Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Understanding Band Conditions




Understanding the Band Conditions Banner
The above graphic of Solar-Terrestrial Data is created and produced by Paul Herrman, NØNBH, and I refer to it as the Band Conditions Banner. Many of us have seen this on websites, Face-book group pages, and even in magazines. But it occurs to me that most of us find much of the information presented on the banner over our heads. While not all of the banner informa-tion is immediately relevant, I’d like to take a few minutes to decipher the contents, based on the field names it presents, grouped here more by function than appearance in the banner.
This article does not explain every detail of the Band Conditions Banner. For example, some versions of the banner display photographs of the solar surface through one filter or another, but I won’t elaborate on them. For the most part, I describe the left and right columns, plus some of the middle column of the above graphic. You can download your own free banner from Paul’s website.

The date and time
UTC The displayed date and time represent the last time the banner was updated at the mo-ment your browser was last refreshed, in GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), which today is called UTC. So, in the above banner, the time equates to 24 Nov 2018 at 8:36 pm MST.

SFI (70 = poor / 160 = good / 280 = fabulous)
Solar Flux Index The SFI (62.5 to 300), as mentioned in the previous issue of the UVARC Shack (Nov 2018, Brass Tacks), is the amount of solar radio noise measured at 2800 MHz (10.7 cm), and is updated daily. The SFI gives us an idea of how well the ionospheric F-Layer can support radio communication on HF, and more especially on 20 meters through 10 me-ters. Numbers below 75 are quite poor, while those above 160 are very good.

SN (2 = poor / 90 = good / 220 = fabulous)
Sunspot Number The SN (0 to 250) is a calculation that is roughly 10 X the number of sunspot groups facing us + the number of individual sunspots facing us, and is updated daily. The SN typically follows the SFI, and offers another indicator of F-Layer ionization.

304A (80 = poor / 150 = good / 240 = fabulous)
304 Angstroms The 304A (0 to unknown) is the relative strength of total solar radiation in the UV (ultraviolet) range, originating primarily from ionized Helium in the Sun’s photosphere, and often follows the SFI value. The designation following the 304A value (@ EVE, @ SOHO, @ SEM) indicates the instrument used to take the measurement, and the value is updated hourly.

A Plntry (4 = calm / 40 = minor storm / 80 = severe)
A, planetary The Ap index is the daily average long-term stability of Earth’s magnetic field, the subscript ‘P’ meaning planetary, or averaged from several locations around the earth. The value ranges from 0 to 400, with anything over 100 indicating unfavorable conditions for radio propagation, and is updated once daily.

K Plntry (1 = calm / 5 = minor storm / 7 = severe)
K, planetary The Kp index is the daily average short-term stability of Earth’s magnetic field, the subscript ‘P’ meaning planetary, or averaged from several locations around the earth. The value ranges from 0 to 9, with anything over 5 indicating unfavorable conditions for radio propagation, and is updated once daily.

Geomag Field
Geomagnetic Field Relative label of the Earth’s magnetic field activity, reflecting the Kp index. Labels include INACTIVE, VR QUIET, QUIET, UNSETTLD, ACTIVE, MIN STORM, MAJ STORM, SEV STORM, and EX STORM, in order of disruptive impact on radio propagation, and is up-dated every three hours.

Bz (20 = good / 2 = ok / -2 = not ok / -20 = disruptive)
B sub Z Interplanetary magnetic field vector (strength and direction) perpendicular to the plane of Earth’s orbit, with positive values enhancing Earth’s magnetic field and negative val-ues canceling it. Values range from 50 to –50, updated hourly.

X-Ray (A1.1 = good / C5.0 = moderate / X2.3 = severe)
X-Rays X-ray emissions most heavily impact the ionospheric D-Layer, such that the stronger the radiation, the lower the ability of radio waves to propagate by skywave refraction. The in-tensity of X-ray radiation striking the atmosphere, ranging from A0.0 to X9.9, is defined by a class (A, B, C, M, and X), followed by a logarithmic quantity (0.0 to 9.9) that defines the inten-sity within the class, updated eight times a day.

Ptn Flx (0.10 = good / 2.0 = moderate / 20.0 = heavy)
Proton Flux Density of protons in the solar wind, such that the higher the value, the greater the impact on the ionospheric E-Layer. Values range from 0 to unknown, updated hourly.

Elc Flx (<1000 = little impact / >1000 = heavy impact)

Electron Flux Density of electrons in the solar wind, such that the higher the value, the greater the impact on the ionospheric E-Layer. Values range from 0 to unknown, updated hourly.

SW (100 = good / 500 = moderate / 700 = disruptive)
Solar Wind Average speed of solar wind particles in km/s, with figures greater than about 500 impacting HF communication. Values range from 0 to 1000, updated hourly.

Aurora (1/n=1.99 : weak ... 6/n=0.8 : moderate)
Aurora Possibility Relative strength in GW of ionospheric F-Layer, affecting DX over polar re-gions, such that the stronger the ionization, the greater chance of aurora at lower latitudes. If populated, values range from 0 to 10++ (over the normalization factor, such that n < 2.0 shows a high confidence, and n > 2.0 shows a low confidence), updated every 15 minutes.

Aur Lat (70 = weak / 60 = moderate / 50 = strong)
Aurora Latitude Lowest estimated latitude impacted by an aurora, in degrees N Latitude. Val-ues range from 67.5 to 45.0 or No Report, updated every 15 minutes.


VHF Conditions
The VHF Conditions column provides an idea of favorability for SSB operation in frequencies between roughly 50 MHz and 150 MHz. Except for Auroral Activity, the status for each applica-ble band reports how well Sporadic-E (Es) conditions over the particular continent support the band, and Band Closed for low or no activity, updated every 30 minutes.
These reports don’t mention anything about ducting, because tropospheric propagation by ducting is primarily a weather effect, and not directly predictable by solar measurements.

Auroral Activity General report of the current Auroral activity, displayed as MID LAT AUR to indicate activity extended to between 30 and 60 degrees N Latitude, High LAT AUR to indicate activity confined to higher 60 degrees N Latitude, and Band Closed to indicate little or no Auroral activity, updated every 30 minutes.

6m-4m-2m EsEU
Activity, Es over Europe which indicates the respective band is open for Es.

2m EsNA
2-meter Activity, Es over North America 144MHz ES indicates 2 meters is open for Es, or High MUF to indicate conditions support 2 meter Es propagation.


HF Conditions
The HF Conditions column is often where people glance first, to get an idea of the general propagation conditions across the HF bands, and is fairly self-explanatory. Each pair of bands is listed with a separate general condition report for daytime operation and nighttime opera-tion, as Poor, Fair, and Good, compiled from other banner data. The subjective conclusions are based on the combined contributions of the Solar Flux Index, Sunspot Number, the 304A value, the Ap index, and the Kp index. In general, here are what the three reports mean:
Good : Able to communicate with distant (DX) stations via multiple hops
Fair : Able to communicate with in-country stations via one or two hops at the most
Poor : Largely unable to communicate by skywave propagation

Earth-Moon-Earth Degradation Measurement of the best Earth-Moon-Earth (Moonbounce) propagation path attenuation, displayed as Very Poor (high attenuation), Poor, Fair (medium attenuation), Good, and Excellent (little attenuation), updated every 30 minutes.

Maximum Usable Frequency, Es The MUF, relative to Sporadic-E (Es), is the highest frequency that can be reliably used for skywave communication by Sporadic-E propagation. In this col-umn, the banner displays the MUF as a colored bar for each VHF band: 6 m = blue, 4 m = green, 2 m EU = yellow, 2 m NA = red, and gray for no activity, updated every 30 minutes. The SEASON BREAK label indicates that Sporadic-E is not normally active this time of year.

Meteor Scatter The Meteor Scatter activity bar shows relative meteor scatter activity for the times of the day listed in UTC, using the MIN...MAX color scale below it. The bar displays col-ors for the active times, and gray for no activity, updated every 15 minutes.

Sig Noise Lvl (S0 = great / S4 = fair / S7 = horrible)
Signal Noise Level The signal noise level is a logarithmic measurement (in 6 dB-increments, like you see on an S-meter) of the noise generated as a result of the solar wind, compared with the noise floor. The greater the disturbance in the solar wind, mostly due to interaction with Earth’s magnetic field, the higher the S-value, and is updated every 30 minutes.

MUF US Boulder (14 = 20 to 10 no-go / 29 = 20 to 10 ok)
Maximum Usable Frequency From one of eleven locations worldwide, the highest frequency that can be reliably used for communication by skywave propagation. Normally listed in MHz, but also showing NoRpt if no info is available, and is updated every 15 minutes.

Solar Flare Prb
Solar Flare Probability A solar flare is a sudden burst of radiation, consisting of electrons, ions, and high energy electromagnetic radiation, over the surface of the Sun. This huge emis-sion can reach Earth and strengthen ionization of the ionospheric D-Layer, absorbing radio sig-nals and disrupting HF communication. The chance of a flare erupting on the solar surface gives you an idea of how much your HF communication might get disturbed by a solar storm in the next 24 hours, and the value is updated hourly.

— Noji Ratzlaff, KNØJI

Here is a quick reference for the HF band assessment

SFI: 70 is poor, 120 is average, 160 is good
SN: 30 is poor, 70 is average, 100 is good
SW: 100 is good, 500 is average, 700 is bad
Sig Noise Level: Lowest level is best for receiving
MUF: Shows the highest frequency in MHz that can be used for two way communications
Geo Mag Field: Sun storm conditions affecting earth propagation. Active to Storm level means propagation is poor.






Thursday, February 10, 2022

Icom IC-7100 Quick Review


 One of my recent purchases was an Icom IC-7100. I wanted to find an all-mode, all-band, digital transceiver for my shack and this one fit my budget and needs. I have grown very fond of this radio in the time I've used it. I love the compact, remote head, USB interface, remote software compatibility, and audio quality. It really is a fun rig with it's unique control head. It is perfect for a crowded desk and the form factor is well designed.

I wanted to buy a used 7100 and after doing extensive research; I gathered some information which may be useful for others. Side note - As I was looking for a used 7100, I came across a deal that I couldn't pass up on a brand new radio for about $50 more after the manufacturer rebate.

Doing a web search, you will find plenty of complaints and compliments about this radio. You will even find modifications to "fix" some perceived shortcomings. Understanding what this radio is, when it was designed, and what it was designed for, should be carefully considered before buying one.


  •  It was primarily designed for mobile use and can also be used for fixed stations. Many people complain about the shape of the remote control head. There is nothing wrong with it - most buttons and menu functions are laid out fairly well. It does have some quirks though for the quick keys.
  • It works well for a crowded desk or even mobile use. Considering this radio is an all-mode, all-band radio that can be used on every band between 80M-70CM.
  • The control cable length is more than adequate and the radio has several connection/accessory options.
  • One thing I would love to see is an internal ATU like the IC-7300

Power output

  • Power output is on par with other desktop transceivers.
  • Many complaints of low SSB output with the newer Icom radios can turn people off. Hours of research and my own testing concludes that Icom strives for the cleanest signal by incorporating an aggressive Automatic Level Circuit in their HF capable radios. Icom measures PEP, not AVG power output. This means the audio circuit requires more careful adjustment to ensure the ALC is not over-driven. An old trick to push more AVG power is to connect an external ALC box and manually adjust it AFTER the mic audio is set appropriately. AM operators used this technique for decades. Just be careful not overdrive the audio signal or you may get splatter on the bands.
  • There were some quirks in the early firmware revisions for the compression circuit. This has been resolved with the latest firmware.I get great audio reports with the stock microphone and adequate power output as well.


  • The menu system is ok and not too "deep" like other radios. Most of the functions are labelled without strange abbreviations and are easy to understand.
  • The quick menu is lacking some main features depending on the mode/band you're in. For example: The meter-type menu should default to multi-function meter instead of being at the bottom of the list.Common functions such as SWR, ALC/AGC, and bandscope on M1-M3 soft keys should be laid out to include the common functions on M1, not M3. The speed/pitch physical button should have been a soft key or placed it in the set menu.


  •  I've owned it for a few months and can't give an accurate assessment on this one other than it works flawlessly.

Final thoughts

Lacking a few features and menu items however it is a solid, mid level radio and "shack in the box". I would have loved to see a color touchscreen, waterfall display, and internal tuner. It works great for digital modes, remote control, computer assisted functions, and external accessories. I would buy one of these again.

Here is a compiled list of information that that can be used for reference.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

What have I been up to?

 Hey everyone.

I've been busy with radio repairs and some pinball machine repairs too. Now that winter is here; I've been working more on my HF station as well. I put up a fan dipole in the attic and a sloper outside. Also bought an IC-7300, IC-7100, MMDVM hotspot, Alinco DMR radio, and RPI-400. I've been chasing awards such as WAS, DXCC, and playing with digital modes.

I have a backlog of content to add to the blog such as new radio repairs and other technology guides. Hopefully updating in the next couple months. One major problem I've experienced lately is the supply chain delays for radio repairs. Parts are harder to get and take longer to arrive. Thanks for understanding!



Ham Radio On YouTube



Hey Everyone.

Here are a few links to some channels that I follow on YouTube. You are welcome to check them out.

Amateur Logic - A mix of fun, news, and tech segments

Ham Nation - A collective of Youtubers and manufacturers (Also thanks to Icom for the cool goodies they sent me)

TRXLab - Radio Repair Videos

KJ4YYI - (Ham Radio Concepts) - Reviews, Tutorials, and News

K6EGG - Digital Radio, Hotspots, DSTAR, YSF, DMR

KE0OG - Ham Radio tutorials and more






Thursday, June 24, 2021

Yaesu Vertex Standard FTM-10R No Receive Repair

 Hello Radio Enthusiasts!

I had another radio come in to be repaired and this one is a Yaesu FTM-10R dual-band ham radio transceiver. This mobile unit is quite small and was designed for motorcycle owners. It is a nifty radio packed with a lot of features and missing some basic ones. The design of this radio is much different than typical Yaesu radios of the time period. The programming and menu system are confusing and tedious at best.


You can learn more about this radio HERE.

A common problem on these radios is scratchy, intermittent, or no receive audio on the VHF/UHF bands. This is due to the second IF stage, ceramic filter. This 450 KHz filter is know for corroding or shorting out from atmospheric conditions (the radio itself is not moisture-proof) and excessive DC bias voltage due to a missing blocking capacitor. Some call this electromigration or sliver mica disease.

The radio that I received had all of the symptoms of this condition and I knew that I had to check those filters. 


First step is removing the cover, then desoldering the SO-239 connector, and removing the retaining ring for the microphone connector. All silver screws must be removed as well to free up the board.


The filter is on the bottom of the board and is labelled CF1402.

Gently remove the filter using a desoldering station with a fine tip and some flux. This can be a little tricky since this is a dual layer board so be careful with heat. I ended up pulling off the plastic cover exposing the filter. Here you can see the corrosion and damage.

I was able to remove the filter and inspected the layers. This filter was not going to work! 

New filter installed and a few extras for more radios.

One way to test the filter and find out if it is out of spec is to test the resistance between pin 1 and 2 with an Ohmmeter. These pins are the input and output. A known working filter would return a high value. Anything lower than 1K could indicate a shorted filter as they are typically in the 1.5 to 2K range.

The parts are available online. The part number is LTM450FW and is described as a 12 KHz wide bandpass filter at 450 KHz. The filters are also used on the Yaesu VX-6R and VX-7R.

Feel free to contact me if you would like your radio repaired.



Sunday, April 11, 2021

Amateur Radio Newsline Weekly Podcasts


Are you a ham radio operator or enjoy amateur communications and technology? Feel free to listen to the Amateur Radio Newsline weekly podcast HERE.



Monday, March 15, 2021

Updated Station List & Timetable for Shortwave Broadcasters 2021 Version A

Here is the first 2021 version of the HFCC broadcasters list for shortwave. It lists the station details such as frequency, time, and transmitting location. This should help you find something on the dial to enjoy!


Happy DXing!