Category Archives: Recordings

The Radio Kitchen: Down Under, Up And Over

The following article originally appeared on The Radio Kitchen blog by Michael Pool, a.k.a. “The Professor.” In an effort to preserve his writings and recordings, we are republishing The Professor’s archived posts in a special collection here on the SWLing Post.

Note that not all of the original links and recordings could be recovered, but the majority have been.

Of course, all of the views and opinions in this article were those of The Professor. 

“Down Under, Up And Over” was originally published on November 30, 2007.


Down Under, Up And Over

by The Professor

When get to fooling around with a shortwave radio I usually don’t have much of an idea of what I might come across, or where the broadcasts I may find will come from. If you happen to be hunting up something originating (or relayed) from a hot nearby transmitter, shortwave listening is almost as predictable and practical as AM or FM  However, the real fun in scanning these forgotten bands is hunting for broadcasts from far-flung regions of the globe. It’s all about surfing those skywaves.

Instead of patiently scanning a SW broadcast band, this particular evening last July, I was quickly scanning several bands with my Degen 1103 looking for something, ah… exciting.

Okay, maybe “exciting” is the wrong word. I was fishing to find some exotic broadcast from far away, and preferably one in my native tongue. I’m sure there are other shortwave listeners who know what I mean. What gets my attention right away when trolling the HF bands is coming across an unfamiliar English language broadcast on a carrier marked by the scars of bouncing off the upper atmosphere a few times. Sure, It’s important that the reception has enough clarity to be understood, but shortwave radio waves from far over the horizon are infused with the sounds of the electrical and magnetic activity surrounding our planet. The audio itself often has an edge, even when listening with agile and fancy receivers. An aquired taste, the sonic anamolies of distant shortwave broadcasts have an inate musicallity, which you may appreciate  once your ears adjust to them. And the last time I heard the clear mutated throb of a strong distant transmitter traversing the globe was last July. I was sitting under the stars in the Michigan countryside when from over eight-four hundred miles away, New Zealand came calling.

RNZI (Radio New Zealand International) doesn’t seem to have any worldwide coverage mandate like CRI (China), the BBC or VOA or something. Their main purpose is as a regional service for the South Pacific. Dotted with a scads of far-flung islands, their broadcast zone actually covers a huge swath of the Earth’s surface. So just by making a point of covering this region well, RNZI is a major player in international broadcasting. (And sadly, I can’t remember when I picked up the BBC World Service as well as I heard New Zealand RNZI that evening.)

From my casual and primitive DXing experience, many powerful shortwave stations from around the world can be picked up from Eastern North America, as long as the signal doesn’t originate from anywhere directly blocked by the massive mountains of the top three quarters of the North American Continental Divide. In other words, with a booming transmitter from the closer sections of Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South America are the most likely catches from overseas. Deeper into these zones and continents (and Asia in general) are difficult terrain for DXing rewards from here. That said, with my limited portable equipment I’ve been able to pick up signals from at least three of the major broadcasters from the Southern Orient– India, Australia and New Zealand. I’ve always assumed that these signals ride skywaves over the lower mountains of the Southwest and Central America. But I’m no expert.

I do know that all the overseas states located directly west of the tall Rockies who are serious about reaching US citizens via shortwave rent relay transmitter time from Canada, as well as sites in the Carribean and Europe). In fact, if you happen to come across international broadcasts  from Vietnam, China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan or Thailand on shortwave in Eastern North America, you’re probably hearing a relayed transmission from several hundred miles away. But the recording I’m offering here is of reception from from far across the world. Considering the distance travelled, the reception here is fairly healthy. A little hairy, but practical. And there’s no local RF noise getting in the way. You really can hear the details it if you pay attention.

Radio New Zealand International pt 1 – 9615kHz – 07-07-07 0644 UTC 15:05

(download)

This first bit is an interview with Canadian chemist and author Penny LeCouteur discussing her book about molecules that have changed the world. Of note here– the legacy of how James Cook and ascorbic acid made the south seas safe for European explorers and colonists.

Then the cassette came to an abrupt stop, and the part two of this recording begins with the flip of the the tape. At the onset of this archive the interview is aborted in mid-sentence and a female announcer formally announces that Radio New Zealand International is closing on this frequency. After twice insisting that I “re-tune to six-zero-nine-five kilohertz in the forty-nine meter band” (followed by a clipped “This is New Zealand”), it all sounds so damn official that I felt compelled to follow the instructions. Although I knew that just because RNZI was booming in on 31 meters didn’t necessarily mean it would come in so strong (or might even be heard) on the 49 meter band.

You hear RNZI’s interval signal (the call of the New Zealand Bellbird) after the station ID, and then the signal at 9165kHz goes dead. I then put the tape deck on pause and punch up 6095 kHz on the Degen and release the pause button. And there it was! The call of the Bellbird is quite clear there as well, although a nearby signal is chewing on the edges of the reception a bit.

Radio New Zealand International p2 2 – 9615 & 6095kHz – 07-07-07 0658 UTC 28:55

(download)

Whoever is running the board down there in the South Pacific was a little sloppy that night. After the interval signal the board-op starts to pot up the interview again (which is still running on one of the channels). But the mistake is corrected in a fraction of second, and it’s the news with Phil O’Brien. The lead story, a nationwide “Drunk Drive Blitz” the night before had netted over two-hundred inebriated kiwis on the highways down there. And an update on the aftermath of an unprecedented swarm of tornados that ravaged the North Island a couple of nights earlier.

After the news, it’s the beginning of a program I can barely believe I’m hearing in 2007. A faux flapper-era theme song launches a “nostalgia packed selection of favorites” that will saturate the skies of Oceania for the next four hours. While I love a lotta old music, the whole idea of “nostalgia” can get a little silly. Although I must say that old Joe Franklin used to pull it off with some charm on WOR here in New York City before he gave up the show a few years back. It’s really an approach to radio that’s all but dead here in the states. But apparently not in New Zealand.

As you’ll hear if you brave through this chunk of pulsing and buzzy DX radio, there are a couple of corny numbers to wade through. But I gotta tell you, that sitting outside in the middle of the night with an artifact-drenched AM signal from the other side of the world filling my headphones, it felt reassuringly twentieth-century. Maybe you’ll hear what I mean. And the Paul Robeson and Mills Brothers seemed quite appropriate.

I guess a little nostalgia isn’t so bad.

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Shortwave Radio Recordings: Radio Educación (XEPPM-OC)

Thanks to a tip from SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, I spent some air time with an old friend last night: Radio Educación broadcasting from Mexico City on 6,185 kHz.

Like a lot of small Central and South American shortwave stations, I believe XEPPM only broadcasts at 1,000 watts–though in the past, I believe they were allowed 10,000 watts. Still, their signal often makes it into eastern North America with relative ease, although it’s rare that it’s so clear. As summer approaches here in the northern hemisphere, QRN (noise from natural sources, like thunder storms) will rise on the 49 meter band. Even last night, there were some mild static crashes.

I tuned in around 01:25 UTC (April 1, 2019) with the WinRadio Excalibur and heard some amazing jazz, so I had to hit the record button.

For your listening pleasure, here’s the one hour ten minute recording I made:

Click here to download audio.


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Shortwave Radio Recordings: Voice of Peace from Baghdad – December 29, 1990

The Sony ICF-7600D (Source: Universal Radio)

Many thanks to SWLing Post and SRAA contributor, Richard Langley, who has recently uploaded an off-air recording of the Voice of Peace to the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive. This is a fascinating recording that I thought I would re-post here on the Post.

Richard notes:

Live, off-air, approximately twenty-minute recording of the Voice of Peace from Baghdad on 29 December 1990 beginning at 21:40 UTC on a shortwave frequency of 11860 kHz. This broadcast originated from a transmitter either in Iraq or Kuwait.

Iraq’s Voice of Peace was established in August 1990 to beam programs to American servicemen stationed in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait at the beginning of the month. Programming consisted of music, initially easy-listening music but subsequently changing to a “Top 40” mix, news and commentary in a failed effort to try to demoralize the American troops. Beginning in September 1990, the broadcasts used a female announcer dubbed “Baghdad Betty” by the Americans. Reportedly, Baghdad Betty was replaced by a team of announcers sometime in December 1990. The recording is an example of the news and music programming. It is not known if the female announcer is the famous Baghdad Betty or someone else.

Reception of the broadcast was poor to fair with slight interference and fading. At 21:58 UTC, there is interference splash from WYFR starting up on 11855 kHz. The initial frequency recorded may have been 21675 kHz before switching after a minute or so to 11860 kHz as the radio teletype interference abruptly stops at this point. The recording includes frequent station identifications such as “You are tuned to the Voice of Peace from Baghdad.”

The broadcast was received in Hanwell, New Brunswick, Canada, using a Sony ICF-7600D receiver and supplied wire antenna draped around the listening room.

Click here to download this recording.

Click here to listen to this recording on the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive.


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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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