TUNING IN (PDF)

 

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INFOCENTRAL

News, Trends, And Short Takes

by D. Prabakaran

 

Man Behind Construction Of Renowned “Very Large Array” Dies

Hein Hvatum, one of the driving forces behind construction of the Very Large Array (VLA) at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory near Socorro New Mexico, succumbed to cancer at his home in Virginia on May 22. He was 85.

The site’s arrangement of radio telescopes is recognized around the world and was a backdrop in the 1997 motion picture Contact, starring Jodie Foster. It has also appeared in the Carl Sagan documentary Cosmos and the 1996 movie Independence Day starring Will Smith.

According to the American Radio Relay League’s ARRL Letter, Mr. Hvatum took responsibility for computing, antenna design and electronics for the $78 million project in 1974. It was completed in 1982.

He subsequently became acting director at NRAO in 1984 and project manager for the Very Long Baseline Array the next year. He retired in 1987.
“The VLA has made key observations of black holes and protoplanetary disks around young stars, discovered magnetic filaments and traced complex gas motions at the Milky Way’s center, probed the Universe’s cosmological parameters,” the Letter reported, “and provided new knowledge about the physical mechanisms that produce radio emission.”

Mr. Hvatum was active with national and international groups seeking to protect radio frequencies for radio astronomy.

Positive Results From DRM+ Tests on FM

Positive test results using the DRM+ standard for a radio station broadcasting on FM were unveiled at an international symposium. Throughout March, April, and May 2008, the University of Applied Sciences Kaiserslautern broadcast its experimental radio station across this southwestern German city in digital on 87.6 MHz using DRM+ in order to test this extended version of the DRM digital radio standard. Germany’s Federal Network Agency, the University of Applied Sciences Kaiserslautern, and the German State Media Authority of Rhineland-Palatinate carried out extensive field tests to validate the trial.

DRM+ extends the regular DRM standard, by allowing FM stations in the 87.5 to 108 MHz frequency range to broadcast in digital. Lindsay Cornell, the Technical Committee Chairman for the DRM Consortium who spoke at the symposium, said, “these tests demonstrate that DRM+ provides clear added value for the listener by offering not only an uninterrupted service for both portable and mobile reception but also excellent audio quality. The DRM Consortium applauds the work undertaken in Kaiserslautern which goes a long way to show that DRM+ has great market potential.”

The University of Applied Sciences Kaiserslautern expects to receive a new license to continue DRM+ test broadcasts from the German Federal Network Agency following this successful first test phase.
 

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WASHINGTON BEAT

Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications

by Richard Fisher, KI6SN

 

Sirius-XM Deal Gets OK From FCC Chairman

After satisfying stipulations laid down by Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, the proposed merger of satellite radio broadcasters Sirius Satellite Radio Inc., and XM Satellite Radio Holdings, Inc., took a step closer to reality.

“As I have indicated before, this is an unusual situation,” Martin said in June. “I am recommending that with the voluntary commitments (Sirius and XM) have offered, on balance, this transaction would be in the public interest.” Martin’s recommendation was being circulated among his fellow commissioners, setting the stage for a final vote.

Sirius’ buyout of rival XM received the approval of shareholders last year. It was approved by the U.S. Department of Justice in March.
The broadcasters’ concessions to Martin in the $5 billion deal included turning 24 channels over to noncommercial and minority programming and a three-year price freeze for customers. Satellite radio customers pay access to channels that provide news, talk, music, and sports programming to homes and vehicles. The broadcasts are essentially advertising-free.

According to an Associated Press report, the FCC’s analysis, which has gone on for more than a year, has taken twice as long as other merger assessments. The deal has drawn criticism from land-based radio and consumer groups, which allege the merger will create a monopoly. In addition, the deal has drawn the attention of Capitol Hill, “where the National Association of Broadcasters has fought an expensive advertising and lobbying campaign to block approval,” AP said.
Sirius and XM have promised to offer radios “capable of receiving both services within one year,” the report said. XM, based in Washington D.C., has approximately 9 million subscribers. New York-based Sirius has about 8.3 million. While saying the merger is not necessary to keep the companies alive, both Sirius and XM have lost money each year they’ve been in existence. The companies have said that the merger will save hundreds of millions of dollars in operating costs, savings that will ultimately benefit their customers.

FCC Hosts Workshop On Conversion To Digital Television

In preparation for the television broadcast industry shift from analog to digital television in 2009, the FCC held a Digital Television Consumer Education Workshop in June, addressing issues related to DTV converter boxes for analog television sets that receive signals over the air. The session was held at FCC headquarters in Washington D.C., and was webcast live on the commission’s website. Commissioners Michael J. Copps, Deborah Taylor Tate, and Robert M. McDowell addressed conferees.

In addition to converter boxes, the workshop also addressed analog pass-through options, connections, channel scanning and use, and special features, including closed captions, video description, and parental control.
 

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Countdown To Digital Television

What It Is, Why It’s Coming, And What The DTV Transition Means To You

by Don Rotolo, N2IRZ

 

February 17, 2009, will be a major milestone—some say it’s a millstone—in TV broadcasting. That’s the date on which all full-power television stations in the United States must cease their analog broadcasts and transmit exclusively in the ATSC1 Digital TV format. What does this mean to you? It depends.
If your TVs are connected to cable, satellite, or some other non-broadcast TV service, there will be little or no change for you. These non-broadcast services are not bound by the FCC broadcast rules, and so will generally continue to be compatible with existing television sets. An estimated 88 percent of all TVs in the United States get their signal from something other than an antenna.

If, however, you do receive TV over-the-air (OTA) with an antenna, come February 2009 (August 31, 2011, in Canada) any TV not equipped with a digital TV (DTV) tuner won’t have anything to receive. Don’t fear, though: the government is going to help you through this change, so you don’t have to throw out your TV just yet.

Some Background

Before we explore your options, let’s have a quick review of the technical aspects of television. NTSC, which stands for National Television System Committee (though some half-jokingly say it means Never The Same Color), is the current TV standard used in the United States2, and it has been in use in either black and white or color format since World War II. It’s a purely analog signal, using VSB3 for the video signal and FM for the audio, with a QAM4 carrier used to encode the color information. The signal consumes nearly 6 MHz of radio spectrum, with a maximum horizontal resolution of about 360 TV lines5. The aspect ratio of the so-called Standard Definition TV (SDTV) picture is 4:3 (Horizontal:Vertical).

ATSC (digital) broadcasts use 8VSB (eight-level Vestigial Sideband) modulation, allowing for a 19.4 Mb/sec digital pipeline within the 6 MHz TV channel’s bandwidth. DTV comes in several formats, and broadcast stations generally will use either the 720p or 1080i High Definition TV (HDTV) format. The number (like 720) denotes the number of vertical resolution lines in the image, and the letter (p or i) denotes whether the image is scanned progressively or is interlaced6. Horizontal resolution is calculated as 16/9 (the aspect ratio is 16:9, also known as “widescreen”) of the vertical resolution, or 1920 pixels for a 1080i signal. For comparison, current SDTV has the designation 480i.

One clear advantage of DTV is the increased image resolution. Every reader is surely familiar with the general image quality of analog TV, but you may not yet have had the opportunity to see an HDTV signal. In the big scheme of things, it’s still TV, and whether it’s worth watching or not can be debated, but HDTV has noticeably better picture quality; it’s not nearly photographic, but quite a bit better than what you’re probably used to seeing.
 

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Data Communication
Via The International Space Station

What It Takes To Hear This Sky-High APRS Digipeater
(Hint: Not A Ham License)

by Dan Srebnick, K2DLS

 

I was pretty amazed the first time I was able to communicate with the International Space Station. I should probably qualify that statement a bit—I really communicated through the International Space Station. The Russian module of the ISS has an APRS digipeater, which captures data packets on 145.825 MHz and retransmits them—and they certainly have antenna height on their side!

So what’s it all about? Let’s start with APRS. This stands for Automatic Packet Reporting System. I’ve seen (incorrect) references to the “P” in APRS as representing “Position,” but APRS is so much more than just position reporting. The APRS protocol was invented by Bob Bruniga, WB4APR. Bob wanted to come up with a simple amateur data protocol, built on top of the AX.25 packet system’s ability to make use of Unnumbered Information (UI) data frames. UI frames are like the User Datagram Protocol (UDP) used on the Internet in some ways. There is no “connection” and the protocol does not provide for guaranteed delivery, but this also makes APRS a very efficient communication delivery protocol.

A typical APRS packet is less than 128 bytes in length. It can consist of a geographical position report, a weather report, an instant message, telemetry, or a bulletin. APRS traffic may be heard on the 2 meter frequency of 144.39 MHz in the United States and Canada. In the rest of the world, you’ll find APRS on 144.8 MHz. If you want to learn more about the APRS protocol, take a look at http://eng.usna.navy.mil/~bruninga/aprs.html. This website is full of technical and operational information about how APRS can be used to create situational awareness.

The International Space Station’s APRS station uses the callsign RS0ISS-4. The -4 is known as an SSID, or service set identifier. An SSID is a way of identifying a substation operation under the main callsign. If you use a wireless 802.11 class of computer network at home, then you’re already familiar with the concept of the SSID. (At least, you are if you changed the manufacturer’s default settings, which you should always do for security’s sake!) A typical home APRS station might use an SSID of -1 or a mobile station would use -9. It’s also acceptable for a home station to not use an SSID after the callsign. See the “Common APRS SSID Values” table for a list of some of the common SSID codes used in APRS.

On board the space station is a Kenwood TM-D700 VHF/UHF transceiver. The D700 is the predecessor to the new and improved D710, but the thing that differentiates these radios from your run-of-the-mill FM transceiver is the native ability to understand the APRS protocol and to print messages to the front panel. The radio can function as a stand-alone digipeater. A digipeater does exactly what it sounds like it does: It repeats digital packets received to a wider audience; however, unlike a voice repeater, it does not do so in real time, but via “store and forward.” The digital message is stored in the digipeater memory and then relayed when the frequency is clear of data traffic. Just imagine the great height advantage that the ISS, hundreds of kilometers overhead, has over your local 2 meter repeater!

 

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TECH SHOWCASE

The SignaLink USB Interface—A Plug-And-Play Solution For Digital Communications Modes

by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ

 

Anyone who has experimented with receiving digital format signals by radio has undoubtedly experienced one or more of the difficulties that typically arise when you set out to decode digital signals using a radio and computer. Your sound card is incompatible with your software, or you don’t want it tied up doing digital decoding. You have more than one radio you want to use and don’t want to have to buy or build separate interfaces for each. Or perhaps you just don’t want to pay a fortune for all the software you need in order to decode the numerous digital modes that exist (with new ones seemingly being invented daily). If this is the situation you’ve found yourself in, you’ll find this article to be just what the doctor ordered.

Earlier this year, I purchased a SignaLink USB interface (Photo A) from Tigertronics in Grants Pass, Oregon. This device, which costs less than some of the competing commercially available radio/computer interfaces ($104.95 if ordered with a cable to fit Kenwood and ICOM radios using a 13-pin DIN accessory port; $99.95 for everybody else), not only interfaces your computer to any radio, it also contains its own built-in USB sound card. That means that the sound card already in your computer is left free for whatever else you want to do with it.

How It Works And What You Get

The SignaLink USB connects to your computer’s USB port and is powered from the USB port so that no external power source is needed. All the necessary cables come with the device, including the USB cable, the cable to interface the SignaLink USB to your radio, and a mono cable to connect to radios that don’t have receive audio on the mic or accessory jack. Additional cables can be ordered if you have more than one radio and they don’t use the same cable.
The mono cable can be used to connect the SignaLink USB to an external speaker jack on a scanner or shortwave receiver, or if using a transceiver, the connection is made using the radio cable. This can be accomplished using a connection to a 4-pin round, 8-pin round, RJ-11, or RJ-45 mic connector, or you may instead order the radio cable to connect to a data or accessory port that uses a 5-pin DIN, 8-pin DIN, 13-pin DIN, or 6-pin mini-DIN connector. An un-terminated cable for radios that use a different type of connector is also available in case you have an unusual situation, such as wanting to build a cable for a handheld radio.

Also included with the device is a set of jumper wires that simply push into a socket on the SignaLink USB’s circuit board. A software CD is also included with the device and contains jumper settings for the most popular radios. Settings for other radios can be determined by following the procedure in the included manual, or by contacting the Tigertronics tech support staff.
 

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 THE ANTENNA ROOM
A Cheap And EZ HDTV Antenna Project

by Kent Britain, WA5VJB

 

Here’s an inexpensive way of helping along that new Digital TV converter you just got with the government HD converter coupon you requested. And the good news is that this antenna (Photo A) is not limited to just DTV, but will also work well with the UHF low-power analog and translator stations which are not covered by the new laws (see “Countdown to Digital Television” elsewhere in this issue for more on the topic).

Haven’t gotten a converter yet? First make sure you pay a quick visit to www.dtv2009.gov, fill out the on-line form, and in a few weeks you’ll get your coupon for $40 toward the purchase of a converter. Not connected to the Internet? Then you can call 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009) and apply for a mail-in form. The HDTV coupons work like credit cards and are tracked by address, so you can apply for your parents, grandparents, great aunt, etc. Just use their address to help them get ready for the switch over.

As I mentioned last time, when choosing your converter you really want a model that has an antenna bypass switch. The cheapest converters usually don’t. And that automatic antenna switch is worth a few extra bucks. As with your VCR, when you turn off the VCR, it connects the cable or TV antenna back to the TV set. Many of the low-cost HDTV converters saved a few pennies by leaving off the antenna switch, but remember, not all the analog stations are going off the air. Stations running 10 kW ERP or less are not required to go off the air. And, while the government plans to auction off TV Channels 53 to 68, not all of those channels will be going off the air. Many of the low-power and translator TV stations get to stay on until the new owner actually starts to use the frequency. And that may be a long time in some parts of the country.

Theory

Yagi-type antennas are limited in how wide a frequency range they will cover, so I’m pulling several tricks on this one. At the low end of the band, we have the driven element and the longer reflector. Down at 470 MHz for TV Channel 14, this is basically a two-element Yagi. The directors are pretty short at TV Channel 14 and are helping a little bit, but not much. Up at 700 MHz for TV Channel 58, the reflector is too long, and too far back, so I’ve added the second reflector element, which is tuned to the higher end of the band.

The three directors are now doing their job and really helping the gain of the Yagi. This means the antenna has more gain at the UHF channels in the 50s than it does in the teens, but this works out just fine. As you go up in frequency the signal has more path loss and the walls of the house have more loss. And even the coax itself has more loss as you go up in frequency so the extra gain is put to a good use. Figure 1 is the pattern of this Yagi at 476 MHz for the low end of the band, and Figure 2 is the pattern at 700 MHz.

 

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 SCANTECH

Things That Go Beep In The Night—Tone Controls

by Ken Reiss

 

Signaling tones are used in all kinds of ways throughout the communications industry. As we move forward into a digital age, it becomes less about tone and more about protocol, but the basic idea is to use a radio signal to cause some event to happen, whether that’s opening a garage door on the fire house or just opening the squelch to allow the correct signal through. The squelch application turns out to be by far the most common type of tone signal on the air as it prevents unauthorized users—otherwise known as interference—from being received.

As radio listeners we hear tones constantly, but how many of us ever give them much thought? So this month we take a look at (listen to?) this fundamental, but little considered, aspect of the hobby.

Audible Tones

In the good old days, you could remotely control a device by simply setting up a receiver, and then if it heard a signal on a particular frequency a switch was activated. This worked pretty well until garage door openers became so common that one click on the remote would open several of the neighborhood garages. Obviously, some kind of password system was needed.

It turns out that it’s fairly simple to build an electronic circuit to not only monitor a frequency, but also to monitor for a tone, or a pair of tones. The most common of these systems is the DTMF (Dual Tone Multi-Frequency) tone system that’s used by the touch tone pad on every phone device. These tones are actually made up of two tones, and if you listen closely you can hear both the individual tones and the mixed product of the two. If you go across one of the rows pressing the buttons, you’ll notice that one of the two tones stays the same; and if you go down a row, the same thing happens. The mixing of the two unique tones produces a multi-tone that the phone equipment (and radio equipment that also uses this system) can listen for.

The point is that the tones we can hear are used for lots of things. In its most basic form, an audible tone can simply be used to let those listening know that there’s something important coming or that an important situation is underway. The beep that many police departments put out just before an all points bulletin serves just this purpose (i.e., if you weren’t paying attention to the radio before, you should now because there’s something important about to be said). Our local police also use a “situation” tone that beeps every 30 seconds or so to let everyone know that there’s an emergency and any non-essential traffic (like license plate checks) should be held or taken elsewhere.
 

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BROADCAST TECHNOLOGY

DXing On The Inside: Inmates Escape By Radio

by Bruce A. Conti

 

A special connection exists between broadcast DXing (the art of long distance radio broadcast listening) and those who are paying their debts to society behind bars. Here’s a behind-the-scenes visit with three broadcast DXers currently serving time in prison. Although their accounts are real, only the first names and associated correctional institutions are cited in this piece at the request of the individuals. Now let’s take a look at what it’s like DXing on the inside.

Introductions

Eric and Gerry are currently inmates at the Federal Medical Center in Devens, Massachusetts (FMC Devens). Kevan is serving time at the Airway Heights Corrections Center in a suburb of Spokane, Washington. Eric and Kevan had similar radio backgrounds before circumstances led to their long-term incarceration, which helped them discover broadcast DXing as a way to pass the time and remain connected to the outside.

“I was 12 years old when I retuned an old transistor radio, picked up Radio Nederland, and was hooked,” reminisced Kevan. “My first real shortwave receiver was a RadioShack Globe Patrol kit. It was a lame little radio, but for a kid it worked. Over the years I got out of shortwave, into VHF and UHF scanning, and eventually got my ham ticket, which expired while [I was] incarcerated. My favorite mode was digital. I did a lot of packet radio, some APRS, and even worked the International Space Station on packet and voice once. In here my options are limited. However, I’ve found DXing the AM broadcast band to be entertaining and I plan to continue, but with a better radio upon my release. Now the new ultralight DXing craze has me feeling like I’m connected to the real world again. I’ve been ultralighting for over three years now.” (See “Broadcast Technology,” May 2008 Pop’Comm, or point your browser to www.dxer.ca to learn more about the ultralight DX phenomenon.)

“I’ve been involved with radio since I was a kid,” said Eric of his background. “At one time I was even a licensed amateur radio operator, although mediumwave DXing specifically is still relatively new to me.”

Gerry didn’t have a radio background, but thanks to Eric demonstrating the camaraderie typical of the DX community, Gerry caught the DX bug. “I met Eric when we were both in jail at Lincoln County, Missouri, in 2005,” recounted Gerry. “At first I thought he was a crack-pot, talking about getting radio stations from other states and different countries. My first QSL came from 1070 CBA Moncton, New Brunswick, and I was hooked. Then I was transferred to USP Leavenworth, Kansas, for two years where I was unable to DX. Eric and I also lost contact. Upon being transferred to FMC Devens, I bumped into Eric at the prison hospital where our friendship was renewed. Being a fellow DXer and good friend, Eric bought me a Sony SRF-M35MP Walkman along with Koss R/10 headphones, a pack of batteries, World Radio TV Handbook, and notebook to help me get started DXing again. I think he regrets getting me started though, as I’ve surpassed him with over 130 stations logged and a total of 13 QSLs.”
 

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 SHANNON’S BROADCAST CLASSICS

Radio’s Old Time Way To Let Everyone Have A Say…And Do So Very Politely

by Shannon Huniwell

 

“Except for maybe emptying the trash, I’ve got nothing to do and all day to do it,” my Grandpa Wilkinson loved to announce. Whenever I’d spend my school vacations at his Otis Reservoir, Massachusetts, cottage, he would start each morning with that motto and a brief wakeup sing-a-long in unison with whatever campy song hummed from a tiny, just warmed up, tube-type table radio. The four-tube midget was nestled between aluminum flour and sugar canisters under a short row of white kitchen cabinets. Travelers Insurance Company’s Hartford-based WTIC 1080 was his station of choice.

This 50,000-watt AM’s footprint stepped from the next state south, but its signal (emanating from Avon Mountain, north of Connecticut’s capital city) comfortably fit Grandpa’s shrimpy Silvertone like an old shoe. And, WTIC always had a leg up on the radio in his Dodge Dart, too. This compact car figured largely into Grandpa’s famous “nothing to do promise,” as the blue two-door served as our magic carpet for whisking me to places where we weren’t ever required to get anything in particular done.

By 8 a.m. we’d be on the road, first to some favorite breakfast place, and then on to various and sundry venues from horse farms to hardware stores. No matter where we ventured, Grandpa would introduce me and immediately exercise his bragging rights. With few exceptions, there’d always be some old timer there who remembered my mom and declared me “as pretty as redheaded Hannah Wilkinson when she was a girl.”

About the only time I suspected my doting grandfather wasn’t completely focused on showcasing me occurred for an hour or so after lunch. That’s when WTIC ran what I vaguely remember as an incredibly boring talk show named Mike Line. He appeared absolutely mesmerized by this program’s mundane content, commenting that Mike Line provided smart listeners with a free education on things useful in real life.

“Go Ahead Caller, You’re On The Air”

After trying to recall specifics about WTIC’s tepid talker, the only thing that came to mind was the benign polyester humor of its ad hoc hosts—as Mike Line was typically backed up by a pair of whichever staff announcers happened to be on duty that afternoon. Their friendly way of signaling the next participant to begin offering his or her pearls of wisdom essentially went something like this: “Ah yes…Go ahead caller, you’re on the air.” And then the tinny-sounding guest might launch into an over-explanation of how to use a cocktail of limejuice, ground-up pumpkin seeds, and mothballs for ridding one’s carpet of “pet soil.” Such euphemisms were law on Mike Line. “Dog do,” “poop,” or other more direct nomenclature regarding “delicate topics” was strictly off limits in the world of old school mass-appeal radio. After all, what if children or sensitive senior citizens were listening? It was a gentle broadcasting era in which today’s best-known “in-your-face” air-personalities could not function.
 

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THE POP’COMM TRIVIA CORNER

Radio Fun And Going Back In Time

by R.B. Sturtevant, AD7IL

 

Q. Which country involved in World War II was the first to see clandestine transmitters working within its borders?

A. Actually it was Poland. Amateur radio started in Poland around 1927, about the time of the formation of the first radio organization, the Polish Wireless Transmitters Club, in Pozen. Almost immediately the Ministry of Posts and Telegraph, citing 1924 regulations, refused to issue licenses or allow any form of amateur radio. The Poles, who had a pretty long history of underground activity, went right ahead and developed their radio skills anyway. In 1930 amateur radio was legalized and licenses were issued as a matter of national interest with some pressure from the Army. Amateur radio remained legal until the Nazi Invasion of Poland.

Amateur radio began in Italy around 1923. When Mussolini came to power in 1929 licenses were no longer issued and radio transmission by anyone outside the military or specific research facilities was outlawed. Some Italians who already had transmitters kept right on sending, just like the Poles. We can only guess whom they were talking to.

 

Q. When did RACES get started and what was its original mission?

A. Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service formed on June 26, 1952, as a temporary measure to provide amateur communications during periods of local, regional, or national civil emergencies. It was originally thought that the service would only be necessary during the Korean War and possibly for a short time afterwards. On January 13, 1966, the organization was turned into a permanent part of the Civil Defense system of the country. Organized by the FCC and set up by its Memorandum Opinion and Order, it has been under the Commission’s control since its inception.

 

Q. UHF and VHF seem to have a lot of characteristics that we don’t really appreciate completely. We bounce signals off the moon and comet tails, push them through satellites, repeaters, and the Internet. When will we find out “everything” about these signals?

A. We probably never will. Back in 1967 and ’68 there were folks trying to bounce signals off aircraft as they flew overhead. The idea was to calculate the altitude and speed and then hit the plane’s metal skin with your signal. There were reports that stations as far away as 100 miles were able to pick up the signal. The problem was that so much calculation was needed for what might be only a few seconds of air time. Who knows what we can do with our faster computers? I don’t live near an airport that has regularly scheduled flights. I need some readers out there to let me know how they do. Radio is all about using your imagination.

 

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POWER UP: RADIOS & HIGH-TECH GEAR

Hamvention Hotties ’08

by Rich Moseson

 

Wandering the exhibit halls at the Dayton Hamvention is enough to give even the most hardened radio-head a case of RF overload…which is why it’s such a fun thing to do! And this doesn’t count the humongous flea market, where, among other things, you can find original World War II Enigma machines on display! Touring the five inside exhibit halls, focusing only on new products, took us an entire morning. In addition to dozens of new goodies for hams*, the various vendors also had on display a good number of products for those whose preference is listening. Among them are four new standalone receivers, as well as some really cool cloak-and-dagger stuff. Here’s a look.

New Tools For Big Brother

AOR introduced several new radios intended primarily for law enforcement work, starting with the SR2000M software-controlled surveillance and monitoring receiver. It covers 25–3000 MHz (no cellular blocking if you’re authorized), and can be both controlled and monitored over the Internet. This means you no longer have to be sitting outside the bad guy’s house in a converted bread truck to listen in on what’s going on. Also in the law-enforcement/cloak-and-dagger receiver category is the AR-STV wireless camera detector. This not only lets you know if it detects signals from wireless video cameras operating in the 900–2800 MHz range, but it will also show you what they’re watching on the monitor screen. (If you see yourself, you know you’re being observed while observing!)

Next up is AOR’s Wings location monitor mobile data terminal. This combines satellite and Internet technology to help you keep track of all vehicles in a fleet. It takes their locations—relayed from a GPS receiver in each mobile unit—and plots them on a Google Earth map. The system also includes a digital voice transceiver with scrambling capability, as well as the ability to upload still photos and to plug in a keyboard and send text messages.

AOR’s final new goodie for this year is an add-on to its AR8200 DC-daylight handheld scanning receiver to help the FAA and search-and-rescue teams track down emergency locator transmitters (ELTs). These are activated when an aircraft crashes, but are also commonly set off by accident. Their signals are picked up by satellite and relayed to a search coordination center, but the satellites can’t provide a precise location. This means searchers with direction-finding gear need to finish the job. AOR’s FA-8200 includes an AR-8200 handheld receiver as well as a loop antenna tuned to the ELT frequency and an attenuator to let you keep tracking even when the signal is very strong.


 

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GLOBAL INFORMATION GUIDE

Romania Rising, So Long Singapore, And That Cryptic Costa Rican…

by Gerry L. Dexter

 

Unlike most of Europe, which can seem tired and confused and no longer particularly enthusiastic about shortwave broadcasting (indeed they are down on it), once backward Romania is stepping up defiantly in the face of all this negativism. In late May the transmitting facility at Galbeni was temporarily closed in order to install new 300 kW transmitters complete with new antennas. As soon as that job is finished the same process is to take place at the Tiganesti site. There will also be a couple of 100 kW transmitters placed at the seldom-reported Saftica site. After all that Radio Romania International will have been fully modernized and powered up to bring us better signals, which hasn’t exactly been the norm over the past few years.

The new in-country transmitters at Radio Nacional Venezuela will be installed at Calabozo in Guarico State, about 250 miles south of Caracas. There’s still no known timeline telling us when to expect any active frequencies. So we continue to wait.

Papua New Guinea’s National Broadcasting Corporation is inactive on both 4890 and 9675 because its 50 kW transmitter is still on the blink, which has been the case for several years now. There’s talk of replacing this inoperative unit with a pair of 25 kWers.

There’s scuttlebutt afoot that says the days are numbered for Russia’s Samara transmitter site; it’s due for closure in as early as a couple of months. If that happens there will be several broadcasters that will have to move their transmissions to other facilities as early as the next broadcast season.

And another one bites the dust! Radio Singapore International has tossed in the towel, having decided that shortwave broadcasting is no longer germane to the fast-paced world we live in, because, as we all know, everyone under 90 is busy with their iPods or BlackBerrys or laptops or the new Pink Goofus unit (okay, I made that one up). Anyway if you’ve never added RSI to your log, too bad, you’re out of luck.

The mystery in Costa Rica continues. Miss Marple is befuddled, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are in a pickle, and Sam Spade hasn’t anything to dictate to Effie. None of the great detectives have managed to come up with an answer. The unidentified broadcasts continue on 5954, normally for an hour or so from around 2230, but sometimes starting an hour or so earlier. It’s been a long, long time since we’ve had a monitoring puzzle that caused so much head scratching.

A new pseudo station is IRIN Radio (Integrated Regional Information Network) with studios in Nairobi, Kenya. It’s intended for Somalia and is being broadcast via Meyerton. The most recent schedule has it on 9665 from 1730 to 1745. IRIN is a United Nations effort.

You may have read about a name change for the Voice of Tanzania. In fact the change applies only to the facility in Dar es Salaam, where the name now used is the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC). The station in Dole, Zanzibar, is independently run and keeps “The Voice of” name.
 

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HOMELAND SECURITY

Learning From Disasters, Plus Some Services That Help You Prepare Before Disaster Strikes

by Mitch Gill, NA7US

 

 

I vividly remember the day. It was February 28, 2001, and my 10-year-old son, Tyler, and I and were discussing his history paper when at 10:54 a.m. we heard what sounded like bulldozers in our yard. The leaves on the shrubs and trees shook violently, and the house began to roll. We were in our first, and I hope last, large earthquake.

After the rolling stopped I immediately grabbed the telephone (you thought I’d grab a radio, didn’t you?) to make sure my wife and mother-in-law were okay. The phone was dead. I tried the cell phone and it was, you guessed it, dead. I knew they were down in the nearby valley and in a multi-story building, but reports on our battery-operated AM radio were coming in piecemeal. While Tyler kept checking the phones I monitored and checked into the emergency net on 2 meters. For two hours my son and I worried until finally she was able to get a signal and call us.

Relieved, I checked out our own damage, then began to assess the impact in the area. Several buildings were damaged, but the biggest problem was that a river nearby had changed course and was threatening a major road to our area. Tyler and I hopped in the car and managed to get down to the river. We talked with one of the emergency workers who advised us that a crew of construction workers had managed to keep the river back. Luckily, I was able to relay that information to other amateur radio operators who were helping people get back to their homes.

The Point?

So what does this have to do with Homeland Security? The answer is simple: the earthquake began to prepare me for the next big event—9/11. That’s not to say that anyone really could have been prepared for that day seven years ago, but our earthquake experience made me aware that we can’t rely solely on our phones or cell phones. They can be out for hours, days, or even weeks for repair or be overloaded with people trying to get help. I’ve never been without a radio, and I insist that my son keep one in his car now that he’s driving (don’t get me started on that!). As for my lovely wife, she’s promised that this year she’ll get her license, even though she finds radio a little intimidating. We also keep a 2-meter rig in her car and she knows the basics of what to do in an emergency.

 

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HAM DISCOVERIES

Safety: It’s All About Good Habits

by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ

 

For most people, hams and otherwise, safety is a boring topic. In Drivers Ed, when the teacher was droning on and on about safety issues—merging, braking on ice, looking both directions before pulling out, etc.—most of us were barely listening. Our eyes were open and our faces were pointed toward the front of the room, but our thoughts were elsewhere, focused on how much fun we’d have behind the wheel doing most or all of the things we were being admonished not to do.

Even as a professional driver (I have a part-time job with a specialty transport company), I can barely stay awake during the several hours of safety training required each year to maintain my DOT certification. Part of the problem is that I have the attention span of a gnat. The other is that I’m very safety conscious as is. Covering that material ad nauseam is pure torture, because I’ve integrated the safety behaviors into my “standard approach to driving.”

And that’s a blessing and a curse, for drivers and hams.

In this era of round-the-clock media stimulation and a constant hunger for “fun, fun, fun,” it’s easy to gloss over the boring stuff that might save your life one day (or the lives of your loved ones) and focus on fun stuff.

Working DX is fun. Worrying about the rats’ nest of wires that run behind your radio gear isn’t. Making contacts via a new digital mode is fun. Setting your shack up in a way that maximizes electrical and RF safety for you and your family isn’t. Putting up a new tower and antenna is fun (relatively). Installing sufficient lightning protection isn’t. You get the idea.

At the risk of boring you in the fine tradition of my Drivers Ed instructor, take a brief vacation from the song that’s playing in your head and realize that ham radio, interesting and friendly though it is, can kill you in a jiffy if you don’t play it safe. As in kill you—dead!

Hams don’t talk about safety as much as we should, but it all comes down to common sense, good habits, and observing “good amateur practice.” Instill good habits up front and you won’t have to be sorry later on.

Bad Examples

A non-ham friend who lives in rural Minnesota was asked to help a fellow employee install a point-to-point wireless Internet node (complete with antennas) atop a 30-foot tower that was itself bolted to the top of a 90-foot-tall grain silo. (In that neck of the woods, big silos provide a handy and inexpensive way to zip signals back and forth, avoiding the much higher costs associated with commercial tower sites.)

The guy (a technician by profession) who wanted my friend’s help was working alone, without anyone even glancing in his direction. He’d climb the silo’s access ladder, pull up a tower section, bolt it onto the top of the silo, climb down, climb up to the top of the recently installed tower section, pull up another tower section, bolt it on, etc., etc. No tower guys—no nothin’. This was standard operating procedure for the company in question, and this tech said he’d installed more than 30 such sites.

I told my friend that I thought the process was “death waiting to happen,” and explained why. He didn’t get involved. I’m glad. He’s still around to be my friend to this day!

In 31 years as a ham—many of those as a younger, less risk-averse version of my present self—I’ve had a few close calls. Allow me to share some of my hard-learned lessons…
 

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PLANE SENSE

Where Is Aviation Radio Heading?

by Tom Swisher, WA8PYR

 

Aviation radio…where are we? Where are we going? What are we going to do when we get there? These questions and many more may be dancing through your hot little heads, and it all probably has to do with the myriad frequency steps and transmission modes floating around out there in radio land.
As we all know, the radio frequency spectrum is a finite resource. So, for many years there have been suggestions and proposals on how to increase the available number of channels for aviation traffic in the United States and around the world.

Dealing With A Crowded Spectrum

Channel capacity has always been an important issue, and aviation radio continues to improve. In the early days, however, there wasn’t that much channel capacity. Radios did not offer the selectivity we enjoy in radios used today; with very broad receivers, selectivity was simply not good enough to allow close spacing of adjacent frequencies. Of course, in those days there was not nearly as much traffic, so the wide spacing and consequent limited number of channels was not an issue. As time went on and air traffic increased, the number of available channels became insufficient to handle the traffic. At the same time, radio technology was improving and spacing could be decreased. Over the years, it has gone through 50 kHz steps on the way down to the 25 kHz steps used today.

However, even the 25 kHz spacing in use today is insufficient to handle the load in many metropolitan areas, so suggestions for new options began to appear. Europe chose a relatively simple expedient, that of cutting the frequency separation again, this time to 8.33 kHz. This has the effect of tripling the number of available channels, and the switch has already begun in Europe. Effective in 1999, the new frequency steps went in service above Flight Level 245 (24,500 feet); as of March 2007, the new steps are in service above Flight Level 195.

The switch for European airspace below FL195 will occur in stages. As of January 1, all new aircraft must be equipped with 8.33 kHz-capable gear; aircraft using IFR, Controlled VFR and Night VFR must be capable as of 2010; and full implementation is expected
by 2013.

New aviation radios in the United States now cover the 8.33 kHz steps, and it would seem logical for the U.S. to follow the Europeans in the implementation. Predictably, the FAA and FCC have proposed their own utterly incompatible plan for all aviation traffic in the U.S. to switch to digital modulation. Frequency spacing would remain 25 kHz, but the new modulation would fit four transmissions into one channel. While this would certainly increase the capacity of the VHF band, it has several major drawbacks. Not only would it make the American aviation radio network incompatible with foreign-registered aircraft unless they purchase a separate radio, the extremely high cost to U.S.-registered airlines and general aviation users would make it difficult to implement at best.
 

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THE PROPAGATION CORNER

Space Weather: Interfering With The Global Positioning System

by Tomas Hood, NW7US

 

If you’re like me and occasionally turn to a GPS (Global Positioning System) instrument to help you find your way, then you may relate with the frustration I have when my GPS receiver gets “confused” and either doesn’t know which way is which—or gets me lost altogether.

Once, while hauling a 27-foot trailer over the Lookout Pass between Idaho and Montana, I pulled off the highway and drove up onto the overpass observation point. This overpass serves as a convenient place to take photos right on the state line. Since the overpass is at the very top of the mountain pass, the highway in either direction, into Montana and into Idaho, follows a steep downward grade. When coming from the Idaho side, there’s a 14-mile climb, with no exits.

When I got back into my truck and started on my way, I was not exactly sure which way to go to get back onto the Montana-bound lane. I depended on my (tongue in cheek) faithful, dependable GPS. Since I programmed it for a destination in Montana, I was sure it knew which way I should go.

It told me, in a soft European accent, to turn left, and then follow the ramp. I did as I was told. It dawned on me as I found myself heading back into Idaho that the GPS was confused. Now, I had to go about 14 miles back down the sharp grade before I could find an exit that would turn me back toward Montana! Imagine my frustration while retracing my drive back over the pass for the second time, burning up all that gas over all those steep 14 miles. Thanks to GPS, I had a great experience entering into Montana twice.

You can’t always trust your GPS gadget. To get its position, the GPS receiver locks onto at least four satellites and then calculates the positional data based on the signals from these satellites. When space weather causes a disturbance in the ionosphere, a GPS receiver may lose the lock on one or more of the satellites. This results in inaccurate positioning data. Scientists have long known that the complex electrical activity in the upper atmospheric zone called the ionosphere affects GPS signals.

Scientists are putting great amounts of research effort into clarifying what happens to disruptive clouds of electrons and other electrically charged particles, known as ions, in the ionosphere. The work may lead to regional predictions of reduced GPS reliability and accuracy.

One team of researchers has recently observed Earth’s aurora, which is a prominent manifestation of ionospheric electrical activity, in the act of disrupting GPS equipment. They found that the highly dense patches in the auroral zone during these auroral events cause fading of the satellite signals, in the span of seconds. This means that a GPS receiver will lose the signal in a sudden fading event triggered by the movement and formation of E-region ionospheric patches during auroral events.

Other scientists have successfully tested a way to forecast GPS disturbances for marine users, with likely extension to users on land. Under normal operating conditions, marine DGPS (Differential GPS) horizontal positioning is accurate on the order of to within several meters in North America. These scientists observed that during enhanced ionospheric activity, the accuracy of the positioning is significantly degraded. An ionospheric phenomenon known as “storm enhanced density” (SED) has been found to develop in the middle to high latitudes during ionospheric storm events. Very large changes in total electron content have been observed in the vicinity of this phenomenon, with DGPS positioning errors increased by a factor of 10 to 30 versus quiet (normal) conditions. The researchers are working on a way to monitor SED activity and map ionospheric conditions in real time. The end result would be a way to forecast and to spot conditions where DGPS is affected.
 

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 RADIO RESOURCES
Tiny Boats Look Like Supertankers
With AIS Transponders
by Gordon West, WB6NOA

 

AIS stands for the Automatic Identification System, which uses data bursts on the duplex (UP .6 MHz) side of marine VHF Channels 87 and 88 to convey critical information. Until recently, the Class A AIS marine transponders were found only on large yachts and most commercial vessels. This was mainly due to the high costs associated, which were in the thousands of dollars.
Think of the AIS marine system as similar to aeronautical tower traffic control, offering target identification, overlaid on radar and marine cartography, along with target navigation, including “red alert” of a collision course. The actual size of the target would have no bearing on the intensity of the AIS return—a kayak with an AIS transponder would give a similar presentation as a 200-foot passenger ship.
Class B AIS has been on hold for small ships and tiny rowboats for almost two years. Although equipment is available and low cost, the FCC wants to be absolutely sure recreational AIS equipment could not somehow “jam” the important AIS collision avoidance data streams passing between huge commercial vessels.
Big-ship commercial AIS transmitters work with an
exclusive algorithm tied into a GPS clock, self-assigning transmission slots detected “open” in a congested radio traffic area. This allows shore-based vessel traffic centers (VTC) to monitor two VHF channels simultaneously, detecting incoming AIS data packets sequentially, rather than one jamming another.
Big-ship AIS packets include vessel name and MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) number, speed over ground, course over ground, closest point of approach, turning rate, and a few other specific navigational details if the vessel is underway. A pleasure boat Class B AIS transponder may not have nearly as much navigation information, but it will present an equal size target to any AIS receiver on other vessels, as well as AIS-equipped shore stations and vessels traffic control centers.
It is reassuring to know you are “on the scope” of vessel traffic control when, for example, entering San Francisco Harbor and they call your vessel by name and MMSI number on VHF Channel 16. Even though your Class B transmitter is aboard your tiny jet ski, your target information appears just as bold as that supertanker, two miles away, no longer on a collision course thanks to an AIS advisory.
“Since we are only moving at six knots to avoid big-ship traffic, a potential collision course would require actions on both steering bridges. AIS ship position screen names gave us an opportunity to hail all ships in the local area and encourage them to slightly alter course to prevent us from getting run down,” comment mariners Robert and Carol aboard their sailing vessel Entropy.
“Our equipment is from ACR Electronics and it has become critical to the safety of our small vessel at sea. Our encounters quickly proved it to us,”
adds Robert.
Finally, the U.S. Coast Guard will likely see AIS as an important tool for homeland security. Specifically, any small vessel approaching a busy port without AIS identification will likely receive additional scrutiny from their patrol vessels. Just like air traffic control, AIS now gives everyone out on the water big image identification.
 

 

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REACT IN ACTION

Emergency! But Is Your Family Ready...?

by Ron McCracken, KG4CVL / WPZX486

 

What emergency is most likely to affect your town? Wherever we live, each of us faces the possibility of at least one type of emergency occurring, perhaps several. September is “National Preparedness Month,” but well over 90 percent of Americans are not prepared, the Department of Homeland Security tells us.
When an emergency arises, you need to have basic tools and supplies already on hand to deal with it. You also need a plan to offset the tendency to panic. Unless you have both, you expose your family to needless danger.

Your interest in radio means you likely have some radio equipment available for an emergency. That means you’re already at an advantage over many others when telephones go down or the power grid fails. Make those radios work for the benefit of your family. Here are some of your choices to do just that.

Take Your Pick

Family Radio Service (FRS) radios are inexpensive and will keep you in contact with neighbors in your immediate area. That contact with others is a real boost to the morale of all in an emergency, and it can bring speedy help where it’s needed.

FRS radios are simple to operate and multi-purpose. You can easily teach others in your family to use FRS for camping, shopping, hiking, or a variety of other routine activities. You want them to be familiar with the radios long before an emergency occurs. You want them to learn respect for the radios so they conserve batteries and use the radios wisely. Channels 1 through 14 are FRS channels. No FCC license is required, but you must operate on LOW power. Check your owner’s manual for help to set the radio on low power. What you learn—and teach—now will pay huge dividends in an emergency.

Likewise, with a CB radio, either mobile or handheld, you’ll be ahead of the game if forced to evacuate. Professional truck drivers continue to rely on CB Channel 19 in most areas. You’ll be able to gather valuable tips on routes, weather, etc., just by listening to those pros. In fact, they prefer that you just listen and soak up the tips. It’s that easy, and that important, in an emergency. Buy new or at garage sales, etc.

General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS/FRS) combo radios will give you a little more range than FRS and enable you to listen to full-power GMRS stations for information on the situation farther afield. GMRS radios require an FCC license, so operation becomes a bit more costly. However, the license covers all members of your family so it’s really not that expensive, and it increases your radio options.

Make careful note of channel usage in these FRS/GMRS “combo” radios. Channels 15 through 22 are GMRS-only channels and you’ll need an FCC GMRS license to operate on those channels; Channels 8 through 14 are FRS-only channels that require no FCC license; and Channels 1 through 7 are shared FRS/GMRS channels. If you hold a GMRS license for GMRS Channels 15 through 22, it entitles you to use Channels 1 through 7 as well.

FRS operators may also use Channels 1 through 7, but must ensure that the radio is set to LOW power. Check your owner’s manual closely to ensure that you are operating legally. If you want to avoid the GMRS license issue, you may be able to pick up some older FRS radios with 14 or fewer channels that did not require a license. Watch for them at garage sales or on eBay.

Amateur radio is another option. Again, you need a license but ham clubs offer courses and help. The exam is much easier now and code is no longer required. Ham radios are now reasonably priced and extend your range even farther through access to club repeaters.
 

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THE WIRELESS CONNECTION

A Survival Guide For Shipping Old Radios

by Peter J. Bertini,

 

In good times I am blessed with material to pen columns for months in advance. As of late it’s more likely inspiration striking in the nick of time. And so it is for our September missive. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

My recent ramblings about my first communications receiver, the Lafayette model HE-10, spurred a long-suppressed desire to add the HE-30 to my stable as well. While the HE-30 is housed in basically the same receiver chassis as the HE-10, it sports enhanced band-spread dial scales, with good frequency resolution, for ham band coverage. This was quite an improvement over the uncalibrated 0 to 100 logging scale offered on the earlier HE-10. The HE-10 BFO circuit was reworked into a Q-multiplier—the Q-multiplier provides enhanced selectivity for the CW and SSB modes. I also think it’s a handsomer receiver. Unfortunately, as a young teen, I purchased the HE-10 just before the HE-30 made its debut in the Lafayette catalog.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to snag a decent HE-30 last June for the paltry sum of $16.50 on an Internet auction site. I implored the seller to take steps to secure the loose cabinet top, and I instructed him on how I wanted the receiver to be boxed for shipment. “Not to worry, I’ve been doing this for years, and you won’t be disappointed!” the seller assured me.

Alas, so much for empty assurances. The radio was poorly packed, and the sinking feeling I had when I saw the box was unfortunately on the mark. What I received is shown in Photo A. Note the crumpled steel front panel. This happened when the unsecured clamshell cabinet sections compressed together as heavy objects crushed the flimsy cardboard shipping box. Every knob is broken to some degree (one large tuning knob is destroyed); and on the rear apron the accessory plug cover is smashed and the antenna jacks are broken. The covers are bent, and at least one spot weld was popped. My long awaited treasure was a total loss!

No shipper will pay for damage caused by improper packing—and, quite frankly, I don’t blame them! Besides, most carriers will not insure fragile antiques. The seller might offer a refund if I pay for the return shipping. Then I’d be out nearly $60 dollars for a $16.50 refund. Do you see a problem? The best shipping insurance you can purchase is to spend the money on proper packing materials and do the packing job the right way! Oh, well, my loss is your gain. This mishap will likely give me enough inspiration (perspiration?) for two columns: this one and one for when I am able show how I restored the HE-30 to as good as new. If any of my readers have a “junker” HE-10 or HE-30 parts set, let me know.

The Problems We Face Today

Before the Internet matured into an International marketplace old radios were bartered and traded between fellow collectors. Collectors went to radio meets to buy, sell, and swap, or they scoured the pages of the latest Antique Radio Classified magazine to find deals. Generally, you knew whom you were dealing with. Good radios were still found locally, at tag sales or by word of mouth through friends and neighbors.

Unfortunately, the Internet has created a whole new generation of sellers who have no knowledge of the goods they buy and sell. They scour estate sales and yard sales, and then hawk their wares on eBay and other Internet sites. While eBay has made available many rare radio treasures (and a few are in my collection), as a venue it is also responsible for the destruction and loss of far too many rare and expensive radios—the result of careless packaging by clueless sellers. Insurance restitution notwithstanding, many of these sets are rare and irreplaceable. There’s a growing legion of collectors who’ve been burnt by Internet transactions and who are instead attending radio meets, or limiting their buying and selling to folks who share similar interests. Antique Radio Classified magazine is still going strong, and there is good reason for its continued survival! But enough of my preaching and rambling, let’s get down to business!
 

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UTILITY COMMUNICATIONS DIGEST

Log Lesson: Make The Best Of A Bad Situation

by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ

 

This month’s column was about halfway written when I turned to the other computer, which was logged on to the #monitor channel on IRC-Global, and typed a command that causes an IRC “bot” in the channel to display the latest geomagnetic information from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (it’s pretty much the same information you get from WWV and WWVH, except you don’t have to wait for the appropriate portion of the WWV/WWVH hourly broadcast cycle):
 

<@KC2HMZ> nsa- condx

<@NSA> Solar-terrestrial indices for 11 June follow.

<@NSA> Solar flux 66 and mid-latitude A-index 5.

<@NSA> The mid-latitude K-index at 1200 UTC on 12 June was 1 (5 nT).

<@NSA> No space weather storms were observed for the past 24 hours.

<@NSA> No space weather storms are expected for the next 24 hours.

At least there were no geomagnetic storms to further confound listening efforts, but the solar flux had sunken to a new low. When I first started going after utility stations in earnest, in the late 1990s, solar flux readings of 120 to 130 were the order of the day since we were at the top of a sunspot cycle, rather than buried at the bottom of one as we are as this column is being written. And yet there I was sitting in my Northeastern shack here in Tonawanda, New York, listening to a transmission of maritime weather from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Pt. Reyes, California facility—on 13089.0 kHz—at a few minutes before 1 a.m. local time!
Lately, by that time of the morning, I’m trolling 6 MHz

and below. After getting over the surprise of hearing much of anything on 13 MHz at 1 in the local morning, I got to thinking about how, despite the solar minimum and the unfavorable

conditions it often presents to us, there’s still no telling when (and maybe even not where!) you’re going to come up with a good catch.

Now, granted, this was a 10 kW transmitter (NMC, the USCG Communications Area Master Station Pacific, or CAMSPAC). But at 1 a.m. locally, even during the sunspot peak, the lower frequencies (below 6 MHz or so) were where I made most of my catches from the Pacific, not on 13 MHz. And to be sure, it’s not as easy as it was when the solar flux was at 128. Nonetheless, it’s definitely still possible to have fun prowling the HF bands looking for UTEs.

Also this month, one of our readers logged a couple of broadcast relays in the 25 MHz band, and one of my associates on IRC noticed an opening on 10 meters a few days ago that lasted a good half hour or so, enabling him to get good copy of the ARRL’s code practice transmissions from W1AW in Newington, Connecticut, from his Florida location. If you’re sitting there thinking it’s pointless to tune around up that high during the current solar minimum, perhaps you shouldn’t be too sure!

As I write this it’s June and I’m looking forward to ARRL Field Day 2008, but last year, during Field Day 2007, despite it being contrary to what I and the rest of the Amateur Radio Association of the Tonawandas (ARATS) Field Day Team would have expected, we spent most of the overnight hours (local midnight to 6 a.m.) making contacts on 20 meters. Normally considered a daytime band, it was the only band that stayed open for most of the wee hours. By comparison, 80 meters (3.5–4.0 MHz, a definite nighttime band), was dead, and conditions on 40 meters (7.0–7.3 MHz) were, to put it mildly, less than ideal.

 

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LOOSE CONNECTION

How To Become Like Bill (If You Really, Really Must)

by Bill Price, N3AVY (and Son)

 

I may never become rich and famous just because I spent a hitch in the Coast Guard in the ’60s, but it was a lot of fun, enabled me to carry a .45 around the streets of New York now and then, and primed the pump that resulted in my tapping out this column each month. That has led to my developing a small and loyal following, which is worth something on the order of all the tea in china.

I get some one-time emails from readers who have enjoyed the same broadcast radio shows that I enjoyed in New York, and from fellow coasties with some history to share, and I’ve also developed some good email friends from this correspondence. Among my regular email contacts is that now-retired EMT, Joe Maurus (yes, the one from Pumpkin Center, Louisiana) a long-time regular reader who stays in touch and keeps me up on the happenings around his hometown and wherever he travels.

Along with Joe is another now-regular correspondent, Chief Bob (identity withheld) who was the Chief Radioman on the USCGC Dallas while I served there and who recently realized that the lunatic he’d been reading on this page was the same lunatic who had been working the 500Kc position for him on the Dallas so many years ago. Both Bob and Joe now use the term “HPJIE”* which I didn’t exactly coin, but stole from an old electronics correspondence school ad.

And since I’ve encouraged readers to drop a line with their communication stories, I’ve gotten to know quite a few who have also served in the Coast Guard, or who have had crazy friends who run a close second to my own pal Norm, or who have just done some oddball things along their communication careers or hobbies that would fit nicely within the paragraphs of “The Loose Connection.”

Since confession is said to be good for the soul, maybe it’s time that Chief Bob learns the facts behind some of the things that went undiscovered back in the days when he was responsible for the goings-on in the Dallas radio shack. Like the time when that tiny little incense cone burning so innocently in the ash tray set off a shipwide search for the source of smoke, leaving us this far (hold thumb and index finger really close) from setting off the fire-at-sea alarm. I really had no idea that lovely scent would travel through the entire ventilation system the way it did. Honest.

And surely he’ll remember Miller—the radioman who was head-over-heels in love with that girl of his from somewhere in New York—and how he mysteriously received a radio message from her while we were out at sea? A message supposedly relayed via a Canadian government station in Goose, Newfoundland, professing her undying love, and three pounds of various other mush? One that happened to arrive just when he was on watch? I guess it’s okay now to admit that it was me and another radioman (initials JM) who set up an oscillator in the ET shop right next door to the radio shack and sent that message at just the convenient time.

It was on another ship (in New York harbor) that I plugged my electric guitar into the AN/FRT-23 HF transmitter microphone input and played a rousing chorus of “Semper Paratus,” the Coast Guard’s service song, on 2670 Kc (that would be the district AM voice working frequency, before the CG went to single-sideband), so Chief Bob won’t have to take a beating on that one.

 

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