HF VHF receiver diplexer

UPDATE and bump:  This post is from eleven years ago, but I have been working on an SDR project using one of the RTL- 2832 chips.  I had to make two more of these units, so the prices and part numbers have been updated.

I have acquired one of those broad-banded software-defined radios, an Icom PCR-1000 to be precise, and all is well.  I am enjoying listening to various MF, HF and VHF radio stations.  However, there is a slight problem.  Very slight, almost too small to even mention, more of an inconvenience than a problem.  Still, if I am being inconvenienced, then others are too.  This issue is with the antennas.  My K9AY antenna works wonderfully from 500 KHz to 25 MHz or so.  My discone antenna works wonderfully from about 30 MHz all the way up to about 1 GHz.  In order to enjoy the full range of the receiver, I need to switch antennas.  I have a small switch on my desktop, but it seems inconvenient to reach over and switch it when going from the AM band to the FM band or something similar.  Therefore, I have decided that I need an HF/VHF receiver diplexer.  One would think that such hardware is ready-made for such instances.   However, nothing I could find commercially would do the trick.

Thus, since I could not buy one, I decided to build one to add to my collection of receiver doo-dads and nick knacks.  The design is relatively easy, a back-to-back low pass/high pass filter system with a 50-ohm impedance throughout.  Something with a sharp cut-off around 30 MHz or so:

Diplexor plot
Diplexor plot

Looks pretty good, 5th order Chebyshev filter, perhaps .1 dB ripple in the pass bands if well made.  Schematically:

HF VHF diplexor schematic diagram
HF VHF diplexor schematic diagram

Then it comes down to the building. Since this is going to be used in the UHF range, care and attention needs to be paid to the layout of the components and the design of the circuit board.  Some of those capacitance values are not standard, however, by using two capacitors in parallel, one can get pretty close.  Since this is going to be used for receiving only, I may be splitting hairs, however, I have found that well-designed and built equipment is worth the extra effort.

The board layout looks like this:

HF VHF receiver diplexer board
HF VHF receiver diplexer board

I tried to keep the traces as close to 50 Ohm impedance as possible.

As one may be able to discern, C2 and C3 are in parallel to make 192 PF, C5 and C6 are in parallel to make 60 PF, and C7 and C8 are in parallel to make 163 PF.

The input and output RF connectors are whatever the builder wants to use, however, I would recommend at least BNC or type N for the VHF/UHF side.  My unit has all type BNC female connectors.   Parts list:

Nomenclature Value Mouser number Cost (USD)
C1 150 PF SMT 581-12065A151FAT2A 0.72
C2 12 PF SMT 581-12061A120JAT2A 0.26
C3 180 PF SMT 810-CGA5C4C0G2J181J 0.27
C4 68 PF SMT 77-VJ1206A680FXACBC 0.59
C5 50 PF SMT 581-12062A500KAT2A 0.41
C6 10 PF SMT 80-C1206C100J2G 0.54
C7 3 PF SMT 581-12061A3R0CAT2A 0.34
C8 160 PF SMT 581-12065A161J 0.34
Case Diecast, 4.3 x 2.3” 546-1590WB 10.71

I chose a smallish, diecast aluminum case, which matches my other receiver gear.  The circuit board noted above is 2.9 x 1.7 inches, which is a little bit small.  I used 18 gauge wire between the input/output connectors and the board.

The inductors were made by hand.  I used a small screwdriver as a winding form, making the turns tightly and then spreading them out to the proper distance.

Inductor chart:

Inductor Value (nH) Diameter (mm) Turns Length (mm)
L1 173 8 6 9.5
L2 468 8 10 9.8
L3 414 8 9 8.7
L4 146 8 5 7.2
L5 186 8 6 8.6

The most expensive part was the circuit board, which cost about $16.00.  The rest parts were about $22.00 including shipping.

As built photos:

HF VHF diplexor with components installed
HF VHF diplexer with components installed
HF VHF diplexer input side
HF VHF diplexer input side
HF VHF diplexer completed.
HF VHF diplexer completed.

I have installed this already and it works great. I will need to get the spectrum analyzer out and run some signals through the various ports to see the attenuation and 3 dB roll-off points.

Making a notch filter

One small RF project that I am working on; a 770 KHz notch filter. I always figure if I am having this problem, then others may be having it too. This is a relatively simple idea, a resonant LC circuit (AKA a tank circuit) tuned to the carrier frequency. It should have a bandwidth of +/- 15 KHz of the design frequency. Another requirement; use the parts I have available. Finally, the environment in which this is to be used is a high-noise room; with lots of computers, LED lights, etc therefore it needs to have excellent RF shielding.

Something like this would work well for anyone that lives around an AM transmitter site and is having problems with receiver sensitivity or transmitter intermodulation.

The basic design looks like this:

Parallel LC tank circuit

Time for a trip to the local storage facility known as “The Barn.” In my backyard, there is a small agricultural structure that is used for storage of just about everything. In The Barn, I found several parts salvaged from an old Energy Onyx Pulsar AM transmitter. As such, they are more than capable of receiver operation and could likely handle a fair amount of RF power in the transmit mode.

CDM F2B 0.01 uF capacitor with back of N connector inputs

Finding a type F2B 0.01 uF capacitor, rated at 2000 volts and 11 amps, the value of the inductor was calculated. For the inductor, a 20 uH coil with taps will work great. For receive-only applications, much smaller-sized components can be chosen. Also, there are many bandstop filters with multiple poles. Those are great, but I like the simplicity of the parallel resonant LC circuit.

20 uH inductor salvaged from Energy Onyx transmitter

The N connectors were salvaged from I don’t know where and the enclosure used to house a power supply for a Radio Systems console.

N connectors for input and output.

For shielding, I sanded the paint off of the enclosure where the lid is attached and tacked some brass screen down with gorilla glue. This will make a good RF contact surface. The outer of the N connectors are bonded to a piece of copper ground strap which also has a grounding lug on it.

Enclosure lid with brass screen to make contact

I used the Libra VNA to tune it up:

S12 shows return loss, S21 shows Phase

The scan shows it is -31 dB on the carrier frequency. It is -17 dB on 760 KHz and -20 dB on 780 KHz. This is good, because I may still want to listen to the station on the remote receiver. According to the smith chart, it is actually resonant on 771.5 KHz, but that is close enough for this application. I think the resonance went up slightly when I put the cover on after the tune-up.

There are several tank circuit calculators online. It is best to have more capacitance and less inductance to keep the Q of the circuit low and suppress the sidebands as well as the carrier.

Who has time to troubleshoot?

The model for Radio Engineering these days is such that one engineer is covering multiple stations in various locations. At the very least, this person has a full (if not overflowing) plate. Thus, when something breaks, the procedure very often is; to pull the suspected module or board, call the manufacturer and order a replacement. That works as long as the manufacturer supports the model in question or has parts. As we all have learned by now, replacement parts are subject to the global supply chain, which is tenuous.

Then there is the question of AM transmitters. Is it worth it to replace an AM transmitter these days? I suggest it would depend on the market and revenue. In some cases, yes. In other cases, keeping the older equipment running makes more sense.

Troubleshooting is becoming a bit of a lost art. In addition to the time it takes, we tend to be unfocused and obsessed with rapid gratification, ready for the next social media post. What is lacking is the ability to take apart the layers of a problem, accept our initial analysis may be flawed, move beyond those assumptions, and work until the issue is solved. Troubleshooting is often like a crime scene investigation. There are several logical steps;

  • Assess the current situation; take steps to ensure it is safe to proceed. Remove all power from the transmitter and don’t work on failed transmission equipment during thunderstorms
  • Gather evidence; look for fault indicators, alarms, automated log entries, burned components, abnormal meter readings, etc
  • Check external factors; power failures, lightning or storm damage, excessive heat, moisture, etc
  • Check internal factors; aged components, bad cables or connectors, improperly seated boards or components, and obvious signs of damage
  • Work from one side of the issue to the other
  • Check the maintenance logs (if there are any) to see if this problem has occurred before and what was the fix
  • Use available resources; troubleshooting guides provided in equipment manuals, factory support, and available test equipment
  • If a failed component is found, make sure that it is the problem and not a symptom of something else

Here is a good example of a recent troubleshooting evolution; I went to change over to transmitter #2 and these fault lights appeared:

DX-50 transmitter, faulted, no power output

The conversion error on the A/D converter indicates why the transmitter power output is zero.

The first step; secure the transmitter, remove all power, etc. Next, consult the book!

The Harris DX-50 manual gives good troubleshooting guidance. This transmitter was manufactured on March 22, 1990. It has been a reliable unit, to date. Section K.4 Analog to Digital Converter (A34) of the manual suggests loss of audio clock frequency sample due to the following;

  • Loose connection with the carrier frequency sample cable coming from the RF drive splitter (A15)
  • Bad or missing jumper connections on P-10, frequency divider section
  • Bad U-29 (74HC161, 4-bit binary counter, only in use if the carrier frequency is above 820 KHz, Not Applicable)
  • Bad U-12 (74HC14, Schmitt trigger)
  • Bad CR13 or 14 (1N914)

Fortunately, there was a working DX-50 about 15 feet away, so I was able to make some measurements at various places on the A/D converter board.

On the working transmitter (DX-50-1), at the RF sample input (input of R83) on the A/D converter board, I see a nice strong sine wave, on frequency:

WABC carrier from RF drive splitter to A/D converter board
WABC carrier frequency

Second, I measured the logic pulses on TP-6, as described in the manual. Those look good.

On the non-working transmitter, I made the same measurements and found a fuzzy sine wave way off frequency on the input of R83. The logic pulses on TP-6 was normal.

Definitely lost the RF sample. Since the transmitter is 32 years old, I suspected the cable (#92, RG-188 coax) between the RF drive splitter and the A/D converter had gone bad. Perhaps rubbed through on a rough metal edge or something like that. Several checks with a Fluke DVM showed that there were no shorts to ground or internal conductor shorts. End-to-end checks on both the shield and inner conductor proved good. So, not the cable…

I then went on a bit of a wild goose chase suspecting the output from the oscillator to be low or the drive regulator power supply was defective. The drive level going into the PA was close to normal but slightly lower than the previous maintenance log entry. Also, drivers 8A and 8B were both on, which is not normal and made me suspect the drive regulator.

I made a call to GatesAir and spoke with a factory rep, who had me swap out the A/D converter, oscillator, driver power supply regulator board, and the buffer amp/pre-driver module between the working and non-working transmitter (while the low-power aux was on the air). With the working transmitter close by, I was able to confirm that these boards or modules were not the cause.

Finally, I went back to the RF drive splitter and use my camera to take a picture:

DX-50 RF drive splitter (A15) J-17, board side

There is a 6-pin connector on the underside of the board (J-17). Pin 2 (from the right) is the center conductor and pin 1 is the shield of the cable going to the A/D converter board. Upon closer examination, the solder joint on pin 2 is suspect. I re-heated this connection with a soldering iron and viola, the transmitter started working again.

WABC DX-50-2, returned to service

The extenuating circumstances; the air conditioning at this site was slowly failing and that part of the transmitter was subjected to heat cycling several times. More recently the HVAC system was in the process of being replaced, of course, on one of the hottest days of the year. This pulled a lot of warm, humid air into the room. Also, as this is transmitter #2, it was not in regular use until recently (we began a procedure for operating on alternating transmitters for two-week periods).

All of this work took place over the course of two and a half days or so. That would be a lot of time for the module swap guys who tend to move on to the next outage quickly. On the other hand, buying a new 50 KW AM transmitter is an expensive proposition these days and there are very long lead times on some of these units. Being persistent and focused paid off in the end.

Filters for Over The Air Television

Many people are surprised that OTA TV (Over The Air Television) is still a thing. I am here to say that there are lots of TV stations still broadcasting. OTA is alive and well, especially around big cities. To wit; I noticed this older TV antenna on the roof of a transmitter building in Lodi, NJ. Being curious, I connected an ATSC 1.0 TV to the antenna lead in the kitchen. One scan captured 62 TV channels and sub-channels OTA in the NYC market.

Somewhat aged TV/FM antenna pointed at Manhattan

That site is 10 miles northwest of the Empire State Building.

I also noted that the satellite dishes on site have had Terrestrial Interference (TI) filters on the LNBs for many years. Recently, 5G filters were installed as well. Thus, I added a 5G/LTE filter made by Channel Master (part number CM-3201) to the TV antenna splitter. A rescan captured 79 channels. Interesting.

I began ordering TV receiver filters and testing them with my network analyzer. There are many different units made by different manufacturers. The smaller, cheaper units do not have as good performance as the larger, more expensive ones. Go figure.

Here are a few sweeps of various filters:

Channel Master CM-3201 5G/LTE filter. Cut off 608 MHz
Silicon Dust USA LTE LPF-608M. Cut off 608 MHz
Phillips LTE-5G. Cut off 616 MHz

There is also an FM band-stop (Channel Master CM-3202), which is effective for blocking out 87 to 113 MHz.

Channel Master CM-3202 FM band-stop

Sometimes I get questions from non-technical readers, thus for the uninitiated; these sweeps are return loss. The higher the line on the right-hand graph, the less signal will get through the filter. A flat line at 0dB means that little or no signal is getting through on those frequencies.

These filters are helpful, especially with inexpensive consumer-grade TV receivers. If you live near an FM transmitter site, then an FM band-stop filter may help, especially with low and high-band VHF stations. If you live anywhere near a cell site (and most of us do) then a 5G/LTE filter will likely help.

Happy cord-cutting!