How to Start

How to Start a Very-Low-Power FM Station
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Editor's note - this article is very old and most of the specific information is outdated.  This article is provided as background information only.

...based on information published in the Alternative Radio Handbook ($8 from R. K. Harrison, Box 547014, Orlando FL 32854) and in the forthcoming Free Radio Handbook, Volume 2.  

For starters, a little knowledge of electronics wouldn't hurt.  You'll also need audio sources such as microphones, tape decks, CD players etc., and a low-cost audio mixer, such as Radio Shack #32-1100. 

Next, obtain the stereo transmitter kit (catalog # FM-10) from Ramsey Electronics, 793 Canning Parkway, Victor NY 14564.  Their phone number is 716-924-4560.  As of late 1990, the price of the kit was $29.95 plus $2 shipping and handling.  

Similar kits are advertised by DC Electronics, P O Box 3203, Scottsdale AZ 85271, and WJD Electronics, RD#2 Box 80A, Middleburg PA 17842. 

The Ramsey FM-10 is a straight-forward stereo FM transmitter kit that comes with a very clear set of instructions and all necessary parts (except for an enclosure and a 9V battery).  It is designed around a BA-1404 integrated circuit.  When assembled according to instructions, it complies with FCC Part 15 rules which allow unlicensed, low-power broadcasting on a non- interfering basis. 

The rules are explained very clearly in the manual. Realistic expectations for this kit are discussed later in this file.  Several experimenters have assembled FM-10's and have come up with the following modifications to improve its performance.  

(1) Increase the value of R1 and R4 to 10K if you experience a problem with over-modulation.  A value of 10K provides a better match to most mixers, CD players, and other household-type audio sources.  

(2) Resistors R3 and R6 govern the pre-emphasis curve.  It is suggested that replacing them with 75K resistors (available from such sources as Mouser Electronics) would more closely match the pre-emphasis curve used in the USA, thus providing even better sound quality.  68K resistors (available from Radio Shack) would suffice if 75K resistors are not available to you.

(3) Frequency drift is often experienced with the FM-10 and is partly caused by the low quality of ceramic disc capacitor C16.  Replace C16 with a silver-mica capacitor of the same value, or a temperature-compensated disc capacitor rated from N150 to N750.

(4) Any change in the power supply will also cause frequency drift.  Use of a filtered and regulated power supply is recommended.  DC Electronics sells a reasonably-priced variable-voltage power supply kit.  A 12-Volt supply will work okay and will produce a stronger output signal than a 9-Volt battery.

(5) Insert an RF choke in the positive power supply lead.  Any value from 3.3 microhenry to 1 millihenry can be used. 

(6) A home-made dipole antenna will provide better results than the built-in telescoping whip antenna.  If you won't be using the whip, remove C21 (the capacitor which feeds RF to the whip).  The output stage of the FM-10 matches the impedance of either 50-ohm or 75-ohm coaxial cable, which is why it works well with a half-wave dipole. To use this kit with a commercially manufactured outdoor TV/FM antenna, it might be necessary to construct a 4-to-1 matching transformer, as described in the ARRL Antenna Handbook or the Alternative Radio Handbook.  For best results your transmitting antenna should be outdoors and should be at least as high as the rooftops in your neighborhood.

Don't Buy Any FM Transmitter Until You See Our FM Transmitter

 (7) It is often difficult to get the stereo sub-carrier to work properly. One way to deal with this is to replace C7 with a 100 pF capacitor, and replace C8 with a 6 to 50 pF trimmer cap (Radio Shack # 272-1340).  The RS trimmer won't fit the holes in the PC board; cut the leads off a spare resistor and solder them onto the legs of the trimmer to mount it on the component side of the PC board.

(8) The power output can be increased by reducing the resistance of R9 to 180 or even 150 ohms.  Two warnings are in order if you make this modifi- cation: a) it might violate the power limit established by FCC Part 15 rules, depending on what kind of antenna you're using, and b) feel  transistor Q1 occasionally to make sure it doesn't overheat; if it gets  scorchingly hot it will burn out (croak).  Experience indicates that it  is working near maximum efficiency when it is just a few degrees warmer  than room temperature.  This transisitor has a "maximum device dissipation" of 600 mW, so don't expect to get more than half a Watt of RF out of it (best case scenario). 

(9) For the advanced experimenter: Try replacing R8 with a 1K trim-pot and carefully adjust for the best balance between output power and sound quality.  If you find that beefing up the power supply makes it harder to get the stereo sub-carrier to work, try increasing the resistance of R12 to 1 Megohm, 10 Megohms, or even remove R12 altogether.  If you have a VHF field strength meter and lots of patience, you can experiment with using different values for C13; see what capacitance provides the best match to your particular antenna. 

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Realistic expectations: 

The sound quality of the FM-10 is great, considering that it only costs $30, and overall the kit is a much better value than the transmitter kits currently available from Panaxis.   As mentioned in the manual, the signal from an unmodified FM-10 (or any FM transmitter that complies with FCC Part 15 rules) can be heard with a good receiver at a 1200-foot radius, assuming there are no obstructions between transmitting and receiving antennas. High quality stereo reception with a reasonable signal-to-noise ratio will be limited to a smaller area, depending on the quality of the receiver and its antenna.   

Although it's easy to increase the range of the FM-10, for example by connecting it to a directional "Yagi" antenna that provides some "gain", such a modification can easily violate the FCC's rules.  If your broadcasts cause any kind of interference, or attract attention from the wrong people,  it is likely that you will eventually be inspected by FCC agents.  Rule-breakers are usually given a fine ranging from $750 to $1000 on their first offense. 

Acknowledgements:  Thanks to Rick Harrison, Rob Peebles, Dr. Laszlo Xasczkanuski, John Arthur, and Al Gorhythm for contributing to this research effort.  23 Feb 1991   

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