Tag Archives: Shortwave Radio

Alan Roe’s A21 season guide to music on shortwave (version 2 update)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Alan Roe, who shares his latest A21 season guide to music on shortwave.

Click here to download as a PDF.

Note that we’ve created a permanent page for Alan Roe’s guides!

This page will always have the latest version of Alan’s guide available for download.

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Guest Post: Jerome’s experiences as an SWL in Saudi Arabia from 1990-91

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jerome van der Linden, for the following guest post:


Experiences as an SWL in Saudi Arabia 1990 /91

by Jerome van der Linden

From about 1986 I worked for the Broadcasting Division of Telecom Australia (now “Telstra”), in Adelaide, South Australia. This Division of Telecom Australia had responsibility for installation, maintenance and operation of Australian Government funded broadcasting services (radio & TV) such as ABC (including Radio Australia) and SBS. In later years responsibility for this was taken away from Telecom Australia and handed to BAI.

I already had a life long interest in Broadcasting and short wave radio in particular, and I was recruited into a new non technical managerial position in the then new Broadcasting Division of Telecom Australia: it was the perfect job to my mind. In this period of the late 1980s, the organisation was heavily involved in the capital works to get Radio Australia Cox Peninsula (Darwin) back into operation, after it was largely destroyed by cyclone Tracy in 1975, as well as building the three Northern Territory vertical incidence (“shower”) services at Katherine, Tennant Creek, and Alice Springs (VL8K, VL8T, and VL8A respectively).  (The NT is probably about the size of a major US state like Texas). Apart from doing my non technical work, I took every opportunity to learn more and get involved in the technical side of things. On one occasion, when I knew that the technical staff would be testing the new transmission facilities on a range of frequencies, I was able to confirm with the onsite technician a booming signal into Adelaide from the Alice Springs transmitter he was briefly testing on 11715kHz in the daytime.

Alice Springs (VL8A) transmitter site in the last year is was operating (Photo by Jerome van der Linden).

As the opportunity arose, and as I was also part of the Southern Cross DX Club, I regularly participated in the Radio Australia DX program (I cannot even remember its name, 30 years later) that was produced by Mike Bird. I also contacted many rural cattle stations (equivalent to “ranches” in the US) that were spread throughout the Northern Territory to get them to report on how they were receiving the new NT HF service broadcasting stations when they came on the air. I saw it as a way of promoting the shortwave radio services throughout the Northern Territory.

My work gave me the opportunity to visit not just each of the new NT HF transmitter stations, but also included several visits to the Radio Australia (RA) facility at Cox Peninsula. While I also saw the old RA Receiving station on Cox Peninsula (dating from the period when signals were received from RA Shepparton and then re-transmitted from Darwin, in the period pre cyclone Tracy), this was at a time when that facility had already been largely dismantled.

In early 1990, I sought and was awarded a contract position with Telecom Australia’s Saudi project, and I was seconded to that from my job in the Broadcasting Division. From my own research, I knew that radio and TV in Saudi Arabia was quite unlike what I was used to, and I made it a point to take with me, on loan, a Sony ICF 2001D receiver. So it was in March 1990 that I arrived in Riyadh on a single person’s contract. I was allocated a 2 storey 3 bedroom villa for my own use among a large number of other identical villas occupied by other Telecom Australia staff, that were all located within a walled compound close to the Saudi Telecom offices.

Almost immediately, it was obvious that I would have to rely on the BBC World Service for my English news, as the KSABS radio services were nearly all in Arabic, and its TV service was even less appealing to me. I managed to string up some long wire antennas on the roof, and it was not long before I was also able to pick up services from Radio Australia. I got in touch with Nigel Holmes, then RA’s Frequency Manager in Melbourne, and was able to let him know how signals were being received in the Middle East, even though South Asia was about the limit of RA’s intended reach at that time. As my office was in the city of Riyadh some distance away, I was allocated a car for my own use, and – having found these were quite common – soon fitted it with a Short Wave capable car radio. In fact it was the one I reviewed in the 1991 WRTH.

The compound housing the many Australians and their families had its own CCTV system, and the Aussies were entertained by a regular supply of Australian VHS TV tapes. The same CCTV network was also used by Australians from the project making out as wannabee disk jockeys with their own programs before 7am and into the evenings.

As many people will recall, in mid 1990, Sadam Hussein, the then leader of Iraq, invaded Kuwait, and there was some concern he might continue and invade Saudi Arabia. As a direct consequence, radio with World news became even more important for the Australians,  and the many other expats working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

An unexpected benefit to the expats living in Riyadh was the arrival of thousands of US ground forces, who brought with them their very own AFN broadcasting services which operated on FM with their own high pitched professional female DJs who played the latest pop music. This was at a time when this type of music was not heard at all on local Saudi radio, and the only source we had of modern music was the many bootlegged copies of cassette music which were for sale everywhere (in addition to pirated copies of software).

When Sadam Hussein decided to stop international residents from leaving Iraq to travel home, their roles as ‘hostages’ caused international broadcasters to improve their services into the Middle East.

That included Radio Australia, and at least one of its Cox Peninsula transmitters was used to improve the signal to the Middle East in the hours up to its daily shutdown at midnight Darwin time (1430UTC). The strongest signal in those days was a 21MHz frequency, and it mostly boomed in. I recall one evening when the transmitter’s audio sounded very suspect to me. I made a quick international phone call direct to Cox Peninsula; spoke to the duty shift supervisor who I knew personally; described the signal to him; he picked the problem; switched the transmitter off and placed another transmitter online on the same frequency which gave clean audio, that I was able to confirm to him.

A Patriot missiles being fired to intercept a scud missile on 24 Feb, 1991 (Photo by Jerome van der Linden)

It was about this time that I realised my Sony ICF2001D had a feature I could use to the benefit of all my fellow Australians in the compound. In the first instance, I was able to arrange for an audio feed from the 2001D in my villa into the compound’s CCTV system, so that – provided someone plugged the audio in correctly – the signal from my Sony radio’s line out was relayed to every other villa that cared to listen. As I was absent during most of the working day, I used the Sony’s programming feature that allowed for up to 4 separate listening sessions to be set up. Each program required a SW frequency and start/stop times to be programmed. I think each session had a time limit of perhaps 4 hours. This enabled me to set the radio up to relay BBC World Service for most of the day switching automatically to certain frequencies as appropriate, and also provided the people with some brief Radio Australia segments with news from home.

In the period prior to January 1991’s, when George Bush had promised to retake Kuwait if Sadam Hussein did not withdraw, it was also interesting to pick up Iraqi broadcasts intended for (and to try to demoralise) American servicemen. Very strong signals from Baghdad were regularly audible, I seem to recall 11825kHz being one such frequency.

In the event, about January 16, 1991 the allies invaded Kuwait from Saudi Arabia, and made devastating air based attacks on Iraqi facilities. Radio Baghdad’s shortwave service did not seem to last very long after that.

We Australians were told in no uncertain fashion that Iraqi “Scud” missiles were ballistic (hence not accurately targeted), and would definitely not have the range to reach Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The experts were wrong however, and a couple of scuds did reach Riyadh. As our compound was in the “flight path” from Iraq to the Riyadh airbase the Americans were using, it turned out we were not in the best location! The American forces had “Patriot Missiles” set up to intercept any Scuds that got through, but nobody told us that the Patriots break the sound barrier seconds after being fired, and that they’re only capable of intercepting Scud missiles just before they hit the ground. You can imagine the sonic booms that went off the first night Scud missiles arrived: I have photo in my home that some daredevil took outside, that proves all this.

We had been told to tape up the glass on our villas in case it should shatter, and that we should leave our TV sets tuned to our CCTV channel turned on at all times, with the volume up so that if there was an air raid the staff and their families could be alerted by means of a piercing alarm sound that someone had fiendishly created. And so it was that one Thursday, when Jonathan Marks had scheduled a telephone interview with me for Radio Netherland’s Media Network, we were discussing media events in Saudi Arabia when the air raid alarm went off, and we had to postpone the rest of the interview. I seem to recall that he did call me again later the same night and we finished things off. I never did get to hear the program, or I would have recorded it! As far as I know, it’s not one of the programs that Jonathan has been able to find to include in his on line media vault. If anyone else has a copy of this early 1991 edition, I’d love to hear it again.

As the experts had been wrong in their assessment, it was decided that most of the Australians would be removed from Riyadh, and I was sent to do my work from Jeddah, for about 6 weeks. Again it was a slightly different media environment, and while interesting, I missed the ICF2001D, and bought a cheap multi band analogue portable to be able to keep up to date with BBC World Service News broadcasts.

By early March 1991, most of the fighting was over, and it was safe for me to return to Riyadh, where I worked for another two or three months, before returning to my normal job and family in Australia.

Off-Air Audio Recordings

Radio Baghdad to US Troops (1990):

BBC World Service News of the start of Desert Storm (January 16, 1991):

Radio Australia announcement by the acting Foreign Affairs Minister (January 16, 1991):

AFN Riyadh (Brief clip of Army Sergeant Patty Cunningham signing off her shift):

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Alan Roe’s A21 season guide to music on shortwave

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Alan Roe, who shares his latest A21 season guide to music on shortwave.

Click here to download as a PDF.

Note that we’ve created a permanent page for Alan Roe’s guides!

This page will always have the latest version of Alan’s guide.

Spread the radio love

Dan reviews the Tecsun PL-330 portable shortwave radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who shares the following guest post:


Tecsun PL-330:  The Powerful Mini With One Serious Design Issue

by Dan Robinson

As SWLing Post readers know, I have a huge radio collection – including premium receivers and portables, now nearly 100 in all.

So, these days I am hesitant to add too many, but I continue to take interest in what companies such as Tecsun and Sangean are doing in the way of stuffing the latest chip technology and capabilities into portables radios.

The last receivers I reviewed included the Tecsun PL-990x, which has developed quite an enthusiastic following since its consumer version was released in 2020, and the Tecsun S-8800.

Out for some time now is the Tecsun PL-330.  By now there are many reviews of it on You Tube and elsewhere.

It’s become a familiar observation for many of us – if this were still the 1960’s and 1970’s – even into the 1980’s, which could be considered the golden days of shortwave and we had receiver technology like this, well what a joy that would have been.

When I traveled around the world both before and after college, and professionally for Voice of America in the 1980s and 1990s, wow what a good time I could have had with today’s portables!

Some world band portables radios back then were superb performers.  The Grundig Satellit series 500/700/600/650 come to mind – but these were not exactly what I would call small portables.

Paging through Passport to Worldband Radio from 1990 (wow, that’s 30 years ago!) you see others such as the SONY SW-1, Panasonic RF-B65, and of course, the SONY ICF-2001D/2010 which introduced killer synchronous tuning technology in the 1980s and remains popular today decades after it first appeared.

Also available were the SONY ICF-SW55 and later in competition with the 2010, the SONY ICF-SW77.  Today, I have four SW-55s and two SW-77s and still use them regularly.

Tabletop receivers back in the good ol’ days offered multiple selectivity positions.  One of those was the Lowe HF-225 (and later Europa version) along with the HF-250, Kenwood R-5000 and R-2000, ICOM IC-R71A, and Yaesu FRG-8800 among many others.

But as far as smaller portables go, features such as synchronous detection and multiple selectivity were still pretty limited, and a number of receivers didn’t offer selectable synchronous as was eventually offered on the Drake R8B and later production of the SW-8.

The RF-B65 by Panasonic – which today remains sought after for its amazing sensitivity – was hobbled by having a single selectivity position.  Same with SONY’s SW-1 and SW-100, and 7600GR, though SONY’s PRO-80 had two bandwidths.

Indeed, it wasn’t until Eton brought out the E-1, with its three bandwidths combined with Passband Tuning (though no notch filter) that a portable finally reflected capabilities of some of the better tabletop radios (though lacking a notch filter).

The Grundig Satellit 800 was close in competition with the E-1 (though the earlier Sat 600/650 series also had multiple bandwidths) but was bulky.

Fast forward to 2021 – credit due to Tecsun and more recently to Sangean with its 909X2, for some years now we have enjoyed Asia-originated portables with multiple selectivity and synchronous mode, though sync implementation on some has left much to be desired.

Which is where the PL-330 comes in.  When I look at the 330, I am reminded of one of the now ancient SONY portables, the ICF-4920 which was a super small slide-rule receiver that nevertheless was quite sensitive.

Like the 4920, which you could easily slip in a pocket, the PL-330 is a perfect travel portable.  Only the Belka-DX SDR and still wonderful SONY SW-100 compete in terms of performance and size.

The 330 is basically a PL-990x in miniature:  smaller speaker obviously, shorter antenna, no bluetooth capability or card slot.  But as many people who frequent the Facebook groups have observed, pretty much anything the 990x can do, so can the 330.

This radio has ETM/ATS tuning, synchronous detection, multiple bandwidths in AM, SSB and MW, FM mono-stereo speaker control, alarm/timer functions, external antenna jack, display light, and other features.

Tecsun decided to go with a BL-5C battery here – the same with the new PL-368.  I think this is unfortunate, since it requires one to obtain a number of those flat batteries if you want to travel and not have to re-charge.  On the other hand, this is not a crippling design decision.

What is an unfortunate design problem, in my view, involves the simple question of tuning the receiver.

The main and fine tuning knobs on the right side of the PL-330 are embedded into the cabinet just far enough as to make easy rapid finger tuning of the radio nearly impossible.

In fact, in my testing it’s impossible to thumb tune the radio more than 10 kHz at a time.  The same applies to using the lower knob which controls volume.  When in FM mode, this issue make tuning just as frustrating almost forcing one to use rapid scan mode.

Another puzzler:  Tecsun limited bandwidths in AM SW to three, while in SSB you have 5 bandwidth options.  In AM mode, you have a 9 kHz bandwidth, another puzzling choice.  Longwave too is limited to 3 bandwidths.

But overall, none of these problems really knock the PL-330 down very far.  This is one mini powerhouse of a radio, one that makes you think “wow, if I had just had this back in 1967 or 1973 or 1982.

Some additional thoughts.  My particular PL-330 was supplied by Anon-co but is a pre-production version and so does not have the latest firmware.  Thankfully, I have not experienced the issue of SSB tuning running in reverse as others have.

NOTE:  As most users know by now, but some newer users may not, you cannot charge one of these radios – whether Tecsun or Sangean – using the mini-USB port and use them at the same time. . . there is just too much noise introduced from the charging process.

This little mentioned feature:  just as the Tecsun 909x has a re-calibration function, so does the PL-330.  Tecsun itself initially declined to acknowledge this, but finally confirmed through Anon-co.

The procedure: Switch to LSB/USB.  If the station is not zero beat, hit STEP button once and then quickly again to move the flashing display down arrow so it’s above the far right digit.  Then fine tune the station for zero beat.  Hold LSB or USB in for a couple of seconds.  The LCD blinks.  You then have zero beat – but be sure to repeat the process for LSB and USB.

I should mention that just like on the 990x, the re-calibration process doesn’t mean the receiver is then zeroed up and down the shortwave bands.  You will likely have to repeat the process from, say 25 meters, to 19 meters, to 49 meters, etc.

I have come to enjoy using the PL-330 here in my house, though like other portables in my collection I need to position it in one particular corner of my home away from incoming cable TV lines.

Belka-DX and Tecsun PL-330

The PL-330 and the Belka DX are currently king of the pile when it comes to my smaller travel portables.

I fully expect there will be no further receiver development by Tecsun after the PL-330/990x/H-510 radios – but that company will certainly have left us with some great receivers as the days of shortwave approach an end.

Video

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Tecsun PL-330 tip: Using the telescopic antenna for the LW & MW bands

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mad Radio DXer, who writes:

Hi,

I want to let you & your readers know of a Tecsun PL-330 trick that I saw mentioned in the comments section of your blog some time ago which does not seem to have a lot of awareness. This is for using the telescopic antenna for the LW & MW bands, & it works for the 3305 version of the PL-330 which I understand is the export version. The original comment I saw said this also works for the Chinese version of the PL-330, before firmware 3305.
It is very easy to do & instructions are the following…

1. Turn on the radio.
2. Select either the MW or LW band.
3. Press the number 3 key down for a few seconds, until the display shows “CH-S”.
This means the MW & LW bands can now be received with the telescopic antenna.
4. To use the ferrite bar again, press the number 3 key until “CH-A” appears on screen.

I also did a YouTube video showing this trick in action…

This reminds me of the trick used for the Degen DE1103 PLL version which allows reception of the telescopic antenna for the MW band. However, in my opinion this is much easier to use on the PL-330 than the DE1103 PLL which could be very fiddly. Also this trick is most effective on the LW band, as I find Chinese portables are usually very weak on this part of the band which is good news for LW DXers. I hope you & everyone reading find this trick very useful & that it works.

Thank you so much for the excellent tip!

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Nick acquires a Harris RF 505A receiver

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Nick Booras, who writes:

I just picked up a Harris 505A and I made a couple videos your viewers might like.

This radio is extremely sensitive as you can see in the comparison videos. I am very lucky to have picked it up. I will add that in the comparison to the Kenwood TS890 I didn’t try the 15 kHz filter on video. I did try it afterwards and I was surprised to receive the weak 6.085 signal with similar results to the 505. I thought for sure that that huge width would only let in more noise but I was wrong. I learned something new! But the 505A is still a super sweet machine.

Thank you for sharing this, Nick! What a wonderful addition to your radio collection. I’ve always loved the incredibly simple design of the 505A and have assumed it would have a very low noise floor.

Thanks again!

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Social DXing: Looking back at one very radio-active year

One year ago, I posted an article about making the most of social distancing as the world started locking down due to the rapid spread of Covid-19. Here in March 2021, the news is looking much better: vaccines are being distributed at a record pace across the globe and number of cases and deaths are mostly on the decline.

Looking back

As I look back at the Social DX Bucket List I made last year, I’m happy to see that I actually accomplished about 64% of the goals I listed. I knew some of those goals would take well over a year to achieve (the QRP EME one especially).

In particular, I’m chuffed that I braved up and started doing Parks On the Air (POTA) and Summits On The Air (SOTA) activations in CW (Morse Code). That was a huge step for me and I’ll freely admit: I was nervous about it. But in July 2020, I managed to do my first CW activation and since then it has become my choice mode of operating in the field. CW is such a simple mode and so efficient–plus it gives me a sense of connection with the roots of radio communications.

I also accomplished a few things I never set out to do:

Not a typical radio year for me

In a “normal” year, I do way more SWLing than I do ham radio activity.

Last year, I started doing caregiving for my parents in my hometown–I’m typically there 2-3 days a week. While I’ve done shortwave listening and even a little MW DXing in my hometown, I typically don’t have a lot of time, especially in the evening hours. I just want to hit the sack early. QRM is also debilitating there and while I’d like to install a permanent Loop On Ground antenna to mitigate the noise (you heard that right, Andrea!) I’m not entirely sure I’d even have the dedicated listening time to justify it. When I’m there, I like to spend quality time with my folks.

In general, I’ve had much less free time. Indeed, if you’ve written to me via email, you’ll know this based on how long it’s taken me to reply. It can take several weeks especially if the reply requires a detailed response (which many do).

En route to, and on the way back from my hometown, I’ve found that doing park and summit activations has been very rewarding. Last year, I believe I completed a total of 82 park activations.

POTA has given me an excuse to explore public lands I’ve never visited before. Plus, I love nothing more than taking radios to the field–both receivers and transceivers.

Hamming and SWLing

At the end of the day, I’m an SWL and a ham radio operator. I find the two activities complimentary.

Side note: As I mentioned in my Winter SWL Fest presentation this year, it saddens me when I receive angry emails from readers after I post items that are ham radio related. We’ve upwards of 7,000-10,000 daily readers on the SWLing Post and the number of complaints are a teeny, tiny fraction of our readership. I only receive messages like this about once a month and they typically say something akin to “I don’t like the ham radio stuff, so if you don’t stop posting it, I’m leaving!” (FYI: That’s a real quote taken from the last one I received in January). I can only assume that at some point in the past, a ham radio operator has been a jerk to this and other radio enthusiasts. It’s a shame, too. I hate seeing the negative impact of one loud troll compared with the encouragement and support of much better people. All of my ham radio friends are not only supportive of SWLing, but almost all got their start in radio via the shortwaves. I’m certainly a case in point.

I love all things radio and I believe the SWLing Post is a reflection of that. If it offends you, then it might make sense to surf somewhere else.

Now where was I? Oh yeah…

POTA and SOTA outings have helped to satisfy some of my travel cravings as well. I miss going to radio conventions, hamfests, and especially traveling internationally with my family. We are a family who love national parks, forests, and other wildlife areas. Having an excuse to explore public lands we haven’t visited before has been amazing fun.

After POTA activations, I’ll often do a little SWLing since I already have an external antenna up and it’s typically connected to a good general coverage transceiver in a spot with zero RFI or QRM. I’ve especially enjoyed my DXing sessions with the superb Icom IC-705.

Listening habits

One indicator that I did less radio listening last year was the low number of recordings I made. I checked my audio folder recently and saw that I only made a couple dozen recordings–most were staple broadcasters, not rare or special DX.

At the end of the day, I realize that when I do SWLing sessions I like to have dedicated time–at least an hour or two–with headphones on, losing myself on the radio dial.  I simply haven’t had many opportunities this past year to make that a reality.

That’s okay, though. The great thing about the shortwaves is that they’re always there, patiently waiting for us to dive back in!

Looking forward

I’m really not sure what’s in store for me this year, but I know it’ll involve a lot of radio time and that pleases me to no end. I’ve made a few fun goals, but my hope is that, by the end of the year, I may even be able to do some proper travel–maybe even take a flight!

I do know this: I have an even more profound appreciation for my radio enthusiasm as I realize it’s the perfect space to travel and explore the world no matter how “locked down” things are. Based on feedback from readers and contributors to this site, I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

How about you?

Did your radio activity change or pivot this past year? Did you have more or less time to hit the airwaves? Please comment!

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