Thursday, 3 December 2015

Homemade MW Super Stick

Now the long winter nights are here, I wanted to have another bash at MW DXing. I have already built one or two MW loops, but in the early mornings I like to sit up in bed with my Tecsun PL660 and a cup of tea, and DXing whilst trying to balance one of these is not very easy.

I have had my eye on a commercial product from the USA, but with postage to the UK, the Royal Mail handling fee and our 20% VAT it came to over GBP80.00 which is way more than I wanted to spend, so I decided to have a go at building one myself.

An amateur radio pal of mine had given my a Sony Tuner a few years ago, and when I no longer had need of it, I removed the excellent 7.5" AM ferrite rod and stuck it in my junk box. What I was unsure about was how many turn of wire to wrap around it. The closest answer I could find on the net was to start with around 50 turns, but as it happens it took around 80 turns to get to the MW band (the max number of turns I could wind without going back over myself), and a further 30-40 (which I wound back over the existing windings) to tune all the way down to 531khz.

I housed it in a nice cardboard tube and tuned it with a small AM capacitor, removed from a broken AM radio. So far the cost: zero pounds! In fact the most expensive part was the printing charge at the library of 10p for the design label I made on Word. So the grand total was 10pence!

It works like a dream. and being so small and portable is perfect for taking away on holiday, carrying out to the end of the garden, or sitting up in bed in the small hours.

The Tecsun PL660 is quite sensitive on MW and selectivity is not too bad if you keep the gain at the "normal" setting at night. Perhaps it is not quite as sensitive as my old Sony 7600GR, but I never liked that radio much for reasons I mentioned in a previous post (mostly its poor battery meter and poor audio when compared to the far superior and punchy audio of the 660). And when coupled to a small loop like the Tecsun AN200, a small homemade loop, and now also my homemade MW Super Stick, it is a ferocious contender! I couldn't be more pleased with it. Last night, when CRI from Urumqi on 1521 khz came through the co-channel interference with their familiar Chinese ID of the folk tune "Jasmine" and Chinese "zhonguo guangbo diantai" (China International Radio Station) followed in Russian by the ID "radio kitaja", it was hard to describe the excitement of knowing it was being pulled out of the ether by something I myself had made. It is indescribably more enjoyable than using a commercial product. And with the money I have saved I have treated myself to a Sony SW-35, which is going to replace my Tecsun PL310. I will write a  review on the SW-35 in the not too distant future.

Below is a photo of the insides of the Super Stick, and later I shall add a link to a youtube video demonstrating its effectiveness and also I will post another photo.


And as promised, the Super Stick photo on the right. And if you click here you will be taken to my YouTube video demonstration.

As I said previously, I have a small 30cm diameter homemade air-spaced loop (where the wire is wound around a loop rather than a ferrite rod). I built it to cover both the MW broadcast band and the MF Marine Band, and so it tunes from 540khz up to around 2.8mhz. During the daytime, distant MW broadcast signals are a little better on the larger air-spaced loop when compared to the MW Super Stick. At night the difference is less noticeable. But having tinkered around with the two loops for a long time I think it would be fair to say I don't think there is anything that the larger loop can pick up that I haven't also heard on the Super Stick. And the Super Stick has all the benefits of neatness, convenience, and portability.

I have also experimented with using the Super Stick behind the PL660 to bring in the required station, and then using a second loop behind that again, and positioning it in such a way as to null out either interference from stations on the same channel (not much luck with this during the nighttime, but moreso during the day) and, more successfully, local niose. This technique is called phasing, and it is like magic when you introduce the second loop and watch the local noise completely disappear.

To end this article, I have included a photo of my homemade air-spaced loop:


Sunday, 28 June 2015

Russian Navy Kaliningrad 8459.0 (more)

Last night at 1843 I tuned again to 8459.0khz USB and cw signals were present. This time I didn't record it, but fed the signal directly into MULTIPSK using the QRP decoding function and switched from the big signals with white noise of the outdoor vertical to the quiet signals with no noise of the indoor loop. The results were much, much better using the indoor loop: despite the signal really dropping very low at times, the QRP function on MULTIPSK had no problem decoding. You would never believe such a low signal level could result in such good decoding - it had to be seen to be believed.

In fact, MULTIPSK has always proven to be exceptionally good at handling low quality and low level signals, consistently beating the competition hands-down. And having such an enormous array of modes makes it a very good value and high-quality package.

Anyway, back to the Russian Navy. After the familiar "tire" and "tok" words and numbers I was familiar with from the other night, we got "peterburg" and an "AR" at the end of the message. The next message began:

"REO REO de RMP RMP QTC ........"

Here is the screenshot of this interesting ID part of the message:

Have a look at Tony's PLANESANDSTUFF BLOG blog and his Russian callsign list and you will see this is a weather warning for the Baltic Sea (REO) from Baltic Fleet HQ, Kaliningrad (RMP). I am not too sure about the QTC. Perhaps it is "message follows", "we have a message for you" from what I see on Google.

 I entered the word "RABOTY" into a Latin - Cyrllic alphabet online site and then copied the Russian characters to Google language translator and it means "WORK". It is time-consuming but fascinating to a language enthusiast like myself to decipher the text in this way.

My next challenge is to move away from this mostly broadcast oriented transmission to decoding CW to and from actual ships.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Russian Navy Kaliningrad 8459.0

Earlier in the week I was trying a few Russian Navy CW freqs in my DX394 when I heard some activity on 8459.0khz. I recorded it and then played it back into various CW decoders to check what it was. MultiPSK was best  (tried FLDIGI and a few others) and decoded some strange sets of numbers, some letters (TIRE and TOK in our alphabet...oh and KARTA which is Russian for map). But best of all the words KALININGRAD.  There were non of the ususal 5 figure groups associated with military and utility stations. Here is the multipsk screenshot:

Saturday, 20 June 2015

18030.0 Russian Air Force ACTIVITY

19JUN15 18030.0USB 1255UTC Pskov AB (KORSAR) wkg 76719 an Ilyushin IL76 based Taganrog
19JUN15 18030.0USB 1301UTC Pskov AB (KORSAR) clg Orenburg AB (POLIS) and sev others
19JUN15 18030.0USB 1400UTC Pskov wkg 22457 (presumed RA22457, an Alrosa Mirny AL Mil8 helicopter, as I couldn't find any other "22457" serial. This AL operates scheduled AND charter flights, so it is feasible it was chartered to the Russian AF in the same way Atlas Air flights are used to transport USAF troops and equip.) This was a very interesting catch as I also managed to hear the words "raschetnoye pribitiya" which means "ETA" and the time afterwards of 1710.

I am going to try and upload the audio as an AVI ile and show the actual Mil8 helicopter as the background. Never done this before, but wanted you to hear the excellent signal.    


Tony, from the blog planesandstuff, has been helping me with my Russian and I wrongly heard the numbers. They should be 52456 (pyat dva chetirye pyat shest). Can't find this serial number on Google, but it isn't the Alrosa Mirny Mil8 helicopter I thought it was. Silly me. This is the problem with working with another language and of assuming you know some of it! ha ha. Never mind, the error has taught me to listen to EVERYTHING many times before thinking I understand it.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Introduction to Monitoring Russian Military HF Frequencies

I have heard more Russian activity on the naval aviation (11354) and Air Force (11360) frequencies this afternoon. I've actually been using my Tecsun PL660 and homemade passive loop in the kitchen while baking a cake! I am starting to get my head around the numbers and, once you learn the pattern, it's not too hard to grasp. The best site I have found for learning is here. You will definitely need a tape recorder. I have a few in the shack, but for portable ops like this afternoon I use a small Sony one with a 30min tape. It was only 50p at a tabletop sale and has given me hours of deciphered messages!

But even if you think learning Russian numbers is out of the question, you can easily learn to identify the Air Force Base callsigns. I will try and post a comprehensive list later if I remember, but for starters listen for these words, spoken at the beginning of transmissions:

"Ya Karsar, priyom"

This means:

"This is KORSAR, go ahead"

KORSAR is the callsign for Pskov AFB in NW Russia and about 99% of all the calls I've heard are to here.
DAVLENIE is the callsign for Taganrog AFB near Ukraine in SW Russia

At some point you will hear:

"Davlenie ya karsar priyom"

This means:

"DAVLENIE this is KORSAR, go ahead"

The aircraft serial numbers are given as either individual numbers. Eg

"syem vosyem syem pyat syem" (7 8 7 5 7)

or as compound numbers and individual numbers. Eg serial #78000:

syem-deesyat-vosyem (78)
nul nul nul (000)

At the end of the transmission I am hearing "das viagem" which I presume is something like  "Have a safe flight"......


I was looking at the Ilyushin IL76 production list just now and managed to find one of the serials I heard this afternoon. So the log details are:

16JUN15 11360.0KHZ USB Korsar wkg 78757 IL76MD Military Transport

Here she is:

Monday, 15 June 2015

New Russian Frequency Logged

I just changed my DX394 dial to 11193khz thanks to a call freq list Tony from the planesandstuff blog sent me, and lo and behold I heard some Russian voice activity followed by 4 selcalls. I was recording so played them back into MultiPSK and they decoded perfectly each time as FPCL a Transaero AL Boeing 777 EI-UNP recently arrived at Moscow on a flight from Anadyr, Siberia.

11193.0USB 15JUN15 1626UTC voice Ru and selcal FPCL tx 4 times (Transaero AL B777-300)

Monitoring the Russian Air Force

A friend of mine cuts out newspaper articles she thinks will interest me, and a few weeks ago she gave me one about a Russian Air Force Tupolev bomber that had penetrated UK airspace in Cornwall. Ever since, I have been fascinated by the idea of hearing the Russian military on HF and more recently I have some info on the planesandstuff blog and the UDXF yahoo group with freqs etc.

My first few catches have been on the 11mhz band:

11354.0USB voice 11jun15 1531utc caught the russian numbers 364 clg 362
11360.0USB voice 12jun15 0907utc "Davelenie (Taganrog air base), ya Korsar (Pskov air base), priyom (over) it actually sounded like "yakarsar" but a bit of playing around on google translator audio produced the Russian sounds "yakarsar" when I entered "I am Korsar" over in the English box.

As someone who studied linguistics and language at college I find this aspect of the radio especially enjoyable. Pity I chose Spanish and not Russian!

Now I have to start getting my head around Russian numbers.

I will try to keep my logs on the blog for a while in case it helps.

French Military Log:
8992.0USB voice 06jun15 0937UTC wkg Boeing C135 tanker #740 with selcal check on MSFL

Monday, 6 April 2015

Voyager Tarot Review

As well as being crazy about radio listening, I am seriously interested in The Tarot. I came across it several years ago when girls I worked with introduced me to it and ever since I have been hooked. My first deck was The Barbara Walker tarot, which I worked with for about a year. But I struggled with her court card collection of rather inaccessible (to me anyway) God and Goddesses from the ancient world, and I then moved onto the Mary Hanson Roberts deck for a year or so. To cut a long story short, after around three years I came across a period when I felt that if I didn't seriously change direction in my tarot studies I would end up putting it aside altogether. You see, I use the tarot as a tool for self-growth and have never been interested in its more divinatory nature. But each book I read would give such different, and often opposing, meanings to the cards I was getting confused and disillusioned by the whole the thing.

To put it another way, I felt the cards were trying to tell me certain things, to guide me in certain ways, but that the definitions in various books and often even the images themselves were not helping me try to understand them.

I had come across James Wanless's Voyager Tarot on the internet and more recently in Toni Gilbert's "Messages from the Archetypes" book. I especially liked the fact that a keyword was printed on each card, including the "court" cards, and that the words chosen by James Wanless matched both my own experience with the cards and what I felt intuitively. The move towards a more modern, accessible, fresh, "new-age" style (the very things that put me off these cards in the past) now appealed to me enormously. And so I lovingly put my Hanson Roberts, Barbara Walker, and Sensual Wicca cards away, and bought the Voyager cards, along with Jame's Wanless's book "The Way of the Great Oracle".

I had seen a youtube video by a lovely lady who was clearly rather disappointed by the voyager cards. I remember one of the things she commented on was how the voyager tarot was sometimes completely unrelated to the traditional meanings of the Waite cards. One of the examples she mentioned was the three of swords of the Waite deck traditionally associated with sorrow and unhappiness. In the Voyager the card is the three of crystals and named "creativity", as it represents the mind of the Empress. It is a very different interpretation. But I had already experienced a similar dichotomy with Barbara Walker's seven of pentacles. I had had a dream - an exceptionally vivid and emotional dream about human hopes and dreams all amounting to nothing and ending in tragic failure and death. The energy lasted with me for days. That very next morning I drew Barbara Walkers seven of pentacles "Failure" card and thus made a very real and personal connection with 7 pentacles and failure. Yet later, as I used other decks, I realised it could mean different things. In the Sensual Wicca it shows a lady nurturing a seed and indeed I drew it then to represent the need to nurture new beginnings and not give in too quickly.

What I am trying to say is that there didn't appear to be a "right" or "wrong" interpretation for the tarot cards. It depended upon the deck you were using, the books you were using, your experience etc etc So I wasn't too concerned that James Wanless's cards didn't always sit side by side the Waite ones. In fact I was glad they didn't, as I have come to regard Arthur Waite as a pompous and rather unpleasant-sounding man. If you have ever read Waite's "Pictorial Key to the Tarot" you will know what I mean! I read somewhere that he said the lovely artist for his cards, Pamela Colman-Smith, had to practically spoon-fed his design for the High Priestess. Really, what a thing to say of the artist of your deck! It's not as though his designs are all that great anyway: in my mind his major arcana pictures are unnecessarily full of obscure, archaic and often rather dark and negative symbolism which seemed typical of these early occultists and to my mind is neither pleasant to look at nor particularly helpful.
The key occultists of that day (I am thinking Waite and Crowley) seemed unbalanced, pompous, disturbed, unpleasant, egocentric personalities I personally wouldn't want to meet. I was glad to be moving away from them and personally no longer wanted a deck that had any links to them at all.

Anyway, what if the three swords piercing the heart didn't mean sorrow. What if, as Rabbi Dovid Krafchow writes, they represent knowledge that pierces the heart. Isn't that what creativity is? Knowledge that goes so deep it requires a creative outlet. Like a great painting or a symphony. The boundaries between "right" and "wrong" are already beginning to blur for me.

In other examples of apparent differences between the Voyager cards and the traditional ones, I have found that if you look deeply enough there are similarities, it is just that the Voyager cards go one or two steps deeper as they move away from a two-dimensional divinatory explanation towards a deeper, more spiritually helpful three-dimensional one.

I can't imagine going back to my old decks now. The Voyager tarot has helped me learn about hidden aspects of myself I didn't even know existed. They have helped me become less critical and judgmental of myself and more loving and accepting. I feel that a spirit and energy of love and healing comes through the Voyager cards that was previously blocked by my old decks. Does this give the impression they are wishy-washy, overly sentimental, new-age nonsense? I hope not, as that is not the case at all. They are honest, and gentle, and illuminating and they tell it as it is, free of the baggage that we carry around with us and then use as a background against which to interpret life, cards, events, people. I love these cards and am about to order The Voyager Tarot Companion by R.Lloyd Hegland. And so in a few weeks I will comment again on this blog about that new book and about any further information you may find helpful if you are considering using The Voyager Tarot.

Thanks for reading.