As usual, February was a month which contained a number of radio-related resources to stimulate, entertain and inspire. So much so that I have inevitably ended up with a whole mess of tabs, recordings and ideas that I want to try and record even just for my own sanity.
On top of our usual regular morning listening of BBC 6 Music on DAB – Chris Hawkins’ sardonic wit is great, and I’ve been enjoying Deb Grant’s filling-in shows when I catch them – we listened to local radio while decorating in half term. The winter storms Eunice and Franklin rolled in, and it quickly became apparent that we would be best served by tuning in to BBC Radio Sussex to hear more localised updates about the storm’s progress. We heard traffic updates and anecdotes from callers and it was useful to have this resource to get an understanding of the impact on our local area.
Where radio really came into its own, however, was when we lost power on the Friday lunchtime. Fortunately we have a number of radios, and many of them can be powered by the mains or batteries. M’s rather old and battered Pure DAB radio is still very technically proficient, and sounds great – and its battery still holds a good charge.
When we lost power, we also lost radio. I checked the radio and it had successfully reverted back to battery power, but there was no DAB signal. Not too surprising, but I flipped over to FM and found that there were no FM signals to be found – that was a shock.
We also found that although we had mobile phone signal, the 4G signal had died, leaving the phone only capable of making calls and sending and receiving SMS.
A short while later, FM stations were back on the air – presumably the FM transmitter fell back to backup power, but perhaps the DAB transmitter is different or requires more power. DAB would be restored quite a while later,
I can’t remember the last time I lost FM signals. If I’d had more time I would have spent a bit of time tuning around, embracing the interference-free airwaves to see what distant stations I could pick up. But as usual with these events, the priority was in making sure the house was safe, and then carrying on with the decorating. I don’t think M would have appreciated me sat twiddling knobs and playing radios while she carried on!
Our power was restored about three hours after we lost it. It was a wake-up call: we are a little more isolated here than we used to be in London, and when power goes, it can take longer for it to be restored. These winter storms are becoming more frequent, and it was a useful lesson in preparedness – ensuring we have various battery packs and radios charged most of the time, and keeping an eye on what we have in the house that can be stored or warmed up for food using our camping gas stove etc.
I recently ordered a couple of low-priced radios from a Chinese retailer, and the first to arrive was the Retekess V115. It’s a small, portable unit which receives FM, AM, LW, and short wave. It also has a micro SD card reader and can play files from it, as well as recording to it from the various radio bands, or even the built-in microphone.
I’m still getting used to this radio’s features, but the initial impressions were good – especially for such a small device. The display is bright and reasonably high resolution for this sort of radio, and I was quite stunned by the tone and loudness of the volume – the speaker is quite powerful, and it has a second ‘sub woofer’ type speaker at the back, giving it quite a rich sound.
I’m still getting to grips with the capabilities of it – there are odd ‘holes’ in the FM reception, and I want to do some more comparisons with my Tecsun PL-380 on short wave to see how it performs – but it is pulling in stations in my initial tests. If it is a generally good radio, the recording feature could be really useful.
Radiophrenia – the self-professed “light at the end of the dial” was back this month for two weeks of incredibly diverse radio. The station is broadcast via FM in the Glasgow area, and is repeated over DAB via Resonance, as well as being streamed online for listeners around the world.
The website schedule was as full and complex as it has been in previous years, and I spent a bit of time poring over the descriptions to see what shows interested me the most, at times I might be able to listen in.
As Radiophrenia is a live station with shows going out around the clock, it feels even more special to find unique shows and pieces that have been submitted for broadcast, and to listen live when there may not be an opportunity to track it down online later. The magic of live radio – or at least linear broadcasting.
This doesn’t stop me from using the schedules to find new and interesting audio/radio artists to follow online, hence my reference above to having dozens of tabs open to explore: people to look up and try and check out their work where I’ve been unable to catch it live.
Some highlights I did manage to catch live included various bits of Hali Palombo’s work – I’ve heard some of her stuff before and was delighted to see she had a number of pieces and shorts in the schedules for 2022’s broadcast. She works with amateur and short wave radio recordings as well as field recordings and spoken word type stuff. It always adds up to something fascinating and inspiring and I love checking out her work.
I was also pleased to see Radio Cegeste had something debuting on Radiophrenia – a piece combining Morse code, Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year and the recent pandemic media coverage. It was an edited down version of a longer piece that ran in Melbourne last year.
One early highlight was Adriana Knouf’s experiments with SSTV – slow scan TV – tones, turning these rhythmic pulses into something approaching techno music. At times hard to listen to, inventive, amusing – all the things experimental radio art can and should be.
And then closing out the last day I enjoyed the Shortwave Collective piece Open Wave Receiver, an audio how-to guide on building a self-powered radio. It features instructions on how to construct a simple radio receiver, as well as recordings of people doing so, and the delighted sounds they make when it works. Extremely meta radio, and admittedly not easy to follow if you were truly trying to listen along and make what they were describing with no other visuals or instructions. But a lovely thing to listen to.
As I mentioned elsewhere previously, I am so glad that Radiophrenia exists, and one day I feel like it would be amazing to have a piece broadcast. But I need to go away and work on that to make it happen. In the meantime, the platform it gives to such a wide variety of performers, presenters, musicians and… whatever else… is just such a great effort.
When I am at home in the my office / box room, I often have radios on in the background, and the same goes for my little Baofeng UV-5r, which is a cheap little handheld for the ham bands and enables me to listen in to conversations between amateur radio users in the local area – when they are talking directly – or via repeaters, which extend the range of their individual signals.
I am lucky where I am to be within good range of more than one amateur radio repeater, and I’ve also found a couple of local clubs and nets that have scheduled chats on set frequencies which have enabled me to test the reception of the Baofeng. This radio can also transmit – though not until I have a licence – and knowing that in my new location I can pick up local conversations and repeaters has given me renewed impetus to pursue getting my amateur radio licence.
I studied the excellent Essex Ham course last summer, and enjoying learning a lot of new things. At the time I didn’t go as far as taking the exam, and I knew my London location would be no good for amateur radio – my Baofeng never picked up anything at home. But now I have a new location, and an apparently active ham radio scene, it might be time to do some revision and get myself licensed.
It is… very apparent to me how un-diverse the amateur radio scene is. This is partly why I am such a fan of what Shortwave Collective does – they are an international feminist art group promoting the creative use of radio. Hearing Hannah Kemp-Welch’s use of amateur radio in particular was very inspiring, and I want to hear even more diverse voices on these platforms. And although as a white male I am not bringing much diversity to this scene, I may at least provide a slightly younger voice. And who knows, if my own involvement somehow leads to anyone else paying an interest in the medium, then that would be incredible. One step at a time.
Whenever I tried to listen to AM / medium wave stations in my old flat in London, I was frequently disappointed by the small number of signals I could pick up, and the high levels of interference which got in the way.
But now in this new location I have returned to the open arms of the MW bands where I can frequently pick up fifty or more broadcasts, most of which are international, and a number of which share the same frequency, allowing for some fun fiddling to refine the signal and identify the stations I can hear.
I haven’t dabbled with MW properly for a decade or more. It’s a fascinating new angle into the radio hobby and I am enjoying learning about the kinds of stations I can pick up here, and at what times and in what conditions.
When we were looking at moving here I hoped that a new location would open up new possibilities in my enjoyment of radio – from broadcast and beyond – and I’ve not been disappointed. I suppose going from a semi-submerged duplex flat to a standard semi-detached house halfway up a hill would inevitably give better conditions for radio, but I have been pleasantly surprised just how much of an improvement this has made.