News blander… than today’s thunderstorm

Welcome to another instalment of News Blander, the column where the trivial is celebrated almost as much as the Olympic Games! In fact, it is a column so boring that this blogger forgets to run it in regular instalments. Today’s Blander covers long distance FM reception & car audio.

Long distance FM radio reception rarely makes the mainstream press. But let’s face it, even FM radio announcers rarely make it… perhaps unless they are courting controversy.

Journalist Ben Beagle reported the following in the New York state electronic publication Daily News Online in his article ‘Atmospheric anamolies bring distant radio signals to area’…

Listening to your radio on the drive home Tuesday afternoon you may have thought your ears were deceiving you. Did the radio just say Tampa? Florida?

It’s OK, you can cancel the doctor’s appointment.

An especially strong e-skip brought distant radio stations onto the local dial, interfering with local stations’ broadcasts.

“Yesterday was one of the biggest e-skip openings in a few years,” said Scott Fybush, a radio industry observer and editor of Northeast Radio Watch, an online publication that tracks the radio industry.

For example, just before 5 p.m. Tuesday the broadcast of WFLK-FM (93.3) in Rochester was interrupted by a brief burst that sounded like nothing more than static. Until, after a couple of seconds the interference cleared long enough to hear a radio promo that clearly identified “WFLZ-FM in Tampa Bay.”

The top 40 station in Tampa also broadcasts on 93.3 FM and is more than 1,300 miles from Le Roy, where the signal was received.

Read the full report.

Let’s close the festival of the mundane with a video featuring the Blaupunkt Bremen MP74 Twinceiver employing a Dual Diversity Antenna system. Apparently at some point the bandscan even features a Dutch pirate playing classic eighties band Alphaville, responsible for the cult classic ‘Forever Young’. The band’s 2001 remix was a huge hit in the nightclubs. The track was covered by Australian indie band Youth Group.

Thank you to Günter Lorenz & Peter Wilson for drawing this blogger’s attention to these gems.

Untangling pharma’s close ties with Drs

You call it love, I call it payola: untangling pharma’s close ties with doctors

By Bruce Arnold, University of Canberra

If it involved the record industry we’d call it payola: undisclosed kickbacks to radio station executives, owners and disk jockeys to boost broadcasts and thus record sales. In the pharmaceutical industry it’s simply seen as a sign of the deep esteem drug makers have for medical practitioners.

Not just another leftie poster. Potential conflicts of interest are very real in Australia. Dan Iggers

Earlier this month the United States Department of Justice announced a US$3bn settlement with drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) over a range of improprieties. Contrary to recurrent protestations that GSK is a model of corporate best practice, the company has agreed that it failed to report safety data, engaged in unlawful promotion of prescription pharmaceuticals and engaged in false price reporting.

The settlement resolves GSK’s civil and criminal liability, avoiding even more costly class actions, but tells us something about the state of medicine in the United States and Australia.

Much of the media attention about GSK’s uncomfortably close relationship with doctors has centred on GSK’s (legal but unethical) ghosting of medical journal articles, editorials and research papers. GSK supports the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations’ global ban on such publishing but continued to disregard notions of research integrity.

Is it alone? As US Senator Grassley has commented, such misbehaviour is of concern because it potentially distorts the readers’ prescribing activity, with consequent increased costs and an undue reliance on medication that may not be as effective as claimed. It also, of course, erodes the integrity of research in the life sciences.

There has been less attention to pharmaceutical payola in Australia, where benefits are received by individual medical practitioners and the owners of medical practices. (The latter are increasingly important, with the continuing shift away from the independent “family doctor” to health-centre chains where each practitioner is an employee.)

There is no public register of gifts or other relationships between practitioners and drug companies, equipment suppliers or the handful of pathology service providers that dominate the market. Financial details don’t move beyond the practitioner or investor’s lawyers, accountants and Australian Taxation Office. There’s no comprehensive and authoritative data on drug company influence over doctors.

We’d be able to more easily assess this potential influence if we had a detailed picture of the payola. But the new Medicines Australia code merely requires pharmaceutical companies to provide the “aggregate” data, a level of generality that inhibits meaningful scrutiny and action by regulators or consumers.

Conference attendees often engage more with golf than research. Toftrees Golf Resort

That’s why the GSK settlement is interesting – it throws light on the corporate behaviour we rarely see. The US Department of Justice noted that GSK “paid millions to doctors to speak at and attend meetings, sometimes at lavish resorts”. It sponsored “dinner programs, lunch programs, spa programs and similar activities”. GSK must have been reasonably confident that there would be some return on that largesse. And there’s no reason to believe GSK is unrepresentative of the pharmaceutical industry.

We might shrug off the willingness of big pharma to co-opt academics – a consultancy here, a paid presentation there – and to host practitioners at “conferences” in Cable Beach, Coolum, Hawaii or Singapore where blasé attendees reportedly engage more with a golf club than with epidemiology. That’s fine if we’re going to accord doctors the same respect as car dealers or chiropractors.

We might instead think of gift giving as a form of payola or as akin to the undisclosed “cash for comments” payments made by some of Australia’s leading financial and telecommunication companies. The upshot of inquiries about these payments was that the companies should pay for what is readily identifiable as advertising, rather than what is disguised as personal opinion and a deeply held belief on the part of the announcer.

Practitioners are unlikely to embrace greater transparency of their gifts and benefits through a publicly accessible “register of interests or benefits” akin to those covering members of parliament. But given the commitment of the drug companies to best practice in corporate citizenship – and the potential for embarrassment if there was aggressive investigation by a royal commission – they might promise to cut back the corporate hospitality that’s labelled “continuing professional development”.

Given GSK’s disregard of its own ethics code, and of industry code that’s used to justify self-regulation, we might also be less trusting in heeding such promises. Such wariness means that Medicines Australia and the practitioner associations need to tighten up both their codes and their monitoring of those codes. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but one required for public health.

Bruce Arnold does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at
Read the original article. For interesting legal discussion, visit Bruce’s personal blog.

Common sense disclaimer: The blog owner wishes to advise that neither The Conversation nor the author Bruce Arnold necessarily endorse the original content of

Permalogue television in the shire

Analogue television is fun, but the fun won’t last forever. With this in mind, this blogger dedicated a few hours observing 26 permanent & fringe analogue television broadcasts receivable at a three-storey dwelling in Russell Street, Noosaville between July 13-15, 2012.

Turning up to a ‘well-stocked fridge’

The receiving equipment supplied in the apartment was an AWA 37″ Full High Definition LCD television & a horizonally-polarized rooftop VHF/UHF antenna system, facing south-west. The rooftop antenna signals were amplified & split to supply seven apartments, as per the usual practice. It is noteworthy to mention that the master antenna system was substantially free of impurities – no Austar cable television stations were re-modulated onto vacant UHF channels. Nonetheless, Figure 7 illustrates the limitations of such systems.

Don’t argue with the ref (although tribunal sanctions are worse say Carlton fans!)

For reference purposes, a balcony-mounted, vertically-polarized 5-element NAS FM yagi antenna facing west (above) was used to compare signal strengths, including television receiver overloading, detailed in Figure 7. Figures 4 & 6 illustrate the obvious limitations of using a FM antenna for television signals, especially VHF high-band broadcasts 120 kilometres away.

How to read the tables without dozing off

The column marked ‘Receiving Antennas’ shows the performance of different signals with the two antennas. The column marked ‘Frequency’ merely contains the frequency provided on the television display, rather than the official nominal frequency of the vision carrier. As per convention, manual tuning was used to find very weak signals that the automatic scan feature of the television passed over.

Incomplete, because regional QLD has flicked off analogue

Please note that the Biggenden (Bundaberg/Hervey Bay/Tin Can Bay), Bunya (Kingaroy/Dalby/Crows Nest) & Briz 31 Mount Coot-tha analogue broadcasts closed in 2011. One can only speculate whether tropospheric scatter reception from these high-powered sites was possible. In any event, chances are good that these frequencies were blocked by local signals! For a history of analogue television broadcasting on the Sunshine Coast, please read this document.

Digital dalliances

Reception of digital television broadcasts (DVB) was possible from Bald Knob & the local Tewantin translator site only. Signal strength was good with 80% mean signal levels. The suite of digital frequencies and coverage areas are covered in this document. Reception of digital radio broadcasts (DAB) from Mount Coot-tha was not possible at this location, using either the rooftop VHF antenna or the balcony-mounted FM antenna (above). Tests of digital radio reception were not exhaustive. Probably only five minutes was spent on DAB using the automatic scan feature of the Bush DAB+ CD Micro System, model BMS-06DABIP. This blogger has previously established that the eastern beaches such as Sunshine Beach do indeed permit intermittent reception of digital radio, but a significant height above sea level seems mandatory. Fellow radio eccentrics report reception at relatively high altitude tourist vistas such as Noosa Hill & Laguna Lookout.

Frequency Station Picture
534.25 SBS Excellent Both
555.25 ABC Good-Excellent Both
576.25 7 SC Excellent Rooftop
618.25 SC
Perfect Both
639.25 WIN Perfect Both

Figure 1:Tewantin-Noosa translator site, situated 8 km away at an azimuth of 249°. The coverage area is towards the NW. This is the local broadcast site for the shire with an ERP of 2 kW.

Frequency Station Picture
625.25 SBS Poor Both
646.25 ABC Poor Both
667.25 SC
Poor Both
688.25 WIN Poor Both
751.25 7 SC Good-Poor Rooftop

Figure 2: Black Mtn broadcast site, situated 22 km away at an azimuth of 261°. The coverage area is towards the NW. This is the local broadcast site for Gympie with an ERP of 6 kW for the commercial stations & 20 kW for the public stations.

Frequency Station Picture
569.25 SBS Poor Both
611.25 ABC Poor Both
632.25 7 SC Poor Both
653.25 SC
Good-Poor Both
674.35 WIN Poor Both

Figure 3: Bald Knob broadcast site, situated 47 km away at an azimuth of 199°. The coverage area is towards the NE. This is the broadcast site for the Northern Sunshine Coast with an ERP of 60 kW.

Frequency Station Picture
695.25 BTQ
730.25 TVQ Ten Very

Figure 4: Bald Knob broadcast site. The coverage area is towards the S. This is the broadcast site for the Southern Sunshine Coast with an ERP of 30 kW.

Frequency Station Picture
716.25 SBS Poor Both
737.25 ABC Good-Poor Both
758.25 7 SC Poor Rooftop
779.25 SC
Poor Rooftop
800.25 WIN Poor Both

Figure 5: Dulong Lookout translator site, situated 31 km away at an azimuth of 211°. The coverage area is towards the E. This is the local broadcast site for Nambour with an ERP of 20 kW.

Frequency Callsign Picture
Receiving Antennas
64.25 ABQ
182.25 BTQ
Poor Rooftop
196.25 QTQ
Poor Rooftop
209.31 TVQ Ten Poor Rooftop

Figure 6: Mt Coot-tha broadcast site, situated 120 km away at an azimuth of 186°. The coverage area is omni-directional. This is the high powered broadcast site for the city with an ERP of 200 kW.

Frequency Image
of Station
Picture Quality Receiving Antennas
391.75 WIN Very
546.25 SBS Very
666.75 SC
778.75 SC

Figure 7: Images caused by distribution amplifier overload to rooftop

Congratulations for making it this far! The reward is the final photograph, captured in glorious low resolution on a Nokia E51 cellular phone.

Next stop… is the FM band from the same receiving location featuring video footage.

Readers’ comments

Hilarious! If populist conservative blogger Andrew Bolt cannot afford staff to moderate his thousands of audience comments, what chance in hell do the rest of us have?

ABC journalist Jonathan Green writes:

Take a look at the Bolt blog now and you will see post after post with no comments, perhaps one open thread each day. What you see is Bolt paying the price for popularity and success.

The truth is that to run comments at high volume in the angrily contested space that is modern Australian politics requires diligent pre-post moderation. And that means staff. And that means money.

There’s proof here that all the talk of faltering media business models cuts a little deeper than the routinely discussed disconnect between classified advertising and serious broadsheet journalism. Here we have the country’s most successful political blog neutered thanks to the cost of moderation.

Just a reminder that all comments are approved on this blog, subject to the common sense policy specified on the legal page. If bloggers are serious about championing free speech then selective approval of audience comments by the writer should not form part of any blog. Practice what you preach. That means tolerating comments left by readers that may be considered uninformed, disagreeable, spiteful & petty.

Fortunately, this blog does not attract an audience that, to date, leaves these sort of comments. But please, do not see this message as tacit encouragement to start ‘ripping me a new one’ on future entries. 🙂 No-one likes to be told they are wrong, let alone by some faceless commentator 1,000 kilometres away. However, from this blogger’s perspective, censorship of audience comments is far worse!

This entry will self-destruct in fourteen days.

The shire

Laguna Lookout, Noosa Heads

Laguna Lookout is located in the Headland Section of Noosa National Park. Altitude information is unknown, but utilizing Bonzle, it is crudely estimated that Laguna Lookout has a height of 105-131 metres above sea level.

Below is a boarding video recorded by Plummet Longboarding. The ride starts from the summit of the Laguna Lookout.

The view is not bad, either! Gwirionez documents the panaroma concisely.

Idling in the crowded Laguna Lookout carpark for about two minutes, stations including Radio National from Coffs Harbour (distance: 437km, azimuth: 183°) & Rockhampton (distance: 392km, azimuth: 318° – much weaker) were receivable on the Blaupunkt Twinceiver. Other tropospheric scatter audible during the rain was from Bundaberg & Passchendaele (distance: 269km, azimuth: 207°). Note all other stations from Coffs apart from 99.5 MHz are blocked by local broadcasts on the Sunshine, Cooloola & Fraser Coasts.

Images from the local Sunrise Road translator site (distance:10km) & Cooroy’s Black Mountain (distance: 24km) were significantly problematic throughout the shire. Based on the brief scan undertaken, no such issues were noted at this lookout.

Mount Tinbeerwah, Tewantin

The altitude of Tinbeerwah is 265 metres above sea level. It is a favoured destination for climbers. But for the biggest thrills, it is best traversed using a unicycle!

Alas, in the two trips made to the lookout, the most popular activity observed was much simpler… Watching the sunset.

Bruce C documents this thoroughly in this video.

At the higher sections on the Mount Tinbeerwah walking track (leading to the summit) Rocky’s Radio National on 103.1 MHz (distance: 384km, azimuth: 320°) was audible via troposcatter.

The Dabbler’s Dream™ portable receiver (on steroids: modified with an extended telescopic antenna) revealed no traces of Coffs Harbour. Considering that aforementioned local sites are 5km & 13km away, that is probably no surprise. Consider the impeded portable performance experienced by this blogger at Cooloolabin Dam.

It seems certain that RN heard on the portable was definitely the Rocky broadcast (rather than a mistaken image of the local 20 kW broadcast) because other Rockhampton Mount Hopeful broadcasts were also audible with heavy fading in the Tinbeerwah carpark using the Twinceiver.

In-car video of Coffs (distance: 438km, azimuth: 181°) was recorded at Lake MacDonald’s Mary River Cod Park upon darkness. Lake MacDonald adjoins Tinbeerwah. With any luck, the documentary evidence will be uploaded by the end of the week. In these suburbs, jet scatter along Lake MacDonald Drive, Cooroy-Noosa & Sunrise Roads seemed to occur between 5-6 pm daily.

Radio path data sourced from FM using the Locate Yourself Precisely algorithm. Videos sourced from Youtube.

Tour of the campsite

The request for UHF antenna photographs via email will be fulfilled right here, right now. These photos show the phased array and yagi antenna in use last week. For those unfamiliar with these terms, Mr Henderson provides a simple overview of the characteristics of different antenna types at the DTV Forum.

The three photographs above illustrate the UHF phased array antenna, ANTFAUL. This type of antenna is also known as a bowtie because, erm, that’s what it looks like.

Foward gain is 9 – 12.5 dBd

Front to Back ratio is greater than 20 dB

Frequency coverage is 470 – 830 MHz

These two photographs above capture the beastly NAS Signal Max 34 element premium UHF yagi, ANTSMX34. This yagi is also the subject on the mast below!

Foward gain is 10 – 16.5 dBd

Front to Back ratio is 14.5-21.5 dB

Frequency coverage is 522.5 – 816.5 MHz*

* Based on the Australian band IV & V digital television frequency table compiled by antenna manufacturer Clipsal.

Rest assured, those guy wires are in fact straight! This is an optical illusion, much like when New South Wales scores heart-breaking State of Origin tries. 🙂

Lest this photo present ripe fodder for armchair critics, yes, the coaxial cable should be secured by cable ties. As this temporary amateur-grade installation was only in the sky for a few hours, these finer matters were not attended to! Be cool man, grab a coldie and enjoy the campsite!

Antenna specifications

DTV Forum

Nationwide Antenna Systems

J. R. Winegard

Thank you to family members for taking the photos & assisting with assembly whilst enduring this blogger’s irritable behaviour because of a current injury.

Tropospheric digital reception

Digital broadcasting systems such as DAB-T radio & DVB-T television can enable an enthusiast or free-to-air consumer to receive high definition 1080p digital video broadcasts and multiple channels without signal degradation such as noisy ‘snowy’ video. (From a consumer’s perspective, it is not insignificant that Wimbledon & the AFL are sometimes only shown on the digital video subchannels which perhaps forces viewers’ attention to maximizing DVB-T reception rather than reliance on the more robust ‘limited edition’ analogue signals).

On the downside, the digital broadcast signals are more fragile (e.g. pixelation & ‘borderline’ decodes can be problematic). The DVB & DAB+ transmitters utilize sharply directional antenna arrays so the crude ‘point-and-shoot’ approach to reception needs refinement. Moreover, in this region, the digital broadcasts are not designed to cover the original analogue reception from the same major site (such as Mount Tamborine). Instead, multiple sites in this region employ Single Frequency Networks (SFN) to provide a backup for those consumers who are in a black spot and cannot get reliable reception from the main site.

The analogue television switch off has meant that a digital signal meter (previously solely the domain of the professional installer) is sometimes necessary. In past, pointing the antenna to the azimuth where the analogue signal was of the highest S/N ratio, the DVB-T signal was often also peaking where the broadcast was from the same site. This is an oversimplification, and assumes the digital (DVB) and analogue (PAL B) share similar transmission parameters. Significant factors such as co-channel interference off the back of the receiving antenna may also come into play.

It cannot be denied that the challenge is considerable. However, there is a wealth of information available to the public. A considerable number of enthusiasts are ‘playing’ with fortuitous & DX DVB-T television, perhaps even more than analogue radio enthusiasts. The rewards are worth it! Thanks to the enthusiastic advice of Ian, Jamie & Leigh VK2KRR, this blog is now able to cover DVB-T reception… stay tuned. With the efforts of the Mobile Muzza in receiving the DAB+ Canberra multiplex from Goulburn it is clear there is some good company to be shared.

The photographs on this blog entry comprise two of the largest antennas suitable for long distance UHF DVB-T & VHF DAB-T reception. By no means are these necessary, these are merely a sample of the extensive range of antennas commercially available for this pursuit.

91 element UHF antenna

Further information

Austech Forums

DTV Forum Australia

Free to Air Satellite Forum Asia Pacific

Fellow enthusiasts

Clinton’s Digital TV DX Images

Leigh’s Digital TV DX Images

If you are an active DVB-T enthusiast with a public on-line presence, please comment so your website can be added to the above links!