INFOCENTRAL

News, Trends, And Short Takes Vietnam To
Launch Mobile TV Service

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

Vietnam Multimedia Corporation (VTC) was scheduled to offer the country’s first broadcasting television service on mobiles beginning December in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City before going nationwide by 2008. The corporation plans to run the service on a trial basis to test technical systems and content via eight television broadcasting channels and four radio channels to provide both foreign and domestic content. The four radio channels will include two from Voice of Vietnam (VoV) and two others by VTC offering mostly music. The service will also include video on demand on a pay-per-view basis.

The company started commercializing the PayTV service after a year-long pilot network using digital video broadcasting-handheld (DVB-H) technology, the first service provider to do so in the Asia Pacific region and the second in the world after Italy. The plan was announced a month after the corporation signed a technical support agreement with Nokia to ensure the service was received by Nokia’s Nseries DVB-H-enabled multimedia devices, including Nokia N92, at the highest end.

Sri Lanka Suspends Private Radio Channel For Broadcasting “Sexually Explicit” Programs

Sri Lanka suspended a private radio channel for broadcasting “sexually explicit” programs about young people’s personal problems. The Sinhalese-language Raja FM channel was shut down because it ignored requests to drop the program called “Three Hours with Sumali,” the government’s information department said. ”It has been proved beyond doubt that these programs are aimed at corrupting the young, especially the children, and to harm the dignity of women,” the department said in a statement. There was no immediate comment from the station, but journalists there said they had used a professional psychologist to answer listeners’ queries. There is no censorship in Sri Lanka, but the Paris-based media watchdog, Reporters without Borders (RSF) this week said Sri Lanka was one of the most dangerous places for journalists.

Vietnam To Try Americans As Terrorists In Alleged Radio Plot

Vietnam will try three naturalized U.S. citizens on terrorism charges over an alleged plot to use radio transmitters to take over state airwaves and call for an uprising against the Communist government. Vietnamese-born Thuong Nguyen “Cuc” Foshee and Le Van Binh, both of Florida, and Huynh Bich Lien “Linda” of California, are scheduled to stand trial in the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court along with four Vietnamese nationals.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Radio Websites For SWLs

If You Want Good, Quality Radio Information From The Web, Check Out These Sites

by Gerry L. Dexter

Call it the Internet or the World Wide Web, whether or not you’re into being online only “kinda sorta” depends on what generational level you hail from. The younger you are, the more likely you’ve been a Web Wrangler practically forever. On the back side of the coin, the more years you’re carrying, the more likely you are to be a bit set in your ways and thus not much interested in exploring this vast and often confusing world—or you have come to it only gradually, maybe out of necessity as much as anything else.

Perhaps you’ve been online for quite awhile but still, when the need arises to look something up or do some research your first thought is “book” or “dictionary.” If a few years went by before “Yahoo” or “Google” began to replace “atlas” or “library” as the first thing you thought of when you needed to find some information well, you’re still making progress!

But maybe you haven’t taken even so much as the first step toward the online world. If that’s the case you should know that you’re missing out on the biggest source of information the world has ever seen, not to mention the sea change that having access to the Web can mean for the success and enjoyment you get out of your shortwave hobby.

There are approximately 1.3 gazillion websites out there, the vast majority of which have absolutely nothing to do with shortwave, or even radio in general. But that still leaves us with an Everest of sites we can visit for assistance and specific information to help us further our SWL pursuits. Our purpose here, then, is to introduce you to a few sites (in no particular order) that we feel can be especially useful, so warm up your mouse and let’s get started.

 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


GLOBAL INFORMATION GUIDE

Radio Quito Returns, Plus A New Station In Micronesia

by Gerry L. Dexter

n these days when it seems the negatives are fully in charge it’s always a welcome relief to see a positive show up here and there. So let’s start off with one, namely the return of an old-time Latin—Radio Quito, “la voz de la capital” in Quito, Ecuador, which recently came out of hibernation and showed up in its old spot of 4919.

While the return did not see a correction back to its original 4920 frequency, the change did seem to include a much stronger signal, although it’s hard to know for certain whether these early receptions were a matter of better conditions or a new or refurbished transmitter or antenna. Either way, it is nice to have the station back. If you want to send a reception report or a note of appreciation, the address is Casilla 17-21-1971, Quito, Ecuador; e-mail: radioquito@ecuadoradio.com

And there’s more from the positive side of the shortwave ledger: A new shortwave station is a-building on the island State of Pohnpei, the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia, which includes the states of Yap, Kosroe, Caroline, and Truk (also known as Chuuk). Not much info about the station is known yet, other than that construction is underway. It’s being built by Pacific Missionary Aviation, a name that implies it will be a religious broadcaster. We also know that it will be a significant DX challenge for us since it will operate on one of the tropical bands and run only 500 watts, probably just enough to provide local coverage.

On The European Front…

Quite a few moons ago there was a rumor—perhaps more of a tickle—to the effect that Radio Polonia was taking steps to improve reception of its international service. That has now come to pass as Radio Polonia has joined the growing list of broadcasters riding the relay route. The current B06 broadcast schedule has the station being aired by a number of sites outside Poland, namely Wertachtal, Julich, and Nauen in Germany, Issoudun, France, and Montinsery, French Guiana. The schedule is way too involved to lay out here, but the French Guiana transmissions should be quite well heard. Check 9640 and 11940 (in GG) from 2030 to 2100 and 9660 at 2200 to 2300. If you can access the Web, the Radio Polonia website may offer the full schedule, though it did not when we checked it early in the season.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


THE POP’COMM TRIVIA CORNER

Radio Fun And Going Back In Time

by R.B. Sturtevant, AD7IL

Q. What was Project Hope and what did it have to do with amateur radio?

A. Back around 1961 Dr. William B. Walsh, a prominent Washington, D.C. physician, conceived the idea of fitting a mothballed Navy hospital ship and taking it around the world as a teaching facility to train local medical personnel in modern techniques of treatment. The only communications gear that “came with” the ship was a 250-watt CW rig. Manufacturers donated the gear and hams installed two complete stations on board. Regular transmissions were made from the U.S.S. Hope en route to its first port of call, Indonesia. By special agreements the amateur band transmissions were copied by RCA in California, edited, and rebroadcast over commercial radio stations. Amateurs aboard ship kept in contact with field hospital units and jeeps sent out from the ship to spread the message of health and peace. Last I heard, the Project Hope team was still on the high seas and on the air.

Q. Our military stopped using CW on the airwaves officially in September 1996. Who are the only military personnel in our armed forces still using Morse Code?

A. The sailors who work the blinker lights between ships. Their messages may be in the clear or coded, but they are always in Morse.

Q. I’ve heard that radio operators in combat areas sometimes try to insert traffic on the other side’s nets. How does that work?

A. It was done by all sides, of course, but a good example comes from a trick the Germans played during the North African Campaign. Using short-range radio, which is often used unencoded during combat, conflicting orders would come in given by the voice of someone who sounded like a radio operator known to the operators at the receiving station. Using excellent English these orders would be directed by name to a specific officer who was about to go into action. Valuable time would be lost finding out that the new order was a hoax.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


WDEV, A Vermont Treasure

For 75 Years It Set A Standard By Resisting Trends

by Shannon Huniwell

Ted Rollins quietly threw some clothes in a paper shopping bag, stuck a shoebox filled with five-inch reel-to-reel audition tapes under his arm, and placed a scrap of paper on his college roommate’s desk. The note consisted only of a couple of sentences indicating he’d be back in about a week, and that if anybody wondered why he’d disappeared, to simply say he’d “gone to look for America.”

At 5:53 a.m., nobody on that Delaware campus was up to notice him heading towards his 10-year-old Volkswagen in the dormitory parking lot. Rollins hesitated for a moment, but then a brisk gust of early spring air strengthened his resolve to invest a week or so, and the $118 he’d scraped together, in venturing deep into New England.

For at least two years he’d talked with friends about how neat it’d be to take such a radio trip. They could see new sights, be spontaneous, have little adventures, and—most of all—hear what radio was like in faraway places listed in the school library’s shopworn 1971 Broadcasting Yearbook, its content inspiring northeastern broadcast station itineraries with memorable monikers such as Great Barrington, Massachusetts; Old Saybrook, Connecticut; South Paris, Maine; Conway, New Hampshire; and White River Junction, Vermont.

Somebody in the group contributed a tattered ESSO Map of the New England States. Over its seemingly infinite surface, call letters, program formats, dial positions, and other vital stats were penciled in. Though the value of a New England AM/FM excursion was enthusiastically seconded by at least three or four of the other radio buffs at his college carrier current station, Rollins turned out to be the only one serious enough about broadcasting to put the plan into action.

The VW’s engine warmed up while its owner unfolded the map and meticulously spread it out on the passenger seat. Then Rollins switched on the car radio. A split second later, the open carrier wave from a local daytimer cut through the pre-sunrise AM hash. And, as if his Bug’s pedals were somehow wired to that station’s cart machine, the sign-on occurred simultaneously with his releasing of the clutch. He smiled at the coincidence and considered it a good omen. Humming along to the national anthem, Rollins rolled over the last of the campus driveway speed bumps and accelerated onto a main road pointing north.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


BROADCAST TECHNOLOGY

Low Sunspots And World Hotspots

by Bruce A. Conti

When sunspots are low, mediumwave DX reception is hot. When the world’s political hotspots flare up, the monitoring of long-distance mediumwave signals, satellite television, and Internet streams can be quite intriguing, especially for news junkies. Here’s an overview of broadcasting from a couple of the hottest regions to help keep you warm this winter.

The Latest Dish On Satellite TV

The Middle East is estimated to have the largest concentration of satellite television receivers in the world. At least two thirds of the population gets its news and information from satellite television via free-to-air (FTA) and direct-to-home (DTH) services. From Syria to Yemen, satellite dishes sprout like weeds on rooftops as viewers hunger for information and popular entertainment like soap operas and music videos.

“Damascus, the oldest, continuously inhabited city in the world, is now pockmarked with satellite dishes,” reported correspondent Simon Marks in a feature story about Arab media that aired in 2006 on PBS’ The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. “They sit on every rooftop, hang from every balcony, and bring previously banned discussion and debate from around the world into virtually every Syrian living room.”

The availability of a wide range of broadcasts has indeed become an integral part of the democratization process throughout the Middle East as people become better informed, but not all is well. Satellite television is banned by law in Iran, and although it initially appeared that the government was “overlooking” the spread of satellite dishes, police have lately been enforcing the law by destroying antennas on sight. Religious fundamentalism has been on the rise in Iran, and Western pop culture is considered contrary to fundamental ideals.

Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya are the most popular among the news channels available via satellite. Others include U.S. networks like CNN and MSNBC, plus the Voice of America’s Al Hurra TV. Al Jazeera (www.aljazeera.net), Arabic for “The Island,” originates from Qatar. It was originally created to be an island for objective unbiased news and information, free of government censorship and political agendas. As a result, this satellite TV news organization has gained worldwide notoriety for its unedited broadcasts of videos provided by various terrorist organizations and Osama Bin Laden, as well as its unvarnished reports from the battlefields of Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories, countering often sterile Western news perspectives.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


THE PROPAGATION CORNER

What Goes Around Comes Around

by Tomas Hood, NW7US

f you’ve been following this column over the last year or so, you know that the current Solar Cycle, number 23 since these cycles have been officially recorded, has been winding down. Most likely, we can now say that number 23 is over, and the new cycle, Solar Cycle 24, has begun.

A Solar Cycle lasts on average about 11 years, from a point of least solar activity, through the period when the sun is very active, and finally to the point where solar activity is again at its lowest. The way solar activity is recorded is by counting the daily sunspots that can be observed. The daily counts are averaged for each month. These monthly numbers are used to determine the solar cycle progression.

When the daily sunspot count is plotted over a month’s time, the graph displays a wide range between high counts and low counts. Averaging daily sunspot numbers over a month results in the monthly average sunspot number. When these are plotted over a longer period, the graph displays again quite a range between high and low counts. A smoother plot is desired. To get that, solar observers use a more averaged, or smoothed, calculation. By using these nicely smoothed plots, the rise and fall of solar cycles can easily be seen.

The so-called “smoothed sunspot number” (SSN) is calculated across five and a half months of data before and after a desired month, plus the data for the desired month. The amount of smoothing leaves the official SSN a half year behind the current month, which is why I report two “sunspot counts” in this column: the monthly observed count, and the smoothed count.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


SCANTECH

Hidden Antennas:Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind, Not Out Of Luck

by Ken Reiss

The old saying about antennas is that the bigger and higher they are the better. And up north they add “and if it didn’t fall down last winter it wasn’t big enough or high enough.” Perhaps that’s true, but it’s not an option for all of us. Neighborhood association rules, or the necessities of apartments and high-rise condos make that an impractical rule for most of us. Finding a place for antennas is easy if you live out away from the city or don’t have restrictions. Just string a wire up between two trees, or run some coax up along the chimney and nail up a ground plane.

The ideal performer is an outdoor antenna up as high as you can get it and tuned specifically for the frequencies you’re interested in receiving. But reality usually demands something else, so we all live with compromise. But just how much do you have to compromise?

Let’s look at some antennas that can be used in a limited space/visibility environment, but will still let you enjoy the hobby. Before we do that, however, it’s worth noting that not all these ideas are going to perform well for everyone. For instance, if you’re on the ground floor of a 30-story apartment building made from steel-reinforced concrete, you’ve got a much bigger problem than someone in a single family home with wood siding and just a few neighborhood restrictions to worry about. Performance is also dependent on frequency. Some shortwave signals may be completely blocked, while scanner signals make it through. Of course, the reverse is also possible.

It’s also worth pointing out that we are talking about receiving antennas here. Much of the information also applies to transmitting antennas, but you have to be careful if you intend to transmit through an antenna that it can handle the power and that the antenna is matched to the frequencies in use. You can do substantial damage to a transmitter in a big hurry, so be careful. On the receiving side, you can get away with a lot more. The absolute worst case is that you’ll wind up with an antenna that doesn’t pull the signal you’re after out of the air, but no harm can come to the equipment if you follow basic safety rules.

Scanners

Scanner antennas tend to be a bit smaller, so you’d expect that they’re a lot easier to hide than the larger shortwave antennas. Well, that’s true, the antenna itself is easier to hide, but scanners are also subject to line-of-sight communications. If your antenna is stuck inside, especially on a lower floor, you may be severely limiting your range. If you’re in a metropolitan area, this may not be a problem, but if you want to listen to departments or other services that are not close by, it can be a real limitation.

 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


THE ANTENNA ROOM

VHF Scanner Antennas

by Kent Britain, WA5VJB

Got a favorite channel in the 150-MHz band that’s just a little weak? One of these Cheap Yagi antennas can boost it up to full quieting (see Photo A). Let’s get started on one right now!

I’ll be covering both 50- and 75-Ohm versions of this antenna, although I find that there are just so many advantages to 75-Ohm coax. For instance, it’s often cheaper, you see left-over lengths from cable or satellite installations, it has less loss than the same size 50-Ohm coax, and 75-Ohm Yagis work over a broader range of frequencies than their 50-Ohm cousins. However, the 50-Ohm version will fill the bill for some of you, so refer to Table 1 for help with those dimensions; Table 2 gives dimensions for the 75-Ohm Yagi.

For the 50-Ohm Yagi I’ve traded a dB or two of gain for broad frequency response. Expect about 9-dBi gain out of the five-element, 8.5 dBi from the four-element, 6 dBi from the three-element, and about 4 dBi from the two-element design. But if you’re trying to listen to signals from a broad area, more gain is not necessarily a good thing. (See Photos B and C.) The idea is to match the width of the antenna beam to your desired coverage area.

The antennas are centered for 155 MHz with good performance over the 150- to 165-MHz band. If you need to optimize the antenna for a frequency near this range, then just multiply the element length and element spacing by Current Frequency/New Frequency. As an example, if you wanted to tweak the antenna to 170 MHz, then multiply the lengths and spacings by 155/170, or .91; now the reflector element becomes 38 x .91, or 34.6 inches. To peak them on the NOAA weather frequencies, just multiply the dimensions by 155/162, or .96; you can move the Cheap Yagi designs about ±10 percent before other scaling factors mess things up.

As already mentioned, the 75-Ohm version has a much wider bandwidth so it works over a wider range of frequencies. Gain is also much more constant over its 145 to 170 MHz usable bandwidth. Typically you will see nearly 10 dBi for the five-element, 9 dBi for the four-element, 6 dBi for the three-element, and about 4 dBi for the two-element design. But again, a wider spread might be more important than more gain and a narrow beam. (See Figure 1.)
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


TECH SHOWCASE

On The Right Track With The Magellan RoadMate 2000

by Harold Ort, N2RLL, Editor

Today I just can’t get lost. There were those days, however, when “getting lost” was—for me at least—a hobby in its own right, complete with marked-up maps, large upper-case typed notes on getting from point A to B taped to the dashboard, and frequent stops at pay phones to “get directions.” All that changed a few years ago with the advent of in-vehicle GPS (Global Positioning System) units.

The company I rely on for quality, easy-to-use GPS systems is Magellan. They’re not the only GPS player out there, but when it comes to GPS, either handheld or in-vehicle systems, they have a very good and varied product line. We reviewed their 700 series vehicle GPS in July 2005 and found it to be top-notch, uncomplicated, user-friendly and reasonably priced, especially considering all the features you get standard.

A Step Above

The one aspect of many of these GPS units that gets tricky, not only from a review standpoint but also in real-world use, is the various windshield mounting systems. The GPS units themselves are very good, but when it comes to staying put…well, in my experience you’ve got to work with the mount a bit—and follow the directions.

With the Magellan 700 series, the standard mounting arm is comprised of a flexible gooseneck and small suction cup assembly. But even if you follow the directions explicitly and clean the windshield, ensure it’s free of any special after-market coatings (anti-fog and anti-glare material), and still wipe the glass squeaky-clean with the provided small alcohol wipe, it still has a tendency to fall, especially in colder weather if the windshield isn’t warmed. Repeated moving of the arm for the best viewing angle can also bring the thing down into your lap. Add to that the daily rigors of driving, and, well, it’s sometimes easy for me to say something aloud while driving with the family that would better be left in Marine boot camp!

If only the larger Magellan 700 series had a mount as sturdy as the one included with new, smaller 2000 series! Okay, the mounting criticisms aside, you’re going to fall in love with the Magellan 2000, and the company’s four other higher-end units: the 2200T, 6000T, 3050T, and 3000T which range in price from $499.99 to $699.99.

 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


WASHINGTON BEAT

Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications FCC Designates BPL As “Information Service”

by Richard Fisher, KI6SN

Putting it on an equal regulatory tier as cable modem and DSL Internet access services, the Federal Communications Commission in November designated Broadband over Powerline technology (BPL) as an “information service.”

“By ruling BPL service’s transmission component is ‘telecommunications,’ and an ‘information service,’ BPL will find it easier to deploy beyond the handful of networks that are currently scattered around the country, mostly in the Northeast,” it was reported in a story by W. David Gardner on TechWeb News.

According to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, “The Commission’s broadband statistics show that subscribers to BPL Internet access services, although few in number overall, increased by nearly 200 percent in 2005.” Martin has been a supporter of BPL technology. “By finding that BPL Internet access services are information services, the Commission provides the regulatory certainty necessary to foster competition between different broadband platform providers,” he said.

Radio amateurs, principally through the American Radio Relay League, based in Newington, Connecticut, have raised serious concern about potential radio interference from the expansion of BPL.

Amateur Radio Receives EmComm Status

With the signature of President George W. Bush last October, radio amateurs have been formally included in a section of the Department of Homeland Security 200 Appropriations Act-HR 5441, officially designating them as part of the emergency communications community.

According to a report in the American Radio Relay League’s ARRL Letter:

…radio amateurs are among the entities with which a Regional Emergency Communications Coordination Working Group (RECC Working Group) must coordinate its activities. Included within the DHS’ Office of Emergency Communications—which the measure also creates—RECC Working Groups attached to each regional DHS office will advise federal and state homeland security officials. The final version of the legislation incorporated language from both House and Senate bills and was hammered out in a conference committee.

The stipulation for amateur radio is included in the legislation’s 21st Century Emergency Communications Act,” Subtitle D, Section 671.

RECC Working Groups coordinate, in addition now to radio amateurs, with communications equipment manufacturers and vendors, including broadband data service providers, local exchange carriers, local broadcast media, wireless carriers, satellite communications services, cable operators, hospitals, public utility services, emergency evacuation transit services, ambulance services, and representatives from other private sector entities and nongovernmental organizations, the ARRL Letter reported.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


HOMELAND SECURITY

Nuclear Nightmare—How Ready Are You?

by Rich Arland, W3OSS

The CBS network has, over the last nine months, produced or couple of rather interesting dramatic series, specifically The Unit and Jericho.

The Unit is a fictional dramatization of life in Delta Force. One of the executive producers is Eric Haney, an original member of Delta upon its formation in 1978. If you have the time, grab a copy of Eric’s book, Inside Delta Force and be prepared for a good read. Since Eric is one of the producers and also a technical advisor for the series, what you see on the screen is, I believe, a relatively accurate portrayal of what it is like to be a member of Delta. These guys are “shadow warriors.” They take the fight to the enemy who are out to destroy our country and our way of life. I realize that there is a lot of Hollywood in this series, but I wouldn’t be surprised to discover some, if not all, of the episodes are actually based upon factual occurrences.

Jericho, on the other hand, is a pure fiction drama about a nuclear attack on the United States. It takes about five episodes to finally realize that the nuclear attack was staged by Islamic extremists. It seems that an undisclosed number of portable nuclear devices were secreted into the United States and detonated around the country at specific locations. (Hmmm, where have I heard that before?)

Over the years, I’ve developed a theory that we’re not in any real danger from a thermonuclear exchange with another country. That was typical Cold War thinking that existed for 40 years. Having said that I do, however, seriously believe that America will eventually be subjected to nuclear terrorism. While not as totally devastating as a thermonuclear exchange involving hundreds of high yield nuclear warheads, a few well placed tactical nukes sprinkled around the country at major population centers could definitely overwhelm the disaster response forces of FEMA and the U.S. military. This is no secret and the “bad guys” know this, which is why they are constantly trying to procure man-pack nuclear devices and weapons grade nuclear bomb making material similar to our SADAM devices used by special operations forces.

It’s also no secret that there are at least 100 extremely small, low-yield man-pack nuclear devices missing from the former USSR nuclear arsenal. These devices were (are?) to be used by Soviet Special Forces (Spetznaz) units in the event of war between the USSR and Western Powers. There seems to be some evidence that Al Qaeda operatives have purchased up to 20 of these weapons. That is a chilling thought.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


RADIO RESOURCES

Bidirectional Mapping Radios—The Wave Of The Future

by Gordon West, WB6NOA

When the topic is radio location, the term “bidirectional” refers to the capability of a global positioning system (GPS) receiver and mapping unit to send and receive latitude and longitude position fixes. A GPS
mapping receiver, on its own, will display your current position on a map screen, generally accurate to the diameter of a 15-foot circle.

That same GPS might also offer a NMEA 0183 output data stream that can upload to a two-way radio to transmit a position data burst. There are hundreds of radio systems that would upload single-direction position fix data bursts, but “going bidirectional” could allow that same GPS mapping device to display
the precise position of other units on the same frequency.

Garmin <www.garmin.com> was granted an FCC experimental waiver of the rules to test bidirectional portable GPS equipment on Family Radio Service (FRS) channels. One potential use for this equipment would be enabling a scout leader to call out to another distant FRS radio, and not only hear the response on the speaker, but actually see his or her position on the FRS screen.

“We regularly get letters from wilderness trekkers who say their Garmin FRS bi-directional GPS radio equipment had located a lost party,” says a Garmin representative at a local electronics trade show.

What You See Is What You Get—And More!

For boaters, kayakers, or fishermen out on a lake, another radio, an under-$400 submersible marine 55-channel VHF handheld, includes bidirectional signaling with a GPS receiver built in! It’s manufactured by Uniden and is called Mystic. You can obtain more information at www.uniden.com.

The trans-reflective LCD screen will also show land mapping, including lakes and rivers with a MapSend Streets CD-ROM, or detailed ocean charts from Magellan BlueNav. The detailed mapping software adds another $150 to the $399 price, but what you get is a powerful marine VHF radio, completely submersible, with a built-in GPS, detailed screen mapping, and the ability to send and receive GPS data bursts using marine digital selective calling (DSC) data bursts on 156.525 MHz, VHF Channel 70.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


HAM DISCOVERIES

Wallpaper “Special” For Your Shack

by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTŘZ

Ever dream of a futuristic ham shack, complete with white walls, white tables, and a matching set of white transceivers? Where the air is triple filtered and all you can hear is the soothing burble of a small indoor waterfall? This perfect, blissful void MUST be ham radio nirvana!

Before I get too carried away (and, yes, I recently saw a Kubrick film), let me point out that I have never seen a ham shack so minimally presented. Even if the transceivers are precisely rack-mounted and nary a cable goes astray, the walls are covered—in some fashion—with QSL cards, awards, and “wallpaper” of various designs.

“Wallpaper,” in this context, consists of ham radio goodies that ops want to show off to visitors (or to themselves). It’s an Old-Time Radio slang that’s still in the lexicon. And it’s here to stay. Although the term usually refers to operating award certificates, it’s Special Event wallpaper that we’re talking about this month. By using just a few of these tips you’ll be knee deep in certificates before you know it!

Special Event Stations

Special Events are on-air activities designed to generate interest in specific happenings. Clubs or groups try to contact as many people as they can in a given time period (usually over the course of a weekend), and they produce special QSL cards and suitable-for-framing certificates to issue to the stations they work. Even if you’re just getting started, Special Event stations are usually easy to work, and there are hundreds of them on the air each year! If you become an avid Special Events collector you can actually wallpaper your shack with the certificates you’ll receive.

Special Event stations show up year round, although the busiest months seem to be April and May, as many groups use them as a warm-up for Field Day. The “events” can range from a town festival, the commemoration of historical events, the opening of museums, club anniversaries, or even holidays, such as operating from Christmas, Florida, in December.

Clubs use these opportunities to get on the air in a big way, not only to publicize these events to the ham community, but also to demonstrate ham radio to the public. Just ask anyone who’s been bitten by the Special Event bug: any excuse will do when it comes to getting on the air!

Regardless of their diversity, all Special Events operations have something in common: awards, special certificates, or collectible QSL cards! They range from commemorative color QSL cards to full-blown, giant-size color certificates. Some are truly impressive, and they’re available just for making one contact with the station(s) involved.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


COMPUTER–ASSISTED RADIO MONITORING

Building A CAT Program In BASIC To Control Ten-Tec’s RX-320/D

by Joe Cooper

This month’s column continues our series on how to build “virtual” radios using Microsoft’s new “free” Visual BASIC and Ten-Tec’s RX-320/D as the foundation. My goal is to give you a good understanding of what takes place in a typical RX320/D control program. I won’t be teaching you computer programming in detail, but you will be able to create and run a very simple command program that you can use to control the RX320/D from within Windows.

What makes Ten-Tec’s radio so interesting is that when you take off the cover and look inside you find that the main components are all contained on a small number of ICs (integrated circuits).

The most important point about these circuits is that the one that actually does most of the work is actually a small computer, not unlike the personal computer you connect to it in order to run it. 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 why the RX-320/D 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 requires 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-320/D. 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.

Given the importance of understanding how software code is used to initiate various functions within a software-defined radio, I thought it would be a good idea to look at how the programming language BASIC is used in its pure form. There’s no point in jumping into Microsoft’s Visual BASIC without first understanding what BASIC is and how it’s employed. Once you understand what’s taking place “under the hood” of the radio, using CAT software to perform various tasks (e.g. changing frequencies or bandwidths) becomes much easier in more complex settings, such as within Visual BASIC.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


UTILITY COMMUNICATIONS DIGEST

CHU Joins The Endangered Species List

by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ

Anyone who’s listened to shortwave radio for a significant number of years probably has a story about one or more favorite listening targets that’s no longer on the air. This is true regardless of whether the listener prefers to monitor the broadcast stations or utility stations. Technology and economics have been the primary reasons why so many of our favorite stations have vanished from the airwaves, never to be heard again. As this issue of Pop’Comm goes to print, another shortwave utility station is in danger of disappearing, namely CHU in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

For those unfamiliar with radio station CHU, it’s operated by the Institute for National Measurement Standards (INMS) at the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada. The CHU call letters were first used for time transmission in 1938, on the same frequencies that are still in use at press time: 3330 kHz, 7335 kHz, and 14670 kHz. Before 1938, the call letters of essentially the same transmissions were VE9OB.

According to the NRC, the carrier frequency has been the specified standard since 1938, prior to which the quartz oscillators had been tuned to standard wavelengths. Continuous transmissions at 20.4 meters started in 1933, joining the 40.8-meter and 90-meter transmissions, which began as a daytime-only operation in 1929. The NRC also notes that while daily transmission on 52.5 meters had begun in 1928 under the call letters 9CC and later VE9CC, this ceased with the startup of 40.8-meter operation. The NRC further notes that 9CC had started experimental time transmission in 1923 on 275 meters, and that license 3AF had operated in 1922, thus providing quite a ranger of possible dates to assign to the establishment of CHU. The NRC says it leans towards 1929 as the start of daily time transmissions at essentially the modern frequencies.

Their Largest Improvement

While there have been many changes in equipment and accuracy over the years, the NRC considers the biggest improvement to be the change to cesium atomic clocks in 1967. In 1970, the responsibility for operating CHU was transferred from the astronomers at the Dominion Observatory to the physicists at the NRC.

Canada and other countries have official time scales in agreement within 10 microseconds, in accordance with international recommendations. CHU’s transmissions are well within 100 microseconds of Canada’s official time. For distant users of the station, such as you or me listening in our shacks, the main source of any time errors come from the time that passes while the radio signal is bouncing off the ionosphere on its way from the transmitter in Ottawa to the receivers in our shacks.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


WORLD VIEW

Cuba: Communism’s Last Stand In The West, And Lots Of Interesting Radio Listening

by Harold Ort, N2RLL, Editor

Who could ask for more? A large tropical Caribbean island with a superb climate, with seemingly endless beaches, mountains, and rolling plains, and all only about 90 miles south of Key West, Florida. Of course, that’s the good news. Sort of.

The other side of the Cuban Peso reveals an island nation with problems on steroids and a longstanding (perhaps sitting as this is written) Communist dictator who might be smiling for those rare on-camera interviews, but rules his country with an iron fist. Add to this what the United States termed, “hostile actions” by the Cuban government back in 1963 (remember the Cuban Missile Crisis?) and you also get Title 31, Part 515 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations aimed at keeping Cuba isolated by more than water. That simply states that Americans, American companies, and organizations can’t import Cuban goods, either directly or through third parties, nor can they export to Cuba (with some exceptions, including publications, artwork, etc.). Certainly the restrictions have impacted the nation, for better or worse, but it doesn’t change the fact that Cuba lives on, despite the tight economic noose and stringent government controls.

How Did We Get Here?

Cuba’s lot wasn’t always this dismal. There was a time when the sugarcane industry was booming, and way back in 1899 Cuba was actually under U.S. protection as a republic. Major U.S. investments in Cuba continued, as did U.S. intervention in Cuba’s affairs during the Spanish-American War, ending Spain’s rule of the island. Cuba officially gained independence in 1902.

Fidel Castro Ruz, with his brother, Raul, and Ernesto Guevara (better known as Che) led a successful revolution in 1959, and Castro became the big guy on the block. Five years later, in 1961 the United States ended relations with Cuba after Castro established military-type rule and became allied with the former Soviet Union.

Determined not to lose control of Cuba, later that year, in what became known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, President John F. Kennedy approved the landing of a group of Cuban exiles on the island, but the invasion failed miserably. The world was brought to the edge of a nuclear nightmare a year later after the Soviet threat to place nuclear missiles on Cuba was challenged by JFK. Soviet premier Khrushchev blinked and disaster was averted, but just how close we were to living in bunkers is best left to the historians.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


LOOSE CONNECTION

School Days

by Bill Price, N3AVY

Just this past Saturday, I mentioned to some new friends that I had been writing this column for about 10 years. “How do you come up with something funny every month? That must be awfully hard!” they said.
I told them a little about Norm. They began to laugh.

See? Any of you with a computer, a book on grammar, a spell checker, and a memory that still fires on at least three cylinders could do this…IF you had a friend like Norm.

And lest you think I abuse him here on these pages because of some nasty streak, well, you should know that Norm is as good a friend as you’ll find. Along with that, he provides me endless episodes to keep you amused. George had Gracie, Martin had Lewis, Laurel had Hardy. Well, maybe that’s backwards—actually I look more like Oliver Hardy, and Norm, well he’s Stan Laurel. In fact, if we were ever together at Halloween, that would be a perfect pair of costumes for us.

While we were in our Laurel and Hardy mode, Norm decided to teach a crash course in ham radio. He wanted to see if it was possible to send out some books and information for prospective hams to read, then have them attend an intense weekend course where they were in class Friday evening, all day Saturday, and all day Sunday, and then have a volunteer examiner arriving late Sunday to administer the tests for some of the first “no-code” licenses.

I am not the only friend Norm has. I am the only one who writes about him, but he’s got friends all over the country—friends he’s made during his travels and by his “travels” on ham radio. I’m not even the only friend of Norm’s who gets roped into helping him with some of his really crazy and difficult undertakings, and this crash course in ham radio was certainly one of the most difficult, even though it wasn’t crazy at all.
The other friend that Norm roped into helping with this enormous project was Larry the cop. Norm has called him that for as long as I’ve known him. It’s never just “Larry,” but always “Larry the cop.” It’s his way of identifying Larry. In fact, that has me wondering what he calls me to his other friends. I probably don’t want to know.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications