Friday, August 30, 2019

French aeronautical threat to 144 MHz band removed

For the last few weeks, there has been plenty of discussion about the French proposal to try and share the 144-146 MHz amateur radio band with 'aeronautical services'.

It was announced today that this threat has now been removed at a CEPT meeting in Turkey. This happened "in parallel to a number of other proposals being adopted to support aeronautical interests."

While this is good news, it is surely a wake up call that no amateur radio band can really be considered safe and the various national and international amateur radio associations need to be ever vigilant.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

FCC petitioned to open up 45 to 50 MHz for DRM+ broadcasts in the USA

Currently most of the terrestrial radio stations in the USA broadcast either on the AM band from 540 to 1700 kHz or on the FM band from 88 to 108 MHz. At the end of September 2018, the FCC announced that there were 4,464 stations on AM and 10,867 stations on FM [1].

Due the crowded nature of the existing bands, it has been hard to introduce new digital radio formats.

DRM or Digital Radio Mondiale is a digital format designed to replace existing AM transmissions with clearer audio and with just 20% of the power. DRM+ is the format for VHF.

WRNJ Radio co-owner Larry Tighe has now filed a petition for rulemaking with the FCC, asking that the 45 MHz to 50 MHz band on the VHF spectrum be reallocated for DRM+ transmissions.

In a statement, Tighe said... “The 45–50 MHz band was allocated to two-way radio users in business and government, who have since migrated to higher bandwidths where they can use handsets with smaller antennas. As a result, this spectrum is extremely quiet right now. WRNJ monitored this bandwidth for an extended period of time, and heard very few distant signals.”

“There were 660 TV stations between Channels 2 and 7 before the transition to UHF for HDTV. There are now only approximately 60 TV stations in the USA on those old VHF channels. There is plenty of spectrum to share with a new service, i.e., DRM+ or any modulation, if the FCC really wanted to move AMs.”

Even though the DRM standard has been around for over a decade, it is only recently that it has begun to make serious inroads to the broadcasting scene with India, China and Russia showing an interest. One of the current problems is the high cost of DRM receivers which is prohibitive to consumers in developing countries.

Obviously if the USA opted for a new DRM+ allocation, it would give the format a huge boost. If it turned out to be the 45 to 50 MHz allocation then it raises the possibility of long distance reception by means of Sporadic-E during the summer months or via F2 propagation around the peak of the sunspot cycle.

More info in the links below.

1) FCC stats for the number of AM and FM stations at the end of Sept 2018
3) Previous post - Russia proposes to use DRM on 65.9-74.0 MHz

Video about contest station W3LPL

W3LPL in Maryland is a well known contest station and it's hard to miss the strong signal when they are on the HF bands.

I came across the video shown above which a 21 minute tour of the antenna farm.

Even if you have not into contesting, it's still interesting to see what is required for a high performance station.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

ARRL prohibit automated contacts for Contests and Awards

I came across this news item from the American Radio Relay League a few days ago...

ARRL Contest and DXCC Rules Now Prohibit Automated Contacts
Following the direction of the ARRL Board of Directors, ARRL has incorporated changes to the rules for all ARRL-sponsored contests and DXCC, prohibiting automated contacts. These changes also apply to the Worked All States (including Triple Play and 5-Band WAS), VHF/UHF Century Club, and Fred Fish, W5FF, Memorial awards. The changes are effective immediately.

A resolution at the July ARRL Board of Directors meeting pointed to “growing concern over fully automated contacts being made and claimed” for contest and DXCC credit. The rules now require that each claimed contact include contemporaneous direct initiation by the operator on both sides of the contact. Initiation of a contact may be either local or remote. 

I found this of interest because it shows the impact machine generated modes like FT8 and FT4 are having on amateur radio. As technology advances, it is challenging what peoples perception of what 'radio' actually is.

Some will argue that automation is nothing more than two computers talking to each other without any human input. Others and I'd suggest newer users may see very little difference between an automated system and having someone just click on a mouse to initiate a contact and then having the computer do the rest.

Hence the tongue in cheek graphic! 😉

Despite the ARRL ruling, I'd suspect we haven't heard the last of automation and automated contacts.

Addendum :
1) Some interesting thoughts by AE5X on the subject on this blog post.
2) Some thoughts on the subject by John, MW1CFN in this blog post.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Jan Mayen in the log.... or maybe not!

I saw JX7G spotted on the DX cluster on CW on 17m on the 26th of August 2019. It looked interesting so I had a quick listen and found a signal that was about 599 +10dB!

I had a listen up and there was a big pile up spread out over a few kHz. I quickly found the last QSO...quick call... and worked him.

Then I saw this on the cluster....

18070.0 JX7G 12:11 26 Aug Kapitein Jack Sparrow on the key Jan Mayen


Ah well... maybe next time. 😄

Sunday, August 25, 2019

New webSDR for 144 MHz now online in Cornwall, England

There was interesting item on the Southgate Amateur News recently about a new web based software defined radio (WebSDR) based at Goonhilly in Cornwall, England. What is particularly interesting about this is that it covers 144 to 146 MHz.

From the Southgate Amateur Radio News website...

144-146 MHz WebSDR at Goonhilly now available
AMSAT-UK and BATC have announced the availability of a new 144-146 MHz Web-based Software Defined Radio installation at Goonhilly 

This is being provided in collaboration with Goonhilly Earth Station where it is kindly hosted alongside the existing receiving equipment for the amateur radio transponders on the Qatar-Oscar-100 (QO-100 / Es’hail-2) geostationary satellite.

It shares the same Turnstile antenna that is used for the reception of the AO73, EO88 & JO97 CubeSats.

Being located in the far South West of the UK, it is anticipated the SDR will be useful for early Acquisition of Signal (AOS) of 144 MHz downlinks from amateur satellites and the International Space Station (ISS). Additionally it can be used for reception of tropospheric signals from the south – the Spanish beacon ED1ZAG on 144.403 MHz has been already been heard on the system.

The new 144 MHz band WebSDR is available at


Even though the turnstile antenna is omni-directional with no gain, it's the location of this webSDR that makes it interesting. Here are just a few uses...

1) RSGB News service... I used it to listen to the weekly GB2RS news on the local GB3NC repeater on 145.725 MHz.

2) Sea Path... What's unique about this site is that it is effectively on a peninsula and has the sea on three sides. This allows more distant signals to be heard rather then say a WebSDR located in the middle of England.

During a quick scan, I could heard French SSB stations as well as repeaters which were at least 200kms distant.

3) Propagation Test... Anyone with a modest Yagi antenna and say 50 watts on 144 MHz may well expect to be heard up to 500 kms away under modest conditions. The map below shows a 500 km circle around Goonhilly.

Just make a transmission and see if you can hear yourself. It will allow you to check conditions as well as any antenna improvements to your station.

It can also be done of course on FM although the range would be much less.

500 km circle around Goonhilly

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Looking ahead to conditions on 28 MHz - Sept 2019 to March 2020

As the Sporadic-E season in the northern hemisphere winds down, we'll have a quick look at what conditions might be like on 28 MHz for the next six months from September 2019 to March 2020.

Solar Cycle.... As the chart shows below, we are currently at the low point of the sunspot cycle.

The current solar flux is in the 60's and it's highly unlikely that we will see much improvement in the next six months. It may well be the second half of 2020 before we see the real start of the next cycle.

The result of all this is that for northern Europe and North America, the maximum usable frequency will struggle to get above 20 MHz and especially for East-West paths.

The prediction chart for the UK to Brazil in September of 2019 is shown below...

If we were to depend on just the Solar Flux and F2 propagation from the ionosphere then the 28 MHz band would be dead for the next few months.

Sporadic-E... While the main summer Sporadic-E season in the northern hemisphere ends in around August, there will still be occasional openings in the next six months with a slight peak around December.

These openings in themselves are unlikely to be that spectacular. The openings are likely to be in the range of 1200 to 2000 kms which are the most common openings during the summer months. We are unlikely to see any really short short skip (less than 500kms).

The main attraction of these winter Sporadic-E openings is that they can allow access to much better conditions further south.

If we take that UK to Brazil path as an example and then assume that there is one Sporadic-E hop of about 1200 kms to the south. This is what the prediction looks like for the latitude of Spain to Brazil ...

From this latitude, openings above 20 MHz are much more likely.

In Summary.... There will be plenty of openings on 28 MHz over the next six months but it will require some degree of dedication and actually spending time on the band.

If you're in the UK or northern Europe then don't expect East-West openings on 28 MHz to the USA or Japan. Think North-South. Listen for beacons or FT8 signals from Spain or Italy to see if there is suitable Sporadic-E to link to openings to Africa and South America further south.

If your interest is in 21 MHz or 24 MHz then the above largely still holds true although it will get easier the lower in frequency you go.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Baltic Way 30 Award - 19th to 25th August 2019

There are currently three stations from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia on air to mark the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way protest which would lead eventually to independence for the three Baltic countries. All three would go on later to become members of the European Union.

They have been very busy on the HF bands and I worked them on CW on the HF bands for the award shown above.

Basic rules...

1. Three memorial stations with special call-signs – ES30WAY, LY30WAY and YL30WAY - will be on air from August 19, 2019 till August 25, 2019 on all HF and VHF bands.

 2. An electronic award (downloadable pdf) is offered with the following rules:

Contact all three memorial stations and acquire at least 30 points.
A contact with each memorial station gives five points per band and per mode (CW, PHONE and DIGI).

More info here...

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Possible tropo conditions from Cape Verde to UK at the end of next week

While checking the long term weather forecast, I noticed that there was some high pressure building off the south-west of Ireland at the second half of next week i.e. 22nd - 25th Aug 2019.

I checked the F5LEN website and sure enough, the tropo prediction shows the maritime duct off the west coast of Africa extending much further north.

For anyone active in the UK and Ireland on 144 MHz or 432 MHz, they should keep a listen out for stations from the Canary Islands (EA8) and Cape Verde Islands (D4).

As  always, a prediction doesn't mean it's going to happen but it does suggest that a path is more likely.

You can find the most up to date tropo forecasts on the F5LEN website.

Update... Fri 23rd Aug 2019...

As predicted, the band did open from England to Cape Verde.

DX Cluster spots...

G4LOH 144174.0 D41CV 21:28 22 Aug IO70JC HK76MU +3dB now tnx Cape Verde
G7RAU 144174.0 D41CV 20:27 22 Aug IN79JX HK76MU tnx, deep qsb Cape Verde

Sunday, August 11, 2019

New 432 MHz station on Cape Verde Islands raises possibility of new records being set

144 & 432 MHz Yagi antennas on Cape Verde
So far in 2019, the D4C contest team on Cape Verde Islands off the west coast of Africa have made some pretty amazing contacts on 144 MHz. Using the call D41CV, they have worked across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, up to the UK, France and Ireland via marine tropo ducting and into Germany, Italy and Slovenia with a combined Sporadic-E / marine ducting mode.

Many of these contacts were well in excess of 4000 kms in distance. See links to posts HERE.

The D4C team have recently announced that they are now active on 432 MHz (70cms).

"We are now capable to be active on #70cm #432Mhz #uhf using a 16 El yagi "Pinocchio" model (wooden boom) home made. Transverter connected to @FlexRadioSystem 6600M driving a solid state PA running 100W seems working as we have worked on SSB loc IM66 for 3000 km dx #hamradio"

As the tropo prediction map from F5LEN shows below, a marine duct off the west coast of Africa seems to exist for long periods of time during the Summer and Autumn months.

This should allow D41CV on the Cape Verde Islands to work up to coastal stations in Spain and Portugal on 432 MHz, a distance of roughly 2,900 kms.

Potential for new records???

Before we look at the potential of D41CV setting new records, we should probably look first at what the current IARU Region 1 record for tropo on 432 MHz is.

Back on the 9th of July 2015, G4LOH in the south-west of England worked D44TS on 432 MHz CW. This was a sea path of roughly 4070 kms, an amazing distance for 70 cms.

This contact was as a result of the marine duct extending much further north so that it managed to get as far as England.

Just to show how good conditions were that day, here is video clip showing G4LOH hearing the D4C/B beacon on 432 MHz...

One important point here is that G4LOH worked D44TS where as D41CV is actually on a different island. As you can seen from the map below, Cape Verde is spread out over several different islands...

You'll also notice that D41CV is further south than D44TS.

If we now look at how far 4070 kms is from D41CV then we get this map...

This means that if anyone in Ireland, Wales or England managed to work D41CV on 432 MHz then it would be a new IARU Region 1 tropo record.

I would suggest that as long as there is a 432 MHz capable station active on Cape Verde Islands then this is probably a case of 'when' rather than 'if '.

Trans-Atlantic on 432 MHz???

It's hard to imagine a 70cms signal getting across the Atlantic but it's something that can't be discounted.

Earlier in June of 2019, there was a tropo duct across the Atlantic from Cape Verde to the Caribbean which lasted several days and allowed the propagation of 144 MHz signals.

If 144 MHz signals lasted for several days, was there a shorter period of time when 432 MHz signals would have propagated inside the marine duct?

If it were possible then this is what the 4070 km distance from D41CV looks like...

If a 432 MHz signal can travel 4070 kms from Cape Verde Islands to England then perhaps trans-Atlantic is not impossible?

There should be some interesting times in the months and years ahead as these possibilities are explored.

1) Archive from G4LOH's blog
2) IARU Region 1 tropo records for 432 MHz
3) F5LEN Tropo Forecast

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Article on 3000+ km contacts on 144 MHz by G4SWX

I recently came across this article by John, G4SWX on the possibilities of regular 3000+ km contacts on 144 MHz.

It can be viewed HERE

As outlined in the article, it does raise the intriguing possibility of being able to span the 3000km gap of the North Atlantic on 144 MHz.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

QRP-Labs sell their 8000th QCX CW Transceiver

QRP-Labs have just announced that they have sold their 8,000th QCX CW Transceiver kit on the 31st of July 2019.

The kit which sells for just $49 is a high performance single band CW transceiver and was first launched in August of 2017.

These are just some of the features...

Choice of single band, 80, 60, 40, 30, 20 or 17m
Approximately 3-5W CW output (depending on supply voltage)
Class E power amplifier, transistors run cool… even with no heatsinks
7-element Low Pass Filter ensures regulatory compliance
High performance receiver with at least 50dB of unwanted sideband cancellation
200Hz CW filter with no ringing
Iambic keyer or straight key option included in the firmware
Simple Digital Signal Processing assisted CW decoder, displayed real-time on-screen
Frequency presets, VFO A/B Split operation, RIT, configurable CW Offset

More info here...

The QSX SSB model is currently under development and should prove to be even more popular.