Friday, June 22, 2012

The latest "Challenge" in a growing list of "Challenges!"

So, I sit down to run the D-Star net a couple of weeks ago; got on the right VHF frequency, adjusted power to a couple of watts and keyed up to make sure all was well with the D-Star world.  "CQ Test KJ4WLH, CQ Test KJ4WLH, CQ Test KJ4WLH" - nothing.  Huh?  I checked all my settings for the 2nd time and did my test again.  Still nothing…

I bumped the power up to about 25 watts or so, nothing…  50 watts - Hey!  The repeater kicked back with an acknowledgment - finally, but why in the world do I need 50 watts to talk to this repeater?  I normally use about 3-5 watts and can have a non-R2D2 conversation just fine.  I hadn't changed anything, yes - I know that's hard to believe :)  But still, I haven't messed with the VHF vertical that I'd been using for many months…

I ran the net and learned that I had a LOT of R2D2, dropouts and just generally cruddy quality.  Do you ever just get tired of things not working for a "while in a row?"  I'm that way right now.  I just want my VHF stuff to work, I don't want to play with it every month and see what's wrong now.  It would be great to be able to walk out to the shack and just key up and things work as they should.  Perhaps I'm just a dreamer...

Anyway, since I have 2 VHF antennas hanging in the air, I thought that I'd go ahead and swap them around and see if I had a multi-pathing problem.  Switched them and nope, no multi-path issue.  There is a repeater located in Williamsburg that I use a bit to ensure my VHF stuff is working, so I keyed up a test and had a full quieting QSO with a HAM with all of about 25 watts of power.  I was quite convinced that my station was operating as well as could be expected.

Did the repeater have a problem?  Nope, EVERYONE else was able to get into the repeater just fine.  What does that mean?  Do I really live in an anti-VHF zone?  Have aliens put a "Cone of Silence" (as I hearken back to the "Get Smart" TV show) around my shack?

I just went back to trying the same old thing about a week later and guess what?  Yep, no changes :(  Still couldn't get into the repeater with anything less than 50 > watts...  I ran the net again and afterwards performed some more testing.  I swapped the coax for both the antenna's (again) and still, no change.

I finally gave up and decided that I had one final option.  I took my "portable" Comet GP-3 dual band and my speaker stand out to the middle of my back yard.  20+ feet of coax connected to my antenna switch and viola!  2 watts of power and I was successfully communicating with the repeater.  I thought to myself, "Self - you have got to be kidding..."  Both the VHF antennas are 20+ feet apart from each other hanging in the air at least 40+ feet up in the air...

So, my station is working just fine.  I just live in a "D-Star 2m Free Zone"...

I sure am glad my DVAP works well!

73 de KJ4WLH

Sunday, June 17, 2012

ICom AH-4 Autotuner - It really does the trick

I've been looking for a decent auto-tuner ever since I've started working remotely with my rig.  As you might recall, I had been using a Palstar AT-2K (which is a manual tuner) for my HF tuning needs.  The Palstar worked great, it would really tune a fish (yeah, ok - that's a really bad pun...)  Really though, it did a fantastic job with my doublet.

I had tried using my LDG IT-100 (I think that's the right model), but the auto-tuner would not get close to what the Palstar could tune.  In fact, it performed so poorly with my awful configuration, I was VERY concerned that ANY auto-tuner (with the exception of the Palstar and Alpha auto-tuners!) would not perform.  A concern that I will tell you is now a distant memory!

I had read a few articles about people using the AH-4 tuner in a "non-supported" configuration.  In short, they were using it as a tuner SPECIFICALLY for doublet work.  Here is a link to a really good website dedicated to it's purpose: K9EQ's AH-4 General Information

The picture (from the previous website) shows pretty much how my connection is configured as well:

Instead of using the "Ground" connection, you simply connect the "other" side of the twin-lead and you are in business :)

I would really encourage you to read the technical details listed in the website earlier - the author (K9EQ) has done a very nice job describing his setup and how he made his situation work for himself.

Anyway, I did the very same thing in my shack.  I removed my Palstar and my Baluan which left me with an ICom 9100, AH-4, and some twin-lead coming into the shack.  Coax run from the 9100 to the AH-4, control cable run from the 9100 to the AH-4, and twin-lead connected from the doublet to "both sides" of the AH4-4 and I was done.

I switched the tuning mode to the coax with the AH-4 connected and the 9100 immediately showed a connection to an "External" antenna.  Pressed the tune button and heard a bunch of clicking and clacking and then the magic letter appeared on the display - "Tune" (meaning a match had been made)!

I tried every band I could and the only place I could not get it to tune was at the very bottom of 160m. Everywhere else, I can get a match.  That's great news - this means that I can really use my remote setup to the best of it's ability.  I can remotely control the power level, the operating frequency, and tuning the antenna.

I short, it works very well and I can now stop dreaming about the Palstar and Alpha auto-tuners!  This little ICom does the trick nicely.

73 de KJ4WLH

Sunday, June 10, 2012

VHF+ QSO Party

It was a good weekend for working some VHF stations.  Conditions were favorable and I made my 1st contact in Colorado :)  That's the furtheest west I've ever talked on 6m!

I also was just messing around with 6m PSK and started talking for the very 1st time with another local ham - that was pretty good fun as well.

You know, there are just so many different ways to make a contact in the hobby.  So many folks with different preferences - it's just great!  I've got my buddies who like their 2m repeaters, others who love CW (and QRP at that!), some who just like working PSK and other digital modes, even some who are into VH packet!  That's what I call variety!

Though I don't work HF all the time, I do like PSK contacts there.  Since my station is a "barefoot" config, I know I can't compete with legal-limit folks for breaking pileups.  It's just good to work someone, somewhere.

Which brings me to the current status of the Richmond Amateur Radio Club (RARC) June - contact a day challenge.  So far, I have managed to make a contact every day and am really hopeful that the trend will continue!  It's kind of fun and there is more pressure to it than I thought there might be.  Making a contact is one of the first things I'm concerned about every morning until the contact is made.  Then I can concentrate on other things.  Until then, however, I am constantly thinking of how I can just get a quick QSO "in the log" :)  PSK is a good friend for that, there is ALWAYS someone on 20m giving out a CQ.

73 de KJ4WLH