Testing 123, SOTA on the lawn.

Sota pole on the lawn

SOTA pole on the lawn

Technically not really SOTA, because that would require a summit, but testing an Antenna I built for the purpose at least 18 months ago.

SOTA, Summits on the air is a slightly crazy pursuit within the larger sphere of amateur radio involving lugging radio gear, including batteries and antennas, up a mountain or random hillock to try and talk to other similarly afflicted amateur radio tragics around the country and around the world.

I made this antenna so long ago now I couldn’t rightly remember if it worked so before I venture out into the wild blue yonder over summer to try and scale the heights with a backpack of assorted technology I thought I should check it was working.

So there I am, lying on the lawn with the trusty FT857 and a LiPO battery from one of my model aircraft plugged into the back.

The dog is wondering what on earth I’m doing as he’s normally the one lying on the lawn on a sunny Saturday afternoon and he’s certainly not sure about the wire and string creation I’ve pegged up near the trampoline.

Packed antenna.

Rolled up linked dipole with hand mic for scale.

A quick test with the analyzer puts the resonant point on 40m at a shade under 7.100 Mhz and 14.150 Mhz for 20m which are the key bands for SOTA here in ZL-Land although there’s taps for 15 and 10m as well.

Those upper bands are a little tricky at the current low-point of the solar cycle so not a priority and I was meant to be mowing the lawn, not lying down on it so I plugged in the rig and spun the dial.

There was a contest on somewhere well north of us as R0ML and a couple of other Russians were calling CQ in consummate contesting fashion although whispering with 25W into a low dipole was probably a bit of a stretch from my end although I did shout breathlessly at the microphone for a few minutes.

Then along comes Steve, ZL1PWR calling CQ on 14.215.  At about 1,100km north up in the land of the Auck somewhere it was enough proof for me that the antenna is good and there’s always something a bit pixie-dust about portable HF operation even if it’s just on the front lawn.

After a bit of a rag chew I packed up and mowed the lawn leaving the dog content that order was restored in the shade under the trampoline.

The Kiwi DX un-group

Kiwi DX groupThe Kiwi DX group was, and now even more so is, an un-group.

In the same way that some IT cliques have un-cons instead of conferences.

The premise is that you have more of the social and less of the conference with a strong focus on community and learning.

The Kiwi DX group was for the most part just a mailing list run by a few different folks over the years. When I first became a ham it was run by Bill, ZL3NB who is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.

The Kiwi DX mailing list bounced it’s last email some time in 2016 and although another mailing list is giving ZL DXers somewhere to blow off steam, it’s just not the same.

I miss the un-group-ness of the old list and the eclectic mix of folks who posted regularly even though the occasional flame war threatened to undo the very fabric of time itself.

While the group was essentially a random mob of hams rather than an organised club the mailing list did spawn some great collaborative efforts. The special even station ZM90DX that ran for a full year and crowd funding donations for some DXpeditions in the few short years I was an un-member come to mind.

This is obviously a bit of reminiscing on my part. I found some old emails that jogged my memory but that’s not my only intention, it’s also a bit of a sneaky shot at preserving a tiny little bit of amateur radio history.

The Kiwi DX group, being the un-group it is, has never had a website of it’s own. That hasn’t stopped a fair number of ZL Dxers using links to Lee, ZL2AL’s website that hosts the one ‘official’ mention of the group which is here: http://www.zl2al.com/kiw-dx-group/

Lee was another most excellent gentleman who sadly became Silent Key mid 2015. Lee created the KiwiDX logo at the top of this post and adorns quite a few ZL QSL cards.

Lee’s son is keeping the lights on over at http://www.zl2al.com but just in case it does fall into the cracks I’ve taken a copy of the little sliver of DX history and included the page contents below which is the sum total of the Kiwi DX Group web presence.

“The Kiwi DX Group is a group of avid DXers that formed in the late 1990s. The logo originated from the magazine NZDXR edited by ZL2AL. Although the magazine ceased publication after nearly 5 years, the bond was formed and Kiwi DXers became a formidable group in the pileups. ZLs are quick to support DXpeditions and a recent “pass the hat” exercise saw the ZLs raise a considerable amount of money to become a sponsor and support the upcoming FT5ZM Amsterdam Island DXpedition 2014”

In the spirit of the Kiwi DX un-group I’d encourage any ZL ham who’s fond of a bit of late night DX to use the Kiwi DX logo created by Lee on their QSL card or drop it on their qrz.com page.

We’ll see if we can have have the Kiwi DX group survive another 20 years even without the mailing list.

73, Chris

17,000km on a rubber ducky

I was out walking the dog, as you do, with my trusty Yaesu VX6 in hand this evening.

I tried to raise some locals for a chin-wag on a couple of repeaters and got the silent treatment so went for plan ‘B’ and started scanning some local services channels.

17,748 km or so Google says

After listening for a wee while to some linesmen dealing with a power pole fire (not related to the big CHCH fires recently) I got bored and thought I’d go a bit lower down the spectrum.

Basically I started listening a bit below 500 khz and scanned upwards from there.

The squelch broke for the the local broadcast AM stuff you’d expect, along with some big noise sources in the 80m band and a local ham rag chewing on 40m who sounded like a duck as the HT only does AM/FM not side band.

Then well into the short-wave broadcast chunk proper I listened to a bit of the 8pm news on Radio New Zealand shortwave service that was thumping in as I plodded along behind the K9/p.


Short wave listening with a Rubber Ducky?

After the news I kept on scanning upwards and wound up listening to a movie review of the new Lego Batman movie where the scan stopped on 11.780Mhz.

I assumed it was ABC, the Australian Shortwave service or something else relatively close to home.

Listened for a bit longer to the entertainment news about Angelina Jolie making a movie with her kids you could have knocked me down with a feather when the announcer said it was China Radio International English service!

A good solid S4 – S5 signal into the standard rubber ducky antenna designed for 432/144Mhz.

I didn’t even hold the radio above waist height most of the time, I was just wandering along with it in my hand.

Checking when I got home I found that the transmitter was centred on 11.785 Mhz based in Cerrik, Albania!! That’s almost anti-podal at around 17,000km.

Once again, there might be quite a bit of science in this radio thing but every now and then there’s a wee dusting of magic as well.


156bpm max? Hmm.

For the record the dog and I did 6.55 km in a bit over an hour and a quarter. 8,606 steps apparently. I do wonder how many steps the dog took? Quite a few more I’m guessing!

Propagation predictions and reality

Once again a contest proves that propagation prediction tools are naff. 🙂

I decided to spin the dial on 17m this evening before sneaking to bed and spoke to Eric, SM1ALH in Sweden for a few minutes but it was pretty rough, although 17m this late at night is always a bit of a crap shoot.

Conditions have been poor the last wee while due to a solar storm, with good visible aurora from my QTH but I decided to pop down to 20m to see if anyone was awake down there.

Low and behold the Scandinavian Activity contest has magically opened the band and I can hear a whole bunch of Europeans, JA’s and some VK’s plugging away in standard contest style.

Contest Log

Scandinavian Activity contest log

I promptly shoved a bit more coal in the direction of the afterburner and gave out some multiplier points to some folks up the other end of the planet before I got my beauty sleep.

In the mean time the propagation prediction tool in my logging software is saying “don’t bother” and the published solar numbers suggest getting shares in skype rather than HF gear.

So, once again, all together…

Turn on the radio and listen for a while, the bands are always open somewhere!

73, Chris

Icom IC706MKIIg self-oscillation problems

The Icom IC-706 in all it’s versions is one of the best know amateur transceivers of the last 20 years. Originally released in 1995 with the last in the line being the IC-706MKIIg which last rolled off the production line in 2009.

I managed to pick up a MKIIg a while ago in excellent condition which appeared to be fully functional as Icom intended it apart from problems with the microphone I posted a short note about a while ago.

After I fixed the microphone issue I made a few good DX contacts on 20 and 12m. I was getting a good impression of the shack-in-a-box and was looking forward to taking it out for portable VHF contesting which is what I bought it for.

Unfortunately it wasn’t 100% as intended though as a fault which was addressed in a service bulletin from Icom back in 2002 appeared. Long story short the final amplifier goes into self oscillation when transmitting in any mode on 15 or 17m.

The rig transmits correctly into a dummy load or perfectly matched antenna but if the wind is slightly up hill the visible effect is that SWR pops up to infinity because the final amplifier is generating a carrier somewhere out of band.

A quick google revealed the Service bulletin along with a bunch of forum posts about successes and failures in fixing the issue.

The recommend repair from Icom involves improving the earthing of the PLL and filter boards.

The factory earthing is some wee spring contacts that touch the aluminium chassis in various places and the screw-down points for each of the circuit boards. These springs slacken with time I imagine and some received a new spring ‘MP6’ on the filter board as part of the service bulletin.

My example had the ‘new’ spring on the filter board but another one on the rear side of the PCB was visibly not making a good contact at all. On the filter board I replaced both the ‘new’ contact (MP6) and the obviously faulty one (MP4) with solid copper wire links to chassis. With the filter board out I also re-tinned all of the mount points and cleaned the surface of the ‘posts’ they screwed down to.

On the PLL board one of the spring clips came away from the board due to a dry joint when I tried to re-tension it but otherwise the contacts appeared to be sound and I stuck the whole thing back together with great expectations.

Unfortunately my great expectation turned to greater disappointment as I could still not transmit on 15 or 17m into my Hexbeam which is by all accounts a good match on both of those bands. Oddly enough I could now key up if the lid was off the case so I had at least changed the fault, but not fixed it at all.

Clearly there is something critical in the RF deck that does not like stray RF back into the first IF / mixer section of the rig on those bands.

About now we’ll go for the ‘long story short’ option. I took the rig apart a few more times, added more earthing and generally tried random things and did actually manage to have one QSO on 15m with a JA station with the lid off but a fix based around the service bulletin was not even in the ballpark for my example.

That matches up with some very frustrated forum posts I found which starting to cause me some concern as I only really bought the rig to prove or disprove it’s performance on 2m SSB during a contest and selling the rig on fairly quickly was part of my grand plan for not filling my small shack with rigs I don’t use very often if it wasn’t up to the job on VHF.

Somewhere along the way I’d emailed a local ham who does some repair work asking about the problem and we’d had a bit of a conversation about the problem during which he suggested a ferrite choke between the mixer/modulator board and the filter to stop the feedback in it’s tracks.

I’d run out of things I could earth and it’s one of those suggestions that makes so much sense you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. Many thanks to Tony, ZL3HAM for pointing me in the right direction as without him I’d be pondering what to do with an all-band rig that didn’t work on two very useful HF bands.

I validated the idea by un-plugging the coax between the filter and mixer board and transmitting on 15 and 17 into the hexbeam at full power and it worked fine. Listening on another rig the modulation sounded fine and aside from the rig being effectively stone deaf it worked.

That started a hunt through my junk boxes and misc cables for a suitable donor ferrite that I could get one turn of the annoyingly rigid internal coax through and still get the lid closed. The one that finally presented itself came from the power lead on an LDG tuner that could quite happily survive with a much larger one and I set about threading the coax through the proverbial needle.

The thin grey coax they use in rigs between boards is interesting in that it is quite rigid for it’s size and has crimped connectors I’d have no show of replacing if I chopped it off so I had to gingerly trim the ‘wings’ of the crimp to fit through the hole in the middle of my little metal oxide donut.

Once through the first time getting one turn on the thing and still reach the connector on the board while allowing the lid to shut was a long painful process which would not have been much harder if I tried to do it wearing leather welding gloves.

The effort paid off though and I can now key up on 15 and 17m into truly lousy antennas and the rig folds back the power as it should but remains steadfastly on the set VFO frequency.

Hopefully someone else will find this article useful when they find their rig doesn’t respond to the ICOM prescribed fix. I understand in a lot of cases the earthing fix does work and that should be your first port of call. It was the combination of earthing and the ferrite that fixed mine.

Some relevant links:

The original Service Bulletin Courtesy of W1MJ:
W1JM’s comments on the issue:
AD5X’s comments on the same issue:

Footnote: I actually wrote this article in 2014, but never got around to posting it to my blog. The rig did good service for a year or so before I sold it on as I had too many in the shack.

IC-706 Audio weirdness – Check for One Big Punch

I picked up a 2nd hand Icom IC-706MKIIG to add to my eclectic collection of gear earlier in the week. The rig is excellent condition and aside from a loose wire on the molex power lead there were no visible problems which one of the best known Icom boxes of tricks there is.

I re-crimped the power cable and plugged into a dummy load and tested transmit on all bands at lower power and all was well until I got to 2m and the audio was horrible. Really harsh with a pulsing buzzing/grinding noise in the background. Worse than that, going back down the bands the fault was apparent on all bands.

After trying a few random things I found the fault was intermittent so I swapped the microphone for another Icom compatible job and the audio returned to the normal smooth Icom defaults, better than when the microphone was working as it happens so into the back of the microphone I dived.

one big punch

One Big Punch board in IC706 hand microphone

Once the back was whipped off the microphone I found a poorly installed ‘One BIG Punch’ W4RT speech processor stuck inside which had a loose earth connection making all the noise if you held it just so.

I’d never heard of the product before but I yanked it out on the basis that Icom probably knew what they were doing. Only difficulty there was having to replace the .33uf SMD capacitor which was removed during the installation of the module.

As luck would have it the W4RT module had a donor capacitor and the repair was complete after some tweezer and squinting at small components soldering action.

Once plugged back into the 706 and tested locally into the dummy load everything seemed to be in order so I connected up to the antenna and promptly worked VP8AIB/100 in the Falklands and BX3AH in Taiwan on 20m SSB barefoot so I’m picking the One BIG Punch wasn’t really needed.

I don’t understand why folks mess with the audio to get ‘more punch’ but in the process make themselves sound like they’re talking through a toilet roll with corks shoved up their nose. Is this really helpful?

Portable Power Pole solution with a fuse

A bit of random DIY for a sunday and it involves hot glue, so it must be good.

Being a fan of Anderson Power Pole connectors along with a chunk of the amateur radio fraternity I’ve chopped the fuses and other gubbins from the power leads on most of the equipment I own that uses 13.8V and simply terminated them with a pair of standard power poles.

The trick once fuse-less is to use one of the dandy fused power distribution boards. RigRunners being the most common commercial option, although I’ve made my own because, well, ummm. Not sure why.

Although my DIY power pole distribution units are smaller than the commercial option they are still quite bulky to lug around when operating portable.

While looking around the web for ideas on more compact options I found a couple of commercial ones that were small with no fuse but that’s not really what I was aiming for given that I’ve viciously hacked the fuses off all my rig power leads.

A side note on working portable and the risks therein; you can get quite a bit more fault current from a sealed lead acid battery or Lithium based pack than most regulated power supplies you’ll use in the shack.

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect 100 amps for not very long from a modern LiPo pack for example, and that’d do quite a bit of damage to the wiring at least, and possibly whatever it was that shorted the pack out. Best off you have a ten cent fuse in the line somewhere, which will undoubtedly stay perfectly intact as your $1,000.00 HF rig catches fire.

With a pretty clear plan in mind I went off out to the shed and cleared a space about the right size for a small project on the bench which is no small feat in itself due to the piles of assorted junk lying around from a number of other unfinished diversions.

I had a quick rummage through the bits boxes and came up for breath with three pairs of power poles, some suitable wire and a standard in line automotive fuse holder. Enough bits of a handy-dandy two-output, single fuse adaptor doofer.

I trimmed the ends of the fuse holder a little, soldered some of the decent sized stranded copper into the power poles, mixed over a low head and came up with what’s in the photos below…

Once all wired up I was planning an elaborate machined affair from billet aluminium with hidden fasteners right up until the hot glue gun caught my eye and the utility of running plastic goop entirely replaced the intent.

The end result works well, and will take up half the space of my equally home-brew four port unit I’ve been using portable up till now.