Sunday, January 27, 2013

ED5T Barbecue 19 Jan 2013

After all the christmas and new year festivities, it was time to get back to the serious business of contesting.

However, since we didn't have any contests in mind and we had lots of stuff to talk about regarding antennas and future plans, we decided on having a barbecue instead :-)

Juan EA5GIE has some orange trees and a small shed for his agricultural implements near Picaña, just outside Valencia, with a bbq/paella setup on site, so we gratefully accepted his invitation to hold the "meeting" there. And so, after a foray to the local mercadona supermarket to stock up on provisions, we rolled up at Juan's. It was cold and windy, and started to rain a bit, so we took refuge in the shed to set up shop.

Here's José EA5GS and Juan Carlos EA5UF, feeling the cold a bit:

And Juan EA5GIE and Belar EA5YI, slaving over the coals:

After a great lunch of roasted artichokes, sausages, pork, chorizos, and black pudding, with baguette and "all i oli" garlic mayonnaise, we got down to the serious business of tackling the proposals made regarding future plans at ED5T. Here's quick shot of Vic EA5KV, Jose EA5GS, and Elías EB5KT, tucking in:

And after a long session, with lots of strong coffee and stronger liqueurs, we finally managed a consensus about the road we will be travelling down at this humble contest station. Info about the specifics will be published as and when it happens, but the basic idea is that we will upgrade from being "two tower, two tribander" station, to a "three tower, with some stacked monoband yagis" station. This will be a lot of work and will take a lot of time, so don't hold your breath!

Thanks to Juan for providing the great location, no distractions and great food! Ah, and yes, we did pick mandarins straight off those trees for dessert, here we are almost caught in the act:  (Not the kind of folks you'd like to meet on a dark night, EA5ON, EA5KV, EA5GS)

Telescopic whips: MFJ 1956 vs MFJ 1977

Many years ago, I bought the MFJ 1664 screwdriver antenna, and since then this has been the basis of my mobile antenna system. It is comprised of a manually tuned screwdriver coil at the base, a small 4 and a half foot telescopic steel whip for using while driving, and a 10' telescopic aluminium whip (sold separately as model 1954) for using while parked.

The 10' whip is a little bit fragile, as many users have already testified on user reviews at and other sites. My first thought to improve on this was to purchase a solid steel whip, but since these aren't readily available in Spain, I had to wait a few years. It was by chance that one day my friend and customer Pablo Baulies was in New York and I asked him to pop into a nearby radio shack and pick on up for me. He obliged, although if he'd known the problems Air France were going to give him to bring it back, he'd have said no! The steel whip is great, but a bit heavy when its windy, putting a lot of stress on the base mount, and also is too big to be hidden away in the back of the car.

I continued to use mostly the 1954, having them break from time to time either at the base, or in between sections when they got corroded. These antennas do not like water! It's not a problem living in Valencia, but I would hesitate to use them in a wet country.

A couple of years ago my friend Rod EA7JX started stocking the new 12' version of this whip, the 1956, at his shop in Seville, , so I got one, this making it easier to install a full size 20m quarter wave using the whip, a 3' dx engineering mast, and the coil, with no turns added. However the first one suffered the same fate as the 10 whips and after about a year, failed between the second and third sections, rendering it useless.

The other day, local ham EA5FBD mentioned he had a 12' whip he wasn't using so we agreed that I would take it off his hands and give it some use. To my surprise, when we met, I saw that it wasn't the 1956, but a new model called the 1977, made of stainless steel. This looks to be a big improvement on the aluminium design. It's the same light weight, but the joints between sections are well defined and look to be much better (1956 left, 1977 right)

 The base also looks to be a more solid design and also should be less prone to failure.

There's only one way to tell, so I have already pressed it into service and looking forward with interest to see how it fares with high winds, rain, and salt spray. I'll post an update in a few months time.

I see that MFJ also now make a 17' version, the 1979, which in principle should allow users to make their own quarter wave vertical for any band between 20 and 6 (and maybe even 2) metres. Good news for portable and semi portable operators like myself looking for a small lightweight antenna that will give full monoband performance with easy deployment.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Food for thought

These last few days, we have experienced some of the best days of the current sunspot cycle, with the solar flux index being up around 170. Even though it's midwinter here in the northern hemisphere, and 10 metres hasn't opened up like it would at equinox with these SFI values, propagation has been nevertheless pretty good. It means that not only is propagation into the pacific good at sunrise, but also into places like Alaska and Japan at the same time, not to mention very strong local signals. It has also meant coast to coast openings into the USA later on, mostly on 17 and 20 metres, and allowing 59 contacts into Hawaii plus good contacts into southern Africa too.

This afternoon I found myself home alone in front of the radio and since things had been good from the car, I thought I'd switch on, something I haven't done for at least a couple of months (from home). First contact was with PH9HB/AM, piloting his Boeing 737-800 over Mauritania, on a flight from the Gambia back to Amsterdam. I've already had a number of contacts with another pilot on one of these planes, Cyril DF1CHB. Not surprisingly they are friends!

Next contact was with New Zealand station ZL2JBR. I was extremely surprised to hear his 59 signal punching through the high QRN with the beam still pointed to west Africa, which is sort of long path to his area, since normally in our afternoon/evening, signals would normally come through on the short path. After turning the beam back and forth a bit, I settled on a heading over south east Africa, a setting many spanish stations had used to work ZL9HR last month. John came back to me with a 59+ and we had a nice long chat. While talking, we both looked at each others respective profiles. John's profile shows a ham dream location, perched on the top of a 300m high cliff right on the ocean:

I also learnt how, after he had read Les Moxon's famous book "HF antennas for all locations", he tried experimenting with different antenna heights on his tower, finding on the 20m band two heights where the signals into Europe were signficantly stronger than others. And, contrary to poplar wisdom, the highest was not the best! On the 22m tower, the best spot by a long chalk was at 11m high. This goes to prove that whilst on flat land an antenna will pretty much follow a pattern of "the higher it is, the lower it radiates", on uneven terrain things can change quite signficantly due to reflected signals.

While talking, John also looked at the photos of my mobile station on the profile and wondered if I'd ever operated by the sea with a cliff either behind me or beside me. His experience is that this kind of setup can also produce extremely high gains in the direction of the reflection.

So, after this stimulating chat, we will see about using the motorised tower at ED5T to see if we can find any interesting differences at different heights, and also I will be checking out google maps to see if there is anywhere near here where I can go park up next to the sea in front of a cliff and see what happens! Results will be posted here....

Tuesday, January 01, 2013


ED1R is without a doubt one of the top contest stations in Spain nowadays. At ED5T we have followed the fortunes of the group from their humble beginnings through to the present station they have in the small village of Papatrigo, a rural area in the province of Avila, northwest of Madrid.

The mastermind behind all of this is Jesús, EC1KR, a 29 year old native of the village but resident in the provincial capital, 20 minutes away. Jesús and myself, together with EC2DX Imanol, are the organisers of the 2013 URE team in the IARU HF championship, and since URE approved our proposal last month, we have been talking about getting together. This is not easy, since the nearest common point to the three of us is over 3 hours drive, but as luck would have it, during a christmas family visit I found myself an hour away from Papatrigo and with a morning to spare, so Jesús kindly agreed to come over and show me the station.

I arrived a bit before Jesús and his mum opened up for me so I could see around. The first thing that struck me was that the antennas are all in a relatively small lot. Basically the station has been set up in an old cowshed in the middle of a vegetable garden! There are four towers there, and the second thing a visitor will notice is that the 10 and 15m antennas first installed are really rather low. A fifth tower is "in process" but like many things in Spain, the economic situation means this plan is on ice for now.

I won't go into details about what's there, if you are interested there is plenty of detailed information on , but will comment on some things I thought of interest.

First of all the antenna setup is designed to give rapid movement in different directions. There are both fixed and rotatable antennas, plus the addition of a TH5 tribander using the novel 4O3A triband splitter (see ). All of this uses custom designed software by Pablo EA4TX ( for easy on-screen point and shoot, plus Pablos software controls stack selection using the SJ2W stack match (

All of these technological innovations were very interesting to see working, and I was able to sit down at one of the stations and see how easy it was on 20m to use the 4 element DX beam pointing towards the USA, together with the TH5 fixed towards Europe, and choose between one, other, or both, either at the press of a button or at the click of a mouse. Jesús tells me it's even possible to TX all your power through one antenna, but RX through both, a nice option thought out for trying to work the states but not wanting to miss out on EU calling off the side.

Before getting down to business though, in traditional style Jesús brought some "churros y porras" and we had coffee and churros while chewing the fat a bit! Here's a photo of the two of us getting ready for the station tour:

And with that, seasons greetings to all, may 2013 bring us all lots of sunspots, good DX, and fun contesting!