April 28, 2017

How the world learned about the Falklands War

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Penguins on the Falkland Islands. Land mines placed by the Argentines are still present today (source)
The Falklands War was a ten-week war between Argentina and the United Kingdom over two of the British Overseas Territories in the South Atlantic: the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. It began on April 2, 1982 when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands in an attempt to establish the sovereignty they had claimed over the islands. The invasion had caught prime minister Thatcher by surprise, and even though the war was short, it turned out to be a deadly one.
I was still at a very young age but I remember it very well. It was probably the first time I heard about the existence of the Falkland Islands. I have been fascinated by the archipelago ever since, for its geographical location, for its remoteness, for its subantarctic character and rugged nature, and for the major role the islands play in the operations of the British Antarctic Survey.

In March of 2014, then still with my novice licence and PD7MDJ callsign, on 10m SSB, I managed to work Bob McLeod VP8LP located in Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands. It was my first contact with the Falkland Islands, and I was ecstatic! You can listen to a recording of the contact here at my SoundCloud page.

I didn't know then about the major role Bob McLeod had played at the beginning of the war as the only news source on the Falkland Islands, as the only link with the outside world. It was Bob McLeod who with his ham equipment first confirmed that the Falkland Islands had been taken over by Argentina, and who via ham radio provided BBC journalist and fellow ham operator Laurie Margolis G3UML in the UK with the scoop. Margolis broke the news on the BBC Radio 4 PM programme that same day. The fascinating story, as found on the BBC News site, can be read below, or you can find the original article on http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6514011.stm.

Stanley, Falkland Islands (source)
There seems to be circulating on the internet a tape recording of the radio communications during the war of VP8LP with the UK. According to this forum http://www.shipsnostalgia.com/showthread.php?t=96066, the recording here is a recording of the actual QSOs with Bob McLeod on April 2nd, 1982, the day of the invasion. Intelligibility is poor at times, unfortunately.

My radio friend Alan from the UK told me he remembers during the conflict that the UK Government contacted all UK hams and gave them a phone number to call if they heard Bob or any other Falklands hams on the air. He also told me that during the war the UK Government had set up a broadcast station on Ascension Island to broadcast to the area, because the BBC World Service wouldn't allow itself to be used for any propaganda purposes in case this affected its reputation for impartiality. The Media Network programme with Jonathan Marks did a feature about Radio Atlantico del Sur, as the station was called, which can be found here in the Media Network Vintage Vault.

The Falkland Islands is IOTA SA-002 and forms a separate DXCC entity. Bob McLeod's wife Janet McLeod also is a ham operator and holds callsign VP8AIB. I managed to work her in late 2014 with the special callsign VP8AIB/100, commemorating the WWI Battle of the Falklands.
How BBC man scooped invasion news
By Laurie Margolis
BBC News (April 2, 2007)

Walk down London's Portland Place, heading south from Regent's Park towards Regent Street,and you come to a kink in the wide road.

Immediately ahead of you is the plush Langham Hotel, very expensive and also one of the most haunted buildings in London.

To your left, BBC Radio's headquarters at Broadcasting House. This busy location, on the northern edge of London's West End, was the focus of the way the story of the Falklands invasion unfolded exactly 25 years ago.

Back in 1982 I was a BBC journalist and also an amateur radio operator - I still am. That means I have a call-sign - G3UML - and some expertise in long-distance short-wave communications.

At the very end of March, 1982, I was working on the Golan Heights, hearing on the BBC World Service a bizarre story about Argentine scrap metal merchants taking over the British dependency of South Georgia.

Invasion claim

I returned to London on the morning on 2 April, and went into Broadcasting House to work on a documentary. I was met by scenes of near panic in the radio newsroom.

The Argentines were claiming to have invaded and taken over the Falkland Islands, the 2,000-strong British colony off the south-eastern tip of South America.

Argentine soldiers took control after a few hours' resistance

The newsroom had Argentine claims, but nothing else apart from a laconic message from the Cable and Wireless station on the Falklands - "we have a lot of new friends".

At that time the Langham Hotel was a dreary BBC office block and, in a dusty, junk-filled attic room - number 701 - the BBC's own amateur radio club had a shortwave transceiver. With a big aerial on the roof, it worked pretty well.

My senior editors wondered if there was any way I could contact the Falklands through amateur radio. Nothing else was working. It seemed a possibility. The remote nature of the islands meant that radio was important, and for the small population there were a lot of radio amateurs down there.

'A true scoop'

So I took up a vigil in room 701, listening carefully across the 14, 21 and 28 megahertz bands for anything from VP8 - the international call-sign prefix for the islands.

And about six hours later, I struck gold. On 21.205 megahertz at 1600 London time, that rather distinctive accent, a bit West Country - a Falkland Islander.

And what a story he had to tell - a true scoop, an exclusive of the greatest magnitude.

The voice was that of Bob McLeod, and he lived in the settlement of Goose Green on East Falkland. His call-sign, I realised, was VP8LP but he was anxious that it shouldn't be used. I have much of what he said that day recorded on an old-fashioned audio cassette.

"We have now been taken over. The British government still denies it but they have no contact I believe with the Falklands, and this is probably why they are still denying it.

"But we have been taken over. There is an aircraft carrier and I believe four other boats - I don't have the details on them - but they do have heavy armoured vehicles in Stanley, details I don't know, and quite a number of personnel.

"They landed approx 0930 GMT this morning in landing craft and stormed the capital Port Stanley and have taken over the government office, they landed with heavy armoured vehicles.

"We're now under their control. They are broadcasting that all local people will be treated as normal. Fairly peaceful in Stanley at present time."

Foreign Office call

The Argentines had still to reach Goose Green and so Bob was able to transmit his bombshell.

He was getting information from local radio, which broadcast a commentary as the invasion developed early that morning, and then carried on, under Argentine control, transmitting messages of reassurance. The islands' VHF radio network was also buzzing with the story as it developed.

By then my dusty attic was busy with BBC TV crews and newspaper people who'd been told it might be a good place to be.

I went onto the Radio 4 PM programme at 1700 London time with an account of what I'd been told. A few minutes later I was rung by the Foreign Office, who understood I'd been in touch with the Falklands and wondered what they were saying. I gave them a bit more of Bob.

"Damage we don't know, shooting around a very rough guess approx two hours. Three deaths of Argentineans [sic] in the Falklands, one believed to be very senior.

"The English marines and local defence forces - we have no information. Took over Government House, and then taken over all of Port Stanley. And I believe they shot up the Cable and Wireless transmitting station.

"Helicopters flying around Stanley. 500 personnel in Stanley, and aircraft carrier believed to be carrying 1,500. Flying Hercules aircraft, one has come in."

It clearly made an impression. Within an hour the Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, was on his feet in the House of Lords confirming a massive British humiliation.


QSL cards from Bob and Janet McLeod

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April 27, 2017

Interesting WSPR projects

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Fleet II
The 45 ft sailboat Fleet II is currently crossing the Atlantic from the Caribbean to the UK via the Azores. The skipper is ham operator Peter Baker G4HSO. The sailboat carries a QRP Labs U3S WSPR transmitter which every 10 minutes on the 20m band sends the callsign G4HSO/M (the WSPR protocol doesn't allow a /MM suffix) and the 6 character grid locator. The power is 500 mW fed into a simple mobile whip antenna mounted on the boat's stern guard rail. Yesterday evening I already managed to receive the WSPR beacons from the sailboat while it was lying in port in the Azores in grid locator HM58qm. I hope to be able to receive more WSPR beacons later when the Fleet II is at sea continuing its voyage to the UK.

More information can be found here.

The Fleet II (source)
PA7MDJ hearing G4HSO/M
Mikael Dagman SA6BSS has launched another High Altitude Balloon carrying a WSPR payload, the BSS5. It's currently over Siberia.

More info can be found here on the BSS5 thread on the QRP Labs forum. See also my blog entry about an earlier HAB launch of Mikael Dagman, the BSS4, here.

ZL1SIX Ocean Floater
An ocean going marine buoy built by Bob Sutton ZL1RS with GPS and a QRP Labs U3S WSPR transmitter has been released into the ocean over 11 months ago, and has been adrift and transmitting WSPR beacons from the South Pacific since. And it's still going strong! Little chance of picking up its signals here in Europe, but still a very interesting project to follow!

Check out the project's webpage here.

Drop-off of the ZL1SIX Ocean Floater on May 17, 2016 from the yacht Windflower in grid locator RG93sq (source)

April 22, 2017

Franz Josef Land - A DXer's dream

Last edited: 24.04.2017

A DXer's dream! Franz Josef Land, "Strange islands lost in the Barents Sea", as the archipelago is called by the Ultima Thule blog, shown here in an iconic National Geographic photo with a polar bear on Rudolf Island (source)
All ham operators have a clear recollection of their most special and memorable contacts and moments in amateur radio. Ask any random ham for it and the stories will be coming at you non-stop. Often these special moments are related to a goal or a wish made a long time ago. Probably most hams when they start out in amateur radio, and all future hams still studying for their amateur radio licence, secretly have some goals in mind that they're going to try working towards. And once reached, the achievement, the radio contact, or the resulting QSL card or award feels like a medal for all the hard work delivered to get there, a trophy that fills the radio amateur with pride, recognizing his skills and perseverance. To me, one of these moments was working Franz Josef Land.

The much coveted QSL card from RI1FJ and the book about FJL published by the Norwegian Polar Institute.
One of my goals, or maybe it was more of a wish, or even a dream, from the beginning was making a contact with Franz Josef Land. Being a polar enthusiast, I've always been fascinated by this frozen, barren Russian archipelago at 80º northern latitude in the High Arctic. The archipelago is the closest land to the North Pole in the eastern hemisphere. Just 900 km of sea and ice separate Franz Josef Land from the top of the world. I don't know where the fascination for the archipelago exactly comes from, maybe it's the mysterious sounding name, maybe it's the photos I've seen of the beautiful, desolate Arctic landscape providing the backdrop for the shabby huts of a remote Russian weather station and roaming polar bears, or maybe it's just something undefinable.
Whatever the case, my fascination was already there in the 1990s when I bought the book shown above edited by Susan Barr and published by the Norwegian Polar Institute. I believe it's quite a rare book, as it's probably one of only a few books about Franz Josef Land published outside of Russia.

After I got my amateur licence in late 2012, the years went by with Franz Josef Land being shrouded in nothing but radio silence (1). The last time I heard a signal from Franz Josef Land was in the 1990s when I was active as a shortwave listener and had managed to receive Sergei Tsybizov R1FJZ.

QSL card from R1FJZ received for an SWL report back in 1995.
Then in 2015 the news appeared that soon Eugeny Chepur UA4RX would be active from Heiss Island, one of the islands of the Franz Josef Land archipelago, signing as RI1FJ. I was excited! In the summer of 2015 Eugeny was delivered to the island by the icebreaker MSV Mikhail Somov, but the months following, Franz Jozef Land just remained hidden in its usual radio silence. Until suddenly in the summer of 2016, not long before Eugeny would depart from the island again, spots for RI1FJ started appearing on the DX Cluster. Apparently, Eugeny had been dealing with some technical problems, which had prevented him from getting on the air until resolved late June 2016.

But propagation conditions were terrible, and when I tuned in to the spotted frequencies, mostly I could not hear the signals of RI1FJ at all, or they were too weak to be workable. On the rare occasions that the signals were good enough, I just didn't manage getting through the pile-up. Until August 1st that is, the day that luck was on my side, and in the very nick of time! RI1FJ was on 20m CW working simplex and with relatively good signals. The pile-up was big but not extremely, and there were some promising gaps in it. I started keying my callsign trying to squeeze it into the gaps, and then suddenly there it was; Eugeny had picked up my signals on that barren, frozen, mysterious land in the High Arctic, and back he came with my callsign and a signal report! After my reply, the 2-way contact was completed with a 73 from Eugeny. One of the most special 73s I ever got! What a thrill to know my signals had reached Franz Josef Land, the northernmost location I've ever made contact with. A look in the August 19 news update below from RI1FJ's QSL manager shows that indeed it was a contact made in the nick of time; Eugeny went QRT just a day later on August 2nd! How much more luck can a ham operator with just a simple wire antenna and 100 Watts ask for!?

Krenkel weather station on Heiss Island, Franz Josef Land (source)
Eugeny was active from the Krenkel Meteorological Station in grid locator LR90ao on Heiss Island. The station is built around a shallow fresh water crater lake. Krenkel Station was established in 1957/58 during the International Geophysical Year and abandoned in 2001. It was reopened in 2004 with a smaller modern station set up between the old buildings. The new station is manned year-round by about 5 persons. The old complex of buildings housed about 200 station personell and seasonal researchers.

Iceberg at Heiss Island (source)
Franz Josef Land is IOTA EU-019 , forms a separate DXCC entity, and was an ATNO for me. The archipelago consists of 191 islands. In 2012 president Putin signed a decree on a major clean-up in the Arctic, including at Franz Josef Land. Before the clean-up there was about 90.000 tons of scrap metal left at the old Soviet and Russian Polar stations on Franz Josef Land alone.

Soon after the contact, when Eugeny had arrived back on the Russian mainland, the QSO was confirmed in Clublog and in LotW. The much coveted QSL card took a longer wait though. It was already mailed to me in August 2016 but had gotten lost in the mail. QSL manager Victor Loginov UA2FM recently sent me another one at no additional charge, and it was finally received a couple of days ago. Spasibo, Victor and Eugeny!

On qrz.com the QSL manager of RI1FJ regularly posted updates on the activities of Eugeny:

From qrz.com
19 August 2016
Eugeny RI1FJ safely arrived at Archangelsk Port. His 2016 operation lasted  from 27 June 18.31 UTC to 02 Aug 2016, 16.18 UTC. No ham operation is expected from the island until probably next expedition in August 2017 - August 2018.

RI1FJ log uploaded to Clublog.org. Otherwise use OQRS form on this page.

73 de UA2FM

14 August 2016 update
Gentlemen, Eugeny RI1FJ left the island on 5-6th August. He is onboard RSV Somov, sailing home. Watch Somov route at As soon he is on the Internet, I upload his log onto clublog.org, and everyone will be able to use OQRS form on this page as well. Please be patient, all requests will be replied! :)

73 de UA2FM

3rd July update
This afternoon I got information (thanks R6AF) that Eugeny stays on the island until end of July. After that he sails home onboard icebreaker RSV Somov. Watch Somov route at

RI1FJ goes QRT soon after Somov arrives on the island.

73, de Victor UA2FM

2nd July 2016 update
Eugeny RI1FJ suddenly showed up on the air late June. I have no e-mail communication with the Island, as there are no post/telephone/transportation services there, but company satellite forbidden for private use. I was neither notified by Eugeny of his QRV, nor about problems he had during this season. The only thing I know, - it's him who signs RI1FJ, as many hams worked him reported this.

I do not know whether Eugeny is able to send his ADIF logs through his @winlink.org address as we did in his previous operations. I was told all steel and metal materials and equipment was removed from the island before summer 2015. Perhaps this was the reason of RI1FJ silence.

Gents, please keep working RI1FJ on the bands, but be patient with QSL requests until I establish log exchange procedure. I'll be back with more information as soon I have it.

Thanks, Victor UA2FM

December 2015 update
Dear fellows-amateurs,
Many of you asked me to update RI1FJ info. His license reissued from 01 August 2015 until 31 August 2017. To be honest, I expected that Eugeny would start his activity early August, since he came on the Heiss Island.
He works as lead of Sevmeteo weather group for 2015-2016.
After his arrival on the island, I tried to get in contact with him using non-amateur communication, to make clear why he is not on the air.
There is no direct communication with the Island. The only possibility is to send telegraph message through official Company address, that was what I did. No reply.
After that, I tried to understand the situation in other ways. The last reply I got from Sevmeteo management, is that Eugeny is alive and well, he carries out his duties, but he has no technical possibilities to be QRV.
There is no regular transport with the island until safe Arctiс Ocean navigation in summer 2016. I do not know how I can help Eugeny.
So guys, let’s hope Eugeny will solve his technical problems until the end of his 2016 employment.

July 2015 update
2015-2016 weather team is on the way from Severodvinsk to Heiss Island onboard MV Somov. Look for RI1FJ starting early August.

July 2014 update
2014-2015 season weather team delivered on the island. There are no ham operators among the crew. No permanent ham radio operation is expected from Franz Jozef Land during 2014-2015.

All 2010 - 2013 logs are uploaded to LoTW.

Present day Krenkel Station (source)
Abandoned buildings at Krenkel Station (source)
FJL shown on a map of the circumpolar north.

Addendum 24.04.17
(1) I understand Eugeny was also active from Franz Josef Land during 2013 though. It may have been only sporadically, as this ARRL news item suggests, at least during the latter part of his stay on FJL, due to poor conditions. I also wasn't active in CW yet, and I didn't watch the DX Cluster as closely as I do nowadays.

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April 09, 2017

International Vintage Contest

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Today I spent some hours on the 40m band making SSB contacts in the International Vintage Contest. The International Vintage Contest, organized by the Rimini section of the Associazione Radioamatori Italiani (ARI), encourages ham radio operators worldwide to dust off their vintage transceivers, transmitters, and receivers, and to make contacts with it during the 10 hour long contest held each year in April. This year's edition marked the 10th anniversary of the contest.

I really love vintage rigs. I own one myself, a Yaesu FTdx-100 of over 45 years old. The FTdx-100 was built in the late 1960s and is the predecessor of the legendary FT-101. It's a hybrid type transceiver, partly solid state, but still with tubes in both the driver and final stage of the transmitter. I love the soft glow of the tubes, and making contacts with my FTdx-100 always gives me such a special feeling. The rig, to me a piece of Japanese art, the embodiment of pure Japanese technological craftsmanship, is still fully operational, and occasionally I like to go on the air with it. The Vintage Contest was a good excuse to turn on the "Time Machine" (as I affectionately like to call my FTdx-100), warm up those vacuum tubes, and send some electrons through them again.

Looking at the participants today though, and in the results of previous editions, it looks like the Vintage Contest unfortunately doesn't enjoy too much fame outside of Italy. I participated in the contest "search and pounce", and of the 11 contacts, 10 were with Italian stations. I hope this blog entry will help a little giving this wonderful contest some more publicity. It's a great chance to operate your own vintage equipment and at the same time make contacts with it with other fellow vintage-rig owners. I'm already looking forward to next year's edition, hopefully then with some better propagation conditions than today. It would be nice to participate in CW, but I'll have to look into building or purchasing a keyer to connect to the FTdx-100, as otherwise I will not be able to use my Kent twin paddle key with it. Another option would be to practice using a straight key (I do all my CW with iambic paddle keys, and I have minimal experience with a straight key).

More information on the International Vintage Contest can be found at http://contestvintage.beepworld.it/index.htm.

Below is a video made earlier today of my FTdx-100 receiving the CQs of an Italian contest participant (actually IQ4RN, the station of organizer ARI Sezione Rimini).

Original FTdx-100 advertisement brochure

April 05, 2017

BSS4 - Being a modern day, ham radio Phileas Fogg

Last edited: 06.04.2017

Last week was a very interesting week for me WSPR-wise. I've been tracking and monitoring the high altitude balloon BSS4. The BSS4 was launched by Mikael Dagman SA6BSS from southern Sweden on March 26, 2017. It was transmitting WSPR beacons with callsign SA6BSS on 14 and 18 MHz, as well as JT9 telemetry on 14 MHz.

The BSS4 payload on an electronic scale. Note the light weight! The payload is powered by a battery that's charged by solar panels. The battery after sundown is quickly depleted, and therefore the 20mW transmitter is working only when the balloon is in daylight.
When it had just been launched, and on the early part of its track, the balloon was too close to the Netherlands to pick up any signals from it on the 20m band. But on March 28th, while the BSS4 was floating in grid locator KN15 over Romania, it had a favourable 20m skip distance, and the first SA6BSS spots appeared in the decodes of my WSPR program!
I've only just recently (when I finished the U3S kit some time ago, see my earlier post) seriously got into WSPR, and for me this was the first reception of a WSPR high altitude balloon. The BSS4 WSPR transmitter was putting out only 20 mW, and I was wondering if my sloper end-fed half-wave wire antenna would be up to the job. It was; with the balloon floating above the far reaches of Europe, I managed to get plenty of decodes! On March 29th and 30th, during my monitoring sessions, the balloon respectively was in grid JN53 over Italy and grid JM38 over the Mediterranean Sea southwest of Sardinia, and again I was able to receive the WSPR beacons. On March 30th, I also monitored for the JT9 telemetry signals, and with succes (see below).
As soon as it had left Europe however, the next day, floating over North Africa, and on the remainder of its track over the Middle East and Central Asia, propagation and/or my end-fed wire were not up to the job anymore; no more spots were received here at my QTH. Interestingly though, PI4THT, the amateur radio club at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, was one of the stations that has been receiving the balloon all the way up to grid locator MN60 over Kyrgyzstan where the balloon's last signals were heard from. Not much later the balloon met its end, probably somewhere in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan where some of the mountain peaks are reaching over 7 km in height. I presume PI4THT have a beam antenna to their disposal, but still I find it quite amazing that it's possible to hear a 20 mW transmitter at over 5000 km distance!

Screenshot of my WSPR program. My first spot of SA6BSS on March 28th.
Spots for the BSS4 on WSPRnet, including mine. Note that BSS4 has also been picked up at PI9ESA, the radio club of the European Space Research and Technology Center of the European Space Agency in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.
The BSS4 over the Mediterranean Sea being heard by PA7MDJ on March 30th as shown on the map of WSPRnet.
Screenshot of my WSJT-X program with the decodes of the received JT9 telemetry. Beside a six character grid locator (providing a more accurate position recording than the 4 character one in the WSPR spots) the JT9 telemetry also contains information on the height of the balloon in metres. Here the BSS4 was floating at a height ranging from 8931 to 8977.5 metres. The JT9 telemetry was transmitted 330 Hz up from the 20m WSPR centre frequency and can be seen in the wide graph screen at the bottom of the screen shot (the WSPR centre frequency is at 1500 Hz). The shown JT9 frequency of 14.078000 is not correct of course. My Yaesu FT-991 was tuned to the 20m WSPR dial frequency of 14.095600 MHz, making it possible to simultaneously monitor for BSS4 WSPR beacons (with the WSPR program) and JT9 telemetry (with he WSJT-X program).
BSS4 trajectory prediction as regularly provided by Mikael Dagman on the QRP Labs e-mail group.
The last spots for BSS4 on April 2, 2017 done by PI4THT and a station in Kuwait. And it looks like Mikael Dagman has been testing another WSPR payload on April 5, hopefully for a planned BSS5 launch soon?
It was really exciting to monitor the BSS4 high altitude balloon. As written in an earlier blog entry, WSPR high altitude balloons (HABs) are launched regularly, also from other parts of the world. Some of them even manage to circumnavigate the globe! I certainly love them, as WSPR HABs provide monitoring stations like me, and probably even more so to their launchers, a modern day, ham radio version of a Jules Verne adventure novel.

Satellite view of grid locator MN60
Addendum 06.04.2017
Mikael Dagman informed me that the last reported telemetry of BSS4 was received from grid locator MN60mo. The balloon used was a silver 36 inch qualatex balloon filled with helium. The transmitter was a small version of the U3S kit running with the 3.09 firmware version, and with a TCXO added for stability. Below is another photo sent to me by Mikael showing the BSS4 payload.
Mikael also informs me that BSS5 will be launched in a couple of weeks.


BSS4 thread on the QRP Labs e-mail group: