Archive for the ‘Blog Post’ Category

Link To WA5VJB Cheap Yagi Designs + Add’l Antenna/Feedline Thoughts

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

4pm Thur.

Been a most productive day at kc9bqa.com.   Nov. 10, 2016 has been the best day in several years, perhaps.  I’ve made 7-8 posts today.  If you’re a regular visitor and a lot of these posts are redundant for you, please scan the post headlines and grab what interests you.   If you’re visiting and you would like to share this info with other hams, by all means, please do so.  I don’t represent myself as an authority, I’m more of an enthusiast.  I hope to get guys interested enough that they will start to do their own research and keep learning from other sources.

I promised a post about the WA5VJB Cheap Yagis for 144, 222, 432, 902 and 1296 MHz.  There’s even a few antenna plans for the satellite bands in this link too.   If you have some homebrewer in you or have elmers or buddies who like projects here’s a fun way to save $$ on antennas.
Go to:  http://www.wa5vjb.com/yagi-pdf/cheapyagi.pdf

If you can follow the detailed plans, you will end up with modest yagis that work well.    Guys I know have made these antennas and have been very pleased.   I am not a homebrewer so don’t ask me for further details.   I’m just saying that these WA5VJB Cheap Yagis are proven performers, if you can homebrew.   They are not DX monsters, but they are no joke, either.  They would also make a great project for a club to work on.
I will also add that someday, I hope you want to get out even farther and you will move beyond the Cheap Yagis.  Doubling your boom length (as long as you can do it safely) really make a big difference.

That’s the short story.  If you have another few minutes, what follows is additional info that will help you improve your station.

I try to periodically make posts geared toward newcomers to weak-signal VHF/UHF.  I’ve made all these posts before, but many of them are years old and only the hardest-core obsessive will use the search feature here at kc9bqa.com to find what they’re looking for in the archives which go back to 2009.
I try to make posts that will help VHF’ers hear more signals, get out farther and know where and when the best times are to hear more signals.  Far too many hams give up on the SSB/CW side of VHF too soon  because they expect instant activity.  It’s not like that, unless you’re in a major metro area or a heavily populated part of the country.

One needs to know where and when there are known sources of activity.  Plus the better your station is, the more you can take advantage of the superior range SSB on VHF offers.

I’ve said this dozens of times before at kc9bqa.com.  Antennas are the most important part of a SSB/CW/Digi station on VHF/UHF.  Period.  Stop buying expensive rigs and hooking them up to cheapo antennas.   Put your VHF money in antennas first.   Get a horizontal yagi, longer the better, and get it up in the clear.  If you can go really high (SAFELY) so much the better.   But mostly, if you can just get clear of most obstructions (esp. those in a direction where there’s lots of activity) you have a real good start.
Get good feedline.  Stop losing decibels in the coax.  Line losses increase quickly on VHF and UHF.  Start thinking in terms of 9913 (at a minimum) and more like LMR-400 or 600.  If you have runs longer than 100′ or you’re on frequencies as high as 432 MHz or higher, consider investing in hardline.  The post right below this one at kc9bqa.com (dated Nov. 10, 2016)  has links to low-loss coax charts.

IF I’VE REALLY GOTTEN YOU THINKING, HERE’S MORE MATERIAL:
http://kc9bqa.com/?p=4640
I was just digging around in my own archives and I think that’s a really good post from 2011.  It is long, so read when you have 5 minutes and take what you need.   In that post, there are concrete ideas and strategies that are very worthwhile.
Remember — I encourage you to share this info with your ham buddies or club.  If it helps get more signals, plus happier and smarter operators on the SSB/CW side of VHF/UHF, then Mission Accomplished.

Don’t Skimp on Coax — Link to a Good Loss Chart

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

3:45pm Thur.

When trying to work farther on SSB/CW bands like 50, 144, 222, 432, 902 and 1296 MHz your coax or feedline is important.   To make these 200, 300 mile contacts, (farther with band enhancement) you want every last db you can get.   A few db may be the difference between no signal and good copy (with headphones) in the S1 range.   You don’t want to wimp out on coax.   Here’s a link that shows the loss characteristics with various coaxes.   http://www.therfc.com/attenrat.htm   I found these links by Googling “coaxial cable loss chart”.
Some will say that it’s not worth getting concerned about a few db’s.   I’d say that any way you can improve your system by at least 1 or 1.5 db, you will notice an difference with marginal signals on weak-signal V/UHF.  You start gaining a few db’s with a better yagi, plus a few db’s with better coax, use a good preamp, quality headphones… it adds up quickly.
Main point is that while cheap coax may be OK on HF, it will seriously degrade your signal on VHF/UHF.  If you’re going to the trouble of putting up good antennas, then don’t throw away your signal with cheap coax.   If you have coax runs of 70-100 feet, you want to be at least in the 9913 or LMR-400 range, especially above 2 meters.   If you have a run of more than 100 feet, (especially on 432 MHz and higher) then LMR-400, 600 or perhaps even hardline is necessary.

Another Propagation Aid — Real-Time APRS Map for 2 Meters

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

2:45pm Thur.

Here’s a link a lot of VHF’ers keep an eye on:
http://aprs.mountainlake.k12.mn.us/

Experienced VHF’ers will debate the usefulness of the APRS map.  It does sometimes show false openings, based on factors I don’t fully understand.  The APRS/mountainlake map also should *NOT* be used to tell you whether it’s worth getting on the air or not.  I see all kinds of nights where the map looks very dead, yet 2m SSB contacts are being made out to 200, 300, 400 miles.
* *There is no substitute for getting on the air and calling CQ yourself.**  If 20 guys are all “just listening” on 144.200 and nobody makes a call, guess how many signals are on the air — yep — ZERO.  Call CQ into an empty band.  Not for huge long stretches of time.  Don’t take over the airwaves or hog the 144.200 call frequency.  But do call a few short CQ’s in different directions.  Those guys out in the sticks really appreciate it when you turn their way.

You don’t need enhanced propagation to have fun on the bands.  But it’s great to know when there is enhancement because those are exciting times.  When the APRS map link above starts turning yellow and especially orange, see if is confirmed by the beacons you listen to.  You want to take advantage of band enhancement.  It’s fun to tell your local club or your ham buddies you worked a guy in Oklahoma, 700 miles away,  on 144.200MHz the other night.

Just like with beacons (in the post below this one, dated Nov. 10, 2016 at kc9bqa.com) it’s a good idea to study the APRS map at various times of the day, and during different weather patterns.  You learn things over time that way.  For complete beginners, there is often better propagation in the early to mid-morning, and again, toward sunset and into the overnight hours.  This subtle rise in propagation is most often noted on bands like 144, 222, 432 MHz and higher.  It is most likely to happen during periods of warm, humid, stagnant weather.  But it’s not limited to that.  There was a great weekend-long opening back in January of either 2010 or 2011.  Had 3 days of icy fog and boy were the bands open to the East Coast.   I know a guy in Milwaukee who has about 10 elements and 100 watts on 144 and this was the first time he’d been on for a true band opening.  Boy was he excited to work NJ and NY.

Propagation is a fascinating topic.  I’m not a heavily technical guy.  Suggest you Google around if you really want to learn various aspects of propagation.

VHF Beacon List + Use Your Ears to Learn About Band Conditions

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

2pm Thur.

Remember to scroll down thru the other posts I’ve made today.  Just scan the “headlines” and see what’s of interest.

Been too long since I posted these beacon lists.
The one that’s been around a long time and is still regularly updated:
http://www.newsvhf.com/beacons2.html

Here’s another beacon list that covers 6 meters (50MHz) only:
http://www.keele.ac.uk/depts/por/50.htm
A word about beacons in general.  When I was on the air (I’m off as of spring 2014) I noticed that beacons can tend to come and go.   Sometimes a new beacon will pop up unexpectedly and sometimes one will go off the air.  There’s no substitute to doing your own tuning around, and pointing your antennas in different directions as you tune thru the beacon sub-band.   Some beacons may not operate 24 hours a day.  Be patient as beacons will cycle on and off thru the course of a minute, and you need to wait thru the dead air.   Of course, it helps to have at least crude CW skills, too.  Quite honestly, at least passable CW skills will help you work a lot farther on weak-signal VHF.  You don’t need the speed you hear on HF, the VHF guys are usually patient and will dig you out.   At least learn your callsign and grid square.  Just remember — CW really makes a difference.

Get in the habit of listening for beacons at different times of day.  You’ll become a better student of propagation this way.   It’s important to know when the VHF/UHF bands might be enhanced because that’s when you’ll hear more guys on and you may tap into some true DX, beyond the typical 200-400 mile range.  All other things equal, propagation at 50 MHz and Up tends to improve after sunset, overnight and into early/mid-morning.
Tune around in different kinds of weather.  Cold and windy weather almost always means average (at best) band conditions.  Warm and humid weather, especially when the weather pattern seems to get “stuck” for days, can lead to some of the best band openings.  Foggy weather is another time to be on the alert for enhanced band conditions.  Several years back (maybe 2012 or 11?) we had a weekend with consistent fog in mid-January.  Even though it was cold (I can remember the beauty of the ice-rimed trees), the bands were wide open to the east coast.  Even guys with modest stations were working out to VA, MD, NJ and NY on 144 MHz.
Close to the Great Lakes, we know there’s often localized band enhancement on late summer and fall evenings.  Many times I’d call a net (I’m 10 miles inland from Lake MI) and as we moved thru 8, 8:15, 8:30 and beyond, signals would steadily build.  Sometimes to the point where you didn’t even need to turn your antennas to work guys.   As the night wore on, guys would start trying for contacts on not only 2 meters, but bands like 222 and 432 MHz.  Yes, 902 and 1296 too.  You get some really nice surprises on those Aug., Sept. and Oct. evenings, when the lake is still warm but the land starts to cool off as night falls.  Sometimes by 10, 11pm, that guy 150 miles away that was S2 or S3 a few hours ago would just be bombing in —  up to 20 over.  Loved those nights.   Those are examples of temperature inversions, where the temperature a few hundred feet (and higher up) above the ground is warmer than at the earth’s surface.  Temperature inversions are good for VHF/UHF propagation.  Please do your own Googling and research for more technical descriptions.  Consider my ramblings a starting point only.

**I WOULD APPRECIATE if readers would send me any word of beacons that are operating but not on the lists I linked to up above and also, if any beacons have gone permanently off the air**  Best way to contact me is via my normal email, which is listed if you log into www.qrz.com and hover over the email link when you search my callsign.

Want to Promote ON4KST.com Ham Chat Again

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

9:15am Thur.

When I talk about nets like the N4PZ Monday night 432.110 group, (8pm central, look toward N4PZ in EN52gb, just southwest of Rockford, IL)  I’m reminded of one big aid for finding more activity on the SSB/CW side of VHF/UHF bands like 50, 144, 222 and 432 MHz.
6.5 years ago, ON4KST — Alain very kindly created an internet chat room for us VHF’ers in the USA and Canada.  You can see my original announcement here:  http://kc9bqa.com/?p=1072   In fact, as far as I know, the registration procedure is still the same, everything you need is at that link.

Many VHF/UHF nets now use the ON4KST.com ham chat.  There are many different “rooms” for different bands, the specific one I’m talking about here is the “IARU Region 2 Chat for 144-432 MHz”.  I know N4PZ’s group uses the chat (so do many other nets and activity nights) and that’s useful because you can get a sense of who they’re working and you can let them know you’re out there.
By now, there are several thousand registered users across the USA and VE-land.  At any one time, several dozen may be in the chat.  It’s busier in the mornings and the evenings.
The chat is free and no obligation.  Many are content to “lurk” in the background and observe what’s going on.  Sign up today, spend a few weeks.  See if it helps you find more activity or if you can learn valuable tips from experienced VHF’ers.

Publicizing More Nets on the SSB/CW side of VHF/UHF and How I Got Interested Years Ago

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

7:45am Thur.

I want to start promoting other nets again.   Scroll thru the headlines and you can decide what’s of interest to you.   Expect more posts promoting other nets in the days to come.  Want to entice readers to check kc9bqa.com at least once or twice a week.  And refer other hams and VHF’ers to kc9bqa.com, as well.   Want you to consider how you can get even just one other ham to explore the weak-signal side of VHF/UHF.  We always need new signals on our bands.  Plus we need VHF’ers who will call CQ in the mornings, in the evenings, on the weekends, who will make some noise, look around, and keep activity levels higher.

It’s hard to attract and keep hams interested in the SSB/CW side of VHF.  Those who expect instant action are usually disappointed and sometimes give up too soon.   If you just tune into 144.200 (the call frequency on 2 meter SSB) and passively listen, it could be a long time before you hear anyone, especially if the band is flat and if you have poor antennas.
I promote nets because they are known sources of activity.  Beacons are too and I also made a beacon post today — Nov. 10, 2016.   If I’m Joe Q. Ham and I’m excited about trying something new like 2 meter SSB, I want to hear signals.   Preferably from some distance so I can have the “AHA!” moment that shows the range is superior when we turn our antennas horizontal and use SSB.
If you want reliable local communications, repeaters on FM will do that just fine.  But for hams who want to push the envelope a little more, there’s a whole ‘nother world out there.  When I was just getting on the air in 2002-2003, I was blown away by sporadic Eskip openings all across North America (and sometimes the Caribbean) on 50 MHz (6 meters — The Magic Band).  Then I learned that even on 144 MHz, guys talk 150, 200, 300, and big guns can work 400+ miles on 2 meter SSB/CW every single day, with flat band conditions.  (CW does even better, watt-for-watt, it’s really a big help if you want to raise someone in true VHF DX territory, say 400-500+ miles away)
Once I knew this, I knew I had to have the superior range.  If you are content with an H/T, 5 watts and a simple rubber duck or ringo on your deck, raising a few local repeaters, this blog isn’t for you.  Our specialty is opening people’s eyes to “weak-signal” VHF/UHF communications.  With horizontally-polarized antennas up in the clear (preferably higher gain and rotatable for maximum range.)  With decent power levels, hopefully 25-50 watts at a minimum and in time, 100 watts or more.  With low-loss coax because every single decibel of signal is crucial to getting out 200, 300 miles or more.   Realizing you may want to use headphones because stations that are S1, S2 or weaker on your meter are perfectly workable, once you get used to digging in the noise, and you can turn your antenna toward the signal.

Like I said above, expect more posts than usual in the near future.  I want to pick up the pace, and raise awareness of more nets on different nights, and hopefully motivate VHF’ers to be on the air more.

13 Check-Ins to 144.240 Net Last Night

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

7:30am Thur.

144.240 net control WB9LYH sent his emailed net report to me last night.  In it, Mark said, “Propagation was tough to the east, but good elsewhere.”
The 13 check-ins were:  K9CCL, KD9BGY, N9JBW and N9IYV EN61;  NG9K EN41;  WB0SWQ, WA9BNZ and W9BBP EN40;  KC9CLM and W9VS EN52;  KC9VHD and N9ABI EN62 and W0HXL EN21.
Want to welcome N9ABI to the net.  Another new all-time check-in.  Thanks for getting on 2 meter SSB.

Expect WB9LYH in EN54cl, (central WI) to call the 144.240 net next Wed. at 8pm central/9pm eastern.  If there’s ever a last-minute change, we advise right here at kc9bqa.com.
If you need more details about the 144.240 Wed. net, look right below to a post dated Nov. 8th at kc9bqa.com.

144.240 Net Report from Last Wed.

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

8:45am Tues.

Last Wed., 144.240 net control WB9LYH reported, “good net despite baseball and good weather.”  Checkins were W8SOL EN71;  K9CCL, KD9BGY and N9JBW EN61;  W9VS EN52;  N9RXM EN41;  WA9BNZ, WB0SWQ and W9BBP EN40;  W1JWS EN50;  KA0EIV EN30;  K0DPL EN42 and AE0MM EN34.
Want to welcome W9VS to the 144.240 net.   Thanks for getting on 2 meter SSB.

Expect WB9LYH to call the 144.240 net again tomorrow (Wed.) night at the usual time of 8pm central/9pm eastern.

It’s been several weeks since I’ve posted the full details about the net so in case anyone new is reading this, here goes:

The 144.240 net is called every Wed. at 8pm central/9pm eastern by WB9LYH Mark, who is in EN54cl, central WI, an hour and a half west of Green Bay.  Mark has a big signal and can easily reach out 300-400+ miles under normal band conditions.  Plus Mark enjoys pushing the propagation limits so weak signals and DX are *always* welcome.  We encourage all hams and VHF’ers to help us spread the word in a very wide circle extending from WI.   We value our “regulars” and always enjoy new signals, too.
Antenna pattern with the Wed. 144.240 net from EN54 is always to look into the eastern time zone first.   Talking MI, VE-3, OH.  Then SE, S, SW, W, NW and N over the next 45 minutes or so.  Be flexible; we’re never sure which direction might be busier on a given night.   All licensed amateurs are welcome, the net is informal and the purpose is to get more signals on 2 meter SSB.

The following is soapbox material:
We’ve been doing the Wed. 144.240 net from WI since June 2008 and our story is here:  http://kc9bqa.com/?p=5363
We always ask everyone to help us spread the word and to get more signals on 2m SSB.  Not just for a few minutes during a net, but whenever you have some time to operate.  Get in the habit of calling CQ, swinging the antenna around, looking for activity.   So many of us fall into the habit of “just listening”  Well if 20 guys are all “just listening” how many signals get heard???  Yep… zero.
Resolve to call CQ more often.
A truly healthy band has lots of hams in different areas calling CQ, swinging the yagi around, looking in all directions.

144.240 Net Report from Last Wed.

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

6:30am Wed

Last Wed., 144.240 net control WB9LYH reported “rain and noise, weather to the east, but it worked well enough”.  Mark had 11 check-ins:  W0HXL EN21;  N9RXM EN41;  W9EWZ EN52;  KC9RIO, K9CCL and KD9BGY EN61;  W1JWS EN50;  WA9BNZ and W9BBP EN40;  WB9TFH EN51 and AE0MM EN34.

WB9LYH expects to call the 144.240 net tonight at the usual time of 8pm central/9pm eastern.  If you need more info about the net,  scroll down to the first half of a post dated Sept. 28th at kc9bqa.com.

Last Week’s 144.240 Net Report

Monday, October 24th, 2016

3:45pm Monday
It was a very light net last Wed. because of the presidential debate.

The 6 check-ins were:  KD9BGY, K9CCL and N9JBW EN61;  WA9JML EN51;  N9RXM EN41 and W9BBP EN40.

144.240 net control WB9LYH (located in EN54cl, central WI) expects to call the net this week, but if something comes up at the last minute, I will always publicize any change here at kc9bqa.com.

If you want more info about the Wed. 144.240 net, scroll down to the first half of a post dated Sept. 28th at kc9bqa.com.