Tag Archives: Covid-19

Radio Waves: Zombie Sats, Radio Provides Undemanding Friendship, Boom in New Stations, and One Retailer’s Ham Radio Connection

Radio Waves:  Stories Making Waves in the World of Radio

Because I keep my ear to the waves, as well as receive many tips from others who do the same, I find myself privy to radio-related stories that might interest SWLing Post readers.  To that end: Welcome to the SWLing Post’s Radio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors BJ Leiderman and Richard Black  for the following tips:


Long-Lost U.S. Military Satellite Found By Amateur Radio Operator (NPR)

There are more than 2,000 active satellites orbiting Earth. At the end of their useful lives, many will simply burn up as they reenter the atmosphere. But some will continue circling as “zombie” satellites — neither alive nor quite dead.

“Most zombie satellites are satellites that are no longer under human control, or have failed to some degree,” says Scott Tilley.

Tilley, an amateur radio operator living in Canada, has a passion for hunting them down.

In 2018, he found a signal from a NASA probe called IMAGE that the space agency had lost track of in 2005. With Tilley’s help, NASA was able to reestablish contact.

But he has tracked down zombies even older than IMAGE.

“The oldest one I’ve seen is Transit 5B-5. And it launched in 1965,” he says, referring to a nuclear-powered U.S. Navy navigation satellite that still circles the Earth in a polar orbit, long forgotten by all but a few amateurs interested in hearing it “sing” as it passes overhead.[]

Ken Bruce: ‘Radio provides friendship in an undemanding way’ (BBC News)

You wouldn’t normally hear a tractor driving past or birds tweeting in the background of Ken Bruce’s BBC Radio 2 show.

But, if you listen closely, those are just a few sounds you might be able to pick up on now the presenter is broadcasting from his Oxfordshire home.

“I do live in dread of the binmen arriving or the Royal Air Force flying over in extremely noisy Chinooks as they do sometimes,” Bruce laughs. “But so far it’s been fine.”

Bruce’s mid-morning show on Radio 2 – which he has hosted continuously since 1992, following an earlier stint in the 1980s – is particularly popular at the moment as more listeners turn to the radio while confined to their homes.

“At a time like this, people want to hear the news, but they don’t want it all day,” Bruce says. “From my point of view, I’ll pay attention to one news broadcast a day, and after that I don’t really want to know too much unless it’s a major development.

“So escapism is a big part of keeping people feeling right during this and I think we provide a certain amount of that, a chance to put the worries of the world to one side.”[]

The coronavirus is bringing about a boom in new radio stations (The Economist)

MILLIONS OF PEOPLE in lockdown are finding diversion at the flick of a dial. According to Radiocentre, the industry body for commercial radio in Britain, local and national stations reported increases in daily listeners of between 15% and 75% in the second half of March. They’ve got competition. Radio stations offering information, entertainment and reassurance to listeners isolated at home have sprung up from Ireland to Syria, Italy to India. Informal and interactive, many are run by amateurs from their homes, with producers learning the ropes as they go.

In Italy Radio Zona Rossa (Radio Red Zone) began broadcasting from the town of Codogno, the site of the country’s first locally transmitted coronavirus infection, just days after Lombardy went into lockdown on February 21st. Hosted by Pino Pagani, an octogenarian whose co-presenter and friend was killed by the virus in March, the twice-daily programme uses the registered FM frequencies of a local station, Radio Codogno, to provide updates on the spread of the virus and the opening hours of local essential services. Mr Pagani also interviews experts and invites residents to call in for a chat. [Note that the full article is behind a paywall …]

Unclaimed Baggage began from a social distance connection, 1970’s style (Unclaimed Baggage)

Doyle Owens loved radios––specifically ham radios. We don’t use them much these days; most of us don’t even know what they are (for the uninitiated: “ham” is slang for “amateur” radio, and its enthusiasts make a hobby of connecting with each other over radio frequencies). In the ‘60s and ‘70s, it was the equivalent of a group FaceTime call, sans face.

Doyle, call sign K4MUR, went to bed early so he could be on the radio by 4:30am to talk to friends in different time zones all around the world. Some were friends from childhood, friends from his days of service in the Korean War. Most of his friends, however, were friends he’d never met in person, who he knew only from the airwaves. Many of them knew him more intimately than the friends and neighbors he saw every day.

Those mornings were his window into the world outside Scottsboro, Alabama, population 9,324 (in 1970), where he’d been working in insurance since shortly after the Korean War. The insurance business paid, but it bored him to tears. Creative energy ran in his blood: during the Great Depression, his father ran a general store on wheels in rural Alabama, which he used to barter for much needed goods. Doyle knew he was destined for more, but he didn’t know what.

One day, a ham radio friend who worked for Trailways Bus Company in Washington, D.C. let Doyle and his friends in on an unusual problem: the bus line had an accumulating pile of unclaimed bags that they didn’t know what to do with. Doyle’s ears perked up. “How much would you sell it for?” he asked his friend. “Well, I’m not sure,” his friend said. They settled on three hundred dollars.

That afternoon, Doyle borrowed his father’s ’65 Chevy pickup truck and stopped at his father-in-law’s house on the way out of town to borrow three hundred dollars. When he returned, he and his wife Mollie Sue set to unpacking the massive load of luggage. They rented a house on the outskirts of town and set up card tables inside to display the contents of the luggage. Outside, a homemade storefront sign read “Unclaimed Baggage”. That Saturday the doors opened for business, and by the end of the day the tables were empty.

The rest isn’t exactly history. It took many more loads of luggage, many more loans, many more long days and short nights before Doyle’s business grew into the worldwide, fifty-year-old retail phenomenon it is today. But it all started with an idea.

No one knows where they come from, ideas. What we do know is that the right environment––the kind populated by dear friends, clear air, long drives down country roads and the like––clears space for them to land.

The current moment, plagued by uncertainty, financial distress and, well, actual plague, could be seen as less conducive than ever to creativity. Ernest Hemingway once wrote that worry destroys the ability to create, and ill health, which produces worry, attacks your subconscious and destroys your reserves. If we all, like Hemingway, had the ability to combat the malaise with all the fishing, sailing and boxing our hearts desire, we might not be in such a tough spot.[]


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Radio Waves: Libre Space Foundation Reviews SDRs, ARRL VEC Statement, Pandemic Pastime, and Former CEO of RadioShack Now C-19 ER doctor

Radio Waves:  Stories Making Waves in the World of Radio

Because I keep my ear to the waves, as well as receive many tips from others who do the same, I find myself privy to radio-related stories that might interest SWLing Post readers.  To that end: Welcome to the SWLing Post’s Radio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Ron, Paul, Marco Zennaro, and Richard Langley for the following tips:


The Libre Space Foundation reviews software defined radios (Hackaday)

If you want to go to the next level with software defined radio (SDR), there are a lot of choices. The RTL-SDR dongles are fine, but if you get serious you’ll probably want something else. How do you choose? Well, your friends at the European Space Agency Libre Space Foundation have published a paper comparing many common options. True, they are mostly looking at how the receivers work with CubeSats, but it is still a good comparison.

The devices they examine are:

  • RTS-SDR v3
  • Airspy Mini
  • SDRPlay RSPduo
  • LimeSDR Mini
  • BladeRF 2.0 Micro
  • Ettus USRP B210
  • Pluto SDR

They looked at several bands of interest, but not the HF bands — not surprising considering that some of the devices can’t even operate on HF. They did examine VHF, UHF, L band, S band, and C band performance. Some of the SDRs have transmit capabilities, and for those devices, they tested the transmit function as well as receive.

The review isn’t just subjective. They calculate noise figures and dynamic range, along with other technical parameters. They also include GNURadio flowgraphs for their test setups, which would be a great place to start if you wanted to do these kinds of measurements yourself.[]

ARRL VEC Issues Statement on Video-Supervised Online Exam Sessions (ARRL News)

Very few ARRL Volunteer Examiner teams have successfully conducted in-person exam sessions (following social distancing guidelines) and video-supervised exam sessions using fillable PDF exams and documents. So far, we have found that both types of sessions take volunteer teams two to three times longer to conduct and accommodate fewer candidates than sessions conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, the video sessions have included only one examinee per session.

We ask the community to be patient with our volunteer teams as they navigate uncharted territory. Please remember with the introduction of significant new processes such as these, that there should be proof of concept, establishment of protocols and procedures, and beta testing before expanding to a larger audience. Video-supervised exam sessions require a different skillset than in-person exam administration. Not all teams will be equipped to deliver video exams right away.

The ARRL Volunteer Examiner Coordinator (VEC) has been investigating options for an online examination system.

Fillable PDFs are cumbersome within a video-supervised exam session process. We recognize that online testing would represent a large-scale solution for our thousands of VEs and would make session procedures easier for our teams, but this will not happen overnight.

The ARRL VEC will continue to adapt and respond to the evolving crisis as we search for viable and easy-to-use online examination system solutions and conduct exam sessions in innovative ways.[]

Pandemic Pastime – Shortwave Radio (KFGO)

Ever since I was a little kid, I was fascinated that at night you could listen to radio stations from all over the country. My little Heathkit radio, which I built myself, could pick up stations in Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, Little Rock, Pittsburgh to name a few. West coast stations were rare because it was tough getting a signal over the Rocky Mountains.

Then there was shortwave radio. A buddy of mine had one and he showed me a list of all the countries he was picking up. England, France, Germany, Latin American countries, numerous stations on the shortwave bands in America. Even Radio Havana coming out of Cuba. Anything from religion to hard edge rock and roll. He also noted he picked up Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America.

Well years later I would stop by my local Radio Shack and decided it was my turn to take up this hobby of monitoring shortwave radio. This particular radio also had a built in cassette player so you could record your found stations as well. It was really interesting to hear the news from other countries and get their take on what was happening in America.

One of the first frequencies I tuned in was WWV a shortwave radio station out of Fort Collins Colorado, that broadcasts the time via the atomic clock. The seconds tick off until the top of the hour when you hear a voice announce the time, followed by a tone that hits the top of the minute exactly on the nose. Great way to set the clock.

Now I know you can probably find all these shortwave stations on the internet, but what fun is that right?

With the covid-19 pandemic, this is a little something different than binge watching television, or building that 10th jigsaw puzzle or cleaning out that closet again and again.

Have a chair on the patio, a glass of your favorite beverage, extend the antenna, and start turning up and down the dial and see what you can find. I had a little notebook that I kept track of my searches. Don’t have it now though…lost it.

I’ll start a new one.

Stay safe everyone![]

Former CEO of RadioShack now an ER doctor (National Post)

‘I am just one of those people who was very fortunate, where things worked out, and where I could do not just do one thing I really enjoyed in life, but two’

Brian Levy loved science as a kid. He had a microscope, read up on stuff in the encyclopedia and messed around with home experiment kits. During his high school years, he took every science credit possible. By his own admission, he was a “geek,” one with an equally strong passion, alongside science, for electronics.

Levy knew how to operate a shortwave radio. Weekend teenage heaven, in his mind, was hanging around the local RadioShack store, a warehouse of gizmos where he scored his first part-time job in 1974, earning US$1.40 an hour at a shop in downtown Atlanta. He was 15, which, alas, was too young to be working for the company, according to the folks at corporate headquarters in Texas, who fired him upon receiving his paperwork.

The dismissal didn’t sit well with Levy.

“I actually called the vice president of human resources in Texas,” he says. The executive was impressed by the moxie of the kid. On the day he turned 16, Levy was hired back.

[…]Levy did not foresee the premature end to his business career. When it came, rather than being crestfallen, he felt liberated, and free to pursue an “itch” that he had always felt the need to scratch. So he applied to medical school at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON. (Levy came to Canada in the first place after relocating RadioShack HQ north of the border as CEO. He is now a dual citizen, although his soft, buttery accent betrays his roots in the American south.)[]


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Ham Radio Friedrichshafen 2020 has been cancelled

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Harald Kuhl, who shares the following announcement from Ham Radio Friedrichshafen:

Radio silence due to coronavirus COVID-19: Ham Radio not taking place as planned
15.04.2020

Friedrichshafen – Due to current developments in regard to the spread of coronavirus COVID-19, Messe Friedrichshafen has been forced to make a very difficult decision: the international amateur radio exhibition Ham Radio will not be taking place in the planned period of June 26 to 28, 2020, but instead from June 25 to 27, 2021. The Federal Government and the Minister-Presidents of the Länder decided yesterday, April 15 that no major events shall take place until August 31, 2020.

“Due to current developments relating to the coronavirus, we have the unfortunate duty of announcing that we cannot hold the 45th edition of Ham Radio as planned,” explains Klaus Wellmann, Managing Director of Messe Friedrichshafen. In recent weeks, it was already necessary to make the same decision in regard to other events (Aqua-Fisch, IBO, AERO, Tuning World Bodensee, and Motorworld Classics Bodensee). Project Manager Petra Rathgeber also expressed her sadness about this turn of events: “We very much regret that this event cannot take place as planned. However, the health of all exhibitors and visitors is of utmost importance to us. Unfortunately, our trade fair calendar and the dates of other industry events leave no room for postponing this fair to another date this year.” Christian Entsfellner, Chair of the German Amateur Radio Club (DARC), adds: “Our members, domestic and foreign guests, and we ourselves have been hit hard by this decision, which now became necessary to make on short notice. Until we get together again in Friedrichshafen, we as amateur radio operators are looking forward to keeping in contact with one another using amateur radio.” However, radio amateurs do not have to do without everything the Ham Radio fair normally has to offer: On the Ham Radio website, exhibitors will be presenting product innovations in the form of a virtual trade fair. DARC will also be offering presentations there.

The exhibitors, visitors, and partners involved are currently being informed about this opportunity.

Thank you for sharing this, Harald! Not a surprising development, but sad nonetheless. I assume Covid-19 might also lead to the closure of Ham Fair 2020 in Tokyo.

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The meager “benefits” of Covid-19 from an SWL’s perspective

The Tecsun PL-680

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Langley, who shares the following note:

One of the benefits of the Covid-19 pandemic, as if there are any real benefits of a pandemic, is serendipitous programming on SW. I speak in particular of the ERT Proto Programma now airing on the Voice of Greece. As noted today (14 April), here in NB, on 9420 kHz tuning in around 19:50 UTC or so, there was classical opera being broadcast and after the news at 20:00 UTC, we were treated to “Musical Choices by Elena Maraka,” which is an eclectic music program of jazz and blues (funk, etc.). Nice. By the way, in a couple of hours, Proto Programma joins the Second Program (Deftero Programma).

Thank you, Richard, for sharing this note. Just one more reason 9420 kHz is a preset on all of my digital receivers.

And, you’re right: there are no real benefits of a pandemic. Still, it is fascinating from a listener’s perspective to hear how it changes the content of our shortwave landscape.

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Covid-19: As people tune to local news, radio sales are soaring

I just received word from a trusted friend who is a radio industry insider working with both manufacturers and retailers around the world. He said that in the month of March, 2020, radio sales increased “dramatically.”

I’m not at all surprised, in fact, because the number of email inquiries I’ve received from first time SWLing Post readers has also increased dramatically. It’s quite difficult for me to keep up with the influx of correspondence.

Folks are looking for an additional source of information to either supplement or backup their Internet news outlets.

As we mentioned in a previous post, this is local radio’s time to shine.

I’ve been listening to local AM stations much more recently and find that (at least the ones that are still locally-owned) have relevant up-to-date information about community news and resources while everyone here is sheltering at home. It takes me back to my youth when AM stations were truly *the* place people turned for information during severe weather events or other natural disasters.

I’ve been answering so many similar inquiries the past three or four weeks, I’m working on a post to help those who are looking for a reliable, affordable radio to receive local news, weather, and information. Of course, I’ll throw a shortwave radio option in there, too.

I believe this uptick in radio purchases no doubt points to the fact that fewer and fewer families have even one AM/FM radio in their home.

What AM/FM radio(s) would you recommend in this case? I’m trying to keep my selections limited and and the price between $10 – $90 US. I’m also highlighting radios that are currently in production, simple to operate, and have good battery life.

Also, have you noticed more engaging news via your local radio stations? Please comment!

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Amateur Radio Association of Nebraska 3D print face shields for healthcare workers

Many thanks to the Southgate ARC for sharing this brilliant story.  Kudos to the Amateur Radio Association of Nebraska for their ingenuity in time of need:

KSNB TV News reports on an Amateur Radio group that is pitching in to make face shields for healthcare workers

The news story says:

With a national shortage of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, people are doing what they can to fulfill the orders. When they heard of the need, some members of the Amateur Radio Association of Nebraska looked at each other and found a way they could help. Now with people outside of the group helping, too, they are using 3D printers to create face shields.

Their 3D printers have been running all day for over a week now. Volunteers across the Tri-Cities are quickly making face shields for hospitals and clinics who need to serve the public. The shield is a simple frame design with a plastic cover. The cover can be quickly changed out or reused.

“Material-wise we have pennies on the dollar for these things so we want to make sure our healthcare workers and everybody involved in the field are safe and so we’re doing what we can to help,” Amateur Radio Assoc. President Allen Harpham WD0DXD said.

The frames are printed, but the shield part is actually recycled overhead projector sheets from schools. They have gotten thousands of sheets donated to them from schools in central Nebraska who have no other use for them anymore.

Amateur radio fans also often have their hands in other kinds of tech.
So that’s why the idea came so easy to them.

“To be able to put that knowledge to use to help out is just great,” Harpham said. “I can’t say enough about that and it’s kind of the way for the amateur radio people that’s the way we’ve always been.”

Watch the TV News report at
https://www.ksnblocal4.com/content/news/Amateur-radio-group-pitches-in-to-make-face-shields-for-healthcare-workers-569367411.html

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“BBC to provide free DAB radios to over-70s”

(Source: IBC via Tony Robbins)

  • BBC Radio to provide free DAB radios to over-70s
  • Radios to be given away due to isolation caused by coronavirus
  • Broadcaster partners manufacturers, retailers and charity for giveaway

The broadcaster’s local radio unit will give away free DAB radio units to over-70s nominated by local listeners, as part of the BBC’s Make a Difference campaign.

The project is running across all 39 of the BBC’s local radio stations in England, with partners – including Argos, Currys PC World, John Lewis & Partners, Pure and Roberts Radio – setting aside thousands of radios to give away.

The radios will be distributed by loneliness charity Wavelength, while manufacturer Duracell has agreed to provide batteries for free for the radios.

Tony Hall, the outgoing director-general of the BBC, said: “Local radio is a lifeline at this time and has never been more important as a source of trusted local news and information, and also as a companion for people who are isolating.

”Make A Difference is already having a huge impact right across the country with 28,000 thousand calls in just five days. It is offering support and practical solutions to people who have nowhere else to turn.

“We want everyone who needs access to the radio to have it, that’s why we’re giving away DAB radios. I’m proud we’ve been able to coordinate this initiative with our partners who have been so generous in offering their resources.”[…]

Click here to read the full article.

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