Have you ever installed a covert shortwave radio antenna?

The Hammarlund RBG CHC-46140 (Photo by Rich Post, KB8TAD)

The Hammarlund RBG CHC-46140 (Photo by Rich Post, KB8TAD)

Yesterday, in a comment thread, SWLing Post reader Dan described a covert antenna he once installed in a student apartment:

I’m waxing nostalgic now, but I had a great set-up for a couple of years back in the ’70s. The receiver was a black WW2 Navy surplus Hammarlund RBG CHC-46140. (I still have it).

I was a student living in an apartment on top of a two story, wood-framed apartment building. The attic access for that building was from the ceiling of the wardrobe closet.

During a Christmas break I was probably the only occupant of the building. I snuck into the attic and installed a set of five switchable dipoles. I had a good 60′ of space to work with and the antennas were broadside to the southwest. This was quite a memorable listening post.

When I moved out, I cut the coax to the dipoles and used toothpaste and borrowed pieces of “cottage cheese” to fill the five holes in the ceiling. Those antennas are probably still there.

Indeed, I bet they are still there, Dan!

In reply to Dan’s comment, Walt Salmaniw, noted:

Dan, reminds me when I was stationed in Germany in the early 80’s.

We lived in old French officer’s quarters. Basically, 4 story buildings with the upper floor/attic uninhabited.

The Kenwood R-2000 (Photo: Universal Radio)

The Kenwood R-2000 (Photo: Universal Radio)

I put up some nice 60 m dipoles in that space, with a goal of hearing a lot of tropical band DX, which I did using my Kenwood R2000 receiver.

Those were the glory days of dxing!

Thanks, Dan and Walter, for sharing those stories. The thread reminds me of a post we published sometime back where one young listener installed a wire antenna in his home while his parents were away. (I can’t seem to locate that post at the moment for a link!).

Though not nearly as elaborate as Dan and Walter’s antennas, I did install a small covert antenna once myself.

In the early 90s, I lived in Grenoble, France, in a four bedroom house in which three bedrooms were occupied by university students. The landlord was a rather fussy elderly woman who lived on the ground floor. I never dared ask her if I could string a random wire outside my top floor bedroom window. Though she was mostly fair and even sweet at times, I knew what the response would be if I asked for permission: a firm “Non.”

One night, I opened the bedroom window and carefully connected a short wire antenna to a nail on the side of the house, above and slightly to the side of the window. I had to stand on the window and hang out of the house to do it.

The Realistic DX-440

The Realistic DX-440

The antenna dangled there the whole year I lived in that room and served me quite well. I’d simply open the window and clip it to my Realistic DX-440. I did remove the antenna before before I moved back to the States, but it was virtually undetectable against the  exterior wall of the house.

Other covert antenna installations?

Please comment if you’ve ever installed a hidden antenna as well. (I love this stuff!) Besides…who knows…your antenna might benefit someone in need of a hidden antenna today!

World’s first pirate broadcast on Easter 1916 to be celebrated

Antique-Radio-Audion(Source: Silicon Republic via Andrea Borgnino)

At an event in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) tonight (25 April), the centenary of the broadcasting of the Proclamation of an Irish Republic via shortwave radio in 1916 – considered by many to be the first pirate radio broadcast – will be marked.

While the men and women who took part in Easter 1916 were camped out in the GPO and other locations around Dublin, one group involved with the rebellion, led by Joseph Mary Plunkett, wanted to use the latest technology to spread the message of Irish revolt.

Having commandeered the Irish School of Wireless Telegraphy at the corner of O’Connell Street and Abbey Street – where the Grand Central Bar now sits – the group set up a ship’s wireless systems to broadcast a shortwave radio transmission, with the hope that a passing ship near the country would pick it up and report back to the US.

With Plunkett at the controls, the radio enthusiast issued a burst of Morse code that read: “Irish Republic declared in Dublin today. Irish troops have captured city and are in full possession. Enemy cannot move in city. The whole country rising.”

With some reports suggesting the broadcast was picked up as far away as Germany and Bulgaria, it is widely considered one of the first pirate radio broadcasts as, until then, point-to-point transmissions was the most common form of sending messages wirelessly.[…]

Continue reading the full article at Silicon Republic online…

Extra, Extra! A review of Ham Test Online

IMG_20160414_173645413-001

Thursday night, I passed my Extra class ham radio license exam and–woo hoo!– I’m chuffed!

The Extra class is the highest class amateur radio license you can hold in the United States. I’ve put off studying for this test for more than 17 years.

Why? Well, for one thing, I’m not an electronics engineer–indeed, I’ve never taken a formal course on electronics other than the practice study I did for my first three amateur radio licenses. The Extra exam is chock-full of formulas and electronics theory and it intimidated me for ages. Studying for it was…well…arduous.

I did, however, enjoy studying for my Technician, Novice and General exams. [Note that today there are only three license classes: Technician, General and Extra and no Morse Code requirement.] Indeed, I learned a lot about circuits and radio wave propagation from those first exams. As soon as my daughters are old enough, I’ll teach them the Technician course work.

What prompted me to study for my Extra license exam this month? I gave a presentation at the Blue Ridge Amateur Radio Club on April 4th–the president announced that the Extra class question pool was going through a major overhaul and I had already invested a few hours studying the current material.

The current Extra class question pool is only valid until the end of June 2016.

I made a decision that evening: it was time to buckle down and cram for this exam! Especially since my radio club (the NCDXCC) was giving exams the following week.

Studying

In the past, I used a combination of exam study guides published by the ARRL and W5YI, and free online practice exams provided by AA9PW. The combination worked very well.

With the Extra exam, however, I needed a method that was more persistent and one that focused on my weakest subjects.

Enter Ham Test Online

HamTestOnline

About this same time last year (April 2015), I decided to invest in an online course called Ham Test Online (HTO) with the idea that I could take the Extra exam at the 2015 Dayton Hamvention. That exam never happened because, in the build-up to the Dayton Hamvention, I had very little free time to study. Indeed, the same was true this month, but I fit study and practice time in every spare moment I had to get the exam in the books by the club meeting.

HamTestOnline-QuestionOptions

Typical Ham Test Online study screen.

According to HTO, I spent a total of roughly 30 hours studying for the Extra exam in total–at least 28 of those hours were within a one week period of time. I wouldn’t recommend this level of cramming for anyone else.

HTO advises that setting aside only one hour of study per day will have you in good shape to take the Extra exam in about one month. That is a much more reasonable timeline.

Ham Test online shows you, at a glance, your weakest/strongest subjects and topics you have yet to cover. (Click to enlarge)

Ham Test online shows you, at a glance, your weakest/strongest subjects and topics you have yet to cover. (Click to enlarge)

In short: I am very impressed with Ham Test Online. It was worth every penny to have a dedicated tutorial system that was persistent in noting and repeating my weakest subjects.

It’s actually a very simple website and, fortunately, was usable via my Moto X smart phone’s Chrome web browser.  This meant that when I was waiting for my kids in the doctor’s office or parking lot, I could study or even take a practice test without needing a PC.

HTO keeps track of your practice exam results and notes any missed questions for review later. Keep in mind that you only need a 75% score or higher to pass the test. I felt comfortable taking the test with scores in the 85% range. (Click to enlarge)

HTO keeps track of your practice exam results and notes any missed questions for review later. Keep in mind that you only need a 75% score or higher to pass the test. I felt comfortable taking the test with scores in the 85% range. (Click to enlarge)

Indeed, at any given time, I had HTO running in a web browser session on my shack PC, my MacBook, my iPad and my smart phone–they all worked in symphony, picking up the last session/topic from the device I was last using.

Summary

Here are a few notes I took while using Ham Test Online:

Pros:

  • Adaptive study
  • Ability to skip topics temporarily
  • Informative, concise study material
  • Responsive website that is even usable via smart phone
  • Both the study and exam metrics show amount of material learned or committed to memory
  • User has control over:
    • level of persistence/repetition when a question is missed
    • difficulty of practice exams
    • ability to skip topics for an 8 hour period of time
    • reminder emails when system hasn’t been used for study
    • and more…
  • Useful metrics in both study and exam modes

Cons:

To be honest, it’s hard to list many cons for HTO. I’ve never used a similar online tutorial system for comparison.

I should note that I started studying for the Extra exam last year and perhaps learned 8-10% of the total exam. After a one year hiatus, HTO never assumed I could have forgotten the material I learned last year–bad assumption! (ha ha!) Only a day before the exam, I realized I had forgotten some of the initial study material, so I forced HTO to test me on it by selecting only the first element for study. I’m glad I caught that in time. Perhaps HTO should re-check course material after an extended hiatus?

Obviously, the HTO training method works–I was able to pass my Extra Exam with only about 30 hours of total study time.  I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have achieved that with books–especially on such short order–and I know of no other web-based platforms like it on the market [readers: please correct me if I’m wrong].

HTO is efficient and cost-effective–especially for those of us with an active family life. It would work well for someone who wants to learn the course material or, frankly, even for someone who is only interested in memorizing the answers.

HTO’s current price list:

  • $24.95 Technician Class study course (2-year subscription)
  • $29.95 General Class study course (2-year subscription)
  • $34.95 Extra Class study course (2-year subscription)
    (includes both the current question pool and the 2016 pool when it becomes available)
  • $24.95 Renew all previously-purchased courses (for 2 more years)

If you are considering upgrading to the Extra class license, you might do so before July 2016 when the new question pool will be used. At least, for me, the deadline was a good excuse to get my act together and knock the test out!

Readers: Please comment if you’ve found other study methods or systems that have worked well for you.

Heard VK0EK on the radio

Heard Island (Image: VK0EK)

Heard Island (Image: VK0EK)

Regular SWLing Post readers know that I’m a ham radio operator (call sign K4SWL). Being a shortwave radio enthusiast, of course, I spend most of my time on the air in the HF portion of the amateur radio spectrum. Contacting distant stations and connecting with other ham radio operators around our little planet gives me immense joy.

Most of you also probably know that I’m a fan of all things Antarctic, so it should come as no surprise that I really wanted to work VK0EK: the Heard Island DXpedition.

Thing is, my life has been so hectic lately, I’ve barely been home during the Heard Island DXpedition (March 29th – April 11th). And the days I have been home, VK0EK’s signals have been incredibly weak.

In short: timing and propagation were all working against me.  And VK0EK was soon to pack up and come back home. I was becoming desperate…and beginning to lose hope that I’d make any contact with this unique and rare entity in the isolated stretch of ocean between Madagascar and Antartica.

"Antennas with a clearing" on Heard Island (Photo by Bill, AE0EE)

“Antennas with a clearing” on Heard Island (Photo by Bill, AE0EE)

My hope was waning.  Then, Tusday evening, I gave a presentation about shortwave radio at the Blue Ridge Amateur Radio Club. On the hour-long drive home, I stopped by my good friend Vlado’s (N3CZ) to confess my troubles to the radio doc.

Now it just happens that Vlado has a much better antenna set-up to work DX than I do, and what’s more, (close your ears, fellow QRPers) he has an amplifier.

Most importantly, though, Vlado is a keen DXer.  He’s got 330 countries under his belt, and ever up for a challenge, routinely pushes himself to accomplish more with less. In January, with members of the local club, he entered a QRP challenge; he had 100 countries worked by the following month, all in his spare time. And a few years ago, Vlado actually built a radio of his own design and worked 100 countries within two months (you can read about that here).

So, of course, he was game to help me make a contact…even if it was a long shot.  A very long shot.

Juan de Nova

When I arrived at Vlado’s QTH around 21:00 local, VK0EK was impossibly weak, so we focused our efforts on 30 meters and FT4JA: the Juan de Nova Island DXpedition (another all-time new one for me).

A portion of the FT4JA antenna farm. (Image: FT4JA)

A portion of the FT4JA antenna farm. (Image: FT4JA)

After more than an hour of calling, FT4JA finally heard my call and (woo hoo!) I was confirmed in their log.

But what about Heard Island?

penguin-chow-line4_6-1600px

After working FT4JA, we moved down to 40 meters where VK0EK was slightly louder than before. Well, maybe it’s not impossible, I thought hopefully. Just next to it.

Between QSB (fading) and tuner-uppers, my ears were bleeding trying to hear Heard’s minuscule CW signal–so faint, so distant were they.

After only about ten minutes of steady calling, Vlado made a sign to get my attention, and we strained to listen, very carefully.

VK0EK came back very faintly with just one letter incorrect in my call–it was enough that I didn’t catch it at first. But Vlado heard it, and after sending the call back a couple of times, then the report, VK0EK confirmed my call with a signal report, and I reciprocated.

Vlad and I leapt to our feet, yelling, “WOO HOO!” (and hopefully didn’t wake up any of Vlad’s neighbors).

Heard Island is actually running an online log that is updated live. We immediately looked there to confirm I was in their log, and was greeted with this great circle map and a line from Heard Island to my call sign in the States. Vlado made this screen capture as a momento:

k4swl VK0EK 40m cw 0231 april4 2016

Here’s to good friends and mentors

In one incredible evening, I snagged two all-time new ones–and I owe it all to my good buddy, Vlado. Most importantly, I’ve been learning so much from him as he patiently coaches me through some weak DX with serious pileups. Plus it’s just always fun hanging around Vlado, the best broken radio doctor I know, to whom “challenge” is…well, a piece of cake.

Thanks Vlado, for your enthusiasm and patience–I’m lucky to have a friend like you!

A.P. Richards’ 1939 thesis on the Crosley WLW Model Super-Power Radio Receiver

Crosley

In response to our recent post about the Crosley WLW Super-Power receiver, SWLing Post contributor, Larry Hagood, writes:

A photo of Dr Richards from the class of 1927.

A photo of Dr Richards from the class of 1927.

I am an EE student at Oklahoma State (Formerly Oklahoma A&M)–the school where the designer of the WLW [Super Power receiver], Amyle Richards, got his BSEE in 1927.

[Richards] wrote and submitted a masters thesis on the design of this radio, which earned him a PhD!).

I found a picture of him in the Engineering South building and found him in the 1927 yearbook in the library.

Anyway, the archive department located his paper on the WLW and is scanning it for me.

Many thanks to Larry for doing the research and sharing a scanned copy of Dr. Richards’ thesis about this Crosley benchmark receiver!

Click here to download A.P. Richards’ thesis as a PDF.

Ken’s E. H. Scott Philharmonic Beam of Light console radio

E. H. Scott Philharmonic Beam of Light Open 2

In response to an inquiry in our post about the Crosley WLW Model Super-Power Radio Receiver, SWLing Post contributor, Ken Carr, writes:

I’m not sure if my radio is a ‘benchmark’ but it sure is close to it.
It is the E. H. Scott Philharmonic Beam of Light console radio.

E. H. Scott Philharmonic Beam of Light Outside Closed

Mine appears to have been built in 1939 or early 1940. It has 30 tubes, most of which are covered by chrome-plated shields. The power supply/amplifier (4 6L6’s in the output stage), receiver, 15″ speaker and cabinet easily weigh over 150 pounds.

E. H. Scott Philharmonic Beam of Light inside

It took me two years of occasional work (I am retired so I don’t rush) to get it going and working reasonably well. I had to replace over 100 capacitors and correct some B+ voltage problems left by a previous repair person. 

None of the knobs are correct (mine came without them … 9 required) and replacements are difficult to come by (and quite expensive when they do appear).

When receiving a strong station the volume is such that it would easily drown out anything within 100 yards (and with no distortion).

E. H. Scott Philharmonic Beam of LightDial

Some day I will post some details and photos on my WordPress site (idlenot.com). I’ll be sure to let you know, Thomas. [Note: Yes, Ken, please do!]

Oh, the first time I powered it up and received a station they were playing Light My Fire (The Doors, I think). Appropriate. I put a video of it on YouTube. The radio is all apart as I was still working on it at the time.

Click here to view on YouTube.

Now that is serendipity, Ken–I mean, the first music you hear after restoring this beauty is Light My Fire? Brilliant!

The E. H. Scott Philharmonic Beam of Light is a benchmark console by any standard. I first learned about this radio through a local classified ad–the owner was selling the internal components (and original knobs) but had no cabinet. I believe he was asking $1200. The chrome plating is such eye candy, I can see why some owner in the past removed it from the cabinet to save space. Still, it was a shame the cabinet had been discarded–as one can see from your photos, the craftsmanship is simply stunning.

Ken, thank you for taking the time to share the Beam of Light console with us!

Post readers: you should check out Ken’s blog, Idlenot.com, where you’ll find more vintage radio and classic cars!

Guest Post: Building a magnetic loop antenna & broadband amplifier for your SDR

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dave Gahimer (K9ZCE) for the following guest post:


Loop-Antenna

Small Magnetic Loop Antenna with Broadband Amplifier for SDR Reception

by Dave Gahimer (K9ZCE)

Those with limited space, or antenna restrictions, might find a small 1 meter loop antenna a solution.

My son lives in an apartment. One Loop leaning against a wall gives him acceptable reception with the SDRPlay RSP on the ground floor–2nd or 3rd level flats should have very good reception.

Ten meters off the ground outside should give reception equal to any SWL antenna. We all with SDRs fight the image problem. Normal resonate ham band antennas show too strong reception of unwanted bands/stations. Did I mention noise? Loops are well known for –6 db noise reduction.

Then there is the possibility of SDR chip damage from your 1.5 KW station! In researching Loops we came across LZ1AQ. A Brilliant design /engineer (http://www.lz1aq.signacor.com/). Deep reading sometimes, but a great understanding of what makes a good receiving loop antenna.

Those who chase DX know that sometimes fading is caused by the signals’ polarization changing in the Ionosphere. Having both vertical and horizontal loops, and the ability to combine both signals diminishes this fading problem. Being able to filter the powerful, commercial FM transmitters diminishes image problems. Clipping strong signals at the antenna from very near powerful antennas/transmitters could save the SDR receiver from damage.

The LZ1AQ broad band Amp solves all these problems. http://active-antenna.eu/amplifier-kit/.

My son Ted and I built three, one meter loops from soft ½ inch copper plumbing tubing. One for his apartment, two for my crossed loops antenna. We weather proofed the Copper from corrosion by coating with outdoor clear spar varnish. We shaped the circle by drawing the tubing around a round glass top patio table.

The soft copper loop in held by white PCV plastic plumbing pipe. 1” or 1.25 inch schedule 40. Be careful to check that the PVC is schedule 40, thick wall. The thin wall pipe is not strong in the wind and will crack when you try to drill it.

Drill up to a 3/8 hole for the ½” copper tube to go through, then file out to fit. Here are some photos (click to enlarge):

crossed loops up 3 crossed loops up 4

Check out these links (all courtesy of LZ1AQ) to acquaint yourself with the loop construction and amplifier installation:

http://active-antenna.eu/tech-docs/2_ActiveAA_Mount_20.pdf

http://active-antenna.eu/tech-docs/1_ActiveAA_DandS_20.pdf

http://active-antenna.eu/tech-docs/3_ActiveAA_Antena_11.pdf

Many SDR receiver owners have seen improved noise and Image reduction by placing the plastic cased SDR unit on a small shielded/ grounded case.

crossed loops up 5

The Amp needs 12VDC from in the shack. The Amp has two relays that you can switch, from in the shack, to select Vertical or Horizontal loops, or a dipole. The loop amp connects back to the shack via a shielded Cat 5 cable, Make sure you get shielded CAT 5 to reduce noise pickup. Make sure you provide an adequate good Ground below the antenna, less noise pickup and lightening protection.

crossed loops up

Have fun!
Dave, K9ZCE
Retired from EE Dept @ Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
Terre Haute, Indiana


Thank you so much, Dave!

Readers: yesterday I saw Dave’s loop antenna photos on the SDRplay RSP Facebook page. I was fascinated by his horizontally/vertically oriented loops and asked if he would write up a short guest post.  He kindly obliged in a matter of hours!

If you have an antenna project you’d like to share, please contact me. So many SWLs and ham radio operators live in areas with restrictions and pervasive RFI–projects like Dave’s can revive one’s radio life!