Friday, 2 December 2016

Mailbox, Coffee And The 'Stew'

Recent mail has brought two nice surprises. As I am preparing for this weekend's ARRL 160m CW affair, a certificate from the ARRL arrived ... from last year's 160m CW Contest!

It seemed that I had somehow stumbled into top score from VE7 land for the single-op, low power division and since I haven't seen a QST in decades, this came as a complete surprise.

Over the years I've always tried to test the 160m waters at contest time just in case conditions are amazingly good ... which they haven't particularly been for the past few years of solar angst. Even piddly Cycle 24, for most of its lifespan, has proven powerful enough to mess up the Topband.

The 160 contest I enjoy the most is the December Stew Perry. It's the only one that's scored fairly and QSO points are determined by distance. Compared to working something close, any of the east coast grids from out west will get you a sack-load of points ... anything off continent earns you a boat-load. My strategy in the Stew has always been to 'search & pounce' the FN and FM grids for their high value point reward. If I had more late-night staying power in any of these affairs I could probably do a better job but I've found my fondness for the warm fleece-sheeted bed beckoning earlier each year. I'm sure it has nothing to do with getting older ... right?

I honestly don't know how some guys, much older than myself, can hang in there 'til dawn. Maybe it's coffee, which would certainly do it for me. If I even look at a coffee after the noon hour, I'm still counting sheep past midnight. A late night contest-coffee for me would guarantee no sleep until the following night unfortunately.

The second surprise was a nice QSL from Mark, WA9ETW in Wisconsin, confirming our recent crossband QSO ... 630m to 80m CW. Notice Mark's receiving antenna used on 630m, just a 100' wire about 15' off the ground! It doesn't take much to hear domestic signals on 630m so if you already have the WSPR software installed and are familiar with its operation, why not set your receiver to 474.200 in USB mode and see what you can hear. There are stations from coast to coast beaconing every night on this band. Be sure to set your software to upload your decodes to the WSPRnet site so that everyone, especially the beacon operators, can see who you are hearing.

If we worked in the recent 630m crossband event and you'd like a card, please let me know ... I'll be happy to put one in the mail for you.

How I do wish that the FCC would get on with it and legalize the 630m band in the U.S.A. Hopefully the turnovers in Washington will not translate into further delays as is often the case when big governmental changes are in the works. In the meantime, hopefully we can at least work each other in the ARRL CW 160 this weekend!

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

CLE 213 Results

As usual, the wonderful LF and MF conditions experienced during the week went into the dumper as the CLE weekend arrived.

Looking back, most of this can be blamed on our monthly (~28 days) repetitive schedule which nicely matches the rotation of the Sun. It seems that the same large coronal hole stream that whacked us during CLE 212, is the same one that showed up for CLE 213 right on schedule. Perhaps we need to shift our schedule by a week in case it wants to hang around for yet another rotation.

Conditions were not as bleak as I make them sound but they were a far cry from those enjoyed earlier in the week. The skip seemed fairly long on all three nights, but most signals were on the runty side, with only a few making strong appearances here on the left coast.

As shown below, conditions were quite 'flat' for the entire weekend and propagation did not vary much in quality other than favoring slightly different regions each night. Interestingly, 'YLH - 247' in Landsdowne House, Ontario, whose antenna was pictured on my last blog, was not heard at all on both Friday or Saturday but had a booming signal on Sunday night.

         Date 27 27 27 27 27 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 28 29
         UTC 0900 1200 1500 1800 2100 0000 0300 0600
         SFlx 81 81 81 81 83 83 83 83 83 83 83 83 85 85
         A-in 12 12 12 12 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 10 7 8
         K-in 3 3 2 1 2 2 2 2 2 1 2 3 2 3

My usual procedure with the Perseus SDR is to record the CLE segments of the band for two minutes, every hour and every half-hour, from shortly after sunset to local sunrise. It then requires several hours of carefully going through the recordings to see what CLE signals were recorded ... sometimes spending up to an hour on one frequency only, sorting out what was coming through.

I have also found that the classic blue-screen waterfall does not yield the best contrast for finding weak signals ... the 'photo-negative' screen shown above is far superior, with signals in black appearing on a white background.

26 02:00 240.0 BVS Burlington, WA, USA
26 03:00 241.0 YGT Igloolik, NU, CAN
27 03:00 242.0 ZT Port Hardy, BC, CAN
26 03:00 242.0 XC Cranbrook, BC, CAN
27 08:00 242.0 MMI Athens, TN, USA
26 07:30 242.0 EL El Paso, TX, USA
27 06:30 244.0 TH Thompson, MB, CAN
27 06:30 245.0 YZE Gore Bay, ON, CAN
28 15:00 245.0 HNS Haines, ALS
27 06:30 245.0 CRR Circle, MT, USA
27 06:00 245.0 CB Cambridge Bay, NU, CAN
27 09:30 245.0 AVQ Marana, AZ, USA
27 04:00 246.0 ZXJ Fort St. John, BC, CAN
27 09:00 247.0 YLH Lansdowne House, ON, CAN
27 08:00 248.0 ZZP Queen Charlotte Is, BC, CAN
27 08:00 248.0 QL Lethbridge, AB, CAN
27 08:00 248.0 QH Watson Lake, YT, CAN
27 07:30 248.0 PQF Mesquite, TX, USA
27 06:30 248.0 GLA Gulkana, ALS
27 08:00 248.0 FRT Fairmont, SC, USA
27 08:00 250.0 FO Flin Flon Municipal, MB, CAN
27 08:00 250.0 2J Grand Forks, BC, CAN
27 08:00 251.0 YCD Nanaimo, BC, CAN
27 15:00 251.0 OSE Bethel Apt, ALS
28 08:00 251.0 JZY Macomb, IL, USA
27 06:30 251.0 BR Brainerd, MN, USA
27 08:00 251.0 AM Amarillo, TX, USA
27 10:00 253.0 GB Marshall, MN, USA
27 08:00 254.0 ZYC Calgary, AB, CAN
27 08:00 254.0 SM Fort Smith, AB, CAN
27 04:00 254.0 EV Inuvik, NT, CAN
27 04:00 256.0 LSO Kelso, WA, USA
27 14:00 256.0 EB Edmonton, AB, CAN
27 14:00 257.0 XE Saskatoon, SK, CAN
27 05:00 257.0 SQT Melbourne, FL, USA
27 07:00 257.0 SAZ Staples, MN, USA
27 08:30 257.0 PEA Pella, IA, USA
27 07:00 257.0 MB Saginaw, MI, USA
27 14:00 257.0 LW Kelowna, BC, CAN
27 12:00 257.0 HCY Cowley, WY, USA
27 08:00 258.0 ZSJ Sandy Lake, ON, CAN
27 06:30 420.0 V7BE2 XOC, XUU
27 08:00 420.0 PK Olathe, KS, USA
27 08:00 420.0 FQ East Chain, MN, USA
27 04:00 421.0 VLY McKenney, TX, USA
27 08:30 422.0 EA Kearney, NE, USA
27 06:30 424.0 RVJ Reidsville, GA, USA
27 06:00 425.0 PFL Fort Sill, OK, USA
27 06:00 426.0 FTP Fort Payne, AL, USA
27 08:00 426.0 EN Council Bluffs, NE, USA
27 07:30 428.0 POH Pocahontas, IA, USA
27 07:00 432.0 IZN Lincolnton, NC, USA

The logging at 0630Z of 'V7BE2' is a large drill ship, the "Deepwater Thalassa", located near the center of the Gulf of Mexico.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Hunting For NDBs In CLE 213

'YLH' - 247 courtesy:

This coming weekend will see another CLE challenge, this time in two ranges:  240.0 - 259.9 kHz plus 420.0 - 439.9 kHz.

A 'CLE' is a 'Co-ordinated Listening Event', as NDB DXers around the world focus their listening time on one small slice of the NDB spectrum.

A nice challenge in this one is to hear the Lansdowne House, Ontario, NDB, 'YLH' on 247 kHz. This one runs 250 watts and gets out well, having been logged from coast to coast. Listen for it on 247.417 kHz with your receiver in the CW mode.

From CLE organizer Brian Keyte, G3SIA, comes the usual 'heads-up':

Hi all,

Here are the final details for our 213th co-ordinated listening event this
weekend. First timer logs too? Yes, please!

Days: Friday 25 Nov. to Monday 28 Nov.
Times: Start and end at midday, your LOCAL TIME
Range: 240.0 - 259.9 kHz plus 420.0 - 439.9 kHz
(BOTH ranges are for ALL listeners)

Please log NDBs that you can positively identify in the ranges, plus any
UNIDs that you come across there.
The lower frequency range will be really hard for most Europe listeners,
the higher range not at all easy for most others.

Send your CLE log to the List, if possible as a plain text email and
not in an attachment, with CLE213 at the start of its title.
Show on EVERY LINE of your log:

# The Date (or day 'dd') and UTC (the day changes at 00:00 UTC).
# kHz - the beacon's nominal published frequency (if you know it).
# The Call Ident.

Please show those main items first on each line, BEFORE any optional
details (Location, Offsets, Cycle time, Distance, etc.)
If you send interim logs, do make sure that you also send a 'Final' log
containing all your loggings. As always, please make your log useful and
interesting to everyone by including your own location and brief details
of your receiver, aerial(s) and any recording equipment that you used.

I will send the usual 'Any More Logs?' email at about 18:00 UTC on
Tuesday so that you can check that your Final log has been found OK.
Do make sure that your log has arrived on the List at the very latest
by 09:00 UTC on Wednesday 30th November.
I hope to complete the combined results later on that day.

To help you with your search you can find lists of your target NDBs at Select the SEEKLIST link there.
(To also see a MAP of the seeklist NDBs, just change 'List' to 'Map',
select 'All Results' and uncheck 'Clustering')

Good listening
From: Brian Keyte G3SIA ndbcle'at'
Location: Surrey, SE England (CLE co-ordinator)

(Reminder: You could use any one remote receiver for your loggings,
stating its location and owner - with their permission if required.
A remote listener may NOT also use another receiver, whether local or
remote, to obtain further loggings for the same CLE). 

These listening events serve several purposes. They:
  • determine, worldwide, which beacons are actually in service and on-the-air so the online database can be kept up-to-date
  • determine, worldwide, which beacons are out-of-service or have gone silent since the last CLE covering this range
  • will indicate the state of propagation conditions at the various participant locations
  • will give you an indication of how well your LF/MF receiving system is working
  • give participants a fun yet challenging activity to keep their listening skills honed

Final details can be found at the NDB List website, and worldwide results, for every participant, will be posted there a few days after the event. If you are a member of the ndblist Group, results will also be e-mailed and posted there.

The very active Yahoo ndblist Group is a great place to learn more about the 'Art of NDB DXing' or to meet other listeners in your region. There is a lot of good information available there and new members are always very welcome. As well, you can follow the results of other CLE participants from night to night as propagation is always an active topic of discussion.

If you are contemplating getting started on 630m, listening for NDBs  is an excellent way to test out your receive capabilities as there are several NDBs located near this part of the spectrum.

You need not be an ndblist member to participate in the CLEs and all reports, no matter how small, are of much value to the organizers. 

'First-time' logs are always VERY welcome!

Reports may be sent to the ndblist or e-mailed to either myself or CLE co-ordinator, Brian Keyte (G3SIA), whose address appears above.

Please ... give the CLE a try ... then let us know what NDB's can be heard from your location! Your report can then be added to the worldwide database to help keep it up-to-date.

Good hunting!

Monday, 21 November 2016

Upcoming Solar Years ... Can They Be Too Quiet?

Most of us LF/MF and topband diehards have been looking forward to the next several years of low solar activity ... maybe even 'ultra-low' as some of the solar gurus are predicting.

An interesting posting on the Topband reflector a few weeks ago by noted propagation expert, Carl, K9LA, made me re-think my expectations!

I flagged the post for a later blog topic but have since seen the information pop-up on a couple of other reflectors as well as on the ARRL News page. Apparently I wasn't the only one to give the posting a double-take. If you missed it, here is Carl's post:

About a week ago Wolf DF2PY posted a message here commenting on the recent adverse levels of geomagnetic field activity and how it will now change for the good - giving us good 160m propagation.

We'll certainly see less geomagnetic field activity as we move into winter,
but there's another issue we should be aware of. The Sun's magnetic field
is weakening - probably to the lowest levels in our lifetime. With a weak
solar magnetic field, more galactic cosmic rays will be able to get into
the Earth's atmosphere. We are now seeing unprecedented high neutron counts (neutrons are one of the by-products of cosmic rays)

Since galactic cosmic rays are mostly *very energetic* protons, they can
get down to low atmospheric altitudes, causing collisional ionization in
the D region (and lower E region). A cursory estimate using cosmic ray
ionization rates confirms more ionization in the lower atmosphere. 160m is
not very tolerant of more absorption, so we may see an adverse effect of
the weakened solar magnetic field.

Many of us think that "solar min is solar min is solar min". But maybe a
solar minimum can be too deep for 160m. A good question to ask in the early 2020s will be "how was 160m?" So stay active on 160m and let's see what happens.

Carl K9LA

My initial response was to think that perhaps there wouldn't be as much to look forward to as I had been hoping for, when it came to improved LF, MF and 160m propagation. Carl's postulation was also backed-up by another mention on the Spaceweather site, although the influence of cosmic ray bombardment on radio propagation was not discussed.

As I thought more about this unfortunate possibility actually coming to pass, I thought back to my own on-air and listening experiences during previous solar-low years ... particularly the unprecedented low between our most recent cycle and its predecessor, Cycle 23.

The low period between these two cycles, as most will likely recall, saw the quietest solar conditions observed in the past 100 years. The solar-low winters saw week after week of a blank Sun, with solar activity virtually flatlining for the entire period. In 2008 there were 265 'zero sunspot' days and the following year saw another 262 days of blank suns!

These effects were well noted here for two winters that are usually prime 'DX times' ... if ever there were a period when cosmic ray bombardment should negatively impact low frequency propagation, surely it would have been then.

So just what did I observe?

What I saw was not only what I had been expecting but was much much better than I had ever believed possible. For west coast topband operators, the 'holy grail' of propagation is working Europe. Working Europe from here means that signals must travel through the polar regions, usually the kiss-of- death for weak signals, as the severe attenuation through the auroral zone means that it just doesn't happen very often ... except for this prolonged period of ultra lows. In a word, conditions to Europe were 'spectacular' ... night-after-night, for several weeks over a period of two winters, working Europe on 160 became normal.

On most nights, European signals could be heard before local sunset, and on several occasions, CW contacts with Europeans, were completed up to one and a half hours before my local sunset. As darkness set in, more signals would appear and the band would rapidly become populated with Europeans ... and only Europeans.

Most of the time there were no signals from North America evident, just Europeans ... a condition that had me shaking my head in disbelief night after night. It was something I had never observed before, as I watched 160m behaving more like 20m CW on a good day to Europe! During this period, my DXCC totals skyrocketed from 99 to 143 worked, as new Europeans and Africans were added to my logbook.

Signal levels were also outstanding, often pushing the FT-1000 S-meter well past the S9 level. On one particular night, I recall hearing an SM4 calling CQ, with just such a signal. I set my output power level at 10 watts and gave him a call, to which he quickly responded. If cosmic ray bombardment was at a high level, it was not reeking any havoc as far as the west coast path to Europe was concerned! For the record, my topband system is nothing special, consisting of a simple 'half-sloper' over a poor ground and a very old amplifier running about 500W output.

My other favorite winter pastime is chasing NDBs in the MF range between 200-500 kHz. Exceptional east west conditions were evident throughout the two winters of ultra-lows.

On one such night, I noted a new strong signal where none had been previously heard. Because of its strength, I surmised that it was probably a new NDB in nearby Washington state. Noting its ident ('NYA' on 414 kHz), I was not able to find any reference to such a beacon being previously reported and turned to the Yahoo ndblist group for help, posting my catch as 'unidentified'. Almost immediately I received a response, telling me that the signal I was hearing was located in Europe ... Svalbard to be exact, located midway between Norway and the North Pole!

Now, European NDBs have never been heard from the west coast, other than occasional signals from some of Greenland's powerhouses, so this represents a very rare event. Although I have often listened for this signal, it has yet to be heard here again and my logging of remains its only reported foray into any part of North America. Unfortunately, in 2015, it was listed as 'decomissioned'. I have no doubts that this rare propagation was a result of the solar flatlining conditions of the time.

As chilling as Carl's warning sounds, he himself admits uncertainty with a 'let's wait and see' attitude and after reviewing my own experiences under what surely must be similar conditions, I'm still very optimistic over what might be in store. Hopefully we shouldn't have to wait too much longer to find out!

Thursday, 17 November 2016

More On The PAØRDT E-Probe


Another recent reflector question about noise mitigation for active e-probe antennas brought further incite from Roelof Bakker, PAØRDT.

I found particular interest in his method of determining if the noise is being picked up by the antenna or being introduced by the feedline. As well, Roelof suggests one of the most important aspects of homebrewing ... keeping detailed notes of all tests or changes. He also suggests maintaining a healthy outlook regarding noise and rather than getting discouraged, take on the challenge of overcoming it!

Hello all,

I have been dealing with this subject for more then 10 years now and
I am pleased to pass on what I did learn so far.

The first item to look at is noise pick up on the feed line. This
can be a coax cable or a CAT5/6/7 network cable. Looking for noise
pick up on the feed line should be done without the active antenna
connected. Otherwise everything should be the same as when using the

Ideally the antenna should be replaced by a 50 ohm termination that
can handle the power that is supplied by the DC-power supply feeding
the antenna. However, this is not necessary to achieve good results.

I am fortunate to own a PERSEUS SDR, that besides an excellent
receiver is also a nice piece of test gear. For noise pick-up
measurements I use HF-Span that changes the PERSEUS into a 0-40 MHz
spectrum analyser with a noise floor of -112 dBm. For narrow band
measurements the PERSEUS is used with Linrad, which can provide
accurate results.

Whilst looking at noise pick-up on the cable, one can unplug all
suspect devices and check if the noise is still present.

The most effective measure is grounding the shield of the coax cable
at the bottom of the mast, but I had still noise ingress of about -
100 dBm around 15 MHz. This could be solved by moving the power
supply and interface of the antenna from the operating position to
the location of the cable entry to the house. This minimises the
length of cable inside the house before the a rf-isolating
transformer used in the interface.

It is mandatory to use a separate radio earth, isolated from the
mains earth. My PC is connected to a mains outlet with a mains earth
connection, but no other equipment in the shack is using the mains
earth. This works for me.

There is also a discussion about the use of a common mode choke
versus a rf-isolating transformer. I have tried both and they both
work. However a rf-isolating transformer is much easier (and
cheaper) to build than common mode chokes with a winding of coax

In this regard, I should mention a source of interference that is
easily overlooked: receivers. It is not uncommon to own more than
one receiver and it appears that the antenna port is often far from
clean. I am using four SDR's which are fed from a balanced Norton
amplifier / four port splitter and these produce noticeable noise.
Using four rf-isolating transformers at the outputs of the splitter
eliminated the noise. My mini-whip is feeding up to 8 receivers
(hardware) via amplifiers /splitters / rf-isolating transformers
without degrading the receiver noise floor by mutual noise ingress.

The last point is about masts. A metal mast will decrease the signal
level when the antenna is mounted close to it. A short PVC extension
mast will help. The reason I am using a non-conductive mast is a
practical one as cheap and sturdy stackable camouflage net mast
sections were and are still available in western Europe. These are
ideal for either testing antennas and for permanent installations.
Metal masts can introduce problems by being resonant at a certain
frequency and receiving noise that can be transferred to the feed
line. However, checking the feed-line as described above will make
clear if this is the case or not. If there are no problems, there is
nothing against the use of a metal mast.

As every location is different, it is no use to provide an exact
recipe to solve noise problems. I believe that a systematic approach
is mandatory; take notes etc. as it is too easy to run in circles.
By all means do measure what you are doing, otherwise you will walk
in the dark for sure.

The good news is that it is still possible to build a low noise
reception system in the city and doing so can be fun! What might
also help is to change the attitude from 'it should not be there
after all' to 'what can I do about it!'

Best regards and 73,
Roelof Bakker, pa0rdt

If you're thinking about having a listen on LF or on 630m, the e-probe antenna can be a very effective solution .... and it takes up very little space. The finer details regarding the PAØRDT active antenna may be found here and here. All previous blog postings related to this topic may be found here.