First Contact


Lee Aldridge G4EJB makes that first QSO after 40 years away from the 20m band.


Lee Aldridge G4EJB makes that first QSO after 40 years away from the 20m band.


You might have thought by now with the Howes 20m CW transceiver working, a dried-out antenna and a Morse key, that the first QSO beckoned. Why do things the easy way? I still wasn’t confident with my Morse and I had reservations about using the Howes transceiver without semi-break-in keying and sidetone. I’d built a board from an old G4TRN circuit I found on the G-QRP Sprat DVD along with a G4RAW receive preamplifier but I knew it was going to take some time to modify the transceiver so –you’ve guessed it – I stopped at that point. The idea of modifying something that I’d just got working then likely to blow up if I got it wrong just didn’t appeal. I thought I’d just look at the radio for a while it continued to gather dust.

An easier route came to mind. Make a crystal-controlled transmitter to work with the Howes 20m receiver rather than modify the transceiver. I had in mind that I could have a portable 20m transceiver up and running for the summer. (I should imagine by now that a few of you have worked out that I like building things, getting them to work or saving them for later, then building something else.)

As I mentioned last time, I again used the Manhattan style of building for my matching crystal-controlled transmitter. Did it all go according to plan? No. However, eventually I had a transmitter with about 500mW output but the board had taken a little beating while I’d wrestled with my ability (inability) of getting too clever for myself and with patience in short supply. We’ll call that one practice and it was put in the drawer of many pending projects to be resumed.

Around that time, there was an announcement in the G-QRP Sprat journal of the GM3OXX Memorial Challenge, using no more than 1W transmit power. With that in mind, I decided the famous OXO design would become my first proper homebuilt CW transmitter. It was. It worked first time and had a very useful netting offset for use with my receiver. Now to get it to work with the receiver. Just remember what I said about adding semi-break-in keying to the Howes transceiver. That’s what I did to the receiver and OXO transmitter. Did that all work first time? No, and this time I went on a sulk − all that work and still not making use of my licence. About three days later, a few grey cells joined up and I managed to unravel my own silliness. When adding circuitry, do things methodically, carry out one test at a time to check you haven’t added that extra facility like ‘where’s the transmit power gone?’

Anyway, once sorted and checked with my SWR meter and dummy load, I connected up to my 20m dipole via my 20m lowpass filter. The netting facility brought the receiver onto frequency (that’s the yellow wire in the photo) and signals could be heard. So, bear in mind the transmitter/receiver was still being put together and for added bonus, the sidetone wasn’t fitted.


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Testing, Testing

I thought I’d try a few test calls – no takers. Called a couple of stations – no replies. I went back to my shed that evening thinking ‘I’ve still got work to do’. Things like ‘does my RF go all the way to the top of the dipole?’ spring to mind. I switched the radio back on and after a while, up came a station calling CQ. What did I do? Reply! What happened next? The station replied to me. Now what? After 40 years away from CW and 20m, panic set in. What’s the operator’s name? What’s mine? How many dots? That was about my level in the QSO but thankfully Luca IZ2XAO was a good CW operator and, somehow, we made it to the end. Now to me that was a real accomplishment and I even went back up the house and told my wife, who was suitably indifferent. But I won’t ever forget it; this was really starting over.

I found Luca’s details on the database. Not that I knew much about that either but that just tells you how much I still have to find out about where amateur radio is now. There are just so many facets to this hobby that have added dimensions to where it was years ago and I’m glad I came back.

Meantime, I joined my local amateur radio club in Grantham, where I was welcomed and given a tour of the club facilities by the club secretary, Kevin − thank you. This again was something I hadn’t done for well over 40 years and I can say that joining a local club gives you that feeling of something tangible. You meet others with similar interests in the hobby and you meet others with completely different interests and that makes it even more of a reason for finding your local club. You learn more amongst many other benefits, just as John M0AAO wrote in his letter in the August issue of PW.

So, the coax had proved usable. RF had made its way to the top of the dipole, you could say.

What new adventures and old did I have next on this journey? Why not have a go on another amateur band? Now there’s an idea, how’s that going to happen? See you next time.


This article was featured in the December 2018 issue of Practical Wireless