Tag Archives: Field Radios

Taking the Xiegu G90 QRP transceiver to the field!

Earlier this week, I took delivery of a new Xiegu G90 general coverage QRP transceiver. I’m reviewing this portable rig for The Spectrum Monitor magazine. Although this Chinese manufacturer has been around for a few years, this was my first purchase of a Xiegu product.

I’ve had the G90 on the air from home for a couple days, but I feel like the best way to test a QRP transceiver is in the field!

Due to the Covid-19 lock-down and a number of our regional parks either being closed or severely limiting visitors, I haven’t made many POTA (Parks On The Air) activations this year.

Recently, however, North Carolina has been opening state parks and allowing visitor access to hiking trails and picnic areas, but keeping all facilities (stores, cafes, visitor centers, and restrooms) closed to the public.

Yesterday, our family decided to pack a picnic lunch and head to Mt. Mitchell State Park (POTA site K-2747). My wife knew I was chomping at the bit to play radio in the field and actually made the suggestion. (She’s a keeper!) 🙂

There were only a dozen people at the park so we essentially had the place to ourselves. Better yet, it gave me the opportunity to pick out the most ideal picnic site to set up and deploy my EFT Trail-Friendly 40/20/10 antenna.

The G90’s backlit color display was actually quite easy to read in the field. My phone’s camera filter made it look darker than it actually was.

My POTA activation was unannounced and I didn’t have Internet access to self-spot on the POTA website, so I started the activation old school by calling “CQ POTA” until someone happened upon 7286 kHz.

After perhaps 10 minutes of calling CQ, Greg (KE0HTG)–a helpful POTA chaser–finally found me and spotted me on the network.

I worked a few stations in succession, but summer QRN levels were incredibly high and I believed static crashes were cloaking would-be contacts. The G90 has no RF Gain [Actually, thanks to this feedback, I now know the G90 does indeed have an RF Gain control (firmware version 1.73 and higher).] I asked one kind operator if he would hold while I switched over to my trusty Elecraft KX2.

The KX2 did a much better job managing the noise and that same op was easily readable where with the G90 I could barely copy him. I suspect I could have tinkered with the G90’s AGC levels to better mitigate the noise, but I didn’t want to do this in the middle of an activation.

I worked about fifteen stations with the Elecraft KX2 on 40 meters.

One real advantage of the KX2 during a POTA activation on SSB is its voice memory keyer (of course, it also has a CW memory keyer). I simply record my CQ and have the KX2 repeat it until someone replies, then I hit the PTT to stop the recording. Not only does this save my voice, but it also gives me an opportunity to eat my lunch while calling CQ!

I eventually moved up to the 20 meter band and switched back to the Xiegu G90.

On the 20 meter band, the G90 handled conditions like a champ.

Someone eventually spotted me on 20 and I worked a few stations.

The 20 meter band was very fickle and unstable yesterday. For example, I struggled to finish a contact with an operator in Massachusetts, yet got a solid 59 report from Spain with only 20 watts.

No activation is complete without brewing a cup of coffee on the alcohol burner!

I had a great time with the G90 in the field. I can see why it’s become such a popular transceiver as it offers incredible bang-for-buck (it can be purchased new as low as $450 US shipped).

This week, the noise levels on the 40 meter band should be very high here in North America, so I plan to spend more time with the G90 settings and see if I can mitigate the QRN a little better. I’d welcome any tips from G90 owners.

And yes, I’m already eyeing a couple of parks to activate next week!

Post Readers: Please comment if you’re familiar with the Xiegu G90 or any of the other Xiegu transceivers.


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The Sony ICF-7600A continues to impress

I mentioned in a previous post that SWLing Post contributor, Ed Earps, recently gifted me his Sony ICF-7600A.

I’ve been having a field day with this radio!

Well, many field days, in fact. Early on, I packed the ‘7600A in my Red Oxx Hound EDC pack–it fits in the Hound’s interior pocket perfectly and is well-protected on all sides. The radio has pretty much lived in my car and truck since then, thus has gotten a lot of air time when I take short breaks throughout the day.

In November, I took the ‘7600A to Mount Mitchell (6,684 feet/2,037 meters above sea level) and to coastal South Carolina (sea level). It’s been a great radio companion and has given me an excuse to go “old school” and do a little analog band-scanning.

The ICF-7600A certainly has some strengths.

For one thing, although I’ve let this radio on for extended listening sessions, I’ve yet to deplete the eneloop rechargeable batteries (Amazon affiliate link) I originally installed in October. Obviously, this radio will run for days on batteries–a serious plus if DXing off-grid.

The ‘7600A is a fantastic portable for mediumwave DXing. Although it’s also a very sensitive and selective shortwave receiver–especially in this class and era of analog portable–I think mediumwave may be its strong suit.

On the negative side, some of the shortwave band selections are truncated and for some reason, it doesn’t have a back stand (quite an odd omission). Still, these are pretty minor cons.

Obviously, the pros outweigh the cons on this brilliant vintage portable that seems to have held up very well over the years.

To ensure its longevity–and as a precaution–I do think I’ll take it to Dr. Vlado to have all of the caps replaced soon.

My thoughts? If you ever stumble across an ICF-7600A at a hamfest or on eBay, I say grab it!

Post readers: Anyone else love the ICF-7600A? Did I miss any major pros or cons? Please comment!


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The Sony ICF-7600A at my “happy place”

Yesterday afternoon, the family and I spent some time at my happy place: Mount Mitchell State Park. This might be our last visit there until spring of 2020 since the Blue Ridge Parkway is often closed during the winter.

Yesterday was unseasonably warm at 48F (9C)–a shot of warm weather before an Arctic front moves in tonight dropping temps to about 10F (-12C) and, likely, dropping 1-3″ of snow as well.

The afternoon at Mount Mitchell gave me a little time to play radio, of course, and put my recently acquired Sony ICF-7600A on the air.

How did I acquire the Sony ICF-7600A? Via the generosity of SWLing Post reader, Ed Earps.

Ed reached out to me after I made the following comment in a recent post:

“The ICF-7600A is a cool analog portable and one I’ve thought about acquiring at some point.”

Ed contacted me immediately:

“Thomas, if you would still like to acquire a ICF-7600A, I have one I would give you. This would be in appreciation of all the work you do in writing the SWLing Post blog.”

A few days later, the ICF-7600A with original box and accessories arrived. Wow!

Thank you so much, Ed! Over the years, members of the SWLing Post community have been so kind and so generous, it makes a guy feel humbled and appreciated. Thank you!

The ICF-7600A fits perfectly in my Red Oxx Hound pack.

I’m loving the ICF-7600A.

There’s something so authentic about tuning a good analog portable. It’s hard for me to describe, but I can certainly say it always takes me back to my radio roots.

The ICF-7600A has a low noise floor and seems to be incredibly sensitive. I easily snagged several stations on 31 meters, but ended up enjoying music via All India Radio while brewing a little coffee with my alcohol stove (handmade by my buddy, Greg–thanks, Greg!).

Hey, when you’re a coffee snob, you brew where you are!

But I digress…

I’m especially impressed with the ICF-7600A’s mediumwave performance. I logged a number of benchmark daytime and greyline stations yesterday. I haven’t opened the ‘7600A, but I imagine it has a decent ferrite bar inside based on its overall performance on the AM broadcast band and its nulling capabilities.

Next time, I’ll bring the AN200 mag loop and couple it with the ‘7600A. I’m pretty sure that’ll make for a winning combo.

All-in-all, I couldn’t have asked for a better day: the weather was wonderful, the coffee freshly-brewed, and the gifted ICF-7600A was the perfect radio companion as our family soaked in the scenery after a hike to the summit.

I couldn’t ask for a better happy place!


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Guest Post: Summer Daytime DXing 2019

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, TomL, who shares the following guest post:


Summer Daytime DXing 2019

by TomL

I took note of the mediocre band conditions this summer amongst amateur radio operators as they were making off the cuff comments about still being in a solar minimum.  Some had gone out and bought upgraded transmitters to solve the problem (MOAR WATTS!). And more power thrown at a weak ionosphere does seem to help get a signal farther.  I had not been out since the spring and decided to find out for myself. But instead of more watts, I wanted more height.

Greene Valley Scenic Overlook is open to the public from May through October on weekends only (and only from 11am-6pm).  It was the largest land fill (aka, garbage dump) in Illinois, now covered over and producing captured methane gas. On August 3 & 4, I ventured over there to see if its 190 feet above the surroundings might help my radio reception.

After trying my luck with a 12 foot vertical antenna on a tripod (and numerous children running around it chasing butterflies or looking at the view of Chicago), I went out the next day and parked away from anyone and put up my 19 foot vertical on the roof of the car.  This setup is still amazing to me and works much better than the tripod mounted antenna, probably because it has a proper ground plane as well as being 7 foot taller.

So, yes, the conditions were so-so, not too bad and not too good.  Lots of weak signals and some empty frequencies that I had expected to hear some South American stations around the 5 – 10 kw range.  Weak stations from Asia were more scratchy sounding than usual even with the extra 190 feet of height. Here are 5 broadcast recordings as a sample (times in UTC):

9920 kHz at 21.14 – Radio Thailand in Thai, just catching the end of the broadcast:

9685 kHz at 21.20 – Radio Free Asia in Chinese from Kuwait:

9650 kHz at 21.23 – Radio Guinea in French:

9445 kHz at 21.30 – All India Radio in English (fighting off computer generated noise on my SDR and cheap Dell laptop) and just getting a station identification:

11780 kHz at 21.44 – Radio Nacional de Amazonia booming in with the usual annoying host yelling enthusiastically over every tune he played:

Running out of things to listen to, I wandered over to the 20 meter amateur radio band and found a different situation.  Propagation was decent between the Western hemisphere and Europe. Lots of “pile ups” going on with people trying to make contact with their trans-Atlantic counterparts.  Some said they were running 500 watts or more, so more power does seem to help! Here are 5 recordings to show how active it was:

14171 kHz at 21.55 – Inaki (F5RAG) from southwestern France conversing with Carlos (YV3CRT) in Venezuela (surprised anyone is left in Venezuela with operating radio equipment and not sold off for food with the ongoing difficulties there).  Then Inaki makes contact with Alejandro (CE2ATS) from Chile with a good signal. All in Spanish:

14199.38 kHz at 22.04 – Ervin (VE3GAL) tries his QRP portable setup from Ontario to contact Ron (F4VSM) in Southwestern France who has a 500 watt setup and large Yagi antenna. Sometimes things do not go so well but that is the challenge of using low power, maybe around 10 watts (meaning that just because you can hear them, you cannot always transmit to them with the same effectiveness and vice-versa, for various reasons):

14228 kHz at 22.12 – “BAN” (IZ1PNT) from Italy makes contact with Norman (N3PVQ) in FL after asking everyone to be quiet. Good control over the frequency:

14238 kHz at 22.17 – Slavko (S57DX) booming in, making a contact (Rob, KK4HEQ) in Florida:

14245 kHz at 22.24 – Gabrielle from the Czech Republic, participating at a Youth event using station OL88YL contacting Ira (VP2EIH) in the British Virgin Islands and then another dude from Florida, Roy (AD4AN).  She handled it very well:

This outing was quite educational and I find it curious that people running 1000 watts or less are able to be heard well between continents but the large broadcasters were difficult to hear.  Antennas pointed in the right direction, at the right time of day and frequency, can certainly do amazing things, plucking those weak signals out of the air so easily. And I do think the extra height had something to do with hearing this magic, too!

Happy Listening,

TomL

NOTES:

  1. An easy way to lookup amateur radio operator “call signs” is to go to web site QRZCQ.com which does not need a login.  Some records may be out of date, but most of it is accurate.
  2. Setup used was a cheap Dell laptop, Windows 10, SDR Console 3.03,  connected to the AirSpy HF+, a Palstar amplified preselector, and an old Kiwa BCB filter, then going up to the car roof magnetic balun (a Palomar MLB2) which is then connected to the 4 magnet base and the MFJ 19 foot stainless steel antenna.  You can read about it here:

https://swling.com/blog/2018/07/guest-post-backpack-shack-3-0-part-3/


Brilliant report, Tom! It’s true: the bands are fickle, but like you I always find interesting things to hear on HF. I think your setup using your vehicle as the ground plane for the antenna is a fantastic idea. Plus, set up is easy, self-supporting, and you’ll never have to worry about a park ranger, for example, complaining because you have a wire suspended from a tree. And when there are no trees? You’re still golden. 

Thanks for sharing your experience and DX! Amazing that even with mediocre conditions, you still snagged some distant signals.


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Marcus’ countryside mobile listening post

The Düsseldorf evening skyline

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Marcus Keulertz, from Düsseldorf, Germany, who writes:.

Here are some nice pics about my own special way practicing our beloved radio hobby. I was quite satisfied with my logs.

I heard Radio Taiwan’s Mandarin broadcast and All India Radio National Service in vernacular languages. I did [all  of this listening  from] my little car there.

Thank you for sharing, Marcus! Looks like you’ve found a peaceful spot to enjoy radio from the comfort of your car.

Indeed, you’re doing exactly what I tell urban listeners today who have difficulty hearing stations from home: head to the countryside and escape the radio interference! It’s simply amazing what you can hear when your receiver isn’t being overwhelmed by RFI/QRM.

Sometimes it takes very little distance from sources of urban noise–even a city park (as our friend London Shortwave routinely demonstrates) offers enough of a noise buffer.

Thanks for sharing, Marcus!

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Can’t escape the noise? Take an impromptu DXpedition via the KiwiSDR network!

While I love the Panasonic RF-B65, the Voice of Greece and a St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout: this combo can’t fight the persistent radio interference here at the condo.

Some of you might recall that I’m spending the months of August and September in a condo near Québec City, Canada. We love it here, though it does present some radio challenges. Unlike our rural/remote mountain home in the States, I’ve always had to cope with QRM (manmade radio interference) here at the condo. Not surprising.

I typically bring my PK Loop antenna–it helps lower the noise a tad and is easy to take out on our balcony for optimal reception. Lately, though, the QRM has been even worse on the balcony than inside the condo (more on that in a future post).

Some North American and European stations punch through the noise when propagation is favorable (especially the Voice of Greece and Radio Romania International) but there have been evenings where nothing could penetrate the wall of noise.

One way I escape the noise, of course, is to take my radio to a picturesque remote location for the afternoon or evening. It’s amazing the number of signals you can pull out of the ether when the noise floor is so low.

Back at the condo, though, there’s no easy way to escape the noise.

Or is there?

Impromptu DXpeditions

Perhaps 21st century problems require 21st century solutions.

This year–especially here at the condo–I’ve spent a great deal of time exploring the KiwiSDR network.

For those of you not familiar, the KiwiSDR is a self-hosted WebSDR which operates much like a mini U Twente WebSDR. KiwiSDR owners install their SDRs at home–or in other favorable locations–then share control of their SDR with the world via the the Internet.

Like the U Twente WebSDR, KiwiSDRs allow multiple simultaneous users to control the SDR independently of each other. Each KiwiSDR can allow up to four simultaneous guests (the U Twente WebSDR can allow hundreds of simultaneous users, but it’s also a university-supported bespoke SDR with fantastic bandwidth!).

Over the past few years, the KiwiSDR network has grown almost exponentially. There are Kiwi SDRs on every continent save Antarctica (someone remedy that, please!).

Each red pin represents a KiwiSDR installation.

Other than the fact that the SDR audio is piped through the Internet–and you can’t walk outside and adjust the antenna–there is no difference between using a KiwiSDR remotely or locally.

In fact, the KiwiSDR only has a web browser-based application, there is no downloadable application for local use. So quite literally, the experience of controlling and using a KiwiSDR locally or globally is identical.

And it’s so much fun! I browse the KiwiSDR network via the map above, select an interesting location, and virtually travel there for an impromptu DXpedition. I can travel to India, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, or Hawaii via the network and be back in time for dinner here in Canada without breaking a sweat or even using frequent flyer miles!

I’ve found that the combo above makes for an immersive experience. I use Bose Quiet Comfort noise-cancelling headphones paired with my iPad Air (which I have enclosed in a Zagg Rugged Book). With a reasonable Internet connection, it truly feels like I’m there.

Of course, you don’t need an iPad, or any special equipment. The KiwiSDR application works with pretty much any computer, tablet or smart phone that has a web browser. For the best experience, however, I would suggest connecting a good external speaker, bluetooth speaker or headphones.

I know many of you are thinking, “But Thomas! This isn’t real radio!”

But I would argue that it is real radio! It’s a real radio, connected to a real antenna that you’re simply controlling via the Internet with a web-based SDR application. Instead of the audio going through a sound card into your headphones, it’s going into a soundcard, piped through the Internet, then into your headphones.

Give it a try! You might find an impromptu DXpedition is the perfect remedy to your QRM and RFI blues!

Post readers: Any heavy KiwiSDR users out there?  Or do you oppose using WebSDRs? What are your thoughts? Please comment!

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Radio in the field: SWLing on the coast of the St. Lawrence river

Yesterday, the weather was gorgeous here in Québec, thus a prime opportunity to find a beach, start a new book and, of course, play radio!

I found a fantastic spot on the north bank of the St. Lawrence river near Baie-St-Paul, Québec. There were only a few folks at the beach, so it was all very peaceful.

I found a picnic table perched on the edge of the beach shaded by an apple tree–a perfect spot to relax, play radio and start a new book: Dark Voyage by Alan Furst.

I brought two portables: the C. Crane CC Skywave SSB and the recently acquired Panasonic RF-B65.

I had not checked to see if propagation was good, but tuning to WWV on 10 MHz and 15 MHz confirmed that signals were travelling. In fact, as I started tuning around–first with the CC Skywave SSB, then with the Panasonic RF-B65–I discovered some of the best propagation I’ve experienced in ages!

I did a relatively quick scan covering the 31 through 19 meter bands. Some signals were absolutely booming in.

I jotted down some of the broadcast details on a make-shift log and recorded a few videos.

Note that after making the first video, I discovered I had limited space on my phone, so most of the clips are quite short:

The Voice of America

Click here to view on YouTube.

Radio France International

Click here to view on YouTube.

Radio Guinée

Click here to view on YouTube.

BBC World Service Extra English

Click here to view on YouTube.

Here are the stations I logged in the clear:

All in all it was a brilliant afternoon and the short band scan reminded me that there is still so much content to be found on the shortwaves.

You just need a little propagation, and some time to listen and explore!

Post readers: Have you snagged any elusive DX recently?  Please comment!

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