I’m very honored to be featured with my good friend Wlodek (US7IGN) in a short radio documentary on BBC Radio 4 today.
Wlodek is long-time reader and subscriber here on the SWLing Post and QRPer.com. Wlodek lives in Kiev, Ukraine and we keep in touch these days over email. Like me, he is passionate about field radio work and before the Russian invasion, you’d often find him in nearby forests experimenting with some pretty impressive field antennas.
Sadly, when Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year, it very quickly brought an end to all of that for Wlod. Not only were amateur radio operators not allowed to transmit under the state of emergency, but it’s no longer safe to venture into nearby forests.
Radio producer, Cicely Fell, learned about our love of all things field radio and put together an audio piece that airs today on BBC Radio 4:
From the forests of North Carolina, USA to the city of Kyiv, Ukraine – two ham radio enthusiasts seek each other out and a voice from the past prompts a dialogue on listening between a rabbi and a radio producer.
You might have noticed a lack of posts this weekend and that would be because I was completely off-grid and off-line, camping with two good friends in Pisgah National Forest.
It was brilliant, actually. I got to hang with friends I’ve known for over 30 years, test my new one person backpack tent (a.k.a. the “Bear Burrito”–the one on the right above), and of course I played a bit of radio.
Black bears are a fact of life here in the mountains of western North Carolina and we spotted three hanging out within 25 meters of our campsite.
By the way: the trick when camping with bears? Don’t put food in your tent, else that whole “bear burrito” thing becomes a reality.
I had a fabulous time putting my Elecraft KX1 “Ruby” on the air. I made perhaps 15 contacts in CW (Morse Code) with 3 watts of power.
One of the cool things about the KX1 is you can change the mode to SSB and actually tune through several shortwave broadcast bands (if you have the three or four band version of the KX1). Of course, I had to do a little SWLing.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m also a proper coffee snob and I firmly believe coffee tastes better when brewed outdoors. Yesterday morning, I brewed a pot of Rock Creek French Roast.
Off-grid, off-line camping recharges my internal batteries and it’s for this reason, I’ll be doing a lot more this year with my family.
It’s is also a brilliant way to experience an environment without any forms of radio interference (QRM or RFI). If you want to do some proper DXing, take your radio on some primitive camping experiences. It’ll remind you what life was like before switching power supplies ruled the world!
If interested, I’ve now published both parts of my Anatomy of a Field Radio Kit series over on QRPer.com. This series was originally featured in the June and July 2021 issues of The Spectrum Monitor magazine. Here are links to both articles:
In addition to the loop inside the case with a 3-meter wire at one of the ends that join two telescoping style whips of one meter each short-circuited to take advantage of the entire length. At the other end of the loop, a cable that goes to the ground of the variable capacitor.
I can tune the whole range from 3 to 16 MHz with truly amazing results.
Thanks to you and all the friends of SWLing Post. Regards. 73. Giuseppe Morlè iz0gzw.
This is incredibly clever, Giuseppe! AS I mentioned before, I love how self-contained this makes the entire listening station and I especially love the built-in antenna options! This is truly a shack-in-a-case!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, 13dka, who shares the following guest post:
The IC-705 in action at the dike
When I got the IC-705 in late October 2020, I didn’t get that much chance to enjoy it at the dike: After a couple of initial tests and 2 nightly “FYBO” MW DX sessions in November, a way too long and wet winter struck the German North Sea coast, with nighttime temperatures recovering to 2-digit Celsius figures only in the past few weeks. I took the opportunity to do more experiments with loops, preamps and a phasing unit to improve the RFI-stricken reception at home, so I could at least listen to European hams on 80 and 40m raving about their new 705s and start to write my own musings about that lovely little radio, recently posted here.
June 1st, 202
Finally, acceptable temperatures at night! But they come with a downside: When I connected the vertical around 8:00pm (local time), it was still almost 2 hours before sunset and a lot of thunderstorms in Europe made even 14 MHz very noisy, my hopes for some nice catches were immediately taking a dive. A short scan of the bands brought up nothing special, the only notable thing being the CB and 10m bands being moderately open. I should’ve known better: As soon as the sun splashed into the ocean, grayline propagation worked its magic!
Grayline while receiving Japan, June 1st
As the image probably hints, a couple of Japanese “big guns” produced some nice, comfy signals on the monopole, in addition to the South American and Carribbean stations usually booming in here!
Video: A short collection of ham stations heard around midnight
After midnight I noticed a residue signal of WWV on 20 MHz and still a few EU beacons on 10m. Both incredibly weak with QSB making them disappear but that’s where the 705 really shines – it’s not only picking up these grassroots signals just fine, it shows me that they’re there, or that they were there – a waterfall display keeps on proving that a perceived lack of activity on a band is often pure bad luck – you can tune across an entire band without hearing anything because on each frequency with some activity there’s the other (inaudible to you) station speaking right now, QSB is dipping the signal just when you tune past it…
June 5/6, 2021
That evening the Japanese stations were missing on 20m, I thought I picked one up on 17m, and like so often, the one odd Australian station came in on 20m. After midnight I noticed the 10m beacons again, there were even a few more of them. This time I brought my Belka DSP to the dike so I could compare it with the IC-705, after all the Belka proved to be my most sensitive portable before! The devastating result is likely owed to the fact that the Belka is pretty picky about passive antennas not being matched very well to its input (which is much optimized for the whip) but it picked up diddly squat. If it isn’t a testimony for the sensitivity of the IC-705, it might be one for its aptitude to cope with all sorts of antennas.
Then I tuned into the 10m SSB range and I was veeeery surprised to hear VO1FOG from St. Johns, Canada! This is the first time I heard a transatlantic signal on 10m in a solar minimum ever, but it was with condx only elevated enough for some daytime DX within the EU…and literally in the middle of the night! The signal was very unstable though, he later switched to the 12m band which worked better. Back to what I said about the waterfall display above: Without it, I could’ve missed this station with a pretty high probability simply because I didn’t expect any activity up there, so I wouldn’t have tuned across that band for very long, and without seeing the signal while the VFO is already somewhere else…
I also heard another new country (Ecuador) in SSB, the usual collection of Carribbean islands and some participants of the “Museum Ships Weekend Event” including NI6IW, which is the vanity call of the history-charged USS Midway in San Diego. The “Japanese” station JW4GUA turned out to be on Svalbard island, with the main town Longyearbyen being the northernmost town in the world, only 650 miles from the north pole, and I don’t hear stations from there very often!
Video: June 5th
The past days saw the SFI passing 80 and 11/10m becoming quite busy. By the time I parked the car at the dike, SFI had dropped to 73. That evening the grayline confined itself to colorizing the horizon. 10m and 11m were still full of signals, I could still hear 2 British chaps chatting on 27 MHz at 3:00 in the morning, but nothing really “extraordinary” was coming in – the one odd VK, more Carribbean islands, one Argentinian but not much from other parts of South America, it never gets boring how this all defies predictability. But as always I heard most of the North American continent, not booming in much that night but I followed 2 POTA activations for a while, which are usually at most 100W stations working a lot of other “barefoot” stations and I heard almost all of them. In the morning grayline window for the west coast I finally got one solid signal from Oregon. All my radio life, the US west coast has been a tough target for some reason.
The signal had that typical “over the pole” sound, a relatively quick phasing imprinted into the signal by the charged particles converging over the pole, causing northern lights in the region and that exiting feeling when observing really big, planetary scale physics in realtime, over here at my listening post. The magic of shortwave. 🙂
After the post touting the IC-705 as a SWL/BCL receiver, demonstrating it on the broadcast bands seems mandatory to me. However, capturing cool BC DX is a very different business than waiting on the ham bands for interesting stations coming and going and collecting spectacular (-ish) results in a single night this way. Broadcast schedules have to be studied, current “hardcore” DX targets identified… and I have to admit that I’m out of that loop currently. Just turning the knob and recording whatever is populating the bands, and doing that between 21-22:00 UTC, when all programs are directed towards anywhere except Europe turned out to yield pretty boring results. Here it goes anyway:
Video: Browsing the most important BC bands
CONDX and antenna:
The antenna I was using in these videos was a simple wire running up a 10m/33′ fiberglass pole, forming a very archetypical “monopole” or “Marconi” antenna, just a vertical wire, no counterpoise, no matching network, no un-un, transformer or flux capacitor. I planned on using this to make some experiments about the practical benefits (for reception) of all the components it’s now lacking, but it already demonstrates that the beauty of receive-only antennas is that they often don’t require crazy efforts: On the conductive soil at the dike it works pretty well (good signals all over the bands and sufficiently low takeoff angle) as it is.
The evening and the 2 full nights at the dike once again had condx that nobody would phone home about:
SFI, A and 3-hourly K-indices while I was at the dike.
It’s not that these numbers always fully explain actual and current condx but decreasing SFI and rising A/K-indices mean low expectations. Despite the condx still characterized by the solar minimum that way, the location is always delivering proper DX for my radios. Unless stormy or severely unsettled geomagnetic conditions give DX a day off, there’s almost always something to take home, be it a new country, a rare island, unexpectedly loud signals from the other end of the planet at unusual times and/or on unusual bands or other ionospheric mysteries.
Speaking of location: These videos demonstrate the properties of that listening post as much as the capability of the IC-705 to harvest them, and they don’t put that into relation to other radios, so you have to rely on my word on this: Compared to what I brought to that place so far it’s jaw-droppingly good, but a big contributor to that is that only few of my other radios can really cope with the antennas I like to use out there in first place. A radio like the IC-705 is sure making the most out of location and antenna, but it’s not the key component because a low-noise location is everything, it always was and it is today more than ever. Without it, radios and antennas can’t really play their jokers.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, 13dka, who shares the following guest post:
The Icom IC-705: Is this really a new holy grail SWL/BCL receiver?
When Thomas got wind of its development in 2019 he immediately asked “could the Icom IC-705 be a shortwave listeners holy grail receiver?”. I usually wince a little when I hear “holy grail” because it means very different things to different people, it’s also a moving target with many people aiming at the spot where it was decades ago. But Thomas certainly had a very level-headed assembly of technical performance, quality and practicality requirements in mind when he used that term, and I thought he might be onto something!
There are some excellent, trustworthy reviews of the IC-705 out there. The following is not one of them, I just want to share an opinionated breakdown on why I think this is an interesting radio for SWLs/BCLs indeed, also deliberately ignoring that it’s actually a transceiver.
While the era of superhet/DSP-supported tabletop holy grails ended with the discontinuation and sell-off of the last survivors more than a decade ago, powerful PC-based SDR black boxes were taking over the mid-range segment and it became very slim pickings for standalone SWL receivers: Thomas just recently summed up the remaining options here.
Between the steady supply of inexpensive yet serviceable Chinese portables, upgraded with a least-cost version of DSP technology, and the remnants of the high end sector there’s very little left to put on the wish list for Santa – that doesn’t need to be paired with a computer that is.
No surprise that SWLs/BCLs in search of new quality toys with tangible controls are taking a squint over the fence to the ham transceiver market: Hams are still being served the best and the latest in radio technology in all shapes and sizes, and even entry-level rigs usually come with feature-rich general coverage receivers. But transceivers never had SWLs much in their focus in the past decades, and particularly not BCLs: Frontend adaptation, additional AM filters, switches and functions would’ve meant increasing costs and so transceivers were never perfected for that purpose. DSP and SDR technology allowed for improvements on that without actually adding (much) hardware and so some interesting alternatives surfaced in the past years, but most of them still come with little downers, at least for BCLs.
One year ago, I posted an article about making the most of social distancing as the world started locking down due to the rapid spread of Covid-19. Here in March 2021, the news is looking much better: vaccines are being distributed at a record pace across the globe and number of cases and deaths are mostly on the decline.
As I look back at the Social DX Bucket List I made last year, I’m happy to see that I actually accomplished about 64% of the goals I listed. I knew some of those goals would take well over a year to achieve (the QRP EME one especially).
In particular, I’m chuffed that I braved up and started doing Parks On the Air (POTA) and Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations in CW (Morse Code). That was a huge step for me and I’ll freely admit: I was nervous about it. But in July 2020, I managed to do my first CW activation and since then it has become my choice mode of operating in the field. CW is such a simple mode and so efficient–plus it gives me a sense of connection with the roots of radio communications.
I also accomplished a few things I never set out to do:
Both of my 13 year old daughters studied for and passed their Technician class exams. One just passed her General as well.
Not a typical radio year for me
In a “normal” year, I do way more SWLing than I do ham radio activity.
Last year, I started doing caregiving for my parents in my hometown–I’m typically there 2-3 days a week. While I’ve done shortwave listening and even a little MW DXing in my hometown, I typically don’t have a lot of time, especially in the evening hours. I just want to hit the sack early. QRM is also debilitating there and while I’d like to install a permanent Loop On Ground antenna to mitigate the noise (you heard that right, Andrea!) I’m not entirely sure I’d even have the dedicated listening time to justify it. When I’m there, I like to spend quality time with my folks.
In general, I’ve had much less free time. Indeed, if you’ve written to me via email, you’ll know this based on how long it’s taken me to reply. It can take several weeks especially if the reply requires a detailed response (which many do).
En route to, and on the way back from my hometown, I’ve found that doing park and summit activations has been very rewarding. Last year, I believe I completed a total of 82 park activations.
POTA has given me an excuse to explore public lands I’ve never visited before. Plus, I love nothing more than taking radios to the field–both receivers and transceivers.
Hamming and SWLing
At the end of the day, I’m an SWL and a ham radio operator. I find the two activities complimentary.
Side note: As I mentioned in my Winter SWL Fest presentation this year, it saddens me when I receive angry emails from readers after I post items that are ham radio related. We’ve upwards of 7,000-10,000 daily readers on the SWLing Post and the number of complaints are a teeny, tiny fraction of our readership. I only receive messages like this about once a month and they typically say something akin to “I don’t like the ham radio stuff, so if you don’t stop posting it, I’m leaving!” (FYI: That’s a real quote taken from the last one I received in January). I can only assume that at some point in the past, a ham radio operator has been a jerk to this and other radio enthusiasts. It’s a shame, too. I hate seeing the negative impact of one loud troll compared with the encouragement and support of much better people. All of my ham radio friends are not only supportive of SWLing, but almost all got their start in radio via the shortwaves. I’m certainly a case in point.
I love all things radio and I believe the SWLing Post is a reflection of that. If it offends you, then it might make sense to surf somewhere else.
Now where was I? Oh yeah…
POTA and SOTA outings have helped to satisfy some of my travel cravings as well. I miss going to radio conventions, hamfests, and especially traveling internationally with my family. We are a family who love national parks, forests, and other wildlife areas. Having an excuse to explore public lands we haven’t visited before has been amazing fun.
After POTA activations, I’ll often do a little SWLing since I already have an external antenna up and it’s typically connected to a good general coverage transceiver in a spot with zero RFI or QRM. I’ve especially enjoyed my DXing sessions with the superb Icom IC-705.
One indicator that I did less radio listening last year was the low number of recordings I made. I checked my audio folder recently and saw that I only made a couple dozen recordings–most were staple broadcasters, not rare or special DX.
At the end of the day, I realize that when I do SWLing sessions I like to have dedicated time–at least an hour or two–with headphones on, losing myself on the radio dial. I simply haven’t had many opportunities this past year to make that a reality.
That’s okay, though. The great thing about the shortwaves is that they’re always there, patiently waiting for us to dive back in!
I’m really not sure what’s in store for me this year, but I know it’ll involve a lot of radio time and that pleases me to no end. I’ve made a few fun goals, but my hope is that, by the end of the year, I may even be able to do some proper travel–maybe even take a flight!
I do know this: I have an even more profound appreciation for my radio enthusiasm as I realize it’s the perfect space to travel and explore the world no matter how “locked down” things are. Based on feedback from readers and contributors to this site, I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.
How about you?
Did your radio activity change or pivot this past year? Did you have more or less time to hit the airwaves? Please comment!
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