Off-Grid Radio: Portable power recommendations?

Elecraft-KX3This year, I have a lot of portable radio play in mind as I travel across the continent. At some point, I even plan to spend several days in an off-grid cabin on the coast.

In the past, I’ve powered my 12 VDC ham radio transceivers with a system comprised of three PowerFilm solar 5 watt foldable PV panels (see below), a Micro M+ charge controller and several gel cell type sealed batteries (a couple 7 Ah and one 20 Ah).Powerfilm-Solar-Panel

The system works well, but the batteries are a little heavy and unhandy when I want to hike into a remote site or play radio on the beach, for example.

PowerFilmAACharger-1

In terms of receivers, my portables (like the Sony ICF-SW7600GR, Tecsun PL-660, etc.) simply use AA batteries which I charge with PowerFilm AA PV chargers (see above). My CommRadio CR-1a has an internal battery that will power it for hours at a time.

Power is much less of an issue with receivers because they’re quite resource efficient.

I mainly need a system to power my QRP ham radio gear, and that’s where I could use your experience!

Wish list

Charge controller

I need a new charge controller since my Micro M+ (no longer produced) is now being used to power a remote antenna tuner.

Of course, I’ll need an inexpensive charge controller that doesn’t produce RFI (radio interference).

It would be an added bonus if the charge controller could also charge my batteries when grid power is available.

12 VDC Battery packs

I’d like something relatively lightweight and safe.

Note: LiPo packs worry me, especially since I had one (an early GoalZero model) quite literally melt down and burn up on my bed only a few hours after bringing it back from an eight hour flight a few years ago. Scary!

Pure Sine Wave Inverter

PureSineWaveInverter

I’d also like a small, efficient pure sine wave inverter that I I could connect to my largest battery and power my laptop for extended SDR spectrum recording sessions while off-grid.

I’d love a recommendation from someone who uses one and can confirm a model that doesn’t create radio interference while operating.

Recommendations?

Post readers: Please comment with your recommendations and include model numbers and links if possible. Thank you in advance!

The Icom IC-7300 vs. Elecraft KX3: Which do you prefer for CW/SSB?

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Many thanks to all of you who participated in our last survey comparing the new Icom IC-7300 with the WinRadio Excalibur SDR. We had over 100 responses (!!!)–the results will be posted in the forthcoming IC-7300 review.

Before completing my review, I thought I might fit in one more quick comparison–this time, comparing the Icom IC-7300 to my Elecraft KX3 and focusing on SSB and CW reception.

Recording notes and disclaimers

The Icom IC-7300 offers native digital audio recording, which means that it records both transmitted and received audio to an inserted SD card.

IC-7300The Elecraft KX3 does not have a built-in recorder (indeed, most transceivers do not) thus I made in-line recordings using my Zoom H2N digital recorder.

I did no post-processing of the audio other than converting .wav files to .mp3.

Both receivers shared my large outdoor omni-directional horizontal delta loop antenna for each test.

The Elad ASA15 Antenna Splitter Amplifier

The Elad ASA15 Antenna Splitter Amplifier

To keep the comparison on as equal footing as possible, the receivers shared the same antenna through my Elad ASA15 antenna splitter amplifier. Though the ASA15 has both 12dB amplification and –15dB attenuation, I employed neither.

The ASA15 allowed me to make the following recordings simultaneously.

In each case, I tried to set up both radios using the same filter widths, AGC settings, and (as much as possible), audio level. I didn’t engage a noise-reduction feature on either rig.

I also didn’t employ any type of audio equalization on either rig–still, you’ll note that one radio produces a more “flat” response than the other.

Please vote!

At the end of this post, I have an embedded a survey in which you can vote for the sample recordings you like best. Each recording is clearly labeled to denote that it’s either from “Radio A” or “Radio B” (chosen at random).

And now…here are the recordings:


Audio Clip 1: CW (20 meter band)

Radio A

Radio B


Audio Clip 2: Weak Signal CW (20 meter band)

Radio A

Rado B


Audio Clip 3: Weak/Strong SSB
(Sable Island working Asia/Pacific on 20 meter band)

Radio A

Radio B


We want to hear from you!

Use the form below to vote for the recordings you prefer in each section.

I’ll close voting at 12:00 UTC on Wednesday April 27, 2016. Thank you in advance for your participation in this survey!

Video: SDR Touch demo on Android device using SDRplay RSP

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(Source: SDRplay via YouTube)

Click here to view on YouTube.

This demonstrates turning an Android Tablet (or Android Phone) into a highly portable comms receiver or spectrum analyzer operating from Long Wave to Microwave (10kHz to 2GHz) – using SDR Touch and the SDRplay RSP www.sdrplay.com

To be a beta tester simply go to https://play.google.com/apps/testing/ and follow the instructions – the SDR Touch author welcomes feedback on https://www.facebook.com/SdrTouch/ – your chance to influence the way this amazing software can get better and better.

Guest Post: Tracking High Seas Pirates on Shortwave Radio

Suspected pirates surrender to crew members of the CGC Boutwell. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Suspected pirates surrender to crew members of the CGC Boutwell. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mario Filippi (N2HUN) for the following guest post:


Tracking High Seas Pirates on Shortwave Radio

by Mario Filippi (N2HUN)

(All photos taken by author–click to enlarge)

Ahoy! After spinning a radio dial for over a half-century, shortwave listening still provides a source of adventure and interesting intercepts. While major broadcasters continue to move to the Internet and dwindle in number, there nonetheless remains plenty of utility intrigue to be had; you just need to know where to look, and be comfortable with other modes of communication such as RTTY (Radioteletype).

RTTY remains on HF (3 – 30 MHz), albeit mostly encrypted, but there are some stalwarts of this mode that transmit important and interesting information for ships at sea. The information can take the form of weather broadcasts, hazards to navigation, information on ships lost at sea, and pirate activity. Yes, pirate activity but not radio pirates; real honest-to-goodness modern day pirates looking to loot, plunder and prey upon commercial ships making an honest living or other leisure watercraft just out having fun.

SignaLink-AOR

Who knows what dangers lurk behind that dial? Trusty AOR AR-3000 receiver and SignaLink™.

Has your interest been piqued? When avast mateys as I spin ya’ a yarn on how to find out where these sea-faring scoundrels lurk from the Caribbean all the way to the South China sea!

Pirate activity is not something of the past; it exists today and is a threat conducted by ragtag armed ragamuffin groups. To keep abreast of the action you’ll need the following gear: a shortwave radio with single sideband (SSB), a decent antenna, a means of decoding RTTY, and WLO, a station from Mobile, AL that transmits information to ships at sea.

You’ll do well to add WLO’s frequency to your receiver’s memory list as it’s a pretty active station that faithfully serves the sea-faring community and is one of the gems on HF.

First, tune your receiver using USB (Upper Side Band) to around 8.472 MHz and listen for that warbling sound. You will also need a way to pipe the audio from your shortwave receiver to a computer (I use a SignaLink™ USB) and a decoding program for RTTY, such as MMTTY.

To decode you’ll need to set the baud rate (45.45) and shift (170 Hz) on MTTY (or software program of choice) and tune your radio slightly up and down frequency until the software starts decoding.

You may have to press the “Reverse” or “Rev” selector at times. MMTTY is my favorite for RTTY decoding, and a picture of it is below.

WLO, Mobile AL, with RYRY idling loop, MMTTY decoder, 45.45 bauds, 170Hz shift, “Rev.”

WLO, Mobile AL, with RYRY idling loop, MMTTY decoder, 45.45 bauds, 170Hz shift, “Rev.”

MMTTY is available as a free download from Makato Mori, JE3HHT. I’ve used his program for over a decade and it performs well.

You can also use MultiPSK or FLdigi to decode RTTY so it’s the user’s choice as to which is a better fit.

Anyway, what are these pirates up to? Well the next few screenshots (click to enlarge) show some interesting activity as per WLO’s RTTY transmissions:

Pirates use element of surprise with guns and knives as armaments.

Pirates use element of surprise with guns and knives as armaments.

Somali pirates reportedly armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. Yikes!

Somali pirates reportedly armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. Yikes!

pic5

Give ‘em hell boys! An alert bulk carrier crew aborted hijacking with teamwork and water cannon.

Ships are encouraged to report pirate activity via FAX or phone.

Ships are encouraged to report pirate activity via FAX or phone.

Well mateys that’s enough high seas adventure for now, so first shove off to the galley for some grub (or grog) and then head to the radio room, turn on that rig and get ready for action on HF, you’ll find plenty to choose from, it’s out there for you.

I would like to thank the operators of WLO for providing such a valuable service to mariners and for providing us radio aficionados with interesting reception! And thanks readers!

P.S. Note that WLO alternates from RTTY to Sitor B so just make sure you are listening to the RTTY broadcast. If the transmission is in Sitor B then you can use a NAVTEX (e.g. YAND) decoder instead.


Thank you so much, Mario, for sharing yet another fascinating aspect of our radio world! FYI: I’m planning on purchasing a SignaLink USB at the Dayton Hamvention this year.

Readers, you can read all of Mario’s posts by clicking or bookmarking this link.

Cold War Spy Radio: Videos of the FS-5000

FS-5000-Spy-Radio

In response to Guy Atkin’s recent post, Psst, Buddy! Wanna Buy a Spy Radio?, @Cipherguerrilla comments via Twitter with the following videos of the FS-5000:

Click here to watch the FS-5000 being unpacked and assembled, and here to watch the FS-5000 in operation. I’ve also embedded both videos below.

Many thanks for sharing these videos,@Cipherguerrilla! The FS-5000 is certainly a fascinating purpose-built radio.  I’d love to have one.

Update: From the Isle of Music

PromoFTIOMApr252616

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Bill Tilford, who shares this From The Isle of Music update:

Our April 26 (April 25 in the Americas) program will feature special guest Cuban Jazz/Blues/Fusion guitarist Hector Quintana, a nominee in the Jazz category in Cubadisco 2015.

Also, some nice Charanga from Orquesta America, also a Cubadisco 2015 nominee (Traditional Son), some of David Alvarez & Juego de Manos (yet another nominee, in Popular Dance Music) and more of the beautiful concert piano album Danzas Para Piano de Ignacio Cervantes.

Two listening options on shortwave:
WBCQ, 7490 KHz, Tuesdays 0000 UTC (8pm EDT Mondays)
Channel 292, 6070 KHz, Tuesdays 1900 UTC (2100 CEST)

On Facebook: From the Isle of Music

Radio Vanuatu on target for nationwide coverage under new leadership

Vanuatu-Map

(Source: Radio New Zealand via Mike Terry on the WRTH FB Page)

The recently appointed chair of the board of the Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation is confident nationwide coverage will be achieved by Radio Vanuatu soon.

The new government recently replaced the old board following concerns over the lack of the public broadcaster’s ability to reach the outer islands.

Its new chairperson Johnety Jerety said transmission had deteriorated over the years, mostly because of poor maintenance.

He said under the government’s hundred day plan nationwide coverage had to be implemented by July 1st.

But Mr Jerety said part of the problem was that people were buying cheap radios.

“They’re not compatible to meet the standard for our transmission system within here so that is why most of the ni-Van [indigenous people] within the islands are not able to have the coverage received throughout the island.”

Johnety Jerety said they were now advising people to buy short-wave radios that are compatible.

Read this article on Radio New Zealand’s website.

This article is a little vague, but I assume when the new chairperson, Johnety Jerety, is claiming that the problem with reception has to do with “cheap radios” perhaps he means receivers that don’t cover Vanuatu’s nighttime frequency of 3945 kHz? Almost all radios with shortwave should receive their 7260 kHz frequency. Of course, perhaps he simply means that fewer and fewer listeners are purchasing shortwave radios?

Vanuatu is certainly being heard around the world–indeed, only two days ago, SWLing Post contributor, Paul Walker, was over the moon when he snagged Vanuatu on 7260 kHz from Galena, Alaska.  Paul wrote:

I bagged my most wanted shortwave station ever tonight!

Radio Vanuatu on 7260!!!! Heard something under a bunch of Asian hams. [Q]uite good considering they are only running 1.5 kw out of their licensed 10 kw (that’s what they told me after the cyclone awhile back).

Great catch, Paul!

I’m happy to read that Vanuatu is investing in their station once again.

Follow all Vanuatu updates using the tag: Radio Vanuatu