Tag Archives: Beacons

Jock says, “It’s about time…and beacons!”

A WWV Time Code Generator

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

It’s about time . . . and beacons

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

Shortwave time stations can be incredibly useful for shortwave listeners, not just for checking the time, but also for finding out what’s going on with radio signal propagation. What makes these stations particularly valuable is that they are available all the time. I use them often when I am testing radio equipment or tweaks to my listening post.

Chief Engineer Matt Deutch at WWV/WWVB. (Photo: Thomas)

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (part of the U.S. Department of Commerce) maintains a couple of stations devoted to broadcasting time announcements, standard time intervals, standard frequencies, UT1 time corrections, a BCD time code, and geophysical alerts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

WWV in Fort Collins, Colorado, according to NIST:

“radiates 10 000 W on 5 MHz, 10 MHz, and 15 MHz; and 2500 W on 2.5 MHz and 20 MHz. Each frequency is broadcast from a separate transmitter. Although each frequency carries the same information, multiple frequencies are used because the quality of HF reception depends on many factors such as location, time of year, time of day, the frequency being used, and atmospheric and ionospheric propagation conditions. The variety of frequencies makes it likely that at least one frequency will be usable at all times.”

In addition, WWV broadcasts the same signal heard on the other WWV frequencies on 25 MHz on an experimental basis. The power is 2500 W and, as an experimental broadcast, is may be interrupted or suspended without notice.

WWVH crew from left to right: Dean Takamatsu, Dean Okayama, Director Copan, Adela Mae Ochinang and Chris Fujita. Credit: D. Okayama/NIST

WWVH, based in Kekaha, Hawaii, transmits 10000 W on 10 MHz and 15 MHz, and 5000 W on 2.5 MHz. A NIST notes that the 5 MHz broadcast, which normally radiates 10 000 W, is currently operating at 5000 W due to equipment failure.

Photo Thomas (K4SWL) took in 2014 of the sign above WWV’s primary 10 MHz transmitter.

Both stations have voice announcements. WWV uses a male voice; WWVH, a female voice. They are staggered in time so that they don’t talk over each other. While doing research for this blog, one afternoon on 5 MHz and 10 MHz, I could hear the female voice, followed by the male voice, so I was hearing both Hawaii and Colorado. On 15 MHz, I could hear only Hawaii. Both stations transmit in AM mode, although I sometimes use upper sideband to pick the signals out of the noise.

CHU’s QSL card used in the 1980s depicting Sir Sanford Fleming, father of uniform times zones.

In addition, there is a Canadian time station. CHU transmits 3000 W signals on 3.33 and 14.67 MHz, and a 5000 W signal on 7.85 MHz.

The frequencies were chosen to avoid interference from WWV and WWVH. The signal is AM mode, with the lower sideband suppressed.

The same information is carried on all three frequencies simultaneously including announcements every minute, alternating between English and French. The CHU transmitters are located near Barrhaven, Ontario.

According to a posting on Radio Reference, there is also a time beacon in Moscow, Russia that transmits on 9996 and 14996 kHz in CW mode. I have never heard that station.

If anyone knows of additional shortwave time stations, please post the information in the comments section below.


Another “standard reference” that can be used to figure out what’s happening with shortwave propagation is the International Beacons Project, a worldwide network of radio propagation beacons. It consists of 18 Morse code (CW) beacons operating on five designated frequencies in the high frequency band. The project is coordinated by the Northern California DX Foundation (NCDXF) and the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU).

This page shows the locations of the beacons and gives samples of the signals that can be heard. Each beacon transmits once on each band once every three minutes, 24 hours a day. A transmission consists of the callsign of the beacon sent at 22 words per minute followed by four one-second dashes. The callsign and the first dash are sent at 100 watts. The remaining dashes are sent at 10 watts, 1 watt and 100 milliwatts. At the end of each 10 second transmission, the beacon steps to the next higher band and the next beacon in the sequence begins transmitting.

Clicking around the International Beacons Project website will reveal a wealth of information, including a Reverse Beacon Network — https://www.ncdxf.org/beacon/RBN.html — no kidding.

Finally, if you would like to disappear down the rabbit hole of chasing shortwave beacons, here is a list of 411 beacons around the world: http://www.dl8wx.de/BAKE_KW.HTM

The listing includes the frequency, the location, and the power of the transmitter (among other things). If any reader has experience with these beacons, please post in the comments section.

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NavCanada decommissions LW and MW non-directional beacons

Photo by John McArthur via Unsplash

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Markku Koskinen, who shares the following announcement from NAV CANADA:

NAVAID Modernization Program – Phase 6 National

NAV CANADA, the country’s provider of civil air navigation services, conducted an aeronautical study that reviewed the requirement for Non-Directional Beacons (NDBs) and Very-High Frequency Omnidirectional Rangefinders (VORs).

The study concluded that given the comprehensive radar surveillance coverage, and the propensity of area navigation (RNAV) with GNSS equipped aircraft, many navigation aids (NAVAIDS) are no longer required and should be decommissioned.

Where a current NAVAID identified in the study serves as an instrument approach aid or anchors an airway segment, NAV CANADA will ensure that a RNAV (GNSS) instrument approach procedure or RNAV airway segment is published, where required, before removal of the identified NAVAID.

Implementation is ongoing and will progress for the next several years. The sixth phase is represented below. Subsequent Notices of Change will be published for each upcoming phase.

Indicator – NAVAID Facility Name

YEA – Empress VOR
XD – Edmonton/Blatchford NDB
YHK – Gjoa Haven NDB
NL – St. John’s/Signal Hill NDB
ML – Charlevoix NDB
YPH – Inukjuak NDB
YKG – Kangiqsujuaq NDB
YXK – Rimouski NDB
YMU – Umiujaq NDB
YRR – Ottawa/Greely NDB
UL – Montreal NDB
OU – Quebec/Ste-Foy NDB
YLQ – La Tuque NDB
UFX – Lourdes-de-Joliette/St-Felix-de-Valois NDB
NM – Matagami NDB
YLA – Aupaluk NDB
VLV – St-Georges/Beauce VOR
YZA – Ashcroft NDB
LU – Abbotsford/Cultus NDB
QQ – Comox NDB
IB – Atikokan NDB
VC – La Ronge NDB
ZHD – Dryden/Barclay NDB
YL – Lynn Lake NDB
QW – North Battleford NDB
TH – Thompson NDB
ZTH – Thompson/Headframe NDB
BY – Beechy NDB
QN – Nakina NDB
YSB – Sudbury VOR
ZSB – Sudbury/Noranda NDB
YXI – Killaloe VOR
YSO – Simcoe/Lindsay (Kawartha Lakes) VOR

This change will take effect August 12, 2021 at 0901 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). The appropriate aeronautical publications will be amended.

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Black Cat Systems’ 22 Meter Band Part 15 CW Beacon Kit

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Robert Gulley (AK3Q), who notes that Black Cat Systems has developed a simple 22 meter beacon kit. The price is $20 shipped! A few details:

The kit includes the PCB and components, including a custom programmed microcontroller that will continuously transmit the ID / callsign of your choice, up to 8 characters, at about 13 wpm.

Small size – just 2 7/8 by 1 1/2 inches. Easy to build, just a few components, all through hole, no surface mount.

When ordering you note your callsign/ID to send and it will be pre-programmed.

Black Cat Systems has all kit details including full instructions on their website.

If you like the idea of building a beacon, you must also check out the beacon Dave (AA7EE) built recently–a true work of art!

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Guest Post: Using the HackRF One for DGPS Beacon Reception

h1-preliminary1-445Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mario Filippi (N2HUN) for the following guest post:

Receiving  with a HackRF One, SDR#, and MultiPSK

by Mario Filippi (N2HUN)

The HackRF One is a Software Defined Radio manufactured by Great Scott Gadgets (www.greatscottgadgets.com) and has been on the market for a few years. Having used an SDR-Dongle for several years I felt it was time to “step up” to this wideband (1 MHz – 6 GHz) receiver to investigate a broader breadth of the radio spectrum, so one was purchased from Sparkfun (www.sparkfun.com).

Recently I performed a rudimentary evaluation of its ability to receive DGPS (Differential Global Positioning System) beacons found in the Longwave band  between 285 – 325 KHz; this frequency range is well below the HackRF One’s stated lower receive limit of 1 MHz.


DGPS beacons, when tuned using SSB, emit a distinctive warbling sound, and at this QTH, depending on band conditions and time of year, can be heard as far away as the Midwest. Winter brings the cold weather but also excellent conditions for receiving these beacons, some of which were former marine radiobeacons retrofitted to provide greater DGPS accuracy.

The HackRF One, when used with SDR#, MultiPSK, audio piping software, and a good (43 foot vertical) receiving antenna was able to receive DGPS beacons, and two screen captures are below:

DGPS beacon from Sandy Hook, NJ. SDR# using HackRF One in foreground, MultiPSK software in background with decoded information.

DGPS beacon from Sandy Hook, NJ. SDR# using HackRF One in foreground, MultiPSK software in background with decoded information. Click to enlarge.

DGPS beacon from Moriches, NY. Click to enlarge.

DGPS beacon from Moriches, NY. Click to enlarge.

I was very pleased that the HackRF One was able to receive DGPS stations, though tuning them in seemed a bit trickier than with a standard RTL-SDR dongle.  Since this time of year is not optimal for monitoring DGPS beacons, as well as the Longwave band in general, it’s reassuring to know that come winter I’ll be able to do some DGPS beacon DX’ing with the HackRF One.  However, anyone with a shortwave radio and a good antenna can avail themselves of DGPS beacon hunting, just tune down between 285 – 325 KHz and listen for the distinctive warble.

To decode, look into an excellent program like MultiPSK (http://f6cte.free.fr/index_anglais.htm). 73’s!

Thank you, Mario, for another great post!

When Mario told me he had purchased the $299 HackRF One, I was hoping he would do some guest posts about this SDR–DGPS beacons was use I had never thought of. Looking forward to more of your guest posts, Mario!

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Guest Post: Listening to 10 Meter Radio Beacons

SX-99-Dial-NarMany thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mario Filippi (N2HUN) for the following guest post:

Listening in to 10 Meter Radio Beacons

Mario Filippi, N2HUN

(All photos courtesy of author–click to enlarge.)

Radio beacons can be found across the RF spectrum from the LF (low frequency) band all the way up to bands inhabited by satellite signals. If you are a ham, shortwave listener or a QRP (low power) buff then a great place to start is on the 10 meter band, which is included on most table-top shortwave radios and even some portables. Beacon signals come and go with band conditions, emanate from different parts of the globe and provide one with listening challenges and hours of fun. So let’s talk about 10m as it’s a good place to start.

A good indicator of band conditions on 10m is via the 10m beacon band which ranges from 28.1 to around 28.3 MHz. In general, most stateside beacons are found from 28.2 – 28.3 MHz while DX (ex-US) beacons are heard from 28.1 – 28.2 MHz. However, I’ve heard DX beacons as high up as 28.297 MHz. These stations provide hams and SWLs not only with code practice but with the adventure of hearing low power signals from around the globe. To get acquainted with what is on the air, check out the Ten-Ten International Net website which has one of best lists of beacons, along with a plethora of information on the band itself: http://www.ten-ten.org/index.php/resources/ten-meter-beacons . The Ten-Ten club has been around for many decades and is a good resource of information on 10 meters in general; one can even be issued a unique Ten-Ten ID number upon request. Then, when making 10m contacts you can exchange Ten-Ten numbers with fellow operators.


Let your fingers do the spinning of the VFO on 10m.

Many of these beacon stations have been logged over the years at this QTH simply because they dot the globe with their low powered one-way signals and are a challenge. Hearing a beacons’ very weak CW signal fading in and out with its’ short message, usually starting with a series of “Vs” followed by the call, then by info such as location, wattage, grid square is a timeless source of pleasure. There are literally hundreds of beacons to hear using your shortwave or ham radio, all coming in at different times of the day from places far and near. And there’s no need to be in the shack; check them out using a portable radio because when band conditions are favorable, you’re bound to hear them. And for those of you with RTL-SDR dongles, these miniscule radios are perfectly capable of receiving beacons and have the added feature of “looking” at that portion of the spectrum both via the 2-MHz wide spectrum display and accompanying waterfall image. These dongles are an inexpensive entry into HF/VHF/UHF listening and cover all modes. However they are not a plug ‘n play venture, you’ll need a computer, driver program, software to turn the dongle into an operating wideband receiver, patience learning the software, and a good antenna.

Typical “dongle” Software Defined Radio covering 24 – 1766 MHz.

Typical “dongle” Software Defined Radio covering 24 – 1766 MHz.

Screenshot of 10m beacon activity in right-half of waterfall on 6/22/15; VA3KAH was heard on 28.168 MHz.

Screenshot of 10m beacon activity in right-half of waterfall on 6/22/15; VA3KAH was heard on 28.168 MHz.

Most 10m beacons operate at low power, anywhere from 100mW to as high as 100W but generally operate in the 1 – 5W range using a variety of antennas, the vertical being the most popular. So in essence these beacons are not what you would classify as“big guns” and that’s the beauty of it all. They are an intriguing and challenging quarry to write into your logbook! While 10m tends to be more active during daylight hours and when sunspot numbers are good, this doesn’t mean that beacons will not be heard; a quick “sweep” of 21.1 – 28.3 MHz while you are in the shack or outside listening on a portable is always worth a check. Having a good pair of headphones will aid in hearing the weak ones.

Yaesu frg-7

My all-time favorite, the Yaesu “Frog 7” performs well for 10m beacon hunting.

To give readers some inspiration, below are some recent morning loggings using an AR-3000A and a 43 foot S9 vertical antenna. Band conditions were not the greatest, with most beacon stations fading in an out and propagation favoring Europe. Using a pair of headphones, logbook and pencil at the ready, it required sitting on some frequencies a few minutes as the beacon of interest faded in an out, until all the information was logged. Most beacons will begin their transmission with a series of “Vs” which helps to identify an active frequency. Some will send a long tone out first, allowing you to fine tune the station, while some start with a series of “dits” to get your attention. As you log these beacons you’ll see that each has its’ own agenda. For example, some only send their call sign. Others will send call sign, grid square, and power. Some even include a website or an address to send QSL information. If your code is rusty, no worries as most beacons send their call at least twice or thrice! 

Recent 10m Beacon Loggings de N2HUN

Date Time (GMT) Frequency Call QTH Comments
2/14/16 1423 28.166 XE2O/B Allende, Mexico 5W, EL05 (grid square), some QSB
2/14/16 1440 28.298 SK7GH Jonkoping, Sweden Very weak, heavy QSB, 5W
2/14/16 1447 28.223 KP3FT/B Ponce, PR Series of five “dits” precedes CW identification
2/14/16 1455 28.205 DL0IGI Hohenpeissenberg, Germany Long tone precedes CW identification, 48W
2/14/16 1500 28.173 IZ1EPM Chivasso, Italy Long tone before and after transmission, 20W
2/14/16 1530 28.242 IZ8DXB Naples, Italy Tone preceding transmission, JN70BU (grid square), 6W

My thanks go out to the Ten-Ten International Net (www.ten-ten.org ) for their excellent website covering the 10 meter band and to all those ham operators worldwide who took the time and energy to construct radio beacons for all of us to enjoy. Now, go forth and check out those beacons; don’t assume the band is dead, check out the beacon section of the band which will give you an indication of propagation conditions. Ten meters is very capricious and can open up at any time of the day, even late at night. And don’t forget to QSL the beacon operator! Good luck hunting down beacons and 73’s!

Thank you so much for this, Mario! Check out Mario’s other excellent guest posts by clicking here.


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