EA3HOE on the air! (was: Passed my Amateur Radio test!!)

Because the organization is a local public service and because it’s (almost) Christmas time so they already work at a very low pace, it all started to look like i’m not going to be online until at least 2012.

Well, i couldn’t wait any longer, so i called the local organization which deals with handing out the callsigns for new radio amateurs in my region.
I already got confirmed by e-mail that my callsign was known, but the person responsible for sending the letter with the callsign is not available and i have to wait.
Nope. since the callsign needs to come from the Ministry of Communications, i thought i’d give them a call as well.
“Well yeah, we know these local organizations work very slow. I wish they did everything directly with us. So much simpler and so much faster. Let me take a look, what’s your name?” 
“Yeah, i have it here. Take a pen. Echo Alfa Three Hotel Oscar Echo.”
I cannot believe it. A friend of mine is EA3HIV (yes, HIV), another one is EA3GOD (yes, GOD) and now i am EA3HOE?? No, don’t look the word HOE up on Wikipedia…
Anyway, so EA3HOE it is. Starting over with my log and still have to make my first contact. 
2 weeks of holiday and bad propagation should give me plenty of time to fill up my logs again!!

Last week friday i did my EA HAM Radio exam, today i got the results.

First test: Common Electronics, Radio Electronics and Radio Operations – PASSED!!
Second test: Amateur Radio regulations – PASSED!!

Now, the only thing i have to do is:

  • Wait for the results to be official – November 7
  • Wait for my diploma to arrive – a couple of weeks later
  • Then file the papers for my EA callsign – maximum 6 weeks after reception of the papers
  • After i receive that file papers for the local Amateur Radio ID card – no idea, but shouldn’t take too long – non critical
  • Then file the papers for my station authorization – couple of weeks
  • Build my station – probably a couple of hours….
And all need to be payed…  I guess i won’t be legally on the air until somewhere in 2012….
Too much bureaucracy here in Spain.

Starting with PSK31

This morning i made my first QSO in PSK31 mode. For me this is a step into the new world of digital communication.

What is PSK31?
PSK31 is the first new mode to find popularity on HF bands since many years. It combines the advantages of a simple variable length text code with a narrow bandwidth phase-shift keying (PSK) signal using DSP techniques. This mode is designed for “real time” keyboard operation and at a 31 baud rate is only fast enough to keep up with the typical amateur typist. PSK31 enjoys great popularity on the HF bands today and is presently the standard for live keyboard communications.

Nah, you don’t need all this…

What do i need to use PSK31 on the HAM bands?

  • A radio with audio-in and audio-out capability. This can be a dedicated interface or just the Mic and speaker connectors of the radio
  • A PC with PSK software on it. There are many programs out there, many of them are freeware and are very capable and full of features. My preference is WinWarbler from the DX Lab Suite, but Ham Radio Deluxe also does a great job.
Then what do i do?
Simply connect the audio out from your PC to the audio in of your radio. You will have to find a way to connect, for example, your speaker, line or headphones connector to your data-in or microphone connector on the radio and connect the headphones or data-out connector of the radio to the microphone or line-in connector of the PC.
You really don’t need more. There are many hardware solutions on the market, which are more and better isolated, have better filters, etc, etc, but at the end what they do is transfer the audio from the radio to the PC and from the PC to the radio. 
More important than WHAT you use is HOW you use your setup. You have to control your audio levels for in- and output and control your PTT well. And here is where the real fun starts.

PSK in DM780

DM780 vs. WinWarbler

I had quite a few issues getting WinWarbler to work with my TS-480. Not because the software is bad, but because i had no clue what i was doing. And my frustration was that HAM Radio Deluxe DM780 everything worked correctly from the beginning.
There is a big difference between the HRD Suite and the DXLab Suite. Compare HRD to a Mercedes and DXLab to a Formula 1 race car. In HRD you get in, everything works and you start driving. DXLAb has many more buttons, you have to know what you are doing and get everything straight before it works. But once it works you have a race car instead of a road car.
My issues with DXLab was that i had my PTT settings correct, but i was not transmitting. I have my PC audio in and out connected to a special DATA port on the TS-480, but i didn’t really realized it. This sounds strange, but here is what happened:
I was sure i was using the right ports on my PC and that those ports were correctly configured in Windows. When i took out the headphones cable from the PC (audio IN for the radio), i could hear the signal and the radio was sending signal. So to me that meant that my Windows setup was correct, after all HRD worked, and that the radio setup was correct. Something must have been wrong in my WinWarbler setup.
Dave AA6YQ asked me several times if i was using the Mic input or the DATA input and i kept insisting i was using the Mic input. And yes, i was, but i was using the Mic input of the PC, not of the radio!! On the radio i was using the DATA input.
Then Dave pointed me to a checkbox on the radio setup in Commander where you can select whether you use the Mic or the ANI input for data. I looked ANI up in the radio manual and that’s when my coin dropped. I was using ANI and not Mic. And that’s when everything started to work.

PSK in WinWarbler

A couple of hints for setting up the radio and software for PSK

1. Set sound card sampling rate to 8000Hz This must be at least a 16 bit sound card. 
2. No Signal observed? Check WAVE slider is not zero and check if you are using the right ports. 
3. Set Rx and Tx frequencies to 1000Hz. This value will get you up and running but if you plan on using a filter change it to the center frequency. I currently use 2400Hz with a center of 1500Hz.
4. For PSK set your radio to USB.
5. If you get too much noise, consider using a narrow filter. My TS-480 has special filters for data use. Check if your radio has those as well and use those. If not, consider using a CW filter. 
6. Your sound card output must NOT overdrive your Mic Input. Do not overdrive the sound card input from the Radio. 
7. Do not use your Speech Processor.
8. Always check your ALC meter. MANDATORY that the ALC meter stays on 0!!! 
9. ALC on 0.
10. ALC has to be on 0.
11. Read 8, 9 and 10 again.
10. Use to the Waterfall/Phase indicators for tuning. PSK works with channels. Channels are very small frequency ranges that all fall inside your filter, so you can hear them all. Make sure you know who you are talking to.
PSK Macro examples


Many PSK software allow you to use macros. Macros let you switch your PTT on and off, send your text, log your QSL and many many things more.
A good (read: smart) set of macros can fully automate your QSO’s. If you want to, that is. I see those fully automated QSO’s and really, for me this is only useful for contesting.
Personally I use macros ONLY for calling, standard responses and closing the call. I DON’T use macros for regular QSO. I think it makes you look like a robot and makes (at least for me) the QSO completely impersonal. If someone asks you what the weather is like at your QTH or how long you have been a HAM, which function key to you press?
Where can i find PSK?
In priciple you can find PSK all over the assigned digital mode frequencies. PSK operators sort of made an agreement to use the following frequencies:
PSK31 Frequencies
160m 1838.15
80m 3580.15
40m 7035.15 (Region 1&3, 7080.15 – Region 2)
30m 10142.150
20m 14070.15
17m 18100.15
15m 21080.15  (or 21070.15)
12m 24920.15
10m 28120.15

And last but not least: Be patient, learn and have fun while doing it.
If this is new for you like it is for me, take your time to understand everything step by step. It’s way different from making a phone QSO, there are many more variables and it’s a lot more technical. It will probably not work perfectly from the beginning. Approach the learning process step-by-step and everything will come. 
Enjoy the ride of learning a new thing.

Surely they didn’t have any digital modes yet

Starting with DX Lab Suite

It’s been a while since i last posted something on this blog. I’ve been busy with work, but i have not been silent on the radio.
In this article i want to talk about another beauty i have found on the Internet, the DX Lab Suite.

Basically it started all when i was in the shack of PA5MW where he had a software program running that alerted him whenever a wanted station was spotted on a cluster. I became interested in finding the same functionality in Ham Radio Deluxe, the software i was using at that moment.
Unfortunately HRD doesn’t have this possibility. On the HRD mailing list, Dave AA6YQ pointed me to a suite of programs that did have this possibility and much much more. Soon i found out that Dave is the author and maintainer of large portions of the suite, great work, Dave!

So i went to the DXLabSuite website and started reading.

What is the DX Lab Suite?
The suite consists of 8 applications, each with it’s own functionality, purpose and strengths. Once you install those individual programs together they start to interact.

Launcher is what the name suggests, it launches the suite. But not only that, it also launches any other software you want to run while running the suite, it takes care of the suites software and database installation and updates. Launcher makes maintaining a suite of 8 programs and 6 databases a piece of cake.

Commander is your rigs CAT control. Commander supports up to 4 transceivers of the most common brands. Commander is in no way as good looking as HRD, but it does what it needs to do. Furthermore, Commander is one of the key pieces of the suite and interacts as the interface between the other pieces of the suite and your radio.

What i use a lot is Commanders Bandspread. Bandspread takes the spots from Spotcollector and displays them in a vertical window as shown in the image. Like this you have a clear overview which station is where, the colors of the callsigns tell you if you already worked this station, if you have it confirmed, if he’s using eQSL, LotW, etc and a double-click in the callsign makes your radio tune in on the frequency, mode, split mode or not.
Bandspread follows your radios VFO’s whether you operate your radio manually or through the software.

Spotcollector is the software you use to send and receive spots. Spotcollector is able to follow up to 4 telnet clusters, one IRC cluster, one web cluster and one packet cluster. Spotcollector takes all the information from its spot sources and aggregates the information and stores it in its internal database. The data in the database can be filtered and displayed according to your needs.
What i like a lot is that you can filter spots by band, which most software can do, but because Spotcollector interacts with Commander, it can follow and display only the spots on which your radio is tuned.
Of course you can filter by mode and a click on a spot sets your radio up for that particular mode the station is working in and tunes your radio to that station, taking in account frequency, mode, offset, etc, etc.

 Now that we have found a spot we might want to work, we can check DXView for all the details of the spot. Two things i like about DXView: On the main view (image left) you can see if you already worked that DXCC and on which bands. Like this you know immediately if it’s an interesting one for you or not.
On World View you can see where you point your antenna, where the station is in greyline. You can pick the station you want to work and click it. Again, also from World View Commander picks up the frequency and mode and tunes your radio, turns your antenna and DXKeeper will filter your QSO display for this callsign so you can see if you worked this station before or not.

DXKeeper is your QSO logging program. DXKeeper keeps track of your awards progress, uploads your log to eQSL, ClubLog and/or LotW, keeps track of your electronic QSL confirmations.
When making QSO’s you typically want to collect all the stations details from different callbook resources and put this information in your log. DXKeeper supports all this and more.
DXKeeper can collect this information directly from the callbook source, or can use Pathfinder to collect that information.

Pathfinder can connect connects to various callbook sources like QRZ.COM, Buckmaster, DailyDX, etc. but also to Google, the FCC database or any other service you would like to use.
You can easily reconfigure the services already configured in Pathfinder although i never felt the need to do this.
After all, most of use use QRZ.COM although a new service called HamQTH.com is becoming more and more popular.
QRZ.COM is changing its policies for querying the callsign database regularly, driving operators to a subscription-based service.
HamQTH.com promises to be free forever. Let’s see if that is true when traffic picks up and the HamQTH.com hosting infrastructure start having problems coping with the traffic.

Then there is PropView. PropView uses VOACAP, ICEPAC, and IONCAP to predict your minimum and maximum usable frequencies between you and the station you want to work and presents that information in a graphical way.
Also you can analyse propagation by monitoring propagation beacons yourself. PropView will use Commander to tune your radio on certain time intervals to check propagation between you and the beacon.

Then, last but not least, there is WinWarbler. This program is used for digital operations like PSK and RTTY. WinWarbler also supports CW and Phone.
For me, WinWarbler is still a bit of a green field. Mainly because i don’t have any experience with digital modes and/or CW.
Talking to people on the DX Lab Suite mailing list i understand that the quality level of WinWarbler is as high as the rest of the suite. It does everything you want from a HAM Radio software program for digital modes. Some people even use it to send voice macros on Phone bands when in pile-ups. So no microphone anymore. This is completely new for me and i don’t know if i’m ready for this. I mean, i am learning CW using a paddle instead of sending with PC…
Ah, that reminds me, WinWarbler doesn’t decode CW. Dave says that it’s against HAM radio best practices. 😉

The DX Lab Suite is a suite you love or you hate. It’s not so good-looking as HRD, but it’s much more configurable and feature rich. Some say that DXLab is over-engineered and has a steep learning curve. My opinion is that this this only true if you want to use the complete suite on the first day. If you start step-by-step, read the manuals (which can be improved, btw), ask the mailing list (Dave is very dedicated to his software and has a lot of patience) you will get there.
For me, as a beginner HAM, DX Lab Suite has everything i need and more. Every time i think: “I wonder if it does this or that” it turns out that the software is able to do it.
This, the perfect support and unlimited possibilities, and the fact that HRD is now going commercial made me install the DX Lab Suite and never look back.