News, Trends, And Short Takes
by D. Prabakaran
Senator Urges FCC To Block XM-Sirius Deal
A senior Democratic senator has urged U.S. communications regulators to block Sirius Satellite Radio’s purchase of rival XM Satellite Radio, saying the deal would lead to higher prices for customers. North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, a high-ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, wrote to the chairman of the FCC saying the agency should not follow the illogical decision of the Justice Department, which last month granted the deal antitrust approval.
“This merger is contrary to the public interest. I hope that the FCC will stand up for competition in the public interest and deny this merger,” Dorgan said in the letter to FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.
Antitrust authorities at the Justice Department approved the combination after concluding it would not harm consumers. The department said satellite radio companies face stiff competition from traditional AM/FM radio, high-definition radio, MP3 players, and audio delivered by mobile phones.
With the Justice Department’s approval in
hand, analysts have said XM and Sirius are unlikely to face outright
opposition from the FCC, although the agency could impose conditions on
the deal designed to protect consumers and preserve competition. Under
U.S. law, the FCC is tasked with looking beyond competition issues and
determining whether a communications deal is in the overall public
Ironically, while XM and Sirius are on the brink of merging in the United States, their Canadian counterparts are holding firm as rivals, even if it’s only for a bit longer.
The head of XM Canada’s parent company,
Canadian Satellite Radio Holdings, Inc, told analysts that the U.S.
Department of Justice’s recent approval of the merger there brings the
two American companies “one step closer” to consolidating. However,
until final clearance from the FCC is granted in the United States, XM
Canada is not changing its approach to competing with Sirius Canada.
When asked whether the two have held talks on consolidating their
operations, the company said it’s too early to comment.
Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications
by Richard Fisher, KI6SN
Public Safety Should Be Aided By Airwave Auction, House Panel Says
A block of public airwaves should be re-auctioned with the proceeds turned over to public safety officials to fund a nationwide network for emergency communications, members of a congressional panel said. According to the Associated Press, the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet was looking into why a plan for using public airwaves and private money to create a nationwide emergency communications network did not attract interest in what in other ways was a successful auction of frequency spectrum. Texas’ Rep. Joe Barton, ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Cliff Stearns, ranking member of the subcommittee, suggested the plan in April.
“With consensus, Congress could pass a law to use proceeds from the commercial re-auction for the public-private partnership,” Barton said in the AP report.
Testimony was heard from members of the FCC and people behind the scenes in the failed negotiations to form the wireless broadband network. The auction of public airwaves raised $19.1 billion but failed to attract a bidder to build the network.
Officials said Hurricane Katrina and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, exposed cracks in the nation’s emergency communications networks and the inability of police and firefighters to effectively communicate with one another.
Commission estimates on the cost of a national
network run between $6 billion and $7 billion. It is uncertain whether
the block would generate that much revenue at auction, according to FCC
Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein.
A Chester, Virginia, radio amateur has been questioned by the FCC about “at least 17 club call signs in your name as trustee, all licensed to Virginia RACES clubs,” documents show.
A letter to Anthony M. Amato, KR4UQ, from FCC special counsel Riley Hollingsworth said the commission had “requested information related to the club stations and have reviewed the information you provided in various responses over the past two years.
Although the number of such club licenses
appears more than necessary, we have accepted your responses. You are
reminded that the only types of station licenses that can be granted in
the Amateur Service are shown in Section 97.5 of our rules. Moreover,
Section 97.17(a) provides that only a “person” is eligible to apply for
a new operator/primary station, club station or military recreation
station license grant.
How One Organization’s Search & Rescue Know-How Is Saving Lives In The Northwest
by Roy Stevenson
How about this “Mission Impossible” for a communications team? Coordinate large Search & Rescue (SAR) operations spanning multiple counties with all the terrain obstacles and geographical challenges that mark the area around Mount Hood, Oregon. And do it all while facing the logistical difficulties of incompatible radio equipment and frequencies, involving up to 28 different agencies in a life or death situation where time is critical.
Sound like a challenge? You bet it is, but these are problems routinely faced and overcome by Portland’s Mountain Wave Emergency Communications Search & Rescue organization. Their rescue track record is as impressive as their equipment list—and this team has communications equipment that makes most military comms specialists drool.
This non-profit volunteer agency may well lead the nation in its support of public safety agencies with its pool of highly trained experts, equipment and resources. “Mountain Wave is a unique organization,” says Russell Gubele, Mountain Wave’s Command Officer. “I’m not aware of any other like it. Some public service agencies have comm units, some use amateur groups. But none that I’m aware of come with the talent we do. We bring professionals in many disciplines to a mission. Not only can we use and deploy equipment, we can fix it if it breaks, configure and program it if needed, and just make everything work! And we do it for free!” says Gubele.
The group has achieved great distinction by
providing thousands of hours of support to public service agencies and
has won numerous awards for this service. They receive several requests
for training material every week from agencies all over the country.
Mountain Wave has been involved in numerous SAR operations that have made national news, with much high drama and danger. They responded to 90 live missions in 2007 alone where lives were in danger.
In February 2007, for example, they were instrumental in rescuing three climbers who slipped from a ledge at the 8,300-foot level of Mt. Hood, about 60 miles east of Portland, Oregon. After falling 300 feet, one member of the group activated a mountain locator unit (MLU) and contacted emergency dispatchers. (These custom-built MLUs are similar to animal tracking units, developed by Mountain Wave and other groups for the U.S. Forestry Service. Mountain Wave is currently testing a new satellite-based unit that has GPS. Early testing has been good and the GPUs will replace the MLUs later this year.)
After being activated by local authorities,
Mountain Wave personnel joined the effort and contacted the climbers,
instructing them to huddle in their sleeping bags. Shivering, wet and
cold, with their Labrador retriever, they waited for the 30-person
rescue team to scramble up the mountain in hazardous whiteout
conditions, including heavy snow and 70-mph winds. Mountain Wave located
the lost climbers using a beam antenna and receiver from various
locations to triangulate the MLU’s signal. An alpine search team from
another agency took a beam and receiver with them to the triangulated
area and was able to pinpoint the exact location.
Ready To Roll With CB Radio
Soaring Gas Prices Making
Road Travel Painful? Turn To An Old Friend.
by Jeffrey Reed
Anyone who believes Citizens Band Radio has gone the way of the Dodo bird should think again. In fact, CB (11 meter 26.965–27.405 MHz communications) is alive and well, and most likely “living” in your neighborhood.
With apologies to Burt Reynolds, don’t go organizing a convoy to avoid Smokey Bear anytime soon. Unlike the 1970s CB craze, which fueled movies like Smokey and the Bandit and hundreds of CB-themed songs—which in turn saw the CB phenomenon positively explode—today’s CB culture breeds a more mature mode of communicating.
Sure, there will always be those who disregard
on-air etiquette, not to mention rules and regulations of the FCC (and
north of the border Industry Canada, formerly the Department of
Communications, or DOC). But perhaps a spinoff of today’s wired 24/7
society, CB radio is making a comeback among the general population.
Truckers—these days referred to as
professional drivers—are still by far the largest population to embrace
CB radio, and long-distance haulers are sophisticated professionals
indeed, with truck cabs housing everything from laptops, satellite GPS,
and yes, the old reliable CB transceivers. But average Joes like you and
me also find CB radio to be an inexpensive (although at times limiting)
method for quickly obtaining information like bad weather and traffic
warnings, plus travel directions. And it’s still a great way for
business operators and family members to keep in touch within city
The FCC issued the first license for CB radio—or Class “D” 27 MHz band—in early 1948 to Al Gross. He communicated with license 19W0001 of the Citizens Radio Service. By the 1960s, truckers, small business operators, and radio hobbyists were using CB transceivers on a daily basis. Then, it hit, just like a winter snowstorm.
When the U.S. government imposed a 55 mph
speed limit following the oil crisis of 1973 and the concurrent gas
shortages, much media coverage was given to truck drivers who, in fact,
were communicating via CB radios. Thus, the CB craze was born. Drivers
communicated to locate gas and to warn others of speed traps.
The original 23 channels clogged, the FCC
allowed 40 channels in 1977, and that’s where it remains today.
Higher-end CBs boast both AM and SSB—upper and lower single sideband
modes offering 12 watts of power—and thus provide 120 separate channels.
Under normal atmospheric conditions, and using properly installed
antennas and lawful 4-watt AM transceivers, two home, or base, CB
operators can talk over a distance of about 20 to 40 miles
(mobile-to-mobile and base-to-mobile distances are less, and
walkie-talkie communications lesser still).
Got A GPS? Then Go Geocaching
Enjoy Your Hobby And Get Some Fresh Air Right In Your Own Backyard—And Bring The Kids
by Alfred J. Oxton, K1OIQ
Finding a geocache is like a high-tech treasure hunt. Someone has hidden a cache near you and published the coordinates; your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find that cache, log it, and get on to the next one. Put your ZIP code into the search page at http://www.geocaching.com/seek/ and set the radius to 10 miles to see what’s nearby. Then let the detective/tracker in you take over. The only high-tech part you need is a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) device. Sound like fun? It is!
For those of you who’ve never heard of geocaching, this is what it’s all about (from the Geocache FAQ page at www.geocaching.com/faq/\):
Geocaching is an entertaining adventure game
for GPS users. Participating in a cache hunt is a good way to take
advantage of the wonderful features and capability of a GPS unit. The
basic idea is to have individuals and organizations set up caches all
over the world and share the locations of these caches on the Internet.
GPS users can then use the location coordinates to find the caches. Once
found, a cache may provide the visitor with a wide variety of rewards.
All the visitor is asked to do is if they get something they should try
to leave something for
Most geocaches are housed in boxes about the
size of an ammo can or a cookie tin; some are smaller, such as a
magnetic key holder or an Altoids tin. Some are cleverly disguised but
none are buried. The larger caches contain a logbook and a handful of
trinkets—patches, coins, marbles, hatpins, and such—things to trade.
Kids love them. In fact, kids seem to have a knack of finding the stash,
perhaps because they are closer to the ground!
The GPS system that will get you there consists of a collection of satellites that, to make a long story extremely short, tell your GPS device where it is located in terms of latitude, longitude, and altitude. Also contained in the data stream is time of day, time of sunset, and, if you remembered to press the right buttons to start with, the way back to your car. Batteries not included. When geocaching, always bring extra batteries and extra water.
About the size of a cellphone, the GPS will have lots of buttons and menus and a view screen. The receiver will typically hear 8 to 12 satellites at a time, and four good signals are required to fix your location in three-dimensional space. The extras provide redundancy for when you move about. Occasionally, the signal from a cellphone may interfere with GPS reception. Other things that interfere are thick, wet foliage, the roof or your car, and putting the GPS in your pocket.
The displays of the older low-end models are
rather course, but they serve the purpose of getting you within 10 or 15
feet of your target. High-end models have much finer quality screens, in
color even, with detailed maps and heaps of memory. One icon on the
screen indicates your present position while another indicates your
target, the cache whose coordinates you have entered. As you walk along
on the ground the screen updates to indicate your progress towards the
cache. As you get closer, you can zoom in for greater accuracy and
detail. Think of the game this way: Your tax dollars at work.
Wilson Cellular Signal Amplifier Kit
by Kent Britain, WA5VJB
Ever find yourself frustrated with your cellphone coverage? What if you could increase your signal strength over 10 times? Under certain conditions, a Cellular Signal Amplifier Kit from Wilson Electronics will do just that for you.
Wilson’s Cellular Signal Amplifier works with all cellular (800 MHz) and
PCS (1900 MHz) phones and will be a valued tool for mobile phone (and
laptop) users who spend a lot of time on the road, and especially for
those who live or travel in rural areas, through uneven terrain, or
otherwise find themselves in fringe coverage areas.
The Wilson Cellular Signal Amplifier Kit installs very quickly. It’s
simply a matter of putting the mag-mount antenna on top of your vehicle,
placing the amplifier under the seat or in the trunk, attaching the
phone cradle/antenna to a convenient spot on your dash, and plugging it
into the cigarette lighter. A breeze.
I’m usually talking about antennas, and it’s nice that the Wilson kits give me a chance to talk about three antennas and the cell phone network.
The first antenna involved here is typically a small Inverted F-type built into your cell phone. Sometimes a few inches of extension antenna is added in there. Your cell phone and the cell site are constantly exchanging signal reports, and your cell phone is running only as much power as it absolutely has to in order to get a usable signal into the cell site. More power would jam other cell sites, possibly overload the cell, and certainly use up your battery faster.
As you drive into a weak signal area, the cell phone increases power, but today’s new tiny cell phones seem to have every accessory except an electric tooth brush—and a proper antenna. The phone quickly switches to its maximum power, but at the pipsqueak power levels the new phones use, you lose your connection. Typically when you lose a call, it was the cell site that couldn’t hear you anymore.
Now, how about that signal strength increase we mentioned? Here’s where the Wilson Cellular Signal Amplifier comes in.
The second antenna is in the cradle that holds the cell phone. This antenna in the cradle couples both the incoming and outgoing signals between the amplifier and your cell phone. The amplifier has a total system gain of about 10 dB for about 10 times the power of a typical cell phone. The term system gain allows for losses in the cradle and the coax, and the logic circuits in the amp use just enough gain to do the job.
The third antenna is a vertical collinear array up on top of your car. Just getting your antenna outside of that wheeled metal box and a few feet higher gives you about 10 times as much signal as that little Inverted F inside the phone when it’s used inside a vehicle.
Ten times the power and 10 times the signal with an outside antenna—that enables you to be up to 10 times farther from the cell site and still stay connected.
Let’s go back for a moment to where the cell site and the cell phone are trading signal reports. Most of the time the amplifier is doing little work and the cell phone is commanded to its lowest power levels. Running at these low power levels gives you much longer battery life. But drive through that low area and you have lots of reserve signal.
THE ANTENNA ROOM
HD FM Antennas
by Kent Britain, WA5VJB
This month we cover a topic suggested by Rich in an email about difficulties in the Chicago area concerning picking up HD FM signals versus the standard analog stereo FM signals. As you can see in Photo A, I’m enjoying some Light Jazz on HD FM as I write this column although none of the local analog stations have Light Jazz programming at this time.
In Photo B you see the network of six
filters, three circulators, and a high-power hybrid transformer that
combines three 30,000 watt analog FM transmitters and three 300 watt HD
transmitters on to the same antenna at 1840 feet in Photo C. The filters
on the right are passing the 107.5 MHz HD signal I’m listening to at
this time. There’s some very slick engineering in this filter network.
Both signals go out as circular polarized, but the analog signals are
rotating one way, and the HD signals are rotating the other way.
Now an OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division
Multiplex-ing) digital signal is added between these FM stereo
sidebands. Some engineer calculated that the OFDM signals were 100 times
better than FM, so the FCC only allows the FM stations to put out 1
percent as much power on the digital signal as the analog signal. This
means the typical FM station running 30,000 watts out on stereo only
gets to run 300 watts on its HD signal. Someone should have taken his or
her 12-digit calculator away and then be sent out in the field for some
field trials. Different consulting groups actually making field strength
measurements say the HD signals need to be four to 10 times stronger to
give the same coverage as the FM analog signal.
This means you’re going to need to help things along at your end. Every home HD radio I’ve seen has provisions for an external FM radio antenna. The easiest improvement is the basic set of “Rabbit Ears.” I got a set at a local Dollar store for, you guessed it, $1. At 100 MHz the radio waves are about 10 feet long. So a half wave antenna is right at five feet. So for best FM reception you want the “ears” pulled pretty much all the way out like I show in Photo D. As with a television antenna, you can move the elements around as necessary for best signal reception.
Most outdoor TV antennas work pretty well
with FM broadcasts. TV antennas have to be designed to pull in TV
Channel 6, which is 82–88 MHz. So again they work well at 88–108 MHz.
The easiest approach is to just use a two-way band splitter on the TV
antenna. A band splitter filters off just the FM band with virtually no
loss to the TV signals.
High-Tech Radio On The Road With RFSpace
by Bruce A. Conti
Summer is a great time to take the broadcast
DX hobby outdoors. Whether it’s a weekend camping trip, a day at the
beach, or a family barbecue, don’t forget to bring a radio for a chance
to hear something different from the usual reception within the confines
of your radio shack. This summer “Broadcast Technology” went on the road
with the RFSpace SDR-IQ software-defined radio for the ultimate
high-tech portable DX experience. While it can be a bit complicated for
the uninitiated, it may also be the last receiver you’ll need to buy for
many years to come, so here’s an in-depth look at the technology
The RFSpace SDR-IQ software-defined radio represents a technological breakthrough on three fronts. Number one, the IQ is very affordable at just under $500 yet with performance comparable to $1,000 high-end communications equipment. Second, the IQ is very portable, measuring only 4.75 inches at its largest dimension and powered solely by USB connection to a computer. Last, but not least, up to 190 kHz of spectrum can be recorded for playback later with full tuning and demodulation capabilities.
A software-defined radio (SDR) requires a computer and spectrum analyzer software for operation. SpectraVue spectrum analyzer software is provided on an installation CD with the IQ, and free software upgrades are available online. SpectraVue recommends a 1 GHz Pentium II or better with a minimum of 64M memory, although more memory will be required to take full advantage of the IQ’s capabilities. Software is easily loaded on a Windows XP machine using the installation wizard. Once installation is complete, operation of the IQ is almost plug-and-play. Hook up an antenna to the IQ, connect the USB cable, start up the SpectraVue software, and you’ll be well underway.
The IQ software can appear rather complicated
at first; after all it’s nothing like a traditional receiver. Prior
computer experience is almost a pre-requisite to navigate the various
control screens and menu selections. After attempting operation for the
first time, the instruction manual—a PDF file on the installation CD—is
well worth reading to pick up a few hints to help you get started.
The SDR-IQ is an unassuming black box without any knobs, pushbuttons, or switches; all controls are at the computer end. The front panel consists of three LEDs: a green power indicator, a yellow sampling indicator, and a red A/D clipping indicator. There are three rear panel connections: the USB computer connection, an RS-232 serial port for an external receiver connection, and a 50 ohm antenna input BNC. A generous 10-foot shielded high-speed USB cable is provided so the IQ can be located away from potential computer-generated radiated interference.
Because the IQ is nothing like the old-fashioned knobs and pushbuttons general coverage communications receiver, specifications are different, too. The IQ can be simply described as an A/D converter that samples the analog antenna input and converts it to a digital data stream. Dynamic range will be dependant upon computer soundcard performance. A selectivity range from 200 Hz to 20 kHz is almost infinitely variable with brick-wall filter performance that can be customized for each situation. Image rejection is greater than 80 dB, but can be problematic in high-signal areas with the 10 dB RF amplification engaged. A noise floor greater than 130 dBm has been reported by AM broadcast DXers using low-noise antennas.
IQ stand-alone frequency coverage is specified
as 500 Hz to 30 MHz, limited by an A/D converter sampling rate of 66.67
MHz per the Nyquist theorem of the digitization of analog signals, which
states that the sampling rate must be at least twice the highest
frequency. Coverage can be expanded when interfaced as a panadapter
spectrum analyzer with a wideband communications receiver or with an
external downconverter. AOR, Elecraft, ICOM, Kenwood, and Yaesu
receivers can be interfaced via the IQ RS-232 serial I/O. Frequency
resolution is specified as accurate as 0.031 Hz. Practical frequency
measurement to within +/- 1 Hz is easily attainable when calibrated
against a known accurate source such as WWV or an AM broadcast signal.
There are eight reception modes: AM, CW, CWr, LSB, USB, DSB, FM, and WFM.
REACT IN ACTION
by Ron McCracken, KG4CVL / WPZX486
The kids are out of school for the summer and love to be outdoors with you on weekends or on vacation. What great opportunities this presents to interest them in your radio hobby.
The Family Radio Service (FRS) makes it easy and inexpensive to give kids basic, practical, hands-on radio experiences. You may already have some of these compact, cost-effective FRS radios. If not, they’re widely available. You can get them at retail stores or order them on the Internet (be sure to check eBay and Craig’s List, too). Used ones may turn up at local garage sales.
Older FRS units may actually be really good as “trainers” for the kids. Three-, seven-, or 14-channel units pose no legal problems with the FCC. Unlicensed operation is allowed on all channels in these radios. They’re cheaper to buy, too, so watch for them. It’s a win-win situation.
Most, if not all, newer 22-channel GMRS/FRS “combo” radios require an FCC license to operate on most channels. The license applies to all GMRS channels in the radios (1–7 and 15–22). Only Channels 8–14 are FRS channels in these newer radios, so beware. The GMRS license fee will generally run you far more than the cost of the radios, so it’s an important consideration.
Older 14-channel FRS radios will save you the
hassle of having to “police” the kids to ensure that they don’t operate
illegally on GMRS Channels 1–7 or 15–22. These cheaper radios will serve
you and the kids well. They will keep life simpler.
Begin by impressing upon the kids that radios are important communication links. Lives depend on these tiny FRS radios, so teach them respect for these valuable tools. What you have taught them about good telephone manners will provide a solid foundation on which you can build.
Teach them that they need to wait before they
key the microphone to speak. Someone else may be using that channel
already. Help them choose an easy identifier to use on the air that will
help you quickly recognize them when they call. Teach them that good
radio operation means they will spend most of their time monitoring.
That may give them the privilege of helping someone in distress. Teach
them to keep messages short so they don’t block an important message by
Most importantly, teach them how to use their
radios in an emergency. That can save their lives, or enable them to
help save someone else’s life. FRS radios have already saved lives, and
will no doubt save more. What kids learn about using FRS correctly in an
emergency is applicable to any other type of radio (including cell
phones) they may use.
Summer Scanning: Rails And Waves
by Ken Reiss
This month we have a transportation theme for
“ScanTech,” namely trains and boats/ships. Of course, we’re ignoring all
kinds of other things that move about and also use radio, like trucks,
taxis, and bus fleets just to name a few. They’re a little harder to pin
down, however, so let’s look at the more predictable ones. We’ll jump
right in with the action that can be heard along the country’s railways.
Trains have an allure for many, and in fact serve as an introduction to scanning for a lot of people. For those interested in trains, where they’re going, and what they’re doing, it doesn’t take long to find out that they use radios to do it all. “Rail fans,” as those folks are frequently called, are also big fans of scanning even if they don’t listen to anything else.
The American Association of Railroads (AAR) sets the standards for most things relating to railroad operation and safety. They have numbered the channels available to them as 2–97. Channels 2–6 are only available in Canada, but since trains do cross the border the frequencies are likely to appear in those trains as well. All the fun starts just below 160 MHz (see the “Rail Frequencies” table).
Railroads were one of the first large-scale implementers of radio systems, and as a result they have a dedicated group of frequencies for their use. That’s not terribly unusual; in fact many radio users have dedicated batches of frequencies for their communications needs. This is particularly apparent with the aviation band 108–137 MHz, which is also in the AM mode, but there are some others as well.
In the past, there were also dedicated bands for business users, police and fire services, among others. However, the crowded, or rather overcrowded, frequency bands available for two-way radio in many areas have forced a relaxation of those rules in many areas. The firm lines of frequency allocation have been blurred considerably in an effort to shift frequencies from services where they were not being well used to services that needed them in a particular area. While this has helped relieve congestion in some areas, it’s made for some difficult searching.
One place where this has not happened, at least to any great extent, is the railroad service. Railroads have allocated VHF frequencies that have been in use for many, many years. There are always proposals to reallocate railroads to other frequencies, and enhanced communications systems, but so far, most of the communication is still on the main AAR channels.
There’s another push to move the railroads to trunked radio systems. The problem is that the railroads have a lot of territory to cover. Putting up repeaters and trunking controllers along the thousands of miles of railroad track would be a tremendous undertaking, not to mention a huge expense. Trunking systems would offer great benefits for the railroads in that they could have many virtual channels, but it really offers more benefits to the two-way radio industry, which wants that spectrum space. Perhaps some compromise solution, such as satellite-based radio or the public cellular system (which is much more likely to have continuous coverage than a private, built from scratch system), will eventually be used. But I wouldn’t hold my breath, either.
There are, however, some railroad frequencies
outside the official railroad band. These are used by railroad police,
yard workers, and others in instances where they don’t have to
communicate with the trains or other people running the “operations”
side of things. Most of these “out of band” allocations are really
nothing more than business band channels in another part of the
spectrum. You can look for these in the UHF and other VHF portions of
the spectrum, particularly in large metropolitan areas where there is
likely to be a lot of auxiliary operations. Like all businesses, lots of
communications is being carried on cell phones, too.
You’ll Be “SPOT” On This Summer With This Inexpensive Portable Position Sender
by Gordon West, WB6NOA
This portable position sender from a subsidiary of Globalstar is a one-way $150 (brand new!) transponder called SPOT, the world’s first satellite messenger. It receives GPS signals at 1575 MHz and transmits your position to low Earth orbit Globalstar satellites on 1611.25 to 1618.75 MHz, digital CDMA (code division multiple access), and can be worn on your belt if you are hiking out in the clear. Basic service is $99 per year and includes unlimited 911 Help and Check-in messages. The Internet tracking service adds $50 per year to your aptly named, lightweight signaling device’s cost.
Globalstar USA, a Vodaphone Airtouch company,
has been in the satellite voice and data signaling market for over 20
years and is responsible for building the gateways, interconnecting the
networks with its partners, and offering satellite signaling products to
work through their 48 satellite low Earth orbit “repeaters” in the sky.
For over 15 years, I have worked with the Globalstar Qualcomm GSP 1600
satellite phone, with rock solid phone calls from the Arctic Circle, out
hundreds of miles to sea in the Pacific, and down in Mexico. The
Globalstar’s “bigger equipment” services may also include high-speed
Internet access, a natural for sailors at sea and RVers in remote areas
with no cell phone towers in sight.
Tracking for distance travelers, like long-haul truckers or high seas mariners, has been a business of Globalstar’s for years, but the equipment required permanent mounting to a structure and was far too bulky for, say, a cross country skier or a rowing team heading out upon the waves.
“SPOT is the world’s first portable satellite messenger, using the GPS satellite system to determine location, and Globalstar satellites to relay that information to ground stations,” says Derek Moore, public relations manager for SPOT, Inc.
The ground station receiving the best signal from the little SPOT transponder instantly ties into the Internet to pass the GPS position coordinates, along with an “All OK” message, or non-emergency help message, to up to 10 designated recipients, either on email or cellular text messaging.
The email “All OK” message sends out a single way-point with your exact GPS location and pre-programmed message, allowing the recipient to view a Web link showing your exact location using Google Maps. In addition, SPOT offers a Track mode that updates the user’s GPS location every 10 minutes. If you’re inner-tubing down the Mississippi River, you can leave a fun electronic track of breadcrumbs displaying your down-river progress.
“SPOT uses 100 percent satellite technology, so the user can message his location and status from some of the most remote locations in the world, completely independent of cellular coverage,” says Moore. “Anyone who spends time in the outdoors for work, life, or adventure can benefit from the peace of mind SPOT offers.” For emergency calls, SPOT has partnered with GEOS Alliance, an international emergency response center. “GEOS offers an entire world of best-of-breed services that encompass security, safety, personal, and corporate protection and immediate help,” adds Moore.
If you’re ever in a life or death emergency,
you simply press the 911 distress button and your position is sent
directly to the international emergency response center operated by GEOS
and is automatically updated every five minutes. GEOS offers a Search
and Rescue (SAR) benefit for $7.95 per year that provides up to $100,000
of additional SAR resources with private rescue contractors world-wide,
including helicopter extraction around the world and reimbursement
benefits for any emergency service incurred.
POWER UP: RADIOS & HIGH-TECH GEAR
New, Interesting, And Useful Communications Products
TOUGHSAT Mobile Satellite Internet System
Ground Control has augmented its series of
self-acquiring Mobile Satellite Antennas with the TOUGHSAT .98mMSST, a
rugged, high-performance mobile satellite dish. Designed for durability
and usability, the .98m MSST TOUGHSAT will meet the exacting
requirements of mobile communications. Whether the application is
disaster relief, enterprise, or search & rescue, the .98m MSST TOUGHSAT
can provide “a communications hub in truly adverse conditions,”
according to the company. Inexpensive monthly fees also make it
appropriate for RVers.
NewerTech iPhone Accessory Line
Newer Technology, a developer of PC, Macintosh, and iPod performance upgrades and accessories, offers an accessory line of products that enhance iPhone functionality and convenience.
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GLOBAL INFORMATION GUIDE
The Unworldly BBC, A Mesoamerican Mystery, And Mucho More
by Gerry L. Dexter
It wasn’t only the Caribbean the BBC trashed when it ended service to that area. The smoke from that bombshell hadn’t dispersed before the World Service shot itself in the foot again! They announced a significant cut in services to East and Southeast Asia, dissing those people as well. BBC World Service?
Something strange is afoot in Costa Rica. A mystery station has been testing since the beginning of the year. As of early April it was still going (on 5954 for about an hour from around 2230) and still hadn’t given any clues. (Usually such goings-on have run their course after a few weeks.) Oddly, we know the location; it’s Guapiles, about 60 miles north and east of San Jose. And, thanks to an engineer who was involved in the early stages, we even know the transmitter make (Elcor) and the power (40 kW). All that’s missing is the name of the company or organization that owns the facility. Time was that 5954 was the home of Radio Casino, which was active for a long time from Limon, on Costa Rica’s east coast. While it’s fun to speculate, the reality is that by the time this reaches you all our questions will likely have been answered and the whole thing will have achieved full yawn status.
As mentioned last month, Israel’s IBA had planned to close all shortwave at the end of March, then decided to spare the Farsi service, which is seen as a reliable source in information-starved Iran. Many in Israel are severely upset at the silencing of Israel’s international radio.
It appears that U.S. shortwaver KAIJ in Dallas
is kaput. Apparently they were recently in the process of pulling down
the antenna, and the station’s future, while not definitely doomed, is
very much in doubt. Also done for is KTBN in Salt Lake City (originally
KUSW), which relied largely on a cable TV audience to bring in the
Papua New Guinea’s National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) says it intends to kill off its regional shortwave stations in favor of AM and FM. That should work well in PNG’s rugged terrain! You have time to act, though. NBC says the stations won’t be gone until 2015.
Radio Ethiopia has instituted a new service, Radio Oromia, which initially is using 6030 from 0400 to 0600 plus a couple of useless-to-us time segments I won’t bother using ink on.
The Overcomer Ministry’s Brother Stair, in some quarters more accurately nicknamed “Brother Scare,” is now also using the Pori, Finland, site. He’s on 9595 at 1500 to 1700 and 6060 from 1900 to 2100.
The past month or so has seen a number of
announcements of new stations planned for the future, whether immediate,
distant or “maybe.” On the list are new ones in Jji, Nigeria; Bentiu, in
what is known as Unity State, in southern Sudan; and a new transmitter
for Radio Hargeysa, Somalia, which will use 10120 (that’s what it
says!). WHRI is adding a sixth transmitter to its Cyprus Creek facility,
which is to be used for Caribbean coverage. And there’s word that WRNO
is moving closer to reality. Keep a watch on 7505 and 15590, if you
believe in leprechauns, trolls, the tooth fairy, and such.
Remember, your shortwave broadcast station logs are always welcome. But please be sure to double or triple space between the items, list each logging according to the station’s home country, and include your last name and state abbreviation after each. Also needed are spare QSLs or good copies you don’t need returned, station schedules, brochures, pennants, station photos, and anything else you think would be of interest. (I hereby give up pleading for your shack photo!)
Here are this month’s logs. All times are in
UTC. Double capital letters are language abbreviations (SS = Spanish, RR
= Russian, AA = Arabic, etc.). If no language is mentioned English (EE)
ALASKA—KNLS, Anchor Point, 6150 opening under Radio Singapore at 1500. (Barton, AZ)
ALBANIA—Radio Tirana, 9915-Shijak at 2103 and 13640-Shijak at 1546. (Charlton, ON)
ALGERIA—RT Algerienne, 11815 via Rampisham in AA at 2038. (Charlton, ON)
ANGOLA—Radio Nacional, Mulenvos, 4950 poor in
PP at 0219. (Ronda, OK) 0400 with time signal and news in EE. (Parker,
PA) 0420 with Afro-pops. (Wood, TN)
ASCENSION—BBC South Atlantic Relay, 6005 with World Service at 0412. (D’Angelo, PA) 0410. Also 17830 at 1952 and 17885 in AA at 1945. (MacKenzie, CA) 7160 at 0313 noting that schedules are at BBC.com. (Brossell, WI) 15400 at 2006 and 17830 at 1549. (Charlton) 1855 with news items. (Wood, TN)
THE PROPAGATION CORNER
A Look At Ionospheric Propagation
by Tomas Hood, NW7US
Earth’s atmosphere is a mixture of gases held to the surface of the Earth by gravity. These gases vary in density and composition as the altitude increases above the surface. As the atmosphere extends outward from Earth, it becomes thinner and blends with particles of interplanetary space.
The first 60 miles of Earth’s atmosphere consists of a homogeneous mixture of various gases. This region is called the homosphere. Above the homosphere lies the heterosphere, where the gases are no longer uniformly mixed. Relatively more heavy gas molecules, such as molecular nitrogen (N2) and molecular oxygen (O2), are found near the bottom of this region, and relatively more of the lighter gases, such as hydrogen and helium, are found near the top.
The atmosphere is also divided into four regions according to temperature trends: the troposphere, the stratosphere, the mesosphere, and the thermosphere (see Figure 1). The lowest region is the troposphere and it extends from the Earth’s surface up to about six miles. The gases in this region are heavier than those in higher altitudes, and include O2 and N2. The highest mountains reach into this region, and the high altitude jet stream is found there. Weather is confined to this lower region and it contains 90 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere and 99 percent of the water vapor.
The atmosphere above the troposphere is called the stratosphere, starting at about six miles out. Gas composition changes slightly as the altitude increases and the air thins. Incoming solar radiation at wavelengths below 240 nanometers is able to create ozone, a molecule of oxygen consisting of three oxygen atoms (O3), in this layer. This gas reaches a peak density of a few parts per million at an altitude of about 16 miles.
At an altitude above 50 miles, the gas is so thin that free electrons can exist for short periods of time before they are captured by a nearby positive ion. The existence of charged particles at this altitude and above marks the beginning of the ionosphere, a region having the properties of a gas and of plasma.
Atoms in the ionosphere absorb the incoming solar radiation, causing them to become highly excited. When an atom becomes energized, an electron may break away from its orbit, and free electrons and positively charged ions are produced. At the highest levels of the Earth’s outer atmosphere, solar radiation is very strong, but there are few atoms to interact with, so ionization is minimal. As the altitude decreases, more gas atoms are present so the ionization process increases. At the same time, however, an opposing process called recombination begins to take place in which a free electron is “captured” by a positive ion if it moves close enough to it. As the gas density increases at lower altitudes, the recombination process accelerates since the gas molecules and ions are closer together.
Because the composition of the atmosphere
changes with height, the ion production rate also changes and this leads
to the formation of several distinct ionization regions, known as the D,
E, and F regions. The breakdown between regions is based on which
wavelengths of solar radiation are absorbed in that region most
Model Mobile EmComm Designs…And An Announcement
by Rich Arland, W3OSS
The Scamp Project is still a work in progress. Sometimes I doubt I’ll ever get things organized correctly. That’s why I adopted a modular approach to equipping the Scamp. While the use of a large GI ammo can has certain advantages, weight is NOT one of them. Nonetheless, I plan on sticking with the ammo can concept until something a lot better comes along.
In this instance the 20mm ammo can contains one 20 A/Hr gelled electrolyte battery, 120 VAC charger, ICOM IC-706MKII HF/VHF multi-mode 100 watt transceiver, an ICOM IC-2800 2 meter FM transceiver, a small RadioShack mobile CB set, along with a handheld VHF/UHF scanner, SWR/power meter and LED lighting for nighttime work. That’s a lot of stuff to go into even a large ammo can! However, with persistence and a lot of double-sided sticky tape, I prevailed. The entire commo suite works very well, but there’s still some optimization planned to file off some rough edges.
The ammo can/commo suite can be transported from the house to the Scamp in a matter of seconds and, once deployed, can be on the air within five minutes for VHF FM and slightly longer for HF, due to the need for erecting the HF antenna system.
Speaking of antennas, there are a number of ways to go with this, and I have opted for the K.I.S.S. system: near vertical incident skywave (NVIS) dipoles for HF (80 and 40 meters) and a simple VHF omni antenna for the high bands. You can build or buy either or both of these antennas. There is also a Ringo Ranger high gain, omni antenna that stays in the truck but can be erected on a fiberglass mast (check Fair Radio Sales, www.fairradio.com) if more gain is needed on VHF. I also pack along a four-element Arrow Beam (www.arrowantennas.com) in the event that we need directivity and gain due to terrain or difficult conditions.
NVIS is the latest craze for EmComm. It seems that the civilian disaster mitigators are finally finding out what the military comm folks have known for decades: lower frequency HF signals using antennas erected only a few feet off the ground offer very reliable communications out to about 300 miles. NVIS nets definitely take the load off of the VHF FM nets, which is why NVIS is finding a niche in today’s EmComm world.
NVIS dipoles are nothing special. The simplest method of employing a NVIS antenna is to start with a half wavelength dipole antenna and erect it at an extremely low height (10 to 12 feet) above ground. The idea is to “squirt” your RF energy almost vertically, thereby keeping your coverage area limited out to about 300 miles. This type of setup allows reliable HF communications to cover areas outside the normal direct/groundwave, which is essentially line of sight and your first ionospheric skip-zone. Your NVIS signals are radiated almost vertically into the F layer of the ionosphere where they are bent back down toward the ground. So you can readily see how important NVIS is to EmComm planners and disaster mitigators.
To get the RF from the back of the radio set
to the antenna I use RG-8X coaxial cable. This is a 50 ohm cable and, if
you shop around, you can often find a “marine grade” RG-8X that has an
extra rugged outer vinyl covering that’s ideal for EmComm applications.
This cable is right at home at HF and can be pressed into service for
VHF, with acceptable line losses, if the coaxial runs are short (under
30 to 50 feet). Above 150 MHz, however, RG-8X has a lot of attenuation
per foot and you should probably think about using 9913, LMR-4 or other
coaxial cable rated for the VHF/UHF region.
Several months ago I challenged the readers of this column to fabricate a portable/mobile EmComm station and send me pictures and details about their creations. We received several entries to the Bug-Out Vehicle/Bug-Out Trailer and Bug-Out Boxes challenge of assembling a truly portable emergency radio communications system. These ranged from a simple metal and/or plastic box with a small 2 meter transceiver and a gelled electrolyte battery for power to a towable utility trailer completely redone inside to provide multiple radio operating positions, storage for various supplies, an on-board battery power system, air conditioning and a whole lot more!
THE POP’COMM TRIVIA CORNER
Radio Fun And Going Back In Time
by R.B. Sturtevant, AD7IL
Q. What is the latest widget you’ve heard about coming out of Whiz-Bang Corners?
A. While this isn’t exactly radio, it’s fascinating—and timely. The Israelis have a new gizmo on the market that can shoot a laser beam at a suspected suicide bomber or IED (improvised explosive device) and explode any munitions before you get too close to it. It appears to be very successful in field trials. The suicide bombers seem to like it as well. At least, none have ever complained about it.
Q. I’ve always wondered if “James Bond” got punched in the eye by the “bad guys” would it mess up all of his retinal scan security passes so he couldn’t get back inside Headquarters?
A. Again, not exactly radio, but since you asked…that would depend on how hard and how often he got hit. Boxers often have one or both eyes swollen closed. If that happened to “Bond,” he would have to wait for the swelling to go down, but he’d be okay. If, however, he got hit badly enough to tear his retina (the thin film of nerve tissue at the back of the eyeball) he would need medical attention to tack down the loose tissue with a laser beam. If done within about a week there would be very little trouble. If it took more a week he might have to go through registration again because there might be small differences in the retina that the computer would pick up.
The ophthalmologist who told me all this also
mentioned that the “bad guy” trick of taking a person’s eye out and
showing it to the scanner wouldn’t work either. The human eyeball is
about the size and shape of a large olive. It has a small amount of
possible rotation but not as much as a degree or two. If the “right guy”
was standing on his head or lying down when he looked into the scanner,
the computer wouldn’t recognize his retinal scan. Technology’s not
perfect, which in this instance is good news for the “good guys.”
THE WIRELESS CONNECTION
A Trip Down
by Peter J. Bertini
The second part of the signal generator topic we first visited in May is being pushed a column or two into the future. This is partially due to my realizing that I lacked a good project receiver to illustrate how to set up and perform IF and RF stage alignment. But, luckily, a recent trade with a local ham has provided me with the ideal candidate for those upcoming features: a Lafayette KT-200 communications receiver. By chance, this is a very special receiver!
When I was an aspiring radio amateur back in the early 1960s I’d spend hours pouring over the Allied, Heathkit, and Lafayette Radio catalogs, and I dreamed about how I’d someday own the ultimate ham station. The reality was that I was a young teenager with funds that were pretty much no more than loose pocket change. Yet, after a summer vacation’s worth of mowing neighborhood lawns and doing other odd jobs, I finally had saved enough money to buy my dream radio. Yep, the Lafayette KT-200, and the original catalog ad is shown in Figure 1.
That simple radio served me well for a few
years, but it wasn’t too long before I traded the Lafayette in at the
local ham store for a more substantial receiver.
Many of us enjoy reminiscing about the “good old days”—those days of the past when it never rained, doctors made house calls, and everyone lived in a kinder, gentler world. Alas, a wiser, older gentleman once told me—and quite correctly I might add—that living “in the today” is actually the real good days. I suppose the same holds true for many things from our past; whether it’s our first car, first date, or even our first radio!
Now that my past has caught up to me, I sadly admit that the dream receiver of my youth left a lot to be desired! The ham bands were poorly marked; the entire 80 meter band covered a scant half-inch or so of the main dial. The receiver drifted and the tuning rate was too fast. It lacked a product detector, and the IF was also too wide for CW work on the novice bands. Back then, the novice class license was good for one year and non renewable, and the HF operating privileges were only for the CW mode and on very small (as little as 50 kHz wide) portions on the 80, 40 and 15 meter amateur bands. Alas, the poor selectivity, lack of dial calibration and drift was a poor match for the needs of new hams. In fairness the set was sensitive, and it did a fair job as a “band cruiser” for general SWL listening.
I’m dedicating this column to folks, like myself, who owe their start in the hobby to these entry-level receivers. Their popularity is increasing as past owners become interested in rebuilding their original stations.
These receivers are pretty common on the
used market but unfortunately the matching model HE-11 speaker is rare,
and thus expensive when found. The HE-48 speaker (intended for use with
the later HE-30/KT-220 receivers) is also a close match and may be
easier to locate. For a vintage communications receiver I think the set
is fairly handsome; the case is painted in a wrinkled gray finish that
is durable and looks good. The lettering is embossed into the panel, so
it doesn’t wear in the same way that many silk-screened panels do.
The Lafayette KT-200 bears a strong physical
resemblance to the early Hallicrafters S-38 receiver, and because of the
half moon dials at first glance they look almost identical. Since
there’s a customer’s S38 on my bench, I was able to group the two radios
for a comparison in Photo A. The similarity ends there. Where the S-38
sets were either five- or six-tube AC/DC receivers, the KT-200 is a
nine-tube transformer powered set.
“Mini Linis” Are More Portable, Powerful Than Ever!
by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ
If you’re expecting a column about miniature linear amplifiers, you will no doubt be disappointed. Snap! The Mini Linis I’m talking about are miniature ham radio-oriented Linux distributions that are specially tweaked for hams!
Although there’s nothing new about hams fooling around with Linux (they’ve done so from the OS’s very beginning), there is plenty of new developments when it comes to “Ham Linux” versions of our favorite free operating systems.
With each new release, “desktop Linux”—versions designed to be used by typical users on everyday desktop PCs—gets easier, faster, and more hassle free. The various versions of Ubuntu Linux, for example, seem to be the flavor of the month for Linux beginners and Windows refugees. When you throw in the fact that Ubuntu is absolutely free (a motivator that drives many a ham), the convergence is too hard to resist.
Plus, now that Apple’s OS X is essentially Unix under the hood (Unix and BSD, which are very “Linux like”), Microsoft OSs, from Windows 95 through Vista, are the only modern OSs that don’t have Linux-style underpinnings. (Actually, there is a lot of Unix/Linux code in Windows, but it’s hidden internally among millions of lines of “spaghetti code,” and not frequently acknowledged.)
If the thought of experimenting with Linux
in your ham shack has piqued your interest, but you’re not yet ready to
throw in the towel when it comes to your tried and true OS, several
ham-oriented miniature Linux distributions will likely help bridge the
Developed by Linux hacker Bob Finch, W9YA, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the W9YA Portable Operating Environment (POE) is a complete Linux operating system, bursting with tons of everyday software for web browsing, word processing, etc., plus mountains of ham software, including logbooks, digital operating suites, and much more.
The POE is just that—the whole works fits on a 2 GB “thumb drive” that plugs into your (or someone else’s) PC’s USB2 port. When the computer boots up, instead of starting the internal operating system (probably some flavor of Windows), the PC boots up to the Linux POE on the thumb drive! There’s no need to install anything on the host PC. Thumb drive out: boot to internal hard drive; thumb drive in: boot to your custom-tweaked ham radio operating system with your favorite software, logs, databases, etc., already set up and working, just as you left it that last time it was booted!
The requirements are minimal: a USB flash drive with at least 2 GB of storage; a computer with at least 512 MB RAM; and at least a Pentium II-class CPU that can boot from a CD or the USB “stick” itself. You download the POE’s image file from the Internet and transfer it to your thumb drive, then simply reboot (to the USB drive). Once you’re up and running you can choose to continue using the USB “stick” as is for as long as you like, you can add or subtract software, or you can optionally install the entire contents of the USB “stick” to a hard drive or even a larger USB “stick.” Whatever works for you.
W9YA’s POE, shown in Figure 1, is based on the highly successful and stable Arch linux operating system distribution (http://archlinux.org), the Faunos live-operating system distribution (www.faunos.com), and the Larch “do-it-yourself live CD” shell scripting project (http://larch.berlios.de/doc).
To get your copy of Bob’s ultra-handy POE,
nicknamed “shackstick,” point your browser to
this is being written, Bob is looking for additional mirror sites, so by
the time you start searching, the POE may be available elsewhere.
More Traffic Targets On Aeronautical Radio
by Tom Swisher, WA8PYR
Tower, ground, clearance delivery, Air Traffic Control... what else is there to listen to in aviation radio? In a word, plenty. In addition to the basics, passenger and freight airlines have dedicated frequencies that they use for communicating with aircraft in flight.
Commonly referred to as “company frequencies,” these are standard VHF aviation frequencies, but with a slight difference. The company frequencies can be quite interesting to listen to, since, rather than being used for navigation, they’re used to convey in-flight updates and other information. Quite often, in-flight information regarding passenger situations, medical emergencies, and supply requests are handled on these channels. In addition to in-flight information, company frequencies can be used for ramp operations at airports, pre-flight de-icing, and various other company operations.
Company frequencies differ slightly from navigation frequencies, as they are licensed to Aviation Spectrum Resources, rather than being licensed to the individual airlines or the FAA.
Aviation Spectrum Resources is a subsidiary of Aeronautical Radio, Incorporated, better known as ARINC. ARINC was chartered by the predecessor of the FCC to serve as a single point of contact for licensing and maintenance of aviation radio ground stations, other than those owned and operated by the FAA. Owned for many years by a combination of various airlines and aviation companies, ARINC is now owned by the Carlyle Group investment firm.
ARINC has been a pioneer in many aspects of aviation communications and has been responsible for developing a number of standards, including the standard shelves and cabinets used for mounting aircraft radios, which greatly speed up the repair and replacement process, as well as the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) data-communications system.
Aviation Spectrum Resources today retains
the responsibility for coordinating, licensing, and setting installation
and maintenance standards for aviation radios, as well as ensuring that
those radios are maintained and operated in accordance with FCC and FAA
One of the more interesting facets of ARINC operations involves data communications through ACARS.
ACARS is a relatively simple data system used for reporting aircraft status and activity, commonly known as “OOOI” (Out, Off, On, In). The ACARS installation in commercial airliners allows the crew to report significant events during each flight: “Out” the gate; “Off” the ground; “On” the ground; and “In” the gate. The system also makes regular position reports during flight, as well as provides information regarding fuel and aircraft mechanical status.
ACARS can be monitored at home using simple free software available on the Internet, a simple, basic VHF air-capable scanner, and a computer with a sound card. With aircraft transmitting status reports from three miles altitude, nearly anyone can hear some ACARS activity.
One nifty feature of ACARS is that the software allows you to create your own map, upon which the software will then plot and track aircraft positions. These show as small dots or tiny airplanes with track lines extending behind them as they move across the display.
ACARS can be quite interesting to play with and can provide lots of entertainment on a rainy afternoon.
UTILITY COMMUNICATIONS DIGEST
Military Broadcasting: Then And Now, Bringing GIs A Touch Of Home
by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ
Anyone who’s served overseas in the U.S. military can attest to the value of anything that can boost morale in a dangerous and stressful environment. And from World War II to Iraq, broadcasting has played its part. In the 1940s it may have been an hour of listening to Bob Hope; in Iraq today, perhaps it’s an NFL game on TV in an NCO club.
Entertainment isn’t the only thing military
broadcasting brings to the table, either. Just as GIs in the jungles of
the Pacific were prodded by radio broadcasts to take medicines, our
soldiers in Iraq today learn about health issues like AIDS through the
Armed Forces Radio and Television System (AFRTS).
Not a lot of people outside the armed forces have ever heard of the AFRTS. It was officially started by the War Department in 1942 as Armed Forces Radio, but this radio service for soldiers was not exactly a War Department idea. General George C. Marshall had been thinking about it as a means of educating and informing American troops, believing that the men and women in uniform needed to know why they were fighting and that radio was the best medium. Apparently the troops agreed: While the army was thinking about a radio service, soldiers in the field made it a reality by setting up—sometimes illegally—radio stations in Panama and then Alaska. A transmitter was set up and they began broadcasting music and entertainment and, of course, command information as well.
The Panama Canal radio station, which began broadcasting in 1940, was an immediate hit with soldiers and civilians alike. It had to look to the United States for programming, and many entertainers and agencies, like Jack Benny and NBC, stepped up to the plate. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, this station was closed down, but reopened in 1943 as part of the Armed Forces Radio Services. The stations in Sitka (see Photo A) and Kodiak, Alaska, also opened in response to soldiers’ need for recreation in spare time. KODK in Kodiak worked without interruptions despite many technical and logistical problems. It went on the air in October 1941 and was a great success.
Even these early stations aren’t the earliest examples of military broadcasting that I’m aware of. That distinction goes to the shortwave transmissions beamed to the Philippines by KGEI in San Francisco, beginning in 1939 when it was the only source of news and information coming from America. The U.S. military set up a transmitter at Baatan and began rebroadcasting KGEI’s programs. Dubbed “The Voice of Freedom,” this transmitter was eventually moved to Corregidor. Unfortunately, it was then used solely for propaganda purposes, but “Voice of Freedom” was still a step in the right direction.
When the attack on Pearl Harbor resulted in
the nation’s entry into the war, the presence of American soldiers in
remote areas of the world forced the War Department to take action to
educate, entertain, and inform the troops in the field, and finally on
May 26, 1942, the order creating the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS)
AFRS grew into a viable professional radio
network, spread throughout the world. At the height of World War II
there were about 300 radio stations in the AFRS. Once the war ended,
operations were scaled back, and by 1949, the number of stations had
declined to about 60. The focus of the programming shifted to helping
troops adjust to civilian life back in America. By 1950, AFRS had
stopped producing its own programs.
A 26-Year-Old SOS?
by Bill Price, N3AVY (and Son)
No, I haven’t been sleeping on watch. At least, not for 26 years—I don’t think even Rip Van Winkle slept that long, did he? But my thoughts as I write this stem from a column from a few months back that dealt with some not-so-old-time radio—some of the wonderful memories I stirred up from the mid-’60s in New York City while I stood late-night gangway watches on the US Coast Guard Cutter Mackinac and later on the Dallas.
That column stirred more of you to write than any other I’ve written over the past decade or so (and thanks for all the great emails!), so I will take that to mean that a lot of you enjoy “Old-Time Radio,” whether “Old-Time” means going all the way back to Baby Snooks, or back just about a half-century to Jean Shepherd.
Shepherd was an icon to radio—in some ways, no less than Marconi or Maxim. Here was a man who continuously annoyed station management by playing his kazoo and nose-flute along with whatever music accompanied the commercials aired during his show, and he seemed to always make a mockery (“…speaking of mockery, this is WOR AM and FM in New York…”) of absolutely every station ID.
And when “Shep” went home from doing radio, he did some more radio. He was K2ORS on the amateur bands and not only enjoyed working friends and strangers on the ham bands, he also did quite a bit of PR for amateur radio at events like the Dayton HamVention.
It’s certainly no secret that I love radio, and that includes the very old Old-Time Radio and the more recent “Old-Time Radio that includes Jean Shepherd and his contemporaries, most of whom are all pretty much history with the possible exception of Bob Grant.
Now that talk radio is about 98 percent politics and 2 percent sports, there is no place (at least no place I’ve found so far) where I can hear the kind of late night talk radio that covered the waterfront while I spent time in New York City. Probably a half-dozen great minds annoyed the living daylights out of station management at some of the best AM broadcast stations in New York with topics that kept a person’s mind wide awake into the wee hours of each morning—ranging from the serious to the absolutely silly.
Just as you can find dedicated people
producing shows which re-broadcast the true Old-Time Radio from Phil
Harris and Jack Benny, “The Great Gildersleve” and “The Shadow,” so can
you find (if you look really hard) a lone voice replaying just a bit of
that brilliant talk from the New York AM broadcast band in the ’60s.
That voice is Max Schmid (say Shmeed!), and you’ve got to either stay up
really late or get up really early to hear him replay some of the great
Jean Shepherd shows at 5:15 a.m. each Tuesday morning on WBAI-FM, 99.5
in New York. Those of you who, like me, live in Cowfield County or
beyond, can find Max (and Jean) on the Web.