Cooltong Conservation Park

VK5 Parks Award – Cooltong CP

WX – Fine, 17 degrees C.

Antenna – EFHW for 40M

Rig – FT817ND

Today’s Terrific weather saw me and my oldest lad Josh head out in to the scrub to activate the Cooltong Conservation park, for the VK5 Parks award. (Josh needs to get his hours up on his “L” plates so he was keen to be my chauffeur!) . Access is via Santos Rd, off the Sturt Highway, a few km’s out  from Berri towards Renmark past the Gun Club.

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Cooltong CP entrance…

This is a dune and Mallee scrub park, some 3700 Hectares and is home to many wonderful species of birds and animals. It’s not that far from my home and Josh had us there in about 20 minutes. The road is quite good for a few Km into the park where it starts to deteriorate somewhat but all in all it’s quite serviceable, especially if you have a 4WD or a capable SUV. In summer I would imagine that it would be passable to most vehicles but the recent heavy rains had still left the road boggy in sections with water still in the many ruts.

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cruising in the scrub…

After finding a good spot I set up the squid pole and the End Fed Half Wave antenna with the FT817ND and started calling CQ…I use the iPad for SOTA goat alerts and many other tasks…I log the calls in a paper notebook!

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The EFHW ready to go…

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The trusty FT817ND safe and snug in its Crumpler bag…

I was rewarded quickly with several stations, including a few out on SOTA summits – Nice!…the sun on my back was delicious!!!

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Yours truly on the mic…

The following stations made it in to my log…VK5BJE John, VK3MNZ Don, VK5KX Peter, VK5FMID Brian, VK3AFW Ron on VK3/VW-009, VK5AIM Steve, VK5KBJ Barry, VK5FTCT John, VK3XY Derek, VK3ZPF Peter, VK5KC David, VK3MRG/P Marshall on VK3/VN-027, VK5LY Larry, VK3ANL Nick,VK2UH Andrew, VK5FTTC Rod and VK3UBY Colin.

I ran in to a few issues…1. 40 M with the introduction of SOTA is now VERY busy with stations all over the central bit of the band – finding a spot to call CQ  can be a challenge!!! 2. Morons tuning up over the top of other stations…3. Even bigger Morons calling CQ on a very obvious “in use” frequency. One particular VK2 F-call was displaying all the qualities of getting his foundation licence from a cereal box!!! 4. Splattering stations…some were so bad they were being heard many KCs away…and yes my noise blanker and preamp were OFF!!!

Still bags of fun though, and always nice to pick up a few SOTA summits as part of the deal. Might have to look at operating up higher to escape the hordes around 7.085 – 7.110 Mhz

I also think I’ll try a dipole next time just to see if it’s any vast improvement over the EFHW. Although the EFHW works a treat, it seem those running a dipole get a bit stronger reports over all…either that or make a better effort at getting the far end of the  top section higher or actually running the EFHW as an inverted “V” instead of an “L”

I’m thinking I might be getting some cancellation of radiation if the angle off the “L” bit of the wire is less than 90 degrees at the top of the squid pole (see the 3rd Photo)…something to experiment with!!!

See you in the next Park or Summit!!!

Cheap Chinese Handhelds…so what are they really like?

What if I told you…that you could get a dual band handheld transceiver for LESS than AU $40 DELIVERED to your door? Not a cheap nasty POS but a well made, high featured unit with a drop in charger, good capacity battery and a hands free mic/earphone all thrown in for that price as well? Horse Hacky! No! Enter the BAOFENG UV-5R…

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The Baofeng UV-5R – Good looking, well built…

Hang on, you say, 40 bucks?!!? Yep, you’d better believe it…Ok, “if it sounds to good to be true then it probably is” is a pretty good rule of Internet shopping these days, but if you’re prepared to bend just a little from what you perceive to be normal operating in the world of Ikensu HandHelds then one of these things may just fit the bill as a viable alternative or as a back up unit…even if you lost it or broke it, you’re only down $40′ not the hundreds you probably paid for your current handie…Oh, it’s got torch! gotta have a torch…

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$38 AUD delivered…

So what it like?…Have you ever held or even owned a modern Yaesu hand held like a VX3/5/6/7R series? an FT60? Then this thing has the build quality and feel of one of those units…it’s that good. I was completely thrown by this, and I spent a fair bit of time nit-picking over the construction. 10 out of 10 for that. The display is bright and clear, it’s easy to read and the backlight colors are pleasant to look at without burning your retinas! They are colour coded as well, light purple for operations, blue when RXing a signal and orange for TX!!! for $40. It’s dual band and out of the box it will tx from 136-174 MHz on its VHF band and from 400-480mhz at UHF…

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The unit is small and lightweight, but fits the hand well and oozes quality…

It’s honestly easier to tell you what it doesn’t have…It’s not waterproof! No inbuilt TNC…No inbuilt GPS, nor facility to plug one in…No dual RX different or same bands at once…no 23cm capability, no airband AM RX…no am band or short wave!!! It’s a $40 radio! It will however give you all the basic features you need to access a repeater like DTMF and CTCSS. It also includes a dedicated FM radio band which works very well indeed…

What’s in the Box?…what you see here is pretty much it. I had already attached the nice strong belt clip…the battery for my unit was charged and ready to go out of the box…the main knob turns the unit on and adjusts the volume ( think your first transistor radio) it’s audio I found very good, there’s plenty of it and its clean and articulate, handy for a hearing aid wearer like me. I wasn’t expecting that! PTT has a positive click feel and the keypad keys are close in, but still useable…remember, it’s $40!!! If you wanted to get a better antenna than the duck provided then eBay will serve you well, either that or get an adaptor so you can use one of the several hand held antennas that you’ve collected in your shack!

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Comes with everything to get you on the air…

Yes but is it easy to use?…absolutely! it’s actually much easier to use than my Alinco DJ-G7…all the buttons are clearly labeled and anyone familiar with the concept of a set mode ala Icom or Yaesu will have no problems operating it or changing settings. The only different concept is how a repeater is programmed in to a memory channel as a RX and TX frequency. once you get your head around that then it’s quite easy to add a repeater. The rig gets good on air audio reports and seems every bit as sensitive as my other “big brand” HandHelds, and their stock antennas. Plugging it in to a roof mounted 1/4 wave didn’t seem to overload it.

The manual that comes with it…is perhaps the worst I’ve come across with any bit of ham gear I’ve bought, but hey, as I’ve said a few times..$40!!! The saving grace is that there is a couple of free software apps available on the Internet to program the rig. You MUST order a USB programming cable when you buy one of these, it will be we’ll worth it! I used “CHIRP”, and had the Unit programmed with all my usual repeaters and simplex stuff within minutes. Very “Handy”! There are also lots of YouTube videos on programming these things…google is your friend! Importantly, the CHIRP software will allow you to program the unit for Amateur Band Tx only, so you can keep the ACMA happy…

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Liz thought it was great as well…especially since it was only $38!!! (another Radio?)

At the end of the day…it all comes down to what you want your handheld to do for you…if you want APRS and/or lots of bells and whistles then you might do better elsewhere. But if you just need a sturdy unit to take on your travels then one of these cheap Chinese handies might just do. I’d probably still take my waterproof VX6R out to a SOTA summit on a rain/wet activation, but this rig will come with me when it’s not!

SOTA VK5/SE-005 Mt Lofty

Date: 08/06/2013 – 09/06/2013

Time 23:20 – 01:00 UTC

Weather: Overcast. Forecast Fine 18 . Activation Temp. on Summit 9 Deg C

On Sunday the 9th of June (local), I successfully activated Mt Lofty, SE-005 for my very first SOTA summit…

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The view from VK5/SE-005…

This was a going to be a lot of fun! After leaving my accommodation nice and early for a breakfast stop,  (Think ridiculous clown and a big yellow “M”) a leisurely drive up the South Eastern Freeway had me in the summit carpark with plenty of time to walk out and back into the activation zone before finding a place to set up and be out of the way of the hordes of people flocking to this place!

Mt Lofty has a very nice, well patronised Cafe right at the summit that is a Mecca for the Lycra/ Gym  Junkie types of all shapes and sizes, from dusk ’till dawn. It’s busy. REAL busy! Cyclists ride from near and far to it, and Fitness freaks traverse up the very popular but steep walking trail from Waterfall Gully some 7.5 Km away. Walking in and out of the activation zone the required distance just about killed me! Must work on the fitness Andrew!!!

There was no way I was going to set up near the cafe, so I chose a spot just to the north/north-east of the car park, just off of one of the many cycling/walking tracks…

The operating position at VK5/SE-005 Mt Lofty...

The operating position at VK5/SE-005 Mt Lofty…

This seemed as good a place as any, so I set up the trusty End Fed Half Wave for 40M inverted L style on the 9 M squid pole and occy strapped it to the trunk of some foliage and ran the top part out to a high branch out of harms way. WX wise I was protected from any wind but I didn’t have to worry as it was actually not bad, 9 degrees. I was lucky!

My FT817ND in its Crumpler "Haven" bag...

My FT817ND in its Crumpler “Haven” bag…

Firing up on 7.090 Mhz, I hit the airwaves at 23:28 UTC and Paul,VK5PAS/P came up from in the Pt Clinton Conservation Park, on his way to activating some SOTA and Parks on Eyre Peninsular was the first to answer my CQ call. I was then immediately spotted by VK2JI on the SOTA goat and the stations came thick and fast. It was evident that I had a problem though, as soon as I dropped the PTT, an awful switch mode noise came over the frequency at S9 for a few seconds then disappeared, enough to momentarily block out the stations calling. I soon realised that my new u-beaut DC DC converter for dropping the LiPo battery voltage down was a dismal failure in its current form! I had seen Andrew VK1NAM, using one on his activations in his photo’s so I decided to try one, but it looks like it might have to go in a metal enclosure with some bypass caps…

After disconnecting it I hurried back to the waiting pileup and worked VK3PF, VK1MDC, VK3JM and VK2UH before Marshall VK3MRG/P called me from VK3/VN-017 for my first S2S! Grinning uncontrollably, I continued with VK2JI, VK3CAT, VK3TCX, VK3MCD, VK3PI and Allen,VK3HRA/P called from VK3/VN-012, for S2S number #2. Rick, VK4KRX/5 wanted a contact for the VK Shires Contest and I happily obliged…Things then quieted down so I took a short break and checked the gear and had a drink and a bite to eat before starting again after the UTC rollover…

I self spotted on SOTA Goat and was instantly welcomed by VK5PAS, VK3PF, VK3TCX, VK2UH, VK3DET, VK3AMB, VK3PI, VK3MRG/P on VN-017, VK1MDC,VK5UG, VK5LY, VK3BYD, VK5EMI, VK5FMID, VK3HRA/P on VN-012, VK5NRG, VK3GHZ,VK3KAN/P and VK2JI…This site is also part of the Cleland Conservation Park so I was able to qualify this park for several stations chasing the VK5 National and Conservation Parks award

After things went quiet again I packed up the HF station and tried 146.500FM. I called CQ and  listened for a while after self spotting on the SOTA Goat but the front end of the handheld I was using was pretty much swamped by RF and I didn’t hear anyone!

I finished around 1:30 UTC and headed into the previously mentioned Cafe and intergrated with the fit looking by rewarded myself with one of these…

Mmmm...coffee!

Mmmm…Coffee!

All in all a great morning, a lot of fun and I learnt that I’ll need to equip myself a bit better in the back pack department and get some proper walking/hiking shoes if I’m going to do many more activations… As I knew Mt Lofty would be busy people wise, I left the VHF Yagi at home, but it will definitely come with me on the next summit!

Murray River National Park

Besides SOTA, I have also become interested in the VK5 National & Conservation Parks Award promoted and run by the Adelaide Hills Amateur Radio Society.

I had heard Paul, VK5PAS, out and about activating some of the conservation Parks near his home in the Adelaide hills, indeed, even on his way back from a SOTA summit! The boy is keen!

After a bit of reseach, it seems that there are quite a few National and Conservation Parks near my home QTH. As it turns out, I actually have a lovely view over the Kataraptko section of the Murray River National Park from my front door!

Armed with this knowledge, I packed up the X-Trail with my portable gear and headed out late Sunday morning, with the intention of going into Kataraptko to put it on the air…However, I got about 1 km in on the access road and after facing the opposite direction to where I should be going I decided that perhaps going in here might not be such a good idea after all…heavy rain the previous Thursday and Friday had made it pretty hard going on the mainly clay based “road”. Time for Plan B!

Plan “B” was to head to the Lyrup Flats section of the Murray River National Park, just north of the Lyrup Ferry, a few km from Berri.

Lyrup Flats

Welcome sign…

The access road in here seems better maintained and was no problem for the vehicle and pretty soon I was on the air, making contacts from Black Box campground. I set up the trusty the End Fed Half Wave and the FT817ND…

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The Squidpole lashed up to a tree…

Portable setup

The ‘817, and the EFHW match box…

I worked a good number of stations, including VK5PAS Paul, VK3AFW Ron, VK5BJE John, VK5FMID Brian, VK3XBC Duncan, VK3KAB/P Kevin, VK5HCF Col, VK7NWT Scott, VK2UH Andrew, VK3JM Fred, VK3AMB Bernard, VK2ZRD Rod, VK3ZPF/P Peter, VK5KC David, VK3HRA Allen, VK7FEET Warren, VK3ANL Nick, VK5NRG Roy, VK5FAKV Shaun, VK3KCD/M Peter, VK3BJA Brenton, VK3KIS Andrew (on his 2watt QRP rig he built himself from Drew Diamond circuits), VK5DX Gary and VK3PI/P  Mark, for the last contact before I had to pack up for the afternoon. I was copying most stations at 59 or better, conditions seemed quite good.

The 5000mA LiPo battery I used worked well, not even breaking a sweat for the entire 2+ hours I was on the air. I’m very impressed with it’s performance so far. I have a switch mode voltage regulator coming from ebay to drop the 15+ Volts fully charged to 13.8v, more on that when it arrives. All in all a successful activation. The next park I’ll be doing is the Cooltong Conservation Park. (actually just across the Sturt Highway from Lyrup)

Sunday’s chasing…

“There is nothing quite so much fun, as messing about with Radio”

After a couple of months of not chasing much SOTA with life getting in the way, I was able to fire up the HF rig from around 8:30 am on Sunday morning and have a good listen around. I was able to pretty much keep the rig on all day and listen out for the goat bleating alert from the most excellent SOTAgoat app to let me know of what was happening around VK!

This is what I ended up with for the day, between chores, shopping, and some plumbing repairs and the construction of an End Fed Half Wave for 40M

18/May/2013 23:42 VK1DI/P VK1/AC-038 Mt Tuggeranong 7MHz SSB
18/May/2013 23:46 VK3MRG/P VK3/VC-007 Mt Macedon 7MHz SSB
18/May/2013 23:47 VK3KAN/P VK3/VS-049 Crowsnest Lookout 7MHz SSB
19/May/2013 00:05 VK3YY/P VK3/VE-011 Mt Stirling 7MHz SSB
19/May/2013 00:05 VK3KAB/P VK3/VE-011 Mt Stirling 7MHz SSB
19/May/2013 00:12 VK3KAN/P VK3/VS-049 Crowsnest Lookout 7MHz SSB
19/May/2013 00:50 VK5PAS/P VK5/SE-009 VK5/SE-009 7MHz SSB
19/May/2013 01:18 VK5CZ/P VK5/SE-009 VK5/SE-009 7MHz SSB
19/May/2013 04:30 VK5PAS/P VK5/SE-002 Mt Cone 7MHz SSB
19/May/2013 06:22 VK3MRG/P VK3/VC-034 Pretty Sally 7MHz SSB
19/May/2013 06:27 VK3YY/P VK3/VE-204 The Paps 7MHz SSB
19/May/2013 06:51 VK3HRA/P VK3/VC-002 Mt Donna Buang 7MHz SSB

Highlight for me was the final contact of the day with Alan VK3HRA/P on the new antenna.

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Testing out the EFHW with Alan, VK3HRA/P who was on Mt Donna Buang…

The end Fed Half Wave (EFHW) for SOTA portable operation…

The End Fed Half Wave antenna (EFHW)for SOTA portable operation…from bits and pieces in the Junkbox…

Whilst leisurely chasing activators this morning, I also took the opportunity to rummage through my Junkbox to see if I had all the bits and pieces to make an end fed half wave antenna for the 40M band. My main antenna for 40m at the home station is a Butternut HF2V, and is a good performer for SOTA chasing work, but I intend to activate a few summits in the near future, and although I’m well equipped for VHF, I need a good portable antenna for my planned activations.

I did a bit of research on the EFHW during the previous week, looking at what was written on the Internet about the antenna and what kits, if any, were available and at what cost. I found a few, but decided that the best way forward was to knock one up with the stuff I had on hand…

There’s not much to them, and the whole thing took me about 2 hours to assemble.

The VK5LA EFHW Tuner

Firstly, The circuit – There seemed to be a fair variation on the theme in terms of components used but ultimately, it’s just a tuned circuit set to resonate at the frequency of interest. Matching – some used link coupling of the tuned circuit, some with a tap up a few turns from the earthy end of the inductor. I went with this…

Hand drawn Circuit

Quite a few of the circuits used the Yellow toroid but I didn’t have one so I used a T50(Red) one that I had on hand. 24 Turns was about average for the schematics I gleaned and the tap 3 turns in from the earthy end seemed to be standard. The capacitor was one I had on hand that came from the board of a 70’s am transistor radio that was long ago junked.

Wiring diagram

I had a small black plastic Jiffy box on hand so I mounted everything in it and soldered it up as per the above diagram. The red banana plug socket on the side was added just in case if I need it for later. The black banana plug socket is for a counterpoise wire if desired. I found that I didn’t need one when testing, I think because I’m using a tap on the inductor L1. Dead simple!

A peek inside…

I then cut a 21.6 m length of light weight hook-up wire for the 40M band and attached a banana plug to one end and a lug to the other. I attached the lug end to the tip of my 9 meter high Squid Pole that I had set up in the front yard, and the other end to the Tuner and FT817 via a short BNC to PL259 lead set up on a table.

Table top portable…in the front yard!

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t really expecting it to work, I plugged it in and turned the FT817 to the 40m band and selected LSB…the dial was down at the bottom of the band and to my surprise I heard a few stations as I tuned up to around 7.1 MHz. Well, “here goes nothing” I thought as I began to turn the variable cap on the tuner, all of a sudden the noise sharply increased and a smile emerged on my face! I knew then it was working and a brief “VK5LA testing” on a clear frequency allowed me to adjust the SWR to nothing on the Rig with the Variable capacitor at around 1/2 mesh…pretty well where it should be…

The complete EFHW 40M antenna packs down to a small package…

Now the acid test! did it work? could it make contact? It seems that it was certainly hearing ok, with a lively 40m band jumping out at me…I was about to find out as heard the bleat of my SOTAgoat alert on my iPad, letting me know that Alan, VK3HRA/P on VK3/VC-002 Mt Donna Buang was calling CQ on 7.103 MHz. I tuned to his frequency, and he was a good signal, very readable at 56…To my delight, Alan came back with a 58 for me for my first EFHW contact.

I’m certainly impressed by the EFHW antenna, and I’m looking forward to giving it a run out on a summit in the very near future…in the mean time, I’ll try different configurations like an inverted L and V, and perhaps as a vertical, to see how it goes. I might even adapt it by making the wire “linkable” for 10/15/20/40 like the Link Dipole that others swear by.

Experimenting is the essence of Ham Radio!!!

Andy – VK5LA

WSPR on the 2M band 144.489 Mhz

WSPR – having fun on HF/VHF while doing other things…

One of the best things about Ham Radio is that if your interest level wanes or you’re just too damn busy with life to sit at a transceiver and make contacts then there is always WSPR!

A few stations in VK land are using WSPR to see just what happens on a daily basis propagation wise. Interestingly, stations are hearing each other out to 750+km (VK1 to VK5) at low power levels, even when the time of day and WX conditions would have conventional thinking saying, “no way!”

So what is this WSPR stuff, anyway?

WSPR stands for Weak Signal Propagation Reporter, and is a mode of transmission that is ideally suited if you don’t want or can’t spend time in front of as radio. Its software that runs on your PC (Win/Linux/Mac) and the PC connects to your rig just like if you were using a digital mode like RTTY or PSK31. You probably have all the stuff you need.

WSPR works on all bands to 2 M and beyond, indeed,  WSPR on the HF bands is extremely popular and you’ll find many hams on all of the common HF and WARC bands spotting signals from around the world in real time, and uploading the data to the wsprnet site.

What kind of computer and Rig do I need?

WSPR will run on a fairly low spec computer, and most shack computers will run it fine. I’m actually using an old Toshiba satellite pro laptop that has a Celeron processor  – running Linux – and it works a treat. As for the Rig, again, just about anything will work as long as it’s frequency stability is good. I’d probably give Valve, or Valve hybrid jobs a miss though. At VHF however, the rigs need to be all the more stable…I use a little Yaesu FT817 as my WSPR radio, and i’ve modified it so that it is frequency locked to a Rubidium standard. This ensures that the radio wont drift when it cycles between TX and RX., or is affected by the temperature in the shack. This would be overkill on HF WSPR, but I WSPR on the 2M band, where drift is an issue. Some rigs like the TS2000 drift too much on 2M and above to be unsuitable for the mode. It’s also important to observe the usual precautions when using a sound card mode with a transciever – make sure any speach processing is off, and adjust the rig so there is little or no ALC indicated when TXing. This ensures you are not overdriving and splattering all over the band…

For the interface between the PC and the Radio, then a Tigertronics Signalink or similar interface is the way to go if you don’t want to bother with building anything.

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These things work marvellously and you can order it with a cable for your particular radio for a solder free plug and play experience…

If you just want to do HF WSPR, then the Icom 7200 is just about the ideal rig, as it has a built-in USB port that provides a 1 cable solution  between the pc and Rig. other USB capable rigs are equally awesome for hooking up to WSPR…

With WSPR, once it’s up and running, you can just set and forget. When you have a spare moment, at work or home just look at the wsprnet page and see who’s hearing you, and who you’re hearing…

How?

Download the software for your operating system from the below site…note that the Linux packages are broken and don’t work.

http://physics.princeton.edu/pulsar/K1JT/wspr.html

If you want to use Linux then the very aptly named George Smart has some instructions here for getting it to run under Linux…

http://www.george-smart.co.uk/wiki/Compiling_WSPR

On time, every time…

Next, make sure you PC’s clock is set EXACTLY – be anal about this as it won’t work properly if it’s out by more than a couple of seconds…make sure it’s synchronised with an internet time-server…http://www.timesynctool.com/ is one of the better ones. alternatively, you can just use set windows time and date to sync with a time server.

Once the software is  installed you’ll need to configure it with some basic info, like your call sign, grid locator, soundcard input and output, PTT method, CAT control (if any) and how much power you’ll be running…you can then set your Rig to the desired band and tune it to the “dial” frequency (displayed in the software screen) – i.e for the 30M band the dial frequency is 10.138700Mhz USB

WSPR1WSPR2

When all is well, set the TX slider to say 10%, make sure upload spots is checked and TX idle is unchecked. Your rig will listen in 2 minute blocks, and if it hears a station and successfully decodes the call/locator/power level information from a Transmitting station, it will upload the info to the wsprnet site for display. At 10% TX, it will switch to transmit for a 2 minute block every 20 minutes or so…and you will hopefully be heard far away!

Then What?

WSPR’s main “port of call” if you like, is http://wsprnet.org/drupal/wsprnet/spots this is where everyone goes to look to see where and how far their transmissions are being heard at any time of the day or night. Don’t be surprised to see your 5 watts get spotted by stations 1000’s of km away on HF, and 100’s of km on VHF. There are lots of statistics available on the site, along with maps, various forum and even chat.

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So there you have it, if your time is precious but you still want to keep your finger on the pulse of ham radio, then a little WSPRing might be for you…