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!



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.

Even today there is still a large builder's interest in making AC-1 'clones'. 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 which I found at Home Depot. 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 AC-1 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 improved 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 awhile and think it's time to spark it up once again for some  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


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) ... I'll keep the rig warmed up!