HF AM OPERATION
Despite this, there has been something of a revival in AM interest on some HF bands where these factors have been less critical in recent years. There are regular AM nets on 160m and 80m and in the extended 40m band in the daytime. On 10m where there is usually still plenty of bandwidth available there has been considerable interest in AM operation between 29 and 29.2MHz, especially in the USA Much of this activity is with “boat anchor” equipment (old, heavy, AM rigs from the 40s, 50s and 60s) or with simple homebrewed, and often valved, equipment. The resulting signals are frequently well modulated with excellent speech quality in a way that an SSB rig could never hope to emulate. The ability to dust off, restore and operate inexpensive, older, amateur or ex-commercial equipment is one of the factors that have resulted in this upsurge in interest. Another factor is the ability to build simple, homemade AM rigs that can be tested with the most basic of test equipment.
VHF AM REVIVAL
In the last few years there has been something of a small upsurge in interest in amplitude modulation (AM) on the VHF bands too. A number of reprints of AM construction articles have appeared in sister radio magazines (e.g. Practical Wireless) and more AM operation is starting to reappear on the VHF bands. On 4m it never disappeared on 70.26MHz in some areas but on 6m and 2m the level of AM activity dropped to almost zero with the advent of synthesised FM equipment produced in high volumes at increasingly attractive prices.
With multimode, all-band, rigs like the FT817 and the IC706 family now in common use VHF AM operation is again possible for those wishing to “give it a go”. There is also a steady supply of surplus ex-PMR AM rigs still coming onto the market which, by the addition of a few crystals, offer a low cost and reliable entry route.
To encourage VHF AM operation a Yahoo Group called “VHFam” has now been formed to act as a focus. This group was formed in January 2005 and its membership has been growing steadily since then. Membership is open to all interested in VHF AM operation and listening. Details of the group are at the end of this article. The group is a means to agree skeds, exchange ideas on equipment designs and to reminisce about AM operation years ago. It is particularly hoped that the revival in AM will encourage beginners to try their hand at simple VHF equipment construction.
One of the first objectives was to agree “centres of activity” for AM operation. AM is clearly never going to be a big thing on VHF or HF again so there needs to be a way of helping people who do want to operate the mode to find each other. After discussion amongst interested parties and with members of the RSGB Spectrum Committee the following have frequencies been agreed as centres for AM operation.
One thing this minor revival encourages is homebrewing of simple QRP rigs. Many of the circuits published some years ago are still perfectly suitable today. The “Fredbox” (see elsewhere on this site) is an example of what can be done with very simple AM gear. It was named after Fred, G8BWI, who was a frequent contact with the rig from my home in Cambridge in the mid-1970s. This small transceiver was a pocket portable AM rig for use around town and to take on holidays. It only produced 10mW of series-modulated AM and had a simple super-regen receiver with an isolating RF amplifier yet it managed to sustain regular across-town QSOs in Cambridge, several 25 mile contacts from hilltops in Yorkshire, as well as a few 60 mile QSOs across the sea in Devon and even one at 100 miles to France. All of these were using just a small whip antenna. A super-regen receiver might struggle in some band conditions today in urban areas but there are plenty of ICs around that allow a low cost and effective superhet receiver to be built. For the transmitter a simple crystal oscillator and multiplier with the PA stage series modulated makes for a non-complex and reliable QRP rig.
So, if you fancy firing up that old
AM ex-PMR rig, rolling your own QRP AM transmitter, or even just switching to
AM on your FT817 or similar commercial rig then come and join the fun on 144.55.