30 September 2011

shortwave reception, sep 2011

It was a great month around here for shortwave listening. Opportunities combined with good conditions is a beautiful thing. In the past, I've used a couple regular locations for outdoor shortwave listening. This month, I tried a new location, and found that it had everything I wanted: a pleasant walk on a paved sidewalk, adequate lighting, not much automobile traffic, and very little environmental noise. Being outdoors, away from buildings with electrical wiring, and away from overhead power lines is arguably the best way to experience shortwave listening.

Some of these receptions were indoors with my Eton E5, occasionally with the Degen DE31 active loop antenna. Some receptions were outdoors with my Tecsun PL-350. All receptions took place in northern California.

Received stations:
• China Radio International
• Deutsche Welle
• Radio Australia
• Radio Netherlands
• Radio Taiwan International
• Voice of Russia
• WBCQ

• 14 Sep 2011, 2304 UTC, 11840 kHz: I got a strong China Radio International signal with my Eton E5 and the Degen DE31. This broadcast comes from Sackville. CRI reported on the American hikers imprisoned in Iran. There were brief mentions of the American and European economic situations, with what I'd call cautioned optimism. I hope they don't dwell on this topic too much; it's already constantly in the news over here. Tell me something about China or Asia!

Now they're discussing Libya sanctions. When will we see resolution of who controls the Libyan government? And the Taliban are trying to disrupt the transfer of power in Afghanistan. France suffered a nuclear waste explosion, killing one and injuring four others.

Stories involving Hong Kong and the RMB currency, and Sony PSP pricing, were hard to follow due to fading. "You're listening to the Beijing Hour." "Coming to you live from the Chinese capital." This might be the first time I knowingly heard a live CRI broadcast, assuming it wasn't a replay.

Drunk driving arrests in China have plummeted since May, although no reason was mentioned. Chinese couples who give birth to children abroad to get around the family planning policy will have to pay social services fees if the foreign-born children are brought back to China. Many couples go to the USA to give birth to additional children. The family planning policy is not strictly a one-child policy; if both parents are both former only-childs, they can have more than one child. This was news to me.

Kids in big cities have unbalanced eating habits. School officials don't focus on nutrition when preparing student lunches. A balanced lunch should provide 40% of the necessary energy for a day. In some countries, school lunches are planned by professional nutritionists. Japanese students have to attend a nutrition class at a young age.

"That's all we have time for in this edition of the Beijing Hour." But there's seven minutes left in the hour! Schedule information and various recorded CRI promos followed.

• 15 Sep 2011, 0019 UTC, 9445 kHz: I found a strong signal, and thought "This sounds like Dutch." And it was! Radio Netherlands, Dutch to North America. Is this really broadcasting from Bonaire? Could they please transmit English to me? Not during this time slot, mind you. I'm happy that there's a Dutch language broadcast, even if I don't know the language. I just want an English broadcast at some time during 0300-0700 UTC. I should email them again.

• 0200 UTC, 9680 kHz: This is a strong Radio Taiwan International broadcast, coming to me from Okeechobee. They used to relay through Delano, didn't they? That transmitter site is closed though, as far as I know. Taiwan is seeking newer fighter jets from the United States. Taiwan's first lady will throw the first pitch at an upcoming Giants/Dodgers game in Los Angeles. Weather: Taiwan, partly cloudy, 27-30C. Beijing, partly cloudy, high of 19C. Tokyo, partly cloudy with a high of 32C. "RTI news, programs, pictures, and more, online at english.rti.org.tw."

Military plane crash. Two military planes crashed, killing three air force pilots, and the wreckage has been found. The investigation is ongoing, but one possibility is that one or both of the planes deviated from their flight plans. One of the planes is from the 1960s. President Barack Obama still needs to make a decision about supplying Taiwan with new fighter jets. (An agreement was reached some time after the broadcast.)

Singapore makes it easy for foreigners to become citizens. However, it's very hard for foreigners to become citizens in Taiwan. China wants to be known for innovation, and not just for being the world's factory. Next is a segment about convenience stores in Taiwan. The average Taiwanese goes to a convenience store 15 times per month. They go to pay bills, renew a driver's license, get train tickets, purchase inexpensive coffee, use an ATM. When traveling abroad, Taiwanese people don't know where to go to shop, and stores can be closed on Sundays. Stores are open every day in Taiwan.

A pancake dish popular in Thailand was invented in Taiwan. (I had to look this up afterward: Thai shrimp pancake.) The two female reporters briefly discussed how people sometimes confuse Taiwan and Thailand. When one woman tells someone she is from Taiwan, sometimes another person mentions that they visited Bangkok, which is in Thailand.

"You're listening to Radio Taiwan International. Check out our website at english.rti.org.tw." "Ilha Formosa--a look at Taiwan and its environment." Increased CO2 in the water could threaten clownfish.

The highlight for me during this hour of English broadcasting was the "Occidental Tourist" segment: Taiwan is a city that never sleeps. Food options during the middle of the night may be more plentiful than the options during the day. Night markets allow you to feast almost until sunrise. The reporter mentions several areas where rows of bars can be found. There are some 24-hour dim sum restaurants. Taipei also features a 24-hour bookstore. Supposedly, half of the cars in Taipei are taxis, and it's very easy to find a taxi. Taipei has a small downtown area which is easily bikeable. Karaoke is also a popular activity, and private rooms are available so you won't embarrass yourself in front of strangers.

Listening to this hour of Radio Taiwan International programming reminds me that this is one of the better shortwave broadcasters that I currently receive. The cultural segments they include in their broadcasts help me learn something about Taiwan, and especially, discover something more to like about Taiwan.

• 0300 UTC, 15425 kHz, "This is the Voice of Russia." The headlines were spoken rather quickly, and a bit of fading interfered with the clarity, so I was unable to follow. Summary of news stories: 2004 political crisis in Haiti. Tourists stuck in Bulgaria. Financial assistance is available for families impacted by the September 7 plane crash. "That was the news from Moscow." So, after that brief news segment, the rest of the broadcast has been about Russian music. I like music on most other shortwave broadcasts, although Russian music typically doesn't do anything for me.

• 17 Sep 2011, 0337 UTC, 7415 kHz: This must be WBCQ! It's an elusive station for me, but I got it during an outdoor listening session. References to illuminati, Israel, Palestine. This show features a woman and a man in a telephone interview format. The woman seems to be reading submitted questions. "I can't answer that," he would say, when he lacked the relevant knowledge or couldn't make a prediction about the future. Something about Libyan gold. A question about General Petraeus becoming a presidential candidate. On the real estate market, "A house is a place to live, not a gambling chip." (No argument from me.) Filler music was by The Police, "When the world is running down..." "WBCQ, Monticello Maine, USA."

• 0406 UTC, 9330 kHz: WBCQ again! Excavations near Bethlehem. "The bible is not a book of fables." "This is Science Rocks" (Science Rocks is a show listed on WBCQ's program guide). "Our vision is to get people back into the bible." They offer a quick study pocket guide, and their mailing address is in Orangeville, Ontario, Canada. "There is a better way to live than how we are living now."

During these two WBCQ receptions, I was walking around a small city, and I found a city block where power lines were not running overhead. My radio was nice and quiet there, instead of blasting me with unwanted static. And WBCQ has nicely isolated frequencies in the case of 7415 and 9330 kHz, so adjacent channel interference wasn't a problem. So once I found the quiet block, I stood in the path of a flood light so I could see my notebook and take notes.

• 23 Sep 2011, 0404 UTC, 7240 kHz: This is a Deutsche Welle broadcast in English from Kigali, Rwanda. The Kigali transmitter site loves California for some reason, and I get to benefit! This reception took place in a new listening location with very little noise. I should make this my new regular spot for outdoor listening.

Wall Street is approaching its lowest levels for the year. Pope Benedict is visiting Germany for four days and is facing protests about sex abuse scandals. Protesters in Berlin criticized the pope's views on gay rights. European nations are considering legislation similar to France's law that bans burqas. There are signs of economic slowdown in Germany and China.

• 0429 UTC, 15240 kHz: This is Radio Australia. A big news story of the moment is the possible neutrino (subatomic particle) traveling faster than the speed of light. "When we find out how the universe works, we find a way to use that information." Two boats of asylum-seekers were intercepted and sent to Christmas Island. Australia has been able to maintain strong Standard and Poors ratings due to its stable financial policies.

I couldn't hear the Radio Australia signal too well, but there was nothing else I wanted to listen to at that moment. So I kept it on the earphones and picked up bits and pieces of the broadcast. And my mind wandered. I started thinking about Australia, its location on earth, the Pacific ocean, and wondering about daily life in that part of the world. It was a fun diversion to try to imagine myself being removed from my America-centric life.

26 September 2011

voa ending broadcasts to china

Voice of America (VOA), the official broadcaster for the United States government, will no longer broadcast via shortwave to China as of October 1, 2011:

• Radio Silence in China: VOA Abandons the Airwaves [heritage.org]

The linked page above has a column on the right side where four key talking points are listed. So, read those if you want a quick summary of the full article.

22 September 2011

shortwave scanning, sep 2011

My Eton E5 is up and running, with relatively fresh alkalines, and the Degen DE31 active loop antenna is hanging in the window. Let's see what's out there. I only used the tuning knob here; no automatic scanning, stepping buttons, or frequency entry.

On 13 Sep 2011, at 0400 UTC, I hoped to catch China Radio International on either 6020 kHz or 6080 kHz, both transmitting from Sackville in a westerly direction. But I checked those frequencies and heard barely a murmur on them. The loop antenna helped somewhat, but the male announcer just couldn't keep up with the strong buzzing sound I was picking up. So I decided to do a band scan starting at 4700 kHz, the beginning of the 60-meter broadcast band.

4840 kHz: WWCR from Nashville. It sounds like infomercials. The signal is somewhat strong, but there's fading and the constant buzzing I mentioned above. If I hold the radio with my right hand, then the buzzing goes away, but then I can't sit at the computer and type and stuff. Ugh. Anyway, this infomercial is about storable foods, with free shipping. Oh, it's Alex Jones. I don't know much about this guy. I believe he's acquainted with George Noory and occasionally appears on Coast to Coast AM. Anyway, Alex is talking about "al qaeda terrorists". Not the most cheerful of subjects, right? Time to tune again.

WWV on 5000 kHz, just the gent from Colorado. The lady from Hawaii might be in there somewhere! I better turn on the loop antenna and find out. Yep, I can just hear her faint announcements just before the gentleman's recording, right before the minute marker tone.

5025 kHz. At times, I can hear Radio Rebelde here, but not tonight. Well, something is there, but barely. I enjoy listening to their music when the signal comes through.

5040 kHz. Music. I don't recognize it. Spanish? Ah, it appears to be Radio Havana Cuba. Well, I'd love to hear the music if the signal was better.

5755 kHz. "That's when you know you're talking to a lukewarm christian." Ah, one of the many religious shortwave broadcasts. Which one? WTWW from Tennessee. This frequency is just outside the 49-meter broadcast band. I wonder how stations like this, and WBCQ, are allocated frequencies outside of the normal broadcast bands. This signal is stronger than the others I've heard, but the content isn't really for me. Back to the tuning knob.

5935 kHz is a strong signal, and I recognize that voice! It's the legendary Dr. Gene Scott, a shortwave broadcaster that I learned about from the Professor. The good doctor died several years ago, but he's still on the radio, should you wish to find him. Dr. Scott is another religious broadcaster, but I enjoy listening to him for everything else he does. But this particular moment of his broadcast sounds tame.

5950 kHz, this must be Radio Taiwan International. And it is, but in Mandarin, which isn't a language I know. There's a little flute song here, but it didn't last long. I should be able to find Cuba on 6000 kHz or 6050 kHz, even though their evening broadcasts before 0500 UTC aren't aimed at me. Ah, 6050 kHz has a somewhat usable Radio Havana Cuba broadcast. Radio Havana Cuba was one of my first shortwave receptions; it was really exciting to hear the announcer state that she was in downtown Havana. This signal is fading like crazy. The loop antenna helped quite a bit. This story is about the Cuban Five, a frequent topic on Radio Havana Cuba, and arguably a story that helps keep Radio Havana Cuba on the air broadcasting to the United States. If you're not familiar with the Cuban Five, I suggest you look into it.

Singing on 6090 kHz. This is another frequency used by the University Network, Dr. Gene Scott's network. Interestingly, a voiceover just said "You are watching (unintelligible). The number to call is...". All I'm watching is the frequency displayed on my radio, pal!

6120 kHz has a Spanish broadcast from Radio Havana Cuba, but it's barely there and has severe fading.

6385 kHz has a repetitive noise, like the sound of a car that won't start, but at a lower pitch. I hear the same thing on 6400 kHz.

There's a really faint female voice on 7250 kHz. It's very weak, and it sounds like there's an echo. Vatican radio in French, perhaps? But the signal is too weak for me to recognize the language.

Nothing on 7415 kHz, where I was hoping WBCQ would be broadcasting something that I could hear.

Something on 7570 kHz, well past the 41-meter broadcast band. It sounds like Spanish, so it would be Radio Taiwan International broadcasting to Latin America from Okeechobee.

I pretty much flew through 8000-9000 kHz, not expecting to find much there unless it was a jammer. Now I have a broadcast on 9410 kHz which is clearly English even though I can't hear it too clearly. I just know the speech patterns. This signal appears to be WINB in Pennsylvania, broadcasting to Latin America. The broadcast stopped at 0458 UTC in mid-sentence. So, I scanned from 4700 kHz to 9400 kHz, and I'm ready to be done. I hope you enjoyed reading this, or I hope you stopped reading it once you realized that you didn't enjoy it!

Schedule information was obtained from Primetime Shortwave and EiBi.

18 September 2011

emergency preparedness radio broadcast

While tuning through the mediumwave band on my Eton E5, I found a TIS broadcast on 840 kHz. I have logged this transmitter before. But the current audio message is about emergency preparedness, so I decided to share it. The signal strength is 10 watts, and some of the content is specific to the Belvedere/Tiburon area of northern California. I received this broadcast from about 7 miles away.

"This is the city of Belvedere emergency advisory radio system WPEX988 operating on 840 AM. The message is: Our local emergency services have been encouraging residents of the Tiburon peninsula to get ready, and prepare for a catastrophe. Our community has responded with enthusiasm and commitment. This September, we are asking that you continue your hard work while recognizing natural disaster preparedness month. We ask that you take the time to update your emergency kit at home, in your car, and at your workplace. Replace food, water, and batteries that may have expired. This is also a good time to review your emergency plan with your family, and ensure that your emergency contact phone numbers, including your out-of-area contacts, are current. Once that has been completed, this is also a good time to practice your plan. If you would like to attend a get ready class, a number of classes will be held at various locations. The next meeting has been scheduled at the Tiburon Police Station on September 22nd from 7pm to 9pm. The class is free of charge, and is a great way to make sure that you are prepared for any kind of disaster. We also encourage you to participate in the annual ShakeOut nationwide earthquake drill on October 20th, by registering to participate and then practicing drop, cover, and hold at 10:20 AM on the 20th of October. Sign up today at www.shakeout.org to take part in this historic event. The website contains information and tools like audioclips to make the drill as effective as possible. After you drop, cover, and hold during the shakeout drill, why don't you take the opportunity to practice your personal plan, such as relaying important information through your out-of-area contacts. For more information on get ready classes, disaster supply kit lists, or personal plans, go to www.getready94920.org, or feel free to call me at 435-7386, or stop by the Tiburon uh, Police Department, the Office of Emergency Services, in the event of an emergency."

12 September 2011

the tecsun pl-350 revisited

I recently retrieved my Tecsun PL-350 from the shelf in my living room. It has been sitting up there for many months, without batteries of course, inside the cloth pouch that came with it. Since I'm hoping to do more radio listening during evening walks in the next couple of months, I wanted to find a capable portable radio to take with me. My Eton E5 is still the radio I go to for shortwave reception at home, but I'd like something a little smaller without sacrificing too much shortwave capability.

When I first got this radio, the rubberized exterior was a nice benefit because it was easy to hold onto. But now the radio has permanent fingerprints on the outside, and a sticky feel. Annoying. What happened to it? And is there any way to fix it?

I remember being interested in getting a radio with controls labeled in Chinese. And it wasn't too difficult an adjustment at first, because I memorized the controls by reading the English control guide PDF supplied by the eBay seller. But so much time has passed that I have to re-learn the buttons. And being away from the computer with a Chinese-labeled radio may be challenging.

I opened up the telescopic antenna, and was pleased at the sturdiness and stiffness of the antenna. This part is in excellent shape.

While tuning to various shortwave stations on the Eton E5, I also tuned them in on the PL-350. Even with the antenna gain set to DX and the antenna trim dial set appropriately, shortwave reception was weaker across the board on the PL-350 during the afternoon. After sundown, I was impressed with the PL-350's handling of broadcasts from Voice of Russia and China Radio International, but it struggled with a weaker Radio Taiwan International broadcast.

Unfortunately, due to carelessness, I snapped the folding stand on the back of the radio. The rectangular stand itself is misleadingly sturdy; the two plastic pegs that hold it into the back of the radio are small and weak. And while setting up the hinged stand to put the radio on a desk, I applied too much pressure and broke it. I made this mistake before with another Tecsun radio, the R-912.

So, is this an adequate portable radio for outdoor reception? Sure. First, the crucial parts are all solid and functioning. Second, this radio runs on three AA batteries, and carrying three spare batteries is easier than having to carry four. Third, it's small enough to fit in a jacket pocket. Fourth, it handles strong shortwave broadcasts adequately. This seems like the right radio for my outdoor listening adventures.

05 September 2011

wbcq has saturday airtime available

Does anyone want to be on the air? WBCQ is selling 7415 kHz airtime on Saturdays.

And now that I've plugged them even though they didn't ask me, I have a request of my own. WBCQ, please make it easier for me to receive your broadcasts in northern California! I know that your antennas aren't transmitting in my direction, but you have the kind of content I'd love to listen to a bit more often.