Formerly W3CPO, now
(No official affiliation with the AFC, or the Pittsburgh Steelers)
The picture in the inset was taken on July 22nd, 2014, while I was guest of station KH6BB on board the Battleship Missouri in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. If I look sleepy it's because I got up at 0430 to attend the club's breakfast in Pearl City at 0700, and participate in the 40M NET at 0900
The ship's HAM radio station is operated by BMARC, the Battleship Missouri Amateur Radio club. They are a great group of guys, and the work they've done in restoring the radio room of this historic battleship is outstanding. Too bad this is a cell phone picture.
This is my home QTH shack.
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). I carried it in my pocket as a lucky charm. 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 full story behind this can be found on my Flickr site at http://www.flickr.com/photos/32645093@N02/6304917396/in/set-72157627847345268.
I decided to experiment with the world above HF. A QSL card from the ISS is on my HAM Radio "Bucket List". I bought a couple cheap Baofeng HT's and turned an old Radio Shack/Antennacraft attic TV antenna that I had into a 6/10 element VHF/UHF Yagi. And now I've acquired a nice Kenwood TR-751A all-mode, and I have it programmed for the upload and download frequencies for the ISS. My VHF stuff is at the bottom of this page after the HF antennas.
I added a new toy to my collection, except once you have one, you will realize what a "must have" it is. I'll post some photos of sample waveforms. This has an O'scope trigger out so that I can synch my scope with my output and the display only appears when I talk. This is one cool device. The RF out can also be attenuated to let you listen to your SSB output on a separate receiver, but the manufacturer does not claim that capability. However, it does work.
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. I do most of my "extreme" 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 250: A New Addition
I was curious about the "Magic band (6M) so I bought this at auction. The price was great, but I would soon find out that while it looked good, it needed work. All the tubes were good, but it the receive was weak, there was almost no transmit power, and when the mike was keyed or TUNE mode was used, a loud "blap" emanated from the speaker. After going through the rig stage-by-stage with a scope and RF probe, I found a bad IF filter. So I repaired it and this thing puts out over 110 watts now, with great receive - when the magic band it "moving". Waiting for a 6M opening is like waiting for a wormhole to open in outer space. I've made four or five contacts so far, but my HF antenna is not very effective on 6 meters, so I have work to do in that area.
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 my BEAST. It's all original, including the use of 8950 RF tubes for the PA. I had to replace the original 8950's because an eBay seller (a HAM, no less) failed to secure them and they were broken in transit. Fortunately, I had a "new" pair from "Old Faithful" above. Aside from replacing those, all I did was tune it up, adjust the balanced modulator, and clean the relay contacts. It belts out 400 watts PEP on 20-80 meters, 330W on 15M, and 300W 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.
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 knob assembly is from a Swan 350. 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'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 AUX position, courtesy of the CB'er who owned it before me. It was an unholy electrical mess when I bought it (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. 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 blow-ups that these rigs are known for as they age.
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 quickly learned that the MRF485 drivers blew. Then, while working on the rig to find that problem, the Automatic Voltage Regulator (AVR) board in the power supply went up in flames. Literally!
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! For those of you who might have the same problem that I had, this power supply conversion works very well, and the rig never gets more than lukewarm. It used to get as hot as some tube rigs, And now it's light enough to put on the upper level of my shack hutch. In fact, you could take it to a remote QTH without injuring your hand. The weight loss was from almost 40 lbs down to 28 lbs.
I wrote a "Compendium of Repair Info" on how to do the conversion with photos and text, and I even rebuilt the power board for one of the later models with the dual-voltage Automatic Voltage Regulator (AVR) boards, and it's now on my www.w3afc.com web page. Plus, there's information on how to build your own EICO 615 tube socket adpater, radio manuals, schematics, with much more to come!.
An inside view of the new power supply, before I installed the automatic antenna tuner.
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 85-265 VAC.
I bought THIS rig from ANOTHER eBay curio shop, called "Lynne's Collectibles and Curios" (Blackster13). 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". If you own a good working 830S, DO NOT SELL IT, or you will someday regret it. It didn't come with the fancy bronze VFO knob. I found that on eBay.
This had a maddening intermittent, but now it's perfect. I HAD to fix this, or I would have gone nuts. It would be working perfectly, then it would drop into QRP mode for a few seconds, then jump back up to 100 watts. It happened so erratically that I didn't have time to try things like cold-shot. All I knew was that the signal board was not the problem, so it was in the PA or Low-Pass Filter board..
Finding the problem required the services of my dual-trace scope. Basically, I monitored the output to the antenna on channel 2 while moving my channel 1 probe, stage by stage, until I discovered that the intermittent was at the input to one of the finals. Cold shot spray verified it. So I removed the PA and found a burned base bias resistor, and a through-hole near the same final that was "sketchy". While I was in there I adjusted the receiver IF and the Noise Blanker.I also removed the Low-Pass Filter to fix another bad connection at the transmit/receive relay. It was a major hassle but the rig is working great again. The dial and meter lamps are LED.
This diagnostic task was made easier by my CleanRF unit shown above. I always know what my output looks like out to the antenna with any of my rigs. Since I bought the CleanRF box, I've been able to keep my audio from flat-topping, and I get a lot of "great audio" reports as a result. This waveform was made by humming a steady tone into the mike. The upper trace was the input to the finals.
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 with 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 said he was going through an "unfriendly" divorce, and he had to sell all his radio stuff. 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", USMC)
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 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 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 parts of Europe 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 pretty girls in bikinis, and young dudes were staring up at my antenna. 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. That amazed me - I mean, how many spies use antennas that are more obvious than a house fire?
VHF - UHF ANTENNA: "SNIPER"
I recently decided to see what the world of 2M/1.25M/70CM was all about. Also, a QSL card from the ISS is on my HAM Radio "Bucket List". If I could hear them, then I would built a decent antenna and try to get that card. After playing around with multi-band HT's for awhile, I bought a Kenwood TR-751A all-mode transceiver with the optional tone board on eBay, and I have it programmed for the ISS upload and download frequencies. I also have an RF Concepts MaxAmp 45, which gives me about 125 watts out with the TR-751A. So I'm getting serious here. I'm watching the "Heavens Above" website for the best times to try to reach them.
I recently bought an MFJ 259C antenna analyzer, and I've become an antenna "mad scientist". I built the antenna below from a model 150-2159 Radio Shack "Attic" antenna. As designed, the TV antenna achieved SWRs at or close to 1:1 just above the 6M, 2M, and 70CM amateur bands. Theoretically, I could have added some tubing to the existing elements to bring the TV/FM antenna into resonance on the amateur bands. But there would be too many compromises, so I drilled out all the aluminum rivets, stripped it down to the boom, and started from scratch.
A yagi is not the optimum antenna for satellites or the ISS. (I'll probably build a circularly-polarized antenna for the ISS) but it could work. One thing for sure, this beam antenna is a dead shot for repeaters - hence my nickname "sniper". I can hit almost anything within 50 miles with just 5 watts, and even one repeater in Salisbury Maryland that is 75 miles "as the crow flies". With my beam and linear, 100 miles or more is possible.
Once the elements were off, I had some choices to make. Should I use the ARRL 0.15 wavelength element spacing, or something else, like 0.20? Should I use a solid driven element with a Gamma Match, or a double dipole, insulated from the boom? In my case, it came down to how much "metal" I had to work with. The boom was 72 inches long, and I had just enough pieces of 5/16 in. aluminum from the TV elements to make a 10-element UHF/6-element VHF dual-bander. Planning is important here and marking the boom with a felt tip pen helps. I used dual driven dipole elements because I think they are more efficient than a Gamma match. It's important also to have the driven elements at the same point on the boom unless you have a rig with separate outputs for VHF and UHF. I used the 0.20 wavelength spacing which allowed me to use more of the existing holes in the boom. The TV antenna only had five element mounting clips, so I had to flatten and drill some of my elements, but that worked fine.
The calculated gain is a little over 11 dB on UHF, and 9.3 dB on VHF. As it turns out, by making the 2M driven element adjustable (using Aluminum tubing from Lowes) and using unequal lengths, I created a very effective tri-bander. The SWR is 1.2 at 143.00, rising to 1.5 at 146.00, and back down to 1:0 at 153 MHz. On the 220 MHZ band it's 1.4 to 1.7, and it's almost flat over the 70 CM band. Mounted in our messy attic in a vertical alignment the beam hits repeaters that are 60-70 miles away with 5 watts. It has a tight pattern- about 6 degrees on the antenna rotator. You must use a PVC mast for a vertical antenna or the SWR shoots up to 4 or 5:1, and the gain will be lost.
Making Final Adjustments in my club room On an antenna tripod in the attic
Once you buld one of these, it gets easier. I could probably do another Yagi in 2 hours from start to finish. And it's fun to tell people that I designed and built it. That's what HAM radio is all about.
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.
7340905 Last modified: 2016-05-26 21:56:24, 38681 bytes
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