John's Shack Downunder

Peterborough, Victoria, Australia

Amateur Radio - The Shack - Weather satellites - HF Radio in Australia - Links

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Amateur radio

Amateur radio is one of my interests on those increasingly rare occasions that I have some spare time.

My main interest areas today are low power (QRP) communications and using morse code (CW) when opportunities permit. Most likely you will find me on 20m or 15m CW and occasionally on SSB.

During 2003 I plan to finally set up a proper "shack" and get all my other equipment operational (much is still not unpacked after our move from the UK 7 years ago), which would permit me to operate all modes 10m to160m, 2m multimode, 137MHz weather satellite reception, FM on 2m/70cm and packet/data/AMTOR etc capability with my PK232.

Currently the main station runs up to 100W output feeding a modest 50 foot long wire antenna. Despite this, on 20m CW this has been sufficient to achieve a good number of contacts to Europe, North America as well as within the Asia-Pacific region.

Having originated from the UK, the most obvious difference on the HF bands in Australia is just how quiet the amateur bands are out here. But then again, it's not too surprising when you see how far we are from the highly populated areas.

Whenever possible, I enjoy calling the less strong signals, often from from European or North American amateurs like myself running more modest power levels and/or antenna systems, sometimes surprising them about how far their signals are really going.

The map below is the great circle map centred on Australia, just to give you an impression of how far we are from most other places. Vrtually everything outside Australasia is "DX"....

Click on the map to see the full size version.

If you want to create your own Great Circle map centred on your location, like this one, check out the page of WM7D which has all this. He also has some good satellite tracking maps.

The Shack

It's pretty basic at the moment, the main rig is Kenwood TS-430S running up to 100W out. although it usually runs around 50W.

The main antenna currently is a simple 50ft end fed long wire that slopes down in a SW direction towards the ocean about 400 yards away, which appears to give reasonable performance considering its inefficiency. If you want some more info about long wire antennas, check out the comprehensive article by W6JJZ.

The TS-430S has been pretty reliable, and has only suffered from the well documented problem of dry joints under the original PA transistors. I'm now running on replacement devices. There are three general improvements (mods) that many people have done to this rig:

(a) Give out of amateur band transmit capability

(b) Extend receive coverage to include 0-150kHz

(c) Improve rx/tx switching time with AMTOR or packet modes (I think there may be several variations of this modification, you might want to search elsewhere for ideas). I have used my rig unmodified on AMTOR and performance is marginal. I have tended not to persist with this mode simply because of the thrashing it gives the tx/rx relays.

The suggested hyperlinks above give some suggested changes (I have not done all of these, so make enquiries with the originators of the mods if you have questions)

Other gear here includes:

Icom IC-260E multimode 2m 10W mobile which I use as a base station.

Icom IC-701A HF base station with general coverage receiver, recently purchased secondhand.

Home built kit (from Cirkit in the UK) 137MHz weather satellite receiver, connected to YU3UMV design framestore and viewing system, also home built. I also have a downconvertor but no antenna for 1.6GHz Meteosat/GMS signals. There is some more weather satellite info down below.

AEA PK232 for multimode data, AMTOR, RTTY, Packet and other data modes. I use it with the original PC-PAKRATT DOS software. I wonder if there is any "new improved" software out there now?

Philips FM1100 and PRM80 PMR FM mobiles modified to 2m and 70cm, mainly used for packet comms with a homebrew TNC2.

Heathkit HW-7 QRP transceiver for 40/20/15 (anyone have a CA3035 audio IC to get this rig back to life?). A lot of people seem to stumble on my site searching for Heathkit or HW-7, follow the highlighted links to some good sources of information.

MFJ 9020 QRP 20m CW transceiver. I would be interested to hear about any modifications or improvements to this little radio.

Handhelds include an Alinco DJ-580E 2/70cm, an Icom IC-2E on 2m. I recently added an Icom IC-R2 receiver which I use for monitoring some of the non-amateur frequencies in the area. If you live in SW Victoria and want a copy of my frequencies list, drop me a line.

There's also a PC to run various amateur software programs, some test equipment, and of course, quite a few unfinished projects and junk...

How to obtain a Temporary Australian Amateur Radio Licence

The Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA) is the national amateur radio society in Australia. It has an overall federal (national) body, which is based on individual state branches that each operate in their own way under this national society. As a member you join one of the state branches. In my case I'm with WIA-Victoria.

As a visitor to Australia, you will probably want to know:

For European amateurs, you will need to ensure that your 2m radio operates the full 144-148MHz band. All 2m repeaters are in the 146-148MHz section. For North American amateurs, you will need to ensure your FM rig covers the 430-440MHz segment. On 2m, the repeaters below 147MHz are -600kHz input, and above are +600kHz input offset.

Hardly any operation takes place on simplex channels on 2m and 70cm. Make your call through local repeaters. There is rarely any congestion or any pressure to move off to a simplex channel.

If operating on HF, bear in mind how far Australia is from the rest of the world. 14MHz is used a lot during day time for contacts just within Australia. This is the best general purpose band for portable HF operation.

Frequency allocations for 1.8, 3.5 and 7MHz are a little bit unusual, a mixture of European and US allocations. Check them out if you plan to operate in these bands.

Operating mobile with a fist mic or handset whilst driving is illegal and pretty strictly enforced. Handsfree is OK.

Australian Oriented Amateur Radio Links

There's a huge amount of information out there, but here are some of the more comprehensive and relevant ones to Australia:

Wireless Institute of Australia (WIA) - Federal - is the main Australian amateur radio organisation.

Wireless Institute of Australia - Victoria division is our local branch of the WIA.

Australian QRP Page - Lots of info about low power operation, published by VK3YE

Check out VK2NNN's pages for lots of info about amateur radio in Australia, repeater lists, callsign lists and much more.

Other Amateur Radio Links

These links aren't Australian, but here are some useful and/or interesting gems that I use often and you might like too.

G QRP Club - UK based QRP club but it has a lot of international members (myself included). Lots of good QRP projects, many of them very quick and easy to build.

ARRL - The main US amateur radio organisation with lots of information. A good place to start if you are interested in finding out something about amateur radio.

RSGB - The main UK amateur radio organisation. Another good information source, particularly if you are UK based.

Telegraph Office - A very comprehensive site devoted to morse telegraphy (CW), with lots of historical information. I stumbled on it when I was searching for information on the Titanic radio transmissions.

136kHz LF (Long Wave) amateur radio band - I'm following this with interest. The band is legal in the UK and some other countries, and hopefully will be available in Australia soon.

The Four Metres website - 70MHz band is a band that is peculiar to the UK and a handful of other countries, but you will be surprised how popular it is.

Boatanchors.com - If you like old radio gear, take a peek at this site and an explanation of what boat anchors means in amateur radio jargon.

HB9CV and ZL Special antenna design information - A lot of people seem to stumble on my page searching for this. The best and most comprehensive info I could find on the net seems to be published by W4RNL, hope this saves you some time searching. I used them both on 2m in my past life, and found them to work well, especially for their compact size. My antennas were kits from commercial suppliers, so I can't offer any good design info myself.

Collins TCS-12 - (my fondly remembered first rig cum boatanchor) is another item that seems to bring up my page when searching. Follow the link to look at Greg WB6FZH/KH6 who is still using one of these on 160m to get contacts. He's got some good stuff on QRP and classic radio gear as well, check it out.

Many individual amateurs also have their own home pages, some with many links to other amateur radio oriented sites. Some pages I found particularly useful are:

AC6V - this must be one of the biggest directories on amateur radio

WZ1V - WWW amateur radio index/directory, also pretty comprehensive.

GJ4ICD - Mostly info on 50MHz and above

OH2AQ - DX information live on the net

HF (Short Wave) Radio in Australia

HF (short wave) radio is still alive and well in Australia. The vast size of Australia means that VHF/UHF and mobile phone networks still only cover a very small part of the total landmass. GSM and CDMA mobile phone network coverage is only about 5% of the Australian landmass despite reaching 97% of the population (provided they stay at home!). As soon as you move much inland towards the centre of Australia, mostly you fall off the coverage map. Whilst satellite communication offers universal coverage, it remains expensive. Consequently there is still very extensive use of HF radio in outback Australia.

A well known HF radio system is provided by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. They operate from 12 bases that cover all of outback Australia. Go to their site for the full frequency list. The most common calling frequency is 2020 shared by all sites, but there are other frequencies that are specific to each base station, mostly in the 4 to 6MHz range, with a few at higher frequencies where longer ranges need to be covered. The primary use of the RFDS network is for medical emergency communications from outpost stations, but their services also include a monitoring and reporting service for outback travellers.

The School of the Air is also an extensive user of HF radio. They have 15 base stations that cover outback Australia, similar to the RFDS. In this network, every base station has separate frequencies assigned, and obviously the network is generally only in use when schools are open. Obviously new technologies such as the internet and satellite communications are taking over in this particular application, but HF is still very much alive in remote areas.

Telstra provide an HF radio telephone patch network (Radphone), using some of the international marine channels. This provides a telephone communciations facility to travellers anywhere in Australia.

Check the Australian Communications Agency site, where they list all the frequencies you are normally allowed to use if you have an oupost radio licence to communicate with School of the Air, RFDS and Radphone services.

Police and various state emergency services also use HF extensively. If you are interested in some frequency information, try these sites:

HF and VHF Frequencies for the Victoria Police service.

Australian Four Wheel Drive (4WD) club - also known as VKS737, who provide a private HF radio service for their members in outback Australia, with monitoring and reporting services, weather and other information broadcasts. Their frequencies are 5455, 8022, 11612, 14977 and 3995kHz.

Penta Comstat VZX also provide a private HF radio service for marine and outback/land subscribers. Their frequencies are 4354, 4483, 6522, 8713, 13176, 17365 and 22822.

Marine distress, safety and calling channels are 2182, 4125, 6215, 8291, 12290, 16420 which are used internationally. Marine weather and warnings are broadcast in Australia on 2201, 4426, 6507, 8176, 12365. Search and rescue use 5680 and 3023.5 for air/ground communications. 5696 is the RAAF distress frequency.

Civil aviation HF air traffic frequencies within Australia include 3452, 3461, 4684, 4693, 6541, 6565, 6580, 6604, 6610, 6616, 8822, 8831, 8843, 8858. International routes east to the Pacific use 3467, 5643, 8867, 13261, 17904. International routes to SE Asia use 3470, 6556, 11396, 13318, 17907. International routes across the Indian Ocean use 3476, 5634, 8879, 13306, 17961. VOLMET in Sydney is on 6676, 11387.

There are also many other business users who use HF radio in remote areas, such as haulage companies, mining companies and farmers.

Radio Australia is the external broadcasting arm of the ABC, but within Australia, the domestic station Radio National is also broadcast on HF for central and northern Australia. Transmitters only run 10kW, but are easily received around Australia at night. Frequencies are 2485, 2310, 2325 at night, 4835, 4910, 5025 during the day, and also 3230, 3315, 3370.

Other ways of keeping in touch whilst on the move include:

Australia's UHF CB band (476-477MHz) - this is also used very extensively, particularly in rural areas as an almost universal communication system over shorter ranges. Power output is limited to 5W. Mostly operation is well disciplined and there is a fairly extensive repeater network. There is also a 27MHz CB band in Australia, but that is a bit of a free for all.

Mobile phones - there are GSM and CDMA networks now operating. CDMA replaced the analogue AMPS network. The largest network operator for both GSM and CDMA is Telstra MobileNet. There are a host of other operators, but none provide comparable coverage or capacity, particularly in country areas.

Satellite phone - this is still an expensive option, with two alternatives currently available. There is strong promotion of the Globalstar satellite (and GSM) phone which is the cheapest option, but still around A$3000. Telstra continue to market Minisat, which works off the Inmarsat service, but this remains more expensive, with higher power mobile or suitcase based equipment. Telstra has also recently resumed marketing Iridium satellite phones in Australia.

Weather Satellite Links & Info

Technology has moved on since I built my framestore based weather satellite receiving system about 10 years ago. Most systems today are PC based, with a plug-in card or external unit.

Weather satellites come in basically two types, the geostationary (fixed) ones and the polar orbiters that circle the globe every 100 minutes or so (going over the north and south poles as the name suggests). My system operates on 137MHz where the polar orbiters transmit their low resolution (easy to receive) images. This means that you need to know something about the times and directions that satellites will pass within range of your location. You can expect to receive images up to about 2000km radius from your location. Rather than describe everything here, follow some of my links below if you want to find out more about weather satellites.

My own system comprises:

There are quite a few links to good weather satellite information but some good places to start:

Remote Imaging Group - UK based but with many international members. Their quarterly magazine is very comprehensive and informative with satellite orbit information and equipment suppliers. Check out their beginners guide page for a concise introduction to weather satellite reception.

Dundee University - Just one example of the kind of images you can receive.

Pye PMR and Philips PMR Equipment

(This section is still under construction... in April 2003)

Over the years I've spent quite a lot of time working with Pye and Philips PMR equipment, and this is a first attempt to share a little bit of the knowledge, which might help anyone who has acquired equipment with the hope of modifying it for amateur radio use.

Firstly a brief chronology of the main mobile and portable models from the 60s to the present day, so far as my memory can recall. These are principally the models that were available in UK and Europe.

Pye (Philips) Mobiles

Vanguard, Ranger & (original) Reporter series - 1950s to early 60s

Cambridge Series - 1960s - a bit before my time

Westminster series - 1970s - popularly known as the "Wessie"

Europa/Motafone series - 1970s - more info to go here

Olympic series - late 1970s

Reporter (new) - late 1970s - basic VHF AM. 6 channels, crystal controlled. Type number was MF6AM.

M290 Series - 1982-1990 - 6 channels, crystal controlled

MX290 Series - 1984-1992 - synthesised. 16 or 40 channels.

FM900 Series - 1984-1992 - synthesised up to 100 channels. Australian designed product that competed with MX290. Widely available in Australia, not many in UK/Europe.

FM1000 Series - 1987-1999 - synthesised, 100 channels. Configurable for dash or remote mounting.

PRM80 Series - 1989-2000 - synthesised.

Pye (Philips) Portables

Pye Bantam - 1960s - over the shoulder portable ( a bit like an FT290, or TR2200)

Pocketfone PF1 - 1960s - UHF only - separate transmitter and receiver units, used extensively by police forces in UK (and on "Z cars" UK TV series). Many units came on to the amateur market in the mid 70s when they were updated.

Pocketfone PF2 & PF5 series - 1970s

Pocketfone PF8 - late 1970s, early 80s - as used in early episodes of "The Professionals" - UHF 3 channels - crystal controlled.

P5000 series - 1978-mid 80s - crystal controlled

PF85 series - 1985-mid 90s - crystal controlled - 3 channels

PFX series - 1985-mid 90s - synthesised - 99 channels

PR710 - 1986-mid 90s - basic synthesised - 20 channels

PRP70 series - 1990-1999 - mid/top-end synthesised

SRP8000 series - 1997 to present - more details on the Simoco site

Some other Philips PMR radios available in other parts of the world

FM320 Mobile (Australia) for Australian UHF CB band

FM620 Mobile (Australia)

FM828 Mobile (Australia) early 80s

SXA Portable (Netherlands, South Africa, India)1970s-1990s

AP2000 Mobile (Denmark) - 1980s

Useful links to modifications to Pye and Philips PMR equipment

MX290 series modifications

Pye A200 linear amplifier modification for amateur use

Philips FM900 modifications

FM1000 modifications - discussion group

Alignment info for PF1, PF85

Frequency Band Codes used by Pye & Philips

Some of the links to modifications cover this topic in more detail, but I'll try to summarise the essential elements here. Each of the main PMR frequency bands was given a letter code, I think originally sometime in the 1960's. These letter codes have tended to get adopted by many other users, particularly in the UK and Australia. The original letter codes had numbers added, as various sub-bands were defined. You should be able to find the frequency band code somewhere on the type label on any Pye/Philips PMR radio, which is the key to figuring out your chances of stretching it to cover the amateur frequency band you are interested in.

The major codes in ascending frequency order:

E or E0 band = 68-88MHz "low band" in UK, "mid band" in Australia, USA etc

M band = 105-108, paired with 138-141MHz "mid band" in UK

C band = 118-136MHz "air band"

B or B0 band = 136-156MHz

A or A0 band = 148-174MHz, A9 band = 146-174MHz "high band" in UK

K1 band = 174-208MHz

T or T1 band = 405-440MHz, TM band = 400-440MHz, T4 band = 425-450MHz

U or U0 band = 440-470MHz

W1 band = 470-500MHz

W4 band = 500-520MHz

In many cases it is reasonably easy to pull the frequency down on "A" and "U" band radios to cover 2m or 70cm, by adding a small amount of additional capacitance to the tuned circuits. Unfortunately with the more recent programmable equipment the official software still stops you inserting out of band frequencies so the older crystal controlled or fusible link type programmed radios are easier to modify.

VK3JDY - A short history

Born and bred in the UK, I grew up in Oxted, Surrey, and then went on to University at Sheffield, studying Geography. I then worked for a fair while with Pye Telecom, which became Philips Telecom (now Simoco) in Cambridge. In 1996 I moved to Australia with my wife, Carolyne. I have also lived in Sheffield and St Ives, Cambridgeshire. Today I work with a small but growing communications company in SW Victoria, dealing with telephone systems, mobile phones and radio systems. Home is in Peterborough, a small coastal community about 250km W of Melbourne.

I got my amateur radio callsign G4BXN in 1973 and transferred to an Australian callsign VK3JDY in 1996.

My interest in amateur radio started in 1969, when I started messing about with an old Pye broadcast receiver that had a short wave band included in it. Initially listening to short wave broadcasting stations, I eventually stumbled on amateurs chatting on 40m and 20m AM and one thing led to another. By March 1971 I got myself a Trio 9R-59DS and was then able to listen to SSB at the peak of the sunspot cycle and was amazed at what I could hear. Most prized QSL cards from my SWL days include JY1 and W1BB (on 160m of course).

Eventually I got my ticket in 1973 and started up with a Collins TCS-12 transmitter (20W input on 160, 80 and 40m), still using the 9R-59DS as a receiver (I did make it hard for myself!). For a while I also used a huge and heavy Labgear "Minimitter" with 150W, but that was just too much power in a confined space (with close neighbours and TVI problems). A Heathkit HW7 was added around 1974, which gave access to the DX bands (covered 15, 20 and 40m), and even with about 4W, I managed a respectable number of QSOs outside Europe. I eventually joined the modern age around 1980, when I acquired a Trio TS120V which gave 10W output from 10-80m. That was replaced in 1984 with my current rig, a Kenwood TS430S, which still serves me well to this day.

On VHF I only got started in 1974, initially with a 6 channel, 1 watt Trio (Kenwood) TR2200G, and also briefly with a borrowed Heathkit AM rig. It was just before the start of an FM bandplan, and involved calling CQ and tuning "high to low" to listen for any callers. But soon FM, repeaters and SSB took over and it was the end of an era, although it took me a while to catch up. My Trio rig got a lot of use while I was at uni and occasionally I borrowed the uni radio club's Belcom Liner 2 for 2m SSB (with its dreadful spurious supression), and even played with 70cm FM with modified Pye PF1 (best dx 30 miles!). In 1980 I got myself an Icom IC260E multimode rig and started working some more serious DX on 2m.

Originally I used to belong to the Reigate Amateur Transmitting Society (RATS) in the 70's. I remember helping out with some really well run NFD contests and learning a lot from the many older members (G3NKS, G3YPG (now silent key), G3XOQ, G4ARO spring to mind) who tried to steer me in the right direction.

Later I got involved with an informal contesting group, known as KKC (Coulsdon Contest Club, no one could spell!) originally established by Neil G8JAZ and we used the calls G4KKC and G8KKC. Check out the web site that has now been set up by Martin G4FKK, with a growing collection of photos of various members and activities from the 70s and 80s. The photos remind me of how much hair we all used to have, and how fashions have changed - did we really wear those flares?

With the KKC group we concentrated more on VHF contests in the late 70s and early 80s, until the contests gave way to the more social aspects of the group. Quite a few then got involved with the Coulsdon Amateur Transmitting Society (CATS) which started in the mid 70's as well. A few calls from the "KKC" group include G4DMA (currently KL7/GM4DMA), G8KRE (now G4SDG), G8VXB, G8JAZ, G8LYB, G8NNT, G4OCG, G4FKK, G4FIT, G8DNC (now EA8/G4STA), G4MWR, G6DPU (now G0ZMH), G6HC (now silent key), G1IRM (now G0KZT), G4RFX, G4FVL, G4BFJ, G8IOB (later G4OXT, now VK2???). You will find some memories and photos of Alan G6HC by following the link. I have contact details for many of the other KKC calls if you are wanting to look up one of them.

At Uni I was a member of the Sheffield University Amateur Radio Society (I wonder if that still exists?), and we were a fairly small crowd in those days. When conditions were good, we'd either go to the topfloor of Sorby Hall, a uni hall of residence, (my best DX was Kassell, Germany, about 800km with 1W FM) or if we could get some transport we would head up the hill to Lodge Moor or Stanage Edge, with the Belcom Liner 2 and HB9CV.

On the air, from the UK I've worked about 120 countries on the HF bands (I have started again in Australia, about 50 so far). On 2m (again from UK) I worked over 100 squares mostly via tropo, but also with a few auroral and sporadic E contacts. This was all done with 10W and 9ele tonna or 8ele ZL special. I have had brief forays on to 6m and 70cm with borrowed equipment, but never really got into those bands seriously so far.

If you want to look at my other web page that covers things other than amateur radio, head this way.

If you would like your own free web page and/or email address on the qsl.net pages like this one, head this way...

Last updated 25 April 2003

John Young

[email protected]
Peterborough, Victoria