Monthly Archives: October 2011

Tecsun PL-398BT, PL-398MP and Tecsun PL-505 now available for purchase via sellers on eBay

The new Tecsun PL-398BT features Bluetooth technology, which allows for remote radio listening on computers and mobile phones with Bluetooth capabilities.

In August, we announced that Tecsun was coming out with several new models this year. Three of them–the Tecsun PL-505, Tecsun PL-398MP and PL-398BT–are now available for purchase on eBay. See links below.

The PL-398BT is the most innovative portable shortwave radio I’ve seen hit the market this year, as it will allow you to stream broadcasts from your radio to any Bluetooth-enabled device. I certainly hope it performs as well as previous Tecsun models. The sister to the PL-398BT is the Tecsun PL-398MP, which has an MP3 player (unfortunately, not a recorder, as we had hoped) that runs from a built-in SD card slot.

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Is radio a Canadian invention?

Today is Thanksgiving in Canada–and perhaps we should all thank this fine country for its contribution to radio as we know it today.

In this short audio documentary, Radio Canada International focuses on the innovative work of Canadian Reginald Aubrey Fessenden. As this piece points out, though Marconi receives recognition as the father of radio, Fessenden played a stronger role in making it possible to hear the human voice over the air.

Click hear to listen to LITTLE KNOWN CANADIAN FACTS: Radio, a Canadian invention at Radio Canada International.

For a full biography of Reginald Aubrey Fessenden, check out the Hammond Museum of Radio‘s website.

Thanks to RCI’s The Link for the tip & Happy Thanksgiving, Canada!

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DRM: First Transmission for Southern Africa

(Source: DRM Consortium Press Release)

The DRM Consortium will make its first ever DRM transmissions for Southern Africa in French and English on October 11th on the occasion of the Digital Radio Conference organised by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) at the headquarters of the European Parliament in Brussels.

The two day conference will include two live studio discussions on the possibilities and future of digital radio from the multimedia radio studio of the European Parliament. The programmes aim to showcase multiplatform and distribution techniques in front of a studio audience of Digital Radio Conference delegates.

The live show in French from 1200-1300 GMT will be followed two hours later (1400-1500 GMT) by a Digital Radio Show in English with international participation including the chairpersons of the DRM and WorldDMB Consortia.

Both the French and English programmes will be carried live on DRM SW 21800 from Ascension Island in the Atlantic Ocean and should be heard in countries like South Africa, Angola, Zambia, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique. The English programme will also be carried at 1800 GMT into Southern Asia on DRM SW 12085, at the end of the daily regular BBC/DW transmission.

Ruxandra Obreja, DRM Chairperson, says: “This is an exciting and imaginative undertaking that will demonstrate practically, even if for a short while, to European MPs and radio enthusiasts at thousands of kilometres apart the capacity of DRM to cover huge areas with excellent audio quality programmes. We are grateful to the EBU for the opportunity to showcase, alongside other platforms, that part of DRM, the only standard for all bands below and above 30 MHz, that could offer so much to the radio lovers in Africa.”



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Where radio history and art meet: An interview with Geoffrey Roberts

Fanciful and functional: A Marconi Mk III crystal shortwave tuner set in the service of Australian signallers. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

At the SWLing Post, we love radio history and that of technology in general; clearly, steps taken in our past indicate how we will blaze trails into our future. But that’s not the only reason to appreciate vintage technologies.  Developed in an environment with limited resources and infrastructure, the forms these technologies often took were resultingly unique:  hand-wrought, self-servicing, robust, efficient, interactive, engaging, elegant, and sometimes truly magical.  In other words, an art form.

And in the world of radio, form simply couldn’t follow function more intimately than in a crystal radio.

Even the name is magical, suggesting, perhaps, a receiver which culls sound waves from clear stone, or unleashes ancient voices long immured in ice.  But a crystal radio has yet another mystery up its sleeve:  it has no power source. These sets are passive receivers, meaning that while other radios use a power source (usually electricity) to amplify radio signals, the crystal set draws power from radio waves received via a long wire antenna. It’s the simplest type of radio receiver, and can be made from a few inexpensive parts, like an antenna wire, a tuning coil of copper wire, a crystal detector, and  earphones.

My first crystal radio set was made with a Quaker Oatmeal box, a bunch of wire, and a small earpiece.  Nothing elegant about it, but it was nonetheless magical, as I listened to the sound waves it drew from the ether.  Ultimately, all crystal radios have the same components as my oatmeal box variety–a tuning coil of copper wire, crystal detector, antenna and earphones–but fortunately not all follow the oatmeal box design. Indeed, some are worthy of an art museum, such as London’s Tate.

Introducing Geoffrey Roberts

Geoff Roberts' "HGW1 Time Machine." A crystal radio like no other. The Time Traveller would feel at home in front of this machine. (photo: Geoffrey Roberts

One glance at Roberts’ collection of hand-made crystal receivers, and it’s clear one is in the presence of a remarkable artist.

Roberts’ designs are very much inspired by the earliest crystal radios, and he also takes cues from classic science-fiction. The stunningly fanciful receiver to the right, for example, is titled, “HGW1 Time Machine.”

Indeed, his crystal sets would be absolutely at home aboard Nemo’s Nautilus or any steampunk time travel machine. They fire the imagination.  It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Roberts was recently asked by the curator of the Tate Britain to exhibit his singularly fascinating works, along with those of the Crystal Radio Club, in a show entitled the ‘Restless Times Exhibition,” which commemorates the work of artisans and artists for the period between the wars of the past century (1914-1945).

We simply had to know more about what makes Geoff Roberts tick, so asked him if he would allow us to interview him for the SWLing Post. He’s most kindly obliged–so with no further ado, I present crystal radio artist, Geoff Roberts.

SWLing: When you design a new radio, from what–or where–do you draw inspiration?
Geoff: When I’m designing a radio I have a particular circuit in mind that I would like to try out, and from the circuit diagram I can visualise what possible layout combinations it could have. The inspiration for the design is based upon a theme that I’m thinking of at the same time as the circuit, i.e., the ‘Time Machine’ or Captain Nemo’s Nautilus.

Side view of the HGW1. (photo: Geoffrey Roberts)

SWLing: Do you know what the radio will look like before you start building it? Do you make preliminary sketches, for example, or do you have an image in your mind?
Geoff: There is no initial engineering drawing with my radios; I complete a radio before I have put pen to paper, but there may be some thumbnail sketches of various parts that make up the whole design. Sometimes if I’m having difficulty resolving an idea I sleep on it, and it is more often than not resolved by the morning.

SWLing: Many of your radios are named after classic science fiction authors. Tell us about your relationship with science fiction.
Geoff: I have always had a fascination for science fiction in whatever form it is, be it TV series like Dr Who or Star Trek or the classic stories by Jules Verne or HG Wells. I do not actually read many science fiction novels–I simply do not have the time–it is reserved for practical things.

The Heart of Oak Crystal Radio (photo: Geoffrey Roberts)

SWLing: So why do you build crystal sets? Why not more modern pieces of technology?
Geoff: The crystal sets, to me, are a satisfying way to employ the combination of traditional hand craftworking skills and radio or electrical knowledge that I have learnt over years of practical experience. Crystal sets are a timeless electrical device that are just as appropriate today than yester year, possibly even more so in the coming ‘Green Age’ of renewable or low energy useage. It is still an evolving technology with better components, lower electrical loss materials, and Litz wires, plus highly-tuned circuits: these were just not available to the amateur builder many years ago at the dawn of radio. I have built many modern electronic devices employing integrated circuits or transistors, but there is an increasing complexity of circuitry and miniturization that really only favors the robot and not that of a human hand. I keep coming back to a simpler, more satisfying art form that is a collectable piece of equipment, rather than a disposable one.

SWLing: Tell us a little about your history in radio…when did you first become interested?

The "Jules Verne" (photo: Geoffrey Roberts)

Geoff: I first became interested in radio at an early age of eleven, when my uncle who used to visit us every Wednesday evening would always bring a small gift or piece of chocolate. One evening he was carrying a small oak box about six inches square. He opened the lid, and there were a few small brass parts on a black face plate.  There were three labels: “aerial,” “earth,” and “phones,” and a big knob in the middle. He connected up a pair of headphones, and put a wire round the picture rail, and one to an earth stake outside just below the back room window. I was amazed I could hear voices and music. I spent most of my early youth listening to pop music from Radio Luxembourg on that old crystal set, sometimes late into the night and under the bedclothes when, unknown to my parents, I should have been sleeping.
From that day onward I was hooked on radio more and more, and built my first crystal set from a toilet roll tube and wire from out of an old transformer that I found on a junk heap on waste ground nearby home.

Detail from the HGW1 dial pointer. (photo: Geoffrey Roberts)

I used to cut out the capacitors and resistors and started to make up a collection of commonly used parts. By the age of 12 I had been given a Philips Electronic Engineers Kit for Christmas. This kit was really for kids to learn basic electronics by using a simple breadboard designs.
One evening I built a one-transistor radio from the kit and heard two radio hams talking to each other. This was another big revelation to me in that it was possible to talk to a friend by using radio. It was not long after I had my own license to operate on the radio waves, and started a career with GPO telecommunications just after leaving school–but that is another story.

SWLing: When you listen to radio–on a crystal set, on shortwave or otherwise–what stations would we most likely find you listening to?

Geoff: I still have the fascination with radio now after nearly six decades have passed, and I still listen to my favorite pop music–as it was then, it still is now. Someone said, ‘All you need is Love’ and that is very true…

SWLing: What are your plans going forward? Do you have other radio designs in mind?
Geoff: I plan to build more radios in the next few years and have extended my workshop this year to take in more light engineering equipment. The Dr. Frankenstein radio is in my visualisation as a project; it will be made of spare parts, of course, but not too many dead bodies!! [haha]

SWLing: What was your experience like at the Tate Britain’s crystal radio exhibition?

"We did not have the use of a longwire or earth in the Tate Gallery so I made a frame aerial which performed very well inside the Tate considering the building was mostly solid stone and ironwork. (source: Heart of England Crystal Radio Club)

Geoff: It was a wonderful and awe-inspiring experience recently to be invited to exhibit and actually operate some of my crystal receivers in the Tate Britain ‘Restless Times’ exhibition a couple of months ago. A feeling that I will relish for the rest of my life, and that will always give me fresh enthusiasm.

SWLing: If I wanted to buy one of your crystal radios, where could I purchase one?
Geoff: I would be only too pleased to make a crystal receiver to order for you personally to your specification, or to my own design, and you can find full ordering details on my website or by emailing me direct…Thank you for listening to my little story.

Geoff Roberts, G8DHI "Thank you for listening to my little story."

SWLing:  The pleasure was all mine. Thank you, sir, not only for bringing forward such a simple, magical technology, but doing so with such artistry and spirit.  Best of luck!

Post Script
Geoff, you’re one cool guy. Thoroughly enjoyed the interview. Please do let us know when you finish “Frankenstein;” we’d love to publish some photos here, if we may–and warn the public, should it escape!

Many, many thanks to @NW7US who led me to the website of Geoffrey Roberts–Geoff’s Crystal Receivers–and, in turn, to this delightful gentleman, artist, and ham. Sure you’d like him, too.

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Radio World: HFCC Is About More Than Shortwave Now

(Source: Radio World)

The High Frequency Coordination Conference is expanding its scope.

[…]According to a summary of the conference, membership voted to expand the scope of the HFCC.

“There are some compelling reasons for doing this,” stated Chairman Oldrich Cip. “TV and radio organizations for home listeners and their unions are busy discussing the future of distribution of the media content and the use of new — mainly digital — technologies. We would like to become a forum for such debate in international broadcasting.”

In other words: We ain’t just shortwave no more.

Read the Full article at Radio World online.

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How to turn your AM radio into a metal detector

Really? This radio could find a missing toy?

While watching Curious George on PBS Kids with my four year old, I learned something. In the episode we viewed–“Curious George, Metal Detective”–George needs a metal detector to find a toy robot he’s lost in the sand, but the one he’s borrowed has run out of batteries.  “How about making one?” his scientist friend suggests. Make one? “It’s easy,” she explains: simply by taping an AM radio and calculator together, you can make your own metal detector. George tries it, and–lo and behold–finds his missing toy.

Really? I wondered. Was this PBS show feeding my skeptical children science fiction?

I quickly googled the notion, and apparently, it works!  Watch the video below for a tutorial on building your own deluxe model:

Lessons learned? You’re never too old to learn from Curious George, PBS, or the fellow in this video.  And radios are clearly even more versatile than even I guessed.

Now, back to metal detecting…Is that another soda can?

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Radio Free Sarawak is back on shortwave

(Source: Free Malaysia Today)

KUCHING: Radio Free Sarawak is back after an almost four months hiatus. It is re-launching this week with an expanded team and greater ambitions.

It kicks off with a two hour daily timeslot from 6 – 8 pm on the shortwave 17560 kHz bandwidth.
According to its media release, the RFS “will continue to focus on the concerns and interests of the ordinary people of Sarawak, mainly rural folk, who currently have no access to an independent news source. ”

“We will also address urban and Malaysia-wide issues in recognition of its popular following among internet users and listeners from other states,” said the statement.

RFS has been credited for the Chief Minister Taib Mahmud-led Barisan Nasional coalition’s losses in the mixed and rural constituencies in Sarawak in the April state polls where BN won 55 seats while the opposition made inroads with 15 seats, whilst one seat, Pelagus, went to independent George Lagong.

This was an unprecedented victory for the opposition.

Read the full article at Free Malaysia Today.

If you want to catch Radio Sarawak as DX, try 17,560 kHz between 1000-1200 UTC. Their broadcast is also available online via .

Read previous posts about RFS by clicking here.

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