Tag Archives: Field Radio

Can’t receive anything on your new shortwave radio–? Read this.

This morning, I received a question from Andrew, an SWLing Post reader in the UK.  Andrew writes:

May I ask a question please? I am very much a newbie to this. I am not really interested in FM, but I would like to listen to international stations on SW, utilities stations, amateur broadcasts and if possible, local airports, aircraft on air band.

I have just purchased a Tecsun PL-680 and have tried it inside my home with the telescopic and wire aerial that came with it, plugged into the antenna port and clipped to a point near the ceiling. All inside the house and the wire aerial did improve the reception, but I get hardly and channels either during the day or night.

Grateful for your detailed advice on what I need to do exactly to improve the number of stations I can receive.

Kind regards
Andrew

Thank you for your question, Andrew, and I hope you don’t mind that I share it here on the SWLing Post as I receive this question so frequently from new shortwave radio enthusiasts.

Of course, a number of things could be affecting your shortwave radio reception and there is, of course, the possibility the receiver is faulty–however, this is very unlikely. Let’s talk about what is most likely the culprit:

Radio Frequency Interference (RFI)

RFI is quite often the elephant in the listening room. It’s not always immediately obvious–especially if you’re new to shortwave listening.

RFI (also known as QRM) is radio noise that is created locally and often concentrated in our homes and neighborhoods. RFI deafens our shortwave radios by overwhelming the receiver with strong spurious signals. Even if you can’t hear the noise, it could still be overwhelming your receiver from a different portion of the band.

RFI can emanate from most any modern electronic or digital device in your home: televisions, power supplies, dimmer switches, smart appliances, and even computer hard drives. Honestly, most any device could be the culprit.

These “Wall Wart” type adapters can create a lot of RFI

RFI can also be caused by power line noises outdoors which have a much larger noise footprint and typically require intervention from your local utilities company/municipality.

In all likelihood, though, it’s a noise inside your home.

There’s a quick way to determine if RFI is the culprit:

Take your radio outdoors, away from the noise

Depending on where you live, this might only require walking with your radio to the far end of your garden/yard, or it might require hopping in your car and visiting a local park. The idea is to find a spot far removed from houses and buildings, outdoor lighting, and even power lines if possible.

Once you find a listening spot, turn on your portable and tune through some of the popular shortwave radio bands.

If in the late afternoon or evening, I like tuning through either the 31 meter band (9,400–9,900 kHz), 41 meter band (7,200–7,450 kHz) and, if late evening, the 49 meter band (5,900–6,200 kHz). Jot down the frequencies where you hear stations and perhaps even make notes about the signal strength. Then go back home and see if you can receive as many stations. Shortwave stations change frequencies often, but if you listen from home at the same time the following evening, the radio landscape should be similar.

My guess is that you’ll hear many more stations in the field than you can from within your home.

Living with RFI

Sadly, RFI is just a fact of life in this century. It’s very hard to escape, especially for those of us living in dense urban areas. This is one of the reasons I’m such a big fan of taking radios to the field.

There are things you can do to improve reception and I would encourage you to read through this post from our archives (the first two points in the article directly address RFI). Do your best to track down sources of noise and eliminate them.

If you find that, even in the field, your shortwave receiver can’t receive stations with the antenna fully extended, then it may indeed be an issue with the radio itself and you might need to send it back to the manufacturer or retailer if it’s within the return window.

Post readers: If you have other suggestions, feel free to comment!


Do you enjoy the SWLing Post?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

Your support makes articles like this one possible. Thank you!

Spread the radio love

Assembling a new compact field radio kit in the Red Oxx Booty Boss

The Red Oxx Booty boss sporting my add-on reflective yellow monkey fist zipper pulls

If you’ve been reading the SWLing Post for long, you’ll have already sorted out that I’m both a radio geek and a pack geek.

The LnR Precision MTR-3B transceiver

I recently purchased an LnR Precision MTR-3B QRP transceiver. I added it to my collection because the rig is so incredibly compact, it gives me the opportunity to keep a full HF radio kit in my EDC bag or packed away for one bag travels.

Now I’m building a full field kit for the MTR-3B in a Red Oxx Booty Boss pack I recently purchased specifically for this radio.

If you’re wondering why I’d build yet another field kit for the MTR-3B instead of simply using field supplies I already have, allow me to explain…

Field radio kit Golden Rule: Never borrow from one kit to feed another

I never violate this rule.  (Well, not anymore, at least.)

I don’t care if I’m building a kit around a portable shortwave receiver, an SDR, or a ham radio transceiver–my radio kits are completely self-contained and organized.

I’m actually plotting a whole series of posts about building portable radio kits and packs because I enjoy the process so much, but for now, I’ll keep my explanation short:

Because I have an active family life and can’t often prepare in advance for field radio time, my kits must be at-the-ready all the time. If we decide (as we are this morning) that we’re heading to a national park for a little hiking and a picnic, I know that when I grab my KX2 field kit, for example, I’ll have everything I need to do a Parks On The Air or Summits On The Air activation. I know my kit contains an antenna, all antenna accessories and hanging supplies, feed line, a fully-charged battery, microphone and/or CW (Morse Code) key/paddles, earphones/speaker, and a transceiver. It’ll also have the little bits we often forget like a pen, notepad, extra connectors/adapters, and even a few first aid supplies.

If you borrow from one radio kit to feed another, you’ll regret it later. I promise.

Case in point

The lab599 Discovery TX500

Here at SWLing Post HQ, I review lots of radios and have a special affinity for field radios. Many times, I either obtain a radio as a loaner from the manufacturer (like the lab599 TX-500), or I purchase a radio with the intention of selling it after the review (as I will with the Xiegu G90). In either case, I don’t want to build a specific field kit for that radio because it’s really only visiting SWLing Post HQ.

The Xiegu G90

When I first took the Xiegu G90 to the field, I felt confident I could simply throw together a quick field kit in one of my smaller backpacks. As I prepared for an impromptu POTA park activation, I discovered that I needed a coax feed line for the kit and the quick solution was to grab the one from my Elecraft KX2 field kit. Even though I knew that would be violating my Golden Rule–a rule I had adhered to for five years and counting–I did it because I was very pressed for time.  That activation went off without a hitch–a total success.

Fast-forward two days later and I had another opportunity to do a park activation, but this time I wanted to use my Elecraft KX2 because I knew I would need to hike into the site and I’d also have to both log and hold the transceiver on my clipboard while sitting on my folding stool. The KX2 is ideal for this as it’s compact and has top-mounted controls.

I hiked into DuPont forest, found an ideal site to play radio, starting deploying the antenna and quickly realized I forgot to put the feed line back in the KX2 kit. Doh! Without even a short piece of coax, I had no way to connect my KX2 to the antenna.

Fortunately, I happened to have a spare coax line back in the car and I also keep two extra BNC adapters in the KX2 kit. Still, I kicked myself as I hiked all the way back to the car. Had I only followed the Golden Rule that had served me so well!

In the end, it could have been worse. I still got to do my activation and hadn’t wasted a 2.5 hour round trip to the park.

You’d better believe the first thing I did when I got back home was to put the coax back in my KX2 field kit and my radio world order had been restored again.

Back to the pack!

I picked the Red Oxx Booty Boss for the MTR-3B because 1.) it’s an ideal size for a super-compact field kit, 2.) it can be carried a number of ways (on back, sling, and over shoulder), 3.) with straps detached, it’s compact & easily fits in my EDC pack and 4.) I love Red Oxx gear and love supporting the company. When you buy a Red Oxx bag, you know it’ll outlast you…not the other way around.

I also ordered reflective monkey fist zipper pulls to replace the stock zipper pulls so that the pack would be easy to spot, for example, on a forest floor at twilight.

Here’s what I’m putting in the Booty Boss:

Here’s the amazing thing: without realizing it, everything in this kit save my earphones was designed and manufactured in the USA. The Booty Boss was made in Montana, the MTR-3B in North Carolina, the Vibroplex antenna in Tennessee, the ABR cable in Texas, the Bioenno battery pack in California. My 20 year old Sennheiser earphones were made in Germany.

I think that’s pretty darn cool and certainly bucks the trend!

Within a week, my battery and cable should arrive and the MTR-3B field kit will be ready for adventure.

I can’t wait!


Do you enjoy the SWLing Post?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

Your support makes articles like this one possible. Thank you!

Spread the radio love

Field testing the lab599 Discovery TX-500’s selectivity and ADC overload

So the lab599 Discovery TX-500 I’ve been testing the past week has been sent to Ham Radio Outlet. Over the course of one week, I activated eight parks with this QRP transceiver and if I’m being honest, I miss it already. It’s an awfully fun and incredibly robust  field radio.

On my last outing with the TX-500 (last Wednesday) I did an activation of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Nantahala National Forest. I operated CW and SSB and worked stations from Maine to Ontario, Illinois to Iowa, and Louisiana to Florida running 10 watts into my trusty EFT Trail-Friendly antenna.

While I’m evaluating radios I take lots of notes so I can remember detail when writing my review. In the field, I often take short video notes as well.

While finalizing my TX-500 review for the October 2020 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine, I rediscovered the following video note. I made this with my iPhone and assumed I might include a link in the TSM article. In the end, though, it was really a journal note for my review.

I thought I’d share it here for those who are considering purchasing the TX-500 and are curious how well the receiver handles dense RF environments. I had the CW filter width set to 100 Hz–had I intended to publish this video I would have likely cycled through various filter settings.

I believe one of the strong points about the TX-500 is its receiver. It has a very low noise floor, great sensitivity, and is obviously capable of handling close-in signals. The CW filters must have sharp skirts. I would love to see what Rob Sherwood’s tests would show (although if he’ll be evaluating one). For a field radio, however, it’s right up there with my Elecraft KX3 and KX2 in terms of selectivity–those two are certainly benchmarks in my book.

Click here to read all of our lab599 Discovery TX-500 posts, videos and field reports.


Do you enjoy the SWLing Post?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

Spread the radio love

Take the field and abandon the radio noise!

The most common complaint I hear from new SWLing Post readers is that they can’t hear stations from home on their receivers and transceivers. Nine times out of ten, it’s because their home environment is inundated with man-made electrical noises often referred to as QRM or RFI (radio frequency interference).

RFI can be debilitating. It doesn’t matter if you have a $20 portable radio or a $10,000 benchmark transceiver, noise will undermine both.

What can you do about it?

Since we like to play radio at home, we must find ways to mitigate it. A popular option is employing a good magnetic loop receive antenna (check out this article). Some readers find noise-cancelling DSP products (like those of bhi) helpful when paired with an appropriate antenna.

But the easiest way to deal with noise is to leave it behind.

Take your radio to a spot where man-made noises aren’t an issue.

Field radio

If you’ve been reading the SWLing Post for long, you’ll know how big of a fan I am of taking radios to the field–both transceivers and receivers. Not only do I love the great outdoors, but it’s the most effective way to leave RFI in the dust.

Sunday was a case in point (hence this post).

Let’s be clear: I blame Hazel…

Last week, I did a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation of Hampton Creek Cove State Natural Wildlife Area in Tennessee. It’s a beautiful area with a fantastic hiking trail (the Overmountain Victory Trail) in a relatively remote/rural area.

About 5 minutes before Hazel’s cow patty fun.

My family had a great time at the site–we enjoyed a picnic and I played radio–but Hazel (our trusty canine companion) decided to roll in a cow patty during our hike. Hazel thought it smelled wonderful. Her family? Much less so. And all five of us were staring at a two hour car ride together.

Fortunately, my wife had a bottle of bio-degradable soap we use while camping, so I washed Hazel in Hampton Creek. (Turns out, Hazel didn’t mind that nearly as much as getting washed at home in the tub.)

In all of the commotion I forgot to take my EFT Trail-Friendly antenna out of the tree. Doh!

The EFT Trail-Friendly antenna is incredibly compact and quite easy to deploy.

The EFT is my favorite field antenna for POTA activations. It works so well and is resonant on 40, 20 and 10 meters. With an ATU, I can also tune any bands in between. I’ve deployed this antenna at least 130 times in the field and it was still holding up.

I was bummed. Hampton Creek is nearly a four hour round-trip from my home. Was it worth the trip to rescue my antenna?

Fast-forward to Sunday: my amazing wife actually suggested we go back to Hampton Creek Cove on Sunday and also check out nearby Roan Mountain State Park. Would my antenna still be in the tree? Hopefully.

Whew! Still hanging out!

Fortunately, my antenna was still hanging there in the tree as I left it the week before. I was a little concerned the BNC end of the antenna may have gotten wet, but it was okay.

Mercy, mercy, so little noise…

I turned on my Elecraft KX2 and plugged in the antenna. Oddly, there was very little increase in the noise level after plugging in the antenna. That worried me–perhaps the antenna got wet after all? I visually inspected the antenna, then pressed the “tune” button on the KX2 and got a 1.4:1 SWR reading. Then I tuned around the 40 meter band and heard numerous loud stations.

What was so surprising was how quiet the band was that day (this time of year the 40M band is plagued with static crashes from thunderstorms).

Also, there were no man-made electrical noises to be heard.  This allowed my receiver to actually do its job. It was such a pleasure to operate Sunday–no listening fatigue at all. Later on, we set up at Roan Mountain State Park and did an activation there as well. Again, without any semblance of RFI.

When I’m in the field with conditions like this, I always tune around and listen to HF broadcast stations for a bit as well. It’s amazing how well weak signals pop out when the noise floor is so incredibly low.

It takes ten or so minutes to set up my POTA station in the field, but if you have a portable shortwave radio, it takes no time at all. None. Just extend the telescoping antenna and turn on the radio.

Or in the case of the Panny RF-2200 use its steerable ferrite bar antenna!

If you’re battling radio interference at home, I would encourage you to survey your local area and find a noise-free spot to play radio. It could be a park, or it could be a parking lot. It could even be a corner of your property. Simply take a portable radio outside and roam around until you find a peaceful spot with low-noise conditions. It’s the most cost-effective way to fight RFI!

Post readers: Do you have a favorite field radio spot? Do you have a favorite field radio? Please comment!

Also, check out these articles:

Spread the radio love