Friday, 7 December 2018

630m ... The New 'Magic Band'?



The 'magic band' has always been associated with 50 MHz and its amazing propagation ... usually unpredictable and often without logical explanation. This past summer saw an explosion of digital FT8 activity on 6m which has, for me (and for others I suspect), eliminated almost all of the enjoyment I have found every year on this band.


With so much of the previous CW and phone activity now gone to FT8, the 'feel' of the band is just not what it once was. What I find puzzling is that so many have embraced this weak signal mode yet most of the two-way QSOs seem to be made between stations that can easily hear each other ... often at the very strong levels produced by 6m sporadic-E!

With FT8's inability to chat about antennas, rigs, propagation, locations or simply to exchange names, for me the magic has gone. Being able to hear signals build, fade up and down, or to experience the sudden arrival of bone-crushing signals from the east coast where none had existed moments earlier, is all part of what attracted me to 6m decades ago. I spent only a few hours on the band last summer, working a number of JA stations on FT8. No particular sense of satisfaction was garnered ... working a JA opening on CW is just way more exciting!

For many, the arrival of FT8 to the magic band has opened a whole new world and from seeing so many unfamiliar call signs on 6m this summer, it seems that FT8 has brought a lot of newcomers to the band. Unlike the JAs' worked every summer on CW, almost all of the FT8 JAs' sent their QSL immediately, with almost all excitingly indicating "1st VE" ... so this has to be a good thing! I suspect, that unless the level of conventional-mode activity returns to previous levels on 6m (highly unlikely), my interest in 50MHz will slowly wane or vanish altogether ... but thankfully, there's still magic to be found elsewhere on the ham bands!

As solar Cycle 24 draws down into its final months, the deep lows that were experienced at the end of Cycle 23 are starting to develop once again. For the past few weeks, propagation below the broadcast band has been the best it has been since the previous solar quieting.

Being just below the bottom edge of the broadcast band, 630m (472-479 kHz) has seen some of the benefits of the recent round of stagnant geomagnetic activity.

While some transcontinental QSOs are regularly being made on CW, most contacts are being completed using the weak signal JT9 QSO mode. Contacts can often be completed just as the sun begins to set and staying up into the wee hours to catch east coast DX is not a requirement. Over the past few weeks my 'states worked' total has climbed to 30 and with a couple of holdouts, the QSLs have been steadily arriving.

My 630m states worked, shown in red. Map courtesy: https://mapchart.net/

Last month's arrivals, in spite of the Canada Post delivery disruptions, are shown below.




The recent great propagation on 630m is well-demonstrated by last Saturday night's activity. For the previous two evenings, my JT9 CQ's (as well as QSOs) were being decoded for hours at a time by Rolf, LA2XPA in Norway. He was also hearing Larry, W7IUV, located a few hundred miles to my southwest, on the other side of the Cascade mountains in Washington state. Both of our signals would fade and trade places in Norway but often reaching audible CW levels! The problem was that neither myself or Larry could see any of Rolf's replies to us ... disappointing to us and frustrating for Rolf.

After an hour of trying, I asked Rolf (via the ON4KST LF chat page) what he was using for a receive antenna. It turned out that his secret weapon was a 1000' beverage pointed this way ... no wonder he was hearing so well. Larry, who was using a shorter, easterly pointing BOG (Beverage On Ground) for 630m receive, commented that he also had a 1000' beverage pointed toward Europe but it was optimized for 160m and doubted that it would work on 630. Just to make sure, he plugged it into a second receiver and soon indicated that he 'might' have seen a weak JT9 trace on the waterfall, close to Rolf's frequency.

One minute later Larry's comment was just "wow!" and the following minute he explained what had occurred. It seems that the 'possible weak trace' had suddenly skyrocketed to a -16db signal ... right at the edge of audibility! Larry and Rolf quickly exchanged signal reports and "RRs" as the first Europe-West Coast 630m QSO went into the history books ... 'wow' indeed!

Rolf reported that at his end, Larry's already good signal suddenly shot up to -5db, an easily copied CW level, before fading away for the night. Larry was pretty shocked at how quickly this strong short enhancement had occurred and we all hoped that the oft observed 'spotlight' propagation seen on 630 would move further west to VE7 ... but for now, it was not to be.

Earlier in the evening I had commented to Larry about some previous quirky 630m propagation and had suggested to him that it was probably just due to "the magic of radio" ... to which he politely dismissed with "sorry no magic, just hard work and dumb luck". Looks like he was right on both accounts, but after Saturday's excitement I think he may now believe in a little magic as well!

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Manhattan Style

After blogging for over four years now, I've covered a lot of topics that have piqued my interest in the ham radio world. I'm going to (once in awhile) select some previous blogs for reposting since they are every bit as valid as they were a few years ago and many new readers will have never found them without going way back! This one is from June, 2014.

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


I haven't yet decided to rebuild the little 630m CW transmitter using Manhattan style or the newer Muppet style being promoted by Chuck, K7QO.
K7QO Muppet Style
The Muppet style seems to be PCB without holes, with parts being mounted on the copper pads directly. Like Manhattan or Ugly construction, changing components is very convenient. I pretty much split final construction methods between Manhattan style or dedicated PCB.

I recently ran low on the pads used for Manhattan and made another pile of various sizes. For those interested in using this style, it's pretty quick and easy to manufacture a good stock of your own pads using a simple hand punch.


These punches are widely available on e-Bay or possibly at your local hardware outlet or craft store. They come with various sized dies but I have only found myself using two sizes, 5/32 and 3/16. The punches have a small point at the center which I filed off so not to create a dimple in the punched pad.





It's also advisable to scuff sand the bottom of the PCB strip as well as to shine up the copper side with some light steel wool before punching any pads. They will eventually be glued to the circuit's PCB copper surface using a small dab of CA ("super glue") glue and the slight scuffing beforehand will ensure that the pads stay put. My usual technique is to place a tiny dab of glue with a toothpick at the spot where the pad will go. I then pick up the pad using an X-acto knife, spearing the pad's copper side and then pressing it down on the glue spot. CA cures quickly once it is oxygen-starved so pressing down on the pad for a few seconds is usually all that is needed. Any time I have run into trouble it was because I used too much glue....just a small dab is needed.


VE7SL Lowfer Tx
There are many good tutorials on Manhattan-style construction to be found on the internet as well as some super examples of what can be accomplished using this method as a "final" version technique.
For me, one of Manhattan's strongest selling points is that even though final part values may have been fleshed out during a rough build, parts can still easily be changed, added or even removed without a lot of fuss....unlike a PCB....but Muppet does look interesting!

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Hunting For NDBs In CLE238

PTD - 400 kHz Potsdam, NY




This coming weekend will see another monthly CLE challenge. This time the hunting grounds will be 400.0 - 419.9 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 PTD on 400kHz located in Potsdam, New York. It's a 25-watter but is rarely logged out west. I have heard it only once, back in January, 2010. Listen for its USB CW identifier (with your receiver in the CW mode) on 401.010 and its LSB ID on 398.984 kHz.

MF propagation this past week has been very good and signals in this frequency range should be propagating well if things stay undisturbed for the weekend.

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, come details via the The NDB List Group:


Hi all,

Our 238th coordinated listening event starts on Friday.    
This frequency range is not packed with signals for any of us, but
the current excellent conditions should give us some nice surprises.
Do join in, even if you only have an hour or so to spare over the weekend.

     Days:    Friday 23 Nov - Monday 26 Nov 2018
     Times:   Start and end at midday your LOCAL time
     Range:   400 - 419.9 kHz

(Apologies to Listeners ‘down under’ - not much to listen for in this range
at summer time.  Could listen via a remote receiver instead?  See below)

Just log all the NDBs that you can identify with nominal (listed)
frequencies in the range - it includes 400 kHz, but not 420 kHz -
plus any UNIDs that you come across there.

Please send your final log to the List (no attachments and ideally
in a plain text email) with ‘FINAL CLE238’ in its title.
Show on each line:

    #   The Date (e.g.  '2018-11-23' etc.  or just '23' )
    #   The Time in UTC (the day changes at 00:00 UTC).
    #   kHz  - the nominal published frequency, if known.
    #   The Call Ident.

Please show those main items FIRST.  Other optional details such
as Location and Distance go LATER in the same line.
As always, of course, tell us your own location and brief details
of the equipment that you were using during the Event.

We 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 by 09:00 UTC
on Wednesday 28 November at the very latest.
The combined results should then be completed within a day or two.

You can find full details about current and past CLEs from the CLE page
http://www.ndblist.info/cle.htm  It includes access to CLE238 seeklists
for your part of the World, prepared from the previous loggings in Rxx.

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

  (If you would like to listen remotely  you could use any one remote
  receiver for your loggings, stating its location and owner and with their
  permission if required.  A remote listener may NOT also use another
  receiver, local or remote, to make further loggings for the same CLE)

These listening events serve several purposes. They:
  • determine, worldwide, which beacons are actually in service and on-the-air so the online database can be kept up-to-date
  • determine, worldwide, which beacons are out-of-service or have gone silent since the last CLE covering this range
  • will indicate the state of propagation conditions at the various participant locations
  • will give you an indication of how well your LF/MF receiving system is working
  • give participants a fun yet challenging activity to keep their listening skills honed
Final details can be found at the NDB List website, and worldwide results, for every participant, will be posted there a few days after the event.


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!

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Here Comes The '29 QSO Party!

courtesy: Lou, VE3AWA




This Saturday night as well as the next will be the annual 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.

courtesy: http://www.arrl.org/
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 the next two Saturday nights, you will have the rare opportunity to hear exactly what the bands must have sounded like back in the 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.

Again this year, signals should be a little louder as well, since the previous long-time power limitation of 10W input has been increased to 25W.

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, BK rule-makers have wisely decided not to inflict these sounds on the present populace as it would likely keep the 'Official Observers' busy for several days writing pink-slips.

This year I will leave the MOPA on the shelf and set up my Hull Hartley as I haven't used it since building the MOPA a few years ago. If it's very windy (almost assured), the Hartley will really sound like 1929!


My own 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 the following Saturday 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.

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.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

CLE237 Results

Last weekend's CLE237 was truly a workout. Not only was the format challenging, hunting for different grid square fields, but propagation was superb ... a vast departure from the normal CLE propagation-curse!
This combination resulted in many daytime hours spent reviewing three nights of Perseus recordings, the downside of being able to sleep all night rather than staying up until 0300 while listening live!




All told, 118 NDBs in 41 different grid fields were logged. Of these 118 stations, 12 were 'new catches'. After DXing NDBs since 1985, new catches are getting harder and harder to find but last week's great conditions were the best heard here in several years.

Today's quiet Sun!

With a very quiet Sun for a couple of weeks now, these great MF conditions are what many have been waiting for since the last solar low many years ago ... propagation below the broadcast band can be truly remarkable when these quiet conditions continue for many weeks at a time.

Here are a few interesting CLE catches as recorded on the Perseus SDR.

GREENLAND


MARSHALL ISLANDS
                                            

NDBs QY (Sydney, Nova Scotia), YBB (Pelly Bay, Nunavut)and 3Z (Russell, Manitoba) all sharing 263kHz within a few Hz of each other.



My full CLE237 log is shown below. As usual, a Perseus SDR and an 'inverted-L' (resonated to 300kHz) was used for the activity.


AH
28 13:30  403     TUT   Pago Pago, SMA

AL
28 13:30  400     MDY   Midway, MDW

AO
27 12:30  283     DUT   Dutch Harbor, ALS
27 12:30  341     ELF   Cold Bay, ALS
27 12:30  385     EHM   Cape Newenham, ALS
27 12:30  390     HBT   Borland, ALS

AP
27 06:00  263     OAY   Norton Bay, ALS
27 13:30  275     CZF   Cape Romanzof, ALS
27 13:00  325     BVK   Buckland, ALS
27 13:30  347     TNC   Tin City, ALS
27 13:00  356     HHM   Kotzebue, ALS

BG
27 13:30  352     RG    Rarotonga, CKS

BK
27 13:30  332     POA   Pahoa, HWA

BL
27 14:00  353     LLD   Lanai, HWA

BO
27 12:00  277     ACE   Kachemak, ALS
27 12:00  355     AUB   King Salmon, ALS
27 12:00  394     RWO   Kodiak, ALS
27 12:00  411     ILI   Iliamna, ALS
27 12:00  429     BTS   Dillingham, ALS

BP
27 12:00  212     CGL   Juneau, ALS
27 13:00  257     CUN   Fairbanks, ALS
27 12:00  346     OLT   Soldotna, ALS
27 12:30  347     DJN   Delta Junction, ALS
27 12:00  350     VTR   McGrath, ALS

BQ
27 13:00  376     PVQ   Deadhorse, ALS

CN
27 06:00  378     AP    Mayne Island, BC, CAN (MY NEAREST)
27 12:00  266     SLE   Salem, OR, USA
27 07:00  356     PND   Portland, OR, USA
27 06:00  356     MEF   Medford, OR, USA
27 06:00  404     MOG   Montegue, CA, USA

CM
27 07:00  203     TCY   Tracy, CA, USA
29 04:00  385     MR    Pacific Grove, CA, USA

CO
27 12:00  266     ICK   Annette Island, ALS
27 12:00  358     SIT   Sitka, ALS
27 12:00  396     CMJ   Ketchikan, ALS
27 12:00  414     IME   Sitka, ALS
27 12:00  529     SQM   Sumner Strait, ALS

CP
27 13:30  222     WY    Wrigley, NT, CAN
27 11:30  254     EV    Inuvik, NT, CAN
27 14:00  284     YOC   Old Crow, YT, CAN
27 08:00  380     YUB   Tuktoyaktuk, NT, CAN
27 12:00  392     ZFN   Tulita, NT, CAN

CQ
29 06:00  321     YSY   Sachs Harbour, NT, CAN

DM
27 08:30  242     EL    El Paso, TX, USA
27 10:00  278     CEP   Ruidoso, NM, USA
27 06:00  326     MA    Midland, TX, USA
27 12:00  338     RYN   Tucson, AZ, USA
27 13:00  341     OIN   Oberlin, KS, USA

DN
27 09:00  233     BR    Brandon, MB, CAN
27 09:00  275     HIN   Chadron, NE, USA
27 09:00  383     CNP   Chappell, NE, USA
27 09:00  400     FN    Fort Collins, CO, USA
27 09:00  414     GRN   Gordon, NE, USA

DP
27 08:00  207     PY    Fort Chipewyan, AB, CAN
27 08:00  212     BY    Beechy, SK, CAN
27 08:00  219     ZRS   Regina, SK, CAN
27 08:00  221     QU    Grande Prairie, AB, CAN
27 08:00  230     VG    Vermilion, AB, CAN

DQ
27 08:30  361     HI    Holman, NT, CAN

EL
27 06:00  260     MTH   Marathon, FL, USA
27 10:00  269     AR    New Iberia, LA, USA
27 10:00  329     HMA   Hondo, TX, USA
27 06:00  332     FIS   Key West, FL, USA


EM
27 07:00  263     CVM   Alton, IL, USA
27 07:00  332     IC    Wichita, KS, USA
27 07:00  335     BV    Batesville, AR, USA
27 07:00  338     UMP   Indianapolis, IN, USA
27 07:00  349     GW    Greenwood, MS, USA

EN
27 12:00  257     JYR   York, NE, USA
27 06:00  329     PMV   Plattsmouth, NE, USA
27 06:00  360     SW    Warroad, MN, USA
27 08:00  368     VIQ   Neillsville, WI, USA
27 09:00  368     PNM   Princeton, MN, USA

EO
27 07:00  212     YGX   Gillam, MB, CAN
27 08:00  216     YFA   Fort Albany, ON, CAN
27 08:00  218     RL    Red Lake, ON, CAN
27 08:00  224     MO    Moosonee, ON, CAN
27 08:00  258     ZSJ   Sandy Lake, ON, CAN

EP
27 06:00  224     BK    Baker Lake, NU, CAN
27 09:00  241     YGT   Igloolik, NU, CAN
27 08:00  263     YBB   Kugaaruk, NU, CAN
27 10:00  329     YEK   Arviat, NU, CAN
27 10:00  335     YUT   Repulse Bay, NU, CAN

EQ
27 04:00  365     YGZ   Grise Fiord, NU, CAN

FI
27 05:00  365     PAL   Palma, EQA

FK
28 05:00  369     ZDX   Saint Johns, ATG
27 06:00  391     DDP   Vega Baja, PTR
27 05:00  415     CBC   Cayman Brac, CYM


FL
27 09:00  376     ZIN   Matthew Town, BAH

FM
29 05:00  198     DIW   Dixon, NC, USA

FN
27 08:00  289     YLQ   La Tuque, QC, CAN
27 08:00  373     YXK   Rimouski, QC, CAN
27 05:00  392     ML    Charlevoix, QC, CAN
27 05:00  407     ZHU   Montreal, QC, CAN
27 07:00  516     YWA   Petawawa, ON, CAN

FO
27 10:00  208     YSK   Sanikiluaq, NU, CAN
27 18:37  323     KR    Schefferville, QC, CAN
27 10:00  351     YKQ   Waskaganish, QC, CAN
27 10:00  390     VP    Kuujjuaq, QC, CAN
27 08:00  396     YPH   Inukjuak, QC, CAN

FP
27 09:00  277     YLC   Kimmirut, NU, CAN
27 10:00  338     YPX   Puvirnituq, QC, CAN
28 10:00  358     YKG   Kangiqsujuaq, QC, CAN

FQ
29 07:00  256     YCY   Clyde River, NU, CAN

GN
27 10:00  263     QY    Sydney, NS, CAN
27 08:00  280     QX    Gander, NL, CAN
27 08:00  350     DF    Deer Lake, NL, CAN

GO
28 08:00  220     BX    Lourdes de Blanc, QC, CAN
28 08:30  281     CA    Cartwright, NL, CAN
28 10:00  396     JC    Rigolet, NL, CAN

GQ
28 06:00  399     UP    Upernavik, GRL

QJ
27 12:00  366     PNI   Pohnpei Island, FSM

QL
27 13:00  343     ML    Minami Tori Shima, MTS
27 12:00  360     OX    Iwo Jima, VOI

QO
28 13:30  437     OG    Okha, RSE

RG
27 12:30  260     NF    Norfolk Island, NFK

RJ
27 12:00  316     MAJ   Majuro Atoll, MHL
27 12:00  393     UKS   Kosrae, FSM


As always, complete CLE results (worldwide) can be viewed in detail here.

All-in-all, an exhausting but delightful weekend of listening and great propagation ... so many signals to hear ... welcome to solar-low!