Amateur Radio Stuff: It’s Alive!

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That spike you see there is the 990 sending a PSK31 signal on 10 meters. It’s working! OMG it’s actually working! Finally! 

The saga of me trying to get operating in digital modes on HF following tearing down my station so I could move in new furniture continues and hopefully it has reached a satisfactory conclusion. But only after a very frustration couple of hours.

I few days ago I commented about the frustrating time I was having trying to get back on the air after putting my radio equipment back together. I primarily use digital modes on HF, usually PSK. And even though everything was set up exactly the same, it wasn’t working. I finally got it working, but only by triggering the transmitter using VOX. This was not ideal, but it did work.

Well, this morning I was going to fire up the equipment and play amateur radio for a while and, well, VOX didn’t work either all of a sudden. And for no apparent reason.

Sigh…

I checked all of the cables. I opened up the RigBlaster and checked for loose wires or bad solder joints and found nothing wrong there. I reloaded drivers, reset all of the settings, tried both Fldigi and Ham Radio Deluxe. Receive worked just fine. The software could control the transceiver just fine. It would even kick the transceiver into transmit mode. But no actual signal was being transmitted. I checked sound levels on the inputs and outputs, checked COM ports and PTT settings… Nothing was working.

After over an hour of this, I was ready to give up. I went through all of the settings one last time, double checked everything, switched the RigBlaster to COM for PTT, clicked the button to do a CQ and…

It worked? It worked??? WTF?

What did I do? How did I fix it? I have absolutely no idea!

Seriously. As far as I can tell all of the settings are exactly the same now as when they were when it wasn’t working. Same drivers, same sound levels, same everything. Only now it works… I must have changed something, but I have no idea what. The infuriating thing is that I must have spent at least four hours over several days trying to figure this out and I still don’t know what was wrong.

Screen Shot 2017-12-24 at 8.56.44 AMOkay, now let’s talk about Ham Radio Deluxe.

Now if you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know I’ve used HRD in the past and did not have a very good opinion of it. It is an extremely ambitious piece of software that tries to do just about everything and anything an amateur radio operator could want in a program. And I had some “issues” as they say. Some of them were pretty serious.

I’m pleased to report that issues I had in the past seem to have been fixed. Customer support seems to be very good. I had a minor issue not long after I bought it, put in a trouble ticket, and got a response back that fixed the problem in just a few hours.

I’m going to keep using it and we’ll see what happens.

Radio Frustrations…

Grrr…. It’s been a very frustrating morning. I recently tore down my entire amateur radio setup in order to bring in a new desk. I have all of the equipment hooked back up and all the radio gear is working, but the software… Arrgghhh…

When I get on the air I generally use one of the digital modes like PSK31. Doing this requires a computer and software to code/decode the digital signals. It’s not that hard to do. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

I have the computer, Rigblaster, transceiver and everything else connected properly. I’m using the exact same computer and software I had running before. All the settings in the software and transceiver are exactly the same. Nothing at all was changed. And before I did the tear down, everything worked just fine and dandy.

Now, though? Of course not. Even though I changed nothing, I can’t transmit for some reason, and it’s driving me nuts. The software settings are the same. The cable connections are the same. The radio equipment is the same. Everything is exactly the same as it was before the tear down.

Only it won’t transmit now for some reason. Spent almost two hours this morning trying to trouble shoot the problem, and have come up with a blank. I’ve checked the software settings, the equipment, everything. Nothing seems to work.

Receive is just fine. I have complete control of the transceiver from the computer. It receives, decodes digital signals, everything. But transmit? Nope.

The transceiver goes into transmit mode. The software seems to be working properly. But there’s no signal actually going to the transceiver.

I remember that I had the exact same problem when I first set this all up some three years ago or so, and it drove me crazy then. And, of course, I can’t remember how I fixed it.

Sigh…

Yet another PSK31 setup

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I’m still experimenting with PSK and this is a quick snapshot of the setup I was playing with today. Again, cheap and quick and dirty, using stuff I already had in the house; my Macbook and the USB microphone adaptor plugged into the Kenwood.

This system works a lot better than the iPad version did for several reasons. First, the audio output quality of the laptop is better, allowing me to turn on the radio’s VOX system so it transmits automatically when I want to send something. Second, the Macbook is much, much more powerful, and the software’s level of sophistication reflects that.

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I’m running Fldigi on the Macbook and it works quite well indeed. All of the iPad apps I’ve seen are limited to working with a single type of digital communication; RTTY, PSK, CW, etc. Fldigi works with all of them. Plus it includes an enormous number of bells and whistles, like built in logging capabilities and, if you have the right interface, even control of the radio right from the program itself.

Unlike the iPad software I was running, Fldigi doesn’t just decode the selected stream in the waterfall, it decodes all of them, at the same time. In the screen image above, it’s simultaneously decoding four separate transmissions at the same time. 

The question, of course, is does it work? And the answer is yes, even with the cobbled together setup I’m using here. In the short time I was playing around with it, I made two contacts, one in Oregon, the other in California. And that was with my transmit power dialed down to 25 watts, and feeding my Comet vertical antenna, which some people claim is little more than an over priced dummy load.

(Interestingly, I’ve made far more contacts with PSK31 running my cobbled together equipment than I have on voice)

Once I get the actual interface between the computer and radio up and running, this could get real interesting.

Bare Bones PSK31 setup

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So I’m a grouchy farmer so why all this stuff about amateur radio? Because we still have snowbanks 4 feet high around here despite warming temperatures, so I mess with radio stuff.

I’ve been using an iPad app called PSKer which works far better than it has any right to. It ‘hears’ the PSK31 tones from the radio and decodes them, and when you type something in, it sends the PSK tones out the speaker. But background noise is an issue. I am now using Apple’s camera adaptor with the USB connector on it, with a USB microphone adaptor plugged into that. The output from the speaker on the radio goes into that, and bingo, a nice, clean display without any hash from background noise.

Unfortunately I still haven’t got things set up for transmit, hence the microphone aimed at the iPad’s speaker. It works. Sort of. But just having a truck roll by outside can cause havoc. I need to get the output from the adaptor into the microphone inputs on the radio, and hopefully figure out how to trigger the PTT circuits at the same time, or perhaps use the radio’s VOX capabilities to deal with triggering transmit.

This will give you an idea of what you can do with little or no money, though. Except for the Kenwood, everything else was stuff I had laying around the house already; iPad, camera adaptor, USB mic adaptor, etc. The only thing I actually had to buy was the PSKer software, and that was all of about $3.

Still More Ham Stuff: PSK31

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I’m new to amateur radio. Just got my license in February when I passed my Tech and General tests. So a lot of this stuff is still new to me and I still find it a bit amazing, like this set-up. This is an ordinary iPad running a program called PSKer, available on the App Store. Using no additional hardware at all, just the iPad, with it’s internal microphone and speakers, it will decode and send text in PSK31. Now I’ve been working with computers, radios and electronics for ages, but sometimes modern technology still surprises me. I haven’t tried transmitting with it yet. That’s a bit awkward, but decoding works pretty well, although you do need a very clear signal with little or no interference, which is sometimes hard to do.

And look at that nifty waterfall display! Heck, it was worth the $3 just for that!