MT logo

Home button






 

"What's New" Column
1998 Reviews

Please mention you saw it in Monitoring Times!

 

AR7000 / Radio Shack weather alert radio / Kiwa Earth Monitor / Radio Max / MFJ Calendar Clock / Icom IC-T8A / BayGen - A radio headed for disaster / Optoelectronics Optotrakker / The MFJ-418 Pocket Morse Code Tutor / Techtoyz Micro RF Detector / The Palomar Loop Antenna System / Ergo 3 Receiver Control Software / Optoelectronics MicroCounter Frequency Counter

Review:

First Look at the AOR AR7000

By Bob Grove

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

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

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

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

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

The AR7000 has a factory recommended retail price of $1459.95 and is available from Grove Enterprises and other MT advertisers. Watch an upcoming "Scanner Equipment" column for a further assessment by Bob Parnass.


Review:

Severe Weather Alert Radio

By Bob Grove

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

An LCD panel indicates the weather channel being monitored, but during a storm reads out the text of any alert directed toward your area, while the speaker gives an audible (and volume adjustable) siren or beep warning. Color indicators notify the observer whether the 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 whip adequate for most metropolitan applications; for fringe reception areas, an RCA phono jack is provided for an external antenna, such as a conventional scanner antenna.

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

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


Review:

Kiwa Earth Monitor

By Kevin Carey

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

Not too many years ago, the only practical way to hear natural radio was to build your own detector, or adapt some other piece of equipment such as an audio amplifier or selective voltmeter. Even today, there are few commercial units available, so it's refreshing to see a new entry to the field from a respected firm. It confirms my belief 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 six internal AAA batteries or from an external source of 6 to 15 Vdc. The unit draws only 22 milliamperes, so battery life should not be a major concern. For long trips, however, the external power feature allows operation of the set from a car battery or other high capacity source.

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

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

 

Reception

It is well known that you should be far away from power lines and electrical equipment when you listen for natural radio signals; if you'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 "worst case" environment&emdash;my radio room. To my surprise, some "swooshy" whistlers and pings were heard right away, and the 60 Hz hum was not nearly as bad as I had expected. The credit for this goes to the filters built into the Earth Monitor.

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

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

I had excellent results by just holding the antenna base in my hand, though the manual recommended it be mounted 10 feet above the ground. However, to reduce interference problems Kiwa is now redesigning the entire antenna to incorporate a grounding stake and a 20-foot spool of antenna wire instead of the 33-inch telescoping antenna.

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

The manual for the Earth Monitor is brief but complete; its shirt pocket size makes it ideal for use in the field. Besides covering the operation of the unit, the manual describes the types of signals you can hear and sets reasonable expectations for listening success. My only complaint is that the type size proved a challenge even for my nearly 20/20 vision.

 

The Bottom Line

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

For more information contact Kiwa Electronics, 612 South 14th Avenue, Yakima, WA 98902, or visit their web site at http://kiwa.com. The Kiwa web site also contains a link to Stephen P. McGreevy's excellent tutorial on natural radio (highly recommended).


Review:

Radio Max by Future Scanning Systems

By Steve Donnell WA1YKL

 

The Radio Max software package is a versatile and easy to use program to interface your scanner with a personal computer running Windows 3.1 or Win 95. Radio Max supports interfacing to a number of HF and VHF/UHF receivers including the latest from Uniden: the BC-895.

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

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 it by having a tool bar along the very top edge and two easily accessible control bars for the most commonly needed controls along both the top and bottom edges. The upper portion of the page is taken up by the History file list -- a simple listing of all signal hits the program finds. Below that is a graphical representation of a given range of frequencies the program is searching or scanning through. Left to right is the span of frequencies, and vertical increments represent the accumulation of "hits" for a given frequency.

I was a bit disappointed initially to find that Radio Max could not store or display the relative signal strength of any signals that it logged. However, I reconsidered this in light of the fact that only a few scanners, like the older Radio Shack models (with an Optoelectronics interface) and a couple of others, were ever capable of 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. Besides showing previously logged frequencies, red marks below the base line indicate locked out frequencies. A sliding cursor shows the relative progression through a given frequency file. You can also use the Windows arrow to click on a given frequency to lock it out from being scanned or to instantly move the received frequency to any other frequency within the range or file being scanned.

The lower control bar provides most instantaneous scanning commands and status readouts, such as received frequency, operating mode, scan Stop/Start and Pause Timer selection. The upper task bar selects most of the scanning frequency files and different logging options. When Radio Max is used on a PC with an appropriate sound card, one useful logging function that's available is to add a synthesized voice output that can speak the received frequency and the time/date of the event. If you're recording, this will give you a log of the signal reception.

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

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

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

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


Review:

MFJ Giant Display 24/12 Hour Calendar Clock

 

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

Let's begin with the most salient point: This clock is BIG! The liquid crystal display (LCD) main time characters on the face of this 8-1/2 inch by 9 inch clock are a full 2-1/4 inches tall, making them easily visible across even a twenty foot room. Back in the digital early days, I built a light emitting diode (LED) clock with a readout of less than 1/4 inch, and costing well over $75 -- all for a clock that 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 an extremely practical item for any shack, but it has a few more features that I didn't have on my old home-brewed "squinty" clock.

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

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

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

As mentioned earlier, the MFJ-119 is controlled by a series of buttons and a switch on the back of the unit. One of these buttons allows you to change the temperature readout between Fahrenheit and Celsius with a single touch. Well, as a dedicated CW operator, it is common "rag chewing" practice in an international Morse code conversations to swap local weather conditions and temperature. Since we live in a world that goes by two different temperature recording systems, the MFJ-119 makes it very easy to give my local temperature in Fahrenheit or, with a touch of a button, in Celsius format for operators in most foreign countries. No more conversion formulas for the sake of keeping the conversation going.

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

The clean lines and universally neutral color scheme of this clock make 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 and Celsius and the other to local time and Fahrenheit.

The MFJ-119 Giant Clock is $49.95 from MFJ Enterprises (PO Box 494, Mississippi State, MS 39762) at 800-647-1800 or on the web at www.mfjenterprises.com

P.S.: I've only had this clock around my shack for about a week now and I'm already spoiled. I need to tell the receiver manufacturers 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 the convenience of hand-held transmitting and wideband receiving. Several cute radios have come out with this facility in the past, but few of them as small&emdash;and as feature-loaded&emdash;as the new ICOM IC-T8A.

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

Weighing in at only 10 ounces and measuring a scant 2-1/4 inches wide by 4-1/4 inches high by 1-1/8 inches deep, the handy handful is durable, too, meeting military specifications standards 810 for shock and vibration. It's even water resistant as well. Running 0.5 or 5 watts with the supplied NiMH (nickle metal-hydride) battery pack, the T8A is also compatible with drop-in chargers, external power sources, and speaker-mikes. The rubber ducky uses an inconvenient SMA connector, but SMA/BNC adaptors are available.

As a scanning receiver, the little ICOM does quite well, offering 123 memory channels with a variety of programmable scanning modes. CTCSS (Continuous Tone Controlled Squelch System) and DTMF (Dual Tone Multi 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) provide the sound IF. Selectivity is sharp, a 2:1 shape factor for -6/-60 dB adjacent channel attenuation at 15 kHz bandwidth. And a sensitivity of better than 0.18 microvolts pulls in very weak signals.

A dual-function LCD bargraph indicates relative signal strength of incoming signals as well as relative output power during transmit. Tuning steps may be selected for 5, 10, 12.5, 15, 20, 25, 30, 50, or 100 kHz, while repeater offsets may be custom-selected for virtually any split.

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

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

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


BayGen - A radio headed for disaster

By Hans Johnson

BayGen radios are no strangers to disaster, whether here or abroad. Humanitarian organizations are able to purchase radios from BayGen at cost 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 General Electric, donated over 250 radios through the Red Cross to victims of last winter's crippling ice storm in the Northeast.

Projects such as these bring information and entertainment to people who desperately need both. BayGen also receives valuable feedback on how the radios have performed. There is probably not a commercial set that has been "tested" under so many different types of environments. BayGen uses this feedback to improve its sets and develop new products.

With all that experience in the field, the BayGen line of Freeplay radios are the ultimate in emergency radios. These radios operate completely independent of conventional power supplies, whether mains or batteries. The secret is a powerful spring made of carbon steel. A handle on the side of the radio allows the listener to wind up the spring just like a watch. Energy slowly released from the spring turns a direct current generator that in turn powers the radio. So as long 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 in 1995. Winding the radio for 30 seconds powered the radio for 30 minutes. This is an analog set whose coverage includes AM (520-1700 kHz), FM (88-108 MHz), and SW ("A" model 3.3-12 MHz, "B" model, 5.8 to 18 MHz). Buyers can specify which model they want. The radio weighs almost 7 pounds and its dimensions are 14 inches wide, 10 inches high, and 5.5 deep.

Users are pleased with the number of stations this set is able to pull 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 and has a very robust feel to it. This is BayGen's workhorse and it has been used all over the world. The FPR 1 is available through BayGen directly or from a number of radio specialty outlets.

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

The FPR 2 is a bit cheaper than the FPR 1, though, and it is more widely distributed. It is available not only through specialty outlets, but through a number of sporting goods stores as well. The FPR 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 their base.

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

For those non-emergency times, an optional AC adapter is available. Depending on where you live, reception may be improved with an optional external antenna. One end plugs into the radio and up to 20 ft of wire can be reeled out. Another handy option is headphones. Listening through headphones, rather than a speaker, will extent the playing time of the radio.

BayGen will also introduce an entirely new product this year that those interested in emergency preparedness should consider. This product is a digital weather radio. It will cover AM/FM and will be able to receive emergency alerts from the weather band. While this radio will usually be plugged into the wall like conventional radios, the wind up generator can be used for those times when power is not available.

There is a lot to choose from, but the time to buy this products is before disaster strikes. BayGen radios are good value for the money. They will keep your family informed and entertained when you need it most. If you would like to learn more about BayGen, give them a call at 1-800-WIND-234. Email them at- freeplay@pair.com. Or visit their web site at: http://www.Freeplay.pair.com


Optoelectronics Optotrakker

By Haskell Moore, KB5WIX, Email: kb5wix@aol.com

For years, the ability to monitor trunked radio systems eluded the average hobbyist. It wasn't until the Uniden introduced the TrunkTracker in 1997 that interest in trunked system monitoring really took off. And now, a new and innovative hardware/software combination has just been introduced that will make trunked monitoring even more exciting.

The Optotrakker from Optoelectronics, along with a newly introduced version of ScanStar for Windows, promises to add a whole new dimension to trunked monitoring. First, let's take a look at the Optotrakker hardware.

The Optotrakker is a essentially an Optoelectronics DC442 all mode decoder (see p86 for DC442 review) with substantial enhancements inside and out. In addition to the trunk decoding functionality, the Optotrakker can decode and display 50 subaudible continuous tone controlled squelch system (CTCSS) tones, digital coded squelch (DCS), and DTMF (touch tone) codes. It also incorporates two Icom CI-5 ports, two RS-232C ports, a transistor-transistor logic (TTL) port, a "data slicer" and a flexible flat cable connection for the AOR AR8000.

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

Operation of the Optotrakker is relatively simple and straightforward. One button doubles as a power switch and mode selector. The modes of operation include CTCSS, DCS, DTMF, DTMF Recall (up to 1023 scrollable characters), LTR, and Motorola Decode. Another enhancement is the built-in calendar and 24-hour clock. All of this is displayed on a clear, two-line, lighted electroluminescent display 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-5 address, and numerous other parameters are easily programmed with just three buttons.

For those who like to use a laptop for their computer controlled scanner, you'll be pleased to know that the Optotrakker can do so with just one serial port. And what's even more impressive is that by using 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 the Optotrakker, and by using a supplied cable, a serial device can be connected to the other side of the Optotrakker. The Optotrakker and the software work in concert to strip out all of the Optotrakker commands in both directions. It is then essentially invisible to the serial port, and does not affect operation of the device, such as a modem, 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 of ScanStar has been modified to work in conjunction with the Optotrakker to allow computer controlled trunked scanning with a variety of radios, including the previously unsupported Icoms.

Since the Optotrakker does not require a control channel to accomplish its trunk tracking, only one radio is required. This also allows the ScanStar software to not only follow a specific trunk, but mix several trunks (both LTR and Motorola) and conventional frequencies simultaneously. Finally, you'll be able to use just one computer-controlled scanner and one serial port to track all the action!

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

For the Optotrakker to decode correctly, it requires a signal directly from the discriminator of the radio; speaker or ear jack audio will not work. The discriminator provides the cleanest audio before it is subjected to the filtering and is not affected by the volume control. For those who are reluctant to perform modifications on their scanner to get the discriminator audio, Optoelectronics will provide a list of sources where you can ship your radio and have a discriminator tap installed for a relatively modest charge.

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

The Optotrakker is being offered at an introductory price of $299 and 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 are still interested in learning International Morse Code. To get beyond the basic Technicians class license and to get access to amateur radio's HF bands, you still need the code. But many folks, including myself, find it hard to find the time to practice. The folks at MFJ Enterprises have come up with a device to make it possible to take code practice wherever you go.

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

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

You can set the learning style to suit your needs, from beginners to advanced to custom settings. The unit will send characters, groups, QSOs, words, callsigns and combinations. All of these audio features are further supported by the addition of a two-line scrolling LCD display that allows you to see what is being sent. It can be set to display the letters prior to sending the audio (good for 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 last several weeks and I've had a ball with it. I keep it in my briefcase and 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 I can 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 each night to get sorted out on his 5 wpm work for his Novice test. Now that's versatility!

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


Techtoyz Micro RF Detector

By Haskell Moore, kb5wix@aol.com

The Techtoyz RF Detector is the third in a line of new, innovative electronic products housed in a pager-style enclosure from Optoelectronics. The previous two products include a DTMF decoder capable of storing 2000 digits and a frequency counter with a signal filter and three memories.

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

Depending on the user's preference, one of two display modes may be selected. In the digital mode, the ambient signal level, signal (audible beep) threshold, and maximum signal level are displayed simultaneously as standard numeric digits. In the bargraph mode, two 24-segment bars are used to display the information.

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

Potential uses for the RF Detector include transmitter calibration, antenna tuning and placement, tracking stuck transmitters, electronic countersurveillance (i.e., bug detection), RF safety monitoring (by using the audio alert function as an RF detector), radiation and emissions measurement (i.e., computer RF shielding), and coax leakage detection.

Specifications:  

Frequency Range:

10MHz - 2GHz

Beeper Alarm:

Continuous or resettable

Hit Counter:

250 maximum

Maximum Signal Level:

Displays maximum signal level attained

Display:

Relative RF level (numeric or bargraph)

Dynamic Range:

30 dB minimum

Power:

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

The Techtoyz RF Detector sells for $149.00 (US). The optional, but highly-recommended external antenna is an additional $9.00. The full line of Techtoyz are available from Optoelectronics, 5821 NE 14th Avenue, 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 offer performance somewhat comparable to outdoor wire antennas and yet they require no outside wires at all. Most of them are small enough to sit out of the way on a corner of your operating desk.

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

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

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

The Palomar Loop Antenna System connects to the receiver via a short coaxial cable and a PL-259 plug, or couples to it via the Palomar Loop Coupler if the receiver has no antenna-input connector. The receiver used in this review was the receiver portion of a Kenwood TS-930S transceiver. To review the antenna down to 10 kHz, which was below the bottom-end of the receiver's coverage (100 kHz to 30 MHz), a Palomar VLF converter was used.

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

Activating the Antenna

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

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

The amplifier and each different loop of the Palomar Loop Antenna system 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 the loop with receivers without external antenna-input sockets, is $49.95. The VLF converter is available at $89.95 in two models: VLF-A for receivers covering 3510-4000 kHz, and VLF-S for receivers covering 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, email palomar@compuserve.com

This review is updated from an earlier "Antenna Topics."


Ergo 3 Receiver Control Software

By Bob Parnass, AJ9S

Ergo is a shortwave receiver control program developed by Creative Express Corporation of Alberta, Canada. It runs under Microsoft Windows 95 or Windows NT, and requires a computer with an Intel Pentium CPU and a free serial port.

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

The computer control capability of these receivers is different and is determined by the receiver manufacturer, not by Ergo. For example, Ergo 3.0 can control the squelch and volume when used with an AR7030 but not with an NRD535D, because Japan Radio provided no way to control squelch, volume, notch, or tone via the computer interface.

Ergo does control the NRD-535D's control frequency, mode, filter, AGC, passband, noise blanker, and BFO through the receiver control window. Frequency adjustment is provided through adjustable step sizes 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 individual record data from the Klingenfuss Super Frequency List, though we didn't have one for testing.

You can create frequency databases of up to 500 records each and display the data in the "Main" window. Frequency databases are stored in proprietary format, but you can import and export data from ASCII text files. You can tune the receiver and set its mode by mouse clicking 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 operating parameters from the NRD's 200 memories into a "Quick Memories" window with one command and create alphanumeric labels. You can edit a memory channel's parameters, then instruct Ergo to write the changes for that one channel to the receiver. There's no way to read a disk file of 200 frequencies into Ergo and simply write it to the NRD's memories for later use.

Summary

Ergo 3.0 provides a rich set of features sure to delight shortwave broadcast listeners. Utility listeners will find Ergo 3.0 useful, too. I'd like to see a future version include a way to bulk download frequencies from a disk file to the NRD-535D's memories and an option which 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 or visit the Ergo web site at http://calgary.shaw.wave.ca/~jfallows/Ergo_1.htm.

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


Optoelectronics MicroCounter Frequency Counter

By Haskell Moore, KB5WIX

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

Using a conventional frequency counter is not something which can easily be done inconspicuously. My favorite, the venerable Optoelectronics M1 counter at nearly five inches tall and three inches wide, did not lend itself to surreptitious operation. No matter where I went, pulling out a frequency counter in a public place always got a lot of unwanted attention; especially from security personnel or the police!

However, Optoelectronics has introduced a counter that offers excellent performance, but draws no more attention than an average digital pager. Additionally, it is fast, accurate and extremely easy to use.

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

Though the MicroCounter is small in size, the components and workmanship are of the same high quality I've come to expect from Optoelectronics. The 12 digit, 0.165 inch display is clear and sharp with excellent contrast, so that it may be viewed at the waist level without removing the counter from the belt. The standard pager case, though not remarkable in itself, appears sturdy with well-fitted seams.

The MicroCounter runs on a conventional "AA" battery which is advertised to last from ten to twelve hours, though in actual operation mine lasted about fifteen hours. When the battery voltage drops to the point where operation becomes unreliable, a low battery warning is shown on the display.

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

The written specifications indicate sensitivity at < 5 mV at 150 MHz - on par with full-size frequency counters. My informal tests agreed.

Using the MicroCounter

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

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

Operation of the MicroCounter is simple and straightforward. When switched on, the unit displays the ambient frequency in megahertz with three digits to the right of the decimal. Depressing either of the function buttons on the front of the counter increases the resolution to four or five digits to the right of the decimal.

The three-position slide switch is used to control the mode of operation of the MicroCounter. When in the lowest position, the unit is switched off. In the uppermost position, the unit is on and in the counter mode. Depressing the slide switch inward once engages the digital filter. Depressing the slide switch twice puts the unit in capture mode. By moving the slide switch to the center position, captured frequencies in one of the three memories may be reviewed by depressing the slide switch. Depressing both function buttons and turning the unit on clears all three memories.

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

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


Return to MT Home Page