Oh, was I looking forward to last year’s final SAQ transmission. While some of my „normal“ friends might argue that it’s always the same, it is still exciting to listen to VLF every time. Not only are there notable differences in propagation and atmospheric noise, especially when comparing summer and winter, it is also interesting to build new equipment or try out different locations. And since, at least when it comes to SAQ, there are not that many occasions for testing during the year, it is something to look forward to every time.
So, this was my setup: 20m loudspeaker cable (also used as an universal short-wave antenna, being fed through an 1:9 UnUn), homebrew VLF converter (following the „MRK-20“ schematic), Icom IC-728 transceiver for reception – all setup at my QTH in Barsinghausen.
While the equipment itself proved to work quite well, all I received below 30 kHz was strong humming and hissing, reaching peaks between S7 and S9. I did get up early on Christmas morning, hoping that I would receive something, anyway, but had no luck.
I have to add that the man-made noise level seems to have vastly increased since the year before, when I used virtually the same setup. The 80m band was also heavily affected – while it worked quite okay the year before, it now was hard to use even in digital modes, not to speak of phone (which also explains why I only got 32 QSOs (55 in 2011) in the DARC Christmas Contest, even though I was now allowed to use both 80m and 40m instead of only 80m – but that’s a different story).
Since I’m pretty sure that it is none of our gadgets (I tried shutting off about anything in the house), I guess all our neighbours bought themselves new plasma TVs. 🙁
I’ll spare you with a recording of that noise (not sure I even made one), but because some befriended OMs already requested it, here’s a recording of what SAQ can sound like, made by Manfred, DL6OBJ: grimetondez2012_dl6obj.ogg
So, what can we do to cope with the situation? Several possibilities come to mind:
- Sue all those manufacturers of „noisy“ equipment (no chance of real success)
- Move to a very rural area (not planning on doing so, soon)
- Hack into the local power grid, causing a power outage for the time SAQ transmits (actually I like that idea, but it’s not only illegal, but also not as easy in reality as it looks like in Matrix)
- Make your equipment portable and go outside (I’ll go with that one)
It has shown that it’s often sufficient to move a few kilometers away from any settlements. Also, getting up a hill or something like that might not be a bad idea, even though height is said to have little influence on VLF.
Most people would just take their stuff, get into their car and so exactly so, but since I have neither a car nor a driver’s license, it has to be even more portable for me. Wilfried, DJ1WF, has published a building description for a handheld VLF receiver I’m looking forward to solder myself: http://www.vlf.it/fritz/pocketrx.html
The results he’s achieving with such a small and simple device sound quite promising:
Hope I’ll be writing a more successful report after this year’s Alexanderson day!