Tag Archives: Mark Fahey

The AirSpy HF+ Discovery and a new era of portable SDR DXing

The following article first appeared in the January 2020 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.


The AirSpy HF+ Discovery and a new era of portable DXing

I admit it: I used to be a bit of an old-fashioned radio curmudgeon. One of those, “I like my radios with knobs and buttons” likely followed by, “…and no other way!”

However, about fifteen years ago, many of my DXing friends started turning to the world of software defined radios (or in common parlance, “SDRs”). I staunchly opposed ever following in their footsteps. One of the reasons I for this––a good one––is that, since I spend the bulk of my day in front of a computer, why would I ever want to use a computer when I’m playing radio?

But then…gradually, I found myself playing around with a few SDRs. And I quickly learned that third-generation SDRs were capable of doing something very impressive (and fun), indeed:  making spectrum recordings.  Using this tool, I found I could record not only the audio of one individual signal, but the audio of entire swathes of radio spectrum.  And even more impressive, I learned that you could later load or “play back” the spectrum recording and tune through the bands as if in real time. Any time you want. Before long, I was hooked: SDRs had become my portal into radio time travel!

I quickly found that I loved many of the other advantages of using an SDR, as well, including visual ones––like the ability to view spectrum. The interactive interface allows one to actually see radio signals across the band in real time. I also found incredible value in waterfall displays, which show signals changing in amplitude and frequency over time. Cool stuff.

I purchased my first dedicated SDR in 2012, a WinRadio Excalibur. It was––and still is––a benchmark receiver, performing circles around my tabletop receivers and general coverage transceivers.

And today, although I own and love a number of legacy radios and still listen to them in the good old-fashioned manner to which I became accustomed, I find I’m now spending the bulk of my time DXing with SDRs.

And then, more recently, two amazing things happened in the world of SDRs. Strong market competition, together with serious innovations, have come into play. Thus, for less than $200 US, you can now purchase an SDR that would have easily cost $1,000 US only ten years ago. And now, in many cases, the $200 SDR of today will outperform the $1,000 SDR of yesteryear. We are, indeed, living in good times.

And now––no more a radio curmudgeon––I’m comfortable with my SDR-user status and time at the computer, and glad I was just curious enough about SDRs to let them into my radio (and computer) world.

Portable SDRs

Since I initially dived into the world of SDRs, I’ve tried to think of a way to take them into the field.

But first, let’s get an obvious question out of the way:

Why would you want to drag an SDR into the field, when a traditional battery-powered radio is so much easier to manage?

After all, you may say, portable and even mobile tabletop receivers require no computer, no hard drive, and are likely more reliable because there are less components to manage or to cause problems for you.

In answer, let’s look at a few scenarios where heading to the field with an SDR system might just make sense.  (Hint: Many of these reasons are rooted in the SDR’s ability to record spectrum).

Good Reason #1:  Your home location is not ideal for playing radio.

Photo by Henry Be

My good friend, London Shortwave, lives in the middle of London, England. He’s an avid radio enthusiast and DXer, but his apartment is almost a perfect storm of radio interference. Listening from his home is challenging, to say the least: he can only use indoor antennas and RFI/QRM simply inundated his local airwaves.

Many years ago, he discovered that the best way to DX was to go to an area that put urban noise and radio interference at a distance.  He found that by visiting large local parks, he could play radio with almost no RFI.

Being a computer guru, he started working on a portable SDR setup so that he could go to a park, set up an antenna, and record radio spectrum while he read a book.  His systems evolved with time, each iteration being more compact less conspicuous that the previous. Later, he could head back home, open the recorded spectrum files, and tune through these “time-shifted” recordings in the comfort of his flat. This allowed London Shortwave to maximize the low-RFI listening experience by reliving the time in the park.

Over the years, he tweaked and adapted his setup, often writing his own code to make small tablets and portable computers purpose-built portable-spectrum-capture devices. If you’re curious, you might like to read about the evolution of his systems on his blog.

Clearly, for London Shortwave, an SDR is the right way to capture spectrum and thus likely the best solution for his DX listening.

Good Reason #2:  Weak-signal workarounds.

Typically radio enthusiasts turn to field operation to work in a lower-noise environment and/or where there are no antenna restrictions, often to log new stations and DX.

SDRs afford the DXer top-shelf tools for digging weak signals out of the muck. SDR applications have advanced tools for tweaking AGC settings, synchronous detectors, filters, noise reduction, and even to tailor audio.

The WinRadio Excalibur application even includes a waterfall display which represents the entire HF band (selectable 30 MHz or 50 MHz in width)

On top of that, being able to see a swath of spectrum and waterfall gives one an easier way––a visual way––to pinpoint weak or intermittent signals. This is much harder to do with a legacy radio.

Case in point:  I like listening to pirate radio stations on shortwave. With a spectrum display, I can see when a new station may be tuning up on the band so can position the receiver to listen in from the beginning of the broadcast, and never miss a beat.

Or, in another example, the visual aspect of spectrum display means I can easily locate trans-Atlantic DX on the mediumwave bands by looking for carrier peaks on the spectrum display outside the standard North American 10 kHz spacing. The signals are very easy to spot.

Good Reason #3: DXpeditions both small and large.

Mark Fahey, scanning the bands with his WinRadio Excalibur/Surface Pro 2 combo at our 2015 PARI DXpedition

Whether you’re joining an organized DXpedition or you’re simply enjoying a little vacation DXpedition, SDRs allow you to make the most of your radio time.

Indeed, most of the organized DXpedition these days heavily incorporate the use of SDRs specifically so DXers can record spectrum. Much like example #1 above, doing this allows you to enjoy the noise-free optimal conditions over and over again through spectrum recordings. Most DXpeditioners will have an SDR making recordings while they use another receiver to DX in real time. Later, they take the recording home and dig even more weak signals out of the mix: ones that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Good Reason #4: Sharing the spectrum with like-minded listeners.

Earlier this year, Mark gave me this 8TB hard drive chock-full of spectrum recordings.

One of the joys I’ve discovered  in making field spectrum recordings is sharing them with fellow DXers. Most of the time when I go to shortwave radio gatherings (like the Winter SWL Fest), I take a couple hard drives to exchange with other SDR enthusiasts. My friend, Mark Fahey, and I have exchanged some of our favorite spectrum recordings this way. I give him a hard drive chock-full of terabytes of recordings, and he reciprocates. Back home (or on the train or airplane) I open one of his recordings and, boom! there I am in his shack in Freeman’s Reach, Australia, tuning through Pacific stations that are not easily heard here in North America, maybe even turning up some gems Mark himself may have overlooked…just as he is doing with my recordings from the southeast US.

I’ve also acquired DXpedition spectrum recordings this way. It’s great fun to “be there” through the recordings and to enjoy some of the benefits of being on the DXpedition in times when I couldn’t actually make it there in person. For a DXer with a consuming job, busy family life, or maybe health problems that limit their travel, an SDR recording is the way to go.

Good Reason #5: Family time

Photo by David Straight

I’m a husband and father, and no matter how much I like to play radio when we’re on vacation, my family comes first, and our family activities take priority.

Having a field-portable SDR setup means that I can arrange a “set it and forget it” spectrum capture device. Before we head out the door for a family visit, tour of the area, or a hike, I simply set my SDR to record spectrum, then listen to what I “caught” after I return, or after I’m home from vacation.

This practice has allowed me to enjoy radio as much as I like, without interrupting our family adventures. Can’t beat it!

Past challenges

With all of these benefits, one might wonder why many other DXers  haven’t been using portable SDRs in the field for a while now? That’s a good question.

Power

The WinRadio G31DDC, like many SDRs of the era, has separate data and power ports

In prior years, DXers and listeners might have been reluctant to lug an SDR and its requisite apparatus out with them. After all, it’s only been in the past decade or so that SDRs haven’t required a separate custom power supply; some legacy SDRs either required an odd voltage, or as with my WinRadio Excalibur, have very tight voltage tolerances.

Originally, taking an SDR to the field––especially in places without grid mains power––usually meant you also had to take a pricey pure sine wave inverter as well as a battery with enough capacity to run the SDR for hours on end.

Having spent many months in an off-grid cabin on the east coast of Prince Edward Island, Canada, I can confidently say it’s an ideal spot for DXing: I can erect large wire antennas there, it’s on salt water, and there are literally no locally-generated man-man noises to spoil my fun.  Of course, anytime we go to the cottage, I record spectrum, too, as this is truly a honey of a listening spot.

The view from our off-grid cabin on PEI.

The first year I took an SDR to the cabin, I made a newbie mistake:  it never dawned on me until I arrived and began to put it to use that my Goal Zero portable battery pack didn’t have a pure sine wave inverter; rather, I found it had a modified sine wave inverter built into it. The inverter could easily power my SDR, sure, but it also injected incredibly strong, unavoidable broadband noise into the mix. It rendered my whole setup absolutely useless. I gave up on the SDR on that trip.

Both the Airspy HF+ (top) and FDM-S2 (bottom) use a USB connection for both data transfer and power. Photo by Guy Atkins.

Today, most SDRs actually derive their power from a computer or laptop through a USB cable, one that doubles as a data and power cable. This effectively eliminates the need for a separate power system and inverter.

Of course, your laptop or tablet will need a means of recharging in the field because the attached SDR will drain its battery a little faster. Nowadays it’s possible to find any number of portable power packs/banks and/or DC battery sources to power laptops or tablets, as long as one is cautious that the system doesn’t inject noise. This still requires a little trial and error, but it’s much easier to remedy than having two separate power sources.

Portable computers

Even a Raspberry Pi 3B has enough horsepower to run SDR applications.

An SDR is nothing without a software application to run it. These applications, of course, require some type of computer.

I the past, SDR applications needed some computing horsepower, not necessarily to run the application itself, but to make spectrum recordings.  In addition, they often required extra on-board storage space to make these recordings sufficiently long to be useful.  This almost always meant lugging a full-sized laptop to the field, or else investing in a very pricey tablet with a hefty amount of internal storage to take along.

Today we’re fortunate to have a number of more portable computing devices to run SDR applications in the field: not just laptops or tablets, but mobile phones and even mini computers, like the eminently affordable $46 Raspberry Pi. While you still have to be conscious of your device’s computing horsepower, many small devices are amply equipped to do the job.

Storage

64-128 GB USB flash/thumb drives are affordable, portable storage options.

If you’re making spectrum and audio recordings in the field, you’ll need to store them somehow. Wideband spectrum recordings can use upwards of 2GB of data per minute or two.

Fortunately, even a 64GB USB flash drive can be purchased for as little as $7-10 US. This makes for quick off-loading of spectrum recordings from a device’s internal memory.

My portable SDR setup

It wasn’t until this year that all of the pieces finally came together for me so that I could enjoy a capable (and affordable!) field-portable SDR setup. Two components, in particular, made my setup a reality overnight; here’s what made the difference.

The AirSpy HF+ Discovery

Last year, AirSpy sent me a sample of their new HF+ Discovery SDR to test and evaluate. To be fully transparent, this was at no cost to me.

I set about putting the HF+ Discovery through its paces. Very soon, I reached a conclusion:  the HF+ Discovery is simply one of the best mediumwave and HF SDRs I’ve ever tested. Certainly, it’s the new benchmark for sub-$500 SDRs.

In fact, I was blown away. The diminutive HF+ Discovery even gives some of my other benchmark SDRs a proper run for their money. Performance is DX-grade and uncompromising, sporting impressive dynamic range and superb sensitivity and selectivity. The noise floor is also incredibly low. And I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that you can purchase this SDR for just $169 US.

The HF+ Discovery compared in size to a DVD

In terms of portability, it’s in a class of its own. It’s tiny and incredibly lightweight. I evaluate and review SDRs all the time, but I’ve never known one that offers this performance in such a tiny package.

Are there any downsides to the HF+ Discovery? The only one I see––and it’s intentional––is that it has a smaller working bandwidth than many other similar SDRs at 768 kHz (although only recently, Airspy announced a firmware update that will increase bandwidth). Keep in mind, however, that the HF+ series SDRs were designed to prevent overload when in the presence of strong local signals. In fairness, that’s a compromise I’ll happily make.

Indeed, the HF+ Discovery maximum bandwidth isn’t a negative in my estimation unless I’m trying to grab the entire mediumwave band, all at once. For shortwave work, it’s fine because it can typically cover an entire broadcast band, allowing me to make useful spectrum recordings.

The HF+ Discovery is so remarkably tiny, that this little SDR, together with a passive loop antenna, can fit in one small travel pouch. Ideal.

The antennas

My homebrew NCPL antenna

Speaking of antennas, one of the primary reasons I’m evaluating the HF+ Discovery is because it has a very high dynamic range and can take advantage of simple antennas, in the form of passive wideband magnetic loop antennas, to achieve serious DX.

AirSpy president and engineer, Youssef Touil, experimented with several passive loop antenna designs and sizes until he found a few combinations ideally matched with the HF+ Discovery.

My good buddy, Vlado (N3CZ) helped me build such an antenna per Youssef’s specifications. Vlado had a length of Wireman Flexi 4XL that was ideal for this project (thanks, Vlad!). The only tricky part was penetrating the shielding and dielectric core at the bottom of the loop, then tapping into both sides of the center conductor for the balun connections.  Being Vlado, he used several lengths of heat shrink tubing to make a nice, clean, snag-free design. I’ll freely admit that, had I constructed this on my own, it wouldn’t have been nearly as elegant!

Click here for a step-by-step guide to building your own NCPL (Noise-Cancelling Passive Loop Antenna.

Youssef also sent me a (then) prototype Youloop passive loop antenna. It’s incredibly compact, made of high quality SMA-fitted coaxial cables. It can be set up in about 30 seconds and coiled to tuck into a jacket pocket.  The AirSpy-built loop has a lower loss transformer than the one in the homemade loop, which translates into a lower noise figure for the system.

Click here to read my review of the Youloop.

Let’s face it: SDR kit simply doesn’t get more portable than this.

The computer

My Microsoft Surface Go tablet on a hotel bed.

In the past, I used an inexpensive, circa 2013 mini Windows laptop with an internal SSD drive.  Everything worked beautifully, save the fact that it was challenging to power in the field and the internal capacity of the hard drive was so small (16GB less the operating system). In addition, it was a few years old, bought used, so the processor speed was quite slow.

This year, on the way back from the Huntsville Hamfest, I stopped by the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama. This center has a wide variety of used portable electronics at discount prices. I felt pretty lucky when I discovered a like-new condition Microsoft Surface Go tablet and keyboard with original charger for $190. The catch? The only data port on the tablet is a USB-C. But I grabbed a small USB-C to standard USB 3.0 dongle (for $2!) and took a risk that it would work with the HF+ Discovery.

Fortunately, it did! Score!

While the Surface Go is no powerhouse, it’s fast enough to run any of my SDRs and make spectrum recordings up to 2 MHz in width without stuttering. The only noise it seems to inject into the mix is a little RFI when I touch the trackpad on the attached keyboard.

Power

One of my LiFePo batteries

The HF+ Discovery draws power from the Surface Go tablet via the USB port. With no additional power supply, the Surface Go may only power the HF+ Discovery for perhaps an hour at most. Since I like doing fully off-grid operations and needed to avoid RFI from inverters, I needed a portable power solution.

Fortunately, the Surface Go has a dedicated power port, so I immediately ordered a DC power cable with a standard car lighter plug.

At the Huntsville Hamfest I also purchased a small 12V 4.5 Ah Bioenno LiFePo battery and paired it with a compact Powerpole distribution panel kit I purchased in May at the 2019 Dayton Hamvention.

The LiFePo battery is small, lightweight, and can power the tablet /SDR combo for hours on end. Moreover, I have noticed no extra noise injected when the DC power is applied.

My HF+ Discovery-based portable SDR kit

My portable SDR kit on a hotel balcony.

Now I have this kit, I couldn’t be more pleased with it. When all of the components of my SDR system are assembled, they work harmoniously. The entire ensemble is also incredibly compact:  the loop antennas, SDR, Surface Go tablet, battery, and distribution panel all fit in a very small travel pack, perfect for the grab-and-go DX adventure.

The entire kit: SDR, cables, Youloop antenna, connectors and adapters all fit in my Red Oxx Lil’ Roy pack.

In November, I took the kit to the coast of South Carolina and had a blast doing a little mediumwave DXing from our hotel balcony. We were very fortunate in that I had two excellent spots to hang the homemade loop antenna: on the main balcony, and from the mini balcony off the master bedroom. Both spots yielded excellent results.

What impressed me most was the fact that the SDR# spectrum display and waterfall were absolutely chock-full of signals, and there was very little noise, even in the popular resort area where we were staying. I found that my portable radios struggled with some of the RFI emanating from the hotel, but the HF+ Discovery and passive loop combo did a much better job mitigating noise.

Check out the AM broadcast band on the spectrum display.

But no need to take my word for it.  If you would like to experience it first hand, why not download an actual spectrum recording I made using this setup?

All you’ll need to do is:

  1. Download the 1.7 GB (.wav formatted) spectrum file at this address
  2. Download a copy of SDR# if you don’t already have an SDR application that can read AirSpy spectrum files.
  3. Install SDR#, and run it.
  4. At the top left corner of the SDR# screen, choose “IQ File (.wav)” as the source, then point it to where you downloaded the file.
  5. Press the play button, and experience a little radio time travel!

This particular recording was made on the mediumwave band on November 17, 2019, starting at around 01:55 UTC.

My portable SDR kit capturing spectrum during a hike in Pisgah National Forest.

I’ve also taken this setup to several parks and remote outdoor locations, and truly enjoyed the freedom of taking spectrum recordings back home to dig through the signals.

Conclusion

I finally have a portable SDR system that allows me the flexibility to make spectrum recordings while travelling. The whole setup is compact and can easily be taken in a carry-on bag when flying.

The glory of this is, I can tune through my spectrum recordings in real time and DX when I’m back home, or even on the way back home, in the car, train, or airplane. It’s simply brilliant.

If you don’t already own an SDR, I can highly recommend the AirSpy HF+ Discovery if you’re primarily interested in HF and MW DXing. If you need a wideband SDR, I could also recommend the recently released SDRplay RSPdx, although it’s slightly heavier and larger than the AirSpy.

Thankfully, I am now an SDR enthusiast that can operate in the field, and this radio has had a lot to do with it. I’ll be logging many hours and miles with the AirSpy HF+ Discovery: its incredibly compact footprint, combined with its brilliant performance, is truly a winning combo.

Click here to check out the Airspy HF+ Discovery

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All India Radio suspends shortwave and “pure DRM’ transmissions during Covid-19 lock-down

Photo by Karthik Chandran

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Fahey, who notes that All India Radio has suspended a number of their broadcast services during the Covid-19 lock-down.

Mark shares the following Office Memorandum from India’s Public Service Broadcaster.

Click here to download memorandum (PDF).

In terms of shortwave (ESD) services, here’s the relevant section from the Memorandum:

B) NON-ESSENTIAL RADIO SERVICES

The following non-essential radio services may be suspended with immediate effect during the lock-down

ESD

5) All ESD services

6) All transmitters dedicated to ESD

DRM

7) Pure DRM mode operations

a. DRM transmitters may be operated on analogue / simulcast mode to relay the National News Service subject to local circumstances and conditions

FM

8) Stations with a 3rd FM channel may relay audio of DD News or DD India subject to feasibility

On the WRTH Facebook group, Sanjay Sutradhar, did note one shortwave broadcast still in service:

It appears 9380 kHz from Aligarh is radiating AIR Vividh Bharti services, may be on a truncated wattage. 8am & 8.30pm news is extended to one hour dedicated to Covid-19 news in-country and world-wide and developments but it is the common broadcast carried out in-country on all bands, at 1.45 UTC

Mark Fahey asks:

I wonder if they will ever bring AIR’s External Service back–?

That’s the big question, isn’t it? The government lock-down is set for 21 days, but I fully expect it could take much longer if other Covid-19 countries are any indication.

If AIR’s shortwave service is closed for an extended period of time–recognizing they deem it “non-essential”–I wouldn’t be surprised if they made deep cuts or keep it closed. Let’s hope for the best outcome, though.

Stay tuned! We’ll keep you updated.


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Guest Post: Radio Seribatu’s Three FM Stations Launch on January 1st, 2020

Radio Seribatu FM Tower

Many thanks for the following guest post about SWLing Post supporter, Mark Fahey, who will soon be launching three local Balinese radio stations:


Radio Seribatu New Year 2020

A 2018 personal DX-pedition by SWLing Post supporter Mark Fahey to a remote village community in Indonesia’s Bali Province was intended to capture and record local and regional MW and SW Tropical Band spectrum on a WinRadio Excalibur for the Radio Spectrum Archive.

The field trip took a most unexpected turn; It was a total failure. Mark didn’t suffer any equipment problems, the loop antennas performed well; the problem was that MW, SW radio was irrelevant to the local population and there were just no longer any local stations broadcasting to archive.

Mark hanging backstage for Radio Volcano

To salvage the experience, Mark shifted his focus to recording video and audio of local gamelan and soundscapes. Seen as a strange novelty by the local jungle community, Mark was soon allocated land, the village built him a house and he has become the first foreigner to ever become a resident of the district and village.

Radio Seribatu Studio Building Studios are on Lower Levels of the house

In return, he has undertaken a project to introduce, and up-skill the village in sustainable eco-industries and educate the village millennials on how to manage these ventures using digital technologies. A component of the project has seen the establishment of three radio stations broadcasting 100% Balinese content. They are the first 24-hour radio stations in the province.

For the last six months, the three stations, Radio Seribatu – Village; Radio Seribatu – Volcano and Radio Seribatu – Mesin have been building the studio complex, solving power and bandwidth issues and training the staff. The network licensing is now permanently allocated and at midnight on January 1st, the test transmissions finish and the three stations officially open.

Each station brings many firsts to the region. They are the first to broadcasts 24 hours per day in the province, the first to broadcast 100% Balinese content and the first to deploy a fully digital workflow and studio complex.

Radio Seribatu Studio A sports state-of-the-art digital workflow

Late February, Mark is presenting a deep dive of the stations in a presentation at the upcoming NASWA Winter SWL Fest in Philadelphia, and at that time the SWLing Post will present a detailed tour of the network, discuss the journey, how unexpected twists and turns were overcome, and explain how Radio Seribatu’s test broadcasts in less than twelve months have reached the third most listened to radio network in all of Indonesia.

Most (if not all!) SWLing Post readers are beyond Radio Seribatu’s FM footprint; however, the majority of the station’s listeners tune in via their IP web streams and so can you! You will find the stations in most online radio directories, iOS and Android Apps and new generation factory fitted car radios (including Buick, Hyundai, Subaru, Mazda, Chevrolet, VW, BMW, GMC, Ford, Chrysler, Kia, Honda, Audi, Toyota, RAM, etc.).

Radio Seribatu Worldwide on Car Radio

A sure-fire way to listen is via the stream links on their website www.radioseribatu.com

 

On the Radio Seribatu VILLAGE station, you will hear everything that is happening around Seribatu village and wider across the island. This is the place to hear live gamelan, festival broadcasts and discussions about issues affecting the community.

On VOLCANO, the playlist is 100% Balinese Indi Rock, Alternative and Punk. 24 hours per day this is the place to hear Balinese bands.

On MESIN Radio Seribatu is playing 100% Balinese Electronic, Trance, House, Techno and Dance.

Each station’s test transmissions are on air right now and continue up until 6 PM Bali Time on New Year’s Eve, December 31st (1000 UTC December 31st). Then all three stations will be in simulcast, presenting a 6-hour special soundscape/actualities program that allows the listener to experience the tropical sounds of Seribatu. With the stroke of midnight; at the beginning of the new decade, all three stations launch into their regular programming.

Putu and Radio Seribatu_s Scoppy

Radio Seribatu is QSLing anyone who listens in, be it via stream or FM. Simply send a hello note and brief report of reception to info@radioseribatu.com and in return, you will receive a limited edition QSL, complete with an exotic postage stamp, posted directly from the Balinese jungle. No return postage required!


Here’s a rundown of what you can hear on the 31st December 2019 launch broadcast:

1000 UTC – (6:00 PM Bali Time)

Puja Tri Sandya Prayers

The Trisandya (from Sanskrit ??????????? ??? , Trisandhy? Puja, “three-evening prayer”) is a commonly-used prayer in Balinese Hinduism. It is uttered three times each day: 6 am, noon, and 6 pm, somewhat reflecting the Muslim azan prayers heard in other parts of Indonesia.

1005 UTC – (6:05 PM Bali Time)

Seribatu Village Awakens

Most Balinese families live within a family compound in villages that may have a population of around 700 – 800 people. In Seribatu the family compounds typically contain several homes for different members of the extended family. A typical home compound may comprise up to three families and grow to approximately 30 people. The village stirs to life just before the crack of dawn; roosters crow and chickens are fed. Early morning is a busy time in Seribatu, listen for village drums, Motor Bikes and Scooters heading off to the Dawn Market, Women sweeping their homes with a wicker brush, crickets chirp, and villagers trade at the dawn market. School starts early, and before the heat the day the Indonesian National Anthem is recited.

1017 UTC – (6:17 PM Bali Time)

Balinese Wisdom – The Song of Morality

Please don’t ever think you are very Clever; Let people either say you are good or great.

1019 UTC – (6:19 PM Bali Time)

Morning Market

Simple Seribatu village compounds do not have a refrigerator. Meat, fish and other food are purchased the local central market at dawn and the following few hours before the heat of the day descends. Farmers trade their vegetables and other produce. Merchants sell hardware and household supplies. Minivans packed to the roof with purchased fresh produce maneuver around the narrow lanes of the market.

1044 UTC – (6:44 PM Bali Time)

Ducks in the Rice Fields

Rice is a staple food in Bali, and it has strong ties to the Balinese culture. The cycle of rice growth pretty much sets the tone for much of the traditional Balinese life. The Balinese community views rice as a gift from God and a symbol of life. For thousands of years, the Balinese people have been growing rice and cultivating the beautiful rice terraces of Bali where three kinds of rice are grown: white rice, black rice, and red rice.

1102 UTC – (7:02 PM Bali Time)

Balinese Cleansing Ceremony

This ceremony is intended to cleanse the bhuana alit (the inner world of the individual human being or the micro-cosmos) of negativity so that he/she will be able (again) to enclose and utilize this inner power in an appropriate, spiritual way. The symbolism of this ceremony is intended to remind the individual to guard himself against the selfish desires and actions of the ego in favor of the unselfish goals of the soul or higher self. One prays for a clear mind with positive thinking and for strength to keep one’s self- control in situations where negative emotions are bound to arise.

1114 UTC – (7:14 PM Bali Time)

Satria Bird Market

As a popular Indonesian saying goes, a man is considered to be a real man if he has a house, a wife, a kris (dagger), and a bird. Keeping wild birds as pets is a massively popular hobby in many parts of Indonesia. The better the bird sings, the higher the demand for it. On a visit to Bali’s Satria Bird Market, you will see many thousands of birds from hundreds of species. Many of the birds are caged in poorly maintained conditions. Among the strangest are vendors who keep birds in bags, from unfledged chicks still in nests to breeding adults.

1115 UTC – (7:15 PM Bali Time)

Bats at the Goa Lawah Temple

One of nine sacred temples on the island of Bali, the cave temple of Pura Goa Lawah is home to thousands of bats. If the local legend is to be believed, it also hides a river of healing waters and a titanic snake wearing a crown.

While the site had no name when the temple was built, it gained its name due to the thousands of bats that cling to the ceiling and walls of the natural chasm, “Goa” meaning “cave” and “Lawah” meaning “bat.” It is thought that the cave may extend through the mountain right to a nearby town. The legend goes that the dark recesses of the tunnel are home to a mythical snake king known as Vasuki, a massive naga that wears a crown on his head. He is said to live on the copious amounts of bats in the cavern. Yet another legend claims that a river of miraculous healing waters rushes through the depths of the cave.

1120 UTC – (7:20 PM Bali Time)

Balaganjur Traditional Musicians Rehearsal

Baleganjur music is an inseparable part of life and death in Bali, heard in every village across the island. Its traditional purpose is to accompany funeral processions, so this intensely rhythmic yet dignified ensemble has a permanent role in Balinese society. The musicians play their instruments as they walk, and due to this portability, Baleganjur is now a fixture of all celebratory processions. A standard Baleganjur ensemble consists of about 20 musicians, plus helpers to carry gongs, but these days in Bali bigger is better!

1155 UTC – (7:55 PM Bali Time)

A Brief Balinese Radio Interlude

Listeners phone in and sing, callers discuss the terrorist bombings in Bali, Rinso (Indonesia’s most popular detergent) Soap Powder advertisement and how to cure a stubborn cough.

1242 UTC – (8:42 PM Bali Time)

Subak – Water Irrigation

Subak is a traditional ecologically sustainable irrigation system that binds Balinese agrarian society together within the village’s Bale Banjar community center and Balinese temples. For the Balinese, irrigation is not simply providing water for the plant’s roots, but water is used to construct a complex, pulsed artificial ecosystem. The water management is under the authority of the priests in water temples, who practice Tri Hita Karana Philosophy, a self-described relationship between humans, the earth and the gods.

1255 UTC – (8:50 PM Bali Time)

Temple Ceremony

In Bali, there are over 4,500 temples where ceremonies take place almost every day of the year. Temple festivals are held on the anniversary of when the temple was consecrated and usually on a new or full moon.

An Odalan or temple ceremony usually lasts for three days, but larger ones, which occur every 5, 10, 30 or 100 years, can last for 11 days or longer. The Balinese are honoring the deities that rule over the temple by giving them a myriad of offerings, performances of vocal music, dance and gamelan music. They invite them down from their abode on Mount Agung to partake in the activities. Every ceremony in Bali is to maintain the natural balance of positive to negative, so the Balinese do not destroy the negative forces, but balance them in harmony with the positive.

1426 UTC – (10:26 PM Bali Time)

Seribatu Evening

As the end of the year and the decade approaches, the sounds of frogs, crickets and tropical rain delight the ear while a cool bottle of Bintang refreshes your thirst.

1505 UTC – (11:05 PM Bali Time)

Radio Seribatu Countdown to Launch

Sinaga Goatama’s (Mendira Village) original electronic composition “Blazing Fire” guides us to midnight and the launch of regular programming on all three Radio Seribatu stations.

1600 UTC – (Midnight AM Bali Time)

It’s 2020 and Radio Seribatu has Launched!

All three of Radio Seribatu’s Radio Stations; Village, Volcano and Mesin radio are officially on-air, and commence their regular programming!


Wow, Mark! This is a most impressive endeavor and, no doubt, all three Seribatu stations will have a loyal following in Bali and across the planet! I’ve already become a fan of MESIN! 

We wish you and the Seribatu staff/volunteers massive success in your 2020 launch year!

Post readers: Again, Radio Seribatu, is QSLing anyone who listens in. Send a brief, accurate report and you will receive a limited edition Seribatu QSL. Send all reports to: info@radioseribatu.com

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KiwiSDR update brings integrated DRM reception!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Fahey, who shares the following tweet from KiwiSDR:

“Happy Holidays. Software update brings integrated DRM receiver (Digital Radio Mondiale) based on Dream 2.1.1 to all KiwiSDRs. Stock BeagleBone-Green/Black based Kiwis support one DRM channel, BeagleBone-AI Kiwis support four. Development work continues.”

Ironically, I had only recently published a post asking if anyone had ever attempted to decode DRM using a KiwiSDR. Turns out, several readers had by porting the IQ audio output into the DREAM application. Now that KiwiSDR will have a native DRM mode, this will no longer be necessary.

Many thanks, Mark, for sharing this tip! As you say, this is “mega news!”

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Sangean ATS-909X sticky keys?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Fahey, who left the following comment on our PL-880 review:

I’m reading this old post as I am a new user of the PL-880. I have it as my bedside and coffee table receiver in my house up in the Indonesian jungle.

I love it! Wished I purchased it months ago.

Until the PL-880 arrived I was using an ATS-909X up here – and seeing Thomas mention it here I thought I would ask about it.

I have owned 3 x ATS-909X over the years, two white and my most recent (about 2 years ago) is the black model. Every single one of them has the most frustrating key not functioning as you would expect bug. It like the keys are “sticking”, it’s not a mechanical problem, but something with the keyboard electronics. The 1st one I brought when the ATS-909X was basically unusable due the keyboard. The later purchases somewhat better, and the last Black one the best of the bunch with a software version that was supposed to fix the problem. All that said even the Black one is pretty crappy with unresponsive keys (unless you press hard and slowly – ie not rapid and fast sequences of key pressing).

Am I just suffering the effects of bad karma, or is everyone’s experience of the ATS-909X the same.

I’m so pleased I’m now using the PL-880. No problems, no crappy keyboard, just a great experience!

Cheers,
Mark

I’m glad you’re enjoying the PL-880, Mark. You’re right: it’s a brilliant portable.

Post readers: Have other ATS-909X owners experienced this problem with unresponsive keys? Please comment!

And Mark, we’re overdue an update on your Radio Seribatu stations!

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The Third Network: Investigating North Korea’s infamous cable radio

Photo by Chad O’Carroll (@chadocl via Twitter)

The NK News has published an article about North Korea’s “Third Network”: the infamous cable network radio installed in many homes and that, some report, cannot be turned off.

This article tries to separate fact from fiction and turns to SWLing Post friend, Mark Fahey, among other North Korea experts:

The North Korean radio you can never turn off: fact or fiction?

Rumors have persisted for years, but how true they are remains up for debate

Eric Lafforgue discovered the radio in September 2011, on the wall of a farmhouse north of Hamhung.

Although small and austere, with just a speaker and a turquoise dial for volume control, the device stood out for two reasons: firstly, it looked cemented to the wall and secondly, his guide told him that “people cannot turn off the system.”

The French photographer would later post an image of the device on Flickr, where it remains one of the few pieces of photographic evidence of a uniquely North Korean twist on public address systems typical to the region.

Instead of issuing intermittent earthquake and tsunami warnings, however, this network is alleged to broadcast regime propaganda into citizen’s homes day and night without respite.

In some ways, the existence of this type of radio would be in keeping with what we know about the North Korean media landscape.

All television, radio and internet content is strictly censored by the state and suffused with propaganda glorifying the exploits of the state and its economic successes.

And a walk down the streets of any North Korean city will inevitably bring you into contact with a wide variety of posters exhorting greater personal sacrifice for the regime, praising its achievements or damning its enemies.

These are vivid displays often accompanied by motivational music and state announcements pumped daily into streets through public loudspeakers.

Even so, while these manifestations of North Korean propaganda are well-known to even casual observers of the country, visual evidence for the radio system described by Lafforgue remains scant.

In all his own trips to the DPRK, Mark Fahey has never seen any such device in person, and not for any lack of trying.

“I’ve been looking in every single room, in every single building I’ve been in,” Fahey, an expert on North Korean propaganda, tells NK News.

Others have been luckier. During filming for the documentary “A State of Mind” in 2004, footage was captured of a device similar to Lafforgue’s on the wall of a Pyongyang apartment.

“State radio is piped to every kitchen in the block,” a voiceover explains. “Listeners can turn the volume down, but not off.”[…]

Click here to continue reading the full article at NK News.

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Independent review says U.S.-funded broadcaster failing to spread fair and balanced news

(Source: Washington Post via Mark Fahey)

A U.S. agency that is supposed to broadcast objective Spanish-language news programs into Cuba fails to meet basic standards of journalistic fairness[…] The review of [Radio] Martí content, conducted by Spanish-speaking academics and former journalists and released Tuesday, found the news organization routinely allows “almost any criticism of the Cuban government and its leaders” on the air. The effect, the report concluded, is that the station has sometimes resembled anti-communist propaganda and has failed to be a broker of fair and unbiased broadcast journalism, as is mandated by Congress.

John F. Lansing, the chief executive of the station’s parent organization, the U.S. Agency for Global Media, said the review did not find that the biased coverage had been directed by any political appointee of the Trump administration. Rather, he said, the failures flow from a “broken culture” at Martí, which has relied on Cuban dissidents as on-air personalities and on a small group of anti-communist organizations as sources for some content.

“I know it’s tempting to make an assumption about the Trump administration, particularly given the terms that have been used about the press, but I can tell you unequivocally that there has been no influence by the Trump administration,” said Lansing, a holdover from the Obama administration. Rather, he said, the report reveals “a lack of basic journalist standards across the board.”[…]

Read the full article on the Washington Post.

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