Changes in the #hamradio shack

Its not really spring cleaning or adding to the collection but more aiming my Amateur Radio gear towards a goal….

That goal is to prepare for the eventual move that we are planning in about a years time. We are not sure where we will end up but…. We need a place that is “Senior Friendly” which loosely translates to no stairs… The Condo Garden home we are renting is the right size (in sq feet) but that is shared between 4 floors and the stairs are killing us… Also having to be a bit “stealthy and creative” in my antenna systems here is making me believe a move would mostly be a good thing… With any luck we will find a small bungalow that has a yard that’s antenna friendly at a price that’s pension friendly. Failing that then I guess it will be Seniors Apartment (top floor please) with balcony antennas.

VHF/UHF on the left with the loop in the center

I was thinking that Mag Loop for the HF bands and the existing Arrow GP would be acceptable if I had some altitude…

So getting back to the big change… Where the Yaesu FT950 and the FT7250d used to sit on my desk has been now given over to my new Yaesu FT991A.

My Yaesu FT991a

It has a much smaller footprint and the radio can operate on 70CM, 2M ,6m and the full HF bands of 10m to 160m including 60m. Its modes are FM,C4FM,SSB and CW with provisions for the various Digital Modes

So far its working fine with the SGC237 autotuner I have mounted outside on my fence. I do have an Arrow dual band (70cm/2m) groundplane outside as well but I would prefer at least a couple of horizontal loops for 2m and 6m SSB but they will have to wait for now.

Its really a radio that you should read the manual for so for now its working fine for me and once I actually RTFM it will be even better. So far my received signal reports are almost identical to those I received when using the FT950 so I am more than pleased.

I am still active on HF and C4FM (PiStar Hotspot) so its all good…

A much better review of the FT991a will be posted once I RTFM and figure out what I am doing


ps…. and IF I have the urge to activate a POTA Park or just work the world from my neighborhood park I do have my XIEGU X5105 along with my choices of the EFHW antenna or the SOTA Beams 6-60m antenna

An upgrade to the kit

Well recently I have been shuffling gear around to take into consideration my new interests in our Amateur Radio hobby along with the retirees budget….

Yesterday this rig made it into my shack:

The Yaesu FT2DR is a dual band (2m and 70cm) dual mode (FM and C4FM) 5 watt handheld radio.

I bought it used from a ham in Ottawa and so far I am more than pleased with my purchase. It also has a built in GPS and an AX25 modem so eventually I will figure out how to access the APRS Network.

For now I have been able to program the memories with the limited frequencies needed for Kingston and as I also have the programming software and cable (not needed yet) eventually I will have it working to its full potential.

I still have my FT70D handheld and my FTDM7250 and plan to keep them both doing duty in the shack. The “70D” is currently monitoring my NNMDM Hot spot and the “7250” is connected to my 1/4 wave dual band groundplane giving me local VHF/UHF coverage

So for now I will be using the FT2DR for my daily use rig when not in the shack. Walks around the block or out to some POTA Activations should make use of the APRS Features and the ability to send SMS and APRS Text messages from areas where the cell service is limited could be important. Hopefully the GPS stuff along with the APRS stuff will be just as easy to set up as the memories were.

If you want to track the progress of this check out APRS.FI on line and search for VA3QV. Once I get it functioning the SSID for the FT2DR will be VA3QV-7

There will be a few more changes coming… I am looking for another portable hf rig (FT817 or 818 or even a KX3)to keep the XIEGU X5105 company and I will be sending one of my 100W HF rigs (FT950 or the FT450) on to a new home (but not quite ready to say goodbye yet)

Other stuff— Still hunting lots of POTA with just over 1200 Parks confirmed so far. Only done 2 activations so far but once the bands get stable then the Xiegu will be getting lots of fresh air

A sign of good #hamradio things to come

Today was a great day…. Or at least a better day in hamradio than I usually have

For the 1st time in this Solar Cycle (and most likely the last 2 solar cycles) I managed to make at least one SSB HF contact on 10, 15, 20, 40 and 80 meters in a single afternoon.

. Being a PopGun in the DX world it was amazing to think that I was hearing stations calling CQ and I was getting them all on the first call.

Some were POTA, others were School Roundups and a few were just stations calling CQ because the bands were open. There were 2 dx stations as well. Either way it was a heck of a good day…

Sometimes its the small things in life that give the most pleasure. Hopefully in a year from now I will be commenting on how I contacted all 6 continents in an afternoon or something equally as spirit raising


End of the year review

Well the end of 2021 is almost here. Last year (2020) we all were thinking that we were going to beat COVID…. And here we are again hoping that the New Year (2022) will be better…

Lets hope that finally is true….

For me not much happened (radio wise at least) for most of the year. I worked till the mid September when I retired for the last time. Mid October we sold the truck and the trailer as COVID was making Liz nervous and it was decided we were going to hunker down rather than travel full time. I did not know that she could see into the future but…. These decisions were made before Omnicron arrived and although we did not know it then…. We made the right choice.

In October I started to spend more time in the shack and since then have been increasing my totals as far as WAS (Worked all States) goes.

As of todays date I have 41 states confirmed in Phone, 18 confirmed in CW and 46 confirmed in Digital.

For 2022 I hope to complete my ARRL Triple Play (WAS in the 3 modes) 50-50-50 would be the desired totals

Right now I have 120 Phone, 72 CW and 55 Digital DXCC (Countries) confirmed. As we get closer to the Solar Maximum I am hoping to increase the totals significantly.

I do not see us travelling much this year so the back deck will be a major part of our summer activities but I do hope to engage in some POTA activations as I do have my portable HF station (FT450at, Wolf River 10-80m coil on a tripod) along with a soon to be purchased 20ah battery will help me pass the time on some of those summer days.

For those who think they have heard me describe this gear before you would be correct. Its the HF Station from the VA3QV/m (my old pickup truck).

I also have a complete station that came out of the trailer which I plan to sell at some time in the near future. This station consists of a Yaesu FT 450 (no AT), LDG auto Tuner and 25 amp power supply. Add coax and an antenna and you are on the air. It will be at a fair price so if you are interested drop me a comment with your email and I’ll get back to you.

Thats what I see happening… One more year of semi isolation till we beat this… We have had our two shots and the one booster. Betting that they figure out a way to give us a 2nd booster before this is all over.

We feel pretty safe but still nervous about everyone else out there. So for now it will be stay quiet, stay at home and stay safe. I don’t see much else changing (yet) but nothing is carved in stone…

So… Happy New Year and lets hope for a much better 2022


OK some things are “carved in stone”

CW Decoder- a week later

If you refer to my previous blog post you will find the background info on what I am now posting on.

The HotPaws Morse Code decoder app has been with me for a week now and heres my honest unsolicited opinion of this Apple IPad/IPhone app

I strongly recommend that before you use this app you take a few minutes to remind yourself how to fine tune CW signals on the receiver you plan to be using. “RTFM” comes to mind here as it will make it so much easier.

I tested this out by:

Copying the ARRL Bulletins and Code Practice that is available over the air.

Copying some CW Contests that I found on the air

Copying DXPeditions and POTA/SOTA activations that were operating CW

Copying CW NTS Traffic Nets

Copying CW Ragchews

Before I touch on the results. You need a stable connection between the speaker on your receiver and the IPad or IPhone. This can be done easily using one of the following ways.

Quickest way is just keep your IPad close to the recievers speaker and use the built in mic on the IPad.

The next way is the put the boom mic of your headphones across the speaker of the reciever and then plug the head set into the IPad. This is an audio link (almost same as above) but you get more sound into your IPad.

Third way is to use a double male stereo cable and plug directly from the output on the receiver to the input on the IPad. This elimates the external noise but you might have troubles hearing the pitch of the CW during the tuning process

I chose the first option for me and so far no issues.

Every night I was able to copy the ARRL Bulletins and Code Practice (all sent in CW) with no problems. A short tuning and all was good to go. If you are using the audio connection (1st or 2nd option) you might have a slight issue copying in a noisy envirioment.

I was able to listen along to a few CWT sprints (mini contests) and as most of their operators have a good fist (send real good CW by hand) I very little problems copying and even participating using the built in contest keyer in my Yaesu FT 950/

The Activations and the DXPeditions I listened to were a bit harder to copy. The activations were done in a portable situation, often at lower power levels and also more than often CW sent by hand. I was able to copy enough to know what was happening and hear the exchange but it took a while longer to get the tuning to cooperate with the app.

The DXPedition I was able to hear was sending Computer generated code at a rather fast speed for short transmissions (VA3QV 5nn TU) which took longer to tune in, Once tuned in was no problems.

The same went for the NTS Traffic Nets on CW. I was able to copy the traffic being passed, then had to re tune to hear the NCS and then retune to hear a different station passing traffic. Doable but it does test your tuning ability. If the participants were using a keyer it would be easier and if they are using a key then… hopefully you will get enough out to figure things out.

The same would apply to the CW Ragchews.

At this point I should mention that in most cases although you should be able to hear both parts of the QSO you might not be able to decode both parts. Don’t get upset if this happens. Fine tune for the one you want to hear the most and go with it.

Remember that the APP copies “well sent “CW. This would mean either a really good fist sending the code or a computer Keyer.

I previously used the term “Garbage in = Garbage out” A good CW operator can copy code by ear and can compensate for slight errors. The app can’t compensate.

Anything else could be hard to copy. Its not the apps fault….you can compensate (a bit) by fine fine tuning, but as you listen more (and also watch the screen as you do) you will find yourself recognizing certain phrases and words. That will help when you have to fill in a few gaps caused by a bad fist or a burst of static.

At the end of the day I find it to be good value for the money ($15.00 after taxes to be money well spent)

There are some free software out there that might do what you want. I also use the software package CW Get on my computer There are also some commercial decoders out there that might do what you want. MFJ makes several decoders that vary in features and budget.

Do I regret buying it? NO

Am I pleased with the product? YES

So in closing:

What you have read is my honest and unsolicited opinion . I was not asked to do this posting and was not compensated in any way for it. I even paid for the app myself…but I did want to share it with you the amateur radio community.

What you have read is my opinion on the product and how it worked for me and I’m no expert!!! I have used decoding software and decoders in the past so I was used to the fine tuning and so everything worked as it should and quickly for me.

It may not go as smoothly for you as operator experience, local noise levels, method of getting audio to the app from the receiver and quality of the radio receiver along with the antenna all play a part in the ability of the app to do what you want it to do or what its supposed to do.

At the end of the day…. It worked for me…. Your experiences could vary from mine…. It may not work for you…. It may not be suitable for your needs…

Please do your research before making purchases of anything amateur radio related.


First impression of the Morse Decoder by Hot Paw productions

This was written 1 day (16 hours) after we bought the app from the Apple App store. It seems to be very basic but good. If anything changes I’ll do a follow up post.

This is a app for Apple IPhone and Apple IPad. When you go to the app store it will tell you if the app will work with the device you are currently using to connect with the app store.

Searching the app store for Hot Paw Productions should bring you to the app if its still available.

So here we go…

I downloaded the app from the Apple App store and away we went. It worked right out of the box (or right after installing) on my I Pad. The cost was about $15.00 Cdn after taxes…

Just to remind you this is a CW Decoding app ONLY (no FT8/PSK or any other sound card modes) and you will need some sort of device for transmitting CW. Straight Key or Keyer the choices are yours.

Right off the bat lets say that if you are looking for a decoder to see what the group on the weekly slow speed CW roundtable net are talking about you will most likely disapointed.

Remember the old “Garbage in = Garbage out” saying? Well if the person sending the code has a bad fist then…. The app can’t fix bad sending…

However if you want to use it to pick up the occasional rare DX station or a few extra multipliers in contesting or copy the ARRL Bulletins then this is about the best $15.00 you can spend (in my opinion)… It reads good code, normally that means contest quality computer keyer generated code and its good as what it does.

As an example last night there was the ARRL 160m cw contest. I started reading the screen and even though things were crowded I was able to make out complete contest exchanges. Just for $h!ts and Giggles I opened up the book of words for my Yaesu FT950 and figured out how to use the built in contest keyer and also how to program the keyers memories .

Memory 1 was: VA3QV (my callsign)

Memory 2 was : 5nn ONE (the contest exchange I had to send)

Memory 3 was : 73 TU (thanks)

Memorys 4 and 5 were not used

And heres how it worked:

I found a station calling CQ Test with his callsign and tuned the dial on to him…

I replied with Memory 1.

He replied by giving my call and then his exchange 5nn CT

I replied with Memory 2 then Memory 3

He acknowledged and then went to calling again.

I made 5 more contacts just to prove the 1st one was not a fluke and as a result contesting stations in the following RAC/ARRL sections got the rare “Ontario East (ONE) multi. They were GTA, MDC, CT, MN, WPA and OH.

Some comments and suggestions:

I suggest that if you buy the app, get used to it by copying the ARRL code practice on HF. Check the ARRL website for times and freqs. They send computer generated code and so its about as perfect CW as you can get. Read the manual that comes with your radio for the fine tuning on receiving CW signals or just tune by ear for the proper pitch. It worked for me fairly easily as I was used to the tuning aspect from using other decoding software

Don’t get discouraged it you don’t get it right the first time. Unfortunately its not the software…. Its either the poor cw being sent (remember the local roundtable comment) or you just have to make a very tiny adjustment to the VFO to change the pitch ever so slightly.

It has been suggested that you connect from your receivers audio output to the audio input on your apple device. I chose not to as just putting the IPad on top of my radio (see Pic) worked well enough for me. It may not for you though especially if your shack tends to be noisy.

IPad is right beside the radio speaker

As an added bonus I can use it on my other Apple Device so in the shack I have it on my IPad and its already been installed on my IPhone so its ready for portable ops (POTA) with my FT 450 and the Wolf River coil on a Tripod when the weather warms up

This is not the only app out there but its one of the few I have tried that really worked well for me. I have and still use CW Get which is software that runs on my laptop. The DM780 part of Ham Radio Deluxe also works good but HRD is more expensive than this app and its all I need. Not all the other stuff that HRD offers.

DISCLAIMER: It worked for me, It might work for you, BUT IT MIGHT NOT work for you, so you Buy at your own risk. You pays your money and takes your chances.


PS…. Thanks to Rich VE3MHY who had left a review for the app at the app store and answered a couple of questions I had quickly and honestly. His opinions confirmed what I had been thinking

Compromise HF antennas

I think I have to change the terminology that I normally use to describe my normal Home HF antenna….

They have to be stealthy but I can no longer think of them as “compromise”. Its working great for the operating conditions here….

If you are putting up the best darn antenna you can that keeps you on the air and fits in with your local operating conditions, its a great antenna and not really a compromise antenna.

Remember using a 10-160 OCF dipole in an inverted V (rather than in a flat top) is not a compromise…. Its just getting the antenna to fit in your yard or operating location. Running a 43 foot vertical with lots of radials (instead of a 10-40 OCF due to yard size or lack of trees) is not a compromise. A 48 foot tower is not a compromise (because the local municipal restricts the height of towers so you can’t put up that 100 foot self supporting one in your city lot)

Now there are little things like municipal bylaws, HOA restrictions, Condo restrictions, Rental restrictions, cranky neighbors and of course family opinions (to name a few) might come into play when trying to install your antenna.

Its not a restriction…. it becomes a challenge….. it challenges you to put up the most effective antenna you can while trying to make everyone else happy. If you are successful in completing your challenge it should make you happy as well.

The antenna of choice here is an end fed random (about 50 feet or so) length wire being fed by my SGC237 auto tuner. It is in an “inverted Vee” configuration with the wire leaving the tuner and thrown over a tree branch then it terminates at my back fence. I also have some random length radials (counterpoises) running north/south and east/west along the fence perimeter. Using the magic in the SGC 237 I am able to make contacts on all Amateur Bands between 6m and 160m. This antenna is not fancy…. its actually cheap…. (How much does 100 feet of automotive wire cost at Princess Auto???). Its fairly (75%) stealthy. So far no one is complaining about it and the “Condo Cops” has not been knocking at my door (yet).


Is it the best antenna? NO…

Does it work? YES…

Is it stealthy? YES..

Am I making contacts? YES (Including a VK on 40SSB)

Could I do better? NO… (Not here at least)

There you have it… although I could do better, its the best I can do while living where we do. So I no longer feel I have a “compromise antenna”…. Its actually a “pretty good antenna”.


PS…. This is just a reminder to those of us who operate in an “antenna challenged” environment that HF contacts are actually possiable.

So far 46 states confirmed from here in Digital and 31 states confirmed in SSB and nothing yet in CW….Sooner or perhaps later I will finally work on my CW log again.


#hamradio Contest Weekend (again)

Last weekend we had the ARRL SSB Sweepstakes and it seemed to go well. I had no complaints… and as with all contests… I plan to( expect to) :

a Have fun (I did)

bGive out the “Rare ONE (Ontario East) ” Multi so those who are actually taking contesting seriously have a chance to get bragging rights for their accomplishments (I managed to give out “ONE” out to 50 stations)

Clean Sweep if you contact all 84 sections

c– Either increase my State totals or my DXCC totals depending on what the actual contest of the day leans towards. (I did- increased my confirmed SSB WAS totals up to 30 from 20 and if everyone left that I contacted confirms on LoTW I should be up to 37 confirmed)

Now this weekend is the CQ WW CW contest ( and its a popular one…

I’ve only participated in this contest once (2015) and managed to successfully obtain my regular goals and so I was pleased. My best (and only) showing was with a Flex 1500 (QRP) and between the decoding program CW Get and the built in computer keyer in the software needed to run the Flex (remember its a SDR) I also managed some wallpaper.

I have to admit for this one my computer did 99% of the heavy lifting

But following the line of selling then regreting it I did (in September 2019) at the OARC Hamfest in Carp sell my Winkeyer USB Computer Keyer.

Another case of I don’t need it so why not sell it… I can always find another one later. Well no luck finding one so now I won’t be operating any CW (or very little) until I can replace that now badly needed piece of kit… As always hindsight is always 20/20.

Once I find one it will take the place of the Keyer Programming in the Flex (which I also sold) and then I can try and regain what little CW skills I had (or thought I had) in the past.

If you have the skills to participate then enjoy the contest….

Other than that enjoy your weekend


ps ….. and don’t forget the RAC Canada Winter Contest is coming up in 3 weeks. Listen for me there

Antenna changes for the good

This weekends post is a bit strange but here we go…

I have been subject to lots and lots of static across the bands here with my stealthy antenna.

Yaesu FT 950 (my shack rig)

The FT 950 / SGC237 combo receives fantastic signal reports but to be honest I have issues hearing most average stations.

It was suggested by the local repeater crowd that I try building an “Ugly Balun” and put it in line with the chances that it would help with my static issues. So this morning I acquired an empty Folgers coffee Plastic Can and went to work. I am more than pleased to say that its working fantastic. I now have lower static levels with the pre amp on than I did with the preamp off. This is a big deal for me as my stealthy antenna consists of 40 feet (approx) of green insulated wire hidden in the Fir Tree beside my backyard. I have a few radials strung around the perimeter of the yard which along with the green wire is feeds my SGC 237 Smart tuner.

The above picture is not the one I built but I think it shows the way it supposed to look when constructed properly.

As I had no PVC Pipe laying around the Folgers Red Plastic can worked and as I was already feeding the SGC with RG58 from the FT 950 and I had lots left on the 50 foot run it was easy enough to wrap the can with about 20 feet (or so)

Safe to say I am NOW pleased because now we get into the 2nd part of the story…

The statement “if it ain’t broken …. don’t mess with it” was also proven true today…

I run about 50 feet of RG58 from the radio (PL259 connectors) from the radio. At the end that connects to the SGC I used a small commercial patch cord with a SO239 to BNC which connects to the SGC 237. After completion and the balun was in place I had nothing but grief. The tuner (which I think can tune dry string if asked to) could not find a match on any band. I double checked all my connections but no luck. Out of despiration I took an Amazon SO239 to BNC adapter (no patch cord) and it worked and all is well with the universe again.

I don’t know why that patch cord decided to fail after years of faithful service… perhaps like me it just wanted to retire and decided that that was the time to do so.

But at the end of the day its working great …

Enjoy the rest of your weekend


Catching up on some paperwork

Well I still hate computers but… I was able to get my logging program talking to Logbook of the world and so….

Any contacts (I logged) that happened before September 2021 have been uploaded to LoTW. This includes POTA contacts in the same time frame.

My 2 DX contacts from October have been uploaded and VJ4K (Australia) has already been confirmed.

All of my POTA for September and early have been uploaded..

All remaining contacts will be entered then uploaded.

Still lots to catch up on. Next on the list is getting computer talking to the Sound Card for better use of the Digital modes after I get the POTA logs completed