Monthly Archives: April 2014

Yaesu FT-817 as a travel receiver

SWLing Post reader, Anil, comments on Traveling light, SWLing right:

Yaesu-FT-817

The Yaesu FT-817nd general coverage QRP transceiver

“I would like to suggest another candidate that is really hard to beat and is fantastic value when you buy a used one – The Yaesu FT-817 Low Power Transceiver.

It has outrageously good General Coverage performance and a massive LF – UHF coverage receiver. It has the same paperback footprint as many of the travel radios you review and a built in battery pack albeit a fairly low capacity one.

When it comes to extracting weak signals out of noise and interference it is head and shoulders above the rest with a switchable pre-amp, variable RF gain and attenuator, pass-band tuning, narrow filters etc.”

Anil, you’re right. The FT-817 is a very compact, full-featured radio and certainly easy to pack.

Yaesu-FT-817ND

I was an early adopter of the ‘817, having purchased mine in 2000 or 2001. I was living in the UK at the time and traveled extensively throughout Europe for my employer. I looked to the FT-817 as a means to play ham radio on the go. It easily fit into my carry-on bag at the time.

Like you, I was very pleased with the receiver though I had nothing to compare it to at the time.

I kept the FT-817 for about five years, but eventually sold it. I started using the Elecraft KX1 as its replacement.  I found that, for me, the ‘817’s front face was a little too small and some of the multi-function knobs could be a little frustrating to use while on the air. Those were relatively minor criticisms, though–the ‘817 continues to have a large fan base and is enjoying very long product life.

Anil, many thanks for sharing your comment!

Click here to check out the Yaesu FT-817 at Universal Radio or click here to search eBay for a used one.

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Pirate Radio Recordings: MAC Shortwave

820px-Annex_-_Stewart,_James_(Call_Northside_777)_01

For your listening pleasure: over one hour of the pirate radio station, MAC Shortwave. I recorded this broadcast on April 27, 2014 starting around 00:05 UTC, on 6,950 kHz AM.

MAC Shortwave features host “Jimmy Stewart” and some excellent big band music.

The first SWLing Post reader to identify this MAC Shortwave interval signal gets extra credit!

Simply click here to download an MP3 of the recording, or listen via the embedded player below:

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AirChat: Long-distance digital communications via radio

AirChatLogo-001Last month, I was interviewed by NK News regarding the possibility of using inexpensive SDR dongles as a means for citizen journalists to receive and potentially send information across the North Korean border. Of course this is possible: digital communications over radio is becoming easier and more accessible all of the time.

While not yet as portable as an SDR dongle, Anonymous is developing a tool called AirChat which will allow long-distance communications via radio. AirChat borrows from Fldigi: a free application that decodes a variety of digital modes and has been used by amateur radio operators for years. Indeed, Fldigi is the same software you’ve used to decode broadcasts from VOA Radiogram and the new STF Radio.

Many thanks to the excellent  Southgate ARC news site for this article about AirChat:

(Source: Southgate ARC)

The International Business Times reports that the online hacktivist collective Anonymous has announced that it is working on a new tool called Airchat which could allow people to communicate without the need for a phone or an internet connection – it uses radio waves instead 

Initially the data mode software AirChat used code from ‘minimodem’ and then from ‘soundmodem’ sources but they say after suggestions from radio amateurs involved in the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), they decided to make it modular to use the Fldigi software, a broadly deployed solution for use with ham radios.

They say “So far we have played interactive chess games with people at 180 miles away. we have shared pictures and established encrypted low bandwidth digital voice chats. We have 3D printed over distances of 80 miles and transmitted medical orders at distances of over 100 miles.”

So far Yaesu FT-897D’s amateur transceivers have been used and the developers are also looking at using low-cost ($40) VHF/UHF handheld transceivers.

Read the International Business Times story 
http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/anonymous-airchat-aims-allow-
communication-without-needing-phone-internet-access-1445888


LulzLabs AirChat
https://github.com/lulzlabs/AirChat/

You can read about the goals of AirChat on their Github site and follow AirChat on Twitter with the hash tags #lulzlabs and #AirChat.

Anonymous has also posted the following video–a demo of AirChat:

Airchat from #lulzlabs on Vimeo.

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Radio Australia in NA: best times and frequencies on Saturdays?

ABC-GrandstandMy good friend, Rob De Santos, is trying to identify the best times and frequencies to hear Radio Australia across North America on Saturdays. Can you help him?

Rob writes:

“I am updating a page on my website with shortwave info on Radio Australia’s Grandstand coverage of Australian football. Typically this occurs on Friday night / Saturday morning US time (0330 to 1230 UTC Saturday, varies). As you all know, RA does not target North America and hasn’t for some time however some of the frequencies can be heard here.

I can tell you which ones I can hear in Columbus, OH but that doesn’t really give me much feel for all of the USA or Canada so I need your feedback. What is best in Vancouver, BC and Naples, FL are not likely identical and not at the same hours.

Which RA frequencies are best at your location between 0330 and 1230 UTC Saturdays? Are there particular hours better than others?

If you can [comment here] with the best frequencies and your QTH that would be terrific. The more geographic diversity and individual experience I can get the better advice I can give on the web page.

Thanks,
Rob de Santos”

Readers: if you can help Rob, please comment below.  Many thanks in advance!

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Virtual radio challenge: one year, one radio, one (very) remote island

SWL Travel Gear - Timbuk2 Wingman

Pack your bags! We’re going on a trip!

Shortwave listeners are interesting, creative people who do interesting, creative work: they’re scientists, veterans, corporate employees, students, retirees, volunteers, politicians, musicians, inventors, entrepreneurs, engineers, humanitarians, reporters, artists, researchers, sailors, pilots, pirates…and most seem to be travelers. But to say the least, they’re very diverse. The joy of the SWLing Post, for me, is the fascinating readers here and the great variety of questions and comments I receive from you.

On this blog, I often write about selecting the “right” radio for home, boating, preparednessoff-grid living, and of course travel–but sometimes I like to go through the mental exercise of imagining a scenario a little more extreme.

Indeed, I occasionally receive such “extreme” questions from our readers, questions that push the limits of the hobby, demanding highly specific needs in a radio. And, I readily admit, I thoroughly enjoy these questions!  They give me a chance–and good excuse, really–to be imaginative and innovative, to push beyond mere practical or monetary constraints to consider unique environments, weather conditions, durability needs, power requirements, and/or resource availability…great fun.

If you enjoy this kind of brain game, too, check out our virtual challenge that follows:

Should you agree to take it on, you’ll need to complete it within two weeks. Why the time constraint? Let’s imagine that your flight leaves May 15th, and you’ll need to make sure you’ve received, tested, and packed all of your supplies by that date.

[By the way, this scenario is based on an actual reader question.]

Here’s your challenge…

TristanDaCuna-001

Location: Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, Tristan Da Cunha, South Atlantic Ocean

Tristan da Cunha on 6 February 2013, as seen from the International Space Station (Source: Wikipedia)

Tristan da Cunha on 6 February 2013, as seen from the International Space Station (Source: Wikipedia)

Accommodation: A rented room in a native Tristanian family home

Electricity: Mains power via the grid, but you’ll have to expect extended power outages if there is a generator failure

Internet: The island has (slow speed) public Internet, but you will not have access at your accommodation

Your budget: $200 US–which must cover all of your radio requirements (radio, antenna, batteries, and all accessories)

Scenario: You’re on an assignment, being sent to one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands–Tristan Da Cunha, in the South Atlantic (see this overview of the island from Wikipedia)–to undertake research for one year. You’ll fly into South Africa, where you’ll board a cargo vessel for the one-week journey to the island. The maximum amount of luggage allowed by your airline is one carry-on and two check-in bags, both of no more than 60 kg (132 lbs), total.

Once on the island, you will not leave until a ship picks you up 365 days later.

Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic Ocean (Source: michael clarke stuff)

Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic Ocean (Source: michael clarke stuff)

Tristan Da Cunha has less than 300 total inhabitants, so while there are basic shops and accommodations, these are very limited. Once there, ordering a new radio or accessories will not be an option. Getting your rig fixed by an island electronics repair shop will be possible, to some extent (we’ll assume you don’t possess those repair skills yourself). Batteries are locally available, but very expensive…

You’ll be staying in a small, thick-walled stone cottage with a family and will have your own room, with a window.  The family will allow you to string a wire antenna outside, but there are no trees, only heath and shrubs. Additionally, winds are strong and rainfall substantial; sunshine can be quite limited.

We’ll assume you’re starting from scratch, that you have neither radio nor any accessories. You’re allowing yourself a maximum of $200 US for all of your radio gear.  Your goal is to have the best shortwave listening set-up possible for your budget and for this situation. Since your radio must be packed in your luggage, you can’t afford the space nor the weight of a large tabletop radio.

Obviously, the more you understand the island and its limitations, the better choices you’ll make for your gear.

Limitations:

  1. You’re limited to a (virtual) budget of $200 US to procure your supplies; ideally, this includes shipping costs
  2. You can select used gear, but must base your choices on reality (i.e., actually find item(s) online and document the price and time of availability). If you “shop” eBay, make sure you’re using the final price, not the current or opening bid. If you do locate something used on eBayQTH.com, QRZ.com or at Universal Radio, for example, include the link! (Just to add to the fun.)
  3. Your main objective is to listen to international broadcasters, and do a little DXing, of course. FM sensitivity will not be a factor (of course, I’m joking here!) Whether or not the radio has SSB mode is up to you.
  4. We’ll assume that you’re bringing a laptop computer with you.
  5. Remember, you’ll be stuck with this radio for one full year! So choose something you’ll love to operate, and don’t forget your vital accessories.

Note: The limitations of this exercise are simply to level the playing field for everyone as well as to make the challenge a little tougher (and thus more fun!). Of course, they’re open to interpretation, but do try to honor the spirit of the game.

Up to the challenge? You’ve got two weeks–!

GrundigG3To participate, just comment on this post with your suggested set-up, any links, and a brief explanation for your choices.

You’re also welcome to email me directly with your response.

We’ll select some of the most interesting and relevant responses and post them in two weeks, on Friday, May 9, 2014.

Have fun!  We can’t wait to read the responses…!

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