Thursday, 12 April 2018

Will The Sun Get Too Quiet For Topband DX?



Those of us that like to hunt European DX on 160m from the west coast know that the best time for this is during the 'solar low' years, those quiet periods between the end of one solar cycle and the beginning of the next.







From the west coast, openings to Europe on 160m are not something that happens with much regularity and, unlike the more frequent paths to Europe enjoyed from the east coast, are almost exclusively limited to this quieter part of the solar cycle. The weakening of the Sun's magnetic field at these times allows for less prop-killing D and E-layer signal absorption, particularly through the northern auroral zone path required from the west coast.

In his October, 2016, posting to the Topband reflector, propagation guru Carl Luetzelschwab, (K9LA), suggested that the coming years of solar lows may actually be too low and that because of the likely unprecedented low levels not seen in our lifetimes, the planet could receive higher cosmic-ray bombardment than normally associated with these periods.

"Since galactic cosmic rays are mostly *very energetic* protons, they can get down to low atmospheric altitudes, causing collisional ionization in the D region (and lower E region). A cursory estimate using cosmic ray ionization rates confirms more ionization in the lower atmosphere. 160m is not very tolerant of more absorption, so we may see an adverse effect of the weakened solar magnetic field."

K9LA's Topband comments  seems to have its roots in his May, 2015 article, "What's Going On With-160 Meters?", where he compares the solar minimum period between Cycles 22 and 23 to the minimum years between Cycles 23 and 24. Carl noted that the best 160m propagation period that he had seen in his lifetime was during the years between Cycle 22 and 23 and pondered why, during the even deeper prolonged low between Cycles 23 and 24, was it not producing the same levels of great propagation observed 11 years earlier. One possibility he puts forward was that ...
 
" ... it involves galactic cosmic rays (GCRs). At solar maximum, the Sun is more active, causing more geomagnetic field activity that is believed to be detrimental to 160-Meter propagation. Coupled with the Sun being more active is the fact that the Sun's magnetic field is stronger, which shields the Earth from galactic cosmic rays. Going the other way, when we're at solar minimum, the Sun's magnetic field is weakest, letting in more cosmic rays."

His graph shows the yearly trend of only the  low Ap index days (geomagnetically quiet) versus smoothed sunspot numbers for several recent cycles. The blue line plots the trend of low Ap index values with the black line showing the smoothed values; the red line indicates the smoothed sunspot number (solar activity levels).


source: http://k9la.us/May15_What_s_Going_On_with_160-Meters.pdf

Carl's earlier observations indicating that the best 160m propagation he had ever observed was during the low period between Cycle 22 and 23 and not during the much quieter low period between Cycle 23 and 24 are very much different than my own ... perhaps because of our different locations. 

From the west coast, the most challenging topband path is over the pole to Europe. This only occurs during 'best propagation' periods as this path will only open during prolonged periods of very low geomagnetic activity. Unlike Carl's path to Europe, west coast signals need to traverse the signal-killing auroral zone. 

During the first low period, I did experience several openings to Europe but nothing compared to what they were during the second low period, between Cycles 23 and 24, the one Carl did not experience propagation as good as the previous low. For several winters in a row, during the 23-24 low, I often found night after night of amazing propagation to Europe, the quality of which I had never heard before. Interestingly, on almost all of these nights, there were no other signals on the band but Europeans and nearby Washington or Oregon state W7s ... no signals at all from the rest of North America. At times it mimicked the sound of 20m CW to Europe, with signals often reaching S9 on my FT-1000 S-meter. I even worked one SM station on CW while running just 10W output!


With this long intense low, cosmic ray bombardment should have been at an all time high ... maybe it was, but it didn't seem to be bothering the west coast path to Europe, via the seemingly dormant auroral zone. 

I was prompted to address this topic after reading a recent report on the GeoSpace website, siting a new study  led by Nathan Schwadron, professor of physics at the University of New Hampshire’s Space Science Center. In the study, recently published in the journal Space Weather, a publication of the American Geophysical Union, the researchers found that large fluxes in Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR) are rising faster and are on a path to exceed any other recorded time in the space age.

The author's study predicted a 20% increase in radiation bombardment but their newest research shows current conditions exceed their predictions by about 10 percent, showing the radiation environment is worsening even more than expected.

With cosmic ray levels now predicted to increase by a whopping 30%, Carl and the rest of us may soon get some clarity on his original postulation that "maybe a solar minimum can be too deep for 160 meters."

With the next few cycles expected to be even poorer than the present one, the large increase in radiation levels from space may have profound impacts on more than just propagation ... satellites and, with a new appetite to return human activity to the moon, astronauts could be exposed to much higher radiation levels than ever before.

The next few years of (ultra?) solar-quiet should be very interesting!

Thursday, 5 April 2018

630m - Winter One

Although Canadian amateurs have had the 630m band for a few years now, the arrival of U.S. amateurs on the band last fall has been a game changer in terms of activity ... it's almost like starting fresh once again, hence the "Winter One" title!


The steady arrival of new stations on the band was exciting to see and the increase in activity made nightly band-checking mandatory in order to keep up with the new arrivals. Not totally unexpected, a high percentage of the new stations were located in the eastern part of the country where ham populations are higher, giving even more incentive to watch propagation trends for those 'special' nights to put some of the new arrivals in the log.

Over the winter DX season I worked 37 'new' U.S. stations in 23 different states. Of these 23 states, 11 were on CW while 12 were on JT9. Many of the JT9 contacts could have been made on CW at the time, had that been the operating mode chosen.


Hopefully the band will see an increase in CW activity next year as activity continues to grow. It is certainly much easier to get a capable CW signal on the air than a digital one and that is what many decided to do to get a quick start, while going the transverter route was the method chosen by most.

After being active all winter, the biggest surprise for me about 630m was just how little actual power is needed to exchange coast-to-coast signals, especially when using the weak-signal digital JT9 QSO mode.

Almost every new station that I worked was running less than 100 watts of total power output (TPO). A large number of these stations were in the 20 watt TPO range which I really found astounding, considering the relatively poor efficiencies of typical backyard antenna systems on this band. Propagation, always the great equalizer, was certainly playing a major role at times and watching conditions change from night to night was an education in itself.

K9MRI - 22W / 72' vertical wire / 140' tophat (72' x -140')

K9FD/KH6 - 100W / 70' x 70' inverted-L

K0KE (CW) - 75W / 70' x 50' inverted-L

WA9CGZ - 100W / base-loaded 160m inverted-L

N1BUG - 20W / inverted-L

KC3OL - 15W / base-loaded 'T'

K8TV - 3W eirp / 55' x 150' 'T'

K9KFR - 20W / 80' wire vertical

KA7OEI (CW) - 25W / 200' circular loop at 30'

K5DOG - 16W / 275' vertical loop

KC4SIT - 60W / inverted-L
As on most bands, allowable power is limited, but on LF and MF, the limits are stated in EIRP and not TPO. Hams are limited to 5W EIRP on 630m which may not sound like much but a large number of the stations worked this winter were worked while I was running around 2-3W EIRP which often seems to be plenty when using JT9.

Although Canada's west coast is now well-represented on 630m, it would be really great to see some interest and station building from provinces to the east ... VE6, VE5, VE4 ... The fast-approaching warmer weather should provide the ideal opportunity to get any needed antenna work squared away before the next DX season begins along with its anti-antenna building winter weather!

If you are one of many amateurs that may have been contemplating some 630m work but were discouraged about antenna sizes or having to generate gobs of power, hopefully the above information will encourage you to get on the band and join the fun.

You can find more information that may be helpful in your quest via the 630m links on the right side of my blog page or by clicking here.

Friday, 30 March 2018

CLE 230 Results

Last weekend's CLE 230 overall results have now been tabulated. Reports from European NDB hunters and those from North America and the rest of the world may all be found here at the NDB List info website.


If you have joined the NDB List group, a copy of these will have already been sent to your mailbox.

It seems that compared to the last time these same frequencies were searched (CLE 213 Nov '16), my results were a little poorer, with 36 beacons heard this time versus 52 for the previous effort.

Propagation varied over the three night event depending upon what part of the world you were listening from and as usual, when there has been some recent coronal hole induced geomagnetic disturbance, the further away from the auroral zone you were, the better the prop seemed to be. The third and final night saw summer-like lightning noise for most North American listeners and the next several CLE weekends will be  lucky to escape these rising levels until late in the fall ... but don't give up as there can be some great propagation in the summer and those quiet nights do come around when you least expect them.

In spite of the poor propagation here, there were some unusual quirks. Many of the 25 watt, normally easy NDBs from the central and southern states, were missing in action ... yet on all three nights, both FIS in Key West, Florida and SQT, up the coast on Florida's central eastern shoreline, were easy copy for several hours.

I can only guess that the reason for this is that both of these are 'big' beacons ... big antennas and power in the 300W plus class. They just managed to power through in spite of the poor propagation.

FIS - 332 kHz Key West, Florida (aka: The 'Fish Hook' beacon)

SQT - 257 kHz Melbourne, Florida

The other surprise was a loud signal on all three nights from FS in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, yet there was not even a hint of many of the other regular midwestern stations. Its reported 300W and 60' vertical is no doubt the reason. 

FS - 245 kHz Sioux Falls, South Dakota
How DD in Columbus, Ohio managed to sneek through is a bit of a mystery but it looks like her 50W and classic 'T' was enough to do the trick.

DD - 253 kHz Columbus Ohio

I managed only 36 stations but spent little time on Friday since conditions were truly dreadful.


25 04:00 240.0 BVS Burlington, WA, USA
25 08:00 241.0 YLL Lloydminster, AB, CAN
25 04:00 242.0 ZT Port Hardy, BC, CAN
25 04:00 242.0 XC Cranbrook, BC, CAN
25 07:00 244.0 TH Thompson, MB, CAN
25 05:00 245.0 YZE Gore Bay, ON, CAN
25 13:00 245.0 HNS Haines, ALS
25 06:00 245.0 FS Sioux Falls, SD, USA
25 08:00 245.0 CB Cambridge Bay, NU, CAN
25 08:00 245.0 AVQ Marana, AZ, USA
25 06:00 246.0 ZXJ Fort St. John, BC, CAN
25 07:00 248.0 ZZP Queen Charlotte Is, BC, CAN
25 04:00 248.0 WG Winnipeg, MB, CAN
25 07:00 248.0 QL Lethbridge, AB, CAN
25 07:00 248.0 QH Watson Lake, YT, CAN
25 09:00 248.0 PQF Mesquite, TX, USA
25 10:00 250.0 FO Flin Flon, MB, CAN
25 04:00 251.0 YCD Nanaimo, BC, CAN
25 11:00 251.0 OSE Bethel, ALS
25 04:00 251.0 AM Amarillo, TX, USA
25 07:00 253.0 GB Marshall, MN, USA
25 09:00 253.0 DD Commercial Point, OH, USA
25 09:00 254.0 ZYC Calgary, AB, CAN
25 09:00 254.0 SM Fort Smith, AB, CAN
25 09:00 254.0 EV Inuvik, NT, CAN
25 06:00 256.0 LSO Kelso, WA, USA
25 08:00 256.0 EB CFB Edmonton, AB, CAN
25 04:00 257.0 XE Saskatoon, SK, CAN
26 06:00 257.0 SQT Melbourne, FL, USA
25 04:00 257.0 LW Kelowna, BC, CAN
25 04:00 257.0 HCY Cowley, WY, USA
25 04:00 258.0 ZSJ Sandy Lake, ON, CAN
25 09:00 420.0 FQ East Chain, MN, USA
26 06:00 421.0 VLY McKenney, TX, USA
26 06:00 426.0 EN Council Bluffs, IA, USA
25 07:00 428.0 POH Pocahontas, IA, USA

As usual, my receiver of choice was the Perseus SDR in combination with my MF inverted-L, tuned to 300kHz.

The very active NDB Group.io List is a great place to learn more about the 'Art of NDB DXing' or to meet other listeners in your region. There is a lot of good information available there and new members are always very welcome. As well, you can follow the results of other CLE participants from night to night as propagation is always an active topic of discussion.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Hunting For NDBs In CLE 230

ZSJ - 258 courtesy: http://www.ve3gop.com/



This coming weekend will see another monthly CLE challenge. This time the hunting grounds will be: 240.0 - 259.9 kHz and 420.0 - 439.9 kHz.

 

For those unfamiliar with this monthly activity, a 'CLE' is a 'Co-ordinated Listening Event', as NDB DXers around the world focus their listening time on one small slice of the NDB spectrum.

 


An easy challenge in this one is to hear the Sandy Lake (ONT) NDB, 'ZSJ', on 258 kHz. At 500W and a 150' vertical, it's well-heard throughout North America. Listen for its upper-sideband CW identifier (with your receiver in the CW mode) on 258.408 kHz.

Hopefully the propagation will co-operate but the Sun has been doing some strange things once again this week, as Cycle 24 continues its downward trend.

If you are interested in building a system for the new (U.S.) 630m band, the CLE will give you the chance to test out your MF receiving capabilities and compare against what others in your area might be hearing.

When tuning for NDBs, put your receiver in the CW mode and listen for the NDB's CW identifier, repeated every few seconds. Listen for U.S. NDB identifiers approximately 1 kHz higher or lower than the published transmitted frequency since these beacons are modulated with a 1020 Hz tone approximately.

For example, 'AA' in Fargo transmits on 365 kHz and its upper sideband CW identifier is tuned at 366.025 kHz while its lower sideband CW ident can be tuned at 363.946 kHz. Its USB tone is actually 1025 Hz while its LSB tone is 1054 Hz.

Often, one sideband will be much stronger than the other so if you don't hear the first one, try listening on the other sideband.

Canadian NDBs normally have an USB tone only, usually very close to 400 Hz. They also have a long dash (keydown) following the CW identifier.

All NDBs heard in North America will be listed in the RNA database (updated daily) while those heard in Europe may be found in the REU database. Beacons heard outside of these regions will be found in the RWW database.

From CLE organizer Brian Keyte, G3SIA, comes the details:

Here are the brief details for our 230th Co-ordinated Listening Event.
In the last Event we used a very big frequency range - 50 kHz.
This time we have 40 kHz to search in, a wide range again, but without QRM from the DGPS beacons and relatively free of NDBs too, all giving us some 'easy listening'?

Days: Friday 23 March to Monday 26 March
 

Times: Start and end at midday, your LOCAL TIME
 

Range: 240.0 - 259.9 kHz plus 420.0 - 439.9 kHz
 

(BOTH ranges are for ALL listeners)

Please listen for the NDBs whose nominal frequencies are in those ranges, plus any UNIDs you hear there.
 

The LF range will be very challenging from most of Europe.
The HF range will be very challenging from most of North America and from Australia.

S E Asia has some in both ranges.

First-time CLE logs will also be very welcome from anyone, anywhere.

Send your final CLE log to the List, preferably as a plain text email, not in an attachment, with CLE230 and FINAL at the start of its title.
 

Please show on EVERY LINE of your log:

# The full Date (or Day no.) and UTC (the day changes at 00:00 UTC).
# kHz (show the beacon's nominal published frequency if you know it)
# The Call Ident.

Other optional details, Location, Distance, etc., go LATER in the same line (or in footnotes). Any extra details about UNIDs, especially strong ones that may be near to you (maybe their approximate direction, etc.) will help us to discover more about them. Please make your log useful to old and new members alike by ALWAYS including your own location and brief details of the equipment and aerial(s) that you were using.


Good listening
Brian
---------------------------------------------------------------------
From: Brian Keyte G3SIA ndbcle'at'gmail.com
Location: Surrey, SE England (CLE co-ordinator)
---------------------------------------------------------------------


If you are interested in some remote listening - maybe due to local difficulties - you could use any one remote receiver for your loggings, stating its location and with the owner’s permission if required. A remote listener may NOT also use another receiver, local or remote, to make further loggings for the same CLE.


 -------------------------------------------------------------------


These listening events serve several purposes. They:
  • determine, worldwide, which beacons are actually in service and on-the-air so the online database can be kept up-to-date
  • determine, worldwide, which beacons are out-of-service or have gone silent since the last CLE covering this range
  • will indicate the state of propagation conditions at the various participant locations
  • will give you an indication of how well your LF/MF receiving system is working
  • give participants a fun yet challenging activity to keep their listening skills honed
Final details can be found at the NDB List website, and worldwide results, for every participant, will be posted there a few days after the event.

*** NEWS FLASH *** 

The Yahoo ndblist Group has just been moved to Groups.io and The NDB List Group will now be found there! The very active group is a great place to learn more about the 'Art of NDB DXing' or to meet other listeners in your region. There is a lot of good information available there and new members are always very welcome. As well, you can follow the results of other CLE participants from night to night as propagation is always an active topic of discussion.

You need not be an NDB List member to participate in the CLEs and all reports, no matter how small, are of much value to the organizers. 

Remember - 'First-time' logs are always VERY welcome!

Reports may be sent to the NDB List Group or e-mailed to CLE co-ordinator, Brian Keyte (G3SIA), whose address appears above. If you are a member of the group, all final results will also be e-mailed and posted there.

Please ... give the CLE a try ... then let us know what NDB's can be heard from your location! Your report can then be added to the worldwide database to help keep it up-to-date.

Have fun and good hunting!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

My 2018 Novice Rig Roundup (NRR) Highlights

courtesy: arrl.org




Well this year's NRR has come and gone, providing a full nine days of CW fun for those of us that love old radios.







Once again, the ether filled with signals spawned from the old classic Novice-class workhorses that many of today's 'seasoned' amateurs used in their first stations, way back in their teen years. In many respects, the NRR is as close to a real time machine that you'll find, allowing participants to experience the joys, and sometimes the frustrations, of operating CW with their favorite old rigs from the past.

For me, just like last year, the NRR once again provided many notable highlights over the nine day event.

Almost topping the list was just experiencing the variety of old classics and hearing how well almost all of them sounded. Numerous Knight T-60s, Drake 2NTs, Heath DX-40s, Johnson Adventurers and Eico 720s, along with a nice variety of homebrew MOPAs and one-tube power oscillators graced the nightly airwaves. These oft-forgotten shelf-queens always seem to develop super-powers, far beyond their expectations, when the NRR rolls around!

I was really surprised to work so many T-60s, a small and inexpensive 60 watt transmitter kit from 1962 using a popular 6DQ6 television  sweep tube ... one never expected to achieve such RF greatness! I was very impressed with every one that I heard.


What radio-struck pre-Novice teen, dreaming about getting on the air, could resist a clever ad like this.


Scott, KA9P's 80m T-60 signal sounded as sweet as it looks in his 2018 setup, paired with his Heathkit HR-10B inhaler.

KA9P 2018 NRR station with RAF Vulcan bomber Type 51 hand pump

Right up there with the plethora of T-60s was the Drake 2NT, another great sounding radio and also my choice for this year's event. My summer refurbishing project, described here, proved a worthy companion, although my much-treasured VF-1 VFO's short term drift probably had my 2NT getting red in the face whenever I took her off of crystal control to scurry around the band, seeking out the CQ'ers. I've had a love-hate relationship with the VF-1 ever since buying my first one back in '63!


VE7SL 2018 NRR with 2NT, VF-1 and my Original '63 Vibroplex

Yet another 2NT packed a powerful punch from West Virginia, keyed by Dave, W3NP, when we exchanged 579 reports on 40m, 45 minutes before sunset.

W3NP - 2018 NRR setup
This year's band conditions were excellent as both 40 and 80m sounded much as I remember them sounding back in the 60's ... loaded with strong North American CW signals almost every night. Unfortunately, Solar Cycle 24 has taken its toll on 15m and although the band appeared to often have daily though somewhat dicey propagation, there appeared to be few NRR stations using the band.

I made three contacts on 15m this year: W5IQS in Texas, K2YWE in Maryland and WN4NRR in Florida, whose S9 reply to my 'CQ NRR' just about took my head off ... what a nice surprise to hear the booming signal from Bry's 2NT powerhouse. Dan, K2YWE, was no slouch either, as his Globe Scout was music to my ears when his signal quickly rose out of the noise just long enough to make the coast-to-coast journey. If the predictions for future solar cycles become reality, there may be many more NRRs before we experience the magic of 15m once again.

K2YWE's Globe Scout and Adventurer were worked on all three bands!

My NRR exchanges with George, N3GJ (KA3JWJ) in Pennsylvania, truly demonstrated just how well the low bands were performing. More than an hour before my local sunset, I responded to his 569 40m 'CQ NRR' only to learn that his signal, now reaching a solid 579, was coming from an original Ameco AC-1! This one-tube crystal-controlled power oscillator has, over the years, reached Holy Grail status among many amateurs. Originals are guarded like precious jewels and handed down from father to son ... or in George's case, from uncle to nephew!

N3GJ and his all powerful original AC-1
I was astounded at the strength of his signal and before exchanging '73's added 'CUL on 80', not really thinking how low the chances of that might really be. Two hours later, his even stronger 'CQ NRR' was heard on 80m, as his 579 signal flirted with reaching S8 ... all emanating from just a low hanging inverted-V.  It's nights like this that remind me how I was bitten by the radio bug so many years ago and to have them coincide with the NRR was an added bonus. I've rated my contacts with George's AC-1 the highlight of this year's NRR for me!

Heathkits were plentiful too, with the DX-60 seeming to be the rig of choice, often paired with the matching HG-10 VFO. Both Mark, VA7MM and Gary, W8PU, packed a wallop with these fine examples.

VA7MM - 2018 NRR set-up

W8PU - 2018 NRR set-up

But it wasn't just DX-60s representing Benton Harbor engineering in the NRR. All of these neat old Heaths made it out to the west coast, sometimes on both 40 and 80. KN8RHM's (Rick) HW-16 made it here on 40m with a solid signal almost every night, while KE4OH (Steve) sported a modernized DX-20 in the form of Heath's HX-11. Steve even received the highly-treasured 'OO' report for his NRR chirp ... good job!

KN8RHM - HW-16 NRR set-up
 
KE4OH - HX-11 NRR station
Not to be forgotten was the ubiquitous DX-40, used by several, including this proud old warhorse, lovingly keyed by Doug, N3PDT.

N3PDT - DX-40 NRR transmitter

Rich, WN7NRR / AG5M operating in nearby Washington state put some of his 44 crystals to work with his HW-16 ... that's some collection!

WN7NRR - HW-16 NTT set-up
It seems that many NRRers are as adept with a soldering iron as they are with a hand key, as several homebrew transmitters were worked from here as well.

Howie, WB2AWQ in Reno, was using his homebrew pair of 807s, driven with a Millen 90700 swing-arm VFO from 1945. Most shacks worldwide, including the Novices, found plenty of use for the 807 as they were dirt-cheap in the post war surplus market. The filament has a beautiful illumination and if a bit gassy as most are by now, emit a wonderous blue glow with each press of the key.

WB2AWQ - 807s
Millen VFO from 1945 at WB2AWQ
KD7JG (Joe) in Oregon, sported a 12 volt version of the 807, a 1625, in his home brew rock-crusher. With 25 watts into his ladderline-fed 160m inverted-V, his 599 signal up here was hard to miss on both 40 and 80m.

KD7JG's 1625 NRR mainstay
K4IBZ down in Florida also utilized the magical 6DQ6 sweep tube in his homebrew rig for 80 and 40m. Bill was worked on both bands from here with his 10 watts receiving a 569 on both contacts.

K4IBZ's 10 watter
AA8V, Greg in Maryland, used an LM-13 war surplus frequency meter to drive a popular Novice pairing of the 6AG7 / 6146 at 90W input ... good enough for a 579 report on 40m, 30 minutes before my sunset.

AA8V's homebrew NRR stack
The runner-up highlight was my 80m QSO with Lou, VE3BDV / VE3AWA who worked me on 3568 kHz using his Bare-Essentials 50C5 crystal controlled power oscillator at 7 watts. I understand that this rig enjoyed some popularity among many Novices as a 'first transmitter'. Being connected directly across the A.C. mains, fully exposed, would require some delicate handling!

VE3BDV / VE3AWA - 50C5 Bare - Essentials power oscillator
There are many more stories to share and you can soon read them all on the NRR 2018 Soapbox page once it gets published. If you participated, be sure to post your station picture and tell us about your experience!

I finished up the NRR with 123 contacts, a lot better than last year's event when I was running the Longfeller at 5 watts.

If you think that you might enjoy participating in the next event then now is the time to start preparing ... just 353 more sleeps until the 2019 NRR begins!!