Home brewing a Vertical for DXing

Recently, I’ve been bitten by the 80M DXing bug.  Its not so much that 80M has taken hold, as it is that I have managed 140+ confirmed on both 40M & 20M now so all the ‘easy pickings’ are gone.

My main antenna is a 102ft ladder line fed dipole aka G5RV up ~45 feet at the Apex.  Whilst this antenna takes QRO in its stride, and puts out one heck of a signal, it also features a whole lot of ‘high angle’ radiation on 80M & 40M.

Whilst I’ve managed 30 countries on 80M running some power (which was needed), I always found received signals to have poor SNR.  As such, I decided to once again revisit the Vertical – primarily as an RX Antenna for now – to see if it could help.

Here is the pattern difference, in theory.  Note the huge amount of high angle radiation the G5RV (broadside) picks up compared to the Vertical.  Although the low angle figures look close, remember the G5RV has a ‘peanut’ shape even at 45ft, so when the G5RV is facing ‘narrow side’ the Vertical has over an 8dB advantage below 15 degrees.

Screenshot 2017-05-21 19.46.50

Continue reading for more pictures and information about the project 🙂

Continue reading

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Tips for becoming a seasoned ragchewer

Recently there was an article on http://www.eham.net expressing the opinion that the art of conversation on the radio bands is dead, and whilst I can certainly understand that perspective, I never seem to find myself short of a QSO and thought I might share some thoughts on the matter.

The tips vary from practice, to courtesy, to the art of station building, and I hope there is some value in them to those wishing to rag chew more.

Calling CQ:
For whatever reason, there are a bunch of hams that don’t like to call CQ. Why this is the case is perhaps for a bunch of PhD candidates, but it is of little importance to this article. The fact of the matter is if you can pluck up the courage to call CQ, you are extending the hand of friendship. If there is one thing I have noticed on air, its that those that call CQ are never short of a QSO.

Choose Your Band:
Some bands are better for ragchews than others. 80M & 40M are ragchew bands par excellence, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the very nature of their propagation means you are more likely to be heard by other locals, and not only that, you are more likely to be heard by them on consecutive weeks and months. That allows you to build up friendships, and there is nothing better than talking to a friend. The higher bands can of course be great for DX ragchews, but you are likely to need a well equiped station.

Choose Your Antenna:
Not all antennas are equal. On 80M & 40M, the ragchewers’ weapon of choice should be a fairly low Inverted-V or Flat Top dipole. The height should be no more than 60ft for 80M, and 30ft for 40M. This may seem a little strange to DXers and those who have studied antenna theory, but the truth of the matter is that ‘cloud burners’ that point all their gain upwards are great for putting out a whacking big signal to your fellow countrymen, and likewise, hearing them. If you don’t have one, setup a cloud burner! And avoid Verticals; they’re not a ragchew antenna.

Put “Fire In The Wire”:
Seasoned ragchewers and CQ callers know that the more power you radiate – everything else being equal – the better you will be heard. No one wants to have an extended QSO with someone who is just above the noise, so the more power you can put in the direction of your fellow countrymen, the easier they will be able to copy you through QSB, QRM & QRN, and the more enjoyable the QSO will be for them. Running power is not about egos – its exactly the opposite – its about making things as easy as possible for your QSO partner. And that feeds into the next point.

Have Good Audio:
Now I don’t mean super wide eSSB or anything like that. Whilst that might be an interest of yours, the fact is that traditional communications grade audio with its limited bandwidth has a higher signal to noise ratio than eSSB, so you will get more ‘talk power’ for your watt. It doesn’t end there, however; you also want to be nice to listen to. Who on earth is going to talk to someone for hours if they sound terrible?! Don’t be afraid of a little bass, but always make sure you’ve got +2 or more on your highs. Ask a buddy to make some recordings of you on air, and listen to yourself; you can’t do this just using the monitor function of your rig as not only is it often not accurate, there is a thing called ‘jaw bone conduction’ that changes how your hear your own voice when you talk. When you are in a ragchew, if someone mentions fading or QSB, perhaps turn the compressor up a few notches and ask them if they are able to copy you better. Basically, learn to make the most of your radio, and do what you can to help the other party.

Be Courteous:
As you may have noticed, a common theme in the advice proffered here is that of utmost importance is the experience of the person you are talking to, and that is not limited to the technical aspects of the hobby. When you’re having a QSO, use a notepad to write down things the other party(s) have said, so that you remember to further the discussion of them when it is your turn to talk. If the party talks about a project they or their spouse is undertaking, write it down in your log so you can ask about it next time. If they tell you about the setup (radio, antenna etc) they are using, make a note of it in the log. Basically, show interest in the other person and their life.

The other part of being courteous revolves around skills we should all have in everyday life. Don’t discuss taboo or polarising topics, and keep any discussion of politics to journalism rather than editorialising. By that I mean, its OK to state that XYZ party has just been elected or similar, but HAM radio is not for discussing the merits of said party of politician. Its probably ok to discuss how social policy effects you, e.g. ‘these new pension or heath care cuts are making it hard for me’, but you should NEVER try to persuade someone else or tell them what to think. If in doubt, avoid politics and religion; the best ragchewers’ discuss neither. Avoid cuss words, misogyny, racism, and all those types of things. You may think you know someone really well, but perhaps you do not know that their son or daughter is homosexual. You certainly don’t know who is listening. Do your very best not to offend.

Etiquette:
This may seem a little like the pervious tip, but the formal side of etiquette plays a big part. There are little things you can do that make it more likely for people to want to join the group. For example, most ragchewers’ hold down the key for a minute or more, so ID on every over, that way listeners know who is participating. Be ready for breakers, and try to remember to leave a little gap if you can. If someone does break in, its good form to say ‘acknowledging VK2QA’ or ‘acknowledging the breaker’. Some operators will hand it over to the breaker straight away, but I prefer to wind up the present discussion in a timely manner and then throw it over to the breaker. I’m not sure there is a best approach, but I have found that my way of going about it doesn’t seem to offend anyone.

Most Of All, Encourage Further QSOs:
Let the other person know that you value the fact they have returned your CQ. If its the first time I have spoken to someone, I will almost always let them know that it was my pleasure, and that I would feel most honoured if they would like to talk to me again in the future. I also go a step further, and let them know that the people I regularly ragchew with share similar values, and that they should always feel welcome to break in to one of my QSOs. I assure them that not only would I be honoured, but so would my fellow participants. At the end of the day, human beings want to feel valued, and I recommend going out of your way to make sure every new person you make a contact with feels valued.

In Summary:
This list of tips got quite a bit longer than I intended, so hopefully it has been of interest and of value.

As always, if you hear me round, say hello, even if we have had a difference of opinion in the past. I was educated in Philosophy, and we learnt to argue our points of view without it being personal. In that vein, any disagreement we may have had in the past was from my perspective just a robust exchange of ideas, not an attack on someone’s character; I never mean to offend.

This article is dedicated in no particular order to: VK2QA, VK1MTS, VK7FRJG, VK3FCMC, VK2WOW, VK3AWO, VK3QD, VK3FEVT, VK2BXE, VK3OJ, VK5PAS, KE0HWZ, KU8X, W7EDC and anyone else who I may have forgotten.  I enjoy each and every moment we catch up on air, and the cordial spirit you bunch bring to the hobby adds immensely to my enjoyment of Ham Radio.

73, Good DX and Good Ragchewing,

Jarrad VK3BL

VK3BL Rack… Icom IC-7300 Still Wins!

So, despite my best efforts to date with the DBX equipment pictured below, the stock IC-7300 mic pre-amp and compressor still gets slightly better on air audio reports!

A true testament to how good the Icom IC-7300 sounds out of the box, especially with a Heil Microphone!

I’ve sunk over 30 hours into this setup so far, so my recommendation is to people unless you like fiddling, keep it simple and stick to plugging the microphone into the front!

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If Donald Trump was a HAM Radio Operator: TR1UMP [satire]

Make Ham Radio Great Again

If you vote for me, I will get my experts – SPE experts – the best experts you’ve ever seen, to appraise all radios. These experts will then set prices, tremendous prices, prices so high no illegal immigrant will ever be able to afford them, no matter what the condition of the radio.

Then, to make sure that no copy cat knock off radios enter our borders, I’ll build a wall. It will be the best wall you’ve ever seen. It will be such a fantastic wall, that the hams over in China will say now THAT is a GREAT WALL.

Now my experts are so good, I can’t even name them. They’re not even allowed to have names. Its all about national security. If you don’t tell 1S1S their names, 1S1S can’t put them on the hit list. We use handles. Its very technical, you wouldn’t understand. No person in 1S1S has ever heard of a handle, or has handled a woman.

What about my daughter though guys? Isn’t she as good looking as a Collins KWM-2A? Isn’t she sexy. Damn she is sexy, just like Collins radios. Wow, imagine if someone offered a low price for my daughter. I’d have them deported, jailed, and killed and banned from the DXCC Program. Same with my Collins. Don’t offer me a low price for my Collins or my daughter.

I have the best CW operators. CW Operators so good, you won’t even know they’ve logged someone – when they’ve logged someone, that person keeps calling until they die of old age. Amazing CW operators.

Now don’t get me started on Hillary. If Hillary was any good, she would have built a wall 30 years ago. Radio Manufacturing would have stayed in America. We’d have no problem with dirty FT-101Es crossing the borders and transmitting here illegally.

But she isn’t any good. She couldn’t even build a crystal set. IF she built a crystal set, the coils would be all crooked. We’d call her crooked Hillary down at the club. But we wouldn’t let her in the club. Hillary is a woman. I love women – check out my wife Melania, S53YL. Melania can QSO for hours. Shes an amazing QSOer. I love women.

Look at these hands. These are large hands. You want a president with large hands. A president with large hands can send code all day. And you know what you need to send code all day?

A collins radio, and a 30S1. Look at the 30S1. Thats a big linear. Do you know why its a big linear? Because its made in America. When you make radios in America, you don’t need to put them on boats. Experts have assured me that without boats, the radios and linears can be bigger.

And what you heard on AM Phone the other day – that was radio room talk. But just think of that QRM. Did you hear the QRM? How can we talk with that QRM.

My experts will fix the QRM. We’re going to build linears so big, so powerful, that their will be no QRM. You cant even imagine the linears we’re going to build. We’re going to build linears with 3-500ZGs driving 3CX5000s driving 8974s. Look at the EIMAC 8974 / X-2159 on my website. 1S1S doesn’t have 8974 linears.

We’re going to use these linears to DX all over the world. No 1S1S station will be safe. We’re going to work all the DX, and there will be no DX left for anyone else. It will be the greatest decade of DXing the world has ever seen. In fact, we will work so much DX that China won’t even be able to hear DX. You know why? Because there won’t be any DX left. We’re bringing DX back to America.

And we’re going to fix the sunspots.

Thank you.

Disclaimer: This is satire, not politics. Unlike Russia, I’m not trying to influence your vote. The humor is derived from talking about radios as an election issue, not the merits of any political party. If anyone doesn’t find this is funny, I apologize for my poor Australian taste in humor, and will respect if you won’t do me the honor of a QSO.

The DXer’s ethos, and why you shouldn’t fear the ‘big guns’

Its nice to have personal goals like getting to HR one day, or whatever, but its certainly not something I’d be comfortable talking about unless its in the context of encouraging others in their own pursuit.

Eg, I think it can be encouraging to others to talk about how you managed to work DXCC in a year with 100 watts and a vertical, but its certainly not encouraging to talk about how you worked a given DXPedition on all bands and all modes.

And if you’re the type of person who talks about working every DXPedition on every band and mode, and then whine when you miss one… well.. the rest of us start wondering what else you’re missing in your life.

Encourage others; re-assure them that DXing is possible no matter what their budget is, and pursue the challenges you enjoy for your own satisfaction.  That’s how I personally enjoy DX.

One thing I will say though is I find this whole notion that ‘big guns’ are stealing from ‘little guns’ is really toxic.  Anyone who has been around the block long enough should realize by now that the order of importance is this:

1) Perseverance
2) Condx
3) Station

Ham radio is such a wonderful hobby in that you can get a lot of individual satisfaction without it detracting from someone else’s enjoyment.  Lets not feed the trolls by spreading the notion that ‘big guns’ somehow prevent ‘little pistols’ from working new ones.  That attitude is likely to do more damage to the hobby and especially the individual – after all, it is little more than an excuse, and one that might easily lead a newbie to think that DXing requires no effort on their behalf.

Yes, there are idiots who dupe endlessly on the same band, with seemingly huge signals.  Experienced that as XU7AGA, but at the end of the day, they are few and far between, and I can promise you there are plenty of DXPedition ops who have trouble hearing certain calls, especially if they’re already in the log.

If you want to blame something for not being in the log, blame condx.  That way, you’re still likely to enjoy the company of your fellow hams, and they yours.

Bhutan (A5A), ‘big guns’ and why missing a DXPedition is just fine by me.

I’m pretty sure I’ve got next to no chance of getting Bhutan (A5A) in the log this time round.  Now hopefully for the sake of irony I will be proven wrong, but the facts are as follows:

1) I work full time, and its the start of spring here.  The bands are often closed by the time I get home, leaving only the weekends.  That rules out the ‘bum in seat’ approach aka persistence which is so often all that it takes.

2) ConDX doesn’t seem to be there.  Today (saturday) I had the chance to indulge in my favorite hobby.  WAE SSB was on, and I could hear and work quite a few stations easily.  However, none of those stations were in the region surrounding Bhutan.  Jumping over to JT65, I found I could hear and work quite a few stations on 17M (which A5A has used a lot), but my station wasn’t getting heard around that region once more.  Lastly, I haven’t so much as heard a single beep out of A5A.

3) There is still work to be done on my station.  I have an Icom IC-7300 with a great scope, and an Ameritron AL-572 amplifier capable of well over our legal limit in VK, so it just loafs.  However, because of my current living arrangements I haven’t been able to invest in a tower until recently.  As such, using only basic antennas my reception is often noisy (no nulls), and I can’t push the power in the direction I’d like.

So it seems really likely I’ll miss Bhutan this time.  However, if you stop and think about it, its not the end of the world.

Imagine for a second we could all work DX whenever it showed up.  Here’s what would happen:

A) DXing would be about as exciting as a skype phone call.
B) We wouldn’t be motivated to improve our skills and stations; most importantly we wouldn’t learn and grow.
C) There would be less DXPeditions.

Now point C might seem a bit strange, but think about it in economic terms – supply and demand.  If everyone had every DXPedition in their log, there wouldn’t be any demand for further DXPeditions.  Of course, as new people enter the hobby places will need to be activated sporadically, but not anywhere nearly as frequently.

Just think about how many DXPeditions have aims these days – eg, ‘we’re concentrating on low bands’, ‘we’re CW only’, or even ‘we want to give ATNOs to NA’.  If propagation wasn’t a factor, everyone from every continent would work every band and mode on every DXPedition.

And that’s where the real rub comes in.  Imagine DXing where everyone reaches HR in ~10 years, and there are nowhere near as many DXPeditions – doesn’t sound like a very long lived hobby does it; sounds like a FAD to me.

On the other hand, we currently enjoy a hobby where one can always look to the future and say ‘I need Mongolia on CW’, or at worst ‘I’ve yet to work P5 on digital’.  There is always a bright future to hope for; always something to look forward to and dream of.

And that’s why I’m not going to get too upset when I miss Bhutan this time round… But hey, in the mean time, I’m going to improve my station in any way I can, so that condx willing, I’m one of the deserving when I get the next shot.

The golden days of DXing are ahead of us!  Always be a believer!  And don’t let ANYONE convince you that a ‘big gun’ stole your ATNO! For they are just men, not the gods of condx!