GitHub Hosts Ham Radio

[Alex R2AUK] has been busy creating version two of a homebrew all-band ham radio transceiver. The unit has a number of features you don’t always see in homebrew radios. It covers the 80, 40, 30, 20, 17, 15, 12, and 10 meter bands. The receiver is a single-IF design with AGC. The transmitter provides up to 10W for CW and 5W for single sideband operations. There’s a built-in keyer, too. A lot of the documentation is in Russian (including the video below, which is part of a playlist). But translation tools are everywhere, so if you don’t speak Russian, you can still probably figure it out.

The VFO for both transmit and receive is an Si5351. The transmit chain is straightforward. The receiver reuses many of the same filters.

Continue reading “GitHub Hosts Ham Radio”

Ham Radio Paddles Cost Virtually Nothing

If you don’t know Morse code, you probably think of a radio operator using a “key” to send Morse code. These were — and still are — used. They are little more than a switch built to be comfortable in your hand and spring loaded so the switch makes when you push down and breaks when you let up. Many modern operators prefer using paddles along with an electronic keyer, but paddles can be expensive. [N1JI] didn’t pay much for his, though. He took paperclips, a block of wood, and some other scrap bits and made his own paddles. You can see the results in the video below.

When you use a key, you are responsible for making the correct length of dits and dahs. Fast operators eventually moved to a “bug,” which is a type of paddle that lets you push one way or another to make a dash (still with your own sense of timing). However, if you push the other way, a mechanical oscillator sends a series of uniform dots for as long as you hold the paddle down.

Modern paddles tend to work with electronic “iambic” keyers. Like a bug, you push one way to make dots and the other way to make dashes. However, the dashes are also perfectly timed, and you can squeeze the paddle to make alternating dots and dashes. It takes a little practice, but it results in a more uniform code, and most people can send it faster with a “sideswiper” than with a straight key.

Continue reading “Ham Radio Paddles Cost Virtually Nothing”

Farewell MFJ

We were sad to hear that after 52 years in operation, iconic ham radio supplier MFJ will close next month. On the one hand, it is hard not to hear such news and think that it is another sign that ham radio isn’t in a healthy space. After all, in an ideal world, [Martin Jue] — the well-known founder of MFJ — would have found an anxious buyer. Not only is the MFJ line of ham radio gear well regarded, but [Martin] had bought other ham radio-related companies over the years, such as Ameritron, Hygain, Cushcraft, Mirage, and Vectronics. Now, they will all be gone, too.

However, on a deeper reflection, maybe we shouldn’t see it as another nail in ham radio’s coffin. It is this way in every industry. There was a time when it was hard to imagine ham radio without, say, Heathkit. Yet they left, and the hobby continued. We could name a slew of other iconic companies that had their day: Eico, Hammarlund, Hallicrafters, and more. They live on at hamfests, their product lines are frozen in time, and we’re sure we’ll see a used market for MFJ gear well into the next century.

Continue reading “Farewell MFJ”

FLOSS Weekly Episode 779: Errata Prevention Specialist

This week Jonathan Bennett and Dan Lynch sit down with Andy Stewart to talk about Andy’s Ham Radio Linux (AHRL)! It’s the Linux distro designed to give hams the tools they need to work with their radios. What’s it like to run a niche Linux distro? How has Andy managed to keep up with this for over a decade? And what’s the big announcement about the project breaking today?

Continue reading “FLOSS Weekly Episode 779: Errata Prevention Specialist”

Emails Over Radio

The modern cellular network is a marvel of technological advancement that we often take for granted now. With 5G service it’s easy to do plenty of things on-the-go that would have been difficult or impossible even with a broadband connection to a home computer two decades ago. But it’s still reliant on being close to cell towers, which isn’t true for all locations. If you’re traveling off-grid and want to communicate with others, this guide to using Winlink can help you send emails using a ham radio.

While there are a number of ways to access the Winlink email service, this guide looks at a compact, low-power setup using a simple VHF/UHF handheld FM radio with a small sound card called a Digirig. The Digirig acts as a modem for the radio, allowing it to listen to digital signals and pass them to the computer to decode. It can also activate the transmitter on the radio and send the data from the computer out over the airwaves. When an email is posted to the Winlink outbox, the software will automatically send it out to any stations in the area set up as a gateway to the email service.

Like the cellular network, the does rely on having an infrastructure of receiving stations that can send the emails out to the Winlink service on the Internet; since VHF and UHF are much more limited in range than HF this specific setup could be a bit limiting unless there are other ham radio operators within a few miles. This guide also uses VARA, a proprietary protocol, whereas the HF bands have an open source protocol called ARDOP that can be used instead. This isn’t the only thing these Digirig modules can be used for in VHF/UHF, though. They can also be used for other digital modes like JS8Call, FT8, and APRS.

Continue reading “Emails Over Radio”

Understand Your Tools: Finger Exercises

A dip meter is basically a coil of wire that, when you excite it, you can use to tell if something inside that coil is resonating along. This lets you measure unknown radio circuits to figure out their resonant frequency, for instance. This week, we featured a clever way to make a dip meter with a nanoVNA, which is an odd hack simply because a dip meter used to be a common spare-parts DIY device, while a vector network analyzer used to cost more than a house.

Times have changed, and for the better. Nowadays, any radio amateur can pick up a VNA for less than the cost of all but the cheesiest of walkie talkies, putting formerly exotic test equipment in the hands of untrained mortals. But what good is a fancy-pants tool if you don’t know how to use it? Our own Jenny List faced exactly this problem when she picked up a nanoVNA, and her first steps are worth following along with if you find yourself in her shoes.

All of this reminded me of an excellent series by Mike Szczys, “Scope Noob”, where he chronicled his forays into learning how to use an oscilloscope by running all of the basic functions by working through a bunch of test measurements that he already knew the answer to.

It strikes me that we could use something like this for nearly every piece of measuring equipment. Something more than just an instruction manual that walks you through what all the dials do. Something that takes you through a bunch of example projects and shows you how to use the tool in question through a handful of projects. Because these days, access to many formerly exotic pieces of measuring gear has enabled many folks to have gear they never would have had before – and all that’s missing is knowing how to drive them.

How Much Bandwidth Does CW Really Occupy?

Amateur radio license exams typically have a question about the bandwidths taken up by various modulation types. The concept behind the question is pretty obvious — as guardians of the spectrum, operators really should know how much space each emission type occupies. As a result, the budding ham is left knowing that continuous wave (CW) signals take up a mere 150 Hertz of precious bandwidth.

But is that really the case? And what does the bandwidth of a CW signal even mean, anyway? To understand that, we turn to [Alan (W2AEW)] and his in-depth look at CW bandwidth. But first, one needs to see that CW signals are a bit special. To send Morse code, the transmitter is not generating a tone for the dits and dahs and modulating a carrier wave, rather, the “naked” carrier is just being turned on and off by the operator using the transmitter’s keyer. The audio tone you hear results from mixing the carrier wave with the output of a separate oscillator in the receiver to create a beat frequency in the audio range.

That seems to suggest that CW signals occupy zero bandwidth since no information is modulated onto the carrier. But as [Alan] explains, the action of keying the transmitter imposes a low-frequency square wave on the carrier, so the occupied bandwidth of the signal depends on how fast the operator is sending, as well as the RF rise and fall time. His demonstration starts with a signal generator modulating a 14 MHz RF signal with a simple square wave at a 50% duty cycle. By controlling the keying frequency, he mimics different code speeds from 15 to 40 words per minute, and his fancy scope measures the occupied bandwidth at each speed. He’s also able to change the rise and fall time of the square wave, which turns out to have a huge effect on bandwidth; the faster the rise-fall, the larger the bandwidth.

It’s a surprising result given the stock “150 Hertz” answer on the license exam; in fact, none of the scenarios [Allen] tested came close to that canonical figure. It’s another great example of the subtle but important details of radio that [Alan] specializes in explaining.

Continue reading “How Much Bandwidth Does CW Really Occupy?”