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Activities and Equipment

I'm active mostly on digital modes, including PSK, RTTY, and the various flavors of Olivia. Every once in a while I'll get on phone as well, but I don't consider myself a very accomplished phone operator.  How about CW, you ask?  Well, even though I learned the code to get my General class license back in 2006, I never worked-up the guts to try an actual CW contact with my attractive Bencher paddle.

Of course now I've forgotten most of the code that I learned. Sorta sad, huh? I had given up on ever making a CW QSO but, surprise! I discovered that I can work CW... as long as I do it via keyboard from within MixW. It feels like cheating, and I guess some people think it is. Oh well, we all do what we can, right?

The "narrow-band digital modes" (like PSK) tend to make extremely efficient use of my modest equipment. I mostly wander the bands, making a quick DX QSO here, a ragchew there, give a few contest contacts to another station.  I tend to be a pretty casual operator.

Station Equipment

Like most people, my station goes through continuous evolution.  Currently, here is my setup:

  • Transceiver: In October of 2014 I upgraded my station to a nice, shiny, Flex-6500 transceiver.  Yup, I'm all about SDR.  Prior to this I used a Flex-1500 for a few years, and an SDR-1000 was among my very first rigs.  I know some folks will be scandalized by this, but I really don't think I could make a QSO without using a panadapter.  Seriously.  I was at W1AW a few years back and they asked if I wanted to operate for a while.  I had to decline... they just had rigs with all these funny knobs and buttons.
  • GPSDO: I'm a nut for frequency accuracy and stability, because on digital modes it really matters. Ever work a station and have his signal slowly drift "to the left" on your waterfall over time? I don't want to be that guy. So one of my prize possessions is a Jackson Labs Fury GPS Disciplined Oscillator, with a double-oven crystal (double OXCO).  It outputs a very solid 10Mhz signal, and keeps me on frequency.  Check out a plot of its performance here.  Because it uses the GPS satellite system to tweak its performance, it also serves as the basis for my own in-house computer network time server.
  • Antenna: I'm using a Buckmaster off-center fed dipole, about 60 feet off the ground. It's a rather unconventional antenna, but it's getting me on every ham band from 80M to 10M. It needs a tuner to get on 15 meters and 30 meters, but all the other bands exhibit a less than 1.5:1 SWR. I can't say I understand how this antenna works, but it certainly does seem to work.
  • Amplifier: To try to reduce the load on my main rig while running digital modes, I invested in a Tokyo Hy-Power HL-200Bdx. With between 5W and 10W of drive (depending on the band) the amp puts out 35W, letting my rig stay nice and cool. Not to mention that I can crank the drive up to 30W, and get about 180W out from the amp-- which should help me get heard a bit better by some DX stations.

    I hear you now, OM, reading this page and thinking to yourself "This guy needs to lose the dipole, get a beam, and forget about that amplifier." Yeah, I know. Read the Bring on the Tower section, below. I'm not even close to being able to put up that beam. Unless I want to lay it on the grass in my back yard.

    Does anyone ever need that extra power? Well, sometimes I certainly do. While I've had PSK31 QSOs with guys in Belgium and Texas (both foreign countries to me) who were putting out 5W, it's not typical. Even on PSK31 in my configuration I have often found putting out 85W instead of 45W makes the difference between the DX hearing me and not hearing me at all. I don't relish the thought of driving my rigs to 85W, 100% duty cycle, all day, even with brief contest exchanges. Sooooo, that's where the amp comes in.
  • Toys: One of the best things about ham radio is you get to buy all sorts of useful toys. Some of my favorites:
    • LP-100 digital vector wattmeter. I bought this more as a test instrument for use in antenna experimentation than as something to use everyday in my shack. But, I find I enjoy just hooking it up between my rig and my antenna and monitoring my actual output power. This is an awesome, gorgeous, and fun piece of gear. Highly recommended.
    • IMD Meter by KK7UQ: What a terrific piece of gear this is! Power it up, get on PSK31 or PSK63, and it'll display the IMD of your signal. It's that simple. Using it, you remove any doubt about whether your putting out a "quality" PSK signal. Highly recommended.

Bring On The Tower!

The antenna situation at K1PGV is a rather sore subject.  I've always wanted an antenna tower, even when I was "just" a scanner listener.  Numerous things have conspired to make getting that tower more than just a little difficult.

I live in a rather rural area, and my QTH is surrounded by lots of trees that are 25 meters tall (and higher).  So, to get over the trees, I need a tower that's at least 30 meters tall.  No problem, right?  Well, most of the underlying soil is granite ledge.  That rules out the usual process of getting a buddy to bring over his Kubota buying him beer in payment for digging a hole, and then filling the hole with concrete.  Enter either (a) blasting, or (b) rock anchors.

Then there are the facts that I'd prefer (and the YL would really prefer) not to have the tower right next to our house, the fact that my property is heavily wooded, and the fact that locating the tower other than right next to the house means having to cross a stream that runs through my property.  The result is: Putting up a tower at K1PGV is an unusually complicated undertaking.

I had an expert in ham towers (who shall remain nameless) come out to take a look at my site.  After I chased him for more than six months, along with a lot of attitude I got a pretty reasonable quote for installing some sort of tower next to my house.  What type of tower, you ask?  Well, I really don't know, because he didn't bother to say.  He also didn't say what wind load it'd handle, or how it would be supported or grounded. Trivial details, no doubt.  But, hey, he was nice enough to send me a three sentence quotation via email. When I told him that I figured I at least deserved a proper, clear, quotation, he got all huffy.  Somehow, I don't think this guy and I are going to be best friends.  He went back to his multi-multi and I went back to my dipole.

I had a company that installs cell towers come out to give me an estimate for erecting a full-spec, properly grounded, "it'll stay up in 85MPH wind when it's encrusted in ice" type tower with a big rotator and Log Periodic Array on the top.  Did you know that the ISO tower standards changed as of Jan 2006.  Yeah, they did. In fact, the standards make it almost impossible to put a heavy rotator on top of a tall tower, without building something akin to a Louis Eiffel design. To build-out and install the tower, they wanted about as much as the cost of a new Lexus LX.  I only wish I were joking. Needless to say, I wasn't about to pay for either one (that new Lexus or the tower).

And now you know why I'm still using an off-center fed dipole.  And why I've tried to get about the most sensitive receiver with the best filters that I can find.  And why I got that amplifier.  They say $1 spent in the air is better than $10 spent in the shack.  In my case, it's $3 spent in the shack that isn't as good as $60 spent in the air -- But at least I can afford the $3.