The Weirder Side Of Wireless
Pocket Full Of Miracles
A Covington, Louisiana, man credits his cell
phone with saving his life after a stray .45-caliber bullet with his
name on it found its mark. Sixty-eight-year-old R.J. Richard was mowing
his lawn when he was struck in the chest. He initially believed a stone
kicked out by his tractor had hit him, but when he pulled his phone from
his pocket, it fell apart. Though bruised, it could have been much worse
for Richard. His doctors told him he was spared serious injury, even
death, by two things: his phone, and the fact that the bullet’s
trajectory was at an angle rather than head-on. Richard believes the
bullet was likely fired by a hunter in woods near his home, but he’s
sure that God told him to put the phone in his overalls chest pocket
that day, rather than in a pants pocket as usual.
To allay concerns for the well being of an
endangered bird, most of the State of Hawaii moved its changeover to
digital TV to January 15, more than a month ahead of the nationwide
FCC-mandated conversion date of February 17, 2009. Wildlife authorities
recommended the move to protect the start of the Hawaiian petrel’s
nesting season on Maui’s Haleakala volcano. There was concern that
dismantling the analog transmission towers nearby could disrupt the
birds’ activities. New transmission towers were being erected at lower
elevations, according to published reports. Wildlife experts say the
bird is nocturnal with a chirp imitating the sound of a puppy’s yap.
Tower guy wires can injure the Hawaiian petrel, which is a rare species,
and the lights from metropolitan areas can disorient the birds.
News, Trends, And Short Takes
by D. Prabakaran
IBM Teams Up With BPL Provider To Offer Services In Seven U.S. States
IBM announced that it has signed a $9.6 million deal with International Broadband Electric Communications (IBEC) to install equipment and provide BPL (Broadband over Power Line) service to almost 350,000 homes in Alabama, Indiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. According to the Associated Press, IBEC Chief Executive Scott Lee said the network, which will be funded by $70 million in low-interest federal loans from the Department of Agriculture, should be in place in about two years. IBEC currently provides broadband to only about 1,400 customers, most of them beginning to receive service in the past 18 months.
“IBEC’s equipment doesn’t use the ham bands,” said BPL expert and ARRL Laboratory Manager Ed Hare, W1RFI, “making it less likely that they will have any interference complaints from amateurs. Their equipment, however, does interfere with shortwave broadcast and other spectrum, but in the U.S., not many users have complained. IBM has been in the BPL business for a few years now, so this venture is nothing new for them.” IBEC staff member Brent Zitting, KB4SL, serves as a member of ARRL’s EMC Committee.
A 2006 FCC study reported that fewer than 5,000 homes receive their Internet connections via power lines. IBM and IBEC’s joint plan, Lee said, will serve residents, of whom about 86 percent have no cable or DSL access, in the seven states.
According to reports, IBEC’s strategy is to
sign up electric cooperatives that provide power to sparsely populated
areas across the eastern United States. Rather than compete toe-to-toe
with large, entrenched cable or DSL providers, IBEC is looking for
customers that have been largely left out of the move to high-speed
The Voice of Russia radio station began broadcasting in Kurdish in Iraqi Kurdistan. Station spokesmen say the new project is non-political and its goal is to bring the Russian and Kurdish people closer together. Analysts say that the project has an obvious political nature and that it is a means of advancing Russian interests in Kurdistan and throughout the Middle East.
The Voice of Russia had considered a Kurdish
service for several years, but funding restrictions had prevented its
implementation until now. Broadcasts originate in Erbil, Sulaimaniya,
Kirkuk, and Dohuk, Iraq and will be two hours long, airing in the
mornings and evenings.
Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications
by Richard Fisher, KI6SN
FCC Commissioner Questions Arbitron “Portable People Meter” Rating System
The validity of a new electronic measurement system being used by Arbitron, Inc., to track radio station listenership has been questioned by a member of the FCC. Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein in late 2008 sent a letter to Chairman Kevin Martin calling for an investigation of Arbitron’s “Portable People Meter” rating service and its fairness to minority broadcasters. According to published reports, the system uses a device similar to a pager to automatically document what stations are being listened to.
The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters and other groups allege that Arbitron reduced the number of listeners it tracks when it implemented the Portable People Meter, therefore using data from unrepresentative samples that inaccurately reflect the audience for stations owned by minorities.
“We have heard from numerous broadcasters and advocates for diversity that the continued deployment of [the PPM] in new markets without accreditation from Media Ratings Council constitutes a clear and present danger to media diversity,” Adelstein wrote, adding that “because Arbitron ratings play such an integral role in the business of broadcasting, the Commission needs to launch its own inquiry to determine whether the PPM ratings are accurate and reliable.”
Arbitron says the service is superior to the
paper diaries it used previously. The Portable People Meter was first
implemented in Philadelphia in April 2007, and has since been used in
markets in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and San Francisco,
according to published reports. Arbitron’s ratings are used extensively
as a measure to determine radio stations’ advertising rates. In a
statement, Arbitron said the FCC does not have authority to regulate
audience ratings, and that audience ratings’ accuracy and methodologies
should be left to the private sector, such as the Media Rating Council.
The indecency case over singer Janet Jackson’s breast-baring appearance at the 2004 Super Bowl has made its way to the nation’s highest court. The FCC has appealed a ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, alleging the court was incorrect in throwing out the case against CBS Corp. in July and setting aside a $550,000 fine. In a halftime performance with singer Justin Timberlake, Jackson’s breast was exposed briefly in what was later described as a “wardrobe malfunction.”
The 3rd District Court had pointed to the
FCC’s practice of not deeming images objectionable if they are
“fleeting.” According to published reports, the FCC said the court
incorrectly applied a rule pertaining to language—one that had required
a profanity be repeated before it is considered indecent. The FCC says
the rule didn’t apply to images.At the time of the 2004 Super Bowl, the
broadcasters were not using video delay for live events.
What You’ll Soon Be Buying
by Rob de Santos
This month we take a quick peek at a number of new products and
technologies that are just coming onto the market. Some are practical
and others just a bit off the beam, but they all offer a hint of the
direction electronics is heading (think mobility, simplicity, and big
power in small packages). Radio technology is at the center of many of
these developments as we become an even more “wireless world.”
One of the changes that’s just around the corner is the addition of Wi-Fi connections in your car or truck. Several automakers, including Chrysler in the United States, are actively working toward making this option available on new vehicles as early as 2010 using technology from a California company called Autonet Mobile. Your car or truck becomes a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot. The technology melds “3G” cellular reception with an in-car Wi-Fi router, giving devices in your car access to the Internet. Initial indications are that the connection speeds will run from 150 to 800 kilobits per second, faster than a dial-up connection but well short of common home high-speed connections. Still, this should be good enough for basic Web browsing, email, updating your GPS, and your child’s Nintendo. Using this for Internet radio (a key application for this writer) seems possible, though uncertain, at these speeds, and video is out of the question.
Concerns have already been voiced about the potential for driver distraction from incoming email and other information as well as the outdated security of the router (it’s not yet available in the most advanced wireless security protocols, such as WPA2). The router has a claimed range of up to 100 feet. Indications are that the dealer-installed price for this product will run somewhere in the $500 range.
Aftermarket units will be available for purchase on other makes and
models, though at somewhat higher prices. The units will require a
one-year contract at monthly prices of $29 (1 gigabyte per month) or $59
(5 gigabytes per month) and a $35 activation fee. The supporting
cellular service is available only through Autonet Mobile at this time,
though competing companies are sure to enter the field
If you have a house full of electronic gadgets and radios (and who doesn’t
these days?) batteries are a constant requirement. One way to reduce
your battery cost and reduce waste is to use rechargeables, but this has
its own associated issues, such as how to keep them charged efficiently.
What if you could recharge your batteries by simply plugging them into
one of those spare USB ports on your PC? That’s the idea of a British
company called Moixa Energy, Ltd., which offers something called the
USBCell. Available in several battery types, from AA and 9V, to mobile
phone and PDA batteries, the USBCell has a snap-open end that plugs
right into any USB connection.
Making Radio—Pirate Style, Part 2: Audio And Production
The Elements Of Sound Behind The Broadcasts
Toward the close of the Cold War in the 1980s,
shortwave listeners might have been surprised to hear Russian announcers
Miriam Brokov, Gilbert Svenovich, and Natasha Brokovich attacking the
United States with such statistics as, “The United States of America has
an unemployment rate of 62 percent,” while lauding the Soviet Union’s
percentage as zero. In the same program, the station also featured “The
Addams Family: An American Family” and music by “The Rolling Stones
Had Radio Moscow gone crazy, even by Radio Moscow standards? A bit of listening late into the night on December 25, 1985, revealed that the station was not Radio Moscow, but a clever parody by an American pirate called the Voice of Communism. More than just a jab at socialism, the Voice of Communism was a successful satire because it nailed Radio Moscow—the announcers’ accents, the constant use of statistical comparisons, commentaries on the latest five-year plans, everything right down to the hollow-room-style echo on the announcers’ voices and the bit of hum on the audio.
Not only did the sound effects and processing improve the believability of the Voice of Communism, but the station’s jokes also targeted media-savvy shortwave listeners. At one point in the program, Miriam succumbed to the terrible capitalistic ways of the West. She fled the Soviet Union for New York City, and when she did so, she first lost her echo (“I need the security of the echo on my voice”), then her accent. But she was rescued by the other announcers, who deployed a secret echo box.
But, of course, a good-sounding pirate doesn’t need reverb, or even a handful of Marxists. In fact, the bare minimum of what’s necessary are a microphone and something to play back prerecorded material, whether music or sound bites.
Microphones, of course, convert sound waves to
electrical signals. Entire books have been dedicated to the topic, and
“the sound” of a pirate’s mic generally isn’t as important as other
elements in the studio. In fact, one station uses microphones that were
freebies from boxes of cereal. So let’s instead dive into what really
makes the pirates resonate.
Also known as soundboards, broadcast consoles, and mixing boards, mixers allow several different audio sources to be input at user-variable volumes to create a single audio output. So, with a mixer, the announcer can fade between two songs while talking and giving station IDs. For professional-sounding radio, mixers are essential for live broadcasting and nearly so for prerecorded programming (Photo A).
In the 1960s and 1970s, small Shure microphone
mixers, which seemed to be used in every church and fire hall, became
popular. These gave way to two- and four-channel mixers from RadioShack
and nearly every pirate owned at least one. Today’s most popular mixers
are the small consoles that target DJ use and home demo recording for
the musician. Some of the popular brands of mixers include Mackie,
Behringer, Pyramid, and Gemeni. Because of the intended uses of the new
generation of mixers, they often can fade between two channels and can
both independently equalize and add adjustable reverb to each channel.
World Watch: Listening To Bolivia
From Its Andean Heights To Amazonian Rainforests, Instability Afflicts This Beautiful Land
by Gerry Dexter
Back in mid-September of 2007, fears arose that Bolivia might be about to come apart at the seams. Those fears were unfounded, and nothing has unraveled, at least not so far. However, the stresses within the society continue to take their toll on this land-locked South American nation, and the pressure gauge hasn’t dropped much, nor has the political temperature been appreciably lowered.
The conservative states in Bolivia’s northeast (Beni, Pando, Tarija and Santa Cruz) sit atop most of the country’s wealth—the extensive reserves of oil and natural gas (second largest on the continent), and those areas are not in step with the current government’s avowed march toward socialism. Those steps coming out of the capital, La Paz, include plans for a new constitution that would give the government more tools to achieve that result, as well as a longer term for the current president who also marches to this drummer. He is, in fact, the drum major.
President Juan Evo Morales Ayma is leader of
the Movement Towards Socialism party. Morales, a native Aymara Indian
and former coca grower, won Bolivia’s 2005 presidential election with
nearly 54 percent of the vote. He has obvious sympathies with Bolivia’s
coca farmers and a highly negative opinion of the U.S.-assisted Plan
Dignitad (Dignity Plan) to wipe out the practice entirely by destroying
the crops. Indeed, Morales recently cancelled the agreement.
Its history has been marked by violent struggles over resources, money, and power, as is so often the case in former colonial lands. Bolivia has had problems for half a millennium it seems. After a couple of centuries of Spanish rule and a 16-year war, the country finally gained its independence in 1825. This was followed a few years later by war (later confederation) with Peru, followed by yet another war with Chile and Argentina, which it lost. The confederation with Peru was dissolved a short time later. Bolivia lost its seacoast after yet another war (with Chile in the late 1800s). In fact, since it achieved independence, Bolivia has lost nearly half of its original territory in wars with its neighbors.
By the early 1950s, Bolivia instituted universal suffrage, land reform, and at least made a small start down the road to peasant education. Along the way it also nationalized the tin mines. The years since have seen a mostly sorry parade of presidents, some of whom tried to do some good, and some who mainly gave inspiring speeches but mostly put their hand in the government till. Still others seized extra time in power through the end of a gun.
So there have been good guys and bad guys at
the helm, with a few military governments tossed in for variety. From
Bolivia’s independence in 1825 through 1981 there have been 193 coups,
translating into, on average, a change in government every 10 months.
Not exactly a story of stability!
Come One, Come
All To The
The Kulpsville Tradition Continues…
Richard A. D’Angelo
It’s hard to believe that winter is almost over and soon it will be time for my pilgrimage to Kulpsville for the Annual Winter SWL Festival, sponsored by the North American Shortwave Association (NASWA). We invite you, too, to come to Kulpsville ready to participate and learn something about radio, enjoy a lot of great radio-related conversations, and to benefit from the social life that only a well-stocked hospitality room can provide while practicing the event motto of the FEST never ends…
The 2009 Winter SWL Festival is scheduled for March 13 and 14, 2009, at the Best Western-The Inn at Towamencin (215-368-3800), or simply Kulpsville as it’s known to long-time attendees. The FESTmeisters, Rich Cuff and John Figliozzi, are co-chairing this popular event for the 9th time. This year will mark the 22nd annual gathering of devoted radio listeners, and it’s sure to be another good one. It’s the one radio gathering in North America where every facet of the radio hobby is represented—shortwave, mediumwave, scanner, amateur, pirates, satellite, radio nostalgia…basically your typical DC-to-daylight crowd. The Winter SWL Festival format continues to provide the right blend of fun, education, information, and entertainment.
The usual question a radio hobbyist asks if
he or she has never attended a prior Winter SWL Festival is, “why would
I want to attend the Winter SWL Festival?” If you’ve never attended a
radio gathering, or the Winter SWL Festival in particular, you’re
missing out on spending quality time with like-minded radio individuals.
This is where you don’t have to explain why you listen to a scanner or
shortwave broadcasts in languages you don’t understand or why your
computer is loaded with software designed to interface with radio gear.
Yes, there are other people who share your passion, and there are no
apologies or explanations necessary. Think of the Fest as a support
group with an open bar!
Based on past years’ activities, I’ll try to preview what you can expect to see, hear and do while attending the annual Winter SWL Festival. Many of the regulars arrive a day early on Thursday to begin setting up the main meeting room, run antenna wires, get the display tables organized, and to meet and greet old friends and early arrivals.
The formal program begins Friday morning when Messrs. Cuff and Figliozzi kick things off with welcoming announcements. Throughout the day the Stockholm Room of the hotel features demonstrations, such as Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM), satellite monitoring, and software for controlling communications receivers, that run continuously throughout the two days of forums and discussions. The VOA’s Kim Andrew Elliott will conduct continuous tests of DRM transmissions using the latest in DRM-ready receiver equipment while Tracy Woods provides a demonstration of international satellite TV and radio. The room will also host various vendor, station, and club displays.
Throughout the next two days various forums will be held on topics such as pirate radio, scanners, DRM, and new equipment. Specialized topics on radio history and perspectives on broadcasting are also featured. Internet Radio will be a new topic this year that should attract considerable attention with more and more shortwave broadcasters dropping North America from their target audience. The variety of subjects and topics reflects the wide array of interests of those attending.
Scanning The Skies
by Ken Reiss
Scanning airplane communications is a bit of a specialty in the hobby. Pop’Comm gives it regular coverage in both the “Civil Aviation Monitoring” and “Military Radio Monitoring” columns, but for those of you not yet familiar with it, I thought we’d do a little introduction in these pages.
Picking up, and understanding, aviation comms requires a somewhat specialized receiver and some patience to learn the lingo. In the old days, the specialized receiver was often a dedicated one, but many modern scanners include the civilian air band. Military aviation scanning may still require a special receiver, but those who are fans know what a fun part of the hobby this can be.
You’ll need a scanner that covers the band you’re interested in, of course. The aviation band for civil aircraft runs from 108 to 137 MHz (108 to 117 is used for navigation aids, so there isn’t much traffic of interest in that range). If you’re new to air scanning, the civil band is the place to start since the comms can be heard throughout the country, frequency information is readily available, and the band may already be on the scanner you own. The military uses 225 to 400 MHz. Many aviation enthusiasts are also military buffs as a lot of the military traffic relates to aircraft in flight (at least in North America).
All air traffic is AM, so your scanner will have to have this mode if you want to listen. Any scanner that includes an “air band” will have the civilian range covered, but unfortunately, only scanners toward the high end of the market will cover the military bands. Some of the communications receivers feature this band and the AM mode, but a general scanner or trunk-tracking scanner probably won’t.
With the recent security concerns, the days of
sitting at the airport on an observation lot or at the end of the fence
are probably over, or at least you must approach with caution. If you’re
sitting in a parked car someplace close to the airport it’s almost
certain that security will be by in short order. Don’t push them—they
have enough to worry about. Luckily, it turns out that you can hear
quite a bit of what’s going on without even being close to an airport,
and you can hear the ground controllers several miles away, too.
Since most people start out scanning civil
aviation, that’s what we’ll concentrate on here. Any flight that’s not
military falls within civil aviation, which includes scheduled air
carrier flights as well as small private planes used for business or
fun. You’ll hear both on the civil control frequencies, but it’s not
hard to tell them apart.
Military Radio Monitoring MacDill Air Force Base—A Long And Proud History
by Mark Meece, N8ICW
Since winter has us northerners still tightly in its grip, let’s use this column to take us to more temperate climes in the southeastern United States; in particular, to the beautiful Floridian West Coast.
Situated about eight miles south of downtown
Tampa on the south end of the Interbay Peninsula is MacDill Air Force
Base. And, like Florida’s native Manatee, MacDill on several occasions
has found itself on an endangered list.
MacDill, originally known as Southeast Air Base, Tampa, can trace its roots all the way back to 1898 and the Spanish-American War. At that time, Tampa was considered a strategic emplacement as a rendezvous location for troops on their way south to Cuba to aid that country in its fight for independence from Spain. Some 66,000 troops waited to board ships heading to Cuba, 10,000 of which were soldiers who had set up camp in what was then called Port Tampa City.
The base was renamed in honor of Colonel
Leslie MacDill, a pioneer of the United States Army Air Corp who died in
a plane crash in 1938. With the formation of the U.S. Air Force in 1947,
the official name changed from MacDill Field to MacDill Air Force Base.
The airfield’s first assigned mission was the planning and execution of
the continental United States’ air defense, and it became the
headquarters of the Air Defense Command’s Third Air Force.
The official dedication of the base took place on April 16, 1941, about one year after occupancy began. Flight operations began in 1941 following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The base became a major staging area for aircraft and crews of the Army Air Corp.
The first units assigned to MacDill where charged with a variety of responsibilities. The 29th Bombardment Group was activated and charged with flying antisubmarine patrols over the Caribbean. The 29th served MacDill from May of 1940 until it transferred to Gowen Army Airfield in Idaho in June 1942, at which time it became an Operational Training Unit (OTU) for the Consolidated B-24 Liberator. The 44th Bombardment Group was a heavy squadron that also flew the B-24 on antisubmarine missions. That group moved to Barksdale Army Air Field, Louisiana, in 1942.
In the fall of 1942, the antisubmarine
patrols, along with other naval operations, were concluded after
successfully bringing an end to the German U-boat operations in the
western Atlantic, which had been plaguing the shipping lanes.
THE LIGHTER SIDE
Trivia And Toons
by R.B. Sturtevant, AD7IL
Q. When was the first class held that taught prospective amateur radio operators to prepare for their licenses?
A. The earliest example I can find is
of a class going strong in the spring and fall of 1919 at the
Massachusetts Radio & Telegraph School in Boston. Beginning a tradition
in amateur radio, the class was free. The school also taught, for a fee,
wireless and telegraph operators who were preparing for commercial and
A. In June 1938 Max Schmeling fought
Joe Louis, “The Brown Bomber,” for the World Heavyweight Championship.
The Germans had made much of their first pairing, the match of 1936, in
which Schmeling beat Detroit’s favorite son. The Nazis put a great deal
of effort into the propaganda surrounding the rematch to tell everyone
that “our Max” would beat Louis. For the fight, Hitler ordered all of
Germany to stay up until 3 a.m. German time to hear the self-proclaimed
“Aryan Superman” destroy an inferior American Negro. Americans also
listened in from coast to coast.
Global Information Guide Pre-Spring Band Stirrings, O (No) Canada, And Romania Adds A Transmitter
by Gerry L. Dexter
Whatever technical troubles were affecting Argentina’s RAE have been fixed. We’re happy to report that 15345 has been reactivated, usually heard here in the late afternoons, and 11710 has come alive as well, best in the local evenings.
Moreover, 6070 has gotten to be an interesting spot. As reported earlier, CFRX/CFRB in Toronto has been reactivated here where it had held forth for many years. But they are still getting some kinks out of the system, so once in a while tuning this spot provides no Canadian signal. In the absence of CFRX you might well find Chile’s La Voz, which also occupies 6070. Beyond that, 6070 also hosts ELWA from Liberia, which might sometimes make it, running up to its sign off at 2300.
In that same area of the band, the rarely heard Mexican station, Radio Universidad-XEXQ in San Luis Potosi, has been known to show up occasionally. Try around 1200 or later (or earlier). This one is definitely in the chancy category, but it is certainly worth checking. Even chancier is 6105, where the long dormant Candela FM in Merida, Mexico, has been showing signs of life. The station appears to be trying to make it with a decrepit 250 watt transmitter that has seen better days. It would probably be best to try this one around sunup or sundown.
Radio Canada International has ended its broadcasts to Europe on shortwave, giving the same old, tired reason for the discontinuation: money! Not to worry, though, you folks across the pond—you can still hear your favorite RCI programs on the Internet!
Meanwhile Romania continues to expand its shortwave operation. A third transmitter site has now come into operation. This one is at Saftica, where a 100-kW transmitter is now in service. It looks as though this one will be difficult to bag, though, as most of the schedule makes use of the lower frequencies during the late morning to early afternoon hours when those bands are largely dead to us. There is no English programming, either. The schedule is a little too long and involved to get into here, but here are a couple of best bets: 1300–1356 in Romanian on 9610 and 1700–1756 on 9855.
The Guatemalan Radio Verdad (4052.5) is off
the air due to a lightening hit. They need to acquire some hard-to-find
parts before they can even begin repairs. I don’t know when they’ll be
back on. Neither do they.
Email hassles cut me off from my loggings trough for much of the time since the January issue was put to bed, and thus the number of logs is considerably fewer than usual this time. Things will likely be back to full strength next month.
Remember, your shortwave broadcast station logs are always welcome. But please be sure to double or triple space between the items, list each logging according to home country, and include your last name and state abbreviation after each. Also needed are spare QSLs or good copies you don’t need returned, station schedules, brochures, pennants, station photos, and anything else you think would be of interest. And how about sending a photo of you at your listening post? It’s about time your shack graced these pages!
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-Shijak at 0334 on the Albanian constitution. The W sounded bored—I kept waiting for something on grain production, like in the good old days! (Wood, TN)
ALGERIA—Radio Algerienne, 7150 via Portugal to North Africa at 0417 with M in AA. (Parker, PA)
ANGUILLA—Caribbean Beacon/University Network, 11775 at 1211 with Gospel music and contact information. (Wood, TN)
ARGENTINA—RAE, 11710.7 at 0200 with EE service. Weak signal. (Alexander, PA)
ASCENSION ISLAND—BBC Atlantic Relay, 6005 heard at 0450 with phone interview on women’s rights in Zambia. (Parker, PA) 0636 with W hosting Network Africa. (D’Angelo, PA)
AUSTRALIA—Radio Australia, 5995-Brandon in
Pidgin at 0930. (Ronda, OK) 6020, //9475, //9580, 9590 at 1224. (Yohnicki,
ON) 9560-Shepparton with concert anmts at 1252 and 17715-Shepparton on
nutrition drinks at 0155. (Brossell, WI) 15240-Shepparton to Oceana at
0240, //15415 to SEA and 15515 to Pacific. (Parker, PA) 15515-Shepparton
monitored at 0220 with sports PbP, //15240. (MacKenzie, CA)
Digital TV—Ready Or Not, Here It Comes!
by Bruce A. Conti
Unless you’ve been living in solitary confinement, under a rock, or lost in space, you’re undoubtedly aware of the digital television (DTV) transition deadline this month. Despite all the publicity, millions of procrastinators may find themselves isolated from the television world after February 17 when analog television broadcasting over the airwaves will cease to exist, replaced by DTV broadcasting in the United States.
While public service announcements “as seen
on TV” may indicate that upgrading your old antenna TV to DTV is as
simple as installing a converter box, like many do-it-yourself home
improvement projects, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. While
Pop’Comm has covered this in some depth recently, the change is now upon
us. So, for those of you who may have missed the past several issues, or
who are still unsure about what you need to do, here are a few things to
consider for a smoother transition.
To begin with, first determine whether or not your old analog television actually needs to be converted to DTV. If an analog TV is connected to a subscription service such as cable TV, satellite TV, or broadband FiOS, then it will continue to receive signals, because the outboard subscriber hardware or cable box already does the conversion. If an analog TV is receiving free over-the-air broadcasts via an external indoor antenna or “rabbit ears,” or a rooftop or attic-mounted outdoor antenna, then you’ll need to take action. Don’t forget about the spare TV in the kitchen, garage, or out on the patio not connected to the cable box.
There are three basic options to consider for upgrading to DTV. One option might be to replace an analog TV with a new DTV. Of course there’s a wide range of DTV sets available today, designed to fit any space and viewing requirements. There are some really nice “laptop-sized” DTV receivers that would fit under a kitchen cabinet, on a coffee table, or otherwise replace that old 13-inch color TV out on the three-season porch. Just make sure the new TV includes a DTV or ATSC (Advanced Systems Television Committee—the group that developed U.S. DTV standards) tuner for over-the-air digital reception. Keep in mind, though, if you choose to replace an analog antenna TV, the new DTV may still need an antenna upgrade for reliable reception.
Option two might be to connect to a subscription service, abandoning free over-the-air broadcast TV altogether. Unfortunately, many panicked antenna TV viewers will feel that this is the only option. Cable TV operators have been especially aggressive in marketing low-cost basic service to attract new subscribers with the digital conversion deadline fast approaching.
The third option is the installation of a DTV converter box between the antenna and analog TV. A coupon-eligible converter box (CECB) can be purchased for as little as $10 when combined with a U.S. government subsidized $40 coupon. Two $40 coupons per household can be requested at www.dtv2009.gov or by calling 1-888-DTV-2009. Delivery time is approximately one month. Coupons will no longer be available after March 31.
The low-cost converter boxes are essentially all the same, a black box about the size of a paperback novel, with jacks for antenna input and selectable analog Channel 3 or 4 output to the TV, and a remote control. In addition, some will provide separate analog audio and video outputs for connection to a component system. More importantly, look for a “smart antenna”-compatible converter box, an almost absolute necessity for reliable reception and convenience.
What’s New In Homeland Security And A Pop’Comm Salute
by Mitch Gill, NA7US
While we may have a new administration, I
doubt that we’ll see any changes in Homeland Security for a while. The
plans in place today will probably remain valid for the next year or two
as the new group moves in and begins to get an idea of where we need to
go. Whether we agree or not with who was elected, we must all agree to
continue to support our government in the area of Homeland Security.
Politics plays no role in our responsibility to protect our homeland.
Speaking of changes, I’m constantly amazed at how fast technology is changing and I’m trying to learn about and use the new developments as much as possible. The learning curve I’m working through now is for Radio over Internet Protocol (ROIP). There are two systems we’re installing here at the Joint Operations Center near me in Washington State. One gives us the ability to listen to law enforcement throughout the state and the other ties us into all 911 operators throughout the state. We have the capability to transmit to them as well but we have no need. We just need to know of situations that could be occurring in the event the National Guard is needed. We also are emulating the communication capabilities of the State Emergency Operations Center in the unlikely event their system goes down.
From a Homeland Security perspective this is a
remarkable system as I can pick and choose whom to listen to, or whether
to listen to all. The downside to the system, as its name suggests, is
that radio is being transmitted and received over the Internet. If the
Internet goes down or we lose electricity we no longer have that
capability. That’s why we continue to build our backup radio
communications capabilities and rely on Military Affiliate Radio System
(MARS) members, Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES), and Radio
Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) to assist if needed.
Another area of technological development that we’re working on is the Washington State Comprehensive Emergency Management Network. This system allows us to contact and monitor all the county Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) throughout the state. If you’re in Washington or a bordering state you can hear them on their repeaters at 45.20 MHz, 45.36 MHz, and 45.48 MHz during actual emergencies like floods, fires, or terrorist incidents.
Since this frequency is close to the 6-meter ham band, it’s important to remember that propagation is a little different. We ham radio operators call the 6-meter band the “Magic Band” for good reason. It doesn’t follow the standard “rules” of propagation as it falls between HF and VHF bands. On HF you can hear transmissions from thousands of miles away on most days, and on VHF you’re limited to line of sight. What this means to you is that on some days you may hear nothing, even if you’re in or border our state, and other days readers as far away as Florida may hear them. But no matter where you are, your state will have a similar system, and with a little sleuthing on the Internet you’ll probably find them working around the same frequencies.
CEMNET is yet another valuable tool in our
quest to assist in Homeland Security. Being aware of incidents as
they’re occurring can steer you in the direction of other frequencies
you need to monitor. As I’ve said in the past, those who want to do us
harm will probably be using frequencies just outside the ham radio
bands. Record and report; that’s my motto.
Say Something—It’s Talk Radio!
by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ
Now that we’re mired in the worst economic crisis since plate-modulated AM was the King of the Ham Bands, get ready for increased activity of the airwaves. Although I no longer work at the esteemed firm of Goldman, Sachs, Maxim, and Marconi, I have been around the hobby long enough to remember that when the economy trips and stumbles, hams trip the PTT switch with increasing frequency!
Someday, someone should perform a detailed study of the market and on-air activity trends that influence amateur radio behavior. Taking the widest perspective, we see two major factors that seem to operate independently, one direct, one inverse. When sunspot activity is increasing (or steadily elevated), so is ham activity. And when the economy is down, ham activity is up. (I don’t know whether equipment sales are up in a down economy. I’m just talking about activity.)
I guess it stands to reason. When people aren’t taking vacations, splurging on clothes, buying big-screen TVs, or eating out as much, there’s more time for the old stand-by—ham radio!
Interestingly, we’re presently in a down economy and a dismal, bottomed-out flat spot in the solar cycle (some experts are even predicting a dire, almost non-existent Cycle 24, but let’s save that bad news for later, when and if it materializes). On the plus side is a return to winter’s helpful boost to propagation in general, and its minimizing effect on static and noise.
It’s a witch’s brew of competing forces fit
for a ham economist, but as I write this in October, I’m still
predicting an increase in activity. More hams. More communicating. More
talking. We might all be talking about the demise of civilization from
our solar-powered sets (the AC mains long inoperable), or about how
there’s no longer a Postal Service to deliver the QSL cards we can’t
afford to have printed anyway, but we’ll be talking nonetheless via mic,
key, and keyboard.
Which brings me to this month’s main topic:
talking. More specifically: hams talking to other hams. And even more
specifically: how not to be boring and predictable!
But this time she watched me add a few quick contest QSOs into the log and noticed that I wasn’t really chatting with the hams on the other end. She asked me how rapidly working other stations without even exploring or engaging in any conversation could be even remotely satisfying.
Even as I explained a bit about contest QSOs, amateur radio contests, and their emphasis on speed and maximum contacts, how DX stations don’t always have time to chat, especially at QRP signal levels, etc., I knew she had a valid point. I hadn’t been very chatty on the air for quite a while.
It was convenient to soften that reality with
QRP, sneaky condo operation, taking advantage of contests to work new
countries, states, etc, but I knew that I could stand to be more
conversant and break out of my rut—be more like I was in “the good old
Shannon’s Broadcast Classics
Early Radio Ratings
by Shannon Huniwell
In the middle of Peter Knight’s very first
time on the air, he became the number one rated announcer in all of
Rhode Island radio! Verification of this amazing feat was certified by
the confessed media nerd who roomed with Knight at a tiny private
college. The fellow had set an alarm clock to ring smack dab in the
middle of the overnight program and then calculated his roommate’s
top-dog status via a 10-transistor Montgomery-Wards AM/FM Airline
portable that easily detected WGNG (550 kHz) Pawtucket.
Thirty-five years later and on the other side of the country, I experienced a similar kind of captive-audience-syndrome that inadvertently caused Knight’s listeners to rate him number one. An old college friend of mine had long suggested that I visit her rustic lakeside cottage near McCall, Idaho. This past summer, I was finally able to accept her kind offer, but found myself almost immediately alone in the remote setting for a few days when she got word of an emergency at the family car dealership that her husband couldn’t handle by himself.
My friend Lynne apologized profusely for her
unplanned absence and the cabin’s Spartan furnishings. “Jim and I love
this place for what it doesn’t demand of us maintenance-wise,” she
explained. In fact a feather bed, some garage sale finds, hot water, and
an aluminum canoe were about the only vestiges of civilization. After
three days of not having spoken to another soul, I certainly was happy
to hear my old “roomie’s” yellow Jeep crunching twigs on the unpaved
road to the cottage. But that serendipitous solitude helped recharge my
batteries and coincidentally provided a topic for this month’s column.
“Is that your antique Saturday Evening Post on the porch?” Lynne asked as we were finally catching up on this and that.
“No,” I replied a touch incredulously. “It’s yours.”
“Mine? I’ve never seen it before!” she protested. “I used to come to the cottage with a tote bag of magazines and paperbacks I’d been meaning to read at home,” Lynne said, “but I tended to bury myself in the pages, so Jim decreed that he was banning the presence of anything that kept me so preoccupied.” In fact, she said, he’d go through a fake routine of inspecting for “distracters.”
Lynne was genuinely surprised to hear that I’d
spotted the Post flopped in the bottom drawer of a pine dresser that
dwarfed a miniscule storage closet at one end of the cabin’s porch.
Deciding to take a canoe ride during the first afternoon of my solitary
stay, I’d looked for the life jacket and paddle that Lynne said Jim kept
there. She said the storeroom was mostly “Jim’s junk.” Plus, she
couldn’t remember ever having looked beyond the top drawer because
that’s where he always stashed their two life vests.
THE PRACTICAL SIDE
The Wireless Connection
Hickok’s Amazing “Indicating Traceometer” And Other Service-Shops-In-A-Box!
by Peter J. Bertini
It’s hard to believe that over two years have passed since we penned one of our most popular columns, based on reader feedback, since the “Wireless Connection’s” inception. How time flies! That was the column showing how to use a signal tracer to find and isolate problems in a radio receiver. More than one reader offered comments similar to those shared by Mike Grimes: “Just a note to let you know I enjoyed your article on Signal Tracing Techniques! I learned a lot and the level is just about right. Keep up the good work.” Here’s a belated thanks to Mike for his kind comments.
This month’s offering will deal with the early
signal tracers, ones that appeared years before the Heathkit (shown in
Photo A) signal tracers used for my presentation.
John Rider is perhaps best known for the prodigious amount of radio and television trade-related literature he published from the early 1930s through the 1950s. My Rider Perpetual Troubleshooting manuals take up three full library shelves in my living room; and those 20-odd tomes only cover radios made between the early 1920s and the late 1950s!
But besides being a respected publisher, John Rider also invented a unique service instrument: the Rider Model 11A “Chanalyst,” which was first manufactured for him in 1939 by the Service Instruments Company in New York City. RCA quickly acquired the rights to the design, and in 1940 it introduced the model 162 Chanalyst, which was made in RCA’s Camden, New Jersey, manufacturing facilities. These weren’t cheap! The price for an RCA 162 was $107.50 in 1940, and increased to $162.50 for the later 162C model by the late 1940s.
Unlike the unsophisticated and inexpensive signal tracers that were popular during the late 1950s and early ’60s, the early devices combined several service instruments in one cabinet. The concept behind the Chanalyst name was that each test instrument would be one of the five so-called service instrument “channels” contained in the box. The advantages were obvious: less equipment meant less bench space, and having several vital pieces of test equipment in one package, sharing power supplies, one cabinet, etc., hopefully translated into a savings versus buying several discrete instruments.
Photo B shows an RCA Chanalyst owned by Chuck Doose, KB9UMF. Chuck writes:
This set belonged to my father; he’s 85 and
still kicking. He had a radio and television repair business from 1946
until he closed up shop in 1995. I worked for him from 1970 until 1987.
The Chanalyst sat on a shelf and was never used, but I always thought it
was interesting. We didn’t have a manual at the time, so I really didn’t
know what it could do. When he closed the shop we rented dumpsters and
threw out tons of old chassis and TV cabinets. I saved the Chanalyst,
tubes, and various other test equipment from the dumpster. I still don’t
use it much to repair radios, but it does have a special place on my
bench, just because it looks so cool!
THE PRACTICAL SIDE
The Propagation Corner
by Tomas Hood
Shortwave radio listeners and amateur radio operators look forward to new solar cycles because we know that the radio spectrum we love, from the top of the mediumwave frequencies to the bottom end of the very high frequency range, come alive as a result of sunspot activity. The more active the sun, the better conditions become on the high frequencies. At least, generally—there are other types of activity occurring on the sun that degrade conditions on our beloved HF spectrum (see Figure 1 for an image capturing one such phenomenon that caused geomagnetic storms during November, 2008).
A major source of degradation on HF radio propagation is the occurrence of coronal holes and the resulting ionospheric depressions. Coronal holes release huge clouds of solar plasma, spewing it out on the solar winds. When the Earth is under the influence of high-speed solar winds, we often experience periods of geomagnetic disturbances that can develop into significant storms. Of course, while this can degrade HF communications, these disturbances can trigger aurora (Northern and Southern Lights), which in turn often creates conditions on VHF that radio hobbyists look forward to.
Fast solar winds originate in coronal funnels within a coronal hole, with a speed of about 10 kilometers per second at a height of 20,000 kilometers above the sun’s photosphere. Just below the surface of the sun there are large convection cells. Each cell has magnetic fields associated with it, which are concentrated in the network lanes by magneto-convection, where the funnel necks are anchored. The plasma, while still being confined in small loops, is brought by convection to the funnels and then released there, like a bucket of water emptied into an open water channel.
The solar wind plasma is considered to be supplied by plasma stemming from the many small magnetic loops, only a few thousand kilometers in height, crowding the funnel. Through magnetic reconnection plasma is fed from all sides to the funnel, where it may be accelerated and finally form the solar wind.
When the sun unleashes this plasma, an event known as a coronal mass ejection, it projects a billion-ton blast of plasma into space at millions of miles per hour. The solar wind is gusty, much like winds on Earth, and range in speed from about 750,000 miles per hour (approximately 350 kilometers per second), to 1.5 million miles per hour (about 700 kilometers per second). You can view the current solar wind speed as measured by sending your Internet Web browser to www.sec.noaa.gov/SWN/.
Since the solar wind is made up of electrically charged particles, it responds to magnetic fields that permeate the solar atmosphere. Solar wind particles flow along the invisible lines of magnetic force (see Figure 2). When the magnetic field lines stretch straight out into space, as they do in coronal hole regions, the solar wind will move along these magnetic lines at a very high speed. But, when the magnetic field lines bend sharply back to the solar surface, like the pattern you see with iron filings around a bar magnet, the solar wind emerges relatively slowly.
When the interplanetary magnetic field lines
are oriented opposite to the magnetosphere’s orientation, the two fields
connect and allow solar wind particles to collide with oxygen and
nitrogen molecules in the upper atmosphere of these ovals. This causes
light photons to be emitted. When the molecules and atoms are struck by
these solar wind particles the stripping of one or more of their
electrons ionizes them to such an extent that the ionized area is
capable of reflecting radio signals at very high frequencies. This
ionization occurs at an altitude of about 70 miles, very near the E
layer of the ionosphere. The level of ionization depends on the energy
and amount of solar wind particles able to enter the atmosphere.
Utility Communications Digest
Just The Fax, Ma’am! Tuning In On HF Facsimile Transmissions
by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ
Now that you’ve had an entire month to commit yourself to the radio hobbyist’s New Year’s Resolution that I suggested in last month’s column, you should be all set with your radio, computer, interface, and software and be ready for some tips on what to look for.
Since I’m sure that’s the case, this month we take a look at facsimile transmissions over the HF airwaves. Facsimile, usually simply “fax,” is a method of encoding hardcopy text, drawings, or photographs for transmission over telephone lines or radio. You’ve probably seen a fax machine at an office, or may even have one in your home, but in case not, it’s a device that scans a sheet of paper, producing an encoded version that it then transmits over telephone lines to another fax machine at the receiving end. The receiving machine then prints the image so the intended recipient can look at it. Like most technological achievements, this wizardry is indistinguishable from magic for those unfamiliar with the technology, so let’s take a quick look at how it’s done.
As we know from observing an office fax, the
machine scans text or a photo by reading it a little bit at a time. As
it’s doing so, it “decides” whether the area it is reading is light or
dark, and assigns the area a number—0 for light or 1 for dark. The
machine then transmits the number to the receiver, which makes a mark on
the paper corresponding to the area on the original document that was
scanned at the transmitting end. This continues until the entire
document has been scanned, digitized, and transmitted. So you see, it’s
really nothing to be mystified by at all; it’s nothing more than 0s and
While we tend to think of this capability as a modern miracle, the first fax machine was actually patented in 1843 by a man named Alexander Bain. Bain was a Scottish inventor who also invented, among other things, the electric clock. Various improvements on Bain’s original machinery were made over the years, until in 1907, the German physicist and inventor Dr. Arthur Korn invented a commercial fax system that was used to transmit pictures between Paris, London and Berlin.
Still, it was not until 1911 that the first AM modulator for fax machines was patented, allowing fax transmissions to be sent over telephone lines, and it wasn’t until 1922 that RCA began providing commercial transatlantic fax services, sending photos across the Atlantic in six minutes. That same year, Korn’s fax system was used to send, by radio, a photo of the Pope from Rome to the United States, which was published the same day in the New York World newspaper.
Considering that, in general, news pictures during that era in history made their way across the ocean aboard ships rather than via the airwaves, this was a huge accomplishment in the annals of radio. By the mid-1950s, international news services were doing this routinely, but the technology didn’t truly go global until 1968, when the Consultative Committee for International Telephone and Telegraph (CCITT) issued the first international standard for fax, known today as CCITT Group 1. This, and subsequent standards, govern how the frequency of the carrier wave is varied in order to modulate it with the desired information. Because the early fax systems used AM, variations in the received document were produced by signal fading during radio transmission. Therefore, fax today is a form of FSK (frequency-shift keying).
In the CCITT Group 1 standard, the frequency
variation corresponds to the analog signal produced from the originating
machine when the document is scanned. There currently exist three other
standards, also developed by CCITT. The CCITT Group 2 standard calls for
reversing the phase of the carrier between the black and white levels of
the encoded fax signal. In the CCITT Group 3 standard, the digital
version of the scanner signal is sent at 2400 bits per second by a
modem, and the standard permits modems operating at 4,800, 7,200, or
9,600 bits per second.
THE LIGHTER SIDE
The Loose Connection
Friends, Excelsior, And The Elusive Wiring Diagram
by Bill Price, N3AVY
Old friend and loyal reader Joe Maurus, formerly of Pumpkin Center, Louisiana, is now not only a resident of Idaho (famous for its spuds and considerably different weather patterns than the Louisiana delta), but he’s hung up his EMT badge and replaced it with an official document proclaiming that he’s a spud-worthy farmer, according to his new state’s agricultural organization. No snowbirding for him—he’s now 100 percent Idahoan. Older friend Norm has become a true snowbird, spending only 49.9 percent of his time at one end of US Route 1 or the other, depending on how the tax laws are written. Too bad I can’t get those two guys together—that would be a pair a full house couldn’t beat. Maybe they can work out a sked on the ham bands.
Speaking of ham bands, my smarter brother, Microft Price, was always going to get a ham license but could never master the code. For the past few years, I’ve told him that the code requirement has been dropped, but now he tells me it’s not the code that held him back, but all that electronics stuff. When I offered to buy him all the necessary study guides and materials so he could pass the test with ease, he told me there was no place to put an antenna now that he’s in an apartment. He told me our cousin Aesop had stopped by to give him a bag of grapes, but he threw them away after Aesop left. Probably sour, he said.
And speaking of difficulties, last month I got to see how the other half lives. Our kindly editor Edith “Can’t you have that in by yesterday?” Lennon asked if I would like to try writing a normal article—you know, one with actual facts, pictures, captions, and a coherent thread throughout. I foolishly acquiesced. How hard could it be? All those other guys in the stable write normal articles every month.
By the eve of the deadline, I think I handed her a list of frequencies, some call letters, and a dog-eared picture of H.V. Kaltenborn. By now you’ve all seen the article “Listening to the Nation’s Capital,” and I’ve learned my lesson: Don’t try to imitate the real writers—just turn in your silly bit of humor every 30 days and be glad someone in the office likes you.
Although I keep my email address right where
all the stalkers can see it, I do have a spam-filter in place to
minimize the questionable pharmaceutical ads I receive.