31 May 2006

shortwave summary: may 2006 (part 1)

I took a break from shortwave listening during most of April and half of May. Time to get going again! I took my Eton E5 off the shelf and saw the "low battery" indicator blinking. It didn't even try to power on when I pressed the button. This radio definitely drains the batteries when it's not on. I used my E5 and my Sony ICF SW7600GR for these receptions.

Received stations:

* Radio Havana Cuba
* Radio Netherlands
* Radio Taiwan International
* Radio Exterior de España

* 19 May 2006, 0502 UTC, 6000 khz (Radio Havana Cuba): "This is Radio Havana Cuba." The Pentagon released Guantanamo detainee names, ages, and home countries. There are 759 male prisoners from 40 countries. There is "still much more in darkness" after the prisoner disclosure. USA officials are trying to deflect criticism for the prison by gradually transferring prisoners out. Phone records of journalists are being gathered by the FBI in order to identify CIA leaks. The FBI is making extensive use of a new provision of the Patriot Act. Those phone records used to be difficult to get, but is easy under the Bush administration. ABC News journalists have been warned that their phone records would be monitored.

It seemed to me like these stories were a bit old.

6500 people die each day from HIV across Africa. Africa promotes an "ABC" strategy: abstain, be faithful, wear condoms. Code Pink is sponsoring ads urging the pullout of USA troops from Iraq. The ads give hope to Iraqis who realize there are people that support them.

Fidel Castro calls Forbes article "infamous rubbish". Castro is accused of holding international bank accounts. "100 hours with Fidel" is described as an exceptional new book. It explains the Cuban revolution and what Castro has done. "Everything in the book is truth... this book was written with honesty." Cuban Five info is at www.radiohc.cu. The station relayed a special 45th birthday identification at the half-hour mark. Ed Newman did the mailbag show by himself because Yolanda Fisher is at the beach on vacation.

* 20 May 2006, 0400 UTC, 6165 khz (Radio Netherlands): "From Hilversum in Holland, this is Radio Netherlands." Increased violence in Afghanistan; blamed on Pakistan. Worst insurgent fighting in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. Pakistan army is conducting raids in border regions. Taliban "never fully defeated." Dutch preparing to deploy peacekeeping troops in southern Afghanistan. The Netherlands is working to improve the mental well-being of troops. 70% of polled Dutch are opposed to admitting Turkey into the European Union. Egyptian forces clubbed demonstrators who were supporting judges that claimed fraud in last year's elections. The USA and EU criticized Egypt for its response. Big stock market losses this past week in Europe. "There's not going to be a stock market crash." Spending in the USA is expected to slow due to higher interest rates, but will lead to a more sustainable economy. Corruption in Dutch football? Gambling syndicates are a "distinct possibility".

While taking notes during this broadcast, I found it hard to keep up! There was a lot of good information and interesting items. Radio Netherlands is my best source for news about Europe.

* 21 May 2006, 0200 UTC, 5950 khz (Radio Taiwan International): "This is Radio Taiwan International... from Taipei, Taiwan, the Republic of China". President apologized for stock scandal involving his son-in-law. Alleged insider trading: a stock purchase happened just before the stock price soared. The USA supports Taiwan for the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO begins meeting in Geneva on Monday. Taiwan has been excluded from the WHO since 1972. Taiwan's economy grew 5% in the first quarter of this year. Consumer electronic exports contributed to growth. Economists expect 4.07% growth in Taiwan for all of 2006. Weather for Sunday, 21 May in Taipei: partly clear, 26-33C (78-91F). On this day (20 May) in 1506, Christopher Columbus died at age 55.

The insider trading and World Health Organization stories were interesting and new to me. I didn't hear anything about China-Taiwan relations this time, but I didn't listen for the full hour.

* 28 May 2006, 0000 UTC, 15385 khz (Radio Exterior de España): Here's a station I haven't received in approximately nine months! "Broadcasting from Madrid." Three Indians imprisoned in Chile ended a 62-day hunger strike that was protesting Chile's anti-terrorism laws. International human rights groups have condemned Chile's anti-terrorism laws. Energy company shares held by a Bolivian pension fund have been turned over to the government after it bought majority shares in the three energy companies. Bolivia plans to redistribute "idle land" to poor peasants, including 12.36 million acres of public land. Scientists in Chile, using a telescope located there, have discovered a planetary system with three planets of a Neptune-type mass, and a sun larger than our own. The system is 41 light years away. The area near the telescope is known for its clear skies. The next segment of the program included background music by Tangerine Dream (from Germany... why not some Spanish music here?) No difference in heart disease risk found between light and heavy drinkers of coffee. In men, there is an increased risk of bladder cancer for those who drink 2 liters or more of tap water per day. The by-products of disinfecting ingredients such as chlorine may be responsible. Barbershop quartets were started in Oklahoma in the 1930s. Signoff message for the "Radio waves" segment: "You keep the TV off and the radio on!"

This broadcast had a lot of news about South America and nothing about Europe. In the reception report I mailed to the station, I requested that they include more current Spanish music in their broadcasts.

29 May 2006

cobalt pet mailbag

I like hearing mailbag shows on shortwave stations. It's a nice supplement to the news that a station covers, and it provides opinions from people around the world. The letters also ask questions relevant to shortwave, the station, the station's home country, or current world events. Radio Havana Cuba's mailbag show is the one I hear most frequently.

I'm going to have a mailbag show on this weblog, too! Write a comment here if you have any questions you want answered, or you want to discuss something directly or indirectly related to radio. I'll try to eventually use each submission, along with the contributor's name, in a future article.

27 May 2006

weatherall's shortwave buying guide

People shopping for their first shortwave receiver often have a budget in mind, and may have checked out one or more radios at retail stores. I always recommend purchasing online or via mailorder, which provides the advantage of wider selection.

Don't assume that the retailer you visited offers the best receivers for sale. Radio Shack, for example, sells the Eton E10 and E100 radios, which are single-conversion radios that are cheaper when ordered direct from China via eBay (as the Tecsun PL-550 and Tecsun PL-200 respectively). The feature set of those radios does not really justify their prices, in my opinion.

The most important factor of a shortwave radio is how well it implements its capabilities. To get more detail on the radios mentioned here, read and consider the radio reviews available on the internet. I used a combination of reviews from Radiointel and Amazon when selecting my first radio, which was the Kaito 1102. eHam.net lists many user-submitted reviews, so for each product, you'll have to determine which reviews seem the most credible.

This guide defines some expectations for six particular price points, along with radio suggestions to get you started. My radio experience is with portables, so that is the main focus of this guide. I have not used many of these radios, so recommendations are based in part on what I know from reading reviews, usenet posts, and product descriptions. Price estimates are in US dollars.

* $30-50: You can get a basic analog radio or an analog-tuned digital-display radio. These don't have direct frequency entry or station memories. The tuning scales of analog radios are imprecise, which makes finding and identifying stations a challenge. Frequency drift can be a problem, requiring readjustment after locating the station and listening for a while. Radios in this class will have a small (and small-sounding) speaker, but may provide better audio when using headphones or external speakers. Analog shortwave radios provide certain bands with a band switch, so continuous tuning of the 3-30 mhz shortwave spectrum is not available.

Recommended: Kaito WRX911, Tecsun R-911, Tecsun R-912, Tecsun R-9012, Grundig G1000A, Tecsun DR-910, Tecsun DR-920
Not recommended: Kchibo radios

* $50-70: You can find a digitally-tuned radio in this price range. As of now, radios around this price lack SSB. Shortwave reception may be single- or dual-conversion.

Recommended: Kaito 1101, Kaito 1107, Tecsun R-9700DX, Degen 1105 (the 1105 is an addition suggested by mcdonald606a on rec.radio.shortwave)
Not recommended: Grundig G2000A (below-average shortwave reception), Grundig/Eton hand-crank emergency radios (shortwave reception is not the primary design goal of these products, and they are bulky compared to other portables)

* $80-100: Here, you can get a digitally-tuned, dual-conversion radio with SSB. Station memories and a full-featured LCD are common. The radios typically include a jack for an external shortwave wire antenna, but be careful of overload.

Recommended: Kaito 1102, Kaito 1103
Not recommended: Eton E100 (small and attractive with an easy user interface, but single-conversion and lacking SSB), Sangean ATS-505 (Russ' review on Radiointel.com states that this radio has poor AM/mediumwave performance)

* $120-150: Radios in this range have outstanding shortwave reception, SSB, station memories, are typically larger than radios in lower price ranges, and usually have a line-out jack in addition to the headphone jack.

Recommended: Sony ICF SW7600GR (excellent shortwave reception, nicee speaker, durable, straightforward user interface, synchronous detector, USB/LSB switch for SSB, variable antenna gain), Eton E5 (similar to the Kaito 1103 with a better user interface)
Not recommended: Eton E10 (larger version of the Eton E100 with an antenna tuner; single-conversion, lacks SSB), Grundig YB-400PE / G4000A (unnecessarily large, doesn't seem to offer more than the cheaper Kaito 1102). I call the YB-400PE / G4000A a radio from a previous era.

* $200-250: Sangean has a couple radios in this price range. I have never used the ATS-909, so be sure to look around for reviews and user comments if this radio interests you.

Recommended: Sangean ATS-909; although some feel that it needs the Radiolabs Super 909 modifications to provide good performance. The blue backlighting looks awesome too!
Not recommended: Sangean ATS-818ACS (includes cassette tape recorder, but reviews claim underwhelming shortwave performance)

* $500-600: Radios at this price are what I'd call tabletop radios. They may take batteries but I believe most users of these radios are using power adapters.

The Grundig Satellit 800, an aging and moody workhorse, has at long last been replaced by the Eton E1 (previously known as the Satellit 900). The biggest oddity of the E1 is that it does not have a ferrite bar antenna for mediumwave (AM), eliminating directional reception unless an external antenna is added. The E1 seems to finally be available in North America without the XM satellite radio capability, but the price is the same with or without it. Also be aware that certain E1s have been recalled due to a logic board defect.

Recommended: Eton E1 - consider an external directional AM antenna, and be aware of the recall due to a logic board defect; Icom R-75 (coverage from 30 khz to 60 mhz)
Not recommended: Grundig Satellit 800 (a lot larger than the E1, variable reliability from unit to unit, may only be available now as refurbished or used)

Thanks to Radiointel and eHam for their excellent shortwave receiver reviews! Comments are always welcome, especially if you disagree or want to mention any radios that were not mentioned here.

21 May 2006

ham reception from cheyenne

7210 khz ssb, 12 Mar 2006, 0441-0445 UTC. Received in San Francisco, CA, USA with an Eton E5 and its whip antenna.

This amateur operator wants a clear channel in the 7 mhz range (40 meters), and has to compete with international broadcasters. He has snow in his location. He told another person that pictures were available of his house and a dipole antenna. The callsign sounded like K3OQB, and he advised another person to look him up on QRZ, but that callsign is not listed. Very sure of the first four characters, last character could be one of many (b, d, e, g, p, t, v, z). None of those are listed. He gave his location as Cheyenne, Wyoming, USA. Anyone happen to know the correct callsign?

20 May 2006

little black spots on the sun

On 11 March 2006, Art Bell mentioned the solar cycle forecast on Coast to Coast AM. Our sun was virtually devoid of sunspots in February 2006, so the solar minimum of the solar cycle has arrived.

Here's a NASA article explaining the arrival of the solar minimum:
Solar Minimum Has Arrived

Art talked about the solar maximum of solar cycle 19 around 1957-1958, a time when shortwave propagation was excellent. Intriguingly, there are predictions that the upcoming solar maximum will also have an unusually high count of sunspots. Increased sunspots results in increased ionization of the ionosphere. Perhaps I began this hobby with fortunate timing after all!

Here's a VOA News article about the solar cycle prediction:
Researchers make first sunspot prediction

What is the relation between the solar cycle and the ionosphere? According to Wikipedia, "the activity of the sun is associated with the sunspot cycle, with more radiation occurring with more sunspots." Conversely, "solar flares can prevent the ionosphere from reflecting or refracting radio waves." Combining these two items, "at the peak of the [solar] cycle there are typically more sunspots on the Sun, and hence more solar flares."

In a few years, I will have my first solar maximum as a shortwave listener, and it is shaping up to be a spectacle!

19 May 2006

enjoying radio netherlands

I had a half-hour reception of Radio Netherlands tonight with my Eton E5, which I will write about in a future reception report post. Radio Netherlands is excellent for numerous reasons:

* Timely news items
* Several news items which are explained in excellent detail, sometimes including interviews of key persons
* Coverage of Dutch and EU news
* A mix of political and world news along with cultural tidbits and stories
* Excellent reception here in the San Francisco bay area

Radio Netherlands is definitely one of my favorite broadcasters.

Here's a related article that was sent to me via a Google Alert email:
Makeover on Bonaire: Radio Netherlands relay station being refurbished

And if I didn't mention this before, be sure to visit the EuroQuest EuroBlog, published by Radio Netherlands producers Jonathan Groubert and Sarah Johnson.

14 May 2006

outside the box

Part of the allure of shortwave radio for me is that interesting things happen outside the bounds of intentions. For example, while in North America, I hear shortwave broadcasts directed at Central America and Oceania. Last month here in San Francisco, I heard WWL, an AM station in New Orleans, Louisiana. I used to hear Voice of America broadcasts even though VOA isn't allowed to target the United States. Perhaps other hobbyists feel as I do: there's excitement in irregularity!

A recent WSJ article (sorry, no link available) discussed digital signals causing adjacent channel interference for analog AM stations. It's frustrating when a source of information or entertainment can be taken away from a listener with no repercussions for the offender. In this case, the interference does not happen within the protected broadcast area.

Listeners outside the protected broadcast area are screwed, and that's that.

This unfortunate indifference has similarities with how broadband over power lines (BPL) emerged. Utilizing power line infrastructure to deliver internet connectivity sounds like a great idea in summary. However, causing radio interference for shortwave listeners and amateur radio operators means that BPL has a hidden cost.

The FCC has regulations regarding radio interference. But articles on Radiointel and ARRL indicate that the FCC does not adequately handle all interference complaints. A business trying to make money is certain to win out over the insignificant, poorly-protected radio hobbyist.

13 May 2006

voice of russia qsl

In February 2006, I emailed a shortwave reception report to the Voice of Russia. They replied quickly, stating that they could not confirm my report because I forgot to include the frequency. I replied and added the frequency from my notebook, and then received this QSL card from Moscow in late March.

The envelope included a printed B05 schedule, which was only valid for a few more days by the time I received it. It also included a program guide, covering 0200-0930 UTC and 1500-2130 UTC. It's not clear if that represents their shortwave broadcasts. An interesting thing about their frequency schedule is that they list the meter bands, even for the mediumwave frequencies.

07 May 2006

radio slovakia qsl

I sent a brief reception report to Radio Slovakia via email in February 2006. They replied quickly and asked for my postal address. About a week later, according to the postmark, they sent me this QSL postcard. It arrived looking tattered, but I was glad to receive it as Radio Slovakia's shortwave future is far from assured. It was also a long-distance reception, with their transmitters an estimated 7500 miles away from me.

The distance to the transmitter seems to be similar for Australia and New Zealand, both of which I have also received. All other shortwave signals I've heard originated from within that distance.

03 May 2006

sony sw7600gr / eton e5 cartoon

I created this cartoon in a Mac OS X application called Comic Life...