Wednesday, 28 September 2016

630m And Recent Geomagnetic Activity

High levels of geomagnetic activity have usually, but not always, been the kiss-off-death for LF/MF propagation.

These past few months have seen fairly regular field disturbances, often pushing the K index to a level '5' or higher. However, while usually attenuating the east-west and northerly polar paths, the Trans-Pacific path often seems to benefit from these events ... particularly last night.

Perhaps it is related to the equinox's normal preference for this path or maybe the goop the sun is sending us at this point in the cycle is different or not as energetic as it is at mid-cycle. Nevertheless it's really encouraging to see that not all disturbances are detrimental to LF propagation.

For a daily summary of all overnight activity and much more, see KB5NJD's '630m Daily Reports'.

The WSPRnet map reproduced below shows the extent of reception during my own overnight WSPR 630m beaconing session. Missing are many of the normal spots from the eastern provinces and east coast states, indicating the attenuation on this path. Everything else seems enhanced.

courtesy: WSPRnet

The path to down under, in-spite of my obstruction in that direction, perked-up as well, with VK4YB decoded here 19 times as well as VK3ELV's 150W and inverted-L near Wangaratta, Victoria.

               13:56      VK4YB      0.4756      -28   QG62ku   11820      
               13:50      VK4YB      0.4756      -28   QG62ku   11820      
               13:44      VK4YB      0.4756      -24   QG62ku   11820      
               13:40      VK4YB      0.4756      -24   QG62ku   11820    
               13:30      VK4YB      0.4756      -27   QG62ku   11820      
               13:24      VK4YB      0.4756      -20   QG62ku   11820      
               13:18      VK4YB      0.4756      -24   QG62ku   11820    
               13:12      VK4YB      0.4756      -22   QG62ku   11820    
               12:42      VK4YB      0.4756      -26   QG62ku   11820    
               12:14      VK4YB      0.4756      -20   QG62ku   11820    
               12:02      VK4YB      0.4756      -23   QG62ku   11820    
               11:58      VK4YB      0.4756      -25   QG62ku   11820    
               11:52      VK4YB      0.4756      -25   QG62ku   11820    
               11:40      VK4YB      0.4756      -29   QG62ku   11820      
               11:32      VK4YB      0.4756      -26   QG62ku   11820    
               11:24      VK4YB      0.4756      -25   QG62ku   11820    
               11:12      VK4YB      0.4756      -22   QG62ku   11820    
               10:56      VK4YB      0.4756      -26   QG62ku   11820    
               10:54      VK4YB      0.4756      -25   QG62ku   11820

Merv, WH2XCR in Hawaii, was spotted here 56 times, with numerous transmissions at 'easy CW' levels. He even spotted me twice, with his 80m dipole, presently laying on the ground!

It was also encouraging to see 21 spots from Eden, ZF1EJ in the Cayman Islands, with several at CW levels.

The following stations all uploaded spots of my overnight WSPR signals, as nightly activity continues to grow with the DX season now at the doorstep. Given equal ERP, most of these stations would be workable on either CW or on JT9.

              WH2XGP      DN07dg      319      122
               WG2XSV      CN85sr      353      169
               WI2XJQ        CN87ts      138      150
               NO1D         DM34tn      1825      147
               N3IZN/RX  DM13ji      1796      161
               WW6D      CM88pl      1155      177
               VE7CNF      CN89ng      55      33
               VA7MM      CN89og      59      38
               WE2XPQ      BP51ip      2151      321
               W5EMC      EM10cl      2963      124
               K5ACL      EM10bd      2987      125
               WG2XXM    EM15lj      2610      115
               ZF1EJ/1       EK99ig      4977      116
               KE7LGT      DN26xm      739      107
               W3PM       EM64or      3365      104
               ZF1EJ        EK99ig      4977      116
               VE7KPB      DN29cm      550      79
               KU7Z        DN41af      1227      129
               WH2XCR      BL11je      4295      236
               KB0BRY      EN17nc      1966      86
               WD2XSH/20 CN83      598      178
               WG2XIQ      EM12      2841      120
               WE4X      EM65ut      3326      102
               VE7BDQ      CN89la      26      44
               KB7W      CN93jx      565      163
               W6LEO      DN17oq      498      103
               WH2XAR      DM33vp      1924      147

As interest in 630m continues to expand, many U.S. amateurs are already building their stations so they will be ready to go when the word finally comes. I suspect that 630m may soon sound like a small slice of 40m on a busy night ... will you be ready?

Monday, 26 September 2016

The Amazing BOG


A recent inquiry about 'BOG' antennas on the topband reflector reminded me of my own experiences with this simple yet very effective antenna. A 'BOG' or 'Beverage On Ground' seems to come in many varieties and is usually, out of necessity, shorter than a 'real' beverage.

In many instances, BOGs are as simple as running a wire out on the ground as long and as straight as practical. Not always, but usually, the BOG is fed by a small homemade balun to isolate and match the impedance to a 50 ohm feedline. Most real Beverages are terminated at the far end with a resistor to ground, while for BOG builders, some use it and some don't.

My own experience with a BOG, or as close as I could come to one, was an extension of my 160m half-sloper. The topband half-sloper was quite normal, being about 132' long and fed at the top of its supporting metal tower with 50 ohm coax ... the hot-side of the coax going to the wire and the shield going to the metal tower.

One afternoon I wondered how the antenna would work lower in frequency, in the NDB band below the broadcast band, if I were to extend the sloping 132' element further. I added another length of wire to the lower end and proceeded to run the wire along the ground on the bankside above the beach. I was able to run out another 500' approximately, in a straight line to the east, before running out of beach. I left the far end unterminated and waited for darkness to to have a listen.

The first thing I noticed when tuning the NDB band was how quiet it sounded. There seemed to be almost no noise, man-made or nature-made. Disconnecting the antenna showed a small drop in what little noise there was, indicating that sensitivity levels were still being determined by skynoise ... a good thing.

What amazed me however, was that signals just popped-up everywhere and although not as strong as on my normal NDB antenna (a loop at the time), they were much better copy since there was virtually no noise. The BOG produced a significant improvement in my SNR on all signals. It had been several months since I had logged any new beacons on the NDB band but over the next three weeks I was able to put 65 new catches in the log ... all previously unheard!  Switching between the loop and the BOG almost always produced no copy at all on the new signals, compared to an easily copied one on the BOG.

My experience was very similar to that shown in these videos by VO1HP ... with solid signals well out of the low noise background and no sign of atmospheric noise to mask them.

It is clearly evident that the BOG delivers a much better SNR than the comparison loop and is the reason so many topbanders use a separate antenna for receiving. The next video compares the BOG with a 160m 'Inverted-L', a very popular antenna on topband.

BOGs need not be really long and good results can be had with just 200' of wire. Many BOG users employ a simple preamp to boost the low level of signal but often the switchable 'preamp' built into a receiver or transceiver will be enough to overcome the low gain of shorter wires.

I've often thought that if I had a lot of acreage, the ideal receiving system for MF and LF work would be a centrally located radio shack with long Beverage wires fed-out in various directions ... like the spokes of a wheel. Having the ability to directionally switch antennas would produce 'beam-like' capabilities on LF.

There is a ton of web information available on the BOG and the Beverage should you want to give this simple antenna a try and have a narrow strip of space where one might be laid out without causing a problem.

A very comprehensive source of BOG and Beverage information can be found on WØBTU's Beverage Receiving Antennas page here. 

A nice compilation of Beverage / BOG exchanges from the Topband Reflector may be found on N1EU's Beverage Antenna Tips page here.
In addition, N1EU has a useful page of discussion about transformers used in these antennas.

PA5MW offers a colorful description of his own BOG experience here.

Bruce, K1FZ has a nice BOG 'hint's' page here and also passed this advise to the original BOG inquiry:

A BOG can do a good job unterminated. If too long they self terminate. Depends upon the soil as to length.

The biggest mistake is making the BOG antenna too long. Try not to go
over 200 feet for 160 meters. Longer will work in some locations
soil like desert, sand, other non/ partial conducting types.

Its been a few years since my last experience with a BOG but I may run one out again for the DX season, now that most of my neighbours have left the island for the winter.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Hunting For NDBs In CLE211

'OO'- - 391 kHz Oshawa, ON

This coming weekend will see another CLE challenge, this time in the 15 kHz slice from 385.0 - 399.9 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 Oshawa, Ontario NDB, 'OO' on 391 kHz. This one runs at just 7 1/2 watts output and gets out amazingly well having been logged here last year. It has even been heard in Europe!

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

Hi all,

Our 211th Listening Event is only a few days away.
The Northern Hemisphere summertime storms have subsided, the equinox
will have passed when the CLE starts and we can all hope for some good
reception conditions.
Whether you are a keen propagation watcher or just a take-what-comes
listener (like me), please join in.

Days: Friday 23 September - Monday 26 September
Times: Start and end at midday LOCAL TIME
Range: 385.0 - 399.9 kHz

Please log all the NDBs you can identify that are listed in the range
(it includes 385 kHz but not 400 kHz) plus any UNIDs that you find there.
We last used this frequency range for CLE194 in May 2014.

Please send your CLE log to the List in a plain text email if possible
(not in an attachment) with 'CLE211' at the start of its title.
Show on each log line:

# The date (e.g. 2016-09-24, etc., or just 24) and UTC.
(the date changes at 00:00 UTC)
# kHz (the nominal published frequency, if known)
# The Call Ident.

Show those main items FIRST - other optional details such as Location
and Distance go LATER in the same line.

As always, tell us your own location and brief details of the equipment
that you were using during the weekend.

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

(If you wish you could use any one remote receiver for your loggings,
stating the location and owner - with their permission if required.
A remote listener may NOT also use another receiver, local or remote,
to make 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!

Friday, 16 September 2016

First VK-VE 630m Contact!


Shortly before sunrise yesterday morning, VK4YB (Roger) and I were able to work each other on 630m ... 475.300 kHz to be exact!

This is the first-ever QSO between North America and Australia on the relatively new 630m MF band. As well, at 11,802km, it presently represents the furthest two-way contact on this band, worldwide ... but I don't expect this record will last very long once the U.S. gets the band as I believe Roger's fine station is very capable of reaching much further afield.

Our contact on JT9, the WSPR QSO mode, was made at 1319Z, about 30 minutes before my local sunrise with the sky surprisingly bright. Blog readers will know that Roger and I have been carefully watching the pre-dawn Trans-Pacific propagation path for the last week. I have been checking-in with him via the ON4KST LF/MF chat page every morning at around 0345 local time at which point a decision is made ... "get out of bed and head for the shack" or "go back to sleep". Each morning's (or in Roger's case, each evening's) propagation quality is assigned a code number by Roger, based upon what he has been hearing during the early evening hours ... a '6' or below is 'sleep-time', a '7' is a 'you decide' while an '8' or above is 'get your butt moving'.

Yesterday, Roger issued a 'code 7' but as I joked with him later, I think he tricked me as it seemed more like a '6.5' from this end! Trans-Pacific conditions were very good about 500 miles to my south but seemed to drop-off quickly much further to the north. I also need to get over a significant obstruction immediately to the SW of me and in line with Roger. That's me directly at the base of the hill on the right while the remaining peaks are on nearby Saltspring Island and then Vancouver Island before reaching the open Pacific.


I believe this requires some enhancement of high-angle arrival (and departure) which often occurs around dawn due to a short period of ionospheric 'tilting'. This is often noted by topband operators near their local sunrise, who regularly observe stronger signals on low (cloud-warming) dipoles than they do on their normal large (low-angle) verticals or beverage antennas.

We enjoyed significantly stronger conditions a week ago, but unlike Thursday when I could run at full 5W EIRP, I was only able to generate a little less than 1W EIRP at the time. So far, this week, conditions have been improving steadily each day, from a 'code 3' to a 'code 7'. Hopefully they will continue to improve and we can do it all over again sometime soon.

With my new antenna / transverter / amplifier relay control box working nicely, it seems that Roger and I can now fully take advantage of TP propagation from 'mediocre' to 'excellent' but we have yet to see just how good it can get.

Roger's signal is at +1100Hz
As noted on the screen grabs, both of us were operating near the limits of JT9 detection and we have both seen each other's signal several db stronger on previous mornings. For a two-way CW QSO to take place (a possible new goal), we will need to see an improvement of at least 10db ... probably something that the propagation gods will eventually deliver. Hopefully we will be ready for that should it materialize, providing I can continue to crawl out of bed in the ever-lengthening fall darkness.

It is hoped that our contact will inspire new interest among amateurs worldwide and particularly in North America. If you are planning a station, it seems that the main mode of two-way communications will be CW or JT9 ... a simple transverter would allow both modes as well as the use of the WSPR beacon mode. More information may be found here as well as in earlier 630m blogs.

See also:

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Transverter-Amp-Antenna Relay Control Box

As mentioned in my last blog, using a transverter to drive a separate amplifier requires some method of switching system in order to automatically handle the antenna, transverter and amplifier input / output ports. To run a relay switching system in the WSPR or JT-9 modes requires that the switching be controlled by the transceiver's PTT line which in turn is controlled by the WSPR software. Using VOX keying is out of the question as it causes the relays to be 'hot-switched' and with higher power will eventually lead to their demise.

For many years I managed PTT line control via my laptop's comm port but these are now things of the past, requiring switching to be done via the USB port. There are many commercial products available that will do this nicely as well as handle the audio feed from radio to computer and vice-versa, but I found that my homebrew version worked just fine. Making it work via the USB port however required a serial-to-usb converter. This was described here, in an earlier blog and for the few dollars invested has proven to be a very reliable interface.

The schematic of the switching control unit is shown below. It uses two inexpensive OMRON G2RL-1-E DC12 relays purchased from Digikey. Although not coaxial, the $3.09 (U.S.) relay will easily handle a kilowatt as decribed by W6PQL. These relays have large contacts, rated at 16A. I added a few extra components that absorb any relay switching transients as well as remove any RF on the control lines.

Relay Control Unit

Keying Line Damper: courtesy: KK5DR
The relays are shown in the 'receive' (none keyed) mode. In this position, the antenna is routed directly into the transverter's output connector. In 'transmit' mode, the transceiver's PTT line is grounded, switching the relays. The antenna moves over to the amplifier's output and the transverter's output gets connected to the amplifier's input.

I must say a few words about Digikey's service. I really am amazed at what a superb job they do in supplying hobbyists with small orders. So many companies nowadays cannot be bothered with such things or demand a large minimum order for the privilege of handling your purchase! From what I can tell, Digikey bends over backwards to help out the little guy, with no minimums as well as dirt-cheap, fast shipping. Living in Canada, I'm used to U.S. dealers making me jump hoops to place an order, only to find out that the cost of shipping is often prohibitively high or they ship only via UPS which I will not accept.

I placed a small two-page order with Digikey via their excellent web site on a Tuesday afternoon. On Friday morning, there was a knock at my door at 0800 hours ... it was a courier service delivering my parts! To put this in context, I live on a small island in the middle of Georgia Strait, accessible only by air or by ferry. To me this service is incredible and the cost of postage was only $6.00 (U.S.). I really have no idea how they do this but they obviously have put into operation a very efficient system ... hats off to them and their skilled management that has figured this all out. A few years ago I sent in orders to both Digikey and to Mouser, each within an hour of each other. Like my recent order, the Digikey parts arrived in just a few days while the Mouser parts took over three weeks ... perhaps things have changed since then but this is the reason I use and recommend Digikey whenever I can.

Once I had the needed parts, I quickly built a PCB for the switcher and put it together in a day so that I might begin 630m skeds with VK4YB as soon as possible.

If you would like a full-size layout suitable for the iron-on toner PCB construction method, I'll be happy to send you one via email.

The first test run with VK4YB at 0300 local time proved problematic. When I fired up at full ERP, I immediately saw some output instability on the scopematch screen. Before I could shutdown however, I had blown a FET in the amplifier, shutting me down and sending me back to bed to worry about the situation.

Having had time to think about the problem made me suspect something in the new relay changeover unit since that was the only new variable in the system. I suspected that perhaps the relays were not fully seated before being hit with full RF output and the possible hot-switching had caused enough short-lived SWR to take out the very reactance-sensitive FET final. In many years of operation with the amplifier, this was the first blown FET I have had. When I built it, I made sure that the FETS would be easily accessible (see below) should such an occasion arise ... unlike my initial transmitter, where replacing a FET was a nightmare.

Fortunately, when FETs go south on a push-pull amplifier, only one FET will blow ... whichever one was conducting at the time, thus preserving the remaining FET. I flipped a coin and unsoldered the source lead of the left hand FET and measured it. Sure enough it had a drain-to-source short. My day was off to a better start. Once replaced, I set out to determine what had caused it to blow in the middle of the night.

Since I didn't want to blow another FET, I could only 'key-up' in very short bursts and see if the instability was still present. I put the amplifier on a dummy load and everything seemed normal but when put onto the antenna, it reappeared. Suspecting an arc in the loading coil, I checked it carefully. I indeed did find a charred blackened section near the top high-voltage end of the coil but that could have been a short-lived event from the past as I'm sure small crawly things often meet their demise between the windings without causing any problems other than a quick puff of smoke or a short-lived arc to the PVC coil form.

After cleaning the coil and removing any carbon paths as well as giving it a few coats of varnish, I was hopeful that the problem would be gone ... but no, the scopematch indicated it was still misbehaving. As well, I could hear a weak but audible high-pitched oscillation coming from somewhere in the amplifier's circuitry. I suspected that it came from one of the output transformers but with the fan noise it was impossible to accurately locate the source of the rogue 'squeal' when briefly keying-up.

Fast forward several hours of pulling out what was left of my hair and I was no further ahead. The amp continued to work fine at high power, via the new relay system, into my dummy load but into the perfectly matched antenna, the problem remained. It was at this point that I decided to look at the input signal from the doubler, a nice squarewave at 950kHz for the amp's divide-by-two input chip. The scope instantly indicated a dual squarewave with more than one frequency present!

Recently built W1VD 'Frequency Doubler'
I control the input to the doubler by setting the transverter's output to 1W but at 0300 that morning had set it to 1/2 watt, noting that the amplifier seemed to be happy at that level. I then increased the drive from 1/2 watt to 1 watt while watching the 950kHz signal and immediately saw it morph into a wonderfully clean squarewave once again! Sure enough, the amplifier returned to complete stability into the antenna.

It looked like the doubler was not getting enough 475kHz input to actually double properly and its output was a mixture of 950 and (mostly) 475kHz. The amp's divide-by-two input would then try and turn this into a mixture of 475 and (mostly) 237 kHz which the highly-tuned antenna system would balk at, producing the unwanted FET-killing reactance. Being passive and none-reactive, the dummy load was quite happy to take the signal all day long if I let it.

With the mystery solved, full ERP beaconing and scheduling with VK4YB has begun once again, but the TransPacific path has been stingy for the past few mornings ... hopefully this will change now that I'm ready again, barring any further complications.

Monday, 12 September 2016

630m Early Morning Skeds

This past week I was eventually able to mate my W1VD frequency doubler with my 630m FET amplifier and run some higher powered tests on 630m WSPR and JT9 modes.

Up until this time, I have been limited to about 1/2 W EIRP but using the amplifier allows me to get to the 5W EIRP limit. I have been using the VK4YB transverter's 475kHz reduced output of 1W and driving the doubler previously built as part of a transverter project. The doubler produces a nice 950kHz squarewave to drive my amplifier's divide-by-two flip-flop input circuit which in turn produces the dual antiphase outputs needed to drive the push-pull switching FETs in the final amplifier. Being a linear transverter, when used alone at 70W, it will run any mode that the IC756 ProIII will produce such as SSB, WSPR etc, but my switching FET amplifier is class-D, non-linear, which limits it to non-linear modes such as CW, WSPR and JT-9, the most popular modes on 630m.

A few days ago, VK4YB and I ran our first 630m sked on JT9 as conditions looked favorable. Unfortunately, this was before I had my transverter / antenna switching system completed so I was limited to the barefoot transverter at ~ 1/2W EIRP. Using a transverter to drive an external amplifier means the antenna must be switched between the amplifier output and the transverter input in addition to switching the transverter's output between the antenna and the amplifiers input. I'll post details of my switching system, and inexpensive but power-capable relays, in an upcoming blog as there are probably many 630m operators planning on doing something similar.

Thanks to Roger's huge antenna, his 90W signal was making it through well enough on this end but he was not able to decode anything from me.

1109 -26 0.3 1098 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1111 -28 0.3 1098 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1147 -24 0.1 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1149 -27 0.1 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1153 -27 0.1 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1159 -26 0.1 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1209 -26 0.0 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1225 -25 0.1 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1227 -26 -0.0 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1229 -24 0.1 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1239 -23 0.1 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1247 -26 0.0 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1249 -26 0.1 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1253 -23 0.1 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1255 -28 0.1 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1257 -26 0.1 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1303 -27 0.2 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1305 -23 -0.1 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1307 -25 -0.1 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1309 -23 -0.1 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1313 -25 0.0 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1319 -27 0.0 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1323 -22 0.1 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1325 -25 -0.1 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1327 -24 0.0 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62
1329 -25 0.0 1100 @ VE7SL VK4YB QG62

My location on the 'wrong' side of Mayne Island requires me to fire directly into a very nearby 600' hilltop, directly in Roger's path.

I'm at the base of the hill on the far right.
The large mountains are on Vancouver Island and then open Pacfic.
Later WSPR beaconing, using the new doubler and full power, tends to indicate that a two-way digital QSO should be possible with good conditions. Roger is now able to hear my signal at levels good enough for the JT-9 WSPR QSO mode.

 VE7SL  0.475633  -25    CN88iu  5  VK4YB  QG62ku  11820  
 VE7SL  0.475633  -26    CN88iu  5  VK4YB  QG62ku  11820  
 VE7SL  0.475632  -23    CN88iu  5  VK4YB  QG62ku  11820  
 VE7SL  0.475632  -26    CN88iu  5  VK4YB  QG62ku  11820  
 VE7SL  0.475632  -30    CN88iu  5  VK4YB  QG62ku  11820  
 VE7SL  0.475634  -28    CN88iu  5  VK4YB  QG62ku  11820  
 VE7SL  0.475634  -30    CN88iu  5  VK4YB  QG62ku  11820  
 VE7SL  0.475634  -30    CN88iu  5  VK4YB  QG62ku  11820  
 VE7SL  0.475633  -28    CN88iu  5  VK4YB  QG62ku  11820  
 VE7SL  0.475633  -29    CN88iu  5  VK4YB  QG62ku  11820  
 VE7SL  0.475633  -27    CN88iu  5  VK4YB  QG62ku  11820  
 VE7SL  0.475632  -28    CN88iu  5  VK4YB  QG62ku  11820  
 VE7SL  0.475630  -28    CN88iu  5  VK4YB  QG62ku  11820  
 VE7SL  0.475629  -29    CN88iu  5  VK4YB  QG62ku  11820  
 VE7SL  0.475629  -31    CN88iu  5  VK4YB  QG62ku  11820  
 VE7SL  0.475629  -30    CN88iu  5  VK4YB  QG62ku  11820  

With the antenna / transverter / amplifier switching unit complete, Roger and I will continue to watch band conditions favorable to the Trans-Pacific path and hopefully exchange signals sometime this fall before the path disappears until next spring. For Roger, near Brisbane, the path peaks for him in the late evening while for me, it means crawling out of bed at 0330 local time to check the prop, hoping to find good signals from down under ... working VK on 630m would be well worth losing a few hours of nightly sleep!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Getting Ready For The '29 QSO Party

Although the Bruce Kelly 1929 QSO Party is not until December, now is really the time to be putting something together if you've been thinking about getting in on the fun this year!

Like almost all of the operating in 1929, this is a CW only affair and if you've taken a listen in previous years, you know that the chirps, yoops, sudden frequency excursions and musical notes are all part of the original difficulties faced by the boys of '29 as they struggled with the relatively new adventure of 'amateur radio'.

Why 1929 you ask? It was the Radio Act of 1927 that came into effect in 1929 that laid out the foundation and future of amateur radio, with most of the early tenets still in effect today. The BK QSO Party celebrates the turning point in what had been pretty much a radio 'free-for-all' up until that time. Real progress was made quickly once the ground rules were established.

Rules of the BK Party require that all transmitters use tubes that were available in 1929 or earlier and must be self-excited ... no crystals allowed! This might seem to present a daunting task but in reality there are many readily available tubes that will make your transmitter legal.

In three previous blogs I've outlined some of the construction options available to new BK entrants and you can probably find enough information there to get you well on your way to some mid-winter fun. You will find links to these on the sidebar to the right.

Over the past three years I have posted a lot of 1929-related material, covering construction as well as BK Party activity. You can get all of these '29 blogs here and get enough bedtime reading for the week and hopefully, enough inspiration to grab the soldering iron and think about throwing something together for the party ... and it doesn't have to be pretty, as long as it works and is 'legal'! As well, my website has detailed construction information for three of my own '29-style transmitters.

I'm always impressed with the level of operating seen in the BK Party. For some reason, these guys can copy the weakest most awful sounding signals with ease. If you can get something going with a couple of watts or more, I guarantee that you will be heard and will work many of the '29 stations ... just don't wait too late to start building as I'd hate for you to miss all the fun!

Sunday, 4 September 2016

September Prop Awakens

As our sunsets start to come earlier and dawn arrives later and later, the sun's accelerated southerly excursion has brought sudden changes to 630m propagation.

This past weekend's CLE activity saw universally poor propagation as well as weather related QRN from lightning ... but as usual at this time of the year, things can change rapidly. Wednesday's overnight map of my own 630m WSPR activity illustrates why September propagation on LF and MF can often be spectacular and this is with just 65 watts total power output:


Among other things, the map indicates the growing interest among U.S. amateurs in the 630m band. Hopefully they won't have to wait too much longer, although I seem to be saying this more often than I would like to. It is of interest to note that even though these were WSPR reports, signal levels at most reporting stations were either into the 'audible CW' levels or at 'JT9 workable' levels ... all stations should be workable once the 630m ham band becomes a reality for all North Americans. Midwinter conditions over the next several years should see an abundance of transcontinental contacts on both CW and on JT9!

The east-west path is the bread and butter direction for interesting possibilities, when it comes to those of us in VE7 land. Normally it only really sets in when geomagnetic conditions are quiet but, as a result of coronal hole streaming, this week's geomagnetic field has been anything but quiet. As John Langridge, KB5NJD / WG2XIQ reported today in his invaluable '630m daily reports':

The geomagnetic field was extremely active, with many reporting periods at storm levels. The Bz is pointing to the South and solar wind velocities are very high, peaking at 700 km/s. This event is significant and I am just glad to see that it is helping and not hurting propagation. When will the bottom drop out? Clearly there is a lot going on here that we do not understand.

With stormy conditions continuing throughout the week, Friday's path to down-under enjoyed some enhancement as well, not unusual when the east-west path is disturbed. VK4YB's 90 watt signal was widely heard by several VE7's (VE7CNF, VA7MM and VE7BDQ) in the predawn hour, as Roger's signal peaked up briefly for several WSPR decodes.


As the coronal hole streaming continues, this morning's path to VK seemed even better along with a new antenna at VK4YB favoring the northwest:

12:24      VK4YB      0.475622      -21   VE7BDQ    11844 km      
12:12      VK4YB      0.475621      -22   VE7BDQ    11844 km      
12:08      VK4YB      0.475622      -17   VE7BDQ    11844 km
11:04      VK4YB      0.475622      -24   VE7BDQ    11844 km     
11:02      VK4YB      0.475623      -22   VE7BDQ    11844 km     
10:54      VK4YB      0.475623      -22   VE7BDQ    11844 km

12:28      VK4YB      0.475626      -21    VE7SL       11820 km     
12:24      VK4YB      0.475625      -23    VE7SL       11820 km     
11:54      VK4YB      0.475623      -25    VE7SL       11820 km     
11:04      VK4YB      0.475623      -23    VE7SL       11820 km    
11:02      VK4YB      0.475625      -26    VE7SL       11820 km     
10:54      VK4YB      0.475626      -21    VE7SL       11820 km

11:22      VK4YB      0.475614      -28    VA7MM      11872 km     
11:04      VK4YB      0.475614      -28    VA7MM      11872 km     
11:02      VK4YB      0.475615      -33    VA7MM      11872 km     
10:54      VK4YB      0.475615      -26    VA7MM      11872 km

I should mention that the other VE7 stations are all operating from noisy suburbs near Vancouver ... clearly fine examples of what can be done on 630m under less than ideal operating conditions and by paying close attention to system optimization. Please don't let living in the city stop you from enjoying the mysteries and challenges that our latest ham band has to offer ... as mentioned earlier, there is still much to be learned about using this band at amateur radio power levels and small backyard antennas. How exciting is that!

Thursday, 1 September 2016

CLE 210 Results

This past weekend's CLE saw typical summer conditions ... poor propagation and lots of lightning noise. The MF NDB band was noisy on all three nights, almost everywhere.

As usual, I put my Perseus SDR to work, recording the assigned frequency slots and came away with 24 catches, including some of the 630m experimental stations.

28 11:00 260.0 YSQ Atlin, BC, CAN
27 08:00 260.0 AP Sedalia, CO, USA
27 07:00 261.0 7J Forestburg, AB, CAN
27 09:00 263.0 OAY Norton Bay, ALS
27 08:00 266.0 VR Vancouver, BC, CAN
27 09:30 266.0 SL Turner, OR, USA
27 09:30 266.0 SAA Saratoga, WY, USA
27 09:30 266.0 ICK Annette Island, ALS
29 12:00 266.0 BZ Bozeman, MT, USA
27 09:30 268.0 ZWL Wollaston Lake, SK, CAN
27 12:00 269.0 ZW Teslin, YT, CAN
27 09:30 269.0 YK Castlegar, BC, CAN
27 09:30 269.0 UDE Delta Beach, MB, CAN
27 08:30 512.0 HMY Lexington, OK, USA
27 08:30 515.0 SAK Kalispell, MT, USA
27 08:30 515.0 CL Cresent Beach, WA, USA
27 08:00 521.0 INE Missoula, MT, USA
29 11:30 524.0 MNL Valdez, ALS
29 11:00 525.0 ICW Nenana, ALS
27 11:00 529.0 SQM Big Level Isl, ALS
27 07:30 473.8 WI2XJQ Edmonds, WA
27 07:30 475.0 VA7MM Coquitlam, BC
27 07:30 475.2 WG2XSV Vancouver, WA
27 07:30 477.6 VE7CNF Burnaby, BC
29 13:00 474.0 VE7BDQ Delta, BC

One nice surprise was the strong showing from Alaska towards dawn on night three. Not a peep was heard from the mainland Alaskans on the first two mornings and I was fully expecting to find the same thing on Monday morning but that was not the case.

The last time that this frequency range was covered was during CLE 191 in February, 2015 ... prime winter conditions. At that time I logged 42 beacons compared to 24 this time. The furthest one heard was 4023km away while this time the best was at 2873km. My average distance back then was 1670km compared with 1046km this time.

From Brian Keyte's (G3SIA) summary posted via the Yahoo ndblist Group, come these stats:

In last weekend's CLE we were listening for NDBs in the range
260 - 269.9 kHz and above 440 kHz, including several Amateur beacons.

Here are the combined results tables for listeners away from Europe,
attached as CLE210a5.xls. Soon they will also be available
from the CLE page

19 Reporters
37 Radio Countries heard
83 different beacons heard
212 reports supplied

Most Heard NDBs:

Rprts kHz C/S Location Cou.
9 512 HMY Lexington OK USA
9 260 AP Denver CO USA
9 521 INE Missoula MT USA

8 266 VR Vancouver Lulu Is. BC CAN

7 269 YK Castlegar Brilliant. BC CAN

6 515 SAK Kalispell Smith Lake MT USA

Missing NDBs? (not including Amateur beacons)

The following list shows NDBs with 6 or more loggings in
the similar event in Feb. 2015, but not reported this time.
They may have been withdrawn, changed frequency or ident,
be temporarily out of service or just be inaudible due to conditions.

Then Now kHz C/S Cou Location
13 0 260 AVZ USA Terrell TX
11 0 260 BVQ USA Glasgow Beaver Creek. KY
6 0 260 GHJ USA Gastonia NC
9 0 261 2H CAN Lebel sur Quevillon QC
6 0 261 D6 CAN Fairmont Hot Springs BC
7 0 263 JDN USA Jordan MT
6 0 263 LB USA Angleton Lake Jackson TX
10 0 264 ZPB CAN Sachigo Lake ON
6 0 269 AR USA New Iberia LA
11 0 269 CII USA Choteau MT
6 0 269 PK USA Park Rapids MN

10 0 515 OS USA Columbus OH
6 0 521 GM USA Greenville SC
6 0 521 TO USA Topeka KS

Overall conditions should be much better by this time next month as September propagation can often be superb, as long as the lightning activity has died down. Over the past few seasons I have noticed that it seems to be hanging in a few weeks longer than in the past, hopefully not a long term trend but with all of the bizarre weather changes we are seeing, I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case.