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

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 VX-8R on the bicycle

IMG_0531After yesterday’s 6 mile walk, I figured I’d dust off the bike and take it for a spin this morning along the same route. It’s due for a check-up this week so I wanted to make note of any issues or strange noises to share with the local bike shop. One of the great things about the bike is the storage bag on the bike where I can stash a few goodies. I brought along my Canon A590 point and shoot camera so I could take a few pictures. (wished I’d had it on my walk yesterday morning) No bike ride for Stan is complete without a GPS and ham radio and today’s ride was no exception. Last month I bought a new handheld radio (Yaesu VX-8R) and bike mount so I was anxious to try that out as well.

I departed my apartment at 6:21am and headed through the path at Kaufman Lake. I quickly got a chance to see how my bike would handle on gravel and bumpy terrain. (suspension might need a little adjusting?) 🙂 I made my way towards Parkland College and stopped near one of the softball fields to grab some water from the fountain. Even this early into the ride my legs were showing me just how out of shape they are so I took it easy for a bit. As I approached the main entrance of Parkland, I noticed dozens of geese roaming around which definitely warranted a photo shoot. 🙂 I pulled over and snapped several pictures and the geese really didn’t seem spooked by me at all. IMG_0530

I continued my way to the northeast and found a few flowers that wanted their picture taken. Despite the sun not yet making its way to this part of the complex, the pictures didn’t turn out too bad. After that I headed over to the tennis courts to take a few shots. Then I found a soccer field that called my name, so had to get a few shots of the nets which were pretty cool. As I walked back to my bike, I heard what I thought was a lawnmower in the distance. Suddenly I saw this flying contraption coming towards me which definitely required some picture taking. I’m not sure what it was, but it was a one-person machine with what looked like a giant fan behind him and a wing above him. He flew on by so I went on my merry way.

IMG_0529I made my way around Parkland and headed back towards home. I stopped at Heritage Park and took a few pictures of the lake and tried (failed) some macro shots of a bug. I continued on the path home and took a detour to avoid spooking a rather large dog being walked by their owner. 🙂 I made another stop on Country Fair drive to take a few more flower pictures and then headed home.

Final Thoughts
Yeah, I know I really didn’t ride very far compared to what normal people do but it was fun. I just need to ride more often to get my legs conditioned. It was very comfortable out this morning and the breeze was welcomed. I need to figure out why my ham radio did not transmit my location to the internet, not sure what happened there. Some other lessons learned this morning:

  • My legs are really out of shape
  • My ham radio was unsuccessful at getting my location transmitted.
  • You burn more calories riding a bike than walking the same path.
  • Always have spare batteries for your camera (which I luckily had!)

Stats
Total Mileage: 5.79 miles
Total Time: 69 minutes

Photos
Click here to view all photos from this trip.

Upgrading the bicycle with ham radio

Well due to inclement weather and faulty pedals, I haven’t been on the bike in a little while now. I took the bike into the shop on Wednesday and had them install fenders as well as replace the pedals. Now the funny part of this is that the guy who worked on my bike is a customer where I work. Due to computer problems, he was behind on his payment so I had shut his service off on Tuesday! So he recognized me when I brought the bike in and I thought ‘oh boy, my bike will be CRW_1514destroyed now!) 😉

I dropped it off on a shortened lunch hour and went back to work. After work, I went over and picked the bike up. The fenders look amazing, they’re black instead of the boring silver ones you see on most bikes. The pedals are all metal instead of those crappy ones with rubber grips that came with the bike. The only thing they charged me for was the fenders, installation and swapping of the pedals was free! The fun part was actually paying. I have this nifty Trek credit card I’m using so that I can ride my bike before it gets too cold, yet pay for it a little later down the road. Well apparently this is something new for the bike shop as it took probably 10 minutes to checkout. (I guess most folks pay with cash, check, or regular credit card??) Anywho, the guy who worked on my bike is in need of computer help so I may be working on his computer in my free time. So that will work out great! 🙂

The hard part was getting the bike in the car as I didn’t anticipate the fenders being on there. I had to be careful not to bend/break them when putting the bike back in the car. I managed to do ok, though I had to do a small adjustment on the front fender as it was rubbing against the tire. After I got that done, it was time to install the goodies that I’ve drooled over. 🙂 I purchased a nifty CRW_1517 Garmin GPS 60csx unit that will ensure that I don’t get lost and let me map out a route should I need to deviate from my normal trip to work. It came with a 64 meg card which was perfect for not only the entire county but the entire state of Illinois including Chicago!

I had considered using my PDA and my bluetooth GPS unit on the bike, but the battery life of the PDA is horrible compared to a standalone unit. I also purchased a dual band ham radio HT (Kenwood TH-D7A) for the bike because lets face it, Stan without some sort of radio on CRW_1515his vehicle is just boring! As with my car, this will allow me to utilize the APRS network and plot my position on the internet! (once I get the cable to hook up the radio to the GPS!) I will post more on this aspect later. I have ordered a better HT antenna for the radio to hopefully be enough to hit the digipeater, but eventually I will probably need to come up with a real external antenna mounted on the back of the bike. (people will think I’m a cop or security guard!)

So this morning I rode to work for the first time in several weeks and it was tough on the old body to get back into the groove. One of the main reasons of getting the GPS was to track not only my location, but to map the elevation between my house and work. There’s a great website called MotionBased that allows you to export your data from the GPS into their site and then they map out all sorts of graphs and data from your GPS log. I’m anxious to try this out and see just how much of an elevation rise/drop on the route I take. I will update this at a later date as well.