Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Your Closest Unheard

This question is more for the AM (MW) and FM broadcast band DXer, but it might also apply to shortwave radio. Which station is your closest unheard station?

On the AM side, my closest unheards are both in Illinois. For the life of me, I have never heard WJPF 1340 Herrin or WDQN 1580 Du Quoin, both 100 miles from my shack in Hazelwood. During the daytime on 1340, I primarily hear KXEO Mexico, MO (with a full-service Adult Contemporary format) or WSOY Decatur, IL (with a news and conservative talk format). One of the disadvantages I see is in the station's power. WJPF only operates with 770 watts; KXEO and WSOY both operate with 1,000 watts. Except for three hours a day, their programming is simulcast on WCIL 1020 in nearby Carbondale. 1340 at night is a hodgepodge of several stations, with WLOK Memphis, TN most frequently poking through with its Urban Gospel format.  Other 1340 stations that poke through frequently include the aforementioned KXEO and WSOY, along with WCDT in Winchester, TN, KROC in Rochester, MN and KDTD Kansas City, KS. That would make hearing WJPF a difficult proposition at my location.

By contrast, WDQN only broadcasts with 170 watts daytime, and very low power at night. Even with WBBA Pittsfield, IL off the air, hearing WDQN is also a difficult proposition. First off, I have a local during the day on 1570: WBGZ Alton, IL. The station does provide mild adjacent channel interference to any station on 1580. In recent years, the addition of digital service to another local, KATZ 1600 St. Louis, MO, has made things much worse in the interference department. It's made any attempt to hear WDQN on the AM side much more difficult. I'm very lucky that I've heard WDQN-FM on 95.9 MHz many times in the past, even after flipping to Christian programming from the Three Angels Broadcasting Network (3ABN). It's also the only Illinois station I have NOT heard on 1580; I've heard the now-silent WKKD Aurora and WBCP Urbana in addition to WBBA. Hearing WDQN on 1580 is just as difficult of a proposition.

In the state of Missouri, where my shack is located, my closest unheard on AM is KDEX 1590 Dexter, at 140 miles. The digital operation of KATZ 1600 makes hearing the 620-watt daytimer an impossible proposition. During the daytime, when the digital interference from KATZ is minimized, WAIK Galesburg, IL (5,000 watts during the day) is dominant. There are a few stations in the Bootheel of Missouri that's difficult to hear because of adjacent channel locals or more powerful signals closer to the area. For example, one of the reasons why I haven't heard KMIS 1050 in Portageville (600 watts daytime only) is because of a 1,000-watt station only 110 miles away (WDZ Decatur, IL). 

On the FM side, my closest unheard is KDBB 104.3 Bonne Terre, MO (just 60 miles away). This is due to the fact that I have a local on 104.1 (WHHL, although it's licensed to Hazelwood, has their transmitter in University City) and a semi-local on 104.5 (KSLQ Washington, MO). WHHL's digital operation makes matter much worse, although I've nulled it out to hear stations like KMCR 103.9 Montgomery City, MO or WOMC 104.3 Detroit, MI. Even with my location being 17-25 miles from most of the local high-power FM stations, I have some trouble hearing adjacent channel stations through the digital interference. The only 100 kW station that does not broadcast in digital format is KLJY 99.1 Clayton, MO (with a Contemporary Christian format), which makes hearing FM stations on 98.9 a bit easier, although I have some splash on 99.3. I can bring it down enough to the west to hear KCLR Boonville, MO.

What are your closest unheards on AM (MW) and FM? If you include shortwave, that closest unheard on that band could be one thousands of miles away. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

What's In a Name? Pirate Radio Station Names

Some of the most interesting station names have come out of the world of pirate radio. Many of the older generation may remember Jolly Roger Radio from way back when. The first pirate I heard was called "Up Your Radio", back in 1997. I thought that "Up Your Radio" was inspired by another term that's so frequently uttered (I'm not going to mention the phrase). The verification I got from the station was quite interesting in itself; it features a picture that may have been taken from one of the supermarket tabloids. (What the alien said to Newt Gingrich wasn't my idea, even if I did used to live in his district..)

Another one I heard was XEROX. Even the name is based on the photocopier: "Radio Duplicado". The picture of the "Director Gerente", Bart Sambo, is really that of NASWA's QSL editor, Sam Barto. Somehow, would you think it's also a tribute to XEROK (800 kHz) in Ciudad Juarez?

Many of us also remember "The Voice of Bob" and its successors, "The Radio Airplane", "WHYP, The James Brownyard Memorial Station" and even "Radio Michigan International." One of my favorite pirate QSLs was from Radio Michigan International; it was one of my first eQSLs!

Some other pirates also used the calls of existing radio stations. One station that IDed with an already issued call sign from way back when was WKND, "Weekend Radio". That's assigned to a radio station in Connecticut. Another one, called "Pirate Radio Central", used the calls KPRC, assigned to a radio and TV station in Houston, TX. Another one used "WARR"...that, last I heard, was assigned to Warrenton, VA. And WHYP? That was reassigned within the last two years to a radio station in Corry, PA, in eastern Erie County.

Today's pirates keep up the tradition of unique names, such as the ones I've recently heard, "Radio Ronin Shortwave", "XFM Shortwave", "Red Mercury Labs" and "Wolverine Radio". Some pirate stations use Morse Code today; others use slow scan television to identify themselves at the end of their transmissions. Two examples came from Fuzzy Radio and Wolverine Radio.


What names will follow in the tradition of unique names associated with pirate radio? Who knows? Regardless what the name of the station is, the programming is enjoyable. Maybe one will send you a CD of their program, like Undercover Radio did for me back in 2003? Would we hear a "Voice of Jim"? "Radio Lunkhead"? "Inga Calling"? You never know in the world of pirate radio.

Pirate radio is one of the most interesting aspects of our hobby. You'll need a better antenna than a whip to receive these stations, along with a good receiver. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

20 Years in Amateur Radio

Today marks another milestone in my radio life. It was 20 years ago today that I was issued my FCC Technician Class license. I was lucky to get one of the last one-by-three calls. I have kept this call (NØUIH) through upgrades to General and Extra Class licenses.

My Amateur Radio journey began in the mid-1970s, when I was a child of eight years old. A cousin on my mother's side of the family, Jim Marshall (WAØQEV), got his license sometime in the mid-1960s. He kept a Heathkit HF rig in his vehicle, so he could take his hobby on the road. He also kept another Heathkit HF rig at his place of residence, which was then in Rogersville, MO (east of Springfield). He also became a Citizens' Band operator, with the handle of Alligator Man. I was Alligator Boy at first, but after experimenting with other handles, finally settled on Alligator Junior. That led to my purchasing a Midland 13-863 23-channel CB base radio, and, later on, a Radio Shack three-channel CB handheld transceiver. Some of my fellow Hams also took to calling it "The Chicken Band". His phrase when he calls CQ still resonates: "What say ya?", said in his distinct Texas style.

In 1983, I had my first eyeball QSO with Vernon Jackson (WAØRCR). His shack was located on Charbonier Road in Florissant at the time. With his 375-watt AM transmitter, tuned to 1860 kHz, he blasted into my QTH (which was then on Lamplight Lane) like KMOX 1120 did. I even heard him on the image frequency of 950 kHz. I also talked to some of his fellow Hams with him supervising the operating process. At this point, I had been DXing the broadcast bands for two years, and was moving into DXing the Hams as a shortwave listener. I also had a few Hams living close by, like Mike Moore (WDØEFP), the late Bill Bottomley (WØKZX, SK) and Tom Vogel (WAØKGU, now WAØTV). During the four years I spent in Georgia (1988-92), I heard plenty of Hams on the HF bands. I also had a Ham who lived a few miles from where my shack was (on the Cobb-Cherokee County line). In 1991, I visited Bob Lipscomb (K4RKP) in his shack in Kennesaw. I relayed his check-in to the Gateway 160 Meter Net by phone to Vern Jackson. Bob signed my QSL letters for WAFS 920 Atlanta (now WGKA), one for Woodstock and the other for a reception at Hazelwood. Just before returning to the St. Louis area, I decided to try for the entry level Technician Class license, which didn't require proficiency in the Morse Code. I passed the Element 2 exam at the Zero Beaters Hamfest in Washington, MO, followed by the Element 3B at the St. Charles County Hamfest.

For the next 13 years, much of my activity had been on VHF in FM mode. My main rig for the first 10 years was a Realistic HTX-202 2-meter handheld transceiver. I added a Mirage B-34-G linear amplifier in 2001, replacing the HTX-202 with an ICOM IC-T2H Sport handheld in 2002. I worked a little DX before getting an MFJ-9402 2-meter VHF SSB rig in 2005. That kindled my interest in working DX on VHF. The first night I had it, there was a tropospheric enhancement opening into the Southeast and Mid-South. I worked stations in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee as well as southern Illinois and southern Missouri. In 2006, I entered the ARRL January VHF Sweepstakes, and won in the Missouri section award in the single operator, high power category on 2 Meters. That fall, I purchased a 6 meter station from John Verser (NØTOP) in Kirkwood. The station included a Kenwood TS-60, a halo antenna (which I later donated to St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club for its Field Day operations) and an MFJ-906 antenna tuner. I added a Cushcraft three-element beam in January 2007, in time to win the Missouri section, single operator, low power category on 6 meters, in the 2007 edition of the January VHF Sweepstakes.  This has given me many hours of enjoyment on many a summer day and night. 

The mastery of Morse Code was always a sore spot for me. It wasn't until the fall of 2006 that I was motivated to learn the Morse Code. I was able to set up some tutoring sessions on the Morse Code with Dr. Andy Lozowski (WØPH), a professor in the School of Engineering at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. I mastered the copying of 12 Morse Code characters by the time the code requirement was eliminated for General and Extra Class exams in February 2007. In June of that year, I passed the exam to upgrade from a General Class to a Technician Class license. It took two tries to get both the initial no-code Tech license and the upgrade to General. Despite the upgrade, I still stuck to VHF, earning the nickname "Mr. Six Meters" from the Secretary of the St. Louis and Suburban Radio Club, Cliff Rozar (KCØSDV).

My operations expanded in January 2010 with the purchase of an ICOM IC-745 HF transceiver from one of the members of the Boeing Employees' Amateur Radio Society, Dave (K2DP). That's when I really began working the DX. I switched an MFJ-1778 G5RV antenna, which I had been using for shortwave listening since 1997, to working the HF bands. I built a dipole for shortwave listening. As of October 1, 2012, I have 61 countries confirmed, along with over 170 grid squares on 6 meters.

Who knows what the next 20 years will hold? Only God knows. But, I'll be looking forward to many more years of great contacts on the Amateur Radio bands.