Wireless Waffle - A whole spectrum of radio related rubbish
48 metre Bandanasignal strength
Wednesday 16 May, 2007, 14:14 - Pirate/Clandestine
anorakThere's a term used in the UK which takes its roots from an overgarment worn by many to keep dry on particularly squally days. The aforementioned garment is an 'Anorak', which is a kind of winter jacket which, no matter what you wear it with, will never look fashionable (the possible exception being Paddington Bear who at least looked cute, though it could be argued that Paddington wore a Duffle Coat rather than an Anorak if we're being pernickety). The Anorak is generally rather unpopular, being an ugly but practical kind of a coat; but due to the fact that it is a rather warm item to wear, those who spend a lot of time outdoors but do no exercise and thus are in need of something to stop them freezing whilst standing around have taken the Anorak to heart as their overcoat of choice.

But who, I hear you ask, would want to spend all day standing around doing nothing especially if it was cold or raining? A very good question! The Anorak became (and to some extent still is) the de facto uniform of those with hobbies such as train, bus or plane spotting, collecting number plates, "Oooh, V355LOX, a rare one from the OX series when they misprinted the 5 so that it looks like an S and it reads 'V35 SLOX'", watching grass grow, and so on... In the UK, however, the term 'Anorak' has come to be associated with anyone whose hobby is just a little bit weird, sits in a niche so small that only a handful of people understand it, is a touch excentric or is just very, very dull. And thus, most avid radio listeners, especially short wave listeners, DXers and even radio amateurs are regularly tarred with the Anorak moniker.

48mbtxWhy is this of much (if any) interest? Well the picture on the right (click it to see it in its full glory), which is a rather splendid example of a clandestine pirate radio transmitter, designed to transmit music programmes on short wave, brought me to thinking about why the stalwarts who built and operated such things continued to do so. I can think of 2000 or more salient reasons why it's no longer such a good idea:

1. No one (except Anoraks - see above) listens to short wave any more.
2. In most locations, the amount of background noise from computers, electrical equipment and the like makes short wave reception virtually impossible.
3. That aside, short wave reception does not lend itself to listening to music due to the annoying fading in and out.
4. If you want people to hear your radio presenting skills, there are easier and cheaper way of doing it - just upload a programme onto the internet.
5. There are 15,000 better things to do with your time (like collecting number plates for example).
6. If you get caught, the fines can be large (GBP2,000 plus 6 months in gaol).
7. And so on...

So why do the operators stations such as AlfaLima and WR International continue to spending their hard earnt cash and wasting their weekends building, setting up and operating such equipment. I would venture to suggest that there's still a real buzz associated with doing so. For a start, it's illegal, and flouting the law often gets the adrenalin flowing (not that I'd know of course). Then there's the kudos you get by being received by other short wave anoraks, 'Radio Flump was sounding hot last Sunday morning - SINPO 32232 - Best signal yet - I could almost make out what DJ Bobbisox was saying'. Also there's a little bit of exhibitionism and showing off in it, and that too provides an ego boost all of its own.

I argue, therefore, that the real anoraks are those people who tune into and listen to such short wave pirate broadcasts but make no attempt to join in the real fun and build a transmitter and get on air with the pioneers, pirates and thrillseekers who supply their fun to start with. So instead of tuning around the band, get your soldering iron out and build a Grenade or a Corsair, record a rubbish radio programme full of music that you think is cool but everyone else has forgotten, find a remote location, set up a transmitter early on a Sunday morning instead of lying in bed a couple of hours longer. And in the process... throw away your anorak and replace it with a skull and crossbones headscarf instead.
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iTrip iNterferencesignal strength
Monday 19 February, 2007, 04:47 - Licensed
i tripSo you've bought your iTrip, micro FM transmitter, AirPlay, PodFreq or similar and plugged it into your iPod or PSP and managed to get it to transmit somewhere in the FM band. You even manage to find a clear FM frequency at home where you don't suffer interference from local radio transmitters (or your neighbours' iTrips!) Then you decide to go on a road trip and you take it into your car. Driving around the UK you soon find that the FM frequency that was clear at home is home to a neighbouring radio station and that as you drive along, reception of your iTrip is blighted by interference from local radio stations (how dare they!)

What you need is a frequency somewhere in the FM band that is clear of licensed stations so that you can drive up and down the country without ever suffering interference or having to re-tune your iTrip. Dream on! There are only nine frequencies in the mainland UK which are not used by high powered local (or national) radio stations, these being 87.5, 87.6, 87.7, 87.8, 87.9, 88.0, 105.0, 105.5 and 108.0 MHz. If you include pirate radio stations on the list, there are virtually no clear frequencies at all - Shine on 87.9, Point Blank on 108.0 and UK's Finest on 87.5 being good examples of stations that occupy these seemingly clear channels. However to get clear, interference-free reception it's wise to have at least 200 kHz between you and any other station. Pirates aside, this means that 88.0, 105.0, 105.5 and 108.0 are out leaving only 87.5 - 87.9 MHz. This 'clear' spectrum is not, however, unused: 87.7 and 87.8 MHz are the most common frequencies for low-power FM stations, either short term (RSL) stations, or the new wave of community radio stations.

So what to do? Well excluding one or two pirates, using 87.5 MHz is a fairly safe bet, unless you happen to live in a major city where pirates are prevalent or near a long-term RSL or community station on 87.7. But what about elsewhere on the FM dial? Are there any 'cold-spots' where there is a smaller likelihood of coming across an interfering station.

The main BBC sub-bands (88.1 - 90.2 for Radio 2, 90.3 - 92.4 for Radio 3, 92.5 - 94.6 for Radio 4, and Radio Scotland and 97.7 - 99.8 MHz for Radio 1) are pretty chocker-block and many of the transmitters are very high power (250 kW is not totally uncommon) so they are not a good place to look. The other BBC sub-bands, 94.7 - 96.0 and 103.5 - 104.9 MHz or thereabouts, used for BBC local radio, or BBC Radio 4 in Scotland, BBC Wales and BBC Cymru and are also shared with independent local radio (ILR) in places, are pretty busy too. Not doing too well so far... However, an analysis of the ILR bands (96.1 - 97.6 and 99.9 - 103.4 MHz and 105.0 to 107.9) shows some interesting anomolies.

961 976mhz

In the lower of these two bands, the frequency 96.8 is only used twice (though it is home to a whacking 250kW BBC Cymru transmission in Wales) and 96.1 and 97.3 are only used 3 times.

999 1034mhz

In the range 99.9 to 103.4, 99.9, 100.6 and 102.1 MHz are only used once (though the band 99.9 to 102.0 is repleat with very high powered Classic FM transmitters) and there are several frequencies only used twice across the UK. Finally, in the range 105.0 to 107.9, the frequencies 105.0 and 105.5 MHz are not used at all, and the frequencies 105.1, 105.3, 105.9, and 106.5 MHz are only used once.

1050 1079mhz

Although this analysis is based on slightly old data (2005) published by Ofcom it does tend to suggest that in addition to 87.5, there are other frequencies which might provide relatively interference free iTrip usage across the UK without needing to re-tune. Unless your local station happens to be one one of these frequencies (or one adjacent to it), I would suggest 99.9, 105.0 (or 105.1) and 106.5 MHz as possible alternatives.
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Wiki-d Pirate Sitesignal strength
Thursday 21 December, 2006, 15:58 - Pirate/Clandestine
piratewomanWas doing a bit of 'Googling', as you do, and came across an attempt by Anthony Page (of Radio Nemesis fame), to start a pirate radio Wiki.

The page at freeradio.wiki-site.com mostly recounts the history of many of the pirate radio stations who graced the airwaves in the South Yorkshire and Derbyshire areas in the 1980's and 1990's; but it's also not a bad attempt to try and define some of the terms such as 'stereo' and 'link' so it get's an 'A' for effort, though at present probably no more than about a 'C' for achievement. With help from people such as you (yes, you) then maybe it could get a lot better.

There's also a good description of a number of the pirate stations that used to broadcast in that area including:

* Rebel Radio 105.2 (with Scooter Jones)
* Ocean FM 106.3 from Rotherham (which is nowhere near the sea!)
* WLNG 104.9 of Scunthorpe (who get a mention here)
* Radio Britannia from Barnsley with DJ Ken(ny) Crescendo

And no listing would be complete without the infamous ZFM 102.4/105.2/105.5 (mentioned here amongst other places) of Sheffield whose jingles, if I remember rightly, included the classics: 'ZFM - no flies on them' and 'ZFM - it rhymes with phlegm'. Isn't it reassuring to know that radio presentation has moved on...!
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The Digital Dividend: How does that work then?signal strength
Wednesday 20 September, 2006, 12:08 - Licensed
devilvisionAs anyone who has bought a new television in the UK in the past year or so will know, it is the Government's intention to close down all analogue TV transmitters by the end of the year 2012. It's main reason for doing this is to release some of the channels used for broadcasting so that they can be used for 'new users' (presumably ones that they see as being more lucrative!)

The plan is for a rolling conversion of all television transmitters in the country to change from analogue to digital. In doing this, of the four existing analogue frequencies used to carry BBC1, BBC2, ITV1 and Channel 4, only three of these will continue to be used - one will be freed for the aforementioned mysterious new users. The three frequencies still in use will carry three digital mulitplexes ensuring national provision of all BBC, ITV, Channel 4 services including CBBC, BBC News 24, ITV2, ITV3, E4 and so on, so there's no need to worry about people losing their favourite programmes. At the 80 transmitter sites that already carry digital services of the 4 (or 5) analogue frequencies in use and the 6 digital frequencies in use, only 6 will remain in use, the remainder falling into the pot of those available for other users.

Once the digital switch-over (as it's know) is complete, only UHF channels 21 to 30 and 41 to 62 will still be available for television broadcasting. Channels 31 to 40 and 63 to 68 (and possibly 69) will be freed for new users. The diagram below illustrates this situation. 'S.A.B.' represents services ancilliary to broadcasting (sometimes known as programme making and special events) and includes radiomicrophones, talkback, remote control for cameras, point-to-point audio links - i.e. radio equipment used by people making programmes. Channel 69 is shown hashed as it's not yet clear whether or not it will be given over to new users or remain with S.A.B.


So how can the necessary channels be crammed into two-thirds of the original spectrum? There are now approximately 5,200 individual television transmitters on-air in the UK amounting to around 115 transmitters per available UHF TV channel. After switch-over the number of transmitters will be reduced to around 3,800 - but this has to be squeezed into only 32 channels amounting to around 118 transmitters per channel. So the number of transmitters per channel remains roughly the same, and therefore, in theory, planning the new network should be no more difficult than planning the old one was.

crystal palace channelsLet's take a look at a practical example, using the Crystal Palace television transmitter site which serves around 12 million people in and around London. At present channels 23, 26, 30, 33 and 37 are used for analogue transmissions and channels 22, 25, 28, 29, 32 and 34 are used for digital. Of these, channels 32, 33, 34 and 37 will no longer be available for broadcasting after switch-over as they are part of the channels set aside for new users.

So after switch-over, a combination of the existing analogue and digital channels (i.e. channels 22, 23, 25, 26, 28 and 30) will be used for the purely digital service. Thus the future all-digital transmissions can be squeezed into the remaining broadcasting channels at this particular transmitter site. ofcomofferThis situation is also fine at the majority of UK transmitter sites including the smaller ones as typically at least 3 of the 4 channels in use at these smaller sites will fall within the untouched broadcast spectrum. Some jiggery-pokery will be necessary at a small number of sites to squash services into the remaining channels but all-in-all the plan works!

The question remains as to what 'new uses' might be made of the freed spectrum. One possiblity is that it might be used for more digital television (maybe mobile TV, portable TV or HD-TV). It might be used for more celluar services (maybe 4G). It might be used for mobile delivery of wireless broadband (maybe using 802.20). Some of it might be needed to house all the displaced S.A.B. users who currently occupy channel 69 (and to a lesser extent also heavily occupy channels 63 to 68). At present it's anyone's guess as to the need for and use of this spectrum but one thing is for certain, the UK Government will be rubbing their hands together in glee at the potential for raising a pot of gold for selling it.
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