Tag Archives: Dave Porter

Radio Waves: Narco-Antennas, Pirate Radio Beginnings, Arqiva Restructure and Redundancies, and the Ghostly Buzzer

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 Skip Arey,  David Goren, Paul Evans, Kanwar Sandhu and Dave Porter for the following tips:


Special Report: Drug cartel ‘narco-antennas’ make life dangerous for Mexico’s cell tower repairmen (Reuters)

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The young technician shut off the electricity at a cellular tower in rural Mexico to begin some routine maintenance.

Within 10 minutes, he had company: three armed men dressed in fatigues emblazoned with the logo of a major drug cartel.

The traffickers had a particular interest in that tower, owned by Boston-based American Tower Corp (AMT.N), which rents space to carriers on its thousands of cellular sites in Mexico. The cartel had installed its own antennas on the structure to support their two-way radios, but the contractor had unwittingly blacked out the shadowy network.

The visitors let him off with a warning.

“I was so nervous… Seeing them armed in front of you, you don’t know how to react,” the worker told Reuters, recalling the 2018 encounter. “Little by little, you learn how to coexist with them, how to address them, how to make them see that you don’t represent a threat.”

The contractor had disrupted a small link in a vast criminal network that spans much of Mexico. In addition to high-end encrypted cell phones and popular messaging apps, traffickers still rely heavily on two-way radios like the ones police and firefighters use to coordinate their teams on the ground, six law enforcement experts on both sides of the border told Reuters.[]

How Pirate Radio Rocked the 1960s Airwaves and Still Exists Today (HowStuffWorks)

If you’ve been binge-watching movies lately, you may have come across “Pirate Radio.” Director Richard Curtis’ 2009 comedy-drama stars the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as The Count, a disc jockey for an unlicensed rock radio station that broadcast from a rusty, decrepit ship off the British coast in the mid-1960s, defying government authorities to spin the rock records that weren’t allowed on the BBC at the time. The plot is based loosely on the saga of an actual former pirate station, Radio Caroline, that was founded by an offbeat Irish entrepreneur named Ronan O’Rahilly, the inspiration for the character portrayed by Bill Nighy.

“Pirate Radio” is a period piece, set in a time when the Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and the Who’s “My Generation” were still scandalous and controversial rather than nostalgic anthems for today’s aging baby boomers. So you couldn’t be blamed for assuming that it depicts a long-vanished phenomenon, like Nehru jackets with iridescent scarves and psychedelic-patterned paper mini dresses.

To the contrary, though, more than a half-century later, pirate radio is still a thing. In fact, it’s possibly more widespread than it was in the 1960s, even in an age when streaming internet services such as Spotify and Pandora put the equivalent of a jukebox in the pocket of everyone with a smartphone. And as a bonus, Radio Caroline still exists — though, ironically, it’s gone legal.[]

Arqiva confirms restructure and redundancies (IBC.org)

[Note: Arqiva is the UK domestic broadcast transmission provider.]

Arqiva is working on a restructure of its business that could result in a third of its staff being made redundant.

According to a report in the Telegraph, the media infrastructure business is preparing to cut around 500 staff, which is approximately a third of its workforce.

An Arqiva spokesperson confirmed to IBC365 that some job losses will occur.

They said: “The sale of our telecoms business makes Arqiva a smaller organisation, changes our revenue profile and reduces our available profit pool.

”We are therefore conducting a review of the costs and systems we need to run our business over the next three years.

”Regrettably, we will need to reduce the size of our workforce, but it’s much too early to speculate about numbers.”

The Telegraph report cites the shift to streaming and a drop in income for broadcasters as reasons for the potential cuts.[]

The ghostly radio station that no one claims to run (BBC Future)

In the middle of a Russian swampland, not far from the city of St Petersburg, is a rectangular iron gate. Beyond its rusted bars is a collection of radio towers, abandoned buildings and power lines bordered by a dry-stone wall. This sinister location is the focus of a mystery which stretches back to the height of the Cold War.

It is thought to be the headquarters of a radio station, “MDZhB”, that no-one has ever claimed to run. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the last three-and-a-half decades, it’s been broadcasting a dull, monotonous tone. Every few seconds it’s joined by a second sound, like some ghostly ship sounding its foghorn. Then the drone continues.

Once or twice a week, a man or woman will read out some words in Russian, such as “dinghy” or “farming specialist”. And that’s it. Anyone, anywhere in the world can listen in, simply by tuning a radio to the frequency 4625 kHz.

It’s so enigmatic, it’s as if it was designed with conspiracy theorists in mind. Today the station has an online following numbering in the tens of thousands, who know it affectionately as “the Buzzer”. It joins two similar mystery stations, “the Pip” and the “Squeaky Wheel”. As their fans readily admit themselves, they have absolutely no idea what they are listening to.[…]


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Example of a manual wavechange at BBC Skelton A Transmitter

By Michael Whitfield, CC BY-SA 2.0

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dave Porter (G4OYX), who shares the following:

Here’s Steve Gale in the late 80’s or early 90’s starting a wavechange on a Marconi BD272 250 kW sender at SKA.

There were eventually 11 of these senders at the BBC Skelton A site.

The first pic is the Final RF amplifier output stage with the 15/17 MHz coil being in situ. It sits between the two anodes of the output tubes.

Below the anode coil sits the coupling coil and it is on a motorised deck, that can be moved backwards and forwards on power to couple up to the required power output.

Steve is just starting the band change as he is wearing the leather gauntlets because after a transmission the coils are very hot.

Both the anode and coupling coils will be removed and replaced by those for the next required frequency.

A fifteen minute period was allocated by the BBC WS Schedule Department to accomplish a band change though two of us could do them in about eight minutes if pushed!

The picture below shows Steve starting to remove one of the pair of the 3-turn 40 kW Penultimate stage to Final stage coupling coils, again he is wearing the gauntlets. A different coil will be used for the next band.

The three turn coil covered 9, 11 and 15 MHz.

All those senders have gone now at Skelton.

Two are still in use at Woofferton and some in Singapore.

Thanks so much for sharing this glimpse into a working shortwave radio transmitting station, Dave! There’s nothing QRP about those transmitters and I bet those coils got incredibly hot!

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Radio Marti has cancelled programming at VOA Greenville site

Control room at the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station near Greenville, NC.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dave Porter, who shares the following news item from Glenn Hauser’s World of Radio:

Radio Marti has cancelled all programming via Greenville between 0400 and 1000 UTC effective from 2 May. During this period the only transmission left from Greenville is 0600-0630 VOA French on 9885. This may be the beginning of the end for Greenville. (Glenn Hauser WOR)

Thanks for sharing this, Dave. Sad news, indeed. The Greenville site has stared shutdowns in the face a number of times in the past and survived. This year, in particular, could be a challenge with Covid-19 affecting broadcasting budgets across the globe and with the current US administration not showing much love for the VOA.

We’ll follow this closely and post updates when available.

If you’d like to check out photo tours of the Greenville site, click here to read a 2012 article I originally published in The Monitoring Times magazine, and click here for a photo tour published last year.

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Behind-the-scenes film of BBC Rampisham Down site circa 1961

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dave Porter, who shares a link to the following BBC Archive video of BBC RMP circa 1961. The BBC posted this video in light of the recent demolition of all but one of the original Rampisham Down towers.

Click here to watch the video on Facebook.

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Knock John Sea Fort and life on Fort Roughs

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dave Porter, who writes:

This is a recent posting of a trip out to the Knock John Fort and also of a new book about life on a sister fort, Roughs Tower.

Report – – Knock John Sea Fort – May 2018 | Noteworthy Report

The fort is still dry inside. This was the home of R Essex and the RCA ET4336 + T aerial. When Bates closed Essex they moved to the Roughs.

Check Amazon for the book “Holding the Fort” by Bates son [affiliate link]. It’s a hardback book and is excellent. An early Christmas present!! Plenty of pics and Sealand as well plus their TX and studio.

Fascinating!  Thank you for sharing this, Dave!

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Brilliant radio song by Van Morrison: “In The Days Before Rock’n’Roll”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dave Porter, who writes:

After some 20 years I have rediscovered this radio song by the UK northern Irish singer Van Morrison.

“In The Days Before Rock’n’Roll”

There are some great TX station names in the song! It’s a full 8 minutes long….

Take a listen…

Click here to view/listen on YouTube.

I don’t think I’ve heard this song in twenty years or more. Thank you for sharing this, Dave!

I’ll have to add Van Morrison to the list of radio influenced musicians we’ve featured in the past, including:

Post Readers: Do you know of any other musicians who were influenced by the shortwaves?  Please comment and share links to their work!

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