Sunday, July 31, 2011

MA5B work carried out, now resonant on 20m and 10m

Jim 2I0SBI and Pat EI2HX cleaning the trap assemblies 
With a good weather forecast for the first half of Saturday I put a small team together to take down my MA5B minibeam and try to ascertain why it does not seem to want to work on 20m and 15m. Pat EI2HX and Jim 2I0SBI arrived between 10 and 11 am and we got to work.

The first task was to take the mast off the wall brackets and lean it over enough for me to be able to remove the minibeam from atop the extension roof. This only took a few minutes. The MA5B is light enough that I could hand it down to the two lads.

The matching network was in good condition
We decided to concentrate our efforts on looking at the matching network and disassembling the driven element. It turned out that the matching network seemed fine. There were no obvious signs of any water ingress although there was a small amount of surface rusting on the core of the coax in the box itself. This was easily scraped away with a Stanley knife. I resealed the lid on the matching network box and put amalgamating tape around it.

The driven element provided a few surprises. We found that the trap in the "hot" leg of the driven element (labelled MT1) had suffered a drastic melting of the insulator. We are not entirely sure how this might have affected the performance of the antenna because the 2mm-thick aluminium wire wound around the insulator is actually connected to the casing of the trap also.

The burnt trap insulator before cleaning
Nonetheless Pat EI2HX cleaned up the burned and melted section of plastic and then put some tape around a section of wire leading to the trap connection to ensure that it was insulated as it would have been when the trap was brand new. The trap on the cold leg of the driven element was in pristine condition. A decision was quickly made to swap them around, so that the trap in good condition would now become the "hot" trap and the damaged one was transferred to the cold leg.

In addition to the above we found that the connections on the driven element had all suffered from corrosion, which was evident from the amount of white powder we found when disassembling the trap joinings and the element connections. All of these were cleaned up with emery paper and wire brushing. This took quite a bit of time because all the joints had been well sealed with tape and were also clamped with jubilee clips. But having three pairs of hands made light work and in no time at all the driven element had been given a thorough overhaul.

This work even included cleaning the nuts and bolts and washers where the coax joins the two driven element sections. We decided it was best to make a good effort so that the antenna might give a good few years of use if needed. After all it has been at this QTH for a couple of months but only getting very limited use.

Yours truly reattaching the minibeam to its mast
With everything reassembled and all the joins tightened up with clips and sealed over with tape we finally hoisted the antenna back up onto the roof and reattached it to the mast. However, a quick test revealed very high VSWR on 15m and 20m. So I took a decision to measure the distance between the elements just in case this had been interfered with during correction the work. Indeed it was found that the director was a quarter of an inch too close to the centre element. So this was adjusted and another test revealed a flat SWR on 14.040 and a flat SWR on 28.010. Indeed the SWR is only 1.5 on 28.500 so the antenna is resonant throughout a good portion of the 10m band. The bandwith on 20m, however, is very narrow, with the SWR going up to 2:1 on 14.005. Nothing that the tuner in the FT-1000MP won't handle. The VSWR is still very high throughout 15m though, so some further examination of the measurements on the antenna will need to be undertaken.

However, for now some of the problems with the minibeam have been resolved and it is now resonant on 20 metres CW where it had a high SWR before. I will put the beam through its paces in the coming days and will report on progress here.

In the meantime, a big thanks to Pat and Jim for the help.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The sun's kicking into life . . . again

Click on the image to see a 3-day animation
Radio hams around the world get very excited about sunspots. There's a reason for this. The more sunspots, the better the propagation. After an extended lull in sunspot activity, it really seemed like 2011 would bring the great upswing that all hams waited for. A big leap in sunspot numbers early in the year brought great hope, and a few good lifts in conditions on the bands. And then things died off again. For the past couple of months sunspots have appeared in fits and starts and then fizzled away.

So when space scientists clapped eyes on the above images this week, they started to get excited. And us radio amateurs are perhaps entitled to a wee glimmer of excitement also, as there is a real prospect of good propagation. This would potentially help enormously for those interested in working the various Dxpeditions which are active now. These include ST0R in Southern Sudan, VK9HR in Lord Howe Island, and ZD8D on Ascension Island in the Atlantic Ocean.

Now I hate to tempt fate, so I'm not going to. Based on solar activity this year so far, the most we can expect is that the new sunspots will just fizzle out and propagation will fall away again . . .

For more on sunspot activity, visit the website

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why I couldn't be bothered with ST0R . . . for now

Those of you interested in DX will have noticed the ST0R South Sudan Dxpedition, led by N6PSE, began a couple of days ago, activating what is a brand new DXCC entity. Somewhat unsurprisingly, their activity has been greeted with a barrage of QRM, much of it, sadly, coming from EU hams, but not exclusively.

A couple of days ago I decided I would give them a try on 40m CW but within a very short time it was apparent that it was going to be one great waste of time. As usual, a lot of operators kept calling ST0R even after they asked for a specific prefix or suffix. I was listening about 4kc up and could hear lots of people calling him even when he was trying to work one specific call. After a while on CW you get used to that, even if you never can understand it. The more the "lids" keep calling him, the longer it will take everyone to work him. But that just never seems to sink in with a lot of stupid operators out there. I am not fond of derogatory language when it comes to ham radio. We operate in the spirit of friendship, like one giant global fraternity, generally all interested in similar things. But unfortunately one would have to say there are just some people who you would prefer not to have in your band of friends. "Lids" who call incessantly, causing QRM without a thought, would not make it into my circle of friends. None of these guys ever reads the DX Code of Conduct it seems. There are those of us for whom the code of conduct comes naturally, for whom no greater explanation is needed. Do unto others as you would have done to yourselves, as it were.

But worse again than the above, where someone calls on the split frequency, are those who QRM the operating frequency of the DX station. Now I know sometimes this is done inadvertently. I have been guilty of this, as I'm sure many of you have. You dial in VFO A frequency and then VFO frequency B and never hit the "split" button. Doh!! A gentle reminder from a fellow ham comes in the form of dit dit dah, dit dah dah dit, otherwise known as the word "UP". Most sensible hams will figure out fairly quickly that they are causing QRM and will oblige by hitting the "split" button, thereby sorting out the problem. Sometimes a courteous "TU" is given in return, meaning "thank you". Then the QRM disappears.

For some reason though, there are CW operators out there whose knowledge of morse does not extend beyond their own callsign. They can send their callsign, and they can recognise it when someone comes back with it, and they know what "5NN" is, but apparently they cannot recognise these two simple letters - U and P.

They call incessantly, blocking out the DX station which is nearly always much weaker, and repeated "UP" calls from other hams on the simplex frequency do no good. In fact, in some cases, this prompts the QRMer to give his or her call more frequently than before, thinking that they suddenly have competition. The whole thing gets ridiculous. Many a while I have sat there in front of the radio, sighing loudly at just how ignorant and silly people can be. No, I am not some kind of perfect operator. But I believe we were all born with common sense. Some hams just seem to lose it along the way. Maybe it's the RF ??

With all that going on, often I have my finger on the largest button on the front of my Yaesu FT-1000MP. That's the one labelled "POWER". Sometimes I just cannot listen to it. Sometimes I spin the VFO, or change band, but sometimes I just switch off, knowing that the frustration of having to listen to this nonsense will cancel out any joy I might get if I ever get to work the DX station.

But it gets worse. Because then the so-called "frequency police" start their antics. These are hams who take it upon themselves to call the QRMing station (or stations) a "LID", or telling them to "QSY". The reason the frequency police's calls never work is simple -> if the QRMer cannot recognise the letters U and P, how are they supposed to recognise THREE letters in a row?!! In any case, the policemen then cause further QRM on the DX station, in some cases so much so that the original QRMer is doing less damage than the policeman!!

While I have used the word "lid" here, and I believe that some people just aren't born with any brains, I have to point out that I would never use derogatory terms on the air, or cause intentional QRM, and I don't believe that anyone else should either. It's difficult to stop a war, and supposedly condemn violence, when you're lobbing grenades at the alleged aggressor.

The best one can hope for is that the QRM will quickly disappear. This, sadly, hasn't been the case so far with ST0R. Because it's a brand new entity, all hams around the world who are interested in working DX will want to put Southern Sudan into the log at least once. So they are getting bigger pile-ups than any Dxpedition in recent memory. And they can only do their best to try to work everyone under trying conditions.

Imagine being on their side of things? Imagine hearing a gigantic wall of noise on the split frequency? Imagine trying to pick just one out. Maybe you hear an EI2 in there. So you call EI2? Ah, the good old question mark. Once you hear that, you can call at will, right? Well, so it seems. Have a listen if you get the chance. Listen to ST0R call a part call followed by a question mark, and then listen on the split (wherever that is, because it could be anything from 1 to 20 kc up!!) . I guarantee you will hear a lot more than just the EI2 that he is trying to work. It's shocking at times how rude, ignorant and seemingly downright deaf some ops are!

So with something like two weeks to run for ST0R, I think I will leave it for maybe a week or so before I start trying to work them in earnest because I just couldn't sit and listen to that night after night for hours on end. All you have to do is look at the cluster spots and they will give you some idea of the utter carnage on the bands. For example, I will go to my DXScape window now and copy some of them here:

21024.0 EUs tunning on top ...shame
21024.0 NO EU NO EU says...
21024.0 NO EU but Eus still calling
14145.0 no words
14145.0 Ham spirit ? NO - Kindergarden ? YES

Those are just a few examples from the cluster right now as I write this. I forgot to mention the idiots who tune their radio on the DX frequency as well. It just doesn't get any worse than all that.

Right not I am listening to ZD8D on Ascension Island on 20m CW. He is working simplex and things are well behaved at this moment. No mad QRM, no tuning, no policemen. Just an orderly operation, with a number of hams getting ZD8 in their log. I wonder how long it will last before mayhem breaks out . . .

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Minibeam repair postponed, 40m inverted v put up

My team of helpers was on standby Saturday morning to take down the MA5B minibeam to attempt repairs but alas at 8.50am I looked out to see torrential rain and strong winds, so I took an immediate decision to postpone. I texted Tony, Jim, Don and Pat and said the job was off. However, Pat landed up with some QSL cards and caught me with two lengths of wire which I had cut at just over 33 feet long each. He inquired as to what I was doing and I said I was going to add a 40m inverted V to my 30m inverted V so as to make a nest.

With the weather suddenly improving (rain stopped, sun came out) I asked if he was interested in helping and of course the immediate answer was yes.

So we set about taking the 30m inverted v down by taking the pole off the brackets. I stripped back the two new wires and found a smaller pole which we used to extend the overall height of the existing pole which would allow a higher apex on the Vs. Pat had shelley clamps and we got to work. It didn't take that long to put the whole thing together and after a while (and a bit of sweating!) we had the newly extended pole in the air with four wires dangling from the dipole centre. All that was left to do was try to arrange the separation of the wires so that the SWR was ok. We managed, after much moving about by Pat and much tapping of the morse key by myself at the radio, to get the 30m V down to 1.1:1 but could only manage a low of 1.6:1 on the 40m V, and only at the lower end of the band. While it's not ideal, the tuner will do the rest. There isn't quite enough room in my garden so we had to dog-leg a couple of feet of the 40m V. But it works and that's the main thing. Thanks for the help Pat and hopefully in the next while I will be able to give reports as to how the 40m V compares with the Butternut vertical.

The JX5O Dxpedition wound up prematurely due to approaching bad weather. I managed to finish in joint first place with three other EIs on six band slots, although my 30m RTTY QSO would have put me top with seven if it had been credited. I will contact them and see if that QSO can yet be credited. But I am delighted with six band slots and joint first among the EIs and congrats also to all those who made it into the logbook, which can be checked here.

I'm sorry that I couldn't hear them on 17m, which would have given me another band, but it just wasn't to be. They had poor conditions on 15m, 12m and 10m, and found due to auroral activity at such a high latitude that it was nigh on impossible to hear anything on those bands.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

JX5O log upload - four of six band slots credited so far

It was a good weekend for my efforts to get JX5O Jan Mayen Island into the log. I have them on no fewer than SIX band slots. My QSO on 40m CW was a bit dodgy though, because they appeared to bust my callsign and sent me ES1KC and ES2KC etc so I worked them again last night on 40m CW and this time it was for sure.

There was a log upload yesterday which I have only seen now in which four of my six QSOs were credited. Obviously the 2nd 40m CW QSO came after the upload but I also appear to be missing the 30m RTTY QSO so I may have to work them again on that slot if possible. But we will see what later log uploads will bring.

To be honest I wasn't expecting a log upload because they have limited internet access and said logs would be uploaded after the DXpedition was finished. I have not even heard them once on 17m yet, due to poor propagation conditions, although I see a few EIs have worked them on 17m CW. Congrats in particular to Ark EI9KC who is top of the pile right now with six QSOs credited, and EI6FR Declan, who has been on a few Dxpeditions himself, has five QSOs. My near neighbour Don EI6IL is level with me on four QSOs and he has them on 17m CW too - well done Don.

There is a sudden lift in the sunspot numbers over the past couple of days. Hopefully that will continue and will bring better conditions on 17m and higher bands and fingers crossed I will nab them on a few more bands too. Maybe even on 6m, with a little bit of luck.

Anyhow congratulations to the 24 EIs who have made it through to JX5O so far. May you get as many QSOs as you need !!!

73 for now, de EI2KC

Saturday, July 9, 2011

An exceptional little 10m attic dipole

I had no plans this Saturday morning so instead of lying around in bed I decided to get going early. I was glad of the opportunity to get on the radio firstly, especially as I was able to nab JX5O on a further four band slots, bringing my total to five band slots since yesterday. Great stuff.

My homebrew dipole centre with the dipole legs attached
For a long time now, in fact for at least a decade, I have had some sort of short wave radio at the bedside with a random wire flung up in a very haphazard fashion around the attic. Before I was licenced I used to enjoy listening to HF aeronautical and the amateur bands and at times I heard the Auckland volmet in New Zealand early in the mornings. Just shows what a piece of wire can do!

To take this further I decided to (finally, after months of thinking about it) construct an attic dipole. All I have space for is a 10m dipole, and in fact barely just!! But nevertheless I wanted to have something that I could actually use to TX on from the bedroom shack (shack B as I call it) if needed.

I found a black circular piece of plastic (see photo) which has been lying in the shed for years. I cannot even remember what it belonged to, but I have a tendency to keep apparently useless items lying around the place, as my good XYL will attest to LOL!!!

Anyway I measured out two legs of wire 8 feet and approx 2.5 inches long. That's 2.503 metres for those metric fanatics among you! I am still an imperial man. And I love miles, not kilometres! Anyway, I digress.

I strung the dipole up in extremely cramped and warm conditions. I was sweating buckets. It's a very warm muggy day here in EI land. I then ran coax up from the bedroom into the attic and took some time connecting it to my homebrew dipole centre. After all that was done it was time to connect the antenna to my old Icom IC-735 which I use as a listening rig in Shack B. It seemed to be hearing well. But it does not transmit well for some reason.

So I nabbed the FT-897 from Shack A and also my MFJ 941E manual tuner and brought them upstairs and hooked them up to the "attic dipole". There are other metallic objects in the attic so the SWR doesn't quite sit down on 28.500 Mhz which is where I intended it to be resonant. But, to my delight, with the manual tuner I was able to tune it flat on the SSB portion and the CW portion of 10m. Not only that, but it also tunes quite flat on 12m, 15m, 17m and even 20m! Although how efficient it will be on 20m remains to be seen. It even tuned nicely on 6m. Yes!!

10m and 12m were pretty dead so I decided to try to nab a few contacts on 15m. I didn't have to try very hard. The IARU contest is on and there were some strong stations. Using just 50 watts into my attic dipole, I managed to nab the following in a short space of time: EF8HQ Canary Islands, LS1D Argentina, N4AF North America, VE2EJ Canada and ST2AR Sudan. Most of those took just one or two calls, but I was trying for a while for Sudan. So the antenna is certainly working. And doing well on 15m which it is less efficient on. I will let you know what it's like on 28 Mhz when 10m opens, and also I will give it a run on 6m.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Jan Mayen Island JX5O DXpedition begins

Jan Mayen Island from where JX5O will operate
For all those DXers and DX chasers out there the good news is that the JX5O Jan Mayen Island Dxpedition has begun. The team of ops is QRV this morning on 14 Mhz CW. Jan Mayen Island is part of Norway but is situated pretty much in the middle of nowhere in the Arctic Circle and lies some 600km northeast of Iceland.

The team plans to be QRV on bands from 40m through to 6m. There will be no activity on 160m or 80m because it is "polar day" up there - in other words, the sun is up 24 hours a day at the moment.

If I can work them it will be a brand new DXCC for me, and it would be very nice to nab them on 6m if at all possible. You can find out more about the DXpedition, plus the team, the proposed operation frequencies and much more information at the official JX5O website:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The good news, and the bad news

After a couple of months sitting doing nothing, my recently acquired Cushcraft MA5B minibeam was finally installed here at the QTH last weekend. Thanks to the diligent assistance of Tony EI4DIB, Don EI6IL and Jim 2I0SBI, it is now up in the air.

The new MA5B in situ at my QTH
That was Saturday, and what a fine day it was. In fact, we had a few gorgeous days here in EI land over the weekend and the EI2KC suntan got developed nicely!

That was the good news. Then came the bad. After testing it was discovered that the antenna wouldn't tune on 20m or 15m, although it was fine on 17m, 12m and 10m. Without using an ATU, the SWR is infinite on 20m and 15m, even on low power. Something is amiss. Now it will have to be taken down again and opened up and examined. And that is another day's work.

I have been able to tune it occasionally on 20m and 15m, but the SWR needle on both my radios (I've tried both, and also an external manual ATU to no avail) has started spiking in the middle of an over. I thought maybe proximity to other dielectrics, namely my Butternut HF-V6, my 30m inverted V and my Antron 99, might be affecting it. So I tested it in a full spin through 360 degrees and the SWR remained infinite throughout. I even went to the trouble of taking my Butternut down (good chance to tighten things up a bit!) and also my inverted V but that didn't change anything.

Sounds like there might be a short or a bad connection somewhere in the MA5B. Not sure if it could be water in the traps or something like that because I don't think the traps are required for 20m, whatever about 15m.

I have made a few nice contacts with the beam though, and having a rotatable antenna at the QTH has been a great novelty! My kids think it's great when it spins around! I worked BY1RX/4 on 17m (it's a rotary dipole on 17/12). I also nabbed JW Svalbard on 20m when I could get it to tune. Whatever is wrong it is not very efficient even when it does tune on 20m. Using the Reverse Beacon Network, I put out a CQ on 20m CW using my Butternut vertical and then the MA5B. The Butternut was being received stronger in North America by W3LPL and WU3A, even though the minibeam was pointing in that direction.

Hopefully whatever is wrong can be rectified quickly, easily and cheaply. But as with all beams, once it's up on a mast, it cannot usually be brought to the ground quickly, unless you have a fold-over beam. Or, indeed, if you own your own crane!!

Anyhow I will try to get the "team" back up at the weekend and see if we can't fix whatever is wrong. In the meantime, I do have other antennas that I can use so I'm not completely stuck. And I can spin the rotator for fun!!