High Noon: Belka MW shootout part 2, with a review of the AFA200C active MW ferrite antenna
When I reviewed the updated Belka (gen3, 2022) for its MW/LW performance in October last year, I just wanted to know if it’s any good with just the whip antenna and used the XHDATA D-808 as a reference radio because it’s a Jay Allen 2.5-star average performer on MW and my expectations were not high for MW reception on a short whip. To my surprise that average bar turned out way too low for the Belka!
That was sure asking for a comparison with the most sensitive MW radio I have and gave me hope to use the Belka for ultra-portable MW DXing on the move. The omnidirectional whip doesn’t allow me to null out unwanted co-channel interference though, therefore I wanted to find a reasonably sized loopstick antenna to pair with the Belka. Continue reading →
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Gary DeBock, who shares the following notes and video:
The 7.5 inch (19cm) loopstick Radiwow R-108 model “smokes” the stock R-108 model in this video demonstration of receiving daytime DX fringe station 550-KARI in Blaine, WA (5 kW at 150 miles). The modification uses the same enhanced loopstick as described in the XHDATA D-808 “Supercharging” article, and is reasonably easy to complete (although some experience is recommended)
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Gary DeBock, who shares his extensive 2021 Ultralight Radio Shootout.
This is truly a deep dive featuring five popular ultralight portable radios and examining mediumwave, shortwave, FM, and AIR Band performance.
The review is an amazing 40 pages long! In order to display the entire review, click on the “Continue reading” link below.
2021 Ultralight Radio Shootout
Five Hot Little Portables Brighten Up the Pandemic
By Gary DeBock, Puyallup, WA, USA April 2021
Introduction The challenges and thrills of DXing with pocket radios have not only survived but thrived since the Ultralight Radio Boom in early 2008, resulting in a worldwide spread of the hobby niche group. Based upon the essential concepts of DXing skill, propagation knowledge and perseverance, the human factor is critical for success in pocket radio DXing, unlike with computer-controlled listening. The hobbyist either sinks or swims according to his own personal choices of DXing times, frequencies and recording decisions during limited propagation openings—all with the added challenge of depending on very basic equipment. DXing success or failure has never been more personal… but on the rare occasions when legendary DX is tracked down despite all of the multiple challenges, the thrill of success is truly exceptional—and based entirely upon one’s own DXing skill.
Ultralight Radio DXing has inspired spinoff fascination not only with portable antennas like the new Ferrite Sleeve Loops (FSL’s) but also with overseas travel DXing, enhanced transoceanic propagation at challenging sites like ocean side cliffs and Alaskan snowfields, as well as at isolated islands far out into the ocean. The extreme portability of advanced pocket radios and FSL antennas has truly allowed hobbyists to “go where no DXer has gone before,” experiencing breakthrough radio propagation, astonishing antenna performance and unforgettable hobby thrills. Among the radio hobby groups of 2021 it is continuing to be one of the most innovative and vibrant segments of the entire community.
The portable radio manufacturing industry has changed pretty dramatically over the past few years as much of the advanced technology used by foreign companies in their radio factories in China has been “appropriated” (to use a generous term) by new Chinese competitors. Without getting into the political ramifications of such behavior the obvious fact in the 2021 portable radio market is that all of the top competitors in this Shootout come from factories in China, and four of the five have Chinese name brands. For those who feel uneasy about this rampant copying of foreign technology the American-designed C. Crane Skywave is still available, although even it is still manufactured in Shenzhen, China—the nerve center of such copying.
Prior to purchasing any of these portables a DXer should assess his own hobby goals, especially whether transoceanic DXing will be part of the mission– in which case a full range of DSP filtering options is essential. Two of the China-brand models use only rechargeable 3.7v lithium type batteries with limited run time, which may not be a good choice for DXers who need long endurance out in the field. A hobbyist should also decide whether a strong manufacturer’s warranty is important. Quality control in some Chinese factories has been lacking, and some of the China-brand radio sellers offer only exchanges—after you pay to ship the defective model back to China. Purchasers should not assume that Western concepts of reliability and refunds apply in China, because in many cases they do not. When purchasing these radios a DXer should try to purchase through a reputable seller offering a meaningful warranty—preferably in their own home country.
One of the unique advantages of Ultralight Radio DXing is the opportunity to sample the latest in innovative technology at a very reasonable cost—and the five pocket radio models chosen for this review include some second-generation DSP chip models with astonishing capabilities. Whether your interest is in domestic or split-frequency AM-DXing, FM, Longwave or Shortwave, the pocket radio manufacturers have designed a breakthrough model for you—and you can try out any (or all) of them at a cost far less than that of a single table receiver. So get ready for some exciting introductions… and an even more exciting four band DXing competition!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor and Ultralight DX enthusiast, Gary DeBock, for sharing the following guest post:
Nulling a local pest with dual FSL Loops
by Gary DeBock
After many dual FSL antenna experiments I’ve finally determined how to effectively cancel out QRM from a local pest that is off to the side (ideally 90 degrees different, but practical from 50 degrees to 90 degrees different) from a weak DX station, although I’m not quite sure of the theory behind this discovery.
This experiment was an attempt to cancel out QRM from a local pest, 950-KJR in Seattle, WA (35 miles/ 56 km to the north) and chase 950-KKSE in Parker, CO (1005 miles/ 1617 km to the southeast) during the early morning hours. The receiver was a basic (non-SSB) C.Crane Skywave, and two identical 5 inch ferrite rod FSL antennas were used. Please refer to the photo (above) to follow this description.
Step 1) Null out the pest station with the portable radio’s loopstick (away from the FSL antennas). Set the radio down in this nulled position, so that the pest station is as weak as possible, while ensuring that there is space to set up the FSL antennas to the back and side (see photo).
Step 2) Take the “Reception FSL” and use it to peak the pest station’s frequency, setting it up parallel to the portable radio as shown, at the position providing the maximum inductive coupling gain. This will temporarily boost up the pest station, which previously was nulled.
Step 3) Take the “Nulling FSL” and pretune the frequency to that of the pest station. You can do this either by adjusting the variable cap plates to match those of the “Reception FSL,” or by temporarily peaking the pest station’s signal in a position in front of the portable radio. After setting this frequency, set the “Nulling FSL” off to the side of the portable radio as shown, with the spacing identical to the spacing between the radio and the “Reception FSL.”
Step 4) Slowly and carefully tune the “Nulling FSL” until you hear the pest station’s signal take a sharp drop. This setting will be very sharp, but once you find this position you will have nulled out the pest very effectively, and if another station is on the frequency, it may suddenly become dominant, even if it is far away (like 950-KKSE in Denver).
Some MP3’s from this morning’s experiments:
950-KJR in nulled position with the portable only
950-KKSE generally dominant over the local pest KJR when the “Nulling FSL” is peaked
Fascinating, Gary! I don’t understand the dynamics of why this works, but it’s amazing that it does so effectively. I can think of two MW frequencies in particular where I could put a system like this to the test.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Gary Debock, who shares a short report he originally posted on Facebook from the Rockwork 2020 Ultralight DXpedition:
Rockwork 2020 started off with a monster session, with S9 signals from the likes of 320-AI (Aitutaki, Cook Islands), 352-RG (Rarotonga, Cook Islands), 558-Radio Fiji One, 603-Radio Waatea, 1017-Tonga, 1107-Magic Talk and the new 1503-Gold.
The session was kind of wild, with three different sets of visitors asking about my gear setup at Rockwork 4 (typically during critical moments of live DXing, of course :-). Despite this both Longwave and Medium Wave featured great propagation to New Zealand, with the long range beacon 238-KT (Kaitaia) opening up the fun around 1225. Switching back and forth between Longwave and MW in a live DXing format wasn’t exactly ideal, and no doubt my long time DXpedition partner Tom R. could have really cleaned up on the South Pacific beacons this morning with his SDR and broadband loop setup. As it was I came away with 238-KT, 320-AI (a monster signal), 352-RG and 366-PNI from across the equator, with 558-Radio Fiji One probably having its best session ever at the awesome ocean side cliff (extended S9+ periods between 1300-1330).
I promised long term “Cliffhanger DX” partner Craig Barnes that I would go all-out to receive some exotic DX in his honor, and the Cliff more than cooperated.
The Longwave and Medium Wave DX this morning [Auguest 5, 2020] was phenomenal, and there are still two more days before Tom gets here. Hopefully these conditions will stick around!
320 AI Aitutaki, Cook Islands Great signal but shaky sounding CW tone at 1239– best signal ever at the Cliff:
352 RG Rarotonga, Cook Islands In an S9 snarl with 353-LLD (Hawaiian mega-beacon) at 1256:
558 Radio Fiji One Suva, Fiji Overwhelming S9 signal and ID’s both before and after an island music song at 1312:
1017 A3Z Nuku’alofa, Tonga Female Tongan in an S9 snarl with DU sports co-channel (2KY?) at 1253:
More New Zealand monster signals from yesterday morning, courtesy of the “Kiwi Cliff.” This place’s preference for New Zealand signals is wacky to the extreme!
603 Radio Waatea Auckland, NZ 5 kW S9 Maori island music // 765 followed by a female Maori chant at 1309:
1107 Magic Talk Tauranga, NZ 10 kW Meltdown level Kiwi conversation between host and lady caller at 1255:
1503 Gold Wellington/ Christchurch, NZ 5/ 2.5 kW The old Radio Sports’ Yankee-accented English (from Fox Sports Network) has now been replaced by rocking oldies, such as Phil Collins with powerful strength at 1307:
73 and Good DX,
Gary DeBock (DXing at the Rockwork Ocean Cliff near Manzanita, OR, USA)
7.5″ loopstick CC Skywaves, PL-380 & XHDATA D-808
12″ Longwave FSL + three new 8″ Medium Wave FSL’s
Thank you so much, Gary, for allowing me to share your reports on the SWLing Post. Many of us would love to experience mediumwave DXing from your Rockwood perch, but we’ll have to live it vicariously through your excellent reports! We wish you excellent DX!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jack Blanke (WB5LVP), who shares the following:
Really enjoyed your article yesterday, and felt compelled to respond with a similar DX’ing jaunt of mine two days ago.
I found myself in the same mindset and ventured out to a nearby peaceful fishing and yacht harbor to try out my new Tecsun PL-380. I have had it about 10 days and I have figured out that I have about all the urban power line and electrical noise I can stand at my home location, so I was headed out to give the 380 a chance to exercise its ears.
I found the most deserted corner of the parking lot at the harbor, positioned my pick-up for maximum shade, dropped the tail gate to provide a work surface, strung out about 75 feet of stranded #14 insulated copper wire and positioned my portable chair for DX action.
I did not have a copy of the WRTH, but I do use an iPhone app called Shortwave Broadcast Schedules by Black Cat that has really worked well for me and I highly recommend. With great anticipation, I flipped the power switch and enjoyed the most beautiful silence from man made electrical noise that I have ever experienced!! I could not believe how much quieter the receiver was in a more more pristine environment.
Jack’s ultralight Tailgate DXpedition kit
I opened the app to search for some DX’ing frequency possibilities, began tuning the bands and I was amazed at the number of short wave broadcast stations, the strength of their signals and the pure listening quality coming out of my 380, which is little larger than a pack of cigarettes!! I have been a licensed ham since 1970 and at one point back in the early 1970’s, I had a complete R. L. Drake HF station which might be called “Boat Anchors” by today’s standards. I was now listening to stations from around the globe on a receiver that comfortably fit in my pocket and a long wire strung out to a nearby “NO PARKING” sign post.
The Tecsun PL-380
Within a matter of a couple of relaxing hours, I had logged and enjoyed listening to Radio Habana, Voice of Vietnam, China Radio Int., Voice of Nigeria, Radio Romania Int., KBS World Radio and several other stateside shortwave broadcasts from Miami, Nashville & Lebanon Tennessee. I was totally thrilled at the performance of the radio/antenna combo and I anxiously await the opportunity to visit the area again for another Tailgate DXpedition!! I am particularly looking forward to fall days and cooler temps to go lose myself in the reverie of the shortwave bands, this time with a few brewskies in the ice chest, along with lunch.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable day and I could not help but relate to your article when I read it!! Next time, I plan to photograph my Tailgate DXpedition, simple though it may be to share with others. I have been away from radio for some time, but have maintained my amateur license for nearly 50 years. Now that I am retired and have more time, I plan to enjoy my long lost love of radio once again.
Thanks for your web sight. I look forward to the newsletters and enjoy its resources.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Jack!
Isn’t it amazing how the shortwave bands simply open up when you remove all of the urban noise that plagues our receivers? That’s the brilliance behind impromptu DXpeditions. Plus, I’ve always believed that radio is best enjoyed outdoors.
We look forward to seeing some photos and a report of your next Tailgate DXpedition, Jack!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Gary DeBock, who shares the following guest post and update from the August 2019 Rockwork DXpedition:
Gary DeBock DXing with Craig Barnes at the Rockwork 4 ocean cliff near Manzanita, Oregon, USA
Once again the largest FSL antenna collection on the planet made its way across the Columbia River bridge during an overnight trip to NW Oregon, finally being deployed at the original Highway 101 plunging cliff turnoff– Rockwork 4. There has been a drastic decrease in the squatter population, so that Craig Barnes and I were able to easily set up all four PVC bases for all-out DU-DXing at the dream site this morning (see photo). Unfortunately Chris Black came down with a health issue at the last minute, and needed to cancel out.
Craig and I had some excellent signals from the regulars (including 531-More FM, 558-Fiji and 1017-Tonga), although it wasn’t quite a stellar morning for rare DX. We were kind of spoiled last year with 1017-Tonga staying a S9 practically throughout the session, but this morning it was “only” at S9 for a few minutes at a time. This meant that as soon as I notified Craig of 1017’s potent status, the signal tended to nosedive. Maybe the cumulative effects of humidity and salt water exposure are beginning to take their toll on the Tongan big gun? 558-Fiji showed up with decent signals for a couple minutes at a time, which meant that Craig got the short end of the stick after I notified him of the potent signal. 531-More FM hit an awesome S9 peak around 1312 (including the usual split-second female ID), making it once again seem totally bizarre that no trace of the 2 kW modern rock station has ever been received at Grayland for the duration. The Rockwork Cliff is typically focused in like a laser on New Zealand, and this was a typical morning!
531 More FM Alexandra, NZ 2 kW Potent S9 modern rock signal from this Rockwork regular, with female “More FM” ID at 19 seconds: