TV DXing with an indoor antenna

I’ve always been fascinated by picking up distant stations whether it’s on the ham band, shortwave or more recently TV. I live on the first floor of an apartment building with no ability for outdoor antennas so I figured my DX opportunities were limited. I’ve tried numerous indoor antennas from the flat thin things that hang in a window to the amplified square boxes. None really brought the channels in that I wanted to watch. Most of our stations are to the west-southwest of me which is great as there is a window on that side of the apartment. The problem is Fox and ABC are in the northeast and east directions which are blocked by walls and other apartment buildings.

TV Fool report from my location in Champaign, IL

My only remote shot at them is going for the Springfield, IL stations which are 65 miles away. Impossible with an indoor antenna? I don’t give up that easily! I originally tried my old Terk HDTVi (non-amplified) antenna. Sure, it’s bulky but it’s very directional which in my case helps. I was able to pick up the stations in Springfield, but they were in and out. I decided to spring for the Terk HDTVa amplified version of the antenna and I now consistently get stable signals from the Fox and ABC stations now pointed out a west window.

Terk HDTVa amplified indoor antenna

I started doing morning channel scans last summer and to my surprise, I picked up 3 stations out of St. Louis, MO which is just over 150 miles away from here. Some days they were just as strong as some of our local stations! I also managed to pick up WTJR out of Quincy, IL which is 161 miles away. Pretty exciting for an indoor antenna! I figured that was the limit of my minimal indoor setup until last week.

I woke up earlier than normal and decided to do a channel scan. I noticed it picked up 1 new channel that I’d never seen. I was thinking it was somewhere in St. Louis since the callsign started with a K rather than a W. It claimed to be KDCU. I looked it up and it said it was in Derby, KS.

My first thought was this was some receiver issue and it was misidentifying some local station. At first it wasn’t strong enough to show a picture. I left it on just for kicks while I had some breakfast and saw the picture blink a few times like it was starting to decode. I was able to make out 4 letters on the screen which said KDCU. Holy crap! 522 miles away on an indoor antenna!

Seeing how no one would ever believe me, I grabbed my cell phone and took a picture of the screen. I asked around on the WTFDA forum and I wasn’t the only one in Illinois to pick it up. An automated receiver northeast of me in Milford, IL also picked it up and they have a slightly better antenna than I do. 🙂

Propagation map during my reception of KDCU in Derby, KS.
6/22/2017 – KDCU-TV in Derby, KS (522 miles)

So this made me wonder how much I am missing when I’m not able to sit and do channel scans all day. I started looking into automated options and everyone seems to use a variation of the HDHomerun receivers. I just ordered the HDHomerun Connect and it should be here later this week so we’ll see what sort of stations we can pick up when I’m asleep or not here to scan manually.

Anyone else do any TV DXing? What gear do you use? What’s the best distance you have achieved?

Samlex 1223 power supply noise

samlex1223-2

I’ve had a Samlex SEC 1223 – 23 amp power supply for many years now and it has always made a strange noise. I have two Uniden BC350A scanners hooked up to it that I use to stream local repeaters to Radio Reference / Broadcastify.

I decided to record the noise with my digital audio recorder so I could get some feedback from others on what it might be. It starts in the off position and then you hear me flip the switch on and then off again. (ignore the background noise of my furnace)

If you have any ideas what it is or how to fix it, please let me know. Thanks!

Icom 880H D-STAR radio GPS setup

Garmin GPS 18x PC
I’m slowly rebuilding my ham radio shack after getting rid of everything a few years ago. One of the things I missed the most was the trusty dual band rig in the car. I decided to sell my iPad to help fund the radio purchase. I couldn’t afford a brand new rig, so I looked at the ham classified sites to see what was available. I settled on the Icom 880H 2m/70cm mobile rig. One thing that intrigued me about this setup was the fact that it has D-STAR capability built into it. We have a growing D-STAR network here in Illinois so it seemed like a good idea to have a radio with D-STAR.

When I got the rig, I tried programming a few repeaters in manually just to see if I could do it. The analog frequencies weren’t too difficult, but D-STAR was a bit more difficult. I figured it would be a good idea to program it with the computer, so I ordered the OPC-1529R data cable. I know most folks prefer the RT Systems software, but I decided to try the free Icom programming software instead.

It’s a pretty basic program, but it gets the job done. The problem is there is no way to directly import frequencies from sites like RepeaterBook and RFinder. There is another free programming software called CHIRP that lets you import from these sites. However, getting it from CHIRP into the Icom software is very clunky.

I finally decided to go to the Illinois Repeater Association website and copy/paste the repeaters into a text file. I then opened it in a spreadsheet program called LibreOffice Calc (Microsoft Office works as well) which then lets me sort and filter by regions of the state. Now this still doesn’t let me import into the Icom software. I ended up putting the spreadsheet on one side of my screen and the Icom software on the other and manually typing in the repeaters that I wanted. It’s a time consuming process but at least I can put the frequencies where I want them in the radio.

I have the radio plugged into my Comet CA2X4SR dual band antenna mounted on the door with a Diamond K400 mount. I’ve had this antenna hooked up to other radios over the years and it works great with the 880H. Another nice thing is the radio has a weather alert that lets you know when bad weather is approaching. It also scans air frequencies which are fun to listen to once in a while.

One thing I’ve missed that my old Kenwood D700A had is the APRS functionality. There is a way to get your position on the Icom 880H to the APRS network, but you need to add a GPS to the radio. (most of the other D-STAR radios have GPS built in) I chose the Garmin GPS 18x PC for my setup. It’s a very basic GPS unit with a 12v cigarette plug and 9-pin serial port on it. You hook it up to the Icom 880H with a null modem adapter.

There’s a few things in the radio you need to change before the GPS will work. The first is the data speed which defaults to 9600 bps. You need to change it to 4800 bps for it to work with the GPS 18x unit. Go into the SET menu, then FUNC and then SPEED and change it to 4800. If everything is hooked up properly, you will see the GPS indicator in the top right start blinking indicating it sees your GPS. When it has acquired a good satellite lock, the indicator will stay on.

Another thing you need to change for it to work with APRS is the GPS-TX mode. It defaults to DVG, but needs to be on DVA. It’s in the GPS –> GPS-TX menu. Inside that menu you’ll also want to change your symbol (the icon that shows up on the APRS map), add a comment and enable the direction/speed (DT EXT –> CUR.SPD) if you want that to show up.

You can see my position on the APRS network:
http://aprs.fi/#!call=a%2FK9SWX

Please note that your position will only show up on APRS when you push the PTT button on the microphone. You can set it up to automatically send it every so often, but that is highly frowned upon. (especially if the repeater is linked to a reflector or another repeater.)

I’ve put together a little video about my Icom 880H. Check it out and let me know what you think!

https://youtube.com/watch?v=vPhTctUpeIU

Parts list

Please let me know if you have any questions about all of this. Thanks! 73..

Stan – K9SWX

Shortwave radio itch

Before getting into ham radio, I really enjoyed listening to shortwave radio. My first rig was a Realistic DX-300. Later on, my parents bought me a Radio Shack DX-392 radio. The nice thing about this radio was that it had SSB capability so I could listen to hams and other SSB signals. It also had a cassette recorder and could record programs automatically while you were away. One of my favorite stations to listen to back in the day was HCJB: The Voice of the Andes in Quito Ecuador. I remember corresponding with host Allen Graham who read some of my letters on his shows. Sadly they ceased shortwave transmission in 2009. (If anyone knows of a website that archived their recordings, please let me know!)

Last month while I was visiting my parents, I asked if they still had the DX-392. Sure enough, it was easily found and it came home with me. I live in an apartment, so getting any signals was going to be a challenge. I tried using the built-in telescopic whip, but that was futile with all the interference in the building. I then decided to string up a wire from one end of the apartment to the other which faces the outside wall. Using an alligator clip, I attached the wire to my whip and started picking up signals.

Last weekend I stopped by Barnes and Noble to see if they had any shortwave books. I dug around and found the World Radio TV Handbook 2014 book in the science section. I thumbed through it and was impressed with all the information, so I purchased it.

There is something about spinning the dial and researching where a signal is coming from that makes the hobby fun. Between the WRTH 2014 book and various online resources, it is pretty exciting to figure out what you are hearing.

Anyone else into shortwave radio? Are you using a dedicated receiver or one of your ham rigs? Any tips for indoor antennas?

For Sale: Yaesu FT-817ND – Buddistick – iPad interface and more

UPDATE: Everything has been sold. Thank you all for the interest!

I am parting with my QRP setup as I don’t have the time for it and need the cash. (no trades please) Here is all that I am selling:

-Yaesu FT-817ND QRP HF/VHF/UHF portable rig (SSB filter / Kranker knob / Peg Leg feet installed)
-Yaesu VHF/UHF stock antenna (missing little stub portion)
-12v power cable (cigarette plug)
-12v power cable (wires)
-12v power cable (SLA battery connector + Powerpole connectors)
-2 USB data cables
-AA battery holder pack
-Shoulder strap
-Lowepro Inverse 100 AW camera bag (holds everything but the Buddistick)

Price for the 817 and above accessories is $525 shipped/insured.

I do not have the instruction manual or box, but you can download a digital copy of the manual here:
FT-817ND instruction manual

If you need a portable antenna to go with this, I also have Buddistick Deluxe 10m-40m portable antenna w/picnic table mount.

If you are interested in a package deal for the 817 and Buddistick, I’ll sell for $625 shipped/insured. If you buy the package I’ll also throw in a PowerPort DXpedition backpack that holds everything including the Buddistick.

I prefer PayPal for payment, but will take a money order/cashier’s check. If you are interested, please contact me at k9swx@k9swx.com.

Thanks!

2011 CQWW SSB contest

I took a little drive today to my favorite park outside of town to work a few stations in the CQWW contest. I usually don’t work very many contests, but anytime I hear lots of stations on 10m I just have to try a few QSOs. Using the FT-857D in the mobile at 100w and ATAS120A antenna, I was easily working DX. In a short period of time, I worked SN3R (Poland), IR8C (Italy), GW9T (Wales), G5O (England) and F5TTI (France). I setup the video camera and captured these contacts. (sorry about the shaky shots, should have used the tripod)

https://youtube.com/watch?v=yrHGE_xU1iY

Working Spain from the mobile

While I was running some errands yesterday, I decided to tune around the HF bands to see how conditions were doing. I noticed numerous DX stations on 10 meters, but wasn’t sure they’d hear my little mobile station. I stumbled across EA1DR (Oscar) in northern Spain who was coming in pretty strong. I pulled over into a parking lot and tried answering his CQ DX call numerous times, but to no avail. I pulled out of the parking lot and decided to try him one more time. Success! It was a short 30 second contact, but he said my mobile station was doing a great job into Spain. Amazing how one little contact like this can brighten up my day.

Something I’ve been trying to do more of is recording the audio of my HF QSO’s, at least the DX ones. I remembered to hit the record button on my iPhone audio app and captured this nifty QSO.

EA1DR
10-06-2011-EA1DR

Champaign IL ham radio repeater stream

scannerstream1
I recently got a wild hair to stream some ham radio audio. I’m already familiar with the streaming process as I stream the Champaign, Illinois NOAA weather radio on Wunderground. My plan was to run a stereo feed with the left channel going to one repeater and the right channel going to the other repeater.

I found a decent deal on some Bearcat BC350A’s on eBay, so I purchased 2 of them. I debated on adding a second sound card to the computer streaming the weather radio, but decided it’d be easier to just use a second computer. Luckily I had an old Dell Optiplex GX260 here that would be suitable for streaming. I have the scanners hooked up to my old Samlex 1223 power supply. I had mixed feelings if this would even work as it had some issues with the HF rig, but so far it’s been running great. The antenna setup is tricky since I am unable to put up anything outside.

The scanners came with a simple window mount antenna with suction cups, but the gear was too far from any windows. When I first tested the audio, the signals would fade in and out and they were picking up interference from surrounding electronics. I did some research on splitting antenna signals and decided to go the cheap route. I found some RG6 quad shielded coax and used that to stretch across the room to the window. I have that hooked up to a 4-way cable TV splitter. I have several adapters converting from F to BNC. Some folks say that will cause a lot of signal loss, but in my situation it shouldn’t matter too much. I live within a mile of the tower that the repeaters are located on, so the using suction cup antenna in the window should suffice.

I decided to use Radio Reference to stream my feed. They mainly focus on public safety feeds, but they also allow ham repeaters on their network. Basically I send my stream to their servers and they stream it to whoever wants it. They can support tons of traffic vs me trying to run the feed from my home DSL line. I was hoping to get my feed approved ASAP as we were expecting some severe weather during the week.

I was approved on May 23rd and went live in the morning on May 24th. On May 25th, we were expecting some nasty weather. One of the repeaters on my stream is the local ARES repeater which runs weather nets as needed. Sure enough, we were under a tornado watch and even had a tornado spotted outside of Champaign. I checked the stats afterwards and discovered I had 35 visitors during that time. That made me feel like my efforts to get the stream going were put to good use.

As mentioned earlier, the stream consists of 2 repeaters split across the left and right channels. That is, you’ll hear one repeater on the left speaker and the other on the right speaker. The repeater on the left is the K9CU repeater on 146.760 Mhz. This repeater is connected to Echolink and is a general purpose repeater. It has a weekly Thursday night net open to all ham operators. (9pm local time) The repeater on the right is the K9SI repeater on 444.100 Mhz. This repeater is the Champaign County ARES repeater which runs the weather nets. They also have a weekly Tuesday night net for both ARES members as well as any other hams who wish to check in. (9pm local time)

There are several Android and iPhone apps that interface with the Radio Reference streams. There is one app for iPhone called 5-0 Radio that has my stream available. If you want more details on the stream, here is the link to my feed page at Radio Reference:

K9CU 146.760 Mhz and K9SI 444.100 Mhz Amateur Repeaters

If you have any questions about the stream that I didn’t cover, please post them in the comments section. Thanks!

Yaesu VX-8R audio fix

I’ve had my Yaesu VX-8R HT for about a year and a half now. It’s been a nice little radio except for an annoying issue with the audio. When pushing buttons, the audio sounded weaker and scratchy. I noticed that pushing down on the speaker improved the quality. I’ve lived with it for all this time and finally had enough.

I started browsing various internet forums and ran across a solution that seemed to fix the problem. It appeared to be a simple fix which required no soldering and very little tools.

The author of the article posted a nice video on YouTube showing the steps he performed to fix the same problem on his HT. The basic solution was to slightly bend the speaker contacts on the main board of the radio so they would make a better connection with the speaker on the front of the case.

I figured I’d give this a shot. I dug out my small tip screwdrivers and followed his steps to open up the radio. I adjusted the contacts and put the radio back together. I felt energized until I turned the radio on and it said ‘Clone’. At this point I was thinking I had damaged something on the board. I took a deep breath and dug back into the radio again. I bent the contacts down a bit just to make sure they weren’t touching something else on the radio.

I put it back together and turned the radio back on. It came up normally this time. I pushed a ton of buttons and the audio was perfect, no scratchy audio this time. Yay!

I did take a few pictures while I had the radio apart just for kicks.

Total credit goes to the unknown author’s detailed description and YouTube videos from the forum below.

Source: Worldwide DX Amateur Radio Forums (unknown author)

Have you experienced this issue? Did the solution described above fix your problem? Let me know in the comments section.

Yaesu FT-857D Mobile Installation

Over the years I have tried to find a solution to get a decent HF solution into my car. I started with a Radio Shack HTX-10 10 meter rig, but the sunspots and mag mount antenna did not yield much of anything. I also had an Icom 706 hooked up to a ham stick / tuner, but that didn’t work very well either. Since moving a few years ago, I have been unable to install anything at home due to antenna restrictions so HF operation has been impossible. I even tried a Yaesu FT-817 QRP rig indoors with various antennas, but there was just too much noise to hear anything. Was I completely out of luck for HF?

A few weeks ago I decided to sell my FT-817 and accessories to help fund a new radio/antenna. I ended up choosing the Yaesu FT-857D and the ATAS-120A mobile antenna. Now I know there are limitations to this antenna as well as it being a little more expensive than a hamstick, but I had to give it a shot. Everything in the past has been a painful time consuming process just to get on one band, let alone trying to switch between bands quickly. I wanted something that would be as easy as turning on the radio and getting on the air. Would this setup disappoint me as well?

Diamond K400C trunk mount
Diamond K400C trunk mount

I chose the recommended Diamond K400C trunk mount which doesn’t require any drilling. I wasn’t sure how well this mount would work as all my other mounts have been magnet mounts. Obviously with this antenna being a little heavier and taller than most dual band antennas, a regular mag mount wouldn’t work. I installed it on the drivers side of the trunk and ran the cable in through the backseat with all my other cables. As for the radio, I mounted on the floor board behind the passenger seat with my other radio. I use the word mounted loosely as it’s really just velcroed but it’s not going anywhere.

The radio came with the separation kit, so that saved me some money. I currently have the faceplate mounted on a vent mount above my XM radio on the dash. I’m really not impressed with this type of mount as it moves around too much, so I will look for a different solution. The microphone and speaker are loosely mounted so I can hide them away when I’m done using them. The power cord is run directly to the battery through the firewall.

Yaesu ATAS-120A
Yaesu ATAS-120A

When I first turned the radio on, I was a little overwhelmed by all the menu settings. However, after thumbing through the manual I became a little more familiar with them. I found the setting to enable the ATAS-120A antenna and hit the tune button. The first time you run it, it takes a few minutes to initialize but after that it’s pretty quick. I flipped through all the bands and it was able to establish a 2:1 or less SWR every time even on the WARC bands. (according to the built-in SWR meter anyways) I tuned around the bands and was hearing numerous signals, so that was another promising discovery.

I decided to visit a local park about 8 miles NW of town which would hopefully get me away from most of the noise of the city. The Michigan QSO party was going strong and I thought I’d try responding to one of them just for kicks. NV8N was coming in pretty strong on 40m so I threw out my call running 50 watts. He heard me on the first try which threw me off guard as I had no idea what the exchange for the contest was. 🙂 Luckily he was patient and explained what info he needed from me and like that my first contact had been made! Not too shabby I thought.

I continued scanning around the bands and landed on 17m. I heard ON4HIL calling CQ, so I tried calling him. It took numerous tries as others were calling and the band was up and down, but I eventually got him. He gave me a 5×2 report and said that wasn’t too bad for my 50 watts. After the brief QSO, I looked up the prefix on my phone and discovered he was in Belgium! I know for most hams with big stations at home this would be boring, but for me to work another country in the mobile with 50 watts is pretty darn cool to me. I was actually quick enough to record the QSO on my phone just so I had proof of the contact.

ON4HIL
04-17-2010-ON4HIL

Later that evening, I went for a drive and tuned around on 40m. I noticed that the Ontario QSO party was also going on. I managed to work several stations while I was driving, so that was pretty cool despite the increased noise from the car. I managed to snag a recording of the QSO with VA3SWG.

VA3SWG
04-17-2010-VA3SWG

I know it’s just a handful of contacts but I’m really impressed so far. The ability to hit a button to tune the antenna and get on the air in a few seconds is pretty awesome. I can’t wait to try it out this summer and see what other contacts I can make. 73!