Category Archives: Interest

B17 Schedules

The new B17 schedules are starting to be published. As the clocks change at different times through the world (UK is last Sunday in October), these will all be coming in over the next few weeks. HFCC is a good place to keep an eye on for these, as well as the websites for your favourite stations. It is also a good idea to keep checking your favourite schedules list website. I use the the excellent lists compiled by Dan Ferguson, which are available from the SWSKEDS group on Yahoo.

Here is the link to the B17 schedules on HFCC: http://www.hfcc.org/data/b17/

 

Advertisements

Yaesu FT-450D – long term review

Overview

I’ve had a Yaesu 450D transceiver for 2 years now and I thought this would be a good point to post a long term review. The following should be read in the context of using the 450 as a receiver for 99.99% of the time. I think I have had at most, 5 QSO’s using this as I much prefer to listen. Also, much of my listening is on the Shortwave Broadcast bands, with occasional forays onto the amateur (ham) bands and the MW AM broadcast band. So, here goes.

I will only summarise the technical side as all the details are available from the Yaesu website. In short, the 450D is a 100W HF+6m Amateur bands transceiver, with a general coverage receiver spanning 30KHz to 56 MHz. Modes available are AM, SSB,CW,FM and Data (both TX and RX). Sensitivity is rated at 2uV for AM, 0.25uF SSB/CW and 0.32 for FM. These are pretty standard specs. for a transceiver in this category. What does set it apart from most ‘entry level’ transceivers is the DSP, which is realised in the Width control. This provides stepped bandwidths as follows: SSB: 1.8KHz/2.4KHz/3.0KHz; CW: 300Hz/500Hz/2.4KHz; AM: 3K/6K/9K; FM: 2.5K/5K. When the DSP Width control is used in conjunction with the DNR and Contour controls, it is possible to dig a signal out of the noise. Unfortunately, the Notch control is only available in SSB/CW modes and not AM. This would be useful to Notch out some annoying adjacent blow-torch transmissions such as CRI when one is trying to hear one down in the noise. Of course, switching to LSB brings this in, and a number of times I have dug out a faint AM signal using LSB.

The DSP/SEL control on the receiver is the one knob most used on the receiver. It is used for selecting various DSP modes, along with selecting menu items. It can also be used, as I do, as a replacement for the tuning knob. The DSP control can be set for various steps, so I have set it for 5 KHz when tuning AM broadcast. When tuning ham bands, I use the main tuning knob, but have the ‘fast’ button engaged as this steps through at 100 Hz. If further fine tuning is required, the fast button can be switched out and tuning is in 10Hz steps.

Other controls available to the listener are a Noise Blanker, AGC Fast/Slow/Auto and attenuator switch. There is also the IPO button which avoids the RF amp and switches the antenna straight through to the first mixer.

Day to Day use

I have used a number of receivers over the last 40+ years, from simple homebrew regen. sets to AR88’s, Racal RA17, FT101, FT707 etc but nothing as modern as this. And quite frankly, the performance to me is stunning. I guess if I was a dyed in the wool contester then it probably wouldn’t, but then I wouldn’t be using an entry level transceiver for that. But for every day listening to broadcast band programs, both the high power regulars and the more obscure clandestine stations, this receiver shines. As it does too with regular ham band listening. My antenna ‘system’ is not ‘state-of-the-art’ being only a homebrew 66′ doublet, in inverted-V configuration, the highest point of which is about 25′ at the gable end of the house. This is fed to the receiver via a homebrew 9:1 balun.

The biggest problem of course these days is not the sensitivity or selectivity of the receiver (for those with a decent spec.) but RFI from all manner of devices. This is where the various DSP controls help. As well as being able to remove or reduce ‘natural’ interference, they are as useful in reducing the man-made version. Comparing a received signal on say, my Tecsun PL600 portable with the 450, the Tecsun struggles sometimes, even though in its own right it has an excellent receiver. But the 450 will useually dig them out.

All the knobs and switches function as they did 2 years ago; nothing has come lose or gone sloppy. The display is still bright and readable.

Now of course, there are some things I think could be better and/or improved upon. No receiver is perfect! I would like a wider bandwidth on AM for those high powered stations that come in at S5+40 (such as Radio Romania International). But, that would compromise the selectivity as the roofing filter would need to be wider (set at 10Khz on the 450). I would like the Notch control to work in AM as it does on the Icom 7200. But these are minor complaints compared with what is on offer.

When I purchased the 450, it was offered at £499.99. I notice it has gone up considerably recently, no doubt due to the falling pound and other factors. Martin Lynch, from whom I purchased mine, have it currently for £579. But even at this price, I think it is excellent value for money. For me to change the 450D, some thing rather special would have to come along for a similar price. All the offerings from Icom are much more expensive, as is the case with Kenwood.

I would whole-heatedly recommend this transceiver either as a first transceiver for a ham just starting on the HF bands, or a listener like myself who wants something a bit more than the good portables can provide. I would be interested in comments from other users, however you use your 450.

Low Cost Ham Radio

I have just found and started subscribing to Low Cost Ham Radio

From their ‘about’ section:

“Amateur radio should not be an hobby for the rich people!
In recent years, however, we have witnessed increased equipment costs which can dissuade a lot of people, especially young people from becoming amateur radio.
This is insane for the wealth of the entire community.
LowCostHamradio.com doesn’t want a muscle hobby where the rich race to get more and more KW to overcome others.
For us, Hamradio must remain a popular hobbywith space for the excellence of the most expansive radios, but where the vast majority of the novices can afford a radio, having fun and experimenting the joy to be in a worldwide community like amateur radio fellowship.

In this website we will list and review low cost radios with affordable price to incentivize Hamradio development and knocking down the walls that can dissuade the birth of new amateur radio operators, specially in developing Countries.

This site is not related to the theory about a sustainable degrowth, we just love a fully accessible hobby for everyone.”

A sentiment with which I can wholeheartedly agree. Amateur radio can be enjoyed with simple home brew receivers and transmitters, or cheaper commercial equipment. As has been said many times in the past, the 2 most important parts of any ham radio station are the antenna and the operator. Its true that ‘bells and whistles’ make hearing easier, such as the excellent DSP system on the Yaesu Ft-450D, but they are not necessary.

Talking about ham radio, I have been doing more listening to ham radio just lately, though not forsaking the broadcast bands. I have to say that I am more than happy listening these days and have no desire to talk back. I use the previously mentioned Yaesu FT-450D for all my listening, both ham and bc, and it does have a superb receiver. Hooked up to my 66′ doublet fed with 450 ladder line to a 9:1 balun, this makes a superb receiving setup. I find the ‘quality’ of QSO’s these days leaves a lot to be desired, with very little information exchanged by stations other than the signal report. A lot of times there o name exchange, power used or equipment/antenna details. This to me is what its all about, along with finding out about where the other person lives etc. Otherwise its just ‘scalp hunting’. Contests are a different matter as the idea IS to get as many stations as possible in the log.

Some of the call signs I’ve logged just lately:

9K2HN, 7Z1SJ, 4X6FR, YB6LBH, W1NVT, PY2RKG, 5T2AI and YB0IBM. These on 20, 17 and 15m bands.

 

KBS World Service Tests to India and Europe for A17 season

With thanks to the Radioactivity blog comes this news:

KBS World Radio English Service will carry out test transmission from March 6 to 9 ahead of the A17 shortwave frequency adjustment. Please tune into the following frequencies and send us your reception reports. Your feedback will help us greatly in choosing the best frequency option for the new season. Thank you !

Date     Time (UTC)  Frequencies (KHz)  Target Area

March 6 & 7, 2017 – 2300 – 2400 UTC – 11810 kHz to Europe
March 6 & 7, 2017 –  1400 – 1600 UTC – 9525 kHz to India
March 8 & 9, 2017 –  1400 – 1600 UTC – 9880 kHz to India

(KBS)

Tecsun PL-365 Review

I have had this receiver for over 6 months now, and whilst not using it every day, I have used it enough to have an informed opinion of it’s pro’s and con’s.

Overview

A quick description of the receiver for those who have not heard of it.

pl365

The receiver is of an unusual design, more like a hand-held transceiver, measuring 53(W) X 159(H) X 26(D) mm. It naturally fits in the hand, with the thumb resting easily on the thumb-wheel tuning. The buttons on the front are for a number of alarm and display functions, SSB selection, and ETM, along with band selection and up/down keys. The inclusion of SSB makes this quite a unique radio, and certainly interesting to use when out and about.

It is supplied with ear buds, faux leather carrying case, the plug-in MW bar, and instruction booklet. A manual is also available to download.

As can be seen from the picture, the receiver sports a telescopic antenna for FM/SW, and a unique plug-in MW ferrite rod antenna, which is rotatable in its socket.

Band coverage is as follows:

FM 87~108 MHz

MW 522~1620

SW 1711~29999 kHz

Long Wave is also available and on mine was factory set to be included, but if not, it can be made available by the menu options.

Like many of Tecsun’s latest receivers, the PL-365 includes the ETM function, which stands for Easy Tuning Mode. With this, you select the band (MW,FM,SW), press ETM, and it loads into a local memory, all the stations that it detects. These do not over-ride any of the main memory that may have been already used to store stations. It is specific ‘ETM’ memory. Once the detection process is completed, the tuning wheel is then used to select each of the stations detected. This is an extremely useful feature on this receiver, as it doesn’t have keypad entry for frequencies. And band scanning using the thumb wheel in 5 Khz steps can get tedious! Of course, ETM will have to be repeated a number of times during an extended listening period as stations come and go.

Initial Listening Tests

My first port of call on starting the listening tests was FM, to judge how it received the local and national broadcasters, and to see how stereo broadcasts are received. Incidentally, I changed the supplied ear buds for some in-ear types which I find stay in place better. All national broadcasters (BBC) and local radio stations (BBC and independent) were detected well. Received audio on the built in speaker is pleasant, but as can imagined from such a small speaker, not of great range. However, stereo broadcasts from BBC Radio 3 (classical music) and Classic FM, sounded excellent using the ear buds. At night time, some further afield stations are detected, so the FM sensitivity is good.

When I conducted these initial tests, it was evening so I decided to give the MW band a whirl as well. I fitted the MW bar antenna into it’s socket atop the receiver, selected MW and hit the ETM button. After a couple of minutes, the detection process stopped and a great number of stations had been detected. Going through them, not only were there the local (and not so local) UK MW stations, but some from much further afield such as Bretagne 5, SBC in Riyadh, and RNE Radio 5 in Madrid. By turning the ferrite antenna, it was possible to peak these stations nicely.

So now to SW. As can be seen, SW coverage is full range from 1711 – 29999, excellent for a receiver of this price range. For this initial test, listening was carried out in the early evening, in the garden, during the summer, so the higher bands were where most of the action was. Following a similar pattern to the FM and MW test, the telescopic whip was extended and the ETM button pressed. On stopping detection, a total of 65 stations were noted. One or two of these, it later proved, were images, but for the most part they were all receivable signals. The treshold for detection is quite low, so some stations are barely audible under the noise, a testament to the sensitivity of the 365. All the major stations were received well, such as VOA on 15580, Saudia Arabia on a number of frequencies, CRI of course, over numerous frequencies. And in between, stations such as CNR1 (China National Radio), the regional Chinese service, and R Australia on 12065, BBC from Singapore.

After this, I did some listening on the 20 and 40m ham bands. To do this is slightly tricky, as it entails coming out of ETM mode by pressing the VF/VM button. This puts the radio into frequency mode and the thumb wheel is then used to get to the correct frequency. The USB/LSB button is then pressed and once a station is found, press the BFO button. The tuning thumb then becomes a BFO fine tune, and the amateur radio station can be tuned in accurately. It is tricky to start with but you do get used to it and amateur stations can be tuned in well. I received a number of European stations on 40m and European/Asian ones on 20m. So again, sensitivity is good, even though this is just using the whip antenna.

Long Term Listening Impressions

Over the months between those initial tests and now, I have done a number of hours listening using this radio, on both the MW and SW bands. I especially like it if I am out for a walk in the country near us as its handy to carry in the pocket. One Sunday I listened to the whole hour of a VOA broadcast on 15580, whilst wandering along the Lincolnshire foot paths. And it is also a nice radio to do a bit of casual listening from the armchair of an evening, when the TV is on but of no interest. This way I have enjoyed many a broadcast from VOA, RRI and the BBC using the ear buds. It’s also nice to tune into the Celtic music of Bretagne 5 during the evening on MW as a change from the fair on BBC Radio 2 or 3.

Conclusion

Would I recommend this radio? Yes I would, whole heartedly. For what it is designed to do, it does very well. Could it be better? Of course. A keypad would be nice, an external antenna port would be great and so on. But it was designed to be a general coverage receiver, in a small, hand-held package, and for that it receives top marks.

Program favourites – Music Time in Africa

Listening to the short wave bands over a number of years, you build up a list of favourite programs on some of the stations. The Morning Show on R Thailand, a magazine program about what’s going on and what’s on in Thailand,  CRI’s ‘Drive Time’ program, also a magazine program for events in China, broadcast presumably, for people going to work. RRI has their regular ‘A world of Culture’ which gets you close to past and current cultural developments in Romania. If like me, you love all forms of music, then ‘Music Time in Africa’ from VOA is a must listen.

Broadcast on Saturdays and Sundays for one hour at 09:00, 15:00, 20:00, and 22:00 hours UTC, it offers an eclectic mix of music from all around Africa. If you like ‘World Music’ then you will love this show. Hosted by Heather Maxwell, who has an infectious enthusiasm for the music she presents, the show will give you, for instance, jazz-style music from Mali, or the tribal folk-style songs of Generale Defoe from the DRC amongst many. From her bio on the VOA pages for the program, ‘Heather Maxwell is an ethnomusicologist and experienced music professional in West Africa and the United States.

The program started in 1965, and so is one of VOA’s longest running shows. The show was founded by Leo Sarkisian, who retired from the show in 2012 and handed the reins over to Heather. Leo and his wife used to carry a reel-to-reel tape recorder with them all around Africa to get the recordings for the show. Over the years, he built up a huge library of music and interviews, which also was handed over to Heather on Leo’s retirement. Leo was so influential that on his retirement in 2012, he had a mention in the Washington Post:

Long before there was ping-pong diplomacy or pere­stroika, a short, balding Armenian American was lugging an enormous reel-to-reel from village to village, sweet-talking people into singing and playing for him.

[…]In Africa, he socialized with presidents, military dictators, accomplished musicians and tribal villagers. He outwardly steered away from politics, but under the surface he wove a subtle diplomatic tapestry based around grooving on tunes.”

That enthusiasm for the music and getting to know the musicians abides to this day. Heather interviews and records musicians from all over Africa, although the method of recording is now no longer a large, trusty, reel-to-reel!

So, next weekend, treat yourself to an hour of the best music in Africa, and tune into Music Time in Africa. I usually use the 15580 slot at 15:00, this seems to be the best for where I am in the UK.

Alternatively, if you miss any or you would just like to get an idea of what it’s all about, the programs are available on the VOA website at: http://www.voanews.com/z/1456. MTIA also has a facebook page at: http://www.voanews.com/z/1456.