Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Here Comes The '29 QSO Party!

Saturday, November 9th, as well as the following Saturday (16th), will see the annual running of the Bruce Kelley 1929 QSO Party, otherwise known as the '1929 BK'.

Only transmitters that are 'era-appropriate' are allowed to be used. More specifically, transmitters must employ tubes that were available in 1929 or earlier, and transmitters must be self-excited. No crystals allowed! Crystals were new and largely unaffordable for most hams back in the depression days.

The year of 1929 marked a real turning point in amateur radio as governments finally cracked-down on things such as frequency stability, out of band operations and re-alignment of call districts. In short, hams were henceforth required to behave themselves and to clean up their signals and methods of operation.

Although the new rules did a lot to improve things when it came to 'signal purity', there was still a long way to go ... but the wheels of improvement had been officially set in motion. The next decade would see monumental changes in both transmitter and receiver architecture, as engineers along with some particularly gifted amateurs, strove to unlock the challenges of this relatively new technology.

If you tune across the CW bands during these two upcoming Saturday nights, you will have the rare opportunity to hear exactly what the bands would have sounded like back in the very early '30s'.

For the most part you will hear single-tube Hartley, Colpitts or TNT oscillators along with a few two-tube MOPAs thrown in. Many of them will suffer the same problems encountered by the boys of '29 ... chirp, drift, buzzy notes and frequency instability from antennas swaying in the wind.

The MOPAs will sound much better but some surprisingly nice-sounding signals can be heard coming from properly tuned and optimised single-tube oscillators. I recall being blown away by the lovely sounding signal I heard from such a rig when first tuning into the BK activity several years ago, only to learn that it was a self-excited Hartley using 1/4" copper tubing for the oscillator tank circuit!

The '29 watering-hole on 80m will be around 3550-3580 kilocycles (be careful not to confuse this with kilohertz!) while the early afternoon to post-sunset 40m activity will be found from 7100-7125 kc. There may even be a few on the very low end of 160m. Although many of these transmitter styles were used on 20m and higher, the BK rule-makers have wisely decided not to inflict these sounds on the present ham populace as it would likely keep the 'Official Observers' busy for several days writing pink-slips.

Like last year, I will set up my Hull Hartley (160, 80, 40m), as I haven't used it much since building the MOPA a few years ago. If it's very windy (almost assured), the Hartley will really sound like 1929!

My  Hull Hartley

You can learn more about amateur radio happenings leading up to and following the 1929 crackdown in my earlier series of 'Why '29' blogs here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Those wishing to put something together for next year's event can find everything needed here:

Introduction To Building ... '29-Style

Building '29-Style - Part 1

Building '29-Style - Part 2

Heck, there may even be time to throw something together for this year if you have a few parts and an older tube or two ... the '27' comes to mind and is readily found in many junk boxes. Maybe you know an old-timer or two with lots of parts that could help you out. Your transmitter does not need to look pretty nor need it use period-correct components or coils ... it's just the tube that needs to be correct ... 27's are dirt cheap and easy to find. A simple Hartley '27' oscillator will get you enough wattage to have plenty of fun!

Let's hope for good conditions for this event as the last few years have been adversely affected by geomagnetic storming. Poor propagation or not, I guarantee there will be plenty of  '29ers busy calling 'CQ AWA' on the low bands.

Complete BK details are available here.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Hunting For NDBs In CLE249

YUT - 335 kHz (courtesy: VE3GOP)

It's CLE time once again! This coming weekend the CLE  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.

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 YUT - 335 kHz. 'YUT' is located at Repulse Bay, Nunavut, way up on Baffin Island.

'YUT' runs just 25W into a massive vertical and is well-heard throughout North America and parts of northern Europe. Listen for its upper-sideband CW identifier repeated every 10 seconds (with your receiver in the CW mode) on 335.406 kHz.

At this time of the season, summer lightning storms should be drawing down significantly and with some decent propagation there will be many stations to be logged.

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

Our 249th Co-ordinated Listening Event is less than a week away.
Just a normal CLE using a busy range of frequencies.
First-timers' CLE logs will also be very welcome, as always. 

    Days:      Friday 25 October - Monday 28 October
    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 in CLE233 (June 2018).

Please read the 'Final Details' which will follow on Wednesday.

Send your CLE log to the List (or to myself at the email address shown below), if possible as a plain text email and not in an attachment.  Put CLE249 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.
We will send the usual 'Any More Logs?' email at about 20:00 UTC on WEDNESDAY 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 THURSDAY 31 October.  

Remember that you can find all CLE-related information from our CLE page
( ), including a link to the seek lists andmaps provided for this Event from the Rxx Database.

Good listening

From:      Brian Keyte G3SIA       ndbcle'at'
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

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, 2 October 2019

An Interesting FT8 Afternoon

Lest my loyal blog-followers think I’ve taken a leap to the digital-darkside, rest assured this is not the case!

The only time that I (somewhat grudgingly) use FT8 is during the summer Es season, since most of the DX seems to have migrated to that mode. On Monday afternoon, during a moment of weakness driven by curiosity, I moved my receiver from 630m JT9 to 40m FT8 ... what might I see at around noon, via this popular weak signal digital QSO mode? To say that the results were surprising is an understatement!

40m at noon
The above screen capture shows the signals decoded between 12 and 1PM local time! Although it was surprising to see all of the east coast signals, it was shocking to see all of the signals (a dozen or more) coming from Japan and South Korea! All of them were working Europeans to their west, none of which were decoding here.

With an all-daylight path between VE7 and Asia, could these signals be coming via the long-path? If so, I would expect to see at least a few signals from other countries along the great circle path to Asia but none were forthcoming. Perhaps it’s a case of there being a sufficiently weak D-layer to allow signals to propagate on the direct path via the F-layer, in spite of the all-daylight path. What do you think?

I then moved the receiver down to 80m, and monitored there for the next two hours.

80m at 1500 local
The 80m screen capture above was made at 3PM local time! Once again, I was surprised to see so many signals coming from the east, in broad daylight! Is this further evidence of a weak D-layer or just a demonstration of the capabilities of FT8?

For both 80 and 40m, the antenna used was my 80m end-fed half-wave configured as an inverted-L ... 70’ straight up and 60’ horizontal. The feedpoint is one-foot above the ground and located beside the ocean, looking towards the east.

I then finished off the afternoon with a look on topband, using my 160m half-sloper. The screen capture of 160m was made at 5PM local time, fully two hours before my local sunset!

160m at 1700 local

Like the previous two bands, 160m was showing signals in broad daylight, from the east coast! Low D-layer absorption? ... salt water horizon gain? ... excellent antennas? ... or is this just the sensitivity of FT8 revealing 'normal propagation' that we can't hear on CW? I suspect that it's a complex combination of all of these factors and maybe others.

In reality, the weak-signal ‘digging power’ of FT8 is not too much greater than the threshold for audible CW ... hearing about 1 S-unit (~6-7db) deeper. Maybe that’s all it takes to peel-back, like an onion skin, another layer of hidden signals.

There are other weak-signal digital QSO modes much more sensitive than FT8. Both JT9 and JT65 can each hear more than an S-unit deeper than FT8 but at the expense of taking longer to do it ... there’s just no free-ride. I believe that the shorter (~15 second) sequencing of FT8 is the main reason for its overwhelming popularity, in spite of its lower sensitivity.

I’ll run this test again soon to see if Monday’s daytime prop was unusual or if it was typical of what to expect with weak-signal digital modes on the lower bands during the daylight hours ... either way, it was indeed, an interesting FT8 afternoon!