Tag Archives: Grayhat

The Allocchio Bacchini RF4D: That mystery radio from “The Last Man on Earth”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Andrew, who correctly identified the radio Ed spotted in The Last Man On Earth as the Allocchio Bacchini RF4D. Andrew shared the following notes and links:

That radio is an Allocchio Bacchini RF4D (see photo below from this site):

Here’s a snippet from an Italian movie showing the same rig:

Another pic and notes can be seen scrolling down this page:

Year : 1940
TX Frequency Range : 1,270 – 4,300 kHz in 3 bands
RX Frequency range : 220 – 4,400 kHz in 5 bands
Facilities : CW and RT
Receiver Circuit (Valves) : Superhet. 7 tubes type 6RV (same as RF 4)
Transmitter Circuit (Valves): MO(P C05), PA (2x P CO5) Mod.(3x 6RV)
RF Output : 25 W
Aerial : Dipole
Power supply : 12 V storage batteries. Mains for battery charger.

And here you’ll find the shack of an Italian ham which shows an RF4D:

Photo: I5HGM

Further info and schematics can be found here.

Wow! Thank you so much, Andrew! I would love someday to operate an original RF4D.  What a fascinating WWII era radio. Thank you again for all of the details!

Post readers: I’m very curious if anyone here owns or has owned an RF4D.  Please comment!

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Build an SDR station and balcony antenna farm for less than 150 Euros

UPDATE 11 May 2020: We recently learned that the MSI.SDR software defined radio dongle in the following post and tutorial is a clone of the SDRplay RSP1 SDR. We did not realize this when the post was published. Grayhat had done research prior to purchase and believed it not to be a clone, but only using the same chipset as the RSP1 (hence the compatibility with SDRuno). We have confirmed that it is indeed a clone now via SDRplay (clear here to read more via the excellent RTL-SDR blog). What follows isn’t an SDR review. Indeed, Grahat’s post has little to do with the receiver and much, much more to do with building proper antennas! We’ve removed links to the MSI.SDR and would encourage you to invest in the excellent SDRplay RSP1a instead (click here to read our RSP1a review). Thank you for understanding!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Grayhat, who shares the following guest post. He lives in Italy and has been in lock-down since the beginning of the pandemic. He pitched the idea of building an entire SDR setup from scratch–receiver and antennas–for less than 150 Euros (roughly $163 USD). I thought it was a brilliant idea and I believe he thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of sourcing the components and building a mini antenna farm on his balcony while in quarantine:


From Zero to SDR

by Grayhat

What follows doesn’t pretend to be some kind of “definitive guide” or “last word”, on the contrary, it’s aimed at people who have little or no experience with SDR but want to try putting together a decent station without paying an arm and a leg.

The idea of writing this came to me after reading a number of messages and discussions on various online groups/forums, in a lot of cases, someone bought an SDR (usually the ones coming with a telescopic whip antenna), and after connecting it was expecting it “just to work” or, better said, pretending that the SDR connected to that whip (usually placed on a table right near the computer) could receive ANY POSSIBLE signal, including transmissions coming from the “dark side of the moon.” 🙂 Those folks got scared by the fact that the SDR “didn’t work” and decided to give up; now, this short “guide”  should allow anyone to setup what’s needed to have a working SDR

My self-imposed limitations for this project/experiment were the following:

  1. The whole setup shouldn’t cost more than 150 Euros so that, if after trying the SDR one doesn’t like it, (s)he won’t have paid $$$, otherwise, if (s)he decides to keep it, the resulting station will allow for further expansion/improvement
  2. The available space was considered to be that of an apartment, that is, no large field to put up huge wire antennas or to raise towers, the limit was the one of a balcony (in my home) that is 8 meters (max antenna length) by 3 meters (available height) by 2 meters (balcony width)
  3. The whole setup should be simple and straightforward, no need to solder components or to build special types of antennas
  4. Given the current Covid-19 sheltering, most components should be available online, while for others one may arrange with whatever is locally available (e.g. duct tape)

With the above limitations in mind, I took pencil, paper and rubber eraser (high-tech instruments, indeed) and started writing down a list of the needed stuff, after some writing, wiping and second thought, I came out with the following list, available on Amazon:

Bill of materials

The above includes all the needed stuff to put together a number of wire antennas (random wire, random dipole, loop…) the coax to connect the SDR, a balun to match the coax to the antenna and the accessory parts needed to put up the antenna. The selected SDR isn’t the common “RTL SDR” type, not that they don’t work, but their 8 bit ADC is far from being a good performer, so I decided to pick a different SDR which offers a 12 bits ADC and which also “presents itself” to the system as an SDRplay RSP1.

[Please note: we’ve since learned from SDRplay that the MSI.SDR is indeed a clone of the SDRplay RSP1. Here’s a post from the RTL-SDR blog confirming this. We recommend purchasing the RSP1a as a better alternative.]

Anyhow; all I can say is that after some tests, the MSI.SDR is a quite good unit and offers quite a lot of bangs for the buck, so I believe it may be a good unit for people willing to get their feet wet with SDRs

The above being said, here’s a pic of the MSI.SDR unit with the included stuff:

The unit is very small and the box has two connectors, an SMA for the antenna and a micro-USB (like the ones used in cellphones) for the USB cable which is used to both power and control it; the other bits are the telescopic whip antenna (around 98cm fully extended) with a magnetic base and a short run of coax, and the USB cable.

Once I got the SDR I decided to give the included whip antenna a try… well, to be clear, while it will allow you to pick up some strong local FM stations and maybe a bit else, it will only be useful to test if the SDR unit is working (before putting together our antenna), so don’t expect to receive much with that whip, yet… don’t throw it away, it may become useful (more later).

The other important piece is the BalUn. I picked a NooElec “Nine to One” v2, since I’ve used their v1 model and I’ve found it to work well, I decided to pick the newest model which has a better antenna wire connector.  The BalUn, which is in effect a so-called “transformer balun” is really small and the junction box I bought is much bigger, but it isn’t a problem. All in all, the box may host a preamplifier in the future, but for the moment it’s fine for the balun. The following pic shows the balun “installed” inside the junction box:

The scissors are there to give you an idea of the sizes; to put together the whole thing, I started by preparing two pieces of wire (the 2.5mm one),  made a turn with each wire and locked them with a nylon cable tier. Those turns will prevent the wire from sliding out and putting a strain on the balun connector.  I did that since I didn’t have plastic washers at hand, otherwise you may just slide two plastic washers (or proper diameter) over the wires and use two nylon tiers to lock them. In either case, the idea is that the “loops” or the washers won’t slide through the box holes and will support that (little bit of) strain caused by the wire connection.

Next, I stripped some of the insulation from the ends and connected the wires to one of the balun connectors (I chose the one in the pic since I believe it’s the most suitable for this setup), at that point I continued cutting the smaller “ring” of the box insulation caps (the two at top and the bottom one). Then I placed a piece of carboard roll (from a kitchen-paper roll) at the bottom to serve as a support (you can see it below the balun). At that point, I slid the balun SMA connector through the bottom hole and used the SMA to BNC adapter to hold it, done so I slid the two wires (connected to the green wire connector) through the side hole and then inserted the connector into the balun. I then placed the other piece of paper roll above the balun and closed the box with its cap. As a note, to properly close it, start by inserting the screw into the cap holes till end, so that they’ll extrude from the bottom, then place the cap over the box and tighten the screws–you may need to use some force to properly tighten it.

Notice that the wire shown in the pic are SHORT, later on I replaced them with longer wires (outside the box) to be able to better connect the balun box to the antenna, but the remainder of the build is the same.

Now that I had my “balun box” ready, I measured the antenna wire and, using the paracord and some nylon tiers, I installed it. I also installed the “counterpoise” wire. For the latter, at first I tried just connecting the remainder of wire to the “gnd” of the balun, leaving the spool laying on the floor, but later on I decided to hang up the counterpoise and the final result was the following:

Click to enlarge

Not a work of art, but then since I was experimenting, I decided not to add PTFE and tape to allow me to quickly rearrange the antenna to run other configurations, yet, the whole setup worked quite well and stood fine to some wind and rain, the picture below shows the balun box with the antenna/counterpoise wires and the coax with the snap-on ferrite chokes.

Click to enlarge

Notice that to avoid putting strain on the balun wires, I used a wire clamp I had in my junkbox–the clamp is then tied to the paracord using a nylon tier and the paracord holds the assembly and keeps the antenna wire in position. The ferrite chokes aren’t properly seated, and I’m planning to remove and re-place them, but for the moment they’re okay. The balcony faces to south/south-west so the antenna has a free horizon of about 270 degrees ranging from the Adriatic coast to the Appennines (Mt. S.Vicino can be seen behind the paracord)–not bad. Here’s another pic showing the horizon to West, just to give you an idea:

Getting back to the antenna installation, the other end of the antenna wire is tied to the opposite side of the balcony as shown below (let aside the tent/awning, I raise them when using the SDR, also, the bowline knot isn’t correct, I’ll need to tie that again):

The counterpoise instead is supported by a lamp I’ve on the terrace, here’s it’s setup:

The “paracord” goes down to a plastic bottle filled with a water/chlorine mixture which serves to keep it in place. The remainder of the wire is just hanging down for about 1.5 meters (the counterpoise is shorter than the antenna wire, it’s about 2/3 of its length).

Ok, time to put the antenna and SDR to test, so I brought the coax inside home, connected the other SMA to BNC adapter to the SDR and connected the coax going to the antenna. Note that 15 meters of coax is enough for me, but if one wants a length of up to 25 mt, it won’t be a problem.

I already installed the SDR software, in my case since the unit identifies itself as an “SDR1” I downloaded the SDRPlay “SDRuno” software https://sdrplay.com/windl2.php and since I was at it I also downloaded the PDF manual https://www.sdrplay.com/downloads/ and the “CookBook” http://www.nn4f.com/SDRuno-cookbook.pdf and I heartly recommend reading and digesting them before starting the whole thing (while you wait for all the stuff to be delivered). An important note is that you MUST install the SDRuno software BEFORE connecting the SDR since that way, the SDRuno setup will install the proper drivers and you won’t have issues.

Anyhow, I connected the coax to the SDR and then it was time to fire up the whole thing and give it a spin; so I powered up the laptop (technically, a “transformable” laptop/tablet), started SDRuno, opened the “RX control” and “Main Spectrum” windows and then clicked the “play” button, clicked the “broadcast” band, and the “MW” one and got this:

Not exceptional maybe, but not bad, either; in particular if one considers that it’s from a quite short piece of wire which isn’t exactly placed in an ideal position.

Deutsche Welle

So I went on and explored the bands a bit. On ham bands the SDR picked up signals from the whole mediterranean basin (Cyprus, Lebanon, Spain and then some) and from north too (Russia, Germany, Denmark); then depending on time, I was able to clearly receive broadcasts from China, South America, Africa and more ham QSOs from a lot of places.

BBC Ascension Island 5/9+ and just a bit of QSB

I must admit I didn’ record the callsigns or stations identifiers (“guilty” your honor–!) but I was more focused on testing the SDR and antenna than running a “DX session” at any rate.  On the BCB bands I picked up WWV, BBC,  VoA, China Radio International, Radio Free Asia, Radio Romania and a bunch of others from Middle East, Asia, Africa and South America. While on the ham bands, I was able to pick up some quite interesting QSOs and then… well, I went hunting for higher frequencies signals!

I got Police, Ambulances, Air control…so even if that “piece of wire” isn’t optimized for VHF/UHF it seems to be working decently there too. By the way, when changing bands you may (and probably will) need to adjust the gain control, but that will be almost the only thing needed to pull in signals

At the end of the day, I can say that I’m quite pleased with the performance offered by this simple and cheap setup. For less than 150 euros you have everything you need, not just the SDR.

Sure, the setup may be improved, but then again you’ll have all of the basic parts, so you won’t need too much. For example, if you live in a really noisy environment, it would be a good idea to use a loop antenna. You would only need a “cross shaped” support (PVC pipes or wood will do). You could quickly put together the SRL (Small Receiving Loop) designed by Matt Roberts (KK5JY) http://www.kk5jy.net/rx-loop/ the balun will be the SAME (yes, no need to wind whatsoever!) so building it will just be a matter of assembling a cross shaped support for the wire (which we already have because it’s the same used for the wire antenna) and you’ll have it. While I already tried the SRL, I didn’t build one to test with this SDR, but I’ll probably do that as soon as SWMBO will start complaining about those “wires on the balcony.”

Also, at the beginning I wrote “more later” when writing about the telescopic whip included with the SDR. Here’s the idea–it requires soldering, so if you don’t want that, skip this: remove the adhesive sheet on the bottom of the antenna base to expose the bottom cap and then remove (extract) the bottom cap. You’ll see a magnetic ring and a “bell shaped” piece of metal (the “ground” for the whip). In the middle of the “bell” there will be the antenna connector which is soldered to the coax wire with a nut holding the connector (and the “bell”) in place. De-solder the coax, unscrew the antenna connector and extract it, at that point you’ll have the telescopic whip and its connector, now you may use them to build the active “whip” antenna described here:

http://www.techlib.com/electronics/antennas.html#Improved%20Active%20Antenna

Notice that it is NOT the “usual” active whip–the circuitry and idea behind it is totally different–yet it works fine and will serve you from VLF (not kidding) up to around 100MHz. It might be a good companion for the SDR. It won’t be as quiet as the loop, yet it may be a valid “all rounder.”

To conclude, I believe that the setup described above is something anyone can afford. You don’t need to be an engineer or to have special knowledge or abilities–it’s just a matter of putting together some bits and pieces.

Obviously, this setup doesn’t require a large space and offers good performance across the bands. Plus it’s so easy to improve since the 12bit SDR is a good starting point

All the best everyone and STAY HOME, STAY SAFE !


Thank you so much, Grayhat!

I love the fact that you invested (however modestly) in a proper antenna setup to better serve you rather than relying on the basic whip antenna that comes with the SDR. You’re right: too often, we invest a receiver, yet invest no money or time into building an appropriate antenna.  The antenna is the most important component in a proper radio setup and those included telescoping whip antennas simply don’t perform well on the HF bands.

Based on our correspondence, I know you had fun piecing together this little system using a simple bill of materials and items you had on hand during the Covid-19 quarantine. Thank you for sharing it here with your SWLing Post community! 

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More about hacking VGA cables to make binocular ferrite cores

A few days ago, we posted an a short article showing how Oscar hacked a VGA cable to make a binocular ferrite core for his homebrew NCPL/Youloop antenna. Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Grayhat, who explored this clever hack a little further:

Hi Thomas, Having some time in my hands Sunday afternoon I decided to try pulling out the ferrite chokes from a VGA cable I had around, and while doing so, I decided to coarsely document the process with some pics.

Figure 1

The first thing to do is use a cutter to carefully cut around the “washer” shaped plastic at the connector end of the choke (fig.1, #1,#2, #3 above), then on the same side, after cutting the plastic also cut the inner conductors (fig.1, #1).

Move to the other side of the choke, gently cut around the “washer” w/o cutting the inner conductors, now pull the cable to extract it from the choke (fig.1, #3), repeat the process for the other choke.

Now look at the “cans” containing the chokes, one side of those will show a “cap” (fig.1, #4), insert a small screwdriver into the center hole and gently ply to one side to raise the cap and extract it (fig.2, #1).

Figure 2

The result will be as in fig.2, where #1 is the closing cap, #2 is the ferrite choke and #3 is the “can” containing the choke. Repeat the process and you’ll have two ferrite chokes as shown in fig.3 (the VGA connector is there to give an idea of the dimensions):

Figure 3

At this point, use some tape (duct tape will be a better idea, I used clear tape just to make an example) to tie the two ferrites together as in fig.4 and you’ll have your “binocular ferrite”:

Figure 4

Willing to use whatever you have there to wind the transformer, you may now extract the tiny insulated wires from the VGA cable (fig.1, #3, see wires) and use them for the windings.

Notice that other cables may use different choke “cans” which may need to cut a larger portion around the flat faces at the ends. But remember that in any case, those are just “snap-in” cans containing the ferrites, so with a bit of attention and patience, it shouldn’t be difficult extracting the ferrites.

Based on a little online research, it sounds like the ferrites used to choke the VGA cables (HDMI ones too) are generally type #31.

Looking at some #31 datasheets it appears that while #73 is works fine at frequencies below 50MHz, the #31 is best suited for the 1-300MHz range.

This means that #31 won’t be the best pick for mediumwave, although if one doesn’t have another choice… well, go for that! Also notice that the ferrite permeability is different:1500 for #31 and 2500 for #73. This means that we’ll need to increase the number of windings to achieve acceptable signal transfer, otherwise the transformer loss will make our antenna deaf.

One might try increasing the number of windings to say 8:8 or 16:16; as long as the winding
ratio will remain the same, there won’t be problems (although the resulting bandwidth will become narrower).

Thanks for documenting and sharing this, Grayhat! Since most of us have more time on our hands at home, I think it would be worth experimenting with the number of windings to see how it affects the antenna performance. That’s a clever thought, too, to use the VGA wires to wind the Balun. As long as the cable is long enough for the amount of turns, it’s certainly the most efficient use of resources!

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Any experience using the T2FD antenna–?

The T2FD Antenna (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Grayhat, who has recently been on a mission to create a low-cost SDR setup while sheltering at home due to Covid-19 restrictions. While exploring antennas he sent the following inquiry:

I recently found some information about the so-called Tilted Terminated Folded Dipole (T2FD) antenna which was apparently developed for military use as a wideband, general purpose one (which can mean if it isn’t efficient, simply throw some more KW at it).   But for receiving, the antenna didn’t seem bad to me, at least based on the info I found.

In most (if not all) ham installations of the antenna, the T2FD is used in a “vertical” setup–that is, one wire above the other. When looking at military docs, the antenna is in “horizontal” setup, that is, wires parallel to ground. Looking at a 3D lobes simulation of the antenna, the pattern for a “vertical” one seems to be a “cloud warmer” with the most radiating lobe going down toward the feedline. If that’s true, this would mean that an “horizontal” T2FD should have its most pronounced lobe at the feedline side. Perhaps “vertical” installations of the T2FD could go from “works well” to “WOW” just flipping the wires–?

Do you think and SWLing Post readers may have info or experience with the T2FD antenna they could share?

If you have any experience using or building the T2FD antenna, please feel free to comment! 

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From the CIA Archives: An HF Spaced Loop Antenna for Direction Finding

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Grayhat, who shares the following:

I stumbled upon a document I found in the “CIA reading room”:

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP76-00451R000200010013-1.pdf

In short, the document, titled “HF SPACED LOOP ANTENNA” and dating back to 1967, describes the design of a “direction finding” antenna used to find an HF transmitter. The document describes a number of setups tried during initial experimentation and then explains the reasons for the selection of what’s called a “Coaxial spaced loop in vertical opposition”, basically two vertical loops connected in anti-phase; the document describes in detail the loop and some circuitry used with it, but the most interesting section is the one which deals with radiation lobes. if you look at that you’ll suddenly realize using such a configuration, the resulting antenna acts as a huge dipole with extremely deep nulls !!

Fascinating! Thank you, Grayhat.

And, honestly, there’s enough material in that CIA document to please the most demanding of antenna nerds! Most impressive. I’m curious if anyone has ever built one of these. If so, please comment with your experience!

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Commercial circuit simulator, Micro-Cap 12, now a free download

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Grayhat, who writes:

Maybe it’s old news for you, I just discovered it and thought you may
be interested, the commercial circuit simulator “Micro-Cap 12” which
was sold at around $4,500 for each license is now *free*, I found the
information here along with some further details:

https://hackaday.com/2020/01/08/commercial-circuit-simulator-goes-free/

The decision of releasing it as freeware seems to be related to the
fact that the company selling it (Spectrum Software) closed (not sure
for the reasons); anyhow, since the site or the download link may
disappear in some time, I think it would be a good idea to pick a copy
of the software, the full CD image including the program, libraries and
everything else can be downloaded from this page

http://www.spectrum-soft.com/download/download.shtm

Thank you for the tip! I agree with you about grabbing a full install of the application while you can!

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The NooElec Balun 1:9 v2

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Grayhat, who writes:

Hi Thomas, was about to write you about some infos related to the NooElec balun when found that they now offer a v2 model:

https://www.nooelec.com/store/balun-one-nine-v2-barebones.html

The new balun has the same schematic as the previous one:

But it is slightly bigger, has a better connector for the antenna wires and (according to NooElec) uses a transformer which allows the tiny balun to work more efficiently from 0 to around 70 MHz (check out the charts found in the downloads section of this link).

The transformer used, judging from the pics, is a CoilCraft WB9-1, whose data can be found here:

https://www.coilcraft.com/wb_th.cfm

As I wrote the reason for this was the fact that a friend of mine reported that he used the (v1) balun with a Loop On Ground (LoG) Antenna !

If you look at the schematic (above) you’ll notice that there’s a “jumper” labeled R1 (zero Ohm resistor). That tiny detail is important, see, leaving the balun as is, it will work fine with a longwire, one just connects contact #1 to the antenna and #2 to a counterpoise or ground system and there he goes, BUT there’s another way to use the balun, that is, CUT the “jumper” (ok, resistor) labeled “R1”. If you cut it, the balun will become a 9:1 isolation transformer and with such a modification will work just fine with the KK5JY “LoG”
antenna: http://www.kk5jy.net/LoG/

According to what my friend reported, the balun works just fine, and although probably the ferrite core used in the V1 isn’t up to par with the original one used by KK5JY, the difference isn’t so huge.

Oh, and I also suspect that the modified balun may work fine with the KK5JY simpler passive loop http://www.kk5jy.net/rx-loop/ which may be a nice antenna for restricted spaces!

I think it may be of interest to people not knowing/willing to wind their own baluns, at that point one may just need an enclosure to protect the balun and putting up a receive antenna will be as easy as 1-2-3.

Thank you for sharing this! Readers: Grayhat has been encouraging me to deploy a LoG antenna at my home and I do plan to do so in the coming months. Please comment if you use a LoG similar to the KK5JY model and what your results have been.

Thank you again for the tip, Grayhat!

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