As you might imagine, radio astronomy observatories are places with very low levels of radio frequency interference. Since I had a few hours on the PARI campus to play radio, I used it as an opportunity to evaluate the CCRadio-EP Pro‘s AM/mediumwave performance.
For comparison purposes, I packed the CCRadio-EP Pro, Tecsun PL-660 and (for kicks) my Sony ICF-5500W.
Now isn’t the ICF-5500W a handsome boy?
I’ll post some of the CCRadio-EP Pro videos in my final review.
Though it was immense fun tuning through the AM broadcast band right through the gray line, being an SWL, I eventually turned to the shortwaves. The only shortwave radio I had on hand was the amazing little Tecsun PL-660. Conditions weren’t as bad as I had expected–propagation was decent and did I mention no noise?
After tuning around a bit, I happened upon one of my favorite interval signals: that of the Voice of Turkey.
Everything around me–all that was on my mind–simply took a backseat to the simple pleasure of listening to an interval signal on a cool, foggy spring evening surrounded by the beauty of PARI’s campus and those giant radio telescopes.
Though the feeling was nearly impossible to capture, I did make a recording to share with SWLing Post friends and readers from around the world. I hope you enjoy:
PARI is expecting at least 1,000 visitors tomorrow, from a number of countries. Many are scientists, astronomers, and guests who want to be in the path of totality.
On the PARI campus, we will be in totality for about 1 minutes, 47 seconds.
What makes the event truly special for PARI is that this is the first time in history a world-class radio astronomy observatory has been in the path of totality. To say the PARI astronomers are excited is simply an understatement. All four of PARI’s telescopes will be trained on our local star and gathering copious amounts of data.
If you don’t live in the path of the Eclipse, I invite you to check out PARI’s YouTube channel where they will host a live stream:
I will also be gathering data of my own during the event.
I will remotely record the entire mediumwave (AM broadcast) band several hours before, during and after the eclipse. I will also set up a separate SDR to record either the 31/30 meter bands and my buddy, Vlado (N3CZ) is kindly using his SDRplay RSP1 to record from 6 MHz – 8 MHz.
What do I expect to see/hear in the spectrum recordings? Certainly a drop in noise. If I’m lucky, I also hope to hear some DX anomalies–hopefully a signal or two that I wouldn’t normally here in the middle of a summer day.
I don’t expect any dramatic results (though I would love to be proven otherwise!) since the ionosphere takes time to change states. My buddy Mike (K8RAT) likens it to an oven: it takes time for it to heat up to the desired temperature, and it takes time for it to cool down as well. I’m not so sure the shadow of the moon, which moves at a good clip, will be persistent enough to change the state of the ionosphere in any meaningful way.
SWLing Post contributor, Dan Srebnick also suggests a few stations you might try catching on the AM broadcast band. Dan notes:
Something to do during the solar eclipse on Monday. There are 13 clear channel AM stations along the path of totality. Give a listen for them:
[LIST OF AM CLEAR CHANNEL STATIONS]
kHz CALL Location Eclipse UTC
—— ——- —————- ————–
650 WSM Nashville, TN 18:28
670 KBOI Boise, ID 17:27
750 WSB Atlanta, GA 18:36
840 WHAS Louisville, KY 18:27
880 KRVN Lexington, NE 17:57
1030 KTWO Casper, WY 17:43
1040 WHO DesMoines, IA 18:08
1110 KFAB Omaha, NE 18:04
1110 WBT Charlotte, NC 18:41
1120 KPNW Eugene, OR 17:17
1120 KMOX St. Louis, MO 18:18
1190 KEX Portland, OR 17:19
1510 WLAC Nashville, TN 18:28
Kudos to Bob WB4APR (of APRS fame) for producing this list.
Post readers: Will you be in the path of totality or do you plan to enjoy a partial eclipse? Have you ever experienced a total solar eclipse? What are your plans if any? Please comment!
During a break, I had a couple of free hours, so I reached in my messenger bag and pulled out the Sony ICF-SW100: a radio that has quickly surpassed all others as my favorite EDC (everyday carry) radio. It has so many useful features in such a small package!
Radio astronomy observatories are ideal locations for impromptu shortwave radio listening as there is little to no radio interference/noise present.
PARI’s “Building 1” and the 26 West (left) and 26 East (right) radio telescopes.
While the weather on Thursday was gorgeous, HF band conditions were…well…miserable. There was very little to hear other than China Radio International, Radio Havana Cuba and a few other blow torch broadcasters.
I tuned to 15 MHz and, of course, there was reliable WWV in Fort Collins, Colorado on frequency. Though WWV’s signal was relatively strong (despite the conditions) I turned on the SW100’s sync detector because fading (QSB) was pronounced at times.
Here’s a short video of the ICF-SW100 on a picnic table in the middle of the PARI campus. That’s PARI’s 26 (meter) West telescope in the background:
Soon I’ll be another kind of busy, at the DXpedition: exploring the bands, gazing at the stars, and hanging out with some of the SWLing Post community. Needless to say, it’s going to be fun, and I’m looking forward to it.
Since this is the first event of its kind, we’ve been working closely with PARI staff to put the DXpedition together. And come together, it has.
I’m pleased to announce that we’ve now received the official go-ahead: we’re clear to launch the (first-ever!) 2015 SWLing Post DXpedition, which will take place Friday, October 9, through Sunday, October 11. Come join us!
PARI will soon post the official registration form on their website; of course, I’ll post an update when this form is ready.
As I mentioned last year, PARI has agreed to handle all of the event’s arrangements, and will even provide a limited number of basic shared dormitory rooms to the first registrants who request them. An event fee will pay for facilities and PARI staff (see below); modest profits, should there be any, will benefit PARI’s worthy science education mission.
We are fortunate to be sharing the beautiful PARI campus with with a larger party of amateur astronomers, aka, a “star party,” taking place the same weekend; the DXpedition will benefit from this in terms of expanded facilities access. An additional benefit is that we can share our passion for radio with members of the star party, while learning a little about astronomy from their members. And for those of us who enjoy both, all the better.
The costs associated with the event are as follows:
Registration fee: $100
Lodging: On campus, the fee is $50 per night, per person, in a shared dormitory room; or $20 per night, per tent or travel trailer (no hook ups, though electricity is available). Want to come along, but not interested in roughing it? You’ll find numerous comfortable hotels and inns within a 30-40 minute drive of PARI’s mountain campus.
Meals: Catered meals will be provided for a modest charge to be determined (PARI is working with local food services to arrange our meals currently). Of course, you can always bring your own food and prepare it on-site, as well. The campus has a lunchroom with a microwave.
The PARI campus and accommodation
PARI was formerly a NASA tracking station, and following that, a Department of Defense monitoring facility. Because of the remote nature of the campus, basic on-site dormitories were built; scientists use these throughout the year as they conduct their research, and the shared rooms are available upon request.
Typical PARI dorm room (click to enlarge)
The dormitories are conveniently located in the heart of the 200-acre campus, and sleep about four to each room. These are simple facilities, and no private rooms are offered. Bathrooms (with showers) are shared, and separate buildings house men and women; thus the dormitories may not be the best option if you plan to bring a spouse, a large family, or young children.
Of course, if you enjoy camping and/or star-gazing, you can pitch a tent (just $20/night), or park your travel trailer on campus (also just $20/night). Note that this is not a travel park, thus hook-ups for travel trailers are not supplied, although power is available.
For those who prefer not to camp or stay in a shared room, the nearby mountain town of Brevard, NC (approximately 35 minutes from PARI by car) is a charming small town offering numerous hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, and other comfortable private accommodations. PARI often recommends the Hampton Inn in Brevard, NC. Hotels.com and AirBnB offer alternatives.
Receivers, antennas, and other radio equipment
DXpedition participants should bring their own receivers, antennas, and accessories. If you wish to bring an SDR or tabletop receiver, there are quite a few places on campus where you’ll have access to power. At least one main listening post will be set up under cover, as well, for our participants.
Feel free to bring any type of receiver you like. A few potential participants have noted that they plan to bring a portable receiver only, and that’s absolutely fine–this is your DXpedition, your chance to sit back and listen to your radio without distraction, so any radio you choose to bring is the right one.
Of course, a few SDRs, tabletops, and portable receivers will be available for participants to try out, so if you can’t bring your own receiver, please let me know in advance; I’ll try to reserve a time slot for you to use one of the available rigs.
Since this is the first time the SWLing Post and PARI have sponsored a DXpedition, we’re certainly trail-blazing here. My sincere hope is that this event will lead to future DXpeditions…not to mention, real friendships among our readers and fellow SWLers.
Looking forward to the DXpedition–we’ll see you at PARI in October!
One of the great things about listening to shortwave, mediumwave or longwave at a radio astronomy site is the blissful absence of any radio noise. Radio astronomy requires seriously RF-quiet conditions, and all the better for SWLing, too. My little Tecsun PL-380 receiver easily detected most everything on the 31 meter band; All India Radio (and the Voice of Korea on the same frequency), for example, was as strong as a local station.
DX among the radio telescopes: Sound fun–?
Next year, in October 2015, I might just organize a radio listening DXpedition at PARI. It would be a wonderful opportunity to DX in an RFI-free environment in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina, on the 200+ acre campus of an active radio astronomy observatory and former NASA tracking station. (Really, how cool is that?!?)
PARI has agreed to handle all of the arrangements, and even provide some dorm rooms and camping space to the first registrants. There will be a fee for the event (to pay for the facilities and PARI staff time) but any profit would benefit PARI’s science education mission. The fee would be based on the number of attendees and how many nights we operate–I’d aim for two nights, on a Friday and Saturday (October 9 & 10, 2015).
Note: the autumn foliage, for which the NC mountain region is famed, will be at or near its peak during the time of the DXpedition.
PS–Bonus: A dish in motion
As I departed the PARI site late Friday, an astronomer programmed the rotation of the East radio telescope, an awe-inspiring 26-meter parabolic antenna. I snapped a couple of shots with my iPhone. It was truly impressive, this massive radio telescope slowly turning to some distant star or galaxy to acquire new data. See for yourself (for a sense of scale, see the fence at the base):
I’ve been invited to speak at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI), a non-profit educational radio astronomy observatory (and former NASA tracking station as well as one-time NSA installation), in the mountains of western North Carolina.
I’ll be speaking about shortwave radio, of course–both its technical and cultural aspects–on October 10, 2014, at 7:00 pm EDT. Afterwards, there will be a tour of the PARI campus, and an opportunity to stargaze with both amateur and professional astronomers.
“Shortwave radio is an international communications medium that has been in existence for nearly one hundred years,” said Witherspoon, “yet this vintage technology supports an ever-evolving multicultural landscape that, remarkably, remains relevant today. The Internet and mobile technologies have made the dissemination of information more readily accessible to many, yet shortwave radio remains viable and dynamic, and in many ways still outstrips the Internet.
“I plan to share some of shortwave radio’s diverse voices and investigate some of the technology used to receive them. So, if you are a shortwave enthusiast, or simply interested in learning more about shortwave, this program is for you and will be suitable for all ages.”
Read the full article here–and if you can make the journey, join us for shortwave and astronomical fun. There is a small charge for the evening; all proceeds go towards PARI’s mission of providing public education in astronomy.