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Author Topic: First CW radio  (Read 2312 times)
KC5PCS
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Posts: 16




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« on: September 10, 2001, 01:01:03 PM »

Can anyone suggest a first CW radio?  At this time, I am not looking for phone capability.  What about a kit?
Cost is a factor, (family of six, if you know what I mean).

Thanks in advance.

Boliver
KC5PCS
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WB2WIK
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« Reply #1 on: September 10, 2001, 05:22:38 PM »

"Good" recommendations will vary, according to your operating experience and potential antenna system(s).

Before making a recommendation, I'd ask:

-How experienced are you, operating CW and making contacts?

-What kind of antenna(s) do you have, or do you intend to have?

-What are your favorite bands?

For example, the Elecraft K1 is a phenomenal rig and value, and a wonderful kit project that most have had 100% success with.  It's proven itself a great CW-only rig.  But, it's QRP.  If you're inexperienced and have limited antennas, it might be very discouraging to find you can't make many contacts with it.  If you've lots of experience and have good antennas, the K1 may be all you'd ever need to work the world and have a ball.

On a limited budget, a good used rig that's HF-CW only and works reasonably well -- and runs a bit more power, so antenna efficiency won't be as critical -- is the Ten-Tec Century 21 or Century 22.  

On a very tight budget, the MFJ monoband transceivers do a good job and have high performance-to-cost ratio.  I've seen them used for $100, and they'll get you on the air.  But again, they are QRP, and without reasonably good antennas might be discouraging to use.

What'cha trying to do?

Don't be embarrassed about being on a budget: Who isn't?  

73 de Steve WB2WIK/6
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KC5PCS
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Posts: 16




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« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2001, 07:21:59 AM »

As far as experience is concerned, I have none with CW.  I am in fact learning the code now.  Hope to upgrade my ticket soon.  My instructor recommended that I get a CW only radio so that I am forced to use the code and not abandon it in favor of phone.  

I have built a few electronic projects before, but I am not sure that I have all the setup equipment.  I probably can borrow it from someone in the club, or maybe they might help set it up.

As far as antennas, I am not sure yet what I will put up.  I am moving soon and will have to wait and see what the location allows.

I hope this helps with recommendations.  I know that I will get various opinions as opinions are like belly buttons, everyone has one.  I am looking for the most recommended and the ones most hated.

Thanks

Boliver
KC5PCS
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WB2WIK
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« Reply #3 on: September 11, 2001, 12:25:00 PM »

Yep, opinions vary a lot, so I'm not sure how much good any of us can do you...

...however, once you start using CW and you find how easy it is to work the world with very little for an antenna, you may become so spoiled that you really don't want to use phone at all.  With big beams on high towers, working the world on phone is a cinch.  With small, limited space antennas, on phone it's not so easy -- in fact, it takes skill and patience.

However, on CW, it's much easier.  CW is at least 10 dB more effective a mode than SSB, and a huge number of stations active on CW are using exclusively QRP (5W output power or less).  That number seems to be growing, for some reason.  Seems like at least half the stations I work on CW nowadays are QRP -- that's a lot higher percentage than it was ten years ago.  But it's a good trend, and makes it easier for newbies running modest stations to get on and make contacts.

If you keep one thing in mind, you'll have more fun in the hobby: The antenna does most of the work, in ham radio.  The operator does a bit.  The receiver and transmitter do less, and in fact are the least important parts of the station.  With good antennas and operating skills, you can work the world with just about anything.  A million-dollar station, operated by the inexperienced and connected to an indoor antenna, will be extremely disappointing.

73 de Steve WB2WIK/6
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KD6LM
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Posts: 14




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« Reply #4 on: September 28, 2001, 05:26:40 PM »

Well, since you asked I will make some recommendations. As the other posters have noted, most CW only radios are QRP. In my opinion, I would not start with a QRP only radio as it can be very frustrating to not be able to make contacts with stations you hear, or to call CQ for a while and have no one answer. As far as building goes, if you have no experience building you might be better off getting a good used simple QRO rig, take the microphone off and hide it someplace, and use that rig to get on the air. My guess is that after about 6 months or so you will forget where you put the mike, and not miss it anyway!

So given that, two rigs that come to mind are the Ten-Tec Scout of which they sold a ton of and appear very frequently on e-ham and the ARRL page and others. These rigs are small, of recent design, put out from 5 to 50 watts (easily adjustable), are easy to operate, can easily be used mobile or portable, and sell used for about $400 dollars or so with the power supply. Make sure you get at least the 20 and 40 meter band modules with it (those are really the only ones you need for CW in my opinion). They really are a terrific CW rig and would be my first choice given your criteria. My second choice for a rig would be any QRO solid state rig with the CW filter installed that fits your price range from the big three Japanese companies or Ten-Tec. People may quibble, but assuming that the rig is in good condition and has not been abused, it would probably work fine for you. For example I have been using a 1980 Kenwood TS 130S on CW and despite the fact that the receiver is not up to modern standards, and the relays click and clatter, I been having a ball with it. Not to mention that the person on the other end never knows how old my radio is until I tell them. Anyway, that my two cents on the matter.

73,

Gregg
KD6LME
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N5XM
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Posts: 242




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« Reply #5 on: September 29, 2001, 10:59:43 PM »

I have to agree with the statement about the Century 21. What a simple to use, basic, solid CW dedicated rig, and it is such a nice looking radio that can be had for around 200-250, depending on condition. I will say this. If you are going to get a Ten Tec radio, you should get one of those nice Ten Tec keyers. I have a KR-20A, and I just LOVE it and wish I had 2 more of them. I would almost guarantee that if a new CW op started out on a Ten Tec, with the beautiful relay action, they would be spoiled for the rest of their operating lives. I just got my first Ten Tec radio, a used Omni D, and the QSK is just incredible. This is a great question.
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K6RAS
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Posts: 78




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« Reply #6 on: September 30, 2001, 11:41:40 PM »

The type of rig you select depends on so many variables, not the least of which is available dollars, that it's impossible for me to make a single specific recommendation.  But you already have some very good guidelines to use in making your selection.  I'm most in favor of the suggestion for either Ten Tec (regardless of which rig you select) or one of the Japanese "top three" (Kenwood, Icom, Yaesu).  My first choice would be Ten Tec.  Second choice would be Icom.  The remaining two are, in my opinion, a toss-up.  But they're all excellent choices.  Put the mic (if it comes with one) in your safe deposit box at the bank; and forget about it.
Now, about your CW operation.  Welcome aboard.  CW can't be beat (a little bias there) and it'll get through hash that melts SSB signals.  If I may, I'd like to speak to your introduction to the art of CW.  First, I disagree with any suggestion that you get involved with automatic keyers, bugs, etc. at this point in your CW experience.  Good CW operation requires a great deal of practice in order to send fully developed character sets.  The length of dots and dashes, the length of spaces between characters and the length of spaces between words/character groups are all part of the art.  I work a lot of CW operators (veterans as well as novices) who tend to blurr their morse code by running their characters together.  When I instruct morse code, I try to do it the way the Air Force instructed me.  My students master the straight key before moving on to any other device.
Second, when you first get on the air, try tuning around the CW portions of the bands and responding to "CQ", rather than sending "CQ" yourself.  I suggest this method because it can be frustrating, especially to a new operator, to send what seems to be endless "CQ"s and receiving no response.  That's particularly true if you're operating QRP.  Remember, good antenna, good operator = good performance.  Even if you're stuck with a spark gap generator and a cats whisker crystal receiver.  HiHi.....
Hope some of that helps you.  When you get on the air and you feel like a little practice, send me an e-mail and we'll set up a schedule to work some CW on the air.  
Again, welcome to CW
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N5XM
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Posts: 242




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« Reply #7 on: October 01, 2001, 10:29:21 PM »

I am in absolute agreement with the statements regarding using a hand key in the beginning. If you want to be a good CW op, you must make the characters properly, and you must space them properly, and you must also put a little space between the words. If you start with a straight key, you will be FORCED to learn how to make your characters properly, and use good spacing, or else you will sound so bad you won't believe it, and nobody will be able to copy you. Think about it, you are going to be judged by your fist, not your ear. If you can copy the basics, enought to get through a QSO, you will still have the reigns turned over to you, and if you can't send reasonably, the station on the other end will be saying "TNX, es 73 dit-dit before you can get comfortable.
It takes work to be a good CW operator. Practice your sending off the air so that when you are on the air you will have more confidence. Sending good code is sorta like playing a musical instrument...I don't know if you play anything, but what I am getting about here is rhythm, tempo, and speed. Don't even worry about speed. If you try to go faster than you can comfortably go, you will screw up so fast you won't believe it. Speed will come with experience. I don't achieve it, but my goal is to have a perfect QSO, with no errors. That is a pretty lofty goal, and sometimes I get there, usually I don't, but if you do that you will improve. Another thing I like to do is when I end up catching someone with a crazy fist, the faster and crazier they send, the more disjointed it sounds, the more sedate and even I try to send, and you know what often happens? The guy on the other end often settles down and becomes more readable. I'm pleased you want to be a good CW op, yes I am, but be prepared for the long haul, because anything worth having or becoming doesn't happen over night. Take the long term approach. Good luck!
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W5HTW
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« Reply #8 on: October 02, 2001, 11:37:45 PM »

Though many would caution you, and I will, too, about used gear, for some people, the $400 required for a fairly modern used transceiver is still a bit steep.  If you are, though, on your own, ham radio wise, with no friendly "Elmer" to help you, then you may have to spend the extra bucks to get a radio that is easy to operate, needs no work, and no special care.   If you have someone on whom you can rely to help you learn the basics of radios and operating, someone close enough to be hands on with you, then your choices widen quite a bit.   You can have good, used, tube type transceivers for under $250, ready to run.  Sometimes you can do even better, but in most cases these are not primarily CW radios and were instead meant for SSB.  Still, if there are optional filters installed, they can make great CW radios and one advantage of them is most of them are not QRP - they run from 100 to 500 watts, depending upon the particular model.  While no amount of power can overcome a really bad antenna, as others have pointed out, the combination of low power and a bad antenna is the killing touch to your ham radio career, as you will not get out, and will get almost instantly discouraged.  

So, to inject another variable, with say a budget limited to $250, and a few bucks left over for some wire and coax, you can be on the air with 100 watts CW.  But you need someone reliable who can help you pick a radio that is not a junker, and to help you learn to use it.   Check the classified ads at qth.com, and other ham radio web sites, for older (often called vintage or antique) radios, but please be sure someone can advise you.  In the end, you could wind up with a radio that is good for both CW and SSB, and at reasonable power levels, so that the dipole in the trees gets you around the world.

On CW - I agree with the masses -- learn, please, Morse via hand key.  I hear so many who did not, and frequently I honestly can't copy them at even slow speeds, as I can't tell the difference between their dits and their dots, or can't figure out, if they are using a keyer, what seven dits and three dashes is supposed to mean as one character.  So, sad to say, I ignore them, and go elsewhere, and I'm sure I am not alone in doing so.   One learning aid I used to teach years ago was to sit down (once you had learned the basic code) and print out half a page of five letter code groups - like ACGRP TXHTU  etc., and then send them, one time only, into a tape recorder.  Put the tape (and the printed page) away.  Three or four days later, get that tape out and try to copy it.  If you can't, then the code was either too fast for you, or too sloppy.  Try again.  (You can also ask a ham friend to see if he can copy it, and to tell you how good or bad it was.)  

Only when you have mastered hand-sent Morse should you think about other methods.  Hand Morse at 3 to 5 words per minute is fine for learning.  Don't worry about speed.   Morse at 10-13 wpm on a hand key can sound great if the person has practiced well.  And, as stated elsewhere, it sure helps to have that natural instinct of music rhythm and tempo!   But you can do it without it.  

CW is lots of fun.  Whether it will continue to be a licensing requirement or not is doubtful - probably not.  But that doesn't mean it is prohibited, or that it will die away.  It will be around because people like doing it themselves, and it just plain "feels good."  

Enjoy
73
Ed W5HTW


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KG4PYM
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Posts: 4




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« Reply #9 on: November 29, 2001, 10:05:04 PM »

I'm with ya there buddy, have 4 little tykes running around myself.

I went with an old Corsair.  Hard to go wrong there provided it all works good.  Almost went for an Omni D I think its an "Omni D series C."

That rig includes the WARC bands, and there is much much fun to be had there.  I have to say, the WARC bands are a real kick!

I've only used tube gear in my previous life as an adolescent 24 years ago...really I'd say just go with solid state, and QSK is nice. Ten Tec's are simple and perform CW flawlessly.

In fact regarding QSK and Ten Tec, it's all true.  
My old "new" Corsair represents to me the child-hood fantasy that I could only dream about, and it was affordable, with some creative financing and juggling. In researching, you'll find that Ten Tec has "legendary" QSK and it is true, in my humble opinion.  

Ten Tecs have just what you need, if you go that way, try to find one with at least the 500 hz CW filter, and be weary of sticky or backlashy PTOs.  It is true that a rebuild kit can be had for 25 bucks plus s/h, and it's true that Ten Tec has legendary service; but with a family of 6 you likely won't have time to mess with such rebuilding, then again you may, if the rig has a good PTO that's the best. Always ask about it if seriously considering one of these Classic Ten Tec beauties.  My PTO sticks, but the rig still works fine, and it does not backlash.

I love this old rig so much I'll never part with it and some day I will have the PTO rebuilt at the Factory [about 125 plus shipping].  But not for a while.  Don't forget about the power supply.  If you can find a functional, good PTO all works well package under 500 [I see them on ebay periodically] with PS AND and external VFO I'd say go if possible.  I have yet to stumble upon the occasion where Splits in excess of 5 khz was required- and in those cases the pile-ups are so normally giant that it requires more time than I have to spend

Mostly, CW is fun!

Beware, QRP might be frustrating, it does require patience, and it's not that I am not patient, but that is a function of time, and often time I have not.  It's fun to just get on with 80 watts and have a quickie before work or raking the leaves or other such chores, or helping with homework, etc etc cooking, all that.  Such a lifestyle is not really geared toward typical QRP- but hey, it can be fun with a qrp rig on a pic-nic using a wire thrown in the trees! I am definitely glad I didn't go with a QRP rig as a first rig.  

Using this old Corsair for about 2 or 3 weeks now has been great given the temporary low random wire haphazardly strewn into a row of trees.  Many good reports all over the world including Mauritus, the other side of Africa. The rig reached a qrp gent in S.Africa who was running 4 watts, and I painstakingly set the DRIVE on the Corsair down to 5W because he was QRP just for grins. He answered, my sig report was 329 but he copied all i sent.  I find that often the directional antennas of those on the other end of the contact often make up for any shortcoming of the antenna I am now using.  Also finding parity signal reports from others across the Atlantic using dipoles and/or G5rv's a fair distance above ground. So, obviously, I'm a Ten Tec fanatic.

Good luck!

73

Darin.

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KB0KOQ
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Posts: 31




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« Reply #10 on: June 28, 2002, 01:24:47 PM »

KC5PCS

   I'm in a similar position with license and finances. I've spent the last month and a half studying precisely the same problem, with a focus on a QRP set up.

   Yesterday  I found Harry's Homebrew website (Sweden but all in good english!) and he has some terrific homebrew schematics.  I picked  his 1930's era regenerative receiver project where Harry/SM0VPO has substituted FETS for Tubes.

   He gives some inductor coil winding instructions which gives you the opportunity to operate on all the major HF bands.  I just posted a message in his MESSAGE FORUM (Bruce/Bowsnarrows) to find out the American equivalent components etc.  The project looks fun, affordable, and it looks like the receiver operates from a +9V DC power source.  You might look over there:
 
    http://w1.85920178/rx/regen2.htm  
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KB0KOQ
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« Reply #11 on: June 28, 2002, 07:07:06 PM »

    P.S.

    For the fun and money on a sure thing, I think that upon review, the TenTec "1054" Receiver looks very good. It receives 2 SWL bands, and the 40 & 20 HF bands for $29.95.  Details are on the TenTec Website.

   The only exception is that this kit comes without knobs and a few other finish up parts. It operates, but isn't totally complete, and the 'extra' parts cost another $22.00.

    Still, for half the price of a $100.00 receiver, it looks to be very tempting.
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