Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Using some antique telegraph keys to make morse code QSOs

I've had the great pleasure of borrowing several old morse keys from Pat EI2HX, who has quite an interesting and varied collection of antique telegraph keys of varying ages. The three videos below show me making QSOs with three of these keys. Thankfully, each time I made a CQ, someone came back to my call. The first video features a well-known model, the American World War II era J-38 telegraph key:

The second is this old GPO key. In this video, my CQ is answered by EB5GGB, who is also using a straight key to complete the QSO:

In the third video, I am using some form of old army key, but I don't know anything about it. Perhaps someone who knows a little bit about this key could comment below with information, or send me an email? Again, my CQ was answered immediately, this time by CT1CPP, who was also using a straight key, which was a great joy.

I have to admit to being a little bit heavy-handed with my keying. I don't have the best fine motor skills in the world, so can be a tiny bit awkward. However, I had great fun using these keys and I look forward to trying out more and making further videos.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A broken Acom amplifier, 256 QSOs with AN400, a platinum award and a fixed Acom, thanks to Oleg EI7KD

I haven't written a blog post in a while. That's not to say I haven't been busy! Life is always busy here, between family, work, music, photography, writing and all the other stuff that I squeeze in, including amateur radio!

After going through a bit of a summertime lull, my interest in ham radio seemed to hit a severe downer when my Acom 1000 linear amplifier stopped working. However, instead of giving up on HF and DXing, I was instead suddenly spurred into interest by a wonderful and comprehensive awards programme in the form of the Miguel de Cervantes AN400 awards. The AN400 stations were active across all the bands, using lots of modes - SSB, CW, RTTY, PSK63, PSK125 and even some PSK31!

My Miguel de Cervantes (AN400) platinum certificate.

For a couple of weeks I was working AN400 stations one after the other, on various bands and modes, using a maximum of 100 watts due to the inoperable Acom. While some of these QSOs required a fair bit of time and effort because getting through pile-ups with 100w is not as easy as with 400w, some of them were nice and handy. I made several contacts with the Spanish stations on 10m and 12m during fleeting openings. I even managed a few QSOs on top band (160m), which is a hell of a challenge from this QTH using my paltry antenna system.

I soon qualified for the silver and gold awards, but kept going until I had also received the platinum award (pictured). But, seeing how Declan EI6FR was top of the EI table for the number of QSOs, I set my sights on coming in second place, and as the days went by I managed to get further up the table until I was in second place. Then I was overtaken by Seamus EI3KE, but this put the fight on me so I gave it as much time and effort as possible and when the programme ended last Sunday, I had finished in second place (with 256 QSOs) behind my good radio friend and one of my mentors, Declan EI6FR. Hard luck but also well done to Seamus EI3KE on finishing third. There were over 300 EI stations in the AN400 log.

I'm delighted to say that I now have the Acom 1000 back in the shack, fully working, after a quick and expert repair by Oleg EI7KD. Oleg builds linear amplifiers and is a real genius when it comes to diagnosing and repairing such things. As it happens, the GU74b tube had gone. Oleg quickly sourced a (new) replacement and had it working again in a jiffy. I am greatly indebted to him for this repair.
The Acom 1000 linear amplifier back in the shack after repair by EI7KD.

The Acom has helped me work the S9YY Sao Tome dxpedition on a few bands, most significantly 40m (CW), on which I had never worked S9 before. I also put the AT2SL IOTA dxpedition (AS-176) in my log on both 17m RTTY and 20m CW. So thanks again Oleg. I first met Oleg through Thos EI2JD when we did some contesting together with the EI0W contest team in Clogherhead. Oleg is a CW wizard - able to run 40wpm runs in contests, all using the key and not with the aid of the computer. I am in awe of his abilities.

Anyway, I was hoping to track down the T31T Central Kiribati dxpedition as an all-time new one, but so far have been unable to hear them. Fingers crossed......

Monday, August 1, 2016

Some nice CW action captured in HD video

It's been a while since I wrote anything on the blog. Life is busy. There are many things keeping me occupied. Life is good. These things include family, work, music, photography, research, writing blogs and much more. But I am still finding time for radio of course. Just not as much as a few years ago!

Some time ago I bought a new lens for my Nikon cameras. It's a 17-55mm f2.8 lens and it's a thing of beauty. As well as helping me to capture some lovely photographs, it's also very nice for video work. So I set it up at the side of the bench here in the shack and decided to record some CW QSOs that I was making with my Scheunemann key. Take a look and see for yourselves:

Friday, June 17, 2016

EJ7NET Tory Island video 2016

EJ7NET Tory activation is QRT - stats

Our activation of Tory is now sadly ended and we have returned home. It was a fantastic five days, and although propagation was a bit hit and miss, the bands provided us with solid action, especially on 30m and 20m where we found good rates at times.

Gordon GM7WCO enjoys a walk along the cliffs during a break in activity.

This activation made history for the EJ7NET group. We made trans-Atlantic QSOs on 6 metres for the first time. We also activated more bands and modes than ever before. We had 9 QSOs on 160m CW and even one on SSB! We had activity on all bands from 1.8 Mhz through to 50 Mhz, and used a variety of modes, including LSB/USB, CW, RTTY, PSK31, PSK63 and JT65.

By the end of the dxpedition we had achieved over 5,000 QSOs, which is by far the best performance of the four years I have been on the islands with the Westnet DX Group.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Video - EJ7NET on 6 metres from Tory Island

This is a short video showing some CW operation on 6 metres (50 Mhz) during the EJ7NET activation of Tory Island, Co. Donegal. We managed over 350 QSOs on this band, including about ten into the United States, all using a two-element HB9CV beam.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Rolf HB9DGV activating Tory lighthouse

On Monday, one member of the EJ7NET team, Rolf HB9DGV, went to the lighthouse on the island and activated it using his KX1. Rolf is a huge proponent of SOTA and portable activations, and while there are no registered SOTA peaks on the island, there is a lighthouse (ref IRE-075). You can see Rolf's photos of his various activations on his Flickr page here:

While at the lighthouse, he made eight QSOs using 5 watts and a portable wire dipole.

Monday, June 13, 2016

North America on 6 metres from Tory Island

Today was a great day on the bands, particularly on 6 metres, where we managed several QSOs into the United States in the afternoon. This was achieved with a HB9CV two-element beam at about 15 feet. As of this moment, we have over 200 QSOs on 50 Mhz since yesterday, which is fantastic.

Some of the North American stations we worked on 6 metres today.
The 50 Mhz contacts into the USA were not all easy. It took some time to get K1TL into the log. In fact I'd safely say it took 10 to 15 minutes to complete the QSO. Some stations were easier to hear and work. We were ecstatic at getting one in the log, but we ended up with six or seven NA QSOs. And all the time we were beaming NA, we were still working Europeans, some from Italy, Spain and France, but some from other areas. We worked a couple of Scandinavian stations off the back of the beam.

The EJ7NET 6 metre station on Tory Island.
Elsewhere, we have been plugging away on the HF bands. We had some activity on 20m, 17m and 15m today, with occasional pile-ups and also occasional dry periods. As of this moment, we have over 2,000 QSOs in the combined logs, which is not bad at all. Conditions on 20 and 15 are interesting. A lot of UK and Netherlands stations were strong on those bands today, while everyone else was comparatively weak. Last night (Sunday), we had some nice action on 40m SSB.

Weather today has been largely overcast, with drizzle at times. Generally typical Irish weather. Rolf HB9DGV activated the lighthouse on the island as EJ/HB9DGV/QRP.

EJ7NET - a few pictures from our visit to Tory Island

Deliberations on the vagaries of propagation.
Barry GM3YEH operation on 17 metres.

Rolf HB9DGV working 30 metres CW.

Liam EI7DSB on 20 metres SSB.

Anthony EI2KC catches some action on 40 metres SSB.
Declan EI6FR operating the 6 metre station, where we had over 100 QSOs.

Our chef, Tony EI3HA, serves up Sunday roast.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Day 2 begins and it's raining relentlessly

It's day two of our activation of Tory Island (EU-121) and it's raining relentlessly. We still have two more antennas to set up. Activity has been good (at times) so far on 30m CW and 40m CW/SSB. We have about 370 QSOs so far from two stations. The 6m station is being set up as we speak. Thankfully, the antenna was set up last night.

Declan, Liam and Bernie setting up the off-centre-fed dipole yesterday evening.
Spirits are high among the EJ7NET group. Dermot EI5IQ pitched his tent and slept out there overnight. The rest of us opted for the comfortable beds here at Teach Sabba.

As we are approaching midsummer, there is no complete darkness at night. A beautiful sunset was followed by a fantasic red sky last night, so needless to say I spent quite a bit of time out with the camera. I even managed to get a photo of the shack late last night.

Our QTH at Tory is called Teach Sabba.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The EJ7NET team has arrived on Tory Island, Co.Donegal

The EJ7NET Westnet DX Group has arrived safely on Tory Island (IOTA EU-121) and we are currently erecting antennas. The QTH is fabulous and has great take-off over the ocean in most directions. It is extremely scenic here, with views towards the mountains on the mainland. Our ferry trip was very calm and the weather has been fantastic so far.

A panorama showing antenna setup on Tory Island.
One station is already up and running, with Gordon GM7WCO operating on 30 metres CW. Tony EI3HA, our chef, is preparing dinner.

This year's team is as follows: Declan EI6FR, Tony EI3HA, Dermot EI5IQ, Liam EI7DSB, Anthony EI2KC, Bernie HB9ASZ, Rolf HB9DGV, Barry GM3YEH, and Gordon GM7WCO.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

FT4JA Juan de Nova confirmed on LoTW and gives me my 300th DXCC confirmed on CW!

The recent FT4JA Juan de Nova dxpedition, which gave me my 320th DXCC worked, has now confirmed my 11 QSOs with them via Logbook of the World. That's fantastic service! It was a great dxpedition. I'm happy that I worked them on RTTY as well as SSB and CW.

As you can see from the above EI2KC account status on LoTW, FT4JA was my 300th entity confirmed on CW, which is also very nice.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

VK0EK Heard Island logged - ATNO and DXCC #319!!

A short time ago I finally made it into the log of VK0EK, the Heard Island dxpedition. I have had poor receive on them since the dxpedition began the other day, and was beginning to wonder if I'd get a QSO at all. They were very weak on 30 metres CW on my home-made inverted v dipole, but I called them 2 Khz down and got into the log at around 23:35 local time (22:35 UTC). This is DXCC number 319 for me, and is of course an All-Time New One (ATNO).

Obviously getting the ATNO in the log is of paramount importance. I will try to chase more QSOs, but now that I have them logged (and confirmed in the log via their wonderful "live" online log service) I can relax a bit.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

T88IR Palau finally logged on RTTY after three-day battle!!

Above is a video I made just a few minutes after working T88IR, Palau Island in the Pacific, on 20 metres RTTY. This has been a three-day struggle for me. I had tried unsuccessfully to log him yesterday and the day before. Today, despite the fact that the pile-up was the biggest I've seen, I eventually managed to get him in my log after about half an hour of trying. As you can see, I had a good decode on him. I worked him about 3.5 Khz up. This was a great joy for me, as I've recently been trying to improve my digital tally and have put more effort into this goal, especially since setting up MMVARI for use within Logger32. 

I was rewarded with a similar chase last night, when I managed FH/F2DX on 30m RTTY. I had been chasing him on 30m CW last night and the previous night with no success. The fact that I got him on RTTY meant that I had a new country on 30 metres and a new country on digital modes, which was nice.

My digital total now stands at 171 countries worked.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Now digital modes have just got easier

For a long time now, I've been using Logger32 as my main station logging software, but I was using Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) and Digital Master (DM780) for my digital QSOs. This has been a bit of a labour, because HRD won't connect to the rig while Logger32 is running. The solution is to either shut Logger32 down or to go into Setup -> Radio -> Close Port every time I want to try a digital QSO. So what, I hear you say.

My QSO with V21ZG on 15 metres RTTY using MMVARI.
Well the problem is that although I like digi modes and I like to chase DX on digi as well as CW and phone, having to go through this process is a bit of a chore. And then when I'm finished with digi I have to shut down DM780 and HRD and then make sure to open the port in Logger32 again. So a few days ago, I decided to finally check out MMVARI, which is the digital engine that is already included INSIDE the Logger32 software. I had looked at it previously, but didn't know where to start.

As it transpired, I was able to get signals up on the waterfall really easily. It detected my sound card without any issue and within no time, I was decoding PSK and RTTY signals. Great so far. The problem was that I appeared to have no macros, and didn't know how to set them up. My friend Google soon showed me how to program the buttons along the bottom of the MMVARI window. I looked up the Logger32 help documentation for the macro terminology, and soon I was creating new macros, similar to the ones I use with DM780. All good so far.

I ran a test and everything seemed to work. So I decided to try to make a QSO. So I called A71EM on 17 metres on RTTY and he came back to me and soon he was in the log. My first use of MMVARI bagged me a new country on digital modes. How about that?

One major setback to this newfound joy at having a digital program that worked within Logger32 was that when I changed mode, all my macros disappeared. I couldn't find a solution to this online. (If anyone has a solution, please do send me an email to hamradioireland (at) gmail (dot) com, or alternatively leave a message/reply under this post.) I had to copy and paste my macros into a document and them paste them manually into the various buttons in the different modes. I can now, as a result, make QSOs on PSK31, PSK63, PSK125 and RTTY-U. I still have to enter macros for RTTY-L.

Anyway, since getting all this up and running I have found it to be a joy to use. I did a side-by-side comparison with DM780 (v4.0 build 1901) and I have to say that MMVARI definitely has the edge with weaker signals. MMVARI is able to decode at times when DM780 is not. So this is another advantage to making the change.

One of the really sweet things about MMVARI is how quickly it pops up, in a new window, in front of Logger32. No waiting like I had to do with HRD/DM780. It's not quite instantaneous, but it ain't bad.

Another advantage (and this is a major one) is that MMVARI logs straight into Logger32, with the correct mode, QRG, etc. Previously, I had to manually export QSOs from DM780 as ADI and then import the ADI into Logger32. It made making digital QSOs a bit of a pain in the butt.

Now, digi is a real joy. And my country count is up. I've already worked a few new ones on digital. I now have 164 countries worked on digital modes.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Some very nice eQSLs received recently

I've received a few new eQSL cards in the past week, having done a log upload. I've gone from 201 countries confirmed via eQSL to 206. Now I know it's not an "official" QSL service, but I like using it, and I especially like the virtual cards that you get, which is something I think LoTW could incorporate. Probably the best of the bunch was the above card from Pat when he was active in St. Brandon. He gave me a brand new DXCC with that contact on PSK63, and I'm very proud of it. I've recently sent him a direct card too so hopefully I will receive a physical QSL from him.

Some of the other cards received are below. I'm also very delighted to have received an eQSL from Willis Island.

T32DX - East Kiribati.

VK9WA - Willis Island dxpedition November 2015.

Special event call sign VK100ANZAC from Australia.

Some nice DX action on 12 metres using just my Antron-99 and 100 watts

I caught some nice action on 12 metres when there was a morning opening into Japan. In this video I was running just 100 watts into an Antron-99 vertical. It was a great opening. Hope you enjoy.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Video: Signal from 7P8C dxpedition to Lesotho, 10m SSB

This is a video showing the signal from the 7P8C dxpedition to Lesotho on 10 metres SSB. I had just worked them a few minutes before making this video. It was a new band slot for me. I now have five band slots with this nice little dxpedition.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

VP8STI South Sandwich Island in the log - ATNO - DXCC #318!

I didn't want to blog about it until I saw my call sign in the log, but I am definitely in the log of VP8STI, South Sandwich Island. As of this moment, I actually have three QSOs, but only one of them is in their online log so far. I'm delighted to have worked them on 17 metres CW, on 20 metres CW and on 30 metres CW.

South Sandwich was an All-Time New One (ATNO) for me. This is DXCC #318 worked. I should also point out that it's possibly DXCC #319. I think I worked FT4XU on Kerguelen Island on January 4th, but due to QSB and QRM I'm not 100% certain of the QSO. And his QSL manager does not yet have the log, so I cannot check. I might not know until February whether the QSO was a good one. So right now I stand on either 318 worked or 319 worked.

Now before anyone goes getting excited, thinking about the honour roll (I have 310 DXCC confirmed), there are two entities which I have little hope of confirming - EZ Turkmenistan and 5A Libya. I've worked both, but Turkmenistan doesn't allow ham radio and therefore QSOs are invalid for DXCC. And I worked 5A1AL in 2013, at a time when Libya was in disarray, and due to the uncertainty of the situation there, the QSOs I made with him - on four different bands - are null and void for awards purposes.

So at this moment in time, with 318 worked, the most I can hope for is that I can confirm 316. That still leaves me 14 entities off the Honour Roll - and that could take years to achieve!

In the meantime, K5P Palmyra has proved very elusive here, and in a lot of Europe, so I am very very glad for that one QSO. Imagine, it could be years before Palmyra is on the air again.

UPDATE: At 23:23UT, local time 11.23pm, I just worked VP8STI on 20 metres SSB! He is working both NA and EU. Fabulous conditions. And right now they have a good signal on 40m CW too.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A few nice cards received via the bureau

I've just received a delivery of QSL cards from the IRTS bureau. There were some nice ones, which are pictured above. Included in the bunch was a card from E51MCA, South Cook Islands, and my first ever card from Kyrgyzstan, from EX/HB9DUR. There was also a card from Minami Torishima, from JG8NQJ/JD1. Other countries included South Korea, West Malaysia, Kuwait, Svalbard, Ogasawara, Chile and Monaco.

Friday, January 15, 2016

K5P Palmyra is in my log - ATNO and DXCC #317!!

I'm delighted to be able to tell you that I have made a successful QSO with the K5P dxpedition to Palmyra Island in the mid Pacific. They have been QRV since Tuesday and their signals into Europe have been very poor. I didn't think I was going to be able to make a contact. They were very poor on 20 metres CW when I picked them up this evening but a mixture of luck and perseverance helped me through.

As with all these far-distant rare ATNOs, it's always a priority just to make ONE QSO. Just one contact will do, to get the new entity in the log. As you might remember, with Chesterfield Island it looked like I wasn't going to make it - until the very last day. That experience was a sobering one. The thought of missing a rare one (Palmyra is number nine on the Clublog most-wanted DXCC list) was in my mind again, especially with all the derogatory DX cluster spots in the past couple of days from European stations who have so far been unable to hear K5P.

So with the beam at 320 degrees, I began to pick up their signal with darkness setting in here. But they were very weak. Eventually I could hear them well enough to pick up partial calls, and the split became obvious when I heard a couple of EU stations going back to them about 3.5Khz or so up.

So I called them a few times and then heard the magic "2KC" and so gave my call a couple of times. Then it sounded like EU2VC??? and then EI2??? until eventually my call was given EI2KC EI2KC 5NN and I went back with the RRRR 5NN 5NN TU.

In the K5P log with some of Ireland's top DXers.
Even if I don't get another contact, I don't mind. Getting the DXCC logged is of paramount importance. I'm delighted also that they uploaded the logs fairly quickly and I can confirm I am in their log - one of just ten Irish stations to make it through so far.

I was contacted shortly after the QSO by my friend and fellow DXer Ark EI9KC, who said not only was the QSO 100%, but he had a recording of it. Here it is (my thanks to Ark!):

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Very glad to receive a LoTW QSL from 3B7FA

I'm delighted to have just received QSL confirmation from Patrice (Pat) 3B8FA for a QSO I had with him when he operated from St. Brandon as 3B7FA in late October last. He was at that time a brand new DXCC for me (ATNO), number 315 worked. And now his QSL on ARRL's Logbook of the World (LoTW) is my 306th DXCC entity confirmed on LoTW, out of a total of 317 worked. The QSO was made using the PSK63 digital mode and the story of the contact can be read here.

A QSL from Pat for a French shortwave listener for his 3B7FA activation.
I also worked VK9WA, Willis Island, in November, as DXCC #316. Just last week, I am pretty sure I had a QSO with FT4XU on Kerguelen Island, although I'm not 100% certain of the contact because of QSB and QRM. If the QSO is confirmed, that would be DXCC #317.

Currently I am chasing another possible All-Time New One (ATNO) in the form of K5P on Palmyra Island, but the chase is proving difficult because I have not heard them yet! This dxpedition to the very rare DX entity of Palmyra (#2 on Europe's most wanted list) is using vertical antennas, and so far only the big stations in Ireland have heard and worked them, including EI6IL and EI2CN. Ark EI9KC worked them from the EI1Y contest station near Naas in Kildare.

I hope to hear them at some stage - if I can hear them, I will call them. Around 5-6pm local time seemed to provide the best opportunity on 20 metres CW.

Patrice 3B8FA.

Monday, January 11, 2016

ZL9A Antipodes Islands (IOTA OC-286) logged on 20m SSB

The ZL9A IOTA dxpedition to OC-286, Antipodes Islands (DX entity ZL9 Auckland & Campbell), was a short-lived affair, and it was certainly one of those activations that I thought I would miss. I had a very poor copy on them on Friday morning on both long and short paths and they faded out quickly. On Saturday morning I was unable to work them due to work commitments. So it came to Sunday, and they were going QRT on Sunday night!

Why do I regularly seem to cut these things very fine?

On Sunday, despite the fact that many Europeans were commenting on the cluster that ZL9A was strong on the long path, I found that their short path signal was much stronger on 20 metres SSB. At first, around 9am, they were very weak, But by 10am they were romping in. And all the time they were very poor on the long path. A number of UK stations worked them on the short path, so I knew the pipeline to our part of the world was opening.

The pile-up was substantial, but mostly confined to 5kHz up and 10kHz up, and although there were stations calling in between, the ZL9A op seemed to be only listening exactly on 5 and 10 up. So I stuck with 5 up and shortly I heard "who is the echo india?". So I gave my call several times and I was in the log.

It was nice to get IOTA OC-286 in the log.

IARU 90th celebrations - dipolma received

Last year was the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU). To commemorate this jubilee, special event stations in a lot of countries were established with 90IARU in the call. I worked 89 QSOs with these stations, based in 43 different countries. There was a special diploma available to anyone who worked 10 or more of the 90IARU stations.

These are my totals at the end of the year.
I have now downloaded the diploma award. I have to say that this was not a difficult award to accomplish - however, with 89 QSOs and 43 countries I had far more than I needed! Here's the award: