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 Forum index » DIY Hardware and Software » Developers' Corner
Barely Legal Transmitter (BLT) Ideas
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Inventor
Stream Operator


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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 6:59 am    Post subject: Barely Legal Transmitter (BLT) Ideas
Subject description: Thoughts on one day making a legal distributed radio system.
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Hi again, you know - there is one topic in the area of DIY electronic music that I've not yet mentioned on the forum. Now is a good time to bring it up, since I recently started "playing DJ" in an audio/video chatroom that a friend invited me to join. Everyone liked the classic rock and 70's funk that I played and they said I could be a professional DJ if I wanted to be one. Wow, what a compliment.

So all of that reminded me of a project and I have a new name for it: the "Barely Legal Transmitter", or BLT for short. The idea is that the FCC provides for short-distance transmitting without a license and there are also little pockets of legal transmission like the walkie-talkie frequencies that could be used in the following way.

I (or we) design a custom relay-transmitter. It has an A/B switch and if it's on A you receive the radio signal on frequency A and also simultaneously transmit a duplicate of the received signal on frequency B. If it's on B you receive on frequency B and transmit on frequency A. Then you build a bunch of these little gems for cheap and sell them to people who would like to listen to your Barely Legal Transmitter Radio Station (BLT-RS).

Once this network is established, you have hundreds or thousands of people in a metropolitan area like where I live, all optimizing the A/B switch for best reception manually, and thus forming a distributed network of low-power transmitters. Then you make a circuit that receives the speaker output from your computer and you can be the source point for the network. Ta-Da! Barely Legal Radio (BLR), brought to you commercial free on your very inexpensive little BLT.

So I thought it might be fun for us amateur (and professional) electronics/music hobbyists to toss around some ideas about how to do this legally and then one day perhaps maybe even actually make it happen.

I also have the notion that one could make a free cell-phone network the same way, with each cell phone acting like a mini cell tower, but that's another story and a lot more difficult. We can discuss that too if you like.

I'm curious to hear what others think of this. Comments, ideas, and suggestions are welcome as always... Cheers!

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mosc
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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 7:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Interesting concept. I have several low power FM transmitters and the zone of tolerable reception quality is limited to very short distances (200 feet or less). This one is an excellent one, BTW. http://www.ccrane.com/radios/fm-transmitters/fm-transmitter.aspx

I don't think the quality would stand up after one or two relays. It might be an interesting effect to hear, but other than that, it's not going to be good audio.

In any case, if such a network of micro transmitters were deployed, while it may be legal to transmit without a license, it's not legal to broadcast most music without payment to a rights management association.

IMHO, internet radio is more worth it. We have shoutcast servers that we would we could use for any legal experimental purposes.

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RF



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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 8:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I love that kind of 'out of the box' thinking Smile

I maintain a network of FM translators and transmitters (3 full power FM and 11 FM translators) for a living. Mosc is right on about signal quality - we use one intermediate translator and it's a pain.

Digitally encoded/decoded transmissions would solve the noise floor/signal quality issue...

In weak signal work, there is an issue of reciever "de-sense' in the presence of a transmitter operating nearby. We solve that with lots of filters.

Good luck Smile

bruce
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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 8:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I need to add a plug for Prometheus Radio Project, working to bring low power radio to all sorts of people. Bringing radio down to earth? They're in the midst of wiring up a station in West Philly right now. It's a joint project with Scribe video abd the Philadelphia Independent Media Center. These frugal organizations are happy to receive donations. The Prometheus folks can probably hook you up with more info about cheap micro-broadcasting gear.
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RF



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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 8:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

If it's broadcasting that you are interested in, rather than the concept of a "distributed translator network" in the first post - keep an eye on the FCC website.

It's expected they will soon open a new 'window' for applications for licensing Low Power community FM radio stations. 10 watts at 100' or 100 watts at 100'. Lots of reg's (It's the gov't) and no commercials allowed...but it won't get you busted, fined big $$ and get all of your equipment confiscated.

I love the idea of LPFM and having more real local radio - but I have some issues with unlicensed, unregulated and poorly maintained/designed transmitters interfering with my signal.

Jeese - I sound like a 'suit'

bruce
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mosc
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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 9:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

10 watts is really a lot of power. That would change everything. I live in a mostly suburban neighborhood so I wouldn't get that many people within range.

Maybe the best thing is not to use translators, but to use the internet to distribute the signal.

Bruce, if there were a bunch of LPFM stations in a city, for instance, that are relaying an internet stream, would there be lots of zones of mutual interference between the stations?

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v-un-v
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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 9:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

mosc wrote:

Maybe the best thing is not to use translators, but to use the internet to distribute the signal.



What are you crazy? A pirate FM station??! This is FUN!!! Very Happy Very Happy Cool

Internet radio stations are for the masses Wink

Oh yeah- I don't know if you get these in the states, but a BLT over here is a bacon sandwich! Laughing

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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 10:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

v-un-v wrote:
Oh yeah- I don't know if you get these in the states, but a BLT over here is a bacon sandwich! Laughing


Yes, the Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwich inspired the acronym "BLT" in my quirky little mind, haha! Or it could be called Distributed Radio Transceiver, or DiRT. I dunno, despite the downplay at first reaction by posters, I still like the concept.

I think if the BLT used digital transmission then it might not degrade so much with each relay.

The LPFM sounds really interesting as well, I'd be interested in hearing what the progress is on that.

Thanks for the links on low power transmitters, I'll check them out!

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elektro80
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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 10:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Why not use relay by the way of internet?
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Inventor
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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 10:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

elektro80 wrote:
Why not use relay by the way of internet?


Yes, another good possibility which I believe was suggested by mosc. If the unit had a wireless interface it could just hop from one hot spot to another, using all the starbucks et. al. networks in the city to access it's music. Plus it could jump onto home wireless networks that are not password protected (did I say that? - shudder to think!).

I'm thinking of a little matchbox sized unit that sits on top of a 9V battery and has a solar cell. You could just leave it on your dashboard and keep the battery fully charged at all times. I'm also thinking of a matchbox sized unit that you plug into a wall socket and control with a remote. These units would cost perhaps less than $10 to produce, so they could be sold inexpensively.

As to the limitation on what music could be played, I'd like to know how much the cost is to play popular music, or else perhaps only playing free music would be an option. Bands who want air time would offer royalty free songs in exchange for the airtime.

But if I could run a 10 Watt transmitter out of my home, commercial free without too many regs or pains, I'd work that into my hobby lifestyle for sure. It's fun to play DJ, and what better way to get your own music out there? Cool ideas folks, keep 'em coming!

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RF



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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 10:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Forgive the lengthy, rambling post...but I love this stuff Smile

mosc wrote:
if there were a bunch of LPFM stations in a city, for instance, that are relaying an internet stream, would there be lots of zones of mutual interference between the stations?


The LPFM licensing process allows for use of available frequencies in your area - and LPFM's would not be licensed if they would cause interferance with other LPFM or full power stations. (BTW - The threat of interference has been used by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) as a reason to stall LPFM. I think those arguments were/are bogus.)

Re: relaying an internet stream - the reg's will specify a certain amount of programming must be locally originated (that's a good thing) - so hours of just relaying a stream would be limited.

10 watts at 100' really IS a pretty good signal...
100 watts at 100' gets you a city grade signal 3 or 4 miles - and a pretty good signal maybe 10 miles... I would have killed for that much power back in the day - (I think most broadcast engineers had pirate stations as kids)

I don't know much about "Wi-Max", but there has been a lot of buzz about that being the next big thing for broadcasting audio... ie broadcasting direct to your Wi-Max enabled device.

Inventor - I didn't intend to discourage the idea - I like i t- I think it would be great fun to try.
Have at it!

bruce
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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 10:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Inventor wrote:
I'd like to know how much the cost is to play popular music...


ASCAP, BMI and SESAC all want a cut, and have have a blanket license for radio.
Lowest rates for Ascap and BMI are around $450 per year for under 50,000 potential audience size. SESAC is around $100 per year.
$ goes way up as potential audience increases.

As far as I know they don't have anything lower specifically for LPFM.
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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 11:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

No only does it cost money, but a lot of effort in book keeping.
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FreeElectrons



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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 3:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

The original idea of using a number of small, low cost A/B repeaters doesn't work, not even if there was no loss of quality. You cannot possibly make a transmitter and receiver, which is housed in the same tiny enclosure, share the antenna and have them operate independently on two frequencies within the FM broadcast band. It can be done for sure, but not cheaply or in a small volume. The required amount of isolation between transmitter and receiver is extremely high, as the transmitter is basically transmitting directly into the receiver.

The simple FM micro power transmitters are cheap only because they have practically zero frequency selectivity in the output 'filter'.

Radio/electronics fundamentals anyone?
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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 3:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

FreeElectrons wrote:
You cannot possibly make a transmitter and receiver, which is housed in the same tiny enclosure, share the antenna and have them operate independently on two frequencies within the FM broadcast band.

Radio/electronics fundamentals anyone?


OK, good point, but nobody said anything about doing the BLT concept within the FM band. We could have frequency A far apart from frequency B. Would that work? I'm glad you mentioned the problem, I'd much rather get constructive criticism than spend endless hours designing something that doesn't work. What frequencies would you use if you were designing such a device?

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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 4:07 pm    Post subject: Re: Barely Legal Transmitter (BLT) Ideas
Subject description: Thoughts on one day making a legal distributed radio system.
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Inventor wrote:
I also have the notion that one could make a free cell-phone network the same way, with each cell phone acting like a mini cell tower, but that's another story and a lot more difficult. We can discuss that too if you like.


The One Laptop Per Child foundation uses a network schema like this...the laptops will bounce packets between themselves until they find a connection the the web. In this configuration, the laptops themselves automatically build a routing table between each other, and automatically heals it/updates it.
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RF



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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 6:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

FreeElectrons wrote:
You cannot possibly make a transmitter and receiver, which is housed in the same tiny enclosure, share the antenna and have them operate independently on two frequencies within the FM broadcast band. It can be done for sure, but not cheaply...


"cannot possibly" will always trigger a response from me. Laughing

The "tiny enclosure" is the issue....but...you could do it in a fairly small package - say, real small shoebox sized - or something the size your new bank checks comes in?

You have 10 mHz. in the FM band to work with - and helical resonators are fairly cheap and offer a great deal of isolation. I think near 80 db at 1 mhz. spacing in the FM band - and that ain't bad.

I mentioned receiver "de-sense" in my first post - that's the beast you need to deal with - and 80 db isolation on Rcv and 80 db isolation on transmit would take care of that for a fairly strong rcv signal at several mHz. spacing.

It may not be economically reasonable or feasable - but I bet you could do it. Smile

Crossband repeaters between VHF and UHF are certainly possible in a very small size - and is an option on some handheld Ham equipment - but makes DIY things much more difficult.
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PostPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 9:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

[quote="RF"]
FreeElectrons wrote:
You have 10 mHz. in the FM band to work with - and helical resonators are fairly cheap and offer a great deal of isolation. I think near 80 db at 1 mhz. spacing in the FM band - and that ain't bad.


Wow RF! What on Earth is a helical resonator? When I read that I pictured something shaped like a DNA strand, all double twisty like! Is it like a ceramic-substrate surface-acoustic-wave filter or some dealie like that? I no understando.

RF, since you're so hot on the idea and I imagine you must have some design skills on topic, would you care to sketch out a block diagram of a concept? I'm so busy like we all are, but I'd make time to contribute something to the effort as well - though I'm not sure what yet. I have limited RF skills but I can solder like the rest of 'em. It's still just a silly idea but it can't hurt to at least do some fun fun imagineering on paper and share some design details here... Keep on truckin!

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FreeElectrons



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PostPosted: Wed May 14, 2008 1:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Inventor wrote:
OK, good point, but nobody said anything about doing the BLT concept within the FM band.


Fair enough, but you mentioned 'barely legal'. That usually means micro power FM transmitters within the FM band. Wink

If frequency selection isn't an issue, then microwaves is the way to go in my view. However developing something for those wavelengths that actually works reliably enough to be reproduced takes a lot of practice, knowledge and test equipment. Cheaper to buy off the shelf Wi-Fi gear and modify as needed to transmit the data you want. That would be illegal though...

RF, I did say it could be done for sure, just not cheaply or in a tiny package. Very Happy Inventor mentioned the size of a matchbox, though I'm not sure if he was referring to the A/B rf thinggy. High Q helical filters for about 100MHz aren't particularly cheap to say the least, nor small enough for a (comfortably) hand held unit. Additionally you face the problem of poor noise figure in the receiver due to the need of having the filter come before the first preamplifier. Also, with only 80dB of selectivity in the receiver filter, you would be severely limited in the rf power the transmitter could send out. If MDS is, say, -120dBm, then you have to limit power output to -40dBm, roughly speaking. -40dBm is 0.1 uW.

You could then use two filters for the RX, but then you are back to the cost, size and noise figure problems. Can be done, not cheaply. Smile

It is 'relatively' easy to make the filters required in a dual band ham radio VHF/UHF transmitter/receiver, as the frequency separation is much larger than in the case talked about here. Think hundreds instead of tens (at best) of MHz.

The radio amateurs knows how to do this thing, having run narrow band FM repeaters with 600KHz separation between transmitter and receiver in the 144MHz ham band for decades. Here in Denmark these repeaters usually employ custom cavity filters made from spent 155mm haubitzer grenade casings, solid brass. Heavy metal for sure yet also low loss and very high Q.
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PostPosted: Wed May 14, 2008 4:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Good points, Free Electron.
Cavity filters are amazing things - I used them on 2 meter repeaters I built years ago and use them often in the FM band for translators. Truly not portable, however. The FM cavities I use are nearly 4 feet long and 5 or 6 inches in diameter Wink That throws a wrench into the portability.

Inventor- Helical resonator filters are a series of coils tuned by a slug in each coil to pass or reject certain frequencies. Done right, they offer very high rejection of signals and reasonably low insertion loss - and they are quite compact in size. I may have been optimistic on 80 dB isolation, though - I think 60 dB may be a more reasonable expectation.

So there are, as Free Electron pointed out, some issues.

Fun discussion, though. It's these dicussions that lead to new ideas...

bruce
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PostPosted: Wed May 14, 2008 5:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

RF wrote:
So there are, as Free Electron pointed out, some issues.

Fun discussion, though. It's these dicussions that lead to new ideas...

bruce


Yes, I most definitely agree that there are obstacles. Could we perhaps think of an AM band and near-AM band solution? It is kind of a magic art to do RF at 100 MHz and I don't have the equipment to see the signals hardly at all (just an old scope and a meter), but around AM we're at a very comfortable 1MHz region. Frequency A could be around 1MHz and frequency B at some much higher frequency, say 10 MHz or so. These are reasonable frequencies to breadboard and manufacture.

Using MHz-range signals would enable us to use a small cored coil antenna instead of a long FM antenna, which helps size and perhaps cost. As far as matchbox size, it could be larger, no problem. In fact, we would want to have extra room on the circuit board for text or art or something. For example just for fun if it ended up being called a BLT transmitter we could make the circuit board in the shape of a sandwich, haha.

We could make the initial prototypes with 1MHz/10MHz frequencies, then later introduce tuning so that many stations could be accommodated. In that case the range could be 1MHz-2MHz / 10MHz-20MHz for example, with frequency B always being 10 times frequency A, or now that I think of it, in binary we'd use 8x or 16x frequency.

The 200 foot limit on non-licensed transmitters would be too restrictive though even for city use, but not for say campus use in a university. Better though would be to see if there is some frequency band for which we could get actual FCC approval and transmit 1/4 mile or 1 mile. That's why I mentioned walkie talkies before as an example.

Just more rambling thoughts... This is fun!

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PostPosted: Fri May 16, 2008 1:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

That idea isn't new either, shortwave repeaters certainly can and has been made. The most famous ones were probably the Russian satellites, which carried linear transponders between the 21 and 28 MHz ham bands.

However I think it could be even more fun if you yourself tried figuring out why this latest proposal wouldn't be terribly practical either. I have some practical objections of a different nature than last time, yet you'd probably learn more if you read up on RF tech and got some experience with it. The alternative would be having me and others snuffing out your ideas before they had a chance to get off the ground. Very Happy
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PostPosted: Fri May 16, 2008 2:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

You know, I remember asking a power supply professor about the frequency range of magnetic materials and he replied: "I roll off at about a megahertz.", haha! So my suggestion of using a 10 MHz signal on a cored antenna would be bogus indeed. Perhaps that is one of the flaws? No problem, we can just use an air-core coil for the 10 MHz signal.

I wish to clarify, however, that the title of this thread has "Ideas" and "Thoughts" in it. We are just tossing around concepts and sure lots of them will go splat on the ground, lol. That's the nature of creativity and imagination. So please lighten up, relax, enjoy, and be friendly! There's no reason to be so critical. This thread is for fun, regardless of whether it goes anywhere. For me, learning about LPFM makes the whole thread golden! I'd love to run my own little local station like that one day. Cheers, FreeElectrons! Very Happy

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PostPosted: Fri May 16, 2008 8:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Ham Radio has been mentioned several times in this topic. It might be a good idea to go to a local ham club meeting and meet some people with RF experience. Sounds like you might be a potential radio ham. It's lots of fun. There are several hams lurking around electro-music.com.
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PostPosted: Fri May 16, 2008 8:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I have mixed feelings about Ham radio. I know it's all positive and friendly and stuff just like electro-music.com is, however I personally had a bad experience with them.

I was the first employee of a medical startup company in 1997-1999 and I thought that perhaps one way to go about the radio link for the proposed product would be to learn from Hams and possibly hire a Ham or two to help make it all happen. When I attended a Ham class, however, the Hams saw me as a threat. They were so paranoid about possibly losing spectrum allocation, which has apparently been a problem for Ham radio in the past, that they treated me rudely and with disdain. I was not pleased and did not complete the Ham class.

I suppose that I should put all that aside and go give it another try, but it's not in the cards for a few years anyway so I have time to think about it. Thanks for the suggestion though, Howard!

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