Tag Archives: Guest Posts

Guest Post: National HRO-500 Unboxing and Initial Tests

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, for the following guest post:


HRO-500 Unboxing and Initial Tests

by Dan Robinson

It is amazing that in these days of waning shortwave broadcast activity, there are still those occasional time capsules — radios that appear on the used market via Ebay or private sales that are new in the box or close to it. Think of it — after 50 or 60 years, these fine examples of radio history can still be found, complete with their original boxes, shipping crates, manuals and accessories.

We have seen a number of these in recent years. Several years ago, a Panasonic RF-9000, one of the Holy Grails of radio collecting, appeared on Ebay, in new opened box condition. As rare as that was, it’s even rarer to find tube or solid state communications receivers from the 1950’s and 1960’s. Such is the case with National HRO-500s, which were considered high level receivers when they came on to the market in the mid-1960’s.

In 2016, a seller in California advertised a great rarity — a HRO-500 that he said he purchased in 1967, complete with its original shipping crate.

It was said to be in new/unopened condition, which of course raises concerns about the unit itself since it has never been used since leaving the factory. While that radio apparently sold (the asking price was $2500), I was astounded to recently see another HRO-500. It was not in New/Unopened condition, but the closest one comes to it. Among a collection purchased by the seller, the radio was in its original crate, inside of which was the original box with the original National Radio Co fabric cover, with original strips of fiberglass insulation. The manual is still in its plastic wrap.

I decided to do a video for SWLing Post readers, and provide some still shots, as this time capsule of radio history was opened (this was likely only the 2nd or 3rd time it was opened since leaving the factory, the last time by the seller for photography for the Ebay ad.

The good news — many HRO-500s on the used market exhibit failure of the PLL lock circuit. While the PLL lock light on this particular radio does not light up, its PLL does operate on every band. This radio arrived with one metal cap for the MODE knob missing, so I’ll be searching for a spare. And the dial calibration clutch knob appears to be frozen, another minor issue that does not impact operation of the radio.

All in all, this was a fantastic find and I hope SWLing Post readers enjoy the video and stills:

Video

Click here to view the video on YouTube.

Photos


Thanks for sharing your notes, photos and video, Dan!

The National HRO-500 is a gorgeous radio and it looks like you’ve got a prime specimen. I’m so impressed it came with the original wooden crate, exterior box and radio box! Amazing.

We’re looking forward to your assessment of the HRO-500 once you’ve have it on the air a while.

SWLing Post readers: In March, I had the good fortune of visiting Dan Robinson’s home and taking a tour of his impressive radio collection. I took a number of photos with Dan’s permission. I’ve been incredibly busy as of late, but as soon as catch my breath after travels, I’ll post the photo tour. I’ll also post photos from our tour of the NSA museum in Fort Meade, MD. Stay tuned!

Guest Post: Richard builds a WiFi radio with the Raspberry Pi

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Richard Schreiber (KE7KRF), who shares the following guest post:


Yet Another Internet Radio!

by Richard Schreiber (KE7KRF)

After deciding that an internet radio could be an important source of entertainment in our household, we formulated a few general guidelines:

  • We opted not to use an aggregator but would pick and choose stations we enjoyed and discover the URL’s ourselves. Also would be satisfied with a couple of dozen stations. Based on a recent decision to pare down the number of TV channels we were paying for, having access to hundreds of stations seemed impractical and unnecessary.
  • The price had to be affordable, thus eliminating many stand-alone, commercially available internet radios.
  • We already owned a quality portable speaker (Bose SoundLink Mini) so the internet radio didn’t need to duplicate that component.
  • Didn’t want to tie up nor be tethered to a laptop, tablet, or netbook. We predicted that would eventually lead to less and less use of the radio.

After some research, coupled with the fact I already had some experience with Raspberry Pi computers, that small device appeared to be our best choice. I had recently purchased the newer 2 B model, which has plenty of computing power, and had installed Ubuntu Linaro as the OS. (As an aside, this OS has not to my knowledge been upgraded for the latest Raspberry Pi 3). There are several other operating systems that will work just as well including the official Raspbian OS available through the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

I installed the MPD music player daemon and its client MPC, which is used to add to and delete station URL’s from the playlist, control volume, etc. An important find was the iPhone app called MPod which provides remote wireless access to the features of MPC. At the moment it is a free app for the iPhone (in my case the iPod Touch).

For portability, my Raspberry Pi is being used “headless”, meaning it is not connected to a monitor, keyboard or mouse. If maintenance is required you can use PuTTY, a SSH and telnet client, wirelessly from a Windows (or MAC?) PC, using a command-line interface. Mainly this is needed to shut down the Raspberry Pi properly before turning off the power, but it boots completely on its own when powered up. The MPod app will then load the playlist of stations and let you start playing the radio without direct access to the Raspberry Pi.

The sound output of my Raspberry Pi is connected to the auxiliary port of our Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth speaker. But instead of trying to implement Bluetooth on the Raspberry Pi, I took the easy way out and use a direct connection. The sound reproduction from this setup is very good, though audiophiles might be somewhat more critical.

The above represents a minimal investment if you already have a good speaker on hand. It does require some on-line research and learning at least enough to install the OS and software. The good news is that there are many websites and forums providing step-by-step instructions and helpful hobbyists willing to explain some of the more cryptic aspects. A few of the websites that I found to be helpful:

http://www.instructables.com/id/Arduino-Raspberry-Pi-Internet

http://cagewebdev.com/raspberry-pi-playing-internet-radio

https://learn.adafruit.com/raspberry-pi-radio-player-with-touchscreen

A couple of these also explain how to add a display to your Raspberry Pi internet radio.

Our Raspberry Pi radio is on each evening and has been trouble free. It is worth mentioning that this is a very portable setup, and can even be powered by a battery pack (the kind used for recharging tablets and cell phones) for a few hours. Of course you need to be near a wifi hotspot.


Thank you, Richard! What a great way to use the inexpensive Raspberry Pi. I have a spare Pi2 and an amplified speaker here at the house. Though I don’t need another WiFi radio, it would be fun putting this little system together. 

Guest Post: Revisiting the Realistic DX-440

RadioShack ad for the Realistic DX-440

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, ShortwaveGuy, who shares the following guest post originally published on his blog, Shortwave.me:


Tried And True. . .Revisiting Older Receivers – Realistic DX-440

by ShortwaveGuy

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a fan of the “latest and greatest” when it comes to shortwave receivers. Like most of us involved in the hobby, I am always on the lookout for what newer technology has to offer me in order to pursue my quest of either capturing that elusive DX signal, or whatever will bring my favorites in the clearest. As a result, over the past few years, I have collected an assortment of receivers, each one serving a different purpose. My wife can not only attest to this, but can also relate to this phenomenon, as someone who has far more shoes than she will ever have time or fortune to wear! That’s how I am with my radios!

The other day, however, while listening to some of my favorite stations on what is arguably my best current portable receiver, the Tecsun PL-660, I got to thinking about some of my other receivers, in particular, my Realistic DX-440. I have had this receiver for as long as I can remember and I can remember back a long time! Around the time it came out, the radio most of us had our eyes on was the venerable Sony ICF-2010. Like a lot of people, however, I had no means of purchasing a receiver as expensive as it was at the time. I hoped that somehow, I would be able to afford one and one day, I did buy one, but that’s a story for another time, however.

In the mean time, I can remember perusing the latest Radio Shack catalog, something I did as often as they came out when I saw it. . .a radio with all kinds of wonderful buttons and knobs! The top of the page screamed out at me: “CATCH THE ACTION ON MULTIBAND PORTABLES”. It was the Realistic DX-440! Here is a picture of the ad as it appeared:

 

Once I saw it, I knew I must have it! While the MSRP on the Sony ICF-2010 was $449, this gem could be had for less than $200! All my previous radios had analog tuning so the prospect of getting a radio with a digital display was quite appealing to me! Try as I may to convince my parents to get me just this one Christmas gift instead of several, it didn’t happen. . . .at that time. But fast forward several years later. . .

I finally got my digital receiver in the form of the Realistic DX-380 from my parents one Christmas. I worked that thing for years, and was mostly happy with it. It didn’t have SSB, which I had begun to understand by that time. I had pulled in a lot of great stations such as HCJB, BBC, VOA, Radio Havana Cuba and many others. However, because it didn’t have SSB, there were several occasions where I would happen upon ham radio operators who were talking back and forth, utility stations or even pirate stations. I could never be for sure, though, because my unit was not equipped to decode those signals. I knew that it was time to finally remedy that.

I purchased a few other radios that would do SSB and most of them worked reasonably well. At one point, I had even managed to procure the much-celebrated ICF-2010, which I loved dearly until it died a slow and unfortunate death that those with the know-how told me was beyond repair. But always, in the back of my mind, I wondered about that near-mystical Realistic DX-440. . .dreaming about what might have been.

I contented myself with the radios I had, still enjoying this wonderful hobby that I have participated in for so many years. I was, with the exception of the now-departed 2010, generally happy with the receivers that I had. I wasn’t looking for a new radio, but one night, mostly out of boredom, I wandered on to eBay and did a search for shortwave radios. I looked at tabletops and ultralights, primarily as I really had neither and had plenty or portables. About two pages in, I saw the Realistic DX-440. It only took about 10 minutes before I decided that this one must be mine. I placed my bid and waited patiently. . .only to lose the auction. “Oh, well”, I thought. If I saw another one, I might try again. . .or maybe not.

Well, the next day, I did a search and found one. This one looked in fantastic shape and had no bids. There was a “Buy It Now” price, but I wanted to get this for as inexpensively as I possibly could. The auction ended in 5 hours. I chose not to bid, not wanting to draw attention to it. I set an alarm on my watch and came back in an hour. . .still no bids. I set another alarm. With only 3 hours left, I began to get excited. Another hour went by and another alarm had been set. 2 hours to go. Any bidders, yet? No! Could this really happen? Maybe!

When I got down to the final hour of the auction, I didn’t bother to set an alarm. Like a watched pot that never boils, I stared at the web page, refreshing it every couple of minutes. With every refresh, it began to seem as if this might come to a happy conclusion. 10 minutes left. . .no bids. 5 minutes left. . .still no bids. I waited until 30 seconds before the end of the auction and placed the minimum bid.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

Auction over.

I HAD WON!

A dream over 20+ years in the making had finally happened! I quickly paid for the radio and then purchased the appropriate “wall-wart” adapter to make sure I had it ready for when the radio arrived. It said it would be 7-10 days for delivery, but it was at my house in 3!

I opened the box and carefully wrapped in old newspaper, was the radio that I had been pining for since my early teens. I quickly checked it out to make sure it was in good condition and was pleased to find it was. My heart sank a little bit when I opened the battery compartment to find 2 AA cells left in for the last 5 years that were supposed to power the clock and the memory functions. Fortunately, they had not exploded and I quickly removed them and replaced the unit with a fresh round of batteries. The only flaw I was able to find was that it seemed that the previous owner had lost the screw on tip of the internal whip antenna and had placed a plastic cap on the end in its place. It didn’t look out of place and was very secure, so I shrugged it off. Now for the moment of truth: I powered the radio on and it worked! I checked all the bands and was able to receive quite well on all of them except LW (which is to be expected, given my geographic location and the lack of stations on the longwave band, in general). All the knobs were there and in place and there were no dirty switches or tuning pots to deal with. I had snagged myself a honey of a bargain!

Now it was time to use this thing for what I bought it for: to listen to shortwave radio! I usually use a 100 foot longwire antenna when I listen to shortwave, and this time would be no exception. However, I was anxious to pair the DX-440 with the Realistic 20-280 amplified antenna that I had picked up years ago at an auction. I had used it with other radios, but never in conjunction with a longwire antenna. I was ready to change that. I wanted to use the preselector function of the amplified antenna as well as the actual amplifier in order to maximize my ability to pull in distant stations. When the radio was first manufactured, there were a lot more stations on the air to listen to and less of a need to do much more than throw 20 feet of wire up in a tree. Obviously, with many of the powerhouse shortwave stations having gone the way of the internet, I knew that my plan to couple the longwire with the amplified antenna had the potential to pay big dividends. I took a look at the back of the radio, where the external antenna jack was and I was surprised to find not the 1/8? jack I was accustomed to, but in its place was an RCA phono plug. The amplified antenna had an RCA plug on its side, as well, but it wasn’t to connect to a radio, it was for connecting to an antenna. The amplified antenna had the 1/8? plug and accompanying cable that was used to connect to the external antenna jack of nearly every modern portable radio. To be honest, I wasn’t completely sure how I was going to go about handling this issue. I thought about using alligator clips, but wasn’t sure how to integrate this into my coupling scheme. I pondered over this for all of about 3 minutes and than quickly got into my car and headed to my local Radio Shack. I told them I was looking for a 1/8-inch phone plug-to-phono jack and they were quick to accommodate me. They gave me the adapter you see pictured here (Catalog #: 2740871). It would handle either stereo or mono input of a 1/8-inch plug and as a bonus, it says “MOM” on the end, if you are willing to use the input hole as the letter “O”.

I got it home and quickly got it hooked up. As I expected, the “MOM” adapter was a perfect fit. I made sure I had fresh batteries in the amplified antenna, though it would accept an AC adapter if I wanted. I chose to run it on battery, so as to reduce any possible introduction of noise to the signal. And then, I powered on both the amplified antenna and the DX-440. . .the moment of truth had arrived! I tuned to WWV on 15 mHz, which I use as a baseline for most test I conduct on my radios during the time of day I was listening. I must tell you, I was NOT disappointed in what I heard. It was a rather cloudy day weather-wise and I was concerned about a middling solar flux. I needn’t have been worried at all. The signal was robust and clear as the familiar sound came booming in from Fort Collins, Colorado! Not only was the signal strong, but using the separate bass and treble controls and the wide selection on filters, it was actually rather pleasant listening, not fatiguing at all. I pulled up my trusty shortwave schedules app on my phone and began searching for things to listen to.
I heard domestic broadcasters like WRMI and WBCQ with no issues and managed to catch BBC to West Africa, as well! I listened to quite a bit that night and into the morning hours, checking out not only broadcast shortwave, but utilizing the BFO to listen to ham bands, particularly my favorite, the Freewheelers Net on 3.916 mHz, LSB. The BFO was easy to operate and the addition of the Realistic amplified antenna helped to bring in signals with great gusto. As with any amplified antenna that is not a loop, this one amplified not only the signal, but the noise as well. That said, the propagation deities were kind to me and I enjoyed a long night of listening.

I have since given my DX-440 a place next to my bedside and have enjoyed listening to whatever I could find to listen to most nights. While a radio like the Tecsun PL-660 offers newer technology and the addition of an excellent synchronous detector, the DX-440 holds its own against the newer technology. At the end of the day, it’s still a portable and while most portables pale in comparison to tabletop rigs, this one is rather excellent with what it has offer versus its price point. The build quality is solid and ergonomically it is a pleasure to operate. If I had any critiques at all, I would have made the BFO and the RF Gain knobs a bit bigger, but now I am truly splitting hairs. I can see why contemporaneous editions of the Passport To Worldband Radio listed this as an Editors’ Choice radio back in the day.

I wanted one from the day I saw it those many years ago, and I can say unequivocally, that it was worth the wait!

–ShortwaveGuy


Thank so much for writing about the DX-440–that radio has a special place in my heart. The ‘440 was my first digital shortwave receiver–it revolutionized my shortwave listening.  

As I’ve mentioned before, I also travelled with the Radio Shack DX-440 while studying French and living in Grenoble, France. The DX-440 delivered my daily dose of the Voice of America (the only English language news I allowed myself to listen to at the time). Since the VOA broadcast often coincided with meal time at the Université Stendhal cafeteria, I left my voice-activated Micro Cassette recorder in front of the DX-440 which was, in turn, set to turn on one minute prior to the VOA broadcast. It was an amazingly reliable arrangement.

I’d better not wax too nostalgic, though, else I’ll start searching eBay for a 440 just like you did!  Hang onto that DX-440–I wish I would have never given mine away!

Visit ShortwaveGuy’s blog by clicking here.

Guest Post: Remembering our Elmers

Photo: Mario Filippi (N2HUN)

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mario Filippi (N2HUN), for the following guest post:


‘Tis the Season to be Jolly and to Remember Our Elmers

by Mario Filippi (N2HUN)

At this time of year when we gather with friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances to share the bonhomie and joys of the holidays let us fondly remember those who brought us into this hobby, our dear Elmers, those individuals who’ve given of their time teaching us the basics of ham radio, answered our endless questions, inspired us by their shacks, guided us through the difficulties of radio theory and good operating practices and proctored us through our first examinations. If it weren’t for these selfless individuals, who followed a time-honored tradition of mentoring budding hams, the hobby would not continue on and most of us might have taken other paths and missed out on a life-long, very rewarding hobby.

To start the ball of reminiscences rolling, take a seat with me in the time machine of memories and go back to the early 1970’s, to the suburbs of White Plains, NY, the home of my Elmer, may he rest in peace, George Buchanan, WB2FVX (SK).

George held Novice classes once a week in the basement of his home where he tutored a gaggle of ham wannabes consisting of grammar school kids to those of advanced age, some of whom were old railroad telegraphers schooled in the use of sounders. We’d have an hour of lecture, followed by code practice, then the class would end with general socializing amongst the students as to what transpired along with our future plans for our “shacks.”

You know, George did not quit his day job to train us through our larval stages of the hobby; as a matter of fact he commuted to the city every day and still found the time once a week to start his 7:00 PM class for his eager students, and always had energy after a long day’s work to stand in front of his chalkboard and work out the numerous electronic calculations (OHM’s Law, parallel and series circuits of resistors and capacitors, antenna resonance and impedance ) and list important regulations that would be included in our FCC Novice exams. At the conclusion of the three month course, George sat through our Novice exams and mailed them off to the FCC Office in Gettysburg, PA. Back then it took a few months before you’d get your license and hold in your hand the fruits of your (and your Elmer’s) labors.

George has been a silent key for decades now, and he frequently comes to mind, especially during the holiday season, when thoughts of Christmases past and all of the pleasant memories of almost forty years in the hobby occupy my mind. Indeed, George and all the other Elmers out there, living and deceased, have bestowed upon us one of the greatest gifts of all – Amateur Radio.

Think back on your Elmer and do so with fondness and when the opportunity presents itself, take an inexperienced ham under your wing, guide them, inspire them, show them your shack, answer their questions, help them pick out a rig or accessory, have a QSO with them, help them with troubleshooting, accompany them to a hamfest, share the joys with them when they purchase a piece of equipment, and most of all, be there for them.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!


Thank you, Mario, for sharing these special memories with us! George was an ideal Elmer indeed–he had the ability to share his enthusiasm and passion with others and helped them obtain their license during a time when study materials were not so readily available (and the test was much more challenging!).

Thank you, Mario!

Guest Post: An Unusual Night for CB

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mario Filippi (N2HUN) for the following guest post:


An Unusual Night for CB

by Mario Filippi (N2HUN)

December 2nd was an unusual night for CB (Citizen’s Band) radio, as the band was open late (0030 GMT) when I turned on the President Washington CB radio just to see who was on. First stop was Channel 19 (27.185 MHz), the trucker’s channel, where the QRM was high, due to the skip from the many truckers on the channel. Earlier in the day this channel was very quiet as was the rest of the band. The fact that Channel 19 was pinning the S meter after dark was a big hint that the band might be open. And it certainly was!

Uniden President Washington AM/SSB Base Station

Being a CB’er from back in the 70’s (call sign KBN-8387), this band was my first serious introduction to two-way radio communication, and after 40+ years it’s still an enjoyable experience to listen in to the local, and sometimes DX chatter. For the most part the CB band mimics 10 meters, basically open during the day (except when sunspot numbers are low) and closed at night. That’s the usual drill, but Mother Nature doesn’t always go by the playbook and sometimes the band is opened at the darnedest times, sometimes even after midnight!

So this evening around 8:30 EST the President Washington CB base station was fired up and CB operators were heard in Maine, Illinois, and as far as Wisconsin, definitely what would be considered out of the ordinary range of CB, which is generally several miles. Now FCC rules still state that it’s illegal to communicate over 155 miles but it’s a non-issue when the band’s open. For the most part, AM is used on most of the channels but you’ll find LSB activity on Channel 36 (27.365 MHz). And when the band gets busy and crowded, you’ll hear LSB QSOs from Channels 36 – 39 (27.365 – 27.395 MHz) as sidebanders spread out among the channels so that they can work each other through the QRM.

To get a better idea of what the CB band “looks” like during a band opening, a spectral scan of the band (26.965 – 27.405 MHz) would be useful. This can be achieved using an SDR dongle, such as the RTL-SDR.com version which is a diminutive broadband receiver with an analog to digital converter and covers from about 26 – 1670 MHz. Used in conjunction with an up-converter (from Nooelec), software such as SDR# (SDR Sharp) and a computer (Smartphone apps are available also) you’ll be able to put up a spectral scan of the band as well as hear what’s happening.

RTL-SDR.com dongle – a small broadband receiver covering all modes

Nooelec’s Ham It Up RF Upconverter expands dongle’s receiving range to the entire HF and MW band

As the old adage goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words” so tonight the SDR dongle, along with SDR# software was fired up to get an idea of how many stations were on during the opening. The antenna used was an S9 43 foot vertical, the same one I use for HF. Using the dongle, it’s an easy feat to visualize the entire CB band on the spectral scan, which is a plot of frequency (X axis) versus signal strength (Y axis). The top half of the screen is the spectral scan and the lower half is the “waterfall” which is a time lapse recording of the spectral scan.

Screenshot of CB Band (wide red stripe) during tonight’s opening.

Normally at this time of night a spectral scan of the CB band would be flat-lining, but as you can see there are plenty of stations conducting QSOs, with the stronger stations having higher peaks and more intense tracings on the waterfall. Seeing the entire CB band visually gives one lots of information such as what channels are active, how many stations are on, what stations might be running higher power (limit is 4 W AM, 12W PEP SSB output), whether outbanders are active or whether DX stations outside the US are partaking of the opening.

Over the years I’ve heard the CB band open beyond midnight and on a winter’s night during a snowstorm. Some openings have lasted for hours. Last year, using the mobile CB, operators from Europe, the Caribbean, and as far away as Australia were heard during my commute to work. At the opposite extreme some days all you’ll hear is ignition noise, hihi. It’s a lot like 10 meters and even a bit like 6 meters; you never know what surprises Mother Nature has in store. Spin the tuning dial over to the CB band and take a listen one of these days.


Thank you so much, Mario!

Only a few weeks ago, I noticed on my SDR’s wideband spectrum display that the 11 meter band was very active.  I started listening around and was absolutely amazed at how organized some of the nets were and how reliable skip was. Signals were blanketing all of the eastern US and even into the west. Sometimes I think there are openings on the 10 meter band, for example, but there are so few users there in comparison, no one notices. The CB frequencies are pretty much always active, when conditions are favorable for DX, everyone instantly notices!

Many might not realize that even their portable shortwave radio can tune the CB frequencies. Thank you again!