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The Weirder Side Of Wireless

by Staff

Lethal Waters: The Strange Ending

A California jury has awarded $16.57 million to the survivors of Jennifer Lea Strange in a wrongful death lawsuit against a local radio station, The End (KDND 107.9). The 28-year-old Rancho Cordova mother of three died after participating in a water-drinking contest conducted by the station in a give-away promotion called “Hold Your Wee for Wii.” Contestants were instructed to drink as much water as they could in a three-hour period without urinating or vomiting; the contestant who ingested the most was to receive an Nintendo Wii video game system. Strange succumbed hours later at her home on January 12, 2007. The Sacramento County Coroner’s Office determined that she died of acute water intoxication.
In the suit, the jury found the local station entirely at fault, though defense attorneys argued that there was “contributory negligence” on the part of the mother. The jury did not agree and said that the radio station should have determined the health risks of the contest and have a medical professional present during the contest and that its negligence caused the death of Ms. Strange.

A Real Radio Dedication

Love NPR but hate choice? Then the NPR Radio is for you. According to the Earth Times website, it’s the first Internet radio with an exclusive menu dedicated solely to NPR stations and programs. Within the NPR realm there’s plenty to choose from, and fans can personalize their NPR experience, and easily switch back and forth between the local NPR member station and accessing on-demand NPR content and programs from NPR.org and stations across the U.S. The NPR Radio sells for $199.99 and is currently available from www.shop.npr.org or www. LivioRadio.com. Proceeds from the sale of the radio support NPR programming and NPR stations. Who says radio’s too homogenized?

Using Twitter Can Be A Riot

Elliot Madison, a 41-year-old social worker from New York City, was arrested on September 24 at a motel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during the G-20 conference. While anarchist mobs confronted local police in the downtown area during the gathering, Madison was listening to a police scanner and relaying information on Twitter to help protesters avoid the heavily armed cops, according to Ryan Singel writing for Wired Magazine. Madison was charged under a federal anti-rioting law that carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.

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News, Trends, And Short Takes

by D. Prabakaran


HAARP Scientists Create “Artificial Ionosphere”

An experiment that fires powerful radio waves into the sky has created a patch of “artificial ionosphere,” mimicking the uppermost portion of Earth’s atmosphere. The research has not only caused glowing dots to appear around these patches, it could also provide a new way to bounce radio signals around the globe.The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP), near Gakona, Alaska, has spent nearly two decades using radio waves to probe Earth’s magnetic field and ionosphere. Todd Pedersen, a research physicist at the US Air Force Research Laboratory in Massachusetts, who leads the team that ran the experiment at HAARP, said “Instead of depending entirely on the natural ionosphere to redirect radio waves or shortwave broadcasts, we are now getting the capability that we can actually produce our own little ionosphere.”
(Source: <www.nature.com>)

Pirate Radio Operator Banned From London Rooftops

A man has been banned from every rooftop in London after he pleaded guilty to installing pirate radio equipment on a tower block in the city. Kieran O’Sullivan received the antisocial behavior order (ASBO) following a successful prosecution by UK media regulator Ofcom. He also received an 18-week custodial sentence suspended for 12 months, a three-month curfew, a £1,200 (approximately $1,990 USD) fine, and had his radio equipment seized. Ofcom worked with Camden Council and police to secure the prosecution following complaints from residents about underground radio station Freeze FM operating from estates in Hampstead. Residents had complained about pirate radio operators using rooftops to install equipment, which caused a nuisance to residents and damaged council property.
(Source: Ofcom)

Vatican Radio & RVA In Transmitter Airtime Swap

Vatican Radio will use the Radio Veritas Asia (RVA) transmitter in the Philippines on a regular basis for its second morning transmission to India at 0200–0320 UTC. The service was previously relayed via a Russian transmitter and, later, via Santa Maria di Galeria in Italy. Comprising Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, and English (a repeat of the 0040–0200 transmission) at 0200–0320, it can be heard on 15460 kHz. In exchange, Radio Veritas Asia will use the Santa Maria di Galeria transmitter of Vatican Radio in Urdu at 1430–1457 on 9585 kHz and Filipino to the Middle East at 1500–1553 hrs on 11715 kHz.
(Source: DXAsia)


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Washington Beat

Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications

by Richard Fisher, KI6SN


Interoperable Communications Grant Spending Deadline

U.S. Senate action that extends a spending deadline to 2012 for the Public Safety Interoperable Communications (PSIC) grant program has been applauded by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO). According to the organization, the “PSIC program was originally established by Congress to provide one-time funding of $1 billion to state and local governments toward achieving interoperability among our first responders.”

“The public safety communications community continues to be constrained by financial issues as well as time constraints when it comes to technological progress,” APCO International Executive Director George Rice said. “APCO International is pleased Congress has recognized the importance of this program in achieving interoperability.”

APCO said in a statement that it “continues to urge Congress to fully fund the follow-on to the one-time PSIC funding, entitled the Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant Program (IECGP), at its maximum authorization level of $400 million for Fiscal Year (FY) 2011.”

California Company Fined By FCC For Illegal Use Of Amateur Radio Frequency

The FCC fined a California construction company $4,000 for illegally “using amateur frequencies to conduct business.” Shimmick Construction Co., Inc./Obayashi Corp., Joint Venture (Shimmick-Obayashi), licensees of stations WQER756, WQEN793, WQJI360, and WQKG818, committed repeated violations “by failing to operate only in accordance with the rules applicable to their particular service as set forth in the Commission’s Rules and with a valid authorization granted by the Commission,” the FCC said.

“On two separate occasions in May 2009, the FCC’s Los Angeles office received complaints that a concrete delivery company was operating numerous mobile stations in Yorba Linda, California, on 146.025 MHz, a frequency allocated exclusively to the Amateur Radio Service,” FCC documents said. Agents from the Los Angeles office used radio-direction finding techniques to locate the transmissions, which “were not identified by call sign,” the report said.

“The Los Angeles agent confirmed that the frequency 146.025 MHz was programmed into frequency selector position No. 5 on numerous Motorola model CP200 portable transceivers that were being used to coordinate construction operations throughout the site,” the FCC Notice of Apparently Liability stated. “The Shimmick-Obayashi construction supervisor told the Los Angeles agent that he did not know anything about a license for the radios, but that he would immediately stop using the Amateur Radio Service frequency programmed in position No. 5 on the Motorola CP200 transceivers.”

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Two-Way Traffic?

by Rob de Santos


Last month, I wrote about how the Internet is transforming communications. Continuing on that theme, this month we’ll look at the question of communications as a one-way, two-way, or multi-way street. Do the numbers of pathways change the nature of communications, and if so, how? Does the quantity of information have a relationship to the size of the audience? What does that imply for the future of our favorite pastime?

In the early 1990s, the term “information superhighway” came to describe the explosion of high-speed connectedness the Internet and technologies like fiber optics would bring. Initially, many assumed that this was yet another one-way stream of information. You might post information on a webpage about your favorite band, or a company would post information on its product. What wasn’t always clear was that superhighways were almost always two-way—or multi-way—streets. More than one corporation was embarrassed to get unfavorable—and public—feedback that they didn’t expect. Judging from recent news reports, some still do.

Radio and television broadcasting have been one-way media for the most part. Arguably, part of the problem with the survival of shortwave has been the lack of communication from the audience back to the program producers and, more importantly, those who fund them. Local radio and television has had it a bit better, but still depends on “audience measurement” and “audience research” rather than direct feedback. The Internet is supposedly changing that, but is anyone listening?

One definition of conversation is the “exchange of thoughts, opinions, and feelings.” There is no question that if the communication medium is ham radio or mobile phones, a conversation is probably taking place, but in other areas it’s not so clear-cut. In broadcasting, the Internet brought about new ways of completing the conversation. Facebook, for example, provides a method for consumers to offer feedback (if it’s utilized that way); some stations allow fans to vote “up” or “down” on particular music or programs.

The amount of information available on the Internet is massive. No one knows for sure just how much information is “out there,” but I’ve seen estimates from the terabyte range all the way to the zettabyte range. As Twitter seems to indicate, the shorter your “message,” the more people pay attention. Inversely, the longer your message, the fewer listeners you have. It’s been called the “Inverse Law of the Internet,” but I suspect we can apply it to all communication. That’s not saying fewer words are better, just that the size of the audience is inversely related to the quantity of information in the message.

Radio is changing as a consequence of these developments as well. Do you use Pandora or Slacker? The concept behind Pandora, Slacker, and similar audio services is that you can be your own programmer and choose the music you like. More recently, a company called Jelli Radio is marketing a service where listeners determine in real time what music is played on the air. Now there’s two-way communication! Already at least two radio stations in the U.S. are offering Jelli Radio to their listeners. Moreover, the messages going in one direction are limited in size, but are numerous, while the information going in the opposite direction is steady and continuous.

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Winter Weather Woes?

Stay Home And Turn On The Scanner!

Here Are Some Hot Frequencies To Go With Hot Chocolate

by Mitch Gill, NA7US


Snow, ice, floods, wind, waves…No it’s not the Apocalypse, it’s just winter in many parts of the country. Unless you live in an area blessed by mild weather, there will be many times this winter that you just don’t want to leave the house, and coincidentally, those are probably the best times to turn on the scanner to listen for what’s happening on all those busy frequencies. So, if you find yourself afflicted by the nastier stuff that Mother Nature sometimes throws at us, don’t try to beat it, join it—from the comfort of home by way of your favorite scanner.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

So, what if it is? That just means you have more time inside to monitor your favorite local frequencies. With the change in weather and all that means for our roadways, runways, waterways, and more, winter is a time of unique scanning opportunities. As much as we don’t wish any harm to anyone (and, in fact, we can provide a lot of assistance to those in need), winter simply serves up some of the most interesting monitoring of the year. Airports can be shut down, blizzards can stop a city, ice storms arrive with little or no notice, floods can decimate, and coastal ships find themselves in hazardous waters. And that can translate into some mighty fascinating radio traffic that can have you glued to the edge of your monitoring shack chair.

Beyond The Neighborhood

It’s also a great opportunity to try something new, and maybe find some interesting frequencies to monitor that are farther afield. HF is still my absolute favorite. I enjoy listening to US Coast Guard stations thousands of miles away in the Caribbean, and to FEMA during a declared emergency in other states. You might want to try listening to a maritime net on the Baja Peninsula. Pretty cool, huh? Now I know that some of you live in apartments or have restrictions for antennas, but you, too, can listen to HF frequencies as long as you have a radio that covers the band.


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The Voice Of Vietnam

“Hanoi Forbids Carrying Livestock, Poultry By Motorbike”

And Other News From Indochina

by Eric Bryan


It seems like a far-flung, unlikely station to do so, but the Voice of Vietnam is one of a handful of international shortwave broadcasters that lease time on the Sackville, Canada, shortwave relay site in order to transmit programs to the Americas. The station obviously wants you to listen, but do you want to hear it. To answer that, let’s take a look at VOV’s programming, plus a little background information for context.

A Brief Geo-History

Vietnam occupies the east coast of the Indochina Peninsula, that huge hunk of land that juts down below China. Its coastline on the east and south is washed by the South China Sea. China borders Vietnam on the north, with Cambodia and Laos on the west. The main cities are Hanoi, the capital, in the north; and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Vietnam’s largest city, in the south.

The country has 58 provinces, plus five centrally controlled municipalities, which have a geographic standing equal to that of the provinces. Its land is rugged and mountainous in the north, but with coastal plains; and is gentle and low-lying in the south, where the Mekong River delta fans out in a verdant expanse. Wherever there are plains or tractable land, there is cultivation throughout, from the famous rice paddies to coffee, rubber, bananas, tea, bamboo, coconuts, and papaya.

The original Vietnamese people made their homeland in the Red River valley, to the north. In the 2nd Century BCE, China took over the area, and the Vietnamese didn’t regain their independence until 939 AD. Over the next millennium, they spread down the coast and created one of the most spirited, vigorous cultures in the region.

In the late 19th Century, France colonized Vietnam and split the country into three sections, combining these regions into a union with Laos and Cambodia, with the whole area being called French Indochina. Indochinese Communist resistance groups arose against French rule after World War II. Vietnamese troops overcame French forces at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, in 1954. After this, the country was divided into North and South Vietnam, with the Communists in power in the north, and Anti-Communists controlling the south.

Over the next two decades, South Vietnam, with U.S. support, tried to stop an aggressive Northern movement to reunify the country. In 1973, the U.S. pulled out its troops, with South Vietnam collapsing under a northern Communist onslaught in 1975.

The current united Vietnam emerged in 1976, ruled from Hanoi by a Communist government. Vietnam has since adopted some elements of a free-market economy, in an effort to stimulate economic growth.

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Global Information Guide

by Gerry L. Dexter


¡Hola HCJB! Enjoy The New Home!

To paraphrase Mark Twain, “Reports of the death of HCJB on shortwave have been greatly exaggerated.” In other words, Oops! It seems that the demise of HCJB shortwave, as described in its news release, neglected to point out the one positive point: that a new Ecuador site was being installed and would go into service when the Pifo site closed. A place called Mount Pichincha will pick things up, but this will be limited to a single frequency. The long-used 6050 will operate with 10 kW and provide a service to the indigenous Quichua and Kofan speakers. The site is way in the north, practically on the equator.

Watch for the Colombian La Voz de su Concencia, 6010, which should have reappeared by now after a long period of silence while technical improvements were being made. Marfil Estereo, its sister station on 5910, has also undergone an upgrade.

Also look out for improved signals from the Voice of Nigeria and, possibly, the addition of one or more frequencies. The station has added some high-power transmitters and is installing new antennas to boot.

The Dominican Republic is represented on shortwave again, and again by the returning Radio Amanecer in Santo Domingo on 6025. The current schedule for this religious station is not known at present (formerly 0900–0400), although they have been heard to sign off shortly after 0300.

The Netherlands-based Mighty KBC has left shortwave. It was being aired via the Sitkuni, Lithuania, transmitter site. The station will carry on…on AM. Seems, it wasn’t so mighty after all!

Reader Logs

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 how about sending a photo of you at your listening post? It’s high time you graced these pages!

Here are this month’s logs. All times are in UTC. Double capital letters are language abbreviations (SS = Spanish, RR = Russian, AA = Arabic, etc.). If no language is mentioned English (EE) is assumed.

ALASKA—KNLS, 7355 in EE heard at 0850. (Patterson, Philippines)
ALBANIA—Radio Tirana, 7425-Shijak, with classical music at 0340. (Parker, PA) Local vocals at 0345. (Maxant, WV)
ALGERIA—Radio Algerienne, 5865 via Issoudun in AA at 0523. (Parker, PA)

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Civil Aviation Monitoring

North By Northwest (Umm…Delta), Via Sea-Tac

by Tom Swisher, WA8PYR

This month, in honor of the upcoming Winter Olympics being held just across our border, in Vancouver, British Columbia, we head toward the northwest corner of the United States. And so for this episode of “Civil Aviation Monitoring” we land at Sea-Tac International Airport (KSEA) located in the city of SeaTac, Washington, halfway between Seattle and Tacoma. While we’re in the area, we can also have a listen to Boeing Field and Grant County International Airport.

Sea-Tac Overview

Originally served by Boeing Field (known today as the King County International Airport), the city of Seattle constructed Sea-Tac in 1944 to replace then-Boeing Field after it was taken over for use as a military airfield during the war, with a financial assist of $100,000 from the City of Tacoma. It wasn’t long after completion that Sea-Tac joined Boeing Field as a military airfield, being taken over for the transshipment of B-29 bombers. Most commercial use of the field began in 1946, and full passenger operations began with the dedication of a permanent terminal building in 1949.

One of the busiest airports in the country, Sea-Tac has three parallel runways: 16L/34R (the original and longest at 11,901 feet), 16C/34C (9,426 feet), and 16R/34L right (the newest and shortest at 8,500 feet). The main runway was extended to 7,500 feet in 1950, and as planes got larger and faster over the years, further extensions lengthened it to its present 11,901 feet. One regular problem at Sea-Tac has been confusion leading to taxiway Tango being mistaken for a runway; despite large X markings being painted at the ends, errors still occur.

Sea-Tac has a central terminal and two satellite terminals, all connected by underground people movers. Opened in 1949, the main terminal (which also included the control tower) was expanded in 1960, and again between 1968 and 1973, when the original terminal building was enclosed in the present-day external structure and the two satellite terminals added. A new control tower was opened in 2004. At 269 feet high, this tower was designed to maximize visibility of the airfield as well as the effectiveness of both ground and wildlife radar systems.

Sea-Tac hosts over a dozen airlines at the three terminals, with American, Frontier, JetBlue, Republic, Virgin America, and Continental (among others) located in the Main Terminal; Air Canada, Alaska, and United in the North Satellite Terminal; and Aeromexico, Air France, Asiana, British Airways, Delta, Hainan, Lufthansa, and Sun Country in the South Satellite Terminal.

Sea-Tac has had its share of complaints over the years, with objections to expansion being a regular thorn. However, a notable problem for Sea-Tac has been noise complaints, with many lawsuits being filed in the 1970s. The end result was the purchase of over $100 million worth of residential and other properties in the area, and other expenditures to soundproof more buildings. Noise abatement programs were also created and continue in use today.

Sea-Tac can be a fascinating place to monitor, for sounds you’ll want to hear, but you’ll definitely have to pick and choose what to listen to. Here, for your scanning pleasure, are some places to start out with:

122.95 Unicom
119.9/239.3 Tower, Runway 16L/34R, 16C/34C
120.95/239.3 Tower, Runway 16R/34L
121.7 Ground
118.0 ATIS
126.25 Gate control
126.87 North Ramp/Cargo
122.27 South ramp
119.2/284.7 Departure Runway 16
120.1 West approach/departure
120.4/269.125 Northwest approach/departure, Runway 34
125.6 Arrival west
125.9 East app/dep, Runway 34; northwest app/dep, Runway 16
126.5/391.9 South approach/departure
133.65/273.45 Approach, Runway 16
290.9 Approach
123.9 Spare approach/departure
338.2 Spare approach/departure


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Creating A Frequency Database

by Ken Reiss


One of the tasks that can be such a headache to the scanner enthusiast is keeping track of a huge hodge-podge of frequencies. This may include frequencies that you come across but don’t want in your scanner, frequencies that you haven’t had a chance to listen to yet, and frequencies that you already know and want to distinguish from something truly new. If you have multiple radios, you may also find you need something to keep track of what frequency is in which scanner bank and channel. It’s not complicated to use a computer to keep track of all this, but it can be a bit daunting to think of the information that you want. To give you a leg up, this month we’ll take a look at some easy software that will help you keep all this straight.

Most of us manage to organize this information in one way or another. At the most basic level, we hoard a disorganized mess of notes and lists that other folks may have given us over. It’s not pretty, but a lot of us still operate that way. Eventually, though, something will happen to raise your frustration to the “I-need-to-fix-this” level, and that’s where a database comes in handy.

Probably the easiest system for getting all this organized is the good old-fashioned three ring binder. It’s a tremendous improvement over the note-hoarding system, but still can offer some challenges in finding information in a hurry. Most people I know organize their binders either by frequency or by the agencies they’re interested in listening to. If you have a word processor to help you sort and reprint the information in several different forms, it can be extremely helpful. At least a word processor has the advantage of being searchable without turning pages over and over.

Computerizing The Process

A friend of mine used to say “If you don’t have a system that works, putting it on a computer will only make it not work faster.” There’s a lot of truth to that, and it’s something to keep in mind as you consider getting your data moved over to the computer. It might be wise to sit down with a piece of paper or a stack of 3 x 5 cards to see what information makes sense to you. It may well be that you identify more than one type of information. For instance, you need to know what frequency is assigned to what agency. You also need to know that you have that frequency in Channel 4 of radio A, but it might be more useful to be able to pull out all of the radio A Channels at once, rather than having to flip through all of the agencies.

There are a lot of different computer applications in the marketplace that will track information. Some of them are even purpose-built for scanner frequency data, but if they don’t “think” the way you do, or don’t allow enough flexibility, they’re a waste of your time. I’m, therefore, going to focus on the programs that are generic, off-the-shelf information managers. If you find a “pre-built” system that works for you, great!

The Database

The advantage of a database is that it allows for re-sorting and searching in many ways. Searching with a word processor can be done, but you might have to search many times to find what you’re after. You also might have to know exactly what you’re looking for before you can use the find function. A database will allow you define search parameters like any record with St. Louis County in the name, or any record with the frequency 462.575.

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RF Bits

TiVo, The Internet, And The New Wave In Television

by Dan Srebnick, K2DLS

“Television won’t last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”
—Darryl Zanuck, movie producer,
20th Century Fox, 1946

I first discovered TiVo a couple of years ago. It was a solution to a problem. I live about 25 miles south of the tip of lower Manhattan and do not subscribe to cable or satellite television. Instead, I use an attic mounted UHF television antenna and amplifier*. I just cannot bring myself to pay a monthly fee for something that is not any better than the free television that I grew up with. In preparation for the digital television changeover, which finally occurred on June 12, 2009, I needed a way to continue to record programs of interest. The TV tuners in our two remaining VCRs are both analog.

TiVo Series 3, the relatively low-cost HD TiVo, fit the bill. It comes with two tuners that receive both analog NTSC and digital ATSC transmissions, from Channels 2 through 69. The 80GB hard drive was a good start, and I added an external 500 gig Western Digital eSATA drive for lots of additional program storage. Now that all the full power analog stations in the area have gone digital, my reception is perfect on all the New York City channels, and I receive the additional digital channels as well. For a time I still used my old Panasonic 27-inch analog TV in the den and connected to the TiVo’s tuner via standard RCA cables. That has since been replaced by a Sony Bravia 46-inch 120 Hz receiver. The HDMI connection provides much better resolution than the RCA connection I used to use.

OK, so I do have to pay the monthly TiVo fee, but we signed up for three years and pay around $8 per month. It’s well worth it. TiVo also now offers lifetime packages, but note that it is the lifetime of the DVR, not your lifetime! TiVo’s time-shifting capability has completely changed the way that we watch television. There’s always something that we want to watch in the TiVo “Now Playing” list. TiVo also records programs that it “thinks” we might like and offers them up as suggestions.

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EmComm Essentials

Lawmakers’ Interest In Ham Radio Expands To U.S. Senate

by John Kasupski, W2PIO


For the especially observant among Pop’Comm readers, no, there isn’t a mistake in my byline: my ham radio callsign has recently undergone a change. I am now W2PIO instead of KC2HMZ. Please also note the resultant change in my email address. I sincerely hope you will make use of it to offer feedback on this column, on “Utility Communications Digest, as well as the features that I write for this magazine. But, now, on to the subject of this month’s “EmComm Essentials”!

Good Things In The Works In Congress

In my September 2009 column I mentioned the “Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Enhancement Act of 2009” (HR-2160) introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) last April 29 and which, by the way, now has 27 sponsors! I encouraged you at that time to write to your Representatives and ask them to support this important legislation that called for a study of the uses of ham radio for emergency and disaster relief operations (Photo A).

Well, it looks like some of you may have listened, especially the folks at the American Radio Relay League, who also recognized the importance of this legislation and asked its members to contact their representatives to try to obtain additional support for this initiative. ARRL Maine Section Manager Bill Woodhead, N1KAT, dropped off a letter at the office of Senator Susan Collins (R-ME, Photo B), and had Maine hams write to Senator Collins to ask for her support. According to ARRL, more than 40 hams wrote to the Senator.

This work has now paid off. On Tuesday, October 6, Senator Collins, along with Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-CT, Photo C) introduced S 1755, also called The Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Enhancement Act of 2009, in the U.S. Senate.

The status of the two Senators who introduced the bill in that chamber should not go unnoticed. Lieberman is Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, while Collins is the Ranking Member of the committee.

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Ham Discoveries

Buying A Radio In The Post-Apocalyptic, Post-Holiday Economy

by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ


Now that the Holiday Season is a memory, but 2010 is still brand new, anybody with an Internet connection can search for deals, bargains, and sales galore from manufacturers trying to unload surplus items. At least for consumer electronics, the wonderful period post-Christmas till about the middle of January boasts some of the lowest prices of the year on many desirable items.

It’s too bad that ham radio equipment, because of its teeny overall market, doesn’t generally follow suit. You can probably find some bargains to be sure, but you probably can’t pick up a new transceiver or beam antenna for 70 percent off (unlike some of the juiciest holiday sale items, such as LCD TVs, computer parts, etc.).

Because computers are so integral to modern ham shacks, however, you can take advantage of some of the holiday deals. The online gurus who track the electronics sale madness surrounding the holidays assure me that 22-inch LCD PC monitors, for example, will be available for about $100, maybe less. One—or two—of these will add some serious screen real estate to your computer logging, digital mode operating, or propagation forecasting operations!
Another bargain sector to keep an eye on this season is mini laptop computers. Capable, and more powerful, units based mostly on Intel’s upgraded Atom chipset are expected to sell for as little as $150 during the “madness.” These are perfect for portable logging, PSKing, or APRSing.

Because I’ll be even a bit more cash-poor after my holiday shopping, I’m trying to keep my tech lust in check. But I was a good boy, so if I have a bit of green left over and see a new 500-Hz CW filter for my little ICOM transceiver, I just may have to do my part to keep the economy humming. It’s also time to upgrade my main productivity PC (not my hand-me-down shack computer) with quad-core CPU power and a stack of RAM, so I’ll be keeping a watchful eye for super deals on suitable AMD and Intel motherboards. That upgrade, by the way, frees up my speedy dual-core AMD box to slide into the shack PC position on the adjacent desk, so there is a ham radio method to my madness!

So much for the situation of shiny new ham and general consumer equipment, the good news is that other hams who’ve treated themselves to upgrades may now be looking to sell their slightly less shiny treasures. Result: bargains for the wise shopper. Whether you’re looking to buy new or used, following are some tips on getting the most for your money, which is especially important in today’s economy.

Distance Buying, The New Norm

Bargains aside, all of this month’s talk of buying sprees and bargain hunting was spurred by the needs of my two young Padawans (Jedi apprentices, that is, in case you missed the last few decades): Garrett, KDØGTI, and Kevin, KDØGTJ, and a letter I received from an exasperated new ham who has pretty much gone broke trying to set up and use his first “inexpensive” station (more in a future column).


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The Propagation Corner

Solar Cycle 24—Alive And Well

by Tomas Hood, NW7US


The proof of the pudding is in the tasting. There has been non-stop, passionate speculation that the new solar sunspot cycle has stalled, or perhaps has not even begun. Because August saw no sunspots at all, during the calendar month, it gave the appearance that the speculations were spot-on. However, as previously reported in this column, the number of consecutive spotless days in August was not the longest on record.
Even if the smoothed sunspot count for August is zero—the lowest monthly count since before either Cycle 23 or Cycle 24—the average will still show a slow yet steady rise in solar activity since the first sunspot of Cycle 24 was observed, on January 4, 2008 (see the April 2008 edition of this column). The average will include the months before August, as well as the months since August. The smoothed observed sunspot count for September is 4.2. October was even more active than September, resulting in the highest 10.7-cm flux reading of the current solar cycle (at press time, 82!). Yes, the proof is in the pudding—or should I say the proof of the sunspot cycle is in the taste of sweet DX?
Steve Nichols, GØKYA, of Wymondham, England, shares the following:

I thought 10m was outstanding during CQWW. I worked more than 20 countries using 100W and a 65ft end fed inverted V with a 9:1 Un-Un. On 10m this usually beats a half-wave dipole cut for 10 and an 80m OCF Windom. Best DX from [grid locator] JO02NN was South Africa ZS9X, which I worked on Sunday at 09:50—a lot earlier than I expected. I also worked Israel, the rest were a lot closer around Europe, although I did snag a new DXCC entity in Armenia on 10m. My daughter who is licensed had fun too with her (license-limited) 10W.

The 10.7-cm flux during the CQ WW SSB contest was 76, clearly enabling outstanding DX.

October—The Most Energetic Period Yet In Cycle 24

While September saw some very strong sunspot activity, with two sunspot regions emerging at the nearly the same time, October was a month of even higher solar activity. This pushed the 10.7-cm flux into the 70s through the entire month, breathing life into HF propagation. After the two sunspot regions of September rotated out of view, the sun remained quiet until mid-October, when they rotated back into view (Figure 1a and b). The leading region no longer had well-defined sunspots, yet still contributed to a rise in 10.7-cm activity. The excitement then erupted as the CQ WW SSB weekend dawned.

On October 20, a small sunspot region emerged with the weakest of magnetic structures, struggling to be counted as an official spot after its first day (Figure 2). Then, on the 23rd, another sunspot (numbered 1029 by NOAA) developed (Figure 3) began to charge up the ionosphere. By October 24, this new sunspot region was steadily growing larger and becoming magnetically more complex and powerful, pushing the 10.7-cm flux up to 76. By October 26, the flux was up at 81, and 82 by the next day (Figures 4, 5). The high frequencies were alive with contest stations over the entire contest weekend, with amazing 10-meter propagation the likes of which we’ve not witnessed for a good few years.

At press time, however, it does appear that things will grow quiet for a while during the start of November. But you can read the full report of the unfolding Sunspot Cycle 24 progress, each month in this column.

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Utility Communications Digest

A Look Back At The History Of CHU

by John Kasupski, W2PIO


While radio hobbyists generally like to stay on the cutting edge of technology and use radios, computers, and other electronic gear of the most modern variety, there are times when nostalgia and some respect for our roots dictates that we look back to the way things used to be.

Earlier this month, I received a large blue envelope from Pop’Comm reader George Baitzel of Newark, Delaware, containing some documents concerning the history during the 1950s of Canadian time station CHU, and upon inspecting what Mr. Baitzel had sent, I found myself confronted with exactly this kind of situation.

Mr. Baitzel had sent Pop’Comm a booklet from Canada’s Department of Mines and Technical Surveys that contained a wealth of information on the operations of the Dominion Observatory Time Service, including photographs of two of the important instruments associated with the service and an abstract on the operation of the service, reprinted from the journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and originally published therein in 1948. Also included were two original copies of a document from the Dominion Observatory, dated June 1953, dealing with the Dominion Observatory time signals and how to use them; a letter from G.C.W. Browne, Controller of Telecommunications for the Department of Transport Air Services telecommunications Division; and a letter from V.E. Hollinsworth II of the Dominion Observatory, written in February, 1954, in response to a letter that Mr. Baitzel had sent earlier that month asking for information about CHU.

Since the letter from the Dominion Observatory included permission for publication of the materials contained in this literature, I’ve taken the liberty of scanning two photographs from the booklet. The first (Photo A) shows the Broken-Type Cooke Transit Telescope, a small telescope with a three-inch objective and a focal length of three feet. To observe the period of rotation, this instrument would be trained on the stars as they crossed the meridian. The instrument incorporated a pair of movable wires that could be moved across the field of view to keep the star at the mid-point between the wires, and electrical impulses from the telescope as these micrometer wires were adjusted were recorded on a chronograph along with the clock beats from the master clock (Photo B). In this way, the movement of the stars could be used to determine the error of the master clock (a quartz crystal clock).


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The Loose Connection

How To Get (And Keep) An HPJIE*

by Bill Price, N3AVY


I’m often asked by fans I meet on the street (yeah, that happens), “Bill—how can I get (and keep) an HPJIE like you?”
I love those magazine ads that lead off with lines like, “I’d like to share this with my fellow man before it’s too late.” Too late for what? The Tonight Show? I think the guy in the picture was standing in front of a Rolls Canardly parked in front of a magnificent mansion holding a handful of earthworms or some other get-rich scheme that he hoped to sell you information about. Trust me: I’m not going to try to sell you anything—unless my publisher decides to print up a batch of classic Loose Connections in a leather-bound edition perfect for home, den, or office.

But I really do want to try to pass along my tips for snagging your own HPJIE, and as much as I like to have fun, some of this is actually good information that’s as close to serious as I’ll ever get.

Start with a ham license (they do still offer them, don’t they?). It will show your prospective employer that you demonstrate a basic proficiency in electronics theory, FCC regulations, and the ability to stay up very late at night. If your new boss has a ham license, it’s wise not to let on that yours is a higher class than his. Same with code speed; keeping mum on your superior ability is like letting the boss win at golf—even if you can copy 55 with a pencil, tell him you’re impressed with his 5 wpm and that you’re trying hard to get to 4!

Learn that the phrase “some college” means you’ve at least attended a class or two. “Less than two years” is a good way to avoid specifics. My own three credits in English got me this far.

Inflation is not just for the economy. There are ways to pump up that resume, too. Brief statements in your written resume will leave room for some Q&A in your interview, where you can be clever without being too concise. Figuring out a solution to an annoying problem is really “Developing a new method for quantifying the (blah blah blah), etc.

So let’s assume that you’ve gotten the job—or at least a probationary trial—and you’ve been given a problem to solve, as I was just recently. You’ve got to find a way to upgrade a 30-year-old satellite uplink facility to handle today’s digital television—economically.

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