Tag Archives: Ham Radio

Radio Waves: A “Calm” Solar Cycle 25, WWJ History, Czech Radio’s Digital-Only Future, and UK Ham Radio Exam Stats

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 Ron, Mike, and the Southgate ARC for the following tips:


As Disasters Roil Earth, A New Sun Cycle Promises Calmer Weather — In Space (NPR)

Giant flares and eruptions from the sun can cause space weather, and stormy space weather can interfere with everything from satellites to the electrical grid to airplane communications. Now, though, there’s good news for people who monitor the phenomenon — the sun has passed from one of its 11-year activity cycles into another, and scientists predict that the new cycle should be just about as calm as the last.

That doesn’t mean, however, zero risk of extreme weather events. Even during the last, relatively weak solar cycle, drama on the sun triggered occasional weirdness on Earth like radio blackouts, disruptions in air traffic control, power outages — and even beautiful aurorae seen as far south as Alabama.

Over each solar cycle, the roiling sun moves from a relatively quiet period through a much more active one. Researchers monitor all this activity by keeping an eye on the number of sunspots, temporary dark patches on the sun’s surface. These spots are associated with solar activity like giant explosions that send light, energy, and solar material into space.

Counting of sunspots goes back centuries, and the list of numbered solar cycles tracked by scientists starts with one that began in 1755 and ended in 1766. On average, cycles last about 11 years.

Based on recent sunspot data, researchers can now say that so-called “Solar Cycle 24” came to an end in December of 2019. Solar Cycle 25 has officially begun, with the number of sun spots slowly but steadily increasing.[]

WWJ in Detroit: A 2020 Centennial Station (Radio World)

Iconic AM station just celebrated the 100th anniversary of its first broadcast

It was shortly after World War I that Clarence Thompson, a partner of Lee de Forest, formed a new company Radio News & Music Inc. in New York. His goal was to encourage newspapers to broadcast their news reports by wireless, using de Forest transmitters.

The franchise offer — available to only one newspaper in each city — offered the rental of a de Forest 50-watt transmitter and accessories for $750. Just one newspaper signed up for the deal; it was the Detroit News, led by publisher William E. Scripps.

He had been interested in wireless since investing in Detroit experimenter Thomas E. Clark’s wireless company in 1904. Scripp’s son, William J. “Little Bill,” was an active ham radio operator, operating a station in the Scripps home.

People Might Laugh

Scripp proposed accepting the Radio News & Music offer and building a Detroit News radio station in 1919, but he met resistance from his board of directors. It was not until March of 1920 that he was given the go-ahead to sign a contract.

The de Forest transmitter was shipped to Detroit on May 28, 1920, but was lost in transit; a second transmitter was constructed and sent on July 15. This delayed the installation of the station until August.[]

Czech Radio has expanded DAB + coverage to 95 percent of the population and announced the switch-off of medium waves (Digitalni Radio)

NOTE: This is a machine translation of the original post in Czech.

Czech Radio has entered another, important phase of radio digitization. To date, the ?Ro DAB + multiplex signal has reached 95% population coverage. Ten new transmitters were launched in Bohemia and Moravia. You can find a detailed description of them below.

DAB + technology is becoming a common distribution channel for Czech Radio, which will be placed on the same level as analogue FM / FM broadcasting. All marketing activities will already include the “DAB + More Radio” logo. ?eské Radiokomunikace is planning to start certification of receivers next year in order to protect customers and facilitate orientation in the range for them and retailers.

According to the CEO of Czech Radio, René Zavoral, the public service media is proceeding in accordance with a long-term strategic plan. The head of communication and press spokesman Ji?í Hošna describes the step as a turning point that can affect the direction of the entire radio market.[]

UK amateur radio exam report released (Southgate ARC)

The RSGB Examinations Standards Committee (ESC) report covering 2019 is now available for anyone to download

The report contains statistics for the both the RSGB amateur radio exams and the Air Cadets Organisation (ACO) exam which Ofcom considers to be equivalent to the RSGB Foundation.

Ofcom has been concerned about the participation of women in amateur radio and STEM disciplines. They requested the ESC to publish figures for the number of women taking the exams. Unfortunately the results are disappointing with only 9.9% of all exams being taken by women.

Download the ESC report from
https://rsgb.org/main/blog/examination-standards-committee-reports/2020/09/18/examinations-standards-committee-report-2020-for-activities-during-2019/


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Radio Waves: BBC radio reporters axed, Ham Radio on BBC Surrey, K6UDA on IC-705 features, and VLF balloon launched with request for detailed reception report

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 Mark Hist, Kris Partridge, John Palmer, and the Southgate ARC for the following tips:


Radio reporters to be axed by BBC and told to reapply for new roles (The Guardian)

Radio reporters to be axed by BBC and told to reapply for new roles
Critics fear end of an era because of plans to make audio journalists work across media platforms

BBC radio voices have described and defined modern British history. Live reports from inside a British bomber over Germany during the second world war, or with the British troops invading Iraq in 2003, or more recently from the frontline of the parent boycott of a Birmingham school over LGBT lessons have also shaped the news agenda.

But now the BBC plans to axe all its national radio reporters and ask them to reapply for a smaller number of jobs as television, radio and digital reporters, rather than as dedicated audio journalists. Many fear it is not just the end of their careers but the premature end of an era for the BBC.

“Radio reporting is a different job. Of course, you can do both, but a report designed for television starts from a completely different place. Radio is also more agile and also a lot less expensive,” said one experienced broadcast journalist. “I am pretty sure most of us will not be given new TV roles. It seems sad to lose all that specific radio expertise.”

Among the well-known voices likely to be affected are Hugh Sykes, Andrew Bomford – who has just completed a long feature on the child protection process for Radio 4’s PM show – and the award-winning and idiosyncratic Becky Milligan, as well as a wider team of expert correspondents.[]

Amateur radio on BBC Radio Surrey (Southgate ARC)

RSGB report Board Director Stewart Bryant G3YSX and SOTA organiser Tim Price G4YBU were interviewed on BBC Radio Surrey on Friday, September 11

The interview starts just before 1:43:00 into the recording at
https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08pkykw

RSGB https://twitter.com/theRSGB

What is Amateur Radio?
http://www.essexham.co.uk/what-is-amateur-radio

Free UK amateur radio Online Training course
https://essexham.co.uk/train/foundation-online/

10 Things That Make The Icom IC 705 A Revolution in Ham Radio (K6UDA YouTube)

 

VLF Balloon with 210m long antenna launches Sept 12 (Southgate ARC)

A high-altitude balloon experiment, launched by Warsaw University of Technology, is planned to lift off September 12, carrying a VLF 210-m-long fully-airborne antenna system, transmitting on 14.2 kHz

14.2 kHz is the former frequency of the Babice Radio Station in Poland.

The project is delivering very important data for a doctoral dissertation – any and all feedback on the reception of the signal (reception location, SNR, bandwidth etc.) is extremely important; your help with the listening to the transmission would be invaluable!

The balloon will also be transmitting APRS on 144.800 MHz FM, callsign SP5AXL.

Full details at
https://alexander.n.se/grimetons-sister-station-shall-reappear-in-the-stratosphere/?lang=en


Kris also points out this article which provides more detail about the station and request for reception reports:

Invented for the first time in 2014, in 2020 it will finally be implemented – the idea of „restoring” the TRCN, but in the stratosphere, where there are no mechanical limitations at the height of the antennas, and the achieved range can be gigantic.

The launch of a stratospheric balloon from the Przasnysz-Sierakowo airport of the Warsaw University of Technology is planned for September 12, 2020, in order to perform atmospheric tests – measuring UV radiation, recording the cloudy surroundings with a high-speed camera and conducting an inductive experiment at 14.2 kHz using a special antenna system.

The inductive system uses a modified long-wave transmitter (A1 emission, unkeyed) from the GLACiER project of the Warsaw University of Technology, implemented as part of the IGLUNA – a Habitat in Ice programme (ESA_Lab / Swiss Space Center). The power of the transmitter, due to the emission limits for this type of inductive devices, shall not exceed a few watts. The antenna system is a centrally fed (35: 1) dipole with capacitive (Hertzian) elements and a vertical axial coil. The electrical length is between 400 and 500 m, with a total system length of 210 m. The antenna is equipped with metalized radar reflectors.

The entire balloon mission will use 144.8 MHz (as SP5AXL) and 868 MHz (as part of the LoVo system) for navigation. Flight information will be available in advance in NOTAM (EPWW).
Planned balloon launch (even if the sky is full of ‘lead’ clouds) at 12.00 UTC (14.00 CEST, local time). The 14.2kHz experiment will be switched on on the ground, with the antenna initially folded in harmony. The predicted total flight time is 3 hours – around 13.30-14.00 UTC / 15.30-16.00 CEST it is planned to reach the maximum altitude of 30 km above sea level.

Source: https://trcn.pl/do-stratosfery-to-the-stratosphere/

How can you help with the experiment? By recording as much as possible! Every parameter is valuable – from the spectrum / screenshot with the spectrum, to the EM field strengths, SNR and bandwidth, to the change of the EM field strength over time. The collected data can be sent to our e-mail address: stowarzyszenie@radiostacjababice.org. On the day of launch, we plan to post updates on the launch, flight and the experiment itself via our Facebook page: facebook.com/radiostacjababice.
Stay tuned!


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RSGB and RAC 2020 conferences online with free registration

Both the Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC) and Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) will hold their 2020 annual conferences online and open to the public.

Check out press releases for both evens below:


RAC Canada 2020 Conference and Annual General Meeting

Radio Amateurs of Canada is pleased to welcome all Amateurs to the RAC Canada 2020 Conference which will be held on  Sunday, September 20 before the RAC Annual General Meeting.

There is no registration fee for this event and registration is now underway.

Canada 2020 Conference Overview:

The  RAC Canada 2020 Conference  is an interactive mini-conference that will feature interesting presentations on a wide range of topics as shown below. Whether you are a new Amateur or have been enjoying Amateur Radio for many years there will be something of interest for you to discover.

Given the great response we have received, we have now decided to extend the schedule to include a keynote presentation followed by three sessions.

Each session will have multiple presentations so that participants can choose those presentations that are of most interest to them. In addition, all sessions will be recorded for viewing later so you won’t miss out if two of your favourites take place at the same time.

  • Keynote presentation: 12 noon to 12:50 pm ET
  • First session (4 presentations): 1 pm to 1:50 ET
  • Second session (4 presentations): 2 pm to 2:50 ET
  • Third session (3 presentations): 3 pm to 3:50 ET

The Annual General Meeting will then begin after the Conference at 4 pm ET.

Conference Presentations and Schedule:

The following is a list of presentations and the schedule of events.

Keynote Presentation: 12 noon to 12:50 pm ET

“A Fireside Chat”: “Amateur Radio during the Global Pandemic and other topics”

An informal discussion featuring the following distinguished guests:

  • Glenn MacDonell, VE3XRA: President, Radio Amateurs of Canada (RAC  –  Moderator)
  • Tim Ellam, VE6SH: President, International Amateur Radio Union (IARU)
  • Rick Roderick, K5UR: President, American Radio Relay League (ARRL)
  • Steve Thomas, M1ACB: General Manager, Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB)

In these unprecedented times, this is an excellent  –  and possibly historic opportunity  –  to engage in a discussion on the challenges we face today and the future of Amateur Radio.

First session: 1 pm to 1:50 pm ET

  • Getting Started with Amateur Radio Satellites  –  Tom Schuessler, N5HYP
  • Amateur Radio and Youth  –  Brian Jackson, VE6JBJ
  • Amateur Radio Challenges in Canada’s North  –  Ron Thompson, VE8RT and Angela Gerbrandt, VY0YL
  • CY9C St. Paul Island DXpedition  –  Phil McBride, VA3QR

Second session: 2 pm to 12:50 pm ET

  • 6m FT8 DXing  –  Ron Scwhartz, VE3VN
  • Contesting: Remote Operating  –  Cary Rubenfeld, VE4EA and Tom Haavisto, VE3CX
  • VO2AC: Contest DXpedition to Labrador (CQ Zone 2)  –  Chris Allingham, VE3FU/VO2AC
  • Amateur Radio Hotspots: A Quick Overview  –  Allan Boyd, VE3AJB

Third session: 3 pm to 3:50 pm ET

  • La proposition d’une classe d’entrée pour les radioamateurs (en français)  –  Guy Richard, VE2QG/VE2XTD
  • Amateur Radio: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow  –  Allen Wootton, VY1KX
  • High Altitude Balloons: The Elevation Education  –  Kelly Shulman, VE3KLX

Instructions for Presentations:

Our volunteers are now hard at work preparing the instructions for all of the presenters and we will be sending them to you in the coming days. We thank you for your patience.

Please stay tuned to the RAC Canada 2020 Conference webpage for more information. We hope to see you at the event!

Jason Tremblay, VE3JXT
Conference Organizer
RAC Community Services Officer
community@rac.ca


RSGB 2020 Convention – Online

In response to the UK’s continuing social distancing regulations, the RSGB Convention Committee has changed the arrangements for this year’s event and is holding an online Convention on Saturday, 10 October 2020

The programme will be split into two streams and whether you’re a new licensee or have been enjoying amateur radio for many years there will be a range of topics from expert speakers that you can enjoy free throughout the day.

RSGB Construction Competition

The RSGB Construction Competition will again be sponsored by Martin Lynch & Sons.

Find out more, including how to enter, on the Construction Competition web page.

The RSGB Convention is proudly sponsored by Martin Lynch & Sons

Click here for more details.

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Radio Waves: Brazil Proposes End of all Ham Radio Exams, Radio Engineer Files Objection to WIPE, Radio in the Malvinas War, and List of 48 Weatheradio Sites in Proposed Closure

Icom IC-756 Pro Transceiver DialRadio 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 Rob (PE9PE), Bennett Kobb, Harald
(DL1AX), and Dennis Dura for the following tips:


Brazil proposes end of all amateur radio exams (Southgate ARC)

ANATEL, the Brazilian National Telecommunications Agency, recently published a public consultation, CP65, which is available at this link:

In their website, LABRE, the Brazilian Amateur Radio League, was surprised by the CP65 proposal that proposes, among other topics, the extinction of the COER (amateur radio certificate) exam for all classes and replacement by free access to initial class C, as is done today with the Citizen’s Band, as well as access to subsequent classes B and A upon presentation of the Certificate of Technical Course and Graduation in Telecommunications, respectively, or minimum stay of 3 years in each class.

In addition, the aforementioned proposal suggests ending the rules of different prefixes for each of the States of the Federation, remaining only the prefix per class and there would no longer be any special callsigns.

The proposal, in addition to going against what is consensus in the international regulation related to the Amateur Radio Service, is absolutely contrary to the LABRE’s thinking with regard to the minimum requirements to be a radio amateur and also does not match ANATEL’s request for support from LABRE in the revision of amateur radio regulations in Brazil.

For further clarification on the subject, LABRE has already requested a meeting with ANATEL, which will be scheduled soon.

PR7GA

Radio Engineer Files Objection to WIPE (DRMNA.info)

Story by Bennett Kobb:
On September 3, radio engineer Alex Pilosov of Shortwave Solutions filed with the FCC an objection to WIPE, the DRM-based HF station of Turms Tech of New York, presumed to be ready to broadcast from the Armstrong Tower in Alpine, NJ.

WIPE is suspected to be intended mainly for secret, non-broadcast message transmission for private trading clients while broadcasting financial and economic news for the public.

WIPE is not yet operational. The station is waiting on its FCC license, but Pilosov took aim at possible glitches in its license application. He also raises the issue of whether U.S. shortwave stations can legally conduct non-public telecommunications in the broadcast bands in a service limited to broadcasting.

Pilosov is a consultant to HF stations in the Experimental Radio Service, which are not constrained by the broadcast rules; thus he or his clients are prospective competitors to WIPE. This is Pilosov’s second FCC objection. He also filed against the application of Parable Broadcasting for WPBC, a DRM HF station proposed for Batavia, IL.[]

Radio in the Malvinas War (RAE)

In 2020 we celebrate the centenary of radio in Argentina. Such an event can be approached in various ways, since there are several milestones along this century of radio in our country. There are some events that are marked by fire in collective memory.

It is our intention to approach the celebration focusing on an event in which radio was in the spotlight: the 1982 Malvinas War, a conflict waged on various fields: military, economic, diplomatic and, of course, communications, mainly as a means of propaganda.

Most countries over time have recognised the great potential of radio as an effective instrument both in times of war and peace. Historically, Germany was the first country to use this for purely political purposes.

During WWII the broadcasts of Radio Tokyo, Radio Germany, the BBC in London and other stations were used for propaganda and military purposes by combatant nations.

The post-war period and the subsequent Cold War brought along a “war of the airwaves”. During these years, countless stations emerged with their own propaganda styles, looking to advance their social, political and economic systems.

An example of this are the broadcasts of Radio Moscow, Voice of America or Radio Beijing. Along with these stations, others of a clearly political nature emerged, such as Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, that targeted countries in Eastern Europe, as well as nations that became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This group also includes the so-called clandestine stations, which generally broadcast secretly from conflict zones or from nearby regions or using rented transmission sites.

Before April 2, 1982, the Malvinas Islands had one radio station: the Falkland Islands Radio Service (FIBS) – with broadcasts in English. Content aired included locally-produced programs as well as news services of BBC London. It broadcast on 536 khz and 2370 khz.

The AM frequency was intended to cover the Port Stanley area, reaching a little further with SW transmissions.[]

List of 48 Weatheradio Canada transmitting site proposed for decommissioning (Weatheradio Newsletter)

As mentioned in a previous post, Weatheradio Canada is considering shutting down 48 network transmitters across the country. SWLing Post contributor, Dennis Dura, recommends checking out the Weatheradio Canada Newsletter for updates.

He also forwards the following list of sites that are proposed for decommissioning. Click here to download the list as a PDF.


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The International Space Station now has an accessible FM Repeater

If you’ve been following ham radio news lately, no doubt you’ve heard that the International Space Station now has an FM repeater in operation. Pretty much any amateur radio operator can use this repeater with a capable dual band radio and (ideally) a directional antenna.

Here’s the information about the new system from an ARISS news release:

First Element of ARISS Next Generation (Next-Gen)
Radio System 
Installed in ISS Columbus Module

September 2, 2020—The ARISS team is pleased to announce that set up and installation of the first element of our next generation radio system was completed and amateur radio operations with it are now underway. This first element, dubbed the InterOperable Radio System (IORS), was installed in the International Space Station Columbus module. The IORS replaces the Ericsson radio system and packet module that were originally certified for spaceflight on July 26, 2000.

Initial operation of the new radio system is in FM cross band repeater mode using an uplink frequency of 145.99 MHz with an access tone of 67 Hz and a downlink frequency of 437.800 MHz. System activation was first observed at 01:02 UTC on September 2. Special operations will continue to be announced.

The IORS was launched from Kennedy Space Center on March 6, 2020 on board the SpaceX CRS-20 resupply mission. It consists of a special, space-modified JVC Kenwood D710GA transceiver, an ARISS developed multi-voltage power supply and interconnecting cables. The design, development, fabrication, testing, and launch of the first IORS was an incredible five-year engineering achievement accomplished by the ARISS hardware volunteer team. It will enable new, exciting capabilities for ham radio operators, students, and the general public. Capabilities include a higher power radio, voice repeater, digital packet radio (APRS) capabilities and a Kenwood VC-H1 slow scan television (SSTV) system.

A second IORS undergoes flight certification and will be launched later for installation in the Russian Service module. This second system enables dual, simultaneous operations, (e.g. voice repeater and APRS packet), providing diverse opportunities for radio amateurs. It also provides on-orbit redundancy to ensure continuous operations in the event of an IORS component failure.

Next-gen development efforts continue. For the IORS, parts are being procured and a total of ten systems are being fabricated to support flight, additional flight spares, ground testing and astronaut training. Follow-on next generation radio system elements include an L-band repeater uplink capability, currently in development, and a flight Raspberry-Pi, dubbed “ARISS-Pi,” that is just beginning the design phase. The ARISS-Pi promises operations autonomy and enhanced SSTV operations.

ARISS is run almost entirely by volunteers, and with the help of generous contributions from ARISS sponsors and individuals. Donations to the ARISS program for next generation hardware developments, operations, education, and administration are welcome — please go to https://www.ariss.org/donate.html to contribute to these efforts.

ARISS–Celebrating 20 years of continuous amateur radio operations on the ISS!

If you’d like to get a taste for what it’s like making contacts via the ISS repeater, check out this video from K0LWC (thanks for the tip, Paul):

Of course, you don’t have to be an amateur radio operator to listen to the traffic on the ISS repeater. All you need is a scanner or receiver that can tune to the downlink frequency of 437.800 MHz and coordinate your listening session with an ISS pass (I like using NASA’s Spot the Station service). You’ll stand a much better chance of working or listening to the ISS repeater with a high pass.

Have you made a successful contact via the ISS repeater already or listened to the repeater traffic? Please comment!

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A review of the Xiegu G90 general coverage transceiver

The following review of the Xiegu G90 originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine:


A comprehensive review of the Xiegu G90 general coverage transceiver

My coming of age in the world of radio was during the era of big US and Japanese radio manufacturers.  Icom, Kenwood, Yaesu, JRC, and Ten-Tec––these were the icons of my youth. And, I freely confess, I developed a partiality for their products.

So when incredibly inexpensive transceivers from manufacturers in China started showing up on the market a little over a decade ago, I was…well, skeptical. Very.  Many of these radios were a fraction of the cost we had been paying, and some models looked like direct copies of radios that were already on the market…but these copies were all-too-often second-rate either in features or performance.

Thus, as it was my policy to invest in quality products, I continued to put my money toward US, Japanese, and European legacy manufacturers that I felt would be here for the long haul in the amateur radio and SWL communities.

Had I become a bit of a radio snob? I admit it…maybe I had. But in truth, I was simply waiting for a quality Chinese-made radio to come along and change my viewpoint.

Times have changed

Recently, I compiled a list of general coverage QRP transceivers for the SWLing Post. My buddy Eric (WD8RIF) pointed out that I neglected to include any of the Chinese-made Xiegu brand transceivers, all of which offer general-coverage receiving.

I know a number of hams who use Xiegu (pronounced roughly “SHEH-goo”) brand portable transceivers for Parks On The Air (POTA) and Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations, and like them very well.  So I decided to waive my doubts and check out Xiegu’s transceivers. I found myself intrigued with one in particular: the G90.

The Xiegu G90

At time of publication, there are three Xiegu models widely available: the G1M, X5105, and the G90.

The GM1 ($260) is a compact, four-band 5-watt QRP transceiver, while the X5101 ($520) is a 160M-6M 5-watt Double Conversion Superheterodyne QRP transceiver. Both look promising, but the G90 is a 20-watt 160M-10M transceiver sporting a 24-bit 48 kb/s sampling analog-to-digital/digital-to-analog converter at just $450. That’s the one I chose to investigate.

I found both the G90 receiver specs and 20-watt-output power very appealing, especially considering the modest $450 price tag. But I found this receiver has other impressive features:

  • Detachable faceplate with included separation cable
  • Full-color backlit display with both spectrum and waterfall
  • Built-in side panel extensions to protect the front face and back of the radio
  • General coverage receiver (0.5~30MHz) in SSB/CW/AM
  • Built-in automatic antenna tuner (ATU)

About the only feature the G20 doesn’t include is an option for a built-in battery pack. Certainly not a deal-breaker by any means, since more often than not I use an external LiFePo battery for field-portable radio work.

I made up my mind to bite the bullet and purchase the G90. I was incredibly curious whether it could compete with my Elecraft KX3 and/or KX2, and I also wanted to explore the capabilities of its general coverage receiver for broadcast listening.

I placed an order with US distributor MFJ Enterprises for a total cost––including shipping––of $467.95.

Initial impressions

I tend to review ham radio transceivers around the time they hit the market. One of the unique advantages of being one of the first people to review a transceiver is that I really have no idea what to expect in terms of performance, other than perhaps what the manufacturer’s reputation has taught me over the years. And if the manufacturer is fairly new to me––? Then it’s truly a roll of the dice.

The G90, however, had been on the market for quite a few months, so I simply avoided reading any in-depth reviews so I could form my own opinions. With that said, I knew in advance that this radio is already well-loved by a very active and enthusiastic community of amateur radio operators. So I had only to make up my mind, myself. I got to work.

Form-factor

When I first removed the G90 from its box, I was struck by its weight, build quality, and size. First off, it’s a heavy little radio. The Xiegu site notes that the weight of the radio is about 2.2 lbs (1 kg), but perhaps due to its compact size, it felt heavier to me. Indeed, when I placed it on my postal scales, it came in closer to 3 lbs 10 oz. Still a very reasonable weight for a portable radio, but a bit heavier than described.

Speaking of size, the G90’s shape is pretty unique. Looking at the radio head-on, it’s reminiscent of most portable QRP transceivers (like the CommRadio CTX-10 or Yaesu FT-818, for example) meaning that the front face is compact. The depth of the radio, though (or length, depending on how you look at it), is about 8.3 inches––or nearly 10” if you include the side panels––equivalent to many of my 100 watt radios.

The build quality of the G90 is truly impressive. Holding it in your hand, you feel like you’ve acquired a quality piece of kit. The chassis is very durable, the buttons have a tactile response, and both the front and rear are protected by built-in side panels (typically side panels would be a third-party addition for most radios).

Audio

Audio from the internal speaker, which is mounted on the top of the radio, is loud and punchy, a desirable attribute for a field radio. Better yet, when you port the audio to an external amplified speaker (headphone jack is on the left side of the radio head), fidelity is superb.

Display

The color TFT LCD screen measures only 1.8,” one of the smallest I’ve ever tested on a radio, but Xiegu did an admirable job laying out the interface so that it’s easy to read at any viewing angle. If you wear reading glasses to read a book, you’ll need them to read this display––some of the numbers and labels are tiny, but very sharp, crisp, and high contrast. I’ve had no difficulty whatsoever reading the display in the field.

What’s more, the spectrum display and waterfall are responsive and in real-time––there’s no delay or averaging which I especially appreciate when chasing CW and SSB signals. Although at first blush one might think the spectrum and waterfall are just too small to be useful, that would be a mistake. I was guilty of this prejudice myself, and now find I rely on the spectrum display to help locate unused frequencies, spot someone calling CQ, and even identify the relative proximity of an adjacent signal. Truly a helpful feature.

Bail

Unfortunately, there’s one very conspicuous omission on the part of the G90 designers: it has no bail nor feet of any sort to support the front of the radio and angle it for ergonomic operation. Herein lies my biggest criticism of this radio, because it truly needs something to prop up the front of the radio for comfortable operation, not to mention, to allow the bottom of the radio to dissipate heat effectively.

There are a number of third-party producers that will supply a bail for the G90, but many are clunky and expensive, and I feel an attached/integrated bail is always best.

Ad hoc solutions to the fore: in the field, I simply prop the G90 on my
Bioenno 15 aH LiFePo battery; in the shack, I use a small support stand I purchased for my Elecraft KX3. Not as good as a purpose-made bail, but this works.

Microphone

The microphone that accompanies the G90 is what you would expect from a mobile HF rig: almost all functions can be controlled by its backlit keypad. I have read a few reports of people dropping and breaking the supplied mic. Turns out, the Mic’s 8-Pin Modular Plug is configured like a number of Icom radio models, and a replacement mic can be purchased on Amazon for about $22.

Remote head

As mentioned earlier, the control head of the G90 can also be separated from the body for use in mobile applications such as a car, RV, or even in the shack. The real surprise here is that the separation cable is included in the package. I’m not sure I’ve ever owned a mobile radio that came with a separation cable––what a luxury! Great addition.

Internal ATU

Another surprise for a radio in this price class: the G90 has a built-in automatic antenna tuner (ATU). When I first made the decision to purchase and review the G90, I didn’t realize this, and in fact would have never guessed it to be a possibility in a $450 transceiver. What’s more, this ATU is one of the best I’ve ever used in the field: it’s quick to match, and seems to find a match with almost any setup. I almost wish Xiegu sold a stand-alone portable ATU so I could use it with my other radios that lack an internal ATU.

Power output

Unlike most of the portable transceivers on the market that have maximum output power of around 5-15 watts, the Xiegu G90 will pump out up to 20 watts. While 90% of all of my ham radio communications are accomplished at 10 watts or below, I’ve appreciated a little extra “juice” while operating in the field.

Note: due to the speed of my phone camera, not all of the LED segments of my battery pack are visible.

With all that’s packed into this transceiver, no wonder it’s a heavy little unit!

My conclusion here is that the G90 feels like a quality rig. But how does it perform? Let’s first take a look at how I evaluate the transceiver as a ham radio operator, then as a broadcast listener and SWL.

Ham Radio Operation

Over one month of operating the G90, most of that time has been in the field, as I’ve taken the radio along for a number of Parks On The Air (POTA) field activations. Although I’ll be commenting about the G90’s performance as a transceiver in general, keep in mind that I do so mainly through the eyes of a field operator.

Although I often dislike operating compact radios due to small buttons and complex embedded menus that supply knobs and buttons with multiple duties, I find operating the G90 surprisingly pleasant. All of the most important functions of the transceiver can be called up with one or two button presses. Obviously, a real ham radio operator played a part in designing the G90’s operation.

Tuning the G90 is a simple process. The main encoder, of course, allows you to tune up/down the band. By short-pressing the encoder knob, you can change between the hundreds, tens, ones, tenths, and one-hundredths of a kHz. In fact, it’s very simple to move around a band this way. The encoder action is defined by detents that you feel as you rotate the knob. Normally I’m not a fan of detends on a radio’s main encoder knob, but since this one is so small, I think I actually prefer it as a means to control the spinning action. There is no brake adjustment.

Upgraded G90 Encoder

The supplied encoder knob is made of plastic and has dimples on the front to give your finger a bit of grip as you tune up or down. Upon the recommendation of a friend, I purchased a third-party dimpled aluminum knob to replace it––a major upgrade for a modest $8 investment!

Changing between bands and modes is very simple with the G90. There are dedicated band and mode up/down buttons on top of the radio’s front panel much like those on the venerable Yaesu FT-817 and 818 series. The G90 defaults to ham radio band allocations, but there is a menu setting that allows you to also include broadcast bands between band changes. Nice touch.

There is a dedicated AF gain control on the front of the radio. After receiving the radio, I was disappointed by the lack of an RF gain control, something I use a lot during noisy band conditions. Fortunately, Xiegu included an RF Gain control in one of the latest firmware updates: to access it, simply press and hold the AGC button, then make adjustments to the RF Gain percentage with the main encoder. The G90 defaults to a 50% setting. While I’m not really sure what this setting means, I do find the RF gain control quite effective, even though it doesn’t respond like a legacy receiver’s RF gain control.

The Xiegu G90 has a simple and effective variable-filter control: simply press the FUNC button then the CMP button, and use the encoder to adjust the low end of the filter.  To adjust the high end, press the FUNC and NB button in the same way. I love the fact that the filter can be adjusted from both the high and low ends, and that it’s variable instead of set at predetermined fixed widths such as “wide” and “narrow.”  All mode filters are adjusted in this fashion.

CW Mode

The G90 is a capable CW transceiver and should please the CW operator. The keyer speed, ratio, auto modes, and paddle setup are all accessible from the KEY function button. By pressing the FUNC and Key buttons, you can access the CW volume and tone parameters. The G90 also allows you to turn on a QSK function and adjust the hang time. The G90’s version of QSK isn’t the full-break-in variety you might find in, say, the Elecraft KX series radios. Meaning, while the hang time is very short, if sending at high speed you won’t be able to hear another station break in between your characters. You will note a slight relay click. With that said, I find the QSK mode to be quite effective for my use because I’m not really a “full-break-in” kind of operator.

The yellow CW tune LED on the front of the G90. Some might find it distracting if engaged.

Speaking of CW, the G90 features a CW tune feature that indicates when you’ve locked onto a CW signal: a yellow LED will flash as CW is received. While I find this feature a bit distracting, I’m sure some operators will appreciate it. In addition, the G90 features a CW reader that will decode CW when a station is properly tuned in and isolated from others.

Note the CW decode at the bottom of the display.

In the field, this feature has helped me confirm call signs––but like most transceiver CW readers, it’s not always accurate, especially if the CW operator on the other end uses a hand key or bug. Still: a welcome feature.

SSB mode

Most of my operating time on the G90 has been in SSB mode, and I’ve been very pleased with the radio’s performance in this mode. The G90 allows you to adjust the mic gain and enable compression. I’ve gotten excellent audio reports from the numerous SSB contacts I’ve made on the G90.

I should note here that although I feel you get much more radio than you pay for with the G90, I do wish it had a voice keyer. Especially when I’m activating a park via POTA, I call CQ a lot. With my Elecraft KX3 and KX2, for example, I set the voice keyer to “beacon” mode which allows me to pre-record a CQ and have it playback the message on a loop with a few seconds in between to allow me to recognize anyone replying to my call.  I rely so heavily on this feature for SSB park activations, just to save my voice, I know the G90 can never displace my Elecraft field radios. Again, I wouldn’t expect such a feature in this price class, but it would make for a near ideal field radio.

Digital modes

One thing that surprised me about the G90––especially since it is an SDR––is that operating digital modes is less “native” than I would have expected. Many modern SDR transceivers make setting up for modes like FT8 relatively easy with both CAT control and often the radio itself is identified as a sound card, thus no external interface is needed. When I decided to try running FT8 on the G90, I was discouraged by the fact that setup is much more like that of a legacy radio. Indeed, many users have had communication issues with popular software packages.

Since I wanted to test the G90 as a field radio and since I do very little FT8 in the field, I simply omitted testing this functionality. I have read that many operators have, of course, been able to successfully use the G90 for digital modes, but be prepared to read through the G90 email discussion group (see link at end of article) for best practices.

Update: SWLing Post contributor, David White, brings up one fine point about the G90’s VOX control. “I use that feature for TX control when running any of the digital modes with the laptop audio in/out going through the rear AUX connection.” Thanks for pointing this out, David. VOX control really facilitates using digital modes because the radio can detect audio comping from the computer and engage transmit without having to use CAT control of any sort.

Receiver Performance

Overall, I’m favorably impressed with the G90’s receiver. Both sensitivity and selectivity are above par, especially for a radio in this price class. The G90’s noise floor is also very acceptable, though not as low as that of my Elecraft radios. I do find that with the G90, I often need to ride the RF gain control in our noisy summer band conditions. I find that by adjusting the RF Gain and selecting the most effective AGC setting, I’m able to achieve an excellent signal-to-noise ratio.

In a nutshell: the G90 packs a lot of performance in an affordable radio, especially if you’re willing to tailor the filter settings, AGC, and RF gain to best accommodate the conditions.

Field notes

I’ve been very pleased with how long I can operate on battery power with the G90. Even with the display backlit set to 80% and with the volume set to high, I found that the maximum amperage the G90 would consume was about 0.60 amps. While I wouldn’t consider that benchmark, it is respectable.

I also like the G90’s built-in antenna analyzer. By pressing and holding the POW button, the G90 will display a graph showing the SWR figures across your specified frequency range. A brilliant and handy feature in the field! It’s important to note, though, that during the test the radio is transmitting a little RF so don’t try it with a receive-only antenna.

I do find that the G90’s body gets pretty warm–downright hot–when activating a park. It’s no wonder, really, because I often end up calling CQ at five second intervals over the course of 60-90 minutes on average.  That’s demanding a lot of a fanless radio, thus it gets very warm to the touch. Still, while I never had any overheating issues, I’ve also never operated the radio in direct sunlight for extended periods of time and I’ve always propped up the radio so that air can flow underneath the chassis. Again, if for no other reason than to dissipate heat, Xiegu should have incorporated a bail or folding feet. As much as I love the front and back panel extension, I would have chosen a bail over these.

Broadcast listening

While broadcast listening is often an afterthought for most ham radio operators, it never is for me. I like to travel lightly and I like my QRP transceiver to double-duty as a tool for SWLing.

From day one, I have spent a great deal of time with the G90 across the broadcast bands.

Shortwave

One of the main reasons I decided to review the Xiegu G90 is because I found so little information out there about how well the general coverage receiver worked for HF broadcast listening.  The G90 has a frequency range of 0.5-30 MHz (SSB, CW, and AM).

But I couldn’t find a specification showing the maximum width of the AM filter. In a few display photos with the AM filter width was indicated as 5.4 kHz––if this was so, I concluded, it was fairly workable if not particularly wide. However, only moments after opening the box and putting the G90 on the air, I tuned to the Voice of Greece (9,420 kHz) and learned how to change the AM bandwidth.  I was very pleased to find that in AM mode, that indicated filter width is only half the actual width: this means the G90’s AM filter can actually be widened to 10.8 kHz––brilliant!

In short, I’ve been very pleased using the G90 for shortwave broadcast listening; it has exceeded my expectations. I find that in terms of both sensitivity and selectivity, it offers performance on par with a dedicated receiver.

For an idea of how the G90 sounds on shortwave with its internal speaker only, check out the following videos:

The Voice of Greece

Radio Nacional De España

Broadcast listening is basic with general coverage transceivers: the G90 has no synchronous detector with selectable sidebands, for example. G90 users have requested this feature in a future firmware update, but I wouldn’t hold my breath in anticipation. I imagine G90 developers will be more concerned with ham radio-specific functionality.

Mediumwave

Let’s face it: Asking the G90 or any ham radio transceiver to perform on the mediumwave/AM broadcast band is asking it to do something it was never designed to do.

With that said, I have been very pleased with the G90 on the AM broadcast band.

Audio fidelity is excellent, especially with the AM filter widened appropriately and when using an external speaker or headphones.

The G90 performs so well between about 900-1700 kHz, I have even done some proper mediumwave DXing with it.

Below 900 kHz, I’m still able to tune strong and weak stations, but I have found some odd behavior with imaging as I tuned down to 500 kHz: some stations would move across the spectrum display in the opposite direction to which I was moving the encoder. I suspect this may be due to a very strong local station near me on 1010 kHz that was overloading the front end.

Again, however, I never expected any reasonable performance on mediumwave–especially since many transceiver manufacturers intentionally attenuate those frequencies, so I’ll accept any quirks it may have here and consider any G90 mediumwave functionality at all simply icing on the cake.

Important caveat for the broadcast listener

While, overall, I’ve been super pleased listening to the shortwave and mediumwave with the G90, there is (at time of publishing) a major drawback for anyone who would like to use the G90 exclusively as a stand-alone receiver: there is no way to completely disable the transmitter. 

The lowest power setting on the G90 is 1 watt. While that’s not a lot, it’s more than enough to fry your amplified magnetic loop antenna, for example. So, please use caution.

Although you could make it more difficult to transmit by not hooking up the microphone or a key (of course), there’s no way to disengage the internal ATU. If you accidentally press and hold the TUN button, it will engage the ATU and transmit.

In addition, if you press and hold the POW button, you will engage the antenna analyser function which will also inject RF as it sweeps across the bands testing the antenna’s standing-wave ratio.

Based on a suggestion, I even tried setting up the G90 in split mode with the transmit frequency set well outside the meter band I was operating.  I thought by having the transmit frequency out-of-band, it would keep the radio from transmitting. Turns out, I discovered a bug in the G90. When you perform this procedure, it essentially bypasses the safeguards that keep an operator from transmitting out-of-band. Since this is public now, I assume it will be addressed in a future firmware update.

And, as careful as I am as an operator, I would never hook my G90 up to an active receiving antenna for this very reason. While I’m sure there’s probably a hardware modification to kill the transmitter section on the G90, it would be brilliant if Xiegu developers include a function via a firmware update to snuff transmit.  At the very least, perhaps they could devise a way to disengage the ATU and antenna analyser functions via firmware.

Summary

Every radio has its pros and cons. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget my initial impressions and observations. Here’s the G90’s list, from the first moments I turned it on to the time of writing this review:

Pros:

  • Amazing “bang-for-buck”––a lot of radio for the money
  • Crisp, easy-to-read backlit color display
  • Detachable control head, cables included
  • Built-in side panel protection for head and back
  • AM broadcast listening
    • Excellent shortwave reception
    • Capable mediumwave performance
  • 20 watts power output
  • Mic can control all-important radio functions, including direct frequency entry
  • Very good audio from internal speaker

Cons:

  • No built-in bail
  • No manual or auto notch filter
  • Very few options for customizing the display
  • (Minor) Firmware updates must be made to faceplate and transceiver body separately
  • MW: some weird functionality below 800-900 kHz (eg, images in opposite direction)
  • No voice keyer
  • No internal battery option
  • Cannot lower power output below 1 watt, cannot disable transmit
  • Bottom of chassis gets hot during prolonged periods of operation
  • ARRL and Sherwood testing shows key clicks in transmit

Conclusion

Despite the shortcomings above, I have to say: the Xiegu G90 has exceeded my expectations, and then some.

Without a doubt, the G90 is a solid radio and a steal at $450 US. If you’ve always wanted a field-friendly portable transceiver, but didn’t want to shell out a lot of money, you can buy the Xiegu G90 for the same price you might pay for a two year-old iPhone. Impressive.

Although the G90 is a budget radio, it doesn’t play like one. Performance is on par with a radio twice its price and not only does it pack a lot of extras––like an internal ATU, mobile-worthy control microphone and detachable faceplate––those extras actually work just as they should. Nothing about this radio feels “cheap.” In fact, I’d be more inclined to call it a little workhorse of a radio.

To answer a question I asked myself early in this process: will the G90 displace my Elecraft KX2 as my field radio of choice? No, but that’s because I already own the KX2 and find that it fits my operating style better than any other transceiver I’ve owned thus far. Yes, I still prefer the KX2’s operation, performance and versatility over that of the G90, but the former is more than twice the price when similarly configured.

I think the G90 would also make for a stellar beginner’s radio, as it is a totally self-contained station; simply apply power, and play!

In short, I’m pleased to report that I’ve finally found a very affordable radio that’s a solid performer, and I look forward to further offerings from Xiegu.

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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.


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