Category: Ham Radio

NAQCC-WFL Outing

NAQCC-WFL Outing

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The view from our operating position at Anclote Park

Friday I went out to Anclote Park for the monthly NAQCC-WFL outing. NAQCC-WFL stands for North America QRP CW Club – West Florida. Being in Lakeland, I can attend the WFL or FL outings as they both are just as far from me. I almost wonder if we need a Central Florida chapter, but thats a subject for a different post.

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Ron – N9EE

It was almost a 2 hour drive and I left the house a little before 7:00 am for the 9:00 meeting. The only other member that showed up was Ron, N9EE. Three members if you include Sam! It is the first time I’ve met Ron and we had a good “meeting of the chapter.”

Ron set up his FT-817 and wire dipole and I set up my KX3 and Buddipole antenna. Band conditions were not that great and we had our antennas too close as we both got interference from each other even when

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Mag Loop Antenna

on different bands. I made one solid contact to Mark, AF4NW, in North Carolina. Ron had made a few contacts. Ron also had he friends mag loop antenna and he tried that out. We were not very successful and we were not 100% sure we were tuning it right. Receive signals were a good 2-3 S-units lower than his dipole.

Overall, I had a good time. It was a long drive. In fact, drive time was greater than the time spent with the radio. Yet, I plan on attending these on a regular basis. I think its good to get out and meet other people and have some fun on the radio at the same time.

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Of course, where ever I am, Sam will not be too far away!
CWops – relearning CW

CWops – relearning CW

I’ve been accepted to CW Academy given by CWops. This is a very successful course in teaching CW and stresses head copying vs. copying onto paper. Copying onto paper is a hinderance to copying speed because you can only write so fast. I heard somewhere that you cannot write any faster than 15-20 words per minute.

I have to admit, I am struggling with this. In order to head copy you need a decent short-term memory and if you know me, you know mine is shot. For those of you who don’t know me, I am “disabled.” I was in a serious auto accident in November of 2015 that caused permeant brain damage. One of the main things caused by this is short-term memory loss (long with a host of other issues). This is making it very hard for me to copy without a pencil, even the short three letter words. I forget the first letter by the time the last letters sent. At the same time, this will help rebuild some of the pathways damaged by the accident and stretch my cognitive abilities.

The great part about CWops is they assign you an “Elmer.” For those of you uninitiated in the ways of ham radio, an Elmer is a mentor. No one really knows where the term Elmer came from. My Elmer is Ken Talbott. I wrote him last night about my frustration and we are going to meet on Skype today to discuss this. I told him under no circumstances do I want to give up but I’m not sure I can meet the expectations of the class.

Wish me luck as I try to bring my code speed up and be able to copy it better.

Putting Together a WinKeyer (MacKeyer)

Putting Together a WinKeyer (MacKeyer)

It’s been a long time since I soldered or put anything together electronic related. It used to be a regular thing for me 30 years ago when I attended DeVry (where we are serious about success) and worked in the electronics industry. It all stopped when I started working on copiers then computers where everything was board replacement.

I decided to embrace my inner geek this week and bought a kit to put together. It’s the W1EL WinKey. It seems simple enough for my first project in 30 years. All the surface mount components have already been installed and all I have to put on is the big things like buttons and connectors.

I made it through the first page with no issues. I did figure out if I continue to do kits I need a smaller solder iron and solder! The key jack, USB port and speaker are installed. Now onto the switches.

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The switches were a breeze. The next step was the RCA phono jacks that were easy to solder on too.

When I had to do the next step, solder the wires for the speed potentiometer and battery case I remembered why I hate soldering. You need a third set of hands. I was able to get it all together now on to the tests.

IT’S ALIVE!!! I put the batteries in and it passed the first test, it sent an “R” in Morse code when it got power. It passed the next test – it sent an “MT” for each button pressed (stands for eMpTy). I plugged in a key and it sent dits and dahs! All stand alone functions work. Now to test hosted mode… It worked well on MacLoggerDX. I also got it working with my contest logger, Skookum Logger, which was the primary reason I acquired the WinKeyer (in my case, MacKeyer).


The hardest part of this project was getting the cover on! The space between the battery and the RCA jacks is very tight. Like fractions on an inch tight. I had to reposition he battery in order to get everything to fit.

Overall, this was a very easy kit to put together. You just need a small soldering iron, some solder and some patience.

Taking a Forced Break

Taking a Forced Break

My luck has not been to good lately on trying to activate parks. First, my KX3 had issues just when I was getting rolling and had to go in for warranty repair.

Just as after I got it back and was going to start activating again, my truck starts giving me fits. I either have to get a "new" truck or put an engine in this one. Since I don't want a car payment, it's looking like the engine is the way to go.

Once all that is fixed, I plan on activating two parks a week. If they are close together, maybe more. I really enjoy activating an miss it even though I just started. My goal is to activate all the parks within 75 miles of my home by end of next year. That's about 80 parks.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch… I've gotten active again with SKCC. I'm also a member of FISTS but have not been active with them. I'm looking into them I found out I am really close to quite a few awards and didn't even know it. I'm going to start participating more in their activities as well. I don't think I've touched my mic in a month!

As for my CW progression. Well, I've hit a wall. I just lose one letter then an avalanche of lost letters follows getting me frustrated. I can handle the SKCC exchanges with no problem, but once I'm in a rag chew, I get lost real fast.

In January, maybe earlier in September, in going to take the CW Ops classes. It's two months of intense CW training that is supposed to take you to 15 words per minute in 2 months. I've heard nothing but good things about it and it must be popular. The waiting list is about a year! I hope it helps. I'd really like to become proficient at CW.

In the meantime, I'll just keep plugging along.

My New R-9 Antenna

My New R-9 Antenna

The R-9 Antenna

IMG_2203The R-9 Antenna by Cushcraft or similar is something I have been looking at since I got back into amateur radio. I’ve always heard verticals are good for working DX because they have a lower takeoff angle. Don’t get me wrong, I am not unhappy at all about my Alpha Antenna DX-CC fan dipole. Its got me my DXCC in a year with casually working stations. Yet, I still wanted to try a vertical but since the DXCC worked so well I could never justify the $700 price (including guying kit) plus shipping. I also did not want all the radials in the ground – not an issue with the R-9.

I May Need an Intervention…

How many of you constantly browse the classifies on QRZ or QTH? I admit it. I do. There should be a 12-step group for us that are always looking for a deal.  I’m always looking for that thing I cannot do without. Procrastinate. Then find someone else has bought it.

Not this time. I saw that R-9 for a fraction of the price of what they go for. I thought it was one of those “too good to be true” scenarios and may had been a scam (lots of those on QRZ). I did my homework on the seller, got more pictures, and sure enough it was a great deal so I bought it.

Installation – Houston We Have a Problem

FYI – This is at least a two person job to install. Three would be better. The antenna is very top heavy and you really need someone to help steady it when you work on mounting it.

The R-9 has not been a disappointment. It was relatively easy to set up. I already had a 10′ post I could mount it on so that part was not an issue. Although, I did have to make 3 trips to Crowder Bros Ace Hardware for some screws, nuts and clamps that were missing. The original owner must had lost them when he took it down. We did run into one problem. Tuning it on 40 and 80 meters.

40 and 80 meters on this antenna, unlike the rest of the antenna, uses coils with taps for tuning and is connected to the rest of the antenna by a wire and clamp.  I ended up taking the antenna down 3 times because 40 and 80 would not tune. After the second time we took it down I vowed we’d only take it down one more time. I started researching why this would happen. Then I got the August QST magazine. Guess what is reviewed in that issue. You got it, the R-9 and the writer had the same issue I did. He said his clamp that connected the 40 and 80 sections was missing. That got me thinking my issue had to be in the same area.

I took down the antenna for the third and last time. I spent time checking for cold solder joints, loose screws, and anything else that could be the issue. I finally really cranked down tightening the clamp and voila! The SWR fell right into place. I took the advice of the QST article and tuned the antenna 200k lower than I wanted as his resonance point went up when he raised his antenna.

We got the antenna up and it all worked. The resonance point on 40 and 80 are still a little higher than I’d like but well within an area I can work with. If I take it down again, I’ll adjust the taps but it is going to stay right where it is for now.

How Does it Work?

OK, you heard all about how it was putting it together but how does it work? To be honest, I have not been able to do a good A/B comparison yet between the R-9 and the DX-CC but I can tell you this. I had no problems working Australia on 40 meters on Saturday with the R-9. I’ve also worked many local and other DX stations with it. I have noticed the R-9 is a little bit noisier than the DX-CC but that is to be expected in a vertical.

What I do have that I did not have before is an antenna that is resonant on 6m, 12m, 15m, 17m and 30m. I’ve not worked a lot of stations on those bands yet but I’m sure there will be a difference since more power will be going to the antenna now.

Final Thought

My final thoughts on the R-9. Although it says it only needs the same area as a child’s sandbox once set up you need at least a 40 foot area to lay it down on saw horses to set it up and tilt it onto the mast. Also, at 31′ tall on a 10′ mast the guying kit is not an option. Let me repeat that, THE GUYING KIT IS NOT AN OPTION. You need it, in fact, I think Cushcraft should make that part of the antenna kit.

Overall, I am very happy with this antenna. I’m glad I bought it and would again.

Once You Go Mac…

Once You Go Mac…

I’ve been a Apple person every since I used my first one in 1996. I’ve had quite a few different Macs through the years from a IIcx, to a 230 laptop, an original Mac Mini, a few MacBooks, and now a new Mac Mini. Why do I like Macs? Well, I’ve spent my whole career in the IT industry. Back in the Windows95 days and prior I spent most of my days fixing these beasts and just got sick on Micro$oft. The last thing I wanted to do when I came home from work was to fix another PC. So we went Mac in the Meadows household.

Fast forward to 2017. I started using Windows 10 and found it to work quite well. Using a Mac and PC side by side the only real difference is the amount of software available for the Mac, and even that has become a close race. Since I got back into ham radio in 2015 I’ve been using PCs because there was more software available for Windows. Yet, when I wasn’t using the PC for ham radio I went back to my trusty MacBook. I really wanted to just use one platform and had to decide – PC or Mac? It came down to software for ham radio. There is a great resource for all things Mac ham radio on the web – MacHamRadio.com. It gives links to all Mac ham radio software available and links to the new releases.

Enter MacLoggerDX. This is what tipped the scales to me going Mac in the shack. It does almost everything I want in a logging/control program. The only thing it is lacking is full control features like are in Win4k3 but with the PX3 panadapter and a few macros I am able to do everything I want with MacLoggerDX. All the other software I use – Fldigi, Elecraft, WSJT-X, and JT-Bridge all have Mac versions. The SKCC logger and Skimmer did not have Mac versions but by using Crossover I am able to run them on the Mac Mini.

The only thing I can not run on the Mac is the RT-Systems programming software for my VHF/UHF radios. I have adapted and overcome by installing Virtual Box. With this software I can run full blown Windows 10 on the Mac. I can also share files between the Mac and Windows as well as USB ports. With Virtual Box I can do anything I need to do on a PC without leaving my Mac.

What it came down to is I wanted a stable machine I feel comfortable with. That was the Mac. I have not found anything I can do on a PC that I cannot do on the Mac (albeit I may have to use a virtual Windows machine) and it connects up to my radios nicely. Add iCloud and all my files are available on my Mac Mini, MacBook and iPhone.

If you are considering using a Mac for your ham radio shack don’t let the naysayers dissuade you. There is great software available for Mac ham radio. If you have a Mac give it a try, I promise you – Once you go Mac, you won’t go back!

Shhhh… I’m WSPRing

Shhhh… I’m WSPRing

When I’m waiting for my KX3 to get fixed under warranty at Elecraft (the’ve had it 10 days so far, but I’m not bitter), I acquired a K2 and a very good price. I mentioned it on my last entry. I’ve found out it is an older one and I’m going to send it to Don Wilhelm once I get my KX3 back. He updates K2s to the latest and greatest at a fraction of the price of Elecraft. It will be equivalent to the current K2s once he is done. He’ll also be able to fix the low output on 20 meters I found I have.

Meanwhile, I’ve been playing a lot with the digital modes. The new FT8 is really cool and fast. I like it a lot better then JT65. It only takes 1:15 – 1:30 to complete the average exchange as opposed to 5 minutes with JT65. It also has a neat feature called auto sequence that will actually complete the QSO for you instead of you just sitting there watching paint dry waiting the minute for each exchange (15 seconds in the case of FT8). You really seem to need it in FT8 because the exchanges go so fast.

The mode I”ve really been playing with is WSPR. That stands for Weak Signal Propagation Reporting. It basically beacons out a signal at low power for 2 minutes, then listens for 6 minutes in 2 minute increments for signals. You then go the the WSPR website and can look and see who has heard your signal and whose you have heard plotting nicely on a map. What you see above is where my signal has been heard this morning on 40 meters. All throughout the USA and all the way to Australia!

What WSPR is really good for is seeing how band conditions are and how your antennas are working. I currently have 2 antennas – a fan dipole up 30 feet in an inverted V and a Cushcraft R9 Vertical. I can compare where the two antennas have been heard using WSPR to see which is the best to reach a particular area.

Why don’t you give FT8 and WSPR a try, I think you will like them.

A Radio, an Antenna, and a Mac

A Radio, an Antenna, and a Mac

It has been a busy week, but I’ve spent little time on the air. Last week I had to send the venerable KX3 back to Elecraft for warranty repair. It was transmitting on its own when it got warm, especially when operating outdoors in the heat. I waited until I could squire a backup radio before I sent it in.

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I was able to pick up an Elecraft K2 at a very good price. I got it last week and sent the KX3 in. A week later I’m still waiting to hear about the radio. Meanwhile, I’m really liking the K2. It’s an older radio but works great. It has an antenna tune, the SSB module, and KIO2 (serial port). I’ve had fun with it and it makes a great backup and being a field radio, I’ll pack it on long park runs as a backup as well (so I don’t have the same issue I did when the KX3 starting going south on me and I lost contacts).

I was also able to pick up a Cushcraft R9 antenna that is a year old for under half the img_2203price of a new one. It is a 9-band vertical antenna. It’s 31′ high and requires no ground radials. It took me 3 days of working on it off and on, the humidity was a killer, and 2 trips to Crowder Bros. Ace Hardware to get some missing hardware. I love Crowder Bros! I went there with the parts list from the antenna with the missing pieces highlighted and the salesperson went and got every piece for me.

Sara and I were able to mount it on a 10′ pole I had cemented into the ground for an old project. It is almost perfectly tuned on all bands except 40 and 80 meters. That means it is going to have to come down for me to make the adjustments. Hopefully I get it right the first time. I’d hate to have to take it down twice.

I also got tired of Windows again and moved my logging and control back to the Macbook. I tried RumlogNG but it did not print QSL labels properly and developer was no help. I tried Aether but it did not have DX cluster support. I ended up biting the bullet and buying MacloggerDX and so far I have not been sorry. It integrates with the KX3 and K2, has multiple cluster support, and not only prints QSL labels but prints the actual QSL cards as well!

I’ve been able to get Fldigi, WSJT-X, and JT-Bridge all to work together nicely with MacloggerDX as well. My Macbook is a 2009 vintage and all is good. I also have TeamViewer set up so I can attach to the Mac from any other computer and my iPhone.

Overall its been a good week.

AE4RM Shack and Antenna Upgrades

AE4RM Shack and Antenna Upgrades

I moved the shack back into the garage office where I originally had it.  I had moved it into the house but I just didn’t have the room I needed.  I also felt like I was making too much noise for everyone. So, I’m back where it all began. 

I love my Alpha-Antennas DX-CC antenna. I’ve made almost 2000 contacts in 2 years with it and got my DXCC with it. In fact, I plan on adding 8 feet to the tower I have it on. Yet, I’d like to get up a few more antennas to play with.  First, I’m going to put up a long wire antenna. I have around 100 foot of wire, a balun, and a mast and a tree. I’d like to see what it can do. 

Next, I’ve had an unbelievable opportunity to get a Cushcraft R9 antenna.  It’s a 31′ vertical that need no radials. I have a 9′ mast I can put it on and the room for guy ropes. I’ve known verticals are better for DX in some cases because of the lower take-off angle. So, I’d like to see if it’s true. 

Finally, I have another piece of equipment that should be here this week. A KXPA-100 with tuner. This will get me back up 100 amps and help breaking through some of the pileups my 15 amps can’t get through. I’ll write about it when I get it. 

I should have the antennas up in the next few weeks and the amp soon. I can’t wait. I’ll be out tree trimming soon to get ready for the antennas. 

KFF-1848 and KFF-3627 Activations

KFF-1848 and KFF-3627 Activations

Today I activated KFF-1848 – Colt Creek State Park and KFF-3627 – Van Fleet State Trail (at Polk City Trailhead). This is the first time I worked two parks in one day and I must say, I’m exhausted.

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I started with the drive out to Colt Creek. I got there at 7:50 and had to wait until 8:00 for the gates to open. I used my newly minted yearly pass and drove back about a mile and a half to the picnic area. I was a little worried as the pavilion was screened in but then I saw an open air pavilion about 100 yards down the trail. Sam and I set up there. I img_2141decided to time how long it took me to set up. I didn’t rush and even guyed the antenna. Set up took me 11 minutes. Tear down took me 10.

This is the first time I’ve been to Colt Creek and it is a beautiful area. The view from our operating position was awesome! I had woods behind me and a lake with a huge fishing pier in front of us. Sam spent the whole time staring into the woods listening to the noises.

The activation was successful at Colt Creek and I made a total of 12 contacts. I tried 40 meters for 15 minutes at first and didn’t hear a thing. I went to 20 meters and in 45-minutes I had my 12 contacts.

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Sam and I packed up and trekked back up to the truck. We had some water and a snack and headed up to the Van Fleet State Trail. This area is no way as nice as Colt Creek. It was a muddy parking lot with one pavilion. It is basically under an overpass and is adjacent to people’s back yards. So close I could hear the conversations. Granted, this is aimg_2146 trailhead in the middle of the trail.

We set up with no issues and just went on 20 meters. I quickly made 10 contacts but I like to have at least 11 in case I messed up a call sign. Well, that didn’t happen. My radio started acting up and transmitting on its own. It sounded like the key was shorting out. So, we tore down and headed home.

Once home, I set up the radio just like I had it in the field and had zero problems. I called Elecraft tech support and they were unsure what to tell me. They did say if it did do it again that it is under warranty and pack it up and send it in. I will have to operate it in the same outdoor conditions with the heat to see if that had anything to do with it.

Logs are turned in and I feel like it has been a successful day of activations.