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

Val compares his Sony SRF-59 with the SRF-39FP

Sony-SRF-59-and-Sony-SRF-39FPMy buddy, Jeff MacMahon, over the Herculodge, forwarded the following message from his reader, Val:

[P]robably some people who are still interested in AM radio will be surprised to see pictures of the Sony SRF-59.

[The] Sony SRF-39FR is an excellent receiver made special for Federal Prison in US.

It is an incredibly sensitive and selective receiver able to pick up every AM frequency.

Somewhere on the Internet, I found a picture of the SRF-59 [which implied that it had the] same circuitry as the Sony SRF-39FR.

I bought SRF-59 from Source Electronic to compare two radios. I was so disappointed after testing the SRF-59.modern-sony-srf-59

It is absolutely a different receiver compared with the SRF-39FP. It doesn’t stay close for performance. I opened it (see photo above) and (surprise!) it was missing a few capacitors…What a shame….

Thanks for sharing this, Val.

My advice? Don’t throw the SRF-59 away yet, Val! While it isn’t quite on par with the SRF-39FP, it is still quite an amazing MW DX ultralight.

I would suggest that you check out Dave Richard’s blog where he details how to tweak the SRF-59 for top performace. Dave’s article includes excellent detail and great photos. Click here to view.

eBay find: the “mythical” Sony CRF-V21

Image source: Universal Radio

Image source: Universal Radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Anil, who writes:

Here is a link to an Ebay auction for the mythical Sony CRF-V21. In all my years, I have never seen one for sale before and it might be interesting for some blog readers…

Click here to view on eBay.

Mythical is, indeed, the correct word for the Sony CRF-V21, Anil!

Check out our previous post that mentions the Sony CRF-V21.

James put his ailing Sony ICF-SW55 on ice. Literally.

sony-icf-sw55c

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, James Patterson, who writes:

I have owned the Sony ICF-SW55 for around 15 years or more. I like to change my listening pleasure from radio to radio, giving each one a rest, as they are all different to a degree. So I put the SW55 away and it sat unused for about six moths, as with my radio collection, I had others to listen to.

But when I decided to listen to the SW55 again, it just wouldn’t power up at all. I have read posts from other listeners saying their radios won’t power up either after sitting for extra long periods. I think they are mostly Sonys.

I tried many times but no it wouldn’t power up; I decided I’d just keep it as a memory of a failed Sony radio. I’m aware that the capacitors do blow, and assumed that’s most likely the problem.

But I decided there may be another way to get it going again. I always check for [battery compartment] corrosion, but there was none.

I thought of a crazy idea of actually freezing the radio–just to see what may happen. So it was in the chest freezer for 3 hours. I then took it out frozen like an ice brick!!.

I took it outside to the blazing hot sun and let it fully defrost. I then plugged a DC power pack into it. The operating voltage is 6 volts. I pushed 9 volts into it, through the switchable power pack. I got a plastic clamp and clamped the on/off switch permanently “on”.  I could hear it turning on and off several times as the switch is electrically-activated.

Then all of a sudden it sprang to life–unbelievable! On it came at full volume, so I selected an AM station and it worked as good as it ever did. The sensitivity was always very good, and it still is.

So was it a “Fluke”, “freak of nature” just by chance, or was it the freezing that woke it up?

Well I’m not turning it off. I have new AA batteries in it, as well as the power pack that’s turned back to the correct 6 volts–and yes it’s still going!!

So maybe we should all start freezing our radios when they have given up the “ghost”!?! Don’t forget to defrost before powering up!! Maybe I’ve started a “new trend”. Any comments would be great! Thanks.

Thanks Thomas and have a great and happy New Year from New Zealand.

Wow–James, I’m not sure why this freezing method worked, but I’m glad it did!

I don’t think I could recommend that everyone try this but, James, you did this out of desperation since you essentially had a nice ICF-SW55 paperweight. What did you have to lose? I’m very curious if some engineers or electronics technicians could comment as to why freezing the radio helped.

I do know this: I would be cautious attempting James’ freezing method if you live in a humid environment. It’s possible that the condensation from the radio thawing could actually cause moisture damage. Obviously, in James’ case, it did not.

Thanks again, James–I hope your ICF-SW55 gives you many, many more years of service!

eBay Find: the Zenith Trans-Oceanic Royal D7000Y, with Comparisons to the Sony CRF-320

ebaySometimes when  browsing eBay you’ll come across a hot item that wasn’t even on your wish list or Followed eBay Searches. This was the case for me early last month when I spotted a new listing for a Zenith Royal D7000Y-2 Trans-Oceanic that’s arguably the best performing T-O ever made. It’s not the most collectable (the final R7000 series has that distinction), but is the final model with the desirable band spread tuning arrangement. The D7000Y is also the last of the hand-wired Trans-Oceanics. Some claim this model has the best audio of the transistorized T-Os, too.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Zenith Trans-Oceanics, as the co-author of the “Royalty of Radios” reference book, the late Prof. John Bryant, was my best friend for many years. John also wrote books on Zenith’s corporate history and other models of Zenith radios. The transistorized Zenith Trans-Oceanics were unobtainable dream receivers for me when I was a teenager in the mid-1970s.royalty of radios book

I watched this Buy-It-Now auction for three days and was very surprised it remained available, especially after noticing its superior condition compared to other auctions for the same model. Finally on the third day I pulled the trigger–I’m not a collector of vintage radios but I couldn’t miss the chance to let this fine old Zenith follow me home. At a Buy-It-Now price of $219 including cross-country shipping, it seemed like a no-brainer decision.

When the radio arrived–packed extremely well–it was in ever better condition than pictured and described (I’d call it 9.8 on a 10 scale).  The package included the original hang tag, QA stickers, owners manual, service manual, marketing literature and even the original monaural earphone and AC power cord. All dial lamps and the chart light worked fine. The previous owner said the T-O was fully aligned a year ago, and indeed I found that the reception quality on the built-in whip antenna is great. I’d love to know where this receiver was stored for the last 38 years; it was clearly someone’s gently used, cherished Zenith.

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A folder of high resolution photos of this receiver can be viewed here.

Compared Against the Sony CRF-320

Besides simply enjoying receivers I get a kick out of comparing them against each other, and against various other ones owned by my radio hobby friends. Thanks to the loan of a vintage Sony CRF-320, I was able to directly compare it to my Zenith Trans-Oceanic Royal D7000Y-2 receiver. My friend’s CRF-320 is the equal of my Zenith in condition and quality. Each of us would like to own both of these radios!

This is an interesting pairing, since the Zenith was among the last of the premier, USA manufactured portable receivers (analog only, all hand-wired chassis), and the CRF-320 was an equally prestigious portable receiver of the “latest technology”–digital/analog readout with printed circuit board construction.

Eugene_F._McDonald_the_Commanderand_founder_of_ZenithOnce a leading receiver brand, Zenith did not react quickly enough to changing trends and business climate after the death of its founder, Commander Eugene F. McDonald.  The 40 year old (1942-1982) proud line of Trans-Oceanics gave way to new, semi-automated methods of building receivers with inexpensive labor from Asia.

After an initial production run of the next (and last) R7000 series, manufacturing was moved to Taiwan. The receiver was built just as well as the previous Royal D7000, but used PCBs inside and the useful band spread frequency ranges were done away with (at the expense of ease of tuning). Still, Zenith T-Os couldn’t compete on price or performance against the Sony CRF-320, and the R7000 Trans-Oceanics were the last (and now most collectible) versions.

This YouTube video compares reception of these two vintage receivers with mid-morning signals on the 31 meter band, from the Seattle area:

Both radios were used with their built-in whip antennas although I couldn’t extend the Zenith’s its final four inches due to ceiling height in the room.

In my opinion, the CRF-320 is superior in keeping signals steady with its AGC, but the D7000Y-2 excels in audio quality and is neck-and-neck in most other respects. The Zenith may have performed a bit better with weak signals if the ceiling in my kitchen was a few inches higher! (Both radios have substantially long built-in antennas, and each are very well matched to their circuitry for excellent reception.)

There are many references around for the Zenith Trans-Oceanic series, but not a lot has been published on the CRF-320. Here is one page with good details on the Sony:  http://www.shortwaveradio.ch/radio-e/sony-crf320-e.htm

Jay Allen’s excellent article on restoring a Zenith T-O Royal D7000 has very clear photos of the receiver’s interior: http://radiojayallen.com/zenith-royal-7000/

Moral of the Story?

I’ve been active on eBay since 1998. As with garage sales, the chances of an excellent “find” increase with the time spent in the pursuit. Sometimes you just get lucky though and find a very desirable item remaining unsold for days, such as this Trans-Oceanic! It’s all about being in the right place at the right time. Since I’ve bought the receiver I’ve yet to see any other D7000s of equal or better quality, despite some with Buy-It-Now prices of up to $450 plus shipping (edit 12/16: I spotted one that appears in equal condition to mine, but for a Buy-It-Now of $675 + $40 S/H).

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

Best solution to restore a vintage plastic radio chassis?

Sony-ICF550W-FrontFriday, I brought home an untested, slightly grimy, Sony ICF-5500W. I purchased it through Goodwill for $20.

Sony-ICF550W-Right

I crossed my fingers as I put three C cells in the radio and turned it on. Fortunately, I was rewarded with brilliant audio. I tuned the ‘5500W on AM/mediumwave and heard CFZM,  500 miles to my north, and Radio Reloj, 860 miles to my south. A quick scan on the FM dial revealed that I could also hear all of my local benchmarks. Whew!

Other than the dial needing a little calibration, and DeOxit on a few pots, it’s in excellent mechanical shape.

Sony-ICF550W-Left

I started cleaning the radio last night using Q-tip cotton swabs and a vinegar/water solution.

I’d like to restore the hard plastic chassis’ original shine, though.

I was tempted to reach for some Armor All, but stopped myself short. I know it would give the ICF-5500W a nice shine, but would it cause any long-term damage to the black plastic or clear dial cover?

I know there are vintage radio restorers among the SWLing Post readership. Can someone offer advice on what’s the best product to use (or not use!) on my ICF-5500W?

If you have experience, please comment!