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The Listener's Guide - WWW Version

By Bob Ellis

Copyright 1982-1999

The right of Bob Ellis to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. This special Web Edition is free to read off-screen. A charge will be made for download and printing. Details at the end of the document. Feel free to use the information anywhere but please credit the source.

This file is The Guide text. Also available on The Radio Daze Home Page is GUIDE.ZIP.
It contains this text and two extra HTML files listing Radio Stations heard by the author and a list of Utilities Heard Worldwide.

And you are Reader Number

This book started out as The Lowe Listeners' Guide, first written as a place to dump a lifetime of radio thoughts and experiences. In its original form, first with a yellow cover then updated with a technical supplement by John Thorpe under grey covers, the print-run was over 15,000. It got a tremendous response and is still used today. Among the reviews was this one from the Fine Tuning group in the USA:

"Packed along with each Lowe receiver is a little gem of a book called The Lowe Listeners' Guide, which serves as an introduction to DX'ing without attempting to provide one of those frequency lists that's invariably outdated. This little book covers an awful lot in its 60 odd pages, and does it with a dry, refreshing wit. I've been DX'ing for more than 40 years, yet I found things in the little Lowe book that I'd never tried. It begins with some pointers on antennas, then moves on to a guide tour of the spectrum from ELF through 30 MHz. Here's a sample of what you'll find "off the beaten track"

"If you really want to frighten yourself, a couple of transistors and a few large coils can be cobbled into an ELF receiver. Around 10 kHz or so the action of static discharges anywhere in the atmosphere, coupled with hanges in the earth's magnetic field, create "Whistlers", not unlike the cry of a rough whale. Very eerie all this. All worthy of John Carpenter..."

While it's written from a European perspective, with a distinctly British accent, the information contained in Lowe's wonderful little Listeners' Guide is perfectly valid anywhere on earth. Like the receivers it accompanies, The Lowe Listeners' Guide is for short-wave connoisseurs. Priced at only £1.95 (about $3.50) it would make an ideal stocking stuffer for any short wave aficionado".

Top DX'er Gordon Bennett saw it as "44 pages of very useful and comprehensive information presented in a light-hearted fashion," but he admits he never made it to the end....

The Listeners Guide is out of print now but after that kind of comment plus a steady stream of feedback received since I left the industry, here we go again.

Only the name has been changed to protect the innocent:

If, for some unaccountable reason, you decide to read these notes in one sitting and it takes you day to do it, the world will have spent $3,400,000 on getting its message to you. That's only transmission costs for broadcasting stations. Add to that production costs, salaries, all the other usual commercial overheads and you can safely double it. Add in the utilities, the marine, aero and tactical, the number stations and everything else we hear between the broadcast bands and I reckon, speaking very generally, that the world's HF operations don't get much change out of $20M a day. If there is that level of investment in sending the stuff, we owe it to ourselves to listen to it. Or at least some of it...

The word Radio to us means "radiation and detection in order" or possibly "radiation and audio", the earliest definition I can find. Those were the buzz-words of the time, an era - so if they don't seem relevant today, remember only the technology changes, the mechanism that gets a station to us is locked in The Laws of Physics.

It hasn't changed.

As this is, after all, a commercial venture supporting the drive toward a better class of receiver, we will reiterate that money has to be parted with in the hope of good performance. The writer's pedigree takes him back to The Classic Collins and the world renowned AR88D. Those who follow my column in SHORTWAVE MAGAZINE here in Europe will have seen my features showing how getting to grips with these military giants gives you the best push up the radio design learning curve. And it is with all credit to AOR that I remind you that what follows is a personal view and you have the right of reply to

In which we finally decide that the past is another country, they did things differently there. Let's face it, it's a jumble out there...

When it came to review The HF Guide for this Edition, we decided to take a fresh approach. The world of radio communications and international broadcasting is changing almost daily. Some have already given up on short-wave, moving up onto satellite to reach the target country.

They will tell you this is the only future for radio.

Some continue to invest in short-wave, moving to higher frequencies to make the best of what will be improving conditions for radio for many years. They know that in under-developed countries the investment in even the simplest of portable radios takes a vast proportion of available income, so to suggest the village elders cough up for a satellite dish is out of the question.

They will tell you this is the only future for radio.

Some will continue to invest in AM Radio or medium-wave, moving against the rush for FM and DAB because these are the only frequencies becoming available for new radio formats.

They will tell you this is the only future for radio.

So what can we expect? The truth is when it comes to home entertainment, we have been spoiled rotten. We expect digital quality sound from our CD hi-fi, NICAM stereo from our televisions, surround sound in our cars with the value-added luxury of MegaBass and all our favourite radio stations in glorious FM Stereo. Transmitter processing will have left us with false perceptions of loudness and tonal balance. We can say from the outset that short-wave will not live up to this. Reception will vary from the quality of the worst international phone line right up to what we have come to expect from a pre-recorded cassette - if that is a good example - stopping at all points in between.

It's not all gloomy.

Recent developments in radio design can get the best out of steam wireless. Point-to-point communication channels that once required the constant attention of a radio operator are easy pickings from a favourite armchair, thanks to the receiver designer's commitment to synthesizer and detector design. My generation remembers Tony Hancock and would like to think his outlook is, at last, quite redundant. Or is it?

They say that travel broadens the mind. Now, for about the cost of an airline ticket to somewhere half decent, a radio can be bought that will take you almost anywhere on the surface of the globe. If you can live without the Air Miles, the world can be your oyster.

A modern receiver can have the capacity to deal with the specialised transmissions used in air traffic control, coastal radio, navigation and ship-to-shore communications. For a few extra pounds, the world is your whelk.

World travel without the airport delays. If there are any, you'll hear about them first. Armchair travel broadens the behind. (My therapist advises it is best, at this early stage, to let me get these old gags out of my system.)

So, who is listening?

The broadest range of people imaginable. From the new listener who has just heard Moscow for the first time on something marked "SW1" on his ghetto-blaster, to the professional monitor reporting back world events to his government.

Ex-patriots wanting news from home while reading a four-day old copy of The Daily Mail.

People on ships, on expeditions or on holiday. World leaders and policy makers wanting to know how the world sees them and how they see the world.

The armchair traveller who wants to know just a little bit more.

In oppressed countries where media is strictly controlled, short-wave can be the only source of uncorrupted news. It can also be the catalyst that sparks the revolution.

In India and Africa where one radio serves an entire community.

And the just plain nosey. If you have ever felt the need to mute the sound on the TV to check up on the unholy row going on next door, then this is the hobby for you...

If you already have a radio, The HF Guide is designed - if that isn't too grand a term - to be used as the colour supplement to your Instruction Manual. If you are new to the hobby, we hope this Guide will give you a valuable insight into the radio world that lives somewhere between the AM and FM bands on your average ghetto-blaster and if it eventually causes you to call an radio outlet, all the better. There is a downside to everything - we did say this is a commercial venture...

Siting The Set
If you are taking the traditional route to the hobby, the radio room - or shack, in Hamspeak - should be warm, dry and out of direct sunlight as the Manual advises. People also perform well under these conditions, the microprocessors and logic lines that operate a modern wireless objecting to cold and damp, just as much as we do.

A base station radio will usually mean an outside antenna, so site it where the downlead - a bit of wire or coax used to make the connection between set and aerial - is as short as possible. Not only will this keep the losses down, but that bit of wire is also acting as an antenna to any interference radiating from the house. We now have many clever ways to get a "clean" signal to your radio via low-loss cables and matching baluns, but more on this later.

PLAY SAFE: All receivers have the correct power connector for the destination country. If making any changes to power cables, seek qualified advice. When replacing the fuse in the plug, the UK standard 13A fuse will offer no protection. A 2 amp fuse brings safety and peace of mind. If the radio is part of a transmitting station, pay special attention to the fuse values suggested in the Book of Words. Radio manufacturers and engineers - especially this one - know what they are doing - this Guide upholds all that is written there on the subject of safety.

During the writers chequered career as an engineer with a once-respected radio engineering company in the Derbyshire Peaks, he would stand back in amazement at the state of the plugs fitted to sets requiring servicing. Loose cord grips, loose or badly oxidised fuses, loose pin screws and cracked casings lead to a rash of reported microprocessor "crashes", violent intermittent interference and a range of "it only does it once a month" faults that caused the guys in Service to age three years for every one spent in a normal environment. When we can get them out of therapy, they will lend a little reassurance that receivers and their Owners require the least attention compared to those who transmit.

"Our text today is it is better to receive than to send..."

We are on shaky ground here. Rain forests have been lost for paper to print the endless hallowed textbooks on the subject so we don't feel we should add to the debate. Having said that...

Your first point of reference is The Manual. The antenna stages of your radio will exhibit some kind of electrical characteristic. This is a Complex Impedance, usually edited down to "impedance" - the resistance offered to the radio signal - for the sake of common usage. If you follow the suggested designs in the instruction manual, then the burden of thought rests with the set maker and the aerial will be a good match. This has little to do with dating agencies - our "good match" is the best transfer of energy from the aerial to the radio which is all we are trying to achieve. This can also be done without the slightest knowledge of the radio's input impedance, offering more reassurance to the beginner.

You will note the writer can't make up his mind on what term to use, "antenna" or "aerial." They are interchangeable - your commentator being a dear old-fashioned thing trying to make a point. Current designers working in the white heat of new technology do seem to loose touch with the fact that the basic physics remain the same, only the "top layer" of jargon follows fashion.

And now, over to Smug Corner...
Welcome to a new feature of your HF Guide. This is a chance to score points off your elders and betters who inhabit a land where so much money has gone over the counter, they have "Receivers," not "a radio" and have a bad case of the Rhombics for an antenna where we have got a bit of wire. If we have a portable radio we won't even have that.

Users of portable radios and scanners, those with a reasonable RF performance, get an early chance to visit Smug Corner. Even the small telescopic or helical antenna will deliver a signal, albeit at a changeable - usually high impedance and at a low level, the input stages designed to cope with all this. No antenna wires leave you free to listen anywhere, locations near windows giving best reception without the screening effects from any metalwork used in the building.

Portable users are strongly recommended to use a mains power supply when listening at home. This saves a fortune on dry cells and provides an earth path for unwanted signals. One of my sweeping generalisations is to state that DC battery power is up to 200 times more expensive than using the AC adapter.

Using ni-cad rechargeables is a debatable saving as the convenience of not buying dry cells is negated by the lower voltage available. A radio expecting to see 6 volts from four AA cells will only get 5 volts from a set of ni-cads, a loss of 16%. Not much in real terms, but enough to affect the RF performance of one of the better portables. If you have upgraded, the losses may degrade the new set to the level of the one just replaced. Remember; performance is such these days that each new model only brings an incremental increase in spec...

If the portable has an antenna connector, short pieces of wire can be tried, but don't go to any great lengths - pun intended - to put up big aerials for portables. Too much signal can cause more problems than too little.

For those of us who require an outdoor aerial - by far the best for general reception as we get away from electrical interference inside the house - we always recommend The Long Wire.

The Traditional Long-Wire
This, as its name implies, is a simple single length of wire of a thickness strong enough to support its own weight, insulated or not, as long and high as the local geography allows. Technocrats will call this an "Inverted L" as the longer limb of the capital letter L is the bit that runs down the garden, the shorter limb swinging down to form the downlead to the radio. Technophobes will say it is easy to put up. Simply use insulators at each of the three points of the L and you are away. If you feel this prose is labouring toward a "what the 'L" punchline, then there it is, with all the feeling of inevitability...

Try to form the aerial and downlead in a single unbroken length of wire. This will avoid making connections outside and the possible future effects of corrosion affecting reception. If you are out in the country, a long wire can be very long offering some advantages at lower frequencies.

Keep it away from any overhead powerlines as their throbbing 11,000 volts will do little for the radio or your hairstyle. They are also the transmitters of electrical noise at the very frequencies you thought you were gaining some advantage by "going for the big one."

Life is like that.

Connect all long-wires great or small to the WIRE point on the back of the radio. While you are there you may see a large coaxial connector. This is for specialist antennas that achieve resonance - that is, a maximum efficiency at a single or narrow range of frequencies - a characteristic of them being a low impedance that may be carried by coax cable.

The advantage of a coax feed is the screening effect the cable has against localised interference, no special care has to be taken in the handling of the cable and, provided some effort has been made to "match" the coax at both ends, then the antennas can be remotely sited away from noise sources. Our traditional long-wire will also be a low impedance at some frequencies so don't hesitate to experiment. You can calculate at what frequencies this will happen if you feel the need to. We prefer the "suck it and see" method as no amount of sums can argue with a higher signal meter reading...

Readers of the previous editions will note that so far we have stayed out of The Snug Bar of our village inn, The Duck and Fruitbat, a tribute to a great radio voice here in the UK who got your scribe "shambling around in the early bright" most mornings on BBC Radio Two's Early Show, the much missed Ray Moore. Radio DJ's are only special to their local audiences, Ray's name will mean little to this WWW readership. Every reader will have a radio name they grew up with...

The Snug is a place we went to hide from Management (the wife, that is), life in general, a place for the quiet contemplation of our hobby's technical issues. We can hide no longer.

Coax-fed antennas have become law during the development of the latest generation of radio sets. The Duck and Fruitbat is quiet of a lunchtime this days. In one corner, the radio hams talk of antennas as religion. In our corner, we still believe radio is fun as long as you follow the "ground" rules - puns being a cheap form of journalism - the most important being the efficient transfer of energy from aerial site to radio set.

Single-ended antennas, whether they be a short whip, an end-fed wire or an MF "TEE", will only approximate a resistive match at odd multiples of the frequency at which the antenna achieves Quarter Wave Resonance - and then only if the termination is with respect to a common ground, both for the feedline and the antenna itself. At all other frequencies such an antenna looks like an impedance in series with a resistance.

Coast Stations use them. Ships use them. Intercept Stations use them. Casual listeners use them. They are also found on military radios and the slower aircraft, being used for communications and for receiving Electronic Navaids - in fact they are almost universal and because of this they receive no more than a passing glance in the grand scheme of things. Truly, familiarity has bred contempt. In the good old days, when receivers had real front-ends and the price of copper was reasonable, this was of little consequence. The end-fed antenna was simply brought in directly to the receiver terminals via a healthy piece of copper tubing through a hole drilled in a plate-glass window. Low loss? Virtually no loss in practice.

By understandable means to us old-timers, including the use of warmly glowing, EMP-immune glass bottles filled with excited electrons, the flow of which was deflected somewhat by the energy from the antenna, this lot used to be converted into an intelligible signal, the translation of which would be transcribed by the Operator in the soft, comforting light emanating from the internals of the receiver.

But then Three-legged Fuses came along to replace warmly glowing, EMP-immune glass bottles; they called them Transistors. An epoch had ended. So what else was new?

Co-ax was almost new. In their haste to exhibit their understanding of co-ax and the Three-Legged Fuses, ignoring the basic antenna theory they ought to have learned at their mother's knee, engineers used it everywhere, willy-nilly. Antennas were designed for it. Three-legged fuses had impedances that matched it; new problems arose which were further compounded by broad-band front-ends (or total lack thereof). This was the demise of Performance and Immunity. The demise of the Vale Four-gang Variable Condenser! The black art of tracking a superhet is lost!

But what about images and IPs and overloading? That was what the front-end was all about, was it not? So, to eliminate the images, up-conversion was born - and Synthesizers and low-pass filters. Three-legged fuses proliferated, interbred and mutated. Now there are 32-legged fuses, possibly even larger numbers of legs exist, I gave up counting long ago! Time was when we could afford a receiver, now you need a mortgage to get the down-payment together. But we digress…

All this is Progress, we are led to believe but antennas are still the same, more power to them. Engineers are not. They understand the multi-legged fuses and the up-conversion techniques and their intellects are overloaded with digits and Op-Amps and Bragg Cells and Fast Fourier Transforms. There is no room left to understand the Antenna - the only means that exist to collect the signals they need so that they can exhibit their fantastic abilities.

Luckily, there are few of us old-timers left, we know where the priorities lie. We must remind you. Co-axial cable is a low-loss conductor of RF energy only when it is terminated in something like its nominal impedance, usually 50 or 75 ohm, which is a very low value in terms of the natural impedance of a non-resonant antenna. No matter how

clever you are, you can't successfully feed an end-fed, non-resonant antenna directly into a piece of Co-ax.

Why not?

Well, regardless of Progress and Education, you still can't beat the laws of physics. Un-terminated co-ax cable is VERY capacitive. UR67 or example, has a capacity of 30 Picofarads per foot - that's about 99 Picofarads per metre for the Metricated types. A typical MF TEE antenna may look like 200 pF in series with 6 ohms - and site layout may well make it necessary to feed it via 100 Metres or more of UR67. Would YOU feed a 50 ohm receiver input via a capacitive divider of 2/99, all but a 2% transfer?

A ten-metre whip on a building might have a capacity of 5pF and a resistance of 2 ohm, fed via 8 Metres of co-ax. This gives you a similar capacitive divider of 25/800, not quite so bad as the MF TEE, but not much better! Yet, without thinking, you do it all the time and there is no recognition of the problem I have revealed, because nobody wants even to admit that there is a problem.

When an antenna is "short" (less than 90 electrical degrees in length), as is normal in Coast Station use at MF, or in many Transportable and other applications at HF, the antenna "looks" like a small number of Ohms in series with a capacitance. This obtains at any frequency at which it is shorter than an odd multiple of 90 degrees and longer than an even multiple of quarter-wave resonances.

At all other frequencies (except at odd multiples of Quarter Wave Resonance, where the natural termination of the antenna is, almost, purely relative) the appearance of the antenna at termination is of a capacitance in series with an inductance. Now we must give a little credit to those clever young engineers who design modern receivers but don't understand antennas. They have pushed the thresholds of sensitivity down to levels unheard-of in the good old days, albeit in 50 ohm to match their beloved co-ax. Thanks to their ingenuity we ought to be able to get a usable signal at a much lower threshold. And so we can! Trouble is, some of these lads have read CCIR Report 322 and decided that sensitivity below 2MHz is of little consequence because the amount of noise down there will defeat the signals anyway. In part they are right, but if a signal can be weaned from all that noise, facility should be provided to do it.

And it is below 2MHz that the non-resonant, single-ended antenna is most likely to be used, simply because the physical size of a resonant antenna at these frequencies precludes its use except in very special circumstances and at great expense, both for the physical structure and in terms of real-estate.

Is there a practical solution? Within limitations, yes, there is. In order to reduce the capacitive divider problem the co-ax must be terminated in some sort of load which is within reasonable shooting-distance of its nominal impedance. We are not worried about VSWR or power-handling in this case, the strongest signal we are going to get will be in the order of a couple of volts or so.

The problem of terminating a single-ended antenna into co-ax has long been recognised. We have seen a special, pretty little box to do this. It has a nice little feed-through insulator on one end and a Type "N" Connector on the other. Inside, there is nothing except a small ferrite ring, sixteen turns primary, four turns secondary to get the GENERALLY HIGH impedances seen at a long-wire down to the GENERALLY LOW impedances needed by a modern receiver and it only costs the customer a few quid. Or a hell of a lot more if that customer is depending on his dealer to cover his basic lack of knowledge or interest in antennas...

Allowing for the credit we gave the youngsters for pushing down sensitivity thresholds of receivers, we can neglect a true impedance match when we terminate the antenna. Now this, as far as the MATCH is concerned, consists of the R component of the antenna plus the Loss Resistance of the Antenna System including its associated ground system, and you can measure as many as you like, you will find the R component varies between 2000 and 20 ohm. Put bit of capacity and some inductance in series with that and you will find that the impedance works out to be well within shooting distance of 400 ohm. If we accept that we are not worried about VSWR (although it will contribute to loss; hopefully, the increased sensitivity of these modern receivers will have compensated) we can tolerate say, 100 ohm at the top and 10 ohm at the bottom of our scale; a chunk of suitable ferrite wound with a 4:1 ratio, the low winding to the co-ax, high to the antenna feed, common earth, makes a remarkable difference.

If you use a toroid, it can be auto-wound and tapped, in practice a toroid of 20 turns Bi-filiar wound with an additional 20 turns on the Antenna side (40 on the antenna, 20 on the co-ax) seems to work pretty well anywhere. Better still, you can use a compensating RC network on the antenna side. Either solution is certainly better than leaving the co-ax open and trying to contend with the amazing losses of the capacitive divider!

There is a worthwhile benefit, too.

With this sort of termination on the antenna, any static build-up short of a direct lightning strike has a leakage path to ground; vulnerable solid-state front-ends and multicouplers of whatever gain some free protection (which we never really needed with valves and heavyweight tuned copper coils in the front-end). Now we have done something about it, why don't you! It helps our customers to receive signals and to get their money's worth!

Better now? The "EMP-immune glass bottle" is a radio valve. An ECC189 in cascade, an EF183, EF80, EF50 or 6K7G, depending on your generation, provided the amplification in the radios of yore. Some of these are still kept on as they are less affected by ElectroMagnetic Pulse, an after-effect of a nuclear strike - an important consideration for reception in the professional sector. IP's are intermodulation products, the dire consequences of strong signals on different channels mixing in the early stages of a radio to spoil our enjoyment with extra noise and reception of stations that do not exist. All I am preaching is that to get anything useful out then try to get a reasonable signal in. The rapid growth of the accessory market brings us antenna tuning units (ATU), preselectors and matching transformers - baluns, to you - low loss cables and connectors.

They WILL make a difference!

There is an awful lot going on in the world of wireless, many thousands of transmissions all seeking our attention, some weak, some very strong, all likely to interfere with each other. By using an antenna that favours the frequencies we want to hear, it will go some way to discard those of less interest and reduce the chances of IPs - intermodulation products - spoiling the fun.

So where do all the rejected stations go?

Down the GROUND wire into God's good earth. In many instances, this is via the earth lead in the mains cable and the plugs third pin.


The problem is this path is shared by every other electrical appliance in the house, some of which will be fitted with suppressors which will now be using the same path to earth electrical noise. Nobody has ever taken the time to have a word with this interference, suggesting it should only go to earth without seeing your radios ground lead as a way into the set where it now finds itself in series with the aerial signal and so a part of it. Hence, more noise...

The answer is to add extra earthing as per the suggestions in the instruction manual. This will often shorten the earth path and make it more effective. After a wet Saturday afternoon doing manic Dracula impressions with large earthing stakes, you may feel your attempts at getting a good earth are better than the bloke who wired your house and a strong desire to cut the earth lead in the plug.


 Some have found using a piece of coax left over from the antenna installation as an earth lead has some advantages.

A Co-Axial Earth
The wire core and the outer braid are connected together at the earth spike outside. In the radio room, only the inner core is connected to the GROUND point on the radio. As we have come to the sorry conclusion our earth lead is actually a part of our aerial, any interference picked up in the earth path is conducted to ground by the outer braid, leaving the centre core path "in the clear".

If we have problems with mains-borne interference, one answer is to allow our signal earth and our safety earth to ground in separate paths. If we are to maintain the integrity of our safety earth we can build in a high impedance "barrier" at signal frequencies in this path and take our station earth to ground from the radio side. This is nothing new. They were using isolating transformers as an end to common-mode noise back in the Thirties. These devices are now back in the accessory market. Forgive the wry smile of the old timer - the more things change to improve, perhaps, the more they stay the same.

Actively Seeking Signals...
Over in Smug Corner sits the owner of a portable receiver. He knows - and we have to admit - that the performance of these sets is on the up. Flat-dwellers can forget all that has gone before and not bother about the politics of outdoor antennas and buy a portable happy in the knowledge that it will perform very well. They can also see if this is the hobby for them or check out local interference by getting one of the many entry-level sets coming out of China and still have FM stereo to fall back on if the bands are quiet.

Don't you just hate it when that happens!

Yet they still enjoy their listening without all the discussion and installation of any special aerial array.

How do they do it? The telescopic rod antenna on the portable is all they are using...

Remember what we said about any length of wire or rod antenna acting as an aerial as long as you can match its end-impedance to the tuning circuits in the radio? This is what the portables have done for years. The telescopic whip and the impedance transforming electronics form the basis of The Active Antenna. This is already a part of the portable, but if we separate them to allow the whip to be sited for best reception, if we go for pure design with less thought for cost and power consumption to improve IP performance, we start to have a real solution for those who do not have the space for a conventional antenna. If you are rowing the Atlantic in a dingy this year, your dealer can supply an active antenna to receive from, but not send to, dear old Blighty.

If you have the space for any kind of wire aerial, then do it.

Experiment to your hearts content, but just do it. To get an active antenna to turn in a real performance equal to our much maligned "bit of wire" can lead to an investment near to the cost of the radio itself. Circumstances alter cases, so with the wide range of active devices available now, performance will not be compromised too much for the spatially-challenged. But do choose carefully…

Meanwhile in the snug of The Duck and Fruitbat, your scribe relaxes with several pints of Old McReekie's Intestinal Purge ready for some real radio. Just what are the Wild Waves saying?

The set is bought and installed by the book, the neighbour is already on to a legal beagle after seeing the antenna. But no matter. Time to turn on, tune in and drop out with the New Zealand fatstock prices.

In which we learn The Sun provides The Mirror for all the news we will hear;

Engineers can place the blame many millions of miles away. As the seminal work, The Hitch-hiker's Guide to The Wireless, the one true reference puts it;

"In the innermost reaches of the Galaxy, near the unfashionable Western arm of Ursa Minor, lies a small unregarded little yellow sun. Some ninety million miles from this, in an orbit whose shape after several thousand millennia is the prototype for the rugby ball, sits a much smaller blue-green planet called Earth. The sun sends its warming rays, so God says, to ionize the rarefied upper atmosphere into layers for two carbon-based ape descendants, Mssrs Appleton and Heaviside to discover. Long after this, just after the invention of Rugby football, Marconi found that if you chuck enough radio energy at one of these layers, some of it will come down at a tremendous distance, so giving birth to short-wave radio. All this served to do no more than upset God a deal, since it was His idea in the first place..."

So there you have it - with all due credit and apology to Douglas Adams.

The current radio conditions are an Act of God. If this sounds like a cop-out, then we can only blame the insurance companies who have used the line for years.

In addition to the daily and yearly life of the sun as we see it from Earth, it also has a life of it's own. This is the eleven year long sunspot cycle. Without getting into heavy physics, the radiated energy from the sun rises and falls in this period causing a corresponding rise and fall in the ability of our ionosphere to act as a mirror reflecting far-away stations to our radio sets. In the guidance notes for ship's radio officers, it generally accepted that the cycle will see three years of rapid growth followed by eight years of gradual decline - rather like the economy. It's interesting to note that a ships "sparks" - a radio professional - has this trained into him in one paragraph. The hams - radio amateurs - find the topic all pervading, the subject of nearly every net and bulletin board. If you were just about to mail me at to say that as a radio ham I am generalizing again, I write this as the holder of an amateur radio callsign; G8YQL - see you further down the log. Much further...

This is the twenty-third cycle since records began - the sun has been at it a little longer - and conditions are making a good recovery. The mean sunspot count, the most understandable indicator of solar activity is rising steadily - back in the hundreds as I write this. Add to this effects caused by solar flares, a storm on the sun and not a Seventies fashion statement, storms in the Earth's magnetic field and you have a recipe for a radio disaster or great listening. Conditions are that variable. But for the casual listener, you and I dear reader, there is but a shift of emphasis to higher frequencies and the ionospheric quirks that annoy the professionals so, become our interesting catches.

The frequency lists that go with this text can be found at the end of The Guide. This way, you can keep it updated. As a listener in Western Europe, it will show an obvious bias to my corner of the world. Let's hear what you hear to

Every observation from here on in was made in the last two years on a range of radios with a "traditional" long-wire antenna running out about 20 metres. The list is compiled in ascending frequency order as this is the first prompt the listener gets from his set. All frequencies are in kilohertz.

The station name is the one the station was using at the time the observation was made on that particular frequency. World politics and international border changes means we hear of a station name change every two weeks, so this or any other frequency guide is only correct at the time of going to press. This is, after all, only a guide….

All stations listed are standard AM, the normal broadcasting mode:

Amplitude Modulation, AM, is made up of two parts. The radio frequency part that determines where the station will be on the radio dial and how strong it will be. It is this part that moves the Signal Meter, if you have one. Not having one does not make you a bad person. The other part is the audio frequency that we eventually hear after the radio has recovered it from the RF, the radio frequency part sometimes called "the carrier".

Dealing with SSB
Try this as a concept. Imagine you are able to stand on the carrier and look up and down the radio band. You will see the audio has produced two identical sidebands on each side of you which hold what we want to hear. It is the radios ability to deal with these sidebands which will determine our listening enjoyment.

If we go back to the idea of standing on the carrier wave and we are happy that in an ideal world the two sidebands are the same, we can save up to half the power by only sending one. We can make greater savings by reducing or suppressing the carrier altogether, sending only the Lower Side Band or LSB. The radio will put the carrier wave back in again to render the voices clear.

Fine tuning is required for Single Side Band or SSB work, any error showing up as a voice pitch change from Paul Robeson to Minnie Mouse. Some portables may only have an SSB button. Use this. The most used mode for point-to-point communications is Upper Sideband or USB.

Returning to the concept of standing on the carrier wave, the theory is the same for LSB but here only the upper sideband is being sent, the lower sideband and the carrier being suppressed. In reality, there is always some leakage of the unwanted parts of the signal. These are usually only one millionth part of the whole signal, a mere bagatelle dismissed by the professionals and talked about endlessly by the amateurs. With no carrier to hold the signal meter steady, the needle responds to the energy in the wanted sideband.

Accountants cheer when they learn that if we have got rid of half the signal, then we can deliver twice the power in the wanted half. This piece of economics makes USB the mode for all professional communicators.

What's ISB?
SB is an Independent Sideband transmission with two entirely different services, one on each sideband. As the radio is expected to work very well in SSB but also receive two stations in less bandwidth taken up by an AM station, ISB is the province of the more costly receiver. ISB is now mostly a back-up to a satellite feed where two language services are sent to the same relay station.

Many textbooks have been written on radio theory, our mind-expanding concept of standing on the carrier peering into the sidebands tending to generalize large areas of engineering practice. Remember, if anyone offers you that kind of mushroom again, just say no.

Although this Guide deals mostly with voice circuits, pressure was put on the writer to include some fax frequencies. These are included in a new UTILITIES LISTING. Most decoders use the audio output from the radio. They either stand-alone (like the author) or connect to a computer. The receiver offers carrier-insertion, usually USB, to provide the two tones used by the decoder to result in readable text.

Careful tuning is needed and your frequency readout may differ from the figures listed at the end of The Guide. This is due to your configuration of the tone set-up. Getting it right comes with experience. As long as the decode is consistent, don't worry about the least significant figure on the display.

Radio Seasons
Shortwave radio is split into broadcasting seasons. Traditionally, there are two major seasons, Winter and Summer, with two smaller ones centered around each vernal equinox. We DX'ers love the variable conditions an equinox can bring but to a Transmission Planner, a nightmare.

All the stations try to get frequency allocations in all the bands so they can move to lower frequencies in Winter in a desperate attempt to be heard in the target country. Conditions during the compilation of the HF Guide have been so unreliable as to warrant mid-season changes. Like those for Derby County, they have had limited success.

The letter shown in the last column provides an indication of the broadcasting season and the year the station was heard:


M represents March and April.

J represents May, June, July, and August.

S represents September and October.

D represents November, December, January and February.

From this we can see that "2000D." is a station heard at eight in the evening UK time during a broadcaster's Winter Season and that a "2001D" is a SONY™.

Our receiver is an AR7030 based in the English Midlands, so forgive a European bias.

Station names are subject to change without notice.

Reporting Time
Here in the UK, we have traditionally used Greenwich Mean Time. Around the world, this is referred to as Universal Time Co-ordinated or UTC, sometimes quoted on-air as just "UT".

UTC is the same as GMT which is one hour behind BST. QED.

A European Radio Review

This section is an anecdotal review of the spectrum as seen and heard by the writer. Starting with a look at the radio spectrum in general, or Who Is Using What:

Band Lower Limit
Band Upper Limit
9 kHz
14 kHz
Radio Navigation (OMEGA)
Various Services
Radiolocation (Loran C)
Military CW Stations
Fixed Service
Nautical Radionavigation Beacons
Maritime Coastal (CW)
Aeronautical Radionavigation Beacons
North American AM Broadcast Band
Fixed, mobile, radiolocation
Amateur 160 Meters
Fixed/Mobile: Maritime
Tropical Band
Fixed, mobile
Aeronautical mobile (USB,CW,RTTY)
Fixed, mobile
90 Metre International Broadcast
Amateur 80 Meters
75 Metre International Broadcast
Maritime Mobile
Various Allocations
Aeronautical Mobile
60 Metre International Broadcast
Fixed, Mobile
Aeronautical Mobile
Fixed, Mobile
49 Metre International Broadcast
Maritime Mobile
Nautical Mobile
Industrial, Scientific and Medical
Fixed Services
Amateur 40 Meters
41 Metre International Broadcast
Fixed service.
Maritime Mobile
Fixed Service
31 Metre International Broadcast
Fixed Service
Amateur 30 Meters
Fixed Service Mobile
Aeronautical Mobile
Fixed Services.
25 Metre International Broadcast
Fixed Services
Maritime Mobile
Aeronautical Mobile
Fixed Service, Astronomy
22 Metre International Broadcast
Fixed Service
Amateur 20 Meters
Fixed Service
Standard Frequency and Time Operations
Space Research
Aeronautical Mobile
19 Metre International Broadcast
Fixed Service
Maritime Mobile
Fixed Service
16 Metre International Broadcast
Aeronautical Mobile
Fixed Service
Amateur 17 Meters
Fixed Service
Maritime Mobile
Fixed Service
Maritime Mobile
Fixed Service
Standard Frequency and Time
Space Research
Fixed Service
Amateur 15 Meters
13 Metre International Broadcast
Fixed Service
Aeronautical Fixed Service
Aeronautical Mobile
Maritime Mobile
Fixed Service
Mobile Services
Off Route Aeronautical Mobile
Fixed Service
Mobile Services
Land Mobile and Fixed Service
Amateur 12 Meters
Standard Frequency and Time
Fixed Service
Maritime Mobile
Fixed, Mobile
11 Metre International Broadcast
Maritime Mobile
Fixed Service
Mobile Services
Citizens Band
Amateur 10 Meters
Fixed, Mobile

VLF, the power and the glory

Below the good old long-wave is a range of frequencies used as National Standard's for frequency accuracy and time. Nuclear technology has made these very accurate indeed so to convey the pure engineering of these stations, no mathematical shorthand has been used. Down here, we are talking real numbers.

The ELF ranges, where the frequencies are so low we could hear them if they were vibrations in air, contain submarine navigation signals. These require antennas so vast that an entire geological feature such as an atoll is used, soaking up many megawatts of power to get a signal through the Earth, not over its surface.

Geostationary satellites are today's more economical solution.

More Like Old Times.

The writer remembers a Practical Wireless project in the late Sixties for an ELF radio. The new Ferroxcube transformer cores formed the base of the untuned coils working somewhere below 9KHz. The gain came from three stages of OC71's, an OA47 detector and my last OC71 to drive the headphones. The thing was alive. Screaming whistles and whale-like howls tracked the course of electrical storms across entire continents - they showed me the magnetic changes brought on by the movement of the Earths tectonic plates could be heard, but by now I was too scared to listen. The Thing was assigned to The Twilight Zone in the attic.

The comments with the station name are those of the author and do not represent the opinions of the publisher. He writes like this in the hope he will get invited to parties. We have taken the Devil's Advocate stand so you can form your own opinions.

SFERICS frequencies allocated to track the electromagnetic effects of thunderstorms. The receiver itself is quite a simple device but its portability is rather limited by the 16 kilometer antenna. In practice much shorter antennas are used, the figure quoted is a full-size antenna for around a wavelength of 33,000 metres.

Lower limit of a 3KHz band allocated to The Omega Global Navigational System. The days of this world-wide network of super-stations are numbered as Global Positioning goes up onto the satellites.

National Physical Laboratory Standard Time and Frequency Service at Rugby. Colour supplement readers will have seen adverts for Radio Clocks. These use MSF Rugby to pick up time data signals to constantly update an otherwise free-running clock. Accurate to one part in 1,000,000,000,000 per day, this adds big science to boiling an egg. The frequency is a Standard for the electronics industry, drifting only a maximum of two parts in 1,000,000,000,000. Well, we promised you real numbers.

LORAN-C Navigation Chain. Using the phase-relationship of a chain of coastal transmitters to cast a radio grid on the waters for our ships to sail by, LORAN is one of the many users of MSF Rugby for standardization. Audible in the UK is the station at Sylt.

BBC Radio 4. The Father of Talk Radio. World Service continues overnight, the carrier also carries data for Economy 7 switching, the accuracy being a mere two parts in 100,000,000,000.

Long Wave Radio Atlantic 252. Seen as operating outside the conventions of UK commercial radio, this CTL Radio Luxembourg funded rebel without a pause now claims an audience of five million of those who find FM on the move a trial and want pop radio they can hear anywhere. The technical arguments on quality seem lost on the average pop pundit. The downside is Algerian National Radio, who rise in signal strength overnight and as winter approaches to deny Atlantic most of its inland audience.

Lower limit for Marine Radio Beacons.

Upper limit for Marine Radio Beacons.

Plymouth Marine Non-directional Beacon. This is one of many NDBs dotted around the coastline. Their large service area means a ship can get a lock on one from quite a distance. Rather reassuring for Jack Tars coming home from the sea.

GKZ Humber Radio. If you are on the way to becoming a fully-fledged radio ham, this sub-band is full of machine-sent navigation and weather information in morse code. Vital to shipping and excellent revision for the morse test. There is also a rich cocktail of interference from our electricity supply industry to give you the chance of reading it under real battle conditions. We have often wondered if ITV could have endeared themselves to an extra fifty thousand radio hams by giving Inspector Morse a daughter called Dot.

Marine Navtex. A digital error-correcting message system for shipping.

The lower limit of The Medium Wave or AM Band. In the rush for FM, the fortunes of steam radio wax and wane. A perfect vehicle for speech and rolling news, The UK Radio Authority only see it as a dumping ground for Gold-format - that is, endless golden oldies played by someone who was yet to be born when the record was a hit. Music programming made on the assumption that its audience is too old to appreciate FM.

In the early days of commercial radio in the Seventies, one of the contributors to the IBA Yearbook suggested they should give away a school pencil with a rubber at one end so the reader could sketch in all the changes as take-over fever hit the industry. The same is still true today. The Gold stations do make money but a young management does not know what to do with them. So, it's all change but everything stays the same.

Our American readers can only wonder why we have so many problems in our radio industry. We, the Brits, need to see our broadcasting as art, whereas in the States it is simply a resource. Our American readers may also like to substitute the word "eraser" for "rubber" in the last paragraph unless you are Howard Stern...

Lichfield Aeronautical Non-directional Beacon. Very popular with "P for Popsie" pilots in the UK Midlands but why is it in a broadcast band? Its placing outside the 9KHz spacing used on this band leaves two channels that can't be developed. Callsign LIC.

Spectrum International. We have been asked what a "multi-ethnic incremental" is. Simply, it is a small station using many languages, quite successfully too.

RTE Radio 1. As this was being compiled, the threat of peace hangs over this troubled country. To form a true opinion, free from the rhetoric of career journalists, listen here for the news and a gentle style of radio we have not heard since The Home Service became Radio 4.

RTE Radio 2. Can pop music be treated intelligently? It can and can be heard as evening gathers. A useful one to pre-set on the car radio for night drivers.

BBC 648 for Europe. A special service for Europe from Orford Ness with opt-outs in German. Essential listening in the south-east for those in the know and the many who hold the more traditional broadcasting values dear. Watch out for time-checks in CET, Central European Time. A listing can be found on CEEFAX Page 648, times GMT/BST. Also in the better broadsheets and on subscription from Bush House and where ever better books are sold in and around London. End of commercial.

Among the yellowing cuttings that form the research - indeed, research was, believe it or not, done for this Guide - is one from The Guardian that reads, "Friday 1615, Science in Acton."

BBC World Service can be heard overnight on your local BBC Station. And on Radio 4 Long-wave, Radio Scotland and on Astra. If the satellite technology defeats you, you are in good company.

In the South-east, daytime World Service can be heard on 648 and for limited periods, on 1296.

648 is good enough for in-car reception in Central London, the only drawback being the opt-outs in German and other main European languages. This has some value for language teachers stuck on the M25 marking German homework. Meanwhile, back in Germany they are all teaching English...

It's open season for the rest of us. We must resort to short-wave if we want uninterrupted listening to World Service. Meanwhile, it was one Jasper Carrot who remarked that the chances of finding a radio station in English after midnight driving home from a gig were on a par with a snowball in Hades. The same skip effect that brought you Radio Luxembourg from the Grand Duchy is also responsible for the foreign voices fading in behind the Sony Award winning sound of your favourite local station as darkness falls. The skip is perfect to bring Central Europe to your door so, as the good Carrot observed, most night reception seems to German. Looking back, they do seem to have thrown a towel or two over some of our popular channels.

AFRTS Europe from Frankfurt. The American Forces Radio and Television Service serves a slice of apple pie to the troops in Europe.

CJYQ Newfoundland. One of the benefits of a falling sunspot count, the North American DX season opens up. Stations from across the pond can be heard around midnight as UK local radio closes down. Signal strengths can be high enough to allow reception on modest sets, the problem is the Americans use a 10KHz spacing where we use 9KHz. This will cause interference in all but the best receivers but the variety of frequencies a 9KHz spacing produces gives more interesting work to UK jingle writers.

GEM AM. The all-oldies outlet of Midlands Radio PLC. Don't look away from the monitor too long or it will have changed it's name along with the other "Gold Format" AM stations. While researching this, I was in touch with the Radio Authority asking for a general listing of which contractor is using what frequency. They, the controlling body did not know - contact National Transcommunications Ltd who run the transmitters. NTL did not know - they only send it, they don't know what it is. Could I write to each station in turn?

Well, not really. But it does concern me that the industry changes faster than its governing body can monitor it.

It is difficult to identify Oldie stations as, not only do they sound the same, they are the same. A feed for up to five transmitters comes from one studio. Digital sampling is used to insert the local ident in each feed to an area transmitter on a command from the main studio.

You think you have local radio, but it is only a part of a regional set-up.

Virgin 1215. Poor old Richard Branson. Those who remember Brian Matthew on Saturday Club will recall the upstart Radio 1 starting up here in 1967. They called it 247 metres in those days and even then BBC engineers said this channel had a jinx on it. Louder in Holland than it ever was in the UK, Radio 3 used its experience here as a real case for FM-only during the mid-Seventies. In the meantime, the Radio Authority will have to keep building Richard AM relays in a vain attempt to beat off the night-time joys of Albanian Radio from downtown Lushnje.

BBC World Service, Orford Ness. Much as 648 but with more English language teaching and mid-European services as above. Less used now, Merlin Communications are looking for another European customer for this channel.

Manx Radio, Isle of Man. Listeners on the west coast can hear TT Race commentary. This is the UK's first commercial radio station. It may not have been this station but the first advert we remember was for Camel Lites, an American cigarette brand. What my four-year-old imagination could not handle was the need to ride a camel after dark anyway...

STOP PRESS: The Isle of Man to get Pan-European Long-Wave Radio?

Radio Moscow via Kaliningrad. There's a name off the old station glass...

The trend over recent years is to have your message broadcast on the normal AM band of your target country in the hope of higher audiences than could be expected for short-wave. Bless you, short-wave radio fan, but in the ratings game - the game accountants play more part in these days - the figures can be all but dismissed. You can do this by hiring air-time on local radio for a fistful of roubles or you can buy land in your target area and set up a relay station. Moscow got in early with this million-watt powerhouse, now audible in the UK.

WAFE, Baltimore. Our sudden interest in FM is not new. Over in the States, the rate of take-up of FM frequencies is great, the regulating body - the FCC - is trying to revitalize AM by extending the band to 1750KHz. Just who will have the radios to hear the new stations we don't know, but on this side of The Pond experimental stations like this one are real catches.

Future experimental stations will have a 2 in the callsign.

Soap Box Corner Looks at AM Dx'ing

It has to be said. Sometimes, a portable radio will outperform a communications class receiver costing up to fifteen times the price, or seem to. True, it will only be at these lower frequencies when the ferrite rod antenna is in use. The ferrite rod only reacts to the magnetic part of the electro-magnetic radio wave. This component is much less prone to the interference suffered by a long-wire swinging about in the electrical part of the passing wavefront. Most interference has a strong electrical field, so medium-wave listening on a portable often seems clearer - a better signal-to-noise ratio - than on the big receiver.

The ferrite rod is directional. This means by the simple idea of turning the radio around, we can favour the station we want and quite literally turn our backs on the interference, or some station arriving from a different direction that we don't want. The long-wire connected to the receiver has no directional properties so takes on all comers equally.

Directional wire antennas at medium-wave are not really practical. We mentioned a Rhombic Antenna a little while back. You can treat yourself to an antenna design handbook and get a handful of wet change from forty quid. From this, spend an even wetter afternoon working out the dimensions of a rhombic for say, RTE on 567KHz and which way to point it. No prizes and not practical...

To save you e-mailing in, we do know about loop antennas. Many a specialist book has been written on the subject and they are a great construction project.

The Trawler Band.

Or so it appeared on the radios of my youth.

Bonjour, matelot...

So did the great romantic radio names like Daventry and Hilversum but as we leave the medium-wave, radio takes a professional stance and assumes the first traces of industry jargon. Long-wave becomes LF, medium-wave becomes MF and short-wave, HF. Wavelength gives way to Frequency; Low, Medium or High.

British Telecom operate a network of Coastal Radio Stations to provide broadcast information to ships and radiotelephone services. These are also available by radiodata, but as this requires the uneasy marriage of a radio to a computer and a lot of specialist know-how in both fields, we'll leave well alone. Just to add that the divorce is usually on the grounds of "mutual interference" or "the irretrievable break-up of data, M'lud..."

Marine Broadcast Services in the North (UK Waters)
Callsign, BT Station and Message Content
GPK Portpatrick/GHD Hebrides navigation warnings.
GCC Cullercoats, GND Stonehaven and GKR Wick navigation warnings.
Gale Warnings.
GPK Portpatrick/GHD Hebrides navigation warnings.
GCC Cullercoats, GND Stonehaven and GKR Wick navigation warnings.
Weather Bulletin.
Gale Warnings.
GPK Portpatrick/GHD Hebrides navigation warnings.
GCC Cullercoats, GND Stonehaven and GKR Wick navigation warnings.
GPK Portpatrick/GHD Hebrides navigation warnings.
GCC Cullercoats, GND Stonehaven and GKR Wick navigation warnings.
Gale Warnings.
GPK Portpatrick/GHD Hebrides navigation warnings.
GCC Cullercoats, GND Stonehaven and GKR Wick navigation warnings.
Weather Bulletin.
Gale Warnings.
GPK Portpatrick/GHD Hebrides navigation warnings.
GCC Cullercoats, GND Stonehaven and GKR Wick navigation warnings.
The three-letter groups are the Radio Station Callsign. However, tradition seems to dictate that ships radio officers refer to the station they need by name. Perhaps it gives them a feeling of coming home:

"BT Blighty. Is there honey still for tea?"

"Honey's off, dear"

"Er...thank you, Blighty. Listening two-one-eight-two..."


Marine Broadcast Services in the South (UK Waters)
Callsign, BT Station and Message Content
GNF North Foreland/GKZ Humber navigation warnings.
GLD Land's End/GNI Niton navigation warnings.
Gale Warnings.
GNF North Foreland/GKZ Humber navigation warnings.
GLD Land's End/GNI Niton navigation warnings.
Weather Bulletin.
Gale Warnings.
GLD Land's End/GNI Niton navigation warnings.
GNF North Foreland/GKZ Humber navigation warnings.
GLD Land's End/GNI Niton navigation warnings.
GNF North Foreland/GKZ Humber navigation warnings.
GLD Land's End/GNI Niton navigation warnings.
Weather Bulletin.
Gale Warnings.
GNF North Foreland/GKZ Humber navigation warnings.
GLD Land's End/GNI Niton navigation warnings.
A general weather forecast for shipping is also carried by Radio Four Long-Wave, a station we have never forgiven for scrapping "Sailing By" before the midnight bulletin. They tell me it's back now, but that's not the point. Is it me? Or was it change for changes sake?

More Notable Frequencies

160m Amateur Band lower limit. Local calls on lower sideband but to a writer who had a Codar CR70A receiver with the matching AT5 transmitter, it's good to hear AM again. Do they still do The 1930 Net?

Your penman was in the ham radio business for more years than was good for him during which time he sold many rigs. All these sets produced 100 watts at the push of a button, yet a very small number of users asked for advice on reducing the power out to the maximum allowed on this band - a mere tenth of what the transceiver was capable of...

Today, Top Band contains a sub-band to allow "full power" operation.

Coast Station Distress, Urgency and Calling. The listening mode is AM compatible USB. To get the best out of whichever mode is in use, use USB.

Much of the general ship-to-shore radiotelephone traffic is now automated so waiting in the queue for airtime is a thing of the past. Listen here for weather updates, navigational warnings and the traffic list, a run-down of ships with calls waiting.

Ship-to-Shore Operating Notes

Once a call has been made to the coast station, the operator will assign a clear frequency. In the golden days of yore, in a time before fishing quotas, the frequency would be announced in kilohertz.

Now they use a simple letter code. Who is on what is listed below, a table to keep handy as it includes the Phonetic Alphabet, a system used by all radio professionals for clearer communications and by some radio hams to confuse the issue;

 I must go down to the sea again,

To the lonely seas and the sky

They've changed all the numbers for letters,

Will somebody tell us why?

Ellis after Milligan after Masefield
Go To  Phonetic 
Ship listening
Ship sending
Operating BT Station
Channel A  Alpha 
Shetland Radio via Wick
Channel B  Bravo 
Shetland Radio via Wick
Channel C  Charlie 
Shetland Radio via Wick
Channel D  Delta 
Shetland Radio via Wick
Channel E  Echo 
Wick Radio
Channel F  Foxtrot 
Wick Radio
Channel G  Golf 
Wick Radio
Channel H  Hotel 
Wick Radio
Channel I  India
Stonehaven Radio
Channel J  Juliet 
Stonehaven Radio
Channel K  Kilo 
Stonehaven Radio
Channel L  Lima 
Stonehaven Radio
Channel M  Mike 
Stonehaven Radio
Channel N  November 
Cullercoats Radio
Channel O  Oscar 
Cullercoats Radio
Channel P  Papa 
Cullercoats Radio
Channel Q  Quebec 
Humber Radio
Channel R  Romeo 
Humber Radio
Channel S  Sierra 
Humber Radio
Channel T  Tango 
Stonehaven Radio
Channel U  Uniform 
Niton Radio
Channel V 
Victor - - Not Assigned
Channel W  Whisky 
Land's End Radio
Channel X  X-Ray
Land's End Radio
Channel Y  Yankee 
Portpatrick Radio
Channel Z  Zulu 
Hebrides Radio via Stonehaven
All of which should make calling as easy as falling off a yacht…

When a ship gets to within say, thirty five miles of the coast, or is advised to do so by the Coast Station, it will use VHF to see it safely to berth.

"Pertwee! Are you responsible for berths on this ship?"

"Not as far as I'm a-knowing of honest, Mr. Phillips"

The Navy Lark, 1964
Meanwhile, back on the bands...

The lower limit of the 120m Tropical Band. Allocated for broadcasting as a quieter equivalent to our standard AM band only in the Third World.

The lower limit of the 90m Tropical Band. Used in the equatorial regions hoping to miss the worst of the storm static that plagues the standard AM Band.

Ghana Broadcasting. This is an excellent test station to see if this classic DX band is open. Try around midnight. As we slowly creep up the HF spectrum, signals penetrate the E Layer only to be reflected down again by the F Layer. As this layer is twice the height of the E Layer, the reflected signal comes to your antenna from a much greater distance. This effect is what gives 80m its European coverage by night. By day it remains The Great UK Natter-band.

80m Amateur Band lower limit. A fine example of a shared band, the primary users being coastal radio on the upper sideband, the amateurs a secondary consideration on the lower. And never the twain should meet.

Allocated frequency for GB2RS RSGB UK News. Costing over £5000 a year to run, the future of the RSGB News is under constant review. For the writer, the first sideband station he resolved, for the new generation of radio ham something of an anachronism. Stalwarts only need listen for useful reports of solar activity - if you can understand them - details of Club Events and radio rallies in the summer. The writer has been out of Ham Radio for years but still finds himself listening on Sundays at 0930z, frequency variable...

A transmission for Europe on 40m is made at 2000z, Sundays

The lower limit of the 75m European Broadcast Band. Early mornings and overnight are the best times for this under-used band. This may be due to it being left off many budget portables.

BBC World Service from Skelton. This Winter relay from the main Merlin Communications site gives excellent European coverage in the evening and is a DX catch as far as Hong Kong. Here in the UK, the higher BBC frequencies remain unreliable. The reason is the increased efficiency of the antennas at our main stations in getting most of the signal into the ionosphere with very little leakage for the casual UK listener. As the first skip takes World Service well into Europe, it quite literally goes over our heads. However, nobody can predict conditions at present, so the list contains many BBC World Service frequencies for experimentation.

The 4Mhz Land/Marine Mobile Band
A heady brew of Search-and-Rescue (SAR), out-of-band broadcasters, the RAF speaking peace unto the nation and the shipping forecast. Includes:

4125KHz: Marine Distress International.

4138KHz: Arctic Seas Distress

4138KHz: Arctic Seas Distress.

4220KHz: Arctic Seas Supplementary.

Numbers station. After years of speculation as to what the endlessly repeated chains of numbers mean, it can now be revealed that the codes are for the benefit of "agents in the field", the decode coming from a "one-time" pad, no doubt to be got rid of in the time-honoured fashion;

"Tell me, Control, would you like your pad off the bone with a little salad and a pert white wine?" The return of the number stations may have a lot to do with conditions, but the routines suggest mere testing of old equipment, a lot of transmissions being in AM.

RAF Flight Watch: "Architect listening out.."

Architect is the Flight Watch callsign. Despite all the new technology, the main enemy to operations is the weather. This code is given at fixed times and upon request to pilots preparing to fly between British airbases. From this we will learn that a Wattisham Blue has little to do with being an all-round good egg while up at University, but "Forever Amber" is a good status for most of my holidays in Wales. Other flight watch frequencies are included in the lists. Serious HF airband operation will need one of the better receivers with a stable sideband operation and a large number of memories to allow rapid channel hopping.

The lower limit of the 60m Tropical Band. Allocated only in the tropics, this band gives up some musical treats in the late evenings. And its getting better;

Radio Nigeria. Long todays dance trends set the nations feet to dance to the urgent guitars of World Music via BBC Radio 1, those of us blessed with short-wave could hear the opium of the people on The Tropical Band without the need for mosquito nets and funny injections...

Letter Station. Just as the reviewer sharpens his pencil to have a go at the endless entries for so-called "number stations", the ionosphere rings the changes with a station sending five letter groups.

This one sends IOBMJ, "India/Oscar/Bravo/Mike/Juliet" ad nauseam.

East Coast Control.

Buchan Control. Examples of Air Defence Radar Units.

The 5Mhz Air Traffic Control Band.

An area of listening for the genuine enthusiast, an opportunity for the writer to offload more old gags. For example, the last time your scribe was on an aircraft he sat next to the rear gunner.

One of our aircraft is missing...
There will be those who have come to our hobby from the Services. There will be pilots and ground crew who want to keep in touch. There will be listeners, fascinated by what they have heard on the airband of the domestic radio and have gone on to a fully-fledged scanner. They may have something that is bothering them. The Tower gives them clearance for take off, sees them safely into the wild blue yonder then we never hear from them again...

Don't worry, Chalkie old bean. Our aircraft never die, they simply go trans-oceanic.

Aeronautical Mobile HF Bands
Going Transoceanic

As the VHF only provides a local service, they use HF on the long haul Stateside. Having come under control of its nearest ATC (Air Traffic Control), the aircraft sets its heading and calls the ACC (Area Control Centre) before requesting trans-oceanic clearance via the OACC (Oceanic Area Control Centre) on HF. We shall deal only with this HF traffic in these pages, but for completeness the full chain of command on radio follows this pattern;

 The chosen runway and terminal building are always the farthest from the car and space did not allow me to document the six hour delay due to the wrong kind of snow at Kennedy in our idealized scheme of things.

Aircraft don't fly high enough to avoid the effects of the ionosphere, so provision is made at 3, 5, 8 and 13Mhz to allow for the daily changes in reception and the longer term seasonal changes.

Our most audible OACC in the UK is at Shannon in Southern Eire in the south and Prestwick in the north. Signing as "Shanwick", the 5 and 8Mhz transmissions listed below are a good starting point during daylight conditions.


RAF Volmet: "This is Royal Air Force Volmet..." from West Drayton, the RAF Weather Service.

"Volmet" has its root in French. Literally, an inversion of "meteo en vol" and appears officially as Meteorological Information for Aircraft in Flight. These are read by a talking computer around the clock throughout the year. It is not a pure speech synthesis system, but a playout of real voice samples cued by the computer. It even has an Oxbridge accent. When announcing maximum visibility one night, we were half expecting:

"Moonlight can be cruelly deceptive, Amanda..."  
Visibility Status
3 Octa Cloudbase
8Km  Blue  2500 feet.
5Km  White  1500 feet.
3.7Km  Green  700 feet.
1.8Km  Yellow  300 feet.
0.9Km  Amber  200 feet.
Less than 0.9Km  Red  Below 200 feet.
Hazard!  Black  
The Other Volmet
"Shannon Volmet" is a weather service. Announced in computerized speech like the RAF service, regular listening will show a fixed pattern to these broadcasts. Temperature, dewpoint - the temperature at which water vapor condenses back to water - wind speed and direction are followed by QNH. This is the ground setting for the altimeter.

Cloud cover at fixed flight levels are given in "octas".

Consider, if you will, the pilots field of vision to be from the centre of a large cake split into eight slices. Then "three octa" would be three eighths cloud cover at that height. Stable weather conditions will be reported as "No-Sig" at the end of

the bulletin. This is short for No Significant Change.

The catchy heading of "Information in Plain Language Concerning Certain Meteorological Phenomena" or SIGMET is usually given in a single word, "Snow", "Rain", "Sleet", a plague of boils or what have you.

Some frequencies:

5505KHz: Shannon Volmet.

5598KHz: Shannon ATC. Secondary calling on 8906.

5616KHz: Shannon ATC. Secondary calling on 8864.

5649KHz: Shannon ATC. Secondary calling on 8879.

5658KHz: Shannon ATC.

5680KHz: Kinloss Rescue.

The lower limit of the 49m Broadcast Band. The major European broadcast band. Good during the day, the darkness hours should see reducing interference as those used to higher frequencies move back up the bands as conditions improve as we approach the sunspot maximum.

5955KHz: Radio Netherlands Network Europa.

5995KHz: Radio Canada from BBC Skelton, UK.

The Voice of America. This may be just another anecdote, but the boys at VOA assure me there is a sign on the wall of the transmission planning department that reads,

"I shot a signal in the air, where it landed we know not where."  

6065KHz: Radio Sweden.

6155KHz: Radio Austria.

6165KHz: Swiss Radio International.

Radio France International. Innovation is alive and well and living in France. The new RFI transmitters at Allouis are sited underground, directly below the antennas they feed. So, very low feeder loss to the very directional rotatable antennas. A future for short-wave?

BBC World Service from Skelton/Rampisham. From 1800. Recent correspondence with BBC Transmission Planning shows they have all but given up on frequencies to recommend for the UK.

Take heart, mon brave, this is some use to us - although in the winter months, the evenings bring a curious echo as delayed signals arrive from Antigua or even Kranji.

Hobby Pirates. Looking back over previous paper editions of The HF Guide, we always found it necessary to mention radio piracy. If there was any real fun in being a threat to nearby Distress frequencies, then new Europe-wide laws have put paid to all that. With new radio services filling the gap left by Radio Caroline and the like, hobby pirates spend their Sundays lost in nostalgia for a cause already lost. Perhaps we are older and wiser now. My only trace of rebellion these days is to sit meekly in restaurants wearing a small badge that reads:

"Red wine with fish" Some examples of stations affected by pirate activity:

6211KHz: Northern Seas Supplementary Distress.

6215KHz: Marine Distress.

6224KHz: Thames Control.

Many Sunday Pirates have moved to the 75 Metre band.

Russian number station. "Golly, Control, you don't think they are at it again?"

No, we don't. The modulation quality suggests some very old plant is just being given an airing. They tell us the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, so you never can tell...

Shannon ATC. Secondary calling on 8831. A cause for concern and a sad reflection on amateur radio. The average modern ham radio set is so highly developed it can be installed and forgotten about. This lack of intervention from the user was supposed to free him from technical responsibilities to enjoy open communication. Not so.

Modifications to allow equipment to work outside the ham bands are the new currency with dire consequences for other users. This new allocation for air traffic control sits in the middle of a range of frequencies "taken over" by European pirates using modified and therefore illegal, ham gear.

40m Amateur Band lower limit. Another ham radio tradition. The lower part of the allocation is CW, these days including AMTOR and computer packet modes, the upper part being telephony albeit on the lower sideband.

As this band gets you into Europe, watch out for some undiagnosed cases of acute xenophobia as night falls.

The lower limit of the 41m Broadcast Band. Across Europe and into the States in the early mornings.

Sudwestfunk, Baden-Baden, Germany. Real radio as a public utility. Nothing but a rich mix of pop and rock from albums, news, weather and travel information. Listen for the pulse of RDS data that switches over a million German radios to this network for the latest update.

7325KHz: BBC World Service, Skelton and Rampisham.


Army Signals. "That man there! Absolute shower!"

The 8Mhz Marine and Air Traffic Control Band.

8228KHz: Ostende Radio.

8291KHz: Marine Distress.

8634KHz: Ships Survival Craft.

8737KHz: Cyprus Maritime Radio Service.

8764KHz: Portishead Radio. Traffic and Weather on the hour.

8825KHz: North Atlantic Control.

8846KHz: New York Radio. Secondary calling on 6577.

8864KHz: Shannon ATC.

8879KHz: Shannon ATC.

8891KHz: Shannon ATC.

8957KHz: Shannon Volmet.

9032KHz: RAF Flight Watch and Gibraltar Forward Relay.

9251KHz: "The Lincolnshire Poacher". Classic English number station.

The WRAC 92 lower limit of the 31m Broadcast Band. Granted a recent extension to allow the out-of-band broadcasters above some protection, this band is the great all-rounder;

9410KHz: BBC World Service from Skelton, Rampisham and Woofferton.

9535KHz: Swiss Radio International. Remember Swiss Short Wave Merry-go-round?

9575KHz: Radio Medi 1, Morocco. East meets west in this excellent commercial venture.

9830KHz: Croatian Radio. News heard at 0800.

Calibration Beacon. Many countries compete to provide a Reference Standard, so much so that 10000 is merely the middle of a standard's sub-band. The one you find could be up to 5KHz away from what you take to be 10000 leaving you to question the accuracy of your radio. Chances are that if it was made in the last decade of synthesizer design, then all will be well. Standards can confuse as well as assist...

10051KHz: New York Radio.

10100KHz: WRAC Amateur Band lower limit. From here to 29700KHz, upper sideband takes over for Ham radio.

10150KHz: WRAC Amateur Band upper limit.

11176KHz: USAF Operations Net.

11234KHz: RAF Control.

The WRAC 92 lower limit of the 25m Broadcast Band. One of the bands tipped to be the most crowded as the major powers, both political and radiated, fight for frequencies.

11620KHz: All India Radio.

11990KHz: Radio Prague.

12095KHz: BBC World Service from Skelton and Woofferton.

12290KHz: Marine Distress.

12392KHz: Marine Worldwide Calling and Distress.

The 13Mhz Long Distance Marine and Air Traffic Control Band.

The major world-wide mobile communications band;

13146KHz: Portishead Radio. Traffic and Weather on the hour.

13270KHz: New York/Gander Radio.

The WRAC 92 lower limit of the 22m Broadcast Band. Reflecting in the upper regions of the F Layer, this band will get you as far as we can go. Soon to be extended as this world-wide band proves its worth as conditions improve, the broadcasters have yet to realise it is only included on the more expensive radios like the AR7030. This means the poorer nations who have the greatest need for uncorrupted news will never hear;

13620KHz: Radio Kuwait

13635KHz: Swiss Radio International

13640KHz: Zagreb Radio. Croatian Radio News heard at 1300.

13710KHz: VOA Africa from Botswana Relay.

13730KHz: Radio Austria.

13830KHz: Zagreb Radio. Croatian Radio News at 2100-2110.


14000KHz 20m Amateur Band lower limit.

15100KHz: The WRAC 92 lower limit of the 19m Broadcast Band.

15205KHz: VOA, Tangier, Morocco.

15225KHz: VOA, Ascension Island Relay.

15325KHz: Radio Canada International.

15395KHz: UAE Radio, Dubai. Worth it for the weather reports...

15400KHz: BBC World Service from Ascension.

15450KHz: Radio Austria.


BBC World Service. This sender in Cyprus is suggested by Bush House as good for the UK during the day. Good around mid-day, subject to deep fades.

The WRAC 92 upper limit of the 19m Broadcast Band. Something to bear in mind if you have yet to buy your radio. Some budget sets tend to "leave out" the out-of-band sections of these higher broadcast bands, the same frequencies now being developed by newer voices to short-wave. There is nothing more frustrating to find the new channel announced by your favourite station is 75KHz above the cut-off frequency of your shiny new wireless. Check yours is general coverage....

16420KHz: Marine Distress.

17480KHz: The WRAC 92 lower limit of the 16m Broadcast Band.

17640KHz: BBC World Service from Ascension.

17875KHz: Radio Canada.

18068KHz: WRAC Amateur Band lower limit.

18168KHz: WRAC Amateur Band upper limit.

The WRAC 92 lower limit of the new 15m Broadcast Band. Coming on-line at the best possible time for reception, at a frequency not available on many a budget radio, it yields up but one brave broadcaster;

18930KHz: WEWN.

19020KHz: The WRAC 92 upper limit of the new 15m Broadcast Band.


21000KHz: 15m Amateur Band lower limit.

21450KHz: 15m Amateur Band upper limit.

The lower limit of the 13m Broadcast Band. Very variable and prone to sudden ionospheric disturbance, best when the sun is at its highest;

HCJB, The Voice of the Andes. We can't work out why they do this. The aim of a religious broadcaster must be to reach as many people as possible in the hope that The Word will stay with some of them. Define a minority by using short-wave radio, a best-kept secret to most, then define a minority within a minority by using a transmission mode unknown to all but the dedicated listener and there you have it. An audience rushing towards double figures. Engineering types and radio hams can test sync detectors but the message will be lost on those poor souls...

Having said all this, it is good to hear the Andean weather for mountain climbers. Even as I write this, in the corner I can see my Sherpa, tensing.

21605KHz: UAE Radio

21660KHz: BBC World Service from Ascension.

24890KHz: WRAC Amateur Band lower limit.

24990KHz: WRAC Amateur Band upper limit.

The lower limit of the 11m Broadcast Band. The real engineers band. Propagation only on the North/South path even in the best conditions, this was the easy way to get into South Africa and back again. Low usage meant engineers could send studio quality without interference. If they use it this season, a real chance to enjoy real radio.

Here's where R&D will pay off in the years to come.

26100KHz: The upper limit or the 11m Broadcast Band.


The lower limit of the UK CB Band. Whatever happened to the great white hope of personal communications?

If you have an FM button, try it here.

28000KHz: The upper limit of the UK CB Band.

28000KHz: 10m Amateur Band lower limit.

29700KHz: 10m Amateur Band upper limit.

In which we learn that in spite of a BBC Radio Production course, your scribe can't think of enough linking material to cover the great range of topics below. So, we present The Listener's Charter;

No matter what radio you have, there will seem to be a thousand and one outside factors which seem to affect reception. So, under a general heading of "rules are made to be broken", here are a few more observations. If you have noticed something not mentioned here, do get in touch on

1) All point-to-point operations on land, sea and air use USB.

2) All Ham Radio traffic below 10Mhz use LSB.

3) Therefore, all Ham Radio traffic above 10Mhz use USB.

4) Attempt to tune sideband stations slowly and steadily. Those with a musical background will find getting the final voice pitch correct is easy. Advances in receiver accuracy mean most sideband transmissions are "near enough" on the change of the last kilohertz digit. Portable radio users may only have an SSB button that they must use for USB and LSB and they may find final tuning is more critical than on communications class receivers.

5) If you have an AGC switch, always select the slowest rate for SSB.

6) Some older radios seem to be anything up to 3KHz off frequency when correctly tuned to a sideband station. This is not a fault, simply the way the radio measures frequency. The correct way to record the frequency of a sideband station is to state the frequency of the carrier, if only it had one, the actual transmitted energy being a nominal 1.5KHz above the carrier for USB and the same amount below the carrier for LSB. The microprocessor controlled radio has offsets for each mode programmed in, something of a little white lie to conform to convention, since both modes use the same filter. In the very expensive professional sector, separate filters are designed for each sideband, giving textbook - not this one - performance and a "correct" display. Those radios that seem badly off channel in the sideband mode are measuring the frequency of the local oscillator needed to tease a signal through whatever filter system they have.

Filter selection in the AOR AR7030 scans the bandwidth of the installed filter and sets the offset. As this varies from filter to filter. a 7030 user can rest assured they are getting the best resolution from each set bandwidth. And they can test it themselves.

7) Keep a log book - that is, a written record - of all you have in the memories. Most modern memories are secure, but a radio is subject to "spikes" on the mains supply and via the antenna during storms. So with so many memories it is but human to forget what you had in there. If you have a back-up battery in your radio, the life of these can be so long that they quietly fail and you say so long to your best programming efforts, so;

8) Celebrate your radios birthday each year with a new memory back-up battery. It will love you for it...

Expect five years from a back-up cell - longer in the latest models.

9) When you have filled the memory capacity of your radio, audition every channel and place your Top Ten Most Listened To in the channels running from the default setting. This will give you the chance to clear the decks for new findings and leave fewer quiet channels to upset any memory search facility you may have. We are always interested in what people listen to on our sets, so you may like to put you Top Ten on a postcard. The senders of the most original lists may even find themselves on these pages.

10) Try to keep an easily recallable memory channel free to act as a notepad for some unexpected station. It can then be called up from time to time, usually on the hour, until it identifies itself. Many of the frequencies in this Guide were tracked down by allocating a block of memories for this purpose. It works, too...

11) Unless you are a radio engineer, do not use the Time and Frequency Standards as a reference for internal adjustments to your radio. Some are allocated frequencies in a sub-band around a well-known channel so you may find yourself adjusting error in rather than taking error out. Some standard's carry phase-modulated data which can make tuning difficult. Some standard's are for propagation checking only and are not accurate. Like society, standard's vary - but we don't foresee ANY adjustments being necessary during the life of a modern product. In any case;


If it was made in the last ten years, it will use a technology that is accurate enough. If it is older than that, swallow your pride, check your credit limits and have it set up professionally. Never complain about the cost, you are buying the engineer's experience and the support of his Company. You are also subscribing to a team of technicians dwindling in number as no formal training in Higher Education exists for the wide range of disciplines found in a modern communications receiver. All training is "hands-on" and therefore expensive even though it plays on a genuine enthusiasm for his subject by the engineer designate. You are also buying access to spares, many of which will be special to your radio. Test equipment costs are very high and cannot be written off. As radio designers, if we are to maintain the level of development and support you the customer has come to expect, then the test gear will always have to be an order of magnitude better than the best receiver we expect to sell. This requires constant investment and research. If he will not offer a warranty on his work, then he is either not sure of what he is doing or your Ol' Faithful radio is about to fall off the twig. If your radio has passed its Listen By date then it is likely to be of an age during which many new ideas will have come in to play, so see it not as a death but a new beginning where you can rethink what exactly you use the radio for and look for the best new features that address your changing needs. Then call us.

13) Please learn how to complain. Check that what you see as a fault has not some other cause. Check and double-check the manual. Be concise in correspondence and reasonable on the telephone. The person on the other end is quite likely to be as keen on radio as you are and like you, is quite human.

14) PLEASE DO NOT RANDOMLY PRESS BUTTONS IN THE HOPE THAT YOUR RADIO WILL DO FUNNY TRICKS. It came as quite a surprise to your scribe - who will get off his soapbox after this one - to see how much processor programming is taken up with fail-safes and how grimly determined a certain type of user is to find a key combination the designer has not thought of, in the sole pursuit of locking the whole thing up. A reset usually means a loss of memory settings, so best leave alone.

15) Never be afraid to detune an AM station slightly into one or the other sidebands to get best fidelity. The downside is a display which reads irritatingly off channel with say, the World Service coming up on 12097 for example, but you can't have everything.

16) In cases of extreme interference an AM station can be treated as two sideband stations "back-to-back" and tuned in very carefully in either LSB or USB, picking off the sideband with the least interference. Be a gas at parties by telling your host this is the Exalted Carrier Selectable Sideband mode or ECSS. She will spontaneously reply that the new generation of receivers offer even higher fidelity by phase-locked detection in this mode and make mental note to save on Christmas cards next year.

17) All AM broadcasters are now using some form of audio processing to improve the signal-to-atmospheric noise and interference-ratio. There was a time when the quality of the sound from your radio was determined by how much you were prepared to pay for it. Now, in world radio, audibility is the key. And, to be honest, it can sound dreadful.

No, the problem lies in the audio processing that has slowly changed the sound balance since Abba were in the charts.

It started with wide-band compression. The BBC lead the field with a limiter that gently reduced the dynamic range of all audio frequencies present by the same amount, giving an overall impression of loudness enough to counter reasonable domestic noise. Then came the active systems. A bank of filters carve up the audio into anything up to six pass-bands. These are then compressed at different rates preset by the broadcaster, the reconstituted audio then going for transmission. In pop radio, some DJs can set their own processing at the desk leading to "double compression" effects which, as they have no musical analogy, can lead to listener fatigue simply due to the saturation of the sound.

Engineers say processing is here to stay. Radio marketing men will tell you that he who shouts loudest gets the largest audience and so gets to keep the grant-in-aid. That's fine up to a point but with the CD and Digital Audio Mass Storage setting new standards for source programming and radios improving markedly with each generation - this must be the time for the broadcasters to reassess their use of processing to allow the final level of fidelity to align with the listeners level of investment in equipment. In other words, you'll get what you pay for. With so much choice now in radio, isn't it time to move the technical goalposts?

18) Broadcasters can change their schedules up to four times a year in the running battle with the ionosphere. Lower frequencies are preferred in the Winter, moving up a band or two to get the best coverage in the Summer.

19) Your favourite station is just dying to hear from you. If you let them know you are out there hanging on their every word, they will put you on the mailing list for programme information and the latest frequency releases.

Dying to hear from you?

Yes. If a station can't prove to its government that it has an audience by analysis of its listener correspondence then that station ends up in our Where Are They Now? feature, coming soon...

20) Lower frequencies are better at night, higher ones better in the hours of daylight.

21) DX, the real long distance stuff, can be heard at dawn and dusk.

22) Advertising copywriters will remember the "If you see SID, tell him" campaign for British Gas. If you hope to tell him via short-wave radio, then he won't hear you. In our field, SID is a Sudden Ionospheric Disturbance and it can take out the entire spectrum for short periods of time. Go as low as you can in frequency to steer around him, but no ionosphere means no reflected signals and radio silence. You may hear a faint BBC continuity announcer apologising for this effect. Only Bush House would apologize for an Act of God....

23) With this in mind, get to know the kind of signal meter readings you would expect from your favourite stations under good conditions. By reviewing who is strong and who is not, you can soon get the feel of what areas of the world are open to you at the times it is possible to listen.

24) With an outbreak of something near world peace, jamming is less of a problem these days. However, there seem to be nations that will always be professionally peeved and don't want you to hear what someone else is saying. If all the tuning tips so far suggested in your fatwa-free Guide have not worked, then try the station another time. The jamming may be getting to you on a different path and may fade to leave clear reception. The same rule can fade the station you want, but this is life's rich pageant.

25) Just because you know the dictionary definition of an attenuator, don't feel it is an act of defeat to use one. With two million watts used by some European broadcasters, we are getting signal strengths that can light small torch bulbs. If you are getting a "60 over 9" on the signal meter then by all means record it in the log, then switch in the ATTN to bring it down a bit, This will drop the surrounding stations by an equal amount giving clearer reception and bring the fades of the wanted station into the AGC range of the radio.

26) In Article 5 of this section, we mentioned AGC time constants. If you have one, the AGC switch can be experimented with as a buffer to the rapid fading found on higher frequencies.It is not a cure, it simply can make listening more pleasant.

27) SEX, LIES AND AUDIOTAPE: Most radios we have encountered so far have a RECORD jack. If yours has some form of phase-locked detection, then a bit of coax to the LINE IN on the music centre - dear old fashioned thing that I am - can do wonders for dear old AM. Then being able to make cassettes is about the best log you can keep.

"Lies" refers to the extremes of propaganda you could record, so far off the mark that they become funny.

"Sex" is another Guide by Masters and Johnson. We never understood why it took two of them to write it...


FIND THEM: This is the latest sensation to sweep the nation. You spend an arm and a leg on a radio, short-circuit the antenna socket - the clever ones will do this with a carbon resistor of equal value to the impedance presented at the socket - then tune very slowly through the entire range of the set in USB, listing every whistle you can hear.

And we admit it. There are signals to be heard. A manufacturer worth his salt will report the "worst" of them in the manual. A synthesized radio works by constant comparison of the frequency you are tuning to a reference signal - a crystal or fast VCO - actually inside the set.

This creates a little signal of its own. The processing required to make that comparison and make the radio easy to operate also produces lots of little signals all their own. If we want our radio to have the range to cover the whole HF spectrum then yes, there will be points on the dial where it will "hear itself".

Modern design and layout has reduced these to a level equal to the noise floor so in fairness to the designers, I no longer regard them as a problem.


Modify equipment at home? Please don't.

We have over twenty years product development experience since the days when a short-wave radio meant an ex-Service receiver that needed extensive mods to make it work in a domestic environment. Over twenty years in compiling research in what is needed in a changing market and delivering it at a reasonable price.

See ITEM 12 for some idea of development costs and support. We do feel that due to the changes in all the technologies used in a modern radio, modification at home will lead to more problems than the original "idea" set out to "solve". If you want to be a part of the radio revolution, use the radio for a little while, think long, hard and reasonably about what you feel could be improved and write a concise letter to the set maker. The pen is far mightier than the soldering iron and cheaper, too.


Or not as the case may be. Some portables give the impression that "tuning around" is a thing of the past. They have adopted clever scanning systems that seem to do away with the tuning knob once and for all. It pains your writer to admit it, some work very well, but pre-set scan levels can mean they "scan over" the low level DX stuff.

So, for real band searching - go manual. They are good for checking general band conditions, however.

31) Most modern radios will decide as a part of the Mode selected, which is the best filter for the job. Some may have a WIDE/NARROW switch. Wide is best for broadcast speech and music, narrow for SSB use. You may have a range of bandwidths to allow you to filter out what you can as conditions deteriorate. Filters are the last bastion of experiment in radio, so do not hesitate to talk to your dealer about the options if your radio is designed to take them.

32) In a very informal review of all the stations heard during the compilation of this Guide, only about 18% are in English at any one time.

33) The format of an English transmission by an international broadcaster usually consists of News on the hour followed by a topical commentary then a feature programme. Once this "rhythm" becomes familiar, along with interval signals and station IDs, then identification while in a foreign language becomes easier.

34) A debating point from many years at the Human/Receiver Interface. In spite of all that has gone before on the ionospheric effects on reception, the effects of localised weather systems seem to go unreported. Users of the Astra satellite already know how heavy precipitation - rain and especially snow - can affect their reception of Bart Simpson by screening the dish. Over many years your observer has seen how cloud-filled barometric "lows" seem to improve reception up to about 7Mhz in the area affected, returning to the norm for the season as the weather improves.

Debate please on


The White Man's Burden...
Our sub-title is for real radio aficionados only. It is a play on a Goon Show title last heard in the late Fifties.

Interference has a working definition of "any disturbance in reception that spoils the enjoyment of a broadcast programme." We can do little about barking dogs, the mother-in-law, cellphones in restaurants and social workers who have defined the word differently, our interference is of an electrical nature.

And there is a lot to choose from.

At long and medium waves where the radio has a long-wire antenna, this is most likely due to direct radiation from over-head power-lines, the higher the distribution voltage, the more of it there is. The wetter the weather, the more humid the atmosphere, the more of it there is - as any report on 80m through the Stygian gloom of a November fog will tell you.

Every effort is made by the power companies to limit this where it occurs in the main AM bands, happy in knowledge that a domestic radio is a lot less sensitive than what we may be using and the average Walkman has a ferrite antenna which, in working only with the magnetic part of a radio signal, neatly avoids the noise-bearing electrical part.

Most mains-powered radios have a delta-suppressor, the three points connected to line, neutral and MOST IMPORTANTLY the earth. This will reduce the chances of mains-borne interference getting into the set, but with receiver sensitivities on the increase, the effect appears to be marginal. The legal requirement for suppression is that reasonable care has been taken with the appliance to reduce - not kill off completely - any noise which may be heard on a domestic radio below 1600KHz and above 88Mhz. The suppression will have some effect on frequencies between these limits - short-wave radio frequencies - but does not have to be effective here.

You can experiment with the "spike-killers" used by computer enthusiasts, but if there is a PC in the house - like this one - then you will have special interference problems all your own, most of them without a cure. To be fair, the computer industry has done a lot of late to clean up its act on the Electromagnetic Compatibility front, but to suppress at all frequencies adds cost and no accountant will stand for it in such a competitive market-place.

Experience shows us the worst offender in the home computer set-up is the monitor. Seen by many as just another "must-have" in the system, most go for cheapness if graphics are not important and in so doing, throw out time-base and inverter noise to the far-flung corners of the radio speculum. Sorry about that. The Editor expects it of me.

Depending on the type of printer used, these can be a tremendous source of noise. Apart from the nuisance factor, they usually are only in intermittent service so less of a problem to us. If the computer is your own, the answer to the problem is time-management. Allocate some time to radio, some other time to computing.

If the computer is the decoding element in some form of Data-by-Radio system, then all we can suggest is meticulous earthing as per User Guides and a coax-fed antenna with the receiving part - the business end - as far as possible from the terminal.Most standard Office packages now have a Sound Recorder. Record the recovered audio so you can fine tune the decoder over several playbacks.

Add to this heady mix multiplex noise from anything in the house with a digital display, thermostat clicks from fridge, freezer and central heating with a squeeze of timebase noise from the TV and there you have it. The noise cocktail below 10Mhz. Serve slightly chilled with liberal wide-band noise from the microwave to taste.

Those who have a noise blanker - the NB button - will note, or indeed may have already written in to say, that theirs has no effect on the interference dealt with so far. Quite true.

These are usually designed to be proof against "impulse-type" noise such as may be heard on an AM radio in a car. These wide-band products mix so well with the wanted signal that they become a part of it. And that, sadly for us, is how the radio sees them. The latest generation of English receivers has their noise blankers "in" all the time. So, if you can hear it, it means the radio can't deal with it, thus saving the frustration of switching the noise blanker in and out to see by just how much the poor thing cannot cope.

Above 10Mhz there may still be the odd car on the road with a dying ignition condenser - your NB works well here. There may be the nth harmonic of yours or your neighbour's fridge thermostat - your NB works well here.

Its All Quiet on the Eastern Front for a while yet, but as we climb out of this radio recession, they will start using OHRs again. The Russian Over-the-Horizon HF radar got the pet name of "The Woodpecker" in its heyday at the turn of the decade. Sounding just like that noisy bird, some NBs can deal with it, but with its long complicated phase-related pulse chains don't expect too much. And don't believe all you read in the spec sheets. Some manufacturers claim they - and only they - have the technology to deal with Woody Woodpecker. We will believe it when we don't hear it.

Not forgetting the computer. It will be making its own special contribution to carpeting the noise floor. What to do about it?

Not a lot, really. By the time the interference is in the air winging its way to destroy AFN's football coverage, it is already too late.

The cause of the problem must be suppressed at source. Hamlet, always one for a good laugh, expressed it thus;

Find out the cause of this effect;

Or rather say, the cause of this defect,

For this effect defective comes by cause.

By all means use a portable radio to track down the problem, but on finding the offending appliance TAKE NO ACTION YOURSELF. Refer the fitting of suppressors to a qualified electrician. Suppression is the appliance of science.

"Nation shall speak peace unto nation".

So it says in the entrance hall to Bush House. Fair enough, but as you tune around the short-wave bands you will hear different cultures, sometimes radically different ideologies all stating their case - very firmly and very loudly. They all think that they are right and that we should agree and support them, just as we think we are right. And never the twain shall agree - at least not in our lifetime.

The only way to deal with the wealth of propaganda available to you is to adopt the attitude of the gold prospector sitting on the bank of the river panning for nuggets. Nobody can tell him how much silt he will have to sift through, nobody can say how long he will have to be there or if he will come away with new-found riches, or what wealth he may have missed in the passing current.

All he can do is place a value on what little he finds. Sift through the propaganda, set what you hear against you own values, and you still may not like it.

By tuning in to the politically sensitive areas of the world, you can get the news first hand, biased by that country's ideology. Tune into the other side's radio and you will hear another view biased by a different ideology. Strike a balance and you have a working base for your own news-gathering - coloured only by your values which are, of course, correct. Remove the bias if you can and you have hit upon the work of radio monitoring stations like BBC Caversham near Reading.

All the main stations listed in the HF Guide carry news on the hour. Take time out to listen, the order of the main stories, the wording of the copy, the placing of stresses by the newsreader and you will beat any newspaper or TV bulletin for speed of reporting.

And you will know how to feel about it long before the local networks have added their own brand of sensationalism to sell the advertising time in the middle break.

During the compilation of this Guide, the writer was in close contact with the Voice of America and through them, the American Information Agency. On sifting through it all we found this, adopted by The United Nations just after The Second World War;

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without [political] interference and to seek, receive and impart ideas through any media regardless of frontiers".

The brackets are mine. Taken a different way and this statement gives carte blanche to all kinds of radio piracy. Every major country will have some form of broadcasting system, financed by the State by grant-in-aid, by licence or subscription fee. By virtue of this it may strive to be impartial, but to some it will always be the Voice of the Establishment and therefore something to rebel against. If the State Radio has a political stance, people will be quite prepared to go against the law to air the opposing view. Prosecution is only an occupational hazard.

To find a pirate station, listen for countries where the latest news stories are breaking. Somebody there will have always have other ideas.

Never get too pedantic about signal meter readings. These must be the most talked about topic on the air. True to say the figures "over nine" lend importance to a report and the graphic use of red in some designs make the listener feel something really special - even somehow dangerous, possibly harmful to the set - is going on, but they are for the most part only a guide. Have fun with them by all means but please do not hold them up as gospel.

Only in a few classic designs has the law on which the S Meter scale is based been fully interpreted. Even then the antenna has to be an EXACT match to the input impedance of the set with no compromises. Radio hams exchanging signal reports should realise that to be of any value, the two operating stations must be identical from the ground up. Quite literally, as soil conductivity around an antenna is a vital part of its characteristics. Having said all that, what kind of voltages exist at the antenna socket?
S Meter reading
Antenna Voltage, PD
Perceived Strength
50 millivolts 
Acutely strong
16 millivolts 
Acutely strong
5 millivolts 
Extremely strong
1.6 millivolts 
Extremely strong
500 microvolts 
Extremely strong
160 microvolts 
Extremely strong
50 microvolts 
Very strong
25 microvolts 
Strong signals
12 microvolts 
Moderately strong
6 microvolts 
Good signals
3 microvolts 
Fairly good signals
1.5 microvolts 
Fair signals
0.8 microvolts 
Weak signals, DX
0.4 microvolts
Very weak signals, rare DX!
0.2 microvolts    Barely usable signals 
Where the signal is acutely strong, report the level but listen on the attenuator. With signals this strong, there is no need for the real performance of a communications receiver so avoid overload distortion with a prod at the ATTN button.

The SINPO levels are my invention. They are "marks out of five" for Signal strength, Interference, Noise level, Propagation path and an Overall rating. Your scribe only reports "fair", "good" or "excellent" since the modern radio memory system is the station log and whatever is held in there has to have some entertainment value.

However the hobby seems to demand lots of numbers, so here are a few more in a marks-out-of-five rating for readability;
R5  Perfectly readable
R4  Readable with little difficulty
R3  Readable with considerable difficulty
R2  Barely readable, occasional words audible
R1  Unreadable
So, a "five and nine" report is an excellent signal, something like a "one and two" isn't worth staying up for. We do enjoy hearing reports of ones and twos on 80m, the chap going on to say, "but I don't care what the meter says - I'll give you a five and eight because I heard every word!".

 And Finally...
And that's it. Before the end-credits, a last dose of nostalgia;

Whatever happened to...
...Radio Fax, the all-day radio information service on 6205.

...the Laser Radio organisation who were anything but organised when it came to running a radio station. Laser 558 changed UK pop radio for the better.

...Radio Caroline, the best audio on the air during its 963 era.

...the legendary voice of Radio Caroline, Peter Philips.

...Airport Information Radio, taking "narrowcasting" to a margin so slim it could not survive life in the taxi lane at Heathrow.

...LBC, the first commercial station in the UK, the first to try the "all-news" format.

...the IBA?

...the 2.5Mhz calibration beacon. An essential check for your scribe's 19 Set back when a wireless was anything but.

...Capital 539, the Lots Road transmitter for Capital Radio, London. A Tee antenna swung between the chimneys brought the new sound of commercial pop radio to an eager metropolis until the new site was ready. Dave Cash and Kenny Everett brought the basis of the Zoo Format to England fifteen years before anyone had heard of Steve Wright.

...Radio Three on AM. Reception was rather indifferent, but at least it stayed there as those who fight with FM in the car will tell you.

...Radio Two on AM. Sunday drives in the country with Benny Green telling me why I should hate the bloke who wrote all those songs I love so well.

...Radio One on AM. Your correspondent knows why all these services have had to leave the steam radio, but a new FM car radio is the answer, the price a part of the question. RDS is the key for me, so I can read what station I'm not hearing clearly as I drive along.

...Virgin Radio at night?

...Radio Nova from Ireland, one of the few stations to treat pop music intelligently.

...Radio North Sea International. On 6215 during the time I should have been revising for O Levels, this rocker shook the AR88D and is the reason why I now do this for a living.

...Radio Luxembourg on the great 208 and the oh-so 6090. Quietly reborn as Atlantic 252.

...the wonderful concept of a Light and Home Service, with all the values they evoke.

...classic comedy on World Service. The rush for news forces gentler entertainment out of the schedules.

...Trent 301 and Kid Jensen.

...the new Radio One in 1967, so frightened by what the upstart Kenny Everett may say, they put him on at 6.45 in the evening opposite The Archers.

...Grace Archer. comedy, full stop.

...Beacon 303, the first real try at rock radio.

...Les Ross and Fiona on Radio Birmingham. CB radio, now pushed to the back of the set.

...the real characters on 80m, teaching not complaining.

...the 1930 Net on 160m. 1930KHz at 1930GMT, a group of traditionalists who felt going over to sideband enough of a compromise - the only net I could hear on my Codar CR70A.

...clear AM, before OptiMod defined what the radio would sound like before the radio had had a try.

...VOA Europe on short-wave.

...VOA Europe on medium-wave now Virgin has taken 1197.

...Radio Veronica, now stylized into mainstream Dutch radio.

...Laser 730 with the famous antenna balloon.

...the great Laser voices of David Lee Stone and Rick Harris.

...World Mission Radio.

...Charlie Wolf after he walked out on his top-rated Atlantic 252 breakfast show.

...Voice of America audibility in the UK on 6040.

...BBC World Service daytime reception, if satellite is not your Dish of the Day.

...Radio South Africa, the You and Yours Request Show on 25790. quality Voice of America on 26040.

...ol' cardboard shoes himself, Keith Skues.

...The Voice of Peace, scuppered in the sea off the coast of Israel after twenty years, her work done.

...the voice of Radio Luxembourg, Bob Holness who signed off every night with; "Whether at home or on the highway, thanks for tuning my way". Bless him…


And as the sun rises on Cycle 23, we roll the credits and thank;

All at the Voice of America.

The Guys at NETSCAPE for authoring it and...
The Guys at LYCOS for launching it....

BBC Broadcast Coverage, Bush House.

BBC Caversham.

Richard Hillier at AOR UK and Zoe at Short Wave Magazine for column inches.

Joe Wilson, Official Keeper of The Guide Archive.

John Vodenik at the VOA Bethany Relay Station for the laughs.

AOR UK for the use of the AR7030

Portishead Radio.


(C) 1982-1999

All Rights Reserved.

A Hope in Hades Production by Bob Ellis


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Bob Ellis

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