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!

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

KONG41 - Day Five

Signal levels towards North America varied quite a lot overnight, with a clear dip around 04:00. It didn't really recover until early afternoon (!) with very strong signals from Alaska and Hawaii around 13:00. The morning signal levels were low towards Asia/Pacific as well, but the dead band allowed signals from the Pacific islands and Hokkaido. In fact, the Chinese power houses, many of them incredibly dirty, didn't begin to dominate until 14:00. The image below shows how Newstalk ZB-1035 is the first signal visible, then at 13:00 it's quite dominant, before the highly un-synchronized CNR1 network starts to fade up - 3-4 hours "behind schedule".

Lots of New Zealand stations were noted, but the noise floor is still on the high side, so few below 1000 kHz. The NHK-2 close-down at 15:40 brought few stations of interest as Hokkaido stations with their generic non-QTH ID dominated too much.

Solar weather is a bit unsettled now, so we're hoping for more surprise openings towards North America and the Pacific.

It's not all live DX-ing though. Playback revealed WCRA Effingham IL 1090 from a while ago.

Time for one of the KONG signature dishes: Reindeer sirloins! For starters we had Bruschetta with Meinklang red wine. The main course was sirloins served with mashed carrots and potatoes, sauce with chanterelle and lingonberry jam. For dessert: Cloudberries in whipped cream. With the meat we tested a 1996 Chateau Musar. We may not go with that one again. With the cloudberries we had another round with Tokayer, and a Grappa at the end to clean up our taste buds.

Weather: The same, the same... occiasional rain showers, 2-4 Celsius, calm. The photo below is pretty much like yesterday's except this morning we had a snow shower coming in.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

KONG41 - Day Four

Nothing spectacular to report the last day. Signal levels were generally high on the trans-polar paths, but more interference than usual (or wanted) due to higher signals from Europe/Middle East as well. 

Pacific came early yesterday as well, with New Zealand mixing with UK at 09:00. The hope for a nice NHK-1 opening at 10:00 was lost due to increased noise levels.  The 1-kW Asahikawa relays in Enbetsu and Wakkanai (792 and 927 kHz) were nice and strong, also Aomori 963 and a few others. The noise levels were on the high side for the rest of the day.

Checking early night with Jaguar, one can see how WLQV Detroit 1500 changes from day power/pattern to night power/pattern. I would suspect they use two transmitters. The day transmisson is about 3 Hz high while the night transmission is about 8 Hz low. The drifting at the start of the night transmission might indicate a warm-up drift. WLQV is 50 kW days, 10 kW nights.

The main use of this feature is to spot stations with high daytime powers before they power down or power off.

Dinner was a bit the same as yesterday. The starter was different though, duck liver paste. The main course was leftovers from the lamb, cooked in Barolo with chopped vegetables thrown in. Then for dessert, another round of chocolate mousse with cloudberry jam. The duck liver paste was served with a 5 puttonyos Tokay Aszú from 2013. A Lopez de Heredia Rioja from 2008 went very well with the modified Barolo dish. Another round of Banyuls for the dessert.

We do test a few beers during our stay. Below is a selection...

Yesterday's weather: It warmed up a bit so the snow and sleet turned into rain. 3-4 degrees Celsius, some dry periods. This morning's view from the living room:

Monday, October 19, 2020

KONG41 - Day Three

Monday! How time flies. Sunday started off nicely with a few daytimers closing down, such as KUYO-WY 830, KQLX-ND 890, KKOJ-MN 1190 and KDOM-MN 1580. Signal levels were good all Sunday, but night reception was a bit disturbed from snow-induced noise. After checking the Mount Loran recordings, the WNJC 1360 test was heard at 05:41.

Pacific stations arrived early, the carrier from Tonga-1017 was visible from 06:30 and very well readable at 09:00. New Zealand arrived early as well, but so did the rest of the Asian continent so they weren't easy to pick.

Tonga, while still alone on the frequency

As the day passed, the snow shower activity eased off a bit, and spending time outdoor was quite pleasant. 

KONG HQ to the right, neighbours including the guesthouse to the left. Facing west.

As evening drew nigh, we did our usual unusual-beer routine, before settling at the dinner table. Starters was salmon tartare, consisting of smoked and fresh, sashimi-quality salmon, together with red onion and chive. A Knewitz Riesling Eisenerz accompanied this course very well.

The main course was a lamb thigh, baked at very low temperature for a very long time - 7 hours in fact. An excellent meal with mashed root vegetables and a spicy sauce. We chose Italian for the red wine, a Langhe Nebbiolo 2018.

Dessert was M&M... Magnificent and Massive! Chocolate Mousse with a cloudberry jam on top. Wow. A 2008 Banyuls didn't make it worse! All this bought us into instant and deep hibernation mode, from which we only just recovered!

Weather report: Snow and sleet showers which eased off during the day (and a starry starry night followed). Temperatures still just on the "red" side during the day, a few degrees below at night. Almost dead calm. We appreciate that.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

KONG41 - Day Two

 A somewhat uneventful night sort of peaked at 06:00 with loggings of rare WBHR Sauk Rapids MN 660, and new (to me) WVAL 800 from the same city. WREY-MN 630 also noted. Good signals from Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas - more suprising was that at the same time several Colombians were audible, and even Radio Monumental, Chacuí Paraguay 1080. And then KKMO-WA on 1360. Propagation which we, with directive beverage antennas, call unfocused.

WVAL-800 is a good example of "seeing the station" with Jaguar software. With CKLW being the huge channel dominant, it is useful to use the Jaguar Spectra tool to see which other stations are visible, but maybe buried in the dominant station's signal. As luck would have it, WVAL came from virtually nothing to a good signal a few minutes around the full hour, and then faded away.

The Spectra tool view also gives a good impression of how many stations are actually on the frequency, but not audible. Since stations tend to have small, and often stable offsets from the nominal frequency, one can make qualified guesses about station identity.

Ole arrived around noon after an arduous journey on snowy and icy roads. DX-peditioning is not for the faint of heart! Later on we did another trip to Mount Loran for battery and SSD replacements, and finishing antenna repairs. Frequent snow showers and slushy roads.

Dinner time! Fried salmon with carbonara. The white wine came all the way from New Zealand, a 2018 Yealand Sauvignon Blanc. For dessert we enjoyed a blueberry pie with custard, and of course Amaretto!

Weather is much the same, snow showers with clear skies in between and temperatures just below freezing.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

KONG41 - Day One

 OK, so here we go again! We were doing some math yesterday, and found out that over the past 24 years we've actually spent more than a year together on this location! Starting off with extremely basic equipment, and little comfort, the journey has been spectacular indeed.

Anyway, I picked up OJ Sagdahl at Berlevåg airport on Friday afternoon, and we headed directly towards our Mount Loran remote, battery-powered Perseus/Jaguar/1000-metre beverage setup. After replacing the battery and the SSD, we discovered that "something", most likely a reindeer, had messed around with the antenna. The antenna lead to the transformer had been torn off, so the last four nights of recording were total silence. After half an hour, the damage was repaired, and there was no sign of the reindeer so it probably got away unharmed.

Mount Loran remote setup, Kjølnes lighthouse in the background. Facing East.

Not too much to report station-wise - KGMI Bellingham WA 790 isn't too common though. Tonga-1017 and Marshall Islands-1098 were heard with moderate levels.

Early in the evening Ole Forr reported that he's on his way from Andøya, a 12-hour drive even in summer conditions. Now: Icy roads.

We were only two for dinner this first day: The usual self-composed Bjarne-style fish gratin. We were supposed to have chocolate pudding with custard for dessert, but there simply wasn't room for any more.

Ole told us this morning he decided to rest a bit in Karasjok before doing the last 280-km leg. We will head out towards Mount Loran later today to pick up the latest catches and do final antenna repairs. And with that, below is the usual morning picture from Kongsfjord. Temperatures just above freezing in the day, at or below at night.

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 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, 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

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!