Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, TomL, who shares the following guest post:
Loop on Ground Part 2
My previous Loop on Ground (LoG) experiment was useful which entailed connecting my Wellbrook loop amplifier to a 100 foot loop of speaker wire in the field at my favorite local Forest Preserve. It really brought in stations I had never heard before or strong stations in a more powerful way that made the audio really pleasant to listen to. This report will describe more experiments with smaller wire loops to see what the limitations are. 100 feet of wire is quite a lot of wire to mess around with especially in the cold weather or public places that do not have as much private space.
I don’t understand all the electrical interrelationships but a long posting at RadioReference.com had a great discussion about creating a 160-20 meters LoG receive-only antenna. It is 11 pages long but is worth reading how “nanZor” experimented with various parameters for general use. Kudos to him for documenting the findings as the design changed over time. You can find it here:
nanZor basically boils it down to a few guidelines.
Keep it on the ground. Lifting the wire more than an inch or two decreased the lower angle signal reception greatly.
Calculate the optimal length for one full wavelength of wire at the highest target frequency, say for example, the top of the 20 meter band (14350 kHz). 936/14.350 MHz * 0.9 velocity factor of simple insulated wire = 58.7 feet. You can round up to 60 feet, no big deal since this is broadband. The antenna should have a predictable reception pattern from 1/10th wavelength up to 1 full wavelength. Outside that range, the pattern gets “squirrely”.
Using a 9:1 balun seemed to be a little better than a 4:1 balun at the antenna feedpoint. This gets into things I cannot measure and has to do with rising impedance as a loop gets closer to ground level. I am not sure but I think my Wellbrook amp has a built in 4:1 balun and it seems to work just fine.
Make sure to use an RF Choke at BOTH sides of the feedline coax cable. He was adamant that the loop can get easily unbalanced and allow noise into the antenna and/or feedline and so it must be isolated and the ground allowed to “float” in his words.
Personally, I also wanted to use less wire and happened to have a length of 42 feet of landscape wire which should work well below 5 MHz with the Wellbrook amp engaged. Results were not bad even though on hard frozen ground. Signal levels were down a little compared to the 100 foot of wire. Here are a couple of examples, first one in a fast food parking lot with a grass field next to it and second at the usual Forest Preserve parking lot on a grass field. I made sure that my car blocked the view of the wire so people would not get nervous!
La Voz Missionaria, Brazil:
Voice of Welt from Issoudun France in Kurdish:
These are not necessarily “DX” but definitely good for SWLing. I like the signal strength with the amplifier inline at the antenna feedpoint and I did not have to use an RF Choke at the receiver side as was suggested.
I had a 75 foot long insulated wire and used that at the Forest Preserve parking lot on a couple of different days. Lower frequency signal strength and signal/noise ratio improved a little bit to be noticeable.
Examples below with the 42 foot loop and 9:1 balun/choke, no amplifier:
KSDA, Agat Guam in English
WB8U doing a POTA activation of Leavenworth State Fishing Lake
VOLMET weather, Shannon Ireland
HCJB Quito Ecuador, probably in Quechua
As a side note, there is a posting that mentions low-angle DX is better with regions that have better “ground conductivity”, salt water being the best. I have no way of verifying this. See post# 126 by KK5JY Matt.
So, bottom line is that a Loop on Ground can be useful for pleasant SWLing and portable. Best to use it on grass, not asphalt. The loop amplifier is useful to get signal levels up if you have to use a smaller loop size but the signal/noise ratio will suffer due to its smaller aperture. And, warning, the public will find a way to trip over the wire no matter where you set it up (I may try putting the wire around my car if I can park on a grass surface and/or use the gaudiest, brightest neon green or orange wire I can find – they can’t trip over THAT, can they?).
Thanks, Tom, for sharing your update. Obviously, the LoG is working brilliantly. It’s amazing that you got such clear reception from the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. If you were using a vertical instead, I bet signals would have been buried in the noise.
I can also relate to people tripping over antenna wires. I remember one POTA activation recently (the first activation in this three park run) where I intentionally laid my counterpoise on the ground, off a foot path, in the brush and where I couldn’t imagine anyone ever stepping. Ten minutes into the activation and for no reason, someone walked off the path, into the brush, and it snagged them. Maybe I’m just a Ninja level trapper and never realized it!?
Thanks again for sharing the results of your LoG, Tom. Inspiring!
I also read somewhere that for transmitting, a LOG antenna is useless as it radiates much of the energy right into the ground! But I didn’t care about that. I needed something for receive I can deploy easily without supports and take down just as easily. As you may recall, my home condo is literally saturated with noise and I cannot null it out. So a wire looped on the ground is supposed to work? You bet it does!
Of course, there are some conditions to meet. There has to be enough flat ground away from people or pets (or lawn mowers!) who would get tangled in the wire on the ground. The wire should be as close to the ground as possible (although I had good results laying the wire on top of cut grass). The loop of wire can vary in circumference from about 20 feet to 150 feet (the shorter length will stay in an omnidirectional pattern higher in frequency but lower in signal pickup and vice-versa for the longer length). The wire needs to be insulated. That’s about it!
So, off to the hardware store to buy a cheap spool of 100 foot 18 gauge speaker wire. But, the articles mention using a balun and they all made their own. I did not feel like doing that (I am not that good at making things from scratch) and I did not want to spend money ordering one. More reading somewhere informed me that my existing Wellbrook Medium Aperture loop amplifier has a built-in balun at the antenna side of the device. Hallelujah!
I bundled together the wire, Wellbrook parts and battery supply, small laptop and Airspy HF+ to my favorite Lake Nelson Forest Preserve. The shelter there is little used and is adjacent to the prairie with cut grass. It did take a good 15 minutes to lay out the 100 feet of wire on the ground while trying to keep it as flat as possible. And I did not have enough space for a circle, so I ended up with an oblong shape. The long sides are facing directly north-south, so in theory (I think) this gives me an oblong shaped reception pattern east-west. The photo shows half of the wire laying on the grass.
I ended up with this setup on a picnic table at the rear end of the shelter. The coax wire goes from the Wellbrook amp into its power module, then to a Cross Country Wireless preselector, then to the Apirspy HF+ and laptop.
I was really impressed by the signal strength of the usual suspects like Radio Nacional da Amazonia. I could see that the Wellbrook amp was boosting signals across the board with only a little extra noise.
I use the preselector to try to keep the Airspy radio from overloading, especially mediumwave broadcast signals which can sound like a small amount of extra “hash” type noise in the background. I have since added into the accessory chain an old Kiwa Electronics BCB filter that does a great job of knocking down the frequencies below 2 MHz.
I have also since added a water resistant box to enclose the Wellbrook amp to keep it safe from getting stepped on or too wet.
Also, a couple of weeks later I was able to go to a campgound and try out 60 feet of wire but the result was noisier since I was surrounded by RV vehicles in a crowded campsite. It was not horrible and I was able to listen to some good radio stations but location can matter with any antenna.
I hope you like the recordings below. Because of some serious health issues this summer, these May 31 2020 recordings & report are just being published now (I am recovering slowly but surely!). My small laptop is under-powered, so I was only able to record MP3 files one at a time. It kept me busy as I went from one frequency to the next and kept recording anything I heard. I was able to hear a couple of stations I never heard before and that is a success in my book.
It remains to be seen if this antenna is as good as my 19 foot vertical antenna attached to the top of the car roof, especially low-angle DX signals. Maybe you will have the chance to experiment as well and share your experience, too. Now, will a small loop-on-ground antenna around my car parked late at night at a far corner of the grocery store work OK??? I will have to try it!
Recordings (crank up the volume if it is too weak):
22:00 UTC, Radio Saudi (Arabic) 11915 kHz
22:04 UTC, KDSA Adventist Radio (Indonesian) 11955 kHz
22:14 UTC, KDSA Adventist Radio (English) 12040 kHz
22:20 UTC, Voice of Korea (Japanese) 11865 kHz
22:23 UTC, Yemen Radio (heavily jammed) 11860 kHz
22:35 UTC, Radio Brazil Central (Portuguese) 11815 kHz
22:50 UTC, WWV booming in 10000 kHz
23:11 UTC, UnKnown (might be FEBC) 9795 kHz
23:15 UTC, China Radio Int’l (Spanish teaching Chinese, from Kashi) 9800 kHz
23:17 UTC, China Radio Int’l Business Radio (from Xianyang) 9820 kHz
23:19 UTC, China Radio Int’l (Chinese from Urumqi) 9865 kHz
23:21 UTC, Voice of Korea (Korean) 9875 kHz
23:23 UTC, Maybe Radio Taiwan without jamming from CNR 9900 kHz
23:34 UTC, China Radio Int’l (Chinese from Bamako Mali) 7295 kHz
23:43 UTC, Radio Nacional da Amazonia 6180 kHz (& 11780 kHz around 40 seconds)
23:50 UTC, MAYBE China PBS from Xinjiang in Kazakh (nothing else listed on schedules) 6015 kHz
23:56 UTC, Radio Mali (French announcer humming to music and acting crazy) 5995 kHz
00:30 UTC, XEPPM Radio Educacion (Spanish Mexico City) 6185 kHz
This is brilliant Tom! Thank you for sharing.
Our antenna guru contributor, Grayhat, has been encouraging me (understatement!) to build a Loop-On-Ground antenna but I haven’t done this yet because, at home, our driveway would interfere with its deployment. That and I have no RFI to speak of in my rural/remote home so my skyloop antenna is tough to beat. But having one available for portable use would make a lot of sense. I’m going to put this on my 2021 project list!
Post Readers: Do you use a LoG antenna at home or in the field? Please comment!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paolo Viappiani (SWL I1-11437), who shares the following guest post:
A recent resurgence of Internet scams involving quality radios
by Paolo Viappiani (SWL I1-11437)
After my previous post on this subject, I found on the Internet other very dangerous fraud attempts concerning high-quality radios offered at very convenient prices. Below, you’ll find the details of a recent attempt concerning the highly-desirable SONY CRF-V21 receiver.
The methods are always the same, but the scammers greatly refine their fraudulent techniques, even going so far as to carry out real identity thefts, as in this case.
Of course, I knew from the beginning that it was a fraud (I don’t let myself be fooled anymore!), but I tried to continue corresponding with the scammer in order to get as much data on his real identity as possible. At the same time, however, I reported the fraudulent advertisement to the site webmaster in order to prevent other users from falling into the trap. The ad was promptly removed, but the scammer noticed it and immediately he slipped away…
Here is the story…
I have been trying to detect and report Internet scams from some time (since I was scammed!), and recently I found an advertisement for a SONY CRF-V21 radio, described as working and in good cosmetic conditions, on the Italian website “Clasf”, look at the picture below:
The radio was offered for Euro 2.600 from a seller who supposedly resided in Rome, Italy.
I sent him a message through the “Clasf” site and almost immediately I received a reply from someone who claimed to reside in Reichertshofen, Germany.
Déjà vu… Germany, Spain or Portugal always seems to be the same story…
But this time the very serious thing is the fact that the scammer identified himself as an “implantology dentist”–a fake identity–also providing a counterfeit website:
From my investigation it appears that both the picture and the website were stolen from a true professional from Hamburg, Dr. Bernhard Brinkmann, look at the websites (here and here).
Of course I tried to contact Dr. Brinkmann and I still make all the documents available to him, in case he wants to prosecute the thief.
About the pictures I received from the scammer (you’ll find some of them below):
So, buyer beware! The number of frauds in the radio market on the Internet is growing day after day, and it always advisable to keep your eyes wide open, even in the rush to purchase a much desired item at an affordable price.
Today scam techniques are increasingly refined, as shown in the example reported above.
Sincerely I don’t know if this user has something to do with the other European scammers (supposedly from Spain and Portugal) I quoted in my former post. The Italian Postal Police, after having examined the headers of the e-mails that I received along with other documents, believe that such scammers can reside anywhere in the world.
Anyway, the three “most scammed” radios are currently the Panasonic RF-8000, the Panasonic RF- 9000 and the Sony CRF-V21 (pictures below):
Please also notice that a number of advertisements on the most popular classifieds sites (Quoka.de and ebay-kleinanzeigen.de in Germany, Subito.it, Clasf and AAAnnunci.it in Italy, Le Bon Coin in France, ComoFicho in Spain, etc.) still are mirrors for larks only, and you have to pay a great attention in order not to be scammed.
A recent trip over all the mentioned sites revealed that only a few ads are really true…
I repeat some notes about scammers and their usual techniques:
A.) The scammer advertises a very rare radio in like-new conditions at an unbelievably low price. The buyer does not want to miss the bargain, so he contacts the seller and promptly transfers the money to him without further ado, but after that he waits in vain for the delivery of his item.
B.) If you contact the seller, the item is always abroad. The alleged seller then proposes to handle the purchase through a “trust company”. The radio should be paid in advance and the amount sent via cash transfer, but after that you never hear anything from the seller again.
C.) Alternatively, the buyer is requested to to deposit the money to the eBay company account to get the product. But the account is fake (eBay HAS NO “Company Account” and never handles private transactions!), so the buyer loses his money and receives nothing in return. Please also notice that often the fraudulent sellers offer a free period for evaluating the item, saying that if you do not like the device you can send it back. Please don’t fall into this trap, it is only one of the means the scammers use to entice you to purchase, but IT IS NOT TRUE AT ALL!
I repeat also some useful advices in order to make secure and safe purchases on the Internet:
1.) Always beware whenever the item is in a place (or a country) different from the one that was specified in the advertisement; also there is a valid reason for suspicion when the name or the address of the advertiser does not match the seller’s ones;
2.) Do not completely trust the pictures sent by the seller (they could be stolen from the Internet) and don’t forget to proceed to a “Google Reverse Image Search” in order to find the sources of similar ones;
3.) Always ask the seller for some specific pictures or videos (radio precisely tuned to various frequencies and/or modes) and do not accept any runarounds about it (“you can try the radio for some days”, etc.);
4.) Never pay the item in advance by rechargeable credit cards, Western Union or other non-secured/guaranteed ways of payment. Also Bank Transfer (Wire Transfer) is nota secure form of payment in order to avoid frauds;
5.) Always ask the seller for paying by PayPal “Goods and Services” (NOT “Send money to friends”); via “Goods and Services”, your purchase will be fully covered by the PayPal warranty.
In the case you are a victim of a scam anyway, please always report the incident to the Police or the Judiciary of your Country, and don’t forget to also warn the site where the announcement was found.
Paolo Viappiani – SWL I1-11437
Thank you so much for sharing this, Paolo! All very solid advice for avoiding scams.
If you think about it, scammers want to optimize their scam profits per transaction–in other words, go for the “low-hanging fruit.” This is why quality, rare radios are their bait of choice. They know there are motivated collectors and buyers who need to act quickly in order to secure a deal. The stakes are very high if you’re purchasing a rare/vintage radio via online classifieds sites.
Bookmark this article. Before making a radio purchase, re-read this post and follow Paolo’s advice. I promise: real vintage/rare radio sellers will happy take specific photos and videos in order to prove that the radio is indeed in their possession and that it functions as specified. If you receive an excuse–any excuse–from the seller, consider that a major read flag and do not proceed.
Thank you again, Paolo! I hereby name you an honorary SWLing Post Investigative Reporter!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, 13dka, who shares the following guest post:
Gone fishing…for DX: Reception enhancement at the seaside
In each of my few reviews I referred to “the dike” or “my happy place”, which is a tiny stretch of the 380 miles of dike protecting Germany’s North Sea coast. This is the place where I like to go for maximum listening pleasure and of course for testing radios. Everyone knows that close proximity to an ocean is good for radio reception…but why is that? Is there a way to quantify “good”?
Of course there is, this has been documented before, there is probably lots of literature about it and old papers like this one (click here to download PDF). A complete answer to the question has at least two parts:
1. Less QRM
It may be obvious, but civilization and therefore QRM sources at such a place extend to one hemisphere only, because the other one is covered with ocean for 100s, if not 1000s of miles. There are few places on the planet that offer such a lack of civilization in such a big area, while still being accessible, habitable and in range for pizza delivery. Unless you’re in the midst of a noisy tourist trap town, QRM will be low. Still, you may have to find a good spot away from all tourist attractions and industry for absolutely minimal QRM.
My dike listening post is far enough from the next small tourist trap town (in which I live) and also sufficiently far away from the few houses of the next tiny village and it’s located in an area that doesn’t have HV power lines (important for MW and LW reception!) or industrial areas, other small villages are miles away and miles apart, the next town is 20 km/12 miles away from there. In other words, man-made noise is just not an issue there.
That alone would be making shortwave reception as good as it gets and it gives me an opportunity to check out radios on my own terms: The only way to assess a radio’s properties and qualities without or beyond test equipment is under ideal conditions, particularly for everything that has to do with sensitivity. It’s already difficult without QRM (because natural noise (QRN) can easily be higher than the receiver’s sensitivity threshold too, depending on a number of factors), and even small amounts of QRM on top make that assessment increasingly impossible. This is particularly true for portables, which often can’t be fully isolated from local noise sources for a couple of reasons.
Yes, most modern radios are all very sensitive and equal to the degree that it doesn’t make a difference in 98% of all regular reception scenarios but my experience at the dike is that there are still differences, and the difference between my least sensitive and my most sensitive portable is not at all negligible, even more because they are not only receivers but the entire receiving system including the antenna. You won’t notice that difference in the middle of a city, but you may notice it in the woods.
When the radio gets boring, I can still have fun with the swing and the slide!
2. More signal
I always had a feeling that signals actually increase at the dike and that made me curious enough to actually test this by having a receiver tuned to some station in the car, then driving away from the dike and back. Until recently it didn’t come to me to document or even quantify this difference though. When I was once again googling for simple answers to the question what the reason might be, I stumbled upon this video: Callum (M0MCX) demonstrating the true reason for this in MMANA (an antenna modeling software) on his “DX Commander” channel:
To summarize this, Callum explains how a pretty dramatic difference in ground conductivity near the sea (click here to download PDF) leads to an increase in antenna gain, or more precisely a decrease in ground return losses equaling more antenna gain. Of course I assumed that the salt water has something to do with but I had no idea how much: For example, average ground has a conductivity of 0.005 Siemens per meter, salt water is averaging at 5.0 S/m, that’s a factor of 1,000 (!) and that leads to roughly 10dB of gain. That’s right, whatever antenna you use at home in the backcountry would get a free 10dB gain increase by the sea, antennas with actual dBd or dBi gain have even more gain there.
That this has a nice impact on your transmitting signal should be obvious if you’re a ham, if not just imagine that you’d need a 10x more powerful amplifier or an array of wires or verticals or a full-size Yagi to get that kind of gain by directionality. But this is also great for reception: You may argue that 10dB is “only” little more than 1.5 S-units but 1.5 S-units at the bottom of the meter scale spans the entire range between “can’t hear a thing” and “fully copy”!
A practical test
It’s not that I don’t believe DX Commander’s assessment there but I just had to see it myself and find a way to share that with you. A difficulty was finding a station that has A) a stable signal but is B) not really local, C) on shortwave, D) always on air and E) propagation must be across water or at least along the shoreline.
The army (or navy) to the rescue! After several days of observing STANAG stations for their variation in signal on different times of the day, I picked one on 4083 kHz (thanks to whoever pays taxes to keep that thing blasting the band day and night!). I don’t know where exactly (my KiwiSDR-assisted guess is the English channel region) that station is, but it’s always in the same narrow range of levels around S9 here at home, there’s usually the same little QSB on the signal, and the signals are the same day or night.
On top of that, I had a look at geological maps of my part of the country to find out how far I should drive into the backcountry to find conditions that are really different from the coast. Where I live, former sea ground and marsh land is forming a pretty wide strip of moist, fertile soil with above average conductivity, but approximately 20km/12mi to the east the ground changes to a composition typical for the terminal moraine inland formed in the ice age. So I picked a quiet place 25km east of my QTH to measure the level of that STANAG station and also to record the BBC on 198 kHz. Some source stated that the coastal enhancement effect can be observed within 10 lambda distance to the shoreline, that would be 730m for the 4 MHz STANAG station and 15km for the BBC, so 25km should suffice to rule out any residue enhancement from the seaside.
My car stereo has no S-meter (or a proper antenna, so reception is needlessly bad but this is good in this case) so all you get is the difference in audio. The car had the same orientation (nose pointing to the east) at both places. For the 4 MHz signal though (coincidence or not), the meter shows ~10dBm (or dBµV/EMF) more signal at the dike.
3. Effect on SNR
Remember, more signal alone does not equal better reception, what we’re looking for is a better signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). Now that we’ve established that the man-made noise should be as low as possible at “my” dike, the remaining question is: Does this signal enhancement have an effect on SNR as well? Even if there is virtually no local QRM at my “happy place” – there is still natural noise (QRN) and that wouldn’t that likely gain 10dB too?
Here are some hypotheses that may be subject of debate and some calculations way over my head (physics/math fans, please comment and help someone out who always got an F in math!). Sorry for all the gross oversimplifications:
Extremely lossy antennas
We know that pure reception antennas are often a bit different in that the general reciprocity rule has comparatively little meaning, many antennas designed for optimizing reception in specific situations would be terrible transmitting antennas. One quite extreme example, not meant to optimize anything but portability is the telescopic whip on shortwaves >10m. At the dike, those gain more signal too. When the QRN drops after sunset on higher frequencies, the extremely lossy whip might be an exception because the signal coming out of it is so small that it’s much closer to the receiver noise, so this friendly signal boost could lift very faint signals above the receiver noise more than the QRN, which in turn could mean a little increase in SNR, and as we know even a little increase in SNR can go a long way.
The BBC Radio 4 longwave recording is likely another example for this – the unusually weak signal is coming from a small and badly matched rubber antenna with abysmal performance on all frequency ranges including LW. The SNR is obviously increasing at the dike because the signal gets lifted more above the base noise of the receiving system, while the atmospheric noise component is likely still far below that threshold. Many deliberately lossy antenna design, such as flag/tennant, passive small aperture loops (like e.g. the YouLoop) or loop-on-ground antennas may benefit most from losses decreasing by 10dB.
Not so lossy antennas, polarization and elevation patterns
However, there is still more than a signal strength difference between “big” antennas and the whips at the dike: Not only at the sea, directionality will have an impact on QRN levels, a bidirectional antenna may already decrease QRN and hence increase SNR further, an unidirectional antenna even more, that’s one reason why proper Beverage antennas for example work wonders particularly on noisy low frequencies at night (but this is actually a bad example because Beverage antennas are said to work best on lossy ground).
Also, directional or not, the “ideal” ground will likely change the radiation pattern, namely the elevation angles, putting the “focus” of the antenna from near to far – or vice versa: As far as my research went, antennas with horizontal polarization are not ideal in this regard as they benefit much less from the “mirror effect” and a relatively low antenna height may be more disadvantageous for DX (but maybe good for NVIS/local ragchewing) than usual. Well, that explains why I never got particularly good results with horizontal dipoles at the dike!
Using a loop-on-ground antenna at a place without QRM may sound ridiculously out of place at first, but they are bidirectional and vertically polarized antennas, so the high ground conductivity theoretically flattens the take-off angle of the lobes, on top of that they are ~10dB less lossy at the dike, making even a LoG act more like something you’d string up as high as possible elsewhere. They are incredibly convenient, particularly on beaches where natural antenna supports may be non-existent and I found them working extremely well at the dike, now I think I know why. In particular the preamplified version I tried proved to be good enough to receive 4 continents on 20m and a 5th one on 40m – over the course of 4 hours on an evening when conditions were at best slightly above average. Though the really important point is that it increased the SNR further, despite the QRN still showing up on the little Belka’s meter when I connected the whip for comparison (alas not shown in the video).
The 5th continent is missing in this video because the signals from South Africa were not great anymore that late in the evening, but a recording exists.
Here’s a video I shot last year, comparing the same LoG with the whip on my Tecsun S-8800 on 25m (Radio Marti 11930 kHz):
At the same time, I recorded the station with the next decent KiwiSDR in my area:
Of course, these directionality vs noise mechanisms are basically the same on any soil. But compensating ground losses and getting flat elevation patterns may require great efforts, like extensive radial systems, buried meshes etc. and it’s pretty hard to cover enough area around the antenna (minimum 1/2 wavelength, ideally more!) to get optimum results on disadvantaged soils, while still never reaching the beach conditions. You may have to invest a lot of labor and/or money to overcome such geological hardships, while the beach gives you all that for free.
But there may be yet another contributing factor: The gain pattern is likely not symmetrical – signals (and QRN) coming from the land side will likely not benefit the same way from the enhancement, which tapers off quickly (10 wavelengths) on the land side of the dike and regular “cross-country” conditions take place in that direction, while salt water stretching far beyond the horizon is enhancing reception to the other side.
So my preliminary answer to that question would be: “Yes, under circumstances the shoreline signal increase and ground properties can improve SNR further, that improvement can be harvested easily with vertically polarized antennas”.
Would it be worthwhile driving 1000 miles to the next ocean beach… for SWLing?
Maybe not every week–? Seriously, it depends.
Sure, an ocean shoreline will generally help turning up the very best your radios and antennas can deliver, I think the only way to top this would be adding a sensible amount of elevation, a.k.a. cliff coasts.
If you’re interested in extreme DX or just in the technical performance aspect, if you want to experience what your stuff is capable of or if you don’t want to put a lot of effort into setting up antennas, you should definitely find a quiet place at the ocean, particularly if your options to get maximum performance are rather limited (space constraints, QRM, HOA restrictions, you name it) at home.
If you’re a BCL/program listener and more interested in the “content” than the way it came to you, if you’re generally happy with reception of your favorite programs or if you simply have some very well working setup at home, there’s likely not much the beach could offer you in terms of radio. But the seaside has much more to offer than fatter shortwaves of course.
From left to right: Starry sky capture with cellphone cam, nocticlucent clouds behind the dike, car with hot coffee inside and a shortwave portable suction-cupped to the side window – nights at the dike are usually cold but sometimes just beautiful. (Click to enlarge.)
However, getting away from the QRM means everything for a better SNR and best reception. In other words, if the next ocean is really a hassle to reach, it may be a better idea to just find a very quiet place nearby and maybe putting up some more substantial antenna than driving 1000 miles. But if you happen to plan on some seaside vacation, make absolutely sure you bring two radios (because it may break your heart if your only radio fails)!
Since I mentioned it, here is a pic of the antenna showing its installation:
Click images to enlarge.
In the above image you can see the overall setup of the LLD, the modification I did, by adding additional wires to the end of the arms and also the Mini Whip location
The LLD served me well, from LW up to around 200MHz allowing me to listen to broadcasters, hams, aircraft communications, time signals and then more, and it’s definitely a keeper, but I wanted to give a try to the “Mini Whip” antenna, even if a lot of people discard it saying it’s a noisy antenna and not worth it; keep in mind the Utwente SDR uses it and it seems to work fine, so I had to give it a try !
Anyhow, after searching the internet for a suitable whip, I finally found this one:
I bought the antenna on Amazon, but it’s also available on eBay and while the price isn’t the lowest one, I chose it since it uses BNC connectors only (some models use a mix of UHF/BNC or the like). This one had a top wing nut allowing to connect an additional (optional) external whip (may be useful on lower bands) and, last but not least, its color; being gray, it is quite stealth, which may be useful for some people (not my case, luckily). So I went on and ordered the antenna, the delivery took about 10 days and the package contents were exactly as shown above. The supplied coax is thin (RG-174 I believe) and it would be a good idea replacing it with some runs of RG-58, but for the sake of the experiment, I used the original wire.
So, having the antenna, I looked around for informations about the correct installation for the “Mini Whip” and found that in most cases, the reported poor performances of the Mini Whip are due to people installing it the wrong way. For reference and information about how the whip works and about how to properly install it, please refer to the information from PA3FWM found here and here.
Now, if you can place the whip in a garden or yard, using a pole, the correct installation of the whip is the one shown in this pic:
If you carefully look at the image you will notice that the whip sits above the supporting (metallic) pole and that the ground of the connector is electrically connected to the pole (through the clamp). Plus, the pole is then grounded (at the bottom) and the coax (which has chokes) runs away from the metallic pole.
What does the above mean ? Well, the Mini Whip antenna needs a “counterpoise” (ground) to work, and installing it as above, instead of using the coax braid as its counterpoise, the Mini Whip will use the supporting pole, this helps a lot minimizing the noise and it’s one of the tricks for a proper setup, the other one is placing the whip as far away from the “noise cloud” of your home as possible. In my case, I choose the far end of the balcony–also since I had a nice support there, the image below shows the whip installation using a piece of PVC pipe I bought at a nearby home improvement store:
At first, I just installed the antenna without the ground wire and with the coax coming down vertically from the connector. When I compared the whip to my LLD, the results were discouraging: the noise floor was much higher and a lot of signals, which the LLD received without problems, totally disappeared inside the noise floor.
Being the kind of hard-headed guy I am (and having read the documentation about proper setup) I went on and made further modifications.
Let me detail the installation a bit better with this first image (click to enlarge):
As you can see in the above image, the whip is supported by a piece of PVC pipe which keeps it above the metal fencing of the balcony (or a support pole if you’ll use it) and I also connected a short run of insulated wire to the ground of BNC plug at the bottom of the whip. This short run goes to a wire clamp which allows it to connect to the “counterpoise” (ground) wire.
In my case, since the balcony was at 2nd floor, I didn’t have a way to give to the antenna a real ground, so I decided to run a length of wire (AWG #11) down the pipe and then along my balcony fencing (10m total). An alternative, which will also work for roof installations, would be using chicken wire (fencing). In such a case, you may lay as much chicken wire as you can on the floor/roof and connect the wire coming down from the whip ground to it. I haven’t that that (yet!) but I think it may further lower the noise and improve performances.
Notice that in the case of the Utwente Mini Whip, the antenna support pole is connected to metallic roofing so it has plenty of (virtual) ground.
Later on, I improved the setup by raising the antenna a bit more and routing the wire (almost) horizontally from the feedpoint to reduce coupling with the vertical “counterpoise” wire.
The image below shows the final setup:
While not visible in the above image, I also wrapped the coax wire in a loop at the point where it’s held by the fencing and added some snap-on chokes to the coax at the point where it enters the building.
With all the modifications in place, the antenna started performing as it was designed to. The noise floor is still a bit higher than the one of the LLD, but given that it’s an active antenna, that’s to be expected
To give you an idea of the signals and noise floor, here are a couple of images taken from the screen of my laptop while running SDRuno. The first one shows the waterfall for the 40m band
While the second one, below, shows the one for the 80m band:
At any rate, my usual way of testing antenna performance (and modifications effects), aside from some band scanning/listening, is to run an FT8 session for some hours (and optionally repeat it over some days) and then check the received spots.
In the case of the Mini Whip, after all the modification to the setup, I ran an FT8 session using JTDX for some hours and the images below show the received spots. The first image shows the whole map of the received stations:
While the second one below is a zoom into the European region to show the various spots picked up there; the different colors indicate the 20m (yellow), 40m (blue/violet) and 80m (violet) bands:
As you can see, the Mini Whip performed quite well despite the “not exactly good” propagation.
While some time ago I’d have discarded the Mini Whip as a “noise magnet”, as of today, with a proper installation, I think it’s a keeper. While it can’t be compared to bigger antennas, I believe it may be a viable antenna for space-constrained situations. The only thing it needs is a bit of care when setting it up to allow it to work as it has been designed to.
Brilliant job, Grayhat! Thank you so much for sharing your experience setting up the Mini Whip antenna. As you stated, so many SWLs dismiss the Mini Whip as “noisy”–but with a proper ground, it seems to perform rather well. The benchmark example of a Mini Whip’s performance must be the U Twente Web SDR.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Steve (KZ4TN), who shared the following guest post originally on QRPer.com, but I’ve posted it here as well because I’m sure it’ll resonate with those of us who love building kits!:
DC30B QRP Transceiver Project
by Steve Allen, KZ4TN
I wanted to build a lightweight backpackable transceiver I could take hiking and camping. I chose the 30 meter band as it is specific to CW and the digital modes. I am also in the process of building Dave Benson’s (K1SWL) Phaser Digital Mode QRP Transceiver kit for the 30 meter band. Also, a 30 meter antenna is a bit smaller than one for 40 meters and the band is open most anytime of the day.
I sourced the DC30B transceiver kit, designed by Steve Weber KD1JV, from Pacific Antennas, http://www.qrpkits.com. It appears that they are now (10-11-20) only offering the kit for the 40 meter band. The following information can be used for the assembly of most any kit that lacks an enclosure.
Lately I have been finding extruded aluminum enclosures on Amazon.com and eBay.com. They come in many sizes and configurations. I like to use the versions with the split case which allows you to access the internal enclosure with the front and rear panels attached to the lower half of the enclosure. Most of these enclosures have a slot cut into the sides that allow a PCB to slide into the slots keeping it above the bottom of the enclosure without having to use standoffs. The one requirement for assembly is that the PCB needs to be attached to either the front or rear panel to hold it in place.
As the enclosure is anodized, I didn’t want to rely on the enclosure for common ground. I used a piece of copper clad board that I cut to fit the slot width of the enclosure and attached it to the back panel. I was then able to mount the transceiver PCB to the copper clad board with standoffs. This basic platform of the enclosure with the copper clad PCB provides a good foundation for any number of projects. All you have to do is mount the wired PCB on the board, install the components on the front and rear panel, then wire it up.
I wanted to have the choice of a few frequencies to operate on so I searched eBay for 30 meter crystals and found a source for 4 different popular frequencies. I installed a rotary switch on the front panel and added a small auxiliary PCB with two, 4 pin machined IC sockets. This allowed me to plug the crystals into the sockets. I wired the bottom of the socket PCB first using wire pairs stripped from computer ribbon cable leaving extra length. I marked the wires with dots to indicate which sockets each wire pair went to so I could solder them onto the rotary switch in the correct order. It was tight but I always work with optical magnification so I can see exactly what I’m doing. I have used this crystal switching method in the past with good success.
The rest of the assembly was straight forward. I find that most kits are well designed and documented, and if you take your time and follow the directions carefully all should go well. The two most common speed bumps seem to be soldering in the wrong component or bad soldering technique. I double check all component values and placements prior to soldering, and I always use optical magnification while working. I inspect each solder joint and look for good flow through in the plated through holes, and make sure there are no solder bridges.
The finished product. I bought a Dymo label maker and it works very well for projects like this. I love using these enclosures and they are a leap forward from the old folded aluminum clam shells I used in the past. I could stand on this without causing any damage. Power out is 1-3 watts depending on the DC power in. The receiver is sensitive and the ability to choose from four frequencies is a real plus.
73 de KZ4TN
Gorgeous work there, Steve! Thank you for sharing!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Bruce Atchison, who shares the following guest post:
What is Lightning Scatter DX?
by Bruce Atchison (VE6XTC)
Believe it or not, it’s possible to receive distant FM stations during a thunder storm. While lightning makes it difficult to hear AM and shortwave broadcasts, its crackles aren’t as evident on the 88 MHz to 108 MHz band.
When lightning strikes, it temporarily ionizes the air around it. Radio signals are reflected by the charged gasses and come back down to earth.
From my experience with this kind of DX, the signal became noticeably stronger during lightning strikes. This effect lasted for a second, then the signal level dropped to its former strength.
While a thunder storm raged overhead on July 7th, I used my CC Skywave SSB radio to check out the FM band. Instead of hearing E-skip as I had hoped, I found that tropo-like conditions reflected stations down to my home. I heard signals from a hundred miles away or further.
As just one example, I found a low-power station with the call letters CKSS on 88.1MHZ. They call themselves 88.1 The One. Find out more about this station at the http://www.881theone.ca/ link. It’s located in the town of Stony Plain, Alberta. This station plays country music and airs local news events.
At a guess, I’d say the transmitter is about 120 miles from my QTH in Radway. It normally doesn’t come in at all. The signal strength varied too, showing that it wasn’t a local.
In my instance of catching CKSS’s signal, a form of tropo ducting was also present. Rain can produce reflections of signals but it’s much more pronounced in the UHF and microwave bands.
When a thunder storm is ruining AM and shortwave reception, try DXing the FM band. You’ll be surprised at what occasionally comes in.
To see a demonstration of lightning scatter on amateur TV, watch the
To hear what FM lightning scatter sounds like, watch this video:
Thank you for sharing this guest post Bruce. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never tried to hear lightening scatter DX, but I will certainly give it a go. This time of year, we’ve numerous thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening, so I’ll certainly have the opportunity!
Post readers:Have you ever caught FM DX off of Lightening Scatter? Please comment!
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