Friday, January 08, 2021

6 Watts, 1485 kHz, 2540 km

There's been a few DX tests this season, and rather by coincidence I stumbled upon another one the other day. The IRCA and MW Circle reflectors reported that Mittelwellen-Sender Joe, transmitting from Erlangen in Germany on 1485 kHz, was sending periodic 1000-Hz tones - one second on, one second off.

Now, that sounded like a nice challenge. The first evening I tested I heard the transmission right away at the KONG HQ, and a very good signal at Smøla. DX-ers in Scoland and Ireland also reported the signal. The initial enthusiasm faded a bit when I later learned that the effect was in fact 100 watts, not 6. 

What I hadn't noticed from the reflector posts was that from 17:00 to 05:00 UTC the power is 100 watts, the rest of the day 6 watts. I had been listening in the evening.

So I decided to try again, and focus on the period before Germany's sunrise. I monitored the signal from 04:58 (100 watts), and then at 05:01:35 the relatively strong signal disappeared...almost! A very faint signal was still there, and I got my 6 watts, 2540 km reception! The image below shows the weaker tones above the red line as the signal dropped.

Perseus/Jaguar recording, SDR Console playback

I chose the 540-metre Asia/Pacific beverage antenna for the reception, because its back lobe crosses western Europe. Interference mostly from SER Radio Santander.

More informasjon about Joe can be found here.

Ordinary programming may resume soon, so I don't know for how much longer it's possible to hear the tones 24h. The tone will be broadcast from Midnight to 05:00 (presumably UTC), but at what power I don't know.

I really think this 1000-Hz test should be able to travel quite far at 100 watts. The eastern shores of North America should be possible. At least worth a try.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

DX Test From WCPH Etowah TN 1220 - Heard!

WCPH is a 1-kW day, 109-watt night oldies station in the south-east corner of Tennessee, not far from Chattanooga. The station owner George Hudson agreed with the NRC/IRCA Courtesy Program Committee to set up two two-hour DX tests with their day facility. The first on December 26, the other on January 2, both tests running from 07:00 to 09:00 UTC.

1220 is certainly not the easiest frequency with powerful stations like WHKW Cleveland, CJRB Boissevain and often XEB Cd. Mexico with potentially strong signals. 1000 watts isn't much to compete with. But we know that morse code and sweep tones are extremely efficient methods if you want to reach far.

Reception of the December 26 test was a failure. Geomagnetic conditions were very poor. If I remember correctly the only signal we heard was a very faint CJRB.

Propagation forecasts for January 2 were far more optimistic though. And true enough, at 07:00 we did hear the sweep tones on our Smøla island rigs. Later on, sweep tones and morse IDs were heard at the KONG site, and with quite a bit better signal than Smøla. At KONG, there was little interference except CFAJ fading up a few times, and CJRB/XEB lurking in the shadows.

The distance to Smøla is 6660 km, to KONG 7128 km. WCPH was also heard in Lemmenjoki, Finland, and Scotland. And maybe elsewhere in Europe for all I know.

Many thanks to the CPC and George Hudson for making this opportunity to catch a new station! I hope George is satisfied with how his station got out. A good start for 2021, DX-wise!

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Zen And The Art of Antenna Maintenance

It's a while since I read the original book with a slightly different title (1978 perhaps?), but the title struck me as relevant when I was heading out in the nautical twilight to inspect some of our beverages. Very little wind, -4 Celsius and almost no snow - evidence of this extremely mild last quarter of the year. Not often does the weather permit working with bare hands.

Anyway! A few photos from my inspection follow below. A Happy New Year to everyone.

My house, the KONG HQ, in the foreground.

Turning the camera a bit to the NNW where the 310 beverage ends.

310 beverage starting point.

Inside the box, antenna, ground, transformer and feedline all ok.

310 beverage end point.

50 beverage starting point (just 15 meters from the 310 end)

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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

QSL: KABN Kenai AK 960

I was alerted by OJ Sagdahl earlier in December about a "Moody Radio" on 960, apparently being KABN Kenai, as suggested by Paul W. Walker. The signal was heard in a typical "Alaskan part of the day" i.e. after our noon, and a "Cabin Radio" ID indeed confirmed that a new Alaska station was heard. A very friendly email response confirmed my 40th Alaskan station. Its license was granted on December 3. It's running 1 kW ND and is not particularly easy to hear due to the massive signal from CFAC.

But is it new? A long time ago, KZXX was broadcasting from Kenai on 980. It went silent, and the last time it was heard at our KONG HQ was in 2001, apparently active only for a short while to keep the license. The logging was met with some skepticism from other DX-ers.

Anyway, further information from KABN confirms that 960 is now using the 980 facilities. So, for those who have a previously confirmed reception of KZXX 980, KABN may not count as a "new" station. But what does it matter. A new DX-able station on the MW band is not a bad thing.

The KABN call was chosen because it had an Alaskan "touch", and indeed there was another KABN, on 830 from Big Lake north of Anchorage in the 1980's, and it too used the "Cabin Radio" moniker. My hand-written QSL from that station was from 1987.

And before you know it, maybe another Alaskan MW station will hit the airwaves...

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The KSEN Shelby Montana 1150 DX Test

Note to self: Maybe I should post more often...

As many of you know, KSEN ran a two-night DX test on November 7 and 8. I have heard (and QSL-ed) KSEN on several occasions before, but I try to never miss a DX test.

November 7: Despite reasonably good conditions, in the beginning I heard nothing at all. Several other stations came and went on 1150, CKOC, WHBY, KKNW and CJSL were noted. Several North American DX-ers reported nothing heard, so I wondered if it was on at all. Then, at 07:35 I could hear occasional sweep tones, and finally just before 08:00 a morse code ID. No voice audio was detected. Why so weak? Well, it turned out that they had technical issues resulting in an output of only around 800 watts! So, they didn't reach out very well at all that day.

The reception was made with a Perseus SDR connected to a 340-metre dual (staggered) beverage antenna. The distance was 6402 km, not bad for 800 watts.

On November 8 everything was working fine, and reception was good at my spot. Today I received the DX test QSL. Thanks to Paul Walker, Les Rayburn and Joe Miller for their time and trouble.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The RX888 SDR

(Updated DEC-5 re. loss of connection after PC reboot)

Late summer I became aware of the RX666, a Chinese build of Oscar Steila’s BBRF103 design. Basically, a design with a 16-bit ADC capable of sampling 32 MHz, and with a R820T2 chip “thrown in” to allow reception up to 1800 MHz. I did a write-up which you can read here. The antenna connectors were not up to standard, so after a while I returned it for a refund.

The RX888 is very much the same design, but with a smaller PCB and apparently better build quality. Unlike the RX666, the RX888 has an LNA built-in for better sensitivity.

As a MW DX-er I’m mostly interested in how it performs on MW. And for that, three things matter more: Sensitivity, large dynamic range, and a minimum of 1200 kHz alias-free sampling. And of course, software to match.

The RX888 footprint is quite a bit smaller than the RX666. It measures 72 x 83 x 43 mm (excluding antenna connectors) and weighs in at 160 grams – less than half that of the RX666. Heat dissipation panels make up three sides and of course adds to the physical size.

A 16-bit ADC (Analog Devices LTC2208 in this case) is always better than 14-bit or 12-bit ADCs, especially when negotiating the huge signal levels on the MW band. In that respect, the RX888 performs very well indeed, even if the only filter is a 64 MHz low pass filter. The downside, as with the RX666 is sensitivity. Although the RX888 has an LNA built-in, sensitivity figures are still in the lower part of the list, 3-4 dB better than the RX666. I measured -95, -98 and -99 dBm on 500, 1000 and 1500 kHz (AM mode, 6 kHz bandwidth, a 400 Hz signal with 30 % modulation). This is 5-6 dB worse than the Perseus, and 10-12 dB worse than the Airspy HF+. The good part though, is that the ADC is quite forgiving if you decide to use external amplification. A 16-dB preamp from DX-Engineering increased sensitivity by 13-14 dB, which is a massive improvement. I did test this setup on a very high signal level MW band, fed from a beverage antenna, and noted no overloading. If you do, you can always reduce RF gain by 10 or 20 dB.

Available sample rates when using the dlls developed for HDSDR are 2, 4, 8, 16 and 32 MHz. In addition, there is support for 64 MHz sampling rate. SDR Console also supports the RX666 and RX888 and offers a 1-MHz sampling rate in addition.

It does require a USB 3.0 port on the PC, and of course the wider sampling rates, the more it demands from your PC. Since the Cypress driver was already installed for the RX666, the RX888 connected right away.

Alas, to my disappointment both the RX666 and RX888 suffer from a serious flaw: After a PC reboot, the devices will not restart. You need to disconnect and reconnect the USB cable for the PC to recognize the devices. This may not matter too much if you always sit in front of the PC. If you want to control the PC via remote control, my only advice is: Don't restart the PC.

So, while the Perseus + Jaguar combo is still my choice for MW DX-ing, the RX888 appears to perform very well if some external gain is added.

Ebay prices are in the USD 230-250 range, not much more than the SDRPlay RSPdx but a lot more resilient to large signal levels and only slightly less sensitive. And not very much more than the Airspy HF+/Discovery, but able to sample the entire MW band.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

KONG41 Day Nine: Almost Ready for Departure

 Another DX-pedition is getting close to the end! Conditions overnight were variable to say the least, but a few stations made it through: KFOR-NE 1240, KHIT-NV 1450 and a super strong KUGR-WY to name a few. Mount Loran recordings still to be reviewed, but we did note KYUL Scott City KS 1310 in parallel with KIUL-1240 - a rare station. Maybe there is more.

Yesterday was a dull experience indeed, KAJO-OR 1270 is the only noteworthy station in the log so far. Asia/Pacific: Forgettable.

Dinner last night was a lot more memorable: Västerbotten pie with trout roe instead of the usual löyrom. Followed by fried fillets of saithe, with unbelievable amounts of fried onions and a potato paste. A Niepoort OLO white 2016 went very well with the fish!

For dessert, we.... just couldn't make it. After a long break, we settled in with some port wine. And not just any old port, but a 2014 Niepoort. So, two Niepoorts in one meal!

Today, we dismantled the Mount Loran equipment. Hard physical work, but we've found a good routine so things went smoothly. Especially with the weather on our side.

Speaking of weather: Mild, calm and dry so far today, 4-5 Celsius. Quite a bit of change from previous days, as you can see on the picture below. Wind will increase again late afternoon and tomorrow. Myself, I will be leaving Kongsfjord later today after another fantastic meal, haddock in salsa. Ole will drive to Andøya Monday morning, and OJS will leave for Berlevåg airport a few hours later.

So, that's it from the KONG41 DX-pedition. New updates in September 2021!

Saturday, October 24, 2020

KONG41 Day Eight - King Crab Mania!

 Signal levels varied but were quite high overnight, though not much of interest was noted. As for Asia/Pacific: Another boring day. Tonga-1017 had a short, early peak, and that was it. Replacement of battery and SSD on Mount Loran was done in very unpleasant conditions - strong gale force winds and constant rain. No fun at all!

All the more fun to prepare the second of the KONG DX-pedition signature meals, the King Crab! As usual, served with carbonara and a 2017 Le Buissy red wine. Although a little less meat than expected in each leg, the crab tasted wonderfully, baked on a bed of salt with spices.

Scissors for opening the legs...

Jim Solatie and Pia were supposed to enjoy the meal with us, unfortunately due to Covid-19 travel restrictions they were not able to enter Norway, so all they got were some photos. Next year!

It should be noted that we tried a Manzanilla 2017 sherry for some salty snacks as starters. Our ranking is on the photo below.

However, we found an excellent Mas Amiel for the dessert, chocolate pudding with custard.

Weather turned out as forecasted - gale force winds and heavy rain showers most of the day. 3-4 Celsius, so most of the snow on lower grounds is now gone. It will be windy and rainy today as well, so another wet challenge is awaiting Ole and OJ at Mount Loran. Below is today's morning view. By the way, tomorrow will be the last KONG41 update. Mount Loran will be dismantled tomorrow as well.

Friday, October 23, 2020

KONG41 Day Seven - And an Hour Worth Seven Days

Unsettled or disturbed conditions is very often boring. And sometimes not. As we hinted yesterday, very interesting things happened during a western daytimer opening that lasted less than an hour. Some of the signals were almost local-like. Best catches of the day were both on 810: KBHB Sturgis SD and some minutes later KTBI Ephrata WA. Lots of less usual and rarely heard stations were also heard, some to mention: KDFD-CO 760, KATL-MT 770, KUYO-WY 830, KJJR-MT 880, KOGA-NE 930, KVSH-NE 940, KFCD-TX 990, KFIO-WA 1050, KOKK-SD 1210, KOLY-SD 1300, KRCM-TX 1380. And we're still searching.

Just to give you an idea of which signal levels some stations had, this is KGFX-SD 1060.

The recordings from Mount Loran and the local 340-degrees beverage took all our time yesterday, so little focus on Asia/Pacific. Tonga-1017 had a great signal for several hours, but nothing else of interest really.

Yesterday was our annual dinner at Kongsfjord Guesthouse-day, after a quick sauna. Excellent baked halibut. LA9VFA Olav had a 2-hour drive on slippery roads to join us for dinner, much appreciated!

The weather on Wednesday was quite nice, not much precipitation, calm and just above freezing. Overnight the wind increased a bit and changed direction. A bit milder, but more rain. It may be quite windy today. Below is today's morning view.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

KONG41 - Day Six

Wednesday: Geomagnetic warnings! Aurora! Return of the Chinese!

The spectra from Mount Loran tells how much signal levels varied throughout the night and until lunchtime. Often, disturbed condtions can give some very surprising loggings, however, as far as we know, not this time. We did note WMEJ-MS 1190 though, along with WBNS-OH 1460 at 01:00. Otherwise, only the usual stations.

Asia/Pacific DX was not good at all. The Chinese stations were on very early, and nothing of interest was noted. A couple of 1-kW NHK-2 stations were ID'ed at the 15:40 close-down. So most of the day was spent listening to IQ recordings from previous days and weeks.

While doing the daily Mount Loran battery and SSD replacement routine, we took a detour into Berlevåg where the fish shop sold fish cakes right out of the frying pan. We grabbed a few (for each) and headed back to Kongsfjord for a delicious lunch.

We had enough fish cakes when we started making dinner too, so for starters we re-fried them (sliced in halves) in bacon fat, and served with bacon slices and fried fresh ginger, grated carrots with fresh ginger and lime. A Calle's Riesling was the selected wine.

The main course was another leftover, as we had reindeer sirloins from the day before, served cold, with mashed potatoes and carrots, sauce with chanterelle and the rest of the lingonberry jam. The wine was a López de Heredia Rioja from 2007.

For dessert: Selected cheese with slightly roasted sourdough bread. Papillon Roquefort, Chévre, Gruyere and Parmesan were served with a Dow's 2006 Vintage Port. We have lots more cheese. And port...

Weather was a bit cooler than yesterday, hovering around zero and down to around -5 as the afternoon turned into night. Another starry, starry night. And what happened in the night will be told tomorrow. Interesting things...

As usual, a morning picture from today, as you can see the weather is very nice and the temperature is positive again. Friday and Saturday will be very windy and rainy. Today by the way, we're eating out!