31 October 2011

v02a number station logs

Here are some of my logs of the V02a Spanish numbers station. Receptions were with the Eton E5, using the telescopic whip antenna or a random wire antenna, indoors.

• 12 Sep 2011, sometime after 0700 UTC : 5883 kHz
• 02 Oct 2011, 0734-0742 UTC : 5883 kHz: Five-digit groups as usual, ending with "Final, final, final"; adjacent channel interference from WWCR (Nashville, TN, USA) on 5890 kHz
• 02 Oct 2011, 0800 UTC : 5898 kHz: "Atencion!"
• 08 Oct 2011, 0702 UTC : 5883 kHz: poor signal
• 08 Oct 2011, 0808 UTC : 5898 kHz: good signal
• 09 Oct 2011, 0632 UTC : 5800 kHz: morse code; expected Spanish numbers; off at 0633 UTC
• 16 Oct 2011, 0701 UTC : 5883 kHz: "Atencion!" greeting heard several times interspersed with number groups
• 16 Oct 2011, 0817 UTC : 5898 kHz: good signal
• 22 Oct 2011, 0708 UTC : 5883 kHz: fair signal with fading
• 22 Oct 2011, 0802 UTC : 5898 kHz: poor signal
• 30 Oct 2011, 0738 UTC : 5883 kHz: poor signal with fading; heard "final" twice at 0741 UTC

27 October 2011

printing my swl cheat sheet

For several years now, I've been maintaining a cheat sheet of hf radio frequencies, schedules, broadcasting bands, terms, reception tips, and so on for my outdoor listening activities. It's a single sheet of 8.5" x 11" paper, folded into eighths (two across by four down). It easily fits into my pocket or my logbook.



While preparing my autumn 2011 shortwave listening cheat sheet back in September, I replaced all of the schedule and station frequency data, and tightened up the text to take full advantage of available space. I noticed that the 8-point text looked a little small on both the screen and the paper. But there was a more serious problem: the left edge of the text was not printed correctly.

When my shortwave listening cheat sheet first came together, I looked at the one-inch margins on the printout and thought, "I can do better. This doesn't all have to be whitespace." So I reduced the top, bottom, left, and right margins from 1 inch all the way down to 0.15 inch, and it worked. This made it possible to fit more text on a page, and as a bonus, the frontmost eighth of the cheat sheet (when folded up) was both more impressive and more useful.

Then, after an OS update on my home computer, I tried printing the updated document with the same 0.15-inch margins. No good. I made several small adjustments until ending up with a usable printout with 0.25-inch margins on the left and right.

So, I lost a tenth of an inch along each of the four sides of the page. I also bumped the font up to 9-point, which took a lot of reformatting and some loss of data. To make this work, I cropped some of the schedule data, remove the air traffic control and selcal sections, and tightened up the wording in the "propagation and reception" section. My revised and reformatted shortwave listening cheat sheet has been very valuable during the past few weeks for outdoor listening sessions, away from all the noise sources conveniently listed.

22 October 2011

wbcq moving from 7415 to 7490 on monday

WBCQ 7.415 will move to 7.490 effective Monday, October 24, 2011

Quoted from wbcq.com:
The FCC has notified WBCQ that they must vacate 7.415 MHz no later than Monday, October 24, 2011. Effective this date the new frequency will be 7.490 MHz.

16 October 2011

radio survey spam from koit

KOIT 96.5 mHz in San Francisco is a light rock radio station. In other words, they play bland background music for mindless suburban types. The only time I hear it is while at my dentist's office, where it is played continuously in every room. Me? I prefer to have my pain dulled with chemicals while getting my mouth checked.

On Friday, October 14, 2011, I received postal mail from a company called Impact Research in Newton Square, PA. It was addressed to me, without a single flaw in my name or address, so I decided to take a look. Maybe it was legitimate, or maybe they just got past my filters.

The sensation of pleasure was evident in my brain as I scanned the text: "Dear Bay Area Radio Listener"... "radio listening preferences"... "help shape local radio programming"... "listen to your assigned station for at least one hour"... "you will be entered into a drawing"... "the station you have been assigned to listen to is KOIT at 96.5 FM".

Well, I never put any faith in drawings for $1000, but I was curious enough to follow through. I googled for "impact research" "newton square", and found articles berating it as a marketing ploy to boost Arbitron ratings:

• http://timeoutchicago.com/arts-culture/chicago-media-blog/7542655/believe-it-or-not-fake-survey-brings-real-ratings-to-rewind

• http://boards.radio-info.com/smf/index.php/topic,154247.0.html

Plus, the enclosed "no postage necessary if mailed in the United States" postcard included fields for my name and address. So if I tried to enter the drawing for a modest stack of cash, some marketing firm could run wild with my contact information. Maybe I'd get invited to enter more bogus surveys.

Photos of the junk mail I received:



14 October 2011

kaito an-200 mediumwave antenna review

The AN-200 tunable passive loop antenna for mediumwave is manufactured by Tecsun, and sold under the Grundig and Kaito brands in the United States. It has an impressive appearance, with red wires wrapped around a clear plastic loop about 9 inches in diameter, and a black plastic arched base. So, is it just for show, or does it deliver better mediumwave reception?

As traditional mediumwave DXing is increasingly threatened by HD (hybrid digital)/IBOC (in band on channel) broadcasting, I'm looking for ways to get more out of this hobby in the near term. I purchased a Kaito AN-200 antenna to use via inductive coupling with my portable receivers. This is the first external AM antenna I've ever owned or even used, so I can't compare its performance with other similar products.

The item

Out of the box, this thing looks cool. The exposed red wire wrapped around the clear plastic ring has a nice, simple appearance and a bold red color for the wire.

The black plastic base and the clear plastic loop wobble as if not solidly connected. Since it's in this condition as a brand new item, I'm concerned that it will eventually fall apart. The antenna gets moved around during normal usage, and perhaps stowed when not needed. Durability of a product like this is a necessity, and the product I received does not inspire confidence.

The wrapped wire fits into a groove on the outside of the clear ring. In some places, the wire looks bent, scuffed, and not evenly distributed. My unit certainly does not resemble the glamor shots I have seen on eBay. I don't know how much functional difference it makes when I gently push the wires into visually-pleasing conformance, but this action provides the aforementioned aesthetic enhancement. However, there's enough slack in the line that the problem of disorderly, overlapping wire returns after a short time.



As for the tuning selector, it's a loose plastic knob with a barely discernible pointer on it. Fortunately, the pointer doesn't make a difference. Just turn the thing and listen to the results. The knob has a range of about a half turn. It's possible to just pull the wobbly knob off and turn the potentiometer directly, although the wobbly knob acts as a cover for the potentiometer to shield it from debris.

Overall, the construction and durability is poor. This is such a simple design that only neglect and inferior components could cause problems. Extra care with the design could have resulted in a wire that stays snug. Tighter coupling between the base and the loop would make me believe that this unit would last a long time, but that remains to be seen.

Test preparation

For calibration purposes, I used my digitally-tuned Eton E5 (which I often use for mediumwave DXing without an external antenna). To test the signal strength improvement of the AN-200 antenna, I used my Tecsun R-9012 radio (which is very similar to the Tecsun R-911 / Kaito WRX-911). Both radios were powered with new alkaline batteries.

Daytime reception tests

My daytime tests of the AN-200 took place between roughly 11am and 6pm local time.

Daytime performance of the AN-200 impressed me. Stations from great distances aren't audible via skywave propagation during the day, so the objective is to find some weak signals without the help of an external antenna, and use the AN-200 to make the signals usable.

On the E5, I tuned to 580 kHz (KMJ; Fresno, CA; 50 kW) and heard a faint signal among the noise. I tuned the R-9012 so I could tell that it was on the same frequency, but could not hear the weak signal sufficiently through the noise. I tuned the AN-200 which was along the left side of the R-9012, and KMJ's signal literally jumped right out of the background noise to sound as good as a local station. That was a dramatic boost in signal strength, and now I can easily hear this station during the day.



Another test involved 650 kHz (KSTE; Rancho Cordova, CA; 21 kW). At a distance of about 120 miles away and a weaker transmitter, this station came through weakly on the E5. I was able to find the frequency on the R-9012 without the AN-200, and the AN-200 boosted the signal to a usable level. This signal was noisy, though, so I wouldn't have enjoyed spending a lot of time listening to that station.

840 kHz (KMPH; Modesto, CA; 5 kW) is about 80 miles away, and during the day, my listening location is in the fringe reception zone according to the radio-locator coverage map. This is an example of when I had to use the AN-200 to pull in the signal on my E5 reference radio, and the R-9012 was able to receive the station but not loud enough to use.

With the E5 and the AN-200 during a later daytime session, the radio was tuned to 840 kHz but picked up KCBS on 740 kHz by tuning the AN-200 down. The KCBS signal came through loud and clear. So, the inductive-coupled antenna can apparently tune the radio.

Nighttime reception tests

My nighttime tests of the AN-200 took place between roughly 8pm and 11pm local time.

For my first nighttime test, I tuned to 840 kHz (KMPH; Modesto, CA; 5 kW) with my diminutive Tecsun R-9012 radio. The signal was weak, noisy, and not illuminating the radio's "Tune" LED. Also, this is a frequency where I often hear overlapping traffic advisory transmitters at night. With the radio held in front of the AN-200, I whipped through the antenna's tuning knob range a couple times. I saw the tune LED come on, and I heard a dramatic increase in the signal strength. Cool! The best results were achieved with the radio six inches or less from the base of the antenna.

Results with my Eton E5 were a bit different. The E5 already had a usable signal for KMPH on 840 kHz, even with the local/dx switch in the local position. But the signal strength meter wasn't showing anything, without involving the AN-200. Moving the E5 close to the base of the antenna caused the signal strength meter to reach the half-way mark.

It's also important to point out that the sweet spot is a very narrow range of the antenna's tuning knob. On the one hand, the half-revolution range of the knob allows traversing the whole range quickly, but on the other hand, it means that fine-tuning is laborious. The back and forth tuning adjustments aren't too difficult for one station, but it becomes an issue when trying to log lots of stations.

Another evening test was with 660 kHz. I was worried about 660 kHz being a usable frequency for signal strength tests, because 680 kHz hosts KNBR, a local 50 kW sports station with plenty of bandwidth to spare. But I found the signal properly isolated on the little Tecsun. Given the heavy fading and the chanting I heard on this frequency, I guessed it was the Navajo Nation station (KTNN; Window Rock, AZ; 50 kW). Without the AN-200, this signal was only occasionally fading in above the noise level. The antenna brought in a stronger signal on the R-9012, and was pulsing the "Tune" LED in time with the signal fading. I also heard a clear "Navajo Nation" identification.

Here's a tougher test. 1000 kHz (KOMO; Seattle, WA; 50 kW) next to 1010 kHz (KIQI; San Francisco, CA; 10 kW day/0.5 kW night). KIQI is in Spanish; KOMO is in English. I tuned the R-9012 to where its signal was the strongest, and where I didn't hear interference from the adjacent frequency. While sweeping the antenna's tuning knob, however, it only amplified the adjacent frequency and didn't boost the signal from KOMO. I will point out though in the AN-200's defense that the experience was not the same on the Eton E5. The E5 didn't get a boost of KIQI while tuned to 1000 kHz, so this particular instance revealed poor mediumwave selectivity on the R-9012.

A somewhat weak signal on 1070 kHz (KNX; Los Angeles, CA; 50 kW) seemed like another good place for testing, but the R-9012 was barely able to find it on the left side of a really strong signal on 1100 kHz (KFAX; San Francisco, CA; 50 kW).

On 1200 kHz (KYAA; Soquel, CA; 25 kW day/10 kW night), the station hardly comes in for me during the day, comes blaring in during twilight, and then is reduced to the audio equivalent of rubble later at night. This is one case where the AN-200 provided a nice signal boost to the E5 during my nighttime tests. Without the antenna, the R-9012 wouldn't have a chance with this signal.

Tips

With the R-9012, I found that the best improvement was possible by pointing the top of the radio at the base of the AN-200. This behavior depends on how each particular radio is constructed, whether the radio contains a ferrite bar antenna, and where the ferrite bar is located.

Trying to boost a weak signal next to a strong first-adjacent station was difficult in my experience, and the radio's selectivity plays a factor. If you're trying to boost a weak signal that is right next to a stronger signal, the AN-200 will work best on radios with excellent mediumwave selectivity or selectable bandwidths.

Ideally, you point the antenna at the station you want to receive, and stations not facing the antenna are nulled. I'm not experienced enough at this yet to say how well this antenna does it. One experience was trying to log KMIK (Phoenix, AZ) on 1580 kHz, where there was a strong signal from KBLA in Santa Monica, CA. For me, KMIK is just a few degrees towards the east from KBLA. Two 50 kilowatt flamethrowers on the same frequency, 360 miles apart. They have directional transmissions at night, but I'm glad I don't want to listen to either station on a regular basis.

A brief diversion

I laid the antenna down on my carpet and took a rather dark photo, and submitted the photo to the "Amazon Remembers" service. The Amazon Remembers service is human-powered through their Mechanical Turk service. The item was incorrectly identified by an unknown person as a "Smooth ring door knocker - flat black iron".

Conclusion

Was it worth the expense? Is it producing the stated benefits? Do I recommend this product?

This was a good lesson for the fact that upgrading one piece of equipment exposes flaws in other pieces of equipment. The Tecsun R-9012 has poor mediumwave selectivity which becomes evident when using an external antenna such as the AN-200. The external antenna was working correctly and effectively.

Using the AN-200 is really easy, at least with the inductive coupling method that I used. When you find the sweet spot for a signal with the antenna tuning knob, you know. The signal gets louder and sometimes clearer, and if your radio uses a tuning LED or a signal strength meter, you'll likely observe the change in signal strength. But focus on what you hear, not what you see.

This product provides me with a clear benefit that aligns exactly with why I purchased it. My AN-200 antenna appears to be poorly constructed and is not durable enough to last for many years as I'd like. The very simple design also suggests that this product is easily replicated by those with the knowledge, capability, and materials.

10 October 2011

quick longwave test on tecsun pl-310

I loaded a set of alkaline batteries into my Tecsun PL-310, and took notice of the LW label on the MW/LW button. Time to check the Montague Airport morse code beacon on 404 kHz!

Without the telescopic whip extended or an external wire antenna attached, the MOG morse code signal came in loud and clear. The beacon is at an airport in Montague, California; 280 miles from me.

Pushing the numeric buttons on this radio is a hassle. When it works, there's such a long delay that I almost forget what frequency I'm trying to enter. And when it doesn't work, I have to wait a couple seconds, realize that it didn't work, and try again. Tecsun, it's called responsiveness.

05 October 2011

kaito wrx911 review

I'm always looking to augment my collection of cheap plastic portable radios. There's no single radio, or even no collection of over 20 radios, that can do everything. And in my collection, there just wasn't one that I considered an outstanding receiver for radio commercials. I wanted to find a radio that could accurately broadcast advertisements from the AM and FM bands.

After evaluating the products on the market, I decided to get a Kaito WRX911. I always wondered what the result would be if I glued a ruler, a speaker, and a paper clip together inside a flimsy plastic box.

I have many digitally-tuned radios, but I am tired of cheating by punching in frequencies on a keypad. What was missing was some geniune manual labor that made me feel proud of accomplishing something when finding a station. Going back and forth through the bands by endlessly flicking the tuning knob would be a nice little workout for my hands. Additionally, the WRX911 is small enough that I could easily slip it into a pocket, in the event I arrived at a store and felt the urge to go in and buy something. However, as I would learn later, when they say pocket-sized, they mean the whole pocket.

Supposedly, a sound heard inside someone's head is considered by that person to be more believable. So for this product I focused on one with a built-in speaker that was smaller than my own ears. A small speaker's weak sound should permit me to utilize the full amount of skepticism necessary for dealing with advertising. And moving away from it would make the speaker even smaller, right? That's why stars in the sky look so small.

Telescopic antennas on some of my radios are ridiculously long! When I extend the antenna and place the radio on the floor, there shouldn't be danger of losing an eye. Similarly, this kind of setup should in no way resemble a vacuum cleaner, despite any possibility of the thing accurately making a sucking sound. So, the Kaito WRX911 seemed just right in the baby bear kind of way.

After deciding on the Kaito WRX911, I quickly (although not too quickly) learned that I could get either black or blue. Or black and blue, I suppose, if I got distracted while walking around with the radio, and tripped over something. Like a box.

After looking at the two colors for a while, it came down to this decision: do I want a blueberry-flavored radio or a chocolate-flavored one? When I figured out that those were the options, I immediately chose chocolate. Frankly, blueberries are everywhere these days: farmer's markets, grocery stores, and vending machines. But chocolate is harder to find.

I ordered the radio online, which meant there was a mandatory one-week waiting period. I guess they do a background check to make sure I don't intend to use the radio for nefarious purposes. Anyway, it was a stressful week, because I learned that chocolate was usually brown, and not black. I learned that licorice was usually black, and boy, do I hate licorice. Now I was starting to get mad. If I got a licorice radio by mistake, I just might have to put the unloved thing up for adoption. I mean, put some licorice in my mouth, and I'll show you the meaning of... darn, I forgot the saying.

When my radio arrived, my tongue was on it in no time. But what the heck? There's no flavor here at all! Discouraged at the possibility of spending twice as much on this radio as I originally planned, I nevertheless hurried to submit a purchase for the blue one. I discovered a way to opt out of the waiting period by paying more money, but I declined, so again I had a long wait ahead of me. It was frustrating to wait, but I decided I wouldn't turn the things on until my tongue was satisfied.

Photo of the black Kaito WRX911 at night (Olympus C-3020 digital camera, macro mode)

When the blue radio arrived, I tore the box open, ensuring that I couldn't return it or sell it used with the original packaging intact. Then I went in for a taste, and... well, you already know how this is going to end. THESE RADIOS AREN'T FLAVORED AT ALL. Let me tell you right now: don't make that same mistake. I licked both of these radios immediately after opening their diminutive boxes, right when the flavors should have been at their best, and they were tasteless. Who got to them before me? Did the air-tight cloth pouches fail to hold in the flavor? What should I do about this?

Further discouraged at having not one but two flavorless radios, I decided to try out the radio feature. After loading the black radio's backside with two AA batteries, I noticed the "DC In 3v" port on the left side. Wishful thinking, little buddy. You're getting your juice from alkalines, because I'm not sitting still while I wait to be instructed on what to buy.

I started tuning through the FM band, hunting for advertisements so I knew how to spend my disposable income, and quite possibly, next month's rent. I started hearing English and Spanish, and it wasn't too long until I found ads. Jackpot! The radio even turned on its green light, which apparently means: time to spend money!

Then the ads stopped, a bunch of cryptic jargon went past at a high rate, and the music started. Ahhh, soothing music by which to enjoy my new purchases. I can drive my new Toyota Tundra from my refinanced home, down to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, after taking my new medication. But who are these musicians? And what products are they singing about? I hope there's a song about my new Toyota Tundra, because I still need to learn how to use some of these buttons, levers, and pedals. Why is it called the Tundra, anyway? I'm in California, and Toyota is from Japan. So I ask you, where's the tundra?

Unfortunately, the amount of bass coming from the WRX911 speaker was overwhelming. I reduced the volume so far as to risk missing the next batch of commercials. Where's the bass control on this thing?

I thought that perhaps I should move to the AM band. Maybe that band would be free of the oppressive bass frequencies. The first thing I noticed was that the voices seemed much more emphatic and dynamic than those on FM. Maybe these people are actually excited to be on the radio or something. Or desperate for listeners. I'm happy for you and all, but just TELL ME WHAT TO BUY.

With the steering wheel in one hand and the portable, battery-powered radio in the other, I found a strong AM station. This guy seems to be selling computers. Apparently there's a computer called the Air. Air and tundra are two things that naturally go well together, right? I better drive my new truck to the computer store and buy one now, before they close, and definitely before I get home. I want to make sure I have everything I need before I get home again. They can't just send me on an endless series of errands whenever they want.

Another AM station I tried was repeatedly using the word "ministry", so I made a mental note to look this word up when I got home. Maybe I could use my new Air to do that.

Suddenly, I was in the parking lot of a large shopping mall. Time to review all my mental notes of what to buy, and hopefully, get it all done at once! My Tundra has a lot of storage space, so I immediately decided to fill the truck with purchases and head home.

While walking out of the pet store, I got to the end of the tuning range and turned around. And there's the computer guy again. Now he's talking about an online video meeting of some kind. Well, now that I have the computer with the camera and microphone in it, I'm all set! Except... I don't know anyone. I guess I should try to meet some people, then convince them to meet me again, later, online. But I have no idea where to meet people. I need to get out of this crowded mall, drive home, and think about how to go about meeting people.

Back home again, after spending several hours unloading my new purchases, I wanted to look up that word: ministry. So, I did just that, and learned that Ministry was an industrial/metal band. It was pretty surprising, since the radio station where I learned about this was just all talk, and no music. Maybe the band was still asleep and would arrive at the studio later that night to perform a show. But it was past midnight already, so I made a mental note to try tuning in some other day.

Now it was time to try the shortwave band. Some of the strangest signals I picked up turned out to be government-sponsored jamming stations. These were heard on 5000 kHz, 10000 kHz, and 15000 kHz. I heard a series of beeps, and male and female voices. The strange thing is that some of these jammer stations reported a mailing address. I wrote down these addresses (one in Colorado and one in Hawaii), and will send them furious letters explaining that they are disrupting my enjoyment of this fine hobby! I don't even know what I'm missing, since those frequencies were otherwise clear. It seems like the other side just abandoned those frequencies.

Alas, the shortwave stations I heard were devoid of advertisements, except apparently for their own radio shows to which I was already listening. These shortwave stations seem to get louder and quieter and louder and quieter. Maybe I need a radio with a bigger speaker and a longer antenna. And quite possibly more buttons. I think I know a website where I can find radios like that.

In conclusion, I hope you haven't taken this review seriously.