Don’t Let The Baluns Float Over Your Head

Most ham radio operators will build an antenna of some sort when they first start listening or transmitting, whether it’s a simple dipole, a beam antenna like a Yagi, or even just a random wire vertical antenna. All of these will need to be connected feedline of some sort, and in the likely event you reach for some 50-ohm coax cable you’ll also need a balun to reduce noise or unwanted radiation. Don’t be afraid of extra expenses when getting into this hobby, though, as [W6NBC] demonstrates how to construct an “ugly balun” out of the coax wire itself (PDF).

The main purpose of a balun, a contraction of “balanced-unbalanced” is to convert an unbalanced transmission line to a balanced one. However, as [W6NBC] explains, this explanation obscures much of what baluns are actually doing. In reality, they take a three-wire system (the coax) and convert it to a two-wire system (the antenna), which keeps all of the electrical noise and current on the shield wire of the coax from interfering with the desirable RF on the interior of the coax.

This might seem somewhat confusing on the surface, as coax wires only have a center conductor and a shield wire, but thanks to the skin effect which drives currents to the outside of the conductor, the shield wire effectively becomes two conductors when taking into account its inner and outer surfaces. At these high frequencies the balun is acting as a choke which keeps these two high-frequency conductors separate from one another, and keeps all the noise on the outside of the shield wire and out of the transmitter or receiver.

Granted, the world of high-frequency radio circuits can get quite complex and counter-intuitive and, as we’ve shown before, can behave quite unexpectedly when compared to DC or even mains-frequency AC. But a proper understanding of baluns and other types of transformers and the ways they interact with RF can be a powerful tool to have. We’eve even seen other hams use specialty transformers like these to make antennas out of random lengths and shapes of wire.

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A Practical Look At Chokes For EMI Control

Radio frequency electronics can seem like a black art even to those who intentionally delve into the field. But woe betide the poor soul who only incidentally has to deal with it, such as when seeking to minimize electromagnetic interference. This primer on how RF chokes work to reduce EMI is a great way to get explain the theory from a practical, results-oriented standpoint.

As a hobby machinist and builder of machine tools, [James Clough] has come across plenty of cases where EMI has reared its ugly head. Variable frequency drives are one place where EMI can cause problems, and chokes on the motor phase outputs are generally prescribed. He used an expensive choke marketed as specific for VFD applications on one of his machines, but wondered if a cheap ferrite core would do the job just as well, and set to find out.

A sweep of some ferrite cores with a borrowed vector network analyzer proved unsatisfying, so [James] set up a simple experiment with a function generator and an oscilloscope. His demo shows how the impedance of a choke increases with the frequency of the test signal, which is exactly the behavior that you’d want in a VFD – pass the relatively low-frequency phase signals while blocking the high-frequency EMI. For good measure, he throws a capacitor in parallel to the choke and shows how much better a low-pass filter that makes.

We love demos like this that don’t just scratch an intellectual itch but also have a practical goal. [James] not only showed that (at least in some cases) a $13 ferrite can do the same job as a $130 VFD choke, but he showed how they work. It’s basic stuff, but it’s what you need to know to move on to more advanced RF filter designs.

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The RFI Hunter: Looking For Noise In All The Wrong Places

Next time you get a new device and excitedly unwrap its little poly-wrapped power supply, remember this: for every switch-mode power supply you plug in, an amateur radio operator sheds a tear. A noisy, broadband, harmonic-laden tear.

The degree to which this fact disturbs you very much depends upon which side of the mic you’re on, but radio-frequency interference, or RFI, is something we should all at least be aware of. [Josh (KI6NAZ)] is keenly aware of RFI in his ham shack, but rather than curse the ever-rising noise floor he’s come up with some helpful tips for hunting down and eliminating it – or at least reducing its impact.

Attacking the problem begins with locating the sources of RFI, for which [Josh] used the classic “one-circuit-at-a-time” approach – kill every breaker in the panel and monitor the noise floor while flipping each breaker back on. This should at least give you a rough idea of where the offending devices are in your house. From there, [Josh] used a small shortwave receiver to locate problem areas, like the refrigerator, the clothes dryer, and his shack PC. The family flat-screen TV proved to be quite noisy too. Remediation techniques include wrapping every power cord and cable around toroids or clamping ferrite cores around them, both on the offending devices and in the shack. He even went so far as to add a line filter to the dryer to clamp down on its unwanted interference.

Judging by his waterfall displays, [Josh]’s efforts paid off, bringing his noise floor down from S5 to S1 or so. It’s too bad he had to take matters into his own hands – it’s not like the FCC and other spectrum watchdogs don’t know there’s a problem, after all.

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