Hacklet 19 – Ham Radio

19

Amateur, or ham radio operators have always been hackers. For much of the early 1900’s, buying a radio was expensive or impossible. Hams would build their own rigs, learning electronics and radio theory along the way. Time moves on, but hams keep hacking. Today we’re highlighting some of the best ham radio projects on Hackaday.io!

rtl

We start with [DainBramage1991] and his very practical RTL-SDR With Upconverter and Case. [DainBramage1991] fell in love with his low-cost RTL software defined radio dongle. He even added a Ham-It-Up upconverter to cover HF bands. The only problem was RF noise. the Realtek USB sticks tend to have little or no filtering, which means they are very susceptible to noise. [DainBramage1991] used the time-honored technique of insulating with copper clad board. Bits of PCB hold the RTL-SDR and upconverter in place. More PCB separates the two boards. Everything goes into a steel enclosure which keeps that unwanted RF at bay.

foxhunt-attenNext up is [Ryan Miller's aka KG7HZQ]‘s  ham radio fox hunt attenuator. Ham radio fox hunt’s don’t involve baying dogs or horses. In this case a fox hunt is a contest to find hidden low power transmitters. If you’ve never tried one, it’s a heck of a lot of fun. One of the challenges with a fox hunt is to find the direction to the transmitter when you’re very close. Even with directional antennas, reflections and swamped receivers make it hard to figure out just where the transmitter is. The solution is an attenuator, which simply reduces the signal to a more reasonable value. [Ryan] also used copper clad PCB for his circuit. Since the attenuator parts are soldered directly to the PCB, this is more of a Manhattan style design. Two ceramic 1k pots help him achieve his goal of near perfect linear attenuation. We’re betting this attenuator will help [Ryan] win some contests!

psdrWho says amateur radio won’t take you places? It may well be taking [Michael R Colton] to space! [Michael's] project PortableSDR is one of the five finalists in The Hackaday Prize. We covered Michael earlier in the contest. PortableSDR started as a ham radio project: a radio system which would be easy for hams to take with them on backpacking trips. It’s grown into so much more now, with software defined radio reception and transmission, vector network analysis, antenna analysis, GPS, and a host of other features. We seriously love how [Michael] optimized a small LCD for waterfall display, tuning, and bandpass filter adjustment.

e2ra[W5VO] is working on an Ethernet to Radio Adapter. Every foot of coax in a radio system loses signal. Connections are even worse. It can all add up to several dB loss. [W5VO] wants to put an SDR at the antenna feed-point. With the signal path minimized, more watts make it out when transmitting, and more signal gets back to the receiver when listening. The interface between the SDR and host computer will be all digital; Ethernet to be precise. [W5VO] isn’t the first person to do something like this, microwave systems have had the transmitter and LNB at the antenna for years. That doesn’t take away from [W5VO's] design at all  He’s been quiet for a while, but we’re hoping he continues on his design!

Where is everyone else? We’re a bit light on projects this week, but we have a good reason. There just aren’t enough ham radio projects on Hackaday.io! We’re hoping to change that though. Are you an amateur radio enthusiast? Document your project on the site. Get input from other hams and push the envelope! You might even find yourself on the Ham Radio List!

That’s all for this episode of The Hacklet. As always, QRX is next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io! 73’s!

Dots and Dashes… on a Roll!

morse code device

Morse code was once a staple of the communications industry, but with advancing technology it has become relegated almost exclusively to movies and a niche group of ham radio operators. [Jan] has created a device which might not put a stop to this trend, but will at least educate children on the basics of how Morse code works by visually displaying Morse code as it’s generated.

The setup is fairly simple. An old momentary switch (which could easily be used in an actual Morse code setup) activates two pieces of circuitry. The first is a 555 timer circuit that creates an audible tone when the switch is pressed so the user can hear exactly what an operator would hear when decoding a real Morse code message.

The second piece of circuitry is where the real genius lies: a continuously spinning roll of glow-in-the-dark tape is placed in front of a white LED. When the switch is pressed, the LED turns on, which produces dots and dashes on the roll of tape as it passes by. This eliminates the need for rolls of paper or a more complicated moving pen/pencil setup to draw on the paper which might also be less child-proof.

While [Jan] built this as a toy, the children who used it thoroughly enjoyed it! They even decoded some Morse code messages and used the device to practice on it. After a while they’ll easily be able to master the Morse code trainer!

Fishing for Radio Signals With the Moxon Antenna

mox-antenna

[Bill Meara] has finished his latest project, a Moxon antenna for HF on 17 meters. [Bill] is well-known here on Hackaday. When not building awesome radios, he can be found ranting about ham radio. His new antenna turned out to be a true hack. He even used a hacksaw to build it!

The Moxon antenna is named for the late [Les Moxon, G6XN] who first described it in “Two-Element Driven Arrays”, a QST magazine article published in July of 1952.  [Bill] built his Moxon loosely based on [Jim/AE6AC's] excellent instructions. The design is incredibly simple – a two element directional antenna using crappie fishing poles as spreaders. That’s crappie as in the fish, not the quality of the pole. Crappie poles are typically made up of telescoping sections of graphite or fiberglass  in common lengths of 14, 16, and 20 feet. The poles can be bought for under $20 at sporting goods stores. [Bill] used 16 foot poles purchased from Amazon.

The antenna is created by connecting all four poles at their bases in an X shape. The wire elements are stretched across the ends of the poles. The entire antenna bends up as the stiff poles hold the driven and reflector elements in tension. [Bill] used some scrap wood and U-bolts to attach the fishing poles, and bungee cord ends at the tips. Since the antenna is directional, [Bill] added a TV antenna rotor to spin the beam around. The antenna is so light that one could get by with a couple of cords and the “Armstrong method” of antenna rotation.

Once up on the roof, [Bill] found his antenna really performed. He was easily able to cross the Atlantic from his Northern Virginia home to France, Belgium, and Latvia. The mostly horizontal antenna makes it a bit more unobtrusive than other directional designs. [Bill] mentions that his neighbors haven’t revolted yet, so he’s continuing to enjoy the fruits of his antenna labors.

Oinker is Twitter for HAMs

oinker

Have you ever wanted to send a quick message to your HAM radio buddies over the air but then realized you forgot your radio at home? [Troy] created Oinker to remedy this problem. Oinker is a Perl script that turns emails into audio.

The script monitors an email account for new messages and then uses the Festival text-to-speech engine to transform the text into audio. [Troy] runs Oinker on a Raspberry Pi, with the Pi’s audio output plugged directly into an inexpensive ham radio. The radio is then manually tuned to the desired transmit frequency. Whenever Oinker see’s a new email, that message is converted into speech and then output to the transmitter.

The script automatically appends your HAM radio call sign to the end of every message to ensure you stay within FCC regulations. Now whenever [Troy] runs into some bad traffic on the road, he can send a quick SMS to his email address and warn his HAM radio buddies to stay clear of the area.

Improve Your HT Ham Radio by Adding a Counterpoise Antenna Wire

counterpoise

We found an interesting tip that might just improve the performance of those small affordable handheld ham radios called a “Handy Talky” or HT for short in ham vernacular. [RadioHamGuy] posted an interesting video on adding a counterpoise antenna wire to an HT. He claims it will noticeably improve both transmit and receive by making a quarter-wave monopole into a makeshift dipole antenna system.

Per his instructions you basically add a short wire to the antenna’s outer ground connection or to an equivalent case screw that’s electrically connected to the antenna’s ground side. Apparently this can be referred to as a Tiger Tail and does make it look like your HT has a tail. You would construct a counterpoise antenna wire 11.5 inch for VHF, 6.5 for UHF and about 19.5 inches for an OK performing dual band VHF/UHF radio.

Normally with a handheld radio the counterpoise (ground) is your own body as you are holding the HT. This is because the capacitance of your body makes a good counterpoise under normal conditions. It would be interesting to hear what others find for performance when adding a counterpoise antenna wire.

You can watch [RadioHamGuy’s] full construction tutorial video for multiple radio types after the break.

[Read more...]

Retrotechtacular: WWII Paraset Spy Radio Used by French Resistance

Paraset

[Robert Sumption] a.k.a [W9RAS] takes on the daunting challenge of building a WWII spy radio called the Paraset as the topic of this week’s Retrotechtacular. It was originally a tube based CW (Morse code) transmitter/receiver used by the French underground to communicate with the Allies. Many of these radios were dropped behind enemy lines and could run on European AC or 6 V DC with the added advantage of being able to use most anything for an antenna, including fence wire. These small, low power and highly mobile radios tuned in the 3 to 8 MHz range were instrumental in the resistance. But they still make for a really fun scratch-built radio project.

[Read more...]

Amateur Radio Transmits 1000 Miles On Voice Power

voice-powered-radio

Many of us tried the old “Two tin cans connected by a string” experiment as kids. [Michael Rainey, AA1TJ] never quite forgot it.  Back in 2009, he built “El Silbo”, a ham radio transmitter powered entirely by his voice. El Silbo is a Double Side Band (DSB) transmitter for 75 meters. While voice is used to excite the transmitter, it doesn’t actually transmit voice. El Silbo is a CW affair, so you should bone up on your Morse Code a bit before building one. Like many QRP transmitters El Silbo’s circuit is rather simple. A junk box loudspeaker is installed at the bottom of the can to convert voice power to electrical power. The signal is passed through a step up transformer, and used to excite a 75m crystal. Two NPN transistors (in this case MPS6521) pass the signal on through a second transformer. The signal is then routed through an LC network to the antenna.

Back in 2009, [Michael] brought El Silbo to the Maine coast in an attempt to make a transatlantic contact. This isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds – [Michael] has “crossed the pond” on less power. While the attempt wasn’t successful, [Michael] has made connections as far as 1486km, or 923 miles. That’s quite a distance for simply yelling into a tin can! One of [Michael's] favorite El Silbo stories is a 109KM conversation (QSO) he had with W1PID. [Michael] found that the signal was so good, he didn’t have to yell at all. He reduced power by dropping to his normal speaking voice for the “dits and dahs”. The two were able to converse for 17 minutes with [Michael] only using his speaking voice for power. We think this is an amazing achievement, and once more proof that you don’t need a multi-thousand dollar shack to make contacts as a ham.

[Read more...]

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