Tag Archives: Jock Elliott (KB2GOM)

Teaching an old dog old tricks

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

It was Don Moore’s excellent article — An Introduction to DXing the MF Marine Bands — that inspired me. If you haven’t read it, do so now; it’s terrific. But be warned: my guess is that it will inspire you too.

Bottom line, ever since I read it, I have very much wanted to hear at least some of those MF marine stations that Don writes about. One of Don’s recommendations is “Hang Out on 2182 kHz.” So sometimes when I am messing around in the radio shack, I will park one of my shortwave receivers on 2182 USB in the hopes of hearing some marine communications. 2182 is the frequency that the US Coast Guard once monitored as a distress frequency, but no more.

According to Don: “Today 2182 kHz still gets some use as a calling frequency, where a ship and a shore station quickly arrange to have a conversation on another frequency. But the more common use now is for shore-based marine broadcasters to pre-announce marine information broadcasts they are about to transmit on other frequencies.”

Just the other day, I brought up 2182 on my Satellit 800, but the atmospheric noise was pretty bad. I fooled around with a couple of different indoor wire antenna configurations but wasn’t able to achieve any substantial improvement. But in the midst of that messing around, I “rediscovered” my Icom IC-706 MkIIG on a shelf. It receives from 30 kHz to 199 MHz and from 400 to 470 MHz, and I used mine for over a decade to run the Commuter Assistance Network on two meters. I still keep the 706 as a back-up in case my main rig for running the net goes down.

But I had never used the 706 extensively on HF (weird, I know, but that’s the truth). Nevertheless, a little voice in the back of my head (probably one of the brain dudes) kept saying “Why don’t you give the 706 a try as an HF receiver?”

So I did. I hooked up the 706 up to my horizontal room loop through some coax and an LDG 9:1 unun (the same antenna setup I had been using on the Satellit 800). And – shazam – the 706 is substantially quieter on 2182 with that antenna than the Satellit 800.

That’s good, I thought, but what if the 706 appears to be quieter because it is less sensitive? So I did some comparative tests with the 706 and the Satellit 800 on the 80 and 40 meter ham bands and satisfied myself that the 706 is both quieter and more sensitive than the Satellit 800. I could just plain hear the signals better (and more pleasantly) with the 706.

The only substantial weirdness with the Icom 706 MkIIG is that, as a small unit, it has relatively few buttons on its face. As a result, it has no keypad for direct frequency access. There are buttons for jumping from one ham band to another and another button for changing tuning steps, so with judicious use of those buttons and the tuning knob, it’s fairly easy to get from one frequency to another, but it is not as fast as direct entry.

And, of course, the 706 does not have all the cool seek-and-store functions and the like that are available on today’s really slick shortwave portables.

Here’s the upshot: if you’ve been on the hunt for a better HF receiver with single sideband capabilities, an old dog, like an old ham transceiver, might be just what you need. And if you are already enjoying an old ham transceiver as a shortwave receiver, I’d like to hear about it.

So, have I heard any of those cool MW maritime stations? Not yet, but I’m sure I’ll have fun trying!

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The passing of a compassionate shortwave listener, Agnes Joan Negra

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

I just received this:

Dear Jock:
It is with a heavy heart that I must report that 102 year old, Agnes Joan Negra passed away last Friday, peacefully, and at home. She went into Hospice care about three weeks ago.

We had a private funeral for mom…immediate family only. But I wanted to pass on her obituary which can be found on website:
calhounmaniafuneralhome.com

Thanks for your support of Agnes and her incredible life story, “Waves of Hope”… It is truly appreciated.

We hope this finds you well.
Regards,
Val Negra

Agnes Joan Negra was a shortwave monitor during WWII who sent out more than 300 letters and postcards to families to inform them that their loved ones were captured and still alive.

Click here to check out Waves of Hope on Amazon.

If you would like to know more about how shortwave monitors impacted lives during WWII, check https://swling.com/blog/2022/04/wwii-radio-letters-a-real-life-shortwave-story/ and https://swling.com/blog/2022/04/world-war-ii-radio-letters-a-real-life-shortwave-story-part-ii/ .

As I have said before: And so, dear reader, never belittle your hobby of listening to the airwaves, because you never know when something you heard may be able to offer comfort in times of trouble.

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The two-pocket listening post . . . for when “they” are after you

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

Man on the run thrillers, like The 39 Steps by John Buchan* and Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household hold a special fascination for me. Give me a yarn about someone being pursued by the bad guys, and I am enthralled. (Incidentally, there are a couple of good lists of these thrillers. Here and here).

Sometimes I like to play the mental game of: if I were that guy trying to stay ahead those who wished me evil intent, what radio(s) might I want with me?

The other day I realized I had the perfect combo, a pair of radios that cover a huge swath of spectrum, will fit in a couple of pockets (or one big pocket) and weigh just 14 ounces combined. Further, both will run off ordinary AA batteries, which are widely available.

Candidate number one is the C Crane Skywave SSB, which measures 3 inches by 4.75 inches by 1.1 inches. It receives AM, FM, shortwave (1711-29999 kHz), VHF aviation and NOAA weather radio with alerts. Because it receives single sideband (SSB) on HF frequencies, it can tune in aeronautical, marine and amateur radio stations that transmit in the SSB.

The Skywave SSB comes with a pair of ear buds that fit my ears well and offer pleasing audio. In addition, the SSB comes standard with an auxiliary wire antenna that can be deployed and clipped to the SSB’s whip antenna to boost signal-to-noise. Perhaps most useful for the man on the run, the SSB has excellent “signal seek” functions that can be used on any band. In fact, if you put the radio in SSB mode and activate the signal scan, it will search the ham bands and automatically switch from upper sideband to lower sideband as appropriate.

For the man on the run who can “hole up” for a while, I’ve tried clipping a 50-foot long wire to the SSB’s whip and antenna, and I was amazed at how well it can pull in faint ham signals. It’s the “little radio that could.” About the only thing that I wish I could change on the Skywave SSB is that it mutes between tuning steps when using the tuning knob.

But suppose our man on the run needs to monitor signals above the coverage of the Skywave SSB?  Candidate number two is the Icom R6. Measuring just 2.3 inches by 3.4 inches by 1.2 inches, the diminutive R6 covers from 100 kHz to 1309.995 MHz (less cellular and gaps) in AM, FM Narrow and FM wide modes (no SSB). It has 1300 alphanumeric memories, search-and-store capabilities, and rapid scanning of memory channels.

For high stealth, there is a setting that allows the R6 to use the wire that connects headphones or ear buds to the R6 as the antenna instead of the usual antenna. For a non-stealth application, using an aftermarket antenna like the Comet W100RX 25MHz-1300MHz Handheld Scanner Antenna, the R6T does a surprisingly good job of receiving shortwave stations. This antenna has markings on the side so that it can be set to the right length for various frequencies.

As you can see from the photo, the R6 has only a few buttons on its face and two on the side. Every button has multiple functions, and I found trying to program memory channels using the buttons to be a trial. As a result, I can highly recommend the RT Systems cable and programming software for setting up memory channels. In addition, some very useful notes for setting up and using the R6 can be found here: https://forums.radioreference.com/threads/icom-ic-r6-notes.442112/

Finally, I know that there are several tiny ham transceivers that might fill the bill, including the Yaesu VX-6R, although I am not aware of any that can receive single sideband. Besides, if you had the ability to transmit, “they” might be able to direction-find you . . . and we wouldn’t want that, would we?

*For sharp-eyed readers: yes, I know that The 39 Steps is set in a time before radio was widespread, but it is still one of my favorites.

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A most unusual QSL . . . card?

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

Okay, I realize this is ham related, but I thought it was fun, and I hope you do too.

On a quiet Saturday morning in May, the “Big Gun” Motorola 1250 (which is used for running the Commuter Assistance Net) is quietly scanning through half a dozen frequencies.

The scanning stops on the 147.330 repeater, and a computer voice announces: “Echolink activated.”

Huh, that’s unusual, I think.

According to echolink.org, here’s the scoop on EchoLink:

EchoLink® software allows licensed Amateur Radio stations to communicate with one another over the Internet, using streaming-audio technology.  The program allows worldwide connections to be made between stations, or from computer to station, greatly enhancing Amateur Radio’s communications capabilities.  There are more than 350,000 validated users worldwide — in 159 of the world’s 193 nations — with about 6,000 online at any given time.

A few seconds later, a male voice with a distinct British accent drops a call on the repeater: “GB2022ER.”

What?!! A Great Britain call sign with multiple numbers in the middle? What’s going on?

I reply: KB2GOM.

Mark, the British ham, tells me he is running a special events station with a special call sign to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee. He tells me I am the very first contact for the special events station. I tell him that he is my very first Echolink contact.

We chat for a bit, exchange good wishes and sign off.

A bit later, I look him up on QRZ and send Mark an email. Since I am his first contact for the special events station, is there a QSL card available? He replies that he will see what he can do.

A few weeks later, an envelope arrives with this coaster inside:

For a moment, I felt like James Bond:

Also inside were these postcards:

In all, it made me smile.

Bottom line – moral of the story, if you will – you never know what’s going to happen on the radio.

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What is it about SWLing that keeps you coming back? A reader participation post.

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

After trying to copy Shortwave Australia on 4835 this AM, the curiosity bug has bitten me. What, I wonder, is it about SWLing that keeps my fellow readers of SWLing.com coming back?

For me, it’s three things. First, I think Treasure Island ruined me as a kid. Ever since I read it, shiver me timbers matey, the search for The Hidden Thing – whether treasure in the ground or a signal on the airwaves – has been a lifelong fascination for me.

Second, I enjoy trying to tease a faint signal out of the ether. That’s why I got a kick out of trying to hear the Armed Forces Crossband Test.

Finally, I enjoy the physical act of operating a radio, turning the dial, adjusting the controls, tuning the preselector, and so forth.

So now, it’s your turn – what keeps you coming back and tuning the airwaves?

Please comment!

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A happy accident, and some experiments

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

When you live in an antenna-challenged situation as I do (stringing long wire antennas outside is problematic for me), the result is a never-ending search for an improved signal.

Toward that end, I’ve experimented with a horizontal room loop, an indoor end-fed, and a short dipole.

Along the way, I decided to test the MFJ 1020C active antenna/preselector, and I liked it pretty well. My conclusion was: Bearing in mind that it won’t improve every signal you want to hear, if you live in an antenna-challenged situation, the MFJ 1020C – particularly if you can get 20-50 feet of wire outdoors or run around the perimeter of a room – may be just what the doctor ordered.

After my test of the 1020C, I had an online conversation with Andrew (grayhat), and he suggested that I might want to have a look at the MFJ 956 passive selector.  Its major claim to fame is: “Boost your favorite stations while rejecting images, intermod, and phantom signals!  The MFJ-956 Pre-Selector/Antenna Tuner greatly improves reception from .15 to 30 MHz — especially below 2MHz.  It has tuner bypass/ground receiver positions.  The MFJ-956 measures a compact 2 x 3 x 4 inches.

MFJ was kind enough to send a 956 to me, and while I did not test it below 2 MHz, I found that it proved very helpful in tuning in the BBC mid-winter broadcast to Antarctica. I started out with the MFJ 1020C. Lots of noise and fades. Reception was somewhat better using the 1020C (compared to bypass), but then I switched to MFJ 956. I found I could copy better with the 956, even though it provides no amplification. Tuning slightly off-peak offered the best copy, better than bypass. I was listening in USB. In all, it is a useful piece of gear.

While poking around the MFJ website I discovered the MFJ 1046 Receiver Preselector, 1.6-33 MHz. Among other claims, MFJ has this to say about the 1046: MFJs new Passive Preselector has extremely high dynamic range! It improves the performance of nearly any HF or shortwave receiver/transceiver. It vastly improves the most expensive receivers. Especially helpful to those with broadband front-ends that are prone to overload.

Sounds promising, I thought, so I emailed Thomas, SWLing’s Maximum Leader, to see if maybe MFJ would like me to have a look at one.

A happy accident

A few days later, package arrived.

I was unpacking it when the Brain Dudes interrupted.

Brain Dudes:  Hey!!

Me: What?!!

Brain Dudes: That thing look a little weird to you?

Me: Whaddya mean?

Brain Dudes: Look at the front . . . what do you see?

Me: Well, on left, a knob labeled GAIN; next to that, and ON/OFF button; moving to the right, a BAND selector switch, and finally a TUNE knob.

Brain Dudes: And what is the MFJ 1046 supposed to have?

Me: A big tuning knob, an ON/OFF switch, and a BAND selector switch . . . maybe this is an improved model . . .

Brain Dudes: How ‘bout you look on the back panel . . . what do you see?

Me: The usual connections for antenna and receiver . . . and a plug-in socket for an external power supply.

Brain Dudes:  Is a passive preselector supposed to have a power socket?

Me: No . . .

Brain Dudes: OK, final clue, Sherlock: suppose you read the label on the front panel.

Me: MFJ 1045C. Holy smokes! They sent me the wrong unit!

(I hear the Brain Dude yelling at someone in the background: “Finally, the light comes on! I told you switching to decaf was a bad idea!)

Brain dudes: So they sent you the wrong unit; suppose you test it anyway since it’s here.

So I did. And it turns out that MFJ sending the 1045C instead of the 1046 was a happy accident because the 1045C, which is an active preselector, delivers excellent performance across the board.

This is what MFJ says about the 1045C: “Lets you copy weak signals. Rejects out-of-band signals, images. 1.8 to 54 MHz. Up to 20 dB gain. Gain control. Dual gate MOSFET, bipolar transistors for low noise, high gain. Connect 2 antennas, 2 receivers. Coax and phone jacks. 9-18 VDC or MFJ-1312D.

Once the antenna, receiver, and power supply are connected (I used the power supply that MFJ sent me with the 1020C), I operate the 1045C in much the same way as the 1020C:

  1. With the unit in BYPASS mode (the ON/OFF button out), tune the receiver to the frequency you want to hear.
  2. Set the GAIN knob to around 3 or 4.
  3. Set the BAND knob to the band with the MHz that you are tuned to.
  4. Press the ON/OFF/BYPASS button in. This turns on the active preselector and amplification circuits and a red light comes on to let you know the unit is activated.
  5. Slowly turn the TUNE knob back & forth. At some point in its tuning range, you will hear the signal and/or noise peak.
  6. Finally, adjust the GAIN knob for maximum intelligibility of the signal. Sometimes tuning slightly to the side of the peak works best.

I tested the MFJ 1045C with my end-fed indoor antenna (see link above) and with the short dipole (also, see link above). I also did head-to-head comparisons with the MFJ 1020C and those two antennas.

The results

Here’s what I found:

  1. The indoor end-fed antenna (which is 45 long) out-performs the short dipole (which is 6 feet total length) in all cases. That’s no surprise, but bear in mind that not everyone has a situation in which they can deploy the longer antenna. The 6-foot dipole definitely out-performs the whip antenna on my Satellit 800.
  2. The 1045C has a broader range of amplification than the 1020C. It appears to reject adjacent channel interference as well or better than the 1020C, and, to my ear, the 1045C has a lower noise floor. If you turn the GAIN knob fully to the left, it gets to a position where it appears to actually attenuate the signal. And I never found a situation in which, if properly tuned, the signal delivered by the 1045C was at least equal to the bypass signal, and many times it was significantly better. In short, in the HF range the 1045C appears do to everything that the 1020C does (with the exception of the 1020C’s screw-in whip antenna) and do it better.
  3. When using the 1045C with a portable (my Tecsun 880), I found that I could hear the noise peaks better than with the 1020C, which is a great help in tuning for best performance.

So why would you chose the 1020C or the 956 over the 1045C? Short answer: if you are a MW or LW enthusiast. According to MFJ, the 1045C covers 1.8 to 54 MHz; the 1020C covers .3 to 40 MHz, and the 956 covers 150 kHz to 35 MHz.

However, if you are an HF weenie like I am who enjoys teasing out faint signals, and particularly if you are faced with a sub-optimal antenna situation, the MFJ 1045C, in my opinion, is definitely worth a try.

Click here to check out the MFJ-1045C.

Shameless plug: check out the SWLing Post Message Board there are often interesting discussions going on there.

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Armed Forces Day QSL Card

On May 14, 2022, this blog published an announcement of the Annual Armed Forces Day Crossband Test.

The blog included a link to a PDF file that listed all the details, such as times, frequencies, and military stations that were participating (including some that were aboard ships), and there was even a link where you could submit your information online to receive a QSL card. I thought it would be fun to see if I could hear some of the military stations.

At 3:29 pm on May 14, I posted a comment on the blog:

1850Z & 1925Z — 14.487 MHz — Station sending CW CQ CQ CQ (I can copy but not read the rest), believed to be NSS — US Naval Academy transmitting for Annual Armed Forces Crossband test.

At 3:37 pm, I posted:

1934Z — 14.487 station NSS announces in voice they are listening 14.234.0 USB. Additional contacts in SSB. “It’s raining buckets here.”

Not hearing anything further, I filled  out the QSL request for — which asked for two-way contact information. I explained that I had only heard the Anapolis station, but I gave the details. Frankly, I did not hold out much hope for receiving a card, but yesterday it arrived.

As I reported elsewhere the MFJ 1020C active antenna/preselector made it possible to hear the Armed Forces Day station.

It was a very nice surprise to received the QSL card in the mail.

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