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Something fun

So, I spent wasted several hours on this SDR website over the holiday weekend:

University of Twente SDR website

University of Twente SDR website

This is a web based SDR hosted by the University of Twente in Enschede, Netherlands. I enjoyed listening to the European medium wave and shortwave stations available.  Something that is always fun to checkout: UVB-76 on 4625 KHz.

Have fun!

PS: A special thanks to all those who have donated to the cause via the donate button on the upper right side bar.  I had enough money to buy a FUNcube dongle SDR.  I think I have all the other necessary hardware to launch one of these sites myself.  If or when that happens, I will post a link here.

Those Shortwave Sites

How is our Alaska doing?

How is our Alaska doing?

It is a joke in circulating in Russia at the moment.  Kind of funny when you think about it.

In light of the developing situation in Eastern Europe, it may be wise to retain some of those HF broadcasting (AKA Shortwave) sites.  It may be too late for Canada, however, the US government still has a few high powered HF sites that they may want to hold onto for a while.  There are several ways that shortwave broadcasting can be beneficial.

  • Like all radio broadcasting, quality content is needed to attract listeners. Most of what is available on shortwave is religious or transparent government propaganda. There are exceptions to this, but they are rare. Introduce quality programming, and shortwave listenership will increase.
  • DRM 30 (Digital Radio Mondial) is still in its experimental phase.  It has been demonstrated to work reasonably well on HF.  Several digital data formats are successfully being used on HF; HFDL, ALE, STANAG 5066, PACTOR and others.  DRM 30 has an advantage that H.264 video can also be transmitted.
  • The VOA has been experimenting with images transmitted via MFSK, AKA the “VOA Radiogram.”
  • HF is always susceptible to changing propagation.  However, it can be reliable enough, especially when frequency diversity is employed, to overcome these issues when no other method of communication is available.
  • DRM and MFSK can be decoded using a simple shortwave radio and a computer sound card.  A DRM CODEC is required, but those are readily available for download.
  • Analog shortwave broadcasting using AM is still viable.  AM has the advantage of being extremely simple to receive and demodulate.  Simple receiver kits can be built and run on 9 volt a battery.
  • While the Soviet Union had an extensive jamming network, those sites have long since been non-functional.  Most countries have discontinued the practice of jamming with the exception of China, North Korea, Cuba and perhaps some countries in the middle east (the usual suspects).

Sample of DRM reception via shortwave:

If the internet is censored or somehow becomes unavailable in that part of the world,  shortwave may be the only method to convey an alternate point of view.

Hopefully, things will settle down and return to at least a civil discourse.  However, it never hurts to have a plan.

Horby and Solvesborgs transmitter site

This is a video of Radio Sweden’s shortwave and medium wave transmitter sites:

Håkan Widenstedt at Hörby and Sölvesborgs Transmitter sites from HamSphere on Vimeo.

This was filmed in 2006. In 2010, Radio Sweden ceased broadcasting on medium and shortwave, thus I believe these sites have Horby (HF) has been dismantled.  Medium wave installation Solvesborg is visible starting at 15:30. Two tower directional array 180 degree towers with 600 KW carrier power. Quite impressive.

There is an effort to at save the Solvesborg site, perhaps as a museum.

Transmitters were in Skane, Sweden:


View Larger Map

h/t Shortwave Central

Voice of Russia to cut shortwave

Another government shortwave broadcaster calls it quits.  The Voice of Russia (Голос России, Golos Rossii) will cut its shortwave service as of January 1st, 2014. Originally known as Radio Moscow, it has been on the air continuously since 1922. It will be sad to see yet another shortwave station pull the plug.

Radio Moscow stamp, courtesy of Wikimedia

Radio Moscow stamp, courtesy of Wikimedia

I can remember Radio Moscow being one the first shortwave stations I tuned across on my Uncle’s Zenith Transoceanic shortwave radio.  It was fascinating to me to hear the news from the far away and all too scary Soviet Union.  After a short bit of interval music and a series of beeps counting down to the top of the hour, a man with a deep, sonorous voice came on and said “Zis is Moscow…” It was very dramatic.

The economics of HF broadcasting are daunting to say the least.  Minimum power levels in the US are 50,000 watts into a highly directional, high gain antenna.  Most stations use greater than 50 KW transmitters, which will very quickly use gobs of electricity, becoming an expensive operation.  Other expense include maintenance on transmitters, buildings, land and antennas.  With little or no opportunity to commercialize, it becomes difficult to justify a shortwave operation.  Sadly, those are the state of affairs in HF broadcasting today.

WYFR shortwave signing off

Family Radio’s WYFR shortwave service will be ending on June 30, 2013.

WYFR 50 years

WYFR 50 years

Shortwave transmitting is very expensive, and no doubt, competing IP distribution technology and diminishing returns on such investment must play a factor in this decision.  Family radio has been struggling ever since the world did not end as predicted in 2011.

I believe that site has fourteen 100KW HF transmitters and eighteen antennas of various type.  There is a complete photo album here: https://picasaweb.google.com/115519153277489147905/WYFR?noredirect=1#5149450014785168130 courtesy of Kent.

Kind of sad to see them go, I don’t know what their plans are after June 30.

Suppression of ideas

I found this video called Empire of Noise about broadcast radio jamming. It seems to be about ten years old and is a post cold war documentary about the jamming of radio signals by the USSR, Warsaw Pact counties and China.  It is an interesting look into the extent and expense that governments will go to to suppress counter thought and ideas.

The video is quite long, and there are stretches of jamming noise that can be annoying, but perhaps that is the point.  It is worth the time if interested in history and radio broadcasting.  You know what they say about history; those that do not understand history are destined to repeat it.

A few of the highlights:

  • The former Soviet Union had the most extensive jamming network of anyone on Earth.  There were groundwave jamming centers in eighty one Soviet cities which consisted of approximately 10-15 transmitters each in the 5 KW covering the medium and shortwave frequencies.
  • Each groundwave jamming station consisted of a transmitter site and a receiver/control site.  The receiver site possessed lists of frequencies to monitor, when objectionable material was heard, the jamming transmitters were turned on.
  • There was a skywave jamming network consisting of 13 jamming stations with 10 or more 100-200 KW transmitter in each.  There were some transmitters in the 1,000 KW power range.  These were located in Krasnodar, Lvov, Nikolaev, Yerevan, Alma-Ata, Grigoriopol, Sovieck, Novosibrisk, Tashkent, Khanbarovsk, Servdlosk and Moscow (some of these names may have changed).  These operated in a similar fashion to the groundwave jammers.
  • After sign off of government stations, Soviet jammers sent a blanketing signal on the IF frequency (most likely 455 KHz) of receivers to effectively block them from receiving any station while USSR government stations were off the air.
  • Baltic states had 11 jamming stations with approximately 140 transmitters
  • Ukraine had approximately 300 Jamming transmitter.
  • Warsaw Pact countries had extensive medium frequency jamming networks.
  • It is estimated it takes about 20 times the transmitted power to jam any one signal.

The entire jamming network was hugely expensive to equip and operate, costing several tens of millions of dollars per year.

It is interesting that the US position in all of this was:

Everyone has the right to seek, receive and impart information through any media and regardless of frontiers.   Jamming of radio broadcasts is condemned as the denial of the right of persons to be fully informed concerning news, opinions and ideas.

Sounds perfectly reasonable.  The free exchange of ideas and information over the internet is something that should be guarded carefully and should not be restricted or censored.  Perhaps somebody should inform congress.

Shortwave Broadcasting and the free press

WWCR wire rhombic antennas

WWCR wire rhombic antennas

Shortwave broadcasting is often overlooked as a domestic news outlet.  This is by design and is a throw back to the cold war era when shortwave broadcasting was seen as an international propagation outlet, mainly used by the VOA.  In fact, according to the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, the Voice of America is forbidden to broadcast directly to American citizens. The intent of the legislation is to protect the American public from propaganda actions by its own government.  Nice, huh?

WRMI corner reflector

WRMI corner reflector

The way the FCC rules governing shortwave (AKA HF) broadcasting are written, the station needs to be designed and configured to transmit signals to areas outside of the US.  Any coverage within the US is considered incidental.  See also CFR 47 73 part F.

WRMI signal 50 KW 9350 KHz

WRMI signal 50 KW 9950 KHz

That being said, many of the non-VOA HF broadcasters are well received in the US.  There is nothing that is preventing a shortwave station on the west coast beaming it’s signal across the North American continent to Europe, or over the poles, etc.  These stations’ call signs start with a K or W much the same as FM and AM broadcasting stations.  Most of them are religious broadcasters, however, there are a few that offer non-religious programming or a mixture of both.

As Clear Channel lays off more staff and becomes a computer automated shell, I am beginning to think that traditional AM and FM broadcasting is on the way out.  Television news and the 24 hour news cycle has blurred the line between journalism and opinion.  Newspapers have filled the role of government watchdogs and general information sources since this country was founded.  Newspapers have fallen on hard times with many cutting investigative reporters, general reporters and or going out of business.  The internet has become the defacto information source for many people, which is fine so long as users understand its limits.

The big problem with all of this is the internet is a fragile thing, controlled by a few very large companies.  A few keystrokes and a router table is re-written to exclude a site that might have detrimental information.  Distributed Denial of Service attacks have taken down Wikileaks for days.  Collateral Wikileaks related damage occurred to Amazon.com, Visa, Mastercard and Paypal.  A few “persuasive” calls from an important government agency or official to a ISP or server company can easily take a site or multiple sites off line.   Search results can be skewed by search engines, or by large companies like BP did during the Gulf oil spill.

The FCC debates on so called “net neutrality” have yet to produce any meaningful frame work to avoid corporate and search engine censorship.  This also assumes that the government can justly regulate the internet, which, in this day and age is a stretch of the imagination.

All of this is leaving an information void.  As the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum.

Enter Shortwave Radio.  Now, I’ll be the first to admit, there are a lot of strange things that can be heard in the shortwave broadcast band.  However, it one can separate the wheat from the chaff, some rewarding entertainment can be had.   Most of the non-government shortwave stations in the US are religious broadcasters.  There are at least three stations that offer time brokered programs, some religious and some not.  WBCQ is always a good bet.  WRMI is offering more and more non-religious programming.  WWCR also has some general programming.  While government broadcasters like the BBC, CBC and others have greatly curtailed their broadcasts to North America, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as other smaller broadcasters can be heard where the giants once roamed.

As solar cycle 24 heats up, the programming selections on any given day can vary widely. Radio Australia (ABC) has been booming in on 6020 KHz in the mornings around here.  They have an excellent country music program and I have been introduced to several songs and musicians that I would not have otherwise heard.  Today I heard a great show on Radio Australia Today about New Orleans, Ray Nagin, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and lots of things that haven’t aren’t normally heard here in the US.

Key to shortwave listening is the receive antenna.  One particular MF/HF receive antenna is the K9AY loop.  I have had very good luck with that antenna on both standard and international broadcast.  I have to say, I am finding fewer and fewer things to listen to on the AM band.  I have taken the opportunity to make a few circuit boards with a 10-12 dB preamp for controlling the pair of loops used in a K9AY array.  The preamp is based on a common base Norton design, which has low noise and moderate gain.  I use the preamp sparingly, the main reason for it is the 4 way hybrid splitter, which adds 6.2 dB of loss to the antenna output.  Still, I have noticed, especially on narrow bandwidth digital signals, the preamp can mean the difference between decoding a signal or not.

I am making extras, K9AY antenna systems, preamps, receiver splitters and other general shortwave receive systems, which I plan to offer for sale at a later date.  As they say, stay tuned.

Solar Cycle 24 brings better Shortwave Listening

Because of the utterly depressing selection of programming available on the standard broadcast (AM) band, lately I have been getting my radio fixes on higher frequencies.  Shortwave Listening can be a fun way to hear all sorts of things, from the very retro Voice of Russia interval music, which makes me want to go check on my survival bunker, to the almost comical Radio Havana, “Broadcasting from the free Americas,” depending on what your definition of free is, the number and type of programs are almost limitless.  Whether or not one believes the conspiracy theories posed by Alex Jones, listening to that program can give you the hebegebees (see above note about survival bunker).

Most of the shortwave broadcasts in this country are religious shows.  One can listen to Catholic Mass every morning at 8 am on WEWN, if so inclined.  I don’t think it actually counts as going to church, though.  There are several other shows on US shortwave, like Le Show, which appears to have a copyrighted on the phrase “this is a copyrighted feature of this broadcast,” but you have to hunt around for them.  WBCQ offers a variety of programs, likely the the lowest ratio of religious programs on any privately owned shortwave station in the US.

Don’t expect to find the old stalwarts, the VOA or the BBC to have very good signals in the US.  Both those agencies severely curtailed shortwave broadcast to the US starting around 2000 or so.

There is also a smattering of shortwave pirate broadcasters clustered around 6.925 KHz, which can be entertaining in their own way.

A good website that lists all the shows in English by hour and frequency, is short-wave.info.

Solar Cycle 24 is heating up, with excellent propagation last week and continuing on this week, I was able to hear some pretty rare stations.  Even better, we are in the early stages with the peak predicted sometime around 2013.  I even heard one wag predicting that the coming solar cycle jives with the recently popular “The world will end in 2012” theme.  With the long winter months ahead, I have been tuning up the shortwave listening post in my house.

I am going to be doing a multi-part post on how to set up a good shortwave listening post, how to get around local electrical noise issues, antennas, grounding, receiver selection and so forth.

WBCQ The Planet

File under: What I wish I could do, if I had the money.

img04Imagine, as an engineer, owning and running your very own radio station.  Not just any radio station, but a 50,000 watt flame thrower heard over most of the eastern US.  Dude!  Only one minor detail, it is a Shortwave station, which, by FCC regulation is only supposed to be listened to outside of the US, hence the official FCC name, International Broadcasting.  As I said, minor detail.

Anyway, WBCQ is heard at various times on 5110, 7415, 9330, and 15420 kHz both in and outside of the US.  Their full schedule here.  Last night I was treated to the Lost Discs radio show, featuring rare tracks not often found or heard anywhere.  It sounded like they were having a lot of fun and it was entertaining, which is why I continued to listen for well over an hour.  Besides which, they played a cover of one of my favorite songs, Wish you were here, as played by Kris McKay.

I put up the video for the song that was in it, and, no, I don’t know who those grainy people are.

It seems that the owner, Mr. Weiner is a fellow radio engineer and long time radio enthusiast.  He was and still is a strong proponent of radio for the good of the public.  Most of his earlier attempts to own radio station fell on the other side of the legal line, being not quite sanctioned by any government authority.  At first, he did attempt to obtain a license and was turned down by the FCC, prompting him to write this reply (shamelessly lifted from Wikipedia):

…we went about a year ago … to apply for a license. Our attempt proved quite humorous to your employees, who sent us away with word of “Forget it.” Further investigations showed us why our attempt was then so comical. Licenses were so expensive and hard to get that even small stations were being sold for millions. Broadcasting was reserved for power men.
…We are not disputing, however, your right to assign channels and set aside bands for the prevention of interference. We certainly, however, are disputing your right to reserve broadcasting for the well-to-do only.

So, I applaud Allan Weiner and his never say never attitude.  Perhaps one day, I’ll apply for an international broadcasting license and do something similar.  I wonder if he gets many RFI complaints from people living around his transmitter site.  I once had one from somebody who was receiving the radio station on the outlets in their kitchen.  Seems Larry King was not their thing…

Axiom


A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. An optimist sees the glass as half full. The engineer sees the glass as twice the size it needs to be.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
~1st amendment to the United States Constitution

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
~Benjamin Franklin

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
~Rudyard Kipling

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
~Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, Article 19

...radio was discovered, and not invented, and that these frequencies and principles were always in existence long before man was aware of them. Therefore, no one owns them. They are there as free as sunlight, which is a higher frequency form of the same energy.
~Alan Weiner

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