The Weirder Side Of Wireless
Track And Driver
The Arizona Legislature is considering a bill that would prohibit the state from embedding Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips in their state driver’s licenses, according to a report in the Phoenix Business Journal. The U.S. has been pushing states since 9/11 to improve their driver’s licenses in terms of security and safeguarding against fake IDs, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s “Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative” will require travelers to present a new “enhanced” identification card or a passport when crossing the Canadian or Mexican border. These enhanced ID cards or drivers licenses contain an RFID chip similar to those in newer U.S. Passports. RFID chips can be used to track holders’ movements, and hackers have demonstrated that the chips’ private data can be read wirelessly by unauthorized third parties.
The Arizona Chapter of the ACLU and some
conservative legislators, such as State Senators Ron Gould of Lake Havasu
City and Jack Harper of Surprise, back the proposed ban out of concern
about the increased surveillance and tracking of private citizens.
The New York Times reported that the French bicycle championship organization Tour de France recently conducted an experimental test race without the ear radios that have been used for more than a decade to link riders with their directors in team cars.
The ear radios were popularized by Lance
Armstrong when he won his first Tour in 1999. The official explanation was
that the radio ban increased safety. Unofficially, the ban restored some
individual decision-making in a sport that many believe is becoming
robotic. Speaking for old-timers, Bernard Hinault said of the radios
recently, “I am against them. It is only a Game Boy with a gigolo at the
end who tells the rider when he must go and urinate at the side of the
road.” The race seemed unaffected, although more riders spent time in
breakaways looking back over their shoulders to see if the pack was
News, Trends, And Short Takes
by D. Prabakaran
BBG Increases Broadcasts In Persian To Iran
The U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors has increased television, radio, and Internet transmissions of the Persian language programs of the Voice of America (VOA)’s Persian News Network and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Radio Farda to fight jamming and signal interference in Iran.
Jamming of satellite television broadcasts increased beginning in May and has included interference with BBG and other broadcasters’ satellite uplink and downlink signals. To combat the censorship, VOA’s Persian News Network (PNN) television programs are now beamed through five satellites with six different distribution channels.
Shortwave transmissions of Radio Farda were increased beginning June 21 as part of an effort to counteract jamming by the Iranian government. With the recent shortwave additions, the most popular morning and early-to-mid evening hours have at least five simultaneous transmissions and 10 at peak times. The shortwave jamming of international broadcasters began on 14 June.
The Internet has been an information lifeline for many Iranians in the aftermath of the recent disputed elections. The number of visits to both VOA’s PNN website and RFE/RL’s Radio Farda website during the weekend of June 20 were more than 400 percent greater than at the start of the month.
Iranian government censorship of external news sites has increased. VOA’s PNN and RFE/RL’s Radio Farda saw a 200-percent growth in the use of proxy servers and Web censorship circumvention software from the day before the Friday election to three days later. Over that weekend, the response to the VOA and RFE/RL Persian-language Web sites was so great that its proxy service reached full capacity, resulting in some visitors not reaching the site. The BBG is adding additional infrastructure to handle this increased traffic.
RFE/RL Radio Farda broadcasts 24 hours a day
on shortwave, mediumwave and satellite, and streams online. More than 30
percent of Iranians tune in to BBG broadcasts at least once a week.
Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications
by Richard Fisher, KI6SN
Genachowski Named FCC Chairman; McDowell Appointed To Second Term
In sweeping action, the U.S. Senate in late
June approved Julius Genachowski as new chairman of the Federal
Communications Commission and appointed Robert M. McDowell to a second
term. About the same time, the Obama administration also nominated
Meredith Attwell Baker to serve on the commission. She joins Mignon L.
Clyburn, a South Carolina regulator, whose name had previously been put
forward by the White House for nomination to a seat.
Genachowski, whose nomination to the chairmanship was put forward in March, fills the seat vacated in January by Kevin Martin, a Republican. McDowell’s nomination did not have to go through a background check or financial vetting as he is a sitting commissioner. Michael J. Copps, a Democrat, had served as acting chairman prior to Genachowski’s confirmation.
Genachowski attended Harvard Law School with President Obama and helped develop technological initiatives during the 2008 presidential campaign. On the commission since 2006, McDowell was previously an executive with the Washington-based trade organization Comptel. Both Genachowski and McDowell received bipartisan support from the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee before their names were moved to the full Senate for confirmation. Only three FCC commissioners at a time may be members of the same political party, according to published reports.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chairman, told Genachowski he wants “an FCC that is transparent, that inspires confidence and that makes our digital infrastructure a model for the world,” according to published reports. “Tragically, this has not been the case for some time. Let me be very clear about the challenge before you. Fix this agency or we will fix it for you.”
In remarks to Genachowski, Rockefeller said
the FCC should be consumer-oriented. “Too often, FCC commissioners have
focused on making sure that the policies they advocate serve the needs of
the companies they regulate and their bottom lines,” he said. “Time and
again, the FCC has shortchanged consumers and the public interest. Show us
that the FCC can put consumers first and give them confidence that when
they interact with the agency they will get a fair response.” Rockefeller
pointed out that during Martin’s chairmanship, the commission had come
under congressional investigation for mismanagement and had been
criticized for its lack of transparency and alleged misuse of data.
Making Money In The Future Communications World
by Rob de Santos
Except for the retired, or the independently wealthy, most readers of this magazine do something for a living. Likewise, almost all organizations, large or small, must make money from their efforts so they can continue to operate, pay employees, make more products, etc. The players in the communications business are no different.
Why state the obvious here? For decades, beginning with the lead-up to World War II, broadcasters around the world filled the shortwave spectrum with broadcasts promulgating a particular point of view or cultural message. If you began listening to radio before 1989, you no doubt heard dozens of these broadcasts every day. At the time, few listeners gave much thought to the tremendous costs involved in keeping that programming on the air. For the staffs of those stations, aside from occasional minor bumps with government funding, there was the broad assurance the pipeline would remain flowing and the stations would continue. The justification for the existence of the programs was not profit or loss but the need to fight the radio side of the Cold War.
The situation changed with the end of that ideological struggle. No longer were governments and their citizens willing to spend huge sums on broadcasting to distant listeners whose numbers were unknown, and for which the financial or political payback was not readily apparent. Now, nearly two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall we’re facing another transformation.
Last month, I discussed the future of news delivery. Inseparable from that future is the growing quandary of how the media organizations will make money from their product.
The very power of shortwave, and the ability of listeners to hear the broadcasts largely undetected, made it perfect for a contentious time. However, the absence of an effective advertising model, the lack of a political justification, and the inability for stations to operate profitably has put a damper on shortwave’s prospects. Similarly, there’s much debate in radio and Internet circles about how to make money off the new “media.” Whether it’s Digital Radio or Twitter, many of these current news delivery mechanisms also seem to lack clear profit mechanisms.
News delivery is a particularly difficult area
in which to generate revenue. Not too long ago, at least in the U.S.,
network and local television newscasts were among the most consistent
profit-making centers for TV stations because of the high advertising
rates they commanded. Newspapers were revenue generators for major media
companies. The change in the distribution systems for news, as discussed
last month, has up-ended that apple cart. Cable and satellite TV has
eroded ratings and market share for televised news from national networks
and local stations. The explosive growth of the Internet has meant the
loss of markets and advertising for newspapers.
A Solar Charger For Emergency Radios
This Easy Modification Makes A Solar Automotive Charger A Perfect Fit For Popular Emergency Receivers
by Gregory Majewski
I have a C. Crane CC Observer emergency portable radio that I rely on when no AC power is available. The CC Observer is very similar to the emergency radios produced by Eton and other companies, and most Pop’Comm readers probably have—or should have!—such a radio for emergencies. It has a pleasant sound and the batteries last for a reasonable length of time. While the CC Observer does have a built-in hand-cranked dynamo generator for charging the internal nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery pack, it requires some extended physical effort to charge them. And, of course as Murphy’s Law dictates, the batteries always seem to need recharging at the most inappropriate times.
As luck would have it, I also have a small solar panel that I’d intended to use for keeping a 12-volt lead-acid battery charged for emergencies. The panel is typical of the many cheap solar-powered car battery trickle chargers on the market with a 12-volt cigarette lighter plug, but measurements I made showed its maximum current output in bright sunlight to be only 20–30 milliamperes (as opposed to its rated 100 milliamperes) I realized I couldn’t use it for that purpose. Since the CC Observer only needs 25 milliamperes to run, however, this was a perfect match.
Still, the solar panel’s output voltage can be
as high as 23 to 24 VDC. Since this is well above the 5 volts required by
the CC Observer, I decided to use a simple three-terminal voltage
regulator to control the voltage to the radio.
Figure 1 is the schematic of the configuration; the Parts List box provides a rundown of the components you’ll need. The key component is the very common 78L05 three-terminal 5volt regulator, which can safely supply up to 100 milliamperes of current at its output voltage and also has internal thermal overload protection. (Figure 2 shows the pin connections of the 78L05.) This and all the other parts (besides the solar panel) are very inexpensive and are available at RadioShack and from most other local and online electronic parts supply businesses. You may already have all the parts you’ll need in your junk box.
While the solar panel provides clean DC power, the ceramic capacitor filters out any stray voltages or currents picked up by the long leads of the solar panel that could affect the voltage regulator’s proper operation. Any value between 0.1 to 0.47 microfarads can be used; I used a .22 microfarad capacitor that I happened to have on hand.
The 1N4148 diode is also not critical, so you
could substitute a normal power rectifier diode (1N4005, for example) in
its place. The original solar panel’s cigarette lighter plug has a similar
diode on its internal circuit board, which could be removed and reused.
This part is necessary to prevent reverse current from flowing though the
78L05 and the solar panel. Without the diode there is a possibility, in
dark conditions, of the radio’s battery discharging itself though the
solar charger. Additionally, the 78L05 and the solar panel could be
damaged, depending on how much current flows in the wrong direction.
Buying A Scanner: The Big Three Questions
by Ken Reiss
The dramatic events the county’s suffered over the past near-decade have led to the adoption of some pretty dramatic changes. One of the things that came out of 9/11, for instance, was the reorganization of many federal agencies into the new Department of Homeland Security. More recently, the hurricanes in the south (Katrina, in particular) underscored the need for communications systems that work between agencies.
As a result, lots of money has been floating around to upgrade/update communications systems at the state and local level. The recent economic downturn may have put some of those plans on hold, but it’s been just long enough that some of the changed systems are starting to come online. And the result for you is that you may suddenly find that your old scanner doesn’t quite work any longer.
Trunking and digital are the two biggest factors that will outdate your radio in a hurry, but there’s also new frequencies in use as a result of refarming and re-allocation of spectrum. The recent transition to Digital TV may also open additional frequencies and opportunities for many public safety agencies as the spectrum becomes available. (Assuming everything stays on schedule, it may have actually happened by the time you read this, but I’m not a betting person.)
If you’re looking for a handheld, you’ve got plenty of choices. At one time, buying a handheld meant making a lot of compromises, but that’s no longer the case. Today’s handhelds are every bit as capable as many of the base/mobile counterparts. A quick look through the catalogs reveals that the pure base/mobile receiver is getting a bit harder to find since the handhelds are so versatile.
Yet, there are still some advantages to having
a true base or mobile unit. They’re easier to mount in a permanent way in
the car if you’re doing a mobile installation. There’s nothing like a
permanent (or semi-permanent) installation for convenience.
While I can’t give you a concrete answer to
the question about which radio to buy, hopefully we can ask some questions
to get you thinking about what you might need. You may have some homework
to do in your local area to see what’s coming out with upgrades before you
make a final decision.
If this is your first scanner and you’re just
beginning, there are a number of special features you should look out for.
The first couple of considerations are pretty critical; after that it
really comes down to how serious you are.
Global Information Guide
Radio Hargeisa Toots Its Horn, A Possible Return Of Sierra Leone, And Radio Vatican Goes Commercial
by Gerry L. Dexter
Radio Hargeisa, the government station in Somaliland, is supposedly active again. Up until 1970 the station (or at least one using that name) was active from the then British Somaliland, which gained independence in late June 1960 and then merged with Somalia less than a week later. Sometime during the ensuing years it was destroyed in one of its many domestic conflicts and was silent for years. Apparently a rebuilding has occurred and the station has come back to life. It has been reported by some using 7145. The schedule has them in action from 0330 to 0600, 0900 to 1200, and 1500 to 2000. Only the first of these three time periods would offer any chance of success for us. I’ve no idea as to the power used, but I would expect it would take a superior opening to the Horn of Africa to bring in a signal.
Apparently there has been a cutback in the services of Radio Belarus, which now reportedly only operates from 1430 or so until 2100, as opposed to its former 0400 to 2200. That’s not conducive for reception at locations much to the west of you ESTers.
The little known and seldom heard Radio Mallku in Uyuni, Bolivia, now goes by the name Radio Lipez.
An organization called Jewels of God International says it has received a shortwave operating license for Sierra Leone and is seeking help in the form of money or equipment to put up a station there. If all this is for real it would put this inactive country back on the air.
Can you imagine commercials on Vatican Radio? “Not hardly,” you say? Well, Vatican Radio says it is actually considering going commercial as a way of bringing in additional income and blowing some life into its budget. So what can we expect to hear? Pitches for prayer books, commercials for Antonio’s Pizza, or announcements on behalf of the Rome Area Fiat Dealers Association? But, please, no lawyers offering to get you out of debt—and, for heaven’s sake, nothing that includes the phrase “call now and we’ll double your order!” Let’s hope the idea goes no further!
Almost since its inception Radio Marti has
been surrounded by controversy over its effectiveness, its poor
management, the way it spends money, or the content of its programming.
All the sporadic brouhahas haven’t done any real damage, but now Radio-TV
Marti is being downsized due to budget cuts. There’ll be a switch to an
all-news format and a reduction in staff size. The downsizing, in addition
to saving some money, should also please the Castro Brothers, with whom
the administration is trying to “make nice.”
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 (base) 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 where, oh where, is that photo of you at your listening
post? It’s your turn to grace these pages!
THE LIGHTER SIDE
Trivia And Toons
by R.B. Sturtevant, AD7IL
Q. Why is a clandestine radio operator called a “musician”?
A. That comes from the World War II
term used by the Nazis to describe British or American radio operators in
occupied Europe. An operator who had one key, instead of 88, was called a
“pianist” or “musician.” The radio was called a “music box” and the
traffic was known as the “music” or “tune.” Thanks to books and movies
this has become a generalized term for radio operators in all espionage
situations, regardless of the time or place.
Q. What is “carnivore” and what is it used for?
A. Carnivore is an FBI computer program
that allows the agency, with appropriate court orders and legal
supervision, to capture electronic communications from a specific source
that’s the target of an investigation. Other users of the same
communications are excluded from the investigation’s scope. It’s like a
wiretap on something other than a voice over telephone system.
Q. I saw some advertisements for Shoe Phones. They looked like regular shoes. Do they have any integrated electronics?
A. You’re referring, of course, to the
renowned shoe phone from the 1960’s television series Get Smart, the most
famous television prop in history (umm, would you believe the second most
famous TV prop in history?). Maxwell Smart, played by the late Don Adams,
was Agent 86 of the super-secret government agency CONTROL, and his shoe
phone always seemed to ring at the most inopportune times (shades of the
THE PRACTICAL SIDE
The Antenna Room
Antenna Topic Tidbits
Don’t you just hate it when work interferes with the important things in life? The latest victim of the time shortage was my AM broadcast and shortwave noise reduction antenna (Photo A), and I’m afraid the month just got away from me. But hopefully I’ll get a good chance to heat up the soldering iron before the next column.
The idea of this low-noise approach is to
rotate a magnetic rod antenna horizontally and vertically. The radio wave
is not only coming in on a compass heading, but because it bounces off the
ionosphere, it’s also coming in at a steep angle. If you want to listen to
one station, but null out a second station, then you point the end of the
rod antenna at that second station. Pointing will be both at the station
and angled up at its current skip angle. Tweak it just so, and you can
reduce that second station 5 or 6 S-units. But more on this when I get the
So, what has kept me away from the more important things in life, you ask. Well, how’s the U.S. Navy for a good reason to get briefly distracted? Photo B show a monopulse radar decoy, which the Navy in showing some interest in. Monopulse seekers are very difficult to jam: Not only do they quickly zero in on the target, but if the target turns on a jammer, the signal-to-noise levels in the monopulse radar actually get better. Monopulse seekers just love jammers and home right in on them.
For the readers working in the Electronic Warfare industry (and I’m sure we have some), yes, there is Cross-Eye and some other similar jammers for monopulse, but they work best when on big planes like B-52s, not small planes like the A6. This decoy is attached to the back of a plane with a long rope and electronically looks like a 747 on radar. The goal here is for the monopulse guided missile to go after the decoy rather than…you. It’s supposed to work sort of like that old scuba diving trick where you always have a diving buddy when swimming in shark infested waters: you don’t have to outswim the shark, you just have to out swim your buddy.
The antennas in Photo C might become a future
technical topic, but I have yet to find a practical use for the
Archimedean Spiral outside of electronic warfare (I’m open to ideas). The
antenna works well from 2 GHz to 20 GHz, but with about -6 dBi gain there
is usually a better antenna for listening.
Broadcast Technology Goes Back To School
by Bruce A. Conti
September means back to school, and no matter
what the field of work, continuing education is important for professional
development and personal growth. Focal Press specializes in textbooks
covering film, photography, and broadcast topics for professionals and
students. The nice folks there graciously provided several books of
interest for “Broadcast Technology” to review, so here are some
recommended titles with my spin on the three Rs: reading, recording, and
The Broadcast Announcing Worktext: A Media Performance Guide (3rd edition), by Alan R. Stephenson, David E. Reese, and Mary E. Beadle, provides aspiring broadcast talent with the skills, techniques, and procedures to enter a highly competitive field. It’s packed with valuable information, including expert recommendations and tips from broadcast professionals. Insider tips vary from how to find an internship, selecting a microphone, preparing a script, how to be an effective radio music announcer, play-by-play sports calling, and getting your first job in broadcasting. University professors, broadcast executives, plus radio and TV personalities all offer their unique insights.
Here’s an example of the “sound” advice found throughout, a performance tip by Al Pawlowski, play-by-play (PBP) announcer for ESPN, Major League Soccer, and Cleveland State University Basketball:
In radio you’re using action verbs and descriptive adjectives to paint the best picture you can, but on TV the audience can see it all. If a beginning TV PBP person has the discipline (because your natural urge is to talk) just say the names of the players, and nothing else at first. You will sound polished and get the idea. Instead of, “Daniel Gibson passes the ball to LeBron James. James dribbles in and shoots the 15-footer...Good!” it could be as simple as, “Gibson...LeBron...Good!” Of course more words can be added here and there as you progress, but learning how to back off first will give you the feel for a TV PBP game versus a radio call.”
Broadcast Announcing Worktext is accompanied
by a CD-ROM that features audio and visual examples by broadcasters. For
instance, one audio clip by the late Paul Harvey demonstrates inflection,
pace, and dramatic pauses. The book is written in a college textbook
format, complete with self-study exams and projects at the end of each
chapter, rounded out with an appendix of practice news copy and
terminology. The companion, Audio Production Worktext: Concepts,
Techniques, and Equipment by David E. Reese, Lynne S. Gross, and Brian
Gross, explores behind the scenes in the same information-packed textbook
format. (332 pages, softcover, $54.95.)
Civil Aviation Monitoring
Shortwave Aviation Monitoring
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, and you’re monitoring the VHF and UHF air bands. There’s lots of chatter and you’re happily soaking it all in…or are you?
Actually, the radio chatter is the same old
thing, and you’re bored to tears. Is there anything else to listen to out
there? Yes, there is indeed. So fire up the old shortwave receiver and
listen to aviation traffic from a whole new perspective.
There are three major users of the shortwave
bands for aviation to start off with, and all are relatively easy to catch
on even a basic shortwave receiver: The U.S. Federal Aviation
Administration; Aeronautical Radio, Inc. (ARINC); and the U.S military.
The first of these users, the FAA, uses HF for VOLMET and SIGMET weather broadcasts. VOLMET is a contraction of the French “VOLume METeorological,” which translated means more or less “weather broadcast”; SIGMET is a contraction of SIGnificant METeorological information. VOLMET broadcasts take the form of weather updates for specific areas on a fixed schedule, while SIGMET broadcasts update aviators on specific safety of flight weather information. For example, starting at the top of the hour until five past, you’ll hear airfield conditions for Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, and other cities; from five to 10 past, you’ll hear reports for Bangor, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, and others; 10 to 15 past, New York, Newark, Boston, and others; and so on. SIGMET updates, usually good for four hours, are made during the VOLMET broadcasts.
Check out the following frequencies for FAA
VOLMET broadcasts from New York Radio:
Of course, you’ll find VOLMET broadcasts from
other nations out there as well, not only those from the FAA. Check out
www.dxinfocentre.com/volmet.htm for a listing of international VOLMET
Started in 1929 to provide communications services to the aviation community, ARINC is today the top provider of communications and data transmission services to the transportation industry, with the largest focus to this day on aviation.
While you may be familiar with the ARINC VHF
voice radio services and VHF ACARS data services, you may not be familiar
with their Aeronautical Operational Control services. These services,
operating on shortwave frequencies, are intended to aid aircraft on
overseas flights with Long Distance Operational Control communications to
their airline headquarters, as well as air traffic control communications,
when out of range of land-based VHF radio.
THE INTERSECTION OF
On Keeping A Logbook
by Dan Srebnick, K2DLS
Since ships have been traveling the seas and
the skies, the ship’s captain has kept a log of the journey. Classic Star
Trek episodes began with a reading from Captain Kirk’s log. Many of us
keep a log of our radio activity. Whether we listen, transmit, or do both,
a log allows us to look back upon our radio experiences. It offers insight
into which stations or countries are workable depending upon time of year,
band, or solar activity. It can tell us when a new public safety system
was first noticed or when an AM broadcast station in Canada left the air
for the last time. It can memorialize the first report of a civil war or a
natural catastrophe. All of this makes logging an intensely personal
I have three primary logbooks. The oldest is a logbook of my listening activities on longwave, mediumwave, and shortwave going back to 1979. Sometime in the early part of the this decade, I decided to computerize my surviving paper logbook pages. I had learned how to use MySQL, the SQL database that runs under Linux, and I created an online SWL logbook using a MySQL backend on my main Linux server.
Hint: MySQL is free and available from http://mysql.org.
The user interface for my homebrew system was originally Microsoft Access. I made use of the link tables feature, which lets you access a remote SQL database, as opposed to creating a table within the Access database itself. This approach is still in use, except I’ve ditched Microsoft Access as the user interface and now use the freely available Open Office suite. This is a drop-in replacement for the Microsoft Office suite, minus the cost. You can download Open Office from the http://openoffice.org website. Using Open Office I can browse, update, and add logbook entries. I can also print out a paper report of my loggings.
Hint: Open Office is free, does most of what the Microsoft Office suite can do, and runs on Windows, Linux, Solaris, and Mac OS X.
My ham logging for the past couple of years has been done using Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD). This is the “kitchen sink” of all radio control/logging programs and is very flexible. Contact info is populated from data provided by the radio, such as frequency and mode, along with data resulting from a qrz.com callsign lookup. If you use eqsl.cc for online QSLing (see May’s “RF Bits”), the QSL upload can be automatic and instantaneous. For digital contacts, I use the DM780 module of HRD, which has its own logbook for digital contacts. HRD has a function to merge contacts from the DM780 logbook into the HRD logbook, in case you want everything together in one place.
Hint: Ham Radio Deluxe is also free and is available at www.ham-radio-deluxe.com/.
While mostly satisfied with HRD—especially for
the price—there are some limitations that I sought to get around. HRD has
an analysis feature that does not work well for me. It’s supposed to allow
users to analyze their standings in the great country/band hunt in which
we hardened DXers engage.
Stand-Alone Radio Systems Still Tops For Survivability
by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ
Earlier this year there was an incident in California, which although barely reported in the media, underscored the most dangerous problem with communications infrastructure in America: its reliance on centralized communications centers.
According to an article by Bruce Perens published on the Business Insider website, just after midnight on April 9, persons unknown entered four manholes serving the city of Morgan Hill and cut eight fiber-optic cables. Although there were apparently no crimes committed that specifically took advantage of the resulting situation—leaving authorities able to only speculate about the attackers’ motives—the city and parts of three northern California counties lost 911 service, cellular, and landline telephone, Internet and private networks, fire and burglar alarms, ATMs, and credit card terminals. Utility companies were left without any means of monitoring critical services.
The key point here, however, isn’t the list of things that failed—it’s
what stayed up and running: stand-alone radio systems. The law enforcement
and fire departments in the area still had radio communications. The
community hospital’s internal computer system proved to be dependant on
outside resources and failed, leaving area hams to dispatch ambulances and
relay critical communications to those outside the affected area who still
had working telephones so that doctors and supplies went where they were
Morgan Hill made it through the incident in reasonably good shape. It was no accident. California does a lot of emergency planning for fires, earthquakes, etc., and disaster plans are practiced religiously. But the bad news is twofold. Number one, that’s not necessarily the case everywhere else. Number two, you can rest assured that there will be another Morgan Hill, and the next time the perpetrators may take advantage of the chaos by committing acts of terrorism or other crimes. Furthermore, it’s possible that it will happen someplace where the affected community isn’t quite so prepared to fill the communications void using two-way radio systems and hams.
In the telephone industry, technicians use the term “backhoe fade” to
describe what happens when somebody ignores the “call before digging”
signs that are typically found where communications cables have been
buried underground. Usually, a backhoe fade is an accident caused by
someone’s failure to contact the utility company and have the location of
the cables pointed out before they dig. The problem is that a backhoe fade
could also be caused on purpose, and the utility company might even
happily point out the location of the cables to attackers! Not that the
attackers would necessarily need the help.
It’s Contest Season!
Work All 50 States Or 100 Countries In A Single Weekend
by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ
The heat index was 106 today as I write this—in Minnesota, no less—but in my mind’s eye the leaves are turning colors and frost will soon be on the pumpkins. Fall is on its way, and that means good things for hams and SWLs alike. The unrelenting summer static levels are falling as propagation is improving. You just can’t beat a double-whammy!
Fall is also a good time to check your antennas and feed lines before winter is upon us—in the northern climes, that is. It’s also a good time to get scrappy! In addition to all the other things it is, fall is also the start of ham radio’s contest season! Until late spring of next year you have ample opportunity to put your amateur radio training to good work on the honorable field of battle. And don’t worry. It’s not like Fight Club. You can talk about it! And you won’t get popped in the nose!
If you’re not the competitive type, don’t worry. Radio contesting is friendly and accommodates all levels of participation. And even if you don’t officially compete by turning in a log, etc., you will still come away with many benefits (only one of which is mentioned in the column’s title).
The radio contests we’re discussing are on-air events in which hams work as many different stations as they can in a defined period of time (often a weekend). Depending on the particular contest, a premium is placed on working stations in different geographical regions (states, countries, ARRL Sections, CQ Magazine Zones, grid squares, islands, and so on), or stations with different callsign prefixes (KAØAAA, KBØAAA, KCØAAA, and so on).
The regions or differing prefixes are called “multipliers.” In the simplest sense, contest scores are determined by multiplying the number of two-way contacts (QSOs) by the number of multipliers (subject to the fine points of each particular contest, of course!).
When the dust settles, the contestants with the highest scores (there are
usually several categories of competition, such as power level, number of
station operators, bands used, and so on) receive certificates or plaques
and have their scores listed in ham magazines and on websites. Everyone
competes together, but like a large marathon, participants are only
competing against others in their own categories (if they’re officially
competing at all). In ham contests, unlike the Tour de France, you can
drive on the course with the race leaders anytime you want!
In earlier decades, most contest activity came from experienced ops, but that’s not necessarily true today. Beginners and relative newcomers are rolling up their sleeves and getting involved, working new states and countries, trying out new modes and becoming better hams in the process.
THE PRACTICAL SIDE
The Propagation Corner
Making Contact—The Antenna Is The Key, Part I
by Tomas Hood
There are a number of things that make up a radio circuit, between the transmitting and receiving ends. For instance, the transmitter, the receiver, and the ionosphere are just some of the parts of a radio circuit. Some of them, like the ionosphere and the influence of the sun are out of our control. This month, we’re going to look at that part of the radio circuit that is directly in our control and that is a critical component of the radio circuit: antennas. We’re going to look at antennas from the perspective of a ham radio operator, but the principles apply to the shortwave radio listener, too. But since we’re talking about transmitting a signal that we hope reaches a targeted receiver, the amateur radio station is a good example in our discussion.
The basic building block in a radio circuit between two stations is the antenna. All successful radio signal propagation starts at the point where the radio signal “leaves” the transmitting end of the circuit and ends at the receiving end of the circuit. Let’s explore how important an antenna is in radio signal propagation, and how the right antenna during field day operation can make or break you.
How do we make our HF ham stations work more effectively? If you’re new to ham radio—or a Technician class ham planning to venture into HF—you want to talk to as many other stations as you can. If you’re a seasoned operator, you may want a higher score in a contest. Either way, you really don’t want to waste time calling CQ. That’s fun the first time or so, but isn’t it better to know in advance how you can quickly make your contacts? To develop that confidence, one must understand the radio system in its entirety.
We all know that on the shortwave frequencies, ionospheric propagation is the main variable that permits (or denies) radio communication. The principal HF system factors—propagation, antenna gain and transmit power—are the major factors in system effectiveness, and Figure 1 shows the relative effect of these variables.
There’s not much we can do about propagation loss, except to use a
software program to predict its effect. And we know that we can increase
transmit power, within limits, to talk farther. But antenna gain is a
factor we can control, and look at the possibilities—as much as 20 dB is
available to us! And with a cooperative buddy at the receive end of the
circuit, that’s as much as 40 dB! Just think what that means: If we change
to an antenna with 20 dB more gain, our 100-watt transmitter would operate
with the equivalent power of 10,000 watts! Is it any wonder that hams
spend a good part of their time selecting and optimizing their antennas?
Clearly, having the right antenna is key to good station performance.
Selecting your antenna is perhaps the most difficult task in constructing
a ham station. And yet, antenna type, site, and gain variations can
influence station performance more than any other parameter. When we first
studied for our ham licenses, we learned about isotropic antennas, those
imaginary point sources floating out there in free space. Isotropic
antennas are wonderful, as they emit equal amounts of radiation in all
directions and we can specify their gains. Wow! Just what we need!
Unfortunately, they don’t exist, and we are constrained by real-world
constructs that we erect somewhere near our ham shack. But there are
myriad antennas to choose from, and we can examine the ways in which
practical antennas really work.
Shannon’s Broadcast Classics
The Space Monkey/Radio Connection
by Shannon Huniwell
“She made it!” cheered the boy who practically sprinted into the classroom. “Miss Baker is safely back on earth!” he shouted, his index finger dramatically pointing toward the tiny speaker grille on a little red plastic radio grasped tightly in his left hand. “What about Miss Able?” a button-nosed red-haired girl demanded. She’d suddenly stopped washing the blackboard and instinctively moved close to her teacher seated at the third grade classroom’s big desk. “Both creatures are A-OK,” the kid confirmed. “The announcer said his news department just received that good word from our Navy a few minutes ago.”
The children were allowed to celebrate while their teacher took a fat piece of pink chalk and wrote on the board, Current Events for May 28, 1959. Through a sea of eagerly raised hands, she searched for a student who appeared least likely to participate in the class’ opening lesson. “Who can tell us the importance of what has happened today? Let’s see…How about…Timmy.” Most of the enthusiastic arms went down immediately. The teacher’s expectant gaze cued 26 sets of eight-year-old eyes to focus on one quiet youngster. He sank into his wooden seat, uttered a raspy, “um-m-m,” and then 50 years later wrote me the fascinating letter that provided the idea for this month’s column.
“My name is Tim Webston,” the former kid and present day Pop’Comm reader began. “I’m more of a wannabe radio guy than are the real broadcasters who usually contribute story concepts for your history articles. Even so, my wife thinks you could turn these memories into a story others might enjoy,” Tim wrote in his letter.
“I should admit that the sum total of my professional radio experience
consists of two nighttime weekend substitute air-shifts that required
almost no talking, save several station identifications and a couple of
sponsored weather forecasts, during which I stuttered so much that they
probably sounded like a foreign language. Or maybe I should just say that
a monkey could have done better! Actually, the primate angle is where I
hope you’ll begin this tale, or should I spell it t-a-i-l?” Tim punned
before unfolding his saga and requesting that it be put primarily in my
wording style. So, here goes…
A half century ago, reddish-yellow flames shot
from an AM-18 Jupiter rocket blasting off towards a 360-mile-high apogee.
Once outside Earth’s atmosphere, the missile zoomed at 10,000 mph. Two
tiny passengers were aboard: one Capuchin monkey called Miss Able and her
11-ounce space colleague, a spunky squirrel monkey dubbed Miss Baker.
Their names, hardly imaginative, were routinely assigned by military men
schooled in the phonetic alphabet. Somebody with the space monkey project
playfully broke code handle discipline to the extent that he suggested the
smaller, more animated mammal be branded “the one pound stick of
Utility Communications Digest
U.S. Navy MARS Possibly Endangered
by John Kasupski
Before I jump into the subject of this month’s column, I must point out that since there is a three-month lead-time on the production of Pop’Comm, the article you’re reading now is actually being written in June. Thus it is that the bombshell contained in the accompanying Table, which by some stroke of good luck came to my attention just as I was racking my brain for a good topic for this month’s column, appears just as the issue it addresses might well be coming to a head. As you hold this issue in your hands, the U.S. Navy MARS program may or may not be in its death throes.
The text in the Table was relayed by Navy MARS stations and published on the Internet. While it may be difficult for those who are unfamiliar with the format of military message traffic to decipher, the crux of the matter is that the officer in charge of the Naval Network Warfare Command (NNWC) has proposed disestablishing Navy/Marine Corps MARS as of September 30, 2009.
As you might expect, this has resulted in some passionate discussions on numerous Internet forums, especially among MARS operators (NAVMARCORPS MARS as well as Army and Air Force MARS ops). The consensus seems to be that the proposal to sunset Navy MARS is the result of budget cutting instituted by the new administration. The fear is that Navy MARS will be entirely halted—and that this may signal an eventual end to Army and Air Force MARS programs as well.
There is considerable disagreement, however, about whether Navy MARS can
go away entirely, given that there still is a Department of Defense
directive in force that requires all branches to maintain MARS capability
for contingency radio communications support to U.S. Government
operations, using organized volunteer radio operators and operating
facilities under the appropriate authorities, directed and coordinated by
the Military Departments. The directive, DoD Instruction Number
4650.02ASD, charges MARS with the responsibility for providing contingency
radio communications support to DoD Components as well as to civil
authorities at all levels, in fulfillment of DoD responsibilities
specified under separate DoD directives. DoD 4650.02 also stipulates that
MARS “shall provide health, morale and welfare radio communications
support to military members, civilian employees and contractors of DoD
Components, and civil agency employees and contractors, when in remote and
isolated areas, in contingencies or whenever appropriate.”
THE LIGHTER SIDE
The Loose Connection
Bill Finds An Acorn
by Bill Price, N3AVY
I once watched a video of the novelist Carlos
Fuentes at work. He typed with one finger. Not one finger on each hand,
but one finger. Period. It was amazing to watch. Soon I will be using just
the fingers of my left hand, as I’m up for my second round of shoulder
surgery (the right one—again). Maybe next month I’ll only turn in half a
column. The left half.
My HPJIE* requires me to climb ladders and other tall things (now
forbidden) or to reach over my head to run cables, or make connections, or
tighten nuts and bolts and screws (also forbidden). Crawling around on the
floor was never my strong suit, and doing it without straining the right
shoulder or using it to pull myself up has pretty much limited me to
sitting in my chair or driving the truck to various sites, where I can’t
do much once I get there.
I have learned to climb ladders one-handed when there’s no one else to do the job, but I gotta tell you—if you’ve never tried using your “other” hand to put a wire onto a screw terminal and tighten the screw, or tighten nuts or bolts using the “wrong hand,” you’re in for moments of feeling really useless if you ever end up with doctor’s orders to avoid all stress and strain to the bad arm.
Installing BNC connectors, for instance, is something that you learn over time, and you become proficient at it. When you have to re-learn it, doing all the crimping with your “other” hand while doing only the light work with your “main paw”…well, it’ll make you appreciate the day when the physical therapy is all over and you’re back to being “two handed” again.
When I can’t really get a good shot at tightening a mounting bolt on a
small antenna clamped to the top of a chain-link fence, a part of me
(usually the right hand) wants to take over from my useless left hand.
When my brain wants to let old righty get away with it, old righty
immediately lets out a yelp to remind the brain about doctor’s orders.