Tag Archives: Antennas

Tom’s field portable HF antenna snags VOK’s summit broadcast

Tom’s field portable car roof HF antenna.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, TomL, who shares a recording he made of the Voice of Korea on June 14, 2018. This English broadcast focuses on the Singapore summit and is, no doubt, historic in its content. [Note that we’ve posted other recordings on the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive.]

TomL notes:

Recorded on my noisy Lenovo laptop, SDRPlay RSP2, and an unamplified 18.5 foot antenna on the roof of my SUV.

I’m most impressed with the quality of his recording–VOK is not the easiest station to snag in the US midwest:

Click here to download the audio recording.

Thank you for sharing, Tom! I love your field portable vertical–obviously, it’s doing a fine job and your car must make for a decent ground plane!

Guest Post: Backpack Shack 3 – Part 2

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, TomL, who shares the following guest post as a his Backpack Shack 3 evolves:


Backpack Shack 3 – Part 2

by TomL

Wanting MOAR options for my recent amplified whip antenna experiment, I decided to add a second antenna input to the kitchen cutting board (can I call it a “Breadboard”? – Ha, that’s an electronics joke!).  The idea behind it came from realizing that I might not want to spend all my time outside at a picnic table or on the beach, especially if it is drizzly and windy. And I still wanted a better ground for the antenna.  So, I thought I could use more Trucker Parts and put an antenna on top of the roof of my vehicle so I could listen in the relative comfort and safety of my small SUV (or even a friend’s car).

Breadboarding

Here is the crowded “Breadboard” with some extra items added.

I thought of the vertical antenna as a short longwire and had an old, original RF Systems Magnetic Longwire Balun.  That device allows for an improvement in signal/noise ratio (in theory) if used on a longwire. Perhaps it works on this, too??  You can see the gray cylinder connected right beneath the trucker mirror mount on the left (this will not be tested at this time, see External Antenna below).  The output goes to a greenish Daiwa switch on the right.

A large amplified antenna has the real possibility of overloading the amplifier.  With the Magnetic Balun, I am hoping the VHF band is attenuated enough to preclude any problems because its response naturally tapers off past 40MHz.  But Mediumwave is well within its bandpass. I remembered an old Kiwa Electronics Broadcast Band Rejection filter not being used for a long, long time, so I connected that right after the Daiwa switch (the metal box with red plate).

This output then goes to an RF choke just before entering the pre-amp.  I figure I will be using my SDRPlay RSP2 and noisy laptop and wanted to try to reduce any interference traveling on the outside coax braid before it gets amplified.

External Antenna

OK, now for the other Daiwa switch selection.  The external antenna will be connected and disconnected as often as I use it.  I attached two right-angle coax adapters to be the connection point for the antenna.   This is so that the physical switch threads do not have to handle that wear-and-tear. You can see it as the fuzzy out of focus thing sticking up out of the left side switch position.

The wire going out the top of the Breadboard goes to a Firestik K-11 magnetic mount placed on top of the roof of the SUV.  I also wanted this to be connected to a magnetic balun. I just happened to have a nearly unused Palomar Engineers Magnetic Longwire Balun.  It has its own ground lug for use with a counterpoise. Temporarily, I left the 18 feet of wire that came attached to the K-11 Mount and attached an adapter and BNC test lead; on the other end is connected the spade lugs to the Balun (red wire to the lanyard nut, black wire to the ground lug).  It all fits neatly inside a Sistema 3 liter container.

The magnet and box self-clamp easily onto the roof of the vehicle.  I added a new 18 inch section to the Trucker Antenna Shafts creating a full 72 inch antenna, complete with mag mount, ground plane (car body), and magnetic balun.  It is very easy to put up and take down and the box helps keep everything contained.

I am pushing things a bit here.  Magnetic Baluns are not really meant to be used on vertical antennas.  It probably breaks some sort of Cosmic Electrical Law somewhere that causes electromagnetic waves to get very confused and die a horrible, twisted, circular death.  But I figure that it is an unbalanced “line” similar to a longwire antenna; it’s just a little short and goes straight up instead of horizontal! I like the idea, so I am going to run with it.

Warnings!

It goes without saying that the Antenna Shafts, magnet mount, and magnetic balun are weatherproof (but NOT lightning proof!).  Take proper lightning precautions and take it down.  Even so, I might add a small drainage hole to the box since it did rain a tiny bit during testing.

Secondly, this setup is ONLY FOR STATIONARY VEHICLES!!!!  DO NOT TRY TO DRIVE DOWN THE ROAD OR HIGHWAY!!!! The magnetic mount will NOT stay on the car and will damage your vehicle and maybe a vehicle travelling next to you!

Performance

As you can see from the picture, my new Tecsun S-8800 is getting a workout while connected to the Cross Country preselector (not shown behind it) and to the backpack next to the back seat window.  The Tecsun S-8800 is a nice radio. My copy has a couple of quirks that I might have to send it back (the AM band tunes incorrectly 2 kHz lower than it should and the SW SSB tunes 140 Hz higher than indicated and I have to compensate using the fine-tuning dial for these modes–FM seems correctly tuned).

Other than this, the actual performance is really quite good!  DSP does have sharp cutoffs to the IF bandwidth (especially resolving strong station interference when selecting 3 kHz vs. 4 kHz).  With all my filters/balun/choke, I did not notice any MW or FM breakthroughs and signals on those bands were nicely contained and “normal”.  Interference from my cell phone while looking up internet frequency listings was minimal – seems like the cable shielding, choke, and car roof are doing a good job.

The audio output jacks have very thin clearance between the jacks and the housing of the radio. So for the second time, I will not have recordings since the cable I wanted to use has home theater style construction with very thick plug outer connectors and will not fit!

From an RF-quiet “Forest Preserve” (County park), there were a variety of stations received from the 25 through 19 meter bands (Local time 11am-1:30pm). A few stations I have never heard before until now:

  • Radio Free Asia in Korean on 11985 KHz (Tinian Island)
  • Radio China International in Esperanto on 11650 KHz (Xian China)
  • Radio Farda in Persian on 12005 KHz (Wooferton England) – broadcast opposite my direction
  • Radio Bible BCI in Somali on 15310 KHz (Nauen Germany) – Strange sounding but interesting  Christian Somali music
  • Radio Free Asia in Chinese on 13675 KHz (Dushanbe Tajikistan)
  • Voice of Hope Africa in English on 13680 KHz (Lusaka Zambia) – had to use ECSS USB to get away from strong interference from RFA on 13675, fairly good intelligibility (including music)!  I wish there was a 6 KHz option for SSB mode since the audio was slightly muffled and could not compensate much with the tone controls. That kind of feature usually comes with radios costing 3X more, however.
  • Voice of Korea in French (Kujang North Korea) being squashed by Radio China International (Kashi China) in English on 13760 KHz

It was so nice not to be on a beach and have people walk by STARING at me with my weird radio/antenna setup.  And I was dry and comfy sipping a cool drink while there was a drizzle of rain pelting the windshield. Downside might be that the car setup cannot always be located optimally if I want to be next to that Very Large Body of Water (Lake Michigan) to help enhance reception but this is not a bad alternative.   The next test will have to be during early evening when signals are booming into my location and see if performance holds up under those conditions!

Happy Listening,

TomL

Modified Parts List

Parts Repeated from Part 1 article


As always, Tom, a most impressive setup powered by home-grown ingenuity! Thanks so much for sharing the evolution of your field kits with all of us here at the SWLing Post!

By the way, you still have me chuckling about your use of the term, “breadboard!” 🙂

Guest Post: Tom’s Backpack Shack 3

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


Backpack Shack 3 – Amplified Whip Antenna

by TomL

So, having enjoyed using the Ferrite Sleeve Loop I created last year, I have wanted something a little more sensitive and less bulky.  I will eventually create a much BIGGER FSL antenna on the order of 2 feet long and perhaps 18 or 24 inches in diameter for indoor/attic use.  But that is not a priority at the moment.

Since I already have the DX Engineering Pre-Amplifier and the very nice Cross Country Preselector from the loop project, I thought it might be useful to create an active whip antenna for it.  And the cool looking Solar Red backpack needed something to do!

Power

Now that the bulky loop was not taking up the main compartment of the backpack, I could think about what else to put in there, like a larger power pack.  I scoured FleaBay for ideas and stumbled upon this contraption for backup power to network systems, the CyberPower CyberShield for Verizon.

This has 12 spaces for D-cell batteries and was mounted inside the demarcation terminal to provide backup power for things like cable systems and Copper-to-Ethernet networks.  It is not waterproof, so would be inside the premises of the customer getting the internet/cable service. But my Pre-Amp needs 12-18Volts and would love to have nearly unlimited power.  So, I bought a used one, cut the end off of the power lead and put on my own 2.1×5.5mm plug (carefully glued down and tie-wrapped). Then I filled it with 1.2Volt Tenergy D-cells.

Everything was just fine until I forgot to double check the polarity of the plug that I had wired onto the end.  Plugged it into the DX Engineering Pre-Amp, flipped the power switch and fitzzz…. The Pre-Amp light went on, then off (permanently!).

So, my expensive mistake is that I start using the FREE multimeter I got from Harbor Freight and check the polarity before I connect homemade battery packs to anything!!

DX Engineering charged me $60 to fix my mistake and it is working fine now after I swapped the wires on the plug. Yes, their Pre-Amp is NOT reverse-polarity protected! Disappointing, since the price tag for that device is $148!!!  The CyberShield now sits comfortably inside the bottom of the backpack.

Antenna

Now that the drama was over regarding the Power pack, I could think about the whip.  I did not want a wimpy whip! (No one should rightly aspire to this, in my opinion). More FleaBay searches found me looking at Trucker parts.  Loaded whips, magnetic mounts, 10 foot tall MFJ telescoping whips, etc was looking a bit expensive.

Besides that, I cannot fit a 10 foot tall telescoping whip into the backpack, I am limited to at most 18 inches (and that is at an angle to fit it in there).  But I found an old-fashioned mirror mount that looked promising since it had a nice SO-239 connector at the bottom and standard CB antenna fitting on top of 3/8”-24.

Then I found the 44 inch SuperAntenna with the same threads; then found the replacement Stainless Steel Shafts for a Wilson antenna in different lengths (I ordered the 10 inch version to test).  With a couple of rod coupling nuts and I was ready for testing!

Test Locations

I had already scheduled a short vacation to Sleeping Bear Dunes on the thumb of Northwestern Michigan, so I took this test setup with my Sony ICF-2010. This area is a very nice remote National Lakeshore with minimal noise.  I tried a beach setting and a couple of hilltop picnic areas (including meeting a local Porcupine) and had very nice reception at all locations. The hilltop locations are approximately 400 – 600 feet above the Lake (yes, the Dunes are THAT big there!).

Meeting a local Porcupine

Later on, I went to Grand Haven, MI on the way home and stopped at their very lovely beach.

Reception was just as good as the hilltop locations at Sleeping Bear! In both areas, I was next to a large body of water (in this case, Lake Michigan) and makes for an advantageous place for DXing!  I had also stopped at a Rest Area off the highway and that was a terrible place even though it was electrically quiet but nowhere near the big Lake. I guess the rumors are true about being near a large body of water somehow enhances reception of weak signals–?

I will submit recordings later since I lost the mini-B cable for the Sony digital recorder and had to order a replacement.  However, this was a nice project that freed up some space inside the backpack. I will add an 18 inch extension to the whip that will give me a total length of 72 inches.  Plus, it is mounted 12 inches up on the poly cutting board and I place the backpack on a small hunters folding chair that is about 24 inches tall. So, the tip will be about 9 feet off the ground.

Not pictured but I was also able to easily fit inside a used CCrane Twin Coil Ferrite antenna for mediumwave use that also performed very well.  I noticed that the picnic benches at some locations are made of metal, so that gives me a future idea of trying to leverage that to use as a ground plane somehow.  The battery pack is heavy but also gives great ballast to the backpack and will not tip over. Cannot wait for the Tecsun S-8800 to arrive so I can try leaving the radio inside the bag and just use the remote control to tune!

Happy Listening,

TomL

Parts List


As always, I’m so impressed with your spirit of radio adventure, Tom! I love the fact that your goal is to make a field-deployable DX kit that isn’t cumbersome or time-consuming to set up on site. I imagine you only need a couple of minutes to open the pack and have it on the air. 

Those DXing spots are stunning! I had no idea one could find 400-600′ dunes in NW Michigan–! With that said, I’ve heard that part of the state is one of exceptional natural beauty.  If you could somehow turn the lake into a body of salt water–thus increasing ground conductivity–you’d really enhance that already impressive reception! I’m guessing that sort of project would be a bit outside your budget! Ha ha!  That and the freshwater fish might protest!

To me, there is no better way to enjoy radio than finding a nice RF quiet spot in the great outdoors…no matter where you live in the world. On top of that, Tom, you’re constantly building, experimenting, documenting and sharing your findings–you’re a true radio zealot! Huzzah!

Post readers: Read Tom’s past contributions and articles by clicking here.

How to build SM0VPO’s 20 meter magnetic loop antenna

The completed 20 meter loop antenna.

A few days ago, SWLing Post contributor, Robert Gulley (AK3Q), pointed me to an excellent website by Harry Lythall (SM0VPO) which is chock-full of various homebrew radio projects. In particular, we both were impressed with Harry’s 20 Meter Loop Antenna–it’s such a simple project and requires no special order components. In fact, all of the components (save, perhaps, the antenna connector) can be purchased at a DIY store.

I reached out to Harry and he has kindly allowed me to republish this project as a guest post:


20m Loop Antenna

by Harry Lythall – SM0VPO

Introduction

I recently saw that my 80m (3.5MHz) loop (or frame) antenna has been really popular, and that there are loads of other radio amateurs who have taken my design and “ran with it” to produce variations that all have some great improvement. There have been many in-depth tests and simulations, all with exceedingly good results and reports. This is exactly what I am aiming for with my homepages – free information for all and my designs being improved upon. That way we all win 🙂

One small point all variations have in common is the need for an expensive tuning capacitor and a very restricted RF power level. Of course, you can throw money at the problem, but for me this hurts. I got to thinking that there must be a way of adjusting the design a little and finding another technique to tune the antenna, and to make the best use of the little radio transceiver I have in Sweden, given the limited space.

My limited space apartment.

As you can see there is not much opportunity for grand antennas. And to add to this, the equipment I have in Sweden is also limited to a single 5-Watt unit.

My limited equipment – only 5-Watts.

The Design Thoughts

Today I have no area of land to use for antennas. I have a glassed-in balcony on the 4th floor of an apartment block. I really like the 20m (14MHz) band so I will concentrate on that. I am not really interested in the CW end of the band, except perhaps 14.070MHz for the digimodes. So my requirements are:

  • As efficient as possible (useable)
  • Small size, also portable so I can use it for field use
  • No expensive components, everything available locally
  • No TVI, QRM or interference to stereos or computer sound
  • Total price less than $2

The antenna I have created is based on my original 3.5MHz loop (or frame) antenna. This time I built it out of scrap components. I cadged (tiggade) some plastic conduit tubes from an electrical contractor at work. The same guy also gave me the remnants of a roll of 2.5mm C.S.A. multi-strand mains cable. That was all I needed.In my junkbox I found no tuning capacitors, but WAIT!! Why do I need to tune the antenna? Once it is tuned I should not need to tune it again, just set the centre-frequency to 14.175MHz. If I can get the Q-factor to around 100 then my useable 3dB bandwidth should be more than 150kHz. That will give me 14.10MHz to 14.25MHz.

Ok, I need a 1-off, preset tuning capacitor. Why not use a Gimmik Capacitor? Just twist two bits of wire together and cut it short to get the resonant frequency I want. So I need to get the coil wound so that there is sufficient cable length and self capacitance to give a resonance of about 14.5MHz without any extra capacitance what-so-ever. That means I need just a few pf. That sounds like a good plan.

Construction

The 15mm Diameter plastic tube I “aquired” were 80cm long. After much trial and error I found that exactly 3 turns, with 2.5cm spacing, gives about 14.9MHz self resonance. The wire support holes are exactly 4cm spaced, beginning 1cm from the end of each tube. The two tubes are fixed into a and X using zip-straps (tie-wraps, buntband). The feed loop is 1/2 turn.

Note the size and position of the feed loop. Also the Gimmik capacitor.

One problem I had with the original loop antenna was that of RF coming back down the cable braid. Using on old FT-101ZD it was possible to feel the RF on the microphone with your lips. The cure for this is to use a balanced feed and at least 5m of RF cable.

I robbed the ferrite ring for the balun from an old ATX computer PSU and made a triflar wound torroidal transformer. That is to say, twist together three lengths of 1mm x 7-strand insulated hookup wire together. Use this to make a 7-turn coil and connect the three coils in series, with four connections. Feed connections (numbered in the picture below) 1 and 3 are connected to to the antenna feed loop. Connect the coaxial cable braid to connection 2, and the coax centre to connection 4. My balun is self-supported on the connection leads.

The 1:1 Balun I used.

The coaxial feed cable was found to affect the resonance slightly, so I fed that through an extra bit of tube to make it stay in one place. It works fine.

Feeder cable secured in the support tube.

Testing

Testing is very easy. I used my GDO-2 to check the middle-turn of the loop for a dip. Twist the two tails together to form the Gimmik capacitor and adjust the length of the twist until the centre-frequency is 14.175MHz. With the GDO you can get it within about 100kHz to 200kHz, but then you can check the VSWR using your HF radio. You can also sweep the band for maximum noise and get a very close approximation.

The Gimmick capacitor.

The centre frequency of my 20m Loop antenna is 14.175MHz, and the VSWR is better than 1.05:1 (I can hardly see any movement on my meter). The Q-factor is somewhere approaching 100. The useable bandwidth is just a little narrower than I would have wished, but the antenna certainly works well and meets all the other criteria. But the slightly less useable bandwidth criterion is at the expense of better performance, and it still allows me to use 14.070MHz, although it is a little quieter down there.

The completed antenna.

Conclusion

No-matter how you play with the figures, the best indoor antenna cannot replace a full-size dipole antenna. But the indoor antenna can give some extra features, such as just reaching out your arm and trimming a little, which you cannot do with a long-wire antenna up a tree out in the garden, especially when it is raining.

This antenna gets me on the air on 14MHz, and it has a useable frequency range. The VSWR is almost perfect at the centre-frequency, and this time I don’t burn my lips on the microphone (not that I am likely to do so with just 5-Watts of power). The design uses no expensive components, in fact the only item I bought was the block-connector for the balun. That cost me US$1.50 for a pair of 12-contact screw-terminals. The construction is ridiculously simple and easy to build.

On the air I can hear traffic on 14.070 digimodes, and from 14.130 to 14.220MHz I have a near-perfect VSWR aqnd good clear reception of SSB. I can also rotate the antenna to cut out rubbish, and most of all, using the Gimmik capacitor I don’t need to re-tune it: it seems temperatore-stable. The weight is less than 500g and when I poke it out of the balcony window the reception improves, the VSWR does not change, and I can make myself heard among the big boys.

I hope that you have some fun building and using this antenna. If you have any ideas for further improving it then please use my forum.

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.


Many thanks, Harry, for sharing this excellent project on the SWLing Post!

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.

Side note: I’m impressed with the fact that the main SM0VPO website is actually hosted on a bedside Raspberry Pi computer (running the Linux-based Lighttp server).  Very cool!

Check out other homebrew mag loop antenna projects on the SWLing Post by clicking here.

New antenna from Bonito: The MegaDipole MD300DX wideband active dipole

Many thanks to Dennis Walter at Bonito for sharing the following product announcement:


MegaDipole MD300DX wideband active dipole

The MegaDipole 300DX is a broadband active dipole with a maximum upper working frequency of 300 MHz. The dipole reacts to the electrical component (E-Field) of the electromagnetic field and will deliver best results regarding signal strength and SNR (signal -to-noise-ratio) at locations with little or no locally generated interference. Nonetheless, the receiver to be coupled to this antenna should have a high enough dynamic range so that it can effectively process the received signals.

In contrast to simple E-field antennas with only one radiating element, the symmetrical construction of the MegaDipole 300DX, will result in almost no negative resonance effects or reflections caused by the coaxial cable.

First choice for DXer

The MegaDipol MD300DX is the ideal antenna for DXers. Particularly in electrically quiet environments, it can really play to its strength in efficiently amplifying weak signals. In practical operations, a maximum signal-to-noise ratio of 110dB was achieved! (see image )

Wideband

With prodigious broadband capability and constant receive characteristics the MegaDipol MD300DX is ideal for wideband receivers, SDR’s and WEB-SDR such as KiwiSDR etc. The MegaDipol MD300DX can of course also be operated on all other receivers, including lower-end SDRs and portable world receivers.

Dual Power Power Supply

The MegaDipol is nominally supplied with 10 – 15V DC (max 40mA), however, it can be operated across a wide variety of supply voltages. The antenna can even be operated with slightly reduced IP values at the same gain with only 5 volts via USB. This offers a significant advantage in that you can supply the MegaDipol on trips away from the radio shack or DX expeditions autonomously, using a low-noise USB power-bank.

The MegaDipol has already attracted a lot of attention with its receive performance at various events such as DX-Camps, field days and in-house exhibitions. In these tests, the MD300DX surpassed the existing antennas usually by 10-15dB in the SNR.

Technical data

  • Frequency range: 9kHz – 300MHz
  • IP3: typ. +30dBm (@7.00 & 7.20MHz)
  • IP2: typ. +78dBm (@7.00 & 7.20MHz)
  • Size/weight: 98 x 90 x 38mm / 0.12kg

Whats in th Box?

  • MegaDipol MD300DX
  • Power Inserter CPI 1000DP
  • 2x 2.5m long radiating elements (PVC-coated, salt-water resistant stainless steel ropes)
  • 2 insulators for installation (weatherproof plastic material with 4.5mm fixing hole)