Somali music on the Voice of America

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Monday, January 01, 2018

The other day, while recording portions of the shortwave spectrum out in the park, I stumbled across a faint Voice of America broadcast in Somali with lots of music, which I rather liked.


Below is the full recording for your listening pleasure. Voice of America (Somali), recorded outdoors on 15620 kHz, on 30/12/17 at 1325 UTC using AirSpy R2, SpyVerter 2.0 and a 2x6m dipole.

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New Year, new endeavours: ultra-portable shortwave spectrum captures in 2018

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Monday, January 01, 2018
GPD Win, AirSpy HF+ and Tecsun PL-310ET
Hello and Happy 2018 to all the readers of the London Shortwave blog!

This post comes after a relatively long hiatus, as new work commitments starting last summer reduced the amount of time I could spend on shortwave radio listening. Longer working days and commute periods gradually encroached on the time slots that I had previously allocated for going to the park to record parts of the shortwave spectrum. (On the other hand, owing to continuously increasing urban RFI, my indoor reception conditions have deteriorated to the point of being essentially unsuitable for any serious radio listening).

However, just as I found myself under these new time constraints, my friend Thomas Witherspoon contacted me to tell me about his new initiative, The Spectrum Archive, and kindly invited me to become part of the team (which I gratefully accepted!). From the project website:

The Radio Spectrum Archive (RSA) allows listeners to experience radio history as it happened. It offers listeners the ability to tune through a radio band, listening not only to individual stations, but to all the stations in broad swathes of recordings, providing richly relevant radio context from the time. 
[...] 
The Spectrum Archive team actively creates new spectrum recordings and maintains existing spectrum recordings for current and future use by, among others, historians and researchers.

The opportunity to contribute to this unique project renewed the impetus for me to find a way to create outdoor shortwave spectrum captures on the go without having to make return trips home to drop off my relatively bulky recording equipment.

PocketCHIP and FunCube Dongle Pro+ (September 2017)


My first attempt at this was to use the PocketCHIP portable computer and the FunCube Dongle Pro+, together with the Sony AN LP-1 foldable active loop antenna:



The idea was to have a spectrum capture set-up that could fit into the side pocket of my laptop bag and be quickly deployed in any open space.

PocketCHIP runs Linux, for which there are plenty of SDR applications, however, because of CHIP's limited CPU capabilities it is difficult to get any of them to run glitch-free. As a result, it's possible to inspect the spectrum visually prior to starting the recording but it's impossible to do both at the same time and there is currently no way of monitoring the audio while the recording is underway.

On Linux, FunCube Dongle Pro+ can be accessed without any SDR application running in the background (a big advantage given PocketCHIP's limitations): the dongle uses the sound card I/O interface and a simple audio recording utility such as ecasound can be employed to record the I/Q data stream to disk. However, the main drawback of this dongle is that it can only capture 192 kHz at a time, making it impossible to record an entire shortwave band in one go. On the other hand, PocketCHIP's battery life is around five to six hours, far longer than that of any of my laptops or tablets.


GPD Win and AirSpy HF+ (November 2017)


In November I received a sample of AirSpy HF+ — a very sensitive, compact SDR, capable of recording an entire shortwave band in one go. I used it to form an alternative ultra-portable capture set-up: the antenna is still the Sony AN LP-1 compact loop but the PocketCHIP is replaced with a similarly-sized GPD Win: a fully functional 5-inch (!) Intel PC running Windows 10:


AirSpy HF+ is tightly integrated with SDR# — a Windows application — which ended up being the main rationale for getting one of the most portable Windows computers out there and putting it to the test. After a bit of tweaking and experimentation (which I'll describe in detail in one of my next posts) I managed to get it to work. GPD Win's CPU is capable of running SDR# without any problems, its battery lasts around 4 hours when recording the spectrum and the Sony loop antenna proved to be very sensitive indeed:




The above two recordings were made with the GPD Win / AirSpy HF+ / Sony loop combination on Christmas eve in a London park, and the quality easily rivals that of the captures I have made with my regular outdoor set-up under similar propagation conditions.

I hope the greater portability will allow me to continue making outdoor spectrum recordings under increased time pressure. Thanks for reading and wishing you all a great year with lots of interesting radio catches!

GPD Win, AirSpy HF+, Bonito GI300 isolator and the Sony AN LP-1 loop antenna preamp out in the field

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Rádio Nacional da Amazônia outage: updates from the Brazilian blogosphere

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017
The last recording I made of Rádio Nacional da Amazônia, extracted from a 60-41 meter band spectrum recording captured in September 2016.
As reported previously on this blog, Rádio Nacional da Amazônia went silent on shortwave in March due to electricity supply issues. The station hasn't been heard since (at the time of writing, a quick YouTube search for 6180 kHz or 11780 kHz does not return any matching reception videos newer than March 2017). Recently I came across two online articles from Brazil that help to clarify the ongoing situation. I have used Google Translate to reproduce parts of both below (and tidied up the translations manually in a few places to improve legibility). In short, after a widespread regional outcry, EBC (the broadcaster currently using Rádio Nacional da Amazônia's transmitter facilities) has until December to reinstate the full service to avoid losing its shortwave broadcasting license.

Ribeirinhos and indigenous people reject the deactivation of the Rádio Nacional da Amazônia:
[...] 
Rádio Nacional da Amazônia has been suffering from maintenance problems for many years, mainly with their short-wave transmitters on the frequencies of 6180 and 11780 kHz, on 49 and 25 meter bands, respectively. The full 250 kW capacity of each channel was already reduced to 180 kW a long time ago. Often, one channel would be off the air, but at least the other one was in operation. 
However, the situation has never been as serious as it is now. On March 20 of this year, more than five months ago, a lightning struck the substation that supplies electricity to Rodeador Park, 50 kilometers from the center of Brasília, where the antennas are located in the North Region of the country. So far, no practical action has been taken to repair the damage. The transmission has since been maintained only on the internet and via satellite, for those who own a satellite dish. But the people in the heart of the Amazon [listen] via old battery radios. 
The listeners, feeling abandoned, started complaining on live shows over the phone. In May, a statement of repudiation of the deactivation of the station was sent by 15 riverine and indigenous leaderships to the EBC directorate, with copies to the Social Communication Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic and to the radio team. However, EBC's direction remains mute on the subject. 
Check the list of entities whose leaders signed the letter to EBC: 
Association of Residents of Riozinho do Anfrísio Extractive Reserve
Association of Residents of the Rio Iriri Extractive Reserve
Council of the Ribeirinho de Belo Monte - Altamira
Indigenous Association Pyjahyry Xipaya
Tukaya Indigenous Association of Xypaya
Forest Seeds Association
Arara People of the Cachoeira Seca
Xikrin People of Bacajá
Kuruaya people
Parakanã of the Apyterewa Indigenous Land
Remaining Quilombola Association of Oriximiná
Association for the Development of Family Agriculture of the Upper Xingu
Joint Alternative Cooperative of Small Producers of the Alto Xingu
Forestry and Agricultural Management and Certification Institute
Kabu Institute (Kayapó Mekrangnoti People)
Protected Forest Association (Kayapó People Kayapó Indigenous Land)
EBC may lose Rádio Nacional da Amazônia's license after going off the air
Rádio Nacional da Amazônia has been completely off the air and Rádio Nacional de Brasilia (AM) does not have sufficient power to reach states beyond the Federal District during the night. 
The accident completely altered the routine of thousands of people from the Amazon, who have since contacted EBC, pleading for the return of the only station that can be tuned into where they live. 
[...] 
This does not happen by chance. 
Since its creation, Rádio Nacional da Amazônia has played a fundamental role in guaranteeing citizenship to the inhabitants of the northern region of the country, through access to information. But this feeling of belonging is lost every time an Amazonian tries to tune into the station and is faced with the inhuman silence coming from their radio device. 
Isolated communities in rural, riverside, indigenous and border areas, located in places where access to the Internet and other communication channels is difficult, are the ones that benefit most from the public information services carried by the station, which broadcasts to such communities, in addition to information, tips on how to seek solutions to basic health problems, domestic violence and how to take documents. 
It is also through the radio that the listeners communicate with relatives, pass and return messages and reunite with missing relatives and friends. It is no wonder that the station has earned the folklore nickname "Amazon's payphone." 
Historical programs like “Eu de Cá, Você de Lá”; "Frankly speaking"; "Meeting point"; "Live nature"; "Viva Maria"; "Our land"; "Brazilian Amazonia"; "National Evening"; "Mosaic"; "Em Conta" and "Amazon Reporter" simply stopped reaching their audience, cutting off a decades-long relationship with the forest peoples. 
[...] 
Not only does [the station] violate the right to information of thousands of people living in the Brazilian states that make up the Legal Amazon (Amazonas, Acre, Amapá, Maranhão, Mato Grosso, Rondônia, Pará, Roraima and Tocantins), [they run] the risk of losing the radio license. 
This is because the sole paragraph of Article 55 of Decree 52795/1963 states that in case the interruption of the broadcasting service is more than 30 (thirty) consecutive days, "except for reasons of unforeseeable circumstances duly proven and recognized by CONTEL, permission shall be revoked, without the licensee being entitled to any indemnity. " 
[...] 
Now EBC has until December to reinstate the provision of the Shortwave service of Rádio Nacional da Amazônia, after authorization of the extension of the legal term granted by the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications (MCTIC). MCTIC also gave a period of 120 days for the reestablishment of the Medium Wave service for the return of the normal operation of Rádio Nacional AM of Brasília.
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Shortwave gems: September 2017

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Some interesting music I found in the spectrum recordings I made this month with my portable spectrum capture set-up:




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Monitoring reactions to North Korea's 6th nuclear test on shortwave

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Monday, September 04, 2017
Graphic from the United States Geological Survey showing the location of seismic activity at the time of the test
From Wikipedia:
North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test on 3 September 2017, according to Japanese and South Korean officials. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs also concluded that North Korea conducted a nuclear test. The United States Geological Survey reported an earthquake of 6.3-magnitude not far from North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test site. 
South Korean authorities said the earthquake seemed to be artificial, consistent with a nuclear test. The USGS, as well as China's earthquake administration, reported that the initial event was followed by a second, smaller, earthquake at the site, several minutes later, which was characterized as a collapse of the cavity. 
North Korea claimed that it detonated a hydrogen bomb that can be loaded onto an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with great destructive power. 
Photos of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspecting a device resembling a thermonuclear weapon warhead were released a few hours before the test.


Using my portable spectrum capture setup, I recorded the 22 and 19 meter bands between 13:30 and 14:30 UTC and the 31 meter band between 16:00 and 17:00 UTC on the day of the nuclear test. Below are the news bulletins I extracted from these two recordings, which demonstrate varying reactions to this event from the relevant international players:

First, the news in English from the DPRK's state broadcaster, Voice of Korea, with the formal announcement starting at 5 minutes, 6 seconds into the video:


South Korea's reaction, broadcast via KBS World Radio, was characteristically terse:


Voice of America interviewed their own White House correspondent who lamented that nothing is working to steer North Korea away from the path of nuclearisation:


Meanwhile, China Radio International considered DPRK's nuclear test as worthy of only the number 3 spot in their list of headlines. Perhaps this shouldn't be surprising: some analysts have opined that Kim Jong Un had deliberately timed the nuclear test to coincide with Xi Jinping opening the annual BRICS summit in China as a show of defiance towards the Chinese leader.


These are interesting times to be monitoring shortwave radio broadcasts, and in this case particularly so because North Korea uses the medium extensively to inform the world about its activities while investing relatively little into other methods of communication. Continue reading →

Endangered stations: April 2017

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Friday, April 14, 2017
CBC dismantles the transmitter towers on Tantramar Marsh land in March 2014.  Image credit: CBC.ca
Some new endangered shortwave station entries for this month:

Endangered:


Radio Nacional da Amazonia was reported off the air for several weeks in March and April 2017, apparently because the Brazilian government didn't allocate the funds for the electrical power needed to run the service (information via Glenn Hauser / World of Radio).

Medi1, Morocco has been off the air in the first two weeks of April.

Recently closed down:


Albania's Radio Tirana closure has been finally confirmed after months of transmitter problems and service interruptions (information via Glenn Hauser / World of Radio). Continue reading →

Shortwave gems: March 2017

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Monday, March 27, 2017

This month's episode of the shortwave gems series, extracted from my indoor spectrum recordings:

Carnatic instrumental music from All India Radio that at times sounds like a mixture of Trance and Drum & Bass!



A very interesting performance from Radio Thailand that is strangely reminiscent of a certain famous band form the west (which one is it?).



A pop song from the Voice of Turkey that seems to have borrowed a bar or two from "Don't You Worry Child" by The Swedish House Mafia.



Folk music from Radio Romania International.

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