Welcome to the swamp

No! Not the metaphorical one. The real one!

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Lizard poop in a Harris Z16HD+

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Drum roll………..

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Success! The lizard poop was not load bearing.

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What's the purpose of these neat looking hinged flaps?

Acoustic Treatments and General Mayhem

Now that I have skin on my hands again and it doesn’t hurt to type this—
Proper acoustic treatment is vital in studio and performance spaces to avoid echoes that will prove destructive to audio quality. Sometimes it’s done right. Sometimes it’s done wrong. To me it’s utter black magic but I know what works for the most part.

The first thing you want to look out for is stray sound entering your studio space. This may be trickier to do unless you’re constructing a studio from scratch. The methods I’ve seen used to great success are either adding insulation batting inside walls as they’re being built, or using cinder block walls to enclose the space instead of hollow. Either way, avoiding the use of walls shared with noisy things like air conditioning units or bathroom plumbing are very good ideas. Don’t use the other side of the wall pictured here if you can avoid it 😉

The second stage in acoustic treatment is to manage reflections within the space. Any hard flat surface within the studio may cause echoes which can become unpleasant and generally make your recordings sound like you’re standing in the shower.

The typical method of dealing with this is to put up some kind of sound absorbing material on the walls. A number of criteria should be considered when selecting your sound absorbing material:

  • Cost
  • Durability
  • Acoustic performance
  • Fire retardant properties

Materials I’ve seen used:

  • Carpet. Can be obtained anywhere, extremely cheap and actually very durable, since it’s made to be walked on. Works pretty well, but double check that all materials you are using will meet fire code standards for use on a wall. (Carpets may only be rated for proper fire retardant action when installed on a floor, as the flame spread dynamics are a hell of a lot different. Consult the manufacturer and/or their documentation before use.)
    You can glue and/or staple it to the wall or even use the self adhesive carpet tiles that peel and stick.

    CAN BE CLEANED. This is a big advantage. Over time, airborne contaminants will settle on the wall material and should ideally be removable. I’ve found that in an old studio with textile walls, allergens will gather and cause some people to get sniffly if not removed. Your mileage may vary, but I’ve found that the ideal maintenance interval to vacuum the walls is about 2-6 months. That’s all it takes, actually – just use a vacuum cleaner with a hose and an upholstery attachment and suck the dust out. More major junk may be dealt with using carpet shampoo and a wet/dry vac.

  • Cloth and Fiberglass. I’ve seen this one in a couple of older studios and it works very well. Small wooden strips were attached to the wall followed by fiberglass batting being installed between them, with a fairly open weave upholstery cloth used to cover it all up. The cloth is finally secured by tacking a small wooden moulding to the wooden strips below it.

    Performance is very good. Flame resistance will be identical to that of the upholstery fabric used. Durability isn’t as good; wheeled chairs, furniture, irresponsibly sharp spiked leather gauntlets (of course I say this from experience), and other things can tear the fabric. Repair is easy though.

    You can also buy prefabricated panels using these materials, or build your own. How to Build Your Own Acoustic Panels

    DIY acoustic panels – from article on acousticsfreq.com

    Cleaning: Can be surface cleaned. I’ve always just used a vacuum – with a HEPA filter just in case glass fibres are released through the surface fabric as you’re sucking the schmutz off. When I’ve done it, I have never noticed glass fibers visible in the vacuum as I cleaned it out – just lots of fine dust and pollen!!

  • Foam. This is a very common acoustic treatment material and I kind of wish it wasn’t. Performance is good, yes, but durability is totally in the dumper. When it’s new, it’s easy to tear up, especially when…. SOMEONE… decides to get creative and try to hang decorations from it. By the way, don’t cover your acoustic treatments with posters, because the essentially airtight paper of the poster will just form a really nice REFLECTOR, completely defeating the treatment. Some materials have fire retardant ratings, check with the manufacturer.
    A really swank looking example of Auralex SonoFlat foam installation from their website, with corner diffusers and wall and ceiling panels.

    When it gets old, some foams will just crumble and disintegrate horribly, especially if touched.

    Cleaning: …. maaaaaaybe. If you’re lucky.

    Shop-Vac 9018000 soft bristle brush. Horsehair vacuum brushes work fine too. BE GENTLE!!

    I’ve had okay luck with vacuuming the surface of Auralex StudioFoam products using a soft bristle brush. Work slowly and gently going along the ridges. In one studio I started doing this and the foam turned from dingy gray to its original burgundy red— I didn’t even know that was the color it was supposed to be! Yeeeechhhhh.

    I wouldn’t even try this at all on the type of sound insulation where it has alternating deep, thin vertical and horizontal ridges.

Now here’s where I talk about strange things.

A while back I was in the studio of The Jeff Adams Show and as soon as I walked in, I saw his wall panels and couldn’t believe my eyes. They’re wood! They did not contribute to any unpleasant echoes, yet had a little bit of a warm reverberation. You can see one in this picture:
I didn’t get a closeup picture of the panels when I was there, but they did not have a smooth planar surface. The different planks are overlapped forming a convoluted surface, which would contribute to diffusion instead of a clean surface reflection. Notice the mic he’s holding here – that’s a Heil PR 40 cardioid dynamic that is just INSANELY sensitive. You’d almost think it’s a condenser (I mean— it kind of even looks like one). The Heil PR 40 is NOT forgiving to bad room acoustics. It proves that these funky wooden wall panels work perfectly as an acoustic treatment!
In contrast, the Electro-Voice RE20 that’s used at close proximity by a lot of radio jocks couldn’t care less what your room acoustics are like as long as you aren’t in an all glass aquarium or something.

The same soft vacuum brush cleaning I mentioned above will work if they ever start to gather dust. Since he’s doing video on the same set, avoiding lighting glare is definitely a plus – they’re not shiny in any way.

Now, you may have a sick curiosity and wonder what the first sentence of this post is all about. Well…. I had to displace some very old carpet on a wall at work to hide a cable behind it, and I don’t know if it was the 20+ years of old crud built up in the carpet, the glue that held it to the wall, or a likely combination of both, but something caused a very bad reaction on the skin on my hands that caused it to blister, crack, and weep as if it had been severely burned.

If you’re really curious, I have a picture of the results here. Content warning: extremely gross. There’s good reason I put /nope/ in the URL. It’s mostly healed now and all that remains is a little redness. That week sucked, man.

The little matter of the Variac.

A lot of FM broadcast transmitters (and who knows, maybe even TV, AM….?) use a tetrode or pentode tube based power amplifier. Control of the final output power is achieved by metering the output and adjusting the voltage to the screen of the tube, thus adjusting the amplifier’s gain.

A woman loves a man with a great big old Johnson.*

On a lot of transmitters this gets done electromechanically. In this case this is done using a Variac or variable transformer, but in some smaller rigs (2.5, 2KW, and below?) a rheostat voltage divider may be used.

In the above picture, the screen voltage is all the way up for maximum gain. This occurred as the result of the tube wearing out and its cathode emission going soft, so the automatic power control kept trying to run the gain up higher and higher to maintain the desired power output until the poor little motor tanked.

Now a word on folksonomies and genericized trademarks. You may notice I capitalized Variac. This was originally a trademark held by the General Radio Company with first use in 1933. It was allowed to expire, probably by the end of 1994. Variac, however, kind of became a household word (if you could call a variable autotransformer a household item?) like Band-Aid, Xerox copy, Jello, and the like. Within the folksonomy of electronics there are a few things that have become genericized like this and it may be easier to categorize information involving them by an old brand name. Other examples would include “Black Beauty” capacitors which were a Bakelite encased oil and paper cap, Vactrol for light variable resistor type optocouplers usable for audio and analog signals…. Sorry for geeking out worse than usual here. Anyway, with the Variac / variable autotransformer…

Shown here, a Harris HT 25 FM. This is very very similar to the FM 25 K series and was made like this for years, because once Harris had a design that worked very well, there was no reason to make big changes. I bet they made thousands of these transmitters and many of them are still happily thrumming along to this day.

The mechanism is simple but prone to issues, especially if the automatic power control is used. Here’s the problem: Every change in line voltage, even a change in output impedance caused by rain or ice hitting the antenna, may cause the power to fluctuate. The controls compensate by moving the mechanism, and eventually something gives.

The original mechanism used this unusual bidirectional synchronous motor geared down to 0.5 RPM, running on 120 volts AC. This motor is discontinued by Hurst, though they’re still around and still have a somewhat similar product. However, it has to be custom manufactured with a lead time of 14 weeks, and nobody just has stock of ’em.

The solution: get to hackin’. First, a control system to step this down to a commonly available DC gear motor:

Constructed:

 

And now comes the fun part. The DC motor’s shaft is fatter and shorter, but it’ll work! Here’s the original shaft coupling it goes into and the Variac. Off to the right is the transformer that steps 240VAC up to 1000VAC. Or maybe it’s 707VAC if it just uses the peaks. I dunno, man. It Just Works.

There’s also a silvery looking band wrapped around it with one of the two end stop screws. More on that later. I removed all the grubscrews for safe keeping.

 

The bronze coupling drills like a hot knife going through butter, albeit with a disturbing squeaky sound.

This is how the stop screws are installed from the factory. They hit the micro switches under the mounting plate to limit the motor’s travel.

Now, you’ll notice the new motor’s shaft is shorter. Under the silver band there’s another pair of set screws that clamped the old motor’s shaft. However, the hole the stop screw is in is tapped exactly the same as that set screw hole.

Flippity flop ’em.

The silver band will just cover up the set screw down the upper hole once it’s all assembled.

Trust me— it works fine.

And no, of course the silly thing didn’t spin in the vise, what ever made you think that? No, of course not! DURRRRRRRRR

Here’s the mounting plate. I expanded the hole where the original shaft went down to 1/2 inch, and wound up just drilling two new mounting holes and using the side mounting holes in the gearbox.

This motor also provided three tapped screw holes in the bottom, but I didn’t wind up using them. If I had this to do over I’d probably do it though. They’re Metric and I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head what the screw sizes are. M2? M3?

And it’s up and running.

If I had it to do over I might slightly revise the motor mounting as I don’t entirely like the amount of slop the rubber grommets induce in the system, but it works– and it doesn’t hunt back and forth. The Variac requires a very small amount of torque to turn it (I could grab that axle with two fingers gently and turn it throughout its full range). The DC motor I used is impossible to turn by hand so I brought a 9v battery to hold against the terminals as an assembly aid to reach all the set screws. 😉

 

And now I need to redo my nails.

*

So I’m trying to get SSL certificates working for kg4cyx.net and am currently having little luck. I’ll revisit that later. For now you can get here by https but get a huge certificate mismatch error all up in yo’ grill and I don’t even know– probably has something to do with the fact certbot can’t figure out my vhosts. According to all known laws of aviation, there is no way a bee should be able to fly. Its wings are too small to get its fat little body off the ground. The bee, of course, flies anyway because bees don’t care what humans think is impossible.

If tubes could speak…

This one’s probably been around the block a few times. I was initially kinda worried because the fins looked roughed up but after some unscientific testing to make sure I could blow through them and fit a cable tie down between the fins to ensure there was a good pathway, I went ahead and installed it, and it came up just fine with a perfectly good stack temperature…

NO EXCUSES ON DA BOWL

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These holes seem to be a common feature of some part of the remanufacturing process

The old tube went soft pretty quick. Don’t they have pills for that now?

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And here’s what that goes in, a Harris/GatesAir 25,000 watt FM transmitter.

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To swap it, you release a hose clamp holding a big collet on the movable top plate of the cavity so you can slide that plate blocker/chimney up, then release the hose clamp holding it to the tube (bottom), slide it up then clamp it again out of the way. Then you can carefully disconnect the plate voltage supply cap and somersault the tube upside down above the socket and remove it. I wish I’d taken a video of how bizarre this all looks.

Cooling air is forced both through holes in the socket and out of the cavity through the tube’s plate cooler after entering from the blower duct.

The two big fat orange wires – GatesAir / Gates / Harris Broadcast really likes that fat orange wire – are the filament supply, 10vdc Max at 150 amps. The HV, ~9500vdc at about 3 amps and change, comes in on a piece of RG-213 coax from this off board power supply.

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First person shorting stick wielding view
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Rectifier modules

A little dust but not too bad. The dust seemed to really like gathering on anything live with plate voltage. Eww. A more through cleaning will occur soon.

And the award for silliest front panel design goes to….

The QEI Model 691 FM modulation monitor!

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It always makes me think of Pokey The Penguin comics.

Please feel free to use this photograph to torture graphic designers.

Sorry about the stray marks, I’ve been asked to respect the secret identity of my client. You’re not cleared for that. Fnord!

The Florida Repeater Council Meltdown

If you are a US licensed amateur radio operator, please take a moment to read the following:
FCC Part 97.205

§ 97.205 Repeater station.

(a) Any amateur station licensed to a holder of a Technician, General, Advanced or Amateur Extra Class operator license may be a repeater. A holder of a Technician, General, Advanced or Amateur Extra Class operator license may be the control operator of a repeater, subject to the privileges of the class of operator license held.

(b) A repeater may receive and retransmit only on the 10 m and shorter wavelength frequency bands except the 28.0-29.5 MHz, 50.0-51.0 MHz, 144.0-144.5 MHz, 145.5-146.0 MHz, 222.00-222.15 MHz, 431.0-433.0 Mhz, and 435.0-438.0 Mhz segments.

(c) Where the transmissions of a repeater cause harmful interference to another repeater, the two station licensees are equally and fully responsible for resolving the interference unless the operation of one station is recommended by a frequency coordinator and the operation of the other station is not. In that case, the licensee of the non-coordinated repeater has primary responsibility to resolve the interference.

(d) A repeater may be automatically controlled.

(e) Ancillary functions of a repeater that are available to users on the input channel are not considered remotely controlled functions of the station. Limiting the use of a repeater to only certain user stations is permissible.

(f) [Reserved]

(g) The control operator of a repeater that retransmits inadvertently communications that violate the rules in this part is not accountable for the violative communications.

Part H omitted because it is not relevant here but you must refer to it if you’re near Arecibo Observatory.

So now we continue.

Photo: hamsexy.com – in the aftermath of the infamous Dayton Volcano

The Florida Repeater Council was originally established to fill a need to facilitate the voluntary frequency coordination between amateur radio repeaters. This ensures that repeaters on the same or adjacent channels do not interfere with the use of one another and promotes more reliable communications using the repeaters.

In addition, as the coordination agency recognized by the American Radio Relay League, they supply their coordinated repeater listings for inclusion in ARRL publications such as the neat little pocket repeater directory books.

Unfortunately, at some point, egos flared, communication broke down, and it became the worst sort of bullshit secret society. (Communication? People using amateur radio are supposed to— communicate?)

I first became aware of this as an ongoing problem as early as 2000. At the time there were a lot of hams active in the Miami-Dade community and the need was there for several good repeaters with countywide and wide area coverage. When the trustees of these repeaters were approaching the Florida Repeater Council for coordination, either nothing would happen… or they would get coordination, but only if they were personal friends of the then regional coordinator, Nilo W4HN. Very mysterious.

In some cases they’d get coordinated to frequencies already in use.

For a while the FRC also had a statement on their website that suggested that uncoordinated operation of an amateur radio repeater was in violation of federal law. This statement is perfectly negated by the actual federal law, which I have included above for your convenience. Read it if you haven’t already. Trust me, FCC Part 97 is the LEAST painful piece of the FCC rules I have ever read. This was removed after a couple of years and I’m not sure exactly when, so I can’t put up a link to it for you to laugh at them with right now. Oh well.

After a couple years of frustration with this, some of my friends who were being repeatedly screwed over by the FRC by not receiving coordination and then having highly, uh, effective, Papertron 4000* repeaters coordinated onto the same frequencies they applied for, they attempted to attend the FRC’s regular yearly meeting at the Melbourne Hamfest to complain and attempt to get this fixed while they were there in person.

Well…. the meeting was also a mere piece of paper, in a sense. The Platinum Coast Amateur Radio Society had assigned them a time and a forum room at the hamfest. As I recall, it was something like Saturday at 2 PM.

Saturday at about 10:30 AM, an announcement went out over the Melbourne Civic Auditorium’s PA system that the FRC meeting was due to begin in five minutes. The forum room was currently occupied with another event, and none of the FRC board of directors were in attendance. 15 minutes or so into the meeting, it was announced where they were—

At a hotel conference room about a half hour drive away.

Needless to say, nobody was very pleased with them for this.

Eventually Nilo retired his position as director for our region, and the Dade Radio Club of Miami recommended that I apply for this position. I sent off an email to the president of the FRC (now deceased, listed as deceased but still as president on the FRC webpage and never replaced because they haven’t held elections in over a decade.)

We continued to have no coordinator for a couple of years, and during this time, not only were new coordinations impossible, but existing coordinations wouldn’t even expire if the trustees were not sending in updates or notified the council that they were unable to continue operations! Not to turn this into YET ANOTHER “Miami-Dade sucks moldy donkey nuts” post, but around this era, access to good repeater sites was very rapidly dwindling away to nothing due to property flipping, so there was just almost nowhere to put them. Yet, they continued on forever on paper. (This is what I was getting at with that “Papertron” comment above.) There were PAGES of paper repeaters, especially on the 70cm band.

You can’t take it with you. Or can you?

I heard nothing back for about a day then my phone rang off the hook. I got calls and emails from each of the directors insulting and berating me for daring to apply for this position, as to be qualified as a member of the FRC, I would need to be trustee of a previously coordinated repeater, and by attempting to join incorrectly I was now permanently disqualified from ever coordinating one.

I have never answered a caller with that much FCC part 97.113(a)4 disapproved language before. Here I was politely offering to volunteer to assist in coordination activities and they saw this as if a personal attack. Amazing.

You can see above that there is one actual coordinator listed, Dana. Dana holds ALL the data on FRC coordinations, and he was very difficult to work with. If he left, so did every repeater coordination in the state. And that’s … likely what would happen.

Finally, after the FRC’s dealings got even uglier, an effort was coordinated to bring about reform to the organization. They met at the Orlando Hamcation and pulled some of their old tricks – change of venue AND started the meeting earlier than the published time. What happened there was spectacular — the board of directors decided to eject all members (who were paying dues to be in there!). Since this meeting I’m told they’ve also been searching out the hams who joined the petition for reform and removing their repeater coordinations. This is going to be uhhhh grrrrrrrr-eat for the data they supply to the ARRL.

This is the full meeting on video.


Enhanced audio here.

Sounds like a RAGEQUIT to me.

So where does this leave amateur radio in Florida?

…. The same place where it always was. Loss of a repeater coordination organization actually makes almost no difference. The bands just aren’t that clogged, and there just aren’t that many places to put up repeaters, so with a bit of due care, hams can work together to avoid interference between their repeater systems. If you’re not sure if a pair is in use, listen to it for a while, at least with a good mobile radio (driving to the top of a tall parking garage can help).

And, for that matter, if you have an active repeater – PUBLISH IT! There are several directories that are community based.
RepeaterBook.com and RadioReference.com should be used, among others. If you run an open repeater and it uses CTCSS access, set the ID to tell listeners which tone to use, or follow the standard for your area. To be honest, while the little pocket books from the ARRL were neat, their use and relevance has faded nowadays.

And don’t send your contact information to the FRC if you don’t want angry phone calls. Been there, done that, laughed my ass off at them behind their backs.

iShartMedia quality

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iShartRadio quality:
[Booby Trap commercial]
“This is a test of the Emergency Alert System.”
[Tootsie’s Cabaret commercial]

Heard on WBGG-FM about 1:18 AM. No data bursts were sent. Not even a period of silence.

Let’s not even think too deeply here about what a sin it is to put spots for two rival businesses of the same type in the same stop set. It’s very disrespectful to your advertisers. Then again if they had any respect they wouldn’t be cutting spots in a studio where the equipment has a distinctly audible whining hiss.

Amateur Radio Testing Sessions in Miami-Dade

This is an unofficial listing and you may want to confirm with the club before going for a testing session!

For any amateur radio exam session, please be sure to bring photo ID, the exam fee (unless you’re going to a Laurel VEC session which has none) and a calculator. Calculator apps on a smartphone don’t cut it here. What kind of silly borks do you take us volunteer examiners for? Ha!

 

For whatever odd reason, the testing sessions in Miami-Dade County have sometimes disappeared from the master database on the ARRL website.

 

These are the clubs I’m aware of that regularly host exam sessions:

Dade Radio Club of MiamiTesting sessions monthly in Doral.

Contact: Mike Jasinski, KE4DP@arrl.net

Second Monday of the month, starting 7:00 PM at the Miami-Dade County Emergency Operations Center / Fire Rescue headquarters, 9300 N.W. 41 Street, Doral FL.
Upon arriving, drive up to the front of the building and go left to the gate. If this is closed, ring the intercom and tell the guard you’re there for the Dade Radio Club meeting.

Everglades Amateur Radio Club – Testing sessions monthly in Homestead.

Second Friday of the month, starting 7:30 PM at the South Dade Agricultural Center, 18710 SW 288th St., Homestead, FL.

Contact: Ryan W4NTR, ryan@bbnx.net

Special Events with testing:

South Florida Tropical Hamboree – Originally a Miami event, now held in Fort Lauderdale, but I’ll include it anyway.

Amateur Radio Testing January 8 in Palm Beach

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Picture entirely unrelated

Are you around Palm Beach and want to take the exam to become an amateur radio operator or upgrade to a higher license class? See below.

Still need to study or take a practice exam to see if you’re ready? Check out HamStudy.org.

Bring photo ID and a calculator to the exam session. Since this is a Laurel VEC session, don’t bring the exam fee, as there is none. 😉

Dear Amateur,

This Sunday the Palms West Amateur Radio Club Laurel VEC team will be giving exams for all classes of Amateur Radio licenses.

Come and test with us on Sunday, January 8 at 10:00 AM at Fire Station #28, 1040 Royal Palm Beach Blvd, Royal Palm Beach 1 block south of Okeechobee Blvd.  There is no charge, and you do not have to register.

If you are coming to upgrade, please bring a copy of your license and a photo ID card, like your driver’s license.  There is no charge for testing!

If you know of someone who has been studying to become a ham, bring them along, even if they feel they need to do more studying.

And if you are a VE, please let me know if you can come and help.

73, John, K2CIB
RadioWhiz at gmail dot com

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