Radio Silence

It’s been quiet here lately. Both on the blog and in my shack. Multiple reasons for that.

 

Some of it is the beginning of summer. I now have three kids at home I need to entertain, feed, and transport to activities each day. That sucks up the time for writing and listening.

 

The R-75 hasn’t been on in several weeks. In fact, I may be putting it back on the market soon. Don’t get me wrong, I love listening to it but am constantly frustrated by the brutal local noise that knocks out roughly half the HF bands for me. I know the pickings are much more slim on the Tropical Bands than they were the last time I was a listener, but I’d at least like to have a chance to catch them.

 

Also, there is a feeling of doom hanging over shortwave broadcast listening. Radio Canada International is in its final week of transmissions. Radio Netherlands is disappearing, too. Thus two of my favorite stations from my youth will be joining many others in the archives of once-great broadcasters.

 

DXing is almost impossible and SWLing is running out of targets.

 

The other big thing that’s been taking up time was studying for my Technician Class amateur license. I was confident I had the material down, but in the final days before my exam, I was constantly looking through practice tests.

 

Well, last Monday night I took and passed the exam. I missed two questions, which annoyed me, but that really doesn’t matter. The VECs talked me into taking the General exam just for grins and, without any studying or practice of its material, I came within three questions of passing. That annoyed me, too, because I felt like had I put a couple hours into reviewing the General material, I could have walked away with those operating privileges, which are the ones I really crave.

 

After a long week of waiting, my callsign finally appeared in the FCC ULS Monday morning: KC9WEO. I bought a cheap handheld but my neighbor lent me his Yaesu FT-7800 and a small antenna to play with. I’ve just been listening so far, trying to get the lingo and rules of repeater operation down. And I’ve kept a close eye on eBay, etc. to see if any super deals on the rigs I’m most interested in show up. While I’m sure I’ll mess around on VHF/UHF for awhile, I am more interested in getting my HF voice privileges so I can work the world. Or at least try to, given the restrictions on antennas our neighborhood has.

 

So that’s where I am at right now. The broadcast shortwave adventure is winding down, but I’m moving into a whole new radio adventure that I’ll be sharing here.

 

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On the QSL Card

I’m not chasing QSLs this time around. I’ve said that before and, unless some rare station pops up – say something like the old St. Helena broadcasts – I plan on sticking to that. I may shoot off an email to a station, but gone are the days when I would meticulously record every aspect of a broadcast so I could send the perfect reception report and get that coveted QSL in return.

That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy pulling out my QSL albums from the 1980s and reviewing my first go-round as an SWL/DXer. On his photography site, Mike Osborn shared this great image and remembrance of his listening days. The Ghana and Togo cards in his picture are two of my personal favorites. I’ll write more about the Ghana card another time.

Photographic Memory

Some Early Stats

I tuned the shortwave bands again for the first time in mid-March. After a few weeks of tentative listening, I started my new log book on April 5. So, a month (give-or-take) into my third go ’round as a SWL/DXer, it’s time to share a few observations and numbers.

In that month, I’ve purchased and tested three receivers. Two were returned, the first because it stopped working within the return period, the second because I felt like I needed a more powerful receiver. Today, I’m listening on an Icom R75.

I began listening on the whip antennas on my first two receivers. Later, I strung 40 or so feet of wire in a hidden part of our backyard. When the R75 arrived, I ordered a Par Electronics EF-SWL antenna which is now installed in our attic.

I’ve discovered some hellacious noise that comes from somewhere in our neighborhood that makes listening to anything under 7000 kHz very difficult most of the time. With the exception of the high powered US and Cuban stations, I’ve yet to hear anything in the Tropical Bands.

Putting in a couple hours, at most, each day, I’ve snagged 90 stations in 56 countries. All but one of those countries are ones I logged in my previous listening years. Some very light monitoring on the ham bands has netted 16 states and two Canadian provinces.

There are a lot of frustrations regarding shortwave radio that weren’t there when I was a teenager and spending way too much time listening to broadcasts in languages I couldn’t understand. That local RF noise. Radio Canada International is about to disappear with Radio Netherlands probably close behind. There are far fewer big broadcasters aiming towards the United States than there were 30 years ago, and assorted man-made noises make it more difficult to catch the domestic stations I would love to hear.

But this hobby is still a hell of a lot of fun. I think I’ll stick with it for awhile.

Clear Path

I’m putting the final touches on my revamped shack today, and hope to write about it later this week.

Last night, though, I experienced one of the great joys of shortwave listening: an opening to a particular geographic region. I was cruising the bands around 0100 UT and kept coming across booming signals from the Middle East and southwestern Asia. Iran, India, Sri Lanka, Kuwait, and various former Soviet republics were dominating the bands. I checked off three new stations and two new countries in an hour or so of listening.

I’m not sure if any of this qualifies as true grey-line DXing, although the sun had just set at my listening post and it was roughly sunrise near each transmitter I heard. While the stations I monitored weren’t exactly tough DX targets, it was my first time having a particular region boom in since my return to listening. It reminded me of nights and mornings in the 1980s when Africans and Indos and Papuan stations I rarely heard would pop up across the bands when conditions were just right. It’s those rare occasions that hooked me on listening 30 years ago.

Trying to Hook a Big One

It was hard enough to explain listening to shortwave radio when I was a kid and it was loaded with international broadcasters booming signals around the world. It’s even harder today when getting information is so much easier.

Bill Husted wrote about this in his column for the Ventura County Star. It’s a nice piece on how retro our little hobby is.

My secret is revealed: I’m an analog guy in a digital world. Shortwave listening, once the drug of choice for nerds, is an unlikely hobby nowadays. After all, that distant station I’m straining to hear probably is also available as a crystal clear audio stream somewhere on the Internet.

Shortwave is Like a Fishing Expedition

Via Thomas at The SWLing Post.

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.

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.