Category Archives: How To

Escaping the noise while traveling

A Sony SW100, a PK Loop, and a pint of L’Écurieux brown ale. Lovely trio!

If you’re a regular Post reader, you’re probably aware that I enjoy a relatively RFI-free environment at my rural mountain home. RFI-free living is something of a luxury, even though our rural location also equates to appallingly slow Internet service.

But unfortunately, when I travel, I usually find that I’ve traded my RFI-free atmosphere for the chaos of noise-ridden bands. If you’ve ever stayed at a modern hotel and tried to tune to anything on mediumwave or shortwave, you’ll know just what I mean.

We’ve spent this summer, like last, near Québec City, Canada.  Near this fairly large city, I’ve been greeted by more than enough RFI to make up for the lack of RFI most of the year.

I attribute the atrocious RFI to the number of light dimmers the developers put in this condo complex and the proximity to a field of noisy electrical poles. Of course, all of the unregulated power supplies in the area don’t help, either. It’s a jungle of noise.

The PK Loop

Last year, I purchased a PK Loop portable HF loop antenna (about $150 on eBay)–specifically with hotels and this very condo in mind. I must say, it has been a welcome travel companion on this trip.

The Elecraft KX2 and PK Loop

While the PK Loop seems to pair well with my Sony SW100, I also love using it with my Elecraft KX2 for SWLing.

Sadly, the PK Loop doesn’t provide the noise mitigation of a large wideband mag loop antenna–like a Wellbrook or Pixel Loop–but it does lend itself to excellent portability and takes the edge off the noise.

While it’s easy to do my radio listening in the condo from a comfy chair, in reality, it limits what I can receive in a serious way. The 31 meter band, for example, is so heavily submerged in RFI that only the strongest stations can punch through (for example, Voice of Greece, Radio Romania International, WRMI, WBCQ, Radio Havana Cuba, China Radio International).

So, what can I do?

Hit the field, of course!

That’s right. Taking a page from the books of SWLing Post contributors London Shortwave and Clint Gouveia, I realize I can simply leave the RFI behind and seek a sound, radio quiet spot for SWLing/DXing!

My listening post last year–during the BBC Midwinter broadcast–in the parking lot of St-Anne-de-Beaupré basilica.

Over the past two months, I’ve taken time to escape the RFI and do a few live listening sessions and spectrum recordings in the field. I’ve always got my SDRplay RSP, Elecraft KX2, and Sony ICG-SW100 at the ready. In terms of wire antennas, I’ve deployed my NASA PA30 and even my QRP Trail-Friendly EFT, with good results.

Listening to the 2017 BBC Antarctic Midwinter Broadcast from the back of my vehicle in Saint-Anne-de-Beaupré, Québec, Canada.

I’ve also been experimenting with the homebrew Miniwhip antenna that SWLing Post contributor, Steve Yothment, provided earlier this year, based on the design used by the U Twente WebSDR. As Guy Atkins recently demonstrated, miniwhip designs do require some distance from sources of RFI, however.

The field is your friend…

Just a friendly reminder that if you live in an RFI-dense environment, you can certainly design a system to help mitigate RFI at home. After all, home is where you likely spend the bulk of your free time.

View of the Saint Lawrence River from my back-of-the-minivan listening post.

But, again, the easiest way to substantially increase your chances of snagging DX stations is to simply hit the field.

Join me in giving it a try. Find an RFI-free location with access to a couple of trees to hang a simple wire antenna–say, in a park, at the side of a rural road, on a friend’s farm…and if you find the listening good, make it your radio get-away. You’ll likely find that your portable shortwave radio can outperform your at-home tabletop receiver simply by removing yourself and your radio from the noisy environ of indoors.

When you first start doing radio in the field, it might feel a bit awkward–especially if you’re taking more than a portable shortwave along for the ride–but you’ll soon enjoy the fresh air ambiance and maybe even prefer it to indoors.  Even if you’re in a public setting where curious passers-by may want to know what you’re doing, as they undoubtedly will…When questions arise, take a (brief!) moment to educate your questioner(s) about the fascinating and nearly-forgotten world of shortwave radio––maybe you’ll inspire others to listen in, too.

And trust me: once you’ve been to the field a few times, you’ll start to look forward to playing radio in the great–and noise-free–outdoors!

Valentino experiments with a ferrite sheet loop antenna

Valentino’s homebrew ferrite sheet antenna.

Many thanks to SWLing Post conttributor, Valentino Barbi (I4BBO) who writes detailing a novel approach to FSL antenna design.

Please note that I translated Valentino’s message from Italian to English via Google translate so please forgive any errors. Valentino writes:

FSL antenna radio enthusiasts typically use numerous ferrite bars with high cost, weight and scarcity,

Ukrainian ferrite bar producers have now finished stocks and have raised their prices.

Normally you use this site to build FSL antennas:
http://www.am-dx.com/antennas/FSL%20Antenna%20Design%20Optimization.htm.

I’ve been experimenting with a new antenna design for about 10 days comparing it with a classic FSL with 20 ferrite bars.

Listening to the audio signals are the same, only instrumentally the antenna FSL in ferrite film
Loses -2dB.

The construction is very simple in that the two ends overlap 5 mm.

I did this:

  • I took a sheet of A4 paper, I cut 5mm paper at one end.
  • I laid this sheet on a 10 cm (10 cm) diameter PVC tube.
  • The uncovered part of the tube is cut, now we will have exactly the exact diameter to fix the A4 sheet of ferrite with the overlap of 5 mm.

As for where to source a ferrite sheet, after much research I discovered this supplier almost by accident:

Click here to view the product page and ordering information.

In summary, the main advantages of this antenna design is weight, cost and availability of A4 sheet of ferrite.

Click here to follow Valentino’s antenna project on his website.

Fascinating, Valentino! Please feel free to share any further information about this FSL antenna as you experiment. It’s true that ferrite bars are becoming difficult to source. Sounds like this is an affordable alternative antenna design for ultralight DXing.

Sticky radios: time may be your friend

One thread that’s had a surprisingly long run here on the SWLing Post deals with sticky radios.

A number of portable radios manufactured in the past decade were coated in a rubberized, tactile material that was quite functional when the products were new. With time, however, the coating breaks down and becomes incredibly sticky to the touch. We’ve published a number of articles about how to clean sticky radios–click here to read our archived posts.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Lee Reynolds, who writes with his suggestion:

Gunk on radios – I was the lucky winner of an E1 at one of the ‘fests.

Of course, the coating went bad and it would up looking like the flypaper/Wino of radios.

I made a desultory attempt at cleaning it (using that Purple Power stuff) but it was a nasty, dirty job that I didn’t complete. A disheartening mess.

Fast forward three or four years after that. I had some time on my hands, I took another look at the radio.

I found that the gunk continues to mutate – it had actually lost most of its ability to adhere to the radio’s casing. Now it would rub off with a paper towel and nothing else.

A couple of rolls of paper towels and some Pledge left it something you no longer needed to put gloves on in order to feel comfortable touching.

So – another fix for the gunk – time and patience. No cleaners needed.

Thanks for sharing, Lee. Worth noting: if you gave up on your sticky radio some time ago, perhaps you should pull it back out of storage and see if the coating has deteriorated to the point it might simply rub off? Time might have made the job much easier.

Guest Post: How To Convert Navtex from SVO Olympia Radio into an other languages

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Klaus Boecker (DD2DR), who shares the following guest post:


Converting Navtex from SVO Olympia Radio into an other languages

by Klaus Boecker (DD2DR)

SVO’s NAVTEX transmission uses the Greek language in Latin letters.

Unfortunately, the Google translator can‘t translate Greek transmitted in Latin characters.
I found a German web site to convert the Latin letters (the complete text) to Greek letters.

After converting it is possible to use Google Translate to finish the translation.
So, it becomes more readable for people who are not familiar with the Greek language. 🙂

Use the following site to convert Latin letters to Greek letters:

http://www.griechisch-konverter.de/?area=konverter&direction=1

Here is a step by step description:

Convert Latin letters to Greek letters:

http://www.griechisch-konverter.de/?area=konverter&direction=1

After converting, it is possible to use Google Translate and translate the text to a language of your choice:

https://translate.google.com

All the conversions/translations are not 100% perfect, but better than nothing.

Some frequencies used by the NAVTEX service from SVO Olympia Radio. Maybe this list is not complete.

Navtex frequencies SVO in kHz

  • 4209
  • 4214.5
  • 4216
  • 6314
  • 6325.5
  • 8416,5
  • 8421
  • 8424
  • 12586
  • 12590.5
  • 12603.5
  • 16585
  • 16815
  • 16818
  • 16830.5

73 de DD2DR Klaus


Many thanks for sharing your tutorial, Kaus! You’re right about Google Translate, too; it’s far from perfect, but generally conveys the overall meaning of the the message. 

Tecsun PL-660 Hidden Feature: FM Calibration

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Rick B, who writes:

I just thought I’d share with you a hidden function I discovered documented on the web for the Tecsun PL-660. It’s how to calibrate the FM band if you have a radio that is off frequency.

As my current PL-660 is accurate on FM, I haven’t had to try this myself. But perhaps it could save someone else from having to return/exchange a radio.

http://kaito.us/miscellaneous/qa/how-to-calibrate-the-pl660-on-the-fm-band.html

“Re-calibrating FM, radio needs to be on and set to FM band. Tune to the desired frequency/station you wish to listen to, press “SYNC” for about 3 seconds back light will flash. Tune up until the frequency/station sounds more clear press “1” to confirm re-calibration. If done correctly the correct frequency/station will be displayed on the display. Keep the battery in for all the time…”

Very cool!  Thank you for sharing the tip, Rick!