Why Ham Radio?


Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Fred’s Truck with Antenna

Every so often, I drive Fred’s truck into work and people ask me what that big antenna on the back of the truck is for. I explain to them that it is for Ham Radio.  But the reply is usually, why ham radio – isn’t that outdated technology?  We have cell phones and IM, etc…what do we need Ham Radio for?  So I thought I would put down my thoughts as a relatively new Ham about why I enjoy spending so much of my time with Ham Radio.

amateur_radio_could_save_lives_in_times__2205260000_9445423_ver1-0_640_480

Amateur Radio for Public Service

Public Service

The number one reason we still need Ham Radio along with all the other technology we now have is for public service.  When there is a disaster and cell phones, television, etc are all not working, Ham Radio operators provide the critical communication.

Ham Radio operators help locally to keep hospitals and first responders in contact with each other to help those affected by the disaster.

Hams also use our ability to communicate around the world on HF bands to help family members around the world to get in touch with loved ones affected by a disaster.

Ham Radio operators have been on the scene helping in every disaster from the earthquakes in Nepal to the recent flooding in California.

hamsats

Amateur Radio Cube Satellites

Technology and the Maker Movement

I only became a Ham 5 years ago but many of my fellow Ham Radio operators got their license when they were in their early teens and used what they learned to launch their careers. Many have had very successful careers in STEM fields, all launched by their interest in Ham Radio at a young age.  As technology advances, so does the technology used in our hobby.   We even have a nobel laureate, Joe Taylor K1JT who is a ham. Joe has developed weak signal digital communication modes that let us communicate by bouncing signals off the moon!

As technology has advanced, so has the use of it in Ham Radio.   Most Ham Radio operators have one or more computers in their shack.  Many also have a software designed radio (SDR), where much of the radio functionality is implemented using Software, we use sound cards to run digital modes, which are a lot like texting over the radio, and we use the internet extensively as part of operating.  We can also make contacts through satellites orbiting the earth and even the International Space Station.

Most hams love do-it-yourself technical projects, including building a station, home brewing an antenna, building a radio or other station component.  In my day job, I am a program manager for software development projects, but its been a while since I have built anything. As a Ham I taught myself how to code in Python and about the Raspberry Pi and I built the DX Alarm Clock.

vk6lc

QSL Card from VK6LC in Western Australia

International Camaraderie

One of the coolest things about being an amateur radio operator is that you can communicate with other hams all over the world. Ham Radio is an international community where we all have something in common to talk about – our stations and why we enjoy ham radio.    The QSL card above is from a memorable QSO with Mal, VK6LC, from Western Australia, who was the last contact that I needed for a Worked All Zones award.  I must have talked to him for 1/2 hour about his town in Australia and his pet kangaroos!

world-map

Amateur Radio Map of the World

Geography Lesson

I have learned much about geography from being on the air and trying to contact as many countries as I can.  There are 339 DX Entities, which are countries or other geographical entities and I have learned where each one is in order to understand where propagation will allow me make a contact.  I have learned a great deal about world geography. Through exchanging QSL cards often get to see photos from so many areas of the world.

dxcc-challenge-award

DXCC Challenge Award Plaque

Achievement – DXing and Contesting

DXing and Contesting provide a sense of achievement and exciting opportunity for competition. Many Hams work toward operating awards. You can get an operating award for contacting all 50 states, contacting 100 or more countries, contacting Islands, cities in Japan, countries in Asia, or anything else you can imagine.  Each of these operating awards provides a sense of accomplishment and helps to build skills.  Contesting builds skills through competition among Hams to see who can make the most contacts with the most places in 24 or 48 hours. Contesting also improves our operating skills and teaches us to copy callsigns and additional data accurately.

anita-instructor

Teaching a License Class

Teaching Licensing Classes – Passing it On

Recently I have joined a team of club members who teach license classes to others who want to get licensed or upgrade their existing Amateur Radio licenses.  Teaching provides a way to improve my presentation skills and also helps me to really understand the material that we teach about Amateur Radio.  It is always a thrill at the end of the class to see so many people earn their licenses or upgrades.

There are so many interesting aspects of Ham Radio which is what makes is such a great hobby.  Getting your license can open up a world of possibilities.  Upgrading to a new license class provides more opportunities to communicate over longer distances.  Ham Radio clubs, including our local club, the Nashua Area Radio Club,  provide many resources to help you get your first licenseupgrade to a new license class, and learn about the many aspects of our hobby.

Software Defined Radio/Remote Operating Gateway Part 3 – On The Air Remote!


Remote Operating Setup In Our Home Office

Remote Operating Setup In Our Home Office

In the previous articles is this series, we explained how we integrated a FlexRadio-6700 Software Defined Radio (SDR) into our station and how we used it as a platform to build the Remote Operating Gateway for our station. The project has turned out to be somewhat involved so we will be providing a series of articles to explain what we did:

With all of the hardware and software installed and the integration steps complete, we will  show some examples of using our remote operating setup on the air in this article. The first set of operating examples were made using the Remote Operating Client PC in our Home Office. This system is shown in the picture above.

Working The VK9WA DXpedition - Left Monitor

Working The VK9WA DXpedition – Left Monitor

We were able to make several contacts with the VK9WA DXpedition to Willis Island using our remote operating setup. The picture above provides a closer look at how we setup our Remote Client PC to work VK9WA (you can click on the pictures here to see a larger view). We just completed a CW contact with the VK9WA DXpedition on 40m and you can see that we have the QSO logged in DXLab’s DXKeeper. We used CW Skimmer to help determine where the operator was listening (more on this in a bit). We also used our Elecraft KPA500 Amplifier to make it a little easier to break through the pileup.

Working The VK9WA DXpedition - Right Monitor

Working The VK9WA DXpedition – Right Monitor

The picture above shows a better view of the second monitor on our Remote Client PC. SmartSDR is running to control our FlexRadio-6700 SDR and it is set up for split operation in CW mode on the 40m band. We also have DXLab’s DXView running and we used it to point our antennas to the short path heading for the VK9WA DXpedition. Finally, we used DXLab’s WinWarbler to remotely key the Winkeyer connected to our SDR in the shack to make the actual contact.

VK9WA DXpedition 30m Pileup Viewed From CW Skimmer

The video above shows the VK9WA DXpedition operating split in CW mode on the 30m band. Note how CW Skimmer allows us to see exactly where  the operator is listening (the VK9WA operator’s signal is the green bar at the bottom and the stations being worked can be seen sending a “599” near the top). You can see many of the folks trying to work the VK9WA DXpedition move near the last station that is worked in the pileup video.

VK9WA DXpedition 30m Pileup  Viewed From SmartSDR

The next video shows the VK9WA pileup in the SmartSDR application which controls the radio. This video provides a closer look at how SmartSDR is set up for split operation. Can you find the station that the VK9WA operator worked?  It is not quite in Slice Receiver B’s passband.

Laptop Remote Operating Client

Laptop Remote Operating Client

We also configured our Laptop PC to be a Remote Operating Client for our station. Our Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Headset is used to as both a wireless microphone and headphones with this system. Our Laptop Client PC can be used from any location on our property via the WiFi Wireless extension of our Home Network.

Window Arrangement For remote Operating From Laptop

Window Arrangement For remote Operating From Laptop

Since our Laptop PC has limited screen space, we created a configuration of overlapping windows to provide access to SmartSDR, key elements of the DXLab Suite and the applications which control/monitor our KPA500 Amplifier and Antennas. Each window is arranged so that a portion of it is always visible so that we can click on any required window to bring it forward when we need to use it.

Operating From Our Remote Laptop Client – A 20m SSB QSO

The video above shows a QSO that we made with AD0PY, David and his friend Daniel in Missouri, USA. We used the FlexRadio-6700 SDR/SmartSDR combination in VOX mode to make transmit keying simpler. At the beginning of the QSO, we  turned out antennas to point to AD0PY. Also note the operation of the KPA500 Amplifier when we transmit in the video. The QSO is logged in DXLab’s DXKeeper at the end of the contact in the usual way. Its fun to make casual contacts this way!

As you can see from this post, there is very little difference when we operate our station remotely or from our shack. This was an important goal that shaped the design of our Remote Operating Gateway and Client PC setup. Our next post will provide some details on how we setup the CW Skimmer and Digital Mode (RTTY, PSK and JT65/JT9) software to work on our Remote PC Clients.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Software Defined Radio/Remote Operating Gateway Part 2 – Client/Server Setup And Software


 

Remote Operating Gateway Client/Server Architecture

Remote Operating Gateway Client/Server Architecture

The next step in our Software Defined Radio/Remote Operating Project was to build a Remote Operating Gateway System in our shack and setup Client PCs to operate our station remotely. In a previous article, we explained how we integrated a FlexRadio 6700 Software Defined Radio (SDR) into our station to create a platform to build our remote operating project around. The project has turned out to be somewhat involved so we will be providing a series of articles to explain what we did:

In this article, we will explain the additional hardware and software that we used to enable remote operating as well as some additional equipment we added to our Client PCs that we use to operate our station remotely. The reader may want to refer to the picture above as you browse this article to better understand how the parts in our remote operating setup fit together. You can click on any of the pictures here on our blog to see a larger, easier to read version of them.

SmartSDR Software

SmartSDR Software Operating With A FlexRadio 6700 SDR

FlexRadio’s SmartSDR Software handles operating the SDR remotely. At the present state of maturity, SmartSDR can operate over a wired or wireless Ethernet LAN connection. At present, both SmartSDR and the FlexRadio-6xxx hardware must be on the same sub-network to function properly. FlexRadio has indicated that they plan to enable SmartSDR operation over wide-area broadband internet connections in the future. The design that we chose for our Remote Operating Gateway and Client PCs will allow operation of our entire station over the internet when SmartSDR is capable of fully supporting this. SmartSDR handles remoting of audio (microphone and speakers/headphones) as well as CW keying over our Home Network (more on this later) as well as control of the radio. With these key functions taken care of, we need to also remote the following functions of our station to fully support remote operation:

Remote control of equipment power is particularly important to provide a means to reset/restart equipment remotely as well as a means to shut down the Transmitter remotely.

Remote GW Control Stack - Antenna, Power and Monitoring

Remote Gateway Control Stack – Antenna, Power and Monitoring

Remote control of power for the components in our Remote Operating Setup is handled by a RIGRunner 4005i power control device. This unit provides remote power control over a network for up to 5 separate groups of devices. It also provides voltage/current monitoring and solid state over-current protection as well.

RIGRunner Remote Power Control Setup

RIGRunner Remote Power Control Setup

The figure above shows how we setup our RIGRunner 4005i. The device is controlled over our Home Network via a standard Web Browser. As you can see from the picture above, this devices lets us remotely control power to all of the devices in our Remote Operating Setup.

Remote Control Relay Unit

Remote Control Relay Unit

The FlexRadio-6700 SDR requires some additional power control handling. Simply removing and applying power to the FlexRadio-6700 SDR will reset the radio and leave it in a power off state. The FlexRadio-6700 SDR does have a remote power control input which can be controlled via a relay closure. We used a microbit Webswitch 1216H device to provide a remotely controlled relay closure to control the power off/on for the FlexRadio-6700 SDR.

Flex-6700 On/Off Control Via microbit Webswitch

Flex-6700 On/Off Control Via microbit Webswitch

The microbit Webswitch 1216H relay unit is also controlled over our Home Network via a standard Web Browser.

SmartSDR Setup - Tx Keying, Tx Interlock and Remote Power Control

SmartSDR Setup – Remote On/Off Control

The FlexRadio-6700 SDR is configured for remote on/off operation via the Radio Setup dialog in SmartSDR as shown above. A cable is run between the remote power on/off port on the FlexRadio-6700 SDR and the microbit Webswitch 1216H relay unit to complete this part of our Remote Control System.

Beams On Our Tower

Beams On Our Tower

It is also important to have full remote control of our Antennas and Rotators to effectively use our station from outside our shack. Control of our Rotators is accomplished by software which remotes serial COM ports over our Home Network.

Network Serial Port Kit

Network Serial Port Kit

We used the Fabulatech’s Network Serial Port Kit package to remote the serial COM ports used to control the microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller, the associated antenna Rotators and the WinKeyer associated with our FlexRadio-6700 SDR. This software runs on both the local Server computer in our shack which hosts the Remote Operating Setup and any Client PCs which are used to operate our station remotely.

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Control via Teamviewer and Development App

microHAM Station Master Deluxe Development Application Via TeamViewer

There is not currently a production software tool to enable remote control of the microHAM Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controllers which we use in our shack. I am planning to develop our own application to do this in the future. The folks at microHAM have been so kind to provide me with the interface specifications needed to control the Station Master Deluxe Antenna Controller remotely along with a Developer Only test application (shown above) which can be used to understand the microHAM Device Protocol. In the interim, I have been using the microHAM Developer Only application along with the TeamViewer Remote Control Software to control antenna selection remotely and to monitor the position of the current selected rotators.

Shack Remote Operating Gateway Server PC Applications

Shack Remote Operating Gateway Server PC Applications

The remaining software required for remote control of our station is provided by the Elecraft applications which control the KPA500 Amplifier, KAT500 Auto-Tuner, and W2 Wattmeter which are used in our Remote Operating Gateway setup. All of these applications along with the microHAM Developer Only Application for Station Master Deluxe control and the DDUtil Program which interworks the FlexRadio-6700 SDR CAT interface with the Station Master Deluxe (see the previous article in this series) are shown above running on our Shack Server PC. This PC is on at all times and is protected by a Uninterruptible Power System (UPS) to ensure that it runs trouble-free.

Remote Operating PC Client Software Applications

Remote Operating PC Client Software Applications

In addition to FlexRadio SmartSDR, each of the Server Side PC applications has a corresponding Client Side application which is used on the Remote Operating Client PC. Shown above are the three Elecraft Client applications for Amplifier, Auto-Tuner and Wattmeter control and monitoring. The client side Network Serial Port Kit application which replicates the WinKeyer, microHAM Station Master Deluxe and Rotator Control COM ports is also shown.

Heil Microphone And USBQ Adapter

Heil Microphone And USBQ Adapter

The PC in our home office will be a primary remote operating location for our station. Audio quality is important to us and we wanted to ensure that the quality of our audio was just as good operating remotely as it is when we operate from our Shack. To accomplish this, we installed a Heil PR781 Microphone, PL2T Boom and USBQ Adapter/Pre-Amp on our home office PC. The Heil USBQ is a USB sound card and microphone pre-amplifier which connects directly to the PR781 microphone to create a high-quality phone audio source which can be used with the FlexRadio-6700 SDR when operating remotely.

Bose SoundLink BluTooth Headset

Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Headset

The speakers our my home office PC are quite good but there are often times when a set of headphones are needed to hear weak signals. We choose a quality Bluetooth Headset from Bose for this purpose. The Bose SoundLink Headset is light weight, is wireless, has excellent fidelity and includes a very good microphone which can be used as an alternative to the Heil PR781. This headset is also very useful when operating from our Laptop Client PC from noisy locations outside our home (more on this in a future article).

SmartSDR DAX Control Panel

SmartSDR DAX Control Panel

The last pieces of the remote operating system are provided two applications which are part of the SmartSDR software package. The SmartSDR’s DAX Control panel provides remote audio connections for Digital Mode Software and the CW Skimmer decoder. Audio is provided by software “audio cables” for each of the FlexRadio SDR’s Slice Receivers and the active Tx Slice. SmartSDR DAX Audio IQ interfaces are also provided for each of the SDR’s Panadapters which permits software like CW Skimmer to monitor and decode a wide range of frequencies simultaneously.

SmartSDR CAT

SmartSDR CAT

The SmartSDR CAT application provides CAT interfaces on both our Client and Server PCs for applications which need to control or monitor what the FlexRadio-6700 SDR is doing. Many loggers and other applications are beginning to implement direct IP interfaces to the CAT channel of the FlexRadio 6xxx Series SDRs. This approach simplifies interworking between the software and the radio and appears to be more reliable than virtual COM-based CAT interfaces.

Client PC Running SmartSDR And The DXLab Suite

Client PC Running SmartSDR And The DXLab Suite (Home Office)

With all of the above elements in place, any client PC that can access our Home Network can be used to operate our station. The picture above shows SmartSDR and the DXLab Suite running on our Home Office PC. The remote emulations of the Rotator, CAT and Winkeyer interfaces are such that DXLab’s applications can fully operate our station as if they we running in our shack.

Client PC Running SmartSDR And The DXLab Suite - Right Monitor

Client PC Running SmartSDR And The DXLab Suite – Right Monitor

The picture above shows a closer view of my Home Office PC’s Right monitor (click on the picture to enlarge it). SmartSDR is running the upper left corner and I am listening to folks operate in the 2015 CQ WW DX CW Contest. The SDR is set on the 20m band and I have the CW Keyer which is built into SmartSDR running. The DAX Control Panel is running on the lower right corner of the screen and its setup for use with the CW Skimmer decoder. DXLab’s WinWarbler is running (top-center) which enables me to use the WinKeyer in the shack to send CW as well via the remote COM port associated with the WinKeyer. Below WinWarbler is the microHAM Developer Only application (accessed remotely via a TeamViewer connection to the Shack Server PC) which shows that I have both of our SteppIR DB36 Yagis are selected as a stack and pointed towards Europe. DXLab’s DXView Rotator Control application is running in the center-bottom of the screen so that we can turn our Yagis towards other parts of the world (rotators are controlled via another remote COM port). Finally, the client KPA500 Amplifier control application is running in the lower left corner to control the amplifier and to monitor the power out and SWR seen by the amplifier being used to operate remotely.

Client PC Running SmartSDR And The DXLab Suite - Left Monitor

Client PC Running SmartSDR And The DXLab Suite – Left Monitor

The picture above shows a closer view of the left monitor. DXLab’s logger, DXKeeper is running at the top/center of the screen. Below it is DXLab’s SpotCollector application which is monitoring spots of the many CW stations around the world that are operating in the contest. DXLab’s Commander applications is running in the lower-right corner of the screen and is monitoring the FlexRadio-6700 SDR’s slice Tx/Rx frequency as well as providing a control interface of the SDR to the rest of the DXLab Suite (via SmartSDR CAT). The Elecraft W2 Wattmeter client control application is just above commander. The W2 Wattmeter client application provides higher resolution power out and SWR monitoring for the remote setup. Bottom-center is DXLab’s Launcher application and just to the left of that is the KAT500 Auto-Tuner Client Control application. Finally, CW Skimmer is running on the left side of the screen.

CW Skimmer Operating Remotely

CW Skimmer Operating Remotely

As you can see, CW Skimmer is decoding a wide range of frequencies in the 20m CW sub-band. It is receiving its audio in IQ format via the SmartSDR DAX application. It is great fun to operate CW this way and I am finding myself making a lot more CW contacts now that I have the remote operating setup in my office.

The next post will provide some samples of remote operation in the form of videos. I will also share some information on setting up a Remote Operating Client on a laptop where screen space is more limited. We plan to take a trip outside our house to operate our station over the Internet and we plan to share information on how that is done. We will also provide future articles on how to setup CW Skimmer and Digital Modes (RTTY, PSK and JT65/JT9) on the HF Bands and use them remotely.

For now, we are really enjoying the freedom to operate our station remotely!

– Fred (AB1OC)

A SDR Pan Adapter/Spectrum Scope For The Yaesu FTdx5000 Transceiver


SDR Pan Adapter for FTdx5000

SDR Pan Adapter for FTdx5000

We both really like the performance on Anita’s (AB1QBYaesu FTdx5000 Transceiver. It has an excellent receiver and it integrated nicely with our recently completed microHAM system. One area where the FTdx5000 Transceiver leaves a bit to be desired is its Pan Adapter or Spectrum Scope capabilities. We have both the DMU-2000 and the SM-5000 Station Monitor options for this transceiver but they do not provide the sort of high-resolution Pan Adapter features that we are looking for. When we purchased this radio, we also purchased an RFSpace SDR-IQ Software Defined Receiver device to use with it. I recently set the SDR-IQ up to operate with Anita’s FTdx5000 to get the best of both worlds – the high-performance receiver capabilities of the FTdx5000 and the high-resolution Pan Adapter and Tuning features of a Software Define Radio (SDR).

We are using Simon Brown’s (HB9DRV) SDR-Radio Console Application to control the setup. The picture above shows this software, the RFSpace SDR-IQ and the FTdx5000 in operation together in the phone section of the 20m band. As you can see, the software provides an SDR-like waterfall interface to the radio. The SDR-Radio Console software has the option to control the FTdx5000 via its CAT Interface and we have enabled this in our configuration. All one needs to do is to click on one of the signals on the waterfall or drag tune the setup with a mouse and the FTdx5000 is automatically tuned to operate on the correct frequency to receive the desired signal. The current version of the software only controls one of the FTdx5000’s two VFOs but Simon has indicated that he plans to add support for controlling a connected transceiver’s second VFO in the future. This combination results in a considerable improvement in the FTdx5000’s operating interface. In addition to the waterfall display, the SDR-Radio Console software also provides audio scope and other spectrum scope functions as part of its displays.

SDR-IQ Receiver

SDR-IQ Receiver

The RFSpace SDR-IQ Software Defined Receiver is a small unit which connects to our FTdx5000 via the IF output connection on the transceiver.  This device creates a digitized IQ interface using the FTdx5000’s wide-band IF signals. Our readers should note that only a few radios have an IF output built-in – fortunately for us, the FTdx5000 does have such an output. See RFSpace’s website for some options for radios that do not have a built-in IF output. The SDR-IQ can “see” up to 190 kHz of bandwidth on the transceiver’s IF which is more than enough to cover an entire sub-band’s spectrum on most of the HF bands. The SDR-IQ unit connects to the PC which runs the SDR-Radio Console software via a USB interface (a USB 3.0 connection is recommended). With some simple configuration and adjustments to the RF levels in SDR Console, the unit was ready to go (we used the software supplied with the SDR-IQ to bring its firmware up to the latest version before setting up SDR-Radio Console). There is a Yahoo! support group for the SDR-Radio Console software and the folks there were very helpful in answering our questions as we worked through installing the setup and getting it configured.

I believe that an SDR interfaces added to an existing “knobs and buttons” transceiver can provide a transceiver system which is much easier to operate. Thanks to folks like Simon Brown, HB9DRV and his work on SDR-Radio Console software, we have yet another way to explore the world of Software Defined Radio.

– Fred (AB1OC)

2013 Amateur Radio Highlights


DXCCs Worked in 2013

DXCCs Worked in 2013

Anita and I were quite active on the bands in 2013. Together we made 20,650+ contacts from a combination of our home and mobile stations and we worked a combined 259 DXCC Entities.

Combined 2013 QSOs By Band

Combined 2013 QSOs By Band

We were active on all of the Amateur Bands available in the USA from 160m through 70cm except for the 60m and 1.25m bands. The picture above shows the distribution of our QSOs across the bands in 2013. Both of us participated in quite a few contests in 2013 and this resulted in the 5 major contest bands dominating our operating activity. I did quite a lot of work on the 160m band this year and I participated in several 160m contests to gain experience and to begin working towards a DXCC on this band. We worked a total of 50 DXCC Entities on 160m in 2013. Our 6m, 2m, and 440 MHz (70cm) contacts were made mostly during VHF/UHF contests that I participated in.

Combined 2013 QSOs By Mode

Combined 2013 QSOs By Mode

We like to operate using many different modes. Anita (AB1QB) does quite a bit of RTTY contesting and she accounted for the bulk of the activity in the digital modes from our station in 2013. I made it a point to become active using the CW mode this year and I made 1,550+ contacts using CW in 2013 including participation in several CW contests. Operations in SSB Phone mode dominated our activity this year mostly due to our operations in SSB Phone contests and as one of the New Hampshire Stations in the 2013 Colonies Special Event this year where we made a combined total of 6,200+ contacts.

QSL Cards Ready To Mail

QSL Cards Ready To Mail

We really enjoy sending and receiving QSL cards. We sent 5,800+ QSL cards this year, averaging approximately 110 cards sent each week. We also QSL’ed via eQSL and Logbook Of The World. I am often asked what percentage of our QSL requests are confirmed. For 2013, we received confirmations for 67% of our direct/bureau cards, 31% of the QSOs uploaded to eQSL, and 37% of the QSOs upload to LoTW. These numbers will undoubtedly rise a time goes by.

AB1OC Operating Awards

AB1OC Operating Awards

All of this operating allowed us to complete a number of operating awards this year. Fred completed his DXCC Challenge, 8-Band DXCC, and CQ WPX Award of Excellence Awards as well as a DXCC Awards in CW mode and a DXCC QRP (5 watts).

AB1QB Japan Cities Award

AB1QB Japan Century Cities Award

Anita has held a DXCC for some time and has been focusing on a number of JARL Awards. She completed her Japan Century Cities Award for confirming contacts with 100 cities in Japan in 2013.

AB1QB Operating In The BARTG RTTY Contest

AB1QB Operating In The BARTG RTTY Contest

Contesting was a big part of the operations from our station this year. I was active in several major SSB and CW contests this year and Anita was active in quite a few major RTTY and phone contests as well. We are both licensed for less that 3 years and have been competing in the Rookie or Novice categories in most contests and we have been doing quite well. Anita took 5th place in the world in the 2013 BARTG RTTY Contest and she has placed 1st in our call area in several of the 2013 ARRL Rookie Roundups in both SSB Phone and RTTY.

2013 CQ Worldwide WPX SSB Certificate

2013 CQ Worldwide WPX SSB Certificate

I placed 1st in North America/2nd in the World in the 2013 CQ WPX SSB Contest (Rookie High Power) and 1st in North America/2nd in the World in the 2013 CQ WPX CW Contest (Rookie High Power). Contests have provided us a great deal of operating experience and have contributed greatly to our completion of several operating awards.

Mobile Installation In Ford F-150

Mobile Installation In Ford F-150

Station Building was a big part of our Amateur Radio experience again in 2013. We installed a mobile HF setup in our truck and did quite a bit of mobile HF operating. We made 165 contacts from our mobile station in 2013 and worked 41 DXCC entities.

WSJT EME QSO - Waterfall

WSJT EME QSO – Waterfall

I also made my first Earth-Moon-Earth Contacts on 2m in 2013. I made 30 contacts on 2m using the moon as a reflector, working a total of 16 DXCC Entities this way.

AB1QB Operating The Flex-3000 Software Defined Radio

AB1QB Operating The Flex-3000 Software Defined Radio

We added a Flex-3000 Software Defined Radio (SDR) to our station in 2013 and have been using it to learn about this new technology. The performance and operating capabilities of SDR are making SDR a big part of the future of Amateur Radio in our opinion.

8-Circle Receive Array System Diagram

8-Circle Receive Array System Diagram

Antenna projects were also a part of our station building work in 2013. We installed an 8-Circle Receive Array System for 160m – 40m and this new antenna system helped us a great deal with DX’ing and contesting on 160m and 80m. We also began the reinstallation of our BigIR Vertical Antenna but the onset of winter here in New Hampshire caused us to delay the completion of this project until spring. Finally, we made the switch to the excellent DXLab logging and DX’ing software suite. DXLab helped us a great deal with QSL’ing and tracking our progress toward operating awards.

CW Station Operations

2013 Field Day CW Station Operations

We were part of the 2013 Field Day team at our local radio Club (PART in Westford, MA). We provided and managed the digital station as well as the setup of a portion of the antenna systems for our club’s field day operations.

ARRL At Dayton 2013

ARRL At Dayton 2013

Anita and I attended the Dayton Hamvention again in 2013. The Dayton event is always a great opportunity to see the latest in Amateur Radio equipment. We attended the 2013 Contest University which was held as part of the Dayton Event and used the information that we learned there to continue to improve our contesting skills.

Fred Lloyd AA7BQ, Founder Of QRZ.com

Fred Lloyd AA7BQ, Founder Of QRZ.com

The internet was a big part of our Amateur Radio experience again in 2013. We met Fred Lloyd, AA7BQ who visited us to do an article on QRZ.com on our station. We learned a great deal from Fred during the time that we spent with him as part of this project. We published 47 new articles here on our blog in 2013 and have received over 45,000 views from our readers in 152 countries around the world. We really appreciate the interest from the HAM community and we will continue to publish new articles here in 2014.

As you can tell from this article, 2013 has been a very active year for Anita and I. I’ve created the video above to give you some idea of the contacts that we have been fortunate enough to make around the world in 2013. We hope you enjoy it and we want to thank everyone who has taken the time to work us, to end us a QSL card or to read the articles that we have written here.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Cool Amateur Radio Site – DXHeat.com


DXHeat Website

DXHeat Website

Occasionally, something new and useful comes along on the internet for HAMs. I believe that DXHeat.com is a recent example of this. DXHeat.com has been put together by Tobias Wellnitz, DH1TW. DXHeat.com takes an innovative, analytics-based approach to DX Cluster search and data display. Big Data Analytics is certainly a key future technology for internet and other applications and Tobias has created an interesting application of this technology for HAM Spotting Cluster data access.

Cluster Spot Analytics

Cluster Spot Analytics

To give you an idea of how this works, I entered by callsign (AB1OC) into DXHeat.com’s cluster search engine. The graphic above is a snapshot of the result. As you can see, the site not only produces a list of the spots of my callsign but it also created graphical views showing the bands, dates and times where I was spotted as well as the source (continents) where the spots were originated. This information gives me a better picture of where I am being heard on various bands for example.

Online SDR

Online SDR

DXHeat.com also includes a link to an online WebSDR which can be used to listen to stations from inside Europe on the HAM bands. It looks like Tobias plans to link his site to the WebSDR so that one can listen to a spotted station as well as tune the bands and create new spots.

Tobias’ site is relatively new and there is a great deal of potential for enhancements to his concept. For example, one can imagine that automated phone spotting might be possible using  voice recognition technology sometime in the future. It will be interesting to watch how DXHeat.com evolves. Thanks to John, W1MBG to pointing out DXHeat.com to us.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Setting Up And Using A Software Defined Radio


AB1QB Operating The Flex-3000 Software Defined Radio

AB1QB Operating Her Flex-3000 Software Defined Radio

Anita (AB1QB) has been interested in Software Defined Radio for some time now so I decided to get her a Flex-3000 Software Defined Radio (SDR) as a holiday gift. This post will share what we have learned about setting up and using the Flex-3000.

Flex-3000 Hardware And DJ Console

Flex-3000 Hardware And DJ Console

Our Flex-3000 setup includes the following hardware components:

The hardware component connections in our setup are illustrated in the following figure.

SDR Hardware Configuration

SDR Hardware Configuration

We can use our Flex-3000 barefoot (100 w) or connected through our Elecraft KPA500 amplifier (500 w). All we need to do to use the Flex-3000 with the amplifier is to connect the PTT Output on the radio to PTT IN on the amplifier, connect the amplifier in the path between the radio and the antenna switching in our shack and adjust the drive on the radio to the appropriate level to generate full output from the amplifier.

SDR Software Configuration

SDR Software Configuration

We use the PowerSDR/Flex-3000 combination with Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) 6 for automated logging, transceiver control and to operate using the digital modes via HRD’s DM780. This setup is similar to a hardware digital mode setup as described in our post on Setting Up A Digital HF Station. The major differences are:

  1. There are no physical serial cables for CAT and PPT are needed between the radio Ham Radio Deluxe
  2. No sound card is needed as the output of the Flex-3000 is already in a digital audio format inside the PC

Both of these functions are implemented via software inside the same PC that is running both PowerSDR and Ham Radio Deluxe/DM780:

  1. Two virtual serial cables for Computer Aided Transceiver (CAT) and Push To Talk (PTT) control are implemented via the Virtual Serial Port (VSP) Manager Software by K5FR
  2. The bi-directional Virtual Audio cable is implemented the Virtual Audio Cable (VAC) Software

The following are screenshots how these two programs are setup on our PC.

Virtual Serial Port (VSP) Manager Setup

Virtual Serial Port (VSP) Manager Setup

Note how each end of the Virtual Serial Port is mapped to a different COM port (COM6 <-> COM16 and COM7 <-> COM17).

Virtual Audio Cable (VAC) Setup

Virtual Audio Cable (VAC) Setup

There are two VACs setup on our PC but only one is required for HRD/DM780 and most other Amateur Radio programs which use a sound card. The VSPs and the VAC numbers must be setup in both PowerSDR and in HRD/DM780.  The exact setup on your PC may be different depending on available COM ports, etc. This information should give you the general idea of what you need to do to get all of the hardware and software working together correctly. Note that you can use any program that works with the combination of a CAT/PTT over serial cables plus a sound card interface. This approach which makes PowerSDR compatible with most Ham Radio software (ex. Software CW Keyers/Decoders, Fldigi, JT65, and others).

PowerSDR Software

PowerSDR Software Conducting A RTTY QSO

Once the hardware and software is configured as outlined above, its easy to use the HRD/DM780/PowerSDR combination to conduct Phone, CW, and Digital QSOs in the same way that you would with a conventional radio. All of the automatic logging features of HRD work correctly and digital QSOs are completed via DM780 in the usual way. The picture above shows PowerSDR being controlled by DM780 to conduct a RTTY QSO during the 2013 ARRL RTTY Roundup Contest.

I find the ability to tune the radio and adjust filtering and other audio processing very natural via the PowerSDR interface using the mouse attached to our PC. PowerSDR provides a wide-band pan-adapter interface which makes it very easy to “see” various signals on a band, tune the software to receive these signals and then apply filtering and other audio processing as needed to avoid interference, etc.

Flex-3000 Operation Via DJ Console

Flex-3000 Operation Via DJ Controller

Many operators will miss PowerSDR’s lack of a “buttons and knobs” interface provided by a conventional radio. There is an excellent add-on to PowerSDR available that uses a re-purposed audio mixing console from HERCULES to implement a more conventional interface to PowerSDR. The picture above shows a HERCULES DJ Controller which we have configured to work with the PowerSDR add-on. You will need a customized version of the PowerSDR (PowerSDR-UI) and the latest DJ Controller hardware to realize the interface. PowerSDR-UI allows the various buttons and knobs on the DJ controller to be assigned to control many of the functions provided by PowerSDR. See the following website for some ideas on how other Hams have set up the DJ Controller. There is also an yahoo group on the use of the DJ Controller and PowerSDR-UI. Once you have your interface setup the way you want it, you can use a conventional label machine to label everything on your DJ controller so that you can easily remember how to use your custom setup.

The video above shows a SSB phone QSO with John, WA0DQR on 20m using PowerSDR-UI. You can see how the radio’s pan-adapter is used to select a signal to receive by tuning via the mouse at the beginning of the QSO.

I would encourage you to experiment with an SDR if you have not used one. This technology is clearly an important part of the future of Amateur Radio. For our readers who already have a Flex or other brand of SDR, I hope that you will explore the digital modes or perhaps the DJ Controller as enhancements to your setup.

Fred (AB1OC)