Thursday, 31 July 2014

Russian TV...6m's Little Helpers

London's Crystal Palace TV Tower
Further to my recent blog regarding the rare West Coast to Europe 6m summertime events, the biggest challenge has always been trying to predict when propagation might be building in that direction. Before most European TV transmissions switched from analog to digital mode several years ago, the best 50MHz propagation indicators were the vast numbers of high-power low-band video transmitters blanketing the Continent.
Parked conveniently close to 6m, the 49MHz multi-kilowatt transmitters combined with large high antennas to pump lots of ERP over the pole. Surprisingly, there are yet a few holdouts of the analog era that are still available as propagation indicators, with most of them being located in western Russia and the middle-east. Far eastern Russia also has a number of the analog relics in Siberia and in the Vladivostok / Kamchatka regions, all of which which make great indicators for possible openings to Japan, China and Taiwan. During good openings to Japan, it is not unusual to hear several different signals all on the same frequency but with different fade rates and tone / sync characteristics. During the past few strong solar cycle peak years, spurs from these Russian  transmitters could often be heard at S9 levels well into the 6m band!




Although there are numerous others, from my own experience the best frequencies to monitor for both European and Asian transmitters have been:

  • 49.750
  • 49.757.8
  • 49.760.4

During Sunday's VE6-Europe 6m opening, several of these signals were heard even though no Europeans were worked from the west coast. Video carriers on 49.750, 49.760 and 49.757 were heard for over an hour, peaking around 1800Z.


The two unique characteristics of these video markers has always been their rapid fade rate and their somewhat raspy video-sync pulses....both can be heard in this short video that I captured during Sunday morning's activity. The stronger 49.757 signal can be heard as well as the weaker 49.750 carrier, while the 49.760 signal has taken a deep fade. I suspect that the louder signal is coming from the Novosokolniki transmitter north of Moscow while the weaker ones may be further to the south. These locations are simply 'best guesses'.

This recording of eastern Russian video carriers, made by JM1SZY, provides a good idea of how these signals sound when they're much stronger. Note also, the number of different frequencies that the different transmitters are using.



It is very difficult to know exactly where the actual transmissions are coming from as there are dozens of transmitters assigned to the same frequency. Most signals do vary from their assigned frequency by measurable amounts and some avid DXers have tried to identify individual sites by accurate frequency measurements.

Since the digital switchover, interest in keeping track of the remaining signal data seems to be falling off and most frequency and location lists are now several years out of date. The most up-to-date lists can be found here on the GØCHE Website and on JB's DX Info site in Germany.


If you're anywhere east of the Great Lakes then you'll hear the European videos a lot more often than they are heard out west but it still astounds me that several times each summer, I am able to hear TV signals from Europe over the North Pole!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

6m Polar Fun / VE6 To Europe



When you find hams heading for dark basement shacks in the middle of a glorious summer day, chances are they're 6m nuts like me. Sunday morning was a good example of why the magicband can become so very addictive.

For west coast fanatics, the 6m Holy Grail is working Europe. Such summertime opportunities via multi-hop sporadic-E (Es) are very rare and usually very short-lived, so the biggest challenge is just being in front of the radio for those few moments when things 'go polar'.

From here in VE7 land, our best propagation indicator for possible polar openings is the 12 watt VA5MG beacon on 50.034MHz, located in central Saskatchewan. It is rarely heard....but if and when, it often heralds the possibility for some memorable moments for some lucky left-coasters.

Such was the case this past Sunday morning...almost. My normal workbench 'background music', the quiet white-noise hiss of a programmed scan for northern beacons (50.015-50.050), suddenly filled with signals shortly before 0930 local time. The VE4SPT beacon in NE Manitoba and the VA5MG beacon were soon joined by VE8WD/b in Yellowknife, Northern Territories and VY1DX/b in Whitehorse, Yukon. Game on! ..... the north was alive with Es, signalling the all-important first-hop stepping stone to Europe was in place.

After alerting a few dinner-bound Europeans via the ON4KST 6m chat page, I began a prolonged period of over-the-pole CQ's on 50.086. About 30 minutes later, there were a few other west coasters doing the same, along with VE6TA near Edmonton, who was hearing the 15 watt VYØYHK beacon on King William Island in the Canadian Arctic.

VY0YHK Courtesy: Google Maps



I continued to CQ for some time, but the most I could muster were three separate callers at various times, all too weak to identify. I later learnt that I was heard by SM2A, who called with 50 watts, as well as DL6HL. It seemed that VE7 was just on the far edge of whatever might be happening. For VE6TA however, the magic was much more powerful.

Having only worked two Europeans in several years on the band, Grant bagged six Europeans over the next 30 minutes, hearing ''tnx first VE6" from a few very alert Europeans..... PA5JS, ON7GB, PA7MM, LX1JX, DL1QW, DH6JL and SM2A. Randy, VA6EME, further north in Cold Lake, Alberta heard and worked one European, ON7GB, as did  Joel, VE6WQ in Edmonton. As is so often the case, on-the-ground signal footprints are usually very small and stations just a few miles apart can have a completely different experience.

The N3TUQ 6m DX Map starkly illustrates this exciting event, showing Grant in the right spot at the right time, for a very rare mid-summer event. In his own words, "My best day ever on 6m".......



...and this is why grown men will sit in dark basements on glorious summer mornings.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Noise Whisperer




This past Friday, I had a very pleasant visit from Roy Charlesworth from B.C. Hydro. Roy is the Hydro's noise mitigation man for naughty power lines and made his way to Mayne Island on the morning ferry from the mainland.

For the past several years, I have been plagued with severe power line noise to my northwest, virtually killing my opportunity to take part in most 6m openings to Asia. The one or two small rain showers that we might get here in the Gulf Islands during the sporadic-E season, will often wash away enough of the power line crud to quieten things down for a few hours but as soon as the sun is back and the day heats-up, the noise always returns. For the same reason, the lines don't seem to get noisy until around 10 a.m., giving me some early-morning opportunity to listen to a dead-quiet band.

Earlier this spring, I contacted Roy and was added to his list of places to visit. He assured me that he would be over to check out my situation sometime during the summer. Roy is now officially 'retired' from Hydro and was doing similar noise mitigation work at that time. Once retired, Hydro found that his unique skills were still very much in demand and have rehired him on a 'work when you want' contract basis, allowing Hydro to still chip away at the list of complaints.

I recall, not too may years ago, when any complaints to B.C. Hydro about power line noise where just  ignored and the only way they would act was if ordered to do so by Industry Canada. With the confusing  bureaucratic channels involved, most amateurs just gave up and lived with the noise. Fast track to modern times, where all responsibility for noise mitigation has been placed in Hydro's hands and they are bound by IC mandate to deal with customer noise complaints.

It was apparent when first meeting Roy that he was very familiar with amateur radio 'noise problems' and very knowledgeable about their causes. After demonstrating the noise being heard on 6m on my own receiver, he then deployed a rather unique piece of test gear, a Radar Engineers Model 240 RFI Locator receiver. The 240 tunes from 1.8-1000MHz and is capable of displaying and saving the spectral display of the offending noise signal.



According to Roy, there are many possible causes of power line noise (cracked insulators, poor grounding, loose clamps... etc) and each one has a unique spectral signature.


Being able to see the signature and compare it to the actual suspected source goes a long way in helping to find and cure the problem. Before departing to search the local area, Roy's final check was to check my own house for any possible noise. A quick sweep of the electrical service panel using yet another receiver indicated all was well.

Roy also mentioned that he prefers working with hams since, compared with non-ham noise complainants, they seem very knowledgeable about noise in general and often have narrowed down the source for him...even providing the number of the offending power pole. I had also provided Roy with the numbers of two different poles. I was pretty sure about my number-one candidate pole but not so sure about number-two. Using the sharper pattern of my 9 element 2m Yagi, I was able to get a very good bearing on the noise source.

After being gone for most of the afternoon, Roy returned to explain what he had found. To my delight, he had found three noisy poles within my local neighbourhood, but to my surprise, none were the poles I had suspected! All three however, were on the same bearing as my prime candidate pole, but much further away than I had thought. He also confirmed what I had told him earlier, that all other directions were very quiet. He explained that he would file his findings with Hydro who would create a work order for eventual physical inspection and (hopefully) resolution of the problem. He would also contact me again once that had been done, to see if the noisy poles had been fixed.

I think we are most fortunate, here in B.C., to have a dedicated one-man power line noise mitigation man, in the person of Roy Charlesworth. He is clearly passionate about his task and understands just how devastating power line noise can be for radio amateurs. Unlike many regions in the U.S. where utility companies can stonewall amateurs for years and years, we presently have a very efficient recourse when power lines behave badly.

I sure hope Roy doesn't retire for 'real' anytime soon as I'm not sure he would be easily replaced!

To learn more about power line noise see:



Friday, 25 July 2014

More SMT Talk


Hakko FX-888D Soldering Station
My recent blog regarding my growing yen to do some scratch-building with SMT parts along with the hope of being talked out of the idea, has garnered an encouraging and very informative response from Jack, VA7JX. Jack runs the local 630m screen grabber from Campbell River, BC on Vancouver Island. 

Jack was a NASA level B instructor for 26 years with Bristol Aerospace in Winnipeg, Manitoba. During that time he was instructing on an 'as required basis' but mainly working as an instructor and designer for the SCISAT-1 satellite. Worked involved all electrical systems, harnessing, manufacturing, designing of PC boards and all NASA hand-soldering and SMT soldering processes. That also included writing all the documentation for all the NASA processes used for the manufacturing and testing of the satellite electrical systems.

Although my first and only SMT experience several years ago resulted in the successful completion of a simple 40m transceiver, I found the process tedious and less than enjoyable. Jack suggested that my laborious technique was not the way to do it and was probably to blame for my negativity towards future SMT work. He gave me a wealth of encouraging suggestions for a more 'enjoyable' outcome:


Yes I agree our old eyes are not the same, but a good 6" magnifier ~2.25X lens with light (preferably incandescent IMHO), this is what I use plus a loop if needed for closer-up inspection. An alternate is a binocular magnifier with ~ 2.25X or better, they are widely used by inspectors, jewellers or home hobbyists. 


This is what I think I'll invest in next. Without these you haven't a hope or chance of doing the job as well, it is next to impossible. Sorry, not going to talk you out of building with SMT parts, We've gone from tubes to transistors and now to SMT, time to make the change :-)
BTW, not sure what that instrument is that you have on the blog, looks something like a tool that may be used to hold down the chip while soldering. You don't need it.

Helpful hints if you so decide to go with SMT:

First purchase a good sharp pointed long ESD type plastic or metal tweezers.

 
Tack solder one side only, then go to the other side of the chip and solder it correctly, THEN go back to the 1st side and re-solder that side correctly, keep your dwell time to <3-4 seconds. Start with using a tooth pick and apply a small drop of solder paste on each side of the chips pads. If soldering a large 14-16 pin chip, tack solder one corner then the opposite corner first being careful to have the correct alignment/position. Now apply solder paste down the length of each side, don't worry if you apply paste between the pads as the heat will draw it away once you apply the tip. Slowly draw the long soldering iron tip down each pad starting from any corner, allow a few seconds to cool, then repeat for the opposite side. Fine solder will also work but it's slow and far more time consuming. 

Use liquid paste SN63/PB37 eutectic solder {no plastic state} for best application, use sparingly as it's too easy to get some under the chip which can easily cause a short cct.
Hope that helps you and convinces you to give it a try.

Personally, I prefer just 63/37 liquid paste in a syringe, far less cleaning up with IPA. Besides, using IPA means cleaning it 100% with a stiff bristle brush. Once the flux is exposed to IPA or rubbing alcohol, there is a chemical action that slowly takes place and it is quite corrosive if the area is not thoroughly washed. Besides, you can't afford to expose certain parts like pots that are not hermetically sealed, once the flux gets inside the pot is contaminated and becomes useless. It's OK to not clean your board, as long as you don't attempt to use any alcohol in a half-ass method. We used total immersion baths and not just one but three separate ones. Even then...I had to slowly pour pure distilled water over the board, capture it in a clean beaker then take it over to our chemical lab where they tested it for any flux residue. Those were required mainly for building all the satellite boards though. Most commercial manufacturers don't bother to clean their boards, a) one less manufacturing step, b) added cost and less chance of contamination. There are some no-clean solder pastes out there now, something to look into, see Digikey for examples. Don't worry about expiry date later down the road, mine expired in 2009! These paste manufacturers mainly deal with big companies that have a tight criteria to meet in order to comply with a wide range of standards imposed on them. Mine still works beautifully, I keep rotating it so the flux inside doesn't settle to just one side. Keeping it in a fridge can even extend the life, but don't worry about that, besides the xyl may not like the idea.

 

Yes, there have been many attempts back in the mid 70-80s to come up with a simple solution for a simple problem of having a third hand to hold the part in place while you hold the soldering iron with the other hand. NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and IPC have never used anything like that since the very beginning. Although most hams probably wouldn't want to go to the trouble of learning NASA standards as it's a bit overkill, but it's far better than what some are portraying on the web as the right way to do it. 

I'm not sure where that antiquated technique of using a large tool to hold down chips ever came from, but I'm guessing from hobbyists who meant well as they were not trained to know any other way. What hobbyists use for small work production are vacuum tools or what is referred to as "pick and place" machines or even simple ESD approved tweezers just to bring the part to the board. With solder paste already in place, the part is allowed to be placed onto its pads on top of the paste. The part is held with tweezers whilst the iron tip tacks one side for a couple of seconds then the tweezers can be removed, then the other side is heated. There is absolutely no need for a third hand. I see a lot of guys use regular small solder to do the soldering of SMT parts. Yes it can be used but it's awkward if you don't know what you are doing. Liquid rosin flux can also be used, a small bottle with a fine needle type end can be used to apply the rosin, followed by a small drop of solder on the end of the iron.
As I was saying before, if the part is an IC, then a couple of corners can be tacked soldered in place after careful alignment, then paste is run down both sides even between the pads. You don't see this process done too often as it's mainly for small manufacturing or where repair work is required. Now reflow ovens are used, even toaster ovens work quite well by hams. You just have to know the right temperature, paste and have the right dwell time in the oven. Yes tombstoning can occur on the odd chip, that is caused by the lack of uneven temperature control inside these small ovens. One side heats up faster than the other, so the part suddenly rises up on its end and stays there even after removal from the toaster oven. There is a wealth of good information out there on the web.


There are tons of YouTube videos out there that actually show the wrong process of soldering these small parts, but you can't blame them, they were not trained to know any better, but it gets them by as far as they are concerned. I've written many soldering processes on the correct methods on soldering SMT and regular through-hole parts over the years. I still have copies of all these documents which I could send you but they are huge documents.

There is a wealth of good information out there on the web like this one HERE ....does this look easy or what. Forget about trying to solder one pin at a time, that's old school method. Some videos are really crappy so you have to be careful what you select.
Sorry for being so long winded but I hate to see anyone frustrated not knowing how to do it or whether to go that route. Believe me, SMT soldering can be a hell of a lot of fun and one can get a lot of satisfaction and pride when you learn the right way, it's not as hard as it looks.

Many thanks Jack...your encouraging response has definitely given me new hope to tackle some future SMT work!!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Wellbrook Loop Plans

My present 9.5' active loop

During last winter's DX season I built and played with a number of different preamps for use with my (almost) 10' diameter shielded loop. I had been hoping to get the Burhans Preamp to play-nice above 500KHz so that I might use it for DXing the broadcast band with my new Perseus SDR radio. By bypassing the preamp's LPF, the level of BCB signal delivered by the 10' loop was just too much for the preamp's JFET front end to handle with the consequence being various strong intermod products showing up at several places inside the band. Several different toroidal input transformers produced varied results but none were satisfactory. Although I didn't try it, a smaller aperture loop might do just fine with the LPF removed and even better if there were no blowtorch BCB signals in the vicinity. My particular location, on the east coast of Mayne Island, looks directly across Georgia Strait to several 50KW BCB transmitter sites near the points of nearest landfall. Luckily, this direction is usually in the loop's null when pointing in my favorite target direction of SE/NW for the central U.S. Even so, it would be nice to not have to worry about loop orientation in order to guarantee intermod-free performance.

I did have much better success on the BCB using a version of the PA0RDT active antenna preamp, modified with transformer input to match the shielded loop's low impedance to the JFET amplifier input.

Courtesy: Aldo Moroni

Gain of the system was adjusted by swamping the transformer's output with various levels of 'R' until there were no signs of intermod products with the loop pointing away from the Vancouver blowtorch signals. The end result was a preamp that had good performance throughout the BCB, even with the big loop, as this recording of French language station, CJBC (860KHz) in Toronto(identifying as 'Radio Canada') demonstrates.



....but unless the loop was oriented in my favored SE/NW direction for most North American targets of interest, there were still a few frequencies that produced some very low-level intermod products. Again, had the loop been just slightly smaller, I think this preamp would do a great job as a wideband loop amplifier for the BCB and above. Although still usable down at 540KHz, performance dropped off rapidly as I went lower in frequency and was not considered usable for the LF NDB band. Perhaps more inductance in the input transformer as well as higher value coupling capacitors would improve LF performance. There is still room for further development of this circuit for LF use with a medium-sized shielded loop.

I recently ordered and received a Wellbrook ALA-100LN loop preamp, which I am anxious to install for the upcoming DX season. With its front-end of 8 JFETS in push-pull parallel, the Wellbrook boasts extremely good strong-signal handling capability within the BCB and below.


Please visit: http://www.wellbrook.uk.com/

My present plans call for a new and lighter loop frame, this time using PVC tubing in some sort of H-frame. I will aim to make the loop as large as possible while keeping within the Wellbrook's circumference limit of about 21m. Mid-summer doodling has produced one possible front-runner but no final decisions have been made.


10' x 20' LF / BCB Loop

I always savour the design and 'what-if' phase of any new project and the new loop is no exception. Any other ideas for possible frame configurations would be most appreciated.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

SMD Kits


I've been intrigued for some months now by the proliferation of SMD parts kits widely available from Asian manufacturers being sold on E-Bay. Resistor, capacitor and inductor kits, containing significant numbers of standard-value parts and in various sizes are being offered at attractive prices. With many sellers throwing in free-shipping, I find myself being tempted more and more to press the "Buy Now" key and fear that I will not be able to hold out much longer.

I have had limited experience with SMD parts, when building a small 40m QRP transceiver several years ago called the SMK-1. As I recall, it had 72 SMD parts....the bigger ones, 1206 size. I recall finding the assembly and soldering of these SMD parts to be somewhat tedious and less than enjoyable. I usually only soldered a half dozen parts at one sitting. After a few weeks of periodic assembly, I was delighted to see the circuit come to life once power was applied as I was definitely not looking forward to trouble shooting the board! Perhaps my technique of fluxing and the method of holding the component in place with a homebrew 'third-hand' device was not ideal or maybe my soldering iron was not properly sized for the job but I do have a desire to try it again.



A 630m transverter, now planned out, would really lend itself nicely to SMD construction but realistically, the only size I would consider is 1206 at the smallest.


Courtesy: www.emeraldinsight.com


 Why I am really contemplating the purchase of more SMD parts is somewhat vexing to me....perhaps it is simply my 'concrete-sequential' thinking style making me lust after all of these tiny parts, with all of them so neatly organized in their holders, begging to be brought to life by my own hands. Or maybe I just want to prove that my 66-year-old eyes and hands are still capable of working with these things.

Someone talk me out of this before it's too late.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Tuning 'Ten'

 
Courtesy: VK6YSF
I've always considered 10m to be the 'other magicband'. When it's good in the fall / winter DX season, it is incredible, but during the summer months can often sound so very different. When I first became interested in shortwave radio as a pre-teen, back in the late stages of monster Cycle 19, I recall listening to 10m signals from before dawn to after midnight on most winter days. Considering the poor receiver I was using, a Hallicrafters R-510A, it was amazing that I could hear anything at all with it on 28MHz. Having no RF stage, it was likely as deaf as a post...
 
 


....yet, S9 + AM signals bombarded the band, from one end to the other (all 1/4" of it) late into the night, demonstrating just how good the propagation really was. Heterodynes battled for domination everywhere as if the nearly 2MHz wide band was not fat enough to accommodate all of the frenzied action.

Even today, in the heat of a mid-summer morning, 'ten' continues to amaze me, but in different ways. Tuning across the band earlier this week yielded a bounty of beacons, all diligently doing as instructed and proclaiming 'ten' still open for business.

OA4BB
W6XV (CA)
VE4TEN
LU8XW
PY2WFG
PT2SSB
N4PAL (FL)
K6FRC/B4 (CA)
K5GJR (TX)
KC5MO (TX)
AL7FS (AK)
WA6APQ (CA)
K8NDB (AZ)
K6FRC/B2 (CA)
PT9BCN
W3HH (FL)
PY4MAB
AC4DJ (FL)
XE2WK
K5AB (TX)
WA4ROX (FL)
K5TLL (MS)
K6FRC/B (CA)

I've always wondered if these mid-summer signals are all sporadic-E, multi-hop Es or a mixture of Es and F2. My propagation-gut feeling supports the latter mode since so many of the South American signals are strong and with little QSB. I think in all likelihood, the SA beacons are arriving via an F2 link into an Es link back to VE7, but the absence of any first-hop Es signal between here and Florida makes me wonder if that is really the case. If this is all F2, save for the Californian, Alaskan and Manitoban signals, it is really astounding considering the time of year.

No matter what the season, tuning 10m is always a delight and a reminder of my initial fascination with the magic of radio and just how truly amazing the band can be when at its best. Hopefully, it looks as though we may enjoy at least one more good winter out of this cycle on my 'other magicband'.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Capricious Cycle 24


July 6th - Courtesy: nasa.gov
Sun Today - Courtesy: nasa.gov


 


















What a difference a week can make, even on something the size of the sun! Boasting an SFI of just over 200 on July 6th, today's numbers have fallen to 109 along with the disappearance of most sunspot activity.

It's really too bad that this last surge of activity did not occur in November or December when we would have seen a marked increase in HF F2 conditions, along with a tiny hope of some 6m intercontinental propagation. Normally, here on the west coast, we have at least one or two 6m openings to Europe each summer, lasting from a few minutes to several hours. So far this summer, this transpolar path has been missing and I suspect largely because of the high level of solar activity. The long haul transoceanic openings that we have had (to Japan and to Africa) did not have to traverse the signal-absorbing polar auroral zone as would normally be the case. Whether these transpolar openings in the summer are true Es or something different is a topic for deeper discussion!


Courtesy: http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/SolarCycle/


I'm hoping, and somehow suspect, that this isn't the last hurrah for what has generally been a most unusual solar cycle.
 


Monday, 14 July 2014

VE7 630m CW Beacons Report


Saturday night's CW beaconing by myself and VE7BDQ on 630m CW produced a number of interesting heard reports from various directions. It seems as though most receiving stations were bothered by the high level of thunderstorm QRN, very common at this time of the year and usually the limiting factor in reception. The Vaisala lightning map indicated various pockets of lighting in the PNW and a solid wall further to the east. Being located near any of these cells would make it difficult to hear anything at all and all but impossible nearer the wall.




Courtesy: vaisala.com

Nevertheless, reception reports, often of both beacons, were received from Washington, Oregon, Utah, British Columbia, Alberta and as far east as Saskatoon, SK. It seemed like stronger signals were reported from the east rather than from the south or south-east which is more often the case. I suspect that the lower level of lightning in this direction, rather than enhanced E-W propagation, was the main reason for the nice 'over the Rockies' reception.

Thanks to the following enthusiasts who were kind enough to listen and to report on Saturday night's activities, hopefully I haven't missed anyone:

KK7UV (Steve) MT *
W7SWL (Bob) AZ *
VE6TA (Grant) Alberta
AA7U (Steve) OR
VA5LF (Sean) Saskatchewan
VA7JX (Jack) British Columbia
WY3B (Mike) HI *
W7WKR (Dick) WA
K7WV (Tom) WA
KU7Z (Mark) UT
W7OIL (Dan) WA
G0NSL (Brian) UK *
Colin Newell, British Columbia
 
* stations reporting no reception

It appears that even under fairly severe conditions (mid-summer QRN), small backyard antenna systems and 100W can propagate well enough for CW contacts on the 630m band. The band is certainly much more prop-friendly than 2200m and quiet winter conditions will be even better. In the meantime I hope to make some crossband contacts with anyone that might like to try that mode.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

"Night of Nights" + VE7 CW Beacons - tonight




As many of you are aware, tonight from 0001Z-0700Z (1701- midnight PDT) is the annual 'Night of Nights' reactivation of many maritime CW MF stations operating near the 630m band. With Canadian amateurs recently getting 472-479KHz operating privileges, VE7BDQ and myself will both be operating CW beacons during the event.

VE7BDQ will transmit on 474.00 KHz while VE7SL will be on 473.00KHz. Both stations will be at the 100W power level.

Reception reports of either station would be gratefully received and confirmed by QSL if requested. Hopefully the usual noisy summer conditions will not detere listener activity.

I have more information on the 'Night of Nights' activity posted in an earlier blog if you are not aware of the event.

Friday, 11 July 2014

500KHz Lives Again - 2014 Night of Nights


Courtesy: Maritime Radio Historical Society

This year's annual Maritime Radio Historical Society's event, to mark the anniversary of the end of maritime CW in 1999, will take place Sunday, July 13, from 0001Z until 0700Z (Saturday, July 12, from 1701 until midnight PDT). This year's event may be historic in itself in that it will likely be the final year for any of the U.S. Coast Guard stations to ever be heard again on CW, as the equipment and wiring for this mode is now being dismantled.


Courtesy: Maritime Radio Historical Society

Commercial CW land station transmitters from WLO (Mobile, AL), KLB (Seattle, WA), KFS (San Francisco, CA), KPH (Bolinas, CA) and KSM (Pt. Reyes, CA) should be active near 500KHz as well as on HF.

 (late update: due to operator illness, KLB will not be participating)

USCG stations NMC (Bolinas/Pt. Reyes), NMQ (Cambria /Pt. Reyes) and NMW (Astoria / Pt. Reyes) will also be transmitting below 500KHz as well as on HF. QSL's confirming reception of CG stations as well as for K6KPH and KSM will be available following the event.

K6KPH, the MRHS's amateur radio station located at the Pt. Reyes, CA site, will also be active on the HF bands during the event.

For a nice historical 'look back', the MRHS has some great stories associated with HF and MF maritime operations. Further details of the event detailing times and exact frequencies are available from MRHS newsletter #45.

Lastly, if you never had the opportunity to listen to '500' back in its heyday then you will surely enjoy this recording made by K2NP in March,1966 and presented with thanks to N1EA. Listening to this 500KHz action reminds me of 20m CW during the annual DX contest! What land stations can you identify in the pileups? Hopefully, when all North American amateurs gain access to the band, it will sound like this once again.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

6m Polar Madness

In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, July 09, KL7KY (Kevin) had a massive over-the-pole European opening beginning about 1000Z. He worked at least six stations in Greece and a number of others in western Europe. One wonders how often this 'middle-of-the-night' path might actually be open as most west coast ops are sound asleep at this hour.

Looking at the path on DX Atlas shows an almost all-daylight path from VE7 to Europe, but for the first short hop out of the summer twilight.

VE7 - EU at 1100Z
Hoping to cash-in on any lingering Es, I ventured out to the shack last night at 1030Z (0330 local) to have a listen over-the-pole...knowing that the first hop into the daylight regions would be needed. Much to my surprise, this is what I first heard when turning the antenna north.


I was soon joined by John, VE7DAY, and we both began to CQ towards the sunlight after alerting several of the European operators via the ON4KST chat page. No 49MHz eastern Europe video signals were heard at all but this is often not a deal breaker. One beacon that always seems to be present when hearing Europe, the VA5MG/b in central Saskatchewan, was not heard either. After 90 minutes of no other indicators I headed back to bed.

In view of the high levels of summer Es in the sunlight-bathed Arctic / northern Canada regions, this crazy night time path might be worth exploring more closely during the last week of June and the first week of July. In view of the ungodly hour however, I fear that it may be some time before 6m reveals more of her secrets.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Wireless Headphone Hell

For the past several years I have been aware of a very loud wideband FM signal just below the 6m band....about 49.8 MHz. Any time I listened to it, it seemed to be rebroadcasting TV audio so I assumed that it was a set of wireless headphones somewhere in the neighbourhood. I was thankful that it did not cause any problems to my 6m reception, being far enough down the band.
About two weeks ago, during my normal early-morning band check, I noticed that the FM signal had suddenly shifted much higher and was now approaching the bottom edge of 6m. As the day got longer and the temperature climbed, so did the FM signal! Soon it was inside the band, but right at the bottom end. Within two days, its morning 'start' frequency climbed higher and higher and eventually the signal lodged itself smack dab into the working portion of the band, centering itself at around 50.090, depending on the temperature. Being such a wideband signal, it effectively wiped-out 6m operation for me when its wide raspy carrier was modulated....which was most of the time. Thankfully it would usually be just below the beacon portion of the band until the morning 'European window' time had past.

Two days ago I decided that it was not drifting any higher and had happily entrenched itself on 50.090. It needed to be eliminated.


I constructed a 6m dipole (106") from some scrap aluminum tubing and dug out my Icom IC-R20 handheld scanner.

The next day I set about walking around the neighbourhood, taking bearings at various locations, as the signal was easily heard with the dipole. I had earlier determined the rough direction of the signal using my main 6m antenna, a 4 element homebrew Yagi at 55'.

Courtesy: Google Maps
It didn't take long to triangulate the suspected residence as the dipole kept pointing to one particular house as I walked past it. Luckily it was someone I knew and it seemed that they did indeed have a wireless headset that had been plugged-in for several years but never used! They were more than happy to remove it as we both expressed how surprised we were to see how far the signal was radiating. The home in question is about a quarter-mile away.

The band is wonderfully peaceful once again (except when the power lines start arcing at about noon) and within minutes of the headphone system shut down I was able to work a loud BV2DQ in Taiwan and several JA's, shortly before dinner time.

These amazing early July conditions continue on the magicband.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Great 6m Es Conditions Continue!

6m July 08 Courtesy: ON4KST.org

50MHz continues to demonstrate its preference of early July to reveal its magical powers. Here in VE7 land, the band has been open continuously to some region for more than 48 hours. Yesterday's repeat west coast sporadic-E opening to EA7, EA8 and CT1 was capped with a multi-hour opening to Asia.

Six meter operators in the western part of the continent exchanged signals with Japan, Taiwan, China and South Korea beginning at around sunset on the west coast and continuing until 0230 the next morning! Many stations on both ends of the path filled their logs during the heyday event.

To add to the fun, BV2DQ (Ran) in Taiwan, was also active and gave several 6m ops a new country, working as far east as Colorado.


BA4SI (Li), in mainland China also handed out contacts to two old hands on six, K7CW (Paul) and KE7V (Johnny) who also happen to be brothers.

BA4SI 6m stacked Yagis
 
Paul also worked two stations in South Korea along with his 310 JA QSO's, beating out his brother's 300 contacts with Japan. KE7V reported working over 100 JA's on phone during the amazing conditions.  W7FI (Jim), in Seattle, also did well, with his comment from the ON4KST 50MHz chat page summing up the event

" W7FI Jim - That blows away my 113 JA last night, pile still calling when I qrt'd at 0800z. "

I was also present for the action, but worked only a few dozen of the strongest signals as I have been plagued with exceptionally high power line noise this summer, directly in line with Asia. Additionally, a new source of QRM has cropped-up in the form of an S9+ 49MHz wireless headset that has drifted up into the band. As the days get warmer, it has now drifted from below 50MHz up into the working part of the band and last night had settled itself smack on 50.090. Being a wide band FM signal, it effectively destroys any reception for about 50KHz of the band. As Murphy would have it, the crud is coming from the exact same direction as my beam heading to Asia. Yesterday I was able to roughly determine its location with a handheld Icom scanner and today I will use a quickly-built 6m dipole to zero-in on the offending source. Hopefully I can eliminate the problem soon.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

West Coast Day For 6m

Courtesy DXMAPS.COM
Six meters was open most of yesterday and was still open when I went to bed at around midnight. Many northerly beacons were starting to show up and there were high hopes for the morning.

At 0700 I began to hear bits and pieces of CN8KD in Morocco while he was working 4's and 5's ...every once in a while his CQ's would briefly rise out of the noise but never long enough or loud enough for me to reply. He eventually faded and the band shifted to a more northerly path and at around 0900 local time, EA8DBM (Canary Islands, AF) showed up on SSB, while working into the SE U.S.A. He was much louder further to the south but at 1632z I was able to work him on phone and a few minutes later on CW, down the band. In over 40 years of being on 6m, this was only my second African QSO, with my other one also being into EA8.

The best part of the opening today was the number of west coast stations that were able to put rare Africa into the log....and, for a number of them, it was the completion of WAC on 50MHz....very tough from the left coast. VE7DAY, K7SS and NA6XX will all be celebrating today!

As I post this at 2130z, the KL7's are cashing-in on the magic while working across the U.S. as far south as Florida! I've always thought the first week of July to be the best of the season for 6m...lets hope it keeps going.

Third Peak For Cycle 24 ?

July 06, 2014 Courtesy: nasa.gov

When looking at today's solar image, it's difficult to believe that Cycle 24 is the weakest cycle in the past 100 years. It's also hard to believe that it is on the way down. With the solar flux numbers hovering around the 200 mark, one wonders how great conditions might be had this been happening in mid-November rather than in mid-summer. In spite of the month, propagation over the pole from VE7 land continues to be excellent on the higher HF bands.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Vintage Radio Reading

 
I really love old radio magazines, especially those from the 30's, but to purchase any original copies today is very costly. If you grew up in the 50's or earlier and became hooked by the magic of radio as I and thousands of other kids did, then you no doubt recall the plethora of great monthly magazines devoted to 'radio'. 

Now, thanks to AmericanRadioHistory.com, most of those great old hobby magazines of the past can be viewed online and enjoyed once again.
Just a few of the many magazines available are: Radio Craft, Short Wave Radio, Radio, Radio World, White's Radio Log, Popular Radio, Popular Electronics and Radio Amateur News, later to become Radio News.

As a pre-teen short-wave listener in the late 50's, I couldn't wait to get my hands on the latest edition of Popular Electronics, stuffed with its latest SW broadcast news, frequency lists and DX stories.

I'm not sure if all of this is the organizational work of just one person (Webmaster David Gleason) or of a larger group, but it is an incredibly rich resource that has been made freely available for everyone to enjoy.





Thanks to David Gleason's work, I always have several of my favorite classics downloaded to my I-Pad's bookshelf for offline reading. With hundreds of recent updates this spring, there appears to be a lifetime of vintage reading now available!




As a builder of vintage-style radios, particularly transmitters, I can often find new inspiration from the magazines particularly devoted to ham radio. If your workshop library is lacking in vintage reference material, you need look no further than this site for a vast source of building inspiration....transmitters of all description along with receivers from crystal tuners to complex multi-tube designs.



So many of these early publications were the brainchild of Hugo Gernsback, a prolific writer and editor of both technical and science fiction magazines but sometimes blurring the boundaries of each! I suspect that his wide variety of radio publications had some significant role in the way radio so quickly transformed the world.
Even in the 50's, long after the 'golden years' of radio, it was not uncommon to still see radio antennas on most houses, at least in my neighbourhood!







If you haven't visited this wonderful resource yet, I'm sure you will be amazed at what you find.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Cycle 24 Still Crackling

The Sun Today / July 03  Courtesy: nasa.gov
As poor as our latest solar cycle has been, there still seems to be plenty of life left. Now pegged as the weakest cycle in the past 100 years, edging out Cycle 14 of 1906.  This cycle, like its predecessors, has had a double peak....but, unlike the others, the second peak was stronger than the first. Initially predicted to peak with a SSN (smoothed sunspot number) of 70, this number was surpassed in October 2013, when the SSN reached 75.


Cycle 24 Prediction (courtesy: nasa.gov)

The present rotation has brought a number of active sunspot groups into view along with several small solar flares. The elevated solar flux has had an immediate effect on propagation, producing excellent F2 conditions on the higher bands. Today's solar flux is pushing 170 and on the rise! It makes one wonder what other strange tricks Cycle 24 might have up her sleeve for us yet?

Active flaring during the summer 50MHz sporadic-e season can often produce some odd long-haul paths along with the possibility of some transcontinental auroral-e propagation....so hold on, as it looks like the ride is not yet over!

1937 Marconi Restoration



The past few days have been spent refurbishing my next door neighbour's 1937 floor model Marconi radio...Model 82. All of the capacitors were replaced except for the micas, which seemed to still be in spec. Several resistors were also replaced as they had drifted far out of spec on the high side. Four tubes were replaced as well, after measuring low emission on my  Eico 667 tube tester. Additionally, several wires whose rubber jackets had cracked and disintegrated, were replaced. A new three- prong power cord was installed, along with a fuse holder on the back of the chassis.


The radio also had two small fixed bias cells....small 1.25V cells for supplying grid bias voltage to the AVC/IF stages.



Both cells had long ago dried so I tried to rejuvenate them  by following a procedure found on the web. The zinc casing was carefully pried up to remove the carbon covering disc and a few drops of distilled water were added to the dried-up crystals inside before re-sealing the case. The initial cell voltage of .11 VDC rose to 1.2 VDC after the procedure but I wasn't confident that the new 'seal' would keep air from drying the electrolyte out.

I decided to use small camera batteries (1.5VDC) in place of the original cells since they were very close to the same size. With heat shrink tubing surrounding the edges and bottom lip, they readily installed on top of the original holder and clamped solidly in place.




A small brass spacer was inserted into the cell holder to make contact with the bottom of the new cell.




I was pleased to hear how well the radio performed after all of the changes. I have attempted to record a short video (for the first time) using my I-Pad and then converting the video to mpeg format as well as trimming it slightly in newly-installed Windows Moviemaker freeware. Hopefully my videos will get better with practise!


Marconi Model 83 with 3' wire antenna


My neighbour will be pleased as the radio belonged to her grandfather and she remembers listening to it a lot as a child. She has been kind enough to let my hang my 100' three-wire LF flattop over the top of her house and property to a tree on the far side of her lot....now that's a good neighbour!



While on a roll I also cleaned and re- capped a mid 50's 'All American Five', Sylvania (model 515) that another neighbour had given me several years ago. It was so dirty and grimy when first received that it was hard to even tell what color it was. Two tubes were also replaced. It now resides on the kitchen counter and is sounding great, playing oldies only!


My restored Sylvania 515