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?
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!
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!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jake Brodsky (AB3A), who shares the following guest post:
How I Listen to Encore on Radio Tumbril
Listening to Classical music on shortwave is a challenge. It has loud and soft parts to the music. There may be selective fading. It isn’t a simple thing.
Also, configuring a software defined radio such as the highly configurable SDR# is not trivial. Note to readers: SDR# has been updated a lot recently and the noise reduction features are vastly improved. Kudos to Youssef Touil for all the hard work on this software. He continues to impress me with every update.
So I have some suggestions for those who are interested in listening:
First, get a decent set of over-the-ear headphones. Don’t rely on laptop speakers. They’re usually not designed for audio fidelity.
Set the radio for DSB reception with Lock Carrier and Anti-Fading checked. I also set the bandwidth to cover about 11 kHz or thereabouts.
On the Audio tab I uncheck the Filter Audio option. I’m going to rely on IF filtering to do my work for me.
Next, find an empty channel on the band where you will be listening to the program. Enable the IF Noise Reduction feature, set it to HiFi, and then set the threshold so that the noise floor is reasonably low. If you set the threshold too high, you’ll lose the higher frequency audio and there will be artifacts from the noise floor that I find unpleasant. A little bit of noise reduction is good, but more is not better.
I also enable the IF Filter/notch processing window to handle any stray birdies from switching mode power supplies. However, if not needed, I turn that feature off.
I turn off the AGC. And then I set the volume level to something reasonable, not too loud, not too soft, but just barely able to hear the noise floor.
Then I tune in the program. I was listening to the Sunday Evening (Monday 0200 UTC) broadcast from WRMI on 5950 kHz. There was some fading going back and forth. However, I took the atmospherics in stride, as if it were part of the experience. The broadcast from this evening
ended with the Pastoral Symphony from Beethoven. There were a few fades and there were a few swells, all due to atmospherics as the signal faded to the noise floor and emerged from it. But there was very little distortion. (thanks to the excellent engineers at WRMI).
I’m Giuseppe Morlè from Formia, central Italy on the Tyrrhenian Sea.
This time I want to show you 2 QRP connections made with minimal antenna over long distance and very few watts of power…
The antenna is a simple dipole, 5 meters per arm, 1/4 wave for 20 meters, on a bnc / banana socket directly on the Icom 705. You’ll see that the ROS is really optimal.
I wanted to experience this very simple antenna, easy to prepare in this location surrounded by greenery, Monte Orlando Park in Gaeta on my favorite DX bench;
this location is at 120 meters above sea level and facing south / west following the long path. A suitable place for the extreme right made especially for a receiver like the Icom 705– fantastic modulation and without any kind of noise.
In the first video the contact with VK2GJC, Greg from Australia who struggles a little to listen to me but immediately understands my name. As you can hear Greg’s voice is without any imperfection even if his signal is not that high:
In the second video, another link with Australia, VK5AVB, Tony from Kangaroo Island.
Tony had a hard time understanding my name but with the help of Nicola, IU5EYV from Tuscany, in pure Ham Spirit, he finally managed to log me:
As you can see, even with very minimal antennas hoisted on nearby trees, not even high from the ground, you can listen and contact over long distances … that’s why I love this place so much!
Thanks to you all, a cordial greeting from Italy.
Many thanks, once again, Giuseppe for showing us just how much fun we can have by building our own antennas and hopping on the air with very little power. I must say: you certainly play radio in a beautiful part of the world! Thank you!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, for the following guest post and review:
Photo by Chameleon
The Chameleon CHA-RXL Pro: Improved Amp Board Raises the Game
by Dan Robinson
Back in 2021 I reviewed the CHA-RXL loop by Chameleon. This loop antenna is sold by major retailers such as DX Engineering, Gigaparts and Chameleon itself – the company is a well-known name in antennas and other equipment for the amateur radio world.
I compared the CHA-RXL to Wellbrook 1530 and W6LVP loops feeding into a four-position Delta antenna switcher, and then to a Raven 16 port multicoupler which maintains good steady gain.
My Wellbrook is mounted on a telescopic mast about 15 feet above ground level, with a rotor. The W6LVP (using LMR400 coax) is tripod-mounted with an overall height from ground of about 12 feet. It has special filters to prevent strong medium wave signals from bleeding into HF.
I have since added a UK-made loop (essentially a copy of a Wellbrook loop but smaller diameter and made of metal) combined with a W6LVP amp. This W6 amp does not have filtering to block strong mediumwave signals. In all, I have four loops into my Delta switcher, which feeds about two dozen receivers.
There is by the way quite robust discussion at https://groups.io/g/loopantennas about various loops, including the Chameleon. And this past July, Steve Ratzlaff posted news about the upgraded loop amp board which will ship with what is now the CHA RXL Pro, saying:
“Chameleon has completely redone their CHA RXL loop amp board from the previous poor-performing loop amp that I tested some time back, and sent me one of the new production boards to test. I’m happy to say it tests very well especially for LF sensitivity, and I can now give it my “seal of approval”. The new board is a version of the LZ1AQ loop amp.”
Photo by Chameleon
It turns out, according to an email from Don Sherman of Chameleon, that Steve is one of the engineers who helped design the new amp board for the CHA RXL Pro, and on the Loop Antenna group he provides a folder in which he placed previous test results with “new files of the new board (sweep of the new RXL Pro loop amp, and a picture of the new amp PCB).”
Those of us who have had an interest in broadcasting over many years realize pretty soon that technology is constantly changing. The following relates to the situation where I live in Australia, but I suspect similar things are occurring in other parts of the world, and serve as a constant reminder that we live in a world of change.
When we were in our teens, we had radios that would tune AM and one or more shortwave bands. Hence many of us first heard interstate medium wave stations, and realised that signals there travelled further during darkness hours. Then we switched to SW1 or SW2 and often heard nothing. But persistence paid off and soon we were listening to stations that were in other countries! And when we connected a long wire to the antenna terminal signals improved dramatically. Wasn’t that amazing?
Somewhere in the 70s (I think) our TV stations brought in colour and that too was an amazing change to experience.
Then – somewhat belatedly for us in Australia – FM radio came along and gee the quality of the audio was outstanding! Even my late father was surprised by the clarity with which he could now listen to classical music on our nationwide dedicated ABC Classic FM station. FM also brought with it the introduction of “Community Radio” stations and in more recent years many other types of broadcasters.
Satellite TV came to us in the form of Foxtel: carrying so many different channels it was bewildering. When I realized that the events of 9-11 were telecast live on BBC World (and others), I too decided we should have Foxtel, as I have always been a “news nerd”.
By the late 1990s – having seen a hey day in probably the 60s and 70s – shortwave listening was rapidly becoming a thing of the past, and only hobbyists listened to SW: I remember being asked by another passenger when I was on a South Pacific cruise, what was that I was listening with out on deck? Was it some kind of computer? No, it was just a Sony SW55, and I was listening to Radio Australia.
Then, probably 5 years ago in Australia DAB+ radio was introduced, and whereas we previously had a choice of perhaps 10 to 15 AM & FM radio stations to tune to, suddenly we had a choice of these same stations on DAB radio (in major cities only), PLUS another 10 or 15! We have a phenomenal choice of what to listen to. From a technical view it was amazing to think that all the signals were coming from only one or two transmitters. For those of us with some technical interest it was for a while inconceivable that each station would not have its own transmitter.
Meanwhile, our TV systems have also become digitized in the last couple of years. Not just do we have perhaps three different channels for each commercial network, so 3 commercial networks are now providing probably 9 different programs. On top of that the Government broadcasters (ABC & SBS) have provided not just at least 3 TV channels each, but each of their numerous radio services is now also available on every TV set (eg BBC World Service is available 24/7).
About the same time, with higher internet speeds (ie better data transfers) being available, TV services and radio services are increasingly being streamed into our homes and to our mobile devices, with radio Apps promising they’re “free”, when in fact they do incur a data transfer impact/cost in whatever Internet plan one may have available. Many of the older generation probably don’t even realize what streaming video or sound means, but I think the younger generation is catching on.
Now, to my horror, my favourite DAB music station (“Buddha”) has been making announcements on air saying that the DAB service will be terminated from September 1st, and if I want to continue listening, I must tune in using that Company’s own “LiSTNR” app! Does this mean that listening to what comes over the ether will be a thing of the past? Will we be obliged to pay $x per annum to use a company’s streaming app just to be able to listen to their programs? Whatever is the world coming to?
Our country is, I suspect, very well catered for in terms of media services, and I wonder if we’ve done that too well. I also fear though, that those of us trying to push for reintroduction of shortwave services for remote Northern Territory areas (where streaming apps are a non sense), and for Australia to again broadcast into Pacific territories, may be fighting an uphill battle.
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