Category Archives: Articles

Are we entering the age of atomic radio?

(Source: arstechnica via Scott Schad)

A new antenna using single atoms could usher in the age of atomic radio

The team tested their device by recording themselves singing “Mary Had a Little Lamb”

JENNIFER OUELLETTE

In the 1950s, atomic clocks revolutionized precision time-keeping. Now we may be on the verge of so-called “atomic radio,” thanks to the development of a new type of antenna capable of receiving signals across a much wider range of frequencies (more than four octaves) that is highly resistant to electromagnetic interference.

An antenna is typically a collection of metal rods that pick up passing radio waves and convert their energy into an electrical current, which is then amplified. One might argue that the good old-fashioned radio antenna has served us well since the dawn of the 20th century, so why do we need anything to replace it?

According to David Anderson of Rydberg Technologies, those antennae are wavelength-dependent, so their size depends on whatever wavelength of signal they are trying to measure (they need to be about half the size of whatever wavelength they are designed to receive). That means you need antennae of several different sizes to measure different radio frequencies.

Anderson is a co-author of a new paper posted to the arXiv describing a novel alternative to conventional antennae, based on vapor cells filled with a gas of so-called “Rydberg atoms.” That just means the atoms are in an especially excited state, well above their ground (lowest-energy) state. This makes them especially sensitive to passing electric fields, like the alternating fields of radio waves. All you need is a means of detecting those interactions to turn them into quantum sensors.[…]

Read the full article at arstechnica.

Click here to download the research paper: An atomic receiver for AM and FM radio communication (PDF).

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Spectrum Management and the Impact on Amateur Radio

Many thanks to an SWLing Post reader who has shared the following document which was published during the IARU Region 3 conference in Seoul. The document is titled “The evolution of spectrum management in the era of hyper-connectivity and its impact on the amateur service.” Certainly a tough look at the realities of spectrum use and amateur radio’s part in it.

Click here to download (.docx format). 

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Guest Post: Mark’s Micro Go-Box for the ICOM IC-7100

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Hirst, who shares the following guest post:


Micro Go-Box for the ICOM IC-7100

by Mark Hirst

You’ll be familiar I’m sure with the IC-7100 base unit and separate head unit design. It lends itself very nicely for vehicle installation.

Using it in any ‘portable’ situation however has always presented something of a challenge. A FT-857 or FT-891 can be carried as a single physical package with the head unit integrated into the body. The radios can sit and potentially operate on their tail in a backpack, with products like the Escort from Portable Zero making that process even easier.

I’ve had a few attempts at solving this portability conundrum, driven by a concern that there could be long term problems continually connecting and disconnecting the component parts for transport and operation, but knowing that a permanently assembled IC-7100 will always be an awkward dispersed structure.

My first solution was a Stanley 16 inch toolbox, which is fortuitously sized to accommodate the base unit and provides enough space to loop the original connecting cable and head unit. The box is not a bad fit, but certainly bulkier than necessary and leaves enough room for things to rattle around. When tilted vertically, the head unit can start moving.

Fast forward to this week when I discovered that the IC-7100 base unit will also fit inside a 5 litre XL storage box made by Really Useful Boxes:

http://www.reallyusefulproducts.co.uk/usa/
http://www.reallyusefulproducts.co.uk/uk/

The XL version of the 5 litre box has a taller lid, and as you can see from the accompanying photos, accommodates the base unit with the head unit sitting on top of it in a ready to use configuration. The tolerances for height are also exact, the VFO knob very lightly touches the lid, so don’t put something heavy on the box:

Once the lid has been removed, the radio can operate directly from the container:

To make the whole thing fit, I used a 25cm CAT 6 cable in place of the original connection cable and a significantly shortened power lead. As luck would have it, I created the shortened power lead a while ago because I often put the battery right next to the radio.

You can see that I removed a section between the power plug and the fuses, and now use the removed length as an extension should the battery be further away. Although it wasn’t my intention at the time, the main part is about 2 feet long, the secondary about 8 inches.

For transport, the power cable is coiled behind the head unit, ensuring the fuse holders sit in the void immediately behind it, while the microphone cable is coiled on top leaving the microphone resting inside its own coil. You can see the arrangement below:

In the next photo, you can see how the cabling emerges from the back of the base unit:

There’s just enough space for the power cable to leave the base and bend around without undue pressure, and likewise for the CAT 6 cable to curve round into the back of the head unit. Two angle connectors make the antenna ports accessible from above, while a short USB external drive cable provides access to the USB port for data modes and CAT control. A longer USB extension cable is attached to this short cable only when required, and the extension uses much more substantial ferrite chokes to mitigate noise from the computer.

To complete the transport package, I’ve cut out a kaizen style foam insert to make sure the base unit can’t move back into the cabling space, and another to make sure the head unit doesn’t slide towards the front.

The last problem of course is cooling. The fan is located in the front of the base unit, with slots along the sides and top to allow air flow. The box unfortunately is exactly the right size for the base, leaving no gaps for air to circulate. In the absence of a proper workshop or professional tools, I opted to use a hole cutter designed for putting pipes through wood panels. It turns out that plastic has a tendency to deform rather than cut under the blades due to friction heating. A sharp knife was essential in dealing with the effects of that deformation to produce the final smooth edges around the holes:

While I’m happy with the port exposing the front fan, the two holes on each side do not completely expose the side slots. Do I drill out the space between them knowing how tricky and flexible the plastic can be, and would a larger hole compromise the strength of the box? For now, I’m going to keep a careful eye for any temperature issues.

The current arrangement is to carry the box horizontally in a cheap travel bag:

Could the box be tilted vertically with the base unit nose down and carried in a back pack for longer excursions? Yes, but experience has told me that the lid latches on Really Useful Boxes have a tendency to pop open when you do that, so a luggage strap around the box may be required to prevent its very expensive cargo from spilling out. I’m also mindful that the box lid gently touches the VFO knob, so might put load on it in the vertical position.

The final result is something of a Swiss watch, and there isn’t much room for error. Things have to be arranged ‘just so’ to fit, but it does mean I can pack and pick the whole thing up in a handy container. The radio only needs a battery and antenna to be connected on site and then it’s ready to go.

There’s something oddly satisfying when unrelated objects come together like this. Who knew that this box was just the right size to fit the radio?

So, what do you think?


Thank you for sharing this project, Mark!

I love your Micro Go-Box: it’s practical, affordable and makes an otherwise awkward field radio easy to deploy and use. Looking at your photos, I realize that the IC-7100 does have one strong suit for field use. The IC-7100 front panel is tilted at a very comfortable 45 degree angle for use. 

Post Readers: What do you think?  Any other IC-7100 owners out there who take their rig to the field? Please comment!

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Guest Post: SM0VPO’s 3D Printed 10KV Tuning Capacitor

The completed antenna.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor,Harry Lythall (SM0VPO), who shares the following update to his excellent homebrew 20 meter magnetic loop antenna post:


3D Printed 10KV Tuning Capacitor

by Harry Lythall (SM0VPO)

Introduction

You may have seen my 20m (14MHz) loop, or frame, antenna, and the ease of construction with just a bit of wire and a bit of plastic tube. The tuning arrangement is a little primitive, using just a “gimmick capacitor”, comprising two bits of wire twisted together.

The original “Gimmick” capacitor that burns.

This arrangement works very well for QRP, where the average RF power is about 5 Watts or less. If you exceed this power level, then the twisted-wire capacitor tends to warm up and the tuning drifts a little. But if you use more than about 10 Watts of continuous RF power, then things start to burn. Cheap insulated wire also smokes. This is because the impedance at the ends of the coil is so high that you can get many 100s of volts and the insulation, normally intended for house wiring, breaks down.

In this page I will show you how to build a super-cheap tuning capacitor that will tolerate up to 10,000 Volts of RF and allow you to use up to about 100 Watts of RF into my 14MHz (20m) antenna. The capacitor is also tunable so that you can adjust it by hand (when the RF is removed, of course :-). The tuning range is about 8pf to well over 30pf when really compressed. The normal range for the antenna is about 12pf to 15pf.

Construction

My prototype does not look very pretty, and it is not supported on anything other than the connection wires from the antenna. Very few components are used:

  • two plastic foam pan scrubbers or one thick plastic bath sponge
  • two pieces of metal 4cm x 6cm. Copper-clad board works fine
  • one plastic nut and bolt – see text
  • one heavy-duty 3-pole block connector with centre-pole removed

Components for the 10KV tuning capacitor

The plastic nut and bolt need to be about 6cm long and totally non-conductive. If you want to make my bolt, then do NOT use black plastic because some black plastics use carbon as a colouring agent. You can use a nylon bolt, as used to secure IKEA toilet seats, but you will also need a washer to spread the stress, otherwise the copper-clad board tends to bend under the stress with time. I chose copper-clad board because it is easy to solder – no need for drilling or connection bolts. I made my plastic compression tuning bolt using my 3D printer. I have included the project files for you to download.

Ikea toilet-seat bolt

Note that the connector for the wires needs to be well spaced between the metal inserts, in order to tolerate up to 10KV, so I used a 3-pole connector and took out the centre pole. At 100-Watts continuous there is a very slight warming after a few minutes, but no sign of smoke, sparks or corona. 🙂

The connector with the centre-pole removed.

I tried a few different types of plastic dielectric and all worked well, providing they are 100% dry. The best ones those I stole from the kitchen cupboard (when Maj-Lis was not watching). I think it costs about $1.50 for a packet of 10 pieces. Perhaps I should have used a nicer colour? A pretty pink? Heart-shaped? No! maybe that would be going a bit too to far ;-). Here is my finished capacitor using my 3D printed tuning screw.

The assembled 10KV capacitor.

3D Files

Once more, this project is ridiculously easy to make with a 3D printer. The hardest part was to get the pitch of the threads right, then clone/connect the pieces to get a longer thread. They were printed with the bolt vertical, so the slope under each thread is a steeper angle than the upper slope. This makes the printout a lot easier to print. If the angle is too steep, then it may extrude PLA into mid-air. My nut and bolt heads are about 3cm Diameter, and the 10mm thread for the nut was cut using boolean subtraction. I then enlarged the nut by about 3% so it still fits but there is a little slack so that it does not bind. I may have overdone it a little, but not much.

Project rendered in 3D Studio Max

Here are the files:
3D studio MAX file – 3d-cap-01.max
ASCII STL file – 3d-cap-01.stl
ASCII OBJ file – 3d-cap-01.obj
the GCODE file for my Wanhao (Prusa) Duplicator i3 – 3d-cap-01.gcode

Just right-click on the file and select “save as”. Some web browsers try to open ASCII files instead of saving them. I usually export STL files, but on this occasion, I tried comparing OBJ files since CURA slicer will accept both. Although I use a WANHAO replica of the PRUSA Duplicator i3 printer, the GCODE files are rather generic and will probably work on most printers.

My printer settings in this GCODE are:

  • Nozzle temperature = 200°C
  • Bed temperature = 60°C
  • Support structure = brim
  • Layer height = 0.1mm
  • Print speed = 60mm/s
  • Fill density = 40%
  • Shell thickness = 1.2mm

The printer temperature is 200°C, which is 5°C hotter than recommended for PLA filament. I find that I get a better print at 200°C as it sticks to the bed a lot easier. When printing this screw thread, it may be advisable to start at 200°C and then turn down the nozzle temperature to 195°C after a few layers have been printed.


I hope that you find this project interesting. It is a bit small, but it gets me active on 14MHz from my car with this portable antenna. I have a new car and I don’t want to start throwing long aluminium tubes in it that scratch the interior to bits.

Don’t forget to visit my messageboard if you have any questions about this or any other project. I always look forward to receiving feedback, positive or negative ?

Very best regards from Harry Lythall
SM0VPO (QRA = JO89WO), Märsta, Sweden.
EA/SM0VPO (QRA = IM86BS), Nerja, Spain.


Thank you so much for sharing this, Harry! I love both the frugality and ingenuity in this unique capacitor design!

Post Readers: be sure to check out Harry’s website which is loaded with radio projects of all stripes. You’ll easily spend a few hours digging through his tutorials and downloads. Harry also maintains an alternate mirror server located here.

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Tidlow explores 1970s CB radio culture through photos

(Source: British Journal of Photography)

Dart Player, from the photobook Eyeball Cards: The Art of British CB Radio Culture. © David Titlow, Four Corners Books

David Titlow is Eyeballing 1970s Citizens Band Radio culture

Before mobile phones and social medias, there was Citizens Band Radio – a now largely defunct technology whose culture has been unearthed by David Titlow. With the project going on show at PhotoEast festival from 24 May – 24 June, we revisit an article first published in August 2017

“It was before mobile phones, before the internet. It was the initial form of mass communication, a way you could chat to your friends for free,” says David Titlow as we talk about CB Radio, the now-obscure 1970s and 80s technology.

“I remember lots of people in Suffolk got a CB radio and thought they were in the Dukes of Hazard,” he laughs. “It was the same all over the country. It was a fascinating phenomenon.”

It’s the subject of Titlow’s new photobook, which brings together portraits of Citizens Band (CB) Radio users with their ‘calling cards’, known amongst the community as ‘eyeball cards’. These cards were a form of personal promotion – pseudonyms and artistic illustrations were used as a means of identifying the CB user, expressing something of their personality as well as giving the recipient their details.[…]

Click here to read the full article and enjoy Tidlow’s excellent photos.

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