31 December 2005

leap second recording

Here's a recording of the leap second on WWV on 31 Dec 2005. This was previously discussed in my article, "december 31 leap second". I recorded this with my Sony ICF SW7600GR tuned to 15 mhz. Notice that during the station identification at the start of hour 0, there are doubled ticks during the first three seconds. So for now, UT1 = UTC + 0.3 seconds. Here's the recording:

31 dec 2005 leap second wwv 15mhz.mp3 (412 kb)

bbc springs more leaks

I stayed in upstate New York for the last two weeks in December. My Kaito 1102 was with me, and I scanned the usual places looking for expected stations and new receptions. This was my first good opportunity to hear shortwave broadcasts intended for Europe.

Her Majesty's BBC was received, due to the inexact science of directed shortwave broadcasts. In case you don't already know the back-story, feel free to read my previous article titled "focus on the bbc".

Now I'll enter a rant about shortwave listeners' misconceptions about the BBC. I have seen forum postings and radio reviews where a North American listener says they bought a shortwave radio to listen to the BBC, and ended up disappointed when the radio couldn't receive it. That is not always a good reason to blame the radio. Primetimeshortwave.com is a good place to research schedules for English-language broadcasts on shortwave. In some cases (and this is true for most of the BBC broadcasts listed), they list the originating location of a broadcast.

Anyway, here are my receptions of the BBC from upstate New York. My descriptions of what was heard are on the terse side because I was more interested in scanning than writing detailed reception reports.

21 Dec 2005 0421 UTC: 7130 khz (via Cyprus, to Europe) - SIO 333. Discussion of Chinese literacy.
21 Dec 2005 0422 UTC: 7160 khz (via Ascension Island, to Africa) - SIO 333. Sports news. Announced an upcoming two-part series on mobile phones. They say worldwide mobile phone ownership is 1 billion. This show is called Network Africa.
22 Dec 2005 0249 UTC: 5975 khz (via French Guiana, to Central America): SIO 434.
22 Dec 2005 2201 UTC: 5975 khz (via French Guiana, to Central America): SIO 444.
23 Dec 2005 0333 UTC: 5975 khz (via Delano, CA to Central America): SIO 434. US President George W. Bush asking for a 6-month extension to the Patriot Act; Congress granted 1-month extension. Democrats worried about the extension of powers. New Orleans rebuilding has been very slow after Hurricane Katrina. 25% of residents have returned. Much of the city is still in darkness. Discussing video blogging: "there are a lot of boring things occuring on the Internet."

17 December 2005

asking the experts

Although I have learned much about shortwave listening, there are still things I haven't figured out entirely. I compiled a list of questions and am seeking answers from my knowledgeable readers. You're also welcome to ask additional questions in the comment section. Later on I will try to update this entry with the best questions and answers, and I'll credit each contributor. Be sure to leave your name, call sign, or alias if you wish to be credited.

Note that I'll be away for the last two weeks of December 2005. See you next year!

1) For introductory purposes, how long have you been listening to shortwave radio?

2) Can you describe what chuff means? This word is used in shortwave receiver reviews, and involves tuning a digital receiver, but I can't determine the exact meaning.

3) How should fading be accounted for when determining an SIO code? Is fading caused by interference?

4) How are the electronics of a dual-conversion receiver different from a single-conversion receiver?

5) Can you explain how images (reception of a signal on the wrong frequency) occur? What bands can be affected by images?

6) Why is it that a single sideband signal needs to be fine-tuned?

7) Can someone describe the difference in the sync detect between the Sony ICF-2010 and the SW7600GR?

8) Is there any way to determine how many atmospheric bounces a received signal has made? I know that an atmospheric bounce will introduce attenuation, so a signal that has bounced more will be weaker. Are there any other identifying characteristics?

13 December 2005

tecsun r-9012 review


I recently received a yellow Tecsun R-9012 which I ordered from tquchina on eBay. Tecsun released this radio at the end of September 2005. It is a single-conversion analog-tuned radio that receives AM (525-1610 khz), FM (76-108 mhz), and ten shortwave bands (75m - 13m). It measures approximately 5 inches wide, 3 1/8 inches tall, and 1 1/8 inches thick. It has a lot in common with Tecsun's R-911 and R-912 models. tquchina currently sells the R-9012 for US$14.90 plus US$4 shipping. Liypn recently listed this radio for the same price but did not have it listed on eBay when I wrote this.



This article will describe the R-9012, and in some cases, compare it with the slightly smaller but similar R-912 (shown in silver in the accompanying photo), which I acquired a couple months ago. I used a digitally-tuned Tecsun PL-200 (rebranded as the Eton E100) for reference signals.


Here are the frequency ranges printed on the R-9012 tuning scale:


FM: 76-108 mhz
MW: 525-1610 khz
SW1 75m: 3.70-4.20 mhz
SW2 60m: 4.65-5.20 mhz
SW3 49m: 5.90-6.40 mhz
SW4 41m: 6.90-7.40 mhz
SW5 31m: 9.25-9.95 mhz
SW6 25m: 11.55-12.10 mhz
SW7 22m: 13.25-13.80 mhz
SW8 19m: 15.00-15.75 mhz
SW9 16m: 17.45-18.05 mhz
SW10 13m: 21.20-22.05 mhz


The R-9012's tuning range is about 1 1/2" wide.

For comparison, here are the frequency ranges printed on the older Tecsun R-912:
FM: 87-108 mhz
MW: 525-1610 khz
SW1 75m: 3.55-4.00 mhz
SW2 60m: 4.70-5.25 mhz
SW3 49m: 5.90-6.30 mhz
SW4 41m: 6.95-7.40 mhz
SW5 31m: 9.40-9.90 mhz
SW6 25m: 11.55-12.00 mhz
SW7 22m: 13.30-13.90 mhz
SW8 19m: 15.00-15.60 mhz
SW9 16m: 17.40-18.05 mhz
SW10 13m: 21.35-21.90 mhz

The tuning range for the R-912 is approximately 1 3/8" wide.

Here are some simple usage instructions in case you're unfamiliar with radios of this type. The on/off switch is on the right side of the radio, and the volume dial is on the left side. The tuning scale includes rows for each of the 12 supported bands. Slide the switch at the bottom of the radio so a dot appears below the band you want. Turn the knob to move the needle to the desired frequency, which can be estimated with the printed frequencies on the tuning scale. Be sure to extend the telescopic "whip" antenna if you're listening to FM or shortwave.

The only item inside the R-9012's box is the radio itself in bubble wrap. The R-912 came with a cloth carrying bag which is useful for storage and transportation.





The R-9012 sports a simple, clean-looking plastic case and very legible labeling. On the side of the radio, the R-9012 has flatter edges whereas the R-912 has unnecessary ridges. Perhaps the ridges are intended to partially hide the side-panel controls when viewing the front of the radio. Construction-wise, the older R-912 radio feels more solid because the outer casing is more tightly held together, the band switch feels firm (the R-9012 band switch rattles somewhat), and the "DC In" jack is in the right location. Although I'll never use it, my R-9012's DC In jack is not properly aligned with the hole in the side of the radio. The center pin for the jack is at the edge of the hole. I put the tip of a ballpoint pen into the jack and was able to move it around, so I'm sure I could fit a plug in there.


The R-9012's whip antenna is nearly 22 inches long, which is the same length as the PL-200 whip, and about two inches longer than the one on the R-912. My R-9012 is labeled in English whereas my R-912 has several Chinese labels. The Chinese labeling on the R-912 does not complicate usage though. Attached to the top left side of the R-9012 is a simple cord loop wrist strap.

The speaker on the R-9012 seems to emit less treble and more lower frequencies than the R-912's speaker. Between the two, I prefer the R-9012's speaker. It sounds smoother and less harsh because of the frequency range differences. Perhaps the speakers are identical and the audio processing inside these two radios is slightly different. While using iPod headphones, both radios sounded equally good. Whether using the speakers or headphones though, there were moments with each radio that I wished for a high/low tone switch to help deal with the noise level. Noise tends to gradually sweep in and out of shortwave signals, possibly due to subtle drifting.

The tuning knob on this radio provides a good tuning experience and feels sufficiently tight. The knob is about the same size as the knob on the Tecsun PL-350.

How is the R-9012's shortwave tuning accuracy? I used WWV as a reference signal because three of its frequencies correspond almost directly with three frequencies printed on the radio's tuning scale, and WWV is reliable at most times of day. WWV on 5 mhz was received with the needle between the two zeros in "5.00" on the 60 meter scale. WWV on 10 mhz was heard with the needle over the decimal in "9.95" on the 31 meter scale. WWV on 15 mhz was found with the needle to the left of the 1 in "15.00" on the 19 meter scale. This radio doesn't receive 2.5 mhz or 20 mhz so those WWV signals weren't checked.

For more shortwave evaluation, I located Radio Japan at 17825 khz on a Tecsun PL-200. After a moment of fine-tuning in the 16 meter band, I found the same signal on the R-9012. Letting go of the radio significantly reduced the reception, so I had to hold the radio to hear it. I carefully adjusted the tuning knob to reduce the whistling noise, but it was drifting slightly and I had to make continual adjustments to reduce noise. The PL-200 picked up some of this noise too, but it was not emitting the sharp high frequencies that the R-9012 was.

The BBC on 5975 khz was easier to find and the R-9012 did not have drifting problems. The PL-200 was able to receive that signal between 5972-5979 khz, and had 4-5 bars of signal strength on 5975 khz.

The R-9012 was able to dig out a weak Radio New Zealand International signal on 17675 khz. Drift was a problem here and it would have been difficult to tune into this broadcast without a reference signal from the PL-200 (which showed only one bar for signal strength). This broadcast had a narrow usable range of 17674-17677 khz.

Voice of Korea on 13760 khz was barely coming in on the PL-200. I know I passed the signal a number of times on the R-9012 but was unable to zero in on it.

Radio Havana Cuba is one of my shortwave favorites. The 6000 khz signal was very strong whereas the 6060 khz signal was more muffled and required a bit more tuning precision. While making slight tuning adjustments to get the best signal and reduce noise, I preferred the tuning knob of the R-9012 over the thumb dial of the R-912.

Now I'll evaluate FM. Note that about 1/3 of the R-9012's FM tuning range covers 76-88 mhz, which you may not find useful. This causes the high end of the tuning range, 103-108 mhz, to be very tight. Additionally, note that this radio does not receive FM stereo through headphones, although the R-912 does.

I found two FM stations in the 104-105 mhz range on the R-9012. One of the signals was so wide on the tuning scale that the second station appeared between the signal of the other, unless it was actually an imaging problem. I could not reproduce this on the R-912, which received both stations adequately.

96.5 mhz was found on the R-9012 with the tuning needle just about centered on the "96" in the FM band. On the R-912, the tuning needle was just to the left of the "98" when receiving the same station. Both of these radios seemed to receive the same broadcast when tuned to 89.3 mhz which I suppose was an image.

I found a strong signal for a station I'm not familiar with on 91.7 mhz. The signal was picked up easily on the R-912 about midway between the "90" and "94" labelings in the FM band. On the R-9012, I traveled through the 88-95 range several times and with very minute turns of the dial, but was unable to find the same broadcast.

To evaluate the higher end of the FM band, I tuned to 105.7 mhz, a spanish-language broadcast, on the PL-200. Dialing past "104" on the R-912's FM scale, I found the signal easily. On the R-9012, unfortunately, I only heard the broadcast belonging to 106.9 mhz for most of the range between "103" and "108" on the FM scale. With a bit more effort, I found the 105.7 mhz broadcast in a narrow range while the needle was centered over the "103" label.

Finding FM stations is easier on the R-912. The R-9012 requires more effort, and in some cases, signals may be lost amongst images.

While tuning through the AM frequencies, the R-9012 seemed to receive a bit more noise and interference when tuned to a strong signal. The R-912 had clearer reception on the same frequencies. Both radios had similarly clear reception of a strong local signal on 740 kHz (KCBS). The R-9012 was more likely to null a signal with rotation. I'm not sure if this means that the R-9012 has a better ferrite bar antenna, or the R-912 actually achieves stronger reception. The R-9012's listed frequency range for AM is 525-1610 kHz, so reception in the upper 1620-1710 kHz range is not possible.

Here's my complaint about a tune LED on a radio. I found an AM station with adequate reception on the R-9012. When I looked at the radio, the tune LED was flickering. It was taking away from the listening experience and didn't help me improve the signal.

I'm curious to know why the R-9012 expands the frequency coverage of many of the shortwave broadcast bands, as the R-912 already had full broadcast band coverage. Presumably the R-9012 is based on the electronics from the R-911 and R-912 radios. Is the ability to receive more frequencies worth the reduction of fine-tuning ability? This is particularly perplexing with the FM band on the R-9012. Is the 76-88 mhz range heavily used in Asia?

Eliminating noise and locating broadcasts in the shortwave spectrum are probably the two main challenges for SWL novices. To put it bluntly, the Tecsun R-9012 makes you confront those issues head-on. With patience, I was able to make this radio do what I wanted in most cases. This is a good radio for the price, but it is better suited for the curious listener than the dedicated enthusiast. My advice to someone intending to be a regular shortwave listener would be to spend more money and get a digitally-tuned dual-conversion receiver.



11 December 2005

satellite radio

I decided that if I could get a free satellite radio receiver, I would try a subscription for a few months. Exposure to different types of music would be my main interest. I'd probably listen at home or at work, as opposed to in my car.

So I am on the lookout for satellite radio giveaways that are legitimate and not a big hassle. At this point I don't have a strong preference for either XM or Sirius. If you have knowledge of such giveaways, please leave a comment!

08 December 2005

this is radio havana calling

Tonight I found the time to listen to Radio Havana Cuba during approximately 0500-0545 UTC (09 Dec 2005). This was on 6000 khz with my Tecsun R-9012 receiver. The SIO code was a sparkling 555. Some of the major reports included:

* Rendition: The United States continues a policy of transporting terrorists to questionable locations where interrogations are held. RHC article: Legal experts say Washington's defense of rendition makes no sense.

* Waterboarding: A form of torture (in my opinion) where a detainee is strapped to a board and dunked in water. Radio Havana Cuba claims that the United States is using waterboarding during interrogations of terror suspects. A quote from the article linked above: "the Bush administration has adopted an exceedingly narrow definition of abuse and torture," in order to claim that they do not commit it.

* Banana and sugar trade: Caribbean countries are concerned about trade agreements with the European Union. An inability to export bananas and sugar would have seriously detrimental effects on the Caribbean economy. BBC Caribbean article: Bananas and sugar rows continue. EU Business article: Caribbean sugar producers press demands for better compensation from EU.

06 December 2005

eton update

A couple quick notes about the Eton website. First, the p7132 has been renamed to the p7136, although you will still see p7132 on the website in a couple spots. Second, the G2000 is no longer listed.

I could never find a Chinese radio manufacturer equivalent for the G2000 so I don't know where it originates. A lot of current offerings from Eton have equivalents in the Tecsun catalog.

03 December 2005

december 31 leap second

Here's a recording of the leap second announcement on WWV (03 December 2005 @ 2304 UTC, 15mhz, Sony ICF SW7600GR):

2005 leap second announcement from wwv.mp3 (0:58, 463kb)

Transcribed:

"Your attention please. At the recommendation of the international time bureau, a leap second will be inserted into the time broadcast of radio stations WWV, WWVB, and WWVH. Commencing at 23 hours, 59 minutes, 60 seconds UTC on December 31st, an extra second will be inserted into the NIST time scale. This adjustment is required to maintain internationally coordinated universal time in close agreement with UT1, or astronomical time."

Edit: Thanks to shortwavemusic for resolving the "NIST time scale" part of the transcript.

01 December 2005

waiting for porsche design

When I first visited the Eton website around July 2005, they were advertising two Porsche-designed shortwave radios: the P'7131 and P'7132. The P'7132 is still nowhere to be found, and when I emailed Eton about it a couple weeks ago, their response was "it will be at least six months before we have anything specific on this model." Following the P'7132 "product specification" link on the Eton website results in a "details coming soon" page.

I don't understand why they leave this pre-announced product on their website. A few weeks back, RadioIntel published news about the Degen DE1106's rebranding as the upcoming Eton E5. The E5 briefly appeared on the European Eton website. Supposedly it is also appearing in print advertisements with a list price of US$150. It will be interesting to see when that product reappears on the website and when it is released.

The XM-capable P'7131 has turned up in a couple places. Unfortunately, Eton's specifications for this product are not detailed enough for anyone who's serious about shortwave radio. With a Froogle search, I found a vendor called Surray Luggage that carries the P'7131, and they told me it is in stock. There was also a recent eBay auction with someone selling a P'7131 demo unit for $299.

(04 Dec) Update: The p7132 just appeared on the Universal Radio catalog pages as a future product.

26 November 2005

kbs qsl card

I sent a reception report to South Korea's KBS world radio in September 2005. They sent me a QSL (reception verification) card and two reception log forms. This picture shows the front of the QSL card.


Here's a photo of the reception log forms.

tecsun pl-350 review and experiences

I ordered a Tecsun PL-350 on eBay from Liypn, and received it approximately two weeks after sending the PayPal payment. There is already an excellent RadioIntel review of the PL-350, so I'm writing an addendum to that.

Overall I like the size, appearance, and feel of this radio. The size is ideal for a shortwave portable. The control layout on the front panel is sensible, although I often forget the function of the buttons along the right side. (The button labels are in Chinese, and the translated manual isn't always handy.)

The LCD display's amber backlight looks good and makes the screen readable in the dark. The display shows the frequency and the time simultaneously. A strength meter shows the battery life when the radio is off, and the signal strength with the radio on.

I like the size and responsiveness of the tuning knob. The radio has useful values for the fast and slow knob tuning modes, which are toggled with a button. It would be nicer to allow programmable fast and slow tuning steps. I mention a gripe in my previous article about tuning knobs, where fast tuning can leave the knob between notches.

The keypad lock button on the bottom right side of the radio has a nice click feel. One problem with the keypad lock is that sometimes I try to use a control, like the tuning knob or enter button, and the lock icon will blink even though the lock was off. I had to turn the radio off and on again to resolve this.

The flip stand on the back of the radio is a good size and thickness, but it has snapped out a couple times. I am taking more care to avoid losing the flip stand.

The rechargeable batteries included with the Tecsun PL-350 are only 1100 mAh, but one charge seems to last a reasonably long time. I had a bad experience with the battery sensor recently when it showed two bars with the radio off. In my opinion, that should provide at least a couple hours of operation. When I switched on the radio, it turned itself off and flashed an arrow under the battery icon to indicate the batteries were drained. Then the battery sensor displayed two bars again. This inaccuracy was frustrating as I was away from home when it happened.

The plastic grill over the speaker is somewhat flexible, so if I hold the radio in my left hand and place my thumb over the speaker, it flexes inward a bit under my thumb. I like the solid construction of other radios with a harder plastic case (such as the Kaito 1102 and Sony ICF SW7600GR).

I occasionally hear images while listening to shortwave. This is to be expected for a single-conversion radio, although the IF switch doesn't seem to help as I thought it would.

Having to use an antenna tuning dial in addition to tuning the radio's frequency may make using this radio a bit more complicated. I don't find it to be difficult, since the dial has a fixed range and the sweet spot for a given frequency can be found quickly.

Both the Tecsun PL-200 and PL-350 emit a constant, audible hiss through the speaker or headphones when the radio is on, even with the volume at zero. With the volume above zero, the hiss is less noticeable. My Tecsun digitally-tuned radios are definitely the hissiest in my radio collection.

This is a fun and useful radio. It reminds me somewhat of my Kaito 1102, with some additional features (a tuning knob, an antenna tuner, additional memory locations) while lacking other features (single sideband, dual conversion). If I get my hands on the new Eton E5 however, both the Kaito 1102 and Tecsun PL-350 may get less use.

22 November 2005

multiple radios: making the case

Before I purchased my first radio, I noticed a trend in shortwave radio reviews, where the reviewers compared each radio with several other similar radios. These people own so many radios with essentially similar features! Alas, now I have several shortwave radios of my own.

So how would I justify all of the radios I purchased? Each radio has one major feature or purpose that made it a must-have for me...

"I want a full-featured digitally-tuned portable shortwave radio." My first purchase was the Kaito KA1102. I was impressed by full coverage of the 3-30 mhz range, single sideband functionality, and a sub-$100 price. Truth be told, I could've stopped here and I'd be quite well equipped for shortwave broadcast listening.

"I want a radio with synchronous detect." For this feature I made the obvious choice of the Sony ICF SW7600GR. I understand that this radio's sync detect isn't as powerful as it could be; more powerful sync detect could help pull in weak signals. That would provide a benefit to my listening experience, as the SW7600GR is mostly useful for improving signals I can already receive adequately.

"I want a radio with a tuning knob." To discover the tuning knob experience, I purchased a Tecsun PL-350. After much use, I'll say that this is a terrific radio. The unit is well designed and constructed, and similar in operation to the PL-200 (and probably the PL-550 as well). However, it's only a single conversion receiver so it suffers from imaging problems. It also sometimes picks up unusual interference that goes away if I tune to another frequency and back again. I'll probably have a future post focusing on this radio.

"A tiny portable shortwave radio would be fun to have." Countycomm's GP-4L (a rebranded Degen DE202) looked nifty and tiny! I ordered it along with other nifty gadgets from Countycomm. This is the least useful (and least used) radio in my collection. It used to be my bathroom radio, but now I use a Tecsun PL-200 there.

"I should explore the low-cost, analog-tuned radio segment." My enthusiasm for this niche and fading hobby has me seeking to possess knowledge about radios at all price points. What could I recommend to someone in the $30 range? The Kaito WRX911 seemed obvious, and I learned that this radio (like many others commonly discussed today) originates with Tecsun. A recent article on this weblog covers similarities and differences of Tecsun's R-911, R-912, and R-9012 radios. The R-9012 looks to be the nicest in this bunch, although I wish it supported FM stereo.

16 November 2005

radio havana cuba schedule

Thanks to the wonderful and now-free Google analytics, I discovered that someone visited this weblog looking for Radio Havana (Cuba) frequencies. Here is the current English to North America schedule to my knowledge:

0100-0500 UTC: 6000 khz, 9820 khz
0500-0700 UTC: 6000 khz, 6060 khz, 9550 khz

I believe there are some additional frequencies, including a broadcast directed at Cuba itself in the "tropical" 75 meter band and one in the 25 meter band, but the frequencies listed above are the most reliable for me. Between 0100-0500 UTC I typically encounter strong interference, so I prefer to listen during 0500-0700 UTC.

Be sure to pay prime time shortwave a visit to look up more English broadcast schedules.

13 November 2005

tecsun r-912

I wanted to evaluate a low-end shortwave radio like the Tecsun R-911 (aka Kaito WRX911). I purchased a Tecsun R-912 on eBay for $21.90 (plus $4.60 for shipping). It shipped from China in a little more than a week. This article will highlight the differences between the R-911 (which I haven't used) and the R-912, as well as some notable features.

* The R-912 produces FM stereo through headphones whereas the R-911 only offers mono.
* The R-912 offers a 75m band, displaying a frequency range from 3.55 to 4.00 mhz; the R-911 lacks this band.
* Frequency ranges of shortwave bands differ slightly between these two radios, but both cover the full range of the so-called broadcast bands.
* On my R-912, although the 31m band shows its upper frequency as 9.90 mhz, I'm able to receive WWV's 10 mhz broadcast.
* The R-911 includes AM and FM on the band switch, but the R-912 has a separate AM/FM button.
* The R-912 defaults to FM when turned on. To hear AM or any shortwave band, the AM/FM button must be pressed.
* As discussed in a previous article, if you want the upper end of the North American AM band (1620-1710 khz), get the Kaito WRX911 rather than one of the Tecsun radios. The Tecsun radios only go as high as 1610 khz in the AM band.

I'm really happy with the sound through headphones with my Tecsun R-912. I use iPod earbud headphones. Aside from the tiny and small-sounding speaker, the radio is a great size. The whip antenna and flip stand are sturdy. Tuning drift is a problem for shortwave with this radio.

The Tecsun R-9012 is a new offering that has an R-911 style band switch, a 75m band like the R-912, wide frequency ranges for each band, and a tuning knob rather than a dial. It doesn't support FM stereo though.

To learn more about these radios, search ebay.com for "tecsun radio", and check the reviews page at RadioIntel.com.

12 November 2005

street lights

Before I moved at the end of October, I frequently walked along a bike trail near my apartment while listening to shortwave. A shopping center and a large parking lot were adjacent to the trail. I also spent time listening to my radios in the parking lot because of the lack of interference. At the far corner of the parking lot was a street light that flickered on and off every couple minutes.

Tonight, I took my first shortwave stroll in my new (but familiar) surroundings. After walking through a nearby park and returning to linger at a street corner near home, I noticed the street light above me changing color from white to pink. It then went out, and came back on with white light a short time later.

I appreciate returning to an old routine and duplicating it so precisely!

07 November 2005

shortwave summary: 07 nov 2005

Here are some of my older reception reports. I wanted to collect more before posting, but I have been busy moving. Also, it's rainy season in Northern California and I don't get good indoor reception. I have a DE31 active loop antenna but embarrassingly, I don't have it working yet. (I would love any advice my readers may have! I can post more in the comments section if you're curious.) (Edit: I just discovered that the wire between the radio and the antenna was backwards. Now it works!)

* 24 Oct 2005: Radio Havana Cuba was silent on 6000 / 6060 / 9550 khz at 0500 UTC, possibly because Hurricane Wilma was in the area. I heard RHC the next night but they didn't mention being off the air the day before.

* 18 Oct 2005: Some tribunal is meeting to determine if President George W. Bush's administration is responsible for crimes against humanity. (Radio Havana Cuba, 0515 UTC, 6000 khz, SIO 544)

* 17 Oct 2005: I briefly listened to the BBC (0339 UTC, 7120 khz, SIO 434) but there was a morse code message broadcasting on the same frequency, which was annoying. The BBC story was about popular dance music in Tanzania that is created with homemade instruments. Learning about music from a shortwave broadcast is always a pleasure.

* 17 Oct 2005: Based on what the Radio Taiwan International announcers were saying, the tapwater in Taipei isn't drinkable. Also: "Taiwan is not just an urban wasteland", and they mentioned that Taiwan is one of the most densely-populated parts of the world. I've never been to Asia, but now I have this image of concrete and steel cities, jammed with houses and apartment buildings. I've seen images of Tokyo in the movie, Lost in Translation. Anyway, their point was to talk about some of the beautiful natural scenery available in Taiwan. (0257 UTC, 5950 khz, SIO 555)

* 16 Oct 2005: Radio Havana Cuba announced that the United States was forming the National Clandestine Service which would focus on spying and covert operations. I don't get it. So what will the CIA be doing? (0510 UTC, 6060 khz, SIO 433)

05 November 2005

speaker-less portables

My initial use of portable shortwave radios was on walks while using headphones. So I started imagining a portable shortwave radio that didn't include a speaker. I purchased some used Eton E100 radios (aka the Tecsun PL-200) so I could experiment with simple modifications, including removing the speaker. (This is still on my to-do list.) I figured this would reduce the weight of the already-light radio, and possibly slightly improve battery life as the speaker wouldn't need to be switched on. Of course, the size of the radio would not change with this modification.

When I first saw the Eton website in the summer of 2005, they had announced the P'7132 radio which vaguely resembles an iPod. It is a black portable shortwave radio without a speaker. However, as I visit the Eton website today, details for the P'7132 are still unavailable. An email to Eton on 12 August 2005 asking about the P'7132 went unanswered; I sent them a second query just now.

When using a pocket shortwave radio like the P'7132, it would be nice to have a wire antenna running alongside headphone wires. I wonder if interference would be a problem.

Anyway, why did Eton announce the P'7132 on their website so many months before availability?

28 October 2005

eton e5 buzz

On 20 October, RadioIntel mentioned that Eton had a new radio called the E5 on their European website. The E5 turns out to be the rumored Degen DE1106. You can read more about this saga over at RadioIntel. The E5 is not currently on Eton's website (due to an apparent retraction) but I'm guessing it's almost ready to launch.

The Eton E5 is a dual-conversion receiver with SSB and a tuning knob. Its 700 memories will support alphanumeric tagging. This will be a cool radio to add to my collection.

23 October 2005

understanding tuning knobs

My first two shortwave radios did not have tuning knobs. I've since acquired radios with tuning knobs, and I learned a few things that seem worth sharing.

Some shortwave radio reviewers consider tuning knobs a must-have feature, whereas I consider them nice to have. Lately I've been using direct frequency entry to listen to specific broadcasts rather than scan the bands.

* The knob's step size on a digitally-tuned radio is an important characteristic. My Tecsun PL-350, for example, has a fast and slow tuning mode toggled with a button. This provides a 5khz or 1khz step size for shortwave tuning. A Tecsun PL-200 only allows slow tuning with a 1khz step size for shortwave.

* The feel of turning the knob one notch or rotating it quickly will vary among different models. Sometimes the knob doesn't stop within a notch after rapid tuning on the Tecsun PL-350, and the frequency of the radio may change unexpectedly. The knob on the PL-200 doesn't provide sufficient responsiveness with rapid turns, so it may only advance half as far as you expect.

* Some radios feature a 2-in-1 tuning knob, with an outer knob for fast tuning and an inner knob for slow tuning. I really like the 2-in-1 tuning control on the analog-tuned Eton FR250, where the ratio between the two knobs is 4:1. I understand that the tuning control on the digitally-tuned S350 and S350DL radios (Tecsun BCL-2000 and BCL-3000) is similar.

* Tuning dials (that more closely resemble a volume dial than a tuning knob) are more prone to drifting. The Countycomm GP-4L (Degen DE202) has a tuning dial. Due to this dial's small size, it's difficult to get the right tradeoff for fast and slow tuning. Two large shortwave bands combined with the dial's fixed range makes changing between bands annoying, because the frequency is determined by the dial's relative position. A radio like the Kaito WRX911 on the other hand is analog-tuned with a tuning dial, but displays the entire band with a tuning needle so the user has an idea of how fast or slow to turn the dial. In my opinion, this provides a better experience than a tuning dial on a digital radio.

* While reading shortwave radio reviews, I read about "chuff" which is an effect of tuning a digitally-tuned radio. My understanding is that chuff is the brief silence between frequencies, intended to mute an undesirable radio noise. Some radio enthusiasts figure out how to disable the muting so the sound is continuous when tuning with a dial.

I hope this is useful (and also correct)! Feel free to leave a comment about this topic or to suggest other radio topics I could write about here.

17 October 2005

venom roulette

An interesting story I heard on Radio Netherlands (6165 khz, SIO 555) on 18 October between 0400-0500 UTC was about a clinical trial of a new vaccine for yellow jacket allergy. The two drugs being compared were Alutar (the old one) and Purethal (the new one).

Patients with this allergy were recruited, given one of the two medications, and stung with a wasp. Before being stung at the clinic, Johan Smet was provided with life insurance worth EUR 3.5 million. His "category 2" allergy could result in extreme swelling, fever, and breathing difficulty following a wasp sting. His wife Axandra went with him to offer moral support, or to watch him die.

After Mr. Smet was stung, the poor wasp was squashed to death with a tissue.

14 October 2005

shortwave summary: 14 oct 2005

* 14 Oct 2005: Around 0530 UTC, Radio Havana Cuba was received with an SIO of 555. I was impressed by the clarity of the musical interludes, which I heard for the first time without distortion!

* 12 Oct 2005: I tuned to 6185 khz (SIO 353) while scanning because I couldn't receive a signal from Radio Havana Cuba. I heard slow droning music with bass and strings. I was unsure if it was synthesized or an orchestra due to the medium signal quality. But I liked it! After the song, the announcer (speaking in spanish, which I barely understand) mentioned the players of various instruments, including a violin. According to hfradio.org, this might have been Radio Educacion from Mexico City, Mexico (my first reception of a Mexican broadcast).

* 10 Oct 2005: Via Radio Havana Cuba (6060khz, 0600-0640 UTC, SIO 533), I learned about X Alfonso, a Cuban music group. Several songs from their 2004 album, Civilization, were played. This album won the 2005 Cubadisco grand prize. The announcer noted that Cuban musicians frequently receive Grammy nominations but cannot attend because they are denied U.S. visas.

* 03 Oct 2005: Vietnamese love market. This was one of my favorite recent stories on shortwave. The love market was a town square in northern Vietnam where single persons would meet each other and form relationships. A male would sing an improvised song to advertise himself as a potential mate. A woman who liked the song could then respond with a song of her own. Unfortunately, increased tourism destroyed this tradition. I heard this on Radio Taiwan International around 0340 UTC on 5950 khz (SIO 555).

* 29 Sep 2005: On Radio Havana Cuba (9550 khz, SIO 544) at 0530 UTC: "Luis Posada Carriles is the Osama Bin Laden of Latin America."

* 29 Sep 2005: China is willing to discuss mainland relations with either political party in Taiwan, as long as they accept the One-China policy. This was discussed on China Radio International (9755 khz, SIO 544) around 0400-0410 UTC.

* 28 Sep 2005: Radio Havana Cuba (this time on 6000 khz, SIO 343) is a valuable source of major news that's not always available from mainstream North American media. RHC provided news and updates on Cindy Sheehan's involvement in anti-war protests in Washington D.C. over the past weekend. At 0600 UTC, they described a "systemic filtration process" in the U.S. media that resulted in little to no protest coverage. This was despite over 250,000 estimated protesters.

11 October 2005

shortwave radios on ebay

eBay is a very useful source for new and used shortwave radios. It can enable you to purchase a radio that's not marketed in your home country, or to save money by purchasing a used radio. I've been watching shortwave radio offerings on eBay, and I've also made three purchases. Here are tips for anyone interested in purchasing a shortwave radio through eBay. Some of these tips may be obvious to experienced eBay users.

For the most part, I'll assume you already know what features you want. If you're new to the hobby, be sure to read Selecting a Shortwave Radio at dxing.com.

* Avoid auctions or "buy it now" listings with a very low item price and a high shipping price. I recently saw auctions for Tecsun PL-550 radios for $0.99 with a shipping cost of $84.00. Seven-to-ten day airmail shipping of a radio from China to North America might actually cost up to $20. The seller put almost the entire price within the shipping fee as a way to avoid paying eBay fees. Auctions priced this way should be reported to eBay for attempted fee avoidance. It is not just dishonest; it can pose a big problem if you try to get a refund. The seller can claim that the refund does not include the shipping cost.

* Radios shipped from China may have Chinese labeling, Chinese manuals, and 220v power supplies. If you are considering purchasing a Chinese radio, find out if a translated manual is available. If not, find out if the radio is sold in North America under a different brand/model, in which case you might find a downloadable manual for that radio. For example, the Tecsun PL-200 is the same as the Eton E100. You will also need a step-up power transformer if you wish to power the radio from a 110v wall outlet.

* If you care about AM broadcast (medium wave) reception, determine the radio's step size (if digitally tuned) and frequency range. In Europe and Asia, AM stations are 9 khz apart whereas in North America they are 10 khz apart. If you're considering a digitally-tuned radio that has up/down buttons for frequency scanning, determine if it comes with the correct step size or allows you to toggle it between 9 khz and 10 khz. North American AM stations can be as high as 1710 khz whereas some radios manufactured today may only go as high as 1620 khz.

* Sometimes a manufacturer releases an update of a particular radio model to correct problems. Try to determine if you are getting a problematic first-run radio or a revised, corrected one. I don't think this can be determined from a serial number, but you might be able to determine the manufacturing date. Whenever I want to learn about a particular radio, I start with a google search like "ka1103 review" to learn about the Kaito KA1103, for example. Radiointel.com has detailed reviews of many current shortwave radios, and some reviews mention known manufacturing issues.

* When purchasing a radio that has been taken out of the original box, determine if the offered item includes all of the accessories that you require. Find out if you will receive the manual and power adapter. Check the manufacturer's homepage to determine what is included in a new package.

* I saw at least one auction where the title and description described a much newer radio than was depicted in the picture. If you're not familiar with the radio in the auction, visit the manufacturer's site or do an images.google.com search to determine if the description matches the picture. If an auction advertises a Grundig radio designed by Porsche, be wary if the picture shows an old, plastic radio with an ugly interface!

* Edit: Ulis aka K3LU from RadioIntel.com adds this tip regarding warranties: "While buying direct from China frequently offers a savings, keep in mind that if the radio arrives defective or has a defective issue within a normal warranty period (say 90 days or 1 year), the value of the radio may not be worth the postage to send the radio back to China for replacement or repair. In other words, there is a risk factor involved. All US distributors on new radios offer a warranty."

Happy shopping!

09 October 2005

pirate radio show

Hopefully someone will read this and know what I'm talking about. Sometime during August or September, I was listening to 5850 khz and heard a radio show that was about pirate shortwave broadcasting. It included a recording of a pirate broadcast in New Zealand. The best guess I could make for the time of day would be sometime during 0000-0500 UTC. I'm pretty sure it wasn't World of Radio as the broadcast I heard was entirely focused on pirate radio.

If anyone recognizes which show this might be, I'd love to know more!

05 October 2005

cuban five documentary

A documentary titled "Mission Against Terror" is being shown in a tour across Canada to raise awareness and answer questions about the Cuban five.

I have been following the story of the Cuban five through Radio Havana Cuba since I switched on my first shortwave radio a couple months ago. I would really like to attend a showing or receive a copy of the movie.

01 October 2005

focus on the bbc

One of my friends, briton-american Simon Carless, revealed that he is a reader of this weblog. In the spirit of knowing one's audience (and perhaps testing their sense of humor), I'd like to take a jab at the BBC.

As stipulated in previous posts, receiving the BBC on a shortwave radio in North America is a fluke. Since July 1, 2001, the BBC has not directed shortwave broadcasts to North America (as seen on savebbc.org).

In northern California, I listen to the BBC on broadcasts intended for Central America, Africa, and Asia. Here are some brief reception reports:

03 Sep 2005 1000 UTC: 6195 khz (via Singapore, to Asia) SIO: 233
05 Sep 2005 0222 UTC: 5975 khz (*1) SIO: 454
10 Sep 2005 0024 UTC: 5975 khz (*1) SIO: n/a
20 Sep 2005 0327 UTC: 5975 khz (*1) SIO: 353
20 Sep 2005 0329 UTC: 7120 khz (via South Africa, to Africa) SIO: 343
21 Sep 2005 0653 UTC: 6005 khz (via Ascension Island, to Africa) SIO: 454
22 Sep 2005 0310 UTC: 5975 khz (*1) SIO: 433
22 Sep 2005 0314 UTC: 7120 khz (via South Africa, to Africa) SIO: 422 ... 0420 UTC: SIO: 444

*1: via French Guiana, to Central America

The broadcast on 6005 khz actually annoys me because it seems to contribute interference to Radio Havana Cuba on 6000 khz. Conversely, if 6000 khz is active, it could cause interference on 6005 khz. The 7120 khz broadcast is the most interesting because it provides African news, but it's a less-than-perfect signal. The broadcast on 5975 khz is dull, mainstream news.

Edit: Here's a quote from the BBC on 7120 khz, where a person mentions a cultural difference in Kenya regarding people complimenting each other. "We don't say thank you for a compliment, we agree with it."

27 September 2005

shortwave summary: 27 sep 2005

I should come up with a consistent name for posts that include tidbits from multiple broadcasts. For now I'll try "shortwave summary".

* 27 Sep 2005: Radio Netherlands is a reliable broadcast during 0400-0500 UTC when they have broadcasts in the prestigious 49 meter and 31 meter bands. I briefly tuned in to 6165 khz (SIO 544) at 0424 UTC. They referred to Hurricane Katrina as a "veritable orgy of destruction."

* 26 Sep 2005: I started listening to the Voice of America on 9575 khz (SIO 555) at 0414 UTC. As mentioned in a previous post, I wanted to know what the Voice of America was telling the world, especially since they're not currently supposed to broadcast to United States citizens. First they discussed tracking monarch butterfly migration. (Your tax dollars at work.) Then they applied more spin than the world's finest laundromat to brag that advanced warnings and path prediction of Hurricane Katrina saved "tens of thousands of lives". What happened to the rest of the story?

* 25 Sep 2005: I had another chance to hear KBS from South Korea. I tuned into 9560 khz at 0213 UTC, when the SIO code was a respectable 454. They have a fun broadcasting style which is similar to Radio Taiwan International and Radio Havana Cuba sometimes, with two announcers on at once. Both people can discuss a news story and offer different opinions. They discussed a drink-serving robot, an idea which is not new, but is always fun to think about. (Sorry, I couldn't find a URL for this). They also mentioned the horrific possibility of remote-controlled robot soldiers.

* 24 Sep 2005: The United States is still bombing Afghanistan with B52s, destroying villages. There's disagreement with Hamid Karzai over the methods for hunting the Taliban. A widely-held view seems to be that Americans are arrogant. This was heard on Radio Netherlands, 6165 khz (SIO 544) and 9590 khz (SIO 353) around 0400 UTC.

* 24 Sep 2005: $1 billion is missing from the Iraqi defense fund. This was from Radio Havana Cuba on 6000 khz (SIO 454) at 0543 UTC.

25 September 2005

grundig g4000a review

I do not own a Grundig G4000A (internally identical to the YB-400PE) and only handled an unpowered unit in a store. This brief review is based on that experience.

I was instantly annoyed with the odd sponge-like operation of the keypad buttons. The buttons had to be pressed in a bit before the clicking sensation of the electrical connection was felt. Based on my experience with the buttons, I did not enjoy using the G4000A. Maybe this type of button helps prevent accidental usage? Anyone with a YB-400PE/G4000A is welcome to comment on what they think about the button feel. I don't know if any other review already mentions the weird feel of the buttons, but I don't recall hearing about it.

Other radios I have used (Kaito 1102, Sony ICF SW7600GR, Eton E100, Tecsun PL350) have more responsive buttons that allow for rapid entry. When listening to shortwave, I have a self-prepared broadcast schedule at hand. If I tune in and hear a weak signal, old content, or just plain boring stuff, I will move to the next available broadcast. Sometimes there are two good broadcasts on at the same time; I might frequently switch between them. Since I don't make extensive use of frequency memories (the YB-400PE/G4000A only has 40), I am continually entering direct frequencies.

The size of the G4000A, perhaps mostly to accomodate its speaker, seems too large for me given the features it has.

When I first started evaluating portable shortwave radios, the Grundig YB-400PE was a leading contender. Passport to Worldband Radio gave the YB-400PE top marks. I am glad that I ultimately chose something else, and was later able to get a feel for the G4000A without purchasing it, because I would have been disappointed.

24 September 2005

mooncake

"Mooncakes are expensive, are considered a delicacy, and go best with oolong or jasmine tea." (wikipedia.org)

On Wednesday, I learned about mooncakes while listening to Radio Taiwan International. A majority of mooncakes are eaten around the time of the Chinese Moon Festival. Mooncakes also symbolize the overthrow of the Mongols. Unfortunately (I say this because they sound delicious), mooncake popularity is declining due to people becoming health-conscious. Newer varieties of mooncakes use low sugar, high fiber, and little to no fat.

Previously, RTI had a segment about Din Tai Fung, a famous steamed dumpling restaurant in Taipei. RTI's cultural content likely helps to increase tourism (and eating) there.

Radio Taiwan International's broadcasts are sent across the Pacific Ocean via undersea cable, which certainly must contribute to the excellent signals (SIO 454-555) I receive (which are transmitted from Okeechobee, Florida following a satellite transmission originating in Oakland, California).

21 September 2005

right, ascension

While trying to grab Radio Havana Cuba on 6000 khz, I accidentally picked up the BBC World Service on 6005 khz. Prime time shortwave indicates that this broadcast is from Ascension Island [cia world factbook] [wikipedia] in the South Atlantic, destined for Africa. Ascension is a breeding ground for sea turtles and sooty terns.

16 September 2005

shortwave notes

I've been updating my shortwave cheat sheet with new frequencies and broadcast schedule entries as I find and confirm them. Reception has been rough lately due to solar flares. Lots of recent broadcasts have covered Hurricane Katrina and the US government's response to it. It's nice to hear the international support, both in forms of grieving and criticizing the inadequate emergency response. Other tidbits:

* 03 Sep 2005: I heard a song on Radio New Zealand International (from a New Zealand band) that I liked. I wrote down a description of the song in my notebook, and emailed the station when I got home. I asked them if they could identify the song. Separately, I sent a reception report using their online form. They sent an online QSL but I haven't heard back about the music. This was at approximately 0451 UTC in case anyone else out there can help me track it down.

* 04-05 Sep 2005: Thanks again to prime time shortwave, I found broadcasts from North and South Korea.

* 10 Sep 2005: At 0600 UTC, Radio Havana Cuba was beginning another hour of English language service. They apparently played a tape backwards for about 30 seconds. The station was silent for about 4 minutes, then the broadcast commenced as normal.

02 September 2005

listening hilights

Between approximately 0530-0730 UTC (02 Sep 2005), I listened to Radio Havana Cuba and Radio Taiwan International. Here are the highlights:

* Cuban Parliament releases declaration regarding Hurricane Katrina, saying that the news from the United States makes them sad, and that they express solidarity with the US people, government, local authorities (in affected areas), and victims. "The whole world should feel this tragedy as its own."

* China has 700 missiles aimed at Taiwan (whatever exactly that means), and more are expected.

* The "New music lounge with Julie Tang" focused on boy bands. I got to hear two songs from Taiwanese boy bands! English translations of the band names are "energy" and "the little tigers". I didn't care much for the songs but it was certainly something unique. And Julie, the show host, expressed annoyance with androgynous boy band members wo have their hair just right and wear too much makeup.

01 September 2005

shortwave cheat sheet

I created a document containing lots of relevant information for shortwave listening. It's designed to print on one sheet of 8.5"x11" paper. TextEdit.app is a pretty good tool for this task, as it lets me set arbitrary tab stops and change font faces and sizes. I'm using Verdana 9 with 0.9x line spacing. Unfortunately, I can't get TextEdit to cooperate with respect to custom page layouts, so I'm stuck with the gratuitous 1" margins.

I'm not going to distribute my cheat sheet because it contains information copied and paraphrased from other sources, such as shortwave receiver manuals and various websites. But I'll tell you what's listed: frequency ranges for the broadcast bands; best listening conditions for those bands; a time-sorted list (with frequencies) of all the broadcasts I've heard (minus the religious ones); time station frequencies; major cities in each time zone; bands for ham radio, aeronautical, and maritime communications; reception and interference tips; explanation of radio wave propagation and the ionosphere; the nato phonetic alphabet; and a morse code guide.

In the past few days, I've been using my evening listening sessions to verify the frequency/broadcast schedule and find more broadcasts as listed on the excellent prime time shortwave website.

29 August 2005

new countries

Thanks to prime time shortwave, I was able to receive some new broadcasts today:

15385 khz: Radio Exterior de EspaƱa (Madrid, Spain)
6175 khz: Voice of Vietnam (via Sackville, NB, CA)

See prime time shortwave's website for broadcast schedules and targeted regions. I believe I received broadcasts from Italy, Hungary, Malaysia, and Romania; those signals were too weak for confirmation.

28 August 2005

unknown broadcasts

Here are some frequencies I picked up tonight that I was unable to identify through either prime time shortwave or google searches for the frequencies themselves (e.g. "5000 khz"). If you know about any of these frequencies, please let me know.

29 august 2005
0345 UTC: 5925 khz (sounded like French), SIO 333
0350 UTC: 6100 khz (sounded like German), SIO 353
0403 UTC: 7390 khz (sounded like French), SIO 343
0445 UTC: 9735 khz (sounded like German), SIO 555

The 31-meter band was rather inactive tonight. Radio Havana Cuba seemed to be playing last week's broadcast. Their top news story was Cindy Sheehan, whereas one might expect it to be Katrina.

27 August 2005

voice of america

Did you know that there's a radio broadcaster in the United States, funded by the U.S. government, that is forbidden from broadcasting to locations within the country? Meet Voice of America. In 2005, they received $158 million in funding from United States taxpayers. As a bonus, they are exempt from releasing transcripts of their broadcasts in response to Freedom of Information Act inquiries. This unique set of circumstances is due to 1948's Smith-Mundt Act.

The idea is that the United States government should not have direct media access to its own citizens. I think this makes sense when considering that it could be a propaganda tool, but this content can't be reviewed before being used as propaganda for the rest of the world. Right?

Anyway, sometimes I am able to tune into VOA's English to Africa broadcasts on 9575 khz. This suggests that the broadcast originates at their Delano, CA transmitter. I wonder in which direction the broadcast is beamed. The broadcasts I have heard were relatively boring, although they contained interesting news headlines and tidbits relevant to African nations.

I hope to pick up these broadcasts again as I am curious how my government is representing my country to the world population. What is the message they are broadcasting on topics like the Iraq war, Cindy Sheehan, Pat Robertson, and John Bolton? Or are they ignoring these stories?

21 August 2005

using a reel antenna

This may be obvious to experienced shortwave radio users, but I'm posting it becase I'm new to the hobby and I just learned a lesson. If you use a reel antenna, always reel it in slowly. One revolution per second would be a good idea. Also try to keep the wire somewhat taut during reeling. Following these tips can avoid nasty tangling situations.

A reel antenna that I own had its wire caught under two loops, and this was most likely caused by hasty reeling. I could only get several inches of the antenna out of the canister before the snag prevented further unwinding. I turned the reel back and forth, and tried tugging and loosening the wire, but it was hopelessly stuck.

I ended up removing the screw at the center of the reel to disassemble the casing. This allowed me to loosen the correct loops to get the wire free. Then I unwound the entire antenna, gently worked the kinks out of the wire, and rewound it slowly and with some tension. Problem solved, but time wasted.

20 August 2005

sony icf sw7600gr review

I decided that I wanted a higher-end shortwave receiver than my very-capable Kaito 1102, so I purchased a Sony ICF SW7600GR. My decision was made after reading the "best shortwave travel portable" comparison review at radiointel.com.

I'm keeping both radios, as each one might be appropriate in different situations. I'm going to highlight the initial positives and negatives of my new Sony receiver, referencing a few ways in which my Kaito receiver is better.

positives:
* An advantage of the SW7600GR's continuous 150-29999 khz tuning range is that the radio only needs two band settings: AM and FM. My 1102 separates MW and SW since it doesn't include continuous tuning between the two ranges.

* The synchronous detection feature is great. I activated it with a few strong-but-fuzzy signals last night, and heard a reduction in the static along with a boost in the quality and stability of the broadcast.

* There are separate up/down button sets for 1khz and 5khz step tuning.

* Having a usb/lsb switch and a fine-tune dial for SSB is an improvement over the 1102, which only has a fine-tune dial.

* The telescopic whip antenna is formidable and sturdy. It is only 5 inches taller than my 1102's antenna, but it has a much more solid feel to it.

* The attenuator seems useful, although I've only tried it in circumstances where interference exceeded a signal, so it did not provide any benefit in that case. I'll have to learn when to use this feature.

negatives:
* My biggest frustration so far is that the radio only scans within bands. At the end of a band, two quick beeps are heard and the frequency returns to the bottom of the band for another pass. I prefer the continuous scanning of the 1102 (although the 1102 hops between bands and doesn't scan between them unless the user enters a between-band frequency and starts scanning from there).

* The headphone jack is on the same side as the wrist strap. It is awkward to put my hand through the wrist strap and hold the side of the radio when headphones are plugged in. My 1102 conveniently has the wrist strap and the headphone jack on opposite sides.

* The backlight only lights the LCD display, and does not illuminate the buttons. This is something the Kaito 1102 does pretty well. I often use my shortwave radios outside in the dark, so a dark keypad is an impediment.

* I don't hear enough treble while using iPod earbud headphones, even with the music/news switch set to music. The radiointel.com review including the SW7600GR points out that the included filter is a compromise that is appropriate for both MW and SW.

* The SW7600GR is approximately 1 inch taller and 1.5 inches wider than my 1102. It doesn't fit in my jacket pocket. It is also a lot heavier than the 1102.

15 August 2005

their food sucks, too

I picked up the BBC's Caribbean and Central America service on 5975 khz (0330-0345 UTC). But it turned out to be boring.

Radio Havana Cuba was very clear when I first went out tonight, but it was a spanish language broadcast. By the time I switched back and heard them broadcasting in english, the signal was significantly weaker.

14 August 2005

mint / canada

In response to a listener letter, the announcers on Radio Havana Cuba explained how to mix a mojito. That, along with the story of the Cuban five (previously discussed), explains in a nutshell why RHC is so great. They offer a nice mix of serious, compelling news that I don't get anywhere else; along with fun and useful information; mixed with clips of Cuban music. It is my favorite shortwave broadcast.

Tonight I managed to receive CHU @ 7335 khz, which I didn't expect to do since I read that listeners in Vancouver usually can't receive it.

13 August 2005

need a lift?

Tonight, after about an hour of fruitless shortwave listening, I tried some ssb scanning. I scanned parts of 7000-7500 khz and 11000-11500 khz. Then I picked up a ham conversation on 3818 khz. It went something like this:

person 1: "This guy asked the mechanic to check the tire pressure. Well, the mechanic checked the pressure and it was 32 pounds in each tire. Then the guy said he wanted the car up on the lift to be sure the pressure was exact in all four tires. The guy was a teacher."

person 2: "Teachers and engineers; they're the worst."

person 3: "That's the funny thing about tires. If you add up all four tires, it's 128 pounds of air. I can lift 128 pounds, but I can't lift that car."

12 August 2005

give me a vegemite sandwich

Tonight I managed to pull in Russia in the 19 meter band. Rather than use the top level of the trusty parking garage, I tried a new outdoor listening location for weekend nights when the parking garage is busy. A large empty parking lot at a nearby shopping center provided a lot of open space with less interference than I get at the parking garage. Here's an approximate schedule of my listening from tonight (also to be entered in my radio log at a future date):

0430 - 0500 UTC: Voice of Russia @ 15595 khz
0500 - 0530 UTC: Radio Havana Cuba @ 6000 khz
0530 - 0545 UTC: Radio Australia @ 15515 khz

I also listened to the Australian station in short bursts between 0430 - 0530 UTC.

A story I learned about exclusively through shortwave radio is the plight of the Cuban Five, who were arrested in Miami about 7 years ago. They were tried and convicted of crimes such as using false identification, espionage, and conspiracy to commit murder [wikipedia.org]. Imprisonment terms were between 15 years to life.

Just 3 days ago, the 11th circuit court of appeals in Atlanta, Georgia overturned all of the convictions. Radio Havana Cuba has been discussing this story every time I have tuned in. Extensive trial publicity, anti-Cuban sentiment in Miami, and media intimidation of jurors have been mentioned in claims of unfair trials. Now that the convictions are overturned, one of the Cubans wants to see his wife for the first time in 7 years, but apparently is not free to meet with her yet. She was originally under suspicion too, but as she was not formally charged within 5 years of the alleged crimes, she is believed to be safe due to the statute of limitations. (Information in this paragraph is based on a Radio Havana Cuba phone interview with one of the five's lawyers and previous broadcasts.)

08 August 2005

cuba, holland, and the united kingdom

(I guess this is turning into my shortwave radio weblog.)

Tonight I took my shortwave radio out with the intention of listening to Radio Havana Cuba. It would not be so, due to a weak and fading signal. But I got a quite usable signal from Radio Netherlands, this time at 9590 khz. I listened for approximately 20 minutes, and decided to tune away because the content was rather boring. It included several scientific reports: things like how the observed redshift may not be proof of a big bang and an expanding universe (good luck convincing Hawking), how some form of material can be used to fix cavities instead of the traditional drilling and filling, and how some drug does something. In other words, it seemed like easily obtainable content. That serves as an explanation why I wanted to tune into Cuba again.

One major shortwave broadcaster I haven't yet found is the BBC. While I have heard several broadcasts in a UK speaker's accent, I haven't heard any BBC station identifications. Of course, I could be better educated on the BBC's shortwave broadcasting schedule and frequencies. (edit: After consulting the BBC shortwave guide, I noticed/remembered that none of their broadcasts target North America.)

Another goal is to pick up numbers stations. I joined the Enigma 2000 Yahoo group and read their documents that list known broadcasts. I took a stab at picking up two of the so-called easy ones, but nothing yet. Again, information on broadcasting schedules (based on listener observations) and desirable listening locations (I could be wrong but there probably aren't a lot of foreign spies in California) would help fill this gap. So it's an ongoing task.

03 August 2005

shortwave reception

I have a small external antenna that I can hang from my balcony to slightly improve shortwave reception. However, I wanted to see what would be possible by listening from a more ideal location, reception-wise. There's a 5-story parking garage near my apartment, and sometimes I climb all the steps, look around (sometimes there's a ring of fog all the way around that's just fantastic to see), and come back down when I'm out for a walk. So I thought it would be useful to take my radio up there, as it clears all of the area's other buildings.

The reception was pretty great! Although I brought the wire antenna along with some string and clips for hanging it up, I didn't bother attaching it. Using just the telescopic "whip" antenna, I was able to pick up many more signals than I could with the external antenna at my apartment. This was the first time I picked up communication between ham radio operators, and both the Colorado (WWV, a male voice) and Hawaii (WWVH, a female voice) time broadcasts on 5000 khz. I didn't have access to my list of previously received broadcasts, and I haven't been storing stations in my radio's memory. The radio's memory is not particularly useful, because it doesn't include information such as what time of day a usable broadcast may exist.

30 July 2005

my office radio

A couple weeks ago, I wandered into the Palo Alto Frys store to look at their selection of shortwave radios. My expectations of a poor selection and high prices were met. But I saw a nice-looking AM/FM radio, the Sangean WR-1. After researching the features, and taking into consideration that Sangean has a good reputation in the realm of shortwave radios, I ordered it from Universal Radio (the product link in the previous sentence goes to their site). After a few sessions of use, here is my review.

The minimal design and retro-style tuner display caught my eye. When turning on the radio, the selected band and frequency scale look cool lit up. The volume and tuner dials have a nice grip and smooth action.



The volume control is too coarse. In the office, I want to select a low volume, but the volume level changes dramatically with small turns of the dial. This seems like a common issue with music devices, as both the iPod and my factory car stereo have the same problem.

A minor design nit-pick is that the two smaller dials (off/AM/FM, and volume) are too close together. This makes it hard to access the inner portion of the volume control. This is a minor issue because the volume control can be more easily accessed from the top and bottom, and will generally be infrequently used.

Regarding the sound quality, the radio produces too much bass in my opinion, and there are no tone controls to correct this.

FM reception seems very good using the internal antenna. When a station is tuned in, a green LED near the tuning dial will light up. I was able to get very clear signals for nearby broadcasts. I can't comment on AM reception because I've been unable to get AM reception in my office. The radio is indoors and other buildings are in the way, so I am not surprised. Other reviews of this radio point out that the tuning scale is compressed at the low end of the FM spectrum and the high end of the AM spectrum, so take that into consideration if you're considering this product.

Overall, I'm happy with the radio. It has a great look, usable sound, good FM reception, and will be fine for occasional music and news listening. I may bring it home because it would get more use and better AM reception there.

23 July 2005

broadcasts i've received

Using my shortwave radio, I have heard broadcasts from these stations during the past week:

* EWTN (5850 khz @ 0912 UTC) (originating in Alabama)
* Radio China International (13680 khz @ 2326 UTC) (originating in Beijing; relayed from Sackville, NB, Canada)
* Radio Havana Cuba (6000 khz @ 0510 UTC) (originating in Havana)
* Radio Netherlands (6165 khz @ 0400 UTC) (relay from Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles)
* Radio Taiwan (5950 khz @ 0355 UTC) (originating in Taipei; relayed from WYFR, unknown location)
* Radio Thailand (5890 khz @ 0302 UTC) (originating in Bangkok; relayed from Delano, California)
* World Harvest Radio (7465 khz @ 0600 UTC) (originating in Cypress Creek, South Carolina)

The times shown are when I first picked up the broadcast. These broadcasts aren't without problems due to static, fading, and interference.

The Radio Netherlands session was very brief because of poor signal quality. Once I identified the station, I tuned to something else. Curiously, the CIA World Factbook claims that as of 2004, Netherlands Antilles had 0 shortwave stations.

My latest wire antenna placement strategy is to hang the top of the antenna from a clothespin that I scotch-taped to the side of my building (as high up as I can reach).

20 July 2005

shortwave update

I've picked up around 7 - 10 different shortwave signals, but they've all been mostly static. I have only been able to identify a few phrases, and I don't have a clue as to the origin of the broadcasts. In terms of languages, I believe I've heard English, Spanish, and Chinese. My next goal is to learn how to properly hang my wire antenna to improve reception as much as possible. I would also like to determine how much interference might be generated by all of the technology around me.

I've found a few more frequency listings/schedules, so I will refer to that to increase my chances of picking up something useful. The web searches I did tonight suggest that shortwave broadcasting to North America is not a top priority for major broadcasters. This is understandable, due to the proliferation of more convenient and reliable information sources. I'm curious enough to ask some shortwave radio resellers how their North American sales are doing.

Regarding the Kaito 1102 ease-of-use comments I made in an earlier post: I read web pages about using this radio before it arrived, and I also read parts of the manual. Since then, I have not needed the manual as much as others have suggested.

Here is my updated list of annoyances:
* frequencies can change when switching memory pages (which is primarily necessary for switching single sideband tuning on and off)
* automatic scanning isn't available in single sideband mode
* the "on" button is really an "on for 60 minutes" button. the manual explains how to disable this, so i guess i better learn
* i forget what position the dx/local switch is in, and i accidentally scan in local mode. i wish the dx/local state was displayed on the LCD

16 July 2005

shortwave

I ordered a shortwave radio, the Kaito KA1102. It hasn't arrived yet. I've wanted a shortwave receiver for a few years, and initially planned to buy a Grundig Satellit 800. However, I put it off due to the large size of the radio and the high price - $500 seemed like a lot to spend for a new hobby. So I started looking around on Amazon at shortwave radios that were recommended to me by someone, and I read the customer reviews. I found it funny that many of the reviewers wrote comments like, "Compared with the several other shortwave radios I own in this price range, this radio can do blah blah but it lacks blah." Using the Amazon reviews to guide me, I product-jumped among radios around $100, until I settled on the 1102.

Based on google queries I've done, the shortcomings of this radio are:
* inability to receive longwave (although I am fine with ignoring that for now)
* the controls are reportedly confusing, requiring frequent use of the manual

I'm looking forward to hearing what's out there. A way to easily store and retrieve my findings with my computer will hopefully come together shortly. I'd be interested in comments from anyone who has experience or interest in using shortwave receivers.