The Appeal of CW

There are very many facets of ham radio. Different modes among them. There are various voice modes, SSB, AM, FM. There are dozens of digital modes, RTTY, PSK31, FT8, etc. One that stands as very unique is CW, or Continuous Wave. That by itself isn’t very descriptive, as it is really a moniker for morse code over radio.

Morse Code was part of the requirement to obtain a FCC Amateur Radio license for decades. It started to be phased out in the 1990s and then eliminated as a requirement for all classes of licenses in the early 2000s in the USA. It had been a barrier to many people, and there was an uptick in licensed hams when it was eliminated as a requirement.

Despite that, probably a significant number of current hams know morse code, and still use it regularly. The main reason, it is fun. I would contend that many more hams would operate and continually stay active in the hobby if they tried CW. But many people feel it is too difficult to learn.

In 1971 when I decided I wanted to be a ham, there were not many resources available. I was 15 years old, so what you did in those days, bought a book. “Learning the Radiotelegraph Code” by the ARRL, and I bought a Heathkit Code Practice Oscillator. It came with a CW key (cheap one). The book does not have that many pages. It explained the concepts of CW, and had you learn the code by focusing on about 5 characters at-a-time. I think I tried to learn one five character group per day, but maybe it was a few days between each group. I think it was less than 30 minutes a day. I didn’t have any method of hearing code, except for on a radio, so I focused on sending code on my little oscillator. I learned by hearing myself. Luckily, I had a good sense of timing. I have always kept all my ham radio books over the years, but that book is one I have not been able to find.

Once I had enough characters memorized, and I could send them by reading them or thinking about them, I started to listen to W1AW code practice. To this day, you can still listen to it, just check their website for times and frequencies. I stuck with the slow speeds, 5 WPM, then 10 WPM. The novice test required 5 WPM. It was not multiple choice questions based on the text that was sent, you had to copy 1 minute solid (if I remember correctly) out of 5 minutes.

Strange as it sounds, I practiced in my head. I’d see a sign, and I’d sound the code out in my head – dididit – didahdidit – dahdahdah – didahdah.

This I accomplished sometime between July-Oct 1971. No help, just myself. Compare that to today, where you have websites, pc programs, apps on smart phones, etc. The Long Island CW Club has online classes for learning CW. It certainly is a big help, but there is no magic bullet, it still takes a little dedication.

One thing I would recommend – is start with a straight key. You can always gravitate to a keyer when you progress. It’s like math, you can use a calculator, but wouldn’t it be better if you learned by manually doing multiplication and division?

There are dozens of tools to help, I like G4FON’s PC programs. You can delve into the science, Farnsworth, etc, but the first step is just memorizing the characters – 26 letters, 10 numbers, then work on a few punctuation. It’s not that many. Get a straight key and practice sending. Try the online courses like https://longislandcwclub.org.

You can do it! There’s are reason CW operators are so passionate. It is fun! Don’t miss out.

My Kenwood TS-520

After I got the HQ-110 going, I did some decluttering on my shack and workbench. In the process of using a couple of coax switches to get various rigs and antennas easily selectable, I fired up my TS-520. I hadn’t had it on in several months, and I checked it out.

I bought it new in 1975 at the Hamburg Hamfest from Amateur Electronic Supply. I had sold my HW-101 earlier that morning in the flea market. Unfortunately they didn’t have any left at the hamfest, so it had to be shipped. Not sure why, but I was home the day it arrived by UPS. I still remember the anticipation of the UPS truck to arrive.

It was my main rig for 21.5 years, until I purchased a Yaesu FT-920 in 1997. It got some steady use for a couple years, then very sporadic or little use until it was replaced. I never sold it, as I have always had regret selling equipment, which is why I keep my rigs a long time.

It was not a high-end radio, pretty much a basic, just above entry level. It has zero QRM reduction features. That came with the TS-820 a year or two later. But it was reliable. It is all sold state except for the transmitter driver and finals, which are a 12BY7 and two 6146s.

I bought a matching external speaker for it, probably shortly after. I also bought a used external VFO at a hamfest some years later, though it was a newer S-version, but works fine and matches. I always wanted the six and two meter transverters, but never got around to it, until the early 2000s, when I bought a used one locally. It was not as nice cosmetically, and found out after I got it home that it has some mods. I never have fully tested it out.

It is now 47 years old, and I’ve never taken any precautions when turning it on, which is probably not very bright, especially after my HQ-110 nearly melted down. But it still works fine as far as I can tell so far, but I might be pushing my luck.

So I’ve looked around a bit online, and there are a couple places offering various repair kits, including ALL electrolytic capacitors. There are around 50 in the radio, and I think the kit is $48. I believe you can also buy just the high voltage ones in the power supply and transmitter section. Probably something I should seriously think about.

Now I have to think about where this fits in the project queue.

Kenwood TS-520

Ham Radio Fun

I finally got my HQ-110 aligned, so I swapped some cables around, got my Versa-TR switch wired up to the HQ-110 and my homebrew novice xmtr, let them both warm up and started listening on 40 meters. The xmtr is xtal controlled, and I only have two usable crystals, 7.030 and 7.040 MHz. I also only can use my straight key as I don’t have any external keyer.

The first thing I noticed was the audio quality on the HQ-110. Hard to describe, but it has a presence. The CW signals sound very pure. I do have a Hammarlund external speaker, which is pretty beat up on the outside, but sounds good.

The HQ-110 was the more entry level receiver in the early 1960s. It will receive SSB, but takes a little more effort to tune in. No AGC or S-Meter function in CW/SSB, and I believe one IF amplifier stage was sacrificed to receive CW/SSB. So one might need to play with sensitivity control (RF Gain). There is a Q-Multiplier in the 110. The one in my original HQ-110 that I used in 1971 never seemed to work correctly, and I remember lots of microphonics in that radio. The one I have now has a working Q-Multiplier and I can tap on the cabinet with no microphonics.

Once everything was hooked up and tuned up, I finally started calling CQ on 7.040. After several calls, a station came back to me, W3MX, Tony out of Irwin, PA. We had a nice QSO. I had no antenna on my FTDX-101D while operating the old station, but tuned to 7.040 to hear myself. A bit of chirp, though not the worst ever. It may have always been like that, I probably never heard myself on that rig.

I have an article stashed away from a ham who modified his HQ-110 to replace the BFO and add another product detector to get AGC and S-Meter function on the radio. It would most certainly improve the radio, but I hate to modify it more than I have (3-wire power cord and Fuse).

But it was quite fun to fire up those old radios, warm my hands on top of the HQ-110, and have a QSO with my old setup. I will be keeping these rigs at the ready when I want a change of pace.

Next up, I will be looking at my HQ-145. I bought it several years ago off eBay. I cleaned it up a bit, replaced the clock face, but didn’t really dig inside, so I need to check the power supply capacitors at a minimum.

3-D Printing

Sometime after Bob K2OID gave us a presentation on 3-D printing last spring, I ordered a 3-D printer. I got the same one as Bob, a Creality Ender-3 V2. It sat in the box for many months, until I finally got around to putting it together last week.

Sometime in between the purchase and assembly, there was a YouTube channel that I was already subscribed to, Paul McWhorter, who has instructional videos on various tech topics. I can’t remember why or how I found him, maybe Raspberry Pi or Arduino related. Anyway, he started a series of videos on Fusion 360, the program Bob recommended for creating 3-D CAD files, and he also mixed in lessons on the Creality Ender-3 V2 as well.

I didn’t start watching them but took note. So once I assembled it, I started to watch his video series. So far so good, I printed a project box just for practice using the slicer and printer. Then my wife asked me if I could make a couple of shapes for her to use as templates in a sewing project. I used Fusion 360, and got it done, though probably not very efficiently. But it got me using Fusion 360. Now I made it through about 10 video lessons and feel like I am ready for a real project.

Last year I built a Versa-TR switch. A circuit on a PC board that was a QST article a few years back, and made into a kit by Hayseed Hamfest. It handles TR switching between my old homebrew CW transmitter and my HQ-100 (or HQ-145). It would be better in some kind of a box, rather than hanging between a bunch of interconnecting cables.

So I want to design a box for it to go it, with standoffs, a removeable cover, holes for connectors, adjustments, etc. Wish me luck.

DX Commander Update

I purchased DX Commander Classic 40 thru 10 (can work on 6 and 2 meters as well) antenna in November to replace my aging Hustler 5-BTV trap vertical. I liked the concept, a lightweight vertical antenna that has 1/4 wave elements for most of the bands. But it hasn’t worked out well so far, and I’m not optimistic it will in the long run.

If you are unfamiliar with the antenna, it is based on the concept of a fan dipole, one feed point with multiple resonant elements. With a vertical, the feed point is the base, and 1/4 wave wire elements run vertically around an approximately 10 meter telescopic fiberglass mast. For 15 meters, it uses the 40 meter element, and it supposedly will work on 6 and 2 meters as well.

It is supported by only 3 guy ropes, attached only a few feet from the bottom. It is very light, and easily put up by one person. I watched many videos by the designer, Callum, M0MCX, on his YouTube channel.

It went up OK, and was working fine. I was a bit concerned watching how far it swayed in the wind. In his videos, Callum indicated this was normal, but he said if you are worried, you can add more guy ropes, or take it down if high winds expected. With high winds probably 30-50 days a year, this is not a solution for me. So I did add 3 more guys, maybe 5 foot above the others. I did not get them perfectly spaced, as I wanted to protect from the predominant winds, and use existing trees to tie to. But I thought it was enough to protect it in most cases.

After a few weeks, we had a pretty good wind storm, with a sudden drop in temperature. The winds were more southerly than usual. I have a weather station, and our highest wind gust was measured at 46mph. Which is pretty high, but we can have higher ones. 50 miles west, gusts were well over 60mph. Also, the temperature dropped from around 45 F to about 20F.

Sometime late that day or the next morning, I looked out at the antenna, and just above the main guy ropes, the mast was leaning over at about a 60 degree tilt instead of 90 deg. I went out and inspected it. The additional guy ropes I installed were still holding it up, but the mast was broken just above the first spreader plate. This is where the main guys are attached, and the first mast section ends. There is a clamp right there to ensure the mast doesn’t slide back down inside itself.

If my additional guys were not there, it would have been on the ground, snapped right in two. I emailed DX Commander, and explained the situation, including my concern that the antenna could not survive the typical western NY winters (or wind). It was the holidays, so it took a few days for them to get back to me.

Callum assured me they have thousands of these all over the world with few problems, but adding additional guys was a good idea. He offered a replacement mast at cost, and a link to arrange. Unfortunately, shipping from the UK was not included.

Not particularly happy with the warranty service, but that’s another topic. I probably will give it another try, but I’m not hopeful. I will have to add additional guys ropes to try and keep the movement of the mast at a minimum. Guys are something I wanted to avoid. My 5-BTV lasted years with no guys. Plus I have trees nearby which often lose branches in high winds. Guy ropes mean something falling nearby could put sudden strain on a guy rope and possibly damage the mast.

I have never had one of the lightweight telescopic masts before. Not sure if they all are the same, but there is a price to pay for lightweight. Seeing the broken one, they are thin walled cardboard coated with some kind of fiberglass, also very thin. I just don’t see this a good solution for a permanent antenna installation. It may be the combination of wind and temperature, I don’t know. Callum indicated he has had high winds and it survived, as well as others. But that point just above the guy plate spreader is taking all the force of the wind.

At the moment, I wouldn’t recommend this antenna to anyone living in this area for sure. But we’ll see.

HQ-110 Repair Update

(This is an update from my Nov. 30, 2022 post) I have been working on this off and on the last few weeks. Got the used transformer and it was not pretty, but checked it and it worked. Lead lengths were also good, but they were very corroded. I needed to clean each up before I tried to solder them anywhere. I tried a couple of chemical solutions without much luck, so had to resort to filing them clean.

Someone had added solid state diodes and just cut two pins off the 5U4. I replaced the 5U4 socket, installed the new electrolytic cap from Hayseed Hamfest, and wired it all back together. I installed a NOS 5U4GA. I also added a 3 wire power cord and added a fuse. It looked like all voltages were OK, so eventually powered it up slowly. The radio came to life, but could not hear any stations, and overall volume was low.

Though it had kind of worked before the transformer melted down, I didn’t know if all tubes were good, or maybe were damaged. So I took an offer from Ned W2NED, to stop down by the AWA Museum and used one of their tube testers. One of the 6BE6s was definitely weak, so replaced it. Still no signals.

One thing I learned in doing this, I thought my radio was an HQ-110, as it had the older color gray paint and raised lettering name on the front. It was missing the HQ-110 badge, however, so I fabricated one. But doing some research and checking the serial number, it must be a HQ-110A.

After a bit of troubleshooting, I found one of the wires that fed B+ to the RF Preamp tube had a bad solder joint (it was hard to see). Once that was repaired, I could hear some signals. Some bands sounded better than others, so I figured since I had no idea when it was aligned last, I decided to perform one. I have not done an alignment in 45+ years, but I have a VTVM and signal generator, so might as well.

It’s a learning process again. The Hammarlund manual to not always very clear on the alignment procedure. So I have been watching some YouTube videos, though none are specific to the HQ-110. Playing around with my old Heathkit Signal Generator, VTVM, and TinySA spectrum analyzer. The TinySA has a built-in signal generator. I have used the opportunity to acquire some additional test leads, alignment tools, adaptors, an RMA Dummy antenna, and other assorted tools.

I have no time line to get this done, so I will take my time and try not to break something. When I get this one complete, I have a HQ-145 and a Heathkit GR-54 that will also need work and alignments.

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