By Ken Reitz KS4ZR (Monitoring Times - December 1999)
Shortwave listening is almost as old as the century and the bands are still packed with the voices and music of the world's nations as well as all of those strange sounds which indicate the presence of digital transmissions. You've enjoyed monitoring international broadcasters, utilities stations, number stations and amateur radio operators, but maybe you've stayed away from the digital modes because it all seemed too expensive and complicated.
Now BayPac has taken away those excuses and opened up another dimension in shortwave listening. All you need is your radio and a basic PC with an unused serial port.
Tigertronics has made their BayPac Model BP-2M, a multi-mode modem, so easy to use and versatile you'll wonder why you haven't gotten one before now! Measuring just over 2" square, the BP-2M slips into a com port on your computer and plugs into the speaker jack of your shortwave radio, scanner, or HT. Now, by bringing up any one of three dozen freeware, shareware or inexpensive commercial programs (all available on their website), you can access digital transmissions including SITOR A/B, BAUDOT, PACKET (HF & VHF), ASCII, RTTY, NAVTEX, WEFAX, AMTOR, SSTV, CW and many more.
To get you started right away the BP-2M is shipped with a copy of their own installation software and latest versions of the durable and well-designed HamComm and JVFAX programs, as well as a concise, five page Installation & Operation manual.
The only thing you'll have to do is fit the cable with a plug to fit whatever you're using for a signal source. Details for doing this are found in the manual. The installation disk has dozens of pages of "Common Questions and Problems" in addition to "Getting Started with Packet Commands". Forget about power supplies, the BP-2M uses only 9 mW and it gets that from the signal that it's processing!
Once I installed the programs on my computer and attached a mini-plug to the modem's cable, I fired up my Kenwood TS-140 transceiver using an all-band outside antenna and started tuning the dials. After loading HamComm, I was "reading the mail" on ham QSOs on 80, 40, 20 and 10 meters. The system was able to copy Tech Plus morse code (CW) ops lumbering along at under 10 words per minute (WPM) as well as old hands zipping along at 40+ WPM. Even with atmospheric noise, local electrical hash, and the fact that both operators were slightly off each other's frequency, the copy was solid.
Switching to Slow Scan TV (SSTV), I tuned to 14.232 MHz, a standard SSTV frequency, and sure enough, the familiar and peculiar sound of an SSTV signal in progress was heard. Within seconds I had the JVFAX program up and an image from a ham in Florida was slowly filling the screen.
With very little practice, tuning WEFAX, SSTV, RTTY or CW is a breeze. Find an interesting image? You can save it for later viewing or pass on to someone else by your own transmission. That's right; the BP-2M not only receives, but if you're a ham, you can transmit too! Even as a Technician Class operator you can use the BP-2M to expand your operating horizons.
Just for fun I shut down the Kenwood and reached for my old Uniden 2021, pulled out it's telescoping antenna as far as it would go, plugged the modem into it's speaker jack and started looking up WEFAX frequencies. Despite the interference from the computer's monitor less than a foot from the antenna, the minuscule size of the antenna, and the less than supersensitive receiver, within seconds the screen was filling with a shaky, but readable, weather chart from a coastal station over 1500 miles away. Not too bad!
The only difficulty I had was relearning how to get around with DOS commands. As they warn in the manual "Never try to operate BayCom or any of the MultiMode programs from Windows... BayCom requires the total undivided attention of the computer to work reliably". Once you get over that little obstacle, operations become routine.
The one thing that I found extremely useful to have on hand with the BP-2M was this magazine. I went back through last years copies of MT and checked out the Digital Digest "Baudot and Beyond" column and many others, including feature articles, which had extensive lists of HF frequencies and the various modes found operating there. Now when you come across those articles you'll read them with a new interest!
The BayPac BP-2M does not pretend to replace desktop stand-alone multi-mode terminal units. What it does, however, is allow those of us who can't even consider spending much money a chance to explore the digital world of the shortwave and VHF spectrum. While much of the operations are easy, some digital modes will be more of a challenge. But, that's what attracts us to this hobby anyway! If you like to experiment with tuning in on new modes, expanding your ham radio activities, and would like to do so for just $69.95, the BP-2M is a great place to start.
BayPac models BP-2 (Packet only) and BP-2M (Packet and Multi-mode) are available from Tigertronics, Inc., 400 Daily Lane, P.O. Box 5210, Grants Pass, OR 97527. Phone 800-822-9722 (orders only), 541-474-6700 or FAX: 541-474-6703. Visit their extensive web site for updated information on all digital modes and available software: www.tigertronics.com
For other reviews and information of interest to all hams and shortwave listeners, please visit the Monitoring Times Web Site.