New Directions Radio: Technology and Broadcast Opportunities

This report includes information on access to radio airwaves, on-air news services and new radio technology.
By Copthorne Macdonald
January/February 1982
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Macdonald is the inventor of slow-scan television, which allows amateur radio operators to hear and see each other during broadcasts.
PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF


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New Directions Radio is an international network of radio amateurs concerned with those ways of using ham radio (and related modes of communicating) that promote our own growth as individuals and that we perceive as helping to create a more aware, more caring and more responsible human society. We encourage all who share these interests to work with us. A current schedule of on-the-air activities is included in each issue of the bi-monthly New Directions Roundtable Newsletter, published by Art Mourad (WB2POB) as a service to the rest of us. 

Most of us try to keep up with current events and we generally rely on North American newspapers, magazines, television and radio to keep us well informed. However, the news covered by those sources tends to be selected and edited to match conventional interests and tastes, and to reinforce mainstream viewpoints and ideologies. In past columns I've noted that international shortwave broadcasting can serve as a "smorgasbord," presenting information with a variety of biases rather than just one. Nevertheless, such information will still have been screened and edited — consciously or subconsciously — to suit a given social system.

However, it is possible to intercept some news reportage earlier in the process — before it's subjected to final editorial sifting — by tapping into the many streams of copy being distributed globally by the world's news services. The Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters, TASS and more than 30 other agencies transmit news by radioteletype on shortwave frequencies. These broadcasts are classed as private transmissions and are subject to communication secrecy laws that make it illegal to divulge their contents to others. It's both possible and legal, however, for an individual to "look in" on these transmissions, and Thomas Harrington has written a book telling us just how to go about doing that!

Access to the Airways

Tom's Worldwide Radioteletype News Service Frequency Lists (second edition) details more than 200 English language press transmissions and gives time, frequency, news service, place of origin and even the particular teletype standards used.

This book, though, is much more than a frequency list. Almost half of it is devoted to helping the reader choose and set up the equipment needed to receive these transmissions. The author points out that it's possible to take either a "mechanical" approach or an "all-electronic" one to searching out the news service broadcasts. However, in order to undertake either method, you'll need a good, general-coverage shortwave receiver with a BFO and superior frequency stability.

In the more traditional "mechanical" setup, the receiver's audio output feeds an FSK (frequency shift keying) demodulator. This unit, in turn, drives a secondhand teletype machine regeared to accommodate the 66-word-per-minute speed used by most press services. Of course, with this arrangement you're restricted to a single speed. A few press services do operate at 100 WPM, while most ham RTTY activity is at 60 WPM. (To a 66-WPM teleprinter, other transmission rates are indecipherable.)

That problem can be avoided, however, with one of the recently available electronic displays designed for multiple rates. In the simplest of such units the receiver output signal is converted to a continuously moving, eight-character display and the effect is similar to the moving ribbon of news on the familiar building in Times Square. The more complex equipment allows whole lines of text to scroll continuously up the screen of a television monitor. All of these electronic units will change speed at the flick of a switch, and some can even convert received Morse code dot/dash patterns to letters and numbers!

Report From the Human Unity Conference

Last summer's Human Unity Conference in Vancouver was an exciting and uplifting experience for most who had a part in it — including those of us who participated on the air. Three West Coast hams, who were all intimately involved with the conference, are now involved in spreading its spirit.

Both Herb Clark (VE7HUC) and Howard Silsdorf (WB7AQP) are working to build a newly formed organization that resulted from the conference (it's called the Foundation for Universal Unity), and both are eager to maintain on-the-air contacts. Robert Stonne (K6PZI) is the third member of this group of hardworking hams. He feels that we need to alert ourselves — and others — to the fact that something quite profound and important is happening in the world right now. Bob likens our present situation to that existing in the European Renaissance around the year 1500, the period which marked the end of the so-called Dark Ages.

"There's a new outlook today," he says. "It's pointing the way to a new era. We're witnessing another rebirth of the human spirit and have the chance to work toward a new world built on friendship and good will."

Opportunities With Radio

Robert, though optimistic, is not merely a starry-eyed idealist. He realizes that the threats to the world's peoples are probably greater now than in 1500. But, just as a flowering of intellect and culture upgraded life in those earlier times, today's ecological and nuclear threats can — he believes — be defused through increased awareness and compassion.

Because he thinks today's expanded communication capabilities can be important to any positive change, Bob has initiated a newsletter and a ham radio net, both of which are called Renaissance, Two. The newsletter focuses on a wide range of topics and is a significant element in today's developing system of networks that aim to help us all share ideas and friendships.

Two other West Coast hams wrote me recently with good suggestions. Michael Herr (WA6ARA) would like to start an NDR CW net. And Jim Van Sant (WB6NQM) wants to establish an NDR 2-meter FM calling frequency, or perhaps a list of local frequencies.


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