Formerly W3CPO, now
(No official affiliation with the AFC, or the Pittsburgh Steelers)
The picture in the inset is my shack back in October of 2011 when I first got back into HAM radio.
And this is my shack now.
Short Personal History: I got interested in radio and electronics when I was six or seven. A TV repairman was working on our TV and he let me watch. He gave me a faulty part (a big, color-coded epoxy capacitor).By age ten, I had an illegal AM radio station called "WORD" - "Wheeling, Orchard RoaD". It was strong enough to get a warning from the local FCC field office. The long story behind this can be found on my Flickr site at http://www.flickr.com/photos/32645093@N02/6304917396/in/set-72157627847345268.
Now the important stuff - Radios & Antennas!
The first thing you might notice is that I love vintage radios. My oldest piece is a 1962 Hammarlund HQ-170C receiver that I restored and aligned in 2010. The newest is my all solid-state 1992 Kenwood TS-130S. Having conquered the RFI problems in our house however, I now do most of my DX work on my Swan rigs. Since I live in a suburb in Maryland, I use covert long wire antennas, and I need all the barefoot power I can get.
Swan 700CX: "Old Faithful" (8-Pole Crystal Filter)
This was the first piece of HAM equipment I purchased, after a 45-year hiatus from radio. I bought it from a place called "Holly's Curios" on eBay. It worked great right out of the box, but I arced it while tuning up into a low-impedance experimental antenna, and a little wisp of smoke appeared. So I tore the PA section down to the chassis, scrubbed off a bunch of yellow gunk from the ceramic plate tuning varicap insulators with alcohol, cleaned every wafer switch with a toothbrush and DeOxit Gold, resoldered every grainy-looking ground connection, and replaced a 200 uH choke that toasted when it arced. I also rewired the PA tubes for 6LB6 tubes instead of the very-expensive 8950's, added push-type external speaker terminals on the back, and an RCA jack wired to the Product Detector so I can take off low level audio for computer input, etc. This rig puts out 350-400 watts PEP on 20-80 meters, close to 300 on 15, and 200 on 10 meters. It can also produce useable AM using carrier injection.
Swan 700CX "Single Sideband Special" (16-Pole Crystal Filter)
This is all original, including the use of 8950 RF tubes for the PA.It belts out 350-400 watts PEP on 20-80 meters, 330W on 15M, and 275W on 10M. This has a 16-pole crystal filter that makes the receiver super quiet. This rig holds the 20M eQSL record for my shack of 10,220 miles (Australia). The VFO is liquid smooth.
A 508 VFO! My quest is at an end!
After eighteen months of searching, I finally found a Swan 508 VFO (far left, under the monitor) on eBay for a reasonable price ($118). After a cleanup and adjusting a couple trimmers, it works great.
Swan HF-700S "Single Sideband Special"
I won this on eBay for $202.50 from a HAM who lived close enough to pick it up in person. According to the Swan Compendium, there were only 925 of these produced, and this is the rare 16-pole filter version. I peaked the VFO, mixer, and driver coils, and now the rig cranks. It puts out 325 watts PEP on 20-80 meters, 225W on 15M, and 175 Watts PEP on 10M. This uses 6MJ6 output tubes, so it's not quite as strong as the "CX" models on 15 and 10 meters. The unusual knob assembly is my own creation - it's a cross between the original, and a 700CX. I use this on 20 & 40 meters with a hand mike and sometimes a little compression during pileups. This uses IC boards in the Balanced Modulator, the CW filters, and the Calibrator. I get excellent audio reports with this radio. This rig holds the 20M LOTW distance record for my shack (Southern tip of Australia - almost exactly halfway aound the word), and it's also the one that's responsible for most of my far away or exotic contacts, like Indonesia and Antarctica .
I had an unfinished KB-1 knob lying around, so I drilled it for a 1/4 in. shaft, and installed it on my 700S. It works great. It allows me to spin across the bands with ease.I countersunk the screws for the inner plastic knob so I could tuck the KB-1 knob in as close as possible.
I've kicked around the idea of selling this radio, but it has a very sensitive receiver, and it's fun to work contacts with. It puts out 100 watts PEP on 10, 15, 20, and 80 meters. It also has an 11 meter crystal in the 10B position, courtesy of the CB'er who owned it before me. It was an unholy electrical mess when I bought it for $140 (on eBay, of course). All of the trimmers were way off, three ferrite slugs were cracked from using metal tools, and a mystery brown wire had been cut. Apparently the former owner read a frequently-quoted Internet article that says the FT-101E can hear on 11 meters, but it won't transmit until a brown wire near the band switch is cut. That article applied to the earlier version with the 11-meter switch position, not this one. Naturally, the brown wire he cut was in a location where only an insect could get to it to repair it.
THE "MODERN" rigs
Complementing my tube rigs are these more modern Kenwood rigs. The TS-830S classic hybrid further down this page was a logical progression from the Yaesu, and the TS-930S below, which I just added, is my new baby. It's an all-original, minty "pre-3,100xxx " serial number rig, so I have a plan to keep it from suffering the power supply failure that these rigs are known for. I'll post the entire process on my Flickr page here:
AAAAAAARGH! IT BLEW UP ANYWAY!
I was in the middle of a QSO with a station in Latvia when suddenly the other OP started asking "W3AFC? Are you still there?" Everything seemed normal and even the "On the Air" light was still working. But it wasn't putting out a signal and now Ic and power were at "zero". It sounded like a relay wasn't engaging, but I now know that the MRF485 drivers blew.
Kenwood TS-930S: Resurrection!
I've rebuilt the rig, using a Phoenix Contact industrial switching power supply. I also used Eleflow brand MRF 485 drivers in the PA, and they work great! Full pictures and details can be found on one of my Flickr pages here:
For those of you who might have the same problem that I had, this power supply conversion works very well, and the rig runs MUCH cooler. In addition, it is now light enough to put on the upper level of my shack hutch.
From the rear, the rig looks the same except that you can see the inside of the switching power supply through the fan blades. The power supply can be easily adjusted from 24 to 29.5 volts, and it runs on 100-240 VAC.
For those of you who have been wondering "Which is better - the Kenwood TS-830S, or the TS-930S", the short answer is the TS-830S. Or at least it's the more durable of the two. This hybrid rig won't back down when the SWR goes up to 2:1. The TS-930S doesn't either, but you risk blowing up the PA section. If you own a good working 830 "Sugar", DO NOT SELL IT, or you will someday regret it.
I bought THIS rig from ANOTHER eBay curio shop, called "Lynne's Collectibles and Curios". It's ironic that two of the best radios I've ever bought were from women on eBay who had "curio" shops. Lynne offered a generous return period and a warranty, and I wasn't disappointed. It worked perfectly, and it puts out about 120 watts PEP across all bands, using 6146 RF tubes. The receiver in this has an adjustable notch filter and Variable Bandwidth Tuning built-in to clean up weak signals. In fact, sometimes it beats my new 930 "Sugar".But it didn't come with the fancy bronze VFO knob. I found that on eBay.
After 2 years of service, this rig has developed the annoying habit of dropping into QRP mode without warning. It still gets great audio reports even in QRP, but it happens without warning, so if you're DX'ing, you may face a big embarrassment. I've torn this down to the PA, checked all the thermistors and connections, solder joints, the works. I reassemble it, and it works great for a couple days, then it lets me down again. The problem happens whether the rig is cold or hot. Pushing on certain circuit boards makes it work again, but then it fails again and that solution doesn't work anymore. Or pushing the "Proc" button or another one might cure it for awhile. It's probably going on eBay for "Parts or not working". I have an Atlas 210X that has never failed me, so that will become my portable rig for now.
The dial and meter lamps are LEDs. It LOOKS cool, but what good is an unreliable radio?
This is the radio that started it all over again. I have a section on my Flickr set named HAM RADIO that describes how I realigned it and heard people talking all over the world, and that spurred me on to go get my licenses. I can connect this to any of my Swan 700CX rigs, which have an automatically-switched and muted RF output jack on the back that lets me use it as a second receiver for Split Mode. This receiver is a triple-conversion model that has just about every signal shaping circuit there is built in. I've had this since I was 21 or 22. It was a mess, and in the trunk of some guy's car when I bought it along with a Johnson Viking Ranger (also beat up), a Heathkit DX-35 (all rusty), and some other equipment.I sanded the bezel and painted it and the case semi-gloss black. Note the broken name plate. That probably happened when it bounced around in the guy's trunk. He was in the throes of an "unfriendly" divorce, and it looked like he was living out of his car. I think I paid $75 total for everything he had. He wanted $100, I countered with $50, and so forth.
Here's another picture of the HQ-170C, circa 1976. I had it wired into my stereo system in a little house I lived in way up on a hill above Oglebay Park in Wheeling WV. Note the EICO 460 O'scope, that I built as a teen. The Kenwood Pulse Count Stereo tuner in the picture had V & H outputs for a scope to allow precise antenna alignment. I wish I had moved that can of Lysol before I took this picture, though.
My Antenna Section
"This is my Antenna Tree. There are many like it, but this one is mine"
(Adapted from "The Rifleman's Creed", United States Marines)
I live in a suburb with 1-acre lots, where a tower is not legally prohibited, but if you have a large antenna, neighbors will hassle you if they think you're causing interference. So I use covert wire antennas. I stare at trees until they become paranoid, thinking of ways to string up an antenna system.
This is my antenna tree. It's young and strong and it has a slight curve in it which keeps the antenna wire away, like a bow and string. I use long screen door springs and 4-inch diameter nylon clothes-line pulleys to allow the wire to flex when the wind blows. This antenna has survived the remnants of Hurricane Ernesto, and an 82-mph straight-line storm called a Derecho" that left everyone without power for days.
People standing right next to this antenna don't even see it, or the 6-foot wooden post with the balun inside a large plastic box, mainly because I painted it in camo colors. The post and balun are about 6 feet to the left of the main tree, behind a smaller one.
I've considered using other stealth antennas like flagpoles, but trees are taller. I can get my wire up to a height of about 60 feet with my current "fork". You can see the white nylon pulley at the top in this picture if you strain your eyes a bit.
The diagram below shows the configuration of my antenna. The wire length is 86.9 feet, which I have found to offer the best compromise in a random-wire (non-resonant) antenna. Since my Swan rigs can run full power into a 4:1 SWR, this antenna works well from 10 to 160 meters. I don't use the radiator shown in the diagram any more. The basic end-fed wire works best. The configuration shown below resembles an open safety pin. This antenna got the nickname "Crazy Wire".
The chart below shows the SWR's that I've obtained with various configurations of this antenna, which is actually a "QSO-King" sold by Maple Leaf Studios on eBay. The complete antenna with balun was cheaper than what I would have spent had I bought the components and built it myself. The white line represents the SWR's from a 40-meter OCF dipole that I have mounted on plastic stand-offs in my attic. As expected, they are excellent on 10, 20, and 40 meters, but awful on the WARCs, and 160M. When I had the OCF antenna mounted outdoors, the SWR's were about the same.
Note how low the SWRs can go on 160 meters with the 86.9 foot wire length! The classic "Inverted L" is the best, overall. This works perfectly with my Kenwood TS-830S, since it is designed for SWR's of 2.0 or less. The SWR is higher on 80, but I use my Swans there. These were determined using an antenna analyzer, and verified with my TS-930S and its built in SWR meter. Adding additional coax to balance the counterpoise to the radiator length lowered the SWR on some bands, but increased them dramatically on 160M. But my 87-foot antenna doesn't reach out well on 160M anyway - it's basically an NVIS at that wavelength.
The photo below shows how I keep RF out of my shack, while using the coax as a counterpoise. The assembly on the left stops it pretty much cold. And one of the best tools for working this out is the crude little field strength meter to the right. I once thought these "diode and meter" gadgets were worthless, but they are, in fact, useful diagnostic tools. Our soil here is 50% sand (or more) so when the weather gets dry, the ground system suffers. In fact, we have to use chemically-treated ground rods at many of our state traffic signal equipment cabinets in Maryland. So when I see the little meter pointer deflect as I talk or tune up, I know I need to watch out for RF in my audio. So far though, the balun and isolator setup on the left has done a fine job. It's under a covered deck, so I haven't bothered to seal the conduit. The "S" meter on the Swan is pinned because I took the picture seconds after I turned it on.
This is basically my emergency antenna. It's a 40-meter OCF on plastic stand-offs and pulleys in our attic, which has a full-depth floor, and an 8/12 pitch roof. It works OK, but it creates havoc with RFI in the house, so I use it for listening sometimes, and it's there in case a storm knocks down my outside antenna.
This was my first attempt at an indoor antenna. I have a conduit running from my shack in the basement to the attic, and I used an elaborate system of cords with markings to alter the length of the slinky sections from my shack to optimize the SWR. This antenna was really two slinkys connected to a balun at the center. It received well, but it REALLY played havoc with RFI in the house. Also, it radiated from the ends instead of at right angles, and it was impossible to get SWRs under 3:1, even with the pully system. Part of that problem was that every time you change the length of a slinky to change bands, you're supposed to short or unshort some turns, which was impractical in my case since it was in the attic. I took it out.My advice: DON'T waste your time with slinky antennas!
PORTABLE STATION ANTENNA
"Carry a big stick"(In honor of Teddy Roosevelt)
This is my portable antenna, an MFJ 2286 "Big Stick" 18-foot Stainless whip with a loading coil. The loading coil is only needed for 40 meters. You can just screw the whip into the base for the rest of the bands, which I recommend. This antenna is very effective, and when used on my van, the SWR is super low (1.1:1) on 20M. The van body makes a great counterpoise.I've worked stations in Ukraine, Italy, and other European stations from the Baltimore area using this antenna. I also used it at my remote QTH in Ocean City, Maryland, using a 25-lb barbell plate with a plumbing floor flange as a base (bottom picture)
WARNING - THIS IS NOT A MOBILE ANTENNA. IF YOU TRY TO USE IT AS ONE, IT WILL BE DESTROYED.
In addition, it doesn't like wind over 30 MPH, especially with the coil in place.
I built the mounting post using 3/4 inch all thread, and EMT tubing from Home Depot.
For the setup below, I put a 1/2 inch iron pipe size (3/4" OD) plumbing floor flange under a 25-lb barbell plate and then screwed the post into that. SWRs were 1.2:1 on 20 Meters, but I had to use the MFJ counterpoise wire harness that came with the antenna. It works great but it gets tangled easily. However, for $100, the 2286 Big Stick is a good deal. The neon signs on the boardwalk below created a solid S5 to S7 noise floor.That's the recent "super moon" up in the sky.
If I had one complaint about the Big Stick it would be that it's so tall when extended that it attracts unwanted attention. Even on a 6th floor concrete balcony, people would look up and point at the antenna (and me). The boardwalk was teeming with people and girls in bikinis, and young dudes were staring at my antenna. Really? Also, I was questioned by members of the Naval Officers Training School when I deployed it in an industrial complex behind my office, which is near BWI Airport. I was talking to kids in the school club roundup during lunch break.
Ok, I guess I'll give in to vanity and post my awards. If nothing else, it proves one can do it with just a wire antenna and barefoot rigs.
Last modified: 2014-04-12 16:25:31, 30596 bytes
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