## A Practical Guide To Understanding How Radios Work

For those of you with a penchant for difficult maths, there’s some good old formulae published in the article that’ll help you understand the physics of radio. For the rest of us, there are a plethora of fantastic illustrations showing some of the less obvious principals, such as why a longer diploe is more directional than a shorter dipole.

The article opens with a thought experiment, explaining how two dipole antennae are like capacitors, but then also explains how they are different, and why a 1/4 wave dipole saves the day. Of course it doesn’t stop there. [lcamtuf]’s animations show the action of a sine wave on a 1/4 wave dipole, bringing a nearly imaginary concept right into the real world, helping us visualize one of the most basic concepts of radio.

Now that you’re got a basic understanding of how radios work, why not Listen to Jupiter with your own homebrew receiver?

## How Much Bandwidth Does CW Really Occupy?

Amateur radio license exams typically have a question about the bandwidths taken up by various modulation types. The concept behind the question is pretty obvious — as guardians of the spectrum, operators really should know how much space each emission type occupies. As a result, the budding ham is left knowing that continuous wave (CW) signals take up a mere 150 Hertz of precious bandwidth.

But is that really the case? And what does the bandwidth of a CW signal even mean, anyway? To understand that, we turn to [Alan (W2AEW)] and his in-depth look at CW bandwidth. But first, one needs to see that CW signals are a bit special. To send Morse code, the transmitter is not generating a tone for the dits and dahs and modulating a carrier wave, rather, the “naked” carrier is just being turned on and off by the operator using the transmitter’s keyer. The audio tone you hear results from mixing the carrier wave with the output of a separate oscillator in the receiver to create a beat frequency in the audio range.

That seems to suggest that CW signals occupy zero bandwidth since no information is modulated onto the carrier. But as [Alan] explains, the action of keying the transmitter imposes a low-frequency square wave on the carrier, so the occupied bandwidth of the signal depends on how fast the operator is sending, as well as the RF rise and fall time. His demonstration starts with a signal generator modulating a 14 MHz RF signal with a simple square wave at a 50% duty cycle. By controlling the keying frequency, he mimics different code speeds from 15 to 40 words per minute, and his fancy scope measures the occupied bandwidth at each speed. He’s also able to change the rise and fall time of the square wave, which turns out to have a huge effect on bandwidth; the faster the rise-fall, the larger the bandwidth.

It’s a surprising result given the stock “150 Hertz” answer on the license exam; in fact, none of the scenarios [Allen] tested came close to that canonical figure. It’s another great example of the subtle but important details of radio that [Alan] specializes in explaining.

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## Super-Portable, Tunable VHF Antenna

Ham radio is having a bit of a resurgence these days, likely due to awards programs like Parks on the Air (POTA) and Summits on the Air (SOTA), which encourage amateur radio operators to head outside and “activate” at various parks and mountaintops. For semi-mobile operations like this, a low-power radio is often used, as well as other portable gear including antennas. In the VHF/UHF world, the J-pole is a commonly used antenna as well, and this roll-up tunable J-pole antenna is among the most versatile we’ve seen.

The antenna uses mostly common household parts which keeps the cost down tremendously. The structure of the antenna is replacement webbing for old lawn chairs, and the conductive elements for the antenna are made out of metallic HVAC tape which is fixed onto the chair webbing after being cut to shape. The only specialized parts needed for this is a 3D printed bracket which not only holds the hookup for the coax cable feeding the antenna, but is also capable of sliding up and down the lower section of the “J” to allow the antenna to be easily tuned.

As long as you have access to a 3D printer, this antenna is exceptionally portable and pretty easy to make as well. Although VHF and UHF aren’t too popular for POTA and SOTA, portable equipment like this for the higher frequency bands is still handy to have around when traveling or operating remotely. With the antenna situation sorted out, a DIY radio that can make use of it might be in order as well.