30 November 2015

the state of my hobby

The date is 28 September 2015. I'm standing on the roof of a parking garage, which was my first regular outdoor shortwave listening location in July 2005. A beautiful sunset took place tonight, and orange remnants are still visible on the horizon. It's always pleasurable to climb the stairs of this structure to view the sky and surrounding area.

There's an airplane approach overhead, for jets coming from the Pacific towards SFO's 28 L/R runways. So a continuous line of carefully-spaced airplanes is often visible. Occasionally, a widebody jet approaching from the north flies to this location and does a U-turn for the approach. (In fact, that's exactly what happened when I finished composing that paragraph.)

As the sky gets darker, a nightly opportunity opens up with the removal of the D-layer of the ionosphere. Sure, daytime skywave propagation occurs under different characteristics, but I'm primarily a nighttime listener. And I'm comforted by my hobby of outdated technology of analog radio broadcasting, despite my daily usage of the Internet. I remember Radio Havana Cuba, in particular, coming through my Kaito 1102 portable. Naturally, when I went home that evening, I wrote my reception log on a computer.

When I began this hobby over 10 years ago, it was already declining. Shortwave transmission sites are being decommissioned and disappearing, and international news organizations prefer Internet distribution. RF noise levels are problematic due to the complicated infrastructure in the average modern home, making cheaper indoor shortwave receivers and their antennas seemingly perform poorly. Shortwave is a niche and a hobby in my country. Smartphones and portable music players tend to focus on digital audio files and Internet streaming. And if a radio tuner is included, it's FM only.

An argument in favor of Internet broadcasting is that the content matters more than the medium. The Internet can deliver better quality further and more reliably than analog radio broadcasting, which is subject to atmospheric conditions and geographic limitations. And shortwave broadcast equipment is expensive to operate.

But these are not reasons to abandon a hobby or a passion. They are limitations and realities to be taken into account so that one may adapt. Rather than complain about what has changed, it's possible to enjoy what's still available. And that's what I plan to do.

22 November 2015

now equipped with wx radio

I recently acquired a small portable radio, a Kaito KA210, which receives AM (520-1710 kHz), FM (88-108 MHz), and the weather band (162.400-162.550 MHz). El NiƱo is coming, and I thought this would be a good time to explore a previously-ignored radio service. Not every form of local preparedness has to involve my computer, smart phone, or a local all-news AM/FM station, right?

At my home in San Francisco, I've received broadcasts on four of the seven available frequencies, and heard callsigns for all four of these stations.

  • 162.400: KHB49 "San Francisco all hazards" (IDed 22 Nov 2015 0223 UTC)
  • 162.475: WZ2504 (Sonoma County) (IDed 22 Nov 2015 0923 UTC)
  • 162.500: KDX54 "Big Rock Ridge all hazards" (IDed 22 Nov 2015 0923 UTC)
  • 162.550: KEC49 "Monterey all hazards" (IDed 22 Nov 2015 0952 UTC)

There are additional NOAA stations in my area that I haven't yet received:

19 November 2015

bbc shortwave, 26 sep 2015

During 1025-1050 UTC on 26 Sep 2015, I tuned to 9740 kHz on my Eton E5 with a ceiling-mounted random wire antenna connected. I heard a faint and fading English broadcast which sounded quite like BBC due to the accents. Short-wave.info lists three BBC broadcasts for this time and frequency, originating in Thailand and Singapore.

Within a few minutes, I positively identified the broadcast from the phrases "BBC World Service" and "BBC News". BBC's current frequency guide for Southeast Asia matches the data on short-wave.info, confirming broadcasts originating in both Thailand and Singapore on 9740 kHz. I'm assuming that I'm receiving the stronger of the two signals (which is from Thailand). In this case, Nahkon Sawan, Thailand to San Francisco, California represents a reception distance of approximately 7900 mi / 12700 km.

Links relevant to BBC's Thailand relay:

11 November 2015

kaito ka11 on shortwave

I powered up my diminutive Kaito KA11 with two like-new alkaline batteries, raised the miniscule whip antenna, and listened to the tiny speaker. It was shortwave I intended to scan. The time was about 0415 UTC, nighttime in my location, on Sun 18 Oct 2015.

At first, I heard nothing, even on 10000 (enter + 1 + 0 + enter), where I expected either WWV or WWVH to come through. Then while adjusting the telescopic antenna, the signal suddenly became loud as if the antenna had been loose in some way. I wanted to try 5000, but the shortwave frequency range on this receiver is 5800 to 18100 kHz. Although, amusingly, the radio accepts input of 18199 kHz. So with only 10000 and 15000 available on this radio for checking WWV and WWVH, it's difficult to do my initial propagation test.

Having to deal with strong local interference from adjacent apartments, I wandered my apartment in search of a combination of strong signal and low interference, with little success. Rather than consulting published schedule info, I tried to identify broadcasts the hard way.

5935: Female, English, religious, probably University Network
6090: music
7455: Male, English, religious
9790: Female, Asian language, the best signal by far from these receptions
10000: WWVH

In general, I experienced harsh audio with high-pitched static, heavy fading (nothing resembling gain control or sync detection here), and a poor overall listening experience. I've always enjoyed this radio's appearance, with its compact size, modest weight, and pleasant orange backlight for the LED display. The buttons have a satisfying feel when pressed, so operation of the radio is fine but the results are not. And most of my portables take AA batteries. This one takes two. I'm especially happy when a radio takes an even number of AA batteries.

The next afternoon, around 2100 UTC on the same day, I checked the available daytime bands. Again, I could only check WWV/WWVH on 10000 and 15000, and only 15000 registered a very weak tone from these time stations. I didn't even hear the voice identification to help me differentiate which station it was. Quick stepping through the 25m, 22m, 19m, and 16m bands didn't turn up any signals worth mentioning. I may have chosen a bad time for this band scan, and admittedly didn't use a more powerful reference radio to see what kinds of receptions might be possible.

In summary, this radio offers a lot in terms of look and feel, but couldn't receive much shortwave from inside my home.