DXpedition retrospective: Singapore 2019

Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. © 2019 London Shortwave
In August 2019 I visited Singapore, where I was able to test a pre-release sample of the AirSpy HF+ Discovery SDR, kindly sent to me by Youssef. Due to a very busy schedule I was only able to make two short outdoor radio recording trips, amounting to three hours in total. Needless to say, the advantages of portable shortwave spectrum capture manifested themselves fully in these hurried circumstances. I made these two trips on August 27th and 29th and I shall start with the latter outing as that was when I made my most prized recording to date.

East Coast Park, 29/08/2019

Spectrum capture QTH on 29/08/2019
East Coast Park is Singapore's largest and occupies 15km of the island's coastline. I chose this location because it was easily accessible and not particularly crowded on the day:

My recording set-up consisted of the GPDWin 5" mini-computer running Windows 10 and SDR# 1631, AirSpy HF+ Discovery and a long wire antenna:

I arrived at 1723 local time (0923 UTC) and after experimenting with reception on different bands for about an hour I settled on the 49 meter band and started recording it just before 1100 UTC (after grabbing a coffee from the large Starbucks situated right behind me). An hour later, as the beach became dark and windy, I packed up my equipment and went back to the hotel. Later that night I reviewed the spectrum capture file and the very first station I stumbled upon was one that had eluded me since I returned to the shortwave listening hobby in 2013: Myanmar Radio.

Myanmar Radio QSL card. Image from Pavel Zhuravlev
Below is a one hour recording of this station extracted from the spectrum capture. It contains a mixture of talk, traditional songs and national rock music. The 50kW non-directional signal on 5915 kHz  is listed as "Myanma Radio Naypyidaw Service in Minority Languages", although I have not been able to establish the exact language of this broadcast. Some time ago one Shortwave Radio Audio Archive contributor said that "this may be one of the most exotic countries still left on shortwave". I agree!

Radio New Zealand International (RNZ Pacific)

I have a special fondness for RNZI as it was my first bit of long-distance DX back in 2013 when I was staying in the Russian countryside. Receiving this station in Singapore would always have been a lot less challenging but it's still nice to hear this old friend from the Pacific on the airwaves, especially as it has been a harder catch in Europe in recent times. Below is a one hour recording RNZI's signal extracted from the spectrum capture file.

KCBS Pyongyang

This is the domestic arm of the North Korean radio service, which regularly makes it into Europe on 9665 and 11680 kHz (almost always faintly) but far less often on this 6400 kHz frequency. From NorthKoreaTech:
The Korean Central Broadcasting Station (KCBS) (Korean: 조선중앙방송, Chinese: 朝鲜中央放送, Japanese: 朝鮮中央放送) is the main domestic radio network in the DPRK. It sits under the Central Broadcasting Committee of the DPRK (called the Radio and Television Committee of the DPRK until 2009). 
KCBS broadcasts from 5am to 3am local time via a network of medium wave and shortwave transmitters that cover the nation. The powerful transmissions can easily be heard in neighbouring countries, including South Korea where some of its frequencies are jammed. 
A central program is broadcast from Pyongyang on most transmitters through the entire broadcast day, but some are reported to carry regional programming between 2pm and 3pm.
Below is a one hour recording of this signal. Note the militant style of the radio presenter and the rousing patriotic music.  There were lots of other North Korean transmissions available during both of my outings but I will avoid repetition here.

Echo of Hope

South Korea's clandestine counter-broadcast on shortwave, beamed into North Korea from Hwaseong but picked up very clearly in Singapore. There isn't much information available on this broadcaster online, although apparently a few listeners managed to obtain the station's QSL cards via South Korea's international broadcaster, KBS World Radio. Below is a one hour recording of their signal.

VMW Marine Weather Station, Wiluna, Australia

Australia Marine Radio Broadcast Areas. Source: The Australian Bureau of Meteorology
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology broadcasts marine forecasts and warnings to mariners over shortwave from Charleville (VMC) for eastern waters and Wiluna (VMW) for western waters. The transmitter specifications for the VMW broadcast state that it is powered at 1 kW (presumably non-directionally, based on the map above) and according to the schedule the forecast recorded below was supposed to be for Western Australia (Northern Zones: NT-WA Border to North West Cape) and the Northern Territory. This signal occasionally makes it into Europe in winter but I've not yet managed to pick it up in London.

Radio Nikkei 1

Radio Tampa QSL card from the late 70s. Source: kusanagi1965
Radio Nikkei 1 (Radio Tampa until 2004) is a nationwide commercial shortwave radio station in Japan, operating from Chiba-Nagara at 50 kW since 1954, and was another first catch for me. Wikipedia's description makes it sound like a fairly unique station in today's shortwave world:
The station features the following four genres as the core of its programming: finance, JRA horse racing (weekends), health-medical, and culture.
Below is a one hour recording of the station's 6055 kHz signal extracted from the spectrum capture.

Voice of Vietnam National Channel 4

This is one of Vietnam's many domestic shortwave services, broadcasting non-directionally at 20 kW from Đắk Lắk and yet another first for me. Below is a one hour recording of this station extracted from the spectrum capture file.

BBC World Service transmitting from Kranji, Singapore

Kranji transmitting station. Source: Google StreetView
Amidst all of this DXing fun it would perhaps be easy to forget that Singapore is home to the Kranji transmitter site, which several international broadcasters use to reach listeners across South-East Asia. My QTH in East Coast Park was merely 20km away from Kranji and the video below clearly shows how strong the local 125 kW signal of the BBC World Service was on that day. The most surprising part was just how well AirSpy coped with having that monster signal next to all the weak transmissions I extracted above: at no point did it look like the ADC was anywhere near its saturation point. If I had more time I would have tried to visit Kranji and check out the transmitters; I hope to do so during one of my future trips to this country.

Pasir Ris Park, 27/08/2019

Spectrum capture QTH on 27/08/2019
Two days earlier I visited Pasir Ris Park on the other side of the island. The park is located right next to Singapore's Changi Airport. It's a great location for DXpeditions because overnight camping is allowed, albeit only with a permit obtained via the National Parks Board's website (something that I would also like to do during my next visit).

I arrived at the recording spot at around 1830 Singapore time and started capturing the 25 meter band 90 minutes later (at 1200 UTC). In retrospect this wasn't the most interesting band to record as it was mostly populated with services from China Radio International and China National Radio, which you can hear pretty much anywhere in the world. However, I did manage to extract a few interesting transmissions:

View from the recording location towards Serangoon Island. © 2019 London Shortwave

View towards Changi Airport approach. © 2019 London Shortwave

Voice of Vietnam's English language service to South East Asia and the Pacific

I have made many recordings of the Voice of Vietnam's English language broadcasts, which can be heard in Europe on 7280 and 9730 kHz at 1600, 1900 and 2130 UTC. What I didn't realise before catching this particular transmission is that the content of the international news bulletin depends on the region to which it is being broadcast. The European transmissions I pick up in London are typically focused on Vietnam-EU and Vietnam-US relations, while in the recording below, the news is Asia-Pacific-centric. To me, this shows that the Vietnamese government still take their shortwave operations seriously.

NHK World Radio Japan

NHK World is the international arm of the Japanese state broadcaster, NHK. The one-hour transmission below was beamed south-west in Japanese out of Ibaragi-Koga-Yamata, at a mighty 300 kW. Perhaps this was the next easiest signal to catch after the BBC World Service out of Kranji, but the reason I include this recording here is that by coincidence I stumbled upon the relay of ABC-Z's weekly program on NHK Radio 1. ABC-Z are a popular Japanese boy band who have been active in under various guises since 2001. You can catch their songs at 18:40, 36:26 and 50:48 in the recording below.

Members of A.B.C-Z

Republic of Yemen Radio (clandestine / Saudi Arabia)

Distance calculation by Google
Republic of Yemen Radio is a clandestine radio station broadcasting out of Saudi Arabia. It delivers programming reflecting the position of the Saudi-led coalition that participates in the ongoing Yemeni civil war. The precise location and power rating of the transmitter are not officially disclosed but are believed to be Jeddah and non-directional 50 kW, respectively. Given the 7,331 km distance to the transmitter site and the non-directional nature of the broadcast, this DX is still somewhat noteworthy.

Overall, I couldn't be happier with what I managed to capture with my portable SDR set-up in the limited time available. Although I wish I had spent more time on the lower bands, as that is where more of the local and exotic stations of the region reside, there's always the next time, and yet another reason to come back.

About the author

This blog is written by a shortwave radio enthusiast based in London, UK. You can follow him on Twitter at @LondonShortwave