TUNING IN (PDF)

 

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NEWSWORTHY

Washington Beat

Capitol Hill And FCC Actions Affecting Communications

by Richard Fisher, KI6SN

 

Amateur Radio Bill OK’d In Senate Moves To House

The Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Enhancement Act of 2009, known in the U.S. Senate as S 1755, passed by unanimous consent on December 14, clearing the way for the bill’s move to the U.S. House of Representatives. If passed into law, the act would direct the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to perform a study on nationwide emergency communications. The Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

According to a report posted in the American Radio Relay League’s ARRL Letter: “S 1755 points out that ‘there is a strong Federal interest in the effective performance of Amateur Radio Service stations, and that performance must be given – (A) support at all levels of government; and (B) protection against unreasonable regulation and impediments to the provision of the valuable communications provided by such stations.’”

The Senate bill, with language similar to that of the U.S. House of Representatives’ HR 2160 (also called The Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Enhancement Act of 2009) directs DHS “to undertake a study on the uses and capabilities of Amateur Radio Service communications in emergencies and disaster relief and then to submit a report to Congress no more than 180 days after the bill becomes law.” The House version was introduced in April 2009 by Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee [D-TX-18]).

FCC Eyes TV As Vehicle To Expand High-Speed Internet Reach

In an effort to protect access to high-speed Internet across the nation, the FCC says it would like to re-tool “the market for TV-set-top boxes—the channel-switching devices that cable and satellite subscribers typically lease for $5 or $10 a month—and equip the machines with Internet-surfing capability,” according to a story by Mike Zapler of the San Jose (CA)

Mercury News.

“The thinking is simple: 99 percent of households have a television, and 76 percent have a personal computer,” Zapler wrote. “So why not piggyback on the TV to extend the reach of high-speed broadband, which lawmakers and regulators see as a necessity for anyone to function in the 21st century economy?”

“If you had a set-top box that can access traditional cable but also get to the Internet, more people could start to see the value of having broadband,” Zapler quoted Matt Wood, associate director of Media Access Project, a public interest law firm. “But beyond pushing high-speed Internet into more homes, advocates say the FCC’s effort could spark a transformation of the basic set-top cable box into a high-tech, multi-use machine, much like the cell phone has been revolutionized by the BlackBerry and the iPhone.”
 

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NEWSWORTHY

InfoCentral

News, Trends, And Short Takes

by D. Prabakaran

 

 

Italian Police Silence
“Voice Of God”

Police have silenced a radio station that spread the good word to Roman Catholics in an Italian village, but interfered with local air traffic, La Repubblica newspaper reported. With its antennas inside a church steeple, the low-powered radio station—in operation since the mid-1980s—relayed services live to the elderly, ailing, and handicapped of Asolo village, northwest of Venice. But its broadcasts at 108-MHz FM, the bottom end of the aviation radio band, led to complaints from pilots at nearby Treviso airport, which is used by low-cost airlines, and triggered a police raid. Some 160 Italian towns and villages have similar radio stations that are too small to require a government license, the newspaper said. Using technology from a company in Milan, they typically use a low-power transmitter that costs up to €10,000 (approximately $14,500) as well as fixed-frequency receivers that parishioners can buy for €60 (approximately $87) each.
(Source: AFP)

RFI Confirmed Dropping Of Several Languages

At press time, Radio France International (RFI) had confirmed that radio broadcasts in four languages—German, Polish, Laotian, and Albanian— would end on December 19, 2009. These services, however, were to continue to be available on the Internet until a definite date was fixed for their closure. Broadcasts in Turkish, which had been Internet-only for the past two years, were to cease completely on December 31. Programs in Serbo-Croat, which were originally earmarked for closure, were to continue via the station Beta-RFI. RFI said it intended to maintain its FM relay stations in Berlin, Vientiane, and Albania, which would continue to carry programs in French.
(Source: AFP)

RTBF International Confirms Dropping Shortwave

Also at press time, RTBF (Radio Télévision Belge de la Communauté Française) International confirmed that its shortwave transmissions (9970 kHz) would cease as of 2215 UTC on December 31, 2009. The station said that transmissions would continue on the mediumwave transmitter in Belgium on 621 kHz, on FM 99.2 MHz in Kinshasa, and via the AB3 satellite in Africa. It was not clear if the station would continue to use the Hotbird satellite in Europe, as the website only said that listeners in Europe can listen via the Internet, either streaming or on demand.
(Source: RTBF)
 

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NEWSWORTHY

Unwired

The Weirder Side Of Wireless

by Staff

 

According to the BBC, a British radio DJ was fired for cutting short the Queen’s Christmas Day speech, with the pronouncement, “Two words. Bor-ing.” After switching off the Queen’s remarks, Tom Binns, DJ for Birmingham radio station BRMB, introduced the song “Last Christmas” by Wham!, adding “from one Queen to another.” George Michael, front man for the ’80s duo, is openly gay.

The Birmingham Mail reported that the 39-year-old DJ then riffed on tourism being the main reason for having a monarchy and noted that Paris still gets lots of tourists even though the French royal family was beheaded. “Maybe we should think about executing them and see how that does,” Binns told his listeners, referring to British royalty, and meriting the ax falling on his own neck.

“Appy” Ending For Radio Stations?

Just when commercial radio broadcast stations’ business model seemed to be doomed in the age of the iPod, an unlikely boost to their listenership is coming from—who knew?—mobile phone apps.
USA Today reported that “Local stations are racing to create software applications—called apps—and more appealing talk and music programming to help them reach the burgeoning number of consumers who see their iPhones, BlackBerrys, and Droids as portable entertainment devices…With the help of apps, smartphone users can listen to live broadcasts from hundreds of radio stations as well as services such as Pandora that offer music tailored to the listener’s taste.”

One year after Clear Channel introduced its iHeartRadio app for iPhones, mobile phone users accounted for 10 percent of its digital audience. “We expect to at least double that number in 2010,” said Clear Channel Executive Vice President Evan Harrison. Fifty-five years ago the first handheld transistor radio, the Regency TR-1, was the hottest electronic gadget for listening to hit music. It was almost exactly the size of the iPhone and other devices
now being used by the same demographic to do the same thing.

Proposed T-Mobile Cellsite Tower Disguised As Giant Cross

KESQ-TV3 in Palm Springs, California, reported that more than 40 local residents attended an open house to discuss a proposal for a 60-foot-high cell phone tower disguised as giant white cross. If approved by the city, the tower would be owned by T-Mobile USA and would lease the space from the Community Presbyterian Church. A source reportedly told KESQ that T-Mobile would pay Community Presbyterian Church $15,000 per year for 20 years on an escalating pay plan.

Some locals are angry, but for practical reasons. Residents like Steve Salkin said they are not opposed to the cross, but to the 60-foot tower. “It’s another thing to lower housing prices and it’s going to detract from everything up here.” The church already has a 30-foot-tall cross in front of its building. If the proposal passes, perhaps other carriers will hide their cellular towers inside a minaret, Star of David, or statue of Buddha. At least we’d be able to answer the question, “What cell phone carrier would Jesus use?”

 

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Newsworthy

Horizons

Sorting The Radio Sources

by Rob de Santos

 

Last month I talked about the changing sources for television. This month, we’ll take up radio. As I write this, I am listening to my Internet radio and a radio station from thousands of miles away is coming through the speaker. Not very many years ago, that would have been impossible without the use of a shortwave radio.

Radio is just over a century old. It has undergone a transformation over that century, but the pace of change is increasing. The “race is on” now, and we’re witnessing a revolution in the delivery of sound to listeners. Several decades passed after the invention of radio before the introduction of broadcasting. Another several decades passed before we saw the wider use of “frequency modulation” and introduction of smaller and smaller receivers (transistor radios). Ham operators gravitated to the use of SSB. It was several more decades before FM overtook AM as the preferred mode of transmission for most U.S.-based listeners. That transformation is still underway in many less developed countries.

With the invention of the microprocessor and the advent of the computer came an explosion in new delivery methods. Let’s consider just a few of the many new radio technologies. There is digital delivery via technologies such as DAB, HD, and DRM. The home computer has developed into an easily used means to stream broadcasts and provide on-demand audio streams and podcasts. Stand-alone Internet radios, such as the Grace Wireless, Logitech Squeezebox, and CC WiFi, provide audio as mentioned in the opening to this column. Another rapidly growing alternative is the use of smart mobile phones (iPhone, Blackberry, etc.) as a way to listen. There’s also satellite radio, and of course shortwave, which hasn’t completely sailed off into the sunset.
What will radio look like in a few decades? Here are some of my thoughts:

• Radio broadcasting via mediumwave, shortwave, and even UHF (FM bands) will still be with us for a very long time but will shrink in importance in the “Internet-developed” world. It’s a case of cost-effectiveness, not on the part of broadcasters but for listeners. An inexpensive computer chip, a crank, and a primitive antenna mean that a radio can be used almost anywhere around the globe, at any time.

• Handheld devices will continue to evolve with access to more and more sources of radio. Some devices are already capable of multiple sources, including FM, HD radio, podcasts, Internet radio, and more. As noted last month, there’s a convergence going on in the handheld space and this affects radio delivery as well as television. As with computers, “feature-itis” is a risk. How much is too much and which sources will become dominant? It’s too early to tell which sources will prove to be long-term survivors. Which ones will consumers want on their devices?

 

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Air Show Season Takes Off, And So Do “Birds”
Of A Different Feather


With Flying Giants, Classic Turbo Trainers, And High-Performance Aerobatic Craft, There’s More To An Air Show Than Fighter Jets

by Tom Swisher, WA8PYR

 

Ah, air show season. The clear blue skies. The scent of jet exhaust. The scorching heat. The smoke trails. The big lumbering aircraft creeping across the sky…

Big lumbering aircraft?

That’s right, big lumbering aircraft. Really big.

While fighters like the F-16 and F/A-18 are usually the stars of an air show thanks to their high speed, high performance, and dazzling maneuvering, there are other aircraft there as well. Transports, bombers, helicopters, and vintage warbirds are all likely to be found at an air show. Many air shows will also showcase high-performance and experimental civilian craft and demonstrations.

Transport Behemoths

An often overlooked category of planes at an air show are the transport aircraft. Ranging from the World War II classic C-47 to the modern C-17 jet transport as well as the occasional civilian freight aircraft, transport aircraft are the workhorses of military aviation, carrying troops, hardware and other supplies all over a theater of action or all over the world.

Most often, transports are flown in to an air show location and remain in place as static displays, offering an impressive backdrop to the action in the skies overhead. Sometimes, though, these aircraft can be seen as an integral part of the flight demonstration. A good example of this is the C-130 used by the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels. Known as “Fat Albert,” this aircraft (crewed entirely by Marines) is used to carry the maintenance and support personnel, their personal gear and enough spare parts and communication equipment to ensure a successful Blue Angels show. When the show begins, though, Fat Albert is anything but a static display. With the aid of jet-assisted takeoff (JATO) bottles, Fat Albert can perform a very short takeoff run of 1,500 feet followed by a rapid 45-degree angle climb to 1,000 feet in just 15 seconds.

Other flight demonstrations of transport aircraft might be conducted as well. Re-enactment drops of airborne troops using C-47 aircraft have been performed, and more modern transport aircraft may also participate, giving air show patrons a taste of another facet of the modern military, or of military history.

Bombers

Other aircraft often found at air shows include bombers. Classic warbirds like B-17, B-24 and B-25 bombers regularly show up at these events, especially the B-17 Flying Fortress. First flown in the mid-1930s and undergoing continual improvement during the 10 years it was in production, the B-17 was incredibly durable, able to absorb an astonishing amount of damage yet still complete the mission and bring the crew home. It’s the best-known workhorse bomber of World War II, and with 15 in fully restored flying condition (most in the United States), there’s a pretty good chance that at least one will show up at larger air shows.

Other medium and heavy bombers can also be seen, both vintage and modern, including World War II veteran B-24s and B-25s, as well as the British Avro Lancaster, of which only two remain in flying condition.

Bombers are often used for demonstration flights. One notable demonstration occurred during the 2007 Gathering of Mustangs and Legends at Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus, Ohio. This largest gathering of vintage warbirds in many years featured a reenactment bombing run against the airfield, complete with heavy (B-17, B-24, and Lancaster) and medium (B-25) bombers flying a mission, escorted by a large contingent of P-51 escort fighters, topped off with explosions and fire in the middle of the airfield to simulate the impact of the “bombs.” It was an impressive and noisy display.

 

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The Mighty Radio Free Asia


Setting The Gold Standard For Journalistic
Excellence In Some Dark Corners


By Gerry Dexter

 

“I listen to Radio Free Asia every day along with my breakfast.”
—The Dalai Lama, RFA interview, 1997

From the revered Dalai Lama to the crushed and cowered common folk, they listen. From among the dispirited, disheartened, and disillusioned, they listen. They probably listen in secret, likely with a wary eye watching the road or the neighbors, but they listen anyway, by unknown numbers. They listen in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos; they listen in China, Burma, and North Korea. They listen to native speakers of their own language giving them news and information about the real world, the world beyond that of their closed societies. They hear that which their “people’s” governments do not want them to hear. And sometimes they respond with their own voices, in thanks.

Established by Congress in 1994 and on the air two years later, Radio Free Asia (RFA) is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to serving as a “free press” for the closed countries of Asia by providing objective news and commentary. RFA also aims to add to the cultural lives of its audience by airing works of literature those governments have banned.

From its Washington, D.C studios, RFA’s programs go out in 13 languages and dialects, including Burmese, Vietnamese, Korean, Lao, Khmer, Mandarin, Cantonese, Uyghur, and Wu, as well as three Tibetan dialects (Uke, Amdo, and Kham). Each language service is specifically and individually designed for that country—RFA does not produce a blanket, one-size-fits all service.

True Journalism

“Radio Free Asia is the best present the American people have ever given to the Chinese people. RFA is like an ear-eye-throat specialist. It makes us see and hear, and it allows us to speak.”
—Message left by a Shanghai listener in 2004

RFA prides itself on its journalistic integrity, knowing that that is key to building trust among its listeners and that it also sets an example for current and would-be domestic journalists to follow when freedom and democracy finally arrive. Most recently RFA was named Broadcaster of the Year at the 2009 New York Festivals, capturing three gold, one silver, and three bronze medals for excellence in journalism at that international competition.

RFA’s newscasts focus mostly on domestic events and information about the target country. The information is gathered by offices in Hong Kong, Taipei, Phnom Penh, Dharamsala (India), Bangkok, Seoul, and Ankara, and by individual reporters (or “stringers”) in other Asian locations, as well as here in the U.S. and elsewhere. RFA reporters are not generally allowed to operate within the target country. According to Richard Richter, RFA’s founding president, they often must rely on telephone calls and encrypted Internet communications. General world news is minimized, unless it affects or would otherwise be of interest to the people of the target country. RFA reporters have been known to secretly enter closed off areas to check on a tip. In one case they snuck into the jungle near the Thailand-Myanmar borders to follow up on a lead. Some work from unmarked offices, some use pseudonyms for their on-the-air names, and some have received death threats.

An annual federal grant (currently $34 million) is administered by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which also serves as a sort of board of directors for RFA.

 

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BROADCASTING

Global Information Guide

Prague Still On Shortwave, But Tougher Times Elsewhere

by Gerry L. Dexter

 

Return to your seats: it was a false alarm! Radio Prague will not be discontinuing its shortwave service; it will only cut back a bit. This according to a letter from Robert Rehak, of the Czech Foreign Ministry, received by Anker Peterson, head of the Danish Shortwave Club International. The 20-percent cutback equals the government’s across-the-board budget reduction. Extra effort will be given to the Czech Radio website.

However, there’s still a killer virus on the loose in Europe. Belgium’s Radio Vlaanderen International and RTBF (Radio Télévision Belge de la Communauté Française) practically fell all over each other in their scurry to achieve shortwave oblivion. No sooner did RVI announce a cessation of its shortwave service than RTBF released a plan covering the next three years and did a “me too!” indicating that shortwave would cease at some point during that future period.

Another broadcaster that seems to be in near- permanent trouble is Radio Slovakia International. Its coffers are nearly empty and its staff has been reduced to practically zero. It’s kinda hard to operate a shortwave station without people! Since we are already a few steps into 2010, it’s likely you’re not finding it on at its usual times or frequencies.

Another U.S. “religious” broadcaster has eaten dust. World Harvest Radio’s WHRA, transmitting from Greenbush, Maine, is no longer. All frequencies used by WHRA have been turned over to co-owned WHRI. It may be yet more evidence that this particular format has reached a point well beyond its natural limit—yet we have two more broadcasters all set to try their luck.

That U.S. commercial religious station in Tennessee that we’ve been expecting should be active by now. No frequencies have been announced at this point, but if you should hear an ID with the call letters WTWW, you’ve got it.

Longtime religious broadcaster Trans World Radio has changed its name and now simply uses “TWR,” having removed the word “Radio” because it feels it’s so much more than that and is seeking to employ (or has already employed) as many digital formats as possible. TWR says it’s not downgrading the radio aspect but is, in fact, increasing broadcasts to some areas on AM, FM, and shortwave.

There is no little confusion surrounding IBC-Tamil and whether or not it still breathes. There were recent reports that it had shut down its broadcasts (as well as its website). There were also somewhat contradictory reports that the change involved only a name and/or a shift in emphasis, and that the broadcast is now going under the name Voice of the Tigers. Given that the Tamil efforts to gain their own, independent territory in Sri Lanka did not end at all well for them, the confusion involved is probably the result of a sort out. In other words, the dust hasn’t yet settled. IBC-Tamil is headquartered in London and broadcasts via Wertachtal, more recently via Nauen, Germany.

Vatican Radio and Radio Veritas Asia in the Philippines have agreed to give access to each other’s transmitters. So, you’ll soon be hearing Vatican Radio via the Philippines and Veritas via the Vatican, if you haven’t already been.

We can look for more Spanish to be aired by the Voice of America as the Obama administration puts a stronger emphasis on Latin America— the result of several governments on the continent having elected leaders from the far left. The VOA has announced its intention to bring about a significant upgrade in broadcasts to Central and South America. So far, though, the plan is short on specifics.

 

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SCANNING

ScanTech

Back To Basics

by Ken Reiss

 

I often wonder how people get started in various hobbies. Some hobbies, like radio, seem to really benefit a little extra help from those already experienced. These days, getting into scanning if you don’t know where to look for help can be a bit daunting. I suspect that many of us had a friend who got us started and showed us the basics of scanning. Others may have had some radio background of their own through their jobs and expanded on it by reading everything they could find.

However, if you come at it from some angle that doesn’t give you a leg up in radio, and you don’t have a friend to smooth the path, it can be a rough ride, particularly with today’s complicated choices for radios and the new terminology that’s almost essential to understand before you get started. I get a lot of questions related to scanning basics, so every once in a while I like to revisit the fundamentals in this column. It’s good to see beginners coming to the hobby, and I’m happy to help where I can.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some basic scanning information. If you’re just getting started, hopefully we can get you on the right track, although I doubt we’ll answer all your questions, but at least you’ll have a better idea of what questions to ask. And, if you’re an old hand, you can use it as a fun test of your knowledge and skills—and maybe as inspiration to reach out a helping hand to a newcomer.

Who Scans?

Most scanner fans are motivated by a desire to hear what’s going on around them, or by a professional need to keep up with something that uses radio, or sometimes both. Volunteer fire fighters and off-duty police officers are often scanner hobbyists by necessity. Older retired folks often get into scanning just for something to listen to besides daytime dramas, and younger people are often fascinated with users of radio (police or fire) or with the technology itself. Regardless of the reason, radio and radio listening can be a lifelong hobby that will serve you well for many years.

Of course, there’s lots of other stuff to listen to besides police and fire. Airplanes, airports, ships in the harbor or on the river, corporate communications of all sorts, retailers, mall security, and a host of other users will show up on your scanner if you have the interest to find out where to tune in. Some are as boring as watching paint dry, but others can be good entertainment. Of course, one person’s good entertainment is another person’s boring, so if you’re just getting started, look around a bit and find out what you like.

Trunking And Digital

Two terms that have recently entered the hobby and still cause even seasoned pros some grief are trunking and digital. If you’re going to scan, you probably need to understand these before you can get very far—even before you start shopping for a radio! If you live in an area where the communications you want to listen to use a trunking system, you’ll need a trunking scanner. While that may seem obvious, it can be a difficult thing to get a straight answer to. Furthermore, in many areas of the country, trunking will one day play a major role in scanning if it doesn’t at the present.
 

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THE LIGHTER SIDE

Radio Fun

Trivia And Toons

by R.B. Sturtevant, AD7IL

 

Q. I’ve heard that Marconi tried to monopolize wireless when he first got started. Is that true?

A. Yes it is. He refused to allow the wireless operators he supplied to various shipping companies to send or receive traffic to stations or ships using Telefunken equipment, although I’m not sure how you can tell what kind of equipment a signal is sent on. Maybe Marconi just didn’t like Germans. At any rate the courts decided against Marconi in a legal challenge, and in 1914 the rules officially stated that all coast stations were required to receive and transmit to ships, regardless of the type of equipment in use. Ships had the same obligation when transmitting to coast stations. British ships, however, were not required to exchange traffic with either British or foreign ships except in cases of Distress Messages. After all, Marconi was a British citizen and had a lot of clout with the government.

Q. Recently you mentioned Technical Intelligence specialists and the work they have done on captured enemy equipment by analyzing its capabilities? What kind of problems do those folks face?

A. As you can imagine, there were many, but here’s one example for you. During World War II most of the enemy equipment evaluation was done at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Someone in Washington, D.C., had set up a program called JAPLATE that also was intended to conduct Economic Intelligence analysis at the same time to tell us how much and how fast equipment was being turned out by the various enemy nations.
 

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IN GEAR

Tech Showcase

RadioShack 12-522 All Hazards Weather Alert Radio With SAME

by John Kasupski, W2PIO

 

The RadioShack 12-522 is a handheld Public Alert-certified weather radio (Public Alert-certified radios meet stringent performance standards specified by the Consumer Electronics Associa-tion and are recommended by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administra-tion). The radio incorporates SAME (Specific Area Message Encoding) technology and also has an auto-tune feature that automatically selects the strongest signal, a very useful feature in a portable radio that may be used when traveling.

Out Of The Box

The 12-522 requires three AA batteries (not supplied), which can be either alkaline or rechargeable, or it can be powered from an optional AC/DC adaptor (also not supplied). The radio has a switch inside the battery compartment, which when in the “rechargeable” position, lets the user connect a 6-volt, 500mA AC/DC adaptor (not supplied) to a jack on the left side of the radio. The radio will then display an LED on the front panel to indicate that the batteries are being charged. The LED remains on until the adaptor is unplugged. For using non-rechargeable alkaline batteries, or for powering the 12-522 from the AC/DC adaptor without batteries installed, the switch is placed in the “alkaline” position.
The 12-522 features an LCD display with dark blue characters on a backlit light blue background. The display includes a clock (which has an alarm function) and temperature display, various icons indicating current settings, a battery condition indicator, and of course, alphanumeric displays for the various alert functions. The backlighting automatically turns off after a few seconds to conserve battery power, but comes back on immediately when any of the five controls on the radio is pressed.

Upon removing the radio from the box and installing the batteries, it took me approximately five minutes to set the clock for the correct time and to program the 12-522 to respond to several desired alert events in the two adjacent counties I’m primarily concerned with, referring to the appropriate section of the user manual to accomplish these tasks. Of course, I’m an experienced ham, SWL, and scanner listener, so I’m no stranger to programming radios. Your mileage may vary. Some people may succeed in programming this radio the way they want it only after considerable trial and error. This should not reflect on the radio, however. The 12-522 is a fairly sophisticated device with a comprehensive set of features. It is worth carefully reading the manual if you encounter difficulty.

Radio Controls

Ah, yes, the controls. Two of these are on top of the radio, next to the non-removable stubby antenna. One turns the power on and off, and also turns the backlighting on when pressed momentarily when the power is already on. The other one switches the radio between HOME and TRAVEL mode. When in HOME mode, the radio operates on the user-selected NOAA Weather Radio channel and responds according to the user-entered settings for alerts. It does not re-scan the seven NOAA Weather Radio channel frequencies if the signal is lost; it simply reports the signal loss. In TRAVEL mode, the radio scans these seven frequencies, locks onto the strongest signal it finds, and responds with a tone alert for any watches, warnings, and advisories received on that channel. If the signal is lost while in TRAVEL mode, the radio will re-scan the seven NOAA Weather Radio channels automatically.

 

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PUBLIC SERVICE/SAFETY

EmComm Essentials

FEMA, FCC Moving Forward On IPAWS

by John Kasupski, W2PIO

 

In early December, FEMA and the FCC announced the adoption of the design specifications for the development of the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), a gateway interface that will enable wireless carriers to provide their customers with emergency alerts and warnings via their cell phones and other mobile devices as part of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), the nation’s next generation of emergency alert and warning networks.

CMAS is one of many projects within IPAWS intended to provide officials at all levels of government the ability to send 90-character geographically targeted text messages to the public, including warnings of imminent threats to life and property, Amber alerts, and other emergency messages. CMAS is a combined effort of the federal government and cellular providers to define a common standard for cellular alerts.

The December 7 announcement kicked off a 28-month period, mandated by the FCC in August 2008, for commercial mobile service providers who have elected to participate in the development of the design specifications known as CMAS to develop, test, and deploy the system and deliver mobile alerts to the public by 2012. Those rules require participating wireless carriers to transmit messages with both vibration cadence and audio attention signals, ensuring that persons with disabilities who subscribe to wireless services will also receive the emergency alerts.

In a FEMA press release issued on December 7, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, “Today’s announcement brings us one step closer to ensuring that Americans receive critical emergency alerts and warnings to protect themselves on the go, anywhere, anytime.” Genachowski added that he was looking forward to working with FEMA and the wireless industry to deliver this public safety service to consumers.

The same press release quoted FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, who said, “Our goal is simple, to give one message over more devices to more people for maximum safety.”

Wireless carriers who participate in CMAS will relay authorized text-based alerts to their subscribers. Although not mandatory, several wireless providers, including T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon have announced their willingness to participate in the system. The adoption of CMAS is the result of development work done by FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, the Alliance of Telecommunications Industry Solutions, and the Telecommunications Industry Association. It is a key component of IPAWS, the nation’s next-generation infrastructure of alert and warning networks, and expands upon the traditional audio-only radio and television Emergency Alert System (EAS) by providing one message over more media to more people before, during, and after a disaster.

 

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TWO-WAY RADIO

Ham Discoveries

Standardized Phonetics: Get With The Program!

by Kirk Kleinschmidt, NTØZ

 

Every now and then, if only to make life interesting, a topic or situation will come up over and over in a short period of time, but in slightly different ways. This week’s “cavalcade of coincidence” was centered around phonetics, so I naturally present it here because phonetics is a perennial topic of interest to hams, beginners and experts alike.

In one incident, I was on the telephone with an administrator at my local medical clinic. When she asked me for my health insurance policy’s “group number,” which begins with the letters XZG, I put on my best radio voice and clearly stated “X-ray, Zulu, Golf...,” followed by an almost incomprehensibly long string of numbers.

She perked right up and immediately asked me if I was a police officer! I didn’t have the heart to remind her that no self-respecting police officer or municipal employee of any stripe would have insurance coverage as crappy as mine, but I focused instead on the phonetics and mentioned that I was a ham operator.
“Oh, yeah,” she said, her voice trailing a bit, “you guys use that stuff, too.”

We do indeed. Although our designated ITU phonetics have more in common with military radio users than the guys driving squad cars, who typically use a male name-based phonetic alphabet (had I been one of them, I would have said “X-ray, Zebra, George”).

Later that same week I was chatting with a couple of brand-new hams who were listening to utility stations (aeronautical services, maritime radiotelephone calls, etc.) on SSB. They noticed that the operators were using different phonetics and asked me which system they should be using as hams.

I mentioned the ITU standards (detailed later in the column and listed in the Table), which they had been exposed to at least a little bit when studying for their license tests, but we all had a good laugh about more creative, nonstandard, phonetic alphabets!

To further highlight the topic of the week, one of the new hams had just started working for the local cable TV provider as a signal leakage inspector. After I jealously played around with his handy new spectrum analyzer, he went on to tell me about how everyone at work sort of makes up their phonetics as they go when exchanging alphanumeric data on the telephone during install and repair calls.

My friend was worried about getting confused (am I a ham today, or a cable guy?), so I suggested that he simply use ITU phonetics while at work, too. No problem!

It all comes down to standardization, and whether we’re talking about the diameter of plumbing pipes made by different manufacturers, measurement systems used by various countries (a crashed Mars space probe is a shrine to that snafu!) or hams talking on the radio, standardization is almost always a good thing.

We use standardized QSO procedures (RST, QTH, etc.) to make sure our comms are as universal and as understandable as possible for hams from every country and culture. When properly used, phonetics can go a long way toward smoother voice operation and can definitely improve your success rate when trying to break overseas pileups or pass traffic on an emergency net (and everything in between).
 

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THE PRACTICAL SIDE

The Propagation Corner

It Awakens!

by Tomas Hood
 

Sunspot Cycle 24 is certainly alive with intensifying sunspot activity. From November through December 2009, both the number and size of sunspots increased (Figures 1 through 6). While the latter part of November was void of official sunspot regions, by December 9, the sun began to show signs of activity, ending 16 days of zero spots. Sunspot region 1034, as numbered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), emerged near the eastern limb of the sun. Though small, it belonged to the new Cycle 24 and resulted in an initial sunspot count on December 9 of 13. By December 12, it appeared to be fading, yet on December 13 it increased in spots with a count of 14. Then on December 14 another new sunspot region, numbered 1035, emerged and kicked the sunspot count up to 28. By December 15, its width was seven times greater than Earth’s! Over the next several days, through December 18, this new Cycle 24 sunspot group rapidly increased in size.

On December 16, the complex magnetic structures within this sunspot region triggered a coronal mass ejection (CME) toward Earth. This massively huge cloud of solar plasma (billions of tons!) arrived about three days later, but did not cause any geomagnetic disturbance. This is one of the down-sides of an increase in solar activity: When active sunspot regions breed MCEs, the possible result is geomagnetic storms that counter any positive effect that the increased solar activity may have on radio signal propagation.

Another downside to increase sunspot activity is the direct impact of solar flares. On December 16, region 1035 produced three C-class flares. (For a scale showing the size of C-class flares, refer to www.swpc.noaa.gov/NOAAscales/). During the rest of the period until press time in late December, a number of new C-class flares were produced. These flares result in degradation of HF propagation of radio waves, starting at the lower frequencies if the flare is weak. The stronger the flare, the higher the frequencies affected.

By December 19, the sun kicked into high gear with the total sunspot count climbing to 43, the highest yet in the new Sunspot Cycle 24. This pushed the 10.7-cm flux up to 87 on December 17. Along with the increase in sunspot activity and the higher daily 10.7-cm flux (remaining in the mid-80s) came noticeable changes in shortwave radio propagation. After several days of this increased activity, many paths that were non-existent or weak at best became reliable, and many radio enthusiasts started enjoying exciting DX.

Speaking of size, active sunspot regions are measured in units equivalent to one millionth of the sun’s visible hemisphere. Active region 1034 that emerged on December 9 measured 10 of these units, or 10 millionths of the visible solar disc. By December 11, it grew to 20 millionths. With the new sunspot region, 1035, emerging on December 14, the total area of all active regions only totaled 30 millionths. However, 1035 quickly grew in size, and by December 20 the total area of all sunspot regions equaled a huge 330 millionths!
 

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BROADCASTING

Broadcast Technology

The Parallel Universe Of International DXing

by Bruce A. Conti

 

Adjacent channel interference, propagational fading, and a lack of station identifications are challenges faced by all long-distance AM radio broadcast listeners (DXers) when attempting to log exotic signals. However international DXers are confronted with an additional challenge: the language barrier. Even if a language is familiar, copying audio in a non-native language is often difficult at best through noise and interference. Sometimes the safest bet for identification of a received signal will be through what’s commonly referred to as a parallel; a simultaneous relay or simulcast, a network of stations on multiple frequencies, or an online live streaming audio Internet feed.

One listener’s search for parallels led to three online Internet services that have become particularly popular among DXers: DeliCast.com, www.listenlive.e, and www.GlobalTuners.com. Accomplished DXer Jim Renfrew in upstate New York shares some of his experiences with “Broadcast Technology” as we investigate the parallel universe of international DXing.

DeliCast.com

DeliCast is essentially a huge online database of direct links to television and radio station Internet feeds worldwide and is perhaps the largest online directory of its kind. Nearly 10,000 radio stations from all around the world are listed, including well over 3,000 stations in the United States alone. Looking at the website, you see television stations listed first. Selecting “Radio” gives you access to the directory of radio stations. The listing will appear to be in no particular order, but is actually sorted by popularity according to DeliCast tracking of the number of hits. The list can be narrowed by nation and sorted alphabetically by radio station name, ratings, or popularity. Each streaming audio link is identified by the station name and includes the bit rate, a five-star rating, and an alternative “www” link to the station’s home page. After selecting a nation, a station search can be further narrowed by selecting a city or category (format). DeliCast lists both over-the-air simulcasts and Internet-only stations. Lists are divided into pages at 20 radio stations per page.

Though listening is primarily through a convenient on-site DeliCast player, some links color-coded in yellow use an off-site media player provided by the radio station. Once a streaming audio link is established, you may rate the station, giving it one to five stars. “Ratings are the result of voting (there is a small dropdown form after you click on the station), and the popularity is the function of number of clicks over a 24h period,” according to Tomas Lendz at DeliCast. “No multiple votes/clicks are counted for the same user (same IP address).”
 

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SCANNING

Utility Communications Digest

The State Of The Hobby—UTE Monitoring Past, Present, And Future

by John Kasupski, KC2HMZ

 

Owing to the three-month lead time on production of Pop’Comm, I’m writing this column in December 2009. This makes it roughly 11 years since I was first enticed in earnest into the hobby of utility station listening, in December 2008. Back then, Richard “R.D.” Baker, who was at the time also writing this column, was one of the pillars of the Worldwide Utility News (WUN) club and had started a contest for WUN members during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Whoever logged the most utility stations during that week would receive a free copy of the WUN CD for that year.

I had dabbled in a bit of utility listening prior to that, mainly monitoring USCG and USAF GHFS transmissions (Photos A and B), but I’d never bothered logging what I heard. I was just a casual listener at that point. R.D.’s contest changed all that. In order to be active in the contest, you had to log your catches and email them to R.D., and I spent several nights searching out new stations to add to my logs. I ended up finishing second in the contest, which I suppose wasn’t too shabby given my lack of experience in utility listening at the time, but it wasn’t quite good enough to earn me that free WUN CD. In retrospect, though, I received what has proven to be an even better prize: an interest in utility listening that has now lasted more than a decade.

By May 1999, I’d invested in a spiral-bound notebook and, for the first time in my life, began regularly logging utility intercepts. I still have that first notebook, and opened it to a random page while writing this column. That page listed my logs for August 4, 1999. I noted that on that day, I filled an entire page and 3/4 of another one of the college-ruled notebook (the kind with the skinnier lines) with loggings of GHFS (now known as HF-GCS) transmissions on 11175, 6739, and 8992 kHz. The stations logged included ASCENSION, ANDREWS, CHILL 12, REACH 280, FAIRCHILD RADIO, REACH 6007, SIGNPOST, MCCLELLAN, ARCHITECT, HAWK 86, INCIRLIK, HITMAN 22, HICKAM, CHILL 11, S4JG, KING 02, THULE, REACH 8090, GHOST 602, ANDERSEN, and LINE MAINTENANCE, as well as a couple of stations that I failed to identify (one of which was almost certainly either CROUGHTON or INCIRLIK again)—all on a single day. By February 2000, the notebook was full and I had to start another one.

Looking Back On Utility Monitoring In 1999

Now, it didn’t hurt a bit that this was during the high point of the last sunspot cycle. That undoubtedly had a lot to do with the fact that I logged seven GHFS ground stations, including one in Turkey, one in Greenland, two in the Pacific region, one in the south Atlantic region, and two on opposite ends of the continental United States, all within the span of a few hours.

Back then, ALE (Automatic Link Establishment) was primarily an annoyance to me as a utility listener, and I regarded it as little more than a collection of funny-sounding noises that interfered with my ability to copy USB voice transmissions on frequencies like 4724.0, or on 11178.0 where stations such as GANTSEC, PIRHANA SIERRA, and ORANGE GUARD were frequently logged, engaged in drug interdiction operations as part of a multinational task force in the Caribbean. I can recall often tuning to another frequency because strong ALE transmissions were making it impossible to copy the voice transmissions underneath.

While ALE was a hindrance, ANDVT (Advanced Narrowband Digital Voice Terminal) was something I learned to tolerate—for hours if necessary—because eventually the operators would switch back to clear USB voice communications. Often they would then forget they were no longer using “green comms” and let slip a clear station ID (such as “Coast Guard Cutter Galveston, uhhh, I mean TOMAHAWK, this is SHARK 21, over...”) or some other juicy intel nugget that supplied a key piece of information in the struggle to figure out who was who and what they were up to.
 

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THE INTERSECTION OF COMPUTERS AND RADIO

RF Bits

Reciva Radio Software Surgery For Acoustic Energy’s AE-1

by Dan Srebnick, K2DLS

 

Remember “The Happy Station” from Radio Nederland in Hilversum, Holland? It was the long-running Sunday show of “Smiles Across the Miles,” hosted first by Eddie Starz then later by Tom Meijer (Meyer) and others. Keith Perron, currently of Taiwan, has founded PCJ Media and brought back this entertaining interlude for shortwave listeners, and online listeners as well. He’s done programs on Part 15 broadcasters in the U.S., interviewed well-known personalities like Steve Lawrence and Dody Cowan, and did a live New Year’s Eve show from Hong Kong to ring in 2010.

SWLs can listen via WRMI on 9955 kHz (check www.wrmi.net for times and more info), and online listeners can catch the podcast at www.pcjmedia.com. I’m listening right now via my Acoustic Energy AE-1 Internet radio, and like Steely Dan said in “FM,” there’s no static at all.

I was an early adopter of the Internet radio appliance. I first read about the AE-1, based upon the Reciva chipset, in March 2006 through Jonathan Marks’ Critical Distance blog (http://criticaldistance.blogspot.com). As soon as C. Crane made them available in this country, I plunked down the almost $300 to be one of the first in my neighborhood to bring one home. I was not disappointed.

Fodder From The Mailbag

In November 2009, we took a look at some of the current offerings from WiFi radio manufacturers. In response to that column, we heard from George Santulli of Washington, D.C., who wrote:

Was reading with interest your article in Pop’Comm tonight about Internet radios. I discovered the fun and joy of Internet radios about two years ago. I have an AE radio, not sure of the model, the bottom tag says AE-17-16B...I was really interested in what you were saying about “sharkfinning” (sic), not sure what that is, but it seems like some software to upgrade these radios?

My AE is currently stuck with old firmware and no one—C. Crane where I bought it, AE, or Reciva—can tell me how to get the AE radio to configure the new updates. Presently, I am stuck with version v255-c-105.

Can you walk me through the steps you took to get the latest firmware so I can try it? Is there software to download, free or otherwise? I love the radio, sitting here in Virginia listening to Radio Cook Islands, Sydney, Australia etc., but figure I am missing out on more good stuff with the firmware I have now.
Any help would be most appreciated!

George, you have come to the right place! Today, the AE-1 is an orphan. Acoustic Energy never followed up with updated models, and software updates are no longer available. Other manufacturers have jumped on the Reciva bandwagon, introducing radios with features such as scrolling data on the display and access to Pandora and Sirius. I began to wonder if somehow the newer Reciva features could be loaded onto my still functional orphan. Apparently, a bunch of guys working on a project called Sharpfin were wondering the same thing, too—and their curiosity paid off. They came up with a way to hack a Reciva-based WiFi radio into accepting updated software.

 

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THE PRACTICAL SIDE

The Wireless Connection

Fixing Up A Vintage Heath IM-13 VTVM

by Peter J. Bertini

 

I left off last month promising to discuss VTVMs in more detail, so I’ll do that, and a bit more, in this issue. While many of you may not be interested in our topic per se, before you go running off, at least take a look at the information regarding the use of half-wave rectifiers and how they can damage marginally rated transformers—it’s good stuff.

Our Guinea pig for this month’s effort is my bench VTVM, an elderly Heath model IM-13 (Photo A) that’s seen duty in my workshops since the early 1960s. But the current valuable bench real estate it occupies is perhaps granted more out of nostalgia than utility.

Forty years ago VTVM technology was still relevant, but today’s digital meters have largely supplanted it. There are still a few things that large analog meters can do better than their modern digital cousins, however. For instance, it’s easier to follow a moving analog meter needle than flashing digits when making tuning adjustments, and the ability to zero-center-scale the VTVM meter is handy when aligning an FM discriminator coil. While some digital meters include a bar graph display for this purpose, there’s some time lag and resolution ambiguity between bar segments.

Most of the following information applies to Heath VTVMs. Like many companies, Heath would frequently add a touch of fresh lipstick to its offerings by modernizing the enclosures, though few (if any) changes were made to the proven electrical designs. Heath did most of the electronic updates during the 1950s to counter a dwindling supply of war surplus eight-pin octal tubes in favor of the more common miniature tube equivalents. For example, where a 6SN7 dual triode and 6H6 dual diode served in a VTVM previously, a revamped design changed to 12AU7 and 6AL5 vacuum tubes. If your Heath VTVM uses 6AL5 and 12AU7 vacuum tubes, most of this information will likely be pretty close to what you’ll encounter in your particular model. When in doubt, be sure to refer to the assembly/instruction manual.

Before we go further, I should point out that the project ideas outlined below are for more experienced builders and experimenters; that is, folks who are comfortable with electronics and confident in their ability to work with the scant the information conveyed in schematics or photos.
 

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BROADCASTING

Shannon’s Broadcast Classics

Money For Nothing But Grooves

by Shannon Huniwell

 

“The commercial broadcasting industry is highly unique,” boasts Frank Fitzsimmons, a retired radio advertising salesman friend of my Dad’s, “because it possesses the only inventory in the entire business world that replenishes itself every midnight—for free!” Of course, costs associated with towers, transmitters, buildings, programming, and personnel need to be tacked onto that claim’s fine print, but essentially the old gentleman is right, as commercial radio and TV’s primary product is time.

“Each of us is granted the same amount of time each day,” my father’s buddy always offers in his favorite observation’s conclusion, “and it’s up to the broadcast sales executive to sell as much of it as possible.” The latest occasion for these words of wisdom occurred in the pine-paneled basement of Fitzsimmons’ home, a modest though well-kept mid-century ranch house in the upper Midwest.

My father met him sometime in the late 1970s on a business trip with some now forgotten purpose. Dad had walked into a coffee shop where he overheard Fitzsimmons convincing the owner to sponsor a radio program. After the deal was signed, the broadcast sales guy ordered a large celebratory cup of hot chocolate and a of couple donuts. He was navigating this treat toward a small table when my father asked if he was “a member of the noble radio profession.” It didn’t take long for the two gregarious men to strike up a friendship driven by Dad’s hobby-esque fascination with AM & FM topics and Fitzsimmons’ seemingly inexhaustible tales of the broadcasting biz.

Their animated conversation ended with Fitzsimmons exacting a promise from my father that he’d call Fitzsimmons for the “nickel tour” of his employer’s station on his way back through the area. Regular readers of this column can quickly figure that Dad followed through on that opportunity. What surprised even him, however, was Fitzsimmons’ insistence that following the station visit, my father be Mr. and Mrs. Fitzsimmons’ guest for dinner and a night of rest. “I told Phyllis all about you and your family,” Fitzsimmons encouraged him, “and she said you must stay with us and not bother with a motel.” There was congeniality all around that eventually extended to the Fitzsimmons staying with us when they took a vacation through New England a year or so later.

Since that time, my folks have been on their visitation list, and visa versa, whenever in each others’ neck of the woods. Mom and Dad were there last winter, arriving on the afternoon before a big snowfall that kept them cozily stormbound for a few days. While the ladies compared notes about children, grandchildren, and things decidedly geared towards feminine tastes, my father and Frank retreated to the basement. There, the host had fashioned a deluxe stereo system from pieces of decommissioned studio gear from his former place of employment. An early 1970s five-channel Harris/Gates audio control board served as the command center between two vintage Gray Research turntables/tone arms and a pair of strategically placed Realistic OPTIMUS Pro-7 speakers.
 

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THE LIGHTER SIDE

The Loose Connection

The Winds Of March

by Bill Price, N3AVY

 

For some reason, I’ve never liked wind. It’s always been an adversary as long as I can remember. Between this past Christmas and New Year’s day, we had enough wind to rattle all the windows of the stately Price Manse and run the heating bills up to right around the price of a new Oldsmobile. (Oh, wait, there are no more new Oldsmobiles, are there?) And I find myself dreading the necessary early spring outdoor antenna sprucings.

Wind has always entered into any outdoor activity I can remember. The most painful and frustrating event involving wind was my first one—and although I was an avid SWL at that time, my first wind-dominated event didn’t involved radio at all.

My younger brother was about three, which would have made me about 10, and I decided that he’d really appreciate an adventure on this particular Saturday morning, so I got him up and dressed, packed the necessary equipment for a brisk breakfast off in the nearby woods (maybe a mile hike across open fields), and told him what a great morning it would be for him. He seemed to be excited and up for it, and he traipsed along with me as best a three-year-old could do in about six inches of crusted snow. A 10-year-old is not wise enough to realize what a brisk wind can do to a 20-degree day, so we headed off over hill and dale, through barbed wire fences. As I remember it now, it was perhaps the coldest I’ve ever been in my life.

About halfway to our sheltered destination in the woods, I noticed that his boot (and shoe, and sock) had come off and gotten stuck in the crusty snow some ways back. He never once complained, even walking with one bare foot in the snow. At that point, I was blessed with possibly the smallest amount of wisdom a human has ever been given, and decided to stop there, give him one of my boots, and prepare us our breakfast.

Bringing a soup can full of snow to a boil over a Sterno stove in a 20-mph wind is not what you’d call a quick process. My brother stoically waited for the first bubbles to appear and was not nearly so daunted as I was when I saw the water go cold again when I dropped in our two eggs, which were now frozen from the same exposure that we’d had so far that day. He never knew why I took my own egg out of the water and tossed it aside so that his could cook faster.

After a very long time, a few bubbles appeared and he ate an almost raw (but warm) egg from its shell as I held it in my hand, and helped him spoon it from the shell. I packed our gear and we hurried back along our trail toward home, and I picked up his boot, shoe, and sock along the way. He just wore mine until we got back home.

We had hardly spoken along the way. I was so cold and feeling so stupid, and he must have been rapt with the adventure. When we arrived home, frozen, my father asked where the *&!# we’d been and what were we doing.

“We had breakfast. It was good,” my brother told him—the first of many understatements he made involving me.

More recently Norm engaged me in two rooftop soldering events. The first was on the windswept roof of “That place which will remain nameless,” on a bright, sunny New England winter day. I can’t remember why the SO-239 connector couldn’t have been a screw-on or crimp-on or dropped to the ground and passed through a window and soldered inside, but as you might suspect, there was some reason why that could not be done initially.
 

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