Author Archive

DXing The Utilities (Part 1)


The following blog was originally posted in 2015 but might still be of interest to anyone with a shortwave radio! Although maritime CW has all but vanished from HF, ships can still be logged and followed on digital modes, using DSC or Digital Selective Calling.

                 *******************************

After building the house here on Mayne Island, in the early 90's, it was several years until I was able to set up a dedicated station. In the meantime, I limited my radio activities strictly to listening. I had a nice Icom R-71A set up in a hall closet and spent my radio-time, mostly on weekend evenings, listening to maritime CW, HF aeronautical traffic and, of course, NDBs below the broadcast band.

My HF receiving antenna consisted of three inverted-V's ... one for 160m, the second for 80m and the third for 40m ... all fed from the same coaxial line at the top of a 70' Balsam. It didn't take long to realize what an exceptional radio location I had, living right at the edge of the ocean, with dozens of miles of saltwater in most directions other than due west.


I really enjoyed following evening airline flights across both the North and South Atlantic, and in the early winter afternoons, following the commercial air-traffic all over Africa. Even though listening on 5 or 6MHz, I was amazed at how strong the signals from airliners over Africa at 30,000 feet or more could become, this far to the west. In the early mornings, directions were reversed and traffic from the far east, right into India, was fairly common. Often, small single-engine planes, usually run by various missionaries, could be heard while on the ground, taxiing at remote field locations and calling in via HF radio to request takeoff and flight-following.

Now QSL's have always been one of my top radio interests and it wasn't long before I started sending and collecting verifications for both the aircraft and the ships I was hearing ... once I had figured out how to get my reception reports to their proper destinations.

A very small portion of my 'utility' QSL collection is shown below. For the most part, it consists of PRC's or 'Prepared Reply Cards', with blank portions to be filled-in by the verification signers. Surprisingly, my return rate was around 90% and verifications were often returned with long, hand-written letters and numerous photographs ... especially from the ship RO's, as I suspect their days at sea were often quite monotonous. Even many of the military and commercial aircraft pilots would return a handwritten note along with the filled-in verification card, which I found even more surprising. It seemed that most were very surprised to hear that their radio transmissions were even making it this far and could be heard so readily.

Some of the most interesting catches came from the Pacific, with a large variety of ships operating out of Japan. There are probably still several maritime CW stations operating in Japan. Many of these were owned and operated by commercial fishing companies and could be heard working fleet vessels throughout the Pacific on their daily CW skeds.

This interesting catch from the North Pacific was the Japanese 'fisheries research vessel' 'M/V FUJI MARU'. She was about 1200 miles NW of her CW contact, JNA in Tokyo.


A Japanese cruise-ship, the 'M/V ORIENT VENUS' was logged early one summer morning while working JNA on 8355 KHz CW. Her position indicates she was in the Mariana Islands.







One of my first catches from the Great Lakes
was the 'M/V Oglebay Norton', a huge bulk
carrier out of Detroit. Her 150W signal was loud and clear late one August evening while in contact with WLC, Rogers City Radio.




The U.S. Coast Guard is still one of the best QSLers around.
Several of their stations will QSL with a nice printed card.
NMC (San Francisco) and NMO (Hawaii) were two
catches, regularly heard on the old 500 KHz calling
frequency.


Stormy weather often provided a good chance
to catch a search and rescue mission in progress.

'Rescue 6008' was an HH-60J helo enroute from
Chesapeake Bay to Elizabeth City, North Carolina during
a midnight rescue operation.





Although not my farthest HF maritime catch,
this was one of the most surprising. 'C4PC'
was heard early one February evening on 8 MHz CW, when conditions seemed terrible. No other ships were heard on the band at the time. As I learned later, the 'M/V MAIROULI' was at anchor near Beirut, Lebanon, a distance of nearly 7,000 miles from Mayne Island.

                                                                .... cont'd

Hunting For NDBs in CLE250

YMW - 366 courtesy: ve3gop.com



There is no doubt that as one ages, the passage of time seems to accelerate. Didn't we just have a CLE a couple of days ago?? In any event, this weekend finds CLE 250 focusing on 350.0 - 369.9 kHz, in search of NDBs.


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.

If you've been meaning to participate in  CLE, then maybe this weekend is a fine time to try! We continue to have  a lot of first time submissions so you won't be alone!

As well, if you're trying to learn CW, copying NDBs is perfect practice as the identifier speed is generally slow and the letters are repeated again every few seconds!

A nice challenge in this one is to hear YMW - 366 kHz. 'YMW' is located in southwest Quebec, near Maniwaki.

'YMW' runs 500W into a massive vertical and is well-heard throughout North America as well as in Europe. Listen for its upper-sideband CW identifier repeated every 10 seconds (with your receiver in the CW mode) on 366.398 kHz.

This past week has seen the best propagation of the season so far. Hopefully it will extend into the CLE weekend ... but, it will be interesting to see if our CLE once again gets whacked by the Sun, just as it gets started. This has been the case for the past several CLEs as our monthly schedule seems synced with some nasty coronal hole on the Sun, also on a ~ 27 day cycle!

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' near Fargo, ND, 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:


Our 250th Co-ordinated Listening Event is almost here. 
Can new 'listening eventers' join in too?  YES, PLEASE!  Joachim and I are
always pleased to help first-time CLE logs through the harvester program.

    Days:    Friday 22 November - Monday 25 November
    Times:   Start and End at midday, your LOCAL time
    Range:   350.0 - 369.9 kHz

Please log all the NDBs you can identify that are listed in this range (it
includes 350 kHz but not 370) plus any UNIDs that you come across there.
You can find full information to help you, including seeklists made from
RNA/REU/RWW, by going to the CLE page http://www.ndblist.info/cle.htm
and clicking on SEEKLIST.

Please send your 'Final' CLE log to the List, if possible as a plain text
email and not in an attachment, with 'CLE250' and 'FINAL' at the start of
its title.
Please show the following main items FIRST on EVERY line of your log:

  #   The full Date (e.g. 2019-11-22)  or just the day number (e.g. 22)
         and UTC (the day changes at 00:00 UTC).
  #   kHz  - the beacon's nominal published frequency, if you know it.
  #   The Call Ident.

Optional details such as Location and Distance go LATER in the same line.
If you measure LSB/USB offsets and cycle times they are useful too.

Please always include details of your own location and brief details of the
receiver, aerial(s) and any recording equipment you were using, etc.

Joachim or I will send the usual 'Any More Logs?' email at about 20:00 UTC
on Tuesday so you can check that your log has been found OK.
Do make sure that your log has arrived at the very latest by 09:00 UTC on
Wednesday 27 November.   We hope to make all the combined results
within a day or so.

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

(Reminder:  If you wish you can use a remote receiver for your loggings,
  stating its location and owner - with their permission if required.
  A remote listener may NOT also use another receiver, whether local or
  remote, to obtain further loggings for the same CLE)

These monthly 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

The NDB List 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!

Here Comes The ’29 QSO Party!





Saturday, November 9th, as well as the following Saturday (16th), will see the annual running of the Bruce Kelley 1929 QSO Party, otherwise known as the '1929 BK'.


Only transmitters that are 'era-appropriate' are allowed to be used. More specifically, transmitters must employ tubes that were available in 1929 or earlier, and transmitters must be self-excited. No crystals allowed! Crystals were new and largely unaffordable for most hams back in the depression days.

The year of 1929 marked a real turning point in amateur radio as governments finally cracked-down on things such as frequency stability, out of band operations and re-alignment of call districts. In short, hams were henceforth required to behave themselves and to clean up their signals and methods of operation.

courtesy: http://www.arrl.org/
Although the new rules did a lot to improve things when it came to 'signal purity', there was still a long way to go ... but the wheels of improvement had been officially set in motion. The next decade would see monumental changes in both transmitter and receiver architecture, as engineers along with some particularly gifted amateurs, strove to unlock the challenges of this relatively new technology.

If you tune across the CW bands during these two upcoming Saturday nights, you will have the rare opportunity to hear exactly what the bands would have sounded like back in the very early '30s'.

For the most part you will hear single-tube Hartley, Colpitts or TNT oscillators along with a few two-tube MOPAs thrown in. Many of them will suffer the same problems encountered by the boys of '29 ... chirp, drift, buzzy notes and frequency instability from antennas swaying in the wind.

The MOPAs will sound much better but some surprisingly nice-sounding signals can be heard coming from properly tuned and optimised single-tube oscillators. I recall being blown away by the lovely sounding signal I heard from such a rig when first tuning into the BK activity several years ago, only to learn that it was a self-excited Hartley using 1/4" copper tubing for the oscillator tank circuit!

The '29 watering-hole on 80m will be around 3550-3580 kilocycles (be careful not to confuse this with kilohertz!) while the early afternoon to post-sunset 40m activity will be found from 7100-7125 kc. There may even be a few on the very low end of 160m. Although many of these transmitter styles were used on 20m and higher, the BK rule-makers have wisely decided not to inflict these sounds on the present ham populace as it would likely keep the 'Official Observers' busy for several days writing pink-slips.

Like last year, I will set up my Hull Hartley (160, 80, 40m), as I haven't used it much since building the MOPA a few years ago. If it's very windy (almost assured), the Hartley will really sound like 1929!


My  Hull Hartley

You can learn more about amateur radio happenings leading up to and following the 1929 crackdown in my earlier series of 'Why '29' blogs here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Those wishing to put something together for next year's event can find everything needed here:

Introduction To Building ... '29-Style

Building '29-Style - Part 1

Building '29-Style - Part 2

Heck, there may even be time to throw something together for this year if you have a few parts and an older tube or two ... the '27' comes to mind and is readily found in many junk boxes. Maybe you know an old-timer or two with lots of parts that could help you out. Your transmitter does not need to look pretty nor need it use period-correct components or coils ... it's just the tube that needs to be correct ... 27's are dirt cheap and easy to find. A simple Hartley '27' oscillator will get you enough wattage to have plenty of fun!

Let's hope for good conditions for this event as the last few years have been adversely affected by geomagnetic storming. Poor propagation or not, I guarantee there will be plenty of  '29ers busy calling 'CQ AWA' on the low bands.

Complete BK details are available here.

Hunting For NDBs In CLE249

YUT - 335 kHz (courtesy: VE3GOP)





It's CLE time once again! This coming weekend the CLE  hunting grounds will be 335.0 - 349.9 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.

If you've been meaning to participate in  CLE, then maybe this weekend is a fine time to try! Lately, we've had a lot of first time submissions so you won't be alone!

As well, if you're trying to learn CW, copying NDBs is perfect practice as the identifier speed is generally slow and the letters are repeated again every few seconds!

A nice challenge in this one is to hear YUT - 335 kHz. 'YUT' is located at Repulse Bay, Nunavut, way up on Baffin Island.

'YUT' runs just 25W into a massive vertical and is well-heard throughout North America and parts of northern Europe. Listen for its upper-sideband CW identifier repeated every 10 seconds (with your receiver in the CW mode) on 335.406 kHz.

At this time of the season, summer lightning storms should be drawing down significantly and with some decent propagation there will be many stations to be logged.

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' near Fargo, ND, 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:

Hello all

Our 249th Co-ordinated Listening Event is less than a week away.
Just a normal CLE using a busy range of frequencies.
First-timers' CLE logs will also be very welcome, as always. 

    Days:      Friday 25 October - Monday 28 October
    Times:     Start and end at midday, your LOCAL time
    Range:     335.0 - 349.9 kHz

Please join us wherever you are - just log the NDBs you can identify
having their nominal frequencies in the range (it includes 335 kHz
but not 350 kHz) and any UNIDs that you come across there too.

We last concentrated on these frequencies in CLE233 (June 2018).

Please read the 'Final Details' which will follow on Wednesday.

73   Brian

 (Reminder:  You could use any one remote receiver for your loggings,
stating its location and owner - with their permission if required.
A remote listener may NOT also use another receiver, whether local
or remote, to obtain 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

The NDB List 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!




An Interesting FT8 Afternoon


Lest my loyal blog-followers think I’ve taken a leap to the digital-darkside, rest assured this is not the case!


The only time that I (somewhat grudgingly) use FT8 is during the summer Es season, since most of the DX seems to have migrated to that mode. On Monday afternoon, during a moment of weakness driven by curiosity, I moved my receiver from 630m JT9 to 40m FT8 ... what might I see at around noon, via this popular weak signal digital QSO mode? To say that the results were surprising is an understatement!

40m at noon
The above screen capture shows the signals decoded between 12 and 1PM local time! Although it was surprising to see all of the east coast signals, it was shocking to see all of the signals (a dozen or more) coming from Japan and South Korea! All of them were working Europeans to their west, none of which were decoding here.

With an all-daylight path between VE7 and Asia, could these signals be coming via the long-path? If so, I would expect to see at least a few signals from other countries along the great circle path to Asia but none were forthcoming. Perhaps it’s a case of there being a sufficiently weak D-layer to allow signals to propagate on the direct path via the F-layer, in spite of the all-daylight path. What do you think?

I then moved the receiver down to 80m, and monitored there for the next two hours.


80m at 1500 local
The 80m screen capture above was made at 3PM local time! Once again, I was surprised to see so many signals coming from the east, in broad daylight! Is this further evidence of a weak D-layer or just a demonstration of the capabilities of FT8?

For both 80 and 40m, the antenna used was my 80m end-fed half-wave configured as an inverted-L ... 70’ straight up and 60’ horizontal. The feedpoint is one-foot above the ground and located beside the ocean, looking towards the east.

I then finished off the afternoon with a look on topband, using my 160m half-sloper. The screen capture of 160m was made at 5PM local time, fully two hours before my local sunset!


160m at 1700 local

Like the previous two bands, 160m was showing signals in broad daylight, from the east coast! Low D-layer absorption? ... salt water horizon gain? ... excellent antennas? ... or is this just the sensitivity of FT8 revealing 'normal propagation' that we can't hear on CW? I suspect that it's a complex combination of all of these factors and maybe others.

In reality, the weak-signal ‘digging power’ of FT8 is not too much greater than the threshold for audible CW ... hearing about 1 S-unit (~6-7db) deeper. Maybe that’s all it takes to peel-back, like an onion skin, another layer of hidden signals.

There are other weak-signal digital QSO modes much more sensitive than FT8. Both JT9 and JT65 can each hear more than an S-unit deeper than FT8 but at the expense of taking longer to do it ... there’s just no free-ride. I believe that the shorter (~15 second) sequencing of FT8 is the main reason for its overwhelming popularity, in spite of its lower sensitivity.

I’ll run this test again soon to see if Monday’s daytime prop was unusual or if it was typical of what to expect with weak-signal digital modes on the lower bands during the daylight hours ... either way, it was indeed, an interesting FT8 afternoon!

Recent BCB Loop DX / Upcoming CLE248

This past week has seen a welcome return to better band conditions on the lower frequencies.

I’ve had my 10' x 20' loop and Perseus SDR combination running a few overnight recordings on the AM broadcast band ... two mornings pointing at Asia and two overnights looking for domestic signals from the east.

The Asian signals have often been very strong, with many signals reaching S9 or higher. I’ve chosen some of the better ones below. Unlike those situated right on the west coast, my location here on Mayne Island gives me a nice shot towards Japan albeit not directly over the ocean, but close enough, as the path crosses islands to my north and then over northern Vancouver Island.

Looking towards eastern North America is a different story, with an unobstructed ocean view from due north to the south east.

As is often the case with overnight recordings, I did not get nearly enough time to thoroughly check them out but one catch caught my attention. It was from WPTX in Lexington Park, Maryland, on 1690kHz. This station supposedly runs 1kW at night and 10kW during the day but on this night (Sept 16), I heard their top-of-hour ID for three consecutive hours! I wonder if someone ‘forgot’ to switch to nightime power or if conditions were just really good? I have heard them again since with two TOH IDs but much weaker and sounding more like a 1kW station should sound!




JOAK - 594kHz in Shobu, Japan (13:30 UTC Sept 20)


JOUB - 774kHz in Akita, Japan (14:00 UTC Sept 20)
(with English lessons)


HLAZ - 1566kHz in Cheju, South Korea (13:30 UTC Sept 20)
(broadcasting in Japanese in this time slot)


Voice of America (VOA) - 1575kHz in Ban Phachi, Thailand (13:30 UTC Sept 20)
(listen for "This is the Voice of America" ID and then into "Yankee-Doodle-Dandy")


                                   ************************

Hunting For NDBs In CLE248


Yes! Another month has passed and it's CLE time once again.

This time the hunting grounds will be: 275 kHz - 425 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.

If you've been meaning to participate in  CLE, then maybe this weekend is a fine time to try! Lately, we've had a lot of first time submissions so you won't be alone!

As well, if you're trying to learn CW, copying NDBs is perfect practice, as the identifier speed is generally slow and the letters are repeated again every few seconds!

At this time of the season, summer lightning storms should be starting to wane and propagation can often be as good as mid-winter if the lightning cooperates.

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' near Fargo, ND, 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:

Hi all

Our 248th Listening Event just squeezes into the last weekend of this month.
Worth waiting for because it is a 'Special', our fifth 'Channels Challenge'.
It's a simple idea, but one that we always seem to enjoy:

    Days:      Friday 27 September - Monday 30 September
    Times:     Start and end at midday, your LOCAL time
    Range:     275 kHz - 425 kHz   (see below)
    Target:    Try to log ANY ONE NDB in each channel

The 'channel' means the NDB's nominal (published) frequency.
EITHER  321.0  OR  321.5 kHz would be OK for channel 321, etc.

So it means a possible maximum of 151 loggings in all, though that would
probably be miraculous, even for the best placed of us!

All the NDBs must be 'normal' ones (no DGPS, Amateur, etc.) and
no UNIDs in your main list.   Yes, it does include those more
challenging frequencies in the DGPS range.

If you want to add extra interest you could also choose to:
    Maximise the number of radio countries you hear    or
    Maximise the total distance to the NDBs you hear    or
    Maximise the number of 'midday' loggings - i.e. NDBs logged
      within 2 hours of midday by your local winter clock time.

It will be extra tough for North American listeners, with their many 'empty'
channels. Southern Hemisphere and Europe listeners should be more lucky.

Our last 'Channels Challenge' was CLE231 in April 2018.
Please look out for the 'Final Details' a few days before the start.

73
  Brian
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:   Brian Keyte G3SIA               (CLE coordinator)
ndbcle'at'gmail.com
-------------------------------------------------------------------------

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

The NDB List 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!

DXing With The Heathkit CR-1 Crystal Radio






If you’re a regular blog reader, you will likely recall my description of  “The Enigmatic Heathkit CR-1 Crystal Radio” a few weeks ago.




Back then I mentioned that I was ‘eager to get my mitts on one’ and that I had arranged to borrow a CR-1 from another VE7 who was fortunate enough to own one.

A few weeks after posting the blog, I received an e-mail from Larry, WB5OFD, in Texas.

"Reading thru your blogs the other night ... discovered your article on Crystal Radio reception reports. I am in the process of disposing of a lot of radio gear I have collected over the past sixty years and in that pile is a Heathkit CR-1. Yours for free if you would like to have it."

Needless to say I was overjoyed, both at the opportunity to actually own a CR-1 myself and at Larry's exceptional generosity!

Larry went on to explain that he had been in the Air Force and his little CR-1 had been all around the world with him, from Alaska to Turkey ... but from its fine appearance, you would never know it.


Larry's gift!

He was happy to pass it on knowing that it was going to a good home. I am most appreciative of this kind gesture from a fellow radio amateur, knowing that these things are not too easy to find ... and are somewhat pricey!

As can be seen in the schematic diagram above, the CR-1 is a simple double-tuned crystal receiver, utilizing a series-tuned tank circuit for antenna-tuning, coupled into the detector tank circuit. The detector diode, a 50’s-era 1N34, is tapped down on the tank for headphone impedance-matching and to reduce circuit loading. Reducing the load on the tank circuit improves selectivity but diminishes sensitivity. Crystal radio design is always a trade-off between these two critical characteristics.

Although I had heard good things about the CR-1, I must admit that I was somewhat skeptical ... just how good could an unmodified CR-1’s simple double-tuned design really be? I was about to find out.

My listening location, on the eastern shoreline of Mayne Island, puts me directly across several miles of saltwater from sixteen exceptionally loud 'blowtorch' signals whose antennas are located near the water on the other side of Georgia Strait. Six of these stations run 50kW ... 24/7. All of these signals are wide and strong, being well-over S9. It is a difficult location for crystal radio DXing as separating weak DX signals from the blowtorches can be challenging.

My previous experience with crystal radio DX is well-documented on my website here. Back then, I quickly adopted the standard protocols to help hear DX. This included the use if a separate ‘spotter’ radio to first find signals that might possibly be strong enough to be heard on the crystal detector. I also used an RF signal generator that let me temporarily put a weak tone-modulated carrier on the frequency of a station that I was trying to hear. Using the tone, the antenna tuning as well as the detector circuit can be optimized for maximum signal. I also used a 100 microamp meter in series with the headphones to make peaking these circuits accurately. The same protocol was used for my CR-1 DXing as well.

Since there are so many very strong signals here, I have added two inline L-C traps on the antenna lead.


My first trap was made from a ferrite bar loopstick inductor salvaged from an old transistor radio.





The second trap is made with a ferrite toroid and Litz wire and produces deeper nulls than the ferrite bar. The bar will soon be replaced by a second toroid trap.



The traps allow me to significantly null any strong signals that could be covering up a nearby weaker signal. For nulling, I set the signal generator on the frequency of the pest signal and then tune the trap for a null while watching the meter. Once everything has been tuned, I’ll often just sit and wait for the desired signal to fade up to a detectable level on the crystal radio and then confirm its audio match to what can be heard on the spotter radio.  Very often, a signal initially too weak to be detected, will quickly pop up in signal strength to an easy-copy level for several minutes, before dropping below the threshold of diode detection level once again.

I am presently using a pair of RCA WWII sound-powered ('Big Cans') phones, impedance matched to the CR-1’s output with a multi-tap audio transformer. I have also used a nice set of extremely sensitive Western Electric 509Ws, manufactured in the late 20s. These are also impedance-matched to the CR-1's output. On weak signal tone tests, I can see only a very tiny improvement with the RCAs versus the old 509Ws as both are very sensitive.



There is a large variation in propagation quality on the broadcast band, especially this far north on the southern edge of the auroral zone. The difference from one night to the next can often be quite dramatic. On most nights the band favors the north-south path while on geomagnetically quieter nights it’s the east-west path that dominates. The band needs to be in good shape for any worthwhile hope of DX on a crystal radio.

On one of the recent better nights, of which there have been very few of lately, one of the stations in Alberta was so strong that it needed trapping! This was something I saw quite often with my previous DX set but I didn't expect to see it with the CR-1.

For crystal radio DX, propagation is the best helper. Small incremental improvements (in terms of db losses) can be made in any part of crystal radio's systems but on nights of good propagation, tens of db improvement will magically appear, thanks to Mother Nature!

When in Turkey, Larry had the opportunity to connect the CR-1 to the large FLR-9 circular antenna array used during the cold war for HF direction-finding of targeted signals. Covering 1.5MHz to 30MHz, the FLR-9 consisted of ninety-six 120' towers, suspending 1056 vertical elements ... all over a 1500' diameter ground screen! His notes show that he logged the BBC, Italy and West Germany on the CR-1 while using the array!

The FLR-9 array in Augsburg, Germany
Although the antenna system connected to my CR-1 is not nearly as impressive as an FLR-9 array, it is very capable on the broadcast band. I’m using my 630m inverted-L, bypassing the tuning and 50-ohm impedance matching system, essentially feeding it as a top-loaded vertical wire. The (somewhat slanted) vertical wire is approximately 70’ which is then attached to a 3-wire 100’ long tophat. The antenna is very close to the ocean and parallel with the beach. The CR-1 ground system consists of about 60 buried radials, varying in length from 30-60’. The basic antenna is self-resonant at around 1200kHz.

Over the past few weeks, I have been spending a few nights patrolling the band between 9:30 and 10:30PM, to see what might be heard with the CR-1. So far, I've logged 50 different stations ... far more than I had expected to hear.

The log below shows all of the stations heard. The stations in red are all local line-of-sight transmitters and are extremely strong ... all are well over S9 on my Sony spotter radio. The stations shown in blue are all ‘DX’, with the furthest so far being KOA in Denver, at 1100 miles.



The log illustrates just how much the blowtorch signals prevent weak-signal detection, even with traps! The stations logged on 1510 and 1530 were only possible when the 1550 blowtorch lost their audio for about five minutes one evening! Selectivity becomes increasingly more difficult towards the top end of the band and, unfortunately, there is a larger concentration of strong locals (who seem to delight in over modulation and splatter), making reception up there extremely challenging.

There are still some lower-band signals that I have yet to log and they have been gradually growing stronger as the nights get longer. As well, the region above 1600kHz may still provide a few opportunities over the next few weeks, if the loud local on 1600 can be sufficiently trapped ... the next few weeks will tell if there’s anything left in the CR-1’s tank!


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  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor