Making Waves – New QTH and new Challenges

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Recently we moved from Grantham – IO92QV – to Kirkby in Ashfield – IO93IC.  The Grantham QTH was OK for HF but useless for VHF and above as it was in a dip, totally surrounded by high buildings and 200ft hills containing iron ore.  The new QTH however is 154m above sea level offering great prospects for VHF and UHF – but how to take advantage of them?

The first challenge we faced was the weather.  On the day we moved (27/02/2018) we were hit by the worst snow storm in 20 years which closed off roads and communities across the UK. To add to our problems the heating didn’t work so with sub zero temperatures and no hot water there were other priorities before thinking antennas and such.  Getting an emergency plumber out in those conditions was not easy and it did take two days to do so.

However, I did eventually manage to get up a 14MHz EFHW as a temporary antenna for HF and a collinear for VHF.  I also bought a new 2m radio – the Yaesu FTM3200D so I could see what the digital mode (C4FM / Fusion) was about.  This proved to be quite interesting, providing a very clean signal, but sorely underused.  With standard FM I can now access GB3LM, GB3NF and GB3CF – Lincoln, Nottingham and Leicester repeaters on 2m.

IMG_20180420_095600 The FT-480R 

I also use a Yaesu FT-480R for 2m.  This provides 10W output on FM and CW and 30W PEP on SSB.  For SSB and CW a vertically polarised antenna is not much use so I needed to raise my 10 element diamond Yagi form the garden to a good height .

IMG_20180405_150406_676 UHF and VHF Yagi antennas in garden 

Obviously, not having a suitable ladder for the task I called on the services of a local antenna installer who came round and duly fitted it up on T and k brackets for me.

IMG_20180409_170222_766 Above the roof now… 

With the antenna in this position I have managed to work into Scunthorpe (North East) and Wales (South West) on 2m SSB. I also have a 13 element Yagi (DL6WU) for 23cm but that has yet to go up.

For HF I am using an HW-40HP OCFD at 8m AGL – this is about 1.5m below my 2m/70cm collinear.  When (if) the rain stops I am also going to set up a long wire for 80m.  The garden is a little over 20m in length so this should be quite easy.

IMG_-yyscmf The Collinear with the HW-40HP below it.

Making Waves -Break downs and silver linings

It all began when something went wrong with my trusty Yaesu FTdx1200.  This being my main HF/6m radio what was I to do?  The screen had gone from displaying all the necessary information to enable QSOs to be made to simply being the white screen of death.

Pic1Fig 1. The Yaesu FTdx1200 white screen of death

Well, I tried doing a full reset but no change, I opened it up and reinserted all the ribbon cables relating to both the screen and the FFT-1 unit but still no change.  So it was time to first contact the dealer I had bought the radio from originally (5 years ago).  They told me that it was probably a screen fault and that the screen would need replacing at a cost of £167 plus labour at £60/hour. So I then phoned Yaesu UK who told me pretty much the same. OUCH!

I ordered a USB to RS232 (9 pin) cable from eBay to see if a software update would cure it. I also found an ICOM IC-746 on auction currently at £299, I put in a maximum bid just in case and, in the meantime, set up my stand by radio for HF – the FT-817ND.  I turned it on and tried to copy some CW but after the lovely DSP features and narrow filters available on the FTdx1200, it sounded like someone had left the barn door open and there were a hundred stations all working on top of each other. Not good at all.

In the meantime, the USB to RS232 lead arrived but, to my chagrin, was the wrong gender – I needed a female RS232 head and this was a male one.  So I ordered another, the other way around.  Whilst waiting for the new cable to arrive I watched the price of the IC-746 rising as others put bids in over the days.  None of them came to the level that I put in originally though and suddenly I am the winner of an eBay auction  for what was one of the radios I could only have dreamed of owning when they were available (very expensive back then).  The price – £344 plus £30 shipping, £374 altogether. So, I scrabbled around in my piggy bank for loose coins and paid for it.

The new (to me) IC-746 arrived five days later complete with a pair of headphones.

Pic2Fig. 2 The IC-746 

I now had to find somewhere in the shack to set it up..

It is a little smaller than the FTdx1200 but still weighs in at 11Kg so |I looked to set it up on the second bench in the shack.  Now this radio would give me something that the Ftdx1200 didn’t have – 100W output on 145mhz as well as HF/50MHz.  I do enjoy operating on 2m SSB and CW but I had another problem following the storms that struck the UK during February my rotator on my VHF mast has broken – it won’t turn so is fixed beaming south west. This will be a job when the weather improves as it means going 8m up a ladder in a tight spot. However, I did manage to find room for the IC-746 and get it set up for 2m using the beam.

Pic3Fig.3 The IC-746 running 144mhz USB and a FRG-9600 RX receiving local airport traffic.

Then the new USB-RS232 cable arrived, so I plugged it into both my laptop and the CAT port on the rear of the Yaesu and logged onto the yaesu.com website.  Following the instructions on the software update page I turned on the radio whilst pressing both the up and down arrow keys and presto – it came back to life.  Wow, that could have been an expensive repair for the sake of a software/firmware glitch! So now I have two HF sets and one good QRO VHF set.  The ICOM does seem more sensitive than the Yaesu at picking out weak signals on SSB and CW but misses out on some of the nice features of the Yaesu which is more a SDR than a traditional radio.  The ICOM does have a scratch in the centre of the screen but I can live with that.  How will they be used? Well, I will use the Yaesu for CW and contests on HF as I have it plugged into the linear amp whereas the ICOM will be used mainly for VHF and, once I get a second antenna up for HF, can be used for dual band monitoring.  I am currently using an antenna switch to switch between them so I can compare them both but this is never the best way.

73 until next time, M0CVO

Making Waves – Building the KANGA Products OXO Transmitter Kit (Part 2)

December 21, 2019 Leave a comment

2

Following on from yesterday when I started building this excellent kit from Kanga Products, I have today managed to build the rest of it, all that it needs now is a power source and a Low Pass Filter before it can be plugged into an antenna.  Neither of these are included of course but the power supply can be a simple 9V battery (or 12V PSU) and the LPF a simple 5 or 7 pole LC filter.

7The completed board

Overall the PCB was easily populated with the components and personally I shall add a polyvaricon to the terminal beside the XTAL labelled Cvar.  The option was to either bridge this and have the frequency rock set to the XTAL value or add a variable capacitor to enable a swing on the frequency.  Therefore I am going for the latter option.  If I have any criticism of the kit it is that the XTAL(s) supplied are in a large can – I would probably replace them with the smaller low profile ones – and they are supplied at 14.050 and 7.028MHz, not the QRP frequencies of 7.030 and 14.060MHz.  I am planning on designing/building a switched XTAL bank to allow operation on all the QRP frequencies from 80m – 20m (possibly 15m) using XTALs I have here.

 

I have yet to do a smoke test and check the stability of the RF generated yet but this will be in the next stage as I have other things to be doing now.  I shall be checking both with and without a LPF straight into a dummy load before I plug it into an antenna of any sort though.  I also need to find a suitable enclosure for it.

Making Waves – Building the KANGA Products OXO Transmitter Kit (Part 1)

December 20, 2019 Leave a comment

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As it’s nearing Christmas 2019, I decided to treat myself to an OXO TX kit from Kanga Products UK.  This is an updated version of the OXO transceiver made famous by the late GM3OXX now providing a multi-band version.  So I ordered it from KANGA and it turned up here yesterday in a jiffy bag/envelope.  Taking it out it was nicely packaged in a sealed plastic sleeve.

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Making sure I had all necessary test equipment ready (including the Sandford Wattmeter also from Kanga Products) I set to work to start assembling it on the CVO towers workbench.

Opening up the outer sleeve and removing the contents I was pleased to see that all the components were sorted in separate bags of resistors, capacitors, transistors, etc.  tis makes individual components much easier to find as opposed to just having everything dumped into a single bag.

3 everything sorted into individual bags

The instructions needed to be downloaded from the website and consisted of a three page .PDF file.  To quote one paragraph from them:

“Though the fitting of the parts is straight forward, it is highly recommended that all components are soldered in the order they are listed in the component list”

Although this may seem a no brainer it is good advice as you can then mark off each component as it is fitted and it runs in order of resistors, capacitors, transistors, crystals and then connectors.  This also follows the order of the bags.  My only criticism here is that the coil isn’t mentioned in the list but is mentioned in a separate paragraph.  It needs winding by hand and is 17 turns of 24SWG ECW wound on a very small ferrite toroidal core.  This is surface mount and laid flat on the PCB and should be mounted first ideally.

4The PCB is nicely printed and fairly easy to follow

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So, contrary to my earlier advice I first fitted the resistors to the board.  Fairly easy through hole devices and Dennis, from Kanga UK, has kindly listed the colour coding of each resistor beside its value in the list.  Not really necessary for those of us in the know but for those not familiar with resistor colour codes a handy help.

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Next I wound the coil.  The former is very small and this can be fiddly.  Note, if you are going to build one yourself do leave the ends long as if you cut them too short….  Anyway once wound I fitted the coil to the board using the plastic screw, washer and nut supplied before soldering the tails to the pads on the board.  Contrary to popular belief the enamel coating on the copper wire doesn’t melt away to reveal bare copper when you apply a soldering iron.  I use a Dremel Multi-tool to remove some of the enamel coating before applying solder.  Once this was secure I then applied the capacitors in order, with the large electrolytic one being fitted last of all, ensuring the polarity was correct.  that was it for today as work got in the way but I will continue when I next get round and will hopefully have it complete and ready to test next time.

C# WPF programming / my other side

October 21, 2019 Leave a comment

As well as antennas and radio I am also quite keen on coding/programming in C# for mainly Windows applications.  I started writing programs in the 1980’s using Commodore BASIC and moved on from there.  A few years ago (about 10) I picked up where I left off and started using Visual C# in Visual Studio.  Funnily, although I started out with BASIC, I just couldn’t get on with Visual Basic – a feeling I hear echoed amongst many of my friends and contacts – so I gave C# a go.

I started like most with the standard “Hello World” program:-

  • static void Main(string[] args)
  • {
    • Console.Writeline(“Hello World”);
  •  {

and then moved on to Windows Forms programming which was quite easy and self explanatory. Using Windows XP and Windows 7 (never touched Vista) Windows Forms were great and I created many small but useful programs, some of which I published through the Microsoft app store.  Then with the advent of Windows 8 Windows Store apps were more for the Windows Phone which, unfortunately was too late to the already flooded smartphone market and was later withdrawn.  Also around this time, I moved from using Windows Forms to using WPF in Visual Studio 2012.  What a difference! Gone were the square regimental blocks used in WinForms and suddenly transition between pages and windows was much more fluid and reasonable animation was possible.  However, it did mean also having to learn XAML.

WinFormsSample Windows Forms layout in VS2017

WPFSample.JPG WPF layout in VS2017, note the XAML beneath the design screen.

Then Windows 10 happened.  With Windows 10 the Windows Store became more difficult -apps had to be written in UWP(Universal Windows Protocol) format.  An absolute nightmare for most developers.  This was a much stricter protocol with limitations on what was allowed and , due to the many different form factors including PC Desktop, tablet, Phone, etc, it need to be able to resize without truncation.  So what now for all of us who had been happily writing software in WinForms or WPF?  Did this mean that we would have to learn UWP coding?

UWPSample UWP Layout in VS2017

Not at all it turns out.  Thankfully, if you upgrade to Visual Studio 2019 (even the Community Version) you can write your desktop apps using WPF in order to tweak them and perfect them ready for uploading to the Windows Store.  However, before you can you must first right click on the solution and add new project.  This should be a UWP blank app. There is no need to write any code for this project, just right click on the project and associate it with the app you have created in WPF.  Once you have done this right click on the UWP project that you have added and scroll down to publish and then create Windows Store App Package.  This will create a package that can be uploaded to the Windows Store (.appxupload, appxbundle, etc).

Of course, in all samples above, the result is the same, the message “Hello World” is displayed in the screen. However, in the first, console project the command to do so is

“Console.Writeline(“Hello World”);

in the Windows Form and WPF the command is

“MessageBox.Show(“Hello World”);

and in the UWP app the command is

“MessageDialog msg = new MessageDialog(“Hello World”);
msg.ShowAsync();”

Showing how each of the different packages differ in their command format.

Making Waves, New Opportunities, KW and beyond…..

September 28, 2019 Leave a comment

It has been a while since I have written anything on my blog but this is mainly because I have been rather busy.  The antenna business ( www.m0cvoantennas.com ) went from being busy to very busy at the beginning of the year and has remained so since.  In March of this year I was given the opportunity to take over as Director of K.W.Electronics Limited (Company #08587607).  progress was slow at first but in July 2019 I received certificates transferring over the title of Director to myself.

KW_Logo

KW Electronics was first founded in the 1950s by G8KW.  They produced many receivers, transmitters and accessories for the amateur radio market, the most famous being the KW Vanguard Transmitter that featured in Dr. No, the 1962 James Bond film as can be seen HERE.
Now under new ownership, KW Electronics Limited is all set to bring you new products aimed at the amateur radio and commercial radio market suitable for the 21st Century.
The first products introduced to the new KW Electronics company profile are a Morse Code Practice Oscillator, either completed and boxed or the same in kit form (not including the box.
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The K.W.Electronics Morse Code Practice Oscillator available HERE
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The K.W.Electronics Morse Code Practice Oscillator Kit available HERE
There are other things currently being worked on such as a VHF preamp and an all band active antenna (both for RX only).  We also currently have an all band HF antenna – the KW-V – which is the CHAD (Compact Helical Asymmetric Dipole) developed by Ken Ginn, G8NDL.  However, as we are awaiting some parts this is not currently available.
Full details of K.W.Electronics Limited can be found HERE.

Building Block kits

As radio amateurs we all love to build kits – maybe a test meter, maybe a small receiver or whatever but, if it is home built it is something we can be proud of.  With this in mind, M0CVO Antennas designed the VXO Oscillator kits way back in 2017.  I their simplicity these are based around a Colpitt’s Oscillator and provide a sine wave output that can be followed by a mixer by other modules to create a small transmitter, a receiver (Direct Conversion) or many other things where a stable known signal source is required.These became popular in the UK for Foundation Licence radio amateurs who wished to advance to the Intermediate Licence, part of the course for which entails building a kit that would/could be useful in the radio shack later.  They are currently available for either 40m (7.030MHz) or 20m (14.060MHz).  Both of these are available from HERE. This kit, whichever frequency you choose, is the BB1 kit or Building Block #1.

untitled The VXO Oscillator.

Moving on a couple of years, M0CVO Antennas has now developed and released the second building block kit – the BB2.  This is a class A follow on/buffer amplifier.  Similarly to the BB1 kit is is rather simple in construction, the idea being for self learning in electronics so it can be built by anyone, whatever their level of electronics experience.  They are supplied with PCB and all components needed to build the unit but the constructor must supply their own enclosure if they require one.  All inputs and outputs are via MOLEX connectors.

20190509_135308  Completed BB2 Kit

If a crystal oscillator or VFO is used as the input (eg the VXO Oscillator Kit) this will increase the output signal power to ~1W depending on input voltage (9 – 12V DC).  A couple of these have been constructed and tested as can be seen in the following images:

20190511_091550 20190511_091539 20190511_091534 Under test

The fourth MOLEX connector at the top of the board is for either a switch or a CW Key.  It can be used in its complete state, with a suitable signal source, as a QRP(P) transmitter.  However, suitable filters (band pass or low pass) must be used and a suitable antenna must be connected.  Also a relevant amateur radio licence must be held in order to use it thus. These are available from HERE.

Build Yourself a 40/80m Antenna For Small Gardens Part 2.

January 14, 2019 3 comments

After writing the previous article on the small antenna for 40 and 80m HF Bands I was asked by several people for photographs of the antenna in question.  Therefore I have done this article as a follow on with pictures.

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Firstly you need the coil to be wound.  This one is 78 turns for 1mm ECW on a 41mm diameter former (plastic pipe) at 140mm long.  The screws hold the wire in place as described in previous blog post.

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Then you take two lengths of wire – one at 10.14m and one at 2m (or longer – I cut this one at 2.5m) and attach them either side of the coil.  Tape the longer section to a fibre glass fishing pole using insulation tape and allow the other end to lay loose beside it.  raise the pole and tie the hanging end off to somewhere convenient – I used the fence.

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A better picture of the coil on final position.

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Use of choc block to attach coax cable – second wire is a 10m long earth wire.

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The earth wire is just run around the garden.

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Final test using an AA30 antenna analyser shows the SWR at 3550kHz – just in the right place for a spot of CW DXing. Obviously , if you wanted the sweet spot higher, use a shorter length of wire at the end.