Passport to World Band Radio goes QRT

Passport to World Band Radio goes QRT

International Broadcasting Services, Ltd announces that not only is the print edition disappearing, but so is their web presence:

Update, March 28th: The likely date for this site to go dark is late this week. In principle, at any rate!

Fortuitous timing, too, as there are just enough 2009Passport books left in stock to last until then.

Moving On

Friday, March 19th, 2010

It’s no secret — Passport 2009 is to be the last in an annual series that began in 1984. Now, the time is nigh to further phase down that operation by shuttering this website. Timing is inexact, but the wire should be snipped late this month.

Long, Strange Trip

In Deadspeak, this has been one long, strange trip. It started some 40 years back, when my first and wonderful wife was having increasingly serious personal problems. These led me to quit what I had been doing so I could watch over her fulltime.

Alas, this left me pretty much cooped up with little else to do. So, restless, I purchased a Drake R-4B receiver, which I still have, and became absorbed by digging through the boundless offerings of shortwave broadcasting.

It was fascinating, yet frustrating because of stations’ technical and content shortcomings. Never one to keep my trap shut, I let blast with critiques and suggestions, and in due course wound up consulting professionally. (Cynics might conclude, in the spirit of Lyndon Johnson’s explanation of why he retained J. Edgar Hoover, that they preferred to have me on the inside pissing out rather than the outside pissing in.)

It was fantastic work — especially victories against the KGB’s vast jamming firewall — but the base of viable clients was thin. In 1980, after several unforgettable years, that client base all but vanished, thanks to shifting political winds. We scrambled into survival mode.

Our most useful assets for public consumption turned out to be within our frequency management activities. First, our team of monitors and experts from intelligence and other backgrounds was top-drawer. Second, we had what was generally recognized as the world’s premiere database of shortwave spectrum occupancy.

Thus it was that the idea of publishing a world band database was born out of desperation.

But it wasn’t to be a slam dunk. Until then, our “database” had been a internal pencil-and-ruler exercise like what Roger Legge had been preparing at the Voice of America. Obviously, this had to be computerized if a book were to be timely and attractive enough for public sale.

PCs Appear in Nick of Time

Since 1961, when I had had the good fortune to land a summer job at IBM-Paris, I’d been working on and off with mainframe computers and database development. However, in the early Eighties the attractiveness of renting mainframe time began to fade as the embryonic world of PCs with hard disks — “Winchesters” — came into being.

We first committed to a DEC Rainbo system with a 5 Mb disk and a hard-wired Pascal compiler, but it had development issues. So we wound up purchasing, instead, an IBM PC-XT with a then-astonishing 10 Mb “fixed disk” and RAM upgrade to the maximum-allowed 256k. This was the lone demonstration unit which had just arrived at a major Princeton outlet in advance of XTs being nationally introduced for sale. Thankfully, I was able to persuade a young lady there to part with it anyway, as we needed something fast.

Still, with nearly every dime we had going to lawyers, we nearly didn’t make it. First, finding affordable programming talent to properly turn my specs into a working program was a huge hurdle. U.K. professor John Campbell, like Patton at Bastogne, ultimately came to the rescue. But only dogged persistence allowed us to overcome the main hurdle: a Federal lawsuit from an existing publisher.

Tarted Out for Survival

A small edition, dubbed Radio Database International, was ultimately released in early 1984, with the title eventually morphing into Passport to World Band Radio. But this was preceded by several near-death experiences, among them:

In late 1983 our legal counsel in New Jersey warned that we needed to produce something soon in print if we were to prevail in the lawsuit. Alas, we didn’t have enough time to input the massive volumes of data into our lone PC, and there were no rentals or funds for a second machine.

So, one of our female co-conspirators dressed in her best approximation of a ditsy young thing married to some rich guy. Thus tarted out, she proceeded to a Philadelphia department store.

There, she cooed to an eager salesman that for Christmas she just might be amenable to getting a computer for her husband. She also pointed out that she couldn’t be certain Daddy Warbucks would care for it.

Not wishing to miss out on a juicy sale, the salesman suggested she could take home a fully equipped PC and peripherals. If hubby wasn’t pleased by his lavish surprise, she could return it weeks hence, in January — not incidentally allowing the salesman to collect his commission.

Thanks to this creative tomfoolery and the resulting round-the-clock keyboarding, we were able to successfully publish a first bare-bones edition within weeks.

Rise and Fall of World Band Radio

The rest, you may know. In the best of times sales were over 80,000 units a year, and for one snapped-fingers instant Passport was actually a national top-ten best seller.

But that was over 15 years ago. World band radio gained vigor during the buildup to WW II, and of course during the War. After that, the Cold War with its ideological bent kept the field thriving. But once the Berlin Wall came down, questions arose as to why these government broadcasts were taking place in the absence of any major conflict.

So, some reinvented themselves, while many phased down or terminated their shortwave operations. Add to that Sony’s near-downfall, the growth of the Internet, and even the possible fading away of print publications — and it’s sadly evident that the time has come to shutter Passport’s declining operation.

Great Folks, Grand Times

It has been a fantastic quarter century creating and growing this book. I can but wish that everybody could experience what I have: the opportunity to do work that makes you excited about going to the office and getting cracking.

And what a pleasure to have had such exceptional folks as colleagues! Heading the roster has been the amiable Tony Jones, who was central to Passport’s success from 1982 to the end. Without him, the book simply wouldn’t be have been what it was.

One of life’s eternal truths is that you don’t know who your friends are until the chips are down. So it’s worth recalling that early on, when we were threadbare, being sued and few gave us any chance of succeeding, we were fortunate enough to have had in our corner the likes of Don Jensen, Noel Green, David Meisel and Pennsylvania attorney Brian Price. During Passport’s 25-year run there were a good hundred other angels, including Craig Tyson, Mike Wright, Jock Elliott, Rik Mayell, David Zantow and Rob Sherwood, who turned their exceptional skills into meaningful results. That’s only some, and the names of certain others can never be made known. But you know who you are and how much your roles have meant.

The same holds for those who have read and supportedPassport over the years. Especially, thank you, thank you and thank you for your many recent kind comments. We had precious little of this warmth when we started, and the difference cannot be overstated. It has thrown sunshine on otherwise difficult moments, even as we’re gently pulling down the curtain.

–Lawrence Magne

As a long time Passport to Word Band Radio reader, my tip of the hat to Lawrence & the crew as this institution ends.

Wishing them the greatest success and happiness in whatever they pursue.



Midnight Solutions Announces the NUE-SDR

NUE-SDR Prototype

NUE-SDR Prototype

From a recent email:

FYI, some details of the prototype NUE-SDR option (shown at MassCon QRP
Conference last weekend and currently in development as an optional add-on
accessory for all NUE-PSK digital modems) is now present on the website.
See the link in the ³Modem News² section of the home page.

73, George N2APB

George’s notes:

““NUE-SDR” … an SDR transceiver option for the NUE-PSK Modem — We’re making headway on this newest hardware option for the modem.

We showed off the early/partial prototype at the MassCon QRP Convention this month.

The NUE-SDR is a standalone transceiver consisting of a DSP control board coupled with a the RXTX v6.3 Softrock, both contained in a separate cabinet the same size as the PSK modem.

Designed to be attached beneath the NUE-PSK modem box, and connected to the PSK modem by a short signal cable, the NUE-SDR serves as a 20m QRP transceiver for use with all existing PSK modems.

So now, in addition to no PC being needed for PSK use, there isn’t even a need for a separate transceiver!

This integrated package uses the PSK modem’s graphic LCD spectrum, dial and pushbutton to control the HF transceiver in the lower box to transmit and receive the PSK signals modulated/demodulated in the upper box.

Again, the NUE-SDR is in still only in prototype form, but we are hoping to have product for sale this year with a target price in the $200 range (subject to change), and available as a kit or fully assembled and tested.

(The NUE-SDR will work with all existing NUE-PSK digital modems!)”

Link to the full pdf notes with pictures: prototype (Mar 18).pdf

George N2APB just did a full update on my NUE-PSK Modem, which was a hugely appreciated service!

I am very much looking forward to his NUE-SDR as an add-on!



Great Podcast – TWIARi – This Week in Amateur Radio International

A Good Podcast Listen:

This Week In Amateur Radio International (TWIARi) is a music, sound effect and broadcast grade version of TWIAR (This Week In Amateur Radio) that each week originally airs on WBCQ, broadcasting on 7415 Mhz.

Adjusted to fit the one-hour broadcast time slot TWIARi is not intended for rebroadcast on Amateur Frequencies where the Music and other effects are not allowed. The full feature and broadcast audio ply very wll over my truck’s sound system while I drive, and are are much less “sterile” than the voice-only TWIAR Amateur Radio Transmission versions. or from the Podcast Download Portal at




An Insider’s Look at the Flex-Radio Flex-1500 QRP SDR Transceiver through the Blog of a Beta-Tester

Tim W4TME, Internet Systems Administrator for FlexRadio Systems, is doing a semi-public blog on Beta Testing the new Flex-1500 QRP SDR Transceiver.

Flex-1500 QRP SDR Transceiver

Flex-1500 QRP SDR Transceiver


Flex-1500 QRP SDR Running PSK

Flex-1500 QRP SDR Running PSK

Definitely worth watching the development of this very neat radio!



A Very Good Cause – Ears To Our World (ETOW)

Featured in an extended interview on TWIARi (This Week in Amateur Radio International) ETOW (Ears To Our World) looks to be a very worth cause.

Ears to Our World Logo

Ears To Our World (ETOW) is a grass-roots, humanitarian organization that specializes in the distribution of medium and shortwave radio technologies to connect media broadcasters with individuals in the developing world.

“More specifically, our mission is to enable children and their support networks in the most remote, impoverished parts of the world to receive educational programming, local and international news, emergency information and music through the use of radio receivers. Our focus will be on classrooms, but our reach will encompass other community facilities.

I will be seeing what I can do for this cause, perhaps you will join me?



Flex-5000A Working DX with CW Skimmer and Antenna Switch Videos by W9OY

Lee W9OY has done several additional Flex-5000 Videos:

Showing how Flex/Skimmer DX Contact Goes

Here I (W9OY) work a typical DX pile up on station 3B9WR on Rodriguez Island. I have CW Slimmer connected to Flex 5000/PowerSDR combination which makes for a very formidable DX setup. I already worked the station earlier so I don’t transmit in order to avoid QRMing the pile up. I worked him on the third call using Skimmer to hone in on his receive frequency. My setup consisted of the F5K, a full size 80M vert 1500W and a 43ft vertical resonant on 80M for the diversity antenna. The antennas are about 3/4 wavelength apart on 80M, and on this station and this path the beam steering feature of the F5K did not provide much difference than the standard diversity reception.

The audio for this video comes from CW skimmer instead of PowerSDR since I can’t run Skimmer and feed audio from PowerSDR at the same time. There are no cables connecting Skimmer and the Flex 5000. All the connections are done in software. I hope you enjoy seeing a DX QSO using the Flex 5000. I also hope you listen to how quiet the receiver is and that there are no extraneous beeps or boops even though many strong US stations are very close 73 W9OY

Flex 5000 Antenna switch

This is a demonstration of the power of the Flex 5000 antenna switch. It is a feature not often thought about but it is a feature that gives incredible flexibility to your station.

It allows up to 3 transmit/receive antennas as well as up to 2 independent receive antennas on HF, internal transverter jacks for 2M and 70cm as well as a loop feature that allows you to insert filters or external high performance pre-amps into the receiver line. These features are controllable manually through a popup or can be custom controlled automatically by the band switch. In addition the F5K allows for independent control of up to 3 linear amps. It is a very powerful switch that I use extensively in my SO2R station and to control my antennas for diversity reception.

It is one of the features that allows the Flex 5K to be the control center for an entire radio station as well as streamlining remote base operation In a future video I hope to highlight how I use this feature plus some BCD encoding to automatically choose bands on my amplifier and antenna switch making my Flex 5000 into a 1.5kw auto switching transceiver. Just click and GO 73 W9OY

You can check out all of Lee W9OY’s bog at: