Saturday, March 29, 2014

JT9 Transmitted & Received

First JT9 QSO
My very first QSO on JT9 was with PA3FOE just a few minutes ago. Success! I was running my indoor Buddipole antenna with my Icom IC-703+ at 4 watts. Since I was logging with an older version of Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) Logbook, I had to add the mode as it was not in my drop down menu. Once that was added, in the logbook my QSO went. Not a bad start but I'm finding the bands less than favorable today (Saturday). Obviously, this is when software generated weak signals modes will shine. Roughly a 3,500 mile QSO from MA to the Netherlands. Also, my Buddipole is being a bit stubborn today tuning the different bands. Or maybe the coil taps (clips) are bit more challenging for my ageing eyes today. Running a Buddipole indoors is a bit more challenging to tune (obviously) as there is plenty to effect the SWR

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

JT9, My Next Experimental Mode

First JT9 Decodes by AK2MA
I finally downloaded WSJT-X so I can experiment with JT9. Since I have run JT65A for a few years, this has a familiar feel to it. There are some differences in which I will need to familiarize myself with. Since I'm running QRP for much of my operating here, this will be another great weak signal mode to snag some juicy DX with. 

I decided to just monitor 40 meters tonight to see what I can hear. I probably won't attempt my first QSO with this mode until the weekend but I wanted to start getting familiar with it. The download was quick and the install was very easy. The program was decoding once I got the initial set-up completed (selecting the com port along with adding my callsign and grid square). 

Hamspots JT9 & JT65 Spots with my first DX spot - G3VGZ
Once I saw stations decoding, I set it up to report to the web those stations that I was hearing. This is where I will leave it run, in receive only mode. I prefer not to jump immediately into new software and start making QSO's. It's time now to sit back, read the manual (yes, that thing that we normally don't do) and then when I'm comfortable enough with the software, I'll throw out my first CQ's. I'm sure this will help me in my low band, QRP pursuit of snagging some countries that would otherwise be tough with my minimized set-up. 

I recently ordered a refurbished laptop which I plan on using as my main ham computer. Once it arrives, my desktop will be retired and the laptop will be my casual operating & contest computer. Since I won't have a dedicated hamshack for several more years, it's time I consolidate and downsize.  

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bouncing Around the Globe, QRP Style.

TV Tray Set-up
This weekend was yet another JT65A weekend for me. I saw that 10 meters appeared to be active so on Saturday, I set the Buddipole up for that band. It was not long before I was decoding some very nice signals out of Europe. My first QSO came shortly after 1800z with OK1JKV. I was running 3-5 watts all weekend, not exceeding my band defying QRP wattage. And as the sun progressed westward, the propagation did as well. I copied several stations that I would have loved to have a QSO with but a few of the signals were just a bit on the light side. Strong enough to decode but at -24dB, there was not much hope for my JT65A QRP signal with the others also calling the same stations I had an interest in.

Close but No Cigar
One of the exciting moments for me over the weekend was when I saw that VK2QQ answered my CQ. I was elated to finally hear and possibly work into VK'land! Sadly, that's as far as the QSO went. I went back to VK2QQ a few times with no luck. So, it was close but no cigar! I know that I will have future opportunities and if anything, I now know when to start listening. Actually, if it were easy, it would not be as much fun. If you click on screen shot to the right, you will see that VK7DZ was also working stations and I had a copy on a QSO a few minutes earlier from that station. 

QRP 3 Watts
As I've mentioned so many times blogging over the years, 10 meters is my favorite band. You just never know where it will take you when the band opens. You can work the band with pretty much any antenna with great results. Novice Enhancement opened up 10 meters to hams years ago and it's been a great watering hole ever since. It was one of the first bands I really cut my teeth on and some of the best DX I've worked has been on this band. The other advantage to this band is that it's very broad, running from 28.000 on up to 29.700. There is plenty of room to have fun no matter what mode you prefer to operate. 

AK2MA Table Top DX Station
With the weekend still pretty busy, I was able to let the JT65HF software decode and keep an eye on the band as I went about my other weekend activities. When I'm not operating, I will try to leave the software so that it uploads what I'm hearing. When I'm operating, I also like to see where I'm being heard so I keep my iPad handy connected to hamspots. It's always very interesting to see how well I'm being heard in various directions and by which stations. My little corner of the kitchen is just that, little. But for now, it suits me just fine. As I ponder the thought of permanently downsizing my station, I'm trying to put together the best small station that I can. I've been impressed with the 703's ability on the digital modes. It's obviously not my 756PRO but it's a great compact rig. 

DK2HX Indoor antenna to indoor antenna
When I logged into eQSL I had several cards waiting for QSO confirmation. One of which is pictured to the left. This was a bit unique as both Heinz and I were running indoor antenna's according to his comment at the bottom of his QSL card. Heinz was running 8 watts to his indoor magnetic loop antenna and I was running 5 watts (actually a tad less) with my indoor Buddipole. So, a perfect example what is possible when the band is open. A QSO over 3,500 miles away with a few watts feeding into indoor antenna's, both ways. With some good weak signal software and the right propagation, DX easily falls into the logbook just as it did for me this weekend. I'm hoping to venture on to JT9 here soon as well. I've heard a few hams mention it. That's the grand beauty of this hobby, there is something for everyone! 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Understanding My Propagation and Work'n a Few QRP

PSK Reporter Map for AK2MA
My personal schedule has been pretty busy over the last few weekends but I wanted to get on and play a bit this weekend. My goal was to get back on JT65 and work a few stations. Saturday was out of the question but I was bound and determined to get the indoor Buddipole hooked up to the IC-703+ on Sunday. I actually did get things hooked up late Saturday night and just let JT65 send reception reports to the internet while being parked on 20 meters.

One of the great uses of weak signal software like JT65HF of WSPR (just to name a few), it allows you to study propagation patterns to and from your QTH. This is a great tool when you are looking for a certain section of the globe that has evaded your logbook. I have to think back to the days when there was no internet and to work a new one, you either monitored the local packet cluster via AX25 Packet, received a phone call from a fellow ham or just happened to stumble across that new one. How did we survive? Call me crazy but I actually miss those days. 

Using PSK Reporter, I was able to determine what I was hearing and when. Doing a bit of homework will pay off if you study how propagation works. Of course, there is a bit more to it, but understanding when a certain part of the globe might be heard from your QTH is a great start. I recently read a blog entry from KL2R that hit this subject directly. Larry outlined some great advice. Not that each and every ham needs to be a propagational expert (I'm far from being one) but it pays off when doing your homework. It's extremely helpful to know what you might hear when surfing Grey Line Propagaton or simply which band might be the best to use during a certain time of day or night. Beacons are another great tool. NW7US writes many articles explaining propagation and routinely writes predictions for upcoming major contests. It's extremely easy to drop an email and ask for a sked but you might be surprised what you can work if you put in a little bit of research. Of course, there are many factors that effect modern day communications but the more you understand, the better your chances of success.

JT65A & 15 Meters on Sunday, March 16th, 2014
And in speaking of success, I knew that 15 meters should yield some good propagation across the pond for my compromised setup. My setup is far different than what I had in Alaska. I'm currently running (on pretty much a regular basis) my Icom IC-703Plus at 5 watts or less to my Buddipole Deluxe set up in our upstairs hallway. Because I'm running QRP and using an indoor antenna, it can be a struggle to find my next new DXCC entity or that new state. I'm currently working on QRP DXCC both on the CW and digital modes. It's tough at times but easily attainable. Running QRP requires lots of patience and I'll be the first to admit, I lack in that arena. But as mentioned earlier, homework and persistence will pay off so I know I'll be successful.

Indoor Buddipole Setup      
I've had a few inquiries in regards to my indoor buddipole configuration. The picture to the left gives a view of my Buddipole Deluxe as I routinely set it up in the upstairs hallway. Running QRP, it's crucial that the SWR is as low as possible as I want as many of those few watts to make it to the antenna as I can get. It also helps that the antenna is on the second story so it's approximately 20-25 feet above the ground. Still far from anything great but as you can see, you don't need much to get on the air. As I've mentioned before, after running beam antenna's and power over several years, this has been a humbling experience for me. I set up the Buddipole using the suggested configuration (depending on band) and normally it will get me in the ballpark, even indoors. 

For now, this is my station but I'm thankful to be able to get on the air. I'm not sure when and if I will ever have a full station with exterior hardware on the air but as hams have proven over the years, where there is a will, there is a way. In the mean time, I'll continue to surf the propagational wave of DX in hopes of landing that next new one bringing me closer to that very meaningful certificate I hope to collect. Just like the lottery, you can't win unless you play.   

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Managed my first JT65 QSO on HF this morning with K4EIT. I called CQ and he came back to my 5 watt yell. In running JT65, I now remember the headache I had with my Mini Dell. The Mini has one comm port, 3. That does not allow me to use Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) to feed the frequency information to JT65HF. If JT65HF is the only program running, I can send and receive just fine. But, I'm missing out on importing the band and frequency data from HRD. I've messed around with virtual comm ports with no success. My only other option, if I want to use this computer exclusively for this, is possibly looking at Signal Link Audio Sound Card Interface which may allow me to do digital with one fewer comm ports needed. Either way, I need to work on this as time allows. Or, just upgrade to a real laptop. I prefer the second actually. 

It took me a bit to figure out how to dial down the ALC and Mic Gain to near nothing on the Icom IC-703+. I have them both at their lowest settings so now I just need to get on, see what reports I get and then look at Hamspots to see who is hearing me and how strong. That's the great thing about modern technology, you can check sites like Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) when running CW or Hamspots when running digital and it gives you a great summary of how well your signal is being heard hundreds and even thousands of miles away. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Interface Cable Located! Now the Fun Begins.

First Night of PSK31 on Indoor Buddipole & IC703+
Moving is never fun and it just so happens that things get lost or misplaced. I opened up our travel trailer today to see if I could locate my Icom interface cable that I used with my IC-703+. I came up empty but I did get a few things out that I needed. I was bound and determined to hunt it down. I knew it could not be far but I was concerned as I had opened up and unboxed all shack contents. I checked and double checked in several mothballed equipment boxes but nothing. I was stumped.

It just so happens that I carry my Icom IC-703+ and related equipment in a small, deep plastic pistol case. A cheap Walmart knockoff of the Pelican cases made by Plano. I checked my case a few times with no success. I decided to pull everything out of it today and whaa-laa! I found it in the very bottom of the case underneath the foam padding. I figured I had it close but I was just not looking in the right place.

I got everything hooked up and decided to run a bit of JT65, however my clock was always off by more than 8 seconds! Normally such issues were caused when I would utilize Google Chrome or browsed in the background. Since this timing issue was normally indicative of browser use, I closed down everything except JT65 and of course, Dimension4, for the clock sync. Still it would always be 8 seconds off so needless to say, I was not decoding anything. I had it working just fine in Alaska, so something had to of changed. I decided to run PSK31 instead.

I had my Buddipole tuned for 10 meters but I parked on 20 meters in receive only mode for PSK31. I was using HRD's DM780 to decode and upload the spots or my reception reports. The map above is what I was hearing on 20 meters today on my indoor antenna. 

I had posted a tweet regarding my clock issues and thankfully Karen, W4KRN reminded me that the program needed to be run as an Administrator in Windows 7. Sometime during one of my numerous Windows updates (I normally shut off updates on ham computers as updates lead to more hair pulling and heartburn than what they are worth) something must have changed. I checked and sure enough, it was not running as Administrator so once I checked that box, things were back to where they were before I departed the 49th. 

IC703+ Connected to Mini Dell running DM780
I'm excited for this interface cable find as running QRP I can start taking advantage of some of the weak signal software to gain some new countries and states on the bands. The small screen on my Mini Dell can be an issue with some programs but JT65 has a small GUI version built right in, so it does a great job. DM780 can be a challenge but I'm hoping to grab some more software and start playing. I will be running WSPR on weekend nights in receive only mode just to get a grip on propagation in these parts. There is a new JT mode I want to try as well. While many are participating in the SSB contest this weekend, I will be playing around on the digital modes getting things set up. From HELL to RTTY, I'll be stalking digital signals and possibly working a few, too.