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.

Some Odds and Ends

Some Loggings

The SAL-30 in all its glory.
The SAL-30 in all its glory.

Here’s a few loggings I made this morning between 1030 and 1140 UTC. I apologize for a lack of exact times for each log entry, but I tend to bounce around a lot from frequency to frequency in the mornings. A lack of coffee might have had something to do with it as well.

VL8A and VL8K were both stronger than earlier this week on 2325 and 2485 respectfully, with VL8K coming up to listenable levels.

RRI Makassar was audible on 4750, but with lots of OTH radar interference. Music and an OM announcer.

NBC Bougainville is strong on 3325, with music and OM announcer.

Some audio from Pyongyang Broadcasting on 3320 around local sunrise (1051 UTC)  but it sank back down into the mud pretty quickly

The Solomon Islands on 5020 are weaker than earlier this week at an S6, with interference from R. Rebelde on 5025. I can see a signal on 5006, possibly JG2XA,  but never managed to hear a Morse code ID.

No trace of The Cross on 4755*, and maybe a hint of a carrier from T8WH Palau on 9930. I could see a fairly strong carrier on 4750, but no audio managed to pop out of the noise.

*Since I wrote this, I have learned that PMA The Cross has been off the air since last May’s typhoon. While they have restored power to the FM transmitter, they are not currently operating on shortwave.

Dayton

dayton
Me on the couch, giving the Perseus its first ‘kick the tires’ test. Note the SX-62a on the table that was later used in the pinup photo shoot.

Unfortunately, Dayton wasn’t in the cards for this year, but my friend and I are already making plans to attend next year. I can’t wait to burn myself to a crisp out in the tailgating parking lot, getting lost in the maze that is the Hara Arena, and spending entirely more money than I should. Until then though I’ll just have to sit tight and see what big announcements will be made at this year’s Hamvention. We’ve already seen Elecraft announce the KX2, will any of the big three follow suit?

DX News

While it may not be news to some of you, I just heard about a new DX target out of Australia. The station, known as RadioDX for the time being, should be ready to test on 5045 kHz within the next month and a half. They’ll only be transmitting with a kilowatt of power, so it will be quite the challenge to hear them in North America. Not quite on the level of the now defunct Radio Symban, but close. Keep your ears open.

Contest?

While your ears are busy listening for RadioDX, keep your eyes on hfradioreview. We’ll be having our first ever radio contest in the next few months, so be sure to watch for that. All I will say about it right now is that it involves baseball.

Stay tuned.

Fresh Catches from this Morning

The SAL-30 has been up and operational for about ten days now, but I haven’t really had a chance to put it through its paces. Not so much out of laziness, but more out of timing. Summer is not DX season in North America, expecially for the frequencies where this antenna excels. Aside from distant static crashes, there’s usually just not a lot to hear. Or is there?

Over the last week or so, I’ve managed to get some S9 signals out of Sonder Grense on 3320, as well as a couple of appearances by Radio Candip on 5066.4. Sure the bands were noisy, but Sonder Grense was a strong S9+, while Radio Candip was an S7 to 8. While SG is a pretty consistent catch here, its not usually that strong. Radio Candip, on the other hand, isn’t a station I hear very often at all. If I could hear both of these stations at decent levels with the new SAL, I wondered what else I could hear? I made a mental note to check the bands the next morning I happened to wake up early, and went about the rest of my evening.

SIFTW

I found myself awake this morning at around 5 AM local, or 10 hours UTC. In my half asleep state, I reached over to the Palstar r30cc radio that sits next to the bed and made my way through some of the programmed frequencies. The Australian domestics were sort of audible, but weak. No need to get out of bed for them. A quick spin of the dial later and I’m hearing English on 3325. Wait, English on 3325? Am I dreaming?  I’m still not sure about that, but it did convince me to get out of bed and in front of the radios to see what was going on.

Here’s some clips of what I heard this morning.

3325 Khz, NBC Bougainville, Papua, New Guinea. i always have trouble telling NBC and RRI apart, I’m leaning towards New Guinea on this one. I did hear a few English phrases thrown into the conversation (see the second video), as well as what I think was a discussion of Christianity, two things I don’t associate with Indonesia. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong. By the way, I expect YouTube to drop the copyright hammer on the first video shortly, so catch it while you can.

3905 KHz, RRI Marauke, indonesia. Again, another chance for me to brush up on my lacking ability to tell the difference between NBC and RRI. I’m going with RRI on this one though. While it doesn’t appear in this video, Shazam was able to identify a pop an Indonesian pop song from a band called Cokelat. Thank you, Shazam!

Of course, the HAM QRM picked up right before I recorded this, but you get the idea.

SIBC, 5020 KHz, Solomon Islands. I don’t hear the Solomon Islands very often, so its always good to catch them at a nice level like this. What really has me intrigued though is that little carrier wave on 5006 KHz. The schedules show that it could be H3A out of Tokyo, but it was well past local sunrise by now, so it never got any stronger. This one is definitely on my target list of stations to check for.

All in all, this was a morning worth losing sleep over. While the Aussies never did materialize on 2325 and 2485, VL8A was pretty loud on 4835, even with WWCR blasting away on 4840. Japan’s Nikkei 1 and 2 were both strong on 3925 and 3945 as well. Even Voice of the People was audible over the North Korean jammers on 3912. there were so many targets this morning that I forgot to check for TW8H, and the cross. I guess I’ll be getting up early again tomorrow.

As Steve McCroskey would’ve said in the movie Airplane!, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to cut out caffeine.”

Getting Ready for the SAL-30

After coming home Friday to find a box of antenna parts from Array Solutions on my front porch, the heavens opened up, and rained out any antenna construction plans I may have had. The good news is that I’ll be ready to go on Saturday, armed with everything I’ll need to get the new and improved SAL-30 up in the air by sunset.*

500 foot spool of 12 gauge wire: CHECK! The standard kit comes with 24 gauge, but I used 12 gauge when I put it up originally, so I’m sticking with it. unlike the loops on the SAL-20, which were constructed with 65 feet of wire each, the SAL-30 will be using a whopping 95 feet for each loop. That’s a lot of wire!

Replacement mast poles: CHECK! Since the SAL series of antennas requires a fiberglass mast, and will not work with aluminum, I bought replacements for the ones Fido destroyed. I should have an extra section when I’m done.

Guy rope and tensioners: CHECK! The SAL-30 kit came with enough guy rope for two levels of guys for the mast, as well as enough to support the loops itself. they also included eight tensioners, which is handy as well. Let’s hope I don’t screw up with the cuts.

New support stakes: CHECK! I decided to beef up the stakes I was using with more heavy duty supports.

Cable ties: CHECK! Cable ties are the duct tape of amateur radio. They’ll come in handy during the initial construction phase.

Heatshrink tubing, and insulators: CHECK! Heatshrink tubing is a Godsend to HAMs, almost as useful as cable ties for antenna projects. I actually have dogbone insulators for this job, although the makeshift PVC pipe sections I used for the SAL-20 worked just fine.

Soldering gun and solder: CHECK! Actually, I better double check this when I get home. i might need to get another tip for the Weller.

Nice weather: CHECK? If the forecasters are to be believed, we are supposed to be in the seventies this Saturday, with a 40% chance of afternoon thunderstorms. I’m not crazy about the 19 mph wind, but well, welcome to Iowa.

IMG_20160417_110059676
Dude, you go ahead and get the antenna up. I’ll stay here and guard the couch. could you hand me the TV remote before you go please?

So the stage is set, and I am very anxious to see if this new antenna can hear. If I don’t screw anything up, and the thunderstorms stay away until Saturday night, I should be ready to put this new antenna through its paces early next week.

Now if my helper was as enthused about this project as I am.

*I say this knowing full well that it is not true. As with all of my projects, I am certain there will be at least one trip to the hardware store for things I didn’t anticipate, I just don’t know what those things are yet. It would also be a good idea to mow the lawn before getting this beast up, as it will make my life easier in the long run. Hopefully I can get that done before Saturday.

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.

#WEFAXWednesday

As you all should know by now, I have a,  *AHEM*, thing for weather faxes. I decided to celebrate this little obsession of mine by creating Weather Fax Wednesday, also known as #WEFAXWednesday on Twitter. If you decode a cool looking weather fax, post it to Twitter using this tag so others can check it out. While it would help if you post them on a Wednesday, I’m sure no one will mind if you post them on another day of the week.

Here’s a few I posted to the @hfradio1 Twitter feed today. All decodes were done using fldigi and a Microtelecom Perseus.

wefax_20160120_152337_0_gui
Port Reyes, CA shows a storm rolling in from the Pacific. 
wefax_20160120_141119_0_ok
Another infrared satellite photo. This one is from New Orleans. 
wefax_20160120_153647_0_ok
A composite of the Eastern and Western Pacific charts as transmitted out of Point Reyes, CA
wefax_20160120_160142_0_gui
Another IR satellite (I like those) photo as transmitted out of Boston. 
wefax_20160120_171910_0_nocorr
A weather chart from Valparaiso Playa Ancha, Chile.
wefax_20160120_173809_0_gui
An IR sat photo from Chile, and probably the best decode I’ve ever gotten from there. 

Happy #WEFAXWednesday everyone!

Decoding Multiple Weather Faxes at a Time

A screen shot of the Elad FDM-S2 receiver receiving three weather fax stations at one time.
A screen shot of the Elad FDM-S2 receiver receiving three weather fax stations at one time.

Recently, I’ve been having some fun decoding High Frequency Data Links (HFDL), a protocol that is used to track aircraft as they fly around the world. While doing some research on how this is done, I stumbled across a great article by Nils Schiffhauer, DK8OK, on how to decode multiple HFDL signals at one time using the 4 sub receivers of the Elad FDM-S2. By following his tutorial, I was able to set up my Elad to decode three HFDL signals at one time, and plot them all on Google Earth. While this is pretty cool, and I encourage everyone reading this to give it a try, it got me to thinking about how I could apply Neil’s efforts to something a little closer to my own heart: weather faxes.

As you probably know, I have a, ahem, thing for weather faxes, especially the infrared satellite photos. If you haven’t tried to decode them before, I strongly encourage you to read this first. For those of you who have been doing this a while, keep in mind that this quick tutorial is written from the point of view of an Elad FDM-S2 user. I’m sure you can take the same general principles and apply to any SDR that allows multiple sub-receivers though. You may have to adapt the virtual audio cable (VAC) settings to whatever program you’re using as well, but again the underlying logic is the same.

VACs
Make sure you have enough VACs to go around.

Step 1: Make sure you have enough virtual audio cables. Usually, all of my projects come to a screeching halt when I realize I am a cable short. Fortunately for me, this one requires cables that you can create on the fly. You can see in this image that I have created five virtual audio cables: for are for our project, while the extra one is for the Perseus. That way I can use both SDRs without them getting each other’s way.

Elad vac config
Pair up each cable with a receiver.

Step 2: Go to the Audio setup of the Elad. This is where we will put our VACs to good use. As you can see from the picture, I have assigned each of the Elad’s virtual receivers it’s own VAC, starting with cable two and going through cable five. Remember, I have one cable (cable 1) set aside for the Perseus, but you can change this to fit your needs.

Step 3: Set up the receivers and decoders.  Starting with the first sub receiver, set it up to receive your weather fax station of choice. In my case, that’s Point Reyes on 12786. Next, I open up Fldigi and go to the sound card under the configure tab. There, change the capture pull down box to select Line 2 and hit close. fldigi configGo ahead and make whatever fine tuning adjustments you need to make to either Fldigi or the Elad until you start to see a decode come through. Once you’re seeing something come through on the display, go ahead and hit save on the decode, and send it to whatever directory you’d like. In my case, I set up individual directories for Point Reyes, Kodiak, Boston, and New Orleans. Not only will it keep things organized, you’ll also avoid the unlikely risk of accidentally overwriting an existing file.

Step 4: Repeat step 3 for each of your virtual receivers. Go ahead and set up the second Elad receiver for your target station, and then open up a separate instance of Fldigi. Once it’s open, go to the sound card configuration and set it up for the corresponding audio cable. In my setup, the second receiver is paired up with cable 3, so I’d pull down the capture box and set it for cable 3. Once that’s done, make your fine tuning adjustments as needed, and save whatever’s come through on the decoder to the directory of your choice, just like you did with the first receiver. Then you can finish up by configuring receivers three and four the same way. Keep in mind that every instance of Fldigi will need to be paired up with a different receiver and VAC for this to work properly. I chose these four stations because they are close enough together to fit inside the bandwidth of the Elad. I would’ve loved to have chosen Honolulu over Kodiak, but I can’t grab their signal and Point Reyes/New Orleans at the same time. Depending upon your flavor of SDR, your mileage may vary.

Putting It All Together.

A couple of notes about getting this all to work. While I am sure other decoders besides Fldigi are capable of doing this, I haven’t ran across any just yet. Sorcerer, my go to for WEFAX decodes these days, and will allow you to open multiple sessions, but it will not allow you to set a different VAC feed for each of these sessions.  If anyone knows of a work around for this, or a different decoder that will let me do this, I’d like to hear from you.

EDIT: Since I wrote this, I have come to realize that, when I am using Fldigi as my decoder, I seem to spend a lot less time in Photoshop piecing these things back together again. They always just seem to line up correctly in Fldigi, which is more than I can say for most of the other decoders out there. The only problem I have with Fldigi is that it tends to turn a single weather fax decode into several files that then have to be combined later. Not a huge deal, but sometimes there will be a gap between the two that cannot be filled. If the Fldigi team can get that worked out, your choice of decoder becomes a no brainer.

Also, since these signals are probably coming to you from different directions, you’re also going to want an antenna that is fairly omni-directional. I went ahead and connected the Elad directly to my long wire, which is far less directional than the SAL-20, for this very reason. It also lets me switch directional patterns without messing up any decodes that may be in progress, giving me the freedom to chase other things with the Perseus without messing up any decodes in progress on the Elad. How slick is that?

Here’s a couple of decodes taken simultaneously from New Orleans and Point Reyes:

wefax_20151027_091126_10000_nocorr
The 1400 UTC WEFAX transmission out of New Orleans, LA on October 27th, 2015.
The 1403 WEFAX transmission out of Point Reyes, California from October 27th, 2015.
The 1403 UTC WEFAX transmission out of Point Reyes, CA on October 27th, 2015.
The 1414 UTC WEFAX transmission out of Point Reyes, CA on October 27th, 2015.
The 1414 UTC WEFAX transmission out of Point Reyes, CA on October 27th, 2015.

As you can see, it’s working pretty well!

Again, many thanks to DK8OK for giving me the idea to try this out. Thanks to him I’ll never have to choose between the Boston sat photo at 1400 and the Point Reyes sat photo at 1403 ever again. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go buy a larger hard drive.

Howard

Back when I was a poor college student, my roommate and I went into a local DC liquor store to do some competitive price checking. While we didn’t find the prices to be all that good, I was shocked to find something else: radios. One of the guys who ran the store, a ham by the name of Howard, fixed up and sold old radios out of the back, so the shelves were full of wine, liquor, and shortwave sets. I quickly became friends with Howard, and ended up buying a couple of radios from him before I graduated, including an old Delmonico and a Hallicrafters S-77.

Fast forward to the spring of 93, when I am now a poor college grad working at a shitty job in Baltimore. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I couldn’t resist making the trip down to DC to see Howard and his radios. What I found there on that Saturday was the most amazing radio I’d ever seen: a Hallicrafters SX-73. The mother of an Ex would describe it later as a ‘big, ugly box’ (and believe me, this woman knew all about being big and ugly), but it was beyond beautiful to my eyes. I didn’t know much about it, but I knew it would be going home with me if I could afford it. When Howard told me he wanted $75 for it, we made the deal and I started the process of lugging it back home. I got some funny looks on the train that day, but I didn’t care. I was a very happy man.

My SX-73 in my basement apartment. The HQ-140XA was also acquired from Howard as well.
My SX-73 in my basement apartment. The HQ-140XA was also acquired from Howard as well.

Of course, that radio became my go to receiver, and I made a lot of catches with that beast, including my first pirate on 7415 (WKIK). One thing I didn’t expect though was the reaction I got from people when I told them I had an SX-73 at home. Dealers at hamfests or on the phone would fall all over themselves trying to get me to sell or trade it to them. I never took them up on their offer, but it made me start to wonder just what I had here. This was in the days before the internet (yes, there was a time when the internet didn’t exist), so I just kept politely declining their offers, and I kept listening to the bands on my “Big Hal”.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I found out the back story to this radio, and why everyone was so interested in it. After making a post to a news group about the rig, a man replied and filled me in. It turns out these radios were only made between 1952 and 1954, and cost a whopping $975 bucks new. Needless to say they didn’t make a lot of them, and were considered to be the second most rare of all the Hallicrafters. He ad vised me that, if I were to sell it, I could probably walk out of the deal with about $750.

Wow, that’s a lot of money for a broke 25 year old. That could buy a lot of computer parts, ore even a new radio. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that Howard knew very well that radio was worth a lot more than $75. Rather than getting full value for it though, he was willing to practically give it away to a kid who loved radio, and who would put it to good use. Yeah, I could sell it and make a handsome profit, but it just didn’t feel right. Now I know that this is what Elmers do, they hook up those just getting into the hobby, and give them a way in.

Today, that liquor store is a Domino’s pizza place, and I’ve long since lost touch with Howard, but I still have that old SX-73, and she still works. She doesn’t get used much anymore, but it’s still one of my prized possessions.

So here’s to you, Howard. Thanks for giving the 23 year old me a break.

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?

The Mystery Signal on 720 kHz

On January 8th this year (already January 9th UTC),  I found myself on the road between my home QTH and the small town of Story City, Iowa. My Mom was convalescing there after some surgery, and I decided I would drive up there and say hello at least, even if it was getting on the road after 8 PM local (0200 UTC). On the way up, I turn on the trusty Yaesu FT-857D I have in the truck and try to tune in 720 AM. The Chicago Blackhawks are getting ready to play, and I figure I’ll be able to catch most of the first period during my drive, but what I heard was definitely not the hockey game.

While WGN was in there some of the time, they were never very strong, and occasionally not there at all. What I did hear though was rock music. Instead of the familiar voices of John Wiedeman and Troy Murray, I heard a hard rock cover of Bob Seeger’s Turn the Page, probably by Metallica. Later on, as I was driving into Story City, I heard the Scorpion’s No One Like You before I arrived at my destination. I never heard any station ID, and I had other family business to deal with on the trip home, but this should be easy to identify. Hey, it can only be one of so many stations, right?

The Likely Suspects

A night time pattern map of stations on 720 kHz.
A night time pattern map of stations on 720 kHz.

Thanks to the excellent Radio Time Traveller blog, I managed to track down this night time pattern map for 720 kHz. Let’s take a look at each of these stations and what we know about them:

WGN, Chicago. This is the station I was trying to listen to, and I can vouch for the fact that they were carrying the Blackhawks game that night.
KSAH, San Antonio. I have heard this station before, usually underneath the more dominant WGN, but occasionally even stronger. They have a Spanish sports talk format though, so I think they can be ruled out.
WRZN, Hernando, FL. Their news-talk format doesn’t fit the profile of the station I’m looking for.
KDWN, Las Vegas. Another station that doesn’t fit the format I’m looking for. In this case, they’re a news, traffic, and weather station.
KFIR, Sweet Home, OR. A news-talk station licensed to broadcast with 184 watts at night.

This leaves us with a handful of other possibilities, namely KUAI out of Hawaii, which is a classic country station, and another long shot shot: KOTZ.

The gray line map for January 10th, 0220 UTC.
The gray line map for January 10th, 0220 UTC.

KOTZ 720 is a small public radio station, broadcasting with 10 kw of power out of Kotzebue, Alaska. Unlike our other stations, its format is simply listed as “variety” on Wikipedia, which certainly doesn’t rule it out as a candidate. What’s also interesting about this possibility is the sunrise map, which puts the gray line squarely over the coast of Alaska at 0220 UTC, which coincides perfectly with when I heard this station. Was it KOTZ I heard that night? Well, maybe. It is a longshot at best, but it’s my best hope without having to leave North America.

I have contacted KOTZ about this, but I haven’t received a reply yet. I will keep you posted. Until then, I’d be happy to hear some feedback from other mediumwave DXers out there about any other possibilities I’m overlooking.