Blog Archive

Monday, February 12, 2018

Winter Olympics present a gold medal challenge
As everyone is aware, the 2018 Winter Olympics are underway in PyeongChang through the end of the month. For ham radio operators, the games are sort of a medal event requiring unique non-athletic skills - contacting the special event station that is commemorating the games.
Korean Special Event QSL card.
The Korean Amateur Radio League has been operating station DT23WOP (which stands for "23rd Winter Olympics") since December 1, from the capital city of Seoul, and will continue until the end of the games on February 28th, says event organizer, Dr. Sungki Lee, HL1WD.

Dr. Lee, an active dx'er (and reknowned Korean opthamologist) e-mailed me the following information:
"Now we are operating from mainly Seoul and some other cities.  (The) PyeongChang Olympic place is about 3 hours driving distance from Seoul to the east coast.
"From Seoul, our station is equipped with IC-775DSP with 500 watts amp into a hex beam (14~28MHz). For 40 and 80M, we are using a dipole. 
"But as you know, high band conditions are poor. Now our main mode is CW but some FT-8, PSK31 and RTTY," he said.
On the DT23WOP page, Lee says the station is using LOTW and that Olympic QSL cards will be mailed from Korea to incoming card bureaus in every country, and there is no need for hams to send their own cards to Korea.
Dr. Sungki Lee, HL1WD at his ham station.
Blogger's opinion: This is a tough one. Under current solar conditions, daytime contact from the United States (with a possible west coast exception) seems impossible.

However, nighttime contacts stand a better chance where there is a path of darkness between Korea and the States. Personally, I'll be watching the spotting sites (such as, featured on the right side of my page) to see where DT23WOP is being heard.
Obtaining the beautiful DT23WOP QSL card is really worth the effort.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

An old scanner finds new life in 2018

Lately, I've been scanning like it's 1996. No narrowbanding, no alpha tags, no PL tones and no digital P25 mode. The radio is a Radio Shack PRO-60, a sturdy and selective scanner of the pre-digital era, and one that I especially like.

Allow me to backtrack a bit. In 1996, when Radio Shack was still selling scanners like hotcakes, I bought a PRO-60 for the retail price of  $380. The radio covered 30-1000 MHz, but left out cellular frequencies in the 800 MHz band (due to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986.)

My PRO-60 in action.
In no time, I had the radio filled with public safety, ham and aviation frequencies, and listened to it in my car or carried it with me. It even made trips with me to the Firehouse Expo in Baltimore, where the police and fire channels never stop squawking.

The scanner was well designed - solid and professional, with logically laid out buttons and keypad. On its left side, it had two barrel plug DC inputs - one that bypassed the batteries entirely, and the other that was intended to recharge NiCad AA cells installed in the radio.

One day, paying half attention, I plugged the external DC into the recharge jack while using non-rechargeable batteries. A day later when I checked the scanner, the processor was ruined and some of the keypad inputs were shot. Some buttons worked, some didn't, and occasionally the LCD display blinked on and off.

To make matters worse, Radio Shack would no longer repair the PRO-60 because in the year 2000, the company claimed it was too old. Drat. I was a victim of planned obsolesence by the people at Tandy Corporation.

The PRO-60 shown in the 1996 catalog.
So the radio collected dust on a shelf for a few more years, before I finally removed the antenna and battery holder, and tossed the rest of it into the trash. I've had lots of other scanners over the years, digital and analog, simple and complex, but I hoped one day I'd find another PRO-60 and feel better about frying my first one.

Fast forward to 2017. Just before Christmas last month, I spotted a near-mint PRO-60 on eBay, from a seller in Ohio who treated it with respect and observed the correct power plug configuration. Four days and $54 later, the radio arrived at my doorstep.

While outdated by today's standards and mostly a collector's item, the PRO-60 still has a lot to offer - a triple conversion receiver (making it immune to most interference), selectable wide or narrow FM, AM for aviation listening, and the 220 MHz ham radio band - a rarity in older scanners.

There are still plenty of agencies using analog radio to make the PRO-60 useful, and the audio is crisp and loud. Best of all, I feel vindicated over what happened to this scanner's predecessor, and I'm determined not to make to make the same mistake twice.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Diving into FT-8, the hot new digital mode
Last fall, my digital mode of choice was JT-65, with its sinister ice cream truck-sounding musical notes and long, tedious turnaround time - the ham radio equivalent of watching grass grow. 
A year later, I'm obsessed with its offspring, FT-8, also a low power mode suitable for weak band conditions and limited antennas. Like JT-65, the information exchange is automated and basic – call signs, grid squares and signal reports (in decibels).
What's different? FT-8 uses transmissions that last 15 seconds rather than a full minute, meaning there's less waiting and four times as many contacts can be squeezed into the same amount of time.
Since its introduction this summer, FT-8 has caught on like a California wildfire. No one expected this kind of popularity, not even its co-creator, Joe Taylor, W1JT. You only have to look at the FT-8 software waterfall to see how popular it is, as dozens of signals work their way down the display on any band that's remotely open.
When operating, you can either call CQ or answer other stations by clicking on them as they appear in the left hand column. A word of advice - FT-8 is very time dependent. 

Your computer clock has to be accurate to within a second, in order to sync up with other signals on the waterfall. Since my elderly laptop tends to lose time, I have it synced to the National Institute of Standards (NIST) clock, found here.
Typical  FT-8 screen showing
waterfall and received stations.

FT-8 is included as part of the free WSJT-X download package, version 1.8.0. There are versions for Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems and other useful information on the page.
Admittedly, FT-8 isn’t for everybody. Like JT-65, it’s impersonal and doesn’t allow any real chatting. There are times when I click the CQ button and walk away. When I return, I see that I logged an entire QSO because the software is smart – it establishes contacts and then runs through exchanges and finally sends “73” to the other station.
FT-8 allows short free-texting and lets operators work “split” by separating the transmit and receive frequencies on the display. Most contacts are simplex, but dx contacts usually work split – just like regular analog ham radio. 

Here are the designated frequencies for using this mode: 1840 KHz, 3573 KHz, 7074 KHz, 10136 KHz, 14074 KHz, 18100 KHz, 21074 KHz, 24915 KHz, 28074 KHz and 50.313 MHz. I generally run no more than 10 or 15 watts of output power - more than adequate to make plenty of contacts.

I hope this is an informative article, and that some of you give FT-8 a try. As they say in digi-land, see you on the waterfall!

Happy Holidays!


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Vintage receiver brings the past to life
Thirty-three years ago, when I started in ham radio, the equipment was beginning a shrinking trend - one that continues in some ways today. Mid-80s radios, holdovers of earlier decades, could be big, bulky, warm and drifty. But transistors and ICs gave way to a new generation of small solid-state rigs that didn't use tubes and offered a lot more features.
Famous transceivers of the 1970s were being sold off as their owners traded up for compact HF transceivers, like the ubiquitous Kenwood TS-430 (later the TS-440), the Yaesu FT-757 and the ICOM 735. These little beauties offered carefree operating - no transmitter tuning and the benefit of a digital frequency readout. 
Late in 1984, I was a Novice-level operator, itching to get on the air. New radios were very expensive, so I purchased a classic "boat anchor" - an FT101B that was on the consignment counter at my local ham store, Rogus Electronics. Working the counter that day was Frank, W1FD (now a silent key) who made sure I could safely operate the radio before it left the store. (Maybe he didn't want to be accountable  in the event I electrocuted myself or accidentally set the radio on fire. Either way, he was a good teacher.)
Vintage display ad for the Yaesu Musen FRG-7.
Just before Christmas, I lugged my FT-101B home, set it up on a desk and connected a long wire antenna and a tuner. Lo and behold, it worked well and I made lots of contacts over the next two years.
My ham friends mostly had newer radios, so after scrimping and saving, I sprung for a Yaesu FT-757 GXII when it went on sale in 1986. I sold the FT-101B and swore it would be the last breadbox-size behemoth - legendary or not -  to occupy my radio desk.
And for 31 years, it was – until October, 2017. That’s when I brought home a pristine, like-new FRG-7 (known as "The Frog") modeled after the FT-101 line of radios and still very selective and sensitive. Mostly it shines on the AM broadcast band due to its 6 kHz bandwidth. Sideband and CW sound good, too.
How did I acquire this radio? I have to credit (or blame) my friend Bill, W7YY, who is the ARES director for our town. While working an emergency simulation (the SET test) last month, he mentioned he acquired radio equipment from someone who cleared out an estate, and the Frog happened to be in the collection. My interest was piqued, Bill quoted a very reasonable price, and the rest is now history.
Here are some specs: The Frog is a solid state, triple conversion receiver covering 500 KHz to 29.9 MHz in four bands. It uses an oscillator called a “Wadley Loop” that generates harmonics at 1 MHz intervals. Determining what frequency the radio is on requires a slight bit of math, but with practice, I can tell where I’m listening within one or two kilohertz. A fine tuning dial makes things exact, and clarifies stations operating on sideband.
The Frog was built between 1976 and 1980, slightly later than the FT series of transceivers.  I don’t know who the previous owner was, but he or she kept the radio in incredibly new condition. For that, I am a grateful and proud owner of a beautiful, well functioning boat anchor. See a complete history of Yaesu radios at this link.

Here's my YouTube video of the Frog in action:

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Ham radio task force sent to Puerto Rico
In a year that's top heavy with natural disasters, amateur radio is once again living up to the slogan: "When all else fails, ham radio." That phrase, created by the ARRL to promote ham radio in emergencies, has been decried in the past by public safety leaders who believe professional radio infrastructures don't fail. At least not very often.
In all fairness, public safety radio usually keep working - except when a massive hurricane topples towers and phone lines, wrecks the electric grid and floods stand-by generators.
I’m obviously referring to Puerto Rico, slammed a week ago by Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that overran the Caribbean island and left 3.4 million residents with no basic services or sanitation in tropical, sweltering heat.
Relief agencies like FEMA, the Red Cross and the Navy are trying to deliver shipments of essentials, but moving it around is nearly impossible because of roads clogged with trees and debris. No repeaters are working, and public works personnel are said to be using the ham frequency of 146.52 MHz - two meter simplex - to coordinate debris removal.
One of the pressing problems is that residents can't get word of their conditions to the outside world and the reverse is true as well.  With this in mind, the ARRL has sent 25 two-person teams to Puerto Rico, equipped with digital HF transceivers, power supplies, dipole antennas, connecting cables and military-grade generators. Once HF radio is established, contact will be maintained with the U.S. mainland and other countries to allow messages into and out of Puerto Rico.

The so-called "Force of Fifty" deployment will last about three weeks. Radio equipment and operators will be sent to Red Cross shelters from San Juan to the western end of the island, Their main purpose will be to gather health and welfare information in the cities and rural areas, even if they have to go door-to-door to get it. The data will then be entered enter into the Red Cross's Safe & Well website, a central clearing house of information.
For a detailed look at the deployment, view this news report from Connecticut television station Fox 61.
"This generous outpouring of response represents the finest qualities of the amateur radio community," ARRL CEO Tom Gallagher said. "These individuals are dropping whatever they are doing how, heading off to an extended hardship duty assignment and offering their special talents to Americans who have been cut off from their families, living amid widespread destruction and without electrical power."

Many charitible organizations are accepting donations to assist Puerto Rico. These include the Salvation Army, AmeriCares, Catholic Relief Services and American Red Cross.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The plane! The plane! (Part II)

Another great aspect of aviation monitoring takes place on shortwave radio. Over the open ocean, aircraft use HF frequencies to report their headings and altitudes to a worldwide network of shortwave-based control stations.
Worldwide HF aviation map.

Generally speaking, the traditional VHF air band and its line-of-sight characteristic is good to about 100 miles offshore, then HF radio, satellite navigation and the ACARS positioning systems take over. Fortunately for shortwave listeners, the North Atlantic and Caribbean air routes still use radio as a primary means of communicating.

From my listening post in New England, the North Atlantic air route is the busiest and easiest to monitor. There are seven North Atlantic "tracks" (NATs) that accommodate flights between the U.S. and Europe - most of which are eastbound by night and westbound by day. Gander Oceanic Control (Gander Radio) in Newfoundland controls the western side, while Shanwick Control in Ireland keeps tabs on the European side.

Shortwave frequencies for the North Atlantic tracks are 2899 kHz, 5616 kHz, 8864 kHz, 13291 kHz and 17946 kHz. All transmissions are in USB and frequencies vary by time of day and propagation.
Photo courtesy of

Aircraft crossing the oceans must report in as they cross various points of longitude (called "waypoints") along each track, allowing controllers to maintain safe separation between planes. The ground controllers also receive SELCAL (selective calling) codes from the crew that allows the cockpit to be notified of incoming transmissions while leaving the radios muted.

Controllers also test the tones to make sure the radios activate properly. The website explains the history of SELCAL, which has been around for 60 years and adapted to the increasing amount of air traffic over the years.

Another important oceanic station is New York Radio, located in Ronkonkoma, New York, in the same building as New York Center, the regional VHF control facility. New York Radio controls a huge swatch of air space including the Gulf of Mexico, most of the Caribbean, parts of the NAT (zones 6 and 7) and part of the South Atlantic Tracks (SATs).

New York Radio's overseas "opposite" is Santa Maria Oceanic in Portugal, sharing these HF frequencies: 2962 kHz, 6628 kHz, 8825 kHz, 11309 kHz and 17946 kHz.

Much of the aviation electronics (avionics) for both military and civilian aircraft communications is manufactured by Rockwell-Collins of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The company's line up of integrated HF radio and digital data equipment can be found here.

Finally, please enjoy this beautiful animation, depicting the thousands of flights that cross the Atlantic Ocean each day. Video is courtesy of and Vimeo,com.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The plane! The plane!

From where I live in southwestern Connecticut, it seems that air traffic is everywhere.  Small planes loop about from uncontrolled (no tower) airports, commuter planes buzz overhead from larger controlled facilities, and  jumbo jets fly a regular path from southwest to northeast, heading to various destinations in Europe.

As a radio hobbyist, it's really easy to listen, since planes still use VHF AM to talk with controllers, just as they have since world War II.  The American air traffic control system - complex and laden with acronyms and jargon - is divided into 22 large sectors which direct planes before and after they talk to local airports.
Sector map for Boston ARTCC
The New England states, plus part of New York and eastern Pennsylvania, are part of the Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center (Boston Center) based in Nashua, New Hampshire. Since Boston Center covers so much territory - 165,000 square miles - it has remote radio sites all over the northeast, on Cape Cod and in two Connecticut towns, Shelton and Woodstock. View a complete list of frequencies here.

The busiest of these frequencies by far is 118.425 MHz, a high-altitude channel for flights entering and leaving Boston Center's western sector. It is so busy that 10 seconds rarely elapse without another plane signing on for altitude ("flight level") and radio frequency changes - depending on where they are headed.
Waterbury-Oxford (CT) Airport

Among major airports under Boston Center's control, I can hear Bradley International Airport tower on 120.3 MHz and Bradley approach and departure on 123.95 MHz. The largest of the New England airports, Logan Airport in Boston, (tower on 128.800) is too far away for me to hear directly - but it can be monitored through the online aviation service

I also have small controlled airports nearby, business-based Tweed-New Haven with a tower frequency of 124.8 MHz, unicom of 121.700, and Waterbury-Oxford Airport tower on 118.475 MHz, unicom of 122.95. The towers at these airports shut down at 10 p.m., so the unicom channels are used by aircraft to announce their intentions (landing, taking off, taxiing) during nighttime hours.

Closest to me at about 10 miles away is Meriden-Markham Airport, somewhat of a glorified airstrip. The airport has no tower and is popular with flight instructors and students. Its unicom frequency is 123.050 and, like the others, is busiest on weekends.

Unicom channels can provide hours of entertainment, as pilots chit-chat about their lives, loves and just about anything else. This is common on clear summer and autumn days, when hobby pilots take to the skies for sightseeing or a day trip to Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket. Try tuning to 123.07 122.700, 122.800, 122.900, 123.000 or 123.050, or a few other known "itinerant" aviation channels where anything goes: 123.300, 123.500, 123.025 (helicopter) and 122.750 (fixed wing). Supposedly 123.45 is the unofficial plane-to-plane frequency, but I almost never catch any chatter there.

Screen capture of air traffic over
Connecticut from

Here's a fun fact - VHF radio can be heard over incredibly wide areas, based on this formula: Distance (miles) = 1.23 x (the square root of) altitude (feet). This means that an aircraft at 10,000 feet can be heard at a distance of 110.9 miles - which is slightly less than the distance from my house to Boston.

If listening isn't enough for you, there are websites that offer aircraft tracking in real time, complete with flight plans and information about the planes, with the simple click of a mouse. Of three similar sites, my favorite is because it plots both civilian and military aircraft based on commonly used ADS-B transponders and MLAT - a radar triangulation system for planes without ADS-B.

The other online flight trackers are and, the second of which distributes self-contained ADS-B receivers to users who live where there is sparse transponder reception, provided the user streams the data back to the main site.

Aircraft also communicate over the open ocean, but at that distance, HF radio replaces VHF and Oceanic ATC stations handle all the communications. More on that in my next blog entry!