Tag Archives: Mark Hirst

Guest Post: Mark’s review of the Yaesu FT-891 as shortwave broadcast receiver

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Hirst, who shares the following guest post:


Using the Yaesu FT-891 for SWLing

by Mark Hirst

Woodland Operation in North Hampshire

Introduction

While I have a small collection of portable shortwave radios for outdoor listening, I’ve been looking to fill a gap in my amateur radio lineup for a while. Outdoor operation has become important in recent years as solar cycle conditions deteriorated along with rising levels of QRM in urban neighbourhoods. The ICOM IC–7200 with Wellbrook loop stays at home fighting a losing battle with PLA noise, while the very portable FT–817ND does occasional data modes contacts and outdoor listening. Somewhere in the middle, the FT–891 promised to provide a modern and more powerful data modes station, a radio to take on holidays, needing external batteries, but portable enough for walks into the country side. Earlier this year, I bought one new from my local ham radio store, and what follows are my findings and observations so far on shortwave listening.

Audio Characteristics

I’ve accumulated hundreds of recordings of VOA Radiogram and Shortwave Radiogram since 2013, so a recent woodland expedition with the FT–891 was an opportunity to compare a recording made with it against those of other radios I’ve used.

The most striking difference is the lack of frequencies in the lower part of the audio spectrum along with a distinct cut off at around 5kHz.

This is easily visualised in the following comparison between the FT–891 and the Tecsun PL–680. Note the conspicuous pillar associated with MFSK32 from these Shortwave Radiogram broadcasts, and interfering RTTY on the FT–891 recording:

Audio Frequency Analysis

While this audio profile may not be to everyone’s taste, the extra sparkle yields voice audio that is clear and distinct. I find those low frequencies make the audio muddy and tiring to listen over long periods, so I’m quite happy with this.

When listening to speech based broadcasts through the top mounted speaker, the audio is also precise and intelligible, and provides more than enough volume.

You can judge for yourself from this 2 minute video I made recently:

Headphones, External Speakers and Recording

You also have the option of connecting an external speaker or headphones to a socket on the side of the radio. Be aware that the audio level is different for headphones, and is controlled by a small switch hidden behind the front panel. I expect people may go for one option such as headphones and then stick with it, rather than continually detaching the front of the radio and moving the delicate switch back and forth.

If you turn the volume right down you will hear a hiss, although its really only noticeable if you face the speaker directly and get close. Listening outdoors with the sounds of nature around you? It’ll be fine. There’s no way to avoid it with headphones of course, with forums suggesting inline resistors or high impedance headphones as solutions.

Audio recordings can of course be taken from the headphone socket, but you will get better results from the data port on the back. I use a UD04YA cable which provides 3.5mm audio in and audio out jacks, plus a USB cable to provide PTT functionality. It’s meant for data modes operation with the FT–817, but I have used it successfully with the FT–891 for PSK contacts using fldigi, eliminating the need for CAT control through a second cable to the radio’s USB port.

Customising for SWL

The advanced manual for the FT–891 helpfully provides a section called ‘Tools for Comfortable and Effective Reception’, so I began configuring the radio using the guidance there.

First up was re-configuring the front panel RF/Squelch knob to only control RF gain (Menu 05–05). I use the same configuration on my FT–817ND to dial back RF gain, allowing the AGC to pick up the slack.

Next was enabling the awkwardly named Insertion Point Optimisation (IPO) which switches out the pre-amplifier. It’s interesting to note that this setting can be associated with a stored memory channel, which became relevant later when I used CAT control to program some favourite frequencies.

The radio has an attenuator, although I’ve not found a need for it so far.

The AGC can be configured as Auto, Fast, Mid, and Slow. Since it is not a ‘set and forget’ setting like the RF control or IPO options, it might be a good candidate for assigning to one of the three user definable buttons below the LCD screen.

Audio can be fine tuned using four menu options (06–01 to 06–04) to control high and low frequency cutoff, but after some experimentation I have turned these options off.

As an aside, I found the LCD backlight, button illumination and TX/Busy lights too bright for indoor use, so dialed them back to their minimum values.

Listening Tools

The radio provides some additional tools as part of its IF DSP. The features of particular interest are Digital Noise Reduction (DNR), Noise Blanker, IF Notch Filter, Digital Notch Filter, and Narrow IF filter. Contour, IF Bandwidth, and IF Shift are not available in AM mode, and you must resort to SSB to get them. More about SSB in a moment.

Out of this wide array of options, I’ve only explored Digital Noise Reduction and the Narrow IF filter so far, as they offer fairly immediate gains without too much configuration.

Narrow filter simply reduces the total IF bandwidth from 9kHz to 6kHz, which gives some immediate relief to higher frequency noise. In tougher conditions at home tackling QRM, the harsher sound it causes has sometimes been counter productive.

At the outset, it’s obvious that the DNR capability of the FT–891 is a powerful feature. Rather than providing a level of processing that varies from a little to a lot, the radio provides 15 different ‘algorithms’ which can be selected for best results. This means you will tweak the DNR setting to address signals on a case by case basis.

Comparing it with the IF noise reduction of my ICOM IC–7200, the ICOM has a scale of diminishing returns as the DSP level is turned up, whereas the FT–891 seems to start strong and it’s more about picking the algorithm that sounds best.

After testing the DNR on AM broadcast stations away from the noise at home, voice audio sounds distant and words can be clipped, which is fine for SSB amateur radio contacts, but makes me think it’s not a feature of first resort when trying to improve broadcast reception. In those circumstances, the narrow filter might be a better option.

The Trials of Single Side Band

On the matter of SSB and using it to combat adjacent or co-channel signals, the radio offers a single SSB option in the mode menu, picking USB or LSB for you automatically based on the current band. When tackling broadcast band interference however, you want the option to go in either direction. The radio also changes the current frequency by 700Hz when SSB is selected, which then has to be corrected with the main dial.

You would begin by switching to SSB mode by pressing and holding the band button. If you’re lucky, the default setting is the one you want.

If it isn’t, activate the settings menu with a long press of the F key, go to the menu option SSB BFO (11–07), select it and use the multi-function knob to change the mode away from Auto to LSB or USB.

As you are doing this, the VFO will change to LSB or USB too. Leave the setting on the option that suits your needs.

If you exit the menu option without saving (pressing F), the mode will remain changed, but the override is not saved. This can be a useful quirk because next time you turn the radio on, it will be back in auto mode.

If you commit the override by pushing the multi-function knob instead, the radio will stay in manual mode until you remember to return to the menu and restore automatic behaviour again.

It’s a needlessly complicated system, as I discovered recently while recording another Shortwave Radiogram broadcast. Even after testing the procedure previously for this article, the radio was determined to stay in LSB no matter what.

Memory Programming

Since the radio has no keyboard for direct frequency input, an early priority for shortwave listening was to program some of the 99 memories available. My plan was to have some favourite broadcast stations, along with WX, Volmet, GMDSS, and some data mode frequencies. To handle ad-hoc stations however, I wanted a way of moving quickly across the main shortwave bands without excessive use of the main tuning dial or multi-function knob.

Taking the official definitions of the broadcast bands between 60m and 16m, and combining those with frequency schedules, I came up with a series of frequencies 150kHz apart across each of those bands, guaranteeing that no broadcast was more than 150kHz away.

The combined list of favourites and the 150kHz stepping stone frequencies resulted in 70 memory channels in total. As I wanted to apply alphanumeric tags to those channels, and didn’t relish the prospect of entering them manually, my next port of call was the CAT control manual to see how those memories could be set programmatically.

While there is commercial software available for the FT–891, I only needed to set up the memory channels, so decided to adapt some PowerShell I’d written for another radio, sending the necessary serial port commands to configure my list.

Now that is done, I can fast travel using the stepping stone memories to the closest point in a band, then use the fast mode of the main tuning dial to move quickly to my final destination.

The following table lists my current stepping stone channels in kHz:

60m 49m 41m 31m 25m 22m 19m 16m
4750 5900 7200 9400 11600 13570 15100 17480
4900 6050 7350 9550 11750 13720 15250 17630
5050 6200 7500 9700 11900 13870 15400 17780
7650 9850 12050 15550 17930
7800 15700

Memory Access

An obvious way to access the memories is to toggle memory channel mode with the V/M button, then cycle through the memories using the multi-function knob. Depending on your memory choices, you will hear relays clicking as the radio jumps back and forth between widely spaced frequencies and bands. You will also need a good memory of your memories, so you know which way to turn the multi-function knob.

An alternative and perhaps faster method is to press the M>V button. This brings up a multi-line listing of memories that can be scrolled through using the multi-function knob. Pressing the M>V button again copies the selected memory to the VFO and leaves you in VFO mode. This avoids the radio flipping across bands and the associated relay activity.

Although it is not documented, if you push the multi-function knob on a selected memory channel in the multi-line listing rather than using the M>V button, the selected memory is activated and the radio is left in memory channel mode displaying the memory tag.

Disabling Transmit

At the time of writing, I haven’t discovered a way of formally disabling transmit, and the minimum transmit power goes no lower than 5W. Since my main interests are around shortwave listening, utility stations and an occasional data mode QSO, I have not fitted the microphone to the radio. In that configuration at least, there is no danger of me manually transmitting into a receive antenna by accident.

Outdoor Power

Reports vary on the power consumption of the FT–891. It certainly isn’t as high as the 2.0A documented in the user guide.

While some sources claim values in the region of 1.0A, my power supply shows around 0.4A at 13.8V when receiving a typical HF broadcast. You will notice where some of that power goes quite quickly, as part of the radio gets warmer.

To save weight, my preferred power supply in the field is usually a lithium battery designed to jump start smaller engined cars. This versatile 12V battery also supplies 5V USB power to phones and tablets, and can even charge laptops.

In Conclusion

Control ergonomics and screen size are factors that can detract from shortwave listening on these kinds of radios, with smaller speakers and menu options for features normally at your fingertips.

Despite this, I’m happy with the audio, and I like the emphasis on mid-range frequencies in its audio spectrum. The digital noise reduction is impressive and can tackle significant QRM environments, but for outdoor listening may not be your first port of call.

Memory presets can make tuning less laborious, while assigning key listening tools to the customisable front panel buttons should reduce the need to access menus. I may consider defining some stations with known co-channel issues to memory with preset LSB and USB variations, to allow rapid responses to interference in future.

In good conditions, I suspect there is little difference between the FT–891 and FT–817ND for general listening. The FT–817ND has produced some of my best recordings of Shortwave Radiogram. The newer radio however brings many advanced tools to bear on more difficult signals, while its band scope and full sized VFO tuning dial enable desktop style shortwave exploration.

The ICOM IC–7200 is constrained by interference at home, biding its time for when the solar cycle swings back. When it’s been out on field days, it has always been a strong performer for broadcast listening. All the important controls are upfront, but is not a trivial thing to transport on foot. While the FT–891 has impressive DNR chops, I think I prefer the ability of the IC–7200 to apply noise reduction in incremental steps. Perhaps the algorithm approach will grow on me in time.

Any amateur radio operator using the FT–891 should have no trouble using it for shortwave listening. It attracts a lot of positive reviews for its ham radio capabilities, and it looks like those features carry across for listening to the world too.


An excellent review, Mark! Thank you for sharing. 

The Yaesu FT-891 must be the most popular HF transceivers Yaesu sells today. So many of its users rave about its performance and audio characteristics. Mark, thank you for sharing your experience with the FT-891 as an SWL!

Click here to check out the affordable IP67 rated case Mark uses to house his FT-891.

Spread the radio love

Mark finds an affordable IP67 rated protective case for the Yaesu FT-891

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Hirst, who writes:

Thomas,

I got a new FT-891 recently and wanted a protective case for taking it out into the field.

A mixture of internet searches and Amazon algorithms turned up this very affordable case which closely matches the size of the radio, as the enclosed photograph shows.

It uses the familiar pick and pluck foam, although in two layers.

The base layer is a bit thin, so I might put a layer of rigid plastic over it to stop the feet of the radio pushing down to the outer case.

I prioritised the side wall thickness opposite from the carry handle, as the case is designed to sit on its side like a briefcase.

Via Amazon USA ($29.31)

Via Amazon UK (£20.99)

Mark

Wow, Mark! I do love the size of this case and the fact that it fits the FT-891 so perfectly.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about building out a case to hold one of my smaller QRP transceivers (the KX1, KX2, or MTR3B) in the field to be used when it’s raining. Perhaps this has been on my mind because I’ve been enjoying nearly 5 straight days of rain and fog! A case like this would be an affordable solution and I wouldn’t feel terribly bad about drilling through the case to mount antenna, key, mic, and headphone ports.

I, for one, would love your thoughts about the Yaesu FT-891 as well. I’ve contemplated reviewing it this year mainly because so many field operators rave about it. I’d be curious what you think about it in terms of shortwave radio listening.

Thank you again for the tip!

Note that the Amazon affiliate links above support the SWLing Post at no cost to you. If you’d rather not use these links, simply search Amazon for “Max MAX004S.” Thank you!

Spread the radio love

Help Mark identify this radio in The New Avengers

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Hirst, who writes with another mystery radio to identify:

This radio (see photo above) is featured in the mid 1970’s TV show ‘The New Avengers’, an episode called “To Catch a Rat”. Mysterious morse code messages are being intercepted in this scene.

Can you help Mark identify this radio model? Is it even a radio or is it simply a speaker? Please comment if you can ID this one!

I’ll add this post to our (massive) archive of radios in film.

Spread the radio love

Mark spots another radio in “Death In Paradise”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Hirst, who writes:

Another radio turned up in the BBC series, ‘Death in Paradise’.

Set on a picturesque Caribbean island with an infeasibly high murder rate, we see the police interviewing a witness as he listens to the local radio station.

Can SWLing Post readers identify the radio I wonder?

Please comment if you can ID this radio! Not an easy task this time as there’s no close-up shot to pull details from the front panel. Good luck!

Spread the radio love

Rush’s new “Spirit of Radio” video pays homage to our rich radio history

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Hirst, who shares a music video recently released by Rush in honor of the 40th anniversary of their album, Permanent Waves.

The animated video takes us on a journey through radio and broadcasting history. No doubt, you’ll recognize many names and stations. It’s a wonderful radio nostalgia trip. Rush produced this video in memory of their epic drummer, Neil Peart, who passed away earlier this year.

Enjoy:

Spread the radio love

Silphase R1 videos and information about power and antenna ports

We’re starting to get a little more info about the recently posted Silphase R1 SDR receiver. At this point, the radio isn’t in production and is obviously only in a prototype stage so there are a lot of question marks–including if it’ll ever come to fruition. The pandemic is obviously not an ideal time to launch and produce a new high-end radio. I, for one, certainly hope they do!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Hirst asked Silphase about R1 external antenna support and power options. A Silphase representative replied:

“We are constantly redesigning the rear panel receiver Silphase R1, so we
can say for sure that there are 4 connectors – antenna F-type connector,
12.6 V power/charging, RJ-45 and USB”

And thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paul, who received the following info from Silphase:

You can watch real videos on our YouTube channel.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQN8YbKULHlkA4KBFt76Hhg

Sample videos:

Click here to view all of the videos on the Silphase YouTube channel.

As we learn more about the Siplase R1, we’ll publish it on the Post with the tag: R1.

Spread the radio love

Radio Waves: Free Foundation License Course, More Titanic Radio, CQD, and ARRL Field Day Waivers

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 Trevor, Mark Hirst and Ulis Fleming for the following tips:


Register now for free Amateur Radio Foundation Online training course (Southgate ARC)

The next free amateur radio Foundation Online training course run by volunteers from Essex Ham starts on Sunday, June 7

The Coronavirus outbreak and the RSGB’s introduction of online exams that can be taken at home has led to a surge in demand for free online amateur radio training courses such as that run by Essex Ham.

These courses have been very popular and early registration is advised. 313 people took the course that started on May 3 and a further 235 are on the course that started on May 17.

You can find out more about online training and register to join a course at
https://www.essexham.co.uk/train/foundation-online/

Essex Ham
https://www.essexham.co.uk/
https://twitter.com/EssexHam

US court grants permission to recover Marconi telegraph from Titanic wreckage (ARS Technica)

But NOAA is fiercely opposed to the controversial salvage mission.

When RMS Titanic struck an iceberg on April 14, 1912, crew members sent out numerous distress signals to any other ships in the vicinity using what was then a relatively new technology: a Marconi wireless telegraph system. More than 1,500 passengers and crew perished when the ship sank a few hours later. Now, in what is likely to be a controversial decision, a federal judge has approved a salvage operation to retrieve the telegraph from the deteriorating wreckage, The Boston Globe has reported.

Lawyers for the company RMS Titanic Inc.—which owns more than 5,000 artifacts salvaged from the wreck—filed a request in US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, arguing that the wireless telegraph should be salvaged because the ship’s remains are likely to collapse sometime in the next several years, rendering “the world’s most famous radio” inaccessible. US District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith concurred in her ruling, noting that salvaging the telegraph “will contribute to the legacy left by the indelible loss of the Titanic, those who survived, and those who gave their lives in the sinking.”

However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is fiercely opposed to the salvage mission. The agency argues in court documents that the telegraph should be left undisturbed, since it is likely to be surrounded “by the mortal remains of more than 1500 people.” Judge Smith countered in her decision that the proposed expedition meets international requirements: for instance, it is justified on scientific and cultural grounds and has taken into account any potential damage to the wreck.[]

Why Titanic’s first call for help wasn’t an SOS signal (National Geographic)

When RMS Titanic set sail in 1912, it was blessed and cursed with the latest in communication technology—the wireless telegraph. In the last hours after Titanic hit an iceberg, radio messages sent from the storied sinking ship summoned a rescue vessel that saved hundreds of people, but also sowed confusion with competing distress calls and signal interference. More than 1,500 people died that fateful night.

Now, a recent court ruling may pave the way to the recovery of Titanic’s telegraph, designed by Guglielmo Marconi, a telecommunications pioneer and 1909 Nobel Prize winner in physics who invented the first device to facilitate wireless communications using radio waves.

[…]Despite the limitations of the Marconi telegraph—and the fact that it wasn’t intended to be used as an emergency device—Titanic was outfitted with a radio room and a Marconi-leased telegraph machine. Two young Marconi-employed operators, chief telegraphist Jack Phillips and his assistant Harold Bride, sent Morse code “Marconigrams” on behalf of Titanic’s well-heeled customers 24 hours a day during its maiden voyage in April 1912.

Both Marconi’s technology monopoly and the torrent of personal messages conveyed through Titanic’s telegraph proved fatal on that April night. Phillips was so overwhelmed by a queue of incoming and outgoing guest telegrams —one Titanic passenger wanted to “notify all interested” about an upcoming poker game in Los Angeles—that he didn’t pass on messages about the ice threatening Titanic’s ocean environs. When a nearby vessel, SS Californian, telegraphed that it was already surrounded by ice, Phillips testily responded “Shut up! I am busy.”

Once Titanic hit the iceberg, Phillips tone shifted and he used the Marconi distress signal: “CQD.”[]

Temporary Rule Waivers Announced for 2020 ARRL Field Day (ARRL News)

With one month to go before 2020 ARRL Field Day, June 27 – 28, the ARRL Programs and Services Committee (PSC) has adopted two temporary rule waivers for the event:

1)      For Field Day 2020 only, Class D stations may work all other Field Day stations, including other Class D stations, for points.

Field Day rule 4.6 defines Class D stations as “Home stations,” including stations operating from permanent or licensed station locations using commercial power. Class D stations ordinarily may only count contacts made with Class A, B, C, E, and F Field Day stations, but the temporary rule waiver for 2020 allows Class D stations to count contacts with other Class D stations for QSO credit.

2)      In addition, for 2020 only, an aggregate club score will be published, which will be the sum of all individual entries indicating a specific club (similar to the aggregate score totals used in ARRL affiliated club competitions).

Ordinarily, club names are only published in the results for Class A and Class F entries, but the temporary rule waiver for 2020 allows participants from any Class to optionally include a single club name with their submitted results following Field Day.

For example, if Podunk Hollow Radio Club members Becky, W1BXY, and Hiram, W1AW, both participate in 2020 Field Day — Hiram from his Class D home station, and Becky from her Class C mobile station — both can include the radio club’s name when reporting their individual results. The published results listing will include individual scores for Hiram and Becky, plus a combined score for all entries identified as Podunk Hollow Radio Club.

The temporary rule waivers were adopted by the PSC on May 27, 2020.

ARRL Field Day is one of the biggest events on the amateur radio calendar, with over 36,000 participants in 2019, including entries from 3,113 radio clubs and emergency operations centers. In most years, Field Day is also the largest annual demonstration of ham radio, because many radio clubs organize their participation in public places such as parks and schools.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many radio clubs have made decisions to cancel their group participation in ARRL Field Day this year due to public health recommendations and/or requirements, or to significantly modify their participation for safe social distancing practices. The temporary rule waivers allow greater flexibility in recognizing the value of individual and club participation regardless of entry class.

ARRL is contacting logging program developers about the temporary rule waivers so developers can release updated versions of their software prior to Field Day weekend. Participants are reminded that the preferred method of submitting entries after Field Day is via the web applet. The ARRL Field Day rules include instructions for submitting entries after the event. Entries must be submitted or postmarked by Tuesday, July 28, 2020.

The ARRL Field Day web page includes a series of articles with ideas and advice for adapting participation this year.[]


Do you enjoy the SWLing Post?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

Your support makes articles like this one possible. Thank you!

Spread the radio love