The Spectrum Monitor — November, 2017

Stories you’ll find in our November, 2017 issue:

TSM Reviews: Yaesu FT-891 All-Mode HF+6 100-Watt Transceiver
By Mark Haverstock K8MSH

This month Mark takes a look at the Yaesu FT-891, one of the least expensive 100-watt, all-mode HF+6-meter radios on the market today. Mark finds that, “Its small size and remote head make it perfect for mobile/portable use, and its small footprint fits even on crowded desktops. The larger display is a welcome change, considerably more readable than the tiny ones on the FT-857D and FT-897D.” Mark also notes, “Those who own or have owned Yaesu radios will be used to the menu system, and will appreciate the attempts to provide easier access to some functions.” But that’s not all the 891 has going for it, as you’ll learn when Mark puts his 891on the air.

TSM Reviews: SpyVerter V2
By Bob Grove W8JHD

The earlier version of SpyVerter got a nod of approval from Bob Grove two years ago. But what would he say about this latest version? Spoiler alert! Bob says, “I’ve never changed my mind about the superiority of the Airspy spectrum-displaying receiver to its competitors. Now, with the addition of the previously-missing lower spectrum—virtually down to zero—this is a current leader in computer accessories for radio hobbyists.” In this month’s review he even tells how to use this device to monitor birds, animals and insects in the audio spectrum as well as the sounds of fish in the sea!

TSM’s Annual Scanner Buyer’s Guide
By Larry Van Horn N5FPW

The radio scanner world has been in flux since it began decades ago. And, while the number of manufacturers has shrunk over the years, the capabilities of these electronic marvels have kept pace with the changes. In this survey of all available scanners, Larry writes that, “bare bones, conventional analog-only scanners will run from just under $100. A good analog-only trunk-tracking scanner can be purchased for less than $200 (street price); however, if you need to monitor an APCO P25 Phase I digital trunked radio system, that price quickly jumps to around $400. Add in additional digital modes such as DMR and/or NXDN and APCO P25 Phase II systems and now you are looking at a sticker price north of $500 in most cases.” But, you may not need the latest technology where you live. Find out which scanner is best for your particular location.

Entry Level HF Transceiver Comparison
By Cory GB Sickles WA3UVV

Are you a Technician class amateur radio licensee, looking to explore what is available in HF transceivers in a price range that won’t break the bank? HF operation requires a little more commitment than VHF/UHF FM gear and, while you can easily pick up a high-quality monoband mobile for under $200 or a dual-band portable in the same price range, HF gear is going to run you a bit more. Considering all that you get in the deal though, it’s still reasonably priced. Cory takes a comparative look at what Alinco, Icom, Kenwood, and Yaesu have in the way of 100-watt, entry-level offerings, with a street price of less than $800. With the need for a 20A power supply and simple antenna, a “Kilobuck” budget should certainly get you on the air or perhaps even less.

Scanning America
By Dan Veeneman
Scanning Midwest Utilities’ DMR Services

Federal Wavelengths
By Chris Parris
New Kennedy Space Center Trunked System

By Larry Van Horn N5FPW
Who’s Who in the Milcom Radio Spectrum: Monitoring the HF OR Frequencies

Utility Planet
By Hugh Stegman NV6H
Rethinking HF Emergency Communications

Shortwave Utility Logs
Compiled by Hugh Stegman and Mike Chace-Ortiz

VHF and Above
By Joe Lynch N6CL
The Leonids Meteor Shower

Amateur Radio Insights
By Kirk Kleinschmidt NT0Z
Antenna Tuner Secrets

Radio 101
By Ken Reitz KS4ZR
Cruising the FM Band with a Little Help from the Web

Radio Propagation
By Tomas Hood NW7US
The Sun Blasts a Hole in Earth’s Magnetic Shield

World of Shortwave Listening
By Keith Perron
Rich O’Shea: An American DJ in Asia

The Shortwave Listener
By Fred Waterer
BBC Broadcasts to North Korea; Reach Beyond Australia and Religion on Shortwave

Amateur Radio Astronomy
By Stan Nelson KB5VL
Solar Eclipse VLF Effects

The Longwave Zone
By Kevin O’Hern Cary WB2QMY
2200m/630m: Are You Registered Yet?

Adventures is Radio Restoration
By Rich Post KB8TAD
Putting the Spark back into a Sparks-Withington (Sparton 141X)

Antenna Connections
By Dan Farber AC0LW
Transformations: Getting From X to 50

The Spectrum Monitor is available in PDF format which can be read on any desktop, laptop, iPad®, Kindle® Fire, or other device capable of opening a PDF file. Annual subscription is $24. Individual monthly issues are available for $3 each.

Ken Reitz, KS4ZR, is publisher and managing editor of The Spectrum Monitor. Contact him at [email protected].

Best Digital Mode? … Not Really

For the past year, as interest in the digital modes began to skyrocket, I have been reading the topical discussions and questions posted in the WSJT Yahoo Group.

Since the introduction of FT8, the group's daily traffic has soared and easily occupies the vast majority of inquiry.

Far and away, most questions either involve software / computer configuration problems or inquiries involving the operational use of the software itself. I am often surprised at the range of inquiry and in almost all questions involving the software itself, it just comes down to 'reading the manual' ... it seems that hams, like so many others, just don't like to read manuals and for a technically-oriented hobby, I find this peculiar. Perhaps it's because I'm just the opposite, and will usually go over instructional material, more than once, before plugging something in or installing any new software.

Not all digital modes are 'created equal' nor with the same purpose in mind and for those new to these modes or making the transition from traditional mode operations, sorting them out can often be a source of confusion. One such user broached this very topic with his recent inquiry:

I have been using JT65 and FT8 a lot, mainly on 6m DX to receive weak signals in the noise floor. QSB is acting fast there and the 15s intervals are a major advantage of FT8 to be able to complete rare contacts.
But which algorithm is better to decode weak signals in theory and practice? Do the long intervals allow the JT65 algorithm to decode weaker signals than FT8?
If both modes are equivalent is there any reason to use JT65 rather than FT8?

Bill, G4WJS, has been handling most of the technical inquiries and I thought his reply might help others that could be wondering the same thing:

... simple answer, neither wins in all situations. Each mode in WSJT-X is designed for a certain set of requirements and given those the protocol and the decoders try to optimize sensitivity and robustness.
JT65 was designed initially for EME where ultimate sensitivity was necessary and one minute T/R periods with variable bandwidths between 180Hz up to 400Hz, to cope with Doppler spreading, was deemed acceptable for practical QSOs.

FT8 is not as sensitive, a few dB behind JT65A but as you point out it is particularly suitable for multi-hop 6m Es propagation where openings can be very short. This is no surprise as it was crafted for exactly that. OTOH FT8 has become *very* popular on HF, probably because most HF QSOs do not need ultimate sensitivity and the 15s T/R period makes QSOs four times as fast compared with JT65. This last attribute is surely what is driving the massive uptake on HF on the current "easy DX" propagation bands like 20m for daylight paths and 40m for darkness paths.

JT9 was designed for HF and uses about 1/10 of the bandwidth of JT65A along with even better sensitivity. Unfortunately many users use ancient software with no JT9 support or are working through JT65 goals like WAS mode specific endorsements so JT9 does not get the attention it deserves. Although JT9 works for many on 6m, the tighter frequency tolerance required is a limitation for many with older rigs.

Both FT8 and JT65A have two pass decoders that can dig out multiple overlapping signals (similar techniques could be developed for JT9 but the need has not been seen yet).

FT8 has the AP decoder which gets a couple of dB extra sensitivity for critical decodes and also helps with truncated or interrupted messages in some cases.

WSPR is a pseudo beacon mode that uses a short message and two minute T/R period that has greater sensitivity than even JT9 despite the signal being only 6Hz wide. WSPR like JT65A and FT8 uses a two pass decoder capable of decoding overlapping signals.

There is also MSK144, QRA64, JT4, the fast versions of JT9, ISCAT, FreqCal and Echo mode. Each with a specific purpose and maybe for other opportunities they were not initially designed for.

For myself, I have yet to download the latest WSJT-X release, as I presently have no need, nor see the need to use FT8. To utilize the new release, I think I'll need to delete my older (pre-FT8) version, in order to avoid file confliction problems. My older version works very well for what I do need, and that is JT9. There are a few features on the software that I also find handy, which have been removed in the newer versions ... I think.
I can however, visualize losing out on some great DX opportunities on 6m during the summer, if the huge exodus from the CW DX mode to the FT8 mode continues to escalate. I really hate the idea of this happening but if that's what it takes, I'll install the FT8 version on my small contest-logging laptop which means building a new interface to run the 756PROIII on FT8.

Of course there is always the possibility that the trend will reverse as many eventually find that FT8 contacts are not all that interesting. The inability to exchange anything other than minimal required QSO information is the price paid for that extra sensitivity ... fine for that once in awhile new one in the log but not very satisfying for everyday communications.

The 'reversing trend' was also addressed in a recent posting to the WSJT Yahoo Group:

In my opinion it is nice to see a steady return to JT65 & JT9.
An all round better mode.
Still a bit short on the DX stations but I am sure they will follow soon.

Pretty much what a lot of us said would happen: an initial surge to FT8 and then things would settle down. Just another tool in the toolbox that does not have to be “better” or “worse” than anything else that has a few advantages over some modes in some areas (Es, for example) and disadvantages over others. None of these modes has to be classified as “good,” “bad,” “better,” “worse,” etc just like I don’t consider a screwdriver “better” overall than a hammer but each tool does a different thing. I suppose it’s human nature to attempt to classify things that way.

I have also seen some confusion when some are describing WSPR 'QSOs'. This is disturbing since there can never be a two-way exchange of information, all via radio (a QSO) using the one-way WSPR beacon-mode. Some may be confusing 'WSPR QSO's' for the actual Weak-Signal two-way 'WSPR QSO'  modes such as JT65, JT9, FT8 etc. 

Since WSPR relies on an internet back-channel exchange of information (to see where you've been heard), there is no actual on-air exchange of the data needed to claim a legitimate contact. To make such a claim would be no different than two stations, each running a beacon and calling each other up on the telephone to say that they can hear each other and calling it a two-way 'QSO'!

I have been using, and will continue to use JT9 on the new 630m band where signal levels are often too marginal for CW work but easily handled with this digital QSO mode ... otherwise I'll keep pounding brass whenever I can!

Steve McDonald, VE7SL, is a regular contributor to and writes from British Columbia, Canada. Contact him at [email protected].

Is the Internet Destroying Amateur Radio?

How many times do you hear the comment “ham radio…do people still do that?” followed by the statement that “surely the internet has made ham radio obsolete.” For the most part, that misses the point about the use and attractiveness of amateur radio. And yes, that is a clickbait headline.

I’ve written before that Amateur Radio Is Not for Talking and that the Universal Purpose of Ham Radio is to have fun messing around with radios. One significant statistic is that the number of FCC amateur radio licensees remain at an all time high. Eventually, the demographics will likely catch up with us and this number will start to decline, but it hasn’t happened yet.

The internet has become a tool that is used to complement amateur radio, often in ways that we may not have predicted. Although there are plenty of “keep the internet out of amateur radio” folks in the hobby, there are many more that have found clever ways to make use of the internet. I view emerging technologies and technological innovation as unstoppable forces that will impact us whether we try to ignore them or not. Using that lens, let’s examine the impact of the internet on amateur radio.

Here are a few broad categories of impact:

1. Communication Pipe

The internet is often used to provide an additional mechanism for transporting ham radio communications. Obvious examples are VoIP systems such as EchoLink and IRLP. Also included in this category are digital voice systems that use the internet to connect radios together: D-STAR, Yaesu System Fusion, Brandmeister Network, DMR-MARC Network. WinLink is a global email system using ham radio. The core transport technology is the Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) which is not limited to the public internet. Some ham radio organizations are implementing IP links using microwave gear on the amateur radio bands so they are independent of the internet.

Another application in this category is remote operation of ham stations. That is, use an internet connection to control a ham station at another location. Sometimes people refer to this as the Long Microphone Cord Model (or maybe I just made that us). Hams do this with their own private stations but there are also shared stations established by radio clubs and commercial vendors (see Remote Ham Radio). With community restrictions on external antennas being very common, having a remote station available is very attractive.

This has turned out to be quite disruptive because so much of ham radio operating depends on your location, which is generally determined by the location of the transmitter. But now you can have a person sitting in downtown Denver operating a transmitter that is in Fiji. Kind of confuses things a bit. Regulatory issues also come into play: that transmitter in Fiji is going to fall under Fiji regulation which usually means needing an amateur radio license issued by the local government. The day is coming when a DXpedition to a remote island will consist of a helicopter delivery of a remote radio box (with satellite link and self-deploying HF antenna) that is operated by someone sitting at home using their smartphone.

2. Reporting and Coordination

Ham radio operators also use the internet for spotting and reporting purposes. Spotting has been around for a long time, which basically means letting other hams know that a particular station is on the air and can be worked from a particular location. Hams have done this without the internet but the internet certainly allows for more efficiency. Or at least a lot more spots. DX Maps is a good example of a spotting web site that supports lists and mapping of spots.

Radio hams also use the internet for coordinating radio contacts. One of the most extreme examples is the use of pingjockey for arranging meteor scatter communications. Typically, two hams will connect on pingjockey and agree to try a meteor contact on a specific frequency, with specific timing, etc. This technique is easy to abuse, either intentionally or via sloppy operating habits, because you can inadvertently share the radio contact information via the internet. However, properly used, pingjockey is a wonderful tool that promotes meteor scatter operating. ON4KST operates an amateur radio chat website that enables a wide variety of online communication and coordination between hams.

The Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) is a network of radio receivers listening to the amateur bands and reporting what stations they hear. These stations are often referred to as CW Skimmers because they skim the CW information from the received signals. RBN began with decoding CW but now also supports RTTY. There’s no fundamental reason it couldn’t be extended to other modes, even voice modes, with sufficient computing power. 

PSK Reporter is a similar reporting system which accumulates signal reports from HF digital stations. As the name implies, it was first focused on PSK31 but has expanded to include other digital modes.

Weak Signal Propagation Reporter (WSPR) is more advanced propagation reporting system that uses transceivers and advanced DSP techniques. The compressed protocol sends the transmitting station’s callsign, Maidenhead grid locator, and transmitter power in dBm. WSPR lights up the world with low power transmitters and measures HF propagation on all bands in real time. Very clever system.
These worldwide networks produce a very complete picture of available propagation and stations on the air. Some hams complain that “nobody tunes the dial” anymore because they just rely on the station of interest to be spotted. DX stations often have the experience of huge pileup as soon as they are spotted on one of the networks.

3. Logging and Confirmations

For decades, hams have been keeping their radio logs using a wide range of software that is available.  This is a handy way of keeping track of radio contacts and tracking progress towards operating awards. More recently, online systems have been developed to allow radio contacts to be confirmed electronically. That is, instead of exchanging QSL cards as confirmation of a radio contact, both hams submit their log information to a central server that records the radio contact. The ARRL offers the Logbook of The World (LoTW) which supports these awards: DXCC, WAS, VUCC and CQ WPX. The eQSL web site was the first online QSL site, offering electronic QSL card delivery and its own set of operating awards. Club Log is another online electronic logging system. The popular web site has added a logbook feature to its set of features.

Electronic confirmation of radio contacts is a huge improvement for ham radio. While many of us still enjoy getting a paper QSL card, collecting QSLs for awards is a royal pain. Mailing QSL cards is expensive, takes time and often involves long delays.

Impact on Amateur Radio

Here’s my analysis of the situation: Categories 2 and 3 mostly represent a net positive influence on amateur radio. These are straight up information age applications that provide useful and quick updates about radio propagation and radio contacts. Yes, there is some downside in that many hams become dependent on them instead of doing it the old fashioned way: turn the big knob on the radio and listen. Not a big deal given the benefits.

Category 1 is more of an issue for me. The major effect is that it enables worldwide communication a lot easier while using ham radio. This is what causes many hams to say That’s Not Real Ham Radio when the internet is used to do so much of the work. Focusing on the actual radio wave propagation, there is really no comparison between working DX on the 15m band and making the same QSO with a UHF DMR handheld piped through the internet.  At this point, I try not to overthink the issue, dropping back to The Universal Purpose of Amateur Radio is to Have Fun Messing Around with Radios. So if chasing DX on 15m floats your boat, keep on doing it. If the DMR handheld provides enjoyment for you, I’m OK with that, too.

Perhaps more importantly, we can’t really stop the impact of new technology. Oh, I suppose the amateur radio community could petition the FCC to restrict Category 1 use of ham radio. There could be regulations that limit the use of the internet being interconnected with Part 97 radio operation. However, that would have an even bigger negative impact on the hobby by arbitrarily restricting innovation. Imagine if we had to tell technically-minded newbies in the hobby that “well, we have this rule that says you can’t actually use the biggest technology shift in the 21st century” while using ham radio. We do have some rules concerning awards and contests such as you can’t use a VoIP network to quality for DXCC. There will probably be more of that kind of restriction occurring as technology moves forward, which is fine by me.

What’s Next?

When it comes to technological change, its often difficult to predict the future. Some of it is easy: we’ll see higher bandwidths and more wireless coverage on the planet as 5G and other future technologies roll out.  Figuring out how this affects ham radio is a bit more difficult. Right now, there are still remote locations that aren’t on the network but that will change. I expect even remote DXpeditions to eventually have excellent connectivity which could lead to instant check QSLs. (That’s kind of happening already but it could become more of a realtime event.) As systems become smarter (e.g., machine learning, artificial intelligence), distributed systems will become more automated. We can expect more automation of ham radio activity which will certainly be controversial. Did you really work that other station if the software in your home ham station did it while you were away at work?

To wrap up, I don’t think the internet is ruining amateur radio but it is certainly changing it. The key is to keep having fun and enjoying the hobby. If you aren’t having fun, you probably aren’t doing it right.

What do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

The post Is the Internet Destroying Amateur Radio? appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

Bob Witte, KØNR, is a regular contributor to and writes from Colorado, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

Amateur Radio Weekly – Issue 181

The antenna on Rocky Top
The University of Tennessee Amateur Radio club has a set of antennas nestled between the lights at the top of Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. The tower is so high, most of the 102,000+ fans wouldn’t ever notice it. With the lights on, it’s impossible to catch a glimpse.

Portable AllStarLink node
Raspberry Pi 3 + Baofeng BF-888s connecting to a 4G LTE hotspot.

Ham Radio network keeps Capital commuters rolling along
The Capital District Commuter Assistance Network is a group of operators who provide information about travel hazards.
The Record

Thank you for my signal report
Maybe this is a radical idea but for my own operation I will strive to start sending more accurate reports and help the other station truly know how they are being copied.

Building a feedline HF choke
The choke has a resistance of over 1000 ohms on most of the Amateur HF bands, and up to 5000 ohms in the middle bands.
Daniel Estévez

Build an end fed match box
Connected to my end fed inverted L it shows decent SWR on 40 and 20m. My transceiver’s built-in ATU easily matched on both those bands.
marxy’s musing on technology


NVIS event with a fence antenna
I connected to the fence using two alligator clips from the coax, one clipping to the fence and the other clipping to two 33ft radials which ran perpendicular to the fence.

Antenna made from exterior Christmas lights
W6LG shows the dipole antenna and an instantaneous antenna tuner.

USA-135M Cape San Blas lighthouse activation
The Panama City Amateur Radio Club activated USA-135M, the Cape San Blas Lighthouse.

Rowboat mobile
While on vacation in Maine, I borrow a friends rowboat and go mobile maritime off the coast of Maine. I work a nice pile up and finish the day off with fish and chips.

Behind the scenes at the Arecibo Radio Telescope
Matt and Tom

Baofeng UV-5R stress test: Receiver and transmitter overload
Open circuit with 5 minutes of RF, short circuit with 5 minutes of RF high power directly on the front end of the receiver.

Resin casting tips and tricks
I cover some of the techniques that I use to be efficient when I am resin casting.

Amateur Radio Weekly is curated by Cale Mooth K4HCK. Sign up free to receive ham radio's most relevant news, projects, technology and events by e-mail each week at

Final TX Factor of 2017

Yes, TX Factor episode 19 is now on the air at

In part one of our reports from the UK’s Hamfest 2017 we have a sneak preview of the Icom IC-7610 and IC-R8600 rigs.

We meet the new owners of PW Magazine, and Pete tries his hand at the RSGB on-line exam. There’s also an update on the Society’s EMC Committee’s findings.

Bob finds his way back to New Broadcasting House in London where the Director General discovers he has amateurs working for the Corporation. Nevertheless, Lord Hall broadcasts from the shack of the newly resurrected club station G8BBC. And, Laurie Margolis G3UML recounts an historic QSO he had from the early 1980s.

Plus, you can win a mobile linear-amp for your handie in our free-to-enter draw.

Thanks you for your continued support and we hope you continue to watch and enjoy the show in 2018.

TX Factor Team

Nick Bennett 2EØFGQ co-hosts TX Factor with Bob McCreadie GØFGX and Mike Marsh G1IAR. Contact the team at [email protected]

My Twitter Novel

This happened the other day on Twitter.

ham radio twitter novelI thought it was funny. Thanks for the help, Sean and Kelly.

73, Bob K0NR

The post My Twitter Novel appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

Bob Witte, KØNR, is a regular contributor to and writes from Colorado, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

It’s ‘Bug Roundup’ Weekend!

Vibroplex "Blue Racer"

Ever since earning my ticket as a teenager back in '63, almost all of my on-air activity has been focused on CW ... I've always loved it.

Back when I first got on the air there were very few amateurs using keyers. Most used bugs and the remainder used hand keys. It was very easy to tune across the band and identify any of the locals just by the sound of their fist ... like snowflakes, no two were the same. The same went for most stations that were very active. DX or otherwise, one could usually tell who it was, long before the callsigns were sent.
So much has changed now with the almost exclusive use of electronic keyers and everyone pretty much sounds the same, which is rather unfortunate I think.

Once my interest in building vintage-style vacuum-tube transmitters evolved, my interest in bugs was reactivated and over the years I have purchased a few more.

I'll do everything I can to promote and encourage the use of CW and especially hand-generated CW. That's why I was excited, once again, to read a recent e-mail from W6SFM, posted to several lists that I read, announcing the Bug Roundup!

The Samuel F. Morse Amateur Radio Club, a Sacramento, California based CW enthusiast club wanted a special time to bring bug operators together on the air. In the same spirit as ARRL's Straight Key Night, participants are encouraged to make simple, conversational, “chewing-the-fat” QSOs using their bug type key. This is an opportunity to exercise, share and exhibit your personalized fist. This is NOT a contest. 

However, there is a very easy and quick required signup form found at

Once you are registered for the event simply call "CQ BR" so folks know you are a Bug Roundup Participant. So lets grab that bug, clean those contacts, and let’er fly! We want to hear that “Banana Boat / Lake Erie Swing" or that commercial KPH/WCC quality fist.

Reserve the date! The event begins on Friday November 17th (00:00 UTC) and concludes Sunday Nov. 19th (23:59 UTC), 2017.

That's 4:00 PM Friday evening until 3:59 PM Pacific Time (LOCAL)

For more information, to register your station, and to help assist in spotting, potentially increasing QSOs, an On-line chat window link can be found near the bottom of Bug Roundup home page located at We hope to hear you all on the air! 73, W6SFM

Sounds like a fun event and I'll have a tough job deciding on which bug to use but it'll probably be the Blue Racer once again. Please be sure to register for the event and see if you can squeeze-in a few hours of nice old bug-generated CW!

Steve McDonald, VE7SL, is a regular contributor to and writes from British Columbia, Canada. Contact him at [email protected].

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