The Fading of the Low Power Transmitter Age

The apparent end of the AMT5000/3000 transmitters from SSTran has injured my hope for the future of this hobby.

Prior to that we lost the best FM kits when Ramsey closed their kit division, and another loss came with the discontinuance of the AM88.

There are some light-weight AM kits around, the over-priced certified AM choices, and the Decade and EDM for the ridiculously trivial FM power allowance, but even those are very likely day-to-day and could also vanish.

If the hobby has a future it is because we will design and publish our own transmitter circuits and force future participants to learn a little bit about electronics.

A committee of our members have designed a part 15 shortwave transmitter ("Big Talker") and got half-way through sketching a long wave ("Deep Voice").

Now we must get back to work and develop an AM transmitter circuit so we can build our own.

For my outdoor antenna site I'd intended to obtain another AMT5000 but that door is closed and the solution will be a homemade transmitter which probably slows the whole project by at least another year.

Another shadow casting itself over the hobby is the FCC's abandonment of its public trustee status having become a servant of corporate big money masters. Yet here we are pledging allegiance to part 15, the sloppiest regulations ever written.

ArtisanRadio's picture

Media tends to mirror society.

I take a look at the current crop of movies, TV and radio, and think, yeah, it's an accurate portrayal.

Much of radio today is mindless drivel.  From the 15 song playlists to the shrill conservative and/or liberal talk shows to endless sports   People want stuff that is safe.  Stuff that reinforces their current beliefs.  Stuff that doesn't require them to think.

You see this in news reporting.  Investigative reporting going the way of the dodo, and being replaced by opinions and outright falsehoods on twitter and facebook.  What gets me is that most of the panderers know they are lying, they do so unabashedly, expect people to accept it blindly, and are rewarded when a lot do.

Most TV shows and movies promote gratuitous sex and violence, with little thought (or creativity) required.

In other words, people are getting what they want, and probably what they deserve.

I want different.  I want thought.  I want to be uncomfortable.  I don't have to agree with, or even enjoy, the music that is being played, what is being talked about, or witten about, or filmed.  I want to be challenged, and to learn.

I do this in my own little way with Part 15 broadcasting. I focus on music right now, but in the past I've also focused on community.

There will always be some that go against the current.  Not many, perhaps, but some.  I'm not surprised by the demise of SSTran.  I'm actually rather surprised that a few enthusiasts stll are in the low power broadcasting business.  Expecting to make a lot (or even any) money is a stretch, both for practitioners and manufacturers.

Perhaps we need to accept that, at least until society becomes more enlightened (and I'm not holding my breath), this is the best it's going to get.

And hey, it ain't bad.  At least 3 healthy Forums (I don't count the Facebook page, which caters mainly to those on the fringe of legality at best).  Some intelligent people to help others.  Some controversial individuals.  Interesting original programming and suggestions.

It's something.  A small flickering light in the darkness.  And something for those who have similar interests and motivations to move towards if they are so inclined.

Carl Blare's picture

Artisan Radio has made one of the best statements ever posted here at part15, and I am looking forward to following up with anything I can say to build on it, but that willl come later.

For now I'm unloading groceries and getting setup for the evening schedule here at KDX.

In the interim, please tell us your ideas about whatever it is we think we're talking about.

Carl Blare

Mark's picture

"There will always be some that go against the current.  Not many, perhaps, but some.  I'm not surprised by the demise of SSTran.  I'm actually rather surprised that a few enthusiasts stll are in the low power broadcasting business.  Expecting to make a lot (or even any) money is a stretch, both for practitioners and manufacturers."

How true, although the demise of SStran could also have been just getting older and retiring or a health reason etc.

I fear that with no transmitter manufacturers coming up to fill the void when the current ones close up shop that could be it....scary. If Decade goes no other Canadian manufacturer makes such a thing.

The Decade is the only BETS-1 certified transmitter there is and since they make a product that is designed to last indefinitly I feel better and can always have 1 or 2 extras for back up put away. The adaptors to power them are hard to get as they need A/C not D/C and I have 4 extras for back up that I found at Sayel Electronics here in Toronto.

The AM ones(the two best) are as noted overpriced and more than a lot of hobbiests will spend and I don't think they make that much money at it. But if a product is made better to last with no built in obselecense and not to many will be sold it has to cost more, just goes along with better quality.

As for one of us designing and marketing some a good idea but who here is an electronic engineer willing to take on a business like this with the capital needed?

Carl could be right that part 15 has peaked and has a bleak future with no one picking up the slack as the current transmitter makers get older and retire or get out of the business.

 

 

 

Carl Blare's picture

Mark, by suggesting that we should design our own transmitters I do not suggest that we can offer them for sale.

We can design them as a team, but we each must build our own, which in the U.S. is legal.

But can you in Canada build your own transmitters?

Carl Blare

Mark's picture

Legally here, unlike the US, you can build your own, BUT, you can't use it even if it meets the rules(field strength, other stuff). It has to be certified as meeting the rules by a test lab aproved by Industry Canada with label on the product and in their REL list. Especially with BETS-1. I said legally.  Cost $3000

The US has it better in this regard. As long as you are not over the 250uV/M@3meters or meet the AM ground, antenna length and power limit you can use anything, home grown whatever.

The SStran couldn't be used here, neither could the EDM, or Ramsey, or Talking House, or anything you make yourself as not approved here...legally that is.

There is though, something in the BETS-1 rules that says if a transmitter doesn't have the technical acceptance certificate it can be used but you will need a broadcasting certificate you can get from Industry Canada but don't know cost or how that's done. And it still has to show it meets the rules.

So the US has it better in some ways and Canada has an advantage with more allowable FM coverage.

jimhenry2000's picture

I am certainly saddened by the current state of SSTRAN, and equally happy that I have my own AMT-5000, which I may never put into production but I've got it if I need it.  As to the thought that some other options liken the Hamilton Rangemaster or the Procaster are just impossibly expensive, i disagree. They represent a great VALUE for money. Certainly the SSTRAN is a great value, but so are the others. Over the years I have seen similar sentiments in other hobbies such as radio, cars, computers, shooting, photography and others.  If you are committed to a particular hobby then you can make it work, at least in  the U.S.  Pick up another part time job, they're everywhere, and you can earn the cash in just a few weeks. Be positive, be committed, and you will overcome such obstacles. I am all for such initiatives as Carl mentioned, designing our own Part 15 compliant transmitter but it's not like that is our only option. Part 15 has as bright a future now as it ever has, probably even more so considering the way our economy is booming. 

Jim Henry HBR Radio 1610, serving Honey Brook, PA. and NW Chester County.

http://www.airpower.com/HBR.htm

Carl Blare's picture

Jim Henry rejects dark forecasts:  "Part 15 has as bright a future now as it ever has, probably even more so considering the way our economy is booming."

All we need is about five or ten more Jim Henrys!

Carl Blare

RichPowers's picture

As unfortunate as it is that SStran has discontinued business, it really has very little bearing on anything.. I mean SStrans very existence was birthed by the part 15 hobby and not the other way around. Suggesting that a single manufacturer somehow was the backbone of part15AM broadcasting is ludicrious.

I don't know for sure what transmitters the majority of Part15 hobbyist use, but I've always got the impression that the most predomiately used are the Rangemasters, Procasters, Talking Houses, with the SStrans kits being the least commonly used of the group.

If cost of Rangemasters and Procasters is really an issue (which in reality, it's not) then there are low cost ready to transmit alternatives.. Now days you can buy a brand new Talking House 5 model for only $90 w/free shipping.. or go for the upgrade IAM model for less than $200, plus Radio Systems is saying the external ATU's are supposed to be returning to the market shortly..

SStran has gone away, so the part15 hobby is sure to die? - Nonsense. There was rumblings of the same sky is falling attitude after KENC demise - It too was nonsense and the occurance had little genuine bearing upon our hobby.

I really agree with Jim Henry, all is well with part 15.

 

 

Rich Powers Part15, Take 2..

RichPowers's picture

"..by suggesting that we should design our own transmitters I do not suggest that we can offer them for sale. We can design them as a team, but we each must build our own, which in the U.S. is legal..."

I meant to comment on that Carl.. Keith Hamilton had inquired with the legality of selling kits (http://www.am1000rangemaster.com/kits.html) and the FCC response was as follows:

"The kit does not require equipment authorization to be marketed (sold) but they would still need to comply with the limits set forth in corresponding sections of part 15. The responsibility of compliance lies on the user, or the person who assembles the parts together, not on the manufacturer."

So I'm not sure why you say you do not suggest that an experienced designer/builder within our own part15 community could not do the same thing which SStran had done.

Rich Powers Part15, Take 2..

Carl Blare's picture

"Suggesting that a single manufacturer somehow was the backbone of part15AM broadcasting is ludicrious."

I (Carl Blare) have never denied being ludricrous. In fact it's my distinction.

"So I'm not sure why you say you do not suggest that an experienced designer/builder within our own part15 community could not do the same thing which SStran had done."

That much is true... an individual could launch and market a transmitter kit. I only said that the part 15 community as a team will never do it because we're eccentric individualists and much too disorganized.

The part 15 community is the only place where I've ever truly belonged.

Carl Blare

Mark's picture

"All we need is about five or ten more Jim Henrys!"

We need more than that!

radio8z's picture

In the olden days those who wanted to use Part 15 AM had few options.  Essentially, they were to build your own transmitter or get one of the few available kits such as the KnightKit, Graymark, or some others.  The KnightKit was my starter unit and back then it cost about $13 which is about $130 in todays inflated money.  For me that was about 1 1/2 weeks pay earned as a bike mechanic or about four hours pay for my father who bought it for me as a gift.

We have options today, purchase a certified assembled unit or build our own from scratch.  Regarding the perceived high cost of the assembled devices, if one is really serious about the hobby then one should accept that hobbies cost money.  Think about the cost of golfing, bowling, shooting, fishing, bar hopping and proceed.

Neil

 

Carl Blare's picture

Radio8Z named "bar hopping" as  a hobby he seems to know something about.

Bar hopping never worked for me. Sure, I was fine at the first bar, but I never could last until the second one.

One of the best radio program ideas around is listed at Rich Powers End80 website, in which he foresees interviewing the many bar tenders around Tybee Island for "Bar Stories". When Rich Powers starts that show I want permission to carry it.

A friend of mine did a Sunday night jazz show along similar lines called "Table Hopping with Charlie".

Suddenly I don't know what thread I'm in nor what the topic is. Could someone show me the way out?

Carl Blare

radio8z's picture

"Radio8Z named "bar hopping" as  a hobby he seems to know something about."

I know enough about it to not do it.

Neil

 

ArtisanRadio's picture

It's one thing to use Part 15 to broadcast to yourself, i.e., you are the primary listener.  One can argue that the Part 15 rules were designed for that specific purpose.  But it's quite another to attempt to attract an audience - that's an entirely different beast.  Canada distinguishes between those with RSS210 (broadcast to yourself) and BETS (broadcast to others).

The needs of those two functions are entirely different.

RichPowers's picture

Artisian said:

It's one thing to use Part 15 to broadcast to yourself, i.e., you are the primary listener.  One can argue that the Part 15 rules were designed for that specific purpose.  But it's quite another to attempt to attract an audience - that's an entirely different beast.  Canada distinguishes between those with RSS210 (broadcast to yourself) and BETS (broadcast to others).

The needs of those two functions are entirely different.

Well Canada may distiguise between the two, but in the U.S part 15 only distiguises between intentional and unintentional broadcasting (it wasn't always so, distinction went in the rules in the 1970s I think). Furthermore the Part15 rules specifically state that it doesn't matter what, how, or where or who to the broadcast is intended for - So I totlally disagree that "..One can argue that the Part 15 rules were designed for that specific purpose.."

Also - As I've stated many times, the biggest group of Part15AM broadcasters is and have always been Parks and Recreation, the whole purpose of which is to attract and broadcast to an audience.. So I don't know how your formulating the idea that Part15 is actually intended to broadcast to yourself.

Perhaps there is some Hobby Confusion

 

Rich Powers Part15, Take 2..

ArtisanRadio's picture

Well, you'd have to go back to the architects of the intentional aspects of the Part 15 rules to get the real scoop as to why they were created.  But I stand by my statement that they probably weren't intended for general purpose broadcasting to a large audience.  The old statements (which are still sometimes dragged out) that BOTH AM and FM ranges were 200 feet attests to that.   Of course, you can get much more range on AM than that 200 feet with a decent installation - even the FCC recognizes that, and changes the enforcement procedures to dial range back in to I guess what they consider to be reasonable levels.

My breaking down intentional Part 15 into broadcasting to yourself and to others was not predicated on the rules, but how most of us use them.  Some want an audience, some don't.  And if you're broadcasting to yourself, you don't require nearly the equipment or expertise than if you are attempting to emulate the 'big boys'.

I suspect that most of us broadcast primarily to ourselves in any event, regardless of wishes.

Perhaps Canada is ahead of the game in breaking down unlicensed intentional transmitting into broadcasting (BETS) and non broadcasting (RSS210).  What seems at first to be confusing ends up, when you consider what people are doing, to be reasonably clear.

RichPowers's picture

Ok, the actual reason part 15 was created in 1938 was because the Philco Electronics company had invented a remote control for tuning a home radio from up to 75 feet away..

"..because of its resemblance to a conventional transmitter and receiver, questions arose concerning the legality of the device. After considerable debate pro and con and a hearing or two, the FCC finally handed down rules covering the subject..." -QST magazine April 1942 (I previously posted about this in Thanks Philco for Part 15 Broadcasting).

But part 15 has evolved greatly since then. It was late 1960's when Part 15 outdoor installs for public broadcasting began and immeadiatly spread wildly, and has continued to expand since. I agree that the originally intentions had nothing to do with public broadcasting to an audience, but that is clearly what [15.219] primary purpose has been for the last 40 years.

When you say broadcasting to yourself "is how most of us use them" - I guess you mean hobbyist (not sure that I agree), but most 15.219 use in general has always been for public consumption.

 

One other thing as long as I'm rambling.. It is related..

The fact is - unquestionably - that the FCC's concern is not really the length of the ground lead - although that is what they use to cite when neccessary, but the real concern is range.. This is why parks and historic sites, etc. never receive NOUOs, it's because they always keep their range in check; in most cases within a half mile.

That's probally also the reason Atlantic Records went for years mounted high on billboards and so forth - it was because they kept their range within 1/2 mile.

The talking house was certified to operate with an entire buildings wire system as a ground lead!.. but as long as the range is kept in check there seldom will be any problem. The ground lead is a farce rule. Range is what will get you shut down.

Rich Powers Part15, Take 2..

timinbovey's picture

Of course the whole point is controlling range.  But the ground lead rule is NOT a "farce rule".  By controling ground lead and antenna length the FCC is controlling range.  You can legally have a ground lead as long as you want it, 10 feet, 100 feet, 100 miles, if you should so desire.  In which case your transmitter would not meet 15.219, and you would have to meet the 15.209 rule for field strength.  Since most people aren't equipped to test accurately for field strength, 15.219 covers that with antenna and ground length limitations, obviously, specifically to control range. 

The grround lead/antenna length rule exists as an alternative to the fieid strength limits.  On AM if you meet .219 you don't have to care about your field strength. So build 'em high, 'build 'em long, ground 'em all you want -- just be sure to turn the power down so you meed the .209 field strength rule then. 

It's not a farce rule, it's an alternative option.  You're right that the FCC won't go around measuring ground leads as an enforcement method, but they WILL check out a station with exceptional range, and often that range is obtained with a long ground lead. 

If your field strength on AM is legal the size of your antenna and ground lead makes no difference. If your field strength is over the .209 limits but you meet the 100mw input and antenna/ground lead rules, you're legal under that rule. 

Worth noting: Part 15 FM has NO such alternative option.  Firld strength measured at 3 meters is the ONLY way to determine legal operation.  Many have wished they'd come up with a simple and inexpensive way to determine legality of a Part 15 FM transmitter, but this has yet to happen. 

TIB

RichPowers's picture

Tim, when I say it is a farce rule, what I mean by that is that it's only selectively enforced. In reality they could care less how long the ground lead is, it's just something for an agent to point too so they can quiet a station.

Again: case in point; For the last 40 years all Park and Recreation Part 15 installs have always and still do utilize at least 10 to 15 feet (or more) of ground lead - None have ever been cited, none have ever been shut down. They operate under the exact same Part 15 rules we all do, there is no written clause or exceptions for them - the FCC has just always turned a blind eye to it.

The FCC has also been known to turn a blind eye to many private individual installs which break the 3 meter rule as well.. why? because it's not the actual issue of concern. I say it's  range, but range can be legally extended with multiple transmitters, and it's actually more than that anyway, it's also the content - no, the rules do not place limitation on content.. but in reality, that too is a deciding factor. Range and content.

A part 15 polka station; not likely to ever have a problem. Jazz not likely to have a problem. Broadcasting the mating habits of crocodiles or migration periods of geese in an area; no problem. Community news and event information, no problem.But if your station is top 40, or country or whatever format which more strongly competes with the licensed stations common formats.. Well if you're getting any range then it's only a matter of time before your station gets cited.

Part 15.209, 15.219, and 15.221 are there to protected licensed broadcasters -that is it's only purpose. And the FCC has said many times in many ways that even if your part 15 station conforms to the rules by 100% you may still be shut down:

"...Moreover, regardless of strict adherence to the technical limitations in Part 15, a Low Power Communication Device is permitted to operate on a sufferance basis only.." - https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-74-87A1.pdf

Worth noting: Part 15 AM, the 15.219 option was equal to 15.209. When transistors began replacing tubes it only then made 15.219 more capable of range.. The only reason the FCC didn't eliminate 15.219 at that time was because it was becoming of great value to Parks and Recreation and the general public loved it. - That is the only reason 15.219 still exist today.

Part 15 FM will never be granted such an option; The part 15 AM option created too much of an conundrum already.

 

Rich Powers Part15, Take 2..

Mark's picture

Yes, it says even if you are meeting the technical standards for part 15 you can be told to stop but only if you are interfering with a licensed station...not playing the same thing as a commercial station in the area is.

This is a given that we have known all the time. Canada's the same.

ArtisanRadio's picture

One of the reasons that Part 15 radio might be fading (and I'm still not convinced of that - I'm not sure that it ever really shone) is that most are just so gosh darned fractious.  Look at the talk that this topic has generated just on the rules alone.  Never mind the competing websites, with bans on the sharing of information.

jimhenry2000's picture

For the proper licensing fee, I may be amenable to cloning my DNA.  However you may be disappointed in the complete product!

Jim Henry HBR Radio 1610, serving Honey Brook, PA. and NW Chester County.

http://www.airpower.com/HBR.htm

Radio Boogie's picture

What Artisan said is how I feel about a lot of things. I've done some kind of home broadcasting since I was a kid, mostly legal but a couple times, not so much. I worked in broadcasting since around 1978 or so both on air and in engineering. What the FCC has allowed to happen in radio (and pretty much anything else) is a disgrace IMO. I've always ran my stations in a legal manner since the time I entered broadcasting. I love taking radio gear on it's way to the dumpster and diverting it to my trunk instead. I've made some of the oldest, most basic gear play clean and loud, putting the commercial broadcasters in my market to shame. 

On the matter of transmitters, I've had everything from Gates exciters to my present 100mW eBay FM and I built my AM from plans I modified from an antique radio repair forum. I don't run illegally long antennas, illegal power, and do my best that I can ro make sure my modulation is within spec. I do it mainly because I love radio, but I detest what broadcasting has become since TCA96. I left radio officially in 1998 because consolidation was destroying my career even that soon. Perhaps I'll return once companies like iHate have to sell statiions back to local owners, because I refuse to do corporate McRadio. "Would you like a nine minute stopset with that 200 song playlist??" 

I'd really like for someone, ANYONE in the FCC or Congress to address the flea-power levels of Part15, to at least enough to cover a small villiage. One watt in the extended band or something. FM is wasted already. Where there aren't translators short-spacing everything on the dial, there will be soon. I find it kind of funny that they don't want to expand the terrestrial radio bands, citing obsoleting receivers, yet they expected the entire country to have to replace perfectly good NTSC TV's and gear for their lousy digital plan. If they plan on a sundown for analog radio, there's going to be obsolete receivers anyway, no? 

We the People NEED a viable Part15 service as there is hardly anything on the dial that's worth tuning into anymore. As far as news, both sides are spinning everything into a "he did it first, so it's okay that we do it now, too" mentality. Nobody gets the real facts without an agenda. I, also, am a moderate progressive who beilves that the 99% are suffering because the rich want it that way. Part 15 may be the only true voices out there. I hope that we can keep on going as a hobby, even better, a community service, even if we do need to learn electronics to do so. It's probably better that way, since too may "plug-n-play" types who have no idea what a modulation peak even is, would be polluting the airwaves. I've just procured my first Optimod, for a 100mW FM. Why? Because I'm right under an airport approach and I don't want to overdeviate and splatter onto aircraft frequencies. I think most "plug-n-play" operators would never even consider doing that. Someone who has at least a basic understanding of radio theory would. 

Radio Boogie's picture

I see a lot of valid discussion on the rules. I think, since Congress and the FCC *did* implement LPFM licensing, perhaps the argument could be made for a LPAM service which supercedes Part 15. We have a valid reason, which is that the majority of commercial stations around today fail to actually serve their COL's. Most are not providing anything except background noise from some rack in a transmitter shack somewhere. True, there are some good Part 90 local broadcasters, but they are a very finite minority.

The people deserve better than some voicetracked garbage from five states away, who can't even fake localism right. My favorite? The 27 station Top of Hour ID, played out at 3x speed, mispronouncing seven of the city names. Yeah, THAT is real quality radio, I'll say. 

fjockey's picture

We don't have to re-invent the wheel. It would seem that the easiest solution would be to simply get the AMT-5000 circuit board duplicated and then obtain all the individual parts, which are all still readably available. It was already designed to be a kit that is easily solderable. Perhaps PhilB could grant someone in the group permission or work out a deal to have the circuit board duplicated. Perhaps fiverr.com may have someone offering circuit board duplication on the cheap. You don't even need the outer box if you are mounting outdoors. One of the outdoor utility boxes sold by Summitsource.com accomodates the AMT-5000 circuit board perfectly with four brass standoffs. You can caulk it for total weatherproofing. My tests show that the AMT-5000 has more range with the in-line, home-brewed external loading coil and pipe antenna than with the internal torroid and wire antenna, but I think the instructions to build that will still be on the SSTran site for some time to come. If I had the time, I would look into doing this with Phil's permission. But my schedule is already way too complex and extreme. Nevertheless, it should be done.

wdcx's picture

Surface mounted part.

Druid Hills Radio AM-1610- Dade City, FL. Unlicensed operation authorized by the Part 15 Department of the FCC. We do not censor free speech and hide public information.

wdcx's picture

U5 is surface mount.

Druid Hills Radio AM-1610- Dade City, FL. Unlicensed operation authorized by the Part 15 Department of the FCC. We do not censor free speech and hide public information.

spareparts's picture

Any idea what the JEDEC Part number for U5?  While I have no issues installing surface mount parts, perhaps is available in a DIP or through hole configuration for the folks who don't do surface mount.

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