New kid in town!

Today i went to get a new radio for a new adventure. I have always been on HF, everything below 30MHz.

Because the propagation is not that great and i do want to chat about a bit, i purchased my Dynascan M-6D.

This is a 2m only radio, one of the budget radios in the spanish market. I must say, a nice little radio for the money you have to toss out for it. It has all the functions you would expect from a 2 meter radio.

So now i have the task to lear all about DTMF, DCS, APO, ANI, narrow- and wide-band FM, shift, split, repeaters, etc, etc. A whole new world to explore until propagation comes back on HF.

Frequency range is the regular 136-174MHz, so can talk to the local police as well. Although i don’t know if they would appreciate that. Hehehe.

Anyway, here are the specs and if anyone from the EA3 area is reading this, give me a call.

 

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

Macros

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

Conclusion
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

Learning CW

So, now that the exams are done, CQ Contest is done, so what’s next? I recently bought a set of Bencher paddles, so i guess now i have to start to learn morse.

What and Why morse?
Morse is a communication language that is much spoken about lately. It’s not a requirement anymore for your HAM Radio Amateur license and many novice amateurs look at it as a old-fashioned way of communicating. Why use Morse if there is Phone? Well, why use the radio at all if there is Internet?

From what i read CW (Continuous Wave, a, in HAM Radio world common used synonym for morse) is much more efficient that SSB for its low bandwidth requirements. Therefor it’s much more probable that you can “read” a CW signal over a long distance than an SSB signal.
This is the reason why modern radios have a much more restrictive filter set for CW than for SSB. If an SSB filter gives you 1.8kHz bandwidth as a minimum (below that it gets very difficult to read the signal), in CW filters can go down to 500Hz or even lower and signals are still perfectly readable.
Try it! Look up a CW signal and close your filters. You would be amazed how much noise you can eliminate and focus in on only the signal that you want to hear.
Now, CW is also the only “digital” mode you can use with just your ears and brain as decoding devices. No PC needed.

And you know, it’s fun to learn something new. If you’ve made so many contacts already, it’s time to move out of your comfort zone, isn’t it?

Learning morse
Apparently there are two generally accepted ways of learning Morse.
The first one is the Farnsworth Method. W6TTB Russ Farnsworth teaches the morse code at full speed (20 wpm) but with long pauses between the letters to give the operator time to think about what he heard. Once the operator is comfortable with the code, the pauses between the letters get reduced.
The second method is Koch’s method. I get the impression that this is the most commonly accepted way of learning. Ludwig Koch (psychologist and as far as i know no radio amateur) teaches the code also at target speed, but one letter at a time. Once you get 90% of the decoding right, another letter gets added.
Inside the Koch method there are people that prefer to learn the code in alphabetic order or in order of complexity of the code, starting with e, i, m and t and sub-sequentially adding letters like a, n, etc.
I’m not sure yet which method to use. I guess the Koch method is a good starting point.

Getting on the air
Nobody wants to look foolish. And neither do i. So when are you good enough to get on the air and make your first QSO? K4OSO Milt wrote this article about it. It’s called “8 good reasons for NOT getting on the air”.

“8 GOOD REASONS FOR NOT GETTING ON THE AIR”

By Milt, K4OSO 

1. I CAN’T COPY VERY WELL Copy skills get better with time and practice. Nerves is certainly a factor at first. The answer to nerves is exposure. Get on the air and practice those skills. After all, you’re not copying vectors for a brain exploration surgery, just fun stuff. What if you do miss some? Eh? 

2. I MAKE MISTAKES IN SENDING Who cares? Everyone does! If you show me an op who sends flawless CW, I’ll eat my hat. Even keyboarders make mistakes. Its what you do when you make one that is the measure of an op. A good op corrects his mistakes. When you glide past mistakes it leaves the other guy guessing. 

3. MY CW IS VERY SLOW Accuracy transcends speed! Accuracy is absolute, while speed will increase/improve over time. What you DON’T want is to get faster at sending poorly. Fast and poor are an awful twosome. Practice sending well, at a speed which is comfortable for you. You WILL make mistakes, just correct them and move on. 

4. I GET LOST IN QSO’S As many have suggested, by writing down the parts of a typical exchange/qso, you will be better able to get through a qso. Its really funny how few comments are directed to spelling. Spelling slows us down and trips us up in many qso situations. When you practice off-air, its fine to use a sheet of text, but I find that sending as if in a qso is much more helpful. Practice this by sending out of your head. You’ll get used to sending off the cuff and your spelling will improve tremendously. 

If ragchewing is your goal, keep your exchanges short, at first. Don’t try to say too much in one exchange. That way, it will give you time to think about what you’ll say next, and will slow the other op down as well. That will make his transmissions easier to copy. Keep it casual, and don’t let it become hard work. 

5. MY PALMS SWEAT Keep a hand towel at your operating desk. My palms sweated on my first date too but, it didn’t stop me. Remember, no one can see you! Try PRETENDING you’re as calm as a cucumber. Think of yourself as a “take charge” op who can handle any situation. As an op thinkest, so shall he be on the air. 

One particular activity that improved my confidence and ability to handle most situations was learning traffic handling on the Maryland Slow Net. Net speed was maximum 10 wpm (and flexible), the instructors were patient and considerate. That training gave me the confidence I desperately needed. I’m now an Instructor and Net Control Station on that Net and watch the transformation of new ops from tentative and unsure to ops who would be welcomed on NTS traffic net throughout the country. Its easy and painless and proceeds at the new op’s own pace. Even if you don’t become an active traffic handler, the training is invaluable for learning general operating practices. 

6. PEOPLE WILL THINK POORLY OF ME Bull Crap!!! Everyone expects new / inexperienced CW ops to be somewhat tentative, make some mistakes and miss some copy. They expect it because THEY PERFORMED THE SAME WAY WHEN THEY WERE NEW / INEXPERIENCED. Some well-meaning ops, in an attempt to sooth the nervous new op will say, “Aw, no one will notice your mistakes” Bull crap! Of course they notice them! They’d have to be idiots not to. BUT, no one cares about a your mistakes. This is a hobby, a means of having fun. It WILL be fun if you stop agonizing over it. The amount of fun you have at CW is inversely proportional to the amount you worry about it. 

7. I’LL DO IT WHEN I GET BETTER That’s fine if you like spending your time procrastinating. “He was gonna get on the air tomorrow” would make a unfortunate epitath. “He really enjoyed his ham radio hobby and his CW” is a much nicer one. I waited until I was over 60 to finally get started in Ham radio. I often think of how much fun I could have had over the years if I had just bitten the bullet and jumped in. Now, I’m trying to make up for lost time. But, we all know that’s impossible. 

8. I HAVE PROBLEMS WITH THIS OR THAT TYPE OF KEY Ok… use whatever you’re good with, and develop your skills on the others at your own pace. Whatever you do, don’t try to swage your fist into a type of key that frustrates you. Learning new skills, while not easy, should be fun. Measure your progress in small chunks. Don’t set your goals too far ahead. You must be able to see progress. If speed improvement is your goal, measure it one word per minute at a time. Don’t try to go from 5 wpm to 10 wpm. That’s doubling your speed! It would be like me trying to go from 35 wpm to 70 wpm. Never happen, go from 5 to 6. Then to 7, and so on. 

73, Milt