NASWA Details its 27th Annual Winter SWL Fest Program

David Goren hosts the annual Shortwave Shindig

David Goren of shortwaveology.net hosts the annual Shortwave Shindig–just one of the unique programs you’ll find at the Winter SWL Festival

For those of you readers who often feel you’re alone in your enthusiasm for radio, I highly encourage you to attend the NASWA-sponsored Winter SWL Festival in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania this year. This will be my sixth year attending, and I have eagerly awaited the arrival of the ‘Fest.  It is jam-packed with radio-related information and forums (indeed, yours truly will present again this year) and attended by many radio kindred spirits.

If you register early, By February 1, you’ll not only save a little money, but you’ll be entered to win a portable shortwave radio in a special raffle.  Exclusive hotel rates are also available to fest attendees.

Want to know what the SWLfest is like?  read the outline of the 2014 Winter SWL Festival below and check out this overview from last year:

(Source: NASWA press release)

NASWA, the North American Shortwave Association, has announced preliminary program details for its 27th Annual Winter SWL Festival to be held at the Doubletree Suites Hotel in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania on March 14 and 15, 2014.

The Winter SWL Fest is the largest and longest-running annual meeting of shortwave radio enthusiasts and hobbyists in the Western Hemisphere. Beyond the opportunity to renew old friendships and make new contacts, the conference serves as a forum for discussion of radio-related matters of interest and import to the attendees, which have numbered in excess of 200 in some recent years.

This year’s program of forums features two presentations by Australian Mark Fahey, who has travelled North Korea extensively in recent years. Over four successive trips to each province of the country, he has smuggled in and out monitoring and recording equipment enabling the capture and analysis of hundreds of hours of domestic radio and television broadcasting.

Scheduled for successive afternoons on Friday and Saturday, Behind the Curtain: North Korean Broadcasting and Propaganda, will extensively discuss and feature audio and video examples of North Korean internal and external broadcasting, international and clandestine broadcasters that manage to penetrate through the regime’s jamming, as well as descriptions and photographs of the media infrastructure used by the North Korean regime as the prime instrument of control over the population.

In addition to the ever-popular annual forums on scanning and unlicensed broadcasting (otherwise known as pirate radio), the 2014 Fest program also will feature the following sessions and presenters (subject to revision):

Radio Broadcasting: The Earliest Years – Dr. Harold Cones
Navigating a Future for the Radio Hobby – Sheldon Harvey, President of the Canadian International DX Club
Internet Radio 2.0 – Rob DeSantos
A Practical Guide to Loop Antennas – Jef Eichner
Developing a Shortwave Radio Archive – Thomas Witherspoon, President of Ears to Our World
Whatever Happened to Digital Radio? – Mark Phillips
Ionosounders and Other Real Time Propagation Aids – Tracy Wood
Ham Radio Tools for SWLs – Skip Arey

There’s also David Goren’s Friday night Shortwave Shindig radio studio party, as well as brief talks by Paul Ladd on World Christian Broadcasting’s shortwave transmitter projects, Allen Loudell of WDEL radio on trends in U.S. commercial radio, especially news/talk radio; and Sheldon Harvey’s annual tribute to those who departed us for a “higher station” over the last year. Not to mention: the Saturday night banquet and Grande Raffle!

Why not join us at the 27th Annual Winter SWL Fest? Details on location, registration, meals and lodging are available from the official web site: swlfest.com.

Registration Open for 27th Annual Winter SWL Festival

It’s time to register! The Winter SWL Fest dates and location have been set for 2014:

From Left to right: Sheldon Harvery (of The International Radio Report), Tina Shields and Dan Srebnick

At the 2013 Winter SWL Festival: From Left to right: Sheldon Harvey (of The International Radio Report), Tina Shields and Dan Srebnick

(Source: SWL Fest)

Richard Cuff and John Figliozzi, co-chairs of the Winter SWL Festival, are pleased to announce that arrangements are now set for the 27th (!) Annual Winter SWL Festival, scheduled for March 14th and 15th at the Doubletree Guest Suites Philadelphia West, in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. Early registration fees will remain as they were in 2013 through the month of January, as an incentive to register early. We strongly urge you to do so as fees will increase for those registering February 1 and later. Single and double rooms are available at a special $99 rate, including breakfast; the event code and online hotel reservation capability will be posted in a few days. The special $99 hotel rate may not be available after February 14th, so it’s best to book early. Links to paper and online registration for the Fest will be posted in a couple days via the Fest website at http://www.swlfest.com/. Those without web access will find a registration form in the January issue of the NASWA Journal; the registration form can also be obtained by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Winter SWL Fest, PO Box 3292, Allentown, PA 18106

If you’ve never been to the SWL fest, check out this post for an overview.  You will not find a larger gathering of shortwave radio enthusiasts in North America. I attend every year. Come join us!

Looking back at the The 26th Annual SWL Winterfest

I originally wrote this article for the July 2013 issue of Monitoring Times Magazine. I hope you enjoy:

From Left to right: Sheldon Harvery (of The International Radio Report), Tina Shields and Dan Srebnick

Left to right: my good friends Sheldon Harvey (of The International Radio Report), Tina Shields and Dan Srebnick

Every year, I look forward to the only event I know that brings together both my avid interest in radio and my loyal radio-listening friends: the Winter SWL Fest. This is the one place where, among the 100-plus attendees, you can talk freely about all aspects of the shortwave hobby without any need of explanation as to why you find radio so fascinating. As a result, over the course of the five years I’ve attended the ‘Fest, it has begun to feel less like a technical hobbyists convention and more like a (most enjoyable) family reunion.

Larry Will of Area 51 presents an audio and video history of WBCQ

Larry Will of Area 51 presents an audio and video history of WBCQ

This year, and for the third year in a row, the Winterfest was held at the DoubleTree Inn and Suites in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, just outside Philadelphia. The venue is spacious and comfortable, and all presentations are held within its generous environs.

Moreover, we enjoyed presentations on a number of interesting and unique topics that were, by no means, limited just to shortwave radio. A few topics catered to individuals who simply enjoy DXing in any forms. Here’s a sampling:

  • Ed Mauger started the forums off on a light note with a fun discussion on how to increase the size of your radio collection through online auctions and flea markets. His forum drew a large crowd–and many questions.
  • Larry Wills, of Area 51 fame, held the second forum, which was a look back through the WBCQ video and audio archives. During the course of his presentation, Larry covered many of the nuances of WBCQ’s history, including some of the people and circumstances surrounding the birth of this remarkable free speech radio station. Trust me when I say that it was not difficult to keep the audience engaged on this topic: WBCQ listeners are well aware of the variety of shows, not to mention the on-air personalities, that station features. Larry’s presentation put these in context. By the conclusion, I felt I had visited the WBCQ transmitter site in Monticello, Maine, myself.
  • Mario Filippi’s forum, DXing with a Dish, explained the hobby of TV DXing–in a sense, via Free-To-Air (FTA) satellite television and radio. His presentation was comprehensive, covering everything from the components of a home system to the free content currently available–and speaking of satellites, Dave Marthouse’s forum, Sounds from Space: Monitoring and Tracking Satellites Using HF, taught us how to monitor various orbiting satellites that can be heard throughout the spectrum. He also demystified the process, showing us how easy and inexpensive hunting space sounds can be.
  • Skip Arey presented a topic many ham radio operators can appreciate, namely, QRP: How Low Can You Go? Skip’s presentation made for an interesting juxtaposition to the kilowatt shortwave broadcasting world when he revealed how to communicate across the planet on 5 watts or less–!
  • Jef Eichner once again presented on the topic of loop antennas. As more and more of us are bombarded with radio interference (RFI) from consumer electronics, loop antennas make for an affordable means to an antenna that can help you cope with noise. Though this topic can get pretty technical, Jef kept the discussion at a level most anyone could understand. He even brought his own homemade loop for demonstration.
  • Dr. Kim Andrew Elliott and yours truly presented a forum on Digital Text via Shortwave Broadcast. We demonstrated how incredibly effective and simple it is to broadcast digital text modes used by radio amateurs (e.g., PSK31) on analog amplitude-modulated shortwave broadcasts. These modes can be decoded by anyone with a basic shortwave radio and and personal computer or smartphone. We proved that even when the human voice is difficult to comprehend because of poor shortwave reception conditions, digital text can be received with nearly 100% accuracy. The applications for this technology are numerous, but the service can be invaluable when the internet is disrupted by disasters (or by dictators). [Update: since publishing this article, Kim Elliott’s VOA Radiogram has enjoyed great success on the air.]
David Goren hosts the annual Shortwave Shindig

David Goren hosts the annual Shortwave Shindig

Of course, there are a few mainstays in the Winterfest forum line-up, forums we’ve come to anticipate:

  • The annual “Scanner Scum” forum, which this year focused on scanner antennas that are effective and affordable. The presenters also explained the differences in the numerous types of rechargeable batteries on the market; as a result, many of us now have a better understanding of discharge curves and their effect on radios.
  • The Annual Pirate Forum always attracts a large crowd. This year, George Zeller and a panel of pirate broadcast enthusiasts took the stage to introduce newcomers to the pirate radio listening hobby and review the pirate radio year. This year, Free Radio Weekly editor Chris Lobdell and the pirate station Captain Morgan were inducted into the Pirate Radio Hall of Fame.
  • David Goren (our resident Shortwaveologist) held his 10th Annual Shortwave Shindig, an evening celebrating the unique sonic properties of our favorite international medium. David showcased a number of his own shortwave audio productions and numerous intriguing recordings. Saul Brady played radio-themed folk music, and the talented Martin Peck quizzed the audience with his woodwind renditions of dozens of interval signals past and present. Martin even took requests from the audience and played interval signals on demand…Where else could you hear this stuff, but at the Shortwave Shindig of the Winter SWL Fest?

Left to right: Rich D'Angelo and George Zeller

Of course, there are also opportunities to buy and trade equipment at the Friday night swap meet–and if you’re lucky, you might just win a treasure in the silent auction (where all proceeds go to charity) or in the dinner banquet raffle. Indeed, since I’ve been going to the ‘Fest, I’ve been most impressed with the number and quality of items in the raffle. The odds are good, and this year yours truly even won a few items. This year’s grand prize? The newly introduced CommRadio CR-1 tabletop SDR.

Winterfest-SocialAs interesting and varied as the forums are, and as rewarding as the silent auction and dinner/raffle can be, I believe many of the ‘Festers would agree that one of the strongest attractions is the yearly opportunity to socialize and connect with all of radio’s kindred. At times radio listening can feel like a very solitary hobby, as voices drift in and out of the ether; perhaps the beauty of the Winter SWL Fest is that it brings everyone together face-to-face to socialize and to theorize on the ever-widening scope of radio communications and broadcasting.

Many thanks to Festmeisters John Figliozzi and Richard Cuff

Many thanks to Festmeisters John Figliozzi and Richard Cuff

In short, the SWLing Winterfest is always a unique and dynamic event–but don’t take my word for it. Next year, you might just want to check it out for yourself! It will be held February 28-March 1st, 2014 somewhere in the greater Philadelphia area.

Click here to go to the SWLfest website and plan to join us in 2014.

Remembering radio enthusiast Jay Smilkstein

I’ve only attended the Winter SWLFest for  four years thus far, yet the friends I’ve made there have become like family. It shouldn’t be a surprise, really; we’re all passionate about radio and things related to radio and broadcasting. It’s an event where we can be who we are–no need to explain to these compatriots why you like tuning in shortwave stations, while the internet seems (at least to everyone else) to be so much easier.

Jay had a strong interest in AM DXing, tube gear, amplifiers and, I learned this year, IF filter design.

Jay Smilkstein, 1961-2012.

Our friend Jay was, I believe, at the higher-functioning end of the autism spectrum.  While Jay had some social hang-ups and behaviors that made some uncomfortable, fortunately, at the SWLFest, there were a number of folks who went out of their way to take Jay under a wing, assist him with personal interactions, and generally welcome him back  each year.

I’m pretty sure that he considered the SWLFest, and many he’d interacted with over the airwaves, his radio family, too.

Jay passed away suddenly from a heart attack two days ago, on Monday, March 12th, 2012.

As my friend, David, phrased it:  Long may you ride the radio waves you loved so much.

 

The Winter SWL Fest 25th Anniversary

For those of you readers who often feel you’re alone in your enthusiasm for radio, I highly encourage you to attend the NASWA-sponsored SWL Fest in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania this year. The ‘Fest is jam-packed with radio-related information and attended by many radio kindred spirits.  From their website :

The Winter SWL Fest is a conference of radio hobbyists of all stripes, from DC to daylight. Every year scores of hobbyists descend on the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania suburbs for a weekend of camaraderie. The Fest is sponsored by NASWA, the North American Shortwave Association, but it covers much more than just shortwave; mediumwave (AM), scanning, satellite TV, and pirate broadcasting are among the other topics that the Fest covers. Whether you’ve been to every Fest (all 25, starting with the first year at the fabled Pink & Purple Room of the Fiesta Motor Inn) or this year’s will be your first, you’re sure to find a welcome from your fellow hobbyists.

For 2012, its 25th Anniversary, the Winter SWL Fest will have three days of sessions where you can learn about the latest developments in the radio listening hobbies, but there’s so much more going on. There’s a silent auction that takes place, where you’re bound to find something of interest. There’s the Hospitality Suite, where attendees partake of tuning oil and other treats and engage in spirited conversations. There is the closing Banquet, with after-dinner remarks by a luminary from the field, often one of the many broadcasters who attend the Fest, followed by the raffle, where you could win one or more of the dozens of prizes, ranging from pens from stations up to top-notch communications receivers. And of course, the infamous midnight ride of Pancho Villa that closes things out every year.

Your hosts, Richard Cuff and John Figliozzi, work throughout the year to ensure that attendees have a great time over the weekend, and by all accounts, they succeed stunningly. How else could this event have lasted for 25 years (!) and draw people from around the world to southeastern Pennsylvania? Won’t you join us?

Sure, I will!

If you’re interested in attending the SWL Fest, too, go to the official website and register!