BITX40 Module & ARRL SSB Sweepstakes 2016

A few weeks ago, I participated in the ARRL Fall Sweepstakes SSB Contest, and succeeded in making my first voice contacts from home. It’s incredible what you can do with 5 Watts and a simple antenna!

Over the course of about an hour on Saturday night and another hour after work on Sunday, I made fourteen total contacts all across the US, including Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Manitoba Canada, Maryland/DC, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Ontario Canada, Texas, and Virginia. Several stations clearly had to reach way down into the muck to pull me out of the noise, which was very much appreciated.

Part of the exchange for the SSB Sweepstakes is a “precedence,” which is based on your power level, among other things. I was handing out “Q’s,” which denotes a QRP power level of 5W or less. A couple stations, after a minute or more of trying to pull me out of the noise and finally getting it, “OH, QRP, that explains it…”

I worked the entirety of  my contest activity through a new rig in my shack, one of the new BIX40 modules out of India. Afshar Farhan, originator of the BITX Transceiver, has recently rallied together some resources to start producing a “kit” version of that radio for the 40m band. I say kit only lightly, since the main board (which is mostly SMD components) comes fully assembled and tested, and you merely need to solder on the provided external controls (tuning and volume pots, speaker/headphone connectors, etc.) It only took about 20 minutes from unboxing the package to having everything installed. But there was an issue lurking on the horizon…

I’ll save that story for another post though. Hear you on the air!

First 30m Contact, and a Stateside Update

This past weekend, late in the evening, as I was fiddling around with the ATS-4 seeing how the bands were doing, I ran across a particularly strong CW signal on 10.116 MHz, near the bottom of the 30m band. It turned out to be the end of a QSO between KA7OGK and W5IP, the latter of whom was coming in 5-by-8 here in Chicago. When they wrapped up their conversation, I through out a quick call to W5IP, and she came back! I could tell that Carroll (whose name I’d gleaned from the earlier conversation) was heading out, as our exchange was much more perfunctory than conversational. But it allowed me to put my first 30m contact (as well as my first Texas station, as it turns out).

And with that, I’ve now made a contact on every band I currently have access to – 80m, 40m, 30m, 20m, and 15m! So far 40m and 20m have proved to be my workhorse bands, but some late-night exploration makes me think I should be paying more attention to 80m later in the evening.

With the new 30m Texas contact, and one with a nice Louisiana ham this morning (WB5WDC, retired petroleum engineer who used to work not far from Chicago in Crystal Lake), my total number of states worked is up to 10: Arizona, California, Colorado, Louisiana, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia:

WAS Map 10-26.png

Until I can put a longer or more-vertical Antenna in the air, I don’t think I’ll be chasing foreign counties for a little while, but Worked-All-States seems like an achievable short-term goal. Of course, of the 10 states I’ve worked, I only have confirmation from California and Pennsylvania, so there’s a way to go yet. But I’m having a great time acquiring my own “All Time New One” states.

Hear you on the air!


California QSO Party 2016 and First 15m and 20m Contacts

Having put up a basic wire antenna last week, I thought I might as well give it a spin over the weekend to see how well it might receive on the various bands I have access to. This being the weekend of the California QSO party, I figured there would be lots of big signals on the air to try to hear.

Much like when I first put the QST-49er on the air, I had much higher expectations for  reception that for anybody else hearing me, but I was to be proved wrong. Using the ATS-4, my power output is about 3W on 80m, 40m, 30m, and 20m, and about 2W on 15m. I figured I would find the strongest calling stations that I could and use them as a gauge of where I was receive in signals from.

Much to my delight, the CW portions of both the 20m and 15m bands seemed to be filled with California stations calling “CQ CQP” (California QSO Party). Some of them S7, a couple over S9 even with my simple antenna. With no AGC, some signals were strong enough as to require me taking the earbuds partially out of my ears. With propagation and the antenna seeming to cooperate, I quickly looked up with CQP exchange (serial number and state) and responded to some of the CQs.

And do you know what? Not one, not two, but twenty-four different stations came back to my little QRP signal. Twenty Four! In the span of a Saturday afternoon (and one more Sunday morning) I increased my lifetime QSO count by almost %500, including my first 15m contact (K6LRN), my first 20m contact, and my first CA contact (both N6CK in Poway, CA). Here’s a map of as many contacts as I could grab Lat/Long data for, all up and down California:


One of Eric Guth’s guests on the QSO Today podcast (and I can’t for the life of me find who) expressed that the joy of radio sport for him was that he got a little spark of joy every time he made a new contact, and that contesting gave him that feeling hundreds of times in a row. While I didn’t hit hundreds of times, I certainly felt the rush of making contest contacts, fighting to be heard with other stations, the victorious feeling of finally being heard, the reward of persistence…. I could get into this radio sport thing.

If that’s going to be an area of interest, I’ll need to practice a little more on my reception speed, especially when it comes to numbers. For this contest, I would often listen to the California station go through two or three other contacts to try to pick out the serial number he was on and his county before I’d make a call myself. My receive speed just isn’t high enough to go into a contact from scratch. But I’m grateful to all the ops who were willing to slow down and repeat themselves when asked. It made me feel very welcome as a new op.

In any case, my claimed score for this one was 1224 points, distributed like so:


I suspect my actual score will be much less than that. I know I botched a couple numbers early on, and even gave out the wrong number once (oh the shame). But even if I only get one point in the log, that’s good enough for a first time out.

Hear you in the air, and in the contest!


A New Random-Wire Antenna and First 80m Contact

Sometimes the simplest of radio work pay the biggest dividends. Last week, after a few weeks of hemming and hawing about it, I finally committed to putting up a longer wire antenna that allowed the possibility of using multiple bands. The 40m dipole I put up at the end of August has proved to be fine as a receiving antenna, but it suffers two key limitations. First, it’s obviously a single-band antenna (though I may try it on 15m as well). And second, situated as it is between two apartment buildings, I think I’m wasting most of my energy heating up the bricks rather than propogating energy out into the world. It’s also only ~10′ off the ground.

The new antenna helps with all of these issues. It’s simply a ~58′ piece of 22-gauge speaker wire strung from the office window out to a tree that sits in the apartment’s back its highest, the wire is maybe 20 feet up. While it’s a little visible in the alley if you’re looking for it, it blends in with the surrounding tan brick enough that I don’t think it’ll be noticed. I dropped a ~16′ piece of the same wire out the window to act as a counterpoise.

No, I swear, there’s an antenna running right through the center of this picture.

Like any random-wire, this one needs a tuner to be useful. I first tried using the ZM-2 tuner I got last Christmas. I sadly think I have a short in one of the variable caps in that tuner, which makes it non-functional for now. The MFJ-949e tuner did the trick though – I attached the long wire directly to the “WIRE” banana jack on the back, and the counterpoise to the grounding lug. The antenna tunes up better than 1.2:1 on 80m, 40m, 30m, 20m, and 15m. Which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an efficient antenna, just that it won’t unduly stress my transmitters.

When I tuned the antenna the first time, I made myself a cheat sheet of the capacitor and inductor settings that gave me the lowest SWR on each band. I then taped this cheat sheet to the top of the tuner. This gives me a place to start when I need to retune for a particular band.

The same evening that I put the antenna up, I did a tune-through of the CW portions of 15m, 20m, 30m, and 80m. It’s really the first time I’ve been able to hear anything on a band beside 40m, so I figured a little exploration was due. I came across an S7 signal at 3.545 MHz calling CQ, and just for grins, I gave him a call. And he came back to me! Arthur, N8ART in Columbus Ohio, running an older rig into a dipole, if my copy was right. 

Columbus is a little under 300m from my QTH in Chicago, so this was probably a single-hop contact, or really NVIS. But it represents my first contact outside of 40m, which is terribly exiting! The new antenna is already proving its worth.

This was also my first contact with a new transceiver, an ATS-4 which I snagged as a “tech-special” (i.e. broken) from and repaired. That process deserves its own write-up. I’m also using a second-hand Ham Key I picked up at Radio Expo 2016 in Belvidiere, an event that also deserves its own post. But really, I’m just too excited about the contact on a new band to try to keep these posts strictly sequential.

Hear you on the air, maybe on 80m!



A New 40m Dipole

Up to this point, if I wanted to get on the air, I had three antenna options:

  1. Walk 20 minutes to the lake, spend 15 minutes getting a 40m inverted-V set up in a tree, and hope I didn’t forget anything. This has been netting me good results, but is a bit cumbersome.
  2. Set up the PHF40 loaded-dipole antenna on a tripod in the backyard. Also a bit cumbersome, and I’ve not had any success making a contact on that antenna yet. I suspect the efficiency is quite a bit down from a full size antenna.
  3. Try the random-wire I’ve got strung up around the office.

While it certainly doesn’t feel like it in the August heat, winter is surely coming. In order to ensure I won’t have a long operating hiatus once the snow hits and going outside is impossible, this week I set about putting up a 40m dipole in an inconspicuous place.

I won’t share exactly where the antenna is mounted, but suffice to say all parts of the antenna are about 12ft off the ground – much more of a skywarmer than a DX antenna, I should think.  I tuned this antenna the same way I did with my inverted-V, using just the MFJ-207 and a pair of snips.The antenna ended up being 31’6″ along each leg.

The final antenna is resonant around 7.075 Mhz with an SWR of 1.2:1 at that frequency, with a 2:1 SWR bandwidth of 6.9-7.240 Mhz.

Currently, the feedline is just a piece of RG-58 sneaking in through a window into the apartment. Interestingly, the SWR at resonance shoots up to 2:1 if I bring the metal window-frame down to within about an inch of it. I should note that I’m not using a balun with this dipole, just the usual center-conductor-to-one-wire, shield-to-the-other setup, so it doesn’t surprise me that the coax is coupling to the window. I’ll need to set up some kind of non-metallic passthrough to block airflow with maintaining the antenna characteristics.

After a couple evenings of listening, all signs point to this being a workable antenna! The map below shows the stations that I’ve heard (not contacted) in the past couple evenings. The station in red is one that I was able to contact, but we were fighting QSB and couldn’t really complete the QSO.

Hear you on the air!