This particular power supply is used in Broadcast Electronics AM1A, AM2.5E, AM5E, AM6A, AM10A, FM1C, FM10T, FM20T, FM30T and FM35T transmitters. It is a Computer Products NFN 40-7610, 40 Watt, +5 VDC, +/- 15 VDC BE part number 540-0006.
Generally, one component fails over time on this unit, C-15 which is a 680 uF 35 V electrolytic capacitor. When that capacitor dries out, the power supply will fail to start, do odd things like start and fail after a second or two, or cycle on and off. This will happen after the transmitter has been off for a few minutes. Replacing C-15 with a 1000 uF 50 V capacitor will fix the problem. There is enough room for the larger capacitor if the leads are left a little bit long.
We have several of these repaired units on various shelves at various transmitter sites.
As always, when replacing electrolytic capacitors, pay attention to the polarity otherwise this will happen:
I suppose somebody was in a hurry to get home that day. After I installed this repaired unit, it ran for about 15 seconds and then there was a pop. I opened the door on the ECU and white smoke was wafting out from under the power supply cover. Since the Pope is still The Pope, I knew it was the electrolytic capacitor.
Our beloved BE AM1A is back in service. This transmitter is 22 years old and we can keep it going for as long as parts are available.
I want to explore all digital modulation methods for Standard Broadcast (AM, Medium Wave, or Medium Frequency). The most pressing technical problem for AM reception is electrical impulse noise. Can digital modulation solve this problem? Perhaps, but I am a natural-born skeptic.
To start out; I will say up front that the hybrid HD Radio (MA1) employed on AM was (or still is) a travesty. It never worked very well and it created massive interference +/- 20 KHz of the assigned frequency, especially when employed at night. Secondly; the all-digital version of HD Radio (HDMA3) remains a proprietary system with non-standard codecs. The current owner, Experi, has a license fee structure based on station type (AM, FM, LPFM, or Non-commercial) which ranges from $5,000 to $10,000 one-time fee for a five-year period. In all fairness; DRM pays a technology license fee to Fraunhofer for MPEG codecs used by receiver manufacturers and broadcast equipment. This is estimated to be between $0.13 to $1.13 US per receiver.
Those things being said, I thought a deep dive into the technical side of HDMA3 and DRM (Digital Radio Mondial) would be interesting. I did an article comparing MA3 and DRM a while ago: All Digital Medium Wave Transmission
What challenges are there to transmitting digital radio on MW? First, there is the very limited bandwidth of the channel itself. In North and South America, AM channels are spaced every 10 KHz (9 kHz in other places). On Medium Wave, the analog channel is +/- the carrier spacing, e.g. 20 KHz (or 18 KHz) with half of that channel potentially interfering with the adjacent channels. On a 20 kHz channel, this limits data transmission rates to 72 kbps or less with DRM and 40 kbps or less with HDMA3.
Secondly, skywave propagation is a potential difficulty for all digital broadcasts. Ionospheric changes can create multipath and fading, especially as the sun rises and sets causing the D layer to form or dissipate. Changes in the E and F layers can make or completely break skywave reception. Ground wave reception is reliable out to the limits of the noise floor, and varies based on transmitter frequency, power, and ground conductivity, and electrical noise in the area.
Everything that can potentially mitigate noise and skywave reception problems is a trade-off between robustness and data throughput.
Screenshot of an HF DRM exciter from RF Mondial showing a 10 KHz wide channel on HF.
This is a screenshot of an SDR showing an HF DRM transmission received from a distance:
The receiver is not quite on bearing for this broadcast, however, it seems to be doing well. This is Radio Romania International’s Spanish broadcast targeting South America. The Pan Adaptor shows the signal is 10.2 kHz wide, but that doesn’t mean much from a $30.00 RTL SRD. The waterfall display below shows it is spectrally dense compared to the analog signals to the left and right. Note that with DRM there is no analog carrier being sent. Instead, a series of pilot tones are attached to various OFDM subcarriers for the receiver to lock onto.
A short Primer on COFDM
The modulation method for both systems is Coded Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (COFDM), which is the same system used by mobile phones, cable systems, WiFi (802.11), ATSC 3.0 TV, etc. COFDM consists of a group of subcarriers multiplexed onto one channel. The number of subcarriers and the subcarrier spacing relates directly to the data throughput and the robustness of the signal. OFDM is a very robust method that works well in the upper VHF, UHF, and SHF bands. It can work well in lower frequencies, however, there can be issues with multipath and Doppler effect. The coded part consists of forward error correction, which may include interleaving and subtracts from the data throughput.
The ability of an OFDM signal to reject electrical impulse noise, and deal with potential fading or multipath interference is based on a few things. The cyclic prefix sets the Guard Interval for the OFDM frame. The length of the Guard Interval should be the same as the multipath delay which helps mitigate inter-symbol interference and inter-subcarrier interference. Since the Medium Wave channels are fairly narrow, the number of OFDM carriers and spacing between carriers have a great effect on robustness. The fewer carriers the more robust the signal. This comes at the expense of data throughput; the fewer carriers the less data can be sent.
A short Primer on QAM
Each individual OFDM subcarrier is modulated with a Quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) signal. The advantage of this is that each individual carrier sends data at a relatively slow rate and the aggregate data rate is the sum of all the subcarriers. QAM uses two carriers 90 degrees out of phase. The amplitude of each carrier determines the resultant vector of the modulated wave to create a data bit. For example; the sum of the carriers equals +45 degrees at 25% amplitude a 1101 data bit is sent.
Both HDMA3 and DRM can use 16-QAM or 64-QAM. The larger the QAM constellation the more data can be sent. Smaller QAM constellations are more robust. HDMA3 can also transmit QPSK, which is Quadrature Phase Shift Keying. The resultant waveform from QPSK is identical to 4-QAM.
Bringing it all together
A DRM-modulated HF and MF transmitter uses both sidebands to transmit unique information. There is no carrier present but rather a few pilot frequencies for the receiver to lock onto.
I like the waterfall display available with many SDR software programs. It gives a good indication of modulation density. With WFAS HDMA-3, the area +/- 5 KHz of the carrier signal has more power than the areas that are +/- 5 to 10 KHz from the carrier.
An HDMA3-modulated MW carrier sends the same data on upper and lower sidebands, effectively halving the data rate of DRM. There is a full carrier present, which represents approximately 25% of the transmitted power and does not contain any data. Currently, there are four three HDMA-3 stations transmitting in the US.
Both systems can make pre-corrections to the modulated signal in the exciter to compensate for amplifier non-linearities. This can greatly improve the MER and SNR.
The other perceived technical issue with AM radio is sound quality. This has to do mostly with poor-quality receivers, although there are some AM stations that are transmitting reduced-quality audio as well. There is a false notion that anything “digital” sounds better than analog. I would posit; it depends on several factors. Low-bit-rate audio codecs can sound abysmal. That being said, the newer high-efficiency audio codecs can sound quite good, but there are limits. With HD Radio, there is only one codec available; HDC+SBR. With DRM there are several; xHE-AAC, HE-AAC. xHE-AAC is designed to work with voice and can use bit rates as low as 12 kbps. It is possible for a robustly transmitted low-bit-rate codec to sound good with voice. It can sound okay with music, but not as good as analog FM.
Can an all-digital modulation format work well on the Standard Broadcast Band? The answer is; it’s complicated. One of the big positives of AM is that it is a very simple and well-tested system. Adding many layers of encoding and decoding is a violation of the KISS principle. That being said, using a digital modulation method that has been refined for mobile use over the years is a step in the right direction. There still is an issue with digital receivers; both HD and DRM. From what I have read, both formats are currently being included in several radio chip sets, yet I do not find those options in most car radios. There is a lack of public awareness, at least in the United States about digital radio in general. When someone says digital, most people think of streaming. When I am driving a rental car, I seldom find HD Radio, I do find Sirius/XM and all types of internet connectivity via smartphone apps.
Call it climate change or an unfortunate coincidence; we seem to be getting more icy weather in this area. It used to be this region would see one mild event every one or two years. Recently, however, we are getting two to three moderate to severe events per year.
This can create problems for the utility company. Even if the power stays on, the transmitter may not. Excessive ice on the antenna may cause the transmitter to fold back or shut down completely.
We have several clients that have various FM antennas with electric resistance type de-icers. One client has three such stations however I found there were no automatic controllers at any of them. Back in the day, when there were people working at the station, they probably turned the de-icers on and off manually via the remote control. These days, not so much. When we began servicing these facilities, the previous engineer stated that he turned the de-icer breaker on around Thanksgiving and turned it off around Easter. Not terribly efficient.
As a part of moving into a new transmitter building, I began looking for something that would automatically turn the de-icer on when it is precipitating at or close to freezing temperatures and then turn it off after a couple of hours. That would certainly reduce the electric usage for that transmitter site and keep the transmitter happy.
I found this simple snow melt controller:
ETI LCD-8 snow melt controller
This is sold on Amazon for about $570.00. This has an internal relay that can switch 240 volts at 16 amps. However, that 240-volt heating circuit goes up to the top of the tower where the FM antenna is mounted making it vulnerable to lightning damage. I figured an outboard relay switched on and off by this controller was a better way to go. That way, there is an operating indicating lamp and a bypass switch.
De-icer controller relay
Outdoor icing sensor mounted on the ice bridge.
Now, the de-icer stays off most of the time. When it is needed, it comes on automatically and turns off three hours after the precipitation has stopped. Since installing last fall, it has worked well and the station stayed at full power through at least two ice events.
I measured the current on each leg, which was 2.6 amps or 624 watts. That is the same as it was before. A quick calculation, I estimate the number of hours this system was previously energized when the breaker was left on all winter to be roughly 3,400. Thus 3,400 hours x 624 watts = 2112 kWh. These days, our electric rates are running $0.16 to $0.18 per kWh so the total cost would be $380.00 to run continuously. The control system will pay for itself in less than two years.
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:
Looks pretty good, 5th order Chebyshev filter, perhaps .1 dB ripple in the pass bands if well made. Schematically:
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:
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:
150 PF SMT
12 PF SMT
180 PF SMT
68 PF SMT
50 PF SMT
10 PF SMT
3 PF SMT
160 PF SMT
Diecast, 4.3 x 2.3”
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.
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:
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.