New Toy: Yaesu VX-6R 


I bought a Yaesu VX-6R handheld transceiver this week. I like it. Broadly, the features include: tribander with TX on 144, 220, and 440 ham bands, wideband RX, lithium-ion battery, submersible to 3 ft. (something I will not test intentionally), it's lighter and smaller than my VX-150, and many more features it will take time for me to familiarize myself with.

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Digital HF 
I bought a Rigblaster Nomic sound card interface so I can try digital HF on amateur radio. All the cables I needed were included and all I had to configure on the Nomic was the jumper settings that are specific to each radio.

In order to do digital (modes like RTTY, PSK31, Hellschreiber, Olivia, etc.) you need three basic items:

1. A computer with a software application that functions as your control. The software app I chose was Fldigi which has Linux and Windows versions.

2. A rig that that is capable of data modes, which is most nowadays.

3. A sound card interface. This is the device that allows the computer software to work with the radio.

In the digital modes, your rig is just transmitting and receiving data and the computer and software do all the encoding and decoding and use the sound card interface to control the radio. Digital is just data so you aren't using voice and with the software it basically looks like IRC or IM except that you are transmitting and receiving on a specified frequency instead of using the Internet. On the amateur bands, certain frequencies are restricted for data transmissions only.

Hooking everything up was easy and getting the software to work was easy, too. However, I was using the XP side of my laptop. The Linux side is Mandrake 9.2 and it didn't have what it needed to compile Fldigi and I forsaw a massive dependency problem if I updated that check that failed (gcc-cpp) during ./configure. Plus, my main Linux PC does not have an RS-232 port. A serial cable is used to transfer the data between the PC and the Nomic. I will need to buy a USB to DB9 adapter before I try digital HF on my Slackware machine.

I have 'listened' on both PSK31 and RTTY modes; PSK31 seems to have more activity but I haven't made any contacts yet. I can see the data and activity in the window so I am receiving without a problem. I've put out a few CQ's and answered a few but with no luck yet. I am pretty sure I have everything connected properly and the software configured properly so I'll play with it as I get time and update once I know it's working.

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Yaesu FT-450AT 
I decided on the Yaesu FT-450AT and purchased one. It was delivered today. I read though the manual and then hooked it up.

Some thoughts:

1. SWR comes in a little higher than on my Dad's Icom 746. The Icom was about 1.5:1. The reading on my Yaesu is about 2:1 with the same antenna. A 1:1 SWR is perfect, even if rarely achieved.
2. Don't like the fact that the microphone was made in China. Thankfully, the radio was made in Japan. Once Motorola's hand gets stronger into Vertex-Standard, I am sure more and more manufacturing will be moved there. I hate Motorola. Motorola just bought a huge share (80%) of Vertex-Standard, which is Yaesu's parent company. I wonder if they will ruin VS like they have ruined themselves.
2a. The microphone is too big and it doesn't have UP/DN buttons to adjust frequency like the standard Icom mikes do.
3. The hidden menu still works on mine. Press and hold ATT/IPO-NB-AGC and then turn it on. Then, turn DSP/SEL and adjust LEDINT1, LEDINT2, and LEDINT3 accordingly. I now have a teal display. I would highly recommend not altering anything else in there.
4. The main tuning knob is too small. It's about the diameter of a fifty-cent piece.
5. My first contact was with a guy near Panama City, FL, so it seems to work. I hope I can still hit the far western states like Colorado, Utah, and California like I could on the 746. Since the antenna is unchanged, I don't see why not, even if the SWR is a shade higher.

Overall, so far so good. I am just learning how to adjust settings to my liking. I will miss the Icom 746, though.

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It Works! 
A few days ago I helped my dad set up a 20 meter dipole antenna at my house. He did most of the work like the actual construction, soldering, and drilling through the wall. I chipped in with tying the ends down one on the chimney and one on a tree. Getting on the roof was easy, I do it about a dozen times a year to clean leaves from the gutters (oh, joy!) but I had to climb the tree for the other end and I was probably about 35 feet up. The best part is that I'll have to redo it because the ends are connected by regular nylon rope. The antenna itself is about 33' in length so we needed to use rope to support it on the ends to the chimney and tree. The rope doesn't affect the antenna's performance directly but it will give way over time so I will have to find something less susceptible to the elements and a little stronger to hold it up.

Once everything was in place outside, we connected the ground wire to the house ground and then the antenna feedline to the Icom 746. Last night I made my first contact. I spoke with a guy in Virginia Beach and he gave me a "5-6 over the noise" report which is good. Receiving seems a little noisy yet but it appears transmitting is good. As play with the radio's settings and make more contacts and get signal reports, I'll get a better idea of what radio settings are optimal and how well the antenna performs.

Update: Worked a guy from the Orkney Islands (Scotland); he told me I was 5-5.

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Lehigh Valley Half Marathon 
I worked communications support today with some members of the amateur radio club at the Lehigh Valley Half Marathon and 5K. I was assigned to work the starting line near Allen High School and then go down to last leg before the entrance to J. Birney Crum and the finish line. Our main role was basically to offer radio support in case anyone needed medical attention. Someone could radio net control, which was set up near a medical tent, and then they could take it from there and the pros could send the nearest paramedic out. Only two calls came through from the ham volunteers for medical attention and one was a fisherman who hooked himself. That's not to say others didn't need the medical tents but there were only two incidents that someone needed one of us to radio for medical. Still, it was good we could help. The weather was quite chilly so that was good for the runners as it was unlikely that anyone would overheat.

I had nothing important to radio in but I did get to meet both Congressman Dent and Mayor Pawlowski near the platform at the starting line. I chatted with Hizzoner for a few minutes in some light banter - the demands people put on the mayor, the Iron Pigs, and how the residents at 18th and Linden might enjoy being woken up on Sunday at 8:00 am to the sounds rock music and then a fire truck's siren that starts the runners. After he did his duty to get the race started, I asked him "Yocco's or Willy Joe's?" He responded with a quick "Yoccos" like it was a no-brainer and we shook hands and I wished him a good day.

Speaking of Yocco's, once we were done, some metaphysical force pulled a few of us into Yocco's on Hamilton Blvd. Once again, outstanding; the Hot Dog King reigns supreme over the region.

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License Upgrade 
I took and passed the Amateur General exam last night so now I can transmit on some of the HF bands (160-10M, this pdf chart shows the bands and privileges). I still haven't bought a base station yet but my dad is going to loan me his Icom 746 in the interim. I need to buy a power supply and then set up an antenna and then I'll be ready to go.

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KB3QHA 
That's me. My callsign appeared in the FCC's ULS database yesterday; incorrect name spelling and all.

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CQ 
I passed the amateur radio license test tonight. Once my license appears in the FCC database, I can transmit on the bands permitted by the Technician class license; which is all allocated amateur frequencies 50MHz and above which is the same as wavelengths 6M and below. Locally, a lot of action is on the two meter band which is 144-148 MHz.

I have no equipment yet, other than borrowing my dad's handheld 2M transciever. So I've been listening; it's like hanging out in IRC but not being permitted to type anything. I will likely purchase a dualband mobile transceiver to use as a base station. I am eyeing the Yaesu 7800R. Once I buy the 7800 and a power supply and antenna, I should be good to go. With the technician class license and that particular transceiver, the range will not be very far so I won't be talking to anyone in Texas or Brazil anytime soon. I will need the next license up (General) and a HF transceiver and the appropriate antenna to do that. So, once I get my call sign, I'll be on the air.

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