Saturday, January 8, 2011

Straight Key Night 2011

The operating desk set up for SKN 2011.
Since building the "Novice" transmitter in December 2006, I have enjoyed operating it every Straight Key Night since. It's probably the only time I have this transmitter on the air all year, which is something of a pity, I suppose. 

The transmitter is paired with an equally interesting receiver. The two work pretty well together for 40m contacts

About a week before SKN, I fired up the transmitter to confirm everything is ready and found I could get no power out. I could hear the oscillator pretty well, but there was no grid current and no plate current.

Opening up the base plate immediately showed the problem: a 2.2 k 2 watt resistor in the oscillator plate circuit had overheated, and it had unsoldered itself from the terminal strip on which it was mounted. I replaced it with a 3.3 k 2 watt resistor, mainly because it had shifted in value to over 4.5 k! After that quick fix, the transmitter worked as it should.

This year was fortunate that I had my pick of operating time for SKN. As you can see in the picture, I had merely to ignore the modern equipment on the desk and enjoy exercising the homebrew year with my 35+ year old Japanese J38 clone key.

One of the consequences of being crystal controlled in the modern era is the certainty you must call CQ. This was not a problem this year at all. With 50 or so watts out, I had no trouble getting answers on my dipole. In fact, several times, I was called after finishing up a QSO.

My biggest difficulty was my arm kept getting tired. After about an hour of QSOing, I needed to take a short break to let my arm rest. Using a straight key is a lot of work.

In all, I worked an even dozen contacts. Six of those were stations in Texas. I enjoyed working Bob, KE5LYW, who I found out was a fellow pilot. I also had a great QSO with N4HAY, who was using a homebrew single-tube 6L6 transmitter running about 2.5 watts.

Close up of the homebrew receiver and transmitter. Note the
convenient location of the crystal holder this year.
Attentive readers should notice the transmitter sports a new front panel feature -- a crystal socket. This is much easier than reaching around the back of the rig to plug in a crystal when changing frequencies.

Only glitch I had was a bit of stability problem with the receiver. On a couple of frequencies, it would drift around a bit when the headphone cable was moved. If you note the very long set of adapters I used for the headphones, that may have contributed to the problem. I'll have to sort that one out for next year. Other than that, the receiver was a real pleasure to listen to, most likely due to the addition of a few capacitors.

2011 was a great outing for this homebrew gear. SKN is always a blast, and  a dozen contacts this year beats any previous year. Join me on the air next year.