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"What's New" Column
1998 Reviews

Please mention you saw it in Monitoring Times!


AR7000 /Radio Shack weather alertradio / Kiwa Earth Monitor /Radio Max /MFJ Calendar Clock /Icom IC-T8A / BayGen- A radio headed for disaster /OptoelectronicsOptotrakker / TheMFJ-418 Pocket Morse Code Tutor / TechtoyzMicro RF Detector / The Palomar Loop AntennaSystem / Ergo 3 Receiver ControlSoftware / Optoelectronics MicroCounterFrequency Counter


First Look at the AOR AR7000

By Bob Grove

With little fanfare, AOR has released a new, digital signalprocessing (DSP), wideband receiver to the U.S. market. The AR7000(designated AR7000B in AOR's product announcement, but not indicatedon the receiver) is a complex little package with specifications andperformance, according to the manufacturer, falling between theirmodels AR3000A and AR5000 plus.

While the AR5000 has an assortment of front panel controls, theAR7000 is quite spartan. With only one knob and a few pushbuttons,the new receiver is operated almost entirely by its companion remotecontrol unit (or via computer using an interface and free software).When new functions are required, a menu must be brought up andstep-selected for desired characteristics. While the SDU5000 allowsup to 10 MHz span, the AR7000 allows only 80 channels to be slowlyswept at its 20-channel-per-second scanning speed.

Barring these limitations, the receiver does have a lot going forit, including 100 kHz-2000 MHz frequency coverage (less cellularexcept on government orders), all-mode detection, triple conversion,excellent sensitivity, multiple selectivity options, 1500 memorychannels in 15 banks, and a built-in, 3.1 inch diagonal,multi-purpose, color LCD which can be alternated betweenfrequency/function display and spectrum display.

The entire frequency range is accommodated by one BNC antennaconnector. Since 10 kHz-2000 MHz antennas don't exist on thecommercial market, the user will have to externally selectappropriate antennas for the desired bands.

Tuning steps can be selected from 10 Hz to 1 MHz, and an IF shiftof +/-8.5 kHz (in 100 Hz increments) allows rejection of adjacentchannel interference. Rear-apron jacks provide video (PAL or NTSC)and audio outputs, tape recorder activation, headphone and externalspeaker feed, and RS232C computer control capability.

The AR7000 has a factory recommended retail price of $1459.95 andis available from Grove Enterprises and other MT advertisers. Watchan upcoming "Scanner Equipment" column for a further assessment byBob Parnass.


Severe Weather Alert Radio

By Bob Grove

Radio Shack has released a seven-channel weather radio with atwist: NWR-SAME (National Weather Radio Specific Area MessageEncoding). Allowing normal weather broadcast reception, the owner ofthe low-profile radio can also custom-encode the receiver to beactivated by NOAA/NWS warnings for his specified area.

An LCD panel indicates the weather channel being monitored, butduring a storm reads out the text of any alert directed toward yourarea, while the speaker gives an audible (and volume adjustable)siren or beep warning. Color indicators notify the observer whetherthe notification is a statement, a watch, or a warning.

The weather radio can store as many as three different alerts,user-retrievable, in case one or more were missed.

The radio possesses excellent sensitivity, with the attached whipadequate for most metropolitan applications; for fringe receptionareas, an RCA phono jack is provided for an external antenna, such asa conventional scanner antenna.

The unit operates on 120 Vac, but an optional 9 volt battery keepsthe unit failsafe during power outages.

The new NWR-SAME weather alert radio is available for $79.95 fromGrove Enterprises and from Radio Shack outlets.


Kiwa Earth Monitor

By Kevin Carey

Although Kiwa Electronics is best known for their line ofreceiving accessories, the addition of the Earth Monitor™ nowputs a receiving device in their product lineup. The Earth Monitor iscapable of tuning into the fascinating realm of "natural radio"&emdash; the study of signals from planet Earth. These signalsinclude "sferics," "tweeks," "whistlers," "dawn chorus," and otherphenomena occurring in the Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) and Very LowFrequency (VLF) radio spectrum. The unit detects a broad band ofsignals from 10 Hz to 15 kHz.

Not too many years ago, the only practical way to hear naturalradio was to build your own detector, or adapt some other piece ofequipment such as an audio amplifier or selective voltmeter. Eventoday, there are few commercial units available, so it's refreshingto see a new entry to the field from a respected firm. It confirms mybelief that we are entering the "golden age" of natural radio.


Product Overview

The Earth Monitor is a compact, portable unit measuring 3" (76 mm)x 4.5" (114 mm) x 2.25" (57 mm). It is designed to run from sixinternal AAA batteries or from an external source of 6 to 15 Vdc. Theunit draws only 22 milliamperes, so battery life should not be amajor concern. For long trips, however, the external power featureallows operation of the set from a car battery or other high capacitysource.

The Earth Monitor shipment includes the detector itself, antenna(more on this later), and an instruction manual. All you need tosupply are batteries (or external power) and a pair of headphones.Kiwa recommends using 30 to 600 ohm headphones such as those includedwith personal stereos.

The rear panel of the device includes connections for signalinput, headphones, external power, and record output. I especiallylike the provision for recording; it provides an easy way to capturethose moments when natural radio signals are at their best. Therecord output is at a constant level and does not vary with thesetting of the unit's volume control.



It is well known that you should be far away from power lines andelectrical equipment when you listen for natural radio signals; ifyou're not, 60 Hz hum can wipe out all but the strongest signals.Despite this, I decided to begin by testing the receiver in a "worstcase" environment&emdash;my radio room. To my surprise, some"swooshy" whistlers and pings were heard right away, and the 60 Hzhum was not nearly as bad as I had expected. The credit for this goesto the filters built into the Earth Monitor.

Another surprise came when I was able to hear the weak butdistinguishable beeps from the Russian Alpha system on 14 kHz.Although my interest was in hearing natural radio signals, it wasreassuring to hear these VLF radio beeps.

Encouraged by these initial tests, I drove a few miles into thecountry to get away from high voltage power lines. When I reached apoint about a half-mile from the nearest line, I turned the set backon and was greeted by plenty of clearly audible whistlers andvirtually no hum. A bee flying near the antenna was also clearlyheard! Insects generate electrostatic energy as their wings beatthrough the air, and this can often be heard on ELF receivers.

I had excellent results by just holding the antenna base in myhand, though the manual recommended it be mounted 10 feet above theground. However, to reduce interference problems Kiwa is nowredesigning the entire antenna to incorporate a grounding stake and a20-foot spool of antenna wire instead of the 33-inch telescopingantenna.

The antenna is just one type of input sensor planned for thesignal detector. According to the manual, Kiwa intends to make othertypes of sensors available, such as a parabolic microphone forlistening to birds, and a hydrophone for listening to dolphins andwhales. These will certainly add versatility to the unit!

The manual for the Earth Monitor is brief but complete; its shirtpocket size makes it ideal for use in the field. Besides covering theoperation of the unit, the manual describes the types of signals youcan hear and sets reasonable expectations for listening success. Myonly complaint is that the type size proved a challenge even for mynearly 20/20 vision.


The Bottom Line

The Kiwa Earth Monitor has a sturdy, substantial feel, and itson-air performance exceeded my expectations. If you've been hearingabout natural radio for years, but have never actually tuned in, thisunit will bring the signals to life with minimal fuss. At $145 it'spriced a bit higher than some other VLF receiving devices, but, in myopinion, this is justified by the quality of the unit and its ease ofoperation.

For more information contact Kiwa Electronics, 612 South 14thAvenue, Yakima, WA 98902, or visit their web site at The Kiwa web site alsocontains a link to Stephen P. McGreevy's excellent tutorial onnatural radio (highly recommended).


Radio Max by Future ScanningSystems

By Steve Donnell WA1YKL


The Radio Max software package is a versatile and easy to useprogram to interface your scanner with a personal computer runningWindows 3.1 or Win 95. Radio Max supports interfacing to a number ofHF and VHF/UHF receivers including the latest from Uniden: theBC-895.

During our tests, we used Radio Max on several different scanners:a PRO 2035/with an Opto OS535 interface installed, an AOR AR8000, andan Icom IC R7000, the latter two using an Optolynx as the PCinterface. In all cases, configuring Radio Max to operate with eachof these was very easy: All that was required was to select the nameof the manufacturer, then click on the model number. Of course wealso needed to select the type of radio-to-PC squelch that we wanted,as this can vary among different radios and interfaces that can beused.

Besides being easy to install and set up, the main display "page"for the Radio Max has a very distinct "Windows" look and feel to itby having a tool bar along the very top edge and two easilyaccessible control bars for the most commonly needed controls alongboth the top and bottom edges. The upper portion of the page is takenup by the History file list -- a simple listing of all signal hitsthe program finds. Below that is a graphical representation of agiven range of frequencies the program is searching or scanningthrough. Left to right is the span of frequencies, and verticalincrements represent the accumulation of "hits" for a givenfrequency.

I was a bit disappointed initially to find that Radio Max couldnot store or display the relative signal strength of any signals thatit logged. However, I reconsidered this in light of the fact thatonly a few scanners, like the older Radio Shack models (with anOptoelectronics interface) and a couple of others, were ever capableof this. Radio Max does include a graphic display to signal hits,which is much more important and useful.

The graph also has a number of well thought out features. Besidesshowing previously logged frequencies, red marks below the base lineindicate locked out frequencies. A sliding cursor shows the relativeprogression through a given frequency file. You can also use theWindows arrow to click on a given frequency to lock it out from beingscanned or to instantly move the received frequency to any otherfrequency within the range or file being scanned.

The lower control bar provides most instantaneous scanningcommands and status readouts, such as received frequency, operatingmode, scan Stop/Start and Pause Timer selection. The upper task barselects most of the scanning frequency files and different loggingoptions. When Radio Max is used on a PC with an appropriate soundcard, one useful logging function that's available is to add asynthesized voice output that can speak the received frequency andthe time/date of the event. If you're recording, this will give you alog of the signal reception.

One minor weakness I noted with both of the task bars is that thefrequency display in the lower left corner needs to be moreprominent, with larger digits. As it is, it can be difficult to seeexactly what frequency the scanner is on unless you are right infront of the PC monitor.

Otherwise, Radio Max is a visually easy program to operate. It hasthe ability to import large volumes of frequency data such as fromthe FCC database on CD ROM, or frequencies on a floppy disk. Note,however, that our tests discovered that some CD ROMs more than acouple years old may not be able to do this.

Overall, I have found the Radio Max program to be easy to set upand operate. It operates very smoothly on my old Pentium 90 PC and Ican easily swap it between my AR8000 and an IC-R7000 receiver. I alsohave experienced the program to be very reliable: In using it to scana very active portion of the 800 MHz band, running continuously forseveral weeks in an old "memory starved" 486 PC, never once did itcrash.

For more information,contact Future Scanning Systems at:918-335-3318 or on the Web


MFJ Giant Display 24/12 Hour CalendarClock


When I first approached Rachel Baughn about doing this review, herresponse was "How much can you say about a clock?" Well as it turnsout, the new MFJ-119 is not your everyday clock and it has quite afew features that make it the ideal timepiece for many monitoringposts.

Let's begin with the most salient point: This clock is BIG! Theliquid crystal display (LCD) main time characters on the face of this8-1/2 inch by 9 inch clock are a full 2-1/4 inches tall, making themeasily visible across even a twenty foot room. Back in the digitalearly days, I built a light emitting diode (LED) clock with a readoutof less than 1/4 inch, and costing well over $75 -- all for a clockthat I had to squint to read!

Well, I can even take off my bifocals and read the new MFJ -119.The size of the time readout alone is enough to make this clock anextremely practical item for any shack, but it has a few morefeatures that I didn't have on my old home-brewed "squinty" clock.

Below the time readout we find three smaller, 3/4 inch readoutsthat list month and date, day, and temperature. The time can be setto read out in either the 12 hour or 24 hour format, so local time orUTC time are possible. Temperature can be switched with a touch of abutton between Fahrenheit and Celsius readings.

The clock comes with excellent directions that I never reallyneeded. All I had to do was pop in the two supplied AAA batteries andfiddle with the well-marked buttons on the back of the clock and Iwas up and running in less than five minutes. Just set it and forgetit.

All you need do is find a nice place on the wall to hang it, usingthe mounting hole on the back. The readout appears to have slightlyimproved contrast when the unit is placed slightly above eye level,but that may be my bifocals kicking in. However, I have mine on ashelf as opposed to hanging it on the wall, for reasons I'll explain.

As mentioned earlier, the MFJ-119 is controlled by a series ofbuttons and a switch on the back of the unit. One of these buttonsallows you to change the temperature readout between Fahrenheit andCelsius with a single touch. Well, as a dedicated CW operator, it iscommon "rag chewing" practice in an international Morse codeconversations to swap local weather conditions and temperature. Sincewe live in a world that goes by two different temperature recordingsystems, the MFJ-119 makes it very easy to give my local temperaturein Fahrenheit or, with a touch of a button, in Celsius format foroperators in most foreign countries. No more conversion formulas forthe sake of keeping the conversation going.

Yes, I know this only works while I have the windows open: maybethe nice folks at MFJ will come up with an indoor/outdoor digitalthermometer before the cold season sets in.

The clean lines and universally neutral color scheme of this clockmake it a nice addition to 'most any room or office. A "professional"setup would be to have two units side by side -- one set to UTC andCelsius and the other to local time and Fahrenheit.

The MFJ-119 Giant Clock is $49.95 from MFJ Enterprises (PO Box494, Mississippi State, MS 39762) at 800-647-1800 or on the web

P.S.: I've only had this clock around my shack for about a weeknow and I'm already spoiled. I need to tell the receivermanufacturers these 2-1/4" inch readouts are the way to go!

MT Review

Icom IC-T8A Handheld Tri-Band Transceiver

By Bob Grove

Those of us with amateur radio licenses often wish for theconvenience of hand-held transmitting and wideband receiving. Severalcute radios have come out with this facility in the past, but few ofthem as small&emdash;and as feature-loaded&emdash;as the newICOM IC-T8A.

Offering full six- and two-meter as well as 70 cm amateurcommunications (50-54/140 150/430-450 MHz), this handy handful alsooffers reception of 50-54, 118-174 (118-136 MHz AM aviation, 136-174MHz FM land mobile), and 400-470 MHz, making it even more appealingto those of us with monitoring interests. Frequency coverage includesthose for MARS (Military Affiliate Radio System) and CAP (Civil AirPatrol).

Weighing in at only 10 ounces and measuring a scant 2-1/4 incheswide by 4-1/4 inches high by 1-1/8 inches deep, the handy handful isdurable, too, meeting military specifications standards 810 for shockand vibration. It's even water resistant as well. Running 0.5 or 5watts with the supplied NiMH (nickle metal-hydride) battery pack, theT8A is also compatible with drop-in chargers, external power sources,and speaker-mikes. The rubber ducky uses an inconvenient SMAconnector, but SMA/BNC adaptors are available.

As a scanning receiver, the little ICOM does quite well, offering123 memory channels with a variety of programmable scanning modes.CTCSS (Continuous Tone Controlled Squelch System) and DTMF (Dual ToneMulti Frequency: telephone keypad) tone generation is built in.

The receiver is double conversion, with 41.85 MHz for the first IF(intermediate frequency); 13.35 MHz (WFM) or 450 kHz (AM/NFM) providethe sound IF. Selectivity is sharp, a 2:1 shape factor for -6/-60 dBadjacent channel attenuation at 15 kHz bandwidth. And a sensitivityof better than 0.18 microvolts pulls in very weak signals.

A dual-function LCD bargraph indicates relative signal strength ofincoming signals as well as relative output power during transmit.Tuning steps may be selected for 5, 10, 12.5, 15, 20, 25, 30, 50, or100 kHz, while repeater offsets may be custom-selected for virtuallyany split.

The T8A can also be used as a pager, and the rotable tuningcontrol may be used to tune through a band of frequencies or toselect various options from the on-screen menu. Even the display canbe custom adjusted for contrast levels and backlighting options.

The ICOM hand-held can be cloned from a computer using theoptional CS-T8 software and OPC-478 cable, or from another T8A viathe optional OPC-474 cloning cable.

The new ICOM T8A is available for just under $400 from most ICOMdealers.

BayGen - A radio headed for disaster

By Hans Johnson

BayGenradios are no strangers to disaster, whether here or abroad.Humanitarian organizations are able to purchase radios from BayGen atcost for use in relief projects. The British Red Cross, for instance,purchased over 5,000 BayGen radios for use in the former Yugoslavia.Here in the United States, BayGen, in conjunction with GeneralElectric, donated over 250 radios through the Red Cross to victims oflast winter's crippling ice storm in the Northeast.

Projects such as these bring information and entertainment topeople who desperately need both. BayGen also receives valuablefeedback on how the radios have performed. There is probably not acommercial set that has been "tested" under so many different typesof environments. BayGen uses this feedback to improve its sets anddevelop new products.

With all that experience in the field, the BayGen line of Freeplayradios are the ultimate in emergency radios. These radios operatecompletely independent of conventional power supplies, whether mainsor batteries. The secret is a powerful spring made of carbon steel. Ahandle on the side of the radio allows the listener to wind up thespring just like a watch. Energy slowly released from the springturns a direct current generator that in turn powers the radio. So aslong as you can keep winding, you've got a radio!

An interactive evolution

BayGen's first radio, the Freeplay 1 (FPR 1) hit the street in1995. Winding the radio for 30 seconds powered the radio for 30minutes. This is an analog set whose coverage includes AM (520-1700kHz), FM (88-108 MHz), and SW ("A" model 3.3-12 MHz, "B" model, 5.8to 18 MHz). Buyers can specify which model they want. The radioweighs almost 7 pounds and its dimensions are 14 inches wide, 10inches high, and 5.5 deep.

Users are pleased with the number of stations this set is able topull in and the 4-watt sound delivered through the large (3.5 inch),front-mounted speaker. The case of the set is made of ABS plastic andhas a very robust feel to it. This is BayGen's workhorse and it hasbeen used all over the world. The FPR 1 is available through BayGendirectly or from a number of radio specialty outlets.

BayGen introduced the Freeplay 2 (FPR 2) in 1997. It is lighterthan the FPR 1 at 5.5 lbs. BayGen also made improvements to thespring mechanism. Wind up the FPR 2 and it can play for nearly anhour. The FPR 2 is also smaller at 10 inches wide, 8 inches tall, and8 inches deep. It is AM/FM only-no shortwave coverage. The tuning onthis set is also analog.

The FPR 2 is a bit cheaper than the FPR 1, though, and it is morewidely distributed. It is available not only through specialtyoutlets, but through a number of sporting goods stores as well. TheFPR 2 maintains the style of the FPR 1 in its front-mounted speaker.Both sets are finished in black. They each stand up easily on theirbase.

An improvement to the FPR 2 is slated for later this year: The FPR2 will incorporate a solar cell. Located next to the winding handle,the solar cell can power the radio if it is exposed to directsunlight. A combination of solar and spring power are used in lesserlight. This will extend the life of the radio by saving on wear andtear on the spring.

For those non-emergency times, an optional AC adapter isavailable. Depending on where you live, reception may be improvedwith an optional external antenna. One end plugs into the radio andup to 20 ft of wire can be reeled out. Another handy option isheadphones. Listening through headphones, rather than a speaker, willextent the playing time of the radio.

BayGen will also introduce an entirely new product this year thatthose interested in emergency preparedness should consider. Thisproduct is a digital weather radio. It will cover AM/FM and will beable to receive emergency alerts from the weather band. While thisradio will usually be plugged into the wall like conventional radios,the wind up generator can be used for those times when power is notavailable.

There is a lot to choose from, but the time to buy this productsis before disaster strikes. BayGen radios are good value forthe money. They will keep your family informed and entertained whenyou need it most. If you would like to learn more about BayGen, givethem a call at 1-800-WIND-234. Email them Orvisit their web site at:

Optoelectronics Optotrakker

By Haskell Moore, KB5WIX,

For years, the ability to monitor trunked radio systemseluded the average hobbyist. It wasn't until the Uniden introducedthe TrunkTracker in 1997 that interest in trunked system monitoringreally took off. And now, a new and innovative hardware/softwarecombination has just been introduced that will make trunkedmonitoring even more exciting.

The Optotrakker from Optoelectronics, along with a newlyintroduced version of ScanStar for Windows, promises to add a wholenew dimension to trunked monitoring. First, let's take a look at theOptotrakker hardware.

The Optotrakker is a essentially an Optoelectronics DC442 all modedecoder (see p86 for DC442 review) with substantial enhancementsinside and out. In addition to the trunk decoding functionality, theOptotrakker can decode and display 50 subaudible continuous tonecontrolled squelch system (CTCSS) tones, digital coded squelch (DCS),and DTMF (touch tone) codes. It also incorporates two Icom CI-5ports, two RS-232C ports, a transistor-transistor logic (TTL) port, a"data slicer" and a flexible flat cable connection for the AORAR8000.

In addition to the decode modes mentioned above, it now has theability to decode both LTR and Motorola trunking information. Andwhat makes the Optotrakker so unique is that it performs the trunkingdata decoding without the use of the control channel. Thesignificance of this will be discussed when we explore the software.

Operation of the Optotrakker is relatively simple andstraightforward. One button doubles as a power switch and modeselector. The modes of operation include CTCSS, DCS, DTMF, DTMFRecall (up to 1023 scrollable characters), LTR, and Motorola Decode.Another enhancement is the built-in calendar and 24-hour clock. Allof this is displayed on a clear, two-line, lighted electroluminescentdisplay that is large enough to be seen from several feet away.

The Optotrakker also has a wide range of configuration options.The trunk identification can be displayed in hexadecimal or decimal(to match the TrunkTracker). The display light, baud rate, CI-5address, and numerous other parameters are easily programmed withjust three buttons.

For those who like to use a laptop for their computer controlledscanner, you'll be pleased to know that the Optotrakker can do sowith just one serial port. And what's even more impressive is that byusing what Optoelectronics refers to as "pass-through" technology,this one serial port can still be used for other functions as well!

In other words, the computer's serial port connects to theOptotrakker, and by using a supplied cable, a serial device can beconnected to the other side of the Optotrakker. The Optotrakker andthe software work in concert to strip out all of the Optotrakkercommands in both directions. It is then essentially invisible to theserial port, and does not affect operation of the device, such as amodem, which shares the port.

Software enables mixed system scanning!

The second component of this system is the "ScanStar For Windows"software from Signal Intelligence. This much-improved version ofScanStar has been modified to work in conjunction with theOptotrakker to allow computer controlled trunked scanning with avariety of radios, including the previously unsupported Icoms.

Since the Optotrakker does not require a control channel toaccomplish its trunk tracking, only one radio is required. This alsoallows the ScanStar software to not only follow a specific trunk, butmix several trunks (both LTR and Motorola) and conventionalfrequencies simultaneously. Finally, you'll be able to use just onecomputer-controlled scanner and one serial port to track all theaction!

When following trunked communications, you can configure thesoftware to work in either the "closed" or "open" mode, which isanalogous to the Uniden TrunkTracker's "scan" and "search" modes. Inthe "closed mode," only those talk groups you've specified will beheard. In the "open mode" all talk groups are heard except those youspecifically exclude. This is especially useful for finding new talkgroups on your local trunk.

For the Optotrakker to decode correctly, it requires a signaldirectly from the discriminator of the radio; speaker or ear jackaudio will not work. The discriminator provides the cleanest audiobefore it is subjected to the filtering and is not affected by thevolume control. For those who are reluctant to perform modificationson their scanner to get the discriminator audio, Optoelectronics willprovide a list of sources where you can ship your radio and have adiscriminator tap installed for a relatively modest charge.

The radios supported by the Optotrakker/ScanStar combinationinclude: Icom R7000, R7100, R8500, R9000, R10, AOR AR8000, AR5000 aswell as the the Radio Shack PRO-2035, PRO-2042 and PRO-2006 whenusing with the Optoelectronics OS535 or OS456 computer interface.Upgrades to the Optotrakker can be easily performed by replacing aplug-in chip.

The Optotrakker is being offered at an introductory price of $299and is available from Optoelectronics, 5821 NE 14th Avenue, Ft.Lauderdale, FL 33334 (800-327-5912 or 954-771-2050).

The MFJ-418 Pocket Morse Code Tutor

By Skip Arey WB2GHA

Recently I had the opportunity to teach a ham radio license class.I was gratified to discover, despite common belief, that folks arestill interested in learning International Morse Code. To get beyondthe basic Technicians class license and to get access to amateurradio's HF bands, you still need the code. But many folks, includingmyself, find it hard to find the time to practice. The folks at MFJEnterprises have come up with a device to make it possible to takecode practice wherever you go.

The MFJ-418 is a diminutive, microprocessor-controlled box full ofCW fun. Regardless of your skill level, this unit can serve toimprove your overall code operating skill. Measuring just 2-1/4 by 4by 1 inches, the unit fits easily into pocket or purse. The MFJ-418is powered by one 9 volt battery. Audio gain is adjustable, and thereis a headphone jack for private listening.

All aspects of the device's use are controlled by the powerswitch/volume control and three push buttons. From these simplecontrols you can set code speed from 3 wpm through 60 wpm. The speedcan be adjusted "on the fly" without altering other settings duringyour practice. A series of simple menus allow you to set overallspeed, Farnsworth style code practice (separate adjustment ofcharacter and spacing speeds), and tone.

You can set the learning style to suit your needs, from beginnersto advanced to custom settings. The unit will send characters,groups, QSOs, words, callsigns and combinations. All of these audiofeatures are further supported by the addition of a two-linescrolling LCD display that allows you to see what is being sent. Itcan be set to display the letters prior to sending the audio (goodfor initial learning) or audio first followed by the lettering.Included is an 18 page, detailed manual and MFJ's 12 month warranty.

I've been carrying this little box around with me for the lastseveral weeks and I've had a ball with it. I keep it in my briefcaseand grab about fifteen minutes of practice every day at lunchtime.I'm currently using the MFJ-418 to keep my basic skills sharp at my"idle" speed of around 18 WPM, but my goal is to push for 35 WPM so Ican start to hang with the big dogs on the bottom end of 20 meters.Meanwhile, my number two son borrows the unit for a few minutes eachnight to get sorted out on his 5 wpm work for his Novice test. Nowthat's versatility!

I recommend the MFJ-418 for anyone who wants to learn and then goon to fully master the International Morse Code. It's $79.95 from MFJEnterprises, Inc., 300 Industrial Park Road, Starkville, MS 39759,(601) 323 5869, Fax (601) 323-6551.

Techtoyz Micro RF Detector

By Haskell Moore,

The Techtoyz RF Detector is the third in a line of new, innovativeelectronic products housed in a pager-style enclosure fromOptoelectronics. The previous two products include a DTMF decodercapable of storing 2000 digits and a frequency counter with a signalfilter and three memories.

The RF Detector is a full featured electronic instrument in a verysmall, discreet package. In addition to displaying the signalstrength of near field signals, it has several very useful options.For example, it may be configured with one of two beep modes, eithersounding intermittently or continuously, when the adjustablethreshold has been attained.

Depending on the user's preference, one of two display modes maybe selected. In the digital mode, the ambient signal level, signal(audible beep) threshold, and maximum signal level are displayedsimultaneously as standard numeric digits. In the bargraph mode, two24-segment bars are used to display the information.

Finally, it also has the ability to keep track of the number oftimes (up to 250) that the signal strength exceeds the presetthreshold.

Potential uses for the RF Detector include transmittercalibration, antenna tuning and placement, tracking stucktransmitters, electronic countersurveillance (i.e., bug detection),RF safety monitoring (by using the audio alert function as an RFdetector), radiation and emissions measurement (i.e., computer RFshielding), and coax leakage detection.


Frequency Range:

10MHz - 2GHz

Beeper Alarm:

Continuous or resettable

Hit Counter:

250 maximum

Maximum Signal Level:

Displays maximum signal level attained


Relative RF level (numeric or bargraph)

Dynamic Range:

30 dB minimum


1.5V AA Alkaline Battery (Approx. 15 hour run time)

The Techtoyz RF Detector sells for $149.00 (US). The optional, buthighly-recommended external antenna is an additional $9.00. The fullline of Techtoyz are available from Optoelectronics, 5821 NE 14thAvenue, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33334 (800-327-5912 or 954-771-2050).

The Palomar Loop Antenna System

By Clem Small

Active antennas appeal to many of us because they offerperformance somewhat comparable to outdoor wire antennas and yet theyrequire no outside wires at all. Most of them are small enough to sitout of the way on a corner of your operating desk.

The Palomar Loop Antenna is an active antenna system which coversfrom 10 kHz to 16 MHz. Coverage of this very sizable chunk of RFspectrum is made possible by use of a different plug-in loop antennaelement for each band. These loops are mounted such that they can berotated to null-out undesired signals or noise.

In addition, all loops, except the 5 to 16 MHz loop, can also betilted for even greater depth to the null they provide. In someinstances it is nothing short of amazing to hear interference quietlyfade away as you find the proper position for the null.

The negative side of active antennas is that they are susceptibleto problems of intermodulation distortion and desensitization if theyare located near strong RF fields (i.e., a station's transmittingantenna is close to your house). In my experience with several activeantennas over the years these problems have never plagued me, and Ibelieve that they are relatively infrequent.

The Palomar Loop Antenna System connects to the receiver via ashort coaxial cable and a PL-259 plug, or couples to it via thePalomar Loop Coupler if the receiver has no antenna-input connector.The receiver used in this review was the receiver portion of aKenwood TS-930S transceiver. To review the antenna down to 10 kHz,which was below the bottom-end of the receiver's coverage (100 kHz to30 MHz), a Palomar VLF converter was used.

The antennas to which the Palomar Loop Antenna was compared inthis review were a shortwire (SW) of about 12 feet, hung up near theceiling in a second-floor room of a wood house, and a longwireantenna (LW) around 250 feet in length and averaging perhaps 20 feetin height. Comparing a small table-top loop to a longwire antennathis long is like asking little David to fight the giant Goliath.But, as you will read below, I encountered many signals for which thelittle loop was, like David, the more successful performer.

Activating the Antenna

Between 10 and 40 kHz the only signal I found was the Omegastation at 20 kHz (This system was shut down after Sept. 30,1997-ed). Reception of this signal via the loop was dramaticallymore quiet than with either of the long wires.

I did my tests both at mid-day and at late night. Noise was moreof a problem during the day. In the daytime, until the receiver'snoise blanker was turned on, the Omega station could not be heardusing either wire antenna. At night, when the noise level was lower,Omega was copyable on the LW without the noise blanker. At bothlistening times, although the S-meter indicated that the LW gave amuch stronger signal level than the loop, copy was much better on theloop due to the significantly lower noise level of that antenna.

If the receiver had not had a noise blanker, there would have beenvery little but noise heard from either of the wire antennas duringthe day. For a receiver without a noise blanker a loop provides theonly really functional daytime antenna for those frequencies belowthe AM broadcast band.

In my daytime test, I found a signal at 121 kHz which was embeddedin less noise than most; it was inaudible on the SW, strong and clearon the LW, and weaker but decent copy on the loop. At night the samesignal was copyable on all three antennas, but the loop still gavethe less noisy output. So, although the loop can't equal a reallylong wire for signal level, when noise is heavy, the loop can make asignificant improvement in signal copy.

During both the day and night testing in the 200 to 300 kHz rangeI encountered several beacon signals identifying in Morse code andalso some unmodulated carriers. The performance of the loop heresometimes gave copyable signals when the wire antennas would not, andvice versa. The loop gave better copy than the really-long wiresometimes, and usually beat the shorter wire for good copy.

By both day and night on the AM broadcast band, the loopconsistently outperformed the SW while the LW produced signals ofconsiderably greater strength than those from either of the other twoantennas. On the two remaining high-frequency loops (1.6 to 16 MHz)the loop gave lower signal levels than either wire antenna. Theinterference nulling feature remains a useful aid on thesefrequencies.

In Summary

The Palomar Loop Antenna, because of its high signal-to-noiseoutput, gives excellent performance on the lower bands. As we moveupward in frequency and into the AM broadcast band, output from theloop is significantly less than with outside wire antennas. And atthese frequencies the noise level is lower and the quiet nature ofthe loop did not give the advantage which was found on the lowerfrequencies.

However, in very noisy locations the low-noise character of theloop should be more useful at the higher frequencies than was true atmy relatively quiet rural site. The loop's interference nullingcapabilities are an important factor in its usefulness across theentire frequency range.

The amplifier and each different loop of the Palomar Loop Antennasystem are sold separately. The price of the loop Amplifier (LA-1) is$99.95. Loops are $99.95 each. A Loop Coupler, needed for using theloop with receivers without external antenna-input sockets, is$49.95. The VLF converter is available at $89.95 in two models: VLF-Afor receivers covering 3510-4000 kHz, and VLF-S for receiverscovering 4010-4500 kHz. Shipping and handling is $6.00 per order.

Contact Palomar Engineers, PO Box 462222, Escondido, CA 92046;(760) 747-3343, fax 747-3346,

This review is updated from an earlier "AntennaTopics."

Ergo 3 Receiver Control Software

By Bob Parnass, AJ9S

Ergo is a shortwave receiver control program developed by CreativeExpress Corporation of Alberta, Canada. It runs under MicrosoftWindows 95 or Windows NT, and requires a computer with an IntelPentium CPU and a free serial port.

I helped "beta test" several prerelease versions before thecurrent release, Ergo 3.0, release 1. I used a Japan Radio NRD-535Dreceiver with revision H firmware, though Ergo is designed to supportthe vanilla NRD-535, R. L. Drake R8A and R8B, the AOR AR7030, and theWatkins Johnson HF-1000 receivers as well.

The computer control capability of these receivers is differentand is determined by the receiver manufacturer, not by Ergo. Forexample, Ergo 3.0 can control the squelch and volume when used withan AR7030 but not with an NRD535D, because Japan Radio provided noway to control squelch, volume, notch, or tone via the computerinterface.

Ergo does control the NRD-535D's control frequency, mode, filter,AGC, passband, noise blanker, and BFO through the receiver controlwindow. Frequency adjustment is provided through adjustable stepsizes and fine tuning. Hot keys are provided for main panel controls,so you can use either the mouse, the keyboard, or both - your choice.The receiver's operating parameters can be set using individualrecord data from the Klingenfuss Super Frequency List, though wedidn't have one for testing.

You can create frequency databases of up to 500 records each anddisplay the data in the "Main" window. Frequency databases are storedin proprietary format, but you can import and export data from ASCIItext files. You can tune the receiver and set its mode by mouseclicking on a record. You can flag individual records for scanning.The database contains latitude/longitude fields for station location,and a "Map" window shows a graphic representation of the signal path,provided you have entered the proper station coordinates.

Aside from the main database, you can read the operatingparameters from the NRD's 200 memories into a "Quick Memories" windowwith one command and create alphanumeric labels. You can edit amemory channel's parameters, then instruct Ergo to write the changesfor that one channel to the receiver. There's no way to read a diskfile of 200 frequencies into Ergo and simply write it to the NRD'smemories for later use.


Ergo 3.0 provides a rich set of features sure to delight shortwavebroadcast listeners. Utility listeners will find Ergo 3.0 useful,too. I'd like to see a future version include a way to bulk downloadfrequencies from a disk file to the NRD-535D's memories and an optionwhich exploits the computer sound card under program control.

For more information, contact Creative Express Corporation, P. O.Box 373, 16 Midlake Blvd. SE, Calgary, Alberta T2X 2X7, Canada orvisit the Ergo web site at

Ergo 3.0 sells for $139 US directly from Creative Express or fromUniversal Radio (tel. 1-800-431-3939).

Optoelectronics MicroCounter FrequencyCounter

By Haskell Moore, KB5WIX

For years, the frequency counter has been one of the scanningenthusiast's main tools. You can compile all of the lists you want,consult all of the databases available, but nothing compares to beingable to get a real-time reading of the signal as it is beingtransmitted.

Using a conventional frequency counter is not something which caneasily be done inconspicuously. My favorite, the venerableOptoelectronics M1 counter at nearly five inches tall and threeinches wide, did not lend itself to surreptitious operation. Nomatter where I went, pulling out a frequency counter in a publicplace always got a lot of unwanted attention; especially fromsecurity personnel or the police!

However, Optoelectronics has introduced a counter that offersexcellent performance, but draws no more attention than an averagedigital pager. Additionally, it is fast, accurate and extremely easyto use.

The MicroCounter frequency counter was designed to fit inside aconventional 2.8 x 1.9 x 1.1 inch digital pager case. The onlynoticeable difference (and you really have to look hard to see it) isa small, 2.5mm sub-mini jack on the side which is used for theexternal antenna.

Though the MicroCounter is small in size, the components andworkmanship are of the same high quality I've come to expect fromOptoelectronics. The 12 digit, 0.165 inch display is clear and sharpwith excellent contrast, so that it may be viewed at the waist levelwithout removing the counter from the belt. The standard pager case,though not remarkable in itself, appears sturdy with well-fittedseams.

The MicroCounter runs on a conventional "AA" battery which isadvertised to last from ten to twelve hours, though in actualoperation mine lasted about fifteen hours. When the battery voltagedrops to the point where operation becomes unreliable, a low batterywarning is shown on the display.

Internally, the MicroCounter contains features found in frequencycounters costing many times its price. It utilizes a two-stagepreamplifier for excellent sensitivity and a 10 MHz time base foraccuracy. The MicroCounter even employs the same patented digitalfilter system used in their more sophisticated counters to reducefalse readings. When in the capture mode, once a signal passes thedigital filter, it is automatically stored in one of three memories.

The written specifications indicate sensitivity at < 5 mV at150 MHz - on par with full-size frequency counters. My informal testsagreed.

Using the MicroCounter

Since the MicroCounter has no internal antenna, range without anexternal antenna is extremely limited. In my tests, I found that Ihad to be within six feet to trigger the counter when using afour-watt UHF HT transmitting at 449.750 MHz. However, a small (fiveinches in length), flexible antenna is available for the MicroCounterfor only $9.00. When I added the external antenna and repeated thetest, the effective range of the counter went up to 110 feet! In myopinion, this makes the antenna a must-have in all but very strong RFenvironments.

Additionally, since the antenna connector used is a simplesub-mini jack, it is relatively easy to make custom antennas for yourown specialized applications. For example, if you wished to constructan antenna specifically designed for low frequency work, just soldera small, flexible piece of wire to the center conductor of a sub-minijack and you're ready to go. And by utilizing a very thin piece ofcoax (I used a piece that came with a cell phone antenna), you canfashion an external antenna connector for use with your own externalantennas.

Operation of the MicroCounter is simple and straightforward. Whenswitched on, the unit displays the ambient frequency in megahertzwith three digits to the right of the decimal. Depressing either ofthe function buttons on the front of the counter increases theresolution to four or five digits to the right of the decimal.

The three-position slide switch is used to control the mode ofoperation of the MicroCounter. When in the lowest position, the unitis switched off. In the uppermost position, the unit is on and in thecounter mode. Depressing the slide switch inward once engages thedigital filter. Depressing the slide switch twice puts the unit incapture mode. By moving the slide switch to the center position,captured frequencies in one of the three memories may be reviewed bydepressing the slide switch. Depressing both function buttons andturning the unit on clears all three memories.

In actual operation, I found the MicroCounter to be very easy touse, especially in places where a frequency counter would not havebeen welcome. Sensitivity and accuracy was more than acceptable whenthe TMC-100 antenna was used. It is lightweight, unobtrusive and verystealthy. Even if you don't need a counter in a discreet package, theMicroCounter is still an excellent product in a very small package!And given the list price of only $99.00, it should be a top-priorityitem for every ham and scanner enthusiast.

The MicroCounter frequency counter is available fromOptoelectronics, 5821 NE 14th Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33334. Theycan be reached at 800-327-5912 or 954-771 2050.

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