TUNING IN (PDF)

 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


NEWSWORTHY

Unwired

The Weirder Side Of Wireless

by Staff

 

Thou Shalt Not E-Steal

In a country known for marijuana cafes, the judgment seems a little harsh. A Dutch court convicted two youths of theft for stealing virtual items in a computer game and sentenced them to community service, according to an Associated Press report. The Leeuwarden District Court said the culprits, ages 15 and 14, had coerced a 13-year-old boy into transferring a “virtual amulet and a virtual mask” from the online adventure game RuneScape to their game accounts, the report continued. “These virtual goods are goods (under Dutch law), so this is theft,” the court said. Identities of the minors were not released. The 15-year-old was sentenced to 200 hours of service, and the 14-year-old to 160 hours. There have been a few other such cases around the world, but varying conclusions have been reached as to the legal status of “virtual goods.”

On the other side of the globe, a 43-year-old Japanese woman, apparently infuriated by her “divorce” in a virtual game world, killed her online husband’s digital persona. She was arrested on suspicion of hacking. Specifically, it’s claimed that she illegally accessed a computer, manipulated electronic data, used his identification and password to log onto a popular interactive game, and carry out the “virtual murder.” If convicted she could face up to five years in prison or a fine of up to $5,000.

Tokyo police also arrested a 16-year-old boy on charges of stealing virtual currency worth $360,000 in an interactive role playing game by manipulating another player’s portfolio using a stolen ID and password.

Radio Eavesdroppers Hear You Type

Two Swiss security researchers from the Security and Cryptography Laboratory at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Lausanne have published a video demonstrating how electronic emanations from wired computer keyboards can be deciphered to reveal the user’s keystrokes, according to an article in InformationWeek. In the video, one of the researchers uses a laptop connected to a PS/2 keyboard to type the words, “Trust No One,” a phrase familiar to fans of television’s The X-Files. The video shows how a program that receives data from an eavesdropping antenna converts the data back into the typed words.

The researches, Martin Vuagnoux and Sylvain Pasini, said they found four different ways “to fully or partially recover keystrokes from wired keyboards at a distance up to 20 meters, even through walls.” They tested 11 different wired keyboards and found that they were all vulnerable to at least one of the four attack methods. Their findings seem to indicate that any device that emits radio frequency waves may be vulnerable to a sophisticated eavesdropper. They concluded that wired keyboards are not safe to transmit sensitive information. Let’s not even talk about wireless technology.

 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


NEWSWORTHY

InfoCentral

News, Trends, And Short Takes

by D. Prabakaran
 

WorldSpace Files For Bankruptcy Protection

WorldSpace, Inc., along with its U.S. subsidiaries WorldSpace Systems Corporation and AfriSpace, Inc., have filed voluntary petitions for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code in the United States Bankruptcy Court in Delaware. WorldSpace will continue to operate its business and manage its assets as a “debtor-in-possession” under the jurisdiction of the court and in accordance with the applicable provisions of the Bankruptcy Code and the orders of the court. The holders of the company’s existing senior secured and convertible notes have agreed to provide, subject to the satisfaction of certain conditions, a “debtor-in-possession” financing facility of up to $13 million for a period of 90 days to facilitate a sale transaction. The financing is expected to enable the company to continue to pay salaries of critical employees and continue operations, which are critical to preserving the value of its core assets through the term of the facility. (Source: WorldSpace)

Russian Opposition Leaders Ask U.S. Not To Cut Russian-Language Broadcasts

Three leading figures of the Russian opposition called on Washington to reverse its decision to reduce Radio Liberty’s Russian-language broadcasts this year. They said that Russian citizens, at a time when Moscow has established “practically complete control” over domestic radio and television, would lose a vital source of “objective information.” In a letter to the U.S. State Department, the foreign affairs committees, and the Helsinki Commission of the Congress, and presidential candidates John McCain and Barak Obama, the three—Vladimir Bukovsky, Vladimir Kara-Murza and Boris Nemtsov—said that reducing such broadcasts from abroad would make their struggle for freedom that much more difficult.
The Voice of America ended Russian-language radio broadcasting last summer as part of a general cost-cutting effort and because the affiliates in Russia on which its programming was broadcast increasingly refused, under pressure from the Russian government, to carry VOA programs. (Source: GeorgianDaily.com)

Archives: BBC Planned Reassuring Message For Nuclear War

The BBC planned to transmit reassuring messages in the event of a nuclear war, telling people to “stay calm,” remain indoors, and conserve food and water, newly released archives show. The authoritative voice of the broadcaster’s Wartime Broadcasting Service would have transmitted a list of advice every two hours in the event of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


NEWSWORTHY

Washington Beat

Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications

by Richard Fisher, KI6SN

 

Legislation Introduced To Require Bundling Of Satellite-HD Radio

The chairman of the U.S. House Subcommit-tee on Telecommunications and the Internet has introduced legislation that would force satellite radio manufacturers to include HD receivers, according to the online edition of Radio magazine.

U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and a bipartisan group from the Energy and Commerce Committee cosponsored HR 7157, the “Radio All Digital Channel Receiver Act.” The group included Representatives Lee Terry (R-NE), Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX), Greg Walden (R-OR), Joe Wilson (R-SC), and Dan Burton (R-IN). Also listed as co-sponsors are Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Mark Souder (R-IN).

“The legislation requires that ‘apparatus shipped in interstate commerce or manufactured in the United States that is designed to receive signals broadcast in both the satellite digital audio radio service and the terrestrial AM or FM radio broadcast service be equipped with technology that is capable of receiving and playing digital radio signals as transmitted by terrestrial AM or FM stations,’” the report said. The National Association of Broadcasters supported the legislation.

“But with time running out for the 110th Congress,” Radio said, “and with representatives preoccupied with an unprecedented fiscal crisis…the fate of HR 7157 is far from certain.”

Pennsylvania Adopts Law Accommodating Antenna Height

A bill requiring Pennsylvania municipalities to “reasonably accommodate amateur radio service communications, and to impose only the minimum regulations necessary to accomplish the legitimate purpose of the municipality” has been signed into state law.

In late 2008, Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D) signed the legislation that assures radio amateurs the right to erect antenna support structures up to 65 feet without a Special Use Permit, according to an American Radio Relay League report. The bill passed in the state House by a vote of 196-1; it passed in the Senate with a by of 49-1.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Newsworthy

Horizons

After The Digital TV Transition

by Rob de Santos

 

The U.S. transition to digital TV is nearly upon us. While everyone else is looking at the immediate situation, right now we’re going to look at what comes after. There are many new technologies and questions surrounding the future of television, so let’s examine some of them.

Low-power TV stations. Perhaps one of the first questions is still up for discussion at the FCC: How to deal with the low-power TV stations? Many LPTV stations are “shoe string” operations run by staffs of mostly volunteers. Expensive new digital studios seem way beyond financial means for them. Most of us don’t spend much time watching an LPTV station even if one is available to us. Why? Few are carried by local cable and satellite services even now. If we believe they are worth saving, then fixes of both a political and technological nature will be needed. For the latter, it should be possible to find an approach using low-cost computer hardware and cheaper transmitter technology, provided there’s a will to do so, the FCC is flexible on the requirements, and the broadcast industry doesn’t put up too many roadblocks.

Higher resolutions. Already, “super-HD” is on the technological horizon and appearing in very high-end DVD players. In the near term this may well just be 1080p or other incremental increases that stay within the limits of current TV manufacturing capabilities. It seems unlikely that the public will be willing to go out and replace those new digital TVs anytime in the near future, no matter how the economy goes.

The big leaps in consumer goods only come along decades apart when the implementation costs are high (I’m still waiting for the car that will do the driving and save me the hassle!). However, if TVs have certain built-in capability and are firmware-upgradable, then change might come along less gradually. Organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) are among the newest trends in TV manufacturing and along with quadruple HD (3840 x 2160 pixels) should start appearing in stores in 2010. Broadcasters will upgrade more slowly, so for now QHD will be limited to DVDs as a source. Another emerging technology is “laser TV,” which promises more accurate color reproduction at lower power levels. At present it’s too expensive for all but the highest end customers.

3-D television. Certainly 3-D has come a long way since my youth and the films of the 1960s, but as a home viewing tool it still isn’t “a natural” for most of us, nor is it built into televisions. The virtual reality worlds familiar to computer users, however, should make the upcoming generation of TV viewers more comfortable with this environment and create demand. So you can expect to see more 3-D and virtual reality television in the coming years.

Holographic television. Also in the virtual reality realm is holography. Getting beyond the symbols on your credit card and some consumer packaging has been a slow process, and this technology lags behind. The necessary computer processing power and transmitter power is just now approaching feasibility and should be accelerated by the digital transition. However, it’s likely to still be many years before holographic television is familiar to the typical TV viewer. A recent Japanese government research report suggested it would be ready for
market in 2020.

 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Scanning The 56th Presidential Inauguration

This Month, History Will Be Made On The Steps Of The Capitol Building As The New President Is Sworn In. Here’s How To Listen.

by Alan Henney

 

America’s new President will take the Oath of Office on January 20, 2009. For the country as a whole, it’s a unique federal holiday that observes the peaceful transfer of government. But for scanner listeners, the inauguration offers exciting monitoring opportunities unlike any other occasion.

If you are in the Washington, D.C. area, or plan to visit it for this historic occasion, this guide is a good starting point for your monitoring activities. Please share your findings with the rest of us on the Scan-DC email list (see www.qth.net). Even if you can’t witness history in person on that day, much of what follows will still be useful for when you do visit our nation’s capital.

Power Players

When it comes to the inauguration, there are three main players involved.

The first is the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC), which relies on private donations and is directly responsible to the elected president. It’s formed after each general election. PIC organizes, plans, and executes most inaugural celebration activities. The PIC is responsible for selecting participants in the parade and other official events, assigning credentials to media covering the inauguration and surrounding festivities, and answering questions about inaugural events.

For communications in the past, PIC has used a 900 MHz business trunked system, various UHF business band repeater and simplex channels, cellular and text pagers.

The second is the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC), which plans and executes all inaugural activities at the U.S. Capitol, including the inaugural swearing-in ceremony of the president and vice president and the traditional inaugural luncheon that follows. (See http://inaugural.senate.gov/.)

The third player is the Joint Task Force-Armed Forces Inaugural Committee (JTF-AFIC), which is charged with coordinating all military ceremonial participation and support for the presidential inauguration. Military participation traditionally includes musical units, marching bands, color guards, firing details and salute batteries. JTF-AFIC also provides a limited amount of approved logistical support.

JTF-AFIC is affiliated with the Military District of Washington (MDW) and its communications systems, which are explained in the military section. (See www.jfhqncr.northcom.mil/afic/.)

Federal Agencies

U.S. Capitol Police

Capitol Police channel usage varies from day to day. The department tends to use the first three channels for routine dispatching, and its last two for specialized units, command staff, and protection details. Specialized USCPD officers have additional simplex channels beyond 10, which often use the input or output frequencies of channels 3, 4, or 5 but with a different CTCSS or DCS (try the inputs of 164.6, 164.625, and 164.8).

While traveling, USCPD officers have used the common-agency channels of 163.1 and 168.35, either simplex or repeated. The department continues to use analog radios.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


 Listening To The Nation’s Capital

What You’ll Enjoy (Or At Least Tune Or Otherwise Find)
On The Broadcast Bands In Washington, D.C.

by Bill Price, N3AVY

 

My name is Bill and I’m a radio junkie. I have no cable, no satellite, no TV antenna. I am powerless against radio. All that, and I live in the Washington, D.C., radio market. Who better to tell you about broadcast radio in the nation’s capital?

We in this market are unique in several ways. The White House (the big one, on Pennsylvania Avenue) actually pays some of its people to listen to broadcast talk radio in this market, and probably in other markets as well. Also, many congressional offices pay more attention to political talk radio than they’d care to admit. Because we are a market of “political junkies,” we have more than the nation’s typical share of political talk radio—even on FM!

Washington, D.C., is the only market in the United States where you’ll hear advertising aimed at legislators. It’s “Radio-Lobbying.” No other broadcast market offers you commercials touting the advantages of one military mid-air refueling tanker over another. I seriously doubt those ads are aimed at consumers; I know no one in my neighborhood is considering replacing an aging mid-air refueling tanker just now.

And even though anyone in the entire United States can call any senator or congressional representative toll free (and talk to a rude staffer), it’s this market that abounds with advertising aimed at getting us to call our reps and tell them to vote for (or against) this or that. It’s particularly interesting to listen to the tags at the end of these messages to see just who’s sponsoring what, and what warm, cuddly, wholesome names these political or business organizations have chosen to make themselves sound like your next-door neighbor.

Unique FM Outlets

D.C has TWO (count ’em) PBS affiliates! We have the traditional WETA 90.9 (www.weta.org/fm), which plays classical music most of the day and gives us some NPR content from time to time—pretty much like any other PBS affiliate around the country. But wait! There’s more!

We also have WAMU. That “AMU” part stands for American University, which is where WAMU 88.5 FM, (http://wamu.org/) is located and licensed—but it’s far from what you might have come to think of as a “college FM station.” It’s mainly talk radio, and much of it is political (and not of a typically conservative nature), and some of that is syndicated around the country and, of course, is available on the Internet.

Because WAMU has followed other FM broadcasters and gone to HD radio, it also remains the home of 24-hour bluegrass music on one of its HD channels (something it’s been famous for for years), and on its main channel, it brings us not only A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor, but also some of the world’s best original radio programming every Saturday and Sunday evening, with Rob Bamberger’s Hot Jazz Saturday Night (also syndicated) and Ed Walker’s The Big Broadcast on Sundays, with a variety of old-time radio programs. Radio Junkies might want to know that Ed Walker is one of Washington, D.C., radio’s original Joy Boys, along with Willard Scott (who lives not so far away here in Cowfield County, Virginia).

D.C.’s FM band also has C-SPAN Radio at 90.1 (bless you, Brian Lamb!), which carries much of the audio you’ll hear on C-SPAN TV (and remember, there are three different C-SPAN TV channels).

Of course, Washington, D.C., radio has music. At least, some would call it that. I’m getting older, and grouchier, and my definition of music is narrowing while everyone else’s is broadening. We didn’t feel that listing music stations was necessary, as our readers can quickly scan the dial and find their favorite music format to fill time between the “important stuff.”
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


 BROADCASTING

Global Information Guide

Radio Austria International, Hear Today,
Gone Tomorrow, And Farewell Flevoland

by Gerry L. Dexter

 

And there goes another one down the tubes! Radio Austria International was due to end its English language broadcasts at the end of 2008. They haven’t announced why, but probably it’s one of the same old excuses: “everyone” is moving to the Web, or they lack the necessary Euros, or you can now hear “Austria Today” anytime, anywhere on your Blackberry, Blueberry, Raspberry or whatever, and now even on your electric toothbrush. As a dedicated shortwave listener, all that’s left for you to do is sputter…or make your feelings known at http://oe1.orf.at/service/international. Click the link labeled “Kontakt” on the upper left side of the page.

After the news of the end of Radio Nederland’s shortwave service to North America in last month’s column we learn of another RN self-inflicted wound. The huge 500 kW Flevoland transmitters are being decommissioned and will be used for spare parts. At the moment I don’t know what—if anything—will be done with the antennas and buildings at the site. Perhaps the entire area will be given over to tulips! Whatever happens it’s not a good sign for the long-term health of Radio Nederland. The downhill roll has begun.

Brazil continues to see more action. Long inactive Radio 9 de Julho has returned to shortwave, on 9820, operated by the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo. Radio Havana Cuba makes use of this frequency, especially in the evenings, so bagging the Brazilian is likely to call for some late nights or crack-of-dawn monitoring. It appears that the mediumwave outlet on 1600 kHz operates continuously, but how much of that programming gets relayed on shortwave isn’t clear.

There’s a new Bolivian operating on 6075, identifying as Radio Causachun Coca in Cochabamba, being heard by some in the 1000 period (which seems to sign on at 1000). The content appears to be all political talk, so the station may be tied into the political instability going on in Bolivia these days.

Nigeria keeps claiming news space lately. A rebel group—the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)—has declared war against the government. La Paz has responded with many dozens of arrests. This is not a particularly nice group of people, apparently, and their efforts have already hurt Nigeria’s oil industry. You can, of course, check the Voice of Nigeria for developments. It’s on 15120 from 1500 to 2300. And on 7255 from 0500. You may also want to check Radio Kaduna, 4770, which has English from their 0430 sign on.

Reader Logs

Remember, your shortwave broadcast station logs are always welcome. Just please be sure to double or triple space between the items, list each logging by its home country and include your last name and state abbreviation after each log. Also needed are spare QSLs or good color copies you don’t need returned, station stuff such as schedules, brochures, pennants, photos, and anything else you think would be of interest. And, golly, it would really be nice if you sent a photo of you and your shack (hope springs eternal!).

Here are this month’s logs. All times are in UTC. Double capital letters are language abbreviations (SS = Spanish, RR = Russian, AA = Arabic, etc.). If no language is mentioned, English (EE) is assumed.

ALBANIA—Radio Tirana, 7425 at 0330 sign on. (Brossell, WI; Maxant, WV) 0335. (MacKenzie, CA)

ANGUILLA—Caribbean Beacon/University Network, 6090 at 0610 with Milisa Scott announcing that the former KTBN transmitter had arrived. (Maxant, WV)

ASCENSCION IS.—BBCWS Atlantic Relay, 6035 to 0459* in FF, closing with ID and frequency. (D’Aangelo, PA) 6135 at 0312 and 17885 in FF at 1733. (MacKenzie, CA) 15400 at 1104. (Fraser, ME)
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


SCANNING

ScanTech

Up Close: The ICOM IC-R2500
Part III—The Control Head

by Ken Reiss

 

Last time we looked at the software that makes the IC-R2500 tick, but for our last look at this excellent receiver, we’ll focus on what makes the R2500 unique, namely the hardware control head.

The control head attaches to the main unit by a cable that looks a lot like a telephone cable. As shipped, it’s about 10 feet long, but an extension is also available if necessary for mobile installation. Only the single cable is needed for the control head; no separate power is required as with many other remote controller units. This makes installation and removal a snap.

For the most part, the hardware controller emulates the functions of the PC software in a much more compact, and portable, format. Of course, there are a few tradeoffs that have to be made when you don’t have a full-fledged computer available.

One of the key differences between the computer control software and the hardware controller is memory operation. The computer software can store 2,500 channels in memory banks and an additional 50 pairs (100 total) of channels of scan edge memories (scan edge memories are used to scan portions of the band starting at one frequency and continuing to another). Because it operates on your computer, it’s a simple matter to save one set of 2,500 memories and load another, so memory is practically unlimited on most PC-controlled systems.

The hardware controller only has access to 1,000 memory channels and 50 pairs of scan edge memories. Because of this difference, there are some interesting challenges getting memory channels moved from the PC to the controller or back. The 1,000 memory channels (plus 50 pairs of scan edge frequencies) can be treated as one big group, or divided into banks for scanning control.

To accomplish this, there’s the R2500 cloning software, a module of the PC control software. Its main function is to translate the memory files from the format used on the PC to a format that’s acceptable to the hardware controller. This isn’t so hard if you don’t have all the channels full in the software, but it’s not so easy if you have a full 2,500-channel memory file and a 1,000-channel limit. If there’s empty space available in the 2,500 channels, the blanks are just skipped in an effort to make room. If not, it will convert the first 1,000 channels and ignore the rest.

Once loaded, the controller has some, but not all, of the same scanning modes available as the PC software. Memory scan is the most common mode that would be useful to a scanner listener. This scan steps through the memory channels, except those that are designated as skip memories (working a lot like a lockout function on a traditional scanner). Push and hold the SET/SKIP button to lock or unlock a memory channel.
A choice is also available as to whether to scan all banks, or only those selected. The skip scan will operate with this mode, making a versatile scan for a communications receiver.

The Programmed Scan mode uses the pairs of frequencies stored in those extra 100 memory channels to dictate a start and a stop frequency for the scan. While not a complete search function, it’s about as close as you’ll get from any communications receiver and is versatile enough for the limited searching I’ve tried with the receiver.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


 BROADCASTING

Broadcast Technology

During Solar Minimum Chances

Are Good For Mediumwave “TNT” (Ten Nations Tonight)

by Bruce A. Conti

 

Some space weather forecasters are now predicting an extended solar minimum based on their observations over the past year. The sun has been spotless for most of the past few months. Hardly any new sunspots were observed in 2008 to indicate that the new solar cycle had actually begun.

For mediumwave broadcast DXers this is good news. It means an extended period of outstanding nighttime reception without solar disruptions. The aurora borealis or northern lights caused by solar activity can shut down mediumwave signal propagation across northern latitudes. The current lack of solar activity has allowed northern signal paths to remain open for some truly remarkable DX opportunities.

With that in mind here are some suggestions for DX signals from 10 countries that you could receive on your AM radio tonight. We begin with two top transoceanic targets, followed by distinctive transcontinental and Caribbean signals, and end with some challenging, but not impossible, overseas catches, all taking advantage of the quiet solar conditions.

Croatia

Glas Hrvatske, The Voice of Croatia, has been logged on 1134 kHz by DXers coast to coast. With 600 kW of power the signal is regularly received as far inland as Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas with minimal equipment, and it’s also been logged by hard-core DXers in the Pacific Northwest. Programming is typically an eclectic mix of folk, rock, and pop music with news on the hour. Listen for daily broadcasts in English 0300–0330 UTC, beginning with station identification, “This is Croatian Radio, the Voice of Croatia,” into Croatia Today news. The station is also recognizable by its unusual time pips at the top of the hour. Unlike other European broadcasters like the BBC, Deutschlandfunk, and Radio Nacional de España that use short pips counting down three to five seconds leading to one longer beep on the hour, the Glas Hrvatske pips are all significantly longer in duration. Identification of Croatia will become second nature after becoming familiar with this unusual time marker.

Japan

An easy target for listeners on the Pacific Coast, Japan represents the best chance for transpacific reception by East Coast North America DXers. JOIB Sapporo on 747 kHz and JOUB Akita on 774 kHz, both with 500 kW of power, have been reported in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, and as far east as New Hampshire, while solar activity has remained low. The best opportunity for DXers in the Eastern Time zone to catch Japan will be at local dawn, or 1000–1200 UTC, during the longer nights of late autumn and winter. Signals often peak at local sunrise and quickly fade out thereafter. JOIB and JOUB are Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) network affiliates, which broadcast the network’s daily English language lessons in 15-minute segments in this timeframe.

Mexico

Remember when Wolfman Jack could be heard across the country broadcasting from “The Mighty 1090” XERB? In some parts of the U.S. and Canada, radio stations south of the border are no longer as easy to hear as were the Top 40 rock ’n’ roll border blasters of the past. On 1570 kHz listen for the morning rooster wakeup calls of XERF “La Poderosa,” a former border blaster that still packs a pretty good punch despite increased co-channel congestion. West of the Rockies check the dial for 1090 XEPRS “Double X Sportsradio” (50 kW, sports talk in English, and formerly the Wolfman’s XERB) and 1700 XEPE “The Talk of San Diego” (10 kW, news/talk in English) both located in the Baja California region just south of San Diego. DXers in the east will have better luck with signals from Mexico City such as 730 XEX “Estadio W” (100 kW), 900 XEW “W Radio” (250 kW), 940 XEQ “Bésame” (50 kW), 1000 XEOY “Radio Mil” (50 kW), and 1060 XEEP “Radio Educación” (100 kW). Reception is usually best after midnight during mid-winter when atmospheric noise levels are exceptionally low. ¡Viva México!
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


THE PRACTICAL SIDE

The Antenna Room

More Still On CB Antenna Basics
And Our HDTV Project

by Kent Britain, WA5VJB

 

This month we’ll cover a variety of antenna topics and make a quick revisit to the popular HDTV construction article that Pop’Comm ran last time. So warm up your Cobra 29 and that government HDTV converter box, and let’s get started.

Loading Coils

A loading coil has loss, you can’t escape that. A bigger coil, larger wire, low-loss plastics may help, but really only result in less loss. There are two ways to make a loading coil that has fewer turns and still works on 27 MHz. The first approach would be to make the antenna longer. Now you don’t need as much coil, but you’re back to those funny scraping noises when your car passes though parking garages again. The second approach involves reducing coil size. Let’s take a look at that now.

Cap Hats

The capacitance hat (cap hat for short) has been used on AM broadcast antennas for over 80 years, and for good reason.

Like I said, you have loss in a loading coil. If you can do something that reduces the amount of coil you need to tune the antenna, the better the antenna works. At the bottom of the AM broadcast band, a quarterwave vertical is about 130 meters long, or about 450 feet—that’s a pretty tall antenna. But using the guy wires themselves as a cap hat (Figure 1), the station can make do with a shorter, or should I say cheaper, tower. Here you see the guy wires attached directly to the top of the tower. Some distance away, a number of insulators are used to electrically isolate the top section of guy wire. The wire loops in the insulator form their own low-value capacitor, so they’ll usually use several insulators to break up this stray capacitance.

The short lines above the loading coil add some capacitance between the top of the antenna and ground. This lowers the frequency resonance of the antenna, and now you need less inductance to tune it. In Photo A you see the cap hat on my Hustler 5BTV vertical. The 5BTV is a trap vertical (I feel another column coming on), and the function of its cap hat is a bit more complex, but it greatly shortens the 40 meter section of the vertical. (By the way, I do believe in ground radials and have over 300 radials under that vertical—I feel yet another column coming on.)

The proper setup for this is shown in Figure 2. You add the cap hat, then remove some of the coil to retune the antenna. If you shorten the antenna to retune it, just remember, longer is better, so the antenna is not going to work as well. Put the cap hat under the coil, and it doesn’t do much.

Retrofit kits often add a cap hat (for marketing reasons they often call them radials), but with them the user can’t get to the coil so you have to shorten the antenna to re-resonate the antenna to 27 MHz. Basically, that means the buyer (you?) has just paid a bunch of money to make the antenna less efficient.

Dual Antennas

Here we show the plots of dual antennas at different spacings. If you mount them only a few feet apart on the luggage rack of your Yugo, it may look sexy, but the second antenna isn’t doing much. Your pattern is still pretty much a circle. In Figure 3 we have the plot of two whip antennas three feet apart. The pattern is almost a perfect circle. Between the Peak and the Null there is only 2/10 of a dB difference.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


THE INTERSECTION COMPUTERS AND RADIO

RF Bits

Portals To Content Riches For Internet Radio Listening

by Dan Srebnick, K2DLS

 

I was an early adopter of the Internet, once it leaked outside the academic world and became available to “the rest of us” (no association with that fruit-based computer company intended). Back when I first used the Internet, there was no graphical Web browser. We had Gopher, which was a text-based menu-driven way of searching for data. So I was suitably impressed when the first graphical Web browser, called Mosaic, came on the scene in 1993.
We spent a couple of years “surfing” the early websites during that short time before the Internet became a giant shopping mall, amazed at being able to see art from the Louvre in Paris or to watch Bluedog count by barking. For the uninitiated, Bluedog (recreated at www.louisianaschools.net/lde/intech/k6/day2/bluedog.htm) was one of the first webpages with the ability to play sounds. In 1995, Real Audio came along and turned the bark into a real bite: the ability to efficiently listen to radio stations over the Internet.

As you may recall, those of us with Internet in those days used dialup lines at 28.8 kbps; 56K modems did not become common for another couple of years. In the early days, I used to listen to the World Radio Network and lots of Dutch radio stations, such as Radio 538. After a couple of weeks of listening to 538 though, I began to wonder why they always seemed to be playing the same songs. That was when I realized that I was not listening to a live stream, but to a program stored on the server. And thus it was that I became an “Internet DXer.”

DXer Or IRL?

If you were around in the 1970s and 1980s, you’ll remember the debates between the DXers and the SWLs—was it more meritorious to listen for the rare, exotic catch or to listen for program content? I always did a little of each, and so it goes as an Internet Radio Listener (IRL). The paradigm is amazingly similar. You can surf the net looking for something exotic that you have not yet “logged,” or you can settle in to listen to an old friend like BBC Radio 4.

Tools Of The Trade

Most of the focus here will be on Windows tools, though you can easily listen to most Internet audio content using Mac OS or Linux. In the case of Linux, it’s sometimes challenging to find the right codec (compressor/decompressor) to match your content, because of licensing restrictions on proprietary formats. Using Fedora Core 9, however, I find that I can readily listen to any content except for Windows Media.

There’s currently a lot of overlap between the formats supported by the various players, but at a minimum yours should have Windows Media Player (it comes with Windows XP and Vista), Winamp (free and pay versions are available), and RealPlayer (also free and pay versions). See the “Media Player Hints” table for information on downloading the common media players for Windows.

You can also listen without a computer, if you have an 802.11 WiFi Internet Radio. I have the Acoustic Energy AE1 (www.acoustic-energy.co.uk), based upon a chipset from Reciva. There are plenty of other Reciva-based radios on the market, from well-known companies like Sangean and Roberts. We’ll also assume some kind of broadband Internet service, with the ability to listen to the high-quality 128 kbps streams available from some stations.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


PUBLIC SERVICE/SAFETY

EmComm Essentials

Clearing The Air On GMRS/FRS/MURS Radios

by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ

 

As technology marches (side by side with time) into the future, we are constantly amazed at the proliferation of communications devices being made available to the public. Consider, for example, the differences between the “bag phones” of years gone by and the current devices that have replaced them. The bag phone was relatively bulky and could do only one thing: connect to a network to send and receive telephone calls. Today’s devices send and receive voice and text, may include a camera and be able to send and receive pictures, and might even be able to access the Internet.

So it is with radios. When I was born, a typical “portable” radio (Photo A) would hardly be considered portable in comparison to the handheld ham, CB, GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service), FRS (Family Radio Service), and MURS (Multi-Use Radio Service) of today. However, the arrival of some of these new devices on the market is a source of confusion to many consumers, especially those unfamiliar with radio communications technology and with the rules that govern the use of these radios.

This month, I’ll attempt to present the facts concerning the use of some of these devices, especially the dual-use FRS/GMRS radios that can be found in department stores, truck stops, drug stores, and pretty much anywhere that consumer electronics are offered to the public.

Radio Facts You Need To Know

Concerning FRS/GMRS radios in particular, the consumer needs to understand some fundamentals before purchasing them for emergency/disaster use. This applies not only to individuals and families, but also to EmComm groups using them for CERT or other Citizen Corps initiatives, as well as ARES/RACES and other organizations that may use them to communicate by radio with civilians who don’t have amateur licenses and therefore can’t operate on the ham bands.

FRS is comprised of 14 specific UHF frequencies, and the rules authorize a maximum of ?-watt ERP (effective radiated power) on only those 14 frequencies. With FRS-only radios this is not a problem, you get those channels and the prescribed ?-watt output and everything is legal. No license is required as long as you stay on those seven frequencies, and at or below the maximum allowed power level.

The problem comes in when your access to FRS is through one of the dual-mode FRS/GMRS radios, like the one in Photo B. The GMRS shares FRS Channels 1–7 with the FRS, but GMRS also uses frequencies that are unique to GMRS, and allows higher power levels. The catch is that GMRS requires a license from the FCC, which currently costs $85 and is good for five years. The license covers you and your “family,” which is usually defined as you, your spouse, and “blood relations” as well as adoptive children/parents.

Now, obviously, the GMRS license costs more than the radios, but it is good for five years (which means it may outlast those radios and the ones you buy to replace them!), and family members who have these radios can operate under your license. It also lets you operate dual-mode FRS/GMRS radios on all the channels the radio is capable of, and at the higher power level allowed under the GMRS rules.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


SCANNING

Civil Aviation Monitoring

The Washington, D.C., Area’s Airport Threesome

by Tom Swisher, WA8PYR

 

 

It’s January of the year following a Presidential election, folks, and you know what that means... No, not just another gaggle of politicians heading to Washington, D.C., garbed in black cloaks and slouch hats, looking like Dick Dastardly and chuckling evilly to themselves and each other (although I sometimes amuse myself with a little mind movie like that when our elected representatives pull a particularly reprehensible stunt).

That it’s January means it will soon be Inauguration Day, the quadrennial celebration of the election or re-election of someone to sit in the White House (and get dumped on).
Inauguration Day is a major event in Washington, and rightly so. No matter whether you love, loathe, or are indifferent to the incoming occupant of the White House, Inauguration Day provides a wealth of monitoring opportunities. And with three major airports serving the metropolitan Washington area in addition to all the other fun stuff, the Capital Region is hopping with activity. So let’s jump on the Metro and visit the first of our three—count ’em, three!—featured airports. For more on scanning the area for this momentous occasion, also see this issue’s cover story, “Scanning The 56th Presidential Inauguration.”

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)

Built on a mudflat alongside the Potomac River by the Federal government in 1940, Washington National was built to replace the previous field, Washington Hoover Airport. Located near where the Pentagon now stands, Hoover Field was built in 1926. Severely hampered from the start by a runway which crossed a major thoroughfare (vehicle traffic had to be stopped by police to permit airplanes to take off and land), it was joined in 1927 by Washington Airport, located adjacent to Hoover. The two merged in 1930 to create Washington-Hoover Airport. Washington-Hoover was still severely hampered; the main runway, while no longer crossing a major thoroughfare, had to contend with US Route 1, its power lines right alongside it, and a smokestack at one end of the field.

Washington National is perhaps best remembered as the site of the Air Florida crash in January 1982. The weather had been quite cold, and January 13 had been marked by near-blizzard conditions all day. Air Florida Flight 90 took off that afternoon, but did not gain sufficient altitude, having severe ice and snow buildup on the wings. The plane crashed into the Potomac River just a mile from the end of the runway, hitting the 14th Street Bridge and killing several motorists before crashing in the river. Of the 79 people on board Flight 90, only 5 survived.

Because of the nature of the Washington area, there are various restrictions placed on flight in the vicinity, especially during an inauguration. Even so, if Inauguration Day is bright and clear, you may catch aircraft on the “River Visual” approach. Widely considered one of the more challenging airport approaches, the River Visual approach for southbound aircraft involves following the Potomac River and making a steep descending right turn just before landing; conversely, aircraft taking off to the north must make a similarly steep ascending left turn and fly out upriver. These restrictions are to protect the No Fly zone around the Washington Monument, White House, and other government buildings, and even with the turns, aircraft come quite close to the edge of the zone.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


THE PRACTICAL SIDE

The Propagation Corner

A New Year And A New Solar Cycle

by Tomas Hood

 

Amid the recent chatter about how quiet the sun has been during 2008, solar scientists continued to forecast a slow but sure start to the new sunspot cycle, Cycle 24. While hobbyists discussed the possibility that the seemingly longer-than-usual solar cycle minimum could result in another Maunder Minimum (see below) and a mini-ice age, scientists down-played such a scenario.

The Maunder Minimum occurred during the period starting in 1645 and ending in 1715, an incredible 70 years during which sunspots were rarely observed. To the observer, this period is void of any evidence of any 11-year solar cycles. What’s more, this period coincided with the infamous “Little Ice-Age,” a series of extraordinarily cold winters occurring in the Northern Hemisphere.

As month after month passed during 2008 with little to no sunspot activity for days and weeks at a time, the general public perception leaned toward the sensational possibility of another Ice Age. Such thinking certainly makes for a good Hollywood Blockbuster movie.

For example, a fair amount of chatter developed during August 2008, because it was the first time since 1913 that a whole calendar month went by without observed sun spots. While unique in length, in a practical sense, this is not that remarkable; calendars mark arbitrary beginnings and endings, and a 30-day period occurring at any time is just that—30 days—with or without sunspots. And such periods were not uncommon during the solar cycle minimums of the past.

However, such speculation is unfounded. On September 11, a sunspot developed that ended a period of 52 continuous days with no spots. This is the fourth longest spot-free period on record. Both May and June 1913 were spotless, in a continuous spotless run of 92 days from April 8 to July 8. Cycle 19 was the biggest solar cycle on record, and it is interesting to note that it was preceded by long periods without spots. There was a 26-day spotless run from February 15 to March 4, 1953, followed by 27 days from January 12 through February 7, 1954, and 30 days beginning on June 3, 1954, and running through July 2. By October, as I write this column, these long periods of quiet appear to be over. Sunspot activity during October has been significantly high.

David Hathaway, a NASA solar physicist, has reported that the quiet of 2008 is not the second coming of the Maunder Minimum. “We have already observed a few sunspots from the next solar cycle. This suggests the solar cycle is progressing normally,” he says.

“It does seem like it’s taking a long time,” allows Hathaway, “but I think we’re just forgetting how long a solar minimum can last.” The Maunder Minimum in the early 20th Century is a case in point, where there were periods of quiet lasting almost twice as long as the current spell.

Hathaway has studied international sunspot counts stretching all the way back to 1749 and he offers these statistics: “The average period of a solar cycle is 131 months with a standard deviation of 14 months. Decaying solar cycle 23 (the one we are experiencing now) has so far lasted 142 months—well within the first standard deviation and thus not at all abnormal. The last available 13-month smoothed sunspot number was 5.70. This is bigger than 12 of the last 23 solar minimum values.”
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


THE PRACTICAL SIDE

The Wireless Connection

Bob’s Surplus Salvage Special

by Peter J. Bertini

 

Faithful readers might recall Bob Ryan’s Dumpster Diver Special receiver project featured a year or so ago. His small radio used a variety of parts that were scrounged from items that would otherwise be landfill material: tin covers served as front and rear panels and for the chassis itself. Many other common household items were cleverly adapted to fulfill many other design needs. And a majority of the electronic components were garnered from purveyors of surplus components, or scavenged from used electronic gear.

Bob is not one to rest on his laurels, and soon after the column ran, the U.S. Mail brought another small box to our doorstep. Inside was Bob’s latest creation, which he dubbed the Surplus Salvage Special (Photo A). It was so named because many of the parts, both electrical and mechanical, were salvaged from surplus military gear available through Fair Radio1.

I’m not going to go into great depth here, providing every detail needed to make an exact copy of the receiver; we’ve covered the topic closely in past columns and I’m sure most readers will be able to fill in the details from the schematic. Instead, both Bob and I encourage you to experiment with what’s on hand and learn from your own experience. I’ll offer additional commentary as needed. I’ve taken the liberty to make a few changes in Bob’s design to suit my tastes, but both versions are suitable for experimentation by other potential builders. Bob welcomes correspondence, too, so feel free to contact him by mail with any questions that you may have2.

Bob’s Surplus Salvage Special draws on a proud Amateur Radio tradition: modifying military surplus gear or salvaged components to enable hams to get on the air at a low cost! The art of surplus military conversion was at its peak at the conclusion of WWII when tons of surplus military gear hit the scrap market. Our sister magazine, CQ, was one of the leaders in showing hams how to get the most from that old gear. Besides columns, the editors published several surplus conversion books that are handy reference works to this day. Some hams are old enough to fondly remember the many surplus houses that lined the old Radio Row in New York City; the area was razed to build the World Trade Towers decades ago and a radio legacy was lost to time.

The Circuit

Bob’s receiver uses two battery tubes; both are type 49 tetrodes and have a screen grid with five-pin bases. Unlike the low-gain triodes used in our earlier projects, these tubes will provide a surprising amount of performance, especially in a two-tube design! While the tube filament is intended for two-volt operation, they do fine with a single D cell for the A supply. A set of three 9-volt batteries handles the B+ high-voltage needs for the radio. The transistor 9-volt batteries are wired in series, with taps for 9, 18 and 27 B+ supply voltages being available (see Photo B). Having a variety of voltages allows some experimentation in choosing the voltage that provides the smoothest regeneration action for reception.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


SCANNING

Utility Communications Digest

It’s Checkmates: USN S-3 Becomes Extinct This Month

by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ

 

A chapter in U.S. military history will come to a close when the Navy’s only remaining S-3 squadron, the VS-22 “Checkmates,” are decommissioned at Naval Air Station Jacksonville this month. The only other remaining active S-3 squadron was disestablished last fall, when sailors, family members, retirees, and friends of the VS-32 “Maulers” turned out to bid farewell to the command during a ceremony in Hangar 117 at NAS JAX last September 25.

The Checkmates, properly known as Sea Control Squadron Two Two, traces its origin all the way back to the torpedo squadron VT-42 established in June of 1945 at NAS Brunswick, Maine, which was also named “Checkmates.” Equipped with the Grumman TBM-3E-3W Avenger, it was redesignated as attack squadron VA-2E in November of 1946 at NAS Oceana in Virginia, and then as composite squadron VC-22 in September of 1948. Finally the squadron became anti-submarine squadron VS-22 in April of 1950 at NAS Norfolk. It transitioned to the AF-2S/2W Guardian in the early 1950s and craft were identified by the tail code “SL.” VS-22 was disestablished at NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island, in June of 1956, but a new anti-submarine squadron VS-22 was established there in May of 1960.

Here I must note that the U.S. Navy does not acknowledge squadron traditions, so officially the old VS-22 and the new VS-22 were two different squadrons. Nevertheless, from 1960 to 1976 the “Checkmates” flew the Grumman S-2 aircraft based at Quonset Point and operating from Essex-class anti-submarine carriers (Photo A), mostly in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. In the summer of 1974 its pilots began training in Rockwell T2C and Douglas TA-4J aircraft, and VS-22 went on to become the Navy’s first East Coast-based S-3 squadron.

The S-3 Vikings (Photo B), manufactured by Lockheed, were originally used as anti-submarine aircraft, but its mission shifted to surface warfare and aerial refueling during the late 1990s. After the retirement of the A-6 and A-7 aircraft, the Viking was the only airborne refueling platform organic to the Carrier Air Wings until the advent of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

The aircraft also provided electronic warfare and surface surveillance capabilities to the carrier battle group and also served as an in-flight tanker, proving its value time and again as a carrier-based, subsonic, all-weather, multi-mission aircraft capable of extended missions. Because of the engines’ high-pitched sound, it has also been nicknamed the “Hoover,” after the brand of vacuum cleaner. A variation of this aircraft, the ES-3A Shadow, served as long-range electronic reconnaissance (ELINT) aircraft.
The S-3 also made history in another way on May 1, 2003, when U.S. President George W. Bush rode in the co-pilot seat of a Viking that landed on the deck of USS Abraham Lincoln, where he delivered his speech announcing the end of major combat in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This S-3 has been the only Navy flight to date to use the callsign NAVY ONE. The aircraft that President Bush flew in (Photo C) was retired shortly after, and on July 15, 2003, was accepted as an exhibit at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida.

As for the “Checkmates,” they not only made history as the Navy’s first East Coast S-3 squadron, which I mentioned above, they also wrote themselves into the books by participating in the 1961 recovery of America’s first astronaut, Alan B. Shepard, after his pioneering space flight on May 5 of that year. The squadron also participated in the recovery of Gemini 5 astronauts Gordon Cooper and Charles “Pete” Conrad and Apollo 7 astronauts Wally Shirra, Donn Eisele, and Walter Cunningham.
 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


 THE LIGHTER SIDE

The Loose Connection

A Capital Idea

by Bill Price, N3AVY

 

Got some vacation time left before the snow falls? How about scanning Washington, D.C. for $25 a day. Batteries not included.

When I was too young to afford $5 a day, I remember seeing books telling me how I could go to Wherever for that mere pittance. It seemed as far off as a million dollars at the time—I think my allowance was $1.25 a week—and I later learned that the $5 daily rate did not include getting there. As I grew older and earned more, it seemed that the daily rate dangled by these books also grew—always staying just a little out of reach.

As someone who lives and works near our nation’s capital, it has always seemed to me that people could visit D.C. for a mere pittance and find lots of scanning activity (and even some shortwave listening), making this a perfect place for visitors, especially after the heat of summer has gone by.

Like the tourist guides, I can’t help you cover the expense of getting here, but I know from walking past Union Station (railroad) and the ever-exciting bus terminal just two blocks north of that historic location, that there are ways to get here that don’t involve driving or flying.

Staying in D.C.: it’s simple. Don’t. While there are many lovely hotels within the city limits, there are few that you’d wish to pay for. Suburban Maryland and Virginia provide subway access to D.C. (and the subways are just fine) and have much lower motel rates. You can still find some that are in the $40 range if you look around. Here’s where I’ll do the first arithmetic: for a family of four (who can sleep in two beds), that’s your first $10/day. I find the Virginia side generally easier, and a little more tourist friendly right about (and a little beyond) the end of the D.C. Metro line.

Of course, you can splurge for breakfast and head straight to the first fast-food drive-through and throw money away foolishly, but what youngsters would pass up handfuls of pre-sweetened dry cereal from Mega-Lo-Mart? Just think…good nourishment at about ¢50 a day, and if you let the kiddies share a pint of milk, they’ve had a downright healthy breakfast for about a dollar a head. You and your significant other will need a bit more sustenance, starting with some instant coffee from the complementary coffee pot in your room, and a bit of the milk you’ll have to grab from the kiddies before they drain it dry.

I’ve always enjoyed brown-and-serve sausages warmed on a television chassis during my hotel stays, but our legal department warned me about advising non-professionals to remove the back of a TV set, so we’ll assume you’ve brought your tiny microwave oven or been lucky enough to find a $40 motel which offers one in the room.

While you’re tuning up the scanner for your first day’s roaming (and I use the term to mean both on foot and with your scanners) you can be warming any of dozens of canned breakfast foods available at the many “dollar-stores” in suburban D.C. While I wanted to talk about heating various canned goods on the exhaust manifold of your car (especially during summer) that pesky legal department told me that was off-limits as well. Something about fumes, burning your hands, and all that silliness. I think that brings us up to about $11 per person, per day, so far.

You’ll probably want to see the nearly 100 marvelous eating places in D.C.’s Union Station, which you can reach by the Metro. Your metro-passes are good all day (except during rush hours) and cost about $7 per person so we’re up to about $18 before lunch.
 

 

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications