Cable Prep

The LMR-400, N-connectors, tooling to install them, and a lightning arrestor showed up on Friday (DX Engineering) and now everything is on hand to install the Diamond X6000A tri-band vertical. The hardest part will either be installing the N-connectors (I’ve never done that) or else routing the cable through the attic.

With that complete, I’ll finally be able to put the IC-9700 on the air and begin exploring the local VHF/UHF/1.2 landscape. Next will come the installation of a rotor and directional antennas for 6, 2, 440, and 1.2 – new slices of radio spectrum (for me) to be explored.


Selling Out

I’d like to sell all my modern transceivers, along with all the accessories that go with them. That includes the IC-7610, IC-9700, and the IC-7300. At least that’s the plan.

But one of my least favorite things to do is to sell almost anything. It’s hard work. If it were only a matter of taking photos, listing online, boxing it up and shipping it, that would be easy. It’s the other stuff that makes me sweat.

Five years ago I sold my TenTec Eagle.

The Eagle was a very simple to operate HF transceiver. There were only a few knobs and buttons to contend with. I sold it to some fellow who continued to contact me for months afterwards with endless questions; “How do I make it do this, how do I make it do that, I can’t get it to transmit in CW – are you sure you didn’t sell me a defective transceiver?”

Being unpaid product support is not for me and I vowed never to sell anything of significant value again.

I’d rather take used equipment to the dump than deal with that again. Imagine my consternation at listing stuff for sale that’s considerably more complex than that old Eagle! So I’m looking for alternatives. One of those being to trade it all in for store credit. That’s still not ideal, but it beats putting it into storage, or something worse.


The Pause

Progress in converting the station to VHF has ground to a halt. The Diamond Tri-Plexer that I ordered around the first of December has been further delayed.

At first, I was told to expect it around Christmas. Now they tell me it’s not expected to ship until mid-March. This thing must be made of pure Unobtanium and frankly, it puts me off Diamond. I’ve started looking for an alternative, but that unit has the precise pairings I’m looking for. 144, 432, and 1.2G with 12-inch tails and fittings that match the three different antenna connectors on the IC-9700 and the incoming feedline connector.

ICOM IC-9700

If I can find another unit that meets my requirements, I’ll buy it and at least get the new transceiver on the air using FM. It’s nearly three months old and has yet to be used!

But everything else is on hold. We’re having a new roof installed sometime over the next 6 weeks. The mild winter weather has emboldened our contractor and now he’d like to do the work during his off-season and will give us a discount to do it sooner rather than later. So, I’m not keen to install any aerials overhead in the work space over the house until that’s complete.

By the end of March, I should have a new roof and the beginnings of an aluminum antenna garden. But for the moment, my radio life has hit the pause button. Not that there still isn’t plenty of other things to be done. My QSL backlog is impressive, even by my own standards and I should be working on that. 

It’s not all bad. The pause has given me time to better plan and prepare for the new and improved ham radio shack. I’ve created some drawings that document all the connections and cable routings. All the IP addresses and network settings have been recorded and I’ve created a detailed bill of materials for everything in the hope that it will make replacement easier if ever needed.

I’ve even labeled all the power lines and cables and scanned all the manuals and receipts so I can access them in an instant, wherever I roam.

I guess the moral of the story is patience, and that radio downtime can be valuable, if you use the time wisely.


Get Set…

I have the Kenwood TH-D74A and TH-D72A handheld transceivers. The 72 is a dual-band, full-duplex radio that I purchased specifically for use with FM satellites. I haven’t done much of that lately, but I intend to resume that activity and I’d also like to put the 74 to better use as well.

Last week I ordered RT Systems programming software for each radio. These units are fairly complex little beasts to program from the front touch pad and I wanted to reduce that bit of friction by using software that’s smarter than me.

Before getting that far along I checked and discovered that newer firmware updates for both units were available for download so the first order of business was getting them on the most recent release.

With that done, I installed the RT Systems programming software for both handhelds. Adding multiple memory channels that permit me to quickly compensate for Doppler was as easy as typing the information for each satellite into a spreadsheet.

But even that wasn’t completely without a little head scratching. While the TH-D72A is full-duplex, it doesn’t have an actual “satellite” mode and the software wasn’t happy with cross-band splits. The TX and RX frequencies had to be in the same band for each memory channel. A little digging online revealed that the channels for the downlink could be programmed on one band while the uplink frequencies went on the other. Then putting both bands (A&B) into memory mode and into full-duplex cleared up my confusion and it all works as expected.

Tomorrow I’ll be in the backyard waving the Arrow antenna toward the heavens to see if I can’t conjure up another satellite contact or three. This kind of radio work requires more ambidextrous agility than rocket science but like with most things, regular practice makes everything easier so it’s time for me to get cracking.

See you on the birds!


Tossed Salad

I was out of town all last week and suddenly, it’s Sunday and I’ll be back to work tomorrow. Time flies and apparently, so will the snow later tonight. Forecasts say 4-6 inches of snow so tomorrow’s commute will be an aggravation. It still doesn’t seem like a weather episode that would trigger a winter weather advisory. Guess we will find out soon enough.

Nothing happened in the shack during my absence though the Diamond X-6000A antenna did arrive. I’m still waiting on the cable and some assorted hardware, but the plan to install this over the long Christmas holiday break remains on target.

While I was away a few things dropped online, most notably the 25th episode of TX Factor. It’s always interesting but is published infrequently, so I set a reminder to myself to watch when it does appear only to forget it until the next episode hits the wire. I watched right away this time around and especially enjoyed the interview with Eric Swartz, WA6HHQ from Elecraft.

The December 2019 edition of the 432 and Above EME Newsletter by K2UYH also hit the Web, as did the the latest issue of the the 144 MHz EME NewsLetter by DF2ZC. About the time I got caught up with those, the December edition of Cheese Bits, the monthly publication of the Mt. Airy VHF Radio Club and another must read publication showed up too.

With the to-do list growing by the day, I hate to take on another project right now. But installing a sky camera to capture falling stars and joining the American Meteor Society volunteer network is bound to get added to my list eventually.


Getting Started

End of the year is always busy what with trying to wrap things up at work and getting ready for Christmas and New Year’s. And it’s all crammed into a short time for me as I’ll be on vacation for a few weeks so you can see that time is short. Carving out time to build the new station has been a challenge but there has been some progress.

My first goal with the new transceiver is to get it on the air on FM. That probably seems simple enough but I haven’t had a VHF antenna on the house in more than twenty years so this is a bigger deal than you might imagine. It’s starting from scratch.

I ordered a Diamond X-6000A antenna, a vertical that covers 2M, 440, and 1.2GHz. At the same time I ordered the Diamond MX3000N tri-plexer to handle the intermediate connection with the three radio antenna ports.

There just happened to have been a review on this hardware in the December QST (pages 38-40). I doubt that was fate, the IC-9700 is already a popular transceiver and the publishing team at ARRL is simply on top of sharing the best way to get started with a new tri-band transceiver with its readers.

Specs on the antenna and the tri-plexer were more than adequate for how I intend to use them though seasoned VHF operators may have opted for something different. I intend to mount the antenna at one corner of the house and use a short run of LMR400 cable from there, through the attic, and into the shack. I’ll install it on a 30-foot mast and after grounding and adding lightning protection I’ll call this simple first step, “done”.

Easy as that sounds, within hours of placing my order I got a note from Ham Radio Outlet that the tri-plexer isn’t available at any of their locations and will have to be shipped “later”. Meanwhile, the antenna has already shipped.

That’s not such bad news since the installation of the antenna and running new feed line is the real work. I hope the wait for the tri-plexer will be a short one. I still need to order the LMR400 and a collection of connectors and hardware.

Assuming all that can be installed over the long holiday break, I’ll move ahead with acquiring Yagis for 6, 2, and 440. But having all that in place and functional in time for the January VHF contest is, I’m afraid, just wishful thinking.

Along the way I’m also remodeling the shack. Gone is the big desk as I intend to install a single workbench to serve as the center of operation. That will require a little drywall work to route new power feeds along with antenna and rotor cables in an alternate configuration.

Lots to do and little free time to do it but progress continues, even if it’s difficult to measure.

I did update the firmware on the 9700 to the latest v1.20. That task couldn’t have been easier but it does require reading the instructions. I’m on one mailing list for that transceiver where some have had minor problems with this task, but in the end, that was all operator error due to failure to carefully read the fine manual.