Category Archives: K9ZW Just Rambled

Adding a BIG Microphone – Shure SM5-B in the Shack

One the issues I face as an a phone operator is I have a naturally deep bass voice that doesn’t play all that well on the radio for DX or Contesting.  So I’ve been working to help that Broadcaster’s/Ragchewer’s voice into something that works better in the pile-up.

Through Bob K5JIL I was able to obtain the “Unobtanium” – an exceptional Shure SM5-B microphone.  These out of production microphones are prized by professionals and are often priced out of the ham radio operator’s budget, if they come up second hand at all.

Following Bob K5JIL’s very helpful instructions I picked a NOS Behringer Mixer/Amp to interface the Shure SM5-B to my Flex-6700.  My son Winston KC9FVR was super helpful digging out patch cables to get this all working.

The results have been exceptional!   During the mid-November ARRL SSB Sweepstakes I had numerous stations break from the pattern of exchanging reports to comment on the excellent audio.  A session working George W9EVT in fairly lousy band conditions helped tweak a DX configuration that seems to be doing the trick!

I know that it isn’t in every ham’s budget to do a microphone & mixer like this, and I am truly grateful to have the privilege of good gear to help in my efforts in the amateur radio hobby.

Winston KC9FVR also helped figure out the cables needed to put the Wohler AMP1A-LP speaker on line, which is really nice.  I typically wear a boomset, but with the quality speaker as an option it is a lot more “sociable” in the shack when anyone else is in the shack (a small room originally intended as a wine cellar.)

I have figured out the expensive part of the better microphone and speaker though, I already want to duplicate the setup at the Northern QTH on Washington Island!

Hope to hear you on the air!




Mother Nature meets Murphy, winter delays to the K9ZW Northern Station

it is true that Mother Nature is not to be trifled with, and that Murphy will visit putting a wrench into the works just when things are running smooth.

Often delays in a single key component can put a whole project off track.  Specially disruptive is if the missing/delayed key component is something unique not easily replaced.

For my Indian Point northern QTH on Washington Island the driving element delaying the project is an extended wait for a new tower base.  The SkyNeedle TM-370 needs a special base that act as a hinge for fold-over/erecting and is a critical part of the overall wind design.

A tribute to their popularity, Tashjian Towers has been swamped with orders and the base along with a work platform and new coax arms is still in fabrication.  And up on the Island this is the last week for concrete deliveries.  With a month cure before use, the towers even now would be first up in December.

So we are rescheduled for spring 2016 to put the base in the ground and put the tower up.

The SP7IDX Hexbeam is also behind schedule, but it could have followed a month later than the base and the schedule would have been fine, as the concrete cure time would have covered the delay.

With the delays, the eventual onset winter weather and the reduced ferry schedules limiting my actual on-island time I’ve put all antenna work on hold until spring.  If I can schedule time I may move a vertical HF antenna stored in the woods behind my house at home to the island so I have a ready-to-use island antenna rather than setting up the SteppIR CrankIR each visit.

Best laid plans…


Steve K9ZW

Flex-6300 K9ZW North Station in QSO


Jumping forward from 1977 Collins KWM-2A technology to current technology, here is a photo of the FlexRadio Systems Flex-6300 part of my northern Washington Island station:

K9ZW Flex-6300 Station on Washington Island

K9ZW Flex-6300 Station on Washington Island

There is a lot going on in this little station, so first the hardware:

  • Flex-6300 w/ATU Transceiver with USB digital codec dongle
  • Windows 8.1 USB PC on a stick
  • USB hub
  • WiFi Extender – 1Gb
  • 1Gb router
  • FlexControl
  • Powered Speaker
  • Power supply is under bench
  • wheel mouse
  • keyboard
  • 24in monitor


Now here is the important list – the software:

  • SmartSDR v1.5.0 with Free Digital Voice and DStar plus-ins
  • DDUTIL v3.0
  • FlexMeter v1.3
  • N1MM+ logger

The Flex-6300 station got great reports today using a SteppIR CrankIR portable antenna. Mostly CalifornyQSO party station but also worked some DX.

The PC on a stick was an experiment that has worked out fine, and I will leave it for the time being.  When the 6300 is swapped for a 6700 I’ll put in a full PC.

I’m not happy with the included Flex hand microphone but forgot to bring a desk mic up this trip.

Once the permanent antennas are up it is going to be obvious that I will want a Flex-6700 here rather than the limited single SCU Flex-6300.  The 6300 will go to my traveling radio setup at that time.

Made a interesting contrast to last weekends QSOs done with the Collins KWM-2A station  on the same antenna.



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Collins K9ZW North Station in QSO

Eventually I intend to move the late Collins setup in this picture to my home QTH and bring up the S-Line separates set up.

This “Round Emblem” combined transceiver with external VFO for split operations is the final itineration of the S-Line series and was sold new in the mid/late 1970s.

K9ZW Collins KWM-2A Station

K9ZW Collins KWM-2A Station

  • KWM-2A transceiver
  • 312B-5 remote VFO and station console
  • 30L-1 amplifier
  • SM-1 microphone
  • Power supply is under bench

The other Collins station I own is a “Winged Emblem” first of the S-Line series with separate receiver/transmitter. That station is a 32S-1 transmitter, 75S-1 receiver, 312B-4 station console, 30L-1 amplifier, separate speaker and a power supply. The receiver/transmitter track each other usually. It dates from 1958 to 1960 from dating the serial numbers.

It has amazed me how many complex cables interface the various units. There are roughly a dozen cables in the KWM-2A station and about five-six more in the twins S-Line one. Many are simple, but some are complex and some are uncommon – things like RF coax with RCA plugs…..

The microphone jack is a military size and I had to source some as spares.

The KWM-2A station got great reports today using a SteppIR CrankIR portable antenna. Even worked some DX.

The audio has that warm friendly tube-amp sort of sound. Got great reports which I have to admit surprised me. I hadn’t expected it as there are so few adjustments possible compared to a modern rig.

I’m not happy with this particular SM-1 microphone and did make most contacts using an Astatic D-104 “lollipop” microphone instead. The SM-1 will go off for service.

I have a good ways to go in learning to use this gear, but as much fun as I had it is worth the study and practice time to get it right.

Made a interesting contrast to this weekends QSOs done with a barefoot Flex-6300 on the same antenna.



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Ham Radio’s Second Century – Being on the Ready for TEOTWAWKI



Ham Radio’s Second Century – Being on the Ready for TEOTWAWKI

At the 2015 W9DXCC Chicago September 12th 2015 banquet the Keynote Speaker, ex-FCC General Counsel (retired) Riley Hollingsworth K4ZDH spoke to the need for Ham Radio to be ready for essentially “TEOTWAWKI”, as the decentralized independent hobbyist will be critical to their country (and humanity) in any post-apocalyptic situation.

TEOTWAWKI is shorthand for “The End Of The World As We Know It” which is a phrase most of recognize from pop songs of a certain era, and an unexpected concept for a DX Club keynote speech.

Riley K4ZDH painted a critical need for hams and their capabilities to communicate when all other means are down in a world that has suffered a Cyber War. The Internet of Things is projected to increase its interconnectivity to include some 50 billion nodes, whether people, things or virtual interconnects per projections he quoted, setting us up for a “world of hurt” (pun very much intended) if we are denied that connectivity.

Leon Panetta’s 2012 speech outlining the catastrophic impact of a Cyber Pearl Harbor was the highest ranking government warning Riley K4ZDH referenced, but we’d already listened to earlier talks about Solar Activity and most hams are well aware of the potential impact from a natural event. Less likely scenarios like EMP Bombing were not mentioned, but a quick web search will give a reader days’ worth of public source information about various government and other EMP projects.

Parts of Mr Panetta’s warning are reported in the October 11th 2012 New York Times:

“Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta warned Thursday that the United States was facing the possibility of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” and was increasingly vulnerable to foreign computer hackers who could dismantle the nation’s power grid, transportation system, financial networks and government.

In a speech at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York, Mr. Panetta painted a dire picture of how such an attack on the United States might unfold. He said he was reacting to increasing aggressiveness and technological advances by the nation’s adversaries, which officials identified as China, Russia, Iran and militant groups.

“An aggressor nation or extremist group could use these kinds of cyber tools to gain control of critical switches,” Mr. Panetta said. “They could derail passenger trains, or even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.”

Defense officials insisted that Mr. Panetta’s words were not hyperbole, and that he was responding to a recent wave of cyberattacks on large American financial institutions. He also cited an attack in August on the state oil company Saudi Aramco, which infected and made useless more than 30,000 computers.”

The largely DXer (hams who focus on making contacts with other countries, collecting records of those contacts for recognition among their peers) and Contester (hams who do highly organized “drills” contacting others in specific time frames and rule sets, competing for the most effective ham or ham teams, again recognized by peers in the hobby) audience were specifically a critical resource per Riley K4ZDH as these groups represent a large group of the best operators – the sorts who know how to make radio contacts under adverse condition and while under pressure.

The discipline of these types of operators lends itself very well to passing traffic with a speed and accuracy, and technically prowess noteworthy among hams.   They typically have access to first-rate stations and gear, tend to be highly motivated, capable and independent individuals, and are well-practiced at the competitive parts of the ham hobby.

Woven into Riley K4ZDH’s talk were references on the important of traffic net capabilities and a critical need to get new & younger hams involved.

Implied with the DXers and Contesters was that they were not “part of the system” that would be attacked and/or fail. It was noteworthy that he did not mention EMCOM, ARES, RACES, FEMA, MARS or any other organized emergency communication group, but instead focused on the independent high capability ham offering their services as a time of need – after TEOTWAWKI.

There are many parallels to Mr. Hollingsworth’s statements and the premises behind the FREECOM proposal calling for individual readiness rather than “in system emergency preparedness.” To be fair Riley K4ZDH did not actually use the work TEOTWAWKI nor did he take time to discuss the current organized EMCOM situation. So perhaps some bias has entered into what I took away from his speech.

Nonetheless the message rang true – be prepared, be ready, keep your skills and capabilities up, get younger people involved and hope that like those school fire drills when we were kids that preparedness and awareness keep trouble at bay.

In a future series of articles I will refresh the ideas behind FREECOM and how using those ideas you two can be part of this state of preparedness.






W9DXCC Wrap-Up… Hams be prepared just in case, and Buck Rogers Radios

Sitting in our hotel room at the end of the 2015 W9DXCC in Schaumburg, Il.  An excellent experience all around.

The generosity of ones fellows in the hobby cannot be overstated.  I really enjoy these events as the expertise of those with time and resources are shared so willingly!

Keynote speaker was ex-FCC General Counsel, Riley Hollingsworth K4ZDH, who as always spoke well and to the point.  Main take away were two somewhat unexpected things, one about shared humanity and another larger on why the world needs hams even more with the Internet of Things.

On humanity Riley reminded us that those few hams who are awful on the air are largely troubled souls that the system isn’t or can’t help.  Not a few are veterans dealing with those issues.  While not specifically asking for anything from the audience, he brought home that these folk are people too.  Kind of a reminder that we can do better.

The bigger statement was in many ways a vision of a post apocalyptic mission that hams can fill.  As the Internet transitions to the Internet of Things, the risk of systemic failure increases, but worse the risk of system denial (cyber terrorism) has profound consequences that the ham services may help mitigate.

The TEOTWAWKI scenario wasn’t expected, and I have to admit I agree with Riley, including the decentralized ideas he expressed which are the same as those behind the  FREECOM supplement/replacement for EMCOM.

I will return to the FREECOM theme in a future article.

The other huge takeaway for me is again an admiration for the technical excellence and elegance of the FlexRadio Systems Flex-6000 series.

Gerald K5SDR the founder of FlexRadio Systems and Craig K9CT as a member of their advisory team, shared much time showing off upcoming features intended for SmartSDR v1.5, a prototype Maestro unit, and an unreleased hardware accessory.

The intergration and smoothness of the massively expanded capabilities impressed me as much as the feature set.  The feature set had been slowly leaked by FRS so for 80% of the upgrade there is nothing unexpected.

What amazed was how the improvements flowed as if they were always there all along.

I also loved my quick touch and feel chance to play with the Maestro.  Somehow I can imagine a ham not wanting one.  The touchscreen really appealed.

Another fine event- congratulations to NIDXA for putting on such a fine ham gathering.




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