A repair story: Vlado’s fix for the classic Sony ICF-SW100

Sony-ICF-SW100In June, I made a small leap of faith and purchased a (dead) Sony ICF-SW100 from Universal Radio (see the listing on right).

ICF-SW100-Used-NonWorkingYou see, for many years, I’ve dreamed about owning this wee little receiver, now a classic among tiny radios, but used ones are typically too expensive for my modest budget.

This time, seeing the ad at Universal, I spoke with Universal Radio directly to obtain more details about their defunct unit; while they simply didn’t know what was wrong with the Sony, they were able to very accurately describe its cosmetic and functional condition…I took a deep breath, and decided to take a chance on it anyhow.

In full disclosure, I have a secret weapon in my camp:  my talented friend, Vlado (N3CZ), who is not only the most adept electronics engineer/technician I’ve ever known, but one who truly welcomes a challenge.  The thought had occurred to me as I admired the wounded Sony, Wonder if Vlad would like to take this on–?

The answer, of course, was Yes!  So I dropped the DOA Sony off at Vlad’s home last week. He disassembled the radio, only to discover that my ICF-SW100 was a victim of the (dreaded) damaged ribbon cable.

A short history of the Sony ICF-SW100 and SW100S

These radios are indeed brilliant, incredible performers for their miniscule size.  Yet the first generation of ICF-SW100 radios–those produced before the fall of 1997–have a design weakness: the ribbon cables which connect the upper and lower portions of the radio’s clamshell design eventually fail. Multiple openings and closings bend and cut the cables, rendering the otherwise remarkable little radio useless.

SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, recently shared his knowledge about the ICF-SW100 series. Dan notes:

SW-100 Seekers Beware

As shortwave veterans know, the classic SONY miniportables — SW-1, SW-100(S) and  SW-07, represented some amazing technological achievements. SONY managed to  shrink some fantastic technology into these receivers, including (with the last two in the line) — SYNC capability. The SW-07, which was the last of these receivers, still brings some high prices on Ebay.

But if you are searching for the ICF-SW-100S there are some things to consider and beware of. As everyone knows, the SW-100 suffered from the well-known ribbon-cable failure problem. SONY addressed this problem in later serial numbers, and changed the design of the radio case.

Modified SW-100s have a notch where the top cover meets the base.

There are some dishonest sellers out there who are trying to pass off older version SW-100s as modified ones. Usually, the tip-off is that the photograph in the Ebay auction will be dark or out of focus, so it’s hard to tell if the radio is the modified version or not.

It has become quite rare to find an original SONY modification kit, which includes a new top cabinet of the SW-100. And some sellers are trying to get as much as $300 for these, though they rarely sell at this level.

This repair kit was on eBay at time of posting.

ICF-SW100 modification kit found on eBay at time of posting.

It’s also becoming rare to see SW-100S radios new-in-box. I had two of these, sold one and kept the other.

If you’re after one of these marvel radios, do what everyone should do when considering items on Ebay — ask many questions about [the] cosmetic condition, accessories, serial numbers, etc.

Universal Radio, a trustworthy seller I know, had fully disclosed the model number and problems with this radio, so I knew exactly what I was buying. Dan has a very good point, though: unless you know the seller to be honest, do your research and ask questions!

The ailing ICF-SW100

Vlado discovers the faulty ribbon cable.

Vlado discovers the faulty ribbon cable (click to enlarge)

Back to my ailing unit:  Vlado delivered the news about the ribbon cable via text message, and though I was well aware that the chances were high that was the ribbon cable, I was a little bummed, to say the least, to get the formal diagnosis.

Why? As Dan mentions above, you’ll find that the SW-100S upgrade kit Sony produced in the 1990s is no longer available new; sellers typically list these kits at prices in excess of $300 US.  Out of my budget.

But Vlado, ever the intrepid engineer, had no idea I would be disappointed with this news; he was just giving me this FYI via text. Indeed, he seemed entirely unfazed, as in, hey, no serious internal damage here…

Another hour passed. Then came another message from Vlad; this one simply said: “Call me.”

Oh no, I thought. But I called, and Vlado answered cheerfully, “Hello? Tom, is that you? Sorry, I can’t hear you very well because your SW100 is playing too loudly. Hang on–let me turn the volume down!”

Vlad installs the replacement ribbon cable (click to enlarge)

Vlad installs the replacement ribbon cable (click to enlarge)

“What!?!” I responded, in utter disbelief.

Yes, he’d got it working!  It seems that Vlad had unearthed an old DVD player in his garage that he’d kept merely for parts. He opened it up, identified a ribbon cable with the right pitch, then cut and folded the cable to fit into the SW100.  Ingenious!

That’s Vlado for you!

And should I be interested in replacing this used cable with a new one–or in repairing other Sonys–Vlad directed me to eBay listings for new cables which only total about $20, shipped. Truthfully, I’m in no hurry, as this one is functioning perfectly and changing out the ribbon cable seems to have no effect on stored memories, etc. With a single affordable eBay purchase of multiple cable sets, it occurred to me that Vlad would have enough replacement cables to repair the SW100 many times over…

So I bought the cables.  (This one for the narrow cable and this one for the wider one.)

My “new” Sony ICF-SW100

Needless to say, I’m very pleased with my “new” (to me) SW100. It’s a little masterpiece of receiver engineering in such a tiny package.  And since the ICF-SW100 is unquestionably the smallest portable I own–and is one of the few I own with a proper line-out jack–it may very well become my go-to radio for one bag travel.

Listening to the 'SW100 before I pack it for my next trip.

It’s in the bag: listening to the ‘SW100 before I pack it for my next trip!

Stay tuned the review…

Vlado’s radio E.R.:  the doctor is in

Sony-ICF-SW100-Open2As I’ve said, Vlad is one of the most adept repair technicians I’ve ever known.  At my prompting, he’s kindly agreed to let me promote his services here on the SWLing Post. Vlad acknowledges that he “likes a challenge,” adding that he enjoys nothing more than making repairs even when”parts are scarce” and radio”surgery” is required.  Moreover, his bench fees will be quite reasonable, especially considering what you receive: new life for a failing radio. So, if you’ve got an ailing rig on your hands, and don’t mind waiting for Vlad to get to it, send it to his radio emergency room, where radios (like my Sony) have life breathed back into them once again.

Long live the Sony ICF-SW100!  And long live Dr. Vlado, who makes this possible with his creative (and nearly miraculous) repairs.

To contact Vlad, simply contact me with a description of your radio and its problem and I’ll put you in touch with Vlado.

39 thoughts on “A repair story: Vlado’s fix for the classic Sony ICF-SW100

  1. Dan Robinson

    Thanks to Tom for putting this story up. There are a few other things to remember about SW-100s. They are not known for their stability in SSB, specifically — when you use either LSB or USB there is always a bit of warbling going on. Also — it is the rare SW100 that is exactly on frequency. Even out of the factory I noticed this after purchasing several in Asia years ago when they were just on the market. If you, as I am, are one of those particular folks who likes his SSB to be as close to zero beat as possible, just be aware of this. There are a couple of people in the Yahoo groups who actually enjoy taking these SONY radios apart and they can bring even a SW-100 closer to actual zero beat. The bottom line though is that if you’re tuning on a SW-100 that has not had this work done, you are likely to find that, say, 11.760 Cuba reads out at 11.759+ slightly lower or higher. These radios do tune in 1 khz increments in when using the center slew buttons, and in SSB in finer increments but not visible on the readout. Also — some years ago, members of the SW-100 group identified a replacement speaker for the stock SONY speaker. I actually obtained one of these, but never installed it, keep it for spare.

    Reply
  2. Guy Atkins

    These are indeed challenging radios to work on, so I can appreciate Vlad’s skill and persistence.

    One other pathway is possible for repairing these radios. The technique I used was to jumper the cracked traces on the flexible ribbon cable with tiny shielded wires. After scraping off some plastic substrate above and below the breaks I was able to use conductive epoxy to complete the circuits.

    After this repair of the ribbon cable, some careful X-acto knife and Dremel tool work to the top case half (front) results in a reasonable replica of the Sony replacement case piece with the notch.

    Most of this approach is labor, with the only cost being the conductive epoxy, available from most electronics supply stores.

    Reply
    1. Thomas Post author

      Guy, you must have the hands of a brain surgeon! I’m sure that ribbon mending method is quite effective, but I doubt I could ever work on something so fine. Amazing. Vlad actually mentioned this as another possibility, but after he found those cables on eBay, I simply ordered them right off the bat to save him the trouble. Like you, he can work on tiny components with ease.

      I have a Dremel tool as well and plan to work the cable opening one day.

      Cheers,
      Thomas

      Reply
  3. Mario Filippi

    Great story about bringing a good radio back to life. Yes ribbon cables can be a problem, recently I restored a Uniden President CB radio that had some problems, one of which was broken connections on a ribbon cable, but was able to carefully replace it with just single wire connections.

    The take home message is to cannibalize and old electronic devices for spare parts before discarding them. Even modern-day toasters have circuit boards in them that might be of use in future. Ribbon cables seem aplenty in devices such as old DVD players, GPS’s, TV’s etc.

    Kudos to Vlado for his expert repair, and for saving a useful device. Evidently he’s an unusually gifted individual. Thanks for sharing the story Thomas.

    Reply
  4. yev

    Hi Thomas!
    I have a problem with my ICF-SW100: display backlight doesn’t work when I pressed “light” button. Could you ask Vlado where to start to looking for the problem (I have basic electronic repair skills: can read schematics and make simple soldering)
    Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    1. Thomas Post author

      Hi, Yev, have you checked to see if the bulb has burned out? I bet it’s the bulb itself that is not working. I’m guessing it’s incandescent since it dims so slowly as it turns off.

      Reply
  5. Christopher

    Ohhh – I had one of these quite a few years ago (the modified one) and ended up selling it. Boy do I ever regret that!

    Reply
  6. Julie

    I need Vlado the Australian edition! I have been looking for someone in New South Wales to repair three Sony 2010’s and a Sony ICF-SW7600 for more than a decade. Makes me wish I’d learned electronics and radio repair when I was young.

    Reply
  7. Moshe Ze'ev Zaharia

    Great little radio, and great story!
    I love to hear about talented people who can fix cases like this, it is a labor of love.
    Restoring these classics is in our heart, all for the love of radio.
    Enjoy this radio, happy listening!
    Best Regards,
    Moshe.

    Reply
  8. R. Lewis KF5GV

    In 1998 I was on a project at Qatar. Was in a shopping mall at Doha and spotted a Sony dealer there selling SW radios. Bought my SW-100S and have had it with me traveling, camping, storm watch and just about anywhere you could use a radio. It slid from a table top and landed on a marble floor once. Kind of bummed me out but it still worked.

    A few years later I saw a comment on a forum that a repairman by the name of Rod KB8DNS. I contacted him and he tuned up the radio and replaced the case. After four years it’s still going strong. If anyone is needing repairs this guy is really good and his rates are reasonable.

    Here’s video of the repair job: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6sHctwfNpc

    73’s
    R. Lewis
    KF5GV/HS1

    Reply
  9. Mike

    I would highly recommend having a notch put in the lid in a similar fashion as Sony’s modification sooner rather than later as without it the ribbon cable will fail once again.

    Reply
    1. Thomas Post author

      I do plan to put a notch in when we replace the DVD cable. I’ll try to sort out the best way of doing this. I have a Dremel tool that may very well do the trick.

      Reply
  10. DX Listener

    Don’t get too carried away with the SW100S’s.

    My SW100S failed at 12 months.
    My SW100S failed at about 18 months with the same problem.

    My old Sony Walkman failed at about 12 months.
    My Sony HiFi failed at about 12 months.

    I vowed never to buy a Sony product again !

    Reply
  11. Mark KC9TSR

    I too purchased the SW100 about two years ago (this newer version has the notch indicating the ribbon upgrade by Sony at production) and it is simply a Magnificent device. However, I had to have the Sony ICF-SW07 (and made the sacrifice to acquire one) as it is the true “Hero” of portable micro-radio inventions — and Sony is the only company in the world to have aspired and conquered the seemingly daunting task of engineering and producing same. No cell phone or other new age device can do (and will never be able to do) what the SW100 and SW07 does… and therein lies the reason for all of our amazement and infatuation. {PS, “no i’m not crazy” but I have both in faraday bags,. yes, you can actually purchase the bags in the size of sandwich bags… which will provide peace of mind concerning possible future EMP events. Mark, KC9TSR.

    Reply
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  13. Andrew

    I have two ICF-SW100 units, both are totally dead, could possibly be, the dreaded
    ribbon fault. Could you kindly tell me on what I could do to repair these radios.

    Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Max

      I had the same problem with two early versions of the ICF SW100. Thanks to the information here I was able to repair both by installing new ribbon cables.
      Thank you Thomas.

      Reply
  14. Phil, N2MDV

    I’ll have to try that swap of ribbon cables from other trashed gear. Back in 1998, I bought and installed the ribbon cables in mine, and also rounded out the cable path with emery paper. That helped to make it last for another 5 years of heavy use. Now, I need to replace those damned cables again. I might try that conductive apoxy idea. I’ve also thought about hard soldering micro wired cables in there. Not a priority, with other portables to use, and my amateur radio HT (A Kenwood TH-F6A), does everything that ‘lil Sony does, except sync AM. None of my other portable, or table top, rigs have that.

    Reply
  15. Frank Davidson

    The SW100 ribbon fault was my first ever electronics repair.

    It’s gone again though, The white clip to hold the ribbon in the 18 way FPC header is gone. The upper casing and lower casing have both broken as well.

    CN602 1-764-368-11 HOUSING, FPC CONNECTOR (ZIF) 18P will get it working without me holding the ribbon in.
    The following parts will give restore functionality and appearance.
    1) 3-909-832-01 CABINET (REAR) (LID)
    33) 3-909-831-01 CABINET (REAR) (MAIN)
    37) 3-909-834-01 KNOB (POWER)

    52) 3-719-381-01 SCREW (M2X4)
    53) 3-910-063-01 SCREW (1.7X10)

    Reply
  16. Rod

    I have repaired many of the SW100s, mostly the ribbon problem. I have managed to find a few new replacement parts but now it seems that all these sources have no more to offer. I have a few remaining parts, new in the box including one last cable kit. I have done the same as Valdo’s repair but with a SONY SW77 and if a cable can be found for the length needed for the SW100, the same can be done. I too scrounge old electronic gear, much to my XYL’s chagrin!
    Cutting the relief is easy enough for an original cover but needs to be done with care as it is so thin, easy to slip up. Back lights can be replaced for newer and brighter SMD styles but the actual LED form and anode/cathode may not match.
    I just completed a repair of a SW100 that had a bad signal board, no AM receive. I installed a working but used signal board and will retain the non-operating board to find the problem. The owner wanted it back ASAP.
    Dan is correct about the stability of the SW100, most have a warble and seems to be isolated to one BFO transformer with a ceramic capacitor next to it. Careful adjustment can lesson this, I also add some extra shielding (screening) to isolate this area. The capacitor seems to be the main culprit as any metal or even your hand near this will make it warble. SSB adjust is not part of this but seems to ‘pull’ this BFO slightly off.
    I am happy to hear there are more out there who keep these old rigs going!
    73 Rod KB8DNS

    Reply
  17. Tha Dood

    I know that I miss that ‘lil SW-100S. I’ve replaced those ribbon cables back in the late 1990’s on mine, and used emery paper to round the back of the clamshell spots that pinch broke those cables in the 1st place. Guess that didn’t work, since 5 years later I just get the clock display now, but no turn-on. I’d like to get mine going again. Yeah, not the best possible portable out there in specs and audio quality, but for what those mini portables are, they were so darn useful. From DX’ing from motel rooms, to listening to RCI at work sites, to DF’ing FM local pirates (And surprising the hell out of those ops.), DX’ing 43M pirates, and even DX’ing from inside of a bus on the road. A radio with a million and 1 uses.

    Reply
  18. Rod

    The Ebay item should work with a little trimming and it would need the slot cut out on the top cover. I do have one repair kit left, brand new SONY part and one set of used ribbon cables from a ‘parts’ radio.
    I feel with a little effort most SONYs can be kept alive and well. I had used a CD player ribbon cable to make repairs to a SONY SW-77 and it worked very well. I had to solder one end to the CPU board and the other end socketed well into the connector on the signal board.
    Soldering individual wires for the SW100 would be a task indeed!

    73 Rod KB8DNS

    Reply
  19. Jan

    Finally managed to repair the cable. Now a new problem : very low volume from the speaker. I can bearly hear the stations. Headphone output is fine. Now what ?

    Reply
  20. KD

    >>some years ago, members of the SW-100 group identified a replacement speaker for the stock SONY >>speaker. I actually obtained one of these, but never installed it, keep it for spare.

    I recently bought a SW100 the only thing not working is the speaker . Does anyone know where I can get a replacement speaker from ? as sony ones are impossible to find on eBay
    Cheers..

    Reply
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  22. Edward

    It is always nice tho have spare parts, so keep that ribbon cable, maybe 2. With tube radios, always keep spares. you never know when you need them!

    Reply
  23. H.-W. Mahlo

    Hello Vlado,
    there is another weak point of the ICF-100 SW chassis: the door of the battery chamber; it breaks easily and there does not exist any repair kit.
    What can be done in this case?

    Thank you for your answer

    Hans-Wolfgang Mahlo

    Reply
  24. Guy Atkins

    Hi Hans-Wolfgang,

    A reasonably easy fix for the far-too-strong battery spring is to separate the SW100’s case halves and snip off about 2-1/2 to 3 turns of the hefty, negative terminal battery spring. You’ll need sturdy diagonal or side cutters as the spring wire is fairly thick. After the mod, the pressure on the battery door is greatly reduced and the radio still works fine.

    Reply
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  27. saroj man singh pradhan

    Thank you very much Tom

    reading this story i am able to repair sony icf 100.
    This radio i got from one of my friend.But when i received the radio it was in botched condition.
    Radio was completely disassembled. It seemed my friend also tried to repaired it. In repairing this radio he broke signal connector pad in signal board. I searched in the internet for the connector and could not find the type of connec
    tor used in the radio. i just get the clamshell type with the same pitch. for the cable i ordered fcc cable withe 18 pin and 16 pin with 0.5mm pitch with 120mm length.Now the radio is working well.
    Thanks once again

    Reply
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