Category Archives: Radios

pantronX Titus II quick update

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ed, who notes:

I just received a status update on the pantronX Titus II portable SDR from Mike, their chief engineer.

Mike said the self-contained SDR portable will include “SoapySDR as the interface to make it much easier to roll your own SDR app.” Here’s some info about SoapySDR:

https://github.com/pothosware/SoapySDR/wiki

Mike also said, “To be 100% truthful, our biggest push right now is for the international MW & SW broadcasters. They want to go DRM digital is the worst way!”

You might want to share this news with SWLing Post readers.

Thank you for the update, Ed! Click here to view the pantronX website.

The TAR-224 CIA Radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, @K7al_L3afta, who suggested I post photos of the TAR-224 Radio. Obviously, he knows I’m a fan of this sort of rig!

He discovered the TAR-224 on the excellent CIA online museum where they give a brief description of the unit:

A compact, high-frequency, paramilitary transceiver, the TAR-224 enabled communications with field agents operating behind enemy lines. It saw service in Vietnam as well as during Operation EAGLE CLAW.

31 cm x 18.3 cm x 12 cm
(L x W x H)

A much better description of the TAR-224 can be found at the CryptoMuseum:

TAR-224 was a very compact, self-contained spy radio station, developed by AVCO Corporation in Cincinnati (Ohio, USA) around 1970 for the CIA. It was intended for communication with field agents operating behind enemy lines, and can be seen as a successor to the ageing GRC-109 (RS-1) of the 1950s. It was used for many years until it was phased out in the late 1980s.

The entire unit is completely waterproof, with all switches and controls at the front panel properly sealed, allowing the radio to be stored under harsh conditions for an extended period of time. A plastic lid can be placed over the controls to protect them against dust and dirt. It is held in place by three metal latches at the edges.

[…]The radio coverages all frequencies between 2 and 24MHz. The receiver has a Variable Frequency Oscillator (VFO), allowing continuous tuning of all 4 frequency bands, whereas the transmitter is crystal operated. The unit can be powered by an external 12V source that is connected to a 3-pin socket at the front left, or by a special 12V battery pack that is installed behind a watertight panel at the front left. A plastic grip, at the left of the radio, allows the unit to be carried around easily.

[…]Most TAR-224 units were used by the CIA on special (overseas) missions, but the radios were also used by intelligence services in Europe. It is known to be used on a mission in Angola in 1975. According to CIA communication specialist Teddy Roberts, the TAR-224 was still being used in operational context in 1983, when he trained a unit of US Army Green Barets on its use.

Continue reading…

Evidently, the TAR-224 is quite rare and I was not aware of it. Thanks for sharing, @K7al_L3afta!

An EDC Bag for the Classic Sony ICF-SW100 Receiver

In a 2014 article, this site’s administrator Thomas Witherspoon introduced readers to the CIA’s Survival Kit which is housed in a superbly sturdy waistpack, the Maxpedition M-2. Thomas observed that the M-2 pouch is perfectly suited to holding the diminutive Sony ICF-SW100 receiver.

I was intrigued by that possibility, but only recently tried to combine the two after I resurrected another ICF-SW100 that fell silent to the chronic broken ribbon cable problem. Indeed, the radio is a perfect fit and the M-2 is impressively solid and well designed. I was not aware of the Maxpedition firm prior to learning of the M-2 bag, but I see in various forums they are a major player in well-made gear for the survivalist and outdoor enthusiast crowds. The M-2 is a very popular item, and one or more of the four available colors are sometimes out of stock at the manufacturer. Fortunately there are many sellers on Amazon and Ebay who have these waistpacks available.

What is EDC you may ask? It refers to “Every Day Carry”, the essentials that an individual deems necessary for their lifestyle or a particular activity. For me, an EDC bag is taken along on hikes or other outings to the countryside and typically contains a compact shortwave radio and related accessories. It’s always fun to stop for lunch or a break in a remote location and be able to search for interesting stations whenever the mood strikes.

This photo shows what I’m able to carry in the Maxpedition M-2 bag; a coffee mug is shown for size comparison. Contents of the “kit” include:

  • The Sony ICF-SW100 receiver
  • Zero Audio Carbo Tenore In-Ear Monitors & soft pouch
  • Sony AN-71 reel-up antenna
  • Panasonic RR-XS400 Digital Voice Recorder
  • Short 3.5mm male-to-male stereo audio patch cable
  • Two extra AA batteries for the Sony receiver
  • An extra AAA battery for the Panasonic Digital Voice Recorder

A few comments on the contents. The Zero Audio Carbo Tenore In-Ear Monitors (IEMs) provide excellent audio quality for their price. They are among a handful of IEMs regularly recommended by budget-minded audiophiles on the popular Head-fi.org site. I like these IEMs not only for the audio quality, but also their small size (in the cloth bag) which barely fits into the M-2’s main compartment along with the ICF-SW100. Larger earbuds or IEMs might not fit the M-2 without being mangled by the hefty YKK zippers. One caution: the similar Carbo Basso model by Zero Audio is deemed by many to be overly heavy on the bass frequencies. I find the Carbo Tenore to be more than sufficient for bass heavy genres like Electronica.

The Panasonic RR-XS400 digital voice recorder has been out of production a few years, but is a highly capable and compact recorder. It contains a hidden USB plug for charging and data transfer, has a fully featured and backlit LCD display, built-in stereo microphones, switchable LINE/MIC inputs, and other useful features. In excellent used condition the RR-XS400 is worth about $50 USD in 2017, despite some Amazon sellers trying to move them at the original $280 price.

The extra AAA battery for the recorder slips into the front pouch of the M-2 bag along with the Sony AN-71 antenna. The additional AA batteries for the radio, however, are held in the two “pen loops” on the left and right of the M-2. Despite these loops being open-bottomed tubes, the fit is tight enough to hold the batteries securely.

Like every portion of the Maxpedition M-2 bag, the belt loop is proportioned perfectly and sewn with precision. With the Sony ICF-SW100 EDC “kit” secured to my belt on a hike, I’m assured of quick access to a DXing opportunity, such as when hiking the Naches Loop Trail near beautiful Mt. Rainier:

Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

Charlie reviews the Tecsun PL-365

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Charlie Wardale, who shares the following guest post:


Tecsun PL-365 Review

by Charlie Wardale

I have had this receiver for over 6 months now, and whilst not using it every day, I have used it enough to have an informed opinion of it’s pro’s and con’s.

Overview

A quick description of the receiver for those who have not heard of it.

The receiver is of an unusual design, more like a hand-held transceiver, measuring 53(W) X 159(H) X 26(D) mm. It naturally fits in the hand, with the thumb resting easily on the thumb-wheel tuning. The buttons on the front are for a number of alarm and display functions, SSB selection, and ETM, along with band selection and up/down keys. The inclusion of SSB makes this quite a unique radio, and certainly interesting to use when out and about.

It is supplied with ear buds, faux leather carrying case, the plug-in MW bar, and instruction booklet. A manual is also available to download.

As can be seen from the picture, the receiver sports a telescopic antenna for FM/SW, and a unique plug-in MW ferrite rod antenna, which is rotatable in its socket.

Band coverage is as follows:

  • FM 87~108 MHz
  • MW 522~1620
  • SW 1711~29999 kHz

Long Wave is also available and on mine was factory set to be included, but if not, it can be made available by the menu options.

Like many of Tecsun’s latest receivers, the PL-365 includes the ETM function, which stands for Easy Tuning Mode. With this, you select the band (MW,FM,SW), press ETM, and it loads into a local memory, all the stations that it detects. These do not over-ride any of the main memory that may have been already used to store stations. It is specific ‘ETM’ memory. Once the detection process is completed, the tuning wheel is then used to select each of the stations detected. This is an extremely useful feature on this receiver, as it doesn’t have keypad entry for frequencies. And band scanning using the thumb wheel in 5 Khz steps can get tedious! Of course, ETM will have to be repeated a number of times during an extended listening period as stations come and go.

Initial Listening Tests

My first port of call on starting the listening tests was FM, to judge how it received the local and national broadcasters, and to see how stereo broadcasts are received. Incidentally, I changed the supplied ear buds for some in-ear types which I find stay in place better. All national broadcasters (BBC) and local radio stations (BBC and independent) were detected well. Received audio on the built in speaker is pleasant, but as can imagined from such a small speaker, not of great range. However, stereo broadcasts from BBC Radio 3 (classical music) and Classic FM, sounded excellent using the ear buds. At night time, some further afield stations are detected, so the FM sensitivity is good.

When I conducted these initial tests, it was evening so I decided to give the MW band a whirl as well. I fitted the MW bar antenna into it’s socket atop the receiver, selected MW and hit the ETM button. After a couple of minutes, the detection process stopped and a great number of stations had been detected. Going through them, not only were there the local (and not so local) UK MW stations, but some from much further afield such as Bretagne 5, SBC in Riyadh, and RNE Radio 5 in Madrid. By turning the ferrite antenna, it was possible to peak these stations nicely.

So now to SW. As can be seen, SW coverage is full range from 1711 – 29999, excellent for a receiver of this price range. For this initial test, listening was carried out in the early evening, in the garden, during the summer, so the higher bands were where most of the action was. Following a similar pattern to the FM and MW test, the telescopic whip was extended and the ETM button pressed. On stopping detection, a total of 65 stations were noted. One or two of these, it later proved, were images, but for the most part they were all receivable signals. The treshold for detection is quite low, so some stations are barely audible under the noise, a testament to the sensitivity of the 365. All the major stations were received well, such as VOA on 15580, Saudia Arabia on a number of frequencies, CRI of course, over numerous frequencies. And in between, stations such as CNR1 (China National Radio), the regional Chinese service, and R Australia on 12065, BBC from Singapore.

After this, I did some listening on the 20 and 40m ham bands. To do this is slightly tricky, as it entails coming out of ETM mode by pressing the VF/VM button. This puts the radio into frequency mode and the thumb wheel is then used to get to the correct frequency. The USB/LSB button is then pressed and once a station is found, press the BFO button. The tuning thumb then becomes a BFO fine tune, and the amateur radio station can be tuned in accurately. It is tricky to start with but you do get used to it and amateur stations can be tuned in well. I received a number of European stations on 40m and European/Asian ones on 20m. So again, sensitivity is good, even though this is just using the whip antenna.

Long Term Listening Impressions

Over the months between those initial tests and now, I have done a number of hours listening using this radio, on both the MW and SW bands. I especially like it if I am out for a walk in the country near us as its handy to carry in the pocket. One Sunday I listened to the whole hour of a VOA broadcast on 15580, whilst wandering along the Lincolnshire foot paths. And it is also a nice radio to do a bit of casual listening from the armchair of an evening, when the TV is on but of no interest. This way I have enjoyed many a broadcast from VOA, RRI and the BBC using the ear buds. It’s also nice to tune into the Celtic music of Bretagne 5 during the evening on MW as a change from the fair on BBC Radio 2 or 3.

Conclusion

Would I recommend this radio? Yes I would, whole heartedly. For what it is designed to do, it does very well. Could it be better? Of course. A keypad would be nice, an external antenna port would be great and so on. But it was designed to be a general coverage receiver, in a small, hand-held package, and for that it receives top marks.


Many thanks for your review, Charlie! I agree with you that the PL-365 is ideal, in terms of form factor, for radio listening while on long walks and hikes! It is certainly an excellent portable.

The Tecsun PL-365 can be purchased from Tecsun Radios Australia and occasionally on eBay (click here to search).

Garcia discovers two positives about Tecsun PL-880 sleep timer

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Garcia (PU3HAG), who writes:

Not sure if you noticed this before, for me it was a glad surprise how well the sleep timer works on Tecsun PL-880.

To use the sleep timer, you press the power button for a about 2s-3s until you see the timer, using the tuning knob you can choose several options between 1 and 120 minutes.

Neat finding #1: the timer settings is kept between power cycles. So, you only have to set it once (in some radios, you need to set the timer for each use).

Neat finding #2: when using the timer, you would expect – as every other radio – the radio to shut off immediately along with ‘pop’ on the headphones. This is not the case with PL-880. When the timer kicks in, the radio gently fades out the audio for 20s-30s and then shuts off. No pops to hear. Amazing.

That is brilliant! I never use the sleep timer on the PL-880, but perhaps I will now. As you state, most sleep timers simply turn off the radio without warning and include an audio pop–not great if you’re wearing headphones and trying to sleep. Very happy to hear the PL-880 slowly fades. Happy dreams!