Tag Archives: Jerome van der Linden

Guest Post: Jerome’s experiences as an SWL in Saudi Arabia from 1990-91

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):

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Radio Waves: Solar-Powered Broadcast Transmitters, Decommissioning Arecibo, and HWN in the path of an International Broadcaster

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’s Radio 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:


Powering communication networks using solar power (BAI Communications)

BAI Communications (BAI) is committed to reducing emissions and contributing to a more sustainable future.

Over the past four years, BAI has invested in a number of initiatives that reduce power consumption as well as the carbon released into the atmosphere.

This year, four solar-powered sites were introduced in BAI’s broadcast transmission network; Yatpool, Victoria; Mawson, Western Australia; Minding, Western Australia; and Brandon, Queensland.

The annual reduction in CO2 emissions from our recent solar investment is 698 tonnes, equivalent to reducing:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions from 2.7km driven by an average passenger vehicle
  • CO2 emissions from charging 89 million smartphones
  • Greenhouse emissions from 237 tonnes of waste sent to landfill

Find out how BAI implemented this solar power initiative as part of our commitment to managing our energy use and reducing consumption.

Click here to download case study (PDF).

The complexity of sending sounds to (and from) space (Mashable)

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.[]

NSF to decommission Arecibo radio telescope (Space News)

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.[]

International Broadcast Station Interference Overwhelms Hurricane Watch Net (ARRL News)

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.]


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Beating the Quarantine Blues: Readers build homebrew NCPL antennas

My homebrew version of the NCPL antenna.

Recently, I published a step-by-step guide on building a Noise-Cancelling Passive Loop (NCPL) antenna. Evidently, this antenna project really resonated with readers! [See what I did there? If so, my apologies!]

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

Jerome writes:

Hello Thomas,

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)

Dear Thomas,

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!

John Mills

Hi Thomas,

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.

73

John

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.

Got Loops?

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.


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VKS-737 Australian HF Communications services for travellers

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jerome van der Linden, who writes:

At the Adelaide Caravan & Camping Show this last weekend, I picked up a brochure outlining the services of the VKS-737 HF Radio Network operated by a Public Benevolent Institution Established in 1993.

Its mission statement is to provide emergency and general radio communications assistance services to travellers in rural and remote areas of Australia using Base stations located in Adelaide, Alice Springs, Cairns, Carnarvon, Charleville, Charters Towers, Darwin, Derby, Meekatharra, Mount Isa, Newcastle, Perth, Port Hedland, St Marys, and Swan Hill. Some of these stations are Royal Flying Doctor base stations.

The brochure details the Channels / Frequencies used as follows: 1: 5,455kHz; 2: 8,022; 3:11,612; 4: 14,977; 5: 3,995; 6: 6,796, and 7: 10,180kHz

The VKS-737 web site also has an interesting and at times humorous example of a couple of videos showing travellers making use of the system.
https://vks737.radio/how-good-is-hf-radio/

Apparently, apart from licensing requirements, the equipment required is not cheap, being in the order of AU$3,800 to $4,300. I think the equipment is made by Codan. The brochure also makes the point that HF radio can be used for entertainment such as to receive BBC World Service and Radio New Zealand. Clearly, the group is up to date in being aware that Australia’s own short wave broadcasting services are now – regrettably – a non event.

Thank you for sharing this, Jerome! I’ve heard of the VKS-737 service, but did not realize their network was so robust and that it piggybacks on a portion of the Royal Flying Doctor network.

Post readers: Anyone here familiar with the VKS-737 network?  Have you ever used the system  Please comment!

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Sydney Hobart Yacht Race Frequencies

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jerome van der Linden, who writes:

I just found after reviewing a 16 page PDF of regulations etc from the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, some relevant information for listeners who may want to try to hear the boat to shore communications of yachts participating in this annual yacht race, which is quite famous in this part of the world.

This race will commence at 1300 Sydney time 26th December, which is 0200 UTC, by my reckoning (today, down here). The race normally runs for about 3 or 4 days depending on conditions. It’s not clear to me just when the boats are expected to report their positions, other than that shown below for Green Cape, which is in southern News South Wales. Perhaps someone else can add the time schedule if they know it.

“Boats shall be capable of transmitting/receiving, as a minimum, on the following frequencies:

– VHF – International Channels 16, 72, 73, 80 and 81
– HF/SSB – 4483kHz and 6516kHz and such other frequencies as the Organising Authority may determine”

“Boats shall maintain a 24 hour listening watch for the duration of their race on VHF Channel 16.

For radio communications, a boat’s name may be limited to not more than two words. The Race Committee may alter names where appropriate. The Sailing Instructions will require that boats report by radio when they are in the vicinity of Green Cape and make a declaration confirming their time of passing as well as the following:

  • The HF radio is fully operational
  • Liferaft(s) are on board
  • Engine and batteries are operational
  • Boat and crew are in a satisfactory condition to continue
  • The skipper has comprehensively considered the most current weather forecast and the boat and crew are fully prepared for the conditions forecast.”

[Note that] I just found, from a post a couple years ago, that the time for reporting may be 0735 and 1905 Australian eastern time, which would mean 2035 and  0805 UTC while the race is in progress. It also suggests the 6516kHz frequency is the main one, with 4483 being the backup.

Brilliant, Jerome! Thank you for sharing these frequencies—how I would love to listen to some of the craft report in on HF. I think I’ll be spending some time down under on the KiwiSDR network the next few days!

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4KZ update: Transmitting low power for now

The 4KZ transmitter is located in Innisfail, Australia

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jerome van der Linden, who writes:

Have been communicating with Al Kirton (4KZ, Innisfail, Queensland Manager), and by virtue of my membership of a couple of Facebook groups for caravan (trailer to you) owners in Australia, have publicized the fact that Al is keen for reception reports from people in the target area.

Al also advised that they’re not even on 500 watts at the moment:

“We are only on 300 watts due to the fact that we only have one of the two 600 watt RF modules working.(Half of the 600 watts in the good module is lost into the combiner). It should be much better on ~ 1 Kw when the part arrives from the USA and the module is repaired.”

Thank you for the update, Jerome!

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4KZ Update: broadcasts will commence after transmitter repairs

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jerome van der Linden, who shares an update from 4KZ Station Manager, Al Kirton:

Hi Jerome

5055 is not on the air yet.

The transmitter failed and requires some inexpensive parts which are not available in Australia. They should be here any day from the US.

We hope to be able to commence in the near future.[…]

Best wishes

Al Kirton
Radio 4KZ

Thanks for sharing this update, Jerome. For more information about 4KZ, check out this previous post.

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