Recently, I came across the different sign-on ceremonies of different transmitters. The idea is to understand this workflow in which obviously several stages of the transmitter are switched on consecutively. See at the top one example, where Voice of Turkey is swithcing on their transmitter on 9880kHz in five steps within about three seconds.
The diagram was made with Simon Brown’s unique software SDRC V3. I used the Signals Analyser module, providing a (needed!) time resolution of down to just one millisecond, or 1000 values of level vs. frequency in just one second! These data (CSV) had been exported and visualized in QtiPlot software.
I would like to encourage other people to join these observations. One goal can be toi fingerprint no only a transmitter, but also the workflow of the people at the transmitter. Please refer to this website for a database of broadcasters and their transmitters plus galore of associated data.
In the meantime, I already observed a couple of different workflows/transmitters. Please keep in mind that all these measurements (better: estimations), of course, are prone to fading. You may also see some effects during sign-on in the spectrogram, see below.
In the last weeks, I had used Sporadic-E conditions to stroll a bit in the FM broadcast band in search for DX. Elad’s FDM-S3 covers the whole 20 MHz wide band, and Simon Brown’s SDRC V3 software again provides an unique and most valuable tool to dig out DX. Antenna is an active Dressler ARA-200 (R.I.P.).
This blog entry shows how to make use of short openings of only some (ten) seconds.
First step is to record the whole FM broadcast band for hours on external HD. Then you make up so-called “spectrograms” by V3’s Analyser module. This provides you with a picture of activity (signal strengths color-coded) over time and frequency – see screenshot at top of this blog.
Scrolling through this spectrogram, you can make out even the shortest openings. Just click onto one of them, and the software instantaneously tunes into it. The sensitive RDS decoder of V3 is doing the last step – showing its RDS identification.
The short video below gives one example from a recording of June 26, 2020. On 91.8 MHz, I received semi-local transmitter NDR 1 NDS at Visselhövede (5kW@67 km distance), with “Stand by me”. From the spectrogram, I saw a “blob” (see screenshot at the top of this blog), stretching over around 40 seconds. It turned out to be Algerian’s Akfadou transmitter with Chaine 2 programme, 70 kW ERP@1’810km distance! RDS did tell me. Just have a look at the short video below which was made with V3’s video recorder …
V3 software provides also an a-symmetrical tuning of bandwidth, even at wide FM/BFM. This is important to identify some stations “in the clear” – if they are prone to some spillover from a local/regional station right on an adjacent channel. The following example spots Radio Marca/Mallorca from Spain on 91.6 MHz, suffering not only from a a strong local just 100 kHz below, but also from a very short appearance “out of the blue”, to where it disappeared again after less than 30 seconds. The latter is shown in the spectrogram, made by the Analyser, where I magnified the small/short signal of Radio Marca over 1’541 km. The video at the bottom shows how to evade the interference from the channel below to get the RDS code “B002 R.MARCA” correct.
Sometimes propagtion is too short for any identifcation, neither RDS, nor by announcement. Take the next screenshots as example: The spectrogram shows some very short openings revealing similar pattern which cropping the recording (Crop – > Apply) confirms. It turns out to be an English-speaking stations for a maximum of ten seconds. Parallel listening reveals the same programme on the following eight frequencies: 88.3MHz, 88.4MHz, 88.5MHz, 88,7MHz, 88.9MHz, 89.1MHz, 89.7MHz and 89.8MHz. The only intersection turns out to be Raidió Teilifís Éireann from different locations with their Radio 1 programme.
RTE transmitter usually do have RDS onboard, but here the time with a modest signal was too short to raise the alarm. On the other hand, there are stations with RDS, but not programmed or even without RDS at all. Take Radio Tisnath/Algeria in Tamazight, a Berber language, as an example for the first and Radio Blagovestiye/Russia as an example for the latter:
The news about the death of HF Broadcast are greatly exaggerated. The map on the top presents 574 active stations, scattered all over the world. This interactive map has been made with free Tableau Public software: simply click onto the map, an in another tab of your browser it pops up. Now you can point your mouse to a mark and see some data.
There even is more: as some transmitting sites are used by several broadcasters, this fact is shown by different colors. Your mouse will tell.
The best thing of this map is the fact that it is strictly geo-referenced. If you zoom into a station, you should directly see the transmitting site form above – depending, of course, from the resolution of the underlying OSM satellite map.
After having scrutinzed all sources (HFCC, WRTH …) available, I finally decided for ILGRadio. Only these data are concise, complete and precise – a great achievement of Bernd Friedewald since decades! [To keep things simple, only one transmitter’s power is noted for each site]
This map, together with ILGRadio (see below), works as a promising starting point of future work, e.g. band scans in the light of the 21st century …
IRAN INTERNATIONAL is transmitting in Farsi via their relay station just at the outskrits of Uzbekistan’s capital, Toshkent, with 100kW on 6270kHz from 12:00 to 04:00 UTC, directed towards Iran.
I received this station in winter as in spring. In winter (namely 16DEC2019), the whole transmission from sign-on to sign-off can be received, wheras in spring (namely 02DEC2020) a considerable part of the transmission after sign-on has been lost in the noise, plus the time towards sign-off in the morning largely coinciding with fade-out; though still celarly visible.
You see also a clear greyline enhancement at least on the fade-in. Sunrise and sunsetset for both locations can be seen from the bar chart below in the diagram..
The graphs are based on 2 x 86’400 points each, providing a time resolution of one second. To make things more clearly, the bold blue and yellow lines represent a smoothed version (moving average: 601).
This is just one example of how the actual signal strength of a station differs from season to season. With 24 hours’s recordings of the whole HF on both dates, it is easy to compare also other stations and frequency ranges. If I have time, I will add some more examples in the future.
BTW: I passed the big transmission center southwest of Toshkent left-hand, riding M39 on the way to Samarkand; it was not encouraged to take any photos …
The evening transmission of the Voice of Broad Masses from Asmara-Selae Daro in Eritrea signs on around 14:06 UTC and signing off around 18:30 UTC. Figure 1 shows the signal levels with a resolution of one second, marked by red points, and the smoothed level, yellow line, with a moving average of 601 points, or 10 ten minutes. Smoothed levels span a range from -106 dBm/Hz to -80 dBm/Hz.
There occur considerable peaks around 14:30 UTC, 16:15 UTC and 17:30 UTC. Raytracing the signal, transmitted by a Quadrant antenna HQ1/.25, will help to reveal some mechanics behind the curve.
Figure 2 shows a four-hop propagation via F1 layer at 140-160km with a relative steep elevation of about 22°. The much shorter hops, reflected at the E-layer at a height of about 100km, are of less to no importance. The signal gets through, but very weak. The path itself still is in full sunshine, see Figure 3.
There is a very short, but distinctive peak at 14:30 UTC. This coincides with a similar short time of three-hop propagation (Figure 4) from a very low azimuth of 3°. Of course, the full path still is in daylight.
Just after 16:30 UTC and near sunset at the transmitter (16:37 UTC), there is reached the bottom of kind of a “Hillary Step” before the last run to the peak. The way to a (quite short) plateau starts around 17:00 UTC. There we have a textbook-like two-hop propagation (Figure 5) with the greyline covering just more than half of the great circle path (Figure 6). There, an elevation of under 5° is needed.
Propagation on HF differs from day to day. The nine diagrams at the top show the signal strengths of China Radio International’s Kashi transmitter, 500 kW, beaming to Romania; 08:58 UTC to 09:58 UTC from March 15 to March 23. The basic resolution (black grey points in the background) is 100 milliseconds, whereas the blue line marks the moving average with 601 points. The “moving average” can be best understood as a lowpass filter, revealing possible trends on a coarser scale. In this case, you cannot see such a trend.
If you compare a part of each transmission on a much finer scale, you even see sheer chaos, as the Figure below is showing:
There seems to be no visible correlation on any scale in this case. There are other cases where, however, some correlation can be found – to which I will come back in some future entries.
The last diagram at the bottom of this pages shows a much more forgiving picture of the signal: the average level changes not more than ±4 dB between best and worst days. This so-called box diagram illustrates best the actual receiving quality of the broadcast, demodulated with an synchronous detector to largely avoid severe distortion by selective fading. The difference of deciles 90% and 10% marks the fading range, a key figure in describing the quality of reception – see “Ionospheric Radio” by Kenneth Davies [London, 1990/96, pp. 232].
Analyzing signal strenghts, is an interesting tool to get to know more about propagation. I will continue this topic – stay tuned!
Today’s SDRs plus able software allow for some new insights into propagation. The figure at the top shows but one example: greyline enhancement. It follows the signal levels on 4750 kHz with a resolution of one second. Smoothing this cloud of points, reveals the more general course of signal level. Here we see, after sign off of Bangladesh Betar, the 10 kW transmitter of People’s Broadcasting Station at Hulun Buir coming up. Most interesting is its short-living enhancement just after sunrise at Hailar in China’s Inner Mongolia, squeezed at their borders to Russia and Mongolia.
This greyline enhancement can be observed regularily on frequencies under, say, 10 MHz: at sunrise at the transmitter’s site, first the F2 layer of the ionosphere is building up, being responsible of the signal of, here, about 5 dB. The lower and attenuating D-layer needs a bit more time to build up, leaving a short-living window for an enhanced signal.
This is to encourage also other HF aficionados to to use this technique.
On January 10, 2020, I did a round-up of VLF time stations from the Commonwealth of Independant States (CIS). They are controlled by the Russian Navy and start their main transmission on 25.0kHz. Then they change to a couple of four other VLF channels. See here for some detailed information in Russian. The diagram below shows a panorama of all received station (Khabarovsk in the Far East missing, as they skip transmission on the 10., 20. and 30. each month) on all frequencies versus time and signal level.
The diagram features a time resolution of 1s and has a resolution bandwidth of about 0.12 Hz. It is part of a 24h session, made with Winradio’s Excalibur Sigma SDR, active dipole MD300DX (2x5m) and Simon Brown’s software SDRC V3. This software delivers also the values for level over time, which were visualized and combined with QtiPlot software.
Only seemingly, Vileyka and Krasnodar are transmitting on two channels at the same time (from 07:06 UTC/11:06 UTC). This is not the case, but their transmitters show a bit wider signal in their first part of the transmission. Thus, the much weaker (ca. -30dB) “signal” at the same time, but 100Hz up, is some kind of sideband, but not the carrier!
You will see some variation of the carrier power, especially following sign on, but also during the transmission. This can bee seen with tenfold time resolution (i.e. 100ms) and magnifying the dB-scale, see diagram at the bottom as just one example. Fading can be largely excluded for several reasons, artificial characteristic of changes and VLF propagation during short periods among them.
P.S. The map at the top was made with free software Tableau Public. The locations are geo-referenced, and a satellite map as background will you lead directly to the antennas. Please try this here.
This FAX broadcast was new to me and received on December 16, 2019 at 08:20 UTC on 16557,1 kHz. It was transmitted via Shanghai Coastal Radio, presumably directed into the Pacific, of which it shows the 48h surface pressure.
It was demodulated from a 25 MHz wide HF recording over 24 hours. This recording was made with Winradio’s G65DDCe Sigma SDR, connected to an active vertical MegaDipol MD300DX (2 x 5 m), and decoded with Wavecom’s W-Code. The recording was scheduled with software SDRC V3 by Simon Brown, and directed via USB3.1 to a 20TB hard disk, WD Duo Book. The resulting one file was 8TB, format WAV RF64.
It was also played back from this hard disk, also via USB3.1. Doing so, it is most remarkable that this setup worked smoothly without any glitches which would promptly have been seen at such a time-critical mode like this FAX., 120/576. So, this reception is also a proof that one can work smoothly with such ‘big data’ even on a hard disk – and not only on expensive SSDs. A FAX transmission is that sensitive that you even see a very weak echo (best seen of the big vertical black stripe at the right which echoes from around 115° East). This originates from a mixed short/long path reception. The strong short path’ flight time is 28.7ms, whereas the weak long path needed 104.7ms. As one FAX line covers 500ms, you can easily measure the delay of roughly 80ms, almost exactly matching the difference of long and short path.
As seen from now, ELAD’s FDM-S3 is still to come. It features a 16 bit SDR with up to 24 MHz bandwidth (19.7 MHz alias-free) for receiving, recording and playback. It will become the great brother of the renowned FDM-S2 of also 16 bit, but with just 5 MHz alias-free bandwidth which was State-of-the-Art when this radio hit the market. Still, this remarkable FDM-S2 sets the standard in its price class.
The file format of the S3 is the same as with the S2, so Simon Brown’s software SDRC V3 works on S3 files also (see screenshot at the bottom). This opens V3’s File Analyzer plus up to 24 demodulators when playbacking files. SDRC V3 will support also live reception when the radio will be more widely available.