Paul schedules new shortwave broadcasts via WRMI, WBCQ and Channel 292

SP600Dial3

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Paul Walker, who writes:

I will be doing another broadcast on Shortwave and it’s going to be even bigger and better right now.

Tentatively, this is how the broadcast schedule times/frequencies work out to be:

  • WBCQ 5110khz and 9330khz Friday March 11th, 2016
    10pm to 12midnight Eastern (which is 0300 to 0500 UTC Saturday March 12th)
  • WRMI 11580khz Thursday March 10th, 2016 Thursday March 10th, 2016
    8pm to 10pm Eastern (which is 0100 to 0300utc on Friday March 11th)
  • Channel 292, 6070khz (Germany transmitter site) Friday March 110th, 2016
    10pm to 12midnight UK time (which is 5pm to 7pm eastern, not that Channel 292 can be heard in the US… just giving you a frame of reference)

I am in the process of booking all this time, so something could change in terms of times/dates between now and the broadcast dates.

I’ll be doing 2 hours of rock n roll and country music .. no commercials, no pleading for money, no asking for donations.. just me, playing the music I like.. because. well I want to and I can.

I’m paying for time on all 4 of these stations out of MY OWN POCKET, again for no reason, other then I want to.

So many complain about what radio lacks, wether am, fm or sw and lament about the old days or suggest what would work today.. but want it done with other people’s money.. they won’t put up and shut up. What I do won’t change radio or make much of a difference in the grand scheme of shortwave radio, but I can have fun and share my love of radio and music with others.

I am trying to secure an hour or two on a United Kingdom area AM station as well if it is affordable and I can find one to sell me time.

Writing to you from an apartment only 500 feet from the frozen Yukon river in Alaska’s interior region.

Excellent news, Paul! Please keep us informed as I’m happy to post any updates you may have. We’ll be listening!

China Radio International’s overwhelming AM bandwidth via Havana

Scott-Marine-SLR-M-Dial

This morning, I listened to Radio Australia on 9,580 kHz with my WWII era Scott Marine Radio SLR-M (above).

Radio Australia provides a reliable, strong signal into North America every morning and it’s where I typically tune for the morning news at the top of the hour.

China Radio International also fires up on the adjacent frequency of 9570 kHz around 1200 UTC–their signal is also incredibly strong here as it’s relayed from Radio Havana Cuba at 250 kW. CRI’s bandwidth is almost always wider than 10 kHz–indeed, it’s often 20 kHz–which means that it completely wipes out any average adjacent signal.

Indeed, when I’m testing selectivity on portable shortwave radios, I’ll often tune to Radio Australia and wait for CRI to fire up on 9570 kHz. If the portable radio can still lock onto Radio Australia after CRI is on the air–or, better yet, if an upper side band sync lock can eliminate all traces of CRI–I know the receiver has decent selectivity.

This morning, when CRI began transmitting at 1200 UTC, their signal completely wiped out every trace of Radio Australia. Though the SLR-M’s narrow AM filter is still quite wide, it can typically cope with the adjacent CRI carrier.

I fired up the TitanSDR to see what CRI’s signal looked like on a spectrum display–here’s what I found:

China-Radio-International-Bandwidth

CRI’s AM bandwidth was 30+ kHz wide! 

In my book, that was an abusive use of the band.

This was, by no means, an isolated event. It was just particularly annoying for me this morning as I was enjoying a good cup of coffee and the morning ABC news.

I’ll send a message to CRI and RHC about this, but I have my doubts anyone will take action.

Okay–sorry about the rant!

Listening to the Voice of Greece on the Signal Corps BC-348-Q

SignalCorps-BC-348-Q

Yesterday evening, I warmed up my Signal Corps BC-348-Q and tuned to 9,420 kHz to see if the Voice of Greece happened to be on the air.

Fortunately, I was rewarded with a strong signal from Avlis.

The ‘348 did a fine job playing all that lovely Greek music, too. Though the WWII era ‘348 was never intended to be an HF broadcast band receiver, when paired with a good speaker, it sounds pretty darn amazing!

Here’s a short video (apologies for the dark image):

1944 WWII Hallicrafters Shortwave Radio Promo

WWII-HallicraftersInteresting 15 min. video demonstrating the Army Signal Corps using an Hallicrafters SCR-299.

While certainly a promotional piece for Hallicrafters, this has great footage and captures a bit of the excitement of radio expanding into new frontiers. There is a discussion of how the radio was modified for military conditions as well as some innovations which were implemented to make such a system mobile.

As an aside, it never ceases to amaze me how clear and crisp black and white film technology of the time seems somehow better than the color images which replaced it. But that may just be me — a black-and-white guy living in a colorized world!

There is a second part to this video, as well as other WWII-era videos available on YouTube with a bit of searching, and of course don’t forget to check out the SWLing’s Shortwave Radio Archive page for more interesting shortwave audio old and new!

Robert Gulley, AK3Q, is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Robert also blogs at All Things Radio.

The Xiegu X5105: a new QRP portable transceiver in development

Xiegu-X5105

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Mike, who writes:

I thought your readers might like to know about the new Xiegu X5105 [HF] transceiver which is being developed by the Wouxun group out of China (the same company who produces an inexpensive line of amateur HTs).

According to YaesuFT817.com, the X5105’s receiver is a double-conversion superheterodyne design and is made portable by way of 3 rechargeable lithium batteries of 1.8 mAh each. Native output of 5 watts.

I’ve read that the price will be around $500 US.

The X-108 forum also has the following message, I assume, from a company representative…

“Xiegu Tech will launch new products. I’m very pleased to share relevant information with you:-)

I. X5105 short wave transceiver

  • X5105 is a highly portable transceiver working at HF+6m band, with a built-in power output of 5W.
  • Technical features: double-conversion superheterodyne, fitted with up to 3 lithium batteries of 18,650mph each.
  • Expandability
  • A standard main unit (embedded with one 8-pole 2.7k-SSB crystal filter)
  • An optional high stability, high precision TCXO module
  • An optional 500Hz narrow band crystal filter
  • An optional plug-in 5W antenna tuner module

II. XPA125 integrated amplifier and antenna tuner

  • XPA125, with a built-in antenna tuner, amplifies the output up to 125W.

Technical features:

  • 125W linear power amplifier + combined LC antenna tuner.

Expandability: 

  • A standard 125W amplifier, An optional 125W automatic antenna tuner.”

Thanks for all of the info, Mike!

That’s an interesting portable design. I like the display–reminds me of the Icom IC-746.

I’ll be very curious how well it performs as a general coverage receiver. I don’t see any specs regarding AM mode or the maximum bandwidth. The price is certainly competitive; nearly half that of the Elecraft KX3. I seriously doubt it could give the KX3 a run for its money, performance-wise, but who knows? Looks like we’ll have more info by the end of the year when the X5105 hits production. Thanks again for the tip!

Review of the Kaito KA108

Kaito-KA108-Front-2

Recently, I learned about a new portable by Kaito Electronics: the Kaito KA108. While there are a number of compact portables on the market, the KA108 really caught my attention because it features a built-in digital recorder. Which is to say, you can listen to a station on shortwave, press a button, and the KA108 will record it to a MicroSD card. Pretty cool, right? It’s also the first shortwave portable I’ve ever known that offers a scheduling feature for recordings.

In the past there have been a few shortwave portables with digital recording capabilities, but most of these have been plagued with poor performance. So this time, I had my fingers crossed that Kaito might have produced a winner.

Having used the KA108 for several days now, my initial review follows, with a focus on shortwave as well as mediumwave performance.

User’s Manual

The KA108 actually ships with two manuals: a quick start reference guide and a proper highly-detailed user’s manual.

Kaito-KA108-Unboxing-3

The manual is written in English and is quite descriptive, despite a number of spelling and grammar errors that should have been caught before going to print. It’s obvious that Kaito didn’t hire a native English speaker/professional editor to check their copy.  (I don’t understand why a company would go to the expense to produce a manual without having it professionally edited…Kaito, please take note!)  Fortunately, these spelling and grammar errors, while annoying, can be overlooked and/or deciphered by most English-speaking readers.

Tuning

Kaito-KA108-Side3

On the plus side, the KA108 sports a full number keypad for direct frequency entry. This makes tuning to a known frequency a very simple process––with one exception (see below). There’s also a tuning wheel on the right side of the radio.

Kaito-KA108-Keypad

Note where the “0” is placed on the keypad: why the change?

Using the keypad requires some getting used to, however. Most of us––myself included––are familiar with traditional numeric keypads, but the KA108 inexplicably changes the game plan: as you can see above, the “0” button is located on the lower right side of the main keypad. So it took me a few hours of use before I could reliably key in a frequency without looking at the radio.

In my humble opinion, Kaito should have moved the number pad up one row, positioned the “ATS” button to the lowest row on the left, the “0” button to its immediate right, and completed the bottom row with the “Rewind/Play/Fast-Forward” buttons.

Another annoyance––and this is a big one for me–-is that the KA108 has extended muting between frequency changes. It makes band-scanning a frustrating experience. I made a short video demonstrating this:

Audio

DSC_3495The KA108 is designed around a very innovative small speaker with an acoustic chamber that significantly boosts bass response. This is the same speaker used in the Melson S8 that I reviewed some time ago.

The audio fidelity is excellent on FM, and when playing back a full-fidelity digital recording. Unfortunately, when tuned to the AM broadcast (mediumwave) band or to the shortwave bands, the KA108 falls short; the bass response actually becomes an impediment to listening.

In a nutshell: the KA108 audio has issues. A further explanation of the KA108’s audio is described in the performance notes that follow.

FM Performance

On a positive note, the Kaito KA108 has respectable FM reception. I was able to receive all my benchmark FM stations with little trouble, and the KA108 maintained a strong lock on all signals.

And as mentioned above, KA108 audio via the built-in speaker is much better on FM than on any other band. Indeed, on FM, the KA108 produces rich, full-fidelity audio that can easily fill a room. Audio is similar to that of the Melson M7 and the Melson S8.

If you’re seeking a nice FM portable with robust audio, you’ll enjoy the KA108.

Shortwave Performance

Kaito-KA-108

I’m quite disappointed with the KA108’s shortwave performance.

Almost immediately after unboxing the KA108, I inserted a battery, walked outdoors, and tuned through the 31 meter band.

Other than a couple of blow-torch North American private broadcasters, I heard…nothing. It was during this first band scan that I realized how annoying the tuning mute could be. And the audio, meanwhile, sounded muffled and garbled: I assumed that there was some local interference, and simply turned the radio off, hoping the following day would produce a change for the better.

The following day, I spent a great deal of time with the KA108 on the air, and compared it with the Eton Traveller III and the Tecsun PL-310ET––both capable, similarly-priced compact DSP radios.

Sure enough, when compared with other portables, the KA108’s reception is, sadly, rather poor.

At first I thought it might be an issue with receiver sensitivity, but the KA108 could receive almost every station the Traveller III and the PL-310ET could receive. But the audio was so muffled on the KA108, even with  the use of headphones, that spoken word was hard to interpret. Additionally, the over-active AGC (Automatic Gain Control) meant that audio levels were all over the place. That combination makes for fatiguing listening.

Volume level indicator.

Volume level indicator.

Over the next few days with the KA108 on shortwave, I drew a few conclusions.

After recognizing that the audio fidelity did not improve significantly when using headphones, I realized that at least three factors are having a negative impact on shortwave audio, as follows:

  1. The default AM bandwidth is too narrow for broadcasts, and cannot be adjusted
  2. The AGC setting is over-active and causes audio pumping; it, too, cannot be adjusted
  3.  Portions of the shortwave bands are polluted by internally-generated noise/interference

This combination makes for sloppy shortwave performance.

To save time in making the KA108’s comparison information readily available, as well as to indicate actual speaker performance, I decided to take a few quick comparison videos not with the KA108 or an external mic but simply with my smartphone. While my phone’s microphone is somewhat limited, I believe you’ll be able to observe the  inherent problems with the KA108.

I compared the KA108 with the Traveller III in each video.

In the first comparison, I tuned to Radio Exterior De España on 9690 kHz, as you’ll see. The signal was marginal or relatively weak at the time:

(Click here to view the video on YouTube.)

Next, I tuned in a very strong shortwave signal from Radio Havana Cuba on 11,670 kHz:

(Click here to view on YouTube.)

Finally, later in the afternoon, I tuned to All India Radio on 9,445 kHz––again, a marginal signal:

(Click here to view this video on YouTube.)

Mediumwave Performance

Mediumwave (a.k.a., AM broadcast band) performance is very similar to shortwave performance.

In this video, I’ve tuned to an AM station located twenty-five miles away on 1600 kHz.  The KA108 can receive the station, but audio is not pleasant and the AGC is, yet again, overactive. I’ve noticed that the mediumwave band is plagued by more internally-generated noise than are the shortwave bands.

(Click here to view this video on YouTube.)

Note that YouTube’s copyright checking system flagged my video because it recognized the song being played in the background on WTZQ. I believe this easily qualifies as fair use since the clips are short and it’s an off-air recording with dialog on top. I’ve disputed this, but YouTube may choose to delete this video.  In anticipation, I’ve saved the audio from this video–you can listen to it by clicking here.

In a nutshell, AM performance on the Kaito KA108 is frankly poor. Even when I tuned to strong local stations, the audio sounded muffled and distorted, much as in the Radio Havana Cuba example above.

So you can forget about using the KA108 for mediumwave DXing.

MP3/WAV Playback and recording

There are some redeeming virtues with the KA108, however.  Here’s a positive: digital playback with the KA108 is fantastic. I’ve played a wide variety of audio files on the KA108, and am very impressed with its on-board MP3/WAV player. While audio characteristics unfortunately cannot be adjusted––i.e., there’s no equalization––I find the default audio settings well-balanced for both music and voice.

The KA108 has a dedicated MicroSD slot and a covered USB slot on top of the unit.

The KA108 has a dedicated MicroSD slot and a covered USB slot on top of the unit.

Recording directly from shortwave and mediumwave is also quite good. I believe its on-board recorder is perhaps the best I’ve tried in recent portables; it’s a marked improvement over that of the Kaito KA29, for example. It seems to capture the receiver’s produced audio well, with only a slight, high-pitched “hiss” injected in the audio, though this is not a major distraction.

Sadly the main distraction is that the recorder is recording audio, as I’ve outlined above, from a sub-par receiver.

Still, as an MP3/WAV player, it’s brilliant, and boasts excellent audio.

Summary

Invariably, all radios have strengths and weaknesses; here’s a list of my notes from the moment I put the KA108 on the air:

Pros:

  • Great portable size
  • Clear back-lit display
  • Numerous recording and playback features
  • Audio via MP3 or headphones is strong, considering the small speaker with acoustic chamber provides more bass response and volume than comparable portables (see con)
  • Excellent FM reception
  • Excellent MP3/WAV playback with well-balanced audio fidelity
  • Recorder schedule function
  • Alarms and sleep timers easy to use
  • Dedicated MicroSD and USB slots on top of chassis

Cons:

  • Mediocre sensitivity on SW and MW
  • Internally-generated noise on MW and SW
  • Audio (via built-in speaker) is:
    • too bass-heavy, lacks treble on MW/SW
    • garbled and mushy on MW/SW
    • “hot” and often splatters/distorts when signals are strong
  • Tuning
    • extended mute between frequency changes
    • no “scan to next station” function (only ATS)
  • Odd numeric keypad layout
  • Any local RFI garbles reception even further on SW/MW
  • No SSB (in fairness, few radios in this price class have SSB)
  • Antenna swivel to the front somewhat blocked by the radio’s chassis
  • No backstand

Conclusion

I really wanted the Kaito KA108 to be a strong––or even average––performer. Why? Because, like many of you, I would love to have a capable shortwave/mediumwave radio with built-in digital recording and playback.

Kaito-KA108-AM

Sadly, the KA108 falls short on multiple levels.

Concerned that I might have simply received a defective unit––as I did when I reviewed the Sangean ATS-405––I contacted Kaito Electronics USA. I mentioned my disappointment with the radio’s performance, and detailed the negatives mentioned in this review.

I asked Kaito’s technician if I might have received a defective unit? He responded that my experience seems to be the norm with this particular production run. He, too, had noted muffled/garbled audio on shortwave and mediumwave. Per his request, I sent a detailed list of the KA108’s shortcomings with suggested fixes. He is planning to send this to Kaito’s current manufacturer in China.

The KA108’s poor performance issues would likely be mitigated to a great extent, if the manufacturer would simply make the following adjustments:

  1. Widen the AM bandwidth
  2. Tweak the AGC for greater stability
  3. Adjust the audio settings for the AM mode
  4. Minimize/shorten muting between frequency changes
  5. Improve internal shielding and grounding
  6. And while they’re at it, have the radio manual edited by a native English speaker

Since this is a DSP-based radio, I imagine the first four adjustments can be made via firmware upgrades.

Time will tell if the second production run of the Kaito KA108 improves on the first.  Fingers crossed…!  Kaito, we’d like you to succeed on this score.

Again, many thanks to Universal Radio for supplying me with a KA108 for this review.

Chris has developed an easy way to run the RTL-SDR dongle on a Mac

RTL-SDR-001

Many thanks to Chris Smolinski who writes:

I wanted to run SdrDx, and other SDR apps on my Mac with an RTL SDR Dongle. So I wrote this server app, that makes it appear like a networked SDR.

 

No need to install any RTL libraries, or compile any code.

 

Just run the app on your Mac, configure it and your SDR app, and you’re all set.

 

The app is free, and should work with Mac OS X 10.6 through 10.11.

Chris has kindly allowed me to share his full post here on the SWLing Post below–you can read the original at RadioHobbyist.org:


Running an RTL SDR USB Dongle On Your Mac The Easy Way With Cocoa RTL Server

I’ve had a few of the RTL radio tuner dongles for a while. These are USB devices that were originally made for use as TV tuners overseas, but it turns out that you can access the I/Q data stream, and turn them into an SDR (Software Defined Radio). They can be tuned roughly over a range of 25 to 1700 MHz, and sometimes even higher, depending on the tuner IC chip inside the particular dongle.RTL-SDR

 

I previously posted about how to get the RTL dongle working on the Mac here: An SDR for $17 – The R820T USB RTL-SDR DVB-T Dongle and here: An SDR for $17 – The R820T USB RTL-SDR DVB-T Dongle – Part 2. These posts were from 2013, and I did the installation on a Mac running OS X 10.6, using some pre-built libraries.

Fast forward to the present day. I got a new Mac running OS X 10.11 El Capitan, and I wanted to be able to use the RTL dongles with my favorite SDR software on the Mac,SdrDx. Enter Cocoa RTL Server.

Cocoa RTL Server is a stand alone app that interfaces with an RTL dongle. It does not require you to build or install any drivers or libraries. It just works. It’s based off of an open source app called SoftShell, that I heavily extended. Cocoa RTL Server also acts like a networked SDR, following the RF Space protocol. That means it works with SdrDx, as well as any other SDR app on the Mac that supports RF Space SDRs like the netSDR. You can download a copy of the app from the Cocoa RTL Server page. Source code is included, however I am not offering any support for the project or final app.

Here’s a screenshot of the app running:

Chris-Screen-Shot

Getting up and running is easy:

1. Plug in your RTL device
2. Run CocoaRTLServer 2.0
3. Select the device from the popup menu (usually it is already selected)
4. Change the rtl_tcp or tx_tcp port values if needed
5. Click Open
6. Configure your SDR app (set the correct TCP port) and run it

I’ve run it under Mac OS X 10.6, 10.10 and 10.11, It should run under 10.7-10.9 as well.

Using SdrDx, I can tune a large portion of the FM broadcast band, click to view full size:

Chris-Screen-Shot-2

 

In this case I am tuned to 97.9 MHz. To the left of the signal meter, you can see it has decoded the station ID from the RDS data. Yes, SdrDx decodes RDS.

If you look at the lower right corner, you see the scope display of the demodulated FM audio. There are markers for the portions of interest:
You can see the main audio above the green marker to the left.
The stereo pilot at 19 kHz (red marker).
The stereo subcarrier (aquamarine)
The RDS data (orange)
The 67 kHz SCA subcarrier (purple)
The 92 kHz SCA subcarrier (yellow)

Cocoa RTL Server also includes a server that emulates rtl_tcp, so it works withCocoa1090 which decodes aircraft transponders that transmit on 1090 MHz. It should also work with any other app that gets data from rtl_tcp. Here’s a screenshot of Cocoa1090 running:

Chris-Screen-Shot-3


Thanks so much for developing this app, Chris!

I think I might go ahead and pull the trigger on an RTL-SDR as it would be great to run one on my Mac. I think your app will make the process much easier.

Readers: make sure you check out Chris’ blog RadioHobbyist.org.