What is your favourite compilation CD?

Finding good commercially-released compilation CDs is often difficult. But it does happen! One of this blogger’s favourites is the Warner Dance retail release entitled Electric. This double CD compilation was released to the UK in 2005.

Electric 2 CDs of alternative anthems © 2014 FM DXing

Electric 2 CDs of alternative anthems © 2014 FM DXing

Covering almost a quarter of a century of (predominantly UK-based) electronic music, it includes plenty of new wave. With barely a dud track included,  the music on this compilation is the ideal inspiration for a gym session or simply ‘chilling out’ & reflecting upon life with a cold beverage. Thoughtful pop music can indeed be bliss.

Electric 2 CDs of electronic anthems © 2014 FM DXing

Electric 2 CDs of electronic anthems © 2014 FM DXing

Favourites include:

Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (1980)

Gary Numan – Cars (1980)

OMD – Enola Gay (1981)

Vangelis – Blade Runner Theme, End Titles (1982)

Blancmange – Living On The Ceiling (1982)

New Order – Blue Monday (1983)

The Cure – A Forest (1987)

Fatboy Slim – Right Here, Right Now (1998)

William Orbit – Barber’s Adagio For Strings (1999)

Starsailor – Four To The Floor (2003)

Mylo – Drop The Pressure (2004)

The Killers – Somebody Told Me (2004)

Advertisements

Reflections at Lake Poona, Great Sandy National Pk & Rainbow Beach

Lake Poona bush walking (sans 4WD)

Lake Poona is accessible from Freshwater Road just west of Rainbow Beach. The lake comprises part of the Great Sandy National Park (NP). The park comprises some 220,000 hectares according to Bonzle and is tentatively World Heritage listed. The colourful Great Sandy NP (below) is sandwiched between Fraser Island & Tewantin – Noosa.

4WD vehicle driving south of Rainbow Beach © 2014 FM DXing

4WD vehicle driving south of Rainbow Beach © 2014 FM DXing

The Lake Poona walking track starts at the Bymien picnic area (map). This area is accessible via a loosely graded dirt road which is officially deemed suitable for 2WD vehicles.

To access the lake, a challenging walk (4.2 km / 2.6 mi return) is required. There is no direct vehicular access to Lake Poona. With a couple of short breaks, the walk took 43 minutes for its first half. Based on alitmeter readings, the elevation rises from 183 m (600 ft) to well over 240 m (787 ft) through the mid-point of the walk. Because of small rocks that are loose underfoot on the track, undertaking the walk is particularly challenging in the dark, even by torch light! It is therefore recommended to leave the lake and commence the return half of the walk at least half an hour prior to sunset.

Who is this tool at Lake Poona? © 2014 FM DXing

Who is this tool at Lake Poona? © 2014 FM DXing

The colour of the water in Poona Lake (above) is distinctive. It forms as a result of tea tree leaves that fall into the water. The pristine lake tastes good; the home brewed ale afterwards in the apartment… even better! This blogger roughly estimates that the lake is at least 226 m (741 ft) wide and 574 m (1,883 ft) long…  assuming seasonal rainfall maintains its capacity! The expansive lake can be easily seen from an aircraft. Fishing enthusiasts should be aware that reports suggest that fishing in Poona Lake is unlikely to be a fruitful endeavour!

4WD driving permitted on Rainbow Beach © 2014 FM DXing

4WD driving permitted on Rainbow Beach © 2014 FM DXing

The walk, which culminates at the south east corner of the lake, seems to be surprisingly unpopular. Even on a busy summer Sunday, with the Rainbow Beach patrolled surf beach ‘pumping’ nearby (above), only two thirty-something walkers were seen during the course of the walk.

Expansive Lake Poona © 2014 FM DXing

Expansive Lake Poona © 2014 FM DXing

Despite the obvious potential (above), there was no swimming undertaken on this occasion due to lack of time. The time of arrival was 5:30 pm. About three minutes were spent on a brief survey of FM radio reception. This act of madness was done discreetly, when nobody else was around.

Only very rudimentary portable radio equipment (below) was able to be taken on the bushwalks. Frozen water bottles, insect repellent, a ‘smart’ phone (apparently?), torches & two video cameras take precedence!

Tree hugging radio at Lake Poona © 2014 FM DXing

Tree hugging radio at Lake Poona © 2014 FM DXing

At the lake, signals from Bundaberg (93.9 MHz, N), the Darling Downs (100.7 MHz, SW) & the Gold Coast (89.3 MHz, S) at a distance of 224 km (139 mi) were clearly audible on the Tecsun PL-300WT (below). The 80 kW FM western ‘beasts’ broadcasting from Biggenden (116 km / 72 mi) were so strong the signals were bleeding onto adjacent channels such as 99.5 MHz. Jet-scattered transient signals from Coffs Harbour were NOT receivable at the lake. Tropospheric Index: light blue.

The highest point of the walk is roughly about one kilometre from the lake. At this point is a grassy clearing of about 25 square metres (269 square ft) with a basic selection of log ‘seating’ to recharge one’s depleted physical ‘batteries’. Unfortunately, the towering trees nearby attenuated FM signals at this area. This seemed to negate the benefit of the higher altitude, as signals listed above that were clear at the lake were noticeably absent.

Tecsun PL-300WT radio at Lake Poona © 2014 FM DXing

Tecsun PL-300WT radio at Lake Poona © 2014 FM DXing

Great Sandy NP radio observations

In contrast to Lake Poona, at two locations a short drive away, Coffs Harbour’s RN on 99.5 MHz would ‘boom in’ via jet reflection at this time of day. These were accompanied by daily late afternoon showers which were likely indicative of flat atmospheric conditions. These two trips are detailed below:

A third of the way (3 km / 1.9 mi) to Neeb’s Waterhole (map), the tour was forced to stop on a hill (where the road parts in two directions) that is roughly estimated to be 50 m (164 ft) ASL using Google Earth. Access to the waterhole was previously possible via Mullin’s carpark through Cooloola Way with a 4WD vehicle (that is, four-wheel drive or SUV, sport utility vehicle) but is now closed for repair to all traffic due to severe flood damage, which necessitated turning the vehicle back.

On this hill in Cooloola Way, the extensive 4WD metal body (below) was used as a highly effective ground plane. The radio was placed on the high roof of the vehicle. The Tecsun radio battery ground was connected to the roof and the telescopic antenna fully extended vertically. The base of the telescopic antenna is NOT touching the metal roof, only the ground wire does.

4WD beach route between Middle Rocks & Double Island Pt © 2014 FM DXing

4WD beach route between Middle Rocks & Double Island Pt © 2014 FM DXing

This yielded far better results than the 4WD factory radio. As seems to be commonplace, the Toyota’s telescopic antenna was too short. The FM telescopic wasn’t captured on film, but is probably only two-thirds of the length of the portable receiver’s telescopic antenna. Worse, the factory receiver did not feature sufficient selectivity for the modern congested FM band.

Although worthwhile for long distance FM reception, this ‘portable on the roof’ approach unfortunately yielded this crazed enthusiast dozens of insect bites that affected ‘sleep quality’ for the remainder of the vacation!

The highlights were Stanthorpe (103.3 MHz, SW) & Coffs Harbour (99.5 MHz, S) at distances of 302 km & 476 km (286 mi) respectively. A ‘rebelliously-strong’ signal from Beaudesert (90.5 MHz, S) was a pleasant surprise at 210 km (130 mi). It’s hard to maintain interest when insects are feasting on the back of one’s knees, but signals towards the north & west seemed lacklustre with nothing obvious further than moderate strength Bundaberg, 146 km (91 mi)! Tropospheric Index: unknown.

At the Tin Can Bay Volunteer Coast Guard (map), a simpler arrangement was used since a conventional vehicle was able to be used. Obviously this is more convenient (translation: ‘bite free’ comfort) & yields superior results to a portable receiver sited in the ‘middle of nowhere’, although perhaps it does not offer as much ‘quirky’ enjoyment. Again, a Blaupunkt ‘Sharx’-enabled radio with an amplified Shark Fin (an appropriate match for pun enthusiasts?) was effective, as is regularly used.

Overlooking Tin Can Inlet west of Rainbow Beach © 2014 FM DXing

Overlooking Tin Can Inlet west of Rainbow Beach © 2014 FM DXing

The car was driven to a parking space overlooking Snapper Creek near the Coast Guard’s antenna arrays (above). At this spot, Bundaberg (93.9 MHz, N) & Brisbane (104.5 MHz, S) were strong. Satisfactory reception was possible from Redland Bay (100.3 MHz, S), Ipswich (94.9 MHz, S), the southern Gold Coast (95.7 MHz, S), Beaudesert (89.7 MHz, S), Cherbourg (94.1 MHz, W) & Coffs Harbour (99.5 MHz, S) at a distance of 491 km (305 mi). North-western signals from Gladstone (93.5 MHz) & Rocky (103.1 MHz) at respective distances of 287 km & 348 km (216 mi) were weak. Tropospheric Index: dark blue.

Great & Sandy but dense terrain

The Great Sandy NP comprises many ranges of dense rainforest. Not only does this result in exhausting 4WD driving for relatively inexperienced drivers (like this long-suffering writer) but these terrain characteristics also pose a significant obstruction for long distance FM reception towards the south at Rainbow Beach.

Leisha track entrance to beach © 2014 FM DXing

Leisha track entrance to beach © 2014 FM DXing

Conversely, it is highly likely that this is also the reason for the FM reception deficiencies at Noosa towards the north, discussed in previous posts. Tewantin – Noosa is located near the southern boundary of the park. One afternoon, when checking briefly on the 4WD on the beach near the Freshwater camping & day use area (below) a haul of southern stations were found. These included the Gold Coast and were easily detected in flat conditions. Freshwater’s facility is NE of Teewah Beach, accessible by 4WD.

Freshwater track entrance to beach © 2014 FM DXing

Freshwater track entrance to beach © 2014 FM DXing

Much like Noosa, reception to the north west is obstructed by mountains. Fishing, surfing, swimming, walking, backyard cricket or drinking is probably a more fulfilling way for prospective campers to pass the time in this part of the park (below) than playing with a portable FM receiver!

Driving north towards Rainbow Beach © 2014 FM DXing

Driving north towards Rainbow Beach © 2014 FM DXing

Located NE of Freshwater camping & day use area is Double Island Point Conservation Park. Atop a cliff is the popular lighthouse attraction, accessible via walking track (below). The Double Island Point lighthouse has operated since 1884. The ‘light’ which guards passing ships from the rocky headland is supplied via solar electric panels. The lighthouse is an official weather station, often featured on television.

Lighthouse cliff track, Double Island Pt © 2014 FM DXing

Lighthouse cliff track, Double Island Pt © 2014 FM DXing

Rainbow Beach accommodation (sans 4WD)

Rainbow Beach (below) has a ‘party-like’ tourist atmosphere. To this writer, this felt reminiscent of Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands without the oppressive tropical summers. Granted, there is not the variety of restaurants & nightlife the Airlie Beach destination offers. Both destinations share the same sub-tropical climatic classification.

Rainbow Beach © 2014 FM DXing

Rainbow Beach © 2014 FM DXing

Rainbow Beach seems particularly popular with Dutch, German, Polish & Swedish twenty-something tourists. During the week, the location (cue The Specials’ classic, please deejay) almost resembles a ‘Ghost Town’!

It’s probably unsurprising as there is barely one school and no major supermarkets in the locality, with the overwhelming emphasis on tourism. Nearby Tin Can Bay seems to be the business, residential & recreational fishing and hub of the region.

Rainbow Beach to the south east, including Double Island Pt © 2014 FM DXing

Rainbow Beach to the south east, including Double Island Pt © 2014 FM DXing

Rainbow Beach’s weekday ‘slumber’ (above) is perhaps ideal for exploiting Rainbow Beach’s wonderful potential for FM reception. It is remote! How remote? The only local broadcast is a one watt Christian FM narrowcaster; on MW it is Classic Hits 4GY. The region only requires 75 watt digital television translators.

Tropospheric Ducting: Pack a yagi or get high!

Even during instances of ‘fair’ tropospheric ducting in mid-March (Autumn), distant reception is awesome. These were indicated by a light blue colour on the Hepburn tropo forecasts, easily viewed via even the most rudimentary cellular phone. (Conditions were confirmed after the vacation ended using the Marine Tracking peaks on the graphs at Gladstone).

Long distance FM reception from the north west as far as Mackay (687 km / 427 mi) is possible at Rainbow Beach. Just as rewarding is hearing the numerous low-powered mine relays from the same azimuth, rebroadcasting commercial stations Zinc (aka 4CC), Sea FM, Rebel & Breeze.

In total, 92 FM stations were logged at Rainbow Beach over three evenings. These included two re-broadcasts of cable television sporting channels, typically servicing large caravan parks.

As mentioned above, the obstructive nature of the Great Sandy NP at Rainbow Beach enable FM broadcasts from Gladstone (292 km / 181 mi) to obliterate those on the Sunshine Coast (100 km / 62 mi). This is a very pleasing terrain side effect, since the Gladstone broadcasts emanate from a low-elevation site with a tenth of the power of the coast stations!

Access to a collapsible three or five element FM yagi (from $45) is recommended for receiving pleasant ‘quieting’ signals from the north west (such as Mackay) in Rainbow Beach. Not all accommodation may be ideally suited for the placement of a ‘stealth antenna’. Huh? Essentially, a stealth antenna in this context refers to the erection of a tripod-mounted small yagi on the balcony during darkness between 7 pm – midnight. A folded dipole resting on a balcony’s glass or wooden table may suffice. (The dipole is easily detached from a surplus five or eight element FM yagi).

Carlo Sandblow to the south, including Double Island Pt © 2014 FM DXing

Carlo Sandblow to the south, including Double Island Pt © 2014 FM DXing

Rainbow Beach’s elevated region is characterized by a gradual rise from beach level (i.e. the Pacific Ocean) to 87 m (285 ft) near the Cooloola Drive reservoirs. These water towers adjoin the extremely popular Carlo Sand Blow lookout (108 m / 354 ft ASL), so these are easy to spot! The Sand Blow is pictured above & below.

Unless one is lucky enough to secure scarce accommodation located around here (the author did not), experimentation with a portable receiver’s telescoping monopole antenna is virtually guaranteed to be frustrating as the effects of a federal budget! Unlike many holiday locations, at Rainbow Beach there are simply no towering high rise apartments on offer. Typically towers partially offset the performance of a ‘lossy’ telescoping antenna.

Carlo Sandblow to the south, including Double Island Pt © 2014 FM DXing

Carlo Sandblow to the south, including Double Island Pt © 2014 FM DXing

Provided one pays attention to the hilltops and gets mobile, there are still plenty of other alternative methods to ‘get in on the action’. In fact, one evening the Mackay stations were even audible via tropo in the car, albeit only on the western crests of Rainbow Beach Road. Reception from this north western azimuth seems optimal when this road transitions into Tin Can Bay Road, approaching Wolvi near Gympie. Signals from Mackay were typically heard just above the noise floor.

Distance calculations computed using FM Scan, with base (apartment) reception undertaken with a Yamaha TX-930 component tuner.

Creative Commons license

Creative Commons license - Click here for details

Photographs may be freely used for non-commercial activity, provided attribution is given. Should readers choose to use those photos elsewhere, please link back to this page or attribute this blog as the copyright holder. Please click on the photos to access higher resolution shots (2048 x 1536 pixels).

Quest for silence: Quiet SATA notebook hard drives

When using a notebook computer for audio applications, unfortunately it isn’t simply a matter of buying the most reliable big hard drive. Using a notebook with either a Software Defined Radio (SDR) or as a playback device when recording from external components (such as a tuner) means noise matters. Hard drives produce noise which affects concentration in critical listening applications where the signal to noise ratios are critical… especially with ‘compromised audio’, which is often characteristic of weak radio signals or old recordings.

Noise Factory © 2010 Alexander Marco

Noise Factory © 2010 Alexander Marco

Hard drive evolution

The differences in hard drive technology are often quite obvious. Even within the last 15 years, the average person can readily compare old 3.5″ IDE hard drives to modern ones and notice the mammoth difference in audible noise, even with the software inactive (idle mode). More recently, there is often a noticeable difference between SATA drives with their increasingly rare IDE counterparts.

A decade ago, New York inventor Neil Singer suggested:

The level of noise in a disk drive is due to vibrations at particular frequencies, such as 6.6 KHz, 6.0 KHz, 5.0 KHz, 4.2 KHz, and 1.3 KHz. On the other hand, mechanical vibrations, which reduce seek time, result from vibrations at different frequencies, such as 3.3 KHz.

Today, Solid State Drives (SSDs) are generally considered to be ‘silent’ storage technologies. Problem solved, right? Perhaps, provided one has inordinate wealth! The cost associated with buying a huge SSD means these aren’t necessarily cost effective choices for radio DX applications where uncompressed audio demands may be onerous; a 6.14 MHz ‘spectrum chunk’ may consume as much as 120 GB of data per hour.

Research aids

For specific needs, the Silent PC Review (SPCR) test articles and forums are an invaluable, simple to understand resource in the quest for finding quiet hard drives, whether external, internal, desktop or laptop variants. Further, hard drive manufacturer Western Digital (whose part reliability is top notch) provides acoustic specifications in dBA on their website. Other manufacturers such as Hitachi & Seagate may also provide this data.

Much of this information (sadly, including this article!!!) becomes redundant quickly after publication. Before committing to recommended drives, it is prudent to check with manufacturers that there are not better performers that may have just been released.

Eventually the cost of SSD technology may become so affordable that it is foreseeable that there will be negligible demand for acoustic tests on the subject matter of this article. The reality is that SATA drives are older, less efficient performing drives but for now, remain perfectly appropriate choices. Drew Riley of Tom’s Hardware portal suggests:

Even though SSDs only account for 10% of the total market, growth over the next few years is expected to be explosive.

WD 2.5" SATA drive © 2011 Matt Kieffer

WD 2.5″ SATA drive © 2011 Matt Kieffer

Needs analysis

This blogger wanted to buy a 2 TB hard drive for a new notebook which is already furnished with a single 1TB (5400 rpm) drive, which incorporates a second bay for a secondary hard drive. SSD drives were not considered due to cost; a typical 1 TB drive costs over $600 and over half that for 0.5 TB. Although fast, external USB 3.0 drives were also not considered due to already congested desk space. Hell, there’s enough crap lying around!

Whilst affordable, those desirable 2TB SATA drives are typically considerably noisier than their smaller capacity counterparts. So significant was the increase in noise (based on the dBA specifications) this prompted a reassessment as to whether bigger was necessarily critical for the particular SDR application. If the noise is problematic, even if there are two internal bays, it’s not so easy to switch internal drives off unlike an external drive. Therefore it’s probably worthwhile to research the most appropriate internal drive, rather than be forced to tolerate a noisy drive by judicious use of headphones or a proportionate increase in playback volume!

Three top candidates

Priced from $45 including domestic shipping:
Western Digital Scorpio Blue 0.5 TB with SATA 6 Gb/s interface (WD5000LPVX)
Manufacturer specifications (dBA): idle 17, average seek 22.

Priced from $62 including international shipping:
Western Digital Scorpio Blue 0.5 TB with SATA 3 Gb/s interface (WD5000LPVT)
Manufacturer specifications (dBA): idle 17, average seek 22.
This drive won the Editor’s Choice at SPCR.

Priced from $125 including domestic shipping:
Western Digital Blue 1 TB (WD10SPCX)
Manufacturer specifications (dBA): idle 20, average seek 21.

One of the quietest 0.5 GB drives, the WD5000MPCK (idle: 15, seek: 17) was unfortunately no longer readily available. Obviously, when reading the dBA specification, lower is quieter. To convert between acoustic units please use the calculator below. It seems that manufacturer Seagate for example, cites noise measurements using bel units rather than dBA.

 

Further reading

Acoustic unit calculator

Advanced PC silencing

Benefits of Solid State Drives

Eight different 2TB hard drives, with dBA measurements

Home Studio construction

Silent Windows laptops?

Things you can do to have older laptops quiet again

Top 5 external A/V-rated drives for audio recording

World’s quietest (desktop) computer

Dusting off old tech: Setting a daily unattended FM recording

Listeners may have a need for daily recordings of certain desirable FM broadcasts such as music programmes or sporting event calls. The use of online streaming to time shift broadcasts may offer an easy solution, but problems still exist:

  • Potential loss of audio quality, due to artifacts (audio distortion) associated with low bitrate streams
  • Anxiety over burning through the monthly internet data allowance, or the
  • Ever-increasing prevalence of ‘geoblocking’ due to music licensing restrictions.

Perhaps the radio recording app doesn’t permit recording of distant FM stations on the smart phone?

Radio Concierto "Concierto Enfoque" © 2005 Leo Prieto

Radio Concierto “Concierto Enfoque” © 2005 Leo Prieto

Enthusiasts who pursue long distance FM reception may need to monitor a specific vacant frequency every day to check the presence of signals propagated via Sporadic E or tropospheric ducting, especially during summer. This technique is often referred to as recording DX audio.

The ultimate solution to their specialist needs is to purchase a Software Defined Radio (SDR). An SDR probably represents the most efficient way to participate in long distance FM reception, without the often exhausting and time consuming burden of ‘live listening’ when propagation conditions happen to be favourable.

But many FM enthusiasts cannot justify the outlay of approximately $1,400 on a Micro Telecom Perseus Software Defined Receiver (SDR) with an FMplus down converter. And when one takes into account the minimum hardware requirements, their fellow Italian counterparts including the Elad FDM-S1/PDC-FM combination or FDM-S2 are not much cheaper either.

Recording FM broadcasts… on the smell of an oily rag!

By using simple but effective old technology, setting a daily unattended FM recording remains easily within reach for everybody.

There are likely to be numerous ways of achieving this, using an old computer. To implement this blogger’s preferred method, the following equipment is required:

  • Microsoft Windows XP operating system (or above)
  • Leadtek Winfast TV2000XP FM tuner card (or equivalent)
  • Rooftop FM/VHF/UHF antenna connection with ferrite chokes clipped onto cables.

The following equipment (as used in the final step) is desirable:

  • Desktop computer with a Bios that supports Auto Switch On.

The Leadtek Winfast TV2000XP is a sensitive FM tuner card which is readily available for $5 – $15 on the second hand market. The card has software available for Windows 7, Vista, XP and 2000. For simplicity, XP will be used in this guide since the TV2000XP software was optimized for this operating system.

Flexibility

Although the three mandatory steps below might initially look daunting, the beauty of this technique is that performing these steps is generally only required once. Furthermore, the technique is not restricted to unattended software recording tasks. To fully automate another task (such as a virus & malware scan) replace this task into steps one and two.

Old desktop computers © 2009 Brian Landis

Old desktop computers © 2009 Brian Landis

Virtually any old desktop PC (manufactured after 2002) should be a candidate for such ‘old school’ simplicity. It’s perhaps an opportune time to dust off disused Windows XP computers which may not be cost effectively upgraded to Windows 8 operating system after Microsoft’s cessation of support.

FIRST STEP – Setup Winfast FM in Windows Startup

A
Click on START
Search hard drive for WFFM.exe
Note which directory this application file resides in, for example: E:\Program Files\WinFast

B
Click on START
Search hard drive for Startup
In the list of results, there will be Startup next to a folder named something like:
E:\Documents and Settings\joebloggs\Start Menu\Programs
Click on Startup and leave window open.

C
Click on START
Click on RUN
Type in E:\Program Files\WinFast (or whatever directory it is, obtained from step A)
Locate WFFM.exe
Right click CREATE SHORTCUT
Drag the newly created shortcut into the Startup folder left open from step B.

Restart the computer. Please ensure Winfast FM starts up automatically.

Hint: Tuber Guru Fuel has made a video if the author’s approach (above) looks too boring to even contemplate!

SECOND STEP – Setup the timer in Winfast FM

The desired channel, number of hours and recording quality must be chosen in this step. Specific days may be chosen. For example, every Monday between 7-10 pm, Monday night football may be recorded.

WinFast Daily Recording Schedule © 2014 FM DXing

WinFast Daily Recording Schedule © 2014 FM DXing

Obviously, please ensure that the chosen frequencies (radio stations or vacant channels) to be recorded have been added in. To do this, click on CONFIGURATION button in Winfast FM and navigate to the CHANNEL LIST on the top centre.

Ensure antenna is connected and enter the schedule as follows:

Click on CONFIGURATION button in Winfast FM
Click on SCHEDULE button on the top right

Click on ADD at the bottom left
Under ACTION select RADIO RECORD
Under CHANNEL pick the frequency
Under FORMAT choose a PCM or a compressed format if disk space is tight

Under DAILY tick the applicable days
Under FROM select the Start Time
Under TO select the End Time

Double check details and select OK. Please take note of End Time and Start Time chosen.

WinFast Daily Recording Schedule © 2014 FM DXing

WinFast Daily Recording Schedule © 2014 FM DXing

For additional information on setting an FM recording schedule please click on the ? button within the software.

Ideally run a test scheduled recording consisting of a few minutes duration. Once complete, please check the contents of the recorded file to ensure it contains the desired broadcast.

THIRD STEP – Setup shutdown in Windows Scheduled Tasks

The aim is to ensure the computer switches off after recording. Blogger the Spinning Donut has a step-by-step guide and video for guidance.

Windows Daily Shutdown Schedule © 2014 FM DXing

Windows Daily Shutdown Schedule © 2014 FM DXing

Ideally run a test scheduled shutdown for a few minutes into the future. Once the system is shut off, please restart it.

When setting the time for daily shutdown, please use the End Time specified in step two, but add an additional 5 minutes. For example, if the End Time of the radio recording in Winfast FM Schedule is 11:30 please ensure the Windows shutdown is set for 11:35.

This allowance will ensure that the end of the recording is written to the hard drive, meaning that a valid sound file will consequently be playable with all audio software.

Hint: Third party software that will schedule a daily Windows shut down may be used as an alternative.

FOURTH STEP – Setup daily startup in BIOS 

The aim is to ensure the computer switches on before recording, an optional but desirable process.

A PC World Wiki contains a step-by-step guide to Wake System settings with screen shots.

When performing this final (and the simplest) step, please take note of the Time and Date configured in the Bios. Ensure that the WAKE UP TIME / RTC ALARM TIME selected in the Bios is before the Start Time chosen in Step two. For example, if one sets the system to wake 10 minutes prior to the recording Start Time set in the FM recording scheduler, this ‘factors-in’ the starting up delay of Windows.

These screen shots show the settings to configure the computer to wake at 0730 hours every morning. Each Bios may be slightly different, if in doubt please refer to the printed instructions supplied with the motherboard.

BIOS Daily Wakeup Schedule © 2014 FM DXing

BIOS Daily Wakeup Schedule © 2014 FM DXing

If Daily is not listed in the Bios facility, ensure the WAKE UP DATE / RTC ALARM DATE is to be set to 0 for daily system wakes. Whilst it is very simple, as always a trial run is recommended to ensure familiarity with the date and time format. Finally, don’t forget to save WAKE SYSTEM / RTC ALARM settings to CMOS when exiting the Bios facility! With this Bios, F10 does the trick.

BIOS Daily Wakeup Schedule © 2014 FM DXing

BIOS Daily Wakeup Schedule © 2014 FM DXing

Hint: Obviously when there is no longer any ongoing requirement to automatically start the PC for daily recording etc. it may be convenient to DISABLE the above WAKE SYSTEM / RTC ALARM settings!

Practical considerations

Some computer Bios facilities may not offer a Wake or Alarm System setting where the computer will switch on without intervention, as described in step four. Nonetheless, under those circumstances one can still follow the instructions to schedule recordings to commence and then shutdown, as listed in steps one to three above. Of course, one must be home to physically start the computer or already be using the computer for other tasks. For this reason, the provision for WAKE SYSTEM FROM S5 or similar Auto On facility in the Bios is considered a prerequisite for implementing a fully unattended recording system as proposed in this guide.

Windows Password & Login Settings © 2014 FM DXing

Windows Password & Login Settings © 2014 FM DXing

Step four will not work if the User Accounts in Windows XP (above) are set to require users to enter passwords & / or press Control-Alt-Delete as a security measure on Windows startup to operate software. These logins require user intervention, which is incompatible with the goal of unattended recording. These Windows logins are easily disabled (reference video). Moreover, password protected logins are overkill for old desktop computers that are not connected to the internet, but dedicated to the task of recording!

Alternative Power Management features such as reduced power Hiberation or Standy By modes are beyond the scope of this guide. The method above allows for maximum power saving. Since the computer system is only operational when required, there is also no potentially annoying fan and hard drive mechanism noise; older desktops can indeed be noisy.

Once it has been established that settings are configured properly during a test run, daily recording settings can be implemented. Enjoy the automation and the maintenance of old tech!

Testing: the method has been tested numerous times with several disused single-core CPU (3 GHz) computers using ASRock K7VT6 & Asus P5GZ-MX motherboards. These of course, feature a Bios that supports Auto Switch On. 

Dusting off your collection: the legacy of INXS

During February, even the most uncommitted INXS fans ‘came out of the woodwork’ to celebrate this Australian band’s music. Many of this blogger’s peers are dusting off the memories and reflecting on the musical journey that shaped the albums.

This blogger was a fan of INXS until the early 1990s. The first album that was purchased was Kick on cassette. Frankly, everybody owned this album! A failed search for this blogger’s rarely-played copy was conducted during the INXS frenzy that accompanied the free to air television mini series. At some point over the years, someone has probably stolen it from the cabinet. This is not unusual occurrence, it’s a fate also suffered by the Don’t Change 7-inch!

INXS Kick © 2007 przybysz

In the 1990s, vintage albums would be played in entirety and commercial-free, late at night on the local commercial FM radio station. One night, Shabooh Shoobah from 1982 was played. That broadcast was taped on a cheap TDK D120 and the album was one of the band’s most interesting. It’s strikingly different to the late 1990s INXS sound.

INXS Shabooh Shoobah © 2010 epicletic

Of the albums in this blogger’s collection (below), X from 1990 may be the most underrated. Lesser known album tracks such as The Stairs hold up well to this day. Unfortunately, the album leads with the catchy single Suicide Blonde which might be the artistic equivalent of Blur’s Song 2! (Sorry if this opinion disappoints fans of this song! Each to their own).

Both Kick and X were remarkably consistent albums and it was predominantly through these releases that people such as this blogger became fans. Nonetheless, in the process of trimming the perhaps indulgent B-sides that frequently peppered earlier releases, did the unique and enigmatic edge to their music fade? A certain level of artistic obscurity seems to accompany musical credibility! For musicians, it must be extraordinarily difficult to remain both fashionable (‘cool’) and maintain popularity amongst fickle consumers.

By 1991, INXS probably realized they needed to experiment again. The miniseries suggests this was indeed the case. This yielded mixed results, as Stephen Thomas Erlewine explains succinctly at All Music Guide. Cue Regurgitator’s I Like Your Old Stuff Better Than Your New Stuff,  a track which highlights just how frustratingly fickle consumers can be.

Most of the collection © 2014 FM DXing

Should one invite people over… only a single INXS album ever consistently gets played by strangers, and that’s The Swing from 1985. Dancing on the Jetty is this blogger’s favourite track on the album, by a considerable margin. As most fans will know, that album yielded the US breakthrough with two singles

INXS The Swing (Remastered) © 2014 FM DXing

As has been widely reported in the mainstream Australian press, in the television miniseries there was scant attention directed towards Hutchence’s Max Q indie project, nor his earlier single Rooms For the Memory. That track appeared on a magnificent 1987 compilation from the Australian indie movie Dogs In Space which starred Hutchence. In this blogger’s opinion, even in 2014 this film remains thoroughly entertaining, capturing the essence of late 70’s suburban rock, not to forget the pitfalls of living in ‘share houses’!

Max Q autographed © 2011 Luna715

Max Q’s Way Of The World was certainly not a disposable single, but this blogger did buy the Max Q cassette album from a discount bin at Myer… which highlights just how commercially unsuccessful it was. Fortunately, the Max Q singles do still receive commercial radio airplay. Even the video of Sometimes was chosen on an edition of Rage last week by the Sunnyboys that was worth missing (much needed) sleep to watch!

Most of the collection, another angle © 2014 FM DXing

Critics will always be divided about the accuracy of any biographical production. Hutchence’s family might argue on commercial radio about whether the script was reflective enough of his individual musical genius. That alone seems somewhat odd, because it was an INXS (i.e. a collective) biography. One thing is for sure. Making a biographical miniseries has drawn old fans (like this writer) back to the music of INXS. Perhaps through the mainstream attention, the band’s work has even captured a skerrick of a newer audience? And that’s important.

Singles of INXS can be viewed at ARTISTdirect. The solo singles of Michael Hutchence, including the Max Q collaboration can be viewed on Youtube. Readers might also enjoy The Boss covering the classic INXS single Don’t Change last month, whilst performing in Sydney.

Revisiting the Realistic PRO-2006

Around 1990, Tandy Corporation introduced the Realistic PRO-2006 programmable scanner. It was manufactured for Tandy by General Research of Electronics, Inc. (GRE) in Japan. It is also known in Europe as the Commtel COM-205 or Handic 0080 (below), according to Javiation.

Handic 0080 aka PRO-2006 © 2011 Wanderlinse

This triple conversion receiver offers microprocessor-controlled VHF, UHF and FM reception. A rooftop antenna or whip (supplied) is connected via the BNC antenna connector. The scanner sold for a retail price of $400 in the United States.

Realistic PRO-2006 © 2014 FM DXing at WordPress

There are plenty of modifications that can be undertaken for this scanner. These include the ability to tap the discriminator output or the 455 kHz third Intermediate Frequency (IF) signal for SSB demodulation. An HF receiver or modern outboard conversion hardware (such as RadiØKit-2 in combination with open source Dream software) is required to demodulate the SSB from the IF signal.

Being relatively lightweight, the PRO-2006 offers genuine potential during field trips at summits. The scanner is easily operated using an inexpensive, lightweight and rechargeable Sealed Lead Acid (SLA) battery.  A battery with a capacity of nine Amp hours (Ah) is more than adequate for this scanner. A handheld MP3 recorder featuring line-in recording can be connected to Tape Output on the rear of the scanner to permit monophonic recording of reception, including FM broadcasts.

Realistic PRO-2006 supplied antenna © 2014 FM DXing at WordPress

FM broadcast band tuner module

The PRO-2006 incorporates two 280 kHz, two 455 kHz ceramic filters and a 48.5 MHz crystal filter. Wide FM mode is designed for analogue FM and TV audio only.

Realistic PRO-2006 tuner module, rear unit perspective © 2014 FM DXing at WordPress

The PRO-2006 has two 10.7 IF bandpass filters in the FM section (above). These are both marked 10.7A, suggesting a 280 kHz bandwidth. The part number is Murata SFE10.7MA5W-A. The bandwidth of these filters is too wide to discriminate FM stations spaced 100 kHz or 200 kHz apart on the contemporary congested FM band.

PRO-2006 partial schematic © 1990 Tandy Corporation

KA2243N (IC1)  is the IF amplifier/detector Integrated Circuit (IC). The first 280 kHz filter (CF1) leads directly to pin 1. The second 280 kHz filter (CF2) leads to pins 4 and 6. The HA12413 IC may be substituted for the KA2243N.

This tuner module incorporates the IF coils and the Quadrature/detector discriminator coil for both 48.5 MHz (T1, T2) and 10.7 MHz (T3, T4).

FM broadcast band performance

The nominal 30 decibel FM sensitivity ‘design specification’ for the PRO-2006 is 3 microvolts for frequencies from 25 – 520 MHz. The FM broadcast band falls into this segment.

Radios featuring a Si4734 digital AM/FM radio receiver IC, such as those manufactured by Tecsun, offer approximately equal sensitivity as the PRO-2006 scanner in Wide FM mode. It is impossible to make entirely accurate comparisons between the Silabs’ Digital Signal Processing (DSP) based receivers and conventional tuners, since the company use differing units and test conditions to measure sensitivity. However, the nominal 30 decibel FM sensitivity ‘design specification’ (below) from Tecsun, applicable for radios such as the PL-300WT & PL-606) is better than 3 microvolts for frequencies from 64 – 108MHz.

Tecsun specifications © 2014 FM DXing at WordPress

How to access the tuner module

Unscrew the two, top positioned screws on the rear of the scanner. Remove the top plastic cover top to expose the ‘linear printed circuit board’, PC1. Remove the metal cover of the tuner module (below), which is located second from the right.

PRO-2006 interior modules © 1990 Tandy Corporation

Replacing wide 280 kHz filters in the PRO-2006, PRO-2005, PRO-2004, PRO-2035 or PRO-2042 scanners is likely to be as simple as the modification to the Philips FM1216-based tuner module, used in television tuners such as the Winfast TV2000XP. An excellent resource for this modification is GBPPR Projects.

Realistic PRO-2006 frequency display © 2014 FM DXing at WordPress

Mating the PRO-2006 with a Software Defined Radio (SDR)

After filter replacement, tapping the 10.7 MHz IF (both mods are described at GBPPR Projects) may enable the 10.7 MHz output from the scanner to be manipulated with DSP functionality in an SDR. Unfortunately, readers wishing to do so are ‘on their own’ because the writer does not own a compatible SDR (such as the SDR-IQ). It may be instructive to watch the video Gough Lui made. He taps the 10.7 MHz IF of the PRO-2021 scanner into the Winradio Excalibur SDR. Peter employs the same principle in his video.

A more inexpensive alternative may be to use a High frequency (HF) upconverter in combination with a cheap RTL-SDR receiver. Such upconverters are available for under $50. Unlike the cheap RTL-SDR receiver itself, an upconverter will tune into the 10.7 MHz output frequency from the scanner. There are side effects in this approach, which potentially include a 10 decibel loss and the limiting dynamic range of the RTL-SDR receivers.

Pairing the scanner with an SDR offers hobbyists the opportunity to extract the maximum potential audio quality out of FM broadcasts or International Radio and Television Organisation (OIRT) broadcasts on 66-74 MHz still on-air in Eastern Europe.

Creative Commons license - Click here for details

PRO-2006 photographs may be freely used for non-commercial activity, provided attribution is given. Should readers choose to use those photos elsewhere, please link back to this page or attribute this blog as the copyright holder. Please click on the photos for higher resolution shots (2048 x 1536 pixels).

Eighties Retro Radio

Rewind time back to 1988 and an ‘el cheapo’ FM stereo tuner kit looked like this! The three modules pictured below consisted of an:

  • FM tuner (steel shielded front end),
  • Intermediate Frequency/detector (IF) &
  • FM stereo decoder.

The three modules connect together with 28 inexpensive supporting components to comprise a fully functioning FM/AM tuner with a basic signal strength meter, LED stereo indicator & coaxial cable antenna input.

Tuner module © 2014 FM DXing at WordPress

Module for IF & Detector © 2014 FM DXing at WordPress

Module for Stereo Decoder © 2014 FM DXing at WordPress

The tuner featured analogue tuning with switchable Automatic Frequency Control (AFC) feature. AFC is rarely mentioned these days. In a nutshell, AFC circuitry automatically locks to the tuned frequency so as to facilitate ‘drift free’ reception of the desired FM broadcast; automatic correction is applied when the dial is ‘off-tuned’. In a congested FM band, the function is best switched off, otherwise that weak signal might be hard to find.

Contents of Electronics Australia magazine © 1988 Federal PublishingCover of Electronics Australia magazine © 1988 Federal Publishing

The above tuner was featured as a Do It Yourself (DIY) kit in the now defunct Electronics Australia magazine (above) from April 1988. Hand written & printed schematic diagrams and modules (above) were found in buried in an old set of drawers.

The schematics for each module appear below:

FM tuner schematic © 2014 FM DXing at WordPress

FM IF & detector schematic © 2014 FM DXing at WordPress

Stereo decoder schematic © 2014 FM DXing at WordPress

Further reading

1974 MPX-stereo decoder with TCA290A

TCA420a datasheet

AFC Definition

AFC Explained

What is AFC?

Why choose plain FM over FM AFC?