January 2017
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The isocoupler and the SX2.5

Second post in the series, “things to do with a truck body tool box.”

We have this client who, several years ago, moved their translator to their AM tower. All is well for a few months, then the much beloved Harris SX2.5 transmitter begins burping.  The SX2.5 transmitter being of an age when, apparently, VSWR fold back circuits were just a gleam in Hilmer Swanson’s eye.  The correct description of the sound made over the air during this event would be “motor boating,” because that is what it sounds like.  Obviously, very undesirable.

Thus, the isocoupler was removed from the tower, dried out, water proofed and replaced.  That lasted about six months.

Once again, the isocoupler was removed from the tower, a capacitor was remounted, drain holes and a small vent added to the top of the unit and it was replaced.  That lasted about a year.

I am getting a little tired of this and so is the client.  Time to rethink the entire set up.

We had several left over parts from various AM decommissionings over the last few years which included these nifty sample loop isolation coils:

AM antenna system sample loop isolation coil

AM antenna system sample loop isolation coil

Why not repurpose one of these to make an isocoupler for the translator?

Enter; the truck body tool box.  This one is slightly smaller than the last one, measuring 23.5 x 18 x 16 inches (60 x 45 x 40.5 cm).

The isolation coil consists of 35 turns of 3/8 coax on an 11.5 inch diameter form.  The coil length is 15 inches.  I calculate the length of the coax on the coil to be out to be right around 100 feet using the π x D x (turns) formula.  I measured the inductance with my analyser, which came out to 200 μH.  Not to shabby.

Checking length of cable with TDR

Checking length of cable with TDR

The coax is Cablewave FCC38-50J which has a velocity factor of .81 and the TDR shows it to be 100 feet also.

Coil impedence and reactance

Simple coil impedance and reactance

At 860 KHz, the isolation coil presents 1,200 impedance.  I don’t think that will be good enough for that cranky old SX2.5.  I decided to make a parallel LC circuit (AKA a tank circuit) to bring up the impedance some.

Tank circuit formula:



FR = Resonance frequency in Hertz
L = Inductance in Henrys
C = Capacitance in Farads

Given that I have two left over capacitors, one is a .001 μF and the other is a .0012 μF, those values determine where the coil needs to be tapped.  I also wanted to have a good bit of coil in the circuit on the tower side before the capacitor tap to dampen any lightning strikes on the tower.  Thus the inductance needs to be about 28 μH.

Using Wheeler’s coil inductance formula:

L= (d2 x n2)/(18d+40l)


L = inductance in micro Henrys
d = coil diameter in inches
l = is coil length in inches
n = is number of turns

I removed a small portion of the outer jacket on the coil at approximately the 28 μH point (12 turns) then installed a .0012 μF capacitor.  I used a small variable capacitor to tune for resonance on the carrier frequency.  With this set up, at 860 KHz, there is >47,500 impedance.  That goes down to about 16,000 ohms +/- 10 KHz.

That should make things better.

Then I mounted the coil and capacitor in the truck body tool box.  There is a fair amount of stray capacitance from the box itself, which raised the resonant frequency by 5 KHz.

Device Under Test, initial testing of isocoil after fabrication

Device Under Test;  initial testing of isocoil after fabrication

Resonance is slightly above the carrier frequency with the permanent fixed .0012 μF capacitor.  I think this will change once the unit is connected to the station ground plane.  The network analyzer indicated there is too much capacitance in the circuit.  Unfortunately, this may be as good as it gets, however, the analyzer shows the impedances are still pretty high:

Frequency (KHz) Impedance (Ohms) Deviation from Carrier (KHz)
850 9,950 – 10
855 14,720 – 5
860 28,590 0
865 59,580 + 5
870 24,780 + 10

The base impedance of this tower is 34 ohms on the carrier frequency, so the isocoupler should be invisible to the transmitter across the 20 KHz occupied bandwidth of the station.

The FCC38-50J cable has a loss of 1.04 dB per 100 feet at 100 MHz, which is the figure I will use to calculate the insertion loss on the FM translator antenna system.

The old isocoupler is made with RG-214, but likely a somewhat shorter length.  RG-214 cable has a loss of 1.9 dB per 100 feet at 100 MHz.


Isocoil mounted on back of ATU

Isocoil mounted on back of ATU

Isocoil mounted on back of ATU

Isocoil mounted on back of ATU

Before and after measurements with the network analyzer show a very slight change in the reactance at the tower base.  Nothing major and easy enough to tune out with the series output inductor of the ATU.

If I where to do this again, I would simply tap the coil at ten turns from the bottom, measure the inductance and install the proper value capacitor.  Since this had to be constructed with the parts on hand, less the truck body tool box, it because a bit cumbersome to get close to the resonant frequency.

All this got me thinking; there are other possible uses for such a design.  Crossing a base insulator with Ethernet cable always presents some unique problems.  I know the WISP forum that I read, they are always talking about how difficult it is to mount an antenna on an AM tower.  What if… armoured Cat5e or Cat6 cable was used with water proof RJ-45 jacks?  Something like that could carry Ethernet data and DC voltage past the base insulator to a three or four around sectorized access point and an edge switch or router mounted on the tower.

Armoured category cable specifications

Armoured category cable specifications

just thinking…

Anyway, it would not be hard to make coils and install capacitors for the right frequency


This information is from an occasional reader who wished to remain anonymous.

Another AM station surrenders its license, this time from north of the border. CKSL, London, Ontario, Canada is gone for good.  Current owner, Bell Media, has determined that it would cost more to repair the deficiencies with the antenna system than economically feasible, especially considering it’s low ratings.  Here is their filing with the CRTC:

Bell Media is the licensee of CKSL-AM 1410, assuming stewardship of the station in 2013 as part of the Astral Media acquisition.

A technical review of the transmitter site was recently completed both by Bell Media and contractors, which has resulted in the determination that the AM array poses an unacceptable risk from a health and safety perspective.  The five towers are experiencing serious structural degradation and also require repairs to the aviation safety lighting system. In addition, the building which houses the transmitter has shifted off its foundation (as have several of the individual tower sheds).

Given these problems, Bell Media would need to make a significant financial investment to bring CKSL-AM’s transmitter up to compliance with Human Resources Development Canada, Industry Canada and NavCanada operational codes and standards, all of which is estimated to exceed $3 million dollars.

From a market perspective, CKSL-AM has consistently ranked last out of all ten commercial stations in the London market, both in audience share and revenue generation, over the last several years.  In fact, since 2013 the London market has seen radio revenues drop 4% and CKSL-AM generates the least amount of revenue of the stations in the market. Even with a significant investment in programming, this trend is unlikely to be reversed. 

In light of the significant capital costs coupled with the absence of revenue and audience share, Bell Media is respectfully requesting the revocation of the CKSL licence.

Well, 24/7 comedy will do that to you.  Somebody in the business said to me recently “The listeners are abandoning radio!”  No, it is the broadcast station owners who are abandoning their listeners and their cities of license.  I have a news flash for all current broadcast station owners; as surprising and radical as this might sound, bland, boring, canned, completely irrelevant, dismal, uninformative, unimaginative, unentertaining, dreary, stale, unenjoyable programming will drive away even the most loyal listeners.  People really want to listen to radio, it is an easy habit and readily accessible.  Radios are ubiquitous; they are in our kitchens, bedrooms, cars, hotel rooms, offices, restaurants, barber shops, etc.  That, however, may not always be the case, as more and more people move Spotify, Pandora, or Apple radio when they are tired of the disappointment.  I was listening to a certain sports radio format the other day and I kept waiting for something interesting to happen.  I waited and waited. I would say to myself; okay, this will be the segment when I will learn something or be entertained.  This upcoming guest will say something interesting.  Sadly, those expectations were never met and I will never tune into that station again. Elevator music would have been better.  Worse than sports radio, 24/7 comedy is the absolute death knell.  This is like saying; we are out of ideas and we do not care.

Here are a few pictures of the former CKSL-AM transmitter site:

CKSL antenna array

CKSL antenna array


CKSL transmitter building


CKSL transmission line bridge


CKSL tower base

Actually does not look too bad, at least the field is mowed. I have seen much, much worse.  Those bolt together towers, though. I would bet that they are the real problem, bolts are deteriorating faster than the tower steel. Very likely all the towers need to be replaced and that is why the license is being surrendered.

If you are a radio geek, get out there and take some pictures of your favorite radio station.  If the current trends continue, eventually they will all be gone.

The Horns of a Dilemma

Alternate title: Building and ATU in a truck body tool box.

Alternate title II: I should get paid extra for this shit.

There is an AM radio station that is near death but the owners do not want it to go away.  Nor to they want to spend very much money to keep it around, thus the dilemma.  At the transmitter site, there are a multitude of problems; leaking roof, very old rusty ATU, rotting support posts and transmission line bridge, equipment racks rusting out, nothing is grounded properly, the building is full of junk, snakes and mice have moved in.  To further complicate things, the tower and transmitter building serve as an STL relay point for two of the market’s FM stations.  There is also two translators with antennas on the tower.  The ATU and tower light choke box are rusting through, which is causing arcing and broadband RF noise that is interfering with the FM station’s STL receiver.  There was a home made isocoupler for one of the translators that was allowing AM RF back into the building which was creating havoc with everything.  Because of this, the AM station is currently silent.  In short, it is a mess.



The red box on the bottom is the ATU, the plywood box on the top with the peeling yellow paint is the home made isocoupler, the tower light choke box is behind the isocoupler.

Crumbling old ATU output capacitor in series with tower

Crumbling old ATU output capacitor in series with tower

This was the capacitor that was feeding the antenna, .0041uf, 10KV 8 amps.

We started remediation on this last February, which is not optimum time for replacing rotting wooden posts.  However, we were able to clean out the building.  The leaking roof has been repaired.  I was able to find a few old racks from a Schafer Automation system to replace the rusted out original racks.  I began the process of grounding the equipment racks, the incoming transmission lines for the STL, etc.

Cool morning, Garter Snakes warming themselves on top of a Moseley DSP-6000

Cool morning, Garter Snakes warming themselves on top of a Moseley DSP-6000

Garter Snake

Garter Snake

We will have to find out how they are getting in, the plug up those holes.

Then there was the ATU and tower light choke enclosures.  Original to the 1952 sign on, they were past their serviceable days.  Since this is all being done on a budget and nobody wants to spend money on an AM station that has little or no listeners and even less revenue, we had a problem.

Then somebody suggested building an ATU in a truck body tool box.  Well…  This isn’t the Meadowlands, so if there are no other alternatives then okay, I guess.  Off to Amazon to order a tool box.  This particular unit seems fine, my only comment is on the gauge aluminum (or aluminium if you prefer), which is slightly thin for holding up all those parts.

ATU built in a truck body tool box

Fabrication shop, ATU built in a truck body tool box

Still, the box itself is nice enough and certainly better than the old one.  I was able to reuse the inductor and the Delta current meter but the old Sangamo capacitors crumbled in my hands when I removed them.  I also saved the feed through bowls, J-plugs and other parts.  I used some copper strap to run a good RF ground from the input to the ground connection.  Overall, I am pretty pleased with the finished product.  It is a little bit tight in there, but this station only runs 1 KW, so it should be fine.

Replacement ATU mounted

Replacement ATU mounted

So, new pressure treated posts installed, the box was mounted and the transmission line connected.

Replacement ATU under power.

Replacement ATU under power.

Reused Schaffer Automation racks, much better than the 1950's Gates racks

Reused Schafer Automation racks, much better than the 1950’s Gates racks

The reused racks are old, but serviceable and a big improvement over the old, rusting out racks.  I was able to bond each rack to the ground strap that used to connect to the RCA BTA-1 transmitter.  There is one more rack to install to the right of these two.  That should give us more than enough rack space for this site.

The station is back on at full power and not interfering with the FM STLs or the translators.  You can actually touch the rack and not get an RF burn!

We are also working on an air conditioner.

Other work at this site; cleaning out the building, replacing the tower light photocell, installing a ground buss bar, some STL lightning protectors, dress the transmission lines, etc.  It is a work in progress.


Medium Frequency ATU design

This is a topic I have covered before, but it is worth doing it again for future reference.  The previous post covered downgrading an AM transmission facilities for WGHQ, Kingston, NY.

This is part II of that process.

WGHQ transmitter site, towers 1 and 2 removed

WGHQ transmitter site, towers 1 and 2 removed

The old towers have been cut up and put in a scrap metal dumpster. They are off to China to be melted down and made into a submarine or a missile or a tank or something useful like that.

Towers scrapped

Towers scrapped

The directional array had a three towers in a straight line with a common point impedance of 60 Ohms.  Dropping two towers greatly changed the electrical characteristics of the remaining tower, therefore the existing ATU needed a bit of reworking to match the 50 Ohm transmitter output.

First step, correct a few deficiencies left over from the old array.

Vise grip tower feed

Vise grip tower feed

This vise grip RF connection has to go. The problem is where the tower erectors attempted to solder the copper tubing.  That tower base plate is pretty big and I would wager they didn’t use enough heat to make the solder connection.  They were probably working in the winter time, thus the “temporary” fix.  This tower was put up in 1993, so that temporary fix lasted 23 years.

I removed the offending tool and soldered the connection to another part of the tower with silver solder.  The smaller cross bar made a good connection point.

RF feed correctly connected to the tower

RF feed correctly connected to the tower

After soldering, I cleaned up and sprayed some grey primer on it to prevent rust forming where I scraped the paint off.

Next, I made an impedance measurement:

WGHQ tower base impedance measurement

WGHQ 920 KHz tower base impedance measurement

That junk on the upper part of the graph is coming from WHVW on 950 KHz. The tower itself looks pretty good, 77.6 Ohms resistance with 130 Ohms inductive reactance.  Since this is not a part of a directional antenna system, the ATU design is pretty straight forward.  Given that WHVW on 950 KHz is located 10.41 miles away, a low pass filter design is optimum.  A basic low pass filter T network has inductive input and output legs with a capacitive shunt leg to ground.

T network diagram

T network diagram

Each leg is used to match the 50 Ohm transmission line impedance (R1) to the 77.6 Ohm tower impedance (R2) and cancel out the 130 Ohms of inductive reactance.  This is a vector impedance problem, much like a vector force problem in physics.   Some basic arithmetic is required (always include the units):

X1, X2, X3 = √(Zin x Zout)

X1, X2, X3 = √(50Ω x 77.6Ω) or X = 62.28Ω

The value of inductance or capacitance for each leg is calculated using the basic inductance or capacitance formulas:

L (μH) = XL / 2πf(MHz)


C (μF) = 1 / 2πf(MHz) XC

Thus the input leg, or X1 = 62.28Ω / (6.28 x 0.92 MHz) or 10.78 μH

The Shunt leg, or X2 = 1 / (6.28 x 0.92 MHz x 62.28Ω) or .0028 μF

The output leg is a little different.  The tower has 130 Ohms of inductive reactance that needs to be cancelled out with a capacitor.  Rather than cancel out all of the inductive reactance, then add an inductive output leg, the tower reactance can be used as part of the tuning circuit.  The design calls for 62.28 Ohms inductive reactance, so 130Ω – 62.28Ω = 67.27Ω, which is the value needed to be cancelled by a capacitor:

Output leg, or X3 = 1 / (6.28 x 0.92 MHz x 67.27Ω) or .0025 μF

A little Ohm’s law is used to calculate the base current for both the day and night time operations.

Ohm's law pie chart calculator

Ohm’s law pie chart calculator

Thus the daytime base current is I = √(P/R) or I = √(1000 W/77.6Ω) or 3.58 Amps.

Night time base current is I = √(38 W/77.6Ω) or 0.70 Amps

Current handling requirements:

Base current is calculated to be 3.6 Amps at 1,000 Watts carrier power.  Allowing for 125% peak positive modulation makes it 5.7 Amps.  Having safety factor of two or 11.4 Amps output leg and 14 Amps input leg.

Voltages: 353 maximum input voltage, 439 output.

Thus, 20 amp, 10 KV parts should work well.

The designed schematic for the ATU:

WGHQ ATU Schematic diagram

WGHQ ATU Schematic diagram

Putting it all together.

Since the tower looks fairly broad at 920 KHz, we are going to attempt a nice broadband ATU to match it.  This station is currently programmed with a classic country format, and I have to tell you; those old Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline, et al., songs sound pretty good on the old AM radio.  The Subaru stock radio has HD, which also has a nice broad IF section, thus allowing all those lovely mid-high range frequencies through.

This is the existing ATU, which I believe was built by Collins in 1960:

WGHQ Tower 3 ATU

Existing WGHQ T network ATU

The ATU building is a little rough, but the ATU itself is in remarkable shape for being 56 years old.  The input leg inductor is in the center and will be reused as is. The large Jennings vacuum capacitor at the bottom is a part of the shut leg.  Its value is 2000 pF at 15 KV.  The top vacuum capacitor is series output cap, its value is 1000 pF at 15 KV.  The basic plan is to move the upper cap down in parallel with the bottom cap.  The shut leg inductor will be kept in place to tune out any access capacity.  For the output leg, I have a 2500 pF mica cap and a 10-100 pF variable cap connected in parallel.  The inductor on the output leg will be removed.

After some re-work on the ATU components, I tuned everything up.  The easiest way to do this is to disconnect the legs, measure them individually and adjust them for the desired reactance, which in this case is 62.28 ohms or thereabouts.  The output leg was measured with the tower connected since the tower reactance is a part of the tuning circuit.  The input leg was right about 10 μH.  The shunt leg turned out to be about 0.002 μF.  This is often the case, theoretical values are slightly different than field values due to stray capacitance and inductance in the connecting straps, etc.

This is the load, as measured at the output terminals on the transmitter:

WGHQ tower load as measured at the transmitter output terminals

WGHQ tower load as measured at the transmitter output terminals

Slightly asymmetric on 910 KHz, but overall pretty good. There is a fair amount of phase rotation in the transmission line due to the length from transmitter to tower (855 feet, 260.6 meter), which works out to be 0.93 wave length allowing for the 86% velocity factor of the transmission line.

Time to pack up and go home.

Downgrading an AM radio station

WGHQ in Kingston, NY has been downgraded from a 5KW DA-1 to a 1KW non-DA system.  This was done because two of the three towers in the directional antenna array dated from 1960, were in very rough condition and needed to be replaced.  The remaining tower (furthest from the transmitter building) had been replaced in 1994, is in good condition and is being kept as the non-directional radiator.

Here are a few pictures:

WGHQ 3 tower directional antenna array, Port Ewen, NY

WGHQ 3 tower directional antenna array, Port Ewen, NY

More deferred maintenance

More deferred maintenance

RF and tower light feed disconnected from tower base

RF and tower light feed disconnected from tower base

Second tower base vegetation not as bad, tower disconnected

Second tower base vegetation not as bad, tower disconnected

WGHQ transmitter and original Collins phasing cabinet

WGHQ transmitter and original Collins phasing cabinet

First tower video (sorry, I appear to have no idea what I am doing with the camera):

Second tower video, this one is better:

Towers on the ground:

I made measurements on the third tower and constructed a temporary ATU with parts on hand to get the station back on the air. They are now running 1 KW day, 38 watts night, as per their CP. I will be going back up to finish the job once the brush has been removed from around the existing tower and the ATU building has been repaired.  The coverage with 1 KW is not bad, actually:

Predicted coverage map from FCC website

Predicted coverage map from FCC website

The translator is on its way.

Don’t try this at home, kids

Happy New Year, and stuff.

I found this interesting little video on Youtube recently:

That has to be a fairly high powered AM radio station to have that effect. According to the video, this is in Ukraine.

Other than generating RF burns to the hands, there is also the issue of exposure to non-ionizing radiation causing body tissue heating. Then there is the potential broadband RF interference from the arcing plant matter. This can cause interference to STL’s and other receivers.

Whatever happened to the CFA?

Remember way back when, perhaps in high school or college, you met this really cool person who seemed to be wonderful in every way? Yeah, then you got to know them a little better and, well, those first impressions changed a little bit.

Crossed Field Antenna, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Crossed Field Antenna, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Crossed Field Antenna (CFA) sort of reminds me of my first prom date.  There was a lot of promise there, but plans fell through.

From a 1999 Radio World article:

Imagine an AM antenna one–fiftieth of a wavelength long, that needs no radial ground system, occupies a small parcel of land, produces little or no RFI (Radio Frequency Interference), has great bandwidth and performs better than a full–sized vertical radiator.

This potential new antenna was all the rage during the early 00’s or whatever you call that decade.  I remember thinking to myself; I will believe it when I see the test results.  At one point, there was a battery of tests run in the installation in Egypt and China.  The test results are spotty at best, however, none of these installation performed up to expectations.  While it looks like a cool idea, and it would have been great to see it succeed, it seems that sheer will power alone will not make a particular system work outside of the laws of physics.  There are a few of these still in operation out in the wild, mostly in Egypt.

Lightning protection for WLAN links

More and more wireless LAN links are being installed between the transmitter and studio.  Often these links are used for network extension, remote control, site security, VIOP telephony, and sometimes even as a main STL.  These systems come in several flavors:

  • Moseley LAN link or similar system.  Operates on unlicensed 920 MHz (902-928 MHz) band.  Advantages: can use existing 900 MHz STL antennas, can work reliably over longer distances, transmitter and receiver located indoors.  Disadvantages: slow, expensive
  • ADTRAN TRACER or similar system with indoor tranceivers and coax fed antenna systems.  Operates on unlicensed or licensed WLAN frequencies.  Advantages: fast, transmitter and receiver located indoors, can be configured for Ethernet or T-1/E-1 ports.  Disadvantages; expensive
  • Ubiquiti Nano bridge or similar system where tranceiver is located in the antenna, the system is connected via category 5/6 cable with POE.  Operates on unlicensed or licensed WLAN frequencies.  Advantages; fast, relatively inexpensive.  Disadvantages; equipment located on tower, difficult to transition base insulator of series fed AM tower.
  • Ubiquiti Rocket or similar system where the antenna and tranceiver are separate, but the transciever is often located on the tower behind the antenna and fed with category 5/6 cable with POE.  Operates on unlicensed and licensed WLAN frequencies.

For the first two categories of WLAN equipment, standard lightning protection measures are usually adequate:

  • Good common point ground techniques
  • Ground the coaxial cable shield at the tower base and at the entrance to the building
  • Appropriate coaxial type transmission line surge suppressors
  • Ferrite toroids on ethernet and power connections

For the second two types of WLAN equipment, special attention is need with the ethernet cable goes between the tower and POE injector or switch.  Shielded, UV resistant cable is a requirement.  On an AM tower, the shielded cable must also be run inside a metal conduit.  Due to the skin effect, the metal conduit will keep most of the RF away from the ethernet cable.  Crossing a base insulator of a series excited tower presents a special problem.

The best way to get across the base insulator of a series excited tower is to use fiber.  This precludes the use of POE which means that AC power will be needed up on the tower to power the radio and fiber converter.  This my not be a huge problem if the tower is lit and the incandescent lighting system can be upgraded to LEDs.  A small NEMA 4 enclosure can house the fiber converter and POE injector to run the WLAN radio.  Some shorter AM towers are no longer lit.

Another possible method would be to fabricate an RF choke out of copper tubing.  This is the same idea as a tower lighting choke or a sample system that uses tower mounted loops.  I would not recommend this for power levels over 10 KW or on towers that are over 160 electrical degrees tall.  Basically, some 3/8 or 1/2 inch copper tubing can be wound into a coil through which a shielded ethernet cable can be run.  Twenty to twenty five turns, 12 inches in diameter will work for the upper part of the band.  For the lower part, the coil diameter should be 24 inches.

In all cases where CAT 5 or 6 cable is used on a tower, it must be shielded and the proper shielded connectors must be used.  In addition, whatever is injecting power into the cable, ether POE injector or POE switch must be very well grounded.  The connector on the shielded Cat5 or 6 cable must be properly applied to ensure the shield is grounded.  A good video from Ubiquiti, which makes TOUGHCable, on application of connectors to shielded Cat5 cable is here:

In addition to that, some type of surge suppressor at the base of the tower is also needed. Tramstector makes several products to protect low voltage data circuits.

Transtector APLU 1101 series dataline protector

Transtector APLU 1101 series dataline protector

These units are very well made and designed to mount to a tower leg. They come with clamps and ground conductor designed to bolt to a standard copper ground buss bar.

Transtector APLU 1101 series dataline protector

Transtector APLU 1101 series dataline protector

There are various models designed to pass POE or even 90 VDC ring voltage.

Transtector APLU 1101 series dataline protector

Transtector APLU 1101 series dataline protector

This model is for POE. The circuit seems to consist mostly of TVS diodes clamping the various data conductors.

As more and more of these systems are installed and become a part of critical infrastructure, more thought needs to be given to lightning protection, redundancy and disaster recovery in the event of equipment failure.

Broadbanding an AM antenna

Many articles have been written on the topic and it is still a black art to some.  Making a Medium Frequency (MF) antenna that has enough bandwidth to pass 10 KHz audio can be challenging, to say the least.  The VSWR out to +/- 15 KHz carrier needs to be kept at a minimum and the power needs to be evenly distributed between the two sidebands.  This can become problematic with complex Directional Arrays or towers that are tall or short for their operating frequency.

When we were working on the WFAS-AM tower in White Plains, NY, it became apparent to me that something was not right.  The tower is skirted and now holds the antenna for W232AL, a 250 watt translator broadcasting the WPLJ HD-2 channel.  After installing the FM antenna, some tuning of the AM antenna was required and this is the graph of the resistance and reactance curves:

WFAS 1230 KHZ, ATU output resistance and reactance

WFAS 1230 KHZ, ATU output resistance and reactance

This looked very similar to the resistance and reactance curves before the FM antenna work was done.  Red line is resistance, the blue line is reactance.  I think it had been like this for a long time.  While it is not terrible, it is not that good either.  As alluded to in a previous post, some re-working of the ATU was needed.  After some trial and error, this is the circuit that we ended up with:

WFAS 1230 KHZ White Plains, NY ATU schematic

WFAS 1230 KHZ White Plains, NY ATU schematic

Not quite what I expected, however, it was designed with the parts on hand, excepting the vacuum variable output capacitor, which was donated by me.  That part was key in making the proper adjustments.

After my redesign and tune up of the ATU, this the resistance and reactance curves at the input terminal of the ATU:

WFAS 1230 KHz resistance and reactance after ATU modification

WFAS 1230 KHz resistance and reactance after ATU modification

The graphs have a slightly different format, but you get the idea.  The red line is resistance, the blue line is reactance and the green line is overall impedance.  The resistance is symmetrical about the carrier as is the reactance.  Truth be told, I think there is a little more that can be had here, but for now, there is no reason to go any further.  I made the initial measurements at the input of the ATU and confirmed them again at the output terminals of the transmitter.  When we turned the transmitter back on, I noticed that the modulation index had dropped by about 15 percent.  I think the reflected power was getting back into the RF sample and fooling the mod monitor.  I also noticed that the high end in particular sounded much nicer.

WFAS 1230 KHz, White Plains, NY ATU

WFAS 1230 KHz, White Plains, NY ATU

The ATU building is a little cramped and it is hard to get a good picture.  The vacuum variable capacitors were salvaged from a scrapped AM transmitter years ago.  The tower is 202 degrees tall, which is also a factor.  It will be interesting to see what seasonal changes there are with snow cover, mud, etc.

Overall, this was a fun project.

Designing an ATU

Most ordinary field engineers will not need to design an ATU in the course of their normal duties. However, knowing the theory behind it can be very helpful when trouble shooting problems.  Also, fewer and fewer people understand RF these days, especially when it comes to AM.  Knowing a little bit can be an advantage.

We were working on an AM tower recently when several discrepancies were noted in the ATU:

WFAS ATU, 1230 KHz

WFAS ATU, 1230 KHz, 1 KW, N-DA

This was connected to a 202° tower. There were several complaints about seasonal shifts and narrow bandwidth. The VSWR meter would deflect slightly on high frequency audio peaks, always a bad sign.  A little bit of back story is in order.  WFAS signed on in 1930 using a four legged self supporting tower.  This tower was used until about 1986, when it was replaced with a series excited, guyed tower.  The ATU in use was initially designed for the replacement tower, which was likely had a good bit of capacitive reactance.  I am speculating on that, as I cannot find the original paper work for the replacement tower project.  At some point, somebody decided to ground the tower and put a skirt on it, likely to facilitate tower leasing.  The skirt was installed, but the ATU was never properly reconfigured for the high inductive reactance from the skirted tower.  The truth is, the Collins 820-D2 or Gates BC-1G tube type transmitters probably didn’t care.  They were probably like; bad load, meh, WHATEVER!  Although the audio quality likely suffered.  That all changed when the Broadcast Electronics AM1A was installed.  To fix the bad load problem, a BE 1 KW tuning unit was installed next to the transmitter.

Technically, there are several problems with the above circuit, starting with the capacitor on the wrong side of the base current meter.  This capacitor was installed outside of the ATU between the tower and ATU output.  Was the base current meter really measuring base current?  I don’t know, maybe? The shunt leg was lifted but both of the inductors of the former T network were left in the circuit.

We reconnected the shunt leg and moved the capacitor inside the ATU and on the correct side of the base current meter.   After several hours of tuning and fooling around with it, the ATU is still narrow banded, although now at least the input is 50Ω j0. I believe the current design has too much series inductance to be effective.

Thus, a redesign is needed.  I think, because of the inductive reactance of a skirted tower, a phase advance T network will lead to best bandwidth performance.  The basic design for a +90 degree phase advance looks like this:

WFAS -90 lagging ATU

WFAS +90 phase advance ATU, 1230 KHz, 1 KW, N-DA

To calculate the component values for the ATU, some basic arithmetic is required.  The impedance value for each leg in a +/- 90 degree T network can be calculated with the following formula:

Z = √(inputZ × outputZ)

Where Z = impedance per leg
Input Z = the ATU input impedance, 50Ω
Output Z = the antenna resistance, 58Ω

Thus:  Z =√ (50Ω × 58Ω)

Z = 53.85Ω

Formula for Capacitance: C = 1/(2Π × freq × XC)

Thus for the input leg: C = 1/(6.28 × 1.23MHz × 53.85Ω)

C (input)  = 0.0024 μF

Formula for Inductance:  L = XL/(2Π × freq)

Thus for the shut leg: L = 53.85Ω /(6.28 × 1.23 MHz)

L (shunt) = 6.97 μH

For the output leg, we must also consider the inductive reactance from the tower which needs to be cancelled out with capacitance.  Thus, the output capacitor needs to have a value of 53.85Ω + 580Ω = 633.85Ω

Thus for the output leg: C = 1/(6.28 × 1.23MHz × 633.85Ω)

C (output)  = 0.000204 μF

The amazing thing is, all of these components are available in the current ATU, they just needed to be rearranged.  The exception is the vacuum variable capacitor, which I salvaged from an MW-5 transmitter many years ago.  I donated that to the project, as I am tired of looking at it in my basement.  The reason for the vacuum variable capacitor will become evident in a moment.  The input capacitor will be slightly over value, which will require the inductor to tune out the excess capacitance.  A good design rule is to use minimum inductance to adjust the value of a fixed capacitor, thus the capacitor should be not more than 130% of the required value.

About the Vacuum variable output capacitor; in the existing ATU had a 0.0002 μF capacitor already.  With a +90° phase shift, this capacitor is likely adequate for the job.  The vacuum variable may be pressed into service if something other than a +90° phase shift is needed for optimum bandwidth.  That will be the topic of my next post.

Final consideration is the current and voltage ratings of the component.  As this is a re-build using existing components, chances are that they already meet the requirements.  On a new build or for replacing parts, one must consider the carrier power and modulation as well as any asymmetrical component to the modulation index.  For current and voltage each, the value is multiplied by 1.25 and then added to itself.  For a 1,000 watt carrier the input voltage on a 50 ohm line will be approximately 525 volts at 10 amps with 125% modulation.  A good design calls for a safety factor of two, thus the minimum rating for component in this ATU should be 1050 volts at 20 amps, rounded up to the next standard rating.   The capacitor on the output leg should be extra beefy to handle any lightning related surges.

The current rating for a capacitor is usually specified at 1 MHz.  To convert to the carrier frequency, the rating needs to be adjusted using the following equation:


IO: current rating on operating frequency
IR: current rating at 1 MHz (given)
FO: operating frequency in MHz

The vacuum variable output capacitor is rated for 15,000 volts, 42 amps.  Adjusted for frequency, that changes to 46 amps.  The calculated base current is 4.18 amps carrier, 9.41 amps peak modulation.  Thus, the capacitor on hand is more than adequate for the application.


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