Tag Archives: Dan Robinson

Ultra-Rare Tristan da Cunha QSL: The Art of the Hunter-Killer QSL Pursuit

The remote South Atlantic island of Tristan Da Cunha (Image via Google Earth)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who shares the following guest post:


Ultra-Rare Tristan da Cunha QSL: The Art of the Hunter-Killer QSL Pursuit

by Dan Robinson

Those in the QSL collecting community are likely to have noticed the recent appearance on Ebay of one of the rarest QSL cards in existence.

The QSL from Tristan da Cunha showed up around March 19th with a six day auction window, by a seller in France who also listed a number of other older QSLs.

For a description, the seller wrote: “QSL card from radio station ZOE the broadcasting service of Tristan da Cunha 1973. A very rare and sought after QSL. Seldom seen on Ebay. . .”

Understatement to be sure. Along with QSL letters directly from Biafra, the breakaway state in Nigeria many decades ago, QSLs from Tristan da Cunha are pretty much NEVER seen.

ZOE Tristan was a station intensively sought by thousands of DX’ers when it occupied the 90 meter frequency of 3,290 kHz with a power of only 40 watts.

Only a handful of DX’ers ever heard and QSL’ed Tristan.  In this story still accessible online–three persons from South Africa are described as having received QSLs, along with two others, in the UK and in Florida, USA.

As a young DX’er, I remember reading the entry in the WRTH and the feeling of frustration with the reality that it was impossible to hear with my receivers, largely due to its limited broadcast time and hour of transmission which I recall was 2000 UTC.

eBay bid history

As the hours ticked away in the auction, the number of bids increased. The ending time fell in overnight hours EDT. This increased chances of obtaining the card for a lower price, though bidders in other parts of the world would surely be stationed at their PCs and on their phones in the final hours of the auction.

I have been one of the most active QSL hunters in the world, and there are specific strategies involved in competing for QSLs.

For purposes of this article, I’ll just note that these involve constant attention, especially toward the end. As an auction nears conclusion, it’s important to “test” the bid level to assess the likelihood of the item selling at that or a much higher price.

Some cards or verification letters have the potential to bring hundreds of dollars. I assessed that this Tristan card could bring as much as $500-$1,000 depending on whether someone had “gone high” with an automatic “knock out” bid using either the Ebay system or other auto-bidding site.

As you can see in the image, from a starting price of $4.00 on March 19th the Tristan card had reached only $50.00 several days later on March 23rd.  The $100 mark was reached on March 26th.  One bidder retracted his $150 bid at one point.

On the final day March 26th, it was anyone’s guess how high the Tristan card could go.  The card only inched up in small bid increments, surprising given its rarity.

If one assumed that any of the four bidders involved placed a “knock-out” auto-bid, and if two had placed such a bid, in the final seconds the Tristan QSL could quickly shoot up from the $142.50 level to whatever the extremely high maximums would be.

Due to the rarity of the card, my bid fell in the “knock out” category.  I went to sleep reasonably confident, but concerned the competition could drive the price of the card through the roof.

When I awoke the next day, I was relieved — the Tristan card, complete with its original postage stamp, rubber stamp mark, and signature by the station, was mine.  The price:  an astoundingly low $145.

Such is the excitement involved in being a “hunter-killer” QSL card collector. As I noted in SWLing Post last year, I now own three of the world’s rarest QSLs.

These include possibly the last remaining QSL letters sent directly from Radio Biafra, a QSL from Portuguese Macao, and now this wonderful ZOE Tristan da Cunha card.

That is–actually two ZOE QSLs.  About a decade ago, while scanning Ebay listings for QSLs, I was astounded to see a ZOE card listed as part of a group of amateur radio QSLs being offered by a seller in Europe.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Until that point I had seen not a single ZOE QSL appear since the Ebay market for QSLs began to heat up in the late 1990s

(Source: SWL Card Museum)

This particular card, which you can see posted at the excellent “SWL Card Museum” site has “ZOE” printed in large letters, like the card that I recently won, a date of reception as “June 1, 1977” but no signature.

The card did arrive with the original envelope in which it was sent to a European DX’er, complete with a postage stamp and postal mark for Tristan.

Why that particular ZOE card was not signed by someone at the station, and why it was placed in an envelope rather than post marked on the card itself, remains a mystery.

Back to the story noted above, about the group of South African DX’ers who were among the few worldwide to have heard Tristan da Cunha.

In that article, the author notes that two other DX’ers, one in the U.S., one in Europe, had received QSLs from Tristan.

With a bit of online sleuthing, and help from some fellow DX’ers, I was able to determine that one of those two, Dave Sharp, is indeed still with us.

In response to an email inquiry, Dave provided the following history:

“I forget when exactly I heard the station, but it was 1984 or just prior, as I was still in high school. I was in Florida at the time and was using a rotatable three element beam ham antenna. [I] heard threshold talk from a woman with a deep voice and this apparently matched to voice of the Radio Tristan announcer at the time.

[I] received a reply from Pat Patterson, the Tristan postmaster and a Ham radio operator himself. Since my reception report was tentative, I felt a QSL wouldn’t have been issued if they hadn’t been reasonably confident of reception.

I received a personal letter, stamp bulletin, and a small QSL, bright green on white background, with “ZOE” across the front.

Long story, but many of my personal belongings were lost over the years and this includes my entire QSL collection (which had been left in possession of my sister).

Needless to say, I received a fair bit of ridicule after coming forward with the QSL. To emphasize, my report was tentative and they decided to issue a reply.”

It remains to be seen if other ZOE/Tristan da Cunha QSLs will surface in the future, and of course it is unknown how many of the cards that were sent out to the few DX’ers who heard, or claim to have heard, the station, still exist.


Wow! Thank you for shedding light on the history of ZOE Tristan Da Cunha QSLs. At those meager power levels, from such a remote location, and during that broadcast window, I can see why ZOE must be one of the rarest of QSL cards. I’m happy to know you obtained the card, too, Dan as you have such a long history of properly archiving and sharing your cards. As you just did.  Thank you!

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BBG Watch: Former Analyst Challenges USAGM Audience Measurement Methods, Claims of Sharp Increases

As a follow-up to our previous post featuring Kim Elliott’s commentary, check out the following article by Dan Robinson in BBG Watch:

Former Analyst Challenges USAGM Audience Measurement Methods, Claims of Sharp Increases

By Dan Robinson

A former analyst for the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees taxpayer-funded broadcast and online media directed at overseas audiences, has publicly challenged the methods used by the agency in making audience size claims.

An audience research analyst for the U.S. Agency for Global Media (formerly the Broadcasting Board of Governors) for many years, Kim Elliott, Ph.D., is the first former official to raise questions about USAGM figures.

His views, published online by the University of Southern California Center for Public Diplomacy blog, also appeared first in a small circulation subscription journal published by NASWA (North American Shortwave Association). This article is based on both pieces.[…]

Click here to read the full article.

Dan also points out the following BBG Watch article which focuses on Twitter polls:

http://bbgwatch.com/bbgwatch/twitter-poll-voa-and-radio-farda-usagm-iran-audience-claims-are-false/

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Dan spots a Hammarlund SP-600 in “The Shape of Water”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who writes:

Did anyone ever notice this [in The Shape of Water]?

I have not seen the film yet, but how could we miss that classic Cold War rig?! Very cool–thanks for sharing, Dan!

I’ll add this post to our archive of radios in film.

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Ultra-Rare DX: Logging Radio Kahuzi in the DRC

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who shares the following guest post:


In these days of declining activity on the shortwave bands, we don’t often enjoy the experience of hearing what we might still call “rare” stations.  The new year brought an exception.

On January 1st, 2019 I was tuning around the 48 meter band, which is largely populated by European pirate stations, utilities, and weather stations, when I heard a station on 6,210.20 khz.  It was very distinct in that it sounded like an African station — music, with a male DJ/MC and religious songs.

What immediately came to mind was the religious station calling itself Radio Kahuzi, which is in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo.

The station has been heard by DX’ers in a number of countries since the mid-2000’s and because it’s management is based in the U.S. it is possible to obtain a QSL verification.

Radio Kahuzi also has Twitter and Facebook channels, making it easier to communicate with station managers and staff, and has this blog site: http://radiokahuzi.blogspot.com/

As a You Tube video shows the station has been on the air since the early 1990s:

Click here to view on YouTube.

On January 1st, RK was heard from about 1730 to 1747 UTC when it shut down, playing what Richard McDonald, one of the station’s founders, says were musical pieces that are specific to RK.

On January 2nd, 2019 the station was heard again via Europe-based SDRs, signing off at approximately 1811 UTC.

Here is McDonald’s response to my report (which included an mp3) from January 1st, in which he notes that he even went so far as to give the main station announcer, Gregoire, my name and asked him to mention me in the station’s broadcast:

“I just shared with Gregoire that you had sent a recording of the last minutes of his closing musical sign-off if Radio Kahuzi and he agreed to greet you by name this evening and several days in several languages including English.

You got him saying his name at 5:54 into your recording yesterday,and the ID sign off Mountain Blue-Grass Music was unique to Best Radio Kahuzi in Bukavu!

Barbara Smith will be happy to send the QSL Card and info about us and our National Director and his family situation in case you have any suggestions

Powering off here!  Our power cuts off with SNEL often — I just lost a longer reply to you !
But Keep Looking UP !    And Keep On Keeping ON !

Richard & Kathy McDonald”

By the way, according to Wikipedia, SNEL stands for Société nationale d’électricité “the national electricity company of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its head office building is located in the district of La Gombe in the capital city, Kinshasa. SNEL operates the Inga Dam facility on the Congo River, and also operates thermal power plants.”

A very interesting page containing the history of Radio Kahuzi, with information about the McDonalds, is at: http://www.besi.org/

As of the time of this writing, it’s unclear to me whether the extended broadcast times of Radio Kahuzi will be continued or if this was a one shot deal linked to the new year — we may have some clarification on this in coming days.

Here’s a video of my January 1st, 2019 reception of Radio Kahuzi:

Click here to view on YouTube.

For now, I am quite pleased to join the group of about 63 DX’ers around the world (that number comes from a link on the RK website called “Shortwave Listeners” that lists SWLs who have heard and contacted the station).

Though it is highly unlikely that Radio Kahuzi will be heard anytime soon in the United States (the station’s schedules shows it being active from 8 AM to 8 PM Bukavu time) at least using U.S.-based radios, whether SDR or traditional receivers, it’s nice to know that there is still a station out there (with 800 watts!) that is a real DX target!


Wow! What a fantastic catch, Dan! Thank you for sharing your catch and, especially, shedding light on this rare DX. 

Post Readers: Please comment if you’ve logged and/or confirmed Radio Kahuzi.

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Dan compares and reviews the Tecsun S-8800 portable AM/FM/shortwave receiver

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, for the following guest post and review:


Tecsun’s S-8800:  Is This All The Radio You Will Ever Need?

These days, we who still derive enjoyment from listening to shortwave broadcasts, be they larger international broadcasters or smaller stations that remain on the air against all odds in the Internet age, also enjoy using the many types of radio receivers that enable this activity.

One of the cruel ironies is that today’s technological advances have made possible the kind of worldband radios (the term that first came into wide use way back in the 1980’s) that years ago we could only dream of, be they full communications receivers or portable receivers.

Having begun my own DXing/SWL career in the late 1960’s, and pretty much maintained my hobby activities over the decades, I have used pretty much every receiver that ever existed, from tube radios to today’s latest DSP wonders.

I have a soft spot for classics from SONY — my list of portables today includes the fantastic SONY ICF-SW77, SW-07, SW-55s and SW-100.  Panasonic is represented in my portable collection by the wonderful RF-B65.

Only in recent years did I decide to test the main higher end portable offerings from Tecsun:  the PL-660/680, and PL-880. What I discovered, as have most people who own the Tecsuns, and similar receivers such as the XHDATA D-808, are the wonders of DSP chips and the great flexibility they provide, such as multiple selectivity options, along with excellent sensitivity.

Though it’s been on the market for going on three years now, one of the receivers I had not been able to test was the Tecsun S-8800.  There are quite a few reviews already online. Some go into extensive detail in describing the plus and minus points of the radio.

With so many people having already assessed the radio — and most of them in fairly glowing terms — I won’t repeat a long list of technical specs, as you can find those in other reviews, and on the site of Hong Kong-based Anon-co, which is probably the main seller of the S-8800.

Headline

The S-8800 is arguably the best multi band radio portable among portable category offerings on the market today.  It combines superior audio delivered from its superb front-firing speaker, with equally superb sensitivity (triple conversion), and multiple selectivity options, with an amazingly professionally-executed remote control.

I used the S-8800 in a number of physical locations, from public parks where I hoped to avoid high noise levels, to my back yard where noise levels are, unfortunately, quite high.  I have compared the S-8800 to a number of portables in my collection, including: SONY ICF-2010, SW-77, SW-55, along with Tecsun’s 660 and 880, Grundig SAT-500.

Audio

Hands down, the S-8800 wins the audio competition when compared to pretty much every other radio.  Where the competition gets tight is with receivers such as the classic Grundig Satellit 500, and Tecsun’s PL-880.

Sensitivity

This is a TRIPLE conversion radio.  As everyone knows by now, Tecsun did not merely adopt the cabinet of the old Eton S350 but basically stuffed a hot rod racer into the cabinet of what was previously a mediocre radio at best.

Selectivity

Widely used in a number of radios these days, the S-8800 uses a DSP chip that is seen in a number of other receivers.  The best description I have seen so far is in the review by Jay Allen who notes that Tecsun “decided to utilize a combination of DSP (Digital Signal Processing) circuits along with traditional analog circuits . . .most of the AM/SW circuitry is PLL/analog along with the 1st and 2nd IF’s, while the 3rd IF is DSP.”  It appears that after a bit of a rocky period in the beginning when initial units suffered from images and birdies, Tecsun got it right.

Ergonomics

Much has been said about the fact that Tecsun decided not to include a keypad on the radio itself.  I too was skeptical. We have all become accustomed to keypads as standard equipment on portables.

Personally, I do a lot of my listening on the beach during vacations, and am used to being able to hold and operate the radio in such situations, so the thought of having to carry a remote control seemed uncomfortable at best.

However, the reality is that it’s still possible to navigate the shortwave, AM, and FM bands easily even without the remote — call me old fashioned, but I am from a group of older listeners who have most frequencies memorized anyway, so I know where I want to go to hear certain stations.

Tecsun hit it out the ballpark with the remote supplied with the S-8800.  It looks like something you would find with high end stereo equipment and clearly much thought went into making sure it can control every aspect of the receiver, from SW band slewing to selectivity, volume, readout — everything except BASS and TREBLE control, Timer/Alarm, and master volume (i.e. as other reviewers note, you have to set the on-radio master volume to a high enough level first, then use the remote to vary).

Power

The radio requires two 18650 lithium (Li-ion) rechargeable batteries, with individual indicator LEDS inside the battery compartment.  This choice is perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of the 8800. Among other things, 18650s usually receive more attention from airport security personnel if one is taking the radio on a trip — this is something everyone should keep in mind.  Any radio being transported on a flight these days is going to be subjected to added scrutiny, simply because almost no one uses radios anymore.

As for the power needs of the receiver, the 18650s seem to do a good job and last quite a long time, even days.  Included in the box is one of those white USB charger blocks — quite small and convenient. I usually travel with separate 18650 chargers, the kind used with high end flashlights, so having spare sets of charged batteries is not a problem.  But if both 18650’s in the Tecsun are drained, the radio definitely needs to re-charge to a minimum level required for operation.

As I write this, I plugged the S-8800 into a wall outlet (a blue LED indicator on front indicates charging mode) and I was unable to use the radio as the battery level had completely zeroed out.  Also keep in mind that the USB charging brick throws off EMI to other radios in the vicinity, and makes it impossible to use the S-8800 itself — there is just too much interference from the charging process to the radio’s receiving circuitry.

Comparisons

As mentioned, I compared the S-8800 with a number of other portables in my collection.  Each of these other radios, including the classics from SONY such as the SW-55 or SW77 have their strengths.  For example, the SW77 has the best implemented synchronous reception of any portable since the ICF-2010 along with superb sensitivity.  However, even the large speaker on the SW-77 was unable to compete with the S-8800. Only radios such as the older Grundig SAT 500/700 had the advantage when compared to the S-8800’s speaker, with the Tecsun PL-8800 close behind.

Receiving Comparisons

I decided to take the S-8800 out to my back yard for a receiving comparison with the receiver I consider to be among the top five best in what I call the small portable category (which is above the mini-portable category in which we find the SONY SW-100 and SW-07 and similar size radios).

In intensive use over the years, I have concluded that the Panasonic RF-B65 is probably among the hottest small portables.  With its famous amplified whip antenna, the 65 time after time succeeds in allowing me to hear stations that other portables struggle with (see this 3 radio comparison I posted a few years ago in which the B65 outguns the Sangean 909X and SONY SW-07).

Rather than produce several separate videos, I have combined one listening session comparing the S-8800 with the RF-B65.  It’s a bit long, so my apologies, but gives you an idea of how these two fine portables did going head to head.

Click here to view on YouTube.

Leaving aside the obvious superiority of the Tecsun where audio is concerned, the S-8800 competes well with the Pan RF-B65, often superior to the smaller radio, but sometimes inferior in one respect.

While there was nothing the S-8800 could hear that the Panasonic could not, signals seem to jump out of the S-8800 in a way that they did not with the smaller radio. However, there appeared to be an interesting difference when it came to the ability of each radio to deal with interfering stations 5 kHz above or below.

As shown in the video, the Panasonic was able to distinguish more clearly between a station on 9,650 kHz (Guinea) and a station 5 kHz above (in this case, Algeria via France, using 9,655 kHz) than the Tecsun, which seemed to struggle.  Indeed, at one point I was forced to attempt ECSS (Exalted Carrier SSB) mode to separate the two stations, whereas on the Panasonic, being the older and simpler radio design was an advantage in that the RF-B65 was actually able to more clearly separate the two stations by “de-tuning” from the center frequency.

One huge advantage of the S-8800 by the way is that there is a hidden software change that enables one to adjust SSB zero beat to zero or near zero.  This means that in theory using LSB/USB to improve reception is possible, though keep in mind that there may be some variation from unit to unit. So far, after performing the so-called ‘secret’ fix (among a list of tweaks discovered so far) my particular S-8800 appears to be able to zero beat LSB/USB with little or no variation between the side bands, pretty much up and down the SW bands.

Conclusions

For me, the S-8800 has turned out to be the biggest surprise of the last several years.  Coming seemingly out of nowhere, packaged in the cabinet of a receiver that was seen as mediocre at best, we have a triple conversion beauty (it seems to weigh almost nothing by the way) that provides pretty much every tool required these days to tackle what is left of shortwave broadcast reception.  It has superior audio, unless one compares to older Grundig and similar sets.

Drawbacks are quite few to be honest.  A case can definitely be made that using 18650 batteries was a poor choice by Tecsun.  This means, for example, that if you’re out on the beach or elsewhere for many hours, the only way to charge up the radio would be to use a separate phone battery charger rather than simply be able to slip in regular alkalines.  But then, I carry separate battery charge units already for my phone.

The big criticism that synchronous reception could have been included is also valid.  The same was said about the SONY ICF-SW55 — with synchronous reception, and a bit more careful design of the tuning circuit, that radio could have been a heavier hitter, a mini-ICF 2010, something the much more expensive SW-77 was designed to improve upon.

However, so far radios utilizing DSP chips have struggled when it comes to synchronous reception capability.  Indeed, the feature has ended up being discovered only as one of a number of ‘secret’ features. Only the PL-660 has a decent synchronous feature, but that radio is hobbled by limited selectivity options, while sync on the PL-880 is pretty much useless.

Finally, I have to say thank you to Tecsun for doing everything possible to avoid the dreaded ‘MUTING’ problem that has been seen on so many small portables.

As I found to my disappointment when using even the much-praised Eton Grundig Satellit, and even the C Crane Skywave SSB, this problem can be a killer for those of us who consider it absolutely critical to be able to hear EVERYTHING on and between frequencies.

So, the big question — would I recommend the S-8800?  As with almost everything, the answer to that is, it depends on what kind of a listener you are, and expectations.

From a performance perspective, if you are like me, a die-hard DX’er at heart who gets a kick out of searching for the last Peruvians on the air, the S-8800 should be more than sufficient.  If you’re both a die-hard DX’er and enjoy FM and AM, the 8800 should also be a perfect selection, since it’s been reviewed quite well in terms of medium wave and FM capability.

A personal note — for me, part of the fun of shortwave portables has been their ‘cool factor’.  I’m just one of those who likes to carry around complicated looking radios with lots of buttons. The SONY 2010, SW-55, SW-77s, older Grundigs all fit the bill.

I never thought the S-8800 or radios similar to it in appearance would.  So, for me it’s going to require a bit of a change, since the S-8800 looks like, well . . . it looks like a ‘toy radio’!

But it’s one hell of a toy-looking radio.  It’s a triple conversion monster packed in the frame of something that, at one point in the past, you might have considered getting for your kids (if they even knew or know what a radio is!).

As many of us are at this point in our lives, I am also thinking ahead — to the day when my numerous premium Watkins Johnson and JRC radios, and a few boatanchors hanging around, will have to go because of downsizing.

When I’m 65, as the Beatles song goes — or more likely 85 or 90 — what will I be able to fit on a bedside dresser and use easily to tune in whatever is left on shortwave (if anything)?

The answer to that question is a radio that’s small enough and enough of a performer, preferably with a well-designed remote, to bring in anything that’s still on HF, MW, and FM.  With those needs in mind, the answer is already here, in the Tecsun S-8800.

[I want to express sincere thanks to Anna at Anon-co who responded quickly when I proposed a review of the S-8800 and supplied the receiver on which this article is based.  Anna was patient as my original plan to have a review in by September was delayed by unavoidable personal matters. Thanks also to Tom Witherspoon for getting the review up so quickly].

Click here to check out the Tecsun S-8800 at Anon-Co’s website and here via the Anon-Co eBay store.


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