Like a few of us contributors here on the SWLing Post, Robert Gulley (AK3Q), writes features for The Spectrum Monitor magazine (TSM). Robert and I are both passionate supports of TSM–for a mere $24 per year, you get a monthly digital magazine that is simply chock-full of articles covering all aspects of our radio hobby. A phenomenal value indeed!
I’ve just discovered that Robert has published a number of his past TSM articles–reviews and how-tos–on his excellent blog All Things Radio. Each article can be downloaded as a PDF. Here are the topics:
Using Weak Signal Software to Reach for the Sky! (Part 1)
Using Weak Signal Modes for Propagation, RFI, and Antenna Analysis (Part 2)
Ahoy! After spinning a radio dial for over a half-century, shortwave listening still provides a source of adventure and interesting intercepts. While major broadcasters continue to move to the Internet and dwindle in number, there nonetheless remains plenty of utility intrigue to be had; you just need to know where to look, and be comfortable with other modes of communication such as RTTY (Radioteletype).
RTTY remains on HF (3 – 30 MHz), albeit mostly encrypted, but there are some stalwarts of this mode that transmit important and interesting information for ships at sea. The information can take the form of weather broadcasts, hazards to navigation, information on ships lost at sea, and pirate activity. Yes, pirate activity but not radio pirates; real honest-to-goodness modern day pirates looking to loot, plunder and prey upon commercial ships making an honest living or other leisure watercraft just out having fun.
Who knows what dangers lurk behind that dial? Trusty AOR AR-3000 receiver and SignaLink™.
Has your interest been piqued? When avast mateys as I spin ya’ a yarn on how to find out where these sea-faring scoundrels lurk from the Caribbean all the way to the South China sea!
Pirate activity is not something of the past; it exists today and is a threat conducted by ragtag armed ragamuffin groups. To keep abreast of the action you’ll need the following gear: a shortwave radio with single sideband (SSB), a decent antenna, a means of decoding RTTY, and WLO, a station from Mobile, AL that transmits information to ships at sea.
You’ll do well to add WLO’s frequency to your receiver’s memory list as it’s a pretty active station that faithfully serves the sea-faring community and is one of the gems on HF.
First, tune your receiver using USB (Upper Side Band) to around 8.472 MHz and listen for that warbling sound. You will also need a way to pipe the audio from your shortwave receiver to a computer (I use a SignaLink™ USB) and a decoding program for RTTY, such as MMTTY.
To decode you’ll need to set the baud rate (45.45) and shift (170 Hz) on MTTY (or software program of choice) and tune your radio slightly up and down frequency until the software starts decoding.
You may have to press the “Reverse” or “Rev” selector at times. MMTTY is my favorite for RTTY decoding, and a picture of it is below.
WLO, Mobile AL, with RYRY idling loop, MMTTY decoder, 45.45 bauds, 170Hz shift, “Rev.”
You can also use MultiPSK or FLdigi to decode RTTY so it’s the user’s choice as to which is a better fit.
Anyway, what are these pirates up to? Well the next few screenshots (click to enlarge) show some interesting activity as per WLO’s RTTY transmissions:
Pirates use element of surprise with guns and knives as armaments.
Somali pirates reportedly armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. Yikes!
Give ‘em hell boys! An alert bulk carrier crew aborted hijacking with teamwork and water cannon.
Ships are encouraged to report pirate activity via FAX or phone.
Well mateys that’s enough high seas adventure for now, so first shove off to the galley for some grub (or grog) and then head to the radio room, turn on that rig and get ready for action on HF, you’ll find plenty to choose from, it’s out there for you.
I would like to thank the operators of WLO for providing such a valuable service to mariners and for providing us radio aficionados with interesting reception! And thanks readers!
P.S. Note that WLO alternates from RTTY to Sitor B so just make sure you are listening to the RTTY broadcast. If the transmission is in Sitor B then you can use a NAVTEX (e.g. YAND) decoder instead.
Thank you so much, Mario, for sharing yet another fascinating aspect of our radio world! FYI: I’m planning on purchasing a SignaLink USB at the Dayton Hamvention this year.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mario Filippi (N2HUN) for the following guest post:
Receiving with a HackRF One, SDR#, and MultiPSK
by Mario Filippi (N2HUN)
The HackRF One is a Software Defined Radio manufactured by Great Scott Gadgets (www.greatscottgadgets.com) and has been on the market for a few years. Having used an SDR-Dongle for several years I felt it was time to “step up” to this wideband (1 MHz – 6 GHz) receiver to investigate a broader breadth of the radio spectrum, so one was purchased from Sparkfun (www.sparkfun.com).
Recently I performed a rudimentary evaluation of its ability to receive DGPS (Differential Global Positioning System) beacons found in the Longwave band between 285 – 325 KHz; this frequency range is well below the HackRF One’s stated lower receive limit of 1 MHz.
DGPS beacons, when tuned using SSB, emit a distinctive warbling sound, and at this QTH, depending on band conditions and time of year, can be heard as far away as the Midwest. Winter brings the cold weather but also excellent conditions for receiving these beacons, some of which were former marine radiobeacons retrofitted to provide greater DGPS accuracy.
The HackRF One, when used with SDR#, MultiPSK, audio piping software, and a good (43 foot vertical) receiving antenna was able to receive DGPS beacons, and two screen captures are below:
DGPS beacon from Sandy Hook, NJ. SDR# using HackRF One in foreground, MultiPSK software in background with decoded information. Click to enlarge.
DGPS beacon from Moriches, NY. Click to enlarge.
I was very pleased that the HackRF One was able to receive DGPS stations, though tuning them in seemed a bit trickier than with a standard RTL-SDR dongle. Since this time of year is not optimal for monitoring DGPS beacons, as well as the Longwave band in general, it’s reassuring to know that come winter I’ll be able to do some DGPS beacon DX’ing with the HackRF One. However, anyone with a shortwave radio and a good antenna can avail themselves of DGPS beacon hunting, just tune down between 285 – 325 KHz and listen for the distinctive warble.
When Mario told me he had purchased the $299 HackRF One, I was hoping he would do some guest posts about this SDR–DGPS beacons was use I had never thought of. Looking forward to more of your guest posts, Mario!
Over the last year or so I have been using a really full-featured digital mode software called Multipsk, and it has become my go-to software for most digital modes. Back in September 2015 I wrote an extensive review of the software for The Spectrum Monitor (TSM) which Owner/Editor Ken Reitz has graciously allowed me to post on my blog at All Things Radio. Thomas has written numerous articles for TSM, and will attest to its emphasis on so many aspects of the radio hobby. If you are not a subscriber already you really do not know what you are missing!
The program boasts over 75 modes, not counting some of the many sub-modes or variations, and new modes are being added all the time. There is a free version and a registered version, with the paid mode costing around $45 (U.S.) The free mode will handle a lot of really great modes, but I confess, it was the additional “professional” modes which really made purchasing the registered version a must for me. Whichever way you go, you will not be disappointed. As I have noted on my blog and in the article itself, I consider the registration fee some of the best money I have ever spent for computer software.
As an added bonus, the free or registered version can be run on as many computers as you have in your home, and multiple instances of the program can be run on the same computer provided they are in separate directories. This is a great feature, and it means there is basically nothing going into the Windows registry file–the program runs right from the directory. My only problem is not having enough antennas to have as many instances of the program running as I would like!
I hope you will take time to read my review and then get the program–I think you will be suitably impressed as I was! (I have it running on XP machines through Win10, so compatibility should not be an issue.)
My friend, @K7al_L3afta, posted to Twitter, the following fax he decoded from the Kyodo News Agency on 12,745 kHz today:
The Kyodo News Agency is possibly the last marine weather fax station which faxes daily news (full newspapers) and navigational warnings to ships at sea.
For those of you who might believe it takes a sophisticated setup to decode a FAX transmission, you would be incorrect. @K7al_L3afta uses only a Tecsun PL-660 portable hooked up to his PC running the MultiPSK application. He lives in Morocco–in an urban environment with lots of RFI as well, so those of you living in a similar situation should feel encouaged.
The CRF-V21 is a full-featured shortwave radio receiver with built-in printer and decoding for FAX and RTTY. In fact, with an optional AN-P1200 satellite antenna, the CRF-V21 will even copy and print G.O.E.S. satellite weather transmissions.
The Sony CRF-V21Visual World Band Radio is the first portable to offer integrated facsimile (FAX) and radioteletype (RTTY) shortwave reception. You can print RTTY and FAX transmissions directly with the built-in thermal printer. Supported RTTY modes include Baudot at 60, 66, 75 and 100 WPM and ASCII at 110, 200, 300 and 600 bps. FAX shortwave speeds include 60, 90 120 and 240 rpm. Even G.O.E.S. satellite weather transmissions may be copied and displayed with the optional AN-P1200 satellite antenna.
Frequency coverage is 9 kHz to 30 MHz for all longwave, medium wave and shortwave frequencies. Plus FM coverage from 76 to 88 MHz and NOAA satellite channels 137.62/141.21 MHz. The optional AN-P1200 antenna system adds 1.6910/1.6945 GHz G.O.E.S. satellite reception. Another highlight of this radio is built-in spectrum display showing a visual picture of 200 kHz or 5 MHz of the shortwave spectrum.
Other refinements include: Mini Earphone Jack, S Meter, 350 Alpha Memories, Carry Handle, Clock, 8 Event Timer, Scan, Sweep, FM AFC, Synchronous Detection, Attenuator, 6/3.5/2.7/14 kHz Selectivity, AF Filter, Record Jack, Dial Lamp, Keypad and LCD Contrast Adjustment.
The CRF-V21 is supplied with: AN-V21 telescopic antenna unit, ACP-88R AC power unit, NP-227 battery, BCA-70 charge tray, antenna cable, protective cover, UPP-21 thermal printer paper and manuals. Operates from 110/120/220/240 VAC. Requires two AA cells for memory retention. 16.25 x 11.25 x 6.75 inches (21 lbs.).
The CRF-V21 is basically an all-in-one Holy Grail portable for those at sea!