Review of the Insignia NS-HDRAD2 radio

Insignia NS-HDRAD2. Click to enlarge.

My beloved Sony XDR-F1HD radio recently developed a problem where its audio output became garbled with a hum, rendering it useless for DX.  As I often used the F1HD on airplane trips where bringing my larger radios were impractical, I have been on the search for a replacement radio with HD Radio capabilities.  I found the Insignia NS-HDRAD2, which at the time of writing, is $49.99 at Best Buy, but is cheaper on eBay.

I’ve been eyeing this radio for some time, but shied away from purchasing it due to a less-than-stellar review from a friend who bought it and returned it to Best Buy last year.  Given its cheap price, I thought I would give it a chance.  I’m glad I did.

This isn’t the first Insignia HD Radio I’ve used–I’ve owned the Continue reading

The effect of HD Radio interference on an analog FM signal

For the past few days, local 96.3 WHUR Washington, DC’s HD Radio signal, which airs on 96.1 and 96.5, has been off-air.  Usually, 96.1 and 96.5 are extremely difficult to DX since WHUR’s digital sidebands are strong at my Northern Virginia home.  However, with WHUR-HD turned off, both of its adjacent frequencies were open to distant reception like they were prior to 2006 when HD Radio debuted on WHUR.  At 8:50 PM February 8, WHUR’s IBOC sidebands resumed its broadcast.

whur_iboc
The above chart shows a waveform of 96.5 FM from 8:49-8:50 PM February 8.  In the beginning, you can see a fairly strong analog signal from 96.5 WKLR Ft. Lee, VA, 92 miles away.  At the 0:05:00 mark, WKLR’s signal decreases as WHUR’s HD revs back up.  at 0:09:50, WHUR’s 96.5 digital sideband is at full-power, and WKLR abruptly disappears without a trace.

Listen to the corresponding audio file to the graphic above.

Translator update: FM dial is worse in Northern Virginia

transistor-radioThree years ago, I wrote about the rising amount of FM translators that have popped up in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC and its effect on FM DXing.  I am updating this article as the local radio landscape has greatly changed since my original 2013 article.

FM translators are low power rebroadcasts of either a full service FM or AM signal.  Or, they can be a relay of an HD Radio subchannel of a nearby signal.  LPFMs, or low-powered radio stations, on the other hand, can originate their own programming and often operate as a community radio station, complete with live and local content.

For the most part, the radio dial in Northern Virginia is much worse than it was in 2013 due to the existence of these signals.  Many of my good, quiet DXing frequencies are gone, replaced instead by a repeater of a signal that I can already get strong elsewhere on Continue reading

Norway Will Soon Shut Down Its Analog FM Stations. Could the United States Do The Same?

Credit: stock.xchng

Credit: stock.xchng

Imagine turning on your radio to listen to your favorite station to find nothing but static. You hit the ‘seek’ button and it dances from 88.1 to 107.9 multiple times without stopping. And yep, your antenna is connected and it is operating just fine. It’s surely a DXing nightmare–something that will soon be a reality for DXers living in Norway.

In less than two years, the country will cease all analog FM broadcasting. According to an article in The Hollywood Reporter, other European countries, including the United Kingdom, are also considering to end analog radio broadcasting by Continue reading

2014 FM E-Skip Year in Review

2014reviewAfter a summer of deadband radio dials and yawn-inducing static on every empty frequency, DXers may be wondering “where’s the skip?”

But that question will likely remain unanswered until mid-2015, as this year’s FM Es season ended without fanfare on July 31.

Sporadic E-Skip is a phenomenon which allows broadcast signals from up to 1500 miles away, on average, to be received in one location during the warmer months.  This review focuses on its effect on the FM band in Northern Virginia.

After an acceptable 2013 E-skip season, I had high hopes that this year would compare, in terms of performance, with the great seasons of 2006-2008.  Unfortunately, 2014 didn’t Continue reading

10 years later: A look back at the historic July 6, 2004 sporadic e-skip opening (audio and video)

Ten years ago today, DXing history was made with a colossal Sporadic E opening that blanketed most of the central and eastern portions of the United States.  This opening, which locally had a MUF of 195 MHz, came in with such a punch that it wiped out most local broadcasting signals here in the Northern Virginia/Washington, DC area.  Nothing like it has been seen since.

The skip rolled in shortly before 5 p.m., with FM and TV signals coming in concurrently from Alabama to Nebraska.   At 10:42 p.m. — almost six hours later — the opening was still going strong into FM.  It finally left the low TV band by 1 a.m.

I logged 49 new FM signals and 12 new TV signals that day.

7604es
A Google Maps plot of areas FM and TV signals were received from Woodbridge, VA (noted in the black circle) on 7/6/04.

Looking back, I know I was largely unprepared for the opening.  Although I had 5 years of DXing under my belt at the time, I had only experienced 3 garden-variety FM Es openings and a handful more fairly-weak TV-only openings.  Therefore, I had really no clue how Es affected the broadcast bands.  I sat in amazement watching station after station coming in on my Continue reading

An honest review of the RTL-SDR USB tuner

Local 103.5 WTOP and 104.1 WPRS tuned in via the RTL-SDR.  Note the HD Radio digital signals surrounding both signals.

Local 103.5 WTOP and 104.1 WPRS tuned in via the RTL-SDR in the HDSDR program. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

There have been a lot of recent buzz in the DXing community about software-defined radios, otherwise known as SDRs.  These radios, typically housed in a small USB thumbdrive-like units or small external hard drive-like enclosures without screens, can connect to your computer and can be used to DX multiple radio bands.

Recently Jim H., a DXer who lives in Stanardsville, VA, introduced me to the RTL-SDR USB dongle, which costs a whopping $9.95 on Amazon.com.  I’ll admit, I was highly skeptical of this device’s capabilities due to its price and relatively unknown manufacturer.  Coming from powerhouse DXing radios such as the Sony XDR-F1HD and Denon TU-1500RD, I was expected to be let down.

Unfortunately, I was kind of let down, although the novelty of having a computer-based tuner did amaze me.

SET UP

There was a slight learning curve with using the RTL-SDR dongle.  The device came with no software or instructions.  It also came with a Continue reading

DXing FM radio while on vacation

Credit: stock.xchng

Credit: stock.xchng

Many people seemingly want to forget their day-to-day lives while on vacation.

While Americans will be trading a cubicle and daily commute for beach chairs and scuba diving gear during the upcoming vacation season, some DXers may be looking at the same trips as a way to propel their interest in the DXing hobby.

Quite often, a short trip to another area is all that is needed to provide a completely different RF environment conducive to some serious DXing.

I’ve been on several vacations in the past 14 years where I’ve actively DXed.  In 2002 and 2003 I was in the Tampa, FL area visiting relatives and took advantage of 400+ mile gulf tropo.  A trip to Richmond, VA (77 miles S of my home) in 2012 provided the strange phenomenon of logging most of my home Washington, DC stations as strong, pesky tropo-enhanced signals–the opposite of how Richmond signals are often received at home.  Perhaps the best vacation DX I’ve experienced was 500+ mile tropo into Florida while in Myrtle Beach, SC in 2012.

When planning a trip as a DXer, a few things need to be put into consideration.  If you are going on a trip with family members or children, then DXing will obviously not be a high priority Continue reading

Coming soon: A review of the RTL-SDR software-defined radio

I have added a new radio to my shack, a RTL-SDR radio, which looks much like a USB flash drive.  This radio can record up to 15 FM frequencies at once, among many other neat features.  I am awaiting delivery of some related accessories before I write a full review of the device.  Look for the review in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, enjoy a YouTube video of me tuning in several local stations with the device:

What if analog FM radio ended in the United States?

hdradio_stockEver since IBOC, or HD Radio, debuted locally in 2006, I always wondered what would happen if the analog radio dial shut down and was replaced with full-power IBOC signals.

READ: MY RANT ON HD RADIO

Although I have expressed distaste with HD Radio in the past, I thought it’d be interesting to predict what would happen to the DXing hobby if the unthinkable happened and the United States had a ‘digital radio transition,’ much like the country did in 2009 for digital television.

IBOC technology, which according to various reports broadcasts a digital radio station on the ‘sidebands,’ or adjacent frequencies of participating FM radio stations, ruined (or at least curtailed) the hobby for many.  A station running IBOC on 95.5 FM would actually be broadcasting its analog signal on 95.5, while its digital signal would be broadcasted on 95.3 and 95.7 FM.  An HD Radio would pick up either sideband, where available, and decode it on 95.5 FM, allowing the listener to enjoy a digital signal.

But what if U.S. radio broadcasters flipped the switch one day and only broadcasted digital, full-power HD Radio signals?

Obviously, the initial reaction to a full analog FM shutdown would be that Continue reading