I’ve been on the coast of South Carolina enjoying a little R&R with my wonderful family.
We rented a vacation home on a tidal river just south of Charleston, SC and it was just what the doctor ordered. The location was gorgeous, the weather was amazing, and there was very little RF interference outside our home.
The best part? We had full access to a private dock.
I took a few portable radios on vacation (ahem…obviously!) but I so thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Belka-DX.
If you haven’t gathered already, I really appreciate simple radios for field operation and it doesn’t get much more simple than the Belka-DX or Belka-DSP.
The radio is so incredibly compact, durable, and a pleasure to operate–especially if cruising the broadcast bands.
On the dock, I didn’t have a place to easily hang a wire antenna, so I used the supplied telescoping whip antenna. It served me well on a number of listening sessions.
As 13dka pointed out in his brilliant review of the Belka-DSP, the Belka radios are so compact, yet pack so much performance, they smack of a little spy radio! On top of that, the chassis is incredibly durable. I can’t tell you how much I love this. My Belka receiver has been living in my EDC bag in a small zippered pouch.
I barely notice it in my bag–it take up almost no space and weighs so little–but in the back of my mind I know I have a portable DXing machine everywhere I go.
I have no fear of being damaged in my bag, either–the chassis protects it so well.
Yesterday [Saturday, November 14, 2020] my family decided to make an impromptu trip to one of our favorite spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Richland Balsam–the highest point on the BRP.
Of course, it was a good opportunity to fit in a Parks On The Air (POTA) activation, but I had also hoped to activate Richland Balsam for Summits On The Air (SOTA) simultaneously.
It being well beyond leaf-looking season, we had hoped the BRP would be relatively quiet, but we were wrong.
Trail heads were absolutely jam-packed and overflowing with visitors and hikers. We’ve noticed a sharp hiker uptick this year in western North Carolina due in no small part to the Covid-19 pandemic. People see hiking as a safe “social-distance” activity outdoors, but ironically, hiker density on our single-track trails is just through the roof. One spends the bulk of a hike negotiating others on the trail.
The trail head to Richland Balsam was no exception. Typically, this time of year, we’d be the only people parked at the trail head but yesterday it was nearly parked full.
Being natives of western North Carolina, we know numerous side-trails and old logging/service roads along the parkway, so we picked one of our favorites very close to Richland Balsam.
We hiked to the summit of a nearby ridge line and I set up my POTA station with the “assistance” of Hazel who always seems to know how to get entangled in my antenna wires.
“I’m a helper dog!”
Taking a break from using the Icom IC-705, I brought my recently reacquired KX1 field radio kit.
I carried a minimal amount of gear on this outing knowing that there would be hiking involved. Everything easily fit in my GoRuck Bullet Ruck backpack (including the large arborist throw line) with room to spare.
I took a bit of a risk on this activation: I put faith in the wire antenna lengths supplied with my new-to-me Elecraft KX1 travel kit. I did not cut these wires myself, rather, they are the lengths a previous owner cut, wound, and labeled for the kit.
With my previous KX1, I knew the ATU was pretty darn good at finding matches for 40, 30, and 20 meters on short lengths of wire, so I threw caution to the wind and didn’t pack an additional antenna option (although I could have hiked back to the car where I had the CHA MPAS Lite–but that would have cut too much time from the activation).
I didn’t use internal batteries in the KX1, rather, I opted for my Bioenno 6 aH LiFePo battery which could have easily powered the KX1 the entire day.
I deployed the antenna wire in a nearby (rather short) tree, laid the counterpoise on the ground, then tried tuning up on the 40 meter band.
The ATU was able to achieve a 2.7:1 match, but I don’t like pushing QRP radios above a 2:1 match if I don’t have to. I felt the radiator wire was pretty short (although I’ve yet to measure it), so clipping it would only make it less resonant on 40 meters.
Instead, I moved up to the 20 meter band where I easily obtained a 1:1 match.
I started calling CQ POTA and within a couple of minutes snagged two stations–then things went quiet.
Since I was a bit pressed for time, I moved to the 30 meter band where, once again, I got a 1:1 match.
I quickly logged one more station (trusty N3XLS!) then nothing for 10 minutes.
Those minutes felt like an eternity since I really wanted to make this a quick activation. I knew, too, that propagation was fickle; my buddy Mike told me the Bz numbers had gone below negative two only an hour before the activation. I felt like being stuck on the higher bands would not be to my advantage.
Still, I moved back up to 20 meters and try calling again.
Then some radio magic happened…
Somehow, a propagation path to the north west opened up and the first op to answer my call was VE6CCA in Alberta. That was surprising! Then I worked K3KYR in New York immediately after.
It was the next operator’s call that almost made me fall off my rock: NL7V in North Pole, Alaska.
In all of my years doing QRP field activations, I’ve never had the fortune of putting a station from Alaska in the logs. Alaska is a tough catch on the best of days here in North Carolina–it’s much easier for me to work stations further away in Europe than in AK.
Of all days, I would have never anticipated it happening during this particular activation as I was using the most simple, cheap antenna possible: two thin random lengths of (likely discarded) wire.
People ask why I love radio? “Exhibit A”, friends!
After working NL7V I had a nice bunch of POTA hunters call me. I logged them as quickly as I could.
I eventually moved back to 30 meters to see if I could collect a couple more stations and easily added five more. I made one final CQ POTA call and when there was no answer, I quickly sent QRT de K4SWL and turned off the radio.
I still can’t believe my three watts and a wire yielded a contact approximately 3,300 miles (5311 km) away as the crow flies.
This is what I love about field radio (and radio in general): although you do what you can to maximize the performance of your radio and your antenna, sometimes propagation gives you a boost when you least expect it. It’s this sense of wireless adventure and wonder that keeps me hooked!
For years now I’ve attempted to get decent reception of LRA36 Radio Nacional Arcángel San Gabriel in Antarctica. At times, I’ve been able to barely hear their AM signal here in North Carolina–at least, see it as a faint line on my spectrum display and barely hear audio rise above the noise. But in truth I could never confirm anything more than “male voice” and “music” thus never bothered with a report in good faith.
Recently, we’ve posted announcements for a series of test broadcasts from LRA36 in single sideband (SSB). Two weekends ago, I couldn’t receive a single inkling of their signal, but this past Saturday, I finally heard the station well enough to submit a detailed report and recording in confidence.
I had actually set my SDR to record 20 kHz of spectrum at home while I made my first CW POTA activation at the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway. A pop-up storm chased me away from the POTA site and it worried me that I had left my SDR running and connected to the antenna. Fortunately, none of the small thunder storms were directly over my home. Although there was heavy QRN due to local pop-up thunderstorms, their signal was there.
The following sample recording starts at 17:51 UTC (July 25, 2020) on 15476 kHz. It’s weak signal DX for sure, but interpretable. I made the recording with my WinRadio Excalibur SDR hooked up to a large Skyloop antenna. This clip starts with the song Juana Azurduy by Mercedes Sosa:
I’m so chuffed to add the LRA36 QSL to my collection! Broadcasting in SSB made all the difference!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Bill Hemphill (WD9EQD), who shares the following guest post:
My First DX Contest
by Bill Hemphill, WD9EQD
Being a recent new member of NJARC, this is my first time competing in this contest. I have always been a big fan of BCB DXing and have recently got back into it – especially with the amateur radio bands being in such poor conditions. The acquisition of a couple of Loop antennas plus two Panasonic RF-2200 radios have just enhanced my enjoyment.
For the contest, I used two completely different radios. First was the RF-2200 and second was a spur of the moment creation.
The RF-2200 was its usual good performer. While the RF-2200 has a beautiful built-in rotating bar antenna, I enhanced it with the 27” Torus-Tuner Loop Antenna as made by K3FDY, Edmund Wawzinski. I think I had picked this antenna up at one of NJARC’s swap meets. So I wish to thank whoever it was that was nice enough to bring it and sell it at the meet. I have really enjoyed using it. With this setup, I was hoping that I might be able to pull in Denver, Salt Lake City and maybe even a Mexican station, but it was a complete bust on them. But I did have a nice surprise in receiving the Cuban station Radio Enciclopedia on 530 in addition to the usual Radio Reloj time signal station. Following is photo of it in operation:
Originally, I had thought that my second contest entry would be done with a 1962 Sony TR-910T three-band transistor radio. This radio has a fairly wide dial along with a second fine-tuning knob which would be a big help. I would have again used the 27” hula-hoop antenna.
But I made the nice mistake of running across Dave Schmarder’s Makearadio website:
Dave’s site is a wonderful resource for creating your own Crystal, Tube, and Solid State radios as well as Audio Amplifiers and Loop Antennas. While going down the rabbit hole of his site, I ran across his Loop Crystal Set, #19 Crystal Radio:
It was a really nicely constructed, nice swivel base.
I replaced the tuning capacitor with one that has a 6:1 ratio.
At this point I started thinking that I could create something similar with my loop.
I randomly grabbed a diode from my parts box. Not sure what the exact model is. (I later found out that it was an IN-34 which is what I was hoping it was.) Then quickly soldered the diode, a resistor and capacitor to a RCA plug:
I then proceeded to use some jumper cables and just clip it to the tuning capacitor on the antenna base:
The RCA plug was then the audio out (I hope) from the radio.
I quickly realized that I did not have a crystal headset or any headset that would reproduce any audio. So I used an old Marantz cassette recorder to act as an amplifier. Fed it into the mic jack and then tried to listen to the monitor out. Bingo – I could pick up or local station on 1340 really weak.
So I then fed the audio from the Marantz into a Edirol digital recorder. Now I was getting enough audio for the headphones plus could make a recording of the audio.
At last I was receiving some signals. To boost the audio some more I removed the resistor from the circuit.
I found out the I could only tune from about 530 to 1350. I probably needed to clip the lead on one of the loop turns, but I really wanted to see how it would do at night. I spent several hours and was just totally amazed at how well it performed and how good the audio was. The hardest part was when there were very strong signals on the adjacent frequency. What I found really interesting was that it was not linear in its tuning. At the low end of the band the stations were more spread out than at the higher end. This made tuning fairy easy at the low end and very touchy at the high end. I was able to hear a couple of Chicago stations along with Atlanta and St. Louis.
Here’s photo of it in action:
I have created an audio file of the station ID’s heard with the diode/loop radio. The audio file is on the Internet Archive at:
I had a lot of fun in the contest and especially enjoyed trying something really different with the diode/loop radio. Now I have a whole year to try to think up something really creative for next year’s contest.
Absolutely brilliant, Bill! I’m so happy to see that your ham fest homebrew loop has served you so very well in a contest. I love how you pulled audio from your homebrew, make-shift diode radio as well–using your audio gear in a chain for amplification obviously worked very well.
I have enjoyed three to four medium wave and shortwave DXpeditions per year since 1988, to sites on the Washington and Oregon coasts. I love the chance they give to experiment with antennas in a (hopefully!) noise-free location, and concentrate on catching stations that might not be heard from home.
All of my DX trips have been via car–until now! I’ve just returned from nine vacation days in Hawaii (Waikoloa Beach, on the Big Island), and I thought others might like to see the radio related items I chose to take along for air travel. I’m pleased to report that everything worked as planned, and I have five days of SDR IQ WAV files of the MW band for review, all recorded in the time frame surrounding local dawn.
My goal was not the smallest, most compact portable setup, but one with high performance and modest size. Fitting everything into a day pack was another requirement. A simple wire antenna and an even smaller Windows tablet or laptop than the one I’ve used (and a smaller SDR like the HF+ Discovery, for that matter) would make a much smaller package. However, the items I’ve assembled worked excellently for me during my enjoyable Hawaii vacation. The directional loop antenna provided nulls on medium wave of 30 dB during preliminary tests indoors, a less-than-ideal test situation.
Waikoloa Beach–just one of a zillion picturesque scenes in Hawaii.
Here is a list of what I’ve put together for my DXing “kit”:
Short USB cable for receiver<>PC connection, with two RFI chokes installed
Lenovo X1 tablet— a Windows 10 device with magnetically attached keyboard; this model is a competitor to Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet
Wellbrook Communications’ ALA1530 head amp module, modified for female SO239 connectors enabling use of large diameter LMR-600 coaxial cable as a 2-turn loop element. My antenna setup is similar to Wellbrook’s commercial flexible loop
Wooden base for the antenna (ALA1530 is bolted to the base)
20 feet of lightweight RG-174 coax
Wellbrook DC interface module for the ALA1530
3.0 Ah LiFePO4 rechargeable battery for the Wellbrook antenna
15 foot long section of high grade “Times Mfg.” LMR-600 coax cable with PL259 connectors (bought from Ebay already assembled/soldered)
Fold-up beach mat
Small day pack to hold everything
All the contents of this DXing setup fit a standard size day pack.
You’ll note the absence of headphones in the list. This is because my intent from the start was to record all the DX (MW band) as SDR WAV files for DXing post-vacation. That said, I did have headphones in my travel luggage for later spot checks of a few frequencies. That’s how I found 576 kHz Yangon, Myanmar lurking at their 1700 sign-off with national anthem and English announcement. The remainder of the DX to be uncovered will have to wait until I’m back home near Seattle!
The LMR-600 is a very thick and stiff coax cable, whose diameter approaches that used in the standard aluminum tubing ALA1530 series from Wellbrook. It has the benefit of being self-supporting in a 2-turn configuration and will also coil up into an approx. 12-inch package for transport. It just barely fits within the day pack I’m using. As I understand it, magnetic loops with tubing or large coax as the active element, versus simple wire, are more efficient in operation. Whether or not this holds true in practice remains to be seen.
I fashioned a wooden disc 3/4″ thick to attach the ALA1530 head amplifier, as I didn’t want to bring along a tripod or other support stand. The Wellbrook antennas all work well near or at ground level, so I was able to get great reception with the antenna right on the beach. The diameter at two turns of the coax is only a few inches smaller diameter than Wellbrook’s aluminum tubing loops. Three strips of strategically placed Velcro straps help keep the turns together when deployed as well as during storage.
In theory a two-turn loop should give 5 dB less gain than a single turn version; however, my older ALA1530 module has 5 dB more gain than the newer “LN” type, according to Andrew Ikin of Wellbrook Communications. The net result is that my two-turn antenna should have equal gain to the larger one-turn variety. Future experimentation with this DIY coax loop antenna is in order!
The Wellbrook loop antenna, RSPdx receiver, and Windows 10 tablet on the beach in Waikoloa, Hawaii.
Another view of the DXing position. Being this close to the water with my radio gear was unnerving at first, but the wave action on a calm Hawaii beach is totally different from the Oregon/Washington beaches with waves that can move in and out by a hundred feet or more.
The Wellbrook “DIY FlexLoop” works fine at beach level, and is less conspicuous this way, too.
The ALA1530 module is bolted to the 11-inch wooden disc for support. I’ve modified the module’s sockets to securely hold SO239 female connectors.
The commercial Wellbrook FLX1530LN is a fine product, and worthy of your consideration as a compact and high performance travel antenna. Full details can be found at this link.
SDR WAV Files for Download
One of my goals from the start for my Hawaii trip was to bring back SDR “IQ” WAV files for sharing with others. These approx. 900 Mb files cover the entire medium wave band as heard from my beach location in Waikoloa.
The overall page is: https://archive.org/details/@4nradio Clicking on any of the entries will bring you to a details page. From there just right click on the “WAVE” link, and choose “Save as…” to download. For a few of the recordings I also posted the file that precedes the one that goes across the top-of-the-hour, because things seemed a bit more lively prior to 1700 (which was at local sunrise, give or take a couple of minutes).
The IQ WAV files are only playable with suitable SDR radio software: SDRuno is first choice (but you need a RSP receiver connected). The files are also is compatible with HDSDR and SDR-Console V3. It may also play on Studio 1 software.
I hope other DXers enjoy the chance to tune through the MW band, as heard from the Big Island of Hawaii.
Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington. He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Giuseppe Morlè, who writes:
I’m Giuseppe Morlè, iz0gzw, from Formia, central Italy on the Tyrrhenian Sea … this is what I managed to hear about the 40 years of transmission of LRA 36 from the Antarctic Argentina to 15,476 …
I took two receivers and two different antennas to the sea … the Kenwood R1000 was connected to my tested “Simil beverage on salt Ground” with salt water tip and the Tecsun PL-660 to my Loop Mea Casali self-built …
Both antennas are directed to SSW where we find the LRA36 station …
The main problem was the boring and tragic Chinese Jammer that strongly raged on 15.470 until 15.00 UTC and then calmed down a bit so I could hear the last part of the transmission with fading and spoken female and male in Spanish …
On the Tecsun and the loop I have not found the station …but on my Kenwood R1000 and my similar beverage on salt grond I listened to about 13 minutes of final transmission.
You can watch the video on my YouTube channel at the link:
Thanks to you and a warm greeting from Italy.
Giuseppe Morlè iz0gzw.
Wow! Great catch, Giuseppe! I understand the Chinese jammer made it difficult, but obviously your antennas did the trick. I tried to catch the same broadcast from home, but only received a very faint signal. Most of the audio was lost in the noise.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Martin Butera, who shares the following announcement for a new radio enthusiast group in Brazil:
The new 15 point 61 Crew
São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil, the Americas, and the seventh largest in the world, with a population of 11,300,000.
This was the stage for the meeting between Ivan Dias da Silva Junior (a recognized Brazilian radio listener with more than 27 years of experience and founder of the Regional DX) and his colleague, Martin Butera (a renowned amateur radio operator (LU9EFO – PT2ZDX), with 29 years of experience and currently a correspondent journalist for the British Dx Club, covering information from South America for the radio newsletter “Communication”).
The place of the meeting was not an accidental: we met in a noted coffee bar in the Republic Square–an iconic meeting point in São Paulo. Republic Square is located in the city center and is one of the most visited places in Brazil.
We founded the 15 point 61 Crew in São Paulo, on September 3, 2019.
The 15 point 61 Crew is not a DX club, nor a formal registered organization. We are just an informal group who like DXing.
What is the meaning behind our name? The number 15 is the dialing code of Sorocaba and 61 is the Brasília code, joining the two cities where the Crew founders are based–a distance of more than 900 km (Brazil is a huge country!).
The 15.61 Crew doesn’t have political or religious objectives. Our main objective is DXing, with an emphasis on organizing related activities: mainly DXcamps to be held in distant and exotic places, and bringing a new panorama of what is shared about DXing in our country.
We don’t have any kind of administration positions. The 15.61 Crew members are and always will be in equals.
To be a member of 15.61 Crew you just need to be active in our hobby, share information, write items, go with us to DXcamps, develop technical projects, etc.
As we aren’t a DXing club or organization, we will not have a website nor social media. We will share micro-books, especially about our activities through existing media, like the SWLing Post by our friend, Thomas Witherspoon, and by ourselves, because at the moment we are members of other radio related bulletin boards.
Our communication will be through an email address and a Paypal account for those who want to help us to continue developing our activities and also provide feedback on other projects (such as sharing content with other websites, thus creating a virtual collaboration for all).
For this purpose, we are currently developing several projects, such as a 15.61 Crew certificate program and different materials, such as caps, shirts, mugs, etc.
The 15.61 Crew members believe that there are so much things to be heard in the ether and we are prepared for it.
Ivan Dias da Silva Junior & Martin Butera
(15.61 Crew founders)
São Paulo, September 3, 2019
Thank you for sharing this Martin! I hope the 15.61 Crew enjoys some great success and champions a dynamic DX community! If you’re interested in joining this South American crew, contact Martin Butera.
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