87.7 FM DX

At about 11:45 yesterday (June 2nd 2014) I received a Spanish speaking station on 87.7FM.  This did sound like E-skip, lots of fading, and it lasted about fifteen minutes on and off, it faded in and out over that time frame.  There was Spanish speaking talking and what sounded like Mexican music.  Unfortunately, did not get a station ID, not sure if I would have recognized the letters in Spanish anyway.

Mystery of 87.9 Mhz – Solved!

I think I’ve finally solved the mystery of these short periods of reception on 87.9 Mhz which lack the normal selective fading of some form of skip or the slow fading of ducting.

The clue was that while I was stopped at a light, all of the sudden the Howard Stern show came on.  Howard Stern isn’t broadcast terrestrially anymore but does have a satellite radio show on SiriusXM satellite radio.

It occurred to me that what I might be receiving on 87.9 Mhz is peoples SiriusXM radio converters.  That explains the usual short duration of the reception (they drive away).

Doing some research, I found that indeed the converters are tunable across the entire FM band but 87.9 Mhz, owing to it being clear across most of the country, is the most widely chosen channel.

I also found out there had been F.C.C. actions with regard to these SiriusXM converters being over-powered and causing interference to legitimate stations.  So it all fits, not real DX but bleed from satellite down converters.

More Weirdness on 87.9 Mhz – What Is Going On?

Today I received three different stations on 87.9 Mhz at three different times.

Around 11am, I went to the Post Office and then headed towards Fred Meyers.  I was on 175th Street just East of Aurora Ave N, and just stopped at the light.

A station faded in out of nothing, complete quieting, and it was playing a musical song with Japanese lyrics.  It lasted about a minute and a half.

Then later, around 3pm, I took my wife to get her check and head to the bank and on the way to the bank, again on 175th, another station came in, this time playing RAP in English.  But this time it only lasted about five seconds.

Then when we were stopped at a light on 164th Street leaving Walmart, around 6pm, a Spanish speaking station with Mexican music came in.  This one lasted about 30 seconds.

I’ve been interested in DX reception for many decades and I’ve never experienced propagation like this.  I have received TV DX over great distances like this but they usually lasted longer than these relatively brief periods of reception and involved a lot more fade and the video and audio were often distorted significantly by selective fading and multipath.

I’ve also received brief burps of signal, probably meteor trails, but those were much shorter than these events.

I’m convinced there is something new and different going on and I’m not even sure if it’s in the atmosphere.  Either there has to be some very brief ducting or multi-hop skip, because the distances involved are two great for a single hop which is limited to about 100 miles, but the characteristics are not like skip I’ve received in the past.

These are fade in fairly rapidly (going from no signal to solid full quieting in 1-2 seconds), remain complete solid during the time the signal is receivable which has been between about a second and maybe five minutes, and then fade out just as quickly and don’t come back.  There is no audible distortion or multipath distortion.

So I’m wondering if our atmosphere is acting differently because of altered chemistry?  Or perhaps something HAARP is doing?  Or maybe there is something providing a large artificial reflective surface such as an unacknowledged black project vehicle or maybe an alien craft?

There is definitely something different going on.  I’ve monitored these frequencies for many years and never received anything until just recently and now it’s almost daily.

87.9 Mhz Another Short Reception

While sitting at a light on Aurora and about 165th, I briefly received a signal, it came in and was gone in about two seconds.  It was some kind of music that sounded like something I might hear on a Chinese film, something traditional, not modern, no vocals.

Seems odd that these short bursts keep coming in on this frequency, I’ve monitored quite a number of other locally unused frequencies and haven’t heard anything similar and most of them are far more occupied nationally.

87.9 Mhz More Strangeness

Monitored 87.9 Mhz some more today while driving.  Sitting at the stop sign on 6th Ave and 205th St NE waiting for a chance to pull out in traffic and listing to noise when a strong signal emerged, remained for about three seconds, then rapidly was gone back to white noise again.

Then driving down I-5, just south of the University district, picked up a signal briefly.

All of these times it faded up very suddenly, stayed for a short duration, then faded out very rapidly.

Didn’t hear enough of it to determine what it was, one time sounded like religious music, another time sounded like Chinese music, but both times it only lasted a few seconds so not enough to really know what was going on.

It definitely was not cross-modulation, the signal was clean and only one program material.  Also, at 6th, I was sitting still when the signal came up out of the noise, achieved full quieting, and then went back into the noise.

 

 

 

Strange Signal 87.9 Mhz FM

I was driving to where I have equipment co-located, traveling east bound on Highway 90, just past Mercer Island, just into Bellevue (Washington), monitoring 87.9 because I had picked up a pirate station in downtown Bellevue a week prior.

The station I had picked up in downtown was extremely weak, receivable for only a few blocks so it may even actually been legal (the radio in my car is very sensitive).

But this was something totally different.  It rapidly faded in, in about 1-2 seconds, just east of Mercer Island, it was playing a Viagra commercial, it was rock solid from about the I-405 interchange to the East Gate exit, where it faded out equally fast as it had faded in.

There are only two legal stations on this frequency in the US, one is a whopping 10 watts at a high school in California, the other 28 watts at a church in Nevada.

When I came back from the co-lo facility, it was gone.  Maybe something breaking through form a parallel dimension .. (Twilight Zone music)

The Mountain 103.7 KMTT

The mountain’s now a steaming pile…  Yea I’m not thrilled with the format change.  It’s now Hot 103 where every single song has lyrics about sex, a strange mix of disco and hip-hop.  Somehow this is supposed to appeal to women.  It all went without much warning or fanfare.  It’s still automated, avoiding any human content which seems to be the way radio is going these days.

Don’t these guys get it?  Mp3 players are a dime a dozen these days and they allow us to program any music we want without commercials, so why in the hell would we listen to an automated station playing music they want with commercials and inferior sound quality?

Pirate Radio and the F.C.C.

I read this article in Wired on setting up a pirate radio station and I found myself a bit troubled by all the bad advice given.

To quote Michele Ellison, Chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau after a bust of a pirate radio station in Roslindale, “We will continue to use all available enforcement tools, including equipment seizures, to protect the airwaves and are grateful for the assistance and fine work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston.”

What he is saying here should be taken literally.  Wired tells you to avoid being busted, hop around in frequency, keep a low profile, don’t run regular hours.  That will only keep you from acquiring an audience.  What will get you busted fast is interfering with legitimate stations and endangering public safety.  The F.C.C. has far too limited of resources to go after every pirate station out there.  They are going to try to focus those resources on addressing issues of public safety and interference to legitimate operations as much as possible.  If you avoid causing problems in either of these areas, your chances of survival are increased.

I operated a pirate station in the Seattle area in the 1970’s for nearly half a decade, most of that time at power levels of around 100 watts, occasionally a kilowatt, and much of that time 24×7.  We even had record support from many of the major labels.  What finally brought us to the attention of the F.C.C. (and we never did get raided but did receive a cease and desist causing interference letter from R.C. Dietch, the chief engineer at the F.C.C. field office at that time) was when our antenna broke and the piece that remained happen to resonate in the 80 meter ham band.

During our years of operation, we didn’t try to maintain a low profile, quite the opposite, we were trying to (and to a large degree succeeded) build an audience.  We made bumper stickers, we gave out our phone number over the air.  It would have been trivial and easy for the FCC to contact or locate us, yet, until we caused interference, it was never an issue.  Even then, we received a letter, the F.C.C. didn’t have to raid us to figure out where to send it because we weren’t secretive about our location.  And the letter only demanded that we stop causing interference.  I chose to cease operations anyway because at that time I had a 1st Class Radio Telephone Operators license and I knew getting busted would likely result in the forfeiture of that license.

I operated in the AM band but these days most pirates are on the FM band.  With only a fraction of a watt, it is possible with a good receiver and a quiet frequency to cover several miles, much more with 10-100 watts on FM but harmonics can play havoc with television stations and public services such as police and fire communications.  If you want to get the F.C.C’s attention yesterday, interfering with emergency services is probably one of the most effective ways of doing it.  So, I’m going to suggest a few modifications to the instructions given in the wired article.

Do spend the time to very carefully research the frequency you intend to use to make absolutely sure that you’re not going to cause interference.  You should consider not only your intended frequency but adjacent and 2nd adjacent channels as well.

Get to know the engineers of the local radio stations.  This serves a number of good purposes.  You can learn important safety and technical tips from them.  You can find out about used equipment the station is getting ready to sell cheap or dump for free.  In the unfortunate event that you do cause interference, it’s better if you find out directly from them than from a visit by the F.C.C.

Don’t use a transmitter with a variable frequency oscillator as suggested by the Wired article.  These are inherently unstable and are likely to drift onto occupied frequencies.  Use a transmitter with broadcast quality frequency control, something with a crystal oven or vacuum crystal that can provide broadcast quality stability, and preferably something with broadcast quality harmonic attenuation.  An FM broadcast exciter which is intended to drive a higher power amplifier may be a good choice.

Get a functional modulation monitor and frequency counter to assure that you do not over modulate and interfere with adjacent frequencies and that your base frequency is within broadcast tolerances for the same reason.  An additional reason is that modern digitally synthesized tuners with narrow crystal filters will not cleanly demodulate a signal that is not properly centered in the channel.

Understand the safety issues.  You don’t want to get to know Mr. R.F. Burns, he is a pain. You can do more than superficial damage with radio frequency burns, you can damage nerve tissue and lose sensation or the ability to move muscles.  You can get non-trivial RF burns with just a few watts of power at FM broadcast frequencies.  Many people are fooled into thinking that because the present day solid state transmitters don’t require high voltage to operate, they are inherently safe.  But very high RF voltages can be generated even where only low DC voltages are providing the operating power for amplifiers and even though they don’t represent an electrocution hazard, they can be a serious burn hazard. Don’t let low DC voltages fool you into a false sense of complacency.

On the subject of public safety, with FM stations, a big concern is your harmonics. Your 2nd harmonic is going to land somewhere between 176MHz and 216Mhz, in the upper VHF television channels.  If you want to draw the attention of the FCC, interfering with your neighbors soap operas will do it.  Higher order harmonics will land on various public service frequencies and that will get the attention of the FCC since you are potentially interfering with emergency responders.  I suggest that you consider two things, a quarter-wave coaxial stub 2nd harmonic trap combined with a good low pass filter to eliminate the higher order harmonics.

Another thing to know is that harmonics can be generated outside of your transmitter and antenna by any non-linear device. That can include things like two conductors connected with a bit of corrosion. Copper oxide is a semi-conductor and can act as a rectifier, creating harmonics.  If your signal is strong, even though totally harmonic free, it can still overload the front-end of a neighbors television set, creating interfering harmonics there.  Consider choosing a fundamental frequency which has a second harmonic landing in an unused television channel.  If the problem is very local and you are good friends with your neighbors, you might be appease them by offering to install a quarter-wave trap (coaxial or twin-lead stub) at your fundamental frequency to alleviate overload in their television set from generating interfering harmonics.

Have a purpose for existing and create quality programming.  If there are any regrets I have over the way I ran my station, it was not paying more attention to the programming.  My primary purpose was just to wrangle a bit of control from the corporate monopoly on broadcasting, but then I didn’t really say much once I had a chunk of spectrum to talk on.  Other than that, the fascination of knowing my voice was going out there and with AM it’s much different than FM.  FM is much more of a threshold effect, either you can achieve a signal with close to full quieting or you can’t hear it at all.  But with AM, your voice just became lower and the noise became higher as distance increased.  If you had a really good receiver and a really good ear, you could pick out a really weak signal.  Knowing that and knowing skip could happen at night contributed to the fascination of it for me.  But I regret not doing a better job of really understanding how I could benefit the community and tailoring programming to those needs.

Consider legal alternatives to broadcasting illegally. In those days, we didn’t have a legal alternative.  Low power FM didn’t exist with the exception of educational stations.  The internet didn’t exist.  Today there are many good alternatives to explore.  If you are non-profit, apply for official non-profit status, and then you will be eligible to apply for a legal low power FM station, assuming a clear frequency exists, and if it doesn’t, then pirate isn’t a good option either.  If no clear frequency exists, consider an internet station (and we can help you with that) where there is almost infinite address space and dedicated Internet radios now exist for cars and homes and apps exist for many portable devices.