Prepping: Project Big Ears

OK, serious preppers:  Time to pay attention because George’s Radio School is now in session.

At this point, a number of ham radio operators will look at the antenna to the right and proclaim they know all about it and then skip on to the next article.

In point of fact, however, real DX (dx being short for long distant) reception, is much more of a skill-set than most hams will admit.

Sure, the big electrically-lifted 52-feet of tower, with 12-feet of mast atop that seems like it would be an ideal off-the-shelf *(if you get it installed – we did our own) solution.  Had help mixing 130 bags of concrete,  though.

But, the real secret of hearing “far-away” (DX) stations is much less in the size or height of the antenna.  It’s in mercilessly tracking down local noise sources.

Finding noise has been a life-long case of solid detective work.  Shortwave (and high-frequency 1.8 to 30 MHz) ham radio listening is fun but THE indispensable tool for noise-finding is a cheap AM radio tuned to the top of the AM band – about 1600 KHz on the dial.

With this tool, you can wander around, holding it up to various wall-wart (plugin chargers) and light dimmers and so forth until your find the source of local noise.

Once you find all the noisy dimmers in the house (most can be fixed for listening to shortwave by simply turning them off) then it’s on to the rest of the neighborhood.

Power poles (if you don’t have underground wiring)_ can be a nightmare.  What happens is a little dust accumulates on the top of high-voltage distribution transformers and then here come the occasional spars.  Which, by their nature are broadband, so there’s goes everything from AM up to the FM band.  FM is more noise-resistant because of the technology.  (A ratio discriminator instead of an amplitude detector if you’re deep into the electro-woo-woo of it.)

Even around the ham shack there are hidden noise gremlins.  Take that big tower.  Until last year, the coaxial cables and rotator control cables coming down from the top went at a right angle to the shop 8-feet off the ground.  Looked nice and strack.

I could be heard anywhere on Earth under even marginal conditions.  1,000 watts and a big beam…oh hell yeah.

But, noise level was high and since it went away at night, I figured it might be “common mode noise” from the nearby solar charge controllers.  Solved that problem (by rerouting wires to the shop/office) and suddenly receiving became remarkably good.

Hams will be interested that the induced common-mode voltage was cured by moving the feed lines off the tower at a 45-degree angle.  This took the closest approach to the solar power center from 2-1/2-feet to about 14-feet.  Since radio is ruled by the inverse-square law (double the distance, halve the power) and I got two “halvings” – the noise dropped to a quarter of its previous (annoying) level.  Tossed on some clamp-on ferrite noise suppressors and good to go.

From there, the next problem was reducing noise picked up by the surface of the coaxial cable.  This was handled by installing an assortment of additional ferrite bead noise suppressors on either side of the cable run involved.

Things verged on excellent.  For the past year, when I hear a station like LZ920MCL on the air, it’s usually by design, not a cloud going over, which use to drop the output of the solar panels, which in turn reduced the charger amperage, and that in turn reduced the noise…..

By the way – even if you are a ham – I’ve never gotten deeply into “running down awards.”  Like that station in Bulgaria  – it is part of their All Saints contest.  (Talk to the key cities…)

I’ve penciled in a run at the Enigma Reloaded International event this year. Because yes, Morse skill is really something cool to learn.  Don’t get me wrong, a chat with the Space Station is fine, or McMurdo back when.  But the UK’s Bletchley Park Radio Centre?  You know what that was during WW-II, right?  Enigma machine cracking.

So… I worked W3ADO on 20 meter SSB Saturday – the US Navy Academy-end of the 2018 Enigma Reloaded contest. (K3LU is QSL manager for the W3ADO end – not sure if that’s on the ham sites, yet.)

“Enough of the War Stories…”

Right, then.

We need to hear things. If the SHTF, radio will be IT.

Winter is when magic happens on the low bands.  AM radio at night is just somehow so much more honest than two clicks and a router, right?

You will need a decent AM receiver…and to improve your odds, consider a small external loop antenna if you are space-limited.  It’s $35-bucks but something like the Kaito AN-100 Tunable Passive AM Radio Loop Antenna for All Brands Like Kaito,Sony,Panasonic,Grundig and More will work with many sets.  Mine has fallen off my night stand a dozen times and still works fine…

The lower shortwave bands are an antenna problem.  (This would include the 160, 80, 60, and 40 meter ham radio bands, as well.)  Small receivers are hugely improved with a long wire of almost any length over 20-feet, or so, set up in a long-wire configuration.

Fancy engineering design, huh?  That scrawly thing on the right is a tree.  (You couldn’t tell?)

Here’s the thing:  As wires become longer than one wavelength, or so, they begin to exhibit directivity.  So, my current plan is to deploy a receiving antenna set-up like this:

This is what a “Beverage Antenna” set-up looks like.  Helps to have 150 feet of open space…our design going in this coming week is about 565 feet…

Some basic secrets to winter receiving only antennas.

  • Higher is not always better.  Receiving antennas 6-10 feet off the ground work dandy.
  • Longer – in the direction of the distance station – is better.
  • Even lower is something called a BOG (Beverage On Ground).  On receive, the height matters surprisingly little.
  • The higher an antenna is, the more noise you are likely to pick up.  Noise tends to be vertically polarized.
  • Antennas coming into the house should come in by way of coaxial cable with a solid ground outside.  Lighting protection is a plus.
  • And do read up on common mode noise on Wikipedia.

My buddy of 65-years, the Major, will be coming in this week and we will be installing a mother-giant Beverage array.  We’ve been putting up antennas together for more than 50-years…(Elaine and the major’s missus tend to shake their heads in wonder…with that “when will they ever grow up” look when we get into one of these projects.)

[Got so bad once when we were kids that Pappy came in my ham shack and asked “Any idea when this copper and aluminum overcast will be burning off?”]

If you want to attempt to clone what we’re putting in, plan on crossing (right angles) 565-foot Beverage antennas.  I’m using Frank (K1FZ) custom-wound transformers for the primary antenna.  We’ll wind an additional reflecting transformer.  (We don’t want to be accused of being “appliance operators…)

As you can read in his “optimum installation” instruction notes here, you’ll need at least three ground rods for most installations. I’ve mentioned some of this before

The next step is to optimize your wire and height to local ground conditions.  When you get it right (for me that’s 565 feet) the antenna’s directional pattern will look something like this when you model it.

Where X is north-south, Y is east-west and Z is uppy-downy.

And when you look at an azimuth plot, that length (565′) over local ground should result in about 15-18 db of front-to-back ratio.

The next step before he arrives is whacking through all this:

Somewhere, about the middle of the picture – way off past the clearing the antenna will pass through – is where the far-end ground rod will be driven.  Rain and a tractor bucket and that new Rapco chainsaw blade simplify things.

When done, this kind of antenna is not particularly “hot” – typically -10db from what a dipole would put out in signal strength.  But, that’s not what they’re about:  this is all about signal-to-noise ratio and nothing else.  We can add any gain needed with a receiver pre-amp.

Beverage antennas make lousy transmitting antennas.  But, the noise floor?  OMG…Amazing.  It’s like signals springing out of nowhere.

Sure…enjoy the net radio streams while they’re up.  Go ahead, gloat and laugh.

Remember, though, one EMP hit and you know where one of the few surviving radio locations in North America will be located, right?  In an after-EMP world, coms will be a real “in-demand” item.  Especially if there are no melting-down nuke plants around.

With what we’re calling “Project Big Ears” we will not only be able to transmit worldwide, but our ability to hear news from our worldwide ham radio sources of HUMINT will be enhanced, as well.

Write when you get rich, and put your ears on…

18 thoughts on “Prepping: Project Big Ears”

  1. 1) I use an AM aircraft-band receiver as well as a “regular” AM-er tuned to around 1600. Some noise tends or peaks at VHF.

    2) Bring your noise detecting radio(s) close (one foot) to the main breaker panel for the house. Having secured all the computers and other fussy items, kill the main. Did the noise stop? Restore them one at a time till the one feeding the noisemaker(s) shows itself. Sometimes device-by-device further diagnostics are required.

    3) The Kable TeeVee Kompany SOMEhow provided me with a noisy GROUND rod! A few strong whacks with the sledge convinced it to behave. THAT was a hard one to find. (What a Krappy organization…)

    4) Noise will creep back as devices are replaced or added to your Pile Of Ownership. Repeated treatments are necessary.

    5) Buy and use lots of ferrite clamp-on “beads.” I put them on both ends of a possibly problematic wire. Some devices are sensitive to stray RF flying around that they get glitchy or don’t work. The power, audio, keying, or whatever lines are acting as antennas and bringing in a bunch of RF to circuits that don’t like it. Ferrite beads will often choke it off and eliminate the problem.

    6) Don’t give up easily. Some sources of noise can be very subtle and misleading. You must do a full Sherlock Holmes to find the truth.

    7) Some things you would NEVER suspect of being RFI sources can be. The new timer-thermostat on my heating system, for example. (A couple of ferrites fixed it.) ANYthing with a microprocessor in it (a toaster!?) is suspect, and the total RF noise load is ADDITIVE, like fog. Sometimes it will be fourteen devices, no single one of which will seem to be doing much; but the COMBINED effect is an S-8 noise floor.


  2. I used to work in the spook world of DF (Outboard system on ships), we would have Eldyne come and do an EMC/IMI task to find all the rusty metal junctions and fix them, as well as rebuilding all the antenna impedance matching networks. A signal was transmitted and a gadget that looked like ghostbusters would track down the problems. Fun stuff!

  3. I took down my 1/2 wave dipole, more Ziggity Zag inverted V, at the place in town due to some of the nosey neighbors asking what the contraption was and at least one visit from P&L during the day that I noticed from surveillance camera footage and put up a Vertical.

    The noise increased to a point it is useless. As soon as the big cattle project at the ranch is completed it comes down and Ms. Ziggity is going back up. Big assed unglier than a dirt road after a gully washer balun and all.


    • Don’t miss my discussion of the super dipole – the 14 conductor ribbon cable project here…much better results expected with the larger wire…l

  4. Lightening protection is more than just a plus. Not having it can void your homeowner’s insurance. At a minmum disconnect your antenna when not in use and especially during electrical storms.

  5. I’m not sure which but you’re either getting closer to anti-gravity with all these antennas or you’re getting closer to weather modifications and if not at least maybe you are opening portals and then there’s the matter of free energy anytime they require you to have a license that mean there’s a secret there that they don’t want you to expose,,,
    No wonder you have to have a license for everything ,they don’t want you messing around with their woohoo world that they claim doesn’t

  6. I couldn’t cherry pie until random golf ball carpet fingers fluctuated. Now we understand each other.

  7. Dear Mr. Ure,

    Last week’s tornado touchdown in Ottawa adds an exclamation mark to your maintaining communications article. I don’t know what the cellphone carrier backup power regs are in the USA. However the Ottawa experience appears to be that cellphone tower back up system batteries were not a robust alternative when the electrical grid mains went out for a couple of days. Here’s a CBC report on the matter which they have filed under “politics”.

  8. Speaking of prepping, what about massive quakes in the heartland.

    I woke up this last Saturday morning having dreamed of a massive earthquake that hit the plains or midwest. It was vivid, I was in the action. It was daytime, in a midwestern ranch house, suburban setting, with broad streets and lawns, and there was a small party going on. Some guys were gathered around an old Oldmobile 88, from the late 70s, parked in the driveway in front of the house.

    I was inside when the quake hit and everything in the scene went up and down for a few seconds. After running outside and into the street, I looked down the street where the view of the land rose a little in the distance. So I could see a half mile away. The aftershock was visible at first in the distance, as dust rose in a giant wave that came towards us.

    The driveway under the car was breaking into large sections and when the shock hit it buckled up and then down a few feet, like 4 or 5, finally going back to a flat appearance but with cracks everywhere. The car rose and fell along with the cement buckling up and down.

    Aftershocks continued and in the back yard of the house the deck/porch collapsed and buried a few people under broken lumber and dust. They immediately emerged, pushing the debris off of themselves, shaken and filthy.

    Later that night we were all outside in the yard, not going inside after all that, and looking up at the sky, it was clear and starry, no moon. I had the impression that there was no electricity, no phone, nothing electric like streetlights.

    Suddenly someone pointed and said “oh man that’s huge”. Above us was a giant craft or structure. Like a hexagon shaped gem, but the size of a stadium, and looking like the outside of any urban skyscraper, with windows and texture like a big building would look. There were some antennas and lights, but it was mostly dark, and slowly rotating. It turned and moved off, thousands of feet above us. Another was poised over the nearby city center, motionless. We were just stunned.

    • The last part sounds like you watched Independence Day while eating Chinese. The first, which is much more interesting, sounds like you chose the wrong time to visit someone who lives a couple hundred miles out from New Madrid. The ribs in Memphis are amazing. Were I you, I’d make sure I knew where the metro quad rentals were located, before I hit Pig on Beale…

      • I don’t watch movies like that, but looking at the images, no these craft were nothing like those in the movie. They were much smaller and were not blowing up white houses or anything. But yes, I felt the buckling of the driveway to be reminiscent of the oil can effect of New Madrid, perhaps a metaphor for it.

  9. Ure late old man! I aint got all day to wait for a bunch of type o’s. Igot gears to grab and money to make. Get busy living or get busy dying. Lol

    Futures are up! Dow to 32,000 ha ha

  10. DX is great and all, but when the time comes to use all those preps, I really won’t care about DXCC and working upper Ooombugistan on 20m. 0-500 miles will be the order of the day. Getting in touch with folks who actually care and can help me out. Low bands below the MUF, digital modes which can work under the noise and an NVIS antenna system will serve better than a tribander at 100 feet.
    73 from down the road

    • …Thing is, you might have to tap that contact in Ooombugistan to get an idea of the size & scope of the outage, and information regarding any kind of response. DX isn’t important WRT stuff in your back yard. After a long-duration CME though, you might have to reach 5000 miles to find someone who’s capable of proffering help.

  11. George,

    My 650ft beverage goes down the mountain slope at 40 degrees. 8ft above ground guarantees an elk or a moose will drag it around!

    Excellent anti-noise sleuthing advice you give, thumbs up! I chased C4i victim noise in MRAP trucks for 2 years in the middle east. My grid power, copper phone, and water run 1,600 feet up the mountain.

    “For Bigger Ears, Kill the noise” I totally agree with your premise.
    BTW, I would run tower coax to ground level and ground the outer jacket, then loop back upwards in elevation to the shack’s coax protector bank. Lightning hates going backwards!

    Of all the antennas I have used since the 60’s, including ones I have invented/patented, my amazement for a particular HF antenna stands above the herd:

    It is a great prepper’s antenna design:

    The “terminated 3-wire folded dipole” (aka T3FD-nnn, Robinson-Barnes, Bushcom “muilti-wire”).

    It kills lots of noise, and communicates without a tuner. It functions even when laying on the ground. Six friendly stations working w/me up here in the Pacific NW are using them now, and they report 1 to 5 s-units reduction in noise, as compared to end-feds, inverted Vs, off-center dipoles, and verticals. This antenna is actually a magnetic loop antenna, with noise immunity associated with loops, but no tuning for 50 ohms!

    I have 2 years on-air experience with the T3FD- and have constructed hundreds of NEC models/variations of this antenna. Building and erecting functional versions show high correlation between model and real world. Oh, the termination power loss for transmit is statistically insignificant.

    The shortest I’ve built is 7 feet long, the longest is 1/2 wave 160m 266ft with 817 feet of wire! Any length that fits on a prepers’s lot is easily made to order.

    Unlike commercial versions, which are premium priced for Txpower above 250 watts, my constructs are power-limited only by the balun rating! They are user repairable.

    Radiation patterns are made for the actual elevation profile, not the “130ft half-wave above ground” ideal.

    Pls contact me for info & how to advertise. 73′ Ken WB4ENE
    bio on qrz

  12. Living on top of our little mountain I’m lucky to see 1 S of background. Station is fully solar/DC driven, all equipment bonded/grounded to ground rods outside. G5RV at 36 feet north-south. Alpha antenna JR and SR at 40 feet northeast and southwest. Vertical at 30 feet. No street lights for miles and our power line runs west into the pine trees. Added bonus, plenty of 70 foot pines for my 80 meter full size loop.

  13. George,
    I just read that the Deep State will also go after ham operators when TSHTF. From the below link: Now it is 2018, and people they are concerned with are Veterans, People of Faith, Preppers, Militias and now added Ham Operators. These people don’t like the fact they can pull the plug on Comms, but US Hams can still talk.

    Don’t know if you follow Dave Hodges, but this caught my attention and I thought of you.

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