Tag Archives: Jock Elliott (KB2GOM)

A Conversation with Eric Fetters-Walp

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

When the Top 10 DX of the Year 2023 Contest results were posted by the Top DX Radioclub on January 24, 2024 — https://swling.com/blog/2024/01/results-top-10-dx-of-the-year-2023/ —  I noticed that Eric Fetters-Walp had placed seventh overall and #1 in North America and #1 in the USA.

I was curious how he had achieved his results, so I contacted him, and he agreed to an interview.

SWLing: Tell me a bit about your history as a SWL.

EFW: When I was about 8 years old in the late 1970s, my Dad and I built a VHF airband radio kit; we were under one of the flight paths for LAX in the suburbs east of Los Angeles. I was into music on AM at the time, especially on 1020 KTNQ, a top 40 station back then.

By then time I was about to turn 13, we were living outside Seattle, and I wanted to upgrade to a better VHF radio. I bought a Realistic Patrolman SW-60, a big analog-dial radio with AM/FM/VHF/UHF and SW. I remember I had to earn the money doing chores, though my dad chipped in the last five bucks.

I brought it home and, while playing around with it, switched it to the shortwave band. I had never heard of shortwave before, but I almost immediately heard HCJB in Ecuador, and I was hooked. I was already a geography geek, so I’d listen while looking through a world atlas book I had. Even today, above my work desk, I have a map on cork board with pins in it.

I got really into collecting QSL cards from all over the world as I listened all through the rest of the 1980s. Shortwave really helped me become a news hound as I thought about studying journalism, and all the Cold War-era stations fed my fascination with history. For my college essay, I wrote about how I felt that being a shortwave listener as a teen helped me learn about the world.

I didn’t have an outdoor antenna at my parents’ house growing up, and I didn’t own a radio with a digital display until the 1990s. So, listening in that era taught me to be super patient, to sometimes just park on a frequency looking for signal to fade in.

By the early 1990s, as I was starting my career, working as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers, I mostly fell out of SWLing. Then, I got married and my wife and I had three kids. My oldest is now 21 and my youngest is 14, so I had started to have some extra time again just a few years ago.

In 2018, I dusted off my old Sony ICF-SW7600G, and I had a little Kaito radio my dad gave me, and I started listening again. A little later on, I acquired the Eton model that became the current Elite Executive. And I strung up a wire on the backyard fence about 60 feet. I have an advantage: our backyard backs up to a wide-open middle school athletic field, which seems advantageous for cutting down the noise. I also have an MLA 30+ loop, and I’ve just started playing with an SDR dongle for hunting signals.

SWLing: What about the contest?

EFW: The rules are you record your best 10 catches during the month of December; they all must be in different countries. The scoring is complicated, but basically you are trying to hear the lowest-power station from the farthest distance. However, no clandestines, no pirates, no military stations, etc.

The first year I entered was 2018 after I read about it on The SWLing Post. I was surprised to do relatively well.

The past few years, my strategy has basically been to map out a list of target stations and then try to catch as many as I can. I started early in this latest contest, and that’s good thing; reception was pretty bad the second half of month. My goal’s always to make a good showing and just not finish last.

In the first week of December, LRA36 from Antarctica could be heard; 300 watts, and that was a huge addition to my points (I checked with the contest organizers to make sure it counted). I also logged Rádio Clube do Pará on 4885 in Brazil, which comes in pretty regularly here, and worked down the rest of my list.

SWLing: Do you have any advice for SWLs?

EFW: Even if you don’t have the most expensive equipment, so much depends on getting an antenna outside—even if it hangs only 6 feet off the ground as mine does.

In addition, a key to success is a willingness to be patient. I listen to relax and try not to be frantic about it. Since I’ve started SWLing again, I have logged nearly 70 countries by doing just that. Also, while I feel like I’m pretty experienced now, I’m always learning from others in this hobby. There are folks out there who are just great DXers, and I’m still reading their tips online to learn more.

Click here to check out Eric’s 2023 Top 10 DX of the Year Notes/Logs (Google Sheets).

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Yet another reason why you need a weather radio

Photo by Raychel Sanner via Unsplash

by Jock Elliott

Today is the 154th birthday of the National Weather Service. The NWS covers from American Samoa to the Virgin Islands and from Hawaii to the Arctic Circle of Alaska, and it does so with fewer than 4,000 employees nationwide.

It is, according to Mike Smith’s blog: “one of the few federal agencies that is essential to the welfare of the Nation.” https://www.mikesmithenterprisesblog.com/2024/02/154th-birthday-of-he-national-weather.html

And in my view, NOAA Weather Radio is essential for every household. If live in the US you don’t have a radio capable of receiving the Weather Radio channels, you need one.

For more info, check here: https://swling.com/blog/2022/02/jock-shares-a-bit-more-about-noaa-weather-radio/

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Taking a look at the XHDATA D109-WB . . . a sweet spot on the price/performance curve

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

The XHDATA D109-WB is a small radio that hits a sweet spot on the price/performance curve, delivering a lot of performance for not a lot of money (probably less than $60 US, depending on the source).

The D109-WB measures 5.9″L x 1.45″W x 3.07″H and weighs just over 10 ounces. It covers FM 64-108MHz, AM (medium wave) 520-1710KHz, LW 153-513KHz(9K), SW 1711-29999KHz, and seven NOAA Weather Radio channels 162.40-162.55MHz with alert function. It does not receive single-sideband signals. It offers 100 FM memories, 100 LW memories, 100 MW memories, and 300 SW memories. Further, it offers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 kHz bandwidths on MW and SW bands.

On the left side of the front panel is a plastic grill that fronts an inch-and-a-half speaker. On the right side is a small LCD screen with backlight that functions as information central for the D109-WB. Below it are 15 buttons (3 rows of 5 buttons each) that control various functions, including an “SOS Emergency Distress Sound and Light Alarm,” manual tuning and various auto scanning and auto memory storage schemes, band selection, DX/local receive mode selection, 9/10 kH MW spacing, clock alarms, bandwidth selection, a key lock/display switch, and a manual tune/memory mode switch, among others. Below those 15 buttons is a 3 x 4 numerical key pad for memory and direct frequency entry functions. To the right of the keypad are 5 buttons set in a circular pattern for controlling Bluetooth use and connectivity and MP3  playback (I did not test these last two functions).

On the right side of the case, you will find a type-C socket for plugging in a cable to charge the 18650 battery, a wheel for volume control, and a tuning knob.

On the left side of the case are 3.5 mm headphone and external antenna jacks.

On the back panel is a flip-out support and a hatch for accessing the battery. On the top, there is a fold-over 21-inch telescoping antenna and, on the bottom, two anti-skid rubber feet.

In all, I found the D109-WB to be solidly constructed with fit and finish appropriate to a radio in its price class. The only serious deficit I found in the D109-WB was the extremely small type in the owner’s manual. Consult the photograph below to see what I mean.

The D109-WB was straightforward to operate, and I enjoyed it. One cute trick was variable-speed tuning: on MW, turn the knob slowly, and it will change frequency in 1 kHz increments. Turn the knob fast, and the tuning rate jumps to 10 kHz increments (or 9 kHz, if you have selected that tuning option). Variable-speed tuning works the same way on the shortwave bands, and on the FM band, the slow tuning rate is .01 MHz, and it jumps to .1 MHz when the knob is turned quickly. I had not experienced variable-speed tuning in any other radio, and I like it . . . a lot.

But what I was really wanted to know was how well did the D109-WB perform?

Now here’s the rub: I don’t have any test equipment . . . but I do own a CCrane Skywave 2. So I sat down on a bright sunny afternoon with the D109-WB and the Skywave 2 side-by-side and compared them. I found that both would receive two weather channels loud and clear and one more weather channel marginally. Then I tuned firm the medium wave band, then the FM band, running the two radios in parallel and found that there was nothing that I could hear on Skywave 2 that I could not also hear on the D109-WB, and vice versa. In other words, I found the electrical performance of the two radios to be very similar . . . except, of course, that the Skywave receives the AIR band, and the D109-WB does not.

One of the things that I enjoy doing is to grab a radio, select a band, punch the SCAN button, and see what’s out there. Since I also own a Tecsun PL-880, I decided to run a scan on each band on each radio (D109-WB, Skywave 2, and PL-880) with its native whip antenna and see how many detectable signals I could find on each. By “signal,” I mean any place where the scan stopped where I could hear music, voices, or anything that sounded like a transmitted signal, as opposed to pure noise.

So here are the results of two different testing sessions on two different nights:

D109-WB vs. CCrane Skywave

D109-WB vs. Tecsun PL-880

A caution: before you start drawing conclusions from the results above about which radio is more sensitive than another, it is important to consider that those results may be heavily skewed by whatever “SCAN” algorithm is programmed into each radio. Further, the parameters of the SCAN algorithm for a particular radio are a black box to those who use the radio. What I can conclude from those results is that, if you want to be a lazy DXer like me and use the SCAN button for cruising the bands, the D109-WB will deliver pleasing results.

Since the D109-WB has a socket for plugging in an external antenna, I plugged in a 45-foot loop antenna. The D109-WB overloaded, but when I set the DX/local switch to local, the overloading went away but there was still a boost in signal-to-noise from the external antenna.

So, the bottom line: the XHDATA D109-WB delivers a whole lot of fun and performance at a very reasonable price, and I can easily recommend it for both newbies and old-timers alike.

In fact, if you want to turn a kid onto radio, here’s an idea: give the child a D109-WB and a paper atlas, explain how both work, then set that kid to work logging as many stations as possible and looking up where they are located. Heck, that sounds like fun to me.

Click here to check out the XHDATA D109-WB on Amazon.com

(note: this affiliate link supports the SWLing Post at no cost to you)

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Checking out CCrane’s Solo Earbud

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

The marketing email from CCrane intrigued me. “The cable is Kevlar™ reinforced for maximum durability” it said. The product in question was the “CC Buds Solo In-Ear Single Earbud for Radio, Audio Books and Podcasts.”

Sadly, many of the headphones and earbuds that I have owned and liked had to be tossed out because of a breakage somewhere along the cable. As a result, a more durable cable sounded like a great idea.

After checking out the Solo Earbud on CCrane’s website I decided to buy one. I was in the very act of pulling the trigger on the purchase when I noticed the deal: buy two, get one free. Well, heck, I thought, why not?

I revised my order, clicked the button, and a few days later three solo earbuds arrive.

We’ll get to how well the solo earbud works in just a moment, but I can almost guess what you’re thinking right now: “Listen with one ear? Why?”

There are a bunch of times when listening with just one ear is the best strategy. For example, when you are out and about or engaged in some sports activity and want to be situationally aware of what is going on around you. Or when you are listening at home and you want to be able to hear things going on in the household (for example, dinner is ready . . . don’t want to miss that! . . . or someone in the house needs something). Well, you get the idea.

The Solo Earbud is small and well-made. It has a four-foot cable with a clothing clip that terminates in a stereo to mono 3.5 mm plug. According the C.Crane, the audio is tuned for “superior voice quality.” I liked the sound it delivered from my shortwave radios, scanners, and even audio books and I found it helped me to pick out faint signals. In addition, I found that using a Solo Earbud was less entangling with smoother operation than using just one earbud from a stereo pair of wired earbuds . . . that unused dangling earbud seems to always get in the way or get caught on things.

The Solo Earbud comes with three silicone and three compressible foam covers – sized small, medium and large. After a little experimentation, I found one that fit my ear very comfortably. The Earbud even comes with a small drawstring bag for storing the Earbud when not in use.

I have saved perhaps the coolest use for last. Frequently I rise well before dawn to monitor the airwaves. With a pair of Solo Earbuds, I can plug one into a scanner and another Earbud into a shortwave radio. With one Earbud in each ear – voila! – I can cruise the HF bands and monitor a scanner without interrupting the peace of the early morning household.

Bottom line: I found the CCrane Solo Earbud to be a useful and worthy piece of gear for general listening or DXing.

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Checking out BHI’s HP-1 and NCH headphones for DXing

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

As an oldster with a bit of hearing deficit, I am a big fan of anything that helps me to hear better when I am trying to tease out hard-to-hear signals, whether medium wave broadcast, shortwave broadcast, or single-sideband signals on the HF ham bands.

Toward that end, headphones help a lot. They deliver the audio signal directly into the ear canal while reducing distraction from external sounds. I had some inexpensive headphones from a big-box store, but I wondered if there were headphones that would be better suited for DXing.

So I contacted the folks at BHI to see if they had any headphones that would help with medium wave DXing. BHI is the British company that manufactures really effective noise cancelling products.

In response, the folks at BHI sent me their HP-1 Wired Stereo Headphones and their . . . NCH Active Noise Cancelling headphones . . . free of charge.

BHI describes the HP-1 Wired Stereo Headphones as “Comfortable Folding dynamic stereo headphones for Radio Communications,” and, in my view, they are just that. I found the HP-1 to be highly useful for medium wave and shortwave DXing. To my ear, they sound like they are biased toward high frequencies, with lower bass response than on the headphones I bought from the big-box store years ago. Because of the lower bass response, I find it easier to tease out faint signals on the airwaves, and the ear cups are comfortable for long-term listening. The cable is 1.9 m long and is terminated with an integral 3.5mm stereo jack plug.  The HP-1 headphones are supplied with a 1/4″ stereo to 3.5mm stereo adapter.

The NCH Active Noise Cancelling headphones are a bit of a different beast: they are NOT designed to cancel noise on the broadcast signal you are listening to. Instead, they are designed to reduce external noise. According to the BHI website:

The bhi NCH active noise cancelling headphones (ANC) do not work like our other DSP noise cancelling products but effectively reduce external ambient background noise enabling you to concentrate more and enjoy your listening experience when listening in a noisy environment.  The over-ear style NCH headphones also give good passive audio isolation from external noise.”

These headphones are powered an AAA battery. There is a switch to turn the noise-cancellation circuity on and off, and there is an LED that lights when the unit is activated. The NCH headphones have a 1.25m detachable cable with 3.5mm jack plug (both ends).

So I tried out the NCH headphones while mowing the lawn with a gasoline-powered lawnmower and listening to an audio book on my digital recorder. Bottom line: they really work to significantly reduce (but not totally eliminate) an external noise source and make the listening experience more pleasant. And when they are not turned on, they work really well as ordinary headphones for DXing. Like the HP-1 headphones, they are comfortable and biased toward high frequency.

In the end, I found both these headphones worked well for their intended purpose, and I am happy to recommend them.

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Radio Reminiscences . . . A Reader Participation Post

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

The other night, at 10 pm Eastern Time (0300 UTC), I was listening to Zoomer Radio from Toronto, Canada, on 740 kHz (medium wave) when a program called “Theatre of the Mind” came on. This wonderful program airs Monday through Friday and presents “Old Time Radio” programs from back in the day when radio dramas were a regular part of on-the-air fare.

As I listened, I got sucked through a hole in the space-time continuum. Instantly, I was no longer an official oldster with eight decades in his sights .  .  . now I was a grade-school kid on Saturday morning in the early 1950s looking forward to Big John and Sparky and Space Patrol coming up on the radio. Programs like that were a regular staple of my childhood.

It’s weird, but I can’t recall the content of any specific episode, but I can easily remember the joy I felt as the familiar strains of “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic” (Big John and Sparky’s theme) were broadcast.

Theatre of the Mind is a great moniker for radio dramas, because your mind is forced to fill in the details of the drama. The dialog, narrative description, and a few sound effects provide the clues, and, in the magic of your imagination, you provide the rest of the scenery and the setting, and it is great fun.

The power of the mind’s eye was brought home powerfully to me, in a funny way. Space Patrol was not just a radio program; it was also a television program. My family did not have a TV until I was in fourth grade. As a result, I never saw Space Patrol on TV until I saw it at a friend’s house. (Remember this was in the infancy of TV.) When I did, my overwhelming impression was: this is lame. The program that was wonderful in my mind on radio was considerably less so on live TV.

Later in grade school, I was given a germanium diode radio for Christmas. It became my tool for secretly monitoring “The Hawthorne Den” (jazz after midnight) under the covers. It was Big Time, Big Deal adventure for a boy my age . . . does it get better than that?!! It actually did, when my Dad brought home a Zenith Transoceanic.

So dear reader, check out Zoomer Radio on 740 if you can and enjoy Theatre of the Mind.

And now it’s your turn: what are your favorite radio reminiscences (modern or ancient like mine)? Please post them below.

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An interview with Glenn Hauser

Glenn with his wrist-mounted altazimuth DX-398 for MW direction-finding.

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

Since he was in grade school, Glenn Hauser has had the itch to receive broadcasts at long distance, and that interest, continuing throughout his lifetime, has led him to become one of the most respected authorities in the world of radio.

SWLing: How did you get started in radio?

GH: I started with TV DXing, trying to pick up Albuquerque 100 miles away, but often getting sporadic E skip stations more than 1,000 miles away. I also started tuning around medium wave. I was 8 or 9 years old.

SWLing: How did you get started with shortwave radio?

GH: In 1954, the family moved to Oklahoma City. By 1957, I acquired a Hallicrafters S-38E and was listening to shortwave using a longwire antenna, sending off for QSL cards. I was still doing TV DXing.

Then in 1961 the family moved to Enid, better for TV DXing, away from all those local stations, also radio DX. I acquired a Hammerlund HQ160, which was quite an improvement.

SWLing: Were you professionally involved in radio?

GH: In college, I worked on the campus radio station and also at a classical music station, KHFM. My BA was in broadcast journalism. After college, I continued to work on classical musical stations as programmer and announcer. I was very interested in foreign languages, learned phonetic schemes of various languages and learned to pronounce them. Radio Budapest was particularly helpful with Hungarian, which some announcers find difficult. I spent my professional career working for classical music stations.

I spent a year in Thailand, working for the American Forces Thailand Network. I was a newsman on the air in 1969 and 1970.

I had the HQ160 and a small TV in a footlocker, and in my spare time, DXed TV from as far as South Korea and the Philippines and medium wave from Europe.

After four years in the USAF, I resumed classic music radio, notably at WUOT, Knoxville.

By then I was contributing to various DX programs on SW stations, clubs, and eventually started my own program World of Radio. You can find out when to hear my program on the Schedules page at www.worldofradio.com . One of the main places to hear it is on WRMI in Florida. I was SW columnist for Popular Electronics, and later, Monitoring Times. Also published my own magazines, Review of International Broadcasting, and DX Listening Digest; at first on paper, then online.

SWLing: How did you get involved in logging SW radio stations?

GH: It was a natural outgrowth of enthusiasm for hobby; I was a regular contributor to DX Jukebox on Radio Netherlands (monthly) and Radio Canada International’s DX/SWL Digest (weekly).

SWLing: What sort of equipment do you use?

GH: A JRC NRD 545 and an Icom R75 for shortwave and medium wave. For antennas, I use a Wellbrook loop, a 100-foot random wire oriented east-west outside, and some shorter random wires inside the house. It is noisy where I live, and I’ve been trying to get the local electric company to fix line noise radiation.

Here in the town, my property is limited in space for antennas. I’ve been known to hook on to a wire fence in the country as a de facto Beverage antenna.

SWLing: How many hours a day do you monitor?

GH: It varies. Because of my program and my logging reports, I have made myself a nexus for information, so a lot gets sent to me. As a routine, I am always tuning around at bedtime, as well as various times during the day. At random times, I may do a band scan to see what’s happening.

SWLing: What are you most memorable moments listening to SW?

GH: Certainly one was October 4, 1957, hearing Sputnik on 20 megahertz.

SWLing: Any tips, tricks or advice you would care to offer to SWLs or DXers?

GH: Become as well informed as possible by participating in groups such as https://groups.io/g/WOR . Be aware of various references online such as the big 3 SW frequency listings, Aoki, EiBi, and HFCC, among those linked from my homepage http://www.worldofradio.com . In addition, scan the radio bands until you are familiar with what’s there, so you can notice something new or different.

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