I’m traveling this morning and packing up my EDC (everyday carry) bag here int he hotel room.
Last night, I was using the Tecsun PL-330 to do a little band-scanning and it dawned on me that I’ve used this radio along with the Belka DX quite extensively this summer while on an extended family road trip. Even before this trip, both of these radios were in heavy rotation.
I go through phases of using portables–sometimes I’ll dig out a vintage radio and use it for weeks, then I’ll switch it out for a modern rig. I like variety and giving all of my radios a little air time.
I packed the Belka DX and Tecsun PL-330 for our trip because they’re some of the most compact, lightweight radios I own.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jack Kratoville, for the following guest post:
My Perfect Radio Trifecta
by Jack Kratoville
Last Fall, I asked SWLing readers to assist me in my decision as to what portable radio I should take on a two-week trip to Germany. While I came up with an initial list of portables I already own, there were some excellent suggestions on what I might pack. (Sidenote to Thomas – yes, my wife and I packed everything we needed into two carry-on pieces, including my 3 radios. Your expertise continues to serve us well!) To all else, thank you again for your thoughts, suggestions and comments.
The Tecsun PL-310ET was a top choice of many, yet one I had previously never taken into the field. It seemed a logical choice for this trip. The second is the Sangean PL-210 and it just fits in any pocket. The third is a DAB receiver someone had given me, tossed in a drawer, and forgotten about until I realized Germany implemented DAB to replace the MW and LW bands. The only name I can find online is the DAB-8. Being quite small, it made the cut and I shoved it in between a couple of tee shirts.
At our destination, I quickly realized I could not have chosen a better trinity for myself. Here’s why.
If this had been the only radio I brought, I would have been more than satisfied. SW signals abound (the war just two countries away was certainly a factor.) A quick hit of the ETM feature at the top of the hour brought in 40-50 listenable signals, with only a scant few broadcasts religious in nature. Even during the day, I could capture 25 easily. With the bandwidth set at 3 kHz, sound was most impressive. While some were the same broadcast on different frequencies, my only real disappointment was the lack of English-speaking broadcasts – but that was to be expected. The PL-310ET scans relatively fast and holds on to strong signals quite nicely.
We stayed with relatives who lived high on a hill not far from Kiel, in the north of Germany. One push of the ETM feature on FM filled the dial with German voices playing mostly English pop music (the eighties apparently a favorite decade there too.) Simply put, the selectivity on this radio is phenomenal. Odd / even frequencies happily sharing adjacent homes on the dial. And with the pre-emphasis on European FM at 50, the sound from this portable was absolute perfection. As a matter of fact, my first complaint about this radio was a bit of harshness on our over-processed FM commercial stations. In Europe, the audio characteristics of classical, pop, rock and talk stations was simply sweet.
My first night on the AM band was a disappointment. One, maybe two signals that didn’t come in very well. Thankfully, I quickly remembered to flip it to 9kHz and – wow! The BBC, Spanish, Italian, and signals that sounded very much like eastern Europe came booming in. I did not expect all of this and can easily say this was the most fun I’ve had band scanning and DXing in a long, long time! Traveling domestically, I’m more apt to load a memory page, but in this situation, the ETM feature was incredibly useful.
For all DXing, I only used the whip and internal antennas. The battery indicator dropped one notch on the second to the last day we were there. The PL-310ET is an absolute true travel performer.
The Tecsun PL-310ET now sits proudly alongside my CCrane Skywave, Digitech AR1780, Eton Executive Satellit (Grundig edition) and the semi-retired Grundig G5. When we travel to London next year, there’s no question this gets packed again.
A radio that became my constant walking companion during Covid. Hand-sized with a really nice on-board speaker for its size. The sensitivity is impressive and considering its PLL circuitry, has excellent selectivity on FM. AM was also impressive for an antenna no more than a half-inch – if that. It went with me to Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfort and Denmark; always just a quick pull from the pocket for a quick scan. To say I like this radio, well, I own three.
My curiosity in DAB was basically zero. One reader actually PM’d me and offered their own DAB receiver, saying I should check it out. (Thank you, Mike, for that generous offer.) This radio sounds great, but has very poor FM reception. (No MW). It does have inputs for mp3 and Bluetooth, so I figured just in case there was nothing to listen to, I could stream something on it. Its small size was the biggest factor in making the trip. Once settled, a quick daytime scan grabbed nine signals easily on DAB and they sounded great. It was the only band that featured more traditional (even country!) music. It’s back in the drawer at home, but I am very glad it made the trip.
I truly had a blast listening to the various captures on these three radios, the Tecsun being the most impressive and fun. I’m sure many newer models would be excellent choices, but not once did I wish to have something bigger or better. That doesn’t happen on trips very often, so perfection indeed.
My apologies to those looking / hoping for recordings. I stopped recording from the radio back when I opted to purchase 45rpm records rather than record them, complete with DJ patter on my father’s Webcor reel-to-reel. Once I got into the biz, I recorded enough DJ patter to last a lifetime! Again, thanks to everyone for their input.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jack Kratoville, for the following guest post:
Important travel decisions…
For the first time, (in a very long time), I’ll be traveling outside the country. This will be my first visit to Germany, and while I’ve already put Thomas’ packing skills to the test domestically with moderate success and confidence, I thought I would ask for assistance on what radio to bring.
The following is what I have, along with my current personal pros and cons regarding each one for this specific trip. I’m traveling with my wife, daughter & mother-in-law and staying with her family. This probably excludes a lot of alone time dedicated specifically to radio listening and DXing.
Now, from what I’ve been reading, MW and LW have been eliminated in favor of digital signals. This changes the equation a bit. Lack of SSB is NOT a deal-breaker. The amount of time I spend listening is miniscule. Here’s the receivers:
The CC Skywave
This has been on every domestic trip I’ve taken since its purchase in 2015. Perfect size (even with the hard case) and excellent performance. Two quality AA batteries will last for 2 weeks easily. However, my favorite feature, WX, is useless there. Best MW reception in an ultralight, but does that matter in the land of DAB? Assuming there’s no LW to listen to either, the Skywave’s lack of it shouldn’t factor in. I like the Skywave’s super-fast scanning, but I think I’ll wish I had the ETM feature of other radios. I’ve used the Air Band, but I won’t be staying anywhere near an airport and I doubt I’ll be sitting in an airport with an extended antenna anytime soon. Non-digital audio control gives me exact control to go “unnoticed” if others are sleeping. The lack of ETM may keep this unit home.
Another favorite travel companion that does feature ETM, this radio is small and compact – and my unit still works like new. I can recharge the batteries with a computer cable, not that it’s ever shown high power consumption. I had thought this was a front runner, but tinny audio and that extra antenna to lose is giving me second thoughts. It’s physical build lends to more hand-held than bedside table use and that is definitely a factor worth considering. Analog audio control, but it has gotten noisy.
The Digitech AR1780
Has it all: LW/MW/Air/FM(RDS)/SSB and fantastic audio. For positives, it checks all the boxes. It is a slow scanner – and that is a persistent downside. Further considerations, I’m committed to carry-on travel only (European dimensions!) and this receiver will command more real estate in the bag. Now if I didn’t need to pack socks for a couple of weeks… I may also be shoving a radio in my pocket for those “here’s-what-we-have-planned” moments and I don’t want to look like I’m obviously addicted to my hobby. With that non-existent charging cord, four replacement double-A’s might also be an issue if I do use it for any reasonable amount of time. I had considered this a shoe-in when we first talked Germany prior to pandemic, but it seems more unsuitable every time I weigh the pros and cons.
A radio gifted to me that was immediately assigned to basic alarm clock duty bedside – now surprisingly is part of the discussion. Not enough sizzle to replace my favorites domestically, but it may have the right combo for a few weeks in Germany. Quick scanning, ETM, multiple tuning modes, a decent speaker. Unlike the PL-360, you can’t “fast-tune” with the knob, but you can direct-input frequencies. I would miss RDS on FM, but I’ve scanned most of my life without it. Now, I’ve had a few other Tecsuns (along with the Grundig G8) and they all eventually fail with tuning and volume knobs (the PL-360 is the honorable exception). Since I haven’t used this unit much, I’m confident it’s well before its failure phase, if it ever does. I am not a fan of digital volume knobs, but this one seems to be better balanced than most. Not sure how it does on 3 AA consumption, but I’m testing rigorously. I would have never guessed, but this is the front-runner at the moment.
Eton Traveler III
The Eton Traveler III
While I’ve enjoyed RCS and the adjustable lighted dial at the beach, I’m not impressed. Sounds and looks nice, but lack of user-friendly functionality has kept this unit from any serious travel. Not to mention a battery hog with 4 AAs!
What do you think?
While I might fantasize about making room for the Eton Executive Satellit or putting batteries back in my G5, I’m limiting choices to the above! I appreciate all input and any thoughts on radio listening in Germany. Please comment!
Any SW frequencies I should direct input? We’ll be staying just outside of Kiel, which could include a day trip to Denmark.
Now it’s off to Hodinkee for GMT watch suggestions.
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):
Last week, we packed the car and headed to coast of South Carolina.
The trip was a bit impromptu but through the creative use of hotel points, we scored a two bedroom ocean front unit with a fantastic little balcony.
The vacation gave me an excuse to test the new passive loop antenna my buddy Vlado (N3CZ) helped me build recently.
The loop design came from AirSpy’s engineer and president, Youssef Touil.
This passive mag loop takes advantage of the new AirSpy HF+ Discovery‘s exceptionally high dynamic range. Youssef had reported impressive results, so I had to build one.
Vlado had a length of Wireman Flexi 4XL that was ideal for this project. 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 and snag-free design.
The results were truly exceptional. I spent most of my time on mediumwave from the hotel balcony because I was determined to catch a transatlantic signal.
Check out the spectrum display from my Microsoft Surface Go tablet:
Our ocean front hotel was inundated with noise, but I still managed to null out most of it and maximize reception using the passive loop. I simply suspended the loop on the balcony rocking chair–not ideal, but effective and low-profile.
Want to take a test drive?
If you’d like to experience this portable SDR setup, why not tune through one of the spectrum recordings I made?
The recording was made on November 17, 2019 starting around 01:55 UTC–I chose it at random and have yet to listen to it myself. You’ll need to open this file in AirSpy’s application SDR# or a third party SDR app that can read AirSpy .wav files.
I’m writing an in-depth report of the HF+ Discovery, my experiments with this setup and AirSpy’s soon-to-be-released passive loop antenna for the January 2020 issue The Spectrum Monitor magazine. Spoiler alert: I am truly impressed with the wee little AirSpy HF+ Discovery. It’s a powerhouse!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Rob Gray, who writes:
I recently returned back from a three-month trip in Africa (Namibia, South Africa, and Morocco) and had a couple of shortwave-related items that you might be interested in.
The rental car in Namibia had shortwave capabilities in the in-dash radio! The rental company was oblivious to the option when I mentioned it as a huge perk, I really don’t think they understood or cared. The radio was a Sony CDX-G1200U, and while I find this radio for sale in North America, I don’t see any mention of shortwave. I suspect shortwave is either an option for foreign markets (at least Namibia in this case), or possibly activated via a modification or firmware upgrade. Perhaps any shortwave enthusiasts travelling to other regions of the world might keep an eye out for this model.
There were two ‘bands’, low (SW1) included some of the tropical bands up to 41 meters, and high (SW2) covered 31 meters through about 19 MHz or so. Decent coverage for casual mobile listening.
I found the performance of the radio quite satisfactory in Namibia, the BBC came in very well in the mornings and evenings. There was a little more on shortwave during the day in English, Channel Africa, etc., but the BBC was by far the best offering for listening.
Another equipment data point from around the world, this time in Morocco.
Several vendors in the Medina’s sold various radios (of questionable quality). The photo [above] was taken in Tetouan (which isn’t a touristy area) in March, but I did note similar for sale in Fez.
Brilliant, Rob! It sounds like you’ve visited some gorgeous parts of the world in your travels. I imagine on the long stretches of rural roads in Namibia, you could enjoy a proper low-noise environment for shortwave listening as long as the car itself didn’t produce RFI!
Post readers: Have you driven a car recently that sported a shortwave radio capabilities? Please comment!
One of my favorite DXing locations was this little cottage at the El Rancho Hotel just outside San Ramon, on the edge of the Amazon jungle in Peru. At $18/night, including breakfast, the hotel was a bargain, and there was plenty of room for my delta loop.
A Guide To Vagabond DXing
By Don Moore
Ever since I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras in the early 1980s, Latin America has been my primary focus for both DXing and traveling. So when I retired in 2017, my main goal was to begin taking long annual trips . . . and I do mean long. From October 2017 to May 2018, I traveled through Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia visiting about fifty different towns and cities. This year, I’m on a five-month trip through southern South America. In Latin America you can get just about anywhere cheaply and easily by bus, so that’s how I get around. It’s also a great way to meet people and to see the countryside. But luggage can become a burden, so I limit myself to a single mid-sized wheeled suitcase and a large knapsack. And that means that my mobile DX shack has to be very carefully planned.
Your plans may not include multi-month odysseys like mine, but I think my experiences will help you prepare to DX on your next trip, wherever it might be. Of course, what makes a good mobile DX shack depends on what your DX interests are. I consider myself a station collector, in that I want to make loggings of lots of new and different stations and to build up an understanding of radio broadcasting in different regions. So on my travels I concentrate on the medium wave broadcast band and longwave beacons, with maybe little bit of shortwave utility DX. (There’s not much on shortwave broadcast that I can’t also hear at home.)
Take the DX Home With You
For years my standard DX travel gear was a Sony ICF-2010, a cassette recorder, and an old Radio West ferrite loop antenna. But listening time was always limited since it was a vacation. There were other activities on the agenda and I was generally too tired to get up early for DXing. I always went home with some interesting loggings and audio recordings, but once I left for home the DXing was done.
SDRs have changed all that and now my first rule of travel DX now is take the DX home. The best souvenir of a trip is the hundreds of hours of DXing that I take home with me. In a 2016 trip to central Colombia, I made about 300 MB of recordings of the medium wave band. While listening to them later I logged over 400 stations from twenty countries (and I still have about half the files to go through). I never would have even gotten close to that many stations listening on my Sony like an ‘old-fashioned’ DXer, hi!
Lately, I’ve been accumulating SDR files much faster than I could possibly go through them, so it’s a fair question to ask what the point is. When will I ever listen to them all? Like most DXers, I’m not fortunate enough to live in a perfect DX location. When conditions are mediocre, I’d rather spend my DXing time going through some more interesting SDR files. And, I know I’ll have lots of good DX waiting for me years from now when I’m no longer able to travel the way that I do now. For me, SDR recordings make much better souvenirs that some cheap tourist trinkets that will gather dust on a shelf. It doesn’t matter whether your travels take you to a nearby park or to a distant continent. SDRs can preserve the DXing experience for years to come.
My Mobile DX Shack
This is my typical DXing setup with the Afedri. The rooftoop terrace at the Hotel Rosa Ermila ($10/night) in Cascas, Peru was the most elegant place I’ve ever DXed from, but reception was only average with the PA0RDT dangling from the railing.
The centerpiece of any DX shack is the receiver. On my 2017-18 trip, I had an Afredri SDR-Net with an SDRPlay RSP1 as a backup, but this year I replaced the Afedri with an Elad FDM-2. Together, my two SDRs are smaller than all but the smallest portable receivers. Of course I also need a laptop, but I’m going to take one anyway. An important consideration in selecting a travel SDR is to get something that is powered off the laptop’s USB connection so that it is easy to DX totally off battery power if line noise becomes an issue.
The other vital component of DXing is the antenna. A good on-the-road antenna for SDR DXing has to be small, easy to erect, broadband, and versatile. That sounds like a lot to ask, but the perfect DX travel antennas do exist.
For compactness and ease of use, nothing can surpass the PA0RDT mini-whip. How good is it? That’s what I used to log over 400 medium wave stations in Colombia in 2016. I just attached the unit to my coax and threw it about three meters up into a short tree. The antenna works best when mounted away from nearby structures, but sometimes I’ve gotten decent results placing the PA0RDT on balconies and windowsills of tall buildings. It’s mostly a matter of luck as to how bad the local noise levels in the building are and how much the building itself may block signals. Using a short support, such as a broom or a hiking pole, it may be possible to mount the unit a meter or so away from the building.
While it’s best to mount the PA0RDT away from obstructions, the antenna might give good results anywhere, even on the neighbor’s roof. (Just make sure it’s not likely to get stuck. Pulling the unit out of a stubborn papaya tree is no joke.)
The biggest drawback of the PA0RDT for serious MW and LW DXing is that it is non-directional. For a directional antenna, a Wellbrook loop is great if you’re traveling by car, but that one-meter diameter aluminum loop doesn’t fit in my suitcase. Fortunately, a few years ago Guy Atkins and Brett Saylor told me about an alternative: buy a Wellbrook ALA-100LN unit and attach it to a large homemade wire loop. Now my travel kit includes two nine-meter lengths and one eighteen-meter length of #18 stranded copper wire. The wires can be spliced together for loops of 9, 18, 27, or 36 meters circumference, according to what fits in a location. Erection of a wire loop is easy enough with a suitable tree branch. I just throw the wire over the branch and then form it into delta (with the bottom running just above the ground) using two tent stakes and some short cord to hold the corners. The ALA-100LN unit goes in the bottom center.
Items that go in my suitcase, left to right: tent stakes and wire for the Wellbrook loop, a small box with more adapters, another battery box, 50 foot coax, 12 foot coax, and my hiking pole. The pole doubles as a support for the PA0RDT sometimes.
The loop doesn’t have to be in a delta; that’s just often the easiest to erect. I’ve successfully used squares, rectangles, trapezoids, oblong diamonds, and right angle triangles. Any balanced shape with the ALA-100LN in the bottom center should be bi-directional in a figure-eight pattern. Non-balanced shapes will work equally well but with unpredictable directionality. Just keep the wire in a single plane and place the ALA-100LN unit someplace along the bottom.
Both the PA0RDT and the Wellbrook require a 12V power supply. The North American version of the Wellbrook comes with an excellent noise-free 110V power supply, but that’s of no use in 220V countries and also I want to be able to DX totally off battery power when necessary. Fortunately both antennas use the same size power connector, so I carry three eight-cell AA battery packs for remote power.
Contents of the DX box, clockwise from upper left: the two pieces of the Wellbrook ALA-100LN, the two pieces of the PA0RDT mini-whip, two 8xAA battery boxes and a set of batteries, USB and coax cables, a passive 4-way antenna splitter, battery tester, various adapters and cup hooks (for securing wires), 4TB hard drive, the SDRPlay RSP1, the Elad FDM-2, and more short patch cords.
My mobile DX shack is rounded out with everything that is needed to connect the parts together. I have at least four of every adapter and patchcord, since I know they won’t be easy to replace on the road. For lead-ins, I have 12-foot and 50-foot lengths of lightweight coax with BNC connectors. I also have a few F-to-BNC adapters so I could buy some standard TV coax if needed. A 4 TB hard drive provides plenty of space the SDR recordings I plan to make. (Before leaving, I fill it with videos that I can delete after I watch them or when I need space.) For DX references, I download various station lists online so that I have them available even if I don’t have an Internet connection. It’s also important to keep those lists with the SDR files from the trip so that if I’m listening to the files years from now I’ll have references which were current at the time.
A common concern for traveling DXers is getting through airport security. When I went to Colombia in 2016, I wrapped my DX gear in clothing for protection and then stuffed everything into my backpack. Security didn’t like what they saw and I had to empty the bag so that every single item could be examined and swabbed for explosive residue. The TSA lady was very nice about it, but I wanted to minimize the chance of that happening again.
At an office supply store I found a plastic storage box that fits inside the main pocket of my backpack. My SDRs, antenna components, and hard drive get wrapped in bubble wrap and all placed together in the box along with small cables, adapters, etc. Larger items – the wire, coax, and stakes for the loop – get packed in my checked bag.
The DX Box packed and ready to go.
At the airport, I slide the box out of my backpack, place it into a cloth shopping bag, and then send it through the X-Ray machine on its own so that the agent can get a close look at the contents. So far in about a dozen security checks in the USA, Peru, and Mexico, the box of gear hasn’t caused so much as a pause on the conveyor belt. And, if the box would get pulled for a closer look, at least I won’t have to empty the entire backpack again.
Most of my equipment fits in this plastic box which slides into my backpack.
Where to DX
A mobile DX shack isn’t worth anything without a suitable place to DX from. Hotels may work if you have a balcony where you can put a small antenna, but more likely than not there’ll be problems with RF noise. The best hotels are ones that are a collection of cottages or bungalows or that otherwise have an open yard-like space for an antenna. My favorite place to find possible DXing sites is on AirBnB. It’s often easy to find AirBnBs that are on the edge of town or even in the countryside with lots of space. Of course, since I don’t have a car, I need to make sure I can get there using public transportation.
While visiting Huanchaco, Peru with DX friends Karl Forth and John Fisher, we had a beach-front apartment with an adjoining rooftop terrace. We had excellent results with an oblong loop and the ALA-100LN on the terrace.
The key to selecting a DX location is to examine all the photos very carefully. Is there open space for the antennas? Are there trees or other potential supports? Is there a gazebo, terrace, or other space that could be used for DXing? Google satellite view and Google street view can be very helpful in scouting out a location (And it’s surprising how much of South America is now on Google Street View.) And, I always look for possible noise sources. One place I almost rented in Colombia turned out to have high voltage power lines running next door when I found it on Street View.
I always tell the hotel staff or AirBnB host what I’m doing so that they understand why the gringo has wires running around. And I make sure not to put my antennas or coax anywhere that might interfere with the employees or other guests. Most of the time I’m able to erect the antenna near my room and run the lead-in into my room through a window. Then I can leave my laptop running all night to make scheduled SDR recordings. That’s the Holy Grail of DXing – catching the overnight DX while you sleep. But if my room turns out to have too much RF noise (as has been the case a few times), then I head out to the gazebo or terrace to DX using battery power. That does mean I have to stay up late or get up early since I can’t leave the laptop outside on its own. But, some of the best DX that I’ve had has come from running off full battery power in gazebos.
My delta loop had plenty of space at the Posada de Sauce ($25/night with breakfast) in the jungle near Tarapoto, Peru. The lodge was totally powered by solar panels and was one of the quietest places I’ve ever DXed from.
Antenna security is another consideration. At one place I stayed I wasn’t comfortable leaving my expensive antenna components unattended outside all night. And then there was what happened on my first trip to Colombia in 2010. I knew that a place I would be staying at for two nights had an open field right behind it, so on that trip I took 500 feet of thin insulated wire for a mini beverage-on-the-ground. DXing was great the first night but terrible the second. When I went out the next morning to wind up the wire I learned why. The worker who had been weed-wacking the hotel gardens the previous day had also done the field, and in doing so he had cut my wire in three places. He had, however, very nicely tied the wires back together.
Share the DX
DXing off battery power in the gazebo in the Mauro Hilton Hostel in the mountains above Manizales, Colombia. The antenna was the PA0RDT thrown in a tree. I had great DX with the loop from my room, but I came here to enjoy the views one evening.
Finally, if you take an SDR on a trip and get some good DX, make a selection of your files available for download. Other DXers will enjoy hearing what the band sounds like somewhere else. Several dozen of my files from Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia are available for download in a shared Google Drive folder. If you see something you want, be sure to download it now. The winter DX season is just starting here in deep South America and in the coming weeks I’ll be replacing some of those older files with ones made in Argentina and maybe in Uruguay and southern Brazil. I’ve found a lot of places to stay that look to be perfect for a vagabond DXer.
The PA0RDT miniwhip – see the email address at the bottom of the article for ordering information. I highly recommend getting the original PA0RDT. There are several cheaper versions for sale, but DXers have reported quaility control problems with those.
Don, thank you so much for sharing your travel DXing expertise. This article is absolutely brilliant and so informative for anyone who wishes to make SDR field recordings. I love how carefully you’ve curated and distilled your portable setup and have given priority to having antennas for all occasions. I also think carrying spare parts and, especially, a spare SDR makes a lot of sense.
Post Readers: As we mentioned in a previous post, Don is an author and has recently published “Following Ghosts in Northern Peru: In the Footsteps of 19th Century Travelers on the old Moyobamba Route” which is available in Kindle and print formats via Amazon.