More QSOs

I've now been on the air with my K2 for about two months, so I thought I would post some comments about the QSOs I've made in that time. 

After my first couple of voice QSOs I started to understand why a lot of SSB phone mode operators run hundreds of watts of power. An SSB voice signal is about 3kHz wide. PSK31 is 31Hz wide, and CW (Morse code) is narrower still. Once I realized that there's a correlation between signal bandwidth and power required, it made sense why non-voice modes were so popular and have persisted for so long in almost every area of radio other than commercial broadcasting. 

I'm still lousy at copying Morse so I didn't want to spring for a >$100 key just yet. I had borrowed my friend Nick's cheap-o White Rook paddles, but he wanted them back, and new ones were backordered 5+ weeks (though I did place an order for one anyway to get the ball rolling). If I was going to use digital modes I was going to need an audio interface to my Mac laptop and a way to key the rig. In the end I home-brewed an incredibly simple circuit to do just that. It's nothing more than a voltage divider to step the line-level audio down to mic level, and a toggle switch to key the radio. The input is a 3.5mm headphone jack and the output is a standard 8 pin mic plug. With this and the FLDigi software on my Mac I was able to start making data mode contacts.

As it happened, completion of this interface coincided with me needing to spend a few hours hanging around my rowing club. I had been thinking that setting up a wire antenna there, with its proximity to San Francisco bay, could make for some great operating conditions. I strung a wire from our second-story balcony about 50' down toward our dock and tied it off to a convenient pole. Then I made a horizontal counterpoise that was… not very long… and hooked this up to my manual tuner. The only band I could get it to tune well on was 20m, but as it turned out, it was jumping with signals so that was fine! After a few attempts at making QSOs, I realized that I had no idea how to use FLDigi! I was hearing signals from all over the US, and a few of them heard my replies but then I couldn't figure out how to carry out an actual conversation! I spent some time reading the manual, but eventually had to go home without much real success.

 It didn't take long for me to get the hang of FLDigi though, and since then I've made quite a few PSK31 contacts (and a few Olivia ones too). Most of my contacts have been confined to the western US states, but I've also gotten Hawaii, Georgia, and Montana. I've heard very few stations south of the border, and with only 5 watts and this "compromise" antenna setup, I'm not likely to get out too far. With luck I'll get access to an amp again soon that will help with the power output, but the antenna is going to be a problem for the foreseeable future. Still, I'm on the air and making contacts! Life is good! I got a SignaLink USB interface for Christmas, so now I don't have to manually key the radio any more (or worry about accidentally transmitting any Justin Bieber MP3s). All I can do is wait for the bands to be open and hope for the best.

Up next: trying to learn Morse code!

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