Category Archives: Recordings

The Prof recommends the Sangean DAR-101

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, The Professor, who writes:

I’ve had one of these for along time, and it’s been pretty much the only way I’ve recorded radio for years. It’s an easy to use rock solid workhorse.

My biggest complaint is the lack of recording format choices, and I’ve long hoped there would be a firmware update to expand them. Sure, being able to record WAV files would be welcome, but I’m not really in need of that. What I would like is a broader range of MP3 encoding options, up to 320kbps. And of course, to be able record in mono or stereo. All MP3 options on everything are just stereo by default, because almost everybody is dealing with post 50s music in the MP3 format, and that’s always stereo. But AM and shortwave radio are of course only mono, as are phone conversations, which this device is specially outfitted to record.

It’s a waste of a channel. If it’s a mono source it’s a waste of space on the SD card just for starters. But don’t forget that the encoding rate is divided by two in a stereo format. A 160kbps mono file is equal to a 320kbps stereo file. So, a 192 mono file would be superior to a 320 stereo file. Of course, I could get into “joint stereo” and VBR and throw in more variables, but what I’m saying here is pretty much on point.

That said, AM broadcasting is rather limited in acoustical dynamics, at least as we know it. I’ve found that it’s very hard for almost anybody to hear any artifacts in a 32kbps mono recording of AM radio. It stands up to compression well. And it also stands up well to RE-compression. I often expand the MP3 files I make on this into mono WAV files and tidy them up and normalize and edit them. I never notice any artifacts in the MP3 encode I make of the resulting file(s). So, I’d like more encoding formats, but the 192kbps stereo option on the DAR-101 is fine for me in the end.

This recorder also makes a fine speaker for a laptop. When you hit record the first time the speaker monitors the audio source out loud. You press record again and it starts to lay down audio on the card. So if I want to use it as a speaker I just leave it in “ready to record” mode. Works fine.

And for you old cassette heads, it looks enough like a cassette deck, which is comforting I suppose. I think the wall wart AC power adds a little noise. I just make sure the batteries are charged when I’m going to use it. And sometimes it makes a difference to keep it a couple feet from your radio to avoid any little bit of RFI.

In general, I highly recommend the DAR-101. If anyone has any questions feel free to ask.

Thanks for sharing your review of the DAR-101 and your recommendations for recording amplitude modulation!

The DAR-101 is currently $87.95 on Amazon (affiliate link) and $99.95 at Universal Radio. I’ve also found used ones on eBay for as little as $50.70.

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20 Years Ago: The 1998 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race disaster – recording of the race controller frequency

In response to our recent items about monitoring the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, SWLing Post contributor, Neil Howard, shares the following:

In 1998 this race was decimated by massive seas and storms, which sunk 5 boats and tragically lives were lost.

I happened to be recording frequency of the Race controller.

After almost losing the recording , I posted it to YouTube back in 2011:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Description of recording:

HOW this was obtained

This recording of the HF transmissions from 1998 was recorded by me from Queensland, using a newfangled unattended recoding program on the PC and a very ordinary Sangean ATS-803a receiver using a random long wire Antenna – from memory this was on the 8 Mhz Marine band, and is the co-ordination of the search and rescue from the 28th Dec 1998 and covers from around 8:30PM till 10PM – The automated recorded stopped recording when the signal noise dropped below a certain level and thus some was lost.

The recording goes for 30 mins, as that was the limit that was set to save disk space, but there is a lot of empty noise.

I have had this on a disk for 13 years now ( WOW!) and I had a serious disk crash, recently and almost lost everything….. I place this here on youtube so it is not lost to prosperity – The race is on again right now, so This was good timing! I present this recording as it was recorded, warts and all for your education *** I dedicate this to those lost at sea

Highlights — (Times are approximate)

  • 4:11 “Rescue 253” 9A helicopter) locates a life-raft
  • 6:00 “Air force Sydney” is looking for a position of a yacht ” Solo Global Challenge”
  • 6:50 “RTC Canberra” (Who is co-ordinating) has a “hot mic” and is explaining the situation to someone locally
  • 8:35 “Rescue 253” has sighted 2 POB on the life-raft – RTC wants to know if they are from “Winston Churchill”
  • 9:39 Another “hot mic” in Canberra
  • 11:56 “Tiger75” (A Navy Helicopter, I think) has the survivors on board, but still awaiting info on who they are
  • 13:0413:44 confirmation that there are 2 survivors of the “Winston Churchill” from the life raft, but the tragic news that 3 others had “rolled out” of the raft and are lost (Historical note- these three were listed as drowned)
  • 14:46 Discussion about where the survivors are to be taken by Tiger 75
  • 15:20 Info of the survivors is passed though, along with the news that the life raft they were “in” had no bottom.
  • 16:33 Rescue 253 Says it has heard a beacon & is proceeding to the location
  • 20:00 Another aircraft has gone to the search site from Merimbula (A town in New South Wales)
  • 25:38 Rescue 253 updates beacon location
  • 26:30 Rescue 253 Locates a boat at the beacon site that has been dis-masted & is in serious trouble.

It is interesting (and harrowing) listening.

They still use HF , but after the 1998 debacle, when they found they had little idea of actual positions for S&R, they introduced regular scheds.

Wow–what an amazing and sobering recording, Neil.  Thank you for sharing and giving us an opportunity to remember those who lost their lives.

Note that there’s a documentary about the 1998 Sydney to Hobart yacht race on YouTube. Click here to watch Part 1 and here to watch Part 2.

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75 years ago today: “Christmas Eve at the Front,” a ground-breaking global broadcast

How would Christmas Eve at the Front have sounded on a radio back in 1943?  Something like this…


Christmas Eve, 1943:  America’s third in WWII.

On this day, exactly three-quarters of a century ago, America tuned into a special live broadcast that would not only engage American listeners, but also every major network in the US at the time: CBS, NBC, and Mutual Broadcasting Company.  The simulcast program, “Christmas at the Home Front,” starred troop entertainment veterans Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, as well as numerous others including screen actor Lionel Barrymore–also well-known for his regular portrayal of the miserly Scrooge in NBC’s annual radio drama “A Christmas Carol”–and featured an address by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

This broadcast also included live audio feeds from North Africa, Italy, New Guinea, Guadalcanal, New Caledonia, China, India, Panama, Alaska, Pearl Harbor and even Navy ships in undisclosed locations. Keep in mind, this was 1943. These audio feeds weren’t carried over the Internet or a satellite network, they were shortwave radio signals from remote sites–signals that were bounced off of the ionosphere and back to the studios where they were incorporated in a live radio show.  No doubt, this holiday special required months of planning to orchestrate and perhaps even a leap of faith to execute.

Being something of a WWII radio buff, I’ve listened to this recording a few times in the past. And after receiving Bill’s message about it recently, I listened again; the audio obviously came from a recording at NBC studios, very pristine considering the recording’s age and the number of times it’s likely been copied or changed formats, but also with demarcated track switches, not exactly as it would have sounded on the air at the time.

Radio broadcast with entertainer Bob Hope, 1943. Source: Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress

So I did what any self-respecting radio geek would do: I fed the recording into an AM transmitter to recreate the sound as it might have played on American radios of the time, and made an off-air recording of the entire broadcast.

Hopefully now, with the help of this recording, you may be able to imagine what families on Christmas Eve in 1943, huddled around their radios, might have experienced as they strove to feel a little closer to loved ones serving in the war, while enjoying a little light entertainment and absorbing the latest message from their president.

But it’s also meaningful to note that times have certainly changed since 1943.  Without a doubt, it’s often easy to be lulled into a nostalgic appreciation of that time, and former times generally, made all the rosier by the present knowledge that the outcome of the war was, in many respects, favorable to us.  But those who know history know the truth: that war is hard, that our struggles both here and abroad were real, and that people died–as many as 85 million.  When the drama was over, the fallen did not rise again to play in another film; they were gone, forever.  This is the grim shadow that lies beneath the warmth of entertainment broadcasts like this one.

Fortunately, our civilization continues, and will always view the war and the political circumstances surrounding it through the fading glass of advancing time and hear it through the crackle of increasing distance.  And fortunately, our then-enemies are now among our strongest allies.  We have a diverse and international audience here at the SWLing Post, so I hope this recording is recognized for what it is: simply a moment in entertainment history that the passing of time allows us to enjoy, during a war the likes of which we hope never again casts such a shadow over us.  One such was enough.

Now sit back, close your eyes, and set your time machine’s dial back to Christmas Eve, 1943…

Imagine you’ve just turned on the family console radio, the frequency dial gradually warming with its familiar glow, and have tuned to your local NBC station; soon, the voices of well-known entertainers begin to fill the parlor and the rest of the household, their tasks or play momentarily abandoned, quietly join you there to listen…

Click here to download this recording.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Bill Hemphill, who reminded me of this show recently when he shared this excellent feature article from the American Legion website

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Washington State’s Long-lost ‘Magic Radio’ Santa Gets New Life

This is what the announcer said at 4:30 p.m. one day about a week before Christmas 1950 over the airwaves of radio station KELA in Lewis County: “Yes, stand by for Santa Claus! The Beacon Store, Santa’s headquarters for southwest Washington, presents the most important radio program of the year, Santa’s very own. Santa’s Magic Radio! We’re going to take Santa’s Magic Radio and talk to Santa at his North Pole headquarters! So, stand by for Santa Claus!”

First of all, let me be very clear: I believe in Santa Claus. Second, I’m a sucker for grownups who do things to make the lives of kids more magical. When I was a little kid in the 1970s and was in my “doubting Santa” phase, I’d hear local and national media reports about NORAD tracking Santa’s sleigh, and my doubts were instantly – and permanently – erased.

Fast-forward about 40 years, and I learned this week that there were some grownups in Lewis County who did a pretty special thing every year to help Santa and local kids.

For about three weeks before Christmas, from sometime in the 1940s to sometime in the 1980s, radio station KELA in Centralia/Chehalis would use a “Magic Radio” to connect with Santa Claus at the North Pole for 15 minutes each day. With the swirling sounds of a blizzard in the background, and with help from a fast-talking elf named Tommy Tinker, Santa would read letters from local kids about what they wanted for Christmas.

Click here to read the full story at MyNorthwest.com, including a recording of the December 1950 broadcast

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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From the Shortwave Archive: Radio South Africa (RSA) New Year’s call-in program 1977

Minolta DSC

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Tom Gavaras, who shares the following recording of Radio South Africa which was originally recorded on December 31, 1977 from his home in Plymouth, MN using a Hammarlund HQ-180.

Tom notes:

During the late 1970s, Radio South Africa (RSA) would broadcast a New Years call-in show. This recording is from 1/1/1978 (12/31/1977 in the US). At two minutes into the recording, you can hear the interval signal for RAI (Italy) in the background. I have scoped (edited) the music. Unsure how long RSA carried on this tradition, but heard a similar call-in broadcast the following year on 1/1/1979.

Click here to download this recording.

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