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.