Category Archives: Scanners

The versatile Kenwood TH-F6A

In reply to my recent post about the Yaesu VX-3R, SWLing Post reader Tha Dood comments:

[The Yaesu VX-3R] is a neat little HT, but the Kenwood TH-F6A is way more versatile.

How? Full 5W on 2m, 222MHz, and 440MHz, and will RX 150KHz to 1.3GHz in AM, FM, FM wide, NBFM, USB, LSB, and CW. All that in a size of a pack of cigs. Yes, it will overload easily, but something that wide banded and this small, I kind of expected that.

However, want to hear what your wireless FM innercom sounds like on 175KHz? You can do that. Want to hear what your 222.1MHz transverter sounds like on SSB? You can do that. Need to tune-in to local AM / FM radio when power goes out? You can do that. Want to listen to CB CH19 truckers gripe about traffic conditions? You can do that. Want to listen to aircraft traffic at an air show? You can do that. You want to monitor 6M 50.125MHz USB to hear when that band opens? You can do that.

No, it doesn’t have D-Star, DMR, Fusion, or even SW’s DRM, but analog-wise this HT is so versatile, what else is out there like it?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the TH-F6A!

A couple more things I like about the TH-F6A:

  • it meets MIL-STD 810 C/D/E standards for resistance to vibration, shock, humidity and light rain
  • It has a dedicated number keypad for direct frequency entry (something, sadly, the VX-3R lacks)

I’ll put the TH-F6A on my “wish list” this year and perhaps give it a thorough review. (Perhaps Santa Claus is listening!?)

Here’s a snapshot of TH-F6 pricing at time of posting:

Yaesu VX-3R: Monitoring ATC over a cup of coffee

While I have a number of amateur radio handheld radios, one of my favorites is the recently-discontinued Yaesu VX-3R.

Saturday morning, I took my father to the his local regional airport’s café (KHKY). It’s a frequent stop when I’m in town visiting.

While sipping coffee, talking with friends and watching GA aircraft land and take off, I tuned to the airport’s tower. It was a pretty busy morning air traffic-wise and it was fun to monitor communications from our table with a view of the runway.

While the little VX-3R lacks the power output of larger HTs, and doesn’t include digital modes like D-Star or DMR, it is dual-band (2M/70cm) and its wideband receiver covers the shortwave, FM and MW broadcast bands in a pinch. Best of all, the VX-3R is amazingly portable.

I take the VX-3R everywhere in my compact EDC (Everyday Carry) pack:

My Everyday Carry (EDC) pack, loaded with all of the essentials.

I’ve used this little radio while traveling (hitting local repeaters and even simplex), I’ve monitored live air support during a local forest fire, and, on a moment’s notice, even caught an ARISS contact.

This week, I decided it might make sense to purchase another VX-3R to carry in the glove compartment of my truck. Since I already know my way around this radio, and since I already have the software and programming cable through RT Systems--it seems to make sense.

I checked the price at Universal Radio only to find the following notice:

AVAILABILITY UPDATE:
This model is being discontinued. We expect one more shipment in late February which will fill our back-orders.  We are not accepting additional orders at this time.

DX Engineering, Ham Radio Outlet and GigaParts also show no stock.

I feel like $139 was a bargain for this versatile amateur HT.

Late last night, a “New Open Box” unit appeared on eBay for $119 shipped. The seller had 100% positive feedback, so I snagged it.

If you’re interested in the VX-3R, your best bet will be to check with radio retailers like Universal Radio and Ham Radio Outlet for used/demo units.

Of course, you might also follow a VX-3R search on eBay.

Post readers: Any other VX-3R owners in our community? Any other fans of monitoring ATC/aviation traffic?

March 2-4, 2017: Join us for the 30th (!!!) NASWA Winter SWL Fest!

Broadcasting a live performance of the Shortwave Shindig at the 2015 Winter SWL Fest.

Every year, I look forward to the only event I know that brings together both my avid interest in radio and my loyal radio-listening friends: the Winter SWL Fest. This is the one place where, among the 125-plus attendees, you can talk freely about all aspects of the shortwave hobby without any need of explanation as to why you find radio so fascinating. As a result, over the course of the eight years I’ve attended the ‘Fest, it has begun to feel less like a technical hobbyists convention and more like a (most enjoyable) family reunion.

The DoubleTree hotel where the Winter SWL Fest is held. Notice anything unique about the top floor of this hotel?

This year, the Winter SWL Fest is celebrating its 30th (!!!) Anniversary. The ‘Fest organizers have added an extra day to the convention making it a special three day event.

Here’s the description from the Winter SWL Fest website:

The Winter SWL Fest is a conference of radio hobbyists of all stripes, from DC to daylight. Every year scores of hobbyists descend on the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania suburbs for a weekend of camaraderie. The Fest is sponsored by NASWA, the North American Shortwave Association, but it covers much more than just shortwave; mediumwave (AM), scanning, satellite TV, and pirate broadcasting are among the other topics that the Fest covers. Whether you’ve been to every Fest (all 29, starting with the first year at the fabled Pink & Purple Room of the Fiesta Motor Inn) or this year’s will be your first, you’re sure to find a welcome from your fellow hobbyists.

For 2017, the 30th Annual (!!) Winter SWL Fest will have three days of sessions where you can learn about the latest developments in the radio listening hobbies, but there’s so much more going on. There’s a silent auction that takes place, where you’re bound to find something of interest. There’s the Hospitality Suite, where attendees partake of tuning oil and other treats and engage in spirited conversations. There is the closing Banquet, with after-dinner remarks by a luminary from the field, often one of the many broadcasters who attend the Fest, followed by the raffle, where you could win one or more of the dozens of prizes, ranging from pens from stations up to top-notch communications receivers. And of course, the infamous midnight ride of Pancho Villa that closes things out every year.

Early registration fees are available through the month of January, as an incentive to register early. We strongly urge you to do so as fees will increase for those registering January 28th and later.

Hotel Registration: The Doubletree Guest Suites offers a special $109 rate (single or double) that includes a full breakfast buffet. Reservations may be made by phone at +1-610-834-8300 or 800-222-8733 or online here; click on Special Rates and enter the group code NAS. If at all possible, please reserve hotel rooms using our group code, so we can maintain proper credit and keep costs down.

Fest Registration: A paper reservation form may be downloaded here; you may also register online via PayPal here.

Your hosts, Richard Cuff and John Figliozzi, work throughout the year to ensure that attendees have a great time over the weekend, and by all accounts, they succeed stunningly. How else could this event have lasted for 30 years (egad) and draw people from around the world to southeastern Pennsylvania? Won’t you join us?

This year, the grand prize at the Winter SWL Fest is the new Icom IC-7300 transceiver (which also happens to be an exceptional general coverage HF receiver).

If you can make a pilgrimage to Plymouth Meeting, PA, please do so. I think you’ll enjoy the diversity of programs and people who attend. I’ll be there along with a number of regular SWLing Post contributors. It’s a great time to exchange stories and ideas in person.

I always leave the Winter SWL Fest energized about a new aspect of our radio hobby. I think you will too.

Click here to register for the Winter SWL Fest online.

ARISS contact today: stream on the web or perhaps listen with your radio!

NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson’s 7th Spacewalk (Image source: NASA)

Last night, my buddy Eric McFadden (WD8RIF) notified me that the International Space Station would be making a pass this morning and doing an ARISS contact with three schools in Belgium.

It appears this pass will create an opportunity for some of us at least in eastern North America (and elsewhere) to listen to the transmission live.

Eric notes:

The frequency of the downlink should be 145.800MHz. As the ISS climbs above your horizon, because of doppler-shift, listen on 145.805. Switch to 145.800 as the ISS approaches zenith. Switch to 145.795 as the ISS drops toward the other horizon. You’ll know when to switch frequency when the audio gets bad.

[…]The ISS runs real power so an HT with anything but the shortest rubber duck should be OK, particularly when the ISS is well above the horizon. A 1/2-wave whip on the HT is better.

The contact starts at 13:47 UTC (08:47 EST)–about one hour from time of this posting.

As Eric notes, pretty much any VHF handheld radio or scanner can easily receive this contact as long as you can tune to 145.80 MHz +/-.

Last time I was in a place to tune to the ISS, it was with my kids and we all got a kick out of hearing astronauts answer questions from children here on Terra Firma. I wrote a short post about this.

Don’t worry if you miss this ARISS contact–they happen all the time. Check the ARISS “Upcoming Contacts” (http://www.ariss.org/upcoming-contacts.html) page where future ARISS QSOs are listed. No doubt, it will pass over your part of the globe at some point!

Southgate ARC also posted the following announcement with a link to the live webcast:

ARISS contact webcast

On Thursday 12 January 2017, an ARISS contact is scheduled with three schools in Belgium.

Two schools will operate from the Euro Space Center.

The event will be web streamed live on:
https://www.facebook.com/eurospacecenter

The radio contact is scheduled at 13.47 UTC, which 14.37 CEWT.

The web streaming will start around 14.00 local time.

73,

Gaston Bertels, ON4WF
ARISS past chairman

Thanks again, Eric, for the tip!

Talking scanners…

Since I was a kid, I’ve always enjoyed listening to police, fire, public services/utilities, and aviation communications on scanners. Growing up, my father had a Regency Executive scanner in our living room, and he used it to listen to all of the local action before it was published in the newspaper the following morning. All so fascinating to a kid like me, listening in.  Ah, those were the days…!

Regency Executive Scanner (Image source: eBay)

The Regency scanner was populated with crystals, and I fondly remember accompanying my father to our local radio shop to purchase new crystals for various frequencies. My father still has and uses this scanner today––evidently, a few of our hometown services still use the same frequencies they used back in the 1970s.

But oh, how times have changed

As the years have passed, public services moved to more complex communications systems including trunking, and now a host of digital modes have come to the fore, some even encrypted.

My interest in scanner technology frankly waned during the 1990s.  I suppose this had to do with the amount of travel and moving I was doing at the time. In the 1990s, for example, I lived in at least seven different communities in two countries. Between 2000-2010, I lived in five different communities in three different countries. I always remained dedicated to shortwave radio, of course, because while frequencies changed, I could receive many stations in Europe that I could also receive in North America. I knew that scanner frequencies, by their very nature, vary community-to-community, so I didn’t bother.

Truth is, I simply lacked the patience to program (relatively complicated) scanners.  Not to mention, I was really put off by the idea of traveling with a scanner, thus requiring a thick frequency guide just to hear local services.

Welcome to 2017

In the past few years, technology has made a big leap forward in the scanner world. With robust on-board memory, GPS capabilities, and dynamic frequency databases searchable by postal code and/or GPS coordinates, keeping an up-to-date scanner is now a great deal easier––brilliant developments for a scanner newbie like me!

So, exactly why do I want a scanner all of a sudden?  I mainly want one to keep in the messenger bag I carry with me everywhere.  I’d like something to take on travels, perhaps help me listen in on traffic problems or simply eavesdrop on the local public service scene to understand what’s happening around me. Moreover, I find I love listening to aviation frequencies! And though I travel with other radios, the ability to tune NOAA frequencies would be super, too.

I started thinking about scanners last year when we experienced a forest fire in our community. We discovered the fire as we traveled home that day, and found our local road blocked to traffic for about an hour as emergency vehicles moved in. Fortunately, I carry a Yaesu VX-3R in my messenger pack and was able to find the frequencies the fire department was using to communicate with the fire-spotting plane circling overhead. It gave me some measure of comfort to hear that things were almost contained at under twenty acres. In truth, many of us were thinking through a possible evacuation scenario since, at the time, massive forest fires were flaring in various parts of the state.

So, here’s my question to readers in-the-know regarding scanners: can you help me find the perfect scanner for the following requirements…?

  • Handheld (not mobile/base)
  • Easy to program
  • GPS capability
  • Updated frequency databases that can be stored internally
  • Able to receive as many analog and digital modes as possible
  • Relatively durable and compact
  • Long runtime on batteries

A friend recommended the Bearcat/Uniden BCD436HP, a scanner that seems to have a lot of the functionality I seek.

I know that Uniden Homepatrol II is also recommended by many.

Also, the Whistler company has a number of scanners and a large following, as well.

Hmm…So many choices!

Post readers, can you help me out? What sort of scanner do you recommend, and why?