Saturday 30 December 2017

The "BK 1929 QSO Party" From BC

With this being my final blogspot of 2017, let me take this opportunity to wish all readers and radio friends season's greetings and good health and happiness in the coming new year.  It's hard to believe that this is blog posting #470, having started blogging in the spring of 2014 ... how time flies when you're having fun. It flies even quicker when your both old and having fun at the same time!

The AWA's annual premier operating event, the "Bruce Kelley 1929 QSO Party", affectionately known as the "BK", has once again come and gone and some have already begun the countdown to next year's fun!

The hoped-for good conditions, not seen in the past few years, almost became a reality as it wasn't a complete washout like last year's event. Spread over two consecutive Saturday evenings, the best conditions were on the second night, but with just a few east coast stations making it into the log. Several of the 'eastern regulars' were just never heard here, as the band was not quite up to par ... maybe next year will see a return to the great low band conditions of the past.

As usual, I began on 40m, shortly after the BK start at around 1500 local time, and a good hour and a half before local sunset. Usually, 40m isn't too productive until closer to sunset and then, only briefly, as eastern stations have usually moved down to 80m just as the band opens up out here. Contacts with KØPK (MN) and K4JYS (NC) were followed by exchanges with locals VE7BDQ (John) and new BK'er VE7CNF (Toby).

As always, K4JYS's 1929 designed Hartley oscillator using a 210 at 20W input, made it up to this region consistently and was 559 with over an hour of daylight remaining.

K4JYS's 210 Hartley

John and Toby both chose to build relatively rare 1929 designed Colpitts oscillators and were both exceptionally strong here.

VE7BDQ's Colpitts 45s

VE7CNF's Colpitts 45s

Here is a recording of VE7CNF's Colpitts on 80m thanks to Mark, VA7MM.

KK7UV, Steve in Montana, called in next, using his painstakingly restored REL MOPA (Master Oscillator Power Amplifier). His 5W input was a solid S7 here.


Moving down to 80m just after 1700 local time, netted contacts with WB9WHG (WI), KØSM (NY), W2ICE (NY), WA9WFA (MN) and W8KGI (NM) all before dinner hour.

I think Scott (WA9WFA) may be the only other Colpitts user and was a solid 569 here using his pair of 10s at 20W input.

WA9WFA's Colpitts '10s

The band slowly deteriorated later in the evening but not before working N4GJV (NC) on his 3W Hartley oscillator and then finishing with back to back contacts with KØPK and KØKP, both in MN.

KØKP's Hartley '10

Weekend two started again in daylight on 40m, with the 25W Hartley signal of W2AN in New York booming into Mayne Island at 589! Truly remarkable with sunset being over 30 minutes away. What looked to be a really good night shaping up turned out to be disappointing once again ... but for a few strong 'spotlight' openings to the east, most east coast signals evaded me once again.

W2AN's Hartley 203A

Back on 80 right at sunset brought W2AN (NY) once again followed by WØNYQ (MN) with his 4W TNT doing a nice job at 569.

WØNYQ's 4W TNT with a 245

80m contacts were completed with N8YE (OH), NO3M (PA), W3GMS (PA) and the highlight of the evening, N2OUV, Joe in NY, running his 10W '29 Hartley and peaking 579 on the transcontinental path. I rarely work Joe but when I do it's always a delight as it was his YouTube video that originally inspired me to become a '29 builder and participant!

N2OUV's 211 Hartley

Hats off as well to Joe, W3GMS in PA whose rare original 18W TNT was putting an impressively solid signal into the west coast for over an hour ... he must have a great antenna.

W3GMS's Original '29 210 TNT

Once again, I used my homebrew MOPA using type '10s for all contacts but I could have just as readily used my Hull Hartley or TNT as there was absolutely no wind on either weekend ... a very rare happening here on the ocean!

VE7SL's '10  MOPA
I had just 23 AWA contacts this year, maybe the poorest result for me so far. I went QRT at around 12 a.m. EST but normally would have stayed later and risen early for the east coast on 80 and 40 but for the fact that I had injured my back earlier in the week and found it very difficult to sit for any length of time ... just twisting around to zero the VFO on the rig sitting behind me was difficult.

One great positive was the appearance of several newcomers to the '29 Party, which seems to be growing in popularity each year. There is still a lot of interest in '29-style construction it would seem and if this is something that you might like to try for next year's event, here are some helpful guidelines from some of my previous blogs to help get those homebrew juices flowing. It's never too early to warm-up that soldering iron!
There is also some hands-on '29-style building info on my website that can be reached here.

While you are at it, don't forget to sign onto the AWAGroup of '29 Builders as there is plenty of help, discussion and good advice waiting for you there.

Hopefully we will see YOU and your new '29 transmitter next year along with those expected great band conditions!

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Holiday Hunt For NDBs In CLE 226 & 227

The next CLE event will be the special Christmas holiday event and includes two challenges! CLE 226 covers any NDB north of the Arctic Circle, while CLE 227 is a 'bearing' event, with each listener chosing a particular bearing from their receiving location and seeing how many beacons can be heard from states, provinces or countries through which that bearing slices! You will have plenty of time to listen as well, since the event runs from Monday 25th December to Tuesday 2nd January.


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 (usually) on one small slice of the NDB spectrum.
Normally, December provides some excellent propagation but the planet continues to be bombarded with seemingly non-stop coronal hole streaming that can cause geomagnetic disturbances disruptive to MF propagation. However, often these 'disruptions' are not as dire as they first appear and MF propagation can remain robust or even be enhanced.

Listeners in Canada and the northern states as well as those in northern Europe will have a much better chance of logging the Arctic beacons. Most of these are large 'enroute' navigation markers with big antennas and plenty of erp ... they are heard very well.

A pdf list of all NDBs within the Arctic Circle can be downloaded from here.

If you are interested in building a system for the new (U.S.) 630m band, the CLE will give you the chance to test out your MF receiving capabilities and compare against what others in your area might be hearing.

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' in Fargo 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.

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 a 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 usual 'heads-up':

Hello all

Time to tell you about our Holiday CLEs.
Yes – we have two of them, running at the same time, something we have often done in the Christmas – New Year period.

The Early Advice for both CLEs is described here, but we shall treat them quite separately after this.


We'll be sharing Santa's attempts to use the NDBs north of the Arctic Circle (Latitude N67 degrees) as he navigates his weary reindeer on the last stages of their long flights back home.

Please tell us of any normal NDBs north of the Arctic Circle that you manage to log.

Days: Monday 25th December – Tuesday 2nd January
Times: Midday on 25th Dec to Midday on 2nd Jan, your local time
QRG: Normal LF/MF frequencies
Target: NDBs within the Arctic Circle, north of Latitude 67 degrees

That is similar to what we did way back in Holiday CLE059 (Christmas 2004).

There are about 130 qualifying ‘active’ NDBs currently recorded in RWW.

(You can see the old results from CLE059 in the CLE Archives Section,  It only ran for 24 hours after midday on Christmas Day).

We do apologise to the listeners who are too far south to hear anything. (The further north listeners often miss out in normal CLEs, especially in the summertime when there is very little sky wave propagation for them).

The Final Details for the Santa CLE, CLE226, will follow in a few days.


Like CLE226, this is also a re-run, something that was very much enjoyed over 10 years ago - as CLE092 during a weekend in early June 2007.

Days: Monday 25th December – Tuesday 2nd January
Times: Midday on 25th Dec to Midday on 2nd Jan, your local time
QRG: Normal LF/MF frequencies
Target: Up to 10 NDBs in each Radio Country in your chosen direction

You choose a line in any one direction from you. Then try to log 'normal' NDBs in each of the radio countries crossed by that line - not more than 10 NDBs from each country.
Your line can be at any bearing of your choice - e.g. 123 degrees but NOT including the opposite direction (303 degrees).

Preferably use a Great Circle map to choose your line and to see which radio countries it cuts (a country is included if any part of it is crossed).

Remember that each USA and Australian State and each Canadian Province is a separate Radio Country. See

(If your line crosses the sea, any platforms roughly in that direction would also qualify as a radio country for the CLE).

The event will give you an opportunity to plan your own tactics. You could:

Try out a directional aerial
Include a favourite country or countries
Listen for NDBs which mostly have your favourite offset
Concentrate either on DX or more local reception
Exclude signals from the direction of your worst QRN
- any or all of those things, and more.

The aim is not to try and include as many countries or as many NDBs as possible, though you could do that if you wanted to!

TO CHOOSE YOUR BEARING, for non-dx loggings you could use an ordinary map (Mercator projection), especially if your location is near to its middle.

Better would be a Great Circle map centred on your location - you should find that is good and very easy to download and use. Just put in your location (e.g. Locator), choose a distance and click on ‘Create Map’. It misses out smaller countries, but reference also to a ‘normal’ map should cater for that.

Perhaps ideal would be Google Earth if you can download that (it is a powerful program for lots of purposes). Click on its Ruler icon and draw a line with the mouse. It tells you distance and Bearing ('Heading'). (Feel free to tell us about any other suitable Great Circle programs)

I can highly recommend the ns6t map generator as it produces a very nice great circle map, shown below for my location on Mayne Island.


I have yet to decide which bearing I will choose but 81 degrees looks promising from here as it cuts across BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario while catching the northern edges of Minnesota and North Dakota.

(If you wish you could use any one remote receiver for your loggings,
stating the 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. If you are a member of the ndblist Group, results will also be e-mailed and posted there.

The very active Yahoo ndblist 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 ndblist member to participate in the CLEs and all reports, no matter how small, are of much value to the organizers. 

'First-time' logs are always VERY welcome!

Reports may be sent to the ndblist or e-mailed to either myself or CLE co-ordinator, Brian Keyte (G3SIA), whose address appears above.

Please ... give the Holiday 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 Happy Holidays to everyone.

Monday 11 December 2017

The FA-VA4 Vector Antenna Analyzer (LF-100MHz)

For some time I had been considering the purchase of the MFJ259 antenna analyzer but after a little online sleuthing, came across this little beauty, the FA-VA4 Antenna Analyzer by Funk Amateur in Germany and available through their Box73 website here.

I liked the fact that the cost of the analyzer was about half that of anything else comparable ($140 US including shipping) and that it covered the new 2200 / 630m bands!

I think many amateurs planning on building a system for either of these new bands will find the very affordable FA-VA4 a handy piece of equipment when it comes to working on their LF / MF antenna since most available SWR meters do not cover these frequencies accurately.

Delivery time was fast and everything was very well packaged. The FA-VA4 comes in partial kit form and requires only a short amount of time to put together.

The necessary assembly consists of soldering pin strip connectors, switches, AA cell holders, and the BNC connector. All of the tricky SMD components have been pre-mounted ... total assembly time was less than 60 minutes and everything fired-up nicely, without problems, thanks to the well written instruction / user manual.

Included with the kit are three BNC connectors needed to calibrate the instrument for the highest accuracy. These consist of a 'Shorted' connector, an 'Open' connector and a 50 ohm 'Load' connector (SOL). A simple three-part calibration procedure for all frequencies takes about 15 minute to complete, while the instrument calibrates itself as it scans through all frequency ranges with each connector plugged into the output. Once this task is completed, the analyzer is ready for use.

If you're like me, I think the main use will be to check out and tweak some of your HF antennas using the SWR or Z sweep function. This allows you to set a desired 'center' frequency along with a + / - sweep range and have the display draw a nice plot of your system.

Had my 630m antenna not already been tuned and matched, I would have found the analyzer to be a great help but, thanks to my 'scopematch', that antenna has already been optimised.

All menu features and data entry is via three momentary-contact push switches. Although this might initially seem awkward, it is not, and operation is pretty intuitive.

The main modes of operation are:

Single Frequency SWR  Measurement


Single Frequency Impedance Measurement


Single SWR Measurement Run


Single Run For Impedance Measurement (Resistance and Reactance)


SWR Measurement On Five Frequencies (5 Band Measurement)


As well, all of the above can be viewed in a continuous 'cycle' mode, as inputs are changed and all screens can be saved for future reference.

Additional capabilities include use in an HF Signal Generator Mode (~ 1V square wave @50 ohms), the ability to measure C and L at a given frequency, as a 'dip meter' and to measure cable resonances and determine lengths.

The complete manual may also be downloaded from their website here.

I will soon put all of my antennas to the test and see what work might need to be done to optimize them, particularly my HF half slopers, which, in spite of their great performance, have always proven a bit of a mystery when it comes to pruning them to resonance ... I rather suspect that the sloping wires are more of an impedance tuning stub than a radiator and that most radiation comes from the vertical support tower, not the sloping wire.

All-in-all, the FA-VA4 appears to offer very good value for the money and is a well built, quality test instrument. I think it will become a popular choice among hams, especially those on LF / MF. The only thing different that I would have liked, would be to have a UHF (SO 239) connector rather than a BNC on the output, since most amateurs are using these on their HF systems ... or, the inclusion of a BNC-to-UHF adapter.

If you already use this device, please feel free to add your comments below!

Monday 4 December 2017

Upcoming '29 BK 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.

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 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.

This year, signals should be a little louder as well, since the previous 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.

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 me 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.