Designing a truly portable SDR

SWLing Post reader, London Shortwave, is working on a portable SDR (software defined radio) system based on his Toshiba Encore 8″ Windows tablet, FunCube Dongle Pro+, and supported by the excellent SDR# application. Today, he shared this photo of his entire kit, including his comments. If you’re interested in a similar portable SDR, take note of the USB isolator and extra (AA battery) power supply.

LondonShortwave-PortableLondon Shortwave plans to make an enclosure for the SDR, AA power supply, and USB isolator.

And although it may be easier said than done, it would be super if this enclosure has the same footprint as the Toshiba tablet, and the whip antenna can be mounted on the enclosure…He would then essentially have a case that he could attach to the tablet for instant portable shortwave radio fun.  (Oops–did I just raise the bar for you? Ha!)

Thanks for sharing, London Shortwave!

Posted in How To, Kits, News, Podcast, Software Defined Radio | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Voice of Russia closes DC bureau, fires staff

Voice-of-Russia-Logo(Source: VOA News)

Facing legal problems, the Russian government-funded radio network — the Voice of Russia — has fired its Washington bureau staff and closed the office.

The shutdown happened Monday, amid allegations of tax fraud and claims of racial discrimination at the network.

Alexei Iazlovsky, the head of the VOR’s U.S. operations, pleaded guilty last year to tax fraud and will be sentenced later this year.

VOR’s employment practices also have attracted attention from the IRS and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The IRS is investigating whether VOR used contractors alongside full-time, salaried employees to skirt payroll taxes. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took an interest in VOR after several former staffers claimed they were fired because of their race.

The employees have filed a lawsuit against International TV Services, VOR’s contract manager in the United States.

Some suspect Voice of Russia will quickly return to the U.S. through a different management company without the legal troubles.

Earlier this year, the Russians stopped Voice of America broadcasting in Moscow on AM radio.

Posted in AM, News | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Recording the 2014 World Cup Final

WorldCupBall-001Sunday was the FIFA World Cup Final, and not only was I looking forward to the game, but (to tell the truth) I was also looking forward to recording the game via the BBC World Service for the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive. Due to the BBC WS cuts, part of me fears this may be a last chance to capture this radio and sports history.

If you would like to hear the recordings of the World Cup Final, skip to the bottom of this post. But if you want to know how I managed to make the recordings, and why I made the choices I did, feel free to continue reading…Warning: full-on radio geek tech ahead!

Making the recording

I had two SDRs (software defined radios) at my disposal: the Elad FDM-S2 and my trusty WinRadio Excalibur.  To record this match, I choose to use an SDR rather than a tabletop receiver for several reasons, namely:

  1. I wanted to make a spectrum recording so that I could record more than one frequency at a time;
  2. SDRs make recording radio content on the fly much easier than using a tabletop receiver, which must be connected to an external audio recorder, and I wanted ease of use so I could enjoy the game, too.

Propagation was rather mediocre Sunday, and there were only three feasible BBC World Service English frequencies I could tune in mid-afternoon, none of which, of course, were targeting North America:

  • 11,810 kHz from Ascension Island
  • 13,660 kHz from Woofferton, UK
  • 15,400 kHz from Ascension Island
  • 9,915 kHz from Woofferton, UK (starting at 20:00 UTC)

My hunch was that either 13,660 or 15,400 kHz would be my best bet for the early part of the match (pre-game starting at 18:30 UTC, half time at 20:00 UTC), however, I knew they would drop off after the first half of the game. And 11,800 kHz would be my best bet in the latter part of the game, unless 9,915 kHz happened to be stronger.

In the past, 11,800 had served me quite well for afternoon BBC listening, but yesterday there was an unscheduled religious broadcaster on 11,825 that was causing interference a full 30 kHz on either side of their carrier! During my pre-game check of the frequency, each attempt I made to block this broad interference was unsuccessful–very frustrating.

Which SDR?

The FDM-S2 is a fine SDR, and I was very tempted put it to the test.  But while the Elad FDM-S2 is quite capable of making very wide spectrum recordings (up to 6 MHz) and could easily record all four frequencies on four different meter bands at the same time, I decided to use the WinRadio Excalibur, instead.

Why? If 11,800 kHz was my only viable frequency option in the latter half of the game, I needed a receiver that could sync to the less noisy lower sideband of 11,800 kHz. While Elad plans to add USB/LSB selectable synchronous detection in the next version of their SDR application, it currently does not have this capability.

I suppose, too, I feel more comfortable with the WinRadio Excalibur; I’ve been using it now for well over two years. If something were to go wrong during the broadcast, I knew I could diagnose it quickly on the Excalibur.

In addition, the Excalibur can do both a spectrum recording and up to three individual AF recordings at the same time (though limited within a 2MHz bandwidth). I’m not sure if Elad has plans for this in their next SDR.

Setting up the Excalibur

The Excalibur only has a 2 MHz bandwidth for spectrum recordings. I knew if I focused on the middle frequency of 13,660, I would be able to record it and either 15,400 or 11,810 at the same time, but not all three.

The first half of the match, I recorded both 13,660 kHz and 15,400 kHz in a 2 MHz wide spectrum recording. At the same time, I recorded the audio (an AF recording) from 13,660 kHz, which was consistently the stronger of the two frequencies.

Half time

By 20:00 UTC, I knew both 13,660 and 15,400 kHz would stop transmitting and I would need to either hop to 11,810 kHz or 9,915 kHz.

While maintaining a good audio recording of 13,660, I stopped the 2 MHz spectrum recording and moved it to encompass 13,660 and 11,810 kHz. A quick check proved that 11,810 was the strongest station. Fortunately, the interference above 11,810 had quieted somewhat at that point, and by using the LSB sync lock, this noise was successfully mitigated a bit.

Still, I could hear a chuffing sound coming from the splatter 11,825 was producing. So I enabled the notch filter and widened it to 2 kHz. By shifting it around in the upper side band, I was able to find the “sweet spot” where most of the splatter noise was canceled. I then started the audio recording on 11,810 a few minutes prior to 20:00 UTC, making a little audio overlap with simultaneous recording on 13,660.

Syncing on the lower sideband and using the notch filter in the upper sideband mitigated most of the interference.

Syncing on the lower sideband and using the notch filter in the upper sideband mitigated most of the splatter interference.

In the end, I was very pleased with the results of the recordings. While capturing the BBC World Service isn’t exactly like snagging rare DX, I felt I had a lot riding on this recording, so pre-game preparations were necessary, especially since the Excalibur couldn’t record spectrum from 9,915 to 15,400 kHz.

And in theory, had I used the Elad FDM-S2, I could have recorded the entire chunk for three hours and then revisited the material later to make audio recordings from the AF.

The recordings

For your listening pleasure: the full 2014 World Cup final via the BBC World Service. This broadcast is broken into 3 sections: pre-game and the first half, second half, and extra time. Enjoy!

Pre-game and first half (13,66o kHz):

Second half (11,810 kHz):

Extra time and game wrap-up (11,810 kHz):

Posted in Broadcasters, Current Events, International Broadcasting, News, Recordings, Shortwave Radio, Software Defined Radio, Specials, Sports, What's On Shortwave | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

ABC Radio staff memo outlines cuts to external service

ABC-Radio-AustraliaMany thanks to SWLing Post reader, Jonathan Marks, who has posted a letter by Michael Mason (Acting Director of ABC Radio) to the staff of ABC. Mason’s letter outlines changes to Radio Australia’s external service. His key points:

  • Radio Australia will continue to broadcast a 24/7 schedule built on a deeper collaboration with ABC News and ABC Radio and through collaboration with SBS.
  • Pacific Beat continues, as do RA’s hourly news bulletins.
  • Radio Australia will work with colleagues in ABC Radio and ABC News to identify and deliver a sustainable and engaging English program service that will appeal to our International audiences.
  • Language services in Tok Pisin, Khmer and Burmese will be delivered through a mix of reduced original content coupled with translated ABC content and content from SBS. The model for the French language service remains under consideration.
  • Asia Pacific and Asia Review will cease production as will the Mornings program.
  • Shortwave transmission of RA remains unchanged for the time being.

Read the full letter on Jonathan’s website, Critical Distance.

Follow news about the cuts to Radio Australia by bookmarking the tag: RA Cuts

Posted in Broadcasters, International Broadcasting, News, Shortwave Radio | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

John’s summary of Radio Australia cuts

Analog Radio DialJohn Figliozzi, author of The Worldwide Listening Guide, recently posted his summary of Radio Australia cuts on several radio discussion groups. He is also kindly sharing this summary on the SWLing Post. John writes:

Here’s what I’ve been able to assemble from various sources that I consider reliable about what can only be described as a truly catastrophic situation for Radio Australia. Keep in mind that RA management is left with few options, none of them good, in its efforts to preserve and maintain anything resembling a viable service for its regional and international audiences.

  • The English Language Programming department (ELP) is effectively gutted. The only remaining RA productions in English appear to be some hourly news bulletins and the Pacific Beat program. All else, including the excellent Asia Pacific program, ceases.
  • At least for the time being, RA intends to maintain a 24/7 English language service by pulling all of its content from ABC Radio domestic sources (except for the morsels described above). A revised ELP schedule is in preparation and will be announced and implemented shortly.
  • Language services in Tok Pisin, Vietnamese, Khmer, Chinese, French and Burmese appear to remain but only in some skeletal form since about 3/4 to 4/5 of those staffs are to be axed. Again, it appears the plan is to pull some content from domestic sources, this time from SBS whose administration is likely to be housed with what’s left of RA at Southbank in Melbourne as indicated in a previous press report.
  • As unbelievable as this may sound, the situation is so dire and so immediate that there will be a culling of half of the journalists on staff via a random process — no evaluations, experience, records of achievement or years of service considered.
  • No reduction in shortwave schedules has yet been indicated, but it’s hard to see how that continues unaffected and unabated beyond anything but the very short term.

Personally, I will reserve comment on all this at this time and let the facts speak for themselves. However, some of you will be aware of my admiration and appreciation for Radio Australia over the decades so you are free to draw your own conclusions in that regard.

John Figliozzi
The Worldwide Listening Guide
wwlgonline.com

Many thanks, John. I have also heard that shortwave services–at least broadcast hours–have not yet been affected. The content, obviously, will be more ABC National focused. How long will they continue shortwave services? Time will tell.

Follow news about the cuts to Radio Australia by bookmarking this tag: RA Cuts

Follow John Figliozzi on his Worldwide Listening Guide blog.

Posted in Broadcasters, International Broadcasting, News, Shortwave Radio | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Crikey: English language staff may be cut from Radio Australia

ABC-Logo

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Phil, who found a little more information about the cuts to Radio Australia. He points us to the following quote from the news site, Crikey:

“Around 80 staff will be made redundant from the ABC, the Commonwealth Public Sector Union and an ABC spokesman have confirmed, however this figure may decrease once redeployment options are explored.

A Radio Australia staff member told Crikey 25 editorial jobs will go, while seven people in operations will also be sacked. Staff have been told that this will include the entire English-language division of Radio Australia, which the CPSU has confirmed. All casuals and contract staff will be dropped. Asked if this number of redundancies would have a large impact on Radio Australia, a staff member told Crikey they amounted to “gutting” the network. It’s understood just 30 staff will be retained in the division, with cuts in content expected. Flagship program The World will be reduced to a half-hour program.”

[Continue reading on Crikey...]

I will post future updates on the cuts to Radio Australia with the tag: RA Cuts

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Radio Australia facing serious cuts

ABC-Radio-AustraliaOne of my favorite broadcasters, Radio Australia, is facing severe cuts as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s international broadcasting budget of $35 million is being cut in more than half.

Below, I’ve copied excerpts from two news sources with links.

I will post updates with the tag: RA Cuts

(Source: The Australian via Richard Cuff)

THE ABC will confirm a wave of job cuts today, with Radio Australia’s services the first major victim.

A management proposal for a new “converged service” for its international broadcasting outlets will be outlined to staff today as the ABC rearranges its overseas obligations after the axing of the Australia Network television service.

(Source: International Business Times)

It is a sad day for the mainstream radio industry in Australia on Monday, July 14, as Radio Australia anticipates major job cuts. However, this fact-of-life among employees of being axed during hard times could be an opportunity for broadcasters to try new platforms to continue with their careers.

The job cuts at Australia Network television service is part of its management’s proposal for a new converged services for the network’s international broadcasting outlets.

Speculations on the jobs to be shed has created fear among Radio Australia workers and Australia Network as the employees anticipate a number of its services within the region abandoned with the planned reduction of the public broadcaster’s $35 million yearly budget for international broadcasting to shrink to just $15 million.

To worsen matter for the affected radio staff, the job cuts would be on top of redundancies at Australia Network and shutter of the transmission in September after finishing only one year of its 10-year agreement with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Also expected to get the axe are Radio Australia’s language service, while ABC News 24 will remain the foundation of the international service with some specialised news and current affairs content on the service.

[Continue reading at the International Business Times website.]

Posted in Broadcasters, International Broadcasting, News, Shortwave Radio, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments