BROADCAST TECHNOLOGY

Breaking The Travel Restrictions:
AM Radio Takes You To Cuba! Venezuela, Too

by Bruce A. Conti

 

The exotic cigars, rum, classic cars, and resorts of Cuba are all off limits to United States citizens as long as a trade embargo and travel restrictions remain in place. However, the culture and politics of Cuba are readily available to anyone with an AM radio or Internet connection. Listen on any given night and you might hear nostalgic Cuban big band music, Caribbean baseball, political commentary, or a rambling speech from President Fidel Castro. Practice your Spanish skills, then tune in to what’s being said on Cuban radio, but not reported by the U.S. news media. This is your guide to domestic mediumwave radio from Cuba.

Progreso, Rebelde, And Reloj:
The Three Todopoderosos

Radio Progreso, Radio Rebelde, and Radio Reloj are the three omnipotent national radio networks of Cuba, “los tres todopoderosos.” Unlike Radio Habana Cuba on shortwave, which is aimed at an international audience, these mediumwave networks cater to the local listeners, providing a unique window into Cuban culture and politics. Fluency in Spanish is not required to identify radio stations broadcasting any of these networks. Here’s all you need to know to identify them.

Radio Reloj is most easily recognized by the syncopated clock (similar to the sound of the WWV clock) always running in the background with around the clock news and minute markers with “RR” identification in Morse code every minute. The Morse code can cut through co-channel interference over exceptionally long distances. Time checks on the minute will include voice identification, “Radio Reloj,” beep, “once, veinte dos minutos,” then RR in Morse code. On Sundays into Monday mornings, the RR code might be replaced by chimes, but the exact time when chimes are used appears to be variable network-wide and between individual radio stations.

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COMPUTER–ASSISTED RADIO MONITORING

Learning Microsoft Visual Basic—
How To Build A CAT Program For
Ten-Tec’s RX-320D

by Joe Cooper

As followers of this column now know, affordable high-speed PCs make it possible to take a radio signal and turn it into digital information. This digital information is then processed through a “virtual” radio created by computer software and indistinguishable in its performance from a “real radio.” So rather than creating “real” radio circuits with wires, circuit boards, and traditional components, software programmers now create those electronic parts in “virtual” form by representing them as a mathematical formula.

As a result, the shop bench of the days of analog radio, with its soldering iron, tools, and test equipment, is being replaced by a PC loaded with programming software. Rather than bringing about the end of the radio monitoring hobby, the PC has actually created an exciting new opportunity for the radio-monitoring hobby to revitalize itself, particularly for those people who like to build their own equipment. The challenge is to learn how to write software programs that will create “virtual” radios in their computers.

Taking Up The Programming Challenge

So if you want to learn how to create a virtual radio through software programming, how do you get started. The last two columns have outlined how to begin to do just that, and last month I introduced you to two very important programming languages that can be used to create applications for running virtual radios, Microsoft Visual C++ and Visual Basic.

I focused on these products because Microsoft is offering them, along with online training, for free for a one-year period through the Microsoft Express program (http://msdn.microsoft. com/vstudio/express/default.aspx), designed to get more people involved in computer programming at a hobbyist level. While the programs are geared toward those who want to learn computer programming, the software itself is the “real thing,” only without some of the bells and whistles found in the complete package.

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The Blues At 60

Airshow Excitement Is Yours From
Now Through November!

By Gary Palamara

The radio comes alive as Commander Steven Foley keys his mic…Release Brake ready—Now...Smoke On ready—Now.”

The afterburners are lit and within seconds the four blue and gold aircraft start to move. Foley, his two wingmen, LCDR John Saccamando and Major Mathew Shortal, and slot pilot LCDR Max McCoy maneuver their sleek blue jets down the runway, as the crowd rises to its feet. Once airborne, it’s wheels up as the Number 4 aircraft quickly falls into the slot position behind the others.

“Four’s in Boss”

Then, from the mile-long sound system, the voice of the team narrator, Lieutenant John Allison, fills the air.

“Ladies and Gentleman, the world famous Blue Angels Diamond formation has once again taken to the skies.”

As the four jets exit show left, almost without warning, Lead Solo pilot LCDR Craig Olson and Opposing Solo LCDR Ted Steelman head down the runway. Olson, in Blue Angel 5, is first to leave ground. He immediately banks his plane to the left and is gone. Steelman, flying the Number 6 jet, does a quick barrel roll within 200 feet of the runway before aiming his plane for the sky.

Aerial Acrobatics At Its Finest

For the spectators who watch from the sidelines, it will be an afternoon of thrills and amazement and a chance to witness a demonstration of precision aerobatics at its finest. For the men and women of the United States Navy Blue Angels, it’s just another day at the “office.” Making the difficult look routine is job one. And it’s been happening every weekend, just like this, for the past 60 years.

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GLOBAL INFORMATION GUIDE

Catch It Now: New Shortwave
From Cameroon, And Psywar Broadcasts You Can Hear!

 by Gerry L. Dexter

Yet another anti-whomever transmitter has begun using shortwave to further his or her view of peace, democracy, and a state of wonderfulness for all. Radio Free Southern Cameroon is now on the air on 12130 Sundays from 1800 to 1900 via a transmitter in Krasnodar, Russia. There’s some question about the actual schedule since the broadcast has also been heard opening at 1600. As with so many of these types of broadcasts, it’s even money that, though they are interesting novelties, they won’t be around all that long, so check them out now and hope for the best. If you should log this broadcast, you can try sending an e-mail report to MedCom@Southern CameroonsIG.org.

The Psywar Continues

There’s been a fair amount of activity on the Middle East/Iraq psywar front of late. Some listeners in Europe are hearing Coalition Forces Information Radio, aka “Information Radio” and sometimes IDing as Radio Maluumaati, around 1700 on the “off” frequency of 18727. Some in the EST zone have noted this one on 6125 around 0000 and before. These broadcasts, which are on the air around the clock, are aimed at maritime listeners in the Gulf and seek information about suspected terrorists and suspicious goings-on. The broadcasts are organized and produced by the Navy Maritime Liaison Office, which is where the sometimes-used MARLO acronym comes from.

And the Radio Solh broadcasts to Afghanistan are now scheduled on 11675 from 0200 to 1200, and on 15265 via Rampisham and 9875 (also Rampisham) from 1500 to 1800. Radio Peace, also to Afghanistan, now uses 9365 from 0900 to 1500. This is a mere 1 kW, so it’s probably not going to light up your dial!

Not Sure How They’ll Hear This One!

Another new and unusual broadcast has begun. This one, based in Japan and aimed at North Korea, is specifically intended for Japanese citizens who have been kidnapped and taken to that people’s paradise. The program, called “Shiokaze” (“Sea Breeze”), is said to be on the air daily from 1530 to 1600 on 5890 and is transmitted from a site at Angarsk, Russia, near Irkutsk.

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HAM DISCOVERIES

by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ

 

Shop Till You Drop—It’s Hamfest Season!

As I write this month’s column, it’s 19 below zero and, although Christmas is nearly upon us, not a creature is stirring—because it’s just too damned cold! If I were warm enough I might start thinking about happy children opening gifts on Christmas morning. A Barbie doll here, a fire truck there, and a Kenwood TS-2000S for me care of Santa himself. (Now you know what a Minnesota winter can do to a guy!)

As it is, and for the task at hand, I merely need to imagine the “Christmas-like season” that lies just ahead, as winter itself draws to a close and all of the hams come out to play—at least the hams in the northern climes. It’s hamfest season, of course, and it’s the next best thing to Christmas, plus, there’s no snow!

If you live in Silicon Valley, you know better than anyone that it’s hamfest season all year round where you live. Heck, a simple trip to just about any corporate dumpster in the region can equal just about any hamfest in a lesser locale. But that’s another story...

Back to hamfest season. If you’re a beginner you might be wondering what all the fuss is about. What is a hamfest, anyway?
Well, if you take a trade show, a family reunion, a factory outlet mall, a huge garage sale and spring break in Daytona Beach—and throw in piles of ham radio and computer gear—you’ve got a ham radio flea market, also known as a hamfest. They are to be enjoyed to the fullest, and this month’s column is all about how!

And if you’re wondering “what’s in it for me?” the answer is “plenty.” At ham radio flea markets you’ll find hundreds (sometimes thousands) of fellow hams, tons of bargain-priced radio and computer gear (including hard-to-find components and electronic assemblies), interesting forums and lectures, ham radio exams, and tasty grilled sausages. The exact mix of the things you’re likely to find depends a lot on the kind of hamfest you’re attending, its size and, to some extent, the region of the country.

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HOMELAND SECURITY
by Rich Arland, K7SZ

Ten-GHz Amateur TV Can Be A Lifesaver! And A Look At One Club’s Approach

 

When my wife, Tricia, KB3MCT, and I attended the recent 2nd Annual EmComm Conference, sponsored by the Snyder County RACES/ARES and the Northumberland County ARES groups, we learned plenty! That’s the beauty of radio—amateur radio, in particular—it’s like life: meant to be a learning and fun experience.

Chris Snyder, NG3F, ARRL Eastern Pennsylvania Section Emergency Coordinator/Snyder County ARES Emergency Coordinator/RACES Officer, and his EmComm group put on a tremendous symposium in Shamokin Dam, Pennsylvania, offering informative forums that spanned the gamut of emergency communications (EmComm). This is the second time Tricia and I have attended one of these events, and I can say with certainty that if you have any interest in EmComm or disaster communications, you need to make plans to attend a similar conference in your area.

Last month we discussed the rapidly evolving role of amateur radio in the EmComm business. Gone are the days of resting on our collective laurels and providing FM voice communications using the antiquated ARRL NTS traffic-handling format. Instead we EmComm communicators need to be on top of rapidly evolving digital technologies that offer e-mail (including Internet connectivity) to professional disaster mitigators inside a disaster zone, where no Internet connectivity currently exists. WinLink (www.winlink.org/) is the new standard being adopted by the EmComm world for digital communications. This program allows end-to-end, user-to-user transmission and reception of e-mail traffic via VHF/UHF (or possibly even HF) radio links from the disaster site to an outside area where Internet connectivity exists.
We amateur radio operators are going to be responsible for designing, implementing, and maintaining these state-of-the-art digital radio systems in support of our served agencies. We need to get on board now, while we still have a place at the table.

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INFOCENTRAL

News, Trends, And Short Takes
Libya Engages In Jamming War With Western Satellite Services

by Harold Ort, N2RLL, Editor, and D. Prabakaran

 

British and U.S. diplomats have protested to the Libyan government after two international satellites were illegally jammed, knocking dozens of TV and radio stations serving Britain and Europe off the air and disrupting American diplomatic, military, and FBI communications. The UK Foreign Office has confirmed that it raised the issue in talks between the British embassy in Tripoli and the Libyan government.

The jamming started in September after the launch in London of a small British and Arab-owned commercial radio station broadcasting on human rights and freedom of speech issues to Libya. Ten minutes after the station, initially known as Sout Libya, went on the air a transponder carrying the station was jammed for 50 minutes.

AIR Goes Digital

All India Radio (AIR) is all set to compete with private radio networks with a digital set-up using state-of-the-art technology to improve transmission quality. As a public service broadcaster, AIR has to churn out programs catering to the diverse and vast populace of India. In its endeavor to reach out to the widest possible audience, AIR has set up a new broadcasting house with a fully digital studio. So far AIR has largely been using analog transmissions, leading to poor quality signals. It was also facing problems of editing and maintaining records of data, resulting in the processes becoming long and complicated.
AIR’s radio programs are available to over 99 percent of the population in India and in over 100 other countries via a vast network of 337 transmitters at 215 stations spread across the country. The main hub of activity is the Delhi station. Seven radio channels originate from here for the listeners in and around Delhi. Parts of these programs are relayed by other stations of AIR as well.

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 LOOSE CONNECTION

Three Hams, But No Red Beans And Rice!

by Bill Price, N3AVY

 

I had been out of the Coast Guard for less than 10 years when I met someone who was a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, a civilian group dedicated to boating safety and wearing uniforms. I was (and still am) all for boating safety, particularly through communications, but I never did warm up to wearing uniforms.

So this friend introduced me to John Morgan, a retired sea captain with unlimited tonnage master’s papers. In a nutshell, this meant he was qualified to be the captain or “master” of any peacetime vessel afloat. He was about twice my age, which didn’t mean a thing to us, because we became instant friends. He, too, was in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and I allowed myself to be drafted into that organization because he was just such a great guy to be around. This was about the same time I was getting my Novice ham license—I had been away from the radio shack on a ship for just too long and I missed working CW with all those great merchant ships in the North Atlantic and points south.

John confessed that he had always wanted to get a ham license and wondered if I could find a class we could take together. I signed us up, along with another member of the local CG Auxiliary flotilla and we began taking code and theory classes one or two nights a week. My code speed was at 35 wpm then, so I worked on theory while John and our other friend worked on their five-wpm requirement.

It was the dead of winter. John told us he had a little vacation home on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and thought the three of us should go away for a weekend retreat of studying radio and eating. It didn’t take much coaxing to get me signed up for that trip.

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THE PROPAGATION CORNER

Where Are We In The
Current Solar Cycle?

by Tomas Hood, NW7US

 

Every 11 years the activity of the sun, as evidenced by the number of solar flares, coronal holes, and so forth, reaches a peak called the solar maximum. During the last few cycles, the period beginning at the very bottom of the cycle before and ending at the very peak of the new cycle has averaged about four years. From the peak to the end of the cycle, then, is a slower falling off of activity of about seven years, when the cycle reaches the period of quiet called the solar minimum. During the solar minimum it is rare to see any sunspots and solar flares. We do continue to see occasional coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that affect communications and weather here on Earth.

The current cycle, number 23, started in 1996. Two peaks were observed: The monthly smoothed sunspot number first peaked at 120.8 during April 2000, with a second, lower peak at 115.6, for November 2001. Since these two peaks, we have seen a steady decline in the cycle’s activity. After subtracting the four years from the 1996 beginning to the peak during 2000, and then subtracting the last five years, we have roughly a year or so left of this 11-year cycle. Many experts feel that this cycle will end this year, though I’m speculating it will be right at the end, or even during the first part of 2007.

Grayline Propagation

During the daylight hours, the energy from the sun ionizes our upper atmosphere, causing distinct layers of ionized gas to form. These layers comprise the ionosphere. The layer closest to the Earth is called the D layer. It generally absorbs some of the energy of a radio wave, and hence the D layer is often called the absorption layer.

 

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RADIO RESOURCES

Long (er) Range Police And
Medical Radio Tags

by Gordon West, WB6NOA

 

Looking for better range yet still effective electronic tags? Here’s the latest news: FCC rules, Part 95, Subpart G, authorize 60 25-kHz-spaced channels in the low-power radio service for law enforcement and health care radio tracking pulsed tags. The rule states,

5.1009 PERMISSIBLE COMMUNICATIONS
(b) Health care related communication for the ill
(c) Law enforcement tracking signal, for homing or interrogation, including the tracking of persons or stolen goods, under authority or agreement with a law enforcement agency, federal, state, or local, having jurisdiction in the area where the transmitters are placed.

The longer range Part 95 radio pulse tags offer a 50-dB advantage over ultra-low-power proximity tags, as you see in the accompanying table. The 1/2-watt proximity transmitters were featured as pet locators in my August 2005 Popular Communications column. The article generated considerable response from search and rescue personnel, but almost everyone asked for a tiny transmitter with significantly longer-range power output.

Helped After Katrina

FCC rules prohibit a Part 15 “intentional radiator” from being modified for longer range by either adding an external antenna or jacking up power output. Yet FCC rules, 47 C.F.R. Part 95, specifically allow for long-range pulse transmissions that may easily meet the rules for search and rescue personnel. “After Katrina, bodies under rubble or found floating were initially tagged by both ultra-low-power proximity radio tags, as well as the longer range Part 95, 100 milliwatt tags,” said Ron Olsen, a search and rescue responder who came in with 20 each low-power and high-power Communications Specialists radio tags, each sealed in a water-tight bag to protect it from water intrusion.

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REACT IN ACTION

The Benefits Are Mutual

by Ron McCracken, KG4CVL / WPZX486

 

Southeast Louisiana (SELA) REACT is an unusual Team. It has specialized in developing a network of GMRS repeaters along the I-10 corridor across its state. One of those SELA repeaters became a critical element in New Orleans’ only communications link with the outside world for the first week after Katrina struck. By some miracle, the SELA repeater stayed up and continued to function.

Prior wise planning and fine cooperation also paid off in spades. The SELA repeater was linked to one operated by the New Orleans Amateur Radio Club. Those linked repeaters provided the only communications between New Orleans and the state capitol in Baton Rouge for a number of days.

Two SELA REACTers manned the GMRS radio at the state Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Baton Rouge around the clock for the first seven days. They provided the only communications with several devastated parishes in the affected area as well as with New Orleans itself.

Internet Radio Linking Project (IRLP) and Automatic Position Reporting System (APRS) capabilities enabled SELA to pass critical information concerning hurricane evacuees to REACT Teams and authorities in other states. That data was essential to officials in their planning for shelters to accommodate victims of the disaster.

When Travis County REACT (TX) learned that the SELA REACTers were exhausted, three members of that REACT Team traveled from Austin to Baton Rouge to relieve the weary SELA operators and maintain the communications links their foresight had made possible.

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SCANTECH

Help For The Crowded Spectrum?

by Ken Reiss
 

The radio spectrum is pretty much a fixed resource in terms of how much is available. By spectrum, I mean the frequency ranges that are allocated to the various services. For example, the frequency range 144 to 148 represents the 4 MHz of spectrum allocated to the amateur radio 2-meter band.

The question is how are we going to use the space that’s available to us? For a very long time, it was thought that public services like television and radio broadcasting were the best use of the space, and a large amount of the usable spectrum space was devoted to those services. In recent years however, a couple of things started to happen.

One is the public’s infatuation with other services that were not originally thought of. In addition, there’s more demand for radio-equipped everything. Every delivery truck these days has a radio. Public services are expanding and most of those need radio channels in increasing numbers to support the additional services being offered via radio, including data applications that would have made great science fiction 50 years ago.

The other thing, and the good news in all of this, is that newer technology makes more spectrum available by expanding the range of frequencies that can be operated efficiently by the equipment. Fifty years ago, putting anything on 800 MHz would have seemed foolhardy as the equipment to operate on those frequencies was bulky and unstable, not to mention costly. Today, 800- and 900-MHz radios are almost everywhere. We call them cell phones, but they’re still 800-MHz radio transceivers.

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TECH SHOWCASE xPower Powerpack 1500

by Harold Ort, N2RLL, Editor
 

Hurricanes, floods and other disasters all demand one thing of us: that we’re prepared. One of the essentials is power for lights, radios, and small fans, among other things. If you’ve been thinking about either building or buying a complete, truly portable power system, the xPower Powerpack 1500 is indeed for you. Best of all, you don’t “build” anything; it’s all self-contained—and on wheels!

Xantrex Technology, Inc., headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, has been around for nearly 13 years. Its products include a complete line of consumer and industrial grade power inverters; charge controllers, wind converters, and battery chargers. I’ve been putting the company’s xPower Powerpack 1500 through some pretty rigorous testing for nearly a year now; rather than use a product such as this for a few weeks and give something a glowing report, I’d rather take my time with it and give you a candid report.

Solid Unit, Lots Of Useful Features

First off, it’s important to point out that, like other self-contained charger/batteries we’ve reviewed, you’re not going to be operating your window air-conditioner or large refrig on this unit, but you can run a large box fan on a slow speed, small TV, computer and monitor or laptop, lights and, of course, your DC radio equipment. Best of all, with the 1500 you can run several products at once if you wish.

The xPower Powerpack 1500 supplies up to 1500 watts of AC power. The company states, “…enough to run almost any electronic product or appliance you might connect to your wall outlet at home.”

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THE POP’COMM
TRIVIA CORNER

Radio Fun And Going Back In Time

by R.B. Sturtevant, KD7KTS

 

Q. What did hams and other electrical experimenters do before the invention of radio?

A. Many set up their own telegraph systems. In 1892, Electrical Review reported on a story that first appeared in The New York Evening Post. The town of Cranford, New Jersey, was consolidating all its privately owned telegraph systems. After the merger there were 30 stations with three and a half miles of circuits. It was to be run by an executive committee of the users. They set up alarm procedures for fire, burglary, and emergency situations. Sounds kind of like a local radio club.

Q. What important event took place in 1963 that changed the relationship of amateur radio and the U.S. military?

A. The Navy and Marine Corps established an MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) for MARS (Military Affiliate Radio System) radio operators and set up their own MARS system. Volunteer amateur radio operators had already been a part of the Army since 1925 as the Army Amateur Radio Service. After 1948, the Army and Air Force both had a Military Amateur Radio System transmitting morale and welfare messages to the troops around the world. MARS is still on the job today supporting our troops worldwide.

Q. When did religious broadcasting get started?

A. In July 1925, Father Giuesppe Gianfranceschi, President of the Papal Academy of Science and close associate of Marconi, proposed the establishment of a Vatican broadcasting effort. Four days after the ratification of the Treaty of Latern, which established the Vatican as an independent state, Pope Pius XI met with Marconi and asked him to set up a broadcast station. The Pope also appointed Father Gianfrancesschi the first Director of Vatican Radio. On February 12, 1931, Pope Pius XI made his first speech, in Latin, that was heard around the world.
 

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WASHINGTON BEAT

by Richard Fisher, KI6SN

Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications Jury Returns Guilty Verdict In Case Against Unlicensed Jammer

 

A Southern California radio operator has been found guilty in U.S. District Court on six counts of illegal operation, including unlicensed transmissions and willful and malicious interference. Jack Gerritsen, 69, of Bell, California, faced sentencing in early March 2006 and could serve up to 15 years in federal prison, according to Debra W. Yang, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California. For a short time, Gerritsen held the amateur radio callsign KG6IRO.

Gerritsen was found guilty of interfering with a Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) communication in March 2005 and interfering with American Red Cross communications in January 2005. Both are misdemeanors. Additionally, he was found guilty of interfering with U.S. Coast Guard communications in October 2004, a felony. Gerritsen also faced three misdemeanor counts of unlicensed transmission.

“The Federal Communication Commission investigated illegal radio transmissions linked to Gerritsen for four years,” according to a statement from Yang’s office carried in the American Radio Relay League’s ARRL Letter. “According to court documents filed in this case, the FCC investigation revealed that Gerritsen transmitted his prerecorded messages, as well as real-time harassment and profanity, for hours at a time, often making it impossible for licensed radio operators to use the public frequencies,” the statement said. A federal grand jury indicted Gerritsen in Spring 2005.

Gerritsen served as his own attorney, declining representation by a public defender. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lamar Baker presented the government’s case. The jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning its verdict December 9. U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner revoked Gerritsen’s bond, and the defendant was taken into custody after the verdict was read. During the trial, recordings of radio transmissions attributed to Gerritsen were played for the jury.

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UTILITY COMMUNICATIONS DIGEST

BuTel’s ARC396—The Way To Go,
Plus Must-Read Books!

by Steve Douglass

Last month I mentioned that I acquired my first PC (I’m a Macintosh user) for the sole purpose of running scanner control software for my new Uniden BC396. To my great surprise, the world did not end and the universe did not implode as my friends predicted, well aware that I once said, “The day I use an IBM is the sure sign the Apocalypse is near.”

But over the last few weeks, with a lot of help from my friends, I have slowly been getting the hang of PC, and although it’s been frustrating at times and the Windows XP interface is not as intuitive as Mac’s OS-X, all in all, learning to use a PC has pretty painless. Unfortunately, I have had to learn to deal with something I never had to with my Mac: spyware and insipid computer viruses.

As far as the scanner itself goes, although the software that comes with the Uniden 396 is free and full functioning, ARC396 offered by the Netherland’s BuTel Software is definitely the way to go. The following are some of ARC396’s features/capabilities as outlined on BuTel’s website (www.butel.nl):

• With ARC396 and the Radioreference.com Webservice you can access the Radioreference database and download trunk ID and system data from more than 3,500 trunk systems!
• QuickKey Overview: “Drag and Drop” your systems or groups in QuickKeys.
• Store latitude, longitude and FCC callsign per systems
• Systems can be linked to maps based on latitude, longitude and FCC callsign

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