Goodbye Neighbor, Hello Brazil!

Monday, August 13th, 2012

I've talked about it many times in these pages– one of the great ironies of doing this radio blog has been the fact that where I live and where I write has always been afflicted by pathetic radio reception. OK, the reception itself hasn't always been that bad, but the noise floor on AM and shortwave (the HF bands I discuss here) is often so deep in RF pollution that hearing weaker signals has either been no fun or just impossible. And some more local broadcasting hasn't been immune from some headache inducing artifacts. Occasionally I've found the electronic culprit– typically a new cheaply made power supply or battery charger we've recently plugged in here at the house.

One night when I was the only one home, I went around and unplugged everything in the house, room by room. I was carrying a portable radio around in the dark, trying to pinpoint and identify some of the offending RF. It was hopeless. I made little headway and became convinced that I was stuck in a small flat in a big town where I might never escape so much ripping static on the 25, 41 and 49 meter band, and the phhht…phhht… phhht sound on medium wave, and all those buzzes and crackles distributed across the frequencies, most difficult or impossible to null. I eventually decided all that interference was just one the prices I had to pay for living in the middle of a throbbing megalopolis.

And then, what can I tell you. Our terminally unfriendly upstairs neighbor finally moved away. I'd be lyin' if I didn't admit I was more than happy to see her go. But now… I'm almost ecstatic!

I hadn't thought much about it. Then one afternoon I realized that the AM station I had tuned in sounded…good! Really good. After so many years, something had changed! I grabbed a shortwave out of a drawer and went to the old reliable 49 meter band, and the reception was almost as clean as I’d expect to hear at the picnic table while on a camping trip. And then I knew. Things had really changed. A lot. For the first time in a long time, I could feasibly DX right here at the house. Whoo-hoo.

At this point, I’m assuming my neighbor, who was never very friendly to us and constantly took advantage or our elderly landlady, was also despoiling the airwaves surrounding my apartment for the last dozen years. Although I never set foot up there, I now imagine she must have had dimmer switches, a couple dozen "always on" gadgets, and banks of power strips loaded with used and unused power supplies– all of it transmitting noise!. But no more.

So, I say "good riddance" to that grouchy old face on the staircase! It's a new day. And frankly, the new girl upstairs seems quite nice. And quiet. In so many ways. 

So, let’s celebrate. Here’s a recording I made the other night in my kitchen, utilizing a borrowed semi-portable bruiser of recent vintage– the last of the Grundig Satellit  line, the “800.” It’s not a particularly handsome set, especially compared some of its more romantic Satellit predecessors, But it’s a workhorse with plenty of features. And it's fun to use. Thanks David!

Rádio Nacional da Amazônia  11780kHz approx. 0400 UTC 08-06-2012

(download)

In my first venture into the HF bands in this new radio quiet era around here, I happened to come across Rádio Nacional da Amazônia, as I often do. However, I’ve never heard it like this. Not at my place. Have a listen.

It’s great music… dated stuff. The station itself is apparently a domestic outlet”– public radio for the greater Amazon area, a rather huge swath of a very large South American country. This station is one of a few regional shortwave outlets in Brazil; where they’re still willing to forgo some audio fidelity in return for the inexpensive reliability and impressive propagation of old-fashioned shortwave broadcasting. While so many of the western nations have abandoned shortwave for local by-nature FM broadcasting and assorted internet options, Brazil like the other BRIC nations, buck this trend, unwilling to completely give up on the old technology. In this over-networked era, there are still some forgotten (and neglected) shortwave listeners in the states (like me) who cherish the remaining islands of sane radio modulation we can find in between so many moronic U.S. Christian and conspiratorial programers who hog the shortwave bandspace in these parts. And when you come across some pleasant music programming like this, it doesn't matter so much what languages you speak or understand. (Unless you're a stickler about lyrical content…)

While I’m a big fan of Brazilian music, and I have spent many hours foraging flea market bins and music blogs in search of it (Oh Loronix, you are missed…), I am no expert, and sadly can't name one artist on this aircheck. (Although I have gotten smarter clicking through sites like this.) There are some nice songs here, and I'd guess most or all were recorded decades ago. I think the last one might actually be a “Bread” cover, and perhaps not surprisingly I'd describe it as an improvement over the original.

And while this is very good reception, by DX standards, it would surely sound a bit strange if you're not a shortwave listener, with many varying factors affecting the quality and volume of the audio. It’s full of the artifacts of the medium, sounds some hate and others (like me) love– the sound of electrical energy full of audio bouncing from ground to sky a few times before flying into the tuner on my table.

All of it happening without my former neighbor’s sloppy electronics ruining the messy but musical analog wonder of it all. And for me, here in Brooklyn, the 25 meter band hasn't sounded this good in a long, long time, or ever.

Super Cheap, and Almost Super

Friday, November 2nd, 2007
As an urban dweller living in close quarters, I do have one luxury– my own room, or office of sorts. Maybe if you’re lucky you have one too. It’s where I write, think, browse the web and fool with audio. And being a somewhat modern guy, I do most of these things with computers. In fact there’s a few computers here, a monitor, and a bunch of external devices, power supplies and a battery charger or two. It all makes for a very noisy environment. But it’s not the kind of noise that wakes the neighbors. No, it’s the scourge of AM and shortwave listening, RF noise, that fills my room. And as someone who regularly partakes of the amplitude modulation, listening to the radio where I spend much of my time is chronically problematic.

This is why I don’t do much DXing around the house. Too frustrating. A few times I have set up a couple of radios on the other end of the apartment, but here in the big city there’s already quite a bit of RF to contend with anyway. For example, my neighbor four or five buildings down the street has some loud high pulsing noise I can hear at a certain AM frequency from my bathroom, and it’s much louder when I drive by his house. Wonder what he’s doing over there?

Anyway, I’m happy to report I’ve found a solution of sorts– a GE Superadio III. Actually it’s recently been re-branded as an RCA Superadio, but it’s bascially the same affordable workhorse that’s been around for a few decades. No shortwave, just AM and FM. While I hear the FM works pretty darn good, the Superadio really shines as an AM receiver. I have to admit that I haven’t had this radio long enough to cart it out to a good RF quiet spot (which usually means getting out of town) and actually DX with it, I can tell you that more than any other AM I own, it really stands up bravely to the RF barrage. It’s quickly become my radio of choice while I work and write here at the house.

Typical AM DX mainstays around here like AM 740 and CBC’s 860 frequency in Toronto, and WBT in Charlotte can indeed be heard here at night with the Superadio only a few feet from three computers, albeit with a thin layer of noise on top. Which is actually pretty impressive. But what it does really well for me, is bring in many local stations with clarity in the midst of a lot of RF pollution.

And it sounds good too. Has a large six inch speaker and a tweeter for the highs. It’s quite loud if you want to crank it. On the downside, it’s a bit big and not so portable. It’s made in China these days, and the "feel" of the workmanship and the response of the controls tells you that this is not a luxury item. Some people might be put off by the analog tuning, which I have little problem with on medium wave (it’s a bigger issue with shortwave tuning). Speaking of that, perhaps the most annoying issue is the AM dial calibration is WAY off. And unlike the RF-2200‘s beautiful analog tuning setup, the frequencies are increasingly closer together as you go up the dial. On mine, twenty or so AM frequencies occupy the first half of the dial, and the other ninety-some occupy the second half. Somebody’s posted a rather technical and difficult fix for this here, and I see that if you buy the radio from C. Crane they’ll fix this up for you for an extra ten bucks (on top of fifty for the radio, and the shipping).

From what I’ve read online, what accounts for the Superadio’s good behavior in a heightened RF environment also accounts for the sloppy tuning scale situation. Unlike the Superadio I and II, the third version uses something called varactor tuning diodes instead of the usual variable capacitor tuning. In retrospect, what seems to have happened was that during the process of upgrading the performance of the Superadio in the early nineties, they didn’t complete the job of perfecting the interface.

However, if you know the AM dial well and have patient tuning fingers you can work around the dial issues. What makes this radio worth having is that it’s a time-tested performer. It also sounds good. And it’s inexpensive. I found one brand new on ebay for just over thirty bucks, and only ten dollars shipping. Hell, that’s what? Two or three large pizzas? Otherwise you can find the Superadio for forty of fifty dollars in many places online, and in some stores as well I’ve never seen it in a store, but I read that some carry them. Other than J&R in downtown Manhattan I never see DX worthy radios in stores these days. (For fun, go in a Radio Shack and TRY to find the radios.)

I already knew this was a decent radio to have around, and when found it selling at such a bargain price I impulsively bought one for myself. I actually already had a Radio Shack copycat version of the Superadio, which isn’t bad either. But the real thing outshines it. If you look online, there’s quite a mythology/community surrounding the various versions of the Superadio. All three are good radios, and can be found easily on ebay. And if you’re looking for something more classic and handsome, the great granddaddy of the Superadio series, the GE P780 (from the early 1960′s) shows up on ebay now and then. From what I hear, it’s a helluva of a performer. (I’d love to snag one someday.) For a little radio history, you can pick up a little here from one of the key developers of the P780, Conrad Jutson.

Looking forward to taking this black plastic box into the hinterlands (along with my external loop AM antenna) and hearing how it performs in the wild. Speaking of that, while I don’t have any audio from the Superadio to offer here yet, I do have a video. It’s nothing I made. I just came across it on YouTube in the middle of a web search. It’s a quick daytime DX scan of the AM band (from Pennsylvania perhaps) with a Superadio II. While none of the reception is logged or identified, he does pick up nearly seventy stations in one sweep of the band.

While I’m not sure I’ve ever come across an audio archive a radio bandscan on the web (other than ones I’ve posted), not long ago I discovered that there’s actually quite a number of videos of bandscans posted on YouTube. Search under “bandscan” or “dxing” and you’ll find quite a few. However, no videos I’ve seen make a point of identifying much of the reception they come across, but it’s interesting and a little enlightening to hear (and see) what other radios in other places can access out of the ether.

And for me it’s reassuring to know other people do such things, and admit it online. That’s part of why I started this blog, to know that there’s other people who sit alone (typically at night) turning knobs and listening intently, and have a good time.

Adventures in Amplitude Modulation – Part 18

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

1103_2 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.

And me? I’m still fooling around with my new receiver, a Degen 1103. I was finally was able to record a couple of decent shortwave dial scans with it. Not fascinating samples of international broadcasting, but viable samples of shortwave reception from the middle of this massive megalopolis. Scroll down for some MP3s from a scan of the 41 meter band from last Friday.

Dx_guy_1 It’s been several months since I’ve had a chance to do some DXing without struggling with the dense radio noise floor of city life. But next weekend I’m going to spend a couple days 100 miles or so north of New York, and I look forward to lots of silence between frequencies and hopefully pulling in some stations I’ve never heard before.

And in this dial scan you’ll hear some of the RF noise you can’t escape on AM and shortwave around here. After a couple weeks of playing with this portable, I can tell you that twirling the tuning knob of the Degen 1103 IS similar to an analog setup. However, as I mentioned in the last post there are some quirky digital artifacts audible as you move through the numbers. And what I’ve also noticed is that some RF noise is just WORSE with this digital receiver. It’s like a nasty buzz or roar coming out of the speaker gets an added jagged digital edge that even grates on MY nerves, and I’m fairly immune to the static, buzzes and crashes inherent in shortwave listening.

Dx_guy_2 All that said, there have been some nights when I’ve had a few minutes to step outside and quickly skip through the bands, and this little Degen just throbs with reception across the dial. It’ll be nice to sit out on that porch upstate and take some time to find out what’s out there.

And lastly, I’d like to solicit some readers of this blog for some audio content. While I’ll continue to post my own radio recordings here, I’d like to have a wider variety to offer. If you have some interesting shortwave or AM DX recordings to share OR have the ability to make some I might be able to use here, please send me an email. Off the top of my head, here’s some of the kinds of radio recordings I’d be very interested in checking out for possible inclusion here:

1. Historic shortwave recordings. Any compelling shortwave radio from the past, especially from the cold war era and before. Strange, historic, or rare recordings would be nice, but not necessary. Please include ID’s of stations or logs if you have them.

2. Interesing shortwave or AM radio (or long wave) recordings from around the country or the world. ID’s or logs would be very helpful. Let me know what you have, or can get.

3. Bandscans. Anybody with a decent receiver who can scan the bands from other parts of the country or the world, it would be great if you could offer a sampling of what can be heard where you are, or have been. I would prefer if you would spend some time on interesting broadcasts you come across, and again logs for these recordings would be ideal. I’d like to get some AM dial scans of the AM dial from other areas of North America especially. It would be nice to get complete journey’s of the dial, from 530 or 540, up toward 1700 kHz. Contact me if you have questions or ideas. Any dial scans from decades ago would be VERY welcome here.

Dx_guy_3 I can’t promise I’ll use anything for sure, but it would be great if you could offer your listening experiences for consideration. Ideally, I’d like it to be in an mp3 format I could snatch from you over the internet, but CD’s or cassettes via snail mail would be fine as well. If I could just get even a few DXers to regularly contribute it would really add a lot to this little funhouse. I’ll certainly credit you if I post your recordings. If you think you might be able to offer something, please DO send me an email.

Meanwhile, here’s a partial scan of the 41 meter band I recorded in Jersey City last Friday just after 7 p.m. (2300 UTC). There is some raw noise from time to time and reception wasn’t fantastic, but there was a variety of international content in between the domestic bible bangers. And here’s what it sounded like…

Segment 1 – 31 Meter Band 05-26-06  16:14

(download)

9330 – WBCQ – “The Good Friends Network”

And a big chorus of Caucasian hallelujah to you too!.

Kol_small_19345 – KOL Israel

In Hebrew. "Nel blu dipinto di blu" (Volare) however, is definitely Italian. I’m surprised I don’t hear more English content from Israel.

9355 – (unknown)

I thought this was the Catholics on EWTN, but it doesn’t sound like religious content. Russia broadcasts on this frequency as well. Any DXers or Spanish speakers have a clue on this one?

9370 – WTJC – The Fundamental Broadcasting Network

Oh boy. You hear this kind of thing a lot on Christian shortwave, a dramatization of bible “history.” Typically, these are “news” constructs, with a make-believe correspondent at the Adam_eve_snake crucifixion or something. But this is different. It’s a soap opera (or sitcom) set at the VERY beginning of humanity. And in this clip you’ll hear the first quarrel EVER. I guess that’s what can happen if you ascend to a higher state of existence– You can disagree. 

In mainstream monotheistic theology, it’s how we “fell from grace.” Apparently, Adam and Eve could have frolicked forever in happy-go-lucky ignorance, but a certain snake came along and led them to snack on the fruit that imparted them with the weighty knowledge of good and evil. Oops. I guess one way to piss off a power hungry supernatural being is just to get smarter.

The Gnostics, on the other hand, had a completely different interpretation of this story. They saw this act of rebellion against god as the first act of human salvation against a cruel and oppressive creator. And the snake– a GOOD guy. While I don’t personally look for guidance from bible myths and allegories, the Gnostic interpretation of this narrative makes a lot more sense to me.

As I said, these reenactments are popular fodder on religious shortwave stations. I guess these religious dramas make the bible more REAL for believers. And you wondered why the fundamentalists are so frightened by that DaVinci code movie. Fictional entertainment. It’s powerful stuff.

And my god, the AWFUL noise scanning out of this frequency.

9415 – Radio Prague

VERY faint. A song and a lotta noise. Not really listenable.

Vog 9420 – Voice of Greece.

A slightly anthemic pop song. Female singer. Greek I assume.

9500 – Radio Bulgaria

Extremely faint. Scanned right past it.

9525 – Radio Netherlands

With all the monks and reverb that popey sound in the background, I figured it was EWTN. But, perhaps it’s a documentary feature on Catholics. I don’t know, but I think it’s Dutch.

9535 – Radio Exterior de Espana

Sounds like news, delivered at a rapid pace in Spanish.

9545 – Deutsche Welle

The same as above, in German.

Segment 2 – 31 Meter Band 05-26-06  12:17

(download)

9700 – Radio Bulgaria

Commentary in English. A bit muddy and a lot of fading.

Rdp 9715 – Radiodifusao Portuguesa

Loud and clear. A cheery pop number. Sounds like the 1980′s. A funky little toe-tapper with complimentary shortwave phasing effects.

9725 – Gene Scott

Mr. Scott bragging about his huge broadcasting presence. This particular broadcast is coming from Costa Rica, by the way.

Although Gene Scott no longer walks the Earth, he seems to have found immortality on shortwave. As long as the money keeps coming in.

Ouch! The NOISE after moving past this frequency is nasty.

9840 – WHRI (World Harvest Radio) – Radio Liberty

Old Stanley Montieth. Barely readable.

9855 – Radio Kuwait

A drama of some kind, in Arabic. I wonder if snakes are involved?

Rv_1 9875 – Radio Vilnius

The beginning of the Friday English language program from Lithuania. This is old fashioned international broadcasting. Quite listenable, with a little throbbing as the radio waves bounce over the Atlantic. In general, countries that used be part of the eastern bloc are more likely to maintain an English language service to North America than the rest of Europe.

The news focuses on an ongoing Lithuanian corruption scandal. I guess we have more in common with the E.U. than I thought.

9895 – Radio Netherlands

In Spanish…

9925 – Hrvatska Radio

Sony_sw_1Croatian folk rock, I guess. Spooky with a flute.

9975 – EWTN

Everything you need to become a do-it-yourself Catholic apologist by simply utilizing your internet browser. A very slick promo.

9985 – WYFR (Family Radio)

Just a few seconds of Protestant profundity, prophets and persecution. It’s palpable.

That’s it for now. Ane to those of you who have linked to this site, I thank you. I really appreciate it.

As usual, thanks for listening.

(This post originally appeared in Beware of the Blog.)

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 17

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

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 my last DX post, 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.

De1103_display_1 Because propagation on AM and SW varies so much, if you’re going to dig into a section of the radio band to explore what’s out there, it’s good to be able to sample some bands first to find out where the action is. Unlike playing with an analog set, you can’t whip through the dial and pick out signals quite as quickly with the 1103. But even when I speed though the numbers at top speed I do get a sense that I’m hearing a viable sample of each 1 kHz stop along the way. Which is unlike my other digital portable (a Sangean ATS-505) where it takes a fraction of a second for each step to reveal itself. Zooming through a band at a rapid pace yields a bunch of useless silence. As reader Ralph noted on a earlier post, high end digital receivers have a much greater resolution (smaller “steps") and scanning is practically the same as using an analog rig. But for eighty (to a hundred) bucks this radio gets the job done.

The pseudo analog tuning display isn’t necessary, but it does give you a helpful visual roadmap of where you’re at. I do wish the numerical readout was a little larger. This is where the BCL-2000 is better in low-light or in the dark. The display is brighter and numbers are larger. Also the “jog dial” which you use to tune the DE1103 also serves a number of functions, most notably the volume control. It takes a minute to get used to, but I didn’t find it nearly as annoying as other reviewers did. As far as actual scanning, going through the dial can yield a mild chirp between steps if you’re passing a number of active frequencies. In general, scanning slowly solves this digital annoyance, but not completely.

E51103 I also should note that it seems the same basic radio with a big fat numerical readout instead of an extensive analog dial simulation is now available. It’s the Eton E5 (which was supposed to be released as the Degen 1106, but they sold the design to Eton). From what I’ve read, it’s the same basic receiver as the Degen 1103 with a more traditional shortwave radio layout and has more presets available. However, the E5 lists for around $150 and to me those features aren’t worth an extra seventy bucks.

Wqewdj_jazzyjenn As I’ve noted before, I live very close to a booming clear channel AM station, WQEW at 1560 kHz. On other radios I have here (especially the BCL-2000), nearby frequencies are wiped out by WQEW. With the 1103 I can now hear WWKB at 1520 in Buffalo and WCKY at 1530 in Cincinnati. Also the image of WQEW blasts in on 650 kHz on the BCL. With the Degen I haven’t been able to pull in WSM in Nashville there yet, but WQEW’s Radio Disney bullshit doesn’t haunt that frequency on the Degen. I also heard a listenable read of WLS at 890 in Chicago at night, which is a real feat considering the wide swath of bandwidth WCBS (at 880) grabs here in the city.

So, I look forward to taking this little unit away from the city and hearing what I can DX under better conditions. My apartment is an RF nightmare. I tried plugging in an external antenna (the radio comes with a LONG one) and was totally frustrated by how the just pulled in MORE noise. That night I also found out that the little battery charger for my digital camera blasts a nasty pulse on the 41 meter band.

De1103_1 Bottom line, I’m already recommending the Degen (or Kaito) 1103 to readers who might be thinking about purchasing a relatively inexpensive shortwave radio. From what I can tell, before now you couldn’t purchase a new radio with this kind of overall performance for near this price. The BCL radios are nice, and I do recommend them as well, but I have to admit that while I like some features (notably analog tuning with an easy to see digital display and an RF gain control) A LOT, I’m more enchanted by what the BCL radios could or should do rather than the actual experience of how it performs in real conditions. Let’s hope later models are an improvement.

While I picked up a some interesting stuff playing around with the Degen this weekend, I wasn’t able to record a dial scan I’d want to present here. Reception wasn’t what it was a day or two before and the weather here in the northeast has been really lousy. There was plenty of lightning out over the horizon playing havoc with the AM and shortwave bands. On Sunday night (Mother’s Day) there was no rain here, so a little after eight in the evening I sat on my front stoop flipping through the 41 meter band and caught a few broadcasts I thought I’d share. For the first time I picked up a couple of shortwave pirate broadcasters, which was almost exciting. At least for me.

Hopefully over the next couple weeks I’ll be able to offer a dial scan or two more representative of what the 1103 can really do. But for now, this post offers four radio samples which represent the DIY side of shortwave. Some (or all) of this programming probably originates from the homes of the broadcasters themselves. While much of the shortwave you’ll pick up in the states is major international stations and Christian U.S. goofballs, there is more to be heard.

Here’s the audio…

6925 – The Voice of Mike Gaukin  3:17

(download)

Ssb_book This is an SSB (or sideband, broadcast). Again, I don’t want to get into too much technical radio talk, but sideband is different than typical amplitude modulation, or AM broadcasting. From what I understand, the signal lacks a “carrier” and is more “efficient in its use of electrical power and bandwidth” than AM. In other words, you get more bang for your buck on the transmitter end, with the signal having a greater reach with less power. It’s a favorite method of broadcasting for hams and radio pirates. And this is most certainly pirate programming.

While any shortwave can receive an SSB signal, but to be able to make any sense of it you need to have a radio with an SSB or BFO feature. When you tune one of those muffled and/or buzzy voices, switch on the SSB capability and “clarify” the station with a tuning knob until the voice starts to sound human. The Degen 1103 and my Panasonic RF-2200 both have this feature, the BCL radios do not. Without it you do miss some of what’s available on the dial.

Although I’ve heard a number of recordings of shortwave pirates this is the first one I’ve come across that I recognized was one (Of course, often I wasn’t able to access an SSB signal). Every shortwave pirate recording I’ve heard always sounds like crap as far as signal quality, and this one was no exception. It starts out with that “bound and gagged” sound of untreated SSB, then when I push the SSB button and tweak the wheel it quickly clears up.

It starts out with a juvenile Opie and Anthony phone prank, which I gather involves calls to (auto parts?) stores and repeating the word “buttplug” over and over again with a variety of intonations. This confuses and frustrates the store clerks on other end of the line, and well.. hilarity ensues. Oh, your sides will ache…

Fag_hater Anyway, then a male voices announces that he is “The Voice of Mike Gaukin” as well as “a gay faggot.” (Which is I gather must be the opposite of a straight faggot.) The there are references to “Kracker Radio” and another pirate group (I guess?) “The Bowling League.” And to add to the fun, the announcer has electronically mutated his voice, and this could fool you into thinking you haven’t correctly tuned into the sideband. I guess there’s all sorts of ways to have fun.

I don’t get capture much of this “program.” Just over a minute here. At 8:23 EDT (0023 UTC) it’s all over and the static takes over. So, who is Mike Gaukin and why is he investing his time and electricity to tell the world about his gay faggotry? Well, some internet searches bring up a number of references to the “Voice of Mike Gaukin” pirate broadcast. And from the time I’ve spent browsing around, it seems that Michael Gaukin is a real guy and “Kracker” of Kracker Radio doesn’t like him very much, and has an ongoing slander campaign going online and on the radio. Here’s an alleged rap sheet on Gaukin from Kracker’s site.

Or maybe there’s something totally different going on. I have no idea. It’s all a bit too teenage boy for my taste. But if you want to dig deeper into the Mike Gaukin mystery, you can start here or here.

6950 – Kracker Radio  4:01

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Pigbanner_2 Then a few quick nudges of the knob and I’ve found Mr. Kracker himself. This pirate broadcast is straight ahead AM and not sideband. Electric guitar with an effects pedal. Then an electronically tweaked voice which sounds suspiciously identical to the Voice of Mike Gaukin. Although it’s not easy to sort out the collage-ish interlude between songs, references to penises and marijuana are evident. Then it’s King Missile and “Detachable Penis,” which I cut off here when the storm static was eating up the signal.

I’ve read that this little piece of property on the 41 meter band is quite popular with shortwave pirates. Weekends (and perhaps holidays) are supposedly good times to look for them. I’m not totally sure if these two broadcasts are from the same person, or just related persons, but the content is the same junior-high wiener wagging fun.

But, isn’t it something? Young guys with some radio equipment more or less have access to the world airwaves and it’s all about their little dangling dachshunds and their favorite sphincter muscle. Sheesh. I thought the Christians were like broken records.

I’d guess both of these pirate broadcasts originate from somewhere in Ohio.

7240 – Southern Ham Operator  1:07

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Ham_radio_operator Again, this is SSB and you can clearly hear the process of tuning in a sideband signal. Ham (or amateur) radio is a great broadcasting tradition– usually guys in their gadget rooms filled with legal radio equipment (and licenses) who chat among themselves on specific frequencies, sometimes talking to fellow hams around the globe. Not all use sideband, but most do. The conversations are often a bit boring and from what I’ve heard there’s a lot of discussion about the trivial details and functions of their radio equipment, or just small talk about what’s going on around the house that day.

That said, hams also provide an important free-standing network of communication around the country and the world. It’s not all fooling around.

This clip is awful short. Just a good-bye really. And the accent? I think either Tennessee or the Carolinas. Of course, he could be broadcasting from anywhere, probably in the eastern U.S.

7415 – WBCQRadio NewYork International  19:31

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It’s WBCQ again, the most creatively programmed shortwave station in America. Yes, there are some scary jesusmongers and right-wing freaks on WBCQ too, but there’s also some entertaining talk and music programming for a change, especially on their 7415 kHz signal.

Johnny_1 This is Johnny Lightning’s “Radio NewYork International,” a Sunday Night talk and comedy show originating live from Brooklyn. I don’t know how he gets the audio up to the transmitter in Maine, but I imagine it’s via a phone line. Johnny takes calls and chats and rants and generally seems to have a great time every Sunday night.

The name of the show comes from the original Radio NewYork International, an offshore pirate station in the late 80′s (run by WBCQ head honcho Allan Weiner, Mr. Lightning and others) located on a ship off Long Island which the FCC shut down in 1988.

RNI is a solid four hours of homegrown radio, with lots of bits and jingles and some serious issues occasionally broached amid all the silliness. It’s a New York City radio broadcast to the world and it’s too bad more people in the city don’t even know it exists. It’s a freewheeling (and frequently manic) onslaught of opinion, stories and bad jokes, and like some of the best shows on WBCQ it’s as human and entertaining as American shortwave radio gets these days. In this sample you get almost twenty minutes.

Thanks for listening.

(This post originally appeared in Beware of the Blog.)

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 16

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

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 my purpose. 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.

Hong_kong_radio_fair While the 1103 seems to be both a groundbreaking and relatively inexpensive (less than $100) SW portable, Degen has a higher end receiver in the pipeline that’s got a lot of radio geeks twitching in anticipation. It’s the Degen 1108, a larger and more substantial portable offering SW/AM/FM/LW (and air band) with two four inch speakers AND the ability to record radio as MP3 files! (Now THAT sounds like a good idea.) And, of course it plays MP3′s as well. There’s plenty more bells and whistles being integrated into this thing, and it seems like the designers are actively considering the desires of shortwave radio listeners. It sounds like it could be quite a rig. You can read more details here. The Degen 1108 (Chinese model) is supposed to be available by the end of this year, and an International/American (probably branded as “Kaito”) version should follow shortly. I have not been able to find any pictures of a DE1108 prototype online yet. If you’re really interested in this radio, there’s already a Yahoo group established with ongoing discussions about the possibilities and potentials of this new receiver.

In the meantime, here’s an early evening band scan from Easter Sunday 2006 traversing the dial with my BCL-2000. I had jumped around on different bands trying to figure out where to listen, balancing out trying to find a busy spread as well as figuring out where I had the best chance of getting over the inherent RF noise of my Brooklyn apartment. 31 meters seemed to offer a decent scan and not as much noise, so at around 6:43 EDT (or 2243 UTC) I hit record and jumped in around 9200 kHz and started up the dial. And here’s what happened.

Segment 1-31 Meter Band (9355 to 9555 kHz) 04-16-06  19:03

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Ewtn_eggs 9355 – EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network

In Spanish. Sounds rather holy, but it’s Easter for Christ’s sake.

9400 – KOL Israel

In Hebrew, I believe. Two men, one interviewing another on the phone. Sounds like serious business. Probably a political discussion.

9420 – Voice of Greece

Lots of loose RF stepping on this signal, with a gentleman speaking at a rapid pace, all which makes this broadcast sound even more Greek to my ears.

All the noise at this frequency is just awful. What’s broadcasting this mess? My refrigerator? The fuse box? Some power tools down the street? Whatever it is it’s got me looking forward to sitting on the porch of my friend’s house upstate listening to low volume signals like this accompanied by silence.

9505 – RDP Internacional Portugal

Quite a bit of noise here too, however the man and woman speaking here sound much more relaxed than the announcers on the last two frequencies.

9545 – Deutsche Welle

A steady stream of German speech. It doesn’t sound like news.

9550 – Radio Habana Cuba or Radio Rebelde, Cuba (?)

A fairly clear signal, male and female tag team announcers. At first I thought that this might be China or Vietnam broadcasting in Spanish. But it’s just a little too late for the Spanish broadcast from Vietnam and the Chinese transmissions on this frequency emanate from China and would be unlikely to come in this strong on my setup in Brooklyn. It sounds to me like the announcers may be giving out program schedule information. And from the clarity, I’m betting it’s Cuba. Both of these networks are said to broadcast at this frequency. Any enlightenment on this one would be appreciated.

9555 – The Broadcasting Service of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Saudi_stream_image_2 A half million watts from all way from the Arabian Peninsula. I’ve never heard any English broadcasts from Saudi Arabia on shortwave. As I was writing this I started listening to this webstream– their European service broadcasting in English. I heard an editorial about how Western style “democracy” doesn’t work in Islamic countries and how it sets free the “animal appetites.” Unfortunately, once I realized it was pretty interesting stuff I wasn’t able to get a recording setup together before his calm and deliberate diatribe gave way to some rather pedestrian techno rock. 

Listening to this anti-Western editorial make me think of two things. For one, there really are still a lot of interesting radio broadcasts to be found on the internet (IF you’re willing to suffer through some dodgy sounding digital compression). This site has been a good portal for “scanning” international radio on the internet for ten years now.

Saudi_announcer Secondly, the editorial I heard further illuminates the paradoxical relationship between the Bush Regime and their good friends in the Saudi government. The state-sponsored broadcast I heard was the antithesis of support for the supposed “democracy” that Bush seems to think we’re fostering in Iraq. Anyway, back to the band-scan.

Here in phase-ridden (and occasionally fading) lo-fi is an extended 12 and a half minutes of vintage Egyptian pop music. I took the tape to a couple of my Yemeni friends down at the local bodega and they recognized one of the songs immediately. And they were both quite effusive about the greatness and beauty of the number. And I had to agree. I understand I’ll now be getting a dub of the guy’s greatest hits next weekend. Nice.

Degen1103box As you can hear, the broadcast from Saudi Arabia ends abruptly without notice right at the top of the hour. It’s seven p.m. local (EDT) time here, 2300 UTC

In the next chapter– either more of this recording, or I’ll jump to a band scan of the 25 meter band from the same evening which might have been more interesting. Or maybe that little Degen will arrive from China, and I’ll hop on that little horsey and go for a ride. We’ll see..

Thanks for listening.

(This post originally appeared in Beware of the Blog.)

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 11

Monday, March 13th, 2006

Kitchen_radios1In 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.

Again, I’d like to emphasize that I’m not a shortwave or DX expert, and I’m using relatively inexpensive equipment. Many of the stations I’ve logged here from faraway countries could have been heard by anybody with a radio that might cost as little as twenty or thirty bucks. The only real tricks to this is having a slow and steady grip on the tuning dial, listening carefully, and occasionally adjusting the whip antenna. And then all it takes is a little patience and curiosity to make it all happen.Kitchen_radios3_1

I doubt there’s anything I heard during these sessions will impress any serious DXer’s out there. And while the experience and resources of a true enthusiast would make most of the discoveries I made during my dial scanning seem pretty commonplace, I still find receiving mainstream shortwave broadcasts from Europe, Asia and the Middle East pretty fascinating.  And while I only speak English, I still find the formatics and technical aspects of the radio production worth a listen, and music itself transcends language anyway.

As I said in my first couple posts in these series, one of the things I that keeps me listening to shortwave is that compared to almost every other kind of broadcasting, it isn’t just about money. In fact, there’s almost no profit motive in most international shortwave broadcasting. Almost all the international stations you hear on shortwave are subsidized by governments, international organizations or (especially in the U.S.) religious groups. Unlike TV and the AM & FM bands, for the most part shortwave is not about providing content that will keep you listening between the commercials. It’s a raw lo-fi medium for spreading information, ideas and opinions.

British_empire Without the need to titillate and stimulate that is inherent in more capitalistic media, shortwave (and to a much lesser degree AM) radio gets right to the heart of spreading memes without all the hullabaloo and sideshow action. That said, whoever is paying for all that electricity, air talent and overhead to reach radio listeners around the world probably has an agenda. Even the BBC World Service, the gold standard in disseminating unbiased news to the world via shortwave, still caries the worldview of the western powers and Europe, and could be interpreted as a relic of the global caretaker mentality of the former British Empire and the subsequent British Commonwealth

While the BBC of late has had it’s share of disputes with the government that funds it, there’s still an element of the centuries western grip on the dissemination of information around the world. And when you hear the news from Israel or Turkey or China you know you’re hearing facts and stories that are coming through the filter of the culture and government of that area of the world. But if you know a little bit about geopolitics that isn’t such a bit deal. You can decode the information with your own knowledge or understanding. To me, it beats the hell out of the news for profit model that has model that has poisoned mainstream American media.

Jesuslordwhatever Then there’s the religious broadcasters, mainly of the Christian persuasion. In this series I’ve bemoaned the fact that the U.S. shortwave scene is totally dominated by followers of Jesus and Mr. Almighty (and I’m never quite sure if they’re the same guy). And in the American tradition, some of these holy morons actually profit from their broadcasts by begging in the name of the cloud being. The sad fact is that most Americans don’t even know what shortwave broadcasting is, let alone listen to it. And like once thriving cities gone to decay and ghettoization the American shortwave bands are overrun with thugs and gangsters who have taken over. And Jesus is the godfather. Luckily, the rest of the world is different.

This post begins an excursion into the 49 meter band. This little section of the shortwave expanse includes the frequencies between 5950 and 6200 kHz. While shortwave covers almost 30 megahertz of space on the band, standard broadcasts are generally only found on a dozen or so little parcels within that range. And in the evening, the 49 meter band is the most crowded band out there. And this scan begins just before seven in the evening Eastern Time, prime time for international broadcasting to the U.S. After midnight, it would be overrun with bible bangers, but at hour they are only part of the mix. Thank god.

Red_bcl2000_front_2 This dial scan was recorded Wednesday March 1 on my BCL-2000 (a radio I discussed in detail in this post). What I really like about his radio is that it has analog tuning which allows you to tweak the tuning by microscopic increments AND displays a digital readout of the frequency so you can truly track where you are on the dial. And while years ago I would have had to subscribe to newsletters and buy books to track my way through the shortwave savannah, these days the resources of the mighty internet are enough to guide anyone through the roving packs of shortwave broadcasts out there. By the way, if anyone reading this discovers that I have mistaken one station for another in this post, please do send me an email and I’ll check it out. And if you like, I’ll credit you for correcting me as well.

So, this is part one of this foray into the 49 meter band that I’m offering you. I’m dividing the audio segments that accompany this post into 10 frequency captures. In general, I stay on each station as long as it happened to be interesting to me at the time. These particular scans are in real time, no edits. It will give you an idea of how crowded the 49 meter band actually is each evening.

I welcome questions and comments at my email address here. But if your input might benefit other readers I’d appreciate if you left them as comments on this post. If topics here interest you, but you’ve not come across this blog series before, I invite you to check out the other posts in this series here. All posts have accompanying audio.

Lastly, let me say none of this is easy listening. There’s static, funny noises and foreign languages. But what you will get, that you might not discern if you’re not an experienced shortwave listener, is a feel for what can actually be heard if you take the time to figure out what you’re receiving on a shortwave radio. The difference here is that I’ve done the work for you. You know, these radio waves are all around you every day. All you have to do is tune in…

Segment 1-49 Meter Band (5920 to 6215 kHz) 03-01-06  16:05

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And it starts with the inherent RF noise of listening from a home in Brooklyn. And you hear different aspects of that intermittently during these recordings. All frequencies listed are in kilohertz.

Big_hat_jesuscaster_2 5920 – Either the “The Grace Missionary Baptist Inc” or the “The Fundamental Broadcasting Network” (Does it matter?)

It’s some churchy singing either way. Besides broadcasting on a number of frequencies, the Fundamental Broadcasting Network have a couple of stations of their own, including WTJC (Working Till Jesus Comes) at 9370 kHz and WBOH (Worldwide Beacon Of Hope) at 5920 kHz. How about starting a station called KJTY? (Keep Jesus To Yourself) Take a look at the some of the handsome Caucasians who host programs on the FBN network here.

5930 – Radio Prague (probably)

Faint. Not English.

5950 – Radio Taiwan International

It’s the on the hour fanfare for Radio Taiwan. Dramatic and clear, and not in English. Radio Canada International runs a relay complex in Sackville, New Brunswick. International Broadcasters who have a real jones to get their signal to North America rent time on their huge 250 thousand watt transmitters. Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan and China and others all pony up the dough to relay their international broadcasts to America via this facility.

Bbc_mic_3 5975 BBC World Service

The news in English. Bush in India, working out nuke deal with India and messing up the world in general. I believe this broadcast originates from a relay on the island of Antigua in the Carribean.

5990 – China Radio International

Spanish language programming to America, probably relayed from Canada. China broadcasting in Spanish to the Americas makes a lot of sense on many levels.

6000 – Radio Habana Cuba

In Spanish. Some lively conversation and laughter.

6005 – China Radio International (probably)

In a Chinese language, I believe.

6020 – Chinese Radio International

Cri_guy_3 CRI again this time in English, again coming from the Canadian relay. The news, rather dryly read. Listen to the positioning statement after the news headlines– “Working to bridge the cultural gap. Narrowing the differences day by day. From China for the world, this is CRI.” You wouldn’t imagine that this broadcast is froom an oppressive regime that squelches internal dissent and has no real democratic infrastructure. Doesn’t it seem like the deeper the U.S. and China get into this hopelessly entangled financial synergy that our governments are becoming more and more alike in their behavior? Just a thought.

When “News And Reports” resumes after the headlines, you immediately begin to notice that the U.S. government under the Bush regime doesn’t escape criticism on Chinese international radio. There’s a pointed reference here to the futile search for Bin Laden, and a snarky comment about Bush only spending four hours on the ground in his unannounced visit to Afghanistan. While the rhetoric isn’t nearly as contentious as the cold war era, the Chinese government continues to challenge and question American policy and supremacy with their official news services. If you really want to get the flavor of how dozens of commie shortwave outlets used to slam ol’ Uncle Sam, you can still hear the same old-fashioned hostility (in English) on Radio Habana Cuba every night.

6040 – China Radio International.

In Chinese, from the Sackville relay again. Do you notice a trend here?

Radio_espana_towers_3 6055 – Radio Espana

In English, it’s the international radio service of Spain. News. Maoist upheaval in Nepal. Cats spreading Bird Flu. And it seems that concerns of “homeland” terrorism and illegal immigration are endemic to Spain as well. Then we go on to a cultural program for a moment– “Spain-Day By Day.” Let’s hear some music…

More next week. Thanks for listening.

(This post originally appeared in Beware of the Blog.)