TUNING IN (PDF)

 

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C. Crane’s CC Witness

MP3 Recorder With AM/FM Radio

 


NEWSWORTHY

Unwired

The Weirder Side Of Wireless

 

Paparazzi Pump Up

Yahoo! may be locked in a struggle against other giants of Internet search engines, but it still manages to make the world a cozier place for the rest of us through the big business of social networking. The company has introduced what it’s billing as the “World’s First Photo-Taking GPS Bike.” Described as a “social networking bike,” it features a GPS-enabled camera, mounted on the handlebars, that automatically takes a photo every 60 seconds, geo-tags it, and uploads the pictures to Yahoo’s photo website, Flickr. A GPS map allows the curious (with plenty of time on their hands) to follow the rider’s travels. There are currently 20 of these solar panel-powered bikes in North America, Europe, and Asia, but Yahoo stated that it would give away more bikes through a contest planned for October through its website.

Crime May Pay After All

You’ve just been pulled over for using your cell phone in your car without a hands-free device? Cheer up! Headsets.com, an online retailer of telephone headsets says it’s offering a free cell phone headset to anyone who sends it a copy of their traffic citation for making calls while driving. According to the company’s website: “If you have been cited under one of the growing number of laws requiring the use of a headset while driving, we want to give you a FREE Plantronics Discovery 925 Bluetooth headset. Offer valid for the first 734 tickets.
 

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NEWSWORTHY

InfoCentral

News, Trends, And Short Takes

by D. Prabakaran

 

U.S. Helps Georgian Radio, TV Stations Get Back On Air

The United States stepped in to help Georgia restore key radio and television stations bombed and looted during recent hostilities with Russia. The assistance will help the stations resume broadcasting reliable and unbiased news to residents, according to the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. Together the stations had been reaching 30 percent of Georgia before the conflict began.

In Abkhazia, one of Georgia’s disputed regions, most information has been strictly controlled by the region’s authorities. During recent bombing by Russian forces and others, Voice of Abkhazia’s broadcast towers in the cities of Gori, near South Ossetia, and Zugdidi, outside Abkhazia, suffered damage. The station had provided an alternative to the media controlled by Abkhaz authorities.

The U.S. Embassy awarded a grant to Voice of Abkhazia allowing it to replace one of its bombed transmitters and replace several other damaged parts. With that assistance, the station was able to go back on the air. Looting of broadcast stations in Georgia left several without equipment needed to reach the public. The grant was one of the embassy’s Democracy Commission grants, which award up to $24,000 to nongovernmental, nonprofit organizations working to pursue democratic development.

Other stations receiving assistance are Radio Atinati in Zugdidi, which broadcasts to about 500,000 listeners, and Radio Trialeti, with facilities in Gori and the only local radio broadcaster in the Shida Kartli region, which has a population of 450,000 residents including 30,000 people newly displaced from their homes in villages near South Ossetia. (Source: US Department of State)

RNW Ends Shortwave Broadcasts To North America

Radio Netherlands Worldwide has decided to end shortwave broadcasts to North America after a survey indicated a decline in listeners. The programs will still be offered through live streams, podcasts, satellite, and Sirius Radio. Many listeners are unhappy with the decision, saying they don’t have the alternatives that others have, or don’t want to be tied to a computer.

The distribution for North America, from October 26, is as follows:

www.radionetherlands.nl/ offering live streams, on-demand and via podcast;

• 24 hours a day direct to home (DTH) via AMC-4 satellite;
 

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NEWSWORTHY

Washington Beat

Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications

by Richard Fisher, KI6SN

 

FCC Considers Nationwide Emergency Communications Plan

The Federal Communications Commission approved a new initiative for the development of a nationwide emergency communications network, according to published reports, amid concerns that a difficult economy may make it hard to attract investors. The Associated Press in September said that it was the Commission’s second attempt to create a set of rules for the network, which would use public airwaves and private money. An earlier attempt in 2008 failed to attract a bidder.

“The new framework includes more detail and makes the plan more attractive to private companies in several areas,” the AP report said. “The proposed network would be used by police, firefighters and other emergency crews responding to disasters or terrorist attacks.”

Under the plan, the FCC would auction a range of frequencies to a private bidder. That spectrum was made available through the transition to digital broadcasting. It would be “combined with a roughly equal portion of airwaves controlled by a public safety trust,” the AP said. “The private investor would build a wireless network and lease access to emergency responders while selling wireless service to commercial users for profit.” In March 2008, the earlier plan failed to attract a minimum bid of $1.3 billion, with interested parties saying “the proposal was too vague and too risky to serve as the basis of a multibillion-dollar investment.”


Ideally, a new network will help solve the problem of public safety organizations not being able to communicate with one another, the AP report said. “It also would avail emergency personnel of many advances in wireless technology that are accessible to commercial users.”

A national network could cost between $6 billion and $7 billion, the FCC said, but private sector estimates are more than double that amount. Even with Commission approval, such a network would be years away.

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Newsworthy

Horizons

Whither HD Radio?

by Rob de Santos

 

Have you listened to HD Radio yet? If your answer is no, you’re far from alone. Most residents of the United States have yet to hear it. But if you listen to the AM (mediumwave) or FM bands here you may have heard the promotional spots that are running on over 700 stations nationwide. The HD Radio Alliance has indicated that it expects to spend $57 million in the current effort to raise awareness and demand for HD Radio. The advertising campaign is designed to build demand for the radios and increase the numbers of listeners to measurable levels. Let’s take a look at where HD radio stands right now and where it’s going.

What is HD radio? For starters, the HD does not mean “High Definition”; it’s merely an advertising takeoff on the TV angle. Some claim it means “Hybrid Digital,” but in reality it’s no more than a marketing slogan. The idea of bringing digital audio to the mediumwave and FM bands is a good one, but the concept of “In Band On Channel” or IBOC (where the digital signal is overlaid on the analog signal) was always controversial, especially because of potential interference associated with skywave propagation during the nighttime on AM (more on this later). One company, Ibiquity, has exclusive rights to produce and market the underlying technology. This means that every station that wishes to broadcast in HD must buy Ibiquity-licensed equipment and every radio must have Ibiquity-approved computer chips. (Ibiquity does not allow the decoding to be done via software, which is a major price handicap to the technology.)

Today more than 1,750 U.S. stations (about 13 percent of all stations) have an HD signal on the air with some 83 percent of the population within range of at least one HD channel. Many of the FM stations subdivide their HD signal into multiple “channels,” so the number of channels available is over 2,550. The radios are becoming increasingly available as options on many automobiles (or can be added aftermarket). Desktop radios are also increasing in number and are available in many electronics stores. Prices range from $99 (half that with a rebate) and up. The average model is in the $100 to $200 range. At the 2008 CEDIA (Custom Design & Installation Association) electronics show, held in early September, there was plenty of evidence that HD capability is becoming standard in the mid and upper price ranges of home entertainment equipment. Many mainstream retailers, including Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target, and Apple stores, now carry HD radios. But even as the digital format is spreading, most stations in the United States are not in HD today and won’t be any time soon.

What are the plusses and minuses of HD Radio? We’ll start with the negatives.

The further you are from a major city the less likely you are to have access to HD Radio. The effective range of HD stations is often only 50 to 70 percent of their analog counterparts, so if you’re at the fringe of the analog signal, your HD radio may not be able to decode the signal. This is partly the result of the very low power levels currently in use for HD broadcasting. The sound quality is a major improvement over analog radio, but it has its limits. The bandwidth for HD in FM is 96 kb/s. If the station offers two or three HD feeds, that bandwidth is divided, so it’s possible you’ll see only 32 kb/s for a given channel. By comparison, the CD equivalent is about 150 kb/s.
 

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Holiday Hobby Gifts

Still Stumped For Ideas? Gordo Offers Some Up—From Free To Generous—Taken From His Store Of Experience

by Gordon West, WB6NOA

 

When I’m out in radioland, doing convention and seminars, I’m frequently asked, “What gear do you use or recommend?” There’s so much great stuff out there that runs the gamut from A (“Absolutely free!”) to Z (“Zounds, a little steep, but I must have it!”) that it’s hard to know where to begin. But if you’re looking to give yourself (or someone else, of course) a holiday treat, or if you’re just in the market for equipment advice to keep in mind for the coming year, here are plenty of goodies to keep on eye (or an ear) out for!

Great Books Make Great Stocking Stuffers

Each year, at the Dayton Hamvention, I spend some time in the Universal Radio exhibit, listening to the staff’s sound advice about scanners and ham gear. The company’s Universal Radio Inc. Communications Catalog is 100-plus pages of its own well-written product descriptions, and most important, product and accessory photos along with the selling price. Some catalogs leave you to search for the price in the back of the book; others flatly omit suggested pricing, instead simply giving an Internet address.

Universal’s Communications Catalog is available—free—by calling (800) 431-3939 or visiting www.universal-radio.com. Tell them Gordon West and Pop’Comm sent you and be sure to say Hi to all the friendly people in the catalog department. Fred Osterman, N8EKU, president of Universal Radio, is always available for one-on-one advice, backed up by Harleigh in Technical Service. Get (or give) your own copy of the catalog—it’s the best!

For beginners just getting started in radio, the inimitable Ward Silver has written Two-Way Radios and Scanners for Dummies. It’s a fun and breezy in-depth look at 20 different types of scanning and two-way radio receivers, but it also offers lots of technical stuff, like precise frequencies for FRS and GMRS, and little-known Web addresses that get you tuned in to specific receiver projects. Ward Silver, who is also the author of Ham Radio for Dummies, makes the technical info easy to understand. The book, chock full of illustrations and photos, is an absolute keeper. Two-Way Radios and Scanners for Dummies is published by Wiley Publishing (www.wiley.com), with a cover price of $22, but is advertised for less on the Web.

Kenwood, so far, remains the leader in Automatic Packet/Position Reporting System (APRS)-ready radios (we’re still anxiously awaiting the Yaesu VX-8R APRS handheld that will tie in a GPS engine built in to the remote mic). Kenwood now offers a new book specifically written for its new mobile transceiver, the TM-D710A/E dual bander, which is a quantum leap above the company’s earlier D700. The book offers terrific info on APRS operation, written by Bob Bruninga, WB4APR, Mr. GPS himself!
 

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IN GEAR

Tech Showcase

C. Crane’s CC Witness
MP3 Recorder With AM/FM Radio

by Gordon West, WB6NOA

 

C. Crane Company continues to dazzle radio enthusiasts with gadgets we can’t (at least don’t want to) live without. At last year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the C. Crane booth was previewing new products for the end of this year, and they’re now delivering.

Jessica Gillette, C. Crane’s marketing genius, recently said to me, “Gordo, your ham radio presentations are dynamite, but you gotta up the quality of your recorded radio playback calls, and we have the products to help.” I took this sound advice to heart, and I’m glad I did.

Realizing that cassette record and playback equipment may not be available for very much longer, I quickly bought the company’s VersaCorder cassette player. It has so much audio output power—and a giant speaker—that I no longer needed to demo my audio with an added amplifier! But I really needed to step into the digital world for new over-the-air recordings, so I scooped up C. Crane’s latest product, the CC Witness, an MP3 recorder-player with built-in AM/FM radio.

Out Of The Box

The CC Witness was shipped with the standard 2 GB internal flash memory, and it will take up to 16 GB extended memory with an optional SD card. The internal 2 GB was plenty to give me hours of recording and playback time for those exciting ham radio emergency calls I was recording during the recent hurricanes.

The first step in getting up and running is to charge the internal lithium-polymer battery pack, a simple matter of using the included USB cable that plugs into your computer USB cable port. You can also “speed charge” the internal battery by using an optional adapter. The only downside I discovered with the optional AC adapter was the telltale buzz on the AM band. But that needn’t be a problem since on a fully charged battery, the little CC Witness will offer up to 14 hours of playback and about eight hours of continuous recording.

Okay, battery charged up? Time to go to the MENU screen and hold the PLAY button for two seconds to turn the power ON. Bingo! You can now keystroke select AM radio, FM full stereo receive and stereo record, view and play files and recordings, view configuration settings, review and set timer settings, and with a single keystroke begin recording radio sounds with the built-in microphone or, for better recordings, using the line/mic input jacks.
 

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Winterizing Your Listening Station

The Time Is Ripe For Protecting “Your
Ears” For Winter Radio Enjoyment

by Chip Margelli, K7JA

 

We’ve all been there…it’s 0959 UTC, you’ve been up half the night, but you’re excited because it’s almost time for the ID from the elusive Voice of Weaksigistan on 49 meters. As the last few seconds tick away on the clock, you hear a gust of wind outside, and then, suddenly, your receiver goes dead. “Aaarrrggghhh!” Your long-wire antenna just broke in the wind!

Situations like this are largely avoidable, if you take some simple steps to winterize your antenna system. A little preventive maintenance will keep your antenna up through the winter storms, and you’ll bag all those juicy loggings that only show up during the winter months. Read on for one antenna guru’s (if I do say so myself!) practical tips on winterizing your listening station.

When To Winterize?

Although late summer would seem like an ideal time to winterize, I always recommend to my non-arctic friends that they wait until the November-December time frame, if at all possible. Why wait?

For starters, the worst winter weather, including below-freezing temperatures, will undoubtedly occur beginning in December. If you do get some water into a connector during a fall rainstorm, it’s better to clean everything out before the freezing starts, to avoid damage to cables and connectors caused by expansion and contraction during freezing weather. Secondly, a little autumn rain will wash off wires and insulators for you, making it easier to identify problem areas in need of attention. And, finally, if you’re using a tree for a support, it’s a lot easier to work through branches once the leaves have fallen!

Your local climate will determine the optimum timing for winterizing, of course, but try to wait as long as is reasonably practicable so your protection work will be as new and robust as possible when the weather really turns rough.

Protecting Wires And Insulators

Antenna wires, and the insulators that secure them, are the most vulnerable components of a listening station. Let’s look at what we need to protect as winter weather approaches.

Antenna wires, themselves, seldom break. The wire types used by most shortwave listeners have excellent resiliency, tolerating the stress of flexing in the wind without much difficulty. However, when we do things like soldering the ends at an insulator, splicing two pieces of wire together to make a longer piece, or soldering multiple wires at a center insulator, we change the metallurgical characteristics of the wire, introducing rigidity where it didn’t exist before. Also, the chemistry of a soldered connection, when exposed to air, can significantly increase the risk of breakage as dissimilar metals react with the atmosphere.
 

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 SCANNING

ScanTech

Up Close: The ICOM IC-PCR2500 Part II—Managing Frequency Information

by Ken Reiss
 

Last month we took a look at the IC-PCR2500 computer-controlled receiver from ICOM. This month, we’ll concentrate on the frequency management capabilities built into both the software and hardware of the system.

You may remember that the PCR2500 is really two receivers in one: a completely computer controlled black box receiver and a standalone receiver that’s controlled by a head that plugs into the black box. This control head is perfect for mobile use, and features a nice long cable for remote operation, allowing the box to be installed almost anywhere in a vehicle. Unfortunately, the control head doesn’t quite have the same capabilities or memory storage capacity as the software when the unit is under computer control. We’ll look at that later.

Computer Control

Under computer control, there is a fairly impressive database built into the software. Keeping track of frequency data, or to be more precise, what user is on what frequency and for what purpose, is about half the game in the scanning hobby. The PC software from ICOM features 25 banks of 100 channels each for standard scan memories, and an additional 100 memories used for setting scan edges. This set of memories can be saved as an mch (memory channel file) on your hard drive. There is no limit to how many of these files can be saved other than how much hard drive space you have.

Selecting the third button on the left of the control panel (see Figure 1) will bring you to the memory editor. It looks and works pretty much like a spreadsheet with lists of frequencies and other related information.

The first thing to do is select a bank and give it a label. You do this from the numerical selector just below the view menu (Figure 2) and the name is assigned to the right of that. You can now use the name list to select banks as well, making it very easy to maneuver around once you have a completed list. It’s also worth naming your banks because the name shows up in the receiver screen as well, just above the frequency (Figure 3).

Now we’re ready to begin to enter the actual data on the memory channel editor screen (Figure 4). Down the left column is a numbered list representing the 100 channels in this bank (note that it starts with 0). Columns of information follow for the Name, Sub Name, Frequency, and other information you’d expect to find in control software for a receiver. The Name can be as long as 64 characters and is used for display on the computer-generated screens of the software, while the Sub Name is a six-character abbreviation used for display on the external hardware controller of the PCR2500 or PCR1500 (more about that next month). Double clicking on the cell you wish to change will put you in edit mode.

One nice feature is the ability to choose a font size for the layout of the spreadsheet (Figure 5). Using the larger size (Figure 6) makes it easy for even us old-timers to read without eyestrain on today’s crowded monitors.
 

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THE PRACTICAL SIDE

The Propagation Corner

Double Dipping In The Sunspot Cycle

by Tomas Hood, NW7US

 

In past editions of this column, we saw that Solar Cycle 23 had two peaks of activity as seen in the plots of monthly smoothed sunspot counts (Figure 1). The first peak occurred in April 2000 with a smooth sunspot count of 120.8, and the second peak of 115.5 occurred in November 2001. Such double peaks have been seen during other solar cycles.

Is it possible that there could be two solar minimums as well? As we watch the progress of the sun’s activity between Cycles 23 and 24, we see one minimum occurring for October 2007 with a monthly observed sunspot count of 0.9 and a second for July and August 2008, with the monthly observed count each of 0.5 (Figure 2). This double minimum has been observed during other solar minimum periods in the past as well.

As scientists speculate with various mathematical formulas trying to fit past patterns into possible prediction models for Solar Cycle 24’s likely curves, some are still holding to the prediction that Cycle 24 will be as strong as Cycle 23, if not stronger.

Interestingly, this “double dipping” may lend support to the earlier prediction that Cycle 24 will be an intense cycle. The most prominent forecast was based on the model created by Mausumi Dikpati of the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s High Altitude Observatory in Boulder, Colorado. This model was used retrospectively to “forecast” the last eight solar cycles, and it did so perfectly. Since then, the consensus moved away from this and broke into two camps. Both camps feel that the next cycle is going to be moderate or weak. A new forecast is pending, as scientists wait for the sun to begin demonstrating renewed and increasing activity. However, I still hold with Dikpati’s model, as do a few leading solar scientists. Solar Cycle 24 is beginning and may well hold a powerful punch. Stay tuned to this column each month as we plot out the progress of Solar Cycle 24.

HF Propagation

The autumn DX season is in full swing! Listeners throughout the Northern Hemisphere are actively chasing mediumwave DX of AM broadcast stations from all over North, Central, and South America, and from Europe and Asia (more on this below). It’s easier to catch such difficult signals this season because conditions now are most favorable to propagation of this spectrum of the radio frequencies. Shortwave DX is hot, too, especially on the mid- to low-HF bands from early evening until late at night, and then again from early morning through high noon.

December 21 marks the start of winter, with the sun sitting at its yearly southern-most point in the sky. This, of course, is the Winter Solstice, the day with the shortest daylight period of the year for observers situated north of the equator.

Long hours of darkness make for a less-energized ionosphere. Since the D layer of the ionosphere is less ionized during the winter, mediumwave and the lower shortwave frequencies are generally less absorbed by the D layer than during the summer season. Because of this, mediumwave frequencies are propagated by the E and F layers better during the winter than during the summer. Additionally, the seasonal decrease in weather-related noise makes it easier to hear the weaker DX signals on the lower frequencies. With thunderstorms few and far between, storm-related static and noise is greatly reduced.
 

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 IN GEAR

Power Up

New, Interesting, And Useful Communications Products

by Staff

 

ICOM’s IC-RX7 Scanner

Brand new from ICOM is the IC-RX7, a slim (less than an inch wide) wideband receiver that tunes from 150 kHz to 1300 MHz (cellular blocked in the U.S.) in AM, FM and FM Wide modes. Designed with racecar fans in mind, it is capable of storing the entire race field in an easy-to-access way and is ICOM’s first scanner with an IPX4 water resistant rating. It features a menu-driven user interface; four-way cursor buttons on the front panel; one-touch search button and one-touch scan button; and 1,600 memory channels in a three-level memory management system (classifiable by Category, Group, or Memory Name). Optional PC programming software is available. The IC-RX7 comes with a lithium ion battery, built-in ferrite rod antenna, and AC adapter. It weighs just over 7 ounces when fitted with antenna and battery.

MSRP on the IC-RX7 is $369.99, but it is available through dealers for less. For more information, visit www.icomamerica.com.

Sony XDR-F1HD

Radio hobbyists now have an HD radio choice that comes in at under $100 with the Sony XDR-F1HD, which receives all AM and FM HD Radio modes, including multicasts as well as analog AM and FM. The XDR-F1HD tuner transforms an existing audio system with an auxiliary input into an HD Radio receiver. Its high-fidelity HD Radio technology provides clear digital radio reception without monthly subscription fees, and a backlit full dot matrix LCD display provides music information, including artist names and song titles plus radio station names and genres, where available. It offers 20 station presets, audio out jack, FM dipole antenna, AM loop antenna, and a wireless remote for full access to all features. Dimensions (approx.): 7 1/8 x 2 3/8 x 6 3/8 inches not including projecting parts and controls; weight (approx.): 2 pounds, 6.8 ounces.

MSRP is $99.99, but it is available through dealers for less. For more information, visit www.sonystyle.com.
 

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BROADCASTING

Broadcast Technology

The DTV Transition Is Looming—Time To Hit The Panic Button

by Bruce A. Conti
 

Are you ready for DTV? The well-advertised February 17, 2009, deadline is fast approaching, when terrestrial analog television signals in the United States will cease operation in favor of all-digital broadcasting. For many viewers who subscribe to cable, satellite, and other delivery services, the change will be invisible. Subscription television services should continue to provide local broadcast channels without interruption.

But for those who currently receive free analog television broadcasts over the airwaves using rabbit ears or an outdoor antenna, a digital television receiver or digital converter box will be required after February 17 for continued reception of local broadcast TV stations. If you’ve been contemplating an upgrade from analog to digital, now’s the time to get started, because making the switch may not be as simple as just buying a converter box or new TV.

The September 2008 issue of Pop’Comm offered a good overview of the DTV transition (“Countdown To Digital Television” by Don Rotolo, N2IRZ) and some easy antenna suggestions (Kent Britain’s “The Antenna Room” column), but it’s a hot topic and a lot of confusion remains, so let’s take some time to revisit the changeover here, with an eye toward some possible pitfalls (plus some DX catches).

Terrestrial Transition Troubles

Despite efforts by the FCC and broadcasters to educate the public about the DTV transition, it appears that many consumers, and even consumer electronics retailers, are unprepared for the change. For example, when I inquired about the converter boxes on display in the electronics department of a local Wal-Mart store, a sales associate told me, “A lot of people are returning the boxes because they don’t work. They don’t realize that the boxes won’t work until February 2009.” I asked a sales person in home electronics at Target about outdoor antennas and he replied, “Oh, those are seasonal items. We won’t have any in stock until spring.” Apparently he thought the outdoor antennas would be arriving with the next shipment of patio furniture, barbecues, and sundry outdoor items. I’m not making this up, he really said that!

Nationwide electronics chain stores like Best Buy, Circuit City, and RadioShack were also found to be poorly prepared for the transition. Converter boxes sold at these stores featured a “Smart Antenna” interface, yet none of the sales people knew anything about it. Furthermore no Smart Antennas or outdoor antennas were in stock other than a sole Philips local/short-distance antenna model, and only a limited selection of set-top “rabbit ears” antennas was available. If this is the status quo in stores where digital televisions, converter boxes, and antennas are sold, then free-to-air digital broadcast television is in serious trouble.
 

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SCANNING

Military Radio Monitoring Northern Defenders: McChord Air Force Base And Fort Lewis Military Reservation

by Mark Meece, N8ICW

 

As we wrap up 2008 with our December issue, perhaps it is fitting that we spend it checking out the military action in northern climes, specifically North America’s Pacific Northwest. At the southern tip of Puget Sound, about eight miles south of Tacoma and bordering Interstate 5 we find McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis Military Reservation. Let’s take a look (and listen) at both.

History Of McChord

McChord traces its origins back to March 14, 1930, when it began operations as Tacoma Field, located just to the north of the military reservation known at that time as Camp Lewis. Nearly eight years later on February 28, 1938, it was officially transferred over to the United States government. On May 5, 1938, it was renamed McChord Field in honor of Colonel William C. McChord who was Chief of the Training and Operations Division in HQ Army Air Corps. Colonel McChord was killed while trying to land his crippled Northrup A-17 attack bomber near Richmond, Virginia, on August 18, 1937. By the time the base was officially dedicated on July 3, 1940, four new hangars were erected along with officer and enlisted housing, various warehouses, a maintenance building, a hospital, a radio transmitter building, and a 300,000-gallon water tank, as well as other structures.

The next 20 years saw McChord Field expand to nearly 3,000 acres covering the northern area of Fort Lewis. After the creation of the United States Air Force in 1947, McChord became an independent entity of Fort Lewis. It officially became McChord Air Force Base a year later. McChord played an important role during World War II as a staging area for equipment and personnel deploying to Alaska and the Pacific Theater of Operations. Right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, squadrons of P-40 and P-43 aircraft were assigned to McChord. Structures and buildings were camouflaged and windows were blacked out in case of a Japanese attack. McChord became a training base for pilots, and by January of 1942 the base population had swelled to 7,400 military personnel.

The Modern McChord

Today McChord covers 4,616 acres with one major runway (16/34) and a smaller adjacent runway (160/340). In 1999 units at McChord began the transition from the aging C-141 Starlifters to the more modern C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. That transition has since been completed. The C-17 is famous for its ability to land and take off from small, rough terrain airfields.

Today the base, with its population of just over 4,000, is responsible for rapid deployment of airlifting cargo and military personnel. It is the headquarters of the Western Air Defense Sector of the Air Combat Command (ACC). In 1992, when the Air Mobility Command (AMC) was established, McChord became a primary Air Mobility Base. Current active units are the 62nd Airlift Wing of the AMC and the 446th Airlift Wing, which is part of the Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC).
 

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BROADCASTING

Global Information Guide

Radio Nederland Says Vaarwel To English To North America, But Rare Catches Of Elusive Stations Gladden Hearts

by Gerry L. Dexter
 

We’re in dutch! Radio Nederland announced the end of shortwave to us North Americans, effective at the end of October. It feels it is no longer sensible to waste watts on us. Seems we have all the broadcast media we need. For instance, there are all those NPR stations that’ll just jump at the chance to carry RN features. Not to mention that RN programs will be available online. So all we’ll have to do is light up our laptops and “tune in” using our high-speed connection. Easy! Hilversum? Hello? I don’t think so!

Believe it or not, there are people who do not long to live in California, with its earthquakes, forest fires, mudslides, trend-setting fashions, and foolish fads. I am one of them. But every now and then I am given pause, complete with a double dose of envy, over some of the DX catches those West Coasters enjoy; for instance, the recent receptions of the Bhutan Broadcasting Service (see “Bhutan Broadcasting Service—Voices From The Roof Of The World,” January 2008 Pop’Comm for a feature article on this station). This almost-never-reported station has shown up for a few California and other West Coast DXers on 6035 around 1400 hanging in there until close at 1500. In fact, our own Peter Ng in Malaysia reports it in this month’s loggings! Well, at the least, we know BBS is active and we can still dream!

Another rare one is ZLXA—The Radio Reading Service from New Zealand (see Pop’Comm, August 1999), which is being heard by a select few around 0900/1000 on its usual 3935, albeit with poor audio (you’d think good audio would be important in a service for the vision impaired!).

One more rare one, which shows up now and then, is LRA36—Radio Nacional Arcangel from Antarctica, which occasionally surfaces around 1900 or 2000 on 15476 (and closes just after 2000). That one even makes very occasional Midwest appearances!

We’re all prisoners of our location, forced to deal with whatever reception conditions nature throws at us. Sometimes the propagation gods smile at us; more often they frown. Our Department of Glad Tidings is frequently found with its doors locked and a “Gone Fishin’” sign stuck in the front window. Not today, though. The white-haired, be-speckled senior who runs the place is actually behind the counter today, announcing the good news to one and all: Radio St. Helena will be doing its thing again this November 15. Of course, by the time you read this, it will already have held its near annual broadcast from 2000 straight through to 2330. The plan was to target Japan for the first hour, then Europe at 2100 and North America from 2230, all on the usual 11092.5 frequency, upper sideband. The QSL address is Radio St. Helena, P.O. Box 93, Jamestown, St. Helena, STHL 1ZZ, South Atlantic Ocean. Be sure to include some dollar bills (or a fiver!) if you want a reply—and be prepared to practice patience because the process takes a while!

You’re not going to hear the Canadian time station, CHU in Ottawa, on 7335 for much longer. After it’s finished making improvements to its transmitting facilities it’s going to move to 7850. That will also let it escape co-channel QRM from the occasional frequency coordinator who heedlessly parks on 7335. While we’re on the subject of Canada, CFRX in Toronto returned to 6070 early in September. We should all send them a welcome back note!

Radiodifusion Argentina al Exterior (RAE) has been saddled with equipment problems lately and isn’t currently operating on shortwave. And, somewhat ominously, it hasn’t yet said when—or if—it expects to be back.
 

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TWO-WAY RADIO

Ham Discoveries

Antenna Tuners For Every Situation

by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ


 

Few amateur radio topics are more perennial than antenna tuners. And, unfortunately, few topics are more confusing for ham radio newcomers. When to use them, how to use them, and which type to use in any given situation are often just as confusing to those who mentor new hams, too! There’s a lot of misleading information floating around out there, and a lot of wives’ tales, myths, and legends—even urban legends for hams who live in town!

So, try to remember the stuff we’re discussing this month the next time you find yourself in a conversation about antenna tuners, their accessories, feed lines, and any magical properties a particular device is reported to have.

We don’t have nearly enough space to cover all the angles of this expansive topic, but here we go with the basics...

Antennas And Feed Lines

Before we can intelligently discuss antenna tuners we need to consider an antenna’s feed line. Most beginners have simple antennas such as dipoles or inverted vees fed with 50-ohm coax, and that’s mostly the configuration we’re assuming here. Some antennas are fed with 450-ohm open-wire line, ladder line or 300-ohm TV twin lead (generally superior), which I’ve covered in previous columns and will touch on again further in this one.

Keeping with our simplified model, when you installed that dipole antenna in the backyard, you probably used a length of 50-ohm coaxial cable to connect the antenna to your radio, which is located somewhere in your house.

Again, in the simplest terms, your transceiver is designed to transmit into an antenna that has a feed point impedance of 50 ohms. When your antenna is properly matched to your transmitter (meaning that the antenna is resonant or nearly so), most of the power sent through the transmission line reaches the antenna and is radiated into space, which is what you want. If the antenna isn’t properly matched, some of the energy in the transmission line is wasted (as heat) and isn’t radiated. Severe mismatches can greatly reduce your transmitted signal and might even damage or destroy your transmitter or transmission line! The greater the mismatch, the less power your antenna radiates.

The term for measuring the quality of the match (or mismatch) is called SWR (standing wave ratio), and it’s measured with an SWR meter. Simply, a ratio of 1:1 (or close to it) is best; 2:1 is usable; and 3:1 or greater probably indicates a serious mismatch, for antennas fed with 50-ohm coax, anyway.

If you’re using an antenna on only one frequency band, trimming a wire, or adjusting the element lengths of a beam antenna, so it presents a 50-ohm load to your transmitter is the easy part. If you want wider coverage from the same antenna you can insert an antenna tuner between your rig and your antenna. This is where the magic happens—and where things can get complicated!
 

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BROADCASTING

Shannon’s Broadcast Classics

The Vacation Stations

by Shannon Huniwell
 

Because I also have a “day job,” most of my columns are concocted at night, on weekends, or during an occasional holiday. The long lead time traditionally requested by magazine editors means that a piece written for a winter issue might be submitted in the midst of the previous summer. That’s both the case and the focus of this article. Its topic crystallized after I received correspondence from Pop’Comm readers who coincidently communicated about radio station adventures they’d encountered while summer vacationing.

“Spotted This Rare Corner Of Broadcasting While We Were Getting Breakfast!”

…So exclaimed the letter containing a photo of what was purported to be one WMCI in Bernardston, Massachusetts. Its sender indicated that what he supposed to be a minimalist FM outlet, or possibly a bold pirate operation, stood silent in a muggy July Sunday morning as he and his wife rumbled their camper into the parking lot of a diner across the road from WMCI’s modest concrete block headquarters. His snapshot displayed telltale markings of a Mom & Pop radio station, all right, but none of my directories connected these indicators to an explainable past or present.

I used an early winter 1926 edition of Stevenson’s Bulletin of Radio Broadcasting Stations to begin my hunt for WMCI’s lineage. No such listing. A smattering of late 1920s and ’30s call letter rosters came up dry, too. So did the spring 1952 White’s Radio Log and a long shelf of Broadcast Yearbooks. Finally, I thought…pay dirt! Alas, the find in M Street Journal’s Radio Directory 9th Edition barely panned out after identifying WMCI as an 11,500-watt (with its antenna at 482 feet above average terrain) member of a regional station group in Neoga, Illinois—nowhere near Massachusetts.

That dead end, plus a mention of the mystery to my Dad, rekindled his station-sleuthing fire during a daytrip from Connecticut to the Bay State. He convinced my mother that they should experience the aforementioned diner in Bernardston. Needless to say, while in its culinary vicinity, he insisted that Mom enjoy a leisurely dessert, and then excused himself for a minute or two to run across the road and say “Hi” to the folks at WMCI. His report concluded that, though the gas station-sized building emblazoned with the letters WMCI and fitted with a radio tower indeed looked like a local broadcast station, the place most certainly housed no such FM or AM service. Instead, this WMCI was an outpost of Western Massachusetts Communications, Inc., a company specializing in two-way radio.

When contacted about my father’s nosey results, our contributing Pop’Comm reader admitting feeling a bit embarrassed for having dragged the Huniwell clan into his misassumption. I assured him, however, that his good intentions were appreciated, and relayed Mom’s gratitude for circumstances leading to a wonderful slice of Boston Cream Pie.

 

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THE PRACTICAL SIDE

The Wireless Connection

Shop Talk—Proven Techniques For Cheap And Easy Problem Solving

by Peter J. Bertini
 

I have a folder with numerous topics I’ve been meaning to cover in my columns. While useful information, none seemed to generate enough fodder, individually, to fill an entire column. So I’ve decided to try something new, a recurring theme for “The Wireless Connection” that I’ll call “Shop Talk,” where I’ll share tips, techniques, and general workshop savvy that I hope you’ll find useful. In kind, I welcome input and suggestions from you folks—I’m sure many of you have similar tips that other readers will find equally useful! So, grab a cup of coffee, pull a chair up to the workbench, and let’s get started.

Loose Radio Knobs

Many consumer radios use push-on knobs. Instead of setscrews these knobs have a half-moon opening that is designed to fit over flat-shaft (D shaft) controls. The flat shaft ensures that the knobs won’t loosen and turn freely, since they’re “keyed” to the knob. Friction is provided by a uniquely shaped rectangular piece of spring steel with a slight curve. The spring usually mounts on the flat face of the knob’s shaft hole, and provides the grip that keeps the knob in place (Photo A).

Unfortunately, the little flat shim-like spring loosens and is easily lost when a knob is removed from a radio. You’ll see all sorts of fixes, from gobs of friction or masking tape stuck between the knob opening and the shaft, or pieces of cardboard to serve as shims to sub for those little missing springs. Such quick fixes seldom stand the test of time! Shim brass can be cut to fit as a replacement, it works well, but it lacks the temper of spring steel and can loosen its grip time. Some collectors keep a good assortment of old TV knobs on hand; these knobs provide a good source of replacement springs and are usually priced at give away rates, when you can find them.

Here’s a better solution, and one that’s probably as near at hand as your desk’s junk drawer, or at least the local office supply house. Regardless of origin, this is a good 25-cent solution to a common problem. Before I go much further, I don’t claim any originality for this idea; it was passed on to me and now I’m sharing it with you. You’ll need one of the large pinch-type document paper clips, known as a binder or banker’s paper clip (Photo B).
 

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SCANNING

Utility Communications Digest

The “Hurricane Machine” Yields Some New Monitoring Info

by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ

 

This past September, Mother Nature fired up her hurricane machine, took aim at the continental United States, and fired away. At one point during the month the Hurricane Watch Net was sending out email alerts from the National Hurricane Center on four different storms at the same time, keeping my “inbox” in business as the alerts tracked the location and intensity of these four hurricanes. Fortunately they did not all make landfall in the same place…but then again the damage and hardship for those in the affected areas would certainly be unwelcome no matter where it hit.

If there is a positive note to be found, it’s that radio hobbyists provided a wealth of information to Pop’Comm on hurricane frequencies. There’s enough for a feature article, in fact, but we’ll save that for the beginning of the next hurricane season. Nevertheless, some of the frequency information we received deserves to be passed along to our readers immediately, because emergency nets do not operate only during hurricanes—they can be activated at any time for any type of emergency.

Amateur Radio ALE Emergency Nets

Following on the heels of the discussion in last month’s column about Automatic Link Establishment (ALE), we have information this month from Charles Hargrove, N2NOV, who is the New York City ARECS/RACES Citywide Radio Officer and SKYWARN coordinator. Charles provided information on two ham radio ALE nets that were active during the September onslaught of hurricanes, one of which was apparently being used as an SSB voice/ALE calling/working net, and the other for SMS phone texting, HF email, and text relaying.

The first of these, the HFL net, featured open interoperation on seven frequencies: 3845.0, 3996.0, 7185.5, 7296.0, 14346.0, 18117.5, and 28312.5 kHz, all in USB, with bulletins being transmitted on 14346.0 kHz, which was also the “ALLCALL” frequency for the net during disaster relief operations.

The second net, the HFN net, was active with text, data, and sounding and was noted on 3596.0, 7102.0, 10145.5, 14109.0, 18106.0, 21096.0, 24926.0, and 28146.0 kHz, again in the USB mode on all frequencies, with 10145.5 kHz serving as the “ALLCALL” and bulletin frequency.

Charles also passed along several emergency net frequencies that were forwarded to him by a friend in the New Orleans area. While many of them have been mentioned previously in this space, it won’t hurt to do so again because disasters can occur at any time of year and you never know when something will happen and these frequencies will light up with emergency comms. I’ll list them in MHz this time for variety’s sake and to give you some practice in converting from MHz to kHz (and vice versa): 7.255 LSB (Daytime State of Louisiana & neighboring states, +/- 10 kHz), 3.855 LSB (Nighttime State of Louisiana & neighboring states, also +/- 10 kHz), 7.285 LSB (Daytime State of Louisiana, Mississippi, and East Texas Emergency/Tactical), 3.873 LSB (Nighttime State of Louisiana, Mississippi, East Texas Emergency/Tactical), 14.325 USB (National Hurricane Center/Hurricane Watch Net—when a hurricane is threatening it is worth parking a spare receiver on this frequency and just leaving it there), 7.268 LSB (National Hurricane Center), 14.300 USB (Maritime Mobile Net), 14.265 USB (Salvation Army SATERN net), 7.290 LSB (Daytime Louisiana Health & Welfare, reportedly this net sometimes uses USB as well), 3.935 LSB (Nighttime Louisiana Health & Welfare), and 3.910 LSB (Louisiana Traffic Net).
 

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 THE LIGHTER SIDE

The Loose Connection

What Goes Around Comes Around, Maybe…

by Bill Price, N3AVY

 

I miss Norm. I miss having him living nearby. I miss working with him in the next office. I miss eating lunch at his apartment, walking Chump (that great silent paw spaniel of his) and cooking up ramen noodle soup and PB&J sandwiches—just enough lunch to allow us time (and spare change) to work on whatever the project of the week was.

Working at an amateur radio supplier had its good side. I’m sure it did. I know that because when I got my job there, they told me so. Of course, since I was far from what you’d call an active ham, my tenure there was a lot like a vegetarian working at a meat market. Working alongside Norm, though, kept my mind—and my interest in the hobby—from atrophying. I’m still not sure if that’s entirely a good thing, but at least my grey cells are still working.

Projects ate up more of our lunch hours than we ate of lunch. We could be at Norm’s apartment in four minutes if we made both traffic lights. I set some water to boil while Norm got Chump ready for a walk. Then while one of us was taken for a walk by Norm’s eager canine, the other would smash up a bunch of ramen noodles, rip open the little packs of “seasoning” (they really stretched the definition of that word) and spread PB&J on whatever horrible white bread was on sale that week. Next, the smell of cheap lunches was replaced by that of some 60/40 rosin-core solder.

It would be unfair to blame all the frugality on Norm alone. Yes, he was cheap, but so was I. I think he was cheaper, and he was cheap before I was, but once we became friends, it was as if our blood types both became “$-negative.”

I know that the general quest at hamfest flea markets is bargain hunting, but even when compared to other hams, I think we set some kind of standard. We’d take the smallest car (to save gas) with absolutely no regard for how we’d bring home hundreds of pounds of treasures—sometimes shamelessly begging a ride for our boat-anchors from other hams who were “going our way” and meeting them at Norm’s apartment to offload our bounty (with the help of our teamster-friends).

I was always just a little bit embarrassed about negotiating the selling prices down to an almost ridiculous figure, then just before the money changed hands (grudgingly, I might add) Norm would show up with a voltmeter to test our bargain batteries or some other way of lessening the value of what we were about to buy to the point where I’m sure the sellers spent more time talking about us after we left than they did talking to us while we were buying.
 

 

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