28 October 2005

eton e5 buzz

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

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

23 October 2005

understanding tuning knobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 October 2005

venom roulette

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

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

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

14 October 2005

shortwave summary: 14 oct 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 October 2005

shortwave radios on ebay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy shopping!

09 October 2005

pirate radio show

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

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

05 October 2005

cuban five documentary

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

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

01 October 2005

focus on the bbc

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

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

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

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

*1: via French Guiana, to Central America

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

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