Tuesday 27 December 2016

How does your Radio Garden grow?

There have been many radio portals that have come and gone in this internet age. Some still exist, successfully or otherwise, but the new kid on the block possibly knocks spots of all others.

Radio Garden has taken the internet by storm- and it's the mainstream world that saw 5 million site visit in the firsts week, I believe I read. It's not just for us radio geeks!

A globe, dots for locations, radio stations in a list, rotate your way around the world and listen from a choice of thousands of live stations. I'm almost speechless at its simplicity and effectiveness.

It could do with some additional stations in most African and Asian countries and medium wave and shortwave everywhere would be great additions, as most stations are FM so far. But I'm sure that will evolve over the months.

Many friends have asked if I'd heard about it, expressing great pleasure. Even the younger generation I showed it too rated it as pretty cool. What do you think?

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Autumnal update


Apologies for the paucity of posts recently but bizarrely, that's kind of due to radio. I have a new freelance writing and editing job at RadioUser and had to juggle my old RNCM research manager post for a couple of months at the same time. A nice position to be in though, if stressful for a while.

A quick catch up of radio events etc. The EDXC 2016 conference in September was a great success, as these reports show. In BDXC Communication and on the EDXC blog by Anker Peterson of DSWCI.

I was in Bratislava in November and was interviewed on Radio Slovakia International. I also went to Vienna for the World DAB General Assembly and had a tour of ORF. Read more about these in January's RadioUser, out a week before Christmas.

I hope to resume a few posts a month here at DX International from now on!

Wednesday 31 August 2016

Radio Prague celebrates 80 years today, 31 August, with special transmissions

Radio Prague celebrates 80 years today, 31 August 2016, with special transmissions via the Shortwave Service in Germany.

1630-1700 UTC on 9535kHz Russian

1800-1830 UTC on 11845kHz German

1830-1900 UTC on 11845kHz French

1930-2000 UTC on 9885kHz Czech

2000-2030 UTC on 9985kHz English

2100-2130 UTC on 9405kHz Spanish

BDXC UK report that "The schedule at shortwaveservice.com gives 9885 for Czech and 9985 for English I am not sure which is correct – try both".

Radio Prague also held an essay competition as to what Radio Prague would be like in 80 years time? The winning entry is here. Congrats to Anna Kochergina from Russia. It’s far more detailed and imaginative than my own effort, I didn’t get a place in the final this time around, and what I write wasn’t very original. I bashed it out in too much of a hurry really, as I distracted by  RadioUser and BDXC UK commitments, EDXC 2016 organisation and the day job, but here it is anyway.

"Hello and welcome to Radio Prague's English language videocast for 30th August 2096. You can find us by asking for Radio Praha on your virtual reality implant or on your smart screen. Watch us live every day at 1800 Universal Time, or at your leisure from our list of past broadcasts. As always our hour long transmission begins with world news. Today's programmes also include My Czechia Republica which features an air-powered car designer originally from Cambodia, an item on the Moravian wine festival, previews of the Prague summer jazz concerts and listeners' comments.

But first the news headlines: The president of the United Countries of Europe, Zelma Lassnig has confirmed that she will be standing down at the end of her term in 2097. Czech Green Party leader Alena Železný has announced her intention to stand.

The Czech cruise liner Boleslava III arrived in the port of Genoa with 2,000 Pacific Islanders. This is one of the final boat loads of climate change refugees to arrive in Europe. The 2,000 will join other Pacific islanders in the community of Nový Ráj, just outside of Brno. There are now half a million Pacific islanders that have established themselves and integrated across Europe since their atolls and homes started to become inhabitable due to the rising sea levels some half a century ago.

The Czech exploration team to Mars headed by Jana Balek is due to take off from Woomera in South Australia in three days' time. You can join Jana and her team in an exclusive Q&A session run by Radio Prague on the air at this time tomorrow night. Sign up on our vlogcast page with your contact details and your questions and we will select people to take part...

Carp is back on the menu at a top Czech restaurant and it's causing concern. Carp, like all fish and meat, had been banned on cruelty grounds throughout Europe since the mid 2060s but the recent explosion in heritage dining experiences is challenging this. Helene Velinger reports...

...The weather for the Czech capital today - and it's been another hot one, with this summer looking like it will be the hottest year on record in the country. We may possibly break last year's record high of 41C come Saturday. A reminder that the water rationing collection times for Malá Strana and Staré Město return to their regular four hour evening pattern, from 8pm to midnight, from tomorrow.

...Join us tomorrow when we are at the Prague zoo, where they welcomed its most recent addition yesterday, a Sumatran orangutan, born in captivity. We'll also be previewing the new soccer season and asking if European Champions Varnsdorf can also retain their domestic league title. The 400 million Euros that they paid in the summer for India's World Cup winning defender Jag Naleem will certainly aid their chances.

...Listeners' letters this time include Anna Kesten from Ohio, USA who complements us on the live coverage of the European Literature festival last month. Anna says she has been using an app called Czechtech to translate the wining entrants' works straight into English on her audio player. Tomas Collingwood from New Zealand contacted us to say how much he enjoyed the programme aired from the retro shortwave transmitter based in Germany and being run by the European Broadcasting Union. He said it was just like back in the day of his great grandparents who used to listen on shortwave last century. It will certainly get him a special QSL card - this years' series feature great Czech architecture of the mid 21st century.

...And finally, a reminder that this year is Radio Prague's 160th anniversary. As part of celebrations we would like to invite our audience to take part in a competition. Let us know what you think Radio Prague will be like in another 160 years, in the year 2256! Airbox your entries to us by the end of the month to be in with a chance to win one of our prizes. This is Khrista Willoughby signing off from all of us in Studio 8 until the same time tomorrow ..."

Saturday 13 August 2016

EDXC 2016 Conference comes to Manchester 9-13 Sept


Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts here of late. I've been uber busy, with the day job, my RadioUser columns, editing BDXC Communciation each month, plus family commitments, a relationship and a busy social life, not to mention all of my campaigning activities and a holiday in Nice, one in Tywyn and other summer travels too. I'm not complaining though, far from it- I can only function if I'm busy.

Anyway, another reason for the tumbleweed blowing across this blog is my preparation for the EDXC Conference, which has distracted me from posting here. The DX publicity machine is doing its job though, with the Radio-Kurier journal in Germany the latest I've seen to mention EDXC 2016 (photo above).

The latest programme and details of how to join us at what should be a very exciting conference are at the EDXC site, with this link taking you to all the conference related posts.

Wednesday 25 May 2016

African Pathways Radio, IRIB, free radio

Extracts from my June 2016 RadioUser column, Broadcast Matters

RadioUser reader Bradley Allen received a friendly letter from Zoe Robinson of BBC Northern Ireland verifying his reception report (1341kHz) sent to BBC Radio Ulster . Station manager is Jackie Neill and the postal address is BBC Radio Ulster, Ormean Ave, Belfast, BT2 8HQ. Well, one person’s local station is another person’s DX! Bradley also received some BBC pens. 

The Free Radio Service from Holland verified with a QSL card measuring about 8 x 6 inches. Peter Verbruggen is the contact there and they were heard on 9300 and 7700kHz with a 44444 SINPO. The postal address is PO Box 2702, 6049 ZG, Herten, The Netherlands or look at their website www.frsholland.nl

Bradley also heard Magic AM from the Netherlands on 6241kHz with a 44444 SINPO. Interestingly they carried a recorded announcement stating that there is no government control nor interference over the station’s programmes. You can email them yourself at magicfreeradio@gmail.com

A new station called African Pathways Radio burst into life on 9480kHz in the spring. A trumpet fanfare opens their broadcasts, followed by an announcement of "Welcome to African Pathways Radio”. Programme content reported by DXers includes one called This Day in History, Immersed in Life and another called Pathway to Happy Homes (which was about marriage) while other programmes talk about the bible. An email address given is Amifradio@gmail.com and another, for reception reports, is info@worldchristian.org  A colourful QSL card awaits those who submit correct reception reports. However, teething troubles soon beset the station.

World-famous Sri Lankan DXer Victor Goonetilleke posted an email which he received from African Pathways Radio on the World Radio TV Handbook Facebook page: "Thank you for sending an excellent report upon hearing African Pathways Radio during our first week of broadcasting. A QSL card is on its way to you now by mail. This is just a note to let you know your message was received and to express our appreciation for your email to us. 

Unfortunately, in our fifth day of operations, a defective part shut us down - so you will not be able to receive us now. Everything at the station is new and under warranty so it is just a matter of getting the part to Madagascar and having it installed. We will let you know when we resume operations. You were part of a wonderful, though short-lived, experience with us. We wish you the best in your pursuit of worldwide shortwave reception. With kindest regards, Henry Huffard, Host, African Pathways Radio, Madagascar World Voice". Hopefully by the time you read this normal service will have been resumed.

We turn to IRIB, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, where there is some confusion over their scheduling on shortwave this summer. But if you are catching them on shortwave or medium wave it’s a good time to get a QSL card. Write to Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), Valiasr Avenue, Jam e Jam Street, PO Box 19395-6767, Tehran, Iran.

Thursday 28 April 2016


On Tuesday evening it was a quick dash for me from the office across town to Levenshulme where I was honoured to be interviewed by Caroline Boyd on ALL FM’s Drive Time show. The main reason I was there was to promote the Beat Back gig Manchester People’s Assembly Against Austerity are holding tonight, Thursday 28 April at the Soup Kitchen café and music venue on Spear St in the Northern Quarter. Four Manchester acts, three music, one poet. Tickets on door £7. The gig will take place at Soup Kitchen in Manchester, Thursday 28 April, 7pm – 10pm. Performing are The Tapestry, Novustory, Gareth Evans and Gerry Potter.

We spoke a little about the People’s Assembly Against Austerity’s campaigning work and the active Manchester branch, who campaign tirelessly on many fronts and offer many solutions and alternatives to the austerity measures which benefit the millionaires and leave the rest of us to pay for it in all senses.

Friday 1 April 2016

#RDE16 - and #IRF16 Milan here I come

Well, Ra
dio Days Europe in Paris was wonderful- 1500 people from 60+ countries, with four parallel streams of talks and a trade fair. Plus a concert and cocktail reception at Radio France. I am hoping an article I'm writing about it will appear in June's Radio User magazine (PW Publishing).

I enjoyed it so much that I'm off to Milan on Wednesday 6 April after all, to report on this year's International Radio Festival.

Some headlines from #RDE16:

· The launch of the LG Stylus 2, the world’s first smartphone with DAB+

· Radios in automated/driverless/connected cars a big topic, a challenge for broadcasters’ content wise (if drivers watch video instead of tune to radio in the future) and lots of app companies adapting and integrating smartphones to hook up with in car system. I sat in and watched a Hybrid car radio system that streams stations through web but seamlessly goes to FM/DAB if 3G etc. cuts out.

· Public and commercial radio embracing all platforms to reach audiences - podcasts, app teasers on Snapchat, What’s app and other social media etc.

· Challenge of ensuring diversity at the public broadcast stations so they reflect the city/country they broadcast from.

· The challenge to broadcasters of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” (Apple, Amazon, Google and Spotify) encroaching the space of traditional radio audiences.

· The range of podcasters is rapidly growing as is easy to use podcast software. Anyone with something to say (radio hobbyists, plane spotters, artists, amateur chefs etc.) can build an audience.

Wednesday 9 March 2016

Radio Days Europe- Paris here we come! #RDE16

I may have some interesting radio-related trips in the pipeline. The first of these is the annual Radio Days Europe Trade Fair which this year is being held in Paris this year, from 13-15 March 2016. I'm catching the train to Paris at the weekend and can't wait!

The theme is “Vive La Radio! Creating the future”. With 55 sessions, 120 speakers and 60 exhibitors it’s a major event. At the time of writing I plan to attend and report back for Radio User readers. The content is diverse covering the academic and the mainstream, podcasting and social media, technical, talent management and new programme formats. For instance KIIS 106.5 presenters Kyle and Jackie talk about their move across Sydney from 2Day FM to front a new breakfast show; then there’s Professor Emma Rodero and Martin de Munnik exploring the impact of audio on the brain, what can be learnt from how voices and music are used and what the future’s more intense commercials and radio shows may look like.

About a month later the International Radio Fair (IRF) takes places in Milan, from 7-10 April. This used to occur in the summer in Switzerland but has now moved a little further south as well as popping up earlier in the calendar. It bills itself as “the leading platform for showcasing and debating the business of music radio content; the world’s most consumed medium” joining up with Radio City Milan and to present Europe’s largest public on-air radio festival at the Piazza Gae Aulenti. There will be over 20 international plus 50 Italian radio stations who will broadcast radio shows live-on-air to millions of their listeners back in their home cities. The IRF is truly moving beyond Europe as it is planning similar events in Nashville, Dubai and Shanghai. 

I have not attended but I always listen online to some of the content, which you may choose to do too. If you can’t head for Milan, as I probably can't, at least head for www.internationalradiofest.com

Thursday 18 February 2016

Radio Öömrang annual broadcast this Sunday 21 February

An annual radio event that is taking place on Sunday 21 February  is the broadcast of Radio Öömrang from Amrum Island in the German North Frisian Islands. This is for an hour from 1600 UTC on 15215kHz. It will be beamed via Nauen with a programmes in the Frisian dialect, German and English. QSL cards can be sought by emailing qsl-shortwave@media-broadcast.com

Friday 12 February 2016

Look & listen #UNESCO #WorldRadioDay 13 Feb Radio in Times of Emergency & Disaster

UNESCO World Radio Day is here once more- Saturday 13 February. See what is going on near you and further afield. The 2016 theme is “Radio in Times of Emergency and Disaster”. Radio still remains the medium that reaches the widest audience worldwide, in the quickest possible time.

There are so many events around the world in many languages. Some events celebrate radio, others show how the technology is still so vital, in a world where the majority of people do not have internet access, unlike most of those in the over-privileged countries.

SOAS in London hold an event on MONDAY 15 February SOAS Radio will be hosting a World Radio day event with trade fair (which includes the BBC) from 1500 to 1800 UTC and a panel discussion from 1800-2000 UTC with an in-depth look at some of the most innovative research using radio in development interventions worldwide from academics and professionals working in the field. I went last year and recommend it.

Speakers in 2016 are Anne Bennett, Hirondelle Foundation; Carlos Chirinos, Africa Stop Ebola; Kerida McDonald, UNICEF; and Francis Rolt, Search for Common Ground. SOAS is based at the University of London specialising in the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East.

Other exciting events include:

Listen to the Special Broadcast this Saturday 13 February
You can listen to how Radio saves lives in times of emergency and disaster by tuning in on Saturday 13 February.

Amateur Radio Special Event Radio Station (MXØLTC) operating 12:00 to 24:00 hrs UTC 13th February 2016 in support of World Radio Day. The Radio Station will be operated in the7MHz (40 metre) and 14 MHz(20 metre) Radio Bands between the frequencies of 7.080 MHz and 7.200 MHz LSB (Lower Side Band) and 14.125 MHz and 14.350 MHz USB (Upper Side Band).

VOA Radiogram marks World Radio Day with text and images via shortwave radio
VOA Radiogram, an experimental Voice of America radio gram, transmits text and images via a 50-year-old shortwave transmitter located in North Carolina. VOA Radiogram during the weekend on 13-14 February will include a mention of World Radio Day. Receive VOA Radiogram on any shortwave radio, patch the audio into a PC or Android device using software such as Fldigi from w1hkj.com .

Australia's Emergency Broadcasting - Saving lives through radio broadcasting

Protecting Radio Frequencies. Christoph Dosch on the vital importance of broadcasting in disasters

Radio in a Box is an integrated mobile radio broadcasting station that could be used during disaster and emergency response and community broadcasting.

World Radio Day Talk Show (Special Programme): Radio In Times of Emergency and Disaster A special programme in conjunction with World Radio Day 2016 run by Radio Republik Indonesia (RRI).

Through World Radio Day celebrations around the world, UNESCO will promote radio in times of emergency and disaster, and put forward the following messages:

1. Freedom of expression and journalists’ safety should be disaster-proof.

2. Radio empowers survivors and vulnerable people, whose right to privacy is to be respected.

3. Radio has social impact and provides access to information. People’s right to information should be protected even in times of emergency and disaster.

4. Radio saves lives.

5. The immediate accessibility of radio frequencies is essential to saving lives. These frequencies should be protected so they are available in times of emergency.

Listen, learn, enjoy and celebrate radio!

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Starting in Finnish #EDXC

Radiomaailma, the DX magazine from the SDXL in Finland carried a report on the EDXC 2015 Conference in Saint Petersburg in its most recent issue. It also mentions the EDXC 2016 Conference which will be held in Manchester from 9-12 September 2016, hosted by the British DX Club, who are my DXing alma mater!

I am the local contact/organiser for EDXC 2016 so feel free to email me with any questions to editor@bdxc.org.uk or ask Kari Kivekäs, Secretary General or Jan-Mikael Nurmela, Assistant Secretary General, through the EDXC website, where you will also find details of how to book your place. See the blog posts for 7 December and 18 December 2015. The New Zealand DX League also advertised it in their latest publication.

With speakers and delegates attending from all over Europe plus North America, Japan and Oceania, I am looking forward to rounding off the northern hemisphere summer in true Mancunian-international style later this year. But hey, we've a lot of organising to do first- not least of all to choose some exciting excursions with a radio theme...

For information on Manchester itself see my Mancunian Wave City Daily photo blog.

Monday 25 January 2016

The Hungary games

Kossuth Radio sculpture, photo 

My hunger for Hungary on medium wave. From one of my February 2016 Radio User columns:

Stations that thankfully appear not to be going anywhere in a hurry and which also provide quality programming with a good signal in the UK include RTBF1 from Wavre in Belgium. It entertained me for hours on a long motorway trip on 621kHz with a miscellany of music, including ballads, blues and comedy. 

Another station that remains at the foot of the medium wave band on 540KHz, MR1 Kossuth Rádió from Solt in Hungary. I heard a bulletin of news, features, commentary and some European Champions League football analysis in a half hour bulletin at 1800 UTC. I think this was part of the drive time programme called Round the Corner. It’s not that I speak Hungarian but I could make out the format and the occasional words. This was followed by a children’s programme at 1830 UTC with a beautiful signature tune. The children’s segment is named Vacka Radio and is set in a fantasy called Snow Pile Couch. Drama is also a station staple and I have had MR1 Kossuth Radio on as background listening throughout many winter evenings. Kossuth is named after Lajos Kossuth, a 19th Century Hungarian national hero, who emerged from poverty to become a lawyer, journalist, politician and Governor-President of the country in the 1848-49 revolutions.

Tuesday 12 January 2016

Still buzzin' after all these years- a discovered Numbers station

Photo: Chrissy Brand

Decades have now passed since the frequency of 4625kHz in the shortwave bands was first occupied by a repeating two-second pip. That was back in 1982. In 1990 the sound emanating changed to a strange buzzing sound, in short blasts. 

Its source was a mystery for a long time, but numbers/spy station experts tracked it and discovered the transmitter was located near Povarovo, Russia. Although not strictly a numbers stations, being a buzz most of the time, it still falls into that category of strange and mysterious signals. Occasionally the buzzing would stop and codes would be read out. One that was noted at 2100 UTC on 24 December 1997 transmitted the following message:

"Ya UVB-76, Ya UVB-76. 180 08 BROMAL 74 27 99 14. Boris, Roman, Olga, Mikhail, Anna, Larisa. 7 4 2 7 9 9 1 4."

Self identifying as UVB76 (Cyrillic: УВБ-76) , in 2010 things got a little spookier. Buzzing temporarily stopped, the sounds of phone calls were transmitted , what could have been engineers were heard, dismantling equipment.

The station then relocated and last autumn (2015) it was believed to be situated near St Petersburg. It also added another frequency to its armoury, that of 7000kHz. We still don't know what its real purpose is, so the mystery continues... Tune to 4625 and 7000kHz for yourself.

Sunday 10 January 2016

Stateside state of radio: New York State and Utah State

Photo by Tim Sutton-Brand

Extracts from some of my Radio User columns in 2015 (July, August & September) and January 2016, amalgamating my tales from a trip last spring to the USA.

2015 was a very good year for me radiowise. I was fortunate enough to travel overseas twice and to be able to enjoy some of the radio scene whilst there. On a trip to the USA I enjoyed the packed FM bands of New York City, Las Vegas, Buffalo and, across the 48th parallel in Canada, Toronto. Medium wave, although heavy on the sports networks and shock jocks, also threw out some more interesting catches. KTNN The Voice of the Navajo Nation on 660kHz being one such example. Another highlight was my impromptu visit to the Cedar City studios of Cherry Creek Radio, an umbrella network of Utah radio stations.

Snowstorms at Bryce Canyon made for a challenging but memorable trek although the radio in that area was less rewarding; however Utah Public Radio was a beacon of quality and included relays of the BBC World Service as well as a thought-provoking series on Utah dialects. Stations such as Eagle "rock revolution" and Planet "Southern Utah's best variety" provided a sound track to that part of our trip. The national park radio station on 1590kHz kept us updated with weather checks and tourist information. You can read other details of my radio observations in the USA in July, August and September 2015's Radio User (for DX International blog readers these are posted below).

Stateside state of radio i

In the spring I was in the USA on a family holiday. We spent a week in New York State, a couple of nights in Las Vegas and a second week exploring the canyons of Utah. I took a new radio with me, a Tecsun PL 360, which is a cheap and cheerful (but also useful) handheld receiver. I won’t go into details of the hundreds of FM stations I heard as FM is not in the remit of this column but suffice to say the band was packed in New York City and Vegas, and there was enough to choose from on FM when I was out in the wilds of Zion and Bryce Canyon.

Cedar City is a town in southern Utah where we had a one night stopover and radio wise it threw me a curveball, as the Americans might say. Not only was the FM and mw band packed with a variety of genres and styles of broadcasting, I even stumbled upon the studios of the local radio station! The small but nicely formed downtown area of Cedar City has been rejuvenated in a tasteful way, with independent vintage shops, cafes and a second hand bookstore. While looking at a Mexican restaurant’s menu I glanced to my right and saw the offices and studios of Cherry Creek Radio. In no time I was in the studio of medium wave station KSUB, watching Programme Director Tim Nesmith at the controls while Bryan Hyde presented an afternoon show on the topic of health. Programmer Andrea Wright then took us into the station office where we discussed radio and took photos.

Photo of Chrissy Brand  by Tim Sutton-Brand

Cherry Creek Radio is an umbrella organisation which consists of several FM and medium wave stations in the Utah region (and seven other western States). However they also use some syndicated programming and I was taken aback to hear the views of infamous shock jock Rush Limbaugh - he certainly let listeners know just what he thought of Hilary Clinton in a diatribe that lasted for a whole programme. I am astonished that this conservative 64 year old’s radio show is aired on more than 600 stations across the USA.

Some of the delights of Cedar City and Cherry Creek Radio

Other mw stations which I logged overnight in Cedar City included KSI on 640kHz which is “More Stimulating Talk in Southern California”, aimed at Los Angeles and Orange County. On 660kHz came KTNN the Voice of the Navajo nation in the native language and the occasional English from a DJ called JJ who was playing requests from listeners which consisted mostly of hour after hour of alternative country music. When I tuned to 1030kHz KTWO from Casper in Wyoming the programming consisted mostly of another of the country’s many conservative shock jocks, Sean Hannity, whose syndicated show is heard on some 500 USA stations.

At Niagara Falls it was very enjoyable to spend a late night session listening to lots of Canadian stations on medium wave and FM, with the cities of Hamilton and Ontario just over the border. A female sports reporter was commentating on the Florida Panther versus New Jersey Devils ice hockey match on WFAN 660kHz. There was more ice hockey with Buffalo taking on Pittsburgh on WGR radio on 550kHz, while I was delighted to hear what I read is the only station in North America on the 530kHz frequency, Brampton Ontario’s multilingual CIAO AM. Classical music, an advert for a benefit concert for Ukraine. Other languages that the station airs in includes Hungarian, Punjabi and Bosnian.

CFTR 680kHz from downtown Toronto gave me news and sport while Zoomer Radio on 740kHz from Toronto had Saturday night Grandstand and a comedy show, Just For Laughs. Other stations included WBEN in Buffalo on 930kHz with news and talk, WJJL on 1440kHz playing 1950s music for the southern (US) side of Niagara Falls. A baseball match featuring the Philadelphia Phillies was also heard on WPHT using 1210kHz. This is a 50,000-watt clear-channel station which broadcasts in an omnidirectional pattern that allows it to cover most of the eastern half of North America at night. Finally for now, there was more ice hockey from Canada on 610kHz where CKTB in St Catherine’s Ontario covered a Toronto Maple Leafs game.

Stateside state of radio ii

As much as I love radio, when you have five days and nights in New York City, there are many other competing interests. This glorious city of bridges and skyscrapers, green spaces and bars catering to every taste, this Gotham city of rich diversity, of art and commerce, needed most of my full attention. However while there I did manage to spend some late nights and early mornings monitoring the bands for local signals. As you would expect, the FM band was crammed full of stations, offering the whole gamut of musical and talk genres, and in several languages: Spanish, Russian and Cantonese as well as English. I am sure there are many more stations which I didn’t get to hear who offer programmes for the 50% of the New York City population who don’t count English as their first language.  With so many stations coming in loud and clear throughout Manhattan (and way beyond) from the antenna on top of the Empire State Building and from neighbouring Queens, New Jersey and further afield, there was no shortage of quality radio.

On medium wave there were a fair few stations but I spent less time on this band, concentrating more on FM in the moments. However, WSNR on 620kHz is a Russian language station based in Jersey City, which at the weekends airs a Caribbean programme called One Caribbean Radio. The station is owned by Gregory Davidzon who is a Russian-American media mogul who also publishes a weekly newspaper under the name of Blackstrap Broadcasting. The fast and furious sports talk radio in Spanish on 1050kHz was WEPN, while country and western music in the big apple could be found thanks to WABC on 770kHz.  WZRC on 1380 and 1480kHz caters for the Cantonese community. Other familiar names I heard included WBBR Bloomberg on 1130kHz and CBS’ WINS on 1010kHz, which included an interesting programme all about pesticides and the types of insects that are to be avoided when you travel way out west. Religion was there of course, for example WLIB with urban gospel music and talk, and WWRV a Christian station in Spanish from Woodhaven in the borough of Queens (another Spanish Christian station was WNYH in Huntingdon). WNSW is a catholic station in English from New Jersey, while WOR “the voice of New York” was an entertaining and informative talk station on 710kHz. Musically my medium wave vote goes to WWRJ in New Jersey’s La Invasora, playing Hispanic ballads and mariachi on 1600kHz.

On the streets, it was sad to see the famous and once financially robust chain of Radio Shack struggling a while back. I thought they had gone under but it seems they have a healthy online presence and some stores still exist in the USA. Although I didn’t look too hard, I only saw a couple of Radio Shacks which had long closed down. I recall my first visits to the chain back in the late 1980s when I took a greyhound bus around the USA. On a six week road trip from Cape Cod to Key West, San Antonio to Chicago, I was grateful for the little Panasonic radio (an RF B10) I picked up in a New Orleans branch. This small and effective eight band radio served me well, especially on the long overnight legs of some journeys. I’ve fond memories of tuning to The Christian Science Monitor’s daily news and feature show from Boston, 1 Norway Street, and music programmes from some Brazilian and Mexican stations.

Stateside in Zion

To finish off my short reports on what I heard on the radio dial while in USA in April, we now take another look at southern Utah. We stayed just outside Zion National Park, in Glendale, which was a great one-road town leading up to the National Park hemmed in by stunning valleys. It was a good base, especially in the evenings after a hard day’s trekking. You could wander the art galleries and eat in an excellent independent Mexican restaurant.

Photo by Tim Sutton-Brand

Radiowise in the short time that I was there was not much to report on medium wave or FM. It was difficult to hear much on FM in the valley we were staying in.  Utah Public Radio with classical music and informative programmes was on 90.7 MHz; KONY from St George on 99.9 MHz played plenty of country music. The public emergency service channel in Orderville Utah was on a loop on 92.9 KUOU, while 105.1 The Planet was a very ordinary FM station with a slogan of “Southern Utah’s best variety”. Medium wave did not fare much better, with KNX from Los Angeles, “Southern California’s news and talk station” on 1070kHz being a highlight. The Zion National Park Information station was on 1610kHz and KSL from Salt Lake City News Radio forewarned us of the eight to 16 inches of snow expected the next day in the mountains. But it’s always fun to tune to the local stations when you are on holiday, although there is rarely time on a road trip like we were on to dedicate yourself to serious listening.

Bryce Canyon National Park radio station on 1590kHz accurately predicted heavy snow 
Photo Tim Sutton Brand

Thursday 7 January 2016

OLX Czech numbers station HQ, & Radio Prague in 2016

Offices of the OLX Czech numbers station!

Radio Prague is still the only radio station I know of that issue QSL cards for reception of its internet broadcasts. 2016’s series will feature Czech religious monuments. Curiously, or coincidently, the only numbers stations/spy station known to ever issue a QSL card (and therefore admit it existed-doh!) was also Czech, or rather Czechoslovakian- OLX. Run by the Úřad pro zahraniční styky a informace (Office for Foreign Relations and Information). The above photo shows the building which part of it was based in – the Operations Department in the Communications Section which would have dealt with those few who managed to contact the numbers station. Quite how they were dealt with is another mystery I would like to resolve...

Radio Prague today can also be heard on medium wave and shortwave as well as online. Thanks to the British DX Club for these times and frequencies. See the website to order a copy of the BDXC’s current Broadcast in English B-15 guide (valid to end of March 2016):

0100-0200 UTC Daily USA WRMI Radio Miami International Am 9955kHz (English/Spanish) (0130 Tu-Sa Radio Prague)

0400-0500 Daily USA WRMI Radio Miami International Am 9955KHz (English/Spanish) (0400 SuMo Radio Prague)

1300-1400 Daily USA WRMI Radio Miami International Am 9955kHz(English/Spanish) (1300 Mo-Sa Radio Prague) (1330 Mo-Fr Radio Slovakia International)

0130-0200 mo R Prague Sunday Music Show 9955kHz

English news bulletins are at 1805 and 1905 UTC on 639kHz but only with a 30kW transmitter meaning they are co-channel with CRo2 from Prague with a massive 750 kW. Oh dear.

Czech Books is one of the best programmes on the air, anywhere, in my humble opinion. This Sunday dose of intelligent literature covers fact and fiction, it can delve into real life dramas, psychological journeys, politics, espionage and corruption, travel and health. Anything and everything in fact.

Last Sunday’s (3 January 2016)  was a repeat from July 2015 which covered the trials and tribulations, the difficulties of a Palestinian-Czech family. Written by Jana Kotaishová this very moving and thought-provoking book, and programme is summed up best by this quote form the programme; “When she saw the level of prejudice and ignorance in the Czech Republic about Palestine and Palestinians she wrote a book about the reality of life for Palestinians over the last eighty years, all from the perspective of a single family. What makes the book so powerful is that members of her husband’s family tell their own stories in the first person, based on her own long interviews with them.”

The other programme on Sunday 3 January's broadcast  was the monthly Mailbag show which gave the answer to the station's last quiz of 2015: The mystery personality being tightrope walker Rudy Omankowski Jr. who was famous overseas too. In fact he tightrope walked across Cheddar Gorge in Somerset UK in 1959 and 1961. An Estonian listener won the quiz this time around.

Thanks to Radio Prague for reading my comments out too- along with thanking them for the past year of excellence I suggested that the wonderful My Prague programme should sometimes decamp to other cities and rural locales.

Wednesday 6 January 2016

Making the Link #keepitintheground

Link hosts: Lynn Desjardins, Marc Montgomery, Levon Sevunts

I hope that Canadian national broadcaster CBC may be able restore some services ravaged in the years of hardship imposed by the Stephen Harper government. New Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to reverse $115 million worth of cuts to the CBC and to add on a further $35 million. The Trudeau Liberal government promises $380 million in funding for the arts overall. 

I can’t see Radio Canada International being returned to its former glory because its shortwave transmitters were dismantled and its soul all but ripped out by the cuts.  I am hopeful however that there may be funding to expand its current weekly online programme in English (The Link) and maybe even to air on shortwave via relay stations such as WRMI to the Americas or Radio 700 to Europe. There may be a chance to reinstate or expand some of the other RCI language services. What a fantastic gift that would be for us all! 

I was touched to have my email read out on The Link’s 26 December 2015 show (19 minutes in). As well as summarising the points above I commented on an RCI feature on the Canadian oil industry and reminded people that after the Paris climate change talks #COP21, when it comes to oil, be it a glut or scarcity, cheap or expensive- it doesn’t matter. The key thing is to #keepitintheground.

Monday 4 January 2016

St Petersburg EDXC 2015 Conference Report

Extracts from one of my monthly columns in Radio User magazine, PW Publishing, Dec 2015

Broadcast Matters: Long, Medium and Shortwave with Chrissy Brand
European DX Council Conference 2015 in St Petersburg, Russia

We all know that DXing offers the chance to listen to the world (even in these days of cuts and curtailed services there is still plenty to hear) but sometimes DXing can also provide opportunities to see the world as well. This is the case when you attend the European DX Council’s annual conferences. EDXC is an umbrella organisation of European wide DX clubs, with links to similar organisations on other continents. I attended 2014’s EDXC Conference in the south of France (see Radio User December 2015) and in 2015 the 48th conference took place, hosted by the St. Petersburg DX Club.

There is great camaraderie amongst the delegates and speakers, sharing our common love of all aspects of radio. The conference sessions are held at a leisurely pace without dominating the whole day so there is enough time for excursions laid on by the organisers. This year these included a visit to the home of the inventor of radio (according to many Russian sources): A.S. Popov’s apartment and laboratory at the St. Petersburg Electrotechnical University complete with interesting talks from two local experts, Larisa Zolotinkina and Mikhail Partala.

There were also trips to two local medium wave radio stations, one being a newcomer on the dial, Radio Bonch. It is named after Russian radio pioneer MA Bonch-Bruyevich. Housed in the St. Petersburg Bonch-Bruyevich State University of Telecommunications, the station made and aired a programme devoted to the EDXC conference, which went out on a loop on 1593kHz for several hours. EDXC Secretary General Kari Kivekäs was interviewed as were other delegates including the conference host, Alexander Beryozkin. 

Russian Orthodox Christian radio station Pravoslavnoye Radio on 828kHz was the other station visited by conference delegates. It is one of just a few stations in the area that still use medium wave. The others include Radio Maria on 1053kHz and Radio Teos on 1089kHz. In what seems an unholy alliance, but one which appears to work, Pravoslavnoye Radio shares its studio and frequency with communist station Radiogazeta Slovo. 

I experienced the latter in perfect conditions. Sitting on a sofa in the spacious hallway of St. Petersburg DX club member Omar Cheishvili I had a lovely view of their suburban garden in its autumn colours. I was surrounded by about 15 vintage Soviet radios, all lovingly restored by Omar. He tuned two of these, one at each end of the room, to 828kHz and I was regaled by powerful speeches broadcast live on Radiogazeta Slovo booming out with deep resonance. It was a full Soviet Union radio experience but without any of the discomfort or persecution.

In the hotel I also heard most of the 35 or so FM stations in the city and will mention some of those in this month’s Radio Website column, so that you too can listen to them, albeit online rather than direct from a radio. Over breakfast one morning I was delighted to be interviewed for the Rhein-Main Radio Club (RMRC) by Dr Harald Gabler. This  formed part of a one hour broadcast in English about the conference, to be aired in December (they have done the same in previous years) followed by a special one hour broadcast in Russian, in cooperation with the St. Petersburg DX Club, targeted to Russia and the Far East. Keep an eye on the Rhein-Maine Radio Club website http://www.rmrc.de and http://swldxbulgaria.blogspot.co.uk/ for details.

The EDXC conference sessions themselves were also a real treat. Presentations included Andrey Fyodorov talking about shortwave broadcasts in Russian. Before World War II there were almost no Russian radio broadcasts at a time when the Third Reich aired 31 languages. Interestingly the BBC, who began broadcasts to the USSR in 1942, were not popular to begin with as they were perceived by Russian audiences to sound unfriendly. By the 1950s specialist programmes in Russian included those targeting youth with music and some aimed at a female-only audience. In the 1970s there was a battle of the airwaves with Chile, when General Pinochet’s Voice of Chile aired in Russian via a powerful transmission network. 

Nearer to home there was an agreement between the USSR and its eastern European satellite countries that no shortwave transmissions were to beamed by the latter to its big brother. However, once a month the eastern European stations were permitted to send programmes to Moscow to be broadcast directly from the Soviet capital. Romanian resisted this and stared broadcasting in Russian in 1975 under the dictator Ceausescu’s direction. In the 1980s other cracks in the agreement had appeared, with radio stations in Prague, Warsaw and Budapest all transmitting Russian to the USSR. By this time Russian language services on shortwave were commonplace from many international broadcasters including two who remain on shortwave today, namely the state broadcasters of Turkey and Korea.

There were interesting discussions and debates after many of the presentations and I empathise with Mikhail Nevolin when he stated that music radio will die out before talk radio, as that provides the more popular shows. Mikhail, of the St Petersburg DX Club and also the city's Naval Academy, also gave a presentation on Christian radio stations in St Petersburg. Other talks included Victor Rezunkov from Radio Liberty talking about transmitting pirate radio stations back in the 1970s, with the engaging title of “Radio hooligans of the 1970s in a USSR province: a sip of freedom”.

Technical topics were also on the agenda with talks by Alexander Gromov on “Modern SDR techniques in amateur radio and DXing” and “Receiving antenna: electric or magnetic?” by Dr Anatoly Bobkov. There were also presentations from Alexander Beryozkin on his experiences of radio while holidaying on the Costa del Sol and Harald Gabler spoke of his DXing home on the Portuguese Algarve coast, which is available for DXers to rent at a very reasonable rate. Risto Vähäkainu gave a good overview of DXing in Finland today, which also touched on the past. I was fascinated to learn that Finnish composer Sibelius was an early DXer who listened to German stations in the 1920s and 30s. Over 70 countries have been logged on FM in Finland, quite an achievement, and when you put that alongside the 3,000 medium wave stations from North America which have been heard (2,100 of which have been verified) you realise why Finland still has such a thriving DX community.

There was good news from Alexander Beryozkin who announced that the Russian government has plans to resume shortwave broadcasts in 2016, probably funded from the Russian Ministry of Defence. This could include the Voice of Russia. Perhaps the most defiant quote of the conference also came from Alexander: “Radio will never die and DXing will never die!”

Every EDXC conference has an elegant evening banquet which seemed even more convivial this year, undoubtedly due to the excellent company, good food and wine and the many vodka-fuelled toasts. Each delegate rose in turn to tell their own radio story and how they became involved in the hobby and the evening flew by. Part of my own tale, translated expertly by the much called upon Alexander Smulsky, was from my days at the BBC World Service Information Centre and Shop in Bush House. It concerned a Norwegian lady who came in one day having missed the end of play on the radio due to the vagaries of shortwave propagation. I tracked down the script from the drama department, she sat and read the play right through and then announced she didn’t understand the ending anyway!

The day after the banquet there was another fabulous feast which lasted from about 1pm to 8pm at the home of Omar Cheishvili and Svetlana Kuzmina. We experienced their generous Georgian hospitality and also got to see the St. Petersburg DX Club's new headquarters which is being built in the house. Along with talk of radio and much more besides we also heard more about Omar’s passion of collecting Soviet and Russian vintage broadcasting receivers.

I left a little of my heart in St Petersburg but returned with a winter’s worth of memories - this wonderful city has so many museums and galleries, palaces and churches, impressive statues and 300 years of eventful history. Although tempted by the 19th century art I was more drawn to 20th Century history and the World War II siege of Leningrad. I was also fascinated by the legacy of the Soviet past, visiting a museum on the subject (The State Museum of Political History of Russia) plus the A.S. Popov Central Museum of Communications packed with vintage radios and some lovely old post boxes too.

Dotted around the city some statues of Marx, Engels and Lenin still remain. Although Lenin died just as radio broadcasting was taking off, he could see its power and potential. He followed closely the work of the aforementioned Bonch-Bruyevich and wanted a radio network to be implemented with some urgency, writing that “the newspaper without paper and without distances that you are creating will be a great thing”. He lived to hear some of his own speeches broadcast on Russian radio in 1922.

Back to modern day St Petersburg and added to all of the above were some cool cafes (Café Singer and Bolshe Kofe) and bars (Brew Craft Café) and some great vegetarian restaurants (Café Ukrop and Botanika) so you can see why I had a great time. Fortunately there is not enough space to tell you in detail about the night I was partying until dawn with a Finn, four Russian DXers and a bottle of cognac…

Flights from the UK are reasonable (Manchester to St Petersburg via Frankfurt was £200 return, plus you need a visa) and a hotel such as the Hotel Russ is only around 40 Euros a night. Next September (9-12) the EDXC Conference is going to head west. To Manchester in fact where I would be the local organiser on behalf of the British DX Club. I will keep you informed of developments on that one, dear readers.

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