Cold, Quiet Nights

The listening post has been quiet for awhile. As currently constructed (or situated, I suppose), my radio area in the corner of our “three-season-room”. That’s a fancy name for a porch that has storm windows but not heating or cooling. With the temperatures very chilly here over the past week-plus, it’s been hard to sit down and chase DX. Which is frustrating, because I’m rediscovering my love for this hobby. I want to spend my evenings sitting next to the rig, scrolling through the bands looking for new signals. I want to scroll through DX Listening Digest, read about new stations, and then be able to chase them down.

Hopfully it will warm up soon and I can get back out there. I need a few more nights with my Sangean ATS-909X to be able to write up my thoughts, too.

I must admit my receiver lust has already moved to the next phase. In those evening hours when I should be listening, I’ve been sitting on the couch watching a baseball game while I work through eBay and other swap sites, looking for deals on better DX machines. I haven’t pulled the trigger yet, but I have a feeling it’s just a matter of time before I do.

Here’s to warmer weather and good DX.

First QSL

I’ve been debating whether to jump into the QSL game or not. In my previous DXing life, I loved the chase for verification almost as much as the chase for DX itself. I haven’t dug out my old records, but I know I was bumping up against 100 countries verified. I keep my albums of QSLs in a very safe place where my kids can’t get ahold of them.

 

I wasn’t sure I wanted to add the time, effort, and expense of QSLing every station I heard now that I’m listening again. Although, with email and station websites with contact pages, for certain broadcasters it is certainly much easier to build a collection these days.

 

All that said, it was still a thrill to get my first QSL over the weekend. While listening to Red Mercury Labs last week, I fired off an email letting them know I was hearing them. That got the shout out I wrote about then. (I got another shout out from Undercover Radio this weekend). Sunday my inbox held an electronic QSL from RML. While it wasn’t quite like getting a big envelope of goodies from Moscow or Hilversam, or a package with exotic African stamps on it, it was still pretty cool.

 

I’m still not sure I’m going to go hard after the QSLs. It’s hard enough to find the time to listen without having to write reports, track them, send follow-ups, etc. But it is fun to get something back from a broadcaster, whether a megawatt international station or an unlicensed station broadcasting from the middle of nowhere.

CCRadio-SW Review

A few quick notes about my brief time with the C Crane CCRadio-SW. As a reminder, after a couple weeks of use, the audio disappeared on all AM bands and I returned it, opting to try out a Sangean ATS-909X instead of just getting a replacement.

In the brief time I had the SW, I very much enjoyed it. I specifically chose it for its old school look on top of a new school product. The big tuning knob that dominated the buttons and dials on the radio’s front. The huge speaker, reminiscent of the radio my grandfather carted around with him on weekends. The total lack of digital buttons. I just loved the look.

In practice, it worked out well. While the lack of direct frequency entry could be troublesome when attempting to check parallel frequencies, it was not a deal-breaker for me. In fact, it reminded me of the first radio I ever monitored the bands with, a Panasonic boom box that had two shortwave bands. To get from the low end to the high end of a band on it, you had to manually chug through everything in between. As I was restarting my interest in the hobby, there was a nice symetry there.

The audio was fantastic. That big speaker isn’t just window dressing. It pumps out room-filling sound. With all but the weakest signals, I could sit back and monitor just the speaker output.

I can’t make a technical assessment of the radio’s sensitivity. I only used the bult-in whip antenna and monitored from inside my noisy home. I never came aross any true DX signals, so it’s tough to say whether this radio can dig out the weak ones when connected to a decent external wire.

While the radio is on the big end of the portable spectrum, I don’t think it’s too big for comfortable use. Flip the carrying handle up and you can easily take it wherever you want to do your monitoring from. It may be more difficult to pack for a trip, but for around-the-house listening, it was fine.

Who is this radio for? At its reasonable price, with its terrific audio and ease of use, I see it as the perfect entry radio. It’s not some cheap little portable on which you’ll be lucky to hear signals from even Sackville or Havana. While I’ve been more impressed by the performance of the ATS-909X, that radio also checks in at roughly twice the cost of the SW.

The C Crane Radio-SW is no bargain bin junker. It’s a solid performaing, easy to listen to radio that is fine for anyone who wants to scan the bands or lsiten to programs and doesn’t need bells and whistles to hunt for rare DX.

Double Your Pleasure

In my past DX life, I was a sucker for getting my name mentioned on the radio. Thus, I flooded mailbag shows with letters and questions in an effort to hear my name beamed across the world.

My first mention was in the fall of 1984, when I would have been 13, during the Radio Earth program on WRNO. I had sent a letter in a few weeks earlier and listened anxiously, with a tape in the recorder waiting to hear my name. Not only did they read my letter, but I finished third in some kind of art contest and received a free copy of Larry Grove’s book (“Communications Monitoring” maybe?). The next day, I played the tape for some friends and explained that the station was in New Orleans, but could be heard all over the world. They weren’t nearly as impressed as I was.

Over the years, I flooded Moscow Mailbag with questions as I attempted to verify every Radio Moscow transmitter site. Chances are I sent a variation of the question “Do they play baseball in your country?” to every major European and Asian broadcaster.

So Monday night was a big thrill, as I heard my name on the radio for the first time since the 1980s. I decided to check 6925 kHz before heading to bed, on the off chance I would catch a pirate. Sure enough, there was something down in the noise. I switched to USB, fine tuned a bit, and heard some AC/DC booming in. A few moments later, the DJ announced that I was listening to Red Mercury Labs radio. I listened to a few more minutes, quickly searched for an email address, and sent off a message letting them know their signal was reaching central Indiana.

In the next break he acknowledged my email. My quickest QSL ever!

The excitement was doubled by the chance that this was my first ever American pirate. I didn’t chase them too often in the past, but I also don’t ever recall hearing one. Since I’m starting my stations/countries heard list over, I’ll go ahead and lock them in as my first American pirate.

Two thrills in one night, both reminders of why listening to shortwave is so much fun.

Changes, Part 1

The first of many observations about what has changed since I last was a shortwave radio listener.

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Whether you’ve stuck with it through the years, or you’ve returned to the hobby after a long absence, it’s hard not to look at shortwave radio today and be bummed about some of the changes.

With Radio Canada International being snuffed out in June, yet another giant broadcaster from my early days will be gone. My earliest listening experiences came on a Panasonic boom box that had two shortwave bands on it. Scrolling through them, RCI was one of many big time signals I could count on finding. The BBC, VOA, Radio Moscow, Radio Netherlands, AFRTS, and Deutsche Welle seemed to be everywhere, and at least one frequency was always booming in. WRNO didn’t play music that different from the FM stations I listened to, but the experience of listening to it on shortwave was somehow much cooler.

Today, most of those giants have either disappeared, scaled back their transmissions dramatically, or are just difficult to hear. Perhaps it’s just me and my location, but being an SWLer seems a lot more difficult now than it was in the 1980s.

What is most jarring to me is how quiet the 60 Meter Band is. Once I graduated from SWLing to DXing, the 60 Meter Band was my favorite playground. There was always a wonderful balance of powerful Latins at all hours, Africans late at night and in the afternoons, weaker Latins in the mornings, and a few Asian and Pacific stations that popped up around sunrise.

Today when I roll through the band, it’s mostly American religious stations, Cuba, and static. No up-tempo music from Venezuela or Colombia. No indigenous music from Central America. No morning greetings for African farmers starting their days. Not even Radio Mayak at the bottom of the band.

When I was debating whether to start listening again, that was a big consideration. Was it worth it if there were fewer and fewer of the fun DX signals, and they were harder and harder to hear? While the number of DX targets have certainly been reduced, there are still enough to keep me interested.