Saturday, July 13, 2013

Extending the Range

While the early days of listening had taught me much about tuning the short waves and identifying stations, there was a desire to see if the range of the receiver could be stretched somewhat. There was considerable dial space both above the 20 meter amateur band (14-14.35 mc) and below the 40 meter band (7.7.3 mc) leading me to believe that there was only a little space left to reach the 19 meter band (15-15.45 mc) above 20 meters or the 49 meter band (5.9-6.2 mc) below 40 meters.

I had the idea that if I could reach the 19 meter band I could hear some better DX in the daytime. The 31 and 25 meter bands were pretty much limited to North American signals during the daylight hours. Mostly during the day I was hearing Voice of America stations along with Spanish language stations I presumed were from Mexico and maybe a few South American countries. I had firmly identified XEWW on 31 meters, recognizing its ID from its Standard Broadcast Band sister stations XEW and XEWA, and with help from my newly acquired World Radio TV Handbook. Others were Spanish language programs from Radio Canada and a commercial New York City station, WRUL ( this station later became WNYW and many years later when moved to Okeechobee, Florida became WYFR).

From what I had learned aligning other radios, including the Watterson, which was still my main Broadcast Band receiver, I knew I could shift the frequency tuned by the radios by adjusting the trimmer capacitors on the side of the variable tuning caps, the section that tuned the local oscillator. I had been able to shift the Watterson a hundred kc or so, out of a tuning range of about 1300 kc. It was “stretched” up to a bit above 2000 kc, up through the 160 meter amateur band. Since the HF converter tuned a range about 8 mc or so, I figured that proportionately I ought to be able to shift the range at least 1 mc and reach 2 new bands.

Since the receiver had no cabinet, it was easy to reach the back section of the tuning capacitor with a small insulated screwdriver. I tuned in the 10 mc WWV and backed up on the trimmer screw a half turn. Sure enough, the radio tuned off WWV. If I was right, it would require tuning the tuning dial down a short distance to find it again, if the receiver had been shifted up in frequency. It only took a moment to find out that was true. It only took a little tweak to bring it back in.

I had hoped that the move would have been greater than that, but that was just the first try. I backed off on the adjustment another half turn, then once again brought WWV back into the picture. Several such adjustments resulted in moving WWV three or four divisions down the dial until I reached a point where further turning made no difference. The trimmer cap was very near its minimum capacitance and the adjustment screw was very loose, wobbling and in danger of falling out completely if loosened even a little more.

The proof would now be in the pudding. It was time to see if the tuning had been shifted enough to bring the 15 mc WWV and then the 19 meter band into range. Tuning the dial of the converter toward the upper end of its range was done with anticipation.

Before I hit the top of the range, there it was! Another signal from WWV, just as strong as the 10 mc signal had been. This had to be the 15 mc version. There was still a little room left on the dial, maybe enough to get at least a part of the 19 meter band. I soon hit stations! Rather than stopping on any particular one, I continued up until hitting the upper range stop to see if I went past the end of the entire band. However, luck was not with me on this one. I hit the stop without reaching dead center of the last station. At least I would have part of a new band, though it wasn't much. The entire space on the dial from the 15 mc WWV to the stop was less than half an inch.

The first station actually identified on the 19 meter band that afternoon was interestingly enough, one that I had just identified a day before on 31 meters: XEWW...a parallel broadcast with a recognizable announcer and slogans..” La Voz de la America Latina”. It was at the very top of the range against the stop. My World Radio TV Handbook that had opened the door for identifying so many new stations had it listed as being on 15160 so that meant that only about a third ot a half of the band would be tunable. Others logged that first day were Radio Canada and the venerable HCJB and one other Mexican station, XERR. I am certain of these because they are the first of the 19 meter stations on my “stations heard” list, even though I was not logging dates and times at that part of my listening career.

As an aside at this point, I would suggest that any beginning listeners begin keeping a log at the very beginning of their listening career, because there may come a time later when you will wish you had the data. Such information is very valuable in developing a feel for propagation and how your antennas are working. When I first began full data formal logging, I used ARRL amateur log books, but later determined that a formal log need not be something printed like that. The past 25 years or so I have used plain spiral notebooks such as high school or college students use, without ruled columns. I just write across the line in de facto columns the time, station, frequency, mode ( am, cw, ssb, etc) signal strength, power ( if available) and location. While many SWL DX-ers use more complicated methods of recording signal strength such as the SINPO method, I have always used the amateur radio RST system ( readability and signal strength for am or ssb with the third character for tone for cw). Since my earlier receivers did not always have S-meters, I used a “mental” S meter determination for the signal strength.

As you can see from this and earlier articles, there was really no way to determine anywhere near the exact frequency of stations being heard in those days. This was not unusual for any of the SWL receivers available for listeners then. There was no digital readout for any receiver and only the very expensive, top end Collins receivers had analog dials that could give much of a frequency indication closer than maybe 10 kc, and then only on the amateur bands. In those days, log entries, for me were only indications on which band the stations were heard, i.e. 41,31,25 or 19 meters, or the 40 or 20 meter amateur bands.

After being satisfied that the 19 meter band was being covered and logging a few stations, I decided to try moving the receiver in the other direction to see if 49 meters could be received. I knew that there would not be an easy way to “band switch” but I wanted to know if it could be done. I guess I just assumed that if I wanted the additional bands one way or another, I could just retune the trimmers each time. Using the same method of “sliding” WWV at 10 mc but tightening the trimmer instead of loosening it, I shifted the range of the receiver in the other direction. However, I soon reached the end of travel of the screw on the trimmer and it was very tight and I still had not reached the 49 meter band. I am not sure what frequency it would reach, but it was still above 6.2 mc and I never heard a broadcast station. I pulled the trimmer adjustment back out and decided I would just have to be happy with the three bands ( or more accurately 2-1/2).

It was only some years later, after I had already obtained my first commercially built general coverage receivers, that I wonder why it had never occurred to me that another method could have given me the lower frequencies. It would have been a simple matter of adding a small parallel disk ceramic capacitor across the variable. It would have been small, probably 50 pF or less and would have shifted the local oscillator frequency down. It could even have been switched...with another across the input variable to help it track, too. Something so simple, but it did not occur to me at age 11. But it was a time of learning and sometimes the obvious now was not so obvious then.

In years since, I have thought of a number of ways to improve that original receiver, which I still have. It had a number of design problems that could easily be corrected and greatly improve the performance, particularly with regard to stability, selectivity and image rejection.

But at the time, I was just happy to have anything that would get me on the short waves. The next few months were a wonderful time of discovery. I began learning about listening at different times and developing my “DX-ers Ears” to find a whole new layer of DX possibilities.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Mission of Shortwave Stations

My second night of short wave listening made it clear to me that most of the stations on the bands had a “mission” of some type. For many, it was propaganda. I got an inkling of that with reception of Radio Moscow the first time and in closer listening to the commentaries on the Voice of America ( though those were much more tame or subtle than the Soviets!!)

The lesson began that second night of listening when I ventured down into the 40 meter ham band area that I had found during the previous day. I had done a little homework, reading old short wave columns by Hank Bennett in Popular Electronics with the idea of finding Radio Moscow.

I had marked down the general area occupied by the 40 meter hams as it appeared on the 0-100 dial calibration markings on my short wave converter dial and found it again without trouble. But it sounded nothing like it had during the day! The amateur conversations were almost completely covered up by broadcast stations.

In those days, in Europe, hams were only allocated 7.0-7.1 mc, while those in the Western Hemisphere were allowed to use frequencies form 7.0-7.3 mc. In Europe, frequencies from 7.1 to 7.3 was still allocated to short wave broadcasting. And though technically those broadcasters were not supposed to beam toward North America, if the signal levels that were delivered here were side lobes of antennas, I would have hated to have been in the main lobe!

There were programs in English, French, German, and a number of unknown languages ( at least unknown to me at that time!) Signals were quite strong and it wasn't long before I came across what had to be Radio Moscow. The commentary was unmistakable. At the top of the hour, I heard for the first time the unmistakable chime interval signal for Radio Moscow. As I tuned the band, I found no less than three frequencies carrying the same English language program from them arriving with varying signal strengths.

My folks and I listened somewhat spellbound to the rhetoric coming out of the speaker. We spent over an hour listening and talking about what we heard in the broadcast and what we had heard about some of the same “ news” stories from other sources and how they were so different. That night the concept of the Cold War took on a whole new meaning.

After I managed to tear myself away from the Radio Moscow programming, I looked around the rest of the 41 meter shortwave band and found almost the antithesis of the Radio Moscow programming in the BBC. The signals on 41 meters were not as strong as Radio Moscow, though there were as many frequencies in use. It seemed that night, and in fact in years to come, that the BBC's reporting was extremely up front, detailed and seemed to be balanced ( in fact, much more so than today where even it seems to have been infected with a little “political correctness”) The commentaries were labeled as such and were, as one would expect of the voice of a country, to be from the point of view of the UK. The chimes of Big Ben made a great impression and became a friend heard in many places in my future.

That first night, I did not find a lot of other English language programming and without a better reference guide did not have much expectation of being able to identify any of them. I did note one particularly strong station on 7300 kc and made a note to look through the short wave columns to see if I could figure out what it was. Looking back later, I figured it was probably Radio Tirana from Albania, which became a fixture on that frequency for awhile.

Tuning back up to 31 meters and skipping through the stations I had identified from the night before ( I was already mentally creating “beacons” for the band) I found another propaganda outlet in the form of Radio Havana. It became easily identified with its chime portion of the melody of their national anthem, followed by a rousing performance of it by a full band. It also appeared on multiple frequencies on the 31 meter band and also on the 25 meter band that I check briefly later. It was marked with commentaries heavily critical of the West and was not subtle about it at all.

It was becoming obvious that many of the stations on short wave existed to present a point of view of the originating country. Many, especially those from Western countries, appeared to exist to provide information to listeners behind the Iron Curtain or to those in countries that only had state-run media. Those in countries aligned with the Eastern Bloc appeared to be trying to do the same thing and to influence listeners in Third World, or neutral nations. It was indeed a Radio War!

Many stations also appeared to be “selling” their nations as tourist locations and carried programming that appeared to be of a cultural nature. The Swiss programs were particularly good for this. The BBC also had a cultural bent in those days, with music and radio drama.

There were also the religious stations. Perhaps they were not as pervasive as today, but they were there in fair numbers. HCJB was the most prominent, though there were others that had more locally targeted audiences. The first that I found in my early DX-ing days included WINB in Red Lion, Pennsylvania. It was a short wave outlet operated by a minister who also had local broadcast outlets. It was a single transmitter operation that ran 50 kilowatts into simple rhombic antennas.

Other smaller religious operations were targeted to more regional audiences. These often were programmed in local languages and were entered into my logs in later times when my ability to identify them improved. The most memorable from that first year of listening included 4VEH in Haiti which broadcast mostly in French, though they did have a couple of English language programs. I remember finding them for the first time in the morning on 25 meters as I was getting ready for school. They did not run much power, but appeared on three or four short wave bands and also had a rather high powered medium wave outlet.

Another widely heard regional religious station heard at the time was TIFC, “ The Lighthouse of the Caribbean” which broadcast from Costa Rica. It had a particularly good signal into Central Texas despite its relatively low power. It's religious programming was mostly in Spanish with just a few English offerings. In Spanish it was known as “Faro del Caribe.”

The other category of station that I soon found was that which was meant for totally local consumption. These stations broadcast to reach thinly populated areas of their respective countries without an overt attempt to reach foreign listeners. Some of these stations were religious, some were operated by local governments and some were commercial operations, simply relaying their medium wave programming. This category of station appears to be shrinking in recent years as methods of feeding programming to outlying areas by satellite to be retransmitted by low powered FM transmitters have become available. These stations gave the best picture of local cultures in those days, with local music and information that spilled over into the international airwaves.

Over the next several months, I began to get the hang of tuning the receiver. I was learning how to tune carefully and pick weaker stations out of the crowd.

That next Christmas I received a gift from a grandmother that would forever change how I listened to short wave. It was my first copy of the World Radio-TV Handbook. Suddenly I had a tool to help identify many of the stations I had been hearing. It and the excellent short wave columns in Popular Electronics also soon got me on the road of actively targeting stations I would like to hear. New doors were opening.

Monday, July 8, 2013

First Shortwave DX

The first night with  short wave receiver controls in my hands is still most memorable, after more than fifty years. After a bit of a rushed dinner, I came back in to my room with the newly operational receiver. There was still no real frequency calibration. The medium wave dial on the basic receiver was just calibrated 0-100 as was the tuning dial of the single tube HF converter that fed into it at about 1620 kc(still using the old abbreviation because that was what was used at this time).

From the first few hours of exploring the dial I knew that on the AM or medium wave dial, 1620 kc was about 92 on the dial. I knew that WWV at 10 mc was about 48 on the converter dial. That was where we were beginning.

I had planned to start on 31 meters and do a band sweep just like I had been doing on the Standard Broadcast Band. That is, start at one end of the band and stop and identify each station along the way. There were a few problems with that I was to quickly learn about. Short wave stations did not fully identify nearly as often as US broadcast stations. They were in languages that I did not begin to understand ( though I had begun to be able to pull out the Mexican station slogans to help identify them while exploring the standard broadcast band). Most important, I did not have a good list of stations other than an almost year old copy of the shortwave list from White's Radio Log that came in the back of radio-TV Experimenter Magazine. It would also be hard to use my “ count the carrier” method of tracking what frequency I was on like I did on the broadcast band because I did not have any “beacon” stations that I knew the frequencies of and also these stations were not uniformly 10 kc apart like on the US broadcast band. They might be five, might be ten apart, there might be gaps, some stations might be so strong and the selectivity of the receiver not so good that it could be hard to keep track.

But I was listening to shortwave for the first time in the dark with a fairly good antenna. It was my seventy foot longwire suspended between two 20-foot-tall two -by-four masts in the back yard, with the antenna made of wire taken from the field windings of a burned out 1951 Chevy pickup generator. None of the shortcomings or problems really mattered!

So the plan rapidly changed to starting at the top of the band with the first station I heard coming down frequency from WWV and then stop at the English speaking stations. I did have a little help. There was an Electronics Illustrated Magazine article about English Language news broadcasts with a few stations listed as examples.

I had a four inch speaker fed by the radio. The “ enclosure” was a six inch cube cardboard box that a shipment of parts for a correspondence course kit had come in. My dad had mounted that speaker in the box when he first built the broadcast part of the receiver when taking that correspondence course almost ten years before. It was nothing fancy, but then the radio wasn't anything fancy either.

As the first official band sweep began, it became clear this was not going to be easy. I tuned slowly past several stations in Spanish or German or French. It also became obvious that the 31 meter band was much more crowded at night than in the day and that the receiver was not very selective. The heterodynes were horrendous. But I did not know any better and just put up with it. After about ten minutes of what would have appeared to any seasoned DX-er as excrutiatingly slow tuning, I came upon a station playing an English language hymn, followed by what was obviously a religious broadcast. My first DX was about to be a historic station that I am sure many SWL's had in their logs very early: HCJB, The Voice of the Andes from Quito, Ecuador.

HCJB became more than a DX target over the years, becoming a good friend to listen to, not only for their general program content but their positive on the air attitude and great DX programs. Many years later while working on building a transmitter site in Laredo, Texas I discovered the same group had an FM outlet there. I visited the station and was given a copy of a book about the history of HCJB, their origins and growth in South America that was a truly amazing read. The book is called “Seeds in the Wind” and would be worth anyone's time to hunt for a copy! Also as an aside, the invention of the cubical quad antenna is credited to one of their engineers who was looking for a way to deal with high voltage corona discharges causing damage to their antennas in the high altitude.

But back to the story at hand. After about a half hour of listening to HCJB another problem with the receiver became evident: frequency drift! During that half hour, the tuning had to be touched up two or three times to stay on frequency! Experience soon taught me that it would drift around quite a bit until temperatures stabilized and after an hour or so, it would settle down. This was a problem with several basic designs of even the commercial variety that had simple power supplies operating transformerless directly off the power line.

Further tuning around that night brought the first transatlantic DX of any kind for me: The strong signal from the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. The wonderful music and strong signal soon became another good friend. It also triggered the first of many runs down the hall to yell at my folks:

” hey, come in here and listen to what I found!” They got used to that over the coming days and weeks.

Others found that night included my first reception of the BBC from London, the strongly anti- communist broadcasts from The Voice of the West in Lisbon, Portugal and Radio Sofia, Bulgaria.

There were several Voice of America transmissions in different languages that were heard and what must have been The Deutsche Welle with strong signals in German, though I did not know it at the time.

There was something about the sounds of the signals coming in that really cemented my interest in the hobby. It was the fading effects, I think, that actually did it, especially on some of the stations I could not at that time identify. You know the sound if you have tuned the bands any length of time at all, a sound that will never be heard on the all-too-clean internet feeds of programs today. Those may as well have come from the next room. It is the sound of selective fading, that “swishy” phase shifting sound as first the lower sideband, then the carrier, then the upper sideband take a dip. This is probably the result of reception via multiple paths off the ionosphere. There is also the slight echo and flutter effects of signals taking the polar route and being bounced about in the auroral zone. It adds something to the mystery and exotic appeal of hearing stations from around the world without the benefit of interconnecting wires or networks.

The DX hook was set!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Into The Short Waves

The step into short wave listening began with a gift and a construction project. The basis for the receiver was a six tube broadcast receiver that had been part of my dad's radio repair correspondence course. The short wave part came with the construction of the next external hf converter that would transform the range from about 6.5 to 16 mc/s to about 1600 kc/s, hence to be detected in the bigger receiver.

The base receiver was a six-tube superhet with a tuned RF stage and untuned converter with a single 455 kc IF. The HF converter used a single 12k8 and did not have an RF stage. Normally this would have led to unacceptable image response problems, but the 1600 kc first IF stage would place the image some 3200 kc away from the desired frequency. Even a very broadly tuned input stage would attenuate something over 3 mc away pretty well.

The project did not go well at the beginning. The receiver project had been built as a kit several years before and was not working. With the help of a gentleman running a local radio repair shop, the problem was solved. The repairman was an early technical mentor who deserves his own complete story. He had been a teacher and occasional supplier of part for various projects and was a great help in understanding many of the things I was reading at the time.

The construction of the HF converter took longer for me than would normally be the case. While my soldering technique had come along quite a bit, the instructions were not very detailed and many of the kit parts had been scattered among several boxes when the correspondence course materials had been stored. My mentor at the repair shop supplied some of the capacitors and resistor values that I could not find amongst the “debris”.

The receiver was of the same AC/DC variety as my Watterson broadcast receiver with the exception of an extra tube in the broadcast section. The lineup was 12SK7 RF amplifier, 12SA7 pentagrid converter, 12SK7 Intermediate Frequency amplifier ( 455 kc) 12SQ7 detector/AVC/First Audio amplifier, 35L6 Audio Output amplifier and 35Z4 rectifier. The filaments were all in series across the power line.

The 12K8 converter in the HF section had a 25 watt light bulb in series with the filament across the power line for voltage dropping. The high voltage for the plate was taken from the power supply for the basic radio.

Even for a simple receiver, this one had an S-meter of sorts. It consisted of a milliammeter in series with the plate lead of the 455 kc IF stage. The automatic volume control voltage applied to the control grid of the 12SK7 controlled the gain of the stage by supplying negative bias to the grid. The stronger the signal, the move negative bias. This resulted in a reduction in plate current. Therefore the plate current meter reading was inversely proportional to signal strength. With no signal, the meter read almost full scale. The stronger the signal, the lower it read. The meter thus read in reverse. However, by mounting the meter upside down, it appeared to swing upward rather than downward with increasing signal strength.

Firing up the receiver and getting it set up for its “ new mission” was a two step process. First, the outside antenna was connected to a clip connector input for the broadcast receiver section ( there was no band switch...this was a demonstration project kit designed to teach circuit design and operation, not necessarily for regular use!) The broadcast receiver was then turned on. I managed to find a local station that was fairly strong and did a quick alignment of the 455 kc IF for maximum signal. I then tuned the receiver up to the top of the dial to find at least the general area of 1600 kc.

Luckily there was station licensed to McKinney near Dallas that operated on 1600 and it was audible. I peaked the front end tuning capacitor trimmer for maximum signal on it. I wasn't too much worried about making the front end alignment track properly on the whole band because I did not plan to use it for broadcast reception anyway. I just wanted it to have the best performance on the frequency that the HF converter would feed in. I also figured I could cheat a little on the frequency that it would feed in to a bit above 1600kc to avoid any broadcast station feed through. The dial for the receiver was only calibrated 0-100 and I estimated about 20 kc spacing and set the tuning capacitor there.

Then it was time to try the HF converter. I did not know if it would even work, how critical the alignment would be or if I would be able to hear anything at all if the alignment was off. The only adjustment that would really matter would be the trimmers on the section of the variable capacitor that tuned the mixer input. I was not too concerned about where the local oscillator hit or what the tuning range would be, at least in the beginning.

To switch to the shortwave mode, the antenna lead had to be disconnected from the clip leading to the broadcast receiver input and moved over to another clip on the chassis for the HF converter. That second chassis was bolted onto the end of the broadcast receiver. The output of the HF converter was connected under the chassis to the input of the broadcast receiver. The only other thing that had to be done to complete the switch was to screw in the lightbulb that served as the filament voltage dropper for the 12K8 tube.

I got that done and waited. I was soon rewarded by a noticeable increase in noise coming from the radio speaker as the 12K8 filament came up to temperature. The heartbeat of a now 11-year-old DX-er was picking up speed about this time.

Now realize that the tuning dial for the converter was also calibrated only 0-100 ( separate dials for the two receiver sections) I had absolutely no idea where in the HF spectrum I was, other than somewhere between 6 and 18 mc.

I had set the tuning on the converter to “50” or mid scale for some reason. There was no signal there at all. I had no idea what to expect, not having tuned shortwave at all prior to this ( other than the 160 meter ham band just above the top of the broadcast band on the Watterson broadcast set). I had some idea of what the shortwave broadcast bands would be in the range of the converter, that they would include at least the 31 and 25 meter bands, and depending on where the upper and lower edges landed maybe 49 meters or 19 meters. Also the 40 and 20 meter ham bands should be in there somewhere.

A little gentle tuning back and forth of the tuning dial of the brought a few strange signals that I now know were teletype or multiplex signals. Then I ran into a signal with a tone and ticking sounds. I waited a minute ( or less ) and heard my first shortwave ID: “National Bureau of Standards, WWV, Ft Collins, Colorado”. My first logging on shortwave was WWV!

From reading in various magazines and the Radio Amateurs Handbook, I knew the frequencies transmitted by WWV in 1960 were 2.5, 5, 10,15, 20, and ( then) 25 mc. It may have been a bit of an assumption, but knowing that the HF converter was supposed to tune roughly 6-18 mc, this must be the 10 mc WWV, almost dead center in the dial. That would mean the 31 meter band would have to be clockwise from that a bit. At least that would be direction for increased meshing of the variable capacitor plates.

Tuning in that direction brought more of the strange signals, then a Spanish speaking station or two, then an English speaking voice reading the news. It did not take long to figure out that I had found a Voice of America station. As luck would have it, it was near the end of a program and the English broadcast was about to end. There was the VOA theme music of the day “ Columbia, the gem of the Ocean”, then Yankee Doodle and the full ID the transmitters used to run: “ This is Voice of America Transmitter WLWO in Bethany,Ohio, following program is in ( I forget the language)” followed by Yankee Doodle and the beginning of the next program.

That was the beginning of logging many of the Voice of America transmitter sites. At that time, the big Greenville, North Carolina site was still under construction and many of the sites used dated back to pre-World War II days and were actually used originally by commercial broadcasters. They had been expanded over the years and built up, but many contained older transmitters that were less efficient and used more power than the newer designs. They would soon be replaced, but in those days they were a boon to the SWL. Each site would identify by location and call letters and announce what the following program would be.

In the coming few days, I would log all of the domestic sites and learned through some magazine articles to look for some of the overseas relay sites. Those, too, at the time identified themselves at the beginning of each program and announced the actual frequencies in use. For example the Tangier relay would announce “this is the Voice of America relay station in Tangier, Morocco. The following program is in Swahili.”

The VOA stations with call letters logged in those first few days included KCBR in Delano California, WLWO in Bethany, Ohio, KNBH in Dixon, California, WBOU in Bound Brook, New Jersey, WDSI in Wayne, New Jersey and WGEO in Schenectedy, New York. The others would come later.

Tuning the receiver was a bit touchy. This was not a receiver designed for real use, but one designed to teach how things worked and to introduce servicing techniques. The dial string could never be tightened completely. The tuning system consisted of a loop of string that went around a short axle mounted through the front of the chassis and went around a three inch diameter drum on the front shaft of the two gang variable capacitor. The string was looped twice around the short shaft axle, then went around the drum a turn and a half and terminated through a tensioning spring through a hole in the drum on one end of the string, the other end tied to a fixed lug on another part of the drum after making the loop around the tuning shaft.

Cutting the string and tying it was an approximate deal. After trying several times, I got close but it was still loose. I finally settled on a plan to tie knots in the string near the spring tie-down until it got tight enough. I finally got it to the point after adding several knots where there was some stretching going on with the tension spring and determined that that was going to be the best it was going to be.

The shaft for the tuning knob itself went through a hole in the front of the chassis and had two grooves in it about the thickness of the panel apart with two spring clips to hold it in place. It was a little floppy, but putting some extra washers between one of the clips and the chassis tightened it up a bit. Tuning still resulted in a little delay or slack or backlash when changing directions, but it was something that as a kid I just decided had to be put up with. After all, there were no real calibrations for reading frequencies anyway, and besides: I was listening to short wave!

During that first hour of so of tuning through what I had determined was the 31 meter band, all I heard were the VOA stations in English and a few other languages and some Spanish language stations I could not identify. I had not yet learned to identify languages by sound other than English, Spanish, German, French and Czech. ( the German and Czech I knew about from hearing family members speak those languages).

It was time to do a little further exploring. Going to the left on the dial, past WWV and going higher in frequency yielded other strange sounds before I ran into the 25 meter band. There were thumps from cw signals not readily audible because the receiver had no Beat Frequency Oscillator. There were sounds like propeller driven airplanes that were multi channel multiplex teletype signals.

The 25 meter band appeared as expected but it being near midday, there was not a lot on it. There were several Spanish language stations of varying strengths, but that was about all. The entire 31 meter band had only taken up about an inch of dial space, the 25 meter band even less.

The trip up frequency continued with the basic plan trying to figure out just how far up the tuning range would extend. After more strange airplane sounds and unintelligible ( at least to me at that time) cw signals, I ran into voice signals of the 20 meter ham band. There was not a lot there, or perhaps I expected more than I heard. I noted callsigns of a dozen or so stations and heard some in Spanish and some “Donald Duck” sounds that I took for single sideband signals. The entire phone band was about quarter inch of dial space. Continuing upward, there was not a lot between there and the top of the range of the radio. I did not run into another WWV, so I assumed that the range did not extend past 15 mc.

That noted, I ran the dial back down toward the low end, going past the 31 meter band hoping to find the 40 meter ham band. Success! About three-quarters of the way around, I ran into a gaggle of AM ham stations. I had stumbled across the afternoon session of the 7290 Traffic Net and spent about an hour transfixed at the net operation and the handling of messages among the stations. I had not even heard of traffic nets at the time and it took awhile to figure out what was going on. There were stations of varying strength from all across Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

Tuning down the band from there, I found tuning had to be very careful because the tuning rate was quite high and the stations close together. I found myself listening to various ham radio roundtables, with voices and callsigns that would become very familiar in the years to come. Some of the stations heard that first day would be heard many times, and years into the future would end up in my own ham log after I got my license. A few would become close friends many years later when I moved to West Texas for a time. But on this afternoon, it was simply a new, magical time getting to know a whole new world.

The time flew by that afternoon and it was soon supper time. After I got the call, I took a quick tune down the band to the edge looking for the lower end frequency. I could not tell what it was but did determine that it did NOT extend down to the 49 meter shortwave band.

That would be the end of the my very first foray into short wave. It was also the first of many feelings of frustration at something as mundane as eating getting in the way of the DX adventure. But still ahead would be the first adventure into night time DX that evening.