Category Archives: Broadcast Nuggets

Broadcast Memories: Das Eurosignal

My first radio in the late around 1980 was a Palladium Mono Tape recorder with 4 band radio. It had a big dial on the right, a display with a moving stick, and four buttons to select FM, AM, Shortwave and Longwave bands. Even with its many limitations I loved this thing!

The FM band was always the strongest. We used to call it UKW in Germany, as in Ultra Kurzwelle (very short wave), a much more accurate description of this band. FM sounds much cooler and more “American”, but it really means Frequency Modulation which is mainly what this band is used for today, rather than describing the band itself. Anyway…

As I explored the FM band I inevitably came across two things that are difficult to forget for a young child: East German Number Stations, the monotonous voice of a woman reading strings of numbers, and something rather undecipherable like polyphonic tones (see video above).

The latter was on 24/7 at the upper end of the spectrum, at around 87 MHz. Mysterious, yet everpresent. Creepy. Much like Eastern Germany.

I never found out what this thing was – until today while browsing through a German Wikipedia article about the UKW Rundfunk (or FM Broadcasting in English). The article mentions something called the Eurosignal, and it turns out that this polyphonic shite in the eighties was indeed that very signal. Totally legit after all – who would have known! I always assumed it was in some way connected with the number stations or the Stasi!

 

So what’s the Eurosignal?

First of all it’s a thing of the past. It was switched off in 1998 and only ever existed in Germany, France and Switzerland. Other countries were thinking of using it, but it took them several decades to decide – by which time there were better technologies out there.

The idea was this: you paid a monthly fee for the precursor of “beeper”, and if someone wanted to reach you, you could leave your number with the Eurosignal service. But because it used the FM band, it needed a rather long antenna to receive things – so it wasn’t something you’d clip onto your belt.

Your device would constantly listen to a given frequency, and if it finds a message for you, it would display it. When I say message I mean a 10-digit string of numbers, nothing fancy or descriptive. Those could be either phone numbers that you would call back, or pre-defined codes between two parties (for example, 23 could mean”put dinner on”, or 37 could mean “assassinate El Presidente at 23:00″, that sort of thing).

According to the radio broadcast below, in its heyday the device itself was DM 1000 (about £300), and the monthly fee to use the service was DM 25 (about £7.50).

This Eurosignal was used way before other beeper systems and mobile phones as we know them today. Germany were the first to introduce it in 1975, France came in a year later, and Switzerland sometime in the eighties. Even by the mid nineties the German company EuFuRD who operated it had 90.000 subscribers.

Many other beeper services were introduced in the early nineties in Germany (Scall, TeLMI, Quix), all of which seized operations when mobile phones took over  less than 10 years later. By 2002 those were all gone.

 

I personally skipped the hole beeper thing and went straight to a Nokia 2110 sometime in 1996/1997. In fact, I probably abandoned personal one-way radio communications a few years earlier when I realized that listening to adverts and commercial ntss-ntss wasn’t really a pastime I could enjoy without brain pain.

Not until today, in December 2014 I’m beginning to develop a healthy interest in the radio spectrum again (read: obsession). I’m fascinated by being able to receive something without the internet being involved, like back in the good old days. My latest gadget, the Tecsun PL-880 has arrived – a world band radio. It’s wonderful! I had no idea shortwave and AM broadcasts could sound THAT good! The PL-660 is on its way already, bringing the total radio count in our household up to 4.

Too many radios you say? Well I see it this way: shortwave transmissions are getting fewer and fewer. Numbers stations used to be so common, but they’re being phased out. Technology is moving forward, and some may argue that analogue is so retro it no longer has a place in our high-tech world. There were talks to switch off all analogue radio services on the FM band in Germany since 2000 and replace it with DAB – unsuccessfully mind you, but sooner rather than later we won’t be able to listen to analogue stuff on the airwaves anymore. It’s already happened to television, and undoubtedly radio will be next.

And until then, I’d like to play with it for as long as I can.

Discovering the NOAA Weather Radio Service

304px-Noaa_all_hazards.svgWe have something here in the US that most Europeans don’t know about: a nationwide weather radio service called NOAA Weather Radio. The service is broadcasting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and it has been around since 1953.

Transmitting from over 1000 towers across the US, they have 7 frequencies just above the FM band. Those can only be received with special radios. I was very excited to find out about it!

We recently bought such a radio because we live in a hurricane prone area – and because I’ve always liked broadcast technology.

Canada have a similar system called Weatheradio Canada which uses the same frequencies to broadcast and the same devices work with both services.

 

NOAA’s National Weather Service

The NOAA Weather Radio sounds a bit like a numbers station, probably because it uses computer generated voices instead of “real people” – which I understand was the case many years ago. By using computer speech the service can be highly targeted to very small areas.

Here in Miami Beach I can hear three towers, and even a fourth one at night:

  • KHB43 on 162.550 MHz (for Miami and Fort Lauderdale)
  • WNG663 on 162.425 MHz (for South Florida and the Upper Keys)
  • WZ2531 on 162.500 MHZ (Hialieah, in Spanish)
  • WWG60 on 162.425 MHz (for the Florida Keys, I can only hear it at night)

The service gives detailed weather forecasts and descriptions, including tide times and what the waters around us are like (such as “bay water is a moderate chop”). It’s all quite pleasing to listen to, and very educative.

We have three voices here: Tom reads the main bulk, and he sounds a bit like the “classic British Siri” voice, or the voice from the Kindle Keyboard. Then there’s Donna, his female equivalent, who reads sunrise and sunset information as well as tides and maritime things.

Before these two were introduced, the first electronic voice was called Tom – but most audiences didn’t like him from what I understand. Rather than ditch him completely, he’s used to read the Station ID every 10 minutes (like “This is the voice of the NOAA Weather Radio, station XXYZZ, broadcasting on a frequency of xyz”).

Showbiz is tough! I personally enjoy all three voices they have, but from what I read other counties have different voices (mainly pitch variations of the existing ones), or hold votes as to which voice the audience prefers – which then gets to read them.

 

Emergency Broadcasts

Weather and maritime news aside, the service may also broadcast other warnings from time to time, such as national security emergencies, natural, environmental and public safety announcements.

NOAA Weather Radios have an option that leaves the device in standby mode, and if something drastic happens a special 1050 Hz tone is broadcast for 10 seconds, at which point such devices kick in and switch themselves on. Allegedly there are tests once a week but sadly I’ve not managed to get one of those transmissions yet.

Some devices can even tune into a subset of the area served by a frequency so that a very narrow part of the country can be alerted. This is done using something called SAME Technology (stands for Specific Area Message Encoding). Fascinating stuff!

 

So which radio did you get?

You can’t pick up the weather band with standard radios, so we needed a special one. This seemed a great idea anyway because we neither read the papers or watch TV – so if anything drastic is happening in the world we’re probably the very last people on earth to find out (we sleep extremely well at night by the way).

Julia did some research and decided to buy the excellent Ambient Weather WR-335 with Solar Bag, also known as the Adventurer 2. It’s exactly what I would have picked too. Not only does it get the weather band, it also has an FM, AM and Shortwave Tuner and so many charging options that even in the biggest time of crisis this thing isn’t going to run out of juice:

  • rechargeable Li-ion battery, replaceable
  • charges via micro USB from anywhere
  • comes with a standard mains charger
  • built-in mini solar panel for self-charging in sunlight
  • larger solar panel bag for full charging
  • also takes optional AAA batterie
  • a then there’s a hand crank if everything else fails

IMG_2568

The device can even charge other devices like mobiles and tablets. It’s very rugged and comes in a rubber casing – it even has a flashlight and a siren to attract attention. In a nutshell: your best friend if the rest of your neighbourhood lies in ruins and batteries count as currency – which could happen at any moment.

Check out Julia’s very detailed review of the Adventurer 2 here – it’s on a temporary URL (I’m testing a new server on that domain).

I can’t get enough of the soothing voices from the NOAA Weather Radio. I also enjoy discovering what’s happening on the local FM and AM bands, as well as the mysteries of the Shortwave Band.

In fact it’s so addictive that I’ve ordered two other radios specifically for Shortwave Adventures – but I’ll tell you more about those another time.

 

But I haven’t got a weather radio…

There are several online streams of many stations available here. These are not provided by NOAA and instead rely on some dude plugging his radio into a computer. I hear that some local broadcasters carry local NOAA audio when they’re not on air.

Someone even made an iPhone App that allows you to listen on the go (it wasn’t me).

Premiere Pro CS6: the Sneek Peek they’ve shown us at NAB

I’ve seen a couple of demos on the upcoming Premiere Pro CS6 which will become available in a few months. You may recall my earlier post about a hands-on experience with Premiere Pro CS 5.5 so I’m eager to see what else the team have improved.

Not having tried the product myself yet (since that’s impossible) I can however give you a quick opinion on what I’ve seen demonstrated at NAB 2012 at Adobe’s stand.

Continue reading Premiere Pro CS6: the Sneek Peek they’ve shown us at NAB

Adobe: Watch out for our Creative Cloud Announcement on Monday

When I visited Adobe at this year’s NAB in Vegas only a couple of days ago I enjoyed a couple of great demos about the upcoming features in Premiere Pro CS6.

But what I really wanted to know was: when will Adobe Creative Cloud be launched and how much will it be?

Sadly that information was not available, but I was told that all my questions and more may be answered this coming Monday, 23rd of April…

Continue reading Adobe: Watch out for our Creative Cloud Announcement on Monday

First Impressions: I bought a New iPad on launch day

I was being a bit of a fan boy yesterday when I bought two new iPads in the Apple Store on Lincoln Road. We’ve even joined the live event via Twit when the announcement of the new gadget was made last week.

So now I’ve got an iPad with razor sharp Retina Display, an improved camera, 4G LTE and a bunch of other stuff. Let me tell you all about my first day with The New iPad.

I’ll pay close attention to the new camera features and compare them to the iPad 2 and the iPhone 4S.

Continue reading First Impressions: I bought a New iPad on launch day

Dolby E Decoders in Cortex

So we’ve got these Dolby E Decoders and Encoders at IMG MCR.

We need to use them more and more for various client requests – but for the last year or so Richard Bagnall was the only human in Chiswick who understood how to make them do something useful. We all had a look at them and most of us are still clueless as to how they work.

In many attempts he was kind enough to explain to me what we as operators need to do in order to utilise them, and I’m exicted to say that last week something made CLICK in my brain when I understood the magic behind them: they’re not complicated as such – they’re just incredibly badly labelled ni the Cortex system!

Let me pass on this essential knowledge in this guide and assure you this: if you know how to work an Axon Shuffler, you sure can operate one of these Dolby Cards!

Continue reading Dolby E Decoders in Cortex

Adobe Premiere Pro CS 5.5 – my personal hands on review

To complete my migration from PC to Mac I’ve downloaded the trial version of the latest Premiere Pro CS 5.5 yesterday. I bought CS 3 a few years ago and haven’t regretted it, but at work we have CS 4 and now CS 5 and I can see the feature improvements and benefits to our workflow.

As last time, this is a rather large expense for me (£285 for the upgrade, which is still better than £810 for the full version) – however Premiere is a fascinating powerful programme and I know how helpful it is.

My old version has made its money back many times over so I’m sure this version won’t disappoint me either. In fact, I’m quite excited about the new options in version 5.5 and the idea of having it on my laptop.

Here are my hands-on notes, my first impressions and my two cents about Adobe’s rival to Final Cut Pro.

For the geeks: I’m using Premiere on a MacBook Pro with 8GB of Ram, 64 bit OS (Lion) and an Intel Dual Core i7 processor at 2.7 GHz.

Continue reading Adobe Premiere Pro CS 5.5 – my personal hands on review

Nintendo 3DS: no glasses required. It’s like Futureworld, Dude!

Well before the European launch of the Nintendo 3DS and many announcements I kept thinking: what will the impact of this device be on the broadcast industry?

3D television is spreading like wildfire and appears to be the next “in-thing” – if it wasn’t for overpriced TV sets that require you to wear sunglasses. This major hurdle needs to be overcome for 3D broadcasts to be successful.

Nintendo’s new handheld console is at the time of writing the ONLY display out there that can give viewers the desired experience without the need for 3D goggles.

Partnership deals with Disney, Warner, Dreamworks and even broadcasters such as Sky and Eursport have already been signed, which tells us that “gaming” isn’t the sole focus of this puppy. When Sainsbury’s had the Nintendo 3DS on offer earlier this week I couldn’t resist and bought one.

Let’s see how (and if) it works.

Continue reading Nintendo 3DS: no glasses required. It’s like Futureworld, Dude!

Adtec RD-60: The Future of Satellite Transmissions

Since we started to explore the possibility of satelite transmissions in 32APSK last year, Adtec have been busy working on a new box that could potentially revolutionise the way we think about satellite receivers.

Imagine we could have 30% better pictures and 4x the amount of discreet audio channels than we currently have, but at the same time use the same amount of satellite space and hence maintain transmission cost? Or perhaps reduce the costs and keep the current picture quality?

Well the Adtec RD-60 makes this possible: by combining H264/MPG4 and 32 APSK instead of the current broadcast standard of MPEG2 and 8PSK you can save money or increase the quality of your transmissions. Too good to be true? We’ve tried it – and it works ;-)

The unit is currently in its final testing stage and I was one of the lucky geeks to get my hands on this new puppy. In this article I’ll share my brief experiences and will talk you through what this new IRD has to offer.

This review is based on a courtesy unit that was given to us at IMG for testing. We’re using Software Version 1.02.14 E

Continue reading Adtec RD-60: The Future of Satellite Transmissions

What’s the difference between HDCAM and HDCAM SR?

Let’s take a look under the hood of two broadcast VT formats: both are called HDCAM, both do some form of HD, but apart from the operational differences, the funky coloured flap and two extra letters, what is the real difference between them? Let’s find out.

HDCAM (non-SR)

HDCAM was introduced by Sony ages ago in 1997. No other tape based HD broadcast format was around at the time, and it quickly became clear that one was needed for HDTV to succeed. The HDW-M2000 machines are based on the DVW-2000 series of VTRs and record with a datarate of 144 Mbps (that’s a 50% increase compared to Digital Betacam’s datarate of 96 Mbps). HDCAM features 4 audio channels and can handle all common framerates between 24 and 30Fps. Continue reading What’s the difference between HDCAM and HDCAM SR?