A DX’ing Milestone Reached – 300 DXCC’s Worked


Nepal 9N DXpedition

Nepal 9N DXpedition (Courtesy 9n.dxpeditions.org)

2015 has continued to be my best year for working new DX in my relatively short 4 years as an Amateur Radio operator. I have been trying to reach a personal goal of working my 300th DXCC for several months now and I’ve been just one All Time New One (ATNO) short for a few weeks now. I’ve been able to work one or more new Band-DXCC’s every day in 2015 with a total of 112 new Band-DXCC’s worked so far this year. About a week ago, it looked fairly certain that my 300th ATNO was in sight with the 9N DXpedition to Nepal about to come on the air. Just as they did, we had some very strong solar flare/Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) activity which wiped propagation between my QTH in New England, USA and Nepal. 9N Nepal is a fairly rare one here in the USA (#42 on ClubLog’s most wanted list for North America) so I really wanted to put 9N in the log while it is active.

 

VOCAP Propegation Prediction Between 0N Nepal and NH USA

VOCAP Propagation Prediction Between 9N Nepal and NH USA

I have been listening diligently each day during the periods of best propagation (see the excellent VOCAP propagation prediction website to create custom propagation predictions). This morning the K and A indices were down and the most up to date VOCAP prediction between Nepal and my QTH suggested that today would be better. I went down to the shack early before the start of my work day and found Janusz, 9N7WE coming in strong on 15m SSB. I took just two tries to get him in the log.

At this point, the remaining DXCC’s that I need are, for the most part, the rare ones. Both Anita (AB1QB) and I have begun to use the tools provided by the DXLab Suite, ClubLog, various DX newsletters available on the internet, automated monitoring of the spotting clusters, and computer generated propagation predictions to help us to work the remaining ATNO’s as well as achieve our operating award goals. For more on how we use these tools, please see our related DX’ing post here on this blog.

– Fred (AB1OC)

2015 DX’ing – One Of The Best Years Ever So Far


March 2015 DXpeditions

March 2015 Featured DXpeditions

2015 has been quite a year for working new DXCC’s for us so far. This month is the most productive that I have experienced with more than 20 interesting DXpeditions on. We’ve been fortunate to have the chance to work the DXpedition on Navassa Island (#2 on ClubLog’s most wanted list) which took place in February of this year. In addition those show above, there are also quite a few small operations including E51UFF on North Cook Island and VP8DOZ on South Georgia Island (#9 on ClubLog’s most wanted list) being on. Also, Eritrea, E30FB which is operating right now is #20 on ClubLog’s most wanted list. All of this makes for a great opportunity to work all-time new ones as well as to add new DXCC Band-Points.

Anita, AB1QB has worked 13 all-time new DXCC’s and I’ve worked 5 all time new DXCC’s since the beginning of 2015. Anita has broken the 250 DXCC barrier and I’m just 2 away from breaking 300. There have also been quite a few new IOTA’s for us. Anita has added 11 IOTA’s this year and I’ve added 14. We also added more than 85 DXCC Band-Points each towards our DXCC Challenge Award totals. I have set a goal to work at least one new DXCC Challenge Band-Point each day in 2015 in hopes of getting to the 2,000 DXCC Band-Point level before the end of the year (I am currently at 1,785 worked).

Shack Board

Shack Board – Upcoming Operations and Contests

We use a number of different sources to find out about these operations. Our favorite ones are The Weekly DX, the DX-World.net (the source of the graphic above) and DX Publishing’s QRZ DX. These are all excellent sources for finding out about upcoming DXpeditions, small DX operations and IOTA activations. Working DX contests such as CQ WW DX, the ARRL DX Contests and CQ WW WPX are also excellent ways to work new DXCC’s and new Band-Points. We have a whiteboard in our shack where we record upcoming operations that we need as well as contests that we want to participate in. This helps us keep track of what is coming up that we need.

DXLab SpotCollector

DXLab SpotCollector

We also use the SpotCollector component of the DXLab Suite to help us identify new DXCC’s, Band-Points, IOTA’s and WAZ Band-Zones that we need in real-time when they come on. We have also used SpotCollector to alert us when stations that we need for the Yearly CQ DX Marathon are on the air.

Spot Sources Configuration In SpotCollector

Spot Sources Configuration In SpotCollector

We have configured SpotCollector (the spotting component of DXLab) to aggregate spots from a variety of sources. Our logs are kept in DXLab and we program the SpotCollector to filter all of the incoming cluster spots and CW/RTTY Skimmer data to tell us about high-priority stations that we want to work when they are on the air. The key to this approach is careful filtering of incoming cluster and skimmer spots to only display and forward the most important opportunities.

Award Setup in DXKeeper

Award Setup in DXKeeper

The first step in the filtering is to configure DXLab’s DXKeeper component for the types of contacts that we are interested in. This is done in the Award configuration section of DXKeeper.

SpotCollector SQL Filter

SpotCollector SQL Filter

We then use the powerful SQL script capability of SpotCollector to only tell us about stations that we are willing to “head for the shack to work”. SpotCollector is configured to send the appropriate spots as text messages via email to our mobile phones so that we know immediately when something that we need comes on. The filter above selects all-time new DXCCs, new DXCC Band-Points, new IOTA’s and new WAZ Band-Zones which are spotted in the Eastern or Central United States. The filter also picks up new Band-States for the ARRL Worked All States Award.

We hope our readers who are interested in working DX and IOTA’s will be able to find some time to work so of the operations that are on the air right now. This time period is certainly one that has a lot of potential to put “new ones” in the log. If you use the DXLab Suite, you might try some to use some of the more advanced features of SpotCollector to help you to better find stations that you want to work when they are on.

– Fred (AB1OC)

2014 Amateur Radio Highlights


2014 Readers Around The World

2014 Readers Around The World

It is once again time for our annual 2014 Year in Review post. First, I’d like to thank our readers for their continued interest in our Blog. Our blog was viewed about 100,00 times in 2014 from 165 countries around  the world. You, our readers have made 2014 our busiest year yet and this provides Anita (AB1QB) and me with great encouragement to continue to provide content for our readers.

2014 was a very busy year in Amateur Radio for us. Our activities included a continued focus on station building, contesting, WRTC 2014, special events, providing presentations to help other in the hobby learn about new things, attending several HAM Events, progress on operating awards, and most importantly – time spent on the air operating.

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller

We upgraded our fixed station to include a microHAM Station Automation system this year. This was a major project that added some nice SO2R capabilities to our Multi-one station as well as automated the sharing of our antennas between our two SO2R Operating positions. More of this project can be found here:

Eggbeater Antennas And Preamps SystemsOn Tower

Eggbeater LEO Satellite Antennas And Preamps Systems On Tower

We also added LEO Satellite capabilities to our station with the addition of some new antennas and electronics on our tower. This allowed us to make our first contacts through LEO birds with linear transponders. Our articles on this project include:

Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Our Mobile HF Station – Screwdriver Antenna

Our final major station building project was the construction of a state of the art mobile HF station in our Ford F-150 pickup truck. We did this project in phases starting with a simple setup using a 100W radio and HAM Stick antennas through the installation of a Screwdriver Antenna System for the 160m – 10m HF bands and concluding with the installation of an amplifier to enable high power mobile HF operation. You can view the articles on this project here:

AB1OC Operating In CQ WPX SSB

AB1OC Operating In the 2014 CQ WPX SSB

Anita (AB1QB) and I continued to be active in several contests this year. We both continued to develop our skills as contesters and our scores and place in the rankings reflected this. You can read more about our contesting activities and what we learned in the following articles:

Hollis Site Support Team And Referee

WRTC 2014 Hollis Site Competitors, Support Team And Referee

We were also fortunate to host one of the WRTC 2014 competition sites. Along with our friend Scott Anderson, NE1RD, Anita and I acted as site managers for the only WRTC 2014 Competition Site in New Hampshire. You can read more about our WRTC 2014 experiences here.

13 Colonies Special Event QSL Card For K2K New Hampshire

13 Colonies Special Event QSL Card For K2K New Hampshire

Special event operations were a particularly fun part of our on air activities in 2014. We operated as K2K, New Hampshire in the 13 Colonies Special Event, W1AW/1 as part of the ARRL Centennial QSO Party, and as N1FD Celebrating the 35th Anniversary of the Nashua Area Radio Club. It’s great fun to operate in these events and the experience running the pileups that result continued to help Anita and me to develop our operating and contesting skills.

Introduction To The DXLab Suite

Introduction To The DXLab Suite

We make it a priority to develop a significant amount of our Amateur Radio time to helping others in the hobby learn new things. In addition to writing this Blog, Anita and I try to create and deliver several presentations each year on a variety of topics of interest to the Amateur Radio Community. Our presentation this year included an update of our presentation on Amateur Radio Station Design and Construction and an Introductory Presentation on the DXLab Software Suite. We are always interested in working with Amateur Radio Clubs to deliver the presentation either in person where practice or over the web.

Anita (AB1QB) and I with Bob Heil (TBD)

Anita (AB1QB) and I with Bob Heil (K9EID)

We had the fortune to meet some of the legends in Amateur Radio this past year. Anita and I had the opportunity to get meet Bob Heil, K9EID and to appear on his Ham Nation podcast. Bob is an amazing gentlemen and we feel truly fortunate to have the opportunity to get to know him. We also had the opportunity to meet Fred Lloyd, AA7BQ, the President and Founder of QRZ.com. Fred visited our station and did an article about our station on QRZ.com. Anita and I both learned a great deal about HAM Radio and how it came to be what it is today as a result of the time these fine folks spent with us.

Joe Taylor's WSJT Presentation

Joe Taylor’s WSJT Presentation At the ARRL Centennial Convention

Amateur Radio Conventions and HAM Fests were a major part of our Amateur Radio fun again this year. We were fortunate to attend and speak at the ARRL Centennial Convention in Hartford, CT USA this year – truly a once in a lifetime Amateur Radio experience. We also attended the Dayton Hamvention in 2014 where we had a chance to see all of the latest and greatest in Amateur Radio Equipment.

Our 2014 QSOs By Callsign

Our 2014 QSOs By Callsign

We were quite active on the air making almost 26,000 contacts between the two of us. As you can see from the graphic above, about 45% of our contacts were as part of Special Event Operations. We also made a little over 500 contacts from our mobile station, working over 100 DXCC entities in 2014 from the mobile.

Our 2014 QSOs By Band

Our 2014 QSOs By Band

 We were active on all of the HF bands this year. We made our first contacts on the 60m band and I was able to focus on the 6m band and earn a VUCC Operating Award (100 grid squares worked and confirmed) on that band. Anita and I also made our first DX contacts to Europe on 6m in 2014. Anita took quite an interest in the 160m band and she is working on a Worked All States Operating Award on this band. Our operating time using weak signal and satellite modes on the 2m and 70cm bands was limited to a few contacts this year. I did make my first contacts through LEO Satellites in 2014.

We

Our 2014 QSOs By Mode

Our 2014 QSOs By Mode

We mostly operated in the SSB phone mode in 2014. Anita and I both continue to work on our CW skills and we managed a little over 800 QSOs using CW in 2014. Anita was very active in the RTTY mode as part of her RTTY contesting efforts.

K2K New Hampshire QSL!

13 Colonies K2K New Hampshire QSL!

All of this operating resulted in quite a bit of QSL activity. We sent a total of almost 4,200 QSL cards in 2014!

We again made a video showing all of our contacts around the world in 2014. As you can see from the video, we were fortunate to work quite a bit of DX in 2014.

6M VUCC Operating Award

Fred’s 6M VUCC Operating Award

All of this operating helped Anita and me to make some progress on operating awards this year. In addition to earning a 6M VUCC, I also completed a Worked All States Award on all 9 HF bands 160m-10m. I was also able to complete several nice regional operating awards (Worked All Europe TOP Plaque, Worked All VK Call Areas and Worked All Africa) as well upgrading my DXCC Challenge Award to the 1,500 Band Country level. Anita completed her JARL JCC Award (she worked 100+ Cities in Japan) as well as her Worked All States Triple Play Award (all states on SSB, CW and Digital via LoTW).

Anita and I had a lot of fun with Amateur Radio in 2014. We are looking forward to another great year of HAM Radio fun in 2015. We hope to share some of what we learn and our experiences with our readers here on our Blog.

– Fred (AB1OC)

An Introduction To The DXLab Suite


Introduction To The DXLab Suite

Introduction To The DXLab Suite

I recently had the opportunity to put together a presentation introducing the DXLab Software Suite for several local radio clubs. The idea was to provide a fairly comprehensive introduction to DXLab and to show how it can be used to make Amateur Radio operations, QSL’ing and Award Management easier and more enjoyable. There are several good DXLab introductory presentations and web pages on the internet so we decided to do ours with some “live” demos of DXLab in use within our station.

Why Computer Logging And DXLab?

Why Computer Logging And DXLab?

Not all hams have made the conversion to computer-based operation and logging, so we began by covering the motivation for and some of the advantages of Computer-based operation and logging.

DXLab Suite Components Overview

DXLab Suite Components Overview

The next part of the presentation provided an overview of each of the components of the DXLab Suite as well as some of the basics of how they work together. This was covered via a set of “live” demonstrations using our station. You can view these demonstrations as videos via the following links:

Our station is a fairly complex one. It includes multi-operator capabilities from two operating positions with a total of four active radios and a microHAM station automation system. We also operate under a number of different callsigns from different computers. Finally, we do a fair amount of operating portable and from our mobile HF station. The DXLab Suite’s Launcher program with its multiple workspace capabilities easily handle the multiple configurations and equipment interfaces that are required for our station and operating style.

DXLab Use Scenarios

DXLab Use Scenarios

The next part of the presentation covered some common DXLab “use cases” that one would likely encounter when making contacts, QSL’ing and managing progress towards operating awards.

Casual Contacts With DXLab

Casual Contacts With DXLab

The first demonstration showed the use of DXLab to make casual or “rag chew” contacts. The emphasis here is on using the Suite to automate station configuration and logging tasks and to provide information to enhance the quality of your contacts. This demonstration covers the basics of how the components of the DXLab Suite work together to help you make and log a contact. You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

Finding And Working DX With DXLab

Finding And Working DX With DXLab

The next demonstration showed the use of DXLab to find and work DX contacts. This demonstration uses more components of the DXLab Suite including the spotting cluster and propagation prediction features. You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

Operating CW And Digital With DXLab

Operating CW And Digital With DXLab

The next demo shows how DXLab is used to find and make a DX QSO using Digital Modes. A RTTY QSO is shown including the use of the WinWarbler component and multiple RTTY decoders (MMTTY and 2Tone). You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

QSL'ing With DXLab

QSL’ing With DXLab

The next demo show how to use DXLab to QSL and confirm contacts. The demo covers QSL’ing via the Logbook of the World (LoTW) and the eQSL online QSL services as well as the generation of paper QSLs along with the assistance that DXLab provides to determine QSL route information. You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

DXLab QSL Card Examples

DXLab QSL Card Examples

DXLab can generate labels apply to your pre-printed QSL cards or it can be used to print QSL information directly on blank cards.

QSL Card Label Sheet Example

QSL Card Label Sheet Example

DXLab can print QSL card and address labels on many types of standard label stock. An example of QSL card labels are shown above.

QSL Envelope Generated By DXLab

QSL Envelope Generated By DXLab

DXLab also generates outgoing and return envelopes for your paper QSLs. An example is shown above.

Operating Award Management With DXLab

Operating Award Management With DXLab

The final demonstration shows how to use DXLab to track your progress towards and apply for operating awards. Some of the basics of QSL “aging” are discussed as well. You can view a video of this demo via the following link:

AB1OC Operating Awards In Our Shack

AB1OC Operating Awards In Our Shack

The SpotCollector component of the DXLab Suite is very useful as a cluster monitor. It can be configured to alter you via email or text to you mobile when something is on that you need. More information on how to use SpotCollector this way can be found here. The set of operating awards that DXLab knows about and the features that it provides to manage your progress towards earning and applying for awards are some of the strongest features of the suite. We haves used DXLab to help us to earn many different operating awards.

Getting Started With DXLab

Getting Started With DXLab

The final part of the presentation covers the configuration of the DXLab suite to get it to work with your station. Since every station is different, its best to consult the excellent DXLab online help for more information on how to configure the suite.

Useful Information And Links

Useful Information And Links

Lastly, the presentation includes links to useful tools and information to help you get the most from the DXLab suite. Dropbox is a useful file sharing tool and it can help you keep your logs and DXLab configurations in sync across multiple computers. This allows you to use DXLab to access your current logs or to operate your station from difference computers.

I hope that this overview of the DXLab suite will encourage our readers to give it a try. Anita (AB1QB) and I have successfully used  the DXLab suite with our station for several years now. It does a great job automating many aspects of our Amateur Radio operations, QSL’ing and award management. It easily handles the complexities of our multi-operator station and it also handles logging and QSL’ing for multiple call signs that Anita and I operate under. We also use DXLab for our portable, Field Day and mobile operations and it handles all of these scenarios very well.

DXLab was created, enhanced and maintained by David Bernstein, AA6YQ. He makes this excellent suite of software available as freeware for the benefit of the Amateur Radio community. The DXLab suite is available for download here. You can download a copy of our DXLab presentation (without the videos) here. The DXLab Yahoo! Group provides is a good place to seek support and answers to questions about DXLab. I hope that our reader will give the DXLab suite a closer look. For those who already use DXLab, we hope that you pick up some new ideas from how Anita and I use the suite as part of your Amateur Radio operations.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Operating Mobile HF – Working DX On The 80M Band


JA4FHE QSL

JA4FHE QSL

We have continued to gain experience with our recently completed mobile HF installation in our F-150 pickup truck. We have been working quite a bit of DX from our completed mobile station. Recently, I have been concentrating on the 80m band from the mobile station and have been pleasantly surprised with some great DX contacts on this band. The last two evenings around sunset here in New Hampshire, USA have been particularly good ones for 80m DX. This evening, I heard Aki-San, JA4FHE during a short errand just as we were one the grey line. I pulled over to the side of the road so that I could concentrate on the contact and turned on the amplifier (450W). After a few tries, Aki-San came back to me and we completed the contact! This was my first contact to Japan ever on the 80m band and it was from the mobile!

JA4FHE's Antennas

JA4FHE’s Antennas

Aki-San has a capable antenna system including a 2-element yagi for the 80m band and his antenna system no doubt helped to make the contact possible. My received signal report was a 44 (he was 57 on my end) but the band was quiet and we were easily able to exchange names, signal reports and our callsigns.

OU5U's View

OU5U’s View

I have also been working quite a bit of DX on the 80m band from our mobile station into Europe. I recently encountered a nice group of fellows working a team effort on 80m. I was on the light side of the afternoon grey line here in New Hampshire, USA when I worked Henry, OU5U in Denmark from the mobile. It was a bit early for 80m but our signal reports at that time were 55 both ways (I worked Henry again from the mobile later in the evening on 80m and our reports were 59 both ways the second time). I also worked John, G4PKP in the United Kingdom, and Ian, GM4UYN in Scotland during this session. Signal reports ranged from 57 to 59+ both ways.

80m Ground Plane Antenna

80m Ground Plane Antenna

John, G4PKP was using an 80m ground plane antenna and he was putting a good signal into my mobile once we were on the dark side of the grey line.

Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

I am quite surprised at what is possible on 80m using a short antenna. Our screwdriver antenna (a Scorpion SA-680) is set up with a 4 ft rod and a cap hat. The 4 ft rod/cap hat combination is electrically longer than the usual 6 ft whip that one might use on a screwdriver antenna and therefore requires less of the screwdriver antenna’s base loading coil to be used to tune the antenna to resonance. This significantly improves the overall efficiency of the combination.

Screwdriver Antenna Configured For 160m

Screwdriver Antenna Configured For 160m

We are moving into the best part of the year for operating on the low bands here in the Northeastern, USA. The days are short and the 80m and 160m bands are quiet at night. I plan to concentrate on 160m next and see what sort of results we can achieve using our mobile station on the Top Band.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Operating Mobile HF – Working DX


ZS2XD Antennas

ZS2XD Antennas In South Africa

It is still early days for operating mobile HF now that our setup is complete. I am continuing to make adjustments to improve performance. I had a chance to operate mobile from New Hampshire, USA this evening made some interesting contacts. I began by calling CQ on 20m SSB. I was operating with the amplifier on at about 325W output. I had a pileup almost immediately and worked about 20 contacts over about 40 minutes. Early on in the pileup, I had several stations in Europe call me. I also had ZS2XD, Gerry in South Africa answer my CQ! The signal reports for our QSO were 59 both ways and I was able to have a nice conversation with Gerry. We were both surprised that the contact was as solid as it was. Gerry has a good antenna system on his end and I was on the grey line which no doubt helped.

HL4FUA Antennas

HL5FUA Antennas On Ullung Island, South Korea

Later in the evening I decided to tune across the 40m band where I encountered Choi, HL5FUA on  Ullung Island (AS-045), South Korea calling CQ. He was working stations all around the world and had a decent pileup going. I set my drive to produce about 425W out and called him. To my surprise, he came right back on the first try! The signal reports for our QSO were 56 both ways. I believe that he was working the USA long path over Europe. Choi has a good directional antenna and was using some power. This combined with my being just on the dark side of the grey line certainly helped.

With these contacts, I have worked a total of 95 DXCCs mobile HF from our truck. I continue to be surprised at how well a properly installed mobile HF setup works. Our results are also a testament to the efficiency of the Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna that we are using. I plan to concentrate on the low bands (80m and 160m) and see what sort of DX is possible on these bands.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Mobile HF Installation – Part 4/4 (500W Amplifier, 160M and Accesories)


Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna Setup for 80m – 15m

This article will cover the completion of our Mobile HF project. Our installation is fairly complex so we’ve broken the project into several phases:

The first step in this part of our project was to add upgrades to our Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna to enable it to be used on 160m.

Screwdriver Antenna Configured For 160m

Screwdriver Antenna Configured For 160m

Ron at Scorpion Antennas makes an add-on coil unit to enable his 80m – 10m antennas to work on 160m. The picture above shows the add-on coil installed along with a 3 ft rod and Cap Hat. The coil adds additional base loading inductance to enable the antenna to work on 160m.

Antenna Base With Shunt Coil Switching Unit

Antenna Base With Shunt Coil Switching Unit

A different shunt coil is required to get the 160m configuration to tune up properly. Ron makes a very nice shunt coil switching unit (the grey box attached to the base of the antenna in the picture above) to allow multiple shunt coils to be used.

Antenna Shut Coil Switching Unit

Antenna Shut Coil Switching Unit

The unit contains two shunt coils (one for 160m and one for 80m/40m) and a 12V relay. The relay switches in the appropriate shunt coil under the control of a switch that I’ve added to our truck’s console. After properly adjusting both shunt coils, I was able to get a good match (SWR < 1.4:1) across the 160m, 80m and 40m bands.

The next step in this phase of our project was the installation of a mobile HF amplifier and some accessories to make the operation of our mobile HF station easier. As Alan Applegate (K0BG), author of the excellent K0BG.com website on mobile HF points out, installing an amplifier in a mobile application is not a trivial project. One must pay a great deal of attention to the following areas:

  • Beefing up the vehicle’s electrical system to be able to supply adequate 13.8V power (a 500W mobile amplifier will require 60A – 80A of sustained current when transmitting at full output and may draw close to 100A on peaks).
  • Proper physical mounting and adequate cooling to dissipate the heat generated (a 500W amplifier will generate approximately 500W of heat when operating at full output)
  • Proper choking of antenna control leads to ensure that conducted RF does not get into your vehicle or electronics (this areas was covered during the installation of our Screwdriver Antenna)
  • Drive/output power and SWR monitoring to ensure that the amplifier is not over driven and is working into a properly tuned and matched load

I am going to cover each of these points as they were handled in our installation.

Secondary Battery And Fuses

Secondary Battery And Fuses

It’s important that your vehicle’s alternator is capable of supplying enough current to operate the amplifier and the rest of your vehicle’s electrical system with overloading or major drops in voltage. We were fortunate that our F-150 Truck came with a 150A alternator from the factory. The next problem to solve is to provide 100A+ of peak current during transmit without excessive voltage drop (you want to have no more than 0.5V of drop between your primary battery and the power terminals of your amplifier). The easiest way to achieve this in our application was to install a secondary battery in the bed of our truck. We choose an Optima Red-Top series battery for both the secondary battery and as a replacement for our truck’s primary battery. The Red-Top series provides very high current for short periods of time (ex engine cranking). This profile is ideal of supplying a mobile amplifier. Both batteries are connected in parallel with custom-made 2 ga cables for both +13.8V and ground. The batteries must be identical when connected this way to ensure that differences in operating voltage do not result in uneven charging. It is also critically important for safety reasons to properly fuse the connections between the batteries at both ends and in both the +13.8V and ground leads! We used high current fuses (the insulated holders to the right of the battery in the picture above on both ends of the battery cabling. If either cable becomes shorted to the other or to ground, the fuses by the batteries will blow and prevent a fire. It’s also important to securely mount the batteries and the associated cabling and to properly protect the battery cables.  We used insulated cable clamps and convoluted tubing to accomplish this.

Ameritron ALS-500M Amplifier And Radio Interface

Ameritron ALS-500M Amplifier And Radio Interface

The next step was to select a location for the amplifier that enabled good air flow around the unit and to securely mount it to the floor of the truck. The spot that we choose was under the flip-up rear seat of our truck. The mounting location we used is at the corner of the seat which ensures good airflow around the unit. We also made an aluminum plate that sits between the amplifier and the carpet in the truck to ensure that cool air can circulate under the amplifier without being blocked by the carpet. The Ameritron ALS-500M Amplifier which we used comes with mounting brackets that allow it to be securely screwed to the floor of the truck so that it does not become a safety hazard during a quick stop, etc. We also installed an Ameritron ARI-500 Radio Interface Unit which provides automatic amplifier band switching and a keying interface for our Icom IC-7000 Transceiver.

Amplifer And Accessories Under Rear Seat

Amplifier And Accessories Under The Rear Seat

The picture above shows the location of the amplifier under the rear seat. Note the clear path that the vents in the case have to the air which circulates within the vehicle. There are air conditioner vents behind the front seats in the center console which can direct cool air on the amplifier during warm conditions.

Power Distribution, Antenna Controller And Wattmeter Sensors

Power Distribution, Antenna Controller And Wattmeter Sensors

The picture above shows the layout of all of the power and accessory electronics in our installation. Note the two high current fuses which protect the power connections between the amplifier and the secondary battery. We also installed a RIGRunner 4005 Power Distribution Block to supply 13.8V fused power to all of our accessories. We again used black convoluted tubing to protect all of the cabling and to dress up the installation.

Wattmeter Sensors And Screwdriver Antenna Controller

Wattmeter Sensors And Screwdriver Antenna Controller

The picture above shows the remote sensors (left) for the Elecraft W2 Wattmeter that we are using in our installation. A separate sensor is used on the input (200W range) and the output (2Kw range) side of the amplifier so that we can accurately set our drive power as well as monitor the amplifier’s output power and the SWR which is being presented by our antenna.

The TuneMatic unit is an Automatic Screwdriver Antenna Controller. This unit senses the frequency that our radio is operating on and automatically adjusts our screwdriver antenna to provide a good match. It also has auto-tune capabilities and includes an amplifier key line interrupter relay to ensure that we do not transmit high power into the antenna while it is being tuned.

Control Layout On F-150 Console

Control Layout On F-150 Console

All of the controls for the Amplifier, Screwdriver Antenna Controller and the Elecraft Wattmeter are mounted next to the driver on the F-150’s shifter console. We used heavy-duty Velcro strips to mount everything. The device in the right foreground is a Remote Control Unit for the Amplifier. The device in the left foreground is the control head for the TuneMatic Screwdriver Antenna Controller. Just behind the Screwdriver controller unit is a lighted 13.8V switch which we installed in the console to switch the shunt coil relay between the 160m and 80m/40m shunt coils. Finally, the unit in the background is the Elecraft W2 Wattmeter.

Antenna Controller, 160m Shunt Coil Switch, And Amplifier Remote Unit

Antenna Controller, 160m Shunt Coil Switch, And Amplifier Remote Unit

The TuneMatic Antenna Controller will automatically adjust our screwdriver antenna with a simple touch to the Tune (TU) button when the radio frequency is changed. This unit can also be used to manually move the antenna up or down to fine tune the match. There is also an auto-tune function which works well. An antenna controller such as the TuneMatic makes changing bands and frequencies much safer and easier to do and ensures that one keep their eyes on the road.

The Ameritron ALS-500RC unit provides a switch to enable or reset the amplifier if it should trip as well as a remote current meter which shows how much current the amplifier is drawing.

Elecraft W2 Wattmeter

Elecraft W2 Wattmeter

The Elecraft W2 Wattmeter worked out well in our mobile HF application. One can easily select the input or output sensors and its auto-ranging features provide accurate power and SWR readouts. It also has an LED brightness adjustment which is nice to have when operating at night.

Voltage Monitor

Voltage Monitor

It’s important to be able to monitor your vehicle’s voltage when using an amplifier. The heavy current demands of an amplifier at full power output can cause significant voltage drops, especially if the vehicle is idling and other power accessories like de-icers or seat heaters are in use. I found a simple and inexpensive solution for voltage monitoring – a unit which plugs into the cigarette lighter jack in the vehicle. The unit has an easy to ready display and it does not draw much current so it can be left plugged in when our truck is parked.

It took a little time to setup the TuneMatic Antenna Controller to quickly adjust the Scorpion Screwdriver antenna on all the bands from 160m – 10m. The instructions which come with the unit explain this process and it is not difficult to do. The TuneMatic must be configured to work with your particular screwdriver antenna when it is first installed. This involves setting some option switches and adjusting a pot inside the TuneMatic unit. Again, the instruction cover the setup steps well.

Icom HM-151 Microphone

Icom HM-151 Microphone

The Icom IC-7000 Transceiver is an excellent radio for mobile HF applications. Unfortunately, the quality of the transmit audio with the “stock” Icom HM-151 microphone which comes with the radio is less than ideal. To solve this problem, I sent my HM-151 microphone to Bob Nagy (AB5N) for some upgrades. Bob performed a number of upgrades which included replacing the element with a higher quality unit, installing a heavy-duty PTT switch, weighting and vibration deadening the housing and other mods. After adjusting the equalization in the IC-7000 to match the new element, we are getting some very nice reports on our audio quality from the stations that we are working while mobile.

You can click on the above video to hear what our mobile HF station sounded like in Europe during some initial testing with the new amplifier and upgraded microphone. We were still adjusting the audio settings when the recording was made but it will give you an idea what the setup sounds like on the air.

There was quite a bit of integration and working with the folks at all of the companies who supplied the components for our mobile HF project. Ron Douglas at Scorpion Antennas, Mike at Ameritron, Jim at TuneMatic, Bob Nagy (AB5N Microphone Upgrades) and the folks at DX Engineering were all very helpful in answering our questions and getting everything to work together.

Scorpion Whip Quick Disconnect

Scorpion Whip Quick Disconnect

We are operating across a very wide range of bands (160m – 10m) and I’ve found that it best to use a range of “whips” on our screwdriver antenna to cover all the bands. The Scorpion Quick Disconnects make changing “whips” a snap. Our “go to” configurations are as follows:

  • 160m - We use the add-on 160m coil plus a 3 ft rod with a Cap Hat. The Cap Hat makes the rod appear electrically longer and this improves overall efficiency on the Top Band. This combination allows the antenna to be tuned for all but the top 50 kHz (above 1.950 MHz) of the 160m band.
  • 80m – 15m including 30m and 17m - We use a 4 ft rod with a Cap Hat. This combination is very efficient and our results on 80m have been particularly good. I am able to work DX from New England, USA into Europe on 80m with 100W (amplifier off) using this combination. The 4 ft rod/Cap Hat combo is electrically too long to tune above the 15m band. The 3 ft rod/Cap Hat will tune up on the 12m band but not on 10m.
  • 12m and 10m – We use a 6 ft whip for these bands.

We really like the combinations which utilize a Cap Hat. These setups are definitely more efficient than the 6 ft whip and the overall height of the combination is low enough to stay out of the low tree branches here in New England, USA. The Cap Hat combinations allow less of the screwdriver antenna’s coil to be used. The coil is one of the largest sources of loss in a well installed screwdriver antenna setup and this is why the Cap Hat/short rod combinations work so well.

It’s nice to have the extra power when operating from our truck and I find that I can call CQ and sometimes generate a pileup while operating mobile! I’ve also been working quite a bit of DX from our mobile HF station (95 DXCCs worked so far) and the improved antenna and the added power has certainly helped in this area as well.

We hope that you have enjoyed our series of articles on our Mobile HF project. We have learned a great deal doing the project and we’ve made over 600 contacts from our truck along the way with many more to come.

– Fred (AB1OC)