To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


News, Trends, And Short Takes

by D. Prabakaran

Voice Of America To Eliminate Seven Radio Language Services

The Voice of America plans to eliminate seven radio language services this year, reflecting the Bush administration’s emphasis on outreach to the Muslim world. Among the cuts are the shortwave radio and TV broadcasts of the Russian service, along with radio broadcasts in Ukrainian, Serbian, Hindi, Macedonian, Bosnian, and Georgian.

Tish King, a spokeswoman for the Voice of America, was quoted as saying that the language services cuts are the result of “painful decisions” that reflect a focus on “places where, based on research, we can be most effective.”

The administration has been seeking cuts to various language services for years, only to be rebuffed by Congress. In 2006, the administration’s proposed budget for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (the agency that oversees VOA and Alhurra, an Arabic-language American satellite TV channel) included reductions or eliminations in “non-war on terror related language services.” When the 2007 budget proposed reductions to even more services, Congress stepped in and provided funding to prevent it.

This time around, however, King said Congress is on board with the cuts, which were to become effective in September. Given that VOA’s shortwave radio service in Russian has such a small audience—just two percent—King said broadcasting by Internet was the best option for VOA.

Tim Shamble, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 1812, the union representing VOA employees, said that eliminating the shortwave broadcasts was precisely the wrong move, since they reach the country with little danger of being blocked. Internet broadcasts are far more vulnerable, he said.

Journey To Common European Digital Radio Begins

For many decades, European radio listeners using one of the analog systems broadcast in the FM and AM frequency bands have been able to buy and use their radio receivers, in their home or car, anywhere in Europe. With the transition to digital broadcasting, this comfortable situation will change, unless action is taken.

Digital technology will offer much to radio listeners and broadcasters, including greater flexibility of sound quality, more choice of stations, and many other new features. The transition for radio, just as for television, is inevitable. However, up until now, European nations have been choosing different technical systems for their digital radio.

At the meeting of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) Technical Assembly earlier this year it was agreed that the EBU must actively encourage convergence towards a common European radio receiver, which would allow a pan-European market. The objectives include offering the lowest costs for the consumer, the greatest choice, and high technical quality. The common radio may include some of the elements of the major systems. The EBU agreed to work together with the European Association of Consumer Electronics Manufacturers (EICTA) and WorldDMB, the group of companies encouraging DAB-based digital radio.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications

by Richard Fisher, KI6SN


FCC OKs Satellite Radio Merger

After months of anticipation, the Federal Communications Commission has approved the $3.3 billion buyout by Sirius Satellite Radio of XM Satellite Radio Holdings, clearing the way for the merger of the nation’s two satellite radio providers. It was the final chapter in a 16-month drama that was closely scrutinized by Capitol Hill and Wall Street. More than 18 million subscribers will be able to receive both services.

The FCC voted 3-2 to approve the merger, with Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate, a Republican, as the tie-breaker. According to published reports, Tate demanded that the companies settle charges that they violated FCC rules before she would approve the deal. The companies subsequently agreed to pay $19.7 million to the U.S. Treasury for violations related to ground-based signal repeaters and radio receivers.

The land-based radio industry had lobbied vigorously against the merger. Consumer groups, some members of Congress, and state attorneys general also opposed the buyout, arguing a satellite radio merger would hurt consumers and was not in the public interest.

“I hope they keep their edge and don’t become a fat and happy monopoly,” said Democratic FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein in an Associated Press report. Adelstein voted against the buyout as did fellow Democrat Commission-er Michael Copps. Joining FCC chairman Kevin Martin and Tate in approving the deal was Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell.

Shock Hazard Prompts Recall Of RadioShack Power Supplies

A voluntary recall has been announced by RadioShack and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission of certain of the company’s 13.8-VDC power supplies. The CPSC said the recall involves RadioShack 13.8-VDC Power Supplies, manufactured in China, with catalog numbers 22-507 and 22-508 and with date codes from 08A04 through 01A08.

The date code format is MMAYY where MM is the month and YY is the year, the CPSC said. The commission said the catalog number and date code are located on the back of the power supply. About 160,000 units were produced. Power supplies with a green dot on the product and the product’s packaging have already been repaired and are not included in the recall.

“Due to a manufacturing defect, the line-in connections to the PC board have been reversed,” RadioShack reported. “This creates a potential electrocution and fire hazard.
For your safety, RadioShack has decided to recall the two affected products.”

“The CPSC said that consumers should stop using these power supplies immediately,” according to a report on the American Radio Relay League’s website. “No injuries have been reported in conjunction with the power supplies that were sold in RadioShack stores nationwide from October 2004–January 2008 for between $50 and $85,” the report said. “The CPSC recommends for consumers to unplug the recalled power supply immediately and take it to any RadioShack store for a free repair.”

For users whose power supply appears to be functioning normally, RadioShack cautions that, “the wiring is still incorrect and poses a potential electrocution and fire hazard. We recommend getting any recalled device repaired as soon as possible.” A notice is being mailed to registered owners of the recalled power supplies. For additional information, contact RadioShack at 800-843-7422 anytime. The company’s website is www.radioshack.com.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 

Watching The Analog Sunset

AMPS Analog Cellular Shutting Down After 25 Years

by Bernard Bates


Nearly every communications technology enthusiast who’s been around awhile remembers the exciting advent of Advanced Mobile Phone Service (AMPS) in the mid-1980s. Cellular mobile radiotelephone service seemed like a new dawn in personal communications—and it truly was. Many of us can’t imagine how we’d do without our ubiquitous cell phones today.

Now after 25 years, the FCC has given AMPS its last rites by ruling that wireless service providers could shut down their existing analog cellular networks after February 18, 2008.The wireless industry’s term for this is the “Analog Sunset.” Since that date, wireless carriers nationwide have been eagerly refarming that spectrum for all-digital mobile services to further increase their corporate profits.

The Analog Sunset marks the end of an era that has both enthused and vexed communications hobbyists for a quarter of a century. Let’s take a retrospective look at the era of analog cellular, which encompassed some very interesting moments, and speculate about the future with respect to the monitoring hobby, looking at the pros and cons to this transition. Note that the terms AMPS and “Analog Cellular” will be used interchangeably.

A Dire Need For Cellular Radiotelephones

The need for expanded mobile radiotelephone “car phone” service became apparent in the 1970s when AMPS’ non-cellular predecessor, Improved Mobile Telephone Service (IMTS) quickly reached and exceeded its capacity. Begun in 1969, IMTS was essentially a radiotelephone “party line” with only 11 VHF and 12 UHF FM channels per market—hardly enough for all the mobile phone calls in any metropolitan area. Car phone users had to vie for an open channel before placing a call through the single central base station, which usually covered a radius of about 25 miles. Users sometimes had to wait several minutes or longer for a mobile dial tone, while others literally waited years to get a mobile phone account because of the very limited system capacity resulting from the FCC’s paltry frequency allocations.

Many IMTS phones used discrete transistor logic (no ICs) and had 25-watt transmitters, so they were big, heavy trunk-mounted affairs with a thick cable snaked to a control head/handset mounted by the driver’s seat. Early IMTS car phones had a rotary dial (Photo A)! A VHF 150 MHz or UHF 450 MHz antenna was typically drill-mounted onto the roof or trunk of the subscriber’s expensive car, as capacitive glass-mount mobile antennas had not yet been invented. You could drain your car battery by talking on your IMTS car phone too long with your engine off. The running joke was that you could only make two IMTS phone calls: a long call to your girlfriend (or someone else you wanted to impress), and a short call to the towing company to ask them to jump-start your car.

Many monitoring hobbyists enjoyed listening to these colorful mobile phone conversations on their early scanners or tunable receivers, which was still legal to do until 1986. But virtually every IMTS user understood they were “on the air” with a two-way radio system, and sensible federal regulations prohibited disclosure of, or profiting from, anything that was overheard.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 



Comms And The Military

Dear Editor:

It was an interesting article [on the Royal Signals Museum] by Roy Stevenson [“A Stroll Through Military Comms History,” April 2008 Popular Communications]. I hope to visit it some time, as well as Bletchley Park

When it was time for one of my mother’s cousins, a lawyer, to start his compulsory military service in Belgium, sometime in the 1930s, he requested to go into Communications, because he was interested in electronics. He got his wish but instead of working with radios he was given responsibility for the carrier pigeons! Years ago, he showed me a manual he had kept . I remember it saying that in case of food shortage, he had to feed the pigeons first, then himself.

When it was my turn for military duty in 1960 I requested a military research lab and got it. Some of my fellow electronic engineering graduates were not so lucky. A couple of them who had requested Communications were put to work digging ditches and unrolling telephone wires in them, rather than playing with radio and radar.

Guy Olbrechts

NY7O, ex ON4JV

Hat Tip To Shannon

The following letter was sent in to us for Shannon Huniwell, “Shannon’s Broadcast Classics” columnist…

Dear Shannon:

I read the Braille edition of Popular Communications, which is produced by the National Library Service for the Blind. I really enjoy your column, and look forward to reading it each month. You really have a wealth of radio broadcast knowledge, and it sure is great that you share it with your readers.

I have been an AM DXer for the last 30 years, as well as a ham radio operator, and I will continue to enjoy the radio hobby for the rest of my life.
Thanks again for such a great column.

John Glass

Palo Alto, CA

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 

World Watch: Iran On The Brink?

Much Of U.S. Policy Continues To Spin About The Remaining
Player Of The “Axis Of Evil,” But What Can You Hear?

by Gerry Dexter


If I recall correctly, my high school history book placed the beginning of civilization in Babylon, the area that, centuries later, became Persia and still later (1939) evolved (devolved?) into what is today Iran. (Pronounced “Ear-rahn,” please, not “Eye-Ran.”)

Fire up your imagination for a moment and imagine Civilization as an entity who, on a whim one day, took human form and went back to visit the place of its birth. Odds are at least even that the mentality and worldview of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the radical mullahs, and their fellow purveyors of wrath and hatred, would have sent our friend Mr. Civilization running screaming into the desert night, tearing at his taqiyah.

“Civilized”? A state that funds terrorist organizations to the tune of millions of dollars every year while continually working to stir up more trouble in next door Iraq through its support of the insurgency there? On the sly, Iran tries to sneak down the road towards nuclear capability while refusing to comply with UN resolutions, even defying the EU.

And while all those Machiavellian pieces are moved about on the great world board, internally it also manages to look the other way in the face of the traffic in human lives it allows—most destined for the sex market others for regular slavery. They might as well be selling sugar beets in the bazaar for all the grief the perpetrators get from the authorities. Typically, the only people who run into trouble on that account are the victims themselves who are usually treated as criminals and subject to imprisonment, torture, even execution.

As a frosting on this “civilized” cake, Iran also acts as a virtual Interstate 80 for the transport of heroin into Europe.

Tortuous Road To A Tense Showdown

Relations have been on tenterhooks since the notorious seizing of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in late 1979 and the 14 months the hostages taken at the time were kept prisoner (a college classmate of mine was among them). That international outrage was followed by the seemingly endless war fought between Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq during which 200,000 Iranians were killed and another 300,000 maimed.

More recently, Iran has dealt itself a hand in the Iraq situation thanks to the support (however vehemently denied) it gives to the opposition elements there (around $3.5 billion in one estimate). Iran is also a not-so-silent partner of Syria’s pot stirring in Lebanon. It seems an easy path to trace this national mindset from the rise to power of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, who had safely hung out in France for several years campaigning against the excesses of the then Shah. After much groundwork and innumerable rants, plus help from a growing number of dissidents, Khomeini won the day, established a theocracy, and became the first leader of the renamed Islamic Republic of Iran. (What’s that about a First Amendment?)

Another issue making for a very high antagonistic reading of the current situation is the nuclear question. At the moment there is much worry as to what the West may or may not do to try to prevent Iran from taking the dangerous step toward becoming a nuclear power and just how far Iran will push the envelope in that direction.
There are some “moderates” in today’s Iran who are trying to claw their way towards a more open, less rigid society where women have full rights (what a concept!), children are not subject to execution, and one doesn’t have to get married in order to keep a job at one state-owned company, according to a recent BBC report. But you’d almost need an ear trumpet and a magnifying glass to hear or see the reformists. At the moment, the once-clamorous student demonstrations are largely in limbo. They and other would-be reformers will face many rough spots and setbacks in the road ahead before their efforts can even begin to prod the regime.

Not surprisingly, the United States and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, and haven’t since the hostage taking nearly 30 years ago. U.S interests in Iran are handled—as they are in Cuba—by the American Interest Section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran. Reciprocally, Iran has a similar office in the Pakistan Embassy on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 

 The Great Martian Radio Invasions

This Month Marks The 70th Anniversary Of Broadcasting’s First—
But Not Last—“Red Scare”

by R.B. Sturtevant, AD7IL


It was really all about ratings. In the years just before the United States entered World War II, the most popular radio program on Sundays at 8 p.m. was the “Chase and Sanborn Hour” featuring Edgar Bergen and a piece of lumber named Charlie McCarthy. Opposite the famous ventriloquist was Orson Welles’ “The Mercury Theatre on the Air,” which the 23-year-old created for CBS and its affiliates. To entice listeners away from the comedy of Bergen and the caustic McCarthy, the Mercury players offered adaptations of famous books like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. That last one, of course, sent shockwaves out from radio speakers on October 30, 1938.

Both “Chase and Sanborn” and “The Mercury Theatre” ran for an hour starting at 8 p.m. People were used to tuning into “Chase and Sanborn” and listening to the opening then, at about 8:12, when a musical selection began, they would tune across the band to find something else of interest—just as we channel surf today on television. On this particular evening, by the time the audience found “The Mercury Theatre,” they had missed the announcement that it was a drama updated from Victorian England to modern day New Jersey. Because of the format of news items interrupting musical programs most people had no idea what was really going on “at the scene.”

What was really going on within the audience was panic. By 8:15 calls were already pouring in to the police, radio stations, and newspapers, particularly in the New Jersey and New England area. A mass hysteria had started, and it was spreading—people were convinced Martians had landed at Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, near Princeton.

Two hysterical women called a New York theater where their husbands were attending a play and had them called to the phone. Panic spread through the entire audience, and the theater was quickly evacuated. Families brought children to police stations to be evacuated. Men with guns went out to find the Martians and shot to pieces a newly erected water tower outside the Grover’s Mill. The New York Times received a phone call from a man in Dayton, Ohio, who asked “what time will it be the end of the world?” Doctors and nurses in the area wanted to know where emergency services were being established so they could volunteer. The Brooklyn Navy Yard cancelled all leaves and passes to keep the sailors with their ships. The order to “get us steam” was passed. It was thought the Navy’s big guns might be needed in New York Harbor to repel Martians moving against the population centers of New Jersey and New York.

Elsewhere people jumped into their cars and jammed the roads in an attempt to flee their homes. Some poured into churches, seeking out comfort from ministers and priests. Many improvised gas masks with wet towels or demanded the real thing from the police. Miscarriages and early births were reported; there were also unconfirmed reports of associated deaths. Reportedly, several suicides were stopped when the truth finally became known.

By 9:30 the panic was mostly over. Many people were embarrassed, but even more were angry. Lawsuits blossomed like spring flowers, and everyone agreed it would never be allowed to happen again. And, because Orson Welles, chief instigator of the terror, was off to Hollywood, it didn’t—at least not within our borders.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


The Cobra 29 LTD BT With Bluetooth Wireless Technology

by Jeffrey Reed


You knew it would happen: old technology meets new technology, wrapped inside the most popular communications mode prior to cell phones and the Internet. And it’s no surprise that Cobra Electronics, a communications industry leader, is the first to merge the CB radio and Bluetooth technology.

In February, Cobra first announced the release of its revolutionary CB-Bluetooth twinning. It’s kind of like Godzilla meets King Kong: two giant communication modes combined, offering a thrilling ride—that is, an exciting way to keep in touch while on the road.

And what better radio to infuse with Bluetooth than an old favorite: the Cobra 29 LTD 40-channel CB radio? In fact, aesthetically speaking, this new radio is just as easy on the eyes as it is tough. It’s a versatile little performer, too.

Groundbreaking Addition

A global leader in the design and marketing of communication and navigation products, Cobra proves that it can still surprise us with outstanding new radios. Since entering the CB category 40 years ago, Cobra has introduced several new technologies, including Night Watch—electroluminescent technology that allows for easy night viewing—and SoundTracker noise reduction, which cuts static by up to 90 percent without reducing signal strength or quality.

Enter the Cobra 29 LTD BT. At first glance, it simply looks like an updated version of the Cobra 29 LTD Classic. Think again. Take a closer look at the noise-canceling microphone, and you’ll see a button bearing the Bluetooth symbol.

Not familiar with Bluetooth? Where have you been hiding, under your antenna tower? In a nutshell, Bluetooth is now a common inclusion in cell phones, computers, and MP3 players that allows wireless transfer voice communications, music, photos, and other files within short range. Some phones come bundled with a headset that operates on Bluetooth technology—as does the Cobra 29 LTD BT—and it is also sold separately.

Here’s how Bluetooth works with the Cobra 29 LTD BT. Mobile phone calls are synched with the CB radio. The noise-canceling microphone allows calls to be heard loud and clear, even over a noisy engine. Incoming audio is routed through the radio’s 5-watt CB speaker, making it easier for a driver to hear a caller. The Bluetooth feature also gives you the ability to answer and terminate calls by pushing the blue button on the CB microphone, allowing you to stay focused on the road. And, a new auto redial feature also allows for one-touch redialing of the last phone number called.

First, though, you’ll need to pair the Cobra 29 LTD BT with your cell phone. With the CB power on, press and hold the Bluetooth button for six seconds to enter Standby mode. A tone will sound and the Bluetooth LED will flash for one minute to confirm entry to Standby. From Standby, press and hold the Bluetooth button for four seconds to enter Pairing mode.

If it’s the first time you are pairing with a cell phone, a tone will sound and the Bluetooth LED will flash rapidly to confirm Pairing mode. Follow the cell phone manufacturer’s instructions to enable its Bluetooth function, and enter the Cobra-provided PIN number. Successful pairing will be indicated by a tone and brief flashing of the Bluetooth LED to confirm entry to Connected mode. A pair record will also be established for subsequent connections.

Something Old, Something New

The old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” certainly applies to this attractive radio. The classic Cobra 29 LTD look remains, with a Bluetooth twist, of course. The front panel includes the familiar three-function meter, displaying transmit and receive power, plus SWR reading. These meters are rarely large enough, but with today’s vehicles more compact, we don’t want to revert to the mobile CB radio sizes of the 1960s!

Also along the front panel are some other old friends. I like the front-panel microphone connector—an improvement over side-panel connections—which makes it easier to install in or under the dashboard. Separate volume/squelch control, Dynamike, RF Gain, Delta Tune, SWR calibration and Talk Back are all here. The Talk Back feature is used to adjust the desired amount of modulation talk back that is present at the speaker during transmit.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 

A Nine-Year-Old CB Radio Hero

By Taking The Wheel Of Unconscious Dad’s Semi, Pint-Size
Matty Lovo Averted Tragedy And Receives REACT “Radio Hero Award”

by Ron McCracken, KG4CVL/WPZX486


He acted within a split second. Young Matty Lovo, using his radio skills and quick wits, prevented what could have been an enormous tragedy just about a year ago. That fast action recently earned him the REACT “Radio Hero Award.”

Suddenly, one summer day last August, Matty’s dad, Matthew Sr., collapsed at the wheel. This was the wheel of a big rig. And, it was pulling a pup trailer. The unit was hauling 104,000 pounds of lumber through the town of St. Helen’s, Oregon, on the Columbia River.

The 1999 Freightliner began to drift across several lanes of on-coming traffic as it rolled out of control along U.S. 30. Pint-size Matty had been “riding shotgun” with his dad as he did most days since school was out. He quickly struggled to push his dad out of the way and grabbed the wheel—just in time. Matty was able to maneuver the huge transport so that it only grazed a power pole in its path.

CB Helper

The nine-year-old began to wrestle the massive rig and its load back across the road into its own lane. As he did, he reached for his dad’s CB radio and called, “Help!” Another driver answered immediately. Matty asked him how to stop the monster truck. “Turn off the ignition key,” came back the driver’s instructions. Matty did as directed and the 18-wheeler began to slow.

A nearby motorist, Christopher Howard, spotted Matty at the wheel and instantly realized that something was dreadfully wrong. He chased the runaway rig on foot, clambered up onto the running board, and made his way into the cab. While Matty continued to steer, Howard operated the brakes Matty couldn’t reach. Together they brought the unit to a halt on the side of the road.

St. Helen’s police chief Steven Salle had nothing but praise for Matty. He even commented on how well Matty had parked the huge truck; it was lined up on the shoulder of the road like the boy had been driving for years. Matty had never been behind the wheel before.

The results could have been quite tragic, Chief Salle noted, but for Matty’s alertness and courage. The outcome could have been very different, too, if Lovo, Sr., had collapsed moments later—just a few miles down the road, the massive rig would have been rolling at highway speed. Instead, the only trace of the ordeal was a minor scratch on the left side of the cab where it had grazed the power pole.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Solving Reception Problems

by Ken Reiss


The proliferation of higher-frequency trunked systems has led to a dilemma for scanner listeners located outside the area of coverage. The 800 and 900 MHz frequencies don’t travel as far or as well as their VHF counterparts, and so those listeners (including myself) located just outside the city may find reception a bit more challenging. If you’re behind a hill or other geographic feature that may block a UHF signal you may also experience this, whereas a VHF signal would make the trip with no problem.

It’s tempting to think that some kind of signal preamplifier might be in order to boost those weak signals out of the mud. Be aware however, that you may cause unwanted side effects in other parts of the spectrum if your radio can’t handle the boosted signal. Let’s take a look at some things you might consider adding to your antenna system to help things along.

Antenna First!

The very first thing to consider is the antenna that’s attached to your radio. An antenna specifically tuned to the band that you’re interested in, while not as glamorous as some of the other solutions, is probably the best and most efficient. If you can find a directional antenna with some gain that can be pointed straight at a weak signal of the desired band you can dramatically improve your reception. Of course, the trade off will be weaker performance for frequencies outside the range of the antenna. A dedicated radio might make it possible to ignore this problem; having one radio dedicated to the problem band could be configured in a optimal way for that band, and another could be used for general reception.

Another possible solution might be a filter for the specific band that you’re interested in (a pass filter) or a filter that can reject a signal that’s causing interference (reject and notch filters). These all work by helping to shape the type of signals that actually reach your radio for processing.

Believe it or not, sometimes reducing the signal in one part of the spectrum can actually help reception in another. Filters help with this process, but there are also attenuators that can just reduce the overall amount of signal that reaches your antenna jack. These are usually only necessary in very urban settings where all the signals are strong, but it’s not uncommon to use both a filter and an attenuator.

If that doesn’t work, or if you need to use the radio for other things, then you may need to consider a preamplifier. Preamps, as they’re often called, boost the incoming signal, but with some consequences.

Accessories For Reception

Preamps, filters, and attenuators are all gizmos that get added to the signal processing capabilities of your radio in the hopes of curing some reception problem or another. Some folks will swear by one or the other, while others swear at them. The truth is, most folks have never tried any of them, but still seem to harbor strong opinions on their use and functionality.

What’s all the fuss about? Well, a lot of it has to do with misunderstanding how the radio works, and some of it has to do with misunderstanding how these accessory devices work and what exactly they’re intended to do. And the rest of it has to do with the physical location that the person using or swearing at the device happens in. The bottom line is that if they work for you, great! If they don’t then take them out of your system.

Amplifier Equals More Signal, Right?

A preamp seems to be the device everyone wants to add first. As a result, preamps seem to be the cause of more problems than the other devices. What a preamp does is amplify the signal before the receiver gets to process it at all (pre-amplify). Preamps can be placed inline at the receiver end of the coax, or better still, up at the antenna. Having the amplifier at the bottom of the coax allows for weaker signals (because of losses in the coax) and noise to creep in, and the amplifier amplifies this noise right along with the signal! Putting it up at the antenna eliminates this problem so that you’re amplifying the strongest signal possible. While this sounds like a good idea, and should in theory make more signals available to your receiver, it rarely works out that way.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


New, Interesting, And Useful Communications Products

The Etón FR500 is a self-powered and solar-powered AM/FM/shortwave radio with NOAA weatherband, flashlight, siren, emergency beacon, and cell phone charger built in. Its compact size lets you take it anywhere, and its powering options make it ideal for emergency situations (it can be powered by its hand crank or solar panels; battery power and AC power are also options).

The FR500 features include coverage of AM (520–1700 kHz), FM (88–108 MHz), shortwave (6000–12100 kHz); NOAA weather, all seven channels plus “Alert”; built-in hand crank power generator to recharge internal rechargeable NiMH battery and cell phone batteries; solar power panels that are waterproof, shatterproof, and high performance with built-in UV inhibitors to reduce possibility of heat damage; solar cells function whenever the sun is shining and produce enough power (even in overcast weather) for direct play; four different power source options; four white LEDs, one red LED lights with magnifying lens for brighter, more powerful light source; emergency/SOS siren; rotary all-band selector knob; analog frequency dial and large, easy-to-read digital display, with green LED-illuminated backlighting; digital clock function; and connectors, with rubber gaskets/plugs to seal out moisture, for headphones, DC-in, USB phone charger, USB iPod charger. Dimensions are 8 1/2 x 7 3/4 x 2 1/2 inches (HWD); weight: 1.9 lbs.

The Etón FR500 sells for $80. For more information, visit www.etoncorp.com.

MFJ Weather-Proof Antenna Feedthrough Panels

MFJ Weather-Proof Antenna Feedthrough Panels mount on your windowsill and let you bring all your antenna connections into your listening post without drilling holes through walls—simply place the Panels on the sill and close the window. Suitable for any window up to 48 inches, they can be used horizontally or vertically. Made of high-quality pressure-treated 3/4-inch-thick wood for efficient insulation, the Panels are painted with a heavy coat of long-lasting white outdoor enamel and the edges are sealed with weather-stripping. Inside/outside stainless steel plates bond all coax shields together to ground connection; stainless steel ground post brings outside ground connection inside.

There are five models to choose from: the MFJ-4602 ($69.95) with three SO-239 Teflon coax connectors for HF/VHF/ UHF antennas; the MFJ-4601 ($59.95) with six Teflon SO-239 connectors, handles full 1500 watt legal limit; the MFJ-4603 ($89.95) with four 50 Ohm Teflon SO-239 coax connectors for full legal power limit; the MFJ-4604 ($99.95) with five Adaptive Cable Feedthrus; and the MFJ-4605 ($159.95), which combines the MFJ-4603 and MFJ-4604.

For more information, contact MFJ at 300 Industrial Park Road, Starkville, MS 397591; Phone: 800-647-1800; Web: www.mfjenterprises.com.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 



From Wright To Might—Pope Air Force Base And Fort Bragg

by Mark Meece, N8ICW


Of the 50 United States arguably North Carolina can lay claim to being the richest in terms of military history. With an extensive shoreline along the Atlantic and backed by ancient mountains to the west, the state offers a wide variety of terrain and climate—and military monitoring.

North Carolina was home to the first English colony in the Americas. Roanoke Island in Dare County was the site of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke Colony in the late 16th century. The settlers became more famously known as “The Lost Colony,” as their disappearance has never been explained, even some 400 years later. Some 100 years after that first settlement North Carolina became one of the original Thirteen Colonies. On May 20, 1861, it became the last confederate state to secede from the Union and was readmitted seven years later on July 4, 1868. But enough general history—let’s move on to its military story.

Over 100 Years Of Tar Heel Aviation

At Kill Devil Hills, near Kitty Hawk, the first successful controlled powered flight for a heavier-than-air craft took place on December 17, 1903. Of course, it was brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright behind that historic achievement.

Today, heirs to that watershed event are located on the northern edge of Fayetteville in Cumberland County, where Pope Air Force Base and the adjacent Fort Bragg Military Reservation together make up one of the world’s largest military installations. Pope Air Force Base itself covers some 2,194 acres; Pope’s jurisdiction includes 1,893 acres for the main base, Laketree Site and Railroad Yards (112 acres), New Munitions Storage Area (173 acres), Localizer Site (less than one acre), Middle Marker (two acres), Outer Marker (two acres), the MARS Station (less than one acre) and the Old Munitions Storage (10 acres). In all there are 460 buildings on the base, which supports a population of 4,700 military personnel and 1,150 dependents.

Pope falls under the Air Mobility Command (AMC) and specializes as Rapid Global Mobility, in addition to its support duties for Fort Bragg’s Airborne and Special Operations Paratroopers. Its C-130 aircraft are ready to go at a moment’s notice to provide support of people, equipment, and supplies anywhere in the world. The aircraft and personnel assigned to Pope not only provide support for combat operations, but also time and again provide humanitarian relief during disasters.

A Rich Military History

Congress created Camp Bragg in 1918 as an Army field artillery site. It was named for Confederate General Braxton Bragg, a former artillery officer from North Carolina. One year later an aviation landing field was constructed. “Pope Field” was officially established by the War Department in 1919 making it one of the oldest facilities in the Air Force. The field was named in honor of First Lieutenant Harley Halbert Pope who died when the JN-4 Jenny he was flying crashed into the Cape Fear River on January 7, 1919.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Okeechobee Silent For RTI, Welcome Radio Symban,

And A Big Congrats For Radio Sweden International

by Gerry L. Dexter


What’s this? Radio Taiwan International no longer relayed by WYFR-Okeechobee? So when you tune to 5950, 9680, and the other usual haunts RTI won’t come pounding through your speaker as though the transmitter was in your next door neighbor’s garage? Is this reduction only for English to North America? Or does it also apply to Chinese/Mandarin to North America, or Spanish to South America? How about WYFR’s relays to Asian targets via Taiwan? Stay tuned!

A new station is Radio Symban, near Sydney, Australia, now active on 2368.5 with just 1 kW from a place called Peats Ridge.

Another new entity is Sawtu Linjilla, operated by the Lutheran World Federation. It broadcasts in the Fulfulde language to Cameroon from 1830 to 1900 via Wertachtal on 9655. It can be addressed through the mail at B.P. 02, Ngaoundere, Cameroon.

Our congratulations to Radio Sweden International, celebrating its 70th birthday this year. With broadcasters collapsing all around we’re glad Radio Sweden is still plugging away! The “Global Information Guide” wishes you many more birthdays!

We can figure on a couple of new slots out of Canada shortly. The CBC is planning to make use of 7310, 7325, and 7345, although this would only be in effect for certain times of the year and then only for a few hours per day. There remains a formality or two before the change is implemented, but it very likely will get the okay and maybe already has.

Reader Logs

Remember, your shortwave broadcast station logs are always welcome. But please be sure to double or triple space between the items, list each one by its originating country, and include your last name and state abbreviation after each. Also much wanted are spare QSLs you don’t need returned, station schedules, brochures, pennants, station photos, and anything else you think would be of interest. I look forward to hearing from you.

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 indicated then English (EE) is assumed.

ALASKA—KNLS, Anchor Point, 7355 with “DX Corner” at 1430 and 11765 in CC at 0800. (Ng, Malaysia)

ALBANIA—Radio Tirana, 9390-Shijak ending EE at 0159. (Parker, PA) 13600-Shijak in EE at 2000. (Charlton, ON) 13640 at 1435. (Fraser, ME)

ALGERIA—RTV Algerienne, 7150 via Portugal in AA at 0401. (Parker, PA)

ANGOLA—Radio Nacional, 4950 in PP at 0251. (Brossell, WI)

ANGUILLA—Caribbean Beacon/University Network, 11775 with Dr. Scott at 0527. (MacKenzie, CA) 1845 with Melissa Scott preaching. (Maxant, WV)

ARGENTINA—Radio Nacional/RAE, 11710 sign on with multi-lingual IDs and into PP. Also 15345 at 2201 in SS. (Alexander, PA) 11710 piano music, new CD releases. (Paszkiewicz, WI) Argentine songs at 0327. Also 15345 in SS to Europe at 2245. (Parker, PA) 15345 in SS at 1755. (Maxant, WV) 2120 in GG. (Charlton, ON) SS at 2230 (MacKenzie, CA)

ASCENSION IS.—BBC South Atlantic Relay, 7160 at 0340. (MacKenzie, CA) 15400 at 1620. (Wood, TN) 7160 to West and Central Africa at 0536, 15400 at 2133, 17830 with soccer coverage at 1742 and 21470 to South Africa with “Sports World” at 1540. (Parker, PA) 15400 at 2009 and 17830 at 1920. (Charlton, ON)
AUSTRALIA—Radio Australia (Shepparton site except where noted), 6020 to PNG in Pidgin at 1050. (Fraser, ME) 0930 in Pidgin, also 11660-Brandon at 2059. (D’Angelo, PA) 9475 at 1225. (Strawman, IA) 9475 at 1200 and 17715 at 0030. (Ronda, OK) 9580 at 1810, 12010-Darwin at 2305, 12080 at 2220, 13630 at 2208, 15160 with sports coverage at 0550, 15515 at 0428 and 17785 at 2207. (MacKenzie, CA) 9590 at 1057 and 17785 at 2305. (Charlton, ON) 9660-Brandon at 0545, 13690 at 2304, 15230 with the “Breakfast Club” at 2239, 15240 at 0240, 15515 at 2158 and 17785 at 2315. (Parker, PA) 15515 with football at 0417. (Wood, TN) 11660 at 1845, 15240 at 0330 and 17750 at 2345. (Maxant, WV) 21725 with rugby report at 0205. (Ng, Malaysia)


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


The Election, Oil, And War: Airwaves Of Controversy

by Bruce A. Conti


Long distance radio broadcast listeners—DXers—are uniquely positioned to receive news and commentary from alternative sources. They’re fully aware that network newscasts from Western-centric media empires like ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, and NBC don’t always tell the entire story or provide adequate international coverage. DXers have learned to actively seek out information from external sources via radio and the Internet.

Here are a few examples, some from sources in direct opposition to the United States and, therefore, controversial, as the world awaits the 2008 U.S. Presidential election and gages its impact on oil prices and the war on terror.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia would seem like a logical place to start our journey thanks to its leading role in Middle East oil production. The Broadcast Service of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (BSKSA), also known as Radio Riyadh, operates megawatt-powered AM radio stations that have been received worldwide, yet it’s not known for the provocative propaganda that is often the primary purpose behind government broadcast institutions. Saudi Arabia is the home of Mecca, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the holiest city of the Islamic religion. Religious practices, such as praying facing Mecca at least five times a day, are strictly adhered. Censorship and prohibition laws as determined by the teachings of the Koran (or Quran), the holy book of Islam, are vigorously enforced by the government. This is, of course, reflected in the BSKSA radio program schedule with daily Koranic recitations and religious broadcasts. News reports of late have focused on oil production, crude oil prices, and economic relations with China. There seems to be only a passing interest in the U.S. presidential election as public political discourse is considered inappropriate.

Further censorship and government regulation of the media in Saudi Arabia could be eminent with the 2008 official opening of the National Media Archiving Center(www.nmac.info). “The center will provide organized and well-archived bibliographies and data of journalistic significance to the media industry in the Kingdom,” said Iyad Madani, Minister of Culture and Information, in response to concerns that the center would act as a new government regulatory agency rather than a media resource. The center monitors, collects, and catalogs broadcasts worldwide for the use of media subscribers in Saudi Arabia.

The BSKSA AM radio signal most often heard around the world by DXers operates at 1521 kHz with 2000 kW (that’s 2 MW!) of power from Duba on the Red Sea near Egypt. Other high-power BSKSA signals that are received regularly by North American DXers include 594 Duba (2000 kW), 1440 Dammam (1600 kW), and 1512 Jeddah (2000 kW), as well as shortwave broadcasts at 9555 and 9870 kHz. Although English is widely understood in Saudi Arabia, broadcasts are primarily in Arabic with an extremely limited foreign language program schedule.


A recent arms deal between Russia and Saudi Arabia leads us to Radio Moscow, the former shortwave strong-arm of Communism and the Soviet Union. The old Radio Moscow is now the Voice of Russia (www.ruvr.ru), but as the saying goes, the more things change the more they remain the same. While the transformation from Radio Moscow to the Voice of Russia has been remarkable, with programs like “The Christian Message from Moscow” among the new listener favorites, news and views typically counter to Western media accounts continue to be a mainstay of daily broadcasts and Internet reports. “A View from Moscow” commentaries have been highly critical of the Bush administration economic and foreign policies, addressing issues such as a failing U.S. economy, the war on terror, and the U.S. global missile defense plan.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Radio Fun And Going Back In Time

by R.B. Sturtevant, AD7IL


Q. I’ve monitored a lot of boats, merchant ships, and naval vessels in my time but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a submarine at sea. Why is that?

A. Well, for one thing everything about subs, in any navy, is top secret. They don’t want you listening in so they don’t make it easy. Sure, as a radio monitor you have the legal right to listen to any signal you are able to catch, but they know some stuff we don’t. Most messages from submarines are coded and then sent out in microsecond microburst signals that would probably sound like static, if you were tuned to the right frequency at the right millisecond.

The U.S. Navy, of course, has no trouble picking them up. They’ve been doing it on the old Soviet Union’s subs since the 1960s and before. At first they couldn’t decode the messages, but used the signals for direction finding and to keep track of the Soviet’s subs whereabouts. But that was more that 40 years ago. What can the Navy get from the same traffic today? Call the Pentagon, they won’t tell me.

Q. What kind of legacy has the use of Morse code left us?

A. CW, or Morse code, has been with us since 1844 and has changed history during that time. To give you some indication of just how important it’s been, some of its abbreviations have become part of our regular spoken language. Over time telegraph and radio operators used abbreviations to shorten the length of time it took to send or receive a message. For instance, “HQ” was never used for “Headquarters” before the key. “DX” for “distance” and “RE” for “concerning” as well as “ASAP” for “as soon as possible” have the same source. “SOS” could be considered a word. It never meant anything like “Save Our Ship,” but was something that would stand out, particularly if repeated three times, from regular traffic and be recognized as a distress signal.

The salutations “88” for “love and kisses” and “73” for “best wishes” or “good luck” both come from the Phillips code book, which was produced to standardize often-used phrases into numbers for speed. Some Football crowds have even stamped —… (7) …— (3) with their feet on the bleachers to encourage their teams. But don’t ask them why. Most don’t know.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


The Fall And Rise Of HF Radio, And Its Place Within The National Guard

by Mitch Gill, NA7US


The early 1980s saw the start of a quiet revolution that would soon change the world: the proliferation of the personal computer. And with its extraordinary growth, associated technology developed right along side it, including cell phones, satellite communications, and, of course, the Internet. Naturally, the military kept up with—or spearheaded—this growth, funding research to explore other areas of communications.

But back in those early days, high frequency (HF) communications was still an important means for the military to pass information over long distances. For instance, if a soldier were stationed overseas or in another state, he or she could avoid the expense of phone lines and make free calls home through the Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) at almost all military locations. Today, cell phones and the Internet, with its email, instant message, and VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) capabilities, have largely replaced MARS—even in a warzone soldiers have the Internet and cell phone access.

The technological change was so dramatic and promising that HF radio no longer seemed very relevant to many in the military. It was still used, but not to the extent as in the past. Most military MARS stations were shut down and the missions were taken over by affiliate stations (amateur radio operators who obtained a MARS license). Large military HF communication facilities, were downgraded or shut down entirely. After all, the first Gulf War had been broadcast live over satellite, and today the news can be shown live from anywhere in the world via a small satellite.

Who Needs It?

So why worry about HF? With all this wonderful technology it’s no longer needed. At least, that’s what the military thought and the government seemed to agreed. True, it’s no longer appropriate for HF to provide the primary communications source, but it was a big mistake to neglect it as a good backup. Technology had developed so fast that decision makers failed to recognize the trap they’d placed themselves in.

Illustrations of this shortsightedness can be found close to home—to my home, for instance. My telephone, cable TV, and Internet all come into my home over one cable. When a truck hit and knocked out the power in my neighborhood I was left with nothing but my cell phone and radios (which required a generator). I learned quickly; it took many years and some interesting problems that cropped up for the military and the government to realize that HF radio was still worth the investment.

Catastrophes That Could Have Been

Remember the Millennium Bug, when it was feared that all the computers and all the systems attached to them would crash worldwide? Well, the dire predictions came to naught, but—fortunately—the danger of the catastrophic effects of a massive computer failure made people start to realize how vulnerable we were. Besides all the other problems that would arise, our phones, cell phones, satellite systems, and almost all forms of long-haul communications could be lost.

Less than two months after the Millennium Bug scare, the State of Washington was hit with a large earthquake. All landlines, cell and satellite phones were either down or overloaded. Some systems were down for almost two hours. And how did the nation first hear of the earthquake? It was thanks to a local MARS operator who sent a message to the White House via HF radio.

Was that enough to spark a large investment in HF? The answer is no, but it did provide a start. Someone very smart—and thank you, whoever you are—in the National Guard Bureau (NGB) realized then that HF radio might be the “only” means of communications available in an emergency, and funding was made available to provide all the armories and air guard units with a 13.8 volt DC power supply and an HF radio programmed with several frequencies. Radio checks were initiated on a weekly basis to ensure that there would be at least some form of communication.

In my experience with the Washington State National Guard, the only problem was a lack of training about what to do if the power went out. Some armories did not have generators and most soldiers doing the radio checks had little or no experience with radios. A new training program that’s been initiated in our state should help alleviate that problem.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Log It Or Lose It!

by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ


If you’re a businessperson or a computer geek, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the new age of the “paperless office” for what seems like (and may actually be) decades. Regardless of when you first heard the buzz, the coming Golden Age is reportedly just around the corner and promises to free us of the drudgery of keeping paper documents and forms. Desks will shrink and filing cabinets will be found only in museums. As the pitch goes, we’ll save time, trees, and trouble.

Ham radio is at a similar juncture with QSL cards, logbooks, books in general, and magazines. The digital era definitely saves shelf space. You can carry around 500 radio and electronics books, a half-century of ham magazines, and digitally compressed recordings of every QSO you made over the past 10 years in a single iPod—with room for a few music videos and all of Billboard’s Top Ten.

That convenience comes at a price, however, and I’ve ranted about this before. Even though I use digital documents on a daily basis, there’s a certain tactile, visceral connection that humans have to things printed on paper, whether glossy and hi-res, or ancient and smelly. (Actually, this connection may only be relevant to people born between 5000 BC and 1990 AD, although I’d like to think that the special connection exists for everyone, even kids born with USB ports behind their ears.)
Storage issues aside, if I have the choice between reading an electronic copy of a ham book or magazine or the real thing, I’ll take the real thing, hands down. And if it smells a bit musty—an unmistakable, but not unpleasant, odor that hints at the book’s age and place in the universe—so much the better. Add in the tactile feeling of the pages and the binding and you’re now experiencing printed material much like the pharaohs of Egypt, the rishis of India, the Greeks, the Romans, Marconi, Maxim, and the Japanese engineers who designed the Kenwood TS-520! There’s a lineage there that’s best not forgotten.

The challenge is, we want the speed, capacity, and search capabilities of computers, but we don’t necessarily want to lose the superior presentation of the printed page (or printed logbook). That’s the dilemma I find myself in now. I just ran out of printed, blank logbooks. I still remember stocking up on them in 1991, dreading the day when I would run out, yet hoping computerized logging would advance sufficiently to handle things to my satisfaction.

Well, that day hasn’t yet arrived, unfortunately, and I’m once again torn between converting to sterile, yet speedy, computer logs, buying more logbooks, or kludging some interim solution. I chose the latter, for now, while I play around with software logs in search of the Holy Grail. I found a blank logbook page and scanned it. I then printed 25 copies and punched them for a three-ring binder.

The crazy scheme I invented as a teenager to track QSL card “send-sent-received-tallied-tracked” status still works today (somewhat), but it’s not terribly efficient. Computerizing my log data would make short order of some QSL tracking chores, but it doesn’t provide any warm fuzzies. And what if my data becomes toast? A lifetime of ham radio goodness down the drain? I still can’t get past that...

As a veteran PC tech, I know the necessity of redundant data back-ups and all that jazz, but I also know that the archival storage qualities of disks, tapes, and hard drives are pretty abysmal when we’re talking about preserving important information for 50 to 100 years or more. Until we get affordable, impervious, long-term storage media—such as crystal holography, which presently exists but is still too expensive—nothing beats paper, which can survive for 1,000 years or more in ideal conditions.

Your logging preferences may be different than mine, however, so let’s examine ham radio logging this month and see where it takes us.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 



Substorm Mysteries Are Studied As The Earth Takes A Couple Of Plasma Bullets

by Tomas Hood, NW7US


On February 26, 2008, the Arctic skies were dark and Earth’s magnetic field was quiet with very little activity. High above the planet, the five THEMIS (an acronym for Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms) satellites had just arranged themselves in a line down the middle of Earth’s magnetotail—a million-kilometer-long tail of magnetism pulled into space by the action of the solar wind.

All of the sudden, an explosion that released about 1015 joules of energy (about as much energy as a magnitude 5 earthquake) halfway up the THEMIS line (see Figure 1). The blast launched two “plasma bullets,” huge clouds of protons and electrons. One bullet was shot straight toward Earth, and the other away. When the Earth-bound plasma bullet hit Earth, it triggered aurora.

We know that space is not a vacuum, at least not in our solar system. The sun’s atmosphere actually extends very far out from the sun. Space in our system is filled with plasma, a low-density gas in which the individual atoms are charged. The temperature of the sun’s atmosphere is so high that the its gravity cannot hold on to it. The plasma streams off of the sun in all directions at speeds of about 400 kilometers per second (about 1 million miles per hour). This is known as the solar wind.
The solar wind buffets the Earth’s magnetic field and can produce storms, or more properly, substorms, in the Earth’s magnetosphere. Until this explosion was witnessed first-hand, however, scientists did not understand the full mechanics of how substorms occurred.

The Earth has a magnetic field with a north and a south pole that is enclosed within a region surrounding the Earth called the magnetosphere. As the Earth rotates, its hot core generates strong electric currents that produce these magnetic fields, which reach 36,000 miles into space. The solar wind distorts the shape of the magnetosphere by compressing it at the front and causing a long tail to form on the side away from the sun; this is the magnetotail.

The ionosphere is affected by these changes, either by an increase of ionization, or a decrease or even a depletion of ionization. Depressions in ionospheric density cause major communications problems because radio frequencies that previously had been refracting off the ionosphere now punch through. The Maximum Usable Frequency (MUF) on a given radio signal path can be decreased by a factor of two during an ionospheric substorm event. Storm effects are more pronounced at high latitudes.

These substorms are often accompanied by aurora. The aurora is caused by the interaction of plasma raining down through the atmosphere, riding along the magnetic field lines that run from Earth’s magnetic poles. Substorms produce dynamic changes in these auroral displays seen near Earth’s northern and southern magnetic poles, causing a burst of light and movement in the northern and southern lights. These changes transform auroral displays into auroral eruptions.

To understand why, take a look at a neon light. When a neon light is energized, you’re looking at an interaction of electrons with the plasma inside the tube. Plasma conducts electricity, and is also steered by magnetic fields. On a much larger scale, the solar plasma riding the solar wind is shaped by the interaction of the magnetic field lines found in the magnetosphere.

The explosion observed in February happened inside Earth’s magnetic field, but it was actually a release of energy from the sun. When the solar wind stretches Earth’s magnetic field, it stores energy there, in much the same way energy is stored in a rubber band when you stretch it between your thumb and forefinger.
Bend your forefinger and—crack!—the rubber band snaps back on your thumb. Something similar happened inside the magnetotail. Over-stretched magnetic fields snapped back, producing a powerful explosion. This process is called magnetic reconnection, and it is thought to be common in stellar and planetary magnetic fields (Figure 2).


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Time To Dust Off Your Old Radios

by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ


A lot has changed in the radio hobby over the slightly more than two and a half decades that have passed during the lifetime of Popular Communications, and radio equipment has certainly evolved. But just because something is more than a couple of decades old doesn’t make it useless! Many of you (myself included) are much older than that…and you are reading this magazine, aren’t you? Those old radios from the early 1980s still have their place in the shack, too.

I recall that in 1982 the Sony ICF-6500W (Photo A) had just hit the market. A dual-conversion portable covering .53–1.605, 3.9–10, 11.7–20 and 20–28 MHz plus the FM broadcast band, the ICF-6500W had an analog dial along with an LCD digital frequency display. When new, these radios sold for about $210 to $270. I recently saw one of these for sale on an online auction site for less than $40.

Now, when we compare the relatively limited capabilities of such a radio from 1982 to the DC-to-daylight multimode super receivers of today, there’s a definite tendency to dismiss such old radios as “boat anchors”—this is, after all, a portable radio that weighs four pounds. Nonetheless, at 1.5x6.75x4.2 inches I find it difficult to call this one a boat anchor (for a real boat anchor portable, see Photo B, which shows a Zenith Transoceanic Y-600 next to a more modern portable for comparison). Besides, once properly aligned, the ICF-6500W is arguably still among the top 10 portable radios ever for mediumwave DXers (even though it doesn’t cover the expanded AM band) because of its good selectivity and sensitivity.

Also typical of 1982 is the Radio Shack DX-302 shown in Photo C. Virtually identical in appearance to the DX-300 here in my shack (of which the DX-302 is a descendant), the DX-302 covered 10 kHz to 30 MHz in AM/SSB modes and was a $400 radio when new. These were manufactured for Radio Shack by GRE (yes, that GRE!) and feature the same Wadley loop design as the legendary Yaesu FRG-7 (and the Sears version thereof shown in last month’s column). Therefore (again, when properly aligned), these are very stable receivers despite the 1960s design—in days gone by, many SWLs used to use an AEA interface and a Commodore computer to run CW and RTTY decoders with the DX-302.

These radios feature a preselector that you must tune along with the main tuning control and fine tuning knob, so they aren’t great band-scanners, but they do supply plenty of excellent sounding audio from their front-firing speakers, and they offer surprising sensitivity. These features have made these radios a great addition to many listeners’ shacks as a backup receiver and for listening to music broadcasts. Even today, there’s no reason you can’t pipe the audio from a DX-302 into a SignaLink USB interface (again featured in last month’s issue as a “Tech Showcase”) and use it to decode various digital modes. And, unlike the DX-300, the wide/narrow switch on the DX-302 selects an IF filter (the switch on the DX-300 controlled an audio filter), yielding a narrower receive bandwidth that also facilitates digital work.

Not that long ago, I hauled my DX-300 out of a closet. Grabbing a three-foot AC power cord that had been salvaged from a discarded device, I did a quick-and-dirty conversion to a very short dipole antenna. Connecting this to the back of my DX-300, I tuned 5696.0 kHz in USB and left it there for a few hours, listening to the USCG Communications Area Master Station Atlantic (CAMSLANT) in Virginia during the late evening here in my northeastern U.S. QTH. The DX-300 stayed dead on frequency the entire time.

Now, to be sure, these rigs take a bit more effort to tune (four controls that you must manipulate to tune a station due to the Wadley loop design, or five if you’re not in AM mode and must include the BFO), but for a rig you can find on the used market for $125 or so, it’s a solid performer. Furthermore, if you’ve done your part to learn to tune a Wadley loop receiver, there are some neat tricks you can pull off with that preselector. You can often use it as the main tuner for extremely strong signals; for example, it allows me to have both WWV on 10 MHz and the extremely strong 50-kW local broadcaster WWKB on 1520 kHz coming out of the speaker at the same time. Try doing that with one of today’s digital receivers and let us know how it works out for you!


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Revenge Of The Dummies

by Bill Price, N3AVY


It was a dark and stormy night. What a great opening line. It was dark, but fortunately for thousands of celebrants around the world, it was not stormy; it was Halloween!

I’ve had the wits (what little remain) scared out of me countless times by motion-sensing spooky devices like vampires, Frankenstein monsters, ghosts, werewolves, and things I can’t identify. The Halloween season brings them out into the stores, and each year they become more and more affordable until everyone has two or three near his or her doorstep or front porch.

I believe that we get only so many heartbeats in this life, and since mine seems to beat faster than others’, I suspect my time here may be proportionally shorter. I believe, too, that we only get so many really intense scares that we can live through before, as Fred Sanford would say, “The Big One.”

This was the year that I’d give someone else the big one—for a change.

To set the stage, my smarter brother Mycroft Price was out doing whatever 12-year-olds do on a long-ago Halloween night, which included stealing dummies from people’s yards and porches and putting them on other people’s porches. Always good for a laugh—and not something a person could generally be arrested for. He and some friends had relocated perhaps 20 dummies, and they were walking past a rural nursing home when he found yet another dummy lying by the side of the road. It was dark, and they had no flashlights.

He stopped, reached down and grabbed the dummy’s arm and pulled, and said to his friends in a hoarse whisper, “Hey—this is the heaviest dummy I’ve ever found!”
It was at that moment that my younger brother had his first brush with a heart attack, because the dummy scolded him and said, “Let go of me! I’m no dummy!”

Their screams blended in with the sounds of other kids in the neighborhood, and were not taken too seriously. By this time, the woman, who was indeed not a dummy, had told them she lived in that nursing home and she was out for a walk and had fallen.

Two of the boys stayed with her while my now-composed brother went to the door of the nursing home and tried to explain to a nurse that one of their patients was lying on the ground by the side of the road. They would not believe him.

I guess I wouldn’t either. He begged them to go look; they wouldn’t. He begged them to take a bed check; they wouldn’t. Finally he called to his friends and asked them for the woman’s name. She gave it to them, and when they called it out, the nurse at the door said something that could be construed as a short prayer in some religions, and called for two helpers with a wheelchair and some flashlights to rescue the poor woman. She was unhurt, and she had a good enough sense of humor to get a chuckle out of how she scared the boys.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications