Category Archives: Travel

Trying to chose between the CC Skywave and Tecsun PL-310ET?

CC-Skywave-And-Tecsun-PL-310ET-SideMany thanks to SWLing Post reader, Joe, who recently asked in our comments section:

“The CC Skywave is more than double the price of the Tecsun PL-310ET. The two radios appear to have similar features and performance. Can anyone suggest a reason why one would want to pay the extra charge for a Skywave?”

Thanks for your question, Joe. I’m asked this a lot by SWLing Post readers, so quickly realized I should just turn my response into a proper post.  Here’s my response in a nutshell:

Tecsun PL-310ET

The Tecun PL-310ET

The Tecsun PL-310ET is (and has been for years) one of the best budget shortwave portables out there.

For the price of $40-45 US shipped (via eBay, for example), you really can’t go wrong.  It’s certainly a benchmark among the ultralight DSP portables.

The ($79-89 US) CC Skywave, in my opinion, has a few advantages:

  1. An excellent weather radio receiver (for folks in North America)
  2. The AIR band which is a fun and useful addition if you live near an airport or like travelling by air
  3. I prefer the Skywave over the PL-310ET on the mediumwave band. Its selectivity and AGC, in my opinion, have a distinct edge over the ‘310ET for MW DXing.

Because of these particular advantages, the Skywave has become my travel portable of choice when SSB reception isn’t a priority.

The CC Skywave

The CC Skywave

You might check out my CC Skywave review because I tried to include reception recordings which I felt represented both radios fairly:

http://swling.com/blog/2014/12/review-of-the-c-crane-cc-skywave-portable-radio/

In short, though? If I didn’t care about the AIR band or NOAA weather radio, I’d be quite happy with the PL-310ET. In truth, you really can’t go wrong either choice.

I can say that I now take my CC Skywave on travels more than my PL-310ET.

Click here to search for the Tecun PL-310ET on:

Click here to search for the CC Skywave at

  • C.Crane ($89.99 and free shipping through Dec 6, 2016)
  • Amazon.com ($89.99 with free shipping option)
  • Universal Radio (lowest price without shipping: $79.95)
  • eBay (pricing varies greatly)

Either of these radios, by the way, would make for an excellent gift.

 

A preliminary review of the PK Loop C-LOOP-HDSW6-18

eecraft-kx3-pk-loop

The Elecraft KX3 and the PK Loop C-LOOP-HDSW6-18

Over the past year, a number of SWLing Post readers have asked me to review the PK Loop portable magnetic loop antenna produced by Paul Karlstrand in Australia.

I finally caved in and purchased one.

I ordered the shortwave version of the loop, the  C-LOOP-HDSW6-18 in early November and received it about one week later.

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The Sony SW100 tuned to WBCQ.

I was first introduced to this antenna by SWLing Post contributor, Mark Fahey, who brought it to the SWL Fest and our 2015 PARI DXpedition.

Mark has taken his PK Loops (both the shortwave and mediumwave models) on his numerous travels around the world. He finds that they’re relatively effective portable antennas in RFI-dense environments like hotels and guest houses. They’re better at mitigating RFI than, say, portable wire antennas or telescopic whips.

Mark hooks up his portable SDR to the PK Loop and makes spectrum recordings (wideband recordings)–from, say, his hotel room in Kuala Lumpur–then takes the recording back home to listen and tune at his leisure via his laptop or tablet PC.  While I’ve certainly made spectrum recordings while travelling in the past, the appeal of such a portable loop antenna is what finally caused me to pull the trigger.

Overview

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The PK Loop is a small loop antenna–measuring about 12″ in diameter. It’s encased in UV-stabilized PVC conduit and the matching box also seems to be made of PVC. It feels very durable and can, no doubt, even survive the wildest of luggage handling.

The PK Loop has an attached battery 9V battery holder, but can actually be powered by any 9-18 volt DC supply. Current consumption is less than 15 mA. On the matching box, you’ll find a tuning knob, a BNC connector, DC power in port and a HI/LOW gain switch. My loop shipped with a 2 meter BNC-BNC Cable, 3.5mm adapter, and DC Power lead to open ends.

Operation

Operating the loop is very simple:

  1. Power the antenna with a 9V battery or other DC source
  2. Chose either the high or low gain setting
  3. Place it on a stable surface (height from the ground is not a critical issue, but you should avoid placing it next to noisy electronics or mobile phones)
  4. Connect the PK Loop to your receiver’s antenna jack with the supplied cable
  5. Turn on your receiver to the desired meter band, then adjust the loop’s tuning knob until you hear the signal level peak
  6. Start listening, keeping in mind that as you tune around the band you may need to adjust the loop’s tuning knob for maximum gain

Loop antennas, in general, are fairly narrow-band and–unlike a Wellbrook or Pixel Loop–manual adjustments need to be made with the tuning knob to match the PK Loop as you scan across bands.

Still, I see why Mark favors the PK Loop for spectrum recordings: the bandwidth is wide enough that if I tune the loop to the middle of the 31 meter band, for example, it does a fine job covering the entire band.

On the air

pk-loop-kx2-sw100

My free time has been very limited since receiving the PK Loop earlier this month, but over Thanksgiving holiday, I took it to my family’s home that has relatively high RFI levels.

The following are a couple of videos I made with my Moto X smartphone. I’ll be the first to admit that these are not the best videos–I had no tripod and the Moto’s microphone leaves much to be desired–but I think you’ll still get the idea of how well the PK Loop works.

With the Sony SW100

Click here to watch on YouTube.

With the Elecraft KX2

Click here to watch on YouTube.

So far, I’m very pleased with the PK Loop. It does seem to mitigate noise better than other portable antennas I’ve used in the past and certainly improves my SW100’s reception. It makes SWLing with the Elecraft KX2 or KX3 easy and convenient.

One word of caution: if you use the PK Loop with a transceiver like the KX2, please turn off the ATU, and set the power level to 0W before using. The PK Loop is receive-only and will not handle any RF power.

Note that with the SW100, I have only used the PK Loop’s low gain setting. I’m a little nervous about overloading the SW100, so do not plan to use the high gain setting. The Elecraft KX2 seems happy to handle either gain setting: I imagine this will be the case with most general coverage transceivers and tabletop receivers.

More to come!

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be staying in a hotel room (likely with inoperable windows and heavy RFI) so I will attempt to put the loop through its paces and compare it with my radio’s built-in antenna.  Stay tuned!

Post readers: have you used the PK Loop or other similar portable/travel antennas? Please comment!

Click here to view PK’s Loop antennas on Paul Karlstrand’s website.

Paul also sells his antennas and ships internationally on eBay–click here to view the selection.

pks-loops

Oxford Shortwave Log: DXing in the tropical rainforest of Pará, Brazil – part 2

img_9956pl-680

Hi there, here is part 2 of my reception videos taken in the tropical rainforest of Pará, Northern Brazil. As I mentioned in my previous post, I took a Tecsun PL-680 with me on the trip because I didn’t want to risk losing or trashing one of my precious vintage portables but also because of the following:

  • It can handle a longwire very well without overloading (I actually only used a 5 metre wire)
  • An excellent synchronous detection circuit and audio bandwidth filtering options
  • Excellent sensitivity, as demonstrated by the many DX reception videos on YouTube
  • If it got lost or damaged it would be a pain, but not difficult to replace

So, what can you hear in the jungle? Part 2 of my group of reception videos follow below – I hope you enjoy them.


Tropical rainforest DX in Pará, Brazil: RMI Overcomer Ministry 11530 kHz

 

Tropical rainforest DX in Pará, Brazil: Radio Tamazuj 11650 kHz, Madagascar

 

Tropical rainforest SW in Pará, Brazil: Radio Nacional Brasilia 11780 khz

 

Tropical rainforest DX in Pará, Brazil: R Aparecida 11855 khz (TX distance 2430 km)

 

Tropical rainforest SW in Pará, Brazil: R Brasil Central 11815 kHz, Goiania

 

Tropical rainforest DX in Pará, Brazil: Voice of Turkey 11980 kHz

 

Tropical rainforest DX in Pará, Brazil: Radio Dabanga 13800 kHz, Madagascar

 

Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.

Datawake: Steven’s new “floating lab”

stephen-roberts-datawake

Photo: Steven K. Roberts

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Steven Roberts, who shares the following update:

Hi, Thomas!! Thought I’d send an update… I did in fact find a buyer for Nomadness, and have since gone to the Dark Side… for 8 months, I have been living aboard my Delta 50 named Datawake. The sale of Nomadness was via the geek grapevine… last Spring I built a power cart named Shacktopus, and West Mountain Radio used my story about it as their quarterly newsletter. A fellow on the East Coast read that, followed the links, recognized my bike, saw the Amazon 44, and bought it… and he is now preparing to head down the Pacific Coast.

Photo: Steven K. Roberts

Photo: Steven K. Roberts

Here’s the new ship, and the console now includes four HF rigs, D-Star, a few SDR devices, crosspoint audio routing with web interface, electronics lab, and networking goodies. Nice to be back on the air after a year without a proper skyhook!

http://microship.com/meet-datawake/

Amazing, Steven! You have a super power in your ability to turn boats, bikes and pretty much anything into mobile techno-wonders! What craftsmanship!

I love Datawake and appreciate the tour with photos and details you’ve posted. I noticed the Icom IC-7300–perhaps we can have a QSO someday on the air? I’ll look forward to any report you may have about the IC-7300 as a maritime mobile station.

We look forward to future updates!

Recap of Great Smoky Mountains NPOTA activations

gsmnp-map

Last week, I attended the W4DXCC convention in Sevierville, Tennessee. The road trip afforded me several opportunities to make NPOTA activations through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

LowePro CS 60 Closed

I took my field kit which included the Elecraft KX2, QRP Ranger battery pack (not pictured), and EFT Trail-Friendly antenna.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

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My first stop was the Ocunaluftee Visitor Center in Cherokee, NC, where I had planned the “two-fer” activation of the Great Smoky Mountains (NP26) and the Blue Ridge Parkway (PK01).

First thing I did was ask the park ranger on duty how I could find the footpath to the point where the two parks overlap. Turns out, I had at least a one mile hike ahead of me.

PK01  and NP26

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I love hiking, so that wasn’t a problem.

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The only problem was I hadn’t accounted for the hike in my plans, so I knew I would be a little late for the scheduled activation time.

When I reached the Blue Ridge Parkway, I ventured down to the river where I found an excellent spot to set up my field kit.

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Thankfully, within thirty minutes, I had logged 15 contacts. I quickly packed up and attempted to catch back up with my schedule.

Thankfully, the Elk were elsewhere today!

I was grateful the Elk were elsewhere Thursday!

Back at the ranger’s station, I learned that the Ocunaluftee Visitor Center is also another National Park entity: the Trail Of Tears (TR12). I had no time to deploy my station once more, but made a mental note to add it to activations on my return trip.

NP26 and TR01

Next, I hopped in my car and drove to the Newfound Gap parking area where the Appalachian Trail (TR01) crosses the Great Smoky Mountains Park (NP26).

The view there was/is amazing:

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The area was packed with tourists, so I decided to hike up the Appalachian Trail (AT) to escape the bulk of the crowd.

img_20160922_150632201I hiked at least one mile up the narrow and steep AT before finding a suitable spot to set up my gear. It was a tight operating spot, but I managed to hang the antenna and position myself in a way that wouldn’t block foot traffic on the AT.

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I logged 18 stations in the span of about 45 minutes.

I also took several breaks to answer questions about ham radio from hikers.  I was particularly happy that one family took sincere interest in what I was doing and their young kids were fascinated that I was making contacts across the globe where there was no cell phone coverage nor Internet.

I packed up at 20:30 UTC, hiked back to my car and  managed to arrive at the conference center in Sevierville in time for dinner with my friends.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

My activations on the return trip, Sunday, included the same locations as Thursday.

elecraft-kx2-appalachaintrail

TR01 and NP26

Instead of heading north on the Appalachian Trail, I decided to head south. I was running late to activate the site and knew if I headed north I’d have a long hike ahead of me. Once again, there were a lot of visitors at the site–many were there for a Sunday morning hike and were making their way (quite slowly) north. The southern route had no foot traffic at all, so I headed south.

at-and-elecraft-kx2

I found a suitable site to set up radio, but only because the trail was so quiet I could sit in the middle of it. The entire time I operated, I only encountered one hiker who was absolutely amazed I was making contacts across the continent when he hadn’t had cell phone reception in days.

I logged 14 contacts in 45 minutes.

NP26 and PK01

Next, I headed back down the mountain to the Ocunaluftee Visitor Center to the same site where I set up before.

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Unlike my Thursday activation, contacts trickled in very slowly. It took over one hour to log 11 contacts. Propagation was very strange: the only stations I worked on the 20 meter band–a total of four–were located in Idaho and Slovenia.

img_20160925_111448716_hdr

You can *almost* see my antenna hanging from its first location.

Once, I even re-deployed my antenna, thinking that may help. I managed to raise the entire 35′ length into an ideal tree on the bank of the river. It was completely vertical with no slope. That did, perhaps, help snag my final two contacts.

TR12

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Despite the fact I was running late and I had struggled to make the minimum ten QSOs required for the NP26/PK01 activation, I decided to also attempt TR12 (Trail of Tears).

I hiked back to the Ocunaluftee Visitor’s Center and found a quiet spot, once again, near the river. I was happy with my operating location and the fact the antenna deployed with no problem.

Sadly, though, this activation was not meant to be. Even with multiple spots on the DX Cluster, I stopped operating after having only worked four stations in 45 minutes. If I hadn’t been on a schedule, perhaps I would have stayed another hour.

I didn’t let this bother me, though. I knew the TR12 activation would be a gamble and I was happy to have provided four NPOTA chasers with another NPOTA catch for the day!

All in all, I worked a total of 64 stations en route to and return from the W4DXCC conference. I call that a success, especially since I was able to enjoy some excellent hiking, scenery, weather and I even had a few opportunities to promote ham radio to the public. Of course, I feel like each time I do one of these activations, it also hones my emergency communication skills.

W4DXCC

Speaking of the W4DXCC, the conference was amazing as always and I’m happy to have been a part of it. For the second year in a row, we hosted a “Ham Radio Bootcamp”–a day-long tutorial on all aspects of ham radio. Once again, it drew a large crowd.

Vlado (N3CZ) demonstrating the IC-7300 functions and features at the Ham Radio Bootcamp.

Vlado (N3CZ) demonstrating the IC-7300 functions and features at the Ham Radio Bootcamp.

Each year, the convention operates as KB4C in a dedicated radio room. This year, we had two IC-7300 transceivers on the air.

Each year, the convention operates as KB4C in a dedicated radio room. This year, we had two IC-7300 transceivers on the air simultaneously.

hex-beam

We had at least three antennas available including this excellent hex beam.

If you’re into DXing, contesting, or you’d simply like to make some new friends in the community, I would encourage you to put the W4DXCC conference in your calendar for 2017!