A Fully Featured, Fifty Dollar QRP Radio

QRP radio operators try to get maximum range out of minimal power. This term comes from the QRP Q-code, which means “reduce power.” For years, people have built some very low-cost radios for this purpose. Perhaps the best known QRP kit is the Pixie, which can be found for less than $3 on eBay.

The QCX is a new DIY QRP radio kit from QRP Labs. Unlike the Pixie, it has a long list of features. The QCX operates on the 80, 60, 40, 30, 20, or 17 meter bands at up to 5W output power. The display provides tuning information, an S-meter, and a CW decoder. An on-board microswitch functions as a basic Morse key, and external Iambic or straight keys are also supported. An optional GPS can be used as a frequency reference.

The radio is based around the Silicon Labs Si5351A Clock Generator, a PLL chip with three clock outputs ranging from 2.5 kHz to 200 MHz. The system is controlled by an Atmel ATmega328P.

Demand for the kit has been quite high, and unfortunately you’ll have to wait for one. However, you can put down your $49 and learn Morse code while waiting for it to ship. While the project does not appear to be open source, the assembly instructions [PDF warning] provide a full schematic.

Scribble Your Way To Quick Printed Circuit Boards

There are a variety of techniques employed by electronic constructors seeking the convenience of a printed circuit board without the inconvenience of making a printed circuit board. Dead bug style construction in which the components float on a spiders-web of soldered leads above a ground plane is one, Manhattan style construction in which pads made from small cut squares of bare copper-clad PCB are glued on top of a groundplane is another.

[Freestate QRP] has another take on this type of electronics, with what he calls “Scribble style” construction. He cuts away copper from bare board to create pads and rudimentary tracks, and for him the magic ingredient comes from his choice of an engineer’s scribe to do the job. This is where the “scribble” comes from, creating a pad is as simple as drawing it with the scribe.

Of course, this technique is not entirely new, constructors have been doing this type of work for years with Dremel tools, hand engraving tools, and similar. If you’ve ever tried to do it with a knife or scalpel you will know that it’s hardly an easy task with those hand tools so the prospect of another one doing a better job is rather interesting. He’s ready and able to demonstrate it in action, showing us a couple of RF circuits using the technique.

Have you tried this technique, or one like it? How did you get on, tell us in the comments. Meanwhile, you might like to read our own [Dan Maloney]’s look at dead bug and Manhattan construction.

Vintage Transistor powers QRP Transmitter

[Pete Juliano, N6QW] built a 20 M QRP CW transmitter using just a handful of parts. That in itself will not raise any eyebrows, until you find that he built it using one of the very first RF transistors manufactured all the way back in 1955. That’s from before the time most of us were born and not many years after the invention of the transistor in late 1947.

QRP in HAM-speak technically stands for a request to “reduce power” or an offer of “should I reduce power” when appended with a question mark. A QRP transmitter is designed to transmit at really low powers. The accepted upper power limit for QRP transmitters is 5 W, at least for modes like CW using FM or AM modulation. [Pete]’s interest was piqued when he read about a 10 mW 10 M QRP transmitter design in a vintage Radio magazine from the late ’50’s and decided to replicate it. We aren’t sure, but it appears he had a Philco SB-100 RF transistor lying around in his parts bin. The SB-100 was one of the first surface-barrier transistors and could output 10 mW at frequencies up to 30MHz.

[Pete]’s rig was originally putting out 0.4 mW with a 3 V supply, and oscillating at 14.060 MHz in the 20 M band. The design appears to be a simple Colpitts oscillator with just a few parts assembled in dead-bug style on a piece of copper clad laminate. After adding an output transformer, he managed to increase the power output to about 25 mW. Check out [Pete N6QW] sending out a CQ shout out from his QRP transmitter in the video after the break.

If this gets you interested in Amateur Radio, but you are mic-shy, then [Dan Maloney] has some options for you in Shut Up and Say Something: Amateur Radio Digital Modes.

SBF image via Historianbuff CC-BY-SA 3.0, Public Domain
[via Dangerous Prototypes]

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Looking Back at QRP Transmitters

When you get to a certain age, you get unsettled by people calling “your” music oldies. That’s how a few of us felt when we saw [Mikrowave1’s] video about Retro QRP – Solid Gold Years (see below). “QRP” is the ham radio term for low power operation, and the “solid gold” years in question are the 1960s to 1980. The videox has some good stuff, including some old books and some analysis of a popular one-transistor design from that time. He even tries a few different period transistors to see which works best.

[Mikrowave1] talks about the construction techniques used in that time frame, old transistors, and some vintage test equipment. You can even see an old ARC-5 command receiver in use to listen to the transmitter. These were made for use in military aircraft and were very common as surplus.

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Ham Goes Nuts for Tiny Transmitter

What’s the minimal BOM for a working amateur radio transmitter? Looks like you can get away with seven parts, or eight if you include the walnut. You’ve got to have a walnut.

Some hams really love the challenge of QRP, or the deliberate use of low-power transmitters to provide a challenge to making long-distance contacts. We’ve covered the world of QRP before and noted that while QRP rigs don’t throw a lot of power, it doesn’t mean that they need to be simple. Some get quite complex and support many different modulation schemes, even digital modes. With only a single 2N3904 transistor,  [Jarno (PA3DMI)]’s tiny transmitter won’t do much more than send Morse using CW modulation, but given that it’s doing so from inside a walnut shell, we have no complaints. The two halves of the shell are hinged together and hold a scrap of perfboard for the simple quartz crystal oscillator. The prototype was tuned outside the shell,  and the 9-volt battery is obviously external, but aside from that it’s nothing but nuts.

We’d love to see [Jarno] add a spring to the hinge and contacts on the shell halves so no keyer is required. Who knows? Castanet-style keying might be all the rage with hams after that.

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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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Tiny Raspberry Pi Shield for High-Quality RF Signals

Among its many tricks, the Raspberry Pi is capable of putting clock signals signal out on its GPIO pins, and that turns out to be just the thing for synthesizing RF signals in the amateur radio bands. What [Zoltan] realized, though, is that the resulting signals are pretty dirty, so he came up with a clever Pi shield for RF signal conditioning that turns a Pi into a quality low-power transmitter.

[Zoltan] stuffed a bandpass filter for broadband noise, a low-pass filter for harmonics, and a power amplifier to beef up the signal a bit into a tiny shield that is cleverly engineered to fit any version of the Pi. Even with the power amplifier, the resulting transmitter is still squarely in the realm of QRP, and the shield is optimized for use as a WSPR beacon on the 20-meter band. But there’s plenty of Pi software available to let hams try other modes, including CW, FM, SSB, and even SSTV, and other signal conditioning hardware for different bands.

Yes, these are commercially available products, but even if you’re not in the market for a shield like this, or if you want to roll your own, there’s a lot to learn from [Zoltan]’s presentation at the 2015 TAPR Digital Communications Conference (long video below). He discusses the difficulties encountered getting a low-profile shield to be compatible with every version of the Pi, and the design constraints that led to the decision to use SMT components.

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