Monthly Archives: January 2021

The Icom IC-705 is about to achieve ‘Holy Grail’ status

In 2019, shortly after Icom announced the Icom IC-705, I speculated that this rig might be a contender for “Holy Grail” status.

I must admit…the more I use this radio, the more I love it. It is a proper Swiss Army Knife of a radio. Even though I’ve owned and operated it for a few months, I still haven’t explored all that it can do, and I keep finding features I love.

Case in point

Yesterday, I upgraded my IC-705’s firmware. Unlike other devices I’ve been evaluating recently, IC-705 firmware updates aren’t fixing numerous bugs and issues, rather they’re adding more functionality.

After completing the upgrade, I hooked the ‘705 up to my main antenna and worked a few Parks On The Air (POTA) stations off of the supplied battery pack (instead of a power supply). While I worked on other projects in the shack, I checked the POTA spots and work a few stations with a whopping 5 watts of output power.

After a couple hours on the air (mostly listening), the internal battery pack still had a good 60-70% capacity.

At one point, I tried a little daytime mediumwave DXing and cruised past 630 kHz which some of you might already know is the home of one of my favorite hometown radio stations, WAIZ.

From my home, WAIZ is a tough catch, so it was weak, but I could hear it.

This reminded me that I had made a recording of WAIZ with the IC-705 when in my hometown earlier this month.

Normally, I pull the MicroSD card out of the IC-705–which almost requires needle nose pliers and is one of my few complaints about this rig–and view the files on my PC or MacBook, but I was curious if perhaps the IC-705 software had a built-in file display.

Of course it does!

Simply press the MENU button, then the RECORD button on the touch screen, and you’ll see the following selections:

Press “Play Files” and you then see a list of folders organized by date:

Click on a folder and you’ll see a list of recordings made that day:

Here’s the genius bit for those of us who like to archive broadcast recordings…the IC-705 embeds the following meta data:

  • Date of recording
  • Start time of recording
  • Recording length
  • Frequency
  • Mode

These are some of the most important pieces of information I use to index my audio recordings and the IC-705 does this automatically.  In fact, if you allow the IC-705 to gather its time information from the internal GPS, the time stamp will be incredibly accurate.

The only thing I add to the file name after export is the broadcaster name/station callsign.

If that wasn’t enough, if you touch one of the recording files, the IC-705 will open it in an audio player:

The built-in player displays the meta data, and even includes a number of controls like fast-forward, rewind, skip to next or previous file. and pause.

I’m sure this is the same audio player found in the IC-7300, IC-R8600 and other late-model Icom SDR rigs. But in a portable battery powered transceiver? This is a genius feature.

As I type this post I’m listening to the audio from the WAIZ file shown above. I can imagine when I’m able to travel again (post-pandemic), how useful this will for one-bag air travel.

(If you’d like to listen to WAIZ, check out these ‘705 recordings.)

Not only is the IC-705 a QRP transceiver and wideband multi-mode general coverage receiver, but it’s a recorder and audio player with a built-in front-facing speaker. I can set this transceiver at my hotel bedside and listen to recordings I made in the field earlier that day or week.

Keep in mind that the IC-705 is an expensive radio–certainly one of the most pricey QRP radios ever produced at $1,300 US (at time of posting although I’m sure we’ll start seeing lower pricing this year). But if you’re an SWL and ham, you’ll find the IC-705 is the most versatile portable transceiver on the market. If you’re an SWL only, you can disable the transmit on the IC-705 and essentially have a portable battery-powered SDR receiver with built-in audio recording and playback with color touch screen spectrum and waterfall display.

Despite the price, this is Holy Grail territory in my book.

Icom IC-705 Review

If you subscribe to The Spectrum Monitor magazine, you’ll be able to read my (4,000 word!) review of the IC-705 in the upcoming February 2021 issue.

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FTIOM & UBMP Special Broadcast February 1


As part of Channel 292’s celebration of its 10th Anniversary, From the Isle of Music and Uncle Bill’s Melting Pot will feature broadcasts with content specifically chosen for the occasion.
From the Isle of Music will feature recordings of Cuban music for which the producer and host, Bill Tilford, wrote the liner notes, and Uncle Bill’s Melting Pot will feature a potpourri of music from around the world.
Broadcast times and frequencies are as follows (all transmissions from Rohrbach-Waal):
FROM THE ISLE OF MUSIC
February 1, 0100-0200 UTC on 3955, 6070 and 9670 kHz with 9670 on a directional booster beam southeast towards South Asia, may be listenable in the Near and Middle East.
Repeats 0300-0400 on 3955, 6070 and 9670 kHz with 9670 on a directional booster beam towards Africa.
UNCLE BILL’S MELTING POT
February 1, 0200-0300 UTC on 3955, 6070 and 9670 kHz with 9670 on a directional booster beam southeast towards South Asia, may be listenable in the Near and Middle East.
Repeats 0400-0500 on 3955 and 9670 kHz with 9670 on a directional booster beam towards Africa.  (6070 kHz will carry Alt Universe Top 40 at that hour).
Congratulations and thanks  to Channel 292 for 10 years of making shortwave airtime affordable for independent broadcasters! 

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Icom IC-705 firmware v1.20, programming software v1.10, and a new 3rd party remote app for Android

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Markku Koskinen, who notes the following new and updated programs for the Icom IC-705 general coverage transceiver:

First, Icom has published firmware version 1.20 which includes a number of new features. We’ll post the full announcement below. Click here to view the release notes and download.

Secondly, Icom has published a new version (1.10) of their IC-705 programming software. The new release also includes a number of additions. Click here to view the release notes and download.

Finally, Markku notes that there is now an IC-705 Remote application on the Google Play app store.

The app appears to control basic functionality like tuning, band, mode, filter, and CI-V address switching.  The app is free and should work on most Android devices.

Thanks for the tips, Markku!

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Xiegu GSOC after latest v1.3 firmware update

Yesterday, I cleared my radio bench and performed a few firmware updates that were recently published for the Xiegu GSOC Controller and Xiegu G90.

Upgrading the Xiegu GSOC to the latest firmware version requires also upgrading the Xiegu G90 to take full advantage of the GSOC fixes.

I downloaded the G90 firmware, driver and upgrade tool, then read through the upgrade manual. The process is pretty straight-forward, but the G90 transceiver actually has two units to upgrade: the control head and the transceiver body. I successfully completed both with no errors from the firmware tool.

Next, I downloaded the 300MB+ GSOC upgrade which is essentially an entire Linux operating system. I flashed it to a 16GB MicroSD card, inserted it in the GSOC and after turning it on it extracted and upgraded its OS. It’s an easy upgrade, but requires a MicroSD card and download time (especially if you’re like me and have a crummy rural internet connection). 🙂

GSOC v1.3

After I completed the upgrade, I connected the GSOC control head to the Xiegu G90 once again and turned it on.

The GSOC still takes a good 30 seconds to start up because it’s essentially loading a Linux OS.

Keep in mind there was one fix in particular I was looking forward to checking out: the CW latency issue.

CW latency

As I mentioned in my initial GSOC post, and also in the post after the first GSOC firmware update, the GSOC had been exhibiting sidetone latency that interfered with my ability to correctly send words and letters. In fact, it really made it impossible to send accurate code at speeds north of 11 WPM or so.  Xiegu engineers tried to fix this after the first GSOC update, but it was still present. I suspected the GSOC CPU simply wasn’t fast enough to produce sidetone audio as the G90 body fed it a steady stream of dits and dashes. So far, my GSOC evaluation has pretty much been on hold because I’m unable to use CW mode.

I’m happy to note that Xiegu has now fixed the CW latency issue, but there’s a small caveat. I’ll explain…

In SSB, FM, or AM mode, for example, the GSOC produces audio via its internal speaker. This is also how it used to produce CW sidetone audio.

After the v1.3 firmware update, when you use CW mode, the audio will be produced by the G90 body. Not an elegant solution, but this does eliminate CW sidetone latency because the GSOC controller is effectively eliminated from the audio chain.

I connected the GSCO/G90 to a dummy load and tested CW which seemed to work fine. Then I hopped on the air and worked POTA activators in Ohio, Maryland and Indiana with no problem because I was essentially only using the G90 body (hence the same experience I had in my G90 review).

Honestly? This might not bother some ops, but it is a bit weird to use the GSOC on AM and SSB then switch to CW mode since the speaker audio moves from the GSOC to the G90 body. (If using headphones, I suppose you’ll have to unplug from the GSOC and plug into the G90.)

When I’ve had the GSOC in the shack, I’ve placed the control head on my table (which is the main operating position) then placed the G90 body about 2 feet away behind one of my PC monitors. With this setup, the audio jump to the G90 body is very noticeable.

This GSOC and G90 are both on loan from Radioddity, but if I owned the GSOC, I believe I’d connect an external speaker to the G90 to bring the audio closer.

It’s worth noting that If the “Modem” function is turned on in CW mode, the audio will be played via the GSOC (not the G90 body).

Noise on the spectrum display

Although it wasn’t noted in the firmware release notes, I had hoped they might have adjusted the IQ feed to help eliminate some ever-present noises on the spectrum display (which cannot be heard in the audio).

After I performed the update, the GSOC spectrum display seems to be somewhat “deaf.”

At least, I’m not able to see signals as I did moments before the upgrade. I can hear signals as I tune through the bands–and they sound fine–but I can’t see anything corresponding appropriately on the spectrum display or waterfall. I tried adjusting the default spectrum gain values but this doesn’t seem to help. I’ll try replacing out the IQ cable, but again I doubt this will have an effect because I’m sure it’s associated with the update.

If I tune to the broadcast bands, I can see strong AM signals in the spectrum, but it seems weaker SSB and CW signals are lost.

I haven’t seen other GSOC owners report this yet, so must assume it’s an issue with my particular unit and possibly a glitch from the firmware updates? I will contact the manufacturer and see if this can be sorted out.

Summary

The v1.3 firmware update also added a Bluetooth serial port, tweaked AGC algorithms, and added the ability to perform a full reset from the GSOC system menu. There are still some missing anticipated features like direct audio recording to the MicroSD card.

If I’m being perfectly honest, though, the GSOC still feels like a product in Alpha or Beta testing–not one in production. The CW sidetone issue would have been discovered if Xiegu had even one Beta tester attempt a few CW contacts prior to production. Spectrum display noise would have also been found. In addition, most promised features should have been on the unit from day one and some–like the notch filter–should have functioned properly. The whole unit feels rushed and not yet ready for prime time.

I personally much prefer using the Xiegu G90 as-is, without the GSOC controller. It’s not an Icom IC-7300 or even a Yaesu FT-891 for that matter, but it’s a very budget-friendly, full-featured field radio that sets a benchmark for its $425 US price. While I’m not a huge fan of the G90’s audio, it’s perfectly fine for field use and normal operation.

I’m undecided if I’ll continue reviewing the GSOC at this point–I may simply send it back to Radioddity who–very much to their credit–has embraced my criticisms of this unit.  At present, the GSOC and G90 are living in their shipping boxes until I pull them out to perform upgrades, test them, then put them back in the boxes. Not how it should be. When I review new gear, I’m usually eager to put it in full service in my shack and in the field. Frankly, I just feel like the GSCO and G90 take up too much space and are in the way of radios I prefer using.

Are you a Xiegu GSOC owner? What are your thoughts? Please comment.

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ABR Industries and the importance of quality cable and connectors

Two radio accessories I often forget to mention in my posts and reviews are cable and connectors. When a cable functions well, it’s taken for granted and easily overlooked.

You’ll hear me say that a radio is only as good as its antenna and while that’s true, the important link in the system is your antenna cable and connectors. If you have a fabulous antenna and a benchmark radio, but you connect the two with substandard cables, it will create unnecessary losses and even shorts if you’re not careful.

But let’s be honest: it’s easy to cheap out on cables.

When I first started using tabletop receivers and transceivers in my youth, I had a tight budget. When I would go to a local hamfest where I’d find excellent prices on cable assemblies from those accessory retailers who sell a little bit of everything.  You know…the tables with everything from $10 multimeters to $5 blinking lights–? I’d find their prices for cable assemblies too attractive and would grab them.

No more.

Back when I owned my original Yaesu FT-817, I used one of these cables on Field Day and blew my finals due to a small short ono a connector end (if memory serves, braiding was touching the conductor). From that point forward, I decided I’d invest in quality cables.

ABR Industries

At the Hamvention in 2010, I found ABR Industries’ table. The only thing they had on display were cable assemblies and a handful of cable accessories. I picked one cable up and inspected it–I could tell it was good quality. Although I know how to make my own cable assemblies (with PL-259s, at least) I appreciate professionally-built assemblies.

I spoke with the representative that day and learned about their company and how they go about making standard and custom cable assemblies in the USA for the consumer, commercial, and government markets.

Although the price was at least double what I would have paid at one of the discount retailers, I never looked back.

From that point forward, I’ve only purchased ABR cables typically at Hamvention, Universal Radio, or even directly from ABR’s website (when I ordered custom assemblies).

The quality of ABR cables is second to none. I have never had one fail at home or (especially) in the field.

For my QRP POTA activations, I started investing in ABR316 and ABR100 BNC to BNC assemblies. I’m especially fond of the ABR316 assemblies (above) because they’re so resistant to memory when I coil them.

You pay for what you get

I suppose this is on my mind because I’m about to do an assessment and make another ABR order so that my new field radio kits have their own dedicated cable assemblies with correct ends (so I’m also not forced to use BNC or PL adapters for matching).

I’m also replacing some of my 3 foot cable assemblies with SMA connectors to PL-259 for my bank of SDRs. This is a part of achieving one of my goals for 2021. I’ll know then that each receiver will have a quality link to my antenna splitter and antenna.

My point here is don’t skimp on your cable, adapters, or cable assemblies.

If you have the skill to build your own, buy quality components and take your time building them.

If you prefer purchasing pre-made cable assemblies, talk with your local ham radio retailer, or seek out cable assembly houses like ABR Industries. I’d avoid purchasing cheap cables you may find on eBay or Amazon.com, for example. That’s not to say that there aren’t quality discount assemblies out there, I just prefer buying from a company that takes pride in their work and stands behind the quality.

Click here to check out ABR Industries. 

ABR Industries isn’t a sponsor of the SWLing Post (although I’d love to add them!)–I’m just a long-time customer who is happy to plug their products. I can recommend them without reservation.

I’ve also bought numerous long cable runs, wire, DC cable, ladder line, paracord, and sealant from The Wireman. I also highly recommend them.

ABR isn’t the only quality cable assembly house–there are many others throughout the world. Who do you recommend? Please leave a comment and links to your picks!

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New CC WiFi-3: C.Crane offers discount to CC WiFi customers after demise of Reciva aggregator

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ron, who notes the following announcement on C.Crane’s website:

We were happy to be one of first companies to offer ad-free Internet radio because it allowed anyone to listen to the world without a fee. Fifteen years ago, Ben, the founder of Reciva, had a small staff to create the software and volunteers around the world to help manage the station streams. We are sorry, but Reciva’s software will soon not work anymore. The software would need to be recreated from scratch. Even If this was done, it would not be possible for the existing radios to be compatible with this new type of software. This is the same way Apple and Microsoft might release a new operating system that is not compatible with older hardware.

We are working on a new radio called the CC WiFi-3. We will be testing the first pilot run of the new CC WiFi-3 in January with the first delivery by April if all goes reasonably well. There are still no ads or graphics to annoy you and nobody tracks your habits for advertising offers. It looks almost the same as the previous CC WiFi but has been upgraded in several ways:

  1. It uses a new 3rd party stream provider called Skytune.
  2. You can add your own streams (URLs) yourself so you are somewhat protected if the service fails for any reason.
  3. It is a little easier to use and it has a good built-in equalizer available.
  4. This radio comes with a 2 year limited warranty.

Anyone can add a valid stream to Skytune. This makes the platform very different from smart speakers that do track your habits and make recurring income. There is no recurring income for C. Crane just like with Reciva and the CC WiFi. The only income is the initial hardware purchase which includes the use of Skytune’s technology embedded on a chip.

If you feel comfortable going forward please read our offer.

This is a one-time offer from C. Crane. This offer will end June 1, 2021.

  1. If you have purchased a CC WiFi and it is under the 1 year limited warranty, contact us for the available options.
  2. If you have purchased a CC WiFi and it is no longer under warranty, the CC WiFi-3 is available for half price – $60.00 USD plus shipping. You must fill out the form (click here) and include a picture of your serial number(s). Instructions are included on the form for how to locate your serial number. If you need help with this, please contact us. You will be contacted once we receive our shipment to get payment information and to confirm your address.

The CC WiFi-3 comes with the risk of losing connection to Skytune’s server if they were to shut down in the future. As we have previously documented in our catalog and on the web: C. Crane has no control over content or the stream provider for Internet radios and cannot be responsible for Internet radio programs or availability.

We think the CC WiFi-3 is a remarkable radio for listening to a clear signal from your favorite station and for discovering new stations. You can go to Skytune.com, click on the “Radio” header to be sure they carry your favorite station or host.

Note: Saving your own list of streaming stations for use takes some computer knowledge. Many of your big streamers block or change the URL daily so you cannot save it. As usual, you have C. Crane’s US Based customer service to help you with any questions about the operation of the CC WiFi-3.

A number of us have been frustrated discovering that the Reciva aggregator, which is the backbone for so many WiFi radios, will shut down by the end of April 2021. While I’m sure many of us are now leery of investing in a new WiFi radio, I love how 1.) C.Crane is offering a 50% discount to existing customers and 2.) are being up-front about the risks of WiFi radios relying on aggregator services.

I’ve been using the Skytune service on my Ocean Digital radio and have been very pleased. I’m pleased to hear the new CC WiFi-3 has an option to manually load Internet radio streams if needed.

Thanks, Ron, for sharing this tip!

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Radio Waves: Michael Pack Resigns, FCC Enforcement Advisory, Upcoming ISS SSTV, and Prowling TV Detector Vans

Radio Waves:  Stories Making Waves in the World of Radio

Because I keep my ear to the waves, as well as receive many tips from others who do the same, I find myself privy to radio-related stories that might interest SWLing Post readers.  To that end: Welcome to the SWLing Post’s Radio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Eric McFadden, Ronald Kenyon,  for the following tips:


Defined By Scandal At Voice of America, CEO Resigns At Biden’s Request (NPR)

Michael Pack resigned Wednesday as the CEO of the federal agency over the Voice of America and other federally funded international broadcasters after a turbulent seven-month tenure. He leaves the U.S. Agency for Global Media with a Trumpian legacy of ideological strife, lawsuits and scandal, his departure effective just two hours after the swearing-in of President Biden, who requested him to leave.

Biden has named senior VOA news executive Kelu Chao as acting CEO.

Pack came to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media with the support of former President Donald Trump; his appointment was delayed more than two years in the U.S. Senate by lawmakers who feared he was too ideological and also who questioned his finances. The soft-spoken conservative documentary maker proved to be an ideological warrior in the mold of his patron, taking to one conservative news outlet after another to denounce his own staff, all in the name of fairness.

In his resignation letter, Pack said he was “solely focused upon reorienting the agency toward its missions.” And he attacked the request for his resignation as “a partisan act,” saying the leadership of the agency and its networks “is meant to be non-partisan, untethered to alternations in the political regime.”

He added, “I had no political agenda coming into USAGM, and I still do not have one.”

NPR conducted scores of interviews over the controversies Pack’s actions engendered. And few at the agency or its broadcasters agreed with Pack’s characterization of his mission or performance, instead characterizing him as seeking political control over their coverage. Just last week, a VOA reporter’s insistent questions to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and VOA Director Robert R. Reilly over the siege on Congress after a public event led to her demotion and an investigation.

Pack routinely accused journalists of anti-Trump bias, sought to fire top executives as part of a “deep state,” ominously accused the networks of being receptive to foreign spies and denied requests for visa extensions from his own staffers who are foreign nationals.[]

FCC Issues Enforcement Advisory: Radio Users Reminded Not to Use Radios in Crimes (ARRL News)

The FCC has released an Enforcement Advisory for licensees and operators across radio services.

[Complete text of FCC Enforcement Advisory follows.]

FCC ENFORCEMENT ADVISORY

DA 21-73

Released: January 17, 2021

WARNING: AMATEUR AND PERSONAL RADIO SERVICES LICENSEES AND OPERATORS MAY NOT USE RADIO EQUIPMENT TO COMMIT OR FACILITATE CRIMINAL ACTS

The Enforcement Bureau (Bureau) of the Federal Communications Commission issues this Enforcement Advisory to remind licensees in the Amateur Radio Service, as well as licensees and operators in the Personal Radio Services, that the Commission prohibits the use of radios in those services to commit or facilitate criminal acts.

The Bureau has become aware of discussions on social media platforms suggesting that certain radio services regulated by the Commission may be an alternative to social media platforms for groups to communicate and coordinate future activities. The Bureau recognizes that these services can be used for a wide range of permitted purposes, including speech that is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Amateur and Personal Radio Services, however, may not be used to commit or facilitate crimes.

Specifically, the Bureau reminds amateur licensees that they are prohibited from transmitting “communications intended to facilitate a criminal act” or “messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning.” 47 CFR § 97.113(a)(4).

Likewise, individuals operating radios in the Personal Radio Services, a category that includes Citizens Band radios, Family Radio Service walkie-talkies, and General Mobile Radio Service, are prohibited from using those radios “in connection with any activity which is against Federal, State or local law.” 47 CFR § 95.333(a).

Individuals using radios in the Amateur or Personal Radio Services in this manner may be subject to severe penalties, including significant fines, seizure of the offending equipment, and, in some cases, criminal prosecution. 47 U.S.C. §§ 401, 501, 503, 510.

Media inquiries should be directed to 202-418-0500 or MediaRelations@fcc.gov.

To file a complaint with the FCC, visit https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov or call 1-888-CALL-FCC. To report a crime, contact your local law enforcement office or the FBI.

To request materials in accessible formats for people with disabilities (Braille, large print, electronic files, audio format), send an e-mail to fcc504@fcc.gov or call the Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau at (202) 418-0530 (voice), (202) 418-0432 (TTY).

Issued by: Chief, Enforcement Bureau[]

ISS SSTV 145.800 FM Jan 28-29 (Southgate ARC)

Russian cosmonauts on the International Space Station (ISS) are planning to transmit Slow Scan TV images on 145.800 MHz FM using the SSTV mode PD-120

The transmissions are part of the Moscow Aviation Institute SSTV experiment (MAI-75).

Jan 28 – Starts after 12:10 GMT and ends at 17:15 GMT*

Jan 29 – Start about 13:10 GMT and ends at 18:05 GMT*

*Dates and times subject to change.

ARISS SSTV Blog
https://ariss-sstv.blogspot.com/

Useful SSTV info and links
https://amsat-uk.org/beginners/iss-sstv/

TV Detector Vans Once Prowled The Streets Of England (Hackaday)

The United Kingdom is somewhat unique in the world for requiring those households which view broadcast television to purchase a licence for the privilege.

Initially coming into being with the Wireless Telegraphy Act in 1923, the licence was required for anyone receiving broadcast radio, before being expanded to cover television in 1946. The funds generated from this endeavour are used as the primary funding for the British Broadcasting Corporation.

A typical TV licence invoice. Separate licences for black and white and color sets still exist, with 6000 B&W licences issued in 2019.

Of course, it’s all well and good to require a licence, but without some manner of enforcement, the measure doesn’t have any teeth. Among other measures, the BBC have gone as far as employing special vans to hunt down illegally operating televisions and protect its precious income.

THE VAN IS COMING FOR YOU

To ensure a regular income, the BBC runs enforcement operations under the TV Licencing trade name, the entity which is responsible for administering the system. Records are kept of licences and their expiry dates, and investigations are made into households suspected of owning a television who have not paid the requisite fees. To encourage compliance, TV Licencing regularly sends sternly worded letters to those who have let their licence lapse or have not purchased one. In the event this fails, they may arrange a visit from enforcement officers. These officers aren’t empowered to forcibly enter homes, so in the event a homeowner declines to cooperate with an investigation, TV Licencing will apply for a search warrant. This may be on the basis of evidence such as a satellite dish or antenna spotted on the roof of a dwelling, or a remote spied on a couch cushion through a window.[]


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