Sunday, February 21, 2016


Spent the weekend (Friday and Saturday, actually) in Yuma, Arizona for the ARRL Southwest Division Convention. (Or, at least I thought that's what it was.) Anyway, while the talks and vendor displays weren't up to par, there was a swap and it was an opportunity to hang with Dick, WB6JDH, as we basically solved a lot of ham radio problems and consumed food and drink.

The swap was o.k. but nothing that really rock your socks and the prices were surprisingly "retail". You know the drill: some desert hermit has an Icom 7000 that's covered in dust and soaked in tobacco juice and he wants $2.75 under full HRO prices. Although, that said, Dick scored a really, pristine Heathkit HR-1680 receiver for $60 -- after I goaded him into making the guy an offer. We had a running dialog about "where am I going to put it?" and "where are you going to put it?" and "you know that if you don't buy it, the fact that you passed on it will eat away on you til you are on your death bed". (I really get morbid at times but that set the hook. Dick bought the receiver and he says it works great!)

We had a real vicarious adventure checking in at our hotel, the Quality Inn. Seems there was a line at the front desk around 1730 and all kinds of hell was brewing. The poor girl who had evening manager duties was hung out to dry by the hotel's local management. When a couple of folks complained about their rooms (small things like, oh, the plumbing did not work, no towels, lights broken, no TV, etc.), she told them that SHE COULD NOT SWAP THEIR ROOMS because she did not have the authority. Yessir, it was a real case study in mismanagement.

Dunno what the deal was, but I seemed to be pretty beatific about the whole thing. And, in the end, when Dick and I got our room, we made a full-on military inspection of the facilities: toilet, towels, TV, and running water. Fortunately all checked out except for the TV which was unplugged. Easily remedied although the TV was not used.

The surprise of the evening was when we searched for a restaurant with no crowds. Since the ARRL convention was in town, all the visitors flocked to the "more exotic" dining places and the waits were incompatible with Dick's and my dietetic patience. Exercising what we initially thought as an act of desperation, we traipsed into a Pizza Hut expecting to be greeted by a fast-food, TV blaring, serve-yourself shit hole. Instead, it was a really nice sit-down diner with very friendly waitresses, an expanded menu, and draft Bock beer! Two pitchers of that and two medium pizzas and two hours later, we were excruciatingly contented and sauntered off to our hotel to sleep it off.

But, I gotta tell you this, I am still impressed by the layout and motif change. It was clean, bright, and two old farts could engage in a pleasant evening's conversation without jackhammer disco or rap or servers with tattoos and pierced appendages. Hope to God that it's not only in Yuma because that's an awfully long drive to get an anchovy, black olive, mushroom pan crust pizza.

The weather at Yuma was pleasant, sunny, and mild. But then again, this was not the Summer.

Also seen were a many folks from the SoCal area: the TRW vendors and so on. We also had a pleasant visit from Jim Duffey, KK6MC, a.k.a., "Dr Megacycle" who chewed the fat and swapped the latest gossip in the world of QRP.

But, the most surprising of all as my bumping into an old friend from back in the early 80s, Frosty Oden, formerly N6ENV now NQ1S (Not Quite 1 Second), who had retired from CBS three years ago and moved his family and Motorola business to Phoenix. (Basically, Frosty said he got tired of California and the politics and preferred the friendly people of Arizona. Heat? well, there's always air conditioning, he told me.) How did I meet Frosty? Well, he and his wife were one of the couples who complained about the conditions at the Quality Inn.

It sure is a small world..

..but I would not want to paint it.

Enjoy the pictures.

Open for business on Friday afternoon

This guy was selling his first RB floats for $4.50 (mug included) and subsequent fill-ups for $1.00 each. Tempting, but.. 

Tailgaters; motor home camping AND selling.


More goodies..

The hard-top area; prime real estate for selling and camping.

Left side of the pavilion for tailgaters.

Right side of the pavilion was occupied by this asshole from England. Annoying guy with over-priced junk.

The English asshole from a safe distance.

More RV camping. 

Left side of the pavilion close up. Nice seller; still junk.

Just a small sample of the nearby Yuma MCAS activity on Friday afternoon

Nice seller; no junk; great prices. The Tek 7704 and HP signal generator came back to SoCal.

Interesting boat anchors; unattractive prices.

Ibidem. Close up.

One of the truly nice (and smart) QRP luminaries. Jim Duffey, KK6MC, a.k.a. "Doc Megacycle".

Dick and Doc (KK6MC) chat the afternoon away. 


Thursday, February 11, 2016

HW-8 Adventures

At this writing, I am wrapping up a refurbishment of the HW-8 I got from WB6JDH. It was in beautiful shape (sort of) and worked just fine until I over-rotated the dial and pushed the rotor plates off the shaft. At that point, I was about to have a meltdown because I thought life for this radio -- as I knew it -- had come to an end. Surely, unless I found a scrap unit, the arcane VFO cap was a once-in-a-lifetime thing of the past.

Wow, was I misinformed! Turns out that there's a guy in Northern California who stocks and sells these beauties for $20 + 5 s&h. It might seem a little steep but, when you're the only game in town, you almost break your hand writing out the check. (There's also a factory that makes them and they also sell retail. After all is said and done, the price plus shipping is about the same.)

So, after waiting for the mailman about three to four days, I set about replacing the cap and, while not an easy task, it was do-able. But, you know me, Al. I kept running into kluged solder joints and inexpertly wired leads, and the odd mess here and there that just screamed to be tidied up.

Also there was the matter of the two upgrades I ordered from John Clements in Michigan. These were his non-pereil T/R switch and his audio board. The former is somewhat of a luxury but the latter is an absolute necessity if one wants to drag their HW-8 (or HW-7) out of the QRP stone age and convert it to use 8 ohm speakers and headphones. Both of these boards are stone cheap and come with the added benefit of superb customer support and the friendship of KC9ON, one of the nicest hams I have met in a long time. I will go into more detail in the description of the mods down below, but you need to seriously think about these two items as "must haves" for your "8". (Or "7" as well.) They will be a stock mod for any rig I now have or will acquire in the future.

UPDATE: Done with everything except the K1EL K16 keyer board and I am still up in the air on that one, torn between building it into the radio or building it into am enclosure and using it with all of the HW-7s, HW-8, and HW-9. Probably do the latter. Anyway, whatever magic lives in these ancient Heathkit QRP rigs sure has jumped out an bitten me in the ass bit time. Here are the mods I did and some comments regarding same.

Boy, this was a bitch! Basically, I removed to old cap, of course, and was thinking it could be recovered because the rotor blades were glued once before but, alas, that was not to be. Anyway, I must have had that cap in and out about five times because I was always forgetting a step in the process here and there. The recommendation is, of course, to carefully study the whole process beforehand as this tend to cut down the re-dos.

Also, I was too smart by half and thought I would tap one of the holes on the back of the heavy metal cap bracket but this was a fool's errand. There is a tensioner spring that slots on the shaft and the bent-down edge catches in that hole. My jerking around forced the tensioner out of the hole and -- upon reinstalling the cap -- a couple of turns cause the spring to fall out. The cap was removed (yet again), the spring re-seated, and the cap reinstalled (for hopefully the last time).

Old VFO cap with missing rotors

New VFO cap

Removed VFO cap, bracket

Whole section gutted 

Replacing new VFO cap and bracket

Rewiring VFO cap

As the VFO cap was extracted, what became apparent was the wiring around the RF Gain/Audio Gain potentiometer was a kludge. I carefully unwired and rewired it and -- although I am still not happy with the results -- it is considerably better than it was. I suspect that to do the job properly, one would need to re-cut and redo a lot of the cables in the unit. My main concern was getting the radio back working and ion the air. If there is ever a rainy day and I am feeling suitably ambitious, then this will be a project. (Heck, maybe even if a basket-case HW-8 is encountered?)

This was technically the very first mod done to this radio. It was a real no-brainer given that (1) KC9ON's boards are specifically designed for the HW-7 and HW-8 units, (2) the price extremely reasonable (around $10 delivered or something like that), and (3) John's friendship and knowledge comes with the bargain. That last point has to be the biggest selling point of the whole deal. He is always ready to answer questions and add additionally rebuilding tips and pointers along the way. So, get used to it, I will be gushing about John's goods and services quite a lit here.

That said, it's a pretty straightforward mod. One just assembles John's new board (easy), removes the old audio board (easy), and installs the new board where the old one was (very easy), and re-solder some wires. The last step is a little tricky but nothing by way of complexity.

The results are a good, clean robust audio that plays nicely with 8-ohm speakers and headphones.

'nuff said.

The KC9TR switch is as neat as John's audio board -- maybe neater! In assembling it, you must fabricate the plug for the relay you will be replacing. The kit does that by ingeniously by reworking one of those right-angle terminal connectors and soldering them onto the T/R switch board. (See pictures.)

How to make the T/R Switch plug (Borrowed from KC9ON's web site)

After that has been done, then the population of the board is pretty easy. However, you should use caution and make sure your components are placed/seated properly and that the solder joints are clean and solid. John's instructions are plenty detailed and not confusing at all, but he had a method -- a static test -- for checking out the switch before it is installed that confirms it will work. Read on.

I had put my T/R switch in and, during testing, I noted very low transmit power and THEN noticed that the the red and green LEDs were not properly lighting during transmit or receive. So, I pulled the switch and contacted John who sent me a full e-mail of diagnostic testing steps and recommendations. With those, I was able to resolve the issue by re-inspecting and re-working the solder joints until the unit functioned properly. Once installed, things worked grand and my little HW-8 was back in the big leagues with full QSK. Here are his words in describing the static test:

Before shipping an assembled board I do a small “vulcan nerve pinch” technique to test it out. Might help you here and you may not need to go as far. You will need to remove the T/R switch from the main board, fortunately this is pretty easy to do with the extra wide holes in the main PCB.

Take a power supply and connect up the +12V Terminal Block and Ground pin (with alligators). Then with a jumper wire tap the “Relay” or “K1” pin to +12V. At this point Red goes bright and green goes out. The nerve pinch comes in trying to hold the non-soldered LED’s into position at the same time.

I followed the customary procedures as outlined in the Heathkit manual with nothing out of the ordinary. It's just this was my first time and familiarization was required. I did note that sprucing up the receiver by using one's ears (especially ears that have been on this planet almost seven decades) to be very challenging. So, since I had worked long and hard breathing life in those beautiful HP AC voltmeters, I may as well put one of those things to good use.

The results were amazing!

By hooking up the AC voltmeter to the speaker output in parallel and feeding a signal into the radio, it was a simple matter to peak the trimmers despite their being touchy and hyper critical. Once done, I put the radio on the air and happened to listen to 80 meters and was surprised at the sensitivity! Luck was with me that night because 80 is usually a swamp of electrical QRN and cable TV hash but not only was it quiet, there was a sprint going on and the signals were rolling in.

In replacing the VFO cap and reworking the RF Gain/Audio Gain pot, I had to take out the kludge that was an S-meter mod the former owner made. It worked fine but was in the way and, in removing it, I screwed up the terminal strip and decided to junk it in favor of another one I built. The circuit below appeared all over the interwebs and, because it offered a variable pot instead of a fixed 12K ohm resistor, I built that up on a small piece of PCB with QRPMe squares. It turned out decently and, when installed, performed beyond expectation. The pot was an absolute necessity as the resulting sensitivity was much lower than the 12K ohm resistor would have allowed. (That is, the meter would have merely bumped a little bit for the strongest signals.) Obviously, it was not calibrated scientifically but rather made to peg at "5" when a local very, very strong CW signal was heard. A nice feature of this circuit is that the meter operation is smooth owing to the decay time of the RC constant with the 10 uF cap.

Plenty good enough.

This is pretty self-explanatory. I stumbled on a reel of these tape-backed super-bright LEDs on eBay and found them to be indispensable around the house and shack. You can cut them into discreet sections (minimum of three) and drive them with 12 VDC. As you can see, they fit nicely behind the HW-8s proscenium. A 12 VDC LED (one with the current-limiting resistor already part of the unit) was dangled over into the meter "area". It is very effective.

This has been postponed until i decide whether to actually built the K16 into the unit or build it in its own case and use it with my other HW-8s and HW-7s.

This little radio, while not up to snuff with the "modern day" QRP technology that abounds in even the most simple QRP kits, possesses a charm and grace of its own. It is easy to see why builders and owners form an affection for these radios. Not only do fond memories accrue from the building of the kits by their owners back in the seventies and eighties are built, but the prospect of owning a radio and having an instruction manual which covers EVERYTHING gives one a sense of invincibility should problems arise. Also, having the manual allows one to wade into the mods with much more confidence.

I may have said before, but I will repeat: while it is nice to keep these in their pristine, unmodified state, the few simple alterations here (the T/R switch, the audio board, and the S-meter add so much more enjoyment to operating these radios. As an aside, peering into this model's older cousin, the HW-7, I am overcome by its simplicity and I look forward to seeing what i can do to cure the ills and make those work well too.


A new Jones: The Heathkit HW Series of QRP Rigs

Part I - Revitalization
Well, WB6JDH did it to me again! He infected me with another jones. I fell prey to the siren call of those who have fallen in love with the old Heathkit QRP radios, the HW-7, HW-8, and HW-9. And, true to the W6DQ maxim, "why buy one thing when you can buy two at twice the price", I stocked up big time by taking advantage of deals and opportunities that cropped up over the last three months (while I was wrestling with the &*^%$#*@! Cheap Chinese Crystal Checkers & [not] Counters -- dubbed "CCCCC" for short.
Siderbar: Dick is working on a small preamp circuit -- hopefully low-profile and cloned from a quad NAND gate 74HC00 or something. So maybe something will come of it anyway. If these can be made to actually count then maybe they can be used as cheap and reliable (well, cheap anyway) digital displays for older analog radios. But I digress..
Anyway, as I was saying, in short order I scored the following:
  • An HW-8 in good, clean working condition.
  • Two HW-7s, both working, one in sorry cosmetic condition.
  • A complete HW-9 station, rig, PS, power meter, antenna tuner.
More on the HW-8 and HW-9 later, but to titillate, I immediately broke the HW-8's tuning cap by over-rotating it and was able to replace same with a brand new VFO cap (they still sell them) and upgraded the T/R switch and audio board with absolutely marvelous products from KC9ON. Then, one early morning, I got up to take a whiz and was perusing eBay when I saw the HW-9 station pop. So I jumped on that like a dog on a bone and..well..more about those two later.

Staring with the HW-7s, I got them both from WB6JDH -- as I did the HW-8. One of them was good cosmetically but Dick said it may "have some issues". I have not fired it up as yet (see above re CCCCC and the HW-8 work) but I will do so soon. And, after reading all of the bag jobs on these HW-7s (great out of band short-wave station and AM band receivers because of their DC receiver and 40673 mixer, etc.), I am prepared to be under-whelmed. Still in all, there is something quaint about these radios and, indeed, all three of the HW series. It is something that reached out to the kid in me when I was first a Novice in 1961 and built my DX-40. Scoring a legit manual and all of the diagrams and drawing foldouts tends to make one fearless. Subsequent books, articles and notes like WB8VGE's HW-8 handbook series ((out of print, second edition alleged to be here) only emboldens one.

Anyway, now to the nut: the "other" HW-7 is kind of like the little puppy with a limp who follows you home and you affectionately adopt. While Dick says it "plays really well" you will see that it has definite cosmetic issues. I frankly dunno about some people. As Bob, WB3T (a great restorer of these radios) said of the former owner of an HW-8 he scored off of eBay:
I enjoyed HW-8 II so much, I decided to do another one (HW-8 III). This one was a real clunker when I got it. The mixer amplifier FET was in backwards, as were the internal trimmers in the receive circuit, which "ungrounded" the ground end. Most components were standing a half-inch off the PC board, the panel meter was shot, and the soldering needed to be completely re-done. (Some people by law shouldn't be permitted within 100 yards of a soldering iron!) It looked as though several people had tried and failed to get this one going over the years.
By the way, I recommend visiting Bob's web site and perusing his restoration work on the HW-7 and HW-8s he did. If anything, his video of the HW-7 during a contest -- together with the simplicity of the HW-7 -- make me eager to see if these can truly be turned from a sow's ear to a silk purse. (Also, his "King's New Clothes" take on Elecraft is interesting and refreshing. I love my K-2 but believe my romance with Elecraft stopped when the stratospheric prices came in and "bolt-together" radios came out. We're now "just good friends".)

So, here's pictures of the little puppy that followed me home. As you can see, someone went nuts with a power drill and rendered the simple-yet-elegant front panel a shambles. (I'd like to take a drill to that anal pore's nether regions, believe me.) As it stands, I am toying with cutting a new panel out of aluminum and doing OHR WM2-like stick'em labels. Or something.. open to ideas. Enjoy; kind of like looking at a traffic accident, innit?