Danny Boy...the tubes are calling...

We'll not exactly - Hi Hi.  However, I have decided to expand my small collection of vintage ham radio equipment.  Recently, a friend offered a few pieces of non-working Drake 4 line gear to me at a reasonable price.  I already own a vintage Drake L-4B amplifier that I recently refurbished.  Therefore, the additional Drake 4 line items easily fit into my collection. For those that are not familiar with the Drake 4 line. These are popular transceivers and equipment from the 70's, and are Vacuum Tube based designs.

The pieces I acquired are two TR4C SSB transceivers, a MS4/AC4 speaker/power supply, and a RV4/AC4 remote VFO/Power supply.  At some point in the future, I plan to restore this gear and hopefully have two functioning Drake 4 line stations. Replacement part availability is surprisingly good because of continued high interest in this quality USA produced amateur gear.



Updates for the station...


It's been a while since I've updated my ham radio page. The last year has been a significant time of change for me. I retired in July 2013 from employment and that has given me more time to participate in amateur radio and other activities. Similar to other retirees, I sometimes wonder how I had time to work...Hi-Hi. It seems I have no shortage of projects and things I need to do!  Since my last post, I completed the Yagi antenna installation on the crank up tower. The HF antennas are working well and I recently confirmed enough HF DX contacts to qualify for DXCC.  I now have 116+ countries confirmed on the ARRL's logbook of the world. My long term goal is to achieve DXCC honor roll using only LOTW confirmations. This year, I have been focused on working the ARRL Centennial portable operations as a year long goal of achieving worked all states (WAS) using only ARRL portable contacts.   Once I complete the contacts I need for WAS/W1AW, I plan to apply for both the WAS and DXCC awards. 

During the past several months, I've completed a few ham radio projects that were pending on my “to do” list. First, I renovated my workshop that is located in another area of my home to make it more suitable to perform tasks on ham radio/electronic projects. It's in that area that I build and repair my ham radio equipment. During the period, I also built additional shelving for my operating desk, and refined the switching matrix for my station to handle the multiple transceivers and amplifiers I use. The station is now much more user friendly, as there are no cables to physically move to bring a radio or amplifier on line. The switching matrix is handled by 5 switching devices (3 antenna switches, a data/microphone switch box, and a switch box I built).  In the future, I would like to consolidate all switching tasks into a custom assignable modular design.  That may be another project I might tackle in the future. 

In the station, I have a Kenwood TS-830S that I use occasionally and use a Kenwood DFC-230 solid state frequency controller to stabilize the VFO on the 830.  However, recently the DFC-230 began to act erratically. Due to the age of the DFC-230, I thought it would be advisable to begin with replacing all of the capacitors. Apparently, some of the capacitors were defective, because the DFC-230 began to function normally once it was recapped. Total cost was around $12.00 for the update.
Another project I completed was to replace the capacitors in a 1947 Philco Audio/RF Signal Generator. Recently,  I had been looking for a signal generator, and this one was offered to me at a very good price by my friend Reid W2HU.  Some of the test gear from the 40's and 50's are a work of art.  The metal work quality on the 1947 Philco is outstanding, and certainly surpasses anything produced today.

Recently, I also added several new transceivers and a vintage amplifier to the station. The amplifier is a Drake L-4B to use as a companion to the Kenwood TS-830S. The L-4B is in very good physical condition. When purchased, the inspection tag was still attached to the amplifier, and showed a build date of June 6, 1977. As a statement to the durability of the Eimac 3-500Z tubes, the amplifier still has the original 1977 date coded Eimac tubes still installed and making full power!
IMO the Drake L-4B has one of the better RF decks built during that era. However, the amplifier does have a few design deficiencies that IMO should be corrected, and had age related issues as well. Therefore, I decided to modify the amplifier to resolve those issues and to also update the power supply.  To update the power supply, I installed a new power supply board that included all new diodes, resistors, and capacitors. The new board eliminated the two separate capacitor boards and added additional capacitance as well.
The design problems with the L-4B are twofold. First, in it's stock form a surge from the high voltage power supply flows through the HV switch on the front panel whenever the amplifier is switched on. After years of use, the HV switch on the L-4B has a tendency to burn and fail, and a replacement switch is not readily available. The second issue is more common. Similar to most vintage tube amplifiers of that era, they have a considerable amount of voltage and current involved with the T/R switching relay. Many modern transceivers are unable to handle the high switching voltage without using an external padding device, or will sustain damage that is usually expensive to repair.

To correct those issues. I first modified the on/off switching circuit by installing a vacuum relay to handle the HV switching.  The high voltage is now handled by the vacuum relay and the front panel switch now only handles a mere12 volts and 30 mils of current. The second modification I installed is a small optical keying buffer. That circuit now handles the internal higher voltage T/R switching and thus the transceiver only has to sink to ground, a low power/current signal to place the amplifier into transmit.

I am always interested in new equipment that will place the most SSB contacts into my log.  I recently acquired a Yaesu FTDX-9000mp that includes the 400 watt PA and decided to put it to a real world test against a IC-7700 I also had in the station.  Testing in my station indicated that there was no significant difference in performance between the two for performing weak signal SSB reception. Therefore, I decided to sell the IC-7700 with the intention to purchase another rig at a later date that was more recent in design and may have a better receiver.

The next rig purchase was a Yaesu FTDX-3000.  I discovered that its performance was very close to that of the FTDX-9000.  However, operationally the FTDX-9000 is far superior for my style of ham radio, because the FTDX-9000 series is less menu driven for basic operation settings.  Although the FTDX-3000 is a great radio, it still did not add anything significant to my station's capabilities.

The most recent purchase is a Kenwood TS-990S.  I've only owned the TS-990S for a relatively short period of time. Nevertheless, in relation to weak signal SSB work, the TS-990S has proven to have better performance than the FTDX-9000.  It took Kenwood nearly 11 years to produce another flagship radio, after production ceased for the TS-950SDX.  I am please with the TS-990S and can say the wait was well worth it.  I have written E-Ham reviews about both transceivers and they can be read here.

FTDX-9000 http://www.eham.net/reviews/detail/7862

Vintage Hybrid Station; Astatic D104 Microphone; Kenwood TS-830S, DFC-230, SM-220; Drake L-4B, L-4 PS; Ten Tec 1225 Peak Reading Power Meter...

Current main HF operating position...

Final Review and Installation of the M2 40M4LLDD

Hi.  This is my experience and an expansion of a review I posted on eham.com regarding the M2 40M4LLDD 4 Element 40 meter Linear Loaded Yagi.

Purchase: The purchase and shipping experience with M2 was FB. The cost of the antenna was roughly just under $2400 US, delivered. The antenna arrived in good shape within the time stated. The parts arrived in a rather large, heavy box, with the three boom sections all wrapped together in plastic wrap.

Manual, Parts, Assembly and Installation: The manual for the antenna could be significantly improved. A few detailed photos of a completed antenna assembly, could answer a lot of questions someone may have during the assembly process. The manual only gives drawings, that are not always clear, and only shows one half of the antenna. I had a question about the linear loading lines on both sides of the antenna, whether they mirror each other or does it matter? Nevertheless, I contacted M2 for assistance and found them to be very helpful.

The antenna contains a large amount of small parts and hardware, some that was missing from my order. The parts count given in the manual for a few of the smaller #8 screws, indicated that I should have received more than was actually delivered, and I was given extra longer screws that I did not need.  I was able to replace the missing hardware at the local big box store. I am sure M2 Inc. would have provided the missing screws, but I was on a time schedule and did not want to delay the assembly waiting for generic parts. Other than noted below, most of the antenna components seem to be very good quality and up to the task.

During assembly and installation, I was concerned about several key components that were provided with the antenna. My first concern, the locking nuts on the turnbuckles. The way the turnbuckles are supposed to be installed on the antenna for the elements, the standard thread locking nut is not on the side of the turnbuckle that attaches to the metal center support. Rather, the locking nut is on the side of the turnbuckle that holds the support rope or Phillystran.  I did not like that arrangement at all. I thought it would be better to have a locking nut on the side of the antenna that could not rotate due to vibration or wind. Therefore, I added left hand threaded nuts to the other end of each turnbuckle as well, thus locking both sides.

The antenna comes with just enough cable clamps to use two per end on the Phillystran support guys. Another amateur I know that has previous experience with a M2 full size 40 meter beam, indicated that with two cable clamps, the Phillystran support for those elements had slipped. To prevent that from happening, I added a third clamp to each end of the Phillystran support guys.

Another concern of mine was the boom support.  M2 provides a section of Dacron rope to support the boom. IMO, with a 42 foot boom, rope may not last very long.  At first, I contemplated using aircraft grade cable for the boom support, but I wanted to avoid any interaction from using a metal support.  Therefore, I changed from rope to 2100 pound rated Phillystran.  

Moreover, the last two components that really concerned me was the rather small boom to mast plate, and the 4 muffler style clamps provided to secure the antenna to the mast. They appeared inadequate to me, and my suspicions were realized during the installation, because the clamps failed.

I own a tilt-over, crank up tower. To install the antenna from the ground, I planned to install the center section of the antenna. Add the front boom section, director, and support. Rotate the antenna 180 degrees. Then install the rear boom section, reflector and support. During assembly, things went as planned, until I attempted to crank the tower back over to install the rear boom section after I had rotated the antenna.

The unbalanced weight of the antenna literally warped the boom plate and two of the four mast clamps, causing the antenna to rotate freely out of control on the mast. Luckily, no permanent damage occurred, because the elements flexed, rather than bent, when they made contact with the ground.  To remedy that issue, I purchased a much larger boom plate and solid cast aluminum clamps with stainless bolts from DX Engineering.  In my opinion, a must for this large antenna. The new plate and clamps are working excellent to support this large antenna.

Tuning and On the Air: The advantage to the M2 dual driven linear loaded design, is the increased usable bandwidth and near full size antenna performance in a smaller size footprint. Using the "Full Band" settings provided in the manual, the antenna covers the entire 40 meter band with an SWR below the advertised max SWR of 2:1. This has been confirmed on my installation. The measured SWR is 1.7 on the lower band edge at 7.000, 1.2 at the upper band edge of 7.300, and exhibits a nice smooth curve bottoming out around 1.1 on 7.180.  No additional adjustments were necessary, but it was necessary to retune a six meter beam that is mounted four feet above this one (now resonance is 49.850), so there is some minor interaction to that antenna.  Based on other's experience, the center antenna always suffers the most on a single mast multi-antenna installation.

At this time, I don’t have my rotator control lines installed, so the antenna is fixed at 45 degrees East of North towards Europe. So far, the gain seem so be on par as advertised. I’ve worked a few stations and have received “Big Signal” reports from stations on the other end, when I am just running 200 watts, at 1.5 KW, I've been told, I am the loudest station heard!

I notice the bulk of U.S. stations usually given "5/9", while I am consistently given 5-20+ over S-9 signal reports. I am copying stations easily as well.  As expected, the antenna works just as well on receive too. In comparison to a ladder line fed 120 foot inverted V at 70 feet, the beam has much better receive on DX in the direction it is pointed.  I’ve seen as much as 7 S units in difference.

Based on performance, I am very pleased with the antenna.  I hope to be more active on 40 meters, a band that I haven't used much in the past.  73 and Good DXing.

Failed Mast Clamps

Warped Boom Plate

TH-11DX, 40M4LLDD,  + 5 Elements on 6 Meters

Improved Boom to Mast Plate 40M4LLDD

The M2 40M4LLDD

The final Yagi antenna that I plan to soon install on my tower is a M2 40M4LLDD.  The antenna is quite large, but not near as heavy as I expected.  When assisted by another person, we can easily move this antenna around as I prepare for installation.  I hope the performance of the antenna is as impressive as its physical appearance. Overall, I would say the quality of the antenna is good, but there is room for improvement in regard to the instructions contained within the assembly manual, and with some of the hardware items.

First, there is a problem with the turnbuckles supplied to adjust the Phillystran lines that support each of the elements and linear loading lines.  The installation instructions show the element turnbuckles installed with the jam nut facing the center support bracket.  However, the end of the turnbuckle that has the jam nut is a closed loop, so it cannot be installed on the center support as shown.  Installing the turnbuckle in reverse, would allow the turnbuckle to loosen because the Phillystran line is not stiff enough to prevent the turnbuckle from turning.  To fix that issue, I had to also install a second jam nut on the opposite end of the turnbuckle. The nuts are left hand threaded and after checking multiple big box stores without success.  I was lucky enough to find them at one of the local True Value hardware stores.   

Another item that really concerns me is the boom support. M2 supplies a piece of UF rated rope, a mast bracket, and two turnbuckles to support the 42 foot boom.  I can see the rope not lasting very long and failing under stress if there is a significant freezing rain event.  If the center support fails under extreme load, it would not take much to destroy the antenna. To strengthen the support system, rather than using the supplied rope, I am installing aircraft grade cable in its place.

Another source of contention with me, the antenna is not supplied with any type of caps to close off the boom and elements. Left open, wasps and other insects will make my new antenna their home.  To resolve that issue, I obtained a set of vinyl caps from DX Engineering to close up the open elements and boom.  

Additionally, the manual could use clarification and revision.  Some of the written instructions contradict the illustrations, are unclear, or don't seem to match the parts count.  I kept referring to the same set of instructions multiple times to get a clear understanding of the correct assembly.  Another issue is the lay out of the illustrations, logically they should be next to the written instruction for the part of the antenna you are assembling.  However, it is necessary to flip back and forth between multiple pages to find the illustration that is applicable to the written text.

The assembled 40M4LLDD without the final element ends....   

The Hy-Gain TH11-DX

Over the past several days, I installed two of three Yagi-Uda style antennas on my ham radio tower. The antennas I installed are a M2 6M5XHP, five element beam for the six meter band, and a Hy-Gain TH 11-DX, 5 band HF beam for 20, 17, 15, 12, 10 meter bands. The next antenna to go up on the tower, will be the M2 40M4LLDD, a shortened linear loaded 4 element antenna for the 40 meter band.  Unlike other  smaller antennas that can be assembled on the ground, and then moved to the tower for installation.  I believe, it may be easier to install the elements on the boom, once it has been mounted on the mast.

TH 11-DX on the tower...


Amateur Radio Interference

Hi.  While casually surfing the net, I occasionally run across incorrect information regarding Amateur Radio, especially in relation to interference complaints by consumers, who allege that a ham radio station is interfering with their home entertainment equipment.

These self-appointed experts about interference matters, really say some incorrect things.  Below are a few examples from a message board that I recently read Ham Radio Interference. That thread contains quite a bit of incorrect information...which I will debunk with fact.

"A few years ago the FCC started imposing new restrictions on hams including scanning their emissions for unintended directionality and the like. I believe every ham was required to scan the area for their particular modes of operation."

The FCC has never imposed broad restrictions on ham radio operators, beyond the rules and regulations published in Part 97. Unless there has been some level of enforcement action, operating restrictions are rarely imposed. The rules state, the FCC can impose quiet hours on hams (47 CFR 97.121).  However, in my experience, I have never heard of anyone being restricted by the FCC for causing interference to their neighbor's TV set or Stereo.  Long ago the FCC realized, 99.9% of interference to home entertainment equipment is usually caused by the poorly designed receiving equipment being sold in the U.S. from China and Southeast Asia.  Even well known name brand products from companies based in Japan, many times do not have adequate shielding and filtering.

To maximize profits, manufacturers of home entertainment products take a chance to save a few dollars on each unit by not properly shielding and filtering that equipment.  They count on the fact, that most of the equipment will never be co-located near an RF transmitter.  Combining that equipment with the poor installation usually performed by most consumers, it's a recipe for interference.  When consumers use cheap poorly shielded wires from the local big box stores or Wal-Mart, to interconnect that equipment, and then leave a rats nest of wire behind the TV or Stereo, they've also built themselves a great antenna to increase their vulnerability for interference.

Not withstanding that posters comments, the FCC does not randomly scan ham radio emissions for "unintended directionality".  I don't even know what that term implies. The expectation from the FCC is we self-police our own.  If a station is out of compliance, and is experiencing technical issues, that condition is usually immediately noticed by other hams. The offending station is usually informed there is an issue that requires their attention.   

Another post in that thread reads...

"It is not legal for a ham operator to interfere with his neighbors' electronic devices. There are laws to protect the citizens from invasive radio frequencies."

There are no federal laws that "protect the citizen from invasive radio frequencies." There are no laws against something that does not exist.  There is no such thing as an "invasive radio frequency." I believe the poster was trying to say "invasive radio frequency signals" a fact of life in our modern society.  We are all subjected to it, and our bodies are invaded by it each day without our consent. Radio frequency energy is used by our cars, cell phones, broadcast radio and TV transmitters, radar systems for aircraft and weather, public service communications fire/police, home entertainment devices, even using an IPod/IPad or computer subjects us to small amounts of RF energy at various frequencies, it's everywhere.

There are some state and local nuisance laws in the U.S. that various localities try to enforce. However, those laws are only applicable to interference caused by non-licensed stations, such as CB radio operators using illegal non-type excepted equipment and high power external amplifiers.  Since amateur radio is a licensed service regulated by the FCC, local and state law enforcement has no jurisdiction over the operation of a amateur radio station. The courts have repeatedly stated, the FCC has sole jurisdiction in the United States over all matters relating to any station licensed under the radio services regulated by the FCC.

In closing, one poster actually provided factual information....

"More than likely the fault is due to lack of/or inadequate filtering inside the TV or a break in the cable system. FCC Part 15 specifically states that the TV user must accept any unintentional interference from transmitters operating within specification. Check your user's manual."

That is a true statement. 47 CFR 15.5b, states that "Operation of an intentional, unintentional, or incidental radiator is subject to the conditions that no harmful interference is caused and that interference must be accepted that may be caused by the operation of an authorized radio station, by another intentional or unintentional radiator, by industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) equipment, or by an incidental radiator."  In laymen terms, if you own and operate any device that is regulated under Part 15 of the Commission's rules (which most home electronic entertainment devices full under those rules), it must accept any interference that may be caused by the operation of an authorized radio station (i.e. a licensed amateur radio station; emphasis added), and may not cause interference to any licensed radio station.

When the marketplace became flooded in the 1980's with cheap electronics and home entertainment devices, the FCC revised Part 15 (54 FR 17714, Apr. 25, 1989, as amended at 75 FR 63031, Oct. 13, 2010), to state that Part 15 devices must accept interference from licensed stations FCC Part 15.

If you are a consumer, and are experiencing Radio Frequency Interference, do not jump to the conclusion that the source of the interference is from "that ham down the street."  Interference that affects the operation of a device can come from many sources, sometimes even within your own home. Do not demand that he or she cease all operation. It is an unreasonable request, and can set a tone for non-cooperation.  Unless the station is being operated not in accordance with good engineering and good amateur practice as determined by the FCC, amateur radio operators are under no obligation to help you solve the interference condition you are experiencing.  Rather, if you suspect an amateur radio station is interfering with your equipment, politely tell him or her what you are experiencing and ask if they can help.  Most amateur radio operators will be happy to help you track down the source of the interference, even if they are the source. Many times they can provide the technical assistance needed to help you correct the situation. 

The M2 6M5XHP

Today, I was able to assemble the first of three Yagi style antennas that I plan to soon install on my tower.  The antenna is an M2 6M5XHP, a five element beam for the six meter band.  The antenna seems to be designed OK, but the elements and boom could be a little more robust.

In the past, I owned a 5 element six meter beam from Cushcraft.  On that antenna, the elements are made from larger tubing and the elements are attached to the boom by heavy stainless steel saddle clamps.  The M2 antenna uses smaller tubing for the elements, and they are attached to an aluminum block with a single screw, and the block is attached to the boom by another single screw.

The antenna should survive, but I will certainlly keep an eye on this one during any severe weather or ice storms.