KC in their log for my 17m QSO. There are only four EIs who have worked them so far. All of us have one QSO each but I should have two.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Combining two loves: stars and radio

On Friday night it was beautiful outside. For the first time in about three months we are starting to have dark nights, now that the longest days of the year are over and we move towards autumn equinox. It was so beautiful outside in the garden that I brought my camera out to take a few photos. Of course now that I have so many antennas it is difficult to get a photo of the stars without some metal intrusion!!

The above photo is probably the best of those that I took. The bright star behind the MA5B minibeam is Vega in the constellation Lyra. Together with two other stars, Deneb and Altair, Vega forms what we astronomers know as the "Summer Triangle". It's a familiar and beautiful sight at this time of the year, being directly overhead in the summer months. If you look closely at the image, you can see Deneb at the top of the image, just to the left of centre, at the top of the cross-shaped Cygnus (the swan) constellation. Altair is on the extreme left of the photo. It is the bright star of the constellation Aquila, the eagle.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the photo. The MA5B is doing a great job for me working the DX. I've had lots of contacts into Japan, China and other parts of Asia with it. It is not resonant on 15m and is a problem on that band, but on 20m, 17m, 12m and 10m it is doing great. Admittedly 10 hasn't been open enough to test it properly. I am surprised and delighted with its performance on 17m, where it has bagged me lots of DX, most recently Afghanistan which is a new one for me on that band. On 17m the MA5B is only a rotary trap dipole - with no parasytics!! Would you even believe it? Maybe not if you could look at my log and see all the great DX I've worked with it. I am very happy so far . . .

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

DX nets - are they of any use? (Rhetorical question)

I suppose that not everyone in the ham radio sphere thinks that DX nets are of any constructive use. Perhaps some people like the idea of working DX off their own bat without the assistance of an intermediary. Having worked a few difficult ones in a DX net I am beginning to think that these nets are very very useful.

I am talking specifically about the 40m DX net run by Roger, ON7TQ, almost on a nightly basis. Roger has a beam which gives him direction on 40m, something most of us would give our right arm for. (Well, maybe not. But we'd all like the real estate and the hard cash for such a setup!)

I have made three very nice contacts on 40m recently, two of which were new countries for me on that band, one of which was a new country overall, thanks to Roger's DX net.

The first QSO was with TZ6TR, Tom in Mali, Africa, which was a brand new country for me, never worked before. I was thrilled to get Tom into the log and I'm not sure in a pile-up situation that I would have ever made it through. But with the DX net, each station who wants to work the DX gives the last two letters of their call and when there's about ten callers, the DX net controller invites each one in turn to call the DX station.

In this way, it is possible for smaller stations like mine to work the DX without the obstruction of the heavy QRM one would expect if the DX station was just calling CQ on simplex.

Norman VK7AC at his station
This contact with Mali convinced me of the merits of Roger's DX net. So a week or so later I heard Roger on again, booming as usual, and this time he had VK7AC, Norman in Tasmania, on frequency. I was surprised to see Norman sitting at a signal 7, and with a relatively quiet band (it was sunrise in VK7 and almost sunset in EI) I decided to throw my "Kilo Charlie" into the list. As it happens I had already spoken with Norman on 40m SSB using my Butternut vertical but I wanted to try him on my new inverted V. He gave me a 5 and 7 and while we were chatting he peaked at 5 and 8. He heard me no problem. Another nice QSO.

Just last night I joined in again with Roger's net. This time though conditions were strange. Roger was only 5 and 7 at times instead of his usual 20 over but crucially I could hear the DX station, in this case CE3EEA, Edgar in Chile. So when it came down the line to "Kilo Charlie" I called Edgar and, to my delight, he came back to me with a 5 and 3 report and I gave him 5 and 5. I never worked Chile on 40m before, so it was a new country for me on that band.

So thanks Roger for running your DX net. It has helped me get a couple of new ones into the log. I shall be listening with interest on a regular basis from now on.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Guam, New Zealand, Indonesia, Australia and Tanzania all worked

Above is a video showing KH2/N2NL on Guam in the Pacific working a pile-up into Europe. Moments before this video was taken, I had worked him, making only my second ever contact with Guam and a new one for me on 15m. I had worked the same station back in April on 10 metres during a brilliant opening, also on CW.

I was surprised at how strong David was coming in. I had been pointing my MA5B minibeam towards the north-northeast but when I beamed south-southwest he came up stronger and it was in that direction that I worked him. It took me about ten minutes of calling but eventually he gave "EI ? EI?" and I gave my call a couple of times and he came back with EI2KC and my progressive number. He was working the WAE Worked All Europe contest. As you can see from the video, he was a 579, quite strong for the pacific on a minibeam which is only up about 25 feet.

The WAE is one of those great contests which gives operators like myself a chance to work some good DX. Yesterday I worked 5H3EE on 20m CW, a new country on that band. I worked two stations in Australia, VK2IM on 20m and VK4CT on 40m. I was particularly proud of the 40m contact. In between those I had worked YB1ALL on 40m CW, a new country on that band. But then I worked ZM1A in New Zealand on 40m, which was the highlight of the weekend so far. I have only ever worked ZL on 20m so to get a ZL on 40 was a great achievement. I'm thrilled. All the 40m contacts were worked with 100 watts and my homebrew inverted V. On the higher bands it was my Cushcraft MA5B and 100 watts that did the trick.

There's still a good few hours of the contest left to run, so I will see if I can pick up any more interesting DX. You should do the same!

Addendum: I also managed to nab T6MO, a new one on 40m (CW),  KH7X on 20m CW, a few Japan stations on 20m CW,  VE7CC in western Canada (he came back to my CQ!), FM5CD and CE3FZ and also PJ2M.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Photos of the Shanwick receive antennas at Ballygirreen

As promised, here are some photos of the Shanwick receive antennas at Ballygirreen, County Clare, Ireland. These photos were taken by my XYL Ann and artistically enhanced by me using Adobe Photoshop. I hope you enjoy.

The Shanwick receive antenna array at Ballygirreen, Shannon, Co. Clare, Ireland, not far from the Atlantic.

Antenna at Ballygirreen, Co. Clare, part of the Shanwick receive aerial array.
On a miserable wet Irish day it was hard to know whether to leave the colour in the images or not.

You can have a better look at the Ballygirreen antenna system using Google Maps Street View below:

View Larger Map

You can explore the Ballygirreen antennas on Google Maps at this link.

For those of you who listen to Shanwick radio, you might be interested to learn that there is a plan for increased use of HF, and indeed for the provision of additional HF frequencies in 2011. This is from the Irish Aviation Authority website:

Shanwick Radio keeps in contact with all flights in Oceanic Airspace mainly by means of High Frequency Radio (HF), but also uses VHF (Very High Frequency) and Satellite Phone (SATPHONE). HF can provide global coverage because of its ability to bounce off the ionosphere and can span the globe in a series of skips. VHF coverage, on the other hand, is limited to line-of-sight range. Shanwick Radio uses over 20 HF frequency channels and 2 VHF. At peak times it handles in excess of 1400 aircraft in a 24 hour period. In 2008, the station handled in excess of 1 million messages from 422,086 aircraft. To cater for the growth in HF frequency activity it is planned to introduce additional frequencies during 2011. Read more here.