Category Archives: Free To Air Satellite

March 2-4, 2017: Join us for the 30th (!!!) NASWA Winter SWL Fest!

Broadcasting a live performance of the Shortwave Shindig at the 2015 Winter SWL Fest.

Every year, I look forward to the only event I know that brings together both my avid interest in radio and my loyal radio-listening friends: the Winter SWL Fest. This is the one place where, among the 125-plus attendees, you can talk freely about all aspects of the shortwave hobby without any need of explanation as to why you find radio so fascinating. As a result, over the course of the eight years I’ve attended the ‘Fest, it has begun to feel less like a technical hobbyists convention and more like a (most enjoyable) family reunion.

The DoubleTree hotel where the Winter SWL Fest is held. Notice anything unique about the top floor of this hotel?

This year, the Winter SWL Fest is celebrating its 30th (!!!) Anniversary. The ‘Fest organizers have added an extra day to the convention making it a special three day event.

Here’s the description from the Winter SWL Fest website:

The Winter SWL Fest is a conference of radio hobbyists of all stripes, from DC to daylight. Every year scores of hobbyists descend on the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania suburbs for a weekend of camaraderie. The Fest is sponsored by NASWA, the North American Shortwave Association, but it covers much more than just shortwave; mediumwave (AM), scanning, satellite TV, and pirate broadcasting are among the other topics that the Fest covers. Whether you’ve been to every Fest (all 29, starting with the first year at the fabled Pink & Purple Room of the Fiesta Motor Inn) or this year’s will be your first, you’re sure to find a welcome from your fellow hobbyists.

For 2017, the 30th Annual (!!) Winter SWL Fest will have three days of sessions where you can learn about the latest developments in the radio listening hobbies, but there’s so much more going on. There’s a silent auction that takes place, where you’re bound to find something of interest. There’s the Hospitality Suite, where attendees partake of tuning oil and other treats and engage in spirited conversations. There is the closing Banquet, with after-dinner remarks by a luminary from the field, often one of the many broadcasters who attend the Fest, followed by the raffle, where you could win one or more of the dozens of prizes, ranging from pens from stations up to top-notch communications receivers. And of course, the infamous midnight ride of Pancho Villa that closes things out every year.

Early registration fees are available through the month of January, as an incentive to register early. We strongly urge you to do so as fees will increase for those registering January 28th and later.

Hotel Registration: The Doubletree Guest Suites offers a special $109 rate (single or double) that includes a full breakfast buffet. Reservations may be made by phone at +1-610-834-8300 or 800-222-8733 or online here; click on Special Rates and enter the group code NAS. If at all possible, please reserve hotel rooms using our group code, so we can maintain proper credit and keep costs down.

Fest Registration: A paper reservation form may be downloaded here; you may also register online via PayPal here.

Your hosts, Richard Cuff and John Figliozzi, work throughout the year to ensure that attendees have a great time over the weekend, and by all accounts, they succeed stunningly. How else could this event have lasted for 30 years (egad) and draw people from around the world to southeastern Pennsylvania? Won’t you join us?

This year, the grand prize at the Winter SWL Fest is the new Icom IC-7300 transceiver (which also happens to be an exceptional general coverage HF receiver).

If you can make a pilgrimage to Plymouth Meeting, PA, please do so. I think you’ll enjoy the diversity of programs and people who attend. I’ll be there along with a number of regular SWLing Post contributors. It’s a great time to exchange stories and ideas in person.

I always leave the Winter SWL Fest energized about a new aspect of our radio hobby. I think you will too.

Click here to register for the Winter SWL Fest online.

A Little Taste of Cuba on Free To Air Satellite

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mario Filippi, for the following guest post:

A Little Taste of Cuba on Free To Air Satellite

by Mario Filippi, N2HUN

(All photos courtesy of author)

Tropical countries have always held a fascination for me, Cuba being at the top of the interest totem pole.  Perhaps it’s due to the fact that baby boomers (such as me) remember early 1960’s weekly drills in grammar school, ducking under our desks during the Cuban missile crisis when the cold war was a fact of life. President John Kennedy, Fidel Castro, and Nikita Khrushchev were the primary combatants in those days, and we had to be prepared for a possible attack.  Fortunately our country was spared from any stateside skirmishes, but since those days when Cuba became a forbidden place for US travelers, its history and its people have always captivated my imagination.

For those interested in what’s going on in Cuba there’s always shortwave radio; Radio Habana Cuba always pegs the  shortwave “S” meter and is received loud and clear. On certain nights when propagation on the BCB (broadcast AM band) is favorable towards the Caribbean, Radio Reloj (Radio Clock) can be heard with its’ “RR” identification in CW every minute on the minute.  

But there’s another way to keep current with Cuban events in ways that a shortwave radio cannot provide, and that is through Free To Air satellite, which provides worldwide reception of television and radio stations. A typical FTA satellite installation appears below, consisting of a dish and an LNB pointed towards a satellite of interest.  There are about a dozen Ku band satellites available in the Clarke Belt 22,600 miles away in geostationary orbit all beaming programming to different parts of the globe.

WS International Ku band offset dish with Chapparal Ku LNB

WS International Ku band offset dish with Chapparal Ku LNB

The signal from the satellite dish is fed via RG/6 coax to a satellite receiver which decodes the satellites’ data into TV and radio format that can be viewed or listened to on a standard television, and an example of a modern FTA receiver, the X-Square Premium Mini, sometimes called a STB (Set Top Box) is below. The X-Square Mini is one the smallest of the FTA receivers available and works very well.

X-Square FTA receiver, about the size of a cigarette pack.

X-Square FTA receiver, about the size of a cigarette pack.

Okay, so we have our receiver, dish, etc., now all we need to know is where to find Cuban programming in the Ku satellite band.  As of this writing, Cuban television and radio programs are found on Hispasat at 30W, which has a spot beam to the USA and is easily received on the East coast.  For more information on Hispasat just Google it or look it up on  Pointing your dish at Hispasat, or for that matter at any other FTA satellite requires patience and knowledge, and you can check YouTube which has many videos on the subject.  Best bet would be to have someone who’s experienced with FTA to assist you.

You’ll find about 55 TV channels on Hispasat covering S. America, Asia, Europe, USA, and the Middle East with several TV channels from Cuba such as Cubavision,  Cubavision International,  Senal ACN, Contribucion, Educativo, and Educativo 2.  And from the USA, Radio Martis’ cousin TV Marti (yes there is a TV Marti!) is beamed.  

Screen shots from some of these appear below:

TV Marti talk show with logo on lower right.

TV Marti talk show with logo on lower right.

senal acn

News, sports, music, info channel Senal ACN.

Cubavision International  station identification.

Cubavision International  station identification.

Let’s move on to Cuban radio stations to be heard on Hispasat.  First off, Hispasat covers about 57 radio stations  from the Middle East, S. America, and Europe.  Some of them will be familiar to SWLs while others are local AM and FM stations originating from the mother country, a distinct advantage to having FTA satellite.  Cuban radio stations available on Hispasat are shown in the satellite scan below.  A total of ten stations come in with FM quality reception over FTA satellite, with no fading or hiss.  However, in the event of rain, Ku signals suffer terribly from moisture attenuation but that’s about the only reception hurdle you’ll have to endure.  One of my favorite stations is CMBF with its beautiful classical music.

Cuban radio stations scanned in from satellite Hispasat at 30W.

Cuban radio stations scanned in from satellite Hispasat at 30W.

So  hopefully this little introduction into Cuban radio and TV using Free To Air satellite will kindle interest in this “ultra-shortwave”  mode of looking  (and listening) into what’s happening in this culturally rich island that’s been out of reach for most United States citizens for over half a century.

Thank you so much for the excellent post, Mario. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m planning to install an FTA system at my house in the near future. Your guidance is most helpful!