While looking for something else, I discovered this product which I suspect will be of interest to many readers. It is a kit for a pocket AM-FM radio that looks like a real consumer product, albeit a very cheap version of a consumer product. It bears the impressive Paeansonic brand name. When the radio is complete, it won’t look like a kit. It will look just like it rolled off the Paeansonic assembly line in China!
The best part is that you can get the kit direct from China for just over $5, including shipping. It is available from Fasttech, a distributor in Hong Kong of electronic devices, parts, and a wide variety of other goods. I’ve ordered from them many times in the past, and have always had a good experience. Amazingly, shipping all the way from China is usually free. Occasionally, when I check out, I’ll need to pay a dollar or two in shipping, but on most orders, there is no added cost for shipping. Orders generally arrive in 2-3 weeks by registered mail, having been deposited in the mail in Singapore. Payment is by PayPal, although I believe you can use a credit card if you don’t have a PayPal account. Despite my original trepidation of buying direct from China, all of my experiences have been good.
This radio kit sells for $5.25 (and an additional 10% off coupon code is explained below), and it’s obviously more of a novelty than a high-quality radio. I have not ordered one yet, but there are a number of videos and websites showing how to put it together, and that it works after assembly. It appears to work about as well as you would expect a $5 radio to work, but it does seem to pull in both AM and FM stations.
Despite the apparent simplicity of this kit, it does not appear to be something for the first-time kit builder. The parts are very small, and it includes a surface-mount IC that requires a delicate touch to get it soldered in place. It also requires a bit of alignment, which might not be intuitive to someone with no prior experience. If you’re new to electronics, or buying a kit for someone who is, then I would recommend one of the other kits shown at the bottom of this page.
But if you want a cheap kit to put together, that looks like a real (albeit cheap) product, this seems to fit the bill. And if it doesn’t work when you’re done, you’re only out $5!
Fasttech also offers this model for $7.50, shown at left. It appears to offer slightly more circuitry, and in theory might pull in a few more stations than the cheaper model. However, it lacks the trusted Paeansonic brand name. Instead, most of the markings are in Chinese. It does have one nice touch in that the FM dial is reportedly calibrated in “kMHz”.
The instructions are in Chinese, but this website has an excellent set of instructions for assembling and aligning the kit. This page also has some pointers. To get some idea of what you’re getting yourself into, the following videos will be helpful:
As noted above, this kit probably isn’t for beginners. On the other hand, it’s only $5, so if you want something to practice on, you don’t have much to lose. But if you’re looking for something for a beginner in electronics, there are better options.
For an absolute beginner, you can’t go wrong with a kit like the one shown here, which is available on Amazon. This one does require soldering, but it’s well within the capabilities of any beginner, and there’s very little that can go wrong with the completed circuit. It will do a reasonably good job of pulling in FM stations.
If you don’t own a soldering iron, this FM radio kit comes complete with a soldering iron and the other tools you’ll need to put it together.
And if you want something really simple that even the youngest kid can put together, then I recommend the Snap Circuit FM radio kit shown at the right. As the name implies, the parts just snap together, and it’s foolproof.
If you’re interested in the kind of radio from the early days of radio, which is still a solid performer, then you might consider the two-tube regenerative receiver kit shown at left, which will pull in both AM and shortwave stations at a reasonable price.
And of course, this site contains many plans for simple receivers, both crystal sets and powered radios. You can find them by browsing my radio history pages. For ideas on where to get the parts, see my crystal set parts page.
If you’re interested in the Paeansonic kit, I’ll probably have a few available for sale at Ozarkcon in April. However, the price will probably be $10. So if you want it cheaper and faster, I encourage you to get yours direct from China!
Fasttech is currently on its holiday schedule due to the Chinese New Year and will reopen on February 22. Orders will be taken during that time and shipping will start on February 22. During this time, Fasttech is offering a coupon for 15% off orders of $150 or more, or 10% off for all orders. Orders must be placed by February 20, and you must use the coupon code KUNGHEI.
(Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning that we get a small advertising fee if you purchase after clicking on the links.)
One of the trademark events at Ozarkcon is the Wacky Key Contest, an event designed to encourage non-traditional Morse code keys made out of things such as toasters. For inspiration, we offer this design from Joe Binko, who sent it in to Radio Craft magazine in February 1943.
We’re not sure if it’s wacky enough for first place, but we’re sure Binko’s design would have been in the running had OzarkCon been in existence in 1943. He converted a phone jack (presumably, a quarter-inch model) into a key by carefully cutting it apart, mounting it to a base, and extending one of the contacts. You should get the general idea from the diagram.
Update (Feb. 18): When we checked today, all single rooms at the Stone Castle were fully booked. We will be staying at the nearby
Branson Surrey Inn. When we booked, rooms were only $42 per night, and it is located within walking distance of Ozarkcon.
After a few pages of introduction to shortwave radio, the book jumps right into a description of the circuit. As the title of the book promises, the receiver is simple but elegant. It uses a 6Н9М dual triode (that’s Cyrillic text, so you would read it as 6N9M), one half being used as regenerative detector, with the other half as audio amplifier. The set employed plug-in coils, and was designed to tune the 40 and 20 meter ham bands. (For those wishing to duplicate the set with Western parts, the tube appears to be equivalent to a 6SL7.)
The neatly constructed final product is shown below:
If the book were published in the West, it would probably end there, along with a reminder that you needed to go to your friendly radio dealer or even drug store to buy a B battery for the plate voltage, and an A battery to light the filament. But in the Soviet Union, it probably wasn’t a sure thing that you could find the battery. So the book describes four methods to get the power.
The first two methods are power supplies that the reader could build, both of which are more complex than the receiver itself. Both rely mostly on factory-made parts, but the second set of plans includes instructions for winding the filament transformer at home, with the B+ being rectified directly from the AC line:
But even if the aspiring young Soviet radio fan wound his own transformer, getting the rectifier tube could be problematic. Therefore, the third method of powering the receiver could be very attractive. Chances are, the home was already equipped with a broadcast radio, and the broadcast radio had a perfectly good power supply inside. So the third method involves simply tapping into it by unplugging one of the tubes, and powering the shortwave set right from the socket. The young SWL just needed to locate the 6Ф6 tube in the family radio, remove the tube, plug his radio into the socket, and his radio would come to life! Presumably, the other family members would be supportive of the SWL’s new hobby, and forego listening to the broadcast radio as he tuned the short waves.
The fourth method recognizes that some builders might have enough connections so that they can simply go out and buy the battery. In this case, a БАС-80 battery is required.
After recommending an antenna of 25-30 meters in length, the book jumps into some discussion of how to tune the amateur bands. It notes, for example, that the 40 meter band can be expected to yield stations about 900-1000 kilometers away, with 20 meters pulling in stations more than 1000 km distant. It explains some of what the listener will hear. For example, in addition to listing some foreign call sign prefixes, it notes that UA call signs are in the RSFSR, UB calls are from Ukraine, and so forth.
It mentions some example SWL call signs, and even shows a reproduction of an SWL card from an SWL in Belarus, with the call sign of UC-2-2002, complete with the familiar address of Box 88 Moscow. Presumably, the text explains exactly how the young listener goes about getting such a call sign and getting his SWL cards printed, but I’m unable to read the text.
The book concludes with a table showing common Q-signals, common CW abbreviations, and the following listing of Soviet and European call sign prefixes.
The UA-UR prefixes for the various Soviet republics are listed at the left, with the right column showing the prefixes of Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, France, Belgium, Finland, Denmark, Italy, Britain, Sweden, Holland, Norway, and Germany.
The SWL card shown above is for reception of UA3AB, and a search for that call sign reveals that it was held by the author of the book, V.A. Egorov.
You can read more about this receiver at this link at the site of VA3ZNW (ex-UA3ZNW, ex-UA3-117-386). He has a fascinating story of building this set in the 1970’s at the age of 13, and using it to tune in the Voice of America and Radio Liberty. Even though the Soviets extensively jammed those stations, they didn’t bother jamming them on 16 and 13 meters, since Soviet receivers didn’t tune those bands. But with the little one-tube homebrew set, they came in loud and clear.
A grid square is a division of the earth into sectors one degree latitude by two degrees longitude. Each one is designated by a four character identifier. For example, I live in EN34
After I wrote my previous post, the official rules for the event were announced. And contrary to my initial interpretation, it is important to work grids on as many bands and modes as possible, since points are awarded for each grid on a new band or mode.
With my modest station, I’m certainly not in the big leagues. But with a very modest effort, I now have 100 grids confirmed, as shown on the map above. And because I have some of them confirmed on more than one band or mode, I have a total of 162 points, placing me in about 1953rd place out of 17287. That places me in about the top 11%, which I consider to be respectable given a modest station and limited time.
Interestingly, on a later update of the Leader Board shortly after writing this, I see that I am now tied with W1AW for 1928th place. Strangely enough, this is the second time I’ve been tied with the ARRL’s Headquarters station:
Points are awarded as the contact is confirmed on Logbook of the World (LOTW). Since confirmations continue to filter in, this score will continue to rise.
Most of my contacts so far came from two contests, the CW and SSB weekends of the North American QSO Party. A majority of contesters seem to participate in LOTW. Therefore, by making as many contacts as possible, the score continues to rise. As you can see from the map above, most of my contacts are from the United States, with a smattering of contacts from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The handful of European contacts I’ve made so far have not yet confirmed on LOTW.
So far, I have no digital contacts. So at the very least, I’ll need to get set up for PSK31, which requires only very minimal hardware between the computer and radio. Every contact I make will be worth one point, since I have yet to work any grids in a digital mode.
Two upcoming contests are worthy of note. Next weekend is the Minnesota QSO Party, which has participation in all or most Minnesota counties. It will be a good opportunity to get the 26 grids which lie completely or partially in Minnesota. Other state QSO parties later in the year will provide similar opportunities.
And the ARRL DX Contest (CW in February and SSB in March) will provide a lot of new grids, since almost everything outside the U.S. will be new for me.
To follow your own progress, a good tool is the N1KDO Grid Mapper, which was used to generate the map at the top of the page. When I started as a Novice, one common activity for new novices was to color in a “Worked All States Map,” which was nothing more than an outline map of the United States. The process of coloring in a map can be addictive, and I often find myself refreshing the map to see if other confirmations have come in, with another square turned red.
The American Radio Relay League (ARRL), the national association for Amateur Radio in the United States, announced last week a year-long operating activity for 2018. During 2018, participating hams will be trying to contact as many “grid squares” as possible. The event is called the ARRL International Grid Chase, and will run from January 1 through December 31, 2018.
The main requirement is that for the contact to count, both stations must upload the contact to Logbook Of The World (LOTW). If you’re a ham and don’t yet have one, I encourage you to set up a LOTW account. The process is relatively straightforward. There’s sometimes criticism, perhaps justified, that the process is too complicated. But if you can follow instructions, it’s quite easy to create your account. And once you have it set up, the process of actually uploading QSO’s is even simpler. You do not need to be an ARRL member to set up your LOTW account or participate in the Grid Chase.
The earth is divided up into 32,400 Maidenhead grid squares. Each of these is assigned a unique code consisting of two letters and two digits, and each measures two degrees longitude by one degree latitude. For example, I live in grid EN34. Since my house is less than a mile away from one of the boundary lines, the 45th parallel north, this means that I live right next door to grid EN35. Other neighboring grids, such as EN33, EN44, and EN24, are all within a hundred miles. In the continental united states, each square measures about 100 miles east to west, and 70 miles north to south. As you move closer the equator, the squares get slightly larger and more “square.” As you move closer to the poles, the squares get smaller and more triangular, with the 18 northernmost and 18 southernmost squares actually being triangles, with their points touching at the pole.
The easiest way to find your grid square is the website qthlocator.free.fr. You simply find your location on the Google map, click on it, and you will instantly see your own grid. You can also enter a grid and the map will center on that location.
First Thoughts About Strategy
Unless someone out there has a well-equipped boat, and someone else is prepared to operate from isolated arctic or mountainous areas, it’s impossible to work all of the grids, or even most of them. After all, most of the earth consists of water (but even some of those grids will see some activations by sea or air). It’s unlikely that any grids in North Korea will be activated, although as far as I can tell, there are no grids located entirely within the Hermit Kingdom. PN30 extends a tiny bit into China, PN31, PN41, and PN42 include larger portions of China, and PN52 staddles North Korea, Russia, and China. As far as I can tell, all of the other North Korean grids include either international (but not necessarily friendly) waters, or South Korean soil. It’s unlikely that any of those grids will see much activation, but it’s not an absolute impossibility.
But as a practical matter, it’s safe to say that nobody is going to work all 32,400 grids. In fact, it’s safe to say that even the most successful operators will only work a small percentage of that amount. But there will be some that work a few thousand. I doubt if I’ll be in that category, but I think it can be done by most hams by employing some strategy.
To be at the top of the leader boards, I think will require concentrating on three things, and I want to share my preliminary thoughts on how to accomplish them. I think the following things will be required:
Work all or most of the “easy” grids in North America
Work all or most of the “easy” grids worldwide
Work all of most of the inevitable “grid-peditions” that will take place later in the year.
Working the Easy Grids in North America
Shown here is a map of the grids I worked during 2016. The vast majority of the grids shown here were worked during the National Parks On The Air event. I wasn’t making any particular effort to chase grids, but I did make thousands of contacts, and this is how they were distributed. Some of these grids (like the ones clustered around Yellowstone National Park) were because I worked someone activating a park. But most of them were stations at home who worked me while I was at a park. They are a more or less random sampling of hams, and the ones that I worked were probably the easiest ones to work, because there are more hams there. (You can create your own map for any date range at N1KDO’s site.)
The ones I didn’t work come in two categories. First of all, there is a big gap in places like Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. This is partly because some of these areas are sparsely populated. But it also shows that I was using 20 meters for most of my activations, and stations in these areas were just too close for me to work. If I had spent some time concentrating on closer states, I probably would have worked many of these grids as well.
But some grids are rare because there are few active hams there. These will be the “rare” grids that will get more attention later in the year. But I think the first order of business will be to work the easy grids first. These will be grids like the one where I live, with thousands of resident hams. I’m sure most active chasers will have EN34 crossed off their list within the first few days.
To get a good start on the event, it will be important to take care of the easy grids as soon as possible. This is important for a few reasons. First of all, it might not be readily apparent which grids are the rare ones. Some might have few hams overall, but they might be very active. So it’s best to figure out as soon as possible what category they are in. Also, they might start out as common, but become rare later in the year. If a grid has just a few active hams, it’s possible that one of them will become inactive, or perhaps move to another part of the country during the year. If you miss them when they are still “easy,” you’ll be behind everyone else, and you’ll need to get them when they are “rare.”
This happened a few times during NPOTA. For example, in April, I worked Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Hawaii. It was a relatively easy contact. But it was also a one-time opportunity, since the park was never activated again later in the year. Another example was Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island. It was a relatively easy contact, but it was only available a couple of times, early in the year. It was easy for me, but it was impossible for someone who got a late start.
And the way to ensure that the “easy” grids get in your log early in the year is through contests. When the ARRL Triple Play Award was announced in 2008, then-ARRL CEO Dave Sumner, K1ZZ, correctly predicted that many participants would get a head start, and possibly complete the award, with three January contest weekends, ARRL RTTY Roundup and the North American QSO Party (CW and Phone).
Contesters happily handing out grid squares. Wikipedia photo by Kenneth E. Harker WM5R, 2001, and is released under the GNU Free Documentation License.
Since the mode is not as important for the International Grid Chase, it probably won’t be necessary to compete in all three contests. But it seems that starting the year with one or more of these contests is a good way to get the “easy” grids out of the way. It is important to work multiple bands. As you can see from my 2016 grid map, I’m missing many easy grids within a few hundred miles of home. I’ll need to work the lower bands to get the close-in grids, and the higher bands to get the ones further away. In fact, to ensure that I have the close-in states taken care of, it will probably be worthwhile to actively participate in the CQ 160 Meter Contest in January and February.
As Triple Play Award participants discovered in 2009, most contest stations upload their logs to LOTW promptly, and most of them include their grid square. So by participating in a few contests and working the major stations, the bulk of your stateside grids will be taken care of easily.
Working the Easy Grids Worldwide
I’m not a big “DX” operator–in other words, I don’t concentrate exclusively on getting rare countries confirmed on every possible band and mode. But I also recognize that only 488 of the 32,400 grid squares are located in the Continental United States. Even if I work every last one of those 488 (which might be a personal goal), I won’t be even close to the top of the leader board. To do well in this event, it will be necessary to work some DX.
But just like with the United States, there are plenty of “easy” grids to work. There are thousands of hams in places like Japan, Europe, and Latin America, and it will be easy to color in those parts of the world. And once again, the easiest way to do this is with contests. And probably the best way to get off to a good start will be to include the ARRL International DX contest, which runs two weekends in February (CW) and March (Phone).
Chasing and Activating the Rare Grids
After these “easy” grids are out of the way, it will be important to remain active on the air and watch cluster spots for unworked grids. When you look at a map such as mine above, there’s a natural tendency to color in the empty boxes. There will still be some “easy” ones remaining, and it will be important to keep working them. During NPOTA, there was a very active Facebook group providing encouragement and spots of stations as they showed up on the air. The International Grid Chase has its own Facebook group, and it’s likely that the leaders will take full advantage of it.
Operating from grid EN12 Iowa, October 2016.
I think that within a few weeks, it will start to become obvious where the rare grids are. There are many parts of the country with few active hams. As the year goes on, and maps like mine have blank spots on them, two things will happen. First of all, local hams will be encouraged to get on the air and make contacts. Being on the receiving end of a pileup can be exhilarating, and many hams will get the chance.
I also predict that there will be “grid-
Activating grid EN00, Nebraska, Aug. 21, 2017.
peditions.” Grid chasing is already a popular pastime for VHF and satellite operators. And there are a few grids with no resident hams. One of these is CM79, the vast majority of which lies in the Pacific Ocean. But a tiny piece of the California coast is within the grid, and can be accessed over rugged terrain. The video below shows KB5WIA doing a satellite activation after a long hike:
There are many hams who are active in Summits On The Air, an activity in which hams operate from mountaintop locations using portable gear. The equipment required for an HF activation is much less than shown in KB5WIA’s video. I predict that we’ll see many such activations this year.
Many rare grids, however, don’t require this much exertion. Many grids, while sparsely populated, are easily accessible. There should be many opportunities for hams wishing to do a mobile activation and generate big pileups. For example, there are a number of grids in Minnesota that I have never worked, and are within a few hours’ drive.
One particularly intriguing one for me is EN67, shown here. It lies mostly in the waters of Lake Superior, but also includes the town of Copper Harbor, Michigan, population 108. There does appear to be one active ham in town, but I suspect another station operating portable there will do well later in the year.
There are many other such grids in the U.S. and Canada, that are located mostly in the water, but with a piece of land from which a portable station can be operated. For hams living near the coast or the Great Lakes, there is probably an opportunity like this waiting for you.
Of course, many roads run through sparsely populated areas. So if you are traveling at any time during 2018, it will be worthwhile to keep track of your grid, and try to get on the air as you pass through. And even if you don’t have HF mobile capability, simplex contacts on VHF and UHF count. If there’s another ham in the area, and you can encourage him or her to upload the contact to LOTW, you might wind up with having an almost unique one in the log. And if you have more than one ham in the family, there’s no reason why you can’t get out your handhelds and work each other. As long as you both log the contact, you will have credit for the grid. (If you don’t have other hams in the family, this would be a good opportunity to get them licensed. If they read my Technician Study Guide, they’ll pass the 35-question test with little difficulty. If they don’t have a radio, you can set them up with a Baofeng for practically nothing, and they can work you on 2 meters or 70 cm.)
Interestingly, this happened at least once during NPOTA. National Park of American Samoa had a grand total of 6 QSO’s, made by two hams who were there on vacation with their handhelds. They were the only ones to get credit for the park, which was well within the rules. There’s no reason why family groups can’t take advantage of the same rule to bolster their count. Of course, if others want to work you, then you should give them the opportunity. But if you’re the only two within range, then you should get credit for the contact.
The total solar eclipse was awesome, and well worth the trip to Hastings, Nebraska!
We left Minnesota on Saturday and drove to Fremont, Nebraska. The traffic was noticeably heavy on both Interstate 35 and Interstate 80. Many of the vehicles we saw were obviously eclipse chasers, with cars packed full of camping gear. The heavy traffic was very apparent when we turned off onto I-680 to get to our hotel room in Fremont. That highway was deserted, which appeared all the more eerie after witnessing the extremely heavy traffic directly on the route to the path of totality. On Sunday, traffic was heavier still as we moved back onto the interstate, but will still moving at posted speeds.
We were in position by Monday, so we didn’t experience traffic the day of the eclipse. It was reported to be heavy, but with no major delays. The only eclipse-related traffic issue was an announcement on the radio that the Nebraska Highway Patrol had closed both I-80 rest areas near Grand Island for safety reasons. Gasoline and other supplies were readily available at normal prices.
According to reports, traffic was heaviest after the eclipse as hundreds of thousands of visitors headed home. Still, no major issues were reported, and traffic, while somewhat slower than normal, was moving along well. We drove home Tuesday. While traffic appeared normal by the time we were on the road, many cars were obviously those of other eclipse chasers, as evidenced by the camping gear filling many of them.
On Monday morning, we set up in American Legion Park in Hastings, a small city park just across the street from our hotel. Other viewing areas were packed, but we shared the park with only about a dozen other visitors, mostly from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. There were street lights on the neighboring road, but we stayed clear of them and they didn’t present any obstacle to our viewing.
We didn’t bother trying to take photos of the eclipse. We only had two minutes, so rather than fiddling with cameras during that time, we simply enjoyed the spectacle and left the photography to professionals.
The best representation I’ve seen so far of what we experienced is from NBC Nebraska at this link. if you click on Part 3 of the video at that link, and then advance to the 4:00 minute mark, you’ll see a live report from a Middle School in Grand Island, about 20 miles north of where we were. The video does a good job of capturing the darkness of the sky, as well as the reaction of those present. The video doesn’t do justice to the corona itself, but all of the other elements reflect very well what we witnessed.
It’s also evident from the video what I kept saying before the eclipse: The eclipse was something that kids needed to see! The reaction of the middle school kids in this video was overwhelming, and the eclipse is something that they will never forget. It’s a shame that some schools locked their kids inside rather than taking them to see it. There are now undoubtedly many future astronomers and scientists among the kids in Grand Island and other places where enlightened educators made it a unique learning experience. The kids who were left inside for the eclipse did not get that inspiration, and any school administrators who took that approach should be ashamed of themselves.
In Hastings, there were thin scattered clouds throughout the morning. However, with the cooling caused by the eclipse, the sky was clear during totality, the clouds not reappearing until about 10 minutes later. It was noticeably cooler starting a few minutes before totality. Even though the surroundings were not noticeably dimmer to the human eye until just before totality, the direct sunlight didn’t feel warm as it had in the morning.
We saw the diamond ring both before and after totality. I did not see Bailey’s Beads, nor did I see any shadow bands. The horizon in all directions had the orange glow of sunset. Venus was plainly visible. I didn’t notice it before totality, but it persisted for a couple of minutes after the sun returned.
As shown here, I was doing my part for science by operating in the HamSci Solar Eclipse QSO Party. Along with other amateur radio operators, I was operating in this event to generate data which researchers will use to understand the ionosphere and how it was affected by the eclipse. Radio signals are reflected by the ionosphere, and the effect varies depending on frequency, and depending on the amount of solar energy hitting the ionosphere. The eclipse gave a rare opportunity to show the effects when the amount of solar energy varies over small areas, such as the path of totality. I concentrated mainly on making short transmissions to be picked up by remote receivers. Some of these receivers are connected in real time to the Reverse Beacon Network, which displays received signals almost immediately on the Internet. Unfortunately, my signals were not picked up by these stations, but other software-defined receivers were continuously recording the radio spectrum, and it’s likely that my transmissions were recorded and will be available at a later date.
I didn’t spend much time trying to make two-way radio contacts, but I did make three contacts, which are shown on this map:
All three of these contacts were made before totality. I was operating on the 40 meter band (7 MHz) with only 5 watts of power, and the distances of these contacts does seem much greater than would normally be expected that time of day. The most distant contact was with WA1FCN in Cordova, Alabama, 776 miles from my location in Hastings, Nebraska. We made this contact at 12:29 PM local time, about 30 minutes before totality. It seems likely that this contact was possible only because of the eclipse. The contact with N5AW in Burnet, Texas, 680 miles away, was made at 12:10 local time, and the contact with W0ECC in St. Charles, Missouri, 438 miles away, was made at 11:08 local time. In all three cases, the partial eclipse was underway at both locations when we made our contacts.
The HamSci researchers at Virginia Tech will have a lot of data to analyze, but I think it’s clear that the eclipse was having an effect on propagation. The 40 meter band is generally limited to shorter distances during the day, and the path lengths here seem more consistent with the type of propagation normally seen in the evening.
For those who are interested in the details, my station consisted of my 5 watt Yaesu FT-817 powered by a 12 volt fish finder battery. The antenna was a 40 meter inverted vee with its peak about 15 feet off the ground, supported by my golf ball retriever. The two ends of the antenna were supported by tent stakes in the ground. The station was similar to what I used in 2016 for many of my National Parks On The Air activations. The antenna was running north-south in an effort to have its maximum signal along the east-west path of totality. Since the antenna had an acceptable match on 15 and 6 meters, I also made a few test transmissions on those bands, although I concentrated on 40 meters.
Nebraska and the Eclipse
The State of Nebraska, the City of Hastings, and all of the other towns we encountered along the way, did an excellent job of planning for the eclipse and accommodating all of the visitors. While traffic was very heavy, there were no real problems. The staff of our hotel, the C3 Hotel & Convention Center, was extremely well prepared for what was probably the hotel’s busiest night ever. The accommodations were excellent!
Since virtually all of the hotel rooms in the state were filled, dozens of temporary campgrounds sprung up, and visitors were able to find safe campsites at a reasonable price as homeowners, farmers, and ranchers opened their land for camping.
The only traffic-related problem that I’m aware of was the closure of two highway rest areas shortly before totality. Unrelated to the eclipse, the City of Seward, Nebraska, experienced an ill-timed water main leak, leaving the city without drinking water during the eclipse. We did see units of the Nebraska National Guard on the road, but as far as I know, other than to distribute drinking water in Seward, their services were not needed during the eclipse.
The entire state deserves high marks for its preparations in making the eclipse an unforgettable event for the hundreds of thousands of visitors.
If you’ve ever tuned the AM radio dial at night, you know that the sun has an effect on radio propagation. At night, you can hear stations from hundreds of miles away, even though those stations can’t be heard during the daylight hours. This is because the signals are either absorbed by or reflected by various layers of the ionosphere, and these layers behave differently in the presence of sunlight.
Radio propagation through the ionosphere. NOAA image.
In general, lower frequencies (such as the AM broadcast band) work better for long distances at night, and higher frequencies work better during the daylight hours. Observations made during other eclipses show that the brief period of “night” during totality does have an effect on the ionosphere, and this has an observable effect on radio propagation.
This eclipse will allow for the collection of a huge amount of data, and it is likely that this will contribute to a greater understanding of the ionosphere. This is because there are now automatic data collection tools such as the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN).
The Reverse Beacon Network is a collection of radio receivers operated by amateur radio operators all over the world. They are constantly monitoring large portions of the radio spectrum and “skimming” the signals. Other networks listen for different transmission modes, but the Reverse Beacon Network is constantly listening for CW (continuous wave, or Morse Code) transmissions. Whenever it hears “CQ” (a general call) or “TEST” (a test transmission), it records the call sign of the sending station. The network stores this data for later download, and also makes it immediately available for display on the internet.
The image above is a screenshot from the Reverse Beacon Network taken today. I sent a transmission in Morse Code consisting merely of the words “TEST DE W0IS.” That transmission was picked up by several of the skimmers in the network, and the information was almost immediately displayed on the internet.
As you can see, my signals were picked up by skimmers in Alberta, Ontario, Pennsylvania, New York, and Kansas. The numbers on the chart (snr, signal to noise ratio) show my signal strength at each location.
Radio propagation is sometimes more of an art than a science, and it’s somewhat surprising that my signal was heard at these distances at the time of day I did the test, about noon local time. The pattern shown here is more typical for later in the afternoon for the frequency I was using (7 MHz). Typically, at midday, I would expect to see more hits within about 400 miles, and fewer at the distances shown here.
But on the day of the eclipse, comparing the reports throughout the day should show what effect the eclipse is having on radio propagation. I expect that before totality, the propagation toward the west coast will be enhanced, as areas starting in Oregon experience “nighttime.” After totality, I expect propagation to be enhanced toward the east as the path of totality moves toward South Carolina.
While I might change my plans, I think I’ll concentrate on 40 meters (7 MHz) during the eclipse. Lower frequencies such as 160 meters (1.8 MHz) or 80 meters (3.5 MHz) will have more dramatic effects, but the necessary antennas are much longer. Since I’ll probably be viewing the eclipse from a fixed location, I should be able to set up a full-sized dipole for 40 meters (66 feet of wire, fed in the middle) without too much difficulty. If we need to move quickly and use a mobile antenna on the car, then I’ll probably switch to 30 meters (10 MHz), since the mobile antenna starts to be more efficient at higher frequencies, but 10 MHz is probably still low enough to see some eclipse effects.
You’ll be able to monitor my signals yourself in real time by following this link, which shows the most recent times my signal has been picked up. On the day of the eclipse, I expect the map to show reception on the west coast in the morning, moving toward the east coast in the afternoon. (Since RBN won’t have any way of knowing that I’m not at my home location, the graphic display will incorrectly show my signal as originating from Minnesota, even though I will be in Nebraska. When the data is analyzed later, it will show my location correctly.)
The data I generate will be part of a larger project, the HamSCI 2017 Eclipse Experiment. After the eclipse, data will be collected and analyzed by researchers such as those at Virginia Tech.
How Hams Can Participate in Eclipse Science
To increase the amount of radio signals to analyze, a contest named the Solar Eclipse QSO Party is scheduled to take place on August 21 from 1400-2200 UTC (9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Central Daylight Time). Participants in this contest will submit their logs, and data will also be skimmed automatically by networks such as RBN. If you are an amateur radio operator, I encourage you to participate in this event. Even if you are not near the path of totality, it is likely that radio propagation will be affected for thousands of miles.
How Anyone Can Participate
If you are not licensed, but you own a normal AM radio, you can also participate and collect valuable ionospheric data. As noted above, AM signals propagate much greater distances at night, and the eclipse will have an effect. Some night before the eclipse, tune through the dial and note which distant stations you are able to pull in. Write down the call letters, frequencies, and locations of the stations.
If you need help identifying the stations, the easiest way is often to wait to hear the call letters of the station and Google the call letters to find the location. Or if you missed the call letters but heard the name of the city, try Googling the frequency and city. For example, a search for “780 AM Chicago” will confirm that you’re tuned in to WBBM. You can also search the official FCC database, either by frequency or call letters, at this link. Also, this listing at the FCC website shows the strongest AM stations at most spots on the dial.
During the daylight hours, but before the eclipse, tune to those spots on the dial again to ensure that you can’t pick them up. Also, some frequencies might have stronger local stations on during the day, which might cover up the weaker more distant signals. It will be best to concentrate on frequencies where you hear nothing during the day, although the distant signals could very well overpower a closer station.
On the day of the eclipse, tune to those same spots on the dial and see if you can hear the stations. You will probably find that they come up out of the noise when the path of totality passes over the station, or when the total eclipse is on a straight line between you and the station.
For example, I would expect that when St. Louis sees totality, KMOX (1120) will be booming in for hundreds of miles. Similarly, when the total eclipse makes it to Nashville, then WSM (650) will be heard in most of the eastern United States.
Also, listen for some stations on the other side of the path of totality. For example, when the eclipse is over Missouri, I would expect that listeners in Oklahoma and Texas might be able to hear stations such as WCCO (830) in Minneapolis or WHO (1040) in Des Moines.
Before the eclipse, identify some stations, both close to the path of totality, and on the other side of that line. Find stations that you can normally pick up at night, but not during the day, and then listen for those stations to come up out of the noise as the eclipse shadow moves into an optimum spot.
For most people, the best radio to use will be your car radio. Most car radios have good AM tuners, and they usually have the advantage of having a digital display so that you can tune to exactly the right spot on the dial.
For more information on this experiment and how you can participate and submit your observations, see this article at Sky & Telescope magazine. A good starting point for learning about tuning in distant stations on the AM dial can be found at Wikipedia.
If you don’t want to be tethered to your car radio, another alternative is to buy a radio similar to the ones shown below. These radios, even though inexpensive, will provide good AM reception with a digital read out that will allow you to quickly tune various stations. Some of them also have shortwave, which will allow you to do more elaborate observations, as explained at the Sky & Telescope article.
(In addition to radio experiments, it’s important to have a portable radio if you want to receive weather and traffic information during the eclipse. Due to the large number of people traveling to the path of totality, it’s quite possible that cellular and data networks will become overloaded in many areas. Having a radio with you will allow you to learn where the breaks in the clouds are, even if your smart phone is without a signal.)
Radio propagation has been studied during most eclipses in the 20th century. For example, during the 1945 Victory Eclipse, research was done by researchers in recently liberated Norway, and German installations were even quickly re-purposed to do this research. Because of the huge amount of data that will be collected, thanks to technologies such as RBN, this eclipse promises to add to the understanding of the ionosphere, and it’s quite possible for citizen scientists such as you and me to contribute.
Most of the following campsites and dorm rooms are still available as of August 6. Many of the campgrounds are temporary campsites with limited amenities. In most cases, you’ll need to make reservations by phoning the owners. This list is being constantly updated with new sites being added every day. If you discover that any of these are no longer available, please let me know. Also, if you have a site to add, please let me know.
Post-eclipse update: Most of the following links were temporary campgrounds for the 2017 eclipse, and many links will stop working. A few phone numbers were included on this list, but I have removed them. The lesson for the 2024 eclipse is that plenty of campgrounds became available at reasonable prices, and there’s no need to pay too much for lodging.
A few of these links are to Facebook posts, and you’ll probably need to be logged in to Facebook to view them.
Note: I don’t have any direct knowledge of any of these links, other than what they have on their websites. Please contact the owners directly and ask any questions before making reservations. The sites listed here range from very expensive “glamping” locations to inexpensive spots to pitch a tent in someone’s back yard. Some will take self-contained RV’s only and no tents. Others will take tents only and not RV’s. So do your homework! Most of the listings explain whether or not toilet facilities are available. If you’re not sure, be sure to ask the owner.
Sparta, IL – According to this Facebook post, World Shooting and Recreational Complex has campsites available for $25 per night. I didn’t see reference to eclipse camping on their website, but there is a link for camping reservations which takes you to Reserve America. When I did a search, amazingly, it looks like there are many spots available for reservation.
Since radio propagation is affected by solar radiation interacting with the ionosphere, the brief period of “night” in the middle of the day can have measurable effects on radio signals, and some of these effects are not completely understood. For that reason, there are some opportunities for citizen science by amateur radio operators during the eclipse.
I haven’t decided exactly how I am going to participate, but what I will probably do is send some beacon transmissions which will be picked up by stations of the Reverse Beacon Network. This will allow me to participate with relatively little attention required by me while I watch the eclipse, but I’ll be able to review the data later and see how the eclipse affected my radio signals.
I will make this information available live during the eclipse, and you will be able to monitor how the eclipse is affecting the propagation from my transmitter. At this point, I’m considering doing these experiments on 30 meters (10 MHz). Effects will probably be more pronounced on lower frequencies, but higher frequencies will allow a more efficient antenna. I think that 10 MHz probably represents the best compromise, but I’d welcome any input.
The following links include information on radio experiments to take place during the eclipse:
This weekend was Field Day, an activity in which Amateur Radio Operators set up portable equipment and make as many contacts as possible during a 24 hour period.
My own effort this year was very minimalist. I operated as I did for most of my National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) activations, with my 5 watt Yaesu FT-817 with a Hamstick antenna mounted on the car. I only operated for about an hour, but made 13 CW (Morse Code) contacts to places such as Quebec, Florida, Kentucky, and North Dakota. My power supply consisted of my 12 volt fish finder battery,
Back in the day, both the equipment and the power supplies were much more intimidating, and a successful Field Day operation almost required a team effort. This video shows Field Day eighty years ago in 1937. The film shows W8NCD/8, the Charleston (WV) Amateur Radio Club. It is narrated by W8NCD, who is now a Silent Key.
Field Day has always been primarily a fun social activity, but it also has a serious side. It shows that amateurs are ready for emergency situations. In 1937, hams were able to set up at a remote location, without external electric power or any other infrastructure, and be in contact with the rest of the world. In 1937, there weren’t any cell phone towers, but hams managed to communicate around the world. Today, there are cell phones available, but in the location I was at today, at the bottom of the St. Croix River Valley at William O’Brien State Park, cell service is not available. But with five minutes of setup, I was on the air and communicating, just like they were in 1937