Tag Archives: Utility

Guest Post: Why listen to shortwave radio?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


Why listen to shortwave radio?

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

Decades ago, an entrepreneur challenged his audience with a concept of critical importance: “Every once in a vhile, it is important to ask ourselves vhy are we in business?” He had a waaay cool Austrian accent, and his point was valid: every once in a while, we should examine our fundamentals.

So why, indeed, listen to shortwave radio?

For me, the short answer is: because there are treasures out there on the shortwave spectrum, that’s why. Further, with a relatively inexpensive shortwave receiver (even better if you have a receiver with single-sideband – SSB – capability), you hear them too. You can discover things that you are unlikely to find anywhere else, and not only are they fun to hear, they are also fun to find.

So let me present for your approval a shortwave journey that I took on October 24, 2021.

1115Z – It all starts when I am flipping through my old shortwave reference materials, and a copy of a page from Popular Communications magazine, April, 1986, catches my eye: “Handy Ute Finder by Hubble Gardiner, KNE0JX.” Utes are utility stations (as opposed to hams or international broadcasters), like ships at sea, planes in the air, and fixed commercial and military stations, and the like. The article presented places to look in the HF radio spectrum between 4000 kHz and 26960 kHz, for utility stations transmitting in SSB, CW, and RTTY/ARQ modes. Is this chart still valid? I don’t know, but since I enjoy hearing people doing their jobs on the air, why not start tuning from 4000 kHz in upper sideband and see what I can hear? Freeing the Tecsun PL-880 from its case, I extend the antenna, press the power button, punch in 4000 kHz, and start turning the dial. And while my initial impulse was to discover some “utes,” I am open to whatever comes through the headphones.

1128Z, 4426 kHz USB – a ute, super loud and clear, a weather forecast from the US Coast Guard Communications Command, including a forecast of tropical weather from the National Hurricane Center. If I were a mariner, I would be pleased to hear this forecast.

Duties call, and my cruise of the bands is interrupted, to be continued later in the day . . .

2130Z, 7490 kHz AM, — highly unusual music that sounds like a mash-up between 1930s movie music and oompah bands. It’s odd but pleasant and certainly not anything you are going to hear on the “regular” broadcast stations. Turns out it is a program called Marion’s Attic on WBCQ from Monticello, Maine. Two females, Marion (with a high squeaky voice) and Christine, play recordings from yesteryear (including wax cylinders, I think). Evidently, this program has been on the air for 22 years, and it made me smile.

2150Z, 8950 kHz USB, — a ute, European weather conditions for aviators from Shannon VOLMET, Ireland, very difficult to hear on the PL880’s whip antenna, but fully copyable on my Satellit 800 with wire antenna. How cool to hear weather from all the way across the pond!

2206Z, 9350 kHz AM, (back on the PL880) — USA Radio News on WWCR, then Owen Shroyer and a Dr. Bartlett discussing the problem of a hospital in Texas apparently putting plastic bags on the heads of covid patients. Unusual, I think, but I had heard enough about the virus of late and continue to rotate the tuning knob.

2215Z, 9395 kHz AM, — My ears are tickled by cool jazz, a very together group, laying it down with style. “This is cool jazz, jazz from the left coast,” the announcer intones as he cues up another group. It’s WRMI, transmitting from Okeechobee. Hearing it, I flashed back to “The Hawthorn Den, Jazz after Midnight” Saturday nights, listening under the covers when I was a kid.

2226Z, 9830 kHz, Voice of Turkey, in English — A professor presents an analysis of the United Nations, which he thinks needs to be reformed due to the shifting of the axes of power. This is followed by exotic music with nice female singer.

2239Z, 9955 kHz,WRMI, — Glen Hauser hosts The World of Radio, detailing the status of various shortwave stations around the world. Fascinating stuff and well worth the time.

2257Z, 10051 kHz USB, — a ute, weather for aviators again, but this time from Gander, Newfoundland. Makes me glad to be in a nice warm house.

So that’s what a little over an hour of turning the knob yielded, and that’s why to listen to shortwave radio: because you never know what you may encounter. Who knows what you might discover with a shortwave radio and a little wandering around?

Remember what Gandalf said: “Not all who wander are lost.

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CPRM Lisboa: Another mystery signal solved

In response to our latest mystery utility signal challenge, SWLing Post contributor, Dean Bianco replies:

This is the musical marker for CPRM Lisboa, a radiotelephone terminal that provided overseas telephone and telegraph communications in the days prior to satellites.

I remembered the non-broadcast HF frequencies being loaded to bursting with many of these radio services. When not scrambled for privacy, one could hear a telephone call in progress. Instead of a musical IS such as this one, most were loop tape voice ID’s in several languages (almost always including English). So naturally these musical loops made it quite difficult to know what exactly one was hearing, to say the least!

To verify check out the following embedded audio file made by Willi Passmann  (via the excellent UtilityRadio.com website):

Once again, thanks to Dean Bianco for solving yet another mystery! Obviously, Dean is a Black Belt SWL and DXer!

FYI: I’ve received a number of emails from readers who really enjoy these mystery signals. Since we all seem to have more time at home these days, I’ll plan to keep them coming!


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VE7SL explores DXing the utilities

Photo: US Coast Guard

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Eric McFadden (WD8RIF), who shares a link to this excellent article by Steve (VE7SL) where he explores his success DXing utility stations on shortwave:

(Source: VE7SL)

DXing The Utilities (Part 1)

After building the house here on Mayne Island, in the early 90’s, it was several years until I was able to set up a dedicated station. In the meantime, I limited my radio activities strictly to listening. I had a nice Icom R-71A set up in a hall closet and spent my radio-time, mostly on weekend evenings, listening to maritime CW, HF aeronautical traffic and, of course, NDBs below the broadcast band.

My HF receiving antenna consisted of three inverted-V’s … one for 160m, the second for 80m and the third for 40m … all fed from the same coaxial line at the top of a 70′ Balsam. It didn’t take long to realize what an exceptional radio location I had, living right at the edge of the ocean, with dozens of miles of saltwater in most directions other than due west.

I really enjoyed following evening airline flights across both the North and South Atlantic, and in the early winter afternoons, following the commercial air-traffic all over Africa. Even though listening on 5 or 6MHz, I was amazed at how strong the signals from airliners over Africa at 30,000 feet or more could become, this far to the west. In the early mornings, directions were reversed and traffic from the far east, right into India, was fairly common. Often, small single-engine planes, usually run by various missionaries, could be heard while on the ground, taxiing at remote field locations and calling in via HF radio to request takeoff and flight-following.

Now QSL’s have always been one of my top radio interests and it wasn’t long before I started sending and collecting verifications for both the aircraft and the ships I was hearing … once I had figured out how to get my reception reports to their proper destinations.[…]

Click here to continue reading Part 1 of “DXing the Utilities.”

Click here to read Part 2.

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Marine Weather Center daily weather reports on shortwave

Sail Boat Yacht On Sea

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Al Holt, who writes:

Your readers may be interested in tuning in the daily (except Sunday) broadcasts of Marine Weather Center on 4045 and possibly 8173, 12,350 kHz. These broadcasts use upper sideband mode. https://www.mwxc.com/index.php

It’s described as, “custom weather and routing information for small vessels in the Caribbean Sea, Bahamas and United States East Coast,” and is based near Lakeland, FL.

As a subscription weather service for pleasure craft, but they provide an interesting roundup and forecast of weather in this area of the world. They do take questions and traffic from subscribing vessels at the conclusion of their broadcast.

I am usually am able to receive the omnidirectional broadcast on 4045 kHz here in northern Florida. But, their coverage at greater distances is pretty good I think.

The chart below (taken from their ‘Services’ page https://www.mwxc.com/marine_weather_services.php ) shows this broadcast starting at 1100z, but I usually hear them closer to 1200z and that may be due to atmospheric conditions. I haven’t had much success catching their later transmissions. I’m not sure how often their webpage gets updated and schedule changes are probably relayed privately to their subscribers.

Wow!  Thank you so much for sharing this information, Al.

Post Readers: I know there are a number of SWLing Post readers who sail and cruise (some on very long voyages)—I’m curious if any use the Marine Weather Service regularity. Please comment!

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Reuters: Cyber threats prompt return of radio for ship navigation

eLoran (Image Source: UrsaNav)

(Source: Reuters via Ken Hansen and Dan Hawkins)

LONDON (Reuters) – The risk of cyber attacks targeting ships’ satellite navigation is pushing nations to delve back through history and develop back-up systems with roots in World War Two radio technology.

Ships use GPS (Global Positioning System) and other similar devices that rely on sending and receiving satellite signals, which many experts say are vulnerable to jamming by hackers.

About 90 percent of world trade is transported by sea and the stakes are high in increasingly crowded shipping lanes. Unlike aircraft, ships lack a back-up navigation system and if their GPS ceases to function, they risk running aground or colliding with other vessels.

South Korea is developing an alternative system using an earth-based navigation technology known as eLoran, while the United States is planning to follow suit. Britain and Russia have also explored adopting versions of the technology, which works on radio signals.

Continue reading at Reuters online…

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Real-time Flight Status And Radar For All US/Canada Flights

FlightAwareFor those who receive (and send) flight data from ADS-B capable devices such as the RTL-SDR dongles or have Apps for their tablets and phones, FlightAware announced on Wednesday this change to their service:

Hi from FlightAware,

After months of development, we released a large upgrade to our back-end flight tracking engine on Tuesday. Not only did the upgrade include dozens of bug fixes and flight tracking improvements, but we added a massive enhancement for US and Canadian flight tracking — the flight status and radar data is now live with no more five minute delay! Previously, the US/Canada data feed contained a five minute delay in addition to our ~30 second processing time, but now all data is less than a minute delayed from real time. In addition to the general improvement, this yields a lot of additional benefits:

  • More seamless transition between RADAR, ADS-B, and MLAT positions
  • Flights will no longer transition from “Arriving soon” to “Arrived 5 minutes ago”
  • Fewer estimated positions due to delayed RADAR data

Now that the radar data in the US and Canada is real-time, we’ll soon be enabling public MLAT data in the US, which is real-time just like our ADS-B data.

This is a major upgrade in data for folks in North America, and it will make using programs like PlanePlotter even more useful!

For those who might be interested in building their own dedicated ADS-B receiver, information may be found here. Of course FlightAware may be used as an online flight checking service just for tracking the progress of a given flight, which is in itself a lot of fun!

Robert Gulley, AK3Q, is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Robert also blogs at All Things Radio.

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Radio Time Travel: Brian’s 1974 shortwave radio recording

Many thanks to SWLing Post and SRAA contributor, Brian D. Smith (W9IND), for the following guest post and recording.

Note that Brian could use your help to ID a few unidentified broadcasters in this recording. If you can help, please comment:


HalliDial

Shortwave Radio 1974: Canada, Argentina, Spain, West Germany, Albania, utility stations

Want to know what shortwave radio sounded like in 1974?

This 55-minute recording, recovered from a cassette, was never intended to be anything but “audio notes”: I was an 18-year-old shortwave listener who collected QSL cards from international stations, and I was tired of using a pen and a notepad to copy down details of the broadcasts. I wanted an easier way to record what I heard, and my cassette tape recorder seemed like the perfect means to accomplish that goal.

But it wasn’t. I soon discovered that it was simpler to just edit my notes as I was jotting them down — not spend time on endless searches for specific information located all over the tape. To make a long story shorter, I abandoned my “audio notes” plan after a single shortwave recording: This one.

Hallicrafters S-108 (Image: DXing.com)

Hallicrafters S-108 (Image: DXing.com)

Still, for those who want to experience the feel of sitting at a shortwave radio in the mid-1970s and slowly spinning the dial, this tape delivers. Nothing great in terms of sound quality; I was using a Hallicrafters S-108 that was outdated even at the time. And my recording “technique” involved placing the cassette microphone next to the radio speaker.
Thus, what you’ll hear is a grab bag of randomness: Major shortwave broadcasting stations from Canada, Argentina, Spain, Germany and Albania; maritime CW and other utility stations; and even a one-sided conversation involving a mobile phone, apparently located at sea. There are lengthy (even boring) programs, theme songs and interval signals, and brief IDs, one in Morse code from an Italian Navy station and another from a Department of Energy station used to track shipments of nuclear materials. And I can’t even identify the station behind every recording, including several Spanish broadcasts (I don’t speak the language) and an interview in English with a UFO book author.

The following is a guide, with approximate Windows Media Player starting times, of the signals on this recording. (Incidentally, the CBC recording was from July 11, 1974 — a date I deduced by researching the Major League Baseball scores of the previous day.)

Guide to the Recording

0:00 — CBC (Radio Canada) Northern and Armed Forces Service: News and sports.
7:51 — RAE (Radio Argentina): Sign-off with closing theme
9:14 — Department of Energy station in Belton, Missouri: “This is KRF-265 clear.”
9:17 — Interval signal: Radio Spain.
9:40 — New York Radio, WSY-70 (aviation weather broadcast)
10:22 — Unidentified station (Spanish?): Music.
10:51— Unidentified station (English): Historic drama with mention of Vice President John Adams, plus bell-heavy closing theme.
14:12 — RAI (Italy), male announcer, poor signal strength.
14:20 — Unidentified station (Spanish): Theme music and apparent ID, good signal strength.
15:16 — Unidentified station (foreign-speaking, possibly Spanish): Song, “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.”
17:00 — Deutsche Welle (The Voice of West Germany): Announcement of frequencies, theme song.
17:39 — Unidentified station (English): Interview with the Rev. Barry Downing, author of “The Bible and Flying Saucers.”
24:36 — One side of mobile telephone conversation in SSB, possibly from maritime location.
30:37 — Radio Tirana (Albania): Lengthy economic and geopolitical talk (female announcer); bad audio. Theme and ID at 36:23, sign-off at 55:03.
55:11 — Italian Navy, Rome: “VVV IDR3 (and long tone)” in Morse code.

Click here to download an MP3 of the full recording, or simply listen via the embedded player below:


Wow–what an amazing trip back in time, Brian! Thank you for taking the time to digitize and share your recording with us.

Post Readers: If you can help Brian ID the few unidentified stations in his recording, please comment!

Note that Brian is a frequent contributor to the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive. Click here to listen to his contributions. 

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