Yaesu FT-857D, Signalink USB, Fldigi and CW

OK, so after having produced a very pretty picture showing where I’d been during 2015 the first thing that hit me was that it was rather “Eurocentric”. Not necessarily a bad thing and it’d been good fun racking up the contacts but I really need to burst the Euro bubble if I’m looking to attain any awards such as DXCC.

(The DX Century Club, or DXCC, is an amateur radio operating award earned by making a distant contact, or DX, with 100 or more geographic entities around the world. The award is granted by (and a registered trademark of) the American Radio Relay League.)

From chatting with Andy, he made the valid observations that the three key factors in making successful long distance contacts are propagation (naturally!), timing (when are the operators in your target area likely to be at their radios) and numbers (more people on the radio maximises your chances) – almost like big game hunting except no celebrity lions! Or dentists with high velocity rifles!

If you work to the above, RTTY and PSK will provide the DX QSO’s but CW (Continuous Wave) draws a larger audience so there’s a numbers element to it, plus CW operators are more likely to work for a contact.

Now a saying that is banded around by the radio fraternity is similar to “when all modes fail CW will prevail”. For the uninitiated, when you can’t get anyone to hear voice or other audio transmission, Morse will stand a much greater chance of getting there.

Again for those in the public gallery who aren’t into this as much as others and need a hand keeping pace, CW is a means of communicating where by the carrier wave only is switched on and off.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuous_wave – for a bit more information if you’re inclined.

In very simplistic terms a radio wave is made by taking an audio frequency and a carrier frequency, mixing them together (modulation) to produce a signal which blasts across the ether and is then demodulated (taken apart) by the receiving radio to give you an audio frequency and carrier frequency. All the clever stuff inside the radio takes care of all this for you so that the only human interaction required is to talk into the radio and listen at the other end!

By “encoding” audio onto that carrier wave the bandwidth of the signal increases and takes up more space on the airwaves, is more susceptible to distortion, interference etc etc. If you just send the carrier wave, the bandwidth becomes very small (200Hz), the power required to send that signal also decreases significantly and the actual radio becomes a very simple creature.

By way of example, this is a Pixie 40m CW only transceiver, which costs about £3 and comes as a kit.

The-QRP-Pixie-Kit-CW-40-meter-band-Receiver-Transmitter-7-023-MHZ-DIY-kit-Short

It takes about an hour to build, fits in an Altoids tin, runs of a 9V battery and will get you around the world on the airwaves quite nicely.

Now the clever bit comes in that a CW signal has no sound and you can’t hear it as all you are sending is the carrier wave. That problem is overcome in that when that signal is received by the recipient a beat frequency oscillator “injects” an audio signal into that CW signal producing the familiar dah and dits of, yep you’ve guessed it, Morse code.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beat_frequency_oscillator – for a bit more technical stuff if you wish

While being dragged around the New Years Day sales it struck me that I really needed to learn Morse code pretty darn quick. Being a realist that isn’t going to happen any time this century while boring things such as having to go to work and the day to day stuff keep getting in the way. I also have zero concentration when it comes to learning languages, which basically what learning Morse is. Bearing in mind my command of French is limited to “le sange et dans l’arbre” (one for the Eddie Izzard fans in the audience) I need a solution to overcome the rate limiting step in this problem i.e me!

With the level of sophistication and processing power sat on my desk next to my rig there had to be a potential solution that was computer based which would overcome. I can here the Morse aficionados tutting already!

I fired up Google on my phone to overcome the boredom of sales shopping to see what I could do to overcome the problem.

My first port of call was Fldigi’s manual, which I’m using quite happily for PSK work.

Fldigi is a very clever piece of software and a whiz through the manual shows it is more than capable of dealing with CW with a slight caveat. What you’re actually doing is generating an audio tone as a dah and dit which is Morse code but that signal is comprised of audio and carrier wave so it’s not true CW and the radio is operating in SSB.

A good starter for 10 but I want to be keying the radio to send my signal as if I have a Morse key in front of me and am doing it for real.

eHam’s forum in relation to using a SignaLink for CW is a worthwhile read as about halfway down the page one of the guys provides a very simple How To –

1. Set up fldigi and your rig to do PSK31.   Make a few QSO’s in that mode.

2. Now, _without touching anything on the rig_, change the MODE in fldigi to “MCW”.

3. Move the rig’s frequency to a CW band segment.

What you type will now be transmitted as CW, instead of PSK31.   And responses should appear on the waterfall, and be decoded by fldigi.

4.  Once you have this working, you can raise the TX audio drive (from the SignaLink) until the rig’s ALC meter just starts to move.  Then turn it down just a little bit.  That’s your maximum undistorted power.

It works quite nicely in receive as I’m sat here watching the 20m band with it at the moment with a degree of envy at the number of transcontinental QSO’s I’m missing out on!

The next post down goes one better and points you towards SignaLink’s site for a very useful undocumented feature –

How do I operate “direct keyed” CW with the SignaLink – This is done by simply connecting the SignaLink’s PTT and Ground lines to the “Key” and “Ground” lines of your radio’s Key jack. One of our un-terminated radio cables can be used to make these connections. You will need to attach the appropriate plug for your radio’s Key jack to this cable. Using our SLCABNC cable, we suggest attaching the white/orange wire to the tip of the plug, and the orange wire to the plug’s body/sleeve. You will then need to install the SignaLink jumpers as follows; PTT to 1, and G (ground) to 2. Note that direct keyed CW is limited to about 25 WPM on Transmit (there is no limit on Receive), so if you need to transmit faster than this, you’ll want to run AFSK CW.

Now that goes part way to solving the problem in that I can send CW, but with the above solution if the SignaLink is no longer attached to the data port on the radio I’m not so sure we’re going to get very far with the whole, “no speaky Morse” issue as it won’t be able to hear any incoming signal or response. I need the computer to be doing all the hard work on both the send and receive side.

A bit more rummaging around the internet unearthed this –

http://www.qsl.net/na4it/slusb/slusb.html

The comment within point 4/ confirmed my suspicions – “One thing that is not mentioned in the FAQ is that is you plan to receive using the SignalinkUSB, you also need to connect the RX audio to the unit.

OK, you can get a workable solution by adapting a SignaLink, manufacturing a cable to key the radio but every time you want to operate in CW you’d need to unplug everything and open up the Signalink to reconfigure the jumpers to match the radio keying cable.

As a proof of inconvenience more than anything else I took my SignaLink apart. 8 tiny Allen bolts later and you can get at the innards and then it’s a case of un plumbing the jumper wires and reconfiguring.

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If you need to reconfigure your device for multiple rigs SignaLink will supply you with a plug and play jumper module for your radio or a blank one for a tenner.

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That’s a bit rich bearing in mind you can get the same creature from Digikey for £1-98 and wire it up yourself!

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Being resourceful (and tight!) I decided to make my own out of a piece of prototyping board and some pin header I’ve had laying around since the dawn of time.

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Not bad for half an hour’s work. With the addition of some wire wrap single core wire I made the necessary links.

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All done and a little more durable than the short lengths of wire SignaLink provide, but that said it’s still a tight fit mating them fully into the IC socket.

The conclusion from all of this is I really wouldn’t want to be taking my SignaLink apart every 5 minutes, even more so if I ventured outside with my setup and decided to change modes! Those little Allen bolts are just begging to get lost in the great outdoors.

A bit more internet hunting came up with various methods of direct keying of a radio by a PC utilising parallel port cables people had made. Again a useful option as things like HDR support this within their settings, but your average PC these days lacks legacy ports and it seems pointless buying PCI-e cards to provide that functionality.

Now there’s a possibility that one of these may do the trick, its a USB Morse data cable

$_3For less than £5 it’s worth a look. I’m hoping that this is simply an FTDI or Prolific chipset based device which will give you a Comm port which can be used to key the radio. Unfortunately there’s not much to go on in the advert. Once again HDR and other packages support Comm port based radio keying so this may well work.

There needs to be some software controlling what this cable is sending to the radio and CwGet and CwType are options which will be explored when the cable turns up. Hopefully all we’ll have is an additional cable between the radio and the PC, the SignaLink USB as it was with no variation and real CW as opposed to MCW.

The only nagging doubt I have about the key port data cable solution is latency. Many people have described how, in software and when using a PC, because the computer is doing a multitude of other things as well as running the radio these solutions aren’t as sharp or polished as they need to be. It’s OK as a proof of concept, but there is a tendency to dedicated solutions which take the responsibility away from the PC.

A Winkeyer, or variant thereof is a hardware solution which would overcome this as well as the idiot factor in all of this (me) if the above solution fails.

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The WinKeyer USB was my first find from the eHam forum. It’s another box but may be a more reliable way to go. It optically isolates the radio from the PC preventing anything nasty from happening plus again is a standard by which other equipment has evolved and is supported by various packages such as Ham Radio Deluxe.

For a bit more money you can go one stage further and replace everything with a microHAM USB micro KEYER II

MKII_FRONT

It’s a very clever box of tricks which acts as a router for virtual comm ports which control the various digi mode functions and control your rig.

It’s a sizeable investment in cash but gives you a one box solution which would overcome the lack of Morse as a second language!

Until my £5 cable turns up I’ll keep hunting for solutions.

To prevent anything blowing up spectacularly I have invested a few quid in a Morse Practice Oscillator

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It should have been a very simple build but being hampered by having two possibly broken fingers strapped together made it “interesting”. It’s very similar to the old “if cats had opposable thumbs, they’d rule the world” analogy so surprisingly it took two hours to put together.

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It came shipped with two RCA sockets for attaching a key and headphones and I’m undecided whether to use them or replace them with 3.5mm jack sockets hence the uncompleted look.

If anything it’s was good incentive to learn a few letters and practice actual keying. I’ve got to grips with a basic CQ call on my capacitive touch key and have fathomed out the menu system on the FT-857D to allow me to use the Morse trainer and built-in electronic keyer features which are quite neat.

It’s progress!!

 

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