Monthly Archives: January 2012

Test a professional SDR from the comfort of your home–free!

Though I’ve not yet achieved particularly advanced age, my history in radio certainly started with the analog. The vintage Zenith Transoceanic my great-aunt gave me when I was eight was a wonder to tune, and its ability to extract signals from across the planet captivated me. But there was a certain amount of guesswork in the tuning process.  So, when I purchased my first digital portable in 1990, it seemed revolutionary:  in a snap, I could punch in a frequency, and there I was (virtually speaking). No guessing required.

Front and back of the SSB LAN-SDR software-defined receiver

Front and back of the SSB LAN-SDR software-defined receiver

The next step in receiver evolution was, of course, Software-Defined Radios–those little boxes that you hook up to your computer that allow you incredible tuning flexibility and which permit amazing receiver performance.

So, you’ve never tried an SDR–? I know a fix for that.

In the course of an email conversation with Willi Paßmann, SDR support for SSB-Electronic, I learned that–simply by downloading a couple of files from their website–you can “test-drive” their high-end SSB LAN-SDR.

First, a brief primer…

Some SDRs–like the SSB LAN-SDR–actually allow you to record and to play back HF spectrum segments.

In a basic example: if I want to record pirate radio stations one evening, but am not sure where they might pop up on the spectrum, I can set my SDR to record, say, an 80 kHz swatch of bandwidth from 6,915 to 6,995 kHz, from, for example, 9:00 pm to midnight.

Later, I can play back and listen to the recording, with full demodulation and tuning capabilities.  In other words, during playback, I can literally tune around in the spectrum, using all/any receiver functions of my SDR. It is as though I am listening and tuning, live, in real time, though it may be many hours or days later.

Those of you with SDRs will not be surprised by this remarkable feature, as most likely, you’ve already experimented with this incredible time-bending functionality.

Now, back to SSB-Electronic, and how to test-drive their LAN-SDR receiver.  It’s easy, actually:

  1. You download the software that runs the LAN-SDR
  2. You download one (or both) available spectrum recordings

Once you install their software and import the recording, you can literally tune through and use all of the receiver’s features within the spectrum recording. You can listen to the noise floor, test the notch, adjustable filters, DSP, tuning rates–literally experience all the receiver functions in this process.

In my humble opinion, this is perhaps the most convenient and enjoyable way to try out a receiver.

Hopefully, other SDR manufacturers will follow SSB-Electronic’s lead and make their control software and spectrum recodings available online for download and testing.

Happy test-driving!

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Ian McFarland CDs now available as a digital download

Ian McFarland (photo courtesy:

Want to do something good for yourself, your knowledge of SWL–and, in the process, help others? Let me tell you how…

Ian McFarland has made available his excellent shortwave radio CD series for download on (an already excellent site, if you haven’t yet visited). This CD set includes a series on interval signals, foreign language recognition, a look back at shortwave history, the state of international broadcasting today, and even a bonus antenna series.  I purchased these the moment I heard that they had become available as MP3 downloads in December.

And how, exactly, are you helping someone else by enjoying these programs?  Fully 100% of the proceeds benefit Ian’s favorite charity, a food bank and soup kitchen in Duncan, British Columbia.

It’s a win-win, and you need to be one of those winners! What are you waiting for? Click here to go to the online store!

Description of CD’s from
Series 1 – Were you a shortwave listener back in 1974? If you were a regular listener to RCI’s popular SWL Digest program, which went off the air in March of 1991 in the wake of a devastating budget cut at RCI, then you may remember the SW station Idents & Interval Signals Series that was featured on this award-winning program.

That series featured over 100 identification and interval signals from SW stations around the world. Many of the ident signals heard in that long-running series are no longer on the air. If you feel nostalgic about the “good old days” of SWLing, you’ll be interested to know that this unique series is now available in an autographed two-CD set.

Series 2 – CD#1: The Foreign Language recognition course + A bonus CD of classic McFarland.

Ever feel like you could do better with radio listening on the SW, MW and LW bands if you could only identify the language? Help has arrived with the release of Ian McFarland’s foreign language-recognition course. CD One of this series contains 55 language samples analyzed by noted linguist, the late Dr. Richard E. Wood.  You’ll be pinning down DX faster than ever with this concise and complete audio series CD. A second bonus CD contains three flashback shows in their entirety from the Ian McFarland catalog of classics.

Series 3 – Yesterday and Today:  20 Years of SW Broadcasting. In what they feel is their “finest work ever,” Ian McFarland joins Bob Zanotti, Kim Eilliot of VOA, Jef White of WRMI, and a cast of listeners from the 20th Anniversary Kulpsville, PA, SWLing Winterfest in 2007. They combine a 2009 live forum with a flashback to 1989 – The joint SWL Digest-Swiss SW Merry-go-round program devoted to the International Radio Days conference in West Berlin in 1989.

Bonus Download Series A – The Ian McFarland Antenna Series – A must-listen for SWL’s, DXers, and radio enthusiasts at all levels, this 11-part study series covers all things made of solid and stranded copper wire. From the most basic random wire to the windom and the beverage antennas, Ian discusses the most common types of radio antennas, protecting your antennas and equipment with lightning arrestors, and some antenna book references. The McFarland Antenna series was first aired in the seventies, and this is the first time in almost twenty-five years that these recordings have been available in a high quality MP3 download. Two dollars provides one hour of interesting and informative listening on the subject.

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Recording of Radio Bulgaria on shortwave

This morning at 00:00 (Universal Time), I recorded the Radio Bulgaria originating from their Plovdiv, Bulgaria transmitter, 5,420 miles from my home. I started my recording on 5,900 kHz at 00:00, then moved to and stayed on 7,400 kHz after Radio Havana Cuba started transmitting nearby at 00:30 UTC and bled into their frequency (a very common occurrence with RHC).

The first hour is (00:00 – 00:59 UTC) Radio Bulgaria’s English service, the second hour (1:00 – 2:00 UTC), their Bulgarian Service and third hour, (2:00 – 3:00 UTC) French service.

In this recording, you’ll hear multiple announcements regarding the closure of their shortwave service as of Feb 1, 2012. They did mention they will continue services over the internet.

This was recorded with a Zoom H1 on an Alinco DX-R8T–antenna was a vertical delta loop.

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My New Year’s preparedness test

Last year, we published two popular articles on preparedness. As I mention in the articles, I’m no hard-core survivalist, but I certainly believe in  being prepared.

This year, on New Year’s day, I got tested. Big time.  Here’s what happened:

Our hero on New Year's Day 2012

We had planned a New Year’s day lunch for twelve, which meant quite a bit of food preparation. I was chef for the day.  At 11:00 am, right after I had just begun searing a large pork roast with the intention of cooking it in the pressure cooker, the lights went out.  I thought perhaps a circuit breaker had tripped. One glance at the power meter, though, and I knew there was no electricity on tap.

So–although we’re not talking life and death here–I had a huge, raw (and frankly expensive) hunk of locally-raised pork to prepare, not to mention all the vegetables I intended to cook; no lights; no water (i.e., no toilet flushing); no auxiliary heat–and a herd of guests, all of whom had driven at least an hour’s distance, en route and looking forward to a delectable dinner.  I didn’t even have time to call the power company to report the power failure. What’s more, as we live in the middle of nowhere, in a best-case scenario it would take the company at least two hours to get here…and on New Year’s Day?

But I try to practice what I preach.

I have a 5550 Watt portable Genrac generator that we use in case of power failure –mainly to supply power to our water pump, lights, and a few appliances (like a microwave). It’s at least six years old, but works beautifully for those modest energy requirements. BUT:  I had never tested the generator with the stove top.  And looking at my raw dinner, and at the clock, I decided I was going to.  No way was my nice cut of pork going to be crammed into our microwave.

So I washed my hands, and zipped around the house turning off all unnecessary power loads and sensitive equipment (radios, computers, router, modem, lights, etc.). I then stepped outside, poured about two gallons of gas from the 10-15 gallons I keep on hand for emergencies into my generator, and fired her up. Though this unit doesn’t have electronic ignition, it did start almost immediately, because I test it every couple of months.

Our external generator connector box

I plugged the generator into our breaker box via an external junction and 12′, 240V  cord that we had installed by a certified electrician earlier this year.  This system included a fail-safe switch that forces us to disconnect our house from the grid, prior to permitting the generator to do its job (lest our power hurt someone working on the power lines).

I flipped the switch, walked back into the house, and saw that the generator had restored our lighting. Still, the lingering uncertainty in my mind was, “Will the generator power the stove’s burner so that I can at least cook the pork and veggies?” I listened to the generator hum as I turned the burner dial on…it barely strained. Whew!

This switch, located on our breaker box, prevents the generator from being connected to the house while the grid is connected.

Over the course of the next hour, guests started arriving; I continued to cook as if we had grid power. It was amazing. Everyone looked a little puzzled when they drove up and heard the generator running, but inside, found us enjoying lights, music, warmth, and the delightful aroma of the succulent pork and apples.  Happily, the meal went off without a hitch.

Mind you, I don’t think the generator could have handled the load of the water pump and the stove top if we didn’t have solar hot water and passive solar heating.  An electric furnace and electric hot water heating elements in a traditional water heater would have simply been too much of a load.

So what’s my point?

I know people who go through a nasty power outage and say, “never again!” They either:

  • Install an extremely expensive automatic propane or diesel backup generator
  • Buy a portable generator like mine, but fail to keep spare fuel on hand, or to test it on occasion

Obviously, neither is ideal.

Preparedness is as much about testing and understanding the limits of what you have–running a few “real-life” scenarios to flesh out anything you might overlook in an actual outage–like fuel, a non-functioning generator, power cords, etc.

And my radios?  Not only will the generator power all of my tabletop receivers and ham radio transceivers, but I keep a separate 40 aH sealed battery fully charged, and at-the-ready, at all times.

After all, every seasoned radio hobbyist who lives in a populated area knows that the best and quietest conditions for catching a little DX is when all of your neighbors’ power is out!

Always keep spare batteries and power for your radios when the grid fails. Don’t just do it for preparedness’ sake, do it for your listening ears!

Happy New Year, and 73s, friends!

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Radio Bulgaria, another broadcaster down: can shortwave be saved?

Yesterday, a message from Radio Bulgaria floated around the shortwave community that indicated the broadcaster may stop all shortwave broadcasts soon. Upon hearing this, my heart sunk.

Radio Bulgaria is no BBC World Service or Voice of America, nor is it the go-to station for the latest in international news.  However, what this unique little station does, and does remarkably well, is provide their listeners with news that is relevant to their part of the world. Like shortwave broadcasters of old, Radio Bulgaria draws listeners in, interacts with them, tells them about life in their ever-changing country.  Radio Bulgaria was once a mouthpiece for its government; after the Berlin wall fell, it became a true community-based station with both domestic and international listeners.  In short, Radio Bulgaria is a traditional shortwave station with accompanying warmth and charm.

Alas, my heart sunk a bit further this morning upon reading another, more substantiating, message; this time, from Ivo Ivanov, Radio Bulgaria’s frequency manager (via Mike on Cumbre DX):

BULGARIA / Dear listeners and friends of the short waves and Radio Bulgaria, / With a huge regret to inform you very bad news. After more than 75 years in the world broadcasting from January 31, 2012 at 2200 UT, Radio Bulgaria cease broadcasting on short and medium waves. The solution is that Radio Bulgaria is not necessary now its short waves and medium waves listeners. The reason –– no money for broadcast on short and medium waves. And who listens to short waves today? Already has internet. Maintaining the short waves was “Mission Impossible”! Hope dies last. As a frequency manager in the last 19 years my main task was to provide best quality signal of Radio Bulgaria in worldwide coverage. There will be no short waves, there will be no frequency manager. For all people who work in Radio Bulgaria that bad news is shock and horror Beginning of the end. But expect your moral support. Please send e-mail to:

Albanian section: <albanian @>
Bulgarian section: <bulgarian @>
English section: <english @>
French section: <french @>
German section: <german @>
Greek section: <greek @>
Russian section: <russian @>
Serbian section: <serbian @>
Spanish section: <spanish @>
Turkish section: <turkish @>

and from January 14, 2012:

Thank you and goodbye,
Ivo Ivanov

P.S. SW txs Kostinbrod & Padarsko will be destroyed in the next few months.

Heartbreaking.  It sounds as though the decision was swift, with little regard for those good station operators and others who work at Radio Bulgaria, nor for those who listen to its broadcasts.

Is this a sign of the times?

Weak Economy + Strong Internet = Shortwave Closures

This is, sadly, a prime example of what is happening to many international broadcasters. It’s that combination of shortwave radio listenership being on the decline (in parts of the world connected to the internet; my apologies to our kind readers who are the exception) while our weak global economy forces belt-tightening in governments and other organizations which support international broadcasters. Shortwave programs, which can be costly, often find themselves “justifiably” lopped off.  After all, it’s much more difficult to gather listener numbers than to track internet users and outlets over the internet. But most heartbreaking, those who actually listen to and rely upon shortwave are the least able to protest these closures. These listeners tend to be people who have no internet, and often live in remote, impoverished parts of the world.

Imagine you live in central Africa, for example, and tune into your radio every day for your world news.  Then one day, you attempt to tune in a favorite station program, but find only static…Have you made an error?  You tune again, but the station is nowhere to be found.  Then the next week, another favorite is absent…and another…

Here, in North America, I have very little ground to stand upon when complaining about shortwave closures. I have excellent internet access and some local radio, internet and TV outlets to turn to for news, music and more. When I stand up for shortwave broadcasters and protest closures, it’s for those I just mentioned, those without a voice.

Here in the US, I can’t help but draw an unlikely analogy.  I grew up in a small blue-collar town that manufactured furniture–lots of it. My father worked for a furniture factory his entire life. Indeed, almost everyone I knew had someone in their immediate family who built furniture. Something strange happened in the 1990s, though; suddenly, it became cheap, very, very cheap, to manufacture furniture abroad. As our local manufacturers started competing with others whose prices were supported by cheap foreign labor, locals felt the pull to move much of their manufacturing abroad too.

We put all of our eggs in the least expensive, most convenient basket. Today, in our little hometown, there are massive factories that have been sitting dormant for nearly a decade. They have no equipment inside, they have no skilled labor to build things. But that’s not the worst of it:  now, we couldn’t manufacture something if we needed to.  We’ve exported our entire infrastructure. Family and friends are without jobs, and this is the reason.  The same could be said of many, many other industries throughout the world.

Let me be clear: I’m no opponent of international trade–just like I’m certainly no opponent of the internet–but if we invest everything in the internet, we may very well lose our ability and means––our infrastructure––to broadcast over shortwave, should we need to do so in the future.  Already, there are many examples in which we need to do so.

I urge you to contact Radio Bulgaria via email (above) and sign the online petition at Save Radio Bulgaria. Whether or not we can stop this closure, I am uncertain, but we can make our voices heard.

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