To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 



The Weirder Side Of Wireless

by Staff


Something For Radio Huggers

Close your eyes and you can almost hear the bamboo xylophone—provided you turn down the volume on the shock jocks—thanks to an offering by New York eco-boutique Areaware (<www.areaware.com>), which is “renowned for unique design products with an emphasis on forward thinking technologies and original expression,” according to its website. Sprouting up at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, Areaware’s line of sustainably harvested Magno wooden radios boasts an all-organic design—everything but the electronics themselves is made entirely of new growth wood by artisans in a small fishing village in Java. The multi-band radio—AM, FM and shortwave—even features wood-wrapped jacks to connect your iPod or other MP3 player in the back.

The Magno comes in two sizes, small and medium, to better enhance the feng shui of your home, especially if your home is a harmony of retro and Fisher Price styling. The company recommends oiling the uncoated surfaces of the radio “to encourage a deeper connection between user and object.” One would also like to protect the investment (a small one retails for $200; a medium for $250).

Burn After Listening

According to an Associated Press report, firefighters said a radio caused a fire at an elderly housing complex in Hopkinton, Rhode Island, that sent more than two dozen people to the hospital. Officials said that the fire inside a first-floor apartment was giving off hydrogen cyanide, caused when someone started an electric oven with a portable radio inside. Several firefighters were overcome by the smoke. About 20 of them, along with eight residents and three EMTs, were taken to area hospitals. More than 40 rescue vehicles from across Rhode Island and Connecticut responded to the apartment complex to transport those injured, the report continued.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 



News, Trends, And Short Takes

by D. Prabakaran


Clear Channel To Lay Off 1,850 Workers

Clear Channel Communications Inc., is laying off about 1,850 workers nationwide, or nine percent of its workforce, as part of a cost-cutting move. The San Antonio-based media company, which employs 20,000 people across the United States, will implement other cost-cutting measures, including replacing some locally produced radio shows with syndicated content, according to the Wall Street Journal. Clear Channel operates some 800 radio stations nationwide. The company’s revenue from radio broadcasting fell 7 percent in the third quarter of 2008. Once a public company, Clear Channel was purchased last July by CC Media Holdings Inc., a private equity company that includes Bain Capital Partners LLC and Thomas H. Lee Partners LP, for $24 billion.
(Source: Denver Business Journal)

Tall Towers Removed From HCJB’s Site In Ecuador

Crews removed the last of the tall antennas and towers at Radio Station HCJB’s international transmitter site in Ecuador since they would obstruct the flight path of the future international airport for the capital city of Quito. As earlier agreed upon by the Quito Airport Corporation (CORPAQ) and HCJB Global, the towers were removed prior to a December 31, 2008, deadline. With 14 other shorter antennas and towers still standing, the transmitters continue to broadcast. The station transmits 56 hours of analog signal and four hours of digital shortwave, according to Steve Sutherland who manages the Pifo site and staff. All shortwave broadcasts from Pifo are projected to end no later than 1 April, 2010.

(Source: HCJB)

Radio France Internationale To Cut Jobs, “Modernize”

Radio France Internationale is going to shed over 200 jobs of a total of a thousand as part of a “modernization plan” that aims to win back audiences in certain parts of the world, in particular in Africa, to the detriment of six languages. The station has experienced recurring financial losses and shrinking audience figures, in particular in French-speaking Africa, where it is losing about 1.5 percent of its listeners every year. In the Ile-de-France (greater Paris) region, the audience has fallen by 25 per cent since 2007. In an effort to build its audience, RFI will favor live broadcasting, enhance its multimedia side, and embark upon a “new language strategy” that will develop English, Portuguese and Swahili. It will cease to broadcast in German, Albanian, Polish, Serbo-Croat, Turkish and Laotian, however.
(Source: AFP news agency)


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 



Semantic Communication

by Rob de Santos


Computer technology, semantics, samba, end users, hottest technologies, voice recognition, Ford, Google, Toyota, Brazil, banks, Glenn Hauser, World of Radio, Radio Tirana, WBCQ...

What do all these things have in common? They’re all descriptive tags about this article. More properly they are semantic information, one of the hottest technologies in the Web world. And what is that, you ask? Well, think of semantic information as content that is descriptive and esthetic and includes names, facts, and logical relationships that tie data to higher-level descriptions. Here’s an example: Suppose you tell someone you own a car. Is that car red or black? Paid for with cash or obtained with a loan? Driven 31,231 miles or less, or more? Is it a Ford or a Toyota? Where can it go (perhaps it has 4-wheel drive)? All of the answers would be semantic information about the car you own.

What does that have to do with the future of communications? In short, everything, and not just on the World Wide Web. Let’s think of a radio program called World of Radio. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Semantic information about it could include the creator (Glenn Hauser), stations that carry it (WRN, WBCQ, etc.), the length of the show (28 minutes), etc. It could also include additional information—this is the important part—such as what radio stations the program reported on and who were the contributors to the show.
Now suppose that information was linked in some way to the broadcast and you could index it, search it, and link to it? That would mean when Hauser reported on a programming change at Radio Tirana, he could provide a link that seamlessly and without significant effort on your part let you jump right to a recording of the broadcast in question. It would make the program even more informative and useful than it is today.
Another possibility would be a search in the opposite direction. Suppose Hauser wanted to know where his show was mentioned in the past week and have that information read back to him. A search made possible through the semantic information would enable him to find not just printed references, but also audio, video, etc. And, not just primary references, but secondary references (references to the references), too.
It’s clear that enriching all of our media with semantic information would make it much that much more powerful. For that to happen, we’ll need to change not only how we create media, but also how it’s distributed and what happens when the end user receives it. The payoff would be revolutionary and bring us closer to the interconnected world the Web has always promised.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Washington Beat

Capitol Hill And FCC Actions
Affecting Communications


FCC Chairman Martin Steps Down; Copps Named Acting Chair; Genachowski In Wings

In a whirlwind of Federal Communications Commission activity surrounding the inauguration of President Obama, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has stepped down, Commissioner Michael Copps was named acting chairman, and Julius Genachowski was expected to be named new head of the agency.

Martin, who served in the Bush Administra-tion, left the agency January 20 to join the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, as a senior fellow in its Communications and Society Program. Martin was named FCC chairman by President Bush in March 2005, having joined the agency as a commissioner in July 2001. In his tenure, Martin was a champion for telecommunications industry deregulation and pushed for more competition in the cable market. He also called for stricter enforcement on broadcast indecency following Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl half time show.

Copps, a Democratic commissioner whose chair appointment was expected to be temporary, has pushed for media diversity.

It was widely reported that Julius Genachowski, a technical adviser in the Obama campaign, was the President’s choice to head the FCC. During the presidential campaign, Genachowski was an advisor to the Obama camp on technology and fundraising.

A key initiative of the Obama campaign was to improve high-speed Internet access across the nation, and the Commission has played a pivotal role in that process. Genachowski helped craft the Obama campaign’s Internet initiatives. In addition to the new chairman, Obama has a fifth seat to fill on the commission.

New Chairman Named To House Telecom Subcommittee

A Democrat from Virginia has been named chairman of the subcommittee on Communica-tions, Technology and the Internet in the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep. Rick Boucher, a 13-term member of the House, took over the leadership role from Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass. In turn, Markey took over Boucher’s post as head of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee.
Boucher took on his new duties with February’s planned transition to digital television looming on the horizon. He had been working on legislation that would help underwrite the purchases of new, more efficient rooftop antennas to allow consumers to better receive the new digital signals.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 

Treasure Troves Of Radio’s Past—Millions Of QSL Cards Preserved In Only Five Locations

A Look At The Major QSL Collections In The United States, Europe, And The South Pacific

by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson

The QSL card is an integral part of the international radio scene for millions of radio hobbyists throughout the world. These highly prized collectors’ items confirm the reception of a transmission from a broadcast or communication radio station, or a two-way QSO (contact) in amateur radio. In our modern era, the QSL card is issued by the transmitting station, and it confirms the listener’s reception of that station.

Originally, the Morse code abbreviation “QSL?” meant, “Do you receive me?” and the answer “QSL” indicated, “Yes, I do receive you.” Though the concept of the QSL card was introduced almost a century ago, interestingly these first cards were in reality reception report cards from a listener informing a wireless station that he had heard its transmission. Very rarely, if ever, did the wireless station respond to a listener’s reception report card with another card confirming the listener’s reception. But as time went by, the emphasis of QSL cards began to change from “I have heard your station and this is my reception report” to “Thank you for your reception report and we verify that you did indeed hear our station.”

In the decades since then, untold millions of QSL cards have been issued by radio broadcasting stations, communication stations, amateur radio stations, and even FM and TV stations. Because the entire span of the QSL era is much longer than the life span of any radio aficionado, the earlier collectors of these items are unfortunately no longer with us. Some collections have been permanently lost, but others have been preserved, intentionally or even quite by chance.

At five different locations in three different countries, serious attempts have been implemented in recent years to secure large and small collections of these old radio QSL cards for permanent preservation. These large museum collections are located in New Zealand, Austria, and the United States.

A Double Collection In New Zealand

In the early radio era, stretching from the 1920s through the end of World War II, New Zealand became quite famous in the international radio world because of the number of people in this rather isolated country down under who developed a high level of expertise in the reception of distant radio stations, both mediumwave and shortwave. The result was that some very large QSL collections were amassed, each containing many QSL cards that today are considered quite valuable, historically as well as financially. The sale of QSL cards on eBay by the thousands testifies to the financial value of these cards, with occasionally some exotic cards selling for thousands of dollars as well.

Back in the 1980s, the New Zealand Radio DX League (www.radiodx.com) obtained several important collections from some of its South Island members and placed them in the Hocken Library at the University of Otago in Dunedin. The NZRDXL is one of the oldest DX clubs in the world and traces its own heritage back to the early 1930s.
Any serious researcher into the history of radio broadcasting anywhere in the world would find this collection of enormous value. Among the many items of unique interest are:


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 

The Adventist World Radio DX Contest

With The 2009 Contest Coming Up, The USA Winner Of This Popular Challenge Deconstructs His Successful Strategy For The 2008 QSL Alphabet Contest

by Edward J. Insinger, WDX2RVO


A highlight of the year for many radio hobbyists is the DX Contest sponsored by Adventist World Radio (AWR). Run by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, AWR’s DX Editor and International Relations Coordinator, the contest has been in existence since 1977 and is open to all listeners worldwide. Each year the contest has a different topic or theme, with previous themes including “World’s Smallest QSL Cards” (1997), “DX Club Programs” (1983), “Five Best QSLs” (1995), “Most Beautiful QSL Cards” (2001), and “QSL Alphabet” (2008). Winners of the contest have come from Germany, England, Italy, India, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. The 2009 DX Contest is scheduled for this June with a theme of “QSLs from Now-Silent Shortwave Stations.”
To give you a bit of a leg up for your own foray into the excitement, I thought I’d share my approach to the 2008 QSL Alphabet Contest, for which I had the honor of being named Continental Winner for the USA. This article provides some helpful tips on how to set up your own winning strategy.

First, Some Background

AWR runs this contest for serious SWLers/DXers who listen for those hard-to-hear shortwave broadcasts and follow up with reception reports to QSL those stations. The contest topic is selected and judged by Dr. Peterson. Entry is by regular mail and various prizes are awarded. For the 2008 contest the World Winner received a copy of Jerry Berg’s book entitled On The Short Waves (Berg’s latest books are reviewed elsewhere in this issue), and each continental winner received a choice of Passport To World Band Radio 2008 or World Radio TV Handbook 2008. Continental Winners were chosen from Europe, Asia, Pacific, the USA, and the Americas. A new category, Honorable Mention, was established for 2008 and garnered by four additional winners.
The requirements for this contest differ from year to year. The specifics I’ve listed below apply to the 2008 contest and how I approached the topic and requirements, but you’ll find it helpful in your own efforts.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Military Radio Monitoring Whiteman Air Force Base—Missile Silos And A Series Of Firsts

by Mark Meece, N8ICW


This month “Military Radio Monitoring” takes us to the heartland of the United States—specifically to the “knobby” part of the State of Missouri. Located amid the rolling countryside of the Show Me State’s Johnson County, just a mere two miles south of Knob Noster (named for the geographical landmark in the town) and 20 miles west of Sedalia is Whiteman Air Force Base. Whiteman operates one 12,400-foot runway (1/19) and covers some 5,200 acres—not including missile fields! Read on…

The Early Years Of Whiteman

The origin of Whiteman AFB was the direct result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. As the United States mobilized its forces following the attack, the base activated on August 6, 1942, as the Sedalia Glider Base. It was not until August 1951, however, that the base really sprang to life as part of the Strategic Air Command (SAC).

The 4224th Air Base Squadron was activated by SAC and charged with overseeing the construction and refurbishing of the new Sedalia Air Force Base, work which continued until October 20, 1952, when the 4224th ABS was deactivated. The new host wing for the base became the 340th Bombardment Wing, and SAC ordered the command’s newest aircraft for delivery to the 340th—the new Boeing B-47 “Stratojet,” the country’s first swept wing strategic bomber and the KC-97 “Stratotanker” aircraft.

Runway repairs and base construction projects were finished in November 1953, and the first B-47 arrived in March 1954. By the time production ended over 1,200 Stratojets were in service all over the globe at SAC bases. The B-47 was removed from operational service 15 years later in the late 1960s. Ordinarily the B-47 carried a crew of three: a pilot, co-pilot (who operated the tail turret by remote), and an observer who did triple duty as navigator, bombardier, and radar operator.

Sedalia Air Force Base was officially renamed Whiteman Air Force Base on December 3, 1955, in honor of Sedalia native 2nd Lieutenant George A. Whiteman. Lieutenant Whiteman was one of the first airmen to be killed in World War II during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Global Information Guide

Good Signs For Shortwave—
Better Reception And New Stations

by Gerry L. Dexter

As I sit here at the laptop there are no new reports of broadcasters leaving shortwave, or choosing to minimize their coverage by serving an audience on the Web. In addition, reception conditions have improved—at least for the moment—with stations in Southern Asia, Southern Africa, and the Horn of Africa doing especially well. So count your blessings, be thankful, burn some incense or something, whatever you can think of that might keep the positives coming!

Here’s a bit of an odd one for you that has recently shown up, and although the transmitter site being used is still somewhat in question, it’s probably in Russia. The broadcaster is ASO Radio, an FM station in the Nigerian capital (Abuja) now being relayed on 15180, from 1600 to 1700, apparently on a daily basis (actually it closes at 1657!).
Also new is Amhara Regional State Radio, Ethiopia, reported to be active on 6090 from 0300–0600, and again at 0900–1100 and 1400–1700. It’s also supposed to be on 7264 (that’s what they say) and 9740. Somehow, I’m not expecting this one to shake the speaker.

Alaska’s KNLS says it should be on the air soon from its new site in Madagascar. It expects to be on the air—and perhaps is by now—broadcasting in Arabic, Spanish, and Portuguese for up to 35 hours per week. It will be using three 100 kW transmitters, but no frequencies have been announced yet.

The Voice of Russia is now using the Montsinery, French Guiana, site. That probably explains the better signals we’re getting on some of the VOR channels lately.

Reader Logs

As always, your shortwave broadcast station logs are always very welcome. But please be sure to double or triple space between them, list each logging according to its home country and include your last name and state abbreviation after each. Also needed are spare QSLs or good copies that 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 high time it 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.

ALASKA—KNLS, 6150 at 1214 with an EE pgm and frequent IDs, //6915. (D’Angelo, PA)
1502 in RR. (Ronda, OK) 7335 at 1208 on prostitution in the U.S. (Brossell, WI)
ALBANIA—Radio Tirana, 9345 at 2210 with anmt on their 70th anniversary. (Maxant, WV) 13640 at 1845 with ID, frequencies and a news bulletin. (Brossell, WI)


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 

Exploring Broadcasting’s Place In Society
At The Paley Center For Media

Great Listening And Learning Opportunities
In New York And Los Angeles

by Dan Moseson, KC2OOM


Like most of you in RadioLand, I love the smell of RF in the morning. When I’m just up and trying to find the QRM squelch control on my brain, nothing helps my mind tune itself out of the synaptic static better than the sound of my clock radio pulling another signal out of the air. In New York and Los Angeles, which still have more Starbucks than gas stations, the radio connoisseur will find two places where the good stuff is always on tap. The two locations of the Paley Center for Media (formerly The Museum of Television & Radio) offer a great selection of live programs and rotating audio and video exhibits on broadcast media.

A Visit To The Center

I visited the New York branch of the Center and started off by listening to pre-programmed selections from the radio collection in the Ralph Guild Listening Room. First on the pre-programmed selection of audio exhibits was “A Toast to Dean Martin,” which featured some of his work with Jerry Lewis and guests Vincent Price (1949), Bing Crosby (1951) and Marilyn Monroe (1953) and a 1996 tribute show with Ted Brown, Al Martino, and Patti Page.

Next up was “Old Blue Eyes On The Air,” a selection documenting Frank Sinatra’s radio career, which featured a surprising excerpt from “Rocky Fortune: Psychological Murderer,” a 1954 radio drama featuring Sinatra in the spoken-word role of a private investigator. Also included is some of Sinatra’s 1940 work with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, which provided him his first big break, CBS Radio’s “Old Gold Cigarettes Presents: Songs By Frank Sinatra” (1946), a 1954 recording of “To Be Perfectly Frank,” a show on which Sinatra DJed and sang live, an excerpt from a 1978 William B. Williams Sinatra showcase on New York’s WNEW-AM, and Sinatra’s first known radio appearance in 1935.

Next on the dial was “Black Radio: Telling It Like It Was,” a 13-part documentary from 1996, narrated by Lou Rawls. It began with “In The Beginning,” which documented the early radio performances of African-Americans, from stereotypical roles to more positive ones, such as that played by Duke Ellington. “Pride and Enlightenment” chronicled 1940s black interest/issues radio, including Jack Cooper and Al Benson, and WDIA, which in 1949 had the first all-black staff of any radio station and counted B.B. King and Rufus Thomas among its early DJs. “Rappers and Rhymers” covered DJs who rhymed in between songs, “Sounding Black” discussed 1950s and ’60s white DJs, like Wolfman Jack, who spoke in African-American accents. “A Woman’s Touch” talked about legendary black women radio hosts like Martha Jean “The Queen” Steinberg and Vy Higgenson. The “Civil Rights” section chronicled some of the first reporters of the civil rights movement, “Let’s Have Church” provided clips of radio gospel announcers, and a music section reviewed the many musicians whose careers were started by, or as, black DJs. One famous musician who started as a DJ was B.B. King.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Homeland Secuity

Lessons Learned—And Applied—
From Emergencies

by Mitch Gill, NA7US


Learning lessons from experience does not end with childhood; wise adults continue to learn from it every day. In this column you’ll see how the lessons gleaned from responses to a natural disaster can be put to use in the event of a terrorist attack. We’ll also provide a set of frequencies with some interesting characteristics that I believe you’ll enjoy exploring, if you haven’t already done so.

Experience Is Invaluable

Disasters, by definition, are devastating. It doesn’t matter whether they’re caused by natural forces or terrorist attacks. The only benefit, if you’ll allow me to call it that, is the experience and lessons that are learned. With that in mind, I’m going to walk you through the latest natural emergency (it thankfully didn’t quite rise to the level of disaster) in my area, the response to that emergency, what we learned, and what you can take from that experience. Let me again remind you that this reaction to a natural disaster closely parallels what would be required in any type of emergency. I believe you will agree as you read on.

This past December we experienced record snow. We rarely have a white Christmas, but this year was different and what started out as a beautiful white blanket of about three inches turned into over a foot at my house and several feet in the mountains. That much snow created its own problems as many people lost decks or storage areas due to the weight of the snow, but a bigger problem loomed as an unexpected warm front moved in and temperatures rose from the 20s to the 50s, accompanied by heavy rain. The rivers rose higher than ever before and the state emergency operations center moved to respond. On January 9 the major problems began, and established procedures kicked in…

Agencies In Action

Rather than going into detail about the flooding itself, it will be more helpful to examine how Washington State’s Emergency Management Division (EMD), National Guard, local police, fire, EMTs, transportation agencies, and volunteers responded, and how important means of communications were utilized, and in some cases under-utilized. You’ll find this is pretty much the same from state to state.

When disaster strikes or an emergency is looming, a state’s EMD opens up an Emergency Operations Center (EOC). A county will open its own EOC as well if the disaster falls within it. The state EOC and the National Guard Operations Center, where I’m stationed, have small crews that work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until they’re activated to respond to an emergency. Once the state EOC goes to “full manning,” its staff begins monitoring the disaster and its effect on the cities and the state. It’s at this time that the National Guard is requested to have a representative at the EOC. This person’s job is to keep the National Guard informed and to give us a heads-up in the event that we might have to call up soldiers to assist in the disaster area.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Ham Discoveries

Hilltopping: A No-Cost 1,000-Foot
Tower For VHF+ DX Mania

by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ


I have a young friend who’s crazy about RF, digital modes, and DX. He has a rack full of computer-controller receivers backed by an 18 TB (yes, terabyte) enterprise-grade PC server. He has a 48-foot Rohn tower topped with three high-gain Yagis next to his family’s house (Photo A). I’ve been helping him understand the ins and outs of RF, propagation, and feed lines, etc., for a few months now, setting him straight on a few crazy notions and pointing him toward helpful information sources. Despite his overflowing enthusiasm, he’s not a ham! Well, not yet anyway! He’s a Digital TV Weenie!

As hams yearn for DX contacts on VHF via whatever standard or exotic propagation modes we can muster, he lusts for long-distance TV reception at VHF/UHF, mostly digital (and after February 2009—unless that changes—all digital), employing the same propagation modes. VHF+ is VHF+, after all.

Without needing to resort to a book or an online database, he can recite the call letters, station location, network affiliation, tower location, output power, and tower height of every digital TV station in a 200-mile radius! He knows the beamwidth and forward gain of every deep-fringe antenna and the loss per 100 feet of a variety of coaxial cables and feed lines.

He’s “ham crazy” about this stuff, which I find interesting and amusing. As a cable or satellite TV watcher, I can’t imagine wanting to watch any of the programming on any local TV stations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, or the Dakotas, save for an occasional PBS documentary or the local news (which I can receive at my QTH with a coat hanger and a clip-lead).

It took me a while to understand that, although he does watch the programming (and record it for his family’s consumption via a dozen PC-based digital tuners/recorders and a giant video server), his driving motivation is to receive stations from as far away as possible. He’s a true DXer! Don’t worry—I’ll make a ham out of him yet.

His first attempt at receiving TV DX consisted of a huge VHF/UHF Yagi spun by a rotator mounted at a meager height of about 20 feet above ground. Because downtown Rochester, Minnesota, is in a big bowl, he received local stations, but not much DX. The situation improved when the big Yagi was moved to a mast mounted higher on the house, and then went into high gear after the Rohn tower popped up and the big VHF+ Yagi was replaced with dedicated VHF/UHF Yagis designed for VHF high and UHF, dropping coverage for VHF low frequencies, which won’t see much action after the digital TV switch.

With the tower and a mast-mounted preamp, my buddy receives TV from Minneapolis, to LaCrosse (Wisconsin), to Austin (Minnesota), to Northern Iowa, including all Rochester stations, of course. Some DX TV stations in his 100-mile reception radius aren’t always watchable, though, so the quest for ever-higher towers and ever more gain continues.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


The Propagation Corner

Shhhh! (We’re Tracking Sunspots…)

by Tomas Hood


One year ago, in this column, the official first sunspot of Solar Cycle 24 was reported. Since that time, we’ve seen very little activity. Is the new sunspot cycle really starting? There are mixed reports and a lot of speculation.

Take a look at the graph plotting the monthly sunspot counts (Figure 1) and notice the predicted (red) lines showing the forecasted high and low monthly numbers. Notice, too, how the actual monthly numbers are falling lower than what was forecasted. However, notice how the 10.7-cm flux monthly plot appears to be following the forecasted monthly progression (Figure 2).

What’s interesting in this comparison between the sunspot counts and the flux numbers is that we are not seeing the predicted steady rise in sunspot activity, yet are still noticing the slow but steady rise in the flux numbers in the new cycle’s progression. Does this translate into any improvement of propagation on the high frequencies?

The mixed reports indicate that there is some life now on the amateur radio 10 meter band, especially on paths that run northward and southward, across the equator. This is to be expected with the slow rise in the 10.7-cm flux levels. We’ll continue to see a slow change in the higher HF bands, as there is more solar energy influencing the energy level of the ionosphere. While we’re not seeing a steady increase in sunspot activity, there appears to be an overall increase in the solar energy responsible for nudging the ionospheric energy levels up a bit.

The graph plotting the planetary A (Ap) index shown in Figure 3 is very interesting. The Ap index corresponds to the overall geomagnetic activity level. The geomagnetic field activity impacts propagation because the more active it becomes, the more the geomagnetic field causes a loss of ionospheric energy. When that occurs, propagation suffers. Compare the period of solar cycle minimum of Cycles 22/23 (shown at the start of the plot in this graph) with the minimum of Cycles 23/24 (shown at the end of the plot). Notice how much lower the numbers are during this current cycle minimum. This very quiet period has created a unique and unusual propagation condition on the lower HF bands.

During January, 2009, my son and I raised an 80 meter dipole. That evening, I tested this new wire antenna and was amazed, because I was able to bust a pile-up after the third try. Using only 100 watts SSB, I successfully exchanged callsign, name, and location with an amateur operator in South Africa. This on 80 meters, “barefoot”! That’s highly unusual. Sure, the other station had quite an antenna system, but I’ve never reached that far with a barefoot signal and a simple dipole antenna on 80 meters. It’s a testimony to how quiet the geomagnetic field is, and how stable the ionosphere is as a result. With such stability, the fragile energy levels of the ionosphere allow weaker signals to propagate on these paths without the typical losses experienced during other times in the solar cycle progress.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Shannon’s Broadcast Classics

A Sentimental So Long To Analog TV

by Shannon Huniwell


It seemed like it would go on forever, but the times I’m thinking of probably only lasted for a few months. On Friday nights during early 1985, I enjoyed a teenage ritual of going to a friend’s home for pizza, girl talk, and TV. My “BF” Valerie and I were big fans of The Dukes of Hazzard, Dallas, and Falcon Crest. This CBS lineup provided a perfect backdrop for our conversations about everything on the minds of 16-year-old females. One topic—cool guys—eventually led us to defect from the CBS 10 p.m. prime-time soaps to NBC’s hot new Miami Vice.

Sometime in April, Val got strangely quiet and then finally confided in me that she was pregnant. Valerie married her boyfriend, Paul, as soon as sophomore year ended. Valerie’s mother and father offered little support other than convening a tense meeting with Paul’s parents, where it was decided that the young couple would move halfway across the country to the Omaha area immediately after the wedding. There, Paul would have a job in a machine shop owned by his uncle and the couple would live in a garage apartment owned by this same relative, whom he hardly knew and she’d never met.

If you’re wondering what this drama has to do with broadcast history, please stand by. And speaking of “stand by,” that was the status of my bargain fare ticket to Omaha during winter vacation 1986 when I flew out to visit the newlyweds and their new baby. Admittedly, I was mighty surprised that my mom and dad allowed me to make the trip, and several years later my mother revealed that they were actually quite apprehensive about sending a 17-year-old all the way from Connecticut to Nebraska to stay with a teenaged couple and their infant living over a garage. It turns out that their ulterior motive was to scare me into waiting until I was at least 25 and a college graduate with a good job before marrying and having kids. They figured that I’d quickly see what a thorny patch Val and Paul had sown. Score one for the folks…

After worrying for over an hour that I’d been forgotten at the Omaha airport, my hosts finally picked me up in a rusty little station wagon with taped-up cracked windows and no heat. I seem to recall Paul trying to describe it as a “classic” made in 1949 by some interesting company called Crosley. The car’s sound system—barely audible above the engine and road noise—consisted of a Realistic AM/FM pocket radio affixed to the dashboard with Velcro. On the way back to their three-room residence, the baby got sick. Valerie apologized for the mess and then did her best to keep her child from splitting our ear drums with his 50,000-watt crying


\To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Gordon West’s Radio Ways

Commercial Radiotelephone Licenses—
A Door To Job Opportunities?

by Gordon West, WB6NOA


After 24 years of the same exam questions, commercial radio license tests get a big upgrade. In these difficult times, having such a license just may provide a ticket to new or better employment. So, the question is, test now, or later?

License Test Requirements

Before 1984, broadcast service radio and TV engineers needed the FCC First Class Commercial License. Land mobile radio techs could get by with a Second Class Commercial Radio License, while the Third Class ticket afforded “on air” opportunities, but allowed no equipment adjustments.

On June 15, 1984, the FCC discontinued the First and Second Class Radiotelephone Operator Licenses and replaced them with a lifetime General Radiotelephone Operator License (GROL). At the same time, the FCC eliminated the license requirement to install, maintain, and repair transmitting equipment in the domestic two-way land mobile radio service. Ten years later, it also eliminated a commercial license requirement to tune and adjust AM, FM, and TV broadcasts stations.

However, the FCC still requires the commercial GROL, by international law, for working on transmitters in the aviation service, the marine radio service, and international shortwave broadcast stations. The FCC also created a new license, a bit like the old Third Class license, called the Marine Radio Operator Permit (MROP). This non-technical license is required if you skipper a vessel with more than six passengers for hire, including running a simple water taxi service out on a lake or down at the local harbor.

To pass the MROP examination, you had to study about 150 total questions in the Rules and Regulations question pool, and take a written exam containing 24 questions on the test, scoring 74 percent or better. Updates to the test are currently in the works, as follows.

The Element 1 question pool is soon to be revised to bring it up to date with recent changes of FCC rules. The pool of possible questions has been dropped to 144, divided into four sub elements. There will be 24 key topics, six questions per topic, and one question from each key topic for 24 questions all together on your actual test.
The Commercial Element 3 is currently a 76-question test, and is soon to be expanded to a 100-question test. The proposed Element 3 pool has also been updated and streamlined, making the original 916 total possible questions a more manageable 600 in the proposed pool, many of them brand new. These new questions reflect changes in technology and technique that have occurred since the current pools were released nearly 13 years ago. A 74-percent grade gets you the license.

FCC Commercial Element 8 is the Ship Radar Endorsement. Currently, there are 321 total questions, of which 50 will be taken at random for your test. As proposed, the Radar pool will shrink to 300 total questions, subdivided into six sub-elements, with questions grouped into a total of 50 key topics. Each key topic contains six questions, with one exam question taken from each key topic. This is a 50-question test with a 74-percent passing grade.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Radio Fun

Trivia And Toon

by R.B. Sturtevant, AD7IL


Q. How big was the Army MARS organization in Vietnam?

A. In 1965 the Army opened up six MARS (Military Affiliated Radio Service) stations carrying traffic to and from troops in the field and the folks at home. One of the smallest Army Communications Operations, MARS was also one of the most important to the troops who used it.

Phone patch service began in 1966, allowing service members to call the stateside receiving station of an amateur radio operator, who would phone their families. The only cost involved were the phone charges from the radio station to the families’ homes, and then only if the charges were long distance. By 1969 there were 47 stations working in “The Nam,” keeping our troops in touch with “The World.” The all-time high point in MARS usage was in 1970 when 42,000 MARSgrams and phone patches were sent and received per month.
MARS is still active in the Army, Air Force, and Navy-Marine Corps. If you’d like to pitch in, you should know that the basis of a MARS station, both then and now, is a regular off-the-shelf amateur radio from your favorite ham radio store. The only adjustment you’d need to make is to modify your set to work on the special frequencies set aside for MARS and other military uses.

Q. I’ve heard that anybody can learn Morse code, but I’m not sure that I believe it. Aren’t there just some people who can’t do it?

A. Perhaps so, but I’ll go along with the CIA on the subject. Around 1958, a CIA trainer was assigned to work with six men who were scheduled to return to their native Tibet to report on conditions there, as well engage in some cloak-and-dagger stuff against the local Communists. Four were Buddhist monks and two were traders. All six were illiterate. The trainer moved into their quarters, working with them through a translator for long hours. He taught the Tibetans what they needed to know to send CW at 12 wpm or more. All six were parachuted back into Tibet and later all were heard on the radio. Apparently it’s primarily a matter of determination and regular daily practice.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


The Wireless Connection

Concluding The Hickok Traceometer Saga

by Peter J. Bertini

This will be the concluding episode for the Hickok Indicating Traceometer. We’ll wrap up the loose ends by covering the restoration of the input attenuators for the AF volts, DC volts, RF-IF and oscillator channels. I’ll also give some brief notes on the test leads and some tips on calibrating the Traceometer.

The Hickok channels use four switched attenuators. The DC and AF (audio frequency, or AC voltages) channels both use attenuators comprised of switched resistive voltage dividers, while the oscillator and the RF-IF channels use stepped capacitive voltage dividers. The attenuators are located along the lower bottom of the front panel and can be seen in Photo A. Traceometer owners will need to have a copy of the original manual on hand to follow these discussions (see http://bama.sbc.edu/hickok.htm).

DC Voltmeter Channel

The DC volts channel has ranges of 2.5, 5.0, 20, 50, 250, and 500 volts full scale. In operation, the meter is set to mid scale, and the meter has calibrated scales for reading either positive or negative voltages either side of center. This also means the meter scale resolution is somewhat limited, but it was adequate for the needs of early radio shops. The meter is also a VTVM (vacuum tube voltmeter) with a very high input impedance and unlikely to load circuits when taking readings.

Six resistors are used in the DC voltmeter attenuator. Unfortunately, none of the original factory resistors were found to be anywhere near tolerance! For best accuracy, I suggest using at least 2% tolerance 1/2 to 1 watt metal-oxide replacement resistors; these are available in the NTE Electronics (www.nteinc.com) line of replacement metal oxide resistors. There will be are a few instances where you will need to use two (or three) resistors in series to create the odder, nonstandard values. For example, I suggest using two 300k ohm resistors in series to replace the 600k-ohm resistor; and a 2.7M ohm and a 3.3M ohm in series to create a replacement for the original 6.0M ohm resistor. Heat shrink tubing can neaten up the appearance of the paralleled resistors, as can be seen in Photo B. Although this is a photo of the AF channel attenuator, it is also physically representative of the DC attenuator. If you wish, NTE also offers 1% tolerance resistors, but these will cost more and might be harder to find.


To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Broadcast Technology

Radio In Recession: Corporations
Counter With Cutbacks

by Bruce A. Conti

“CBS Radio announced that significant reductions were being implemented in the operation of its AM and FM radio stations,” reported Paul Graveline, K1YUB, on the Boston Area DXers email reflector. He continued,

As has been noted in the press, personnel and program changes have already taken place. An across the board reduction of 10 percent has been mandated as a matter of policy. This 10% reduction will require WBZ Newsradio 1030 to shift frequency to 920 to comply with corporate policy as all CBS owned AM and FM stations will be required to cut both power and frequency by 10%. It is anticipated that other broadcasting organizations will follow. As a result a complete realignment of the North American AM band is anticipated.

Of course the conservation of cycles per second by reducing frequency is only the April foolery of a good imagination, but the current economic recession is having a very real impact on radio. Advertising revenue is down and the big conglomerates are reacting with massive cost cuts. AM radio has taken the brunt of the cutbacks because of declining ratings and the perception that nobody listens to AM. CBS-owned 660 WFAN, 880 WCBS, and 1010 WINS in New York City have restructured into a single radio “cluster” to consolidate sales and eliminate top management positions. Budgetary cuts at 980 KFWB and 1070 KNX Los Angeles forced the layoff of air staff and the closing of local news bureaus. 1080 WTIC Hartford lost two of its most popular daytime anchors despite public outcry.

The most devastating loss among CBS radio stations, however, was felt at WBZ Newsradio 1030 in Boston where local nighttime talk personalities Lovell Dyett and Steve LeVeille were abruptly replaced by nationally syndicated talk programs, leaving the region without relevant local talk overnight.

CBS Radio isn’t the only one stung by the recession. Cuts in the past year at ABC/Citadel and Clear Channel radio stations have hurt 630 WMAL Washington, D.C., 770 WABC New York, 790 KABC Los Angeles, 850 KOA Denver, 1150 KTLK Los Angeles, 1290 KCUB Tucson, 1500 KSTP St. Paul-Minneapolis, and the list goes on. National Public Radio isn’t immune to the economic downturn either, cutting staff for the first time in 25 years due to a double-digit decline in funding. Chicago Public Radio WBEZ was hit especially hard with several staffers pink-slipped. Maine Public Broadcasting shut down two FM radio stations, 89.7 WMED Calais and 106.5 WMEF Fort Kent.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


Utility Communications Digest

Retune Your Shortwave Dials—
CHU Moves To 7850.0

by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ


Some time ago, this column featured an in-depth discussion of an old friend, Canadian time station CHU, and its struggle to remain licensed for operation on its 7335 kHz frequency. Located 15 km southwest of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada at 45º 17’ 47” North, 75º 45’ 22” West, CHU has disseminated official Canadian government time signals since 1929. Originally known as VE9OB, it switched to the CHU call letters when these were assigned to the station in 1938.

Those who recall that column will remember that changes to the international frequency allocations threatened the existence of the station. The station ultimately remained on the air, as was also duly reported in this space. However, CHU’s operation on 7335 kHz was, in many reception locations, subject to interference from various sources, including a relatively strong new signal from a shortwave broadcast station in the southeastern U.S. The latter, unfortunately, often turned 7335 kHz into the home of an irritating heterodyne whine here at my listening location in western New York State, and I can well imagine that other listeners experienced similar, less than encouraging results.

Since I love bringing you good news, I’ll now come to the point: As of January 1, this situation has been rectified. The station continues to transmit 3000 watt signals on 3330 and 14670 kHz, but as of January 1, CHU’s former 7335 kHz operation has moved. The station now transmits a 10,000 watt signal on 7850 kHz. The mode is the usual USB with carrier reinserted—the same as what’s transmitted on the other two frequencies. The station uses individual vertical antennas for each frequency. The electronic systems feeding CHU’s transmitters have both battery and generator backup power (the generator can also power the transmitters), and there are redundant backup electronic systems for reliability.

The 7850 kHz transmitter seems to be going strong and putting out a solid signal, which as I write this, has already been logged by utility DXers as far away as Italy. The station actually began transmitting on the new frequency a couple of hours before revelers ushered in the new year, and my sources indicate that these test transmissions were logged my numerous listeners in the U.S. and in Europe.

Since this represents an opportunity for listeners to QSL an old station on a new frequency, we’ll save you some legwork. You can QSL CHU by sending a reception report to Radio Station CHU, National Research Council of Canada, 1200 Montreal Road, Bldg M-36, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0R6. Alternatively, you can send your report by email to radio.chu@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca. Unlike many utility stations out there, CHU does acknowledge listeners’ reception reports (Photo A).

While I’m on the subject, remember our New Year’s Resolution for SWLs? Digital monitoring enthusiasts may already be aware that it’s possible to decode the time frame transmitted by CHU (and several other time signal transmissions as well) with the software clock (Photo B) that comes bundled with Patrick Lindecker, F6CTE’s MultiPSK package, available from its author’s website at http://f6cte.free.fr/.

The free version of MultiPSK allows users to decode the time frame transmitted by FRANCE-INTER, DCF 77, HBG, RUGBY, WWVB, WWV/WWVH (in AM or in SSB), CHU, and JJY. The program can also provide date and time from a GPS device, or from an RFC868 Internet time server.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications 


The Loose Connection

Electric Guitars, Dusty Tubes,
And Reader’s Shenanigans

by Bill Price, N3AVY


I have the best job in the world. No, not my HPJIE*, which isn’t bad. In fact, I have a good boss, about whom I can write freely because he only reads this column if I give him a copy. Truth be told, he’s a great guy. I’ll give him a copy of this when I retire. This is the great job. Writing this column.

How many of you get something in writing several times a month saying that you’ve done a good job? When I was in my first rock & roll band back in ninth grade (no electric guitars yet—mine was gas-fired), I dreamed of having herds of adoring fans. Well, today my fans are not in herds, and I doubt there’s any adoration, but getting a handful of fan mail each month from readers is better than money.

Sometimes it’s tough remembering (and embellishing) some of the absolutely crazy things that have happened to me since the first day I saw and heard a radio. It’s tougher yet since Norm and I don’t work under the same roof any more. Or in the same state! And it sometimes gets tougher still when I find my little grey cells fail to recall the events that have made my life around radios a memorable one. But, without question, most of the great times in my life have involved a radio of some sort.

Once in a while, someone will ask how I got to write this column. Well, like Topsy, this column just growed. I had been writing some service articles for Pop’Comm annuals starting around 1990, and no matter how serious they were supposed to be, I couldn’t keep the humor out of them. Of course, with my entire education (that would be three credits in “Introduction to Composition” and a ham license) carefully chosen to take me to a career in communication journalism, the folks at headquarters couldn’t get rid of me, so they gave me this column if I promised to behave and not ask the advertisers for free samples.

If it hadn’t been for a great friendship with now-silent key K3IBN (who also went by the callsign WITF-FM and TV), I’d have never known there were recordings of Jean Shepherd from his days at WOR in New York. John gave me my first MP3 CD-ROM of Shep the last time I saw him. If you’ve never heard the Shep, you have something to look forward to.

To read the entire article, subscribe to
Popular Communications