Demystifying Amateur Radio Callsigns

Regular Hackaday readers will be familiar with our convention of putting the name, nickname, or handle of a person in square brackets. We do this to avoid ambiguity as sometimes names and particularly nicknames can take unfamiliar forms that might be confused with other entities referred to in the text. So for example you might see them around [Bart Simpson], or [El Barto]. and occasionally within those brackets you’ll also see a capitalised string of letters and numbers after a name. For example the electronic music pioneer [Bob Moog, K2AMH], which most of you will recognise as an amateur radio callsign.

Every licenced radio amateur is issued one by their country’s radio authority as a unique identifier, think of it as similar to a car licence plate. From within the amateur radio bubble those letters and numbers can convey a significant amount of information about where in the world its user is located, when they received their licence, and even what type of licence they hold, but to outsiders they remain a mysterious and seemingly random string. We’ll now attempt to shed some light on that information, so you too can look at a callsign in a Hackaday piece or anywhere else and have some idea as to its meaning.

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Five-Watt SDR Transceiver for Hams

The availability of cheap SDR hardware created a flourishing ecosystem for SDR software, but a lot of the hardware driving the revolution was still “cheap”. In the last few years, we’ve seen quality gear replacing the TV dongles in many setups, and down-converters designed for them to allow them to work on the ham bands.

But something that’s purpose-built might be a better option if ham radio, particularly the shortwave portion thereof, is your goal. First off, you might want to transmit, which none of the TV dongles allow. Then, you might want a bit of power. Finally, if you’re serious about short-wave, you care more about the audio quality than you do immense bandwidth, so you’re going to want some good filters on the receiving end to help you pull the signal out of all the noise.

rs-hfiq_block_diagram_featuredThe RS-HFIQ 5 W SDR transceiver might be for you. It’s up on Kickstarter right now, and it’s worth looking at if you want a fully open source (schematics, firmware, and software) shortwave SDR rig. It’s also compatible with various open frontends.

The single-board radio isn’t really a full SDR in our mind — it demodulates the radio signal and sends a 96 kHz IQ signal across to your computer’s soundcard where it gets sampled and fully decoded. The advantage of this is that purpose-built audio rate DACs have comparatively high resolution for the money, but the disadvantage is that you’re limited to 96 kHz of spectrum into the computer. That’s great for voice and code transmissions, but won’t cut it for high-bandwidth data or frequency hopping applications. But that’s a reasonable design tradeoff for a shortwave.

Still, an SDR like this is a far cry from how simple a shortwave radio can be. But if you’re looking to build up your own SDR-based shortwave setup, and you’d like to hack on the controls more than on the radio itself, this looks like a good start.

Resurrection — Pressing WW2 Radio Equipment Back into Service

Mass production was key to survival during the Second World War. So much stuff was made that there continues to be volumes of new unpacked stuff left over and tons of used equipment for sale at reasonable prices. Availability of this war surplus provided experimenters in the mid 20th century with access to high performance test equipment, radio equipment, and high quality components for the first time.

Even today this old stuff continues to motivate and inspire the young generations because of its high build quality, unique electro-mechanical approaches, and overall innovative designs which continue to be relevant into the 21st century. In this post we will show you how to get started in the hobby of resurrecting WW2 radio equipment and putting it back on the air.

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Hams in Space Part 2: The Manned Spaceflights

Whether it’s trying to make contacts across the planet with a transmitter that would have a hard time lighting an LED, or blasting signals into space and bouncing them off the moon, amateur radio operators have always been on the forefront of communications technology. As mankind took to space in the 1950s and 1960s, hams went along for the ride with the first private satellites. But as successful as the OSCAR satellites were, they were still at best only beacons or repeaters in space. What was needed was the human touch – a real live operator making contacts with people on the ground, showing the capabilities of amateur radio while generating public interest in the space program. What was needed was a ham in space. Continue reading “Hams in Space Part 2: The Manned Spaceflights”

The BITX Transceiver Comes Of Age

There was a time when the idea of building your own single-sideband transceiver was too daunting for all but the most hardcore of amateur radio constructors. After all the process of creating SSB is complex enough in itself without adding the extra complexity of a receiver and the associated switching circuitry.

In 2003 an Indian radio amateur, [Ashhar Farhan], [VU2ESE] changed all that. His BitX SSB transceiver used a bidirectional amplifier design and readily available components such that it could be built by almost anyone using dead bug construction techniques for an extremely reasonable price.

Over the years since [Ashhar] first published his circuit, his design has been taken and enhanced, been presented in kit form, and extended to other bands by multiple other radio amateurs. Until now though it seems as though he himself has taken very little advantage of his work.

It is therefore with great interest that we note a new 40-meter BitX transceiver on the market from a company founded by the man himself. The transceiver itself is an Indian-assembled PCB with an updated circuit using a 12 MHz IF, varicap tuning, and large surface-mount components for easy modification. Just as with the original circuit, there is a full technical run-down of its operation should you wish to build one yourself. For a rather impressive $45 though you might wish to put down the soldering iron, it looks very much worth the wait for international postage.

We don’t often feature commercial product launches here on Hackaday, though we are besieged by people trying to persuade us to do so. So why this one? When the creator of a design that has been as significant as the BitX has been to its community of builders releases a new version it is newsworthy in itself, and if they are commercializing their work then they deserve that reward.

We’ve featured the BitX here in the past, with a rather impressive dead-bug build, and a look at a multiband version. We’re sure that this design thread has more to deliver, and look forward to more.

Thanks [WB9FLW] for the tip.

Pneumatic Launcher Gets Ham Antennas Hanging High

Amateur radio is an eclectic hobby, to say the least. RF propagation, electrical engineering, antenna theory – those are the basics for the Ham skillset. But pneumatics? Even that could come in handy for hanging up antennas, which is what this compressed-air cannon is designed to do.

[KA8VIT]’s build will be familiar to any air cannon aficionado. Built from 2″ Schedule 40 PVC, the reservoir is connected to the short barrel by a quarter-turn ball valve. Charging is accomplished through a Schrader valve with a cheap little tire inflator, and the projectile is a tennis ball weighted with a handful of pennies stuffed through a slit. Lofting an antenna with this rig is as simple as attaching a fishing line to the ball and using that to pull successively larger lines until you can pull the antenna itself. [KA8VIT] could only muster about 55 PSI and a 70′ throw for the first attempt shown below, but a later attempt with a bigger compressor got him over 100 feet. We’d guess that a bigger ball valve might get even more bang for the buck by dumping as much air as quickly as possible into the chamber.

Looking to launch a tennis ball for non-Ham reasons? We’ve got you covered whether you want to power it with butane or carbon dioxide.

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Wilderness Radio Build

[AA7EE] is no stranger to building radios. His latest is a from-scratch build of a 20 meter QRP transceiver based on the popular SST design. Although the SST has been available as a kit, [AA7EE] incorporated some design changes from others and some of his own, too. He even added an onboard keyer to simplify operation. You can see videos of the radio below.

The build uses Manhattan-style PCB pads. Although the construction is very attractive, the real value of the post is the detailed explanation of not only how, but why everything is the way it is. This isn’t a simple project, and being able to see it completed step-by-step is very educational. About the only decision not adequately explained was the change of red and yellow knobs to black! You can see both versions in the videos below.

The Manhattan construction is tidy, but the radio also has an attractive case. The size is just big enough to stack a pair of paddles on top.

There may be some more enhancements for the little radio coming. We’ve covered [AA7EE’s] RF exploits before, including a physically attractive radios and details about the same construction method used in this radio.

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