Friday, May 24, 2013

Boat Anchor Radios: Yaesu FT-101 Set Up

Boat Anchor Radios are classic old radios that can be a lot of fun to learn to use.

The Yaesu FT-101

The Yaesu FT-101 series radio is what we would call a hybrid type of amateur radio.   The radio has both tubes and solid state circuits.    These are great HF radios and learning how to set these up properly for operation can be tricky but it is a great educational experience.

There are various models of the FT-101 and each model has improvements to the previous model.  Some some newer models have less features.    For a history of the unit and comparison of models QSL.NET  is a wonderful source.

I personally have an FT-101B and I have communicated all over the world on this radio using a simple dipole antenna over my house and an MFJ-949D tuner.

Manuals for these radios are available free online.
One great source for manuals is FOXTANGO.ORG.  The information is free but they do have a button to send donations.

Digital Display vs Analog display is kind of like horseshoes and hand grenades but external digital displays for this FT-101 series can be still purchased from Electronic Specialty Products.   These digital displays come in very handy to align your radio if your radio is off on receive and transmit frequencies.   Accuracy on these digital displays is about 100hz.

Matching the radio to your antenna is done normally, just like using any radio with an external tuner.   Setting the radio up for operation takes a little practice.

Here are the steps:
Power on Radio and Heater.   Allow a few minutes to warm up.
Check to make sure that your radio is properly connected to your antenna.

Located the MODE dial on the lower front panel of the radio on the left side and set to TUNE.
AF Gain - just so you can hear it, not too loud.
RF Gain - Fully turned to the right.

Above those dial look for the MOX/PTT/VOX switch.   Set for PTT

Meter Switch next to meter should be set for IC
VFO Knob next to that should be set for INT (assuming you are not using an external VFO)

On the right side of the big VFO Dial look for a switch labeled BAND select your operating band.
(I am going to use 20 meter for this exercise)

Above the BAND select switch you will see a dial called PRESELECT.   Turn it to the area of the band you are plan to operate (20) .   Listening to the radio turn the PRESELECT to where you hear the strongest noise level.  

At this time, if you have not yet done so, you might want to turn the radio to a frequency in the middle of the band that is not in use.

To the right of the PRESELECT located MIKE GAIN / CARRIER dials.  
The inner or center dial is is MIKE and that should be turned full to the right.
The outer part of the dial is the CARRIER (RF)  and that should be turned to the left (counter clockwise) all the way.

Locate the Plate dial and set that to the band you are on (20)

Locate the LOAD dial and set that to 5 (half way)

When you key down in TUNE or set the MOX switch you will slowly raise the RF GAIN to where your meter on your SWR meter reads about 10 watts.    Do not key down for more than 10 seconds.

The order that I tune my radio is PRESELECT,  PLATE  and LOAD.   Some people prefer PRESELECT, LOAD and PLATE.

Turn the dials slowly to where you have the strongest power output.  This should always be done in the lowest power setting.

The video demonstration posted on YouTube below is a good example on how to tune up an FT-101.

Other than a sensational reception one more benefit of a tube HF radio is that it is believed that these old boat anchors might survive an electric magnetic pulse (EMP) that would normally knock out solid state equipment.    A good thing to have.

More Boat Anchor Radios can be found at:

NA1SS - Ham Radio on the International Space Station

The International Space Station (ISS) is equipped with Ham Radio to communicate with radio operators on Earth.

Thanks to the installation of new solar panels the ISS can be very easy to spot in the night sky with the naked eye.    It is the biggest man made object in space orbiting the planet at this time.

To see when the ISS will be passing overhead you can check out this web site:

Here is a tour of the ISS and a demonstration of radio station NA1SS:

Protocols and settings for contacting NA1SS*:

Region 1 = Europe * Middle East * Africa * North-Asia
RXdownlink: 145.800Mhz (FM).
TXuplink:      145.200Mhz (FM).

NA1SS VOICE FREQUENCY! (region 2 & 3).
North and South America * Caribbean * Greenland
South Asia * Australia * New Zealand * Oceania
RXdownlink: 145.800Mhz (FM).
TXuplink:      144.490Mhz (FM).

ISS WORLD WIDE APRS/packet (1200 baud) frequency:
RXdownlink: 145.800Mhz (FM).
TXuplink:      145.990Mhz (FM).
ISS APRS digipeater callsign: RS0ISS-3
ISS packet callsign: RS0ISS-11 (for bbs).

* source: AMSAT.ORG

Ham Nation - Ham Radio Basics

Ham Nation is a weekly Internet TV program that is a wonderful resource to learn about Ham Radio.

It is hosted by Bob Heil, Gordon West, Don Wilbanks and George Thomas.   

Their website is located at:

You can watch them live on Wednesday nights or watched the archived programs.

They are informative and a lot of fun.

Here is one of their early programs, which I found very informative for those just started.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Digital Communications - JT-65

Digital communications can go farther than phone (voice) communications with less power and with some digital protocols you can make more contacts.  Digital communications, in its simplest form is CW - continuous wave radio transmissions using Morse code.

For more complex digital communications you need some gear.   Computers can be interfaced to Ham Radio equipment where the serial or USB port can control the transmitter and the audio sound card sends and receives encrypted signals.   Systems currently supported are Windows PC and Linux.   Mac users may have to figure it out and wing it with the help emulation software.

The easiest interface that I have experience with is the Rigblaster by West Mountain Radio.    It is simply a box where you connect the audio out  and the USB or Serial Port of your computer to the microphone input of your radio.   The Rigblaster may be ordered in different configurations depending on your radio.

Information for the Rigblaster Plus 2 can be seen at:

Most HF radios have a VOX switch and if you do not want to use the USB or Serial Port to trigger the transmitter just set the VOX but disconnect the microphone.

That is pretty much the hardware needed the only other thing you need is a tool for the decryption of the signals, which are performed by computer software.

How it works:

JT-65 is one digital protocol where an average conversation over Ham Radio (QSO) can take about 6 to 7 minutes, signals travel a long distance with low power and a Ham can easily contact other Hams in all 50 states as well all over the world.   I learned about JT-65 last January and in a few months logged in over 200 contacts.  Once you get the hang of JT-65 it can be a lot of fun.

The JT-65 signal begins at 2 seconds past the minute and sends a 13 character message for 45 seconds.   The software on the receiving end decodes the message and gives the receiver the option of answering the sender.   The frequency set aside for most operations is at the top of the band and near .076 past the top.
Two bands frequently used in the U.S. are 40 meter  @ 7.076Mhz and 20 meter @ 14.076Mhz.

Where to get it:

A guide to the bands and frequencies for JT-65 can be found at:

 JT-65 is time sensitive and you must coordinate the minutest and seconds of your computer clock to ZULU or Greenwich Mean Time.    A great resource for setting your clocks to Zulu is at:

The software for JT-65 is available free on the Internet at various sites.
I personally use the software found on the Sourceforge site:

Another software package can be found on the Princeton University site:

I found some great videos on YouTube demonstrating JT-65:

There is a website where you can check your propagation called PSK REPORTER.   You can enter your call letters, protocol and send a low powered CQ.  In about 20 seconds you will be able to determine if you are using enough power to get to where you want to contact.    The site is at: 

This is where my 30wt signal went on a morning with poor propagation:

On better days:
The photo above shows the signal report for my Icom IC-740 with a simple dipole antenna.  This was a 30 wt  JT-65 transmission that reached all over the US as well as a station in New Zealand.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Field Day - Start planning to get involved.

Every year Ham Radio enthusiasts gather in parks, beaches, hill tops and remote areas for an event called Field Day.   This year field day is the weekend of June 22nd and 23rd.

This is a weekend set aside in the month of June to practice amateur radio communications skills as well as experiment with different solutions for communications in case of a disaster.  Ham radio operators communicate in CW (Morse Code), Phone (voice) and digital modes.   During Field Day phone modes are usually conducted in single side band along all HF bands except 12, 17, 30 and 60 Meters.

According to the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL), the objective of field day is,  "To work as many stations as possible on any and all amateur bands (excluding the 60, 30, 17, and 12-meter bands) and to learn to operate in abnormal situations in less than optimal conditions. Field Day is open to all amateurs in the areas covered by the ARRL/RAC Field Organizations and countries within IARU Region 2. DX stations residing in other regions may be contacted for credit, but are not eligible to submit entries."

For all the details check out the ARRL page at:

Local amateur radio clubs are the best resource for those who are new to ham radio.   Some clubs have volunteer examiners assembled to offer testing for Amateur Radio FCC license.

To locate a club in your area check out this page on the ARRL site:

One cool thing about field day is that if you have a Technicians license and attend a field day event you will be permitted to use bands for higher grade licenses as long as the control operator is a General or an Amateur Extra.  This great way for new hams to experience HF communications.

Videos of past Field Days: