Guest Post: Brian’s 1974 mix tape of off-air shortwave radio recordings

HalliDial

Many thanks to SWLing Post and Shortwave Radio Audio Archive contributor, Brian Smith, for the following guest post and vintage recording:


Shortwave Radio 1974: Canada, Argentina, Spain, West Germany, Albania, utility stations

-Brian Smith (W9IND)

Want to know what shortwave radio sounded like in 1974? This 55-minute recording, recovered from a cassette, was never intended to be anything but “audio notes”: I was an 18-year-old shortwave listener who collected QSL cards from international stations, and I was tired of using a pen and a notepad to copy down details of the broadcasts. I wanted an easier way to record what I heard, and my cassette tape recorder seemed like the perfect means to accomplish that goal.

But it wasn’t. I soon discovered that it was simpler to just edit my notes as I was jotting them down — not spend time on endless searches for specific information located all over on the tape. To make a long story shorter, I abandoned my “audio notes” plan after a single shortwave recording: This one.

Hallicrafters S-108 (Image: DXing.com)

Hallicrafters S-108 (Image source: DXing.com)

Still, for those who want to experience the feel of sitting at a shortwave radio in the mid-1970s and slowly spinning the dial, this tape delivers. Nothing great in terms of sound quality; I was using a Hallicrafters S-108 that was outdated even at the time. And my recording “technique” involved placing the cassette microphone next to the radio speaker.

Thus, what you’ll hear is a grab bag of randomness: Major shortwave broadcasting stations from Canada, Argentina, Spain, Germany and Albania; maritime CW and other utility stations; and even a one-sided conversation involving a mobile phone, apparently located at sea. There are lengthy (even boring) programs, theme songs and interval signals, and brief IDs, one in Morse code from an Italian Navy station and another from a Department of Energy station used to track shipments of nuclear materials. And I can’t even identify the station behind every recording, including several Spanish broadcasts (I don’t speak the language) and an interview in English with a UFO book author.

The following is a guide, with approximate Windows Media Player starting times, of the signals on this recording. (Incidentally, the CBC recording was from July 11, 1974 — a date I deduced by researching the Major League Baseball scores of the previous day.)

Guide To The Recording

00:00 — CBC (Radio Canada) Northern and Armed Forces Service: News and sports.
07:51 — RAE (Radio Argentina): Sign-off with closing theme
09:14 — Department of Energy station in Belton, Missouri: “This is KRF-265 clear.”
09:17 — Interval signal: Radio Spain.
09:40 — New York Radio, WSY-70 (aviation weather broadcast)
10:22 — Unidentified station (Spanish?): Music.
10:51— Unidentified station (English): Historic drama with mention of Vice President John Adams, plus bell-heavy closing theme.
14:12 — Unidentified station (Spanish?): Male announcer, poor signal strength.
14:20 — Unidentified station (Spanish): Theme music and apparent ID, good signal strength.
15:16 — Unidentified station (foreign-speaking, possibly Spanish): Song, “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.”
17:00 — Deutsche Welle (The Voice of West Germany): Announcement of frequencies, theme song.
17:39 — Unidentified station (English): Interview with the Rev. Barry Downing, author of “The Bible and Flying Saucers.”
24:36 — One side of mobile telephone conversation in SSB, possibly from maritime location.
30:37 — Radio Tirana (Albania): Lengthy economic and geopolitical talk (female announcer); bad audio. Theme and ID at 36:23, sign-off at 55:03.
55:11 — Italian Navy, Rome: “VVV IDR3 (and long tone)” in Morse code.

Click here to download the recording as an MP3, or simply listen via the embedded audio player below:


Brian, this is a brilliant recording–regardless of audio quality–and we’re very thankful you took the time to share it. Propagation has left something to be desired as of late, so time traveling back to 1974 has been incredibly fun. 

Post Readers: If, like Brian, you have off-air recordings on tape that you’d like to share, please contact me! Even if you don’t have the means to transfer your tapes to a digital format, I’m a part of a small community of shortwave radio archivists who would be quite willing to help.

Posted in Guest Posts, News, Nostalgia, Podcast, Radio History, Recordings, Shortwave Radio, Specials | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Android tablet SDRs?

Image: screen grab from SDRtouch video

SWLing Post reader, Philip, writes with the following question:

“I want to know if you are aware of any good shortwave receivers that can be used on an Android tablet.”

I am aware of the Android SDR application, SDR Touch (see image above), but have never used it so I can’t comment on compatibility with the various SDRs on the market. I know that SDR Touch is compatible with devices that support USB host mode–but you may need to do research to see if your Android device and potential receiver are compatible. I believe most SDR Touch users connect their device to RTL-SDR dongles.

Readers: Please comment if you have any suggestions for Philip. I’m also curious if anyone has had success pairing an Android tablet to an HF-capable SDR.

Posted in Ham Radio, How To, News, Shortwave Radio, Software Defined Radio | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Primary, Ion, and Polymer: a lithium battery primer

EnergizerLithium

Energizer ultimate lithium cells are designed to be a lighter, longer-life direct replacement for the AA alkaline battery.

Lithium primary, lithium ion, lithium polymer…want to know the differences between–and varied uses for–these diverse types of lithium batteries? You’re not alone…so did I.

Recently, a reader asked about the suitability of using AA Lithium batteries in a Tecsun radio.  Several knowledgeable Post contributors–including Richard Langley, Ken Hansen, DL4NO, Eric Cottrell, and Mark Piaskiewicz–responded, and a discussion of the differences in various lithium cells and their chemistry followed.

I was quite intrigued by this discussion, and wanted to learn more; a bit of research ensued. The wonderful folks at Zbattery.com came to my aid, clarifying the compositions of these various batteries and enlightening me regarding their unique applications.

Following is a (nutshell) primer describing what I’ve recently gleaned from these experts on the subject of lithium batteries. First, a brief disclaimer: the scope of this article is modest, explaining briefly the roles and compositions of the most common lithium batteries used by consumers and hobbyists/enthusiasts. So, if you’d like an even more detailed discussion of batteries, please check out the Battery University website.

With that said, there are generally three types of lithium cells:

1. Primary Lithium (non-rechargeable)

Though this SAFT battery looks like a typical AA, it produces a whopping 3.6V and will certainly fry a radio that is expecting 1.5 volts from each AA cell.

Though this SAFT battery looks like a typical 1.5 V AA, it produces 3.6V and will fry most radios.

Primary Lithium batteries are single-use and should not be recharged under any circumstances. These batteries have a high charge density (i.e., a long life), and as a result, cost more per unit than other single-use (disposable) batteries, such as alkalines.

Primary lithium cells generally produce 3.6 to 3.7 volts; however, there are manufacturers (Energizer and Duracell, to name two) who have developed cell chemistry that lowers this voltage down to 1.5 volts per cell, thus creating a safe, direct replacement for the common AA alkaline battery.

Unless you are purchasing a battery with a AA form factor from Energizer or Duracell, you should double check the voltage of the battery you are purchasing. There are many manufacturers who produce a 3.6 volt primary lithium batteries that have the same dimensions, or form factor, of an AA battery (see photo right), but are used in specialty medical, military, industrial and testing applications in which voltage requirements are higher.  These cannot be used interchangeably with conventional AAs, as they will cause harm to a device.

In other words, do your research when purchasing a primary lithium cell! Make sure the voltage matches what your electronic device requires–or as Post contributor, Richard Langley, puts it–“Caveat emptor!” (Buyer, beware!)

2. Lithium Ion (rechargeable)

Lithium Ion packLithium Ion batteries are currently one of the most popular rechargeable batteries for consumer electronics on the battery market. There are a number of Lithium Ion variations with their own unique chemistries–and their own unique characteristics–but in general these have a high energy density, a modest memory effect, and exhibit only a gradual loss of charge when not in use.

Generally speaking, Li-ion batteries are not available in voltages most radios and other electronics would need, from, say, AA, AAA, C, D, and 9V alkaline. There are manufacturers who produce Li-ion varieties in a AA form factor (they look like AAs), but which produce more than double (3.6V) the peak voltage of an alkaline AA (1.5V); thus, these lithium batteries, too, can only be used in devices designed around these higher voltages–such as specialty flashlights, military, industrial, and medical equipment.

There are a number of radio manufacturers using slim Li-ion battery packs like the one in the image above.

3. Lithium Polymer (rechargeable)

Most LiPo batteries come in a "pouch" format, designed for specific applications,

Most LiPo batteries come in a “pouch” format, designed for specific applications,

Lithium Polymer (LiPo, LIP, Li-poly) are rechargeable battery packs that generally produce 3.6 – 3.8 volts when charged. LiPo packs have much of the same charge and  discharge characteristics of Li-ion batteries, however, they are lighter in weight and can be designed to fit almost any shape.

LiPo batteries have a very strong following in the world of radio-controlled aircraft and cars–their feather-light weight as well as gradual discharge curve render LiPos almost ideal for these applications. LiPo packs are also used in consumer electronic, solar, and GPS applications, to name a few. LiPo pack variations are currently being considered for use in electric and hybrid vehicles.

Summary

And so, returning to our original post questioning the use of Lithium cells in reader Philip Dickinson’s Tecsun PL-606, the Tecsun representative was absolutely correct:  these batteries, it turns out, are not suited for this application, as the voltage is too high for safe use in this Tecsun.

Since I didn’t have a link to the batteries Philip purchased, I assumed Philip might be referring to Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA batteries, which are direct 1.5V  replacements for alkaline AA batteries (and why I use an Energizer graphic in the post).

At any rate, it appears that Philip purchased 3.6V primary lithium cells in a AA cylindrical form factor. If he does pop these AA lithiums in his PL-606, it will surely fry the radio as the voltage is more than double what this radio actually requires.

Hopefully, Philip can return these lithium cells and replace them with the Energizer or Duracell 1.5 V AA variety.

Philip, thanks for writing in with this question; learning about lithiums has been most interesting!  And hopefully, this primer you’ve invoked will save other radios from harm: readers, do check your voltage requirements before you insert those lithiums.

Posted in Ham Radio, How To, News, Preparedness, Shortwave Radio | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Tecsun R-911: $15.80 with free shipping at Amazon

Fullscreen capture 8272015 125437 PM

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader “RCXB” who comments:

“Another radio deal, if you don’t mind the writing in Chinese, you can get a Tecsun R-911 for just $15.80… A couple dollars cheaper than its already-cheap re-branded Kaito WRX911 namesake that everyone raves about.”

As of this morning, there are still Tecsun R-911s in stock at this price.

While the “911” series of analog shortwave receivers (i.e. Tecsun R-911, Kaito WRX911) isn’t going to win any awards for outstanding performance, they are capable little radios for the price.

Kaito-WRX911

I have a Kaito WRX911 (above) and often use it as a low-end benchmark for inexpensive portables like the DE321. The WRX911 is a decent little mediumwave receiver as well; I especially love the fact that it does a decent job nulling unwanted signals as you turn the radio body.

Perhaps the best thing about the ‘911 series is that they’re dead simple to use. No manual needed. Just turn it on and tune around!

If you’re looking for a great shortwave receiver, skip this deal. If you’re looking for an inexpensive radio to keep in your car’s glove compartment, home emergency kit, or camping pack, click here to check out the Tecsun R-911 on Amazon.

Posted in Deals, News, Shortwave Radio | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Universal Radio: Used Tecsun PL-680 for $69.95

Universal-Radio-Used-Tecsun-PL-680

I just noticed that Universal Radio is featuring the following used Tecsun PL-680 in their used receiver collection. Here’s the description:

The Tecsun PL-680 receives longwave, AM, FM and SW bands plus VHF Airband. It features a backlit digital display, stereo FM (to ear jack), SSB, clock timer, 2000 Memories, Sync. Detection, ATS and keypad entry. The left side features earphone, external antenna and input voltage jacks. The right side features a variable BFO and tuning knob. The rear panel has a battery compartment for 4 AA cells (not supplied). This PL-680 system includes: box, nice carry case, printed manual and earphone.

The price is $69.95 plus shipping–very reasonable, in my opinion. The best part is Universal Radio offers a reputable 60 day warranty with all of their used items.

I regularly check Universal’s used and demo list. Occasionally, great bargains pop up and I feel I can always buy from them with confidence as they check over each item before posting.

Click here to read our review of the PL-680.

Posted in Deals, News, Shortwave Radio | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Bob’s review of the C.Crane CC Skywave

CCrane-CC-Skywave

SWLing Post reader, Bob C., recently shared his review of the C.Crane CC Skywave portable radio:

Well, I just received my new CC Skywave radio and it’s terrific! I own a lot of portable radios (including several Tecsun DSP sets), and the Skywave is a new favorite and will likely become my standard radio for travel.

Good fit and finish, great ergonomics, and easy to use. I was pleased to find that, despite what’s written in the ads and on the back of the radio, you can set the radio to receive FM down to 76 MHz by selecting the a 9 kHz MW spacing.

Great for international travel. The following is my brief review (by band):

Mediumwave

The Skywave is far better than any of the Tecsuns and is almost as good as the C Crane 2E (my best MW receiver). At my location (40 miles N of Chicago), the distant groundwave fringe includes WLW, WJR, and KTRS (St. Louis) – in descending order of reception potential. Most radios can get a whisper of WLW (though not discernible), while the other two are rare. The C Crane 2E gets WLW and WJR well enough that you can listen; KTRS is detectable. The Skywave gets WLW and WJR and you can tell that KTRS is there. That indicates that the Skywave is among the best. And there are no birdies nor whistles on the band. Nice.

FM

Just as sensitive and about 99% as selective as any of the Tecsun DSPs. The shorter antenna doesn’t seem to hamper reception at all. And, with no soft muting and a more logical tuning setup, it’s a pleasure to work with. Lastly, the stereo reception threshold on the C Crane DSP chip is significantly lower than that on any of the Tecsun rigs, so most signals decode stereo and simply sound better. Where I live, I have tons of signals that are 0.2 MHz apart (i.e. 101.9 Chicago, 102.1 Milwaukee, 102.3 Waukegan – and local) – the Skywave has no trouble separating these and providing a usable signal for all three.

Shortwave

Seems to do just fine. I have not had any overload issues with my unit and can pull in all as many SW signals and most of my other small portables. The lack of SSB is an inconvenience, I suppose, but I guess you can’t have it all!

NOAA/Weather radio

This band is great to have and is perfectly functional. I will say that this isn’t my most sensitive WB radio, but it’s not deaf by any definition. It’s just a little less sensitive to distant fringe WB stations than some of my other sets. But it does dependably pull in anything within 60 miles, so we’re only talking about ability to pull in distant fringe signals (which can be fun).

Air

I’ve played around with this a little and it definitely works better than expected. O’Hare tower is about 25 miles away and I get it clearly, along with aircraft that are (from what I can tell) basically anywhere within about 60 miles. The ability to scan is very helpful; however, catching a signal when someone is broadcasting is tricky. A little online research into local ATC frequencies goes a long way toward having fun on this band. The Skywave seems to work the Air Band better than the G6 and G3, my only other radios with this band.

So, overall, this radio has been a very pleasant surprise. No disappointments whatsoever. Kudos to C Crane Company for doing such a fine job with yet another radio.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on the CC Skywave, Bob! Like you, I really love this little radio for travel and gave it a favorable review several months ago.

That’s an excellent tip about widening the FM frequency range down to 76 MHz by selecting 9 kHz steps on mediumwave. Brilliant!

Readers should be aware that some Skywave owners have noted a vulnerability to overloading and imaging in urban markets or where blowtorch stations are nearby. If your listening post fits this description, you may want to hold off until C.Crane has addressed the issue.

The CC Skywave can be purchased directly from C. Crane. It is also available at Universal Radio and Amazon.com.

Posted in News, Radios, Reviews, Shortwave Radio, Shortwave Radio Reviews, Travel | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Jeff finds a solution for sticky preset buttons on the CC-Radio 2E

CCradio 2e

Jeff, over at the Herculodge blog, recently posted that the preset #2 button on his C.Crane CC-Radio 2E had become so sticky, it was almost to the point of not being functional.

One of his readers suggested that he use Deoxit spray to remedy the sticky button and it worked!

Deoxit is amazing stuff and something I suggest any radio enthusiast keep handy. Years ago, I had an Icom IC-735 I thought needed a new power button;I had to press and hold the button for the power to turn on. I searched for a replacement botton for weeks. When I reached out to a friend who is an electronics technician, he suggested that I open the chassis and try spraying the button with Deoxit.

I did, and it worked beautifully.

Deoxit is not the cheapest contact cleaner around, but it is the brand I trust the most. It comes in both a spray and liquid form.

Posted in How To, News, Radios, Shortwave Radio | Tagged , | Leave a comment