Improve your Morse code

There a few club members who know Morse code and would like to improve their skills in one way or another.  Speaking with members, I’ve heard mention of FISTS but never of CWOPS.  I know an amateur who has spent the last year with the CWOPS Academy program and who has greatly increased their speed and accuracy of receiving and sending.

Not to be forgotten is also the slow Morse transmissions by amateurs here in the UK on behalf of the RSGB.  This is how I originally learnt the code.

So, for those who may be interested, I’ve posted the links below:


Back to the Future…

Back in the 80’s I received my first amateur radio license, a ‘B’ license as it was back then entitling me to use, if I recall correctly, bands above 30 MHz only.  We didn’t have 6m and 4m band allocations then so it meant 2m and 70cms were the bands of choice for me and the majority of other ‘B’ license holders.

So I started with 2m and 70cms SSB and my interest was soon peeked by space communications with Oscar 10 etc.  Those early Oscar’s were excellent as, if I recall correctly, they where in elliptical orbits which meant that they appeared to hang in the sky for some time, not shooting overhead as do satellites in lower more circular orbits.  Their transponders were just like big SSB repeaters in the sky and I worked all over Europe.  Happy days.  But working those Oscars was not that easy especially at Acquisition of Satellite (AOS) as they were pretty far from the Earth so a good station was needed.  My station grew to a 2m, 9 element crossed Yagi; a 70cms, 19 element crossed Yagi, both circularly polarised; azimuth plus elevation rotators and mast head preamplifiers.  The radio was a Yaesu FT-736 which I only sold last year…It was a wonderful radio.

Of course with those antenna’s it was perfectly possible to work terrestrial communications too.  I made contacts across the UK and Europe using sporadic E and Tropospheric propagation.  Those were exciting times indeed as not only was amateur radio new, to me, but it was such fun learning about different types of propagation, satellite communications and having great fun talking to people.

Ok, so by now some of you will be asking – what is the point of this article?  Well, bear with me…  I learnt Morse code and in the early 90’s received my ‘A’ license.  Soon afterwards the world changed as I started doing radio professionally for a few years.  This removed all interest to do amateur radio stuff when I got home from work.  Anyhow, time passed and I started to operate on HF talking to people all over the world – it was fascinating – I learn’t lots more.

With solar cycle 24 rapidly fading and with the real possibility that cycle 25 may be no better, probably worse, I’ve been looking back and found myself comparing my V/UHF experiences with those of HF.

My conclusion is that HF is fun, its pretty easy to work stations across the UK, Europe and further afield depending on your station.  Take a minute and think about that, especially the ‘depending on your station’ bit.  Do you have the space to erect, for example, a 9 element Yagi for the 20m band?  I’m seriously impressed if you do 😉  I bet most of us are using simple HF antenna’s and we are constrained by space, interference and the cost of erecting a high-performance HF station.  But move on up to VHF and things get so much easier.  I bet many of us could erect a 9 element Yagi for the 2m band and mount it several wavelengths above ground too….  Such an antenna will cost a tiny fraction of its HF equivalent; its small, light and easily rotated too.  Interference does certainly exist above HF but its nowhere near as bad.  But, FM repeaters and modes such as D-Star aside, VHF is dead these days I hear you say?  I cannot deny that it is much quieter than in the 80’s and 90’s but its still a happening place…  Its perfectly possible to work stations using phone and data modes across the UK and into Europe when propagation is flat.  All those exotic data modes are present and in active use too, people are exploiting Tropospheric propagation, meteor scatter, satellite communications, auroral propagation to name a few.

So its back to the future for me, the HF antenna is now down and until I receive my new VHF antenna I’ve elevated one of my original 9 element Yagi’s.  Already I’m hearing beacons GB3ANG in Scotland, GB3VHF in Kent and GB3SSS in Cornwall.  I even worked an old friend towards London using CW (RST:559) and Olivia with 20 watts.  Who says VHF is line-of-sight. 🙂

I guess you realise the message by now…. V/UHF is lots of fun, you can work DX, high-performance stations are much more achievable than on HF and you learn lots.  Amateur radio is so much more than HF, FM, repeaters, D-Star etc.  So, why not explore our higher bands?


Field weekend (2)

TSGARC Field WeekendThis is the second post in a three part series regarding the late May field weekend of the Thornbury and South Gloucestershire Amateur Radio Club (TSGARC).

The trouble with camping during May is it gets light early!  Setup had been a long and busy day but the birds knew nothing of our endeavours and were chirping their happy, annoying song at first light.  John (M3EQQ), despite slumming it at the house, was up just as early as the birds and made sure everyone was awake also 😉  To his credit he woke people with a cuppa but it was clear there was to be no sleepy lie-in…  Mind you, it was going to be a busy day as there was food, rotor cable and plugs to purchase not to mention the completion of tasks outstanding from the previous day, delayed due to the extended time working upon the trailer tower.

Generally speaking the noise floor at field/portable sites is very low so you can hear almost everything, but making yourself heard is harder.  For this event I wanted to make the club heard.  I’d heard many good stories and good signals from stations around the world using hex beams, so I purchased a Hexbeam from Anthony (MW0JZE).  This was fed with 400w from an Ameritron AL-811XCE amplifier.  The result was fantastic, not only could we hear the DX but we could also work it 🙂

MW0JZE HexbeamA large part of Saturday morning was spent assembling the hex.  Yes, it took a while as I was careful to assemble it correctly and as per the YouTube video instructions.  The antenna does not come with instructions which is a nuisance but the video instructions are excellent – just accessing them from a remote field is a little challenging…  Next time, however, assembly will be much quicker.

After the hex was on the tower, John (M3EQQ) and I went to get the much needed food and cable to replace the damaged rotor control cable.  The little castle town of Berkeley has some good shops so food was not a problem, but cable needed a drive further afield.  Fortunately there is a branch of Attwoolls not far away and they were able to supply 30m of cable and new connectors.  On our return it was clear the other members had been equally busy as we now had a full sized vertical 80m loop and a Beverage receive only antenna for the 80m band.  Both the 80m loop and Beverage were connected to Rob’s (G4RNK) Kenwood TS-2000.

The Beverage was the creation of John (M0HFH) who had read much about its ability to overcome noise on the lower frequency bands; the field weekend gave the ideal opportunity to try a 1.2λ, 80m Beverage.  Researching the many methods of construction John (M0HFH) came across some old papers published by the BBC research team at Crowley. This gave in-sight into the height of the antenna from the ground and some surprising information, higher is not always better!

The Beverage in various designs has been around since inventor Harold H. Beverage developed the antenna design based on designs used by Edmond Bruce at the Otter Cliffs US Transatlantic listening station in 1919.  The antenna used during our field weekend was the simplest form of this design and consisted of a 9:1 home-made balun feeding a long wire (120m galvanised steel electric fence wire) terminated at its far end with a non-inductive resistor into a copper earth stake with 4 x 15m radials. A similar ground plane earth system was set up at the feed end to be the earth point for the coax feeding the radio. The antenna was set at 1.5m above the ground.

We attempted to match the Beverage terminating resistor to the earth system using a method adopted by W8JI which involved measuring the range (not the value) of SWR indicated on an MFJ-259 antenna analyser sweeping a frequency range from 1.8HHz to 7MHz and varying the termination resistor until the variation in SWR was minimised.  Kyle (M6KBP) recorded the values of SWR in the form of a table whilst John (M0HFH) varied the terminating resistance using a switched resistance box; communications from one end of the Beverage to the other by 2m handheld.  We settled for a termination resistance of 640 Ohms after some discussion of the results.

Listening to weak signals on the lower frequency bands, in particular 160m, 80m, 40m, the Beverage revealed a substantial reduction in background noise and an increased signal to noise ratio as compared to the TSGARC vertical with radials.

Rob (G4RNK) was responsible for the 80m loop.  It was made from hard drawn, PVC coated, copper wire about 265ft in length.  Its matching stub was made from 75 Ohm coaxial cable a quarter wavelength long, (66%).  This matching stub was then connected to 50 Ohm coax which ran back to the TS-2000 transceiver in the radio tent. With a view to working stations to the East (Europe) and the West (USA and beyond!), the loop was orientated to face East/West with its nulls to the North and South.  The feed point of the loop was 1ft above ground, the top of the antenna was at 30ft, suspended between to masts, so the mean height of the loop was 15ft for 80 the 80m band. This sort of antenna can be tuned for use on other bands with a transmatch antenna tuner.

TSGARC Radio TentThe hexbeam replaced the 2m beam on the trailer tower as at 12kgs it needed a strong support.  The tower will support something much heavier but the other masts would have been overloaded.  It was raised to about 13m above ground where it pretty much remained for the rest of the weekend. Feeding the hex was an Icom IC-7200 and the aforementioned amplifier.  The system worked faultlessly and some nice contacts were made, my personal favourite being Tokyo. Lots of contacts were made by myself and the mic was shared with John (M3EQQ) and Kyle (M6KBP).  This gave John and Kyle the opportunity to see a capable station in operation and to talk with stations further afield.

Around 20:00hrs GMT about S3 of pulse type interference was observed from the West, this continued till we shutdown just after midnight.  Interestingly the interference seemed to start around 14MHz and spread across all higher parts of the spectrum up to 50MHz.  Higher frequencies were not checked.  The interference was not observed on lower frequency bands – nothing was heard on 3.7MHz using the 80m loop.  Swinging the hex to the East also greatly reduced the interference.  In the adjacent field on the Western side there is a large overhead power line, but we understood this was not in operation…  If the interference was emanating from the power line I would have expected it to hear it on 80m.  A mystery, but there was speculation that it may be some farm machinery in the big shed located to the West.

Tonna 5-ele, 6m YagiSunday morning dawned with another early call, cuppa and breakfast from John (M3EQQ).        The remaining 10m masts were erected.  With these we now had an impressive selection of antenna’s and the site looked great in the sunshine.  In total there was the 12m trailer tower, 2 x 10m masts supporting the Tonna 2m and 6m antennas plus 2 x 12/10m masts supporting the 80m loop.  With this selection of antennas it was a shame that we didn’t have more radio’s and operators.  However, Rex (G4RAE) made use of the 5-element, 6m Yagi making several Morse contacts.

HF propagation was superb, strong phone contacts were had with Aruba on 20m, 17m and 15m,  St. Helena and numerous other stations in the USA.  It was clear that the hex, amplifier combination was delivering good performance.  Band conditions remained excellent till shutdown soon after midnight.  The mic was again shared with John and Kyle allowing them to make some excellent contacts.  The interference noted the previous evening was not present till a similar time when it returned with exactly the same characteristics.

Shirley, John’s (M0HFH) partner, lent the club her wood burning fire.  Its an excellent piece of kit that burns wood exceptionally well and provides lots of surface area on which to cook.  So late in the afternoon, John (M3EQQ) started to barbecue chicken and sausages.  Whilst we ate the food a friend of Rob’s (G4RNK) arrived with his quadcopter.  The quadcopter had a small camera attached and despite it being a little windy good photo’s of the site were captured.

9-ele, 2m TonnaMonday was very different, the HF bands appeared to be in good shape for a few hours in the early morning when we had some great contacts, but soon after deteriorated leaving signals either well down on preceding days or non-existent.  Andrew (G0RVM) took the opportunity to run an antenna workshop with Kyle (M6KBP).  The workshop started with the basic principles of the dipole then progressed to calculating its size, construction and finally adjustments for resonance and on-air testing.  The dipole was made for the 17m band and it clearly worked when compared with the hex.  Another Foundation class member, Derek (M6xxx) got involved, helping Kyle with the physical construction of the dipole.

Nighttime arrived and conditions appeared to improve greatly.  Again many contacts were made culminating with an excellent conversation between Kyle (M6KBP) and Ray (N4LEM) using his Collins HF-80.

Andrew G0RVM, John M0HFH and Rob G4RNK

When you need a friend…

Steve M6HOB here. I’m relatively new to amateur radio, having obtained my Foundation Licence a year ago and although I attend the Wednesday club nights, I hadn’t got round to buying any radio kit for my station. I have a very old ICOM 2m rig in my Land-Rover, but it’s not much use for general work with pre-selected frequencies only.

I’m currently studying for my Intermediate licence, and building a Walford Electronics “Berrow” QRP CW transceiver as the obligatory project. The club’s tutors Peter (G4OST) and Paul (M0ZMB) have been really helpful guiding me on the build, especially as it’s a fairly advanced project for the intermediate and a radio novice. Construction stalled once I’d completed the receiver side of the kit, as I hadn’t got an aerial up. Cue a friend and club member Andrew (G0RVM) stepping up and spending his Saturday afternoon to help me set up a 1/2 wave dipole on 30 metres / 10 MHz. Despite the bitter cold, we put up a wooden fence post at one end of my garden, and bolted a 3 metre high steel antenna mast from ScrewFix with an eye bolt at the top to run a cord through. The mast is really sturdy and great value, plus you can potentially stack them and go to 4.5 or 6 metres high, though I’m not sure how much tension one could safely put on the aerial wire at that height without guying the top of the mast.

Andrew kindly lent me a 1:1 balun whilst I await delivery of a new one from a well known supplier in Staines. What a nice chap! 🙂

The other end of the dipole is supported on the apex of my garage roof, which puts the centre conveniently close to my study window, keeping the RG58 feeder fairly short. A few minutes work in the loft to run the RG58 up through the wall and out of the soffit vent, and the job was done!

Andrew also brought along his MFJ antenna analyser, so we could tune up the antenna. The wire hangs about 4m off the ground, rather than at least 7.5 metres for a 1/4 wave, partly because to go any higher would put the wire in the midst of a large oak tree and dense branches. We got it resonant but the impedance of the antenna is 25 ohms at resonance in the band centre. Not great, but workable with an ATU, and it seems to receive well across the band, I heard some CW at +20dB on my FRG100.

Anyway, back to the subject line of the post; it’s brilliant to be able to draw on the expertise, kit and friendship of the club members. Someone’s always ready to lend a hand…


Successful JOTA

This year’s Jamboree on the Air at both Conygres and Woodhouse Park was another resounding success. In addition to members of the club we were also assisted by members of the Gloucester Amateur Radio and Electronics Society (GARES) and Woodhouse Park amateur Radio Club.

Paul, John, James and Garry at JOTA 2014

Paul, John, James and Garry at JOTA 2014

A successful two and a half days saw three stations (HF, VHF and UHF) assembled with CW practice and Flight Radar. A number of contacts were made to UK, European and two American stations. During the weekend a number of Beavers, Cubs, Brownies, Guides and Scouts practiced their Morse and spoke on the radio.

The operating conditions at Conygres having been improved over those last year with a new roof being installed. The catering once again was excellent with 6 Gourmet meals being consumed.

The three stations consisted of two FT-857s connected to a log periodic 70cm antenna and a crossed 5 element Yagi with the HF station being fed into a G5RV. The CW practice station utilised two oscillators and a decoding laptop. The Flight radar station was projected showing the location of aircraft as far afield as Heathrow.

I would personally like to thank all members who attended at both Conygres and Woodhouse Park for their assistance and planning.




JOTA Planning & Operation

This week at the Thornbury & South Gloucestershire Amateur Radio Club is the final planning for JOTA.

JOTAWe will be operating a VHF and UHF station at Conygres teaching Scouts how to send a message over the air to Woodhouse Park Scout camp using Voice or Morse code.  The intention is to use VHF for FM phone and UHF for phone/slow Morse.  If you have time this weekend please say ‘hi’ to a Scout by responding to a CQ call.  We will be using the callsign: GB1WSG

Anyone who would like to help can operate with Peter and Rex from Woodhouse or operate from home.

Full details including operating frequencies are on

GARES will be operating the HF Station during the day on Saturday18th and Sunday 19th hoping to make longer range contacts.

My thanks to John M0HFH for the content 🙂


CW on 2m & 70cms

On Saturday the 27th of September 2014 a German CW activity group have organised  a very short cw contest on 2m and 70cms, ideal for beginners, straight key only with no computer decoding devices.

Note:- Probably Horizontal polarisation.

  • from 1400 to 1700 UTC on 2 m
  • from 1700 to 1800 UTC on 70 cms.

See this website for further details.