S15351 tube transmitter

Retro And New Tech Combine In This Hybrid Ham Transmitter

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the best part about holding an amateur radio license is that it lets you build and use your own transmitting equipment. Hams have been doing this for more than a century — indeed, it was once the only way to get on the air — using whatever technology was available. But the mix of technologies in this low-power transmitter for the 80-meter band is something you don’t see every day.

As ham [Helge Fykse (LA6NCA)] describes in the video below, the project began when he came into possession of a bonanza of vacuum tubes — 12A6 tetrodes, specifically. The new-old-stock tubes were perfect for an RF power amplifier, but that left the problem of what to use for an oscillator. [Helge] chose to meld the old with the new and used oscillator board that he designed. The board has an ATmega88 microcontroller and an Si5351 oscillator, along with a 3V3 regulator to let the module run on 12 volts. And for a nice retro touch, [Helge] put the board in a 3D printed case that looks like an old-fashioned quartz crystal.

There are some other nice design touches here too. A low-pass filter cleans up the harmonics of the oscillator’s 3.5-MHz square wave output before feeding it to the amplifier, in a nod to proper spectrum hygiene. The primary for the amp’s air-core output transformer is hand-wound, with 3D printed spacers to keep the winding neat and even. The tuning process shown below is interesting, and the transmitter was used to make a solid contact with another ham about 100 km away. And we really liked the look of [Helge]’s shack, stuffed as it is with gear both old and new.

We’ve personally tried the Si5351 for QRP transmitters before, but this blend of the old and new really makes us want to find some tubes and get to playing.

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Work The World On A 555

Over the years the humble 555 timer has been used in so many unexpected places, but there’s a project from [Frank Latos] which we think may be a first. On a piece of stripboard sit a pair of 555s, and instead of the usual passives there are a set of LC circuits. This is no timer, instead it’s a CW (Morse) transmitter for the 80 metre amateur radio band.

One 555 is configured as a feedback oscillator through a toroidal transformer with a tuned circuit to set the frequency of oscillation. The other takes an inverted input from the oscillator to produce complimentary push-pull outputs from both 555s, which are fed to another transformer that in turn feeds a low-pass filter and thus the antenna.

Free-running squarewave oscillators of this type are not unusual for the lower HF bands, but we think this is the first 555 design we’ve seen. As shown it doesn’t produce much in the way of RF power, but remembering half-decent motor drivers using a 556 dual timer we think that selection of one of the more powerful 555 variants might deliver some more punch. We commend his creativity though, and hope he can get that all-important entry in the log to prove it works.

If you’re curious about low-power radio operation, it’s something we’ve explored before.

This Ham Radio Is Unsafe At Any Frequency

When we were kids we rode bicycles without pads and helmets. We drank sugary drinks. We played with chemistry sets and power tools. We also built things that directly used AC line current. [Mike] remembers and built one, presumably more to discuss the safety precautions around things that can shock you and not entice you to duplicate it. He calls it The Retro QRP Widowmaker, if that’s any kind of a hint. (Video of this unsafe transmitter also embedded below.)

The design showed up from time to time in old electronic magazines. Built on an open board and with no ground wire, the radio didn’t need a complex power supply. This wasn’t limited to transmitters, either. Some TVs and radios had a “hot chassis.” That’s why we were taught to touch an unknown chassis with the back of your hand first. A shock will contract your muscles and that will pull your arm away instead of making you grab the electrically active part.

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A Bird 43 wattmeter and its homebrew equivalent

Homebrew Wattmeter Pays Homage To Sturdy Original

If there’s one instrument that hams and other radio enthusiasts covet, it’s the venerable Bird 43 Thruline wattmeter. The useful RF tool has barely changed in the nearly 70 years since it was first introduced, and they’re built like a tank. This makes Bird meters highly desirable, and therefore quite expensive either brand new or on the swap-meet circuit.

But radio amateurs are nothing if not resourceful, and building a homebrew version of the Bird wattmeter (in Portuguese; Google translate tool at the bottom of the page) as Brazilian ham [Luciano Sturaro (PY2BBS)] did is a good way to get your hands on one. Granted, [Luciano] had a head start: a spare line set, which is the important bit from a Bird wattmeter. The machined metal part is in effect an air-insulated section of coaxial cable that the RF signal passes through on its way from transmitter to antenna. A “slug” is inserted into the cavity in the line set to sense the RF and couple it to the meter electronics; the slug can be rotated to measure RF traveling in either direction, allowing the user to determine how much RF is getting reflected by the antenna system.

[Luciano]’s version of the meter is faithful to the sturdy construction of the original, with a solid steel case that mimics its classic lines — the case even sports the same color scheme and stout leather carry handle. There are some changes to the electronics, and the meter movement itself is different from the original, but all in all, the “Buzz 50” looks fantastic. We especially love the detailed nameplate as an homage to Bird.

The thing about Bird — and Bird-like — meters is that the slugs are like potato chips; you can’t have just one. Curious as to how these slugs work? Check out this slug repair project.

[Featured image of Bird 43 Wattmeter: Martin RF Supply]

Thanks to [Niko Huenk] for the tip!

Building A Hundred-Year-Old Radio Transmitter

Our Hackaday team is spread across the world, but remains in easy contact through the magic of the Internet. A number of us hold amateur radio callsigns, so could with a bit of effort and expenditure do the same over the airwaves. A hundred years ago this would have seemed barely conceivable as amateurs were restricted to the then-considered-unusable HF frequencies.

Thus it was that in December 1921 a group of American radio amateurs gathered in a field in Greenwich Connecticut in an attempt to span the Atlantic. Their 1.3 MHz transmitter using the callsign 1BCG seems quaintly low-frequency a hundred years later, but their achievement of securing reception in Ardrossan, Scotland, proved that intercontinental communication on higher frequencies was a practical proposition. A century later a group from the Antique Wireless Association are bringing a replica transmitter to life to recreate the event.

A free-running oscillator is today rarely seen in a radio transmitter, but at the time their single-tube Colpitts oscillator using a UV-204 transmitting tube would have been considered a stable source. That fed a 1KW power amplifier using three more UV-204s in parallel, which in turn fed a Marconi-style T antenna design with an earth counterpoise of multiple radial wires. The replica was originally built for an event in 1996, and substitutes the similar 204A tube for the now unobtainable UV-204. Even then, hundred-year-old tubes are hard to find in 2021, so they could only muster a single working example for the PA.

All in all it’s a very interesting project, and one of which we hope we’ll hear more as the anniversary approaches. If we can get the transmission details we’ll share them with you, and let’s see whether the same distances can be traversed with the more noisy conditions here in 2021.

To demonstrate how advanced this transmitter was for 1921, take a look at the Alexanderson alternator, its mechanical contemporary.

Getting On The Air With A 10-Minute-ish Ham Transmitter

Artificially constrained designs can be among the most challenging projects to build, and the most interesting to consider. The amateur radio world is no stranger to this, with homebrew radio designs that set some sort of line in the sand. Such designs usually end up being delightfully minimalist and deeply instructive of first principles, which is one reason we like them so much.

For a perfect example of this design philosophy, take a look at [VK3YE]’s twist on the classic “10-Minute Transmitter”. (Video, embedded below.)

The design dates back to at least the 1980s, when [G4RAW] laid down the challenge to whip up a working transmitter from junk bin parts and make a contact within 15 minutes — ten for the build and five for working the bands. [VK3YE] used the “oner” — one-transistor — design for his 10-minute transmitter, but invested some additional time into adding a low-pass filter to keep his signal clean, and a power amplifier to boost the output a bit.

Even with the elaborations, the design is very simple and easy to understand. Construction is the standard “ugly style” that hams favor for quick builds like this. There are no parts that would be terribly hard to find, and everything fits into a small metal box. The video below shows the design and build, along with some experiments with WebSDR receivers to check out range both with and without the power amplifier.

Seeing these kinds of builds really puts us in the mood for some low-power action. Could something like this pop up in “The $50 Ham” series? Quite possibly yes.

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A One-Transistor Ham Transmitter Anyone Can Build

What attracts a lot of people to amateur radio is that it gives you the ability to make your own gear. Scratch-building hams usually start by making their own antennas, but eventually, the itch to build one’s own radio must be scratched. And building this one-transistor transmitter is just about the simplest way to dive into the world of DIY radio.

Of course, limiting yourself to eight components in total entails making some sacrifices, and [Kostas (SV3ORA)]’s transmitter is clearly a study in compromise. For starters, it’s only a transmitter, so you’ll need to make other arrangements to have a meaningful conversation. You’ll also have to learn Morse code because the minimalist build only supports continuous-wave (CW) mode, although it can be modified for amplitude modulation (AM) voice work.

The circuit is flexible enough that almost any part can be substituted and the transmitter will still work. Most of the parts are junk-bin items, although the main transformer is something you’ll have to wind by hand. As described, the transformer not only provides feedback to the transistor oscillator, but also has a winding that powers an incandescent pilot lamp, and provides taps for attaching antennas of different impedances — no external tuner needed. [SV3ORA] provides detailed transformer-winding instructions and shows the final build, which looks very professional and tidy. The video below shows the rig in action with a separate receiver providing sidetone; there’s also the option of using one of the WebSDR receivers sprinkled around the globe to verify you’re getting out.

This little transmitter looks like a ton of fun to build, and we may just try it for our $50 Ham series if we can find all the parts. Honestly, the hardest to come by might be the variable capacitor, but there are ways around that too.

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