Thursday, 6 May 2021

Using FT8 On 6m - The Magic Band

 

(The following blog, originally published last summer, is as relevant as ever. Please pass the link to those that you think may benefit from reading it.)

 

Today’s blog is directed to those that may be new to 6m or new to using FT8 on 6m. Some of the things discussed will make your experience on the magic band better for you and better for your neigbours.


Unlike using FT8 on the HF bands, 6m presents some different challenges, especially if you operate in a region where there may be a lot of other locals also using the band at the same time.


Although the weak-signal capability of FT8 has made it possible for many smaller stations or those with makeshift antennas to take advantage of the unique propagation 6m has to offer, it also can create problems for other users of the band when used inappropriately. In regions of dense population, even small stations can create very high local signal levels, often making it impossible for their neighbours to hear weak signals. This is not deliberately-caused QRM but arises when some operators operate 'against the flow’ and transmit on the opposite ‘sequence’ to everyone else in their local area.

If you are a new arrival, with a small or makeshift antenna for 6m, it's important to realize that you may not be hearing what others near you (with bigger antennas) are hearing and can easily mess things up when transmitting at the wrong time.

On HF, one can transmit or listen on whatever time sequence they wish. Chosing ‘TX 1st’ or ‘TX 2nd’ is usually determined by who you hear calling CQ or who you wish to work. On 6m however, in a densely-populated region of local operators, chosing to transmit whenever you want to is a luxury that can create big problems for your neighbour who may be trying to hear that weak DX signal while you are transmitting!

These problem will not occur if everybody in the region uses and follows the same transmit-receive periods, so that everyone is listening or everyone is transmitting at the same time ... one or the other. Unfortunately, this ‘ideal’ system falls apart easily when one or more of your neighbours is not using the same sequence as everyone else.

For the past few years, a protocol that seeks to alleviate this problem has become popular and well accepted by those familiar with it. Those new to 6m may not know about it or understand the reasoning behind it.

Above all, I would urge new users of the band, or to the FT8 mode, to first listen carefully for a few minutes, before beginning operation, to determine what the majority of stations in their local region are using for sequencing. If they are using ‘TX 1st’, then your choice of ‘TX 2nd’ will likely cause hearing difficulty for many others, as well as for yourself.

Although there are no strict rules, there is a very successful and well-practiced protocol, and it's that the ‘easternmost’ station transmits on ‘1st’ while the ‘western end’ goes 2nd’. This is why you will hear most eastern stations in the morning hours transmitting ‘2nd’, as they are usually calling or looking for Europeans to their east, who are transmitting ‘1st’. By the same token, you will also hear western stations transmitting on '2nd', who are also looking for Europe to their east, transmitting on ‘1st’.

This sequencing protocol usually reverses later in the day when signals from Asia become a possibility, and all North Americans then become the ‘easternmost’ stations and will transmit on the ‘1st’ sequence ... unlike in the morning. I can easily see how newcomers to the band could become confused, when they hear both sequences being used! The best thing, once again, is to listen carefully first and then ‘go with the flow’.

You can read about the UK's Six Metre Group's initiatives regarding these protocols HERE.

OK... so you’re not interested in EU or Asia? Then it shouldn’t matter to you which sequence that you use and best operating practice would again be to ‘go with the flow’ in consideration of other users.

A few days ago I saw a prime example of exactly what not to do, in too many respects. I made a posting on the ON4KST 6m chat page that VE1SKY in NS (Nova Scotia) was being decoded here, mainly to alert others in my region that European signals might be coming next, as hearing the VE1s in BC is often an indicator that the European path is building.

In less than a minute, an S9+ local began calling ‘CQ NS’ on the exact opposite sequence of all others ... effectively blocking the waterfall and any possible hope of hearing weak EU signals. I’m sorry, but this is just terrible operating procedure, with almost zero chance of success, while showing no consideration for nearby users.

Just like working DX on CW or on phone, the best way, as it always has been, is to ‘listen, listen and then listen some more’. You will work FAR more DX by listening and calling at the right time, than you will by calling CQ.

I also see some local stations everyday, calling endless CQs, often for over 60 minutes straight and often with many replies that go unnoticed. With FT8, one can check ‘work 1st’, go away, and return later to see who they might have ‘worked’. Perhaps this is what these operators are doing, but they should understand that they are also creating non-stop QRM for other users ... those that choose to listen carefully to the band rather than to endlessly CQ. Once again, this is just terrible practice.

You may argue that if nobody called CQ, then there would be no contacts made. There is nothing wrong with a few CQs but CQing for an hour? And don’t worry, there will always be other stations CQing endlessly for you to hear, even if it’s not a great way to operate.

With a little pre-planning for sequencing and consideration for your neighbours, everyone can and should be able to enjoy 6m FT8 with very few problems ... and that is my hope for all of us.

After forty-nine summers of CW and phone on 6m and two summers on FT8, these are some of my initial thoughts on how to best operate for maximum success and consideration for other band-users.

The latter is part of the basic framework upon which amateur radio was originally established, when back in 1914, the ARRL described in their 'Code of Conduct' for amateurs ... "The Amateur is Gentlemanly. He never knowingly uses the air for his own amusement in such a way as to lessen the pleasure of others." 

Now, let the magic, and the pleasure, continue!

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Hunting For NDBs In CLE267

YUT - Replulse Bay, NU (courtesy: ve3gop.com) 
 
It's CLE time! 'CLE's are 'Co-ordinated  Listening Events, and NDB DXers around the world focus their listening time on one small slice of  the NDB spectrum.
 
It's another 'normal' one again with a 15kHz window -- the hunting ground is 335.0 - 349.9kHz.

Propagation on MF has been both hot and cold for the past few weeks, seemingly depending on where you live and the amount of geomagnetic activity affecting your region. As well, the Sun has been throwing a lot of Coronal Hole Streams toward earth which may or may not affect this weekend's propagation ... but this is all part of the radio-magic fun.

A 'challenge target' for listeners in North America is YUT - 335kHz in Repulse Bay, NU, at the north end of Hudson Bay. Even though running just 25 watts, it's widely heard throughout North America and Europe and is a good target for listeners everywhere. Listen for YUT's upper sideband on 335.406 kHz.

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. These databases have recently been re-vamped and are slicker than ever before!

From CLE coordinator Brian Keyte (G3SIA), comes the following CLE info:

Hello all

Here are the full details for this weekend's co-ordinated listening event.
It is open to everyone including CLE new-comers:

    Days:      Friday 23 April - Monday 26 April

    Times:     Start and end at midday, your LOCAL time

    Range:     335.0 - 349.9 kHz


Wherever you are, please join us and log the NDBs that you can positivelyidentify that are listed in this busy frequency range (it includes 335.0 kHz but not 350 kHz) plus any UNIDs that you come across there.

Very short logs and very long ones are welcome (in-between ones are OK too!)

 Send your CLE log to the List, preferably as a plain text email (not in an attachment) with ‘CLE267 FINAL’ in its subject line.

    Please show on EVERY LINE of your log:


       #  The date (e.g. '2021-04-2
3' or just the day no. '23') 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 other optional details such as Location, Distance, etc.  If you send any interim logs to the
List during the event, please also send your 'FINAL', complete one.

Always make your log interesting to everyone by giving details of the listening location and brief details of the receiver, aerial(s), etc.,that you were using.


We 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 Wednesday 28 April.  Joachim and I will then hope
to complete making the combined results within a day or two.


You can check on all CLE-related information from the CLE Page


   
http://www.ndblist.info/cle.htm

 
It includes a link to seeklists for the Event from the Rxx Database.

Good listening
     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 the location and owner - with their permission if required.
A remote listener may NOT also use another receiver, whether local
or remote, to make further loggings for the same CLE).

 

If you are interested in some remote listening - maybe due to local difficulties - you could use any one remote receiver for your loggings, stating its location and with the owner's permission if required.( e.g. see  kiwisdr.com ) A remote listener may NOT also use another receiver, local or remote, to make more 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 newly-re-vamped Rxx 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.


The NDB List Group is a great place to learn more about the 'Art of NDB DXing' or to meet other DXers 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!

 

Friday, 9 April 2021

An RF-Quiet LED 'Fluorescent' Bulb

 


 

 

I recently had the fluorescent bulb in one section of the under-cabinet kitchen counter lighting fixture go dark. This wasn’t too surprising as the 24” bulb had been in place since the house was built in 1990!


I purchased the replacement bulb only to find out that it was not the bulb but rather the ballast transformer that had failed.

A search for a suitable ballast replacement turned into a quick education when I learned that these things were quickly disappearing, with many models no longer even being manufactured. Another solution would have to be found and it appeared that fluorescents were bring replaced with, what else ... LED fixtures!

Offering similar brightness and colors as traditional fluorescent fixtures, the LED bulbs came in two basic styles.

One type lets you just pop-in a new LED ballast-compatible bulb and away you go. This is convenient but still wastes energy in the ballast and eventually would require an even harder to find ballast.

The second type is a directly-wired LED replacement, not relying on the ballast transformer at all. Having its own built-in switching power supply, these bulbs connect directly to the 120V AC line normally going to the ballast. It’s a very simple task to snip the 120V AC leads from the faulty ballast and connect them to one end of the bulb’s socket. Now totally disconnected, the original ballast can be left in place as is.





The entire fix took less than 30 minutes ... but how much noise or crud would the switching supply produce in the RF spectrum?

Crossing my fingers, I turned the light 'on' as well as my portable Sony ICF-2010 shortwave receiver. I could hear no noise coming from the radio. I could only detect some RF hash when I put the Sony (with its built-in ferrite bar antenna) right beside the fixture! This was good news and its quiet footprint was confirmed later, out in the shack, with radios connected to much larger antennas.

The bulb I used was a ‘toggled’ product, designed and engineered in Detroit , but I suspect is manufactured, like so many other LED devices, in China. The bulbs are sold in Canada and in the U.S. by Home Depot and possibly others.



If you’re looking for a radio-friendly fluorescent replacement or update, I have no hesitation in recommending these directly-wired LED bulbs from ‘toggled’.

And, if you’re also looking for a ham-friendly light-dimmer, see my previous blog on my own hunt for a noisy next-door neighbour.


Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Hunting For NDBs In CLE266

 
YZS-362kHz Coral Harbour, NU    (www.ve3gop.com)

 
It's CLE time! 'CLE's are 'Co-ordinated  Listening Events, and NDB DXers around the world focus their listening time on one small slice of  the NDB spectrum.
 
This time it's a 'normal' one with a 20kHz window -- the hunting ground is 350.0 - 369.9kHz.

Propagation on MF has been both hot and cold for the past few weeks, seemingly depending on where you live and the amount of geomagnetic activity affecting your region.

A 'challenge target' for listeners in North America is YZS - 362kHz in Coral Harbour, NU, on Southampton Island  at the north end of Hudson Bay. It's widely heard throughout North America and Europe and is a good target for listeners everywhere. Listen for YZS's upper sideband on 362.405 kHz.

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. These databases have recently been re-vamped and are slicker than ever before!

From CLE coordinator Brian Keyte (G3SIA), comes the following CLE info:


Hello all

Our 266th Co-ordinated Listening Event is almost here.
Can new 'listening eventers' join in too?  YES, PLEASE! 
Joachim and I are always pleased to help first-time CLE logs
through the harvester program.

     Days:    Friday 26 March - Monday 29 March
     Times:   Start and End at midday, your LOCAL time
     Range:   350.0 - 369.9 kHz

Please log all the NDBs you can identify that are listed in this range (it includes 350 kHz but not 370) plus any UNIDs that you come across there.
You can find full information to help you, including seeklists made from
REU/RNA/RWW, by going to the CLE page http://www.ndblist.info/cle.htm and clicking on  CLE SEEKLIST  there.

Please send your 'Final' CLE log to the List, if possible as a plain text
email and not in an attachment and - important - with 'CLE266' and 'FINAL'
in its title.
Please show the following main items FIRST on EVERY line of your log:

  #   The full Date (e.g. 2021-03-26) or just the day (e.g. 26)
         and UTC (the day changes at 00:00 UTC).
        Many of us will be changing our house clocks during
        the weekend, but UTC CONTINUES UNCHANGED.
  #   kHz - the beacon's nominal published frequency, if you know it.
  #   The Call Ident.

Optional details such as Location and Distance go LATER in the same line.
Please always include details of your own location and brief details of the
receiver, aerial(s) and any other equipment you were using.

Joachim or I will send the usual 'Any More Logs?' email at about 19:00 UTC
on Tuesday so you can check that your log has been found OK.
 

Make sure that your log has arrived at the very latest by 08:00 UTC on
Wednesday 31 March.   We hope to make all the combined results within a day
or so.

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

If you are interested in some remote listening - maybe due to local difficulties - you could use any one remote receiver for your loggings, stating its location and with the owner's permission if required.( e.g. see  kiwisdr.com ) A remote listener may NOT also use another receiver, local or remote, to make more 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 newly-re-vamped Rxx 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.


The NDB List Group is a great place to learn more about the 'Art of NDB DXing' or to meet other DXers 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!

 

Friday, 19 March 2021

My 2021 Novice Rig Roundup Summary

 

This year’s Novice Rig Roundup was another great success, with hundreds of old radios being pressed into service to relive their glory days ... as did their operators! 
It was fascinating to hear many of these old clunkers sounding just great, with no two sounding exactly the same.

Bry - AF4K (SK)
 

Missing for the first time was NRR co-founder, Bry Carling, AF4K, who sadly became a silent key last year. I missed hearing him and always looked forward to the challenge of making it down to Florida from here. This year''s NRR was dedicated to AF4K - RIP Bry.


Some of this year’s excitement included the much better conditions on 15m over the previous solar-low years. The band benefited from an increase in the solar flux at the beginning of the week which kept the MUF a little higher than 21MHz for most of the Roundup.


It was particularly exciting to hook-up with VA1RST way back in Nova Scotia, on 15m. His little DX-60 did a good job in making the coast-to-coast leap at 559.

VA1RST in Nova Scotia

I think this year I heard more DX-60s than ever before! A couple of years ago it was the Knight T-60 that seemed to be everywhere. Don’t pass up either of these fine NRR rigs should you be fortunate enough to run across one.

All told, I completed 26 NRR contacts on 15m which surely is good news for future NRRs going into Cycle 25. If the bold predictions for the new cycle come to fruition, we may be enjoying 10m next time out as well!


My first contact on 15m was with Mike, WA5POK in TN, who came blasting through at 599 with his DX-40 only to have the power transformer in his National NC-270 go up in smoke a few days later. Such are the perils of living life on the edge, in the NRR!

Mike - WA5POK in Tennessee
 

I was lucky enough to snag Rich, WB2WGX in NY on 15m for his only contact on that band! I'm not sure why he didn't find more action as his Ranger II was 599 here on the west coast.


WB2WGX in New York

Worked on both 40 and 15m was Paul, WB5EVO in OK. Putting yet another DX-60 into the log with the notation of "599+"!

WB5EVO in Oklahoma

What would 15m be without a little DX? I was delighted to hear Jorge, KP4GC in PR, reply to my CQ to the south east. Jorge was heard working stations from coast to coast but may have also been living too close to the NRR edge as the bias supply in his Hallicrafters HT-37 took him off the air until he set up his Kenwood TS-520 for the duration.


KP4GC in Puerto Rico

Another duo-band contact (40 & 15m) was with Dan, K2YWE in MD whose Globe Scout was also 599, three S-units louder than on 40m.


K2YWE in Maryland

Although 15m provided a lot of excitement, most of my contacts were on 40m. Number 1 on the runway again this year was NRR regular, WB2AWQ down in Reno. Howie's fine homebrew parallel 807s were smoking-in up here, delightfully chirpy, in broad daylight.

WB2AWQ in Nevada

George, KA3JWJ in PA impressed again this year on 40m when his original Ameco AC-1 at 8W pushed the S-meter on my FT-1000 to S7.5! How do you do it George? Don't be fooled by that innocent-looking box sitting atop his S-38 inhaler, also used during our QSO. I thought our contact would likely hold up as the contest highlight for me, until later ...

 

KA3JWJ in Pennsylvania
 

WB2QLL, Pete in WI, surprised me on 80m with a ‘never before heard’ (by me) Harvey Wells TBS-50D Bandmaster at 20W out. These once popular transmitters promised buyers 80 - 2m operation, push-pull 6L6 plate modulation and a sturdy 807 final.

Harvey-Wells 'Bandmasters'

This was another contest highlight for sure, as I’ve always wondered how these rigs sounded on CW ... and Pete’s signal did not disappoint! It definitely has an identifiable sound.

W2QLL in Wisconsin

Many of you worked NRR devotee VA7MM, whose 100’ high dipoles and DX-60 swept-up an impressive 146 contacts. Well done Mark!

Mark - VA7MM in British Columbia

Not too far from him was another Mark from BC, VE7CA, who ran his rebuilt Ranger and much-modified HQ-120 on the low bands while his beautiful Drake twins carried the mail on 15m. His well-performing all-wire arrays are supported by a handy selection of tall backyard Firs.

 

VE7CA in British Columbia

 

'579' reports were exchanged on 80m with Tim, K9SB in IL, who was using a Johnson Adventurer and Hallicrafters SX-101A.

K9SB in Illinois
 
Steve, WA3JJT in PA, also called-in on 40m on his Adventurer with a 579 signal here and still in daylight!
 
 
WA3JJT in Pennsylvania

 
This year’s NRR highlight for me was working Andy, KØSM, way back in NY. Andy was using his recently built 1936 Tri-Tet crystal oscillator, originally published in the 1936 Handbook.



 

KØSM's '36 Tri-Tet

Andy's Tri-Tet runs at 400V on the plate, unlike the original design that called for 1kV on the plate and bare tank coil. Now that's really operating on the scary edge! At 8W output on 80 and 40, there's plenty of power to work with.

But it wasn’t just working Andy on 80 and 40 that made it so special as Andy later, tripling from 40,  finessed this little beast up to the 15m ultra-highs, making it to the west coast in fine shape. It was delightful to hear the '36 Tri-Tet's charming chirp on a band that didn’t even exist when this rig was first thought of. Thanks for the fun Andy!

Andy - KØSM in New York

For many more station photos and 'soapbox' comments from this year's participants, be sure to visit the NRR Soapbox page and ... if you didn't make this year's event then now's the time to start planning for the 2022 NRR ... see you all then!