Installing a WISP on an AM broadcast tower

This is an interesting project currently underway at one of our client’s AM sites.  They have decided to go all in and create a WISP (Wireless Internet Service Provider) for the community around the AM tower.  I thought it would be interesting to explore this topic, as there are not many opportunities for AM towers to lease vertical real estate.

First a few basic ideas.  For an AM broadcaster, (aka medium wave or standard broadcast band) the entire tower is part of the transmitting antenna.  There are two types of towers; series excited and shunt excited.  A series excited tower has a base insulator, like this:

AM tower with base insulator
AM tower with base insulator

A shunt tower usually has a series of wires called a skirt, separated from the tower by standoffs, which go to the top of the tower or nearly to the top of the tower. The base of the tower is grounded, like this:

AM tower with out base insulator
AM tower with out base insulator

A shunt excited tower has distinctive advantages for co-location opportunities in that the tower itself is grounded, greatly simplifying placing additional antennas on the towers.  That is not to say that antennas can not be installed on series excited (insulated) towers, it just requires an extra step of using isolation coils.

In all cases, the tower should have a structural study done to insure that the additional antennas do not overload the tower and cause structural damage or collapse.

In this case, the tower is new and was designed for the extra load.

The plan is to create a sectorized wireless internet system using four 90 degree panels, each with three access points.  A tower mounted sixteen port switch is mounted behind the panel antennas and the switch communicates with the ground mounted router through two fiber optic cables.  A 54 volt DC supply powers the switch, access points and point to point radios mounted on the tower.  There are two fiber runs, one is for subscriber traffic and the other is for radio management.  This system is using Ubiquiti gear.

Ubiquiti 90 degree sector antennas and radios
Ubiquiti 90 degree sector antennas and radios

A word or two about Ubiquiti gear.  Ubiquiti specializes in cheap equipment manufactured in China.  That is a double edged sword.  On the plus side, if anything breaks or gets damaged by lightning or whatever; throw it out and install a new one.  On the negative side, I  have seen Ubiquiti gear do some strange things, particularly after a firmware upgrade.  The newer stuff seems to be better than the older stuff.  All that being said, as this is a brand new operation and seems to be a proof of concept, then the Ubiquiti gear will be fine to start with.

Going up
Going up

The tower crew made quick work of installing the sectorized access points.

Tower crew waiting for equipment lift
Tower crew waiting for equipment lift

Going up the face of the tower, there are the aforementioned fiber cables, the 54 VDC power cable and one backup Ethernet cable.  All of the Ethernet jumper cables used to connect the access points to the switch are UV rated, shielded Cat 5e and use shielded connectors.  This is very important on a hot AM tower.  Due to the skin effect, the shield on the shielded cable protects the interior twisted pair conductors from the high AM RF fields present on the tower.

Transtector LPU 1101-1158
Transtector LPU 1101-1158 Ethernet cable protection unit

At the base of the tower, the DC power cable and the Ethernet cable go though high quality lightning protection units.  These are Transtector 1101-1158 Ethernet and 1101-1025 48 volt outdoor DC power units.  Even though the DC power supply is 54 volts, the 48 volt LPU’s will function adequately.  The TVSS devices used in the LPU circuit are rated for 88 volts maximum continuous voltage.

Transtector 1101-1025 48 VDC lightning protection unit
Transtector 1101-1025 48 VDC lightning protection unit

In addition, I made a service loop on the DC cable with also creates an RF choke.  Several (12-14) turns of cable 18-20 inches (45 to 50 cm) in diameter act to keep the induced RF at the input terminals of the LPU low so the protection devices do not fire on high modulation peaks.  This also helps to keep the AM RF out of the 54 VDC power supply in the rack.

Making ethernet jumper cables, TIA/EIA-568B
Making ethernet jumper cables, TIA/EIA-568B

The backup Ethernet cable has a similar setup.  Regarding the Ethernet cable and induced RF, this station runs 1 KW.  As long as the shielded RJ-45 connectors are applied properly and the tower mounted switch is grounded along with the LPU, then all of the RF should be on the very outside of the cable shield (due to the skin effect).

Base of AM tower with WISP equipment installed
Base of AM tower with WISP equipment installed

This principal also applies to lightning strikes.  Although lightning is DC voltage, it has a very fast rise time, which makes it behave like AC on the initial impulse of the strike. The voltage induced on the shield of the cable will not effect the twisted pairs found deeper within the Ethernet cable.  Of course, all bets are off if there is a direct strike on a piece of equipment.

AM stations running powers more than 1 KW, Superior Essex makes armored shielded cable called BBDG (the new trade name is EnduraGain OSP).  This cable comes with a heliax like copper shield with an optional aluminum spiral armor.  This cable looks very robust.

Enduragain OSP armored shielded Category cable
Enduragain OSP armored shielded Category cable

On series excited towers (those with an insulated base) fiber optic cable can be used to cross the base insulator without any problems, as long as there is not any metal in the cable (armor or aerial messenger).

LBA Group TC-300 tower lighting choke
LBA Group TC-300 tower lighting choke. 180 turns #12 AWG enamel wire on 6 inch coil form.

DC power can cross the base insulator using something called a “Tower Lighting Choke.”  This device is a set of coils wound around a form which passes the DC power but keeps the AM RF from following the DC power cable to ground.  These work relatively well, however, lightning protection units still need to be installed before the DC power supply.

BE AM tuning network

Occasional reader Scott asked for a picture of the inside of a BE AM output tuning network.  I figured it might be helpful to make a short post about it.

These things are pretty simple; a T network with a capacitive leg to ground.

BE AM Output tuning network
BE AM Output tuning network

This particular unit is for 1230 KHz.  I believe the capacitor is frequency determined and they may also use larger inductors for lower frequencies.

BE AM output tuning network schematic
BE AM output tuning network schematic

The inductors are Kintronic LV-15-20 (15uH 20 amp) and the capacitor is 0.0018 uF CDE 6KV 5.6 amp.

The issue with this particular unit is dirt.  The inductors have round metal plates that roll along the inductor coil to make the variable inductor tap.  Dirt has accumulated on the coil turns and on the inside of the plates.  This, in turn, causes arcing anytime the Tune or Load controls are moved.  A through cleaning should take care of the problem.

More AM retuning work

Working on another old AM station, this one is a simple Class C one tower on 1230 KHz.

Broadcast Electronics AM Output Tuning Network
Broadcast Electronics AM Output Tuning Network

The main problem today was this BE AM output network unit between the BE AM1A and the ATU.  This site has had some dirt difficulties over the years and the internal parts of this tuning unit arc at full power.  I attempted to drive the ATU directly with the transmitter, which was a no-go.

Gates Radio 1 KW AM ATU, circa 1947
Gates Radio 1 KW AM ATU, circa 1947

I took a look at the ATU, which is a pretty standard Gates 1 KW ATU from the late forties or early fifties.  I have seen perhaps dozens of these things.

My first thought was that over the years, likely due to changes in the ground system, the base impedance has shifted away from its licensed values.  However, a quick measurement of the base impedance shows it to be exactly at the licensed value, 17.3 ohms.  The tower is 67 degrees tall, so that impedance value is right in the theoretical norm.

I  measured the input to the ATU, which showed 38 ohms with about 7 ohms capacitive reactance.  I can only surmise that it has always been this way.  The transmitter in use before the BE AM1A was a Harris/Gates Radio BC-1G.  That model transmitter will drive anything including an open transmission line.

Retuned ATU input; 49 ohms resistive, 0 ohms reactance
Retuned ATU input; 49 ohms resistive, 0 ohms reactance

Having the bridge on hand, I decided to retune the ATU for a better match. I put the bridge on the input terminals of the ATU and set it to 50 j0.  Using the remote control, I turned the transmitter off and on while making small adjustments to the output strap on the coil until the resistance was 49 ohms with zero reactance.  I would have gotten it to 50 ohms, but the strap on the output side of the coil would not stretch far enough to reach the proper spot on the coil.

Now the transmitter will run into the ATU directly at full power with about three watts reflected.   The BE AM output matching network unit has been removed for cleaning and repairs.  I will reinstall it once those repairs are completed.

Analog Sauce: The Audioromy M828-A

AKA: Tube amp part II

Audioromy M828A on the bench
Audioromy M828A on the bench

I have been fooling around with this amplifier for a month now and I have to say, it is rather fun.  There are a few hazards when purchasing Chinese HiFi (ChiFi) equipment.

The first thing to note; several places such as Ebay and Amazon list this as a single ended class A amp. That is not true, it is a double ended class AB amp.  I confirmed this by measuring across the two sections of the output transformer.

Second thing to note; this amp came wired with a fuse on the hot side of the AC mains and the power switch on the neutral.  Switched neutral (AKA earth, return or ground) wires are a hazard, so I rewired it, putting the switch after the fuse on the hot side after the fuse.  Another safety thing, the edge of the metal chassis was not de-burred.  I took a flat file to it and removed the burr, thus avoiding any future lacerations.

Finally; there is no manual provided with this unit.  There are a few sets of instructions on how to re-bias after tube replacement which are technically correct but not the best way to go about it. Those instructions direct the user to solder a low value resistor from cathode to ground then measure the voltage drop on that resistor to calculate plate current. While this is a valid way to deduce plate current, the power output tube has two tubes in one envelope and the cathodes are tied together. The plate current can be calculated for both sides, but there is nothing indicating that the two sides are balanced and one of the tubes can red plate. This was also noted in those instructions found on line.

That being said, I thought I could type up a set of directions that are more suited for this amplifier.  But first, read this dire warning about working with High Voltage:

This amplifier has lethal voltages present during operation. It is possible that lethal voltages can be stored in certain components for days after the amplifier has been turned off and disconnected. By removing the protective covers, those components will be exposed and you may come in contact with them if you are not careful.

If you are planning to service this amplifier, it is vital that you have basic electronics and electrical knowledge. This includes all applicable safety procedures for working on high voltage components.

If you do not have this knowledge, please bring this amplifier to a qualified electronics technician or repair shop for service.

I am not responsible for any injuries or damage suffered to yourself or others if you decide to undertake repairs of this equipment.

I acquired a few of these Ulyanovsk GU-29 tubes and decided to try them out.  The maximum plate dissipation for this tube is 40 watts with bulb temperature of 175°C and ambient temperature of 20°C.  I measured the bulb temperature at 142°C and the temperature in my living room ranges from 20ºC to 32ºC (68ºF to 90ºF).  I could, in theory, bias these tubes for a higher plate dissipation, if I wanted to.

Ulyanovsk GU29 tube, made in the USSR
Ulyanovsk GU29 tube, made in the USSR, circa May 1964

I asked my Russian friend what the assembly line person or factory manager might think if he or she knew that the tube made in their factory would end up in being used in a home audio amplifier owned by a guy in New York.  She said “They would have a stroke.”  Ulyanovsk had and still has a heavy military presence, thus they likely assumed that all their products would be used by the Soviet Navy or Army.

Being that this particular tube sat around in a warehouse for 55 years, it was slightly gassy.  When I first turned the amp on, there was a distinctive pink glow and a couple of small internal arcs.  It probably would have been a smart idea to light up the filaments for several hours before applying plate voltage.  Unfortunately, I had that idea after I’d already energized the amplifier.  In any case,  I increased the bias and reduced the plate current.  After a while, things settled down and I got to work re-biasing the amplifier.

To re-bias the amplifier after new tubes have been installed, some initial data needs to be gathered.  Basically, this procedure involves measuring the resistance of the plate circuit, then measuring the voltage at the output of the plate voltage supply and the voltage at each of the plate terminals on the power amp tube.  The plate voltage on this amplifier is +460 DC or so voltage above ground potential.  Obviously, this is a dangerous voltage and if you are not familiar with working on high voltages, do not attempt this procedure.  The best way to measure these test points is to use clip leads; turn the amp off, let the capacitors discharge, place the clip leads on the appropriate test points, turn the amp on, make the measurement, then turn the amp off, repeat as necessary.

After replacement of the power tubes (V-5 and V-6), the bias for those tubes should be checked and adjusted as follows:

A. To measure plate dissipation as set by the factory, perform the following steps:

1. With amp completely turned off and disconnected from the AC mains, remove the bottom cover. Ensure that the large power supply capacitors are discharged to ground. With an accurate ohm meter, measure from the exposed lead on L-1 (TP-1) on the power supply board to the input to the anode resistor (R-21 or R-22 in the schematic diagram (TP-2, TP-3, TP-4, TP-5)) for each tube (four measurements total). Make a note of those measurements. For reference, my amp measured between 163 to 165 ohms.

2. Reconnect the amp to the AC mains and turn on power (be sure to read the dire warning about high voltage above). With an accurate DVM, set to DC volts scale, carefully measure the voltage on the exposed lead of L-1 on the power supply board to ground, make a note of it. This is the B+ voltage for the amplifier. Carefully make another measurement between the input of the anode resistor (R-21 or R-22) and ground (four total measurements, likely to be the same), this is the plate voltage for the power tubes. Make a note of that as well.

3. Subtract the plate voltage from the B+ voltage. For my amp, this was 462 VDC 458 VDC = 4 volts. This can also be measured between TP-1 and TP2 through TP-5 See charts 1 and 2 below. This is the voltage drop. Using ohms law, calculate the plate current for each section of the amp:

Voltage drop ÷ resistance = plate current or 4.17 VDC ÷ 163.2 ohms = 0.0255 amps (25.5 ma) plate current.

Using ohms law, calculate the plate dissipation for ½ of the power tube:

Plate voltage × Plate current = Plate Dissipation or 458 V × 0.0255 amps = 11.7 watts.

Add both sides of the tube together for the total plate dissipation.

Chart 1: Left power tube, V-5

Test points Resistance Plate voltage (TP-2/3 to gnd) B+ (L1 or TP-1 to gnd) Voltage drop Plate current Dissipation
TP-1 to TP-2 163.2 ohms 458 VDC 462 VDC 4.17 VDC 25.5 ma 11.7 watts
TP-1 to TP-3 163.9 ohms 458 VDC 462 VDC 4.16 VDC 25.3 ma 11.6 watts

Total power dissipation for V-5 is 23.2 watts or 77% of maximum for the stock FU29 tube. That is slightly above the commonly recommended safe range of 70% of maximum, but it is tolerable.

Chart 2: Right power tube, V-6

Test points Resistance Plate voltage (TP-4/5 to gnd) B+ (L1 or TP-1 to gnd) Voltage drop Plate current Dissipation
TP-1 to TP-4 164.4 ohms 458 VDC 462 VDC 4.23 VDC 25.3 ma 11.6 watts
TP-1 to TP-5 164.8 ohms 458 VDC 462 VDC 4.14 VDC 25.1 ma 11.5 watts

Total power dissipation for V-6 is 23.1 watts or 77% of maximum for the stock tube.

Test points for tube bias adjustment
Test points for tube bias adjustment
Pin out, 829B tube
Pin out, 829B tube

B. When replacing the power tubes, it is recommended that they be replaced in kind in pairs.

Step 1: Increase the tube bias (measured on pin 2 or 6 of the power tube) to -25 VDC and check the plate voltage drop on both tubes. Increasing the bias will reduce the plate current and thus the plate dissipation.  This will be noted as a decrease in the voltage drop.  A good starting set point would be 50-60% of the normal factory plate current (Vd ÷ Plate R) setting. The voltage drop can be measured directly by connecting the positive lead to TP-1 and then measure TP-2 to TP-5 with the negative lead. Use clip leads, placing them on the test points with the amplifier turned off.  Be extremely careful; these test points are +460 VDC above ground when the amp is energized. Read dire voltage warning above.

Step 2: Turn off amp, discharge power supply capacitors, replace tubes.

Step 3: Allow the new tubes to burn in for approximately 3-5 hours with reduced plate dissipation, make sure that the amplifier is connected to a suitable load on the speaker output terminals.

Step 4: With the DVM connected to TP-1 and TP-2, slowly bring the bias down until the plate circuit voltage drop approaches the values for the old tube.  Repeat procedure for each plate circuit (TP-1 to TP-3, TP-1 to TP-4 and TP-1 to TP-5). Recalculate plate dissipation. Be sure not to exceed plate dissipation of the tube! It is best if the tube is biased to run at about 70-75% of the maximum plate dissipation.

Step 5: With the amp fully warmed up, turn out all lights and observe the plates of both tubes for any signs of red plating.

Step 6: Carefully measure the balance between the two plate outputs of each tube by placing the DVM leads on TP2 and TP3 for V5 and TP4 and TP5 for V6. Alternatively, the test leads can be placed directly on Pu-1 and Pu-2 of the power tube under test. Between these test point pairs, the DC voltages should be zero or close to it. Note; there will be some fluctuations in the hundredths or thousandths volt ranges. Very, very carefully, adjust the bias control pots until the voltmeter reads zero or as close as you can get to zero.

Step 7: Recheck the plate dissipation for both sides of the tube, make sure that they are closely matched and not exceeding the maximum plate dissipation for the power tube in use.

I discovered several things during this process; it is very easy to red plate one side of the tube while adjusting the bias controls.  Fortunately, I noticed this right away and was able to stop the red plating quickly.  The Ulyanovsk tubes seem none the worse for wear.  As Alex Ovechkin says “Russian machine never breaks.”

Next, the schematic diagram I posted previously is not correct for this version amplifier.  There are two bias voltage controls, one for each grid.  There is no balance control, the tubes are balanced by making very careful adjustments to one or the other of the bias controls.  Updated schematic diagram:

Audioromy M-828A schematic diagram
Audioromy M-828A schematic diagram

When the amplifier is properly biased and balanced, the distortion figures should be very low, less than 0.5 to 1% THD at full power.  It makes a big difference.

The point of all this is to 1) have fun, 2) perhaps learn something about tube (or valve) circuits and 3) listen to really clean, good sounding audio.