Moshe sports his SWLing Post gear

Moshe-SWLing-Post-GearMany thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Moshe Zaharia, who recently made my day by sending the photo above (click to enlarge).

I told Moshe that I’m pretty certain, he’s the first SWL in Israel to snag both an SWLing Post coffee mug and tee shirt!

Check out that Ben-Gal “Duet-Stereo” console radio–the same one he recently cleaned and repaired. What a classic! Love that backlit dial..

Thanks again for sharing, Moshe!

If you’re looking for some SWLing Post swag, check out our CafePress store!

Al Jazeera: In the internet age, radio still rules the world

ETOW-Uganda-Radio

Teacher and student with Ears To Our World radio in rural Uganda (2010)

(Souerce: Al Jazeera)

The United Nations cultural agency UNESCO has marked World Radio Day by calling for more freedom of expression and wider access to information in times of emergencies and disasters.

While digital technology dominates the modern means of transmitting information, UNESCO said on Saturday that radio remains the primary source of information for most people in the world.

“Radio still remains the medium that reaches the widest audience worldwide, in the quickest possible time,” the UNESCO statement said.

According to the UN, an estimated 44,000 radio stations broadcast to at least five billion people, representing 70 percent of the population worldwide.

“Radio is a platform that allows people to interact, despite different educational levels, so somebody may be illiterate but still be able to call in a show to give a testimony and participate in radio, Mirta Lourenco, a UNESCO spokesman, told Al Jazeera.

“This is not the same if the person wants to read a newspaper.”

[…]In developing countries, an estimated 75 percent of households have access to a radio, making it an essential and reliable part of disaster and emergency response, UNESCO said.

In India, the biggest advantage of radio is that it is cheap, making it accessible to 99 percent of the population, Dilip Cherian, radio commentator at Radio One India, told Al Jazeera’s Jane Dutton.

The arrival of mobile phones has changed the consumption habits of millions, but many come with built-in radio chips and this has helped keep the radio industry effective, more than 120 years after the first radio broadcast.

[…]”It’s very local, very community-driven, so people feel that they can really relate to presenters and the conversations on the radio,” Amy O’Donnell, a spokesman for the aid organisation Oxfam, told Al Jazeera.

“It’s actually a very participatory mechanism in local communities for people to have their say and have their voices heard.”

Auction Score: a Sony ICF-SW55

Goodwill-listing

Regular SWLing Post readers know that I’m a sucker for classic solid-state portables and vintage tube radios.

What many of you may not know, however, is that I’m not a fan of auction-style bidding for radios. Those who are familiar with it will recognize the story: it begins on an optimistic note, when I find something I’m enthusiastic about.  Then the bidding war begins, and invariably, the price quickly ratchets upwards to far beyond my comfort zone.  It’s only then I find I’ve wasted my time on the entire process, and my hopes are dashed.  So it’s not a purchasing method I relish.

Therefore, despite all of the radio gear I’ve purchased over the years, I’ve only bid for a radio in an online auction perhaps three or four times.

But a couple of weeks ago, my buddy David Korchin (K2WNW)––who has a knack for finding deals on radios, and often alerts me to them––mentioned that he was bidding on a Sony ICF-SW55.

Photo of the ICF-SW55 from auction listing.

Photo of the ICF-SW55 from auction listing.

David wasn’t bidding on the popular online auction eBay––rather, he’d found this deal on ShopGoodwill.com.

A note about ShopGoodwill.com

ShopGoodwill-ScreenShot

In case you haven’t heard, ShopGoodwill.com is Goodwill Industries International’s online auction site.  Goodwill employees select exceptional donations, items they feel are worth more than typical Goodwill retail prices, and post them there for online auction.

I believe it was SWLing Post contributor, Mario Filippi, who first introduced me to ShopGoodwill.

The cool thing about ShopGoodwill is that it’s not as popular as, for example, eBay. Thus a bidder has a better chance of finding a good deal, with the added benefit that less enthusiasts will be hiking up the price with rapid bidding.

There are issues with ShopGoodwill.com, though, some of which are very off-putting:

  • Items are often poorly described, thus:
    • searching through the collection can be rather difficult
    • you often can’t trust these condition descriptions, as they’re written by someone who is clearly not an expert
    • Photos are sometimes of low quality, low resolution, and rarely offer enough detail for an informed decision
  • Buyer beware: nearly all items are sold “as-is,” and are untested
  • No returns on most items
  • No real seller feedback: if you’re frustrated with a Goodwill shop, you have no real recourse other than complaint

So, in summary: unless otherwise specified in the listing, you must assume that any item offered for auction on this site doesn’t function and may be in poor cosmetic condition as well. After all, these are donated items.

With that said, even though the risk is higher than on eBay–where sellers are rewarded with positive feedback and endeavor to fully describe merchandise––some good deals are occasionally to be found on ShopGoodwill!

Now back to my story…

The Sony ICF-SW55 listing that David found on ShopGoodwill.com kept a steady bid of $28 until the day before the auction’s end, when it increased to $48 US.

It’s likely that this listing would have seen more active bidding if the description were better––it didn’t even provide the model number, and was listed as “Sony Worldband Portable Receiver.” Moreover, the feature photo for the listing was of the radio’s case, not the radio itself (see below), yet another reason the listing got so little attention. But David, being the deal hound he is, found it!

The feature photo.

The feature photo.

I encouraged David to really go for it, saying that this could be an excellent opportunity to snag one of these classic portables for a good price. And if it didn’t work, there would be a good chance Vlado could fix it for a fair price.

The morning the auction concluded, David messaged me that he’d decided to pull out of the bidding. He found something else he wanted to snag, so he encouraged me to take the baton and bid on the ICF-SW55, myself.

I read the vague description…then took a deep breath, and decided to go for it!

Sony-ICF-SW55-Listing-Description

Again, I’m not adept at bidding, but at least I have a method that has worked for me in the past. My simple rules:

  1. Only bid once.
  2. Wait until the last few seconds, then offer my highest comfortable bid.

Final bidding, blow-by-blow

Here’s how the final moments of the auction played out:

I waited until one minute before auction end. I decided I would go as high as $120––a little rich for my modest budget, considering this could amount to a parts radio, but it was late in the day and I admit I wasn’t thinking clearly.

Then, at thirty seconds before auction’s end, the ShopGoodwill.com site simply stopped responding––!

Error-Chrome

No, it wasn’t my dubious Internet connection this time––their site was having problems loading.

finally got the auction screen to pop back up ten seconds before auction’s end. I quickly attempted to place my bid: the web page churned…and churned…and churned.

Finally, up popped the review screen at literally the last breath of a second. I clicked “confirm/submit” (thank you, LastPass, for filling in my password immediately) and just managed to record the bid!

I’m certain that my bid was received within the last second. I had the countdown clock running on my Android phone so I’d know when the auction’s end was coming up. Unlike eBay, there is no dynamic counter on ShopGoodwill: you must refresh the page to see the time remaining. The Android countdown was set to end three seconds before the actual end of auction. When I confirmed the bid, it read “-3 seconds.”

The Goodwill site was having so many problems, that it took it two full minutes before I could get the auction screen to refresh after it accepted my bid––it was still stuck on the screen that confirmed my bid was recorded and that I was––for the moment, anyhow––the highest bidder.

When the page finally loaded, I saw that I had, by the skin of my teeth, snagged the SW55, and for a mere $53.

ShopGoodwill-WinningBidThat is one of the lowest prices I’ve ever seen one of these units go for in an online auction, even when listed as a “parts-only” radio.  Needless to say, I was exhilarated!  My heart pounded.

I’m certain that the problem with the Goodwill site helped me win the auction. There were multiple bidders, and I think mine just happened to trigger a bid, leaving the competition no way to outbid me in the last 1/10 of a second.  This wasn’t bidding skill.  And it surely wasn’t a fat wallet.  Frankly, I was just lucky.

I was thrilled to have won the radio at such a relatively low price, but the relief afterward reminded me why I don’t like auctions like this. I definitely prefer a more straightforward, less exciting (and less anxiety-producing), approach to making purchases.

Good news comes in small packages

Sony-ICF-SW55-Front

Goodwill can be relatively slow to ship.  It took about two weeks, but on Monday, I received the package from Goodwill in California.  The rig, save a little dust, looked fine.  But…how would it function?

I put in some freshly-charged Enloop AA batteries and turned it on.

Much to my surprise, the rig turned on…I rapidly tested all the functions. Again, I couldn’t believe my luck: it functions perfectly!

Sony-ICF-SW55-Right Side

The only feature in need attention is the DX/Normal/Local switch, which makes the rig sound a bit scratchy when I change positions––an easy fix, however, with the aid of a little DeOxit.

Sony-ICF-SW55-back

This auction had a happy ending: I got a radio I’ve always wanted for a price I could swing, I didn’t need my friend Vlado to come to my rescue (though I’ve no doubt he would have), and best of all, I find I absolutely love the ICF-SW55.

Sony-ICF-SW55-3

Stay tuned…A review of the classic SW55 is in the works, and will be here on the SWLing Post in the coming weeks!

Sony-ICF-SW55-1

World Radio Day 2016

fb banner greenFebruary 13th is World Radio Day, a day “to remember the unique power of radio to touch lives and bring people together across every corner of the globe,” as UNESCO reminds us. At the SWLing Post, we get it: shortwave radio listeners understand the unique power of information unhindered by borders, censors, or subscription fees, as supplied by radio.

This year, the UNESCO theme for World Radio Day is a worthy one: “Radio in Times of Emergency and Disaster.”

And here are just a few ways you can celebrate World Radio Day 2016…

Ears To Our World (ETOW)

GSM Bohnso School, Cameroon (Photo courtesy of ETOW partner, EduCare Africa)

GSM Bohnso School, Cameroon (Photo courtesy of ETOW partner, EduCare Africa)

Of course, at my non-profit Ears To Our World, we celebrate the unique power of radio everyday. While we use a variety of technologies in rural and remote communities, radio still plays a central role since it’s such an accessible technology.

In 2014 and 2015, for example, we distributed Sony AM/FM radios that gave children in Sierra Leone the opportunity to listen to over-the-air classes while their school system was shut down due to Ebola.

Powered by this success, we’re now in the process of putting together radio projects for rural, off-the-grid communities in Haiti, Cameroon, and Kenya, where children and their families need the education and information radio can provide.

If you would like to help, please consider a donation of any amount.  This is unquestionably a meaningful way to give the gift of radio, as well as education.

Amateur Radio

The Phoenix Amateur Radio Club will celebrate World Radio Day on the 13th and 14th of February with on-air shortwave activities, as a key part of the club’s ongoing British Scientists Commemorations.  This sounds like an enjoyable way to honor the day as well as the contributions of British scientists.

Click here for more info.

Radio Romania InternationalRRI-RadioRomaniaInternational

Radio Romania issues the following fun invitation:

On World Radio Day 2016, we invite you, dear friends, to send us short recorded messages on this [year’s] topic, by e-mail, as audio-attachments, at engl@rri.ro. You can also send us short written messages on the importance of radio in times of disaster by e-mail or…post them on RRI’s Facebook page, on Google+, LinkedIn and Tumblr.

The most interesting texts and audio messages will be included in a special program on RRI, around February 13th, 2016.

Also, if you have royalty-free personal photos illustrative of the role played by radio in your life, or… the role of radio in times of emergency and disaster, please send them to us in electronic format, accompanied by the necessary explanations, in order to create a photo gallery on RRI’s website and to post them on our social network profiles.
Click here for the full article.

VOARadioGramVOA Radiogram

VOA Radiogram will honor World Radio Day with text and images sent via shortwave radio; you may enjoy receiving this fun “coded” message:

Old shortwave, medium wave, and longwave transmitters can be used to transmit text and images. This can be useful when the Internet is not available for any reason.

VOA Radiogram, an experimental Voice of America radio gram, transmits text and images via a 50-year-old shortwave transmitter located in North Carolina. VOA Radiogram during the weekend on 13-14 February will include a mention of World Radio Day. Receive VOA Radiogram on any shortwave radio, patch the audio into a PC or Android device using software such as Fldigi from w1hkj.com.

VOA Radiogram transmission schedule
(all days and times UTC):

  • Sat 0930-1000 5865 kHz
  • Sat 1600-1630 17580 kHz
  • Sun 0230-0300 5745 kHz
  • Sun 1930-2000 15670 kHz

All via the Edward R. Murrow transmitting station in North Carolina.

Want the full WRD events list?

There are dozens of World Radio Day events happening around the world.  For a full list of registered events, check out the World Radio Day website.

Here’s to WRD 2016!  Enjoy!

How will you celebrate World Radio Day 2016?

US legislation authorizes $50 million for broadcasts into North Korea

(Photo: VOA)

(Photo: VOA)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Andrea Borgnino, who shares this article from Fox News:

Seeking to derail North Korea’s drive for nuclear weapons, Republican and Democratic senators set aside their partisan differences Wednesday to unanimously pass legislation aimed at starving Pyongyang of the money it needs to build an atomic arsenal.

[…]The Senate bill, authored by Menendez and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., targets North Korea’s ability to finance the development of miniaturized nuclear warheads and the long-range missiles required to deliver them. The legislation also authorizes $50 million over the next five years to transmit radio broadcasts into North Korea, purchase communications equipment and support humanitarian assistance programs.

The legislation comes in the wake of Pyongyang’s recent satellite launch and technical advances that U.S. intelligence agencies said the reclusive Asian nation is making in its nuclear weapons program.[…]

Read the full article at Fox News…

Guest post: The future for radio broadcasting in Australia

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Phil Brennan, who shares the following guest post–an article he originally authored for the Australian DX News:


WHKY-AM-Radio-Tower

What Future for Radio Broadcasting in Australia?

By Phil Brennan, Darwin, NT

As we witness the worldwide decline in long wave, medium wave , shortwave and indeed FM broadcasting, it can be at times a slightly depressing exercise to ponder the future of our hobby.  As I write, just last week Radio France announced that it will soon cease all LW broadcasting.  There’s an on-line petition to save the service: this morning it had collected 770 signatures after one week. It was 769 until I sent my modest click across the universe L.

On the domestic front we’ve seen the pointy-headed bean counters in Canberra and their political masters take the knife to our national broadcaster to the point where Radio Australia now seems to be little more than a relay station for the ABC with barely any in-house production tailored for its audience.

With all this doom and gloom it was with some trepidation that I spied a recent Australian Government report entitled Digital Radio Report [1] which arrived via my email in-box through the excellent Australian Policy On-line resource.  The report was published in July 2015 by the Department of Communications and was conducted by the Minister for Communications under the Broadcasting Services Act and the Radiocommunications Act. Note: the Minister for Communications then was Malcolm Turnbull who is now Australia’s Prime Minister.

The report makes for an interesting read (for nerds like us) and provides some great insight into the bureaucracy’s thinking on the future of radio broadcasting in this country.  So while the report ostensibly considers the current and potential state of digital radio in Australia, in so doing it looks at the other forms of radio broadcasting and gives us a peek into the future.

The report broadly considers the following issues:

  • The current state of digital broadcasting and alternative forms, eg streaming services through the interwebs
  • Whether Australia should set a digital switchover date and close off analogue services; and
  • The legal and regulatory framework for digital services.

Like you would have dear reader I quickly scrolled through the report to see if it was recommending a full switchover to digital.  The good news is that this won’t happen anytime soon and perhaps not ever.  Phew! It seems Australia’s geography and sparse population works in our favour (for once).  Anyway, more on that later.

So what does the Australian radio broadcasting landscape look like at present?  Well for lovers of analogue radio it’s still looking pretty strong and it’s likely to remain that way for some time to come.  In the five big cities the 2014 average weekly audience for commercial radio services grew by 4.13 per cent to 10.1 million people.  That’s pretty impressive given the quality of the stuff they serve up each day.  Aunty’s (that’s the ABC to foreign folk) radio service reached a record 4.7 million people in 13/14, an increase of 155,000 listeners on the previous year. Well done Aunty!

All up there are 273 analogue commercial radio services (104 on AM, 152 FM and 12 outside the broadcasting service bands.  Community radio is going strong with 357 analogue services (13 AM and 344 FM) plus 244 narrowcasters (33 AM and 211 FM).  There’s lots of stuff still out there it seems.  Perhaps too much as the FM band is becoming very crowded in the major metropolitan areas.

There are 142 commercial digital services in the big capitals plus the two trial sites in Canberra and Darwin.  Interestingly a good proportion of the digital services are simulcast analogue services, for example 11 out 29 of the commercial digitals in Sydney.  Listenership of digital radio is growing slowly and steadily, reaching 25 per cent in the first quarter of 2015, primarily due to the growth of receivers in motor vehicles.

Streaming services are rapidly gaining ground with services like Spotify, Pandora and the new Apple Music picking up new subscribers each week.  The move by Aunty and the Special Broadcasting Service’s (SBS) to mobile apps for streaming content is also showing good growth. It would appear that to some extent this growth has been at the expense of terrestrial digital services, but audience data in this area is pretty sketchy it seems.

So what of the future for digital radio? Well it seems that for the present the public does not show a preference for digital radio over other forms. And while some European countries such as Norway with near total digital coverage are looking to switch off their FM services, some countries such as the UK have postponed their planned switchover to digital due to slow uptake by the listening public.

In Australia there are big interests such as SBS, Commercial Radio Australia and Broadcast Australia pushing for a switchover to digital as soon as possible.   Thankfully the report’s authors have listened to other bodies that advocate for a multi technology approach.  Significantly the report notes that while digital could match FM for coverage with a similar number of transmitters, it will struggle to match the coverage provided by the medium and high powered AM transmitters that reach the remaining population.  Digital Radio Mondiale and satellite digital radio technologies could increase digital’s coverage but are not considered viable.

Internet based services are not seen as a realistic alternative in the medium term due to high data costs, restricted wifi coverage, likely interruptions in high traffic areas and poor battery life on mobiles.  It’s likely that this will be a niche medium for some time.

So what does the report conclude and recommend?  Well, digital radio was only ever introduced as a complimentary technology and that will continue to be the case.  In saying that the report makes a series of recommendations to free up the rules so broadcasters can take up the digital option more readily.  DAB+ is the preferred technology so don’t go ordering a DRM set anytime soon.

Perhaps most interestingly, the report makes a major finding that there may be an opportunity to consider how analogue terrestrial radio coverage can be improved pending the roll out of digital radio.  This includes further research into how AM coverage can be improved in metropolitan areas and whether the FM spectrum can be made available in regional areas for new analogue services or switching existing AM services over to FM, potentially in lieu of the rollout of digital services.  For us lovers of analogue radio this is certainly good news, particularly if more high powered AM broadcasters hit the band.

Does this actually mean that analogue radio services are safe?  Well, governments have been very good at ignoring reports advocating for the public good and succumbing to the commercial interests with other agendas, particularly when it comes to media.  That said, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the government to pull the plug on analogue anytime soon given the coverage issues in regional Australia.  However, when it comes to governments, the sensible thing to do is often viewed as the last option.

[1] © Commonwealth of Australia


Thank you, Phil, for your article and opinions! I agree–in a country with such vast expanses, analog radio still has advantages over other mediums. Comments?

Gary discovers a way to lock narrow filters on the Tecsun PL-880

PL-880 (1)

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Gary (WN9U) who writes:

Just an FYI comment about the narrow filters NOT staying on while tuning. I read about the similar problem that you encountered during the initial testing of the PL-880.

While tuning CW stations with the 500 Hz filter turned on (fast or fine tuning), the filter would always revert back to the 3.0 wider setting. It had never done this before. I tried several resets with no cure.

After further testing I found the fix: I had turned on the Hidden Menu Noise Reduction (switch 6) and did not realize it was on.

After turning off the Noise Reduction, I was able to tune with the narrow filters set at any band width. Evidently, the filter opens up to 3.0 when tuning with the Noise Reduction turned on & reset does not turn off this function.

Thanks so much for the tip, Gary! I’ll add this to our (still) growing list of PL-880 hidden features and tips. Seems there’s always something to discover on the Tecsun PL-880.