Kenwood TS-520 – what a great rig!

Last weekend at our local club tailgate (W4RYZ) I picked up a Kenwood TS-520 at a bargain price. It took me a while to decide if I wanted to buy it or not. It was big and scary looking with only analog dials and it had tubes! I am sure at this point some more seasoned Hams are probably laughing at me, but for a Solid State guy this was pretty daunting! The seller was kind enough to print off the manual and several FAQ’s for the rig prior to the tailgate so I had a great starting point.

I shouldn’t have even turned it on until I read the manual through at least once because I thought it was broke when I first powered it up. The meter swung all the way to the right and I had no audio. I turned it off, checked a few things and turned it back on,  same thing! I wasn’t sure what was wrong so I went to the manual. They had a nice list of dial settings for initial receive and transmit. After reviewing the list I had one of those “duh!” moments. The RF gain was all the way DOWN, instead of up. A rookie mistake I know, we all have those at some point. I turned it back on with the RF gain up and there was the beautiful sound of a slightly off SSB signal. The WAWWA WAWAA WAA voice was quickly tuned in to a very legible SSB conversation. Off I went to fire up the SDR receiver to see what frequency they were on and could see that the dial was off by 32Khz or so and I had to calibrate both main and sub dials. I also noticed right away the TS-520 was receiving much better than the SDR but they were on two different antennas so I thought it was the antenna that made the difference.

I soon figured out how the 25Khz cal signal worked,  I also  figured out how to tune the rig for transmit. Since I didn’t have a microphone for the the rig I  built an audio breakout box for the High impedance MIC I had on hand and the PTT switch. After a few attempts at tuning and listening for a station to contact on 20M I heard ZW7MGY, a special event station in remembrance of the radio operators of the Titanic. I jumped in and gave my call. He picked out another stronger station, when he finished that QSO I called again. This time he clearly called back my entire callsign, I was like YES! That was Brazil station over 4200 miles away. That old rig still had it! I tuned in 40M and started calling CQ more confident that the rig was working and pickup up an Arkansas station, K5RPD. I was impressed. All I really did was calibrate some dials, set the RF Bias and followed the directions  and I was on the air.

Lessons Learned

  1. Don’t be afraid to try other types of radio gear, just read the manual first. 🙂
  2. Old equipment is still a great way to enjoy the hobby. Even with all the fancy screens, filters, buttons, computer interfaces, and software it is still just about getting on the air, making new contacts and enjoying yourself.
  3. Go out to tailgates, Hamfests and other gatherings, you never know who you are going to meet and what equipment you will come across.

Final remarks

The TS-520 is a great transceiver with a sensitive receiver, I tuned in a station listened for a few minutes switched the antenna to the SDR and compared signals and the TS-520 was by far more sensitive to weak signals. It seemed to beat my IC-756 but only by a small margin. Those were subjective comparisons without any “real” measurements but I trust my ear. The tuning process was quite simple when you break it down. There were several resources on the web that I used to help me understand how to accomplish it without hurting the rig. It is a classic rig and I can see why so many people hold it in high regard, it is a venerable piece of equipment that I am proud to now own. It sure makes my Ham shack look more authentic!


  • Tuning Video
My "New" Kenwood TS-520

My “New” Kenwood TS-520

APRS Software – Two great finds! Why didn’t I try them sooner?

I have been an APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System) user for a number of years now. I was stuck in the old paradigm of using UI-View32 and AGWPE, which are very good programs to use for APRS. There were just a few things that I thought could be better. For one UI-View32 maps are kind of frustrating to retrieve and configure. I bought SA maps to use with UI-View32 and although it worked well, zooming was clunky and the level of detail was nothing compared to more modern Open Street Map and Google Maps. Tragically the developer passed away and any updates and improvements have been frozen. That being said however, kudos to him and his family for making the program free for all Amateurs.

AGWPE is a very well written TNC program. It can be used to control TNC’s or be used as a soundcard TNC. I used it with my PK-232 and it worked flawlessly. In my quest to trim down my APRS stations with less equipment I favored the soundcard TNC. That way all I needed was a radio, the audio interface with cables and a laptop. The basic version worked well but it did not seem as sensitive as as dedicated TNC. I spent hours tweaking the settings only to have marginal results. I thought about paying for the Pro version but elected not too because I would have to buy a copy for each machine that would result in over $200 in software alone. Although it may have been worth it I wanted to see if any other alternatives existed. I have been trying out APRS over the International Space Station on frequency 145.825 Mhz FM and I found that I could hear a lot of clear packets that weren’t being decoded.  So the quest for better mapping and decoding began.

Much to my surprise someone made a AGWPE drop in replacement. It can be used with any APRS program that supports the AGWPE interface. The only thing that it lacks is the hardware TNC support. Which was fine by me I was just looking for a Soundcard TNC anyways.

Now for the replacement software:

Previous                             Replacement

UI-View32                          APRSISCE/32

AGWPE                             UZ7HO Software TNC

APRSISCE/32 is a very feature rich program for such a small size. The developer is always improving and adding new features such as a graphical PATH display to name just one. The mapping feature uses Open Street Map which is almost as good as Google Maps. You can prefetch maps and disable tile purging for portable ops to see maps without internet connectivity. You can easily send and recieve messages and APRS e-mail. The software author  (Lynn Deffenbaugh – KJ4ERJ) is actively involved in monitoring APRS and APRSIS and is always finding ways to improve on his previous work as well as offering suggestions on how to improve the APRS network overall. For the software download, wiki and documentation please visit the  APRSISCE/32 Wiki Page. It has everything you need to get started. Don’t forget to check out the video at the Wiki  for setting up the ports. It will really help when setting it up for the first time. So far I am very happy with my replacement choice and even had a few QSO’s (of the APRS kind) via the ISS (International Space Station). My hat is off to Lynn and all the contributors!

The UZ7HO soundcard TNC does a fantastic job of decoding packets. It was decoding packets that I would normally see AGWPE ignore. The display was impressive, complete with a waterfall and a time/date stamped packet with the transmitted and received flag. It even has  calibration fields that you can fill in after running the Sound Card calibration utility. UZ7HO has a user guide in PDF format that is a must read. Although the program was designed to be intuitive, if you don’t read the guide you will miss out out some of the features available. Please don’t skip the sound card calibration, it helped improve the decoding of the packets.

This is such a great low cost solution for APRS and Packet radio, I don’t know why I didn’t go check them out sooner!

If you have any other suggestions for APRS/Packet software please leave a comment or drop me a note with the Contact Me link.

APRSISCE32  and UZ7HO SoundCard TNC User Interfaces

Was Hubble worth saving? Ultra Deep Field in 3D says YES!

Like the folks at SolderSmoke, I am not sure how I missed this video on the 3D re-creation of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field images. Simply awe-inspiring.

If this does not alter your perspective on your existence in the Universe nothing will.Thought it was well worth sharing…

ARRL Video Tour of W1AW

For those have wondered what it was like inside the most famous Amateur radio station in the world,  here is your chance to get a tour! I remember as a kid going to my friends house and listening to the W1AW broadcasts on his Dad’s shortwave radio. I imaged this massive building with wall to wall  radio’s humming and glowing well into the night. One day I hope to visit this wonderful operational monument and museum.

The video was streamed live over the internet Sunday, Feburary 12, 2012.

arrl_videotour_feb2012_hd from Awecast on Vimeo.

PW-Sat Heard over the USA!

With my homebuilt 4 element Yagi and my trusty Kenwood TR-9000 I was able to capture the  BPSK downlink beacon from the recently launched PW-Sat.  Using the updated TLE’s from Celestrak and gPredict satellite tracking software I was able to successfully record the PW-Sat transmissions. I was not able to decode the packets this time but hopefully later passes will be more successful. I plan on using the Warbler software, an AX.25 1200 bps decoder. This software was used to successfully  decode the AO-16 transmissions.

Note: An excellent resource for satellite info  – DK3WN SatBlog

Audio Recording:  PW-Sat_N4JTC_Audio_21-Feb-2012-2207_Pass

SpectraVUE Image

8 Cubesats Launched on Vega Rocket

Post Updated on 21 Feb 2012 @ 1703 UTC

Space welcomes eight new Amateur satellites, several offer beacons, 1200 baud FSK, BPSK, AFSK  as well as transponder operations. Of particular interest is the PW-Sat that will be configured as a transponder after the drag experiments are completed. It will be configured as a 435 Mhz FM to 145 Mhz DSB transponder. The is reminiscent of the AO-16 satellite.


From the Oscar  UK  and AMSAT UK Websites:

The first Vega, flight VV01, lifted off at 1000 UT from the ESA Spaceport at Kourou in the Caribbean carrying eight student built amateur radio satellites and the LARES Laser Relativity Satellite into orbit.


Downlink,CW frequency of MaSat-1 and UNICubeSAT were changed.
They are MaSat1: 437.345MHz, UNICubeSAT: 437.305MHz as follows.
The initial TLEs will be opened to public after launch.

Satellite     Uplink      Downlink    Beacon      Mode
----------    -------     --------    -------     -------------------
Xatcobeo         .        437.365     145.940     1200bps FFSK,SSR
e-st@r           .        437.445     437.445     1200bps AFSK
Goliat           .        437.485     437.485     1200bps AFSK
Robusta          .        437.325     437.325     1200bps FM
MaSat-1          .        437.345     437.345     625/1250bps GFSK,CW
PW-Sat1       435.020     145.900     145.900     1200bps BPSK,FM
UNICubeSAT       .        437.305     437.305     9600bps FSK
ALMASat-1        .        437.465    2407.850     1200bps FSK
----------    -------     --------   --------     -------------------

Launch Video


‘Onboard Rocket Cam – Satellite release occurs at the 4:20 mark’   – Has been removed ;  Sorry Video has been marked Private after I posted.

Substitute video: Narrated Launch with telemetry and graphics.

Slow Balloon to China using APRS and ISS

Amateur Radio enthusiasts have stepped up their game in Katy, TX. The South Texas Balloon Launch Team will launch a balloon at 1500 CST (2100 UTC) on Saturday, February 11th. The primary goal of the launch is to send an amateur radio balloon across the Atlantic and Mediterranean to Nanjing, China, the final estimated destination. A unique feature of the balloon is the frequency agile APRS transmitter that will change frequency according to where it is geographically located. The call sign to be used for APRS is KT5TK-11. It will also use the orbiting International Space Station as a relay to reach ground stations thousands of miles away. This will allow anyone to view the balloon’s progress as well as speed, altitude and direction.

This will be interesting to watch as it travels half way around the world.

**14 Feb 2012 Update**

Andy, W5ACM stated the most likely cause for the loss of reporting was due to frozen batteries or electronics. He has posted pictures and videos of the BLT-28 launch on his site.

Pictures from Launch Day

Videos from launch Day by K9TEX



USA = 144.390 MHz FM
mid-Atlantic = 145.825 MHz (International Space Station packet digipeater frequency)
Europe = 144.800 MHz FM

Links – will be adding more as I find them

Tracking Map


Adventures in SoftRock SDR Land

SDR? What does that mean? I know I asked myself the same question when first looking into how to get on the air on with the HF bands.  After a visit to a local Hamfast and talking to some very helpful Hams,  I was turned onto the SoftRock SDR. My mind was filled with SoftRocks and SDR’s and more questions… I still wasn’t very clear on how it actually worked. I knew three things: You needed a computer, SDR stood for Software Defined Radio and I really wanted one.

Whenever I “Googled” SoftRock  the top links were pointing to Tony Parks, KB9YIG site: and  WB5RVZ,   Ok, I thought I will check out these kits and see if I can afford one. What was shocking to see was how inexpensive the kits are. Only one problem, every kit said to “Come Back Soon”. Just on a whim I decided to email the admin, which of course turned out to be Tony himself. I wanted to see when some kits would come available.  He just happened to have some SoftRock Lite II Combined Receiver Kits available.  I just couldn’t wait to get my first SDR!

Read the rest of this entry

N4KGL Beacon Rocket Launch

I recently had the privilege to attend a SEARS (SouthEast Alabama Rocket Society) rocket launch this past Saturday, October 15, 2011 with Greg, N4KGL and Sonny, KK4CVV. It was a blast (pardon the pun). A great bunch of folks just out doing what they love and enjoying every minute of it. Ok, what does the have to do with Ham Radio? Greg Lane, N4KGL mounted a 20m Beacon inside a high power rocket to launch it over 1500 feet in anticipation that other QRP’ers were listening.

Greg prepared the RMS rocket motor, put in fresh batteries, packed the chute and put it on the launching rail. The proposed time to launch was at 1700 UTC. Everything was on schedule until the operational check of the beacon. With Greg’s portable Hamstick dipole raised and listening on the beacon frequency of 14.060 Mhz just a steady tone was heard. I assisted him in posting to to notify of the five minute delay in launch time to troubleshoot the beacon problem. Greg quickly went out to the launch pad and fixed the issue. Beacon was loud and clear.

Ready to launch. 5..4..3..2..1 … We have lift off! Great launch! Listening carefully.. No Beacon.

Uh, Houston, we have a problem. Post flight recovery revealed that the forces acting on the rocket ripped the beacon from the antenna and parachute part of the tube. The beacon transmitter free fell to earth while the other parts of the rocket came down nice and slow by parachute. Thankfully Greg found all the pieces with the help of his Grandson. Despite the failure it was a great launch and a great day. I am sure Greg will go back to the drawing board to make the beacon fly another day… Enjoy the video. 73

Visit for more information.

TWiT Ham Nation 16 talks about ARISSat-1

The TWiT network has a new show that is dedicated to all things Ham Radio. The chief TWiT, Leo Laporte has earned his ticket and is now known to the Ham community as W6TWT. He has done a fantastic job promoting Ham radio as something cool and relevant for today.  I follow many of his tech podcasts and this one is among my favorites.

Bob Heil K9EID who is famous for his excellent microphones is the show organizer and primary host.  He also has a famous co-host which is Gordon West WB6NOA. He is known for his educational material that makes it a breeze to become a Ham.

Ham Nation #16’s main topic is ARISSat-1. Please take a look or listen to find out more about this little Sat that could from this week’s special guest Steve Bible, N7HPR. Enjoy!


TWiT Show Page