November 16, 2018

Going Transatlantic on the Magic Band!

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On the 6m band at my QTH, an urban location, since a few years I have a lot of noise, making contacts on this band difficult to impossible, depending on the strength of the signals. Disappointed I already took down my 6m HB9CV antenna a long time ago.

Last summer however I decided to do some WSPR experiments on 6m with my QRP Labs U3S standalone WSPR transmitter. I wanted to see what Sporadic E (Es) could do for me, and where I would be heard with the less than 100 mW the U3S puts out on the Magic Band. On TX only, the noise I experienced on 6m would be no problem.
So, I built a simple 6m dipole wire antenna and put it up indoors in the attic. Amazingly, I was quite successful with it and managed to have my WSPR signals spotted all the way in Morocco (read more about it in my blog posts here and here)!

While the 6m dipole was there, why not use it to see if I can make some 6m FT8 contacts with it? With the noiseblanker of my transceiver, the pulsating noise could be reduced a bit, and with favourable Sporadic E conditions with the indoor dipole I was making 6m FT8 contacts all over Europe easily!

Over the summer I had seen the reports of European hams making long haul 6m FT8 contacts with Canada and the USA on days with good multi-hop Es conditions! Amazing, I thought!

July 22nd was such a day with good transatlantic multi-hop Es conditions, and with the indoor 6m dipole on 6m FT8 I saw many Europeans working Canadian and Stateside stations. Amazing! At one point I even started receiving US and Canadian stations myself! Amazing!
Ok, why not try calling one? I called VE1PZ over in Nova Scotia, Canada, and not much later I saw a red line appear with VE1PZ coming back to my call.Wow, I nearly fell off my chair; I was using only 25 Watts and a simple indoor dipole antenna! AMAZING! The conditions must have been outstanding! It was my first transatlantic 6m contact. Later that day I also managed to make a 6m FT8 contact with 9K2BM in Kuwait.

The contact with VE1PZ resulted in the wonderful QSL-card shown above and below. It will always be one of the most special contacts I ever made. Well, after all it's the Magic Band, and I must admit, although it still is not my favorite weak signal mode, also a little bit the Magic Mode, FT8 :-)

November 08, 2018

The National NC-183D receiver - You can't log 'em if you can't hear 'em!

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On October 27th I set out on a long car trip to the southern part of the Netherlands, to Roermond, to pick up this old beauty that I had bought from an online marketplace site. It's a National NC-183D general coverage / amateur band receiver from the 1950s. It's in perfect condition, both cosmetically and technically. Listening to the NC-183D is such a treat; CW, SSB, but especially the full and warm sound of AM broadcast stations! The AM sound is exceptionally good, and I believe no modern amateur receiver will ever be able to match it. The whole experience of using this old radio, visually, auditory, olfactory, to me it brings back the magic I felt when I started out as a radio hobbyist as a young teenager in the early 1980s. Finding a NC-183D outside of the United States is not a very common occasion.

I'm a sucker for old amateur rigs and communication receivers, but mostly I can resist the urge to buy them (so far I had been able to keep the collection constrained to a Yaesu FTdx-100 transceiver and a Signal Corps BC-312-M receiver). But this one I really had to have. The predecessor of this particular model, the National NC-173, which in appearance is almost identical to the NC-183D, was used in 1947 by the two radiomen aboard the balsa raft of Thor Heyerdahl's legendary Kon-Tiki expedition across the Pacific. The photos and film footage I've seen of this radio in use aboard the raft had left an unerasable impression! See also my blog entry about amateur radio aboard the Kon-Tiki raft here.

With its 30 Kg the NC-183D definitely fits in the category "boat anchors" which vintage radio enthusiasts often affectionately like to call their old radios.The NC-183ND was manufactured by the National Company Inc. of Malden, Massachusetts, USA between 1952 and 1959. The radio's new price was about US$ 380, which at the time was about one fifth the price of a new car! 

I have some old QST magazines from the 1950s in my collection, and one of them (the October 1953 issue) contained this wonderful National advertisement for the NC-183D shown in the pictures below. Coincidentally this issue on page 31 also contains an article on "How To Tune S.S.B. on Any Receiver". SSB was a novelty in those days, and even though a receiver was equipped with a BFO for CW reception, getting a clear, intelligible SSB signal from the radios of this era wasn't as straightforward. As I found out with the NC-183D, turning down the RF Gain does the trick!

Imagine the signals this radio might have picked up during its lifespan! Did it pick up the signals of the Sputnik-1 in 1957*? Did its owner listen to broadcast stations playing the first Rock and Roll songs? Did it hear amateur signals from countries that no longer exist? From countries across the Iron Curtain? The NC-183D grew up during an exciting time in world history, just imagine the endless possibilities of exciting signals this radio might have picked up....

Below you'll find a list of selected links to webpages containing more information about the National NC-183D. More will be added over time.

"You can't log 'em if you can't hear 'em! No matter what else a receiver does, it must pull ém in! And that's just what the NC-183D does!" is how National in 1953 advertised the radio, and amazingly this one after more than 60 years still does!

*The Sputnik-1 was the world's first artificial satellite. It was put in space by the Soviet Union and signalled the start of the "space race" between the US and the USSR. The Sputnik-1 transmitted a 1 Watt signal on 20.005 and 40.002 MHz. It could be easily picked up by amateur radio operators around the world. Even the US time signal station WWV halted its 20 MHz nighttime broadcasts to avoid interference to the Sputnik signal! Some more interesting links can be found below.

See also:

September 14, 2018

QSL card in the Spotlight: SV2ASP/A - Mount Athos

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I can't express just how incredibly happy I am with this wonderful QSL card from the legendary Monk Apollo of Mount Athos! I've written about the autonomous monastic state of Mount Athos before. Mount Athos forms a separate DXCC entity, and about the only chance of adding it to your list of DXCCs worked is Mount Athos resident and ham radio operator Monk Apollo. You can read more about it in my blog post here.

At least since I've been an amateur radio operator, Monk Apollo hasn't been very active on the ham bands, and when he is he's usually gone before you know it! And during those rare moments that Monk Apollo is QRV, the massive pile-ups that the elusive DXCC generates, make the chance of getting that QSO even slimmer.

But this summer, during the last weekend of my summer vacation, Monk Apollo suddenly and surprisingly spent a very large part of both the Saturday and Sunday making CW QSOs on the 20m band! If you still needed Mount Athos, this was your chance! It definitely was mine, and I took it! I was ecstatic when I finally succeeded in making that long dreamt of QSO with that wonderful, magical, mysterious, and elusive place! It was not only the thrill of working a new DXCC, but even more so of having my signals being picked up in magical Mount Athos, and of making a contact with the honourable and legendary Monk Apollo himself!

August 31, 2018

Recommended Website

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Wow, I really love this site by Julian W. OH8STN, and I wonder why I haven't heard about this site before. It's packed with information, innovative ideas, and inspirational videos for the off-grid, outdoor, and QRP radio operator. Go check it out:  HAM RADIO & OFF-GRID POWER -


August 30, 2018

QRP Shopping

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I'm a QRP enthusiast and every now and then I like to browse the various sites of vendors selling QRP stuff, to get some inspiration for a new QRP homebrew project, or to find that special QRP gadget to complement or perfect my QRP and outdoor radio setup. I'm always looking for smaller and lighter! Problem is that I always forget those URLs and vendor names (there are many).
So I've decided to compile this list of links, for myself, and for other QRP enthusiasts that happen to stumble across my blog site. Happy shopping!

Four State QRP Group  (of HI-PER-MITE CW AF filter fame)

QRPme  (of RockMite QRP CW transceiver fame)



QRP Labs  (of Ultimate3S WSPR transmitter and QCX QRP CW transceiver fame)

Kanga Products

EMTECH  (of ZM-2 antenna tuner fame)


QRP Club of New England (of NEScaf AF filter fame)

NorCal QRP Club

LNR Precision Inc.  (of Mountain Topper QRP CW transceiver fame)

KD1JV Designs (the famous Steve Weber of Appalachian Trail Sprint and Mountain Topper QRP CW transceivers fame)

Pacific Antenna


Palm Radio  (of Palm Mini / Pico Paddle fame)    new!

Lambdahalbe / Informationstechnik    new!

More links will be added to this list over time. If you have suggestions for sites to be added, just let me know, or post your links in a comment.

August 16, 2018

EME Conference 2018

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The 18th edition of the International EME Conference will be hosted by the Netherlands. It will take place on August 15-19 in Egmond aan Zee. Every two years the International EME Conference is the place to be to meet fellow "moonbounce" enthusiasts from all over the world.

It has always been my dream to one day make an EME contact, and a couple of years back my dream came true; with a low-budget moonbounce set-up (a single 10 el. yagi and 100 Watts) from my small backyard I managed to make two 2m EME contacts, one with I2FAK and one with KB8RQ. To me, EME is the ultimate DX, the ultimate in a ham's carreer.

So, I believe I'm entitled to say that I belong to the EME "incrowd". I will be attending the EME Conference on Saturday. I'm looking forward to meeting some of the EME experts and to learning more and being inspired during the various and numerous lectures.

The first International EME conference was held in New York City in 1966. Below a history of past editions in chronological order:

  • 1.    1966  New York City, USA
  • 2.    1968  Paramus, NJ, USA
  • 3.    1988  Thorn, Netherlands
  • 4.    1990  Trenton, NJ, USA
  • 5.    1992  Thorn, Netherlands
  • 6.    1994  Göteborg, Sweden
  • 7.    1996  Bowie, MD, USA
  • 8.    1998  Parigi, France
  • 9.    2000  Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • 10.  2002  Prague, Czech Republic
  • 11.  2004  Trenton, NJ, USA
  • 12.  2006  Würzburg, Germany
  • 13.  2008  Firenze, Italy
  • 14.  2010  Dallas, TX, USA
  • 15.  2012  Cambridge, UK
  • 16.  2014  Lannion, France
  • 17.  2016  Venice, Italy

For the local ham club I wrote a short article (sorry, only in Dutch) describing all the steps that led to the final result of my low-budget EME setup, and to the succesfull EME contacts I managed to make with it, hoping to inspire others to also try setting up a similar EME station. The article can be found here.

Below the QSL cards received for my EME contact with I2FAK and KB8RQ. Looking at them still fills me with pride!

See also: - The first Amateur Lunar tests and contacts (I love this site, check it out!)

August 07, 2018

Swedish icebreaker Oden and the mystery of SA2LLL/63

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This is the Swedish icebreaker Oden. Built in 1988 and originally used in winter time to keep open the shipping lanes of the Gulf of Bothnia, she was later modified to be used as a polar research vessel. The Oden has been on many expeditions both to the Arctic and the Antarctic, and she was the first non-nuclear surface vessel to reach the geographic North Pole! Seven more visits to the North Pole have followed since.

Currently the Oden is on a research expedition called Arctic Ocean 2018, a joint effort of the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat and the USA's National Science Foundation. At the beginning of August, the Oden left Longyearbyen, Svalbard and started the first part of the expedition to the north polar pack ice. At some point during the expedition, for the duration of about one month, the Oden will be moored at a large Arctic Ocean ice floe and will slowly drift with it towards the North Pole.

The good news for the ham community is that onboard the Oden is amateur radio operator Lars Lehnert SA2LLL (ex DL1LLL). According to his page and his special Facebook page, Lars will be active from the Oden with the special callsign 8S8ODEN, in PSK, SSB, and WSPR!

I noticed that at the end of July and on August 1st, Lars was already making WSPR spots from the Oden as SA2LLL/MM on the 20m band from grid JQ78tf (Longyearbyen, Svalbard) (Fig. 1). I was not aware of this, and unfortunately was not doing any 20m WSPRing during that time.

Fig. 1  Lars Lehnert SA2LLL/MM making spots on 20m WSPR from the Swedish icebreaker Oden in grid JQ78tf.

When I was doing a 20m WSPR monitoring-only session though on August 3rd, I did receive some WSPR transmissions from SA2LLL/63, three in total, all consistently on 14.097042 MHz and with a DT of around 4 seconds (which is unusually large) (Fig. 2). I have no doubt this was Lars WSPRing from the Oden in the Arctic Ocean, but I have no clue what the /63 stands for. My WSJT-X did not upload the spots to, or at the database were simply ignored, most likely due to the received messages not containing a grid locator.
I checked the database, but no SA2LLL/63 spots could be found at all made by any other listeners.

Fig. 2  PA7MDJ receiving SA2LLL/63 on 20m WSPR. Receiver and antenna used were an SDRPlay RSP1A and an EFHW wire antenna. Note the frequency and the unusual large DT!

Then some time later that same day I received what probably was the matching second part of the SA2LLL/63 compound WSPR message (Fig. 3). When transmitting a compound callsign in WSPR it will be done in a two-transmission sequence; one carries the callsign and dBm power level, and the other carries the grid locator. When both are received, the WSJT-X or WSPR software will match the two transmissions in the decode screen.

The grid received was JQ78tf, which, looking at the frequency and the fact that SA2LLL/MM already used this grid at the end of July / 1st of August I have no doubt this was also originating from the Oden (Fig. 3). Unfortunately my WSJT-X did not make the match with the SA2LLL/63 message part (probably a too long time between the last reception of the part containing the callsign and the second part containing the grid locator).

Fig. 3  PA7MDJ receiving the second part of the SA2LLL/63 compound message containing the grid locator. Note the frequency and the DT!

Strange thing is that on August 3rd the Oden according to the special Arctic Ocean 2018 web page was not in grid JQ78tf (Longyearbyen, Svalbard) anymore, but already was in another grid north of the Svalbard Archipelago (Fig. 4). It might be that Lars overlooked to update the grid locator (which is quite a hassle on a moving ship when not done automatically). What also puzzles me is why other monitoring stations (many of them equipped much better than I am) also failed to receive the complete matched compound transmissions (as shown by the lack of spots in the WSPRnet database).

Fig. 4  The position of the Oden on August 3rd, north of the Svalbard Archipelago.

Then I remembered that the official WSPR manual notes that when sending compound callsigns, an add-on suffix can be either a single letter or one or two digits. A single letter! So in WSPR TX the /MM add-on will not be possible! I started wondering if maybe the /MM add-on when transmitted would decode into /63.
I decided to do an experiment, and in the settings of my WSPR 2.0 program added /MM to my callsign. I let WSPR 2.0 do some TXing and with a virtual audio cable fed the audio to WSJT-X (please note, no actual RF transmitting was done!) And lo and behold, WSJT-X decoded the messages into PA7MDJ/63 (Fig. 5)! And also, WSJT-X failed to make a match between the two compound messages! I say no more, I guess the mystery is solved.

Fig. 5  The experiment with PA7MDJ/MM sent by WSPR 2.0 and decoded as PA7MDJ/63 in WSJT-X. No match between the two compound messages is made (normally with a match the dots in the < ... > part would be replaced by the callsign).

At PA7MDJ nothing has been heard from the Oden since August 3rd, but Lars mentions on the special 8S8ODEN Facebook page, that he can use the 8S8ODEN callsign as soon as they're in international waters. I'm now regularly monitoring 20m WSPR and anxiously await the special callsign to pop up in my WSJT-X decodes.

"Normal " satellite coverage (like INMARSAT) in the High Arctic is minimal to non-existent, and I guess any Facebook or other internet media updates from Lars during the expedition will be sporadic to none.

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