Posts Tagged ‘FT-817’

A dongle for the FT-817

If you have used a Yaesu FT-817 on SSB you’ll have probably been annoyed by the lack of a TUNE button to generate a steady carrier for antenna tuning. You usually have to press the MODE button a few times to select FM or PKT, use PTT to send a carrier, then change mode back to USB or LSB. It isn’t one of life’s greater annoyances, but it’s a nuisance all the same, especially if you use an antenna like the AlexLoop which needs retuning every time you change frequency.

A couple of weeks ago I received a letter from one of my blog readers, John G4HUK, enclosing a Quick-Tune Dongle that he makes for the Yaesu FT-817, FT-857 and FT-897 rigs. It’s a neat little gadget that plugs into the ACC port on the back of the radio. What it does is let you generate a tuning signal in SSB mode by double-clicking the microphone PTT. Simple but effective! It won’t be so useful for home users who have a CAT cable plugged into their ACC port already, but for SOTA operators and other exponents of outdoor radio (apart from CW operators who can just hold the key down) it could be a godsend.

The Quick Tune Dongle installed on the back of the FT-817

The dongle didn’t work for me at first until I set the baud rate of my FT-817’s ACC port to 9600. This is explained in the ‘manual’. The instructions also explain how you can reconfigure the dongle to change the way it works. By default it will use PKT mode to generate the tuning carrier and ignore double-clicks made in any mode other than USB and LSB, which I think will suit most people.

I think it is an ingenious little gadget which you can get from HUK Electronics for £15.95 + postage. Here’s a video of the dongle in action.

A nice audio report

I just finished a contact with a very loud Austrian station, OE3DIA on 10 metres, who took time out while working a string of stations to give me a complimentary audio report, quite unsolicited. It’s good when that happens! The comment was “Very nice audio cutting through the QRM” I was using the K3 at 80 watts and the mike was one of those Heil mikes with the dual insert, set to “narrow”. The K3 transmit audio equalisation is factory standard, in other words flat.

As it happens I had just been doing some audio comparisons between the KX3 and the FT-817. There has been a thread going on the KX3 Yahoo group started by a disenchanted American ham who claims that the FT-817 has punchier audio than the KX3. It’s rubbish, to put it politely. The KX3 has a built-in speech compressor, while my 817 has an RF processor made by Joachim, DF4ZS (more details on my FT-817 page) built into the microphone. Without it there is just no comparison.

I recorded some audio clips so you can hear for yourself:

There is a bit of distortion on those clips which was not noticeable when listening on the radio. I think I might have a problem with my sound card.

I’m not sure if the difference are that noticeable in those clips, but when you look at the needle of the power meter the KX3 certainly has the more punchy signal.

Both the FT-817 and the KX3 were running off 13.8V and set to 5 watts output. I couldn’t compare them on battery power as I don’t have the charger board for the KX3 and the external battery pack (10xAA NiMH cells) I intended to use appears to be past it and the KX3 kept cutting out on voice peaks.

More of a Shout than a Whisper…..

The key to converting your treasured and incredibly versatile FT-817 or similar into a digital powerhouse seems to be an A. computer and B. a sound card interface.

So, armed with a tidy little Signalink USB interface, I’ve been attacking digital modes with vigour, starting with WSPR (Weak Signal Propagation Reporting). The Signalink USB is basically a remote sound card in a box, powered by your computer’s USB. This solution allows controlled audio isolation between your rig and transceiver. Level adjustment is available on the front panel too which means you don’t have to navigate clumsily through several windows on your PC and adjust sliders with your mouse to optimise levels.

FT-817 and Signalink USB Interface
The interface connects directly to the data port of my FT-817 and provides a PTT function, if required. However, I’m also using a CAT interface which provides PTT (Push To Talk) as well as frequency configuration from the WSPR program that I’ve started with.

So, straightforward then? Nearly but not quite. There are a few small pitfalls to be aware of. Firstly, the ‘817 needs to be put into DIG mode as opposed to USB mode. This routes the input and output signal to the data port on the rear panel. The data port is inactive in SSB modes. Secondly, the correct data mode needs to be selected in the second-level menu, namely USER-U. This means that it will be operating in USB mode and the passband will be adequate. If this were to be set to RTTY or PSK, then the filtering for WSPR would be too narrow. WSPR signals are individually narrow, but several occupy the given passband. Finally you need to follow the instructions on Windows setup that comes with the Signalink box to the letter. One unchecked box or misplaced slider will drive you to madness.

WSPR Control Software
Apart from that, it seems to be ‘plug and play’! My first play on 40m with a random wire of some 20m in the back garden pulled in a VK straight away. I was heard up in the Norwegian Arctic Circle with 1W. Elation. Simply tuning to 472kHz pulled in a Dutch station with absolutely no special equipment.

For one whole day I exercised near-military discipline. I stayed on the 30m band all day long without jumping to other bands. 1W into my rear-garden wire antenna reached Israel and the Arctic Circle again. East Coast US stations starting to come in at 20.00 GMT and I was reaching the Mid-West by late evening. Within ten minutes this morning on 17m I was heard in New South Wales and Iceland.

10 mins on 17m!
10 mins on 20m!

I finally unleashed my single Watt on the 20m band for the first time this afternoon, immediately yielding a nice path to the Philippines as well as Europe and the East US.

No wonder this aspect of the hobby is so absorbing. I’m absolutely addicted. Did the developer, Joe Taylor, K1JT, realise what he was unleashing on us? A ‘big shout’ goes out to the man who invented WSPR!

A WSPR in your ear.

Like many of us, I am still amazed by the amount of radio spectrum we have to freely play with. Shots are being fired and eyes are being gouged by companies for small slices of precious bandwidth. Multiply our many electric playgrounds by the number of games (or modes) available and the permutations are enough to overload your front end.

I’ve decided to catch up with WSPR, a mode well known to many but new to me. I’m going to give it a go – the difficult way. Julian, G4ILO has an excellent article on the system here.

WSPR stands for Weak Signal Propagation Reporting and is a computer programme that runs your VHF/HF transceiver automatically in order to receive others running the same system. Successful contacts, one or two-way, are reported automatically to a website. It’s like having a worldwide net of propagation beacons for every band available at your fingertips and the results appear quickly after automatic contact confirmation. What a great thing to leave your equipment running overnight or during the day when you’re otherwise occupied!
Screenshot of Map Page

The best thing is that WSPR works below the noise threshold and you can use very low power. I was staggered the other day to see that Tim, G4VXE had hit Australia on 40m with just 1W! One Watt! So I’m going to give it a go with 1W and just an indoor Miracle Whip antenna. I know many QRP CW experts may cracked this one before – but I’m new and excited. I’ll try 40m and work my way up to 2m and see what happens!

I’ll use my FT-817. A CAT lead arrived this week from Hong Kong but it seems I’ll also need an audio interface between the transceiver packet port and computer sound card to make it all work. Another option is to buy an external interface that has a sound card and interfaces to the computer with a USB. It’s not quite going to be a ‘plug and play’ job, I’m afraid to report.

In the meantime, I’ll be satisfying myself to regular chats on 2m with nearby stations on FM, SSB and even DV mode. So many ways of talking – and that’s just on 2m. I'll 'whisper' my progress here as soon as I'm up and running.

Cracking the Whip….

The Miracle Whip, that is.

I only acquired my fantastic Yaesu FT-817 to give me 5W of SSB on V/UHF from windswept Welsh hilltops. I couldn’t resist a second-hand bargain of a Miracle Whip to see what I could achieve with QRP on the HF bands.

The '817 and Miracle Whip
It’s a classic Fred-and-Ginger combination that has been blogged, reviewed and You-Tubed extensively along with other rig/telescopic antenna double-acts. Yes, it’s only 57” of radiating metal with a rather good tuner at the base, but thanks to the current propagation conditions it at least enables you to experience the miraculous. Its advantage lies also in its simplicity. It means you’ll use it because it connects, extends and tunes in seconds. I like that! Connect. Extend. Tune.

I’ve been having fun with the ‘817 on my lap, indoors, running off its own batteries (=2.5W max) and chatting to stations on the higher bands in places such as St. Petersburg and the Ukraine with 5/9 reports. You simply can’t get this thrill with a big station. It’s reconnecting to the magic of radio – which is a real miracle every time a contact comes out of the ether. I’m even moved to ‘Tweet’ a new QSO with excitement! (@MW0DNK).

I’ve started at 10m, sliding my way down the bands as the challenge rises. Using 5W (external battery) I managed a QSO with Algeria yesterday on 15m, 4/3. I finally cracked 20m with a shorter, brief contact to Spain. I had a 5m counterpoise wire connected this time.

Connect. Extend. Tune.
On 40m I’m simply not heard, at least not yet. This is where I need to start learning some CW skills. This will open up the lower bands for me. Until then, living on the Isle of Anglesey, I might head to a beach and try getting some salt water under my portable station to see if I can crack the ‘40m SSB phono challenge.’ Listen out for me.

On 2m the antenna is a ¾ wave. I’ve no idea what the radiation pattern is for this length, but it seems to work very well. Unfortunately the antenna is just short of a ¼ wavelength at 6m, so perhaps a wire clip-on extension is the answer.

It was with sadness that on visiting the Miracle Antennas website I saw an announcement about the passing of the company founder and product inventor, Robert Victor, this year. It seems he’s left us a wonderful legacy. Vy 73, OM.

QRP v QRO – Blood on the Floor?

The mighty, omnipotent sun that our precious emerald and sapphire orb circulates is nearing the crescendo of its eleven year repeat-performance.

For the first time since 2003, I have revisited the high frequencies: the short waves of equal delight and frustration that ebb and flow with the days, seasons and years. Back then, I worked the world with 10 Watts and a rather long wire antenna. I stayed up all night sometimes to listen to the magical waxing and waning of distant continents on 80m. It was like listening to a sublime symphony. Having moved to a new house with more limited prospects for creating a good HF antenna system, I turned my back on these noble frequencies to chase the excitement of VHF and UHF.

Ironically, the drive for portable operation at V/UHF has led me to flirt with HF again. It's the inevitable purchase of arguably one of the best amateur radios ever manufactured, the Yaesu FT-817. Five delightful Watts from top band, all the way to 70cm. MF to UHF. Sea level to mountain top. CW to FM, with all modes in between. What a gem of beautifully packaged, miniaturised happiness.

FT-817. 5W on 10m.
With 5W of HF readily to hand, I’ve hastily run 10m of vertical wire in the back garden to listen to a more contemporary performance of a classic favourite. Happily, 10m has truly sprung into life. This morning I’ve just completed a QSO from home (Wales) to Greece with 5W at both ends. Deep joy. A quick bargain has even brought a Miracle Whip into the ensemble – just experimenting for fun.

But scanning through the bands in general I’m noticing a tendency to transmit at powers of 1kW and above, whatever the band, whatever the conditions. Abrupt reports of 5/9+ are exchanged with a seemingly insatiable appetite to amass as many transient contacts as possible. Then there are the pile-ups. Those ungentlemanly bun-fights where the loudest (or largest bank account and electricity bill) wins. I’m sure that there are whole streets in Palermo where the lights actually dim when DX from Pago Pago is heard on 20m.

We’ll never know if was possible to work Pago Pago with QRP because we were never given the chance. This is on SSB at least. CW operators have a greater appreciation of low power. This is an old argument that will attract equal venom and praise from our electromagnetic community. But I do believe that as technology advances, there is a global drive for efficiency. Low power is in fashion and with solar conditions as they are, we should all be ‘turning the wick down’ a little bit, shouldn’t we?

I do believe that when the sun takes its rest, there is a place for high power, particularly on the more difficult bands. There – you see? I’m not anti-QRO at all. I’m just advocating using (as your exam tells you) the minimum amount of power necessary to maintain a comfortable QSO.

KH6 – Hawaii Bound

My current assignment at Fort Leavenworth has me traveling quite a bit. My intent has been to bring a rig with me and have some casual QSOs while on the road. My success has been mixed. I would mostly attribute this to either a lack of planning on my part or being in a stuck in a hotel room with zero antenna opportunities.

One of the most inspiring ham radio blogs I ever ran across was the 100 Pound Dxpedition. I enjoyed how Scott, NE1RD, covered his adventures of conducting portable operations… documenting what worked and what did not. His last post on that paticular blog was back in 2007, but I still use the site as a reference. Scott’s praise for the Buddipole led me in using the Buddipole during my recent tour in Korea. Another tip from Scott I am going to try out is using a hardside golf bag case to transport my Buddipole to Hawaii.

Now for a rig… I think the Elecraft KX3 would be ideal for a Hawaii trip. With 10 watts output and an internal battery, I can’t think of better rig to take to the beach. But the wait time for the KX3 is still quite a while. I have both an Elecraft KX1 and a Yaesu FT-817ND. The KX1 would be great due to its small size and ease of use. But it is limited to only CW and I would like to do some PSK in addition to CW.

I pulled out my FT-817 and conducted an inventory:

    – West Mountain Radio RIGblaster Plug n Play connects directly to the DIN socket on the back of the rig.
    – CAT cable that connects from the RIGblaster to the rig’s ACC socket which enables rig control.
    – PowerPole 12v adapter.
    Palm Paddle.
    Elecraft T1 Auto-tuner.
    – Nifty manual for the FT-817.

My FT-817 has quite a few of the optional bells and whistles from W4RT:

I also splurged on two recent upgrades:

    Peg Leg tilt stand – I think this will be helpful as one of my significant dislikes of the FT-817 is the small display which is hard to see.
    – Magnets for the Palm Paddle – this is critically important as the Palm Paddle by itself is not heavy enough. The magnets allow the Palm Paddles to firmly stick to the top of the FT-817.

For PSK, rig control, and logging I have my Dell Mini netbook. I had not used the netbook in a while, so I started it up to see how it was working. I initally purchased it back in 2009 baselined with Ubuntu and have kept Ubuntu installed on it since then. After booting it up. I updated the distribution to 10.04 LTS and installed fldigi. The RIGblaster easily interfaced with the netbook via a USB connection and the headphone/microphone jacks.

I configured fldigi to work with the RIGblaster to include rig control using Hamlib:

    – Audio: PortAudio using the netbook’s hardware soundcard for both Capture and Playback
    – Rig: Hamlib; Device /dev/ttyUSB0; Baud rate 38400; Stopbits 2; PTT via Hamlib command checked

… clicked on the Initialize button and I was good to go.

Setting up the macros on flidigi is pretty straightforward with the default macros only needing slight tweaking for my personal preferemces.

Once I fired everything up all I had to do was switch to 14.070 MHz, switch the mode to DIG, and drop the input level a bit. With the narrow yellow PSK streams cascading down the waterfall, I picked one that was calling CQ and answered. Transmit worked and my home antenna provided a nice low SWR, no need for the tuner. My macros worked and the QSO was concluded successfully. All with 5 watts.

I plugged in the Palm Paddle, switched to 7.115 MHz, listened and heard nothing, then used the paddles to send QRL? a few times. SWR still looked decent. After a few CQ calls, I got an answer followed by a short QSO. Great – both PSK and CW were working FB.

Now the question is: do I want to bring my small Tokyo Hy-Power HL-100B amplifier that will raise the output to 100 watts? If I bring the amp, I will have to bring a power supply and a different tuner. I am thinking I need to be able to use two different configurations:

    (A) Beach and Buddipole: using the barefoot FT-817, running everything on batteries.
    (B) Lanai Portable: used from the hotel room, with amp and assoicated power supply.

Now it is time to go through my Buddipole bags and figure out what I need to pack.

Looks like I will be there during the Hawaii QSO Party!

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