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Author Topic: Purchased my first shortwave radio...not sure what to expect  (Read 4072 times)

Offline pjviitas

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Purchased my first shortwave radio...not sure what to expect
« on: November 02, 2016, 0531 UTC »
First time poster...good to be here.

So I purchased a PL-380 to listen to CKZU 6160 while I am off the grid on Vancouver Island.

After putting batteries in it and running the ETM scan the radio picks up 3 stations none of which sound like anything.

I was hoping that picking up a SW station 150km away should not be too hard but am I expecting too much?

Am I possibly not using the radio correctly?

Whats the probability that my unit is DOA?

Any advise would be great.

Best Regards, Hedghog

Offline MDK2

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Re: Purchased my first shortwave radio...not sure what to expect
« Reply #1 on: November 02, 2016, 1136 UTC »
Welcome to the hobby. I've been doing this less than a year myself.

There isn't much to go on by your description for me to say what might be going on, other than this: propagation conditions have been, for the most part, horrible lately. I don't know what station you're trying to pick up, but that's surely a factor.

The thing about shortwave listening is that it depends entirely on the ionosphere, which is in a constant state of flux due to various factors. For one thing we're just about at the minimum point of the current sunspot cycle (sunspots play a huge role in propagation). For another, we've been getting a lot of direct blasts of solar wind which wreaks a lot of havoc on the ionosphere.

But even under ideal conditions things are never stable, and it's known that the frequencies over 10 MHz (10000 kHz) are best during the day, and those under are better at night (that's a very rough dividing line BTW).

Probably the best thing for you to check to see how well your radio works are the time signals from WWV (Fort Collins, CO) and it's sister station WWVH (Hawaii) which share frequencies at 2500, 5000, 10000, and 150000 kHz, and WWV also has one at 20000, and CHU Canada (although that one reportedly has a hard time reaching the west coast, but that's at 3330, 7850, and 14670 kHz). These stations run 24/7, unlike most shortwave broadcasters who are always changing frequencies as they try to take advantage of propagation. Check for these time signals at different times of day. If you're getting them, your unit is fine.

I don't own the PL-380. But I do own another Tecsun model, the PL-600. It's a good unit but not the best in its class, and with these less expensive models, sensitivity to weak signals tends to be an issue. Yours should have come with a plug in wire antenna. Using it makes a difference. Getting some electric wire, hanging that up, and using an alligator clip to attach it to the built in antenna helps too, but household RF noise can be an issue. If you can get it up outside, do that, but watch that you don't place it anywhere near power lines. You have to assume that some day something will blow down the lines and come into contact with your wire. Safety first.

Hope this helps. This is a good forum. If you're on Facebook there are a lot of shortwave listening groups you can check out, and I'm sure there are others on places like Reddit and Yahoo groups (but I don't speak from experience there).

Here's a good resource for knowing what's on the air right now:

http://www.short-wave.info/index.php
« Last Edit: November 02, 2016, 1139 UTC by MDK2 »
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Offline pjviitas

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Re: Purchased my first shortwave radio...not sure what to expect
« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2016, 1416 UTC »
Thanks you for all the helpful information.

For a novice like me this is exactly the kind of feedback I was hoping for.

So it does seem like I am on the right track as I cannot seem to tune in to a single discernible station.

With this in mind, I will exchange the unit for a new one and see how it works out.

If I still can't seem to get anything then I might have to look at getting a completely different unit.

Thanks again for your help.

Best Regards, Hedghog

Offline MDK2

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Re: Purchased my first shortwave radio...not sure what to expect
« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2016, 1423 UTC »
You're welcome. Here are a couple of other things I thought of.

SW listening in North America and much of the developed world is challenging these days because of the internet. Since so many people stream radio content, there are now few international broadcasts aimed our way and few that originate in North America compared to the pre-internet era. In other words we have a lot less to hear unless we get serious about pursuing them. There are a couple of exceptions. Since you're in BC, you're in a good position to hear Asian broadcasts, and also you should be able to get Radio Australia at 9580 well, although it's possible that 12085 might be better for you. You'll be able to hear both at any rate. They can be heard most mornings starting at 09:00 UTC (get used to using UTC when listening to short wave - that time is currently 2:00am Pacific but will be 1:00am Pacific after we "fall back" this weekend) and going on well into the morning. Here in Denver I can hear it until about 11:00am locally (17:00 UTC) before the band closes. In the late afternoon they can be heard again at 17840 or 15240, though usually not as well as in the morning, and usually not until a couple of hours before sunset. YMMV.

Another good one is Radio New Zealand International, which beams up the Pacific mornings from 1300-1650 UTC on 9700, and can sometimes be heard in the late afternoon on 15720 and evening at 17675. They're intended for a South Pacific audience, not a North American one, so it can be a harder catch in the afternoon and evening, but they're pretty easy to hear in western North America in the morning. Here's a link to their schedule page. Keep an eye on it as they are known to make unscheduled changes throughout the season. (Radio Australia, OTOH, is pretty stable in that regard.)

http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/listen

A good resource for newbies is Gilles Letourneau's videos on youtube. He runs a channel called "officialSWLchannel" there and has lots of videos. Below is the first in a series of videos for shortwave beginners. I highly recommend watching the whole series as he covers just about all the things you need to be aware of regarding listening environment, antenna positioning, finding frequencies, etc.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hu2b2FMYCOo
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Offline curious george

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Re: Purchased my first shortwave radio...not sure what to expect
« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2016, 1545 UTC »
I'm not sure if CKZU 6160 is on the air at the moment.  (I'm on the east coast, and have never heard it since CKZN 6160 in Newfoundland is much closer and stronger for me).

 I suggest you do a little bit of reading to understand how shortwave works, and how to use your receiver.  Here are a couple of links to get you started:

http://www.naswa.net/journal/areybook

http://swling.com/index.htm


Offline MDK2

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Re: Purchased my first shortwave radio...not sure what to expect
« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2016, 1704 UTC »
I contacted CBC about CKZU and got this reply:

Quote
Hello,

CKZU is currently operating at reduced power while repairs are being done on the transmitter. CBC Vancouver has not confirmed how long this will take, but we will restore full signal output as soon as possible.

Thank you,

Kim
CBC Audience Services
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Offline pjviitas

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Re: Purchased my first shortwave radio...not sure what to expect
« Reply #6 on: November 04, 2016, 0158 UTC »
Thanks for all your help guys...some great information.

As it turns out I exchanged the unit for a new one with the same result so its not the unit.

I like to tinker however I was hoping to be able to tune in to at least one SW station without alot of effort.

With this in mind, should I simply upgrade right now to something better or play around with the antenna?

Best Regards, Hedghog

Offline MDK2

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Re: Purchased my first shortwave radio...not sure what to expect
« Reply #7 on: November 04, 2016, 0326 UTC »
Play around with the antenna. A decent external antenna will make a lot of difference. The simplest thing is get wire, hang it up and clip it to your built-in telescopic. The more you can get, and the higher you can put it up, the better. I used to have about 65' of wire up (with 45' of it straight across and above my roof, the rest bending down toward and into my window) which got a lot more signals than the whip could pull in.

If you're feeling adventurous, you can build your own. I built two different loops following these instructions (one is to specifications, the other is larger so I could get lower frequencies) and they work very well. (I bought a variable capacitor rather than dig one out of an old am/fm receiver as suggested.)

http://www.kr1st.com/swlloop.htm

There is also the broomstick antenna of Arnie Coro, a famous host with Radio Habana Cuba which I hear works well. I'm not sure precisely what kind of antenna tuner he means (there are many different ones available for different antenna styles) but I imagine a basic one is what he had in mind.

http://www.hard-core-dx.com/nordicdx/antenna/special/bromstik.html

These are good places to start. You can also buy any number of antennas from online retailers, but they can be pricey and there are a large number of different styles. I think many are intended for use with tranceivers which of course are much more advanced than your portable. You're better off keeping it simple for now.

BTW I'm surprised that you're not at least hearing Radio Australia in the morning. Keep trying for that one.
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Offline pjviitas

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Re: Purchased my first shortwave radio...not sure what to expect
« Reply #8 on: November 04, 2016, 0624 UTC »
Play around with the antenna. A decent external antenna will make a lot of difference. The simplest thing is get wire, hang it up and clip it to your built-in telescopic. The more you can get, and the higher you can put it up, the better. I used to have about 65' of wire up (with 45' of it straight across and above my roof, the rest bending down toward and into my window) which got a lot more signals than the whip could pull in.

If you're feeling adventurous, you can build your own. I built two different loops following these instructions (one is to specifications, the other is larger so I could get lower frequencies) and they work very well. (I bought a variable capacitor rather than dig one out of an old am/fm receiver as suggested.)

http://www.kr1st.com/swlloop.htm

There is also the broomstick antenna of Arnie Coro, a famous host with Radio Habana Cuba which I hear works well. I'm not sure precisely what kind of antenna tuner he means (there are many different ones available for different antenna styles) but I imagine a basic one is what he had in mind.

http://www.hard-core-dx.com/nordicdx/antenna/special/bromstik.html

These are good places to start. You can also buy any number of antennas from online retailers, but they can be pricey and there are a large number of different styles. I think many are intended for use with tranceivers which of course are much more advanced than your portable. You're better off keeping it simple for now.

BTW I'm surprised that you're not at least hearing Radio Australia in the morning. Keep trying for that one.

Thanks for the advise...reading between the lines from your comments it sounds like antennae are a big factor in shortwave reception.

With this in mind I returned the Tecsun PL-380 in favour of a unit with proper antennae connections and purchased an ETON FIELD RADIO 550.

For an extra $100 it seemed like a logical choice.

It will take some time to build these antennae but I will keep you all posted on developments.

Best Regards, Hedghog

Offline Stretchyman

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Re: Purchased my first shortwave radio...not sure what to expect
« Reply #9 on: November 04, 2016, 0736 UTC »
I too air MDK2's thoughts on this one.

A simple horizontal wire held as high as possible away from any metal or brick and having a screened downlead entering the house makes a fine receiving antenna.

Don't go spending $$$'s on an antenna for reception as a (long) piece of wire is fine.

Radio wise I'd recommend something with SSB reception as it's much easier to listen to weak A.M. stations in this (zero beat) mode.

Stretchy.

 
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Offline RobRich

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Re: Purchased my first shortwave radio...not sure what to expect
« Reply #10 on: November 05, 2016, 1612 UTC »
If possible, it would be better to source a receiver with SSB tuning. As already noted, it can be used to help ECCS tune AM signals. More importantly, though, it also will allow you access to much more than broadcast AM shortwave radio, such as various amateur radio bands, utility stations, and more. Many pirate broadcasters favor SSB, too.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single-sideband_modulation

If you like Eton for whatever reason, the Eton Satellit comes to mind, though I tend to suggest the Tecsun 660 (or 880) to new shortwave enthusiasts. Lots of features for the price, and rather good performance for portable-class receivers IMO. Being realistic, the Tecsun 880 has more features than some of the desktop-class receivers many of us here use. :D

http://swling.com/db/2011/01/tecsun-pl-660/
http://swling.com/db/2013/11/tecsun-pl-880/

As noted, a basic "random" wire antenna - even just 15' or so - should suffice for many of the large broadcasters on shortwave. For a quick fix to check reception, take your radio outside on battery power away from from the house to help limit electrical noise, get a piece of wire deployed across a tree limb or two in the yard, and hook it the radio's existing antenna with an alligator clip or similar.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Random_wire_antenna

As you gain experience, then start considering upgrading your antenna solution(s). Dipoles, beverages, loops, etc.
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Offline BoomboxDX

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Re: Purchased my first shortwave radio...not sure what to expect
« Reply #11 on: November 10, 2016, 1519 UTC »
First time poster...good to be here.

So I purchased a PL-380 to listen to CKZU 6160 while I am off the grid on Vancouver Island.

After putting batteries in it and running the ETM scan the radio picks up 3 stations none of which sound like anything.

I was hoping that picking up a SW station 150km away should not be too hard but am I expecting too much?

Am I possibly not using the radio correctly?

Whats the probability that my unit is DOA?

Any advise would be great.

Best Regards, Hedghog

If you're on Vancouver Island, you're in the same general area of the world as I am (WA State, PNW, BC, etc. -- I'm in WA).

CKZU has been basically off air for over a year. Hopefully they will get it back on the air soon. I used to be able to hear it daily -- at night it would be interfered with from splatter from adjacent stations. Until then, I tune to CBU 690 when I want to get my CBC fix, although CBU often comes in better here than CKZU did.

When it was full power, I could hear CKZU off the whip antenna of my Grundig G2, a radio which probably doesn't perform much differently from your Tecsun on SW.

The best time to hear SW stations here in the NW US / SW Canada is to tune between 5900-6200 khz and 7100-7300 khz in the early morning. You will hear stations from China, Korea, Japan, and sometimes Russia and SE Asia.

This a.m. I heard the BBC in English on the 49 meter band, as well as numerous stations from China and a couple Korean jammers. The signals easily make their way over the North Pacific to our area of the world.

Remember, sometimes SW conditions can be really bad. You'll turn on your radio and tune the SW spectrum and hear mostly static. It's just part of the game.

Another good time to listen is late afternoons, early evenings. Radio Nacional da Amazonia comes in reasonably well most nights on 11780 or 6180. Sometimes you'll hear Chinese broadcasts to Europe from Kashgar -- even off a whip antenna.

Good luck, and welcome to the hobby.
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Offline MDK2

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Re: Purchased my first shortwave radio...not sure what to expect
« Reply #12 on: November 11, 2016, 0610 UTC »
If you're on Vancouver Island, you're in the same general area of the world as I am (WA State, PNW, BC, etc. -- I'm in WA).

CKZU has been basically off air for over a year. Hopefully they will get it back on the air soon. I used to be able to hear it daily -- at night it would be interfered with from splatter from adjacent stations. Until then, I tune to CBU 690 when I want to get my CBC fix, although CBU often comes in better here than CKZU did.

When it was full power, I could hear CKZU off the whip antenna of my Grundig G2, a radio which probably doesn't perform much differently from your Tecsun on SW.

The best time to hear SW stations here in the NW US / SW Canada is to tune between 5900-6200 khz and 7100-7300 khz in the early morning. You will hear stations from China, Korea, Japan, and sometimes Russia and SE Asia.

This a.m. I heard the BBC in English on the 49 meter band, as well as numerous stations from China and a couple Korean jammers. The signals easily make their way over the North Pacific to our area of the world.

Remember, sometimes SW conditions can be really bad. You'll turn on your radio and tune the SW spectrum and hear mostly static. It's just part of the game.

Another good time to listen is late afternoons, early evenings. Radio Nacional da Amazonia comes in reasonably well most nights on 11780 or 6180. Sometimes you'll hear Chinese broadcasts to Europe from Kashgar -- even off a whip antenna.

Good luck, and welcome to the hobby.

CKZU isn't off the air, but it is operating on reduced power, or so they told me.
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Offline BoomboxDX

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Re: Purchased my first shortwave radio...not sure what to expect
« Reply #13 on: December 03, 2016, 2036 UTC »
^^^^^ I understand. That's why I said "basically". I don't receive anything from them at all and haven't for over a year. I'm only 200 km away or so. I would guess the only receivers that pick CKZU up are within 50 km or so.

If they get it back up to full power that will be cool.

RE: CKZN: one night (great conditions) I heard both stations mixing. Very odd, but really cool to hear.
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Offline MDK2

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Re: Purchased my first shortwave radio...not sure what to expect
« Reply #14 on: December 03, 2016, 2235 UTC »
I occasionally hear something on that frequency that I assume is CKZU rather than CKZN just because it's quite a bit closer to me, but I never got a clear station ID. It's possible that it was St Johns, if Vancouver is that much powered down.
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SDRPlay RSP2pro, Icom IC-7100, Grundig Satellit 750, Realistic DX-300, Tecsun PL-600.
W6LVP active loop, G5RV, 20m dipole, homebrewed mag loops.
eQSLs appreciated wickerjennie at gmail