Radio Go Bag: JC recommends this affordable shoulder pack

Bag-TacticalSpeaking of backpacks and protective cases for radios, SWLing Post reader, JC, recommends an inexpensive tactical shoulder pack available via eBay.

JC writes:

I tend to want a little more protection and space so I use a tactical military type shoulder bag for my portable radio kit. It hangs nicely off the back of the passenger’s seat in my car and allows me to keep my PL-660, spare batteries, portable wire antenna, earphones, frequency lists, and other gear all together in a handy pack.

JC's shoulder pack

JC’s shoulder pack

The price is about $13.60 w/ free shipping. It’s a great bag for my portable kit, and it’s built pretty sturdy. Any extra protection is better than none for a radio used out in the field.

Click here to view on eBay.

Thanks for the recommendation! That is incredibly affordable and a great looking bag.

I’m very partial to Spec Ops Brand packs, but they’re quite pricey in comparison.

DXing on the Road in Colombia with Don Moore

Radio Mil Cuarenta's studio in Popayan, Colombia. (studio with station's car in front)

Noted DXer and South American radio enthusiast Don Moore (USA) is travelling again and posting fascinating photos & commentary of DXing and life in Colombia.

Don mentions:

The focus is MW. My postings include photos and local recordings of stations from southernmost Colombia including the cities of Pasto and Popayan.  I’m currently in Cali (the third largest city) for two weeks. I’ll also get a complete band scan completed in the next few days.

His current journal entries, photos, and DX clips are on his web site.The Todelar network building in Pasto.

Be sure and check out Don’s extensive coverage of the Central and South American radio scene, and coverage of his previous travels at http://www.pateplumaradio.com

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

Danny’s Tecsun PL-660 still works after a serious mishap

PL-660

In response to our Mega Review, Danny Bower comments:

Fantastic review and whilst I know the article is an older one people will still read it when looking at a portable SW radio.

With this in mind I would like to make the following comment about the PL660. You say it is bulletproof and boy is it! Mine has been dropped, kicked and overwise abused and it’s still going strong.

Most remarkably it was knocked into a bucket of water, plugged in and powered up and was there for a good couple of hours fully submerged before I realised.

It wasn’t long good for a week or two but after 3 or 4 weeks I have it one last try before binning it and hey presto it came back to life! Ok the volume pot is now a bit scratchy but other than that it’s working just fine.

Want a radio that will take the general abuse of travelling – this is it…

Wow!  Thanks for your comment, Danny! Most impressive that your PL-660 went diving that long and lived to tell the tale. Thanks for sharing!

The best shortwave radio for cross-continent cycling?

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SWLing Post reader, Pat, is an avid cyclist and is seeking a radio for his next cross-continent adventure. There are a limited number of products on the market that meet Pat’s requirements, so I thought posting his inquiry might bring a few options out of the woodwork. Check out Pat’s requirements and please comment if you have a suggestion!

Pat writes:

I’m a professional ski coach from Colorado. When I’m not on skis, I like to get on my bicycle and go explore the world. I’ve ridden across the USA a few times, covering all 48 states in the Continental US. A couple of years ago I got my 49th state when I rode from Alaska back home to Colorado.

Next year I plan to ride to Argentina, a journey of 12,000 miles over six months.

One of the things that keeps me sane is to have a radio strapped to the handlebars of my bike. I used to have a cheap AM/FM transistor, but have slowly improved the choice of radios on each trip.

During my Alaska ride I used a Degen DE1123, which was a great item. Not a great radio, but having an mp3 player built in made a world of difference. There were some mighty long distances without radio signal, so having the mp3 was great. But like I said, the 1123 wasn’t the most user-friendly item. Plus, it ate up AA batteries, which were pricey in the Yukon. So I upgraded to the Degen DE1125. Certainly an improvement, but still some things that could be improved. [See photo above.]

For my Argentina trip I want to have something really good; something that works well and will hopefully last six months. Also, I really like the idea of having a radio with a mini SD slot. I’ll have to download a lot of music and podcasts to keep me happy.

Someone suggested the Melson S8. I purchased one and it is a great unit, but way too big to fit on the handlebars.

You obviously have experience with many different portables and I was wondering if you could give me your suggestions. Maybe something from Degen, ShouYu, Tecsun?

Things that are important:

  • Ease of use (I’ll be using the controls while pedaling)
  • Weight (smaller and lighter is better)
  • Durability
  • Mini SD capability
  • Radio reception
  • AM, FM and SW capability
  • Li-ion batteries

Not overly important:

  • Ability to scroll through songs/find songs
  • Sound quality (I’ll have wind in my ears anyway)

Things that are not important:

  • Recording ability (I don’t foresee recording anything along the way)
  • Looks
  • Cost (I don’t want to spend $150 on a CC Crane, as the radio may get broken or stolen, but I’m willing to spend some money on a quality product if available).

[…]I’d love to select the best option for this silly ride I’m taking next summer and will happily take any advice.

A cycling trip to Argentina? Nothing silly about that, Pat! What an adventure!

Shortwave radios with MicroSD slots are somewhat limited in numbers, but more and more models have appeared on the market in the past few years.

Readers: can you help Pat with some suggestions/options?  Please comment!

Video: Shortwave listening and radio astronomy

Sony-ICF-SW100

On Thursday I attended an event at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI)–location of the 2015 SWLing Post DXPedition.

During a break, I had a couple of free hours, so I reached in my messenger bag and pulled out the Sony ICF-SW100: a radio that has quickly surpassed all others as my favorite EDC (everyday carry) radio. It has so many useful features in such a small package!

Radio astronomy observatories are ideal locations for impromptu shortwave radio listening as there is little to no radio interference/noise present.

PARI-26E-and-26W

PARI’s “Building 1” and the 26 West (left) and 26 East (right) radio telescopes.

While the weather on Thursday was gorgeous, HF band conditions were…well…miserable. There was very little to hear other than China Radio International, Radio Havana Cuba and a few other blow torch broadcasters.

Still, time signal station WWV was on my mind since I had just purchased Myke’s new edition of At The Tone and have been reading your excellent comments with early memories of listening to WWV and WWVH.

I tuned to 15 MHz and, of course, there was reliable WWV in Fort Collins, Colorado on frequency. Though WWV’s signal was relatively strong (despite the conditions) I turned on the SW100’s sync detector because fading (QSB) was pronounced at times.

Here’s a short video of the ICF-SW100 on a picnic table in the middle of the PARI campus. That’s PARI’s 26 (meter) West telescope in the background:

An Elecraft KX3 Go Box by OE2ATN

KX3box1

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, John, N4HNO, who shares a link to this brilliant “go box” for the Elecraft Kx3 designed by Thomas Müllauer OE2ATN.

kx3box02Thomas’ design is based on a Sigg Maxi Aluminum Snack Box which seems to accommodate the KX3, a LiPo battery and host of connections quite easily.

Thomas does not sell go boxes, rather, he has outlined the full list of components used along with tips on his website. Click here to view.

Review: the Waka Waka Power+ portable solar charger

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In my role as director of our 501(c)(3) charity, ETOW, I’m always on the lookout for technologies that could improve the lives of those living at or below the poverty line in remote and sometimes politically-charged regions of the world that are usually off-grid. At ETOW, we prefer simple, rugged technologies that require no learning curve, that can be easily maintained, and that offer exceptional benefit to our users. Self-powered radios, of course, are  ETOW’s mainstay, but we’ve also provided digital recording and playback devices, solar and hand-cranked power generation, and, of course, lighting.

When I first learned about the Waka Waka Power+, I had ETOW in mind. I reached out to Waka Waka and they sent a sample for me to evaluate.

The flip cover has detents which allow you to angle the solar panel for optimum solar tracking.

The flip cover, which acts as a stand, offers detents which allow the user to angle the solar panel for optimum solar tracking.

The Waka Waka Power+ is a small, lightweight portable power supply built on a 2200 mAh LiPo battery pack. A built-in solar panel occupies one full side of the device, which charges the battery when placed in sunlight.  On the other side of the device–behind a flip cover–is a large round power button and two protected Cree LED lights.

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After charging my Tecsun PL-380, the Power+ still had about 50% of its battery available.

On top side of the Power+ is a row of four green LEDs that indicate the battery level.

The body seems to be made of a very durable plastic designed to operate in temperatures up to 80 °C (175 °F). It has a smooth surface and gasketed USB ports. The LEDs are protected behind clear lenses.

Flashlight

Let’s face it: operation of this flashlight is dead simple.  No learning curve here, which suits ETOW’s use brilliantly.  And brilliance, indeed, is what the device provides.

Press the large power button once to check the battery status; press twice, and the LED lamps are activated at their brightest setting–about 70 lumens, which lasts about 10 hours on full charge.

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Each consecutive press decreases the LED brightness for a total of four brightness settings. The lowest LED setting (about 5 lumens) is perfect for reading, and should increase the light’s longevity to approximately 150 hours with a full charge.

Emergency?  If you press and hold the power button for two seconds, the Power+ will flash “SOS” in Morse Code.

The Power+ also has a hole in the tilt base that allows you to perch it on top of pretty much any bottle and become a table lamp.

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I used a bottle of single-malt, but any bottle will do!

You can also loop a string through the central hole and hang the Power+ from the ceiling–or the roof of your car or tent–for an overhead lamp. Fantastic design for useability!

Charging

The Power+ has two USB ports:

  • a micro USB for charging the Power+ from any other USB charger (cell phone charger, USB port on PC, etc.)
  • plus a full size USB port to charge other devices on the go (your smart phone, or–for our purposes–a shortwave radio)

If you plug your Power+ into a typical smart phone charger or a USB port on your computer, it will charge the battery in about four hours.

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If you’re on the go, or simply want to go green, you can charge the Waka Waka Power+ internal battery with the solar panel directly facing the sun. It takes about two days of sunny skies to fully charge the Power+.  But you can use it even if not fully charged.

Most of the time I’ve used solar power to charge, I started with a battery at 50%–it took perhaps five to six hours of sunlight to bring the battery to full capacity.

Summary

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The Waka Waka Power+ is the first solar-powered portable charging device that has actually impressed me. I’ve tested numerous flashlights and portable battery packs over the years; many have been effective as smart phone chargers, but were heavy or unstable (one, for example, literally melted down on my bed while charging–no kidding).

Clearly, I like the Waka Waka Power+. I’m especially impressed because this seems to be Waka Waka’s first product iteration. The Power+ is small, lightweight, tough (though not waterproof) and delivers what it promises.

Negatives? Well, the only one I can think of at this point is that it takes almost two days of sunlight (at least, where I live in North America) to fully charge the Power+ via the sun. It could take longer if you live in an area with less sunlight hours. To be honest, however, I’m still fairly impressed that a PV panel as small as the one on the Power+ charges this quickly.

I’ve charged my Moto X (2nd gen) smart phone several times during my travels; it even came to my rescue when I left my phone’s mobile charger at home and had nearly depleted my battery while using the phone’s GPS to find my way in unfamiliar territory.

WakaWakaPowerPlus-and-PL-800

I’ve also used the Power+ to charge my Tecsun PL-380, PL-310ET, and PL-880 shortwave radios. In each case, I effectively charged the radio’s battery from roughly 25% to 100%.

The Power+ easily fits in my Spec-Ops Brand Op-Order Pouch and even my Maxpedition EDC Pocket Organizer. It’s an ideal size to carry pretty much anywhere, and especially useful for one bag travel.

I also think the Waka Waka could be quite useful in some of the countries where ETOW works.  They could have especial relevance in regions where mobile phone networks are in place–increasingly prevalent in rural Africa–but our ETOW partners (teachers and community supporters) have no means of powering the phones or else can’t afford to power them. I’ll certainly order a few and test them in the field.

WakaWakaPower+

The icing on the cake–? When you purchase a Power+, Waka Waka will donate a Power+ for humanitarian use (not yet to ETOW, but to other worthy organizations) through their network.  It’s a “get one, give one” deal–and believe me, this helps out.

At $79 US, this is a bargain for a cool little charger/flashlight that actually delivers as advertised.

The Waka Waka Power+ can be purchased