Trials and tribulations of starting up a WSPR station (Part 1)

I recently joined into the WSPR throng and wanted to share my experiences in making it all work. This was a very challenging project to me, harder than it should have been. I have been a ham for almost 30 years, I am an Electrical Engineer and have been an electronics hobbiest for over 50 years. However, in my older years, the ADD has really set in and I don't comprehend all I read as well as I should so most of the problems are my own and might not affect you at all.

To begin with, I downloaded the WSPR V1.11 software for my PC, installed it and connected my Sony ICFW-7600G Shortwave receiver through its earphone output to the microphone input of my PC. Tuning to 10.1402MHz proved very difficult. The Sony only has 1 kHz tuning digitally and a BFO knob for fine tuning. There is a USB/LSB switch, but it doesn't really give you good USB/LSB selection. The BFO is the thing. I don't own a regular ham receiver so the Sony was it.

Initially, this didn't work at all. There were several problems, all which kept the system from working. First my frequency dial wasn't that accurate. Second, getting the audio level was difficult and finally, I had a very high noise level at my location. Let me take these in reverse order.

My equipment is rack mounted with 4 computers and a KVM switch in a rack, a monitor and 5th computer on top. My receiver is just a hand-held portable so it was not optimum for this installation. I initially had very high hash noise which I finally attributed to one of the power supplies on a notebook computer I was using in the rack. Turning it off really improved the signal. I still have problems with my LCD monitor, but it's not too bad.

The next problem was frequency. This is a real problem with these receivers. Once you find it, normally by trial and error, it is rock solid. It has run for 3 weeks without varying one hertz. I have always been impressed by this receiver within its limitations. Once I found the right freq, I "fiddled" with the level till I decoded some WSPR signals and it has been good.

Finally, the audio level was very critical. I varied it over a large range till I got it to work. Since the WSPR signal is buried in the noise, it is all but impossible to do it by ear. When V1.12 was released, all my problems went away in receive. I followed the suggestions of a user and made sure that the little audio level window in the lower left hand of the screen was always in the white. I can go from a noise level of 0dB to -10dB noise level indicated and get great copy.

I have logged thousands of hits in the last 3 weeks and will continue to do so. This is really fun for me. I don't really operate in the ham bands much so being able to combine my love of radio, computers and electronics has really been fun. I hope you will read my next blog on building a stand-alone WSPR transmitter.