Tag Archives: Travel

Portable antennas: a review of the Par Electronics EF-SWL

Last August and part of September, I traveled through the US with the CommRadio CR-1 and a couple of portable antennas: the Par Electronics EF-SWL and  NASA PA-30. I had the opportunity to try both in the field, and took notes as I used them. Following is a short review of the Par Electronics EF-SWL.

The EF-SWL ready to deploy.

The EF-SWL ready to deploy.

Par Electronics EF-SWL 

At the Dayton Hamvention last year, I had the pleasure of speaking with representatives of the North Carolina-based LNR Precision Inc. LNR is a mom-and-pop company with a focus on providing antennas, keys, and transceivers for the ham radio and shortwave listener markets.  Indeed I have several SWL friends who use on a daily basis an antenna this company manufactures and retails: the Par Electronics EF-SWL. LNR asked if I would consider reviewing their antenna, and since I was planning a road trip with radios in tow–the perfect opportunity to test such an antenna–I agreed.

The Par Electronics EF-SWL is an end-fed shortwave antenna designed for 1-30 MHz reception. It’s a receive only-antenna–perfect for the SWL. The radiator is 45 feet of #14 black polyethylene coated Flex-Weave wire. When I first used the EF-SWL, I noted the quality of its construction: no doubt it can withstand many deployments in all weather conditions–and it’s manufactured here in the US.

With a 45′ radiator, the EF-SWL needs a little space, but offers more gain than the other portable antenna I packed, the NASA PA-30 (look for its review in the near future). I put the EF-SWL to use in New Mexico where several large trees were readily available. I hooked the EF-SWL up to the CommRadio CR-1 and simply hung the end of the radiator as high as I could in a nearby tree. Though not a picture-perfect installation, it nonetheless certainly did the trick! I didn’t bother with a ground connection as I wasn’t in an area with much radio noise (RFI).

In the past, when setting up portable ham radio and shortwave listening, I’ve typically built my own antenna either for the specific meter band I hoped to use, or brought along a portable antenna tuner. It was quite nice having an antenna designed to be resonant on the broadcast bands.

Par-EF-SWL

Though I didn’t do this, I did noticed that the EF-SWL’s radiator is attached via a stainless stud–Par Electronics did this so you can remove the radiator and replace it with a different wire length. With the stock 45′ radiator, I still find the EF-SWL quite portable, especially when compared with most of the portable amateur radio antennas I use, which tend to take a dipole or delta loop configuration.

After returning from my trip, I decided to hook up the EF-SWL at my home base for longer-term evaluation. These past months I’ve had it on the air as an auxiliary antenna, and I’ve been impressed with its performance. In truth, it’s not in an optimal location hanging off the corner of my house, but I think this may actually represent with some accuracy the installation most SWLs will likewise be able to provide–in other words, placement that must factor in antenna restrictions or limited space. Of course, for any permanent installation, you will need to ground the EF-SWL for lower noise reception.

And yet, even in these suboptimal conditions, the antenna performs remarkably well.

As with any exterior antenna, of course, take precautions against lightening if you live in an area with thunder storms. If nothing else, at least disconnect the antenna when not in use.

Moving forward, I will plan to relocate the EF-SWL to a more ideal permanent location and most likely purchase another to keep in my antenna bag. I hope to use this antenna in a DXpedition I’ve planned later this year.

The EF-SWL retails for $75 US directly from LNR Pecision or $72 US from Universal Radio.

Note that LNR also sells a number of QRP field-portable transceivers: the LD-5, FX-4a and Mountain TopperClick here for more details.

Chrome Remote Desktop: another application choice

chromeDesktop

In response to my post about SWLing in a hospital waiting room via TeamViewer, Stephen Cooper comments:

“Google Chrome Remote Desktop also works well for this.

[Click here to download]

Allows me to listen to my Elad when I am in work. Although it doesn’t transfer sound on Android (not sure about iPad) which isnt that good if you haven’t got a PC/Mac to use to login to home.”

Thanks for the suggestion, Stephen!

Shortwave listening in a hospital lobby

ExcaliburviaTeamviewer

This morning, at 6:00 am, I had to take a friend to the hospital for a scheduled (minor) operation.

The hospital waiting room is spartan for a projected three hour wait, but the complimentary wi-fi Internet is quite speedy. I had planned to catch up on a movie or two via Netflix, but the hospital blocks video streaming.

Fortunately, I just noticed that the hospital does not block TeamViewer–my remote PC application of choice.

Remote listening

I just logged into my home PC and launched both the Elad FDM-S2 and WinRadio Excabur SDR applications–fortunately, I discovered that the Excalibur was hooked up to an external antenna.

Not only does TeamViewer allow me to control a software defined radio, but it actually streams the receiver audio from my PC. With my inexpensive in-ear Sony headphones, the sound isolation and audio fidelity are quite good for a compressed audio stream. Indeed, other than a one second delay in response, the user experience is nearly as good as being home.

I should note that I could also use the TeamViewer app on my iPhone, but 4G reception in the hospital is very poor and controlling an SDR from a small touch screen is less than desirable (though works in a pinch–no pun intended).

I’m currently tuned and listening to Radio Australia, Radio Mali and the Voice of Korea.

The 31 meter band seems to be wide open at this morning. At this point, I don’t think I care if my friend’s out-patient procedure takes a while longer!

Radio Australia: SWLing in the Colorado Rockies

Sony-ICF-SW7600GR-RA-CO I’m in Keystone, Colorado at about 9,300′ (2,835 M) above sea level; mornings are crisp and chilly (38F/3C), but that doesn’t stop me from putting on a jacket, heading to the balcony and listening to Radio Australia on 9,580 kHz. Despite flaky solar conditions (flaky, frankly, is an understatement) I managed to snag RA Wednesday morning (13:58 UTC) on my Sony ICF-SW7600GR. There was a little fading, and a little local noise, but overall signal quality was quite good.

gnav_logoThis recording starts a couple of minutes before the top of the hour; you’ll hear the TOTH news brief and then triple ja brilliant show dedicated to new Australian music.

Click here to download the recording as an MP3, or simply listen via the embedded player below:

Listening to WWV at the source: Fort Collins, Colorado, USA

MysterySW-site-LTIf you haven’t already guessed it: yes, the mystery broadcast site I posted on Thursday was WWV/WWVB in Fort Collins, Colorado. Well done, responders!  Specifically, the photo shows the southern antennas of WWVB as I departed the site on Thursday, August 28, 2014; for those of you who got that detail, extra credit–!

I’d like to thank the staff at WWV/WWVB for allowing me to visit the site for the better part of the day. WWV is not officially open to tours, so this was a particular honor for me. And this was an especially fun pilgrimage, as WWV was most likely the first shortwave broadcast I ever heard:  as I’ve previously noted, when I was a kid my father used to set his watch to WWV every Sunday morning.  Now I’ve seen firsthand where that famous tock, tock (and accompanying characteristic tones) originate.

When I return home from my extended travels, I’ll sort through the photos I took at WWV and WWVB, and post them here on the SWLing Post.

Recording WWV

In the meantime, I have a few recordings to share with those who are interested in this mecca of chronology.  Before leaving WWV, I pulled out my Tecsun PL-380 and my Zoom H2N digital recorder, and recorded all the WWV broadcast frequencies. I captured their 2.5, 5, 10, 15, 20 and even their recently reactivated 25 MHz signals.

I made these recordings in the conference room at WWVB broadcast house. As you can imagine, it was simply not at all necessary to extend the telescopic antenna. In fact, the signal was so strong, you’ll hear a slight amount of distortion in the voice audio.

TecsunPL380WWVB

Below, you can listen to the recordings of each frequency via the embedded player (click on the title to download the audio). Enjoy!

WWV on 2.5 MHz

WWV on 5 MHz

WWV on 10 MHz

WWV on 15 MHz (includes top of the hour station ID)

WWV on 20 MHz

Up to this point, I used the Tecsun PL-380, but quickly realized that the ‘380 wouldn’t tune to 25 MHz. A quick look at the back of the radio revealed that the ‘380 only tunes up to 21.950 MHz (!). Believe it or not, I’d never noticed this limitation of the PL-380, likely since I rarely tune above 21 MHz for broadcast listening.  Learn something new every day…But I couldn’t fail to complete my recordings.

SangeanATS505WWVB

 

So what did I do? I turned to Matthew Deutch, Chief Engineer at WWV and WWVB, who kindly allowed me to use their Sangean ATS-505 to make the final recording:

WWV on 25 MHz (includes Atlantic and Pacific weather)