Free Windows PC Software
(Download at bottom of page)
W6NEK HF Beacon Tracker
(To aid in identifying the NCDXF / IARU International Beacon Network)
What Is It?
A PC Windows program that continuously identifies which NCDXF/IARU DX beacon station is currently broadcasting on any of the five HF Amateur Radio bands (20, 17, 15, 12, and 10 meter) bands. The current beacon call sign is updated and displayed, along with a flashing Status LED, on a relief map of the world. In addition, as each beacon station becomes active, its country, city, latitude, and longitude are updated and displayed.
With the aid of this program, you can quickly determine real-time, worldwide, DX band conditions from your location (QTH) on the 20, 17, 15, 12, and 10 meter amateur bands. You will know if the band is open to one or more parts of the world, independent of amateur station (band) activity! Just because a band has little or no station activity doesn't mean the band isn't open to one part of the world or another. Monitoring the DX beacons will give you real-time knowledge of whether the bands are really open or not.
What Is This Network?
NCDXF/IARU International HF Beacon Network. This radio beacon network was
built, and activated, to provide a reliable source of signals for determining
HF propagation 24 hours a day. It consists of 18 beacon stations
strategically located throughout the world. Their locations are
represented by the LED Beacon Markers displayed on a map of the world within
the W6NEK Beacon Tracker program. Each of the beacon
stations transmit on a 10 second activity period on the same frequency in the
20, 17, 15, 12, and 10 meter bands. The frequencies are as follows: 20
meters = 14.100 MHz, 17 meters = 18.110 MHz, 15 meters = 21.150 MHz, 12 meters
= 24.930 MHz, 10 meters = 28.200 MHz.
The 10 second beacon transmit sequence moves westward from New York across North America, Asia, Pacific to Africa, Europe, and South America. On each frequency, each beacon transmits the following for ten seconds: its call sign (in Morse code at 22 wpm) and a one-second carrier at 100 watts followed by three additional one-second carriers at 10, 1, and 0.1 watts respectively.
When each beacon completes a transmission it goes silent on that band and switches to the next higher band. One by one each beacon station will transmit it's call and output four 1 second carriers until all 18 beacons have completed the cycle. Then the sequence will start over again. Total time for all 18 beacon stations to complete a transmit cycle on a given band is 3 minutes. For more information on the NCDXF / IARU International Beacon Network visit their web site at http://www.ncdxf.org/beacons.html
OK, So How Do I Determine If Band Conditions Are Good?
If band conditions are good, you will hear a number of beacons identifying in Morse and sending a series of four 1 second carriers each at a lower (-10dB) power level. The more beacons you hear, the more open the band is to different parts of the world.
The 1st one second dash is at 100 watts, 2nd dash is 10 watts, 3rd dash is 1 watt and the 4th dash is 100 milliwatts. The more dashes you hear per beacon, the better the quality of propagation and the more robust the band opening is. If you hear the 100 milliwatt carrier from many beacons, you know that band is wide open!
In just three minutes per band, you will know how band conditions are
worldwide at that very moment. It's interesting to see how propagation
varies from hour to hour and day to day -- what beacons you can hear and at
what power level. You may find that the band is wide open but few
amateur stations are actually on the air! In that case, point your
antenna in the direction of the open propagation path and start calling CQ.
You may be pleasantly surprised to snag DX that you would not have otherwise
So Why Do I Need Software To Listen To Beacons?
You don't. That is if you can
copy Morse code at 22 WPM, have a matrix of beacon call signs and their
locations, and you know what frequency and band to tune to! However, if
you’re in the majority of amateur radio operators who just want to know if and
where the band is open to, then the W6NEK HF Beacon Tracker software is an
indispensable operating aid. When you hear a beacon, the beacon call letters
instantly flash on a world map to show you its location. You can positively
identify each beacon -- even if the signal is weak and the CW is fluttery or
distorted. The world map display also shows you what area of the globe to point
Let the software calculate which beacon is active on a given band at a given minute and second. Your job is to track DX. Let W6NEK HF Beacon Tracker worry about tracking beacons!
The Band Is Dead! Why Bother To Listen For Beacons?
If everyone used the Beacons, there would be much more activity on the bands. What happens is that operators hear an empty band and assume propagation is poor or non existent. This happens most often on 15, 12, and 10 meters. As a matter of fact, this is the very reason the NCDXF/IARU International Beacon Network was established. To give Amateur Radio Operators a tool to measure band propagation independent of operator activity. So, if you hear a strong beacon signal from Europe on a "dead" band, fire up the transmitter, point the antenna to Europe and call CQ! You may be pleasantly surprised!
What Does The Program Look Like?
Below are several screen shots which show the major features of W6NEK HF Beacon Tracker. The first screen is a view of the main program window. From this window you can select all the program menu functions, adjust how the beacon markers are displayed on the world map and select which HF frequency band you want to monitor.
When you click on the Display menu, you have your choice of 6 display options. These menu selections allow you to customize the look and feel of the beacon tracker map display. You have full control of the LED beacon marker display, beacon callsign display, beacon 10-second activity, etc. This allows you to quickly configure HF Beacon Tracker map display to your liking.
A handy feature of Beacon Tracker is the Display All Bands - Beacon Compact View. This view allows all five beacon stations to be updated and viewed simultaneously in a compact window. Each beacon station is identified along with its frequency band and current NCDXF beacon station status (OK, OFF, ON). In addition, you can choose Display Always On Top or Display Normal. This feature is handy if your using several computer programs and want the beacon tracker view always visible. When this window is closed, all user settings and window positions are saved.
Another feature is the ability to update the operational status of each NCDXF Beacon Station. If you have a network or dial-up connection to the internet, then you can go directly to the NCDXF web site for current beacon status. The NCDXF web site address is contained in a easy to edit file if the web site address changes in the future. Once at the NCDXF web site, you can quickly record the current operational status of each beacon station.
Once you have the current operational status of each NCDXF Beacon, you can easily input the information into the screen below. Each beacon is identified and you simply select OK, OFF, or ON. The updated operational status of each beacon is then reflected in the map display of the HF Beacon Tracker program.
If you have a network or dial-up connection to the internet you can synchronize your computer clock using Beacon Tracker's Internet Time menu function. With it, you can set your PC Clock to the exact time via any of six available NIST Time Servers. Simply click on Set PC Time and Beacon Tracker will set your PC Clock automatically.
When you are connected to the internet, you can access a number of web sites related to Amateur Radio information from within Beacon Tracker. These sites provide helpful information regarding current Greyline location, Propagation forecasts, DXPeditions, DX News, Etc.
I'm Interested. Where Can I Download The Free Program?
Download Beacon Tracker file to your hard drive. Unzip file (HFBT400.zip) into a directory of your choice. Execute "Setup.exe" and follow the on screen prompts for program installation. Download file size = 3.06 MB.
If you have a previous version of W6NEK HF Beacon Tracker installed then remove it with Beacon Tracker Uninstall utility or use Windows Control Panel "Add or Remove Programs" utility prior to running "Setup.exe".
Software PC System Requirements:
Processor - 486 or above
Memory - 32MB of RAM
Display - SVGA (best viewed 800x600) resolution