A review of the BST-1 car shortwave radio

BST1 FM1

The following article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of The Spectrum Monitor Magazine.


The BST-1 receiver.

The BST-1 receiver.

Last year, I was approached by die-hard shortwave radio listener Fred Studenberg, who had an idea that at first seemed outmoded, but soon had me intrigued: he wanted to design and build a car radio. Well, a car shortwave radio.

Studenberg described his ideal car receiver. It seems he’d abandoned the idea of making a radio along the lines of a Sony, for example, that takes the place of an existing car radio. Rather, Studenberg, with singular purpose, envisioned something quite unique: a little black box shortwave that could be easily installed in the back of a vehicle, transmitting audio from the shortwave receiver to the car’s system via an FM transmitter link. One would tune the car radio to an FM frequency––say, to 88.5––and listen to the shortwave receiver which would be located at a convenient location, near the mobile antenna, somewhere in the car (in the trunk, under a seat, etc.).

I was doubtful…and for good reason. To begin with, I’ve never used an effective audio FM transmitter link in a vehicle. They’re all rather mediocre, and usually inject noise––or, are simply too weak to be effective. Secondly, I imagined it would be frustrating to remotely operate a little black box stashed in the trunk of your car without some form of display feedback at hand, showing frequencies and so forth. Plus, I concluded, wouldn’t it be a pain to install? And how would you control such a shortwave receiver? To top it off, I just couldn’t imagine such a system coping with the RF-noisy environment of an car. The more I thought about it, the less feasible it seemed. I hated to disappoint Fred with my concerns.

I needn’t have worried. Thing was, Studenberg had already developed said car shortwave radio, and even had a video of it being used in his own car:

And this video silenced my concerns: remarkably, it appeared Studenberg had managed to overcome each of my doubts. I was impressed, and interested.

All Studenberg wanted to know was, might any other SWLs benefit from such a device?

I thought of all the commuters and frequent travelers out there, with a penchant for shortwave and a shortage of time in which to enjoy it. Are you kidding? I thought. What SWLers wouldn’t give to turn a tedious traffic jam into a shortwave jam session?

Fast-forward to this year, when Studenberg put his BST-1 on the open market. And in late February, he kindly sent me a loaner BST-1 to evaluate.

Installation

As many regular readers know, this has been a particularly busy winter and spring for me, so I had to delay installing the BST-1 in my car. I was sure it would require dedicated time and likely a bit of troubleshooting to get the shortwave working as intended.

But recently I finally had a moment to install the BST-1. And I quickly I realized that, yet again, I had been fretting over nothing. My Toyota minivan was actually well-suited to installation of the BST-1, since it has a hinged hatchback door, a dedicated 12VDC plug in the rear, and even a small niche in which to tuck the BST-1.

The BST-1 is also supplied with a 12VDC cigarette lighter plug. If you have a minivan or SUV with an auxiliary DC port, powering the BST-1 will require no tools.

The BST-1 is also supplied with a 12VDC cigarette lighter plug. If you have a minivan or SUV with an auxiliary DC port, powering the BST-1 will require no tools.

The radio’s proud papa also sent a Model CBST-1 mobile shortwave whip antenna with the BST-1. The antenna came with the steel whip and base, a trunk lip mount, and antenna feed line terminated with the appropriate connector. [Note: this whip is surprisingly short!]

The supplied shortwave radio steel antenna whip is short and effective. It should mount on most vehicles with little problem.

The supplied shortwave radio steel antenna whip is short and effective. It should mount on most vehicles with little problem.

Admittedly, my minivan’s hinged door doesn’t work perfectly with lip-mounted brackets—but after some trial and error, I found just the place to mount it where the door wouldn’t damage the base of the antenna. The feed line was easily long enough to cover the span from the top of the door to the receiver.

As for the receiver, it really was a cinch to install: I simply connected the antenna feed line, plugged in the supplied 12 VDC power cord (note that, alternately, there are also twelve VDC pigtails that can also be used) and placed the BST-1 in the back pocket compartment of the minivan.

I’m sure some vehicles will lend themselves to an easy installation like mine, while some may actually be a bit more difficult. Regardless, I do think the installation process is very easy compared with, for example, installing a mobile ham radio transceiver.

I turned on my car’s power, tuned the radio to the default FM frequency, and after a brief spot of tuning, recognized the unmistakable vociferations of Brother Stair—a sure sign that we’re (a) in North America, and (b) on the shortwaves!

Operating the BST-1

If, like me, you’re the type of person that likes to dive into a new product without referencing a manual, you may need to dial down your impulsivity a little to experiment with the BST-1. While the remote control—a two-button key fob—is extremely simple to use, it’s important to learn how it interacts with the BST-1 receiver.

Key fob

Studenberg’s tuning system is amazingly multifunctional, permitting the tuner to keep his/her hands on the wheel––and car on the road!––while simultaneously pursuing the SWL hobby.

Studenberg unlocked a total of twelve functions on a two-button key fob by employing a clever system of short or long presses.

The BST-1 Key Fob

The BST-1 key fob includes a handy quick reference tag

With a short press of the top or bottom button of the key fob—essentially a quick “click,” like you would use to unlock a car door, and which can readily be done while driving—you can single-step tune in 5 kHz steps, or cycle through preset memories.

Long presses, though, are where you unlock the bulk of the BST-1’s functionality. This was a little confusing to me at first, so I’ll explain how the long presses work:

After pressing and holding the top or bottom button, you’ll hear an audible feedback beep. As you hold the button down, you cycle through one, two, three, and four selections, each marked, again, by an audible beep, thus: beep, beep-beep, beep-beep-beep, and finally beep-beep-beep-beep. Each sequence has a slightly different tone to enable you to better distinguish them.

For example, if I want to toggle the AM filter between narrow (voice) or wide (music), I press and hold the bottom button until I hear one beep, then two beeps, then three beeps: as soon at the three-beep sequence is heard, I let go of the button, and the filter will toggle.

As another example, if I want to store a frequency in memory, I’d press and hold the top button until I heard a sequence of four beeps, then let go.

The commands are logically arranged, in that the most common functions are associated with the shortest key presses. Here’s the complete list of remote functions, courtesy of the BST-1 Owner’s Manual (PDF):

Top Button

Short press (click) – Single step PRESET channels or tune in 5 KHz steps in TUNE mode

1 Beep Toggles sensitivity between HIGH and LOW sensitivity

2 Beeps Sends frequency in Morse code and toggles S-Meter update on/off and toggles squelch on/off

3 Beeps Quick to tune Preset Channel 50, WWV at 5 MHz.

4 Beeps If in TUNE mode, stores currently tuned frequency (Morse code “S”). If in PRESET mode, it will delete the channel. To prevent accidental deletions, this delete function must be executed twice. The first activation will display the message “R U SURE” and send the Morse code “?”. The second activation will delete the channel and then display the message “DELETED”.

Bottom Button

Short Press (click) – Starts scanning up or down in PRESET and TUNE mode

1 Beep Toggles tuning direction up or down

2 Beeps Toggles between PRESET or TUNE Mode

3 Beeps Toggles receiver bandwidth between SPEECH (3 KHz) and MUSIC (5 KHz)

4 Beeps Starts scanning of FM transmitter among 4 frequencies : 88.3, 88.5, 88.7, 88.9 MHz.

It took a couple of days to get used to the commands I used the most (tuning by steps, scanning, memory scans, and changing the filters/sensitivity) mainly because I was driving while using the BST-1.

Several models of shortwave portables, like my Grundig G3, have RDS which allows me to easily set BST-1 station memories. Note that RDS is a standard feature on most vehicles sold today--sadly, my 2008 model minivan lacks RDS.

Several models of shortwave portables, like my Grundig G3, have RDS which allows me to easily set BST-1 station memories. Note that RDS is a standard feature on most vehicles sold today–sadly, my 2008 model minivan lacks RDS.

While driving alone, obviously I couldn’t divert my attention from the road to read the included reference guide attached to the key fob, so I had to simply take a bit of time off the road to review the manual.

Performance

Studenberg’s tuning system is amazingly multifunctional, permitting the tuner to keep his/her hands on the wheel––and car on the road!––while simultaneously pursuing the SWL hobby. My very first day on the road with the BST-1, I was pretty impressed with its performance.

The BST-1 has the same form-factor of most SDRs: a black box. The small size and light weight make it ideal for stashing under a seat or in your vehicle's trunk.

The BST-1 has the same form-factor of most SDRs: a black box. The small size and light weight make it ideal for stashing under a seat or in your vehicle’s trunk.

Of course, “mileage may vary” depending on your particular vehicle and receiver installation, but in my case the BST-1 proved to be a fairly quiet receiver on the road. I heard no significant RF noise due to the car’s ignition or engine, and the FM transmitter audio link worked very effectively. I live in a relatively rural area with only a few broadcasters in the BST-1’s 88.3 – 88.9 MHz transmitter range. There is, however, a fairly strong broadcaster on 88.9, but surprisingly the BST-1’s FM transmitter is strong enough that my car’s FM receiver blocks it. Not bad!

Additionally, the shortwave audio is unexpectedly good through my car’s audio system. The 5 kHz/3kHz bandwidth selections are appropriate for decent audio fidelity; indeed, the 5 kHz filter actually sounds more like a 7 kHz filter to my ears.

In terms of sensitivity, the BST-1 exceeds my expectations. The sensitivity is ample enough to receive almost every domestic shortwave broadcaster, strong international broadcasters, and time stations like WWV and CHU Canada. To be fair, I’m sure the sensitivity is being hampered somewhat by the fact the receiver must operate in a mobile environment with the accompanying local interference, but it’s still quite capable.

In the time I’ve been using the BST-1, I’ve logged the following stations here in eastern North America while mobile:

  • WRMI
  • Radio Australia
  • Radio Havana Cuba
  • HM01 (Numbers Station)
  • WWCR
  • WTWW
  • China Radio International
  • All India Radio
  • WBCQ

Of course, here in North America (during the daytime especially), you’ll hear a lot of the Overcomer Ministries via various private/religious broadcasters. Most of the time, these broadcasts are received as clearly as a local AM broadcaster.

In terms of selectivity, the BST-1 is effective. For about ninety percent of my listening, it rejects adjacent signal interference. In extreme cases—like that of Radio Australia (9,580 kHz), which experiences regular interference from China Radio International (9,570 kHz)—it struggles. But in truth, only the very best of my receivers—typically ones with selectable sync detection—can mitigate most of CRI’s spurious emissions. In other words, I’m pleased I’m able to listen to Radio Australia with the BST-1 despite the noise from CRI.

Click here to view a video I made listening to Radio Australia while waiting 20 minutes in construction traffic.

The BST-1 is unlike any other receiver I’ve reviewed here on the SWLing Post. So let’s get to the point: is it worth the purchase?

What the BST-1 isn’t

If you’re looking for a receiver to snag rare and weak DX while mobile, you will be disappointed. Expectations should be kept in line on this point. Especially while your car is running, the BST-1 simply doesn’t have the characteristics of a DX receiver (low noise floor combined with excellent sensitivity and a super stable AGC, for example).

And frankly, the process of band-scanning in 5 kHz steps seeking an elusive weak-signal station would not be fun.

What the BST-1 is

Simply put: the BST-1 is a lot of fun! Without breaking the bank, the BST-1 can bring many of your favorite broadcasters, and the SWL experience, to your vehicle. Once memories are loaded, it’s a simple process to scan them manually or automatically. And at night? You may very well snag serious DX here and there—especially if parked in an area far away from urban radio interference.

In short, the BST-1 is simple to use, unobtrusive, and, frankly, does what it’s designed to do: permit you to SWL in your car.

BSTFM2

If your vehicle’s radio has RDS, you’ll have full access to the BST-1 display information.

Summary

Invariably, all radios have strengths and weaknesses; here’s a list of my notes from the moment I put the BST-1 on the air:

Pros:

  • Simple installation for a mobile radio
  • Ample sensitivity & selectivity
  • Little ignition/alternator noise in tested installation
  • Surprisingly good audio via FM transmitter link
  • Remote control/key fob (see cons)
    • Non-distracting while driving
    • Easily-to-learn common commands
    • Responsive beeps and “click” sounds to aid tuning
  • Two ways to connect to a DC source: 12V plug or traditional two-wire
  • Two AM bandwidths
  • Two sensitivity settings
  • Appropriate 5 kHz steps for broadcasting tuning
  • RDS tags work amazingly well (see con)

Cons:

  • Remote control/key fob (see pros)
    • Learning curve for infrequently used functions
    • Audio feedback only (no visual feedback) if your car’s radio doesn’t have RDS capability
    • Only two buttons control twelve functions
  • Limited tuning functionality (5 kHz steps up/down with band scan and memory scan)
  • No SSB
  • No sync detection

BST-1-Receiver-Label-Alt

In conclusion, I’m so glad I finally installed the BST-1. If your vehicle has a RDS capabilities, the BST-1 will feel like a fully-integrated part of your mobile audio system. Even without RDS–like my situation–it still packs a lot of punch and is impressively engineered for distraction-free operation..

I must admit, it’s awfully magical to be driving down the highway here in the States, listening to, for example, Radio Australia, some 15,700 km away… So if you travel or commute regularly, and you love SWL, this little mobile shortwave receiver might be just made-to-order for you, too.

At $179.50 plus shipping, the BST-1 costs about the same as a decent portable shortwave receiver–a good value in my book!

Click here for BST-1 ordering information.

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17 thoughts on “A review of the BST-1 car shortwave radio

  1. fred studenberg

    It does down to 155 KHz but the shortwave filters greatly reduce sensitivity. It is really intended for 1.7 MHz and above. I left in the ability to tune down there just because the receiver chip tuned would do it.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: eBay find: Sony CDX-GT260S car shortwave radio | The SWLing Post

  3. Erin

    It’s better To just Take an old Shortwave Radio That has a built In battery Compartment or any of Them That Can be plugged Into The cigarette socket and Then just hook up To a Antenna and see what happen’s

    Reply
  4. Bill Ruppert

    This radio is wonderful!
    Having shortwave in the car has been a dream of mine for 55 years!
    This does it with ZERO motor noise.
    Install was a snap and the remote works like a charm after a little practice.
    Fred Studenberg in a genius.
    Oh yea he worked for Collins radio, so that tells you a lot!!!
    A+++++++

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Matt’s review of the BST-1 | The SWLing Post

  6. Fred Studenberg

    Glad it is working out for you!

    For next SW update, the BW setting could be saved at power down. Figured most people would leave it in narrow since the wide mode is more noise due to the bandwidth unless signal is strong, but I can see if you were listening in wide mode and powered down that it would be good to re-start with it in wide.

    Never looked at the wrap at 0 and 30MHz since didn’t think anyone would ever do that. That can be fixed in a SW update. Will put note on website about any new SW update for this.

    Normally, for scanning through bands, I recommend you just start from some preset in the shortwave band of interest, like preset 51 on 9265 and then scan up or down from that. Or pick preset 98 at 17775 and scan up or down from that. Much faster than slogging 5 KHz all the way up or down and you don’t waste time going through non SW bands. Or you can do the quick tune to WWV on 5 , 10, 15 or 20 and start from one of those to be much closer to a given SW band.

    The AM reject filter could be switched out but of course more parts and it would almost need to be a mechanical switch which makes it hard to do while driving if BST-1 is remote mounted. Doing it electronically is a lot of parts and would affect sensitivity and spurious rejection. Figured a car with FM radio would also have good AM receiver so not needed. But of course the long wave reception could be interesting. Perhaps for next hardware design.

    Fred Studenberg

    Reply
    1. Christian

      Hello Fred,
      as my new VW has a totally integrated car radio (incl. parts of the on-board computer berthed in it and the visual parking distance alert, not to mention the navigational funktions connected to the steering wheel and additionally displayed in the speedo area, my plan to use my old wonderful Technisat Dresden 1 car radio (that has long, medium and shortwave 3.9 until 13.8 Mhz instead of the original VW radio, had to be scrapped altogether.
      So I would like to ask if you’re still selling the device and if the frequency range has been extended from longwave to shortwave (150-30khz). Without longwave (interesting here in Europe) I would not consider it.
      Greetings from Kiel, Germany

      Christian

      Reply
  7. Matt

    Overall: a good sensitive receiver, with a very inventive interface. I am looking forward to my long commutes for a change.

    Using the FM RDS info on the car radio is a stroke of genius.

    Performance: Miles ahead of my old MFJ 3 band heterodyne converter. I could hear 2 or 3 stations in the day, maybe 6 or 8 at night. With this new receiver during my morning and evening commutes in the NE US, I can hear dozens of stations day or night. Performance is roughly on par with a decent shortwave portable using the built in whip. I get 6070 Canada listenable 2 out of 3 days, 9580 australia one out of 4 days in the morning, Radio Romania is an S5-8 beacon in the evenings. It’s a shame that there is so little on SW now apart from holy rollers and extremists. I miss the BBC 🙁

    Quirks: when the receiver is powered down, it does not save the music/speech bandwidth setting. It always comes up in the speech mode.

    Also, when you are in tune mode and wrap around from 0khz to 33mhz or vice versa, there is a glitch. Instead of scanning on the even 5khz intervals, it changes to scanning on the 3 and 8khz or 2 and 7khz intervals: 32.003, 32.008, 32.013, 32.018, etc. instead of 32.000, 32.005, 32.010, etc. If you go back to preset frequencies, scan, and then go back to tune mode, it is back to normal.

    I have only seen spurious signals around 2mhz or so. I think it is some 15mhz broadcasters bleeding through – only one or two usually. No other spurious signals apart from this seen yet.

    Suggestions: restrict the tune mode to the shortwave bands to save time slogging through all that dead space between broadcasting segments (toggle all or band only tune?)

    Make it so you can switch the AM broadcast filter in and out, maybe with an attenuator. I live over 50 miles from the nearest high powered AM station, and it would be nice to be able to BC/LW DX. The receiver is quite sensitive down there. On 1700khz where the filter doesn’t have much of an effect I can hear an AM station 80 miles away. Instructions on putting in a manual switch to do the same would be good as an alternative to this.

    Reply
  8. Fred Studenberg

    I wonder if your CRI vs Radio Australia is just dirty CRI transmitter? Listening on BST-1 at 1200 UTC to 9580, I can hear them OK, but bursts of interference underneath. Using a SDR radio , I can see CRI at 9570 about 30 dB higher in signal level but little blobs of energy from them land right on lower sidebands of 9570. With SDR I see RA at -75 dBm and CRI at -48 dBm. See photo

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9sE-KRWMmPxSElDWFlsZG9SWU0/view?usp=sharing

    Reply
  9. Keith Perron

    Not sure exactly why they would do this. SONY and Philips had them a long time ago and you can find second hand ones and new old stock for much cheaper.

    I have one in my second car. And in all honestly. It’s not that great.

    Reply
  10. David Freeborough

    You said:

    “For about ninety percent of my listening, it rejects adjacent signal interference. In extreme cases—like that of Radio Australia (9,580 kHz), which experiences regular interference from China Radio International (9,870 kHz)—it struggles. ”

    9580kHz and 9870kHz are not particularly close. Did you mean 9580kHz and 9570kHz?

    Reply
  11. Cap

    I currently use a Pioneer DEH-4550BT+Kinetic DAA-7001 amp in my small car, which has a shortwave tuner and built in Bluetooth so I get the added bonus of audio streaming from my phone, but for an existing ‘newish’ car (3 years old) will more than likely have RDS and bluetooth built in and the BST-1 is a great option for shortwave reception.
    I have had a similar magical experience of listening to VOA whilst driving down a dual carriageway in Scotland.
    Listening to shortwave whilst mobile ain’t perfect reception of Satellite radio, or DAB but to us hobbyists it’s nothing short of miraculous.

    Why is it called BST-1?…….why not UTC-1 🙂

    Reply
    1. Ronald

      I am the same as Cap. I also use a pioneer car radio (model:DEH-X4750BT). It receives pretty good on SW.
      But have also the option of listening on my Yaesu FT-857D. So I am spoiled for choice.
      All I need is a driver, so i have more time to play with the radios. 🙂
      But this BST-1 looks very nice!

      Reply
  12. Ken Hansen n2vip

    At $180 this is a very interesting arrangement, but I’ve been satisfied using the general receiver in my HF amateur radio along with the various hamstick antennas, I don’t think I’d be interested.

    Of course, what I am saying is I prefer my $1,000 ham radio to this $180 SW radio – if I didn’t have the ham radio this would be very appealing.

    Reply

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