Friday, 22 September 2017


Borrowing an FT-847 and getting back into using some HF data modes at home. Quickly put up a HF antenna along the house under the gutter, with about 8 metres of wire fed through 9:1 UnUn and LDG auto ATU.
 Data modes interface made from 12v relay board and a few other components.

 As the FT-847 HF data connection is a 3 pole 3.5mm jack, transmit audio and PTT share the same input. I used an isolating transformer for the transmit audio. Because of the low current needed to operate the PTT circuit, and the transformer, I had to choose quite a low capacitor value for the audio coupling. Otherwise the capacitor would charge up every time the PTT contacts opened, drawing current and keeping the transmitter on. With the first capacitor I had handy, a 150uF electrolytic, it took about 15 seconds to change between transmit and receive, ending with a bit of relay chattering from the 847.
I changed to a 470nF which I got out of an ADSL filter. The FT-847 manual shows a recommended 2.2K resistor to pull the PTT circuit low. The 470nF and 2.2K would give a cut off frequency of around 150Hz as a high pass filter, just about right.

 Here is the circuit. It's not ideal because the relay board has a 'high' and 'low' level input selectable by jumper. The high level input just connects the input signal directly to the relay coil, which is too much of a load for a serial port to drive. The idle state of a serial port RTS line is negative, so what I've done here is use this to keep the relay held on except when I need to transmit. If the PC shut down or the 12v power to the relay board was lost, the radio would change to transmit. But with SSB data modes, unless there is audio AND PTT stuck on (which couldn't happen if the PC shut down), the worst that could happen is a few milliwatts of carrier and noise leaking out.
The transformer made a difference on transmit, without it, there was quite a lot of noise along with the wanted data signal.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Baofeng BF-888 Charger

Inside a Baofeng BF-888 charger

The output is around 5 volts through a resistor, 2.2 ohms. Probably turns red LED off and green LED on when voltage across this falls below transistor junction voltage (fully charged cell around 4.2v). Green LED comes on whenever a radio is put into the charger.
Not too many components and no need to pack them in too tightly like in a plug top USB charger.
Not the worst separation between high and low voltage sections that I've seen.

Shaver adaptor with 1 amp fuse. The mains cable is the same stuff as you would get on the low voltage side of something like a battery charger. If anything did go wrong inside the charger, I wouldn't like to have that cable on an unfused outlet on a 32A ring circuit. The input goes through a low value resistor as it enters the circuit board, which would burn out very quickly with the full mains voltage across it though.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Cheap Handhelds vs Outdoor Antenna

 Tested these radios on an outdoor antenna - Comet GP-15 6m/2m/70cm, for both strong signal handling and sensitivity.

The Baofeng GT-3 dual bander was completely overloaded right across the 137-174MHz band. I don't think it was paging, even the paging on 153MHz sounded like it might have been getting some interference. I'm guessing strong broadcast signals (FM or DAB) as it was non-stop desensing of the receiver. It's hardly worth going outside with this radio on VHF or connecting anything but the stock antenna, it was the worst of the lot. Receiver sensitivity is as good as any other handheld though. S-meter isn't just 0 or full, but seems to be linked to the squelch level (with squelch of 0, there is no meter reading on any signal).

Puxing PX-777 VHF was much better than the Baofeng at coping with strong signals, even though it was one of the first cheap handhelds on the market (they came out in about 2007 for £35). At 165MHz, there were no problems, but near the bottom of the frequency range there was some pager breakthrough on mid-level signals. I wouldn't take this very close to a transmitter site and expect decent contacts on it but it's definitely an improvement on the more modern Baofeng. I've had problems with the battery life in cold weather so maybe not one to rely on for a hill top activation on it's internal battery only.

Uniden Bearcat UBC3500 is a handheld scanner covering 25 - 1300MHz and despite the wide frequency coverage, this didn't have any great problems with strong signals anywhere in the 137 - 174MHz range. The 3500 isn't quite as sensitive as the other handheld radios but in everyday use this doesn't really matter.

UHF isn't usually as hard on radios as VHF for strong signal handling, apart from Airwave around 390MHz, most transmitters are low powered and on roof tops rather than hill top masts.
The UBC3500 had no problems with overloading, but you could definitely tell the lower receiver sensitivity. This could have been better, as some of the other handhelds were much better on weak signals without any interference from nearby transmitters.

The UHF version of the PX-777 and the Retevis RT-3 (TYT MD-380 rebadged) were both able to cope with any strong signals and more sensitive than the Uniden scanner. The S-meter on the PX-777 wasn't realistic, giving full scale on a slightly noisy signal which was about S1 on my FT-7900 mobile radio. I hadn't used the RT-3 on FM very much on an external antenna and it's hard with DMR to tell if a signal has either gone below the noise or has been wiped out by something else. The RT-3 has a thing with the S-meter where it goes up to full scale for a few seconds after changing channel, which makes it look a bit like there is some interference in the background.

Once again, the Baofeng GT-3 was worse than other handhelds, and around 456MHz was being overloaded by something which didn't affect the others, making it struggle with the weakest signals. Lower down the UHF band it seemed OK, so may be usable on UHF even when VHF isn't.

The Puxing PX-2R (photo below) was as good as the others on UHF, it's only 2 watts though so not something I'd really be connecting to an external antenna any time. There is a few seconds delay on the S-meter, which usually reads full scale or nothing. It has a Nokia type charging socket and the battery looks like a mobile phone battery.
Last, and least, was the Baofeng BF-888. But what did you expect for £10? The slightly noisy signal on the other radios was non-existent on this. Without any display or tuning dial it isn't easy to tell whether it was sensitivity or strong signal handling. They do work - around a site or into a nearby repeater they are OK and no great loss if someone breaks one but unless you only have £10 or really must have no display, buy something else.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Inside a HF SDR

 Inside the £25 RTL-SDR receiver with dual inputs. Low pass filter for HF is a coil on the PCB.
 The original antenna socket is left on the board

Monday, 4 September 2017

Walton Hill

A couple of weeks ago we went for a little 3 night tour of the Midlands, stopping at Oldbury, Droitwich and Leicester.

Droitwich from the hotel car park

On the Sunday, I had a walk up Walton Hill (SOTA G/CE-002) in the Clent Hills South West of Birmingham, parking in the large car park at SO942802.
I just had the Baofeng GT-3 handheld with me but as the hill wasn't very far from Birmingham I knew I'd still be able to make a few contacts. I managed the 4 QSOs for SOTA but there was a problem, even with its own 20cm long antenna, on 145MHz the GT-3 was being overloaded by some strong signals. At one time it would probably have been paging transmitters that were the strongest things near that frequency, but many pager sites have been closed now and the interference could have been from anything on VHF. Even on strong signals that were perfectly readable, the squelch was being closed by some noise in the background and I ended up keeping the squelch open.
At home on my outdoor antenna, the GT-3 is completely wiped out on VHF and I'm over 10km from any mast with powerful VHF transmitters (but the closest does have high power DAB and FM broadcast so this may be what is causing the problems on hill tops).

Mast at Romsley to the East of Walton Hill
 Malvern Hills

Clee Hill

 Brierley Hill
 Towards Birmingham

Thursday, 24 August 2017


After getting rid of any HF equipment last year, I'm slowly putting together what can't really be called a HF station. I got a WSPRLite to transmit WSPR with at a massive 200mW, and have been using that into a mobile antenna on the car. I thought it was time to get something to receive with, so bought one of the cheap HF software defined radios, based on the usual TV tuner devices.

This has 2 SMA antenna sockets, one for below 30MHz and the other for above that. There is data/power through a Mini USB connector (just when you think nobody uses them any more). So a bit tidier than a TV tuner 'dongle'.
On VHF/UHF, it seems about the same as a standard RTL TV tuner, using SDR# software. On HF and below is where it is a bit strange. I thought it might have some kind of up-converter to allow reception below 30MHz (they can tune to about 24MHz normally). No, it doesn't use any converter, you just select "Direct Sampling - Q Branch" in the settings (even if you aren't James Bond).
But, as the sampling frequency is fixed at 28.8MHz in this mode, it can't receive anything above 14.4MHz. If there is a signal on 14.3MHz, it will also appear to be on 14.5MHz etc. Close to 14.4MHz there is a lot of noise from the 28.8MHz oscillator, so it doesn't really work on the 20m amateur band either.
It does work OK below 10MHz, best on the 3.5 and 7MHz amateur bands and I've had it receiving WSPR on those once I worked out the frequency error (it's about 50ppm out - even at 3.5MHz that would be too much to leave uncorrected for WSPR).
SDR tuners seem to be quite fussy about the power from the USB port - on my laptop this wouldn't work at all without being plugged into an external powered USB hub, and even the standard TV tuner dongle refused to work with a short USB extension cable.

So if you're looking for something covering all HF bands, this isn't for you and you should spend a bit more on one of the better software defined receivers.

I've been using it with a little active antenna built by RA0SMS

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Tool Box

Here a few things which I've been using for years, I must have had them all for over 10 years now.

Tool Box - probably a Christmas present, like most of the stuff here. I don't think I've ever completely emptied it since new.

Connectors Box - this is where I keep any adaptors, other connectors, memory cards etc. Spot the AT to PS/2 keyboard adaptors which even I've got to admit are just wasting space in there but have I ever emptied this since I got it in about 2002? Probably not. From Woolworths, so that dates it a bit.

 6-way Screwdriver. Stanley 68-012. Until today, I hadn't realised it was 6-way. The shaft of the screwdriver will fit two different sizes of nut. Good enough for nearly anything you would normally use a screwdriver for, except small terminals or anything where there might be live connections nearby. Apparently the new model is worse, so this may be becoming something of a classic.

Charger - Vanson Speedy Box. It's not the fastest charger but I got it from Maplin at the time when the higher capacity Ni-MH cells (1800mAh+ for AAs) were quite a new thing. It also discharges cells.

Laptop Bag - By Kensington, from Ebuyer when I got my first laptop in 2005 (and used for another 4 after that). It's a backpack but the straps can be hidden away and can be turned into an over the shoulder bag (but I think I've lost the strap for that without ever trying it).
With 16:9 displays, the basic 15" screen laptop has got wider and you can see mine hardly fits in the bag now (it was bought for a 15" 4:3 ratio screen model). That's a 640GB Toshiba USB HDD in the bag.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Bit Of A Lift

On the way home from work I was stuck waiting for a train an hour so had a play around with the Netmonitor app on my phone. I was in an area where there is, normally a 2G phone signal if you're lucky. This means that if there is any odd propagation at UHF, all sorts of different phone masts start being picked up, and being near the sea also helps.Well after leaving Netmonitor on for a bit, it had picked up a few cells in the Stranraer area, which is over the horizon so pretty good, but the best was a GSM signal from Larne in Northern Ireland (around 160km), and a 4G signal from Donaghadee, almost as far away across the Irish Sea.

When I got home, there were some big signals on the 70cm band, with at least one of the two Isle Of Man repeaters on 430.825 being full scale. I had a go at using the DMR handheld indoors to access GB7BR at Bride, and managed to get in. Also got into GB7UL at Carrickfergus from the handheld indoors.

 This repeater on 430.825 is usually no S-points, but full scale here.

A handy 'beacon' on 427.850 - Dublin buses trunking data, active 24/7 and the first thing to come through when there is any propagation across the Irish Sea on UHF.

On 145MHz simplex I spoke to GI0BDX in Newtownabbey.

One signal which I'm still not sure about is an Echolink gateway on 439.100, which I can't find on any lists (unless it's in Germany, which seems unlikely). Could be in Ireland as that's where lots of other signals were coming from.
Today (Thursday) everything was back to normal, back at its usual signal strength.