Amateur Radio Station :: M0PLT
Welcome to my website. This site is dedicated to my Amateur Radio activities and how-to guides detailing the configuration of Linux operating systems and interfacing to the Yaesu FT-991(A). The information provided on this site is to the best of my knowledge and comes without guarantee or warranty.
You can navigate this site via the menu over on the left. Please enjoy my pages detailing how to connect and configure the Yaesu FT-991(A) to Linux; how to use fldigi with the FT-991(A) under CentOS 6/7; how to use Xastir and APRS with the TinyTrak4; and how to install, configure, and run WSJT-X.
How I got into radio
It was 1980-something, and a school-chum asked me if I wanted to buy a Harvard FM hand-held Citizens' Band radio for a tenner (£10). Without thinking, I said "Yes!". After filling it with a million 'AA' batteries, I started to listen-in to the local "breakers". Buried under the duvet (to avoid being heard by my parents) with the telescopic aerial sticking out, I eventually plucked up the courage to start talking. One of the locals sold me one of the infamous Amstrad 901 in-vehicle rigs. I bought myself a VSWR meter and a power-supply, and with some crude maths (no idea where I picked up the formula), some wire, a bit of acrylic, and some RG-58, I had a go at stringing a dipole across the loft. It worked fine ... unless the rest of the family tried to watch a video on the old Ferguson VCR. An early foray into the lack of EMC standards, the VCR had no rejection of a local 4 watt 27MHz signal. A picture of snow every time I keyed the transmitter did not endear me to the rest of the family! Choosing when to transmit to avoid complaints, a handle was needed to establish myself amongst all of the characters in the area. Perched under the TV stand was my Acorn Electron. I borrowed the name and became "The Electron".
In the early 90s, I found myself working for a small local company as a Test Technician. They manufactured test-kit for the then analogue mobile phone handsets, and many an hour was spent glowing at 900MHz! A work-colleague, Ian G4ASH, tried to turn me from the "dark side" of C.B. towards Amateur Radio, but the requirement for learning Morse put me, and I'm sure many others, off. I stuck with Citizens' Band and had constant laughs, with many Saturday nights spent playing the hide-and-seek game known as "Fox Hunting". A car, its driver (and hopefully female passengers), and the C.B., would go and hide somewhere. We would hide in garage blocks, railway sidings, used-car lots, and anywhere you could hide a car (or van) in the dark. This was the days before PIR sensor lights and CCTV! The trick for hunting was to use a really small aerial on the rear-right corner of your car. That made the signal highly directional towards the front-left. No-one could play without the infamous "pre-amp". With 25dB of gain, and 25dB of attenuation, it was a must to help track people's signal. With 25dB of attenuation and the RF gain turned down to zero, a full-signal meter meant you were on top of the "fox". As you drove past gaps in buildings, the signal meter (LEDs were the best) would jump from nothing to full-scale, then nothing again. A primitive form of RADAR. Sadly the illegal raves of the 90s put paid to the game as previously open areas became battle-grounds and landlords erected high gates and fences to keep the idiots out. The knock-on was also a loss of locals spending a Saturday night peering into every dark hole trying to find the "fox". The county police could never muster that level of resource with eyeballs and radio comms!
My Citizens' Band radio of choice in the 90s - the Jesan KT-7007. The memory channels and scan function were absolutely fantastic. Retro-fitted with a sound-squelch board, and tweaked up at work on the NAMAS traceable test-equipment, the radio could hit -123dBm for 12dB SINAD. I found the lamps and their green silicone covers a little boring, so they were replaced with blue LEDs, whilst the signal meter and status LEDs ended up blue and white. The above is a random image off the web - as I sadly neglected to take any images of my radios before I sold them.
In 2008, after installing a new Solarcon Imax2000 on a 5 metre pole on the side of my house (and copping to £190 for planning permission after 1 person complained!) I was seriously disappointed to find wall-to-wall interference - until you got near UK channel 40. The Comtrend PG902 had landed, and no thanks to the idiots at BT Vision, it was happily wiping out the entire High-Frequency radio spectrum. Looking for an answer to the pollution, I stumbled across UKQRM - a volunteer-led group of shortwave listeners and Radio Amateurs investigating the noise of Power Line Technology. I joined as their only CBer, and still continue today campaigning on the issues of radio-spectrum pollution.
During the many exchanges of email on the group, I got to know and respect Stewart G3RXQ. He encourage me to visit the Shefford and District Amateur Radio Society to meet-up and chat about all things radio and EMC. In a funny twist of fate, it turned out we share a birthday, so I have no excuse for forgetting his! The phrase "an older boy made me do it!" applies to what happened next. Learning of my background in electronics and C.B., Stewart encouraged me to gain my Amateur Radio licence. I must thank Martin Atherton G3ZAY, the Cambridge University Wireless Society, and Gonville and Caius College, for speeding me through the three levels of licence. Whilst working through the classes, I was M6PLT, 2E0PLT, and finally M0PLT. PLT being a reminder of the thing I campaign against!
After my nth-hand FT-757GX gave up the ghost, I started to look around for a suitable replacement. Many hours were spent agonising over what I wanted in a radio. It boiled down to wanting to cover as many bands as possible, with as many modes as possible. Once you tick those boxes, the choice of radio drops to two or three. As an Electronics Engineer with a love for colourful opto-electronics, I find a lot of the radios quite lacking in display style - not helped by the high-resolution display screens of mobile phones and tablets!. Granted, they are very capable radios, but many are let down by their 1970s style monochrome display. The FT-991 caught my eye! It ticked many boxes: HF (and 50MHz), VHF, UHF, AM, FM, and SSB; and computer control via a single USB port.
At the time of writing, I had been playing with a FT-991 for around 18 months, and I really enjoyed it. Mid-May 2017 saw a mail-order returned FT-991A listed on ebay with £150 knocked off the list price. It was not there for long before I purchased it! Of the FT-991 and FT-991A, there are plenty of functions I have yet to experiment with (built-in RTTY?), however, there are many more that I have, and I have detailed some helpful tips on this site so you can get the most out of your FT-991(A).
The need for a battery / generator
"On 5 December 2015, Storm Desmond caused unprecedented flooding in north Lancashire and Cumbria. In Lancaster, the main electricity sub-station was flooded, cutting electricity supply to 61,000 properties."
The Royal Academy of Engineering article on Lancaster city’s four-day power cut offers lessons for whole UK is a must-read for anyone with a passion for radio.
I recommend downloading and reading the PDF (link in the article). If you ever needed a reason to invest in a large capacity deep-cycle battery and/or a generator (and spare fuel), then the flooding and subsequent power-loss is suitable justification! I would also recommend you send the PDF to anyone who believes the Internet or their mobile phone will save them. Here is a clear definition of how fragile the Internet and the mobile telephone network really is!!
Slow Scan Television
The combination of the QSSTV application for Linux, the FT-991A, and a Comet GP-95N allowed me to receive Slow Scan Television images from the International Space Station broadcast from 28th December 2019 to the 1st January 2020 to commemorate Russian Cosmonauts: Alexei Leonov, Valery Bykovsky, and Sigmund Jähn. The software and radio were left running to catch ISS passes during the night. Here is a selection of the images received:
The award for taking part:
Amateur Radio - Planning Matters
Amateur Radio (and Citizens' Band radio) is under attack. QRM (radio frequency interference), a useless national radio regulator, expertise becoming SK, and a dis-interested youth asking "why don't you just use the Internet" does not bode well for the pinacle of all STEM hobbies. Add outdated restrictive planning laws to the mix, and it is small wonder people are turning away.
Have you ever installed a new experimental aerial only to find a neighbour has complained and you now have the local planning department pestering you? Consider yourself lucky if this has not happened to you. Planning regulations and the councils that enforce them are totally inflexible to the experimental nature of Amateur Radio. Design and build your own aerial, then install it on a pole to test it, and you will need planning permission. Once granted, your experimental aerial becomes a fixed-structure. Take that aerial down and replace it with another design, and you will again need planning permission; or you will have to return to the "original design".
John G1YDQ found that out to his cost. One complaint cost him £500 as his local council refused to acknowledge the 4-year rule. This screenshot is presented here with John's permission:
Keith G6NHU shares his experiences of planning on his blog. Comments from others also highlight the issues of different councils doing as they please.
Joint Statement by Gary Myers and Stuart Dixon
Parliamentary petition by Gary Myers M0PLT regarding taking amateur radio out of planning laws.
As the Parliamentary petition to change planning laws organised by Gary M0PLT draws to a close, we realise there is a valuable lesson to take on board about the way change happens in Amateur Radio, government, and local policy. The change this petition advocates is out of date with current policy but a minority of Radio Amateurs saw the need for change. The majority abstained and the petition is about to end. We think, in Britain, minorities matter. Every licensed Radio Amateur will want to experiment and it is up to all of us to celebrate that (which is our heritage) and make sure it can happen.
Petition by G4IYK regarding M0PAM and Nightmare Neighbours
This petition has reported most of the issues that lead to nightmare situations for licensed Radio Amateurs at http://www.strugl.org/. While strugl.org is not an Amateur Radio website, it deals with toxic (and therefore harmful) situations and change.
We both think going forward, the approach taken by the Armando Martins Campaign, a petition signed by forty three thousand people, is more likely to bring about the type of change required, provided Radio Amateurs get behind it. This is not just M0PAM’s fight. Please follow the link and donate.
Gary Myers, M0PLT and Stuart Dixon, G4IYK
Are you suffering from strange interference noises on your radio?
Page updated: 10th November 2020