Category Archives: Radios

Radio Waves: Questions About New HF Stations, Towers Damaged after Hurricanes, Evolution of Ham Radio, and The Vintage Radio Repairman

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 Ed, Paul, Bennett Kobb, and Kanwar Sandhu for the following tips:


Questions Remain as New HF Stations Wait for Licenses (DMRNA.info)

Here is the story by Bennett Kobb:
As previously reported here at DRMNA.info, the New York company Turms Tech LLC has applied to the FCC for a license for International Broadcast Station WIPE in New Jersey. The license would cover a station already built under a FCC Construction Permit, and would allow it to begin regular operations.

The FCC announced on August 13, 2020 that this license application was accepted for filing, a routine stage at which the FCC examines the application, and might even visit the station, and if everything is in order it will be licensed.

We’re not sure everything is in order. The application for Construction Permit placed the transmitter site at N 40° 57′ 40.38″, W 73° 55′ 23.97″, the broadcast and communications center surrounding the famous Armstrong Tower at Alpine NJ. Its Application for License, however, specifies N 40° 51′ 40″, W 73° 55′ 23″. (Hat tip to Alex P for noting this discrepancy. More about him below.)

While the substitution of 51 for 57 in the coordinates might seem a simple typo, the FCC typically has no sense of humor about coordinate errors. Commission examiners may wonder why a station intended for a historic radio-TV facility ended up among some Manhattan apartments.

The deeper question with WIPE and another, apparently similar station WPBC, is what these stations are really for and what that means for the FCC Rules. WIPE was extremely vague about its program plans, but told the FCC that it will transmit data obtained from third parties using Digital Radio Mondiale. Putting that tidbit together with exposures in a series of public articles in the media and tech blogs, it would seem that audio programming will not be the central mission of this peculiarly named station, whose principal is a financial executive and forestry entrepreneur without any broadcast experience we could find.

We suspect instead that the WIPE data stream will be used not for broadcasting to the public — the only function permitted to International Broadcast Stations under FCC Rules — but instead will be used for private communication with foreign exchanges for high-speed trading.[]

KSWL-TV tower crashed into buildings near 210 Interstate Hwy (Brad Dye)

Images of tower damage in Lake Charles, LA Bottom photo by KATC-TV of KSWL-TV tower crashed into buildings near 210 Interstate Hwy

After bombarding coastal areas of southern Louisiana with wind gusts up to 130 mph and a storm surge over nine feet as a hurricane, Laura swept north while also spreading over Arkansas Thursday. Laura weakened to a tropical storm early Thursday afternoon, with winds at 70 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Laura is predicted to move through the Tennessee Valley and the Mid-Atlantic today into tomorrow.

Power outages from the storms totaled over 900,000 as of Thursday afternoon, according to PowerOutageUS. The site collects data from utilities nationwide. The bulk of the outages were in Louisiana and Texas, according to ABC News. Mississippi reportedly had over 9,400 customers without power as of Thursday morning, reported the Clarion Ledger.

Louisiana and Texas had the most cell site outages as of Thursday mid-day, according to the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System. Of the 4,650 cell sites served in Louisiana, 380 were not working. Over 200 of the site outages were due to a lack of power, 141 had a transport issue and 16 were damaged.

Calcasieu and Cameron counties were hit especially hard. 140 sites (75 percent) were not working in Calcasieu County and 20 (69 percent) were out in Cameron County.

Of the 17,621 cell sites served in Texas, 113 were non-operational.

Jefferson County was the hardest hit, with 39 (15.8 percent) out of 247 sites not working. Just over 45 of the non-working sites were out due to a lack of power, 41 for transport reasons and 20 were damaged, according to DIRS.

Cable and wireline companies reported 192,915 subscribers out of service in the affected areas; this may include the loss of telephone, television, and/or Internet services.

Three television stations, five FMs and one AM reported they were off-air.[]

Ham radio is dying! No it’s not, it’s evolving (K0LWC)

I’ve heard ham radio is dying since as far back as I can remember. It’s one of those common sayings you always hear. Like, “get off my lawn,” and “kids these days.” But is it true? Is there any evidence to support this? Let’s take a closer look.

Data from the ARRL shows that ham radio licensees are increasing. When you look at the chart above, you see two significant markers that are likely driving this growth.

  • The removal of the code requirement by the FCC.
  • The economic collapse of 2008.

The Morse code requirement was always an intimidating part of obtaining your General FCC license. Learning Morse code is like learning a second language. It takes time and effort to learn, and that’s not a bad thing. However, it doesn’t change that it scared many people away from the hobby. When the FCC removed this requirement in 2007, I believe it opened the door for many who spent years on the fence. Then you have the economic downturn of 2008. What does that have to do with ham radio? A lot.

After the economic downturn, the United States watched as survivalism, now commonly calling “prepping,” entered mainstream culture. People were worried as the country was involved in multiple wars and our economy was on the brink of collapse. Citizens stocked up on food storage, water, firearms, and…communications equipment. As our country spiraled into more turmoil ham radio licenses steadily increased to more than 750,000 by the end of 2019.[]

The Vintage Radio Repair Man (Great Big Story–YouTube)

Click here to watch on YouTube.


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Phillip loves the Icom IC-R30, but frustrated with mono audio out

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Phillip Novak, who writes:

A question or perhaps comment on the Icom IC-R30 that I’m hoping SWLing Post readers might shed some light on.

I’m a very new and extremely pleased owner of one of these units for the past 2 weeks. Aside from receive capability, usability is a big deal for me and this thing has proven to be a joy! The menus, buttons and build quality just feel great and frankly, I’m pretty happy about having made the “investment”.

So, it was with great excitement that my wife and I have the week off at the cottage – more so for me, as I was looking to really break the R30 in while sitting on the lake shore.

And then …. I was extremely disappointed to find out that the r30 headphone jack is mono (just like the IC-R6 that I already owned). On top of that, the jack is slightly recessed into the body of the unit, which renders the mono-to-stereo split adapter useless! (I really thought they would have changed it!)

Someone, please enlighten me as to why Icom would choose a mono plug!

It’s funny you mention the recessed plug as I had the same issue with a portable recently–the audio out port was recessed to the point that only the provided cheap earphones would fit!

Perhaps SWLing Post readers and IC-R30 owners can provide you with a simple solution? Of course, you can always purchase or build a mono-to-stereo adapter or patch cord–one with a slim profile to fit in the IC-R30 audio port recess (that’s the tough part, of course). But perhaps there are even earphones that have this functionality built-in? I honestly don’t know. Any ideas, readers? Please comment.

And, Phillip, we’d welcome your review of the IC-R30!

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Nick compares the Icom R9000, Harris 590, WJ 8711, and Racal 6790

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Nick Booras, who shares the following video and notes:

As a SW listener and radio collector I have enjoyed many hours perusing your blog and reviews. I recently started posting YouTube videos of some of my collection and thought you and your viewers might find them interesting. Please take a look at my youtube channel – dieselten01

My most recent vid included some pretty cool older surveillance type receivers.

Those are fabulous receivers! Thank you for sharing your video, Nick! Click here to check out Nick’s YouTube channel.

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The RX888 SDR – Up Close Photos

I received my new RX888 SDR receiver today, via DHL shipping in only seven days from ordering on Ebay from seller “shenglongsi”. I’ve noticed that some Chinese Ebay sellers use a placeholder shipping number when choosing the DHL carrier, and then some days later they forward the actual shipping number when the product is out the door.  That was the case with the RX888– four days in limbo, and then BINGO!–a real tracking number was sent and the package arrived three days later.

It should be noted right up front, as others have pointed out, the RX666 and RX888 SDRs are commercial implementations of the excellent, open source BBRF103 receiver. The BBRF103 is the creation of talented Italian designer Oscar Steila IK1XPV.

Hopefully tonight I’ll be sorting out files to get the radio operating, and if there are hiccups along the way I have help from some other early adopters around the globe.

The radio arrived with zero documentation or links to support files, but I already have files known to work with the RX666. The receiver should work with HDSDR after the correct additional files are added to the HDSDR folder, as does the similar RX666 model. Cypress USB drivers also need installation on the host computer. One concern is operating the LNA (low noise amplifier) on the RX888, which the RX666 lacks. This may take a different EXTIO .dll file than the one intended for the earlier RX666.

I’m aware of the developer of another popular SDR program who will almost certainly add support for the RX888/RX666 to his software.

I’ve read that the powerful ADC chip inside these two models is a USD ~$60-70 component (or from the same chip series) which is also found in a few commercial grade SDRs plus the newer WinRadio G33DDC & G35DDCi models. Translation? The RX666 & RX888  could turn out to be amazing performers for the price.

Below are up-close pictures of the receiver’s printed circuit board. Construction and soldering look quite good considering the USD $188 price. In my opinion the build quality appears to somewhat exceed that of the RX666, which was the first of these two units on the market.

Note that in the last photo the whitish square on the bottom of the PCB is a thick foam pad, perhaps some thermal transfer material. It is sticky-backed and placed so that it’s wedged between the bottom of the chip (ADC?) with the blue heat sink and the bottom of the case.

In the below photo, note the small LEDs with indications “PWR”, “MODE”, “OVLF”, and “MODE” (again). At the upper-right corner are two pads marked “RST” (reset?).

Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

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Take the field and abandon the radio noise!

The most common complaint I hear from new SWLing Post readers is that they can’t hear stations from home on their receivers and transceivers. Nine times out of ten, it’s because their home environment is inundated with man-made electrical noises often referred to as QRM or RFI (radio frequency interference).

RFI can be debilitating. It doesn’t matter if you have a $20 portable radio or a $10,000 benchmark transceiver, noise will undermine both.

What can you do about it?

Since we like to play radio at home, we must find ways to mitigate it. A popular option is employing a good magnetic loop receive antenna (check out this article). Some readers find noise-cancelling DSP products (like those of bhi) helpful when paired with an appropriate antenna.

But the easiest way to deal with noise is to leave it behind.

Take your radio to a spot where man-made noises aren’t an issue.

Field radio

If you’ve been reading the SWLing Post for long, you’ll know how big of a fan I am of taking radios to the field–both transceivers and receivers. Not only do I love the great outdoors, but it’s the most effective way to leave RFI in the dust.

Sunday was a case in point (hence this post).

Let’s be clear: I blame Hazel…

Last week, I did a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation of Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Wildlife Area in Tennessee. It’s a beautiful area with a fantastic hiking trail (the Overmountain Victory Trail) in a relatively remote/rural area.

About 5 minutes before Hazel’s cow patty fun.

My family had a great time at the site–we enjoyed a picnic and I played radio–but Hazel (our trusty canine companion) decided to roll in a cow patty during our hike. Hazel thought it smelled wonderful. Her family? Much less so. And all five of us were staring at a two hour car ride together.

Fortunately, my wife had a bottle of bio-degradable soap we use while camping, so I washed Hazel in Hampton Creek. (Turns out, Hazel didn’t mind that nearly as much as getting washed at home in the tub.)

In all of the commotion I forgot to take my EFT Trail-Friendly antenna out of the tree. Doh!

The EFT Trail-Friendly antenna is incredibly compact and quite easy to deploy.

The EFT is my favorite field antenna for POTA activations. It works so well and is resonant on 40, 20 and 10 meters. With an ATU, I can also tune any bands in between. I’ve deployed this antenna at least 130 times in the field and it was still holding up.

I was bummed. Hampton Creek is nearly a four hour round-trip from my home. Was it worth the trip to rescue my antenna?

Fast-forward to Sunday: my amazing wife actually suggested we go back to Hampton Creek Cove on Sunday and also check out nearby Roan Mountain State Park. Would my antenna still be in the tree? Hopefully.

Whew! Still hanging out!

Fortunately, my antenna was still hanging there in the tree as I left it the week before. I was a little concerned the BNC end of the antenna may have gotten wet, but it was okay.

Mercy, mercy, so little noise…

I turned on my Elecraft KX2 and plugged in the antenna. Oddly, there was very little increase in the noise level after plugging in the antenna. That worried me–perhaps the antenna got wet after all? I visually inspected the antenna, then pressed the “tune” button on the KX2 and got a 1.4:1 SWR reading. Then I tuned around the 40 meter band and heard numerous loud stations.

What was so surprising was how quiet the band was that day (this time of year the 40M band is plagued with static crashes from thunderstorms).

Also, there were no man-made electrical noises to be heard.  This allowed my receiver to actually do its job. It was such a pleasure to operate Sunday–no listening fatigue at all. Later on, we set up at Roan Mountain State Park and did an activation there as well. Again, without any semblance of RFI.

When I’m in the field with conditions like this, I always tune around and listen to HF broadcast stations for a bit as well. It’s amazing how well weak signals pop out when the noise floor is so incredibly low.

It takes ten or so minutes to set up my POTA station in the field, but if you have a portable shortwave radio, it takes no time at all. None. Just extend the telescoping antenna and turn on the radio.

Or in the case of the Panny RF-2200 use its steerable ferrite bar antenna!

If you’re battling radio interference at home, I would encourage you to survey your local area and find a noise-free spot to play radio. It could be a park, or it could be a parking lot. It could even be a corner of your property. Simply take a portable radio outside and roam around until you find a peaceful spot with low-noise conditions. It’s the most cost-effective way to fight RFI!

Post readers: Do you have a favorite field radio spot? Do you have a favorite field radio? Please comment!

Also, check out these articles:

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A review of the Ocean Digital WR-26 FM, DAB, Internet and Bluetooth radio

A few weeks ago, I was contacted out of the blue by a company I’d never heard of: Ocean Digital. They asked if I would be interested in reviewing one of their radios.

I almost deleted their message out of habit because (no kidding) I get at least one or two messages like this from retailers and manufacturers per week–often more. I checked out their website and could quickly see that they specialize in a variety of digital WiFi radios with Bluetooth, FM, and DAB. A quick search on Amazon and I could see a number of Ocean Digital models. I replied back and the company representative mentioned that it was one of my trusted friends and SWLing Post contributor who recommended that they reach out to me. So I read through their catalog of radios and selected their most affordable model: the WR-26. Ocean Digital sent a sample WR-26 at no cost to me.

I picked the WR-26 because, in terms of features, it packs a lot for a $75-80 US radio. I also love the portable size and built-in rechargeable battery.

WIth that said, it’s also a very simple radio. There was no need to reference the owner’s manual for basic operation.

Look & Feel

The WR-26 is compact, lightweight and sports an internal rechargeable battery pack with a Micro USB connection.

It has a front-facing internal speaker, and on top a small backlit display and eight function buttons:

  • On/Off
  • Home
  • Favorites
  • Left/Right arrows (for selecting and backing out of menu items)
  • Up/Down arrows (for tuning, and stepping through selections)
  • OK button for making selections

On the back of the radio, there’s a telescoping antenna, Micro USB charging port, and a headphones jack.

Overall, I really like the clean and simple design. If I could change one thing, I would move the telescoping antenna to the top of the radio and make it recessed to better protect it when packed in a travel bag, for example. But in the end, this is a very minor criticism.

Audio

The WR-26’s built-in speaker provides well-balanced audio. In fact, readers who own late-model compact shortwave portables (like the XHDATA D-808) will recognize the audio characteristics of this small internal speaker that I assume uses an acoustic chamber to provide a better bass response. I’m always pleased to find compact radios that implement this type of speaker.

One interesting note: when you tune to an audio source–a stream or FM station for example–the volume fades in slowly after making the selection.

FM Radio/DAB

The WR-26 has a built-in FM tuner that functions quite well. It received all of my local radio stations and even a few further afield. The first time you turn on the FM radio, it will ask if you want to scan the band. If you initiate a scan, it will search for signals and auto store found stations in memory locations that you can shuffle through with the up/down arrows.

The WR-26 also displays RDS information on the screen–very nice!

To manually tune the WR-26, press and hold the ‘OK’ button until ‘Tuning’ appears on the bottom right corner of the display. Then use the left /right arrow buttons to adjust the frequency. Press and hold the OK when done to exit manual tuning.

I did not test DAB reception. I’m located in North America where there are no DAB stations on the air to test this functionality.

Bluetooth

Not much to say about Bluetooth other than it works. You can wirelessly connect your smart phone, tablet, or PC to the WR-26 and use it as an external speaker. If you’ve ever used a bluetooth device, you’ll find pairing a straight-forward, easy process.

WiFi Radio

Ocean Digital radios use an Internet radio station aggregator (click here to learn about aggregators) called Skytune. I don’t know if Skytune manages their own database of Internet radio stations, or if they rely on a larger, more established aggregator in the background. I suspect the latter.

To use WiFi radio, you must first connect to your local WiFi network. I connected to my smart phone’s personal hotspot without any problems. If you have a long WiFi password, you’ll need a little patience to enter it the first time. Entering the password requires scrolling through a long list of upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols.

Like most WiFi radios, you can tune the station of your choice by selecting the WiFi radio function, then searching stations by location/region, popularity, genre, etc. Once you’ve selected a station, the radio connects and if you wish to save it to your favorites list, simple press and hold the heart button.

On devices like this, I always worry about WiFi radio functionality failing if the station aggregator disappears. In the case of the WR-26, you can actually program your favorite radio stations manually. You simply find the radio’s IP address on your network (the manual describes how to find this in the Configuration menu selection) then enter the radio’s IP address in a browser on a computer or device that is connected to the same WiFi network.

I took the screenshot above by connecting my laptop to my phone’s personal hotspot and directing it to the radio’s IP address.

I like this functionality because it means I can even connect to streaming sources not found in the Skytune directory like more obscure internet stations, LiveATC and scanner feeds.

I’ve reviewed a lot of WiFi radios and I find the WR-26 to be rather easy to use. So far, I’ve found all of the stations I normally listen to via their aggregator.

Summary

All-in-all, I really like the WR-26. For the price, it’s a very capable little WiFi radio and a good value.

What I really love is the portability of the WR-26. After charging the battery with a standard USB charger, you can listen to FM, DAB, Bluetooth or WiFi radio for hours. The audio is respectable and volume can be increased to be almost room-filling.

The WR-26 is small enough that you could actually pack it and take it on travels. If your phone has a personal hotspot, you’ll be able to use all of the WiFi radio functionality on the road. Since I’ve no experience with Ocean Digital devices, I always question product longevity so we’ll have to see how that plays out. It’s comforting, though, knowing that a trusted friend in the radio industry made the recommendation–he’s never lead me astray!

Click here to check out Ocean Digital’s website.

Click here to purchase the WR-26 and here to check out their other products on Amazon (these affiliate links support the SWLing Post).

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Kostas’ Yaesu FRG-7 adjustment that improves opposite sideband rejection

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Kostas (SV3ORA), who shares the following video and writes:

In this 7.8Mb video (attached) is my solution for “converting” the Yaesu FRG-7 for single signal reception on SSB:

Not a mod actually, no additional filters, no soldering of any kind. Just tune the BFO on USB and on LSB a bit far away from the 455KHz ceramic filter (using the transformer for LSB and the capacitor for USB, as the manual states). As the video shows, this provides the near to
carrier selectivity to cut off the unwanted sideband.

The price you pay is more high frequencies (but in the wanted sideband) and a bit attenuated low frequencies as the filter is effectively shifted to higher frequencies. Very high frequencies cut-off is helped by the tone control of the receiver to some point.

This is a cost-free mod and requiring even no soldering skills, neither any mod to the receiver. Now as you tune the bands in SSB and CW, you do not hear the same signal twice. On AM mode nothing changes, since the BFO is switched off in this mode.

Many thanks for sharing this, Kostas! This seems like a simple adjustment for one of my all-time favorite receivers!

Post readers: Check out Kostas’ website for more modifications, ideas and radio projects.

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