Ron approves of the high-gain ferrite bar antenna

Ferrite-Bar-PL-365In response to our post about the high-gain ferrite bar antenna for the Tecsun PL-360/PL-365 and CountyComm GP5/DSP and GP5/SSB, SWLing Post contributor, Ron, writes:

…and it’s worth it.

On MW there is a marked difference on both the low and high ends
of the band, just as the builder said, compared to the stock plugin antenna.

On longwave my local NDB BH went from being barely audible on the stock
plugin to being quite readable–well above the noise.

The seller replied to a question about it being shipped very quickly
since it never did track on USPS.

Good seller, reliable email, good antenna that works as claimed–no problem here.

Click here to view the antenna on eBay.

Thank you so much for the report, Ron!

DX Fiend: Gary DeBock’s guide to building the ultimate FSL antenna for the Tecsun PL-380

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-1

SWLing Post contributor, Gary DeBock, is an acclaimed innovator in the realm of Ultralight DXing–he’s well-known for constantly pushing the envelop on these inexpensive DX receivers.

This time, Gary has published a detailed home-brew project that can turn your stock Tecsun PL-380 into a Mediumwave DX Fiend!

In Gary’s own words:

This is the “Science Fiction PL-380” model, with the hobby’s first hard-wired FSL antenna in a portable configuration. The radio’s internal Si4734 DSP chip tunes the high sensitivity MW antenna, so there is no need to peak a variable capacitor. For those who can build or obtain this model, it will be a happy new year indeed!

Many thanks to Gary for the following guest post:


3 Inch FSL Tecsun PL-380 Model

Compact Breakthrough in MW Sensitivity, Selectivity and Portability

By Gary DeBock, Puyallup, WA, USA
January 2016

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-1

Introduction  

Portable radio enthusiasts were astonished when Silicon Labs first introduced their innovative Si4734 DSP chip in 2009—the pocket radios empowered by this new component had amazing DSP-enhanced selectivity. Although the relatively lame stock loopsticks designed by the Kchibo and Tecsun companies seriously limited MW sensitivity there was no shortage of fanatical hobbyists designing upgrade loopsticks in an effort to correct this deficiency. The 7.5” loopstick transplant boosted the MW sensitivity of the PL-380 model up to a much improved level, and it became the most popular modification in our Ultralight radio group.  But in 2011 another huge breakthrough was about to capture the fascination of our DXing niche group—Graham Maynard published his original Ferrite Sleeve article, and the innovative antenna’s sensitivity made our humble pockets radios perform like real transoceanic DXing contenders. This was very thrilling—but was there any possible way that the awesome selectivity from the Si4734 DSP chip and the awesome sensitivity provided by the FSL antenna could somehow be combined in a self-contained breakthrough portable, with lightweight portability as an added bonus?

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-2

The fact that an Si4734 DSP chip could successfully tune an external antenna was demonstrated by various experimenters (including me) in 2011—a hard-wired 3” Longwave FSL design worked quite well for me in early 2011, and although it was far too heavy to consider attachment to the PL-380 the validity of the hard-wired FSL concept was proven to my satisfaction (see photo at right). The challenge has always been to create a hard-wired FSL that would offer both high MW sensitivity and lightweight portability— a value tradeoff that made this project especially intriguing.

After testing various designs I finally settled on a 3” FSL composed of the lightweight Russian surplus 100mm x 20mm x 3mm ferrite bars. These bars provide a unique balance of high sensitivity and lightweight portability, and the cylindrical shape of the FSL apparently provides the fringe benefit of exceptional nulling capability. The PL-380’s Si4734 chip easily tunes the antenna for breakthrough MW sensitivity from 521-1701 kHz, and provides excellent 1 kHz DSP selectivity as well. The weight of the FSL-enhanced PL-380 is within reason to maintain the concept of easy portability, and its modest size may actually convince airport security agents that it is indeed a radio and antenna combination. Overall the project has been a very satisfying effort to combine the awesome capabilities of both the Si4734 DSP chip and the new FSL antenna– resulting in a breakthrough “travel portable” with astonishing MW-DXing performance.

Project Overview  

This modification procedure will convert the Tecsun PL-380 AM-LW-FM-SW portable from a modest-performing Medium Wave receiver into an exceptional one, with a significant enhancement of Longwave performance as well. The process involves some close-order soldering on a crowded PL-380 circuit board, and should only be attempted by those will good close up eyesight, steady hand coordination and some soldering experience. Certain component parts (such as the 100mm x 20mm x 3mm ferrite bars, the 2.25” Funnoodle inner cores and the orange plastic antenna frames) may be in short supply depending upon current demand, and it is recommended that all these collected prior to starting the project.

Since major portions of this project involve duplication of procedures contained in the PL-380 7.5” Loopstick Transplant article, reference is made to various steps and instructions in that article (posted at

http://www.mediafire.com/view/du3sr5cd9thqvau/7.5inch-LS-PL380.doc ). As such, hobbyists who have successfully completed the 7.5” loopstick transplant project on a PL-380 will find this procedure relatively simple, with only the 3” Bar FSL construction as a new challenge. The resulting FSL-enhanced PL-380 truly provides a quantum leap in MW-DXing performance over the stock model, but reasonable care is necessary to protect the modified portable from sudden drops or mechanical shocks. Completion of the finished radio should provide a great level of satisfaction and hobby enjoyment, especially during travel opportunities where external antennas are impractical or forbidden.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-3

Construction Parts Required

A) Tecsun PL-380 AM-LW-FM-SW Receiver (available from many sources, including this eBay listing at $46.99 with free shipping to the USA)  http://www.ebay.com/itm/Tecsun-PL380-DSP-AM-FM-Shortwave-LW-PLL-Radio-Receiver-PL-380-/251783558999?hash=item3a9f783757:g:t0EAAOxylpNTTan7

B) 37 feet of 250/46 Litz wire  http://www.ebay.com/itm/Litz-wire-250-46-0-04-mm-for-crystal-radio-coil-Loop-antenna-100-/160804560511?hash=item2570b2de7f:m:m9fkDfLaAd59_UEmrp1po5w

C) 8 Russian surplus 100mm x 20mm x 3mm ferrite bars (availability currently uncertain– author has a limited supply. An eBay source may reappear for future orders, since many of these bars are presumably still in eastern Europe)

D) 4″ length of 2″ diameter Fun Noodle inner foam core

http://www.amazon.com/Aqua-World-223-Fun-Noodle/dp/B0017QABEQ/

E) Precut orange plastic antenna frame (cut from Ace hardware 48″ plastic level, with 5″ long bottom dimension and 4.5″ top dimension– cutting instructions to follow). NOTE: each Ace Hardware 48” level has enough material to make two FSL antenna frames.

F) Rite Aid 1″ wide waterproof tape (1 roll)

G) Scotch “Extreme” shipping tape (1 roll)

H) Tube of Duro Super Glue (or equivalent), .07 ounce

I) 6 inches of 1/16″ diameter shrink tubing

J) Two 18″ lengths of 125 lb. test plastic tie wraps

K) Two 16″ lengths of 75 lb. test plastic tie wraps

L) Oatey foam pack (4” wide)

M) Two 3/4″ x 1″ strips of 1″ I.D. rubber heater hose

Miscellaneous: Solder, 25w (low heat) soldering iron, hacksaw (or power miter saw), screwdriver set, sandpaper (optional)

PL-380 Preparation

Before voiding the warranty on your new PL-380, it’s a good idea to ensure that it has no existing problems which might require warranty service. (Ha!)

Install batteries in the radio and give it a test run on all four bands, checking the tuning encoder, clock, volume control, speaker, headphone jack, display functions and digital searching modes. Make sure that the radio is working properly in all functions before starting the modification procedure, since the eBay sellers are unlikely to show you any sympathy after you tear out the stock loopstick. It’s also a good idea to check out the Medium Wave weak signal reception with the PL-380 stock loopstick before starting the modification, to establish a benchmark of performance against which the new 3” FSL’s DXing performance will be compared.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-4

STEP-BY-STEP CONSTRUCTION

1) Follow the detailed cutting procedures in steps 1-9 of the loopstick transplant article (using either a power miter saw or hacksaw) to prepare the FSL antenna mounting frame, HOWEVER please note that the top section length for this project is 4 ½” (114 mm), NOT 8” as in the loopstick transplant project. The finished precut frame should resemble the picture above, with the top section flat, and the bottom section back edge trimmed to allow full use of the radio’s whip antenna. The frame’s entire bottom section (including the glue surface) is identical in both the loopstick and FSL transplant projects.

2) Follow the detailed procedures in steps 17-22 of the loopstick transplant article to prepare the PL-380 cabinet for the FSL transplant procedure.
Click to enlarge
3) Refer to the photo above. Place the prepared PL-380 cabinet in the vertical position as shown, with a paper roll (or other item) to keep the cabinet in the vertical position. If necessary sand the edges (only) of the antenna frame’s glue surface to ensure that no cutting debris or rough edges will cause an uneven gluing surface. Use a clean, damp cloth or paper towel to remove all dust and debris from both the antenna frame and PL-380 glue surfaces, then wipe them thoroughly dry. Ensure that maximum light shines on the PL-380’s top glue surface (as shown in the photo below), then practice making multiple “dry runs” of placing the antenna frame directly centered on the PL-380’s front top cabinet surface, with its front edge lined up with the PL-380’s beveled front edge. You will only get one chance to place the frame accurately when the super glue is on the PL-380 surface, so make sure that you know exactly what to do! The antenna frame should sit completely flat against the PL-380 cabinet, and slide across it smoothly if such a test is made. If not, sand any rough edges on the antenna frame’s glue surface and repeat the cleaning procedure.<

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-64) Refer to the photo above. After ensuring that you are fully prepared for accurate placement of the antenna frame on the PL-380 cabinet, place a 4 1/2” x 3/16” bead of super glue (114 mm x 5 mm) on the PL-380’s front top cabinet surface, as shown in the photo. Refer to the photo on the top of the next page. Ensure that the front side of the antenna frame (as shown) is facing you, then place the antenna frame in a centered position flat against the PL-380 cabinet, with its front edge lining up with the front beveled edge of the cabinet, as shown in the photo. Press the antenna frame down firmly against the cabinet for about one minute, scraping away any excess glue from the front and back edges with a small, flat jeweler’s screwdriver. It is especially important to remove any excess glue from the back edge of the antenna frame in order to allow the PL-380’s back cabinet to close normally. After completion of this step place the PL-380 (with the attached antenna frame) in a secure area until the FSL antenna is constructed.Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-7

CONSTRUCTION OF FSL ANTENNA

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-8

5)   Refer to the photo above. Ensure that the end edges of the 4” Funnoodle inner foam core are perfectly straight before performing this step. Place the inner foam core flat on a table, standing on one of its edges as shown. Take the roll of 1” wide waterproof tape and wrap two turns tightly around the inner foam core as shown in the photo, with the adhesive side out. Ensure that the two turns are wound tight enough so that they will not slide up or down the inner foam core. Take the first 100mm ferrite bar and press it firmly against the waterproof tape with its short edge completely flat on the table, and long edges completely parallel to the edges of the inner foam core (as shown). It is important to place this first bar accurately, in order to start an accurate pattern for the set of 8 bars.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-9

6)   Refer to the photo above. Press another of the 100mm ferrite bars against the waterproof tape in a position where it is perfectly flat on the table and perfectly parallel with the first bar, with 1/8” (3 mm) spacing between the bars. Continue to place the other 6 bars on the inner foam core in exactly the same way, ensuring that all 8 bars are flat against the table and parallel with each other, having 1/8” (3 mm) spacing between them. If necessary (after placing all 8 bars on the tape), even out the spacing by moving certain bars slightly so that the gaps between them are all equal. The set of 8 bars will be compressed in the next step to form an octagonal pattern.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-10

7)  Refer to the photo above. Place a 75 lb. test plastic tie wrap around one edge of the set of 8 bars as shown, 1/2” (12 mm) from the ends of the bars. Slowly and carefully compress the set of 8 bars as shown, tightening up the slack in the plastic tie wrap gradually as you compress the set of bars. Continue this gradual process until the set of 8 bars forms an octagonal (stop sign) pattern, with the bars barely touching each other on their compressed edges.  At this point take up any remaining slack in the plastic tie wrap, and stop compressing the bars. Repeat this process on the other side of the ferrite bars with another 75 lb. test plastic tie wrap, ensuring that the bars form another octagonal pattern, with their compressed edges barely touching each other. Again take up the slack in the plastic tie wrap, and then use diagonal cutters to trim the excess ends of the plastic tie wraps.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-11

8)   Refer to the photo above. Place the prepared set of 8 bars flat on the table on one of its ends, as shown. Take the roll of 1” waterproof tape and tightly wrap two turns of tape around the ferrite bars as shown, with the adhesive side out. Space these two wraps evenly as shown, ensuring that they are tight enough not to slide up and down the bars.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-12

9)   Refer to the photo above. Take the Oatey 4” foam pack, remove the center staple and locate a 9” (23 cm) long length of this foam which is free of any holes or imperfections. At the beginning of this 9” (23 cm) long length of foam cut a perfectly straight line perpendicular to the edges of the foam. Press this straight edge of foam down tightly against the waterproof tape as shown, with the edges of the 4” Oatey form lining up with the edges of the bar assembly’s inner foam core. Wrap this Oatey foam tightly around the waterproof tape until the foam touches the plastic tie wrap clamps.

If necessary, re-wrap the foam tightly so that it is centered on the ferrite bar assembly.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-1310)   Refer to the photo above. Pull the Oatey foam wrap tightly around the bar assembly, then cut a straight edge to mate evenly with the previously cut straight edge. Before pressing this edge down on the tape cut side notches in the foam where the tie wraps clamps are located, as shown. The press this foam edge tightly down on the tape, mating evenly with the previously cut foam edge. Ensure that there are no gaps or overlaps in the foam edges; if necessary, pull the foam wrap once again all around the bar assembly and cut a new straight edge that will mate evenly, with no gaps or overlaps. Finally, secure this newly cut foam edge with a 2 1/2” (64 mm) strip of waterproof tape, as shown.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-14

11)   Refer to the photo above. Support the edges of the prepared bar assembly so that it will be raised off of the table. Wrap two turns of the 1” waterproof tape tightly around the center of the prepared bar assembly, adhesive side out (as shown). When wrapping the second turn, ensure that the inner zigzag edge of the waterproof tape mates evenly with the inner zigzag edge of the first turn of tape, with no overlap or gap.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-15

12)   Refer to the photo above. Take your reel of 250/46 Litz wire and measure off 16” (41 cm) of wire from the end. Press this exact point down on the waterproof tape 1/8” (3 mm) from the left edge of the waterproof tape, as shown in the photo. While pressing down this Litz wire point while the wire is in a position parallel to the waterproof tape (as shown) pick up the bar assembly with one hand and the Litz wire reel with the other hand, pulling the Litz wire tightly around the circumference of the bar assembly in a straight, parallel manner to begin the first Litz wire turn. Ensure that this first turn stays 1/8” (3 mm) away from the left edge of the waterproof tape all around the bar assembly, then start the second turn directly adjacent to the first turn, ensuring that no gaps or crossovers occur while winding the turns. Carefully continue this process until 36 total turns have been wound around the bar assembly, which should leave the Litz wire coil in a centered position, similar to the photo below.  NOTE: This coil is designed to provide an inductance of 350 uH.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-16

13)   Refer to the photo above. After 36 turns have been wound on the bar assembly, ensure that there is still a 16” (41 cm) length of loose Litz wire leading up to the first coil turn. Then place a strip of Scotch “Extreme” tape along the length of the bar assembly, with the lower edge of the tape along the point where the first Litz wire turn begins (as shown), and with the tie wrap clamps in back of the assembly. Press the tape down firmly to lock the coil into place. In the same manner, turn the bar assembly over and place another strip of “Extreme” tape along the bar assembly, with the lower edge of the tape along the point where the last Litz wire turn ends (where the wire leaves the coil), avoiding the tie wrap clamps. There should be about 2” (51 mm) of space between the two “Extreme” tape strips, and both loose Litz wire ends should be parallel as they come off of the coil. Press the second “Extreme” tape strip down firmly to lock the coil into place. Finally, measure off another 16” (41 cm) of loose Litz wire from the coil, cutting the Litz wire at that point.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-17

14)   Refer to the photo above. Cut a 4” (102 mm) length of the 1/16” shrink tubing, and then cut a very short piece off of the ends of the Litz wires to ensure that these ends have the smallest and smoothest possible profile to be run through the shrink tubing. Run one end of the Litz wires through the shrink tubing until about 3 inches of wire extend from the tubing. Carefully insert the other end of the Litz wire through the shrink tubing, and use the procedure (and photo) in Step 30 of the Loopstick Transplant article to run the second Litz wire through the shrink tubing, as shown. The related photo for that procedure is included below.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-18

 

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-19

15)  Place the previously prepared PL-380 and antenna frame assembly flat on the table, with a protective cloth to keep the front panel display from damage.

Take the prepared FSL antenna assembly and place it in the position shown, with the Litz wire shrink tubing running along the back side of the antenna frame and the lower edge of the FSL assembly next to the top of the antenna frame. Place the two 3/4” x 1” strips of rubber heater hose in the two positions shown, in between the antenna frame and the FSL antenna and also in between the coil and the FSL edges, with the longer rubber strip dimensions parallel to the FSL edges. Start the two 175 lb. test plastic tie wraps in the positions shown (down the center of the rubber spacer strips), ensuring that the rubber spacer strips remain between the FSL assembly and the antenna frame, and that the spacer strips are centered at the very bottom of the FSL assembly. Also ensure that the Litz wires are in the position shown, with no pinching or binding between the FSL assembly and antenna frame. Slowly and carefully tighten the first plastic tie wrap while ensuring that the rubber spacer strip remains in the proper position. Tighten this plastic tie wrap only enough to securely hold the FSL assembly, and do not tighten it to the point where the ferrite bars’ octagonal pattern begins to distort. In a similar manner, carefully tighten the other plastic tie wrap while ensuring that the rubber spacer strip remains in the centered position, in between the antenna frame and FSL assembly. Once again, tighten this tie wrap only enough to securely hold the FSL assembly, and not to the point where the ferrite bars’ octagonal pattern begins to distort. When this process is complete the large plastic tie wraps’ clamps should be in the position shown, lined up with each other and in a position to support the radio/FSL combination when the model is laying down flat, on a table. Cut off the excess tie wrap lengths.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-20

16)   Refer to the photo above. Temporarily place the Litz wires down along the radio’s circuit board in the position shown. Locate the detailed circuit board antenna connection points “AN1” and “AN2” in the close up photo at the top of the next page. After locating these two circuit board connection points (with the Litz wires running in the position shown in the photo at left) place one of the Litz wires over the “AN1” circuit board point, and the other Litz wire over the “AN2” circuit board point. Then measure out about 1” (25 mm) extra

Litz wire past these two circuit board connection points, and after making sure that the Litz  wires are still in the approximate position shown in the photo at the beginning of this step, cut one (shorter) Litz wire 1” (25 mm) past the “AN2” circuit board point, and one (longer) Litz wire 1” (25 mm) past the “AN1” circuit board point.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-21

17) Refer to the photo below. Temporarily place the Litz wires outside of the radio as shown, and install a 1 1/2” (38 mm) long section of shrink tubing over both Litz wires, and a 1” (25 mm) long section of shrink tubing over the longer Litz wire. Position both sections of shrink tubing as shown in the photo below.  Place some type of protective material under the Litz wire so that the soldering procedure (in the next step) will not damage your work surface.

NOTE: The proper procedure of tinning the ends of the Litz wires requires that all of the individual Litz wire strands be soldered together at the ends. This requires a clean, shiny solder connection all around the circumference of the Litz wire ends for at least 1/8” (3 mm). When preparing the ends of the Litz wires in the next step, ensure that the ends are tinned in this manner before continuing.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-22

18)   Refer to the photo above. Carefully tin the ends of both Litz wires in the manner described above, working around the circumference of the Litz wire ends with a clean soldering iron for at least 1/4” (6 mm). After doing this, cut off the tinned section on both ends to a length of 1/8” (3 mm). When viewing the ends of the Litz wires after tinning, the entire 1/8” (3 mm) length should be bright and shiny all around its circumference, as shown in the photo at the top of the next page. The cut surface of the Litz wire (the circular face) should also be bright and shiny, with one solid surface of melted solder.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-23

19)   Refer to the photo above. Take the prepared ends of the Litz wires and route them as shown in the photo above, with the 1 1/2” (38 mm) section of shrink tubing placed in the cabinet clamp as shown, and the end of the 4” (102  mm) section of shrink tubing (coming from the FSL coil) also positioned as shown (where it will be run through the empty wrist strap hole, in the back cabinet side panel). Before placing the 1 1/2” (38 mm) long section of shrink tubing in the cabinet clamp refer to the picture at the top of the next page, and ensure that there will be sufficient slack in the 4” (102 mm) shrink tubing to be run from the FSL coil to the wrist strap hole (3/8” or 9 mm down from the top of the cabinet) without binding.

Ensure that the circuit board points “AN1” and “AN2” still have a small amount of melted solder on them (after removal of the PL-380 stock loopstick, as described in the Loopstick transplant article). Also ensure that there is no excessive length in either of the Litz wires, since these both must be positioned as shown (if necessary, cut one or both to the proper length, and re-tin them as described in the previous step). Place the end of the shorter Litz wire (going to the AN2 circuit board point) down in a horizontal position as shown, and using a MINIMUM of heat (and no additional solder), solder the pre-tinned Litz wire end to the AN2 circuit board point while the wire is in a horizontal position. Carefully observe the connection to ensure that there are no solder bridges to the adjacent circuit board components. After ensuring this, temporarily move the 1” (25 mm) section of shrink tubing away from the end of the longer Litz wire, and following the detailed procedure described for the AN2 connection above, carefully solder the end of the longer Litz wire to the AN1 circuit board point in a horizontal position as shown, using a MINIMUM of heat (and no additional solder). Once again ensure that there are no solder bridges to adjacent components, and that the wire is in a horizontal position, as shown. Then slide the 1” section of shrink tubing down over the Litz wire to the position shown in the photo.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-24

20)   Refer to the photo above. After ensuring that your Litz wire connections and the wires’ positions resemble those in the previous photo, take the PL-380’s back cabinet section and carefully bring it close to the radio, as shown in the photo. Ensure that the whip antenna’s lead-in wire is not pinched, and also ensure that the 4” (102 mm) section of shrink tubing is routed is a position close to the empty wrist strap hole in the back cabinet, as shown. As a first step, carefully mate the radio’s back cabinet to the radio’s right side (the one opposite the wrist strap hole) while continuing to guide the shrink tubing through the wrist strap hole. Finally, center the shrink tubing in the wrist strap hole while mating the remaining (left) side of the cabinets together. Ensure that the shrink tubing is not pinched or extremely tight as it is clamped down in this hole. While holding the two cabinet sides together move the whip antenna up and away from the cabinet screw hole underneath, and insert the first cabinet screw, tightening it temporarily to keep the shrink tubing in position. Then insert and tighten the left upper and left lower cabinet screws thoroughly, while snapping the right lower cabinet sections together. Finally, after ensuring that the Litz wires’ shrink tubing is still in the center of the wrist strap hole without any binding or excessive stress, tighten the final cabinet screw near the whip antenna base. Reinstall the two small battery compartment screws and reinsert batteries.

INITIAL TESTING   If you are not familiar with the PL-380, make sure that you study the owner’s manual to find the location of basic operating controls. It is important to initially test the radio in a location free of computer noise or other RF pollution—preferably in an outdoor location where its capabilities can be appreciated. Refer to the photo on the next page. Turn on the radio and select the Medium Wave band (530-1700 kHz in North America) and set the AM bandwidth control to the most selective (1 kHz) position (NOTE: This position also provides maximum MW and LW sensitivity for the model, although the higher audio frequencies are limited somewhat by the sharp DSP filtering). If your FSL antenna transplant is working properly you should notice an EXCEPTIONAL increase in the signal strength of weak fringe stations relative to the stock PL-380 model, and a very significant increase in fringe station strength relative to a 7.5” loopstick PL-380 model. Check fringe station strength across the band, and you should notice MW reception far superior to that of any stock portable in your collection. If you are not receiving any MW signals the problem is usually easy to trace—either one of the PL-380 circuit board connections is shorted to adjacent components because of too much solder, or the physical stress on the Litz wires (because they were not soldered in a horizontal position) has caused the circuit board connections to break off and separate from the board. In the first case you can attempt to remove excess solder by turning the circuit board upside down and melting the excess solder onto the tip of your soldering iron (or using a “solder sucker” in a normal position), but in the second case you will probably need a technician to restore proper function to your radio. Fortunately both of these problems are rare, and can be entirely avoided by carefully following the instructions in Steps 18 and 19.

Tecsun-PL-380-FSL-25

OPERATION

The triple advantage of superior FSL sensitivity, powerful audio amplification and sharp DSP selectivity provide this breakthrough model with exceptional weak-signal performance for a portable—to the extent that after a few DXing sessions the operator may have the impression that the realm of science fiction has been approached. The cylindrical shape of the FSL antenna seems to provide a bonus capability of unusual nulling function as well, so that multiple weak signals can be received adjacent to (or on the same frequencies as) local pests.

During DXing sessions it is a good idea to support both the PL-380 and FSL antenna frame in the same hand (as shown in the photo above), and also to avoid sudden mechanical stress or bumps to the antenna frame. When constructed according to this article the glue bond between the antenna frame and PL-380 is sufficient for routine operations, but the DXer should exercise care to avoid bumps, drops or other stress. The FSL antenna itself is fairly rugged, as constructed.

Refer to the photo on the previous page. The PL-380 has many digital search functions and advanced capabilities for a pocket radio, but some of the functions of particular interest to the transoceanic DXer are described here.  The “AM Bandwidth” switch allows you to choose different levels of DSP filtering to limit splatter from domestic pests, and is usually left in the 1 kHz position for the narrowest filtering while chasing transoceanic DX (although this position does cut off some of the high frequency audio from the desired DX station). The 9/10 kHz switch allows you to change the tuning steps of the radio from the North American (10 kHz) band system to those of the European/ African/ Asian/ Pacific band system (9 kHz), depending upon your preferred DX targets. The MW / LW switch allows you to switch over to Longwave DXing—and you will be pleasantly surprised to discover that your newly installed 3” Bar FSL antenna is FAR more sensitive on the Longwave band than the stock PL-380 loopstick. Finally, the Display switch offers you multiple options while chasing transoceanic DX—you can have a 24 hour clock display,  a display of the alarm time set in the radio, a constantly changing readout of DX signal strength and S/N ratio, or a temperature display (in either Celsius or Fahrenheit).

Because the antenna frame has been trimmed to allow full operation of the PL-380’s whip antenna to receive SW and FM signals, it’s possible to check the Shortwave parallels of Medium Wave DX stations (and switch back and forth) within a couple of seconds. In general, this “science fiction” PL-380 model’s sensitivity and selectivity will allow you to experience the most exciting AM-DXing fun that a portable can offer—and do so at an unbeatable price.

This hard-wired FSL-enhanced PL-380 model is the first in a series of portables designed to be the ultimate “travel radios,” with DXing potential superior to any stock design. It has been a great thrill to design, construct and introduce this model, which is pretty fanatical in both its appearance and DXing capabilities. My hope is that its function will inspire those who build and use it, and help them share my impression that the MW-DXing hobby has a very innovative and exciting future!

73 and Good DX,

Gary DeBock


Gary, I can only imagine the time and patience it took to document this procedure. Once again, thank you so much for doing so! I have a Tecsun PL-380 and I will–some day–make this “science fiction” mod! 

 

Netherlands: proposal to open mediumwave band to low-power stations

AM-Dial-Digital-Grundig-Mediumwave-MW

(Source: Mike Terry via Medium Wave Circle FB Group)

Ydun’s Medium Wave Info
By Marcel Rommerts
12 January 2016

After switching off a number of high power transmitters in 2015, at the end of December the Dutch government has launched a public consultation on ‘opening up’ the medium waveband for radio and non-radio applications with ‘low power’ and with limited government regulation.

When referring to ‘low power’ this means both a power in the range of 1 – 5 watts (site coverage) and 50 – 100 watts (municipal coverage). The idea is that the same frequencies will be re-used across the country. They will be handed out on the basis of a first-come, first served basis. Deadline for comments is 14 February 2016.

http://mediumwave.info/news.html

James reviews the Heathkit Explorer Jr. GR-150 TRF AM radio receiver kit

HeathkitExplorerJrMany thanks to SWLing Post contributor, James Surprenant (AB1DQ), who shares this review and photos of the new Heathkit Explorer Jr. TRF AM radio receiver kit:


 Heathkit Explorer Jr. Review

I received this Heathkit kit for Xmas from dear old Dad.

Heathkit Explorer Jr. Manual

The Explorer Jr. manual is very nicely done, spiral-bound, and very reminiscent of the old Heathkit manuals in terms of lay-out and detail.

Heathkit Explorer Jr. Retro envelope packaging

The packaging of the parts is also reminiscent of the old Heathkits with parts grouped into envelopes by phase, ie. “Active Components,” “Passive Components,” “Small Parts,” “Knobs,” etc.

The first night, I worked through completion of the circuit board attaching all electronic components and stopped at the step for winding the coil. I thought it would make sense to start fresh on that step since winding coils is generally a pain.

Even on the first night, I had a few criticisms:

  • A couple of the envelopes were ripped open when I unpacked the kit. There were nuts, bolts, spacers and an Allen wrench loose in the outer box. That said, no parts were missing.
  • I found two errors in the manual:
    1. The color code for one of the resistors was incorrect in the manual. With my aging eyes, and the miniaturization of components today, I always use an ohm meter to test all resistors before attaching them to the PCB when I build a kit.

      Incorrect color code in manual.

      Incorrect color code in manual.

    2. The circuit contains 10 resistors and all 10 were included in the kit. But one was completely missing from the step-by-step instructions. After I finished attaching all active and passive components, I had one resistor left over and fortunately there was a matching empty space on the circuit board for the same value resistor. I double and triple checked the instruction manual and I can not find where it calls for this resistor to be attached.
  • My biggest criticism so far is the fact that this kit is “solder-less.” All components are attached to the PCB with screws, lock washers and a nut. You insert the leads for each component through the over-size pass-through holes on the PCB, and bend the leads tight against the edge. Then you insert a screw in from the topside, place a lock washer on the bottom side and fasten with a bolt.
Bottom of the PCB board

Bottom of the PCB board

On the upside, the fact I didn’t need to work with a hot solder iron meant I felt comfortable building the kit at the kitchen table. (My XYL would not be pleased if she found burn marks on the table!) So I had a nicer environment to work in than the basement work bench.

Heathkit Explorer Jr. sheered off resistor leadsOn the downside, I managed to sheer off the leads on TWO resistors when tightening the screws. Fortunately I was able to replace the busted resistors from my on-hand stock.

The other odd thing about this method of attaching components is that Heathkit included a nifty screwdriver in the kit, but leaves it up to the kit builder to provide a small socket wrench or pliers to hold the nut in place while tightening the screw.

Finally, the instructions call for the kit builder to ‘bend the excess leads back and forth’ until they snap off, rather than instructing the kit builder to snip off the excess leads with nippers. That seemed really strange to me.

Heathkit Explorer Jr. Completed coil

I completed my build of the GR-150 Explorer TRF radio this past weekend. I had no difficulty winding the coil, which involved 56 turns of magnet wire around a ferite core and securing it with transparent tape.

Heathkit provided the black ties, which were too large.

Heathkit provided the black ties, which were too large.

The next problem I encountered was attaching the wound coil to the PCB. The kit came with two zip cords to use as fasteners, but the zip cords were much much too large to fit through the holes drilled in the PCB. So this required a trip to the hardware store.

You can clearly see that the holes are too small for the black cable ties.

You can clearly see that the holes are too small for the black cable ties.

Once I had the coil mounted, I encountered the problem again with the bolts and nuts shearing off the leads – this time, it took me about 4 tries to attach the thin fragile coil wires to the PCB. It’s a very fragile process that again had me wishing this was a solder kit.

Heathkit Explorer Jr. Top of PCB front

The rest of the assembly went well. The only other glitch I encountered was in assembling the cabinet, the kit came with six locking star washers for the cabinet, in fact the parts list indicates that six should have been included in the kit. But then the actual assembly called for 10 star washers.

Heathkit Explorer Jr. Top of PCB

Heathkit Explorer Jr. Nearly finished frontHeathkit Explorer Jr. Completed PCB mounted

So, how did the radio perform? About as expected. It is a single stage TRF receiver without a proper audio amplifier. The instructions say you should use earbuds to listen to the radio, but I found that my standard stereo earbuds to be off too low an impedance for while the radio worked, all stations heard were very faint – about as strong as you’d hear from a typical crystal radio kit.

Heathkit Explorer Jr. 1st run sticker

I hooked the radio up to a set of PC speakers which helped – a lot. Once I could hear the audio output, I was very pleased with the radio’s performance. The tuning cap is geared and it takes a good five turns of the tuning knob to cover the entire broadcast band. The radio was fairly sensitive and not too selective – again, as you’d expect.

So, was it worth it? For me, sure… but it depends on what you are looking for.

It’s a bit pricey for what you get, but if you want to support Heathkit as it attempts to rise from the ashes, and if you have the $$$ to ‘donate’ towards the cause, it may be worth it.

Heathkit Explorer Jr. Completed w. screwdriver

Here is my take:

The good

  • Very nice quality materials….the PCB, tuning cap, and cabinet were of a quality you don’t often see in kits.
  • Nostalgia factor–from the packing to the manuals, the kit really does capture some of the Heath nostalgia.
  • Level of detail in the step-by-step instructions.
  • Documentation. The manual ends with a very nice feature on radio theory and theory of the different stages of the TRF and how to read a schematic. It’s clearly written for a youngster as it’s complete with drawings of smiley-faced electrons moving through the components and circuits.
  • The radio does work and is a joy to tune across the dial.

The bad

  • Quality control is lacking. It’s hard to imagine a kit ever leaving Benton Harbor back in the day with such glaring errors in the manual (wrong color code, missing steps), or with the wrong size zip ties, etc.
  • Price. Even though the materials are high-end, the retail price seems a bit high.

The ugly

  • I really wish Heathkit had included either a built in audio amp circuit (there is plenty of room in the cabinet to add a simple IC-based amp), or would have marketed a separate audio amp kit. Having an amplified speaker would add a lot in terms of pleasure from the completed kit. Another kit vendor, Peebles Originals, peeblesoriginals.com, sells a nice little audio amplifier kit for use with their regen radio kits. I’ve built it, and it’s a simple straight forward kit. Heathkit could have done this and it would have made a big difference. (I think I’ll try my Peebles amp with the Explorer!)

Overall, I really enjoyed the build and I like the radio. I’m looking forward to see what the ‘new” Heathkit does next.

I applaud Heathkit for making a go at a come-back and will continue to support their efforts by buying and building their pricey stuff – yeah, I’m that guy.

73 de AB1DQ
James


James, thank you for not only sharing your experience–along with errors and omissions–but providing excellent, detailed photos. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been confused by kit instructions and turned to Google to help me find photos and notes from other builders. Your details will help others attempting to build the Heathkit GR-150.

I hope you enjoy your new Heathkit! You’ll have to let us know how that Peebles powered speaker works with the G-150!

A high-gain ferrite bar antenna for the PL-360/PL-365 and CountyComm GP5 series

Ferrite-Bar-Antenna-PL-365-GP5SSB

If you own a Tecsun PL-360, PL-365 or a CountyComm GP5/DSP or GP5/SSB, you might take note of this large ferrite bar antenna offered by a Greece-based seller on eBay.

Ferrite-Bar-PL-365

As you can see in the image above, this antenna is substantially larger than the stock MW antenna supplied by the manufacturer. According to the seller, this ferrite bar antenna has a 10 – 25 db gain over the stock external antenna. I imagine its ability to null unwanted signals is also much better.

The price is about $40 US shipped internationally.

Have any SWLing Post readers ordered this antenna? If so, please share your comments/reviews.

Click here to view the antenna on eBay.

SWLing Post reader, David Korchin, also shares the following demo video on YouTube:

Many thanks to SWLing Post readers, Francis Frankenne and David Korchin for the tip!

Recordings of final mediumwave broadcasts from Luxembourg, France and Germany

AM-Dial-Digital-Grundig-Mediumwave-MWMany thanks to several of you who recorded the final sign-ons and sign-offs of several European broadcasters who pulled the plug on mediumwave transmissions this past weekend.

SRAA contributor, Richard Langley, recorded the following broadcasts and posted them to our Shortwave Radio Audio Archive. Click on the following links for recordings and Richard’s excellent notes:

Bernhard Albicker of IntervalSignals.org and AM-Tuners also contacted me with links to recordings he made of the following:

Radio Luxembourg (RTL) special broadcast in honor of the former English service:

Notes:

  • 00:00:00 CRI german, no closing announcement
  • 00:07:49 RTL special broadcast: final 2 hours of RTL “Great 208” from Dec., 1991
  • 02:12:12 National Anthem of LUX

Deutschlandfunk DLF final sign-off:

A special thanks to Bernhard for including the following notes from the final DLF broadcast (in German):

  • 01:03 Announcement of closure. This announcement was broadcast before the full hour since the month of November followed by time signal and news.
  • Within the news at 05:05–item about shutdown of Medium Wave “Era of medium wave ends in Germany” followed by weather report at 05:37
  • 46:35 switch from regular programming to interval signal loop
  • 51:57 sign off transmitter Nordkirchen 549kHz
  • 53:13 sign off transmitter Thurnau 549kHz

Norway DXer tunes into CBC Saskatchewan

SX-99-Dial-Nar

Many thanks to my pal, Sheldon Harvey (of the International Radio Report and CIDX), for sharing this news item from the CBC News in Saskatchewan:

Ole Forr is a 58-year-old radio lover who tunes into radio stations across the world for fun

A dairy farmer in Norway went to great lengths to tune into CBC Saskatchewan.

Sure, The Morning Edition with Sheila Coles is the No. 1 morning radio show in Saskatchewan. But few people could have expected it to reach a group of listeners more than 5,800 kilometres away— and not through the internet.

Ole Forr doesn’t let thousands of kilometres and the Atlantic Ocean get in the way of his hobby.

[…]Every late October, Forr and three friends visit a remote location in northern Norway, where he said they spend up to two weeks listening to radio broadcasts using some very long-range receiving antennas.

On Oct. 27, 2015, Forr tuned into CBK 540 AM from Andøya, Norway.

“It’s very remote, so there is no man-made noise,” Forr said. “From October to March, it’s very dark up there so to have dark between the transmitter and the receiver.”

Forr contacted CBC Saskatchewan to verify his recording, providing MP3 evidence of the broadcast.[…]

Read the full article, along with audio, on the CBC News Saskatchewan website.

Thanks again, Sheldon! I love stories like this that give our radio hobby a little time in the limelight!