Day 2/3 – FT8 Log



43′ Vertical Antenna Work

I spent some time today working to rehab my 43′ vertical.  Made from lightweight aluminium tubing, I first put this antenna up more than 10 years ago.  It was last used about 6 years ago.   There was so much mud and debris around the bottom I had to dig out the base.  While I was working with it, I noticed the antenna could slide up and down on its mount, so after my digging was done, I put a brick under it.  Tomorrow I’ll bring out the nut drivers and see if I can get it tightened.  There is also a branch about 15′ up making contact with the antenna that I will need to eliminate tomorrow.  I’m going to throw some 3/32″ dacron  over the branch and gently pull it away this medium sized obstacle.


I upgraded the 4:1 UNUN from the one MFJ included to a newer version from DX Engineering.  The MFJ UNUN made contact with vertical radiator by way of its hose clamps.  The new DX Engineering UNUN would connect to the radiator by a 7″ piece of copper strapping attached to the terminal coming out of the UNUN.  For some reason, I find this new set-up affords me some greater piece of mind.

I also noted that none of the radial system was not showing any connectivity to ground.  I re-stripped the wires of some radials and reconnected them.  However, there is a great deal more to improve the ground system.  And I’ll be working to tackle that in the next few days.

From a station building perspective, I’m working towards getting the Ameritron 4 position remote coax switch in place.  It will feed a few antennas that have proven to work well for me:

  • 20m Delta Loop.  Mounted on a 34′ fiberglass mast.  This is one of the best wire antennas I’ve ever used and I can’t wait to get it back up
  • The DX-LB.   I historically used this as a NE-SW inverted V.  It’s still up but a tree has fallen on one leg and squished it into a thorny area of scrub brush.  What a pain!  It’s going to take some time to extricate it.
  • The 43′ Vertical described here.  It’s a strong antenna with good low angle performance.  I don’t think I’ve ever given it the proper ground system it deserves.

FT8 – It’s Great

I finally got around to trying FT8 after getting some encouragement from my friend, Randy N0TG.

FT8 seemed natural for me, as I enjoy RTTY a lot and using my computer to point and click my way through QSOs is actually something I enjoy.

I had a Tigertronics Signalink that sat unused in it’s box for a few years.  I used that with my Alinco SR8T.  It’s not an ideal set up as the Alinco does not have a data port, instead I have to rely on using a patch cable via the microphone jack.  What does this mean?  I’ll need to plug and unplug the FT8 gear and that I don’t have computer-radio synchronization.  Either way – these things are not essential and I pressed on and downloaded the WSJT-X software I needed to drive the Signalink. Net net everything was pretty easy to set up.  There are some good videos on YouTube to help you get started.

Using Remote Desktop I can easily access my ham shack anywhere and FT8 is an easy mode to utilize in this set up.  It was a nice addition to my setup as I don’t always want to be down in the basement ham shack.

Day 1 QSOs.  Thanks to everyone that made it happen today:


A Tune Around – the 3905 Century Club

Tonight I took my own Coronavirus Quarantine advice and participated in the the 3905 Century Club net on 7268.  It took me a few minutes to find the net at the appointed 8pm hour as it had moved down to 7258, but I emailed club VP Bob, KN4EUK and he set me straight as to the where and when.

This was my first net in 20+ years.  As a teenager, I participated in a traffic net (and was even occasionally a net control), the Granite State FM Net.  It was nightly on the W1ALE repeater in Concord NH (146.94?).  I’m talking like 1994 here.

A year or two later,  I regularly participated in the 14.247 DX Net on 20m SSB.  It was raucous affair in the mid 90s.  I remember working some great DX on the net like Mayotte and some missionaries in the Cameroon on the net.  As a teenage ham, this was BIG DX.   Sadly, I haven’t kept any of my log books or QSL cards – so these contacts are floating at the edge of my memory….

Why do I mention this?  Well, I think it means that I am ok with award and DX nets and I submit my history as evidence along with the following facts:

  1. I am a terrible rag chewer. I get bored with the pro-forma exchanges while also recognizing I don’t like talking to people I don’t know (a bad combo) – but I’m from New England what do you expect?  We’re not social.
  2. I like to make a lot of contacts.  I enjoy contesting.  I like using the radio

So what is the 3905 Century Club?  Well, apparently it’s a big deal.  Ham radio is endlessly interesting because their are some many sub-communities doing their own thing.  This is one such community.  These guys and gals chase paper (QSL cards) trying to get all sorts of different awards they list on their website, like Worked All States

I checked in.  Gary, K9GWS was net control.  He was assisted by Ralph, KG8WL.  They took checkins by call area.  There were about 75 in total.  At check-in, everyone is assigned a sequential number (1-75). When your number gets called by net control a bit of a game ensues and you signal your intention to net control to make one of these choices:  You can call any station, let those that want to call you make a try at it (“up for grabs”), or pass.  Basically, you’re just completing a basic QSO exchanging signal reports and net control verifies the contact.

As a net rookie, I was flattered to get many calls in the first pass through.  It was a pretty chill environment and even though I didn’t quite know every element of protocol, everyone was polite and welcoming.   I made about 9 contacts in total.  When my turn came up, I opted to call the loudest station I could hear,  Donnie, KG4ZOD in North Carolina.  I didn’t want to blow it and call someone that couldn’t hear me.

On their website, they list other nets on 75m SSB and some nets on other bands and even stuff on RTTY, PSK31 and CW.  I’ll have to check it out.


CQ WPX SSB Part 1 – Day 1, March 28, 2020

I’m in the midst of my Coronavirus ham radio lockdown challenge  So when the WPX contest started last night I figured I’d get on.  My brand new (and very modest) station was ready for the action.


I found my way back on line because I can’t stand being on a screen 24×7 for work, for entertainment, for talking to my friends.  Ham radio was another dimension and occassionally bland ham radio talk was better than a) political talk and b) virus talk.

Anyway back to WPX.   Conditions were rough for the tiny station but I was able to make some contacts.  One station I worked was Ric, WO4O, an old favorite of mine.  I don’t still have the logbook but Ric is from my ham golden time when I was new on HF.  During this period, I remember several of the first stations I worked (WO4O, W9MYZ, KA4RRU)

I managed about 80 contacts in the first day in a few hours of operating with the majority on 20m (41).  Add in 29 more on 80m and the balance on 40m.   It was a good reminder of how brutal a SSB contest is with 100w and really limited antennas.  But I was still entertained and pleased my signal made it to Belarus for EW6W.

While I was tuning around listening for the contest I caught a part of a conversation this afternoon on the local 146.625 repeater.  Joe, N1DQF was talking about how their had been a larger than normal group on 160m. It supported what I was feeling:  there could be a ham radio boom from the lockdown.


First QSOs in the Coronavirus Ham Challenge

After getting a very simple ham station built, I was back on the air to spend sometime on the radio during the Coronavirus life shutdown.  I mentioned in my previous post that I’d been active on the radio for years, so far I’d always come back but this had been my longest absence.  I am not sure if this new rapprochement with the hobby that I once loved would be a period of rebirth of my interest or just a farewell tour.

Previously, I looked back at all that time I spent on the radio as wasted time. But I’m not sure that was totally true.  On one hand, I hadn’t made any lifelong relationships that stood the test of time.  That was on me, I had come close but didn’t put the effort in and/or ruined them. But I had still met a lot of interesting and did some things that were quite interesting (one lasting memory is of running pile-ups as N1SNB/CYO and watching the travesty of the Tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011).

But back to today – –

I used the Reverse Beacon Network to confirm that my signal was getting out there.  I got spotted on 40m in Hungary, the Czech Republic, France, Austria and Germany.  Good sign – even though the signals were weak I was happy to see some distance with such an inferior antenna (63′ Long Wire at an average height of about 15’0.  On 30m, I showed up in Uruguay and in Germany.  On 20m, I was making it all the way across the pond.  Only a skimmer in Iceland was hearing me.

I made a few quick contacts.  OM8CW was very loud 40m CW and we connected at 2230.  I had a nice, but brief, QSO with Ayman, N9SES on 30m CW. Not long after, I connected with LZ5DB on 40m SSB.  Transatlantic contacts on 40m SSB always give me a sense of accomplishment.

It was a good start.  I was going to back on the air around 0000z for the WPX SSB contest.  SSB contests in a no sunspot situation with just 100w and a weak wire antenna are not fun.  As a small station, you’re really just making it more fun for other people.  But, who knows, maybe I’d have some fun too.

Ham Radio during Coronavirus – Day 1

Yesterday, I learned that my kids are out of school until May 7th and possibly all the way thru to the fall.  I’ve been working from home vs spending hours of my life commuting to Boston.  In short, I’ve got a lot of time on hands that if I don’t fill, I might just go crazy.

Throughout my life, I go through periods of time when I am hyper active in ham radio.  It happened back from 1994-1998 then again from 2003-2005 (in 1994 I got my technician ticket).  Then I was back on for a stint from 2009-2014.  It was during this last period I experienced the equivalent of the radio good life operating from exotic locations around the world.  By my best guess, I made more than 400,000 contacts in four years (I think it’s a big deal – permit me to brag?)

In 2014, I got into the ham business selling radio cables and equipment on several websites, including one, Amateur Radio Supplies, that is still around and has never changed much.  When I went into the business, I got out of the hobby. I sold all my gear and stopped going to club meetings. I burned a lot of friendships, a lot of business deals went south as mixing a hobby with a business was, well, a really bad idea.

Anyway, yesterday – March 26 – I decided to get back into ham radio during this coronavirus lockdown.  I got myself an Alinco HF Transceiver, and a MFJ tuner.  For VHF/UHF, I got a Baofeng UV-5R left over from my operating days.  I was $800 deep.

I still had an old Samlex power supply and Bencher paddles.  My antenna farm, however, was totally trashed.  I had an 80-10m vertical with a 4-1 balun out in the woods.  And a G5RV hanging from the trees.  Both hadn’t been used in nearly 7 years.

Today was a set-up today.  I couldn’t get either antenna to work.  For a minute the old vertical was worked and then something happened – I think I blew the balun or something.  I double checked the coax.  Everything looked fine,  not wanting to go into the muddy woods to inspect the balun, I needed to look elsewhere.

The G5RV looked more promising.  I took it down (it was hanging limply in the branches) and had a look-see.  I first put this antenna up 12 years ago.  The wire and ladder line were ok, but the connections between the two had rusted away.  Having taken it down, I quickly realized I could never get it back up as the branches had substantially grown since I first put it up.

Uggh.  I needed to improvise again.  In my earlier sojourn in the woods, I came across an old mast of light weight fiberglass it looked to be about 25ft.  I’d use that to build an end fed 63 ft long wire for use from the old G5RV components. I’d feed it with coax and use the old ladder line as counterpoise.  It took about 45 minutes to right it all up.  But when I was done, I had my first quarantine antenna system, an end fed 63 ft long wire ranging from about 25′ high to about 12′.  Not ideal, but a start.