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All sorts of interesting stuff about Ham Radio and old gear from Steve G3ZPS, near London in the UK

About Steve - G3ZPS

Steve with a rented Caterham 7Steve with Martin D28

First licensed in 1970 at age 16, I am one of the youngest UK hams to hold an original 'G3' call sign. These pages include information on my lifetime in this hobby and my retirement passion for restoring valve ham radio equipment (or tubes if you prefer). My Father had been in the Royal Signals before joining the GPO and we had the odd broadcast radio in bits through my childhood. However I first became aware of Ham radio in around 1967 when I built a Heathkit AM radio as part of a school project, one night I slid the coil along the ferrite rod and heard a chap talking - it turned out to be a Ham just up the road on 160m AM - Brian G2WI. I was quickly hooked and with a like minded school friend started knocking up simple valve receivers and transmitters (naughty!)

Like so many young Radio Amateurs of my generation in the UK we were initially drawn to 160m as the equipment was cheap and easy to build and antennas quite simple. Over a four year period I graduated to working quite a lot of CW DX on the band and was fascinated by the propagation.

Old shack pics below taken in the early 1970's - sill own a KW2000A and an AR88. My 1973 Gibson Les Paul guitar is now 47 years old. Still using the same Shure 444 in this picture, its never let me down.

Pic below from 1976 has some interesting stuff - my home made SSTV monitor with a long persistence CRT. Yaesu FRDX400 was not very good and was sold soon after. ICOM 2m FM rig and quite a bit of home made kit and stuff built as part of my UK Gov Engineering Apprenticeship.

1976 Shack Picture

Above 2018 Studio 'B' Garden Workshop pictures

One of the reasons I never collected QSL cards is that there was only really one I ever wanted. Any ham on HF could collect 100s of cards in the 70s...but working 'across the pond' on 160m from a suburban garden was something different. The 19 year old G3ZPS managed it though and got the QSL card from the late and great Stew Perry W1BB,  it was thrill to work him on 160m CW in 1973. I was up early in the mornings in the winter, hunched over the AR88 with the crystal filter wound in to hear the weak US stations at the bottom of the band

I moved to VHF in the 70’s and became interested in Tropo scatter and ducting on 2 and 70cms, this coincided with a spell working in an RF design and engineering role and laid the foundations for later professional work. I was an apprentice with the UK Ministry of  Defence (MoD) from 1970 -74 and then spent a further 10 years working in an Test Equipment Laboratory for the MoD.

Moves to a new job working on the design and engineering of very large VHF and UHF radio systems for the Metropolitan Police Service meant a declining interest in the hobby and I sold off almost everything in 1982.

20 years later I was pretty sure I would never come back to the hobby, but its never quite out of the blood and I came back on in 2002. I am one of the youngest original G3's at 66 years old in 2020 (barring any re-issues). The G3 calls were all issued a few months after mine and then the UK moved on to G4 prefixes. Some G3 calls  have been re-issued to family members - who will be younger than me, but that doesn't count!.

I have spent  a lot of my working life in the communications business, published a number of professional papers and spoken at international conferences on improvements to radio systems for use in the UK Police Service. I was amongst the first in the UK to apply the science of  traffic flow modelling and propagation prediction / measurement to the design of radio systems for Police communications.  One of the high points of my career was working on the Met Police technology requirements for the London 2012 Games from 2006 right through to the event, getting to the Paralympic opening ceremony was the icing on the cake

I am a Fellow of the prestigious IET (Institute of Engineering and Technology) and  have my own company - Steve Shorey Associates Ltd, for technology consulting and project management - Oh yeah and I also play the guitar quite a lot!!

One of my abiding passions is building, experimenting, fixing and restoring electronic 'stuff'; radio equipment, audio gear, antennas, guitar amplifiers, music synthesizers, computing and gadgets. I have become quite adept at refurbishing old ham radio kit in recent years- much of it the victim of  'Mr Ham Radio Bodger'. He loves making daft modifications, bodges, drilling holes in front panels and trying his hand at painting. I have seen stuff that beggars belief - look at my other pages for the some of the horror stories. It takes time, committment and skill to restore old radios and sadly many hams have unloved kit in dusty corners of their shacks that will never be back on the air - I have had contacts on every single radio that has passed through my workshop.  Another trend I have noticed is folks buying old gear and then searching for someone to repair or restore it for them.

I also enjoy studying and learning about history, music and science. I have never bothered with ham radio contests or the relentless pursuit of collecting squares and countries. After nearly 50 years in the hobby I don't have a single ham radio award or certifcate.  I am also keen or promoting the hobby to young people as the UK needs more IT / Communications / software engineers - after all nearly everyone has a UHF digital transceiver in their pocket. If you are interested in promoting science and technology in schools please look here at the STEM, 'Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics' initiative. In the UK the foundation and intermediate license classes have brought a lot of people to the hobby (which is good), but we cant get around the fact that the demographic has changed in the last few decades and there won't be legions of teenagers coming to the hobby (and staying). Unfortunately listening to amateurs on some of the HF bands can at times be a very depressing experience - anyone under 20 could be put off for life.

I'm not a fan of ESSB / HI FI SSB. The modes are of course prefectly legitimate, but here in Europe our bands can be very crowded and the technical limitations of ham radio gear can push the total bandwidth of ESSB out very wide indeed. Many transceivers of  recent years have poor TX IMD performance, just look at the Yaesu FT450 - a 50 year old Collins valve TX is far better

Modern digital processing such as ANAN's 'Pure Signal' offers huge improvements but it will only really help when all of the big manufacturers offer the option. I am surprised that the latest transceivers do not offer the feature - possibly due to a lack of computing power or the firmware design.

I can't help but be amused when I see VOODOO audio stations with racks of very expensive audio gear plugged into the radio and it all ends up in pair of MRF output transistors with average to poor IMD performance and a simple and very questionable ALC arrangement

The technical facts on TX IMD on SSB are very simple see here.

Despite the mantra of ham contests improving 'technical and operating skills' my experience on some bands is far different. I have noted many contest SSB signals that have dreadful splatter - hardly technical excellence. On 80m contest stations have forced me off the band on more than occasion..they cant hear us....until we call them- then its '59 312'..funny that. Where did the term 'Sport Radio' come from ?. A sport where the most power and biggest antennas system will win..surely thats like the 100m sprint with unlimited drugs ?

Digital communications, satellite systems and microwaves are probably the only areas of innovation left and this should be a big part of our sales pitch..a tool for young software and hardware engineers to enhance their skills. Despite all the constant gloom on some forums about its imminent death, the hobby its still going - and judging by my trip to Friedrichshafen in 2019 its still pretty healthy

ALL CHANGE IN  HAM RADIO COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY

I have been a ham through a period of tremendous change in both communications technology and ham radio - I started out in the age of military surplus equipment and valve technology through to the Internet, Software Defined Radios and Smartphones (aren't they UHF digital transceivers?).

Oddly in the 21st Century some smaller companies have been quicker to adopt the latest SDR technology than the big 3 Japanese guys. Eleccraft,Apache, Flexradio and FDM have been much quicker to market than Icom, Yaesu and Kenwood - Icom finally embraced SDR direct sampling HF technology with their IC7300 (launched spring 2016). This radio looks like a global success story but it cant be connected to a PC in proper SDR fashion - and the ADC in the Icom  is actually over 10 years old - click here for more info.  The clever bit is the Cyclone IV Field Programmable Gate Aray (FPGA) that digitally takes the ADC output and transforms it to the 36kHz  that the IF DSP can handle (as well as driving the Pan Adaptor display).  The IF DSP in the 7300 is a bog standard Texas Instruments chipset - ICOM state that this part of the 7300 is based on the older IC7100 IF DSP.  Many older ICOM radios like the IC746 and the IC7200 use a lower IF (15.625 kHz) for the IF DSP..probably driven by cost at the time of design.

As of spring 2020 nearly every UK station on 40 or 80m appears to be using a 7300, sometimes whole nets are using them.

Elecraft in particular have gone from strength to strength as an innovative US manufacturer and placed themselves in the market place claiming the very best HF receiver performance - but at a price. The Elecraft KX2 (May 2016) is an amazing 10W HF transceiver not much bigger than a large handheld.  In contrast Yaesu waited until 2018 to replace the 16 year old FT817, with the pretty much identical FT818 - perhaps they have realised they will gradually lose market share in portable and QRP HF radios..or maybe a stunning Yaesu SDR portable is just round the corner. As of July 2020 Icom are waiting in the wings with their new SDR field radio the IC705

THE FUTURE OF HF RADIO

Until there is widespread adoption of digital voice on the HF bands I can't see any modes going away, there are now some fantastic digital modes - some working well below the noise level, WSPR, JT65 and the very popular FT8.  For many hams the level of performance in HF rigs is probably at a level that few will fully utilize - especially the receivers in the latest up market rigs. Even so many mid price rigs have misleading published performance figures. Read this - Rob Sherwood from 2013

There are however a number of areas that either will change or should improve ;

Price - In real terms compared to the 70's the hobby is great value, but I expect SDR technology and low cost manufacturing to lower the cost of great performing HF gear - the IC7300 is a case in point.

Receiver performance - 'Close in' dynamic range is one of a handful of receive parameters that define a great receiver from an adequate one, things are improving but some modern radios are no better than my 37 year old FT902. This is the table every single radio ham should look at, it tells you a lot about HF Receiver performance..SHERWOOD ENGINEERING . The old FT901/2 is above a lot of later radios for close in dynamic range (and some newer ones like the IC7700, IC7600 etc). The IC7300 receiver measures well  - look at price of the radios above it. I do note however that the close-in dynamic range requires the 'IP' (Intercept Point) option to be enabled and this degrades the receiver sensitivity or MDS. With the IP option off the close-in performance is only 1dB better that the 40 year old FT901. For the money the 7300 can't really be beaten - they seem to have sold like hot cakes in the UK and about 80% of hams I work on 40 and 80 appear to have one. Icom have gone one better with the IC-7610, including a tracking pre-selector in the front end of the radio and a 2nd receiver - current documentation indicates that an IQ output will be available in a future upgrade..not a cheap radio though. The new Yaesu FTDX101 is currently at the top of the Sherwood list for 'close in' RX performance and blocking although the new Elecraft K4 may give it a run for the money. This does not mean the Yaesu is the best receiver in the world..other factors come into play including, ease of use, features and functions, DSP performance, listening fatique, TX performance (TX IMD does not look any better that its contemporaries), warranty, build quality, price, support and  brand loyalty etc

Synthesizer /phase noise - This demon is getting sorted in modern rigs, but some are still very poor on transmit - generating low level  noise a long way from the TX frequency. Again the IC7300 claims a big improvement over earlier low cost Icom rigs. The current exemplars appear to be the Icom IC7851 and the Elecraft K3s. The K3s includes a new synthesizer design that even allows DXpeditions and contesters to operate mixed modes with different stations on the same band in close physical proximity. Quite a few modern transceivers would be too noisy to allow this.  Transmitted phase noise is a particular concern on VHF/UHF. Some wideband HF/VHF transceivers are very poor and can make life very difficult for nearby weak signal operators. The Yaesu FT991 stands out as one of the worst and some technical reviewers have cautioned against using this radio on 2m unless you are a long way from other operators...and use with a linear is a definate no-no.

Transmit distortion - For SSB, TX IMD performance has not really improved from the 1960's (actually worse)..granted most rigs are poorly used (a shame in itself) - but many TX output stages are adequate at best and some downright dreadful - this is not an insoluble technical problem with proper output stage and ALC design.  Apache Labs  have brought at least two SDR models that offer a software feedback feature to reduce the 3rd order IMD products on transmit to very low levels.  All modern transceivers and linear amplifiers should have a 'pure signal' feedback option to bring super clean signals onto our bands..but they don't. I asked Rob Sherwood about the appalling state of some transmitted signals and why the big manufacturers have no software options for a pure signal capability. He indicated it may be down to the computing power or firmware design in the transceiver architecture.  Also checkout sdr-radio.com, Simon G4ELI is very active in writing software for most of the available SDR radios and devices. 

Epilogue

Having said a lot about this super duper modern kit, the reality is that the majority of  HF SSB radio operation outside of hardcore DXing or contesting can be accomplished easily (and just as well) with just about any transceiver made in the last 40 years...and a decent antenna system. Bill W1ZY is a big signal low band DXer (mainly on 40m) and experiments with home made verticals ...his gear? ..40 + year old Kenwood TS520 and vintage Heathkit SB220 linear.

 

73 from Steve Shorey G3ZPS - 2019