Posts Tagged ‘Beacon Monitor’

RR9O back on the air

ChangeDetection sent me an alert that the International Beacon Project web page has changed. The Hawaii beacon KH6WO has gone off the air.

The Russian beacon RR9O is still shown as off the air but I noticed today that Faros has recorded several spots of this beacon on the 17m and 12m bands. Other amateur beacon monitor sites have recorded it as well. I have updated the beacons.txt file for VOAProp with both changes.

SDR-Radio and Omni-Rig

Yesterday I thought I would set up my Cross Country Wireless SDR-4+ receiver to use for IBP beacon monitoring using Faros. The purpose of this was mainly to reduce the wear and tear on my Elecraft K3 which otherise would have to be on 24 hours a day.

I established that Simon Brown’s SDR-Radio software supported external program control by emulating a Kenwood transceiver. I therefore needed to see if SDR-Radio could be controlled using Omni-Rig, the control mechanism used by Faros.

SDR-Radio supports CAT control using a virtual serial port.

I created a linked pair of virtual serial ports, COM8 and COM9, using VSPE, a virtual serial port emulator. Using the serial ports option of SDR-Radio, I assigned the control port to COM8. Then I used a serial port emulator connected to COM9 (I use RealTerm) to verify that SDR-Radio ‘spoke’ Kenwood. It did. In fact it emulated the Kenwood protocol well enough to fool KComm into thinking it was talking to an Elecraft K2. So far so good.

Now to see if Omni-Rig could control SDR-Radio. Omni-Rig uses “rig files” to define the command set of different radios and it includes one for generic Kenwood. Unfortunately it did not work with SDR-Radio: the receiver indicator of Faros turned red to indicate a fault.

I downloaded the rig file documentation and debug tools from Omni-Rig’s site and tried hacking the Kenwood rig file to get it to work with Omni-Rig by trial and error. But no luck. Whatever I did, the program reported an error with the inscrutable message: “RIG1 Status commands already in queue”.

Error messages reported by Omni-Rig

So it looks as if I’ve hit a brick wall. Clearly there is something in SDR-Radio’s emulation of the Kenwood protocol that Omni-Rig doesn’t like. If anyone else would like to have a go solving this problem, be my guest.

What’s up with CS3B?

Looking at my IBP beacon monitor pages over the last couple of days I have noticed an odd thing. I am not receiving the Madeira beacon CS3B on 17m at all.

Extract from G4ILO beacon observations

Either my multiband dipole has a very sharp null in that direction (which I think is unlikely as an indoor antenna probably receives enough reflections not to have any sharp nulls) or the beacon isn’t transmitting any signal on that frequency.

A quick check around other beacon monitor pages and I can’t see any spots of CS3B on 17m at all. Should I tell someone?

Beacon monitor failure

After wasting most of the weekend trying to get it to work I have abandoned the idea of monitoring the IBP beacons using Faros. Although I did have it working with my Elecraft K3 I did not want to tie up this expensive transceiver on such a task. But my efforts to get my FT-817 working with this software came to nothing.

The first problem was getting Faros to control the FT-817. It uses a program called Omni-Rig to do this. The solution – no thanks to the developer who has still not replied to my plea for help – turned out to be a bad FT-817.ini file installed with Omni-Rig. I tried other programs to verify that my FT-817 CAT interface was working properly. I even ran the same developer’s CW Skimmer software which also uses Omni-Rig, and which controlled the FT-817 just fine. The idea of looking to see if there was a different FT-817.ini file was just a flash of inspiration.

Having got Faros controlling the radio the second and final problem was getting it and the Yaesu talking to the same sound card. This did work if I used the computer’s built-in sound card, but that is normally used by my K3. I have several radios in my shack, most of which are connected to the shack PC and all of the others use various USB sound devices. Whilst all of my other software – including my own program KComm – produce a drop-down list showing distinguishable names of all these devices, Faros displays a list showing three lines that all say “USB Sound Device.” I tried selecting each one of them in turn, but I could not get Faros to talk to the sound device that was actually connected to the FT-817.

If it was confusing for me trying to choose from identically named devices, it also seemed to confuse Windows, which ended up sending PSK31 audio out of the PC speaker instead of to my K3! I had to reboot the computer to get sound using the correct devices again. At this point I threw in the towel and admitted defeat. Some things just aren’t worth the hassle.

So endeth my attempt at beacon monitoring.

A radio on every port

I left Faros running overnight. I needn’t have bothered: Nothing whatever was heard on the bands 14 – 28MHz from 1730 yesterday until 0730 this morning. Even now, the Finland beacon OH2B is the only one making much of a showing on the lower 3 bands, though there is a flicker of a signal from VK6RBP on 15m. I haven’t interrupted beacon monitoring to take a listen on 10m yet but prospects for the ARRL 10m contest don’t look very good.

I am going to have to interrupt beacon monitoring some time soon. I need to yank the shack computer out to install a spare 2-port RS232 board to give me two more real serial ports. I should have left it in instead of replacing it with the 4-port board whose four serial ports are now all used up (K2, K3, TM-D710 TNC for 2m APRS and TM-D710 Echolink control, since you ask.) I want to use my FT-817 for beacon monitoring as it is a bit of overkill to use my K3 for this, and the FT-817 CAT cable I have has a DB-9 for a real serial port. I could always use a USB to serial adapter of which I have three, or even make up a USB cable using a wire-ended USB-to-serial plug. But USB ports are in equally short supply, as you might imagine. Whilst the cover is off the computer I will take the opportunity to hoover out the inside which has an amazing ability to attract dust!

Being able to use the 817 for beacon monitoring won’t solve the conflict between monitoring and operating as I still have only one suitable antenna for both tasks. But it will allow me to give the K3 a rest!

Beacon monitor back online

For the time being I have put my IBP Beacon Monitor page back online. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is really something that needs to run 24/7 to be of most value. I note that I am not the only beacon monitor who states that monitoring runs only when not otherwise using the radio and antenna. So perhaps I will manage to keep it going for a bit longer than previously.

I updated the list of other beacon monitoring stations at the bottom of the page, deleting those that did not appear to be active. The official NCDXF/IARU International Beacon Project beacon monitors page has a lot of dead links on it.

It’s interesting to take a look and see what propagation is like in other parts of the world. It’s a pity there aren’t more beacon monitors in the USA. And is propagation really that good in VK-land?

I like the additions F4CWH has made to his beacon monitor pages. I wonder if he would share with me how he has done it? I would particularly like to indicate which beacons are off the air. Three of them. including the one on the east coast of the USA (New York) are not operating at the moment.

Beacon update

I have updated the beacon data file for VOAProp today. The NCDXF/IARU beacons in Kenya (5Z4B) and Argentina (LU4AA) are back on the air after a long absence.

The thought crossed my mind: Now we have WSPR and remote beacon skimmers covering all bands, does anyone use these beacons any more?

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