DCF77 – Tell me, how far do these waves travel?

For those of you who don’t know, Germany has a time signal and frequency standard station, a 77.5 kHz carrier, emitted at a place near Frankfurt. About 50 kW of power – enough to provide most of Western Europe with perfectly accurate time. Radio controlled clocks have become the de-facto standard, in most of these places, and are available for a few Euros, amazingly cheap.

While this is all common knowledge, it was definitely news to me that this signal can be picked up in the US, at least at the East Coast – New York area, where I currently reside. These news came from a very much trustworthy fellow German, just a few miles away – he carried a radio controlled alarm clock over from Germany. And one day it started receiving a signal, and set itself back to German time.

Definitely, time for some experimentation.

The setup:

(1) A well-tuned ferrite antenna (same as is used in alarm clocks), with a little J-FET preamp. Additionally, a long wire (about 10 m/30 ft), connected to the hot end of the tuned circuit.
(if you need a schematic, just ask, works with a J310 J-FET)

(2) A long coaxial cable to get the antenna out of near field interferences.

(3) A xtal filter and amplifier/driver – to provide adequate signal levels.
(if you need a schematic, just ask, uses a NPN transistor, and an OPA703 CMOS rail-to-rail opamp)

(4) Monitoring of the signal, via PC soundcard, and Spectrum Lab software.

Current status:

So far, not a trace of the 77.5 kHz carrier has been received, even using a most sensitive HPAK 3585A spectrum analyzer – maybe, I just need to wait for better propagation conditions, to get these long waves over the ocean.

To be continued…

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