A Quick Look at Radio Frequency Interference

A Quick Look at Radio Frequency Interference
A Quick Look at Radio Frequency
❝ RFI doesn’t have to be
black magic, or keep
you off the air. ❞
Radio frequency interference (RFI) has
been a consideration for hams from the beginning. When I got my first license in the
mid ’50s, the big problem was interference to
receivers in the then-new television broadcast
service — TVI. During this period, hams and
equipment manufacturers had to take a crash
course on harmonics, shielding and filtering as
well as public relations. It wasn’t a one way
street — hams also suffered with interference
from TV sets, now called ITV. Battles raged
for a time, but better engineering of amateur
equipment and TV sets eventually resulted in
compatibility in most areas — helped in large
measure by the migration from over-the-air to
cable TV, as well as the move from transmitters with harmonic-prone class C amplifiers
to transmitters using linear class A, B or AB
in the household or neighborhood. There are
a few ways to divide up the problem and one
that I like is to make a distinction between
equipment designed to receive radio signals
and equipment that is not designed to do so.
Equipment Not Designed to Receive
Radio Signals
If something that isn’t radio equipment
receives your transmissions, it clearly is not
acting the way it should. The kind of effects
we’re talking about here range from someone
listening to your transmission via the mythical filling in a tooth to noise on a telephone,
flashing computer screens or lights coming
on and off. As a rule, this is due to equipment
deficiencies and no changes to your transmitter can be expected to solve the problem.
Although reducing power and/or relocating
antennas can often eliminate the problem, they
shouldn’t have to.
In real life, however, if it is a family member trying to work or study at the computer,
even though it might not officially be your
problem, it quickly becomes your problem,
nonetheless. Sometimes one must accept the
responsibility, if only to preserve a happy
home. The cure usually is to keep the RF
energy from your station from getting into the
device being interfered with.
RF energy can typically get from your radio
to other devices in one or both of two ways.
One way is direct radiation from your antenna
to the ac power or interconnecting wiring going to the household equipment. This wiring
includes telephone wires, speaker wires, TV
antenna or cable connections, and often ac
power wiring. Higher frequency signals can
That was Then, Now is Now
While the problems with TVI have certainly improved, the typical household is now
filled with far more potentially RFI prone
devices — both those that emit signals and
those that amateur signals can interfere with.
Some are in our own household, and some are
on neighbors’ property — and each has its own
set of characteristics and suggested methods
of avoidance.
This article can’t provide the complete
story — there have been many books on the
topic — but we will try to give some background to help the beginning ham understand
the issues and perhaps help deal with some.1
Interference to Other Equipment
Sometimes operation of amateur transmitters results in interference to other equipment
good resource for amateurs is the ARRL
Lab Technical Information Service Web site
at www.arrl.org/tis/info/rfigen.html. Also
see The ARRL RFI Book, available from
your ARRL dealer or the ARRL Bookstore,
ARRL order no. 9892. Telephone 860-5940355, or toll-free in the US 888-277-5289;
www.arrl.org/shop/; [email protected]
Figure 1 — Illustration of conducted and radiated RFI from an amateur transmitter.
Joel R. Hallas, W1ZR
QST Technical Editor
[email protected]
May 2009
GOTA.indd 61
3/24/2009 12:45:41 PM
Figure 2 — Typical RFI
suppressing common
mode choke formed
by wrapping turns
of a signal or
power pair
through a
ferrite toroid.
sometimes get picked up by the short wires
or other conductors inside some equipment.
The other way is through conduction. Your
transmitter not only puts its RF energy into
your antenna, but also can put some into
household ac or ground wires from which it
gets conducted into the ac wiring going to the
interfered equipment. Figure 1 gives an idea
of the ways coupling occurs.
The good news is that in either case,
the problem can be reduced — and often
eliminated — in the same way. Filtering of
the connections going into the unit displaying
the symptoms will often go a long way toward
elimination of the problem.
There’s Filters and Then There’s Filters
In most cases, the signal picked up on
power or parallel signal lines in close proximity will be picked up on all lines together.
This results in pickup of a common mode
signal, compared to the differential mode signal, between the wires, that we’re most used
to. Depending on the termination within the
equipment, sometimes this signal is converted
into a differential mode signal, for example if
one side is grounded, as is often the case with
speaker wires. Still, by keeping the common
mode signal out we resolve much of the problem. The filter should thus focus on having a
high impedance to common mode currents at
the frequency you are transmitting on. For best
results, the filter should be located as close to
the affected equipment as possible, since any
coupling into the wires between the filter and
equipment will not be reduced by the filter.
Commercial units are available that perform both common and differential mode
filtering. We have tested a few good ones in
the ARRL Lab, but don’t assume the “filters”
in the usual consumer grade power strips will
be helpful.2,3
It is also possible to fabricate your own
common mode choke using available ferrite products. The usual “clamp on” ferrite
beads allow insertion without disconnecting
anything. These are often helpful at VHF, but
quite a few are required to do much good at
HF. A better solution for HF and VHF inter2S.
Ford, WB8IMY, “Short Takes — ICE Model
475-3 AC Line Filter,” QST, Mar 2005, p 48.
3M. Tracy, KC1SX, “Product Review — MFJ1164 AC Line Filter,” QST, Jan 2007, pp 68-69.
GOTA.indd 62
ference is to use a ferrite core such as
the FT 240-43 type (available from
Amidon, www.amidoncorp.com/
categories/7). This donut
shaped structure will provide an inside diameter of
1.4 inches, which should
allow the connectors to
fit through as you wind.
While 12 turns is perhaps
optimum for HF, get as many
as you can without removing the connectors and see if you have solved the problem.
Figure 2 shows a typical toroidal choke.
Equipment Designed to Receive
Radio Signals
Equipment designed for radio reception
can suffer from the same types of interference
problems as equipment that isn’t designed for
that task, so the above filters or chokes should
be tried first.
If the interference is still there, we have to
investigate the possibility that your transmitted radio signal is getting into the problem
radio receiver. If the radio were tuned to your
frequency, as a shortwave set could be, we
would certainly expect to hear your signal! If
the listeners don’t want to hear you, they could
just tune to another frequency and be done with
it. Unfortunately, it is not that simple!
We again have two possible situations to
consider — and it is also possible that both
are happening:
Your transmitter is putting out on its
assigned frequency. It is possible for your
transmitter to be doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing — but by putting out such
a strong signal, it is overloading the front
end of the problem receiver. This is often the
case if the transmit frequency is close to the
receiver frequency — often a problem with
a transmitter on 6 meters (50 to 54 MHz)
and a TV receiver tuned to Channel 2 (56 to
60 MHz), particularly if the TV is using an
outside antenna. The input filter of the TV
is not sharp enough to keep your signal from
clobbering the receiver.
There are only a few things you can do in
this situation — besides changing bands or
TV channels. You can reduce your transmitter
power, but of course this can also reduce your
transmit range — not good if you are collecting grid squares or trying for meteor scatter
communication. You may be able to move
your transmit antenna farther from the receive
antenna, or at least aim both so they are in each
other’s nulls. You can also purchase specialty
filters with very sharp skirts that will attenuate your signal at the problem receiver. Note
that for this case a filter at your transmitter
won’t help.
Your transmitter is putting out one or
more spurious signals off its assigned frequency. This is a different kettle of fish.
While all transmitters put out a bit of energy
on undesired frequencies, a properly designed
transmitter usually emits spurious signals too
weak to cause problems. On the other hand, it
is possible that your transmitter is putting out
significant energy on or near the frequency
that the receiver is intended to receive. An example of this kind of problem would be if your
transmitter were operating on 10 meters and it
put out a strong second harmonic. A signal at
28.3 MHz, for example, has a second harmonic
at 56.6 MHz — smack within the band that the
TV receiver is designed to receive while tuned
to TV Channel 2. In this case, there is nothing
that you can do at the receiver that won’t also
reduce the reception on Channel 2. You can,
however, add a low-pass filter at the HF transmitter that cuts off all energy above 30 MHz,
and you may find yourself back on speaking
terms with your neighbors and family.
Interference to Your Equipment
Electronic and electromechanical devices
can cause problems with your equipment, too.
Most consumer type (unlicensed) appliances
and equipment capable of causing RFI are
typically classified as incidental, unintentional
or intentional radiators under Part 15 of the
FCC rules.4 The FCC specifies absolute emissions limits for intentional and unintentional
emitters. The limits are high enough, however,
that interference can still occur even if the
signals are within the FCC’s absolute emissions level standards. This typically occurs if
the device is in relatively close proximity to a
radio receiver. In the case of incidental emitters,
there are no specified absolute emissions limits.
Regardless of the emitter type, however, no
Part 15 device is allowed to cause harmful interference to a licensed radio service as defined
in the FCC rules including the Amateur Radio
Service. As with interference to other services,
you can be dead right but just as dead if you try
to explain to your spouse that the toaster oven
is not compliant and it must be kept off while
you’re operating.
In many cases the interference can be
filtered in similar ways to those discussed
earlier for conducted radiation. First try filters
as close as possible to the offending device.
Then try additional common mode filtering on
the cables going to your radio.
Wrapping It Up
While this investigative sequence sounds
straightforward, plan to put in some effort.
Keep in mind that in some cases you will be
dealing with more than one of these effects
at the same time. Thus if one “cure” doesn’t
seem to help, don’t immediately remove it —
it may be eliminating a part of the problem
even though you can’t tell yet. Keep at it and
know that most such problems can be solved
— search for
“Part 15.”
May 2009
3/24/2009 12:45:46 PM
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