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Guest Post: July 2016 Rockwork 4 Ocean Cliff DXpedition

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Gary DeBock, who shares this summary of the July 2016 Rockwork 4 Ocean Cliff DXpedition:


July 2016 Rockwork 4 Ocean Cliff DXpedition

An International Team Gets Full “Exposure” to a Wild New DXing Venue

By Gary DeBock, Puyallup, WA, USA

Gary-DeBock-OceanDX

Introduction

In the previous century the outstanding receivers developed by the Japanese Sony and Panasonic companies introduced many of us to the thrill of shortwave listening as teenagers, and created an unusually dedicated DXer hobby group in Japan, as well. The Japanese MW-DXing group has all along been extremely active in the hobby, although the challenge of English communication has somewhat limited their interaction with other DXing groups.

Recently I was highly honored to introduce several modified Ultralight radios to the Japanese DXers, who not only tried these out with great interest, but who also designed and set up modification procedures for Japanese-made equivalents. One of the leaders in this effort was Satoshi Miyauchi, who has already built not only his own 7.5” loopstick Tecsun PL-380 model, but has also built his own 3 inch and 4.25 inch FSL Tecsun PL-380 models as well. When Satoshi-san inquired about the possibility of participating in one of our Rockwork 4 ocean cliff DXpeditions this summer (along with his friend, the famous Japanese MW-DXer Hiroo Nakagawa), I was thrilled to issue the invitation.

The Rockwork 4 turnoff site on Highway 101 is a sweeping ocean view site about 419 feet (158 meters) directly above the Pacific near Manzanita, Oregon. This would be the first time that any international visitors would participate in an ocean cliff DXpedition. Our North American TP-DXing group has always had a great interest in Japanese DX and Japanese DXers, and this would be the first major North American DXpedition to feature MW-DXers from both countries. Canadian Nick Hall-Patch (of Victoria, B.C.) also was highly interested in participating with the Japanese, and as such, our 5-man DXpedition group was composed primarily of DXers from other countries (with only Tom Rothlisberger joining me as repeat American participants).

Although my own DXpedition efforts started on the morning of July 5th, Nick and Tom both joined up for the session on Saturday, July 9th. We all welcomed our Japanese guests (with a joint dinner at the aptly named “Tsunami” restaurant in Wheeler, Oregon) that evening, and prepared for what we hoped would be a very memorable DXing session early the next morning.

OceanDX-CrewWell, it certainly was very memorable—in the worst possible way. A toxic mix of gale force winds and pounding rain was hammering the ocean cliff site as soon as we arrived for antenna setup at 1015 UTC (0315 local time), which was far and away the worst weather that any of us had ever experienced in an outdoor DXpedition. The sensible Japanese had at least brought suitable rain gear for the session, which was more than the careless North Americans had brought. Tom and I ended up thoroughly drenched and shivering as soon as the antennas were set up, while Nick was partially drenched. A single 15 inch FSL antenna was set up on its PVC base and strapped tightly down to the ocean cliff wall with heavy-duty plastic tie wraps, enabling Satoshi, Hiroo and I to track down some New Zealand, Australian and Tahiti DX with our Ultralight radios despite the vicious weather. Tom’s broadband loop supports absolutely refused to stay upright in the gale force winds, and he eventually had no option other than going outside in the nasty weather to hold one of them in the vertical position manually as he recorded DX on his Perseus-SDR. Nick’s active vertical whip was relatively impervious to the vicious weather, but he was drenched from the knees down because of the pounding rain during its early morning setup.

OceanDX-2

That entire July 10th session was thoroughly miserable for all of us, but both Satoshi and Hiroo showed great optimism and determination throughout the three hour struggle, which made all of us highly motivated to do the same!

Fortunately, DX (and weather) on the next (and final) morning would allow our Japanese and Canadian guests to experience the South Pacific DX propagation that this cliff is famous for providing. Satoshi and Hiroo became quick experts in New Zealand “big gun” stations, and Satoshi had a great thrill when 738-Tahiti pounded in at an S9 level on his homemade 3 inch FSL Tecsun PL-380 portable.OceanDX-Car

Propagation definitely favored New Zealand throughout the week (in one of the most Kiwi-slanted trips that has ever been observed here). Although we had a near-daily blowtorch signal from 738-Tahiti and occasional reception from 1017-Tonga, Australian signals generally had a rough time in the NZ-slanted conditions. Tom and I both agree that overall propagation was down somewhat from the exceptional conditions we enjoyed last summer (when we enjoyed good reception of stations like 558-6WA and 558-Fiji) but the chance to welcome the Japanese DXers made the experience especially memorable, and their skill and determination was an inspiration to us all. Listed below are the DU loggings made with my Ultralight radio + FSL antenna combos, which performed quite well throughout the vicious weather challenges on July 10th (better than the drenched and shivering DXer that created them, actually). The DU loggings made by the other DXers will no doubt exceed these, but we all had great fun together, and are looking forward to the next joint DXpedition (either here, or in Japan).

531   4KZ   (Innisfail, Australia, 10 kW)   MIA during Kiwi-slanted propagation on most mornings, it made it through at a modest level with its classic oldies format and interval signal during PI fade at 1209 on 7-5

https://app.box.com/s/phtsbdii0tatmxeb0qfq677it0emsa3i  

531   More FM   (Alexandra, NZ, 2 kW)   Rare low-powered Kiwi station played hard to get, but did show up during a deep PI fade in Kiwi-slanted propagation at 1222 on 7-6. This Kiwi English monolog sounds mostly garbled to me, but the first 5 seconds certainly sounds like “Welcome time to More FM’s blog…” (headphones recommended)

https://app.box.com/s/q527grcf5ee5q2l402sjiwl3syn8d8g4

531   PI   (Auckland, NZ, 5 kW)   Samoan broadcaster dominated on all 7 days with good signals, although 4KZ and More FM did manage to get through at times. This good-level Samoan female speech on 7-5 was typical

https://app.box.com/s/pe8gr1917b4vn3gccskee5gep6go7cft 

567   RNZ   (Wellington, NZ, 50 kW)   Most of this big gun’s legendary transoceanic signal seems to have been destroyed along with its old tower (during the recent demolition). It showed up weakly on all 7 days, although always inferior in strength to its 675 parallel

https://app.box.com/s/2mqql3qwk3vxg0ym5iu4tpi5f8ppvvj7 

576   2RN   (Sydney, Australia, 50 kW)   Kiwi-slanted propagation hit this RN-network big gun pretty hard, but it did show up with mediocre signals not // 657 at 1237 on 7-8

https://app.box.com/s/g39m6brj1dgh6qwx5i7m8xz45ynqu9yy

576   Star   (Hamilton, NZ, 2.5 kW)   The “Dwarf Star” (ex-The Word) was strong enough with its Christian female vocal music to confirm the parallel with 657 at 1244 on 7-11. The first 12 seconds in the recording are 576-Star, and the last 12 seconds are the 657 parallel

https://app.box.com/s/m548dxdvwu1ke99z4e1y2r12prfdf809

585   Radio Ngati Porou  (Ruatoria, NZ, 2 kW)   Wispy male speech was received at 1234 on 7-6 sounding like the usual Maori announcer, but the 603 // apparently started a new song right during the parallel check. Signal nosedived thereafter.

594   Rhema   (Timaru/ Wanganui, NZ, 5/ 2 kW)   Modest level Christian music // 684 at 1250 on 7-6. Usually a little stronger than the 684 parallel, with no sign of Aussie big gun 3WV during the Kiwi-slanted conditions

https://app.box.com/s/m2d7qbws87z5z1jg8d8n4lvqmz298p8k     

603   Radio Waatea   (Auckland, NZ, 5 kW)   Usually the strongest of the Maori network, this vibrant regular plays a mix of Maori and Motown music. Its strongest signal was on the last day (7-11) at 1218

https://app.box.com/s/xdxju7jr1flspiln9nz1havsvd8gy85o

657   Star   (Wellington/ Tauranga, NZ, 50/ 10 kW)   Christian hymn broadcaster owned the frequency during the Kiwi-slanted conditions, with this good-level music at 1211 on the last day of  7-11

https://app.box.com/s/mxti60qwfcc3298c541ak4k5p9s3vqj5

675   RNZ National   (Christchurch, NZ, 10 kW)   The new kingpin of RNZ network transoceanic strength (after the demise of 567’s old tower), this relay consistently outperformed its 50 kW parallel. This signal at 1257 on 7-8 was typical

https://app.box.com/s/wx9b9i1dex7mqyrb9b9zgbnk1n3svwew 

684   Rhema   (Gisborne, NZ, 5 kW)   Christian contemporary music broadcaster with fairly good signals // 594 at 1247 on 7-9; Tony W. says that the tower property has been sold and eviction is forthcoming

https://app.box.com/s/691ddrcehygaiko5pgpll2jp1nu1en91

702   2BL   (Sydney, Australia, 50 kW)   Easily pushing 702-Magic aside whenever it showed up, this Oz big gun was the dominant station on both 7-7 and 7-10. The interview format was much different from Magic’s oldie music

https://app.box.com/s/f0qfop5x7ymw1gbyowg65obveuqjwf6m 

702   Magic   (Auckland, NZ, 10 kW)   Capable of blistering signals when Kiwi propagation was enhanced, this oldie music broadcaster was the only DU on the frequency on 5 of 7 days

https://app.box.com/s/gtd8u8zxduwpirycbso99kigyum2ja5c

738   Radio Polynesie   (Mahina, Tahiti, 20 kW)   A real blowtorch on most days, this French-language signal at 1233 on 7-9 was the strongest DU recording made during the trip, and seriously tested the crunch resistance of my Ultralight radio

https://app.box.com/s/pw2gpfgh7vd19b33yz8ag7466y18462t

756   RNZ   (Auckland, NZ, 10 kW)   Pretty good signal with music // 675 at 1212 on 7-8, a good demonstration of the cliff’s ability to cut down splatter from the 750-Portland pest (50 kW and only 70 miles away)

https://app.box.com/s/qlx6esrtgccrg32pkwqt0yr71suuw52d

765   Radio Kahungunu   (Napier-Hastings, NZ, 2.5 kW)   Once again this low-powered Maori network station acted very much like a Kiwi big gun throughout the week. Maori and Motown music is the norm, as in this recording // 603 at 1215 on 7-8

https://app.box.com/s/p04c5i3fvvpxfw449nbsa2jlwmipsh6n

774   3LO   (Melbourne, Australia, 50 kW)   LR Network big gun was strong at 1222 on 7-5 but missing in action under Radio Sport on most days

https://app.box.com/s/egf89xhr29obvisblm7cb9bzehid62jh

774   Radio Sport   (New Plymouth, NZ, 5 kW)   Not nearly as strong as its 792 parallel, it was hit hard by Seattle splatter on most mornings, and never came up in strength for a decent recording

783   Access Radio   (Wellington, NZ, 10 kW)   Multi-cultural station with varied ethnic programming, this apparent Samoan language music and speech was received at 1241 on 7-7

https://app.box.com/s/yg4xp9r7er4hyul4jvcpsr5x747vqkf2

792   Radio Sport   (Hamilton, NZ, 5 kW)   Fairly strong on most mornings with its network relay of Fox Sports News, the Yankee-accented English owned the frequency on all 7 days (over the MIA Oz big gun 4RN)

https://app.box.com/s/um0gfok28blvq90n0eeoeuuoq3v5jzzy

828   3GI   (Sale, Australia, 10 kW)   On a couple of occasions this LR network big gun was just strong enough to confirm the parallel with 774, but most often it was in a ghostly mix with a presumed Radio Trackside (which never came up in strength for a decent recording).

891   5AN   (Adelaide, Australia, 50 kW)   Another underperforming Oz big gun, it was usually in a threshold-level mix with another DU English station (probably 4TAB).

936   Chinese Voice   (Auckland, NZ, 1 kW)   A prime target during enhanced Kiwi propagation, this low-powered ethnic station came through with fairly good-level music and Chinese speech during exceptional propagation at 1243 on 7-6

https://app.box.com/s/sng6i7c70sqm3e5bpymy3mfy1dbpbfdn

1008   Newstalk ZB   (Tauranga, NZ, 10 kW)   Getting through the 1010 splatter at a modest level // 1035 at 1220 on 7-7. Generally not as strong as either the 1035 or 1044 parallel

https://app.box.com/s/8l5sn7mayuwkzs896lbciw4s1e8738dw

1017   A3Z   (Nuku’alofa, Tonga, 10 kW)   Rushed antenna setup prior to 1130 on 7-9 paid off with a fairly good-level logging of male speech from this station, the only foreign language DU on the frequency. Since A3Z’s sign off is usually prior to sunrise enhancement at the cliff, the best chance to track it down is during its late Saturday night transmission, when it typically stays on a little later

https://app.box.com/s/jz35gvlr8re5ldfqol9h6ux0kd04dea5

1035   Newstalk ZB   (Wellington, NZ, 20 kW)   The flagship relay of this talk radio network had potent signals on most mornings, including this excellent-level discussion concerning NZ real estate at 1222 on 7-8

https://app.box.com/s/a21xkbboz6pbbqj73lj0ted4ft3fjiua

1044   Newstalk ZB   (Dunedin, NZ, 10 kW)   Fairly strong on most mornings with the usual call-in talk program and occasional music // 1035. This recording was at 1210 on 7-9

https://app.box.com/s/z7flaydc0if63v9qhro7deyvp3rno67d

1386   Radio Tarana   (Auckland, NZ, 10 kW)   Hindu music broadcaster pounded in when Kiwi propagation was enhanced (as in this recording at 1246 on 7-6), otherwise it got lost in splatter

https://app.box.com/s/aaguop8hp57aa38eulommx06tm3l22qw

1503   Radio Sport   (Wellington/ Christchurch, NZ, 5/ 2,5 kW)   Yankee English from the relay of Fox Sports News (// 792) was usually audible on this frequency on all 7 days

https://app.box.com/s/wed793j34pnu0thkulc3w8o7v716gs98

73 and Good DX,
Gary DeBock (DXing at the Rockwork 4 Ocean Cliff near Manzanita, OR, USA)
7.5″ loopstick C.Crane Skywave Ultralights (3) +
15″ and 17″ FSL antennas


Tom-Photo

Report from Tom Rothlisberger

Saturday July 09 

Three of us on the ocean cliffside pullout this morning. It took some time to set up everything as this was a new antenna and configuration for me at the cliffs, and I was planning to experiment with a vactrol for the first time. A major setback occurred when my Win10 notebook refused to recognize the Perseus hardware due to a possibly corrupt driver. To make matters worse I did not bring the backup MSI Wind U100 that I have been using for years with good results. Note to self: always bring backup. I wound up borrowing Nick’s netbook as he did not need it for experiments that morning. So it was 1222 by the time I started recording. Magic 702 was slamming in and 1KW TAB Trackside on 549 was in nicely but briefly. I didn’t think the session was as good as what was experienced last year but everything was working and signals were loud at times, usually briefly, before settling back down into the noise. Little high band action but 1503 Radio Sport was in.

Sunday July 10

Driving rain and gale force winds were making things miserable. My antenna spreaders blew down time after time. For the last 15 minutes of the opening I was holding one up outside by hand, the other secured to the rock wall by heavy straps.

This turned out to be a morning favoring Australia. 1116 4BC was ruling the band with huge signals, I had Aussies on 702 and 936 instead of NZ stations. The ABC News fanfare was heard on 891 on the half hour and there was audio on 1566, 1611 and 1701. This was the only of the three mornings the whole band was in although not very robust like it was last August. IDing signals is still ongoing.

We were all soaked to the bone when it was over, my Gore-Tex jacket was no match for that storm. Distinguished visiting DXers Hiroo-san and Satoshi-san were still smiling at the end. That’s really the important thing, to have fun and overcome adversity. That we heard any stations at all was an added bonus. And we did hear some! We will always remember this morning.

Monday July 11

Another mostly New Zealand morning, decent signals but they would fade back down after a minute or two, and something else would become strong elsewhere on the band, one at a time. This made getting parallels for ID purposes difficult. On several frequencies NZ and Australia signals were fighting it out. It was another low band morning. The TAB Trackside affiliate on 1224 (1 KW) was briefly good but almost nothing heard above it except for occasional audio from Radio Sport 1503. 738 Tahiti was slamming in with meter-bending signals. Satoshi-san and Hiroo-san seemed very pleased as this station is considered rare and exotic DX from Japan.

Overall: 657 Star gets the award for strongest and longest lasting DU signal over the three days, beating last year’s champions 1035 Newstalk ZB and the no longer potent RNZ 567. I had more wire up this year but the signals were really no better. I failed to find a “sweet spot” with the vactrol for reducing splatter from the Portland powerhouses.

Longwave: DX NDBs were practically non-existent. I am wondering if the antenna configuration made it deaf at LW, or if conditions were really that terrible. Only one DX station, 352 KHz “RG” Nikau, Rarotonga, Cook Islands was noted. 531 PI was also exceedingly weak so I suspect the antenna. I will be changing things again at my next visit to the ocean cliffs to ensure I get more LW action.

73, Tom  K7WV


Nick-Hall-Patch

Report From Nick Hall-Patch

As promised, a logging or two, and a couple of photos:

549 NEW ZEALAND, Napier-Hastings, TAB Trackside Radio. Man talking, sounded like announcing a horse race, becoming fair //828 1220 July 9. (NHP)

594 NEW ZEALAND, Timaru/Wanganui, Star. Light music, poor strength, //909 July 10. (NHP)

693 NEW ZEALAND, Dunedin, Radio Sport. Poor to fair strength, American sport talk //792 1225 July 9 (NHP)

729 NEW ZEALAND, Tokorua, R. New Zealand National. Light Dixieland style mx, poor strength, seemed //675 but slightly offset so hard to say for certain. Only there for a minute or two, 1212 July 9. (NHP)

747 JAPAN, Sapporo, JOIB. Briefly poor and //774, with man in what sounded like Japanese, certainly not DU English, 1136 July 10. (NHP)

774 NEW ZEALAND, New Plymouth, Radio Sport. Fair to good signal, earlier //792 with American sport talk, bit of electrical noise, unusual for this quiet location, 1227 July 9. (NHP)

792 NEW ZEALAND, Hamilton, Radio Sport. American sport talk, fair strength in splatter //774 1224 July 9. (NHP)

Ocean

828 NEW ZEALAND, Palmerston North, TAB Trackside Radio. Horse race announcer, fading up to good strength with a little splatter, 1223 July 9, earlier ID’ed by //549. (NHP)

1611 // 1629 t AUSTRALIA, but who? 1216 July 10.

http://www3.telus.net/public/shallpat/rockworks/1611_1629parallel_20160710_1216.wav

Not what I would call listenable, but somewhat identifiable DX, could be a preacher, which might be Vision Radio Network, but several sites on each channel. Not heard on other days, so a bit out of the ordinary. (NHP)

(NHP) RFSpace NetSDR, RFSpace SDR-14 running DX Fishbarrel program; AMRAD active 4’ whip antenna


Report From Satoshi Miyauchi

(July 28) It is just like last week that we had been there! All those memories are good to remember, including the very precious “welcoming” weather on 10th morning! It just showed that even for short period of stay, at least TWO sessions might be required …

DXing results are of course something that we really appreciate out of the DXpedition, but simply the fact that we could meet up and DXing together means a lot! And also both Hiroo and me were very much impressed by all of your efforts even in the middle of darkness and especially in the stormy weather. As for us also, it was the worst weather we ever had on the day of DXpedition! So in many ways we could get “first ever” in this joint DXpedition! We hope that we all can meet sometime in the future either at the cliff, Cliff in Japan, or any other location in the world! Thanking you once again for your hospitality, and actual support on equipments that we could use throughout the DXpedition!

Best 73,

Satoshi Miyauchi


DXpedition Videos

First Day Tour (July 5th, FSL antenna setup)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBeoUF0ruvQ

July 9th Antenna Setup (Tom, Nick and Gary)  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8Kn2vrBzK0

The Session from Hell (July 10th)  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lw9k6E08eME

Final Day Success (July 11th)  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjda-kO_oQE


Wow! Gary, thanks so much and thanks to all of the team members–Hiroo, Satoshi, Tom and Nick–for sharing your experiences. Though your weather was less than desirable, it appears your DX was quite successful. You’ve so many mediumwave loggings from New Zealand, I’m convinced you were actually in New Zealand! Most impressive!

Most importantly, it sounds like you all enjoyed a little DX fellowship. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.  We look forward to future DXpedition reports!

Creating a global network of inexpensive remote SDRs

U_Twente_SDR

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Fahey, who replies to Ivan’s preliminary review of the V3 RTL-SDR dongle:

With Shortwave SDRs (the receiver dongle) now costing less than $20, the time has come for us to set up a global group of receivers that we can all log into at will!

RTL-SDR-RTL2832U-e1471375714199Have a look at SDR.hu – here you can put your SDR dongle on line and share it with anyone and they have full control of the receiver just as if it was in their own shack.

Imagine receivers scatted around the world – South America, Tropical Asia, Africa! The cost is now virtually nothing, all that is needed is the dongle, antenna (doesn’t have to be anything special – even a long wire or whip) and a small low cost CPU (Raspberry Pi for example).

Anyone else interested in this dream? Lets get together, get some receivers setup and then talk about our experience in a kick-ass presentation at the 2017 SWL WinterFest in PA!

Also… I am very soon to receive my KiwiSDR matched to a BeagleBone CPU. It will be online at SDR.hu and four remote listeners will be able to tune the full shortwave bands independently, its like my own Twente setup! Heaps of others are getting receivers online in the next few months with KiwiSDRs, this is going to be totally amazing!

I agree, Mark! While there is already quite a network of remote SDRs and receivers in the world, the barrier of entry keeps getting lower and lower. It’s hard to imagine that $25 can buy an SDR that natively covers the shortwave and mediumwave bands!

There’s only one other requirement for an online SDR that Mark didn’t mention: a decent Internet connection. Sadly, this is the only thing keeping me from hosting a remote SDR here at my home. I considered purchasing a KiwiSDR like Mark, but my upload speed (0.2-0.3 mbps) is so terrible and so unreliable that I could only host one listener at a time at best. You can bet that as soon as my ISP upgrades our service, I’ll launch a web SDR as well.

Of course, I’m willing to bet that most SWLing Post readers have more than enough bandwidth to host a $25 remote receiver! Let’s make Mark’s vision a reality!

Sticky radios? John shares yet another solution.

Eton-e1

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, John Figliozzi, who writes:

Sean at Universal Radio in Reynoldsburg, OH put me on to another terrific product that does the job fabulously and quite easily. It’s called MaxPro Ink/Adhesive Remover and is a citrus-based cleaner/solvent that won’t harm the radio’s plastic casing. You can get it on eBay for around $11 with free shipping:

Click here to view on eBay.

It took me a total of less than 3 hours to clean both my E1s. I used a lot of paper towels, working a section of the radio at a time, spraying the solvent onto the towels and then rubbing the surface free of the degraded and sticky rubberized coating. After removing the coating, I simply wiped down the radio with a wet paper towel to remove any residual solvent. They are now clean and smooth and look like new with all the white print intact. And my hands didn’t suffer any from contact with the solvent.

A reminder if you do this: It’s important to seek out citrus-based solvents and avoid petroleum based solvents. It was so easy with this product that I wished I had done this a long time ago and wasn’t so nervous about taking it on.

John Figliozzi
Halfmoon, NY

Thank you, John! I just noticed that a few of my rubber-coated receivers are starting to get tacky. I like the idea that this adhesive remover is gentle on the chassis. Click here to search eBay for MaxPro Ink/Adhesive Remover.

We’ve posted a number of solutions for sticky radios. Click here to view past posts.

RFE and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution (Part 2)

HalliDial

Many thanks to Richard Cummings of the website, Cold War Radio Vignettes, who writes:

[F]or your weekend reading pleasure, Part Two, in which I briefly examine the background to and excerpts from the RFE controversial broadcasts:

https://coldwarradios.blogspot.de/2016/08/radio-free-europe-and-1956-hungarian_5.html

Many thanks for sharing, Richard!

Wi-Fi Radio Primer Part 1: Radio station aggregators and alternatives

I originally wrote this three-part WiFi radio primer and review series for the April, May and June issues of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.  Each part of this series will be posted with the tag: WiFi Radio Primer. I hope you enjoy Part 1 below:


The Grace Digital Mondo

I’ve always been a hard-core shortwave radio listener.  I like the tactile experience of turning the knobs of the shortwave, tuning in stations across the globe. So when online listening became popular, it never occurred to me to engage in this new, seemingly lesser sport; I put trying it on the back burner, and continued to enjoy my shortwave. After all, I rationalized, why listen to anything other than an actual radio?

Then, at the 2012 Winter SWL Fest, an excellent presentation on the merits and technologies behind Wi-Fi radio intrigued me. I found myself downloading and installing the Pro version of the TuneIn radio app. On the twelve-hour drive back home from the Fest, I tuned to local radio stations across the world via the TuneIn app. I had to admit, it was a pretty powerful listening experience…one I could easily get used to.

And get used to it, I did.  That’s when I realized that streaming radio stations over the Internet is, essentially, content DXing. For while there isn’t any particular skill required to listen to Internet radio, it offers convenient listening opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have, and without the rigors of travel.  For example, from my home in the southeastern US, I can listen to a station in Perth, Australia––one local to that area and one that has never been, nor is likely to be, on shortwave. I found it frankly addictive.

uneIn's iPad app has a beautiful, simple user interface. If you purchase the TuneIn Pro version ($9.99 for the iPad) banner ads disappear.

TuneIn’s iPad app has a beautiful, simple user interface. If you purchase the TuneIn Pro version ($9.99 for the iPad) banner ads disappear.

Since 2012, I’ve relied on my TuneIn app and either a tablet or smartphone to listen to stations. I found I could hook up my tablet to a portable powered speaker, an SStran AM transmitter, or even a whole-house stereo, and enjoy music from all over the world.

There was only one problem, however: while they enjoyed the music, my busy family didn’t appreciate the complexity of my radio set-up. The truth is, it did require warming up a lot of equipment––most of which is in my shack––not to mention making sure connections were in place, logging in, launching apps, and then searching for stations.  One day, referencing the cobbler’s children (who, in the old adage, go without shoes), my wife asked in exasperation, “Isn’t there some way to make listening to music around here just a little more accessible to all of us?  Maybe something we could just turn on––?”

The Quest

Thus began my quest to purchase a dedicated Wi-Fi Radio, an Internet appliance with a singular purpose:  to play online radio stations from across the globe.  Simply. 

Fortunately, I reasoned, the process of choosing such a radio was likely to be just as simple.  I mean, how hard could it be?  I was already familiar enough with the wider radio landscape to know that these radios range from about $110 to $250 in price, and that they’re widely available from a number of radio and online retailers. Moreover, I’m lucky enough to count among my friends some of the most knowledgeable experts on the topic of Wi-Fi radio––Rob De Santos, Richard Cuff, and last but not least, John Figliozzi, author of the recently updated Worldwide Listening Guide––all of whom had jointly presented at that 2012 Fest that ignited my interest in WiFi radio. No doubt, I thought, a group-email to these experts would rapidly solve our dilemma.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

My expert friends all had excellent advice, but made me aware that there’s much more involved to choosing a WiFi radio than simply selecting the best-priced or the latest model. Firstly, they advised, it’s very important to identify a good station aggregator, and then select a good radio that relies upon it.

Radio Station Aggregators

WiFi radios are Internet appliances with the ability to stream Internet content, but they’re not endowed with the ability to seek out stations in the wild and import their audio streams. WiFi radios, I soon learned, rely on “aggregators,” or online databases of curated links to radio stations.

In the early days of WiFi radio, there were several models of radios on the market that linked to proprietary aggregators, many of which eventually closed down. When a WiFi radio loses its ability to link to an aggregator, it becomes no more than a pricey paperweight, especially if the WiFi radio doesn’t have traditional AM/FM reception as a backup.

The CC WiFi uses the popular Reciva aggregator.

The CC WiFi radio uses the popular Reciva aggregator.

So not only does an aggregator need to have some longevity, it also needs to be actively curated. This means having to staff actual human beings to help manage additions, deletions, and changes to the large database of broadcasters. This is necessary because radio stations and radio networks often change their streaming server address or format with very little notice. Good aggregators have methods that allow for broadcasters and listeners to submit such changes for approval so that streaming can be fully reestablished across the network of subscribing WiFi radios.

It should be noted as well that some aggregators may not support the protocol broadcasters choose to use for their streams. So, prior to purchasing a radio, buyers should attempt an Internet search to make sure their favorite broadcasters are listed among those offered by the radio’s aggregator. This being said, buyers must be aware that a number of aggregators require a username and password to search through their listings, thus limiting any pre-purchase search.

Types of Aggregators

Aggregators fall into two categories: those that are radio-dependent, and those that are not.

Radio-dependent aggregators are those that you can use only if you own a compatible device. For example, to stream from the Reciva system, you must first own a Reciva-connected WiFi radio. With your radio model/serial number in hand, you’ll be able to create a login on the Reciva system. From there, you can create lists of favorite stations and manage them.  If you don’t own a Reciva radio, however, you can’t log into the Reciva database. The same applies to Frontier Silicon (Sangean), as well as Pure.

The dominant open (or, non radio-dependent) aggregator on the market as of this publication is TuneIn Radio. TuneIn does not require a compliant device; you can create an account with TuneIn and stream from it via your computer, tablet, or smartphone. And of course, there are now radios that link to TuneIn as their aggregator.

VTuner is another open aggregator that can be explored prior to purchasing a compatible WiFi radio. Note that in this WiFi primer we will not explore the VTuner aggregator, however it will be covered in the upcoming review of the Como Audio Solo.

Following is a list of the most popular aggregators with a brief description of each.

Radio-dependent Aggregators

Reciva (https://radios.reciva.com/)

Reciva's station search function is more functional than that of Frontier Silicon. I can typically find a station by searching by call sign. When that doesn't work--as in this case when I searched for CKUT--I simply searched by city.

Reciva’s station search function is more functional than that of Frontier Silicon. I can typically find a station by searching by call sign. When that doesn’t work–as in this case when I searched for CKUT–I simply searched by city.

The Reciva aggregator has been around for many years. At one point, it was the most user-friendly and most actively curated aggregator on the market. Today, Reciva is still the most popular choice in a WiFi radio aggregator.

I find the Reciva website easy to use, even if its design and user-interface are slightly outdated. Reciva also seems to be relatively quick to respond to stream-server changes. When my favorite Internet radio station changed streaming servers last year, Reciva was quick to update the link. Reciva also allows you to build folders of favorite stations that make it easy for you to navigate with your radio. Moreover, Reciva has an advanced search function that also makes finding particular stations relatively easy.

Frontier Silicon (http://www.wifiradiofrontier.com/)

Frontier Silicon's website is clean, simple and responsive. Their "My Favourites" page makes organizing your many station memories an intuitive process.

Frontier Silicon’s website is clean, simple and responsive. Their “My Favourites” page makes organizing your many station memories an intuitive process.

As far as I can tell, Sangean is the only WiFi radio manufacturer using the Frontier Silicon aggregator. The Frontier Silicon interface is very basic, but gets the job done. Adding stations to a playlist also seems to be very straightforward.

With that said, however, if you chose the option of browsing stations by category––say, by language or genre––Frontier Silicon doesn’t allow you to search within the category’s results for specificity. For example, I recently wanted to search for new French language stations in a certain town in France. Once I had chosen the French language, then the country, I was presented with a list of over 1700 stations arranged alphabetically with twenty results per page, and with no way to search among them. It was frustratingly imprecise. Not only could I not find the town, but the station list was simply too broad, too unwieldy, to navigate.

Frontier Silicon’s database of information can be incomplete––and inconsistent.  Nonetheless, there are some tricks to help you find stations; for example, an online search by call sign and name may lead you to the desired result (then searching Frontier Silicon for other station keywords). A quick Internet search can also help you find regional broadcasters.

Frontier Silicon provides an easy means by which to submit new stations and provide updated information, should your station change server locations, but one must be patient. For example, I submitted a station’s updated URL to Frontier Silicon; it took them almost a week to update the stream, whereas Reciva took only a day or so to do the same.

All in all, the Frontier Silicon platform, though more bare-bones than its competitors, does the trick and seems to work quite well.

Pure (http://www.pure.com/) (Untested)

purelogoThe manufacturer, Pure, also has their own aggregator for their radio product line. Since I didn’t test a Pure WiFi radio for this review, I haven’t tried their system. I do have two friends that tout the virtues of Pure’s radios as well as Pure’s aggregator, claiming superb customer service and overall product quality.

As Pure is a “closed” ecosystem, I suppose there could be concerns about their products should the company ever close its doors.  But the company’s strong consumer following makes this relatively unlikely. One pleased user of my acquaintance claimed that Pure is to WiFi radio what Apple is to computers––in other words, it’s a company that provides a quality product, excellent design, as well as a user-friendly interface. I can’t speak to this comparison.  But I do know that, also like Apple, Pure’s products top the market in terms of price:  their Pure Evoke F4 (without extra speaker or battery) retails for $225 – 250 US. To put this in perspective, the priciest radio I reviewed was purchased for $170.  So, clearly, Pure’s products can double the cost of their competitor’s.

Open Aggregators

TuneIn (http://tunein.com)

You don't have to own a WiFi radio to begin organizing your favorite streaming broadcasters. Simply create a free account at TuneIn Radio (http://TuneIn.com), search for and organize your favorites and changes will propagate to all of your TuneIn connected devices and apps.

Create a free account at TuneIn Radio (http://TuneIn.com), search for/organize your favorites and changes will propagate to all of your TuneIn connected devices and apps.

I have been using the TuneIn system for at least four years. It is, without doubt, the most user-friendly database of radio stations I’ve tested. TuneIn’s search functionality is exceptionally powerful; I’ve found that I can almost always locate a station in a matter of seconds. And of course, you can hone in on a favorite station by region and genre.

The TuneIn search screen.

The TuneIn search screen.

The great thing about Tunein is that you don’t have to own an Internet device to use it. You can use a free account to organize your favorite stations, which will then propagate to the TuneIn app on your phone or tablet––as well as to your web browser, should you decide to listen on your computer.

Overall, the TuneIn user interface is pleasant and responsive; in short, it’s my favorite among the aggregators I tested.

Live365_logoLive365

Live 365––an aggregator with some history, which may very well have been in existence longer than any other––specializes in Internet stations rather than radio broadcasters who also happen to stream on the Internet.

[Update] Sadly, on February 1 st , 2016, Live365 closed for business. It is unlikely another company will pick up the reigns.

Why did Live365 close shop? Here’s what Forbes.com suggests:

“It is rumored that the service is being forced into early retirement because of new royalty rates that digital radio producers now need to adhere to. Late in 2015, the Copyright Royalty Board handed down its decision about what internet radio services will need to pay per stream, and it apparently hurt Live365 so much that it can no longer afford for the rights to play music.”

Among WiFi radios, Live 365 functions as an “add on” rather than sole default aggregator. If your radio has Live 365 functionality, the loss of service will have no effect on other radio functions.

Network-Specific Aggregators and services

iHeart-Radio-LogoiHeart Radio: iHeartRadio is an Internet radio platform owned by iHeartMedia, Inc. The iHeart radio app functions as both a radio network for the 800+ iHeart radio stations around the world and also as a music recommendation system. There are no WiFi radios that use iHeart as a default aggregator, but there are several that include iHeart as a featured app.

SiriusXM (paid): SiriusXM is a satellite radio subscription service; subscribers at a certain subscription level can also stream 130 channels over the Internet.

Music and other internet radio services

Spotify-LogoThere are a number of Internet radio services that are not curated.  Many of these services are adaptive platforms that create impromptu radio “stations” based on your preferences. These services may be included with a WiFi radio, but most are used in conjunction with smartphone apps, among them, Pandora, Slacker, LastFM, Spotify, and Aupeo. Note these services are outside the scope of this review for the simple reason that, as a content DXer, my interest is on actual radio stations rather than music services.

A final note about aggregators

There are likely other aggregators and services in existence that I’ve omitted from this review. Again, I focused on the better-known aggregators and services, most of which are considered relatively stable and well-supported by both manufacturers and WiFi radio enthusiasts.

In conclusion, I’ll say once more:  it’s important to check whether a particular aggregator supports your favorite radio station(s) and broadcast network(s) prior to purchasing the adjunct radio. And if it doesn’t, you need not necessarily rule out the system altogether; often an aggregator will have the capability to add the preferred station(s), so this is also worth investigating. The obvious exceptions are stations using streaming formats not supported by your radio or your aggregator (or both). In short, do check before you buy.

I’ve been testing WiFi radios supported by Reciva, Frontier Silicon, and TuneIn, and can say that I haven’t been displeased with any of them. All seem to support my favorite stations and networks.

Alternatives to WiFi radios

The Roku 3

The Roku 3

Before we look at the WiFi radios on the market in Part 2 and 3 of this feature––coming up in the coming weeks––I should note that there are certainly cheaper alternatives to a dedicated WiFi Radio, especially if you already own a device that can play Internet radio content. By and large, smartphones, tablets, as well as PCs offer the most convenient access to online broadcast streaming, though even some TVs and video streaming devices (Roku, AppleTV, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick, Google’s Chromecast, and so forth) contain basic audio streaming apps.

Smartphones

Since the majority of us have a smartphone or tablet, you’ll find this provides a convenient and readily accessible means by which to enjoy the functionality of a portable WiFi radio.  If you haven’t already done so, the process couldn’t be easier:  simply download the TuneIn app (Android: http://bit.ly/1gB1DAh and iOS: http://apple.co/1O9aZxI).

Though TuneIn offers a monthly premium plan (primarily for those who want coverage of sporting events), even the free plan unlocks the full database of radio stations across the globe.

With the app installed, you can plug in headphones and tune in thousands of stations. If you want improved audio, simply plug in an external amplified speaker, or connect a speaker via BlueTooth.

iPodTouch-TuneIn

The app is lightweight and doesn’t rob you of much of your device’s resources. And of course, it can play in the background as you do other things.  As a bonus, TuneIn can stream thousands of podcasts––including those from the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive. There’s a curious pleasure in riding a train or subway while listening to an archived off-air recording of Radio Moscow from the 1970s!

While we’re talking about apps, there’s also an excellent one written by shortwave listener, Steven Clift, called the 1 Radio News app. At the moment, it’s only available for Android devices. There’s also a free version with some banner ads and a Pro version ($.99) with no ads and more stations.

WiFi radio?  We’re hooked

For many––myself included––this was my WiFI set-up for many years:  a smartphone and headphones, plus a tablet hooked up to a powered portable speaker. I never felt the need to have a dedicated Internet appliance for tuning radios stations…until, that is, my family needed something more, launching this investigation into the world of WiFi radio.

Now, having experienced the benefits of dedicated WiFi radio, I don’t think I’d choose to be without one. It’s just incredibly convenient to tune in a station on a simple device which has as its sole purpose streaming audio. All of the units I reviewed have excellent audio via the internal speaker, too.

Best yet, I’ve now found a radio that my entire family––yes, even my wife––enjoys. With the touch of a button or a voice command, they now tune to favorite stations in Brazil, Africa, Europe, or Canada.  And our house is now full of their music choices, too.

Coming up in the next two issues: Parts 2 and 3 which include reviews of four popular WiFi radios.

I will post each part of this three part series with the tag: WiFi Radio Primer.