The Weirder Side Of Wireless
With help from Homeland Security grants, police departments looking to subdue unruly crowds and protesters are purchasing a high-tech device originally used by the military to repel battlefield insurgents and Somali pirates with piercing noise capable of damaging hearing, the Washington Times reports. Police acknowledged that they deployed Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs), procured from San Diego-based American Technology Corp., as a safeguard at recent political conventions, international summit meetings, and this summer’s town-hall meetings on health care. Officers were captured on video using the devices against protesters at the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh. Health and civil rights advocates are concerned that if improperly used LRADs could cause permanent physical harm. The American Tinnitus Association said summit protesters were exposed to over 140 decibels, which it described as similar to the sound pressure members of the armed forces might face from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). Navy News has described the devices as being louder than a jet engine, saying they overwhelm their targets with sound so loud they hear it inside their heads.
LRADs have been used by cruise ships and
freighters to repel attacking pirates off the coast of Somalia, using
narrow-beam sound waves with great clarity at 150 decibels—over the human
threshold of pain—and short bursts of intense acoustic energy that can
incapacitate people within 1,000 feet of the device. The devices can also
broadcast sound files containing warning messages or can be used with
electronic translating devices for what amounts to narrowcasting, in which
specific groups are targeted. If crowds or potential foes don’t respond to
the verbal messages, company records show that the LRADs can direct a
high-pitched, piercing tone with a tight beam, the report continued.
News, Trends, And Short Takes
by D. Prabakaran
Sirius FM-5 Satellite Has Been Placed Into Service
Sirius XM Radio announced that Sirius FM-5, the newest addition to the Sirius XM satellite fleet, was recently placed into service on the Sirius network. The new satellite, which was manufactured by Space Systems/Loral, provides improved signal penetration and reception to millions of Sirius subscribers in North America. The satellite, launched on June 30, was guided to its final orbit position and has successfully completed all post-launch testing.
Sirius FM-5 is one of the world’s most powerful communications satellites and is the first geostationary Sirius satellite, complementing the Sirius fleet of three non-geostationary satellites. Sirius FM-5 is designed to provide more focused power in areas of peak population, such as metropolitan areas on the east and west coast, as well as significantly improving reception when driving under heavy foliage. Its location in a geostationary orbit position over North America at 96 degrees west longitude assures that home receivers can aim at a fixed point in the southern sky to receive a signal on a constant basis.
The satellite was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard an International Launch Services (ILS) Proton.
(Source: Sirius XM Radio)
blinkx, a video search engine, announced a new partnership with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Canada’s national public radio and television broadcast network. Clips from the station’s online video library are now easily available at www.blinkx.com. blinkx will also place contextually relevant advertising against these videos and share resulting advertising revenue with CBC. blinkx has made more than 530 partners and indexed over 35 million hours of video and audio content to date.
The Internet Media Device Alliance (IMDA) has
announced a baseline certification standard for standalone Internet radio
players. Called IMDA Profile 1, the standard aims to protect consumers by
aligning competing technologies and future-proofing Internet radio product
design. Major Internet radio manufacturers and broadcasters are backing
the IMDA certification standard to ensure that new products will access
the majority of streamed audio broadcasts, available now and in the
future. It is estimated that certified radios will receive around 90
percent of the world’s radio stations currently broadcasting over the
Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications
by Richard Fisher, KI6SN
FCC Chairman Names New Head Of Enforcement Bureau
P. Michele Ellison, who for more than a decade has served as deputy general counsel, has been named Federal Communications Commission Enforcement Bureau Chief by Chairman Julius Genachowski, taking on new duties in September. Most recently, Ellison had been the Commission’s Acting General Counsel and was named transition counsel to newly named Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. She became part of the General Counsel’s Office in 1995.
“[Ellison] has had a rich and varied practice at the agency, from her initial years of handling complex FCC litigation before the federal courts to her current focus on competition policy in the context of mergers and acquisitions and on spectrum and fraud matters involving billions in auctions and universal service funds,” according to an FCC press release.
According to the American Radio Relay League’s
ARRL Letter, “Ellison also has provided leadership in other policy areas,
including co-chairing the Commission’s Localism Task Force, leading a task
force on expanding communications opportunities to small businesses and
developing countries, as well as serving as senior advisor to former
Chairman William Kennard (who was Chairman from October 1997 to January
Commercial radio examination managers are being required to switch to new examination questions for Elements 1, 3 and 8 effective December 26 as a “long overdue” test updating takes effect. The changes impact the General Radiotelephone Operator License (GROL) and Radar Endorsement.
According to published reports, Larry Pollock, head of the National Radio Examiners Commercial Operator Licensing Examination Managers (COLEM), said “the commercial exams have not changed since 1995. These new pools reflect all the current changes to commercial radio operation, technology and radio maintenance.” The reorganization of the exam questions by topics “makes test preparation study much more logical,” he said, adding that the three-pool update “was long overdue.”
The FCC in June announced adoption of the new
pools, covering “basic radio law and operating practice, electronic
fundamentals and techniques required to adjust, repair, and maintain radio
transmitters and ship radar equipment.”
by Rob de Santos
The Internet has transformed communications, both hobby-related and in the wider society, and that transformation is continuing. But it isn’t the first time in recent history we’ve seen a change in communications transform society. Your great-grandparents may well have lived through such a shift, too.
The term “Victorian Internet” was coined a little over 10 years ago and served as the title of a book by journalist and author Tom Standage. The heart of Standage’s argument is that the means of transport of information is more fundamental than how it is received; thus the changes wrought by the Internet don’t represent the first such communications revolution. In Victorian times, it was the electronic telegraph that “changed everything.” The telegraph allowed instant communications over large distances and led to changes across society and governments around the world.
More recently other writers, such as David Weinberger, have made some interesting arguments that the Internet is simply a set of narratives connected by the technology. This thesis is complementary to Standage’s as it emphasizes that the means by which information is delivered is the most transformative characteristic. In Victorian times, the narrative was the exchange of telegrams. In our time, it could be anything from Web pages with comments, to “tweets” from the Twitter masses.
For readers of this magazine, communications of many different forms is of interest, and use of the Internet is mentioned in some way in virtually every article in every issue. For example, you can contact the writers via email or go to a Web page to get further details on the subject of the column. Yes, hobby communications have been transformed. But where are we in that “transformation”? What can we expect in the future?
In Victorian times it would have been easy to dismiss telegrams as trivial, impersonal, and “short” communications lacking the substance of a well-thought out letter. The same arguments are made today about text messages versus email or email versus hand-written letters. More significantly, though, it is not the specific tool itself (telegram or tweet) that ultimately matters, but what developments the new communication enabled in society.
With telegrams allowing “instant”
communication, it became possible to affect the actions of distant family
members, employees, suppliers, or the government. The “tyranny of
distance” was altered and other aspects of society that previously could
not be managed remotely now could be. Whether what was sent was news of a
sick relative or a request for some critical piece of equipment, being
able to do so rapidly altered how life and business was conducted.
Manufacturing, government, personal relations, and more changed and
continued to do so for decades after the initial surge of public
fascination with the telegraph had dissipated. And most of that change
occurred without those affected even giving a thought to how the advances
had come about. The deeper point, though, is that the subsequent
development of the automobile, airplane, not to mention that thing called
radio, were all accelerated by the creation of the “Victorian Internet.”
Listen And Learn—Shortwave Radio
Helps Teach Children
Imagine that you’re a teacher in one of the most remote corners of the Earth, in a dimly lit hut. As you walked home from school earlier this evening you heard rumors that your country is on the brink of civil war. You can’t be sure of this, as rumors abound, but you’re concerned about it nonetheless: food is often scarce in your region, and a war will make it even harder to come by. You’re worried about your pupils, some of whom have been recently orphaned by disease. If only you could determine whether the rumors are true. Or at least, read and prepare for tomorrow’s classes. But there’s no more gas in the lamp. Yet you are expected to get up at dawn—in just a few hours—and walk to a small school where nearly 60 pupils will crowd under the roof with knowledge-hungry eyes upon you, expecting you to teach them everything you know about the world they live in. But at the moment, what do you know?
As a teacher, you have some knowledge of literature, science, and math, but what of current events, politics, or world news? Such knowledge is easy to come by if you have access to libraries, the Internet, newspapers and journals, television, and local radio stations. What if your school not only has no library, but also has no walls? What if the nearest computer with Internet is more than a day’s journey away? What if you actually do have a pocket radio, but the batteries to run it cost several days’ wages? These are some of the daily challenges facing thousands upon thousands of teachers all over the world, tasked with the job of educating their countries’ next generation of citizens.
Now imagine that we could just put into these teachers’ hands, shortwave radios—self-powered radios, with LED reading lamps? Election results, local, regional, international news, as well as weather events and immunization programs are no longer unknowns with a radio. Even reading in the dark is suddenly possible. Imagine what it would be like for such a teacher to hear VOA or BBC news coming in clear and strong, dispelling rumors and myths and prejudices, and enlightening their young students about the world in which we live?
By providing resource-starved teachers direct access to a radio and basic knowledge about shortwave, Ears to Our World (ETOW) gives them a means to expand the often limited perspective of the children and young people they teach. In remote, impoverished, or war-torn regions, opportunities and futures are often written on the airwaves. Through radio, borders dissolve and impressionable minds soar. That’s what ETOW is all about.
ETOW is a new grass-roots humanitarian organization specializing in the
distribution of self-powered world band radios to teachers in the
developing world, for the benefit of their students, schools, and
Powering The Sounds
I first became acquainted with Ears To Our World (ETOW), the non-governmental organization that provides shortwave radio receivers to teachers and their students in third world countries (see “Listen And Learn—Shortwave Radio Outreach Helps Teach Children” elsewhere in this issue) at the 2009 Winter SWL Festival in Kulpsville, Pennsylvania.
Thomas Witherspoon, founder and executive director of ETOW, was in
attendance at the Winterfest and introduced both himself and his
organization to the community of shortwave listeners, broadcasters,
scanner monitors, and hams who were there as well. He explained how ETOW
was formed to provide shortwave radios to individuals, village leaders,
and schools in isolated areas so people could learn about important
events, both local and international. Because the places ETOW served were
remote, frequently in harsh environments, and typically without power and
other elements of modern infrastructure, the type of radio that could be
used was limited. At the Winterfest, Thomas showed the Etón’s Grundig
FR200, ETOW’s radio of choice.
The FR200 is a simple radio and flashlight combination that can be powered in three ways: by an external 4.5 VDC source, by three AA batteries, or by an internal NiMH battery, which is charged by a hand-cranked dynamo. The radio covers the medium AM (530 to 1710 kHz), shortwave AM (two bands, 3.2 to 7.6 MHz and 9.2 to 22.9 MHz) and VHF FM (88 to 108 MHz). The flashlight also operates from any of the three power sources. It’s a simple and robust product, and the ability to operate without batteries or external power makes it suitable for third world locations.
Thomas gave the Saturday Winterfest luncheon speech, during which he
presented the goals and approach of ETOW. In the speech, he mentioned one
thing he wished the FR200 had: solar cells to keep the radio operating
during daylight hours. During extended classroom use the radio could stop
operating, requiring the teacher to crank the dynamo to recharge the
batteries. I was at the luncheon and had an idea for using solar power to
keep the internal battery charged. I approached Thomas after the luncheon
with the idea and we exchanged contact information.
Gordo’s Goodie Grab Bag
It’s that time of year again, and you’re not
sure you’ve dropped enough hints, right? OK, here’s the plan: put a check
mark in the box next to what you’d like to see under your tree (check all
that apply!), “forgetfully” leave this magazine lying around—open to the
proper page, of course—and let Santa come through with your radio wish
For most SWLs, a longwire will do, but if you’re serious about the importance of antenna resonance for shortwave listening, an antenna SWR analyzer may be one of the most useful meters you can have with you the next time you’re up on your roof.
MFJ (<www.mfjenterprises.com>) is the undisputed leader in SWR devices, with a complete line of SWR analyzers. Sure, the $389 twin meter and LCD readout box will get you from 1.8 MHz to 470 MHz, or for $100 less, you can skip the 470-MHz capability and tune from 1.8 MHz to 170 MHz. Still expensive, and a bit bulky up on the roof.
My favorite SWR analyzer sells for under $99. It’s the model MFJ-207, and it covers 1.8 MHz through 30 MHz. If you’re into high-frequency ham or shortwave listening, you’ll appreciate this SWR analyzer’s five range scales and simple SWR meter readout that takes a big, no-mistaking dip at antenna resonance. If your companion receiver, without any antenna connected, is turned on nearby, on frequency, the hefty signal from this SWR analyzer can easily be heard when you sweep by the desired frequency. So, even though the analog dial is not close enough for government work, your companion receiver lets you know exactly where you are on the radio dial.
If you need just VHF, it’s the model 208 that’s for you; and for UHF, the
model 219 is your baby. Both cost around $100 and are small enough to
stick in your pocket when you next climb the tower. And, yes, they’re
The West Mountain Radio (<www.westmountainradio.com>) CLRspkr is a digital signal processing, 12-volt DC external speaker and a favorite of mine because it’s totally self-contained. There are connections to 12 volts and the speaker jack on your equipment, but all the controls are right on the face of the CLRspkr. There are four levels of DSP, with two bright LEDs that signal incoming audio for speaker clipping, in case you accidentally turn your radio’s volume too high. You won’t need much volume from your radio, either, because the CLRspkr has a small audio amp built in, driving the relatively large full-fidelity 3-inch speaker.
I think the speaker may have a mind of its own. On transmit, it goes
absolutely silent, with excellent filtering to make sure your transmitter
does not end up coming out the speaker. But as soon as you un-key, the
speaker snaps into action, and slowly builds up to your selected DSP
setting. This build-up phase gives you a second or so to hear the natural
background noise before the DSP magically cancels out ignition noise and
power line static. For base use, you could even drive an additional
bookshelf speaker system, too, thanks to the external speaker jack located
on the back. The CLRspkr is priced around $200 from leading ham radio
Global Information Guide
Adios—And Gracias—HCJB Ecuador, Plus Other News
by Gerry L. Dexter
HCJB Global has reached the end of its long, long road. HCJB’s broadcasts from Ecuador were due to end no later than November of this year as the last remaining antennas at the Pifo transmitter site were brought down. So, no more will budding DXers and SWLs count HCJB as their first shortwave log. The radio missionary efforts will continue through local churches and FM outlets throughout Latin America, in addition to broadcast efforts via satellite, the Internet, and podcasting. With the loss of HCJB your chances to log Ecuador have shrunk like a cheap shirt in the wash. All that’s left are La Voz de Napo/Radio Maria on 3280 and Radio Buen Pastor on 4815 or the standard frequency/time station HD1IOA on 3810. There are some others listed but they are very rarely heard, or are believed to be inactive.
It looks as if Radio Havana Cuba is about to become an even greater irritant than it already is. China plans to send the island huge rotatable antennas, which are expected to be used either by RHC or Cuba’s shortwave jammers against Radio Marti, Radio Republica, and the several opposition programs aired over WRMI.
That new Trans World Radio relay station scheduled for Malawi will use 4870, but unfortunately with only 1 kW. It’s supposed to be on the air before the calendar turns over to 2010.
It seems that the U.S. is about to get yet another commercial religious shortwave station. Leap of Faith (call letters as yet unassigned) will operate from near Nashville with at least two transmitters. The broadcast time on the first has already been sold out. If all goes smoothly this one could be on the air any time. But wait, there’s more! If you call now we’ll include a second new religious broadcaster—absolutely free! Hill Radio International has the go-ahead to build a station, near Milton, Florida, which should be on the air in the coming months. Don’t miss out on this amazing once-in-a-lifetime chance! Act now! This very minute…!
Meanwhile, WBOH in North Carolina is making announcements to the effect that it may have to cut back its broadcast hours—or perhaps even go silent. Are they having trouble selling airtime?
Someone recently asked about the status of the proposed in-country
transmitter of Radio Nacional de Venezuela. Apparently little or nothing
has been done so far, but there are indications now that the project may
be on the air to North America in about a year and a half and fully
completed in yet another year, beaming to the rest of the Americas. So the
RNV signal you hear now continues to be broadcast from Cuba, not
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 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, again, I beg for your shack photo!
Here are this month’s logs. All times are in UTC. Double capital letters
are language abbreviations (SS = Spanish, RR = Russian, AA = Arabic,
etc.). If no language is mentioned English (EE) is assumed.
THE PRACTICAL SIDE
The Wireless Connection
Shop Talk—More Proven Techniques For Cheap
by Peter J. Bertini
For your Holiday Enjoyment here’s a special
little Shop Talk column, along the lines of the first Shop Talk column
that appeared a year ago, in the December 2008 issue. This will be a bit
shorter than our usual column, but if you enjoy these quick tips please
let us know—perhaps we’ll continue the tradition in future December
columns. So, without further ado, here’s a potpourri of suggestions and
tips that will make shop life a little easier.
I go through a lot of desoldering braid. While costly, it is very effective at removing old solder from terminal strips and tube sockets. Unfortunately, the wick loses its ability to wick up molten solder as it ages, in part due to the copper braid becoming oxidized once the container is opened and the braid is exposed to air. To prevent this, store open spools in a sealed zip-type sandwich or freezer bag. This will keep the braid in shiny, like-new condition.
And here’s another neat tip: Don’t discard the old solder wick spools. At
one time I’d buy small tubes of solder to be kept with my tool kit and
portable gas soldering irons. All to often the plastic tubes would open,
allowing the several feet of solder to spill from the tube, and getting it
back inside is like trying to get toothpaste back into the toothpaste
tube. Here’s a better, and much cheaper alternative! Wrap several feet of
solder around an empty solder wick spool. It will stay where it belongs
until needed. The larger size spools can be used as wire spools for
small-diameter enamel or bus bar wire.
Locktal tubes were introduced by Sylvania in 1935. The special tube base
and socket system worked together to mechanically lock the tube firmly to
the socket for use in high vibration applications, such as automotive
radios. The name is probably a play on the octal (eight pin) lock-in tube
base. Locktal tubes have an undeserved bad reputation, probably due in
part to very few folks knowing the secret behind getting the tube to
release from the socket without inadvertently damaging the socket in the
process. Here’s the trick: In line with the metal key on the tube base
you’ll find a small dimple (metal bump) embossed on the metal shell at the
tube base. To remove a locktal tube from the socket, locate the dimple,
and gently tilt the tube toward the chassis in the same direction the
dimple faces. The tube will then release from the socket.
The Dipole Destroyer:
This Simple Antenna Beats
by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ
Beginning hams can be very entertaining to anyone who resembles a mentor or Elmer. Despite their different introductions to the hobby and their personal backgrounds, new hams tend to make amazingly similar choices in first antennas. (I imagine it’s a lot like being a parent of multiple children. When Child #1 touches a hot burner on the stove, it’s an event! When Child #2 does it, the sting is eased by the knowledge that Child #1 survived the experience. When Child #3 gets burned, a pattern is starting to emerge!)
The VHF and Up hams get “beam crazy,” if only because rotatable antennas at those frequencies are relatively tiny and gain figures relatively large. The HF hams get “dipole crazy,” probably because the antennas are universally described in ham radio books, because almost every ham has at least one, and because the antennas are so simple to build and get working.
But the friendly, universal dipole antenna—functional though it is—is almost universally bested by another simple wire antenna that, in many ways, is even easier to build, tune, and use. That antenna is the horizontal loop. It’s a true Dipole Destroyer, especially for multiband operation.
This weekend is a good illustration. In several hours of “messing around” in the CQ World Wide RTTY Contest, I managed to work dozens of stations on every continent except Oceania (I didn’t hear a single op from Down Under). I did, however, work stations from Japan and Hawaii, several in the Caribbean, a bunch in South and Central America, every Canadian call district except VE8, a couple Europeans, and even several juicy stations in Africa, including one in Morocco!
Was it because I was running high power? Hardly. I was running just 5 watts output. Did I have a Super Secret radio? Nope. Just an entry-level HF rig that doesn’t even have a narrow filter. Special software? Naw. I used WinWarbler, a freeware package that’s part of the free DXLab suite, and an old laptop PC. A sexy callsign, perhaps? Unfortunately, no. Same old callsign from my boring, landlocked Southern Minnesota QTH. Was I relying on years of experience as a slick RTTY operator? Not even close. I even laughed at myself while I was trying to figure out how to use the software and get the timing of the contest exchanges down pat. Before you think that I have a 100-foot tower, let me say that my wire antenna is 23 feet off the ground…and inside my attic!
So, what’s my secret weapon? My horizontal loop, of course! OK, it was during a contest, so lots of stations were on from just about everywhere, but anyone can take advantage of that “QSO booster,” so it’s not really a factor.
Having used horizontal full-wave loops for more than 25 years now (yikes!), I’ve heard all kinds of malarkey from hams who have never used them telling me why horizontal loops are “cloud warmers” that are good only for short-range comms, how they have ridiculously high-angle radiation patterns, etc. Many even cite technical references and point to charts and graphs. I just laugh and point to my logbook! And you should, too!
Every ham I’ve ever known who has bothered to put up a loop has become a
believer—some have even sold their rotatable beams after experimenting
with big horizontal loops..
THE LIGHTER SIDE
Trivia And Toons
by R.B. Sturtevant, AD7IL
Q. What was the impetus for the development of vacuum tubes?
A. You can thank Marconi for that, though he wasn’t doing tube research. Marconi’s business was based, in the early days, on supplying wireless sets and operators to ocean-going ships, but he would not sell his equipment. Even after he started showing his wireless equipment to the various navies around the world, he still tried to maintain his monopoly on owning it all.
The American Navy, however, refused to have Marconi-owned wireless equipment aboard its ships, manned by its sailors. Rear Admiral Henry B. Manney, Chief of the Bureau of Equipment, wanted radio equipment under the Navy’s control and able to meet the Navy’s needs, rather than let Marconi decide how and when the Navy’s needs would be met. Admiral Manney set up a radio research laboratory for the Navy to develop its own equipment. Equipment was also purchased from Europe before American’s manufacturers got up to speed with their production. All equipment in those pre-World War I days was short-range and tuned to a very wide bandwidth. The signals were so wide that two-way communications were impossible.
The development of tubes led to improvements in the radios. At first tubes
cost as much as $50 and would last only about 70 hours. The systems
worked, but weren’t very economical. To stimulate the researchers in the
field the Navy put out specifications for a tube that would last 5,000
hours and cost no more than $5 each, and it then asked for bids. There
were other elements involved, of course, but that’s what really got things
Focus On Florida
by Ken Reiss
With the Holidays approaching and family
visits being planned, it’s a good time to look at one of the more popular
winter destinations: Florida. Like any large state, Florida has way too
much happening of interest the scanner listener for us to be able to cover
in a single column, so instead we’ll just bite off a morsel and focus on
the statewide law enforcement system and the highway patrol.
In 1931, the state recognized that the roads were going to need some regulating and maintenance, so it placed the State Road Department in charge. Officials hired 12 weight inspectors to enforce the rules and regulations for the state—the whole state!
That lasted until 1934 when a Traffic Division was formed within the Roads department. For economic reasons, a new governor abolished that agency, but in 1939 a new Public Safety department was formed to administer drivers licenses and law enforcement. The Highway Patrol was official. Sixty Officers were approved statewide with a starting salary (in case you were wondering) of $1,500 per year.
The year 1939 also saw the introduction of “special autos” used for patrol duty. There were no radios of any kind in these vehicles, though they were equipped with sirens and bulletproof windshields. Since there were no radios, the officers were expected to stop once in a while during their patrol routes to call in for assignments.
THE PRACTICAL SIDE
The Propagation Corner
A Welcome Burst Of Solar Activity
by Tomas Hood
of solar activity. For the entire month, not one sunspot was observed. This places August as the month with the lowest sunspot activity between Sunspot Cycles 23 and 24. This fact will move the statistical solar minimum later than December of 2008. However, this does not mean that Cycle 24 has not started; because the majority of sunspots observed during 2009 are oriented with a magnetic polarity consistent with the new solar cycle, there is no doubt about Solar Cycle 24’s existence.
During September 2009, while most days were spotless, two significant sunspot regions developed and lasted for days (Figures 1, 2, 3). One of the regions even produced a moderate solar flare on September 25. All this activity started on September 21 as the first sunspot region rotated into view. The next day a second region appeared. Both sunspots grew larger, causing the 10.7-cm flux to peak at 76 on September 23. This resulted in very good propagation on the middle high frequencies and also caused some paths to open on higher shortwave bands. With such strong activity lasting through the end of September, DXers enjoyed significant improvement in shortwave propagation.
Will we see this kind of solar activity more often now? With what science
currently knows, we cannot predict reliably, but we certainly hope that
this is a positive trend. “Tune in” to this column each month as the drama
The autumn DX season is in full swing! Listeners throughout the Northern Hemisphere are actively chasing mediumwave DX of AM broadcast stations from all over North, Central, and South America, and from Europe and Asia. This is the season when it’s easier to catch such difficult signals, because it’s during this season when conditions are most favorable to propagation of this spectrum of the radio frequencies. Shortwave DX is hot, too, especially on the mid- to low-HF bands from early evening until late at night, and then again from early morning through high noon.
December 21 marks the start of winter, with the sun sitting at its yearly southern-most point in the sky at 1747 UTC. This is the Winter Solstice, the day with the shortest daylight period of the year for observers situated north of the equator.
Long hours of darkness make for a less-energized ionosphere. Since the D
layer of the ionosphere is less ionized during the winter, mediumwave and
the lower shortwave frequencies are generally less absorbed by the D layer
than during the summer season. Because of this, mediumwave frequencies are
propagated by the E and F layers better during the winter than during the
summer. Additionally, the seasonal decrease in weather-related noise makes
it easier to hear the weaker DX signals on the lower frequencies. With
thunderstorms few and far between, storm-related static and noise is
Holiday Wish List
by Bruce A. Conti
It’s shopping season once again for hobbyists,
and in case you’re lacking for inspiration “Broadcast Technology” has some
suggestions to fit every budget. You might want to check out the pocket
radios that are making a comeback of sorts, thanks to the minimalist
ultralight DX movement…or the HD receivers that represent the latest
technology for FM broadcast DXing or any FM listener within range of HD
digital radio signals…or the computer-controlled software-defined radios
setting new standards for hardcore AM broadcast DXing…or broadcasting as
documented in books and photos. If so, read on: selections in all those
categories are included here in our annual holiday wish list—and this year
there’s plenty to wish for.
The CCRadio-SWPocket (or SWP) AM/SW/ FM radio is top rated among the
handheld analog receivers in use today by ultralight AM broadcast DXers.
AM broadcast band tuning is continuous from 520 to 1710 kHz, while
shortwave is divided into two bands: 2300 to 7500 kHz and 9200 to 22000
kHz. Additional features include FM stereo through the headphone jack,
alarm clock, and memory for 200 presets. The SWP is powered by two AA
batteries or an optional external AC adapter. The SWP is the ultralight
radio by which all others are inevitably compared. It lists for $49.95
from C.Crane (<www.ccrane.com>). Visit www.dxer.ca online to see how
ultralight DXers have hopped-up the SWP with an external “slider” ferrite
The Grundig G8 LW/MW/SW/FM pocket radio, or Chinese equivalent Tecsun
PL-300WT, is simply amazing for its size. It’s the first of its kind to
implement true DSP technology, providing exceptional AM selectivity with
the ability to separate DX signals from strong adjacent interference. The
FM performance is also said to be unprecedented for a pocket-sized radio,
but longwave reception is marginal as would be expected with a small
internal antenna. Surprisingly the shortwave performance is also reported
to be sub-par, limited to 12 non-continuous bands. Regardless, the G8 will
impress novice and expert broadcast DXers with its DSP enhancement.
Additional features include selectable 9- or 10-kHz step tuning, 24-hour
clock, and enough memory for storage of up to 100 longwave, 100 mediumwave,
200 shortwave, and 100 FM preset frequencies. The G8 is powered by three
AA-cell batteries or an external AC adapter, not included. It sells for
$49.95 from Universal Radio (www.universal-radio.com).
The new CCRadio-2 is the latest in the line of CCRadio full-size
portables. This retro-styled lunchbox-sized radio features improved AM
reception with an internal eight-inch Twin-Coil Ferrite loopstick, plus
FM, NOAA radio with weather alert, and 2-meter amateur radio reception,
which replaced the VHF analog TV band in previous models. Five preset
pushbuttons are conveniently located on top for quick access to favorite
stations, just like on a car radio. A multi-function alarm clock can be
set to wake you up in the morning or it can act as a timer to record
programs to an external mp3 or audio recording device. A stereo line input
makes the CCRadio-2 a good portable amplified external speaker for a
laptop or mp3 player, too. The CCRadio-2 is powered directly by 120 VAC or
four D-cell batteries. It lists for $159.95 from C.Crane. Only one
question remains: Will there ever be a DTV audio radio?
Border Monitoring And The 2010 Winter Olympics
by Mitch Gill, NA7US
The upcoming Winter Olympics will be held in Vancouver, Canada, beginning in mid-February. These obviously high-profile events will no doubt be under even heavier security in light of the recent arrest of Najibullah Zazi and others in connection to an alleged plot to bomb New York City targets on the anniversary of 9/11. The fact that the games’ venue is only a few short miles from the U.S. border in Blaine, Washington, means that border communications traffic in the area will be unusually high as well.
Olympics or not, however, monitoring along any of our borders is never dull. In Blaine, the appropriately named Smugglers Inn B&B has motion sensors around the property and even lends guests night-vision goggles. There you can watch, as well as listen, for border agents as they look for people trying to enter the U.S. illegally, track down drug mules, and possibly even thwart would-be terrorists.
We’ll likely never know just how many people have been captured or turned away, as the government doesn’t exactly advertise this information. In one famous incident, however, which occurred on the Washington border two years before 9/11, Ahmed Ressam was caught with a vehicle full of explosives and other bomb-making material. Since that time, there have been incidents on the Vermont, Texas, and Michigan borders. Again, that’s just what we know of; there have been many more unpublicized incidents, no doubt.
Even though we expect nothing to happen to mar the Olympic celebration,
the authorities must prepare for the worst. Even if nothing goes seriously
wrong, there’s still monitoring action associated with any big event. So,
if you’ll be in the area, bring your scanner and check out the frequencies
we’ve listed here. If you live or travel near another border, give a
listen there, too. Drop us a line and let us know what you heard.
Sheppard Air Force Base—Training Forces For The USAF And NATO
by Mark Meece, N8ICW
In a small corner of North Texas…no scratch that—there’s no such thing as “small” in Texas—in North Texas, we find a city with the nickname “The City That Faith Built.” On the map it goes by the name Wichita Falls.
Wichita Falls lies 15 miles south of the border with Oklahoma, and is 115 miles northwest of Fort Worth. In 1886 a flood destroyed the original falls on the Wichita River, after which the city and county had originally taken its name. The city, weary of years of visitors trying to find the non-existent falls, actually created an artificial waterfall near the river in Lucy Park.
Five miles north of the central business district of Wichita Falls, along
the east side of Interstate 44, is the location of Sheppard Air Force
Shepard Air Force Base is named in honor of former Texas Senator John Morris Shepard who supported the United States military preparations for World War II as chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee. The facility officially opened in October 1941 as an Army Air Corps training base. However it can trace its beginnings back to November of 1940 when Major General Rush B. Lincoln, Commandant of the U.S. Army Air Corps Technical Schools, surveyed the area around the city of Wichita Falls for a possible training school.
A local cattleman named J.S. Birdwell offered three hundred acres south of Kell Field to the government for $1, and in February 1941 the Army Air Corp approved the plans for the building of the school. When the first class of 22 aviation mechanics entered training that October, the facilities were well enough along to begin; they graduated on February 23, 1942. As World War II progressed, basic flying training was given at Sheppard, along with the training of glider mechanics, B-29 engineers, and other technical and flying training instruction. More advanced pilot training was provided to ground officers as well as helicopter pilots.
From September to November 1945 the base served as a separation center for troops being discharged following the end of the war. It was during this time that the base hit its peak strength of 46,340 people.
On August 31, 1946, Sheppard Field was deactivated and declared as surplus to the War Department. Control of the facilities was handed over to the Corps of Engineers on April 30, 1947. On August 1, 1948, control and accountability for the field was again transferred, this time to the newly created Department of the Air Force. Two weeks later the base was reactivated to provide basic training as a supplement to Lackland Air Force Base. It was then renamed Sheppard Air Force Base.
The following June, basic training was discontinued for about a year,
resuming from July 1950 to May 1952. In April 1949, the aircraft mechanics
school was transferred to Sheppard from Kessler Air Force Base so that
electronic training at Keesler could be expanded. Throughout the 1950s,
training functions were moved to Sheppard from other facilities. Perhaps
the most notable of these were the training for comptroller,
transportation, and intelligence which moved to Sheppard from Lowry AFB,
Colorado in late 1954.
Utility Communications Digest
Monitoring The USAF High-Frequency Global
by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ
When your humble columnist was first beginning to investigate the world of utility communications monitoring, one of my first listening targets was a worldwide HF radio system that was at the time known simply as the GHFS (Global HF System). Operated by the United States Air Force, this network is used to provide a variety of services to U.S. military aircraft, naval vessels, and ground stations, as well as aircraft and vessels of numerous U.S. allies. Today, the Air Force calls this network the HF-GCS (High-Frequency Global Communications System), and it is, of course, well known to veteran utility listeners. Owing to the worldwide distribution of ground station locations and the wide variety of frequencies and users, it makes for an excellent listening target for beginning UTE monitors.
The primary purpose of the HF-GCS is to provide command and control communications between ground agencies and U.S. military aircraft and ships. However, it’s not specifically dedicated to any military service branch, and thus, other Department of Defense (DoD) authorized users are provided services on a traffic precedence/priority basis. These services include, but are not limited to, general phone patch and message relay, HF data support, air traffic control (ATC) support, mission following, emergency assistance, and email access to SIPRnet (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, a system of interconnected computer networks used by DOD and the U.S. Department of State to transfer classified materials using the same TCP/IP protocols you typically see on the Internet, but in a secure environment), and NIPRnet (Nonsecure Internet Protocol Router Network, a parallel airgapped analogue to SIPRnet providing interoperability for unclassified combat support applications, as well as a gateway to the public Internet).
Although I mentioned ATC support in the above, HF-GCS stations are not equipped to provide ATC communications routing, and thus they cannot provide ATC flight following service. They will, however, accept emergency ATC traffic and, of course, provide phone patch or message relay support as needed.
As of press time, I’m aware of 14 HF-GCS voice ground stations, the names and locations of which I’ve listed in Table 1. All HF-GCS receiving and transmitting sites worldwide (see Photo A for a look at the antenna farm belonging to one of these) are remotely controlled from Andrews AFB, with a backup control site located at Grand Forks AFB. The primary USB frequencies, in effect 24 hours a day, are 8992.0 and 11175.0, with daytime backup frequencies of 13200.0 and 15016.0 and night backup frequencies of 4724.0 and 6739.0. There are additional “discrete” or secondary frequencies that are also used by the various ground stations, and in order to free up the primary frequencies for other traffic the ground station will often initiate a switch to another frequency (QSY) once a user has established initial contact. A comprehensive listing of known discrete frequencies would occupy more space than I have available, but since the discrete frequency is always given on the air before the stations move off the primary frequency, such a listing is hardly necessary anyway.
Note also that there used to be additional
primary frequencies that have long since been removed from HF-GCS service,
and unfortunately these frequencies still appear on many frequency lists
that you find on the Internet. If you find yourself on the Internet
viewing a frequency list that includes frequencies like 8968.0 or 17976.0,
know that you’re looking at an obsolete list as these frequencies were
removed from HF-GCS service over a decade ago! The same goes for lists
including closed stations such as Thule or MacDill.
Shannon’s Broadcast Classics
Starting Out In Radio And Life: 40 Years Ago
by Shannon Huniwell
A close friend cried from breakfast until bedtime the day she turned 40. Lisa was inconsolable because she couldn’t quite come to terms with how those four decades had gone by her so quickly. She’d been quite popular in high school, but since graduation Lisa found it increasingly difficult to navigate in a world that didn’t conform to the idyllic teenaged view of our cookie-cutter hometown, circa Spring 1987—let alone 1969, the year most of us in that senior class were born and the springboard of our story.
As a newly minted 40-year old myself, I’m just thankful to the Good Lord for allowing me to reach that mark, and look forward to reminiscing about the “good old days” of 2009. That, however, is not to say that I don’t like to contemplate the past. On the occasion of my recent milestone, I especially enjoyed perusing a little 1969 “Remember When” nostalgia booklet given to me by another friend who figured I’d get a kick out of glimpsing an economic slice of how things were when I arrived on the scene during the closing months of the 1960s. My folks also smiled to see 1969 statistics that reminded them of new car prices in the $2,000 to $3,000 range, gasoline for 32 cents a gallon, a loaf of bread at 23 cents, and a brand new 1,200-square-foot ranch homes with a now-unbelievable $35,000 price tag.
“But you have to put those ‘bargain’ prices in perspective,” my Dad said, “A decent yearly salary back then was only $7,000.” He recalled feeling wasteful back in those days when he’d mail a small stack of broadcast band DX reception reports in the hopes of adding to his QSL collection, saying
Your brother was in kindergarten, outgrowing clothes almost monthly and honing his please can you buy me such-and-such a toy skills. Mom and I were trying to save every nickel for a home of our own with three bedrooms because you were on the way. Including return postage, each of my “DX hobby letters” meant two envelopes plus 12 cents worth of stamps. That doesn’t seem like much today, but when I sent 10 reports, it cost $1.20 or nearly four gallons of gas, more than enough to drive our ’65 Ford Falcon convertible the few miles to and from work for a week!”
The next time my father and mother came to visit, Dad brought his three-ring binder bulging with QSL cards, verification letters, station-related matchbook covers, and sundry broadcast promotional items. We studied the dates and found several from the early hours of October 2, 1969—my birthday. “Don’t think I was ignoring your mother,” he pointed out. “I couldn’t sleep knowing she was ready to pop, so I kept asking her if everything was alright. She said she’d be much better if I’d stop fidgeting and calm down a bit.” According to Mom, that’s when she suggested Dad adjourn to their dinky second-floor apartment’s breakfast nook where he parked his 12-transistor AM portable (hooked to a longwire running from the little window there to a decommissioned powerline insulator on the house next door) and relax with the headphones on. “Anyway,” Dad said, “I caught these stations just before your mom emerged from our bedroom with that same ‘It’s time’ look she gave me just minutes before your brother Shawn made his surprisingly rapid debut.”
While my parents amused themselves with some
other arcane memories of the event, and Mom wistfully compared her
cherished 1960s weeklong maternity ward hospital stay with today’s
“drive-thru” baby delivery experience for modern mothers, I found myself
focusing on Dad’s fall of 1969 QSLs. I couldn’t help wondering what the
radio scene was
Forty years ago, the FCC required every broadcast radio station to present news in addition to entertainment or whatever constituted the outlet’s main program format. In retrospect, that was a pretty civic-minded regulation, as it meant that every radio listener—even teenagers!—would be exposed to at least a few minutes of what was going on in the community and world. In addition to making for a more informed public, the mandate also created the need for at least one news person at each station, with the exception of some FMs that shared an electronic journalist with a co-owned AM.
Imagine the proverbial 250-watt daytimer
serving a town of 7,000 somewhere in rural America with, say, a
22-year-old news director only six months out of the nearby State
University. Unless he (and back then the news directorship was almost
exclusively a male position) was a hometown boy with deep local roots,
this ND was likely working hard to offer informative newscasts and
recording them in the hopes of putting together a solid aircheck tape that
could land him at some 5-kW full time AM’s newsroom in a bigger market.
From there he’d aspire to an even better-known set of call letters in
Denver, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Seattle, suburban Chicago, or maybe even
New York. Similar “farm team”-type opportunities existed on radio’s
THE LIGHTER SIDE
The Loose Connection
Life As A Southpaw
by Bill Price, N3AVY
“I’m dreaming of a Wintery Mix…la la la...” That’s because here in Cowfield County, we rarely get snow, just some combination of whatever Mother Nature can throw at us to make driving (and walking) difficult, while bringing down antennas and power lines.
I’ve been blessed by the luck of the draw which brought me to choose Cowfield County as my base of operations. While it may not be perfect, there are nearby cities, towns, and entire counties which lose their electrical power for weeks on end whenever there is some slight weather anomaly like rain or wind, and of course, the dreaded Wintery Mix that often includes sleet and freezing rain. I think that in the 15 or so years I’ve lived here, the longest we’ve been without power was maybe four hours while others have gone for over three weeks.
Another benefit of living within commuting distance of the nation’s capital is watching the extremely impatient (and not so skillful) drivers react to icy roads. This normally means increasing one’s following distance to almost eight feet and slowing to just 10 mph over the speed limit. Think of watching “roller derby.”
Listening to a scanner during a Wintery Mix storm is better than most TV comedy. Then again, watching paint dry is better than most TV comedy. I’m a radio person and I’m sticking to my guns (more on that later). It never ceases to amaze me how the police and emergency people (and their dispatchers) can discuss the goings-on without laughing out loud or using some really derogatory terms. There was a time when tow truck operators used two-way radio, and they were perhaps the most colorful of all when describing hapless drivers and their predicaments. All that has been taken away from us now, since they generally do all their communication by cell phone. I really miss hearing those guys.
Some of you may remember that I’d been working with just one paw while waiting for rotator-cuff surgery on my right shoulder, which took place in early July. I was able to continue writing using just half the keyboard, and the surgery was successful, to say the least. My surgeon told me that my shoulder was shredded and (in the words of humorist Dave Barry, I’m NOT making this up) that he had to use a sort of a “blowout patch” made of pigskin to sew me back together. Of course, this led to a lot of speculation about my post-surgical eating habits, which now include rooting in garbage cans and dumpsters. I also look at bacon with a familial respect.
But seriously, folks—my recovery and rehab is
still going on as you read this. Seven weeks of absolutely no use of the
arm, followed by very limited use and only passive exercises until mid
October when a guy who called himself “Dave” (aka the “Marquis de
Therapist”) was turned loose on me with all the implements of torture
known to modern physical therapy.