News, Trends, And Short Takes
by D. Prabakaran
Future Uncertain For Passport To World Band Radio
Larry Magne, publisher of Passport to World Band Radio, told readers that the future of the seminal SWL guide is in “limbo.” According to a statement posted on the publisher’s website (<www.passband.com>):
“As with any good recipe, a range of ingredients has to come together if a reference book is to succeed. Solid content is, of course, essential. But in recent months other considerations have had an increased bearing on the future of Passport to World Band Radio. So it is that the 26th Edition of Passport to World Band Radio is being held in limbo...
“For Passport readers and our small team, alike, this is a seminal moment. After all, Passport to World Band Radio goes back a quarter century and has had something like a million readers worldwide. But the future has its own rhythm that confounds prognostication.
“There may yet be more chapters to this story. Stay tuned.”
While Magne did not give a specific reason for the decision, the action
seems to reflect the decline in popularity of shortwave listening, as well
as the availability of shortwave schedules on the Internet.
The Federal Communications Commission has adopted changes in its FM translator rules to allow AM stations to use certain FM translator stations to retransmit their AM service within their AM stations’ current coverage areas. Specifi-cally, AM broadcast stations will be allowed to use currently authorized FM translator stations (i.e. those now licensed or authorized in construction permits that have not expired) to rebroadcast their AM signals, provided that no portion of the 60 dBu contour of the station extends beyond the smaller of: (a) a 25-mile radius from the AM transmitter site; or (b) the 2 mV/m daytime contour of the AM station.
In addition, AM broadcast licensees with Class D facilities will be allowed to originate programming on FM translators during periods when their AM station is not operating. The FCC says this will permit AM broadcasters to better serve their local communities and thus promote the Commission’s bedrock goals of localism, competition, and diversity in the broadcast media.
(Source: Radio Netherlands Media Network blog)
The Weirder Side Of Wireless
When To Communicate Your Communications
A police training exercise went badly awry as it sparked a widespread panic over a possible gunman inside a shopping center near Hobart, the state capital of Tasmania, Australia. The local police and The Mercury (Hobart) newspaper switchboards were flooded with phone calls from frantic people stating they’d overheard transmissions on a police radio channel that an armed man was on the loose in the Northgate Shopping Centre in the suburb of Glenorchy, according to a report in the Mercury. Glenorchy police stormed the shopping center, apparently not alerted to the fact that a training exercise was being conducted and the gunman did not exist (although some callers even reported that three people had been shot).
The police media department initially said reports of a gunman were a false alarm, but later issued a release stating that a police training exercise was under way and there was no need to panic.
The transmissions that began the confusion were made over a police radio
channel as part of a training drill at a nearby Tasmania Police Academy at
Rokeby. Inspector Robert Bonde, responding to the incident, said, “Some
transmissions were overheard by members of the public who weren’t aware
they related to a training exercise,” It is not known how so many
Tasmanians heard about the apparent gunman in such a short time, but the
incident raised questions—and apparently concern—about the number of
Tasmanians who use police scanners to listen in on police operations, the
The BBC has tracked down to a London home a 73-year-old television set
that is believed to be the oldest working TV in Britain. According to a
BBC News report, the discovery came about through a competition run by
Digital UK, the body overseeing the switch to digital television. The
competition’s goal was to inform the public that just about any
television, no matter how old, can be used to view digital channels. The
Marconiphone 702, built in 1936, still works as a modern television and
has been hooked up to a Freeview box to show digital channels, although
its owner, Jeffrey Borinsky, an electrical engineer and collector of
antique television and radio sets, has had to install a standards
converter so that a modern signal can be seen. He’s also still working on
restoring it to what he calls “its true 1936 magnificence.”
News, Trends, And Short Takes
by D. Prabakaran
Future Uncertain For Passport To World Band Radio
Larry Magne, publisher of Passport to World Band Radio, told readers that the future of the seminal SWL guide is in “limbo.” According to a statement posted on the publisher’s website (www.passband.com):
“As with any good recipe, a range of ingredients has to come together if a
reference book is to succeed. Solid content is, of course, essential. But
in recent months other considerations have had an increased bearing on the
future of Passport to World Band Radio. So it is that the 26th Edition of
Passport to World Band Radio is being held in limbo...
“There may yet be more chapters to this story. Stay tuned.”
While Magne did not give a specific reason for the decision, the action
seems to reflect the decline in popularity of shortwave listening, as well
as the availability of shortwave schedules on the Internet.
MFJ Enterprises, Inc., Starkville, Mississippi, has purchased the Cushcraft Amateur Radio Antennas product line from Laird Technologies, St. Louis, Missouri.
“We are excited to have the Cushcraft Amateur Radio Antennas product line alongside our other five companies,” said Martin F. Jue, president and founder of MFJ. “This product line increases our ability to offer our customers a wide range of antenna options at different prices. Customers will be able to choose from Cushcraft Amateur Radio Antennas, Hy-gain, and MFJ antennas through one source.” MFJ purchased Hy-gain in 2000.
The Cushcraft products, which will still be manufactured in Manchester, New Hampshire, include a wide range of HF/VHF/UHF vertical, beam, and Yagi antennas. MFJ says it will add more new products to the antenna line.
A special customer support number has been set up in Starkville (662-323-5803) to handle Cushcraft Amateur Radio Antenna product technical support, parts requests, and customer services.
MFJ Enterprises, Inc. also owns Ameritron, Mirage, and Vectronics.
Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications
by Richard Fisher, KI6SN
Former Naval Officer To Head Public Safety And Homeland Security Bureau
Admiral Jamie Barnett (Ret.), former deputy commander of the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, and director of Naval Education and Training at the Pentagon, has been named by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski to head the commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security bureau.
The mission of the PSHSB is “to collaborate with the public safety
community, industry and other government entities to license, facilitate,
restore and recover communications services used by the citizens of the
United States, including first responders, before, during and after
emergencies by disseminating critical information to the public and by
implementing the Commission’s policy initiatives,” according to FCC
guidelines. Barnett retired from the Navy in 2008 and had been a senior
research fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.
Following a federal appeals court decision, the FCC has been directed to take additional comments on broadband over power line (BPL) technology. The action was taken after the American Radio Relay League sued, complaining that some of the studies on which the commission had based its decisions had not been revealed to the public. The court directed the FCC to “provide a reasonable opportunity for public comment on its unredacted studies, to make those studies part of the rulemaking record and to better explain its ‘extrapolation factor’ for use in measurement of emissions from Access BPL systems,” according to a report on <http://www.RadioWorld.com>.
The FCC says the unredacted staff technical studies have been placed into
the record and the commission has “laid out an explanation for its
decisions about the extrapolation factor,” according to the report. “Also
it says that it is re-examining the extrapolation factor ‘in light of the
recently issued technical studies addressing the attenuation of BPL
emissions with distance and efforts by the IEEE to develop BPL measurement
by Rob de Santos
When it comes to location, just how “there” do you want to be? Back in my “corporate” days, the primary way we had meetings with staff at other facilities was to either travel to the other site or have a telephone conference with them, aka a “telecon.”
The telecon was often necessary for decisions that couldn’t wait a day or more for someone to get to the other site, but it was distinctly unsatisfactory. You couldn’t see faces or other visual signals to know if the “yes, we’ll do that” comment on the other end was sincere or not. To make matters worse, the satellite delay required a half-second or more pause so you wouldn’t talk over someone at the other end. Then, just as I was leaving my corporate stint, the videoconference was becoming an option.
The early videoconference was often not much more than a telecon with choppy video added. There were no close-ups, and the quality or frame rate was less than perfect. Often the connection failed or couldn’t be set up at all. Things have improved a great deal in more recent years, and with tools like Skype, you can get good results with two laptops and the Internet. However, for larger groups, more is necessary.
Enter the concept of telepresence. Advances in communication technology, such as better cameras, HD video, enormous flat panel monitors, and high-speed Internet connections, make it possible to have virtual joint meetings now. A number of companies in the videoconference business are promoting telepresence as the next advance in this technology.
One major selling point of this is that you can simulate the experience of “being there” more realistically than ever. While sitting at a conference table, the “people” across the table from you are actually images on a monitor, life-size and in high definition (you can even see that tomato sauce stain on the VP’s tie from his lunchtime cheeseburger). The “conference rooms” are outfitted with special lighting, acoustic tiling, and carefully chosen furniture.
The attractions from a corporate standpoint are obvious. More staff at each end can be involved and travel costs eliminated. The trips I used to make would now cost my former employer thousands per week. It doesn’t take many of those to justify the cost of installing telepresence systems, even with installation costs running from a few thousand dollars to upwards of $350,000. The crew of the Starship Enterprise with their view screen never had it this good!
What does this mean for the average Pop’Comm reader? Before the turn of
the millennium, there were many predictions about the new century that
A Goal For The DX Season: Target Ten For ’10
With The A10 Broadcast Year Around The Corner, And The Promise Of Improved Propagation, Here Are Some Suggested Shortwave Prizes
by Gerry Dexter
It’s that time of the year again, when tradition and the propagation prognosticators begin to tout the arrival of a new DX season, and many of us get newly excited about our hobby as we imagine the prospects which await us down the next DX road. Having gone through one or two of these in the past, experience tells me to temper my emotions somewhat. That long-sought 2-watt Paraguayan on 7777 (point 7) isn’t likely to present itself to my antenna system this season, no matter what I do, even if propagation is spectacular. But this rite of fall still spurs us to sharpen both our tools and skills as we try our best in the hunt for the most elusive shortwave prey.
As the new season gets underway, chances are that it may be just a bit better than average, truth be told. But we still look forward (with fingers crossed) to its being better than it’s been, to propagation giving us the opportunity to bag a few stations that are now heard just once in awhile by a handful a well-located fortunate few who get to play with top-notch equipment and go crazy with mind boggling antennas.
Maybe the coming new season will favor us poor souls who seek but haven’t
yet found, and not necessarily with the impossible catch, the
once-in-a-lifetime log, but by rewarding our efforts to hear more and
farther than we have in a long time. This season, whether the propagation
gods wear a smile or a scowl, I suggest taking up the challenge of pulling
in those signals that are just past the edge of ease, maybe only ranking a
four or five on a scale of 10 (one being I can hear it on my cat’s
whiskers, and 10 meaning there is no way, I have WYFR as my next door
neighbor). The hunt is all.
Radio Nacional, Angola—This one has been a question mark for most of last season. It has a habit of disappearing for months at a time, as it did recently, leaving one to wonder what was going on. When it is active you should be able to hear it on 4950 in our local evenings, say from around 0200 (it’s listed for 24-hour operation). If it’s coming in really well, you might want to scurry up to its low-power 7217 channel, which is almost never heard (see “An SWL’s ‘Energy Efficiency Challenge’: The All-Continent QRP Award” elsewhere in this issue for another reason to try for low-power broadcasters). Programming will be in Portuguese. Address: C.P. 1329, Luanda. Email: fdiatezwa.rna.ao
Radio Vanuatu—The few remaining shortwave stations in the Pacific Isles are always favorites, and this station certainly scores big in that department. They’ve been off the air for some time but now they have a fresh lease. 3945 has been reactivated with 10 kW, but you’ll have to wade through amateur QRM and be awake and alert at an ungodly hour (around 0900!). The other channel, 7260, isn’t heard very often or very well, but it’s worth checking for when conditions seem favorable. It runs even lower power (only 8 kW) and it’s questionable as to whether it’s even in regular use. Address is PMG 049, Port Vila. No email.
An SWL’s “Energy
Make Fall Listening More Exciting—And Sharpen Your Skills—
by Edward J Insinger, WDX2RVO
With DX season approaching, we shortwave listeners have a terrific opportunity to put our well-practiced listening skills to use as we try to pull in more stations (though we’ll gladly take a little bit of luck and a heap of help from favorable propagation conditions!). A good way to hone our skills even further is to take up the challenge of one (or more) of the numerous awards available.
One that I found especially intriguing is the All-Continent QRP Award
sponsored by the North American Shortwave Association, or NASWA (see
<www.dxawards.com/DXAward Dir/naswa.htm>). In order to qualify for this
award, you have to log and verify a station from each continent, but one
whose added total transmitter power equals less than 50 kW. In addition,
just to make things a little tougher, NASWA allows the submission of only
one time signal station and one pirate station to qualify for this award.
Sound interesting? You bet it does, so let’s look at how you can maximize
your chances of success. You can,
If you’re like most SWLs, you’re limited to option c), but that’s not a bad thing. Keeping in mind that we’re referring to broadcasters using a mere 1000 watts or so, you’ll be pushing your listening skills, antennas, and receivers to their limits, capturing rare, even once-in-a-lifetime, catches, under just the right listening conditions. Here’s where we draw the line in the sand between the seasoned DXers searching the shortwaves and the casual listeners spinning the dials on a Sunday afternoon.
Another important part of this undertaking is carefully polishing those reception reports (requiring submission in languages other than English) to ensure that your verifications will follow in due time. By due time, of course, I mean a few months possibly running into several years of follow-up reports, which was the case with my Radio St. Helena QSL. Now, I didn’t say it would be easy…
But easy or not, it is fun, challenging, and rewarding, so let’s take a
look how to get on the fast-track to your own All-Continent QRP Award.
First things first: take a long, hard look at your current All-Continent QRP totals. This lets you determine what continents need improvement and those potential low-power DX catches you should add to your most wanted list.
With the sunspot cycle still favoring the lower bands, there are windows of opportunity in the 60- and 90-meter tropical bands and perhaps some openings on 120 meters, when atmospheric conditions allow readability of signals above the seemingly incessant noise level.
CQ World Wide DX Contest—
When It Comes To Working The World, There’s No Better Opportunity (And SWLs Can Join In On The Fun, Too)
by Rich Moseson, W2VU, Editorial Director
In most of the world, ham radio contesting is known as “Radiosport,” and for good reason—ham radio contests are indeed sporting competitions for which participants regularly train, work to maintain and improve their equipment and skills, and compete in smaller events to prepare for the major competitions on each year’s calendar. The biggest event on the radiosport calendar each year is the CQ World Wide DX Contest, known by many hams as simply “THE Contest.”
In terms of participation, it’s one of the largest competitive events in the world, period. Maybe even the biggest. Based on logs received, more than 50,000 hams around the world took part in the 2008 CQWW contest. Few, if any, competitive events of any nature draw 50,000 participants together in one place (the HF ham bands) in pursuit of a common goal. Not only that, but what other competition of any nature has competitors participating simultaneously from all over the world?
Here’s the best part: you can be one of them. No pre-registration needed; no qualifying runs. All you need is a ham radio license with HF privileges (in the U.S., that would be any ham license) and a station from which to operate. Just get on the air during the fourth weekend in October for the single-sideband voice portion of the contest (the Morse code, or CW, competition is on the fourth weekend in November), and start making contacts!
You can log, or keep track, of your contacts on paper or on a computer, and it’s your choice after the contest is over whether you want to submit your log. (We encourage everyone to submit a log, even those folks with just a few contacts, as it makes the overall log-checking process more accurate. If you don’t want to be listed in the results as a competitor, you may designate your log as a “check log.”)
Even if you don’t have an HF station of your own, you might still take
part as a guest operator at someone else’s station. Many hams participate
in one of three “multi-operator” categories, meaning that operators are
needed since their stations are on the air around the clock for 48 hours.
Many groups welcome—and even actively invite—newcomers to contesting to
Yes, I know we’re at the bottom of the sunspot cycle and everyone will tell you that the HF bands are dead. Well, during the CQWW, “everyone” is wrong. Even in this prolonged solar minimum, activity keeps increasing and records keep being broken. It’s said that the CQWW makes its own propagation. While I suppose it’s possible that all that additional RF energy in the air might actually help charge up the ionosphere a bit, it’s much more likely that because there are so many people active on so many frequencies at once, they’re able to take advantage of band openings that would have otherwise gone unnoticed because people assume a band is dead and go elsewhere. During the CQWW weekend, whatever band openings there are on 10 meters, for example, will be found and fully utilized.
Even if you just get on for a couple of hours, and maybe work (or monitor,
if you’re an SWL) a few new countries, or just have fun making DX contacts
on a band where “everyone” says you can’t, jumping into the CQWW is lots
of fun and it’s your chance to be part of one of the planet’s biggest
Understanding VHF Skip
by Ken Reiss
Lower frequencies, and shortwave in particular, commonly bounce off layers of the atmosphere and return hundreds of miles away. This is what makes possible the long-distance, almost world-wide communications that both hams and many commercial two-way services use. The aviation industry still uses HF when planes get over the horizon, although it’s beginning to move toward satellite communications. Maritime vessels (large ocean-going ships) are almost all equipped with satellite systems, except in less developed parts of the world. If sat equipment is in place, it’s a much more reliable system for two-way communications, which is precisely what these services need.
But for communications closer to home, the VHF/UHF ranges were chosen precisely because of their lack of long-distance capability; after all, you don’t really want to have fire engines in Phoenix mistakenly responding to a fire call in Los Angeles. Using frequencies that don’t travel beyond the horizon, and then deliberately spacing apart the users of those frequencies, helps minimize one department having to listen to another.
For the most part, the VHF and UHF ranges that we listen to on our scanners are pretty much limited to what’s referred to as “line of sight,” meaning that a relatively clear path between the transmitting and receiving antennas must exist for communications to take place. In fact, we rely on this limited range to make the VHF/UHF region useful for multiple users all across the country. Many users are licensed on the same frequency all over the country, and under normal circumstances they never know anyone else is there because of the distance separating them. This process of managing frequencies and how closely together they can be recycled is a tough job, even under normal conditions, as more users try to crowd into the spectrum.
When conditions aren’t normal, however, all sorts of strange things can begin to happen. They happen with little warning and can disappear almost as quickly and unexpectedly as they appear. For instance, an odd-sounding tone might appear on a fire dispatch channel; or a tone for a fire dispatch might appear somewhere it shouldn’t be; or a dispatcher with a strange accent will appear. This last one can actually take a while to figure out because you might just think they hired someone new until you begin to realize the street names are strange too.
The one that catches my ear the fastest is strange call letters or unit
calls. A channel that only a moment ago was dispatching car 2303 will
suddenly have a call, usually in a different voice, for 5 David 3 (or the
ubiquitous 1 Adam 12). A closer look at a signal strength meter, if one is
available, might reveal that the second dispatcher is slightly weaker (or
sometimes stronger). It happens more regularly than you might think, and
sometimes it covers amazing distances.
Global Information Guide
Changing Seasons And The Changing Broadcast Landscape
by Gerry L. Dexter
It’s about time to say “so long, farewell and amen” to the B09 shortwave broadcast season. As these words go down it’s too early to issue a report card on how things turned out. All one can do is look to the future and hope the A10 season achieves straight A’s!
For listeners and DXers the days in between the end of one broadcast season and the beginning of another put us in an uncertain state, since there are always a couple of weeks to wait before the updated schedules are sorted out and have appeared in the form of the online EiBi, Aoki or HFCC lists, and thus we can’t be as certain about who is occupying a given frequency.
And what’s this? A shortwave broadcaster actually increasing English to North America? Yes! Radio Taiwan International informs “GIG” contributor Rick Barton of the addition as we’re well into the B09 season. They’ve added an hour for the West Coast from 0500 to 0600 on 5950 and an hour to the Midwest on 9680 from 0200 to 0300, both via Okeechobee. Rick says he thinks this reverts back to the way things were before, but hey, it’s still an increase! Now, your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to tune in during those new hours and let RTI know that you did so and thank them! Email to email@example.com.
And here’s another one returning to the air! Radio Vanuatu is said to have installed a new transmitter for its old 3945 frequency. However, 7260 may or may not be active—if it is, it hasn’t been noted in quite some time—even by those well positioned. You might be able to dig its new 10-kW unit out on 3945 in the post 0700 period, if luck smiles upon you and the hams are asleep.
Brazil has seen another station name change. The old, almost never heard Radio Caerajas on 4885 has been sold and reactivated as Radio Maria with 1 kW at Aparecida. For what it’s worth, the call letters are ZYF692, although no one seems to pay attention to call letters in Latin America any more.
As threatened a month or two ago, the ever-expanding Christian Voice operation has now retreated a bit and has indeed deleted its Portuguese service on 15410, as they had warned might happen.
Somewhere along the way I mentioned the apparent sad state of Angolan shortwave, with all its channels seemingly silent except for the low-powered, never-heard 7217. Now a DXer in Europe has detected activity from Radio Nacional, reactivated on 4950. That’s a good spot to keep an ear on, especially if this now semi-rare outlet has escaped you thus far. Back in the heady days of DX eons ago, there were private Angolan stations on 60, 31, and even 25 meters.
Pretty much par for the Gallic course, Radio France International has had to deal with strikes, as employees and unions object to downsizing. RFI’s plan would drop half a dozen languages and another four would become available only online. The plan would also cut about 200 positions, reducing staff by about one-fifth. Until things are sorted out with the trade unions, RFI’s plan to deal with its increased operating costs and save its international service is on hold. So you might expect some hiccups in RFI’s operations for a while.
Galei Zahal, the Israeli military broadcast station, is now operating 24
hours per day, on both 6973 and 15785, all in Hebrew.
New, Interesting, And Useful Communications Products
New Uniden BCD996XT Base/Mobile Scanner
Uniden’s BCD996XT Base/Mobile Scanner is a high-end entry to the marketplace that offers a host of improvements and new features. It gives users access to Trunk Tracker IV, improved APCO-25 digital decoding (plus analog), GPS scanning, and up to 25,000 channels.
Major features and capabilities of the BCD996XT include the following: TrunkTracker IV with control-channel only scanning and I-Call monitoring; tracks voice traffic on P25, Motorola, EDACS, and LTR Trunked systems, supports scanning of rebanded systems, APCO25 Digital Audio decoding plus support for P25 conventional channels; adaptive digital threshold to automatically set the digital decode threshold for APCO 25 systems; EDACS ESK support. Memory is enhanced to 25,000 dynamically allocated channels (systems: 500 maximum; groups per system: 20 maximum). The GPS-enabled feature provides automatic system selection and shows location-based information. Close Call RF Capture instantly tunes to signals from nearby transmitters; Channel Number Tagging lets users quickly select a channel for monitoring; Fire Tone-Out Search helps to identify the tones used on fire paging dispatch channels; Band Scope provides a visual representation of activity within a selected frequency range to help quickly identify active frequencies or sources of interference. The Multi-Color Display backlight lets users set the scanner to alert them to particular channel activity using specific colors.
The BCD996XT also offers 100 Quick Key System Access; Band Scope (graphically finds radio activity); Continuous Band Coverage (25 MHz to 1.3 GHz excluding UHF TV and Cellular); Audio AGC; Automatic Digital Threshold Adjustment; Temporary Lockout; Search with Scan; NAC Decoding for conventional P25 channels; DCS/CTCSS Rapid Decode; S.A.M.E. Weather Alert; PC Programming/Control; System/Channel Number Tagging.
For more information on the Uniden BCD996XT, which has a street price starting at approximately $499, visit www.uniden.com or contact your favorite dealer.
Sonoro Elements W
Wi-Fi Internet Radio
Works Without A Computer
The Sonoro Elements W Wi-Fi Internet Radio is a clock radio, with some attractive features and a twist: the radio connects to the Internet via Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi (802.11b or g), so you don’t need an iPod or computer to listen. The Sonoro Elements radio will tune in over 16,000 Internet radio stations or stream music from the Pandora music service for free (simply choose a song title or artist and Pandora will play music that matches that style) as well as the premium programming on the Sirius Internet radio service (optional, monthly fee required). Other audio options include local, over-the-air FM radio (no AM) stations or connecting an iPod with the (optional) iPod dock accessory ($80). The radio will also stream MP3 files stored on a computer. There are 10 channel presets for FM or Internet streams and its search function lets you find specific call letters, genre, and more.
The single, upward-facing speaker produces full sound and you can adjust
bass and treble from very low to extreme. There’s also a standard 3.5 mm
headphone jack so you can connect external speakers and an aux-in port to
connect a CD player or other source. It comes in glossy black or white
finish with yellow text and dial light; remote control included.
SuperLoop For Super DX!
by Bruce A. Conti
Necessity is the mother of invention, and that certainly holds true for the development of the terminated broadband loop antenna for AM broadcast DXing. And this invention can really breathe new life into AM DX.
Decades ago a random longwire or a ferrite loopstick antenna was more than adequate for coast-to-coast reception of 640 KFI Los Angeles and 1030 WBZ Boston, plus any number of Pan-American split-frequency stations like 535 Grenada, 834 Belize, and 1555 Cayman Islands. More radio stations used to sign off at night, too, leaving the AM broadcast band wide open for long-distance reception.
Today the AM dial is more congested than ever with most radio stations
operating 24/7, digital HD signals interfering with adjacent frequencies,
and increased household noise radiating from computers and digital
appliances. Plus the split-frequency radio stations have disappeared, all
but a couple forced to move on-channel because of the 10-kHz step tuning
of digital receivers. Despite all odds, there’s still plenty of DX to be
received. You just need a better antenna; more specifically, the
terminated broadband loop antenna.
There are four basic types of terminated broadband loop configurations: Delta, Flag, Pennant, and SuperLoop. Each configuration provides a low-noise unidirectional antenna with a wide-angle cardioid (heart-shaped) beam with a backside null of 30 dB typical. Furthermore, a loop is a balanced antenna with a “floating” ground, which means that no connection to earth ground is required, giving these loop antennas a distinct advantage over unbalanced antennas, such as slopers, random wires, Ewes, and Beverages, that depend on a good earth ground.
Unlike a standard loop antenna with a bidirectional figure-8 pattern, a terminated loop produces a unidirectional beam simply by the addition of a series termination resistor in the loop of wire. Broadband performance is achieved with a single loop of wire, versus familiar tuned loop antennas constructed of multiple turns of wire around an air-core frame or ferrite loopstick.
The terminated broadband loop is adaptable to almost any situation. Whether on a balcony, on the roof of a car, or supported by trees in the backyard, the antenna design is extremely flexible. The antenna is easy to construct, consisting of a single loop of wire in the vertical plane, a resistor (940 ohms typ.) in series with the loop, and a 16:1 RF matching/isolation transformer connecting the antenna to the lead-in. The resistor is installed on the null-side of the loop, while the transformer is located at the incoming beam-side of the antenna.
The shape of the loop of wire determines the antenna configuration. The
Delta is a triangular shape, like the delta of the Greek alphabet, with
the base of the triangle parallel to the ground. The Flag is a rectangular
shape like a flag on a pole, while the Pennant is shaped like a pennant or
triangular flag. The SuperLoop is a rectangle with the bottom resting on
the ground. Antenna size can be as small as 6 x 6 feet, or as large as 50
x 100 feet. A width to height ratio of 2.1 to 1 (width = height x 2.1) is
typical but not absolute.
Shannon’s Broadcast Classics
“Calling All Cars!” On AM Radio…The AM Police Radio
by Shannon Huniwell
Sometimes, with eyes tightly closed, Judy Stevenson still hears her brother’s voice crackle through the radio. She loves conjuring up this nearly seven decades-old memory in the loneliest wee hours, as that’s when her beloved sibling, Raymond, would have been pushing the talk button on his police car’s microphone to let headquarters know that he and his senior partner were responding to a call.
“And as a shy high school freshman, I really looked up to my older, newly minted police officer brother,” Judy reflected. “Ray sounded so official over the airwaves.” What a thrill it was for her monitoring the police band well past midnight to listen for him. If Ray suspected that she’d be awake, and he wasn’t involved in anything too serious, he’d tag some quick, innocuous, lingo-laden quip onto the end of a cop-to-HQ transmission. Typically, in just a burst after concluding a radio check, Ray would growl, “All teenagers living in the vicinity of the 300 block of La Habra Avenue should be in the sole custody of their beds,” in his best matter-of-fact law enforcement delivery. More than once, this caused the confused dispatcher to request, “Say again.”
“Disregard,” Ray would respond, satisfied in knowing that once his good-natured warning signal crackled through the ether, Judy would feel like all was right with the world and could inevitably nod off. “Others apparently picked up on his ‘officer friendly’ admonition, too,” says Judy. “Ray mentioned to me that his department’s dispatcher fielded phone calls and an occasional letter saying that it was awful nice to know that cops care about kids keeping a proper bedtime.”
Fast-forwarding almost 70 years, Judy woke up one day with the idea that she might find a bit of police radio history via an Internet search. It just so happened that a Pop’Comm “Shannon” reference appeared at the top of the Google page, so she emailed me wondering where one might find articles about the era when police broadcasts could be heard on what she termed “regular radio.”
Her question took me back in time myself, to a late 1970s estate sale my
Dad and I attended. There, we spent a fun afternoon browsing through a
well-known local family’s past and all of $7 or $8 dollars on a pretty
nice Western Auto brand Truetone table radio with “POLICE” labeled right
past the broadcast band. Besides that nexus to public service
communication, though, I was like Tess without Dick Tracey, so I asked
my father to do some detective work on the pioneer police radio research
case. While Dad put out a dragnet on the topic, he suggested that I
issue an all points bulletin via some website sources and a college
professor he’d met at a hamfest.
An item I remembered from compiling some trivia for a long-ago column
about call letters got me thinking of KOP in Detroit. In 1921, the
police commissioner in the Motor City secured a license to transmit
voice from his department’s headquarters. Some sources note that the
U.S. Commerce Department categorized the authorization as “provisional
commercial” in the same batch of OKs as fledgling broadcasters like
Westinghouse’s WBZ Springfield, Massachusetts, and KDKA Pittsburgh. It
looks like the Detroit cops’ KOP originally occupied 1050 kilocycles for
about four years before being moved to 1080.
THE PRACTICAL SIDE
The Propagation Corner
Making Contact—The Antenna Is The Key, Part 2
by Tomas Hood
Last month, we explored a critical component of the radio circuit of which we have direct control: the antenna. This month we continue our discussion of the antenna from the perspective of a ham radio operator, but the principles apply to the shortwave radio listener, too. 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 question posed last month is, “How do we make our HF ham stations work more effectively?” To answer that question, we must understand the radio system in its entirety.
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. Let’s take a
One can build an entire hobby around studying different antenna models. It’s fun and instructive, and there are a lot of models to look at. Why do we do it? Well, we might want to see how effective our existing antenna is. Or, we might be considering another antenna, and modeling it in software as a “try-before-buy” method that doesn’t cost much.
Last month’s discussion relied on the ACE-HF PRO software (<http://hfradio.org/ace-hf>), because we’re interested in simulating our HF system to find best frequencies, to determine our coverage areas, and to optimize our operation in general. ACE-HF PRO allows us to easily compare models and arrive at the best model for our needs. Having the correct antenna model is key to all those needs.
For example, Figure 1 shows the radiation pattern charts for a 10-meter OptiBeam three-stack Yagi Array with a gain of 19.6 dBi at 4 degrees elevation. The Yagis of the stack are set at 150, 100, and 50 feet above ground and rotate together to specified azimuths.
This antenna has a very high directional gain and the main beam is set at a low elevation angle. It also has an exceptional beamwidth (the angular azimuthal width of the pattern at the –3-dB points) of nearly 60 degrees. This antenna is ideally suited for worldwide DX operation.
ACE-HF PRO comes with more than 800 different antenna models, and many of these may be modified using the HFANT program, which lets you create, manipulate, and save antenna data. Figure 2 shows how those models are used in the software.
When modeling a circuit between your station and the station at the far
end, you need to select the type of antenna being used at the far end. If
nothing else is known about a contact’s antenna, use an isotropic antenna
with an assumed gain. If the antennas are of common types, you can use
physical (i.e. mathematical) models that may be modified using HFANT. More
accurate models may be made using NEC1 software such as NEC Win PLUS+, and
saved as ACE-HF Type 13 gain-table files. Type 13 files are
frequency-specific, and for best accuracy a separate file should be
generated for each frequency. ACE-HF automatically runs 10 frequencies for
each prediction. When separate Type 13 files are used, they may be
individually specified for different bands with user-made multi-channel
antenna schedule files.
A special ACE-HF chart may be used to be sure your antenna is appropriate
for a particular circuit. For maximum effectiveness, the launch (take-off)
angle of your antenna’s main beam should coincide with the elevation angle
of the Most Reliable Mode (MRM) of the propagation path. An example chart
is shown in Figure 3, where I analyzed a circuit from my station while
living near Seattle to Denver, Colorado.
Military Radio Monitoring
Ellsworth Air Force Base: Military Might Tucked Into The Black Hills
by Mark Meece, N8ICW
Not many radio hobbyists would think of western South Dakota as a hot bed
of military activity. And perhaps hot bed is a bit too strong of a phrase
to use, but there’s more to see and listen to in the Black Hills than you
The Black Hills themselves are a bit of a geographical oddity, a small,
isolated mountain range suddenly rising from the Great Plains. On the
eastern slope of this range, about seven miles from the center of Rapid
City, rises a manmade formation: Ellsworth Air Force Base, the focus of
this issue’s column.
Less than one month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. War Department laid the ground work for Rapid City Army Air Base. This location was set up as a training facility for crews flying the B-17 Flying Fortress. In September of 1942 the runways were opened for operation, and thousands of pilots, navigators, radio operators and gunners were taught by the instructors based at Rapid City AAB. This included crews from nine heavy bombardment units and various smaller units. Following the conclusion of operations of World War II, the base went through several mission changes, not to mention identity changes as well.
The base briefly became a training area for weather reconnaissance crews and combat squadrons, using aircraft such as the P-61 Black Widow, P-38 Lightning, P-51 Mustang, and B-25 Mitchell. With aircraft technology rapidly changing during this time, those missions soon came to an end. From September 1946 to March 1947, as Americans embraced peacetime, the base temporarily ceased operations. When activity resumed, the base became an asset under the newly formed United States Air Force and was redubbed Rapid City Air Force Base. The new 28th Bombardment Wing (BMW) flying the B-29 Superfortress was the primary unit assigned to the base.
In January 1948 it was renamed Weaver Air Force Base by Air Force Chief of
Staff General Carl A. Spaatz in honor of Brigadier General Walter R.
Weaver, a pioneer in the founding of the Air Force. Later that year,
Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington responded to overwhelming
public appeal to return the base to its previous name, and it was once
again called Rapid City Air Force Base. It was also at this time that it
became a permanent air force installation.
THE PRACTICAL SIDE
Gordon West’s Radio Ways
Another Look At Small Passenger Vessel Radio Inspection
by Gordon West, WB6NOA
A couple of recent articles on marine radio (the April “Radio Ways” column and the July “Monitoring Marine Transmissions” feature) generated a boatload of reader response. Many readers had additional questions on commercial FCC license preparation, so I thought I’d revisit the topic here for everyone’s benefit. Even if the waters near you are already turning chilly, and even if you don’t own a boat, if you’re an experienced radio operator, read on—it may lead to a marine radio-related career or part-time job (see sidebar).
The U.S. Coast Guard, along with the FCC, requires small passenger vessels
to be marine radio equipped and mandates radio inspections every five
years for a Communications Act Safety Radiotelephony Certificate. A “small
passenger vessel” is defined as any craft less than 100 gross tons that
carries more than six passengers for hire. This definition may cover many
types of craft, such as:
These small passenger vessels that sail in bays, harbors, rivers, and sounds, adjacent to the open ocean, are required to carry a 25-watt marine VHF transceiver. If one of these vessels sails beyond three miles from shore into the open sea, it must also carry a 406-MHz EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon). If such vessels travel to outlying islands, 20 miles to 100 miles from the nearest land, they must also be equipped with a medium frequency/high frequency marine single sideband transceiver. Small passenger vessels that sail only on inland lakes or waterways, or no more than 1,000 feet from shore, may not need to carry marine VHF equipment on board, but are encouraged to do so.
The FCC no longer walks the docks or pulls surprise “party boat” radio
check outs, but the U.S. Coast Guard does inspect small passenger vessels
for the required marine safety equipment as well as valid radio station
certificates. Mandated certificates include the Captain’s Marine Radio
Operator Permit (a lifetime license), a Ship Station License (a 10-year
permit), and an FCC form 824 Ship’s Radio Inspection Certificate (a
five-year permit). Passenger vessel captains must make sure that their
paperwork and licenses are in order and available to a Coast Guard officer
Utility Communications Digest
Breaking Down The Language Barrier—What’s Behind The Jargon
by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ
Four years ago, when I was still in my rookie year as a Pop’Comm columnist, I wrote about a survey conducted in 2003 by a well-known manufacturer of CPU (aka, Central Processing Unit) chips for computers. The survey revealed that only a small percentage of people knew the meaning of 11 common terms of computer jargon. Of more than 1,500 people surveyed, only about 3 percent understood terms such as megahertz, DPI, and MP3. Even among those people surveyed who actually used computers, only about two-thirds understood what the term “megahertz” meant. Worse yet, the survey was in multiple-choice format, which meant that some people probably got correct answers simply by guessing.
It occurred to me then that there are probably also an awful lot of people out there who find radio jargon equally bewildering. I’m guessing that hasn’t changed too much, so I thought it might be time to revisit the subject for those getting started in the hobby. We utility monitors move in a world filled with acronyms, callsigns, callwords, and jargon. Even the word “Utility,” as in “Utility Communications Digest,” is itself a bit of radio jargon—one that, like megahertz and USB, needs explaining for those who haven’t long dabbled in the shortwave listening arts.
For the uninitiated, the term “utility” conjures up images of last month’s bills from the electric or telephone company. Although I’m aware of at least one such utility that operates a network on the shortwave bands, that isn’t what we mean when we talk about utility stations.
The stations we refer to as utility are those stations on the shortwave
bands that are not intended to reach the general public (as is the case
with shortwave broadcasters) or amateur (ham) stations. If you’ve ever
looked at a list of shortwave bands that shows where the broadcast and ham
bands are, you probably noticed that there are some fairly large gaps in
between. That’s generally where you find utility stations, operating on
frequencies that are internationally allocated for use by aircraft,
marine, government, military, and commercial communications stations.
Some of the most confusing radio jargon pertains to emission modes, and we tend to abbreviate the names of almost all of them, going all the way back to CW (which stands for Continuous Wave). When you tune through the bands and hear transmissions between two stations using Morse code, that’s CW, the oldest form of radio communications.
Once upon a time all radio transmissions used CW, but as technology
marched forward it was discovered that it was possible to create a radio
signal containing voice information, and AM and FM were born. These two
modes use different methods of impressing voice information on a radio
signal by modulating (changing) a characteristic of the carrier. In the
case of AM, the characteristic changed is the amplitude of the signal,
which is why it’s called AM, for Amplitude Modulation. With FM, it is the
frequency of the signal that is changed, hence Frequency Modulation.
THE PRACTICAL SIDE
The Wireless Connection
The Hallicrafters S-38 Receiver Through The Years
by Peter J. Bertini
As a column devoted to vintage radios, “The Wireless Connection” had to get around to paying homage at some point in time to the venerable Hallicrafters S-38 receiver. That time is now.
The production of consumer radios at Hallicrafters had been suspended, as it was at other radio manufacturers, during World War II to help the country meet the needs of the war effort. The S-38 debuted right after the war as the entry-level receiver in the Hallicrafters 1946 product line with an introductory price of $47.50 (a scan of an early S-38 advertisement is shown in Figure 1).
While $47.50 might seem a modest sum today, it would now amount to an inflation-adjusted outlay of over $400! Yet the S-38 series enjoyed enormous popularity, which is not too surprising considering the pent up demand for such products in the post-war era. Various S-38 models were in production from 1946 until 1961, so many thousands were produced, and many thousands still exist. Today, the S-38 is the most commonly available vintage receiver.
For its well-heeled clientele, Hallicrafters offered the middle-of-the-road S-40. Priced at $79.00, it was transformer-powered, and an optional S-Meter accessory was also available. This nine-tube set had an RF stage: two IF stages and also included an internal speaker. The 15-tube SX-42 communications receiver ruled at the top of the 1946 line with a $275.00 price tag. Noted industrial designer Raymond Loewy designed the SX-42 cabinet and panel layout (my rack-mounted version is shown in Photo A). The SX-42 was the post-war replacement for the SX-28, and both receivers are popular with AM/CW ham operators and SWL boat-anchor enthusiasts. And, yes, the SX-28 and SX-42 will be featured in future “Wireless Connection” columns.
Raymond Loewy also was responsible for the trademark half-moon tuning and
logging scale dials featured in the original S-38 and subsequent models.
Housed in a compact cabinet with a small footprint, the S-38 initially
featured a tunable BFO, ANL, six tubes, and also sported an internal
speaker. Later models reduced the tube count from six tubes to five. This
was done at the expense of eliminating one tube that served as the
dedicated and tunable BFO stage, which was replaced with a poorer-quality
fixed BFO that used the single IF stage as a regenerative oscillator. More
on this as we discuss the S-38’s long lineage.
The S-38, circa 1946: At first, S-38 cabinets featured the smooth black finish shown in Photo B; the later runs changed to the black-wrinkle finish shown in Photo C. Ed Engelken, who contributed many of the photos shown here, commented that the early S-38 had a metal bottom plate, which was replaced by a cardboard bottom for the rest of the series. Note the “CW Pitch” control to the left of the Bandswitch knob; this is missing in later versions.
The S-38 used a six-tube line, consisting of a 12SA7 converter (mixer and
local oscillator in one tube), 12SK7 IF stage, 12SQ7 detector, ANL and
first audio, 35L6 audio output, and a 35Z5 half-wave rectifier. The sixth
tube was another 12SQ7, serving as a dedicated BFO stage. The BFO was
tuned by varying the BFO inductor via the front panel Pitch Control knob.
Arguably, the original S-38s are the most collectable of the series,
perhaps because of the very short production span and six-tube line up.
THE LIGHTER SIDE
The Loose Connection
The Great Crow Incident
by Bill Price, N3AVY
I was 13, maybe 14. Always studying for my novice ticket, but never getting serious about the code, though that didn’t keep me away from gadgets. One of my favorites was an HP audio signal generator. Besides trying to play tunes on it by moving the dial back and forth to get “notes,” sometimes I’d attach a key and speaker to it and use it as a code practice oscillator, but not often enough. I hadn’t really found a use for it—until the crows came.
It was during the first warm days of spring, when we began to sleep with the windows open. The crows seemed to like whatever was planted in the field about 50 yards from my window. Their cawing began long before my alarm clock could wake me for school, and they were annoying. Fourteen-year-olds are so easily annoyed.
I thought about shooting them, but before I even remembered where the guns were kept, I remembered that audio generator, and how I’d heard that many animals are repelled by certain pitches. And I had all the pitches of the audio rainbow at my fingertips, plus a guitar amplifier to help me along.
On one particular night, after I made sure it wasn’t going to rain, I put my 25-watt Silvertone guitar amplifier (with tremolo!) by the edge of the planted field, connected it to the HP oscillator, and covered it with a plastic sheet. All our extension cords put end to end reached back to my window. Tone and volume controls were set to max, and the pitch on the oscillator was set somewhere just above where I could hear it. A good guess.
Morning came. The crows came. Caw, caw, caw. I plugged in the cord. I could hear the hum, and I hoped the crows could hear a ferocious squeal. Maybe they did; maybe they didn’t. If they did, they must have liked it, because they went on eating and cawing.
That night, I got “the shotgun,” a 12 gauge. I knew my father wouldn’t want me messing with it, so I did all this after my parents were asleep. I put one shell into the chamber, put the safety on, and set it carefully beneath my younger brother’s bed. He was asleep, too, and blissfully unaware of my plans. I leaned across my brother and opened the screen, raising it about two inches until it clicked in position and stayed there. I stuffed a towel into the opening to keep the bugs out.