Those of us who have had an interest in broadcasting over many years realize pretty soon that technology is constantly changing. The following relates to the situation where I live in Australia, but I suspect similar things are occurring in other parts of the world, and serve as a constant reminder that we live in a world of change.
When we were in our teens, we had radios that would tune AM and one or more shortwave bands. Hence many of us first heard interstate medium wave stations, and realised that signals there travelled further during darkness hours. Then we switched to SW1 or SW2 and often heard nothing. But persistence paid off and soon we were listening to stations that were in other countries! And when we connected a long wire to the antenna terminal signals improved dramatically. Wasn’t that amazing?
Somewhere in the 70s (I think) our TV stations brought in colour and that too was an amazing change to experience.
Then – somewhat belatedly for us in Australia – FM radio came along and gee the quality of the audio was outstanding! Even my late father was surprised by the clarity with which he could now listen to classical music on our nationwide dedicated ABC Classic FM station. FM also brought with it the introduction of “Community Radio” stations and in more recent years many other types of broadcasters.
Satellite TV came to us in the form of Foxtel: carrying so many different channels it was bewildering. When I realized that the events of 9-11 were telecast live on BBC World (and others), I too decided we should have Foxtel, as I have always been a “news nerd”.
By the late 1990s – having seen a hey day in probably the 60s and 70s – shortwave listening was rapidly becoming a thing of the past, and only hobbyists listened to SW: I remember being asked by another passenger when I was on a South Pacific cruise, what was that I was listening with out on deck? Was it some kind of computer? No, it was just a Sony SW55, and I was listening to Radio Australia.
Then, probably 5 years ago in Australia DAB+ radio was introduced, and whereas we previously had a choice of perhaps 10 to 15 AM & FM radio stations to tune to, suddenly we had a choice of these same stations on DAB radio (in major cities only), PLUS another 10 or 15! We have a phenomenal choice of what to listen to. From a technical view it was amazing to think that all the signals were coming from only one or two transmitters. For those of us with some technical interest it was for a while inconceivable that each station would not have its own transmitter.
Meanwhile, our TV systems have also become digitized in the last couple of years. Not just do we have perhaps three different channels for each commercial network, so 3 commercial networks are now providing probably 9 different programs. On top of that the Government broadcasters (ABC & SBS) have provided not just at least 3 TV channels each, but each of their numerous radio services is now also available on every TV set (eg BBC World Service is available 24/7).
About the same time, with higher internet speeds (ie better data transfers) being available, TV services and radio services are increasingly being streamed into our homes and to our mobile devices, with radio Apps promising they’re “free”, when in fact they do incur a data transfer impact/cost in whatever Internet plan one may have available. Many of the older generation probably don’t even realize what streaming video or sound means, but I think the younger generation is catching on.
Now, to my horror, my favourite DAB music station (“Buddha”) has been making announcements on air saying that the DAB service will be terminated from September 1st, and if I want to continue listening, I must tune in using that Company’s own “LiSTNR” app! Does this mean that listening to what comes over the ether will be a thing of the past? Will we be obliged to pay $x per annum to use a company’s streaming app just to be able to listen to their programs? Whatever is the world coming to?
Our country is, I suspect, very well catered for in terms of media services, and I wonder if we’ve done that too well. I also fear though, that those of us trying to push for reintroduction of shortwave services for remote Northern Territory areas (where streaming apps are a non sense), and for Australia to again broadcast into Pacific territories, may be fighting an uphill battle.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jerome van der Linden, who shares the following response from from the Australian Foreign Affairs department regarding any future shortwave services to the Pacific. As Jerome notes, the letter “suggests that all is not yet lost, though it’s lacking in commitment.”
NATE, in collaboration with Storybuilt Media, has created a feature-length documentary titled “Vertical Freedom,” which highlights the professional and personal lives of six communications infrastructure workers in the United States.
Throughout the film, these cellular and broadcast tower climbers share what compels and excites them about their line of work. Plus, how to overcome every-day danger in order to connect us all.
Ky Nguyen is just one of the climbers featured in the film. He has worked with RIO Steel and Tower out of Alvarado, Texas for the last 10 years.
After the Great Recession, Nguyen wanted to move away from his job in construction and — while he is skilled at his craft now — he was initially hired onto the tower communication service’s team with zero experience.
“I started as a climber and then just kept working my way up,” he said. “Then I became foreman and began project managing. I’m one of those types of guys where, if you want it done a certain way, you have to be with them, showing them, leading by example – so I’m climbing every day.” [Continue reading at Radio World…]
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jerome van der Linden, for the following guest post:
Experiences as an SWL in Saudi Arabia 1990 /91
by Jerome van der Linden
From about 1986 I worked for the Broadcasting Division of Telecom Australia (now “Telstra”), in Adelaide, South Australia. This Division of Telecom Australia had responsibility for installation, maintenance and operation of Australian Government funded broadcasting services (radio & TV) such as ABC (including Radio Australia) and SBS. In later years responsibility for this was taken away from Telecom Australia and handed to BAI.
I already had a life long interest in Broadcasting and short wave radio in particular, and I was recruited into a new non technical managerial position in the then new Broadcasting Division of Telecom Australia: it was the perfect job to my mind. In this period of the late 1980s, the organisation was heavily involved in the capital works to get Radio Australia Cox Peninsula (Darwin) back into operation, after it was largely destroyed by cyclone Tracy in 1975, as well as building the three Northern Territory vertical incidence (“shower”) services at Katherine, Tennant Creek, and Alice Springs (VL8K, VL8T, and VL8A respectively). (The NT is probably about the size of a major US state like Texas). Apart from doing my non technical work, I took every opportunity to learn more and get involved in the technical side of things. On one occasion, when I knew that the technical staff would be testing the new transmission facilities on a range of frequencies, I was able to confirm with the onsite technician a booming signal into Adelaide from the Alice Springs transmitter he was briefly testing on 11715kHz in the daytime.
Alice Springs (VL8A) transmitter site in the last year is was operating (Photo by Jerome van der Linden).
As the opportunity arose, and as I was also part of the Southern Cross DX Club, I regularly participated in the Radio Australia DX program (I cannot even remember its name, 30 years later) that was produced by Mike Bird. I also contacted many rural cattle stations (equivalent to “ranches” in the US) that were spread throughout the Northern Territory to get them to report on how they were receiving the new NT HF service broadcasting stations when they came on the air. I saw it as a way of promoting the shortwave radio services throughout the Northern Territory.
My work gave me the opportunity to visit not just each of the new NT HF transmitter stations, but also included several visits to the Radio Australia (RA) facility at Cox Peninsula. While I also saw the old RA Receiving station on Cox Peninsula (dating from the period when signals were received from RA Shepparton and then re-transmitted from Darwin, in the period pre cyclone Tracy), this was at a time when that facility had already been largely dismantled.
In early 1990, I sought and was awarded a contract position with Telecom Australia’s Saudi project, and I was seconded to that from my job in the Broadcasting Division. From my own research, I knew that radio and TV in Saudi Arabia was quite unlike what I was used to, and I made it a point to take with me, on loan, a Sony ICF 2001D receiver. So it was in March 1990 that I arrived in Riyadh on a single person’s contract. I was allocated a 2 storey 3 bedroom villa for my own use among a large number of other identical villas occupied by other Telecom Australia staff, that were all located within a walled compound close to the Saudi Telecom offices.
Almost immediately, it was obvious that I would have to rely on the BBC World Service for my English news, as the KSABS radio services were nearly all in Arabic, and its TV service was even less appealing to me. I managed to string up some long wire antennas on the roof, and it was not long before I was also able to pick up services from Radio Australia. I got in touch with Nigel Holmes, then RA’s Frequency Manager in Melbourne, and was able to let him know how signals were being received in the Middle East, even though South Asia was about the limit of RA’s intended reach at that time. As my office was in the city of Riyadh some distance away, I was allocated a car for my own use, and – having found these were quite common – soon fitted it with a Short Wave capable car radio. In fact it was the one I reviewed in the 1991 WRTH.
The compound housing the many Australians and their families had its own CCTV system, and the Aussies were entertained by a regular supply of Australian VHS TV tapes. The same CCTV network was also used by Australians from the project making out as wannabee disk jockeys with their own programs before 7am and into the evenings.
As many people will recall, in mid 1990, Sadam Hussein, the then leader of Iraq, invaded Kuwait, and there was some concern he might continue and invade Saudi Arabia. As a direct consequence, radio with World news became even more important for the Australians, and the many other expats working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).
An unexpected benefit to the expats living in Riyadh was the arrival of thousands of US ground forces, who brought with them their very own AFN broadcasting services which operated on FM with their own high pitched professional female DJs who played the latest pop music. This was at a time when this type of music was not heard at all on local Saudi radio, and the only source we had of modern music was the many bootlegged copies of cassette music which were for sale everywhere (in addition to pirated copies of software).
When Sadam Hussein decided to stop international residents from leaving Iraq to travel home, their roles as ‘hostages’ caused international broadcasters to improve their services into the Middle East.
That included Radio Australia, and at least one of its Cox Peninsula transmitters was used to improve the signal to the Middle East in the hours up to its daily shutdown at midnight Darwin time (1430UTC). The strongest signal in those days was a 21MHz frequency, and it mostly boomed in. I recall one evening when the transmitter’s audio sounded very suspect to me. I made a quick international phone call direct to Cox Peninsula; spoke to the duty shift supervisor who I knew personally; described the signal to him; he picked the problem; switched the transmitter off and placed another transmitter online on the same frequency which gave clean audio, that I was able to confirm to him.
A Patriot missiles being fired to intercept a scud missile on 24 Feb, 1991 (Photo by Jerome van der Linden)
It was about this time that I realised my Sony ICF2001D had a feature I could use to the benefit of all my fellow Australians in the compound. In the first instance, I was able to arrange for an audio feed from the 2001D in my villa into the compound’s CCTV system, so that – provided someone plugged the audio in correctly – the signal from my Sony radio’s line out was relayed to every other villa that cared to listen. As I was absent during most of the working day, I used the Sony’s programming feature that allowed for up to 4 separate listening sessions to be set up. Each program required a SW frequency and start/stop times to be programmed. I think each session had a time limit of perhaps 4 hours. This enabled me to set the radio up to relay BBC World Service for most of the day switching automatically to certain frequencies as appropriate, and also provided the people with some brief Radio Australia segments with news from home.
In the period prior to January 1991’s, when George Bush had promised to retake Kuwait if Sadam Hussein did not withdraw, it was also interesting to pick up Iraqi broadcasts intended for (and to try to demoralise) American servicemen. Very strong signals from Baghdad were regularly audible, I seem to recall 11825kHz being one such frequency.
In the event, about January 16, 1991 the allies invaded Kuwait from Saudi Arabia, and made devastating air based attacks on Iraqi facilities. Radio Baghdad’s shortwave service did not seem to last very long after that.
We Australians were told in no uncertain fashion that Iraqi “Scud” missiles were ballistic (hence not accurately targeted), and would definitely not have the range to reach Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The experts were wrong however, and a couple of scuds did reach Riyadh. As our compound was in the “flight path” from Iraq to the Riyadh airbase the Americans were using, it turned out we were not in the best location! The American forces had “Patriot Missiles” set up to intercept any Scuds that got through, but nobody told us that the Patriots break the sound barrier seconds after being fired, and that they’re only capable of intercepting Scud missiles just before they hit the ground. You can imagine the sonic booms that went off the first night Scud missiles arrived: I have photo in my home that some daredevil took outside, that proves all this.
We had been told to tape up the glass on our villas in case it should shatter, and that we should leave our TV sets tuned to our CCTV channel turned on at all times, with the volume up so that if there was an air raid the staff and their families could be alerted by means of a piercing alarm sound that someone had fiendishly created. And so it was that one Thursday, when Jonathan Marks had scheduled a telephone interview with me for Radio Netherland’s Media Network, we were discussing media events in Saudi Arabia when the air raid alarm went off, and we had to postpone the rest of the interview. I seem to recall that he did call me again later the same night and we finished things off. I never did get to hear the program, or I would have recorded it! As far as I know, it’s not one of the programs that Jonathan has been able to find to include in his on line media vault. If anyone else has a copy of this early 1991 edition, I’d love to hear it again.
As the experts had been wrong in their assessment, it was decided that most of the Australians would be removed from Riyadh, and I was sent to do my work from Jeddah, for about 6 weeks. Again it was a slightly different media environment, and while interesting, I missed the ICF2001D, and bought a cheap multi band analogue portable to be able to keep up to date with BBC World Service News broadcasts.
By early March 1991, most of the fighting was over, and it was safe for me to return to Riyadh, where I worked for another two or three months, before returning to my normal job and family in Australia.
Off-Air Audio Recordings
Radio Baghdad to US Troops (1990):
BBC World Service News of the start of Desert Storm (January 16, 1991):
Radio Australia announcement by the acting Foreign Affairs Minister (January 16, 1991):
AFN Riyadh (Brief clip of Army Sergeant Patty Cunningham signing off her shift):
Arecibo Observatory’s 305-meter telescope in November of 2020 (Credit: University of Central Florida)
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’sRadio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Jerome van der Linden, Zack Schindler, and Wilbur Forcier and for the following tips:
Communication with astronauts in space is vital, whether it’s during travel, when they’re doing experiments on the International Space Station, or just want to chat. It’s also pretty tricky.
That’s the topic of the latest episode of Twenty Thousand Hertz, where host Dallas Taylor speaks with International Space Station commander Peggy Whitson, NASA audio engineer Alexandria Perryman, and astrophysicist Paul Sutter to get an idea of how communication between astronauts and Earth works across the vacuum of space.[…]
WASHINGTON — The National Science Foundation announced Nov. 19 it will perform a “controlled decommissioning” of the giant radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, citing recent damage that made it unsafe to operate or even repair.
In a call with reporters, NSF officials said two broken cables used to support a 900-ton platform suspended over the telescope’s 305-meter main dish put the entire structure at risk of collapse. One cable slipped out of its socket in August, falling to the dish below and damaging it, while the second broke Nov. 6
Both cables are attached to the same tower, one of three surrounding the main dish. “The engineers have advised us that the break of one more cable will result in an uncontrolled collapse of the structure,” said Ralph Gaume, director of the NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences, referring to cables attached to that same tower. That would result in the platform crashing down to the main dish and potentially toppling one or more of the towers.
Engineers advising the NSF and the University of Central Florida (UCF), which operates Arecibo for the NSF, concluded that it was not possible to safely repair the structure because of the collapse risk. “After the recent failure, WSP does not recommend allowing personnel on the platform or the towers, or anywhere in their immediate physical vicinity in case of potential sudden structural failure,” stated WSP, one engineering firm involved in that analysis, in a Nov. 11 letter to UCF.
“NSF has concluded that this recent damage to the 305-meter telescope cannot be addressed without risking the lives and safety of work crews and staff, and NSF has decided to begin the process of planning for a controlled decommissioning of the 305-meter telescope,” said Sean Jones, assistant director of the NSF’s Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate.
Engineers are working on a plan to carry out that controlled decommissioning, which will take several weeks to complete.[…]
As Category 4 Hurricane Iota neared landfall in Central America on November 16, the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) was forced to suspend operations at 0300 UTC because of what HWN Manager Bobby Graves, KB5HAV, described as “deafening interference from a foreign AM broadcast station that came out of nowhere at 0200 UTC.” At the time, the net had shifted to its 40-meter frequency of 7.268 kHz, collecting real-time weather and damage reports via amateur radio.
“This was heartbreaking for our team, as the eyewall of Iota was just barely offshore,” Graves said. “The storm had weakened slightly to a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 155 MPH.” After activating at 1300 UTC, the net was able to collect and forward reports from various parts of Nicaragua and Honduras via WX4NHC throughout the day for relay to forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Iota was the most powerful storm on record to make landfall this late in the hurricane season.
Graves said the very strong AM signal was on 7.265 MHz. “From my location, it was S-9,” he told ARRL. “You could not hear anything but the BC station.” The source of the signal was not clear, but as he noted, other foreign broadcast stations are to be heard from 7.265 to 7.300 MHz and splattering close by.
Stations handling emergency traffic during the response to Category 5 Hurricane Iota had requested clear frequencies on November 16 to avoid interfering with the HWN and with WX4NHC, as well as with a Honduran emergency net operation on 7.180 MHz and a Nicaraguan emergency net operating on 7.098 MHz. It’s not known if those nets were also affected by interference from the numerous broadcasters on 40 meters. “Thank you to all who allowed us a clear frequency,” Graves said on behalf of the HWN.[…]
[Personal note: I understand that this is very late in the season for the Hurricane Watch Net to activate. Normally, they operate on 20 meters, but moved to 40 meters for the evening. I don’t believe net control was aware that this portion of the 40 meter band is shared with international broadcasters. I don’t believe the international broadcaster could be called “interference”–they operate on a publicly available schedule–ham radio nets are actually the ones who are frequency agile. This seems to have just caught them off guard. I believe the HWN will be using frequencies below 7.2 MHz moving forward.]
I think this passive loop antenna project has been so appealing because (1.) most of us around the world are sheltering at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic and (2.) this project is simple and you likely have all of the components in your tool shed or junk box at this very moment.
A number you have written to tell me about your antenna builds and some of you have agreed to allow me to share your projects with the SWLing Post community.
Below, you’ll find three fine homebrew examples of the NCPL antenna–all of which were made with what these fine radio enthusiasts had on-hand:
Jerome van der Linden
Jerome’s NCPL antenna
Well, I took up the challenge and built a NCPL antenna pretty close to your instructions.
Unfortunately, the coax I had available used (had aluminium shielding, and too late into the project I discovered solder would not take to it. My solution was to cannibalize a coax cable joiner (see photos attached), where – normally – the centre conductors are joined / held by a plastic centre piece and screw fittings.
The braid / shield for the two bits of coax is clamped / squeezed by an outer metal piece. My cannibalising effort involved removing the plastic centre bit which joins the two centre cores, and keeping just the outer metal component which I used (after completely cutting through the coax) to clamp the two metal braid sections, while the two centre copper bits were far enough apart for me to solder the leads for the ferrite balun.
Of course, I could not do the same at the top of the loop where the internal and external conductors need to swap over. I soldered some quite thick copper wire (perhaps 2mm in diameter) to each center core, pushed the center core into the opposing coax and coiled the 2mm thick copper tightly around each end of the coax.
Once it was all taped up it looks no worse than yours, and it does indeed WORK! [see photo above]
Here in Oz, I could not source the identical ferrite, but I think it’s pretty close. Best performance for me is on 11MHz, where the Radio New Zealand signal on 11725 is markedly better using the loop than the internal whip on my Tecsun PL-880. Other bands not quite so significant, but the Noise level is definitely lower.
As you say, Jerome, once all packaged up, it looks great! Sure, the mixture of materials you had on hand wasn’t ideal (aluminium shielding, etc.) but you found a way to make it work from the resources you had in your home. And I love the fact it’s lowed your RFI level! Thanks for sharing!
Giuseppe Morlè (IZ0GZW)
I’m Giuseppe Morlè (IZ0GZW), from Formia, central Italy, on the Tyrrhenian Sea.
I wanted to build your noise canceling loop seen on SWLing Post …
seems to work well especially from 40 meters. upward…
the diameter is 50 cm.
I will do other tests soon.
You can see the initial test on my YouTube channel via this link:
Thanks for the nice idea and a greetings from Italy.
73. Giuseppe IZ0GZW
Thank you, Giuseppe! What an amazing view you have there from your balcony! I’m quite impressed your PL-660 can take advantage of this design so well. We look forward to your other tests! Grazie mille!
My idea was to use a fitness hoop 75cm diameter bought off eBay. I removed the flashy striping to reveal a plastic like hoop that was joined in one spot with a plastic insert.
I have wrapped the whole hoop in tin-clad copper foil tape that has a conductive adhesive backing, but to be sure I have soldered all the overlapping seams. I drilled two holes opposite each other for the upper foil connections and the lower exit to the Balun.
Hopefully the three pictures will be helpful, I did the 4 turn design on Airspys website and it works really well connected to my RSPdx.
Thank you, John. What a fantastic way to build the NCPL antenna without using a coax for the loop. Indeed, since your plastic hoop has a small insert in the middle, you’ve an ideal spot to make the shield to center conductor cross-over. Very clever! I also like how you mounted the 1:1 Balun (or Unun) on a small board. Thanks for sharing this.
Post readers: If you have your own unique NCPL antenna design, please consider sharing it with us! Contact me with details and photos. I’ll plan to publish at least one more post with examples here in the near future.