December 31, 2012

Project: PAiA P60 Regulated Power Supply Kit

Over the  years, we have built a number of electronic devices that require a 9v DC power source.  We typically keep a box of 9v batteries on-hand though more often then not we find our cache of batteries depleted.  During a recent trip to the local grocery store we were shocked to see name-brand 9v alkaline batteries selling for nearly $5/each.  This inspired us to build a dedicated 9v power supply for use on the bench with goal of reducing our use of overly expensive 9v batteries in the coming year.  Perhaps that is a worthy New Year resolution for us all.

Regulated or unregulated?
An unregulated DC output power supply (e.g. most common wall-warts) delivers voltage without voltage control.  The DC output voltage is dependent on a couple of factors: 1) the voltage reduction transformer; 2) the amount of current used by the device receiving the power (also called load).  An easy way to identify if a wall-wart is unregulated is to simply measure the voltage without a load.  If the voltage is several volts higher than the rated voltage on the device then it is unregulated.  The typical wall-wart is often also unfiltered making it unsuitable for radio related projects.

A voltage regulator controls a power supply such that it delivers a constant voltage output over a variety of load currents (up to a maximum load).

We have a junk box full of transformers and could have had an unregulated power supply for next to nothing.  However, the ability of delivery exactly 9v for our creations was appealing and not very costly ($10 to $25 depending on the kit).  The cost of building a 9v regulated power supply is quickly recovered by simply avoiding the purchase of a few 9v batteries.

Linear or switched regulator?
Regulated power supplies can be built with linear or switched regulators.  We decided we were indifferent regarding this question.  Either would work fine for our simple needs.  We did a quick search of various kit makers to see what was offered in the way of regulated power supplies.

PAiA P60 Regulated Power Supply Kit
As a youth in the 1980's we had always enjoyed looking through the PAiA catalog of kit electronic musical instruments.  In our eyes, PAiA had the coolest looking gear hands down; though we lacked the means necessary to buy and build it.  So during our search of kit manufacturers, we were delighted to find that PAiA is still in business offering a variety of electronic kits.  A quick review of the PAiA website is all it took to find a low-cost little regulated power supply kit that fit our needs perfectly: PAiA P60 Regulated Power Supply Kit

The P60 kit provides a circuit board and all components except for the 3-pin (TO-220 package) voltage regulator.  This allows the builder to select the specific regulator / voltage that meets his needs (5v to 24v).  Input voltage can be either AC or DC and needs to be 2v or 3v higher than the target output voltage (depending on the regulator chosen).  We liked the fact that terminal blocks were provided for both input and outputs.  This would make it very easy to connect and disconnect from various projects.  We also appreciated the on-off switch and power-on LED indicator.  The power supply is rated for up to 1A which would be more than enough for our 9v projects.  We had a couple of 7809 voltage regulators on-hand so this kit would be a perfect fit.

The kit was a breeze to assemble following the guidance provided by the kit product sheet.  We decided to substitute a blue LED for the one that came with the kit out of personal preference.  We are Anderson PowerPole connector enthusiasts so it was natural to wire up an Anderson PowerPole to the input block.  This would make it easy to connect the to our 13.8v DC Astron RS-35M power supply that we use in the shack or in the car using our home-brew car power to Anderson PowerPole adapter.

On the output block we connected one of our home-brew 9v battery clips.  This would make it easy to connect to our electronic 9v creations.  To use a battery clip as a power source (simulated battery) requires reversing the polarity.  That way when two clips are married together the voltage polarity will be correct. 

The power supply has worked flawlessly in our shack since it was built.  We really appreciate the convenience and economy of powering up our 9v creations free of the hassle and expense of 9v batteries.  We are using our 9v power supply at the time of this writing to power KC2VSR's 3D Xmas Tree which gives a little holiday charm to the shack.  We haven't mounted it in a case so far.  Looking for something that is both free and suitable to repurpose.

By the way, we found an excellent resource for power supply terminology.  It is interesting to browse through the page.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

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© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Passing of the Year by Robert Service

The Passing of the Year

By Robert Service, RHYMES OF A ROLLING STONE, 1912

My glass is filled, my pipe is lit,
My den is all a cosy glow;
And snug before the fire I sit,
And wait to feel the old year go.
I dedicate to solemn thought
Amid my too-unthinking days,
This sober moment, sadly fraught
With much of blame, with little praise.

Old Year! upon the Stage of Time
You stand to bow your last adieu;
A moment, and the prompter's chime
Will ring the curtain down on you.
Your mien is sad, your step is slow;
You falter as a Sage in pain;
Yet turn, Old Year, before you go,
And face your audience again.

That sphinx-like face, remote, austere,
Let us all read, whate'er the cost:
O Maiden! why that bitter tear?
Is it for dear one you have lost?
Is it for fond illusion gone?
For trusted lover proved untrue?
O sweet girl-face, so sad, so wan
What hath the Old Year meant to you?

And you, O neighbour on my right
So sleek, so prosperously clad!
What see you in that aged wight
That makes your smile so gay and glad?
What opportunity unmissed?
What golden gain, what pride of place?
What splendid hope? O Optimist!
What read you in that withered face?

And You, deep shrinking in the gloom,
What find you in that filmy gaze?
What menace of a tragic doom?
What dark, condemning yesterdays?
What urge to crime, what evil done?
What cold, confronting shape of fear?
O haggard, haunted, hidden One
What see you in the dying year?

And so from face to face I flit,
The countless eyes that stare and stare;
Some are with approbation lit,
And some are shadowed with despair.
Some show a smile and some a frown;
Some joy and hope, some pain and woe:
Enough! Oh, ring the curtain down!
Old weary year! it's time to go.

My pipe is out, my glass is dry;
My fire is almost ashes too;
But once again, before you go,
And I prepare to meet the New:
Old Year! a parting word that's true,
For we've been comrades, you and I --
I thank God for each day of you;
There! bless you now! Old Year, good-bye!

December 28, 2012

Project: Anderson Powerpole Polarity Checker

Ward Silver's (N0AX) article, "Hands-On Radio: Experiment #120: Power Polarity Protection", in the January 2013 issue of QST included a circuit diagram for a 12v polarity checker.  Inspired by the diagram, we headed to workshop on a Friday evening to fire up the soldering iron and fabricate our own Anderson Powerpole polarity checker using junk-box parts.

Schematic of a polarity checker with a 1k Ohm resistor and two LED's one red and one green
Powerpole Polarity Checker Circuit Diagram
From Hands-On Radio: Experiment 120: Power Polarity Protection, January 2013 QST; copyright ARRL

We are big fans of Anderson Powerpole connectors and recabled our radio gear with the connector sometime ago.  A polarity checker would be a very useful item to have around the shack and in a go-kit.

Step 0: Round up the parts and tools

A well-stocked junk box and workshop will likely yield all the necessary parts needed to build the polarity checker.  A few minutes of scrounging around our workshop is all it took to find the parts for this project.
  • Green LED
  • Red LED
  • 1k Ohm resistor 1/4W
  • Pair of Anderson Powerpole connectors
  • Junk box plastic part to turn into an end-cap
  • Hot glue gun
  • Soldering iron
  • Shrink wrap tubing (small diameter)
  • Wire snips

Step 1: build the circuit on a solderless breadboard

We find it helpful to first build a circuit on a solderless breadboard prior to assembly and soldering.  This approach helps confirm the junk-box parts are still functional, the circuit works as advertised, as well as verifying the orientation of parts having polarity (e.g. the LED's in this project).  This circuit is very simple.  The key is to make sure the LED's are wired together in opposite polarity.

Anderson PowerPole polarity checker circuit being tested on a solderless breadboard prior to assembly.
NJ2X first built the polarity checker on a solderless breadboard as a test

Step 2: Prepare the end-cap

We found some sort of plastic cap in our junk box that would marry up perfectly to the back side of a pair of Anderson Powerpole connectors.  We drilled four small holes in the top of the cap to pass the LED's leads through.
Anderson PowerPole polarity checker cap - four holes being drilled for the LED wires to pass through.
NJ2X drills four holes in a small cap for the LED leads

 Step 3: Solder the components together

Insert the leads of the two LED's on the top of the cap.  Solder the leads and resister together per the wiring diagram.  Use shrink wrap tubing to insulate the leads from each other to prevent a short.  Solder a short red wire and back wire to the leads.  Again use shrink wrap tubing to insulate the connections.  Solder the Anderson Powerpole connectors onto the wire ends.  Be sure the Powerpole positive and negative are tied together in the correct configuration, "Red Right Up".  Test the circuit to confirm it is working before proceeding with final assembly.

Anderson powerpole polarity checker in a vice while be fabricated
NJ2X testing the soldered polarity checker prior to final assembly

Step 4:  Final Assembly

Fill the cap with a generous amount of hot glue.  You want enough glue to assure a solid mechanical connection and prevent the wires from moving or being stressed during use.  Press the wire and Anderson Powerpole connectors into the cap and hot glue.  Let the glue cool and harden.  Test again to confirm the circuit is functional with both correct and reversed polarity.  We used a label maker to add our call sign to the outside.

Fully assembled Anderson PowerPole polarity checker.
NJ2X's Anderson Powerpole polarity checker fully assembled

We shared a picture of the finished product with N0AX and he pointed out that it looked a little like a rabbit.  My son, KC2VSR gave the polarity checker a funny bunny face to really set off the effect.  We had a good laugh and decided to call the polarity checker, "Bunnicula".  Ham radio is really a wonderful hobby to share with kids.

fully assembled Anderson PowerPole polarity checker with a cat-face drawn on it for humor.
NJ2X's Homebrew Anderson Powerpole Polarity Checker

Voila!  There is our build of a very handy 12v Anderson Powerpole polarity checker.  Use the polarity checker before plugging into an unverified Anderson Powerpole connector.  This simple test may save your equipment from damage.  A lit green LED denotes correct polarity and lit red LED indicates reversed polarity.

There are at least a couple of potential failure modes that would cause the polarity to be reversed on a pair of Powerpole connectors.  One potential failure is that the red wire terminating at the power supply was accidentally connected to the negative terminal.  Another possibility is that the Powerpole connectors were snapped together with the incorrect orientation.

For example, when volunteering during an emergency and you need to recharge your HT's battery from the HQ emergency power via a Powerpole.  If you plug into it without checking polarity you may end up with a dead HT if the cable was wired incorrectly to the supply.

Not all cars are wired so the center of the cigarette lighter connector is positive.  If you use an Anderson Powerpole to Cigarette Lighter adapter on an unfamiliar vehicle you may be in for an unpleasant surprise when you connect your rig and the reversed polarity causes damage.

An additional use of the polarity checker is a quick power cable or connector continuity checker.  We plan to put our polarity checker to good use in the shack testing all new cables and Anderson Powerpole connectors that we build for mechanical contact, continuity, and polarity.  In the past, we have simply used a multimeter which didn't confirm that the connector makes proper electrical contact when connected mechanically to another Powerpole.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

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December 23, 2012

Learning Morse Code Online

We have been thinking about Morse code and how to approach learning it.  There is interest in our local Boy Scout troop to learn Morse code in pursuit of the new Morse Code Interpreter's Strip.

We recently discovered an interesting website to help people learn Morse code online called Learn CW Online.

Early Morse Code Training Course
One of the attractive aspects of this site is that all lessons are accessed via a web browser without requiring a download or installing software.  A complete Koch CW course is available on the site via the browser - for FREE.

The Koch method is a popular teaching method and named after the German psychologist Ludwig Koch.  The Koch method teaches at the full target speed from the outset, first with just two characters (K and M).  Once a student has mastered the first two characters by being able to copy at 90% accuracy, an additional character (letter, number, or prosign) is added, and so on until the complete character set is mastered.

Example: CW Course results from lesson 1 showing we are ready for lesson 2.

We really like how the CW course is organized into lessons and how feedback is provided so you can see how you are doing.  There is even a recommendation provided indicating when you are ready to move to the next course and learn a new letter, number, or prosign.  This is a fun and easy way to learn Morse Code.  We recommend for anyone interested in learning CW (Morse code).

Once you have mastered the character set, an excellent (and free) resource for improving your code recognition speed is by listening to the regularly scheduled code practice broadcasts by the ARRL's station W1AW on shortwave.

These free resources could very helpful to Boy Scouts interested in earning the new Interpreter's strip for Morse code.  The strip would certainly be a very impressive addition to one's uniform:

The Morse Code interpreter strip designates those who are proficient in Morse Code and denotes their availability for emergency communications and other types of supporting communication for Scouting and the community. Youth and adults may wear this strip if they show their knowledge of Morse Code by:
  1. Carrying on a five-minute conversation in Morse Code at a speed of at least 5 words per minute.
  2. Copying correctly a two-minute message sent in Morse Code at a minimum of 5 words per minute. Copying means writing the message down as it is received.
  3. Sending a 25 word written document in Morse Code at a minimum of 5 words per minute.

Requirements #1 and #3 imply that the scout will need to also learn how send Morse code with a key.  Scouts will need to either buy or have access to a Morse code key and a code practice oscillator.  The PicoKeyer Plus is an inexpensive and easy-to-build kit that can be used a small self-contained code practice oscillator (just add a key).

Our local amateur radio club (Skyview Radio Society) offers Morse code practice nights using the club's repeater for discussion and transmitting morse code on a 10m frequency.

There is no one right way to learn something.  Each person is different in how best they learn a new skill or language.

The ARRL has an excellent webpage, Learning Morse Code.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X
Press play to hear my salutation in Morse code:

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December 22, 2012

DX Technique: Taking A Break = Opportunity For A Modest Station

Working DX with a modest station or QRP (5w of power or less) is an interesting and challenging endeavour.  DX'ers regularly experience having more powerful stations with 1500W amplifiers, impressive towers, and beam antennas punch through to the target station and block the lower-power stations.  To succeed, low-power stations must use skill - brains over brawn.

Here we share a useful technique to help log that DX station when operating with low-power.  This is the scenario, the DX station announces that he must take a break (i.e. take a phone call, dog needs to go out, bathroom visit, refill coffee cup, grab a snack, answer the door, ...) and will be return. 

This represents an opportunity for the savvy lower-power station since this announcement will cause the pile-up size to immediately diminish.  Time (and human nature) is on your side since the longer the DX station is off-the-air the fewer people will stay tuned to the frequency.  Why?
  • As soon as the station stops calling, many people will leave the frequency in search of DX stations that are on-the-air.
  • Reported spots for the DX will start to age off and no new spots will be posted.
  • People tuning up-and-down searching for DX will not stop on the frequency since there is no DX calling.
The savvy DX'er will wait and listen and be ready to pounce when the DX station returns from his break.  Patience, listening, and being ready is the key to success.  You want to be the first station (without interference from a pileup) to respond and be heard.

We have used this technique with success and it can help you too.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

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December 21, 2012


It is a paradox of modern life that pseudoscience thrives amidst accelerating scientific knowledge, widespread literacy, and powerful teacher's unions.  As you are reading this, The-End-Is-Near-Nuts-V2012 are now licking their collective wounds that resulted from the world having not come to an end on December 21, 2012. Their great disappointment in our continued existence is a small source of pleasure for many of us (as well as a few good jokes on late-night shows).

As with the prior versions of The-End-Is-Near, the pattern will be for the spokesmen to make a few irrational-rationalizations explaining away their error.  Then some charismatic will start afresh with a new version of a peculiar brand of nonsense which will inevitably find a strong market with the media and a few true believers.

In the meantime, have a happy (and rational) New Year.



© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

December 19, 2012

DXCC Completed!

We are celebrating in the shack today on completing the requirements to earn the ARRL DX Century Club (DXCC) award. The DXCC award is a worthy challenge. To earn the ARRL DXCC award a ham must confirm 100 contacts each from a qualifying different DX entity. These entitities are defined in the DXCC list. To qualify, an entity must have some definable political or geographical distinctiveness.

Proof of a confirmed contact can be either a paper QSL card or a Logbook of the World (LoTW) QSL.  We are a big fan of the ARRL's LoTW so for an extra challenge we decided to we would confirm 100% of our qualifying DXCC contacts via the LoTW (and not use any paper QSL card confirmations).  This proved to be more of a challenge than we anticipated since we had to complete several contacts with many DX entities before locating a LoTW subscriber.

We also decided to make all of our contacts using transmitter power of 100W or less and with a simple wire antenna.  This meant we would not use amplifiers, towers, beam antennas for the DXCC contacts.  We were interested in demonstrating that the ARRL DXCC award is within the reach of hams with modest stations (like ours).

Today we filed our application when the 100th qualifying contact was confirmed in the LoTW.  Our award is #57,420.  What a great feeling!

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

PS: In 2012, the DXCC Desk processed 14,301 applications, comprising 1,491,661 QSOs.

© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

December 18, 2012

Edwin Howard Armstrong's Birthday December 18, 1890

The great American inventor and electrical engineer, Edwin Howard Armstrong was born this day - December 18, 1890.  Armstrong held 42 patents and invented the frequency modulation (FM) radio, hyterodyne radio, superheterodyne radio, and regengerative radio receiver.

December 8, 2012

Shortwave Program: WTWW 9480 KHz QSO Radio Show

Found an interesting shortwave broadcast today on 9480 KHz on WTWW in Tennessee, USA called, QSO Radio Show with Ted Randall.

The program was amateur radio oriented with an guest interview discussing 6 meters.  This was an excellent program.  This broadcast was ending at 21:00 UTC on 12/8/2012.

If you are looking for interesting shortwave programming in English then be sure to checkout 9480 Khz for QSO Radio Show with Ted Randall.

Yaesu FRG-100 Shortwave Receiver

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

November 30, 2012

DX Code of Conduct

  • I will listen, and listen, and then listen again before calling.
  • I will only call if I can copy the DX station properly.
  • I will not trust the DX cluster and will be sure of the DX station's call sign before calling.
  • I will not interfere with the DX station nor anyone calling and will never tune up on the DX frequency or in the QSX slot.
  • I will wait for the DX station to end a contact before I call.
  • I will always send my full call sign.
  • I will call and then listen for a reasonable interval. I will not call continuously.
  • I will not transmit when the DX operator calls another call sign, not mine.
  • I will not transmit when the DX operator queries a call sign not like mine.
  • I will not transmit when the DX station requests geographic areas other than mine.
  • When the DX operator calls me, I will not repeat my call sign unless I think he has copied it incorrectly.
  • I will be thankful if and when I do make a contact.
  • I will respect my fellow hams and conduct myself so as to earn their respect.

November 29, 2012

Christian Doppler - Birthday November 29, 1803

Today, we remember the mathematician and physicist Christian Doppler who was born on this day November 29, 1803.  Doppler proposed that the observed frequency of a wave depends on the relative speed of the source and the observer.  The Doppler effect occurring with sound waves was verified in 1845 by Buys Ballot.

Christian Doppler

Amateur radio operators encounter the Doppler effect (or Doppler shift) when working with satellite transmissions.  Satellites travel at very high speeds relative to a terrestrial observer -   The Doppler shift is particularly pronounced at the higher VHF and UHF bands.  The Doppler shift in satellite communications is also a function of the flight path.  An approaching satellite is shift higher in frequency.  As the satellite passes directly over the observer the frequency shift is zero.  Then as the satellite moves away from the observer the frequency shifts lower.

November 20, 2012

Happy Birthday Joe (WB6ACU)

Joe Walsh (WB6ACU) was born this day November 20, 1947.  Happy Birthday Joe!

November 17, 2012

EPC PSK63 QSO Party - November 18, 2012

The objective of the EPC PSK63 QSO Party is to establish as many contacts as possible between radio amateurs around the world by using the BPSK63 mode. Starting time is at 00:00 UTC, and ending time is at 24:00 UTC on Sunday 18 November, 2012.

EPC members should send signal report plus EPC membership number (example – 599 EPC00001). Please make sure that you don't separate «EPC» from the «Number», and you don't use any characters between. Please make sure that your EPC number consists of 5 digits. Other stations should send signal report plus QSO number, starting 001 (example – 599 001).

Mode BPSK63 should be designated in the report as PM and in any way differently! All times must be in UTC. All sent and received exchanges are to be logged. The Contest Committee accepts logs in the Cabrillo format ONLY. Name your Cabrillo file as your call sign (for example - mm0epc.cbr, mm0epc.txt or mm0epc.log). You should send your log upload via the Web interface: The contest name in the Cabrillo header must be «EPC-PSK63». All logs must be sent no later than 15 days after the contest (23:59 UTC 3 December 2012).

MixW statistics files by R3BB for PSK63 QSO Party:

November 16, 2012

Gunsite / Yavapai Radio Club Observe NRA Birthday November 17, 2012

Celebrate NRA's 141th birthday on November 17, 2012 as the Yavapai Amateur Radio Club operates a special-event broadcast station from the famed Gunsite Academy in Arizona. This FCC-licensed amateur station, using the call sign, K7NRA, will operate from 8AM to 5PM MST on the following frequencies: 7.250, 14.050, 14.250, and 21.335 MHz.  All amateur radio stations, especially those operated by NRA members and Gunsite alumni, are urged to participate. A unique NRA/Gunsite certificate will be sent to stations contacted for the event. For more info, visit:

November 13, 2012

Bad Behavior

The pileups on PT0S (DX Expedition to Saint Peter & Saint Paul Rocks) this weekend were a mile tall.  A friend jokingly referred to it as a, "pigpile".  Maybe "pachyderm pile" would be more descriptive.  It was huge at times.

Anarchy reigned at moments with unruly lids running wild while the "radio police" attempted ad-nauseum to clear the DX frequency with shouts of "up up" or "get it together" or "he is working split tuner-upper" or "shut up" or "why the heck do you guys call on frequency?" or "split expletive-deleted".  Do the radio police interfere more than the hams that call the DX on his frequency?  There are three steps to avoiding the transgression of calling a DX station working split:  listen, listen, and then listen.

There was an unusually high degree of malicious ankle biter interference.  It didn't amount to much and tended to be weak, feeble, and ultimately impotent.  The DX kept tossing out calls and "599" and the hams just kept dropping their calls into the cacophony.  The whole DX operation ran like a big machine right over the top of the malicious ankle biters.

An apparently disgruntled ham came on the frequency (3.780 MHz) to complain about being interfered with on a nearby frequency.  This ruse was of course designed to get a response and create a feedback loop of interference.   It did seem to draw in a few and a useless shouting match ensued.  For many, it was embarrassing to listen to their own countrymen behaving so badly.  The DX station never missed a beat while dishing out a rapid fire stream of signal reports through the entire episode.

The correct response to malicious interference of any kind is to ignore it completely.  Malice driven interference runs on an ego-powered AAA-battery.  Starved of attention the egoist and his petty interference withers and fades away.

What does all this bad behavior mean?  If you are in the glass-is-half-empty camp then perhaps this is yet another indicator of the steady decline of our civilization.  However, if you are a glass-is-half-full person then perhaps you enjoy the challenge of cracking such a chaotic pileup.  If you are in the glass-is-all-full-because-it-is-full-of-air-too camp then you perhaps recognize the incredibly superb job the PT0S DX Expedition did.

Nothing says thank you to a DX Expedition more than a donation to fund the costly endeavour.

Good DX and 73,


© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

November 7, 2012

JT-65 Calling Frequencies by Amateur Radio Band

JT-65 Calling Frequencies by Amateur Radio Band

Band Frequency (USB)
6 meters 50.276 MHz
10 meters 28.076 MHz
12 meters 24.917 MHz
15 meters 21.076 MHz
17 meters 18.102 MHz
20 meters 14.076 MHz
30 meters 10.139 MHz
40 meters 7.076 MHz
80 meters 3.576 MHz
160 meters 1.838 MHz


November 6, 2012

Scientifically Verifiable Fact: Best Antenna for Amateur Radio Use

We hams are tough customers when it comes to antennas (also known as the great interface to the universe or GITTU).  It is often the case that the superior performing antenna is the one you would like to put up next and the under-performer is the one you put up last.  Simply put, a ham is never satisfied.  For many, that is part of the attraction to radio.  A station can always be improved, modified, enhanced, augmented, tweaked, repaired, ... until the bank account is minus-zero or we are SK.

From time-to-time it is helpful to remind ourselves that the GITTU we have is better than the one we don't.  The scientifically verifiable mathematical proof of this is that you can make contacts with the GITTU you have and you cannot make contacts with the GITTU you don't have.  So get on the air and give your GITTU a workout.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

NJ2X Note:
Gentle reader, you may be wondering why we used the 5 letter acronym, "GITTU" when the generally accepted acronym practice (known as GAAP) is a TLA or Three Letter Acronym?  In our age of ever inflating bigger badder government, taxes, spending, deficits, and entitlements, the lowly TLA alphabet soup is simply passe.  The world needs 66% more of everything so the 5 letter acronym (or FLACC) is the new normal.

November 2, 2012

Project: Morton Salt Box Crystal Radio Repair (Part 1)

The October 2012 Frankenstorm Sandy brought rain, hail, snow, and high winds to Western Pennsylvania.  We decided to ride the storm out in the workshop to work on a father and son project - to return a crystal radio to use.

Frankenstorm Sandy October 29

We had built a crystal radio and revived an antique headset a few years ago as a school science fair project.  We built the crystal radio on a breadboard and included an air variable capacitor, a 1N34A germanium diode, and fahnestock clips.

Fahnestock Clip

The Fahnestock clip was invented in 1907 is a classic simple wire connector that is both perfectly functional and looks great in a crystal radio breadboard project.

The 1N34A germanium diode starts to conduct around 0.1 volts.  This makes it a very good choice for use as a detector in crystal radios.

Diode Schematic Symbol

The breadboard was repurposed from an old sports award.  We used a belt sander to remove the finish and engraving.  The process yielded a breadboard with an attractive two-tone appearance.  This is a great way to save money too.

The air variable capacitor has an adjustable capacitance from 0 to 365 Pf.  These are not easy to find.  This type of air variable capacitor is worth searching for since they work very well and dress up the appearance of the breadboard.  They can also be salvaged from vintage junk radios.  The more common miniature tuning capacitors will work fine, though they don't looks as nice in an open breadboard project.

Variable Capacitor Schematic Symbol
With the passage of time, our home-brew crystal radio had fallen into disrepair after being packed, stacked, and moved around.  A crystal radio on a bread board is somewhat delicate and so it was no surprise that it was in need of a little TLC.

A crystal radio is a relatively simple device which makes it easy to troubleshoot.  To repair it, KC2VSR reconnected a few broken connections with a soldering iron.  We attached the radio to an antenna and ground and we were able to tune in a couple of strong local stations.

Crystal Radio and Vintage Headphones

Crystal Radio

In part 2, we experiment with the radio.

Good DX and 73, NJ2X

© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

October 28, 2012

Considerations For A New Antenna - Part 2: Installing a 6m Antenna

In "Considerations For A New Antenna - Part 1" we discussed the criteria and considerations for setting up new antennas in our new location.  In this article, we share how we went about setting up our first antenna in the new location.

We decided our first effort would be to set up a 6m ground plane antenna on a mast mounted on top our chimney.  6m is a wonderful band offering DX possibilities along with access to local repeaters.

For this project we would need:
  1. 6m ground plane antenna
  2. Chimney mast mounting kit
  3. Standard 1.5 inch x 5 foot antenna mast
  4. Low-loss 50-ohm coaxial cable (we use Bury-FLEX 1.1 dB of attenuation /100 FT at 50 Mhz)
  5. UHF connectors
  6. 8-foot copper clad steel ground rod
  7. Lightning arrestor (we use ICE coaxial lightning/EMP suppressors)
  8. Solder
  9. Soldering iron
  10. Electrical tape
  11. Self-sealing silicone rubber tape
  12. Ladder
  13. Rope and bucket
  14. Crescent wrench
  15. Leather work gloves
  16. Pair of HT's (optional)


In days gone past, items such as chimney mast mount and masts were commonly available in local hardware or electronics stores serving the needs of customers with TV antennas.  We went shopping in local area stores and found none had chimney mast mounts or even 5 foot antenna masts; though, they did have an 8-foot ground rod.  The ubiquity of cable TV seems to have reduced the need for TV antennas.  Thankfully, these items are still available through Internet retailers.

We ordered a Ronard chimney mast mounting kit and Winegard 5 foot mast and they arrived quickly.  The Winegard mast was more substantial than expected.  The mast was 18 gauge steel tubing without any visible seem.  The Ronard chimney mast mounting kit included stainless steel straps and heavy duty hardware.  The chimney mast mounting kit included very basic instructions for setting up the straps.

We had picked up an older 6m ground plane antenna brand new in the box at a ham fest several years ago for $20.00.  We had used this antenna with a 18 foot painters pole for an easy-to-setup ARRL Field Day antenna.  We used our MFJ-269 antenna analyzer to cut the antenna centered around the SSB DX calling frequency of 50.125 Mhz (see 6m band plan below).

We also had a lightning suppressor, electrical tape, self-sealing silicone tape, coaxial cable, UHF connectors, and the tools already available in our shack.

Safety First

Amateur radio is generally a very safe activity.  There are potential risks to consider and take the necessary precautions.  Among these is coming in contact with high voltages and currents, falling from heights, and having something fall on you.  Our motto is, "safety first" and this mindset helps us avoid accidents.

Installation Preparation

The first step was call the local utilities and request them to identify buried cables and gas lines.  They came out within a few days and marked everything clearly with spray paint and flags.

We next surveyed the work areas looking for hazards. It is critical before starting to make sure that any new antenna installation cannot come in contact with overhead wires or buried utilities.  We confirmed that no hazards were present.

We assembled all the parts and tools at the base of the chimney and enlisted a helper.  This job could be done by one man; however, two hams are better than one.  It is considerably safer to work with a helper since ladders and heights are involved.

We also brought out a pair of 2m HT's to aid with communication between the roof-top work and the ground-work.  This is so much effective than yelling back-and-forth at the top of your lungs and being misunderstood.  We are hams after all.  There is typically a fair amount of wind noise up on a roof that can interfere with being heard without the aid of a radio.  This helped avoid a comedy exchange, "I said, send up a WRENCH not go sit on the BENCH!!!" or "What was that?  Did you say, GO! or NO!?"

Installing the Chimney Mast Mount

The Ronard chimney mast mount included directions for fastening the stainless steel strap to the strapping clip.  However, no other directions were provided.  The mount itself is a fairly simple device and perhaps assembly is self evident.  Installation is another matter.  Installing the mount took a bit of trial-and-error to get it right.  Here are a few things we learned:
  • Wear leather gloves when handling the stainless steel strap.  The strapping is razor sharp.  We didn't think to bring gloves to the roof top and by the time the installation was complete our hands had a dozen or so nicks.
  • Pre-bend the strapping into shape before placing around the chimney.  The strapping wants to return to its coiled shape unless you counter this with new bends.  It is much easier to handle the strap when it is in the approximate shape of the chimney than if it is in the approximate shape of a tightly wound coil.
  • Wire cutters won't cut stainless steel strap.  Perhaps there is a better tool?  We didn't discover this until we were on the roof so we ended up using metal fatigue to break the strapping in the desired place. 
  • Prepare the strap and strapping clips on the ground.  If we had it to do over again we would pre-cut the strap to the desired length and pre-install the strapping clips all on the ground.  This would avoid the possibility of losing one of the small clips on or over the side of the roof.  It would also be easier and provide more convenient access to tools in the workshop.
  • We kept our hands free while climbing the ladder and roof and used a rope and bucket to hoist up parts and tools from the ground.  Here is our helper made the biggest contribution.

Installing the 6m Ground Plane Antenna

Attaching the mast and ground plane antenna was the easiest part of the installation.
  • Build the antenna on the ground.  The antenna has 5 main parts that needed to be assembled.  Once assembled the antenna is light and somewhat bulky.  We choose to build the antenna on the ground for ease and safety.
  • Hoist up tools to the roof with the aid of a bucket and a line.  Communicate with the helper on the ground with an HT.  Make sure the helper stands well away from the roof line or where anything could fall.
  • Hoist the mast from the ground to the roof with a line.  We passed the line through the mast from one end to the other.  We tied a wooden dowel to the rope at the end of the mast and hoisted it up.  This kept the mast in the same orientation as the line and made it very easy.
  • Hoist the antenna from the ground to the roof with a line.  We tied the rope to the bottom of the antenna and also at the top.  This allowed for an easy hoist in a vertical orientation to the roof.
  • Hoist the coaxial cable from the ground to the roof with a line.  We tied the rope to the coaxial cable and hoisted it up with ease.  Take care there are no twists in the coax that could turn into a kink (bad for coax) while hoisting.
  • Seal the coaxial connection.  Some people prefer coax seal.  We prefer applying a couple of tight layers of good quality electrical tape followed by a wrapping with self-sealing silicone tape.  This will prevent water intrusion and corrosion. 
  • Secure the coax to the mast with electrical tape or cable ties.  This prevents the coaxial cable from bouncing around against the mast in high winds.  Provides some strain relief as well.
6m Ground Plane Vertical Antenna Close Up

Installing RF Grounding System

We used a step ladder to stand on to drive the 8ft ground rod with a 8 pound hammer.  This made it easy to keep the hammer on-target as it went into the ground.  We switched to a larger sledge to drive the last foot or so.

We attached an ICE suppressor bracket with 2 ICE lightning suppressors mounted to the top of the ground round.  One lightning suppressor for use on 6m and the other for an HF antenna.

We placed the lightning suppressor and cabling within an enclosure to provide some protection from the elements.

Lightening arrestor system

First 6m QSO

We connected the cabling to our Kenwood TS-480SAT and powered up.  We had a local Pittsburgh 6m repeater already programmed into memory (51.740 Mhz with a PL tone of 100.00 Hz) so we dialed it up and found a group of hams in a ragchew.  So far so good on receive.  We were wondering if the antenna would tune up and transmit?  We hit, "tune" and sure enough it tuned immediately.  This was a good sign that everything was in order.  We waited for a pause and then transmitted giving our call.  One of the hams came back immediately acknowledging our call and inviting us into the group.  Voila!  6m ground plane vertical antenna project success!

6m Ground Plane Antenna mounted on chimney

Since our first QSO, we have enjoined joining into the Pittsburgh 6m repeater net and finding a few other local 6m repeaters we can reach.  We are also eagerly awaiting a 6m opening when we can give 6m DX a workout with the new antenna and make progress toward our ARRL 6m DXCC award.

The 6m band is the "magic band" and has something to offer everyone - from DX'ing, repeaters, ragchew, CW, digital, ...

ARRL 6 Meter Band Plan, 50.0-54.0 MHz 50.000-50.100 CW and beacons
50.060-50.080 Automatically controlled beacons
50.100-50.600 SSB 50.125 SSB DX calling frequency 50.200 SSB domestic calling frequency (Note: Suggest QSY up for local & down for long-distance QSOs)
50.600-51.000 Experimental and special modes 50.700 RTTY calling frequency
50.800-50.980 Radio Control (R/C) channels, 10 channels spaced 20 kHz apart (new)
51.000-51.100 Pacific DX window
51.000-52.000 Newly authorized FM repeater allocation
51.100-52.000 FM simplex
52.000-52.050 Pacific DX window
52.000-53.000 FM repeater and simplex
53.000-54.000 Present radio control (R/C) channels, 10 channels spaced 100 kHz apart

Shortwave Reception

An unexpected side benefit was the antenna's receive capabilities.  While tuning around HF we discovered the antenna performed nicely as a shortwave receive antenna.  We were surprised how well it received shortwave stations.  We attribute the quiet performance to having a good RF ground and installing the antenna above the roof line.  In the past, we have always used horizontal wire antennas (i.e. long wire, dipole, and fan-dipoles) for shortwave reception.  This antenna has given us a new appreciation for a VHF vertical for shortwave reception.  This is also something to keep in mind when in an emergency situation - a VHF antenna is an asset for both VHF and HF reception.



The NJ2X Kindle Edition is now available.

© Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael W. Maher and NJ2X.COM with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

October 27, 2012

CQ World Wide DX Contest

10m opened up world wide to the great enjoyment of hams participating in this weekend's CQ World Wide DX Contest.  We joined in the fun and participated in the contest with our modest station.  The QSO's were plentiful.  We completed 170 QSO's with 97 countries earning a final score of 47,854.

The cold and wet weather provided additional motivation to stay in the shack.  No sense in getting to know "Sandy" the so called Frankenstorm any more than on a first name basis.

We rather liked the Italian IO5O webpage with the club's live streaming video of their participation in the contest.  A unique way to view radio.  Thanks for the contact Ten-Fifty Contest Group.



October 26, 2012

Warm Glow of Linear Amplifier Tubes

Autumn is wonderful time of year.  No better way to warm up the shack then by powering up the gear and getting on the air.  We didn't need a flash when we took this photo of these Ameritron linear amplifier tubes at work.

Warm Glow From Ameritron Linear Amplifier Tubes

October 24, 2012

Antenna Coaxial Cable Conduit Fill Considerations

Conduit fill is the percent of the area inside the conduit taken up by cables.  Conduit fill is an important consideration when selecting and planning your antenna projects since it is not possible to use 100% of the conduit's area.  There is no sense in going through the expense and effort of trenching, laying conduit, and pulling your antenna coaxial cable only to find later that the conduit is too small to support the area consumed by the cables.
We recently ran across two handy Internet resources related to conduit fill: Conduit Fill Chart and Conduit Fill Calculator.

Here is an example of the conduit fill calculators output:

The conduit fill is: 17.9%

Based On:
Conduit Type: Rigid PVC Conduit, Schedule 40
* Conduit Size: 2 inch(es)
Internal Diameter: 2.047 (in.)
Conductor #1: 3 conductors with an outside diameter of .5 inches.
Conductor #2: 0 conductors with an outside diameter of 0 inches.

**Warning: There is some probability of jamming.



October 19, 2012

55th annual Jamboree on the Air (JOTA) is October 20-21

The 55th annual Jamboree on the Air (JOTA) is October 20-21. This 48-hour event runs from 0000 (local time) on Saturday, October 20 (right at midnight Friday) through midnight (local time) on Sunday, October 21. JOTA is an opportunity for Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Girl Guides from all over the world to experience the magic and excitement of Amateur Radio.

Radio amateurs do not have to be registered to get on the air during JOTA. In addition to the World Scout Frequencies, the BSA has listed a US frequency guide that includes frequencies for 80-6 meters (SSB, CW and PSK31), 2 meters, 70 cm and D-STAR, as well as dedicated IRLP and EchoLink nodes.

In our local Pittsburgh area, the Skyview Radio Society has organized JOTA events including a radio merit badge class.  This is sure to be a wonderful event and everyone involved is looking forward to it.

Be sure to get on the air this weekend and make some contacts with scouts (the future of amateur radio).

October 14, 2012

How To: Lock Together Anderson Powerpole Connectors

Anderson Powerpoles are a wonderfully useful invention for radio amateurs.  They are connecting power to more and more amateur radio equipment every day and have become the defacto standard for 12v power connection.  Interestingly, radio manufactures are still catching up on this trend.

When two Anderson Powerpole connectors are connected together they snap together but are not locked.  This allows quick connect / disconnect and works just fine in many situations.  However, there are several situations where locking the connectors together is required.
  • The power cable is subject to movement which could work the connection apart.
  • The power cable with a vertical orientation and connection where gravity could pull the connection apart.
  • The power cable and connection is being pulled during routing which could cause a disconnect.
There are commercially available retention clips to lock Powerpole connectors together.  These cost around $0.60 / clip.  Hams are nothing if not thrifty.  Why buy expensive clips when there is an alternative way to lock together Anderson Powerpole connectors for next to nothing?

The secret is to use a suitably sized wire tie.  Wire ties are cheap, fast, easy, and work perfectly to lock Powerpoles together.

Select a wire tie slim enough to pass through the small holes on the Anderson Powerpole connectors.
Anderson PowerPole connectors and wire tie

Just slip the wire tie through the holes on each Anderson PowerPole. 
Anderson Powerpole connectors locked together with aid of a wire tie

Voila!  The two Anderson Powerpole connectors locked together.  To disconnect just give the wire tie a quick snip with wire cutters.


See related articles on NJ2X.COM:

October 6, 2012

Eye Catching Store Front

We stumbled onto an eye catching store front window display in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario recently. 
Loved the stacks of boat anchor gear and brick HT's.  The next day we returned to Sonic Northern Group during business hours and met the manager, Ken.  Not surprisingly, Ken is a ham and collector of classic radio gear.  We had an interesting chat about amateur radio in the area.

By the way this article was composed on an Android device as an experiment. 

October 5, 2012

EPC Russia DX Contest 2012

EPC Russia DX Contest 2012. The contest starts at 04:00 UTC 06.10.2012 and ends at 04:00 UTC 06.10.2012. The objective of the contest is to establish as many contacts as possible between radio amateurs around the world and radio amateurs in Russia on BPSK63 mode. The Contest is annually held at the first weekend in October in BPSK63 mode on 160, 80, 40, 20, 15 and 10 meters bands. Every station can be contacted once per band. The operator may change the bands without any restrictions. The output power should not exceed 10 watts on 160 meters and 100 watts on other bands. Only one transmitted signal is permitted at any time.

September 28, 2012

FT-8800R Back On The Air

We finished reprogramming our FT-8800R dual band mobile radio tonight.  After installing it we turned it on, hit scan, and immediately found a local net to join in.  Programming software makes the job so much easier than manual entry via the radio controls and menus.  What a bother it would be to upload several hundred frequencies manually.

In this day and age of cheap and plentiful memory and internet enabled devices, it is fairly easy to image radios in the near future coming pre-programmed with software that automatically keeps them synched with all repeater information - anywhere in the world.  Why not?  Since we are dreaming a little.  How about unlimited text labelling for each memory.  6 characters simply doesn't cut it.  Why only 6?  Why not 66, or 266, or even unlimited?  The memory certainly wouldn't add much cost.

September 25, 2012

NJ2X.COM 1st Anniversary

Today is the 1st anniversary of our website NJ2X.COM.  It has been a year of learning for us and we enjoyed the experience a great deal.  Thank you to our regular readers for your support.  We hope you will help spread the word and share our link with others interested in amateur radio, ham radio, and shortwave radio related topics. 

Our free daily feature, "FCC Technician Exam Question Of The Day" has been very enjoyable to write and we hope it has helped at least a few people to prepare for and earn their ticket.

We particularly enjoyed preparing cartoons for our "Ab Absurdo" amateur humor feature.  It was rather fun coming up with radio related absurdities and translating them into cartoons.  This surprisingly turned out to be a very relaxing and creative activity to engage in.  Hope we gave a few chuckles too.

In case you didn't notice the link on our home page, we offer the NJ2X Kindle Edition for those using the popular Kindle devices.

Looking forward to another year of writing articles for NJ2X.COM and helping others interested in amateur radio, ham radio, and shortwave radio.



September 23, 2012

Soldering PL-259 Connectors

One of the most common tasks around the shack is soldering PL-259 connectors onto coaxial cable.  Here is an excellent video explaining how to solder a PL-259 connector onto RG213 coaxial cable correctly and easily in under 6 minutes.

NJ2X tips:
  • Tin the center conductor if stranded - keeps the strand together
  • Test with a continuity tester to confirm continuity and no shorts
  • Avoid excessive heat which can deform the dielectric and change impedance and capacitance characteristics

September 22, 2012

Michael Faraday Birthday September 22, 1791

Michael Faraday was born on this day September 22, 1791.  Faraday researched and experimented with electricity. He eventually showed that a magnetic field could induce a current in a coil of wire, which became the basis for the generation of electricity.  His theory of electromagnetic induction eventually became "Faraday's Law".  He invented the earliest electrical motors (homopolar motor) which would prove to be one of the most important inventions in history.

Faraday experimented with sending electrical currents through chemicals, discovering that molecules could be separated into gases and defining principles for the laws of electrolysis.  Faraday was prolific and engaged with with the study of optics, magnetism, environmental science, education, light houses, and other interests.

The SI unit of capacitance, the farad, is named in his honour as is the Faraday Cage.

September 18, 2012

G4HFQ Software - Excellent Experience

We had a really great experience recently with G4HFQ Software.  We needed a little assistance with a program that we had purchased from Bob back in 2008 for programming our trusty FT-8800.  We sent an email and Bob responded almost immediately with just the right help.  Bob's software works very well and the service is tops.  Highly recommended.