Heads it’s SOTA, tails it’s WWFF………..

2014 October 5 the 2 70 6 beams DSCI0070 compressed

The 6m,2m,70cm beams and 23cm vertical recently erected to compliment the HF end fed zeppelin. The end fed zeppelin is my main HF antenna and as a 1/2 wave on 80m it loads up on all HF bands.

My XYL was very generous this past weekend in sanctioning my focus on radio projects.
Most of the weekend was spent sorting components and generally trying to tidy up the shack so that I can see the benches again, interspersed with antenna testing and tuning. More of that in another blog.
On radio  40 metres (7MHz) was the main band of choice with conditions quite variable.
Most of my contacts for the weekend were with stations operating as part of the World Wide Flora and Fauna (WWFF) movement with only a couple of chaser contacts resulting from SOTA activations.
Andrew VK1DA/portable was my first contact on Saturday afternoon, with a beautiful signal from his Yaesu FT817D and 5 watts. Andrew certainly had a height advantage being  at 1449 metres on Boboyan Ridge VK1/AC-044 and his signal on 7090 was rock solid.
Next was Tony VK3VTH/portable on 7085, operating from the Lerderderg State Park VKFF 763 , 5×9 with his 100 watts and end fed inverted L antenna. Tony is very well known in WWFF circles as an activator and has been heard many times on the band working portable.
On Sunday Justin VK7TW/portable popped up on 7085 later activating Mount Faulkner VK7/SC-007 for the very first time. This was also the very first time that I had worked a VK7 on a summit and although Justin was at 900 metres for this contact his signals were reasonable and mostly above the electronic noises of suburbia. It is amazing to look at the location for Mount Faulkner VK7/SC-007 and appreciate how many SOTA sites are in the vicinity. Must remember this when I travel to VK7 with my XYL for a holiday.
I was bounding into the shack (or limping) every so often to have a rest from chopping wood, a physically demanding pastime which I would not recommend too often. Not too many stations around but did manage to work four WWFF activators in a row, namely:
John VK3FMPB – VKFF 775 at  Werribee Gorge State Park, Victoria John is a member of the WANSARC radio club and very passionate about portable operations and WWFF.
Brett VK4FTWO – Borderline signals above my local noise level with some very fast QSB. Had to wait for the right moment to give Brett a call and very glad to exchange reports. I did write down where Brett was activating from but for the life of me can I decipher my own hand writing at this stage? No. Will have to confirm Brett’s exact operating details so that I can add it to my “Hunter” log when I apply for the Bronze award.
Gerard VK2IO – VKFF 544 at Wollemi National Park  , New South Wales. Gerard had the strongest WWFF on the band at 5×9+30 dB on my Yaesu FT-890 meter. Gerard was using an FT100D and a ZS6DK doublet antenna at 9 metres. Very impressive signal.
Paul VK5PAS – VKFF881 at Ferries Macdonald Conservation Park, South Australia. Paul is a very avid portable enthusiast supporting both SOTA and WWFF programs. Always a pleasure to work Paul and having now dipped my toe into the WWFF world I can see the amount of work Paul has and continues to contribute to the Australian WWFF scene as the Australian VKFF Co-ordinator. Paul’s FT857D, 40 watts and linked dipole were doing a marvellous job and as this park was only registered recently I was pleased to work Paul and no doubt Paul was pleased to be the first to activate the park. That’s a win-win. Incidentally Paul worked 57 stations throughout Australia and New Zealand in 90 minutes which is a fair effort! Pauls blog on this activation can be found at http://vk5pas.org/2015/08/03/ferries-mcdonald-conservation-park-vkff-881/

To round out the afternoon I had a brief QSO with Andy VK2RM on 7092. His TS440 and G5RV were riding the crest of a propagation wave at 5×9+20 sent but then a short time later the band shifted considerably and it was time to say a hurried goodbye. Andy’s audio was very punchy with some echo behind it, but as he was operating from his kitchen the echo may have been expected. Andy did wind his audio back and it was much more pleasant to my ears anyway.
So that rounded out a very enjoyable series of contacts on the weekend.

And in between contacts I was swinging the axe and log splitter chopping and carting wood so that our open fire could cut a swath through the cold nights in Melbourne at the moment.

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Momentum……..

It has taken some time to achieve but I now have the work, family, radio, life balance see-saw at equilibrium.

So much so that I now have far more time to pursue the hobbies that give me so much pleasure, namely aviation photography and amateur radio.

Part of this change in my life has been re-defining the work and home boundary – if I need to complete some work I stay at work and do it rather than bring the work home. Home is now family and hobbies – to my surprise the see-saw is balancing.

And with this has come momentum in starting and finishing a raft of tasks that have been hanging around for……a long time!

Like a snowball flinging itself off a pinnacle I now have momentum.

So what I am focused on at the moment?2014 New study configuration tagged VK3PI DSCF6405

The new antenna array on the study has been erected using a Hills Telemast, supporting a Tri-band Diamond Vertical for 2m, 70cm and 23cm, a 2 element 6m beam, 4 element 2m beam and a 5 element 70cm beam. A light duty rotator is quite capable of rotating the array given the light weight construction of the beams.

Having acquired a 23cm dish I am toying with the idea of putting the dish on the top of the mast but I will need to consider the wind loading as even mesh dishes will catch wind!

New cable runs are under construction as the existing cables restrict the height at which I can extend the mast.

The old study mast (also a Hills Telemast but only 3 sections) has been removed from its location and is being prepared to become the support mast for our television antenna. Well, not just the television antenna – also a 160m helical vertical, a VHF/UHF discone antenna and a sloper for RX only.

Given it is winter here at present the weather will play a part in when I can complete the antenna works but that’s OK.

Indoors I have a few rig projects on the go, including:

  • Adjustment of the 10m HTX-100 microphone audio settings – I have over-compensated with a new microphone (the original did not drive the rig correctly anyway)
  • Cleaning and servicing a Yaesu FT-7B to restore its operation. This was purchased for a song and is in good condition given its age
  • Identification and labelling of all power, audio and coaxial cables – is already making things easy when I am moving equipment around. Maybe for the coax cables I should have one patch panel?
  • Using the Rig Expert AA-600 to test my current antennae and those I am considering putting in the air, including a 6m vertical, dual band Diamond VHF/UHF antenna and a 10m vertical2015 July 23 Rig Expert AA-600 compressed VK3PI

I am glad I waited until buying an SWR analyzer tool as it was worth the wait and the $ to buy a Rig Expert AA-600. This is the most expensive but most useful piece of test equipment I have ever purchased, saving enormous time testing and tuning antenna’s at home, on my vehicles or for friends.

Next time a snapshot of recent QSO’s on the air – yes, I am spending more time on air as well.

 

 

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Hand me ups……………

Way back when I was a kid (read in our politically correct world now – child) it was the custom to receive hand me downs. Toys, books, clothes, even pens and pencils were passed down within families or from relatives.

Our family was not well endowed with cash so the priorities each week related to maintaining a roof over our head and having enough food on the table. The only electronic gadget around the house was a simple AM transistor radio, good enough to wander around the backyard and listen to the Saturday afternoon football. Oh yes, in those days football was only played on Saturday afternoon – no Friday, Saturday night or Sunday football. That is another story.

Wind the clock forward 40 years and the marketing world has had a major victory – everyone wants everything now and it must be the latest, greatest and newest gadget. Now if you think this is an over statement, how many times have you driven down your local street and seen what appear to be reasonably good televisions on the nature strip begging to be picked up and loved? What has happened for such much loved items to be outcast from the warmth of a dwelling and cast to the elements?

Marketing.

It is not good enough these days to view a picture in colour on a perfectly good television, it now must be LCD or Plasma with SD, HD, 3D and a raft of other features. And yes, size is very important. You thought 22 inches was OK but as our genes have evolved and given us taller and larger children so too must our television sets grow. Digressing slightly having seen statistics recently quoting 60% of Australian males and over 50% of Australian females as obese are our television sets destined for a similar fate? When is a big television obese?

Our children are being brainwashed to believe that it is a right to have the most expensive, feature packed gadget (replace gadget with car, house, boat, caravan where applicable) available on the market without regard to cost.

When my wife and I married it was a case of what can we beg or borrow from relatives until we can afford some “new” things. The kitchen table was my grandmothers old table, the television was a hand me down and the “couch” consisted of two bean bags (very comfortable, I might add). The television set was a furniture piece in its own right – a screen with gold knobs and cloth covered speakers enclosed in some polished timber with four sturdy legs. The “stereo” unit boasted a turntable to play 33, 45 and 78 revolutions per minute (r.p.m) music, AM radio stations were available but no FM and this unit boasted a cassette player. In our world we had been taught to only acquire something if you could really afford it.

And in terms of marketing life was very simple. Advertising on television was more a novelty than a hard sell. “Uncle Doug” on Channel 7’s World of Sport was the consummate salesman and yes, a “Four’n’Twenty” pie held general appeal at any time of the day. Listeners were not bombarded by information through technology – most people read a newspaper each day, some watched a little television and most others listened to the AM radio. Internet was but a speck on the technology horizon and mobile telephones were for the very rich and not within the reach of the “common people”.

So what has changed? Advertising hence marketing now permeates all of our information technology mediums. We now have a much broader range of entertainment choices – AM and FM radio with a mix of commercial and public stations. Subscriber pay television with dedicated “theme” channels and now a plethora of digital, high or standard definition theme channels with catchy names such as GO, MATE, ONE and GEM! Mobile phones are now mini command centres with links to messaging, internet access, emails, photographs, video’s, bluetooth and yes, voice communications. And who does not now link into the internet, either on a mobile device or on the home PC, not to mention “social networking sites” such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.  With all of these media advertising permeates each and every one, so that we are constantly bombarded with up front promotions, some in our face and others that are very subtle in their messages.

And no subject is taboo in this day and age.

How do you keep a straight face when you are driving your 12 year old daughter to gymnasium and an “erectile dysfunction” promotion blares out over the radio – father/daughters eyes lock for an instant…..what do I do, say something, switch the radio over very quickly or just ignore the voice over urging males to do something about this horrific medical issue? In the end my daughter smiled – no need to change the station – the awkward moment had passed. After all, my 12 year old probably realized that with a sister and brother this was not an issue…..maybe she smiled because it was great to hear her father, normally one to talk under water with ease, awkwardly lost for words.

Now you may have the impression that I have steadfastly resisted the urge to bend to the whims of marketing people. Yes, in some cases this is true. All of my radio equipment is old and I refuse to buy a new fangled box with 4385 features of which only 3 will ever be used – receive, transmit and change frequency.

The challenge, however, is getting the balance right between wanting your children to have more opportunities than you did and resisting the urge to replace perfectly functional items with newer fangled devices.

In the last few days the good marketing people at “3” told me that I was “an awesome customer”. My youngest daughter agreed! I mean, “3” and youngest daughter must be right! And in recognition of this “fact” I was being offered an upgrade to my phone and three months of free access. Plus free access to social networking sites.

The fact is that I had already recently swapped my daughters “meagre” monthly cap for my own, given her my telephone number and a new phone.  I had resorted to sourcing a more reliable older Nokia phone from that great recycling system – eBay.

The savings offered to this “awesome customer” proved too great to ignore, so with glee my daughter received a new phone, upgraded cap and free access to twitterfacemyspace sites. Oh the joy to see her face as we silently drove home from the phone shop – me concentrating on the road and she concentrating on driving her new phone.

At home a handover presentation took place – my trusty LG flip phone could now be retired as a spare and I received my daughters pre-loved Samsung. Yes, this was a much more “featured” phone than my LG, and yes, the screen is much clearer to read.

As I burrowed into the couch to learn how to use this beast I reflected on how my daughter had actually “handed me down” her phone.

No, we had now  entered the new cycle of “hand me ups”……………………………..

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Progress at last…………

It has been a great week for leaving the radio gear switched off and getting on with the business of building antennae and hardware. I have been meaning to add new antennae to the skyline here for sometime but I have been too distracted with other matters to really concentrate.

So this week has been a “focus” week.

The second of three support posts for wire antennae and the telemast support has been installed and the concrete base support has now cured. It did not take too long to do and with a window of “sunny” opportunity last Tuesday it was off to the hardware store for some pre-mixed concrete, out with the trowel/wheelbarrow/water bucket and presto – concrete pad completed.  And with a spurt of energy yesterday afternoon I started moving the hundreds of pavers where the third support post will be sited. Managed to move 90 before having a rest – should be able to have the rest moved by the weekend ready for some hole digging. The support posts were purchased on eBay some two years ago and consist of heavy duty rectangular steel channel. Two of the support posts have base plates which have allowed a boxed system of bolts to be used in concrete pads. The third does not have a base plate however this will not matter – I will mount this directly into concrete. Each of the posts have pre-drilled holes for wire antenna supports.

The intention is to use the supports for a series of inverted vee antenna’s and/or sloper antenna’s. I have never built or used a sloper antenna before so I am looking forward to experimenting with this simple wire antenna. Having read quite a few reviews on this antenna it would appear that the jury is out on its benefits. Some say that the sloper is not a performer, others swear by it. It would appear to me from a theory sense that the key to the antenna functioning correctly is the earth connection at the tower (high) end. Time will tell when I start experimenting.

The Icom PCR-1000 receiver now has a couple of additional antenna’s as choices for listening. A 28MHz helical whip has been installed with a groundplane on a cross bar attached to the telemast. On the other end I have installed a Diamond X-30 VHF/UHF collinear antenna. This antenna is a smaller brother to the X-200 and although it has less gain it is a reasonably compact antenna and lightweight.  I have completely covered the original fibreglass radome with a combination of high quality tape and a silicon spray. One of the problems over time with an untreated radome is that the white covering used on the fibreglass breaks down over time due to weather and UV sun exposure. This then allows water to form from condensation and the water pools at the base of the antenna, causing the SWR to rise to a point where the antenna is not usable. So having stripped and cleaned the antenna 5 years ago I have not had any further issues.

Next on the agenda is the construction of a simple 6 metre beam. A trip to the local aluminium supplier will be in order next week and then the construction of a low band 1.8MHz loop antenna. This will be used for listening obviously on 1.8Mhz but I am also keen to use it to monitor Non Directional Beacons (NDB’s) and a small number of amateurs experimenting in the 500KHz region. A group is very active on yahoo.com – search for the 600m group and join if you have an interest in very low frequency radio. Many in the group are using software programs to detect and decipher low frequency transmissions, as signal levels can be very low and not detectable by ear.

Finally I have ventured into the web world of Google and API’s. I have created a web page which brings up the google earth map and now I am trying to work out how to put placemarks on it. I have worked out how to do this on my own instance of google earth but it is a little trickier when imbedding it in to your own web page – at least for a cyber newbie like me it is trickier!! Still, good fun but very time consuming.

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Let the sun shine………

What a great day! The sky was devoid of grey, terrain hugging clouds – well at least for most of the day. Out came the lawnmower and a quick run over the grass performed a miracle in transforming the backyard from a jungle of twisted green mess to a manicured plateau of green. Mind you, mowing around the “half erect” telemast was a challenge – the telemast has been down for some time and given some recent health problems it has been impossible to do any work on it. Hence the grass was snaking its way up the legs of the ladder supporting the telemast and long Yagi for 2 metres.

Strangely the transformation of the backyard with the warming rays of the sun gave me much needed inspiration to continue sorting out old and new equipment, with a view to finally getting some antennae in the air on a permanent basis. The 2m yagi is a 15 element homebrew antenna with a gamma match arrangement. It performs very well. The question has been – what do I put up with it?? The current light duty rotator is capable of rotating the 2m beam with ease, but I am mindful of loading the rotator up too much with other arrays.

I do have a very long television antenna, which was donated to me by a family friend and this may very well form the basis for a 2 or 3 element yagi for 6 metres. For some time I have been using a 1/2 wave vertical on 6 metres, side mounted on my 8 metre tower. When conditions are good, I have had no problems in working VK2, VK3, VK4 and VK5 stations. However some directivity is needed to work more distant stations so a light weight beam would be a bonus. The television antenna has a very sturdy but lightweight boom and if I can salvage and re-use some of the element cross arms I will only need to purchase a length of aluminium for the elements and the gamma match. Sounds like a plan.

Now what to put on the top of the telemast? Yes, I am certainly keen to use as much space as I can for antennae. Perhaps a loop antenna for 160mx receive and for Low Frequency reception may be the go? This could very well compliment the 160 metre 1/4 wave helically wound vertical I am currently constructing. In researching 160 metre operations it is apparent that having individual receive and transmit antennae can be advantageous. With this in mind the optimum solution may be to build a small loop antenna, which when rotated will give me some very good directivity. The 160mx vertical design comes from an old 50’s ARRL handbook, advocating that if one uses a half wavelength of wire (80 metres) on a vertical pole of 8 metres or more, the resultant antenna will electrically look like a 1/4 on the desired band of operation. So out to measure the required wire!!!

Today I also made some progress on the second of three wire support posts in the backyard. This one is on the west side of our house and will support sloping wire antennae with the apex on my tower plus it will support a number of guy wires for the telemast. Two of the dynabolt holes had already been drilled but to ensure that the other two line up with the post base I made a template this afternoon, marked the drill holes with a punch and proceeded to drill two guide holes. Alas the light beat me, however you can sense that the days are getting longer and spring is in the air!

The weather forecast for Melbourne is not promising in the next few days. Rain and more rain, however if I am up at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning I may be able to get the dynabolt holes completed, level the support post and lock it down before the heavens open.

Then to the last of the three supports – tougher job as before I can create a concrete pad for the post, I have to move some spare pavers and bricks…………now that is not fun for the solo ham!!

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So this is the world of blogs………

Forgive me for my nervous start here, but this is a new world to the novice web site maker. So what do you talk about in your first blog?? Such a plethora of things I could say but what is appropriate in this world?

Perhaps a starting point is to confine such words of wisdom to the topic of my website and that is Australia Radio, more specifically my world of radio.

Of late it has been very frustrating not being able to climb my small radio tower and continue to consolidate the feedlines and antenna’s available to me. To go from being very active in mind (and yes, slower in body) to being confined to more sedintary tasks has been difficult. However in matters of the heart one listens to the man or woman with the stethoscope and if they say rest, god damn it, rest it must be.

In all honesty though rather than be a bull (and a much skinnier one at that now) at a gate it has given me time to reflect on what antenna’s I really need. It has also given me time to research a range of less traditional antenna’s. Let’s face it, yagi beams, quads and verticals are a dime a dozen. But what about the magnetic loop antenna, the DDRR and the end fed zeppelin? Now we are starting to talk about some very interesting designs.

Furthermore I have no intention of paying hundreds of dollars for commercial directive antenna’s. The budget will stretch for small bi or tri-band verticals, but the amount of money demanded for commercial antennae is ridiculous. Best to build the antennae, save some money and get some valuable experience from it.

In fact I have been running a homebrew end fed zeppelin for a number of years, using open wire feeder, with great results. The general principle of the zepp is that the length of the antenna is a half wave on the lowest frequency to be operated on. In my case I don’t have enough room for a half wave on 160 metres, so a half wave on 80 metres is used as the overall wire length. By adding a vertical helical section on the far end support pole I found that the radiation characteristics changed for the better, with an ability to hear and work a combination of stations running solely horizontal or vertical antenna’s.

I have a small 8 metre fixed tower and a hills telemast which has four sections. The tower now has four permanent antenna’s affixed – duoband 2m/70cm antenna, VHF groundplane for aircraft monitoring, UHF Dingo 70cm vertical and a “standby” 10 metre whip antenna. The “standby” antenna is perfect for accessing the local 10m FM repeater. The telemast has a light duty rotator fitted with a 15 element 2m beam. I am now trying to determine the best utilisation for the telemast, given I can rotate antenna’s. So some thought is required as I could put a 70cm beam above the 2m beam with an Amateur Television (ATV) receive antenna on top of the 70cm beam, or put the receive antenna above the 2m beam and place a low frequency loop antenna on the type for listening to the 196KHz allocation, the new 507KHz experimental stations and of course those on 160 metres.

Decisions, decisions. And plenty of time to make them at the moment…………………………

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