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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Summer has never been known as DXing season. While the upper frequencies spring to life, just about everything lower than 8 MHz disappears beneath a cacophony of hiss, pops, and static crashes. Once in a while though, as the loggings from this last week prove, those bands will surprise you.
VL8K (Northern Territories service in Australia), 2485 kHz, July 2nd, 0945 UTC. Wait a minute, VL8K in July? It didn’t make sense to me either, but there they were in the wee hours of July 2nd. Not a great signal by any means, but audible with rock music and a female announcer. I’ve never logged them in July before, let alone less than two weeks after the solstice.
Radio Sonder Grense (South Africa), July 5th, 0520 UTC. RSG is a new one for me, with pop music and commercials in English as well as Afrikaans, including Blue Suede’s Hooked On a Feeling and Rod Stewart’s You’re In My Soul. Here’s a recording I made with the Elad FDM-SW2.
Radio Uganda, 7195 kHz, July 6th, 2330 UTC. While you can usually hear Uganda (well, at least you can try to hear them) on 4976, they decided to fire up on their former frequency of 7195 kHz on July 6th. Thanks to the tip posted to Glenn Hauser’s DXLD discussion group, I managed to snag this brief recording with the Perseus.
Not a bad log book for July huh? How about you, what have you put in your log book recently? Comment and let me know what you’re hearing.
Last year, I entered my first radio contest and participated in the Iowa QSO Party. I worked a lot of stations, had a few good non-contest conversations along the way, and had a pretty good time. I submitted my scores the next day, and found out several months later that I actually won the darn thing!
Who knew right?
Fast forward to this last weekend, when it came time for me to defend my title. Like a prize fighter entering the ring, I sat down in front of my radio Saturday morning ready to defend my status as defending champion. OK, it was a lot less serious than that, but at 9 AM I began repeating my “CQ Iowa QSO Party” mantra, and didn’t let up for about 9 hours.
The way the iowa QSO Party is scored is fairly simple. You basically work every station you can, multiply that by the number of different states and Iowa counties you worked, and add on bonus points for working the WA0DX club station and all the different Boy Scout Jamboree of the Air stations you can (maximum of five). Jump through these mathematical hoops and you come up with a final score.
Like last year though, I took a rather light hearted approach. Yes i wanted a good score, maybe even a back to back win, but the journey is sometimes more important than the destination. I got to talk to a mobile station in Texas just as he crossed over the border into New Mexico, giving me my first contact with either of those states. A little later, i talked to a mobile station in TN, followed immediately by another mobile in the same state seconds later. It turns out that the driver had handed the mic over to his wife, giving me an additional contact from the same rig. Nice!
As I mentioned earlier, I got bonus points for making contact with ‘Jamboree of the Air” (JOTA) stations, which are stations set up to get Scouts interested in amateur radio. Several times through out the contest, I was asked by these station operators if I would mind talking to a few scouts, and I always welcomed the opportunity. I talked to kids from California, New York, and a couple of other places as well, even after I’d reached my 5 JOTA station limit. Hey, winning the contest is cool, but getting kids interested in radio has a much bigger payoff in my mind.
I worked a few QRP stations, a couple of guys who needed Iowa for their Worked All States award, and even some DX out of Europe on 10 and 15. Two of my more memorable contacts came later on in the day, when I worked an American Airlines air mobile 36,000 feet over Bristol, VA. About an hour later, I worked another DX station, but this one wasn’t out of Europe, it was North Africa, Morocco to be precise. Somehow or another, my crappy longwire and 100 watts managed to get my first ever contact with Morocco during the Iowa QSo party. Go figure.
For the record, I ended up scoring 6855 points, about 1200 less than i did last year. That score is good for third place right now, but stations still have about a month to turn in their loggings. Win lose or draw though, I had a pretty good time. I’m pretty sure I’ll do it all again next year too.
I mean, when I’m in the car, I usually change the station when they start playing hair metal or Fleetwood Mac. Why in the world would I spend so much time and money to try and hear the same stuff in the super low fidelity of a pirate broadcast in upper sideband? I have asked myself that question an awful lot over the last 20 (!!!) years, when I caught my first pirate on an old Hallicrafters SX-73, but it hasn’t stopped me from spending a lot of time in front of my radios trying to squeeze out that last microvolt of signal to get that faint, static plagued station ID.
I guess it comes back to the fact that the forbidden fruit is usually the most delicious. While they may often be playing the same run of the mill classic rock that I can hear anywhere on the FM dial, these people are putting an awful lot on the line to make this broadcast possible. Fines for shortwave pirates can go as high as $20,000, and usually involve a forefiture of any broadcasting equipment. In many cases, that means anything that looks like a radio or a computer. There’s a lot of horror stories of stations having all of their gear trashed by the FCC after getting ‘the knock’. In spite of the possible consequences though, these people still fire up their transmitters on or around 6925 to bring their listeners whatever their hearts desire. And if that means classic rock then so be it.
Of course, there are exceptions. Wolverine Radio is almost always loud throughout North America, and often plays an eccentric mix of music surrounding a theme with top notch fidelity. Dr. Benway, on the other hand, plays stories about his experiences with everything from extra terrestrials on Undercover Radio. On some nights, if you’re lucky, someone will fire up the transmitter and relay some of the classic horror stories of Alan Maxwell and the Voice of the Illuminati.
Maybe that variety is the real appeal of the pirate band. When almost every song you can think of is available on demand through multiple online services, and commercial radio follows a strict corporate sanctioned play list, pirate radio always keeps you guessing. When it comes right down to it, you never know what you’ll hear next on the pirate band. Or if you’ll hear anything at all.
Some Getting Started Tips
For those new to the world of shortwave pirates, start by setting your radio to 6925 upper sideband around 2300 UTC. Pirates can be heard anywhere from about 6920 up to around 6970, but 6925 is a good place to start. There are a few other places where they might pop up, but I’d say 90% of Norrh American activity is centered on those 50 kilohertz of spectrum. I’m not exactly sure why most pirates use upper sideband (I’ve only heard one that used the lower side), but my guess is it has something to do with old surplus military transmitters. These units were upper sideband only, so when they were modified for pirate use, that convention came over to the band as well. Its the same with ‘pedestrian mobile’ hams. since a lot of their pack radios are milsurp in origin, they use the upper sideband regardless of what band they’re using.
Remember, pirates usually limit their output to around 100 watts, so a good receiver and antenna will be very helpful, but not mandatory. I remember listening to Radio Azteca and Radio Zanax on my Radio Shack portable from a basement apartment, so it can be done. The two most important pieces of gear you’ll need are information and patience. For information, I’d keep a close eye on a couple of the pirate radio websites, namely the HF Underground and the Free Radio Cafe, to see what others are hearing. Thanks to these sites, you can avoid hours upon hours of listening to static filled nothing, which makes then very valuable resources indeed. HF Underground probably sees more traffic, but both are great resources and well worth supporting. Remember to post your logs to both.
Even with the best of information though, there will be times when you’ll fire up your radio, tune it to the frequency where Ann Hofer Radio is supposed to be and hear… nothing. This is where patience part comes in. Remember, propagation is a funny thing. What isn’t there now may pop up for a few minutes later. Just keep the radio tuned in, wait a little bit, and see what happens. You’d be amazed what a difference a few minutes can make, especially when the location of your receiver or their transmitter is approaching sunset or sunrise. Remember, patience grasshopper. Patience!
While you’re listening, be sure to take notes of what you hear so you can get a QSL card. Back in the stone age, aka the 90s, most pirates used mail drops to receive verification reports. You’d write up a report, drop it off in the mail with a few stamps and a self addressed stamped envelope, and hope and pray you got back a reply in a few weeks. Fortunately things have changed though. Nowadays, most pirates receive verification reports via email, which means you can now write up a report, send it off to the given email address… and still wait three weeks for a reply. Actually, the usual turn around time is a few days, but there have been cases where a verification will show up in my email months after the fact. This instant communication also means that you’ll occasionally get an on air shout out from the broadcaster, which is always very cool. Sometimes they even take requests.
So yeah, chasing pirates is kind of a big deal. From the antics of Spike on board the Red Mercury (Feel free to send us a six pack of that Octoberfest next time you’re in dock by the way) to the musical tribute shows of Rave On Radio, they provide a fun and challenging DX target while sticking it to “The Man” at the same time. May you all sail the seas a few leagues ahead of the FCC for many years to come.
It’s been kind of quiet around here the last few weeks. Well, everything except the HF bands, which have been full of static crashes and more hiss than a snake farm. As Ray Wylie Hubbard would say, it just sounds nasty!
The good news though is that the bands are starting to sound a little bit like fall. The Australian domestic stations are starting to pop up here around sunrise, along with other stations out of Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific in general. In other words, shortwave listening is going to get a whole lot better. Yes, we will lose Radio Kuwait in the afternoon and New Zealand in the evenings, but we’ll be gaining a lot in return.
This will be my 1st DX season with a few new tools at my disposal, radios, antennas, and other gear that I’ve come to depend on for their performance under adverse conditions. Some are new, others are old to ancient. Whatever their vintage, they’ve become important parts of my DX arsenal, and I’m looking forward to putting them through their paces.
Here’s a rundown of what I’ll be using this fall:
The r390a. One of a couple cold warriors here in the shack, I had this r390a sent off to Rick Mish in Ohio who turned it into an amazingly sensitive radio. For AM broadcasts, this one is hard to beat. About my only complaint with this radio is the lack of a 6 kHz bandwidth. I find 4 to be too narrow, and 8 too wide, so a 6 kHz option would have been nice.
Sherwood SE-3 Synchronous Detector. I took the plunge and bought one of these a few years back, and it’s been well worth the price. It not only improves the fidelity of stronger, distant stations (like Radio Kuwait, which I am listening to as I write this), it also helps with much weaker stations as well. Its often been the difference between barely audible jumble and extracting intelligible audio. Its currently hooked up to the r390a, but I should have it switched up so I can use it with one of several radios on demand shortly.
The Perseus SDR. I am including this one with a little hesitation, but I guess it’s worthy. A lot of seasoned DXers will tell you that the Perseus is the best radio they’ve ever used. I think it needs a little more time in the shack before I’m willing to second that claim, but it is certainly a capable receiver. I use it mostly as a recorder for when I can’t be in front of the radio, and as a sort of pan-adapter. I will often see something pop up on its display and then use one of the other radios to zero in on the signal.
Palstar r30cc. My current bedside radio. It’s simple, spartan controls can leave me wanting for more sometimes, but it’s got it where it counts. This relatively small radio hears remarkably well, and has enough audio oomph to power an old three way Pioneer speaker. I have a lot of my favorite stations programmed into memory, as well as several DX frequencies, which makes it easy for lazy DXers to check for interesting propagation without having to get out of bed. If I had a second synch detector, this is the radio it would be hooked up to.
Alpha-Delta 4 way switches. I picked up a couple of these in May, and they’ve been a great addition to the shack. Thanks to the two of these units I can now run one of any four radios through one of four antennas without having to unhook a thing. VERY convenient.
So there you have it, some of my favorite tools in my DX toolbox. There are others, but these are the ones I use the most right now. Keep in mind that this list is subject to change, but these are my ‘go to’ rigs for now. What about you? What are you using? Drop me a line and let me know. Until then, 73s and good DX to you all.
It’s kind of interesting how entries for this blog will sometimes just jump out at you out of nowhere. Weather faxes are a great example of this.
Weather fax, also known as wefax, is one of those interesting technologies that’s been around forever on the shortwave bands. Back before satellites and the internet, this could’ve been the only way for a ship at sea to get any kind of weather forecast maps. It’s also something that’s never worked for me.
I have been trying to decode weather faxes on and off now since 1993. It’s not like I’ve tried for 20 years straight either, but every time I have given it a whirl I’ve failed. Chalk it up to crappy software, a poor interface, misconfigured computers, or just plain old operator error (my bet is on the latter), but I’ve never been able to pull it off.
Now, armed with a Perseus SDR and a program called SeaTTY, I decided to give it another whirl. Much to my amazement, I ended up with the following on my screen:
Holy crap, it’s working!
I think the key to getting it to work this time is a combination of the SeaTTY software and the Perseus SDR. The SeaTTY software is nice in that it has a built in automatic frequency control (AFC), which makes tuning the signal a relatively simple procedure. Just get the station in the pass band, switch the program over to WEFAX mode, and off you go. The Perseus also takes some of the guess work out of the process by letting you see the signal as well as hear it. Being an SDR, it’s also a lot easier to get the signal from the radio into the computer. With the Perseus, it’s just a matter of configuring the virtual audio cable software once and you’re good to go for just about every digital mode, whether it be PSK31, slow scan TV (SSTV), or weather faxes.
Obviously the image quality isn’t all that great. All in all, it looks just like what it is: a fax. You’ll also see that there’s some work that needs to be done on some of these images after you’ve grabbed them. Sometimes the ‘skew’ can be off, and the image will need to be adjusted. You can see a litle of that in the image above, but this one wasn’t too bad. Others have required some TLC in Photoshop, but it didn’t take too long to put them back in to a coherent image. here’s a couple that went through some time in Photoshop:
All of these weather faxes originate from here in the US, but there are other applications out there. Supposedly there is a Japanese station that’s broadcasting newspapers in both English and Japan. I haven’t found that one yet, but I’ll keep you posted. Until then, here’s a list of weather fax stations around the world, courtesy of NOAA, in pdf form.