Tag Archives: TomL

Guest Post: Listening to Comb Stereo on Shortwave

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


Comb Stereo on Shortwave

by TomL

Comb Stereo is an old technique being implemented over shortwave by the main sound engineer (Daz) at Radio Northern Europe International (RNEI).  It ONLY works on Comb Stereo broadcasts which currently are RNEI, This Is A Music Show (WRMI), and one of the KBC broadcasts.  It works in real-time or for SDR recorded files, too.  It does NOT need a special HD/DAB+ radio.

A number of pluses for Comb Stereo on shortwave compared to digital:

“The bandwidth is the same as mono – So the SNR should be about the same as mono.

Selective fading doesn’t affect the comb bands much, so the balance is largely unaffected by selective fading notches.

The Comb Stereo artifacts are much like typical music effects of echo, chorus, fast reverb or room reflections.”

You can read about it here on Daz’ web site: homepages.ihug.com.au/~daz2002/tech/CombStereo/

You can also read Roseanna’s comment on the SLWing.com blog post: https://swling.com/blog/2020/04/rnei-now-broadcasting-in-comb-stereo/

An enhanced version is broadcast on WRMI for the RNEI time slot on Thursday morning (01:00 UTC) on 5850 kHz.  It sounds very good and is not a pseudo-stereo like in my previous article, Music on Shortwave.  For one thing, pseudo stereo is not real two-channel encoding and shifts vocals to one side, depending on which channels are chosen for high and low filters, which might get annoying after awhile.  What seems amazing to me is that I have been able apply some minor noise reduction in Audacity and the Comb Stereo stays perfectly intact.  It also still works after converting the WAV file to MP3 and sounds much like a regular FM broadcast.  Furthermore, it does not require a special patented transmitter or receiver chip.  It is compatible with regular mono transmitters.

If you want to try it, go to the RNEI web site; download and install the two files listed (VB Audio Cable and CombStereo Pedalboard x64):

https://rnei.org/stereo/

It is slightly tricky to setup and use or you will not hear anything (most Windows systems default to 48000 Hz these days).  Right-click on the lower-right taskbar Sounds settings.  Make sure to setup Properties – Advanced in both the VB-Audio Virtual Cable (Playback and Recording) and your output speakers (Playback) to 24-bit 44100 Hz processing.

Now run the app Pedalboard BAT file which corresponds to the broadcast you recorded (in this example “Start Comb Stereo for WRMI.bat”).  Set the Options – Audio Settings:

Since the VB-Audio Virtual Cable takes over your volume output, adjust the volume of your Speakers in Windows’ Sounds – Levels (or you can adjust the volume in the sound player you are using, too):

Play the mono WAV or MP3 file and you should be hearing stereo!

When you are done, close Pedalboard2 and then disable the VB-Audio Virtual Cable for Playback and Recording to get your Sounds back to normal:

I cannot demonstrate what it sounds like unless you have the VB-Audio Virtual Cable and the Comb Stereo app setup and working properly.  Here are snippets from recent RNEI broadcasts captured by my noisy porch antenna:

 

Here are links to the artists’ YouTube videos for comparison:

Kari Rueslåtten – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFN4O3YrUG4

Ani Glass – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T63QS9enT-A

What is nice is that I can create a space-saving MP3 mono file and this setup will decode the stereo when run from the computer (sounds really nice on a stereo system with a subwoofer).  Unlike digital, this analog-friendly stereo seems mostly immune to fading, has a minimum of digital artifacts, and will not go silent and “drop out” like digital does for long, annoying periods of time.  It is not perfect stereo but audio players with features like Stereo Widener or Windows Sonic for Headphones can overcome some limitations.  Perhaps content providers should consider Comb Stereo for all their shortwave radio shows since it is perfectly compatible with mono AM transmissions!

Enjoying the Music,

TomL

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TomL’s guide to making and optimizing shortwave radio SDR music recordings

An example of an AirSpy SDR# software screen.

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


Recording Music on Shortwave

by TomL

I recently became curious about the seasonal music updates posted by Alan Roe.  It is a nicely detailed list of musical offerings to be heard.  Kudos to Alan who has spent the time and effort to make it much easier to see at a glance what might be on the airwaves in an easy to read tabular format.  I do not know of any other listing specifically for shortwave music in any publication or web site.  I especially like the way it lists everything in UTC time since I might want to look for certain time slots to record.  For some listings, I would need to go outdoors away from noise to listen to certain broadcasts.  Current web page is here:  https://swling.com/blog/resources/alan-roes-guide-to-music-on-shortwave/ .

As a side note, I have also found a lot of music embedded in the middle of broadcasts that are unannounced, unattributed, and not part of a regular feature program.  That can be a treasure trove of local music you might not be able to find anywhere on the internet.  It can be worth recording a spectrum of frequencies using the capabilities of the SDR and then quickly combing through the broadcasts at two-minute intervals (most songs are three minutes or longer).  In maybe ten minutes, I will have at least identified all of the listenable music that may or may not be worth saving to a separate file.

Whether at home or outdoors, I have wanted to try to record shortwave broadcasts of music using my AirSpy HF+ but never getting around to it until now.  There is a certain learning curve to dealing with music compared to just a news summary or editorial.  I found myself wishing I could improve the fidelity of what I was hearing.  From static crashes, bad power line noise, fading signals, and adjacent channel interference, it can be quite difficult to get the full appreciation from the musical impact.

I am starting to monitor the stronger shortwave stations like WRMI, Radio Romania International, Radio Nacional do Amazonia, etc.  These type of stations can be received in a strong enough manner to get good quality recordings (at least according to shortwave listening experience).  I am also finding that I appreciate much more than before the effort that these broadcasters put into creating content/commentary to go along with the music and little pieces of background info about the music or the artist.  I have also noticed how exact some broadcasters are in timing the music into the limited time slots.  For instance, Radio Romania International tries to offer one Contemporary piece of music exactly at 14 minutes, Traditional music exactly at 30 minutes, and a Folk tune exactly at 52 minutes into the program (whether in English, French, or Spanish), with nice fade-outs if the music goes too long.

One thing I ran into was to bother checking my hearing range.  If someone has impaired hearing, it does not make much sense to create files that have a lot of sound out of one’s hearing range.  I found this YouTube video (among a bunch of others) and listened to the frequency sweep using my Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro headphones (audiophile/studio type headphones).   My hearing is approximately from 29 Hz through 14400 Hz.  Of course, the extremes fall off drastically, and as with most people, my hearing is most sensitive in the 2000 through 6000 Hz range.

Recording Workflow

Let’s assume that you already know how to record IQ files using your SDR software and can play them back (In the example below, I recorded the whole 49 meter band outputting a series of 1GB WAV files).  Then, when playing back to record to individual files, I have to choose the filters and noise reduction I want.  This gets subjective.  If I do not want to keep huge numbers of Terabytes of WAV files over time, I will want to record to individual WAV files and then delete the much larger spectrum recording.  You might tell me to just record to MP3 or WMA files because there is that option in the SDR software.  We will get into that as we go along.  For the time being,  I do not want to keep buying Terabytes of hard drives to hold onto the original spectrum recordings.

After lots of trial and error, I came up with this workflow:

  1. Record the meter band spectrum of interest using the SDR software.
  2. Record individual snippets of each broadcast in that spectrum to new individual WAV files.  This includes not lopping-off any announcer notes about the music I want to retain.  I also have to choose the bandwidth filter and any noise reduction options in the software.  Because I am not keeping Terabytes of info, this is a permanent decision.
  3. Take an individual recording and apply more processing to it.
  4. Convert the processed  recording to any number of final output formats for further consumption and/or sharing.
  5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 to take care of all the individual WAV files.

Step 4 allows me to create whatever file format I might need it to be: WAV, MP3, WMA, or even use it as background sound to a video if I so choose.  There are also different ways to create some of these files with different quality settings depending on what is needed.  I have chosen to listen to the individual WAV files for personal consumption but there may come a time to create high quality MP3 files and transfer those to a portable player I can take anywhere (or share with anyone).

The example below is a snippet from the latest Radio Northern Europe International broadcast on WRMI.  WRMI has some decent equipment and I like how clean and wide is the bandwidth of many of the music programs.  This is captured on the AirSpy HF+ using SDR Console V.3 with a user-defined 12kHz filter (11kHz also seemed somewhat similar sounding).

If you click on the ellipses, you can Copy an existing filter, type in a new title and change the bandwidth.  I also played around with the different Windowing types and found that I like the Blackman-Harris (7) type best for music and the Hann type for smooth speech rendering (the Kaiser-Bessel types can also have more “punch” for voice recordings).  Click OK TWICE to save the changes.

I also use Slow AGC and the SAM (Sync with both sidebands) to reduce the chance of distortion as the signal fades.  I found that trying to use only one sideband while in Sync mode would make the reception open to loss of Sync with the musical notes warbling and varying all over the place!

Noise Reduction

The SDR Console software has a number of noise reduction choices.   I tried NR1 through 4 and found the smoothest response to music to be NR1 with no more than 3 dB reduction.  More than this seemed to muffle the musical notes, especially acoustic instruments and higher pitched voices. Part of the problem has to do with trying to preserve the crispness of the articulation of the sound and combating shortwave noise at the same time.  At this time, I have chosen NOT to use any NR mode.  More about noise reduction below.

Generic MP3 sounds really bland to my ears, so creating higher quality files will be important to me.  I have been using Audacity which can apply processing and special effects to WAV files and export to any number of file formats.  WAV files are a wonderful thing.  It is a “lossless” file format which means that every single “bit” of computer input is captured and preserved in the file depending on the resolution of the recording device.  This allows one to create any number of those “lossy” output formats or even another WAV file with special effects added.  You can get it here:

https://www.audacityteam.org

One special effect is listed as “Noise Reduction”.  I literally stumbled upon it while reading something else about Audacity (manual link).  Here is how I use it for a shortwave broadcast.  Open the original spectrum recording (in this example the 49m band).  Tune about 25kHz away from the broadcast that was just recorded.  Remember, my hearing extends at least to 14.4k plus there is still the pesky issue of sideband splatter of bandwidth filters.  The old time ceramic and mechanical filters use to spec something called “skirt selectivity” -60db or more down from the center frequency.  This is still an issue with DSP filters even though they SAY they are measured down to -140dB; I can still hear a raspy sideband splatter from strong stations!

Find the same time frame that you recorded the broadcast and make sure it is the same bandwidth filter, AGC, and any noise reduction used.  Now record one minute of empty noise to a WAV file.  Fortunately on 5850 kHz, WRMI has no adjacent interference.

Now in Audacity, open the noise sample and listen for a 5 to 10 second space to copy that is relatively uniform in noise.  We don’t want much beyond that and we don’t really want noise spikes.  The object is to reduce background noise. In this case, I chose Start 39 seconds and End 44 seconds.  Choose Edit – Copy (or CTRL-C).

Choose File Open and find the broadcast WAV file in question.  Now click on the end-of-file arrow or manually type in the Audio Position (in this example 1 minute 15 seconds).  Now Paste (or CTRL-V) the 5 seconds of noise to the end of the broadcast file.  Now, while the pasted noise is still highlighted, go immediately to Effect – Noise Reduction and choose the button Get Noise Profile.  It will blink quickly to read the highlighted 5 seconds of noise and disappear.

Now select all with CTRL-A and the whole file is selected.  Go immediately to Effect – Noise Reduction and choose the parameters in “Step 2”.  Through some trial and error, I found 3db reduction has a noticeable effect without compromising the music.  I have used up to 5 db for some music recorded with narrower bandwidths.  Higher levels of noise reduction seemed to create an artificial flatness that was disturbing to me.  I also use a Sensitivity of 0.50 and Frequency smoothing of 0.  You can choose the Preview button while the Residue circle is checked to actually hear the noise being eliminated.  Press OK in order to process the noise reduction.  You should now see the waveform change slightly as the noise is filtered.  In a nutshell, I find this to be a better noise reduction than using 3db of NR1 in the SDR Console software.  Don’t forget to snip off those 5 seconds of noise before saving the file.

Pseudo Stereo

The SDR Console software has an Option for Pseudo Stereo (for playback only) and it can be useful for Amateur Radio receiving, especially in noisy band conditions when one is straining to hear the other person’s call sign and location.  There is a way in Audacity to add a fake kind of stereo effect to mono audio files.  I found a useful YouTube video that explained it very clearly.

I  do everything listed there except for the Reverb effect.  I find that too fake for my tastes.

I found the added 10ms of Delay on the right channel to be a little too much, so I use 9ms.

My High Pass filter settings are 80 Hz and 24dB/octave.  This is based partly on my hearing preferences as well as established industry standards.  There was a lot of science and audio engineering that went into creating the THX home theater crossover standard.  There is also science that says that anything below 200 Hz is omnidirectional.  The suggested 48dB/octave is too steep in my opinion.

My Low Pass filter settings are more squishy.  The YouTube video suggests 8000 Hz and 6dB/octave.  I feel that is too gentle a rolloff into the upper midrange.  I use 9000 Hz at 12dB/octave for very strong, high quality shortwave broadcasters like WRMI. For more constrained quality broadcasts, like due to limited bandwidth (Cuban broadcasters) or adjacent channel interference, I will decrease down to 8000 or 7000 Hz but still use a 12dB/octave rolloff.  This is subjective but it also means I am making a conscious decision to add that processing to the recording for future listening.

MP3 Quality

Typical MP3 files are a Constant Bit Rate of 128k.  Some interviews and voice-only podcasts are only 64k.  This is adequate but for recording detail in the music I prefer higher quality settings.  Frankly, with these days of 4G cell phone service and Unlimited Data minutes on cell phone plans, there is NO good reason to limit MP3 files to just adequate quality levels.  The typical MP3 file sounds limited in frequency range (muffled sounding) to me and very lacking in dynamic range (narrow amplitude).  This would include limits on stereo files which are about twice the file size of mono files.

I have tried creating WMA files and I actually like the quality a little better than high quality MP3 files.  The WMA files seem slightly more “airy” and defined to my ears.  But it is a proprietary format from Microsoft and not all web sites or devices will easily play them.  They are also a fixed standard and one cannot easily change the quality settings if forced to use a lower quality rendering.

There are many web sites talking about MP3 files, but I found this blog post helpful in summarizing in one paragraph the higher quality settings for a nice MP3 recording using VBR-ABR mode.

https://technical-tips.com/blog/software/mp3-encoding-right–1334

One Minute Samples

So finally for my examples.  Since most web sites still prefer MP3 files, I have created these using that  blog post’s suggestions.  Typically this is Min bitrate=32, Max bitrate=224, VBR quality=9, and Quality=High (Q=2).  Let’s see if you can hear the differences.  It would be much easier to hear if we were listening to WAV files, but those are way too big to post on this web site!  The software I used is Xmedia Recode and I find it easy to use.

https://www.majorgeeks.com/files/details/xmedia_recode.html


Example 1: No noise reduction in SDR Console, no further processing


Example 2: 3dB of NR1 in SDR Console, no further processing


Example 3: No noise reduction in SDR Console, Audacity Noise Reduction of 3dB


Example 4: No noise reduction in SDR Console, Audacity Noise Reduction applied 3 times (3db,0.33+2db,0.50+1db,0.80)


Example 5: No noise reduction in SDR Console, Audacity Noise Reduction applied 3 times (3db,0.33+2db,0.50+1db,0.80), Pseudo Stereo added


I would love to hear comments since I am new to recording music on shortwave and any further tips/tricks would be fun to learn.  Enjoy the music!

TomL

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Guest Post: Indoor Noise and Ferrites, Part1

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


Indoor Noise and Ferrites, Part 1

by TomL

My magnet wire loop antenna on the porch reminded me to revisit aspects about my noisy Condo that I still needed to understand.  Some RF noise I could control if I could find the right kind of information that is understandable to a non-engineer like me.  There is a lot written about the general problem of noise and radio listening, for instance this ARRL article with web links to research – www.arrl.org/radio-frequency-interference-rfi, but I needed to get more specific about my particular environment.

I had tried some common clamp-on TDK ferrites I had obtained from eBay a long time ago but they only seemed to work a little bit.  I have since found out these are probably the ones which are widely used on home stereo system connections used to reduce noise on those systems.  There must be a better way.

The more I researched topics, like a portable “Loop on Ground” antenna, or, using RF chokes on the magnet wire loop, it dawned on my feeble, misguided brain that I was wrongly thinking about how to use ferrite material.  For one thing, the material used to suppress RF noise is made with a certain “mix” of elements, like Manganese-Zinc, that electrically “resists” a specified frequency range.  Fair-Rite has a useful Material Data Sheets web page which lists the Types of ferrite material.  For dealing with noise (at the Source causing the problem), I needed to use the right kind of “Suppression” materials and proper placement.  So, it (partly) made sense why the TDK snap-on ferrites might not fully work to reduce certain noise coming from my computer screens, LED lights, USB devices, and cheap Chinese-made power adapters.

A very good  paper is by Jim Brown (K9YC) of Audio Systems Group entitled, “Understanding How Ferrites Can Prevent and Eliminate RF Interference to Audio Systems [PDF]”.  There is a longer paper speaking directly to Amateur Radio folks, but the Audio version is simpler and it uses some of the same  graphs and ideas.  I was drawn to the very detailed Impedance measurements of many different “Types” of ferrite material used for different noise mitigation.  I remember the traumatic pain of my college experience trying mightily to understand the Van Vlack Materials Science text book to no avail.  But Jim’s paper reminded me of the importance of using the correct type of ferrite material and in an optimal way that reacts favorably in the target frequency range to solve a particular noise problem.  So, what are my problem areas?

Shortwave Noise

Loop antennas have been what I have experimented with the most.  They do not pick up as much man-made noise (QRM) and they have a space saving footprint.  Fortunately, there is a wooden porch where these things have been tried.  I had successfully built a broadband amplified “ferrite sleeve loop” (FSL) in the past.  It was useful for a while but it fell into disrepair and also the Condo building has steadily increased in noise output.  The amplifier was just amplifying the noise after a while.  I also tried phasing two antennas but found the ever increasing noise cloud was coming from all directions and I could not null it out.  I even tried a “mini-whip” from eBay but that just produced a wall of noise.

I recently tested AirSpy’s YouLoop written about before, and the results were good.  However, it seemed obvious to me that it was too small as a passive loop to capture shortwave signals strongly enough without resorting to another amplifier attached at the antenna and would not improve the signal/noise ratio.  My current solution is a unamplified stealth magnet wire loop about 32 feet in circumference.  In that article, I mention things like common mode RF chokes at both ends of the antenna connection, horizontal polarization, and basically accepting that only the stronger shortwave signals will be received in a predictable manner.  I think for now, this is about all I can do for shortwave and mediumwave noise, as far as my own Condo-generated noise. Neighborhood noise is a different topic.

VHF Noise

I then started to isolate which devices caused which kind of noise when listening to my outside amplified antennas for FM/VHF and UHF-TV transmissions.  Many consumer Power adapters make a lot of noise from VLF up into UHF ranges.  One thing I did right was to try a 10 pack of these little miracle “Wall Wart” toroids from Palomar Engineers.  One by one, I put one of these small toroids (19mm inside diameter) on my home AC adapters as shown in the pictures, and the noises started disappearing.  It does not explicitly say, but I believe it is Type 75 material which suppresses the noise generating AC adapter (at very low frequencies) when wrapped 8 – 12 times.

Most egregious of these was my CCrane FM2 transmitter.  A strangled warbling sound kept emanating from the monitor closest to my laptop. Installing ferrites on the laptop and back of the monitor were not working.  I moved the FM Transmitter and noticed a reduction in noise.  So, I put one of these little toroids on the power input of the device and the noise disappeared.  Apparently, it was picking up noise from the monitor (as well as its own power adapter) and rebroadcasting it to all my other radios!  The strangled warbler is no more, I choked it (HaHa, sick bird joke).

While looking for the monitor noise, I put the eBay TDK ferrites on all the USB ports and HDMI ports.  This has helped greatly on VHF and confirms my suspicion that these cheap TDK ferrites are indeed a common type of ferrite material.  Some informative graphs can be seen in Jim Brown’s Audio paper mentioned before.  One example might be Figure 22, which shows the #61 Series Resistance which peaks around 100 MHz when using a toroid with three “Turns”.  More confused, I could not find a definition of a “Turn”.  Eventually, in his longer paper to Amateur Radio operators, he defines it, “…is one more than the number of turns external to the cores”.  Somewhere else he describes using many single snap-on ferrites being electrically equal to just one toroidal ferrite with multiple Turns.  And interestingly, more Turns shifts the peak impedance substantially lower in frequency.  So, using the graphs he supplies, one can target a noisy frequency range to try to suppress.

I then put 6 of the TDK ferrites on the VHF input to the AirSpy HF+.  Some FM grunge was reduced and was thankful for that.  The rest of the background noise truly seems to be coming from the outside picked up by the amplified antenna.

Also, I juggled a couple of the amplifiers around and now have separate VHF/FM and UHF/TV amplifiers which cleaned up the FM reception a little bit more – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkDsy95et2w .

UHF TV Quality

On a whim, I put the balance of the TDK ferrites on the FM/TV splitter input cable, 10 in all.  The FM reception did not improve but the Over The Air UHF TV reception Quality improved noticeably.  My weakest TV station now has a stable Signal level and the Quality is pegged at 100%.  This is a nice surprise since it means that now all local TV stations on UHF will come in cleanly without dropouts and I can view all digital subchannels.  I was even able to rescan and added two more low-power stations never seen before. ?

LED lights

I have common LED lights hanging over a number of fish tanks and some grow lights over an indoor plant box and can hear this noise on upper shortwave and higher radio bands.  In a future article, I will explore RF noise from lights as its own special topic. For instance, why do some LED lights generate RFI and how to know before buying (I am using BR30 spot bulbs from name brands)?  Also, there is a new kind of LED “filament” light out now that uses much smaller LED’s on both sides of an aluminum strip, greatly reducing electromagnetic noise output (or do they??).  More questions than answers.

I will explore creating my own customized AC power cord attached to the AC power strips of the LED lights.  I will need to test this for safety and efficacy, so I will want to take some time to do this right.  The hope is that, using Jim’s info, I will be able to create a broad spectrum RFI suppression AC power cord and cost less than $30 each cord.  We’ll see.

Finally, I will look at “stacked” toroids using different mixes of ferrite Types, creating a custom RF suppression better than using just one Type of ferrite material, using AC cords as the main examples. For instance, the best set of graphs in Jim’s paper, in my opinion, are Figures 21 and 24 compared to each other.  Something I did not know before is that one can not only use multiple turns on a single toroid to get a lower, peaked frequency response, but also stack multiple toroids of the same Type to get a smoother frequency response.  Then on top of this, combine that set with other Types to create a customized frequency response curve.

Radios are quieter now.  Those pesky grow lights are still a problem as well as the upstairs neighbor’s lights which seem to be on a timer, making FM reception noisy again after 5pm!

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Build an affordable (but stealthy) Magnet Wire Vertical Loop antenna to mitigate condo QRM

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


Magnet Wire Vertical Loop Antenna

by TomL

For those of you in a noisy condo like me, the environment does not give me many options.  I was experimenting with a YouLoop on the wooden porch with somewhat acceptable results.  For its size, it is an excellent performer, especially on the lower bands.  Here is a very interesting review of the YouLoop, including close-up pictures of the innards of the phase inverter and 1:1 balun, by John S. Huggins.  However, it is not waterproof and I was concerned about the ice and snow ruining it.  I could tape up the connectors with waterproof tape but I also wanted  something with a bigger capture area.  A magnet wire stealth antenna might be just the thing!

I just happened to have a waterproof 1:1 ATU balun from Balun Designs that I was going to use for future Amateur Radio use whenever I get around to passing the next level test; it is total overkill for what I intended to use it for.  It would make a good connection point and (this one) also acts as an RF choke as well.  One can make a 1:1 balun by buying the right Type of ferrite core and winding it yourself.  Here is just one idea from Palomar Engineers.

So I dusted it off, went to a local store to get a 100 foot spool of 26 gauge magnet wire and tested it strung up around my living room. It came out to be a rectangle about 42 feet in circumference.  Results were usable. I expected lots of noise and there is a great deal across the bands, so only the strongest shortwave stations were received. However, I was surprised by how strong the mediumwave band was and good to listen to without an amplifier.

I am ambivalent towards trying to perfectly match the impedance since this is a broadband receive-only antenna and the impedance will vary greatly over MW and SW bands.  And I don’t want to mess with a remotely controlled tuned loop since this antenna was destined for the outdoor porch.  I tried a Cross Country Wireless preselector at my desk but had some mixed results.  I later found out, by disconnecting things in series, that the preselector inline raised the noise level about 5 dBm, so I took it out for now. Perhaps it needs more internal shielding or the connecting cable is bad.

Polarization is an issue, too.  I have read that most man-made noise (QRM) is vertically polarized, so why would I use a vertically oriented loop?  Then I saw David Casler’s video on loop antennas where he explains that connecting a vertical loop antenna at the bottom or the top makes it horizontally polarized (connecting the coax on the side makes it vertically polarized).  I never knew that!  Horizontal polarization will mitigate some of the offending QRM as well as match the polarization of mediumwave band transmitters.  Furthermore, I read that a horizontal loop will have poor signal pickup at low frequencies because it is not high enough off the ground, similar to a horizontal dipole. For now, a vertical loop connected to facilitate horizontal polarization is what I want.

A note about wire size. People make a big deal about it but those are mostly amateur radio people.  Transmission depends on efficiency so things like wire size, skin effect, standing waves, and other things matter (see here, for example).  With a receive-only antenna it is OK to use very thin wire.  Resonance can matter if you want the last ounce of signal strength with an antenna tuner, like in high-Q type loops where the bandwidth is very narrow and you are using a multi-turn loop with variable capacitor and a pick-up coil of wire to the receiver.  Comparatively, my simple loop is depending more on a single turn of wire, the aperture size, length of wire for its performance, and carefully isolating the feedline coax using RF chokes at both ends.

Here is one example of a strong station from Cuba I was able to record because WLW was off the air for some unexpected reason.

Radio Reloj, Cuba 870 kHz (At the end, you can hear WLW come back online with CBS news):

Side note about Radio Reloj on Wikipedia, the strange format seems to fit well with a totalitarian regime, including a “corrector” who “corrects the content/writing errors to meet the requirements”.  Read the wiki link for yourself.  Not a society I want to live in, thank you very much!

Example of 80 meter band performance – Greetings to a new person from members of the “Awful, Awful, Ugly Net”, 3855 kHz:

Encouraged by the results, I “installed” the magnet wire around the support beams of the wooden porch, wrapping it carefully to create a square loop. Holding it in place is a brick at each bottom corner since I am not allowed to nail anything into the Association-owned porch.  The length came out to about 32 feet (8 feet per side), so I trimmed it and connected to the balun.  I also added an RF choke at the Airspy HF+ input from Palomar Engineers which helped bring noise down a couple of S-units.   That might not sound like a lot but by also shutting off the living room air filter and an AC switch with “wall-wart” AC power adapters on it, I was able to reduce the noise a little bit more.  There is still a lot of noise from the neighbors, so it is not a perfect situation.

Here are two examples of reception with the outside installation.

Gateway 160 Meter Radio Newsletter, broadcast (in AM) by WA0RCR every Saturday on 1860 kHz:

Side note about the Radio Newsletter.  I stumbled on it when using the YouLoop and found that some of the content is very interesting and informative.  Of course it is geared mostly towards amateur radio but some of the news items are of general radio interest as well. It airs 1pm Saturday through 2am Sunday, USA Central Time.  Obviously, many segments repeat during that lengthy timeframe and reception depends on propagation from Missouri.

KDDR 1220 kHz, West Fargo, ND station ID (presumably “nighttime” power of 327 watts):

The shortwave bands are still a noisy disaster but signal levels are higher compared to the YouLoop.  Only the strongest stations come in like WRMI, WHRI, Radio Espana, Radio Habana, and CRI. And I can hear the loudest amateur radio operators.

Just for grins, here is Radio Rebelde on 5025 kHz when band conditions were above average:

Another phenomenon I am looking into is the reception pattern of a vertical loop.  Less than 1/10th wavelength, the null is through the center of the loop.  At one wavelength, the null manifests in the plane of the wire loop.  They are too close to phase them but switching between two directional loop antennas might improve reception depending on frequency.  We shall see in the future.

At least for now, I have a decent mediumwave band which performs better than the useful CCrane Twin-Ferrite amplified loop antenna that was used in the (noisy) indoors, I can hear the 160 & 80 meter amateur bands better, and the reception of the strongest shortwave broadcasters are more predictable.  Not bad for four dollars of wire!


Brilliant, Tom! Again, I love how you’ve not only made an inexpensive antenna, but you’ve even done it within your HOA regulations. You’re right, too: if you’re not transmitting into an antenna, it blows the experimentation door wide open! Thank you once again for sharing your project with us.

Click here to check out all of Tom’s guest posts and portable adventures!

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Loop-On-Ground Antenna Part 2: Tom upgrades his low profile, low noise, portable DXing antenna

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


Loop on Ground Part 2

by TomL

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:

https://forums.radioreference.com/threads/160-20m-log-loop-on-ground.370110/

nanZor basically boils it down to a few guidelines.

  1. Keep it on the ground. Lifting the wire more than an inch or two decreased the lower angle signal reception greatly.
  2. 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”.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

US Air Force HFGCS “numbers” station. Remote controlled from Andrews or Grand Forks bases (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Frequency_Global_Communications_System), there was no way for me to know which of the 6 transmitters it was coming from:

BBC from Tinang Philippines in Korean:

Then, as nanZor suggested in his postings, I purchased a 9:1 balun/RF choke (it has both a balun and an RF choke built-in) from Ham Radio Outlet and put that in place of the Wellbrook amplifier.

I have not worked with it, but it is reported that the Nooelec.com v2 model is cheaper and works just as well – https://swling.com/blog/2019/10/the-nooelec-balun-19-v2/

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?).

TomL


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! 

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Video: Physicist reminisces about Arecibo Radio Telescope

Arecibo Observatory’s 305-meter telescope in November 2020 (Credit: University of Central Florida)

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

I came across this youtube video about a physicist who worked there in his early years and gives this tribute to his time there. Maybe some others would like to see it too:

Amazing! Thank you, Tom!

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Tom builds a portable Loop-On-Ground antenna

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


My First Loop-On-Ground antenna

A number of people have mentioned the Loop On Ground (LOG) antenna in the past as a good receive-only antenna.  I did some research but could only find a few examples by amateur radio operators.

Matt Roberts (KK5JY) has a good article including some antenna theory and measurements, you can find it here:

http://www.kk5jy.net/LoG/ 

Someone named Tom (KG3V) has a write up on it but it is a little short on details:

https://kg3v.com/2020/01/04/loop-on-ground-the-simplest-receive-antenna-you-will-ever-build-and-it-works/

Stana Horzepa (WA1LOU) has something similar:

https://tapr.org/loop-on-ground-log-antenna/

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

00:07 UTC, Radio Rebelde (Spanish w/clear signal, Bauta, Cuba) 5025 kHz

00:15 UTC, 75 meter Amateur Radio 3913 kHz (LSB)

00:27 UTC, CHU Ottawa 3330 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!

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