Sunday, September 27, 2020

QSLs: Three Surprising Catches from Australia on 936, 1485, 1602 kHz

Very early and very late in the DX season are the best periods for hunting Aussies on MW. In short: After spring equinox and before autumn equinox. The 80 degrees beverage is best suited, because on the summer side of equinox the 50 degrees beverage points too much to the north, where daylight lasts longer.

I had an excellent opening on September 3 which rewarded me with two 200-watt ABC outlets, and my first in-band Tasmanian station. 

The first one I logged was 5LN ABC 1485kHz Port Lincoln, SA. I have been monitoring 1485 for some time in hunt for ABC, and heard the Majestic Fanfare and some audio with quite good quality. This made me check 1602 kHz, since ABC stations have been heard on 1602 before on my location. And like on cue, there it was, 5LC ABC Leigh Creek, SA. Much weaker, but legible.

I have been hunting Tasmania on 936 intensively with no luck for at least a year. With the two South Australia stations audible, I knew there should be a chance of hearing 7ZR ABC Hobart. And indeed I did. At the half hour UTC (which btw is full  hour in South Australia but half hour in Tasmania), I heard a promotion for a show on ABC-TV, then half an hour later the Majestic Fanfare was audible with a fair signal. 

All three receptions were confirmed this morning.

The distance from Kongsfjord to Eyre Peninsula and Lincon is around 14,200 km. Not bad for 200-watt signals in a congested band. Hobart is 15,480 km away and of course my most distant Aussie reception.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

KONG40 Report: Antennas and Preparing for the Season

 A little belated, here's an update of the KONG40 DX-pedition which took place from Sept 4 to 6. Actually it's not much of a DX-pedition as such, more of a preparation expedition. Because things need to be in place for the equipment to survive the winter with minimal human presence!

Fellow DX-ers Ole Forr and OJ Sagdahl had a loong drive from southern Norway, especially since driving through Sweden and Finland was out of the question because of Covid-19. This added 4-5 hours to the planned 20-hour drive. They "landed" in the early afternoon. Four main objectives:

1. Set up the temporary, battery-powered Mount Loran 1000-metre beverage listening post.

2. Set up the remaining of four beverage antennas, a dual-beverage antenna aimed at North America's west coast.

3. Set up their own gear in Kongsfjord and make all systems work.

4. Test a few beers.

The Mount Loran deployment was most urgent since we needed to be finished before daylight faded. It's quite a bit of work involved - a heavy reel with the antenna wire, a box with a PC, a Perseus, I/O units and a 100 Ah battery. At the site, we need to negotiate an 800-metre walk at a rather steep angle, so a wheelbarrow is a necessity. Having done this a few times, we're well drilled with the procedures and spent only two hours from leaving the house until we were back (it's a 20-minute drive to and from).





Being quite satisfied with the day's work, we enjoyed a few fabulous beers, such as the Lervig Supersonic and the Tank 7. For dinner we had my own secret recipe fish soup, comprising fresh cod fillets, chopped carrots, seleriac, red chili, leak and almond potatoes. Chocolate pudding and custard for dessert. Weather: Awesome. A bit windy, but dry and 17-18 celsius. Like a warm day in July.

Saturday: Lots of equipment needs to be placed, and preferably in a tidy manner. Contrary to previous seasons, and with the help of a slightly refurbished 1950's home made rack, things do look quite good. Below are OJ's and Ole's equipment.


Third on our list was setting up the dual beverage. Sorry that there were no photos from the work, but the weather on Saturday was as nice as on Friday, if not better. More beers were tested, and for dinner we had fried salmon with carbonara. A red wine I don't remember anymore fitted the meal reasonably well. For dessert we had the rest of the chocolate pudding. 

Sunday was more relaxing, although last night's recordings from Mount Loran had to be collected together with a battery replacement. Later on we inspected the beverages and diverted to the tip of the peninsula where the navigation light stands. Even warmer this day, 20 Celsius, still windy but a welcome chill it was.


This last day we tested some beers (surprise....) and for dinner we had a home-made (and pre-made) fish gratin. The ultra-secret recipe was haddock fillets, fried bacon and onion, leak, carrots and macaroni. A round with Calle's Riesling with this one, and for dessert another home-made (and first-made) thing that proved delicious, blueberry pie with fresh blueberries picked along the antenna paths! Unfortunately, we ran out of custard.


On Monday morning Ole and OJ headed for Andøya and more antenna work. I drove to Vadsø to check out my new car. 


Next time we meet will be in mid-October for the 9-day KONG41 DX-pedition.


Monday, August 10, 2020

Dragonfly RX-666: Some Points to Consider

Having spent quite a few hours with the RX-666 over the weekend, I feel confident enough to come up with an evaluation of the receiver and its interaction with software. The link is here.


Saturday, August 08, 2020

Dragonfly RX-666 - A New Player?

(Updated AUG-9 2020)

I have been playing with the new, China-manufactured RX-666 for quite a few hours the past couple of days. There has been quite a bit of interest in this device, especially since it claims to sample a whopping 32 MHz of bandwidth. I will do a write-up soon, but since questions are plentiful, I will outline some points of interest below.

1. The RX-666 is the brainchild of IK1XPV Oskar Steila and his project BBRF103. There is no controversy on this. The Chinese manufacturers (whoever they are) used his open-source project, which is completely legal. What surprises me (and him) is that they never let him know about it. 

2. It uses an LTC2208 ADC from Analog Devices. This is a 16-bit ADC. Some say it is the same that sits in the Excalibur G31/G33 etc. series. I can't confirm that. Oskar's original design used the LTC2217 ADC.


3. For VHF/UHF use, it uses the R820T2 tuner chip. It has capacity for 8, possibly 10 MHz, for instance for use on the FM band. The modified HDSDR exes are needed for sampling 2, 4 or 8 MHz. On the official HDSDR version, it will only sample 2 MHz. VHF/UHF will always start fully attenuated, leaving you to assume that there is no coverage.


4. Current sampling rate options are 32, 16, 8, 4, and 2 MHz. Alias-free ranges (limited by firmware filters) are 28.8, 14.4, 7.2, 3.6 and 1.8 MHz. Minimum LO setting is 1000 kHz with 2 MHz sampling. This means that with the current dll, minimum tuneable frequency is 100 kHz. No VLF reception yet. 

5. There is no LNA in the circuit, so sensitivity is a bit low. A good-quality preamplifier resolves this.

6. On an i5-6500 PC with 8 GB RAM, full sampling requires 30-55 % CPU. Recording 32 MHz to an external hard drive is more challenging, resulting in stutter. Playback of a 32-MHz file in SDR Console is ok.

Sampling 32 MHz with original BBRF103 dll and official HDSDR software


7. Software is available from the manufacturer in some sort - a version of HDSDR which does not seem to be original, an ExtIO dll and assosiated files, and Cypress drivers. Driver must likely be installed manually (I had to). No problems though.

8. The RX-666 will run from an official HDSDR installation. And more: It will run with the dlls that Oskar developed for his BBRF103 project.  I strongly recommend any RX-666 owners to use the original HDSDR software and the original BBRF103 dll files.

9. Temperature control: None except the box which is warm but not hot. Internal air temperature is around 40 Celsius after 6-7 hours with full sampling. Ambient is 23 Celsius.

10. DO NOT USE THE OPTIONAL 5VDC CONNECTOR!   You don't need it either.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

QSL: Shetland Islands Broacasting Company 96.2 MHz FM

An excellent July 1 Es opening towards mostly Denmark and Sweden (192 logged stations) ended with  exceptionally strong signal levels from stations in Shetland and the Orkneys. SIBC had a good signal for about half an hour, with RDS decoding most of the time. An MP4 video with an "SIBC" jingle on was sent to the station. Shortly afterwards, I received a friendly response along with an e-QSL. SIBC shares the Bressay tower with BBC transmitters - at one time it seemed like it was the only transmitter location that was heard on my FM band. 1800 km.

Thanks Svenn M. for sharing v/s.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

FM Logs For June 2020

June was a good month for FM DX up here. Most openings were to the south, meaning Russia, Belarus and the Baltic states with some stations from Poland, Germany, Sweden and Denmark too. The complete June log is available as a pdf file here.

Friday, July 03, 2020

A Mega Combo for FM DX


The short version: Use a wide-band SDR, HDSDR for surveillance and recording, and SDR Console for playback. And FMList for loggings!

As a Jaguar for Perseus user, I am used to being able to see (quite literally!) if there are potentially interesting signals on the MW band, both live and for the past minutes/hours/days if I’ve been away for some reason. Continuous or scheduled IQ recordings then make it possible to «go back in time» and log stations. This is a massive step forward compared to «linear» DX-ing and makes the DX hobby a lot more interesting. Why? Because you hear more stations! Of course, you can record IQ files at random for later analysis, but you must listen through them all to be sure not to miss anything. You do not have that much time. So, seeing potential DX is a vital part of the DX hobby in my view.

What about FM? There is no Jaguar software equivalent for FM. Es and Tropo conditions are much more random by nature than MW propagation. So, if you want to log FM stations, you need to be there when it happens, either by sitting in front of the radio yourself or rely on alerts from fellow DX-ers or FMList.org. Openings are easy to miss – you may have other things to do – and sometimes openings close, just to open up again half an hour later. And you were not there were you?

Enter HDSDR: See the stations

So, to keep on top of DX events, you need to see the signals. And you need to record them without knowing if there is anything interesting on the band. And there is a method to do so which in many ways resembles how Jaguar for Perseus works.

Fellow DX-er OJ Sagdahl and I learned recently about two documented, but to us unknown features in HDSDR: The combination of ‘Low Speed Waterfall’, and ‘Save Current RF Waterfall to Image File – Periodically’. Low Speed Waterfall enables you to slow down the waterfall, thus making it cover a longer time span. The Save Current Waterfall function will save the RF waterfall as a BMP image at intervals you set. Waterfall is far better than spectrum to detect signals, so I suggest you minimize the spectrum display as much as possible. To make the waterfall even bigger, you can collapse the mode section so that only the waterfall and spectrum (or what is left of it) are displayed (see image below). This combination enables you to check a day’s DX by using a minute to scan through your image files and see if anything interesting has happened. Make a note of which times are interesting to check. Then, play back the recordings you made.


If there is nothing of interest in the image files, you can delete the recordings you made (and the image files as well if you want to). This way, you keep hard drive consumption to a minimum.



HDSDR playing with mode section collapsed

Since HDSDR is connected to the SDR you use for scanning the waterfalls, you also need to use HDSDR to record the IQ files. This is straightforward. HDSDR has a good recording scheduler, it is super-easy to start an IQ (or RF in HDSDR terms) recording on the fly, and HDSDR lets you organize your IQ files in a logical matter. Such as one folder for every day. This makes recordings much easier to retrieve. Just be sure to select “PCM 16” instead of “Auto” for sampling rate, because “Auto” is 32-bit instead of 16-bit and your recordings will double in size for no purpose. And speaking of size - individual HDSDR files should be less than 4 GB. I use 3.8 myself.
There is however a better alternative when you want to play back your files.

Enter SDR Console: It’s playback time

Say you find half an hour of interest, you have made an IQ recording and you want to check it. The best option for playback is without a doubt SDR Console. For two reasons: First, Console has an excellent RDS decoder. Some say it is almost on par with the standalone RDS Spy. Second, Console playback is file size independent. Console collects all the files from a recording session to a single playback resource. With Console’s Analyser, you can jump to any minute in the recording, go back and forward in predefined time intervals, and it lets you create a playback loop so you can check a certain time span again and again. And most important, you don’t have to think about loading another file. An overnight HSDR session with dozens of IQ files is handled as one “file” by Console.


Console lets you create MP4 video files on the fly, for your personal archive, for bragging to fellow DX-ers or for reception reports.

RDS display (bottom left), playback analyser (top), file info (bottom centre)

Why use two programs?

Because HDSDR has properties Console hasn’t, and the other way around.
An added benefit from using one program to record and another to play back, is that you can continue to record IQ files while playing back recorded ones.

My own setup comprises three RSPdx from SDRPlay, connected to one PC each. Each of them samples 8 MHz to cover the entire FM band. The IQ recordings are routed to an external high-capacity hard drive connected to each PC. I use Seagate 2.5”, 4-TB drives. HDSDR can handle just about any good-quality SDR available (except newer RF Space and Winradio SDRs). SDR Console plays back HDSDR files extremely well.

FM List (fmlist.org)

FMList, together with MWList, DABList and TVList, is the brain child of Günter Lorenz, and is maintained by him and a large group of editors. It's arguably the best combined source for databases and logging stations on the planet. Using the database to log stations is exceptionally simple, and surely accounts for the large number of FM DX-ers, especially in Europe, who use this resource. It's not perfect in every aspect, but nothing else comes close for the FM DX-er.






Belarus FM QSLs

On June 22 I had a good Es opening to the south, with stations heard from Poland in the west to Moscow in the east.

Especially good signals came from Latvia and Belarus, and I added 15 new Belarus stations to my log. I prepared reception reports to three of them, Radio Relax 87.5, Yumor FM 93.7 and Avtoradio 88.2 MHz. Alex Yankovsky at LLC Vashe Televidenie kindly confirmed all of them. I also had Yumor FM on 91.9 MHz, but there are two of them on that frequency in Belarus, and the local weather update on the full hour was missed in signal loss. So, there was no definite ID on that one.

The distance was around 1860 km.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

From Winter MW DX To Summer FM DX

I have lived, and DX-ed, under the assumption that FM DX-ing is a useless effort at my northerly location. However, two years ago following advice from fellow DX-ers I did a "test season" with my relatively new SDRPlay RSP1A, and a very old, 3-element FM antenna placed in the attic. While I only caught one proper Es opening, the result was staggering, with well over 200 stations logged in one afternoon/evening.

Last year I really didn't try much, and I think conditions in general were poor as well. For this season though, I had bought 3 RSPdx from SDRPlay, and an 8-element FM antenna from InnovAntennas. I had sold off my RFSpace CloudIQs and Airspy HF+ so I had some cash ready.

The FM antenna proved an immediate success. It was mounted outdoor on a 6-metre, Ø40 mm aluminium tube/mast and pointed in a southerly direction.

InnovAntennas 8-element FM antenna

I have set up the three RSPdx with three PCs, external 2.5", 4-GB hard drives and let them sample 8 MHz each, to cover the entire FM band. The connection from the antenna to the SDRs is via a 1:5 splitter/preamp from Cross Country Wireless. I monitor and record with HDSDR v. 2.80 since it's quite gentle on CPU and RAM consumption. Playback is done with SDR Console with its excellent RDS decoder.

First Es opening of the season happened on May 30. I will update the FM logs on a monthly basis, and the complete log for May is a good point to start. The most surprising bit for me was Faroe Islands. Not that it was heard, but 8 stations! Some with very low power.

If anyone want more frequent updates, the hangout place for FM DX-ers, especially in Europe, is FMList.org.

It is true though, that in the south, Es and Tropo conditions are much more common. And what's Tropo DX, or even local QRM for some, is Es DX for me. However, I think that northerly locations may have benefits of their own. Such as being able to hear regions that are difficult or maybe impossible to hear for DX-ers in the south. I have ordered another FM antenna from InnovAntennas, and I have some thoughts about where to aim it.

June loggings are due in a week. It will be a long list!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Extending The Arctic MW DX Season Into The Midnight Sun

May 15. At around 18:30 UTC, ABC Newsradio, Busselton WA 1152, with a readable signal. Distance: 13,396 km. On the following night, the sun did not set. Now, how is that for daytime reception?

Our beverages shouldn't even be up at this time of year. The thing is, I need to adjust antenna deployment to reindeer migration. Sounds exotic, doesn't it. Well, there is a logic behind this. The reindeer have their summer pastures at the coast. As autumn comes, they migrate to the inland winter pastures. Around August 25 or so, the area is "clear" for antenna deployment. For obvious reasons, I don't want the animals to have their antlers entangled in our wires. It's not good for the wires, and certainly not for the reindeer. One year, a lonely left-behinder I wasn't aware of got trapped in the 310 beverage wire. I managed to free the animal, though it was a bit scary since it was a full-grown oxen with impressive antlers!

When April arrives, the season is more or less over, and the beverages are reeled in, leaving the area safe for the original "inhabitants" to enter. However, the 80-degrees beverage was left standing this year, because of excessive snow levels on the path. Not much trouble for the reindeer though, they can jump over the visible parts of the wire.

This year, we started to monitor the beverage more closely than previous years since we heard good signals from Australia late in April So, for how long? As it turned out, for a very long time.

There is no sunset from May 16 onwards, and I was quite surprised to hear Adelaide-891 and Wagin (WA) 1296 in the end of April, when midnight was only civil twilight. Adelaide, and even other stations like 5AU on 1242, were heard on May 2. And the following days, until May 15 at least, stations from Western Australia were heard. And maybe we could have heard them even longer if conditioins were right. How could this be?

There are two reasons. First, and definitely most important: Mainland Asia, and especially China, are significantly attenuated at this time of the year. So, even a very weak signal can be copied. Secondly, there is greyline propagation from Australia almost all the way. Only the last few hundred km do the signal propagate through daylight, and then with the sun at a very low azimuth. And daylight reception of distant MW stations is nothing new in the Arctic. It is quite common to log North American stations in bright sunshine during autumn and spring here.

ABC Adelaide 891 at 18:30 UTC on May 5.
Interestingly, the signal from Adelaide crosses China with all their power houses which are not heard at all. As daytime increases, only the westernmost stations in Australia are audible. Such as 1152, 1269 and 1296.

In all fairness, this is not exciting DX, in that one could hope to hear new stations. Still, for us, it's a new barrier being broken. MW DX from 13,000+ km away, while in 24-hour daylight!