Wednesday, 28 August 2019

My 10’ x 20’ Active Loop

courtesy: americanradiohistory.com



After recently installing a new coax run out to the loop and after five years of summer sunlight, the plastic food-storage container used to house the loop’s preamp (Wellbrook ALA100LN ... LF-30MHz) finally bit the dust ... literally.


Last week I replaced the housing with a slightly larger plastic box but I’ll still be faced with the UV bombardment and eventual deterioration of the clear plastic and lid unless I do something different.


I’ve a couple of thoughts but am hoping for some other suggestions from blog readers.

I have thought about spray painting the container, which may (or may not) prevent UV damage, but wonder if paint will stick to the smooth plastic surface? Maybe if scuffed-up a bit it would stick ... if so, the coating could be annually renewed.

Another idea is to cover it with duct tape ... not pretty, but possibly doing the job. Any other thoughts out there?



Part 2 and Part 3 of this blog were originally published when the loop was first built (2014) and describe the antenna details as well as showing the loop in action ... listening on the NDB and broadcast band as well as showing its nulling capability. It’s been a great performer and  I can highly recommend the ALA100LN for a large aperture receiving loop. I’m looking forward to what will hopefully be a good winter of exciting loop DXing.

Part 2 - New LF / MF Loop



Some may recall my blog back in July (Wellbrook Loop Plans) describing a new loop that I had been thinking about as a possible replacement for my 10' shielded loop. I had been doodling various construction ideas using PVC tubing in an effort to keep it as light as possible, without introducing any metal near the loop. On Monday of this week, I dismantled the 10' loop in preparation for my new experimental rectangular loop.
I've had the Wellbrook loop preamp here for a few months, so it was now or never, while the weather was still 'antenna-friendly'. Now I do understand that this goes against one of ham radio's long-standing traditions that dictates all antenna work must wait until the weather can't get any worse. Antennas built in the winter rain always work much better than ones put up in the summer. Hopefully it's not Wouff-Hong or Rettysnitch punishable but the fall DX season is almost upon us and I'm not waiting for the rain!

The new 'loop' is not really loop-shaped but is rectangular (10' x 20') and more like a Flag antenna shape. I considered a Flag but really don't need any back-end nulling capability since I'm mainly interested in listening to the east and to the north.


The main boom section is composed of two sections of 1" PVC thick-wall (Schedule 40) pipe joined at the center and reinforced with a 10' section of 2" x 2" Douglas Fir. In addition, the boom has a truss of 1/4" Dacron to take out any end-loading sag. The vertical end sections are 3/4" Schedule 40 PVC pipe, fastened with a T at the boom end. The center mast is made of 2" Schedule 40 ABS pipe with a long section of 1 1/2" ABS nested inside that telescopes upward to anchor the truss ropes and give some additional rigidity to the mast.


Main boom and mast construction
This type of construction would lend itself well to anyone interested in a rotating Flag antenna for the BCB / LF or 160m. The costs are very low, the structure is lightweight and the materials are readily available at most hardware outlets.


Looping E/W


Although the preamp is completely sealed and weatherproofed, I still decided to mount it inside a container. The container also provided a convenient anchor to terminate the loop end wires (PVC-coated #18 stranded) without putting any tension on the soldered terminals.

Although I have not had much time to listen, and conditions are still in 'recovery' mode from earlier disturbances, initial indications are that everything is performing as well, if not better, than expected. It certainly outperforms my 10' active shielded loop by a large margin. I have yet to do any serious S/N comparisons between it and my primary LF receive antenna, a large inverted L, which must be tuned to resonance for the desired listening range. I believe that the very quiet loop / Wellbrook combination will provide an overall S/N improvement.

I have always believed that smaller loops provide deeper and sharper front-to-side nulls so I was pleasantly surprised to measure (using Perseus) null depths from 25-30db, on various groundwave signals ... more than expected. Skywave signals also deliver sharp deep nulls in the order of 22 - 25db ... again surprising, but I'll take them!

A brief listen while pointing S-E last evening turned up good signals from 1 kW'ers KYHN (1650kHz) in Fort Smith, Arkansas and KKGM (1630kHz) in Fort Worth, Texas. An early morning listen revealed good audio from JOIK (567kHz) Sapporo, Japan and JOAK (595kHz) in Shobu. Down in the ndb band, little 25-watter 'IP' on 210kHz was an all-time new catch from Mobile, Arizona.

There is still much to learn from this new antenna system but the biggest challenge will be keeping it up all winter. I did lose one of my 10' loops after several years, due to wind, when the main (un-reinforced) PVC mast eventually failed from flexing fatigue. I will tie the ends of the new antenna down when the winds get strong to reduce as much mast flexing as possible. I could however, run the risk of violating another long-standing radio adage ..."if your antenna stays up all winter, it's not big enough". I just can't win.

Part 3 - Loop Listen 


As Murphy would have it, and in spite of the low amount of solar activity, LF/MF propagation has been very poor since getting my new 10' x 20' loop in place. The few front-to-side nulling checks that I have done, have produced results varying from around 20db to 30db, depending upon the signal. I suspect the depth of null is also affected by the signal's arrival angle but there is still more to learn. The pattern seems to be very close to that of a typical circular loop...the classic figure-8 pattern illustrated below as shown on the Wellbrook data that came with my ALA100LN preamp.

Courtesy: http://www.wellbrook.uk.com

More typically, the null is around 21-22 db as shown on this test while listening to the ground wave carrier of the 'YZA' NDB (236kHz) located in Ashcroft, B.C., about 150 miles to the NE. As expected, the null is fairly sharp and the front / rear lobe, fairly broad.



One short check at dusk produced nice signals from  CJBC, the French-language station in Toronto. The past few nights it has been very strong but with a strong echo effect. I wonder if there is more than one CBC outlet here (860kHz), such as a low-power repeater, causing the echo.



At the same time, while still fairly light outside, WCCO in Minneapolis had a nice signal just before sunset.



No matter how poor conditions become, it seems that the Hinchinbrook (Alaska) NDB, 'ALJ' (233kHz), is always strong ... looping north.



Courtesy: https://www.google.ca/maps
My apologies for the video quality. If you know of any software available for making full-screen Perseus video captures so that I might improve my technique, please let me know. Presently I am just capturing them on my I-Pad which leaves a lot of room for improvement.

(Since originally posting the above, I have been using the Tiny Take free screen capturing software, to produce better quality catures of my Perseus recordings. It's also probable that my new iPhone would produce a high quality video of my computer screen compared to the older iPad used for these ones, but it's something yet to be tried.)

Hopefully conditions will only get better as the season progresses and I am able to give the loop a good workout ... before it gets too windy!

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Hunting For NDBs In CLE247

courtesy: http://www.ve3gop.com
It's hard to believe that another month has passed, but boys and girls, this coming weekend will see another monthly CLE challenge!

This time the hunting grounds will be: 
320.0 - 334.9 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.

If you've been meaning to participate in  CLE, then maybe this weekend is a fine time to try! Lately, we've had a lot of first time submissions so you won't be alone!

As well, if you're trying to learn CW, copying NDBs is perfect practice, as the identifier speed is generally slow and the letters are repeated again every few seconds!

A nice challenge in this one is to hear YER - 334 kHz. 'YER' is located at Fort Severn, in northern Ontario, beside Hudson Bay.

'YER' runs 250W into a 100' vertical and is well-heard throughout North America, Europe and west to Hawaii!  Listen for its upper-sideband CW identifier (with your receiver in the CW mode) on 334.404 kHz.

At this time of the season, summer lightning storms should be starting to wane and propagation can often be as good as mid-winter if the lightning cooperates.

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

For example, 'AA' near Fargo, ND, 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 details:

Hello 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 23 August - Monday 26 August
     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.  Put CLE247 and FINAL at the start of the email 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 the listening
location and details of the receiver, aerial(s), etc.
It would be OK to use one remote receiver, with the owner's permission if
necessary, provided that ALL your loggings for the CLE are made using it.

Joachim or I will send the usual 'Any More Logs?' email at about 19:00 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
08:00 UTC on Wed. 28th August.
We hope to complete the combined results within a day or two.

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

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



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

The NDB List 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.

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

Remember - 'First-time' logs are always VERY welcome!

Reports may be sent to the NDB List Group or e-mailed to CLE co-ordinator, Brian Keyte (G3SIA), whose address appears above. If you are a member of the group, all final results will also be e-mailed and posted there.

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.

Have fun and good hunting!


Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Weak Signal Volume Levels



The following blogspot was originally published in July, 2016. Hopefully some will find this of interest as the topic is still very relevant.

***************


A recent posting on Yahoo's Perseus SDR Group inquired about the use of external or PC-based DSP manipulation of signals partially masked by noise to improve readability. The most interesting part of this short discussion was the result of one response indicating:


"BTW one of the best and most simple noise reductions is to lower the volume."

to which the original inquirer responded:

"BTW, lower the volume to reduce noise ... ?? That was a joke, right ??"

Other comments soon followed, including my own, initially:

"Actually, for whatever reason, this works...at least when copying very very weak CW signals. I think it is more of an ear-brain thing where the noise
gets more focus than the signal when listening at moderate levels but
cranking everything down to a very low level has always improved copy for
me....not sure why this works as well as it does."

From Roelof Bakker, PA├śRDT:

"The ear brain system works much better at low volume as it is easily
overloaded by strong signals. Similar like too much direct light in 
your eyes will degrade contrast. I guess this is getting worse with
age, but I am not sure about that.

I have been watching many videos on YouTube which demonstrate ham
radio gear and most if not all use far to high volume settings,
which degrades readability. I believe it is a normal habit to raise
the volume for weak signals, but this is often contra productive.

When listening for weak signals at low volume settings, a quiet room
is mandatory. I have taken considerable effort in building a quiet
PC, that is aurally quiet.

What does wonders for copying weak signals with the PERSEUS is to
switch off the AGC."


"No it's not a joke and it's not the RF Gain. It's one of the capabilities of the human ear.

Of course qrm can be limited and reduced but noise is difficult. What you often see is that with all those noise reduction things is that the volume drops. Make an audio recording of a part with and without a (white) noise limiter switched on. Open it into an audio editor and you will see that the amplitude of the part where the noise reduction is on is lower. Now amplify that part to the same level as where the limiter is not active and play it back. You will be astonished how little the difference is.

It's probably also a thing that can differ from person to person but I've never seen tools that can make an unreadable signal readable. Most of the time they sound just different, not better."

Likely there is a ton of data showing how our ear / brain link deals with noise or tones buried in noise. With audio levels set to anything above bare minimum, I think it's very easy for your brain to react mainly to the noise and not to the tone. Reducing this level possibly puts the two back on even levels ... even though there really has been no change in signal-to-noise ratio.

When trying to copy very weak, difficult signals, I've always found that turning audio levels down to bare minimums helps me personally. As Roelof mentioned, the entire environment must be dead quiet as well so that there are no outside distractions. Even the sounds of the headphone cord, brushing against clothing or the table top, can make the difference between copy and no copy. Decades of copying very weak ndb CW idents buried in the noise as well as spending several years on 2m CW moonbounce, has taught me that my ear-brain connection works best when audio inputs are very, very low.

courtesy: http://justagwailo.com/

As an interesting aside, my years of copying weak CW tones, has shown itself in other ways as well. Before retirement as a high school tech ed teacher, staff were required to have their hearing checked annually, as part of the medical plan's requirement. Each year the mobile audio lab would roll-up for the tests. I would always make sure to sit perfectly still, with no headphone cord wires brushing against my clothing. The tones varied in frequency and intensity and were often extremely weak, not unlike the weak echoes I was used to copying from the lunar surface. The reaction from the examiner was always the same, every year ... complete astonishment when checking the results and usually a comment that I had the hearing of a teenager! Thankfully my hearing, which I've always been careful to protect, remains exceptionally good, for which I am truly grateful ... so often this is a genetic thing and there is little one can do about controlling hearing-loss as one ages.

I shudder anytime I see a young person with headphones or earbuds firmly in place and with the music volume cranked up to unbelievably high levels. Sadly, many of them will likely pay the price for this later in life as such hammering-away at the delicate auditory mechanism has a cumulative rather than a short-term effect.

So ... the next time you find yourself trying to copy that ultra-weak signal just riding along in the noise, try turning the audio way, way down. Take a deep breath and listen to the tone, not the noise. If you ask me, the best signal filter is still the one between our ears.