The “grey line” is a band around the Earth that separates daylight from darkness. Propagation along the grey line is very efficient. One major reason for this is that the D layer, The “grey line” is a band around the Earth that separates daylight from darkness. Propagation along the grey line is very efficient. One major reason for this is that the D layer, which absorbs HF signals, disappears rapidly on the sunset side of the grey line, and it has not yet built upon the sunrise side. Ham radio operators and shortwave listeners can optimize long distance communications to various areas of the world by monitoring this band as it moves around the globe. which absorbs HF signals, disappears rapidly on the sunset side of the grey line, and it has not yet built upon the sunrise side. Ham radio operators and shortwave listeners can optimize long distance communications to various areas of the world by monitoring this band as it moves around the globe.
Elliott’s short version: Some funky stuff can happen with propagation when the grey line is passing through your location.
So let’s have some fun for a couple of hours chasing MW DX along the grey line.
Here are the rules:
Frequency range is the medium wave band: 520-1710 kHz
From one hour before Civil Twilight your local time on Saturday, October 14, to one hour after Civil Twilight at your location.
Any radio with any antenna, but must be the radio at your location (no using remote internet radios)
The listener must hear the signal in real time
The stations must be ID’ed by listening to the signal.
Your report should include:
Your name (or Internet handle)
Your receiver and antenna (stay with the same setup from beginning to end; if you use multiple setups, provide a separate report for each).
The time, the frequency, and the ID of each station heard
The total mileage of your top five most distant stations.
A final point: this is not a contest; it is a challenge. The reward for every participant will be fun and fellowship.
You can find when Civil Twilight begins at your location by visiting www.wunderground.com . Enter your location, click on “Full Forecast” then scroll down to the “Astronomy” section.
To paraphrase a line from John Fitzgerald Kennedy: “Ask not what your station can do for you, ask what you can do for your station.”
Think of this as a reverse QSL program . . . but I get ahead of myself.
I was perusing the news a while back, reading about the closure of radio stations in the U.S. and how e-vehicle manufacturers did not want to include AM (MW) radios in their vehicles . . . and . . . I snapped.
“The reason they are closing,” I snarled, “is that they think no one is listening . . . but WE listen!”
So I offer, for your consideration, a modest proposal . . . the “I listen” project.
Let’s do this!
All I ask is that each and every one of you who reads this is that you send a postcard or a letter to your favorite station – AM, FM, or shortwave – that says in BOLD letters at the top I LISTEN! Further down on the postcard or letter, you should explain what you listen to, and what you enjoy.
So here would be a sample from me:
From: Jock Elliott, Upstate New York
To: Talk 1300 AM & 98.7 FM WGD, 11 Dennis Terrace Schenectady, New York 12303
To Talk 1300
To the Jack Catham show because I really like the calm way he presents the issues and interacts with callers.
That’s it. Of course, if you want to send more than one postcard or letter, great!
The point is to let the station know without a doubt that you listen. Why a postcard or letter? Because it is a physical piece of mail that is hard to ignore. By contrast, an email or a text is much easier bypass or ignore.
So make sure that your favorite station or two knows that you listen, and let me know here.
I’ll end by paraphrasing Arlo Guthrie: “Can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day, sending “I listen” postcards to their favorite stations? And friends, they may think it’s a movement!”
And bear in mind, this is not the time to be asking for goodies in return.
A software glitch at a power station, a tree branch rubbing against a transformer, a geophysical incident, a weather event, even a civil society misadventure . . . It doesn’t take much for things to rapidly go to blazes. So what do you need when Really Bad Things happen?
Back in the 1970s, Colonel John Boyd, an air warfare strategist, came up with the idea of the OODA loop. Originally designed for air combat, the OODA stands for: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. In other words, see what’s going on, understand how it relates to your situation, figure out what to do, then do it. OODA . . . got it?
So when really bad stuff happens, once you get clear of immediate physical danger (if any), you (or me or anyone involved) need to do your OODA loop: see what’s going on, understand how it relates to your situation, figure out what to do, then do it.
And to execute your OODA loop, you need information, right?
Soooo, when the lights are out, the internet is down, and maybe cell phones aren’t working, you need an emergency radio to find out what’s going on. Rob, W4ZNG, endured three weeks without electricity on the Mississippi gulf coast as a result of Katrina. In Rob’s case, during Katrina, all of the local broadcasters were wiped out. There was a local low-power FM broadcaster who got permission to increase power to 1,000 watts and was broadcasting where to get food and water. There was a New Orleans AM station that was on the air, but all of its coverage was “New Orleans-centric.” After a few days, some local FM broadcaster, working together, cobbled together a station that they put on the air and began broadcasting news. Rob also began DXing AM stations at night to get additional news. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say radio was Rob’s lifeline to what was going on.
So, at the most basic level, an emergency radio needs to receive AM and FM stations. If you live in the U.S. or Canada, you also want NOAA weather radio channels, and, if things are really horrible, the ability to receiver shortwave radio might be useful.
Recently I had a look at an excellent candidate for an emergency radio. CCrane has brought out a new and improved version of their super-versatile pocket-sized Skywave radio, and they sent me one for review without charge.
The new radio, the CC Skywave 2, covers FM from 87.5-108.0 MHz, AM from 520-1710 kHz, National Weather Radio Channels 1-7, air band from 118-137 MHz, and shortwave from 2300 to 26100 kHz. Small enough to fit in a shirt pocket, the Skywave 2 measures 3 inches high, 4.75 inches wide, and 1.1 inches deep and weighs about five and one-half ounces before you insert 2 AA batteries. (It can also be run off an optional CCrane power adaptor that can charge optional NiMH batteries. The manual warns: DO NOT USE LITHIUM BATTERIES).
According to CCrane, improvements to the Skywave 2 include a new micro-USB connector for external power and battery charging, a better speaker with slightly more amplification, circuit noise reduction, long feet for better stability, and a socket for plugging in an optional wire antenna adaptor available from CCrane.
I found the Skywave 2 really easy to operate. At the simplest level, select a band, then press one of the up or down buttons, and the Skywave 2 will scan to the next strong station. There is also an ATS (automatic tuning system) that programs all receivable AM, FM, or shortwave stations to memory buttons. Just select the band you want (AM, FM, or shortwave), press the ATS button, and the ATS system will scan the entire band and automatically set all available stations in sequence 1-10. If there are more than 10 stations are available, then the remaining stations will be stored on the next memory page and so forth. Each band has its own set of memories.
Everything is clearly labeled, and a gold label above a button indicates that if you press and hold that button, the function labeled in gold will be activated. If you want to directly enter a frequency (once you have selected the band you want), you must press the FREQ button first, then punch in the numbers. Otherwise, pressing any of the number buttons will activate the memory assigned to that number. To store a station in memory, press and hold any number button for two seconds.
Although I have no equipment for formally measuring things like ultimate receiver sensitivity, I found the performance on all bands to be typical of what I have come to expect of CCrane radios: excellent.
Full points to CCrane for writing a superb manual. In fact, I’ve found that the manuals for all the CCrane radios I have owned or tested have been well-written. I don’t know who is writing those manuals, but a big thumbs-up for clear manuals that are easy to use. The Skywave 2 manual even includes a section on “Hidden Settings” . . . ya gotta love it! Well done.
One other thing deserves mention: the Skywave 2 comes with CC Buds Earphones. I found they fit my ears comfortably and sound great . . . waaay better than the cheap-o earbuds I bought at a big box store.
The bottom line is: the Skywave 2 is a pint-sized powerhouse, and I can easily recommend it for anyone who needs an emergency radio, a travel radio (it has an alarm you can set), a weather radio with alert, or an ultralight MW DXing radio, or who simply wants to have a lot of fun with radio in a small, easy-to-handle package (An aside, listening to air band is pretty entertaining).
I found the performance to be excellent (for the radio’s size) on all bands, comparable to the CCrane Skywave SSB 2 that I own. In addition, with the new model (and the optional adapter), you can now plug in an external long-wire antenna for longer-range reception. That’s just great and could prove really useful.
The chief difference between the Skywave 2 and the Skywave SSB 2 is that the Skywave SSB 2 receives single sideband signals, making it possible for the listener to hear amateur radio and utility signals (like transoceanic flight control) that operate in upper or lower sideband mode. In addition, the SSB 2 includes (as well as the radio, carry case, and ear buds) a shortwave antenna and the CC wire terminal antenna adapter. In addition, the SSB 2 also has some software capabilities not available on the Skywave 2. For example, on the SSB 2, the Automatic Tuning System can also be used on the AIR band, and once AIR band frequencies have been stored, the SSB 2 can scan them. You can find my review of the Skywave SSB 2 here: https://swling.com/blog/2022/11/checking-out-the-new-c-crane-cc-skywave-ssb-2/
To conclude: I sincerely hope you never have to “do” your OODA loop, particularly not when things are going to blazes, but if you do, the CCrane Skywave 2 just might be helpful in getting the information you need. And, in the meantime, it is a very enjoyable radio to use, and I can recommend it without reservation.
This particular adventure began about three weeks ago with an email from CCrane. “Timeless, Easy to Use with Long Range Radio Reception” the headline read. Further, the accompanying text promised: Comes with needle and dial tuning, one button for power, one button for a bright display light, and has no clock or alarm. The radio in question was the C.Crane CCRadio-EP PRO.
The “Long Range Radio Reception” initially caught my eye, but the simplicity of an old-fashioned “needle and dial” – what I call “slide rule” – tuning” also appealed to me, so I emailed CCrane, asked them if they would like to send me one for review, which they did, without charge.
While waiting for the EP PRO to arrive, I examined the photos of the EP PRO on the CCrane website, and I noticed something peculiar: a switch on back for choosing between 9 kHz tuning steps and 10 kHz tuning steps. Whaaat?! Why in the world would you need such a thing on a radio with needle and dial tuning?
We’ll get to the answer to that question shortly, but first let’s take a tour of the CCrane EP PRO.
The case is a rectangle with rounded corners that measures 11.4″ W x 7.3″ H (8.4″ H with handle) x 2.75″ D and weighs 4.5 pounds without batteries. Starting on the left front panel, you’ll find a 5-inch speaker. To the right of that, there is the slide rule (needle and dial) tuning setup, with a small red light on the right side that illuminates when a station is found. Below that is a CCrane logo and further below is a switch for selecting AM (520 – 1710 kHz, 10 kHz steps; 522 – 1620 kHz, 9 kHz steps), FM (87.5 – 108 MHz), or FM stereo; a knob for adjusting bass, a knob for adjusting treble, and a knob for choosing between narrow (2.5 kHz) and wide (6 kHz) filter bandwidths.
On top of the EP PRO are a red POWER button, a black button for lighting the tuning dial, a flip-up carry handle, and a 36-inch telescoping antenna for FM reception. (Inside the case is a ferrite bar antenna – 12mm x 200mm (7.9″) long with CCrane’s Twin Coil Ferrite® technology.)
On the right side of the case at top is the tuning knob, below that a knob for fine-tuning the internal antenna for AM reception, and at the bottom a knob for volume. On the left side of the case, you’ll find a 1/8” stereo headphone jack, a line-in jack, and a socket for plugging in an external 6-volt AC adaptor which is provided with the EP PRO.
On the back of the radio is a hatch for installing four D-cell batteries (CCrane says it will run for about 175 hours at moderate volume with the dial light off), external antenna connections: spring loaded for AM and “F” connector for FM, a switch for selecting internal or external AM antenna, and the switch for selecting 9 or 10 kHz tuning steps.
That’s it. The EP PRO is almost Zen-like in its simplicity. There are no seek buttons, no automatic storage functions, no memories, no key pad. And there is a darn good reason for that. It turns out that the immediate predecessor of the EP PRO, the CCrane EP, was created by Bob Crane because his mother wanted a very simple radio that was easy to operate. The CCrane EP, a true needle and dial analog radio, was the result.
Bob believed that, besides his mother, there was a market for such a radio, and there was. Unfortunately, after a time, the analog chips necessary to build the CCrane EP became unavailable. As a result, the radio was redesigned internally using modern digital chips (essentially the same as those in CCrane’s model 2E and 3 radios) while keeping it simple and easy to operate. So inside what looks like an old-fashioned analog radio beats the heart of a high-performance digital radio that combines the high sensitivity needed to hear distant stations with excellent selectivity to block signals from the side.
In my view, the EP PRO is great fun to operate. In the predawn hours on a weekend morning with the rain falling softly outside, I started tuning slowly across the AM dial with the EP PRO in my lap. Near the bottom end, a couple of sports mavens were chatting about a pitcher who had a couple of rough two initial outings and then had “settled in.”
A bit further up the dial Dionne Warwick was telling me to “walk on by.” Then I ran into a music station competing with a talk show considering “the Bible, angels, and UFOs.”
Up the dial some more, apparently a good deal on a high performance car could be had at a dealership in Connecticut; then an air quality report for New York City, a female voice delivering a long discourse in French and so on up the dial.
I was impressed at the number of stations that the EP PRO was pulling in, and it brought me back to the simple joy of tuning around to see what’s on the air.
Each time a discernible station appeared, the red tuning LED would light up. As needed, I used the antenna tuning knob and the bandwidth selection switch to tweak the signal. The needle and dial tuning gives an approximate indication of where on the band the radio is tuned, so if you want a positive ID, you need to listen for a station ID or some other clue to the station’s location.
At one point I jumped to the FM dial and found I could easily pick up many FM stations even with the whip antenna collapsed. In all, I am of the opinion that both the AM and FM sides of the receiver are pretty “hot,” and at no time did I find myself wishing for an auxiliary antenna for more signal. Further, the sound through headphones or the speaker is very pleasant indeed. In my mind, the relatively unadorned exterior of the EP PRO belies its outstanding performance. To stretch an analogy, it’s a nitro-burning funny car in the body of a Honda Civic, and you don’t have to be a genius to drive it.
If you’re looking for a high-performance radio that is easy to use and sounds good through speaker or headphones, the CCRadio EP PRO delivers the goods. For a content DXer like me, the EP PRO encourages me to tune around and discover the magic of radio all over again.
Sometimes, in hindsight, it can be difficult for a writer to determine when and where story actually began.
With this one, was it when the FCC began licensing low-power community radio stations in 2000? Or was it when I began hosting a Radio Monitoring Net on the local 146.94 repeater (Troy, NY) at 7 pm on Tuesday nights?
For sure, a tipping point was when one of the net participants suggested check out a low-power FM community radio station on 92.7 FM. It’s kind of like western swing, he said.
I did check it out and found it to be a combo of traditional country and what I call “hillbilly jazz.” No announcer between musical selections, and occasional station IDs. At 7 am, I heard the Ralph Nader radio hour. Allegedly it is licensed to the Oakwood Community Center in Troy, NY, but nothing on the air that I have heard suggests that connection. Very curious. Is a place-holder for something else?
It turns out there are hundreds of low-power community radio stations across the United States. They are limited to 100 watts and an antenna height of 30 meters (100 feet). According to the FCC:
To qualify for an LPFM license, you must be:
A government or non-profit educational institution, like a public or private school or state or private university
A non-profit organization, association or entity with an educational purpose, like a community group, public service or public health organization, disability service provider or faith-based organization
A government or non-profit entity providing local public safety or transportation service, like a volunteer fire department, local government or state transportation authority
An Indian or Alaska Native tribe, band, nation, pueblo, village or community that will provide non-commercial radio services.
In addition, applicants for LPFM licenses must be based in the community in which they intend to broadcast. An organization is considered community-based if:
It is physically headquartered or has a campus within 10 miles of the proposed transmitting antenna
Seventy-five percent of its governing board resides within 10 miles of the proposed transmitting antenna
It is a non-profit or governmental public safety organization that intends to broadcast within the area of its jurisdiction
In the case of a Tribal application, the applicant’s Tribal lands are within the service area of the proposed station.
There are several LPFM stations in my area, and chasing them is fun. I found the best success with my Tecsun PL-880 and its long whip antenna. Sometimes the whip works best when held vertically; sometimes, horizontally; sometimes moving the whip horizontally as little as 45 degrees will blank one station and bring up another. The end effect is to look like a drunken sword master while getting into the Better Half’s potted plants, knocking over scanners on the desk, and other encounters with the long whip.
Nevertheless, chasing low power community radio stations is fun, and I can predict, with some authority, that you may encounter programming that you won’t find anywhere else.
About 10 days ago, the Better Half and I visited my wife’s sister in Sodus, NY, a small town in the western part of the state near the shores of Lake Ontario.
First consideration when packing was – never mind the underwear and the toothpaste – what radios shall I take? I decided to go light . . . just a CCrane Skywave SSB and a Uniden BC125AT analog-only scanner.
In the predawn hours on a handful of mornings, I decided to see what I could hear on medium wave with the diminutive Skywave SSB. The Skywave is an “ultralight” radio – under 20 cubic inches in volume. Because the Skywave’s plastic case is so small, the ferrite antenna within it is very small . . . less than 3 inches long. It is by no means a huge antenna for grabbing signals.
It was Gary DeBock who pioneered ultralight DXing with tiny generally inexpensive radios. As a ham radio operator, he had worked 144 countries using a Heathkit 1-2 watt kit transmitter he had built. In the process, he learned a great deal about propagation.
In 2007, he decided to see what he could do with a cheap pocket radio, a Sony Walkman SRS 59. At 1 am on an autumn night from his home in Washington state, he put propagation and operating skill to work and heard three distant medium-wave stations: a couple from Japan and one from Korea. He posted his results on the internet in November, 2007, and he got a lot skeptical feedback: How could you possibly do this?
His response (in essence): Try it for yourself.
Some people did try for themselves; some with great success. One DXer from Canada logged 300 stations in 30 days. Interest in MW DXing with pocket-sized consumer radios took off, and ultralight DXing was born.
So, in the predawn hours in Sodus, NY, I decided to give ultralight DXing a try . . . barefoot . . . that means with no external antennas or signal boosters . . . just me kicked back in a recliner, the CCrane Skywave SSB, and a pair of headphones. Simple.
Before we proceed, you need to understand that my DXing style might charitably be described as “lazy.” Instead of laboriously turning the tuning knob, I use the seek function on the CCrane Skywave. I simply press and hold for a moment the up or down arrow and wait for the Skywave to stop at the next signal it detects. Then, if I feel that the signal might be enhanced by re-orienting the antenna with respect to the signal, I wiggle the Skywave around in my hand and listen for an improvement in what I am hearing through the headphones.
The results: I logged (among others) Atlanta, Georgia (493 miles) and Charlotte, North Carolina (588 miles) on the CCrane Skywave SSB with its tiny internal antenna. Also received: Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, Baltimore, and Toronto and a bunch of unknowns.
One afternoon, I decided to see what distant stations Skywave might receive during the daylight hours. I was kicked back in the recliner with headphones on, doing my usual, waving the Skywave around in the air to optimize the reception. My sister-in-law started laughing. She said I looked like a demented band leader, conducting a silent orchestra! I tried to assure her that my mental status was OK and that I was trying to optimize the signal. I’m not sure it worked.
But one thing is certain: barefoot ultralight MW DXing is fun. All you need is a tiny radio, a bit of darkness, a pair of headphones, and a willingness to be surprised.
It was the survey that Thomas, our Maximum Leader, conducted that got me to thinking about this.
The survey revealed that portable radios were used 38.6% of the time by SWLing Post readers as their “daily driver.” I like portable radios, too, and use them frequently. Hold that thought for a moment.
I also like medium wave DXing (content DXing, really, I enjoy tuning around for unusual programs) because, as Gary DeBock once put it: “It’s a target-rich environment.” With that in mind, I was exploring the CCrane website and found a couple of items – the Terk AM Advantage and the Twin Coil Ferrite® AM Antenna Signal Booster that looked like they might help portable radio listeners who want to pull in medium-wave signals better. I asked the CCrane folks if they would like to review both products, and they sent them to me without charge.
Bottom line: they both work for boosting reception of medium-wave signals.
The Terk AM Advantage is a nine-inch tunable loop encased in plastic, and it requires no power supply. Simply place it near your portable receiver and just the dial to the desired frequency, and you could get up to a 20 dB gain in the signal you want to hear. The loop of the Terk AM Advantage inductively couples with the ferrite antenna inside your portable radio, although the unit comes with a direct wire connector that can be used with some radios.
I tried the Terk AM Advantage with my CCrane Skywave SSB on an AM that was coming in with a lot of static at my location. Without the AM Advantage, I had 3 bars of signal strength. As soon as I placed the AM Advantage close to the Skywave and adjusted the tuning knob, the signal strength increase to 5 bars, and the audio was much easier to hear with less noise.
With my Tecsun PL-880, which has a numerical signal strength meter, signal strength was 11 without the AM Advantage, but with the AM Advantage, signal strength increased to 14, and it was much easier to hear. The Terk AM Advantage definitely provides a modest boost in signal strength and clarity, is easy to use, and requires no batteries or external power supply.
The Twin Coil Ferrite® AM Antenna Signal Booster is more complicated. It consists of an antenna element that measures 8.5″ W x 2.5″ H x 1.25″D, a tuner unit that measures 3.25″ W x 4.25″ H x 1.25″ D, a small ferrite stick, and some patch cords. It comes with an AC adaptor and can also be powered by a 9-volt battery. For radios with external antenna connectors, package also includes a RCA female patch cord to two bare wire ends.
Set up is pretty easy: connect the tuner unit to the antenna element with a patch cord; connect the tune to the ferrite stick with another patch, and provide power through either the AC adaptor or 9-volt battery. (I used a battery).
Here are C.Crane’s directions for how to use The Twin Coil Ferrite® AM Antenna Signal Booster with a portable radio:
Place the Tuner Control in a comfortable location relative to your radio. Place the Antenna Element a few feet away. If the Antenna Element is placed too close to the radio, it will cause noise on your radio.
Place the Ferrite Stick on top of the radio near the center. Placement will vary depending on where the internal AM antenna of the radio is located.
For testing purposes, tune your radio to any weak AM station. It is important that the station be weak so you can clearly detect the improvement in reception.
Rotate the Fine Tune control, it will click on and the red LED indicator light will come on. Turn the Coarse Tune control knob slowly and you will likely notice a change in reception at some point on the dial. Adjust the control knob until you notice the most improvement on your signal. Now you can use the Fine Tune control for further refinement.
Move the Ferrite Stick around the radio to find the position that affects the signal the most. This position is the “sweet spot”, or the best position. Again, adjust the Fine Tune on the Tuner Control for the best reception possible. (I used rubber band to hold the Ferrite Stick in place, but the unit comes with some double-stick foam tape to hold it in place.)
Now you can orientate the Antenna Element for best reception. In most cases, the Antenna Element does not have to be adjusted again. When radio noise is a problem, try rotating the Antenna Element in the direction which reduces noise to a minimum.
And The Twin Coil Ferrite® AM Antenna Signal Booster works like crazy! With same station on my CCrane Skywave SSB, it boosted signal strength from 3 bars to full scale. With my Tecsun PL-880, it increased signal strength from 11 to 38.
In my view, although The Twin Coil Ferrite® AM Antenna Signal Booster costs twice as much as the Terk AM Advantage and is more complicated to use, it is more than twice as effective in boosting medium-wave signals.
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