My radio interests have taken a different course in the last month or so and I’m not sure whether it’s appropriate to include them in this blog or not, so let me tell what I’ve been up to and you can decide; I’d welcome your comments.
I had been earning my living as a DJ/announcer/voiceover guy since 1987 until last year when the paid work all came to an end for me. I really thought I’d gotten over the DJ bug and in some ways, I think I have. As a youngster, I very much wanted to prove myself – to both myself and my peers. Being perfectly honest, there was a need for a certain amount of ego gratification too. Well, I don’t feel the need to prove myself to anyone anymore and as for the ego gratification part – well, I think that age has cured me of the need for that.
But interests picked up at an early age never go away completely and so it was that a month or two ago I became interested in setting up a Part 15 AM broadcast station.
Most people reading this blog will know about the FCC regulations that cover Part 15 devices, which can be broadly divided into 2 types – non-intentional radiators and intentional radiators. Non-intentional radiators are devices that emit RF as a by-product of what they do and then happen to leak some of it. This category includes the local oscillators of radio receivers and the crystal controlled clocks in computers, for example. Intentional radiaters are devices for which the RF radiation is the main point of the device. Baby monitors, cordless phones and garage remote controls are examples of intentional radiators.
Part 15 regulations also cover something which is quite attractive to me, and that is the ability to operate a low power unlicensed yet completely legal broadcast station. On the FM broadcast band, there is a strict field strength requirement at a set distance from the antenna that makes it unlikely you’ll be able to achieve a range much greater than 200 feet. This is fine if you want to play music from your iPod on your radio, but you’re not going to build much of an audience with a Part 15 FM station. The criteria for transmitters on the AM broadcast band are much more lenient; instead of field strength measurements at a specified distance from the antenna, the main rules are that the input power to the final amplifier cannot exceed 100mW and the total length of the antenna and ground lead cannot exceed 3 meters.
100mW to a 10 foot antenna on the AM broadcast band isn’t much, but if you engineer the whole system for maximum efficiency, it can be possible (from what I’ve read) to achieve a range of up to a mile (or even more) from the transmitter. What makes this even more appealing is that the FCC allows the use of multiple transmitters to increase coverage. Place a few transmitters around the edge of your primary coverage area, and now you’re starting to cover a significant part of a city. Some small town residents can cover a significant part of their entire community with one well-placed transmitter. The same discipline of maximizing the efficiency of the whole system that applies to QRP ham operating also applies to Part 15 AM operating. After all – it is also QRP. In fact quite a few operators of Part 15 AM broadcasting stations are licensed hams.
Many Part 15 AM broadcasters are either people who want to broadcast old-time programming to their restored antique radios, or Realtors with their “Talking House” transmitters broadcasting details of houses for sale to prospective buyers parked outside. A smaller, but very enthusiastic subset of Part 15 AM operators are the folk who run their own radio broadcasting stations. The FCC don’t recognize these outfits as radio stations; they are simply classified as intentional radiators.
At this point, you’ve either completely tuned out or have at least some level of marginal interest. Here’s a picture to break the monotony:
Not a great photo I’m afraid. At some point I’ll take a better lit and processed picture, but at least you can see what it looks like. This is where I do my ham operating too. In the shelf unit to the left is the FT-817, KK-1 straight key and Bencher paddle along with the Fort Tuthill 80 and 2N2/40 as well as my soldering station, 13.8V regulated power supply – oh, and my DVD player to boot! There is also my Signalink USB sitting on top of the Tut 80.
On the right is AM broadcast central. At the bottom is a Mackie mixer on a pullout shelf. Above it the Denon dual CD player (2 separate units – the control unit at the bottom and the CD trays in the unit above it.) The microphone is an EV RE27N/D. There is a Shure SM7 (also on a boom arm) out of sight of the camera for guests. At the top of the rack are the 2 audio processing units. The lower one is the first in the audio chain after the mixer. It is an Aphex compellor which provides compression, leveling and peak limiting of the signal. Above it is an Inovonics 222 which provides pre-emphasis, a lowpass filter (to limit the bandwidth of the transmitted signal) and more peak limiting. It supports asymmetrical carrier modulation to modulate the transmitter to as much as 130% – another way to maximize the range of this QRP signal. The Inovonics 222 is quite popular with AM amateur radio operators to help them squeeze maximum efficiency from their signals.
If you have any interest in this, I thoroughly recommend Hobby Broadcaster (link opens in a new window) – the site for Part 15 AM and FM broadcasters. It’s run by broadcast engineer Bill DeFelice who also actively participates in and moderates a great set of forums. There are other sites that deal with Part 15 broadcasting, but Bill really sets the tone in his forums with helpful friendly comments and advice as well as equipment reviews. He also posts his online finds for those who are looking for deals on good affordable gear for their stations.
When I’m not DJ’ing live (which will be most of the time) the computer runs the whole station in automation and so far, it’s not sounding too bad at all. I’m currently spending a lot of time recording and producing all the station ID’s as well as adding to the song library. When Ant Radio hits the airwaves, I’ll probably post an air-check so you can hear what my little broadcast station sounds like.
Maybe I’ll even get the occasional DX report :-)