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Speaking of Radio…

I was talking to a friend from Russia about history, my job and various other things that are going on in my life. I received this reply, which I thought was interesting on a number of levels:

I’m glad we are on the same page about the era of the ‘cold war’. We were interested in your life even more than you in ours. We had almost no sources of information except for ‘The morning star’ which is a newspaper of the Communist party of Great Britain. The Voice of America and the Liberty (or Freedom, I have no clue because for us it was ‘RADIO SVOBODA’) were extremely hard to tune on. All foreign broadcasts were jammed. So to listen to the station you should maximize the volume up to the limit which was dangerous. Soviet houses are not at all soundproof and your neighbors could easily rat on you. Since that time I’d been dreaming of a small radio with could receive a clear signal from abroad. Of course we have the Internet broadcasting now but they often use old recording instead of live air and the signal depends on your data carrier. You should be online, you should have an app and unlimited data on your contract, your phone should be charged all the time. Too many conditions. Unfortunately a lot of foreign sites are banned here and the trend is to make this number bigger and bigger.

I find that perspective interesting.  We take for granted our ability to listen to information and listen to different points of view, even those we don’t agree with.  There are still trouble spots in the world and some people are not as fortunate.  It is very easy to block internet traffic and there are several countries that currently block access to some or all of the internet, for the safety of their citizens, no doubt.  Ideas are dangerous.

VOA/RFE transmitter site, Biblis Germany

VOA/RFE transmitter site, Biblis Germany. Photographer: Armin Kübelbeck, CC-BY-SA, Wikimedia Commons

In the last ten to fifteen years, many large government shortwave broadcasters have reduced or eliminated their programming favoring an internet distribution model.  This is a mistake.  It is very difficult to successfully jam terrestrial radio broadcasts.  Shortwave Facilities are expensive to develop and maintain, there is no doubt about that.  However, as the Chief Engineer from Radio Australia (ABC) once told me “HF will get through when nothing else will.”  Ironically, ABC has eliminated its HF service on January 31, 2017.

It seems to me that a sort of “Shortwave Lite” version of broadcasting might be the answer.  Use more efficient transmitters with lower power levels closer in to the target areas.  Such transmitters could be coupled to rotatable log periodic antennas to target several listening areas with one system, thus greatly reducing the number of towers and land required.  Solid state transmitters with a power of 10-50 KW are much, much more efficient than their tube type brethren.

DRM30 (Digital Radio Mondiale) has not gained wide spread use in the MF and HF bands.  Like it’s HD Radio counterpart, lack of receivers seems to be one of the adoption issues.  As of 2017, there are only four DRM30 capable receivers for sale not counting software plug ins for various SDRs.  That is a shame because my experience with DRM30 reception has been pretty good.  I have used a WinRadio G303i with DRM plug in, which set me back $40.00 for the license key (hint for those nice folks at the DRM consortium; licensing fees tend quash widespread interest and adoption).

CFRX, Toronto coverage map, average HF propagation conditions

CFRX, Toronto coverage map, average HF propagation conditions

Finally, I have advocated before and still advocate for some type of domestic shortwave service.  Right now, I am listening to CFRX Toronto on 6070 KHz.  That station has a transmitter power output of 1 KW into a 117 degree tower (approximately 50 feet tall) using a modified Armstrong X1000B AM transmitter netting  a 15-32 µV received signal strength some 300 miles away.  That is a listenable signal, especially if there is no other source of information available.  The average approximate coverage area for that station is 280,000 square miles (725,000 square kilometers). That is a fairly low overhead operation for a fairly large coverage area.  Perhaps existing licensed shortwave broadcasters should be allowed to operate such facilities in a domestic service.

The point is, before we pull the plug on the last shortwave transmitter, we should carefully consider what we are giving up.

Part 101, Private Fixed Microwave Service

I have been tasked with installing one of these systems for a sixteen channel bi-directional STL.  This system was first mentioned here: The 16 channel bi-directional STL system.  As some of you pointed out, the unlicensed 5.8 GHz IP WLAN extension was the weak link in this system.  It was not an interference issue, however, which was creating the problems.  The problem was with layer two transparency in the TCP/IP stack.  Something about those Cambium PTP-250s that the Wheatstone Blade hardware did not like and that created all sorts of noise issues in the audio.   We installed the Wheatstone Edge Routers, which took care of the noise issue at the cost of latency.  It was decided to go ahead and install a licensed link instead of the license free stuff as a permanent solution.

Thus, a Cambium PTP-820S point-to-point microwave system was purchased and licensed.  The coordination and licensing took about three months to complete.  We also had to make several changes to our network architecture to accommodate the new system.  The PTP-820 series has a mast mounted radio head, which is the same as the PTP-250 gear.  However, for the new system, we used three different ports on the radio to interface with our other equipment instead of the single port PTP-250 system.  The first is the power port, which takes 48 VDC via a separate power cable instead of POE.  Then there is the traffic port, which which uses Multi-Mode fiber.  Finally, there is the management port, which is 1GB Ethernet and the only way to get into the web interface.  The traffic port creates a completely transparent Ethernet bridge, thus eliminating all of the layer two problems previously encountered.  We needed to install fiber tranceivers in the Cisco 2900 series switches and get those turned up by the IT wizards in the corporate IT department.

Andrew VLHP-2-11W 11 GHz microwave antenna

Andrew VHLP-2-11W 11 GHz microwave antenna

The radios mount directly to the back of the 24 inch 11 GHz Andrew antenna (VHLP2-11) with a UBR100 interface.  The wave guide from the radios is a little bit deceptive looking, but I tried not to over think this too much.  I was careful to use the O ring grease and conductive paste exactly where and when specified.  In the end, it all seemed to be right.

Cambium PTP-820S mounted on antenna

Cambium PTP-820S mounted on Andrew antenna

Not wanting to waste time and money, I decided to do a back to back test in the conference room to make sure everything worked right and I had adequately familiarized myself with the ins and outs of the web interface on the Cambium PTP-820 radios.  Once that was done, it was time to call the tower company.

Cambium PTP-820S on studio roof

Cambium PTP-820S on studio roof

One side of these are mounted on the studio building roof, which is a leased space.  I posted RF warning signs around the antennas because the system ERP is 57.7 dBm, which translates to 590 watts at 11 GHz.  I don’t want to fry anybody’s insides, that would be bad.  The roof top installation involved pulling the MM fiber and power cable through a 1 1/4 inch EMT conduit to the roof.  Some running back and forth, but not terrible work.  I used the existing Ethernet cable for the management port.  This will be left disconnected from the switch most of the time.

Cambium PTP-280S 11 GHz licensed microwave mounted on a skirted AM tower

Cambium PTP-280S 11 GHz licensed microwave mounted on a skirted AM tower

The other side is mounted at about 85 feet AGL on a hot AM tower.  I like the use of fiber here, even though the tower is skirted, the AM station runs 5,000 watts during the daytime.  We made sure the power cables and Ethernet cables had lighting protectors at the top of the run near the dish and at the bottom of the tower as well as in the transmitter room rack.  I know this tower gets struck by lightning often as it is the highest point around for miles.

PTP-820S RSL during aiming process

PTP-820S RSL during aiming process

Aligning the two dishes was a degree of difficulty greater than the 5.8 GHz units.  The path tolerances are very tight, so the dishes on each end needed to be adjusted in small increments until the best signal level was achieved.  The tower crew was experienced with this and they started by panning the dish to the side until the first side lobe was found.  This ensured that the dish was on the main lobe and we were not chasing our tails.  In the end we achieved a -38 dBm RSL, the path predicted RSL was -36 dBm so close enough.  This means the system has a 25 dB fade margin, which should be more than adequate.  While were were aligning the transmitter site dish, a brief snow squall blew through causing a white out and the signal to drop by about 2 dB.  It was kind of cool seeing this happen in real time, however, strangely enough, the tower crew was not impressed by this at all.  Odd fellows, those are.

Currently brushing up on FCC part 101 rules, part C and H.  It is always good to know the regulatory requirements of any system I am responsible for.  As AOIP equipment becomes more main stream, I see many of these type installations happening for various clients.

Axiom


A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. An optimist sees the glass as half full. The engineer sees the glass as twice the size it needs to be.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
~1st amendment to the United States Constitution

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
~Benjamin Franklin

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
~Rudyard Kipling

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
~Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, Article 19

...radio was discovered, and not invented, and that these frequencies and principles were always in existence long before man was aware of them. Therefore, no one owns them. They are there as free as sunlight, which is a higher frequency form of the same energy.
~Alan Weiner

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