April 2013 – PI portable Porepunkah

Noise levels, particularly on High Frequency (H.F) are becoming increasingly severe within the confines of suburbia with the proliferation of consumer products generating more and more noise. Even on VHF the simulcast paging networks for emergency services have raised the noise floor considerably and if you are lucky enough to have a high VHF location, the downside is that you “see” more sites and hear more signals than most.

One of the best methods to avoid such noises, aside from RF shielding your entire property, is to go portable – out into the clean air, the clear skies and a much less noisy radio environment.

Recently my family and I chose Porepunkah as our Easter holiday location, camping on the banks of the Ovens River.

Porepunkah map google CROPPED

Porepunkah is a small town located on the Great Alpine Road, 6 kilometres north-west of Bright and is the gateway to Mount Buffalo and the surrounding national park. It is situated between Myrtleford and Bright, a pleasant 3 hour or so drive from Melbourne via the Hume Freeway and a cross country drive through Milawa after turning off the freeway just north of where the two McDonalds stores sit like sentries either side of the freeway.

The town has a general store, hotel and a few speciality shops. It is a very picturesque area, surrounded by mountains and a favourite for gliding enthusiasts, both powered and un-powered. In fact a few relaxing hours were spent at the Porepunkah Airport watching gliders being towed into the skies and micro-lights buzzing around like motor mowers on steroids!!

It is always a good idea to keep your portable equipment separate to that which is used on a day to day basis, if you can. In my case you can see in Photograph 1 my basic portable antenna equipment – end fed zeppelin wire antenna for HF with 450 ohm ladder line (1/2 wave on 80 metres in length), a Diamond X50 VHF/UHF vertical antenna and a homebrew 4 element 2 metre beam with 2 lengths of low loss solid copper core cable.

The first duty when setting up the portable camp (after completing orders by the Director of War (XYL) is to determine where the HF antenna is to be deployed. Generally I try to:

  • Find a single, solid, fairly high tree to anchor one end of the zepp , noting that at the operating end the zepp is tethered to the mast which in turn is bolted to my trailer;
  • Ensure that where possible, the antenna does not cross the path of other campers or their equipment;
  • Is reasonably covert and does not draw too much attention.

The PI Portable location at Porepunkah – food tastes better when camping and so is the radio operating.

In this case I was fortunate in that we had no campers to the south or west of our camp so I was free to run the end fed zepp wherever I wanted, however a straight run for the antenna was not available so I chose to run the zepp in an L shape with the zepp running south west for half of its length then north-north west for the other half. The zepp is a ½ wave on 80 metres using PVC coated multistrand copper wire, with 450 ohm ladder line as the feeder. This is fed into an MFJ Versa Tuner II Antenna Matching Unit (AMU).  The zepp loads up on all bands, including 6 metres. On 6 however the efficiency is down to around 50%, but still is useful. One year I operated on 6 metres with the zepp and worked a VK5 for 25 minutes with 10 watts power – not a bad effort.

The VHF/UHF setup at Porepunkah – Diamond X50 dual band VHF/UHF antenna at top and 4 element homebrew yagi for 2mx. Pity our location was only 10mx above the ground.

So, how did I go? Well, given my location at around 10 metres above sea level, VHF/UHF was not a roaring success on simplex or SSB, however a number of good contacts were made with Ian VK3AQU, Chris VK3KQU and Phil VK2CPR via the Mt. Hotham and Mt. Big Ben VHF repeaters.

In terms of “local” contacts it was great to catch up with Peter, VK3YE, operating Pedestrian Mobile at Carrum and being heard in Porepunkah with a consistent 5 x 8 signal on 40mx. Peter was running his FT817D with 5 watts and a magnetic loop antenna. Must build one. Then it was like a club net – Ian VK3QL, Frank VK3OP and Chris VK3FY were all solid signals on 40mx.  Graeme, VK3PGK, now living in Echuca, was a solid 5 x 9 signal using his 9 metre mast and an end fed antenna. I also worked two SOTA stations, Andrew VK1NAM at Mt. Ginini and Allen VK3HRA on VC-024 to the west of Melbourne, both on 40mx.

The transceiver, microphone and interconnecting cables, together with the AMU and cables, are stored in aluminium cases with foam inserts. This protects the equipment and makes all gear readily transportable. All other cables, HF antenna, hardware and spare ropes are stored and carried in an old army type kit bag. The speaker I use is a refurbished military type speaker made in 1937, which provides a rich, balanced sound from the FT857D.

Equipment is unpacked, set-up, operated and then re-packed each time I operate. This sounds like a chore but in reality takes only a few minutes. All power cables have Anderson plug connectors, including battery leads and power leads in the car.

The portable equipment – Yaesu FT-857D, MFJ 941E antenna matching unit and old Army speaker manufactured in May, 1937 – lovely sound!

This allows me to either use a standalone battery with solar panel trickle charging or the car battery. When the VHF/UHF antennas are not in use, the coaxial cable tails are stored in a waterproof bag whilst the ladder line feeder for the HF antenna is coiled and stored in a tree to ensure that pedestrians in our camp do not become tangled. Safety first!!

Finally, it is an imperative to make a checklist of all of the equipment required to operate successfully portable, as through bitter experience nothing is worse than heading away, setting up equipment, then finding you have left a microphone and/or morse keyer on your bench. Generally once I have returned from an operation, I re-stow equipment and check all contents so that when I pick up the equipment to operate again it is all there and ready to rock. Happy portable operations!!                                                                                                                 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Portable Operations

Portable Operations

FT7 Portable equipment Pambula watermark compressed

Nothing beats going “bush” with portable equipment, flinging a wire antenna into the trees, hooking up the sealed battery and having a listen for stations.

With so many aspects to enjoy in Amateur Radio, portable work may seem a lot of effort for little gain, but I can assure you even the most humble station can bring enjoyment.

For many years my portable station has consisted of:

  • HF transceiver – Yaesu FT-7, purchased in 1978, running 10 watts
  • Antenna – homebrew end fed zeppelin wire antenna, with open wire feeder, cut as a 1/2 wave on 80 metres
  • Antenna matching unit – MFJ balanced/unbalanced cross needle
  • VHF transceiver – Yaesu FT-290R, all mode low power unit
  • VHF antenna – homebrew 6 element yagi
  • 6m transceiver – Icom IC505, purchased in 2003, all mode up to 10 watts
  • 6m antenna – dipole

Many excellent contacts have been made using this humble set-up, with one of the most remarkable being a 6m contact with a VK5 whilst I was portable at Pambula, on the south coast of New South Wales.

The 6m dipole had been damaged and I could hear a number of beacons on 6m indicating that the band was open. With only the HF end fed zepp I thought I have nothing to lose, so I used the Antenna Matching Unit linked to the end fed zepp and the IC505. Voila!! Exactly 50% efficient – 10 watts in and 5 watts out.

With the end fed zepp at only 4 metres above the ground I worked a VK5 for the better part of 20 minutes with 5×7 signals both ways.

Imagine the VK5′s surprise when asking me what sort of beam I was using with my reply of a fixed end fed zepp antenna running south east-north west!! A marvellous contact.

And that is what portable operation is about – particularly with the magic band of 6m.

More soon on practical portable operations hints and kinks, and a yarn (story) or two.

The John Moyle Field Day

My first taste of operating in the John Moyle Field Day was in 1977, on a hilltop known as Mount Disappointment to the north of Melbourne.

I had joined the Western Suburbs Radio Club (later to be known as the Western and Northern Suburbs Amateur Radio Club) as a shortwave listener and was delighted to be able to hone my “on-air” skills using the club callsign of VK3AWS and with the mentoring of some excellent operators.

Since that time I have contributed to many club field days and in recent times driving the club to victory in the 6 hour club section over a number of consecutive years.

In 2012 I decided it was time to “have a crack” at the 6 hour single
operator VHF/UHF section and at a location of my choice.

Armed with a brand new FT857, a vertical dual bander VHF/UHF antenna and a homebrew 2 element beam for 6 metres, I set up my gear with a portable mast and a small card table. Frank VK3ZO trecked up to the same location as he was competing in the HF 6 hour single operator section.

After checking equipment, we were off and running. Now 6 hours does not sound like a long time, but operating exposed to the elements for that period requires some stamina and some necessities, namely:

            • Sunblock or sunscreen – even with little sun the wind on a mountain top will burn you
            • Plenty of fluids – preference is for water or low sugar drinks. Certainly
              no alcohol.
            • Food – you can’t operate well without fuel. Small meals on a regular
              basis is good.
            • Paper and pens – forget the computer programs. Means complexity. You should be able to handle the volume of calls as a single operator with a simple pen and paper.
            • Log sheets – make up some log sheets prior to the event with columns
              for the details you are required to record. ie. callsign worked, number sent, number received, QF locator, other details.
            • Torch or portable lighting – you may finish your 6 hour stint prior to
              sundown but by the time you pack up and head home the sun will well
              and truly be on the other side.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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”……………………………..

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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!!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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…………………………

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment