Tag Archives: TomL

Guest Post: Tom’s Backpack Shack 3.0

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


Backpack Shack 3 – Amplified Whip Antenna

by TomL

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

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

Power

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

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

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

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

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

Antenna

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

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

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

Test Locations

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

Meeting a local Porcupine

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

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

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

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

Happy Listening,

TomL

Parts List


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

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

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

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

Click here to read Backpack Shack 3 – Part 2.

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Tom notes $14.99 closeout pricing on Sennheiser MM 50 iP ear buds

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

Just a quick note to allow SWLing blog readers to check out a nice pair of lightweight ear buds to use for listening for only $14.99.

I found these on Amazon from a Marketplace seller getting rid of discontinued stock. They are headsets for iPhone but seem to work just fine in any radio I plugged them into. The voice quality is very slightly on the bright side, which seems to help with hearing voice, especially if you have chosen a narrower bandwidth. There is good bass response, perhaps too much for shortwave listening but one can easily just unseat each ear bud from your ear canal slightly until the excess bass is gone.

Most bad ratings are of people too impatient to notice that the right ear cable is longer than the left for a very good reason. The right side drapes around the back of your neck to help hold the ear buds in place and you plug it into your ear from behind. This is by design and it works well without having to clip it to anything like a moving shirt collar! Great idea, wish other manufacturers would do the same.

They are comfortable to wear for long times. Just used them over the long weekend for a couple hours at a time and never noticed them. They use Sennheiser’s rubbery and removable ear cups that come is three sizes. I left the Mediums on but the Small and Large are in the package if you want to experiment.

I have also used them to listen to radio reviews on YouTube and hear great depth and separation in the video depending on what kind of video recorder the reviewer used and can really hear what the radio sounds like. Very nice.

Finally, in a pinch, you can use these on your smartphone as a backup headset. The mic input hangs right below the left of your jaw.

Get them while they still have stock. There are white and black versions but no choice allowed. I ordered two (I keep misplacing my CX-475 Sennheiser ear buds!!!) and they are both the black version, which is fine by me. Enjoy!

Click here to view on Amazon.com (affiliate link).

Thank you TomL! I just purchased a pair. I use in-ear headphones every day. I use them to listen to the radio, to podcasts, and as hearing protection when I’m operating my lawn mower, chain saw and trimmer. (When using them with equipment, though, I tuck the cord underneath my shirt so no wires hang out to get snagged).

I keep a spare set of in-ear headphones in my EDC pouch.

I always have a pair in both my right pocket and in a pouch in my EDC bag.  The ones in my EDC bag are Panasonic Ergofits and aren’t quite as good at sound isolation, but have decent audio and are very comfortable to wear while sleeping.

I’m looking forward to checking out the Sennheisers!  Thanks for the tip!

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Backpack Shack 2.0: an update from the field

Finished Backpack Loop 2.0 and accessories assembled together

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, TomL, who shares the following update about his homebrew Backpack Shack 2.0 portable loop antenna:


Quick Field update

by Tom Lebryk

This is just a quick Field Update for my Backpack Shack 2.0 antenna. It is not the most powerful antenna but in the right location it can be useful, especially with using an SDR. It was used during February in two Forest Preserve (County Park) locations outdoors and once from my usual Grocery Store parking lot!

Field Recordings

Please excuse some of the computer generated noises (caused by a slow CPU) as well as some audio connector problems on a couple of recordings.

Each Time is in UTC and Frequency in kHz. Where can you hear unique programming like these samples except Shortwave Radio??? Enjoy!

VOA, @03:00 on 6080 kHz in English from Sao Tome towards Africa (backside of their antenna, opposite of my location)

China Radio Int’l, @23:00 on 9415 kHz in Vietnamese from Beijing (not sure if this traveled around Antarctica to get to me or a backside of their antenna over the North Pole?)

WHR, @15:59 on 9965 kHz in Korean from T8WH Palau

Mighty KBC, @01:48 on 6150 kHz in English from Nauen Germany (announcer sound effects included!)

Voice of Greece, @20:34 on 9420 kHz in Greek from Avlis (unique stylized Greek music, INTERESTING artistic expression)

Vatican Radio, @20:27 on 9660 kHz in English from Vatican City to Africa

WINB, @21:30 on 9610 kHz in English from Red Lion, PA USA (a FUN song about promoting Radio listening!)

And my favorite Government-run authentic folk music station of Mexico, tiny 1KW XEPPM @04:17 on 6185 kHz with clear station ID

I will be working on a larger version of this antenna to transport in my car as well as a small VHF loop antenna for the outside deck for Air/Police/Weather scanning.

Hope to report sometime this Spring.


Thank you so much for the update, Tom! It looks to me like you’re having an amazing time with you homebrew loop in the field! 

As always, keep us in the loop! (Yeah…bad pun, I know!)

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Video: CME’s and Solar Energetic Particles

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

Regarding the last couple of posts recently about what affects Space Weather (and HF radio communications), this talk last week from Solar scientist Joan Burkepile of the High Altitude Observatory discusses what causes Radiation storms from Coronal Mass Ejections. She makes it interesting from a physics point of view. And as we understand the sun better, we also learn more about how the rest of the universe behaves.

Click here to watch via YouTube.

Thanks for sharing this, Tom!

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Guest Post: Backpack Shack 2.0 – a homebrew wideband magnetic loop antenna

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


Backpack Shack 2.0

by Tom Lebryk

Like Audiophile speakers, it could be said that “antennas are forever”.  They tend to not become obsolete like all of our favorite electronic gear (a good one is worth the trouble).  And antennas don’t care if the signals are digital or analog formats.  They are “Digital Ready” (LOL)!

The flimsy “Backpack Shack” prototype broadband loop antenna created over a year ago had found a permanent home on the porch for general listening.  I started itching to make a new one that was even more portable.  To paraphrase an old saying, “The best antenna is the one you have with you!”

The new design criteria were:

  • Retain the broadband design of the amplified loop on a sturdy form
  • Shrink the size to fit into a backpack without heavy stand or long pole
  • Build a modular platform that would allow quick setup
  • Be something durable that can last me 20+ years of use
  • Allow the loop to be rotated and tilted by hand
  • Be easy to hook up to any kind of radio
  • and later on, Enhance the design as a true Ferrite Sleeve Loop

The Backpack:  The existing photo backpack was slightly too bulky.  Found on Amazon was an Adidas Excel II XXL backpack on special sale with plenty of tall compartments and minimal padding. It is surprisingly roomy and comfortable to wear with springy shoulder straps and padded mesh backside!

Sturdy Basic Form:  The Backpack Shack loop was originally built on 14-inch quilters loops (three of them) in a parallel configuration.  I thought to simplify the whole thing and just use one wide loop.  But what should I use for a sturdy form?  The quilters loops were too flimsy and PVC pipe was too heavy.  I stumbled upon a nice company called FlexPVC which allows sales to the public of various kinds of PVC pipe.  Their Thinwalled Air Duct PVC looked promising.  It is thinner than regular PVC but having standard inside dimensions and comes in custom-cut lengths.  I decided 10-inch diameter would fit best inside the Backpack.  FlexPVC even sends you a small booklet of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights with your order!  🙂

Thinwalled PVC form

The “length” as they call it would be my form width for the copper strip.  I thought 3-inch would be nice but decided 4-inch was better.  Supposedly, the aperture + the width of the “radiant element” is the main design consideration for loop performance.  So, I figured that as wide an element as I could get away with was better.

Stable Mounting:  Now, how to mount this thing!  I eventually went back to my photographic web links and found nice rig equipment for video cameras.  The typical construct is made of 15mm tubes of aluminum or carbon fiber (CF) and fit into adapters that allow attachment to other adapters or clamps.  Non-metallic CF seemed ideal, so, I ordered a whole bunch of items from eBay to experiment piecing together two 10-inch CF tubes mounted inside the PVC form. Then, I attached two 15-inch CF tubes to the bottom of the PVC with something called a “Cheese Rod” that has multiple holes.  Those two tubes are attached to another “Cheese Bar” which is attached to a second Cheese Bar on a cheap two-axis tripod head.  This is a simpler photo version with quick release plate that locks pan-tilt separately and only cost $16.

Cheese Rod attached to bottom of PVC

Pan-tilt head assembly with Quick Release plate

For the base, I had an unused Sirui T-2005X 5-Section Aluminum Travel Tripod going to waste, so it was pressed into service. Very good tripod: can hold 26 lbs. (forged aluminum, not cast aluminum), legs can flare out for stability, and folds to 14.5-inches.  Now, everything could come apart and fit into the Excel II Backpack!

Critically, the video rig standardization in the DSLR industry allows me to pick and choose parts from any cheap manufacturer but end up with a system that looks and feels coherent, is both sturdy and light, and can come apart if needed.  Also, the pan-tilt photo head is really easy to work to get maximum peak or null out of the loop when mounted to a camera tripod.

CF Problem:  CF tubes have no internal threads like that of  aluminum tubes.  So, I attached two, small 3/8-1/4 inch tripod adapters to the ends of a 3/8-inch oak dowel inside each CF tube destined for the inside of the PVC (ridiculously, I used up almost a whole bottle of super glue to get these 4 tiny pieces to attach to the oak dowels).  This is definitely a weakness of my design but I could not figure out any other way to get the CF to mount inside the PVC form.  Then, added to this is something wonderful I found at Ace Hardware called “speed nuts” to help push ipwards against the incoming stainless steel socket head screws of exact length. With jam nuts, internal lock washers, wing nuts, and strategic use of Thread Locker Blue, I finally had enough confidence that this thing would hold together!!

Speed Nuts pushing upward against incoming screws

Super-glued 3/8-1/4 inch adapter on end of oak dowel inside CF tube

Bottom assembly (Cheese Rod, Cheese Bar, and 15mm Clamp screwed together + wires to a BNC connector)

Ferrite Sleeve Loop:  Halfway through this project, I became determined to use the ferrite bars and rods I had purchased from eBay mid-summer 2017 to turn this antenna into a real Ferrite Sleeve Loop but with a broadband design (At that time, I ended up purchasing the very last quantities of 62x12x4mm ferrite bars from the Lithuanian eBay seller, just because they were becoming scarce plus some other 8mm ferrite rods).  The Thinwalled PVC is 5mm thick, perfect for this type of application.  The video equipment could handle the extra weight.  I had just enough ferrites to line the inside of this PVC form with two bars side-by-side all the way around the inside (plus some shorter ferrite rods at the top and bottom).  Some quick setting JB WELD Kwik Weld epoxy made quick (and permanent) attachment of these ferrites to the inside of the PVC.  Now, the bars stick out from the PVC form by about ½-inch on each side, so I do have to be careful it does not get abused and chip off any of the exposed ferrite.

Soviet ferrite bars and rods, 400 ui (initial permeability).

Note: Using Gary DeBock’s Performance estimate (diameter * length), this calculation predicts that this FSL 10.75-inch loop should perform similarly to Gary’s 10-inch models using 140mm long Russian ferrite bars (mine probably performs less than his since I am not using carefully tuned (to Mediumwave) litz wire on higher permeability 1500 ui ferrites like he does).

See:  Summary of Gary DeBock Ferrite Sleeve Loop designs

But, “*WHY* do FSL antennas work?!?!” is still the very intriguing question….   🙂

See:  Graham Maynard report on Ferrite Sleeve Loop antennas

Preamplifier:  I believe one advantage of building a portable, table-top loop antenna like this is that all the connections are short.  This allows me to use a Preamp right at the connection point of the loop. Indeed, this was critical since passive testing (no Preamp, nor ferrites) found that this loop is somewhat deaf at the MW frequencies and uninspiring on the SW bands. This was true even when connected to Antenna A of my SDRPlay RSP-2 and the internal Low Noise Amp cranked all the way up.  So, I ordered the DX Engineering RPA-2 Preamp. This adds to the weight somewhat since I also needed a 12V battery supply using a 10-cell holder of NiMH AA batteries and 2.1mm plug.

See:  Short discussion about Preamp placement to antenna

The question arises that I “should” impedence-match the output of the loop before anything else to  increase “maximum gain”.  Well, for one thing, a tuner or matching balun would just introduce loss as soon as the wire comes out at the base of the antenna. The slight net increase in gain does not seem worth it; the signal/noise ratio rarely changes when introducing a device that is meant specifically for matching a transmitter to a load.  Receiver circuits don’t care as long as there is enough signal to process.  That is what the Preamp is for.  The Preselector is for rejecting out-of-band (i.e., increasing signal/noise ratio + eliminate overloading the electronics).

See:  Good discussion why antenna tuners don’t matter

Preselector:  Now that the signal level was satisfactory, I added on the Cross Country Preselector, which I like very much since it is passive, lightweight, and well made.  I had looked at other amplified preselectors but found the schematics showing the preselector came first in the path.  I needed the preamp first, so that is how I ended up with separate units.  In fact, the reverse configuration performs with worse signal/noise ratio because of the loss inherent in the preselector.  In this case, it is definitely needed to amp the loop first with a high quality preamp (high IP3 rating)!

Automatic Bypass:  The Cross Country unit has a great feature in the “off” position as an automatic bypass.  This feature is very important since I do not need a Preselector in the circuit all the time.  The bypass feature also allows the RSP-2 to monitor a large swath of spectrum without having the Preselector cut the bandwidth.  The DX Engineering RPA-2 Preamp also has a circuit bypass when the power is off – very nice feature!  So, I can keep all the antenna wires connected if I don’t want to use either device on a certain band – necessary for my broadband antenna design and use with an SDR.

Modular Portability:  Another advantage of a table top loop is portability.  Because of the modular design, I can put this into checked baggage (except for the AA batteries and laptop) and have it available for DXing in unexpected places.  It could be useful when traveling and I cannot string wire into a tree but want something better than a whip antenna on a small radio.  Everything fits into the bag and can be setup on a balcony, inside a car with a sunroof, or on a park picnic table.

A third advantage is that a short antenna could be clamped to one of the tubes and then connected directly to Antenna B of the RSP-2 for listening to higher frequencies (like a Comet W100RX). This expands the usefulness of this project as a platform for multiple antennas!

Finished Loop and accessories assembled together

Performance:  Good on MW and very good on Shortwave.  It is not in the league of Wellbrook antennas but it is useful as long as the RSP-2 LNA is kept down around  -7 on MW and -4 on SW, else it overloads.  The photo gear makes it easier to use than the original loop.  I found that one side has a slightly larger receiving lobe than the other which is OK in practice.  The null is very sharp and takes a little finesse to null out an offending station by almost 20 dB on MW and 15 dB on SW (the photo head can lock in place).  It is handy to have the pan-tilt arm point directly at a station to maximize the null since the arm is mounted perpendicular to the loop.  I will look for a clear plastic bag to cover the antenna and electronics to use in wet environments.

A larger loop would work better but this one is to use wherever I can.  Also, my work laptop is noisey and shows birdies and spikes here and there on the bands, so I added a large ferrite bead to the USB computer end which helps.  But I don’t have to use an SDR, I just have to change a connector and radio.  It was expensive and fun to build – I guess I am just LOOPY!

Happy Listening,

Tom Lebryk

Appendix I, Field Recordings 27-Jan. 2018 between 21.26-22.36 UTC:

Note 1:  All Transmitter locations referenced from web site short-wave.info at time of recordings

Note 2: My location in a shelter at Dick Young Forest Preserve (41.84334, -88.38133)

Note 3: Moderate but declining solar wind with no flares, Kp Index = Calm (1)

9.420 MHzVoice of Greece booming in like it was next door:

9.640 MHzChina Radio International (weakly) in Spanish from Kashi-Salibah western China:

9.620 MHzHCA, Kununurra Australia beamed at Korea:

9.395 MHzWRMI booming in:

9.445 MHzAll India Radio clear as a bell, quite nice to hear!

9.490 MHzKNLS World Christian Radio, Madagascar in Chinese:

9.600 MHz – Vatican Radio, Tinang Philippines in Chinese:

9.610 MHz Voice of Turkey, Emirler Turkey (endless string & flute music):

15.000 MHzWWVH, Hawaii (halfway, I checked on WWV at 10 MHz to make sure it was on the air, weird propagation, defintely not due to my antenna!):

Appendix II, Parts List:

  • 1 FlexPVC 4-inch Custom cut X 10-inch diameter Thinwall Air Duct PVC
  • 1 pair each size of 15mm CF rods 10-inch and 15-inch
  • Video Camera Rig parts: 2 Cheese Bars, 3 Rod Clamps, and 1 Cheese Rod
  • 1 cheap Neewer pan-tilt photo head with quick release plate
  • 10 screw adapters for tripods 3/8-to-1/4 inch
  • 1 copper sheet roll cut to size (or Aluminum foil instead)
  • 4 Flat Speed Nuts 1/4-20 from Ace Hardware
  • 1 Oak Dowel 3/8” diameter from a local hardware store, cut as needed
  • 1 DX Engineering RPA-2 Modular Receive Preamplifier
  • 10 AA Powerex Precharged NiMH batteries for the Preamp + 10x AA snap battery holder + CCTV 2.1mm snap plug
  • 1 Cross Country Preselector
  • 1 SDRPlay RSP-2 with SDR Console software on Lenovo laptop
  • 1 Belkin USB printer cable with large ferrite bead looped through 3 times on computer end
  • 1 Sirui T2005X travel tripod
  • 1  Adidas Excel II XXL backpack (gaudy Solar Orange color!)
  • Velcro brand 7/8” x 23” One-Wrap velcro strips

Plus shielded cables, BNC and SMA adapters, Thread Lock Blue, tie wraps, rubber bands, super glue, JB WELD Kwik Weld epoxy, speed nuts, jam nuts, acorn nuts, wing nuts, internal lock washers, nylon nuts and screws, and 1/4”-20 socket head screws of various lengths as needed.


What a brilliant project, Tom! What I love is the fact that you consider your unique requirements prior to starting a project and base your design on your specific needs. Additionally, you see each design as an iteration. Fantastic job! No doubt, you’ll log numerous hours with this antenna in the field!  Thank you for sharing your detailed design notes, process, list of materials and even audio clips with us.

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Tom’s AM broadcast band recordings during eclipse totality

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, TomL, for sharing the following guest post:


August 21, 2017: Individual Recordings of MW During Totality

by TomL

I setup flimsy “Backpack Shack” loop antenna and preselector to my Sony ICF-2010 to listen to any propagation of MW signals as each transmitter experienced Totality. My location was a picnic area facing southwest with only a small hill to the east at Ferne Clyffe State Park near Goreville, IL.

I did not bring a DSP radio and computer which would have been better in hindsight. My observations were generally as follows:

Anything west of my location, except for local St. Louis stations were not identifiable.
Noise levels were somewhat elevated because of thunderstorms that had just moved through the area during the evening.

Anything east of my location experienced dramatic increases in signal along the path of totality.
Since large signal increases were seen with the Umbra moving AWAY from me, it would be more beneficial to use a DSP receiver with good outdoor antenna than a single frequency radio and preselector like my setup. The loop antenna sitting on a picnic table acted great and was usable to get strongest signal for each station.

It is still unknown why I could not identify any stations west of me with the Umbra moving TOWARDS my location and needs further study. I thought I heard KTWO in Casper WY, but upon listening to the recording, it was a male announcer buried in the noise and unintelligible.
A transmitter being IN the path of Totality has a better chance of lasting longer with a strong signal than one that is just outside of Totality. Compare behavior of WSB vs. WBT.

If this happens again, make sure to make multiple hotel reservations and cancel the ones not needed. Traffic was horrible and had to stay in a hotel half way from home and I aggravated an achillies heel problem in the stop and go traffic (YUK).

So, it was quite disappointing to not hear anything special west of my location. As Totality neared my site, I just left the radio tuned to KNOX for the people around me to hear. Its signal did become about 25% stronger and near the end of the recording you can hear other weaker stations trying to break in.

Click here to download 1120 KMOX recording.

As soon as totality was over, and my picture taking was done, I returned to the radio and found 1510 khz WLAC Nashville, TN was moderately strong! And this was seconds after their Totality had already ended. A baseline reading beforehand showed this station coming in very very faintly. Subjective SINPO rating beforehand=15452, just after Totality=34433.

Click here to download 1510 WLAC recording.

The next surprise was tuning to 750 WSB Atlanta GA was BOOMING in! They were very clever and had no announcers. Instead they were playing snippets of songs about sun, moon, dark themes. Very entertaining! Baseline beforehand was just moderate noise, no signals. During recording, SINPO=55444 with propagation getting slightly worse near the end of the recording.

Click here to download 750 WSB recording.

Final surprise was 1110 WBT Charlotte, NC, which was not in the path of Totality but just north of it also booming in but not as strongly. Also, near the end of the recording, the signal dropped off very sharply, unlike the WSB signal which stayed strong throughout the 5+ minute recording. Baseline beforehand was low noise and no signals. During recording, SINPO=43434 at 14:40 ET, then approximately 1½ minutes after their maximum eclipse (14:43 ET), SINPO=33423, then at 14:46 ET a SINPO=22422 with another unidentified station breaking through playing a Johnny Cash song.

Click here to download 1110 WBT recording.


Tom, thank you for taking the time to share your recordings and listening experiences with us! Snagging a daytime MW broadcast from the Atlanta, GA and Charlotte, NC regions is most impressive. I reckon they were about 400-500 miles (as the crow flies) from your Ferne Clyffe, IL location.

Sounds like you had an amazing experience, despite the stop-and-go traffic! 

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Guest Post: “Car Shack” Radio Listening

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


“Car Shack” radio listening

by TomL

My car is an unusual place to listen to shortwave radio but has interesting possibilities. Due to the obscene noise at my home QTH, I decided that I must try something away from this unfortunate situation. So I took my homemade 14-inch loop antenna and outfitted the appropriate ancillary equipment with DC power packs. My trusty Sony ICF-2010 is the radio “vehicle” to “drive” this experiment (LOL). And, seriously, this is a way to show the public that it is not that hard to have a portable radio listening setup. Believe me, if I can do this, anyone can!
The basic ingredients are pictured here with some variations (see text):

  • Homemade 14-inch Loop antenna + EF-SWL balun mounted backwards
  • Wellbrook amplifier powered by DC power pack of 10 eneloop AA batteries
  • KIWA Broadcast band (mediumwave) inline filter
  • Palstar preselector (active antenna) plugged into car cigarette lighter
  • Sony 2010 connected to a second DC power pack
  • Sony ICD PX333 digital recorder
  • Sennheiser earbuds
  • 7 inch Samsung tablet and 4G MiFi device to do internet schedule lookups

Illustration SEQ “Illustration” 1: Car Shack in operation.

An important finding was that anything that has a cheap IC circuit to regulate and/or convert DC power can be extremely noisy!  The pictured 16000 maH lithium brick would initially be quiet but after a while it would start spewing noise all over the bands.  Power cycling it sometimes helped but I decided that it is too unpredictable.  Also, converter cables that convert 5V to 12V for devices needing 12V also produce overwhelming amounts of noise.  Even a small 5V USB converter plugged into the cigarette lighter makes a modest amount of ubiquitous noise.  I am ditching the lithium power pack and converter cables and any cigarette lighter adapters!

So, the main radio power pack will use the internal Sony battery comparment consisting of nine 2700 maH NiMH AA’s inside three D-cell battery holders that can each hold 3 AA batteries in parallel.  This boosts the capacity to around 8100 maH for a modest cost (I already have NiMH chargers and the 4.5V requirement is not too high for the batteries in question).  Pictured are examples of a single D-cell AA holder of which I bought 12 and the silver-top Powerex 2700 maH AA’s from fleaBay.  The total voltage is slightly low (3.6V) but the Sony 2010 still works at a slightly lower performance (received signals are slightly weaker).  I run the Sony on Local sensitivity and crank up the Palstar active antenna to compensate.

In a further quest for clean, portable DC power without noisy IC chips, I have been researching lithium batteries and it is quite a large amount of work to sift through all the variables.  The Palstar active antenna and the Wellbrook amplifier both use external connections of 12V, 2.1mm (+ tip) plugs.  NiMH is not going to cut it, too many needed and getting too heavy.  Amongst the variables are things like:

  • Using a proper charger and not leaving it unattended or it could burn down your house
  • Chinese fakes being sold by the zillions that look exactly like the real thing
  • Initial cost being higher than current NiMH
  • Avoiding 1.5V step down batteries with noisy step down converter built-in
  • Learning the new terminology for sizes: AA = 14500 = 14mm diameter & 50mm length
  • Learning the differences between type of lithium: Lithium, Li-ion, LiFePo4, IMR, etc.
  • The difference between protected vs. non-protected batteries
  • How to avoid discharging the batteries too much which could render them completely useless (not just usage but also NON-usage as well)
  • How to physically handle Lithium batteries to avoid shock and temperature extremes
  • Learning how to compare maH’s of lithium to NiMH batteries
  • Finding out that most top rated 14500 Li-ion batteries are too long to fit into AA battery holders without risking damage to the protection PCB mounted at the bottom of the battery
  • and the list goes on and on…..

Here are some of the web pages I read to try to understand this technology:

So, to cut to the chase, I have decided to order this one from XTARDirect because:

  • I can order from a USA distributor who orders from the factory in Shenzen China
  • The price is very reasonable for “protected” lithium ion batteries
  • They actually should fit into typical AA battery holders without damaging it

Illustration SEQ “Illustration” 2 XTAR 14500 800 maH Li-ion

They are not the highest rated in terms of capacity, load drain, amp surge ability, etc., but they seem to have enough positive statements from users that indicate it gets the job done. Since I don’t have the lithiums yet, I am using some temporary 10-cell AA holders with good old Eneloops – good enough for now.  And I am buying this discontinued charger at a discount to recharge lithiums:

Illustration SEQ “Illustration” 3: Nitecore i4 original version

I will make two power packs made from these items pictured.  The wire is fragile so I super glue the insulation directly to the DC power plug housing (avoiding getting any glue onto the bare wire inserted at the back).  I will use three sets of lithiums (9 batteries) plus one set of Eneloop Pro’s (3 batteries) per power pack in the aforementioned parallel AA holders.

Illustration SEQ “Illustration” 4: 4X D-Cell battery holder.

Illustration SEQ “Illustration” 5: “9V” Snap connector.

Illustration SEQ “Illustration” 6: 2.1mm x 5.5mm DC power plug.

Other items of note: The umbrella stand is optional since I found I like to move the antenna around and even tilt it to get slightly better directional signal.  More importantly, I found that if I cut the Sony 2010 sensitivity from DX to Local, and then crank the Palstar preselector’s amplifier, I get a cleaner sound with less background noise. Also, the KIWA mediumwave filter is essential due to overloading.

One of my favorite stations is Radio Educacion (XEPPM) on 6185 kHz.  A 1 kW station near the foot of Vulcan de Guadalupe in Mexico City, it is so weak that I almost never hear it and their wonderful selection of music representative of regional & cultural heritage.  It is also 1675 miles distant according to Google Earth.  Now, if I want to bother, I can go out and listen in my car at locations less noisy than home.  So far, the safest places have been the parking deck at work (only two stories high) and the local grocery store parking lot.  What I would really like is a very tall parking deck whose owners let me stay up on top long into the evening without harrassment (not sure I want to risk security personnel questioning me about the strange contraption and equipment – paranoia reigns these days)!

Sample of XEPPM, moderately good propagation from the work location:

Click here to download MP3.

Of course, the Brazilian station is booming next door at 6180 kHz (thank goodness for SSB-selectable Sync detectors):

Click here to download MP3.

Unexpected reception happens with this experiment.  I mounted the antenna in the back, away from the engine and against the rear side window.  Was traversing the local restaurant drive-through lane to get a hot dog, and turning the corner next to the long empty brick wall, the reception became dramatically stronger and clearer!  Apparently, the brick wall blocked some interference as well as enhanced the signal coming from the Northeast.  You can hear the effect starting at 25 seconds into the recording of RRI:

Click here to download MP3.

Also, not recorded from a previous evening at the grocery store location, 6135 kHz Radio Santa Cruz in central Bolivia, a 10 kW station playing Spanish rock music and a clear ID near the top of the hour.

More experiments to do, like

    • Mount the antenna as high I as dare with PVC pipe (too cold out now and I would rather not open any windows but I am itching to mount the umbrella stand and antenna on a 3 foot PVC pipe on the roof of the car, the increase in received signal strength is significant)
    • A bigger backpack to carry all this equipment away from the car
    • If Elon Musk has his way and builds the Gigafactory (and competitors follow suit), there could be many more experiments with lithium type batteries in the future
    • Perhaps get an SDR and cheap laptop computer to replace the Sony radio

PS: I found out that the three-AA battery holders do not make contact at the (+) tip of the XTAR lithium batteries I purchased. I just gently lifted up the contact inside the battery holder to allow it to reach the battery tip, that’s all that is needed. Whatever you do, do not put an extra piece of metal inside the battery holders! I accidentally damaged the outside skin of two of the batteries with a common piece of copper metal and the batteries immediately started to get HOT. I took them out as soon as I could and the batteries cooled down. So, don’t use any extra metal surface inside the battery holders; lithium batteries do not tolerate any kind of short circuit!

Cheers from Noizey Illinoiz,

TomL


Thank so much, Tom, for sharing your experiences and your ongoing experiments! Lately, I’ve been doing NPOTA activations with a portable loop antenna on top of my vehicle. I completely understand what you mean about getting strange looks from passers-by! We look forward to hearing about your future experiments fighting RFI.

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