Wireless Waffle - A whole spectrum of radio related rubbish
Know Thy Neighboursignal strength
Wednesday 21 January, 2009, 16:56 - Pirate/Clandestine
Posted by Administrator
the pirate keyVarious forums and logging sites around the web have reported that short-wave pirate station Premier Radio International was recently raided. Their transmitters and studio equipment were apparently taken. Premier Radio operated on 6265 kHz on Sunday mornings from Ireland and according to the reports the Irish spectrum regulator, ComReg, received a complaint of interference from the UK spectrum regulator Ofcom which forced them into action.

Such a raid on pirate broadcasters is not unheard of, though a 'cease and desist' letter is often sent to the operator first to warn them that they are at risk of being 'boarded'. Short-wave stations, however, are raided much less frequently than their FM pirate counterparts who lose transmitters on a regular basis. One of the reasons for this is that it can be much more difficult to identify the location of a short-wave transmitter. The other is that interference tends to be caused outside the country in which the transmitter is located - hence the need for the collaboration between Ofcom and ComReg.

There are, however, many short-wave pirate stations that operate in and around 6200 to 6400 kHz on Sunday mornings, and many of them operate from Ireland. So the question is, what is it about the use of this frequency that Ofcom found so objectionable that they felt the need to get ComReg to take such drastic action.

pirate going downThe answer might lie in the particular use of frequency in that part of the radio spectrum. Frequencies from 6200 to 6525 kHz are allocated internationally to maritime mobile services. Within this range, certain spot frequencies have been set aside at an international level, through the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Radio Regulations for certain specific uses. These frequencies are:

* 6215 (actually 6215 to 6218) kHz - allocated for distress and safety communications (analogue)
* 6268 (actually 6267.75 to 6268.25) kHz - allocated for distress and safety communications (narrow band direct printing - NBDP)
* 6312 (actually 6311.75 to 6312.25) kHz - allocated for distress and safety communications (digital selective calling - DSC)
* 6314 (actually 6313.75 to 6314.25) kHz - allocated for maritime safety information (using NBDP)

Clearly, given the safety related nature of the use of these frequencies, it makes sense to avoid them as far as possible to avoid causing interference where it really is not welcome. However, avoiding them does not just mean not transmitting on those spot frequencies. Typical AM transmitters occupy 5 kHz either side of the centre frequency on which they are transmitting. Also the spot frequencies themselves refer to transmissions with typically a 2 or 3 kHz bandwidth. So, to avoid interfering with 6215 kHz which actually uses frequencies from 6215 to 6218 kHz for example, AM transmissions on a centre frequency ranging from 6210 to 6223 kHz should be avoided. This might immediately raise the question as to why Ofcom have not complained about Italy's Mystery Radio who have used 6220 kHz for a very long time or Radio Cairo which uses 6270 kHz between 16:00 and 18:00 GMT every day, but certainly gives credence to claims that Radio Caroline's use of 6215 kHz in the late 1980s could have caused interference to safety-of-life services. With this in mind, the diagram below illustrates which frequencies within the range 6200 to 6400 kHz can be 'safely' used (in blue) without causing interference to these safety related services.

6200 6400 khz

ofcom closing inInterfering with any legitimate radio user is not to be condoned, however safety services such as these are not the best of bedfellows. I am sure that many pirates listen to the frequency they intend to use before turning their transmitters on, assuming, that is, that they have sufficient flexibility in their choice of crystals to allow them to find something relatively free. Choosing a frequency that deliberately interferes is, though, clearly a bit mad. So Radio King on 6215 kHz, Radio Malaisy on 6310 kHz and Radio Altrex who use both 6265 and 6310 kHz - be warned - you might be next to be sunk.

Whilst we're on the subject of frequencies not to choose, much of the HF spectrum is littered with transmissions that sound like this. These are NATO transmissions using their HF radio protocol known as STANAG 4285 and are therefore most definitely military in nature. Avoiding any frequency on which these noises can be heard would also seem to make sense too... otherwise it might be torpedos away.
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World Service English (Take II)signal strength
Saturday 27 December, 2008, 08:29 - Licensed
Posted by Administrator
bbcworldserviceFurther to last month's comments on receiving BBC World Service English in Europe, we've been testing out some of the frequencies that were suggested from the Wireless Waffle HQ in southern Great Britain. At all times checked, at least one BBC English frequency was available and at some times, several were audible. The list below gives the times checked and the frequencies that were audible. A simple rating system has been employed with one * representing poor reception, ** representing reasonable reception and *** representing a nice strong signal.

Reception will change from day-to-day and month-to-month so this list may not remain accurate indefinitely but it shows what can be achieved with a little effort. This list will be updated from time-to-time so check back occasionally if you're missing your Lily Bolero!

07:00 - 08:00 GMT
7255kHz***
9650kHz**
11760kHz**
08:00 - 09:00 GMT
11760kHz**
15400kHz**
09:00 - 10:00 GMT
11760kHz**
15400kHz**
17640kHz**
10:00 - 11:00 GMT
11760kHz** (though annoying co-channel China CNR-1)
11:00 - 12:00 GMT
11760kHz**
15310kHz**
17830kHz*
12:00 - 13:00 GMT
11760kHz**
15310kHz**
17830kHz*
13:00 - 14:00 GMT
11760kHz**
15310kHz**
17640kHz*
14:00 - 15:00 GMT
11760kHz**
17830kHz*
15:00 - 16:00 GMT
12095kHz**
15105kHz**
15400kHz**
17830kHz**
16:00 - 17:00 GMT
12095kHz**
15400kHz**
18:00 - 19:00 GMT
5875kHz**
19:00 - 20:00 GMT
5875kHz**

This information was last updated on 7 January 2009.
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World Service English in Europesignal strength
Saturday 22 November, 2008, 19:39 - Licensed
Posted by Administrator
bbcworldserviceThe end of an era is afoot (or at hand, whichever you prefer). Earlier this year the BBC World Service announced that it has stopped transmission of its English service to Western Europe. No longer will the strains of 'Lili Bolero' or 'Big Ben' be heard on the hour in France, Germany or anywhere east of Moscow. Or will it?

The BBC claim that certain frequencies destined for other parts of the world, notably Western Russia, may still be audible in some parts of Europe for those who absolutely insist on listening to the news from London with loads of hiss, crackle, distortion and fading. But to what extent is this possible? Is World Service short wave reception in Western Europe gone forever or is there still the possibility to listen in?

A scan of the material published by the BBC shows that there are still plenty of transmitters on-air carrying BBC World Service English (albeit different regional variants), pretty much around the clock. The question therefore is whether any of them are audible in Europe.

Whether or not a short wave transmission is audible in any given place depends on a number of factors including the transmission frequency, the time of day (in particular whether the path between transmitter and receiver is in daylight or darkness), the distance between transmitter and receiver and the intended target for the transmission. Take for example the World Service English transmission to Africa from its transmitter site on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. At various times during the (European) day, this is on a frequency of 17830 kHz. This high frequency propagates well through areas in daylight and the direction of the transmission is roughly the same as the direction from Ascension to most of Europe. The distance between Ascension and Europe requires the transmission to hop into and out of the ionosphere a couple of times but on a normal day, if both ends of the path are in daylight, this should work. Barring any co-channel or strong adjacent channel interference, therefore, the BBC transmission from Ascension should be (and indeed is) audible in Europe.

During the hours of darkness, low frequencies (the 48, 41 and 31 metre band for example) tend to propagate well, whereas during the day, higher frequencies (the 25, 19 and 16 metre bands) will fare better. Taking all this into account, it should be possible to construct a schedule of which BBC World Service English programmes are most likely to be heard in Europe. Of course this will change twice a year as the winter and summer schedules take effect, but the principles should hold true.

With that in mind, here is the Wireless Waffle guide to receiving BBC World Service English in Europe on short wave. The frequencies shown are those that have the best chance of being received in Europe but which are directed to other regions (thus the programming material may not necessarily be appropriate). No account of possible interference has been made (for example it is known that the BBC frequency of 17640 kHz suffers strong adjacent channel interference in Europe from Africa No. 1 on 17630 kHz and China Radio International on 17650 kHz). Other frequencies have strong co-channel and adjacent channel interference too so it's definitely a case of 'if at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again'.

Midnight (GMT) to Dawn

Try:

5970 kHz (from Oman)
6005 kHz (from South Africa/Ascension)
6145 kHz (from Ascension)
6190 kHz (from South Africa)
6195 kHz (from Cyprus)
7105 kHz (from Oman)
7255 kHz (from Ascension)
7320 kHz (from Cyprus)
9410 kHz (from various sites)
9650 kHz (from South Africa)
11760 kHz (from Oman/Cyprus)
11765 kHz (from Oman/Portugal)
12035 kHz (from Cyprus)
12095 kHz (from Cyprus)

Daytime

Try:

11760 kHz (from Oman)
15105 kHz (from South Africa)
15310 kHz (from Thailand)
15400 kHz (from Ascension)
15420 kHz (from Cyprus/South Africa)
17640 kHz (from the Seychelles)
17830 kHz (from Ascension)
21470 kHz (from Ascension)

Dusk to Midnight

Try:

3915 kHz (from Singapore)
5875 kHz (from UK/Cyprus)
5955 kHz (from Oman/Singapore)
6155 kHz (from South Africa)
6190 kHz (from South Africa)
7445 kHz (from South Africa)
12095 kHz (from Cyprus)

Note that these frequencies were taken from the Winter 2008/9 broadcast schedule and may be very out of date if you are reading this in 2013! Also, not all frequencies are on for the whole period (some are not daily either), so you will have to tune around between the ones listed to find the best possible reception for the time you are listening.
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Duel-Castingsignal strength
Thursday 13 March, 2008, 08:41 - Pirate/Clandestine
Posted by Administrator
100 watt pirate transmitterFinding a frequency must be one of the most fraught tasks for any prospective London pirate radio operators. The band is now so crammed with stations that there are next to no gaps anywhere. The problem is not made any easier by the BBC using lots of frequencies to infill coverage of its local stations; nor by the new wave of community stations taking to the air. Now don't get me wrong, BBC, commercial and community radio stations have a licence and are authorised and legitimate users of the FM band and as such should be respected, and nothing hereinafter should be in any way taken as non-recognition of that important fact. But the fact also remains that pirate radio stations exist and are likely to continue to exist until technology renders them irrelevant and that finding a frequency that doesn't cause interference to these legitimate users, which is a goal to be aimed for if both legal and illegal stations are to co-exist, is nigh-on impossible.

some pirates betterSince 2000 Ofcom (and its predecessor the Radiocommunications Agency) have been aware (through an oft overlooked study that examined the re-planning of the FM band) that there are small pockets of the FM band that could be used for low-power, limited geographical coverage transmitters in and around London, and it is the results of this study that are, to a large extent, enabling the licensing of the community stations. It's also interesting to note that many of these community stations are using frequencies that were esrtwhile used by pirates. Question: If they can now be used legally for such services without causing interference, can it be completely true that when being used illegally by pirates that the interference they cause was really so bad? Well the power of the community stations is typically less than 100 Watts and they are specifically located in areas where the frequencies they use will not cause interference, whereas the pirates on the same frequencies were often using 250 Watts or more in an attempt to cover a much wider, or a different, area. So it is quite likely that the pirates did cause interference in some areas, but clearly not in others.

walk the plankOne of the interesting side-effects of this use of previous 'pirate' frequencies by the new community stations is that the pirates have been forced to take action to try and maintain their coverage and listenership without causing (too many) problems to the new stations. Blasting several hundred Watts over the top of a new community stations is the perfect recipe to get busted. Hats off, therefore, to Passion FM who, having been forced off their long-time frequency of 91.8 MHz by community station Hayes FM in West London, have taken to using two different frequencies, with directional antennas, to protect Hayes FM yet maintain their service area. Passion can now be found in East London on 91.8 MHz and in West London on 97.9 MHz, thereby making an effort not to interfere with Hayes FM at the expense of having two lots of transmitters to replace each time they are taken off-air.

rubbish pirateWest Londoners Point Blank FM also deserve a mention. They are broadcasting to South West London on 103.6 MHz (and thus avoiding Life FM in Harlesden, North London and TGR Sound on 103.7 MHz in South East London) and to Central London on 90.2 MHz, having moved off 108.0 MHz where they used to cause undue interference to Radio Jackie on 107.8 MHz. 108.0 is now used by Unknown FM whose service area, being further East causes fewer problems to Jackie. Both Passion FM and Point Blank FM use the correct RDS Alternative Frequency ('AF') flag so that listeners driving around London will automatically be re-tuned to the clearest frequency - smart! Freeze FM are also 'dual-casting' on 92.7 and 99.5 MHz - it's not clear why but possibly one of the community stations yet to come on-air (Radio Ummah and Irish FM) may use a frequency near 92.7.

Pirates are often accused of not caring about interference to other stations, but the actions of these stations would tend to suggest that they do take some care - not least, perhaps, to protect themselves from an excessive number of raids from the authorities.

For the record, other pirate/community frequency clashes that will no doubt resolve themselves in the end are Westside FM (Southhall, West London) and Select-UK (Rotherhithe, South London), both on 89.6 MHz, Nu-Sound (Forest Gate, East London) and Powerjam (Battersea, South London) on 92.0 MHz, and Voice of Africa (Newham, East London) and Tempo on 94.3 and 94.4 MHz respectively.
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