Red Robinson:
Canada’s Rock And Roll Radio Pioneer

Presley Flipped Him Out…And The Rest Is History!

By Doug Bright

The name Red Robinson is not well known here in the States, but across the border in his hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, he’s justifiably revered as Canada’s scandal-free answer to famed DJ Alan Freed, having pioneered rock and roll music on radio in his homeland during the 1950s. During the course of his career in broadcasting, Robinson has met, promoted, and interviewed a great many legendary artists, and to celebrate the 50th anniversary of both his career and the music itself, he’s released a generous sampling of his historic interviews on an exciting CD. The collection is dedicated to the Memphis-based Sun record label that launched Elvis Presley and, in Robinson’s view, rock and roll in general. He cleverly entitles it “Sunrise: The Dawn of Rock and Roll.”

Born in Vancouver on March 30, 1937, Robert G. “Red” Robinson was captivated by African-American rhythm-and-blues music during his student years at King Edward High School. “In those days,” Robinson explains, “the only way you could hear that would be on a jukebox or on a black radio station. There was a little juke joint not far from the high school, called the Oakway on Broadway and Oak. The guy in there loved rhythm and blues, and he had this jukebox loaded up with interesting stuff. We used to plug it in and listen to Wynonie Harris, Lloyd Price, and Ruth Brown. The thing was that when you went to dances and hops in those days, they were playing the big bands from the War era, so I thought, ‘If I ever get a chance to do my own radio show, I’m going to play this music.’ That was my burning desire at 16.”

Fully aware of the degree of sophistication that radio work required, Robinson studied literature and speech, and during his off-school hours he took every opportunity to familiarize himself with show business and its key personalities. His hard work paid off in 1954 when Al Jordan, host of a show called “Theme for Teens” on Vancouver’s CJOR, put him on the air for a guest spot.

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Special Report: Monitoring On
The Edge Of A Nuclear Confrontation

by Steve Douglass

Editor’s Note: In this issue of “Utility Communications Digest,” Steve Douglass breaks with tradition to cover a single topic. While “only” a single topic, it is a very complex one, and one that certainly deserves our attention here in Pop’Comm.

Please bear with me this month as I depart a bit from antenna topics and the technical aspects of utility monitoring to focus on what I feel is the guts of why we monitor: to be at the forefront of the events that shape the human world. Whether we’re monitoring the communications surrounding a natural disaster like Katrina or listening to human beings engaged in war, utility monitors are usually ahead of the curve in knowing the real stories behind the headlines.

It is the aim of this special report to place utility monitors directly inside the halls of power at a time of great crisis. Imagine what it would be like to be a fly on the wall inside a government situation room, intelligence gathering agency, strategic planning committee meeting or government think-tank, all concerned with a too real crisis, one that could very easily push the world to the brink of a limited nuclear war.

The Clock Is Ticking

HF and MILCOM monitors should start now searching the bands and collecting frequency and station information concerning a looming crisis in the Middle East—one that could make the war in Iraq look trivial by comparison. I am not being an alarmist or exaggerating when I state that it is very possible that a nuclear crisis, with worldwide ramifications much like the Cuban missile crisis of the 1960s, could grip this globe very soon. Although largely under-reported by the media, sources inside the Washington beltway say the administration is quietly preparing for the worst-case scenario: a limited nuclear war in the Middle East.

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Monitoring Rickenbacker
Air National Guard Base

by Tom Swisher, WA8PYR

Editor’s Note: A special, hearty welcome to writer Tom Swisher, WA8PYR, our new “Military Radio Monitoring” columnist. He takes over the bimonthly column from Allan Stern who will be doing a special feature for us from time to time. Tom has been a radio enthusiast for nearly 30 years and a ham for 25 of those years. As with our other writers, I encourage you to regularly send Tom your “Military Radio Monitoring” contributions in the form of comments, suggestions, loggings, and monitoring experiences. Welcome aboard, Tom!

And welcome aboard “Military Radio Monitoring” everyone! I’m your new captain and I’ve got some pretty considerable shoes to fill! I was rather surprised when I received a call from Harold asking if I would be willing to step in for Allan Stern. A tip of the hat to Allan, by the way, for his fine columns up to this point. (He tells us that he’ll providing special articles to Pop’Comm from time to time.)

By way of some background, I live in Central Ohio and have been involved in radio since the mid-1970s. I’ve also been a licensed ham radio operator since 1980, and currently hold an Amateur Extra class license. I’ve been writing for the All Ohio Scanner Club’s American Scannergam for many years, and writing equipment reviews for National Communications Magazine since 1992. I’ve also published a few books, including Fire Call!, The Trunked Radio Systems Guide, and the Railfan’s Guide to Ohio, as well as co-authoring the Scanner Master Ohio Pocket Guide.

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Aviation Action!

by Ken Reiss

Aviation scanning is something most scanner enthusiasts sometimes ignore. There’s not a lot that happens there when compared with the likes of a police pursuit or a multi-alarm fire. Most of the traffic is completely routine. Added to this is the idea that there’s a lot of shorthand that you’ll need to get used to, and many die-hard scanner fans don’t ever find their way down to that part of the spectrum.

Aviation fans, however, know that’s a big mistake. There’s lots of interesting listening on that band if you know where to look, along with some very entertaining comments from time to time by pilots and controllers. The trick is really to spend some time getting to know the band and the type of routine communications that takes place so you’ll recognize the abnormal when it happens.

You’ll need a scanner that covers the air band you’re interested in monitoring. The aviation band for civil aircraft runs from 108 to 137 MHz (though 108 to 117 is used for navigation aids, so there isn’t much traffic of interest in that range). The military uses 225 to 400 MHz. A lot of aviation enthusiasts are also military buffs, as a lot of the military traffic relates to aircraft in flight (at least in North America).

All air traffic is AM mode, so your scanner will need to have this mode if you want to listen. Any scanner that includes an “air band” will also have AM coverage, but unfortunately only scanners toward the high-end of the market will cover the military bands.

With the recent security concerns, the days of sitting at the airport on an observation lot or at the end of the fence are probably over, or at least you must approach with caution. If you’re sitting in a parked car someplace close to the airport it’s almost certain that security will be by in short order. Don’t push them—they have enough to worry about. Luckily, it turns out that you can hear quite a bit of what’s going on without even being close to an airport, and you can hear the ground controllers several miles away, too.

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Our April Winner:
Mark Meece, N8ICW, Of Ohio!

Pop’Comm reader Mark Meece, N8ICW, of Franklin, Ohio, tell us:

My interest in radio monitoring started in my early teens when I used to tune around a multi-band radio for hours. It really took off in the late 1970s when I received my first scanner as a present: a RadioShack PRO-53 eight-channel crystal scanner. Less than a year later I moved on to the first 50-channel programmable, the RadioShack PRO-2002. In the mid-1980s I discovered the wonders of shortwave, and by the late 1980s I was into the hobby full bore. In 1986 I passed and received my Novice class amateur
radio License, later upgrading to General class, as N8ICW.

In 1988 I began writing the Southwestern Ohio column for the All Ohio Scanner Club and I’m still writing it 18 years later! I also write for other hobby publications. I was the elected Chairman of ANARC (Association of North American Radio Clubs) from 1996 to 2004. My main interest lies in federal-military monitoring and railroads, but I listen to everything DC to daylight. What I love most is to always be on the lookout for new frequencies and trunked radio system talkgroups. I also enjoy hanging out with my radio friends at events like the Winter SWL Fest each March in Kulpsville, Pennsylvania.

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News, Trends, And Short Takes

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

John Sweeney, K9EL, To Direct New CQ DX Marathon

CQ magazine Editor Rich Moseson, W2VU, has announced the appointment of John Sweeney, K9EL, of Schaumburg, Illinois, as Manager of the new CQ DX Marathon program. The Marathon is part of CQ’s three-pronged “Waking Up DXing” program announced in the magazine last year. The year-long DXing competition began on January 1.

John is an accomplished DXer, with some 30 years of experience both in chasing DX and being DX, operating from a variety of rare locations during the course of a nearly 30-year career with Motorola. He is now a telecommunications consultant. He has worked more than 300 countries on each of the major HF ham bands, except 80 and 160 meters, but he’s closing in on 80, with 280 confirmed. He needs only North Korea on CW to have “worked them all” on both phone and CW.

“We are very pleased to have K9EL at the helm of the Marathon program,” said Moseson, “and we are very confident that he will get it off to a solid start, both in terms of logistics and promotion.”

“I am very excited to have the opportunity to participate in this program and I look forward to working with the DX community,” said Sweeney. “CQ has given me so much over the years. Here is my chance to give something back.”

The CQ DX Marathon is a cross between an award and a contest. It runs for a full year at a time, with competitors trying to contact as many countries and CQ zones as possible within the year. There are no carryovers from year to year, however, and everyone starts fresh each New Year’s Day.

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The Great East Versus West AM DX Showdown—
Is One Better Than The Other?

by Bruce A. Conti

There’s more than just the Continental Divide separating the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. There’s a huge divide between mediumwave DX on the left and right. Some differences are obvious, others not so obvious.

To make my point, I’ll use two popular U.S. coastal DXpedition sites for comparison: Rowley, Massachusetts (42°45’N 70°50’W), and Grayland, Washington (46°48’N 124°06’W), as we investigate east versus West Coast AM broadcast DXing.

Ocean Specific

It might appear obvious that the difference in the size of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans would impact transoceanic DXing. The Pacific is the largest of the world’s oceans, larger than the total land area of the Earth according to the CIA’s The World Factbook. Although the Pacific is at least twice the size of the Atlantic Ocean, it doesn’t necessarily represent twice the challenge for transoceanic DXers.On the surface, a simple comparison of distances might indicate that transatlantic DXers have a distinct advantage over their transpacific counterparts. For example, the distance from Grayland to typical DX targets like Tahiti is 4,697 miles, to Tokyo, Japan, it’s 4,746 miles, to South Korea 5,388 miles, to Wellington, New Zealand, 7,119 miles, and to Sydney, Australia, 7,656 miles.

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Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications
Two FCC Appointees Confirmed By U.S. Senate

by Richard Fisher, KI6SN

The U.S. Senate has confirmed the White House nomination of Republican Deborah T. Tate and the reappointment of Democrat Michael J. Copps to the Federal Communications Commission. The confirmations came by voice vote December 21 in a late-night session, according to published reports. Tate will complete the term of former FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell, which expires June 30, 2007. Powell departed the FCC in March 2005. Tate, 49, had been director of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority. Copps, 65, whose new term will expire in 2010, has been on the Commission since 2001.

According to reports on the confirmation hearing, Tate described herself as a mediator in testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee in early December 2005. Copps said his objective would be to “help bring the best, most accessible, and cost-effective communications system in the world to all of our people” wherever they live and whatever their status. The FCC had been operating with four members for most of 2005 and with three members since the December 9 departure of FCC Commissioner Kathleen Q. Abernathy. Powell was succeeded by Kevin J. Martin as FCC chairman.

In her departure announcement, Abernathy praised the FCC’s increasing reliance on competition rather than regulation. “Our largely market-driven approach to advanced services has helped create a vibrant market for new wired and wireless telecommunications products,” she said, “and our spectrum reform initiatives have improved our ability to put this scarce resource to its most effective use.”

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Military Gear: Perfect For Emergencies!

by Rich Arland, K7SZ

As long-time readers of this column might remember, I have an extended military background going back to 1967 when I signed on with the USAF. What followed was a 20-year career in military communications (MilCom) and a passionate love of “green radios” and the folks who used and maintained them.

While some might consider what follows as straying from the “Homeland Security” theme, let me assure you that what we’re going to discuss over the next couple of installments is directly related to “HOMSEC” communications gear and can be a real life saver. Warning: this spin-off could possibly lead to an obsessive endeavor to collect, restore, and use some of the most interesting, legendary, and rugged communications equipment ever conceived.

In an emergency, MilCom gear, used on HF and VHF amateur radio frequencies, can provide some extremely rugged, highly survivable means of communications. I mean this stuff is designed to survive the rigors of combat! What could be better than having a radio that you literally can’t kill? As we will see in these next two installments of “Homeland Security,” collecting, restoring, and using MilCom equipment is fun, relatively inexpensive (as long as you stay away from e-Bay), extremely addictive, and can yield huge rewards in the EmComm arena.

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Antenna Tuners—The Ins and Outs

by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ

When I was starting out as a ham, commercially made ham radios didn’t have automatic antenna tuners built inside them. The tuners were all external, and the automatic versions were very expensive and tended to be made for equally expensive military radios.

When internal, automatic tuners became the rage. I noticed that some hams found them especially useful, while others had terrible luck making them do anything useful! At the time I was mystified as to why. Now that I understand antenna tuners a whole lot better, I’m still mystified that many beginners are taught the same outdated concepts that I had to stumble through!

Just the other day a couple of my friends were discussing the ins and outs of how to use a built-in tuner. I’m not divulging their names to protect the guilty! One said the internal tuners were good for tweaking an already resonant antenna (such as using a dipole cut for the low end of 80 meters on the high end of the band), while the other thought it was fine to use them to “tune” a “random-length dipole” on multiple bands, eliminating the need for an external tuner.

As my friends’ good-natured quarrel illustrates, antenna tuners—and the myths surrounding their use—are as popular as ever. New types and new applications make choosing and using an antenna tuner (or choosing not to use one) potentially confusing, especially for newcomers.

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Propagation And Shortwave Listening

by Tomas Hood, NW7US

Have you heard fellow radio hobbyists say, “I don’t really need to know what the sun is doing, I just get on the air and try my luck at catching some DX,” or, “I like the thrill of the hunt”? I get on the radio, tune around, and just see what I can catch,” or similar comments that convey the idea that exploring the science of propagation is a waste of time, or perhaps even unsportsman-like?

I admit that I, too, have fully enjoyed the sheer joy of randomly picking a range of frequencies and patiently tuning around to find new and exotic signals. What a pleasure to discover a radio broadcast from South Africa, or hear a DX pile-up between rabid amateur radio operators in North and South America and the rare European running his 1000-watt studio-quality signal into his five-over-five-over-five (that’s three separate five-element beam antennas, one above the other) on a day when barely any other signal can be heard!

I once had just such a memorable experience that was totally unexpected. I awoke one morning, just after the early eastern Montana sun began warming up the springtime air. I had this strange urge to stop in at my little radio room on the way to the kitchen for a breakfast. I sat down and fired up the Kenwood transceiver and decided to check out the Technician Plus CW-only (Morse code) segment of 15 meters.

As the three tubes warmed up, I tuned from one band-edge to the other. All that could be heard was white noise, just a steady hiss. No signals. No beeps, tones, or voice. It seemed that the band was dead. Propagation was not happening. I figured that if I heard nothing, from band edge to band edge, then signals were being lost in space. I was sure, given the high number of amateurs around the entire world, that someone, somewhere was on 15 meters having a conversation, or at least calling, “CQ, CQ, CQ.”

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Building A CAT Program For Ten-Tec’s RX-320

by Joe Cooper

Thanks to the availability of inexpensive high-speed personal computers, it’s now possible to create virtual electronic components using computer software. This month, we’ll continue to outline how you can build virtual radios using Microsoft’s new free Visual BASIC and Ten-Tec’s RX-320 as the foundation.

As we’ve been discovering, here’s no longer any advantage in building a complete radio out of “real” components today since virtual electronic components will out-perform real components every time because they always deliver 100 percent of their rated value, no matter what conditions they operate within. Plus these digital components cost far less to “manufacture” in their virtual form than real components.

Consider, for instance, that the Ten-Tec RX-320D has 34 selectable IF bandwidth filters ranging from 300 Hz to 8,000 Hz. To build a mechanical device with capacitors, coils, and crystals to reproduce the same filtering capability would be next to impossible from an engineering standpoint, and prohibitively expensive even if you could actually built it.

These two characteristics of virtual electronic components (essentially perfect-state operation all the time plus significantly reduced cost) motivated radio electronics manufacturing companies to create the first generation of DSP radios during the 1980s. The trend really took off when the first “computers-on-a-chip” ICs became available in affordable quantities.

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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,

(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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Early AC Receivers—A Majestic Challenge!
Restoring A Majestic 90

by Peter J. Bertini

Several weeks ago, while picking up a few end tables my better half had refinished at a local furniture repair shop, I noticed that they were also refinishing a radio cabinet for another customer. In the typical style of the era, the cabinet was large, gothic and ornate, and sported an equally impressive radio chassis.
It was a very early Majestic 90 console, one of the earliest AC line operated radios and dating back to 1929—that’s almost 80 years ago! As I said, the cabinet was large and somewhat gothic in styling, something that normally doesn’t interest me as a collector since it would clash with my home’s décor. I’m not sure exactly what transpired next (I vaguely remember my better half volunteering the fact that I restored vintage radios) and I soon found myself embroiled in a very challenging restoration!
We’ll be dealing with the restoration of the radio chassis in the next column, and hopefully by then I’ll have some photos of the cabinet to share as well. For now we’ll be dealing with the power supply section, which is housed in a separate metal enclosure inside the radio cabinet.
In fact, the Majestic receiver contains several subsections. First, there’s the Majestic model 9P6 AC power pack (Photo A), an AC line-voltage ballast regulator (this plugs into a small metal sub-chassis that mounts on the cabinet sidewall shown in Photo B), a massive electrodynamic speaker (Photo C), and the main receiver chassis (Photo D), which houses all of the RF and audio stages. All assemblies are mounted inside of the console cabinet.

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New Shortwave Life For Albania
And Bhutan!

by Gerry L. Dexter

If your salary was suddenly cut by nearly 50 percent it’s likely you would be forced to make some cutbacks, perhaps even some lifestyle changes. That’s just what happened to Albanian Radio TV. Radio Tirana briefly ceased its foreign service on shortwave back in early December. The culprit was a 47-percent cut in its budget. Rescued somehow, it is back on the air and operating according to its regular schedule.

We’re sorry to report the passing of one of shortwave’s most widely recognized names. Joe Adamov passed way last December at the age of 85. He joined the old Radio Moscow in 1942 and remained with the station through the end of Soviet communism and beyond, later admitting to his audience that he had not been able to tell things as they really were. A number of U.S. DXers got to meet him some years ago when he attended an Association of North American Radio Clubs (ANARC) convention.

Thank you, New Delhi! We’ve learned that India has funded a modernization at the Bhutan Broadcasting Service, including a new 100-kW shortwave transmitter! We’ve all had a world of difficulty hearing its 50 kW on 6035, so perhaps this doubling of wattage will help. The new transmitter was due to go on the air in February.

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A Failure To Communicate

by Bill Price, N3AVY

I like to think that all of my readers are a lot like I am. What a horrible thought—all of you old and overweight and with a few of your lug nuts loose. I hope, though, that many of you share some of my lunacy, and to find out, it might be good to admit to some of that lunacy here, now that the statute of limitations has probably run out on all the things I’ve done. If not, then I didn’t really do them. Neither did Norm.

Even though Norm and I have been hams for years (both of us qualify for QCWA but I’m one of those people who never fills out the forms) we have always had CB radios in our cars, because they serve a purpose there—and they’re also fun. You meet a lot of fun people on the Citizen’s Band, but as with so many other groups, it seems—well, there’s always one jerk.

I’ll be the first to admit that everyone has an equal right to the frequencies, to the channels, to own a microphone, an antenna, and to be annoying. I’m always happy that most people don’t exercise their right to be annoying, but Norm and I came across this one...

Often, the radio part would involve turning on the CB and just listening to the local banter. There was always plenty, and those of you who listen regularly to a “local channel” know just how crazy some of the antics can get.
We will call our “jerk” Harry, for lack of a better name. There’s no way I want to make him someone you could identify. I don’t worry too much about him reading this page and coming after Norm and me with a vengeance, because I don’t think he has a vengeance (last we saw, he drove an Oldsmobile). Besides, we don’t think he can read.

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