December 11, 2006

Modulating

Ka1103panel For those of you who have followed my “Adventures In Amplitude Modulation” posts here at Beware of the Blog, I want to let you know that the regularity of these posts here is over. And frankly, my weekly posts on BOTB will not continue as well.

However, I’m a guy who likes to keep my options open (and somebody who hates saying goodbye) and this doesn’t mean I’ll never publish here again. I’m looking to take on another project or two, and (especially given my tendency to be a bit of a long winded blogger) I won’t have the time to keep up a weekly grind here as I have.

Nonetheless, I do plan to get together at least one more “Amplitude Modulation” post in the coming weeks, as soon as I can spend some quality time away from my RF infested apartment and roam the world again with one of my portable radios. And I'm leaving my options open to add futher entries in this series when I have the time and have a good scan to offer. Actually, I’m a bit gassed up to take my radios into the countryside after finally getting my 2007 edition of “Passport To World Radio.” I really should have purchased one of these a while ago. In working up these posts it would have saved me a LOT of internet hours stalking station ID’s. While the web is quite an amazing tool for figuring out a reception log (and international broadcasters can and do change frequencies without notice), it’s still much better to have a book like this in front of you when you’re slipping up or down the dial. If you have anything more than a passing interest in shortwave radio it would be a good idea to pick up your own copy of “Passport.”

Dx_book While I’ve had a lot of fun posting here, it’s been especially rewarding for me personally to publicly delve into my own fascination with DXing. It’s also given purpose to my habit/hobby of recording dial scans, and perhaps along the way I've informed some folks about radio beyond FM, local stations (and the new broadcasting technologies). In over thirty posts I’ve learned a lot and offered some people who will never turn on a shortwave radio (or hunt distant signals out of the atmosphere) a chance to hear what it sounds like to pick up overseas broadcasts the old-fashioned way. And what’s great about this blog (and the way WFMU operates in general) is that all the posts and the accompanying audio will remain available (and subject to search engine hits) for some time to come.

I have yet to find anybody online who is posting realtime dial scans or random shortwave tuning recordings. It’s always baffled me that there isn’t more interest in such things, but through this series I’ve been able to share what I hear with headphones in the middle of the night with you. And it was nice you didn't laugh.

Continue reading "Modulating" »

November 21, 2006

Adventures in Amplitude Modulation - Part 32

Radios These shortwave bandscan recordings are the last I'll offer from my trip to the Catskills at the end of September. This is from September 29, 2006, and the recordings start just before midnight. Officially, this first scan starts out at about 0344 UTC (11:44 EDT). The audio can be found after the jump.

This is the first time I tried to record two scans at once. And I'm using the radios I've used most in this series - the Tecsun BCL-2000 and the Degen 1103. As I've previously discussed, I like a few things about the BCL radios (specifically analog tuning/digital readout, a nice big sound and a bright always-on display), but the Degen is a much better portable and you hear that in these scans. The Degen is a digital receiver (also known as the Kaito 1103 here in the states) which is available for around the same price, or cheaper, than the BCL-2000 (which is known in the US as the Grundig S350 or the Eton S350DL). I bought my versions of these radios directly from China via ebay, which even with the shipping is a considerable savings over their counterparts branded for America. That said, if you happen to have a problem with a radio you bought from China you might have a harder time getting it fixed or replaced. But I took that risk.

These radios are comparable in that they are recent products from the growing and maturing Chinese electronics industry, and are innovative in the fact that they marry elements of digital and analog tuning. And compared to radios in the recent past, they offer more bang for the buck. Specifically, the Degen 1103 is probably one of the best shortwave portables to retail for less than a hundred bucks. The BCL radios are quite sensitive, but there is no filtering of wayward images of strong stations. The Degen is a dual conversion radio, which greatly reduces the chance of hearing signal "images" at places they don't belong on the dial. And it can be a little confusing and annoying to find out you're actually hearing a station from another band instead of a broadcast at the frequency you're scanning. (Reader Ralph did a nice job of explaining how this happens in the comment section of this post.)

Continue reading "Adventures in Amplitude Modulation - Part 32" »

November 14, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 31

Catskills Here’s another foray into the AM band, as explored in the middle of the night. This recording begins just before 1AM local time, and was captured in the Catskill mountains of New York on Sunday October 1st (or the 2nd officially). Usually I start a scan recording at the low end of a band and work my way up, but this time I’m going the other way. Usually when starting at 530kHz and moving up the AM band, I never quite reach the end of the band, so this sample of broadcasting starts at the ass end of AM, and then I roll backwards through the dial.

I don’t spend that much time DXing though the higher end of the AM band. There’s less powerful stations, and especially here in the city there are far more ethnic talk outlets up that way. But unlike the previous post where I offered a taste of these frequencies, this reception was snatched from the sky out in the country away from the RF noise and the bullying strong local signals of the megalopolis. In fact, there are really no local AM stations in the central Catskills where we stayed that weekend. By day, the AM dial was basically silent all the way across the damn thing. Of course, once the sun went down there was some kind of noise or better at every 10kHz stop. Not a bad location to DX medium wave. And this was recorded with my Tecsun BCL-2000, a very sensitive, but buggy analog radio, which should have been on its best behavior on AM without powerful local signals stirring up annoying images across the dial.

Again, this starts from the right and the dial moves slowly to the left, stopping at every place a radio station that might be something, and then listening. The first station I found was in rural Michigan. Here's the audio...

Catskills Late Night Medium Wave Scan 10-02-06 A - 1590 to 1410 (Download MP3)

1590 - WTVB Coldwater, MI

The_coldwater_cardinal_3 A good way to start, with a solid (if faint) station ID from a distant low power station. It’s a one kilowatt oldies station in south central Michigan broadcasting in a directional pattern (to the northwest!). Station identification comes right before the top of the hour. It’s just about 1 AM EDT.

1580 - CKDO Oshawa, ON

An oldies station broadcasting from the other side of Lake Ontario. Starts out with some syrupy 1970's EZ pop song (sounds like Hall & Oates meets Smokey?) that I’ve never heard before. Maybe it’s some of that “Canadian contentthe government forces their music stations to integrate into their playlists. Then “Green Onions,” still one of the greatest insurgent instrumentals around. Sounds great with static too.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 31" »

October 31, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 30

Catskill_shack_1 Here’s the second half of the scan of the 25 meter shortwave band following my post from last week. And to be honest, I’m including it for completion rather than for compelling content. It’s international broadcasting, and almost none of it is intended for North American listeners.

And speaking of last week, I mentioned that a site I've depended on for identifying shortwave broadcasts, hfradio, has disappeared. Well, I'm happy to say it's only temporary. If you try to pull up their site you get a (MS version of MySpace) page explaining that they took the server down for some maintenance and upgrades. Should be back up in a week or two. I'd personally like to thank the proprieter of the website, Tomas Hood, for all his fine work and service to the online radio geek community.

Almost all the radio reception in this series has been recorded at night, when radio waves get the best bounce out of the atmosphere. But the 25 meter band has more life during daylight than most, and reader Ralph offered his own recorded adventure of these same frequencies a few weeks ago (which you can read and listen to here).

More than most radio recordings offer here, this is more for geeks and completists. No great music and very little English language content. However, if you were to tune in the world one afternoon you might hear voices like these, and radio noise like this.

This scan was captured around the five o’clock hour EDT on my Degen 1103 portable. The first segment of this radio adventure (in the last post) has some swell music and an interesting roundup of the weekly news from Cuba. This is mostly just foriegn language garble. But no less REAL. Most of these signals are being transmitted from overseas. However, I heard them in the Catskill Mountains. And so will you, if you download this file...

Segment 2 - 25 meter band 10-01-2006 (download MP3)

11795 - Deutsche Welle (Germany)

English service for Africa. Not coming in well, and stepped on by an adjacent station.

11800 - Radio Habana Cuba

In Arabic, with a Cuban accent. Reception isn't too bad. Wonder what they're talking about?

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 30" »

October 24, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 29

Cabin_table Okay, I'm back again with some shortwave reception. I made a number of bandscan recordings when I was in the Catskills around the beginning of this month and that's where this entry was recorded. And as usual, the audio (and the discussion of it) follows the jump.

While I had hoped to duplicate some of the luck I had upstate while perusing the 31 meter band last June (discussed here in these two posts), that wasn't possible this time around. One of the main reasons shortwave radio is both intriguing and frustrating is that propagation varies so damn much, depending on the weather of our solar system. One day or night a station (or a smorgasbord of stations) will be heard at a certain time, and on another date at the same time you've got radio silence, something else, or just RF noise. And on that weekend, two fairly dependable bands, the 31 and 41 meter band, were clear of many of the stations I hoped to find there in the evening.

The 49 meter band (the most dependable evening shortwave band) was chock full of broadcasts that weekend. However, this piece of spectrum typically offers fewer surprises, and lots of U.S. Christian garbage along the way. However, as far as shortwave listening the real action I found that weekend was on the 25 meter band during the late afternoon. Right when it's gotten dark across the sea, and much of what I found was coming from over there. And as Ralph mentioned in his guest post, most of the overseas broadcasting you hear on the 25 meter band at these hours isn't intended to be heard in the US. Programming meant to be heard in here (and there is sadly less of this all the time) typically starts up a little later.

Rcas This band is interesting because it swings both ways. Depending on atmospheric conditions the 25 meter band can provide better propagation during either the day or night. 25 meters roughly covers the 500kHz on each side of 12000kHz (or 12MHz). And as a rule of thumb, the bands with frequencies above 25 meters  (which have lower meter numbers) are better for daytime broadcasting and listening (22, 19, 15 and 13 meter bands). The bands below 25 meters (with higher meter numbers) are generally used at night (31, 41, 49, 60, 75 and 90 meter bands). So, if you turn on a shortwave radio and wonder where all the stations are, try the bands that fit the time of day. In general, I've always had the best luck with the bands between 5000 and 15000kHz (60 to 19 meters).

Okay, enough of the geeky stuff. It just always seems like a good idea to give a little background for people who might one day dip their toes into the world of shortwave listening. I imagine many readers either will never turn on a shortwave readers and then again some of you know far more about these things than I do.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 29" »

October 10, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 28

Mmmm_ham_2 At the end of September, I escaped the big city again. And at a little cabin in the Catskills I unwrapped and unzipped a couple radios, my recorder and all the assorted cables, batteries and cassettes and set up another little DX outpost for the weekend. Hey, it's how I have fun...

The reception wasn’t nearly as impressive as the last time I got a chance to scan upstate, but I had some luck on the 25 meter band in the late afternoon with my DE1103. I also had a chance to conduct a couple somewhat simultaneous band scans with the Degen and my analog Tecsun BCL-2000. The results were interesting and somewhat predictable. However, I’ve just gotten all that audio dumped into the computer and haven’t had a chance to go back over it yet. Somewhere in the next couple entries in this series I’ll dig into some of these recordings.

Instead, I'm serving up some ham radio today. Late on Friday (September 29) I had already gone through what seemed to be happening on medium wave and the 49 meter band. I had heard quite a bit of sideband activity as I prowled around, so I decided to turn on the SSB and dig on into that action. The two hot spots I'd come across were the 40 meter band (just above 7000kHz) and 20 meter band (just below 4000kHz) bands. That's where I came across the reception below.

Ham_radio Amateur radio operators, or hams, are licensed independent broadcasters who talk to each other on specially reserved chunks of the radio spectrum, a number of which are within the shortwave (or high frequency) range. Some hams still use Morse Code for communication, other’s have added digital technologies, and some are actually broadcasting television these days. But all I know anything about are the guys who talk to each other, over the radio.

From what I understand (and I don’t know that much), hams typically bond together into roundtable groups for “ragchew” sessions (yes, that’s the term they use). At certain times or days or frequencies, people who have over time become part of a group will look for each for a chat on some agreed schedule. There’s bigger moderated operations called “nets” where large groups of people check in on some frequency and a big radio powwow ensues.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 28" »

September 26, 2006

Adventures in Amplitude Modulation - Part 27

Deck_view_4 Here’s the second installment of an AM band dial scan I began a couple weeks back at BOTB. This little radio safari was recorded while I camped out on the deck of a beach house on the Connecticut coast near Bridgeport in late August.

Serious DXers favor the eastern coast of North America for picking up AM stations broadcasting from Europe and Africa (although a location right on the Atlantic Ocean rather than Long Island Sound would be preferable). However, the best time for that would be early evening and the best results would include employing an external antenna. I’d love to try this sometime, but was hardly equipped to do so on this excursion. One day...

This upcoming weekend I’m headed out of the RF noise of the city for the Catskills Mountains where I plan on scanning the international shortwave bands in search of interesting and exotic programming to feature in this series. With these two posts I’ve made a point of getting back to exploring the AM band again, because it remains the heartland of amplitude modulated broadcasting and sometimes it’s just fun to hear traffic reports from other regions of North America.

Oinky I gotta say that I think we may be coming into a prime season for some compelling and strange content on both U.S. AM radio and international shortwave. In a few days we’ll enter October, a month preceding a national election in this increasingly bizarre country of ours, and the polls still hint that the Republicans are at risk of losing the house and possibly the senate. It might just be prime time for a big political firestorm... I mean, a BIG surprise. And it’s not just the constructively paranoid types predicting it. Word is King Pig Karl Rove himself is promising something special for the faithful. So do stay tuned.

Continue reading "Adventures in Amplitude Modulation - Part 27" »

September 12, 2006

Adventures in Amplitude Modulation - Part 26

Deck_view_1 The geek that I am, when I found out we were invited to join our in-laws for a few days at a beach house rental on the Connecticut coast at the end of August, I wasn’t so much looking forward to sun and sand and seagulls. I was thinking more about the DXing possibilities.

Having a huge body of water at your backdoor is typically a fine place to set up a shortwave set to snatch wandering radio waves bouncing unobstructed from beyond the horizon. While this wasn’t exactly the open ocean, it was Long Island Sound, and it all seemed rather promising. However, from moment I powered up my Degen that first evening I began to realize that this quaint little cottage was NOT going to be the dream radio shack I had hoped it might be. Oh, the reception was pretty good, that is for the stations that were strong enough to overcome the WORST RF noise I’ve think I've ever had to deal with. I'm not kidding when I tell you that it was the worst chorus of buzzing and bleating across the shortwave dial that I’ve ever heard throughout an entire house. And the deck and yard were no better.

The problem? Technology of all sorts in every room. Every light in the house was on a dimmer switch, which are notoriously RF noisy. And entertainment gadgets were everywhere, even a TV (and video equipment) in the bathroom. Not only that, but these beach houses are crammed together on the sand, and I suspect most were loaded up with electronics and gizmos. Hell, from the deck I could see that the people next door had a monstrous billboard-size TV blasting living color chase scenes up on their wall.

Listening Fortunately, the AM band wasn’t so rudely affected by the inadvertent roar of high frequency broadcasting. So, the dial scan I offer in this post is medium wave reception from my first night there (August 28, 2006). I was near Bridgeport, with a nice view of Long Island across the way and waves crashing just a few feet from the stilts supporting the deck. Actually, sitting right on the coast of a continent provides a lot of excess noise as well, but the roar of the sea can easily be overcome with a set of headphones and doesn't affect the recording.

I was determined to overcome my RF predicament without sitting out in a parked car again, and later that weekend I walked down the beach away from all the gadgetry and recreational housing and recorded a somewhat eventful shortwave scan or two. However, after a couple hours of having a sea wind of twenty miles an hour or so blast you in the fact gets a little tiring after a while, and eventually got a little impatient sorting out faint signals. If I have time I’ll sort through those recordings and see if they are worth offering here as well.

Continue reading "Adventures in Amplitude Modulation - Part 26" »

August 22, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 25

The_city In this outlay of shortwave reception I’m back to the band I believe I’ve featured most often here– 31 meters. I guess I’ve had particular luck finding interesting broadcasts there, along with the least interference. In retrospect, that's how it's panned out  (at least in the hours I tend to listen).

And if you look at (or listen to) the reception offered in these posts, you’ll see that there’s quite a variety of broadcasts be to found in this frequency campground from North America. None of the logs I've posted from scanning this band are even close to being identical to any others. One reason of course, is that all the recordings are from different days of the week and unique times of the evening. But propagation (and local RF) is the biggest factor. Some nights you can catch Stations from the Middle East and Africa. Other nights European and North American stations are most of what you find. And now and then, a few South America signals show up on the dial. In general after dark, mainstays like KOL in Israel, the Voice of Greece, Cuba (in general), CRI, Deutsche Welle, Radio Netherlands, and Spain are usually out there and can be easily heard on this band with little effort. And then there’s always Family Radio. (As if you’d want your kids to hear that...) On this particular Friday evening scan I happened across Iran’s “Voice of Justice” (their nightly English program) for a little while. AND you can almost hear everything they’re saying through most of it.

As a shortwave listener, I must admit that I'm at a particular disadvantage. Not only do I live in a huge megalopolis full of throbbing RF. But in reality, the very worst radio noise culprits are the electronics and wiring in my house (or almost any house these days). I’ve always had the best results listening to a shortwave portable outside. Unfortunately, if I happen to be serious about DXing from home I have to park myself under the bright streetlights illuminating our stoop (with funny looking audio equipment around me), or I’ll end up crouched in some awkward postion out on the fire escape, hoping the landlord doesn’t come out to put something on the clothesline and wonder what the hell I’m doing up there.

So, when I was here at the station here in Jersey City the other night I made a point of bringing my Degen 1103 and a cassette recorder to accompany a meal I brought with me to enjoy on our back deck. (Tomato soup from a Polish deli and a cheese sandwich, if you’re curious.) Then for an hour I slowly worked all the way up and through the 31 meter band (in its slightly expanded form on the Degen-- 9000 to 10000 kHz). And well, here’s what happened:

Segment 1-31 Meter Band (9330 to 9495 kHz) 08-18-06 (Download MP3)

9330 - WBCQ - The Apocalypse Chronicles

Apocalypse_a_comin Perfect name for a U.S. shortwave show. So much of the religious and “patriot” type programming has this inherent lust for the end of humanity. I guess it must be an exciting life.

All you get here is some detailed information on how to hear the Chronicles (make sure you have a paper and pencil on hand to jot down the details).

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 25" »

August 08, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 24

Calypso Since I kicked off this blog series late last year I've not only talked about broadcast band (AM & shortwave) listening, but I've also provided audio with every post so you can hear the reception yourself. So far, all the recordings have been created by me and my dial twirling fingers. No longer.

In recent posts, I've asked readers to submit AM and shortwave recordings as content for discussion in this series. And it finally happened. Somebody came through big time. And reader Ralph didn't just provide the audio and some notes (which was all I really asked for), but also offered up informative commentary with his scan of the 25 meter band (from June 28, 2006). Thanks so much Ralph!

So, in this post you'll not only get some shortwave reception snagged by someone with more international radio experience and wisdom than me, but you also get a chance to hear a high-end tabletop receiver in action.

Scottyellin It's an extra treat that Ralph took the time to write about the reception he offered, as well as talk about his shortwave radio experience in general. While this is a wonderful bonus, if you're thinking about offering your own bandscan or radio recording, I'm really only requesting the audio along with some logging if you have it. But it sure was nice to get this whole package from Ralph, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Plenty of international voices in these archives, as well an excerpt of old Gene Scott showing why he's the still the most normal and manly evangelist on shortwave radio today, even if he's not a living being lately.

But that's only one short moment in these recordings, which are divided up into four segments (for download) from this one listening session. Frankly, this is the first scan of a shortwave band that I've heard that I didn't make myself. I love the pure happenstance of shortwave tuning, and the sport of it (listen to Ralph try to make sense of a Syrian station with his gadgetry). The truth is you can really hear stations from around the world on shortwave, but unless you're local to a transmitter there's no guarantee that you'll be able to hear almost any station (clearly) at a given time. While the reception here isn't always solid here, the scan is rich in international signals. Although it's a fact that shortwave broadcasting (especially for listeners in North America) isn't what it once was, there's still quite a bit going on out there.

More information about submitting recordings for this series at the end of the post. Meanwhile, here's Ralph...

********************************************************************

I've been listening to WFMU, the coolest radio station in the world, for something like 20 years, and was delighted when the station started its own weblog. I was delighted and surprised when The Professor started posting about shortwave radio, one of the geekiest, uncoolest hobbies on Earth.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 24" »

August 01, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 23

Scansketch_1 In the last week, I went over the tapes from my upstate NY listening session and found another interesting scan to post here. This time it’s a night hike through the 41 meter band. Audio follows the jump.

This recording is from the beginning of June, which seems like years ago as far as world news goes. With the Mideast on fire and Castro in the hospital, now would be good time to sample international news and opinion on shortwave. I wish I had the time to take a listen. Maybe this weekend. Unlike most media, shortwave radio listening can take some time and patience. And for a city dweller like me it takes some effort and dedication to escape from all the RF interference. And weather as it is, it ain’t such a swell time to sit outside with a radio either.

Next week, a special treat. Finally, a reader has actually offered up a recently recorded shortwave dial scan, along with extensive notes and commentary. And it’s a good one. Thanks Ralph!

Shortwave_moon After asking listeners to contribute radio recordings for this blog series, Ralph was the first one to come through. I had talked about what I was interested in hearing in this post, and if you think you might have something to offer (or would be willing to record some radio from wherever you might be) please send me an email. And thank to Ken Kopp in Topeka for mentioning this series on his blog and in Glenn Hauser’s DX Listening Digest, and for asking readers there to consider submitting audio for this project. Appreciate it.

Meanwhile, back to the third of June, near Catskill in the Hudson Valley, where this recording occured. That weekend the reception was strong and steady on my new Degen 1103. In the last post I offered from that listening session offered very readable reception from Madagascar, and this one touches on Southern Africa as well. But almost more significantly, I came across WBCQ in Maine coming in loud and clear after midnight (something I haven’t heard here in a while), as well as a Christian shortwave broadcast from Utah. That might not sound like much of an accomplishment, compared to picking up signals from the Indian Ocean, but it’s not always easy for me on the east coast to receive shortwave stations in the Northern Hemisphere transmitting from the continental divide and beyond.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 23" »

July 25, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 22

Michigan_backyard_1 As I mentioned in my last post, I spent a week around the July 4th holiday in Michigan. And many of those evenings were spent in my brother’s backyard scanning shortwave and the AM band for this blog series. Although I’ve yet to dig into all the tapes I recorded, I must admit that I don’t recall that any particular shortwave scan I snagged there to be as compelling as most of the ones I’ve already featured here. To me, what makes a broadcast band tuning adventure memorable is ultimately a crap shoot. It's a roll of the dice under the influence of atmospheric conditions and the happenstance of coming across interesting content. The radio dice weren't so kind this trip.

That’s not to say that in twenty or so hours of recording I didn’t capture some intriguing and revealing broadcasting along the way. But I was ultimately disappointed that most of scans didn't stand out as being blogable or as significant audio artifacts. To me, there’s several factors that make a particular scan worth posting and discussing here. While it’s always exciting to come across viable signals from very far away (or from countries I’ve rarely if ever heard on shortwave), this is an English language blog and it seems imperative to present some radio English content in the mix (although foreign music programs often have a powerful charm all their own). I think it’s safe to say that just discussing the origin of multilingual chatter isn’t what I had in mind when I started this series. And I’m sure most readers would agree.

Of course, exotic non-English programming is part of what makes shortwave so interesting. But in the end radio is supposed to be a communication medium. When I turn on a shortwave set to explore I want to receive information and ideas from around the world, as well as log some far off programming I can’t understand. Actually my recent listening sessions upstate (for only two evenings) yielded more interesting scans, and I may return to those recordings in the next few weeks. Like I said, it’s always a crap shoot.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 22" »

June 27, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 21

Porch_bright_1 This the final installment of the 31 meter band scan (audio after the fold) I began two weeks ago, recorded June 2, 2006. As I said before, it was a rewarding romp thorough one of the dozen or so allotted shortwave bands and seems to portend that there will be lots of eventful DXing to come with my new little shortwave portable (the Degen 1103).

People around the station think I have a lot of radios at home. And I do, I suppose, compared to most people. Just looking about my room here, I  see over a dozen or so. And there’s certainly more than that tucked away as well. I’d guess that two thirds of them have shortwave, as well as AM and FM. To me, a radio isn’t all that special if I can’t turn in on and hear more than just local stations. Any radio does that.

But I’m not a big collector. I don’t have the space, money or time for that. In fact, it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve gotten some decent receivers. I’ve almost always had at least a couple of radios that received shortwave around, but they were typically Radio Shack portables, or boomboxes with shortwave bands. You can certainly whet your appetite for shortwave and DXing with any number of nominal receivers, but without spending a lotta dough you can graduate up to a more sensitive set or two and be assured you'll find some interesting signals from far over the horizon now and then. And I’ve had a lot of fun doing just that working on these blog posts over the last few months.

I’ll be taking a short summer hiatus from the blog for about two weeks after this. Meanwhile, I’ll be DXing out in the midwest, recording some reception to be posted here. I’m bringing a few radios and lots of batteries. And I’ll hope you can join me here again at that time. Meanwhile here’s most of the rest of that dial scan. It’s the high end of the 31 meter band, recorded the evening of June 2, starting where we left off last week. Here's the first link... 

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 21" »

June 20, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 20

Porch_hill This post returns to a band scan I started to post last week from a listening session I recorded June 2, 2006 near Albany, New York. It's a slow cruise through the 31 meter band (9400 to 10000kHz). As with all the posts in this blog series, there’s MP3 audio you can download so you can listen along. And each frequency is listed (or my best guess), along with a brief description of each broadcast.

This was the first chance I had to play with a new shortwave portable (a Degen 1103) away from the radio interference of city life. And in this one long sweep of this band (in just a few hundred kilohertz) I picked up nearly fifty stations. I was impressed.

A good shortwave radio is truly a world receiver, and the Degen is just that. Although the fidelity of signals coming from thousands of miles away is never quite as crisp and steady as a local AM or FM station, many are quite listenable. And certainly some are difficult to hear or understand, but just knowing that they are coming through the air from so far away can make you curious to linger and try to figure out where they’re coming from, and perhaps what they're saying as well. This is DXing.

Early_1103 So, here’s some casual DXing from the East Coast. I’m not using as extra external antenna, and I haven’t researched any particular station or country to hunt out. However, I do plan to print out some pages from websites like this one and try to track down some far-flung English language broadcasts when I get a chance.

As far this scan recording, I skipped a few weak and relatively insignificant signals I happened across, and the first MP3 (or two in this post) picks up where the 31 meter band started to get interesting again.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 20" »

June 13, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 19

The_porch It was a brief foray into upstate New York, but a week ago I was able to spend a weekend away from the radio noise of the big city with my new Degen 1103. Sitting on my friend's porch overlooking the Hudson as the rain fell, I was quite impressed with the lively shortwave reception (with very little buzzing and static). I wasn’t able to spend as much time scanning as I would have liked, but even late at night there were plenty of voices to pluck out of the ether.

In fact, the first band scan I recorded (a meander through the 31 meter band on Friday night June 2, 2006) was full of broadcast. So the recording I’ll offer in this post will kick off at the first readable signal on this band and continue on for a half an hour in real time. I'll follow up with more of this scan in the next post (and perhaps beyond that post as well).

A few readers have expressed continued curiosity about my hands-on experience with the DE1103 (which I talked about in the last two post in this series, available here and here), and I have to report that I’m really happy with this gadget. It is a very sensitive little receiver, and once you get used to the odd interface it’s quite easy to maneuver the controls. Besides shortwave, the medium wave reception is quite good as well, and FM reception seems to be better than any radio I have at the house. WFMU comes in well with regularity here in North Brooklyn, and no other radio I have here dependably picks up FMU in a listenable way. 

Although the only bands easily accessible via the main controls are AM, FM and ten of the major shortwave bands, via direct entry of the frequency (on the keypad) the DE1103 picks up all frequencies between 100 and 29999 kHz. Long wave (below 540 kHz) in the U.S. isn’t really a broadcast band in the U.S., but I was digging around down there here in Brooklyn and all I was able to fish out were images of powerful New York City stations at predictable mathematical intervals. The same thing happened when I ventured about just above the U.S. AM broadcast band (1720 kHz and up a few hundred kHz). I have yet to identify images like this on the standard AM and shortwave bands.

Besides these anomalies, there’s those audible blips when cruising through busy bands and the digital edge the radio adds to some standard shortwave noise. (Though I have to admit I’m starting to become fond of how coming out of a strong frequency occasionlly sounds like you're drowning the signal or the announcer.) Other than these minor annoyances (for an analog radio fan) I have very few complaints so far. And considering I gave up less than seventy bucks (via ebay) for the DE1103, I really have nothing to grumble about at all.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 19" »

May 30, 2006

Adventures in Amplitude Modulation - Part 18

1103_2 After doing almost twenty posts in this series, my impulse is to assume that by now readers who are interested in shortwave and AM DXing are following this blog thread, and others are passing it by for less geeky content on the WFMU blog. But in case you've just come across one of these posts for the first time and you're curious, I'll quickly mention again what's going on here.

Listening to the old broadcast bands for information, sport or adventure isn't so popular in this U.S. these days, for many reasons. And since I’ve started writing these posts, I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve talked to about DXing who can more than feign an interest in listening to lo-fi audio signals from faraway places. I mean, if you experience your media from cable TV and/or through a speedy multimedia computer with a broadband connection, why should you care about complicated radios that offer sputtering static, strange noises, and people speaking in all sorts of languages you don’t understand?

For better or worse, some of us still have fun with this old technology. While it’s easy to be overwhelmed by so MUCH radio content available today– besides AM & FM, there’s internet and satellite radio and many thousands of podcasts flooding the mediasphere every week. However, there's a minority out here who continue to listen to radio the hard way and test the capabilities of our receivers. And with shortwave, it’s remains the only way to hear direct communications from distant countries without somehow going through some corporate communication infrastructure. And you throw in the entertainment value of Christian kooks who have infested the U.S. shortwave frequencies, and a few clandestine operators and shortwave pirates lurking about, you’ve got an eclectic, and often exotic, mix of programming to sample that you'd probably never hear any other way. And it’s important to mention that what has become a fringe medium in America, is still a very popular and important way to hear news, information and music in the developing world.

Tia During the cold war, back in the days before the world wide web, there was no way to hear the OTHER side, except on shortwave. Now we have other strange political and economic forces that are again dividing up our world, and creating many “others” who have disagreements with the west, especially the U.S. (For example, the English language programming on Radio Habana Cuba is NOT available on the internet.) If you REALLY want to balance your news and information intake these days, shortwave is STILL a good way to go. And your listening habits will not be logged or noticed by John Poindexter, or any of his friends. Something to think about.

Continue reading "Adventures in Amplitude Modulation - Part 18" »

May 16, 2006

Adventures in Amplitude Modulation - Part 17

Postage_1 Well, my Degen radio finally arrived from China this week. And I do like it. At the bottom of this post you'll find a few samples of shortwave reception I snagged with it on Sunday, but first I’ll offer a few first impressions of the radio itself.

As I mentioned in the last post in this series, I’ve long been eyeing this shortwave portable on the internet for over a year, and finally decided to go ahead and order one. A recent invention, the Degen 1103 is the same basic radio as the Kaito 1103 that’s marketed here in the states. After paying shipping and insurance from China via ebay, the Degen is still twenty bucks cheaper than the Kaito version. And I’m all for that.

After coming across so many fawning reviews online, I was already convinced that this radio was probably going to be a good performer. It is. That much I could tell from the moment I turned it on. Not only is it sensitive, but the digital tuning is as graceful as you’re going to find on a radio at this price. Of course, scanning the band isn’t quite as organic as using an analog tuner, but it’s damn close.

After pulling it out of the box in the early afternoon I tuned to medium wave and found a couple of fringe AM stations I hadn’t noticed before. And although I have picked up WPHT at 1210 in Philadelphia here in New York during the day before, the Degen also picked up WBZ in Boston at 1030 just past one in the afternoon. Impressive. Then later in the early evening, I found Kuwait and Ukraine coming in clean and strong on shortwave, along with plenty of other stations I didn’t bother to log.

Continue reading "Adventures in Amplitude Modulation - Part 17" »

April 25, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 16

Soviet_r311a This week back to shortwave radio-- a backwater of broadcasting in the U.S., but still a dynamic medium around the world. Although it's a relatively antique technology, shortwave still offers unique programming from distant locations on the globe with a little effort. In this post I've included the audio from the beginning of a scan of another popular shortwave band– 31 meters (9250-9995 kHz). This recording is from a week ago Sunday. Easter for some.

Again, I’m using the BCL-2000 at my kitchen table. It’s not the best receiver I have, but it suits the purposes of this series. I have a number of other analog radios I’d like to use to record these shortwave band scans, but the work of deducing the origination of foreign language broadcasts without being able to discern the exact frequency would make it even more problematic to tell you with any confidence where these broadcasts are coming from. Which leads to a bit of a confession. I’ve succumbed to a bit of gadget lust and purchased a new radio which may offer a digital band-scanning alternative to the analog BCL.

1103_face I’ve mentioned my interest in the Degen (or Kaito) 1103 in a couple of comments I’ve added to posts in this series. Along with the BCL radios, the DE1103 is a 21st century shortwave receiver that has generated a respectable positive buzz in the shortwave community over the last few years. The 1103 in general gets higher marks than the BCL series across the board (although a number of people gripe about the odd control layout). Look at some of the reviews of the radio here, here and here. Just as the BCL melds digital readout with analog tuning, the DE1103 has digital AND analog readout with digital tuning. It also has a quiet noise floor and no “chuffing” or “chugging” when traversing shortwave in 1 kHz steps. In reviews, owners say turning the tuning knob (or jog wheel) is as close you can get to manual analog scanning you can get in a digital receiver without spending the big bucks.

So, I ordered one from the commie-capitalist kingdom across the sea. When it shows here up I’ll crank the gadget up and see if it really is the band scanning tool it’s made out to be. No doubt, it seems to be a solid digital shortwave receiver, and I’ve never really owned one I actually liked. I look forward to punching in presets for favorite frequencies and fooling around with contemporary radio technology. And if this little unit lives up to half the hype I’ve read on the net, it should be a lot of fun DXing with this it out in the sticks.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 16" »

April 11, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 15

Rf2200_dial If you’ve followed this blog series at all, you know that it’s based on audio content, specifically radio reception I’ve recorded. After featuring shortwave radio in the last four posts I was ready to go back to some of the sounds of medium wave (AM) again. However, recordings I had thought I would feature were either of poor quality, not all that interesting, or missing in action. What’s worse, it took a few hours of listening and searching to figure this out.

Actually, it would have been easier to comb through some shortwave recordings I have ready to go, but now and then I do want to talk about AM radio in this series as well. While it isn't as exotic as shortwave, the AM band is very 20th century-- an era I’m still rather fond of. Instead of spending additional hours digging through boxes full of cassettes and trying to find something compelling I decided to do the obvious– turn on the radio.

In previous posts where I’ve gone over some AM stations, I’ve barely touched the higher half of the band. There’s a reason for this. A big chunk of the AM up that way is allocated to local and regional broadcasting. In other words, there aren’t any far off high power stations to clearly hear and savor. And unless you’re near one of these minor signals at each 10 kHz stop on the AM band all you usually hear is a cacophony of low power stations meekly throbbing from afar.

Radiostations Just for fun (and to generate some content for this damn blog post), I decided to explore this AM wilderness late Sunday night (the wee hours of April 10) and record the results. There are no 50,000 watt powerhouses from 1230 to 1490 kHz (and none past 1680 kHz (including the medium wave band extension up to 1700 kHz in the U.S.). And frankly, there’s not much compelling English language programming to be found from New York City on this segment of the AM band. During the day, once you get past WLIB (Air America’s home base/NYC outlet) at 1190 kHz almost everything is in another language. Mostly Spanish. At night it’s not a lot different except that multitudes of non-local low power stations fill the holes on the dial. You’ll hear a lot of that in this recording.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 15" »

April 03, 2006

Adventures in Amplitude Modulation - Part 14

Brooklyn_window_1 This entry ends a four-post arc in this series offering a station by station breakdown of 49 and 41 meter (shortwave) band reception in Brooklyn March 1, 2006 (which started with this post). The recording offered here features the second half of the 41 meter band, a very active segment of the alloted shortwave frequencies for international broadcasting. This recording takes place from just after 8:30 until around 9 p.m. EST (about 0133 to 0220 UTC). The radio I’m using is the cute and inexpensive BCL-2000, an occasionally drifty receiver with “image” issues, which happens to offer analog tuning with digital readout of frequency. Nothing fancy.

As far as the real world a month later, I’ve had rather a hectic week and the only significant time I’ve had to concentrate on shortwave or DXing has been spent reviewing the radio recording for this post. However, I can say that in my brief dips into radio reception around here that the difficulties I've had receiving many of the monster AM clear channel stations has returned to normal over the last week or so. And shortwave reception seems to be pretty good too.

Oh, and one other thing I wanted to pass on before getting right to the audio for this post. I ran into a Usenet thread in the rec.radio.shortwave group that might be of interest to some readers of this series. First contact with a shortwave radio can be a frustrating and/or disappointing experience. The reason people with an interest in shortwave radio spend so much time Yb400 researching propagation and frequencies (as well as actually logging reception), is because getting to know your way around the shortwave bands and scoring difficult to receive broadcasts is sort of a craft, a sport, even an art. But as I’ve repeatedly said, if you have a decent radio and follow some basic rules you won’t always be disappointed, and eventually you could be amazed. Rather than go into all the problems with location, interference, propagation and radios in general, you might want to take a look at this Usenet discussion. It's launched by an earnest and diligent newbie who has just purchased a Grundig Yacht Boy YB-400 (a fairly inexpensive Chinese-made digital portable) and was NOT having a rewarding shortwave radio experience up in his New England condo. And in this thread (over 70 messages long) all sorts of savvy shortwave listeners offer tips, suggestions and personal experiences that cover almost all of the main points of what it takes to get a little performance out of a shortwave radio. Recommended.

Continue reading "Adventures in Amplitude Modulation - Part 14" »

March 27, 2006

Adventures in Amplitude Modulation - Part 13

2010_1 This episode of this series continues from my evening of scanning the shortwave bands March 1, 2006. This time it’s the next hour and the next band. This is the 41 meter band (7100 to 7350 kHz), another popular chunk of the shortwave frequencies. Again, this recording is an unedited slow motion frolic through the signals using my BCL-2000, sitting at my kitchen table in Brooklyn.

And I want to again thank reader Ralph who contributed some edifying comments in last week’s post. Now I have a better grasp on tracking down “images” of stronger signals which pop up on nearby erroneous spots on the dial. This is perhaps the greatest fault of the BCL radios, and an inherent problem in single-conversion radios in general. Dual conversion sets effectively filter most images and are generally a bit more expensive.

A couple years ago, when I was shopping around for a higher end old portable I was scouting ebay and I had pretty much decided I was going to hunt down one of two classic receivers– the Panasonic RF-2200 or the Sony ICF-2010. Both are discontinued, and in good shape they generally go for about the same price on ebay– about two-hundred bucks (although a mint 2010 in its box could go for a hundred or two more). My analog instincts led to me to go after the RF-2200 and I don’t regret it. It’s a hell of a rig and it pulls the weak signals out of the ether, and is a great radio to DX the AM band. It's also dual-conversion. However, after the 2010 was mentioned once or twice in the comments section here, it's gotten me to take a second look at it. The 2010 is not as nearly as handsome the 2200 and doesn’t have that golden glow of frequencies, but I’ve come to realize that the 2010 is just one amazing device. And now my gadget lust has launched a little feedback loop in my radio heart. I want one. I really want one. However, I really don’t have the cash handy right now. But I’m looking at ‘em on ebay... Someday. You can read some reviews of this mighty little digital gadget here, here and here. It's 1984 technology that Sony happened to really get right (It was manufactured for almost 20 years!). However, If you've got some cash on your hands and you want something new, many think the new Eton E1 improves on this radio's legacy.

Continue reading "Adventures in Amplitude Modulation - Part 13" »

March 20, 2006

Adventures in Amplitude Modulation - Part 12

Brooklyn_air_king Well, it’s been a frustrating week here at my little Brooklyn Radio HQ. The main reason is that AM & shortwave reception has been just TERRIBLE. To be honest, I haven’t really dug into the shortwave frequencies much over this last week or so, but several stations I expected to quickly find haven’t been there and others are barely readable. And I can tell you definitively that reception on the AM band has been really awful. Dependable clear channel stations across the dial from places like Louisville, Baltimore, Toronto and Charlotte have been sadly difficult to discern out of the noise. Then again, there also seems to be a number of competing stations stepping on these AM giants, and barely audible stations I’m not familiar with have been showing up at other spots on the dial too. As I've made clear, I’m no radio scientist and I've decided not to spend a bunch of hours researching what's going on out there so I might seem to know what I’m talking about. But what I can tell you is that for the last week or two there’s been a BIG change in radio propagation out there on medium and shortwave, but I'm sure that will all change again soon. If you’re interested, there may be some information on what’s been happening in outer space that’s altering radio reception here and perhaps at a few of these links here as well.

Continue reading "Adventures in Amplitude Modulation - Part 12" »

March 13, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 11

Kitchen_radios1 In a real way, this post finally begins to realize the intention of this series. I come to you after a number of recent safaris of shortwave listening, and now if you’ve got a few minutes to listen a humble radio travelogue is about to begin.

In other words, a couple weeks ago I had a chance to finally spend some quality evenings at my Brooklyn apartment with a couple of radios and logged what I found. And as usual, I recorded the results. Over the course of the next few posts in this blog series you’ll be able to hear some of these dial scans.

While I’d rather do this kind of listening far from the big city, that hasn't been possible for me lately. So instead, I set up a listening station on my kitchen table, which is about as far from my computers and household electronics as I can get here. Yes, there was some residual RF-- a bit of buzzing, and whirring and crackling from time to time, but I was pleasantly surprised how most stations really overcame the noise once I got a hold of them. But I do love the rural glory of hearing SILENCE between shortwave frequencies.

What makes this different from all my previous shortwave listening, is that for the first time I’m getting a real idea of where many of the foreign language broadcasts I find are actually coming from. I’ve enjoyed shortwave since I was a kid, but I’ve never seriously logged what I’ve heard, or spent much time trying to ID non-English broadcasts. Doing this blog series has given me a good reason to research the overall potential of shortwave listening. And it’s been interesting.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 11" »

February 20, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 10

Bcl2000wbcq As promised, this post is a continuation from last week’s shortwave listening sessions from September 2004. These radio recordings offered here were received on a Tecsun BCL-2000, and the location of reception was a small town on the Hudson River not too far from Albany, New York.

As before, after the jump you'll find more MP3 samples of shortwave reception to sample, but first I want to talk specifically about the radio that I used to make these recordings. It's a practical gadget that's not too expensive.

The BCL-2000 itself can only be purchased in the U.S. via ebay. However, a couple of almost identical radios under the Grundig (or Eton) name are available in North America at a somewhat higher price and are only slightly different . Just to avoid confusion, from here on in I’ll describe these receivers as the BCL series of radios, and point out differences when appropriate.

The BCL series is a recent invention, developed and built in China and first released in 2002 (the American version, the Grundig S350 went on sale in 2003). Just like almost every other new electronic gadget, most shortwave radios are now made in China. While purists loudly bemoan the loss of new European and American receivers in the marketplace, the Chinese are making some damn good radios these days and often at an affordable price. Although the trend in shortwave has been toward digital tuning for years, the BCL radios buck this trend and have proven a popular alternative to the abundance of digital shortwave sets for sale.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 10" »

February 13, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 9

Bcl2000_1 My original intention was to get to the end of that medium wave band scan I’ve been featuring the last three entries in this series, but I’ve changed my mind. I want to get back to talking about (and presenting some) shortwave radio again.

While AM DXing is fun, scanning shortwave is frequently much more exotic and occasionally even exciting. It also requires a little more patience and something not everyone has-- a shortwave radio. However, I always want to emphasize that purchasing a shortwave radio that can pick up a lot of international broadcasting is not necessarily expensive. I just received a new tiny shortwave radio the other day that I had purchased on ebay for twenty six bucks. The next afternoon it was sitting on the table next to my computer offering a readable signal of All India Radio out of its little speaker-- some compelling music coming from the other side of the world.

As with other posts in this series featuring shortwave, I’ll be offering highlights of particular broadcasts, rather than contiguous band scans as I have with the AM posts. The main reason is that while I’ve recorded these listening sessions as band scans the same way, but there are so many foreign language stations, tedious Christians, unreadable signals and a wide variety of static and noise in between the English language programs that I can easily identify (and that you might find interesting). And besides all that, how much Christian propaganda can you handle?

Bcl200_guts So, I’ve been combing through the shortwave radio I recorded while on a weekend trip to upstate New York in September of 2004. And in the process I've excised a number of lo-fi radio nuggets for your listening pleasure. As I’ve mentioned before in these posts, late at night is not the best time to DX shortwave. While China, Russia, Cuba and a few other stations offer English broadcasts after midnight, most shortwave transmissions to the US in our native tongue can be heard from late afternoon until 10 or so Eastern Time. And during this trip I was able to squirrel away some hours during that part of the day to listen. Of course, if you wanna hear about the alleged opinions and miracles of the Christian cloud being, there’s a couple dozen stations here in the U.S. who offer that kind of programming on shortwave every hour of every day, in English and some other languages as well. They want your soul.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 9" »

February 06, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 8

Wcub_am_ln A number of comments left on these posts have said the same thing-- that this series has in some way inspired them to consider twiddling the dial of a shortwave or AM radio again to seek out some distant signals. Well, it’s had the same effect on me.

And when I do get a break from everything else I pick up one of my radios to hear what’s out there. Just recently I discovered I can listen to the first hour of Lionel’s show on WCKY in Cincinnati, and I picked up Kuwait on shortwave for the first time in ages.  But I haven’t had time to reserve a few hours to actively listen and record the results. And adding to my desire is the fact that I recently a replaced a radio I’d previously had a lot of fun with and I’m trying to figure out how to reserve a future evening or two just to play with the damned thing. But the truth is I haven't had enough meaningful spare playtime lately.

Meanwhile, to write this I’m listening to more of the medium wave dial scan recording from August 2001 that I’ve featured in the last two posts. Two weeks ago, the audio accompanying my post started at beginning of the AM dial, at 530 KHz or so. By this week I’m up to the middle of the band, nudging the knob from 910 KHz up to 1060.

Not having any idea I’d ever showcase this recording, I now hear instances where I wish I would have fought harder to pull in a station or other notches on the dial I seem to have passed over in Remote_1 haste. But that’s the thing, when you’re DXing with a decent radio it’s easy to get frustrated with the ghostly echo of an almost impossible to read signal when a broadcast less distant, but more entertaining and intelligible, is probably just a slight turn of the knob.

At this point, I’m tempted to reach for some grand metaphor comparing the DX experience to something more meaningful, but I’ll resist. In some sense, scanning the medium and shortwave bands is no more of a significant cultural act than sitting on the sofa with a remote and flipping through the cable TV channels. It’s another type of self-appointed journey through contemporary media content. However, it is more of a challenge and a far less popular form of leisure.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 8" »

January 30, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 7

Radio_shack_power_2 This post resumes where the last one left off, scanning the AM broadcast band in northern Michigan late at night August 23, 2001. I  recorded this dial scan at a campsite located on a peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan. Far from urban and residential radio interference and situated in the midst of a giant body of uninhabited water, it was a promising location for receiving distant stations.

For those who are interested in such things, my equipment was an adequate workman-like setup, using a Radio Shack ripoff of the GE SuperRadio and the Terk AM loop antenna. I’m not a fan of Radio Shack by the way. However, for many years their stores WERE practical dealers of relatively inexpensive radio gear-- especially if you had the patience to wait until certain items went on sale. But as I mentioned in the last post, this has changed.

Located just 740 miles shy of the exact center of the continent, my picnic table was a good location geographically to scan AM broadcasts at night. And the time placement was significant too. This session of radio monitoring occurred at the late end of the summer news lull preceding the onslaught of the endless media storm of fear and terror that we still can't get enough of.

On the hot seat that evening-- Gary Condit. The spooky centrist Democrat from California suspected of murder had just faced the television scrutiny of Connie Chung that evening on ABC. You may recall, there was no issue more worthy of our attention at that time. You heard some of the talk radio discussion of that TV incident in the audio presented with the last post.

But before I get into this radio reception of that evening, I wanted to say something about the practice and appeal of DXing itself, and perhaps about the art of it as well.

Ge_superadio In writing this series of blog posts (with audio) concerning a relatively obscure hobby, like DXing, I guess I’m hoping these will primarily be read by people who would never do such a thing, but are still interested in lo-fi old fashioned mass media. But I'm trying to make sure I have an idea of what I'm talking about because these will also be read by folks who also search out distant radio stations (Many who probably know about DXing than I do). As I stated in my first post, I’m a casual DXer at best and it’s my amateur enthusiasm for the avocation that I hope to pass on to readers here, more than any claim of expertise or knowledge. And in writing about a little known and possibly dying craft, I’d hope that a few readers might expand their radio diet, and that others might renew their interest in fooling around this way.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 7" »

January 23, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 6

Milky_way If you think you’ve got a decent AM or shortwave portable, but you’re not receiving much beyond local stations and static at night, there’s one easy way to give it a chance to perform. Take it outside. Most houses are full of RF (radio noise) generating devices and signal blocking material. Big buildings are often worse.

Of course, what’s better is to get away from all the buildings and electrical devices altogether. That’s why I like to DX on summer camping trips, and that’s where the dial scan I’m featuring on this post was recorded. I was in northern Michigan at a state park located on small peninsula extending out into Lake Michigan. Call me a fool, but give me a nice campsite, a few radios, a picnic table, and a few beers on ice and I’m gonna have a good time. That evening the nearby roaring fire was a bonus, as well as the black sky full of stars overhead. The sliver of a moon didn't rise in the sky until several hours after sunset and the Milky Way was a magnificent white smudge across the sky. I haven’t seen it that distinctly since that night.

Campfire I was listening to my Optimus 12-603A, also known as a "Tuned RF AM-FM Extended Range Receiver." What it really is a Radio Shack ripoff of the excellent GE SuperRadio. It’s a good receiver, not quite as super as the original GE model, which can be found easily online for around forty bucks. Both have great sound and reception, but only AM & FM. No shortwave bands.

I also had an external Radio Shack's loop antenna (15-1853) hooked up to the radio as well. Like usual, this was a Radio Shack ripoff of another (probably better) product, but it’s a powerful device for thirty bucks. Requires no batteries. You adjust its knob to the frequency you’re tuning in, and then you rotate the antenna to get the best copy of the signal. In a good DX situation like I had that night, it’s quite possible to find two or possibly three separate readable stations at one frequency by just rotating the antenna. And remember, if you're going to try this yourself the AM antenna is a typically ferrite bar INSIDE the radio (usually mounted lengthwise across the top), so you need to turn the radio itself to improve the reception, not the extended aerial which is for FM and shortwave.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 6" »

January 16, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 5

Rf2200_guts_1 This post features a few highlights from a few listening sessions from the second weekend in October of last year. I was holed up in an efficiency cottage south of Albany, and it was the last time I really had a few days to scan the bands. As I said before, when I get out of the city is when I try to listen to radio in a more meaningful fashion. For one, there’s more time without the interruptions and diversions of being home. But more importantly there’s less radio noise in lower population density areas which makes picking up distant stations more likely.

I’ve made a couple trips upstate since October, but each time I’ve stayed at a chain motel that seems to be impervious to radio waves. I assume under the concrete the damn thing was a steel building. I have actually featured radio I heard on those trips in this blog series, but if you must know the truth I recorded those listening sessions in a car sitting in the motel parking lot.

I know, I AM a geek. I kept envisioning a cop rolling up and wondering what I’m doing with a slightly exotic radio and a tape recorder out in a parking lot on a winter night. Probably receiving instructions from Al Qaeda...

Anyway, I didn’t really tune into anything especially amazing or unprecedented on that trip. Listening/recording sessions in years past have been more fruitful (and I hope to go through some of those tapes for future posts). But that weekend the noise level wasn't so bad, and the dial was full of voices. And I heard some interesting and disgusting radio, a little bit of which I will share with you here.

Soundtronic On part three of this series, a reader left a comment that he had been given a shortwave for Christmas, and was “kind of disappointed,” remarking that even late at night most of what he was able to pick up was “Christian stuff or Spanish language stations.” And that kind of thing can be a real problem for somebody who is curious about shortwave radio and tries listening to it for the first time.

For one thing, a majority of what you’ll hear moving across the dial (besides static from gadgets and wiring) is either not in English, or is some Christian garbage you wish was in an unfamiliar language. That’s because shortwave in America is mostly Christian propaganda, AND most of the rest of the world uses shortwave for information and entertainment, and most of the world's listeners aren’t native English speakers.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 5" »

January 09, 2006

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 4

Radio_post_1 Indulging in television or FM radio may be recreational behavior, but it isn’t a hobby like listening to distant stations on medium and short wave. The main reason is that DXing and broadcast band listening takes a little work-- as well as some curiosity and patience not necessary when tuning into clear, predictable and popular local VHF signals.

And it’s kind of a sport. Like fishing. The propagation of radio waves changes from month to month and day to day, and besides the local stations that are always there it’s always a bit of a mystery what you’ll find on the dial on any given evening. But perhaps the biggest draw for many of us who scan the AM & SW dial by night is the allure of novel and exotic broadcasting.

While I admit that hearing news and commentary from Atlanta, Havana or Moscow on the radio is still a little exciting to me (even in this era where you can almost do the same thing via internet streaming), it’s the fringe broadcasting, especially on shortwave, that I continue to find compelling and often humorous. And this is where the epidemic of Christian broadcasting on shortwave in the U.S. can actually get interesting for a minute.

Bcl2000 Most of audio samples I’m offering in this post are programs broadcast on the monster U.S. Christian shortwave stations. The big ones that come to mind– World Harvest Radio, Family Radio and WWCR (World-Wide Christian Radio) are really more networks than stations, with multiple frequencies broadcasting simultaneously and covering the entire country and much of the world with Christian propaganda, as well as a few shows focusing on listener fan letters and the DXing hobby, AND a startling number of programs that specialize in fear, suspicion and raw paranoia.

While shortwave doesn’t appeal to very many Americans, there’s a significant portion of the existing audience that does exist who are isolated and disenfranchised out in the heartland. And they are afraid of a lot of things most of us don’t spend a lot of time worrying about-- like the U.N., Freemasons, homosexuals and space aliens. Much of this consternation is lumped together in overwhelming concern over the coming "New World Order."  I've never been quite sure of what that the heck that is, but from what I've heard it's going to be a lot less pleasant than the old world chaos we've enjoyed over all of these years.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 4" »

December 27, 2005

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 3

Rf2200_2Very few Americans listen to shortwave radio these days. Except for a brief popularity of including shortwave bands on late 70's and early 80's boomboxes, almost no general purpose radios sold in America receive shortwave. If you’re interested in hearing shortwave radio you need to go out and purchase a special receiver just for that purpose. However, before the rise of the FM band in the 1960's, shortwave was a standard feature on many everyday radios in the U.S. Around the world shortwave radio remains a viable and important part of the media landscape. In some African countries almost every home has a shortwave receiver of some kind. And in many European and Asian countries well over half of the homes have a radio with shortwave band coverage.

Before satellite communications and the internet, the only way regular folks could hear broadcasts from around the world was shortwave radio. While AM (or medium wave) broadcasts reach a radius of hundreds of miles at night by bouncing of the ionosphere, with shortwave the effect is greatly increased and signals may travel thousands of miles, and even around the world. It's not all that difficult to pick up international broadcasts from Australia and New Zealand here in the U.S.

Unfortunately, most of the shortwave stations now operating in the United States are Christian propaganda outlets (although some do feature some non-religious broadcasting on their schedules). However internationally, shortwave remains an important source for news, information and Sackville_towers_1 cultural features. Many countries (including the U.S.) have state run international radio networks that broadcast in many languages. And although there are fewer than there used to be, many are still operating powerful transmitters that can be heard broadcasting English language programs that reach North America..

While in future posts in this series I may talk about some of the more obscure and annoying broadcasts out there (as well as a possible disscussion or two about the receivers themselves), this post will just include the audio from a few stations I picked up Christmas night twisting the knob on my Sony ICF-7600A up in the Hudson Valley. I wouldn’t call any of this DXing. Except for The Voice of Russia, all the radio I've archived here originated from the North American region. For example, the Chinese and Japanese programs captured here were broadcast from relay transmitters located in Sackville, New Brunswick.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 3" »

December 12, 2005

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 2

Holiday_icf7600a_2It was heartening and reassuring to get so many favorable comments (and emails) after my last post (which was part one of this series and can be found here). The topic at hand is the avocation of DXing-- taking advantage of the extended range of AM & shortwave broadcasts at night and listening to discover what can be heard over the radio  from your location. For better or worse, it's one of those habits most people dabble in when they're alone at night. And most of us who participate in this habit have close friends and/or partners who would probably be bored to tears or just openly annoyed if subjected to the challenging listen of trying to read a far off radio signal.

Once in my room I was sitting with a friend having a beer and just for the hell of it I switched on my old Trans-Oceanic and quickly zoomed into a faint English broadcast from Albania. For some reason I thought he would be half as curious about the discovery as I was, and for a couple of minutes I was hanging on to every word trying to hear the news from the Balkans over the noise floor in my apartment. Then I saw the pain in his face, and shut it down and put the music back on. He thanked me.

Albanian_qsl_card While there’s no shame in it, scanning the AM and shortwave dial for sport and recreation is an acquired taste. You have to be willing to put up lots of static, whistles, buzzes and some really stupid and boring radio. But it’s an offbeat way to sample some free (and sometimes fringe) media from around the country and around the world. And when you power up that receiver you never really know exactly who, what or WHERE you’re going to hear.

Winter is better in general for DXing the broadcast bands, and lately I’ve been getting better than usual reception. Since I recorded this scan of the NY upstate AM dial in late November, I’ve gotten strong readable broadcasts in New York City from several stations that eluded me that evening. But the reality is that every night is different That’s part of what makes it interesting.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 2" »

December 05, 2005

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 1

This is the first post in a series inspired by my personal radio listening habits. However, you can relax. I won’t be offering up a “connoisseur’s” list of my favorite radio stations or bragging about my personal taste in music. At least, not exactly. Often I listen to radio as an explorer of sorts. and occasionally I record some of these aural ventures. In this post (and others that may follow) I’ll offer a taste of where I go and what I hear on these radio hikes, such as they are.

Sony_icf7600a_2 Other than the Internet and my occasional purchases of the New York Times, my main source of information & entertainment comes from radio. However, what makes my media intake more esoteric than most is that I exclusively listen to AM radio and shortwave broadcasts. I don’t watch television and almost never listen to the FM band. Generally, the TV content I do take in, I now gather from the Internet. And to be honest, I occasionally do hear WFMU in the car, but at home I pick up WFMU on the computer. With 128K MP3 stereo streaming, it’s far better than the reception I muster with my radios here in north Brooklyn.

I suppose if I didn’t have all these albums, CD’s and cassettes laying around I might listen to FM more often, or even subscribe to (god forbid) satellite radio. For now, when I want music I listen to my own. When I turn on a radio I want something else. I want novelty, mystery, and most importantly something human. Every commercial music station on FM feels like it’s programmed by a committee of consultants. And even NPR sounds safe and tested these days. On AM and shortwave you're more likely to hear ad libs, idiosyncrasies, mistakes and raw conspiracy & rumor that isn’t always processed for pure potential profit. Oh sure, there ARE agendas and ulterior motives everywhere, probably just like where you work. Bottom line, most of U.S. FM radio is all about mindless listening and shameless profiteering, (Oh, and there's usually a few interesting non-profit stations at the end of the dial.) But AM and shortwave is about power, language, and cultural & ethnic identity. The “word,” whatever that’s worth these days still holds power on the traditional static-ridden bands that carry signals far distances. I like that.

Continue reading "Adventures In Amplitude Modulation - Part 1" »