31 December 2009

latest receptions - 2009 archive

During my occasional band scans, I tune in to each audible signal I can find and make a cursory attempt to identify it. Schedule information from EiBi and Primetime Shortwave aids in station identification. I collect and publish these logs so others can see what's possible to receive with a portable shortwave receiver in northern California. This list of receptions doesn't include items from my reception reports which I publish separately.

Here's my list of shortwave band scan receptions during 2009:

25 July 2009:
0520 UTC : 6010 khz : Radio Havana Cuba
0526 UTC : 6110 khz : NHK Radio Japan
0527 UTC : 6190 khz : China Radio International
0529 UTC : 6060 khz : Radio Havana Cuba
0530 UTC : 6090 khz : University Network

01 Aug 2009:
0304 UTC : 5875 kHz : WHRI
0305 UTC : 5890 kHz : WWCR
0307 UTC : 7325 kHz : Voice of Turkey
0310 UTC : 7415 kHz : WBCQ
0311 UTC : 9505 kHz : WYFR
0312 UTC : 9560 kHz : China Radio International (Spanish)
0314 UTC : 9625 kHz : CBCNQ
0315 UTC : 9680 kHz : WYFR (Spanish)
0316 UTC : 9690 kHz : China Radio International
0324 UTC : 9715 kHz : WYFR (Spanish)
0325 UTC : 9735 kHz : Voice of Russia (Spanish)
0326 UTC : 9790 kHz : China Radio International
0325 UTC : 9735 kHz : Voice of Russia (Spanish)
0326 UTC : 9790 kHz : China Radio International
0325 UTC : 9735 kHz : Voice of Russia (Spanish)
0326 UTC : 9790 kHz : China Radio International

03 Aug 2009:
0001 UTC : 13725 kHz : Radio Canada International (Spanish)
0003 UTC : 13760 kHz : Voice of Korea (Spanish)
0005 UTC : 9505 kHz : WYFR
0006 UTC : 9980 kHz : WWCR
0009 UTC : 11530 kHz : WYFR (Spanish)
0012 UTC : 11760 kHz : Radio Havana Cuba (Spanish)
0015 UTC : 15440 kHz : WYFR
0211 UTC : 5890 kHz : WWCR
0211 UTC : 5935 kHz : WWCR
0212 UTC : 5950 kHz : Radio Taiwan International
0213 UTC : 5960 kHz : NHK Radio Japan (Japanese)
0215 UTC : 6010 kHz : Radio Sweden (Swedish)
0216 UTC : 6060 kHz : Radio Havana Cuba (Spanish)
0216 UTC : 6090 kHz : University Network / Gene Scott (Gibberish)
0218 UTC : 6100 kHz : Radio Canada International (Spanish)
0219 UTC : 6120 kHz : Radio Havana Cuba (Spanish)
0226 UTC : 6175 kHz : Voice of Vietnam (Vietnamese/English)
0228 UTC : 7415 kHz : WBCQ
0229 UTC : 9505 kHz : WYFR
0230 UTC : 9600 kHz : Radio Havana Cuba (Spanish)
0231 UTC : 9680 kHz : Radio Taiwan International
0232 UTC : 9690 kHz : China Radio International (Mandarin)
0233 UTC : 9735 kHz : Voice of Russia (Spanish)
0234 UTC : 9745 kHz : HCJB (Spanish)
0234 UTC : 9755 kHz : Radio Canada International (Spanish)
0236 UTC : 9780 kHz : HCJB (German)
0238 UTC : 9955 kHz : WRMI
0243 UTC : 11520 kHz : WEWN
0244 UTC : 11760 kHz : Radio Havana Cuba (Spanish)
0244 UTC : 11775 kHz : Radio Marti (Spanish) + bubble jammer
0249 UTC : 11780 kHz : Radio Nacional Amazonia (Portuguese)
0250 UTC : 11870 kHz : WEWN (Spanish)
0252 UTC : 13710 kHz : Radio Canada International (Spanish)
0252 UTC : 13790 kHz : Radio Havana Cuba (Spanish)
0254 UTC : 15440 kHz : Radio Taiwan International (Hakka)

04 Aug 2009:
0830 UTC : 5900 kHz : V02 numbers station

06 Aug 2009:
0534 UTC : 11725 kHz : Radio New Zealand International

08 Aug 2009:
1305 UTC : 5875 kHz : BBC
1310 UTC : 7325 kHz : Radio Canada International (Mandarin)
1312 UTC : 9455 kHz : WYFR (Vietnamese)
1314 UTC : 9605 kHz : BBC (Mandarin)
1315 UTC : 9675 kHz : China Radio International (Russian)
1316 UTC : 9980 kHz : WWCR
1323 UTC : 11785 kHz : Hmong Lao Radio (Hmong)
1330 UTC : 6030 kHz : China National Radio (Mandarin)
1400 UTC : 5875 kHz : BBC
1408 UTC : 6110 kHz : Voice of America (Mandarin)
1409 UTC : 6170 kHz : Radio New Zealand International
1411 UTC : 7240 kHz : Radio Australia
1414 UTC : 9525 kHz : Voice of Indonesia (Malay)
1416 UTC : 9760 kHz : Voice of America

09 Aug 2009:
1937 UTC : 15290 kHz : Radio Nacional Venezuela (Spanish)

11 Aug 2009:
0011 UTC : 17715 kHz : Radio Australia

19 December 2009

analog tv channel 6 used for radio

While reading about VHF on Wikipedia, I learned about a company called Pulse 87. This company broadcasts low-power analog television on channel 6, with the audio subcarrier appearing at 87.7 MHz. Low-power television is exempt from the digital tv switchover, so this analog broadcast works as a radio station at 87.7 MHz. This unusual radio station has a "hot dance airplay" format.

Pulse 87 currently operates WNYZ in New York City, while plans to operate stations in other cities (Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and Chicago) have run into various problems preventing their launch.

Wikipedia also suggests that digital television in the channel 6 frequency (83.25-87.75 MHz) has had problems with interference, so it's possible that the FCC might release that part of the spectrum for radio broadcasting.

Digital radios intended for the North America market are often confined to the 88.1-107.9 MHz range, so as a rule, this station's target audience is limited to those who have radios without that limit (such as imported radios with a wider range for FM, or analog-tuned radios that have less precise FM broadcast band boundaries.

12 December 2009

radio factory quality control

Sometimes, I wonder what it's like to work in quality control at a shortwave radio factory in China. I imagine the conversation with a new employee could go something like this:

Employee 1: "When I tune through the shortwave bands, all I can hear is loud orchestral music."
Employee 2: "That means it's working."
Employee 1: "But where does it come from? And why is it the same on so many frequencies?"
Employee 2: "Just put the QC PASS sticker on the radio, and wrap the package!"

29 November 2009

radio versus the web in 2009

I've been following chartoftheday on Twitter. Recently, they posted an interesting finding by the Council for Research Excellence:

• Radio reaches more people than the web

22 November 2009

traffic reports on the radio

I enjoy listening to traffic reports on the radio. The regular traffic reports on KCBS AM 740 in the San Francisco bay area can actually be quite entertaining.

This area has bad traffic. It's the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the United States according to Wikipedia, and I often hear disturbing statistics about how much time the average person in this region wastes in traffic each year. These days, it's easy to obtain live traffic maps with the average speed of vehicles in a given location, but it's invaluable to know in advance that a disabled vehicle is blocking the left two lanes of a particular roadway. Or that a major event is starting or ending, which can impact traffic.

A couple of the in-studio traffic reporters have special methods of delivering their reports. One of the reporters, Mitch, starts the work week on Mondays at 10am by greeting the anchors by name, then saying "Happy Monday, if there is such a thing!" He sounds cheerful on the air, so I interpret his greeting as a positive and friendly way of saying that we're all in this together. On a few occasions, he omitted the "happy Monday" greeting for reasons unknown. He also says "Happy Friday" during his first report at the end of the work week. KCBS uses airborne traffic reporters, but also encourages listeners to call in with incident reports or updates. Occasionally, the studio traffic reporter will credit the caller. Mitch's usual way of crediting a caller for updating a long-standing problem is with a rhyme: "Joan was the latest... to update us."

Another traffic reporter on KCBS has an obvious interest in sports. Sometimes, when Ted greets an anchor who is just coming on the air, he will start out discussing the latest sports headline. He'll hurriedly finish up that bit and quickly start with the traffic report, as if he might get in trouble for wasting too much on-air time. In one instance, I heard Ted ask the anchor a sports-related question. The anchor was silent for a moment, then said "Let's have the traffic, Ted." However, the sports banter has continued between the two, so it must be an officially sanctioned practice when the traffic news is light. Ted has also been lucky enough to occasionally fill in for sports reporters.

Various traffic reporters on KCBS empathize with listeners when reporting about debris in the roadway. One traffic reporter alerted drivers that a ladder was dropped in the roadway at a particular location, and ironically added, "that never happens!"

Since the traffic reports are always live (as required by our current lack of time travel ability), they provide ample opportunity for studio mis-haps. Many times, I've heard an anchor call for the traffic reporter on the air, followed by silence, and additional calls. Then the anchor says "There we go!" as if they just found the right button or fader on the console, and the traffic reporter starts talking. I also heard the anchor introduce the traffic reporter as Mitch one morning, only to have Paul respond via microphone. The anchor then admitted she hadn't looked over to see who was sitting at the traffic desk.

The traffic reporters confused me with one of the ways they describe current conditions. Sometimes they cheerfully say that traffic is moving "at the limit" in a particular area. At the limit?! That sounds like a dismal scenario for people who need to travel through there. But my interpretation was wrong: finally, a reporter said "at the speed limit" to clarify the issue and correct my initial assumption of "at the capacity limit".

My understanding of how radio traffic reports originated is that a radio station had a helicopter or a plane that they planned to use for live weather reports. The station didn't see much difference in the weather forecasts, though. But one day, the weather forecaster in the sky spotted a bad accident on the roads, and relayed the message to the station. This turned out to be so useful that the reporter was told to report on the traffic from then on instead of the weather.

Traffic reports on the radio provide an interesting frame of reference when doing AM broadcast band DXing. When I pull in major stations from Los Angeles or Seattle, I can hear about their traffic conditions, and imagine that I'm in a different place. I can't remember if I've heard traffic reports for other large cities such as Denver or Vancouver. Then there are smaller cities like Reno, where station KKOH sometimes has traffic reports like this: "there are no accidents or incidents to report." Or, when they're reporting an incident, they use highway mile markers to indicate the location (presumably due to the lack of other suitable landmarks).

OK, I feel like I got that topic out of my system for now.

10 November 2009

portable radio memory systems

I have never been satisfied by the frequency memory systems in portable radios. The primary reason is that, in the year 2009, I'm expecting so much more than I'm getting.

The simplest memory systems only store a fixed number of stations in a simple list. The list can be stepped through with up and down buttons, or sometimes by entering the number of the memory location. A slightly more complex system adds the concept of pages, which provides a way to group frequencies together, and usually increases the total number of memory locations. Improving upon that, pages or even individual memory locations can be labeled with short alphanumeric strings.

Simple memory systems work fine for FM and the AM broadcast band, where stations are broadcasting 24 hours a day. In shortwave, I find that this is the exception rather than the rule.

With shortwave broadcast schedules widely available on the Internet, radios could easily sync with a computer and save the schedules to memory. Then, a portable radio could add a schedule browser to the memory system. The internal clock could keep track of both local time and UTC, and the user could specify their geographic location, and perhaps even which languages they understand. Then, the internal schedule could show them the appropriate broadcasts.

Sure, this concept has several flaws. More screen real estate would be needed to make this work well, and most portable radios commonly available today use limited LCDs. Schedule data can easily go out of date. Shortwave reception within a target region doesn't come with a guarantee.

This is the kind of enhancement that would take portable radio memory systems from the level of computerized intelligence up to the level of human intelligence. Maybe radio manufacturers will make this happen, and we'll ask, "why hasn't it always worked this way?"

03 November 2009

bay area television antenna update

In late October 2009, I heard a most unusual commercial on a local AM station. Television users were asked to rescan for channels on their over-the-air sets. A url was provided for more information: www.sutrotower.com.

Those who live in or near San Francisco are likely familiar with the name Sutro Tower. This ominous, three-pronged antenna dominates the skyline near the center of the city. San Francisco's hilly terrain made line-of-sight propagation difficult for analog television and FM stations, prompting the construction of Sutro Tower from 1971 to 1973.

A new graphic on sutrotower.com shows the location, callsign, and frequency/channel of each station with an active or inactive antenna on the tower. The website also hosts an RF exposure report showing the findings of a firm called Hammett & Edison.

29 October 2009

definition and usage of sio codes

"Logs, or it didn't happen"

When I log shortwave broadcast receptions, I include an SIO code in my notes (such as "SIO 353"). The SIO (strength, interference, overall) code, a simplified form of the SINPO (strength, interference, atmospheric noise, propagation conditions, overall) code, is a standard way to rate shortwave reception. Each value of the code uses a scale of 1 (worst) to 5 (best), and the highest possible SIO code is 555. SIO codes are commonly included in reception reports sent by a listener to a broadcaster.

A SINPO code includes two more components but requires the listener to break strength and interference into two categories each. Shortwave listening novices (a group in which I still belong) may not know how to do this. For the sake of simplicity, I'm starting with the SIO code.

Reception reports along with SIO or SINPO codes help broadcasters understand the success of their transmissions. Transmitter sites are sometimes operated by a different organization than the broad caster, and listeners are often hundreds or thousands of miles away from broadcasters, thanks to the wonders of ionospheric propagation. So, reception reports from the broadcast target region can be very valuable to broadcasters.

Here are the three components of SIO, along with how to determine the value for a given reception:

• Strength

This rating indicates the effectiveness of the transmission for your particular location. Factors such as transmitter location, transmitter antenna direction, transmitter strength, ionospheric condition, and atmospheric attenuation can affect the strength of a broadcast. This category can be scored by evaluating the loudness of the broadcast above the noise floor, and whether any signal fading is present.

Some stations offer propagation maps that show where particular broadcasts are expected to reach. If that information is available, it can help to set your expectations about how well you might receive a transmission.

I've heard that atmospheric attenuation is better counted against the interference score, although the cause of a weak signal is not always easy to determine. North American shortwave listeners can check the latest NOAA solar data at n3kl.org. Or you can listen to the geophysical alerts on WWV or WWVH.

• Interference

This rating tells the broadcaster if there are any problems with transmitting on a particular frequency with the intention of reaching specific locations. Rather than rate the amount of locally-generated interference you receive (which the broadcaster can't control), rate the interference on the frequency itself. Same-channel or adjacent channel interference are the reasons to subtract points for this category.

If you want to factor out local interference when determining this score, try tuning to another broadcast of comparable strength within the same meter band, ideally as close to the primary frequency as possible. This can help you determine the baseline noise level. The ideal situation would be to perform your listening in a location that is largely free from radio frequency interference.

• Overall

This is your opportunity to describe the overall quality of the broadcast in spite of the signal strength or interference. This score is likely going to be in the range between the strength and interference scores, but does not need to be a simple average of the two scores. In my experience, interference is less of a factor than the signal strength, especially when the signal is fading in and out.

Some broadcasters such as Sound of Hope and Radio Marti are victims of intentional, targeted jamming. In those cases, interference plays a major role in the overall quality of the broadcast, especially if the jamming signal is louder than the desired broadcast.

If you haven't logged SIO codes before for your shortwave receptions, I'm hoping that this article gives you enough information to start doing so. I also recommend being generous in sending your reception reports to broadcasters. You may receive something in return (QSL cards, stickers, newsletters, schedules, or other gifts), stations may respond in order to provide better transmissions, and it can help ensure continued broadcasting to your area.

22 October 2009

tecsun pl-310 first look

I received a Tecsun PL-310 at last. Silver was my color of choice. My second attempt at purchasing this radio succeeded, just a few days before they started appearing on eBay. I just got it out of the box, so here are some initial thoughts on this new Tecsun product.

The radio has a nice appearance, but feels flimsy in my hands. With some of my radios, I wouldn't be concerned while holding both the left and right ends and twisting it slightly to test its durability. With this radio, I don't think that's a good idea. Some Chinese radio manufacturers have certain products or certain production runs that they deem export quality, and I'm not sure whether my radio qualifies. It is an early production run to be sure, so I'm hoping Tecsun will deliver a more refined product later on. This product offers the full range of FM (64-108/87-108 MHz) and MW (520-1710/522-1620 kHz) frequencies that anyone would want, plus LW (153-513 kHz), so from a technical standpoint, this product can satisfy all portable radio markets.

In contrast to the fabric protective bag that Tecsun includes with many pocket radios, this radio comes with a zippered clamshell, perhaps made of nylon. The inside has a little pocket, and my folded shortwave cheat sheet fits nicely. It's a thin enclosure, so it's mainly useful for avoiding scratches during transit.

This is the first radio I've purchased that comes with a USB cable. It makes this DSP-based product for analog broadcasting almost seem like a modern electronics product! The mini USB port on the radio is labeled "DC-IN 5v", so it's intended for NiMH battery recharging. I don't yet know of other uses for the USB port.

All of the Chinese-language documentation was included, which I can't use, but I enjoy having to look at anyway.

Oh, I suppose you want me to put in some fresh batteries and turn this thing on?

General

• The radio made two quick beeps upon insertion of the batteries. The beeping can be disabled by pressing the bell button (corresponding to the 0 key) when the radio is off.
• Both the volume dial and the tuning knob are notched continuous encoders. The tuning knob has a bit more resistance than the one on the PL-350, but its feel is similar to that radio. It's not like the strong resistance on the PL-200 tuning knob (which annoys me). I didn't expect the notched volume dial though.
• The only way to change the tuning knob from small to large steps is to turn quicker, according to my experience so far. I don't really like this. I want to be able to turn the knob and know exactly how much the frequency is going to change.
• When volume is adjusted, the volume level (00-30) is shown at the top right of the screen momentarily. With a strong local FM station, I didn't hear anything but static for volume levels 00-04. Level 30 was ridiculously loud and the speaker was distorting. For a mid-sized room, a volume level of 10 works well for me.
• The LCD screen shows dbµ and db numbers, updated about once a second. Pressing the "display" button quickly will toggle this section of the screen among the db meter, the alarm clock time, and the temperature. I haven't figured out how to change the temperature readout to fahrenheit yet. Pressing the "time" button will momentarily show the current time (according to the radio) in this same top-right region.
• The code system used on previous Tecsun radios such as the PL-200 is not needed here to set the FM frequency range, the MW step size, or the 12/24 hour clock preference. While the radio is off, just press the buttons "FM SET", "12/24", or "9/10 kHz" (corresponding to buttons 1-3 respectively) until the desired setting is shown on the screen.
• Similar to just pressing the labeled buttons to perform a function while the radio is off, the battery button (corresponding to button M at the bottom left of the numeric keypad) toggles between NiMH battery mode (allowing recharging) and alkaline battery mode (disallowing charging).
• When using 9 kHz steps for MW, temperature will be displayed in celsius (for example, 23ºC. When using 10 kHz steps, temperature will be displayed in fahrenheit (for example, 73ºF).
• Pressing a numeric key while listening to a weak signal or a blank frequency produces audible momentary static, or occasionally, a rapid pitch shift that sounds like a zap special effect.
• Toggling the screen backlight with the light/snooze button momentarily boosts the volume. I don't like that.

FM

• Selecting an FM station is easy! Just punch in the frequency digits: "9" "6" "5" gets you to 96.5 MHz; "1" "0" "2" "9" goes to 102.9 MHz. Unfortunately, I'm seeing quite noticeable lag after pressing each digit, and sometimes, a keypress doesn't register.
• When an FM stereo signal is received, two speaker icons are shown on both sides of the "FM" indicator. FM stereo can be enabled or disabled with a dedicated button on the right side of the interface. Stereo output is only useful when using the headphone jack.

SW

• When tuning to a shortwave frequency, the meter band of the frequency is momentarily displayed at the top right of the screen, such as "120 mb". This doesn't happen when switching to a frequency outside the range of the bands.
• I heard a faint WWVH signal and a strong WWV signal on 5000 kHz.
• Shortwave reception can also take advantage of the AM bandwidth settings.

MW

• For AM, bandwidths of 6, 4, 3, 2, or 1 kHz are offered, and toggled with the "AM BW" button as you might expect. For my ears, 4 kHz sounds best for my local flamethrower, KCBS 740 kHz.
• If there's a local/dx setting somewhere in this radio, I haven't found it yet. Bummer, because I'd really like that for mediumwave.
• I was able to hear KRLA identify while listening to 870 kHz, so this pocket radio has DX potential. That's a 3 kW station at night, about 400 miles away in Glendale, California.
• I received a clear signal from KOMO on 1000 kHz, a 50kW station about 800 miles away in Seattle, Washington. I had to lower the bandwidth to 2 kHz to get rid of the annoying adjacent channel chirps coming from local station KIQI 1010 kHz.

LW

• It was not intuitive to tune to longwave frequencies, so here's how I did it: with the radio off, I held down the MW/LW button for a few seconds, and the display showed "LW On". Then, with the radio on, pressing the MW/LW button toggled between mediumwave and longwave as one would expect out of the box. I'm not sure why longwave is disabled by default.
• While tuned to 404 kHz, I heard the MOG airport beacon which is about 300 miles away from me. The radio was very buzzy while tuning through longwave, and the airport beacon was very faint. That's all I've been able to do with longwave at my location.

Conclusion

This is quite a promising pocket radio. I like that this radio can receive weak, distant mediumwave stations with ease and clarity. I like the more immediate interface provided by simple digit-pressing for frequency selection. The construction quality could be improved, and buttons could be more responsive than they are. I don't yet have any information such as battery life or reception capabilities compared against other radios in the same class. Since I don't plan to do a full review of this radio, I may post occasional updates in the future and I'll do my best to answer specific questions from readers. So, feel free to ask questions or share your own experiences with this new product.

20 October 2009

wire antennas in cramped space

Now that I have some of the best portable shortwave receivers available, I either need to upgrade my radios or my antennas in order to get more out of the broadcasts that are generously sent in my direction. I'll start by upgrading my antennas.

My small apartment makes this difficult. Indoor antennas are my only hope, and I can't run a straight wire for longer than about 20 feet diagonally along my ceiling. I finally established permanent mounts for two wire antennas that I use, which helped somewhat with nighttime reception. However, I just realized I had an asset that has remained untapped for my four years of shortwave listening: I have a box that contains approximately 800 feet of unshielded Category 5 cable. I don't need lots of ethernet cables, so I can cut a length of Cat 5, and get eight individual wires at that length which can be shortened as required.

For my first project, I want to make a five-band antenna specially designed for the NCDXF/IARU beacons. This provides me with five specific frequencies to target, and the high frequencies of the beacons require less material. I'm going to make half-wavelength elements, so the elements will be between about 18 and 35 feet long. Also, the longest element for 14100 kHz should be decent for CHU on 14670 kHz and WWV/WWVH on 15000 kHz.

But what about that 20-foot straight line limit that I mentioned? With a sharp 45-degree turn or several gentler turns, I can extend the antenna for 30 feet. I could toss the antenna up on the roof and either hope nobody notices or remove it when it's not in use. I could call my landlord and request some holes be drilled through my walls.

Or, I could ask the experts. I posted some questions about this problem on the dxing.info forums.

15 October 2009

ham reception on 14175 khz

A few days ago, I spent an hour listening to some ham radio operators on 14175 kHz (SSB). This was on 02 August 2009, 1830-1930 UTC. For most of the hour, I could only hear one person speaking. As I can only listen to other people transmitting, it makes me feel like I'm eavesdropping. I've recently learned that this practice is known as reading the mail. I was using my Eton E5 receiver along with a Degen DE31 loop antenna.

During the hour, I learned that the primary speaker was in the Seattle, Washington area. Much of the conversation centered on getting home windows replaced, discussing radio technology, planning a party, buying trucks, buying jewelry, and getting a check from an insurance company to replace part of a roof. Here are some quotes from what I heard:

"We don't tell people to bring anything because there's plenty of food."
"No four-letter words in this house."
"The only one that gets wet is me out there, doing the salmon, but that goes pretty fast."
"We made the rounds at pawn shops looking for stuff. i guess they do big business in this kind of environment."
"I should've never bought the darn thing. It's just a piece of junk."
"I reduced the mic gain a little bit."
"This winter, maybe I'll get that 922 in here."
"Barb keeps trying to talk me into getting a new truck. I don't know when the 2010 Toyotas come out."
"Tundra is the big one."
"I've got a Ranger now... it's probably good for the rest of my life. And we got the fanciest cab we could get. They make that Tacoma with three and four doors, which I don't want. I want the one that has the little fold-up seats in the back. They don't give you much choice on color."
"I bought my Ranger through Costco."
"...Island County ... Bellingham..."
"When I go to a dealer for a car, I bypass their salesmen and go upstairs to the fleet dealer."
"We'll put the truck in the driveway with a For Sale sign on it."
"When we went down to Seaside, we got 24 miles to the gallon in that little car."
"How many miles do you have on your truck now, W7LFA?"
"The inside of the truck is just like new, but it's got 109,000 miles on it."
"How noisy was your 922? Does it have a fan in it?"
"I suppose they went out and had a big lunch at the Olive Garden after we left."
"Good signal up here in Seattle."

Callsigns heard: W7LFA, W7EPA, W7ZP.

09 October 2009

shortwave listening cheat sheet updated

When I got started as a shortwave listener in 2005, much of my listening was done outside for better reception and less interference. Hanging a wire antenna from my old apartment bedroom didn't help much; radio waves only had a narrow path to reach me. Being outside away from my computer left me separated from the shortwave information I needed to effectively tune in. So I produced my shortwave listening cheat sheet, a single letter-size page with information such as broadcasting frequencies, North America broadcast schedules, and reception tips. I folded the sheet into a 1/8 size so I could easily put it in my pocket. I'm happy with this low-tech solution.

When I moved a few years ago, I got an apartment that's more favorable for indoor shortwave reception, so I didn't keep the cheat sheet updated. However, I've just updated it for 2009. Unfortunately, I don't have approval from all of the information sources to distribute the information, so I'm providing this image to show what's included and how it has been formatted.

I find it useful to get broadcast schedules from primetimeshortwave.com and eibi.de.vu, and condense the information by choosing specific broadcasters within specific times. Most of my shortwave listening is between 0000-0700 UTC, so the schedules included on my cheat sheet focus on that time range.

For the number station schedules on my cheat sheet, some of them are expected to broadcast on certain days of the week. In instances where a broadcast is expected on more than two days of the week, I write the days in this condensed form: (_m_w_fs) represents monday, wednesday, friday, and saturday. This format also lets me use a single character for both tuesday and thursday, because the position rather than a unique letter is the identifier.

Cramming all of this information onto one side of a sheet of paper is achieved with these tricks:

• Top, bottom, left, and right page margins are 0.15 inch. I printed one copy with 0.10 inch margins, but the printing was cropped at the edges.
• The font is 8-point Monaco.
• Horizontal character spacing is reduced by 1%. The text is still legible with even lower settings, but I can fit all of the desired information already with the current format.
• Line spacing is reduced to 0.8, allowing for many extra lines on the page. Additionally, lines without any text are reduced to a line height of 0.4.
• Some information that would only take up a couple lines across the whole page has been crammed into the right column next to other unrelated data. Unfortunately, the broadcast band and ham band sections don't efficiently use their space.
• Radio Australia has a complex schedule. I don't listen to it very often, and I can't always receive it. To save space, I consolidated that section of the schedule by simply listing every frequency they use during 0000-0800 UTC. Schedules on the cheat sheet for other broadcasters are more precise.
• This may make morse code purists unhappy, but I use a forward slash instead of a hyphen to represent the dashes in my morse code section. This allows me to easily count how many dashes are in a character when I've reduced the character spacing down so much that hyphens would otherwise run together.

I've also produced an audio version of this data, using Mac OS X text-to-speech. All of the data is stored in 16 separate mp3 files, with a total duration of 39 minutes. The text has to be massaged to sound nice, so I have to maintain the information in a second document. For example, I'd rather hear a frequency spoken as "seventy-eight fifty" than "seven thousand eight hundred and fifty." Here's how I reformatted the data about North American time stations: "time stations. frequencies in kilohertz. WWV, colorado. 25 hundred, 5000, 10000, 15000, 20000. WWVH, hawaii. 25 hundred, 5000, 10000, 15000. C H U, ontario. 33 30, 78 50, 14 6 7 0."

As an example, here's an mp3 of the time station data.

Do you do something similar to keep shortwave listening information more handy? What sorts of information do you use the most?

03 October 2009

my failing eton e100 works again

I don't have a very good explanation of how this happened, but I brought an Eton E100 back from the dead. This particular E100 (based on the Tecsun PL-200) has had a rough life. I bought it used, and kept it in my bathroom. So, it endured humid conditions due to the shower and a weak ventilation fan. And it went through a few gravity incidents.

At one point, it would act very confused when powered on. The LCD would show corrupt or blinking characters, and no sound was produced. I couldn't tell what band it was on, and the numeric keypad, up/down buttons, and tuner knob weren't responding. I removed batteries for lengths of time, tried different sets of batteries, tried the reset switch on the bottom, and nothing was working. So I took the batteries out and stuffed it into a dresser drawer to be forgotten.

I saw the radio again a few days back, and wondering about radio electronics, I opened up the case to look inside. Everything looked normal, except for a large capacitor that showed evidence of leaking. When I reassembled it, I put in two batteries just for fun. When the radio powered on, it started...behaving normally! Honestly, I didn't make any internal modifications more extensive than gently removing a small amount of debris. I'm not taking any credit here; this E100/PL200 has crazy super self-healing powers. Honest.

30 September 2009

shortwave summary, september 2009

During September, I logged shortwave broadcasters while in various northern California locations. I've used my Tecsun PL-350 receiver with the telescopic whip, and with indoor random wire antennas while at home.

Received stations:
• Firedrake
• Radio Australia
• Radio Havana Cuba
• Radio Taiwan International
• China Radio International
• Voice of Turkey

• 02 Sep 2009, 0300 UTC, 7325 kHz (Voice of Turkey, via Sackville): Turkey and Armenia are working on establishing diplomatic relations, and it has become the top story in Turkish media. Greece fails to realize Turkey's capabilities, with regards to Cyprus negotiations. The 50,000 US troops stationed in Japan since WW2 will be called into question. Governments worldwide are seeking to replace the Kyoto protocol.

There are parallels in democratization in both Turkey and Iraq. Turkey and northern Iraq have economic ties, such as the two oil pipelines that run between the two countries. "Clearing Turkey and Iraq of terrorism is of paramount importance."

A significant portion of this hour-long show was taken up by two of the station's reporters (based in the capital, Ankara) speaking via telephone to one of the station's listeners in the United Kingdom. They spent the first few minutes talking about the weather. The listener will be visiting Turkey in November for about five days. He works in the hospitality industry, and complained about a lack of flexibility for vacation scheduling. He has listened to TRT for about 10 years, saying that TRT offers "what a shortwave listener is looking for." Somehow, they started talking about a French climber who climbs towers with his bare hands to raise awareness of climate change. According to the listener, 100-watt bulbs are now banned in the UK, but he suggested that "changing your lightbulbs is not going to save the world." Shortly after that, he said that "so many things in our life are unnecessary but convenient." They then discussed the Dugard kidnap/rape story from California. One of the reporters pointed out similarities with the Josef Fritzl case in Austria, and the situation was described as "worse than death" for the victim. However, "nothing really shocks society these days."

I had difficulty understanding this broadcast because the reporters were speaking fast and had heavy accents. In my logbook, I noted that I might understand them better if they would speak slower. Given that both of the Voice of Turkey receptions I've done in the past few weeks have ended with ten minutes of filler piano music, it seems to me that they have the time to speak slower. On the other hand, I'm happy that Voice of Turkey is able to use the Sackville transmitter and reach North America.

• 0400 UTC, 6020 kHz (China Radio International, via Sackville): "From Beijing, this is CRI, China Radio International." China plans to maintain relations with the new Japanese government; "China and Japan are important neighbors." The Sichuan-Tibet railway construction has been delayed by geographic challenges and lack of funds. Gas and diesel prices were increased for the sixth time this year, with the increase amounting to 4%. China and Uzbekistan have launched a new e-commerce platform. Chinese students have been instructed on H1N1 viral prevention prior to the start of the school year. Weather: Beijing, overcast, 17-28C. Showers in Bangkok and Tokyo. Clear in New York and Toronto.

Elsewhere in the world: Iran wants to ease fears about its nuclear program, and the USA has set a deadline at the end of September for nuclear talks. Poland and Russia are about to finalize a new oil contract. Myanmar needs to restore peace and stability so exiled citizens can return home. Many fled into China after the start of armed conflicts last week. In the USA, stocks fell for a third straight day. Government officials are meeting in Gdansk, Poland to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the World War 2 outbreak. "Remembering the tragedies of the second world war." China is making an official visit to Cuba, and will go on to visit the Bahamas and the USA. China denied Indian reports that one of its helicopters crossed the border into India.

I didn't really understand the e-commerce deal between China and Uzbekistan. A dollar figure for the amount of trade between the two countries was announced, but it wasn't clear what the goods or services were, or who the major beneficiaries were either.

• 03 Sep 2009, 2308 UTC, 17795 kHz (Radio Australia): The reporter was speaking to someone about a recent earthquake somewhere. This signal was moderately strong, but fading. The priorities following the earthquake were obtaining food, drinking water, medical kits, and blankets. No temporary shelters were being planned; people were left to fend for themselves. There were 57 confirmed deaths, and the number was expected to grow. The presidential election in Afghanistan has been plagued with accusations of vote-rigging. If Karzai is re-elected, it could benefit the insurgence. "If Karzai continues to hold some power, he should not hold all the power." Two Khmer Rouge leaders are being investigated by a war crimes tribunal.

Okay, which earthquake was this that they were discussing?

• 04 Sep 2009, 0500 UTC, 6010 kHz (Radio Havana Cuba): Cuba is one of my focus countries for shortwave listening. Their signals are loud, I can copy them with ease, and there are lots of interesting segments and topics in their broadcasts.

Spanish music at the top of the hour, as if they're running late. Running behind schedule? Too busy setting up the number stations? Ah, the intro lullaby started at 0503 UTC. "This is Radio Havana Cuba." Washington stopped aid to Honduras after a meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and ousted Honduran president Zelaya. It's part of a plan to restore constitutional order in Honduras. The US military is ending a contract with a public relations firm over criticism that embedded journalists covering conflicts in the middle east were being screened. The contract was first revealed about a week ago. Today is the 40th anniversary of the death of Ho Chi Minh, which Radio Havana Cuba called "Southeast Asia's most important communist leader." He was inspired by the Russian revolution. Chevron was sued for dumping toxic waste in Ecuador's rainforest. There's reportedly a video of the judge in the case, involved in some dishonest dealings.

Low-wage workers in the United States have routinely been denied overtime pay and forced to work for less than minimum wage, according to a survey. "Blue dog" democrats got large campaign donations from the healthcare industry. (Lots of these stories make the USA look bad. It's no surprise to me that Radio Havana Cuba appears to have an agenda!)

China and Cuba are getting along very well and will continue working together. Someone from Cuba is making an official visit to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (you know, the poorly-named communist northern half). The viewpoint segment was about climate change, and mentioned an upcoming summit that will take place in Copenhagen in December. The reporter hopes that the summit won't just be a place for leaders to give speeches without making commitments. The Caribbean Outlook segment followed, although I didn't listen to it.

• 06 Sep 2009, 0200 UTC, 9680 kHz (Radio Taiwan International): I first tuned in to 5950 kHz, but found that frequency's signal to be relatively weak. 9680 kHz came in stronger, although it started fading out halfway through the hour-long broadcast. This particular reception will be the subject of a future article on QSLs from RTI. RTI sent me two QSL cards, neither of which had entirely accurate reception details.

The government is monitoring migratory birds to track the spread of the H1N1 virus. Taiwan got a rare visit last week from the Dalai Lama. He offered prayers for the typhoon Morakot victims. China describes the Dalai Lama as a separatist. A major sporting event, the deaf Olympics, is coming up in Taipei. The event started in 1924, but this will be the first time it is hosted in Asia. Lights, rather than guns and whistles, are used for signaling the athletes to start a race or stop play in a team event. Lots of ads announcing the deaf Olympics have appeared on public transit vehicles in Taiwan. Many countries have their own sign languages, although a universal sign language exists. "You can't have beach volleyball in central Taipei!" "Taipei is quite a noisy city." One of the reporters lamented the fact that taxi drivers honk their horns aggressively at pedestrians.

During the "Women making waves" segment, a female science teacher was interviewed about how she became a teacher, how she keeps up with scientific developments, and how she approaches teaching. A tribe from the Solomon Islands made a donation to Taiwan to help with typhoon Morakot relief. The dollar amount of the donation was small, but it amounted to one year worth of savings for the tribe. The tribe wanted to show its gratitude to Taiwan for supporting them.

• 12 Sep 2009, 0807 kHz, 10210 kHz (Firedrake): I heard a weak, fading Firedrake broadcast here, although it was stronger than the presumed Firedrake signals on 8400 kHz and 9000 kHz.

23 September 2009

mediumwave logs, winter 2008-2009

Between November 2008 and January 2009, I logged 59 mediumwave stations. I used my Eton E5 radio with just the built-in ferrite antenna. I didn't get very many stations this time, but I managed to pull in WWL from New Orleans, and for the first time, I logged Texas with WOAI in San Antonio.

Here's a collection of quotes from my log:

• "You don't have to worry about that signal down in salinas valley." (due to online streaming)
• "British Petroleum is on board. We got Microsoft on board. Everybody is listening to this right now."
• "The chance to catch a fish of a lifetime."
• "Reduced tingling." (infomercials can be so delightful)
• "When you look at the veins of these children, you find that they're... not good."
• "Let's go back to where Jesus was born."
• "And now, it's time for letters to Obama-Claus."
• "Obama is playing you now like a fool."
• "Our one caller, and we get an idiot." (some talk-show agreed to take one caller, and the caller played a bugle into the phone.)
• "Obama says we have one president at a time."
• "Guess what? Global warming is causing the frigid temperatures in the northeast."
• "Is your sex drive what it used to be?"
• "28 [degrees fahrenheit] here in Seattle." (wow, that sucks)
• "They just push the billion-dollar button a few times."
• "Experience the miracle of fish oil." (experience the miracle of shutting up, you annoying advertiser)
• "30 [degrees fahrenheit] in Salem [Oregon], 32 in Vancouver [Washington], 30 in Portland [Oregon]."
• "Coming up next hour: the list of America's dirtiest hotels."
• "I use [online backup service] because folks, I know that at some point, my computer will crash. It's as simple as that."
• "The lowest gas prices in San Antonio." (hmmm, that's too far away to be of any use to me)
• "Popcorn... take it out and serve."
• "I wish we could've done brownies, and then gone to brownies."
• "I'm a happy single person."

States and provinces received:

• Arizona
• Baja California, Mexico
• British Columbia, Canada
• California
• Colorado
• Louisiana
• Nevada
• Oregon
• Texas
• Utah
• Washington
• Wyoming

Annoying mediumwave broadcasters using AM HD, effectively jamming both adjacent frequencies:

• 740 KCBS
• 910 KNEW
• 960 KKGN
• 1050 KNBR/KTCT
• 1310 KMKY

Stations received:

560: KSFO (San Francisco, CA)
580: KMJ (Fresno, CA)
590: KUGN (Eugene, OR)
600: KOGO (San Diego, CA)
610: KEAR (Berkeley, CA)
620: KPOJ (Portland, OR)
630: KIDD (Monterey, CA)
630: KXLI (Spokane, WA) (New)
640: KFI (Los Angeles, CA)
650: KSTE (Rancho Cordova, CA)
660: KTNN (Window Rock, AZ)
670: KMZQ (Las Vegas, NV) (New)
680: KNBR (San Francisco, CA)
690: CBU (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)
710: KFIA (Sacramento, CA)
720: KDWN (Las Vegas, NV)
740: KCBS (San Francisco, CA)
760: KFMB (San Diego, CA)
770: KCBC (Riverbank, CA)
780: KKOH (Reno, NV)
790: KABC (Los Angeles, CA)
810: KGO (San Francisco, CA)
830: KNCO (Grass Valley, CA)
840: KMPH (Modesto, CA)
850: KOA (Denver, CO)
860: KTRB (San Francisco, CA)
870: KRLA (Glendale, CA)
870: WWL (New Orleans, LA)
890: KDXU (St. George, UT)
910: KNEW (Oakland, CA)
960: KKGN (Oakland, CA)
980: KFWB (Los Angeles, CA)
1000: KOMO (Seattle, WA)
1030: KTWO (Casper, WY)
1050: KTCT (San Mateo, CA)
1070: KNX (Los Angeles, CA)
1090: XEPRS (Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico)
1100: KFAX (San Francisco, CA)
1120: KPNW (Eugene, OR)
1130: KRDU (Dinuba, CA)
1140: KHTK (Sacramento, CA)
1150: KTLK (Los Angeles, CA)
1160: KSL (Salt Lake City, UT)
1180: KERN (Bakersfield, CA)
1190: KEX (Portland, OR)
1200: WOAI (San Antonio, TX) (New)
1220: KDOW (Palo Alto, CA) (New)
1260: KSFB (San Francisco, CA)
1270: KBZZ (Sparks, NV)
1310: KMKY (Oakland, CA)
1350: KSRO (Santa Rosa, CA)
1370: KZSF (San Jose, CA)
1400: KVTO (Berkeley, CA)
1450: KEST (San Francisco, CA)
1480: KYOS (Merced, CA)
1510: KPIG (Piedmont, CA)
1530: KFBK (Sacramento, CA)
1550: KFRC (San Francisco, CA) (Moved)
1640: KDIA (Vallejo, CA)

17 September 2009

ebay seller stole my photo for auction

An eBay seller stole my Redsun RF-1210 photo for their auction. I published the photo to Flickr with all rights reserved, and was never asked if the photo could be used for any other purpose.

Don't buy anything from cnnjseller.

Update: Here's the stolen photo on the offender's Flickr account.

Update 2: Complaints have been filed with both eBay and Yahoo/Flickr. I no longer see the auction on eBay. Yahoo/Flickr required additional information from me regarding my claim of violation of copyright, and I just submitted the additional information to them.

Update 3: Yahoo has pulled the stolen image from Flickr.

16 September 2009

ncdxf/iaru shortwave beacon receptions



W6WX is the callsign of a five-frequency shortwave beacon in northern California. It is one of the eighteen beacons in the NCDXF/IARU International Beacon Project. On 15 August 2009, with my Eton E5 and an indoor wire antenna, I heard the W6WX beacon on all five frequencies: 14100, 18110, 21150, 24930, and 28200 kHz.

Since I can't copy morse code at all, and certainly not at the 22WPM used by the beacon, I recorded the transmissions and decoded the morse afterward.

• 2215 UTC: 14100 kHz SSB, SIO 445 (lots of digital transmissions on this frequency, although faint)
• 2155 UTC: 18110 kHz SSB, SIO 555 (yep, i received these out of order)
• 2227 UTC: 21150 kHz SSB, SIO 555
• 2233 UTC: 24930 kHz SSB, SIO 555
• 2240 UTC: 28200 kHz SSB, SIO 252 (the morse code was barely audible above the noise)

The links above are for mp3 files, each about 15 seconds long and around 100 kb.

I submitted these reception reports to the NCDXF on 15 August 2009, and got a reply from VE3SUN the next day. Alas, they don't send QSL cards for the beacons.

One down, seventeen to go!

09 September 2009

rumored sangean ats-909 updates

Back in December 2006, I reported that Sangean was not interested in producing new shortwave products:

End of Sangean line

But last month, Herculodge reported on two rumored updates to the well-known Sangean ATS-909 receiver:

Two new Sangeans should be on the way soon: 909X and 909XR

The Sangean ATS-909, which I've never owned, has long been rumored to practically require internal modification for decent MW and SW sensitivity. A company called RadioLabs responded by offering a well-known ATS-909 overhaul which they call the Super 909.

While I'm plenty happy with the radios I already own, I'll watch these developments at Sangean with interest.

05 September 2009

krko am radio towers vandalized

Radio antenna towers for AM station KRKO in Snohomish County, Washington were intentionally knocked down by vandals on Friday, September 4, 2009. KRKO is a 5000-watt station operating on 1380 kHz. Here's an article about the crime, from SFGate / Associated Press:

• 2 radio towers in Washington state toppled

04 September 2009

mail from south korea's kbs

On August 9, 2009, I sent a brief email to KBS World Radio in South Korea to tell them that I have been missing their shortwave broadcasts. I meant it both ways: their broadcast times weren't convenient for me, and I regretted not hearing the broadcasts. About two weeks after I sent the email, I got a large envelope (about 6" x 12") from KBS, containing a reception report form, eight identical station stickers, and a "Spring 2009" pamphlet. They used my postal address from my previous correspondence to them, as I didn't include a postal address with my recent email.

The reception report form is interesting because of the list of occupations that are provided. At the top of the form where the listener describes himself or herself, the listed occupations are: student, company employee, civil servant, teacher, engineer, sailor, self-employed, medicine, journalist, artist, legal practitioner, farmer, freelancer, housekeeper, unemployed, and not applicable. It's interesting to think about how KBS imagines their current English listener audience.

The pamphlet is about 20 pages long, in color, with pages for many different languages. Inside the front cover is the current broadcasting schedule, along with a note that "some broadcasting frequencies are expected to change at the end of October, 2009" when the B schedule period begins. I only see nine "E" squares (for English broadcasts) on the whole daily schedule, and the only one labeled "NAM" (for North America) is between 1200 and 1300 UTC, from the Sackville transmitter site. Yep, that starts at 8am on the east coast, and 5am on the west coast.

Quoting from the pamphlet, here's the station history:
KBS World Radio, the overseas service of the Korean Broadcasting System, is Korea's window to the world. Alas, they didn't give me any indication that they'd add English broadcasts to North America in my preferred 0000 - 0700 UTC timeframe.

KBS World Radio's maiden transmission was a 15-minute English broadcast on August 15, 1953 under the station name, "the Voice of Free Korea." It was renamed as "Radio Korea" in 1973, and again as "Radio Korea International" in August 1994 to better reflect its increasingly global mission. The station adopted its current name, "KBS World Radio" on March 3, 2005.

KBS World Radio now broadcasts in 11 languages: Korean, English, Japanese, French, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Indonesian, Arabic, German, and Vietnamese. It provides a total of 48 hours and 4 minutes of daily programming on 22 shortwave and one medium-wave frequencies, bringing up-to-date information on Korea to the world.

KBS World Radio's primary mission is to promote friendly relations and understanding with the peoples of the world. It brings listeners fast and accurate coverage of news taking place in and around Korea as well as a wealth of information about Korean culture, society, and politics.

In addition to shortwave broadcasting, KBS World Radio aims to diversify its global reach through satellite radio, DRM transmission, local FM and AM relays, and the Internet in preparation for the full-fledged digital broadcasting era.
While KBS is clearly looking ahead to newer broadcasting technologies, they're still happy to reach out to the fans of their analog shortwave service. Alas, they didn't give any indication that they'd resume an English broadcast to North America during my preferred 0000 - 0700 UTC timeframe.

31 August 2009

shortwave summary, august 2009

My shortwave listening activities have increased recently, and I have reception logs to share. I used to do this on a regular basis here, but alas, times have changed. Recently, I've been using my Eton E5, Kaito KA1102, Grundig G3, and Tecsun PL-350 radios, along with an indoor 30-foot random wire antenna. However, due to circumstances beyond my control, the disappointing Grundig G3 was returned to sender.

Received stations:
• BBC
• BPM time station (unconfirmed)
• Firedrake
• NHK Radio Japan
• Radio Havana Cuba
• Radio Taiwan International
• Voice of America
• Voice of Turkey
• WWCR
• WWV / WWVH time stations

• 25 Jul 2009, 0500 UTC, 2500 / 5000 / 10000 / 15000 / 20000 kHz (WWV / WWVH): I heard time station broadcasts on all of these frequencies at the same time. Good propagation conditions?

• 1250 UTC, 5000 / 10000 kHz (WWV / WWVH / BPM): I heard beeps once per second that were slightly offset from the WWV/WWVH ticks. Maybe I was hearing the BPM station from China.

• 1400 UTC, 5875 kHz (BBC): This English broadcast to Asia was weak with fading. The announcer discussed the famous Beatles' Abbey Road album artwork.

• 1416 UTC, 9760 kHz (Voice of America): This broadcast was weak and noisy. They played a quote of Obama saying that this is "the beginning of the end of the recession." A homerun by Alex Rodriguez ended the epic 15-inning game between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

• 09 Aug 2009, 0500 UTC, 6010 kHz (Radio Havana Cuba): "This is Radio Havana Cuba." Why does their intro music sound like a lullaby? Generally, I like their bumper music, as well as the Cuban music that they play to fill each half hour of their broadcasts. The leadership crisis in Honduras is impacting the poorest members of the nation. Hugo Chavez claims that the USA wants to incite war between Venezuela and Colombia. Evictions of Palestinians in Israel is blocking progress towards peace. The "Skull and Bones" secret society from Yale University claims it stole some of Geronimo's remains. Ed Newman still neglects to say "dot" after "www" when giving a URL on the air.

Viewpoint segment: The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in August 1945. Bombing survivors continue to die from radiation exposure, although some are dying from old age. The commentator called the USA "one of the main enemies of life and peace." A Japanese word, hibakusha, is used to describe the atomic bombing survivors. It literally means "a person who has been bombed." Approximately 250,000 hibakusha are alive today. This segment was extremely critical of the USA, which Radio Havana Cuba is always willing to do, and focused on the gruesome results of the bombings. It was difficult to hear.

Arnie Coro's DXers unlimited: 28 consecutive days without a sunspot. Meteor showers are expected, because the Earth is going through a comet debris field. Meteor showers produce favorable ionization for amateur DXing. The 3B7 DXpedition will take place at St. Brandon island. The 3D2 DXpedition will take place on Conway Reef. Arnie talked about harmonic hunters, and referred to harmonics as "non-essential radiation." The maximum usable frequency is around 21 MHz due to the lack of sunspots. "73 and very good DX!" Even though I'm not yet an amateur radio operator, Arnie's enthusiasm and compelling delivery create a very enjoyable show.

• 10 Aug 2009, 0301 UTC, 5950 kHz (Radio Taiwan International): Typhoon Morakot news. More rain is coming; some areas are already flooded. The military has ben mobilized for disaster relief. Most damage is in the south of Taiwan. Temperatures around Taipei will be 26-32C tomorrow. When I heard this shortwave broadcast, typhoon Morakot was not yet widely covered by the mainstream news.

The health minister resigned to run for another office. H1N1 flu continues to spread. However, the approach has gone from containment and quarantine to detection and prevention. August 6 and August 9 mark the anniversaries of atomic bombings in Japan by the USA.

For the health beat segment, a childbirth expert was interviewed. It was rather boring. Pizza delivery has been very popular in Taiwan after the typhoon, and this will be the subject of a Chinese language lesson. After the first example phone call, the announcer asked, "now, will the pizza be delivered in 30 minutes? Probably not, because the guy forgot to request the address!" That was a fun segment, even though I don't aspire to learn the language. I wasn't clear on what dialect of Chinese was being used, but they likely used Mandarin.

• 12 Aug 2009, 0526 UTC, 6010 kHz (Radio Havana Cuba): "The Cuban Five...they will return!"

On a night when 49-meter broadcasts from Sackville (NHK Radio Japan and China Radio International) and Okeechobee (Radio Taiwan International) are coming in poorly, Cuba's broadcast is coming in clear and strong. It's a Caribbean victory!

• 24 Aug 2009, 0327 UTC, 5890 kHz (WWCR): For the last few days, I've been targeting the WWCR broadcasts so I could send them a reception report and request a QSL card. I don't enjoy listening to religious programming otherwise. When I tuned in, the pastor was telling his congregation how their "little church" could have a greater influence. He said that two things move the heart: music, and preaching. "Acupuncture does not work nearly as well on western men as it does on eastern men." "Want to be different? I'll stick a big ring in my nose, or my lip." The signal was fading and distorting, so it was difficult to follow the broadcast. I'm not certain how the acupuncture and body piercing came up, but he was trying to make a point that I missed.

I got identification in a few different forms. First, I heard the pastor say "This is pastor Peters." Then I heard an advertisement for a book called "America the Conquered" by Peter J. Peters. And at the top of the hour, I heard the station identification: "WWCR, Nashville Tennessee, USA."

• 0538 UTC, 6010 kHz (Radio Havana Cuba): During the mailbag show, Ed Newman once again laments that most of their letters and emails come from males, so the mailbag show is really the male-bag show.

• 28 Aug 2009, 0512 UTC, 6110 kHz (NHK Radio Japan): What to do when contracting the flu. China is arguing about the Dalai Lama's planned visit to Taiwan. Power-generating rice paddys.

NHK's signal was weak, fading, and suffering from local interference. The noise was affecting much of the 60m, 49m, and 41m bands, although a stronger Radio Havana Cuba broadcast on 6060 kHz was usable. I also tuned in too late to catch the top headlines. There's a lot going on in Asia right now, and I'd like to get more local perspective.

• 30 Aug 2009, 0303 UTC, 7325 kHz (Voice of Turkey): This was my first substantial Voice of Turkey reception. Unfortunately the signal strength was only moderate, and I was receiving a lot of noise. I was surprised to learn that this transmission came from Sackville, because I would have expected a stronger signal from there. I'm definitely missing that Delano transmitter. The broadcast was also plagued with random moments of silence that didn't sound like traditional fading problems. Based on the way the interruptions happened, I suspect that the problem was with the Sackville transmitter site, or with content delivery from the Voice of Turkey studios.

This station sure identifies frequently. I heard the "Voice of Turkey" identification at least seven times during the hour-long broadcast.

Among the news stories reported in this broadcast: Afghanistan is tallying the results from their recent presidential election, and results are expected next week. The U.S. government is releasing two prisoners from the Guantanamo prison. The station's website was given as www.trtenglish.com .

The Turkish music in this broadcast was the best part, and unfortunately, the poor signal quality hindered enjoyment of the music. The broadcast essentially ended at 0350 UTC; below is a video of the piano music that repeated to fill the remainder of the hour.



• 0735 UTC, 9000 kHz: I spent a lot of time trying to pull down a very weak music signal. When the signal strengthened, I recognized the loud oriental orchestral music; the trademark of the Firedrake jammer. A schedule check shows 9000 kHz as a Sound of Hope frequency, which Firedrake regularly targets. I used to hear Firedrake a lot, but this is most likely my first reception of it during 2009. Have they reduced transmitter power?

22 August 2009

grundig g3 review and eton e5 comparison

Along comes the Grundig G3. This radio offers three new significant features over the Eton E5/Grundig G5: synchronous detection, VHF aircraft band reception, and FM RDS. The concept of an Eton E5 plus synchronous detection was appealing, so I ordered the G3.

This product has a distinguished lineage. If I understand the history correctly, it starts with the Degen DE1103 (sold under the Kaito brand in the United States). This radio was widely regarded for its sensitivity, feature set, and sub-$100 selling price. However, the 1103 had a peculiar user interface: the numeric buttons were in a single row along the bottom, most of the user interface was taken up by a large LCD with an unnecessary simulated analog tuner, and volume control was indirect.

RadioIntel then posted a fax they received showing a new product called the Degen DE1106. Reportedly, it was a direct derivative of the DE1103 with a more traditional user interface. Then, Degen sold the DE1106 radio design to a foreign company. After that, the Eton E5 and subsequently the Grundig G5 were released, almost identical in design to the Degen DE1106 image from the fax. Now, the Grundig G3 adds three features to the predecessor E5/G5 but retains the same retail price.

Taking it out of the box

Eton Corporation (who markets and distributes Grundig-branded radios in the USA) does not usually impress me with their packaging. The G3 box features impressive artwork, but inside the box is a different story. The G3, manual, and accessories are packed in a thin cardboard tray, with the manual not fitting particularly well. To get anything out of the box, the outer artwork sleeve has to be removed from the box, then the inner cardboard tray has to be removed from the box. I have this same issue with the Eton E5 and Eton E100 packaging. It's a minor issue but gets things started on the wrong foot.

If you've never had the pleasure of unboxing a Kaito 1102, it goes like this: lift the box flap, then lift the box top, and you're in. The radio, headphones, and power adapter are accessible. Lift the cheap plastic tray to get to the radio pouch, batteries, and manual. Kaito's product boxes may have a less impressive exterior, but they're much more usable than Eton's.

Right after removing the G3 from the plastic wrapping, I detected a burned rubber odor that resembles the odor of a skunk. Who wants to bring a skunk into their home? The odor is still there, too, if I put my nose close to the radio. This thing has been sitting on a desk near a window that's often open, so this thing has a serious odor problem. Some of the odor transfers to my hands when I handle the radio.

While testing this radio, I have been powering it with four fresh Rayovac akaline batteries. I didn't try the included power adapter.

Visual comparison with the Eton E5

Since I own an Eton E5, I have a good benchmark for the new Grundig G3. Keep in mind, however, that my E5 is 3.5 years old at this point.

I'm a big fan of the G3's black enclosure. The left side of the radio, however, uses raised lettering to label the ports and the switch. The local/dx switch is one place where it would be useful to see the labels in low light. But that's not possible because the raised letters are the same color as the background. This is the same labeling method used on the left side of the E5, but the lighter color of the E5 enclosure allows the labeling to be somewhat visible in low light. Fortunately, the local/dx switch is one that reveals itself through usage.

The LCD backlight is attractive, brighter than on the E5, and does a better job of filling the screen. However, the G3 does not backlight its buttons. I like the backlit buttons on the E5. I don't need the backlit buttons to be completely legible, as I can work from memory once I have a basic frame of reference. Really, I just like the way it looks. It's more inviting, you know?

The LCD alphanumeric display is expanded from four characters on the E5/G5 to eight characters on the G3. This facilitates RDS data, and allows memory pages to use names of up to eight characters. Now I can finally create a memory page for Radio Netherlands that says something more than "HLND". The irony is that they're no longer broadcasting to North America.

An issue that my E5 has, and which is even worse on the G3, is alignment of the round buttons on the front panel. The numeric keypad is surrounded by five round buttons, and none of them are aligned properly.

Functional comparison with the Eton E5

According to my ears, the G3 produces more treble response through the speaker. I don't know if this is due to my E5's wear and tear, or a design change. Both radios had the tone switch in the "music" position when I did this comparison.

Using the numeric keypad to select frequencies on the G3 has a couple of problems. First, it takes a bit longer for the audio to come on after changing the frequency than on the E5. Second, sometimes when I press the "3" key, the radio enters a "4" instead. This has been happening about once every couple of days.

Scanning through a shortwave band is slower on the G3. It gets through the frequencies a lot slower. Also, scanning doesn't begin until "key up", whereas the E5 would begin scanning with "key down". I prefer the E5's "key down" scanning behavior.

Similar to the E5, the G3 will not jump to the seldom-used 15-meter band (18900-19020 kHz) when hopping between bands by pressing the AM button. Also, the G3 will not display "15M" when tuned to the 15-meter band frequencies, whereas it shows the meter band label for all other shortwave bands. Poor, neglected 15M band.

While trying to receive the NCDXF/IARU HF beacons on 21150 kHz, I heard the 98.1 MHz FM broadcast in garbled form. I did some basic calculations but couldn't figure out why I was hearing that station. A wire antenna was connected at the time that this happened. I connected my E5 to the wire antenna and tuned to 21150 kHz, but didn't hear the FM station interference.

The G3 has a problem with volume control. It offers volume levels in the range of 00 to 31, but the usable range for me is only between 08 and 14. Below 08, the radio doesn't seem to make any sound through the speaker. Above 14, the speaker is too loud. This experience was the same for AM, FM, and SW.

I tuned in to some amateur voice traffic on 3760 kHz in the 80-meter band. On the G3, I wasn't able to use the BFO dial to eliminate the robotic quality of the voices. With the E5, it was relatively easy to clarify the voices with the BFO. I received a reply to this comment on the rec.radio.shortwave newsgroup stating that input overload can sometimes cause this.

In my experience, shortwave sensitivity is comparable between the E5 and the G3. Both radios also provided a similar positive impact when attached to a 30-foot random wire antenna.

In one case, the G3 did slightly better on mediumwave with a weak signal than the E5. I was receiving KDIA on 1640 kHz, which is a 10 kW station about 30 miles away. The broadcast was fading noticeable on the E5, but the G3 held the signal steadily and provided greater reception.

Using synchronous detection

Synchronous detection is a premium feature that is more common these days on pricier tabletop receivers, whereas very few portable receivers offer it. The purpose of this feature is to enhance reception of a broadcast that is weak or is receiving interference on one of the two sidebands.

The Grundig G3's synchronous detection implementation could make or break this product. With a similar retail price to the well-respected Sony ICF SW7600GR receiver, the G3 will have to really deliver here.

While tuned to China Radio International on 6080 kHz (from Sackville, Canada), I wanted to clarify the weak signal. When I enabled the sync detection, the radio briefly muted, then emitted a loud whistling sound over the broadcast. This sequence repeated every few seconds, including both the muting and the loud whistling. An example of this noise and muting can be seen in the YouTube video below.

My Sony ICF SW7600GR receiver also mutes the audio when sync detection is enabled, but very briefly. To measure how long each radio mutes upon sync activation, I recorded each radio with my computer during sync activation, selected the muted region of the audio, and checked the length. The SW7600GR muting lasted 0.03 of a second, while the G3 muting lasted 0.25 of a second (over 8 times longer). The SW7600GR doesn't emit any whistling when sync is enabled, either.

I got the G3's sync detection to succeed on 1090 kHz (XEPRS, in Mexico), with adjacent channel interference mostly eliminated. Unfortunately, it only held on for approximately 20 seconds before having to restart the detection. I also had some success with sync detect on 780 kHz (KKOH, in Reno, NV).

Dr. Gene Scott's broadcast from the Caribbean Beacon on 6090 kHz was another place that sync failed to impress. This was a strong shortwave broadcast, and probably this radio's best chance to succeed with sync detect on shortwave. Sync also couldn't perform on 6165 kHz, which was a Radio Netherlands broadcast in Dutch to North America.

So, my experience with the G3 sync detection is that it works somewhat with moderate-to-strong mediumwave signals, and can eliminate adjacent channel interference, but is not effective at all for shortwave. Enabling sync detection is no guarantee of success, and if the signal is too weak or there's too much noise, enabling this feature can do more harm than good due to the muting and the whistling noise.

This experience brought to mind something that a radio enthusiast acquaintance once told me: usually, the human ear is the best filter. With synchronous detection as this product's most important advancement over the Eton E5, I am disappointed.



Using the VHF band

Before my G3 arrived, I visited liveatc.net and airnav.com to make a list of air traffic frequencies for the three closest airports. WIth the G3, I first tuned in to the SFO tower. I heard the plane crews, but not the tower controllers. It's like hearing one side of a phone conversation, something we all probably encounter a lot these days. VHF basically provides line-of-sight reception, so the hills in my area are preventing me from receiving the tower transmissions. Not much sense in owning an aircraft band receiver, then, when I can listen to the live feeds on liveatc.net and hear everything.

The G3 will not scan through the VHF frequencies when holding and releasing the auto search buttons. You need to adjust the frequency with the tuning knob or the numeric keypad. Some may see this as an oversight, but I don't consider it practical to scan through a frequency range where in-use frequencies don't have constant transmissions.

A minor nitpick: the G3 displays air band frequencies as six unseparated digits. I would like to see the frequency displayed as MHz instead of kHz.

Using FM and RDS

Radio Data System (RDS) is another new feature on the Grundig G3. When tuned to an RDS-enabled FM station, the G3 will display or scroll the provided text using the eight on-screen alphanumeric characters. RDS is off by default, so the LCD will show either "MONO" or "STEREO" when tuned to a station, which is actually irrelevant unless stereo headphones are used. Technology companies often show off their new features, so I'm surprised that RDS isn't automatically enabled for FM.

I almost never listen to the FM broadcast band, so RDS doesn't really interest me. But I scanned the FM band to find out which stations use it. I received RDS data for 15 stations (88.5 KQED, 90.3 KUSF, 91.7 KALW, 92.7 KNGY, 94.1 KPFA, 95.3 KUIC, 96.5 KOIT, 97.3 KLLC, 98.1 KISQ, 98.9 KSOL, 100.3 KBRG, 102.1 KDFC, 103.7 KWNI, 104.5 KFOG, 106.9 KCBS/KFRC).

In one case, I saw the current artist identified as Sting when it was actually Journey. I'm guessing that this problem was on the provider's end, however.

Since all of the clear stations I was able to tune in were spaced at least 0.4 MHz apart, I didn't notice any problems with FM selectivity.

Conclusion

I like my Eton E5 a lot, and I have to really think about it when prompted to suggest improvements. Getting me to switch from the Eton E5 to the Grundig G3 would require a significant new feature or a significant capability upgrade. Unfortunately, the Grundig G3 just doesn't meet my expectations. Synchronous detection, the feature with the most potential to impress, behaved poorly in my trials. If I had no choice between these two radios, I would accept the Grundig G3 as a replacement. But since I have a choice, I'm sticking with the Eton E5.

16 August 2009

point reyes weather station on shortwave

In early August 2009, I was tuned to 8764 kHz using SSB, where the weather station NMC was broadcasting. NMC is located in Point Reyes, California. I recorded this short video of the reception with my Eton E5.



Tuning the BFO to make the voice sound good is particularly hard with this broadcast, which has a fair amount of radio silence.

More info about radio broadcasting at Point Reyes:

• Photos of the NMC station and antennas
• Photo of the NMC site sign
• US Coast Guard "HF Voice" broadcasts
US Coast Guard Communications Area Master Station Pacific (CAMSPAC)
• National Park Service page about communications at Point Reyes

08 August 2009

kaito ceo reviews his own products on amazon

I was reading the Amazon reviews for the AN-200 loop antenna when I saw the reviewer name "W. Zhao". I thought that the name sounded familiar, so I searched my email. I found one email from one Walter Zhao who was responding to a question that I submitted to Kaito USA. Then I searched Google for "Walter Zhao" and found a LinkedIn page for Walter Zhao, listed as the CEO of Kaito Electronics in Los Angeles. Kaito is a distributor of radio and electronic products manufactured in China.

Walter Zhao has reviewed 17 products on Amazon so far, giving all of them five stars, all of which are offered by Kaito Electronics. The reviews were published on Amazon between February and May, 2009.

Further, as the CEO of Kaito Electronics would surely have direct knowledge of his company's retail products, the reviews appear to contain lies. W. Zhao reports "I call Hisonic" to ask about a karaoke system, and claiming that "I saw this color" when shopping for a radio for his wife (in a review which he signs as "Walter"). In three of the radio reviews, he even complains that "I have to buy the AC adaptor separately from Kaito" in a shallow attempt to disguise his identity.

05 August 2009

numbers station received on 5900 khz

It took me a little over four years, but I finally located a numbers station on one of my radios. I wasn't intentionally searching for such a broadcast at the time; I was just randomly scanning the shortwave band on my diminutive Kaito KA11 radio. The frequency was 5900 kHz, SSB wasn't required, and this took place between 0830-0843 UTC on 04 August 2009.

I believe that I heard the V02 numbers station, which supposedly originates in Cuba. V02 uses a female voice to recite digits in groups of five, with about a two-second pause between the number groups. I listened to some of the YouTube videos described as V02 recordings, and the voice sounds the same as what I heard.

Unfortunately, I tuned in after the beginning of the broadcast, which might have contained the well-known "Atencion" greeting. But I heard the end of the broadcast, which gives me more confidence that I heard V02. In my logbook, I wrote that the broadcast concluded with what sounded like "two nine, two nine" or "goodnight, goodnight". But a YouTube video that's believed to also contain a V02 broadcast contains the same ending as I heard, and is transcribed as "final, final".

The Spooks Newsletter website has a pseudo-schedule for V02, which lists 5898 kHz as a broadcast frequency beginning at 0800 UTC on Tuesdays.

My KA11 was switched off, and I tuned in with my more powerful Eton E5. I captured a video recording of the final minutes of the broadcast. The E5 backlight only stays on for 15 seconds at a time when running on battery power, so the screen is not illuminated continuously in the video.

04 August 2009

updated prediction for solar cycle 24

The NOAA now offers a consensus opinion that solar cycle 24 will have a below-average solar maximum:
• NOAA Solar Cycle Progression

The solar maximum for solar cycle 24 is expected in May 2013.

01 August 2009

new grundig radio ordered

I ordered a Grundig G3. Since my Eton E5 has been my main radio for years, I'm eager to get this revision with synchronous detection and the VHF aircraft band. Also, since I arrived to the shortwave hobby after the Yacht Boy era, this will be my first "Grundig"-branded radio. After my G3 arrives, I hope to post my reactions, photos, and comparisons with the Eton E5.

I am surprised at Eton's decision to cancel the E5 / G5 and name this product the Grundig G3, rather than update the G5 and change its name slightly. This new radio could easily be called Grundig G5 with the addition of "Enhanced", "Pro", "Second Edition", etc. I sent email to Eton to ask why the product name was changed, but I received no response.

Also, In case you're looking for a great bargain in a high-quality portable shortwave receiver, Eton E5 radios have been spotted at various online retailers for under $80.

31 July 2009

chu time signal on 7335 khz has moved

As I catch up with various changes in the world of shortwave listening, I discovered via wikipedia that CHU moved one of its three shortwave broadcasts. The time signal previously broadcast on 7335 kHz can now be found on 7850 kHz due to a frequency reallocation by the International Telecommunications Union. More information about this can be found in Shortwave Central's article, Canada's CHU moving to 7850 kHz.

30 July 2009

defense against ebay impulse purchases

My copy of the 25th edition of Passport to World Band Radio has found a purpose: dissuading me from purchasing new but mediocre radios that pop up on eBay. Case in point: I was intrigued by the Tecsun PL 600 until I read the review. However, now the book has me thinking again about the Eton E1. Maybe I should tear out those pages of the book and throw them away.

24 July 2009

grundig g4 cancellation

I was curious about the Grundig G4, because it looked like a sibling of my enduring favorite, the Kaito 1102. Its disappearance from online radio retail catalogs and appearance on Eton's "past collection" page had me confused.

My curiosity in the Grundig G4 was a passing interest, because some issues turned me off. It appeared like another Eton move to take an existing product, slightly redesign it, and sell it for twice the original price (Kaito 1102 became Grundig G4; Kaito 1103/1106 became Eton E5/Grundig G5). I'm not interested in onboard digital audio recording, and one review I saw on an online retailer's website highlighted that the radio's user interface isn't suited for managing files on an SD card.

More information about this discontinued Eton/Grundig product can be found in the Passport to World Band Radio review: Grundig G4 introduced, dropped. The review was intended for the 25th edition of the book for 2009, before the radio was cancelled.

21 July 2009

passport book is in limbo

Passport to World Band Radio in limbo:
the 26th Edition of Passport to World Band Radio® is being held in limbo. Despite this, for now we are continuing to maintain the WorldScan® database and uphold all proprietary material. Among other things, this should help allow for an orderly return to production, under IBS’ aegis or otherwise, should conditions allow.
Although I only bought one edition and didn't spend much time reading it, I'd be sad to see this book cease annual publication.

18 July 2009

annoying radio commercial

I need to rant about something. My local all-news radio station of choice has been ceaselessly playing an advertisement that I absolutely hate. I found a link with an audio clip of the ad spot. But I decided not to link to it, because I don't want to give the advertiser any publicity.

Perhaps some of you have heard the commercial. First off, the background music for this ad is utterly pedestrian. Most of the ad time is spent degrading the listener to teach them the cleverly-misspelled organization name. The purpose of the organization is thrown in as an afterthought after the phone number is drilled into the listener's head.

I have become so disgusted with this advertisement that I turn my radio off when I hear it. I guess I've been spoiled lately by some extremely clever car insurance ads. So, I wrote to the station and told them that I hate this advertisement, that I find it degrading, and that I shut my radio off when I hear it. However, the station did what suits them best in a situation like this: they didn't respond.

16 July 2009

cobalt pet anniversary

Today marks four years since the beginning of the cobalt pet radio weblog. This weblog has provided me with an excellent feedback look for my radio hobbies. I realize that content has been really lacking this year, and I apologize. My life has changed a lot since this weblog was started, and other activities are consuming my time.

I have a winter mediumwave DX log that still needs to be posted, so that will likely be my next post. I'm also looking forward to sharing my perspective on the portable shortwave receiver market. Thanks for reading!

28 January 2009

grundig g3 appears online

Both Eton corporation and at least one online radio retailer have posted a listing for a future radio called the Grundig G3. The product photos show an identical appearance to the Eton E5 / Grundig G5. The feature list suggests an E5 / G5 with the addition of VHF band tuning (118-137 mhz), synchronous detection, and radio data system for FM.

No pricing has been announced. With the E5 / G5 previously retailing in the USA for US$150, it would be reasonable to expect a retail price in the range of US$150 - 250.

This sounds like an excellent upgrade to the E5 / G5, which traces its roots to the Degen DE1103 / Kaito KA1103. Will people still buy the Sony ICF SW7600GR after the G3 is released? That will depend primarily on retail price and the quality of the synchronous detection implementation. I am definitely looking forward to giving this new radio a spin.

01 January 2009

a place for comments and questions: 2009

Readers of the Cobalt Pet shortwave and mediumwave radio weblog are encouraged to post comments and questions. In case you have a comment that's not related to a specific article, you are welcome to reply here. I'll link to this post from the website's sidebar so it's always easy to find. I welcome general comments, questions, and any feedback about the website.

I'll do my best to respond, either with a comment here of my own, or an article on the front page.

2006 comments and questions
2007 comments and questions
• 2008 comments and questions