Category Archives: Travel

Give Your Radios a Vacation!

In 2013, I wrote the following feature for the Monitoring Times Magazine.

Looking back, I realize that I never posted this article on the SWLing Post.

Since we’re in the midst of the summer travel season here in the northern hemisphere, I thought I’d post this feature from five years ago.

I’m also adding a number of photos I took at the Radio Canada International Sackville, New Brunswick, transmitting site–one of my stops on this trip. I only recently rediscovered these (400+) photos in my archive and I’ve yet to curate them and post a proper photo tour. Look for that in the coming months.

After you read this article, I’d love to hear where you plan to travel this year in the comments section of this post! Enjoy:


Phare De La Pointe À La Renommée (Marconi Station, Museum and Lighthouse, Quebec, Canada.

A Radio Vacation: escaping RFI in an off-grid vacation cabin

If you’re like me, a vacation–or, for that matter, any kind of travel–is an excellent reason to pack up your radio gear.  I nearly always travel with a shortwave radio, and typically with some portable recording equipment. If space allows, I also pack a small QRP transceiver–specifically, my Elecraft KX1–even if I know my opportunities to get on the air may be limited. But on an extended family vacation?  Well, that affords some excellent hamcation possibilities!

Last year [2012], our family had a golden opportunity: to spend an entire month in an off-grid cabin on the eastern coast of Prince Edward Island, Canada, some 2,500 miles from our home in the US.

Permit me to paint a picture of this little spot of paradise: the rustic cabin is nestled on a 22-acre site on a beautiful eastern bay. From the cabin’s large front windows facing the bay, there is a long-range view of Panmure Island and, further still, of the Georgetown marina.

The view from our off-grid cabin on Prince Edward Island.

As the site is wooded to the rear of the cabin, the environ feels very isolated from the rest of the world; no other homes or outbuildings are visible. And although off-grid, this little cabin sports simple versions of all of the comforts of home: propane gas meant that we always had hot water, a working refrigerator/freezer, and light after sunset in the form of two wall-mounted gas lanterns. Meanwhile, running water was provided by a unique “on demand” petroleum-powered pump.

 

While to some readers, this may not sound like paradise, this charming cabin gave our family a front-row view of nature’s varied character, from the shimmering sunsets over PEI’s famed terra cotta sands or the last stormy lashes of Hurricane Debbie, to the front-yard wildlife in the form of woodpeckers, owls, gulls, egrets, foxes, mink, and even “Black-Eyed Susan,” our resident raccoon. “Off-grid,” meanwhile, afforded all of us a refreshing break from those electronic devices we often become so –with the exception of radios, of course!

On the return route, we planned to take a driving tour of the Gaspe region of Quebec, via the New Brunswick Acadian coastline. Having made the decision to spend four weeks in the little cabin, I instantly started preparing my radio equipment.

Preparations

As you can imagine, an isolated off-grid cabin poses some serious power-supply challenges for a radio hobbyist, but the benefit is a completely RFI-free zone. In truth, not only was I ready for the challenge, I was enthusiastic about it!

It’s worth noting that on most days of the week, I wear two hats: that of radio hobbyist and that of radio-based humanitarian organization director, Ears To Our World (ETOW).  At ETOW, we work in classrooms located in very remote, rural and impoverished parts of the world, delivering appropriate support technologies, such as radios, to those who need them most. While in the isolated setting, I charged myself with the task of testing some of our solar and self-powered technologies–specifically, a portable power pack made by GoalZero called the Escape 150, and several portable panels and chargers made by the US manufacturer, PowerFilm Solar.

Living in an off-grid cabin for a month would give me the necessary time to evaluate the charge/discharge times and simulate the “real life” usage these items would experience in the developing world. Fortunately as a radio hobbyist, I had the means to put that powerpack to the test! My two radio-inspired passions combined harmoniously in this venture.

All told, all the radio equipment and power supplies I packed consumed no more space in our van than two standard suitcases. Even after packing, we found we had room to spare–the children in their carseats had plenty of room to swing their feet.  So, we set our compass on due north, and set out!

Two nights in Sackville, New Brunswick

En route to Prince Edward Island, it’s hard to miss the (now) former Radio Canada International transmission site in Sackville, New Brunswick. The massive site, with its array of curtain antennas and large sign, is a fixture on the Trans-Canada Highway. Only a few months earlier, I had learned that RCI had been dealt devastating cuts by the CBC and that Sackville’s days were numbered; as a result, I felt I had to make a pilgrimage to the site before it was dismantled.

I arranged to tour the site, and was warmly greeted in Sackville.  Though the staff were dealing with the oppressive news of the pending cuts, were bravely doing their professional best to carry out their duties as usual. The site was immaculate, the transmitters humming. On my tour, I took as many photos as my digital camera would hold, and soon I found myself taking up the cause, mentally working out an action plan to save it from total dismantlement. For many years, this site has been a landmark near the New Brunswick/Nova Scotia provincial line, and I hope in some capacity it will remain there, even for history’s sake. This relatively remote part of Canada has broadcast memorable events and news to every corner of our globe.  It seemed a shame to undo the work of so many previous years. And indeed, the petition I authored this fall has garnered over 600 signatures, so it is clear there are many that feel the same. The decision is now in the hands of politicians.

Photos of RCI Sackville

Many, many thanks to my amazing tour guide, Marcel Cantin, who gave me unfettered access to the RCI Sackville site. Merci bien, Marcel!

Arriving at the cabin

After leaving Sackville for Nova Scotia, we took the Wood Islands ferry across the Northumberland Strait and arrived at our cabin well before dinner time. The morning after arriving at our little off-grid cabin, I sprayed myself down with a little insect repellent and spent an hour installing an inverted vee. I’ve found that, instead of pre-building an antenna, it’s easier for me to conduct a site assessment and simply put the pieces together in a configuration that makes sense. That’s the great thing about temporary QRP antennas: no soldering required. I simply fed my antenna with ladder line, used a PVC “T” joint as a center insulator and large plastic buttons for the insulators at the end of the legs of my antenna.  I held the whole thing together with wire nuts and black electrical tape. Yet because it was electrically sound and balanced, it worked like a charm. Indeed, I didn’t even worry about the length of the radiating elements since I had my Elecraft T1 auto antenna tuner on hand.

That Sunday morning, I set up my entire ham radio and shortwave listening station all before my family was ready to venture out for the day. That afternoon, I worked stations in the US, Canada, and many of the islands in the Caribbean. I was delighted, to say the least.

Off-grid ham fun

My Elecraft K2 and Elecraft T1 combination was working beautifully on all bands down to 80 meters.  I found that, even with heavy use, the K2 required very little of my 30 aH battery. Each day, I charged the battery with two of my foldable 5 watt PowerFilm Solar panels fed in parallel (equating to 10 watts).   I never ran out of power for the K2 and had enough surplus to easily power some 12V LED lanterns, as well.

I was most impressed with the performance of my solar-powered Elecraft K2–no doubt, the very close proximity of salt water (perhaps 200 feet from the antenna) and the height of my inverted vee both helped. Though I worked some CW, I made more SSB contacts than I typically make while portable. I even found that I punched through a couple of pile-ups. Some kind operators also noted me on DX watch lists, and I found myself on the other end of mini pile-ups. Most encouraging were the numbers of other QRP stations I worked, even on SSB. In short, I was having a great time…!

SWLing

I brought four receivers with me on this trip, the plan being to compare their reception: a Winradio Excalibur, Bonito RadioJet, Sony ICF-7600GR, and a Tecsun PL-380. Shortwave radio listening in this coastal spot was nothing short of amazing. In my band-scanning, I heard many of the international stations audible from my southern-US home, like Voice of Greece, All India Radio, Radio France International, the BBC World Service, and Radio Australia.

Listening to the final broadcast of Radio Netherlands on Prince Edward Island.

Though I planned to do some serious 2 MHz spectrum captures on my WinRadio Excalibur, I had not taken one thing into account: the amount of noise that the built-in modified sine wave inverter on the GoalZero Escape 150 generated.  It overwhelmed the Excalibur and rendered listening useless. I could have easily remedied this, had I realized that the input on the WinRadio receiver required a steady 12VDC–I could have used an appropriate battery and never bothered with the inverter. The RadioJet, meanwhile, performed quite well, though my laptop’s battery had a hard time supporting itself and the receiver for more than an hour without the need of a total recharge. While the GoalZero Escape 150 power pack performed very well with DC usage, the inverter could drain a full charge in less than two hours of use.

Any given morning during that vacation, you would find me lounging in front of the cabin’s large glass windows–often watching the sunrise–and listening to CKZN in St. John’s, Newfoundland, on 6,160 kHz–a CBC Radio One shortwave relay in Newfoundland. Though I can hear CKZN back home when conditions are just right, it’s faint.  On PEI, however, it was armchair listening as I sipped my morning java.

Sadly, I lost two shortwave broadcast companions on that trip to PEI: Radio Canada International, and Radio Netherlands Worldwide, each of whom played their final broadcasts.  In both cases, I listened. Most notable were RNW’s final hours, as they actually broadcast tributes throughout the day, targeted at North America. I actually made several recordings from our cabin, and have posted them online: https://swling.com/blog/2012/07/radio-netherlands-says-farewell-in-style/

Marconi stations

Top of the Cape Bear Lighthouse

What’s more, I even got to relive a little radio history in our travels. On PEI we visited the Marconi Station at the Cape Bear Lighthouse. According to lighthouse staff, this little station was one of the first (they will claim, the first) to receive the distress call from the Titanic.

View from the Cape Bear Lighthouse

An amazing bit of history from this wind-battered, rusting little lighthouse perched on the edge of a small cliff now being undercut by the Atlantic waters, as are so many along that eroding coast. The station tour includes a lot of radio history to this effect, but unfortunately the radio operation display is completely inaccurate: I seriously doubt any Marconi operator used a Heathkit to hear the Titanic distress signal. (Consequently, if any generous radio historians have a Marconi station they would like to donate, this deserving Lighthouse Society would greatly appreciate the fitting gift.)

On the final leg of our trip, we visited another Marconi Station at a breathtakingly beautiful lighthouse–Pointe-à-la-Renommée–where it stands on a bluff overlooking the mouth of the St. Lawrence on the very northeastern tip of Quebec’s Gaspé peninsula. This station, sited by Marconi in 1904, has many historic displays with original photographs spanning the decades, copy from messages sent and received, and a guided history of the station. Pointe-à-la-Renommée also features a very respectable collection of telegraph keys and Marconi console receivers.  But the red lighthouse itself is the real show-stopper, with its gorgeously-faceted crystal above a charming lighthouse keeper’s house and cluster of outbuildings, on the green wind-swept bluff dotted with wild strawberries, and surrounded by the dark blue Atlantic waters far below.

Photos from Pointe-à-la-Renommée and the Marconi museum

Field Day with the Charlottetown Amateur Radio Club

Field Day coincided with our summer vacation, too, and I hated to miss hanging out with my local ham buddies on my favorite event day of the year. I decided to attempt to turn this relative misfortune into an opportunity: before we left on vacation, I did a bit of research and learned that there would be a Field Day event near Charlottetown, PEI.  After a few inquiring emails, I discovered that this Field Day site was only twenty minutes from where we were staying. The stars had clearly aligned.

One of the Charlottetown Amateur Radio Club members working SSB contacts.

On Field Day, I was greeted most warmly by the good folks at the Charlottetown ARC. They instantly took me in as one of their own–offering food and drink, and chatting with me as if I had always been a part of their club.  Best of all, when Field Day officially began, they put me on the mic on 20 meters. Evidently, they decided it would be fun to hear me announcing their callsign on the air in my southern accent. They got what they asked for! From the moment I took the mic, I had almost an instant pile-up; not because of my accent, however, but because Charlottetown offered one of the few stations on PEI, and the opportunity for participants to log the Maritime section.

I spent the better part of Saturday with them and hated to leave. Upon returning to the cabin and my family, I found that my artistic wife had created a little birthday present for me: a watercolor painting of my Vibroplex single-lever paddle.  Truly, the key to my heart. (Ahem!)

It was a wonderful Field Day, after all.

Looking back

Both the family vacation and my personal “hamcation” were a treat, and I’m ready to do this all again in the near future. Having such an extended stay made all of the difference, as I didn’t have to squeeze radio in, nor was it in competition with our other plans. Rather, radio became the thing I turned to when we were relaxing in the cabin, when my kids were drawing or playing, and my wife painting or reading–during our laid-back interludes between exploratory outings and adventures.

My Elecraft K2 turned out to be a superb off-grid transceiver

I did learn a few things about playing radio completely off-grid.  First of all, my QRP field events (like Field Day, FYBO, FOBB, etc.) had me totally prepped for off-grid ham radio. In fact I didn’t forget a single connector, battery, tool or accessory. Setting up my outdoor wire antenna was a simple matter and I had fun on the bands, even though propagation wasn’t always perfect.

What did surprise me was the number of times I turned to my portable shortwave radios over my PC-controlled receivers. Simply put, a good portable radio connected to a random length wire antenna gave the right amount of performance vs. battery consumption. Though the SDRs performed better when hooked up to my inverted vee, they used quite a lot of battery resources since both my laptop and the receiver had to be powered.

If I could go back in time, I would have left the Excalibur at home, brought a general coverage portable transceiver and/or a dedicated tabletop receiver like my Alinco DX-R8. Capturing spectrum on a very RF quiet island location is very appealing, though. To make it work, it would require that I bring a separate 12VDC power supply and spare laptop batteries.  With a modest PV system to recharge the batteries, it would also require constant planning–deciding when and where to listen, in order to recharge.

Most of all, I discovered that no matter where you go, as a ham radio operator, you will find others in your fraternity that will take you in. Field Day is one of my favorite days of the year and spending it with the good folks of the Charlottetown PEI Radio Club made it all the better. Not only did they get a kick out of hearing a southern accent announce their station on the air, but I got a kick out of being on the other end of Field Day pile-ups.

Hamcations don’t have to be month-long ventures, however.  Even squeezing a little radio time in can be fun. A portable shortwave radio tucked into your suitcase on an extended business trip or a portable QRP transceiver on a week at the beach can add to your holiday fun–and if you’re lucky, create a few memories, and possibly even friends.

My Pack List

Transceivers

Receivers

Accessories/Tools

  • One multi-band dipole
  • Sony AN-LP1
  • Grundig roll-up antenna
  • Radio tool box (connectors, tape, crimpers, wire, etc.)

Power

  • Qty 2 PowerFilm Solar 5 Watt foldable PV panels (FM15-300N)
  • Qty 3 PowerFilm Solar AA Foldable Solar Chargers (AA)
  • Qty 1 GoalZero Boulder 15 Solar Panel
  • Qty 1 GoalZero Escape 150 Power (Battery) Pack
  • Qty 1 30 aH gel cell battery in waterproof case

Again, I’d love for readers to share their upcoming travel and radio plans. Please comment!

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DW Documentary about the South Atlantic island of St. Helena

Many of you likely know I’m fascinated by remote islands and communities–especially the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.

If you’ve been an SWL for a few decades you likely also remember the very popular Radio St. Helena day! We’ve posted several articles about it in the past–click here to read through our archives. I really miss that annual listening event.

The other day, while browsing sailing videos on YouTube, I uncovered this excellent little documentary about St. Helena via Deutsche Welle. Enjoy:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Someday I hope to visit the Island of St. Helena–it’s been on my bucket list for many years!

Post readers: Please comment if you’ve ever traveled to or lived on St. Helena! Tell your story!

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Dean seeks input for his holiday radio adventure

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dean Denton–our intrepid 13 year old DXer–who seeks a little input from the community. Dean writes:

I am going on holiday in July this year, to Fuerteventura in Islas Canarias, near west Africa.

This will be the first time I will be going on holiday, you will probably know the feeling. Because I am a hardcore radio-fan, I will of course bring my Tecsun PL-660, and I will be posting clips on my YouTube Channel, EuropeDX.

Please could you give me, some vital tips when going on holiday when DXing?

The Canary Islands are in close proximity to North West Africa, so I will be DXing: Morocco, Mauritius, Algeria, Western Sahara, Senegal and others.

To those who are reading this post, I am compiling a list of tech that I am bringing with me. Please help add to this list, off of your experience of being abroad.

Here is the list:

  • Shortwave Radio, Tecsun PL-660, for the immersion.
  • Tecsun AN-200 Loop antenna, for pulling AM stations.
  • Travel adapter, we all need one.
  • Portable MP3 player, to listen to music
  • A Portable Digital TV, for watching movies on USB.
  • An action camera w/lapel microphone, for capturing videos.
  • FM Transmitter, to show the locals what music is!
  • 4G Mobile Data Router, internet is a basic human requirement.

Please suggest more!

I think that the AM and FM DXing will be breathtaking. The Canary Islands are located where I will be able to pick up African radio stations, but also Transatlantic Brazilian and American stations. Due to the high pressure and high temperature, FM Tropo is not rare in the Canary Island’s climate. Enabling this, it will spark my YouTube channel.

Thank you for reading this, and I hope the SWLing community help me. If you would like to contact me, email me at europedx(at)gmail(dot)com.

Yours,

Dean.

Thanks, Dean! You’re talking my favorite topics: radio and travel!

I know we have a number of readers who live in the Canary Islands.  No doubt, you’ll get to experience some serious radio fun across the bands.

In terms of tips, I would suggest you assume your accommodation could be plagued with radio noise and you may be forced to find an outdoor spot to do all but your FM DXing. If you know where you’re going to stay, check it out on Google Maps and see if there’s an obvious safe spot to play radio outdoors. Of course, it helps if your accommodation has an outdoor space like a balcony, patio or garden.

Looks like you’ve got a pretty good checklist there. Here are a few additional items I typically take on a holiday DXpedition:

  • Earphones/Headphones (never leave home without them!)
  • A small back-up radio (if you have one–something like a Tecsun PL-310ET)
  • A copy of the World Radio TV Handbook (though I don’t take the WRTH if space/weight are too tight–I rely on apps with offline schedules like Skywave Radio Schedules [Android] or Shortwave Broadcast Schedules [iOS])
  • Extra set of AA batteries for the PL-660
  • Small headlamp or flashlight for night time outdoor listening
  • Notepad and pencil for logs

SWLing Post readers: How do you plan and what do you take on radio holidays? Please feel free to comment and share your advice!

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Pacific Island Results from Gary DeBock’s Hawaii Ultralight DXpedition

Clearing the southern coastline of Maui en route to the Big Island. (Photo by Gary DeBock)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor and intrepid Ultralight DXer, Gary DeBock, who shares this DXpedition summary with recordings:


Kona, Hawaii DXpedition– Pacific Island Results

by Gary DeBock

From December 17-20 a Mini-DXpedition was conducted in Kona, Hawaii with a 5 inch (13cm) “Frequent Flyer” FSL antenna and a 7.5 inch (19cm) loopstick C.Crane Skywave Ultralight radio.

The FSL antenna was a new type designed to easily pass through TSA security checkpoints at airports, and provide inductive coupling gain roughly similar to that of a 4 foot air core box loop. South Pacific island reception was generally good from 0630-0800 UTC daily, but usually became problematic after that when powerful Asian stations tended to drown out the exotic Pacific island stations as sunset progressed over Japan, Korea and China. By 0900 daily only the most powerful Pacific island stations on 621, 846, 1098 and 1440 had much of a chance of surviving the Asian signal onslaught, and even some of those were drowned out. During a similar visit to Kona, Hawaii with identical gear in April (DXing at the same motel) the Pacific island stations were generally stronger, and had no co-channel competition from the Asians from 0800-1030 UTC. As such the South Pacific results during this trip were slightly down from April, although there were still plenty of strong signals to record.

The new 846-Kiribati on Christmas Island was a star performer as the strongest island DU station, with local-like signals shortly after the Hawaiian sunset each evening. Despite this it had an intermittent transmitter cutout issue, with the signal failing to transmit at odd intervals (including one stretch with six signal dropouts within one minute, as documented in an MP3 linked below). In addition 846-Christmas Island’s programming had a variable time delay with that of distant 1440-Kiribati in Tarawa, with both a 19-second and 35 second time delay noted. This may be related to the transmitter cutout issue, with the time delay changing after a major dropout. DXers looking for a parallel with 1440 should keep this programming quirk in mind. Although both 846 and 1440-Kiribati signed off at the usual 0936 UTC time on the first couple days of the trip, they had both switched to a 1009 UTC sign off on the last couple of days. Whether this is a permanent programming change is unknown, but the loud 1000 Hz audio tone is still being broadcast before power is cut, resulting in a very easy way to distinguish the stations at sign off time (even in heavy domestic QRM).

846 and 1440 weren’t the only exotic DU’s with transmitter issues. 621-Tuvalu came down with distorted audio on December 18th, a problem which got worse and worse on the remaining two days. By the last day it was sounding very garbled, making a bizarre combination with 621-Voice of Korea’s buzzing Japanese service transmitter. Whether 621-Tuvalu has repaired its garbled audio is also unknown.

540-2AP was somewhat weaker than it was in April, while 558-Radio Fiji One was MIA during the entire trip (probably because of Asian QRM). Efforts were made to track down 630-Cook Islands but only a weak UnID was recorded. 801-Guam was possibly received during a Pyongyang BS/ Jammer fade, but 990-Fiji Gold was given a golden knockout by 990-Honolulu. 1017-Tonga showed up for a couple of good recordings, but got slammed by Asian co-channels after 0830. Efforts to track down 1035-Solomons ran into heavy 1040-Honolulu splatter, while 1098-Marshalls became the only Pacific island station to have stronger signals than in April. Its overwhelming signals after 0700 daily were one of the bright spots in Pacific island reception. Finally the new 1611-DWNX in Mindanao, Philippines was received at a strong level at 0855 on December 19th, apparently with a major boost from sunset skip propagation.

540 2AP Apia, Samoa, 5 kW Christian worship music at a good level through the T-storms at 0751 on 12-17, but not nearly as strong as in April:

Click here to download audio.

621 R. Tuvalu Funafuti, Tuvalu, 5 kW This station had very strong signals until around 0800 on most evenings, when it usually began to be pestered by Asian QRM (China, N. Korea and NHK1). It also came down with a garbled audio issue on December 18th, which continued to get progressively worse until I left Hawaii. Sign off time is still around 1006, but by that time it ran the gauntlet of powerful Asian co-channels during the December propagation.
Local employment offers read by the usual lady announcer at an S9 level at 0750 on 12-18. This was the last undistorted audio signal recorded from the station during this trip; after this the audio went “south”:

Click here to download audio.

Guest speaker in Japanese-accented English, followed by local island-type music at 0835 on 12-18– the first sign of audio distortion:

Click here to download audio.

Full Radio Tuvalu sign off routine at 1003 on 12-18, but with China QRM initially. Tuvalu’s signal prevails during the national anthem, but the audio distortion is quite noticeable. The carrier apparently stays on for over a minute after the audio stops:

Click here to download audio.

630 UnID While trying for the Cook islands (Rarotonga) I came across this weak Christmas music with English speech at 0742 on 12-17, although this could just as easily be a west coast domestic station playing the “exotic” to fool a hopeful DXer. Walt says this station is a notorious underperformer:

Click here to download audio.

801 UnID (Guam?) Apparent Christian female vocal music received during Pyongyang BS/ Jammer fade at 0931 on 12-18, but no definite ID clues:

Click here to download audio.

846 R. Kiribati Christmas Island, 10 kW This newly rejuvenated station had awesome signals, and was overall the strongest Pacific island station received. Of all the Pacific island DU’s it faded in at the earliest time after sunset, and maintained its strength even during strong Asian propagation — as long as it managed to transmit without its signal dropping out. Unfortunately this seemed to be a pretty common occurrence while I was in Kona. Island-type music at typical S9 strength at 0735 on 12-18:

Click here to download audio.

This segment at 0620 UTC on December 17th features 6 signal dropouts within one minute:

Click here to download audio.

This segment at 0944 UTC on December 18th is even worse– 9 dropouts in 90 seconds:

Click here to download audio.

After a prolonged 846 transmitter dropout it seemed like the programming time delay between the distant 1440-Kiribati on Tarawa Island and the new 846-Kiribati on Christmas Island would change. On December 17th I recorded two different time delays– 19 seconds, as in the following recording (the MP3 starts out on 846 at 0635, switches to 1440 at the 1:02 point, then switches back to 846 at the 1:34 point, with a 19-second time delay evident between the 1440 and 846 programming (846 lags behind):

Click here to download audio.

Later on the same evening there was a 36 second time delay between 1440 and 846, with this MP3 starting off on 1440 at 0645, and switching to 846 at the 11 second point:

Click here to download audio.

1017 A3Z Nuku’alofa, Tonga, 10 kW Female native language speech at a very good level at 0858 on 12-19:

Click here to download audio.

Somewhat weaker through the T-storms on 12-17 at 0734:

Click here to download audio.

1098 R. Marshalls (V7AB) Majuro, Marshall Islands, 25 kW This station was very strong in Kona with its island music every night, and rarely had any Asian co-channels.
S9 Island music and native language speech (and possible ID) across the 0700 TOH on 12-17:

Click here to download audio.

Equally strong island music and native speech at 0813 on 12-18:

Click here to download audio.

1440 R. Kiribati Bairiki, Tarawa, 10 KW Somewhat weaker than its rejuvenated 846-Christmas Island parallel (which has variable programming delay times, as explained above), this home transmitter could hold down the frequency until around 0800 every night, after which it was usually hammered by JOWF in Sapporo. Despite this it often put up a good fight until its new sign off time of 1009, and it continues to use the loud 1000 Hz tone right before the power is cut (an awesome aid for DXers hoping to ID the station through heavy QRM).

Typical island language speech and strength level at 0830 on 12-18, just as it is starting to get jumbled by JOWF (a Japanese female “Sapporo desu” ID is at 25 seconds):

Click here to download audio.

Full sign off routine at 1005 on 12-19, including the National Anthem and the 1000 Hz tone before the power is cut. The tone gets through the JOWF QRM like a DXer’s dream:

Click here to download audio.

1611 DWNX Naga City, Mindanao, Philippines, 10 kW (Thanks to Hiroyuki Okamura, Satoshi Miyauchi and Mauno Ritola for ID help) Received at 0855 on 12-19, this station was a mystery until the Japanese friends matched the advertising format with that of a new, unlisted station which just came on the air in the Philippines. The propagation apparently got a major boost during sunset at the transmitter:

Click here to download audio.

73 and Good DX,
Gary DeBock (DXing at the Royal Kona Motel with a 7.5″ loopstick C.Crane Skywave Ultralight+
5 inch (127mm) “Frequent Flyer” FSL antenna.

Demo video of the “Frequent Flyer” FSL antenna:

Click here to view demo on YouTube.


Thank you for sharing your Hawaiian DXpedition with us, Gary! Your mediumwave DX catches with modest equipment reminds us all that when HF propagation is poor, there is still so much signal hunting below 2 MHz!

Interested in Ultralight DX? Check out archived posts in our Ultralight DX category.

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The C. Crane CC Skywave SSB: first production run review

Just last month, the little radio that I found most exciting this year hit the market: the C. Crane CC Skywave SSB.

Why the appeal for me?  Frankly, since I do most of my portable radio listening while traveling, and since I typically travel out of one bag, having a compact radio with performance and features is an absolute must in my world.  Up to this point, the original CC Skywave is the radio I often choose when traveling, as it packs so many useful features: AM, FM, Shortwave, AIR band, Weather Radio, and like any good travel radio, clock, alarm, and sleep functions, lacking only SSB mode.  So it goes without saying that I was excited to see its newest edition.

The CC Skywave SSB

What follows is an account of my experience evaluating CC Skywave SSB production units, and a brief summary of their performance.

My hope is that this summary review will help readers with purchase decisions. Note that this is merely preliminary to an extensive, unabridged review that will appear in a future issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine, then in the SWLing Post the following month.

Pre-production Skywave SSB

As many readers know, I was sent a pre-production model of the Skywave SSB for evaluation this summer.

As I mentioned in my sneak peek and reiterated to a number of inquisitive readers: I never base a product review or comment upon pre-production radios. I don’t comment about the performance of the pre-production model for an obvious reason: pre-production radios are quite simply not the versions that ship to customers upon the product release.

Now that the production model has been in the wild for a few weeks, I feel more at liberty to talk about my experience with the pre-production Skywave SSB.

In short: I have been very pleased, indeed, with the pre-production model’s performance. In terms of features, it is a nice incremental upgrade from the original Skywave. In terms of performance, it’s also tweaked in the right direction. As an early adopter of the original Skywave, I’ve been truly enthusiastic about this evaluation pre-production model.

All the notes I took while evaluating the pre-production Skywave SSB were made for C. Crane so they could hopefully implement any changes or address concerns prior to starting the first production run. But the truth is, I found the pre-production model in my possession to be quite solid, so my suggestions were minor.

Putting my pre-production model aside, I ordered an actual production unit on C. Crane’s website just like everyone else.

C. Crane kindly dispatched my unit as soon as they received the first production batch from the factory so I could get to work on the full review.

Quirks with the first production units

I was eager to get started on the review of the Skywave SSB, so as soon as I received it, I did what I always do: compared it with other radios.

I make my comparisons, by the way,  at least fifty yards from my house to separate the radios from any inadvertent sources of local noise.

Production Radio #1

My first comparison was with the Digitech AR-1780 and the original CC Skywave. I quickly noted that the Skywave SSB was very slightly less sensitive than the other radios. I had tested the pre-production unit enough to know that the Skywave SSB’s performance should at least be on par with the original Skywave.

Upon careful listening, I discovered the production unit had a very faint, internally-generated whine on some of the shortwave bands; when tuned to marginal signals, this whine manifested itself as variable background noise. Between signals it was audible as a faint background whine, hardly noticeable. With that said, the whine was most notable while tuning––since the Skywave SSB mutes between frequency changes, the whine was most conspicuous during audio recovery.

The pre-production unit had no trace of an internally-generated whine. Audio was very clean in comparison.

Here’s a sample of the first production radio being tuned down from 10,000 kHz in 5 kHz tuning steps:

Here’s a sample from the pre-production unit:

Hear the whine in the first sample? Yes, so do I.

I contacted C. Crane promptly, and to their credit, they immediately dispatched another unit from inventory, via UPS Next Day,  along with a return label to send my faulty unit back to their engineering team.

Production Radio #2

The second unit arrived while I was on Thanksgiving vacation, but was sent to me directly at my hotel.  The day I received the replacement Skywave SSB, I put it on the air. The first listening session with it, alone, revealed that this unit did not have the internally-generated whine, however, this unit had issues with sensitivity. All of my comparison receivers were outperforming this Skywave SSB on the shortwave broadcast bands. When I compared it with the pre-production Skywave SSB unit and the first production unit, the second production unit was about four to five S-units less sensitive. Odd.

I sent both production radios back to C. Crane with detailed notes and sample recordings. Their engineering team confirmed my findings and started looking into the variations in QC and double-checking their inventory to make sure none shipped with these problems.

Production Radio #3

A few days later, I was sent a third production unit. After putting it on the air, I immediately noticed the same faint noise characteristics of my first full production unit, which is to say, the notorious whine.

Once again, I contacted C. Crane.  This time, I requested that no less than three radios be sent to me, and they kindly expedite the request.

Production Radios #4, #5, and #6

Yesterday, I tested all three radios. What follows is a quick assessment of those radios:

Performance

In a nutshell, the three production units I tested yesterday performed better than my second and third production radios on all bands. Strictly in terms of sensitivity, these were on par with the pre-production unit.  Very good.

But with that said, even the last three production units I received had internally-generated noises that I couldn’t help but notice. Disappointing.

At this point, I must assume these noises are prevalent throughout the first production run since all but one of the six CC Skywave SSB production units I tested have it. Meanwhile, the only one that didn’t have the noise had serious sensitivity issues.

Noises

Yesterday, I spent two full hours searching for birdies (internally generated noises) and other anomalies on the three CC Skywave SSB production units I received Monday. Each radio’s noise location varied slightly (within 20-40 kHz). The following locations are roughly the average of frequencies:

Birdies

Birdies are a fairly common occurrence among sensitive receivers, and the CC Skywave SSB has about an average number. The birdies I noted are outside the space where I do my broadcast listening:

  • 2,305 kHz
  • 9,220 kHz
  • 11,520 kHz

Background audio whine/tone

All of the production units (save Radio #2) have a very slight audio whine present––either via the internal speaker or headphones––on certain portions of the spectrum.

In my first full production unit, I believe this whine may have slightly affected the unit’s overall sensitivity. On the last three production units, it didn’t seem to have as much of an impact on overall sensitivity.

The whine is still there, however, and occasionally when tuned to a weak signal within one of these zones, other faint sweeping noises could be detected in the background.

Sometimes it’s even more noticeable when the broadcaster is weak and is located within one of the whine zones. Here’s an example of 10 MHz WWV time station comparing the original Skywave with the Skywave SSB. Note that yesterday we had terrible propagation due to a geo storm, so WWV was very weak indeed.

Listen for the sweeping tones:

Here are the frequency ranges where I noted the background whine:

  • 7,830 – 8335 kHz
  • 8,610 – 8,690 kHz (note: very faint)
  • 9,770 – 10,415 kHz
  • 11,585 – 11810 kHz

Another oddity is a noise I found prevalent on CHU Canada’s 7,850 kHz frequency. I’m guessing it may be due to the combination of a DSP birdie on top of a relatively strong broadcaster.

Here’s a video comparing the original Skywave with one of the production models:

I noted no birdies or noises on the mediumwave band. The FM, AIR band, and Weather frequencies perform beautifully.

Summary:  The bad news––and the good

At the moment, it appears the first production run of the CC Skywave SSB has some challenging QC issues. Therefore, unfortunately, I can only recommend it at present if you’re willing to check your unit very carefully for any of the internally-generated noises I noted above.

If, however, you’ve already purchased a Skywave SSB and have noticed the noises, then please contact C. Crane. I’ve been a C. Crane customer for many years and I’m confident they will take care of your issue.

This being said, the truth is, I sympathize with C. Crane. It must be challenging to get things right and truly consistent on the first production run of a radio––especially on a tiny compact radio like the Skywave SSB.  It must be especially hard to keep noises out of the audio chain when so much is crammed into such a tiny package.

I fully suspect these issues will be sorted out in the second production run which, of course, I will test and review.

But the good news, and it’s sincerely good news, is this:  if C. Crane can produce a CC Skywave SSB as good as the pre-production unit, they’ll truly have a winner.  So let’s keep our fingers crossed that C. Crane can do it again…and again.

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