A Hacker’s Guide to Alexa

FM Transmitter 2 with Amazon Alexa Echo DotAnother meaning of “hacking” is to “clear a path”. In this case I want Alexa to perform the way I want. I warn you I’m the guy who disabled the annoying “Bixby” button on my S8 android phone by gluing it down with two small dabs of clear silicone. This glue can be removed in the event of some incredible cosmic event where Bixby has something to offer me. Smart phones are only tools.

I am also completely uninterested in smart speakers including Alexa’s even with its extensive abilities except one . . . radio. I have seen oral navigation to a favorite radio station end up in terse arguments with a robot which keeps adding perceived insults to the request. The app that downloads to your phone is a not bad as long as you are willing to press the button a few times until it makes a selection. You can scroll through your history to find your favorite station without opening your mouth. This is particularly good when changing stations in the middle of the night. We keep the Alexa mic off after reflection of some of our home discussions. Question:  Can two people download the Alexa app and control one device?

I tried plugging Alexa close to my CCRadio 2E so I can plug it into the “audio-in” port. Unfortunately, the Alexa’s switching power adapter destroyed AM reception. I prefer over the air radio when I can get it because internet radio advertising is many times more repetitive and demeaning (IMHO). Plugging Alexa into another circuit about 25’ away solved the noise problem. Using an FM transmitter from Alexa to my CC Radio solved the transmission problem and gave me audio clarity I enjoy and an expanded radio dial that has infinite possibilities. There are a few potential obstacles to be aware of before you try an FM Transmitter.

  1. Some locations have a full dial of strong FM stations. You can check https://radio-locator.com/cgi-bin/vacant for a vacant station slot or tune the dial for dead air.
  2. The FM Transmitter-2 is low power so it only goes a maximum distance of about 45 feet line of sight with no obstructions.  In my location I was getting less. You can search “FM transmitter 2 mod” for user solutions if you’re not getting the range you need.

My predominant source of enjoyment is news (BBC), podcasts and late night radio, but I do love good movies and books too. I don’t think I am the only one who has shut off their cable after realizing all they want is keep your eyeballs looking at a screen any way they can in exchange advertising dollars.

Enter to Win: Do you have a smart speaker? If so, which one and how do you use it most? Have you found any useful tricks? Please answer in the comments below and be entered to win the FM Transmitter 2. Drawing to be held February 9th. Thanks! Please only one entry per person.

Congratulations to Charles Arneson on winning the FM Transmitter 2!

A Quick Way to Start Listening to SSB

SSB-REFLECT-4BOX-R4-1500Single Sideband is a comparatively unknown, interesting and important radio format that takes a special radio for listening and a little time to learn.

If we start an hour after sunset, on a weekend, it is easier to pick up your first station. Attach and stretch out your portable shortwave antenna to the CC Skywave SSB™ and select the SW band. “SW” will show on the display. Push in on the tuning dial so that it steps 1 KHz at a time. “SLOW” will show on the display. Tune between 7125-7300 KHz until you hear a modestly strong distorted voice. Now press the SSB key and let the SSB circuit download. Then press the Fine Tune Key (both key lights be on) and turn the tuning knob up and down until the voice becomes legible. Most likely you will be listening to a ham talk to his friends. It normally takes a few successes to get the basic swing of it. You can look up call signs at QRZ.com, (you have to register) and find out who and where people are talking from. The University of Alabama has a great website on which ham bands are currently active: http://dxdisplay.caps.ua.edu/.

Note: Radio conditions on shortwave change every day like the weather. Sometimes you may hear many stations on the air, and sometimes just a few or even none. Evenings and weekends tend to be the best times to listen. There is more to learn by searching the web for “ham radio”.

Generally higher frequencies work better during the day and lower frequencies at night.

Listening suggestions:

  • Daytime – try: 7125-7300kHz (LSB), 14150-14325kHz (USB) or 21200-21450kHz (USB)
  • Nighttime – try: 3600-4000kHz (LSB) or 7125-7300kHz (LSB)

Please see What in the world is SSB? Part 1 from the hams at C. Crane.