Working on another old AM station, this one is a simple Class C one tower on 1230 KHz.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Plate voltage (TP-2/3 to gnd)
B+ (L1 or TP-1 to gnd)
TP-1 to TP-2
TP-1 to TP-3
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
Plate voltage (TP-4/5 to gnd)
B+ (L1 or TP-1 to gnd)
TP-1 to TP-4
TP-1 to TP-5
Total power dissipation for V-6 is 23.1 watts or 77% of maximum for the stock 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:
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.
Bad weather or other disasters can strike any time of year. Around these parts, the most dangerous weather events occur from early spring through late summer. In the past twenty years or so, we have had tornadoes, hurricanes, micro bursts, flooding events and so on. All of that got me thinking about what would happen if a tower came down, or a transmitter building was destroyed by fire, wind, water, etc.
If past events can predict future performance, there would ensue a mad scramble to replace damaged equipment and or get some type of temporary antenna into service. That is what happened in great City of North Adams, Massachusetts when the tower that held the cell carriers, the 911 dispatch, and the local FM radio station came down in an ice storm. Fortunately, we had a single bay Shively antenna at the shop that we trimmed up and installed on a temporary pole with 200 watts TPO.
That will cover the city of license, provided there is electricity…
What if there where an event that was so devastating that the electrical power would not be restored for months? Think about hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. After that event, the infrastructure was so devastated that there was not even the possibility of getting a fuel truck to deliver diesel for the emergency generators at the hospital in San Juan. It can happen.
With that in mind, I began poking around and thinking about how I would get something back on the air. In the face of massive disasters, AM and FM radio is still the most effective way to communicate with the general public. Radios are still ubiquitous in homes, cars and businesses.
In a short period of time I came up with a couple of solutions. First, the frequency agile Bext exciter uses a single solid state rectifier feeding 24 volts to the power supply board. The audio input includes a mono balanced line level input which can be fed by a computer sound card or some other simple source.
From there +12, +15 and +20 VDC are created to run various circuits. The heat sink cooling fan is the only thing that runs on 120 VAC, which is old and I might replace with a 24 VDC unit.
The power output is about 22 watts, which is not bad. That will certainly get out well enough from a high spot and provide good coverage when the power is out because all the other in band RF noise generators will be off.
Then I though about the deep cycle batteries in my barn. These 6 volt, 435 Ah units have been around for a couple of years, but last I checked, they still held a charge. Other deep cycle batteries from things like golf carts, fork lifts, campers, boats etc could also be pressed into service. The point is, 24 VDC should not be impossible to create.
To keep a charge on the batteries, this solar panel will work:
This setup would require some sort of 24 volt DC charge controller, which I found on Amazon for less than $15.00 US. This charge controller has selectable 24/12 VDC output and also has two USB ports which would be handy for charging hand held devices.
I measured the power draw while the exciter was running 20 watts into a dummy load, it draws 120 Watts.
The final part would be some sort of antenna with transmission line. For this situation, a simple wire center fed dipole hung vertically would work well. This can be fabricated with two pieces of copper wire and a few insulators.
The lengths of each wire can be calculated as follows:
Approximate length in feet: 234/f (MHz)
Approximate length in inches: 2808/ f (MHz)
Approximate length in cm: 7132/f (MHz)
For the FM band, maximum length of wires needed will be 32 inches (81 cm). Insulators can be made of anything that does not conduct RF; PVC, ABS, dry wood, dry poly rope, etc.
I recommend to cut the wires slightly long, then trim little bits off of each end while watching the reflected power meter on the exciter. To keep RF from coming back down the shield of the transmission line, make 8-10 turns, 6-8 inches in diameter of coax as close to the antenna as possible and secure with a wire tie. This will create a balun of sorts.
My emergency FM kit consists of:
Bext Frequency agile exciter
30 feet, RG-8 coax with N male connector on one end
4 ten foot RG-58 BNC male jumpers
1 four foot LMR-400 N male jumper
Dipole antenna, cut long
Solar charge controller
Small basic tool kit; hand tools, plus DVM and soldering iron
Power cords, extension cords
300 watt 12VDC to 120VAC inverter (pure sine wave)
20 feet audio wire
Various audio connectors; spade lugs, XLR male and female, RCA, 1/4 TRS, etc
Various RF connectors; PL-259, N, BNC, etc
Bag of 12 inch wire ties
3 rolls of 3M Scotch 88 electrical tape
100 feet of 3/8 inch poly rope
This is all kept in a sturdy plastic storage bin from the Home Depot. If needed, the batteries and solar panel are stored in the barn along with an assortment of other goodies.
Will it ever be needed? Well, I hope not. However, it is much better to be prepared to restore services than wait for somebody to show up and help. Sitting around complaining about the government does not relieve those people in need during and after a disaster.
One of those things that I have written about before, but seems to be common these days as older AM towers need to be replaced. One of our clients had just such a tower. Erected in 1960, the hollow leg stainless tower was rusting from the inside out. When the tower crew came to put up the translator antenna, they discovered that there was a hole in one of the legs and climbed back down.
The tower condition was somewhat known about, there were braces installed several years ago at certain levels to keep the tower standing. The new owner had planned to replace the tower eventually, so those plans where moved ahead.
A temporary utility pole was installed near the transmitter building and a wire was strung to another customer owned pole about 170 feet away. At 1,490 KHz, that proved to be a pretty good length. The issue with these medium wave temporary antennas is always the height above ground. In order for the radiation resistance to be somewhat reasonable, the antenna needs to be at least 1/8 to 1/4 wave length above ground. That means a minimum of 78 to 157 feet at 1,490 KHz. The utility pole installed is 35 feet AGL.
Thus, the wire antenna has a fairly low resistance, with loads of inductive reactance. Something on the order of 20 ohms, +j480. Since this is temporary, we reused the existing ATU that was designed for the series excited tower. With a capacitor installed on the incoming wire to cancel out some of the inductive reactance, a simple T network was configured to match the 50 ohm transmitter output to the 20 ohm antenna.
In the end, we were able to run about 400 watts into the wire, which covered the city of license fairly well. While the new tower was being erected nearby, we had to reduce that to about 100 watts to protect the tower workers from the hazards of non-ionizing radiation.
The new replacement tower has been constructed. It is the exact same height as the old tower, but has a twenty foot pole on top instead of a normal tower section. The pole was installed to mount the translator antenna. In addition to that, there will be other wireless services installed on this tower.
WKNY will have a six wire skirt installed in the next few days. As this tower is close to 160 degrees at 1,490 KHz, the skirt can go anywhere from 60 to 120 degrees up the tower.