Techniques of High-Tech DXpeditioning
Guy Atkins, John H. Bryant, Nick Hall-Patch, Don Nelson
website, January 2003
In the past
several years, the DXing techniques of a number of us who congregate
at the well-known Grayland, DXpeditioning sites have undergone
a technical metamorphosis. Grayland is located on the beaches
of the open Pacific in Washington State, about equi-distant from
Portland and Seattle. Those of us who gather there several times
a year did not start out to become "high-tech DXers" or really
to do anything except to continue to try to maximize our chances
to hear rare radio stations from far away places across that huge
ocean. However, as we continued to experiment with better ways
of doing things and to share new techniques amongst ourselves,
we each have slowly changed how we accomplish almost everything
we do related to DXing in the field. Further, we have each taken
many of the lessons learned at Grayland home with us and applied
them to DXing from there.
Lest this introduction lead you astray, let us rush to reassure
you about several things.
First, we each continue to DX with very individual styles
of doing things. As our oldest regular member, John Bryant continues
to play the role of Old Codger and DXes in the nearest fashion
to the "traditional," despite sometimes using two laptops
and two radios simultaneously. Don Nelson is probably at the other
end of the spectrum, being the most high-tech among us. Don operates
multiple sets of receivers, SE-3As, digital audio processors
and mini-disc recorders from a central laptop keyboard and multi-position
data switch. Some of us have characterized Dons style as
"Drift Net DXing" and wonder whether there will be any
signals left over for the rest of us. So, despite now sharing
a number of common high-tech techniques, we do each continue to
DX quite differently.
Secondly, we dont really think that we are doing
anything terribly unique. Hobby articles in either the shortwave
or medium wave DXing fields have documented many of the techniques
that we use. Perhaps our contribution is how we individually combine
those techniques to solve the unique problems of DXpeditioning.
that has had the most impact on our techniques, collectively,
is the laptop computer. We started lugging these things to Grayland
primarily to display a full suite of the marvelous animated Geoclock
sunrise-sunset maps while we were DXing. After that initial experience,
laptops quickly grew in usefulness to now be an essential tool
for any number of DXing tasks. Our high-tech devices are not limited
to laptops, however. In recent years, we have adopted hand-held
Cybiko units to communicate among ourselves during a DXing session.
These wireless PDA-type devices are very inexpensive, are available
on the internet auction market and have maximized the groups
ability to share hot tips - even between motel rooms while
never having to look up from our own dials or remove our headphones.
We are also fortunate to have several "black-box" communications
receivers among us and we often use the Hall-Patch developed software
and an obsolete computer to drive these radios as "DX Radars."
Nicks software allows us to spot potential DX targets on
other frequencies, bringing them to our attention graphically,
so that we may have a good idea "where to jump next"
in the midst of those rare really excellent openings.
article was prompted by the comments of several prominent
DXers from the East Coast and Europe who expressed real surprise
at some of the techniques that we have begun to take for granted.
The article is not intended as an in-depth text for implementing
the techniques discussed. Rather, we plan to introduce readers
broadly to most of the techniques that we are using and plan to
provide references, where they exist, to more detailed and specific
articles elsewhere for those interested in adopting a particular
technique or tool.
The tool that has most profoundly affected our DXing techniques
is the portable computer. We are quite surprised that many senior
DXers continue to believe that portable computers will add unwanted
RF interference if used near communications receivers. We have
found that there were very few problems of radio frequency noise
being induced into receivers, lead-ins or antennas by these devices
be they palm-tops, notebooks, laptops or pen-tablet type
machines. This is despite having as many as ten laptops being
used simultaneously (by 5 DXers) in one large motel room. We should
mention, though, that we always use impedance transformers and
coaxial cable for the lead-in from our antennas. The nearest bare
antenna wire is about 30 feet from the motel room. We doubt that
it would have been possible to use a desk-top loop antenna very
well in such an environment.
Toward the end of this article, you will find several recommendations
as to what kind of laptop we might suggest for DXpeditioning.
At this point, you should know that most of our current Grayland
machines are rather obsolete, 233 MHz or so and perform quite
well when running most of the following software simultaneously.
However, a couple of us have experienced some resource overload
problems when running most of these programs (including ERGO)
and such resource hogs as Acrobat 5, simultaneously.
What follows is a compilation of overviews of our favorite uses
for our laptops at Grayland:
mentioned, we began bringing laptops to Grayland primarily to
view Geoclock automated sunrise/sunset maps (see below.)
Geoclock has been the standard of the sunrise/sunset software
industry for quite a long time and is well known in many DXing
circles. In case you are unfamiliar with this software, Geoclock
utilizes multiple maps to illustrate sunrise/sunset and twilight
in real time or at any other time that the user cares to specify.
If you wish to know more, we suggest that you download
the Geoclock shareware version
and then make a paid version your first investment.
1. One of several world-wide Geoclock maps in the program.
maps are clickable. Left clicks "zoom-in" by selecting
ever more detailed maps from a large assortment that come with
the program. Right clicks "zoom out" in the same fashion.
All maps may be modified by the user to contain additional information,
station locations, notes about likely frequencies, etc. Boxes
showing the local time may also be attached to any location.
2. One of the more detailed Geoclock maps that has been modified
by SWBC DXers for DXing Papua New Guinea, Timor and eastern Indonesia.
Please also note the even more DXer-friendly Geoclock map of PNG
that is shown in the Receiver Control section of this article.
have a laptop beside your radio, it becomes second nature to use
it to bring along all sorts of electronic reference material.
We all bring tons of electronic references of various sorts (our
current favorites are Bruce Portzers incomparable Pacific-Asia
Log for medium wave, available free, and the DSWCI
Domestic Broadcasting Survey).
While these electronic references have not completely replaced
hard-copy documents, they have reduced the number that we must
lug around significantly. As anyone who has surfed the Net
much at all knows that there are a goodly number of references
available at various DX sites as well as in various e-mail groups.
Why leave that information at home???
Again, style has a great deal to do with it how one uses these
e-references. John Bryant is just not happy unless he has the
latest WRTH Pacific-East Asia listing clasped firmly in his left
hand while MWDXing at Grayland. Some of the rest of us havent
brought WRTH along in years.
A logging program for the rest of us!
been automated logging programs available for radio hobbyists
almost since the inception of the PC. Although many of us had
tried such software over the years, none of the Grayland regulars
had permanently adopted logging software until about two years
ago, when Guy Atkins introduced us to "B-LOG."
This oddly named freeware is one of the simplest and yet most
flexible logging software that any of us had seen. Besides being
quite easy to use, even for two-fingered typists, B-LOG can output
loggings to the Windows Clipboard (and thus to other software)
in any number of formats. It comes pre-configured to output Shortwave
Broadcast loggings by country and then by frequency while, almost
simultaneously, outputting MW loggings in "by frequency"
format. You can also design any number of customized output formats
of your own. Lastly, B-LOG is searchable and sortable in many
Although virtually all of the Grayland regulars now use B-LOG,
again it is used in a wide variety of ways. Several of us have
entirely eliminated the spiral notebook and stub pencil that have
served us so well for so long. The more conservative of us still
keep a rough log (and doodle) while the DX is rolling in but transfer
and expand those notes in B-LOG immediately after the close of
the DX session.
It makes reporting to the clubs and to the Net incredibly
easy and it creates a VERY searchable long-term record log for
3. The main window of B-Log is used for station data entry.
Some of the more repetitive data may be entered from pull down
4. The second B-LOG window is used for editing and output.
One can output selected loggings to the Windows Clipboard and
thence to other programs (e-mail, etc) in a number of pre-defined
formats or in custom formats designed by the individual DXer.
the biggest factor that led many of us to adopt B-LOG was
its ease of use. If you, like several of us, must go months between
DX sessions, B-LOG is so intuitive that once set up - it
may be used with very little secondary learning curve. We are
collectively proud of this software because Guy Atkins assisted
the designer in tweaking it for SWBC and MW DXing.
for Win95/98, WinME, and Win2000 PC's. Should run on WinNT systems.
Requires at least 800 x 600 pixel monitor resolution.
- UTC clock
display, with time obtained from your operating system. There
is no need to set your time zone with this program.
either mm/dd/yyyy or dd/mm/yyyy date formats, and automatically
adapts to systems configured to display frequencies as either
"14313.5" or "14313,5"
- 14 fields
plus a service or activity code field let you tailor B-Log to
your every logging need. The design supports multiple styles
of logging in the same log file.
- You can
attach a file, audio recording, or enter a URL for each log
entry. One button click either opens the file or connects you
to the URL.
- QSL tracking:
fields are provided to record reception reports sent and QSL
remembers all your Code, Mode, and Country entries. When creating
a new log entry, you can either enter new data into these fields
or pick from a list of your previous entries.
display grid. You can adjust column widths and column ordering,
tailoring your log summary perfectly to your requirements.
search features and enhanced sorting make it a snap to find
and organize your log data. You can sort on any column or use
the four special-purpose sorts.
automatically generates publishable listings in the formats
preferred by utility monitors, shortwave broadcast DXers, and
mediumwave DXers. The listings are generated to file and to
a preview screen. You can copy the formatted listings to the
clipboard for effortless transfer into an email, a Usenet posting,
or into your word processor.
- A report
generator lets you export log information in just about any
tabular format you prefer or require. You can save report setups.
- The log
file is formatted as a tab-delimited text file for simple, solid
export into any spreadsheet or database program.
controls are arguably the most useful features of B-LOG for
the attendees of the Grayland DXpeditions. We find it greatly
simplifies the process of sorting and formatting loggings for
submission to club bulletins, electronic newsletters, and other
publications. The UTE Export, SWL Export and MW Export formats
are useful right "out of the box". If a special layout
or sequence of loggings information is needed, it is a simple
matter to rearrange the data and save the format for reuse in
is available from author Tom Lackamp (callsign AB9B, hence the
program name). Tom also is author of Scan 320, a versatile PC-control
package for the Ten-Tec RX-320.
The Laptop As A"Tape
to his primary radio, some form of tape recorder has been the
DXers most prized possession throughout the modern era of the
hobby. For many of the Graylanders, that began to change about
five years ago when Guy Atkins introduced us to the MiniDisc format
from Japan. At the time, none of these devices were sold retail
in this country and we had to have them imported from Japan. That
soon changed and a number of us transitioned to that re-writable
digital format in the late 1990s.
For the past several years, there have been a wide array of MiniDisc
recorders at Grayland... from rack-mounted professional decks
to tiny recorders with a footprint that is hardly larger than
two commemorative postage stamps. The advantages of MiniDisc over
traditional cassettes were numerous... much greater fidelity,
much more compact size of both recorders and media, more permanent
storage, more flexible editing, etc. Today, about half of the
Grayland regulars use MiniDisc recorders.
The MiniDisc format was the state of the art for the all of the
Grayland crowd until about 2 years ago. Several of us began independently
experimenting with recording directly on our hard drives and eliminating
the need for a separate recording device altogether. Looking back
on it, it seems that recording directly on hard drives had to
await the availability/affordability of two pieces of hardware:
relatively high capacity hard drives and on-board CD-R drives
for burning CDs. We probably also waited until there was a range
of recording software from which to choose.
The advantages of recording directly on your hard drive are numerous,
of course. For John Bryant who now travels a lot, eliminating
one piece of gear (the tape recorder) to be lugged from place
to place was a large motivator, as was the fact that his DXing
position at home is quite small.
Getting rid of the separate recording device at home gives John
much needed desk space. Others of us like the fact that, with
the right software, one may edit and enhance a digital DX recording
with any one of more than a dozen audio editing programs.
of us who send reception reports have, in the past, often
sent cassette tapes of the reception along to the station. With
our new laptop-based recording techniques, most of the hassle
and extra mailing expense of that approach is eliminated by simply
burning a CD of the reception and sending that along with the
report in an unpadded envelope.
We were originally worried that some stations, particularly in
the tropical hinterlands, might not yet have CD players. John
Bryants Indonesian students assured him that even the small
county stations would at least have home entertainment level CD
players. They did suggest, however, that the files be burned on
the CD as a "music CD" rather than as mp3 or wav data
Happily, one of the choices in most CD burning software is "Make
a Music CD." If you select that option, the software will
convert your sound file to standard music CD format, automatically.
Editing sound recordings on your hard drive is so easy that some
of us send along two tracks: Track one is a short clip of the
most intelligible portion of the reception or the ID or interval
signal, etc. Track two is the full recording of the catch.
are many other advantages to recording DX directly on the hard
drive. Many of us now send short clips of catches to each other
afterwards via e-mail or we forward clips of unidentified stations
to DXers more familiar with the language or geographical region
of the probable stations. Others of us have found that assembling
collections of sound clips of various catches or even arranging
entire archives of DX catches is immeasurably easier when working
digitally rather than with analog tapes.
issue about using a laptop as a recorder which is still somewhat
in flux is just which recording software is "best."
Most of us have owned and used either Music Match Jukebox or Media
Jukebox, the two recorders/players/media library managers that
are the current state of the art among the on-line digital music
crowd. Some of us have used one or the other of these recorders
when DXing. Several of the rest of us have found those two programs
just too complex and all-powerful for our tastes. Each is a wonderful
program, but the learning curve (at least for the codgers among
us) is quite steep and one that must be reclimbed after a DXing
current recording software-of-choice amongst the codgers is Total
Recorder. Don Nelson showed us this marvelously simple software
about 18 months ago. It was perfect for the Old Codgers among
us because it did everything that we, as DXers, needed and little
that we did not.
The main interface (see below) is arranged to emulate the symbols
on a cassette tape deck and operation is quite intuitive. I dont
think that anyone of us has yet to read the manual about anything
except recording parameters (mp3, wav, etc.) We all started out
using various iterations of Version 3 of Total Recorder, however,
Version 4 has just been released and the authors have maintained
its ease of use.
5. Main window of Total Recorder. One of the nicest features
of TR is the fact that, during playback, one can "grab"
the slider bar (lower center) and reposition it to any portion
of the recording. A second very nice feature is the ease at which
smaller clips may be defined during playback and then saved as
separate recordings in any audio format desired.
benefit of using your computer as a "tape recorder"
is that it greatly simplifies "hands off" DXing. Several
of the main recording programs have subroutines that support "Timed"
or "Scheduled" recordings: the ability to have the computer
turn on the recording program and record whatever is present in
the sound card at a specified time and then shut down at a second
specified time. None of the Schedule functions that we have used
is terribly difficult to program. However, again, programming
Total Recorders scheduling function is incredibly simple.
Some North American DXers are using Total Recorder on a regular
basis at home to record the 10 minutes at the top of the hour,
each hour of the night. They then tune their receiver to a frequency
of interest and let the machinery do the work. Total Recorders
design as a playback device is also particularly well suited to
scanning lengthy recordings quickly.
note that neither Total Recorder nor any of the other virtual
recorders about which we know does continuous time-stamping like
several of the MD recorders do. There are running indications
(in minutes and seconds) of how far you are into the recording,
as well as its total play-back length. If you allow Total Recorder
to save the recording automatically, the default title is the
time and date of the end of the recording. The lack of absolute
date-stamping does not seem to be much of a problem in practice.
6. The window which is used to set-up a timed recording operation.
Note that very little keyboard input is necessary.
7. This window is used to manage multiple timed recording
operations. No keyboard operations are required to Enable/Disable
or Edit various individual timed recording sessions. The Clone
function is quite useful when establishing repetitive timed recordings.
possible to record two receivers simultaneously using the
Left and Right channels on your sound card. Most mp3 compression
standards have surprisingly good isolation of the two channels.
Recorder Version 4 Standard Edition is available as
a downloadable file for under $12.00 USD. The more capable 4.0
Professional Version is available at the same site for $24 as
an upgrade to the Standard Edition for about $24 USD or as a totally
new purchase for about $35.00 USD.
Please note that either program may be downloaded as a trial version
first. If you are unsure of the usefulness of this simple tool,
you might want to begin with the very inexpensive yet powerful
Standard Version (its what cheapskate Bryant uses - and loves
The Amazing Slow
Why do many
announcers adopt either a rapid-fire delivery or seem to be eating
marshmallows by the mouthful just in time for station identification?
Wouldnt it be great if we could reach through the radio
and throttle the poor announcer, telling him sternly: say that
one more time
s-l-o-w-l-y and c-l-e-a-r-l-y!
easy-to-use PC & MacIntosh program out of Sweden gives us
this ability, with no harm done to station personnel. Typically
called music transcription software, this sort of program is known
to musicians as an aid to learning music by listening to, and
practicing at a slower pace. Slowing or "time-stretching"
music is nothing new, but keeping the pitch from changing at the
same time is a feature easily done in our digital age.
amusingly titled "Amazing Slow Downer" is a very quick
to learn program which allows time-stretching (-50 to +400%) and
optionally pitch variation (+/- 12 semi-tones) of any WAV or nearly
any MP3 file.
8. Main Panel of the "Amazing Slow Downer"
wide latitude in time-stretching
and pitch change is rarely needed though. The authors found that
time-stretch values between 30% and 100% and pitch changes from
0.00 to 0.80 are the most commonly used. Figures in these ranges
are normally sufficient to raise a DX recordings intelligibility
to a level where an ID or slogan can be comprehended.
benefit to slowing down an audio clip is easily understood, but
the ability to adjust pitch is equally useful. Male announcers
with deep voices can be "adjusted" to a higher-pitched,
"female" sounding level on an as-needed basis. Likewise,
those of us who find a deeper tone more intelligible can tweak
a squeaky female voice to replicate the sound of a drunken Arnold
the Amazing Slow Downer provides simple controls for marking the
beginning and end points of important segments of your recording,
and the ability to repeatedly loop through that segment. You can
even save this marked segment to a new WAV file, complete with
the time-stretching and pitch-change effects. (Saving or resaving
as a MP3 requires other conversion software.) There is also a
built-in 7-band graphic equalizer thats useful for a quick
boost or cut of frequencies to aid in voice recognition.
wave DX samples from John Bryants collection illustrate
the effect Amazing Slow Downer can have on DX station IDs and
kHz CRI+RR IDs
clip with Chinese and Russian IDs.
963 kHz CRI+RR IDs
Modified audio with 50% stretch, +0.80 pitch change, equalizer,
and isolated IDs ("Zhongguo guoji Guangbo Diantai" and
"Govorit Mezhdunarodnaya Radio Kitaya")
1380 kHz, Mexico
clip with "XEVD"
slightly in background, spoken by a male announcer at the 2-second
mark, and concluding by 5 seconds into the recording.
XEVD, 1380 kHz
Modified audio with 100% stretch, +1.00 pitch change, isolated
ID ("Ek-Kees Ay Bay Day")
Slow Downer is priced at $39.95 US, and the demo version provides
a 30-day trial period with a limitation of only being able to
process the first 25% of a WAV or MP3 file.
When used with CD audio, the demo version will process just the
first two tracks of a CD. More information is given at the Amazing
Slow Downers web site, including MP3/WAV limitations,
suggestions for use (music-related), and links to other programs
including an older version of Amazing Slow Downer which is meant
for older, slower computers.
Control With A Laptop
a communications receiver with a laptop computer is not new. Our
collective experience began over a decade ago with the McKay-Dymek
DR-333. Simple DOS programs controlled that first "black-box
receiver." With one McKay-Dymek software program, the DXer
could control the 333 with interactive graphics, though rather
awkwardly; or one could control it entirely in an alpha-numeric
environment with the keyboard by using the other operating program
provided by M-D. This latter program also included an auto-logging
function that would record all receiver parameters and the time
automatically with the operator simply inputting station identification
and miscellaneous notes. The log could then be accessed at any
time (as a database) and used to retune the receiver. Since the
DR-333 and these programs were developed just before the advent
of the Windows platform, both DR-333 operating programs leave
a lot to be desired by modern standards.
the past decade, receiver-operating programs have matured tremendously
and now fall into two distinct categories.
First, there are a number of operating programs that are designed
for a single receiver model, by the manufacturer or by interested
Secondly, there are a number of "after-market" receiver
control programs that have been developed, usually by computer
professionals, for sale to the hobby community. These after-market
programs can usually be configured to operate any one of several
modern receiver models and are often quite sophisticated, offering
the operator many options and capabilities.
control programs dedicated to a single receiver have been
developed for all of the modern receivers which are easily controllable.
Naturally, these vary widely in capability and availability. Many
are available at web sites which are dedicated to that particular
For instance, John Bryant recently purchased a Ten Tec RX-320
"black box receiver" to use as his second set. Although Ten Tec
provides quite adequate control software with the receiver, several
hobbyists have also developed their own software and made it available
throughout the hobby world. After test driving the freeware programs
available, John adopted GNRX320 written by German DXer Gerd Niephaus.
The GNRX320 software is runs under Windows 95 and above, is very
resource friendly, and allows the user to wring the last ounce
of DX out of this marvelous little radio. GNRX320 also allows
use of the ILG and Klingenfuss databases to auto-tune the receiver
or to provide context-sensitive reference material. John is particularly
pleased that the Niephaus software allows the receiver to be tuned
using the mouse scroll wheel. The GNRX320 program and most of
the other control programs for the RX320 are available on a dedicated
also quite a number of operating programs that have been developed
by computer-literate hobbyists for their own particular receiver
and which are not widely available to others. Some of these programs,
like the one developed by our own Chuck Hutton for his Drake R-8A,
are quite sophisticated.
the so-called "commercial" receiver control programs are also
well represented at Grayland. In the past several years, both
Guy Atkins and Don Nelson have adopted ERGO, developed by radio
enthusiast and computer professional John Fallows. Don is the
most adept at using ERGO, usually orchestrating 8 top-of-the-line
receivers (four different models from two different manufacturers)
and numerous databases with ERGO mounted on a single mid-capability
laptop. The following are Don Nelson's observations:
and ERGO4 as Receiver Controls
of us have quite a bit of reference material at our fingertips
while we DX WRTH, Passport, ILG database, various inputs
from clubs ranging from written material to searchable databases.
Who wouldnt want to tune directly to a selected frequency
listed in that mass of data and find the station there? How about
checking hundreds of such frequencies rapidly? Before the advent
of good software receiver control, the frequency entry buttons
on my receivers were wearing and the tuning knob got a good workout.
Even with the introduction of receivers with 100 or 1000 memories,
the best I could do was insert the frequency but not the hours
of expected operation, nor days of the week. And when I twirled
the knoblanding on a stations frequency I wasnt
familiar withit took a lot of searching through all the
references to find the possibilities.
of this has changed with the advent of good receiver control programs.
If you have a receiver with an RS-232 port (or a CI-V port), you
can link your listening with databases for tuning and identification.
This section introduces one of the best, reasonably priced receiver
programs availableERGO3 and ERGO4.
ERGO3 has been available for several years, it is the program
I am most familiar with. Even so, I dont use all the features,
and this discussion isnt intended to be a manual, so I'll
limit my discussion to the elements of ERGO that are most helpful
the controls for the very first time is very easy youll
need to enter a location name and latitude/longitude, time zone,
as well as some local antenna information. (I generally ignore this,
as I switch frequently between several antenna types, affecting
the propagation analysis very little.) Youll need a serial
cable to connect your Windows-based computer and your radio. If
your computer lacks a serial port, I have found the Belden F5U103
works well as a USB to Serial port converter. Other DXers have reported
problems on some other vendors' USB-Serial products. In some cases,
you'll need an easily available null modem, or a serial cable configured
as a null modem cable. The setup using ERGO4 is similar, except
that ERGO4 can control two receivers simultaneously (but you must
have two serial ports).
There is an excellent radio-oriented review of USB/Serial
adapters at the AA5AU
Tip: Have multiple receivers of the same type? Use
a Belkin data switch between the PC and the receivers. Youll
have to remember which one you are using, and may have to
refresh the connection via the remote/local switch on ERGO4
or Locked/Unlocked on ERGO3.
At least on the WJ series, ERGO4 provides the capability
of locking the receiver so that neither front panel nor
ERGO can change the controls (excepting of course to turn
this feature off)
Once you open
the ERGO Receiver Window on your computer screen, youll want
to set up the display options (S-Meter as bar, scope or both) as
well as selecting a step size for tuning. Setting a few other options
allows additional customizing to suit your taste. See Fig 1 in the
upper right to see the Receiver Window configured as I like it for
the WJ8712P, HF1000A and/or 8711A.
9. ERGO3: Listening in to Radio Milne Bay at transmitter sunset
with a good S6 signal.
The upper right-hand window is Receiver Control. It gives all
pertinent information on the current status of the receiver and
shows (via the moving yellow line) the signal strength being received
currently and over the past several minutes.
The left window shows a database (ERGOs special DA3 file
format) of all of the PNG SWBC stations, with information on the
currently tuned station in the gray area at the top of that window.
The colorful Propagation Prediction window is in the lower center
with a full day shown from left to right (note the 24 UTC hours
along the bottom, with the blue line at the current time.) The
gray horizontal line indicates the frequency to which the receiver
is tuned and the lines thickness relates to scheduled on/off-air
hours. The lower edge of the yellow zone is the predicted Lowest
Useable Frequency for the path from my location to Milne Bay.
As you can see, the propagation prediction shows Milne Bay should
A Geoclock map (separate program, not part of ERGO) of New Guinea
is open in the background. Note that it has been modified (easy)
to show the locations and frequencies of all SWBC stations in
Papua New Guinea. Note also Geoclock indicates (by the darker
areas) that the sun has already set at Alotau, Milne Bay, the
location of the station currently being received.
also want to set up the ERGO Map Window (which allows Azimutal
map from your location or Mercator, with short path shown), and
the Propagation Window. Both of these are open on the bottom of
Fig, 2. Again, changing frequencies on the receiver automatically
resets the propagation forecast and the map. Propagation data
(K, A, Solar Flux indices) can be automatically updated via the
internet by ERGONET, which allows you to automatically synch the
PC time to a number of time-server sites. Ive found the
propagation software works well it accurately predicted
within 10 minutes the time that R St Helena would fade-in locally
at this site, but I note that it does not work well below 3 MHz.
ERGO4 setup is similar but allows up to two receivers to be setup.
Note: ERGO4 reportly uses a more advanced propagation model
for predictions down to 1 MHz, but this has not been verified.
Tip: left clicking with the mouse on the frequency in the database
will retune the receiver and update map and propagation, if open.
Left clicking on the station name just updates the map and propagation
without changing the receiver frequency. This is handy while listening
to DX/SWL while looking for what else might be of interest.
10. ERGO3: Listening in to Radio New Ireland on 3905 kHz.
Note the addition of the ERGO map window here in Azimuthal
view with transmitter location (Kavieng) and the receiver location
(Beaverton, Oregon) listed, and the distance between given. Location
of Sun (white dot), current areas of planetary light and darkness
and typical aurora belts for the current solar conditions are
also shown, along with the red line which indicates the short-path
propagation route of this signal.
are key to getting the most out of most modern receiver control
programs you can never have enough databases. I use ILG
downloads, as well as custom databases from data in Mohrmans
page for Central and South America
and a number of other more specialized databases from various
sources including Cumbre Lite.
Personalized databases can reflect local geographical areas
of interest, say all RRI or PNG stations, or can be used to
keep current target lists or even the latest tips from various
online sources. Youll have to figure out a way to automate
the creation of the databases (those of you skilled in PERL
or RUBY will find this a breeze. C++, Visual Basic, etc would
also work but take more programming effort). An alternative
is manual entry, but this is much more time consuming.
permitted me only to have ILG and one other database active in
the program at a time, ERGO4 supports opening a number of databases
concurrently. Now, once I have located an interesting frequency,
I can ask ERGO to FIND the frequency in the database (regrettably
this works only to the exact frequency, so if you are tuned off
a bit due to a varying frequency, then this does not work).
ERGO3, DSI databases could be created by opening files from ILG,
Fineware or by creating a custom file. I found the latter quite
difficult to make work well its far improved in ERGO4.
It is far simpler to create a DA3 filefor example, Fig 1
shows a custom DA3 file created specifically to listen to the
PNG stations. An advantage to either the DA3 or the DSI database
is that you can click on the frequency and it will tune the receiver
(and you can use up/down arrows on the keyboard to move through
11. ERGO4: Listening to R Manus just after actual sunset.
A database file is open, and the azimuth map is shown (ERGO4 has
a strange squashed-appearing map that, currently, cannot be corrected)
I try to
keep GEOCLOCK open on my desktop with various windows of ERGO
open and positioned over GEOGCLOCK map areas Im not interested
in. (Unfortunately, GEOGLOCK will not update its terminator display
when in the background; it needs to be clicked and made "active"
showing correct terminator position.) Ill open databases
and either use them to direct-tune the receiver, as well as to
tune around and then query the database. Typical ERGO3 desktops
are shown in Fig 1,2 and ERGO4 in Fig 3.
One of the
most interesting features of ERGO4 is the ability to allow others
to both control, and listen to your receiver, over the Internet.
There are two great uses the first allows you to set up
a receiver (and antenna) at a remote location better suited for
listening than your home shack might be. Ive not yet done
this, but having a receiver down at the Coast appeals greatly.
Running a more stable operating system would be an advantage (I
use both Red Hat Linux and Win98/XP on my systems, but ERGO only
runs on Windows platforms. In the future, I foresee DXpeditioning
from the comfort of ones own home using remote receivers and antennas,
shared with friends across the Internet (not supported yet by
ERGO). A second good use of ERGO is to allow the software vendor
to debug a problem remotely from his home but on your receiver
and system ERGO author John Fallows did this with several
of our receivers during the beta testing of ERGO4.
ERGO Features That May Interest You:
- Help a
fairly comprehensive help capability is provided from the pull
down help menu.
offers audio recording, DSP filtering, and built-in logbook
feature (similar to B-Log) albeit with a greater learning curve.
- The Scan
capabilities of ERGO4 (Beta) have just been augmented:
** You can select a range of frequencies to Profile.
** You can create Scanlist of specific stations - manually,
inserted from the radio or dragged from a database.
** You can Profile or Scan continuously on Radio 2 and tune
Radio 1 from the graphs.
** The Parameters for Scanning are very flexible, including
gaze time, dwell time, dead time and signal threshold.
- John Fallows
plans to further augment ERGO4 with a capability quite similar
to the Hall-Patch "DX Radar" discussed elsewhere in this article.
takes suggestions for improvements seriously hes
done remarkably well with improvements on the new ERGO4 through
the Beta testing process. Yet, according to John, his work on
improving future versions of ERGO4 will remain ongoing
there is more to be accomplished.
Dont expect ERGO to look like the front panel of your receiver.
With support of so many receivers, it wasnt possible to
do this. Also, there are features of some receivers that arent
fully supported for example on the WJ8712P the noise blanker
has more controls than are typically accessible from the 8711A/HF1000A.
Users of ERGO4 will likely miss the prominent display of the current
time and date that was highly visible in the ERGO3 Receiver Window.
I know I do.
in all, I feel that the ERGO software is the most powerful and
comprehensive receiver control package currently available to
the radio hobby community.
Like all powerful
software, there is a learning curve to go through as you become
familiar with the software. However, the ERGO user is rewarded with
an incredibly nimble receiver control and the ability to orchestrate
a large amount of reference data and real time information in support
of high-tech DXing.
ERGO3 supports AOR7030, NRD535/D, HF1000A/8711A/8712P,RX320,
R8A/B. ERGO4 supports all of these plus RX340, R75, RX350,and
NRD545. Currently in beta & alpha tests are software drivers
for the R8500, RX331, NRD-525, JST-245, TS-570, TS-870, TS2000,
RA6790, R8, and HF-2050.
is available from Universal
Radio, or as a 30 day freeERGO4
Also, a complete list
of features, receivers supported and information on
future developments may be found at the ERGO web site.
(Please also note I have no financial ties with either firm.
Im just a satisfied customer)
like to thank John Fallows for his continued efforts on this labor
of love. The price for this software isnt cheap but revenue
does little to compensate for the total cost of the software in
terms of the numbers of hours he and the beta testers have put into
ERGO3 and ERGO4.
Other Laptop Applications
a number of other computer applications that we have or could
invoke through our laptops while on DXpedition, and most are probably
obvious to the reader. Several of us prepare reception reports
during the hours that arent DXable, including both the text
report and burning a CD of the reception itself. Very occasionally,
we have DXpeditioned with access to the Internet. That capability
opens up many possibilities, of course, from background research
and communication with other hobbyists to actually matching program
content of a reception (while it is occurring) with audio from
the Net which is being streamed "live" by the
station. Four years ago, no one lugged a laptop to Grayland, now
some participants bring two or three!
Inter-DXer Communication While DXing
One of the
most difficult aspects of DXpeditioning, particularly if the group
is larger than two DXers, is finding a means to communicate hot
DX tips to each other without either disturbing people in the
next motel room or continually having to pull out headphones off
in the middle of a catch and say rather grumpily "What did
With seven or eight DXers at a typical Grayland DXpedition, this
became a difficult problem, especially if we are scattered in
two or more rooms. For years, we tried some version of passing
around written notes, but that really never worked. Then we scrawled
things in our logs and held them up for other people to read.
That worked, sometimes, but rather poorly. It is hard to decipher
a hasty pencil scrawl from across the room.
We daydreamed for years about a computer-based LAN network, but
the expense was a problem as well as forcing everyone to bring
a computer capable of attaching to a LAN. Now, of course, there
are possibilities of wireless networking our laptops, but again,
expense and compatibility issues abound. We needed to find a mechanism
that would be both inexpensive and inclusive of everyone on the
Atkins led our search, but we all pitched in with various ideas.
Our next idea was using hand-held "white-board" chalkboards
and broad water-based markers. The boards were about 10"
x 15" and a brief note written in marker was easily legible
from across the room. The boards and markers were under $7.00
per DXer and hence, very affordable. They worked wonderfully,
as long as everyone was in the same room.
Unfortunately, the second time that we used them, there were enough
DXers present to require two rooms. We found, of course, that
it was next to impossible to tear yourself away from a super catch
to walk even a few steps to show a note to the troops in the other
room. And, also of course, on the second morning, the DXers in
the back room stumbled on to the catch of the DXpedition, a brief
opening to coastal New Guinea on MW. The troops in the front room
heard about that catch at breakfast... after the band had faded
out. Obviously, the white-boards had to go!
to our next DXpedition, super-shopper Guy Atkins discovered
CYBIKO hand-held PDA units from Asia and the problem was solved.
Cybiko were developed originally for the East Asian youth market
where they were briefly "all the rage." Although these
units can perform most of the functions of normal "PDAs,
their most attractive aspect was that each Cybiko unit can communicate
wirelessly, in text form, with other Cybiko units.
They can communicate with all other units (up to 100) within their
150 foot range or they can address individual units, with no one
else receiving the message. At the time that we adopted these
units (early 2001) they were selling for about $20.00 each, new-in-the-box
on ebay. Today, there are two different models of Cybiki available:
the so-called Cybiki Classic that we adopted and the newer Cybiko
12. These two units are excellent as DXpeditioning tools.
One of the handiest aspects of the Cybiki are the fact that each
unit can be set to vibrate briefly when it receives a message.
We usually just leave them sitting on our DXing desks and, when
a message arrives, we are able to feel the vibrations through
the table. That way, we can pay maximum attention to our own DXing,
but never miss a message.
must be typed into original Cybiko Classic with a small pencil-like
stylus. We understand that the button placement on the Cybiko
Xtreme is such that one can type with a careful finger. Chuck
Hutton recently purchased an Xtreme model and has tested the communications
between Classics and Xtremes. It works fine! As you might guess,
we have all learned to abbreviate our messages.
the first DXpedition where we had Cybiki running in two separate
rooms, the Cybiki paid for themselves in one catch. Nick Hall-Patch
(nhp) was in the back room and Guy(guy), Don (don) and John. (bjohn)
were in the front room. Nick had spotted something very unusual
appearing on his DX Radar. The on-screen Cybiko messages looked
about like this over the next 5 minutes:
13. The Cybiko unit (and DX Radar) was directly responsible
for our first-ever reception of Indonesia on MW from Grayland.
Not only had Nick been able to alert every one, but Don and Guy,
as long-time DXers of Indonesia were able to recognize the language
with great confidence. All that was accomplished without any of
us having to take our headphones off or even look up, Excellent!
units have many other capabilities. Both models are quite
good game playing machines, with many games and other applications
being downloadable from Cybiko.
The Xtreme model is quite a bit more capable than the Classic
as a PDA unit, with many of the functions of much more expensive
PDAs. Though only Chuck Hutton has any experience yet with these
newer models, manufacturer literature speaks of wireless web surfing
in the BlueTooth platform, its use as a scientific calculator,
a text editor and note taker, a translator and a number of other
functions. There is also an attachment available for the Xtreme
model which enables it to act as a mpeg music machine. We have
not investigated the DX-applicability of this latest gadget (yet!)
The easiest method of obtaining Cybiko units right now is through
the eBay auction site on the internet. Both models are still available
in late 2002, with the obsolescent Classic units selling for $12
to $15, new in the box and the Xtreme units going for from $25
to $40, new in the box.
probably dreamed about some form of what we have come to call
"DX Radar" just about as long as there have been DXers.
The wide spectrum graphic spectrum analyzers of the tube era were
one attempt at a method of representing the signals present on
a given band. Unfortunately, sweep speeds were slow and resolution
poor, so little hobby application was found for these early efforts.
Its almost certain, of course, that the various electronic intelligence
agencies of the major powers developed such gear to a relatively
high level of sophistication. To our knowledge, though, little
if any of this gear has made it to the hobby world.
the late 1980s, several sophisticated receivers did appear on
the civilian market that offered spectrum scanning capabilities.
We have had experience with only one of these rigs, the McKay-Dymek
DR-333. In addition to its graphic and text-oriented operating
programs, it offered operators a spectrum scanning function. This
module allowed the operator to define the upper and lower limits
of the spectrum to be scanned; the receiver then divided that
spectrum into an arbitrary number of steps and checked for signal
strength at each of those step.
Since the DR-333 was a black-box receiver, it output the
results graphically, to the computer screen. This approach was
similar to that found on several other high-end receivers and
worked moderately well when monitoring a sparsely populated band
such as 90 meters. However, its usefulness was much reduced on
more populated shortwave bands and it proved useless to monitor
for unusual signals on the crowded medium wave band.
Hall-Patch has specialized in DXing trans-Pacific signals
from near his home in Victoria, BC for many years. About seven
years ago, he set out to develop a DX Radar designed to give a
graphic representation of signals present on the international
MW channels. (In case you are not aware of it, MW signals outside
the Western Hemisphere are organized with one channel per 9 kHz
of bandwidth, rather than the 10 kHz.) Thus, the international
channels (for us in the Western Hemisphere) are 531, 540, 549,
558, 567, 576, 585 kHz., etc. This pattern of frequency assignments
for trans-Pacific (and trans-Atlantic) stations presents both
opportunities and real difficulties when designing a spectrum
Radar" is a DOS-based receiver control program, implemented
presently for the Dymek DR-333, Ten-Tec RX-320 and for a highly
modified JRC NRD-525. Every 100 milliseconds (250 ms in
the case of the RX-320), the program tunes the receiver to a different
preset frequency and records in memory the signal strength found
there. After averaging a few of these signal strengths for
each channel, the resulting signal strength is displayed on the
PC screen for each channel after using a simple algorithm described
below to (partially) remove the effects of the domestic sideband
splatter usually found on MW DX channels.
preset frequencies are usually 9 kHz-spaced overseas MW channels,
plus a frequency 1 kHz away from each 9 kHz channel. The
latter signal is far enough away from the desired frequency so
that any DX signal is out of the filter passband, but near enough
to have quite similar splatter characteristics. The noise
signal level is subtracted from the DX channel's signal level,
and the resultant value gives a rough idea of DX activity on the
it takes 20 seconds to do one scan of the MW band using this method,
and averaging of a number of scans is desirable to get better
signal strength accuracy, so the update rate is usually set at
about 2 minutes. A DX signal can fade away in that period
of time, but until a PC-controllable receiver is found with a
fast enough AGC decay to be scanned more quickly than every 100
milliseconds, it's a problem we'll have to live with.
14. A fairly typical "low band" opening to East Asia from
Grayland at dawn as seen on DX Radar.
above represents a fairly typical opening to East Asia from
the Grayland site as seen on the Hall-Patch DX Radar. The chevrons
(>) represent the signal strength that was present on that
particular channel as the Radar swept past it. A single chevron
represents the default signal strength of very little to no signal
on the frequency. Experience has shown us that two chevrons (>>)
indicate a het of medium strength or maybe "threshold"
audio is present. Channels which show signal strength of three
chevrons (>>>) almost certainly have "listenable"
audio present, while four chevrons usually indicate "arm
one responds to a DX Radar display like the one above is largely
dependant on the level of personal experience with Trans-Pacific
signals from the Pacific Northwest. A neophyte would certainly
first choose to log the arm-chair level signals indicated on 594,
828 and 1053 kHz. He will discover that 594 is JOAK, NHKs
First Program from Tokyo; 828 almost certainly will be JOBB, NHKs
Second Program from Osaka and he will discover to his chagrin
that 1053 is a South Korean "bubble" jammer covering
a North Korean propaganda station.
who is more experienced at TP work (and knowing that it is
an East Asian Opening) will recognize those signals from the Radar
Screen and will also note the presence of the other usual strong
NHK-2 stations on 747, 774 and probably 873.
Further, the experienced DXer will assume that 954 is JOKR, Tokyo,
that 972 is HLCA, the KBS outlet from Dangjin, South Korea and
that it is likely that the two high band stations, 1287 and 1566
are JOHR, Sapporo and HLAZ, the giant missionary station on Cheju
Island, South Korea, respectively. These stations are the most
reliable performers, year-in and year-out from East Asia to the
With those channels eliminated from consideration, the experienced
TP DXer will likely focus first on the other three frequencies
that are showing three chevron strength and are almost certainly
in audio. The possibilities for 576 include Russia, Laos, Malaysia,
Myanmar and (heart-a-fluttering) India, as well as smaller scale
stations in Japan and throughout East Asia. The 837 chevrons indicates
a signal that is "probably" South Korea, but might be
India or maybe one of the smaller scale Japanese NHK 1 outlets.
Finally, the 1035 signal is most likely China National Radios
First Program from near Beijing. Most of us would try to check
all three signals, but we would likely start with 576 kHz.
far as international medium wave DXing
is concerned, it must be said that DX Radar is an imperfect tool.
It seems to be more useful some mornings than others and, at times,
will indicate "false positives" despite Nicks
nifty routine to minimize splatter from adjacent channels. At
the worst, DX Radar can give us an indication of the part of the
band that is the most active and thus make our manual scanning
much more effective.
Since the DX Radar has not become well known in SWBC DXing circles,
no one has tested it on the shortwave bands. Those of us with
experience on those bands think that it would be quite effective
on 60 and 90 meters where most signals of interest are relatively
QRM free and their presence is only limited by propagation and
time of day.
For instance, DXing the SWBC stations in Papua New Guinea at dawn
would be made immeasurably easier using a version of DX Radar
with each of the PNG channels in the scanning file. With only
20 or so relatively QRM free signals to monitor, the DX Radar
would update itself much more quickly and ought to be a near-perfect
predictor of a stations presence and signal strength.
Finally, it must be stressed that we have found that DX Radar
will not run well in a "DOS Window." A computer Running
Windows 98SE or earlier can be rebooted into DOS from the "Restart
in DOS" selection on the Shut Down menu. The rather small
DOS program for DX Radar may then be executed from the command
line. We have found it easiest to simply dedicate an obsolete
computer to the DX Radar function. Nick, himself, uses an old
386 tablet "Grid" computer and John uses a mini-notebook
486 machine called a Compaq Aero Contura that currently sells
on the web for well under $100. With newer computers, establishing
a partition of DOS-only programming and making the machine "dual
bootable" is probably a good strategy.
of the DX Radar program are available gratis from Nick
If you have
yet to acquire a laptop for DXpeditioning use, we should state
again that most of the machines that we use at Grayland are quite
obsolete (and therefore very affordable.) Most of the software
that we use could actually run on a 486 machine, but in truth,
more than half of our machines are in the 250 MHz. Pentium class
of computers or better. These are currently available on ebay
and elsewhere for well under $300. We would recommend buying a
laptop that has at least 4 GB of storage space and which supports
USB or at least PCMCIA connected devices. These latter allow rapid
sharing of software and files between machines an attribute
that we find handy when loading our machines at home and when
sharing among ourselves here.
we are in disagreement as to just what level of machine to recommend.
John is quite happy with one
of the now-$300 machines mentioned above. You should know, however,
that he does not intend to use ERGO or one of the other resource-intensive
receiver tuning programs. However, he does regularly use Geoclock,
a couple of Adobe PDF references, B-log and Total Recorder and
a simple receiver control program for the Ten Tec RX-320, all
Nick, on the other hand, points out that, if you run all of the
above PLUS a sophisticated receiver control program and maybe
another resource hog or two, it is possible to saturate even a
much better machine than Johns. He puts more emphasis on
the fact that the current whiz-bang units which are going for
$1.5k+ today will be garage sale specials in a couple of years,
and will do a nice job at the DXpedition site.
has done fine with his 266 MHz machine running Geoclock, ERGO,
B-Log and some open ASCII text references, but loading the PAL
with Acrobat 5 caused a marked speed decrease. He had to drop
back to Acrobat 4 like Nick suggested. Guy says that he has been
surprised, actually, at how well this modest notebook works for
him. Perhaps the 92MB ram helps, but its likely that Windows resources
is a key item. "Any day now" Guys dropping in a new CPU
card (MMC-1) that he got through Ebay, but it's only a minor bump
to 300 MHz. Guy also muttered "Maybe I can convince Rochelle
we can do a notebook upgrade along with the new furniture."
that you are considering for DXpeditioning use should have
a serial port, especially as the USB to serial converters aren't
always very effective. A serial port is absolutely required in
all current receiver control applications and even if you don't
intend to go that route at all, a new inexpensive digital receiver
like the Ten Tec RX-320 may come along and change your mind. If
you are to do any kind of audio work with your DX-capable laptop,
and a Line-In or Mike-In audio jack (in stereo, if possible) is
absolutely essential. Stereo input capability is recommended because
many of us have found that we would like to record from two receivers
simultaneously. This is possible with Total Recorder and similar
software, but only if your audio-input capability is in stereo.
Unfortunately, many "modern" laptops come without either Serial
ports or provisions for inputting audio signals.
one is already intending to purchase a new laptop for general
use anyway, one might as well get one that will also serve as
a high-tech DXing machine. On the other hand, if your only reason
for purchasing a laptop is for DXpeditioning use, the best route
might be to try out one of those $300 Ebay specials for a year
or so and then youll have a good idea as to just what level
of machine you need long term for DXpeditions.
that this article is titled "Emerging Techniques..."
is that this is, at best, an interim report of what one group
of DXers is doing with several very rapidly changing technologies.
As such, this article is practically obsolete before it is published.
We do hope that some elements of our recent efforts will prove
useful to many readers.
We also hope that this article will stimulate others who are applying
new tools of technology to DXing to write similar articles for
the hobby press.