Monday, 24 April 2017

CLE 218 Results

courtesy: https://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/
This past weekend's CLE event was, as is so often the case, perfectly timed with the arrival of poor propagation in most parts of the world. This time around, it was particularly bad.

The 'Co-ordinated Listening Event' might more aptly be called the 'Cursed Listening Event' as once again the same large coronal hole (shown above) that has been present for several solar rotations seems to be more disruptive than ever. The subsequent higher than normal solar wind speeds causing widespread auroral conditions and elevated K indices have pretty much made a mess of MF and HF radio for the past several days.

courtesy: http://www.noaa.gov/

NDB-band recordings made with the Perseus SDR for the three-night event turned up very little activity other than a few strange hot-spots. Both 'OIN' in Kansas and 'CC' in California were strong on all three nights! Nothing from eastern Canada was heard and one of Alaska's strongest signals, 'ELF', was barely detected. Only the following few stations were logged:

23 08:00 341.0    ELF  Cold Bay, ALS
22 06:00 338.0    ZU   Whitecourt, AB, CAN
22 06:00 343.0    YZH  Slave Lake, AB, CAN
22 04:00 344.0    YC   Calgary, AB, CAN
22 12:00 338.0    RYN  Tucson, AZ, USA
22 04:00 344.0    XX   Abbotsford, BC, CAN
22 12:00 335.0    CC   Concord, CA, USA
22 10:00 344.0    FCH  Fresno, CA, USA
22 08:00 341.0    OIN  Oberlin, KS, USA
22 04:00 344.0    BKU  Baker, MT, USA
24 08:00 335.0    BK   Brookings, SD, USA
22 04:00 347.0    PA   Prince Albert, SK, CAN
22 08:00 338.0    K    Port Angeles, WA, USA
22 04:00 348.0    MNC  Shelton, WA, USA
22 05:00 341.0    DB   Burwash, YT, CAN

I suspect the this same coronal hole will be with us for several more rotations ... perhaps it's time fool Ol' Sol and stagger our CLE's 28-day cycle so it doesn't continue go sync-up with poor band conditions but somehow I think that Murphy might not be so easily duped!

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Hunting For NDBs In CLE218

'XX-344' - Abbotsford, BC




This coming weekend will see another CLE challenge. This time the hunting grounds will be:  335.0 - 349.9 kHz.


For those unfamiliar with this monthly activity, 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 Abbotsford  NDB, 'XX', on 344 kHz. 'XX' is located about 40 miles east of  Vancouver International (YVR) and a few miles SW of the Abbotsford Airport, YVR's alternate for those foggy winter nights. 'XX' is a 500-watter and is well heard, having been logged from the east coast to Hawaii and is a good propagation indicator for listeners in eastern North America. Look for 'XX' on 344.404 kHz with your receiver in the CW mode.

When tuning for NDBs, put your receiver in the CW mode and listen for the NDB's CW identifier, repeated every few seconds. With your receiver in the CW mode, listen for U.S. NDB identifiers approximately 1 kHz higher or lower than the published transmitted frequency since these beacons are tone-modulated with a 1020 Hz tone approximately.

For example, 'AA' in Fargo, MN, transmits on 365 kHz and its upper sideband CW identifier is tuned at 366.025 kHz while its lower sideband CW ident can be tuned at 363.946 kHz. Its USB tone is actually 1025 Hz while its LSB tone is 1054 Hz.

Often, one sideband will be much stronger than the other so if you don't hear the first one, try listening on the other sideband.

Canadian NDBs normally have an USB tone only, usually very close to 400 Hz. They also have a long dash (keydown) following the CW identifier.

All NDBs heard in North America will be listed in the RNA database (updated daily) while those heard in Europe may be found in the REU database. Beacons heard outside of these regions will be found in the RWW database.

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

Hello all

Our 218th Co-ordinated Listening Event is less than a week away.
Just a normal CLE using a busy range of frequencies which usually attracts a lot of interest.
First-timers' CLE logs will also be very welcome, as always.

Days: Friday 21 April - Monday 24 April
Times: Start and end at midday, your LOCAL time
Range: 335.0 - 349.9 kHz

Please join us wherever you are - just log the NDBs you can identify
having their nominal frequencies in the range (it includes 335 kHz
but not 350 kHz) and any UNIDs that you come across there too.

We last concentrated on these frequencies for CLE200 in Nov. 2015
when 55 of us joined in.

73
Brian
----------------------------------------------------------
From: Brian Keyte G3SIA ndbcle'at'gmail.com
Location: Surrey, SE England (CLE coordinator)
----------------------------------------------------------
(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!

Saturday, 15 April 2017

The JK BevFlex-4 Antenna



This past week, comments regarding an interesting new low-noise directionally-switched receive antenna popped-up on both the Topband reflector and the IRCA (BCB DXers) reflector.

The new JK BevFlex-4 is reported to work very well without requiring a lot of real estate for deployment. The antenna was designed by Geoff Mendenhall, W8GNM, and Ned Mountain, WC4X.

There are several things that make this package a little different. The antenna can be configured in four basic forms: CLASSIC BEVERAGE, BEVERAGE ON GROUND (BOG) / BEVERAGE IN SOD (BIS), INVERTED EWE, or as a FLAG. What is quite different however is its flexible feedpoint allowing the antenna to be fed at any point along its length when used in the BOG or BEVERAGE configuration. The antenna is completely passive and requires no preamplification although, in some configurations, it is suggested for use above 7MHz.

Full details can be found at the JK Antennas website, as well as the manual and a FAQ page.

The FAQ sheet indicates that it will perform from LW through to 10m but the most dramatic improvement in reception from users has been noted on the lower bands. It sounds like it might make an interesting antenna for NDB DXing as well.

In the BOG form, the antenna can lay right on the ground or be buried (BIS) just below the surface using RG-6 for the actual antenna element. Other configurations allow much smaller, stealth-sized wire to be employed.

An interesting YouTube video of the antenna in action as well as an in-depth description may be viewed here:


Here is one comment from an east coast topbander:

I also bought one this year....deployed it as an EWE, as that’s all the room
I have, small lot in a subdivision.....in order to work them you need to
hear them, and once I put that up, I could hear !!! first put up as EU/VK-ZL
and worked several in the DX contest, but when the african dxpedetions were on, moved it to due east/west., and worked all of them, S01, etc.....front to back is remarkable on 160, it works ok on 80, (mine was 10ft high and 38 ft long) but really rocks on 160 !!!!, and really cuts down the line noise/static I normally hear on my transmit Inv L.

Perhaps this may be your answer for a small effective receive antenna for LW and above but even if not, their website description makes for interesting reading.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

April Moonbounce

My Moonrise



This week I had several days of unobstructed ocean moonrises as the Moon peaked on its monthly northern declination track. Thanks to the recent topping of my next door neighbour's large Douglas Fir, and removal of low-hanging branches, I am now able to track moonrises a little further to the south than before and can add two more EME days that were previously blocked by the large tree. All operations are on 2m JT65B mode, using a 9el Yagi and 140W output.




When I started (April 1) conditions looked as if they should be good, with lunar perigee (Moon's closest approach), degradation (background skynoise) and declination all looking favorable, but I was in for a surprise.

The rising yellow plot indicates the Earth-Moon distance growing further apart (increasing path losses) while the red plot indicates fluctuation in daily skynoise (temperature) near the moon. The blue plot indicates declination track from north to south ... for me, the higher the better.

courtesy: http://www.mmmonvhf.de/eme.php
Listening on the first two days (April 1-2) produced a few weak signals from the larger stations only and nothing from the more common '4-Yagi' stations and, no QSO's ... something was amiss. I can only attribute this to some real-time solar flaring during this two-day period and the resultant short term geomagnetic agitation the flares produced ... but almost as if the 'switch' had been flipped, the third day proved to be much different.

On day three, five new 'initials' were worked including one new state (New York) and two new DXCC countries! Truly surprising was that two of the stations worked were using just two Yagis, with both stations answering one of my 'CQ's.

Good conditions continued for the next few days, bringing my initials count from #87 to # 95, with the following stations all going into the log, turning a disappointing start into one of the best lunar sessions I have encountered:

HA6NQ, LZ2FO (two 13 el Yagis), EB5EEO, K2ZJ (two 14 el Yagis), DK5YA, S52LM, F8DO, PA5Y, SV6KRW, UA3PTW, OK1UGA.

April's operation brought  my 2m DXCC count to 29 and states worked total to 27.

SV6KRW's 4 x 8el Array

EB5EEO's 4 x 32el Cross-polarized Array (16V / 16H)

DK5YA's 4 x 22 Cross-polarized Array (11V / 11H)
As mentioned in my last EME report, I keep wondering when I will run out of stations that are able to hear my small station, forcing me to build a bigger amplifier for a few more precious db, but with the ability to occasionally work some 2-Yagi stations, the list of potential targets has increased dramatically ... perhaps the large Fir tree was a bigger attenuator than I had thought.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The Artwork Of DK1IS



Recent discussion on the RSGB LF Group reflector about high-powered LF / MF amplifiers brought an interesting response from Tom, DK1IS, and his unique solution.

It's no secret that a Class D / E amplifier using switching MOSFETs is a popular and reasonably inexpensive method of generating some serious RF on the LF and MF bands. Equally well-known is their propensity to gobble-up FETs should the amplifiers encounter much reactance in their output load. Most builders include some form of protection for sudden over-current or unwanted SWR excursions which will shut down the amplifier before any FETs can self-destruct. Those that don't usually end up replacing FETs.




I would venture to guess that over 90% of the transmitters now being employed on LF or MF are using switching MOSFETs in a Class D / E design but there are some amateurs using vacuum tubes to do their heavy-lifting ... and with good results.

DK1IS's beautiful homebrew amplifier is shown below. Tom provided the following description:

Hi Wolf and group,

nice to hear that someone else is thinking about this approach! I´m
content with my homemade tube PA for LF and MF which has provided
reliable service since nearly 4 years now. Only some thoughts about this
concept - I hope not to bore all those hams who are happy with their
semiconductor PAs:

Years ago I had a MOSFET PA for LF, Class B push-pull with 250 W RF. It
worked well at constant conditions, but when I had to retune the antenna
due to larger QSY or made antenna experiments there always was the
danger of blowing up these nervous semiconductors. After 4 or 5 times
changing the MOSFETS I decided to build a new PA - with tubes! Looking a
little bit anachronistic this PA is absolutely good-natured. Designed for
broadband service on LF and MF it makes no problems when changing the
antenna coarse tuning from one band to the other even when the fine
tuning isn't done yet. With my former MOSFET-PA this would have been
impossible.

I wanted to have a linear PA - this usually means class B. You have to
decide between narrow band and broad band (like an audio-amp) design.
For narrow band you can use a single-ended PA but you have to add a
resonance circuit. For broad band you should use a push-pull PA and have
to build a suitable output transformer. I opted for broad band design
because it is usable for LF and MF without changes at the PA. With this
design and sin-driving I reach a total harmonic distortion of about 5 %
at 700 W RF on a pure resistive dummy load. With the usual narrow,
narrow band antennas on LF and MF you don´t need additional filters!

Concerning the tubes: If you take the common TX tubes with plate
voltages of several kV all output circuits have rather high impedances,
that means large coils for the resonance circuits resp. large
transformer windings and very high voltages - potentially a construction
problem. This led me to the choice of 2x 4x PL519 in push-pull, a rugged
colour TV line output tube with low plate voltage and high plate
current. In this way I came down to a plate-to-plate resistance of about
1 kOhm at 600 V DC plate voltage, where you easily can build a ferrite
broad band output transformer down to 50 Ohms. A disadvantage of this
concept is that you have to give individual bias to each tube, that
means for the first start-up you have to align 8 potentiometers
carefully to nearly equal cathode currents for all the tubes. But
according to my experience this alignment remains stable over a long
time. I have inserted 1-Ohm-resistors in each cathode line and have
brought the voltage drops to 8 cinch connectors, where I can monitor the
DC component (with external filtering) as well as the real time current.
With 4 tubes in parallel per branch of course you have to take care for
self oscillations. The extensive use of bypass capacitors, ferrite beads
and parasitic chokes in the plate lines is mandatory as well as good
grounding concepts are. The tubes don´t pull control grid current (this
would even be true in class C!) but you need 3 or 4 W RF input power due
to all the ohmic loads at the tube´s control grids caused by the
individual bias paths. On the other hand this certainly helps to avoid
oscillations. You can see some pictures of this PA at https://www.qrz.com/db/DK1IS

By the way: why not to try these tubes at class D? With DC plate
voltages of perhaps 1200 V you should get a nice QRO-PA ...

Wolf, you are right: building such a PA from scratch is a time consuming
enterprise. I didn´t count the working hours but according to my lab log
the whole project took about 9 months - an adequate time for a new baby!
It was a great experience anyway.

Good luck and 73,
Tom, DK1IS

2x 4x PL519 Push-Pull  



TX, power supply, RX, exciter
As 'day one' for U.S. amateurs gaining their new LF / MF bands draws closer, many are seriously thinking about building or modifying rigs to get on the air. I'm sure the use of switching MOSFET amplifiers will still reign supreme when it comes to decision-making time but with some feeling more comfortable with tube technology, especially when used for power amplifiers, I suspect we will see some interesting tube transmitters being employed as well. I'm sure that some will even seek to modify older tube rigs, knowing that a pair of 6146's can muster enough power to have plenty of fun on the new band as well.

DK1IS has provided an inspiring example of what can be done using vacuum tubes ... they certainly should not be discounted as a viable method of generating your hard-earned LF / MF ERP.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

LF and MF Now Very Close For U.S. Amateurs!



For U.S. amateurs anxiously awaiting implementation of the new 630m and 2200m bands, the wait seems to be almost over!





Good news came down late yesterday in the form of the FCC's "Report and Order" (ET Docket No. 15-99) which lays out the proposed rules and regulations that, barring any further changes, will likely become standard operating procedures once these two bands become finalized.

Highlights of the FCC's document are as follows:

1. Recognition that both Utilities (UTC) and amateurs can co-exist within these parts of the spectrum:

... co existence between PLC systems and amateur radio operations in these bands is possible, and the service rules we adopt in this Order will foster this co existence.

2. Amateurs operating within these bands must be no closer than 1 km from transmission lines that are actively carrying PLC (control) signals:

As proposed, we will permit amateur stations to operate in the 135.7-137.8 kHz and 472-479 kHz bands when separated by a specified distance from electric power transmission lines with PLC systems that use the same bands.   To support the operations of both the amateur service and PLC systems in these bands, we adopt a minimum horizontal separation distance of one kilometer between the transmission line and the amateur station when operating in these bands.

We find that a one kilometer separation distance reasonably ensures that PLC systems and amateur radio stations are unlikely to experience interference.  In addition, establishing a zone where amateur use is not authorized will simplify and streamline the process for determining whether an amateur station can transmit in these bands when in proximity to transmission lines upon which PLC systems operate.

3. Amateurs must "make notification" to local UTC authorities before commencing operation on either of these two bands:

We will require amateur operators to notify UTC of the location of their proposed station prior to commencing operations, to confirm that the station is not located within the one kilometer separation distance. 

The notification requirement will entail notifying UTC of the operator’s call sign and coordinates of the proposed station’s location for confirmation that the location is outside the one kilometer separation distance, or the relevant PLC system is not transmitting on the requested bands.  UTC, which maintains a database of PLC systems must respond to the notification within 30 days if it objects.  If UTC raises no objection, amateur radio operators may commence operations on the band identified in their notification.  The Wireless Telecommunications Bureau will issue a public notice providing the details for filing notifications with UTC.

A simple notification to UTC with a 30-day waiting period does not appear to be burdensome.  Amateur operations can commence as soon as that period expires.  ARRL claims that UTC should provide access to the PLC database to them or directly to amateurs to assist them in determining whether their notified operations are within the one-kilometer separation distance from transmission lines with PLC systems operating on these bands.  ARRL fails to make a persuasive case why it would be a better organization to make those determinations rather than UTC.  Further, since UTC has control of the PLC database which can be updated, we find no reason to mandate its release to another party especially considering the sensitive nature of information it contains.

4. Power limits will be expressed in EIRP as well as maximum PEP:

Amateur stations may operate in the 135.7-137.8 kHz band with a maximum radiated power of one watt EIRP ... that amateur stations operating in the 135.7-137.8 kHz band should be subject only to the general Part 97 limit of 1.5 kW peak envelope power (PEP).

We also adopt the power limits proposed in the WRC-12 NPRM for amateur stations operating in the 472-479 kHz band.   For such stations, the maximum radiated power will be five watts EIRP, except for stations located in the portion of Alaska that is within 800 kilometers of the Russian Federation, where the EIRP will be limited to one watt.  We also limit the transmitter power for amateur radio operations in the 472 479 kHz band to 500 watts PEP; provided, however, that the resulting radiated power does not exceed five watts EIRP.   In other words, it may be necessary to reduce transmitter power below 500 watts PEP to avoid exceeding the five watts EIRP limit.

5. Antenna height will be limited:

... we will require that the antennas used to transmit in these bands not exceed 60 meters in height above ground level (AGL), as ARRL proposed.

6. Regarding transmission modes, no bandwidths have been specified in order to encourage experimentation:

Consistent with our proposal in the WRC-12 NPRM,  and with the existing rules in Section 97.305 for the frequency bands below 30 MHz, we authorize amateur stations to transmit the following emission types throughout the new amateur bands: CW (international Morse code telegraphy), RTTY (narrow-band direct-printing telegraphy), data, phone, and image emissions.   These emission types provide amateur operators with maximum flexibility, and we find that additional restrictions would needlessly hinder experimentation.

7. Experimental stations appear to 'still be in business' but are encouraged to transition to the 'amateur' service:

Finally, we decline to permit previously licensed experimental stations – some of which have been authorized with significantly more radiated power than the adopted EIRP limits for these new amateur service bands – to communicate with amateur stations operating in these bands.  Amateur operations in these bands currently authorized under experimental licenses should transition their operations in accordance with the adopted rules and not circumvent such rules by use of experimental licenses.

My understanding of the R&O document is that participating parties may still file a 'Petition For Reconsideration' notification within 30 days of the R&O's publication in the Federal Register. Once these (if any) are dealt with, there are no other roadblocks preventing immediate implementation.

The document contains additional details not discussed here and makes fascinating reading for amateurs that might be looking forward to the new allocations.

This is the news that many U.S. amateurs have been waiting many years to hear! It is also good news for Canadian's operating on these bands to know that they may soon see a large increase in activity south of the border. Let's hope things continue to transpire favorably and that we will finally see the new bands become a reality.

Get those soldering irons out guys and gals!

Saturday, 25 March 2017

The Everlasting Ameco AC-1

courtesy: WB1GFH's AC-1 site



I continue to be amazed at the high prices being paid on E-Bay for original Ameco AC-1 transmitters but perhaps I shouldn't ... they've been doing this for several years now.



Few radios that I can think of have elevated themselves to the cult status enjoyed by the AC-1, but the 3-tube Knight Ocean Hopper regen also comes to mind. Both radios typically reach $100- $200 on auction, with some going for much more. There were plenty of AC-1's sold and built over the years so it's not as if they're rare.

They seem to pop up frequently on E-Bay and the auctions are usually very spirited. I see a nice looking one at present, with 23 bids so far and now at $150! I guess the timing is just about right, with a large supply of now-retired ex-50's Novices who once owned an AC-1, looking to turn back the clock and recreate their early radio experience.

As transmitters go, they don't come much simpler, but the well-designed and smartly marketed radio made it extremely popular among the vast numbers of newly-licenced teenaged Novices who likely didn't have much spare change ... the first ones hit the market in the late 50's, right in time for the strongest solar cycle on record, selling for $14.95 in kit form. AC-1's continued to be sold into the early 70's with the price rising to around $25 ... a nice long run for most ham gear. I may be wrong but I don't think they were ever available in anything other than kit form.


 Here is what the kit looked like upon arrival ... this one still NIB in 2012!

courtesy: http://www.wa0itp.com/ac-1.html
It's not difficult to imagine the level of excitement that this would have stirred up with a young Novice, eager to get on the air.

There is also a large builder's interest in making AC-1 'clones' along with a dedicated Yahoo Group for additional support. Several years go I decided to scratch-build my own clone and found that I had everything needed except for the gray hammertone spray paint. Although most AC-1's used black chicken head knobs, some early models used maroon knobs so I decided to go with a red slide switch and red chicken head knobs on my reproduction. The important decal was available at the time from the Yahoo group but I see them now being sold by Radio Daze, for those that may want to try their hand at building a clone themselves.


The AC-1 uses the inexpensive 6V6 elevated from AF to RF duty, in a crystal-friendly Colpitts crystal oscillator. The only departure from the norm is the output circuit. Most inexpensive one-tubers end up with a link-coupled output but the AC-1 uses the more versatile pi-network ... something that no doubt added to its production costs but produced a transmitter able to load a wider range of antenna impedances while providing superior harmonic attenuation, both important in a beginner's rig.

My clone puts out 8 watts on 80m and 7 watts on 40m. Although never intended, doubling to 20m sees a large drop in efficiency, with output power dropping to 2 watts. Swapping to a 6L6 yields an extra couple of watts. Not enough to be noticed at the other end except when doubling or tripling.

I haven't had my clone on the air for a few years and think it's time to spark it up once again for some summertime fun on 40m CW. It would be great to work another clone or even a real AC-1 if you have one, but any contacts will be exciting if you would like to try.

I'll be hanging around 7118 kHz or down near 7040 and ... I won't be loud!

Another Blast Coming

courtesy: https://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/




Speaking of 'everlasting', wimpy Solar Cycle 24 has been showing more energy in its death throws than it ever seemed to show during its peak.








It continues to blast earth with a never-ending series of coronal hole streams leading to periods of high signal absorption (particularly on the lower frequencies) and widespread auroras.

The present rip in the Sun's surface is the same one that caused major disruptions during the last solar rotation. Geomagnetic storming and propagation disruptions are forecast to begin around the 28th, with a proviso ... these ones could be even worse than last time as the wind's polarity at present is favorable to greater coupling with the Earth's magnetosphere, sending the Earth's Bz southward (negative) into auroral producing, prop-killing conditions.

Sometimes, though not normally, these events can produce periods of enhanced low frequency propagation, especially during the hours just before the event's commencement ... the best thing to do is just continue to operate normally and not assume the worst. I've been guilty of this in the past and being caught off guard, have missed some better than usual LF propagation.

 I'll keep my fingers crossed over the next few days and think positive ... Bz-wise!

Monday, 20 March 2017

The Don Miller Enigma



A mention in the KE9V weekly 'CALLING CQ' e-mail letter brought back more memories of my teen DX years. The article pointed to a YouTube interview of legendary DXer Dr. Don Miller, W9WNV, conducted by another DX legend, Martti Laine, OH2BH. The fascinating interview was conducted in December 2016 and is broken into five parts.

For those old enough to remember, Don spent a few years in the late 60's providing DXers with one rare country after another ... dozens of them. He was a superb operator and the originator of the now ubiquitous "5NN" shortened signal report, after trying unsuccessfully with "FNN". He was also one of the very first to operate 'split', requiring stations to call up or down instead of the then prevalent one frequency pileup! Don was really instrumental in shaping much of what we see today as 'standard ops' when it comes to DX'pedition operations. To hear Don handle a pileup was something else. Often when the pile became very large, he would listen to the calling crowd for a couple of minutes and then respond with a list of calls and signal reports ... nothing like the individual exchanges we see today.


My little DX-20 and VF-1 were only able to work Don at one of his stops ... YJ8WW on 40m CW. He was all about giving the little guy, those running modest stations, an opportunity to work some rare countries.

courtesy: F6BLK
All was not roses however. Don ran into several problems with the ARRL regarding some of his 'supposed' locations. Several of his operations were disqualified for lack of proper documentation, sworn affidavits from his DX companion that they weren't actually where they claimed to be and by his own admission. As well, there were certain stations at the top of the honor roll that, for whatever reason, Don was just 'unable to hear'. This infuriated many of the top DXers of the day as well as officiators of the DXCC program, still in its infancy. Don claims his selective deafness was because some of these amateurs were 'DX hogs', working him several times on the same band, a practice he discouraged. Others claim that it was because these top DXers did not contribute monetarily to his expeditions. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between. With big egos and honor roll status involved, a lot of bad blood was spilled in the DX community at the time ... bitter memories to this day still, for some.

As bad as things had become for Don, it got much worse, when in 1980, rightly or wrongly, he was convicted of conspiring to have his estranged wife killed and was sentenced to 25 years to life.

Don Miller is one of those 'larger than life' personalities whose presentations at DX clubs and conventions would bring the large crowds to their feet with his DX stories and expedition accomplishments.

The YouTube interviews show a somewhat contrite, remorseful man, compared to the one we met in the 60's but there's still a hint of that young mischief-maker and a twinkle in his 80 year old eyes as he teases of putting another rare one on-the-air, one last time.

courtesy: OH2BH
Don is now AE6IY and if you hear or work him, love him or hate him, be aware that you are talking to one of amateur radio's living icons.


[See also: "The Don Miller Story As Told By Hugh Cassidy, WA6AUD]

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

March Moonbounce


Tied up with other radio happenings, I missed getting on EME during the moon's last two orbits of the planet. I was able to get back at it last week, with three days of unobstructed ocean moonrises as the moon travelled through its northern declination peak.

Conditions seemed unusually good and I was able to complete several contacts with my small station ... a single 9el m2 Yagi and an older 2m 140W brick amplifier. The Yagi is nestled atop my 50' tower's mast, between my triband Yagi, and Yagis for 6m and 70cm. The tower is located about 100' from the ocean and on these favorable moonrises, looks towards the moon directly over saltwater. The antenna appears to develop the full 'theoretical' 6db of seagain and performance seems fairly similar to what I would expect from a box of four similar Yagis.

Stations worked last week (all on JT65B) where: I3MEK, K9MRI, PA0JMV, WA3QPX, G4DML, EA5SR, and SP8NR. The first three stations had been previously worked but answered my CQ while the remainder where all new, representing 'initials' #84 - #87 using this simple system.

WA3QPX 4 X 28 el Yagi array

EA8SR's 4 X 9el Yagi array


G4DML's 4 X 8el Yagi array


K9MRI's monster array - 8 x 28el Yagis


K9MRI provided the best signal report I had ever received on moonbounce, a -15db and indicated that my signal was audible during our QSO!

WA3QPX represented a new 2m state, which made me wonder what my confirmed state totals had reached ... 26 now, including EME and terrestrial contacts. Interestingly, my 2m DXCC total also stands at this same number ... 26 confirmed.

With such a low ERP, I often think that I will eventually run out of stations that I can work on EME, yet I continue to see many new stations every time I get on the air ... likely enough to keep me challenged for some time yet.

I often hear stations better than they are hearing me so if I do run out of stations, the next logical step would be a modest 3db increase in my power by building a simple 300W amplifier. An extra 3db would probably open up a large number of new challenging target stations to work with.

I have a box of NIB 4CX250Bs and sockets that have been looking at me longingly for some time!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

CQ Crossband and ... 3 Down, 97 To Go!



Several QSL cards have arrived after the last 630m 'crossband' event ... including one from ZF1EJ in the Cayman Islands confirming our 630m QSO in January.



 

The contact was made on JT-9, the 'WSPR QSO' mode, and represents DXCC country #3 for me on 630m ... only 97 more to go! ZF1EJ was running just 32 watts output when we had our 630m JT-9 contact but has since cranked his output to around 60 watts. Eden is beaconing most nights on WSPR and puts out a well-heard signal. He is very interested in two-way JT-9 work with other VE stations as well as any Europeans and down-under stations.

From what I can tell, it looks like JT-9 (similar to JT-65 but a much narrower bandwidth of 15.6Hz) is establishing itself as the go-to mode for weak signal two-way work on 630m. It has a couple of things going for it that makes it very attractive for this band ... it can dig way down into the noise (-25 db approximately) and communicate with very weak signals and, it does not require amateurs to know CW, a growing trend with newer operators and a real hindrance to two-way CW work. I suspect, and hope, that there will be much more CW activity on 630m once amateurs in the U.S.A. get the band as the amount of information that can be exchanged per transmission on JT-9 is limited ... time will tell.

In the meantime, here is a request for more two-way 'crossband' CW activity with amateurs in all parts of North America. I have recently totally revised the 'CQ Crossband' page on my website, 'The VE7SL Radio Notebook'. Please note that my web address for well over a decade, is no longer valid and everything has been moved to this new location. If you have the old one bookmarked or are linking to it from your own site, please be aware that previous links will now be dead.

The crossband concept allows amateurs not yet on 630m to still participate in this exciting part of the spectrum ... and to check out their ability to hear anything on MF. If we were to make a schedule for a crossband contact, I would be transmitting on 630m at full ERP while you would be answering on one of the HF bands ... usually 160, 80 or 40m.

I am very much interested in setting up crossband schedules for 630m at any time and can very likely enlist several other VE7s to be there as well so that you can work more than one station. I have full details on my updated 'CQ Crossband' web page but please do not hesitate to give crossband a try!


Roger, VE7VV in Victoria, B.C., recently became the 8th VE7 to muster RF on 630m, with power limited to 1 watt at present. Our contact was on CW while he worked stations in Vancouver on JT-9. Hopefully he will continue to build his station and become more active on the band.

Crossband continues to be a subject of much interest both here and with many U.S. stations that are waiting for the band. Recent cards from Colorado and California, shown below, are the latest to arrive.




K6YK gave me an RST of '519' but explained the reason for this was because he was receiving on his 3 el HF tri-bander which provided the best signal-to-noise value! This is often the case on 630m so try what you have. Many times a 'non-resonant' antenna will pick up less noise and yield the best signal readability.

If you would like to try a crossband QSO, please contact me at VE7SL (at) shaw.ca ... I'll keep the rig warmed up!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Novice Rig Round-Up Report





Last week's Novice Rig Round-Up delivered far more enjoyment than I ever imagined!




Operating from the left coast and choosing to limit my output power to 5 watts, I really didn't expect to work more than a half dozen stations or so. The week-long event included two weekends, providing plenty of opportunity for participants to spark-up their novice-class rigs or their favorite pre-80's 'boatanchors' ... and they did!

I had 68 contacts with other 'NRR' stations, working numerous Heathkits, Drakes, Johnsons and homebrewed favorites ... even a Collins KWS-1! Staying true to the 'novice' class spirit, most were using hand keys and a surprising number were even using crystal control.

I decided to enter the fray with my homebrew "Longfeller", shown above, run at 5W to take advantage of the low power multiplier as well as using crystal control.

After struggling to work two stations, I soon decided that if I was going to work much at all, I would need to switch to 'search and pounce' mode and use the VFO. The once ubiquitous Heathkit VF-1, with all of its charming quirks, was pressed into service. Although I've always loved its green hypnotic dial, a week with the VF-1 reminded me of all the things I also hated about it as a teenaged ham back in the mid 60s'. But as it did back then, it served me well and allowed me to park the Longfeller wherever I wanted.

My NRR Setup
So much of the NRR reminded me of my early exciting radio days, high up in my attic bedroom shack. It reminded me of how challenging each contact was back then and of the pride of achievement when a contact was completed using pretty basic gear. It reminded me also, of just how far our equipment has evolved since then and gave me a renewed appreciation for the modern gear I unfortunately often take for granted.

For the low bands (80/40m), the Longfeller was fed into full-sized vertical wire groundplanes made from homebrew ladder line and both fed with the same coaxial feedline.


A counterpoise of eight wire radials were laid on the lawn temporarily with the feedpoint sitting about 20' from the ocean. Being right at the ocean allows me to take advantage of an approximate 6db of "sea gain", effectively turning my 5 watts into 20 watts of radiated power. At times, my signal needed all the help it could get.


It was also exciting to catch the sometimes fleeting transcontinental openings on 15m, as the MUF often struggled to reach 21 MHz each morning. This very much reminded me of past solar cycle peak winters and the morning excitement of watching the MUF slowly climb towards 50MHz, or in some cases, shoot up like a rocket. As Cycle 24 reaches the bottom, the effects of low solar flux values on our higher bands becomes increasingly more evident. I suspect that there will be no 15m transcontinental work in next winter's NRR and who knows how long that might be the case. High MUFs were fun while they lasted ... another thing often taken for granted.

Without question, one of the most interesting parts of the nine day event was following the propagation variances from night to night on 40 and 80m. With a couple of exceptions, low-band propagation was generally pretty good, with one mid-week night being just great. Signals from the east coast to the southern states were strong and with almost no QSB. The Longfeller pushed its 80m signal to Florida, Maryland, New York, Alabama, Louisiana, Ohio and Kentucky. I remember many nights like this when operating 80m back in the early to mid 60's, during the lull between monster Cycle 19 and wimpy Cycle 20. Hopefully we will see more of these really nice transcontinental nights on 80 over the next several years.

For me however, the highlight of the event occurred last Saturday afternoon, while on 40m, fully ninety minutes before our local sunset. I had called WW6D after his 589 CQ only to hear him respond to another NRR local, Mark, CF7MM. He gave Mark's 50 watt DX-60 a '589' and when he finished I called him again ... with not even a whisper of response or even a QRZ. After I called him a third time, he returned to his CQ, leaving no doubt that he wasn't hearing a trace of my signal. Now full-sized 1/4 wave groundplanes mounted beside the ocean are not noted for producing high-angled radiation, which this path would certainly have benefited from, but I would have expected something!

I immediately moved down the band a few kilohertz and sent a short hand-keyed CQ and received an immediate response from WS1K in Plymouth, MA! Jon's signal was a solid and unwavering 559 and he was running only 5 watts as well ... and, he was crystal-controlled! The groundplane had swiftly redeemed itself as this exciting contact went into the log on 40m ... and all in broad daylight! Pictured below is Jon's transcon ether-busting machine ... proof that form does indeed follow function!

WS1K's 40m Transcon 6V6 Ether-Buster
For me, there is only one other operating event that is as enjoyable as I found the NRR to be ... the annual 1929 BK Party, when signals are often just as strong as in the NRR, but a couple of decades raunchier-sounding. Both are great fun and if you loved the NRR you will love the '29 BK.

I'm really looking forward to next year's NRR but will definitely be running more power. I was impressed with the several Drake 2NT's that I heard and luckily enough, have one such rig in my boatanchor basement. It will be a good project to recap and put back on the air, along with the VF-1, which will also be given the once over to encourage it to behave properly when driving the classy Drake.


Please give the NRR some serious thought for next year ... it's not too early to start planning, refurbishing or to seek out and cherish that aging old beauty, presently hiding in someones attic gathering dust. See you in the NRR!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Hunting For NDBs In CLE 216

CLE 216 NA Targets!




This coming weekend will see another CLE challenge. This time the hunting grounds will be:  320.0 - 334.9 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 White Rock NDB, 'WC', on 332 kHz. The 'WC' NDB is located just a few hundred feet from the Canada - U.S. border, about 25 miles south east of the Vancouver International airport and about 20 miles west of the Abbotsford airport.

The beacon is located on a quiet residential street, nestled between well kept homes and towering fir trees.

'WC - 332' White Rock, BC

Antenna at 'WC - 332'
The antenna is an inverted 'L' end-fed Marconi about 65' in height with a flat top of about 200'. The downlead is barely visible in the above photo as it angles its way back to the transmitter shed. 

Heard regularly in California, 25 watt 'WC' is not as widely reported as is 'XX -344', especially from points east. As the system is similar to what a typical amateur LF installation might be, I would be very interested in any reception reports of 'WC' by DXers to the east. 'WC's upper sideband modulation frequency is ~ 423Hz so look for it on 332.423 kHz with your receiver in the CW mode. 



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

Hi all,

Here are all the details for this weekend's co-ordinated listening event.
First time CLE logs too? Yes, please!
Short logs are always as welcome as long ones.

Days: Friday 24 February - Monday 27 February
Times: Start and End at midday, your LOCAL time
Range: 320.0 - 334.9 kHz

Please log the NDBs you can positively identify that are listed in the
frequency range (no DGPS please), plus any UNIDs heard there too.

Send your CLE log to the List, if possible as a plain text email and
not in an attachment, with CLE216 at the start of its title.
Please show on EVERY LINE of your log:

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

Show those main items FIRST on each line, before any optional details
such as the NDB's Location, Distance, Offsets, Cycle time, etc.
As always, make your log meaningful to everyone by including your
own listening location and details of your receiver, aerial(s), etc.
(It would be OK to use a remote receiver, with the owner's permission if
necessary, provided that ALL your loggings for the CLE are made using it).

I will send the usual 'Any More Logs?' email at about 18:00 UTC on Tuesday
so that you can check that your 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 Wed. 1st
March. The combined results should be completed later that day.

Remember that you can find all CLE-related information from the Group's
CLE page ( http://www.ndblist.info/cle.htm ), including a link to the seek
lists provided for this Event from the Rxx Database.

Good listening
Brian
----------------------------------------------------------
From: Brian Keyte G3SIA ndbcle'at'gmail.com
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!