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Author Topic: SWLing in the USSR?  (Read 15181 times)
KC5MO
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Posts: 51




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« on: January 03, 2015, 11:19:41 AM »

 I didn't want to hijack the North Korea topic so here goes. After reading what happens to North Koreans who attempt to listen to SWL stations outside NK I was wondering about SWLing in the USSR. I have seen many radios from that time and know that they jammed the heck out of broadcasts coming in from the west, but what happened if you were caught listening to SW? I would appreciate any stories from those who grew up in the USSR about this.

Thanks
Herb  KC5MO
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ZL4IV
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« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2015, 01:48:59 PM »

I just asked my wife who is Bulgarian about this. She said that the radio's could not 'catch' the west radio stations. Maybe fixed frequencies? Also there were many put in jail for making their own radio's. The State would 'sniff' for radios, I guess she means DF LO vehicles. That's as much info I could get from a non technical person who lived half her life under Soviet Block.
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WW7KE
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« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2015, 05:47:18 PM »

Listening on the ham bands must have been OK.  I received a few QSLs from USSR SWLs back in the day.  IIRC, they had "callsigns" beginning with UA, then a bunch of numbers.
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AE5X
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Posts: 1029




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« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2015, 05:28:08 AM »

I have seen many radios from that time and know that they jammed the heck out of broadcasts coming in from the west, but what happened if you were caught listening to SW? I would appreciate any stories from those who grew up in the USSR about this.

Thanks
Herb  KC5MO

Here's an answer I received in seeking the same topic. Comment from Oleg after article is interesting as well:
http://www.ae5x.com/blog/2013/04/13/how-thatcher-changed-a-soviet-mans-heart-and-mind/

"If we had ever been caught, we could have been easily expelled from our state-run schools (paid for by our tax rubles) and become marked for life as “politically unreliable.” But we were too young and too reckless to think about it."

John AE5X
« Last Edit: January 04, 2015, 05:33:58 AM by AE5X » Logged

KJ6ZOL
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Posts: 820




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« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2015, 12:25:36 PM »

I have seen many radios from that time and know that they jammed the heck out of broadcasts coming in from the west, but what happened if you were caught listening to SW? I would appreciate any stories from those who grew up in the USSR about this.

Thanks
Herb  KC5MO

Here's an answer I received in seeking the same topic. Comment from Oleg after article is interesting as well:
http://www.ae5x.com/blog/2013/04/13/how-thatcher-changed-a-soviet-mans-heart-and-mind/

"If we had ever been caught, we could have been easily expelled from our state-run schools (paid for by our tax rubles) and become marked for life as “politically unreliable.” But we were too young and too reckless to think about it."

John AE5X

That old Russian radio is, surprisingly, quite beautiful, the equal of the stuff the West Germans made during that time. Meanwhile, America was making cheap Philco Transitone radios that had cheap plastic cabinets and sounded like rocks rattling around in a can. I once saw a pic of an old Elekstronska Industrija radio from Yugoslavia, and it too was rather nice. And don't forget the Tesla Talisman. I know that American radios were so cheap that German companies like Nordmende and Telefunken did brisk business in the US, exporting large numbers of radios to America.
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KC5MO
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« Reply #5 on: January 05, 2015, 03:14:02 AM »

That is a very nice radio. Thanks for all the great stories and keep them coming.  Obviously there were Hams, but it sounds like you had to have a license from the party to listen to SW too.
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PA0DGL
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« Reply #6 on: January 12, 2015, 08:07:44 PM »

In 1973, working as a designer for an electronics magazine, I had managed to construct an analogue, portable general coverage (0.1 - 32 MHz) receiver. With 4 bandwidths, a synchronous demodulator, needing less than 0.1 uV for 100% copy of broadcast AM stations, it worked rather well. I took it along on a holiday to Varna in Bulgaria also to see if it really was true that stations from Western Europe couldn't be received there.

The first discovery was that signals like from radio Luxembourg and pirate station RNI (Radio North sea International) were weak, and way below the required input for the receiver available in my room or the one playing at the help desk. No amount of tinkering with wire antennas and grounding could change that. So I decided to take my large portable on a walk to see if there were spots with higher field strength (near large barbed wire fences etc.). This must have alarmed someone who subsequently called the police, and I was arrested by a police team in a jeep and brought to the commissioner who happened to be fluent in German because of WW2. After providing an explanation he told me that I was suspected of spying and that my radio would have to undergo a thorough investigation at Sofia university.

After a week I got a message that nothing suspicious had been detected but that the specialists still didn't know how the radio worked, and if I could give an explanation with demonstration at the police office. The specialists accepted the explanation (although the commissioner couldn't translate concepts like PLL or injection locked oscillator) and were delighted with the demonstration.

Accompanying me to the hotel, the commissioner apologized that "the system" wouldn't allow more than 10 minutes of conversation. He also said that "the system" didn't allow him to provide me with a document that the radio was allowed to operate in Bulgaria. From then on, after sunset the hotel staff wanted me and the radio to stay in the lounge, in order to listen to RNI and similar western pop music stations. All drinks were on the house.

Without the document of allowance, I nearly escaped a second arrest at the airport, where I demonstrated to a number of unbelievers that my set could receive weak, western pop music stations even under adverse conditions.
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KC5MO
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« Reply #7 on: January 15, 2015, 06:18:46 AM »

That's was very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
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KJ6ZOL
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Posts: 820




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« Reply #8 on: January 15, 2015, 03:12:55 PM »

I just asked my wife who is Bulgarian about this. She said that the radio's could not 'catch' the west radio stations. Maybe fixed frequencies? Also there were many put in jail for making their own radio's. The State would 'sniff' for radios, I guess she means DF LO vehicles. That's as much info I could get from a non technical person who lived half her life under Soviet Block.

A tube radio spews out quite a bit of RF noise. I've heard that the Nazis would search for illegal radios through sniffer vehicles that could detect tube radio RF noise. Also, apparently the Allies had to use a lot of shielding on their marine comms equipment to prevent Nazi reception. As noted on the North Korea thread, a regen set is easy to make but spews out RF like crazy. I know that regen sets were common in Nazi Germany, since they were cheap to make. The Volksempfanger radios were mainly three tube regen designs. Your wife probably meant that the Western radio stns were jammed. The link provided earlier in the thread shows that people who knew English would listen to English language broadcasts and then pass around the info.
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WA4HBK
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« Reply #9 on: January 26, 2015, 08:40:14 AM »

In the UK the PTT or whatever it is called now would travel around with their vans looking for local oscillators from TV sets. Then they would compare the address with those who had paid for their TV license. When I was there it was about 55 pounds a year if I remember correctly. There was a bit of a flap for a couple of weeks when the govt tried to force the Cunard QE2 to buy a license for each of the TVs they had on board. That lasted until Cunard threatened to homeport the QE2 in Le Harve instead of Southampton. When I was in Russia the old Soviet apts had a speaker on the wall with four buttons, each selected an "approved" station. Times have changed, from 1998 until 2002 I was able to operate with a reciprocal license from the Russians. Then moved to Belarus and operated there for 3 years.
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RENTON481
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Posts: 188




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« Reply #10 on: January 29, 2015, 03:09:28 PM »

I've seen a few Soviet made transistor multiband radios on radio collectors websites, so I'm sure there were more than a few SWL's over there. I think there was an article in PopComm -- or its predecessor Communications World -- about SWL's in the USSR, maybe in the early 1980's.

And remember, a lot of SW frequencies were used by the Soviet radio networks, serving the fishing fleets and far flung territories in Siberia. I used to listen in on Mayak and similar domestic broadcasts in the 49 and 60 meter bands -- and other lower bands as well. Obviously there were domestic radios capable of receiving the broadcasts, also.

It stands to reason someone could tune in a foreign broadcast (provided it wasn't jammed -- which I think most foreign broadcasts aimed at the USSR were). I'm sure it wasn't something that someone over there in that time period would have talked about, though.

So I think the main difference between the USSR and North Korea is that they allowed for the radios to be sold that could receive foreign broadcasts -- they just discouraged people from tuning them in, either through jamming, or through intimidation.
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KJ6ZOL
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Posts: 820




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« Reply #11 on: January 29, 2015, 06:20:49 PM »

I've seen a few Soviet made transistor multiband radios on radio collectors websites, so I'm sure there were more than a few SWL's over there. I think there was an article in PopComm -- or its predecessor Communications World -- about SWL's in the USSR, maybe in the early 1980's.

And remember, a lot of SW frequencies were used by the Soviet radio networks, serving the fishing fleets and far flung territories in Siberia. I used to listen in on Mayak and similar domestic broadcasts in the 49 and 60 meter bands -- and other lower bands as well. Obviously there were domestic radios capable of receiving the broadcasts, also.

It stands to reason someone could tune in a foreign broadcast (provided it wasn't jammed -- which I think most foreign broadcasts aimed at the USSR were). I'm sure it wasn't something that someone over there in that time period would have talked about, though.

So I think the main difference between the USSR and North Korea is that they allowed for the radios to be sold that could receive foreign broadcasts -- they just discouraged people from tuning them in, either through jamming, or through intimidation.

Keep in mind that the USSR was so huge that SW was a necessity. Once you get out of the main population base in the west, there can be a LOT of space between villages. China has the same problem-a totalitarian govt stuck ruling a very large country with a widely dispersed population.

Tecsun is owned by the Chinese govt-foreign sales are an afterthought, their main market is domestic. The Tecsun radios sold on Ebay don't even have English language manuals-the seller usually includes a url where a third party translation of the manual can be downloaded. I bought a Baofeng UV-B5 off Ebay in 2013, only to find that the manual was in Chinese, and the language setting on the HT itself was set to Chinese. I had to get an English language manual online.

Anyway, the Soviets dealt with the issue by erecting a massive network of jammer tx's to block foreign signals. They apparently didn't jam English bc's, so people who knew English would apparently pass news around via word of mouth or samizdat. China used to have a similar apparatus set up to deal with Radio Free Asia, but it's been a while since I've heard RFA. Did Obama pull the plug? Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Eventually, there's gonna be a singularity where some govt cuts off all FM and jams all satellite tx (and blocks the net) to their country, and the politicians in Washington will say, gee we coulda used SW if we hadn't dismantled the system 20 years ago, now we can't get news to those people. Hey, we're going to Disneyland!  Angry Roll Eyes Tongue
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K1DA
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« Reply #12 on: January 30, 2015, 08:35:59 AM »

The marine radio receivers the German subs could track were super regen  and gave off trackable signal in normal operation.  They were replaced with superhets when the Allies found out how the Germans were locating the ships.
The famous Russian club  ham radio stations were a training ground for Russian radio military radio operators.  Many of us remember  when  all when a Russian would say he was "near Moscow" , it was cold, and his radio had "25 tubes".  Until the fall of the wall Russians were not allowed home stations.
"Tube Radios" don't as a general type radiate any more LO than any otherkind. 

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