The Weirder Side Of Wireless
Shhh…Not So Loud
Turns out it isn’t the long lines at airport security checkpoints or having to take their shoes off that’s upping flyers’ stress levels: it’s the shouting between security officers. At least that’s the latest thinking in the Checkpoint Evolution Program of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Part of the problem, officials believe, is the high level of background noise at checkpoints, which means that TSA officers often have to communicate with each other by speaking loudly or even shouting. The TSA is planning to change that through its “Wireless Whisper” program. This program will include the purchase of as many as 20,000 very high frequency (162 MHz through 174 MHz VHF) land mobile radios for distribution to officers in over 160 different security checkpoint locations. The radios will be scrambled or encrypted to prevent unauthorized eavesdropping and will come with a receive-only earpiece and microphone that can be attached directly to uniforms.
Wireless Whisper sounds great, now if they
could come up with a program for the cell phone users making much of the
noise in the first place.
Radio station KDKA in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania,
told listeners that the station was giving away one million dollars as
part of a Thanksgiving Day promotion. Host Marty Griffin even insisted
that the money was in a briefcase handcuffed to someone in the studio. All
listeners had to do was be the 13th caller at a certain time. The “lucky
13th” caller who phoned in response wound up staying on hold for 45
minutes, waiting for instructions on how to pick up the money. Surprise:
November Fool’s Day! There was no briefcase bursting with cash.
You see a 385-mile-long, 25-foot-high fence made of concrete and steel—a group of Palestinian graffiti artists see the largest blank canvas in the world. This enterprising band of artists/activists/ business people has created a website, www. sendamessage.nl, where you can commission a message to be spray painted on the massive security wall Israel has put up along the West Bank.
For $40 dollars your message will be written on the wall and three digital
pictures will be emailed to you. The messages cannot be obscene,
offensive, or filled with extremist hate speech. One example of an
appropriate message given on the website is “Elizabeth and Jakob. Forever
in my heart.”
News, Trends, And Short Takes
by D. Prabakaran
GAO Report Says Radio/TV Martí Has Only Tiny Audience In Cuba
Congressional investigators recently reported that U.S. Radio and TV Martí broadcasts to Cuba, after nearly half a billion dollars spent, may have only a tiny audience, and they suggested finding better ways to gauge their effectiveness.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that best estimates indicate about 2 percent of the island’s approximately 11 million people have seen or heard one or more broadcasts since 2003, when the U.S. began phone surveys in Cuba through a third-country contractor.
The Miami-based Office of Cuba Broadcasting has a budget this year of $34 million, with about $500 million spent overall since Radio Martí first transmission in 1983. TV Martí began in 1990, and the effort now includes satellite and shortwave transmissions, the Internet, and AeroMarti flights out of Key West beaming TV signals to Cuba. For years, Cuba has jammed the transmissions, which the U.S. says provide Cubans an objective alternative to their country’s government-controlled news and other programs. Cuba derides the programs as U.S. propaganda.
The U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees federal
broadcasting including the Cuba program, agreed that better audience
measurements were needed but said the GAO report “does not fully reflect
the difficulties in broadcasting to a closed society.”
The UK government released its “Digital Britain” report and once again confirmed its policy commitment to making DAB digital radio the primary means of migrating from analog to digital radio.
The Digital Britain report follows the Digital Radio Working Group’s own
report, published in December 2008, which recommended steps towards analog
radio switch off as soon as 2017. The UK government report endorses these
steps for migration to digital radio and outlines its strategy for DAB to
become the primary radio platform in the UK.
Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications
by Richard Fisher, KI6SN
Revised Website Has Details On DTV Switchover
The FCC has a newly revised DTV Internet site with more details on the nation’s switch from analog to digital television. The address is www.dtv.gov. The FCC says visitors can check the status of converter box reimbursement applications and there is a troubleshooting guide with a hook-up checklist and tips on the reception of digital signals. The new website also offers DTV reception maps for neighborhoods. In addition there are other links to publications, including the following:
“Use Care When Calling About the DTV Transition” at (www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/
“Antennas & Digital TV” (www.fcc.gov/cgb/ consumerfacts/dtvantennas.pdf).
The U.S. Congress’ concern about a shortage of converter boxes and fear
that viewers wouldn’t be ready for the change from analog to digital
television prompted lawmakers to delay the February 17 nationwide DTV
transition until June 12. Several hundred stations, in mostly smaller
markets, decided to make the switch in February anyway.
In published reports, the A.C. Nielsen Co. said 5.8 million U.S. households—5.1 percent of all homes—were not prepared for the analog shutdown, “but it’s unclear how many of them are in early-shutdown areas,” according to the Associated Press. “Also, the National Association of Broadcasters has taken issue with Nielsen’s numbers, saying they exaggerate the problem by counting households that have digital converters but haven’t connected them,” the report continued.
Station owners contacted by the wire service were “confident the large majority of viewers [were] prepared for the change, even if the message has been muddled on the timing.”
What I Wish My Radio Did
by Rob de Santos
What do want your next receiver to do that it
doesn’t do now? What features do you wish it had that it doesn’t have?
I’ve got a list to share, and not all of my wishes would be in a $99
portable but some sure should. A few of the features I’d like to see
currently exist only in professional-grade receivers, others not at all.
But, with tongue slightly in cheek as I assert my right to prior art if
you try to patent my ideas (wink, wink!), here’s my wish list:
Setting retention. How about our radios
keeping their settings and memories semi-permanently so you don’t lose them when you lose power or when the
batteries run down? Given the price of memory chips, it shouldn’t be hard.
Reprogramming all those memories and settings requires much more effort
than it should. (You could also extend that to all kinds of electronics:
Why can’t my microwave remember the time when the power blinks off and on
Automatic identification of transmission modes. If my radio can decode a variety of transmission modes it should have a feature (which can be disabled for purely manual tuning) that recognizes the incoming signal as AM, LSB, RTTY, DRM, etc., and puts the radio and filters into the preferred settings to tune it without my needing to tweak the knobs. It’s fun to twirl knobs and punch buttons, but sometimes I want the radio to use its smarts so I can have my hands busy elsewhere. Used in a band-scanning mode, this would allow hands-off monitoring with no interaction until I heard something of interest.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capability. This is becoming common in some car
radios, so why not in a communications receiver? While many of us have
found ways to make radio audio listenable away from our shacks (such as
with short-range FM transmitters), what if we could control and listen to
the radio anywhere in range of our home networks? It would also facilitate
capturing the audio for later listening or post processing. Now that would
Learn How To Affordably Safeguard Your Valuable Radio Equipment—And Maybe Something Far More Precious
by Kenneth J. Meyer, K9KJM
If you’re a radio hobbyist, your radio
equipment is extremely valuable to you. It’s an investment, and like all
investments it needs protection. One way to protect that investment is by
making sure that you have adequate lightning protection in place. There
are plenty of sources explaining how to protect your radio shack from
lightning damage, but few people implement the proper protection because
of the perceived high cost of (copper) supplies. While this article
certainly isn’t the “last word” on the subject, it will show you that you
don’t have to take an expensive approach and provide you with tips on how
to properly protect your station—without breaking the bank.
But wait, you say, doesn’t a typical lightning bolt have millions of volts and many thousands of amps of power? Well, yes, they can. But lightning bolts, like lots of other things, come in all different sizes. While a large, powerful lightning strike of several “strokes” of longer than normal duration can have lots of power, even the largest strikes can be handled with large low-inductance conductors because of the very short duration of even the longest and largest strikes.
Indeed, part of the confusion over the years about lightning stems from the fact that lightning strikes can be large or small. So when someone tells you that his station was hit with a direct lightning strike and suffered no damage, despite having only minimal grounding with small-size conductors, that may be true—but he may have been extraordinarily lucky and taken only a minor hit.
In these tough economic times, why take chances with your valuable
equipment, especially when it can be safeguarded inexpensively?
The first order of business for properly protecting a station—or home for
that matter—is to make sure you bond (that is, electrically connect) all
ground points together with a low-inductance conductor, such as a flat
copper strap or a heavy gauge wire. This means that your electric power
entrance ground, cable TV entrance, telephone landline entrance, hamshack
ground, mast or tower ground, etc. all need to be bonded together.
Atwater Kent Island:
You won’t find Atwater Kent Island in an
atlas, or—for the more technically advanced—on Google Maps or MapQuest.
The actual geographic name is Mount Desert Island in the State of Maine,
home to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. But if you spend any time
poking around beyond the Main Street stores that cater to the island’s
thousands of annual visitors, you will discover a legacy left behind by
this pioneer of early radio manufacturing who was also one of Mt. Desert’s
most flamboyant residents.
Mt. Desert Island has gone through three distinct phases in its development as a tourist destination, starting in the mid-1800s when artist Thomas Cole discovered the island and began painting landscapes. His paintings popularized the island among other artists, as well as writers, naturalists, and adventurers who collectively called themselves “rusticators”2. While these early visitors rented rooms from local farmers and fishermen, the island’s popularity grew to the point that, by the 1870s, several large hotels were built to accommodate them.
This was followed in the early 1900s by an infusion of very wealthy
families from major eastern cities who built mansions—which they called
“cottages”—for their summer vacations. A movement by several of these
wealthy residents, principally George B. Dorr and John D. Rockefeller, to
preserve the beauty of the land for future generations led to the creation
of what is now Acadia National Park. The “cottage era” lasted until 1947,
when a huge fire wiped out many of the mansions in Bar Harbor itself. In
ensuing years, the island reinvented itself yet again as a destination for
middle-class as well as upper-crust tourists. Some of the surviving
cottages have been turned into Bed & Breakfasts, such as the Moseley
Cottage, where I discovered Joe Paluga and his radio collection.
Arthur Atwater Kent was an inventor, engineer, and manufacturer. Born in 1873 in Burlington, Vermont, he secured his first patent—for an electric top—at age 10. Kent started in business by manufacturing automobile electrical systems and components, including the ignition system that became the industry standard. He began manufacturing radios in 1922.
With his newfound wealth, Kent purchased a Bar Harbor “cottage” where he
enjoyed entertaining on a grand scale. But Bar Harbor is just one of
several communities on which he left a mark.
Wide-band Receiver Part II—The Software Component
by Ed Muro, K2EPM
The complexity of modern radio communications devices, whether we’re talking scanners, shortwave receivers, or amateur radio equipment, has made the marriage of radios and computers almost a necessity. I’ve been using my computer to program various radios for over a decade now and at this point I don’t know how I ever did without it. The ICOM IC-RX7, which we first took a look at in March in Part I of this review, is one of those devices hobbyists now can’t imagine living without.
While the IC-RX7 in and of itself is a fantastic radio to use in the field
for motor-sports, air shows, and similar events, you’ll be doing yourself
an injustice if you don’t purchase its CS-RX7 PC Cloning software. If
you’re using the radio for local scanning or scanning at the track, for
the most part, once you have programmed the radio the first time it’s
going to pretty much stay that way. However, if you’re likely to use the
radio to listen to geographic-specific listening as you travel then
certainly it would behoove you to have the programming software at hand.
Also, while most of the racing frequencies will remain constant for the
season, there are times when drivers and teams change and you might find
your favorite driver on a new frequency.
According to the ICOM literature, the CS-RX7 software will run on PC-based computers running Windows 2000, XP, or Vista (I don’t know how it will function with older versions of Windows). The software comes packaged with two cables that are used in conjunction with each other: an OPC-478UC cloning cable and an OPC-1637 USB cable. An optional RS-232C-type cable, model number OPC-478, is also available.
The literature that comes with the software is geared more towards installing the software and drivers, and is not very helpful in teaching you how to use it, which will require a trial-and-error process or the use of the “HELP” feature that is built in to the software. Once you have the drivers and software installed, I suggest you go right to the help menu and familiarize yourself with the software’s operation and functionality.
There’s one spot in the literature included with the CS-RX7 software and associated cables that might appear a bit confusing. Under “System Requirements” the pamphlet states :
“PC-Microsoft Windows 2000/XP or Microsoft Windows Vista is installed.”
In the next section of the pamphlet, titled “USB driver installation
(Step1),” there is a NOTE
“The USB driver for OPC-478UC is not supported for Microsoft Windows Vista 964 bit.”
While we’d suggest that this wording be clarified in a text revision at
some point, you just need to know that the latest USB drivers and Vista
drivers are available from the ICOM America website under this rather long
knowledge base location:
Once the software and drivers are installed, navigating the software is pretty straightforward, which is a good thing. The first step is choosing and setting up your COM port; after that you’re ready to roll. There’s a page for programming your memory channels, your programmed search feature, basic search, and search linking. There’s also a section, which ICOM calls “Common Settings” for programming your radio settings. This is where you program your personalized features, including RF gain settings, auto power on and off settings, antenna settings (for AM you have a choice of the internal bar antenna or an external local or DX antenna; for FM the choice is using an external antenna or the ear phone as an antenna), back light information, LCD contrast, font size, keypad beep on/off and volume level, weather alert on/off, priority on/off, and so on.
Mobile Radio Over The Top!
by Ken Reiss
Mobile scanning, and mobile radio in general, can be a lot of fun. It can also be tricky to get things installed into cars. In fact, finding a place for even a small radio seems to be getting more and more difficult in today’s compact vehicles. But there’s another side to this mobiling challenge—one that apparently brings out the best in the diehards (and I don’t mean batteries!).
I recently received an entry from Scott Heath for our Frequency of the
Month contest on 118.4 (on which he heard nothing), but he included a link
to pictures of his “mobile station.” I took a look and…well…wow! I
couldn’t resist sharing some of the highlights with you, and Scott kindly
agreed to let us showcase his mobile station. Perhaps it will be an
inspiration—it’s certainly awe-inspiring.
I’ve been a ham since 1993 and an Extra class since 1998. I am heavily
into ham radio, scanning, CB radio, and even include some shortwave
listening. My car is the centerpiece of my radio hobby. The list of
Faroe Feeding Frenzy! AM Broadcast DXers
by Bruce A. Conti
The Faroe Islands are a tiny enclave of Denmark located in the North Atlantic between Iceland and Norway, close to the Arctic Circle. Only one AM radio station serves the islands, the 200 kW broadcast voice of Kringvarp Føroya on 531 kHz. DXers from Ontario to Massachusetts reported hearing the station during an unusual mid-winter propagational opening.
Accomplished DXer Marc “Faroemeister” DeLorenzo of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, captured much of the excitement in his log reports as the news spread like wildfire over the Internet. “Mediumwave country number one hundred!” exclaimed Marc, “Dominant on the frequency with news and an interview in the Faroese language, mp3 audio clips confirmed via the Internet by Bjarne Mjelde, the world’s northernmost DXer in arctic Norway.”
In addition to the Faroe Islands on 531, Greenland was logged on 720 kHz
for the first time by many DXers. What caused these AM radio signals to
seemingly appear out of nowhere? Thanks to a spotless sun and an extended
period of low geomagnetic activity, the path was cleared for signals
normally smothered under the nighttime cover of the auroral oval.
The monitoring of the auroral oval is important to AM DXers because absorption of radio signals in the ionosphere can occur due to the impact of solar activity at the north and south poles. The auroral oval is the concentrated circumferential area of energy in the ionosphere at the poles that produces aurora borealis or the northern and southern lights.
As solar activity increases, so does the coverage area and intensity of the auroral oval at each pole. Expansion of the North Pole oval will prevent radio signals from propagating over northern latitudes, sometimes enhancing reception of southerly signals from the tropics. Conversely, during periods of low solar activity the oval may shrink enough to open typically non-existent northerly propagational paths, such as experienced with the rare reception of the Faroe Islands. The three computer models shown here provide “best guess” maps of current polar auroral oval position, size, and intensity; POES, CARISMA, and OVATION.
The Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellites (POES) system collects data
from nearly 14 polar orbits a day for auroral oval modeling. Real-time
auroral oval images (Photo A) are created by the Space Weather Prediction
Center (SWPC) of NOAA and the National Weather Service. These images show
the extent and position of the auroral oval in the northern and southern
hemispheres extrapolated from measurements taken during polar passes of
the NOAA POES.
THE PRACTICAL SIDE
Gordon West’s Radio Ways
121.5 MHz Alive And Well
by Gordon West, WB6NOA
Don’t stop monitoring 121.5 MHz—it was only the satellites that went off the air! As of February 1, 2009, the COSPAS-SARSAT Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, in nearly polar orbit, were no longer tuned in for reception of the 121.5 MHz analog emergency sweep tone. That’s led to an unfortunate misconception that the 121.5 MHz beacon distress alerts will now go away. WRONG! Here’s the reality:
• New 406 MHz digital 5 watt beacons continue to transmit a low-power 121.5 MHz “locating” sweep signal.
• 85 percent of registered aircraft only have a 121.5 MHz ELT.
• For direction finding, ground rescue teams rely on PLBs’ (Personal Locater Beacons) 121.5 MHz signals, a low to high sweep with a CW identifier “. _ _ .” (“P”).
• Close–in on the water EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons) provide homing signals on 121.5 MHz, with a high to low sweep signal.
So why drop satellite 121.5 MHz monitoring?
Since 1970, the 121.5 MHz and 243.0 MHz second harmonic analog sweeping signal has saved thousands of lives throughout the world. For instance, aircraft ELTs (Emergency Locater Transmitters) activate a 121.5 distress signal upon detecting a certain forward and downward G force level. The marine equivalent is the EPIRB, which might be activated by floating free at a certain depth, by coming in contact with salt water, or manually. All of these emergency 121.5 MHz signaling devices meet rigorous certification.
The recently discontinued COSPAS-SARSAT 121.5 MHz program allowed ground stations, called Local User Terminals, to compute Doppler shift position analysis of the activated 121.5 MHz analog signal. It would then provide a position probability radius of about 12 nautical miles, or a 452-square-nautical mile search area, taking up to six hours for the analysis. An activated 121.5 MHz signal, out in the open sea, say following a low pressure storm, would likely get a high priority for search and rescue.
However, along busy coastlines, local harbors, and inland waterways, accidental activations of 121.5 MHz literally clogged the LEO COSPAS–SARSAT receivers. And when these local marine- or aviation-related signals were tracked down through radio direction finding, over 98 percent were found to be false activations. The danger of these masking real emergency activations is obvious. Also, the 121.5 MHz signals themselves carried no user information, so if the signal came from a busy harbor or airport and was considered an accidental activation, the search and rescue callout could be further delayed.
This problem with 121.5 MHz false alerts was such an international
headache that the International COSPAS-SARSAT Council held a session in
October in 2000, agreeing to drop the COSPAS-SARSAT monitoring of 121.5
MHz on February 1, 2009.
Global Information Guide
Radio Cristal/Radio Pueblo Rouses,
by Gerry L. Dexter
You just never know when some nearly comatose broadcaster will begin to stir, give a yawn, and scratch at a transmitter itch! That happened over the holidays when Radio Cristal/Radio Pueblo from the Dominican Republic kicked the blankets off 5010 and became active—however briefly—to offer up its Radio Pueblo and its 1510 mediumwave signal to a larger audience. In the few weeks since then there have been only one or two few tentative reports of it, but at least we know it occasionally swings its feet to the floor and takes some nourishment. So if you need this one, 5010 might be a good channel to plug into your receiver’s memory bank.
There is word that the Ulbroka (Latvia) transmitter was shut down at the end of 2008, so all those weekend relays on 9290 are apparently finished, or at least are in trouble. There is also a hint that the downsizing only involves the 100 kW transmitter and that a much less powerful 10 kW (or even just 1 kW) unit will be substituted, which will certainly make reception even more difficult.
ZLXA, New Zealand’s Radio Reading Service for the Blind, has called it quits. That’s a real shame, since the station was a prime DX target for many (including yours truly). It operated on 3935 kHz, surrounded by ham operators. One’s chances of catching it weren’t helped by the fact that it only used 1 kW and was only audible in the pre-dawn hours. The station put together a “last chance” DX Test on March 20, but we hadn’t reached that date as of this writing, so we don’t know what the results were.
Next door, in Australia, HCJB is busy adding a new transmitting facility to its Kununurra transmitter site. Four antennas and a new, larger transmitter building for the station’s two 100 kW units are being added. The new building will also allow room to house additional transmitters and a maintenance shop. HCJB leases about 1,200 acres of land there, on which it also operates a farm. It expects to have the improved radio facility in operation by the fall of this year. Kununurra is in northeastern Western Australia, almost on the border of the Northern Territory.
In the realm of rumor we hear from a couple of sources via log reporter
Charles Maxant, that North Korea purchased the transmitters of the Swiss
Broadcasting Corporation and Kim Jong Il’s crew have now installed them at
a new, “uncited” transmitter site. So we may now be hearing North Korea
even better than before—and aren’t we all heartened by that?!
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 its home (originating) 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, c’mon! Where’s that photo of you at your listening post? It’s your turn to grace 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.
THE PRACTICAL SIDE
The Antenna Room
Keeping Lightning At Bay
by Kent Britain, WA5VJB
Pop’Comm has devoted many pages of this issue to the extremely important topic of lightning and lightning protection. While even commercial antenna systems can still be taken out by this “Act of God,” there are several ways to help protect your equipment when lightning strikes. But in this column, let’s expand on the cover feature a bit to look at ways to minimize the chances of getting hit by a strike in the first place.
These days, most towers have static electricity or lightning dissipaters on them. If you look closely at the top of the tower in Photo A, you’ll see four rods with what looks like a flower at their tips. This is an 1,840-foot tower with a 10-foot-wide face, and those “flowers”—the dissipaters—are nearly a quarter mile away.
The petals of these flowers have upturned tips
with lots of sharp points, with the idea being to dissipate the static
electricity charge around the tower. This doesn’t mean that the tower will
never get hit by lightning again, but it does mean a 90-percent reduction
in the number of lightning hits.
Ever note how very high voltage circuits have large rounded surfaces? You’ve probably seen a photo of a Van der Graaf generator, that thing with a big round, smooth ball on top, as sketched in Figure 1. Because the electric field concentrates around any sharp points and easily dissipates the electrical charge, dirt, dust, and sharp points have to be avoided.
If you’ve ever played with a Van de Graaf
generator or a Tesla coil, you know that just setting a thumbtack on the
top will concentrate all the corona or sparks around its sharp point and
dissipate the voltage. It makes sense, then, if you don’t want any high
voltages collecting on something, then you just need a lot of sharp
In Photo B we have an easy-to-build lightning dissipater. In this design, I just used the shielding braid off some old coax, spreading out the ends, a bit of aluminum tubing or rod, and a hose clamp. To put it to work, just mount it as high as practical and make sure the rod has a good connection back to grounded metal. This will dissipate that static charge and lower the chances of a lightning strike.
In the category of “Lessons Learned,” here’s an aside for you. Oh, did I ever make a mistake on my first dissipater. I had this “brilliant” idea that the tip of my 2 meter vertical was the highest point, so I would just make the tip of that vertical my dissipater. Bad (not brilliant) idea! As the tips of those wires dissipated the static charge, there were constant small electric arcs. The noise floor was horrible on dry days. Ever hear the motor noise of an electric razor on your radio? Imagine making the electric razor your antenna.
Avoid learning your own lesson the painful way and be sure to make the parts of your antenna, especially the driver element or a whip, the attach point for your dissipater. Bolt the rod of the dissipater to your mast or tower with a good solid electrical connection. Fellow ham WB5LBT used to have one of his dissipaters on its own wire to ground and would put a milliamp meter in series with it. That meter would swing up every time a low cloud passed by. That current certainly showed that the dissipater was doing its job.
In Photo C you see some typical lightning protectors, comprised of two
plates with an easily ionized gas between the plates. By controlling the
gas, and occasionally a little radioactive alpha emitter isotope in there,
the voltage at which the protector breaks down can be controlled from 60
volts to 350 volts for most common protectors. Surge currents of 1000 amps
can shunted to ground.
THE INTERSECTION OF
The “e-Approach” To The QSL Quandary: Taking It Online
by Dan Srebnick, K2DLS
One recent afternoon I heard PG6G calling CQ
on 20 meters. I responded to his call and informed him that I was
impressed with his signal strength. He was the strongest Dutch station I’d
heard since I last listened to a transmission of Radio Nederland
Wereldomroep from Flevo. The irony of the moment was best expressed when
the operator, Peter, responded that he was located at the RNW transmitter
site in Flevo and that his antenna was an eight dipole curtain array with
22 dB gain, formerly used to transmit to North America. Flevo, the
once-mighty transmitter site of one of the all-time shortwave favorites
has become a field day site for hams.
Historically, the Radio Amateur Callbook was the way a ham could obtain
contact information for a ham located in another country. The Callbook is
still available on CD, but a lot of hams are using qrz.com. Found on the
Web at www.qrz.com, qrz is an online forum catering to amateur radio
operations around the world. There are the usual forums, for sale/wanted
listings, and news items, but the main attraction for many is the callsign
lookup. When I “qrzd” PG6G, I saw a nice image of its QSL card (Figure 1).
It features the Radio Nederland curtain array used for its recent
operating event. Typically, licensee name, address, email address, and QSL
route are listed as well. Some ops add a personalized biography and links
to external websites. For U.S. hams, FCC license information is also
SWL’s have lately lamented how poor their QSL return rate has become. As my received country count goes up, I too have noticed that my return rate has gone way down. I’ve tried everything, from “green stamps” to International Reply Coupons (IRCs) to including a CD recording of the station along with the report. The definitive list of shortwave broadcast countries for SWLs is the North American Shortwave Association (NASWA) Country List, available at www.naswa.net/list. One glance through the list may convince you that the days of verifying 200-plus shortwave broadcast countries are gone forever.
Some stations, especially hobby pirates, have taken to QSLing via email. Sometimes the email is a simple statement of verification, but could include a graphic image of a QSL or a certificate that the recipient can print out. A few pirates don’t publish a mailing or even an email address, but respond to reports left online at the Free Radio Network website (www.frn.net). Some brave online posters publish their mailing address in reports left on the website, but others provide an email address to make contact. International SWBC stations often publish a form on their website where a listener can leave a reception report and receive a paper QSL in the mail.
QSLing online has become a niche in SWL circles, but has really taken off
in the amateur radio world. ARRL issued awards, such as Worked All States
(WAS) and DX Century Club (DXCC), require that the applicant provide QSL
proof of a contact. Printing and mailing QSL cards around the world
becomes quite expensive. Hams save money by using the QSL Bureau to send
cards in bulk; however the downside is that this method is slow. It can
take two years for a QSL to show up in the mail. Online QSLing provides
that sense of instant gratification, lessens the time necessary to apply
for and obtain awards, is more convenient and less expensive than the
snail mail method. So this month, we take a look at online QSL methods for
Outsmart That Dreaded Interference!
by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ
Astronomers build radio telescopes way out in the boonies for a very good reason: A distinct lack of neighbors, industry, power substations, high-voltage transmission lines, wireless routers, baby monitors, touch lamps, broadcast transmitters, and drive-through windows makes for a beautifully quiet RF environment. In such controlled conditions, the biggest interference problems may actually be internal. That is, the techs and scientists may have the most trouble keeping their computers and electronic gadgets from interfering with the site’s highly sensitive receivers. Welcome to the modern age of radio!
The irony of a radio astronomy site interfering with itself might be easier to appreciate if similar situations didn’t plague amateur radio operators on a daily basis. In addition to receiving interference from hundreds of electronic devices in our personal “space,” we also receive interference from our own computers, fluorescent lights, and computerized washing machines (computerized whatever), and by transmitting we can interfere with our own non-radio gadgets—and those of our neighbors!
These days, everywhere we turn, the potential for interference (of any variety) looms large. And with all of the sneaking around we have to do in this era of deed restrictions and homeowners’ associations (don’t get me started), the potential is much greater. Try telling your townhouse association that a simple dipole in the backyard is a lot savorier than an attic (indoor) antenna from an interference standpoint. On second thought...
Heck, aside from fledgling technology, Marconi and his fellow radio pioneers had to overcome only natural obstacles, such as noise from thunderstorms and the effects of a capricious ionosphere. If Marconi’s next-door neighbor had a new computerized washing machine that spewed tons of nasty RF from its unfiltered pulse-modulated drive motor and several smaller stepper motors, radio history may have unfolded quite differently!
Dark forces seem to be lining up against us, so we must be strong. Now that the economy has tanked big time, manufacturers have little incentive to spend the extra buck or two required to produce consumer products that can peacefully coexist in the shortwave space. And the FCC, which used to make at least some effort to enforce its own standards—or even come up with standards—seems to be focused on cost savings and the mess that is the transition to Digital TV. The Commission’s budget for cleaning supplies and toilet paper probably exceeds its budget for enforcing EMI/RFI standards in the US market.
It’s pretty clear that, as hams, we’ll have to try to take care of ourselves. Fortunately, nobody knows more about RFI and how to fix it than hams!
Before we explore some solutions to RFI caused by your transmitter in this
month’s column, let me introduce you to what is probably the best single
source of information about interference mitigation for hams and SWLs
alike, namely The ARRL RFI Book: Practical Cures for Radio-Frequency
Interference, edited and shepherded by ARRL RFI guru Ed Hare, W1RFI. This
jumbo reference, now in its second edition and sporting a green cover, is
a comprehensive resource for fixing every imaginable interference problem
in your home or mobile shack. If you’re lucky, your local library will
have a copy. Otherwise, plunk down the $30 to get your own copy from your
favorite ham radio bookseller or from the League’s website at
You’ll use it forever. Copies of the red-cover first edition—still
excellent—sell for less than $10 at www.half.com.
THE PRACTICAL SIDE
The Propagation Corner
More About Solar Cycles (Is The Sun Dying Or What?)
by Tomas Hood, NW7US
There’s been speculation in various online discussion forums that Solar Cycle 23 is a record-long cycle. This observation is based on the occasional appearance of sunspots that are magnetically oriented consistent with sunspots belonging to the second-half of Cycle 23. The speculation leads to conclusions that the new cycle may not occur with any significant level of activity (it will be a dead cycle), or that we’re seeing a dying sun! All of this speculation creates a lot of discussion and leaves the radio hobbyist wondering what’s in store during the coming year and beyond.
Sunspot activity on the sun varies over a roughly 11-year cycle. At the beginning of a cycle, there are many days without sunspots, and when sunspots occur, they are few. As the solar cycle progresses, the spots gradually increase over several years until the activity peaks. After the peak, sunspot activity decreases over the next several years, with spots from old and new cycles often occurring simultaneously as a new cycle starts. From 1755 to 2007, astronomers counted a total of 23 cycles of sunspot activity.
To which cycle a sunspot belongs is determined by two characteristics of a sunspot. The first identifying feature of a new-cycle sunspot is its solar latitude. The first sunspots of a new cycle initially appear at high latitudes. As the cycle progresses, they begin appearing progressively closer to the solar equator. The second feature is polarity. The sun has a magnetic field, just like the earth, but the sun’s field flips much more frequently than the earth’s. The sun’s magnetic poles typically reverse at the peak of each sunspot cycle. The rapid flipping of the sun’s magnetic pole affects the polarity of sunspots (Figure 1), helping scientists distinguish between sunspots belonging to different solar cycles.
The sunspots belonging to Cycle 23 were oriented with the North Pole spot
on the left (as seen from our vantage point of Earth) and the South Pole
spot on the right. New Cycle 24 spots are reversed (Figure 2). The first
official spot of Cycle 24 was observed in January 2008, because it had the
reversed polarity and occurred at a high latitude.
The speculation that Cycle 23 is the longest on record is based on the false premise that cycles end abruptly, and new cycle spots immediately and completely replace old cycle spots. However, according to the official record, the end of Solar Cycle 23 is now positioned statistically on August 2008, the month currently used by the panel of scientists predicting the current Cycle 24 progression.
Since October 1996 is used as the effective start of Cycle 23, Cycle 23 lasted 11 years and 10 months. Since August 2008, we’ve seen more Cycle 24 spots than Cycle 23 spots (Figure 3). It’s typical, according to scientists like David Hathaway, for spots belonging to the previous solar cycle to continue occurring for at least 18 months after the effective start of a new cycle. So as we continue to see occasional spots with the magnetic structure consistent with Cycle 23, they do not change the actual start of the new cycle, or for that matter, the end of the last.
Cycle 23 is not the longest on record. For example, Sunspot Cycle 4 was
over 13 years in length, and Cycle 5 was over 12. There are many other
examples. The length of Cycle 23 falls well within the confines of the
solar cycle average length of 11 years (an average of 11.1 years, to be
Civil Aviation Monitoring
Be An Air Traffic Controller At Home
by Tom Swisher, WA8PYR
Well, almost. AirNav RadarBox, mentioned in a previous column as one option for monitoring the ADS-B systems now coming into use in the United States, is one heck of an interesting gadget.
A product of AirNav Systems, AirNav RadarBox is an excellent way to
monitor aviation activity in your area. RadarBox allows you to decode the
ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast) signals, and displays
the aircraft position reports on a radar-like display on your computer
screen. In addition to position indications, RadarBox shows the flight
number, aircraft type, altitude, heading and speed of that flight, and
uses the position reports to display a track of each flight.
The package comes complete from AirNav Systems with the RadarBox receiver, a USB cable, the required antenna, a quick installation guide, and the software CD. The receiver is a small aluminum box (about the size of a paperback book) that is quite compact and lightweight, and the antenna is a small magnetic-mount model. The receiver connects to the computer with a simple plug-and-play USB connection. There’s no time-consuming setup needed and installation is quick and easy: just install and configure the software, connect the antenna to the receiver, then connect the receiver to the computer with the supplied USB cable.
Upon startup, you’ll need to set your current location by entering the airport code on the menu bar. Alternatively, you can open the Preferences screen (under File on the menu bar), go to the Home Station Location tab, and click the AutoDetect button. As long as you have an active connection to the Internet, the program will figure out the nearest city, display it, and ask if you want to set that as your default location. Click Yes and then the Apply button, and the program will make the setting and bring up the map.
Once you have the software configured, connect the receiver to a USB port
using the supplied cable. The receiver will dump whatever it hears to the
program as well as dump the received flight information, which in turn
places position points on the display and starts tracking flights.
The software has a raft of features, including worldwide mapping, and
includes over 200,000 map points, such as airports, VOR, NDB, and roads.
An active Internet connection allows the program to download flight
information received by other users from the AirNav Systems network, and
use that data to further update your display. In addition to being
displayed on the “radar” display, the flight information is also displayed
to the left on a flight list showing the flight number, aircraft
registration number, and other information.
Shannon’s Broadcast Classics
A Hitchhiker’s Guide To A Small Galaxy Of Broadcasting’s Past
by Shannon Huniwell
My father is constantly mining eBay for nuggets of radio history. He’s even enlisted my help in scouring the online auction site’s search engine just in case something escapes his notice. More than once, this frenzy for vintage AM/FM memorabilia has generated a comedy of errors resulting in both of us inadvertently competing for the same item.
In the instance of this month’s topic, the mutually exclusive broadcast
classics in question were several old snapshots—amateur shutterbug views
of four standard band transmitter sites circa 1940. It seems to me that
there was also a third party also bidding on the black & white pictures.
In any event, upon seeing the action heat up, he or she must have gotten
scared off and dropped out shortly before my father and I realized we were
bidders #1 and #2. When Dad called to announce his “great find” for a
future Pop’Comm story, I quickly interjected an identical eBay discovery,
resulting in chagrined laughs and the agreement that I’d immediately stop
clicking on the “bid now” button.
Understandably, she was very suspicious of his contact, especially when he launched into a monologue about how the pictures would appear in a “major publication’s vintage radio feature authored by a noted broadcast historian!” Turns out, she didn’t even know the boxes of stuff she’d sold to the shop had contained any radio-related material. No doubt in an attempt to end the conversation, the chagrined woman promised to ask her son if he knew anything about them. Months went by and my Dad finally forgot about it.
I had already begun outlining an article around the uncaptioned snapshots
when a gentleman from Marblehead, Massachusetts, phoned to say that his
elderly mother suggested he call and provide background on his father’s
memorabilia. Dad immediately put him in contact with me. I described the
four little images, though not expecting them to generate much
recollection. “Doesn’t ring a bell offhand, and my father died in 1994,”
the man replied. Neither did the only clue I could see jog his memory.
This consisted of an inscription, “Hal, for your scrapbook. Regards, H.
Grossman,” penciled on the back of one picture. In any event, he pledged
to think about it, and then asked for my email address.
What arrived two weeks later was a bit of a surprise. The guy must have spent an entire evening composing the nicely written explanation that follows:
Our conversation about Father’s photos jogged my memory regarding his
aggravating (to me) practice of stopping for hitchhikers, the scruffier
the better. Even as a kid, whenever riding with him and a hitcher came
into view, I’d point out the dangers of strangers and would strongly
object to him giving such unknown persons a lift. His stock retort was
that in our family there was a young thinker and an old fogy—and a regret
that the old fogy happened to be a teenager.
THE LIGHTER SIDE
The Loose Connection
Bill Flies Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
by Bill Price, N3AVY
Besides Norm, there’s probably no one who gets more mention on this page than loyal reader, former EMT, and guy with an HPJIE*, Joe Maurus, formerly of Pumpkin Center, Louisiana. Of course, if any of you had sent me a picture of yourself sledding down a big hill in Idaho with your grandson (or with Joe’s grandson) I’d probably mention you here, too.
At my own HPJIE, it’s been a good couple of weeks. I’ve been tracing wires that would remind some of you of Medusa’s hair or a Gordian knot (that’s not one tied by Gordon West, by the way). The search for a loose connection (where have we heard that before?) has never been more difficult, particularly trying to squeeze my, er, largeness behind some racks made for little people. And why, while we’re at it, must all audio cables be black?
If you’ve ever traced a wire—or traced many wires—you know about some of the absolute truths involved in the process:
• Whatever you need while you’re behind a rack will be in front of the rack.
• Someone will call with the most inane question just after you get behind the rack again.
• The wire you’re tracing—the black one…the black one amid 700 other black ones…the one that you’ve followed under floor tiles and over the tops of other racks—will slip from your fingers just as you near the end you’ve been searching for, because you sneezed.
But amid all this are some small victories. Little intermittent goblins and hitherto unexplained variations in levels have been discovered, surgically removed, and put out with the trash. Unexplainable inconsistencies in metering and switching are all of a sudden understood—and put to rest for good.
Some of the things I’ve discovered would take two pages to explain and would bore you anyway, but the boss has given me free rein to go through our satellite uplink system and find these gremlins (hey, I once drove a Gremlin…) and send them off to some foreign country where they might annoy someone else for a decade or so.
There was a simpler time, a time when I lived on a ship and copied code for eight hours a day. A time when my transmitter would be tuned to only two frequencies, and both were in kilocycles. And that transmitter didn’t even have a modulator! Push down on the key, make a sound; leave off of the key, stop making a sound. Two sounds: a dit and a dah.