Posts Tagged ‘Condo ham radio’

Part 6 of ham radio and condo life and unwanted RFI.

My son and me Back in the day without HOA, condo's an complicated city living.
Good afternoon and it's time to post the final segment regarding ham radio and the condo life. Today I will be looking at the grief living in the city, close neighbors and poor quality control on electronics. You don't have to live in a condo to experience any of the above mentioned issues but condo dwellers may not be able to setup a separate listening antenna, rejig their antenna or change the antenna. Living in a condo has it's ups and downs........other than the elevator that is! No snow to shovel and no lawn to cut and sometimes some decent height to mention a few things but there is very limited antenna real estate and very close neighbors who's LED bulbs, Plasma tv's and other electronic gizmo's that may be are very close to you and your antenna. If you are having an issue with noise first it's very important to find out whether it's man made or natural. The ARRL has a great page on just this were they offer up recorded examples of RFI.
Once you have identified the RFI the trick now is to figure out where it's coming from, it is from your neighbor or from your own QTH? In my townhouse I had a crazy issue with a plasma TV and the great news was it was coming from our own TV. When you have RFI and it's your own that is easier to deal with than when from others around you. Lets have a look at some devices out there that can help out with RFI. The first item that comes to mind is made by MFJ and it's the MFJ-1026 noise canceller. It comes with an internal antenna (the antenna that picks up the noise) The best way to see how this unit works is to provide you with a link to my YouTube page were I posted a video regarding the MFJ-1026   If you have an Elecraft K3 radio I posted a second video using the MFJ-1026 plus the noise reduction on the K3 and I imagine this can work with most modern transceivers Welcome back and I hope you enjoyed the videos and I do believe there are more out there if you care to Google them. 
In the condo I am in now as you know I have the MFJ mag loop and a mag loop has a great way of  nulling out noise. I had a comment on one of my ham radio condo posts from a gentlemen using a loop as a receive antenna and a separate but noisy transmit antenna.
Another product out there that I personally have not tried but a reader of my blog brought to my attention is the  CMC-130S-3k from My Antennas. 
It's a Common Mode Choke, RF Choke and RF Isolator all in one go to the link and have a look there is also a video of the unit in action.
Well there you have it some ideas on how to reduce or illuminate issues that may be giving you some grief in regards to close quarters ham radio. This is the final segment of Ham radio and the condo life. I hope you have enjoyed it and found some useful information.

Part 5 modes for ham radio and the condo life

Multi-tasking
Good afternoon everyone the weather up this way is raining, the MFJ loop is on the balcony and there is nothing to be had on 20 and 40m CW it seems everyone is participating in the CQ World wide WPX SSB contest this weekend. So why am I not jumping into the fray you ask.......well this is the topic for part 5 of  ham radio and the condo life. In this post I am going to look at the radio modes I found work best for me. In a condo it's very obvious your neighbors are very close and now a days each home is FULL of electronic gizmos! In condo living it's accepted practice to respect your fellow neighbors by keeping the TV and music to an acceptable level as well as any noise overall. For the ham it should also be an expectation to be RF mindful as well. One of  the ways I found to be a good RF neighbor is to in my case to make sure I  "mind my mode".
Years ago when I was in a townhouse and decided to spend more time with my radio hobby. It just so happens the upcoming weekend was the Canada day SSB contest. I had a nice Yaesu FT 1000 MP radio and I was all set to dive right in. My antenna was out on my car a far distance way with coax running out to it. The first day of the contest ended and I was having a blast until my fellow neighbor asked me "did you hear "CQ contest CQ contest" from my speakers! I said no (which was the true I didn't) but knowing full well what was going on the Canada day contest came to an end and the thinking cap went on.
I could go and see them and explain it could be the poor electronics they have that is picking up my signal............not a good idea I thought as this can just open a HUGE can of worms! The plan I came up with to keep me on the air was to become a QRP (low power) operator. I very much looked forward to this and as I looked into things I also came to the understanding that you get more bang for your watt with CW than you do with SSB. My first but not only mode for ham radio in a condo is CW. Now there may be readers who are thinking "nice idea but I am morseless" funny thing so was I. Some time ago did have a basic understand but far from proficient. I set out to learn CW and it did take time and remember I did say earlier I really liked contesting so the goal was to get my CW up to contest speed in around 25-35 WPM.
Years ago I was introduced to the digital modes but found it very frustrating to get the PC to play nice with the radio and digital program. It would seem all was working fine until I turned the the rig and the PC on and for some reason something else was wrong. I found it took more time to hunt the issue down than I was operating digital.  So for some time I just stuck with CW and put the digital modes off to the side.
The next radio for me was the Elecraft K3 and the Elecraft reflector was booming with posts about getting your K3 up and running on the digital modes. Back then the popular modes were PSK31 and WSPR. I did still have some issues with the PC and rig talking to each other and did get frustrated at times. At present my condo modes are CW and FT8 and at the present time FT8 is very popular. While writing this post I had FT8 running in the background and was able to make 12 contacts. Having said that I do find CW more interactive but today with the SSB contest going on CW contacts were far and few to be had. The rig I have now is the Icom 7610 and it is a breeze to get working with digital.
Do give me your feedback with modes you are using in your condo. The next topic for ham radio and the condo life is dealing with close neighbors and most likely being in a city or built up urban areas is electronics causing you grief with there noise.



Part 4 Lets look at some condo antennas

At our old condo the loop loops like a covered piece of furniture.
Good afternoon everyone, it's time to have a look at getting on the air from a condo. I have been living in a condo for about 6 years now and really have only had one antenna BUT I have tried some that really did not work at all and some that did a so so job. Operating from a condo does have it's challenges:
- most likely you are in a highly populated area with other large condo's around you.
- very small foot print for an antenna.
- In some cases the condo unit is small which limits your space for the ham radio "stuff".

Well now that I have you listing your radio on QRZ.COM for sale lets look at some of the advantages of being in a condo.
- In most cases you are high up as for me in one condo I was 60 feet up and in this one I am 160 feet up.
- Your balcony as most are made of metal make a good ground plane for some antennas.
- Your ham skills are challenged with regards to antennas, power output and mode of operation.
OK the last two points above I was really stretching for some positives but for sure height is in most cases a major advantage.

In this post lets look at some antennas that may work from a balcony. The antenna I use as you may already know if you are a regular reader of my blog is the MFJ 1788 mag loop. Now I have had many comments as well as emails saying that the mag loop is pricey. It's very true it is and most mag loops are not cheap as I also have the Chameleaon CHA P loop 2.0 mag loop for portable op's which also is a pricey antenna. I did save my pennies and spent some coin on the MFJ 1788 and not to turn this post into a review of MFJ but quality is not noted on the Eham review site with regards to most MFJ products. I did have a small issue with my loop but I repaired it and since that time (6 years ago) the loop has given me no issues at all. In no way am I saying that the mag loops are the only way to go.
A very unique looking antenna that is great for balcony operation is the Isotron antennas  these antennas get a very decent review on Eham and I know of a ham who uses one and has had great success with it. These antennas are small, no ground plain needed and they can be purchased as mono band or multi band. Also they really don't look like an antenna. With antenna when you want to use it you put it out and when done take it in. In the present condo I am in this is how I use my MFJ loop it's only out when I am using it.
The loop at our new location 
Another antenna worth mentioning is the new Elecraft AX1 for 20/17/15m and rumors are they may be extending the band coverage soon.  It comes with a 13 foot radial wire and has a max output of 30 watts.
Depending on the size of your balcony a wire antenna dipole antenna can be used. When we were looking at condos some balcony's were huge and could support a homemade wire dipole antenna. Two antennas I have tried that did not seem to work for me is a mono whip antenna mounted vertically  with pre-cut radials...did not work at all. I also could not get the MFJ 1788 to work horizontally at my new place I had to mount it vertically. I also tried mono whip antennas in a dipole configuration and it did work but way to large for the balcony.
In my next post I am going to talk about what modes of operation I found to work best for me and how it opened a new door for me in ham radio...........oh and by the way from my condo setup as I was writing this post I was able to make contact with IK4UPB on 20m.

Part 3 of ham radio and condo life

Failed Hy-gain tape dipole
Good Saturday afternoon readers and sorry for the tardiness with regards to finally getting around to part 3. Work has been very busy and not much computer or radio time! In this part I am going to look at the antennas I have used and I have used a lot of different configurations. I had some responses from those who live in condo townhouses I too have lived in a condo townhouse and had great success. Most townhouses up this way are of wood construction which is good news for the indoor antennas. If you have a multilevel townhouse you most likely have access to an attic. There may also be a back deck and or a small to medium backyard.
Let me begin by saying this segment on antennas assumes you are looking for something that is either hidden or looks like something it's not.
Most (but not mine) town homes have a garage and driveway to-which you park a car in. I have found a very simple way to get on the air is to put an antenna on your car and run coax out to it. Now having said that you don't want to run around town with a huge antenna on your car (maybe you ...but not me) There are many fast connect/disconnect mounts on the market. As for the antenna I have seen and did have a multi-band HF antenna. I did operate my home HF radio with a multi-band antenna.....yes I did say I had no driveway or garage but more on that in a minute. The antenna I used was something similar to the Comet UHV-6 mounted on my car. There is also the Hustler triband adapter to allow 3 Hustler resonators to be used at the same time. With these types of antennas or similar ones you can run coax out to your car in the driveway connect to the antenna and your on the air.
In my case my townhouse at the time did not have a driveway or garage it was a common car parking lot. So what I did was I buried LMR 400 in plastic tubing out to where my car was. I terminated the coax to an SO-239 in a small plastic box. The box was in a small bush and unseen. When I wanted to go on the air I connected a small jumper of coax from the box to my car antenna. I was able to use this for about 3 years.
Attic DX-EE
If you have an attic and I did in one of my town homes the best antenna for me was the Alpha Delta DX-EE. I mounted this antenna in my attic is a "Z" configuration. To mount it I used stand off's for electric fences. This antenna was very close to the roof and other wood 2x4 rafters but surprisingly I had no real issues with SWR. My Elecraft K3 radio has a great tuner in it when needed.
DX-EE stand offs
Another antenna configuration I tried in my attic was two mono band whip antennas set up as a dipole. This antenna was tricking to mount in the attic as it was very rigid and required room. It worked well but do to the space this antenna needed I was only able to get two separate
Weaving between rafters
antennas of this kind in the attic.
Backyard side kick
One antenna I had and tried in the attic but could not get it to work was the High Sierra sidekick antenna. I tried various ground radial configurations but could not get it to tune at all.
I did end up mounting the High Sierra sidekick antenna in the backyard close to our deck. It was in a very hard spot to see and I was able to remove the antenna when not in use and bring it in the house. I was able to conspicuously bury some radials and was able to get a decent SWR.
High Sierra attic attempt
Because our condo town home was mainly wood construction I was also able to setup my Alex Loop in the living room by the patio sliding glass door and make some decent contacts. 
Mobile whip dipole

Alex loop in living room
Another failed antenna for me was the Hy-gain  tape dipole and I am not sure why it did work and the DX-EE did but it was worth a try. I had this antenna for some time so there was no money outlay but it just did not want to tune. Part 4 will be dealing with Ham radio in a condo apartment building and how I have successfully gotten on the air for the past 6 years.

Ham radio and the condo life

Ham radio from a city condo…….I have been doing it for close to 7 years now and it does have it’s challenges. I have had great success with some cool world wide contacts. In Canada it’s tough to get into the housing market right out of the gate so many younger ham’s are getting their foot into the market with condo living. Then those ham’s who are retiring and want to downsize are considering condo life as well. I am here to say that in condo life there is also ham radio!!

Before we talk about the nuts and bolts of condo ham radio lets deal with some of the basics. I have always found it avoids condo board letters if you read and understand the rules and guidelines of your particular condo. Yes get used to it if you are going to move into a condo there are rules and expectations. What does this have to do with ham radio………well if you are seen as a respectful owner (or renter) of the condo board, residents and property it can go a long way.

For example most condo guidelines (nice condo word for RULES) do not allow “permanent antennas” on the balcony. This rule is yes for Amateur radio antennas but I believe the condo is concerned about the mini satellite dishes springing up or HD antennas. Just one of many challenges a condo radio op has to creatively deal with. In my case I have the MFJ 1788 mag loop and in my newest condo (6 months now) the antenna is portable and it not  “permanently” mounted on the balcony. In my humble opinion having a low key antenna is important. Having whip antennas extending over the balcony or wires making their way down the side of the building just invites a letter from you know who from the office of your know where!!  Like it or not we are all human and once this happens you have the microscope on you…..not a very nice situation to be in.

In a condo your fellow “condo-ites” are very close to you and that means RFI on your part but also on their part as well with all the unfiltered electronics on the market today. The positive outcome to this is you will become very knowledgeable on dealing with RFI. Oh and a word of advise…..I have read this in the past “go see your neighbor and suggest installing filters on their electronics” Up here in the land of snow and proverbial “thank you” we always say to apparently to everything……there is no thank you response from someone you are asking to tamper with their electronics. Rigs these days have excellent filtering and that are some accessories you can purchase to knock out the worst of offender.

Well that is enough for today….in posts to follow I am going to look at RFI, power output and no as a condo dweller you are not a QPRer for life………..nothing wrong with that either!! What antennas I have had that work, some of the better modes (not just digi either)  to work and last but not least what happens if your in a situation were absolutely operating is possible, well I am here to say that you will still be able to get on the air in you condo on HF working DX!
Stay tuned.

 

ARRL DX CW 2019 in the books

The setup
Well the ARRL DX CW has come and gone for 2019 and my effort was one of interest only. I knew I had non radio related things to do this weekend and we were out each evening. Actually the contest caught me by surprise as I usually plan ahead and make time. This week I was checking WA7BNM contest site and was shocked to see the contest was this weekend! This was the first real contest run for my new IC7610 rig. Now I am used to the Elecraft K3 but honestly the 7610 preformed for me just as good as my K3 did. I left the filter set at 250Hz and never had any issues when Kilo watt  contesters were side by side belting out their call. The waterfall  on the 7610 was par with my old Elecraft P3 also it was an added bonus that N1MM+ has a spectrum scope fed directly from the 7610. Having the two independent receivers was nice. When I found rare DX but there was a pileup I left one receiver there and checked in now and then. With the other receiver I would continue the search and pounce. I had been away from the 7610 for about 2 weeks regarding CW operating so I at times found I was slow to figure out how some functions were done.
As for the contest I was running 60 watts (not sure of reason for the 60 watt number) and my antenna is the MFJ 1788 mag loop. I am in a condo so it’s a balcony antenna about 180 feet up facing south east. The software was N1MM+ and MRP40 CW decoder for the super fast fisted contesters. On Sunday the winds for some reason really picked up and my MFJ loop was moving around the balcony. I shut the radio down and took it in I would rather save the antenna from damage than taking a chance on getting more contacts.
I made only 25 contact and a score of 1575 BUT my intention was not to blow the doors off  with a great score. Instead after I made contact with a station I would look them up on QRZ.COM and read about either the individual or the contest station. Over all the limited time I was in the contest I had a blast and was very please with the Icom 7610 and the ability of my balcony mounted Mag loop antenna.


FA- VA4 antenna analyzer kit.

The condo kit corner.
About a month ago my FA-VA4 vector antenna analyzer kit came in and it has sat idle until Friday. I had the day off and with everything done that needed to be done, I say "everything that needed to be done" because there is always something to get done! I decided it was time to put the kit together. This really is the first kit I have attempted to assemble since moving into our small condo in Toronto. I no longer have the huge desk, nice lighting and the room to place all my equipment around me. Now it's a roll top desk with 2 slide out shelves, that is my only choice for kit work now. Trying to get the exhaust fan, soldering station and other small miscellaneous items in place is a real challenge. What was also a challenge was remembering where the heck I placed things in the dam condo! I have a nice Panavise setup for holding my boards in place while soldering. I could find the arms but I was not able to locate the base. I looked everywhere but had no luck and nothing bothers me more than knowing it's somewhere but just not able to find that "somewhere". I had to settle for placing just the Panavise arms on the slide out and do my best. I found very quickly that working in a tight space one has to be very aware of cords and tools, a few times moving the soldering iron in place almost had the soldering iron cord take the make shift Panavise (holding the circuit board) onto the floor. The kit from Box73 comes from Germany, the shipping time was fantastic as well as packaging. There is no SMD work to be done that was done and I only had to mount some connectors, power on switch, pushbuttons and the LCD display. After being away from kit building for a very long time this was a nice way to jump back into things. I first took an inventory of the parts and this is something I always do. I hate getting to the point when a part can't be found and your not sure if it was not shipped or misplaced by me? Doing the inventory allows me to contact the vendor and in the case of large projects the part arrives in time for that point in the assembly. Everything was there and it was now time for the next important step...read over ALL the assembly instructions. In my case I go the extra step and check out YouTube videos and the internet to see if there are any pointers that others have come across to make things easier or things to avoid.  One of the builder beware tips I read was from John AE5X blog to not use lithium batteries as the voltage is to high and the FA-VA4 will repeatedly reboot. This type of information is invaluable when kit building. It saves trouble shooting time and going down possibly a long road of parts testing.
This kit does have SMD parts that I said are factory installed BUT some of the items that the builder needs to install are very close to some SMD parts. This brings me to another important part of kit building....spend the money to get the right tools for the job. In this case my Weller WES51 has a large variety of soldering tips. I find the fine chisel tip (Weller ETM) worked great for soldering the LCD terminals, the larger tip for the BNC connector (Weller ETD) and finally the intermediate tip for the components beside SMD parts( Weller ETB).
The instructions had me installing the ON/OFF slider switch first and this was a great start for this old rusty kit builder.  I then moved onto the 3 rails in which the LCD would eventually plug into. You will notice from the picture these are raised up on the board. Each pin has a "collar" so the rail will be at the proper hight but the builder has to be cautious and make sure the rail is firmly seated and upright and straight. One rail is 20 pins and once it's in....it's in! In the past I have had to remove these types of components due to my own lack of attention. IT IS NOT FUN and I have a Hakko desoldering tool  which make desoldering a pleasure but even with that tool removing a 20 pin rail is not fun at all. Take the time to set these parts up for first time correct soldering. My method was taping the rail in place, solder the 2 opposite end pins, check for upright correctness and firm seating on the board. If all is good solder the remaining pins. The other components were easy to solder in place when using the proper tips. I have a magnifier head set  and use it to make sure all connections are soldered properly and that all were done. You would be surprised how many times when multiple pins are involved how easy it is to miss a pin.  The LCD needed to be soldered to the backlight, it involved a 20 pin connection on one side. The instructions said I only "had" to solder the 2 outside pins. I chose to solder all 20 and then on the opposite side of the LCD there were 2 sets of 3 pin connections that need all pins soldered. To make sure the LCD was firmly against the backlight I used some tape. Once the LCD was ready to go again I took time to inspect the pins that were going to plug into the 20 pin and two 3 pin rails. I did find one of the 3 pin setups ups on the LCD was bent! I corrected this but if I failed to see this could had resulted in broken or bent pins.
There is two AA battery holders that need to be soldered in and all I can say is check and double check this. Mixing this up polarity can bring smoke to the smoke test. Believe me it can happen. One of the Elecraft K2 kits I put together almost ended in disaster when I was not paying attention and soldered up a power cable with Anderson pole connectors. I soldered red wire to Anderson black connector and black wire to Anderson red connector. It gets better.....I then plunged it into the K2 and powered the K2 on!! The Astron power supply made a noise and both the inline fuses on the main Astron power supply blew. I was very luck and now double check everything.
It was now time for the "smoke test" and I was so proud of my first kit in over 4 years I had my dear wife Julie come over for the ceremony.......I flipped the switch and........yup you guessed it...NOTHING!!!!! Yup nothing.....but no smoke and that is a good sign. Julie giggled and moved on to other tasks. I made a mental note to always solo a smoke test and avoid the embarrassment. The problem was one of the AA batteries was not firmly in place. Once looked after the power on test was a success. I called Julie over for her to check out the kit but it just did not have the same excitement. That was it for the kit building for the day I still have to preform the calibration. Over all the kit was a  joy to put together and by way of some side notes. The case is a brushed aluminum with attention to detail such as counter sunk screws for securing case, the LCD and buttons lined up perfectly and a nice touch was not having stick on rubber feet (that always over time seem to come off and get lost) This kit came with pull through rubber feet. I still have to calibrate the unit and actually use it but that will be another day.
Completed kit
Smoke test 
Bent LCD pins 
Supporting the 20 pin connector.
Completed LCD pins 

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