My First Transatlantic Mediumwave Catch

I first heard of long distance mediumwave DX from the pages of Monitoring Times in the mid 90s, when they mentioned a fellow in the Pacific Northwest who, equipped with his Drake R8 and a Beverage antenna, was hearing mediumwave stations out of India and Japan. I had no idea this was even possible until this point, and was immediately fascinated by the idea.

A few years later, I discovered Werner Funkenhauser’s WHAMLOG, as well as Mark Connelly’s Your First 50 Trans-Atlantic Countries, which was like pouring gasoline on a fire. From that point on, I was bound and determined to hear a mediumwave station from overseas, but it never happened. My noisy QTH of Baltimore City and a lack of serious antennas did me no favors, plus I was rarely available during evening grayline, the best TA hunting hours. I figured when I moved to Iowa, my chances of hearing anything would be slim to none. TA signals rapidly drop in strength as you move inland from the coast, and figured I’d have to go on some sort of DXpedition to a quiet coastal location in order to hear anything at all.

Enter Tim Tromp, and his YouTube channel Kilokat7. In my opinion, Tim has become one of the best DXers in North America, and his YouTube channel backs that up. His short Beverage and D-Kaz antennas produce nothing short of amazing results, including mediumwave catches from the South Pacific and Australia. His knowledge of the bands are second to none. Most importantly though, he’s a land-locked Midwesterner just like me, DXing from the state of Michigan. So it was possible after all!

Last night, I found myself in front of the radios, trying to avoid the debate ant the Cubs game. The shortwave conditions were terrible, so I decided to go and play around on the broadcast band for a while. It didn’t take long for me to notice a couple of odd blips on the spectrum in between the North American 10 kHz spacing, but i didn’t think too much of it. My location is prone to false images (there’s a large metal machine shed about 100′ from my antenna), but I don’t usually see them at night. these were also lining up perfectly with the 9 kHz split frequencies used outside of North America. I settled on one that seemed to be relatively in the clear on 1053 and started playing with the filters. Lo and behold, I got this:

Of course I immediately message Tim, who tells me that what I’m hearing it Libya. Yes, THAT Libya! After years of trying, I’d finally bagged my first TA catch from about 6000 miles away. Score!

What is really interesting about this is that neither Libya or Central Iowa was in the grayline at that time, as you can see from the DX Toolbox map I pulled up. I can’t think of any propagation mechanism that would get a signal this far inland at that time, but that’s the beauty of radio, isn’t it? You just never really know what you’re going to hear, do you?

In addition to Libya on 1053, I got some fragments of audio from something on 747 kHz, but I’ll have to hear that one again to see if there’s anything really there.

An Evening With a Couple of Broadcast Band Heavyweights

 

IMG_20160705_200347991

Over the past couple of weeks, my humble patio has also become my radio room, giving me a chance to spend my evenings outside under the stars with a portable radio or two. I’ve really enjoyed these sessions, but last night was memorable in that I brought along two of the most highly regarded portables out there: the C. Crane CCRadio 2E and the venerable Panasonic rf-2200. Jay Allen rates both of these radios as the upper end of the five star scale, while Gerry Thomas over at Radio Plus Electronics lists them both in the top three of the best portables for MW DX.

With that in mind, I decided to take them out and see how they compared during a night of listening. Now please remember that this isn’t a true head to head review, but more like a few observations from a single night of listening. A head to head review would take a lot longer, and probably wouldn’t be all that revealing in the end anyway. Think of this as more of a friendly jam session between to equally competent musicians. They’re both very good at what they do, but they both do it with their own sense of style.

The CCRadio 2E

IMG_20160705_200409168C Crane’s CCRadio 2E reminds me a lot of the old Realistic DX-390, and for good reason. Like that old Radio Shack offering from the early 90s, the CCRadio is made by Sangean, which might explain the similar feel these radios share. The size, control placement, and sound are all similar to the old DX-390. Unfortunately, the CCRadio 2E (aka CCR2E) also tunes like that old radio, with the same muted audio and “chugging” sound whenever you change frequencies. I would think they could’ve done something about this over the last twenty plus years, but I would be wrong.

Aside from this quirk though, the radio is laid out in an easy to use arrangement, with the tuning knob and volume control on the side, and the presets, power, and band selection on top. The front panel features a separate bass and treble control, up and down tuning buttons (10 kHz at a time on AM), and a variety of clock and alarm controls I will probably never use. Unlike most of my other portables, the CCR2E  features a digital frequency display, with an optional backlight. While it isn’t a requirement, a digital readout can certainly make your life a lot easier. Last night, for example, I turned the CCrane to 610 to compare it to what I was hearing on the old Panasonic only to find I was really listening to 590 kHz. Oops!

While I realize that the audio of this radio was designed for human speech and not music, it still sounds kind of narrow and compressed to my ears. Even with the separate bass and treble controls, it still doesn’t seem to have the full sound one would expect from a radio of this size (another trait it shares with its DX-390 ancestor). It does work as advertised though, with speech being clear and quite understandable from even distant stations.

And it is in hunting out distant radio stations where this radio shines. I could hear everything on the CCrane that I could hear on the Panasonic and vice versa. In fact, in sheer sensitivity, I couldn’t really tell them apart. The CCrane also impressed me with its selectivity as well, passing my “1030 test” with flying colors. It was a little harder to get a good null on WHO with the CCR2E than it was the rf-2200 and its rotating antenna, but it is still doable.

Don’t put any stock into the fact that there’s no audio on 1030 during this test video. It’s AM radio you know, and things come and go. It just so happens that, when I had the video running, there was nothing to receive. What is important is that you’re not hearing WHO.

A rotating cake decorating plate from WalMart or Amazon will make finding nulls a lot easier, but a real signal strength meter would be even better. When you’re trying to find that perfect sweet spot that will give you the maximum null, a real signal meter is a huge help. The uncalibrated signal meter along the right side of the CCrane display is too slow to respond to be of any use with this. Its probably more a factor of the radio’s automatic gain control than it is the meter, but there’s no user controlled AGC setting. What you have is what you have.

IMG_20160705_205148324Unlike the Panasonic, the CCrane allows you to use a tuned loop, like a Select-a-Tenna or Q-Stick, to further enhance your listening. I took advantage of this to couple my Quantum Loop antenna to the radio using nothing but magnetic coupling. I had to ride the gain control pretty hard on the antenna to keep the radio’s AGC from overloading, but it made a big difference in what I could hear. I found i could get deeper nulls much easier with the loop than I could with the radio alone, which shouldn’t be a surprise.

Expect more about this antenna in a future post.

The rf-2200

IMG_20160705_200356370You don’t have to sit in front of this radio for long before you can see why its still the gold standard in broadcast band portables. Even after 40 years, this radio is still a very hot performer.

As you may know, I have spent a lot of time this summer listening in with the Sony EX5 MkII, which is a very nice portable in its own right. When I tune that radio to 1030 AM, engage in some careful nulling of nearby WHO on 1040 and activate the lower sideband synch detector, I can squeeze out some signal, but not without some adjacent channel splatter. When I performed this test on the rf-2200, I made WHO radio disappear entirely, and found WBZ Boston in the clear. While i could tell it was Dan Rey’s Nightside show with the Sony, the Panasonic let me listen to the show, and follow the discussion about whether or not callers would attend the Olympics in Brazil. That’s very impressive to say the least.

This isn’t my best video, but you get the idea. By the way, that weak station that’s barely audible in the video is WCTS out of Maplewood, MN.

A lot of that impressive performance comes from the rotating antenna mounted on top of the radio. The ball bearing action gives you smooth, precise control of the nulls without having to rotate the actual radio. That means your eyes never have to leave the signal meter, and lets you get the deepest null possible.

Unfortunately, that rotating antenna is also part of the reason why I cannot use Q-Stick or Select-a-Tenna with this radio. According to Gerry Thomas, there’s something in the circuitry of this radio and other Panasonics that won’t allow you to magnetically couple. Both it and the CCrane do have external antenna terminals though, so can still connect directly to the Quantum Loop or any other antenna.

Unlike the CCrane, the rf-2200 has a big, full audio that’s common to a lot of radios in the Panasonic line. Even with the narrow bandwidth selected, the audio still has a nice, rich sound to it. I don’t feel as though that richness gets in the way of intelligibility either. In spite of the rf-2200 not having audio tailored to human speech like the CCR2E, I found each radio to have equally intelligible audio.

While it’s hard to tell with the less than stellar audio pickup of a cell phone camera, you can definitely hear a difference in the audio of the two radios. Notice that both are set to neutral tone, with the bass and treble controls all pointing straight up.

Unlike the CCrane, with its different controls spread out across the front, side, and top of the radio, all of the Panasonic’s controls are on the front. In other words, you’re going to need a flashlight to make your way around all of those controls in the dark, especially if you decide to switch over to shortwave. I’m sure in time you’ll figure it out in time, but a flashlight will make things a lot easier.  The good news is that the radio has a dial light, something that’s painfully missing from the Sony EX5. Unfortunately its nestled in between two identical switches that control the BFO and the power. If you’re in the dark, and your radio begins to squeal or goes silent when you’re reaching for the dial light, you hit the wrong switch.

As I mentioned earlier, the rf-2200 does have shortwave capabilities, and it seems to be a fairly decent performer. I checked for New Zealand, Australia, and Brazil a couple of times this last week and found them all. I even listened to the pirate station X-FM the other night as well. No SDR, SAL loop, or DSP needed either. Just me, the rf-2200, and a couple of tiki torches. Life is good, people. Life is good!

So Which One is Better?

I will be the first to admit that I have a crush on the Panasonic rf-2200.  It’s not small or light, but it hears things that other portables don’t. Not only does it hear them, it hears them well. Its a big beast of a radio that is sensitive, selective, and capable of deep, precise nulls with its rotatable antenna. Simply put, the rf-2200 kicks the doors off of just about every other portable I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.

But it doesn’t kick the doors off of the CCR2E.

In fact, I couldn’t find any real difference in their ability to hear things at all. I certainly like the audio on the Panasonic better than I do the CCrane, and the rotatable antenna on the rf-2200 is fantastic, but I can use the Q-Stick or other magnetically coupled antennas with the CCrane too. It also has the advantage of a digital readout, so I don’t have to guess where I am on the dial.

I really wanted this “showdown” to be a slam dunk for the Panasonic, but it is not. If the Panasonic could hear a station, the CCrane could hear it too. In fact, no matter what I threw at both of these radios, their performance was virtually neck and neck. It’s even a wash when you look to other features each radio has. The Panasonic is a decent performer (for a portable) on shortwave, but the CCrane can pick up the 2M band and the NOAA weather radio frequencies. It can can even alert you to when there’s a storm warning issued. It also has a built in clock with alarm. Not a feature I’d use, but it is there nonetheless.

In the end, I’ll probably stick to the Panasonic, but I won’t be putting the CCrane up for sale anytime soon either. Both are outstanding radios, and well worth having in your collection.

 

 

Summer Nights and My Radio

r-donaldLike a lot of people from my generation, my first exposure to radio came through the AM broadcast band. In fact, my first radio was a Donald Duck AM only radio that I got from Disneyland. At night, I would fall asleep listening to far off cities like Chicago, or Cincinnati. Later, I found an old transistor radio (a Viscount 12 transistor model) that viscountI used to carry around with me in my coat pocket. I taped a piece of paper to the back of it, and would write down what station I heard and where it was on that tiny dial.

Lately, I’ve been taking advantage of the cool, late spring evenings to get out of the radio room and away from all its technology (‘Take the night off, SAL. We’re good’), and get back to the basics; just a flashlight, radio, the AM Radio Log from the National Radio Club, and myself hanging out, and seeing what I can hear.

One of the nice things about the AM broadcast band is that you don’t need a lot of advanced technology to hear a surprising number of stations from all across the country. Of course that technology helps mind you, but its not critical. All you really need is a decent AM radio (see Jay Allen’s awesome blog for a great shootout review of AM portables, both past and present. and a quiet location to hear stations from all over the country. Atlanta, St. Louis, and Denver pop up here just about every night, but you never know what will pop up. While Atlanta may be the usual station on 750 kHz, sometimes Radio Caracas out of Venezuela will be there instead. Other times, all it takes is a turn of the radio to bring in a completely different station. here at my location, 1430 is usually dominated by KASI out of Ames. If I turn the radio so that it faces to the Southeast though, I hear the oldies station KZQZ out of St. Louis.

IMG_20160524_105644361 (1)My radio of choice for these adventures has been my new toy, the Sony ICF-EX5MkII. It’s been a lot of fun getting to know this little marvel of technology, and so far I’ve been very impressed. Its been more difficult than I imagined getting used to an analog dial again, let alone one that is linear like the one on the EX5, but I’m starting to get the hang of it.  Expect a review somewhere down the road. For now though, I’m just happy to enjoy the weather, the stars, and whatever happens to make its way to Central Iowa on the Am dial.

Summertime, and the living is easy.

 

Consumer Alert: A Rare Sony Portable Available on Amazon.

icf-ex5mk2For those who are into mediumwave DX, you are probably aware of the Japanese only Sony portable called the ICF-EX5MkII. This radio, available online from sellers in Japan, is reported to offer outstanding performance and one of the best synchronous detectors you will find in any radio. While it does have some shortwave capabilities, they are extremely limited. In fact, the radio is designed so that you can only hear a handful of pre-programmed Radio Nikkei frequencies.

I’ve been intrigued by this radio and its prececessor for many years now, ever since I heard about them on Radio Netherlands’ Media Network. Of course, back when that show aired in the early 90s, any radio intended for the Japanese market only might as well been made of unobtanium here in the US. Later, when I read about this radio on Jay Allen’s excellent blog, I was impressed by his review, but now I had another problem: the price.$160 seems pretty steep for an AM/FM portable, not to mention the two week delivery period that it will take to arrive at your door. The itch remained unscratched.

Needless to say I was more than pleased to discover this radio is available on Amazon for $115.99, over $40 cheaper than the lowest priced model on eBay. Best of all, its eligible for free shipping through Amazon Prime. In other words, it was time to scratch this old itch and hit the add to cart button. If the shipping gods comply with their end of the bargain, it should be arriving sometime this week, probably Wednesday. I’ll give you my impressions of this radio here soon.

And yes, I will be hooking it up the SAL-30 just to put those Radio Nikkei frequencies to good use.

Radio Silence

Testing, testing. Is this thing on?

In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t my best decision to start airing commercials for HF Radio Review on The Mighty KBC the same week I tried to switch to a new web hosting company. In fact it was a terrible idea, but it just sort of happened that way anyways. I should know very well that these things are never quick and painless, but it would be different with my own website right? Right?? Wrong!

The good news is that, after a lot of hard work, HF Radio Review is back up, and open for business once again.

Now if I could only say the same for my SAL-20.

About two weeks ago, the unthinkable happened when my neighbor’s dog (who would make a fine rug by the way) took off after a squirrel and brought down the SAL-20 antenna. While that is annoying in itself, he also managed to crack several sections of mast AND ripped one of the loops completely out of the guy ring. This wasn’t going to be a simple put it back up kind of operation, this was going to need a complete rebuild.

And since I was going to have to rebuild it, I decided to take this opportunity to upgrade it as well. Ten days after making the call to Array Solutions, the Big Brown Truck delivered all of the parts I will need to rebuild the SAL-20 as its big brother, the SAL-30. I was very eager to get this beast up and running this weekend, but the weatherman has other ideas, as we can expect a soaking rain to move in tonight and stay all weekend. Should I have expected anything different? Expect a blog about hilarity that is sure to ensue.

By the way, if you have the recources, I’d like to encourage you to give what you can to the Mighty KBC. Dave Mason and Uncle Eric Van Willegen are truly trying to keep music on shortwave alive, and I hope you’ll help them in the fight. Every Euro counts, so please, give what you can to keep the farts blasting into the stratosphere.

It’s good to be back.

DXing Season Is Finally Here!

After a summer full of poor band conditions, geomagnetic storms, and ear piercing static crashes, the bands finally sound like, well, fall. The sun is still doing its thing, but the static crashes of summer storms have begun to dissipate here in the Northern hemisphere. Here’s a few new videos of stations I’ve heard over the last couple of weeks.

Radio Fana, Ethiopia.
Just a short clip, but a nice signal from Radio Fana out of Ethiopia on 6110.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnKT3hxz55

Papua New Guinea, New Ireland
This is a pretty noisy clip of what I presume to be Papua, New Guinea out of New Ireland.

Mystery Signal, 5050 kHz
This is a very weak signal, but still pretty interesting. It could possibly be Beibu Radio out of Vietnam, but it sounds strongest with the antenna pointed towards New Zealand. Anyone have any ideas?

Radio Symban

Sometimes, real world events tend to get in the way of one’s radio listening. Such has been the case with me for the last few months as other things demand more and more of my radio time. Fortunately, I managed to be in front of the radios last week for one of the best catches I’ve ever made in my lifetime.

For years now, whenever I could hear the VL8 stations out of Australia, I have checked for Radio Symban on 2368.5, but I’ve never heard them. I’ve caught a carrier wave a couple of times, but nothing more than that. I did know that, for me at least, the best time to catch them would be in the early morning hours of March and September at around sunrise. March seems to bring the best propagation for me, as the spring thunderstorm season hasn’t gotten started yet, and daylight savings time makes my schedule a little more ‘radio friendly’.

I sat down in front of my computer just before local sunrise on March 10th and found this posted to Facebook from Tim Tromp:

2368.47 low powered Radio Symban (Australia) being heard right now in Michigan and 2325 kHz & 2485 kHz both have crushing signals right now! Never heard these two so loud. Go get ’em!

I fired up the Perseus and found a very weak signal from Radio Symban on 2368.5

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImboHSEbF_

Needless to say I probably should’ve played the lottery on March 10th. This recording isn’t much, but it is by far and away the best I’ve ever heard them. I remember talking to another DXer from here in Iowa who never seemed to pull this one in, and he’d been trying for a lot longer than I have. Hopefully there’s a little more excellent propagation left in this spring.

What I’ve Been Hearing Lately

Other than a lot of Christmas decorations, not much has been happening here lately at my QTH. Unfortunately, that includes blog posts. While I have something sort of EPIC (or is that foolhardy?) in the works for this blog, I figured I’d end the radio silence with a quick rundown of what I’ve been hearing lately.

Radio Candip – November 9th, 2014.
This low power transmitter out of the Congo is a new one for me. Thanks again to Tim Tromp for the head’s up.

A Mystery Signal on 9420 – December 4th, 2014.
While I presume this to be RTN out of Greece on 9420, I have no idea why it would be strongest when the SAL is pointing to the Southwest. Also note the multipath echo when I point the antenna to the Northwest.

Radio Rwanda, December 7th, 2014.
This is a new one as well, sandwiched in between Radio Havana Cuba and HCJB.

Radio Bangladesh, Betar – December 9th, 2014.

Keep in mind that almost all of our loggings make it to our Twitter feed before they hit the blog, so be sure to follow hfradioreview on Twitter today! Not on Twitter? No problem. Just follow us on Facebook instead.

So what have you been hearing lately?

 

Radio Voz Missionaria vs KCBS North Korea on 9665

I noticed while I was hopping around the dial that 9665 is listed as both Radio Voz Missionaria and KCBS Pyongyang. While the long wire and the magnetic loop could both ‘see’ a second carrier, neither could get away from the stronger R. Voz. The SAL was able to separate the two stations, and bring the North Koreans up enough for a positive identification.

History Lesson: Superpower KUSW

Image

In honor of Global 24’s recent sign on, we bring you a piece on another commercial shortwave broadcaster from 25 years ago: Superpower KUSW, I happened to be rummaging through my storage unit a while ago when I found this QSL card, an artifact from what is still my all time favorite shortwave station. They’re long gone now, but I still remember them fondly.

Join the KUSW premium club for only $20!
Join the KUSW premium club for only $20!

It’s hard to explain what these guys meant to a 17 year old kid from Central Iowa. While their playlist wasn’t nearly as daring as I seem to remember, they sounded almost revolutionary to these teenage ears. Their format was mostly AOR with an adult contemporary spin to it, but they also played bands like Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians and the Replacements. They were also my first exposure to Bonnie Raitt and John Prine as well, not to mention the first place I’d ever heard the Band’s Up On Cripple Creek. Like I said, they probably weren’t all that different from a lot of major market stations at the time, but they were a huge departure from anything else I could hear. I embraced them with open arms and became a loyal listener.

I soon got to know the on air personalities of John Florence and Faith Martin, who had the sexiest radio voice I’d ever heard. Later on, I got to know Cheryl Schaffer, “Skinny” Johnny Mitchell, and even Utah Jazz Basketball. I listened in while they broadcast listener requests, mine and others, as well as the time their broadcast was blasted by the U.S. Army to drive Manuel Noriega out of the Vatican embassy in Panama. Fun times!

Unfortunately the economic realities of shortwave broadcasting quickly caught up with KUSW. No matter how good the programming was, and it was very good, there just weren’t enough advertisers interested in shortwave to make a go of it. Over time, more and more paid religious broadcasting found its way onto the station, until one day in the fall of 1990, they through in the towel and became just another international Christian broadcaster. Their run may have been brief, but it was a glorious one nonetheless.

The station's information sheet and frequency schedule
The station’s information sheet and frequency schedule

This particular card is dated January 15, 1988, but I remember my report dating back to a few weeks earlier. I had just received my first “real” shortwave radio, a Realistic DX-360, for Christmas of 1987, and discovered KUSW a day or two later. To this day, they’re the only international broadcaster I’ve ever QSLed.

Along with the card, I found a form I was supposed to fill out and return (which I obviously did not), and another for the Superpower KUSW Premium Club. $20 was a lot of money for a 17 year old kid back then, so I didn’t join up. I wonder what you got for your money?

While I was digging around on the net for KUSW-related material, I found this sound check from one of their early broadcasts. I’m not even sure where I found this or who made the recording, but if they ever stumble across this page, let me know and I’ll give you full credit for your efforts.

From the West, to the World. This is Superpower KUSW.