Sunday, April 29, 2018

Irish radio amateurs gain access to huge swathes of the VHF spectrum

The Irish Radio Transmitters Society announced today in their weekly news that Irish radio amateurs are to gain access to a huge part of the low band VHF spectrum.

EI stations will now have access to 30 to 49 MHz...all 19 MHz!!! The spectrum from 54 to 69.9 MHz has also been allocated... another 16 MHz! All of this is on a secondary basis and a 50 watt power limit.

Over the years, it's usual for the IRTS to lobby the licensing authority to get access to a small band here and there but not on this scale. I'm still assuming it isn't a mistake as the information on the Comreg website has been verified in the IRTS news. It may well be possible that it may in time become more defined as two distinct bands in the 40 MHz and 60 MHz region but for now, you can see the allocation as per the Comreg website shown above.

IRTS News...
Additional Frequencies
In December 2015 ComReg published a Draft Radio spectrum Management Strategy 2016-2018. The Society responded with a comprehensive submission to this draft and a summary of this was published in the March 2016 edition of Echo Ireland.

In June 2016 ComReg published its final Radio Spectrum Management Strategy 2016-2018 and indicated its intention to grant some additional spectrum to the amateur service. This has now been done and is in line with some of the requests made in the Society’s submission.

The 70 MHz band has been extended to 69.9 MHz to 70.5 MHz. This is an increase of 275kHz over the existing band of 70.125 to 70.450 MHz and is the full band that may be allocated to the amateur service under the European Common Allocations table.

Further spectrum covering all modes including digimodes has been granted on a secondary basis at 30 to 49 MHz and 54 to 69.9 MHz. The latter band also includes digital television in addition to all other modes. These new frequency bands are listed among the bands available generally to radio amateurs in Annex 1 of a recently revised version of the Amateur Station Licence Guidelines document ComReg 09/45 R4 which is available on the ComReg website.

The new bands in the 40 MHz and 60 MHz regions will, among other things, facilitate modern type beacons in the region of these frequencies as well as moving the existing 70MHz beacon on 70.130 MHz to the section of the band designated for beacons.

IRTS will be producing a local band plans for these two bands in consultation with countries that have allocations at these frequencies and IARU.

The Society would like to express its appreciation to ComReg for the release of this extensive spectrum to the amateur service on a secondary basis.

Source : IRTS News - 29th April 2018

Subsequent news item from the Royal Society of Great Britain (RSGB)..."In a landmark step, the Irish regulator Comreg has agreed to amateur access, on a secondary basis, to an extensive amount of VHF spectrum including 30-49MHz and 54-69.9MHz. In addition, their existing 4m band has been widened to the full 69.9-70.5 MHz CEPT range. It is expected that this will facilitate a number of innovative developments, including digital amateur television and new or realigned VHF propagation beacons. The RSGB congratulates its IRTS colleagues on their success, which dates back to a 2016 consultation input."

Friday, April 27, 2018

Germany to get 70 MHz allocation from 2nd May to 31st Aug 2018

I saw a news item recently that Germany is to get a temporary allocation on 70MHz again in 2018 from the 2nd of May to the 31st of August.

The allocation will be from 70.150 - 70.180 MHz. This does of course coincide with the Summer Sporadic-E season which will greatly increase the chance of making some contacts.

The suggested range for someone in central Germany is shown below....

The shortest skip distance is likely to be around the 1000 km mark and will probably require a very intense opening, possibly from mid May to early July.

The longest skip distance should be around the 2200 km mark. It's likely that the most common openings will be around the 1500 to 2000 km range.

If you live in Ireland, it might be handy to check for some useful markers. If you can hear Polish radio stations on 88-108 MHz, then check 70MHz to see if it is open to Germany. If you can hear Dutch or Belgian stations on 50 MHz, then check 70 MHz.

Monday, April 23, 2018

BBC report shows the impact of a sea path on Medium Wave signals

There has been a very interesting discussion on the Medium Wave Circle forum over the last few days about what kind of distances can be achieved over sea paths during daylight hours. Someone posted an interesting link to some tests that were done by the BBC back in 1936.

The BBC engineers used a 1kw transmitter at Start Point on a headland on the south coast of Devon to calculate the limit of acceptable signal strength which is shown above (extrapolated to a 100kw power level). They used a frequency around 1053kHz which has a wavelength of about 284 metres.

You'll notice how the signal struggles to penetrate inland yet can be easily heard along the south coast. As you can see, the signal strength at Hastings which is 307 kms / 191 miles to the east was the same as at Exeter which was over a land path and only 55 kms / 34 miles distant.

It really does show just how well ground wave signals on the Medium Wave band travel over sea water paths.

The BBC report can be seen HERE

1) Additional information about Start Point on the MB21 website HERE

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Clare FM interview with organisers of the Wild Atlantic Way

There was an interesting interview recently on commercial radio station Clare FM with Simon Kenny EI7ALB and Alan Cronin EI8EM about the 2017 Atlantic Way promotion.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Long distance reception of a Spanish station on Medium Wave during daylight hours

Since I did a previous scan of the Medium Wave band in March, I have found several other very weak signals buried in the noise. One of these however is just about audible and can be heard in the middle of the day. I built a very basic loop aerial with some wire would around a cardboard box (30 x 45 cms) and tuned it with a variable capacitor. The result was that I can now ID two of the signals.

The signal on 855 kHz was Radio Nacional 50kw transmitter near Santander on the north coast of Spain, a distance of 992 kms or 616 miles. As can be seen from the map above, the path is almost completely over the ocean.

The aerial mast in Spain is just 300m or so from the water while I am 10 kms from the south coast of Ireland.

Radio mast near Santander
The other signal heard was from the test DRM transmitter of France Blue (8kw) on 1071 kHz near Brest, a distance of 500 kms or 310 miles.

I was wondering if the signals were possibly sky wave but I don't think so. They are there in the middle of the day every day and they are really steady like you might expect from a ground wave signal.

The radio used was a very basic Sony radio which was indoors. The loop aerial was just sitting on top of it.

992 kms seems like a remarkable distance for a ground wave signal on the medium band. There are plenty of much closer transmitters in the UK that I can't hear but the sea path to Spain seems to be making all the difference.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Night time scan of the Medium Wave band during April 2018

Following on from the day time scan of the Medium Wave band that I did back in March 2018, I have spent the last four weeks listening to the band at night. As before, I was using basic domestic radios at my house near Cork City on the south coast of Ireland.

I used the Silvercrest above which is a very basic and not so sensitive receiver to find a signal using the digital frequency readout. I would then use the more sensitive analogue Sony radio below to listen to the signal properly so I could identify it.

All of the signals were heard roughly 2-4 hours after sunset... approx 9pm to 1am local time. As you might expect, a lot more signals were heard during the hours of darkness and the full list is shown at the bottom of the page.

Some stats and figures....

a) Spain...A total of 109 different signals were heard and roughly 50% of those were from Spain. With the sea path to the south from Ireland, it was probably no suprise that the Spanish signals were so strong and numerous on the band.

b) Gaps....Tuning from 531 kHz to 1602 kHz, there were 35 channels where no signal was heard. It's not that there was no signal there, it's just that I couldn't hear one. In some cases, very strong signals tended to block out the adjacent channels.

c) Countries......The countries with the highest number of stations heard were Spain and the UK. The only signal heard from Eastern Europe was Radio Free Europe in Lithuania.

Italy...Some stations in the north-west of the country were heard at about 1400kms.
Algeria & Tunisia....Some high power stations were heard here along the north African coast at roughly 2000kms.
Portugal...Not too many from there.
France....Two signals....a monster 1 megawatt transmitter in the south east (~1500kms) and a digital DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) transmitter from a site near Brest in Brittany (~500kms). The DRM signal could be heard as a hissing signal with no obvious pattern.

Belgium and the Netherlands...Not too many from there.

UK...The UK signals were by far the most interesting ones to hear. Many were buried in the noise and were only identified by listening to a particular song and then checking online to see what they were playing. I found that the online feeds were often 20-30 seconds behind the live radio signal.

Strong English Stations.....In terms of strong signals that could be listened to at night, these were the strong ones....
810 BBC Radio Scotland Westerglen??
882 BBC Radio Wales 100 Washford, Somerset, England
909 BBC Radio 5 Live 50 Clevedon, Somerset
1053 TalkSport 500 Droitwich, SW of Birmingham
1089 Talk Sport 2 Washford
1215 Absolute Radio 100 Washford, Somerset, England
1341 BBC Radio Ulster 100 Lisnagarvey, Belfast
1368 Manx Radio 20 Isle of Man

These were what I would call acceptable quality. Most of the others had too much interference with them to really listen to. I found it interesting in how on a band full of signals, I could only find seven English speaking stations that were worth listening to at night.

Interference...This biggest issue when trying to listen to some of the UK stations was the level of noise and interference. In many cases, there was a strong Spanish station on the same frequency and it was a case of rotating the radio and nulling out the Spanish station using the directional properties of the internal ferrite rod aerial. On one occasion, I could hear a Spanish station perfectly clear, I'd rotate the radio by 90 degrees and there was a perfectly clear English station on the same frequency.

Echo......Some of the UK and Spanish stations are using the same frequency multiple times in their respective countries. It probably sounds fine in the targeted service area but outside the service area, it results in a loud echo which makes it difficult to listen to.

2 second echo......This was an interesting one. There are two Smooth Radio transmitters listed on 1557 kHz.

1557 Smooth Radio 0.76 Northampton
1557 Smooth Radio 0.5 Southampton

It was impossible to identify which one I was hearing until I realised that I was actually hearing both of them with a two second delay between them! I'm not sure which one was first but I was certainly hearing both of them.

In conclusion...... It was interesting to do a detailed scan of the medium wave band to get a feel for what it is like currently. It is something I would have done many many years ago when I first started listening on radio.

What's pretty obvious is that a lot of stations in Central and Eastern Europe have now closed down their medium wave transmitters and have moved to VHF and digital. Looking at the various frequency listings and from my own observations, Spain and the UK are the two main countries in Europe that still use the medium wave band in a big way.

In the past, I would have listened to the band using a long wire aerial... great for bringing in the weak signals but it can't discriminate between stations. With so many Spanish stations on the band, it is really important to have a directional aerial so that some stations can be nulled out.

I was also suprised as to just how well the internal ferrite rod aerial in the Sony radio performed as it pulled in some of the lower power stations in the UK, especially the ones under 1kw. Prior to this, I would have assumed that I would need a long wire to pull in the low power ones but that doesn't seem to be the case.

The full list of station heard is below...

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Low Pass Filter for the 10m & 11m Bands

Another one from the archives :o). This is a design for a low pass filter for 29 MHz and would be suitable for anyone on the 28 MHz or 27 MHz bands who needs a filter to reduce harmonics. This is especially valid for anyone using a low powered radio to drive an external amplifier. e.g. Amplifying  4w to say 50-100w.

Coils...12 SWG wire. 6 turns. 8mm internal diameter. Coil length 19mm.

Capacitors...High Voltage ceramic or Mica. 110pf Cap is 100pf and 10pf in parallel.

A suitable enclosure might be a diecast box with the filter built on copper clad board. Note the screen which can be made from the pcb material as well. If you can live with a slightly lower performance in terms of filtering, you can omit the internal screens but make sure you put it in a metal box.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Hands free morse code contact :o)

This is a great video! Italian radio amateur Mauri IZ5OVP makes contact with C31CT in Andorra...but without a morse key! :o))

For those of you who can't read morse, it goes...

IZ5OVP gives his call sign IZ5OVP in morse
C31CT replies with IZ5OVP IZ5OVP 599
IZ5OVP replies with R R 599 BK
C31CT concludes the contact with R TU

molto bene

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A quick look at network radios...

What is radio? As time goes by, the fine line between what can be called 'radio' and what is the internet is becoming increasing blurred.

I was on the 70cms band today using the Echolink gateway about 10 miles to the north in Watergrasshill and I spoke to Brian GM7JDS in Scotland who was using an Inrico TM-7...a so called 'Network Radio'.

A network radio is essentially a mobile phone that is made to look and behave like a radio. It can have the same appearance and some like the Inrico TM-7 have a traditional microphone which might be found on a mobile rig. It uses the Android operating system, behaves like any smartphone and can be used through wi-fi as well.

But is it 'radio' as opposed to 'a radio'? Is it 'radio' if someone at the other end is actually using a real radio with RF going out over the airwaves? What if someone is using say a DMR radio into a local hotspot in their own house, is that any more 'real radio' than this?

At first glance, a network radio isn't a radio... or at least not a traditional radio. But if it allows you access to various repeaters around the world, is it not just a remote access for a radio? If it looks like a radio and behaves like a radio, is it a radio? Many people will have different opinions.

Some of the purists may well dismiss this as not real radio but it could be the perfect solution for someone with antenna restrictions or living in an apartment complex.

From my own point of view, anything that results in some activity on an amateur band somewhere can only be a positive thing.

There is an explanation on network radios below...

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Proposal to establish EI VHF Activity Nights

Proposal : Establish EI VHF Activity Nights

17th March 2018 : At present, the activity level on the VHF and UHF amateur bands is very low, possibly the lowest ever. It doesn’t help matters when the few radio amateurs that are active are spread across different bands and modes and are on air at different times.

The suggestion is that VHF activity nights should be established on Tuesday evenings. The RSGB hold VHF/UHF contests on certain Tuesday nights and the proposed schedule would tie in with those.

The schedule would be as follows...

First Tues of the month... 2m (Aligns with the UK)
Second Tues of the month... 70cms (Aligns with the UK)
Third Tues of the month... 6m & 4m
Fourth Tues of the month... Digital - Fusion / DMR / D-Star

Each activity period would be from 7 to 10pm. It's up to individuals to do what they want to do. SSB / FM simplex / repeaters. Local rag chew or try to see how far they can get.

The plan is to start it in Cork in April of 2018 and to try to encourage other areas to take part as well. I have asked the IRTS VHF manager to help publicise it on their website and newsletter.

Update : 3rd May 2018... The banner for the activity night is now up on the IRTS website.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Talk by K1JT on the latest digital weak signal modes

I came across this very interesting talk by Joe Taylor K1JT on the latest weak signal digital modes and it can be seen below. It's over an hour long and it gives a good overview of the status of the various weak signal modes in use at the moment (March 2018) on HF and VHF.

Unless you are actively using these modes, it can be hard to keep up with all the changes so I found the video very useful.

One of the interesting slides used in the talk is shown below...

The data for this chart is from all the logs updated to the CLUBLOG website in 2017. It shows how the new FT8 mode has really exploded since it was released and how it has replaced the older JT65 and JT9 modes.

It's also interesting to see how CW is still doing reasonably well and is ahead of phone! Not sure why the second half of the year is lower than the first half though?