The G3ZPB “Virtual Shack Tour”
The shack tour begins by highlighting the “centre piece” of the station – the Icom IC-9100. I chose this particular rig because it covers just about everything I need in one box:-
- Covers 160m to 70cms (except for 4m)
- Therefore I only need one connection for Microphone, Headset, Key and computer USB connection
- It has reasonably high performance in terms of sensitivity, selectivity, spurious emissions and output power
- Three antenna connections for HF, 2m & 70cms (I have 3 antennas)
- Includes most of the features one needs except Voice Keyer.
On the second shelf sits the Headphone Splitter box, MFJ Voice Keyer and CW key. The Headphone Splitter box was originally built for VHF NFD many years ago but has recently been updated to allow Stereo or Mono headphones to be used (and my fancy new Heil Pro7 headset) plus a small amplifier to enable a Loudspeaker to be used even when driving the box from the rig “Headphone” output.
The MFJ Voice keyer is to fill the one built-in feature missing from the IC-9100.
Everyone who knows me will wonder why I have a CW Key in the shack as I’ve not had a single CW QSO in my entire life! The reason is to aid tuning up the rig; by selecting CW mode and switching off the internal keyer, pushing the key paddle is a very convenient way of generating RF power.
The next shelf houses the Rotator Controller, Radio-controlled Clock, SWR Bridge and HF Antenna Tuner. The Rotator Controller is now a Yaesu G-5500 to allow Elevation and Azimuth of the VHF/UHF antenna system and includes computer control. The normal program I use to drive this is the “PSTRotator” software which can be used direct but also interfaces with other software described later.
The SWR Bridge/Power meter is a Welz SP600 unit with 3 x sensors and 3 x ranges. This arrangement suits the 3 x connections on the rig and 3 x antennas I use. The ranges cover 20W (useful for tuning up), 200W (useful for normal operation on 2m and 70cms) and 2kW (useful on HF).
The HF Antenna Tuner is an LDG AT-600 Pro2 fully automatic tuner with 4000 memories and a power rating of 600W. It is linked to the rig and thus band changes immediately pre-set the approximately correct tuning. Two rows of LEDS indicate the peak output power and instantaneous SWR.
The HF Linear Amplifier sits on the top shelf. This is an Acom 1010 and is rated at 700W SSB and 500W FM and FT8 and thus runs very comfortably at full UK legal power. It has a single 4CX800A tetrode valve running with nearly 3kV on its anode so is fairly rugged. It covers all the main amateur bands 1.8MHz to 30MHz and is very easy to tune with its special “Plate Load True Resistance Indicator”. It also has two rows of LEDs indicating peak forward output power and reflected power respectively.
Next to this sits a Gemini 70 300W Linear Amplifier for 70cms. Being all solid-state it requires no adjustment and has many built-in safety and overload protection systems.
All this RF equipment is connected to and/or controlled by a Dell Laptop Computer. The most important program being the Logging program. This is “Log4OM” – a very sophisticated piece of software that automatically logs the band, frequency and mode of the rig plus time of course. After the QSO is complete, it automatically uploads the details to a number of sites including the ARRL “Log of the World”, HamQTH and HRDlog.net thus sending off eQSLs.
The second most-used program is for VHF Contest Scoring. For this I use “MINOS” which contains a calendar for all RSGB and most other EU contests that allows for automatic scoring of each QSO; this can sometimes get complicated if there are possible “Bonus” points for new “Locator Squares” or PostCodes etc. In order to maintain an accurate station log, the details of each QSO are transferred to Log4OM after the QSO is complete.
The other frequently used programs are for the data modes FT8 and JS8. For these I use the JTDX and JS8Call software respectively. Here again, after each QSO is complete, the information is transferred to Log4OM.
In addition to these main programs, I also use something called “PSTRotator”. This clever piece of software drives the VHF/UHF Antenna Rotator. It has several modes of operation including simple “point and turn” but also the ability to enter a “Locator Square” or DXCC callsign prefix and it will automatically turn to the correct direction. But more than this, it can take “commands” from all the other programs mentioned above and thus with one click of the mouse will turn the beam in the direction of the station being heard or worked!
With all this software available and sometimes all running together, a second Computer Screen becomes not just desirable but essential; thus there is a 17ins high-resolution screen adjacent to the operating position.
With a second display screen available comes the option of running yet more equipment! I have an SDR receiver (model RSP1A) fitted inside the IC-9100 and running “SDRUno” for use as a completely independent second receiver for use as an RF Monitor or very sensitive “BandScope” covering any band or frequency up to 2GHz.
Finally, all this equipment is connected to three antennas. There is a half-size “G5RV” wire antenna for 80m to 6m and a two-band Yagi for 2m and 70cms. The Yagi is a commercial item from “Dual” and has 7 elements on 2m (giving 12dBi gain) and 12 elements on 70cms (giving 15dBi gain). Also, just below the Yagi is a masthead preamplifier for 70cms.