Thursday, October 31, 2013

Spark-gap transmitter demonstrated at Kingstown Yacht Regatta anniversary event by EI5EM/EI115MAR

This is a short video showing Tony EI5EM keying an old spark-gap transmitter at the Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire. He was sending the callsign EI115MAR in celebration of the 115th anniversary of the first occasion on which wireless was used to report live on a sporting event. That event was the Kingstown Yacht Regatta in July 1898. Tony is a member of Howth Martello Radio Group. During this demonstration no antenna was attached.

Some nice eQSL cards in my inbox today

I am delighted with this one. Austral was a brand new DXCC for me this year and now I have it confirmed both on eQSL and Logbook of the World.
Guatemala is not that common on the bands. I need a lot of slots with this DXCC. I am glad to have my digital QSO with Emmanuel confirmed.
This was a contest QSO. Philippe in French Polynesia was calling for Europe only at the time. He was still being called by lots of US ops, but I managed to make it through the QRM. Shortly after this he started working USA only so I was happy to get through when I did.
This was a nice QSO into Saipan, Northern Marianas, with Matt, signing as WH0/K0BBC. We have seen some nice action on the high bands this past couple of weeks. Long may it last!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Licenced four years ago today - what a wonderful hobby we have

This was me with my test results the day I received them.
Four years ago today I got a very special phone call. I had just left work and was on my way home on a Friday evening, thinking that I would have to spend another long weekend waiting for good news. But a phone call came. It was a Dublin number. I answered. It was Derek from Comreg. He was sending out my licence in the post, but was ringing to tell me my callsign. I can remember it clearly. He spoke very slowly . . . "Echo . . . India . . . Eight . . . Golf . . .  (and then an indescribably long pause!) . . . HOTEL . . . bravo". He asked for an email address so he could send a PDF copy of my licence and I could operate straight away. I was elated. I thanked him generously and bid him a good weekend.

I hung up the phone, and immediately called out through the Dundalk 2 metre repeater. Tony EI4DIB came back to me for my first QSO as a licenced ham, and at that moment a great adventure began. Following years of interest in the hobby of radio, I was finally a fully fledged radio amateur.

My first ham station, pictured in winter 2009.
The four years since then have flown by. I can remember using my Icom 718 and a half-size G5RV which was only about 12 feet off the ground during that first couple of months in winter 2009. Sunspots were non existent, and the bands were closed every day by the time I got home from work. I had only 40m SSB to sustain me through the winter, because the half-size G5RV wouldn't tune there. And I hadn't yet learned CW. Soon, I had a Kenwood 570, and in early 2010 I got the Butternut HF6V up and running with the help of Tony. I started to learn CW. It took me about a month, maybe a little more, and by February 2010 I was already working contacts on CW. I took the test at Coolmine that month, with my lifelong friend Brian EI7GVB. We both passed. I became EI2KC on March 5th 2010 and within a few days he had received his new callsign - EI4KC.

The station grew, as did the antenna system. An MA5B minibeam followed, as did 40m and 30m inverted vees. The DXCC count went up steeply. I was working far-off places with a hundred watts, morning, noon and night. Stuff I could only have dreamed of. From a small garden I was, quite literally, working the world. I was following a passion which had been ignited when I was a teenager, and my older brother was a CB operator, and later a ham. I worked DX on 11m using an old Silver Rod from my boyhood home. Now, I was back chasing DX again, years later, and feeling good.

One of the nicest aspects of the hobby though is the camaraderie and the friendship. I have so many friends in the hobby; people of all tastes and interests. Some of them love HF and DXing. Some of them don't. Some of them are shortwave listeners. Some are VHF enthusiasts. Some of them live in far-off countries. Yes, ham radio unites people, across political, geographical and religious divides. Everyone has their niche in ham radio. But all of them are friends, and in the long nights of winter, and even in the balmy days of summer, there's always someone on the other end of your CQ, waiting for a QSO or a good ragchew.

Morse code opened up the world to me. This is the J-28
morse key which I used to learn CW, borrowed from EI2HX.
Four years on, with DXCC worked on eight bands and a total of 295 DXCC in the bag, I'd never have thought I would do so well so quickly. I guess it's the passion. I have been stuck in some horrendous pile-ups, for hours on end, rattling out my callsign on a morse paddle like there's no tomorrow, fighting with the rest of the world for that glorious "5NN" and a new country in the log. I have lost some battles, and I have won some. Thankfully, I've won more than I've lost. What a terrific hobby this is. We can communicate using just a piece of wire or metal and the ionosphere, contacting people in some of the most remote places on earth. Oh yes, this hobby is glorious. Who'd have thought I would contact someone on a rock jutting out of the ocean called Malpelo? Who'd have thought I'd work Pitcairn Island of 'Mutiny on the Bounty' fame, on 80 metres CW, in a narrow two-minute greyline opening? Who'd have thought I'd chat with people who have gone to the ends of the earth for the hobby - in Antarctica, Marshall Islands, Western Kiribati, Jan Mayen Island, Sable Island, Galapagos, South Cook, Austral Islands, Kermadec, Yemen, Somalia, Myanmar, Marion Island . . . the list goes on and on and on.

And this coming month, with any luck, I will be battling through more pile-ups, for rare and far away places such as Wake Atoll, Juan Fernandez, Banaba and more.

But in addition to all this DXing, I have been involved in other areas of the hobby. The local clubs are a great source of friendship and social interaction with other radio enthusiasts. I have been involved in contests and portable operations and even an IOTA dxpedition. I am on the committee of the Irish Radio Transmitters Society, and write the HF Happenings column for the society's magazine, Echo Ireland. It really has been a fantastic four years. Here are some of my stats: I've had 19,163 QSOs. I've worked 301 DXCC (6 deleted) and confirmed 280 (4 deleted). I've worked 287 DXCC on CW, 256 on phone, and 131 on digi modes.

Enjoying a bit of craic during AREN (Amateur Radio
Emergency Network) training with Derek EI7CHB and Pat EI2HX.
Ham radio brings the world into your home. And far from being an old fashioned, outdated pastime, amateur radio is very much a modern pursuit, encompassing technologies that are under constant development. OK, we may be the only ones left in the world using morse code. But we also combine computers with radio for genuine experiments in telecommunications. Some of us speak with astronauts on the International Space Station. We broadcast images on amateur television. We bounce signals off the moon. We push new horizons all the time, using weak signal propagation modes to make contacts that were previously impossible. Some of us make our own radios and antennas. Others monitor the bands for incursions and illegal activity. Many of us are involved in emergency communications, showing that the hobby has a civic and community side. In the event of disaster, radio amateurs provide communications when mobile phone networks and power grids are down.

What a wonderful hobby we have. Thank you to all those who've been there along the way. Thank you to all my ham friends, in Drogheda, in Ireland, and all over the world. It's been a beautiful journey so far. And we have so much more to look forward to.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Amid all the noise and QRM, Marion Island is in my log!!!

Marion Island.
I've spent a good bit of time at the radio this weekend, hunting interesting ones on the 10 metre band. 28 Mhz has been in terrific condition for the CQWW 2013 contest, and the band is packed from 28.200 up to and above 29.000. I worked PJ6A in Saba and St. Eustasius as a new DXCC on 10 metres (#220) yesterday, having spent a long time trying him.

Today, I really didn't expect any great action. I knew I would get a few nice ones into the log. However, what I did not expect was for ZS8C on Marion Island to pop up - and for me to be able to hear him on my hexbeam amid all the QRM. He was very light, and there was slow QSB on him such that he was disappearing into the noise for a minute or two at a time.

But he came back up again and I called him, and pretty soon he was giving me "Echo India Two Kilo Charlie, five nine, three eight"! I had him! When I called him back, I was QRMed by an Italian station. So I need to give my "Roger roger, five nine one four" a few times to be sure.

So I worked DXCC #221 on 10 metres and #295 overall, completely unexpectedly. Absolutely delighted!

Edit: I have now received an email from Carson ZS8C to confirm that I am in his log!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

10 metres wide open for CQWW SSB 2013!

Here is a selection of videos showing some of the action on 10 metres (28 Mhz) today for the CQWW SSB 2013 contest:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

What a night for D4 Cape Verde

My log showing a number of new slots with D4 Cape Verde
It's been an interesting night here for D4 Cape Verde. I heard D44AC on 80m SSB and tried giving him a call. Despite a sustained EU simplex pile-up, I managed to eventually get through using my Butternut vertical. Chuffed with the new band slot, I thought that was a great achievement using very limited equipment. But the night was only beginning! Shortly, I saw D44AC spotted on 160m. I could hear him on 1.822 but he was looking for Japan only. After a minute he went silent. I heard nothing for two minutes. Then I decided to call blind. I sent 'D44AC de EI2KC' and immediately he came back with 'EI2KC 5NN'. I had logged Cape Verde on top band using a severely compromised antenna - my nested 80/40/30m inverted vees which are only 9 metres at the apex. This was DXCC #68 for me on top band. I had worked CN2R as #67 on Saturday night.

A short time later I saw D44AC spotted on 20m SSB and gave a shout there and was soon in the log for yet another new band slot. I was on a roll !

Also on 20 metres, but this time on RTTY, was D44TXT. I decided to join the pile-up and at 10:21pm local time I had bagged a new country on digital modes, #131 on digi. I was convinced that would be my lot. But no - D44AC was on 40m SSB. I joined the pile-up there and soon enough I was in the log again, and had bagged yet another band slot. This time I found the Butternut vertical slightly better for hearing him than the inverted v.

I am delighted that I have also worked a number of new slots with TN2MS Congo and C82DX Mozambique. A good day on the bands.

B9/BY9GA (zone 23) China booming into Ireland

Friday, October 18, 2013

Reverse Beacon Network reports for my 80m inverted v

Last night I decided to see how my signal was getting out on my new 80m dog-legged inverted v antenna. I put out a CQ on 3.150 Mhz and waited to see what the reports were like on the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN), which is a network of automated skimmer stations automatically spotting what they hear on the bands on the CW mode. 

I was quite impressed with the results. I was being heard in different parts of Europe, including Germany, Norway, Sweden, Hungary and Slovenia. Indeed I have worked a couple of stations in the USA using just 100 watts. The inverted v is definitely hearing better than my Butternut HF6V, but I am in a housing estate and the band is still quite noisy. I have made a few contacts on 160m (top band), although due to the low apex height of about 9 metres or so (30ft), I suspect that I won't be making many contacts on top band, where the nested v system (80m/40m/30m) has a 3:1 SWR at the bottom end of 160m. However, I will hope to enjoy a nice bit of activity on 80m CW during the winter months. I still have the Butternut in place, and it is currently tuned to the top end of 80m, so I can try to enjoy the best of both worlds!!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Guantanamo worked on RTTY and on 10m!

I am delighted to have logged KG4, Guantanamo Bay, not once, but twice on the amateur bands in the past 24 hours. Yesterday, I was able to work KG4HF on 15 metres RTTY as a brand new country on digital modes at around tea time. I was using the hexbeam, pointing west. I wasn't calling too long, maybe 15 minutes, and was chuffed to make the contact.

This evening, I am hearing KG4WV nice and strong on 10 metres SSB, and with a small split of just 2 KC up, I was able to nab him in a short time running 400 watts from the Acom 1000 into the hexbeam. The above video shows the signal strength of the KG4 station immediately after I worked him.

Edit: I have since worked KG4HF on 17 metres RTTY as well.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

H7H Nicaragua worked on 80 metres SSB

With the inverted v up in the air for 80m, I have been getting up early this past few mornings to try to nab any DX that might be floating around. Imagine my surprise when I saw H7H spotted on 3.790, on the top end of 80m, on SSB! My "vee" will only tune on the CW end of the band, so I was unable to use it. However, thanks to the large coil at the bottom of my Butternut vertical, I am able to tune that antenna to any part of the 80m band. I went out, spanner in hand, and opened the nut that keeps the clasp closed and stretched the coil downwards to get resonance on the top end of the band.

Soon enough, I was calling H7H with the linear on, giving it 400 watts. He was about a 5 and 5, and was obviously struggling with high noise because it was taking him ages to hear anyone. My friend Seamus EI3KE was calling him and when H7H said "EI3 again" it took ages for Seamus to make the QSO. But he made it. My immediate thought was: "I have some hope!" H7H then worked a couple of G stations. Again, it took him quite a while to copy each call correctly.

I began calling again 5 Khz down, and within a short time I heard the magic words: "Who is the Echo India Two?" Again, it took a bit of perseverance to get through. There were several overs before the call was copied correctly. But I made it! A rare contact on 80m SSB. Most of my DX contacts on that band are on CW. To make the QSO on the Butternut was a nice treat.

It was a bit ironic that, only three days after putting up the inverted v, here I was working DX on the Butternut! Ah well, it's nice to have the option. And it's good to be working DX from this small garden!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The challenges of 80 metre operation from a small garden

Regular readers of this blog will already know that I operate from a small garden. You will all know that this hasn't prevented or deterred me from working DXCC on every band from 80 metres through 10 metres. My lowly Butternut HF6V, which is 26 feet tall, and ground mounted in a corner of the garden near the wall, has enabled me to operate in a limited capacity on 80m. Through last winter, especially as a result of my participation in the CQWW CW contest in late November, I was able to finally get 100 countries confirmed on that band on LoTW.

But I have never been able to enjoy good operation on 80m because the Butternut is too short and therefore limited in what it can hear. It gets out reasonably well for the DX stations, and the low angle of radiation definitely helps.

A photograph of my nested inverted vees, with labels.
Just this week, I decided to put back up the 80m inverted V, off the same feedpoint as the Vees on 30m and 40m. From previous experience, I knew this would involve some serious dog-legging. (For non amateurs, this means making the wire antenna "turn a corner", so to speak, because there isn't enough room for a straight run of wire that's 66 feet long on each leg. One leg - the "reflector" - is able to get a run down along the side of the house, as far as the gate pillar at the front, although about three feet of it still needs to be dog legged.

The other leg - the "transmit" leg - runs down above the back wall of the garden, and then dog-legs up the side wall of the garden to a point at the back wall of the house under the eave. From there, it is dog-legged again by about three feet and tied off. And the mast (insert word "pole" here!) is only 30 feet at the apex.

It's far from ideal, I know. I bet some of you are trying to picture this all in your head and wondering how I've managed to defy the laws of physics, and indeed the laws of effective radiation of RF fields. So how's it working?

The reflector leg of the 80m inverted v dipole runs down
between the houses and is tied off (dog-legged) at a gate pillar.
Here's a summary of the contacts made last night on CW using just 100 watts: PI4EME, US8UX, EI3HMB, HA5OV, IK6DIN, YU9CF, EI6IL, F5TVG/P, HB9FBA, EI7BA, S51FZ, GM3ZLC, EI2EO, UT8MM, G4LEM, PA1MUC and HB30OK. So it's getting out, as far as Ukraine. Hardly a comprehensive test of its abilities, but the reports coming back were generally 579 or 599 or 599 plus! The previous morning, I had worked N8NA on 100w on CW, so that wasn't bad either, but it's likely that he's got bigger antennas than me.

Time will tell if it's up to the job of making more distant contacts. I will run 400 watts when conditions improve and the band quietens a bit - the QRN here can be s9 at times.

Interestingly, the 80/40/30m nested V system also has some resonance on the lower portion of the 160m band. When I say "some", I mean about 3:1 at best, maybe 3.5:1. It might allow me a limited amount of operation on that band over the next couple of months. I may figure out a way to tune it better for 160m. We will see.

In the meantime, I will keep you posted as to the performance of this compromise antenna system.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Yes!!! Austral Islands worked on 30 metres

It's definitely worth getting out of bed in the mornings!! I got up at 7.30am to see if there was any action on 80 metres, where I have had recent early morning successes with the likes of PJ4 and H7H. With not much happening there (H7H was on 3.520 but already logged this week), I saw TX5D, a suitcase dxpedition to Austral Islands, spotted on 30 metres (10 Mhz). So I QSYd to his frequency and was surprised to hear him coming in strong. I had the linear on, and hit him with the 400 watts, up just 1.15 kcs. Within a short time, he was calling "EI2C?" I gave the call a couple of times, but I knew I was being QRMed because I could hear it with the split on between my dits and dahs. Then he said "Only EI2C". It took a few more attempts, but eventually I could hear him coming back with the magic "EI2KC EI2KC 5NN BK". Oh yes!! I gave him "RRR 5NN TU". That's only the second time I've ever worked Austral Islands, the first being on 17m CW this past summer. Nice to get a rare one into the log, especially when battling with the QRM from the rest of the EU. Above is a video taken a couple of minutes after I had worked him.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

TO2TT Mayotte dxpedition on 15 metres SSB

A short video of the TO2TT on 15m SSB calling for outside Europe. This was shortly after I had worked them for the eighth time. Great dxpedition to Mayotte, and relatively easy to work from Ireland. I have enjoyed chasing both TO2TT and H7H (Nicaragua) during the past few days.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Need help with my next book

The cover of my new novella, 'Land
of the Ever-Living Ones'
Hello all. Please forgive this departure from normal service, but many of you will know that I have a huge interest in writing, and in ancient Ireland and myths and monuments and astronomy. My third book (and my first work of fiction) is almost ready to go to print. It's called 'Land of the Ever-Living Ones'.

Land of the Ever-Living Ones is an extraordinary dialogue between an old man and a young boy that reaches into cosmic and spiritual realms. In this wide-ranging conversation, the man takes the boy on a journey into his own ancestral past, and through lesson, metaphor, story and dream, creates for him a stunning insight into his spiritual existence, his quest for eternity and his experiences of the otherworld.

I will be self-publishing the book both as a print edition and as an eBook for Amazon Kindle. In order to get the printed version done, I need to try to raise some money for this purpose. I have created a page on my Mythical Ireland website where you can donate any amount of money towards this venture, using PayPal or a credit or Visa card. I would be most grateful to my amateur radio friends and followers for any contribution you can make towards this cost. (Estimated currently at €1,500). Here's the link:

Thank you for your support. EI2KC.