TUNING IN

I’ve Been Workin’ On The Railroad, Sort Of

by Harold Ort, N2RLL

 

Maybe it’s the sound of that powerful locomotive, the steel on steel. Or maybe it’s the lure of the train whistle fading in the distance, whispering to our innermost desire to get onboard and ride it to the last stop.

Whatever the calling they’re answering by listening to those rail comms, gathering at that special place to take photos of passing trains and old rail equipment. Railfans, as the enamored are called, number in the thousands. Some are there gathering information on trains new, old, and unique. Still others are simply immersed in the romance of watching and waving at passing trains from a safe distance, much like in days gone by when going down to the big crossing with your family was like a mini-vacation. I remember sitting in a ’53 Chevy with my parents for hours in Fultonville, New York, watching the East/West freight trains (and even plenty of passenger trains!) make their way across upstate New York.

No doubt about it, the lure of trains for many people is so powerful that railfans can now be seen anywhere there’s a good view of the tracks, a switching yard, or overpass, usually with camera in hand and a scanner hanging from their belts. Many, I’m sure, have such a broad-based knowledge of rail operations that they’d be a tremendous asset to virtually any rail company in one capacity or another.

However, I don’t believe that railfans, regardless of their level of understanding of the safety issues or the rails themselves, are in any position to be the security eyes and ears for the industry. But the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway Company is actually “recruiting rail fans to help keep BNSF properties safe by reporting suspicious activities and to help prevent possible security breaches,” according to the company’s recent news release.

William Heileman, BNSF general director of Police and Protection Solutions, said, “Keeping America’s rail transportation network safe from crime and terrorist activity is a high priority for the railroad industry.” He continued, “Every day across the country, rail fans photograph and watch trains as they pass through communities. It seems natural to harness their interest to help keep America’s rail system safe.”

That’s okay, but only up to a point—much like those large signs on many of our nation’s interstates asking drivers to report “suspicious activity” to authorities. Trouble is, most folks need constant reminding of what constitutes a good, accurate report. Exhibit A is the REACT “CLIP” (Callsign, Location, Injuries, Problem) reminder issued to active CB operators. Fact is that many drivers wouldn’t know a mile marker from a gas company “Do Not Dig Here” sign if it hit them on the posterior.
 

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INFOCENTRAL

News, Trends, And Short Takes
Radio Caroline Back On The Air

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

 

The legendary Radio Caroline radio station is back on air after a 16-year break. Radio Caroline started broadcasting in 1964 from a ship off the coast of the United Kingdom. The station quickly attracted a loyal band of listeners and remained on the airwaves until 1990. Now the station is up and running again. Radio Caroline is accessible in the UK and Ireland via Eurobird satellite at 28.5 degrees east.

The station’s manager, Peter Moore, points out that the new Radio Caroline will be operated by many of the presenters and staff who worked on the station when it was last on the air. The new station will not initially be broadcast from sea, but the station’s management aims to do so sometime in the future. The ship MV Ross Revenge, from which the station was once transmitted, is currently undergoing restoration. For further information about the new Radio Caroline, visit its website at www.radiocaroline.co.uk.

WRN Signs Contract With Arabsat To Distribute New Arabic Language Station

Broadcasting on Arabsat’s BADR constellation of satellites at 26° East will give WRN direct reach to 130 million individuals across the entire Arab world. Audiences across the Middle East and North Africa will be tuning into a unique new Arabic language radio station that brings together programs and content from around the world, following the signing of an agreement between WRN and leading satellite operator, Arabsat.

The new radio station development by WRN, a London-based international broadcaster and transmission service provider, will bring together daily programs produced by the Arabic departments of many of the world’s leading public radio broadcasters. Listeners will be able to hear daily perspectives from Montreal with Radio Canada International, Seoul with KBS World Radio, Moscow with Voice of Russia, Bucharest with Radio Romania International, and from Vatican City with Vatican Radio. More international stations are lined up to join the new station.

Listeners may receive Sawt Al Alam from WRN by tuning to the following technical parameters:
Satellite: BADR-2 @ 26° East
Frequency: 11,661 MHz
Polarization: Vertical
FEC: 3/4
Encryption factor: 27,500 MS/s

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DXing The Failed States

Tracking Turmoil In Troubled Regions

by Gerry Dexter

 

Maybe you couldn’t quite handle Mrs. Van Meter’s ninth grade geometry class and she gave you an “F.” Or you didn’t keep your New Year’s resolutions beyond January 5. Or you neglected to call your mother last week like you promised. Baseball players, even the good ones, fail two-thirds of the time when they face a pitcher. Heck, now and then even Brett Farve failed to complete that last-second pass into the end zone that would have won the game.

Individual failure normally affects relatively few people. But when nations fail that’s something else entirely. Now we’re talking very serious stuff—disruption, turmoil, extreme poverty, starvation, environmental disaster—even violent death!

Last year the journal Foreign Policy issued the first “Failed States Index,” a list of countries they have been judged either to be failures or headed in that direction. Failed states are seen as a threat to world stability because a weak government tempts trouble, such as an invasion by a neighbor leading to war and creating thousands of refugees pouring into and placing a heavy strain on often unstable neighboring countries. Eventually these problems involve the United Nations or a regional peacekeeping force, as well as various non-governmental agencies, which can just as easily create additional chaos.

Any number of negatives can, over time, put a country on that slippery downhill path to failure. These include a government incapable of dealing with its problems, conflicts that overflow the borders of a neighboring state to create internal havoc, fractional internal politics that turn deadly, rebel armies operating within the borders, lack of an adequate military, no established justice system, widespread poverty, and general instability.

We’re going to take a look at the top 20 or so on the list of failed states (as selected by Infoplease) and give you a quick picture of the situation in each and then a look at what you can hear from them on shortwave, as well as some broadcasts aimed at the countries in question.

AFGHANISTAN—This is a familiar story. Soviet occupation brought 10 years of war and ended in Moscow’s defeat and withdrawal. The mujahidin fighters the U.S. supported as they fought the Soviets eventually spawned the Taliban, who took over and later allowed Osama bin Ladin to take up residence, which in turn led to 9/11, which then triggered the U.S. invasion and eventually the stirrings of democracy there. Even so, warlords, fiefdoms, and a flourishing drug economy remain, as do elements of the Taliban and deadly al-Qaeda detritus.
 

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HOMELAND SECURITY

Turtles: What EmComm Needs

by Rich Arland, W3OSS

 

If I said the name Cyril Rescorla, you will probably say that you have never heard of the man. Until recently, neither had I. Born on May 27, 1939, in Hayle, Cornwall, England, Cyril witnessed the ravages of the Nazi bombings of his homeland during WWII. He was so impressed with the “Yanks” who came over to his native England to fight and die for his country he vowed that some day he would be an American. Not just any American, but an American Fighting Man.

One of the few citizenship avenues open to immigrants coming to the United States is by joining our military and serving in our country’s armed forces. Enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1963, after careers in law enforcement and the British Army, Cyril became a platoon leader in the newly formed First Air Cavalry. Serving in Viet Nam in 1965 under the command of Lt. Colonel Harold (Hal) Moore, Cyril distinguished himself in the November 1965 battle in Viet Nam’s Ia Drang Valley as a professional soldier and a hard core platoon leader who held his men in high esteem. (You can read more about the battle in We Were Soldiers Once…and Young by Joe Galloway and Hal Moore.)

His take-charge leadership style resulted in his platoon sustaining minimal losses during that battle, the first large-scale engagement between the North Vietnamese Regular Army and the U.S. Army. In military parlance he was a real “hard charger.” Lt. Col. Moore, when asked about Cyril, commented that he was the best platoon leader he had ever seen. High praise from one’s commander!

Retires As A Colonel

Cyril became a U.S. citizen and remained in the U.S. Army until his retirement in 1990 at the rank of O-6, full colonel. Life after retirement from the Army was anything but dull. Cyril became chief of security for Morgan Stanley/Dean Witter in New York and took his job seriously. His military career set the stage for his becoming an outstanding security chief, always on the alert for ways to keep “his” people safe. Seeing all sorts of lapses in security at the offices of Dean Witter, Cyril worked diligently to correct them and simultaneously educate upper level management as well as the rank and file within the company to the need for tighter security at this world-renowned financial firm.

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THE POP’COMM TRIVIA CORNER

Radio Fun And Going Back In Time

by R.B. Sturtevant, AD7IL

 

Q. What effect did radio have on the entertainment industry when it first appeared on the scene?

A. The best answer comes from someone who was there. George Burns, in his memoir “Gracie: A Love Story” tells us,

The only problem was that just as we were becoming stars, vaudeville was dying. No one could pin the rap on us, though. Everyone believes it was the movies that killed vaudeville. That is not true. Movies, vaudeville, burlesque, the local stock companies all survived together.

Then the radio came in. For the first time people didn’t have to leave their homes to be entertained. The performers came into their house. Gracie and I knew that vaudeville was finished when theaters began advertising that their shows would be halted for 15 minutes so the audience could listen to “Amos & Andy.” And when the “Amos & Andy” program came on, the vaudeville would stop, they would bring a radio on stage, and the audience would sit watching radio.

It’s impossible to explain the impact that radio had on the world to anyone who didn’t live through that time. Before radio, people had to wait for the newspaper to learn what was happening in the world. Before radio, the only way to see a performer was to see a performer. And maybe most important, before radio there was no such thing as a commercial.

Radio made everyone who owned one a theater manager. They could listen to whatever they wanted to. For a lot of performers, the beginning of radio meant the end of their careers. A lot of acts couldn’t make the transition. Power’s Elephants, mimes, acrobats, seals, strippers, what could they do on the radio? What was the announcer suppose to say, the mime is now pretending to be trapped in a box? The seal caught the fish? You should see this girl without her fan? Gracie and I had the perfect act for radio. We talked.
 

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RADIO RESOURCES

A Marine VHF With A “Magic” Screen

by Gordon West, WB6NOA

 

An international procedure detailed in every VHF DSC (digital selective calling) marine radio instruction manual says that in an emergency, a boater in a life-and-death distress situation should lift the small red plastic cover of the marine radio’s distress button and hold the button in for five seconds. The distress call will contain the nine-digit MMSI (maritime mobile service identity) number identity, plus latitude and longitude of the vessel if the VHF marine radio is hooked up to a turned-on GPS receiver. Everyone with a turned-on marine VHF will see their DSC radios automatically switching to VHF Channel 16 to enable voice communications with the distress vessel.

“But a problem has been that many mariners don’t follow through with obtaining their MMSI number, nor do they hook up their marine VHF to their GPS. So, there is a new radio that can take the problem out of the GPS tie-in,” says Jason Kennedy, Western Regional Manager for Standard Horizon. Kennedy is a licensed ham, KG6JIG, who loves talking about this new marine VHF radio that has built-in GPS capabilities and a 7-inch, 256-color thin film transistor sunlight-viewable screen that’s downright “magic.”

When I tested the Standard Horizon VHF 25-watt marine radio, I found that the “magic” was to be found in all that the screen could display:

• VHF marine radio settings and controls
• Detailed C-MAP ocean and lake cartography
• Ocean and lake depth sounder/fish finder
• Automatic identification system (AIS) vessel tracking on C-MAP marine charts
• Full-screen GPS navigation
• C-map aerial photos of popular harbors
• C-map ocean and lake marina information and roads
• Automatic foghorn, intercom, and PA
 

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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.

 

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BROADCAST TECHNOLOGY

Collecting More Than Radios And Antennas

by Bruce A. Conti

 

Broadcast enthusiasts are known to collect all sorts of memorabilia, such as airchecks, old time radio programs, newsreels, antique radios, transistor radios, QSL cards, phonographs, microphones. You name it, and there’s probably an ambitious group of collectors seeking to add it to their treasure chests. Not that there’s anything wrong with that—after all, it’s part of human nature to collect things.

The Philatelic Connection

In the days before e-mail, philately, or postage stamp collecting, was a natural extension of the radio listening hobby. Carefully written reports to distant radio stations in foreign lands not only resulted in verification of reception, but the QSL card or confirmation would be accompanied by exotic postage stamps, thus inspiring an interest in philately.

The hobby itself matured in parallel with broadcasting. In fact the U.S. Postal Service established its first philatelic sales unit in 1921, while the evolution of broadcasting via experimental radio stations was underway. The popular Radex Magazine, “The all-wave radio log” monthly DX publication that tracked radio news and events through the golden age of radio, featured a philatelic column called, “The Stamp Corner” by David Brockton Browne. Here’s an excerpt from the May 1938 edition:

Continuing with our discussion of stamps that may be obtained to form a collection around the theme “Radio and Electricity,” we journey first to Egypt, the land of the pyramids where we add three stamps to our collection. Honoring the International Communications Conference, which met in Cairo, in January 1938, a set of three values were issued. The same design is used on each stamp and shows a wireless mast and aerials, telegraph wires, and the ever-popular pyramids and Sphinx.

Australia joins our growing list with two stamps released in 1936 in commemoration of the linking of Australia and Tasmania by wireless telephone. The design portrays the Goddess Aphrodite symbolically joining the cables between Australia and Tasmania...
 

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WASHINGTON BEAT

Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications

by Richard Fisher, KI6SN

 

ARRL Asks FCC To Protect 902- to 928-MHz Operations

The American Radio Relay League has asked the FCC to avoid making any changes within the 902- to 928-MHz allocation that might “adversely affect amateur radio operations there.” The League expressed concern about “further deployment of unlicensed Part 15 devices that might increase the noise floor,” according to the organization’s ARRL Letter.

“Specifically, the needs of the Amateur Service in this proceeding are increased protection of weak-signal operations in the 902–903 MHz segment,” the ARRL noted, specifying the 902.0- to 902.2-MHz and 903.0- to 903.2-MHz “weak-signal” segments.

An FCC Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) in WT Docket 06-49 sought input on encouraging the little-used Multilateration Location Monitoring Service (M-LMS), a terrestrial service for location of objects and tracking, while continuing to accommodate licensed and unlicensed uses of the 902- to 928-MHz band, the ARRL Letter said.

Federal radiolocation systems, industrial, scientific and medical devices, federal fixed and mobile systems, and the M-LMS take precedence over amateur radio in the band.

“This ‘kitchen sink’ of allocations is acceptable from ARRL’s perspective, provided that the noise floor is regulated, in terms of aggregate noise levels from unlicensed devices,” the ARRL said in its comments filed in late May. “The high power levels permitted in this band in particular bear careful watching, lest the allocated radio services, including federal systems, suffer decreased utility of the band.”

The ARRL Letter pointed out that “given that only two M-LMS licensees operate these systems that exist only in six major U.S. cities and in parts of Florida, the League asked whether present FCC rules are the obstacle to M-LMS or whether it’s been overtaken by time and GPS technology. The League urged the FCC to examine the 902–928 MHz band in its entirety.

“The Amateur Service also requires the continued use of the 903.2–928 MHz band for amateur voice, television and digital communications, coexisting with other licensed and unlicensed users of this spectrum,” the League concluded.

 

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MILITARY RADIO MONITORING ON

VHF, UHF, HF, AND SATELLITES

The Warthogs Of Idaho, Propagation Challenges, And Callsign Tips

by Tom Swisher, WA8PYR

 

Warthog? What’s a Warthog? A very capable aircraft, that’s what. Officially known as the Thunderbolt II, the A-10 (the Forward Air Control version is the OA-10) is more commonly known as the Warthog, or just plain Hog. The first U.S. Air Force aircraft designed specifically for close air support of ground troops, the A-10 was designed to respond to a request for help quickly, and also provide the capability of carrying a large weapons load. While it isn’t particularly fast, it is highly maneuverable and can linger over a target area for a very long time. Also going by the nickname Tank Buster, the A-10 can be used against all ground targets and is highly effective against motorized and armored columns.

Designed around the 30-mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun, the A-10 is capable of carrying a vast assortment of weaponry, including Maverick and Sidewinder missiles, conventional and smart bombs, mine dispensing and cluster bombs, as well as an array of countermeasure weapons and devices. It’s based at several locations around the United States.

Where’s Gowen Field?

A note from reader Harvey in Boise, Idaho (which by the way, prompted our column subject this month) tells us that his local installation is Gowen Field, is a joint military/civilian airfield, and that much activity comes from A-10 Thunderbolt II and C-130 transports based there. Other activity comes from transient tanker aircraft, which Harvey believes are from Mountain Home AFB, located about 45 miles south in Mountain Home, Idaho.

Harvey notes that he uses ICOM R2 and R3 receivers, as well as ICOM IC2800 and Yaesu VX-5R amateur transceivers. Having done the usual band-search/small segment search and found nothing other than the tower frequency, he wonders what frequencies might be in use at Gowen.

Well, Harvey, a search of MyAFD.com and AirNav.com gives the aviation information for Gowen Field shown in Table 1. Based at Gowen is the 124th Wing, which is composed of the 189th Airlift Squadron and the 190th Fighter Squadron. Other units at Gowen in support of the 190th Fighter Squadron and the 189th Airlift Squadron are:

124th Logistics Readiness Squadron
124th Maintenance Squadron
124th Maintenance Operations Flight
124th Medical Group
124th Mission Support Flight

 

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 THE PROPAGATION CORNER

YOU Can Be A Radio Pioneer With PropNET!

by Tomas Hood, NW7US

 

Have you ever considered becoming a research scientist? How about being a “radio pioneer?” That has a ring to it, doesn’t it? It’s one thing to be considered a shortwave radio listener, or perhaps a utility station monitoring operator, but it’s much more prestigious and exciting to be a radio pioneer, breaking new ground, and participating with peers in the adventure of exploring the little-known world of radio propagation and space weather.

It’s even more attractive when you realize that you could be a sought-for radio pioneer. It’s true: you would be needed in the world of radio propagation research—today. And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to be this kind of explorer and pioneer. When you’re not using your favorite receiver, and if you have a recently built computer (within the last five years), you could dedicate that equipment to the task of monitoring for radio signals from a network of participating stations for the purpose of radio signal propagation discovery.

PropNET

An automated and well-organized beacon effort has been developed on 10 meters and above. You may have heard about BeaconNET, which uses amateur radio service HF bands and packet radio to send unconnected packets as beacons for the purpose of testing the current state of propagation. When BeaconNET added the amateur frequencies in the VHF, and added the PSK31 mode (PSK stands for phase shift keying), up to 1-1/4 meters, it became known as PropNET (http://propnet.org/). PropNET uses the Internet to gather beacon data using computers, and helps not only in discovery of openings, but has helped discover details about propagation modes.

PropNET is a modern way to study, in real time, ionospheric conditions and radio signal propagation on a given radio frequency between all of the participating stations. It runs in the background on a computer and uses an idle radio. PropNET uses APRS technology via either PSK-31, known as PropNET^31, or AX.25 (Packet), known as PropNET.25.

The concept is simple. Participants embed their six-cypher grid locator in each transmission. When another PropNET participant decodes that transmission, a symbol is placed on the receiver’s computer screen. This symbol corresponds to the transmitting station’s exact location on a map. If the band is “open,” a symbol appears. If it is not, then no symbol appears. This is much like APRS, but for propagation openings. At predetermined intervals, each participating station’s “captures” are uploaded to a central database, known as LiveX. The LiveX server then allows for an Internet interface, which includes up-to-the-hour maps.
 

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POWER UP: RADIOS & HIGH-TECH GEAR

New, Interesting, And Useful Communications Products

by Harold Ort, N2RLL

 

Uniden’s APCO P-25 Digital Card

The Bci25D Card enables you to monitor APCO Project 25 Systems (a modulation process where voice comms are converted into digital communications; the conversion is similar to the technology used with digital mobile phones). When the card is installed into either the Uniden BC785D or BC250D, it converts digital voice comms into analog, allowing you to monitor conversations.

Uniden says, "Uniden’s P-25 solution allows you to monitor conventional P-25 digital voice, trunked with analog control channel (3600 Baud) and P-25 digital voice and mixed-mode analog control channel (3600 Baud) with mixed analog and P-25 digital voice."

Uniden offers the simple installation/instruction manual online with illustrations for both scanners. You can obtain more information at www.scanner.uniden.com or by calling Uniden directly at 800-554-3988 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday. No price was available at press time.

MFJ’s New Antenna/Transceiver Switch

The new MFJ-4726, priced at $159.95, is a six-position antenna/transceiver switch that, when placed on your desk or out of the way under your desk or in another room, can be used as a remote control. You can select one of six antennas and one of six transceivers in any combination with just two easy-to-use rotary switches. Plug in an antenna tuner or SWR/wattmeter into its common ports, so it’s always connected to the antenna and selected radio. All unused inputs are grounded on the MFJ-4726. When the rotary switches are in the OFF position, all inputs are grounded. This product is for indoor use only as it’s not weather-protected.

For more information or to order, get a free catalog, or for your nearest dealer, contact the company at MFJ, 300 Industrial Park Road, Starkville, MS 39759; Phone: 800-647-1800; Web: www.mfjenterprises.com.
 

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HAM DISCOVERIES

Horizontal Loops—The Fact-Based Truth

 by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ

 

Ever watch the classic Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day? The one where Murray’s character keeps living the same day over and over again, well beyond the point of déjà vu? Well, the same thing keeps happening to me when it comes to loop antennas. It’s not as severe as the movie, but every now and again I wonder whether I’m living the same day over and over again!

This particular scene—which has happened before in exactly the same setting—started at a Saturday morning ham breakfast. I had just moved to a new town in southeastern Minnesota and was a newcomer to the get-together. The topics? Eggs, bacon, and antennas, of course.

A couple of the guys were talking multiband HF antennas, which is a perennial favorite that also happens to be a subject rife with misconceptions, science fiction, and downright BS! I pretty much held my tongue until the two started dissing my secret weapon: the horizontal loop.

For reasons I can’t imagine, these guys loved verticals and poo-pooed the horizontal loop, citing the usual “high angle of radiation” and “good for nothing except burning holes through overhead clouds” kinda talk that I’ve heard so many times before.

Considering the rocky, gravelly, sandy soil down here (and near total lack of water), I’m wondering how conventional vertical antennas—without elevated radials—work at all!

Now, I’ve babbled about horizontal loops before, and because of my erstwhile breakfast partners, I’m gonna do it again, for their sakes and yours. Conventional wisdom aside, horizontal loop antennas work amazingly well on all bands above their fundamental frequencies (unlike most other designs), are simple to erect, and forgiving in every way. Everyone I’ve ever known who has bothered to use one has been a believer, and a few have even scrapped their steerable beams after experimenting with decent-sized loops.

The bottom line is this: antenna performance is what ham radio is all about. Say what you will about one facet of the hobby or another. Or talk up one radio, gadget, or doo-hickey. But the whole works—high power or low—pretty much hangs on getting out a signal. And you can’t do that unless you have a decent antenna. Contrary to popular belief, there’s no extra merit in suffering with a crappy antenna!
 

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THE WIRELESS CONNECTION

Wrapping Up The Majestic 90 Restoration

by Peter J. Bertini

 

It’s been a long road, and it’s time to wrap up the lose ends on our Majestic 90 restoration. For those of you just joining us, this mini-epic started in our April column. As you’ve seen so far, restoring an early AC operated set from the late 1920s can be a real challenge, both electrically and mechanically! Hopefully this short series has inspired some of you to take on similar challenges, and if it has, please share your experiences with us.

Aligning The Majestic 90 Radio

By the end of the 1920s there were at least four popular circuits in common use, not including crystal sets. The early inexpensive designs incorporated Armstrong’s regenerative detector. These were simple battery-powered sets, using between one and three tubes, and ruled supreme until the mid-’20s, when technical advances and reduced costs made more advanced sets affordable for the average consumer. The reflex set used dual-function tube stages that amplified both audio and RF signals. While this reduced the tube count, it did so at the cost of circuit complexity, increased part counts, and the sets also had inherent limitations issues that limited performance.

While popular with homebrewers—those enterprising folks who would go to the local parts emporium and buy parts to build their own sets—few reflexes were commercially marketed. Although superhets were available in the mid-’20s, RCA’s rigid lock on the patent rights limited competition and kept the TRF (tuned radio frequency) design alive for many years! The radio that featured AGC was Philco’s model 95 in 1929.

A good TRF design can work surprisingly well. The amount of audio produced by the two push-pull #45 triode power tubes in the Majestic 90 is awesome!
 

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SCANTECH

Scanner Features: What You Think You Want,

You Might Not Need. But Then Again…

by Ken Reiss

 

Last month we talked about buying a handheld scanner, and now with the holiday season fast approaching many of you might be in that position soon. One of the things that always amazes me is how different scanner manufacturers emphasize different “features” of this scanner or that. Some of them are truly worth emphasis, but others are almost non-features.

A few years back, the top-of-the-line scanner wouldn’t have had some of the features that we expect on entry models today. As time goes on, we’ve come to expect more standard features and it becomes harder to differentiate one model from another, both for the manufacturer and the buyer. It certainly can be confusing trying to sort through all the catalogs and literature, particularly when different manufacturers have different names for similar functions. If you’re trying to upgrade your scanner, you might be wondering if you need a particular feature or not. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the more common scanner doo-dads and what they do. Then you can decide if they’re worth paying for or not.

First, The Basics

Volume and squelch are pretty much standard equipment, so there’s not much to discuss there. Just in case Harold’s reading closely, however, we’d better take a second to explain their function. Volume controls how much you annoy other members of the household, and squelch controls how much the radio annoys you. Set them both at a comfortable level, but not too high, and have fun.

Classes Of Scanners

It’s useful to divide scanners into classes so that you can be sure you’re making fair comparisons. At a minimum, I’d lump things into three groups: 1) portables (radios with their own power source, like batteries); 2) base/mobile (at one time these were separate); and 3) communications receivers (whose primary function isn’t scanning, but receiving the best signal they can).
 

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COMPUTER–ASSISTED RADIO MONITORING

Digital Sampling Technology:What It All Means To You

by Joe Cooper

 

Over the past few months, I’ve outlined the history of digital sampling as it relates to digital signal processing (DSP) technology used in much of today’s technology. While it may be hard to believe, your digital cell phone, CD player, personal computer, and software-defined radio all owe their existence to the invention of telegraphy. That’s right—today’s digital revolution actually began with the electrical transmission of Morse code signals in the early 19th Century.

I also showed in the recent series of columns that by the beginning of the 20th Century analog technology was seen by the engineering community as having reached its practical limits and was declared obsolete by the early 1930s. This is not that surprising as scientists, mathematicians, and engineers had been working hard throughout the 1920s to perfect a new digital method of communication.
The problem with analog is simple: it contains too much noise to be truly useful in professional communications. However, analog technology is easy to create and easy to manufacture, as illustrated by Edison’s wax cylinder phonograph or crystal radio sets. Understandably, early amateur radio experimenters used inexpensive off-the-shelf analog components, such as telephone microphones and headsets, to create their first radios.

Because of the novelty of the new forms of media, the public generally overlooked the static and electrical noise that they heard in their headphones and loud speakers. In fact, our own hobby of radio monitoring began with people in the 1920s making a game of “digging out” radio signals that were “buried” in that static and noise. The reward for that game came when people began to log their “captured” stations and received confirmation of their reception in the form of letters or QSL cards.

 

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UTILITY COMMUNICATIONS DIGEST

Monitoring The DHS, Time Signals, And More

by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ

 

By now most of us are all-too familiar with the events that transpired on September 11, 2001, when four commercial airliners hijacked by terrorists crashed into the World Trade center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, killing nearly 3,000 people in a few hours. The effects of these acts were far-reaching, and the results continue even as I write this column. However, one major effect that the attacks of 9/11 had was the establishment of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the largest reorganization of the U.S. government in over 50 years, since the Department of Defense, or DOD, was created in 1949.

The initial roots of the DHS sprouted on September 20, 2001, when President Bush announced the establishment of an Office of Homeland Security (OHS), with former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge taking up the duties of OHS director on October 8 of that year. DHS is a cabinet-level department of the federal government that was created from 22 existing federal agencies in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, established on November 25, 2002, and activated on January 24, 2003, with the OHS being merged into the new department and Ridge being named secretary.

However, most of the new department’s component agencies were not transferred into the new DHS until March 1, 2003.

Among the component agencies that make up the current DHS are several that are familiar to shortwave utility station enthusiasts as favorite listening targets. For example, in last month’s column, we examined FEMA and the Coast Guard with an eye on the HF activities of these two agencies as they pertain to hurricanes and disaster response. The frequencies we published last month for FEMA should be retained in your records because, should another act of terrorism create a situation that overwhelms local authorities, FEMA would be the agency responsible for coordinating the federal response.

 

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GLOBAL INFORMATION GUIDE

Mark Your Calendar—

Radio St. Helena Tests On SW On November 4!

by Gerry L. Dexter

 

Here’s some really good news for a change. It looks like those great Radio St. Helena special test broadcasts are coming back! DXer Robert Kipp has been spearheading project “Revive SH Day,” aimed at providing equipment to Radio St. Helena to replace what became unavailable to them a couple of years ago. As these words go down we can tell you that a transmitter, antenna, tower and other needed items are on their way to the island. Mr. Kipp will be going to St. Helena to oversee construction. The magic day is set for November 4.

As in the past, the station will use 1 kW on 11092.5 USB. The exact schedule isn’t set yet, but you can check www.sthelena.se/radioproject closer to the date.

A second broadcast is planned for November 5 from around 0800 for Japan and New Zealand. Even though the project is quite far along there’s still the matter of paying the bills. DXers are being asked to help out. You can do just that by going to the above website and clicking on “donations.” So do what you can to help and don’t forget to listen for the special on November 4!

Radio Finland Nearly “Finnished!”

It’s time to get out the black border again. We have to report on another shortwave broadcaster’s “pre-obituary.” This time it’s YLE/Radio Finland International getting ready to cash in its chips. Come the end of this year they’ll no longer broadcast on shortwave, but will focus instead on serving Finns abroad via other means, especially the oh-so-cool broadcasting via the Web. Have you noticed how many of these give-ups occur in tired old Europe? So now YLE is about to be “Finnished!” Truly a sad and unfortunate state of affairs!

 

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LOOSE CONNECTION

Let’s Go Camping

by Bill Price, N3AVY

 

Back when Norm and I lived in New England we had spent most of our summer weekends working on “the bus,” which was to Norm what Alaska was to Seward, and we thought we deserved a vacation. We had different ideas of what a vacation would be. I had visions of Norm taking his overworked bus mechanic—me—for a week at a nice waterfront resort somewhere as the season drew to a close; Norm’s plans involved spending less money.

There’s nothing wrong with a nice little campsite in a state park with tile showers and a lake nearby. “But Old Man,” he said to me, “those places cost 20 bucks a night for a campsite.” A friend has a nice patch of woods a hundred miles north of here, and it’s free! That was a word I soon learned to take as a warning sign.
“It’s on a lake. We can fish right from the campsite. You can even take your guns; we’ll be so far away from anyone that you can shoot up all the tin cans you want and no one will even hear you.”

He did find a way to my heart there. I am an inveterate plinker. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big revolver or a little .22 pistol, I can just shoot for hours. And where we lived, it was hard to find a place to shoot. He had me, and he knew it.

We would also set up my Ten-Tec CW rig running off 12 volts and throw a wire over some branches. Ham radio, guns, and camping. And food. Norm’s station wagon was a safe place to keep a cooler filled with food—simple food like steaks, eggs, eggs, steaks, and maybe some coffee.

 

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