Life In A Cocoon—“It Can’t Happen Here”
by Harold Ort, N2RLL
We’re now seven years into the 21st Century, so it seems like a good time to take “inventory.” I don’t mean a physical count of our personal goodies, radios and the like, but our mindset, specifically how we position ourselves as radio-loving Americans. To do that requires that we look at where we’ve come in the past few years. For me personally, the defining moment for much of our radio hobby was 9/11/2001.
I’ve mentioned this before in these pages, but as I turn the calendar to another year, I get that nagging gut feeling that we’ve got a lot of work to do. Less than two months after 9/11 I was on one of my regular PR “Let’s talk about radio and Pop’Comm” road trips to the wilds of Vermont. I like Vermont. No, actually I love Vermont (except, of course, the winters, which probably even Vermonters don’t like).
And I suppose the Bennington area of the state where I was headed, only about a four-hour drive from lower Manhattan, is really no different than a similar friendly town in the middle of Wisconsin or Montana—other than the relative distance from the epicenter of 9/11, which I learned back then means a lot more to many people than most of us want to talk about. Distance, I find, has much to do with how much folks actually believe there’s truth to the “it can’t happen here” syndrome. Truth is, “it” can happen anywhere.
I don’t mind talking about it, frankly because I think talking about such things is not only patriotic, but vital to what should be a two-way flow of information among the public, the government, and the media—a dialogue of sorts. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Lately, though, I wonder.
So, less than two scant months post-9/11 I visited a radio station Up North, talking, as I have many times, about all the great things radio in all its forms has to offer: staying in touch around town, monitoring the cops and firefighters and aircraft, listening to international broadcasters, getting on the air with ham radio or FRS/GMRS and CB, and just having fun—and staying safe in our “new world” with radio.
It was a very provocative exchange of
thoughts, ideas, and yes, shameless free promotion for our magazine. Yet,
interestingly, what works for one media in Grassroots America, doesn’t
always work for another, even given the fact that collectively our country
was most certainly still reeling from the events of 9/11.
News, Trends, And Short Takes Radio Sweden Adds Extra Swedish Transmissions To Middle East
by Harold Ort, N2RLL, Editor, and D. Prabakaran
Because of the continuing crisis in the Middle
East, Radio Sweden is adding two extra transmissions for Swedish listeners
in the region. The domestic service half-hour news program, “Lunchekot,”
is being relayed daily at 1030 UTC on 9490 and 21810 kHz. The Radio Sweden
broadcast at 1200 UTC is also being broadcast to the region on 21810 kHz.
UK media regulator Ofcom has proposed legalizing the use of low-power FM transmitters that can be used to connect MP3 players and other personal audio devices wirelessly to radios and in-car entertainment systems. Ofcom points out that simple and low-cost wireless devices are commonly used in other countries to enable people to listen to music transmitted from an MP3 player or other audio device to radios in the home or while mobile.
Currently, low-power FM radio transmitters for MP3 players are unauthorized for use in the UK and Europe because of the potential to cause interference to broadcast services. Ofcom has also proposed deregulating Citizens’ Band services, allowing around 20,000 licensees to use short-range transmitters for hobby and leisure purposes without the administrative and cost burden of an Ofcom license. Ofcom says the deregulation of Citizens’ Band services could also support the growth of Community Audio Distribution Systems (CADS), simple and inexpensive wireless public address systems that are used to transmit information on local community services.
Ofcom’s proposals also include making more
spectrum available to meet consumer demand for other low-power devices,
such as hearing aids, alarms systems, tracking and tracing systems, and
meter reading devices. Under the proposals these will be able to operate
from 169.4 to 169.8125 MHz.
Vital Alert Technologies, Inc., has signed two
exclusive license agreements with the Los Alamos National Laboratory for
Underground Radio, a technology that will provide “Through-the-Earth
Communication” (two-way voice and text) for first responders, rescue and
security teams, underground miners, and the public for use in critical
emergency situations around the world. Underground Radio, originally
developed by Los Alamos for the Department of Energy, is being
commercialized by Vital Alert Technologies for use by emergency rescue
crews in urban centers and by the mining industry.
Monitoring Severe Winter Storm Events
Preparedness Is The Key To Monitoring Success
By John Kasupski, KC2HMZ
This month’s issue hits the newsstands—and our subscribers’ mailboxes—with the Northern Hemisphere in the midst of winter. For many of us, this brings with it the prospect of severe winter storms and the problems such events inevitably bestow upon us human beings. Many of the difficulties are mere inconveniences, such as poor visibility, lengthy travel delays, and closing of schools and businesses. Unfortunately, however, some of effects go far beyond the realm of simple inconvenience and can very serious, including power outages, damage to buildings and homes, and in the worst winter storms, loss of human life.
Coping with severe winter weather events is always a learning experience. Every time you survive one, you learn something new. As this issue goes to press, for example, I’ve just learned that when you live in or around Buffalo, New York, it doesn’t even have to be quite winter for a severe winter storm to plunge parts of four western New York counties into a state of emergency.
On Friday, October 13, 2006, a tricky blend of climate conditions brought us almost two feet of heavy, wet snow over a period of less than 24 hours. Since all the trees around here still have nearly all their leaves intact at that time of year, the combined weight of wet leaves and record snowfall resulted in major damage to trees, which brought down power lines, as branches snapped off and fell, and even entire trees. There has been widespread damage to the power grid, and at least three deaths were blamed on the storm.
As I write this article FEMA is in town to
determine if a federal disaster declaration should be issued. The National
Guard is hitting town to assist in the cleanup of 30 million tons of
debris from local streets. Hundreds of thousands of area residents are
facing their fifth cold night without heat and electricity.
Fortunately for me, as a ham operator who’s
also an ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service)/RACES (Radio Amateur Civil
Emergency Service) member and a Red Cross volunteer, I make it a point to
make sure that I and my equipment are ready when something like this
happens. For example, I already had half a tank of gas in my van, and I
filled it up as soon as it became evident there was going to be a problem.
Don’t wait and learn this lesson the hard way. Once the power goes out,
many gas stations will no longer have electricity to run their pumps, and
when you try to get gas, you’ll have a hard time finding a gas station
that both has power to stay open and still has gas left to sell you! So
drive on the top half of the tank, and fill it up at the first sign of
How You Can Be Part Of A Future DX Test!
by Bruce A. Conti
Are you prepared for a DX test? No, it’s not a
pop quiz to test your knowledge of long-distance radio reception. It’s a
test of just how far an AM broadcast radio signal can reach. Read on to
learn how you can become an active participant in a future DX test.
During the early days of radio, every listener was in essence a DXer, carefully tickling crystal receivers and regenerative tube sets to pull in signals out of the ether from hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. Radio stations were genuinely interested in how far signals would carry, and often aired “DX specials” to solicit responses from the most distant listeners. Through the 1920s and ’30s as more and more radio stations were signing on for the first time each would conduct initial DX tests, or “fidelity tests,” to measure coverage area. Fledgling groups of enthusiasts like the Newark News Radio Club and the National Radio Club became an integral part of the equation in those days. Each club established its own “Courtesy Programs Committee” to assist radio stations with the arrangement of DX specials, while promoting the programs in club bulletins, magazines, and newspapers.
By the 1930s and into the ’40s, the DX test became a popular pastime, with several tests scheduled on any given night during the FCC-defined “experimental hours” between midnight and 5 a.m. The overnight DX program was indeed a big event as most radio stations weren’t capable of operating 24 hours a day like they do today. Some DX programs included elaborate live performances and even offered prizes to attract listeners. In addition to DX tests, the FCC began to require regular frequency checks to monitor compliance with technical standards. The clubs published frequency checklists to inform DXers when radio stations would be testing.
Then World War II abruptly interrupted special
DX programs and frequency checks. During the war many radio stations
instituted around-the-clock operation to better serve the public with the
latest news and information, thus marking the end of the glory days of DX
programs on the AM broadcast band. The incidence of DX tests has been in a
slow but steady decline ever since. Although FCC frequency checks
continued through the ’70s, the monitoring of radio station technical
parameters was eventually replaced by computer automation, rendering
manual maintenance checks obsolete.
THE PROPAGATION CORNER
A New Year’s Resolution—
by Tomas Hood, NW7US
As we start out the New Year of 2007, some of us make a feeble attempt at setting resolutions, and with just a small ounce of resolve to actually make the change we half-heartedly announce. It’s become a well-worn, yet fun, custom that all of us who’ve survived yet another year will confess with one another the things we want to change about ourselves and our lives. We want to end old habits, start a new hobby, and gain better health.
Some of us actually accomplish our lofty goals during the course of the year. Year after year, this cycle repeats itself. We resolve, we try, we look back (with regret or with pride), and then we do it again with the next New Year.
The sun has its cycles, too. One of the best
known of these cycles is the approximately 11-year cycle during which the
sun changes in its level of “activity.” Over the course of hundreds of
years, solar observers have defined a solar cycle based on the monthly
average of a daily sunspot count. At the start of a typical sunspot cycle,
there are very few sunspots observed. This is known as the solar minimum.
The solar maximum is the period of months when the number of sunspots
reaches the peak of the cycle.
This year, 2007, marks the transition between the last solar cycle, Cycle 23, and the new cycle that might have already begun, Cycle 24. This period is marked by very few sunspots, and the result is the continuing doldrums we’re experiencing on most of the shortwave radio spectrum. Of course, the lower shortwave frequencies and the mediumwave (MW) spectrum tend to be more useful during the solar minimum. Nevertheless, many shortwave and amateur radio operators long for the more active period of the solar cycle, because the increased solar activity causes the higher shortwave frequencies to become much more active.
A Photographic History Of Scanning—Part I
by Ken Reiss
With that in mind, I thought it worthwhile to run the topic again. Once I started shooting pictures, however, I quickly realized that there’s more material here than can fit into a typical column. So here’s the first part of “A Photographic History of Scanning,” and we’ll follow up with Part II soon.
Have a great New Year, and let me know what you’re hearing! We’ll have our Frequency of the Month report next month.
Here’s an early VHF receiver. All tubes, of course, and no squelch! No scanning either. Pick a frequency and listen. This one is probably 1950s vintage, but the “scanner” didn’t come along until the late 1960s. It was really the CB radio craze as much as anything else that drove scanning and shortwave listening forward in the 1970s.
This was a portable tuner from 1976. It was a good way to get started in the public safety listening area. Scanners were available, but expensive, and frequency coverage was often limited. A tunable let you hear it all, just not at the same time. This one included the UHF band from 450 to 512 MHz, its present limits.
Alinco’s DJ-V17T Handheld 2-Meter Transceiver
by Harold Ort, N2RLL, Editor
So many of today’s tiny ham transceivers have outstanding features that were only on our radio “wish lists” just a few years ago. It’s no wonder that today many hams program not only local repeater frequencies in these new radios, but also public safety, marine, media and business frequencies, frequently using the transceiver as a back-up scanner. That’s primarily how I’ve been using the new Alinco DJ-V17T for the past few months. And its extended receive, from 130 to 173.995 MHz, sure does make it great for monitoring!
The DJ-V17T is one of the new breed of single-band 2-meter amateur transceivers that does what it’s designed to do—transmit and receive in the 2-meter band—very well. It’s billed as a “Tough Talker” by Alinco, and in our talking tests, it lived up to that claim with flying colors. It offers two user-selectable power settings, high and low (5 watts or 0.8 watts), and the transceiver will “remember” your selected power setting until you turn it off. If you want to change it when turning the unit back on, it’s simply a matter of a couple of key presses. I found that the low-power setting was quite adequate most of the time.
Make no mistake, it’s certainly not a scanner in the strict sense of the word. But if you’ve got one scanner already monitoring local public safety channels, you may want to devote the DJ-V17T to monitoring—and storing in its 200 memories—a couple of local ham repeater frequencies and a whole load of nice-to-have-ready frequencies. And you can even name the memory channels with up to seven alphanumeric characters, say something like “PD Main,” or “NOAA,” or perhaps “FireOne”—you get the idea.
However you look at it, the fact that you can plug railroad, medical, and other frequencies of interest in to a great ham transceiver, and give each of up to 200 frequencies a name, is certainly worth the typical $139 street price of the DJ-V17T.
Alinco has also gone a few steps further with
this handheld, though, making it waterproof down to three feet for 30
minutes, provided you keep the two small rubber covers properly closed.
There’s nothing more annoying than a small
radio—make that any radio—with poor audio. Like they say in New York,
fuggedabout, because the DJ-V17T’s loud, crisp audio will blow you away.
It did me, so much so that when I use this handheld in our car I don’t
need an external speaker! And believe me, for many of us older radio nuts,
the hearing isn’t half what it used to be! Louder audio certainly helps.
THE POP’COMM TRIVIA CORNER
Radio Fun And Going Back In Time
by R.B. Sturtevant, AD7IL
Q. How far back does communications law go?
A. I’m not exactly sure about “law,” per se, but one early form of regulation was instituted by Queen Elizabeth I of England. In about 1560 she got worried about spies sending secret information out of England by putting messages into bottles and throwing them into the sea. She passed a law that said if anyone found a bottle with a message in it, afloat or ashore, opening the bottle and reading the message was an offense against the Realm and could result in hanging. To be in compliance with English Law you had to turn the unopened bottle over to an official known as “Opener of Sea Bottles.”
After nearly 200 years, in 1760 Parliament finally struck down the Queen’s Law and retired the title of “Opener of Sea Bottles.” So if you find a message in a bottle today in the UK it’s alright to open it yourself—but, just to be safe, check with local authorities.
The one thing my source didn’t mention was how
many “Opener of Sea Bottles” there had been and if their work load was
very heavy. I wonder if there was a civil service test?
A. Despite what you may read or see on TV, Interpol, short for International Police Organization, does not have international police powers. Started in 1914, it is primarily a repository of international criminal records and communicates this information between its 182 member states.
Originally the information was distributed by telegraph, but in 1935 an International Radio Network was initiated for Interpol members. Interpol collapsed during the Second World War, but in 1946 France was selected as the host country for Interpol, partly because of superior communications facilities. In 1949 the International Radio Communications Regulations were adopted as part of Interpol’s General Regulations, thereby standardizing radio procedures.
In 1990 the X.400 Communications System was started to allow two-way exchange of electronic messages. In 1992 the X.400 system was expanded to include its Automatic Search Facility, allowing remote searches of Interpol databases. In 2002 the I-24/7 Web system replaced the obsolete X.400.
How Safe Are YOU?
by Rich Arland, W3OSS
This month marks the fifth year I have written the “Homeland Security” column for Popular Communications magazine. In that time we’ve covered a lot of topics, I’ve met some tremendous people, received some very interesting and sometimes constructive e-mails, and had a lot of fun. But I digress.
The month of September saw every media news agency airing some form of documentary regarding the events of September 11, 2001. Depending upon their political orientation (yeah, right…just try and convince me that the various news agencies don’t have agendas!) you got a different spin on the events, what actually caused them, and the present state of readiness and safety of the United States. Ted Koppel had a three-hour special that aired on cable, NBC, CBS, and ABC. All the networks had other programs about the 9/11 debacle, as did CNN and others.
So exactly how “safe” are we in America? If you believe Koppel we’ve made some progress but are a long way from “safe.” If you watched CNN or Fox News, you got two different views: both based upon their political leanings: pro and con on the Bush Government. We must go through Orwellian security checks when we fly nowadays. Check the shoes, check the carry-on baggage, X-ray the hold baggage, throw away any liquids, no nail clippers, or Bowie knives, and the list goes on.
What are my personal feelings regarding how safe we are in the United States? We aren’t! It’s that simple. While the government has implemented some really strict security guidelines on mass transportation and border security has been stepped up, it will not take our enemy, the radical Islamic fundamentalists, long to find ways around our efforts.
If history teaches us one thing it’s that
people with a cause, properly motivated and equipped, can accomplish
almost anything they can conceive. It was only just over 200 years ago
that a bunch of “colonials,” using what could be interpreted as “terrorist
tactics,” challenged and won their independence from the King of England.
More recently, the Israelis achieved their goal of a Jewish state in the
Middle East in the midst of a whole bunch of Arab states. It wasn’t easy,
nor was it neat and tidy. Lots of people died, but in the end, the State
of Israel was established.
Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications
by Richard Fisher, KI6SN
A new bureau, tasked with developing, recommending, and administering public safety communications, was launched by the FCC in September, authorities said.
The Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau will address communications issues including 911 and E911, operability and interoperability of public safety communications, communications infrastructure protection, and network security and reliability. The Commission said the new bureau also “will act as a clearinghouse for public safety communications information and take the lead on emergency response issues.”
After the announcement, the Association of
Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International pledged its
support of the new office. “APCO International congratulates the
commission on the creation of the new Public Safety and Homeland Security
Bureau, which should lead to effective and efficient consideration of
public safety communications matters,” APCO International President Wanda
McCarley said. “We look forward to working closely with the new bureau.”
Jack Gerritsen, a 70-year-old Los Angeles-area resident convicted of willful and malicious radio interference and operating without a license, has been sentenced to seven years imprisonment and more than $15,000 in fines following his trial in U.S. District Court.
“I’m sorry, and I apologize to everyone here,” Gerritsen said in the courtroom, according to published reports. The sentencing took place September 18. It took a jury less than an hour to return its verdict on December 9 of last year. Gerritsen could have received up to 15 years in federal prison.
“How many times have you said you would not do
this again?’ Judge R. Gary Klausner asked Gerritsen, according to the
American Radio Relay League’s website. “But based on your history, you
come back again and again for this. I believe you will continue to do it,
and it would send the wrong message to others, that five years is not long
GLOBAL INFORMATION GUIDE
New Iranian SW Station,
by Gerry L. Dexter
A new Iranian opposition station has taken to the air. Radio Zalmaneh, which has been on shortwave since early September and is intended to appeal to Iranian youth, is using 6245 in Farsi daily to 2100. The station is based in Amsterdam, but as yet the transmitter site is uncertain, although Russia seems a possibility. When first noted, Radio Zalmaneh was being heard in the Eastern Time Zone at good to excellent levels.
It may be that one of these months we’ll be enjoying somewhat better reception of Radio Nepal. Japan has given the Nepalese government more than $8 million for improvements to its medium and shortwave broadcasting facilities. As things stand today, DXers here rarely hear Radio Nepal. It’s currently most likely to be found on 5005 in the early morning, supposedly using 100 kW.
The Voice of America has added another program service, this one aimed at the largely lawless Pakistan-Afghanistan border area. Called “VOA Deewa” (meaning “light”), at the moment it consists of an hour-long newscast and special features in the Pashto language. Eventually the broadcasts will expand to six hours per day. At its outset VOA Deewa was scheduled from 1300 to 1400 on 11510 via Sri Lanka (Iranawila) and 15645 via Briech, Morocco. The VOA Deewa website is www.voadeewaradio.com.
If long-silent WRNO ever returns to the air it will be with a more defined mission. The station, now owned by Good News World Outreach of Arlington, Texas, plans to beam Christian programming to the Middle East in the hope of converting Muslims. We keep seeing reports that the repairs are about done and the station is nearly ready for reactivation. But somehow nothing has jelled so we assume that there’s quite a way to go before they fire up the transmitter for real. No schedule or frequency has been announced yet.
International programming from Radio Canada
International was to have been completely revamped for the B06 season now
underway. Most of the regularly featured programs were cancelled but, as
of this writing, no announcement had been made as to what the new program
line-up will include.
Most Hams Happy With New Rules—
by Gordon West, WB6NOA
Amateur radio operators holding high-frequency privileges with a General, Advanced, or Extra class license are relatively happy with the recent FCC Report and Order on WT Docket 04-140.
“On behalf of the ARRL, and the Commission’s licensees in the Amateur Radio Service, I want to express appreciation for your release of this Report and Order,” said ARRL president, Joel Harrison, W5ZN. He continued, “…this proceeding will assist the Amateur Radio Service in meeting its objectives, particularly with regard to providing emergency and public service communications.” The rules will likely take effect as you’re reading this month’s column.
Technician Class ham operators were hoping the FCC would concurrently announce the elimination of the five-word-per-minute code test for General class privileges. This is coming soon in WT Docket 05-235, likely to take effect July 1, 2007, when new revised General class written exam questions hit town. So stay tuned, Technician class operators, because the required code test may soon be dropped.
And for you seasoned hams who love Morse code—as I do—you should understand that the elimination of the General class code test will bring new hams onto the worldwide airwaves who will soon have a better appreciation of the importance of Morse code. CW will always be a part of ham radio legacy, even though a code test may no longer be required.
For General class and higher ham operators, the new rules will expand 75/80-meter, 40-meter, and 15-meter voice allocations for additional voice elbow room on these important ham radio bands. Ham operators using important digital modes may need to change frequencies downward (it’s always a hassle to reestablish a specific digital spot for a certain type of digital emission).
Novice and Tech Plus CW operators now have added frequencies in the CW subbands on 80, 40, 15, and 10 meters.
New FCC rules on the vanity callsign filings will give everyone a fairer shot at obtaining a specific vanity callsign. Also, ham operators may designate a specific amateur radio club to receive their callsign in memoriam.
Clandestine Radio 101
by Kirk Kleinschmidt
You may have noticed that I’ve been doing a lot of grousing in the column lately about the fact that my new digs are, shall I say, less than perfect when it comes to operating ease? I’ve still had no luck with the townhouse association’s bylaws concerning flagpoles. I haven’t given up searching for a loophole, but if I don’t succeed soon, I’ll have to wait until spring anyway. Digging dirt in a Minnesota winter takes more motivation than even I can muster!
A recent test-run confirmed that I can successfully load up the 4-plex’s big aluminum downspouts—a real no-brainer for my trusty SG-237 autocoupler—but installing a decent RF ground may have to wait until the immediate neighbors move out at the end of the month! And, despite the relative ease afforded by the use of the SG-237, I’m reluctant to run more than a few watts with the downspout “antenna elements” so close to everyone’s bedrooms (with TVs, stereos, etc.).
I’m certainly not alone in my plight. Several
have written to me over the past few months, offering encouragement and
sharing the pain. It’s a fact: A lot of hams who are stuck in apartments
or deed-restricted dwellings want to get on HF, get out a usable signal,
and do so without alerting the neighbors that they’re on the air. If
you’re in the same boat, here are a few tips to get your “clandestine”
When operating indoors, low-power operation is strongly encouraged. Potential interference is minimized, as is your exposure to nearby RF energy fields. I, and many other stealth-mode ops, have had success running only 5 watts to various indoor (or “just a few inches outdoors”) antennas. Besides, if you run more than about 50 watts output, you’re asking for big trouble.
Fifty watts indoors will likely couple into the AC power mains and dim everyone’s lights in time to your Morse code or speech modulation, not to mention messing with TV sets, A/V equipment, and electric blankets (who knew?). The reduction in power will only make you a better operator—a bitter pill, perhaps, but true nonetheless!
Because apartments and condos are often
several stories up in the air, away from dependable RF grounds, an
alternative grounding technique is often needed for HF operation. An
effective substitute “RF ground” can be obtained by using a counterpoise.
Simply connect a quarter-wavelength piece of insulated wire to the ground
terminal of your transceiver (one for each band of operation) and run the
counterpoise wire(s) along the floor moldings, out of the way. Make sure
the far end of each counterpoise wire is insulated (wrapped with
electrical tape). Hint: Counterpoise wires for 80 meters may be
unmanageable in small spaces!
MILITARY RADIO MONITORING ON VHF, UHF, HF, AND
by Tom Swisher, WA8PYR
And now for something completely different this month. From time to time, we’re going to deviate slightly from the normal format of this column and present a profile of a military facility of the United States. We’ll begin with the Army.
The United States Army is made up of many
branches that our readers may, or may not, be familiar with, including (to
name just two) the Signal Corps and the Medical Service Corps. At the
forefront of the Army, however, are the combat branches: Armor, Aviation,
Infantry, Field Artillery, Air Defense Artillery, and the Corps of
Engineers. Each of the combat branches has a facility considered the home
of that branch. These are:
Of the various combat arms, Aviation was not
considered as a separate combat branch of the U.S. Army until 1983. This
recognition came after many years of studies and discussions as to the
need for aviation to even be a separate branch. So, as the home of the
newest of the combat arms, we’ll start off with a history of Fort Rucker,
Fort Rucker, located in southeastern Alabama
and surrounded by the communities of Enterprise, Daleville, and Ozark, was
created as a training base called Camp Rucker and opened in May 1942.
Named for Colonel Edmund Rucker, a Confederate officer who became a
well-known business leader after the Civil War, Camp Rucker was used to
train the 81st, 35th, 98th, and 66th Infantry Divisions, as well as
several smaller units during the war, and later was used as a Prisoner of
Building A CAT Program For Ten-Tec’s RX-320D
by Joe Cooper
Today, thanks to the availability of inexpensive high-speed computing equipment, easy-to-run programming software, and affordable programmable radios, the digital revolution we’ve been discussing in this column is very accessible for the radio hobbyist. This month we resume the series I began last spring when I began to show you how to build “virtual” radios using Microsoft’s new “free” Visual BASIC and Ten-Tec’s RX-320 as the foundation.
I’ve already covered the inner workings of the RX-320 in great detail in a series of columns, so now let’s get down to business. Ten-Tec’s first SDR “black box” radio, the RX-320, was initially offered in 1998. It was recently updated as the RX-320D, and is now capable of receiving the new shortwave digital mode called DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale).
This radio was one of the first software-defined radios (SDRs) on the market and its design is notable because all the digital signal processing takes place in the radio itself through a built-in computer on a chip, rather than having to be processed in an external computer. Because it has no external controls other than an on/off power switch you have to connect the radio to a personal computer via a serial cable in order to operate it using a CAT (computer-assisted tuning) software program.
One reason the RX-320D is an excellent SDR computer to begin with is Ten-Tec’s “open source” philosophy regarding sharing information about the “command codes” that a CAT software program needs in order to operate the radio. CAT software sends (and sometimes receives) unique command codes that are used to change the setting of the virtual components within the RX-320D. So if you want to change the frequency, control the audio volume, or set the operating mode, you need to send a command code to the computer in the radio to operate these virtual controls.
The command codes used in the operation of the
RX320D are composed of a set of seven digital signal processing (DSP)
functions that the radio’s CPU chip uses to perform various tasks (see
Table). The command set also controls two requests for information that
the radio’s ADSP-2101 computer chip can respond to information that can be
displayed on your computer screen. These are:
As I outlined in last month’s column, using those command codes as a foundation, you need to design a software program that can convey those command codes to the radio’s CPU via the serial cable.
REACT IN ACTION
Kudos In Order For You
by Ron McCracken, KG4CVL / WPZX486
Did you know that readers like you indirectly make possible the fine work REACT Teams do for their communities? Perhaps you didn’t realize that, but it is the case. Thanks are due you. When you operate your radio station within the power regulations of the FCC, for example, you virtually eliminate the possibility of interference to REACT operations. That can save lives, perhaps even thousands of miles away.
Operators who disregard FCC regulations place lives at risk, both nearby and at great distances. I recall monitoring CB Emergency Channel 9 and receiving “skip” distress calls. I vividly remember one such call some years ago from a Kansas truck driver.
An early February blizzard had stopped his truck in its tracks. He feared freezing to death. In Ontario, 1,500 miles away, I could hear him clearly at 2 a.m., but he couldn’t hear me. A lady changing channels also heard him. She got vital details from him since he could hear her. I heard them, too, and immediately notified his dispatcher. Hopefully, together we helped save his life.
Fortunately, that night no one was “shooting skip” or that trucker could have paid with his life. Other callers have not been so blessed. I can recall trying in vain to pull out distress calls amid skip shooting. The skip shooters, using illegal linears on the official CB emergency frequency, overpowered the callers in trouble. Hopefully, other REACT monitors in other locations, or operators like you, were able to handle those calls and maybe help save those lives.
Have you perhaps come upon a REACT Team using a frequency to provide safety communications for a local event? When you willingly move to another frequency, you contribute to the safety of that event. Again, that simple courtesy can save lives. Emergencies arise in an instant. An operator who argues his “right” to use that frequency can delay a call for medical assistance. REACTers are thankful for operators like you.
On behalf of REACT volunteers everywhere, I want to take this opportunity to extend to our readers the deepest gratitude for your consideration over the years. Little things you have done may well mean that you helped save a life or two, or three in your radio career. You likely never even thought of it, right? Well, now you know. And thanks again!
The Alphabet Soup Of Navigational Aids Demystified
by Bill Hoefer
I’ve been in the “business” of air traffic since 1972. (Now my daughter thinks it’s been longer, like since Wilbur Wright lost the luggage after the flight in 1903.) During the years, I’ve seen a great deal of change in the types, designations, and performance of aircraft, as well as in navigation and maps.
In the early days of cross-county flying many pilots would follow roads on the ground during daylight hours and at night would follow a series of bonfires. By the 1950s much of instrument flying was using low-frequency non-directional beacons (NDBs). Automatic direction finder (ADF) radios found in most aircraft manufactured since the ’50s have an LF/AM radio that allows the pilot to hone in on these NDBs. The NDB frequencies are below 540 kHz and transmit in AM Morse code.
These NDBs are normally located either at the airports or in a specific position on final approach to particular runways. Many of those NDBs are co-located with an outer marker (OM) on instrument landing systems (ILS) at many public and military airports. However many of these NDBs are being phased out and the positions of the OMs are slowly being replaced by global positioning system (GPS) waypoints. Many pilots may use the NDB receivers to pick up AM radio transmissions for news, weather, and entertainment.
In the ’60s and ’70s the NAVAID of choice
turned to VHF omni-directional ranges (VORs, also see the “Glossary” for
explanations of some frequently used acronyms). Frequencies are between
108.1 to 117.995 MHz, and also transmitting in AM. Some were collocated
with tactical air navigation (TACANs) equipment, called VORTACs, used by
the U.S. military. These transmitters send out 360 radials of information.
This allows pilots to fly a much more precise course to or from VORTACs.
UTILITY COMMUNICATIONS DIGEST
Monitoring Operation Deep Freeze
by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ
Here in the suburbs of Buffalo, New York, where each month’s “Utility Communications Digest” is created, the month of January conjures up images of snow, ice, and bone-chilling winds. The Blizzard of 1977 comes immediately to mind for those of us who survived it. If you live in western New York State, when you think of January, you think of winter.
That’s undoubtedly the case in many other places as well, for January finds the northern latitudes in winter’s frigid grip. Contrary to popular belief, however, the coldest, windiest, most inhospitable climate on the globe does not belong to Buffalo, or to Minnesota, or Upper Michigan, or the northern provinces of Canada, for that matter. No, this distinction belongs to the continent of Antarctica, where the relatively few souls hardy enough to brave the outdoors must contend with only two hours of daylight and wind chills of more than 100 below zero as this is being written—and it’s summer there right now!
Thus, I can think of no better way to take our
minds off the winter doldrums than to consider that, no matter how nasty
the weather gets where you live, it’s even worse in Antarctica. This also
provides the perfect backdrop for us to examine the aptly named Operation
Operation Deep Freeze is the unclassified code name given to operations conducted by the U.S. military in support of the United States Antarctic Program, or USAP. The USAP is an initiative overseen by the National Science Foundation, and Operation Deep Freeze facilitates the scientific research by providing operational and logistical support for projects such as IceCube, a $272 million, six-year project to bury more than 4,800 sensors in 80 holes more than a mile deep into the Antarctic surface, which requires, among other things, the world’s heaviest ice drill. When completed, this underground observatory will measure and chart the path of neutrinos, the smallest particles of matter, as they travel from space through the Earth.
As you might imagine, it is quite a task to
support such a project, especially when you consider that the logistical
hub, located in Christchurch, New Zealand, is 2,415 miles from the main
Antarctic research site. That’s where Operation Deep Freeze comes in.
Every man, machine and piece of equipment needed to construct IceCube is
delivered to the South Pole by Air Force LC-130H aircraft from the 109th
Airlift Wing out of Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, New York,
near Schenectady. The LC-130H (see Photo A) is equipped with ski-landing
gear that allows the aircraft to land on ice or snow for airlifting
supplies to remote locations throughout the Antarctic continent.
The Democratic Peoples Republic Of Korea
by Harold Ort, N2RLL, Editor
North Korea, like most names in the news today, means different things to many people, but to most Americans it’s synonymous with a militaristic government-controlled society that’s seemingly always walking on the edge, thanks largely to a repressive regime and its isolationist policy.
Then, of course, what comes to mind is the
Korean War. It has been called the “Forgotten War,” one in which 37,000
Americans lost their lives in only three years, from 1950 to 1953. How it
could ever have been “forgotten” is, frankly, beyond my personal
comprehension. But thanks to the current North Korean “leader,” Kim Jong
Il, the country itself is constantly in the news as one of the world’s
most scorching of hot spots.
Back in 1905 after the Russo-Japanese War, the Japanese had occupied Korea and weren’t forced to surrender until 40 years later, in 1945. That year the U.S., the UK, China, and former Soviet Union were given what amounted to a “trusteeship” over the country with the U.S. the driving force in establishing the 38th parallel, which at the time was not foreseen as a permanent division. That year Japan surrendered, in the North to the Soviet Union and in the South to the U.S.
In the ensuing two years, repeated attempts to bring all parties to the table and establish elections under a UN directive were met with opposition by the north and the Soviet Union, which ignored the resolution. Meanwhile, regardless, elections were held in the south and, separately, in the north. This effectively established two “countries,” one backed by the Soviet Union, the other by the U.S, each claiming to be the legitimate Korean government.
After numerous skirmishes along the 38th parallel, the escalation finally reached the boiling point with the North invading the South on June 25, 1950. This was after the U.S. had withdrawn its occupation forces, leaving a small contingent of about 500 “advisors,” and with Stalin’s approval—and equipment!
SHANNON’S BROADCAST CLASSICS
by Shannon Huniwell
This column is dedicated to listeners who’ve caught a glimpse of their favorite radio personality and been hit by a proverbial ton of bricks. “Holy smokes!” you might have thought, “his (or her) face sure doesn’t match up with his (or her) voice!” It happens to me all the time.
In fact, just last week I was clicking through dozens of cable TV channels and finding nothing worthwhile until landing on a news commentary show featuring a clean-cut, middle-aged guy wearing a nicely tailored suit and glasses with Buddy Holly-style black plastic frames. The fellow’s voice sounded very familiar, but for four or five minutes, I just couldn’t place it. Suddenly it dawned on me that I was hearing and seeing nationally syndicated radio talk show host Glen Beck. But no, it couldn’t be! After all, Mr. Beck has long dark hair, is at least 6-foot, three, and wears blue jeans and a tee shirt, or so I had always pictured “GB,” based solely on listening to him on the radio.
Of course, ever since viewing Glen Beck’s television program, I now can’t
help but see his real image in my mind’s eye whenever tuning to the audio
editions of his fascinating broadcasts.
Is That An R-390 In Your Pocket?
by Bill Price, N3AVY
I feel like Andy Rooney, only slightly younger and just slightly less curmudgeonly. I want to start this month’s column by saying (with a really high squeaky voice), “Dijyevver notice how things change as you get older?” And that really is how I feel, and it is the question I’d like to ask.
I’ve just finished packing for a four-day trip to (oh, I know this’ll get letters) a harmonica convention in Paramus, New Jersey (that’ll probably get at least a postcard or an e-mail, too). And to satisfy at least one curious ham, yes, there will be at least two of us who will communicate across the room occasionally by tootling some Morse code in the key of C, because there are hams in every other hobby, too. It just occurred to me that by using the push-button slide on a chromatic harmonica we might even be able to simulate FSK (c’mon, someone must remember what that is) and maybe send some RYRYRYs to a waiting teletype. Not too likely, though, but possible.
But as usually happens, I have digressed. My squeaky intro was about how things change, and they sure have. When I really got interested in communications, in Coast Guard Radioman “A” school in Groton, Connecticut, I was introduced to the Collins R-390 general coverage communications receiver. Those of us who were smitten with communications immediately saw the beauty of these mechanical monsters and began to covet them and wait for a day when one might become available through surplus channels. They have, but even today, no one is giving them away. They are huge, heavy, rack-mounted mechanical nightmares requiring more wrenches and screwdrivers to work on than electronic test equipment, and for years they were the standard by which all others were judged.
Eventually, I got hold of a nice used Kenwood general coverage receiver. Solid-state, digitally tuned, requiring no weekly and monthly PM (preventive maintenance), which on the R-390 even included oiling some of the gears along with cleaning tube sockets and pins. And, truth be told (but only grudgingly), the smaller, lighter, less-expensive Kenwood was generally a superior receiver. But it didn’t smell as nice when you turned it on. And it didn’t feel as nice when you tuned it and fiddled with the bandwidth selectors and other options. I could, however, take it from room to room—something NO ONE ever did with an R-390.