N6CC Fixed Stations

And Related Musings…..

UPDATED: 9/8/20
One of many morphs of my station.  Mostly WWII equipment with some from the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Definitely “EMP Proof”.  Patch panels allow me to select any of about 15 antennas and connect them to any of about 12 radios.  With the patch panel design, they don’t go through a single “choke point”; they can all be run simultaneously.   The VHF panel is visible, the HF panel is out of the photo.

The station is normally powered by commercial power but I also have a solar panel which charges a 12 volt deep-cycle battery system. That battery can naturally run all the 12 volt equipment but it also powers a 120 VAC Inverter when needed. I can also quickly patch in a gas powered AC generator if necessary. Very flexible. If the commercial power fails, a relay drops out which then connects the solar charged battery into the system. Automatic.

HT-40 and BC-348 Station

Above: One of my favorite combinations, even now, is the Hallicrafters HT-40 and BC-348-R receiver for CW on 80 and 40 meters. A typical novice station from the 1960’s and it still works quite well today. The HT-40 has a very clean CW note with good shaping – and none of the phase-noise garbage of some modern rice-box transmitters. The classic BC-348 is very stable and the crystal filter is quite effective, although not always needed.

Early Short Wave Listening

The Hallicafters S-120 Receiver:  I received one as a gift from my parents for Christmas in 1963.  It replaced an old “AA5” table radio that we had which included a rear panel “Shortwave Band” switch.  A life long buddy would often come over and we would both marvel at what “radio” was and what it could do.  That bug bit both of us pretty hard!

Hallicrafters S-120

This S-120 is a recent addition – I had sold the original S-120 which was my first “real” shortwave radio as a kid. The “informative” slide rule dial even told you where to tune to receive “Paris”, “China” and other DX locales. Even by 1960’s standards it’s pretty marginal but I didn’t know any better back then – logged lots of DX with it and it still sounds pretty good on SWBC. I can (barely) hear CW and SSB with it, but stability is another adventure.  Medium wave AM broadcast is OK, actually pretty good.

The S-120 has only 4 tubes; no RF amplifier stage, so it was pretty deaf above the AM broadcast band. The circuit is nearly identical to the early S-38 sets but they used Octal tubes versus the 7-pin miniatures of the S-120.  The S-120 also replaced the rectifier tube with a selenium stack in the half-wave bridge power supply.  1940’s Tech.

The Ameco 2-Nuvistor preamp helps considerably!

Ameco PCL-P Nuvistor Preamp

Comrade Castro

Hallicrafters S-120 ad. Politically Incorrect (but still accurate) these days. Yes, I heard him.

I often listened to the VOA “Daybreak Africa” program and heard the strange sounding (to me) names of the various African leaders at the time.  People like Kasa-Vubu, Patrice Lamumba, Moise Tshombe, Kwame Nkrumah, Habib Bourgiba and of course Nasser etc. They sound somehow familiar to me today, buried deep in my wetware..

Reports also included Fidel Castro and Che Guevara as they tried in vain to export “The Revolution” to southern Africa and elsewhere.  Then of course Castro’s cheerleaders like Vladimir Posner of Radio Moscow and later “Ed Newman” of Radio Havana with their sadly laughable propaganda aimed at Lenin’s “Useful Fools”.  But I digress.

One fond memory as a thirteen year-old during the S-120 days was listening to lots of interesting non-voice signals that crowded the bands back then – and wondering what they were. I lived about a mile from Mitchel Air Force Base on Long Island in the 1950’s – 1960’s. As a kid I could recognize dozens of different USAF aircraft by sound alone as they flew nearly over our house on approach to Runway Three-Zero.

There was a peculiar, distinctive signal at many points on the S-120 dial. Sort of like a continuous, droning, guttural “Grrrrrrrr” sound. It sounded like a four engined B-17 bomber in flight. (Que the sound track from “12 O’Clock High”)  I just KNEW that’s what I was listening to on the radio. It wasn’t until later in life when I was trained as a Navy ELINT intercept operator that I discovered what that sound actually was – a 4-channel multiplexed radio teletype transmitter.

Hmmmmm, The B-17’s had four Wright Cyclone R-1820 radial engines running asynchronously. Four independent asynchronous Baudot RATT signals. Nine cylinders per engine. At at 5 bits each character plus a start and stop pulse (7 bits total). Acoustically / spectrally speaking, a pretty close match! No wonder I was fooled! The East Coast of the US had lots of that kind of military traffic going on back then…

Then there were the “numbers” stations. I copied a lot of 5 letter CW cypher groups from them!

The “Secrets” of DUGA: Another signal I couldn’t avoid hearing with my trusty S-120 and my HA-350 was the Soviet ДЮГА Over The Horizon Radar that they had built near Chernobyl. Its signal was plenty loud in the US at the time with its massive effective radiated power in a confined and probably steerable beam from its gigantic phased array antenna driven by a multi-megawatt transmitter.

DUGA Radar antenna array. Photo credit: Peter Franc

“The Ignoraty” described its purpose as mind control, weather control, death rays, Russian HAARP etc, ad naseum. Dude! Like it totally caused Chernobyl to freakin’ EXPLODE!

CNN opined in a March 4th 2019 article that it has ” a far more sinister and mysterious reputation.”   CNN continues: “its true purpose not fully understood.”  (Umm no CNN, it’s purpose is EXACTLY understood.)  That CNN Travel article included a map with the location of the radar and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant reversed.   “News you can trust”…

The radar sounded like a staccato pulse train of about 10 pulses per second, spread over very a large bandwidth. It jumped around in frequency as they adjusted it to deal with HF propagation realities, appearing nearly everywhere at times in the HF spectrum.

The main DUGA “1” broadside antenna arrays (NATO variously Code named Steel Yard or Steel Work/s) was built along an axis of 053/233 degrees true (See Google Earth 51 degrees 18.30N 30 degrees 4.00E).  This is reported as the receiver site, the abandoned transmitter site not far away on that same 053 degree axis.

The system emits and then receives the reflected return signal at right angles to the dipoles/reflector array off to the northwest on an azimuth of 233+90=323 degrees true. If you follow that azimuth from the site, it goes over eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Greenland, Hudson Bay then directly over the ICBM missile fields in north-central US. No “secret” or surprise there, that was the threat axis they wanted to monitor.  How about range capability?

With its 10 pulses-per second, the interpulse period is 100 milliseconds.  As every radar operator knows, radar pulses (radio/light) travel 328 yards per microsecond.  That works out to a one-way distance of about 20,000 miles before the next pulse is transmitted.  Since radar is a round-trip system, the max detection range is half that, about 10,000 miles before the next pulse is transmitted, deafening the receiver.

That range has to include extended “side” trips up to the ionosphere and back, at least twice, likely 4 times.  Also, the Transmit/Receive “T-R” switch that protects the receiver from the massive transmitted pulse needs some recovery time, as does the receiver itself. So the effective detection range to a target would be more like the 5,000 ground miles to the center of the ICBM missile fields from DUGA. 

There CNN, solved if for ya.  Secrets revealed with an S-120 receiver, Google Earth (or CORONA satellite imagery) and a simple slide rule.

They located the radar in the southwest part of the then USSR (in Ukraine) to avoid HF radio propagation disturbances over the north polar areas, think “Northern Lights” etc.

As an aside, today there are the remains of a big Wullenweber direction finding receiver antenna site exactly 1 mile SW of DUGA “1”, along that 233 degree array axis, probably in a DUGA antenna null to protect it from the transmitter energy.

The fun part is when it often shifted into the internationally allocated Amateur Radio ham bands (in violation of international law which they signed: nothing to see here, move along). When it showed up, that 10 PPS signal sounded just like a woodpecker. Hence its colloquial name among hams and other radio communicators: the Russian Woodpecker.

FUN FACT: When THAT happened I found myself needing to test my transmitter and electronic CW keyer on frequencies allocated for ham radio use. Testing my keyer at 10 dots per second, or thereabouts, on the DUGA frequency, or thereabouts, I could often get them to move off frequency. My puny 40 watt CW signal was significantly stronger than any reflection they could detect off a missile or aircraft or maybe even North Dakota ground clutter.

Must have driven their operators crazy as it was fairly easily “jammed”, accidentally of course. I don’t know what kinds of pulse-forming networks* or signal processing in the receivers they used at the time but it was probably adequate given the technology available. Doing my part in the Cold War…LOTS of other Hams tested their equipment in a similar manner. “Woodpecker Hunting”…* Russian engineers were particularly good at designing pulse forming networks and pulse power machines.

Back to Hamming:

Below is my station back in New York in 1967. I had recently upgraded from Novice to General and was running a Lafayette HA-350 receiver and a Hallicrafters HT-40 transmitter with dipoles and verticals. I had 2 Lafayette HE-90 CB rigs that I had converted to 10 meters. One was used for the local County RACES net on 28.720 AM and the other was used for DX’ing with my 4 element Cush Craft yagi.

I worked a lot of Europeans and a few African stations with that 5 watt radio on 10 meters.   Plate modulated AM with my “Green Hornet” mike, it sounded great and it had a hot Nuvistor front end – very sensitive for the times.

As a Novice, I had worked 40 DX countries with the HT-40 and the J-38 straight key, mostly on 15 meters with my only crystal for 15 meters: 7038 tripling to 21.114 MC. If it managed 10 watts output on 15 meters it would be lucky. But 10 watts can go a long way!

Original Novice and General Station – 1967

The Lafayette HA-350 was looked down upon by people who apparently never tried one – it was a pretty good receiver for the price, especially for a novice CW operator. Built by Trio for Lafayette, Trio was later renamed “Kenwood”.

It was a bit unusual looking with its brushed aluminum panel with chromed accents but it has a heavy steel cabinet and chassis. Its IF bandwidth was a bit too narrow for AM but it was pretty good for SSB and also CW; selectable filters were not an option. The HA-350 is allegedly the first non-Collins “ham receiver” that used a mechanical filter. Mine has more than adequate sensitivity.

The ARRL Book on Vintage Radio mentions this receiver as being one of the many “75A4 Clones”. (The block diagram looks more like the Collins 75S3 to me.)  I have not compared schematics but I will take that statement at face value. The Japanese were quite happy in copying others’ designs – and getting away with it.

The Novice CW bands were not particularly crowded back then. The mechanical filter in my set ultimately failed about 30 years after I bought it (not hermetically sealed) so I replaced it with a Collins F455-3.1 KC mechanical filter. Still works great.

The HT-40 is a very good CW rig, producing a nice clean, stable note. It used screen modulation on AM with the Green Hornet mike but I rarely used it on phone, preferring CW, a preference I still have. It tuned quickly and easily, had a clear CW note. I eventually sold it but then bought a “nostalgia replacement” which I still have – its a fine backup rig.

I eventually built a Heathkit HG-10 VFO and my Dad bought me a Hammarlund HK-1B Electronic Keyer. I didn’t have a paddle so I made one with a hack saw blade, screws and some scrap wood – it worked great. I eventually wore out the relays in the keyer and then upgraded it to a a Curtis CMOS keyer chip and switching transistor built inside the chassis – its still operational. Then it was a DX-100 and a Heathkit SB-102, Swan 350 and a few other fun rigs.

DX-100 and Swan 350 N6CC

Above:  A shot of my gear, circa 1968.  The great Heathkit DX-100 and my Swan 350.  I used them both mostly on 10 meters with my 4 element Yagi.  Worked a lot of DX with them both. Also shown is the Hammarlund HK-1B electronic keyer.  In the rack below is a 500 Watt transverter I designed as a school project.  It runs a 4CX300A power tetrode and a solid state receiving converter.  It was driven by the converted Lafayette HE-90 on 10 meters to produce a BIG signal on 2 meters AM.  Just in time for 2 meters AM activity to die off in favor of FM!

Although not a “base” system, I also had a Motorola T-43 “narrowbanded” FM 2-meter mobile in my old Bronco.  A 6146 on 2 meters – amazing!  Circa 1973.

Motorola T-43 and H23BAC portable

Motorola T-43 and H23BAC portable

I had them crystalled on 146.940, then the national simplex frequency before 146.520 became popular. These rigs sounded great – nice “punchy” audio, perfect for police cars! I donated the T-43 to a local railroad museum (caboose radio) and I still have the portable. Fun, learned a lot in the early days of Ham FM.

Below is a shot of my set up in the barracks at the Great Lakes IL Naval Base. I was running a Hustler 4BTV up on the roof of the 5 story building. I mainly used it to keep in touch with buddies back home in NY. Still having fun with the HE-90 converted to 10 meters.

Below is the station shortly after I moved to California. All commercial stuff at this point, the Mil gear was in storage.  Photo approximately 1979.

Below is the setup in the barracks at Navy OCS, Newport RI in 1972. I had to cache the Swan 350 in the “hide site” during the day (not specifically verbotten but that’s just because no one thought anyone would ever try to do this!). I had run a long wire antenna made of # 34 Ga copper from the roof of King Hall to an adjacent wing, 4 stories up. Installed at Zero-Dark-Thirty while on a “Fire and Security Watch” (no fires or security incidents occurred during this evolution).  It could not be seen from the ground and the feedline was easily hidden from surprise inspectors looking for dust or other discrepancies. I used it to keep in touch with buddies back on Long Island on 80 meters at night.  Looks like I had a spare set of G.E. 6HF5 finals “at the ready” on the shelf in case of battle damage.

N6CC – Circa 1980

N6CC Primary Station  Circa 2010

A special acknowledgement to those who got me interested in radio. Chief Radioman Donald Tardity US Navy, W2BPV, our neighbor whose AM voice signal got into our old bakelite AM broadcast receiver when he was on the air. My mom would call him on the phone to ask him to tell “Timmy to go to bed” – via his ham radio transmitter – instead of me listening to the radio all night. I was age 5 then. MOM! The radio just talked to ME !!! It said “Timmy, go to bed!”. They must have gotten a good laugh from that…

Also Mr Joseph H. Alterman, W2CDO, trustee of the Ham Radio club WA2UZL at East Meadow high school back in NY. He taught me morse code and got me hooked on ham radio. To Bill Grasso, WB2HDO a schoolmate who was way ahead of me in discovering ham radio. Special thanks to my Dad who built my first Heathkit, a CR-1 Crystal Radio when I was in the 5th Grade. He eventually got his Novice license, WA2KRQ after learning the code at his advanced age. There were many others who encouraged me and helped satisfy my youthful curiosity. I have tried to pass along the mentoring.

Or my new Ride while Aeronautical Mobile: Eclipse Aviation EA-50. Tail Number N6CC.  No, it’s not photoshopped.  It’s the real deal.

N6CC Aeronautical Mobile

Don’t I wish !! hihi