Hacking Transmitters, 1920s Style

The origin of the term “breadboard” comes from an amusing past when wooden bread boards were swiped from kitchens and used as a canvas for radio hobbyists to roll homemade capacitors, inductors, and switches. At a period when commercial electronic components were limited, anything within reach was fair game.

[Andy Flowers], call sign K0SM, recently recreated some early transmitters using the same resources and techniques from the 1920s for the Bruce Kelley 1929 QSO Party. The style of the transmitters are based on [Ralph Hartley]’s oscillator circuit built for Bell Telephone in 1915. Most of the components he uses are from the time period, and one of the tubes he uses is even one of four tubes from the first Transatlantic contact in 1923.

Apart from vacuum tubes (which could be purchased) and meters (which could be scrounged from automobiles) [Flowers] recreated his own ferrite plate and outlet condensers for tuning the antennas. The spiderweb coils may not be as common today, but can be found in older Crosley receivers and use less wire than comparable cylindrical coils.

A number of others features of the transmitters also evoke period nostalgia. The coupling to the antenna can be changed using movable glass rods, although without shielding there are quite a number of factors to account for. A vertical panel in the 1920s style also shows measurements from the filament, plate current, and antenna coupling.

While amature radio has become increasingly high-tech over the last few years, it’s always good to see dedicated individuals keeping the old ways alive; no matter what kind of technology they’re interested in.

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Take A Break From Arduinos, And Build A Radio Transmitter

When you start watching [learnelectronic’s] two-part series about making a radio transmitter, you might not agree with some of his history lessons. After all, the origin of radio is a pretty controversial topic. Luckily, you don’t need to know who invented radio to enjoy it.

The first transmitter uses a canned oscillator, to which it applies AM modulation. Of course, those oscillators are usually not optimized for that service, but it sort of works. In part two he reduces the frequency to 1 MHz at which point it can be listened to on a standard AM radio, before adding an amplifier so any audio source can modulate the oscillator. There’s a lot of noise, but the audio is clearly there.

This is far from practical of course, but combined with a crystal radio it could make an awesome weekend project for a kid you want to hook on electronics. The idea that a few simple parts could send and receive audio is a pretty powerful thing. If you get ready to graduate to a better design, we have our collection.

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Keeping Clocks On Time, The Swiss Way

Could there be a worse fate for a guy with a Swiss accent than to be subjected to a clock that’s seconds or even – horrors! – minutes off the correct time? Indeed not, which is why [The Guy With the Swiss Accent] went to great lengths to keep his IKEA radio-controlled clock on track.

For those who haven’t seen any of [Andreas Spiess]’ YouTube videos, you’ll know that he pokes a bit of fun at Swiss stereotypes such as precision and punctuality. But really, having a clock that’s supposed to synchronize to one of the many longwave radio atomic clocks sprinkled around the globe and yet fails to do so is irksome to even the least chrono-obsessive personality. His IKEA clock is supposed to read signals from station DCF77 in Germany, but even the sensitive receivers in such clocks can be defeated by subterranean locales such as [Andreas]’ shop. His solution was to provide a local version of DCF77 using a Raspberry Pi and code that sends modulated time signals to a GPIO pin. The pin is connected to a ferrite rod antenna, which of course means that the Pi is being turned into a radio transmitter and hence is probably violating the law. But as [Andreas] points out, if the power is kept low enough, the emissions will only ever be received by nearby clocks.

With his clock now safely synced to an NTP server via the tiny radio station, [Andreas] can get back to work on his other projects, such as work-hardening copper wire for antennas with a Harley, or a nuclear apocalypse-Tweeting Geiger counter.

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The $50 Ham: Dummy Loads, Part 2

In the last installment of “The $50 Ham” I built a common tool used by amateur radio operators who are doing any kind of tuning or testing of transmitters: a dummy load. That build resulted in “L’il Dummy”, a small dummy load intended for testing typical VHF-UHF handy talkie (HT) transceivers, screwing directly into the antenna jack on the radio.

As mentioned in the comments by some readers, L’il Dummy has little real utility. There’s actually not much call for a dummy load that screws right into an HT, and it was pointed out that a proper dummy load is commercially available on the cheap. I think the latter observation is missing the point of homebrewing specifically and the Hackaday ethos in general, but I will concede the former point. That’s why at the same time I was building L’il Dummy, I was building the bigger, somewhat more capable version described here: Big Dummy.

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Be Vewy Vewy Quiet, We’re Hunting Baofengs

In the world of ham radio, a “Fox Hunt” is a game where participants are tasked with finding a hidden transmitter through direction finding. Naturally, the game is more challenging when you’re on the hunt for something small and obscure, so the ideal candidate is a small automated beacon that can be tucked away someplace inconspicuous. Of course, cheap is also preferable so you don’t go broke trying to put a game together.

As you might expect, there’s no shortage of kits and turn-key transmitters that you can buy, but [WhiskeyTangoHotel] wanted to come up with something that could be put together cheaply and easily from hardware the average ham or hacker might already have laying around. The end result is a very capable “fox” that can be built in just a few minutes at a surprisingly low cost. He cautions that you’ll need a ham license to legally use this gadget, but we imagine most people familiar with this particular pastime will already have the necessary credentials.

The heart of this build is one of the fairly capable, but perhaps more importantly, incredibly cheap Baofeng handheld radios. These little gadgets are likely familiar to the average Hackaday reader, as we discussed their dubious legal status not so long ago. At the moment they are still readily available though, so if you need a second (or third…), you might want to pull the trigger sooner rather than later.

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Does WiFi Kill Houseplants?

Spoiler alert: No.

To come to that conclusion, which runs counter to the combined wisdom of several recent YouTube videos, [Andrew McNeil] ran a pretty neat little experiment. [Andrew] has a not inconsiderable amount of expertise in this area, as an RF engineer and prolific maker of many homebrew WiFi antennas, some of which we’ve featured on these pages before. His experiment centered on cress seeds sprouting in compost. Two identical containers were prepared, with one bathed from above in RF energy from three separate 2.4 GHz transmitters. Each transmitter was coupled to an amplifier and a PCB bi-quad antenna to radiate about 300 mW in slightly different parts of the WiFi spectrum. Both setups were placed in separate rooms in east-facing windows, and each was swapped between rooms every other day, to average out microenvironmental effects.

After only a few days, the cress sprouted in both pots and continued to grow. There was no apparent inhibition of the RF-blasted sprouts – in fact, they appeared a bit lusher than the pristine pot. [Andrew] points out that it’s not real science until it’s quantified, so his next step is to repeat the experiment and take careful biomass measurements. He’s also planning to ramp up the power on the next round as well.

We’d like to think this will put the “WiFi killed my houseplants” nonsense to rest – WiFi can even help keep your plants alive, after all. But somehow we doubt that the debate will die anytime soon.

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Radio Gets Ridiculous

There were plenty of great talks at this year’s Supercon, but we really liked the title of Dominic Spill’s talk: Ridiculous Radios. Let’s face it, it is one thing to make a radio or a computer or a drone the way you are supposed to. It is another thing altogether to make one out of things you shouldn’t be using. That’s [Dominic’s] approach. In a quick 30 minutes, he shows you two receivers and two transmitters. What makes them ridiculous? Consider one of the receivers. It is a software defined radio (SDR). How many bits should an SDR have? How about one bit? Ridiculous? Then you are getting the idea.

Dominic is pretty adept at taking a normal microcontroller and bending it to do strange RF things and the results are really entertaining. The breadboard SDR, for example, is a microcontroller with three components: an antenna, a diode, and a resistor. That’s it. If you missed the talk at Supercon, you can see the newly published video below, along with more highlights from Dominic’s talk.

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