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News, Trends, And Short Takes

by D. Prabakaran


Radio Broadcasts To Ethiopia Jammed

Shortwave radio hobbyists have reported deliberate interference to the Amharic-language transmissions of Germany’s international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle (DW), beamed to Ethiopia. Jamming was noted in DW’s signal on 11645 kHz on November 14 and 15, and to DW’s Amharic broadcast on 15640 kHz on November 15. In a separate report, the Ethiopian Review website reported on November 13 that VOA broadcasts to Ethiopia had been jammed since November 12 with the help of the Chinese government, which provided technicians and powerful radio jamming equipment.

WRC In Geneva Calls Radio Martí’s Airborne Broadcasts Illegal

The World Radiocommunication Conference 2007 (WRC-07) called U.S. transmissions against Cuba illegal, angering U.S. representatives at the forum. After three weeks of negotiations, the conference of technical experts from several countries rejected this practice.
“Radio transmissions from an aircraft only toward the territory of another government, and without its consent, contravenes radio communication regulations,” the conference decided. Diplomats interviewed by the news agency Prensa Latina said “this is a firm rejection of measures implemented by the Bush government in the last years.”
The plenary meeting also indicated that Washington has not stopped the prejudicial interference of Cuban broadcast services, despite several requests by the Radiocommunications Office. Regarding that, it urged the United States to adopt the necessary measures to resolve this and asked the International Telecommunications Union to inform on related progress in coming meetings.

After the remarks, the U.S. delegation decided to withdraw from the agreement and, clearly challenging the meeting, said the transmission policy toward Cuba will be maintained.


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NASCAR—Hot Cars, Hotter Scanning

A Veteran Listener’s Proven Tips For Catching Lap-By-Lap Action

by Ed Muro, K2EPM


Some kids are into model building, some into bowling. I was into radio—and auto racing. A scanner listener from about the time I was 12 (just before programmable scanners came on the market), my family had also been in the automobile business for decades and I grew up in a car culture. It was only natural that I was afflicted with the need for speed. Little did I know then that someday these two distinct interests would collide (please forgive the pun) in one of the most exciting sports in the world—NASCAR racing.

Back in those early days, NASCAR drivers didn’t have radios in their cars to communicate with their crews. They used signs, called Pit Boards, that the crew would hold up to tell the driver when he had to pit. But just as with so many other aspects of life, the miniaturization of electronics made new things possible.
What’s known as the Indy style of car racing may have been the first instance of radios being used in the racecars. These cars are equipped with sophisticated forms of telemetry communications that give the crew all sorts of parameters on the car as well as information to track officials for scoring purposes. Even the wheels have their own 1/4-watt transmitters that will transmit tire pressure readings to the crew.

Today, if watching a race isn’t thrilling enough for the fan in the stands, watching it while listening to race communications on a scanner adds a whole new dimension to the experience. You get the inside scoop on strategy and sometimes you even get to hear some off color communications as emotions on the track can run high. (One of the most thrilling moments for me at my first race was listening to some chatter on the radio between various crew members of a particular race team, when a voice broke in and said: “Hush up now, I am going out on the track.” That was the late Dale Earnhardt.

A Long Road To NASCAR

Coming from the New York area, a part of the country that had no real racetrack, meant I had to get my fill of auto racing on Wide World of Sports, ESPN, or TNN. In the early 1990s, though, several of my friends were brave enough to modify their own Mustangs and take them to Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey. Several times a month they’d make the trek to Englishtown and I’d go along. But this type of racing wasn’t my thing, so I started bringing my Bearcat 245 XLT with me so I could listen to the New Jersey State Police and the Old Bridge trunked system. One day while sitting in the stands, I realized there were radio communications going on right there. There was security to listen to and administrative folks running the track and the timing tower. For the next trip I brought my Opto Scout frequency counter. The whole dimension of the track changed, as I was now listening to the inside workings of the operation as I watched the events unfold in front of me.

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A State In Flames—
Southern California Fire Comms

Volunteer Radio Operators Share Lessons
Learned At One Fire Storm Hot Spot

by Gordon West, WB6NOA


The fall season turns leaves amber throughout much of the country. In southern California, autumn kicks in with a blast of warm air whistling through the mountains from a steady high-pressure system to our east. These hot winds, called Santa Anas, may gust over 100 miles an hour, toppling trees and power lines in their path.
This past fall, nearly simultaneously, 12 major fires erupted in the southern California mountains. Five of the fires are believed to have been caused by downed power lines or tree limbs contacting power lines. The major San Diego fire was traced to a juvenile playing with matches. My local fire, called the Santiago firestorm, was traced to three spot fires intentionally set by an unknown arsonist.

To assist in the efforts of dealing with that fire, I served a two-week fire comm assignment as a radio volunteer. It was quite educational to say the least, and I’d like to share with you some of what we volunteers experienced and the lessons we learned as a result.

Lessons Learned

In disaster situations such as the California fires, few things are as important as timely and efficient communications. As experienced communicators, trained radio volunteers offer invaluable skills and equipment to help in that regard. That’s why we’re there.

Lesson Learned #1: Volunteer communicators may supply their agencies with important radio monitoring of AM aeronautical and FM Fire Command channels. Even a simple ham radio VHF/UHF handheld might easily tune in the VHF high band action frequencies (see Table. Active Southern California Fire Frequencies).

My fire comm assignment was with my local American Red Cross chapter, serving the jurisdiction of 38,500 burned acres of the Santiago fire.

Lesson Learned #2: If you serve a specific agency as a volunteer communicator, have “topo” maps ready to evaluate radio range.

Our particular Red Cross chapter has its own ham radio/GMRS radio communications team, trained and credentialed by the local chapter. All communicators must remain active with weekly check-ins, must participate regularly in “boot camp” drills, and have dedicated themselves to serving their local Red Cross chapter for their primary response.
Lesson Learned #3: During the initial calldown, a few phone numbers had changed. Regularly update your phone calldown tree. All numbers MUST be actively correct.

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Mark Your Calendars...It’s Time
For The Annual Winter SWL Festival

Here’s A Preview Of The Not-To-Be-Missed Kulpsville Tradition

by Richard A. D’Angelo


As winter slowly grinds to a halt, my mind begins to think about the annual excursion to Kulpsville for the Winter SWL Festival sponsored by the North American Shortwave Association (NASWA). With spring just around the corner and the potential threat of awful winter weather beginning to dwindle, a radio hobbyist begins to think about getting together with good friends and fellow radio hobbyists at the Mecca of DX gatherings: the Best Western - The Inn at Towamencin, or Kulpsville as it’s known to long-time attendees.

This year will mark the 21st annual gathering of devoted radio listeners and it should be a good one. Although launched over two decades ago as a meeting for shortwave listeners who participated in the old ANARC 7240 Net, the “FEST” quickly morphed into a DC-to-daylight gathering, with every facet of the radio hobby represented.

The 2008 Winter SWL Festival is scheduled for March 7 and 8, 2008, and many of the Winter SWL Festival regulars will be in attendance. However, each year brings out a contingent of new faces, who are always warmly welcomed; just ask last year’s first-timer, Pop’Comm’s editorial wizard Edith Lennon! (It’s quite true…I mean the welcome, not the wizardry.—ed.) It doesn’t take much more than an hour or two for new people to become “FESTers” and get comfortable with the theme “the FEST never ends,” because people discuss the finer points of radio until all hours of the night.

The FESTivities draw an international crowd, with former European DX Council head honcho Michael Murray a regular as are a number of other European radio hobbyists. Japan’s Toshi Ohtake is always present representing the Japan Shortwave Club and Radio Japan. Of course, we always have a large contingent of our friends from up north. Our Canadian friends head south for the mild weather of southeastern Pennsylvania in March, hi!

The FESTmeisters, Rich Cuff and John Figliozzi, co-chair this popular event. March will be the eighth time these two radio hobbyists will be running the show. Previously, Rich and John served as our Hospitality Coordinators, so they’ve been an integral part of the Winter SWL Festival process for a long time.

The first 13 such events were organized by the original “gang of three”: Bob Brown, Harold Cones, and Kris Field, who still are regular FESTers. They were the originators of this great event and coordinated the activities until Rich and John took the helm. The FEST’s extended family is a large one that seems to grow each year, but our founding fathers deserve special recognition for the foresight, creativity, planning, and organization that launched a very successful FEST formula that continues to work each year.

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Understanding Scanner Specifications

by Ken Reiss


If you go shopping for a scanner (or, even better, if you got a shiny new one for the holidays), you tend to run into a lot of information…sometimes too much. Some of that information is really important and you should consider in your shopping process, but some of it is not. Then there’s the information that would be important if you could rely on it, but it turns out that you can’t. This month, let’s see if we can separate the wheat from the chafe, so to speak.
We’ll look at the info that is important first, and that you can easily find. A visit to almost any scanner manufacturer’s or dealer’s website will yield a certain amount of basic information about the scanner you’re considering.

Comparing model to model isn’t always easy when you start looking at the specifics. One will have this feature, another one that feature, but neither will have the other thing that a third model has—and that’s just from one manufacturer. It’s quite easy to get overwhelmed.

The Basics

Let’s start with the basics. How many channels does the scanner have? Of course, more channels means more stuff you can put in it and be ready to go. How are those channels organized? This one may take a bit more digging. There’s usually a number of banks available, and that’s a place to start. Ten banks is common, but some scanners feature more or less. However, it may not be quite that simple.

One popular radio is advertised as offering 5,500 channels and 10 banks. Great. Ten banks of 550 channels each? Not quite. Ten banks of 50 channels each are active at once, while another group of 10 banks can be switched in and out in what the manufacturer calls virtual radios. It’s a nice feature for those who travel or need to rapidly reprogram the radio with a set of frequencies, but it’s not really a 5,500-channel scanner.
As computer memory gets cheaper (same stuff they use in the scanner) and the processors get more intensive, it’s becoming more common to see this kind of memory swapping arrangement. I’ve seen a couple models that do it at least with one other bank, but 10 is not uncommon either.

Some of the newer receivers, mostly from Uniden in their TrunkTracker IV series, allow for dynamic reconfiguration of the banks. The radio has x number of channels available and you can program them into whatever groups you’d like. It’s not quite the same, but very useful, and it works about the same way as banks once you get it programmed.

Related to memories, on a TrunkTracker radio, you also need to be concerned with how many trunking systems you can put into the radio. You may not need multiple trunked systems now, but it could be an issue in the future. Each trunked system will be able to hold a number of IDs (talkgroups that work like channels in a trunking system)

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U.S. Bids Bye Bye To IBB-Briech,
We Say Hello To A New Country

by Gerry L. Dexter


The U.S. Government’s international broadcasting efforts have taken another body blow with the announcement of the coming discontinuance of the IBB-Briech (Morocco) transmitting site. The cubicle crowd of D.C. Mandarins says the operation has gotten too expensive and so will be turned over to Morocco at the end of the current B-07 season in late March. RT Marocaine has also used Briech for much, if not all, of its international broadcasts since the facility opened. Briech joins the Delano, California, site, which went comatose in late October 2007 when it was put into mothballs. Unlike Delano, however, Briech will remain active

Finally active—at least in a testing stage—is PMA Radio from Pohnpei in Micronesia. The 4755 frequency relays its local FM station “The Cross,” which is commonly used as the ID for this new religious broadcaster. The best time for reception in the United States is 1100 to around your local sunrise. Early on, at least, it seems that this station is taking a friendly attitude toward its distant listeners. The North American Shortwave Association (NASWA) has now added The Federated States of Micronesia to its country list. So even in these days of doom and gloom there’s now a new country out there you can add to your target list.

You can email reception reports to radio@pmapacific.org or phonpei@pmapacific.org. If you prefer to go via regular postal service, the address is Pacific Missionary Aviation, the Cross Radio Station, P.O. Box 517, Pohnpei, FM* 96941. (*Federated States of Micronesia).

Radio Bare (4895) in Manaus, Brazil, has a new image. The station has dropped its format of religious programming and now identifies as Radio Global Manaus. This old-time broadcaster is now part of the huge Radio Globo network.

There have been recent signs that the rarely heard Radio Nacional Angola outlet on 7217v is showing up again, although not well and apparently riding a shaky transmitter. You can never be sure in situations like this, and maybe the transmitter problems will eventually mean the end of Angola’s use of this frequency or perhaps cause a repair or replacement to be made. Let us hope for the latter!

First it was Deutsche Welle, which discontinued using transmitter sites within its own country, and now can be heard only on its relays or via hired time on various other sites. Now they’ve been joined by Radio Nederland, which—at least for the B07 season—has given up the use of the Flevoland site in favor of other locations. Flevo, says RN, is now a privately run facility. It has proven to be cheaper for Radio Nederland to buy time on some of the other commercially owned transmission sites than on Flevo, which it previously used and formerly owned. So, in the Dutch case, at least all this shuffling around comes down to economics.

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Improved Skills And Better Antennas
Trump Power Amplifiers—Hands Down!

by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ


As I write this month’s column, I’ve just finished “playing around” in the 2007 November Sweepstakes contest(s)—CW first, then phone—from my deed-restricted condo. As if to increase my challenge beyond the norm, I have an indoor antenna and run only 5-watt output on CW, 10-watt PEP on phone. By just about anyone’s guess, including my own, I wasn’t expecting much success, especially on SSB. Thankfully, and delightfully, I was pleasantly mistaken!

My last change of address—to a tiny condo with no trees and an overachieving Townhouse Association—has had me wishing for a reasonable way out of my situation. I would love to put up a remote station a mile or two out of town, complete with an autocoupler and a big horizontal loop, but the funds for such a venture aren’t yet available, and my research into the required technical parts, radio and/or Internet links, and software isn’t complete. When it is, I’ll report on it here!

I mentioned my first stealthy antenna attempt a time or two in previous columns. I managed to get a coaxial cable outside and buried, and I fed the condo’s aluminum rain gutter and downspout against several wire radials tucked on the ground here and there, the longest being about 75 feet. The downspout ran vertically for 22 feet, and the rain gutter (a continuous length of seamless aluminum) was a healthy 75 feet, for a total of about 95 feet, “inverted-L” style. I ran a wire up the downspout and connected it directly to the rain gutter to ensure a good connection.

I expected it to work pretty well...but it was really quite horrible! It “hears” okay (and I use it for SWLing and BCBing with a homebrew regenerative receiver), but it barely transmits! I think the close proximity to the aluminum soffits, which run the entire length of the condo’s roofline, “swamps” the RF when transmitting. I managed to work a handful of U.S. stations on 40 and 20 meters, and a lone European DX station, but it was hard work!

My fallback plan was a horizontal loop running around the inside perimeter of my second-story attic space.

I enlisted the help of a small, wiry teenager (everyone should have access to one!) to “help” me run the insulated wire in the attic (“step only on the trusses and don’t breathe the insulation; the itchy feeling will go away someday”). When all was said and done, the antenna was resonant somewhere near 40 meters. The actual resonance point isn’t critical. I installed my trusty SGC autocoupler in the attic just adjacent to the hallway access hatch and had my helper run a 20-foot length of open-wire line from the coupler to the loop’s feed point.


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Digital Doings: Sangean’s HDT-1X AM/FM HD Radio,
And TV In The Digital Age

by Bruce A. Conti


Are you digital ready? Public television wants to make sure you can continue to receive PBS network stations when over-the-air analog TV broadcasting comes to an end in 2009. But before we dive into what’s coming our way in pictures, we have some news from the audio realm. Sangean has introduced a new AM/FM HD radio. The company’s HDT-1X is said to be the standard by which all other HD receivers will be measured. “Broadcast Technology” puts it to the test.

Sangean HDT-1X Basics

The Sangean HDT-1X is designed for a component system with RCA analog and S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital InterFace) optical line outputs, requiring a separate amplifier and speakers. Although the chassis measures 17 inches wide for rack mounting, it’s a self-standing unit that rests on four plastic feet. A custom rack mount kit is needed to secure the chassis in a rack system. An infrared remote control and external AM/FM antennas are included. Initial installation and operation are straightforward, essentially plug-and-play. The instruction manual is clear and concise; it’s a good quick reference when needed.

Front panel ergonomics are functional and simple, anchored by a centrally located bright white alpha-numeric LCD with blue backlighting that’s plenty large enough to be viewed from across a room. To the left are the power button and a 10-digit numeric keypad with preset and frequency function buttons; to the right display info and AM/FM band pushbuttons, along with three up/down toggle pushbuttons for manual tuning, seek, and HD seek. The infrared remote control has dedicated pushbuttons for every front panel control.

The desired frequency can be entered directly via the keypad, manually tuned up/down, or selected automatically by the seek controls. AM tuning is in 10-kHz increments from 520 to 1710, FM every 0.1 MHz from 87.5 to 108.1 MHz. Twenty AM presets and 20 FM presets can be loaded into memory. A digital clock is displayed without backlighting when the radio is off.


A carrier-to-noise ratio of at least 55 dB is required for a solid FM HD signal, and greater than 60 dB for reliable AM HD reception. When locked on a digital signal, the audio clarity is amazing, with the most dramatic difference between analog and digital AM—no more noise. The stereo audio quality of AM HD is actually as good as, if not better than, analog FM, but—and it’s a very big but—AM HD still has its shortcomings at night. Trying to find a strong AM HD signal at night is a challenge due to adjacent channel skywave interference, unless you happen to be located within 15 miles or so of the AM transmitter site.

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The Fundamentals Of Radio Propagation

by Tomas Hood, NW7US


Sometime during 2008, Solar Cycle 23 will end, and the new 11-year cycle, the 24th to be recorded by solar observers, will begin. So, while it’s still early in the year, let’s review some of the fundamentals involved in radio propagation and space weather. To do so, we’ll take a look at the data involved in observing and forecasting radio propagation.

On various Internet websites you may read a collection of terms and measurements that describe the various conditions and levels of solar activity, and so on. This same information is broadcast during the hourly space weather and geophysical reports by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA uses the radio stations WWV and WWVH to issue geophysical alert messages that provide information about solar terrestrial conditions. Geophysical alerts are broadcast from WWV at 18 minutes after the hour and from WWVH at 45 minutes after the hour, or you may access them on the Internet (see www.sec.noaa.gov/ftpdir/latest/wwv.txt).

The audio portions of the WWV and WWVH broadcasts can also be heard by telephone. If you call right before the 18th minute mark, you’ll hear the Geoalert report during the 19th minute. To hear these broadcasts, dial (303) 499-7111 for WWV (Colorado) or (808) 335-4363 for WWVH (Hawaii). Callers are disconnected after two minutes. Note that these are not toll-free numbers; callers outside the local calling area are charged for the call at regular long-distance rates. The telephone service is very popular, with the WWV number receiving over one million calls per year and the WWVH number more than 50,000.

The messages are less than 45 seconds long and are updated every three hours (typically at 0000, 0300, 0600, 0900, 1200, 1500, 1800, and 2100 UTC). More frequent updates are made when necessary.

WWV radiates 10,000 watts on 5, 10, and 15 MHz and 2500 watts on 2.5 and 20 MHz. WWVH radiates 10,000 watts on 5, 10, and 15 MHz and 5000 watts on 2.5 MHz. Each frequency is broadcast from a separate transmitter. Although each frequency carries the same information, multiple frequencies are used because the quality of HF reception depends on many factors, such as location, time of year, time of day, the frequency being used, and atmospheric and ionospheric propagation conditions. The various frequencies make it likely that at least one frequency will be usable at all times. You may read the details about WWV and WWVH at http://tf.nist.gov/stations/wwv.html.

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A Muse Or Two…And An EmComm Turtle

by Rich Arland, W3OSS


I have a confession to make: I have a muse. Actually, I have two. First is my wife, the beautiful and talented Patricia, KB3MCT, who, for the last 26 years has been my constant companion and life-partner. She’s my inspiration and has helped me through many thorny times. She also is a great source of ideas for my columns. Several years ago she obtained her amateur radio license so she could become more actively involved in emergency communications (EmComm).

Second is Herb, my buddy from Alaska. Herb, as I outlined in the December “HOMSEC,” often provides me with timely inputs to my column.

We share a lot in common and sometimes it’s down right scary to look inside Herb’s head!

So, there you have it, the deep dark secret of my writing ability (or inability, take your choice).

Old Business: Turtles

A few months back we briefly covered the topic of using RVs and campers/trailers, “Turtles” if you will, as mobile comm facilities for EmComm during natural and/or manmade disasters. The idea—a good one I might add—centers on the fact that there are many of us “Baby Boomers” who are now semi or fully retired. Many of us have motorized RVs or camp/travel trailers and enjoy traveling around the country. Those of us who are also ham radio operators have a great opportunity to provide highly mobile emergency communications facilities for EmComm duties during civic events like parades and athletic events and, again, during natural or manmade disasters. In short, we can be of real assistance to disaster mitigaters and local police, fire, and EMS personnel because, not only do we have the ability to become highly mobile, we also have the gear and expertise to provide much needed emergency communications.

My Little Marshmallow On A Roller Skate

Starting with this column I’ll be detailing my progress in adapting our 13-foot Scamp camp trailer to perform EmComm duties. This is a rather long and involved process, since there’s a lot more to configuring our tiny Scamp into something akin to a mobile command post than just throwing a couple of radios into the pantry, hitching up the trailer, and hitting the road.

Above all, our Scamp is our “Home away from Home,” our refuge from the hustle and bustle of daily life. In effect, our diminutive house-on-wheels is a direct reflection of our home…only much, much smaller. Face it, 13 feet is not a lot of room! Especially when the task is to add all sorts of communications equipment and still keep the overall mission of the Scamp to house up to four people, complete with a place to prepare meals and sleep. In other words, the comm gear has to be small (as in physical footprint), multitasking, and installed in such a way as to be unobtrusive during times of non-emergency outings.

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Radio Fun And Going Back In Time

by R.B. Sturtevant, AD7IL


Q. Who gave Chester Gould, the creator of Dick Tracy, the inspiration for the famous cartoon detective’s two-way wristwatch radio?

A. Al Gross, W8PAL, was a high school student in 1938. He had a driving urge to reduce the size of the pre-World War II amateur radio equipment. He designed a small battery-operated handheld radio (four pounds) that he called a Walkie-Talkie.

Gould, already a famous cartoonist with a very popular comic strip requested permission to use the idea of a super miniaturized radio set. With that permission granted Gould went on to “invent” the miracle wristwatch radio. Gross went on to study Electrical Engineering at Case School of Applied Sciences. When World War II began he was grabbed up by the American military and spent his time during the war years inventing secret stuff for the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. When the technology was declassified in 1976, we learned that Gross had 12 patents (all of which had expired in 1971) that led to the invention of the cell phone, cordless phone, and pagers.

After the war, Gross went on to do cutting-edge designs for various projects involving his innovative electronics. He became a Silent Key in December 2000.

Q. David Niven, the English actor, always plays British military types in the movies. Was he ever really in the Army?


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Spokane’s Suburban AM Radio Rip-Off

by Shannon Huniwell


Though my father is in no way affiliated with Burger King, more than a few of his radio tales can only be classified as “whoppers.” In this case, the evidence I submit to you, the fair-minded readers of Popular Communications, is testimony about a theft of broadcast equipment that reportedly caused irrevocable harm to one poor little AM daytime station in a bucolic community just north of Spokane.

Allow me to begin this saga by symbolically pointing to dad and declaring, “That’s the man who told me about the mysterious robbery at KLFF 1590 in Mead, Washington!”

Admittedly, my father isn’t completely responsible for this story. Dad coaxed the important, though sketchy, details out of a middle-aged woman with whom he and mom were serendipitously stranded last year at a snowed-in airport. Throughout the evening, they passed the time, first with small talk, and then with greater detail about their lives.

“She was some big shot traveling on business for a pharmaceutical company,” dad said. In a feeble effort to impress her, he showed the lady my picture and identified me as his daughter the “well-known history writer and columnist concentrating in broadcast-related topics.” The woman, who by then was being addressed on a first name basis, responded to that shameless boast by making only the slightest mention of having once heard about a radio station heist from people she figured to be the kilocycle crooks.

“At first, Melanie politely made light of the value of her radio recollections,” my father stated, “but I insisted that she possessed a broadcasting story worth telling.” With that, my mother went back to reading her fashion magazine, while father scavenged a pen from mom’s ample purse, as well as an empty ticket envelope someone had left behind, and convinced Melanie to “start from the beginning.” As I click away keyboarding this article, dad’s hurriedly scribbled notes serve as a major source. What follows are pretty much my father’s reminiscences.


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A Salute To Small Vendors (Who Serve Radio Restorers In A Big Way!)

by Peter J. Bertini


I’m sitting here contemplating ideas for this month’s column, with a cup of warm apple cider in hand. Midnite the Wonder Lab is snuggled under the computer desk as I type. Here in New England the nights and days are getting cooler, and darkness falls earlier with each passing day…It’s a good evening to settle back and peruse some of the letters you’ve written to us.

Reader Nick K. from Highland, Indiana, writes, “I thought your April column was great! I enjoyed all the radio restoration articles. I would like to see a listing of part sources in a future column.” Hello Nick! I appreciate hearing from you, and I do take your suggestion seriously. We try to suggest specific vendors when appropriate for the project or restoration topic for that month. But Nick has a good point. It’s been several years since I dedicated a column to suppliers who cater to vintage radio enthusiasts. So, here’s a tip of the hat to Nick for providing the inspiration for this month’s column.

By now I’m sure most of you are familiar with the larger vendors, such as Radio Daze1 and Antique Electronic Supply2, who specialize in tube-based electronic equipment. This month I’d like to take time to salute the smaller home-based or one- or two-person shops that provide unique, but much needed, vintage radio-related items and services.

Unfortunately, for some of our readers, many of these smaller enterprises use Web-based catalogs and often prefer email communications instead of telephone or land mail queries. Some of these folks are in the business fulltime and trying to make it their livelihood, others provide these services as a hobby, and a few are elderly folks with infirmities—please extend them some kindness and patience when you deal with them. If you don’t see a telephone number supplied, you will need to use email or visit the website for more information.

Also, remember that many of these vendors may not be able to accept credit card orders. Some accept Internet payments via PayPal. Many don’t. Most of these vendors specify how they prefer to be contacted on their websites.

This is by no means a complete list of vendors, and I apologize to anyone who was omitted. Let me know if you feel you deserved a mention, as I will provide updated info in the future as needed. So here we go, and these are in no particular order.

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Do You Search? Great MilCom Frequencies Await

by Tom Swisher, WA8PYR


Have you got a scanner or two (or three) dedicated to searching the military frequency ranges? If you’re a serious military monitor, you should. In my shack I dedicate a RadioShack Pro-2035 with an Optoelectronics OS-535 computer interface and Probe software for military searching, and I also use RadioShack’s Pro-2004 and Pro-2006 scanners for general searches as well. Searching is an excellent way to find new things to monitor, and for the first couple of monitoring targets we’re going to discuss this month, it’s almost essential.

Helicopters, Helicopters, Where Are The Helicopters?

Flying over your house on a regular basis, probably. We’re talking about those loud military choppers which seem to fly around with seeming regularity, and which seem to be flying nowhere just for the heck of it. But what are they really doing?

They could be doing nearly anything. If you live near a major military base, you probably get this on a regular basis, and it’s a part of the ongoing training our military forces conduct to keep themselves as ready as possible for anything they may be called upon to do. If you live near a National Guard base (as many of us do), they could be training, en route to provide humanitarian support at a disaster, providing security support at a large public event, or any of the many other activities the National Guard participates in.

But can you monitor them? Sure! Start with the frequencies for your local airport or military facility, as flights will generally have to call the local air control facility to obtain clearance for their flight. Also check the Unicom and Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) frequencies for your area, as many heliports are uncontrolled. Choppers leaving these heliports will announce their flight intentions on the published Unicom or CTAF frequency for that facility or area. Finally, search the VHF low-band frequencies for activity, especially the 38- and 46-MHz ranges (see the boxed frequencies for some suggestions).

Bombs Away...

Tactical air controllers have a very challenging job, and one that can be fascinating for the scannist to monitor.
Tactical Air Controllers (TACs) are soldiers, sailors, airmen, or Marines specially trained in the art of guiding close air support aircraft in to help the troops on the ground.

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More From The Last Look At The DoD Flight Information Handbook

by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ


As previously reported in this space, effective on October 1, 2007, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Flight Information Publications (FLIP) have been moved to the National Geospacial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) NIPRNet site and are no longer accessible to the general public via the Web.

Last month, I discussed the specifics of this development and included a list of aeronautical HF stations taken from the last publicly available version of the DoD Flight Information Handbook (FIH). I also promised that this month, I’d have a new listing of HF VOLMET (aviation weather broadcast) stations for you, also based on the information in this last publicly available FIH (see “Table. VOLMET Station Frequencies And Times”).

VOLMET stations are stations that transmit aeronautical weather information. The name comes from a French term that literally means, “flying weather.” These stations transmit a looped message to provide the aircraft servicing specific airports around the world with timely information concerning visibility, temperature, wind speed, and direction, and other weather-related information. Photo A shows a typical VOLMET broadcast console, in this case belonging to the Hong Kong VOLMET station operated by the Civil Aviation Department of the government of Hong Kong. For good measure—and to give female radio operators equal and appropriate appreciation in this column!—Photo B shows the HF console used by the HF aeronautical station in Hong Kong (refer to last month’s column for the frequencies on which to listen for it).

As you’ll notice if you study the information in the table, often a frequency is shared by more than one VOLMET station. Where this is the case, the stations alternate transmissions according to a set schedule, and the times are noted in the table. Many VOLMET stations also transmit information for certain airports during some transmissions and for other airports during other transmissions. This is also on a set schedule, but I didn’t break down the listings in the table this way, since the table is for hobby use and not intended for flight operations anyway, and breaking the listings down that way would have made it more complicated than necessary for utility listeners. After all, it’s the same station transmitting, regardless of which looped message it happens to be sending!

The nice thing about VOLMET stations is that they are among the handful of utility station types that routinely transmit on a known schedule, on a specified frequency, and at a specified time, so we know when and where to tune if we want to try and log a particular station. We can also tell where the station we’re hearing is located from the frequency and time of transmission, even if the signal is too weak to permit us to grab the station ID when the looped message says, “This is New York Radio out.” What’s more, these stations are scattered around the globe at known fixed locations, offering an insight into propagation conditions at any given time, especially since most of them transmit simultaneously on more than one frequency.


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(He’s Got To Be Making This Up!)

by Bill Price, N3AVY (and Son)


The first thing of interest I learned today was that my boss was elected constable of his township, but had to resign the post because it would have required him to leave his present position (an HPJIE*) where he has me as a loyal employee. Shades of Barney Fife.

Our chief engineer decided to write in his own name on the ballot for constable of his township (and there’s no way I’m telling you where that is…) and, unknown to him, so did his wife. This was kind of a lark, because there was no one running for that office, so he thought it would be nice to tell people he got a vote once in an election. Trouble was, he got two votes in that election, and so did one other person. That’s right—there was a tie. Two people each got two write-in votes, and the township decided the outcome by tossing a coin, and although my boss won, and held the position of constable for five days, he had to stop by the town hall this morning and resign his position, because he preferred to keep—you guessed it—his HPJIE!

You might be wondering (fat chance) just what does a person do in an HPJIE? I’m glad you asked. Today, I drove through about two hours of traffic to sit at a federal government agency and wait for a cable company (an un-named cable company, lucky for them) technician to show up. I was told he’d be there between 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. I was also told about the Easter Bunny, but not in the same sentence. He arrived at about 3:00 p.m.

He only had to remove a cable modem and install a new one, something requiring like three plugs if you count the AC adaptor. It took about an hour and a half. Jackie Gleason never had such a comedy of errors. It did my heart good to see someone else with an HPJIE botch things even worse than I do.

My purpose, by the way, was to represent our company, which was his customer, as we have a phone line in this government agency so we can stream some television coverage of some of their activities onto the Internet. I was paid for sitting in an overstuffed chair (quite appropriate for an overstuffed techie) and waiting from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., then observing him swap modems. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. Actually, I did have to move an equipment rack and crawl behind it to swap a CAT-5 cable. Almost broke a fingernail on that one.
So—you want another communications story? I seem to just walk right into them.


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