The meaning of the word portable has changed a bit over the years. These days something has to be pretty tiny to be considered truly portable, but in the 1940s, anything with a handle on it that you could lift with one hand might be counted as portable electronics. Zenith made a line of portable radios that were similar to their famous Transoceanic line but smaller, lighter, and only receiving AM to reduce their size and weight compared to their big brothers. If you want to see what passed for portable in those days, have a look at [Jeff Tranter’s] video (below) of a 6G601 — or maybe it is a GG601 as it says on the video page. But we think it is really a 6G601 which is a proper Zenith model number.
According to [Jeff], 225,350 of these radios were made, and you can see that it closes up like a suitcase. The initial 6 in the model number indicates there are 6 tubes and the G tells you that it can run with AC or batteries.
Coherers were devices used in some of the very earliest radio experiments in the 19th century. Consisting of a tube filled with metal filings with an electrode at each end, the coherer would begin to conduct when in the presence of radio frequency energy. Physically tapping the device would then loosen the filings again, and the device was once again ready to detect incoming signals. [hombremagnetico] has designed a basic 3D printed version of the device, and has been experimenting with it at home.
It’s a remarkably simple build, with the 3D printed components being a series of three brackets that combine to hold a small piece of plastic tube. This tube is filled with iron filings, and electrodes are inserted from either end. Super glue is used to seal the tube, and the coherer is complete.
The coherer can easily be tested by measuring the resistance between the two electrodes, and firing a piezo igniter near the tube. When the piezo igniter sparks, the coherer rapidly becomes conductive, and can be restored to a non-conductive state, or de-cohered, by tapping the tube.
Would you add another radio to your smartphone? No, not another WiFi or cellular radio; a smartphone already has that. I’m talking about something that provides connectivity through ISM bands, either 433 or 915 MHz. This can be used where you don’t have cell phone coverage, and it has a longer range than WiFi. This is the idea behind Skrypt, a messaging system that allows you to send off-the-grid messages.
Skrypt is an ESP32-based hardware modem that can communicate with a smartphone, or any other device for that matter, over Bluetooth or USB. Inside, there are two modules, an ESP32 WROOM module that provides the Bluetooth, WiFi, USB connectivity, and all of the important software configuration and web-based GUI. The LoRa module is the ubiquitous RFM95W that’s ready to drop into any circuit. Other than that, the entire circuit is just a battery and some power management ICs.
While LoRa is certinaly not the protocol you would use for forwarding pics up to Instagram, it is a remarkable protocol for short messages carried over a long range. That’s exactly what you want when you’re out of range of cell phone towers — those pics can wait, but you might really want to send a few words to your friends. That’s invaluable, and LoRa makes a lot of sense in that case.
Antique radio receivers retain a significant charm, and though they do not carry huge value today they were often extremely high quality items that would have represented a significant investment for their original owners. [CodeMakesItGo] acquired just such a radio, a Philco 37-11 made in 1937, and since it was it a bit of a state he set about giving it some updated electronics. Vintage radio purists, look away from the video below the break.
Stripping away the original electronics, he gave it a modern amplifier with Bluetooth capabilities, and a Raspberry Pi. Vintage radio enthusiasts will wince at his treatment of those classic parts, but what else he’s put into it makes up for the laying waste to a bit of ’30s high-tech.The original tuning dial was degraded so he’s given it a reproduction version, and behind that is an optical encoder and two optical sensors. This is used to simulate “tuning” the radio between different period music “stations” being played by the PI, and for an authentic feel he’s filled the gaps with static. The result is a functional and unusual device, which is probably better suited than the original to a 2019 in which AM radio is in decline.
If you think of a high-end set like this Philco as being the ’30s equivalent of perhaps an 8K TV set, you can imagine the impact of AM radio in those early days of broadcasting. We recently took a look at some of the directional antenna tricks that made so many AM stations sharing the band a possibility.
Most parts of the radio spectrum are shared between more than one user, and there is usually a primary occupant and a secondary one whose usage is dependent upon not interfering with other users. If you’ve used 435 MHz radio modems you will have encountered this, that’s a band shared with both radio amateurs and others including government users. While some countries have wider band limits, the two-meter band between 144 MHz and 146 MHz is allocated with primary status to radio amateurs worldwide, and it is this status that is placed under threat. The latest ARRL news is that there has been little opposition at the pan-European regulator CEPT level, which appears to be causing concern among the amateur radio community.
Why should this bother you? If you are a radio amateur it should be a grave concern that a band which has provided the “glue” for so many vital services over many decades might come under threat, and if you are not a radio amateur it should concern you that a commercial defence contractor in one country can so easily set in motion the degradation of a globally open resource governed by international treaties penned in your grandparents’ time. Amateur radio is a different regulatory being from the licence-free spectrum that we now depend upon for so many things, but the principle of it being a free resource to all its users remains the same. If you have an interest in retaining the spectrum you use wherever on the dial it may lie, we suggest you support your national amateur radio organisation in opposing this measure.
Software-defined radios or SDRs have provided a step-change in the way we use radio. From your FM broadcast receiver which very likely now has single-application SDR technology embedded in a chip through to the all-singing-all-dancing general purpose SDR you’d find on an experimenter’s bench, control over signal processing has moved from the analogue domain into the digital. The possibilities are limitless, and some of the old ways of building a radio now seem antiquated.
[Pete Juliano N6QW] is an expert radio home-brewer of very long standing, and he’s proved there’s plenty of scope for old-fashioned radio homebrewing in an SDR with his RADIG project. It’s an SDR transceiver for HF which does all the work of quadrature splitting and mixing with homebrewed modules rather than the more usual technique of hiding it in an SDR chip. It’s a very long read in a diary format from the bottom up, and what’s remarkable is that he’s gone from idea to working SDR over the space of about three weeks.
So what goes into a homebrew SDR? Both RF preamplifier, filters, and PA are conventional as you might expect, switched between transmit and receive with relays. A common transmit and receive signal path is split into two and fed to a pair of ADE-1 mixers where they are mixed with quadrature local oscillator signals to produce I and Q that is fed to (or from in the case of transmit) a StarTech sound card. The local oscillator is an Si5351 synthesiser chip in the form of an SDR-Kits USB-driven module, and the 90 degree phased quadrature signals are generated with a set of 74AC74 flip-flops as a divider.
Running the show is a Raspberry Pi running Quisk, and though he mentions using a Teensy to control the Si5351 at the start of his diary it seems from the pictures of the final radio that the Pi has taken on that work. It’s clear that this is very much an experimental radio as it stands with wired-together modules on a wooden board, so we look forward to whatever refinements will come. This has the feel of a design that could eventually be built by many other radio amateurs, so it’s fascinating to be in at the start.
Amateur radio is a pursuit with many facets, some of which hold more attention than others for the hacker. Though there have been radio amateurs for a century it still has boundaries that are being tested, and sometimes they come in surprising places.
A recent first involved something you might consider a done deal, a transatlantic radio contact. On June 16th, for the first time ever a contact was made between the operators [D41CV] and [FG8OJ] at 3867 km across the Atlantic ocean from the Cape Verde Islands to Guadeloupe, on the 2 metre (144 MHz) band. If this means little to you it’s worth explaining that the 2 m band is a VHF band, with a range normally similar to that you’d expect from an FM broadcast station. Nobody has ever done this before, so it’s a significantly big deal.
Before you dismiss this as merely some radio amateur chasing grid squares and thus not particularly impressive, it’s worth talking about both the radio mode used and the unusual atmospheric conditions that were carefully sought for the achievement. The attempt was made to coincide with a prediction of transatlantic tropospheric ducting, and the mode employed was [Joe Taylor K1JT]’s FT8. This is a digital mode designed especially for weak-signal and long-distance work. It is theorised that the propagation was so-called surface ducting, in which the signal travels and is reflected between the surface of the sea and a relatively low-level reflective layer of atmosphere. The contact really pushed the limit of what is possible with radio, and while you wouldn’t use it for a voice conversation, proves that there are new tricks in an old hobby for the hardcore experimenter.