Station Report

It has been a few weeks since I dug out my neglected scanners and despite not being able to spend hours with them I have still had an enjoyable time reacquainting myself with them and experimenting.

Despite the growing use of digital transmission systems there is still a lot to listen to on the airwaves. I should note at this point that using a scanner to monitor anything that is not intended for ‘General Reception’ is illegal.

The Amateur bands are fairly quite around my location, however I was pleasantly surprised to be able to here to receive a number of Amateur repeaters both on the 2 meter and 70cm bands despite appearing to be outside the predicated coverage.

The CB bands are also very quiet but I suspect that is more to do with the high levels of interference I seem to be suffering. I have been struck by the apparent increase in interference (QRM) on a lot of the bands since I last used the receivers. I can hardly hear anything on the short wave HF bands except the more powerful commercial transmitters.

I suspect this interference is down to the proliferation of computers and associated peripherals, wired and wireless networking. Energy saving fluorescent lamps and microprocessor system in all manner of consumer equipment such as TVs, PVRs, DVD players for example means the airwaves are full of noise.

The Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) who represent the thousands of Amateur radio operators have begun to campaign to save the radio spectrum from such interference, specifically they are currently campaigning against the threat poised by the proliferation of PLA/PLT devices (such as HomePlug) these devices use the house mains wiring to transmit network data. However what happens is the wiring then acts an effective radio antenna transmitting the traffic at such levels blocking out other legitimate radio transmissions. This sounds(sic) to be in direct contravention of the EMC Directive of the EU that prohibits the manufacturer of any device that interfers with radio and telecommunications equipment.

However despite representations by the RSGB, the BBC and others OFCOM and the last Government have dragged their heals and refused to act. Hopefully the new Collation Government will be different, but I won’t hold my breath. More information at UKQRM
  
However given all this noise there are still things to listen to, of course I haven’t since it is illegal, but if I were so inclined there are plenty of analogue VHF/UHF Private Mobile Radio (PMR) systems still being used by commerical organisations. Such as taxi firms, councils, security patrols or by large business to facilitate communication across sites.

In the past it would be difficult to know the source of the transmission often listening for clues to try help identify them such as names of locations, buildings, streets and people for example. However nowadays it has been made a little easier by OFCOM who have allowed on-line access to the Wireless Telegraphy Register database. The use and allocation of radio frequencies is strictly regulated so now if get a hit on a frequency it is possible to use the WRT website to help identify them.

The air and marine bands are still as active as ever, given my location near to a number of RAF bases it could prove interesting if I were also so inclined.

BBC Radio Science Fiction Season

It has been an interesting couple of weeks for fans of sci-fi on the BBC Radio network. The digital only station BBC 7 regularly broadcasts science fiction drama, but has been joined by the mainstream stations Radio 3 and Radio 4 for a season of science fiction. The season consists of new dramas, dramatisations and readings of ground breaking books inspired and written by some of the greats including H.G. Wells, J.G. Ballard, Iain M. Banks and Arthur C. Clarke.

I particularly liked the productions of Clarke’s masterpiece Rendezvous with Rama, and Iain M. Banks’s State Of The Art. I do agree with Kate Chisholm’s review in The Spectator where she laments the loss of the Radiophonic Workshop’s unearthly sound effects and audio treatment that were once a staple of radio drama, they would have added a lot to the State Of The Art, but it was enjoyable none the less.

Wasn’t quite so sure of the apocalyptic The Death Of Grass drama bizarrely broadcast during Woman’s Hour While the story and production had merit I thought the casting of David Mitchell as the narrator wasn’t quite right, but then I recently spent several sessions catching up with his comedy Peep Show.

I read somewhere (but have lost the link) that the BBC received a number of complaints about the trailer (above) that they used on TV, seems it frightened a number of children! Not sure it would have got the same reaction as the original Exorcist Maze Game did…


I have embedded a ‘copy’ as the original youtube video has embedding disabled!

Crufts Online

Crufts, the world’s most prestigious dog show, begins yesterday. This year however it won’t be on television.

The BBC and The Kennel Club fell out following the controversial documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed, broadcast on BBC One last August. It featured shocking footage, such as film of a King Charles Spaniel which was in intense pain because its brain was too big for its skull. The main thrust of the documentary was that The Kennel Club promote physical distortions that are unacceptably cruel to the dogs involved.

Following the broadcast the 40 year relationship between the BBC and with the Kennel Club fell apart. The Kennel Club lodged a complaint with the regulators and following the subsequent public outcry the BBC decided not to screen this year’s event claiming that the Kennel Club breed-standard requirements for 14 breeds are so unacceptable they shouldn’t be in the competition at all.

It was a public relations nightmare, the RSPCA and other dog welfare organisations withdrew their support, dog food makers Pedigree withdrew their sponsorship. However The Kennel Club refused to roll-over, although it did tighten up some of their rules on welfare.

The Kennel Club have responded to the lack of coverage by embracing the internet, and via the Crufts Live website people from all around the world can watch free live streaming video of the events taking place throughout the four days of competition this year, as well as a video on demand pay-for-view service.

It appears that the Kennel Club have fairly modest targets expecting around 100,000 people to use the service compared to 4.3 million viewers who tuned in to last year’s televised final. This year David Stranks, head of new media at Sunset + Vine, the company responsible for the online coverage has been quoted as saying: “If the site gets anything like those numbers, The Kennel Club will be over the moon.”

After watching some of the coverage yesterday I actually think the withdrawal of the BBC might actually be good for Crufts, the BBC coverage was often criticised for being banal and concentrated on the presenters rather than the competition. It focused mainly on the ‘breed’ competitions and there was almost no coverage of the other competitions such as Flyball and Agility which have a massive following draw huge crowds.

The online service allows coverage throughout every day, from 8.30am, and they are showing all the Flyball, Agility, Obedience and Heal Work competitions and demonstrations throughout the day from the main arena. I compete at Dog Agility and can say the response on certain forums and chatboards has been very positive about the expanded coverage of the sport.

Caroline Kisko, a spokesman for the Kennel Club has said “For the future we will be looking at all the different options; we haven’t decided which way to go yet. Broadcast TV undoubtedly reaches more homes, but I think the web will be a big part of whatever we do in the future.”

Stephen Fry and the future of Public Sector Broadcasting

Stephen Fry

Last week Stephen Fry has made a passionate, clever and insightful lecture on the future of Public Sector Broadcasting and the specifically the future of, and dangers faced by the BBC.

broadcasting is a special case, that the rules of the market place don’t apply. As in the armed forces, coastal defence, policing and other fields, capitalism red in tooth and claw cannot be unleashed here. If we stopped husbanding the Yorkshire Moors or the Lake District the result would be weeds, scrub or desertification, not more efficient productive landscapes from Germany or South Korea providing consumer choice and real competition. If innovative, cutting-edge, new and risky programming is not subsidised, the weeds will blow in too.

One of his many anecdotes also hits the point on the head

Private competition meanwhile continued to hammer home its counter-message. ‘Actually the market does work, it only doesn’t work when it’s unfairly dominated by subsidised monoliths like the BBC. Take away their distorting effect on the market and all will be well. Choice and diversity will reign.’ I remember Hugh and I wrote a sketch in which I played a waiter who recognised a diner in my restaurant as a Tory broadcasting minister. I clapped him on the shoulder and told him how much I admired his policies of choice, consumer choice, freedom of choice. I then was horrified to notice that he had only a silver knife and fork for cutlery at his table. ‘No, no, they’re fine,’ said the puzzled politician. But my character the waiter raced off and soon returned with an enormous bin liner which I emptied over his table. It contained thousands and thousands of those white plastic coffee-stirrers. ‘There you are,’ I screamed dementedly at him, virtually rubbing his face in the heap of white plastic, ‘now you’ve got choice. Look at all that choice. They may all be shit, but look at the choice!’ The sketch ends with me trying to strangle him. Heavy handed satire perhaps, but that was how it looked to me we were in danger of going: thirty or forty channels but all filled with drek.

The transcript of the speech is available online along with an audio and video presentation.

Fry also wrote in the Financial Times the day after the presentation.