A Brooklyn Radio Triptych

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

It was easy to come home from the SWL Winterfest with a slight case of equipment envy. But times are tough and I don’t need another fancy shortwave radio right now. But it sure would be nice to have one to play with now and then. But suddenly, I do.

On loan from the most gracious David Goren, I have a big plastic Chinese monstrosity known as the Grundig Satellit 800 (made by Tecsun, and recently discontinued). If you wanna know the vintage, it’s also called “Millennium,” you know like that spooky TV show you probably never saw back in the late 1990′s (at least I didn’t). And until the incredible Eton E1 came along in 2004, it was a top of the line portable (but it’s really too big to be very “portable” outside the house). And while it’s not an especially cute radio, it is a damn fine receiver. And it has a feature I’ve never gotten to play with– an AM sync detector. And it also has three bandwidth settings. In other words, when you come across something weak and distant you have a few options to make the signal a little more palatable.

Nonetheless, the RF noise issues within my Brooklyn apartment still give the Satellit 800 a lot of grief. Having such an impressive radio set in the house put me into a more detailed hunt for stray RF around my little home. I would tune to particularly nasty blasts of RF and then start systematically shutting down just about every electrical device in the house (including “always on” things like TV’s and stereos). I did find one really awful (and LOUD) power supply on an external hard drive, which I’ll now always unplug if I plan to DX. Even with the extra quiet that may offer, there are still some roaring sheets of nasty RF mayhem coming into my apartment, no matter what I do.

Actually, David Goren came by recently (to visit his radio…) and experienced the RF hell here that I’ve discussed so often in these pages. From the sound, his guess it that it may be some issue with the power wires outside. A bad insulator or something. And you know, he might be right. But I’ve had enough problems over the years making sure that the telephone service, the internet bandwidth and hot water are all getting into my apartment in a timely manner over the years. I guess I just don’t have the courage to ask Con Ed to come by and do a bunch of work so I can get radio signals from Asia a bit better. 

Yet, the 800 is a better and stronger animal than the other receivers here and does drag some signals up out of the noise floor better than most. And last April the girls went away for a week to visit the in-laws down in the sub-tropics, and me and the 800 had the run of the place for a little while. I spend a few nights out on the kitchen table with the whip antenna flush up to the north facing window trying to see what kind of reception I could lure onto my tape recorder. And this post includes some of these adventures on the 31 meter band.

In my limited experience trolling shortwave bands, I’ve had some my most interesting DX journeys on 31 meters. And there’s less religious and paranoid garbage as well. In fact, there’s not one warped preacher or “new world order” freak in any of these clips. (At least not in English.)

All these bandscans were captured on two separate evenings in mid-April. I’ve opted to offer highlights rather than more complete scans, just because some of the ripping interference through some of the reception here in my Brooklyn radio setting can be rather obnoxious. But you can still get some of the raucous flavor of what I have to deal with when I try to DX at home.

Other than the lack of mental illness, these samples are rather representative of what you’re likely to find on shortwave these days. There’s some English language programming here, and some tasty music from other continents there. And not one second of Gene or Melissa Scott. Let’s begin.

This one starts out a little shady, but it gets better…

31 Meter Band – Segment 1 – 0041 UTC 04-15-09  24:29

(download)

9665 – Romania? Russia?

Unsure. But it is a song, and oooh it sounds crappy. Even after I lock on with the AM sync mode it’s still an unhappy little transmission knee deep in my noise floor.

9715 – RDP Portugal

It’s such an “ah…” moment turning the dial out of that racket into this Portuguese music. Fado, I believe. Nice and meaty signal from Western Europe and the songs are splendid. I leave the knob untouched for over ten minutes. Great bittersweet minor-key stuff. It might sound even better accompanied by a jug of wine and some stinky cheese.

And significantly, Spain and Portugal offer the only broadcasts from Western Europe in the batch of reception I’m offering here. There ain’t much left, and very little of it is in the English language. So, let’s get back to the noise

9820 – Hmmm

I don’t know what this is. I can’t get it to sync either. Here how awful the RF can be here when there’s no signal to hold the receiver’s attention?

9870 – All India Radio

And here’s a ragged signal from far far away. It’s not a pretty sound, at least not at first. However, I am able to work a little alchemy on the poor thing with the big Grundig beast. I pinch down the bandwidth, reducing the fidelity a bit (but mostly reducing the fidelity of the NOISE) and then turn on the sync. It locks nicely, although the signal is NOT a strong one. I fiddle with the SSB to get the best side of the frequency and well… It is listenable, in a forgiving DX kinda way. The cosmic Indian music comes through, up to a point. But the announcers, not so good. But after all these years I still marvel at the sound of exotic music falling out of the sky from the other side of the world.

31 Meter Band – Segment 2 – 2355 UTC 04-15-09  13:13

(download)

9535 Radio Exterior Espana

Care to dance? Some urgent pop music. Boy singer, electric guitar, loco-rhythmic keyboard funk, then silence– some top of the hour tones and a clear ID in Spanish. Good evening from Spain. As the news begins I pack up and head further up the dial.

9545 – Radio Republica
   
Ah… Radio Re-POOB-lee-ka!. Sounds like the interval signal (or an extended station ID) from this Florida clandestine operation run by the Cuban Democratic Directorate (a “pro-democracy” NGO, Republica that supports human rights causes in Cuba. And it often jammed by that country. I can’t tell if that whizzy audio interference is Castro’s jamming or just RF problems on my end.

However, I move on again to find something in my native tongue.
                                       
9570 – China Radio International

It’s the news– typical “statist” shortwave-style headlines in accented English. Mostly unadorned bullet points from Beijing. International stories, matter-of-fact national boasting as well as some reassurance that things are getting better all the time. Except for relations with North Korea.

However, the cross-straits complexities between Taiwan and “the mainland” don’t seem to be getting in the way of the “two Chinas” improving their political relationship. Did you know that China has become the world leader in "ultra high voltage power transmission and transformation technology"? Me neither. But it’s good news for the Chinese power grid. And their infrastructure in space just got a boost as well, with a new navigational satellite now in place in the Chinese sky.

9580 – Radio Romania International

News with female reader. Clipped Romanian monotone. Nice signal. She says Obama is doing a decent job with the American economic crisis so far. And how about that bumper music? Right out of the 1970′s.

Actually, this news broadcast and the previous one from China sound remarkably similar to what you might have heard from these “communist” countries so many decades ago. Sure, Romania is no longer a Soviet satellite nation and the flavor of communism in China is quite different than it was back then, but it’s more than just the production values that make these shortwave newscasts sound like vintage broadcasting, but all the talk of nuclear weapons and missile programs makes you wonder if the cold war didn’t actually end, but turned into something less distinct but just as dangerous.

And now I’m skipping over some rather uninteresting reception of Spain and Cuba in Spanish, which was accompanied by a loud and grating noise floor. And then on to another former Iron Curtain nation, once the heart of the Soviet empire…

Segment 3 – 31 Meter Band 0014 UTC 04-15-09  8:53

(download)

9665 – The Voice of Russia

I don’t know if Russia is spending more money on their shortwave service than CRI or VOA, but it always sounds better than they do. I think it’s those voices.

Like the male announcer at the beginning of this clip, talking about Russian sailors patrolling the Somali coast to defend international merchant traffic from piracy. I believe this fellow has been around since the “Radio Moscow” days. But what a voice. It’s from another era. The woman is good as well. But I’ve always that there was some odd magic in the processing of the audio over there in Moscow, or some extra sauce in the transmitter that just gave the sound of both Radio Moscow and now the Voice of Russia this extra texture, some richness I can’t describe because I’m not a tech guy that way. But it’s something I remember distinctly when I first began to really listen to Russia on the radio in the 1980s, that they had a “sound.” And that radio magic is still there. In fact, it sounds very 20th century to me.

And the woman who does the light news feature on the annual return of migrating cranes to Moscow is awesome as well. It’s just the kind of human interest non-news that RCI offers all the time, but it you would be in the hands of some chirpy radio amateur instead of this smoky and authoritative Russian woman discussing elegant birds in their nation’s capital. I guess there’s a bit of mystical grandeur to the way their English service presents Russian culture and history and natural resources on shortwave. And while it may be overblown and self-serving, they still have veteran radio professionals in house making it believable on the radio.

And anybody who listened with any regularity to Radio Moscow (and then the Voice of Russia) remember Joe Adamov of “Moscow Mailbag.” (who I wrote about here), another elegant radio voice from Russia, in English.

9675 – Radio Canção Nova?

Portuguese… is it? But instead of talking about the glories of the Pope, it sounds like she’s talking about some “final four” sporting event.

It seems rather clear and strong for such a low-power operation, otherwise I don’t know what I’m listening to. Please comment if you know what this is, or what she’s talking about. And you know, if you have something to add (or I made a mistake with my logging or guessing) please leave a comment below, or you can send an email.

Also, I’ve been doing some work on the blog behind the scenes (and have more to do if I find the time), and I’ve linked some of my past content to the categories in the sidebar. Like if you like these bandscan posts, you can find a bunch more by clicking that category. They all have audio as well.

Thanks for listening.

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 21

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Porch_bright_1 This the final installment of the 31 meter band scan 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 who know I blog about DXing think I must 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.

It’s time for me to take a little summer hiatus, but while I’m away 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… 

Segment 4-31 Meter Band (9805 to 9885 kHz)  32:07

(download)

9805 – VOA (relay from Morocco)

Unknown language. Arabic?

Rhc_logo 9820 – Radio Habana Cuba

In English, not nearly as clear as their broadcasts on 6000 kHz. News, like the Bush Administration bullying Chile to vote against Venezuela at the U.N.

9830 – Hrvatska Radio (Croatia)

Croation, I suppose.

9835 – BBC World Service?

I believe this is a from a relay in South Africa, broadcasting in Swahili. Something about Bird Flu (the H5N1 virus).

9845 – BBC World Service?

If I’m right, this is BBC broadcasting from Cyprus this time, in Arabic. Nice place for a relay to the Middle East. The sun never sets on those BBC relays.

9855 – The Voice of America? (from Morocco)

In Arabic? It’s a male announcer, and another station with a female announcer (which I believe is a bleed over from the Voice of Russia just 5kHz up the dial) stomping on this signal, as well as an obnoxious buzz washing over the whole mess.

9860 – The Voice of Russia

Russia_piano This is Russia’s English service. Old fashioned radio, Eastern European style. Some former Soviet bloc countries, Russia in particular, are very TRADITIONAL with their English language international service. Many of the announcers I hear now, were on the air a couple of decades ago, including the narrator of the historic tale included here.

He’s talking about OLD Russian history, Ivan the Terrible and the 13th century, all embellished with rich and historic musical interludes.

9865 – The Voice of America (from Morocco again)

Arabic pop music, I guess. Nice. Although it’s not easy to hear VOA broadcasts in the U.S., it’s obvious they’re out there, broadcasting in languages like Arabic.

9880 – The Voice of Russia (From Armenia)

In English. Now it’s a narrative on the 4th century Russia with another announcer. Not sure if this is the same thing as we just heard on 9865.

9885 – VOA (From Botswana)

In English this time. In a “Today in History” moment Tony Collins brags about U.S. space walking. Funny isn’t it. The Russians dig many centuries deep into history to position themselves on international radio. The U.S. brags about their 1960′s scientific prowess.

And here’s the second MP3 for this post:

Segment 5-31 Meter Band (9905 to 9970kHz) 06-03-06  24:59

(download)

9905 – Radio Nile

Sudan Wow. A clandestine broadcast from Madagascar, in English! Not rock solid clear, but solid reception from the other side of the globe. This is actually a morning show in East Africa, specifically aimed at Sudan.

How to they have such a whopping signal? Funding. Formerly “Radio Voice of Hope” , Radio Nile is a broadcast service largely (if not entirely) funded by the Dutch government and a couple of Christian groups who actually seem to be interested in helping the underdogs, and promoting peace and democracy (unlike some of their U.S. counterparts). It’s run by the “New Sudan Council of Churches” in support of the southern rebels (mostly black), opposed to the official Sudanese government in the north (where the population is largely Arabic and Muslim).

The accents are thick, some of it is not in English and the reception throbs a bit, but it’s interesting listening if you give it some attention. In between reggae and African music the male and female hosts (passionately) discuss the ongoing civil war, religion and African and global politics.

I don’t know enough about the political situation in and around Sudan to say all that much about it, but with shortwave you can hear directly from concerned parties who are directly affected by the suffering and injustice. In Africa, shortwave is alive and well. And the ability to pick up a broadcast in English, from a third world country over eight thousand miles away via the radio is still damn compelling to me. It’s the kind of thing that makes me power up my shortwave radios again and again. And that’s why there’s well over twenty minutes of Radio Nile on this recording.

Unity, equality, progress…

9915 – Radio Sultanate of Oman

Female announcer. Arabic, I think. Again, a strong signal from far away.

Rtrf_logo 9925 – Radio Television Belgium French

Unknown language. Male announcer.

9970 – Radio Television Belgium French

Same service. French this time. A whimsical whistling pop number, a female announcer, then a bad pop song.    

                  

That’s it. The end of a three week exploration into a couple of hours of traversing just one of the shortwave bands. I thought there was a lot there.

And thanks for listening.

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

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 20

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

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). 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.

Shortwave radio is unlike standard U.S. AM and FM listening in so many ways. At one hour you can hear one particular station, and in the next hour or two another one might take it’s place on the dial. Stations often broadcast on several frequencies at once, or change the frequencies they use through the year. Add to that the fact that reception is directly affected (both negatively or positively) by changes in the atmosphere, conditions in outer space around the Earth, and what’s happening on the sun itself, it adds so many variables that makes listening to shortwave both a challenge and (if you don’t mind some strange audio artifacts and a bit of noise) as rewarding as radio gets.

 So, here’ s the scan, starting in Romania…

Segment  2-31 Meter Band (9645 to 9700 kHz) 06-02-06  22:09

(download)

9645 – Radio Romania International

Solar_filamentSpanish programming. Nice old-fashioned bumper music. It sounds like news.

9650 – Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting?

I believe this is Iran broadcasting in Russian. Quite faint. A male and then female announcer followed by some Classical music, which sounds like moody and dark Russian classical music actually. I think there might be an ID in here as well….somewhere.

This is an atrocious copy of this signal, but hard core DXers listen to this kind of noise soup all the time, but if you have some fancy equipment you could clean this up a bit. But it still wouldn’t sound clear.

9660 – Voice of China Reborn

It’s a clandestine broadcast from Taiwan, which is often jammed by China. Lucky to catch this one. They only broadcast for ten minutes twice a day! It’s an announcer (speaking a Chinese language) with moody music in the background. Another station is eating away at the signal (which seems to be the Voice of Russia 5kHz up), but it’s fairly strong. I believe I hear a word that sounds like “democrat” or “democracy” in all this. Would be very interested in the subject matter, if any readers speak the language.

9665 – The Voice of Russia

 It’s the new version of Moscow Mailbag (I wrote about the late Joe Adamov– the host of Moscow Mailbag for almost fifty years– in this post). I believe the new host is Yuri Reshetnikov.

Radio_moscow_logoAnyway, I miss old Joe. Still, this does remind me of the old days of Moscow Mailbag a bit, as the so-called “war on terror” has replaced the cold war as the major vector of international disharmony. A listener writes to ask if Iran has been helping the Chechen rebels, who of course are the biggest (Islamic) terrorist threat within modern Russia. Iran is Russia’s friend the host insists, and seems to insinuate that the idea of Iran helping out the Chechnyans is U.S. propaganda, and then he remarks about how Turkey (a U.S. ally) HAS been offering the rebels a hand. He also mentions how insane it would be for the U.S. to use military force against Iran. Maybe Bush oughtta take a deeper gander into Putin’s eyeballs next time.

Then again, the listener question about cable and satellite TV in Russia today speaks to what a different world we live in since the cold war. Instead of clunky old Soviet TV, they now get most of the same glossy cable crap that we love here in America. Moscow Mailbag started out as English language propaganda tool, offering western listeners insight into the dark and secretive Soviet Union. Now it’s a bit of an artifact, offering the same service at a time when the U.S. might be a bit more dark and secretive than even Russia.

9860 – WYFR – Family Radio

Bible stuff, in Spanish.

9690 – China Radio International

Chinese_announcer English service from a relay in Spain. It’s a male/female team, also answering mail (or email) from listeners. But what a difference between this superficial happy-talk and Moscow Mailbag. No controversy here, just chipper hosts reading gushing fan mail from international listeners. It kind of reminds me of the perky proceedings of Radio Disney, only with Chinese accents. The hosts are like leaping puppies attempting to please everyone, especially the Chinese government.

Even one note of bad news is all hope and sunshine. At one point the male host remarks: “We are very sorry for the latest earthquake that struck part of Indonesia. And we hope that everything is going fine with the people in the quake stricken area, and that life will come back to normal for them.” Deep, eh?

In general, I find all this blank cheerfulness rather disturbing. While I’m quite accustomed to (and expect) propaganda from international state broadcasts, this kind of absurdly carefree banter smells of something really dark and twisted lurking under the surface– kind of like some shortwave evangelists out there.

9700 – Radio Romania International

Poor reception with deep phasing effects. In Spanish.

And here’s part 2 of the audio for this post–

Segment  3-31 Meter Band (9715 to 9790 kHz) 06-02-06  18:48

(download)

9715 – WYFR – Family Radio

In Spanish. De Cristo, all that jazz.

Tunesia_2 9720 – Radio Tunis (Tunisia)

Arabic pop music. I love this stuff, and let the tape roll for a few minutes on this station. A female announcer speaks a bit before I turn the knob.

9715 – The Gene Scott Network (from Costa Rica)

Some hokey musical interlude on the Gene Scott show, which never seems to end. Kind of a fake country rave-up. As I’ve said before, Gene remains as worldwide as he is dead.

9745 – HCJB (Ecuador)

In Spanish. HCJB has been a huge shortwave presence for decades. They seem to be one of the biggest Christian outlets in the Western Hemisphere, outside of U.S. of course. And they’re very friendly.

9750 – BBC World Service

In English, a poor signal coming in from an island in the Indian Ocean. A discussion of global warming. Alot of U.S. shortwave listeners were pissed off when BBC Yemen_radio_tv_logoquit providing English language shortwave service to North America a few years back. A damn shame.

 9780 – Republic of Yemen Radio

A male announcer and then some more Arab pop. The acoustic guitar here is beautiful and intricate. The signal is weak, but there’s no interference getting in the way. The reception you hear is probably a good example of the advantages of DXing outside of a major urban area.

According to this site, Yemen is only broadcasting with 50 kilowatts at this frequency. If that’s true, it furthers the positive ruminations on the Degen 1103 that I’ve offered here.

9790 – China Radio International

Sw_kit

A relay from Cuba this time, in English. “Moments in Love” by the Art of Noise is often used as bumper music on CRI. It’s perfect– a phoney and profound sounding theme for a government broadcast faking emotive and empathetic content. Yuk.

That’s it for this week. Appreciate hearing feedback, suggestions and corrections. Or if you’ve got something to add to the conversation, please leave a comment.

Meanwhile, I’m blocking out some days this summer away from the megalopolis here to have some more fun with this new portable. And I hope to pass along some of the high points here.

Thanks for listening.

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

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 13

Monday, March 27th, 2006

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.

Clandestine_gear_1 Before I go on to the band scan for this week, I wanted to mention a few (free) podcasts that may interest readers of this blog series. Clandestine Radio.com offers “Global Crisis Watch” (XML feed here), a program reporting on (and promoting) democracy movements around the world. It’s a rather urgent show featuring interviews of journalists, broadcasters and activists involved in fighting oppression around the world. And of course, there’s some good information on shortwave and other radio broadcasts from time to time. It’s an interesting half hour delivered to your hard drive every week. The Global Crisis Watch is a cutting edge international news put together by a couple of guys instead of a government or corporation.

Although not many are aware of it, there’s quite a bit of pirate radio activity on shortwave and the podcast “Pirates Week” (XML feed here) offers a weekly overview of that scene. This podcast varies in length and is a much more loose and light affair than Global Crisis Watch. It’s an amalgam of many related diversions– discussions of assorted radio gear and computers, details of the realities of seat-of-the-pants broadcasting, as well as clips of shortwave pirates at play and tips on where and when to find ‘em on your radio. Also the Mediageek has a well-kept and extensive blog and podcast (RSS feed here) where he explores all sorts of media products, broadcasting trends, and the inherent toys that make it all possilbe. And his most recent podcast features an interview with Ragnar Daneskjold, the host of “Pirate’s Week." According to Ragnar, a nice warm illegal transmitter running 40 watts on shortwave can give you coverage of most of the U.S. on a good night. Hmmm…

Glenn_hauser Also, the ultimate source of all things shortwave is Glenn Hauser. The guy is dedicated. His “World of Radio” program, which broadcasts on quite a number of shortwave stations, is also a podcast (XML feed here). While not high in entertainment value, it’s a helluva dose of up-to-date shortwave news, views and frequency listings. On his World of Radio site, as well as his weekly “DX Listening Digest” Mr. Hauser puts out some great web resources which provide valuable information for mega-geeks and weak-kneed newbies alike. And it’s all listener and reader supported!

Okay, on to this recording of reception on the 41 meter band . Actually, this scan begins just before the that band and then traverses up the numbers. The frequencies are in kilohertz. It’s Wednesday night, March 1st and Bush is over in Asia eating Indian mangoes I think. It’s early evening here, one of the best times to catch foreign broadcasters offering up English language programming for the Americas (and Spanish ones too for that matter). And more importantly, at this hour the band isn’t a kooky Christian radio ghetto yet. Closer to midnight and beyond the shortwave bands are flooded with hallelujah bullshit and not much else, at least not in English. But at 0100 UTC (all shortwave schedules basically follow the time in London, and in a 24 hour manner), which is 8 pm Eastern Standard Time, the biblical blather is only part of the mix, not the dominant force.

Actually, this begins right before eight, a fine time to start a band scan. Let’s begin.

Segment 1-41 Meter Band (6875 to 7300 kHz) 03-01-06

(download)

6875 EWTN Global Catholic Radio Network

It’s right before the top of the hour, 8 p.m. here, 0100 hours UTC. Most international shortwave stations play something called an “interval signal” in between programs, an identifying snippet of music that may include other sounds or the official ID of the station. Listening to shortwave you begin to get familiar with the these little ditties because they usually repeat for a couple minutes right before a new program ensues, and can help listeners ID a station as well as find a particular program on the dial before it begins. Interval signals almost always come at right before the top of the hour, and occasionally precede the 30 minute point as well.

Pope_internet_i_2 So, this clip begins with the EWTN’s official and soothing interval music and then their ID. This site has a huge archive of interval signals past and present. They all stream in real media. Pretty cool. I was slightly thrilled to find this one, the interval signal of Radio RSA from the 1970′s– a chirpy bird with folky guitar. This took me back to my where my interest in shortwave really began. Christmas 1971. Santa was kind enough to set me up with a cheesy eight-track tape player-AM/FM stereo. But the shoddy Hong Kong technology inside offered me a really surprising gift– stray images of shortwave stations on the AM dial! And the two stations I recall getting quite well on this little woodgrain wonder were Radio Habana Cuba and Radio RSA. I became quite familiar with that chirpy bird and the plucky guitar, and after sending them a letter I was embarrassed for years when a glossy program guide from a faraway racist regime would show up in my mailbox every few months. Then a Christmas or two later I scored a flip-cover multi-band box that introduced me to the wondrous world of cold war shortwave propaganda.

Anyway, after the interval and the ID, it’s non-stop excitement on EWTN– a Catholic with a computer. Sounds like he’s giving a presentation in front of a bunch of well dressed white folks. Anyway, the guy has a laptop, maybe running a PowerPoint presentation or something and it’s all about catechismclass.com, a web site about guess what? Yawn.

6890 – WWRB USA – The Overcomer Ministry

Bro_scare Last week I carried on about old Gene Scott, which was easy because he’s such a rich character. But in truth, there was hardly any Gene Scott to hear in that clip. I should have waited until I had some substantial Scott audio to play before I spent so much time talking about the guy. Same deal here. Brother Stair’s presence on shortwave trumps Scott’s around the clock radio preachin’, and there isn’t much of him on this scan. But if you’re new to shortwave, Brother Stair’s raspy staccato delivery may be the first voice you really become familiar with because he’s ALL over the bands. And he’s ALMOST as interesting as Gene Scott, but hardly as endearing. However, he is still alive.

Since there’s not much of the Brother Stair in this band scan, I’ll wait to say much more until I find a more representative clip. But in the world of radio evangelism, Stair is pretty unique– kind of a combination of Elmer Gantry, Rumpelstiltskin and Jim Jones. Otherwise known as “Brother Scare,” this old goat somehow manages to enslave babes with his wild-eyed shortwave harangues. I knew there must be some more earthly reasons why so many holy shysters spend all that time yammering on shortwave.

The signal’s weak and there’s some phasing going on, but Stair is in the middle of one of his usual unflagging rants. Some important information here about the Antichrist perhaps. Occasionally I find him mildly entertaining, but not this time. His “Overcomer Ministry” rents this international transmitter from WWRB 24/7, but he broadcasts on plenty of others too. Now you know why some people in other countries might think we’re strange. Read more about the sordid details regarding this twisted geezer here and here.

7125 – Voice of Russia

In Russian. Sounds like the news. Nice sounders. Something about Bosnia…

7160 – WRMI Radio Miami International (Radio Republica)

Wrmi Wow, it’s almost unbelievable, another U.S. shortwave station NOT run by Christian crazies. It seems incredible, but I looked around their website and saw absolutely nothing about lambs, blood or that horrible lake of fire. Maybe they’re just coy Christians. Either way, they do allow the Bible people to rent time on their transmitters. There’s just not a long line of normal people out there willing to put up the dough to broadcast on shortwave. So like WBCQ, WRMI needs to take the cash where they can find it.

This particular broadcast is put on by an organization known as “Radio Republica.” They’re for non-violent change in Cuba, human rights, that kind of stuff. As far as I can tell they’re not related to Radio Marti and any propaganda arm of the U.S. government.  But they’re not making Fidel happy either.

Of course, this broadcast is in Spanish. This short clip features a smokey voiced woman who might be talking about a “political prisoner.” They’re signal is often jammed by Cuba, and I’ve read that Radio Republica just started using this frequency.

7180 – Voice of Russia

In Spanish. I believe this is news.

7250 – (Unknown in Spanish)

It’s strange, but this one’s out of order. I might have backed up to find Radio Slovakia after this OR I wrote down the wrong frequency. Nonetheless, it’s VERY clear and most likely originating from North America. Could be Christians doing their dirty work, but I have no idea. If anybody can translate this (or knows of a Spanish broadcast on 7250 at this hour) and can make sense of this reception, I’d appreciate it. There is some urgency in this program.

Slovakia_qsl_2 7230 – Radio Slovakia International

This is a typical English international broadcast from overseas that you might stumble across on shortwave. It’s around ten after the hour and we probably just missed some headlines. And now it’s time for some features on local doings in Slovakia. And at 150 Kilowatts of power from well over 4000 miles away, it’s coming in quite nicely.

Apparently there’s a bunch of illegal weapons stockpiled in closets and attics across the Slovak Republic, and the government’s trying to get people to voluntarily hand them over. Previously loose gun laws have tightened up quite a bit since the end of the cold war. While thousands of Czechs gave up their guns in a similar program, the Slovaks are a bit more wary about letting go of their weaponry so far.

The next story– all about a Slovak high school course on how to prepare a business plan. (And please, when producing radio and the subject of money comes up, don’t even THINK about playing that damn Pink Floyd song again.) Jeez. Enough already.

However, this is still one of the small joys of shortwave radio– hearing small regional stories from thousands of miles away that would never garner coverage in American media.

Egypt_qsl 7270 – Radio Cairo

Spanish talk, female speakers, Middle-Eastern pop bumper music. Plenty of countries beaming Spanish language programming to the Americas. After all, probably a higher percentage of Spanish speakers on this side of the world know how to operate a shortwave radio.

7285 – Hrvatska Radio (Croatia)

Unknown language, broadcast from a relay in Germany.

7300 – Voice of Turkey

As far as music on shortwave radio, this is one of my favorite stops lately. It’s a program of haunting, beautiful and catchy Turkish music. One of these songs has lodged itself in my brain, and it keeps playing there– a comforting exotic loop in the background when I’m lost in thought, and that’s fine with me for now. A couple weeks ago I was haunted by “Saturday In The Park” by Chicago. WHY I ask? What did I do to deserve this?

Votsticker I have an old Zenith Transoceanic in my room, and throbbing modulated music like this from afar played through that warm old tube radio could make you cry. Or, at least it could make me cry. You might laugh. The music plays on in this clip for almost 15 minutes. A female announcer talks between tracks.

That’s it for this week. And as if there’s any enlightenment you can offer– mistakes I’ve made in this post, or translate any of the foreign languages in this band scan– either may assist me in amending or correcting this post in the future. Please post a comment or send me an email here. Other articles in this blog series can be found here.

Thanks for listening.

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

Adventures In Amplitude Modulation – Part 9

Monday, February 13th, 2006

Bcl2000_1 My original intention was to get to the end of that medium wave band scan I’ve been featuring the last three bandscan posts, but I’ve changed my mind. I want to get back to talking about shortwave again. While AM DXing is fun, the shortwave bands are inherently more exotic. However, navigating these frequencies something does require something not everyone has these days– a shortwave radio. And just so you know, it’s not nearly as difficult or expensive as you might think. 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. Here in Brooklyn, with the sun shining through the front windows– I was impressed. The subcontinent really is on 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 opinions of mythical Jesus and all his miracles, 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. (What were you going to do with it anyway?)

Tecsun_factory The radio I used to make these recordings was a Tecsun BCL-2000, otherwise know as the Grundig S350. While not perfect, it’s a great tool for scanning the bands. It’s sensitive, cute and offers something hard to find– analog tuning with a digital display. This is great for shortwave, because analog operation gives you a much better feel for what’s out there while the digital display gives you an accurate readout of where you actually are on the dial. I’d recommend it as a starter radio for anybody willing to spend 80 to 100 dollars to invest in a decent AM/shortwave receiver that’s easy to use.

Okay, and now to my friend’s front porch twenty miles outside of Albany back in 2004. It was the weekend of the third anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The porch was well furnished, and the batteries were fresh. Most of the reception I was digging into was from the broadcast bands that are the most lively at night– the 49 meter band (5.9-6.2 MHz), the 41 meter band (7.1-7.35 MHz) and possibly the 31 meter band (9.4-9.9 kHz).

Next week I’ll continue this radio excursion, but I hope to do some DXing in the near future and offer you some current shortwave reception again. I’ve recently purchased a couple of radios that I’m anxious to take for a ride, and perhaps I’ll post some SW unedited band explorations here too, just to offer up some flavor of what a jaunt across a shortwave broadcast band really sounds like– including static, foreign tongues, non-stop loony bible-beaters and everything else in between.

01 – The Voice of Russia – Moscow Mailbag  08:43

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Joe_adamov_1 As long as I’ve been alive, Joe Adamov has been the host of “Moscow Mailbag” on the English service of Radio Moscow, which is now called “The Voice of Russia.” Anybody who listened to the Soviet Union via shortwave from the U.S. over the years has heard Joe answer all sorts of listener’s questions about the goings on in the U.S.S.R. And although it seems a bit quaint these days to hear old Joe respond in detail to a listener’s question about the most popular breeds of dogs in Russia, you have to remember the realities of the cold war era that gave birth to this program. To Americans, much of everyday life behind the “iron curtain” was a big mystery, especially in the grey and repressive Soviet Union. In those days, the jovial Mr. Adamov offered curious listeners a peek behind the curtain that both informed and ultimately served as a propaganda tool of the Soviet government as well.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Adamov spoke openly on his program about what he could and couldn’t say during the Communist era, and his role as a friendly propagandist during that time. Before and after glasnost, Moscow Mailbag was always an entertaining listen, both for Adamov’s breezy warm style and the questions from listeners around the world– from the most mundane topics, to some serious political subject matter. While Moscow Mailbag continues on the Voice of Russia, Adamov is no longer around to give us his insights on Russian life. He passed away in 2005. However, archives of some of his broadcasts can be found on this webpage.

02 – WHRI (World Harvest Radio) – Radio Liberty  14:11

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Dr_stanley_monteith Stanley Monteith does a lot of radio– like five hours a day, five days a week. He’s retired physician, and his show covers some serious topics and some arguably kooky ones as well. With a good-natured yet righteous style, Monteith is more or less a right-wing Christian talk host. However, in the shortwave realm that can mean something much different than the lock-step Republican AM talk radio hosts who pollute the airwaves across America. Listen to Monteith talk some serious common sense with this caller about the idiocy and futility of the Iraq War.

While you’ve heard me speak in disgust regarding the mundane and dogmatic nature of Christian programming all over shortwave, that’s not to say that an avid Christian can’t be an enlightened and spiritually mature broadcaster. In this clip you’ll hear Monteith explain how he was a member of some Christian group who anointed Bush as the official Jesus candidate for the 2000 Presidential election. It’s heartening to hear that he and one other member of that group didn’t buy into Bush then, or his supposed Christianity. In general, it’s refreshing to discover a Christian talk host who doesn’t blindly accept authority and one who talks openly about the horror of war and our current government’s policies of death, destruction and despair. And I have to say I’ve never heard any proselytizing or threats of the lake of fire on Radio Liberty, Instead, in this clip you’lI hear plenty of insight and some important facts about this insane Iraq war.

03  – WWCR – Karen Mortimer  01:45

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Now, here’s some more typical Christian shortwave radio. The manic and rabid Ms. Mortimer is ready to convert the world. And martyrdom? Bring it on baby!

04 – (Unknown Station) Flag Worship  03:11

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Flag_2 Grab a Hostess apple pie, put your hand over your heart. This jingoistic rant on the American flag. Kind of makes you wanna wrap yourself in the red, white and blue and kill some foreigners somewhere. And what’s interesting about this broadcast, and other “patriotic” programming that emanates from Christian shortwave stations in this country is that the FCC considers all shortwave outlets here to be “international radio stations” and the FCC is very specific about the rules for programming on such a station. To be exact– “It should be noted that an international broadcasting station is intended for broadcasting to a foreign country and is not intended for broadcasting solely to the United States.” Look it up.

Kind of a strange rule, I know. But if some moron is going to be SO blatant about breaking the law, maybe somebody should turn him in.

05 – Radio Prague  03:40

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A Czech doctor had bet a bunch of money that George Bush was going to win the upcoming 2004 election. Maybe he has some friends at Diebold. This little clip features the end of the Radio Prague news and the beginning of a news magazine program. Nothing amazing, but fairly representative of the standard European shortwave broadcast you might hear in English– chatty, upbeat, and focused on regional issues and people.

06 – WBCQ – Radio Timtron Worldwide  08:49

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A while back, there was a comment left on one of these posts asking why doesn’t a station like WFMU start a shortwave service. Well, there’s about 245 reasons, but if there is any equivalent to WFMU on shortwave it would have to be WBCQ, every once in a while..and just a little bit.

I’ve talked about WBCQ here because it is (at least potentially) the most interesting shortwave radio station in America. They feature a wacky live talk show from Brooklyn, a program that features old Edison cylinders, reruns of old Jean Shepherd shows and a number of other strange and eccentric radio shows. They also feature a lot of crap. Why? Money.

While WBCQ has a few self-produced shows, just like the Christian shortwave stations they sell their broadcast time to pay their bills and perhaps make a small profit. For better or worse, most of the people who are interested in broadcasting on American shortwave are crazy Jesus people, or just plain crazy.

Timtron_2003_1 Radio Timtron Worldwide comes the closest to freeform radio than anything else I’ve heard on WBCQ. It’s nice to know that his program is reaching the jungles of Africa and South America and the frozen shores of Greenland, as well as other exotic locales like Florida and San Marino. I wish there was more programming like this on WBCQ. Go ahead and check the current schedule for all four of WBCQ’s transmitters here.

More of this collection of shortwave reception from September 2004 will be featured here in the next installment.

Thanks for listening.

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