Tag Archives: Mark Fahey

North Korea: Information Gathering in the World’s Most Restrictive Nation

If you’ve been an SWLing Post reader for long, you’ll have “met” him virtually; if you’ve been in attendance the Winter SWL Fest recently, you’ll recognize him, may have heard him speak, and perhaps even have met him in person.  I’m speaking, of course, of my good friend, Post contributor, and fellow radio listener, Mark Fahey.

What you might not know about Mark, an intrepid Aussie and mediahound of remarkable facility and clarity, is that he has spent many years (and significant personal resources) compiling a fascinating and invaluable multi-media project in the form of an iBook he’s titled Behind The Curtain, which allows outsiders a frank view directly into North Korean propaganda.

What’s astounding is that this view is from within North Korea: Mark, having traveled to North Korea numerous times (until he made his research public, that is, thus limiting his re-entry), successfully rips back North Korea’s curtain of self-image to reveal, in all its stultified glory, the inner workings––and failings––of the”Hermit Kingdom.”

He’s now very near to publishing  Behind The Curtain, and he’s making available the iBook––as well as all of the media and research he’s curated––for free.

HOPE X

During the summer of 2014 Mark ventured to New York City to present his research at HOPE X (Hackers On Planet Earth). Yesterday, I rediscovered the video of Mark’s presentation at HOPE X on YouTube. If you’re interested in North Korea, propaganda, number stations, SDRs, and/or anthropology of any stripe, you’ll certainly enjoy this presentation, which is truly like no other:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Intrigued?  So am I!

Behind The Curtain doesn’t yet have a formal release date, but stay tuned to the Post for details about its availability, as well as any other presentations or projects on this (or any other subject!) by Mark.

Download Behind The Curtain from the Apple store by clicking here.

End of Radio Australia shortwave service, Mark compares final moments

This morning, I woke up, tuned to 9,580 kHz and all I heard was static.

Other than when the Shepparton transmitting station has been silenced for maintenance in the past, 9,580 kHz is one of the most reliable frequencies I’ve ever know on shortwave. Radio Australia has met me there every morning I’ve listened since I was eight years old.

I feel like I’ve lost a dear friend and certainly a staple source of news on shortwave radio. I know I’m not alone–a number of readers have shared similar sentiments this morning.

Archiving Radio Australia’s final days on the air

Listening to Radio Australia on 12,065 kHz with the Titan SDR Pro.

Since the beginning of the year, a few of us have been making a concerted effort to thoroughly archive Radio Australia’s final days on the air. Mark Fahey, London Shortwave, Richard Langley, Rob Wagner and I (to name a few) have been making both audio and/or spectrum recordings.

At 0100 UTC on January 31, 2017, we heard the “Waltzing Matilda” interval signal for one last time. As I understand it, the crew at the Shepparton site left the transmitter on a few extra seconds extra so their famous interval signal would be, in essence, the final sign-off.

Our friend and contributor, Rob Wagner, from Mount Evelyn, Australia, posted an excellent recording/video of the final minutes earlier today.

Due to propagation and the time of day when the shut down happened, I was unable to make a recording, so I’m pleased others could.

Mark compares shortwave and satellite feeds

Mark Fahey’s Wellbrook Mag Loop antenna.

I’m grateful to friend and contributor, Mark Fahey, who lives near Sydney, Australia, and was also able to record the final moments of Radio Australia as well. Mark recorded the shortwave service and RA satellite feed simultaneously.

Mark shares the following recordings and notes:

Recording 1

This is RA’s final few minutes on shortwave – it was recorded on 17840kHz.
The file picks up the regular program ending, then into a Promo for RA “Pacific Beat” (a Pacific current affairs program), then the classic RA Interval Signal then the transmitter clicks off and the void is heard.

Click here to download the MP3.

Recording 2

The file starts at exactly the same time as the first file, but in this example we are monitoring the Network Feed from Intelsat 18 at 180.0 degrees east (above the equator right on the international date line). This satellite feed is the way Radio Australia gets to the network of FM Transmitters they have scatted around the Pacific Region (which is why they feel they don’t need shortwave anymore for – most populated areas of Radio Australia’s target area now is covered by a network of Radio Australia FM transmitters).

Click here to download the MP3.

Some differences to the first file – Radio Australia is produced in FM quality stereo, though of course DXers only ever heard it in shortwave quality mono. So this network feed is in stereo and has a wider dynamic range that what DXer’s are familiar with from Radio Australia. At the end of the Pacific Beat Promo, Radio Australia goes straight into News, the closing of the shortwave service was not an event that would have been noticed for the typical listeners of RA who now listen via FM in Pacific capitals and major towns.

Thank you Mark for your comparison–I’ve never heard RA so clearly. Only you would’ve thought to simultaneously record the satellite feed! It gives the moment that much more context.

A number of SWLing Post contributors have been sharing recordings this morning. I will plan to collect these and put them on the Shortwave Archive in the near future.

Moving forward

Though senator Nick Xenophon says he will introduce legislation to Parliament to force the ABC to reinstate its shortwave radio service, we have to assume we’ve heard the last of Radio Australia and ABC on shortwave. (With that said, I understand Xenophon is a determined fellow.)

Rest assured: if Xenophon’s legislation gains traction, we will post updates!

No doubt, Radio New Zealand International’s shortwave service has just become that much more important in remote Pacific Islands. Click here to view RNZI’s schedule.

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.

sony-sw100-pk-loop

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

pk-loop

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

Mark’s Global Spectrum Project MK2

mark-fahey-beagle-kiwi-sdr

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Fahey, who shares the following:

It’s been a fun weekend getting the first two remote modules for the Spectrum Project MK2 together. These modules tune into and then digitally preserve broadcasted human communication; music, discussion, culture for future generations to study and ponder.

This initial version of the hardware provides 0-30MHz with four (simultaneous) independently configured receivers that are controlled remotely from anywhere on the planet. The first of the modules will be installed near Vladivostok in Russia’s far east and the second is planned to go to one of the “stans” in Central Asia, most likely Kazakhstan.

markfahey-kiwisdr

The hardware includes a KiwiSDR 0-30MHz SDR 4 channel receiver AM LSB USB CW FM plus GPS for precision timing and location information. A BeagleBone Green is the CPU and the compact 100KHz-30MHz active antennas we are using are precision built by RA0SMS in Irkutsk, Siberia, Russia.

(Note to fellow SDR geeks – the WinRadio Excalibur running on the iMac [above] is not part of the remote system – it just happens to live on my assembly bench).

markfahey-sdr-module1

Remote Module #1 prior to sealing.

This first generation is built to connect to a wired internet connection and power supply. The hardware includes a KiwiSDR 0-30MHz SDR 4 channel receiver AM LSB USB CW FM plus GPS for precision timing and location information. A BeagleBone Green is the CPU and the compact 100KHz-30MHz active antennas we are using are precision built by RA0SMS in Irkutsk, Siberia.

Remote Module #3 and later will support solar power and a 4G/ LTE connection so the devices can be located anywhere on the planet that has reasonable cell phone coverage.

Remote Module #2

Remote Module #2

This is Remote Module #2 sealed and ready for connection to a network and power supply. The hardware includes a KiwiSDR 0-30MHz SDR 4 channel receiver AM LSB USB CW FM plus GPS for precision timing and location information. A BeagleBone Green is the CPU and the compact 100KHz-30MHz active antennas we are using are precision built by RA0SMS in Irkutsk, Siberia.

Remote Module #3 and later will support solar power and a 4G/ LTE connection so the devices can be located anywhere on the planet that has reasonable cell phone coverage.

Don’t forget you can tune into the prototype system now up and running near Sydney Australia. Point your browser to http://mediaexplorer.ddns.net:8073

This is simply amazing, Mark. I can’t wait to try out the receivers in your Spectrum Project MK2 once they’ve been deployed and implemented. We’ve talked about this concept before, but what I love about Mark is he simply pulls the trigger and makes it happen as soon as technology has made it possible to implement.

Mark: please keep us posted with your updates!

Internet Radio: Mark wants to know about your listening habits!

comoaudiosolo-internetradio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Fahey, who shares the following reply to our Como Audio Solo review:

I am a heavy user of internet radios and have a few scatted around the home, the one most frequently used is the Grace in the kitchen. What stations do people listen to?

I listen to lots of different things while cooking, what I do is tune to a station local to whatever I am preparing. So that means a lot of Asian stations; Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Japan, China, Laos etc! A few months ago spending time in Southern California put me in the mood for Mexican food, so there has been a lot of Mexican radio playing in the kitchen lately. On the special occasions when cooking Grits for breakfast I usually listen to 103.3 AshevilleFM.

[Note to Mark: I’d like to think I have something to do with the fact you’re one of the only guys cooking grits in Australia! -Thomas]

The Logitech in the bedroom is usually tuned into European stations late a night as I drift off, and as I wake up and dress I’m usually listening to Japanese community radio stations.

In the main living area mostly USA alternative and indi rock, NPR or college radio is on.

I am a very serious flight-simmer and love exploring around the world this virtual way. I’m very serious about this so preflight and route planning takes up to an hour, so in the hours before a flight I quite typically listen to a station in the city my Cessna-404 twin turbo happens to be at that particular time.

I’m kind of interested – what are you guys listening to on internet radios?

PS. Oh and the Como Solo looks great – Im ordering one!

Your query is timely, Mark, as someone recently asked me the same question.

The Sangean WFR-28 WiFi Radio

The Sangean WFR-28 WiFi Radio

I primarily use Internet radio to listen to music and local news outlets.

In terms of music, I love almost everything, but especially Jazz, Classic Rock, Big Band, Brazilian music, French, Mambo, Zydeco, Electronica, and, frankly, anything a little eclectic and musically interesting.

Some of my favorite music stations are: The UK 1940s Radio Station, RFI Musique, FIP, Radio Bossa Nova, KBON, Espace Musique (various outlets), CBC Ambient Lounge, Kanal Jazz, Radio Swiss Jazz, WNMB, RadioNostalgia, Celtic Music Radio 1530, WNCW, Radio 6 and Fréquence 2 to name a few.

In terms of news and talk, I listen to: CBC Radio 1 (Toronto, Montreal, St. Johns, Charlottetown), WFAE, WCQS, Alaska Public Media, Vermont Public Radio, France Inter, Radio Canada, ABC Radio Australia, ABC Northern Tasmania, Radio New Zealand National, BBC World Service, 7RPH, Federal News Radio, ABC Radio Perth and many, many more.

I especially love finding some random, local radio station and eavesdropping on their community news!

I have well over 100 stations/favorites organized in various folders on my WiFi radios.

Honestly, this 2016 election season in the States has so heavily dominated domestic news, I’ve focused almost exclusively on stations outside of the US to seek a little refuge.

Of course, I’m also a heavy shortwave listener. While using a WiFi radio lacks the “fun factor” and skill of SWLing, it certainly serves up a world of diversity and is the perfect compliment to shortwave listening.

elecraft-kx3-radioaustralia

Radio Australia serving up a blowtorch signal into North America this morning–a steady S9+20db on my Elecraft KX3.

As I type this post this morning, for example, I’ve been listening to the CBC and France Inter on my WiFi radio (the audio actually emanates from my vintage Scott Marine SLR-M via an SStran AM transmitter). I’ve been muting the WiFi radio from time to time to listen to the ABC top of the hour news and music programming on Radio Australia with my Elecraft KX3 (above).

Now…back to Mark’s question…

What do you, dear Post reader, listen to on your WiFi radio, mobile device or computer? Please comment!