Monday, November 24, 2014

Something different in SSB

Greetings from the radio room and apologies for the lack of recent blog action from this side. The reason: conditions being unsuitable for listening to the Dutch MW pirates here in England.

I just switched on the radio at 2215 and all I could hear was a Balkan pirate around 1630 kHz and various local noise. And that has been the story for the last few weeks. Couple that with the 48 metre band fading out during the late afternoon, and there hasn't been a great deal to pull me towards the radio just recently. The good news is this has been the same for the last few years and it won't be long before propagation changes and the MW pirates start coming through with consistently good signals.

I was having a tune around earlier in the evening - at about 1700 - and there were some final signals before the conditions changed. I heard the Zwarte Boekanier (who was also using the name Eenzamejager, which means Lonely Hunter in English) qsoing with Osaka and Digitaal. All were coming through really well. And then I heard a somebody around 1637 kHz whistling into a microphone. 

At first I thought it was somebody tuning up a transmitter. Then I realised the signal was in SSB, so I switched mode on the radio and heard somebody calling for the Boekanier. There was no station ID, but he was coming through very clearly. Who it was, I have no idea, although there were some Dutch fisherman on 1675 kHz a few minutes later, so just perhaps it was one of them and they had been enjoying some polka sounds and thought they would give a report. 

The same thing happened back in the late 1990s on the 76 metre band. There used to a lot of late-night pirate activity around 3945 kHz, where some Scottish fisherman also used to illegally chat to each other from time to time. From listening to them it turned out that they often used to listen to the pirates while they were out in the North Sea. The likes of Live Wire Radio, Subterranean Sounds and the Wizard's Magic Spell could then often be heard sending them best wishes and playing records for them!

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Back in business

So this afternoon despite having something of a fear of heights I was at the top of a long ladder putting the loop antenna back in place at the top of one of the two masts and aligning it with a northerly direction so it would work in sync with the rotator. I was doing this after being without the loop for a week or two while waiting for a new part. Like I mentioned in my previous post, it has been a frustrating time as I haven't been able to receive signals on MW with anything like their usual strength.

But the good news is everything is working fine now and I am listening to the regular Sunday evening programme of Witte Tornado on 1647 kHz as I write this. And the signal is pretty good, despite propagation conditions not being great for hearing the Dutch pirates - I can hear a legal station from the US on 1610 with a fair signal.

It was also good to hear Matrix for the first time in ages during the late afternoon. Exactly two years ago he was over here in England to celebrate my wedding, so it was fitting to hear him on the radio today.

Earlier in the day I was listening to shortwave with the inverted v antenna. Skip was short during the morning but as we went into the afternoon, stations further afield started arriving with good signals. One of the best of the day was the Free Radio Service Holland, who could be heard on 7700 and 9300 kHz with a repeat of last weekend's programmes that were being aired again due to the SW blackout seven days earlier. I made a recording as Peter Verbruggen handed over to Roger Davis, the voice of Britain Radio International for so many years . . .

Saturday, November 01, 2014

On the high seas (sort of)

For the last week I've been at sea. Well, my family and I were on some of Britain's canals, gently coasting along at around four miles an hour. And as we relaxed and enjoyed the great weather I noticed a few things that reminded me of the pirate hobby . . . 

It's been a little while since I heard Odynn on MW, but he was testing with a new antenna a couple of months ago and will hopefully be active during the autumn and winter months. As for Alaska, looking back at the logs I see it was just about 12 months ago I last heard him, and before that he was making it across the North Sea on New Year's Eve 2012. 

Anyway, it was nice to be reminded of the pirates as we meandered along some countryside waterways, and I even managed a little listening with my old Sony ICF 2001d and small portable loop. Now, tuning the bands while inside a metal box isn't ideal and there was all sorts of interference, even with most appliances switched off. So, on Thursday night in the pitch dark I took the receiver and loop outside and sat at the front of the boat and was very surprised to hear some cracking signals, none more so than Professor Sickbok, who was very strong on 1640 while qsoing with Casablanca

We're back home now and I've been doing some antenna maintenance. Yesterday I replaced the coax cable in the shortwave dipole antenna and tomorrow I'll be reinstalling the outdoor loop antenna which has been on the sidelines for a couple of weeks waiting for a new part. I can't wait to get it back in working order - it's essential for pulling in weaker signals on AM, and I've been lost without it. Trying to listen to MW, for example, with a SW antenna is not ideal and it's frustrating when signals are being received with only a fraction of the strength they should be, together with loads of noise as well. The right antenna for the job is so important . . .