What Do They Really Understand?

by Harold Ort, N2RLL

We all have things we’d like to do or be before our time comes, although when you really think about it for a moment, fortunately for the rest of us, most of those things won’t come to fruition. My high school social studies teacher wanted to rule the world because he thought he truly understood mankind. True, he was a fairly charismatic fellow and had a Big Degree. Update: A few years ago he retired from teaching and now sells shoes part-time in the mall.

Many hams I know think they’re experts in every field imaginable (and some fields even they didn’t know existed), but thankfully the real experts who get paid for their work know otherwise. Many folks want to be the chief of police or real soldiers, but thankfully as far as most will get is watching old Car 54 re-runs and World War II movies on The Movie Channel.
“Loose Connection” scribe Bill Price and I once thought about being astronauts (we both figured not only would it be a fun trip, we’d bring one of Norm’s old CB radios along just for kicks!), but after learning about weight and strict diet requirements we quietly withdrew our names. (But if they could make a space suit-to-order with extra pockets for some donuts…never mind, it’s still not a good idea.)

Our “Global Information Guide” columnist, Gerry Dexter, suggested to me the other day that we should be officials on at least one of those Big Board Meetings where the Powers That Be make decisions about shortwave radio stations closing, usually in favor of streaming audio programming on the Internet. We nodded in agreement that these Important People are folks making decisions that affect people they’ll never see or talk with personally; after all, they’re usually on the other side of the world. We could certainly weigh in with our two cents in favor of shortwave. At a minimum, at least attending one of those meetings is something we’ve always wanted to do. Of course, in reality, I’ll pass because chances are once “they” make up their minds, the meeting is just a formality.

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VOA News Now Offers Mobile Service In More Languages

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

VOANews.com has announced the launch of additional languages now available for its Mobile Service. Albanian, Korean, Persian, Serbian, Spanish, and Vietnamese language news content is available for Internet-accessible handheld mobile devices, such as cell phones, BlackBerrys, and PDAs, from VOANews.com. These new languages join other VOA Mobile versions in English, Turkish, Indonesian, and Chinese. More information on VOA Mobile is available on the webpage.

Japanese Government To Broadcast Abductee Programs Via South Korea

The Japanese government says it will begin radio broadcasts in the next fiscal year to reach people it believes were abducted by North Korea and who may still be alive there. The radio broadcasts will be produced by the government, which will hire stations mainly in South Korea to air them, sources said. Communications Minister Yoshihide Suga issued an unprecedented order to the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) to air programs about North Korea’s abductions of Japanese nationals on its international service.
The government has also decided to provide funding to the Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea, a private group, to help it pay for another shortwave radio service, called Shiokaze, which broadcasts family messages to abductees who may still be alive.

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Each month, we select representative reader letters for “Our Readers Speak Out” column. We reserve the right to condense lengthy letters for space reasons and to edit to conform to style. All letters submitted must be signed and show a return mailing address or valid e-mail address. Upon request, we will withhold a sender’s name if the letter is used in “Our Readers Speak Out.” Address letters to: Harold Ort, N2RLL, Editor, Popular Communications, 25 Newbridge Road, Hicksville, NY 11801-2909, or send e-mail via the Internet to popularcom@aol.com.

Elgin Timekeeping
Dear Editor:

The comments about radio time signals in the December Pop’Comm were interesting because I used to listen to such signals coming from various U.S. Navy stations all over the world. However, it should be noted that at one time the Elgin Watch Company transmitted shortwave radio time signals from its observatory in Elgin, Illinois.

Tom Kneitel’s Radio Station Treasury shows them on 4795 kcs with the call letters W9XAM in 1932. According to an Internet Web posting at www.angelfire.com/il/newh/Observatory.html, W9XAM was on 4797.5 kHz with 500 watts and transmitted time signals daily except Sunday, at 8:55, 9:55, 10:55 a.m. and 12:55 p.m. The Elgin Observatory closed its doors in 1958.I remember hearing W9XAM’s signals rather weakly in Washington, D.C., when I was a teenager using a home-built regenerative receiver in the mid-1930s. My hobby was listening to time signals from various countries, using the schedules published by the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office in Radio Aids to Navigation. These signals were both longwave and shortwave, and one of my better DX catches was FZS3, Saigon, French Indochina, years before the war in Viet Nam.
Perry Crabill, W3HQX
Winchester, VA

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Japan’s Secret SIGINT Organizations: Focusing On North Korea

A Look Inside Japan’s High-Tech Monitoring Stations

by Hideharu Torii, ( A Tokyo-based journalist and prior writer for Kyodo News)


“Long live the Generalissimo. Long live the Generalissimo.” A fleeing North Korean spy ship transmitted the message in Morse code shortly before it sank in the East China Sea on December 22, 2001. It meant the crew would kill themselves. The message was intercepted by a radio monitoring facility of Japan’s Defense Agency in Kikaishima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, southern Japan.

On December 19 the facility had succeeded in intercepting shortwave communications between the ship and a North Korean base. U.S. forces had provided reconnaissance satellite information to the Defense Agency the previous day that North Korean spy ships had left the North Korean port of Nampo. Radio monitoring stations of the National Police Agency (NPA) also intercepted coded signals emanating from the ship.

At 01:30 a.m. December 22, a patrol plane of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) spotted the vessel some 210 kilometers northwest of Amami-oshima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture. The ship, camouflaged as a Chinese fishing boat bearing the name Zhangyu 3705 in Chinese and carrying a crew of about 15 people, sank at 10:13 p.m. after a six-hour chase and an exchange of fire with Japanese Coast Guard patrol boats. Its crew apparently blew up the boat, and all crewmembers were presumed dead.

Japan’s Equivalent Of  The NSA?

The Kikaishima station is among nine radio monitoring installations under the SIGINT (for SIGnals INTelligence) Directorate of the Defense Agency’s Defense Intelligence Headquarters (DIH); see Table. The electronic intelligence unit’s origin dates back to 1950. At that time Japan was still under occupation, and the U.S. Forces secretly recruited members of the National Police Reserve, predecessor of the Self-Defense Forces, for setting up a SIGINT collection unit.


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FCC Eliminates Morse Code As Exam Requirement

by Richard Fisher, KI6SN

An historic moment in amateur radio in the United States was announced on December 15 by the FCC, in WT Docket 05-235, when the Commission officially dropped the Morse code requirement for amateur tests. Shortly before you read this in the March Pop’Comm the code requirement will officially be history. It will likely take effect sometime in February, 30 days after the Report & Order (R&O) was issued on December 19.
Quoting from the ARRL’s newsletter,

“We…believe that the public interest is not served by requiring facility in Morse code when the trend in amateur communications is to use voice and digital technologies for exchanging messages,” the FCC said in its R&O. “Rather, we believe that because the international requirement for telegraphy proficiency has been eliminated, we should treat Morse code telegraphy no differently from other Amateur Service communications techniques.” The FCC says it deems the current regime of written examinations “sufficient to determine whether a person is qualified to be issued an Amateur Radio operator license.”

We’ll have a more complete report in April as all sides weigh in on this issue.

FCC Revokes Radio License Of Convicted Felon

The FCC has announced the revocation of the Technician class amateur radio license of a Louisiana man for lacking “the basic requisite character qualifications to be and remain a Commission licensee.” The ruling against David Edward Cox, W5OER, was “based on the evidence of his conviction for felony burglary and firearms-related offenses.”
According to the Commission’s “Order of Revocation,” dated December 4, 2006, Cox,

…has held an amateur license since 1995. The Commission’s records do not reveal any violations by him of the Communications Act of 1934…or the Commission’s rules. However, on Aug. 27, 2003, Mr. Cox was arrested and subsequently charged with two counts of simple burglary, each a felony. On Jan. 8, 2004, the District Court of Louisiana convicted Mr. Cox on both counts and sentenced him to five years incarceration at hard labor, but suspended the sentence and placed Mr. Cox on supervised probation for five years.

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Radio Comms In 55 Strategically
Located Vehicles

Weapons Of Mass Destruction Communications
Vehicles Ready On A Moment’s Notice

by Gordon West, WB6NOA


Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams operate 55 identical communications vehicles called “Unified Command Suites.” These 55 vehicles, along with their personnel, are strategically located around the United States, and they’re ready to respond at all events where weapons of mass destruction conceivably could be unleashed, including at major sporting events, big parades, major car races, and major conventions and shows.

Each of the 55 teams could deploy within minutes to a suspected or known weapons of mass destruction incident in their area. Their role is to support civil authorities at a domestic chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosives incident.

This past December, I assisted in a one-week amateur radio training class that was developed for the 9th Civil Support Team, which was joined by personnel from around the country who came in to the Los Alamitos Air Station Facility in California to better understand the role of ham radio operators in emergency communications and to become licensed hams themselves. They would also be introduced to Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) by my fellow instructor, Tom MacKay, W6WC, with Navy, Marine MARS. Together we would spend 40 hours introducing professional communicators to the world of ham radio disaster preparedness, including the American Radio Relay League’s Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) qualification.

“Our classroom was full of professional communicators, working a million-dollar vehicle that might make ham radio gear look like toys,” said MacKay.

As the class proceeded with many live demonstrations of ham radio equipment, including ATV (amateur television) and HF Pactor III, these professional communicators began to better understand many capabilities of ham radio previously unknown to them. “They were even more excited when we went into their million-dollar vehicle and showed them how to get on 40 meters, lower sideband!” adds MacKay.

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Radio Fun And Going Back In Time

by R.B. Sturtevant, AD7IL


Q. When was the first truly practical firefighter's radio developed?

A. Up until 1939 most fire chiefs were fighting fires like their fathers and grandfathers had done before them. In September 1939, however, New York City set up a radio lab and developed a backpack-type radio that operated on UHF. Dry cell batteries kept the set going for 60 to 100 hours, and earphones and a mic setup kept the firefighters’ hands free. One set was used by the chief during the infamous World War II sabotage fire aboard the French liner Normandie in New York harbor in February of 1942. Firefighters and Navy personnel also used semaphore flags to communicate with shore units.

Q. How well did our communications work, given the number of allies trying to talk to each other, during Operation Desert Storm?

A. Well, one of our closest Allies was the British. A unit newsletter from the time says that 21 Signal Regiment (Air Support) was one of the first British units to cross out of Kuwait and into Iraq. Their mission was to give communications support to RAF and U.S. helicopters working in Iraq. They weren’t that happy with the dusty dry desert conditions, but liked living and working with Americans. Their only complaint? Creamed chipped beef, which they described as “quite possibly the most disgusting foodstuff ever conceived.” Brother, you are not alone.


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Iceland Ices Home Service Relays

by Gerry L. Dexter

Last month seemed to be full of positive news about shortwave. But just wait a few weeks and things go sour! Now comes word that Rikisutvarpid, also known as the Icelandic State Broadcasting Service, has iced its home service relays on shortwave that had been running since the 1970s. Coupled with the loss of AFRTS from Iceland several months ago, this takes this country out of our reach on shortwave. To quote Rex Stout’s masterful detective Nero Wolfe: “pfui!”

And again we say “pfui!,” this time to the Italian government, which we hear is planning to make extensive cutbacks in the operations of RAI International. Indeed, it might even drop shortwave altogether! The degree to which the false belief that “nobody listens to shortwave anymore” has spread around, especially in tired old Europe, is hard to believe. What are you going to do, you government mandarins, bureaucrats, and white paper compilers, when target countries jam a plug into your streaming Internet or order stations to stop carrying your broadcasts?

And there’s still more potential trouble ahead. “GIG” reporter Charles Maxant (WV) has been in touch with Drita Cico at Radio Tirana, who tells him that the government there wants to close down the station. No official decision or announcement has been made yet, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to send them a supportive e-mail or letter. E-mail to dcico@abcom-al.com; postal address: External Service, Rruga Ismail Nr.11, Tirana, Albania.

St. Helena Day Report

On the other side of the coin we can find some solace in last November’s great success of Radio St. Helena Day. Not only were the broadcasts widely heard, but there was also the promise of a return engagement this coming fall. If you sent them a reception report please be patient. Don’t forget that mail service to and from St. Helena is very slow. Also note that they aren’t confirming reports sent via e-mail, so you had to attempt the ancient art of actually writing them a letter in order to receive a QSL.

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A Modulation Mystery

by Bruce A. Conti

An unidentified signal has been discovered by mediumwave DXers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It’s heard broadcasting a continuous 1-kHz test tone on 1610 kHz, 24 hours a day. The mystery signal continued to be heard over a period of days, first on 1610, then on 1020 kHz in the AM broadcast band. It wasn’t long before the hunt was underway in earnest by DX detectives across North America. Bill Harms, co-founder of the mIRC mwdx channel, mobilized DXers to try to locate the source of the unidentified test transmissions.

“On behalf of the #mwdx chat room group, all of you who are interested in the 1610 test signal are cordially invited to join us to discuss, and possibly DF (direction find) this station,” announced Bill via the Internet. “If you have not logged on before, you can do so via a web browser at www.starchat. net/chat/?chan=mwdx.”

Based upon numerous DX log reports, the mystery signals were determined to have emanated from the northeast corridor between New Jersey and Virginia, perhaps from one of the military bases just south of Washington, D.C. The unidentified test signal on 1020 kHz was causing significant interference with reception of co-channel WIBG New Jersey and KDKA Pittsburgh.


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Scanners And TV Hardware

by Kent Britain, WA5VJB


There’s a lot of TV and cable hardware out there that works great with scanners and other wide-band receivers. This 72-ohm equipment (see Photo A) works just fine with scanner radios, so here are a bunch of good reasons to find a Type F coax adapter for your radio.

TV accessories have to be pretty flat from 50 to 800 MHz, and most TV accessories work from 20 MHz to 1000 MHz or so. That mast-mounted preamp for fringe TV reception can be expected to work just fine on the 30–50, 108–170, 420–512, and 800–900-MHz scanner bands.

You can also use that TV distribution amp to supply signals to two or more scanners, and an A-B switch makes an excellent antenna selector switch.

Connecting Radios And TV Hardware

Here’s the way to do splitters (see Photo B). Splitters allow you to run two scanners off one antenna, or even connect two antennas to one scanner (see Figure 1). Two antennas to one scanner? Yes, one could be a wide band ground plane, and the other antenna could be one of the 460-MHz Cheap Yagis from our last column, or even a VHF antenna looking at one city and a UHF antenna looking at a different city.

Before I get a bunch of mail on using 72-ohm splitters with 50-ohm coax, I want to say that the splitters are a hybrid transformer and, as such, they have don’t have an impedance themselves. You can use them in most any impedance system from 20 ohms to over 100 ohms, and they “don’t care.”

If you want to build your own splitter using BNC, PL-259, or N connectors, just unsolder the transformer out of a TV splitter and solder it into a new box. In most UHF projects, the directions will tell you to keep all your leads real short; this is one of the few exceptions. That long wire between the connector and the ferrite bead has a fair amount of inductance, and that inductance is part of the transformer impedance-matching network. So just unsolder the transformer out of the splitter and solder it into the new box with the same length leads.


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Digital Scanning

by Ken Reiss


Of all the fallouts from the terrorist attacks of 2001, probably the one with the biggest affect on scanning is the consolidation of radio systems, as well as the funds allotted to help with that project. One of the lessons learned is that public safety agencies that serve a particular area need the ability to talk to each other—directly, if possible. Most two-way systems installed in the last 30 years pretended that nobody else existed unless the agency (or government) was smart enough to ask for that capability.

Federal funds have been made available to upgrade and improve public safety communications systems, and one of the fastest ways to get some of those funds is to state that they’re necessary for interagency communications. With the shortage of frequencies available, and the FCC mandates to convert public safety to digital, almost any new radio system that’s installed in a major metro area (especially one that needs additional channels) is quite likely to be a trunked system operating digitally.

The realities of trunking systems, and the availability of channels to move them to, make this a difficult proposition in some areas. Add to that the number of agencies that actually have to cooperate with each other, and it becomes quite a task. There’s also the issue of coverage for what may be a wider geographic area than any one system had to contend with before—and that comes at a price. Much of this change is moving very slowly, but it is happening, or at least beginning in many areas.
There was a time, not too long ago, that the words “our system is going digital” would strike fear into scanner enthusiasts everywhere. For a very long time it meant that the system you had listened to for years was about to be gone. In some areas that left only fast food drive-thrus, the Family Radio Service (FRS), and the National Weather Service (NWS) to monitor.

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The Sun Is Still Making Big News: Major Flares And Aurora!

 by Tomas Hood, NW7US


Contrary to a common belief that the sun “sleeps” at the bottom of the approximately 11-year-long Solar Cycle, it remains an active agent in space weather, Earth’s geomagnetic activity, and radio propagation. It’s not unusual, as you know by reading this column every month, for the sun to unleash major flares and other phenomenon during any solar cycle minimum.

Solar Cycle 23, which began in 1997, is ending or perhaps already at its end, and the new cycle is starting up. While the end of a solar cycle is marked with very quiet periods of few or no sunspots, the sun is always a huge ball of plasma and energy—truly a dynamic source of immensely active power.

Autumn Storms

The solar cycle minimum is that period of time during the average 11-year solar cycle when solar activity is at the lowest average level. During this time, we see many days where there are no sunspots, and then there are those days when we see one or two sunspots rotate into view and then travel across the visible solar disk. As has been reported in past columns, and observed by solar scientists during the last few sunspot cycles, some of those sunspots can pack a powerful punch.

One such punch created quite a media buzz and triggered a surge in amateur radio activity. On December 5, 2006, a major X-class flare measuring X9.0 erupted from NOAA Sunspot Region 0930, spewing a massive coronal ejection (CME) out into interplanetary space. Region 930 had just rotated into view, so the Earth’s force field, the Magnetosphere, received only a glancing blow of the plasma cloud. This flare was one of the biggest during Solar Cycle 23.

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Trunking Aweigh—Monitoring High Seas Military Action

by Tom Swisher, WA8PYR


If you live near one of our coastlines (and census data show that a sizable percentage of you do), you may have seen various ships of the U.S. Navy gliding by on the briny deep. You may even have heard communications from them as they sailed by. But did you know that many naval vessels have their own trunked systems?

Trunked systems are well suited for shipboard use. Designed to accommodate a large number of varied users, trunked systems can pack a great deal of activity into just a few channels. They’re also ideally suited for interoperability use, and interdepartmental communications on board a warship are vital, especially in the event of an emergency.

The larger ships of the fleet are prime candidates for on-board trunked systems. They have their own police and fire departments, health care facilities, housing areas, media outlets in the form of television and print, and even a government of sorts. All of this naturally requires an effective communications system, and trunking fits the bill nicely. It’s even more important for aircraft carriers, the largest vessels in the fleet. Carriers are the size of a small city, with a population of over 5,000 and with the addition of an airport...on the roof.

Like a subway or the sub-basement levels of buildings, an aircraft carrier, and even a frigate or destroyer, poses certain challenges for setting up an effective communications system. While an antenna on the mast structure may work well for coverage of the deck and outer superstructure, a warship has many small compartments and spaces, all made of steel, many of them far below decks, and in many cases below the waterline. Radio waves don’t penetrate steel (or saltwater) terribly well, so means other than conventional antennas are necessary.

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A Simple Ammeter And Wattmeter Adapter—
An Easy Project To Enhance Your Workbench

by Peter J. Bertini


Every so often I like to swap out the “daily player”—the radio that provides daily entertainment within easy reach of my computer desk. A few days ago I decided one of my Philco 16B tombstones was due for some play time, but the radio just didn’t sound right when it warmed up.

To make a long story short, I ended up having to drag the radio to the workbench for further tests. I discovered that the radio was drawing a lot of current. Once I pulled the chassis I traced the problem to a failed electrolytic supply and loss of the back biasing circuit in the power supply. The audio output stages had no bias and the tubes were drawing excessive current.

My Heath IP5220 variable supply, with its built-in metering for both AC voltage and current, is indispensable for quickly spotting such faults. But they are fairly expensive and scarce, so few shops have one, and being a tad bulky they are best deployed as a fixture on the test bench. It would be nice to have a quick, portable, and easy means of measuring the AC drawn by a radio without having to drag it onto the bench. Sure, you can place an ammeter in series, but how easy is that to do?

Here’s a simple work-around for our dilemma: an easily built test adapter that can be used with a digital meter to measure the AC current being drawn by any appliance, up to a few hundred watts, and with good accuracy. As an added bonus, the wattage can be quickly calculated based on the current and voltage readings available on the adapter’s test jacks! Let’s get started!

The Theory

Take a look at Figure 1, the schematic for our little test gizmo. The secret is a 5-watt 1-ohm wire-wound resistor connected in series with the AC hot lead, between the wall plug and single AC outlet in the test box. Two jacks are used to measure the AC voltage at the socket, and two other jacks are used to measure the voltage drop across the 1-ohm resistor.

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On Vacation With Your Radio Gear—
Tips To Keep You Out Of Trouble And On The Air!

by Rich Arland, W3OSS


In this issue we’re going to cover “Radio on the Go.” No, this is not another I-grabbed-my-scanner/transceiver/SW receiver-and-tent-and-went-out-into-the-wilderness-and-had-a-ball-type article. There are enough of those floating around. In this installment we’re going to look at the pros and cons of taking your radio gear on vacation using public transportation, like planes, trains, and cruise ships.

With the earth-shattering terrorist attacks of 9/11, coupled with the on-going terrorist bombings around the world, those of us who want to bring our radio gear along on vacation need to be aware of a few things that we took very much for granted in the pre-9/11 era. For one thing, the attitude of most world governments today is focused on preventing terror attacks. One needs to look no further than the crash of Pan Am Flight 103 on December 12, 1988, over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 259 passengers and 11 people on the ground.

Allegedly the bomb that brought down that aircraft was composed of between two and four pounds of Semtex (a plastic explosive) that was planted in a “boom-box” portable stereo, which was then placed aboard the ill-fated aircraft. Now you can see why any type of electronic gear is suspect, especially communications equipment.

I know we’ve all heard horror stories about some hapless radio hobbyist being stopped at airport security and grilled and hassled relentlessly about the equipment he or she was attempting to carry aboard an aircraft. To put it mildly, security at most airports, both here in the states and overseas, is no joke. It’s real and we, as radio hobbyists, must deal with it head on if we plan to take any radio gear with us on vacation or business trips.


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Radio Myth, Or Radio Fact?

Fourteen Myth-Busters To Help You Separate Baloney From Porterhouse

by Harold Ort, N2RLL


Everybody likes to embellish; we all do it. And sometimes if tall tales are repeated often enough, those so-called old wives tales take on lives of their own. Before you know it, what started out as a rumor or tall tale becomes fact, and then years later “they’re” still talking about it on the local repeater or online as Radio Gospel. Let’s look at a dozen radio myths and bust them right up to clear the air—before you get caught saying “they” say something that’s just plain baloney!

Myth 1: Police and other public safety communications are private and not for public listening.

Fact: A few years ago I encountered a local college cop who told me their communications—frequencies and all their two-way comms—were, essentially, private. Of course, if you’re easily convinced because you’re speaking with a uniformed cop, you could be duped into believing such nonsense. The Pop’Comm Truth Meter swings all the way over on this one and lights flash because that’s just plain BS.

Public safety comms in the United States are easily monitored—and legally so—by anyone with a scanner or even an extended receive amateur transceiver. There’s no federal law that prohibits monitoring of these frequencies. As a matter of fact, many agencies encourage public monitoring. Be sure to check your local statutes before using that scanner when mobile, though, because those laws are another matter.

Myth 2: Amateur radio operators, hams, can transmit on a public safety frequency in an actual emergency.

Fact: Wrong answer, Marvin—forfeit a turn and go back to start! Licensed amateur operators are licensed to operate equipment on amateur radio frequencies. Period. Equipment operated in any service has to be certified, EXCEPT amateur equipment operating in the amateur service. The FCC’s Riley Hollingsworth says, “However, the caveat is, if it is a bona fide emergency, we would want them to do whatever necessary to get help in that particular situation.”


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Talk This Way: Conforming To International Standards

by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ


I can’t say for sure, but it’s a pretty safe bet that the use of keyboard-to-keyboard modes such as PSK (and its many cousins) are still on the rise. And that’s good for international “interoperability.” Whether talking with a ham in upstate New York or Outer Mongolia, we still have to spell out the words in a mutually understandable fashion, but there are no pronunciation issues or accents to contend with. Lucky for U.S. hams, most of that spelling out is in English!

Morse code, which is seeing a drop-off in activity, is in a similar situation. It’s long been a standard-bearer for universal access to the airwaves. With a substantial collection of “Q-codes” and other widely accepted shorthand abbreviations, everyone from everywhere can join in the fun. With Q-codes, standard abbreviations, and callsigns, hams with minimal English skills can work pileups, participate in contests, have cookie-cutter QSOs, etc.

What remains is phone—a bit of AM, a touch of digital, still mostly SSB. Beginning ops are making lots of SSB contacts these days, DX and stateside. The shift in operating emphasis because of improving digital and radio technology and reduced or non-existent Morse code licensing requirements worldwide has created a need for beginning operators to know standard voice operating procedures—and adhere to them!

On phone, in addition to using standard QSO procedures, such as the customary practice of telling the other operator how you’re receiving him (RS or RST), where you’re located (QTH), and what your name is, to make sure voice communications are as understandable and as universal as possible (for hams from around the world), we use the international phonetic alphabet. Standardization is the key! Properly used, phonetics can go a long way towards smoother voice operation and can definitely improve your success rate when trying to break pileups and work overseas ops, so here are some tips on using them.

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Survey Results: What You’re Telling Us

Our Readers’ Opinions, By The Numbers

by Harold Ort, N2RLL, Editor


It’s been a while since we reported to you and, as always, we appreciate your patience. We take great care and concern in putting together the questions and compiling the results we get from our readers. And one Pop’Comm reader, Paul Godshall of Perkasie, Pennsylvania, told us, “I would like to read articles concerning digital scanners” on one of our recent survey report cards. Well, Paul, we’ve taken your suggestion—and that of many other folks—and given you what you want in Ken Reiss’ column and other features over the past few months. This month be sure to check out “Digital Scanning” on page 39 and there’s more to come!

When we asked you what you typically monitored on your scanner, the 150 answers were as varied as the hobby itself. About 28 percent of you reported listening to government comms, and a nearly equal number of you said you listen primarily to aircraft (military and civilian) comms.

Ten percent of you said you search for those seldom-heard “secret” comms, and another 10 percent said you listen to public safety frequencies (police, fire, and medical). About 15 percent of you said you listen to amateur comms and about five percent reported actively listening to amateur communications.

To get a new scanner or not, that is the question. Fully 45 percent of you reported that “my current scanner is just fine,” and about 12 percent said your monitoring interests aren’t trunked, so the current scanner is fine, thank you! About 40 percent of you reported, nearly equally, that the new scanners are just too complicated to use, have far too many channels for your needs, and you’re more interested in shortwave.

So just how many scanners do most of you have? The answer might surprise you. About 54 percent reported owning two to four scanners, while about 15 percent of you said you have one, and another 18 percent own five to seven scanners. About 12 percent of you said you have more than seven scanners!

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FRS: A Growing Fraternity

by Ron McCracken, KG4CVL / WPZX48


“What’s this about a fraternity?” you ask. Simple. Do you operate a radio? Then you belong to a fraternity—a huge fraternity. In fact, the radio fraternity is one of the largest in the world. If you hadn’t thought of yourself in those terms before, I’d like to welcome you to the club.

The radio fraternity is rather informal compared to most. There are no Greek names, no dues, and no secret passwords. However, as in other groups, members of the radio fraternity staunchly look out for fellow members. They will go out of their way to help a fellow radio operator in any way.

FRS Is The Newest Chapter

Family Radio Service (FRS) operators form one of the newest, and perhaps largest, chapters of the worldwide radio fraternity. The good news about that is that we have lots of fellow FRS operators to talk with. The bad news (and it’s not really bad at all) is that we have a lot of other operators to look out for, and help, in every way we can.

That’s important. Our new FRS radios may be tiny and offer loads of hi-tech features, but they still are basic radios. That means that they’re much like the old rural party-line telephones. We can hear everyone’s conversation if they’re on the same channel we’re using. That requires that we take turns talking so we don’t “walk” on one another, or we can shift to an unused channel. Good, solid members of the radio fraternity use these and other easy ways to help fellow operators out.

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A Short Intro To Microsoft’s Visual BASIC Express

by Joe Cooper


This month’s column continues to outline how you can learn how to build “virtual” radios using Microsoft’s Visual BASIC 2005 Express Edition, with the focus on programming for Ten-Tec’s RX-320D. Microsoft is releasing “Express” editions of several of its programs including Visual Basic, C#, C++, J+, SQL Server, and Visual Web Developer to anyone who wants to become involved in computer programming to do so. Each Express application is downloadable from the Internet (as will be explained later in the column) and will work with a PC that’s capable of running Windows 2000 or better.

What makes this line of programming software special is that it’s distributed absolutely free of charge and will remain free of charge “forever,” according to Microsoft. But even more important is that Microsoft also includes an extensive training for each package at no charge. This includes 10 hours of on-line video training for the absolute beginner, starter kits with easily understood projects, an archive of webcasts featuring additional beginner training and a library of articles on programming topics. In addition, there’s a hobbyist community moderated by Microsoft staff, where you can join in and ask questions and get advice on your programming projects.

Although the Express program is aimed at hobbyists, you can still create very sophisticated applications, no matter which programming language you choose to work with. However, for us to create a straightforward computer-assisted tuning (CAT) program for Ten-Tec’s RX-320D, the best Choice is Visual Basic. To understand why it is, let’s take a look at how this programming language came into being in the first place.

From BASIC To Visual BASIC

The Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code (BASIC) computer language has been around for more than 40 years. It was developed by mathematicians John Kemeny and Tom Kurtzasat at Dartmouth College in 1964. It’s a high-level language that uses an English syntax like LET, PRINT, IF and GOTO as commands, and in earlier forms provided line numbers that allowed programmers to keep track of tasks being worked on.

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Don’t Forget To Log Your Contacts, Air Show Schedules And More

by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ


The hobby of shortwave radio listening is more diversified than it may appears to those unfamiliar with this fascinating endeavor. For many people, the mention of shortwave listening conjures up the image of someone trolling the bands in search of shortwave broadcast stations such as those that my Pop’Comm colleague Gerry Dexter covers in his column, “Global Information Guide,” elsewhere in this magazine. Many of us get started in the hobby this way, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Along with the broadcast stations, the shortwave bands are also populated by ham radio operators from all around the world, many of whom also got their start as SWLs. Then, of course, are the utility (UTE) stations that the readers of this column listen to. Throw in the existence of countless analog and digital transmission modes along with the rest, and what we end up with is a hobby on which several books could, be, have been, and will be written, not to mention an eternal supply of material for the monthly columns written by myself and my colleagues here at Pop’Comm.

There is, however, at least one practice common to shortwave listeners around the world, regardless of whether we listen to hams, UTEs, or broadcast stations or whether we use sophisticated megabucks receivers connected to extensive antenna farms or simple, inexpensive portable radios with a hunk of wire tossed out the window. The practice that joins all of us HF-listening fans at the hip is the subject of this month’s column: keeping a log of our listening activities.

There are many reasons for keeping detailed logs of what you hear on the bands, when you heard it, and where you heard it. To begin with, logging a station once you hear it makes it a lot easier to find, and listen to, that station again when you want to do so, because you’ll have saved the frequency, time, and other pertinent information for you to refer to during subsequent listening sessions.

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Saint Kitts And Nevis—Radio Stations, Great Beaches,
And A Monitoring Surprise

by Harold Ort, N2RLL, Editor


This month, in honor of cruise ship season, we look at a different kind of “hot spot.” Nestled in the Caribbean between Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago (10 extra points if you can find any of these islands in 10 seconds or less on your world map!) is a dual island paradise that only achieved independence 24 years ago from Britain. It’s not enough that the islands made that hurdle; Nevis still is trying to separate politically from Saint Kitts! (Officially the islands are called Saint Christopher and Nevis).


Together these volcanic islands only occupy 101 square miles of the Earth, are about one and a half times the area of Washington, D.C., and are home to more than 46,000 people. English is the predominant language of the islanders, who are predominantly black, between 15 and 64 years old, and fairly evenly divided between men and women.

Check out the map. The islands are the shape of a baseball bat and ball, but there’s more to do than play baseball on these lush tropical islands. With a beautiful coastline and constant warm sea breezes, it’s easy to understand why tourism is a main industry, and nearly as many tourists visited Nevis during one recent season than live on both islands! What’s not to like about great golf courses and endless beaches?

While the economy of Saint Kitts and Nevis was once dependent on the sugar industry, in the mid ’80s the government began to diversify the islands’ economy, and today offshore banking and even export-oriented manufacturing abound. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate based on the latest (1997) data is 4.5 percent and the GDP is $339 million. Its offshore banking business isn’t everything many thought it would be. Many international financial agencies had actually blacklisted the islands because of improprieties up until four years ago, when it was removed from the bad boy lists. Today there’s little actual lawlessness on the islands, but they are a trafficking hotspot for drug bound for the United States and Europe.


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How To Do Stuff—Part 1 Soldering: The Holy Grail Of Electronics

by Bill Price, N3AVY


Yes, that's right-it's time for Dr. Techie to share some of the wonderful skills he's learned that have helped him get (and keep) his HPJIE.* I guess that ranks me right up there with none other than loyal reader Joe Maurus, who recently realized his boyhood dream and got his first HPJIE while maintaining his “first responder” status in Pumpkin Center, Louisiana.

It would be unfair of me to tell all the secrets, but as a service to those of you still smitten with the idea of finding and capturing that elusive HPJIE, allow me to pass along these secrets, as they say, “before it’s too late.”

The Iron

It doesn’t matter what kind of iron you use. Okay, it really does matter. You shouldn’t use a 250-watt (or even a 100-watt) soldering gun. They are made for heavy wire. We will not be using heavy wire in most electronic circuits, so we need a light-duty iron, typically 40-watt, with replaceable tips. My first iron cost 99 cents and was easily worth half that amount. It had a huge tip that could not be tightened, was way too hot, and could not be set down without setting something on fire. It was not rated by the UL or anything even resembling a safety organization. I was eight years old. My dad told me it was a waste of my allowance, but my mind was made up. He did not become smart until I was much older.

I asked my dad how to solder. He told me. I must not have liked his answers, because I ignored them until much later in my life. “Clean the work. Clean the iron. Use non-acid flux solder. Heat the things you’re soldering, not the solder. You can’t solder stainless steel or aluminum.”

If you would just follow those bits of wisdom (thanks, dad) you could teach yourself to solder. You, however, are probably like I was, in that you feel that those steps are merely window dressing in the grand scheme of soldering. They are not. They ARE the grand scheme of soldering. All the rest is window dressing.

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