Who Will Monitor The Monitors?

by Edith Lennon, N2ZRW, Editor

It’s May 3 as I sit at my computer and write this. And May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. No, I didn’t know such a thing existed either until I saw it on a blog, but I’ve got to say, sitting on my perch at the top of a masthead, I’m glad it does. Especially because of the nature of this particular magazine (Pop’Comm has always been “on the radar,” as it were). While we have no intention of printing our version of the Pentagon papers, we will brush against some topics that might make some people a bit uncomfortable , which is, of course, why freedom of the press is necessary.

In a statement (manifesto is the word actually used) by Timothy Balding, chief executive officer, World Association of Newspapers, the tightening of security and surveillance measures in the face of increased terrorism concerns is  described as  “laudable and compelling.” But he gives a warning: “There is, however, a legitimate and growing concern that in too many instances such measures, whether old or newly introduced, are being used to stifle debate and the free flow of information about political decisions, or that they are being implemented with too little concern for the overriding necessity to protect individual liberties and, notably, freedom of the press.

“Anti-terrorism and official secrets laws, criminalisation of speech judged to justify terrorism, criminal prosecution of journalists for disclosing classified information, surveillance of communications without judicial authorisation, restrictions on access to government data and stricter security classifications, all these measures can severely erode the capacity of journalists to investigate and report accurately and critically, and thus the ability of the press to inform.”

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


News, Trends, And Short Takes

by D. Prabakaran

Amateur Radio Activity Shut Down In Iraq

Iraq Amateur Radio Society (IARS) President Diya Sayah, YI1DZ, has announced that all amateur radio activity in Iraq has been suspended until the security situation there improves. He says the suspension affects Iraqi citizens and foreigners alike, including military personnel and contractors, who have been on the air from Iraq. The request to halt all ham radio activity and the issuance of licenses in Iraq originated with a letter from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as part of a new security plan, Sayah said. He received subsequent confirmation via the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research to shut down ham radio activity, although he allows for a possible misunderstanding on the part of government officials as to the nature and purpose of amateur radio.

The shutdown does not apply to Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) operations, which use military frequencies.


Radio Australia And RFO Sign Program Sharing Deal

 The exchange of news and information across the Pacific is to be enhanced following a co-operation agreement between French global network RFO and Radio Australia. Under the three-year deal, RFO Radio News Caledonia and Radio Australia have started sharing news and information programs in French.

Listeners in New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, and Tahiti can hear the latest Pacific news via the “24 Hours in the Pacific” program, a French language news service prepared by Radio Australia and broadcast on RFO News Caledonia each morning and afternoon. The program will also be heard on Radio Vanuatu. The agreement will enhance coverage of major events, including the forthcoming Pacific Games in Western Samoa.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications

by Richard Fisher, KI6SN

Interoperable Communications Equipment Part Of DHS Allocation

As a part of the fiscal year 2006 Commercial Equipment Direct Assistance Program (CEDAP), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced the award of $34.6 million in equipment and training to first responders across the nation—which includes funding for interoperable communications equipment.

“DHS awarded more than 2,000 direct assistance grants to ensure that law enforcement and emergency responders receive specialized equipment and training to meet their homeland security mission,” the agency reported.

“CEDAP is yet another mechanism for the department to work with our local homeland security partners in strengthening this nation’s ability to prevent, protect, respond and recover from a natural disaster or terrorist attack,” said George Foresman, Under Secretary for Preparedness. “This program enhances state and local communities’ capabilities as well as arms their first responders with the tools to build stronger regional coordination.”

In addition to interoperable communications, CEDAP offers equipment in the following categories: personal protective equipment; thermal imaging, night vision, and video surveillance tools; chemical and biological detection tools; and information technology and risk management tools.

“This program also focuses on smaller communities and metropolitan areas not eligible for the Urban Areas Security Initiative grant program. Awardees are required to receive training on their awarded equipment either on-site or at a CEDAP training conference,” the agency’s website stated.

DHS reported that it has provided more than $69.7 million in equipment and training to law enforcement and fire departments through CEDAP since the program’s inception in 2005.

For more information on CEDAP and other DHS grant programs visit www.dhs.gov.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 

Scan The Busiest Hubs This Summer,

Or Find Great Train Action In Your

Own Backyard

The Hotspots Of  Railfanning—Where Raw Power,
Velocity, And The Romance Of Rail Meet

By Tom Swisher, WA8PYR

Are you looking for something different to listen to on your scanner as you tool around on your summer vacation? Try the railroads.

Referred to as railfanning by those who follow the lure of trains, it’s a pastime that encompasses many aspects. Railfans count among their number those with an interest in history, in mechanical things, in photography, radio monitoring, maps and more. Many railfans maintain interests in all of these things, and then some.

I’m often asked what it is that interests me about trains, and I’m hard pressed to come up with just one simple answer. All of the above, certainly, but there is something about the sheer power of a train at speed or hauling a heavy coal drag up a steep grade that’s just fascinating.

If you’d like to try monitoring the railroads, start by setting your scanner to search between 160.215 and 161.565 MHz. If there are any railroads in the area you’ll soon start hearing them as they travel down the line, calling the lineside signals as they go. Next, gather up your camera and portable scanner, and join us trackside to see the real thing. Here are some hotspots to try (see the “Hotspots Frequencies” box for where to listen).


Fostoria, Ohio

 Fostoria is located in northern Ohio, about 40 miles south of Toledo. The city is a hotbed of activity, with well over 100 trains per day passing through the town. There are three major rail lines passing through: two owned by CSX and one by Norfolk Southern (NS).

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 

Life’s A Trip, Log It!

Scouting Out Unique Radio Finds On The Road

by Janice Laws

If your summer plans call for hitting the highway with family or friends, or even if you find yourself alone in a new place, make sure your favorite radio gear comes along. It’s great fun to stumble across new transmissions and never before heard stations, and it can really make your journeys away from home that much more exciting. Radio adventures still exist, and after over three decades of radio listening and voyaging across North America and around the world I’m still amazed at the variety of radio broadcasts that can be heard while I’m traveling.

When I first met my husband Steve at the SWL Winterfest, held in Kulpsville, Pennsylvania, every March, I was mostly a shortwave listener and DXer. I enjoyed shortwave pirate broadcasts and liked to listen to local programming while traveling. Steve also liked to listen to pirate broadcasts and was a proficient mediumwave DXer. He also possessed a great knowledge of FM anomalies like E skip and tropospheric ducting, and he liked to tower hunt and study transmission patterns. He had an innate understanding of the more technical aspects of the hobby, and I really enjoyed the social activities and spending time with people in the hobby. And we both love to travel. Together we have a blast, combining our mutual love of all things radio and going on trips that allow us to enjoy new radio experiences wherever we go. We’ve taught each other about our favorite aspects of the hobby and we’ve discovered new things together. It’s a marriage made in the ionosphere.

Together we possess over 40 radios capable of hearing AM, FM, CB, longwave, shortwave, UHF, VHF, Family Radio Service, NOAA, subcarrier stations, air band, and TV channels. We have antique radios, old transmitters, clock radios, boom boxes, car radios, scanners, and let’s not even start with the antennas and other peripherals. When we travel, one of us is always scanning the bands for whatever is coming through the ether. We’ve discovered all kinds of oddities that not everyone may think of listening to, but that have made for some great catches and great listening. I’d like to share with you some of the most interesting things we’ve heard on our road trips across the United States and Canada.

 To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 

Forty-Nine Forgotten Frequencies—
A Monitoring Challenge

A Tour Of Elusive Stations For The Armchair Traveler In All Of Us

by Gerry L. Dexter

Some of us are shortwave listeners, some are strictly DXers, and some of us have touches of both DNA. Obviously, we’re also human and, therefore, creatures of habit. In our case that means we probably lean toward listening during

particular hours, usually a personally convenient time. Additionally, we tend to prowl particular segments of the shortwave broadcast bands, leaving some bands, areas, or even specific frequencies largely unexplored. Think of your high school annual lost in the nether regions of your attic, or maybe coins which have traversed their way from your pocket to the inner depths of the living room sofa. We forget this stuff is there. Maybe even that it exists at all!

So this exercise is intended as a string tied “around your finger”—a reminder that there’s other stuff out there, existing in lands you may not often visit. The stations we’re highlighting here represent only a fraction of the possibilities that await you in the more or less out-of-band areas for shortwave broadcast targets. So it’s smart not to limit your tries to just what we’re listing here. Make it a habit to peruse the Blue Pages of Passport to World Band Radio or the frequency list in the World Radio TV Handbook, or one of the other annual shortwave guides or listings on the Internet. Then take out after whatever targets strike your fancy. Chances are you’ll come up with a long list that will keep you busy and involved until that old high school annual turns up! Here we go…


The Chase Is Afoot!

 2390—In terms of reception, Radio Huayacacotla in the Mexican town of the same name is as finicky as it gets. The station runs a mere 500 watts and only operates until 0100, which means that for most of our calendar year any attempt to bag it is useless. You’ll need to wait until sunset occurs before 0100. Add to the challenge the fact that reception on this band is always very “iffy.” Most of the checks you make for this one will turn up nothing, but don’t give up.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


On Summer Outings, Security Starts
With Your Personal Preparedness

by Rich Arland, W3OSS

Spring has sprung, or so I thought. After almost two full weeks of mild weather, a sudden cold snap settled in and we are now back down in the 20s at night and only up to the low 40s during the daytime. Nonetheless, I write this for the July issue, when we’ll be in the midst of the summer vacation season, and that means taking our hobby on the road.

Sometimes this flies in the face of a happy marriage, but to those of us who really enjoy the radio hobby, there is nothing wrong with dragging a few small pieces of battery-operated gear out into the bush, or to Disney World, or wherever. Just remember the family comes first and the radios second.


“Saddle Up And Move ’em Out!”

 It’s been many years since I did any serious backpacking and camping. After two foot surgeries and losing over 100 pounds of blubber, I am trying to convince myself that I need to start backpacking again. My friends Ed Breneiser, WA3WSJ, and Ron Polityka, WB3AAL (aka “The Appalachian Trail Ninja”), have both been after me to go on the “A-Trail” with them and combine some low-power (QRP) ham radio operation with a chance to get outdoors and get some much needed exercise.

Now at 61 years old, I am not the young stud-muffin I used to be. After many, many years of neglecting the old bod in favor of food, beer, and a sedentary lifestyle, I’m in no shape to go galumphing about in the bush with two experienced (and extremely physically fit) backpackers 10 and 20 years (respectively) my juniors. However, one must have a goal. Mine: To start an intense walking exercise regimen combined with some bicycling in an attempt to get into some kind of shape before the summertime. I know, I know…good luck! (Where have I heard that before?)

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 



Scanner Antennas

by Kent Britain, WA5VJB

This month we’re going cover a family of very easy-to-build ground plane antennas. A piece of wood and some wire can work just as well as very expensive antennas. They’re not going to look as pretty and may not last as long when mounted outside, but after an outing, emergency, field day, or clandestine operation, leaving these antennas behind is not going to hurt your wallet, either.

Again, mainly all you need for these ground planes are some wood and wire, and except for the coax, that should cost under $3. With the junk in most garages, you should be able to build one out of materials “recycled” from your garage.

The elements can be made from #10, #12, or even #14 copper wire (see Photo A). For a stronger version, bronze welding rod makes nice elements, though you’re not going to be able to fold up the antenna. If you get desperate, the elements can even be made from old coat hangers, but it’s often hard to get a good solder joint on that iron wire.

I used nylon cable ties to hold the center element and the coax, but you can use electrical tape, rubber bands, garbage bag ties, or even that all-round universal adhesive, duct tape. To hold the radial elements in place, just bending the elements down at an angle is usually enough, but a few drops of glue, or even a blob of solder where the wire goes into the wood, will keep the elements from falling out.



 50-ohm coax is what people usually use for this type of application. It’s commonly available, and RG-58 is thin and light. Good for camping, too. The larger 72-ohm coax, like RG-59 or RG-6, is thicker and heavier, but it has less than half the loss of RG-58. And 72-ohm coax is often available surplus off TV cable drops and satellite TV systems. It’s good, low-loss coax, which is why 72-ohm is used instead of 50-ohm coax on most commercial systems.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Heading Out On Holiday? Bring Your Radio

by Ron McCracken, KG4CVL / WPZX486

Have a big road trip with the family in the works? How about a camping adventure? Fishing expedition? Whatever your vacation plans involve this summer, be sure they also include your radios.


CB For Starters

 For the travel part, it would be wise to dig out your CB. You can pick up a lot of valuable safety information from professional truck drivers along your route. Those tips can save you lost time, even lost lives. Just monitor CB Channel 19, the trucker channel, or the channel used by truckers in your region of the nation. You will be amazed.

CB can help you avoid pile-ups, get directions, warn of bad weather ahead, give you leads on best routes, and more, all courtesy of those road warriors in the big rigs. No cell phone can do that. Professional drivers have saved my bacon a number of times on various trips. I wouldn’t set out on any road trip without my trusty CB.


Enter FRS

 At your campsite, fishing lodge, etc., your FRS/GMRS radios can take over. They can be especially helpful if you have children along. Their small size means FRS radios can easily be carried in a pocket. Their inexpensive cost means minimal loss if anything happens to them.

FRS can also boost your security level and give you greater peace of mind. You will want to invest some time before you leave home in making the kids thoroughly familiar with the radios. When an emergency arises—and the anxiety level soars—is no time to be wondering where the ON button is. Be sure to teach them good radio manners, too.

Remember that FRS is a short-range radio. Take the advertised range on the package with a grain of salt. At best, you can perhaps expect to get about half the advertised range. Test it beforehand with the kids or other adults so your expectations are realistic.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Wideband Receivers—

Frequency Coverage You Can Count On… Or Can You?

by Ken Reiss

Wideband receivers, which include coverage of both traditional scanner frequencies and the shortwave range, have become very popular over the last few years. Ranging from the pocket-sized ICOM R-2 and AOR’s AR-8000 series through ICOM’s PCR-1500 and AOR’s 5000 series communications receivers, these sophisticated radios offer a wide range of radio listening activity. Yet many scanner enthusiasts find them difficult, or at least surprising, to use on frequencies they’re unaccustomed to, or they may complain of poor performance.

A recent round of letters I received dealt with some of these issues, so I thought it was time to take another look at these receivers and why you might, or might not, want to own one. Of course, you know what happens when they let the scanner guy think…


A Give-And-Take Relationship

 So what’s up with these radios and why do we tend to have a love/hate relationship with them? On the surface, it should be the coolest thing since the transistor: one radio that covers virtually everything from below the broadcast band, through shortwave, up above cell phones and the 1.2-GHz amateur band. So why is it that many of us, particularly those who buy one of these radios as a first receiver, are disappointed?

The first problem that arises immediately is the antenna. Remember that all antennas are frequency sensitive. Yes, some perform better than others over a wider range of frequencies, but all represent some sort of compromise to get there. You can have maximum performance on one frequency or narrow band, or moderate performance across a wide range of frequencies, but not both. The wider the range of frequencies you’re trying to cover, the worse this problem gets.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


The Etón FR300—

This Radio Charges Cell Phones, Too!

by Gordon West, WB6NOA

Like you, my eyes glaze over when I see yet another portable radio that carries a claim of being the ultimate disaster preparedness receiver “when the lights go out.” But something caught my attention: this radio was carrying an endorsement from the American Red Cross. Being a member of the Red Cross for disaster communications, as many of you are, too, I wondered what the arrangement was for the American Red Cross and Etón to come together with this receiver.

Etón has a long time partnership with Grundig, and offers three product lines: Etón, Grundig, and Porsche designs.

“The American Red Cross FR300 by Etón is one of our many products that combine the best of design, technology, and innovative features—ranging from the only radios in the world to combine AM, FM, shortwave, and XM satellite radio technology…,” says Julia Elkington of Etón Corporation in Palo Alto, California.

“The American Red Cross recommends that all households have a portable battery-operated radio as part of their complete disaster supply kit, and the capability to listen to local TV, radio, and NOAA emergency information broadcasts. The American Red Cross FR300 by Etón allows us to contribute a portion of the sales price to support the American Red Cross,” added Elkington.

The American Red Cross, with its one million volunteers and thirty-five thousand employees, plays an integral part in training fifteen million people to gain the skills they need to prepare for and respond to emergencies. And with the American Red Cross FR300 radio receiver by Etón, both Red Cross responders and citizens living through a disaster can switch this portable power station on and keep instantly informed via AM and FM radio, plus TV audio on Channels 2 through 13.

There are also seven pre-set NOAA weather channels.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


New, Interesting, And Useful Communications Products

SWIFT WX Professional Storm Tracking Software

SWIFT Weather Company has released a comprehensive weather tracking software tool called SWIFT WX Professional. The new software, for consumers only, lets you stay ahead of deadly weather and keep your families protected with advanced warnings—even before the weatherman makes public announcements. All you need is an Internet connection to use SWIFT WX.

Designed by the tornado-chasers of SWIFT Weather, it features more than 1,100 weather maps, weather radar down to the street level, GPS tracking, perimeter alerts/first alerts, and up-to-the-minute data feeds from 140 weather service offices. Now consumers can be one step ahead of local weather news departments.

SWIFT WX provides the same technology used by U.S. government agencies for only $14.50 per month (you can cancel anytime). Those who lived through Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, or the more recent ice storms, will understand how important it is to be prepared well in advance of twisters, hurricanes, mud slides, flash floods, ice storms, blizzards, and other Mother Nature scourges.

For more information contact www.swiftwx.com. Also look for a “Tech Showcase” on SWIFT WX next month right here in Pop’Comm.


New Radios From Cobra

 Cobra has released three high-powered additions to its LI Series: the LI 4900, the LI 6500, and the LI 7000. These new two-way radios are part of Cobra’s redesigned 2007 microTALK line and offer extended ranges of up to 25 miles and lithium ion technology with a sleek, modern look. Features include 2,662 privacy combinations; VibraAlert to provide silent alerts for incoming calls; SCAN to quickly locate conversations in progress; VOX Hands Free Transmitter, which recognizes when a person is speaking and automatically begins transmitting.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


A New Station From A New Country!
And Other Great News

by Gerry L. Dexter

Calendar pages have turned over many times since we’ve had so much positive news to report! One of the rarest events in the radio hobby is the appearance of a new country on the shortwave broadcast bands. That very thing has recently happened with the arrival of Pacific Missionary Aviation’s new station on Pohnpei, one of the island states of Micronesia. The station has recently been discovered on 4755 kHz. Our challenge is logging it despite its use of an anemic 500 watts, which will make it extremely difficult for any of us here in North America. Your best shot, though, will come deep in the dark, say around 0800 or 0900. Be sure to let me know if you score on this one. Micronesia (technically The Federated States of) will almost certainly be added to the official country list of the North American Shortwave Association, whose list is used by most serious SWLs.

Uruguay is reported to be active on shortwave again after a long absence. Radio Uruguay (SODRE) in Montevideo is said to have resumed operations on its old frequencies of 6125 and 9620, although the 31-meter band channel can vary just a bit and both are using very low power. The station is relaying mediumwave 1050 kHz, and sometimes the 1290 outlet. SODRE stands for Servicio Oficial de Difusion de Radio Electra, the original name of the station but little known these days. Uruguay has always proved to be a tough catch for us in North America.

Still another new station just on the air is in Boali, in the Central African Republic. It’s being operated by something called Integrated Community Development International, with assistance from HCJB Global. Unfortunately for us it will prove to be another tall challenge since it runs a modest 1000 watts and uses 6030, which is usually occupied by Radio Marti. Its mission is to broadcast health and community information to the many hard-to-reach villages in the C.A.R.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Radio Fun And Going Back In Time

by R.B. Sturtevant, AD7IL

Q. When was radio first used in Disaster Relief Aid?

A. That would probably be during the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. The U.S.S. Chicago left San Francisco on April 17, 1906; the next day the city was hit by one of the worst earthquakes on record, which was followed by a devastating fire that destroyed much of the city. The Chicago was ordered back to render all possible aid. Berthed at the Ferry Building it was soon determined that the Chicago had the only working wireless in the area. Western Union and Postal Telegraph systems had both been destroyed, so no messages could leave the city. The Army’s Signal Corps had re-established telegraph communications between key areas within the city but not beyond.

A young Naval officer, Stanley C. Hooper, had some experience working a summer job at a small country railroad station of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Because of this limited experience he was placed in charge of the Chicago’s communications operations. Hooper knew American Morse but learned International “on the job.” He remembered later that the old spark gap transmitter could be heard, or felt, all over the giant cruiser.

The Chicago sent its vital traffic via wireless to Mare Island Naval Shipyard where it was put on the telegraph system. Hooper was to continue to work in Naval Communications and became known as “the Father of Naval Radio.”

 To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Morse Code? Why?

by Tomas Hood, NW7US

In the last few months, we’ve been exploring the new opportunities afforded to Technician class amateur radio operators by the FCC’s ruling, effective on February 23, 2007, to eliminate Morse code testing for all levels of amateur radio licenses and extending limited HF operating privileges to all Technicians. Thanks to this ruling the shortwave spectrum is now open for many new radio hobbyists. Specifically, we’ve been looking at the world of HF (or shortwave) operations.

But, the new rules do not only apply to the Technician class operator. You’re now able to obtain additional privileges by passing the General and Amateur Extra class exams, without ever having to learn and pass the traditional Morse code elements. So what’s holding you back from moving into all of the available opportunities of this radio hobby?

With the removal of the requirement to pass a Morse code exam to obtain an FCC-issued amateur radio license, you’d think that Morse code (CW, or Continuous Wave mode) might fade into the dim light of history. However, amateur radio operators who are passionate about weak-signal operation use the CW mode to accomplish those challenging communications.

One of the many driving goals behind the research and experimentation in the science of radio signal propagation is the pure desire to obtain efficient communications between two stations. Often, when people talk about radio reception, signal strength is touted as the most useful factor in the effort of getting a signal from the transmitter to the receiver. However, since the problem of reception is more complex than a simple power issue (just pump more watts into the antenna), the better way to get a handle on the problem is to use the Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) measurement of a radio circuit. (The radio circuit is the path between, and including, the transmitter and receiver). The SNR is a real measure of effectiveness. With it, we can better understand how effectively a signal can get from point A to point B.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


The FCC Rules On IBOC

by Bruce A. Conti

The FCC has fully adopted in-band on-channel (IBOC) digital broadcasting for AM and FM radio, taking digital radio out of the experimental phase and closer to reality. Most significantly, in a second report and order on digital radio, the FCC has given the go-ahead for nighttime AM IBOC digital, which was previously limited to daytime use due to potential skywave interference problems.

While many AM broadcasters are hopeful about a digital future, some AM broadcast engineers and DXers, likened to the proverbial canaries in the coalmine, sounded the interference alarm when IBOC was first officially selected by the FCC five years ago. Now that AM IBOC digital is here for real, what does it mean for AM radio?


The FCC Ruling

 From the Second Report and Order, First Order on Reconsideration, and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, March 22, 2007, FCC 07-33, Media Bureau Docket No. 99-325, we learn,


In October 2002, the FCC selected IBOC as the technology enabling AM and FM radio broadcast stations to begin digital operations...IBOC allows broadcasters to use their current radio spectrum to transmit AM and FM analog signals simultaneously with new digital signals. Since the Commission first authorized Digital Audio Broadcasting on an interim basis, over 1200 stations have notified the Commission that they have commenced or intend to commence hybrid digital broadcasting. Radio stations broadcasting in a digital format using IBOC technology are able to offer listeners enhanced sound quality, improved reception, as well as new multicasting and datacasting services.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


A Fleeting Recollection Of West Virginia Radio

by Shannon Huniwell

“We’re looking for a radio detective,” the long e-mail began, “and truly wish that you can help restore a memory that, quite possibly, never really happened.” The writer then revealed the story about her husband having had a brain tumor, an operation, and a torn postcard that was strangely fascinating him during his long recovery.

“He pulled the card out of a dusty scrapbook we found in the attic,” the woman explained. “My husband spends hours staring at it and trying to say something about once riding a bicycle to the building pictured there. He looks at it and keeps repeating, radio song, radio song. Sometimes he’ll also say something like, aracoma 71 room—whatever that means. It’s not much to go on,” she apologized. Still, she hoped there might be some way I could tell her how the small building pictured on the postcard related to a radio or perhaps to a song.

Pondering the assignment, I could hardly wait for the mailman to deliver a photocopy of the partial postcard described by the woman. As promised, it arrived promptly, carefully folded in an envelope with a Northern California return address. Just a single sentence was penned across the image: “We’d be so grateful if you can turn this clue into a fact or two about whatever is pictured here!”

Like a Cyclops, the structure, partially revealed on the copy paper, stared back at me through its prominent, centrally positioned round window. At first glance, the place gave the impression of the proverbial corner bar. But what would a kid have been doing in such a gin joint? Maybe our convalescent went there for a sandwich with an older relative and remembers listening to a favorite country song on the establishment’s five-tube radio, positioned on some conspicuous oilcloth covered shelf. At best, though, this represented broad poetic license.

Block lettering made me refocus on the full moon window again. Whatever was stenciled on the huge porthole appeared as fuzzy to me at it might have looked to a tipsy customer who drank one too many there. No matter how I approached the printing with my Sherlock Holmes-style magnifying glass, the window’s intended message could not be deciphered. But elusive, too, in that circular portal and two glass doors standing guard on either side, were any traces of neon beer signs, quintessential in such a venue. So much for the neighborhood bar theory!

 To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Sun ’n Fun At The Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, Plus The Four Elements Of Air Traffic

by Bill Hoefer

Good afternoon from nice sunny St. Petersburg, Florida. This is being written on the heels of the second largest private aircraft fly-in in the nation: Sun ’n Fun at the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport (LAL). The 12 controllers and two supervisors had a great time briefing pilots from all over the United States and many foreign countries.

I personally gave weather briefings and took flight plans from not only American pilots, but also from pilots from Great Britain, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Austria, Australia, and South Africa. General aviation as well as retired and even some active duty

military aircraft were in abundance. Watching World War II war birds flying in formation and simulating attacks brought out the patriotic heart in almost all there.

I even briefed two pilots from the last remaining T-37 training squadron left in the U.S. Air Force, based at my old stomping grounds at Columbus AFB, Mississippi (CBM). The major and captain told me the T-37 is being phased out of the Air Force inventory in favor of the new AT-6, being built by Raytheon, for initial flight training. Though not a jet-powered trainer, it gives nearly the same performance and top speed as the T-37, but uses about one fourth the fuel.


An Angel Remembered

On an extremely sad note, I offer my condolences to the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and especially to the family of Lt. Cmdr. Kevin J. Davis of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the Blue Angel pilot who died in the crash of one of the solo F/A-18 Super Hornets in South Carolina. It was only Davis’ second year with the Blue Angels. The team had performed just a few weeks earlier near me at MacDill AFB (MCF) at the annual open house. Growing up in Orlando in the 1960s I remember watching the Blue Angels performing in the old F-11s at Sanford Naval Air Station, now Sanford International Airport, Florida (SFB).

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Modern Ham Radio Kits:
Heathkit Would Be Proud!

by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ

If you’re a raw recruit, you probably haven’t been around our hobby long enough to remember the demise of the great ham radio and electronics “kit companies”: Johnson, Knight and, of course, Heathkit. But the passing of these bedrock companies was felt throughout the ranks.

When I was in college in the early ’80s, we could see the writing on the wall...we knew that Heathkit wouldn’t be around forever. And although the company held on into the early ’90s in one shape or another, the Heathkit ham radio era was all but gone long before then. (At the eleventh hour I was shocked to learn that Heath’s then-new SB-1400 ham transceiver was a rebadged Yaesu FT-747. Although common today, that kind of “outsourcing” was very controversial back in the day, and the fact that Heath was forced to do something that drastic was a harbinger of its demise. The ’1400 was a decent entry-level radio, but it wasn’t kit-built, so in the minds of many, it just wasn’t a Heathkit!)

When I heard that the Heathkit store in the Twin Cities was closing, a proverbial lump formed in my throat. I’d never been there in person, but I knew what the closing meant, and I knew what ham radio was losing.

If you travel back a ham radio generation or two—before the Internet, the age of miniaturization, and toll-free phone numbers—commercial gear cost a boat-load of cash, which forced many hams to build their own receivers, transmitters, tuners, and so on.

Many intrepid and resourceful hams built lots of stuff from scratch (as a small minority does even today), but many more created kit-built electronic masterpieces made possible by the aforementioned companies.

From the mid-’60s through the early ’80s (which heralded the era of Kenwood and the other Japanese makers), Heathkit meant ham radio, much like “Kleenex” means facial tissue and “Xerox” means photocopy (please: no e-mail from trademark-protection weenies!).

Just about everyone who couldn’t afford a Collins or Drake setup was using a Heathkit station that somebody, if not the operators themselves, had lovingly built from a kit of parts using Heathkit’s fabulous step-by-step assembly manuals.

Even in the Heathkit era there were other ham radio kit companies—and there are many more today, which we’ll address further on—but nobody else produced big-ticket kits that featured complete stations, receivers, transmitters, transceivers, etc.

With Heathkit finally gone, kit builders wandered in a desert of accessory kits and smaller projects while everyone else was buying used Heathkits or Kenwood TS-520s!

 To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Carrier Strike Groups—The U.S. Navy’s
Force Of Choice

by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ


Some Terminology Used in Military Tactical Nets (PDF)

Utility Glossary (PDF)


Regular readers of this column are undoubtedly aware that I’m fairly active on the Internet. I’ve made no secret of my activities on Internet Relay Chat, and I’ve encouraged others to become active on the radio-related IRC channels. There is a reason for this: The ability to exchange monitoring information in real time with other utility enthusiasts has led me directly to some of the most interesting listening I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying over the years I’ve frequented these channels.

Just over a week before I sat down to write this column, I had the opportunity to reap the benefits of the most recent such occurrence. It happened one otherwise uneventful night, shortly after 9:00 p.m. local time, while I was idling in the #monitor channel on my “home” IRC network. A comment from a user on another IRC network, relayed via the network of IRC “bots” that links the #monitor channel across several different IRC networks, popped up on my screen:


[21:16] <@lexicon> (Jon-FL@ZN) 4360 U


That doesn’t look like much in print. At first glance, it’s indistinguishable from other catches of everything from numbers stations to foul-mouthed fishing boat captains chatting with counterparts aboard other vessels that are routinely reported in #monitor. Nevertheless, that innocent-looking one-liner eventually resulted in one of the most enjoyable listening sessions I’ve had in recent memory.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 



by Bill Price, N3AVY

I open with that one-word tribute to Johnny Hart, creator of the B.C. comic strip—it was what his dinosaurs said when they spoke. Many of you readers know me to be a dinosaur for reasons ranging from my love of R-390 receivers, to my enjoyment of the smell of dust burning off of hot components, to listening to AM mobile broadcast DXing (am I the only one?), and the one thing that sets all of us dinosaurs apart: a true enjoyment of Morse code. I could have put the word “GRONK” up there in dots and dashes, but in my way of thinking, only a person who would steal sheep would write words in dots and dashes.

There is a beauty in the sound of a nice, pure sine wave, adjusted to your favorite pitch, coming through a good audio section of a good receiver that contributes to making Morse code enjoyable. There are also hums and chirps and clicks that take away from the enjoyment of the art as well, but many of us have learned to ignore such things as QRN10 static bursts lasting five seconds while listening to a QRPp station from somewhere in East Armpit Atoll.

All that beauty and nostalgia aside, there are modern civilian and military shipboard communication methods that boggle the mind with their reliability and (apparent) simplicity…so long as their increasingly complex equipment continues to function reliably. I may sound a little too serious here, but I hope that ships—particularly military ships—carry some simple CW transmitters and receivers and “a few good men” who can operate them in a time of need. (Bill steps off soapbox here).

So, returning to my normal lunacy, I have looked around for some new things to try with CW that might spur some new interest in the mode, other than the standard alpha-numeric communication. One thing I noticed was that all the pictures which we send each other in JPG format—all the jokes, all the phonied-up pictures of a locomotive precariously resting on someone’s dining room table or an elk bathing in someone’s 50-gallon aquarium—do not travel over the wires in “picture” format.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications