Just the WeFax, Ma’am…

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:

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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:

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That blob of clouds off the Northern coast of South America is a baby picture of tropical storm Chantal, which could be affecting the US sometime later this week.

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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.

Top Ten Songs About Radio

So here we are in the middle of the summer radio dulldrums. All the bands are full of the usual summertime hiss, pops, and static crashes that push us out of the radio room and into this strange dimension some refer to as “real life”. To ease this transition, and to help limit your radio withrdawl, I’ve compiled a list of 10 radio songs to listen to while the latest batch of thunderstorms roll through. With a little luck, you’ll be able to reconnect those antennas in no time.

Honorable mentios: On the Radio, Donna Summer. Ah, disco. I remember you well. Not fondly mind you, but I will admit to having a bit of a soft spot for Donna Summer. her amazing voice brings a level of heart-felt sincerity to the story of a lost love found, thanks to the radio. Rest in peace, Ms. Summer. You are missed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_Go0dSad9U

Radio Free Europe, REM. Back when I was a teenager, I couldn’t understand a word that Michael Stipe was singing, but I was POSITIVE it was nothing short of brilliant. Now, thanks to the internet, I can read the lyrics to this song and know that I have no idea what in the world he is trying to say. This song could reallty be about pure bred show cats for all I can tell, but it doesn’t matter. I still love this song.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ac0oaXhz1u8

10. This Is Radio Clash, The Clash. It may not be my favorite Clash song, but it’s certainly worthy of inclusion on this list. In a way, its opening lines are the blueprint for the modern day pirate radio movement:

This is radio clash from pirate satellite    Orbiting your living room, cashing in the bill of rights

Interrupting all programmes indeed!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77EAvs4dq0k

9. Turn Your Radio On, Rose Maddox. When you think about it, this song really expresses just what a revolution radio broadcasting must have been in the early part of the last century. This song, which is almost as old as radio itself, shows the power of mass media for a world that had never experienced anything like this before.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-wM6CkzN28

8. Pirate Radio, John Hiatt. After years of writing brilliant songs for others but never receiving the acclaim he deserves, I suppose John Hiatt has a right to be disillusioned with mainstream radio. If you’ve ever heard a pirate play your favorite song, you can certainly identify with this one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2K2_1G-6XaQ

7. Radio Waves, Roger Waters. Ok, so the premise of a quadraplegic who hears radio waves in his head and starts World War III is a little out there. So what? Even with its somewhat dated sounding production, it’s stil la great song. Besides, it’s Roger Waters. He can do whatever he wants.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1yU4qw-UFE

6. Radio GaGa, Queen. A great, nostalgic look back at how influential radio could be on us when we were young, and a foretelling of the corporate mergers that would rob the broadcast bands of individuality. Let’s hope they’re right when they say we’ve have yet to see radio’s finest hour.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t63_HRwdAgk

5. The Spirit of Radio, Rush. Disillusionment with commercial radio seems to be a recurring theme in this list, and Rush’s Spirit of Radio is no exception. While rush never struck me as a band that ever sold out to commercial whims, the pressure to do so from labels and others had to be immense. Thanks for sticking to your guns, guys, and for bringing us a gem like this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Juv5Ifs2fFY

4. Transmission, Joy Division. Leave it to joy Division to find the dark side of things. While other songs in this list show how radio can make our lives better, Joy Division shows how it can leave us alone and alienated. Maybe this real life thing isn’t so overrated after all?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYaN2w6rcgk

3. Radio, Radio. Elvis Costello. Elvis Costello’s indictment of state controlled radio in Britain may seem rather tame by today’s standards, but it was blisteringly scathing when it came out in 77. It might have had a shot at placing higher than this, but he destroys a perfectly good radio in the video. Points deducted!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_h2YLWNzJ6U

2. Left of the Dial, The Replacements. Ah, my mis-spent youth. I grew up on the very outer edge of the local college radio station’s coverage area, and spent many evenings as a teenager straining to hear their low powered transmitter play music that I couldn’t hear anywhere else. No other song captures the spirit of the college radio heyday like the Replacements and Left of the Dial.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SpyIopsguA

1. Rock n Roll, the Velvet Underground. Just a brilliantly simple story here really. Janie meets radio, discovers rock n roll, and has her life changed forever. You could insert just about anyone’s name into this song, mine included, and it would still apply.

Despite all the computations, you know you could just dance to the rock n roll station, and it was all right.

No Lou, it was more than all right, it was perfect.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkbpmFOuKrc

Sarah Jane and the Hallicrafters

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While the summertime weather heats up, the band conditions are definitely cooling down. Aside from a few notable exceptions listed in our summertime listening guide, not much is happening on the HF bands. Solar activity has left 15, 12, and 10 quiet, while 17 and 20 sound like they’re broken. Meanwhile whatever is broadcasting on the tropical bands is buried under a layer of hiss and static crashes.

Here at HF Radio Review though, we have a plan to help heat up the ionosphere with vintage tube gear and the lovely Miss Sarah Jane. I don’t think it will help propagation any, but it should help take your mind off of things.

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First Impressions: Pixel Pro-1B Magnetic Loop Antenna

rotate-loopIt’s been a pretty busy week or two at the QTH. Between the big photo shoot (more pics to come, I promise!), post-production work, a class reunion, and Stanley Cup hockey, I haven’t had nearly as much time in front of the radios as I would have liked. That changed a little yesterday though when the FedEx man dropped off my new antenna: a Pro-1B magnetic loop antenna from Pixel Technologies.

If you’re unfamiliar with magnetic loops and how they work, check out this video from Pixel technologies on how they work, and why you might want one if you live in a noisy urban environment. I am fortunate though in that I live in a small town, and don’t have a lot of noise sources to contend with. For me, the big attraction is directionality. With a cheap TV antenna rotor, I have a rotatable, bi-directional antenna that requires very little in the way of a footprint or or support. In my case, this antenna is basically mounted to the corner of a chain link fence about 10 feet off of the ground. No guy wires needed, just some pipe clamps and a few cable ties.

I’ve only had a chance to play with this antenna for a couple of hours, but so far I am very impressed, and somewhat surprised by the results. I was not expecting the signals to be as strong as they are using this loop. in fact, the signal level is almost identical when compared to my long wire. I was also somewhat concerned by the antenna’s proximity to the chain link fence, and whether or not it would adversely affect the directional performance of the loop. I’m happy to report that is not the case at all. While I suppose performance could be even better if it was in a more isolated location, this antenna is capable of reducing the signal of WHO, my local 50 KW flame thrower,  by about 30 dB. Other experiments, which I tried to commit to video, show how this antenna can be used to null out a local ‘graveyard’ station KASI on 1430, reduce the signal of Radio Nacional da Amazonia on 11780, or separate Cuba from Radio Australia on 6150.

All in all, I’d say this antenna has made a heck of a first impression. It not only holds its own on signal strength with my long wire, it gives me an element of directionality I didn’t have before. All in all, I’m looking forward to having this antenna in my DXing arsenal.

 

 

Radio Pinup Shoot

It’s tough work, but someone’s gotta do it.

A few weeks ago, I got a message from a young woman on ModelMayhem wanting to work with me on some photos. Well, being a red blooded American male photographer of sound mind and body, I quickly agreed, and suggested we do a shoot around, what else, old radios. She liked the idea, so we met up earlier this week and took a lot of pics. I am not done with the whole post-processing routine just yet, but here’s a taste of what’s to come.

Sarah Jane and a hallicrafters SX-62a

Stay tuned for more.

Summertime, and the DXing is Easy

After a long cold winter, summer has finally reached us here in North America. Time to spend your time outdoors by the grill, or lounging by the pool in the hot sun. It’s also time to bring your shortwave along and enjoy what the bands have to offer this time of year. Sure there’s a lot of noise to contend with on the lower bands, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to hear. In fact, there’s some stations that get stronger with the long daylight hours, and start to fade away with the return of cooler weather.

Here’s a quick list of targets to look for whenever you’re near your radio this summer. If you have a favorite that isn’t mentioned here, please let us know.

Radio Kuwait, 15540 kHz, 1800 to 2100 utc. I cannot think of another government sanctioned broadcaster on shortwave as eclectic as Radio Kuwait. Their afternoon English programming is a unique mix of Islamic oriented programming, Western music that ranges from rap and hip hop to 70s pop, and PSAs encouraging people to drive safely while in Kuwait. While it can be heard occasionally at other times of the year, Radio Kuwait is strongest here in North America from mid April until early October.

Radio New Zealand International, 15720 kHz, 2151 to 0458 UTC. RNZI is a first class operation, with excellent radio dramas, music and some great local, regional, and international news coverage. Their 15720 broadcast is pretty strong here in North America from local evening until sign off just before 0500 UTC. If you’re set up to receive DRM broadcasts, look for them in this same block of time on 17675. DRM can be finicky, but it sounds pretty remarkable when it works.

Channel Africa, 15235 kHz, 1700 to 1800 UTC. If you’re lucky enough to be around your radio around lunch time during the week, check out Channel Africa. This entertaining hour of programming is intended for Western Africa, but can usually be heard in North America as well.

The Mighty KBC, 9925 kHz, 000 to 0200 UTC. Okay, its not exactly a summertime only catch, but I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday night than with a couple of cold adult beverages and “Uncle Eric” on the radio. He plays a lot of old school, obscure rock n roll that’s a perfect companion to your Saturday night plans.

The 20m ham band at night. Summer is a great time for 20m, especially at night. As the atmosphere cools down at night, it contracts and turns an otherwise dead band into one ripe with DX targets. The middle east and Europe should start rolling in around sundown, while Asia and Australia can be heard before sunrise. Sometimes you can even hear these stations working North America via long path.

So there you have it, a short list of stations to check out while the living is easy. Remember though, enjoy these catches while you can. Like fresh corn on the cob, these catches won’t be around in the fall.

Recovering from Dayton

A couple of the goodies that "followed me home" from Dayton. So I’ve been home from Dayton for a few days now, and i am only now starting to feel like I’m returning to normal. I guess three days of long drives, eating like crap, hiking through the tailgate multiple times, and sleeping on a couch will take its toll on you.

Of course, I would do it all again tomorrow if I had the chance. It was great to hang out with some old friends, not to mention talk a lot of radio with all kinds of like minded people. All in all, I’d say this was  a great experience, one I’m looking forward to doing again in the future.

As you can see, I didn’t leave Dayton empty handed. (Hey, who does?) The good folks over at  Universal Radio had the Perseus SDR deeply discounted for the show, so I decided to take the plunge and see if it lives up to its rep. I’ve had more than one DXer tell me it’s the best receiver they’ve ever used. I will be letting you know what I think over the next few weeks.

On a completely different side of things is this beautiful Hallicrafters SX-62a. I’ve seen these radios on eBay for about $300, and they looked like they’d been drug behind a truck. This one is clean and seems to work, and it only set me back $175. It’s probably not much of a DX machine, but it will be an awful lot of fun. I can’t wait to hear Radio Nacional da Amazonia played through those tubes!

Besides these finds and a few books, I also ordered a couple of receive only antennas that will be arriving at the home listening post here in a few weeks. The first one is a Pixel Technologies RF-PRO1B magnetic loop, which should be a nice addition to my existing long wire.

The second one is worthy of its own write up, as it is new to the market from Array Solutions. They have taken the foundation laid by the K9AY Loop and come up with what they’re calling the ‘Shared Apex Loop Array’. Not exactly the catchiest of names, but it could be a beast of a receive antenna. It’s four loops can be steered to one of eight directions, as well as omni and bi-directional as well. It also fits into a circle with an 18′ radius, meaning it will fit in a pretty modest back yard. I have been in lust with the K9AY for about 15 years now, so it didn’t take much arm twisting to get me to pick up their latest and greatest. Expect a full write up about this antenna after it arrives sometime early this summer.

So there you have it, my trip to Dayton in a nutshell. If you’ve never made the trip, you really owe it to yourself to make the effort. Your bank book may never be the same, but your radio room will thank you.

Dayton Photos

The madness of the main convention floor on Friday morning.
The madness of the main convention floor on Friday morning.

As I write this, all the radios are disconnected from their antennas as a few spring thunderstorms roll through my part of the world. With every crack of thunder though, I can;t help but think of what happened in Oklahoma today, and just how dangerous life in tornado alley can be from time to time. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in “five land” affected by today’s storms.

The trip to Dayton and the side trip to Toledo (more on that in another post) have left me exhausted. The late hours, the long drive, and the multiple trips through the tailgate have left me ready for bed. Before I do though, I’d like to share some of my photos from the big shindig for everyone who couldn’t make it this year.

The porcupine on wheels.
The porcupine on wheels.
Now THAT is a hat!
Now THAT is a hat!
Bob Heil holding court. His company is coming out with a mic for mobile operators this fall.
Bob Heil holding court. His company is coming out with a mic for mobile operators this fall.
A McMurdo Silver, the antithesis of disposable electronics.
A McMurdo Silver, the antithesis of disposable electronics.
Caution: ham at work.
Caution: ham at work.
Another radio that helped to win the cold war.
Another radio that helped to win the cold war.
Two Hallicrafters looking for a new home.
Two Hallicrafters looking for a new home.
A couple of hams give a nice looking r-388/51J a going over.
A couple of hams give a nice looking r-388/51J a going over.
Two American beauties pose for a photo.
Two American beauties pose for a photo.

And with that, I’m going QRT. Goodnight folks.

Hello, Radio

As I write this, I am in a hotel room in Dayton, Ohio, listening to Radio Kuwait on 15540. I’m not using the internet or satellite, I’m just using a radio and a long piece of wire strung across the floor of the hotel room floor. All in all, it’s not that different from what your grandfather (or even great grandfather) would’ve done to hear the news, a baseball game, or even the Jack Benny show.

Radio has been a passion of mine ever since I was a kid. Whether it was playing with my brother’s Sony Earth Orbiter, or seeing how many radio stations I could hear on a portable transistor radio from the back seat, radio has always captivated me. Even after all of these years, it still fascinates me how 750 AM, usually WSB out of Atlanta, will surrender its grip on the frequency as Radio Caracas fades in. While I may be able to give you some sort of explanation for why this happens from time to time, I have no idea when it will happen again. To the best of my knowledge, no one else can either. Its that unpredictability, that sense of mystery, that has managed to hold my attention for over 35 years now. The equipment has changed, and I’ve got a better idea of when to listen and where, but I’m still at the mercy of a lot of variables beyond anyone’s control.

As the title says, this blog will focus on the HF part of the spectrum. Our focus will be primarily on shortwave, but we’ll also cover the HAM bands too. Just for fun, you can throw in the occasional post about the AM broadcast band as well. We’ll just see where our radios take us. Who is the “us” you ask? Well, right now it’s just me. But if you have a passion for radio, and feel like you have something to say, let me know.

73s and good DX to you all from Tim, WI0H.