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.

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.

Voice of Nigeria in DRM

I found myself in between doctor’s appointments this afternoon, and decided to fire up the radio looking for Nigeria’s 1900 broadcast in DRM.

As you can see, we had some great propagation out of Africa today!

You might notice that I’m not using my usual SDR software. That’s because I’m using the Elad rather than the trusty Perseus I usually do. Unlike the Perseus software, which requires a 3rd party DRM decoder, the Elad software has its own built in DRM decoder. While I’ve ran the Dream software with the Perseus before with no issues, I had some trouble finding the right codec to work with it on the new desktop. As a result, I fired up the Elad and pointed the SAL to the East.

Expect an SDR ‘shootout’ between these two capable receivers within a couple of weeks.

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.

Yet Another Antenna Demo

You never really know what you’ll hear on the ‘graveyard’ frequencies, do you? While 1430 is usually KASI around here (I’m about 15 miles from their studios in Ames, Iowa), that’s no guarantee I’ll actually hear it at night when their power drops. Tonight’s demo starts off with an unknown AM station to the South and East of me, possibly KZQZ out of St. Louis.

A note about the Pro-1B. As you may remember from my earlier demo, the magnetic loop is bi-directional, so there’s no forward gain. It is, however, very capable of some pretty deep nulls of stations that are off to the sides. By rotating the loop to the Southeast/Northwest, I was able to effectively null out KASI in favor of our mystery oldies station. You will notice a ‘chug’ in the signal on the magnetic loop that isn’t there on the SAL. I think it has something to do with the smaller antenna being more susceptible to phasing differences between the two sidebands. The radio probably could’ve corrected this if I had turned on the synch detector, but its an interesting observation nonetheless.

UPDATE: Tim Tromp, a DXer in Michigan who has some of the most amazing DX catches you’ll ever hear, has a much better explanation for the ‘chugging’ sound heard on the magnetic loop:

The chugging is an interesting radio phenomena and can be heard throughout the AM dial. The chugging (or “whoosh whoosh”) that you hear is caused by two (or more) stations who’s AM carriers are very close to the exact same frequency, but are slightly off from one another. The slightly offset heterodynes beat against one another causing a “sub audible het”. The resultant effect is this chugging sound which can be avoided by listening in LSB or USB. The slower the chugging, the closer the two heterodynes are to one another. The effect is most evident on the graveyard channels which makes them very difficult to listen to at night and the cause of the “roaring” sound you hear on those channels at night. Of course when the two co-channel hets are more than a couple hundred hertz apart, the chugging turns into an audible tone when listening in AM mode.

Be sure to check out Tim’s blog at http://midx.wordpress.com/, and his YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5h8mmMqUgjOobqoxOd3wmA.

The Great Antenna Shoot Out of 2014

The Big SAL has been up and running for over a month now, and all is well. The wind hasn’t taken it down, and I’ve peaked and tweaked it to get as much performance out of it as I can. But was it worth it? Can it hear things that the other antennas can’t? With that question in mind, I have put together a few comparisons of the SAL and my other two antennas on different frequencies and under different conditions. The results are dramatic to say the least.

First, a brief description of our contenders:

It doesn't get any simpler than this.
It doesn’t get any simpler than this.

The Longwire. This antenna is about as basic as it gets. It’s a sloping longwire going from a ground rod up into a nearby walnut tree. It’s about 65′ long, slopes at about a 30 degree angle, and is about 30′ at it’s highest point. There’s no balun, just a direct solder into a SO-239 connector. It shouldn’t work as well as it should, but all in all its a pretty nice antenna. The antenna runs from North to South.

rotate-loop
The Pixel Technologies Pro-1B

The Pixel Technologies Pro-1B. This would’ve been a godsend when I lived in Baltimore, and spent most of my time fighting the leaky transformers and transmission lines that ran down my back alley. Since it receives off of the ends, it spends most of its time oriented North and South, but it can be rotated.

You can read more about the loop, and see some of the shaky cell phone demo videos in a previous blog post.

20141005_164345
The SAL on construction day.

The Shared Apex Loop array (SAL 20). The latest tool in my listening arsenal, and the one I’m sure my readers are about sick of hearing about. Hey, what’s not to love though? This is easily the most directional of the three antennas I have, allowing me to choose incoming signals from any of eight points on the compass. With the additional computer interface, I can also steer this antenna with a couple clicks of a mouse, making it about ideal for remote listening.

Each of these three antennas is connected to a four port Alpha Delta antenna switch, which feeds into another four port Alpha Delta switch that allows me to select one of four different radios. Only the Perseus was used in this case.

With all this in mind, let’s see if the SAL can earn its keep so to speak, or if I would’ve been better off spending my hard earned money on a dummy load and a keg of beer.

Comparison 1: Radio Vanuatu, October 29, 2014. Approx. 1230 UTC.

This video is pretty much a slam dunk for the SAL-20. It takes a signal that neither the magnetic loop or the longwire could really hear and makes it intelligible.

While I could tell something was there with the other antennas, the SAL was the only one to recover any listenable audio.

Comparison 2: VL8A, November 5, 2014. Approximately 1230 UTC

Radio Australia (VL8A out of Alice Springs) on 4835 isn’t a very difficult catch, it is very difficult to get an intelligible audio before WWCR’s sign off at 1300. Their transmission on 4840 usually overwhelms the Aussies. note the really narrow passband on the Perseus.

Comparison 3: 1030 kHz, mediumwave. November 6th, 2014. Approximately 0300 UTC.

This is another case of seeing how each antenna handles co-channel interference. In this case, it’s the 50,000 watt WHO radio on 1040, located about 40 miles to the Southeast of my location.

Comparison 4: WPSO, October 7, 2014. Approximately 0230 UTC

Not much of a comparison really, but interesting nonetheless. All three antennas had a loud copy on ESPN Radio out of Indianapolis on 1500, but I could hear something else underneath it on some of the deeper fades. When I pointed the SAL to the Southeast, I heard Greek music. After some digging around, it turned out to be 250 watt WPSO out of Port Richey, FL. The music matched up with their web stream, so no doubt about this one. No video, but I do have some audio:

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/171128979″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

Some Final Observations

Obviously the SAL-20 is a beast, and I’m happy to have one at my disposal. Its performance and relatively compact size make it a no brainer for guys like me who do not have the real estate for a Beverage wire. No, it is not a cheap antenna, but what in this hobby is? Getting the last 10% of performance out of any hobby will cost you, and this is definitely an antenna that gets you into that last 10%. Is it better than a Beverage? No, probably not, but that would be a really interesting comparison.

There’s an old adage in the ham community that says more receive antennas are better than less, and I would agree with that. Each of these antennas has a role to play at my listening post, and each can excel under different conditions. One example of this was Dr. Benway’s recent Undercover Radio transmission on 1720. While I don’t have any audio or video of this, I found the magnetic loop to be the best performer of the three. It gave me just a little more signal strength than the SAL in a situation where I really needed it, and the longwire didn’t hear much of anything.

So yes, the SAL definitely earns its keep and then some. I’m glad I have my other antennas to fall back on, but the SAL will definitely be doing most of the heavy lifting from here on out.

I highly recommend this antenna.

Life with the SAL-20

I haven’t had a lot of time to do a proper write up about the Shared Apex Loop array just yet, but I will have some more information on how it performs here in the near future. In the mean time, here is a demo video I made this last weekend of the loop antenna on 6070.

It should be noted that, on my long wire antenna, both stations were about equal in strength.