Author Archives: Jock Elliott

Checking out the new C.Crane CC Skywave SSB 2

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

Folks who are regular readers of my posts here have already figured out that I am a big fan of the CCrane Skywave SSB. It is easily the most versatile radio I own, receiving AM (medium wave), FM, shortwave, HF single sideband, NOAA weather stations with alert, and scannable civilian VHF frequencies, and I have written enthusiastically about it here on multiple occasions.

I think of the Skywave SSB as my “anti-boredom machine.” It’s small enough to slide into a shirt or jacket pocket pocket or tuck into any pack. Get stuck waiting in line, whip out the Skywave SSB, plug in a pair of ear buds, and listen to whatever is available.

So when I noticed that a new version of the Skywave SSB – the Skywave SSB 2 – appeared on the first page of the C.Crane 2023 catalog, I was delighted that the folks at C.Crane decided to send one to me. The SSB 2 includes all the goodies of the original, plus a handful of incremental improvements; upgrades include a micro-USB port for external power or charging NiMH batteries, a slightly better speaker, and longer feet on the bottom for better stability.

But the improvement that really makes me grin is a two-fer: first, the inclusion of an external antenna socket on the side of the SSB 2, and, second, the CC Wire Terminal Antenna Adaptor for shortwave, which is a 2-wire to mono plug adaptor that plugs right into the external antenna socket. This allows a long wire antenna to be easily hooked up to the SSB 2, and it works like crazy.

Attaching a long wire to the SSB 2 is now really easy. Attach your long wire to the CC Wire Terminal Antenna Adaptor (you’ll need a small gauge screwdriver; the screws are really small). Next, plug the adaptor into the external antenna socket. You’re done!

I attached a 45-foot end-fed antenna to the CC Wire Terminal Antenna Adaptor while listening to some hams chatting on 80-meters and found that it delivered an impressive improvement to the signal-to-noise ratio. And when I wanting to hit the road, it was a simple of unplugging the adaptor so the adaptor and wire antenna combo would be waiting when I came back.

The SSB 2 includes a number of useful accessories: the CC Wire Terminal Antenna Adaptor, a portable 23-foot CC Shortwave Reel antenna, CC Ear Buds (very comfortable), and a faux leather carrying case (if packing the SSB 2 in your luggage,  be sure to press the LOCK button, otherwise you find yourself with a singing suitcase or backpack.).

Bottom line: with the introduction of the Skywave SSB 2, CCrane has taken an excellent, versatile radio and make it even better. Highly recommended for all-round use, but especially as a travel and/or emergency radio.

Note: Jessica from CCrane sent me the following note regarding the SSB 2.

Please note:  When using headphones or earbuds there is an easily discernable, but not loud “pop” when switching bands and on memory presets on airband. There is no pop when using the speakers. It will take time to find the hardware and software remedy. It will not be corrected on this first shipment but we are working it and expect it to be reduced on future shipments. The new Skywave SSB-2 was up for a price rise October 2022 but we’re keeping it at $169.99 for now.

For more of my musing regarding the CCrane Skywave SSB, please consult:

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Sometimes the right tools lead to agreeable results

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

Listening to the HF ham bands can be a lot of fun. All you need is a shortwave receiver capable of receiving single sideband (SSB) transmissions and a chart of the amateur bands. You can find downloadable PDF charts of the United States Amateur Radio Band Plan here or a detailed explanation of the band plan here.

Tuning around to hear what people are talking about can be enlightening.  You might hear hams chatting about ham radio equipment, house repair projects, religious discussions, news and views or the state of the country, disaster response communications, or almost anything.

Recently I was tuning through the 80 meter ham band when, at 3605 LSB, I encountered a group having a conversation. I couldn’t tell if this group had a formal “Net” name, but I did get the impression that they met regularly in the early morning on that frequency, so I made a note to revisit the frequency.

Yesterday, I did so. With the horizontal room loop hooked to my Grundig Satellit 800, all I could hear was noise. The same with the whip antenna on the Satellit 800.

But when I engaged the MFJ 1886 loop antenna I could clearly hear the group talking above the noise . . . but the noise was still pretty bad. So I tried bringing the MFJ 1045C active preselector online, to no avail. The 1045C did not make the conversation easier to hear.

The noise was like a hum, not a nice gentle hum like a bumble bee flying by; no this was a nasty, raspy hum, like a circular saw trying to get purchase on a particularly tough piece of wood. Listening to the chat group on 80 meters with that noise under it would be tiring on the ears.

Soooo, what to do? Then I plugged in the BHI Compact In-line Noise Eliminating Module into the headphone socket of the Satellit 800 and then plug headphones into the BHI device.

Turning on the BHI module, I adjusted the level of noise reduction, and – tah dah! – the noise just melted away. I could hear the conversation clearly, and all that was left of the noise was the trickling water sound that is an artifact of the noise reduction algorithm.

Sometimes, the right gear just works.

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Testing the MFJ-1886 Receive Loop Antenna

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

Hang out any place online where shortwave listeners gather, and you won’t have to wait long before you hear something like this: “I recently moved to a condo, apartment, or house where there is a home-owners association. Listening conditions are pretty rotten, and I cannot string up outdoor antennas because of physical constraints or HOA rules . . . help!”

Ever since I got back into SWLing nearly two years ago, I have faced similar issues, as I explained here. During that time, I have frequently read that amplified small loop antennas work pretty darn well, and that has piqued my curiosity.

A couple of days ago, the good folks at MFJ (an SWLing.com sponsor) sent me their MFJ-1886 receiving loop antenna. Weighing just 2.5 pounds, the 1886 is a 36-inch-diameter loop of aircraft-grade with an amplifier attached in a weatherproof enclosure. Designed for receiving only, it covers .5 to 30 MHz.

The fit and finish of the 1886 is, in my opinion, great. Looking at the seamless loop and the molded enclosure for the amplifier, I have no reason to doubt what MFJ has to say about it: the MFJ-1886 is weather-sealed, very ruggedly constructed, and mechanically stable under all weather conditions. In fact, you can mount it permanently on any inexpensive TV rotor and direct it from the comfort of your shack . . . it also installs easily on a tripod or handheld mast for portable use.

From MFJ’s manual for the 1886 loop.

Important: the 1886 loop is a directional antenna. If you are looking through the open area in the middle of the loop (the flat side, if you will), you are looking in the direction in which the antenna tends to null out signals . . . in both directions. If you are sighting along the edge of the loop (at right angles to the flat side), that is the direction in which the antenna produces the most gain. As a result, you will get the most utility out of the 1886 if you can mount it in such a way that you can rotate it to maximize gain and/or null out noise or interfering signals as needed.

Since my mission was to test the 1886 indoors, I wrapped some parachute cord around the loop and hung it from a screw attached to the top of a window frame. Obviously, I am not getting the most from the 1886 by keeping it in a fixed position (in fact, I was getting maximum gain to the northeast and the southwest), but I did experiment with the antenna hanging from the ceiling so that it could rotate, and I did, indeed, find that signal strength rose and fell as the antenna changed position.

To see how the 1886 performed, I used my Grundig Satellit 800 as a test bed. The Satellit 800 has three different antenna inputs: a wire input, to which I attached the 50-foot horizontal room loop (an indoor antenna which runs around the perimeter of my radio room at about seven feet in the air); a coax input, to which I attached the MFJ 1886 loop, and the four-foot whip antenna that is built into the Satellit 800. By reaching around the back of the radio and sliding the antenna selection switch, I could easily change from one antenna to another and compare the 1886 loop with the whip and the horizontal room loop at various frequencies and settings.

Setting up the 1886 loop is super easy. First, attach a length of coax to bottom of the amplifier box. (The 1886 uses SO-239 connectors.) Attach that coax to the top of the Bias Tee. The Bias Tee supplies power to the amplifier mounted on the loop using the coax and without introducing noise. Run another piece of coax from the bottom of the Bias Tee to the receiver, and, finally, plug the power supply into the Bias Tee and the house power where you are using the antenna.

Operating the 1886 is even easier. To hear the signal from the loop without amplification, leave the Bias Tee switch in the OFF position. To hear the signal with amplification, just slide the switch to the ON position. That’s all there is to it. There are no fussy adjustments to make.

So how did the 1886 loop perform? Very well, thank you. In all cases, it clearly outperformed the Satellit 800’s whip antenna, providing more signal with less noise. When pitted against the 50-foot horizontal room loop wire antenna, the 1886 typically delivered more signal and less noise. In a few instances, the horizontal room loop was equal to the 1886 loop in terms of signal strength and low noise. In no cases, did the horizontal room loop outperform the 1886 loop.

Tuning around a bit, I found myself listening to a ham from Spain working DX on the 15 meter band. A little further up the band, a ham from central Bulgaria was dealing with a pile-up of U.S. hams trying to reach him. Of the three antennas options I had on the Satellit 800, the 1886 loop offered the most pleasant listening with more signal, less noise.

Then I tried the 1886 with a couple of my portable shortwave receivers. The Bulgarian ham was still on the air and was marginal on one portable and not hearable at all on the other on their native whip antennas.  With the 1886 loop connected, however, the Bulgarian was clear and easy to hear. And – thanks to a ham friend who whipped up an additional coax “jumper” with amazing speed – I tried the 1886 loop with the MFJ 1045C active preselector and found the two made a very potent combo for pulling signals out of the mud.

So, would I recommend the MFJ 1886 Receiving Loop for a would-be HF listener who lives in a condo, apartment, or house with antenna woes? Absolutely . . . even if you have to hang it flat in front of a window. And if you can find a way to mount it so that it can be rotated, even better. (Someday, I hope to try the 1886 outside mounted on an inexpensive TV rotator. For now, there simply isn’t room in my cramped radio space.)

Of course, the performance at your location will depend on the conditions where you live. Nevertheless, I found the MFJ 1886 Receiving Loop to be easy to set up, easy to use, and effective.

Click here to check out the MFJ-1886 Receiving Magnet Loop Antenna at MFJ.

Suggestions for MFJ: offer a kit or accessory that would be make it easy to set the 1886 on a desk or table. Likewise a kit or accessory that would facilitate using the 1886 on a camera tripod seems like a good idea.

Additional note: The SWLing forum is a great place for discussing all things related to shortwave listening.

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File this under: you never know and . . . what’s the harm in experimenting?

 

 

by Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

Ever since Thomas (our Maximum Leader) posted the latest DX Central MW Challenge, I’ve been curious . . . what could I hear if I gave it a shot?

Habitually, I get up early, between 4 and 5 am, so I decided to give it a try. Conventional wisdom is that, if you want to do AM (medium wave) DXing, you need a hot AM radio with a big ferrite bar, like the CCrane 2E . . .

Wanna guess what radio and antenna combo acquitted itself pretty well?

My old ham rig, an Icom IC-706 MkIIG, (which I wrote up here), hooked to my 50-foot wire indoor antenna, the horizontal room loop (which I wrote up here).

This AM’s listening, from my home outside Troy, NY, produced:

1170, WWVA — Wheeling, West Virginia
1180, WHAM — Rochester, NY
1200, Talk 1200 — Boston
1210, WPHT — Philadelphia

Now, before you hard-core AM DXers get all up in my face — Hey, I could hear those stations on the fillings in my teeth! — I’ll simply say that I get a kick out of hearing a distant station . . . any distant station . . . even it’s just a few hundred miles away. Sure, it’s not the astonishing stuff that Paul Walker and Gary DeBock accomplish, but to hear that faraway signal, crackling through the airwaves does me good.

Bottom line: you don’t need the latest and greatest optimized-for-the-task gear to give something a try . . . and you just might really enjoy it!

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Teaching an old dog old tricks

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

It was Don Moore’s excellent article — An Introduction to DXing the MF Marine Bands — that inspired me. If you haven’t read it, do so now; it’s terrific. But be warned: my guess is that it will inspire you too.

Bottom line, ever since I read it, I have very much wanted to hear at least some of those MF marine stations that Don writes about. One of Don’s recommendations is “Hang Out on 2182 kHz.” So sometimes when I am messing around in the radio shack, I will park one of my shortwave receivers on 2182 USB in the hopes of hearing some marine communications. 2182 is the frequency that the US Coast Guard once monitored as a distress frequency, but no more.

According to Don: “Today 2182 kHz still gets some use as a calling frequency, where a ship and a shore station quickly arrange to have a conversation on another frequency. But the more common use now is for shore-based marine broadcasters to pre-announce marine information broadcasts they are about to transmit on other frequencies.”

Just the other day, I brought up 2182 on my Satellit 800, but the atmospheric noise was pretty bad. I fooled around with a couple of different indoor wire antenna configurations but wasn’t able to achieve any substantial improvement. But in the midst of that messing around, I “rediscovered” my Icom IC-706 MkIIG on a shelf. It receives from 30 kHz to 199 MHz and from 400 to 470 MHz, and I used mine for over a decade to run the Commuter Assistance Network on two meters. I still keep the 706 as a back-up in case my main rig for running the net goes down.

But I had never used the 706 extensively on HF (weird, I know, but that’s the truth). Nevertheless, a little voice in the back of my head (probably one of the brain dudes) kept saying “Why don’t you give the 706 a try as an HF receiver?”

So I did. I hooked up the 706 up to my horizontal room loop through some coax and an LDG 9:1 unun (the same antenna setup I had been using on the Satellit 800). And – shazam – the 706 is substantially quieter on 2182 with that antenna than the Satellit 800.

That’s good, I thought, but what if the 706 appears to be quieter because it is less sensitive? So I did some comparative tests with the 706 and the Satellit 800 on the 80 and 40 meter ham bands and satisfied myself that the 706 is both quieter and more sensitive than the Satellit 800. I could just plain hear the signals better (and more pleasantly) with the 706.

The only substantial weirdness with the Icom 706 MkIIG is that, as a small unit, it has relatively few buttons on its face. As a result, it has no keypad for direct frequency access. There are buttons for jumping from one ham band to another and another button for changing tuning steps, so with judicious use of those buttons and the tuning knob, it’s fairly easy to get from one frequency to another, but it is not as fast as direct entry.

And, of course, the 706 does not have all the cool seek-and-store functions and the like that are available on today’s really slick shortwave portables.

Here’s the upshot: if you’ve been on the hunt for a better HF receiver with single sideband capabilities, an old dog, like an old ham transceiver, might be just what you need. And if you are already enjoying an old ham transceiver as a shortwave receiver, I’d like to hear about it.

So, have I heard any of those cool MW maritime stations? Not yet, but I’m sure I’ll have fun trying!

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The passing of a compassionate shortwave listener, Agnes Joan Negra

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

I just received this:

Dear Jock:
It is with a heavy heart that I must report that 102 year old, Agnes Joan Negra passed away last Friday, peacefully, and at home. She went into Hospice care about three weeks ago.

We had a private funeral for mom…immediate family only. But I wanted to pass on her obituary which can be found on website:
calhounmaniafuneralhome.com

Thanks for your support of Agnes and her incredible life story, “Waves of Hope”… It is truly appreciated.

We hope this finds you well.
Regards,
Val Negra

Agnes Joan Negra was a shortwave monitor during WWII who sent out more than 300 letters and postcards to families to inform them that their loved ones were captured and still alive.

Click here to check out Waves of Hope on Amazon.

If you would like to know more about how shortwave monitors impacted lives during WWII, check https://swling.com/blog/2022/04/wwii-radio-letters-a-real-life-shortwave-story/ and https://swling.com/blog/2022/04/world-war-ii-radio-letters-a-real-life-shortwave-story-part-ii/ .

As I have said before: And so, dear reader, never belittle your hobby of listening to the airwaves, because you never know when something you heard may be able to offer comfort in times of trouble.

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The two-pocket listening post . . . for when “they” are after you

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

Man on the run thrillers, like The 39 Steps by John Buchan* and Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household hold a special fascination for me. Give me a yarn about someone being pursued by the bad guys, and I am enthralled. (Incidentally, there are a couple of good lists of these thrillers. Here and here).

Sometimes I like to play the mental game of: if I were that guy trying to stay ahead those who wished me evil intent, what radio(s) might I want with me?

The other day I realized I had the perfect combo, a pair of radios that cover a huge swath of spectrum, will fit in a couple of pockets (or one big pocket) and weigh just 14 ounces combined. Further, both will run off ordinary AA batteries, which are widely available.

Candidate number one is the C Crane Skywave SSB, which measures 3 inches by 4.75 inches by 1.1 inches. It receives AM, FM, shortwave (1711-29999 kHz), VHF aviation and NOAA weather radio with alerts. Because it receives single sideband (SSB) on HF frequencies, it can tune in aeronautical, marine and amateur radio stations that transmit in the SSB.

The Skywave SSB comes with a pair of ear buds that fit my ears well and offer pleasing audio. In addition, the SSB comes standard with an auxiliary wire antenna that can be deployed and clipped to the SSB’s whip antenna to boost signal-to-noise. Perhaps most useful for the man on the run, the SSB has excellent “signal seek” functions that can be used on any band. In fact, if you put the radio in SSB mode and activate the signal scan, it will search the ham bands and automatically switch from upper sideband to lower sideband as appropriate.

For the man on the run who can “hole up” for a while, I’ve tried clipping a 50-foot long wire to the SSB’s whip and antenna, and I was amazed at how well it can pull in faint ham signals. It’s the “little radio that could.” About the only thing that I wish I could change on the Skywave SSB is that it mutes between tuning steps when using the tuning knob.

But suppose our man on the run needs to monitor signals above the coverage of the Skywave SSB?  Candidate number two is the Icom R6. Measuring just 2.3 inches by 3.4 inches by 1.2 inches, the diminutive R6 covers from 100 kHz to 1309.995 MHz (less cellular and gaps) in AM, FM Narrow and FM wide modes (no SSB). It has 1300 alphanumeric memories, search-and-store capabilities, and rapid scanning of memory channels.

For high stealth, there is a setting that allows the R6 to use the wire that connects headphones or ear buds to the R6 as the antenna instead of the usual antenna. For a non-stealth application, using an aftermarket antenna like the Comet W100RX 25MHz-1300MHz Handheld Scanner Antenna, the R6T does a surprisingly good job of receiving shortwave stations. This antenna has markings on the side so that it can be set to the right length for various frequencies.

As you can see from the photo, the R6 has only a few buttons on its face and two on the side. Every button has multiple functions, and I found trying to program memory channels using the buttons to be a trial. As a result, I can highly recommend the RT Systems cable and programming software for setting up memory channels. In addition, some very useful notes for setting up and using the R6 can be found here: https://forums.radioreference.com/threads/icom-ic-r6-notes.442112/

Finally, I know that there are several tiny ham transceivers that might fill the bill, including the Yaesu VX-6R, although I am not aware of any that can receive single sideband. Besides, if you had the ability to transmit, “they” might be able to direction-find you . . . and we wouldn’t want that, would we?

*For sharp-eyed readers: yes, I know that The 39 Steps is set in a time before radio was widespread, but it is still one of my favorites.

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