Pulling A Crystal By Grinding It

If you own a radio transmitter, from a $10 Baofeng handheld to a $1000 fancy all-band transceiver, setting the frequency is simply a case of dialing in where you want to go. A phase-locked-loop frequency synthesizer or a software-defined radio will generate your frequency, and away you go. There was a time though when synthesizers were impossibly complex and radio amateurs were faced with a simple choice. Use an LC oscillator and put up with drifting in frequency, or use a crystal oscillator, and be restricted to only the frequencies of the crystals you had. [Mark Erdle, AE2EA] modified a 1950s broadcast AM broadcast transmitter for the 1.8MHz amateur band, and his friend [Andy Flowers, K0SM] thought it needed its crystal back for originality rather than the external frequency source [Mark] had provided. He documents the process of modifying a crystal oven and moving a crystal frequency in the video below the break.

A crystal oven is a unit containing the crystal itself alongside a thermostatic heater, and in this one, the crystal was a 1970s-vintage hermetically sealed HC6 device. He modified the oven to take a socket for older FT243 crystals because the quartz element can easily be accessed. [Andy] picked a crystal as close as he could find below the required frequency. He then ground it down with very fine grit on a glass plate, reducing its mass and thus its resonant frequency. We’re taken through the process of getting it close to frequency, but sadly don’t see the etching that he uses for the very last stage. At the end of the video, we see a QSO on the transmitter itself, which is something of an oddity in an age when AM on amateur bands has been supplanted by other modes for decades.

If you’re curious about the transmitter there’s a video thread following its restoration, and if the guts of older radio gear interests you then take a look at this aircraft receiver lovingly brought back to life.

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An FPGA And A Few Components Can Make A Radio

There was a time when making a radio receiver involved significant work, much winding of coils, and tricky alignment of circuitry. The advent of Software Defined Radio (SDR) has moved a lot of this into the domain of software, but there is of course another field in which a radio can be created via code. [Alberto Garlassi] has created a radio receiver for the AM and HF bands with a Lattice MachXO2 FPGA and minimal external components.

He describes it as an SDR, which given that it’s created from Verilog, is a term that could be applied to it. But instead of using an SDR topology of ADC and digital signal processing, it implements a surprisingly traditional direct conversion receiver.

It has a quadrature AM demodulator which has a passing similarity to an SDR with I and Q phased signals, but that’s where the similarity ends. Frequency selection is via an oscillator controlled from a serial port, and there is even a PWM amplifier on board that can drive a speaker. The result can be seen in the video below, and as you can hear the direct conversion with quadrature demodulator approach makes for a very effective AM receiver.

If this is a little much but you still fancy a radio with minimal components, you should have a look at the Silicon Labs range of receiver chips.

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A Dangerous Demonstration Of The Power Of Radio

Terrestrial radio may be a dying medium, but there are still plenty of listeners out there. What would a commute to or from work be without a check of “Traffic on the Eights” to see if you need to alter your route, or an update of the scores from yesterday’s games? Getting that signal out to as many listeners as possible takes a lot of power, and this dangerous yet fascinating demo shows just how much power there is on some radio towers.

Coming to us by way of a reddit post, the short video clips show a crew working on a 15,000-Watt AM radio tower. They appear to be preparing to do tower maintenance, which means de-energizing the antenna. As the engineer explains, antennas for AM radio stations in the medium-wave band are generally the entire tower structure, as opposed to the towers for FM and TV stations, which generally just loft the antenna as high as possible above the landscape. The fun starts when the crew disconnects a jumper and an arc forms across the clamp and the antenna feed. The resulting ball of plasma acts like a speaker, letting us clearly hear the programming on the station. It’s like one of the plasma speakers we’ve seen before, albeit exceptionally more dangerous.

It’s an impressive display of the power coursing through broadcast towers, and a vivid reminder to not mess with them. Such warnings often go unheeded, sadly, with the young and foolish paying the price. There’s a reason they put fences up around radio towers, after all.

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Stout Homebrew Radio Pumps Out 200W Of AM Goodness

In this day and age, with cheap online shopping, software defined radio and bargain-basement Baofengs from China, the upstart radio ham is spoilt for choice. Of course, there’s nothing quite like the charm of keying up your own homebrewed rig, cooked up in the garage from scratch. [Paul], aka [VK3HN], knows just how it feels, and put together an epic 200 watt Class D AM rig to blast his signal on the airwaves.

An example of an Arduino used in one of [Paul]’s builds.
It’s a build following on from the work of another radio ham, [Laurie], aka [VK3SJ]. Younger hackers will note the Arduino Nano at the heart of the project, running the VFO and handling all the relevant transmit/receive switching. We can only imagine how welcome modern microcontrollers must have been to old hands at amateur radio, making synthesizing all manner of wild frequencies a cinch.

The amount of effort that has gone into the build is huge. There are handwound coils for the PWM low-pass filter, and the PCB is home-etched in ferric chloride, doing things the old-school way. There’s also a healthy pile of dead components that sacrificed their lives in the development of this build. Perhaps our favorite part is the general aesthetic – we can’t get over the combination of hand-drawn copper traces and off-the-shelf Arduinos.

Many components perished in the development of this powerful rig.

It’s a build that far exceeds the Australian legal limits, so it only gets keyed up to 120W in real use. This has the benefit of keeping the radio operating far in the safety zone for its components, helping keep things cool and stable. We’re sure [Paul] will be getting some great contacts on this rig. If you’re suffering from low power yourself, consider an amplifer build. Video after the break.

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CB Radio + Arduino = 6 Meter Ham Band

Somehow [hvde] wound up with a CB radio that does AM and SSB on the 11 meter band. The problem was that the radio isn’t legal where he lives. So he decided to change the radio over to work on the 6 meter band, instead.

We were a little surprised to hear this at first. Most radio circuits are tuned to pretty close tolerances and going from 27 MHz to 50 MHz seemed like quite a leap. The answer? An Arduino and a few other choice pieces of circuitry.

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Understanding Modulated RF With [W2AEW]

There was a time — not long ago — when radio and even wired communications depended solely upon Morse code with OOK (on off keying). Modulating RF signals led to practical commercial radio stations and even modern cell phones. Although there are many ways to modulate an RF carrier with voice AM or amplitude modulation is the oldest method. A recent video from [W2AEW] shows how this works and also how AM can be made more efficient by stripping the carrier and one sideband using SSB or single sideband modulation. You can see the video, below.

As is typical of a [W2AEW] video, there’s more than just theory. An Icom transmitter provides signals in the 40 meter band to demonstrate the real world case. There’s discussion about how to measure peak envelope power (PEP) and comparison to average power and other measurements, as well.

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VCF East: SDR On The Altair 8800

You’d be forgiven if you thought software defined radio (SDR) was a relatively recent discovery. After all, few outside of the hardcore amateur radio circles were even familiar with the concept until it was discovered that cheap USB TV tuners could be used as fairly decent receivers from a few hundred MHz all the way up into the GHz range. The advent of the RTL-SDR project in 2012 brought the cost of entry level SDR hardware from hundreds of dollars to tens of dollars effectively overnight. Today there’s more hackers cruising the airwaves via software trickery than there’s ever been before.

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