Summary of Halloween 2016 Shortwave Pirate Radio Activity in North America

After a slow start, Halloween 2016 pirate radio activity over the extended weekend picked up, especially Sunday and Monday evening. At one point on Monday there were at least four stations on at the same time.

I counted 68 broadcasts that were logged, and have summarized them below in chronological order, each linked to the corresponding logging thread on the HFUnderground.com shortwave pirate radio message forum. Hopefully I haven’t made any typos.

A big thanks to all the stations that gave us listeners lots of programs to listen to!

Here’s the list:

Friday, October 28, 2016:
RELAY STATION 5150 on 5150 AM at 1359 UTC.
An UNID on 6925.5 AM at 1813 UTC.
Radio AV was testing on 6925 AM at 2102 UTC.
Old Time Radio on 6770 AM at 2245 UTC.
Moonlight Radio on 6929 LSB at 2351 UTC.

Saturday, October 29, 2016 (including Friday night):
An UNID on 6925 USB at 0015 UTC.
Bat Country Radio on 6955 USB at 0022 UTC
Another UNID on 6935 USB at 0055 UTC.
PeeWee Radio on 6955 USB at 0128 UTC.
WAHR (Automated Halloween Radio) on 6955 USB at 0300 UTC.
Yet another UNID on 6955 USB at 0348 UTC.
Amphetamine Radio on 6925 USB at 1514 UTC.
An UNID on 6925 USB and then AM at 1900 UTC.
Another UNID on 6930 AM at 2139 UTC.
Radio Illuminati on 6150 AM at 2206 UTC.
Pumpkin Patch Radio on 6930 USB at 2252 UTC.
Old Time Radio on 6770 AM at 2225 UTC.
Radio Free Furry on 6945 USB at 2352 UTC.

Sunday, October 30, 2016 (including Saturday night):
Moonlight Radio on 6930 USB at 0002 UTC.
Pee Wee Radio on 6955 USB at 0133 UTC.
An UNID on 6950 AM at 0204 UTC.
Another UNID on 6925 USB at 0215 UTC.
Another UNID on 6925.1 AM at 0218 UTC.
Yet another UNID on 6925 AM then USB then LSB at 0342 UTC.
Radio Halloween on 6925 AM at 1156 UTC.
One more UNID on 6930 AM at 1248 UTC.
Radio Halloween on 6925.4 AM at 1526 UTC.
An UNID on 6963 LSB at 1542 UTC.
Radio AV on 6925.7 AM at 1616 UTC.
An UNID on 6930 USB at 1635 UTC.
RELAY STATION 5150 on 5150 AM at 1901 UTC.
Radio Merlin via RELAY STATION 5150 on 5150 AM at 2014 UTC.
Witch City Radio 6925 AM at 2039 UTC.
Radio Merlin International relay on 6925 AM at 2128 UTC.
Radio Fusion Radio on 6930 USB at 2143 UTC.
Captain Morgan Shortwave on 6924 AM at 2155 UTC.
An UNID on 6950 AM at 2157 UTC.
Old Time Radio on 6770 AM at 2205 UTC.
The Yodeler on 6930 USB at 2228 UTC.
RELAY STATION 5150 on 5150 AM at 2234 UTC.
The Yodeler on 6925 USB at 2236 UTC.
Radio Fusion Radio on 6925 USB at 2242 UTC.
Rave On Radio on 6935 USB at 2300 UTC.
The Yodeler on 6930 USB at 2312 UTC.

Monday, October 31, 2016 (including Sunday night):
RELAY STATION 5150 on 5150 AM (received in Brazil) at 0018 UTC.
An UNID on 6924.7 USB at 0013 UTC.
NRUI (Amelia Earhart callsign) on 6925 CW at 0204 UTC.
WAHR (Automated Halloween Radio) on 6925 USB at 0216 UTC.
An UNID on 6925 USB at 0235 UTC.
An UNID on 6925 USB at 1524 UTC.
Amphetamine Radio on 6925 USB at 1753 UTC.
Radio AV on 6925 AM at 1916 UTC.
Amphetamine Radio on 6923 USB at 2053 UTC.
Old Time Radio on 6770 AM at 2205 UTC.
Doctor Detroit on 6935 AM at 2237 UTC.
Moonlight Radio on 6930 USB at 2254 UTC.
An UNID on 6925 USB at 2304 UTC.
Witch City Radio on 6873.4 AM at 2309 UTC.
An UNID on 6940 LSB at 2338 UTC.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016 (including Monday/Halloween night):
An UNID on 6925 USB at 0008 UTC.
Wolverine Radio on 6935 USB at 0013 UTC.
Pumpkin Patch Radio on 6925 USB at 0034 UTC.
XFM on 6960 AM at 0042 UTC.
An UNID on 6950 USB at 0046 UTC.
Canadian Radio After Dark on 6950 USB at 0048 UTC.
Undercover Radio on 6975 USB at 0058 UTC.
Renegade Radio on 6925 at USB.
WJD on 6930 USB at 0130 UTC.

Only one Europirate was logged on this side of the pond: Enterprise Radio was on 6950 AM at 2200 UTC on the 31st They sent an SSTV image, which I was able to receive with poor quality:

RainBrandy from Germany had better reception, as you might imagine:

Those Wacky Pescadores

Pescadore is the term used by Pirate DXers to refer to a fishermen operating on the 43 meter band, the plural is pescadores, often abbreviated as peskies. While they can turn up anywhere on the band (or outside it), 6925 LSB seems to be the most common frequency, which can cause QRM to pirates operating on 6925 AM. They also turn up on 6933 LSB fairly often.

Usually you hear them chatting with each other; informal QSOs. Sometimes however they have been known to play music, or engage in other activities fairly close to broadcasting. They can actually be entertaining to listen to.

Here is a recording of them from the other night, starting just before 0000 UTC on 21 September, 2016.

Pescadores have even inspired a pirate radio station named Pesky Party Radio, most recently heard last month. This station plays Spanish language covers of popular songs, and is rather hilarious.

Seasonal Pirate Radio Stations

Tune into the 43 meter pirate radio band, which is roughly 6800 to 7000 kHz, but 6925 kHz in particular, on any given evening, and you’re likely to hear one or more broadcasts. While many stations transmit throughout the year, there are a few seasonal stations that you will only hear on certain days. To help you keep track of these stations, here’s a short summary of the more widely reported seasonal pirates. Note that the schedules of pirate radio stations are very flexible, and often broadcasts of these seasonal stations will be heard on a nearby weekend instead of the actual holiday, when there are usually more listeners.

I’ve also included QSLs from some of the stations.

WMLK – Recordings of speeches by Martin Luther King Jr, usually around his celebrated birthday, the next is January 18, 2016.

Voice of Pancho Villa – Heard during the time the NASWA Winter SWL Fest, which is usually in February.

WPDR Presidents’ Day Radio – Heard around Presidents’ Day with recordings of speeches by various Presidents. In 2016, Presidents’ Day is February 15.

Frederic Chopin Radio – Plays classical piano music, heard on our around his birthday of March 1.

XEROX – A classic parody of a Mexican radio station, usually on the air April Fools Day (April 1).

Radio Cinco De Mayo – Heard on or around the Mexican Holiday on May 5.

KHAQQ / Amelia Earhart Often heard on or around July 3, with simulated communications between ground station NRUI and Earhart (KHAQQ), trying to locate her.

Radio Paisano – A program of Italian related music which airs around Columbus Day, which is next observed October 10, 2016.

Halloween themed stations – Lots of stations are heard around Halloween, here’s several of the most active:
Peskie Party Halloween
Pumpkin Patch Radio
Radio Halloween
Satan Radio
The Great Pumpkin
WAHR Automated Halloween Radio
Witch City Radio




Edmund Fitzgerald Radio – Commemorates the sinking of the ship with the Gordon Lightfoot song as well as recordings of marine communications. Heard on November 10.

WJFK – Usually on the air around day of President Kennedy’s assassination, November 22. Traditionally, the station plays these three songs:
“Abraham, Martin & John” by Dion
“Sunny” by Bobby Hebb
“PT-109” by Jimmy Dean

Another variant has appeared in recent years, which plays recordings of news announcements of the assassination.

D. B. Cooper Radio – Heard on or around the day before Thanksgiving.
Related to the hijacking of a Boeing 727 on Wednesday, November 24, 1971.

Turkey Breast Radio – Heard on or around Thanksgiving.

Happy Hanukkah Radio – Heard during the eight days of Hanukkah. Usually the following is heard:
“Miracle of Miracles” from Fiddler on the Roof
“Hava Nagila” by the Effi Netzer Singers
“2000 Year Old man” skit by Mel Brooks.

Christmas themed stations – Another popular holiday for pirates:
Fruitcake Station
NOEL
Radio Jingle Bells
Snowball Radio

Irregular stations:

WUBR Ultimate Blizzard Radio – Occasionally heard during major snowstorms.

Victory Radio – Heard when University of Texas wins a football game.

Old Time Radio – Shortwave Pirate Radio Station Or Something Else ?

For about the past three weeks, we’ve had a bit of a mystery on the 43 meter pirate shortwave broadcast band. First logged on the HFUnderground on May 18, 2014 on 6772.6 kHz by EvilElvis as an UNID pirate playing “Tooth Powder commercial, 5 Minute Mystery, Red Skelton, Avalon Cigarettes commercial”, this station has been heard nearly non-stop since then, except for some short breaks, and a two day period between June 3 (it was last heard on June 2 at 2357 UTC and returned by 0035 UTC on June 5.

This station has been heard from coast to coast, and has a over 170 loggings on the HFUnderground Pirate Shortwave Radio Forum and has become quite the favorite of many shortwave pirate radio listeners. Many of us where disappointed when we turned on our radios on June 3 to just hear static, and equally thrilled to hear the station again when it returned two days later. I’m hearing it on 6772.6 kHz as I type this at 1323 UTC on June 6, 2014. It generally operates close to 6772 or 6773 kHz, but as also been heard on 6800 and 6880 kHz.

Possibly the same station was reported in the 13.56 MHz HiFer band previously. Glenn Hauser first logged it on 13560.7 AM on April 18 at 0520 UTC, and mentioned the following to me via email:

I haven`t heard it on any of the 6 MHz frequencies, but I keep wondering if it`s the same one I have reported thrice on 13560+. That would be 2 x 6780+ if that was ever a fundamental. Looking thru the posts (not sure I saw all of them) I don`t see anyone referring to that or to the webcast ID I heard from the 1920s Radio Network out of WHRO in Virginia. Should compare the programming to their schedule. They also have a separate mostly-music channel. 13560 was also pointed out to be a part 15 RF ID frequency which be some connexion.

The 1920s Radio Network has a website.

The general format seems to be playing music (often described as easy listening music, or even elevator music) during the daytime, and then old time radio shows overnight, hence the nickname Old Time Radio given by several listeners. No formal ID has ever been heard. News is typically heard at the top of the hour, and seems to be syndicated news audio provided by “Feature Story News“. I’ve noticed that today, June 6, I am not hearing any news.

The first thing that comes to mind is that this is a pirate radio station. There’s no SWBC stations assigned to these frequencies. While speculation about pirate radio station transmitter locations is often frowned upon by parts of the pirate radio community, propagation (based on who can hear the station at various times of the day) clearly shows that the transmitter site is somewhere in the northeastern USA or southeastern Canada. That is pretty obvious. And the signal levels are typical of what you’d expect from a pirate station running something on the order of 100 watts, give or take a factor or two or three. But the surprising thing is how active the station is, running nearly 24/7. Someone’s not that afraid of enforcement activity by the FCC. Or could it be something else, like a radio contractor doing some testing? It seems unlikely, but then again, we had the famous Yosemite Sam station years ago.

So, if you’ve wanted to hear a pirate radio station, but always seem to miss them, now is your chance. Just tune around 6772 when propagation favors reception in your location from a station somewhere around the northeast USA, and you may indeed hear Old Time Radio, or whoever they are.

June 7 Update:
At 2129 UTC on June 7, 2014, the station went QRT on 6771, then came back on 6976 (a new frequency for it) at 2136 UTC.

If you think there’s been more pirate activity during the shutdown, you’re right!

Here’s a graph showing the number of unique pirate logging threads on the HFUnderground.com

Each thread represents a different shortwave pirate radio broadcast. The red bars on the right are the number of broadcasts during the shutdown per day. I’ve also drawn in green the average number of broadcasts per day during the month before the shutdown (6.9 per day) as well as during the shutdown (12.2). As you can see, activity is up 77%. This past weekend was extremely active, setting records.

Boom Box Radio Early Morning Propagation Analysis

Boom Box Radio had an early morning transmission on March 10, 2013, from 1044 until 1212 UTC. They were trying to reach a listener in Guatemala. The time of this transmission, starting just before to after sunrise, lets us examine the effects of sunrise on reception on the 43 meter band.

This first waterfall shows when Boom Box Radio signed on at 1044 UTC. You can see a very faint trace appear on the waterfall about a quarter of the way up from the bottom, at 6925 kHz. Remember that with a waterfall, time flows or falls down, like with a real waterfall, so the latest information is at the top:

This next waterfall shows what happened at 1107 UTC, when the signal went from just a faint trace of a carrier on the waterfall, and no audio, to a very good S7 to S9:

Note again that the oldest information as at the bottom of the waterfall. At that time, there is just barely a carrier. Then you start to see some modulation, and then finally, in a matter of seconds, the signal shoots up to armchair quality.

Below is a graph showing the signal strength of Boom Box Radio, in dBm, from 1044 UTC sign on, until 1212 UTC sign off. You can click on it to see a larger version:

An S9 signal corresponds to -73 dBm. Every S unit is 6 dBm, so S8 is -79 dBm, S7 is -85 dBm, etc.

I have annotated several important times: The 1044 UTC sign on, 1107 UTC when the signal went up, 1125 UTC which was local sunrise, and 1212 UTC when it went off the air.

You can see that there is a very slow increase in signal level after the sign on, but the signal remains extremely weak. Then suddenly at 1107 UTC, the signal shot up to S9. Then for the rest of the transmission it mostly stayed in a range between S7 and S9.

The sudden increase in signal was caused by the Sun increasing the ionization level of the F layer of the ionosphere. This increase needs to have occurred at the point in the ionosphere where the radio waves are being reflected, most likely roughly midway between the transmitter and receiver locations. Note that in my case, this occurred before my local sunrise. This could be due two at least two factors I can think of. First, the transmitter site could be to my east. Second, the ionosphere is several hundred miles up, so it experiences sunrise before a point directly below it (on the Earth’s surface) does.

I believe this graph shows the importance of selecting the correct time for transmissions, depending on your target area. Just before sunrise is when the ionosphere is the weakest, and is only able to reflect radio waves on 43 meters at low angles. Too early in the morning, and the band is not open for local (NVIS – Near Vertical Incidence Skywave) reception. The band is, however, open for reception to more distant locations, that is, more than many hundreds of miles away (well over 500, perhaps close to 1,000 miles). If you’re trying to get out to DX locations, this is a good time to do it. Sunrise varies throughout the year, so as we move into summer, and it occurs earlier, the band will likewise open up earlier for NVIS. Likewise in the middle of winter in December, it is somewhat later.

For reference, the operator of Boom Box Radio stated that this was a Heathkit DX-60 transmitter putting out 40 watts into a 40 meter band dipole that was about 15 feet high.

I thank Boom Box Radio for conducting this early morning test.

Update: The operator contacted me again to mention that his local sunrise was at exactly 1107 UTC.

Shortwave Pirate Radio 2012 – A Year in Review

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To gauge shortwave pirate radio activity in 2012, I analyzed the loggings to the HF Underground (http://www.hfunderground.com) message board. A computer script parsed the message thread titles, as well as the timestamps of the messages. This information was used to produce some statistics about the level of pirate radio activity. Of course, as Mark Twain has written: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Still, let’s see what we can learn.

There were 8683 messages posted to 2081 unique threads. Ideally, each thread represents an individual pirate station transmission. Also ideally, each message posted to a thread represents one logging. In reality, there is some error involved.

For example: the thread with the most messages, and therefore probably the most logs, and less probably the most listeners hearing it, was Wolverine Radio on October 19, 2012, with 39 messages. The numbers are slightly inflated, since a few reporters posted more than once. But it’s still a useful gauge how well heard a transmission was. If you’re interested, second place was a logging of an UNID on 3223 kHz on March 28, 2012, third place was Wolverine Radio again, on September 30, 2012, and fourth place was Pirate Radio Boston, on October 27, 2012. The UNID station had a lot of duplicate posts by individuals, which accounts for the high ranking.

The following graph shows the number of logging threads with a given number of messages:

Looking at the graph, we see that there were 464 broadcasts with a single logging. 344 broadcasts had two loggings, 318 had three loggings, and so on. This tells us that the vast majority of transmissions were only reported by a small number of people. Over half were logged by three or fewer people, and three quarters by five or fewer people.

This of course does not mean that only that number of people heard the transmission. It is quite probable that the vast majority of pirate radio listeners do not log their reception reports on the HFU or any message board. Some may directly contact the station, while others listen but have little or no contact with other pirate enthusiasts or stations. Anecdotal evidence suggests there are a lot of “lurkers” in pirate radio, who may in fact be the vast majority of listeners. It is unfortunately impossible to come up with a good estimate of how large the pirate radio listening community really is.

If we assume each thread represents a unique transmission, then if we count the number of threads per pirate station, we can estimate how many transmissions they had. There are a few flaws with this method. First, it’s possible that there are some duplicate threads for a given transmission (two threads started by two listeners for the same transmission). This could inflate the estimate number of transmissions. Second, the loggings posted on the HFU represent what users heard and reported. There’s often stations that people hear but do not log, perhaps because they don’t get around to it, or because they’re not HFU users. Hang out on IRC #pirateradio for a while, and you will see many transmissions being mentioned, but never logged. This could make the estimated number of transmissions obtained by this method too low. Third, there’s also the question of what “counts” as a transmission. If a station was on for a few seconds with a test, but was logged by name, then it gets count. Finally there likely are some transmissions that no one heard, possibly due to poor propagation conditions.

Tabulating the information by station name, here are the stations with at least two or more transmissions logged on the HFU, sorted by number of transmissions (message threads):

Stations With Most Transmissions:
#1 Rave On Radio (85)
#2 Radio True North (82)
#3 Captain Morgan (81)
#4 Undercover Radio (79)
#5 Radio Ga Ga (66)
#6 Blue Ocean Radio (62)
#7 Wolverine Radio (51)
#8 Radio Ronin (49)
#9 Red Mercury Labs (42)
#10 WBNY (36)
#11 Turtlehead Radio (33)
#12 WMPR (32)
#13 XFM (23)
#14 Pirate Radio Boston (23)
#15 Renegade Radio (21)
#16 Channel Z (19)
#17 Metro Radio International (18)
#18 The Crystal Ship (18)
#19 WPOD (18)
#20 Big Boobs Radio (15)
#21 Grizzly Bear Radio (15)
#22 Voice of Captain Ron (15)
#23 Northwoods Radio (14)
#24 Toynbee Radio (14)
#25 Radio Bleh Bleh (13)
#26 MAC Shortwave (12)
#27 EAM Guy (11)
#28 Insane Radio (10)
#29 Northern Relay Service (10)
#30 Radio Free Mars Radio (10)
#31 Chamber Pot Radio (9)
#32 Liquid Radio (9)
#33 Radio 2012 International (9)
#34 Radio Free Euphoria (9)
#35 Radio Jamba International (9)
#36 Stone Circles Radio (8)
#37 WFMT (8)
#38 Eccentric Shortwave (7)
#39 All Along The Watchtower Radio (6)
#40 Appalachia Radio (6)
#41 Hot Legs Radio (6)
#42 KPZL (6)
#43 Mushroom Radio (6)
#44 PeePee Vagina (6)
#45 Radio Casablanca (6)
#46 Radio Strange Outpost 7 (6)
#47 WBOG (6)
#48 XLR8 (6)
#49 Pissant Radio (5)
#50 Radio Whatever (5)
#51 The Machine (5)
#52 WEMP (5)
#53 Ann Hoffer Live (4)
#54 CYOT (4)
#55 Radio Vixen International (4)
#56 KAOS (3)
#57 EAM Girl (3)
#58 Hard Tack Radio (3)
#59 KIPM (3)
#60 KMUD (3)
#61 WPON (3)
#62 Cool AM (2)
#63 Dit Dah Radio (2)
#64 Pandora’s Box (2)
#65 Radio Clandestine (2)
#66 Radio KEN (2)
#67 WHYP (2)

Not making this list are stations with only one transmission reported. Also, since the loggings were analyzed with a script, it is possible that
some logs were missed due to misspelling of the station name, etc.

And in reality, in #0 position way at the top, would be:
#0 UNID (534)

As you can see, there are a lot of UNID stations reported. Many of these are short test transmissions, or one or two songs played. Some are longer, full length transmissions, with either no attempt at an ID by the operator, or conditions were such that no listener was able to pull out an ID.

It’s worth pointing out, again, that these lists are based on the logs posted on the HFU. There are many reasons why a particular station’s broadcasts occurred but were not reported. The user base of the HFU is heavily centered around the Northeast and Midwest of the US. There could be transmissions from other parts of the country, particularly the West Coast, which are not being reported, because there are too few users from that region. There are also certain stations which some listeners have decided not to publicly log, for a variety of reasons.

Next, we can count the total number of loggings for each station, and see how they rank. Note that this is sensitive to duplicate posts by the same listener for a given transmission, so values for some stations can be inflated:

Stations With Most Loggings:
#1 Undercover Radio (429)
#2 Wolverine Radio (413)
#3 Captain Morgan (382)
#4 Radio True North (357)
#5 Rave On Radio (346)
#6 Radio Ronin (341)
#7 Blue Ocean Radio (288)
#8 Radio Ga Ga (229)
#9 WMPR (195)
#10 Red Mercury Labs (189)
#11 XFM (168)
#12 Turtlehead Radio (129)
#13 Renegade Radio (116)
#14 Channel Z (114)
#15 WBNY (108)
#16 Metro Radio International (96)
#17 Pirate Radio Boston (88)
#18 WPOD (74)
#19 The Crystal Ship (70)
#20 Big Boobs Radio (69)
#21 Grizzly Bear Radio (69)
#22 Radio 2012 International (62)
#23 Northwoods Radio (55)
#24 MAC Shortwave (54)
#25 Voice of Captain Ron (54)
#26 Toynbee Radio (53)
#27 EAM Guy (50)
#28 Radio Bleh Bleh (46)
#29 Liquid Radio (45)
#30 Radio Jamba International (45)
#31 Radio Free Mars Radio (45)
#32 WFMT (38)
#33 Hot Legs Radio (38)
#34 Radio Vixen International (38)
#35 Northern Relay Service (37)
#36 KAOS (34)
#37 Ann Hoffer Live (34)
#38 Radio Strange Outpost 7 (34)
#37 Mushroom Radio (33)
#40 Eccentric Shortwave (31)
#41 All Along The Watchtower Radio (31)
#42 Radio Casablanca (31)
#43 Insane Radio (29)
#44 XLR8 (28)
#45 KPZL (27)
#46 Appalachia Radio (27)
#47 Radio Whatever (27)
#48 KIPM (26)
#49 Radio Free Euphoria (26)
#50 WBOG (22)
#51 The Machine (22)
#52 Chamber Pot Radio (21)
#53 Pissant Radio (21)
#54 Hard Tack Radio (20)
#55 PeePee Vagina (20)
#56 Stone Circles Radio (19)
#57 Dit Dah Radio (15)
#56 Pandora’s Box (11)
#57 WEMP (10)
#58 WPON (10)
#59 KMUD (8)
#60 CYOT (7)
#61 WHYP (7)
#62 Radio KEN (7)
#63 EAM Girl (6)
#64 Cool AM (4)
#65 Radio Clandestine (4)

In general, the stations that transmitted the most, were reported the most. The largest exception to this rule is Wolverine Radio, which is #7 for total broadcasts, but #2 for total reception reports. Wolverine is often noted with a very strong signal, this may count for some of the larger ratio of reception reports to transmissions.

In fact, we can produce a table of the ratio of reports to transmissions for stations (with more than 10 transmissions, to reduce errors due to insufficient data). Stations with a high ratio have a lot of listeners per transmission, stations with a low ratio have few listeners per transmission:

8.10 Wolverine Radio
7.30 XFM
6.96 Radio Ronin
6.09 WMPR
6.00 Channel Z
5.52 Renegade Radio
5.43 Undercover Radio
5.33 Metro Radio International
4.72 Captain Morgan
4.65 Blue Ocean Radio
4.60 Big Boobs Radio
4.60 Grizzly Bear Radio
4.55 EAM Guy
4.50 Red Mercury Labs
4.50 MAC Shortwave
4.35 Radio True North
4.11 WPOD
4.07 Rave On Radio
3.93 Northwoods Radio
3.91 Turtlehead Radio
3.89 The Crystal Ship
3.83 Pirate Radio Boston
3.79 Toynbee Radio
3.60 Voice of Captain Ron
3.54 Radio Bleh Bleh
3.47 Radio Ga Ga
3.00 WBNY

The average ratio is 4.75.

If we look at the estimated number of broadcasts by day of week, the results are inline with what we expect, namely that the weekends are most active, with a lull during the middle of the week:

Sunday 485
Monday 205
Tuesday 174
Wednesday 173
Thursday 173
Friday 320
Saturday 551

However, even the days in the middle of the week (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) have some level of pirate activity, about 3 or 4 transmissions per day. This is a very high level of activity as compared to what I remember from the 1980s and even the 1990s. Back then, weekday transmissions were much less common.

Breaking down the activity by month, we see there is some variation, with the busiest month, December (as we’d expect, with all the holidays) a little less than twice as active as the slow months in the Spring:

January 172
February 152
March 148
April 217
May 151
June 160
July 182
August 153
September 148
October 211
November 139
December 248

Looking at the transmitting modes used, AM and USB are virtually tied, with USB having a slight edge. The other modes are literally noise, with a small handful of reports. There’s a significant number of logs where no mode was reported, but it is virtually certain that either AM or USB was used:

AM 822
USB 849
LSB 21
CW 29
FM 21
SSTV 65
UNKNOWN 274

And what about the choice of transmission frequency? 6925 is the big winner, accounting for over half, and close to two thirds, of the logged broadcasts. If you add in the logs for 6924 kHz, which no doubt are pirates trying to end up on 6925 but who have a crystal or VFO that is slightly off, you end up with an even larger total. Clearly, if you can only monitor one pirate frequency, 6925 is the one:

6240 kHz: 4
6850 kHz: 5
6899 kHz: 9
6900 kHz: 12
6920 kHz: 5
6924 kHz: 82
6925 kHz: 1343
6926 kHz: 7
6927 kHz: 6
6929 kHz: 5
6930 kHz: 132
6932 kHz: 4
6933 kHz: 8
6935 kHz: 75
6940 kHz: 47
6945 kHz: 24
6949 kHz: 6
6950 kHz: 104
6951 kHz: 11
6955 kHz: 39
11428 kHz: 5
15070 kHz: 16

There are still a significant number of transmissions on other frequencies, with 6930 and 6950 being the most popular. 6955, which at one time was the most used pirate frequency in North America, is now down to 6th place, lower than the number of broadcasts by ops on 6925 kHz with a off frequency crystal.

Your comments, questions, and suggestions are greatly appreciated!

A Very Busy Christmas Weekend/Eve For Pirates

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Here’s what folks have been hearing since Friday night. 41 different North American pirate radio transmissions so far, a total of 163 loggings, and it’s not even Christmas yet!

A big thank you to the operators for their shows, and the listeners for their reports.

All of these loggings can be viewed at the HF Underground

Pirate Radio Boston 6925 AM 1945 UTC December 24, 2012
WBNY 6240 AM 1604 UTC December 24, 2012
Eccentric Shortwave 6930 USB 1529 UTC December 24, 2012
Channel Z 6925 AM 1400 UTC December 24, 2012
UNID 6925 USB 1455 UTC December 24, 2012
Metro Radio International 6975 AM 1323 UTC December 24, 2012
Radio Ronin 6920 AM 1308 UTC December 24, 2012
Northwoods Radio 6925 USB 1200 UTC December 24, 2012
Channel Z 6925 AM 0427 UTC December 24, 2012
UNID 6955 AM 0212 UTC December 24, 2012
Rave On Radio 6925 USB 0200 UTC December 24, 2012
Radio GaGa 6925 USB 0140 UTC December 24, 2012
Radio Appalachia 6935 AM 0125 UTC December 24, 2012
Dit Dah Radio 6925 USB 0025 UTC December 24, 2012
Dit Dah Radio 6935 USB 2156 UTC December 23, 2012
WBNY 6913.34 AM 2150 UTC December 23, 2012
WKND 6924.6 AM 2148 UTC December 23, 2012
Metro Radio International 6925 AM 2008 UTC December 23, 2012
WEDG The Edge 1610 AM 1700 UTC December 23, 2012
Pirate Radio Boston 6925 AM 1612 UCT December 23, 2012
Pirate Radio Boston 6950 AM 1610 UTC December 23, 2012
Pirate Radio Boston 6925 AM 1805 UTC December 23, 2012
Channel Z 6925 AM 1346 UTC 23 December 23, 2012
1720 KHz “The Big Q” 0509 UTC December 23, 2012
Channel Z 6925 AM 0405 UTC December 23, 2012
WPOD 6925 USB 0130 UTC December 23, 2012
Wolverine Radio 6925 USB 0048 UTC December 23, 2012
Toynbee Radio 6925 AM 2258 UTC December 22, 2012
Monkey Mayan Memorial Radio 6925 AM 2222 UTCDecember 22, 2012
UNID 6950 USB 2218 UTC December 22, 2012
UNID 6924.7 Khz AM 2215 UTC December 22, 2012
Toynbee Radio 6925 AM 2131 UTC December 22, 2012
Pirate Radio Boston 6949.39 AM 2015 UTC December 22, 2012
UNID 6935 AM 1902 UTC December 22, 2012
Pirate Radio Boston 6949.39 AM 1355 UTC 2December 22, 2012
Rave On Radio 6925 USB 1241 UTC December 22, 2012
The Big Q 1720 & 1710 AM 0525 UTC December 22, 2012, 2208 UTC
Captain Morgan Shortwave 6950.7 AM 0240 UTC December 22, 2012
UNID 6925 AM 0225 UTC December 21, 2012
UNID 6924 AM 0203 also 6929 AM 0207 December 22, 2012
Insane Radio 6925 AM 0121 UTC December 22, 2012
Insane Radio SSTV 6925 AM 0021 UTC December 22, 2012

Propagation Gives Away Your Location

Being as pirate radio is, well, illegal, operators like to stay anonymous. At least ops who want to avoid the FCC. Naturally, most ops consider keeping their location secret very important. Some even go so far as subtly, or not so subtly, providing false clues about their location, in an effort to fool the radio authorities. Unfortunately, basic rules of radio propagation make this futile.

A warning in advance. I’m going to be discussing some basic shortwave radio propagation theory. Nothing here is brand new, or unknown to anyone in the radio field. Certainly not the radio authorities. Some fur… err… feathers are possibly going to be ruffled by what is presented below, possibly with loud protests of “destroying pirate radio” and “releasing the identities of operators”. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is Propagation 101 stuff. If it scares you, then you probably shouldn’t be operating a pirate radio station. The purpose is the educate listeners and operators, so they know exactly what information can be gleaned from observing signal reports. It’s better to know exactly what can be done with this information, than to stick your head in the sand and pretend it doesn’t exist.

As has been discussed on this blog many times before, daytime propagation on the 43 meter band (where 6925 kHz is located) is considered NVIS (Near Vertical Incident Sky Wave). The radio waves go up, and are reflected back to the Earth for a fairly short distance around the transmitter site, usually a few hundred miles at the most. Attenuation by the D layer limits distant reception. At night, it’s almost the opposite reception pattern, as the D layer fades away, allowing distant reception. And the weaker F layer limits or eliminates NVIS reception, resulting in a skip zone around the transmitter, where the signal cannot be heard. The resulting reception area is shaped roughly like a doughnut.

So, for a daytime transmission, if one looks at a set of reception reports (as well as “no reception” reports, which can be equally useful), it becomes very easy to guesstimate about where a transmitter is. Not exactly of course, or even to a particular state, but certainly within a hundred miles or two. There will be a cluster of strong reception reports around the transmitter site, out to a few hundred miles. The maximum reception distance will vary a lot with transmitter level, antennas, and propagation conditions, but is likely under 1,000 miles. Look at where all the reports are coming from, especially the strong ones, find the center, and you have a good guess as to where the transmitter is.

At nighttime, listeners too close to the transmitter site (in the skip zone) will hear nothing, or at best a very weak signal. And during the transition from NVIS to DX propagation (see Going Long and An Interesting Example of a Station Going Long) the received signal will start to peak, and then suddenly cut out. Observing when this happens at a variety of listener sites provides other clues as to the transmitter location. If the F layer height and ionization values are known (and they are available in real time online) the distant to the station can be roughly determined when the station goes long. Do this for several receiver locations, and you can guess about where the transmitter is.

One ruse some operators have used in the past is to give misleading reception reports with a low signal level, using their real name and location, as just a regular listener. This is extremely dangerous, as if anyone is paying attention, their very weak signal report can stand out like a sore thumb if there are reports from others in the same area, with much stronger signal levels. Likewise, if you’re an operator, providing a completely bogus QTH doesn’t fool the FCC one bit. Announcing a QTH out on the Great Plains, while you’re really on the East Coast, doesn’t fool anyone when you’re being heard on the East Coast with an S9 signal at local noon. It just reminds everyone that you failed PROPAGATION 101. While shortwave propagation can be odd at times, there are limits. The laws of physics still must be obeyed.

The FCC and other radio enforcement agencies of course don’t have to rely on crude techniques such as these to locate transmitters. They have modern DFing equipment that can quickly and accurately locate a pirate station. The only reason they haven’t busted a given pirate is because, (as much as this may hurt to hear) that pirate is not important enough to get a visit. For now.

The commercially available WJ-9012 HF Direction Finding System, for example, boasts an error of less than 2 degrees. At a distance of 200 miles, that’s about 7 miles. Presumably the FCC has much better equipment.

While not announcing your location is probably a good idea (if for no other reason than to come across as taunting the FCC), in reality it doesn’t do too much to protect you from the radio authorities. Not interfering with allocated radio services, especially government and military, as well as operating from random remote locations, will go a long way to avoid getting The Knock.

Keep Safe!