Getting Ready for the SAL-30

After coming home Friday to find a box of antenna parts from Array Solutions on my front porch, the heavens opened up, and rained out any antenna construction plans I may have had. The good news is that I’ll be ready to go on Saturday, armed with everything I’ll need to get the new and improved SAL-30 up in the air by sunset.*

500 foot spool of 12 gauge wire: CHECK! The standard kit comes with 24 gauge, but I used 12 gauge when I put it up originally, so I’m sticking with it. unlike the loops on the SAL-20, which were constructed with 65 feet of wire each, the SAL-30 will be using a whopping 95 feet for each loop. That’s a lot of wire!

Replacement mast poles: CHECK! Since the SAL series of antennas requires a fiberglass mast, and will not work with aluminum, I bought replacements for the ones Fido destroyed. I should have an extra section when I’m done.

Guy rope and tensioners: CHECK! The SAL-30 kit came with enough guy rope for two levels of guys for the mast, as well as enough to support the loops itself. they also included eight tensioners, which is handy as well. Let’s hope I don’t screw up with the cuts.

New support stakes: CHECK! I decided to beef up the stakes I was using with more heavy duty supports.

Cable ties: CHECK! Cable ties are the duct tape of amateur radio. They’ll come in handy during the initial construction phase.

Heatshrink tubing, and insulators: CHECK! Heatshrink tubing is a Godsend to HAMs, almost as useful as cable ties for antenna projects. I actually have dogbone insulators for this job, although the makeshift PVC pipe sections I used for the SAL-20 worked just fine.

Soldering gun and solder: CHECK! Actually, I better double check this when I get home. i might need to get another tip for the Weller.

Nice weather: CHECK? If the forecasters are to be believed, we are supposed to be in the seventies this Saturday, with a 40% chance of afternoon thunderstorms. I’m not crazy about the 19 mph wind, but well, welcome to Iowa.

IMG_20160417_110059676
Dude, you go ahead and get the antenna up. I’ll stay here and guard the couch. could you hand me the TV remote before you go please?

So the stage is set, and I am very anxious to see if this new antenna can hear. If I don’t screw anything up, and the thunderstorms stay away until Saturday night, I should be ready to put this new antenna through its paces early next week.

Now if my helper was as enthused about this project as I am.

*I say this knowing full well that it is not true. As with all of my projects, I am certain there will be at least one trip to the hardware store for things I didn’t anticipate, I just don’t know what those things are yet. It would also be a good idea to mow the lawn before getting this beast up, as it will make my life easier in the long run. Hopefully I can get that done before Saturday.

The Saga of the Shared Apex Loop Array (SAL-20)

20141005_164345
The finished product.

Back at the Dayton Hamvention in 2013, Array Solutions debuted a new compact receive antenna system called the Shared Apex Loop array, or SAL. Building upon the foundation laid by the EWE, K9AY, and the flag and pennant antennas, the SAL featured true time delay phasing, and no need for a control wire from the shack to the antenna or grounding. Best of all, if the plots and modeling were any indication, this antenna might actually live up to the promise of Beverage like performance in a small lot.

This last weekend, after being flooded out the last time I tried to put it up in July, I took advantage of what may be our last good weather of the year and got a SAL 20 up and running in my yard. It wasn’t easy, but its up and receiving signals.

My make-shift soldering station.
My make-shift soldering station.

Since the wires that came with my antenna had a close encounter with the lawnmower, I needed to cut new ones to make into the four loops. According to Array Solutions, they recommend 62′, but a little longer is fine as long as all the wires are the same length. With this in mine, I cut four lengths of wire each 64′ in length, using up the rest of my 12ga wire minus an 11″ remnant.

After that, I went ahead and fed them through the mas before feeding the couplers, an insulator, and a shrink wrap tube over the wire before tinning them. There’s a reason soldering is not listed on my resume as a skill, but I did ok, and sealed the joints with the shrink wrap after I was done.

20141005_112731
The mast is up, held in place with two ‘shepherd’s hooks’. Note the wires taped to the mast to keep them from getting tangled (again).

Now it was time to get this beast up in the air, and here’s where I met my first obstacle. I managed to tangle my wires up pretty good while I moved the antenna over to where I’d be putting it up, and I ended up having to cut them and start over. This time though, I didn’t solder them before setting the mast up. Instead, I taped them to the mast at the base so that they wouldn’t get tangled again, and soldered each one individually.

Now that I finally had it up in the air, I went and put the stakes into the ground and tied each loop down at the corner, forming four triangles at right angles to each other. Since my dog bone insulators didn’t show up until this morning, I improvised and used inch long sections of PVC pipe. They’re cheap, they were available, and the antenna won’t care.

A close up of the magnetic coupler.
A close up of the magnetic coupler.

Once everything was in line and tied down, I measured out the distance for the couplers from the center mast. According to Array solutions, Each coupler should be about 86″ from the center of the mast with the positive lead facing outward. Using a measuring tape from the base of the mast, I lined up each coupler so that the center was at the 86″ mark. This will need a little fine tuning before its a finished product, but it’s a good starting point.

20141005_170637
DX Engineering’s crimping tool for the win!

Now that everything was positioned properly, I wired all of the couplers up to the central ‘junction box’, and attached the delay cable. After making quick work of a coax run to the shack (thanks to DXEngineering and their awesome F type connectors and crimping tool), it was almost time to see if this antenna was worth the effort.

Of course, as with most of my projects, I came up a cable short. The control box for the antenna uses an RCA out jack, while everything I own is either an N or SO-239. Time to break out the soldering iron again, and one sacrificed RCA cable and a PL-259 pig tail later, I had a crude but effective RCA to PL-259 cable.

The 'finished' control box that needs to be cleaned up a little.
The ‘finished’ control box that needs to be cleaned up a little.

Now by this time it was already dark, and the instructions do not recommend trying to optimize reception after sunset. I still wanted to see what this antenna could do though, so fired up the Perseus and I went about putting the new antenna through its paces. Some of my initial tests were kind of disappointing, like my inability to null out the nearby KASI on 1430 (the same station I tested the Pixel Loop out on last year). On other frequencies though, I could hear a different station with each direction I chose, which is pretty cool.

Later on in the evening, I saw a post about Magic Lantern International, a Euro pirate, relaying a show on 6205 kHz. While my copy on them wasn’t very strong, they were strong enough for me to identify the music being played and catch a ‘Laser Hot Hits’ (the station they were relaying) ID. Just out of curiosity, I fired up the Elad through my secondary long wire to see how it compared. The Elad and the long wire didn’t catch a trace of them. The SAL-20, pointed to the Northeast, had a listenable copy, while the 75′ long wire couldn’t even catch a whiff.

While this antenna is still a work in progress, this beast shows an awful lot of progress. I not only heard VL8A and VL8K this morning, I also heard a very loud and listenable signal from North Korea as well. Even better than that though, I saw some faint traces of carriers from Asian mediumwave transmitters. That’s not much to go on, but it’s more than I’ve seen from any foreign mediumwave signal before.

All in all, this is shaping up to be a fantastic DXing season.

Recovering from Dayton

A couple of the goodies that "followed me home" from Dayton. So I’ve been home from Dayton for a few days now, and i am only now starting to feel like I’m returning to normal. I guess three days of long drives, eating like crap, hiking through the tailgate multiple times, and sleeping on a couch will take its toll on you.

Of course, I would do it all again tomorrow if I had the chance. It was great to hang out with some old friends, not to mention talk a lot of radio with all kinds of like minded people. All in all, I’d say this was  a great experience, one I’m looking forward to doing again in the future.

As you can see, I didn’t leave Dayton empty handed. (Hey, who does?) The good folks over at  Universal Radio had the Perseus SDR deeply discounted for the show, so I decided to take the plunge and see if it lives up to its rep. I’ve had more than one DXer tell me it’s the best receiver they’ve ever used. I will be letting you know what I think over the next few weeks.

On a completely different side of things is this beautiful Hallicrafters SX-62a. I’ve seen these radios on eBay for about $300, and they looked like they’d been drug behind a truck. This one is clean and seems to work, and it only set me back $175. It’s probably not much of a DX machine, but it will be an awful lot of fun. I can’t wait to hear Radio Nacional da Amazonia played through those tubes!

Besides these finds and a few books, I also ordered a couple of receive only antennas that will be arriving at the home listening post here in a few weeks. The first one is a Pixel Technologies RF-PRO1B magnetic loop, which should be a nice addition to my existing long wire.

The second one is worthy of its own write up, as it is new to the market from Array Solutions. They have taken the foundation laid by the K9AY Loop and come up with what they’re calling the ‘Shared Apex Loop Array’. Not exactly the catchiest of names, but it could be a beast of a receive antenna. It’s four loops can be steered to one of eight directions, as well as omni and bi-directional as well. It also fits into a circle with an 18′ radius, meaning it will fit in a pretty modest back yard. I have been in lust with the K9AY for about 15 years now, so it didn’t take much arm twisting to get me to pick up their latest and greatest. Expect a full write up about this antenna after it arrives sometime early this summer.

So there you have it, my trip to Dayton in a nutshell. If you’ve never made the trip, you really owe it to yourself to make the effort. Your bank book may never be the same, but your radio room will thank you.