BROADCAST TECHNOLOGY

Station NRK, Norway, Is History—
What It Means For AM Radio

by Bruce A. Conti

This is big news. By the time you read this, the flamethrower of the Arctic Circle, NRK Kvitsøy, Norway, should be history. The long anticipated closure of the 1200-kW powerhouse at 1314 kHz over the summer is another in a growing list of casualties as AM radio appears to be slowly fading away. It’s a process that began in the 1970s when FM radio rapidly gained popularity.
Now with ever increasing competition from various sources of digital radio, including streaming audio on the Internet, podcasting, subscription satellite radio, and FM HD radio, is AM “ancient modulation” about to become extinct? Actually, you might be surprised to learn that digital radio isn’t the only reason why AM radio could someday be relegated to dusty museum displays alongside spark gap transmitters and the telegraph.

Norway, No Way

According to the NRK website (www.nrk.no), only four AM radio stations remain on the air: the longwave station from Ingøy at 153 kHz, and three mediumwave stations at 630 kHz in Vigra, 675 kHz in Røst, and 1485 kHz in Svalbard. With a maximum power of 100 kW at 153 and 630 kHz, none compare to the megawatt-powered signal that dominated the Arctic at 1314 kHz from Kvitsøy.

The closure of 1314 represents a move in Norway toward the digital age. The powerful AM signal that once served fishing fleets at sea with important weather information will be replaced by a satellite weather channel via Thor 2. However, the signals at 153, 630, and 675 kHz will continue to provide coverage to the north in the Arctic Ocean where satellite service might be compromised. Still, it’s a serious blow to DXers who used 1314 as a weathervane for reception conditions from northern latitudes. The signal was a prime target for DXers worldwide, often heard with a local-like signal in east coast North America, and one of only a handful of European mediumwave signals that would reach the West Coast on a regular basis.

Neighboring Finland is undergoing a similar transition to FM and digital radio, leaving AM radio behind. Stations at 254, 540, 1242, 1278, and 1404 kHz are long gone, and the two remaining YLE mediumwave outlets at 558 and 963 kHz are likely to be phased out in the near future.

Electromagnetic Pollution

In Italy, the AM radio dial is changing for another reason. Italy has taken a lead role in the reduction of urban electromagnetic pollution. Long-term exposure to high-power radio signals is believed to cause cancer and other health problems. Transmitters in Rome and Vatican City have been forced to reduce power and broadcast hours, or shut down entirely. High power RAI network stations at 846 kHz (500 kW) and 1332 kHz (300 kW) once easily received in the United States, have been replaced by FM signals with a maximum power of 100 kW. The Radio Vaticana station at 1530 kHz operates with reduced hours and power cut from 600 to 300 kW. The shortwave broadcast schedule is also affected.
 

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COMPUTER–ASSISTED RADIO MONITORING

Intruder Alert!
How Secure Is Your Home Computer?

by Joe Cooper

Back in 2004, I wrote a column that looked at the rising phenomena of computer intrusion, where I outlined some very scary statistics. As I pointed out back then, computer attacks were taking place in roughly 64 percent of businesses that used the Internet, up from 45 percent in 2003.

It’s now two years later and, according to an FBI report released last spring, that figure has risen significantly. In January of this year alone there were 19 major e-mail-based virus attacks, of which eight (42 percent) were graded “low intensity,” seven (37 percent) “medium intensity,” and four (21 percent) “massive intensity” attacks. A rare occurrence for a single month.

As the FBI pointed out, in the United States alone, 85 percent of businesses using the Internet experienced an attack. These attacks took place despite the fact that 98 percent of American businesses with Internet connections are using some form of anti-virus/computer intruder protection. These intrusions are more than simple annoyances, and serious financial repercussions occur with each attack, with an average cost of about $24,000 per event. If you multiply that number by the hundreds of thousands of businesses affected, you begin to see the huge costs incurred across the country.

Another disturbing trend is that these deliberate attacks are no longer the work of computer geeks, or “hackers.” Hackers earned their nickname because they would use crude methods to “hack” their way into a computer system, often by brute force methods. In the early days of computers, hackers were generally bored students who had little difficulty working the primitive security methods of the times.

That has all changed, however, and today there are sophisticated computer specialists with university degrees who make serious money working for organized crime and terrorists. These days, the term that most accurately describes the new breed of criminal is “intruder.”

Who Are The Computer Intruders?

Rather than simply pulling annoying pranks or causing relatively minor damage, these intruders focus their efforts on gaining control of highly confidential information, and even accessing entire computer systems. Intruders employed by organized crime aim to embezzle money, steal secret information, harvest identities and personal information, and sabotage the operation of entire networks in often sophisticated and hard-to-detect ways. Intruders connected with terrorist organizations so the same things, but go one step further: they also wish to damage or cripple computer systems, costing businesses and governments billions of dollars in repairs.
 

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The Outta (Band) Limits

Don’t Clean Your Glasses, Or Fine-Tune Your Receiver.
Murray And Company Has Control Of What You See And
Hear For The Next Few Minutes…

by Murray Green, K3BEQ

What we sometimes hear with our scanners or on the ham bands isn’t always what we could call “normal.” And some things are chalked up as curious, if not downright mysterious. Over three decades of operating and maintaining two VHF amateur radio repeaters in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, the Green Mountain Repeater Association (GMRA) has had its share of unusual repeater interference problems.

Most repeaters cannot escape a certain amount of interference, but what I’m about to describe borders on the bizarre. All of the incidents were documented and some forwarded to FCC Enforcement as a matter of record. I am pleased to report that every case was handled amicably, dirty transmitters taken off the air or corrected, and illegal use of the Amateur Radio Service spectrum eliminated. That said, get ready to be entertained!

Glider Mania?

On a clear Sunday afternoon, the GMRA 146.610-MHz repeater erupted suddenly with communications between a glider pilot and its towing aircraft. It took a few minutes to figure out exactly what was going on, but when the glider pilot said, “Disengage tow—wow it’s beautiful up here,” we sort of got the message. They were apparently using the repeater’s input frequency of 146.010 MHz, not realizing they were keying up the repeater. (There is a 600-kHz separation between the input and output frequencies to avoid desensing.)

A control operator made contact with the glider pilot, informing him that unless he had an amateur radio license he was illegally operating in a spectrum exclusively allocated to the Amateur Radio Service. The pilot acknowledged the transmission but said nothing more. His signals soon began to fade away as his glider flew out of range. It was assumed that either the pilot’s were using ham radio equipment or commercial equipment improperly set to the wrong frequency. Why the pilots were not using FAA-approved radio frequencies is unknown. No further incidents have been heard.

Cars And Kids

At precisely 3:30 p.m. weekdays, the following transmissions were heard on the 146.610 MHz repeater: “Car 321, car 341, car 240.” “Zimmerman’s ok, Callahan’s ok, 221 ok,” etc., etc. This went on for about 30 minutes. One of our members called a control operator and said that he was hearing the signal on 146.000 MHz on his handheld with a rubber duck antenna, full strength—a good sign he was very close to the source. He also recognized one of the names mentioned on the air as a family living across the street from him. (The closeness to the repeater’s input frequency of 146.010 MHz made the transmissions readable on the output frequency of 146.610 MHz.)
 

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GLOBAL INFORMATION GUIDE

Surprise—Good News From Luxembourg!

by Gerry L. Dexter

Ever heard of Broadcasting Center Europe? That’s the current name for Radio Luxembourg (RTL), which ended its shortwave broadcasts quite a few years ago. It then returned some years later airing digital programming, which virtually no one in North America is capable of receiving.

Now there’s word that a more complete comeback may be in the works. The winter (A06) shortwave frequency registrations show listings for RTL for analog programming in French and English, but only running 10 kW. Check the following:

5925 from 0800 to 1000
5935 from 0800 to 1500
5945 from 0400 to 0600
5990 24 hours
6035 from 0400 to 0800
6055 from 0600 to 0800
6095 24 hours
7145 from 0800 to 1900 (via Julich)
7295 from 0800 to 0900
7295 from 0900 to 1700 (from Nauen) (digital)
25795 24 hours

We’ll see if anything happens on any of this. (Or not.)

Pakistan Coming Back?

A few months ago we mentioned there were plans for a revitalization of Radio Pakistan, which has never qualified as an easy catch in North America. At the time of that announcement the plans seemed little more than wishful thinking. Now, similar scuttlebutt has popped up with Radio Pakistan’s head guy announcing that a plan is in motion to cover the country with Radio Pakistan’s signal. Mediumwave and shortwave transmitters are to be “replaced.” Some 47 new FM stations are to be built, but it’s unclear whether the FMs are replacing the AM and shortwave facilities or these present facilities are also to be upgraded. Stay tuned.

“DX Party Line” Lives On—From HCJB Australia

The passing of HCJB’s English language programs won’t amount to a total wipe out. The venerable “DX Party Line” will continue, although the length has been sliced in half, down to 15 minutes. HCJB-Australia will continue to carry DXPL as will the more accessible WRMI and WWCR. “DX Party Line” celebrated 45 years on the air in May of this year.

Those Greenville relays of the Voice of Greece have stopped, as have those via Delano, which means we aren’t receiving VOG as well or as consistently as we have in the past. This change is likely related to the coming cutbacks at the IBB (VOA) facilities in Greece.
 

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HAM DISCOVERIES

Low Power, Natural High!

by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ

I just did the unthinkable: I relocated to a new city and moved into a townhouse, complete with a neighborhood association, deed restrictions, and a pile of covenants. A few years back I wrote a handy book on the subject (Stealth Amateur Radio), which is now out of print, so I’m in pretty good shape when it comes to getting on the air commando-style. To add insult to injury, though, I’m mixing a healthy dose of nostalgia with my radio masochism. Yep, I’m gonna run low power with the same sneaky antenna that I used to work a whole bunch of DX countries in the early 1980s—while running only 1 watt of Morse code.

I’m going to load up the 25-foot-tall downspout on my two-year-old townhouse. Back in the day I used a crappy antenna tuner and a short piece of brass brazing rod as my sole RF ground. This time around I’m using a much bigger RF ground (still invisible) and my trusty SGC autocoupler, which is known for its wide matching range and lightning-fast band changes. Hey, when I was a kid I camped in a small tent. Now, I want a 60-foot RV with a big air conditioner. But I digress!

The real kicker in my new scenario—and the one I want you to pay attention to the most—is the fact that, despite a less-than-perfect antenna situation and insane restrictions, I’m running low power, commonly called QRP, the “official” pursuit of low-power ham radio. Yes, QRP means running low power for the fun of it (and sometimes because you want to be sneaky or just a good neighbor)!

Almost every modern HF transceiver puts out 100 W of RF, which is about 20 times more power than the 5-W CW output (10-W PEP output) that commonly defines “QRP power levels.” But many QRPers don’t stop there. Some veteran low-power ops run 1 W, 500 mW, 10 mW, or even 1 mW of output power. “Microwatters,” a polite term for the masochists who run less than 1 mW of output power, are a breed unto themselves!

Worldwide, part- and full-time QRPers number in the hundreds of thousands (probably not in the millions, but there are a lot of us lurking out there). You’re more than welcome to join the ranks. Your comrades in spirit like nothing better than the challenge of working fellow hams while running just enough power to get through. Your 1-W signal won’t dominate the band, but with the right conditions, you can easily work all 50 states and a lot of DX, even with a fairly cruddy antenna.

The Cold Equations

It’s the New Math: A 1-W signal is only a little more than three S units weaker than a 100-W signal. Yes, it’s true. So, if your 100-W signal is S-9, your 1-W signal will be about S-6. And that’s plenty of signal! You’ll listen more and call CQ less, perhaps, and persistence pays off, as does using the right approach. Beginning QRPers often call only the loudest stations. That’s not necessary, although it’s a good idea to have decent copy on the stations you do call.
 

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HOMELAND SECURITY

What Do You Do When The Lights Go Out?

by Rich Arland, K7SZ

We all sit around watching the “boob-tube” or listening to our radios, surfing the Internet, or otherwise engage ourselves in daily activities, all the while taking electricity and the power grid for granted. When we lose commercial AC power we become annoyed at the very least or downright scared to death, depending upon the circumstances. All of a sudden that wonderful power grid we’ve been taking for granted for so very long is not available and our lives are turned on end.

Large scale electrical blackouts can be caused by hurricanes, tornadoes, wintry ice storms, severe flooding, or earthquakes, and small scale blackouts can caused by a driver taking out a local utility pole or even a lightning strike from an electrical storm. And for the majority of us, the sudden loss of power derails our normal lives. Extended power outages (ask anyone who endured the ice storms on the East Coast a couple of years ago) can really put a crimp in our lifestyle. Suddenly we’re thrown into a chaotic tailspin where we’re no longer in control of our individual situations. This is one of the trade-offs for living in a technology-oriented world: when the power goes out all that technology is about as useful as a screen door in a submarine.

If the power outage happens during daylight hours we can manage to muddle through. If, however, this power outage occurs at night, it can be scary. Face it, folks, human beings are afraid of the dark.

Ask anyone who’s gone through any form of survival training, from the Boy Scouts to Jungle Survival School for the military, and you’ll find that the single most comforting thing during a survival situation is fire. That’s right, fire. Having even a small fire at night not only keeps us warm, but it also gives us a sense of security that we are in control of the situation to some degree. The same can be said for lighting during a power outage. Like the open fire, even a small light means that we have some control over what is happening in our lives. It gives us confidence and peels back the uncertainty of the darkness.

HOMSEC Power And Light!

So what do we do when the lights go out? Generating emergency power to pull us through a natural or man-made disaster or severe weather is not beyond the capabilities of most of us, if we just take a hard look at the amount and type of power we need while the power grid is off-line. If you are able to generate your own power off the power grid, you’re a major step or two ahead of everyone else in your affected area.
But how do you go about generating electrical power for our own use? Short of hitting the pet store and getting several dozen gerbils and letting them run inside a large circular cage hooked to a generator set, you gotta do a bit of planning.

There are myriad methods for generating electrical power, including (photovoltaic or PV), hydro-electric (more properly called “micro-hydro,” which involves moving water spinning a generator), aero-electric (wind generators), and fossil fuel (diesel, gasoline, coal, and natural gas). Of course, there’s always nuclear energy, but I think that building a small nuclear reactor is a bit beyond the scope of our readers (although, if you scraped enough radium off of old watch dials you could maybe…naw, not a good idea!). And let’s not forget about generating electrical power chemically with storage batteries or fuel cells.
 

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INFOCENTRAL

News, Trends, And Short Takes
RRI Broadcasting News Domestically In Eleven

International Languages

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

Indonesian state broadcaster RRI has begun broadcasting news domestically in 11 international languages in an effort to provide foreigners in Indonesia with factual and accurate information, according to its Director Parni Hadi. The 11 international languages RRI has been using are Arabian, English, French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Mandarin, Spain and Thai. Two more foreign languages the Indonesian radio station will use in the future are Russian and Italian.

Voice of America Launches VOAMobile.com

The Voice of America has launched VOAMobile, an all-text English version of top stories for use on Web-enabled handheld devices, such as cell phones and PDAs. VOA Mobile allows users worldwide to access text versions of top news stories in a user-friendly format. The content is generated from the VOANews.com home page and will be updated, almost hourly, seven days a week.

VOA Planning To Close More Language Services

The Voice of America has decided to shut down its daily 90-minute shortwave radio service in Hindi, citing budgetary cutbacks and the emergence of TV and the Internet in India. Private FM radio stations have also affected its listenership, according to Jagdish Sareen, editor, VOA Hindi, as quoted by the Indian website DNA.

The decision by the Broadcasting Board of Governors is pending, with the U.S. Congress’ final approval necessary. The website quotes Brian Mabry, senior public affairs advisor at Voice of America, as saying, “Along with VOA Hindi, our services in Albanian, Bosnian, Serbian, and Russian will also stop.”

Time Signal Station MSF Moving To New Location

MSF is the radio signal that broadcasts the national time standard for the UK. Beginning in April 2007 the MSF service broadcast will transfer to Anthorn. Until then it will continue to be broadcast from Rugby. The MSF signal is the principal means of disseminating the UK national standards of time and frequency, which are maintained by the National Physical Laboratory. Transmission is 24 hours a day and the carrier frequency is maintained at 60 kHz.
 

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WASHINGTON BEAT

by Richard Fisher, KI6SN

Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications
Commissioner Appointment Shifts Political Balance Of FCC

 

For the first time in more than a year, the FCC has returned to its full five-member capacity with the swearing-in of Robert M. McDowell as a commissioner—giving the body a Republican majority. He fills the seat vacated in December 2005 by Kathleen Q. Abernathy. McDowell’s term will expire June 30, 2009.

“I am honored and humbled to be joining such a distinguished group of commissioners as well as the fine career public servants at the FCC,” McDowell said in a statement. “I am confident that our efforts will help bring the most advanced and efficient communications systems in the world to all American consumers.”

The appointment gives the FCC a Republican majority for the first time in the tenure of Chairman Kevin J. Martin. Prior to filling the vacancy, the commission had been split evenly between two Republicans and two Democrats. In addition to Martin, McDowell, a telecommunications attorney, joins fellow Republican Deborah T. Tate, who officially joined the FCC on January 3. The Commission’s two Democrats are Michael J. Copps, who is in his second term, and Jonathan Adelstein.

McDowell has nearly 16 years of private-sector telecommunications industry experience. Prior to his FCC appointment, he served as senior vice president and assistant general counsel for the Competitive Telecommunications Association (COMPTEL).

Army Orders Secure Battlefield Communications Systems

ITT Industries has received a $407 million order from the U.S. Army for additional SINCGARS (Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System) tactical radio systems, according to the online edition of Military Information Technology. The contract with the Army’s Communications/Electronics Command is for 60,458 systems, with 60,000 for ground use and 458 airborne. The order was made under the service’s SINCGARS Omnibus program awarded to ITT in 2004.

“SINCGARS is the backbone tactical radio system for the Army and is deployed globally with frontline troops from active, reserve and National Guard units,” a news item on the Military Information Technology website said. “The system provides secure voice and data communications across the battlefield. Approximately 275,000 SINCGARS are deployed with U.S. and allied forces worldwide, and with this request, a total of 130,000 units are currently on order. SINCGARS is a constantly evolving system that has produced four generations of tactical radios.”

The online edition of Military Information Technology can be accessed at www.military-information-technology.com/.

 

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THE WIRELESS CONNECTION

Candohm Resistor Replacement

by Peter J. Bertini

A few months back I received correspondence from reader Mike Grimes regarding his Zenith 805 tombstone radio. The set had a defective four-section Candohm resistor, and while the schematic provided the Zenith part number and resistance values, alas there were no power ratings shown! Mike had decided to replace each Candohm section using discrete power resistors, but he wasn’t exactly certain how to ensure that he selected parts with adequate wattage ratings. Mike’s question is a good one, and I’ll admit it took some thought to properly answer his query! First, let’s cover some groundwork before delving into Mike’s problem.

What Is A Candohm Resistor?

The Muter Company in Chicago manufactured Candohm resistors. I haven’t been able to uncover much information about Muter or its products. A Muter Candohm resistor, along with an unidentified and more modern device, is shown in Photo A. I suspect, in time, the Candohm trademark was indiscriminately applied to similarly styled competitive products.

Larger sets made during the 1930s and 1940s frequently used Candohm resistors. Almost every large Zenith chassis has one. Photo B shows an RCA 10T radio chassis with two Candohms, and a Candohm resistor can be seen in a Zenith 5905 chassis in Photo C. By the way, that Zenith 5905 chassis is from my 9S232 Zenith “Walton” tombstone and will be featured in an upcoming column.

Candohm resistors are wire-wound resistors. Unfortunately, they are failure prone and replacing them, regardless of how they test, is good practice, unless you’re willing to accept some risk in the interest of keeping the under chassis looking original.

Candohm resistors (and their generic look-alikes) consist of a resistive element made by winding nichrome resistance wire over a long, slender rectangular-shaped insulated form. In turn, the element is wrapped with paper insulation and covered with a protective metal sheath. Most Candohms serve as voltage dividers; the desired tap points are provided by a mechanical connection between the nichrome wires and solder terminals. They were usually riveted to the chassis, which serves as a heatsink.
 

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V.I.P. SPOTLIGHT

Our September Winner:

Anita Morse, KB3NSU, Of Pennsylvania

Pop’Comm reader Anita Morse, KB3NSU tells us,

We met during the recent Dayton Hamvention. At that time I told you that I was studying for my Technician class license and you told me that someone with my surname should most certainly be a ham. You also asked me to inform you when I got my ticket. Well, I recently passed the test and received my callsign, KB3NSU. I am so happy to have received my license and I am now studying for my General class license.
I suppose I have always been interested and fascinated by radio. When I was young my sister and I used to use our portable radios in our beds at night. I noticed that the metal headboard of my bed seemed to increase the reception of distant stations at night, enhancing my ability to do what I now know as DXing.

We lived in a rural area of northern New York known as the “North Country.” We received television by means of a rooftop antenna and only got three stations, one public television station and two stations from Canada. My sister and I noticed that in the summer months we could receive some stations from quite far away, especially by turning the tuner knob just a “little too far: and playing with the fine tuning ring. We had great fun searching the channels for these stations, and our father never seemed to mind. I guess we were TV DXers as well though we certainly did not know what that was back then.

Our TV antenna sparked an interest in me for antennas in general. I love to look at the antenna arrays at radio and television stations that we see in our travels around the country. My husband and I even made a trip to the VOA transmitter facility in Delano, California. I was absolutely amazed by that facility.
When I got older I had a job at RadioShack and became interested in CB transceivers, scanners, and, of course, TV antennas. My interest in these items seemed to be reflected in my ability to sell them, and I was for some time the leading salesperson at our store. I also excelled in selling radar detectors to many of our Canadian customers, as these items could not be legally purchased in Ontario.

My interest in radio broadened when I met my husband, Tom, KE6DIO. He was also interested in DXing, shortwave listening, and amateur radio. He owned many higher-end products, which allowed me to catch some really good mediumwave DX targets. His interest in amateur radio also piqued my interest and led to my desire to get my “ham ticket.” I have begun a small collection of tube-type and transistor radios, nothing fancy, mostly things that strike my fancy either by their styling or because they held a special place in my memories.

 

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UTILITY COMMUNICATIONS DIGEST

Monitoring The 2006 Hurricane Season

by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ

One of the less obvious reasons that I always advise newcomers to the radio hobby to keep a detailed log of their activities is that I often simply find it enjoyable to look back at my own old logs. Never mind the fact that after awhile your own logs become one of your very best reference sources (which is the main reason you should keep a detailed log of your listening!), it’s also fun just to sit and try to think back to the time when the various events recorded in your logs were occurring.

I like trying to remember what was going through my mind during some of the more memorable logs of the past. For me, it’s almost like re-living those events and whatever juicy “catches” were recorded in my logbook as a result. In addition, for me, like many of you, the most memorable monitoring of 2005 was no contest—it had to be the hurricane season.

The 2005 hurricane season was the most costly ever, in terms of both damage and loss of life, and was punctuated on August 29 when, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) department, Hurricane Katrina made landfall as a category 4 storm in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. While I’m sure nobody has forgotten the terrifying images that appeared on our television sets each evening for weeks after Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, leaving much of New Orleans flooded and laying waste to the coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, and elsewhere, the effect this storm had on the monitoring community was unprecedented.

The magnitude of Katrina’s destruction caused radio hobbyists who had never bothered much with hurricane-related communications to suddenly take a deep interest in this facet of listening. Experienced radio monitors felt as if every beginner in the hobby was posting to every Internet radio forum with requests for frequency information. There was plenty of information, too, and for beginners and experienced practitioners of the radio arts alike, there was plenty to listen to. The ham radio ARES and RACES frequencies were abuzz. Obscure federal agency nets that were usually only heard testing their systems on Wednesday mornings were suddenly operating at full-tilt. All you needed to do to hear some hurricane-related communications was to know where to listen.

That’s where this month’s column comes in. By the time you read this, the 2006 hurricane season will officially be well underway. While we certainly hope that this year’s events will be significantly less costly and destructive than last year’s, the National Hurricane has actually predicted an 80-percent chance of an above-normal hurricane season. That, unfortunately, means the odds are that a hurricane is eventually going to ruin someone’s day—or worse—and when that happens, the airwaves will again be active with communications activities.
 

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THE POP’COMM TRIVIA CORNER

Radio Fun And Going Back In Time

by R.B. Sturtevant, KD7KTS

Q. The “Holy Grail” of communications technology has got to be Dick Tracy’s two-way wristwatch radio. Has anyone ever actually designed one?

A. Yes someone has. The two-way wrist watch radio was first introduced by Chester Gould in 1946 in his famous “Dick Tracy” comic strip. One of the serious inventors to work on the project was Dr. Cledo Brunetti, an engineer with the Bureau of Standards. Using 1947 technology Brunetti developed a series of miniature radio tubes for a transceiver capable of working over a mile. Slightly ungainly, this pre-transistor wonder weighed three ounces. LIFE magazine picked up on the story and over 60 companies came forward to gain licensing rights for Brunetti’s device. The FCC allocated frequencies from 460 to 475 MHz for it. Unfortunately its one-mile working range made it a hard sell for real-life crime fighters. The tube technology was, of course, superseded by the transistor and the whole project was shelved.

Kids got a chance to play with a “working” toy two-way wristwatch radio, which was quite popular for a time at $3.98. But even kids figured out that a cheap crystal set that transmitted voices over a very short distance wasn’t the real thing.

Still trying, Western Electric gave Chester Gould its version of the little radio. Gould loved it and kept it near his drawing desk until his death. It picked up radio stations instead of police calls though. I guess the “Holy Grail” is still out there somewhere.
 

Q. I have heard the phrase “polishing the antenna,” which seems to refer to doing useless work. What exactly does it mean?

A. Back in the days of spark gap transmitters Hams didn’t understand as much about antennas as we do today. Enameled wire was considered unsuitable because the enamel was thought to block incoming signals. Bare solid copper wire was thought to be the ideal antenna wire. Serious hams, however, felt that in time the bare wire would oxidize and the corrosion would also block signal. A serious ham would lower the antenna about once a week and scour it with steel wool. Only a bright copper antenna was considered ideal for catching signals.
 

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TECH SHOWCASE

Cobra’s 12-Band XRS 9930
Digital Radar/Laser Detector

by Harold Ort, N2RLL, Editor

By now, if you’re lucky, you’re ready to head out on the highway for one final summer vacation. You’ve packed everything you can think of (and some things I’m sure you don’t want to bring along, like Uncle Bob and his pet hamsters, and Junior’s cargo pants) and you’re outta there!

Road trips are great, but giving up your hard-earned money to the judge because you got a little carried away with the gas pedal isn’t funny. Most of us have been down that road, but you don’t have to play and lose. Now frankly, many drivers deserve what they get when they’re constantly so far above the posted speed limit that they make the Indy 500 look like a soapbox derby, they’re tailgating, or driving recklessly. But if you’re a typical driver you’ll occasionally push the limit a bit, or if you’re in an unfamiliar area you may not know what it is. Sometimes you may have the cruise control set at the proper limit, but it’s a good idea to be able to react to Smokey in time.

Enter, Cobra’s XRS 9930 laser/radar detector. Cobra has a penchant for long, fancy names—and that’s okay, of course—so they call their latest and greatest detector a “12-Band Ultra High-Performance Digital Radar/Laser Detector With Xtreme Range Superheterodyne technology.” Whew! That says a lot, but what does it all mean, and how does it perform?

Range

I tested this detector on two recent trips—one to the Dayton Hamvention and another to Rochester, New York—in very different environments and using very different vehicles, but with similar results.

As for the actual “range” touted by detector manufacturers, it’s a lot like many manufacturers’ claims about those small FRS (Family Radio Service) radios having a 12- or 18-mile range—not in a million years! Okay, perhaps between mountaintops or out at sea between two yachts, but you’re out in the real world and not going to be getting much more than a half-mile or so in typical suburban terrain, less in a city and a little more out in the country. Likewise, when it comes to radar detectors, the fact is that there’s not a lot a manufacturer can really do to give you a much more detection “range,” other than better shielding of the receiver and, well, providing a quality receiver in the first place. To that end, Cobra has certainly succeeded with the XRS 9930!
 

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TECH SHOWCASE

Alinco’s EDS-9 Front-Control Unit Separation Kit For The DR-635T

by Harold Ort, N2RLL, Editor

In June’s Pop’Comm we reviewed the new Alinco DR-635T dualbander with extended receive, including 108 to 173.995 MHz, 335 to 479.995 MHz, and 87.5 to 107.995 MHz. We told you at the time that we’d also be checking out Alinco’s EDS-9 separation kit that allows you to mount to 635T’s head virtually anywhere in your vehicle, while using the radio’s provided metal bracket to mount the body elsewhere (your trunk, under a seat or wherever works for your particular situation). So, let’s look at the EDS-9 kit right now and see how it worked in a Hyundai Sonata.

Previously I’d mounted the 635T on a piece of homebrew plastic that fit fairly snugly in the Sonata’s change/catch-all tray. While that worked fine, it’s not exactly a permanent mounting solution. But then again, it can be close to perfect because you’re able to remove the transceiver when you leave the vehicle—you simply unscrew the antenna, unplug the radio, and you’re good to go. For a more permanent mounting solution, however, Alinco offers the EDS-9 kit.

Honestly, I’d like to see every radio have a detachable front panel. Wouldn’t that be a great idea? Slide off the front panel and Velcro it where it works best for you, or use the manufacturer’s kit, and hit the road! Of course, that’s not always a possibility, but with the 635T, it is. And, best of all, the optional EDS-9 separation kit lists for about $46; you’ll obviously find it for less.

I decided to mount the body of the 635T in the trunk using the metal bracket and two self-tapping sheet metal screws with lock washers. The separation kit comes with a 16-foot-long black cable with modular connectors on each end. Simply slide off the 635T’s front panel from the main body, remove the short connecting cable, and plan your mounting location. The long cord provided with the kit allowed me to connect the front panel all the way up front where it’s visible (but not in the way) and have the remotely mounted body where it’s easily mountable
 

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SHANNON’S BROADCAST CLASSICS

Getting A Gig In Radio—
“Send Tape & Resume To ______.”

by Shannon Huniwell

It can probably go down in radio history as the least impressive DX catch. On a 1980 business trip to the Midwest, my father snagged the 250-watt AM signal of KOKO Warrensburg, Missouri, while tuned to 1450 kHz in a rented car—in the KOKO parking lot.

Due to the “so what?” nature of such an electronic accomplishment, Dad asked me (as I was off from school for a few days and accompanying him) to scribble a basic reception report, which he then instructed me to hand to a KOKO manager. Father correctly anticipated that the guy would find it much more difficult to refuse a QSL card request from a cute red-headed kid than from the lanky, 6’3” broadcast enthusiast who actually wanted that souvenir.

His assumption was correct, as the operations manager/program director from KOKO seemed to get a genuine kick out of seeing the simple report and filled out a verification card pulled from his top desk drawer. “There you are, young lady,” he smiled while handing me the QSL.

“Would you like to work in radio someday?,” the guy wondered aloud. Enthusiastically, my Dad answered, “She’s already been on the air! I built her a Lafayette 100-miliwatt AM transmitter kit that really covers our Connecticut neighborhood. Hooked it up to a mic and some old kiddie phonograph turntables. Shannon’s a great little DJ!”

I can remember feeling rather foolish hearing Dad’s overblown praise in the presence of a sandy-haired teenaged boy who was sitting ramrod straight in a folding chair next to the OM/PDs desk.
“Well, maybe I should hire your daughter,” the station official politely mused. “We’re looking to fill an announcer position. In fact,” he said while pointing to the young man seated nearby, “I was just interviewing an applicant for that job when you walked in.”

Anybody else would have taken the hint and hit the road, but my father used the cue to suggest that we sit in on the session and help KOKO decide whether or not the teen was “professional radio material.” Much to my surprise, the OM/PD appeared delighted with the offer, scared up two more folding chairs, and didn’t seem the least bit annoyed by Dad asking the kid to hand over his audition tape and resume.
 

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SCANTECH

Buying A Handheld Scanner

by Ken Reiss

As summer begins to fade and our thoughts turn toward the upcoming fall season and its drop in temperatures, many of us also take stock of the radio shack. You may have slowed down on your radio activities because of summer distractions and that’s perfectly normal. But right now might be a good time, since you’ve got a bit of a fresh eye, to take a look at your antenna situation and think about upgrading that radio before things get too close to the holiday season.

Changes in the two-way spectrum, and public safety in particular, over the past few years have made a lot of the older scanners so many of us are comfortable with suddenly out of date. Trunking and digital are the two big factors, but there’s refarming and overcrowding which also play a role in how happy you are with your current receiver.

One of the fastest ways to start a discussion with scanner folks is for someone to ask the old question "Which radio should I buy?" Sometimes it almost comes down to "Tell me which radio to buy." I can certainly sympathize with the anxiety of committing to a particular radio, especially for first-time buyers, but even for those wanting to upgrade the anxiety is understandable. There are so many options these days, and it seems to be getting worse. My answer to this favorite question is always…more questions.

First Radio?

If you’re just starting out and this is your first scanner, there are a number of special considerations to keep in mind. The first couple of questions are pretty critical, and after that it really comes down to how serious you are about monitoring.

First-time scanner listeners are often advised to buy handheld radios because they’re portable and you can listen anywhere. This is probably good advice for most people, but not for everyone. If you know that you’re going to put the radio in one spot and not move it again, or if you want the convenience of larger keys that many (but not all) base stations offer, don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise. If you’re not sure how you’ll be listening, I’d probably recommend a handheld and you can always buy a base or upgrade your radio later. Scanners, after all, are a lot like the popular snack food—you can’t have just one.
 

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REACT IN ACTION

Sending Out An SOS

by Ron McCracken, WPZX-486/KG4CVL

Do you own an FRS radio? Have you heard about the “National SOS Program”? If so, are you taking full advantage of it?

Among those watching the Hurricane Katrina communications calamity unfold on TV before our eyes last year was Eric Knight. An aerospace engineer and avid radio operator, Knight resolved then to take action before another hurricane season. He challenged REACT International, Inc., Midland Radio, the DC Emergency Radio Network (DCERN), and others to join in. The result: the National SOS Program.

SOS uses FRS-1* in emergencies. REACT had recognized the potential of FRS to save lives from its inception. Over and over, FRS has proved REACT correct. Meanwhile, Midland Radio developed its familiar “Midland-1” program that advocated use of FRS-1 as a “call” channel or frequency (462.5625 MHz). Other organizations had also endorsed the concept of FRS-1 as an unofficial emergency and call channel. Those separate initiatives have all come together to create SOS.

FRS is a short-range radio service. It is popular and inexpensive. Millions of people already have FRS units, making it ideal for neighbors who want to communicate in emergencies when phones are out. FRS may also allow people to communicate with authorities. During Katrina, FRS could have sped up the rescues tremendously, saving more lives.

Most rescue helicopters had FRS radio capability. If those below, on rooftops or at windows, had inexpensive FRS radios as well, rescuers could have evacuated the most serious cases first. If the helos had FRS radios to lower to victims the result could have been similar. Instead, rescuers were forced to rely on hand signals. It became a random effort, and some flood victims died needlessly as they awaited rescue.

September Is National Preparedness Month—And A Great Time To Learn!

Neighbors need to plan in advance. Talk up the SOS idea in your neighbourhood. Get together to plan. People need to become comfortable using FRS. Select a channel the group will use (not FRS-1, since it is for urgent calls), and conduct weekly (preferable) or monthly drills. Be sure to include blind or disabled people in the program for their safety.
 

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RADIO RESOURCES

Personal Locator Beacons Upload
GPS Positions!

by Gordon West, WB6NOA

It’s been three years and over a thousand “saves” since the personal locator beacon (PLB) was authorized by the FCC for use by the general public for land, sea, and air applications. These lightweight handheld distress beacons transmit a 25-milliwatt undulating warble on 121.5 MHz, and more important a 5-watt data burst on 406 MHz to low earth orbit (LEO) satellites and one of three geostationary satellites. These satellites are part of the search and rescue satellite-aided tracking system called COSPAS-SARSAT. Currently, there are six LEO satellites and five geostationary satellites, all listening in on 406 MHz frequencies (406.025 MHz, 406.028 MHz, and 406.037 MHz).

LEO satellites, on February 1, 2009, will turn off their simultaneous relay of received 121.5-MHz signals. More than 95 percent of 121.5-MHz high-power emergency beacon signals were false activations, and the signal itself carries no user identification.

Meanwhile, the 406-MHz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) still include a 121.5-MHz homing signal, but this signal is only 25 milliwatts and is intended specifically for local search and rescue tracking. The main 5-watt signal is a 406-MHz data burst containing your unique identification number (UIN) that would allow a rescue coordination center to access the NOAA beacon database and immediately determine the beacon’s country of origin and the registered owner along with a phone number.

The six LEO satellites monitoring the 406-MHz data burst will also begin downloading Doppler shift measurements for an approximate position of the activated 406-MHz data burst signal. While the signal is immediately detected by the geostationary satellite and transponded to a local user terminal (LUT) ground station, it takes nearly an hour of Doppler shift calculations from the LEO satellites to develop a position fix within 2.3-nautical-mile radius of the activated beacon. This is infinitely faster and more precise than an older 121.5-MHz calculated position, 12-nautical-mile radius, over a six-hour period, requiring a search area of 452-square-nautical miles!

Technology That’s Come Into Its Own

The 406-MHz calculations cut the search area dramatically. Equipment has also improved over the first issue personal locator beacons, produced by ACR Electronics in Florida and McMurdo in Europe. The personal locator beacon acceptance among skiers and hikers was modest for the first couple of years after the FCC authorized the equipment, but with the new development of built-in GPS, the PLB life-saving beacon’s popularity has exploded.

 

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THE PROPAGATION CORNER

Vast Improvements In Radio Wave Propagation!

by Tomas Hood, NW7US

Autumn is right around the corner, bringing a radical improvement in radio propagation conditions. At the end of September the sun will be directly over the equator. On the Autumnal Equinox, in the low to middle latitudes of the world, the hours of daylight are mostly equal to the hours of darkness. This results in an ionosphere of almost similar characteristics over large areas of the world, which makes for one of the two best times of the year for long DX openings between the temperate regions of the northern and southern hemispheres on all shortwave bands.

Expect a vast improvement on the higher frequencies (22 meters on up) with more frequent short-path openings from mid-September through mid-October between North America and South America, the South Pacific, South Asia, and southern Africa. The strongest openings will occur for a few hours after sunrise and during the sunset hours. Many international shortwave broadcast stations will soon change from their summer schedule to a winter schedule, taking advantage of this change in propagation.

Long-path openings also improve during the equinoctial periods. A variety of paths are opening up on 31 and 22 meters. Expect a path from southern Asia around sunset, daily morning openings from southern Asia and the Middle East, expanding to Africa. Also look for signals from the Indian Ocean region long-path over the North Pole. Afternoons will fill with South Pacific long-path, and then extend to Russia and Europe. Look for possible long-path openings on 31, 41, 49, 60, and 75 meters for an hour or so before sunrise and just before sunset.

Winter On The Horizon—Get Ready For DX!

Getting excited about shorter days might seem unusual, but for radio listening, it can’t be beat. The winter DX season is slowly approaching, making for exciting DX conditions.
 

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LOOSE CONNECTION

A Performer?

by Bill Price, N3AVY

The radio in my truck has never been what you’d call a “performer.” I’ve known since I got it that the antenna needed trimming. Trimming means adjusting the electrical length. The procedure is simple; I learned it when I was young and much smaller. In fact, I learned about trimming antennas in the ’50s, when I was a wee lad. Wee is the operative term here. I was born in 1947, so in the fifties, I fit under the dashboard of most cars pretty well. Kiester on the seat, feet up over the back of the seat, head down under the dash, flashlight and screwdriver in hand (and they were little hands at that), I could reach up there and do anything that needed doing under the dash.

My dad would tune the radio to a weak station around 1200 on the AM dial (as if there were some other kind of dial), and I would turn the trimmer screw till the signal got nice and loud, and the radio was then capable of receiving just about anything on our side of the Mississippi.

Every so often, when I see a 1953 Ford I’m tempted to stop and ask its owner if I might sit in it. I really want to see if I can still fit under the dashboard, or if indeed my girth is such that only a Kenworth or Peterbilt will accommodate me now.

The problems that I’ve always had with installing or removing car radios are with the wires. I have no problems with wires per se, but when wires are about an inch long, and back behind the opening where a radio is to be installed…well, I do have my problems.

And the radio in this truck would be one of them.

When I eventually got the radio pulled free of the dash, I found that I had pulled the wires off the back of the radio. They had been twisted on. Not twisted with wire nuts, or twisted and soldered and taped, or twisted and soldered and covered with heat shrink tubing. No, they were just twisted together and left there. And they were so short that I swear the person who twisted them had to be three inches tall and climbed up behind the radio to do the twisting.
 

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