Driven To Distraction

by Harold Ort, N2RLL

Over the years we’ve discussed in these pages the fine art of going mobile with our CBs, ham radios, scanners, and FRS/GMRS transceivers. I say “fine art” because it is, indeed, an art of sorts. You just don’t (or shouldn’t, at least) “install” a radio of any kind in a vehicle without some prior planning. For instance, you need to know how you’ll you route the antenna and power cables, will you see the display and radio’s controls, and will the microphone cable interfere with driving the vehicle. And while in a moving vehicle you certainly don’t operate the radio if your gut tells you it’s dangerous, right?

Today’s vehicles, as we’ve also said many times in the past, aren’t exactly radio friendly when it comes to installation or even operation. It’s truly pretty darn close to a cockpit of sorts where the primary focus of the pilot is, as it always has been, to drive the vehicle and get safely from here to there. That’s an admirable concept—safe driving—because if we end up going home with crutches, or worse, we’ll most certainly play the coulda-shoulda game: “Only if I had waited a moment for that 18-wheeler to pass through the intersection before making that important call on the repeater!”

Well, as it turns out, there’s help on the horizon. You might not like the “help,” but don’t touch that dial, because it’s coming anyway—if it’s not already there where you live.

We live in an over-regulated and litigious society (the hallmark of a people on the doorstep of The Institution with Rubber Rooms) that, frankly, while still the greatest free country in the world, gets laughed at by the rest of the free world more times than I care to count. (Getting laughed at once in a while is okay; I get laughed at, especially when I wear my white gym socks with those funky black shoes.) It’s when you’re laughed at most of the time that’s should be cause for concern.

My first non-commissioned officer laughed at one of the “dumb” questions I raised about some goofy regulation, then he quipped, “Sonny, this is the Army; you can’t get out of bed and walk across that parking lot without breakin’ some rule or regulation, so just get used to it do your best—don’t do anything stupid.”

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News, Trends, And Short Takes

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

U.S. Budget Plan Would Cut Most VOA English Radio Programs

The new U.S. budget proposal would eliminate most of Voice of America’s English broadcasts, as well as radio programs in 12 other languages. The U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors said programs in some other languages would be expanded and that there would be an increase in total spending on international broadcasting in President Bush’s 2008 budget plan. Under the proposal, VOA would eliminate all 14 hours per day of VOA News Now English broadcasting, but would continue English-to-Africa programs and the Special English broadcasts that use a limited vocabulary. The proposed budget calls for increased VOA broadcasting to North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela.

The plan also seeks the elimination of VOA broadcasts in Cantonese, Uzbek, Croatian, Greek, Georgian, and Thai. Albanian, Serbian, Bosnian, Macedonian, Hindi, and Russian radio would also be cut, but those services would continue television programming. Other services would be reduced. Any cuts would have to be approved by Congress. A similar bid to cut English radio programs was made in the proposed 2007 budget. That budget has never been approved.

UK Media Regulator Ofcom Considering DRM+ Tests On 55 To 68 MHz

UK media regulator Ofcom has announced that it will consider applications to test DRM+ on the 55- to 68-MHz band following interest from London-based WRN after Ofcom had held a public consultation on this band, which had attracted little interest. DRM+ is the extension to the DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) system, which was originally intended to be the digital radio replacement for LW, MW, and SW at frequencies below 30 MHz. DRM+ will allow transmissions up to 120 MHz with wider channel bandwidths, which will allow higher bit rates and hence higher audio quality. It is envisaged to primarily be used in the FM band.

WRN has already trialed DRM on the 26-MHz band, but this band is not very well suited to carrying radio stations because it is subject to sporadic-E interference when there is significant sunspot activity, which allows radio signals to travel over long distances and interfere with local transmissions due to the weird and wonderful propagation mechanisms that occur at lower frequencies.

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Power + Radio =
Your Ticket To Radio Fun

At Home, On-The-Go, Or In An Emergency,
Here’s One Way To Go With Portable Power

by Harold Ort, N2RLL, Editor

Our surveys have told us that most of you (about 75 percent) like to build things, and about the same number of you like to experiment with portable power generation, so this month we’ll take a look at a small, yet fairly beefy, power unit and radio shack on wheels that I put together in one afternoon, with help from the great folks at Alinco, ACDelco, Vector Mfg, and Midland Radio Corporation.

The key to any radio “station”—scanner, ham, CB, GMRS, or whatever—is power; that means sufficient power to run the station on a camping trip or in an emergency, independent of 110 VAC. I always think of our radio shacks as tremendous links to the outside world when the chips are down (or power lines are down, which where I live occurs more frequently than it should because we still insist on stringing our wires 1930s style instead of burying them underground!). For those of us without the Big Bucks required for a whole-house emergency generator, or for folks who travel and have the room for a large household portable cart in the SUV this one’s for you.

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Welcome To The Neighborhood!
Here’s A Special Tour Of HF Propagation!

by Tomas Hood, NW7US

The day I finally received my FCC-assigned callsign, and with it the new privilege to transmit on the shortwave frequencies, I was as excited as a young boy called to open his Christmas presents. With great anticipation I sat before the Kenwood TS-520S that I’d installed in my bedroom-turned-radio room. I’d strung a long wire antenna from the outside of the radio shack window on the second floor of the apartment, out to a distant tree, about an acre distant. With trembling hands, I turned the radio on and adjusted the various knobs, carefully following the tune-up instructions.

Once the transmit tubes warmed up, I nervously flipped the TUNE switch, actually putting out a real radio signal. It wasn’t too long before all of the adjustments were made and the radio was ready for me to make contact with other hams. Boy, this was the moment I’d waited for—the day that I could finally talk to the world by shortwave radio!

I made sure that my writing paper and pen were ready, and then I did it: I started sending my “CQ CQ CQ DE KA1VGL KA1VGL KA1VGL KN” by slowly working my old World War II Navy signaling key. My adrenaline rushing, I listened to the rushing hiss and pops, hoping to hear the replying Morse code of some distant station. And I waited.

I knew that it could take a few calls, as I realized that my short call might not have been heard by a station simply tuning around, looking for someone to “chat” with. With renewed courage, I sent out another call.

This time, I heard it! Someone was actually sending a string of Morse code, right on my frequency! Once the shock was over, I frantically started writing the characters as I heard them, “KA1VGL,” and my heart raced! It really was a response to my call! I was able to get a hold of my senses, and copied the rest of the returning transmission, seeing that it was another East Coaster, based on the callsign. The station returned it to me, by sending the ending, “KN.”

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Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications

 by Richard Fisher, KI6SN

FCC Chairman Taken To Task For Rural BPL Remarks

FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin was chastised by the American Radio Relay League earlier this year for “telling the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that broadband over power line (BPL) technology is the answer to broadband deployment in rural areas,” according to a press release on the League’s website.

Martin and the other four FCC commissioners testified during the committee hearing, “Assessing the Communications Marketplace: A View from the FCC.” The ARRL said that, “In his prepared remarks, the chairman described BPL as a ‘potentially significant player due to power lines’ ubiquitous reach, allowing it to more easily provide broadband to rural areas.’” The League went on to say,

…in joint comments to the FCC in 2003 on the then-pending BPL rule making proceeding, the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative (NRTC) and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) cited studies indicating BPL would “not be a viable solution for most Americans in truly rural areas any time soon.” The organizations said that “many rural Americans are served by power lines that are many miles long with as few as one or two consumers per mile.”

ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ, criticized Martin for repeating “specious BPL industry claims” that “suggest BPL has anything to offer rural dwellers,” according to the League.

“The assertion that BPL can ‘more easily provide broadband to rural areas’ is one of the big lies about BPL,” Sumner said. “It has been debunked time and time again, and it is beyond comprehension to hear it parroted by the federal government’s senior telecommunications regulator at this late date.”

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New Low Cost HF Rigs—And Great Prices, Too!

Now That Morse Code Is No Longer A Test Requirement,
There’s No Excuse For Not Upgrading. Here’s What’s New!

by Gordon West, WB6NOA

Ham radio history and testing for U.S. amateur licensees wanting to upgrade has changed with the stroke of the FCC’s pen. The Commission’s Report and Order (R&O) in WT Docket 05-235 eliminated Morse code examinations on February 23, and volunteer examiners throughout the country reported huge upgrade sessions.

VE teams will see many applicants within the next few months with the following upgrade ambitions:

• Technician class operators wishing to test for General class, obviously without a code test required.

• Applicants with no license wishing to take both written exams to go from no license to General class license.

• Technician class operators, licensed before March 1987 wishing to do a paperwork upgrade with NO test involved.

• Technician class operators who hold a current Certificate of Successful Completion of Element 3, General Class, wishing to turn in their valid CSCE for the General class ticket.

• New applicants wishing to get into ham radio because they heard there was no longer a code test required.

• Generals wishing to upgrade to Extra class and who want to beat the upgrade rush!

No-Code Technicians Get Plenty!

That same Report and Order also awarded Technician No-Code licensees “instant upgrade” to original Technician Plus high-frequency privileges with voice, code and data on the lower portion of 10 meters, plus CW only on 15 meters, 40 meters, and 75 meters. They get the privileges outlined in the accompanying Table below.

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’Tis The Season...

by Ken Reiss

No, not that season! It’s the season for skip—reception of radio signals at distances far further than are normally possible. Spring is the prime season for skip, although some forms of it can occur at almost any time of the year. Let’s take a look at how this happens and how you might be able to hear a bit of it, if you’re in the right place at the right time.

For the most part, the VHF and UHF ranges that we listen to on our scanners are pretty much limited to the infamous “line of sight,” meaning that a relatively clear path between the transmitting and receiving antennas must exist for communications to take place. But lower frequencies—shortwave, in particular—commonly bounce off layers of the atmosphere and return hundreds of miles away. This makes possible the long-distance, almost worldwide communications that both hams and many commercial two-way services use. The aviation industry still makes a lot of use of HF when planes get over the horizon, although there’s now a move toward satellite communications. The maritime industry’s large ocean-going ships are almost all equipped with satellite systems, except in less developed parts of the world.

Frequencies Chosen For When Things Are Normal...

The VHF/UHF ranges were chosen for their particular lack of this feature. You don’t really want to have fire engines in Phoenix mistakenly responding to a fire call given by Los Angeles. Using frequencies that don’t travel beyond the horizon, and then deliberately spacing apart the users of those frequencies, helps to minimize one department from having to listen to another. Frequency management is a tough job, even when conditions are normal.

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A Low-Cost, Easy-To-Build
Antenna For 800 MHz

by Kent Britain, WA5VJB

The antennas we’re going to cover this month are from a family of easy-to-build Yagi antennas we affectionately call “Cheap Yagis.” Their booms are just a length of wood a 1/2 wide, and the elements are made from 1/8-inch diameter wire. Hobby tubing, aluminum ground rod wire, or #10 to #12 copper wire can be used. Brass or bronze welding rod also makes nice elements.

The cheapest element material is the ground rod wire available at RadioShack, (#15-035). About $5 will get you enough aluminum wire to build about a dozen of these antennas. Similar aluminum wire is also available from many hardware stores. For the driven element you really want something that can be soldered to. I strongly suggest using the bare copper wire or the brass welding rod for your driven element.

When mounted inside your attic, these antennas last for years and years. I have a couple in my attic that will be old enough to vote shortly! Their low cost also makes them great for portable operations and field trips. If you plan to mount these antennas outside, however, they’ll need a little protection. A coat of spar varnish works great, clear spray paint works as well, too. Or if you want to use a color, I recommend a light gray color. Light gray helps the antenna blend into the sky; it’s the same camouflage technique the satellite dish companies use. Another camouflage technique is to paint it the same color as the house and mount it near your trim.

Three Different Versions—One To Fit Just About Any Need

The Four-Element Antenna

Plot 1 is the antenna pattern produced when this antenna is mounted with the element pointing up and down (vertically polarized). This antenna will have good reception over nearly 180 degrees. Gain floats over the 840- to 900-MHz band between 7.5 and 8.5 dBi, so if you’re on the edge of a metropolitan area, this antenna pattern will cover just about the entire city. Just point the antenna at the center of the city. Remember, though, more antenna gain is not always a good thing when you want to pick up a wide area.


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Your Life: Worth A $10 FRS?

Millions Of These Little Radios Are Out There—
Here’s How To Use Them To Save Your Life

by Ron McCracken, KG4CVL/WPZX486

No doubt you heard and read about the three ill-fated Mt. Hood climbers. Just days before Christmas they tragically lost their lives trying to scale the unforgiving north face of that rugged mountain. Three families were devastated by the deaths of these young men. Could an FRS radio have helped?

Children lost dads. Wives lost husbands. Parents lost sons. Those are only the most obvious costs. It’s hard to comprehend the true scope of any such loss to extended family, friends, and colleagues. Two of the men remain unaccounted for on the mountain, so their bereaved families still await closure in their terrible ordeal.

Saddest of all, perhaps, is the strong possibility that an inexpensive $10 FRS radio might have made all the difference in the outcome of this tragedy. And, this case is not unique.

Just weeks before, in the same area, a young family became lost, and then stranded, in their car on a mountain logging road. After several days, the husband tried to walk out for help. Again, you’ve undoubtedly learned of the fate of his trek. Again, an FRS radio might well have altered that sad outcome.

FRS—A Channel For Help

Even the best FRS radios offer only short-range communications. However, in both of these instances short-range communications might have made all the difference. In the horrendous weather conditions that faced rescuers on Mt. Hood, they may well have passed within yards of the missing climbers and never known it. FRS radios would have enabled communications as searchers came within range. And in the dense forest with its limited visibility that surrounded the young father, an FRS radio might have linked him to ground searchers when they neared.

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Radio Fun And Going Back In Time

by R.B. Sturtevant, AD7IL

Q. Who came up with the terms Positive, Negative, and Neutral when referring to electronics and electricity?

A. The Greek natural philosopher Thales of Miletus was the first we know of to discover and study static electricity. Then around 1600 William Gilbert in England discovered that static electricity would attract small, light things. He was the one who identified things as “electrified” or “charged.”
The French scientist Charles Dufray, in 1733, discovered that there were two different kinds of static, but he never developed terms for them. It was Benjamin Franklin who, in describing his experiments, first used the terms “positive” and “negative” for static charges. He also used the term “neutral” for something having neither a positive or negative charge.

Q. We are told that Earth will one day be sending settlers off to inhabit space colonies and other planets. What kind of communications will those settlements have?

A. Well, in order to get up into space and build the colonies, we’re going to need fairly sophisticated communications, as we’ve already seen in the space program. The thinking, by those who are doing that sort of planning, is that we’ll have the same things going on in space as we have on Earth: radio, TV, and other types of communications will originate from stations on the colonies. If a signal can be generated on Earth it can probably be generated on space colonies. There will just be more choices on more channels.

Programming will also be beamed in from Earth or other colonies by laser. There will be a thriving business in copying and recording programming because of freight costs for prerecorded material. (One can hope, I suppose, that there will be an improvement in the quality of the programming, but that would be wishful thinking given what the increased number of cable channels has brought us.) Telephone systems may be a little different, but should be capable of reaching Earth from at least the nearby colonies.

It’s also going to change the whole idea of DXing and contesting as well. Since other planets, galaxies, or colonies may be several light years away, QSOs will take a lot more time. We’ll figure that any antenna or transmitter that can’t get us off the planet is for short-range work.

How’s that for a look into the crystal ball?

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FRS: Your Key To REACT, And May Is REACT Month!

by Ron McCracken, KG4CVL / WPZX486

Pssst! Got an FRS radio? Know some others with FRS radios? Congratulations! You can be on the way to becoming REACT volunteers. Are you keen to put those FRS radios to work for the safety of the public? That is the prime goal of REACT Teams worldwide. REACT volunteers use their radios to help others in emergencies. They also use their radios to help prevent or minimize emergencies at local events by providing safety communications.

Sound interesting? Your next step then is to visit www.REACTintl.org and click on “Teams and Councils.” Click on your state on the map and that will give you a list of REACT Teams active in your area. For our readers in other countries, you can click on your nation in the list at the left of the page. Contact the nearest Team by e-mail or telephone to get details about location, date, and time of Team meetings.

If there’s no Team nearby to join, you and your friends can form one. Just request a Team Charter Application. The information you need to do that appears at bottom of the same webpage, or you can call 1-866-REACT-9-9.

FRS: REACT’s Newest Workhorse

REACT Teams use various types of radios in their work, and FRS radio is the newest. Your local Team may well be using FRS already. It’s ideal for short-range communications at parades, Special Olympics, fairs, walkathons, etc. If the Team is not already using FRS, your radios may be able to contribute a brand new element to its operations.

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The New HD Radio Digital Broadcast Receivers—Plus HD Radio’s Future

by Bruce A. Conti

Digital broadcasting represents the most significant advancement in radio since FM stereo, producing CD-quality audio on FM and “FM-quality” audio on AM. Over 150 AM and 800 FM radio stations in the United States are licensed to broadcast hybrid in-band on-channel (IBOC) HD radio, where a digital signal is transmitted on the sidebands simultaneously with the analog signal on existing AM and FM broadcast frequencies.

Now, even more digital programming is available to listeners via secondary HD2 digital channels contained within the IBOC signals, helping to further drive demand for digital receivers. Manufacturers have responded with several new HD radio digital broadcast receivers introduced over the last year. Most have similar features, but some stand alone with innovative and unique elements of design that challenge the ordinary clock radio.

Digital Radio Receivers

The Recepter HD Radio from Boston Acoustics was the first widely available digital broadcast receiver and was highlighted in the June 2006 Popular Communications overview of HD radio. It features remote control, 20 station presets, a detached satellite speaker for full stereo sound, headphone/auxiliary output, auxiliary input for an MP3 player or other analog audio source, alarm clock, and a capacitor power back-up to save preset and clock settings during a brief power outage. An external seven-foot dipole antenna is included for improved reception. The Recepter HD also displays FM Radio Broadcast Data System (RBDS) information. It lists at $299.99 from local dealers or Boston Acoustics online (<www.bostonacoustics.com>).

The Accurian Tabletop HD Radio represents the first entry into the digital broadcast arena by RadioShack. It features remote control, 24 station presets, and includes external AM and FM antennas for improved reception. It lists at $199.99 at RadioShack (www.radioshack.com).

The SoundWorks 820HD is new from Cambridge SoundWorks. It features remote control, auxiliary audio input, alarm clock, a telescopic whip FM antenna and external AM loop antenna. It lists at $299.99 from Cambridge SoundWorks showrooms and online (www.cambridgesoundworks.com). Watch for clearance sales as the company has been consolidating storefront locations in favor of a stronger online presence.

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Your Personal Security Is Your Responsibility—
Here’s How To Be Proactive

by Rich Arland, W3OSS

We’re rapidly approaching the peak travel season in the United States and abroad. With recent developments involving extremist Islamic terrorists targeting Western interests and personnel wherever they can find them, our topic this month is personal security.

One underlying theme that has been consistent throughout the last few years in this column is that your security and the security of your family are YOUR responsibility and no one else’s. You cannot delegate your own security or that of your family to the police, the federal government, or any other organization. All law enforcement agencies are reactive. You need to be proactive to ensure the safety of all concerned. It’s you, plain and simple.

What’s Changed Over Time?
Not Much, Really

For over five years I lived and worked in England. My wife and I were stationed at RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall, respectively. We lived off base in the local community and our children went to British schools. Regularly we were exposed to IRA terrorism against the British government. Bombs seemed to be the preferred IRA weapon. I vividly remember having to explain to our four children why they couldn’t go on a field trip to London the day after two bombs went off in the British capital.

As military members, my wife and I were constantly reminded that travel around the UK and Europe had to be in civilian clothes. At all costs, we were to maintain a low profile when traveling. Things haven’t changed much in over 20 years.

Recently Scotland Yard uncovered and disabled a plot by Islamic terrorists to kidnap and decapitate Muslim soldiers serving in the British Royal Army! Of course, there would be video shown worldwide after the fact! It’s no small leap to include American tourists into this mix. After all, just being an American makes you a target, like it or not.

What You Don’t Know Can Kill You!

In some instances ignorance is bliss. This is not one of those instances. Knowing the threat and recognizing that you and your family are the target can go a long way toward keeping all of you safe. My job is to provide pertinent information on how to stay one step ahead of the game. And, yes, it involves radios, too.

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Cobra’s 29 LTD Classic—A Big CB Designed For Pros

by Harold Ort, N2RLL, Editor

Cobra says its 29 LTD is “back by popular demand,” as a “Classic.” Ah, yes, the wonderful world of marketing! Regardless, the Cobra 29 LTD has been around a long time, as has the 25 LTD, which has also been re-introduced into the CB marketplace.

I remember the early days of CB when the radios had 23 channels (or less in some cases) and were as large as the dozen-box of Dunkin’ Donuts or a modern inkjet printer—and twice as heavy! The 29 LTD Classic isn’t far from that description; it weighs in at over five pounds and measures a whopping 2 1/4 x 8 5/8 x 7 1/4 inches (HWD). Try mounting this radio in your Elantra or Corolla. Chances are you’ll opt for a much, much smaller CB, unless you’re driving a pickup or SUV, which millions of Americans are doing these days.

In an age when ham radios have remote mounting heads (detachable faceplates) allowing you to put the butt-size portion of the radio in the trunk or under a seat, the 29 LTD Classic still commands quite a following. Why? Glad you asked.

Drive On!

Cobra says this CB radio is the, “Number one choice of professional drivers.” No wonder; they’ve got plenty of room in the cab! Matter of fact, Cobra reports that the “new” 29 LTD Classic includes a nine-foot mic cord that Cobra boasts, allows “for easy reach anywhere within the cab.” But being a stickler for checking out manufacturers’ claims, the first thing I did was pull out the mic from the box. It’s a hefty-looking mic (and sounds good on the air, by the way), but fully stretched out, the mic cord is about six feet long end to end. I wouldn’t recommend stretching your cord that much. Even in a Big Rig, I don’t envision much need for a “nine-foot” mic cord; after all if you’re going to be that far from the radio you can’t change channels or even read the display!

Honestly, if I wanted to use this CB in our Sonata, it could be done. Not by actually mounting it anywhere (simply because there just isn’t room—if you find a place that’s safe and easy to access, please let me know!), however, but perhaps by using one of those angled hump mounts strapped to the passenger seat, or even on the floor. But then where’s my wife going to sit? Certainly not in the back seat!

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Good Luck Hearing This Kurdish Opposition Station!
Plus Zimbabwe Returns To SW

by Gerry L. Dexter

Another of those Kurdish opposition groups has put yet another next-to-impossible-to-hear station on the air. This one is called The Voice of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and is now active on 3930 in the 3-MHz ham band. It’s reportedly operating from 1630 to 1800 and 0330 to 0500. KDP seems to be a breakaway group, formerly a part of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran. The only thing to be added at this point is “good luck to us!”

Different Preachers

U.S. religious station KAJI has been technically upgraded and is now operating out of a new studio in Dallas. KAJI expanded its schedule to 24 hours, running from 1300 to 2100 on 9480 and 2100 to 1300 on 5755. The University Network broadcasts of Dr. Gene Scott seem to have been discontinued, replaced by a passel of different preachers.

Other Worldwide SW News

Zimbabwe, rumored earlier to be planning a so-called international service, has at least returned to shortwave after being absent for a while. The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) is showing up on its former frequency of 3396 and can sometimes be found around 0300 when the wind is blowing in your direction.

Radio Cristal/Radio Pueblo is still active from the Dominican Republic on 5009 around 1100. Oddly, though, no one is hearing this one during our evening hours, so it may be that it is only active during the morning—perhaps for drive time in Santo Domingo, if there is such a thing.

Dunamis Shortwave is the name of a new religious station in Uganda, and it should be on the air by now. It’s expected to operate on 4750 (watch out for Radio Peace from the Sudan) using a mere 1 kW. So don’t expect a speaker-rattling signal—we’ll be lucky to get even a tickle out of this one.

HCJB World Radio has changed its name to HCJB Global so as not to exclude its missionary work from the name. It won’t matter much to us SWLs, since we only use the call letters in referencing the station.

Some time back we reported that Bangladesh was going to revamp its government shortwave service. If that’s the intention the effort seems not to have even begun yet. Word comes that officials at Bangladesh Betar are still bemoaning the sad state of their technical situation. So far as we can discover 7185 remains the single frequency in use, from 1315 to 1730 and 1815 to 2000, which amounts to less than six hours of activity per day. Recently, however, 4750 has been getting some occasional use.

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Open-Wire Feed Line—Still Going Strong!

by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ

In an era when hams can choose from more than a hundred types of coaxial cables, I’m encouraged by the mail I get—and by the overall interest—in using open-wire feed line for its amazing low-loss characteristics. Back in the days before WWII, almost every ham used open-wire feeds, or even single-wire feeds! After the war, however, thanks to miles and miles of inexpensive surplus inventories of the black-jacketed stuff, coax became king.

King Of Convenience, But Definitely Not King Of Performance!

Many newcomers are amazed to discover—if they ever discover it—that coax isn’t all that great in a great many applications, and that open-wire line, 450-ohm “ladder line,” and even good ol’ TV twinlead can kick its butt in the right applications.

The mysteries of coaxial cable are plenty, as are the myths and the misuses. Because coaxial cable is so handy and so readily available, and usually handles the job of getting our radio signals from the antenna to the rig (and vice versa), coax is often used improperly. Many beginners have only fuzzy ideas of how to use the stuff and only fuzzy ideas about things like impedance, velocity factors, wavelength, etc.

These “coaxial problems” are actually shared by hams everywhere. You might even have a real mess in your own backyard, especially if you’re using a single wire antenna on multiple bands. Coax works best for matched antennas at low frequencies with relatively short cable runs. For multiband wire antennas, especially those “tuned” by “antenna tuners,” the performance can be more than dismal, ranging all the way up to unbelievably bad! There is a fix, however. Follow along and you’ll discover how and why.

The traditional multiband dipole, the beginning ham’s standard antenna, is fed with a random length of 50-ohm coax that’s tweaked by an antenna tuner. Conventional wisdom says to put up as much wire as possible and let the tuner worry about matching the load on various bands. Even on bands where the antenna’s SWR is quite high, and a lot of energy is reflected back and forth between the tuner and the antenna, some RF energy will be radiated.

Gooch’s Paradox simply states, “RF gotta go somewhere.” And indeed, it does. But it doesn’t have to go anywhere useful! In the high-SWR conditions often found in typical multiband, tuner-fed dipoles, Gooch’s Paradox might as well read, “RF gotta heat the feed line!”

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John Zondlo’s Discover DXing!
How To Hear Distant AM, FM and TV Stations (Third Edition)

by Harold Ort, N2RLL, Editor

If you’re just getting your feet wet in the world of AM, FM, and TV DXing, this is the book to get you started—and keep you interested in this fascinating aspect of monitoring. The official news release from the folks at Universal Radio Research in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, says, “Here is your nontechnical introduction to hearing more AM, FM and TV stations…” The basics are certainly covered, with topics including propagation, seasonal conditions, equipment, antennas and reference materials.

I’ll certainly agree that the 96-page book is written in a “conversational style” as Universal says, and you definitely won’t be left asking a dozen questions at the end of each easy-to-read chapter. And when I say “getting your feet wet,” I mean it; this detailed book cuts right to it. Joe or Suzy Radio-Newcomer won’t even have to ask what DX means—it’s defined right there in the Introduction!

Minor Subjective Criticism

In the business of writing and book publishing it’s certainly not uncommon for an editor, writer, or even publisher to disagree on certain semantics and organization. We’re all professionals, and because it’s the nature of the beast, we can take a little of “I’d-do-it this-way-or-that-way.” Which brings me to say that I would have opened the book with the AM DXing in Chapter 1, not chapter 10.

While TV-FM DX is a fairly popular hobby, the fact is most folks today would have to find room for and fire up and a separate TV—and connect an antenna of some sort—to do any serious TV DXing, while that trusty AM radio seems to me a more logical starting point for the book. But that’s just me. My thought would be to grab a new reader’s attention with a more familiar and easily accessible medium right up front and then get into TV DXing later on.

But regardless of where a topic is covered in this excellent book, it’s covered in sufficient detail and in a very well
written way.

A Great Reference

Still it’s not a reason for skipping—so to speak—the TV-FM DXing section, because it’s very well done and right on target! (I’m still one of the last holdouts in using an over-the-air TV and attic antenna anyway, although inevitably the digital camera is upstairs when a distant station rolls in on a vacant channel for 30 seconds, downstairs).

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Costa Rica: Central American Democracy, Great Beaches, And Radio Heaven!

by Harold Ort, N2RLL, Editor

What does Costa Rica have that we don’t have? No, it’s not a trick question and there’s no test at the end of this month’s “World View” column. The short answer is: plenty. Simply put, it’s Costa Rica! Here’s a beautiful spot that’s really not that far away for globe-trotting vacationers.

Even if you can’t visit Costa Rica, you can hear it via the Web in many places. But since we’re mostly interested in live shortwave radio action, check out the Table above for a list of commonly heard stations and their frequencies. If you don’t see a station listed there that you know is active, by all means let us know and we’ll tell folks about it right away. Brush up on your Spanish and have a listen!

But, believe it or not, radio is just a small part of what most people think of when they think “Costa Rica.” If you’re fortunate enough to make the trip to this country that’s only a bit larger than West Virginia (or New Hampshire and Vermont combined—now there’s a crazy thought!), there’s the Monteverde Cloud Forest, a vast pristine wonderland, the rain forest, breathtaking views and adventures on Mt. Cerro Chirripo, the fifth largest peak in Central America, hiking, kayaking, and rafting, plus art galleries, museums, and dining in the capital city, San Jose. You’ll also find romantic beaches on both the North Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and some of the most beautiful flora and fauna you’ll ever see in the world (not that I’ve seen it firsthand, but the pictures and stories of those I know who have are nothing short of beautiful and inspiring).

Costa Rica has, wisely, devoted 25 percent of the country to national parks. Corcovado and Tortuguero National Parks, for example, have hundreds of species of birds and wildlife. The latter is home to the annual nesting of the endangered green turtle.
Want something outside the norm? Try Manuel Antonio’s wondrous jungle park. Want to “hang ten”? There’s Witch’s Rock Surf Camp in Playa Tamarindo. Are we there yet? That’s a whole lot to do in such a small country, a place in Central America where the climate is ideal, a tropical and subtropical hideaway that, according to the country’s official website, counts tourism as a “main source of income.”

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Tuning In On U.S. Maritime HF Communications

by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ

In case the appearance of robins,flowers, and grass out there in your yard where the piles of snow used to be hasn’t been enough of a clue, takenote that you’re now holding the May issue of Pop’Comm—another sure sign that spring is in full bloom here in the northern hemisphere.

The U.S. waterways will now be free of the ice that prevents safe navigation during the winter months, and the Great Lakes will begin to fill with recreational and commercial vessels. Their use of the HF spectrum will present utility monitors with that many more listening targets, supplementing the usual complement of military vessels, fishing boats, and other HF stations we listen to the year around. That makes this the perfect time to examine maritime HF communications.

Commercial Users

Among commercial users of the HF spectrum, the most powerful transmitters sending maritime traffic are undoubtedly the shore stations that provide various services to vessels at sea. The commercial company ShipCom LLC in Mobile, Alabama, is the only 24-hour provider of HF/VHF radiotelephone ship-to-shore voice service in the United States. Veteran utility listeners are undoubtedly familiar with the company’s shore stations, especially WLO near Mobile, and perhaps KLB near Seattle, Washington as well. These stations are remotely controlled from Mobile, where operators are on duty 24-7, ready to deliver messages to and from vessels via e-mail, satellite, telex, fax, SSB, and VHF.

These stations can also do pretty much everything else you can think of, from furnishing weather reports to taking orders to have flowers delivered to that special someone ashore. The synthesized voice weather broadcasts and traffic lists that are familiar to many utility enthusiasts are transmitted on the hour, with the traffic lists following the weather broadcasts.

The weather broadcasts are for several different areas and each is sent several times a day. Unfortunately, they change their weather schedules frequently, making it entirely possible for any list of times and frequencies I might include with this column to be outdated before it even appears in the magazine. Therefore, it’s best to visit ShipCom’s website for the current schedule and frequencies. The URL for this page is www.shipcom.com/frequencies.html. On that page you’ll find the complete, current schedule for the weather broadcasts as well as voice guard channels and the channels used for calling, paging, and working, not to mention the frequencies for their AMTOR/SITOR/PACTOR services and simplex telex (used for e-mail).

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The Cleveland Dreamer

by Shannon Huniwell

“That’s strange,” Rick Mitchell said out loud as he twisted his car radio’s tuning knob. Mitchell’s petite, but obviously pregnant wife, Lynne, instantly picked up on her husband’s concern and gazed suspiciously at the little under-dashboard-mounted FM converter she’d recently given to him as a Christmas gift. She wondered if it could be defective, or if they might be on a wild goose chase heading for some bogus radio station.

Originally from Ohio, the young couple was living in a Missouri college town about 80 miles east of Kansas City while Rick studied for a communications Masters degree. To earn a bit of extra cash, Mitchell pulled a weekend air-shift at the local AM outlet and, just before spending the holidays back East with Lynne’s parents, had arranged to do some Friday night fill-in work from January through April at KDKD-FM in Clinton, Missouri.

A guy in one of his broadcasting classes heard about the opening from a friend of a friend and scribbled the KDKD program director’s name and number for Mitchell on a hastily torn scrap of notebook paper. Mitchell’s subsequent telephone interview for the position had been mysteriously brief. As soon as the Program Director learned that the applicant possessed radio experience, he cut the call short by stating when Mitchell would be needed, quoting the station’s hourly pay rate, and then quickly asking, “Okay?” Mitchell instantly agreed and didn’t think any further about the exchange until nearing the station’s community of license.

Can You Hear It Now?

“I sure hope there’s such a thing as KDKD-FM,” he whispered to Lynne. Another five minutes elapsed without them being able to catch even a trace of the signal. Mitchell glanced at the piece of notebook paper. “Yup, the guy wrote down that the frequency is 95.3 megs, but there’s nothing coming in around there. Here’s hoping we aren’t going to be burning 60 miles round trip worth of gas for nothing.”

The pair kept traveling on Highway 13. A sign indicated that Clinton was only two miles away. Lynne decided to give the FM converter’s silver dial selector another try. Suddenly, some innocuous country-crossover ballad trickled from the speaker as the slide rule dial’s 95 got covered with the red tuner strip.

“That could be it,” Mitchell said with a sigh, a sense of relief in his prediction.

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The Ghost Of Daytons Past

 by Bill Price, N3AVY

Norm e-mailed me (I guess he’s given up on reaching me via the SSB ham bands) and asked what (or who) I know with regard to licensing a small AM broadcast radio station. He knows that I am an occasional visitor to the FCC, and apparently assumes that because I darken their doorway from time to time I might know someone and casually say, “Hey—my friend Norm wants to apply for an AM broadcast license. Can you help him out?” and be met with “Sure—just have him call me and I’ll take care of it.”

I’m flattered that he thinks of me as inhabiting such a well-respected position. Actually, I make an occasional visit to the audio-visual department there and perform some routine maintenance to some equipment that my employer has located there (and on the roof). Any reader who suspects that I can pull any strings beyond those on the equipment tags in the storage rooms is engaging in wishful thinking. I did once see the chairman being driven away from the main entrance in his government car, and I did wave to him, but he returned the wave in a “Hi, whoever you are” sort of way. We were never on a first-name basis.

This is the first year that Norm will not be going to Dayton. Some of you will be reading this as you fly toward Dayton, a town whose name stands for the Mother of All Hamfests. No one asks, “Hey, are you going to the ham radio convention in Dayton?” It’s always “Are you going to Dayton?”

Radio equipment manufacturers and distributors go there and exhibit their wares, hoping that members of what’s admittedly one of the most “frugal” groups of hobbyists might part with a dime (“What? And break a quarter!”) on their products. Amateurs who produce some great little product for their fellow hams will be there, showing their widgets, hoping to recoup at least gas money and other trip expenses. Regular (and a few of what you might call “irregular”) hams will be in attendance, some just wearing the obligatory baseball cap, but at least one will be wearing a metal hardhat and a miniature beam attached to it. On the two trips I made to Dayton, I kept my head fully covered with aluminum foil (under my hat, so no one would notice) so that I wouldn’t mistake the stray signals there for the voices that normally guide my every move.


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