Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Signals Went Down to Georgia

Fired up the K1 tonight, tuned to 40m because I was hearing NOTHING again on 20m.  First station I worked was David W4SRE way down in Macon Georgia on 7053 Khz.  David is a SKCC member, number 15102T, and we had not worked each other before.  David gave me an RST of 329,  and I sent him a 559.  It was a wee bit noisy and some QSB in there but otherwise a good contact.  David was originally licensed in South Africa in the 1980's and he came to the USA in 1997.  He learned CW in the South African navy in the 1970's!  Thanks for the QSO David! 

So I tuned some more and all I was hearing were Georgia stations, which was a nice welcome change from only hearing North Carolina stations! 

Next up was Randy KK4BNC and he was running  K2 at 90 Watts into an end fed sloper up about 50 feet, from down in Cataula, Georgia.  I had to look that one up.  He is located in the western part of Georgia, almost on the Alabama state line.  What was funny, was when I put his call sign in my N3FJP Logger, I saw he and I had worked each other exactly one year ago yesterday...now that's pretty neat.  I checked Wikipedia to learn more about this town and I found that in January of 2017, Cataula was hit by several tornadoes.  They have done a good job of rebuilding since then.  The tornado outbreak of 2011 almost wiped them out though...and I thought we got hit with a lot of severe weather here in central Indiana.  Wow!

My QSO with Randy went on for almost a half an hour,  we discussed keys, radios, the weather, and traded SKCC numbers.  Randy is SKCC 8054, we said our 73's and bid each other a good day.  Easy armchiar copy, Randy has a great fist.  Work him if you hear him. 

That's it for now...not much really but I thought it was funny how the K1 was locked on Georgia tonight. 

Best 73 de KB9BVN

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Hilltopper Mods from K1SWL

Early today Dave Benson K1SWL, the designer of the Hilltopper radios being sold by 4 States QRP Group, posted an email to the group listing the following mods to improve audio performance of the rig.  Not that it really needed much.

Side Tone Too Loud

Some ops have found the sidetone to be a bit loud, other ops have found it to be just right.  If you find the sidetone to be louder than you would like it to be you can do the following mod.  Change out R8 (22K) with a 47K to 100K resistor.  I have not done this mod, as I find the sidetone to be just the way I like it.  However I wonder if you could put in a little 100K pot instead and adjust it to your favorite sidetone level.  Not sure a small pot would fit in there, but may be worth a look.

Low Audio I

The values of R5 (150K) and C22 (470 pF) may be changed to 330K and 220 pF respectively.  This yields a gain increase of 6 dB without affecting that stage's rolloff characteristic.

These two components are in 'tight quarters'- between U3 and the pushbutton switch.  Cutting one or both component leads and tacking the new components on the underside of the board makes the change much easier. 

NOTE: I cut the components off just above the board, and used solder wick and a solder sucker to clear out the solder so I could use needle nose pliers to tug out the "stems" while heating the backside of the board.  Worked well but I had to take my time.

Low Audio II

Straight from Dave, "As some of you have noted, there's a 'screech' on loud CW signals- it necessitates riding the gain control. I evaluated samples of a more robust op-amp-  the NJM4556AD."

Replacing the NE5532P with that new device eliminates the screech. You'll hear some distortion when limiting occurs, but it's much less objectionable than the NE5532's rude noises. Its 'limiting' threshold is also about 6 dB higher than the present device.  The net result of this change, combined with above mod,  is 6 dB more audio without the rudities (that's a word!).

Note that if you increase the gain without replacing the IC, you'll find yourself riding the gain control more often

I have an OpAmp on the way, it appears to be a pin for pin swap out.  The OpAmp in the Hilltopper rigs is socketed, so this swap out should take but a few minutes to perform. 

73 de KB9BVN

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Never Ceases to Amaze me....

I've always said you meet the most interesting folks on ham radio and tonight was no exception.  I was tuning around on 20m looking for any kind of signal, it was too late and the band was too quiet, and I still wanted to have a QSO. 

So I tuned down to the 40m band to see what was going on there and stumbled across KF4IZE calling CQ on 7114.  Will lives down in Fayetteville NC and has been an Extra class operator since 1998.  He gave me a 569 and I had him a solid 599 here in Central Indiana. 

Will KF4IZE on his 2002 Harley Davidson Fat Boy
He enjoys fixing up and running boat anchor gear, as well as riding his prized 2002 Harley Davidson  Fat Boy.  Will was using a old Navy Flameproof key tonight, and I was at the K2 and using my Nye Viking Master Key.  He gave me his SKCC number and I forgot to give him mine...I swear I am losing my marbles.  

Will retired from the US Army Signal Corps after serving for 20 years in 2008.  In his spare time he likes to run mini marathons and regular marathons, and cruising around on his Harley.  His current antenna farm consists of a home brew two-element delta loop parasitic array for 40 meters and a two-element vertical ground plane phased array for 2 meters. You can find Will KF4IZE mostly operating 40-meter AM (7.290/295) and occasional CW (7.050/7.115)

Operating Position at KF4IZE in Fayetteville NC

Thanks for the QSO Will and thanks for your service.  My dad is a retired Sgt. Major and my son is a Marine.  We owe you guys a lot! 

Best 73

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Quick Receive Audio Mod for the Hilltopper 20

When I got my Hilltpper 20, it was pre-built by an experienced QRP builder and QRP operator, so I was satisfied with it bveing built correctly.   I ran it through the calibration process per the documents and was very satisfied with the results of that calibration.  I had some trouble getting it exactly right so I was asking about the process on the 4 States QRP Group reflector.  Dave Benson K1SWL, the designer of the Hilltopper rigs and former owner of Small Wonder Labs was kind enough to send me explicit instructions on the calibration process, and using those instructions I was able to get the transmit and the receive spot on. 

So since I had Dave's attention, I sent him an email asking if there were any tweaks I could make to the receiver that would make it a bit louder and not sound so  muffled or narrow.  He responded that he'd been thinking about that and suggested I change R5 to 470K or 510K and change C22 to 150pf .  He had calculated this might add nearly a 10db gain to the circuit. 

R5 WAS a 150K resistor and C22 WAS a 470pf COG capacitor.  They are located just above the Dual Low Noise Op Amp U3 which is a NE5532.   See below: 

Swap R5 and C22 out with new values

Location of Parts to Swap out on Hilltopper 20

Once I got the parts it took me maybe an hour total to remove the old parts and install the new parts.  My de-soldering skills are horrid so I went slow so I didn't gronk up the circuit board.  Solder wick is your best friend here, and having a de-soldering bulb handy is really really helpful. 

I don't have any gear that I can use to measure the actual electrical improvement but my ears were VERY happy to hear an increase in audio gain, and an increase in the number of signals.  I would tune a station on my K2 and then switch to the HT20 and was able to tune the same, even the weak ones.  

Dave did mention that this mod MIGHT cause some screeching if I tuned any really loud signals, so far I have not experienced that.  I reported the improvements to Dave and he is now working on a possible Op Amp replacement idea.  I can't wait to see how that turns out.  Stay tuned.  If you perform this modification, please let Dave Benson know how it turned out for you and if you see any improvement.  I was very happy with it. 

Yesterday here in the Hoosier Heartland we had gorgeous sunny skies,  fair winds, but cold temps.  So I did not get to take the rig to the outdoors.  Woke up this morning with a serious  head cold and about an inch of new snow....good grief.  Will Old Man Winter just pack up and GO.  

73 de KB9BVN

Saturday, March 16, 2019

20m Finally Opens a Wee Bit While I am Home!

If you have been reading along, you'll remember I bought a pre-built Hilltopper 20 QRP transceiver about two weeks ago.  I have not had a single QSO on it until today, and I am a happy man.  I have been trying and trying to make a QSO with this radio every afternoon when I get home from work, but it's just been too late in the day for a cooperative 20m band and my sorry, sorry antenna, the infamous attic dipole. 

Haiti Air Ambulance Service
Finally this afternoon I was able to work a quick contact with HH2AA from a remote operated station down in Haiti.  HH2AA is the callsign for the Radio Club of Haiti and they were working a contest.  The operator for this station is controlling it from a remote site. This is a special call to support the Ha├»ti Air Ambulance Service. Please consider donating to this wonderful cause!

According to QRZ:  The HH2AA station currently sits at 6300'ASL with a Elecraft K3 running 100w with 3 Element Tri-bander fixed to the U.S. and a 4 Element Tri-bander fixed to EU along with a OCF Dipole off a 80' Tower.

I worked them at 19:40Z and on 14043.2 Khz today, we traded 599, but this was a contest exchange...they were 100% 599 here in Indianapolis today.   I see they have now moved up to 15m. 

What a view from the tower eh? 

Thanks for the contact HH2AA, QSL card is in the mail!

I am now ready to take this show on the road as soon as the weather gets a little warmer around here.  I have an Alex Loop antenna, and a portable vertical called the PAC-12 I hope to use during my lunch hours and from the local park bench.  I have a Hilltopper 20, a Norcal 20, and my K1 to go portable with this summer. Stay tuned and listen for KB9BVN....he's desperate. 

Best DX and 73 to all! 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Today in QRP

Rev. George Dobbs G3RJV - SK 

In the world of QRP today, we were informed of the passing of Rev. George Dobbs G3RJV early this morning.  George was a QRPers QRPer and was a huge believer in "minimalist radio".  George was the founder of the G-QRP (QRP club of Great Britain) and was the editor of Sprat Magazine for years and years.  The world famous "Sudden Receiver" was designed and built by George in 1989 and is still sold as a kit by QRPme today.  George taught us about "Occum's Razor" and the word "pelf".  A featured speaker at numerous FDIM events in the past, a contributing author/editor to Sprat, and many RSGB publications.   He will be greatly missed.   

Tonight when I got home from work I was treated to an extra hour of daylight thanks to this invention we call Daylight Savings Time.  I was hoping that the 20m band would give me a QSO on my new radio, the 4 States Group Hilltopper 20.  It was not to be. 

Here's my setup, a Hilltopper 20, a set of 18650 batteries, and a Nye Viking Master Key.  I have re-calibrated the tuning so I am right on frequency now, thanks to Dave Benson K1SWL for the calibration assistance. 

Hilltopper 20 and Nye Viking Master Key
I gave out some free CQ's for about 30 minutes and then checked with the Reverse Beacon Network to see if I was even making a dent in the ionosphere.  My Hilltopper 20 can output a solid 5 watts into my attic dipole.  I was not encouraged by what I saw. 

KB9BVN Spots on the Reverse Beacon Network 
Being heard in Arizona, Alberta, and Utah...but measly signal strength getting there.  It's obvious I need to get on the air at a different time of day.  I have been trying in the morning as well between 09:00Z and 09:40Z and not hearing anything.   My friend Ivin W9ILF was able to make a couple nice contacts on Sunday with his 1.5 watt Cub on 20m.  He QSO'd with a station in Washington state and Idaho.  I was not on the air Sunday at all...bad move eh? 

So...back to 40m for this evening and I will en-devour to persevere on 20m tomorrow.  dit dit

Best 73 de KB9BVN

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Happiness is a new radio...

When I got home from work on Friday my Hilltopper 20 had arrived.  So I wolfed down dinner, kissed the wife and headed to my radio room.  The Hilltopper is a radio designed by none other than Dave Benson K1SWL  of Small Wonder Labs fame.  The Hilltopper is kitted and sold by the Four State QRP Group.  I bought one that was already built by another QRPer.  You can read all about the kit on the club website and I might mention that is it one sale right now...you can save $10.00

My Hilltopper isn't acting quite right.  I tune to 14060 and it transmits on 14062.  I am also having some issues with the receive being on the wrong frequency as well.  So I have signed up for the support group on groups.io and will get this figured out.  20m has been dead as a door nail all weekend...at least in the CW band.  I think everyone must be running the ARRL SSB contest this weekend. 

The Hilltopper can put out about 7 watts with a fully charged 12v battery.  I can't wait to have a QSO with it. 

I was able to get on the air for a bit this afternoon, and knocked out four contacts, but no new states.  I had to go down to 7052 and call for SKCC, I managed to work GA, NC, NJ, and MD with the K1 at 5 watts.  The A index is at 12 and we're seeing no sunspots right now so it's pretty tough sledding.  I am going to try hard to get the Hilltopper 20 going in the right direction and between it and my Norcal 20 I hope to make contacts in the western states I need for my WAS efforts. 

Anyway, thanks for checking in.  Next weekend we are doing a VE test session for 40 people that are finishing up a county CERT training class.   That will be fun!

Best 73 de KB9BVN