Portable SSB radios for people who are visually impaired

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Svein Tore, who writes:

I’m blind. The type of shortwave radio I like best, is the analogue type with a tuning wheel, because I don’t need sight to use it, and I have full control over the receiver.

I would like to buy a radio with SSB, but it seems that all of the radios with SSB are digital, and you need to see the display to use the radio.

Are there any analogue radios with SSB?

If not, what is the simplest radio receiver with SSB?

I’m looking for a radio with as few functions and menus as possible, but it should have SSB.

I’m looking for a small or medium sized receiver, but if you are thinking of a big radio that seems to be right for me, please tell me about it.

Perhaps I have given you an impossible question now? I’m sorry for that.

Thanks 🙂

Greetings from Norway.

Svein Tore

Excellent question, Svien. I thought it would make sense to share your inquiry with the SWLing Post community as I know we have other readers who are visually impaired. Readers, please comment with any suggestions you may have.

To my knowledge, there are no analog shortwave radios with a BFO (for SSB) that are in production today. There are, however, numerous analog models from the 60s, 70s and 80s with a BFO (two examples: the Sony ICF-5800H and the Panasonic RF-2200).

My trusty Zenith Trans Oceanic will always be a part of my radio collection (Click to enlarge)

In fact, my first proper radio was a Zenith Transoceanic. I’ll never forget taking it to our local RadioShack, when I was eight years old, to ask one of the employees (who I knew was a DXer) what the heck “this strange BFO knob” does!

There is the analog Sony ICF-EX5MKII that SWLing Post contributor Troy Riedel reviewed, but I don’t believe it has a BFO–only a synchronous detector which can be switched between upper and lower sidebands. Perhaps a reader can confirm this.

Since I can’t recommend a current analog model, I do have a digital solution that I believe may work for you:

The Tecsun PL-660

Listening to Channel Z in a parking lot with the Tecsun PL-660.

Listening to Channel Z in a parking lot with the Tecsun PL-660.


Though not an analog radio, the menus on the PL-660 are not “deep”–most buttons simply toggle features. There is no hardware “switch” to change bands, but I think you would find it easy enough to use the direct frequency entry keypad to navigate across the spectrum. The SSB feature works more like an analog radio as it has a BFO dial on the right side of the radio. The buttons and dials are also raised and tactile. Best yet, the tuning sounds like an analog radio since there is no muting between frequency changes.

There are a number of other portables out there that are about as simple to operate as the PL-660, but I like the price point of the PL-660 and its overall performance characteristics. For a little less money, and a similar form factor and function set–minus a synchronous detector function–you might also consider the Tecsun PL-600 as well.

Again, I’m hoping Post readers might chime in with even better suggestions! Please comment!

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11 thoughts on “Portable SSB radios for people who are visually impaired

  1. Robert Moore

    One of the main reasons I enjoy these SSB radios is that they provide a range of services, including a two-way maritime radio transmitter for communication with other boat owners, yacht captains, and border guards. Aside from that, distance has no effect on SSB radios.

  2. Garry Cratt

    Hi all, I have written guides for the sight impaired for Tecsun models PL-660 and PL-880.

    Just go to our website: http://www.tecsunradios.com.au and select the desired model. I have just finished instructions on how to use the memories on a PL-880 and that information will be published on the same website in the next few days.

    I hope this helps, Garry VK2YBX. Tecsun Radios Australia

  3. Michael from Melbourne australia

    i’m also blind and am going to get the Tecsun PL-880 portable.
    it’s a step up from the 60.
    I’m wondering if someone on here can give me a comprehensive layout of the buttons from left to right.
    what each button does, how to switch to SSB and all this kind of thing.
    I would also like to know because I have not been able to find the definite answer anywhere, how long is the external antenna you get with the Tecsun PL-880 portable? also, what does the antenna switch do? I know it has three settings.
    I’m living in Australia in melbourne so i know that even i will get great stuff from SSB

  4. Phil from Darwin

    Hi all. The Sony ICF EX5MKII would not be suitable as it is crystal locked to NHK SW frequencies. It is a very good MW dx radio (in my experience at least) but is restricted to AM reception together with the upper and lower sideband synchronous detect which works quite well.

  5. Victor

    Strange, what prevents to make digital receivers talking? Or at least provide an optional speech module. Technically, this is an elementary simple task.

    1. Chris D

      Totally agree with you, especially fact that each memory cell has its own button could be really helpful for blind people. and CF-2010 is relay great performer on SSB, one of the best (if not the best) portable SSB receiver which I was able to test.

  6. K.U.

    Panda 6168 shortwave radio with ssb looks interesting: It has 10 SW-bands selectable with a slider switch. In addition, it has two rows of push buttons (much fewer than most other ssb radios). Overall it looks simpler than other current production radios I am aware of. Chinese labelling may be drawback for many. I wasn’t able to find any reviews of this radio. So I don’t know whether it is good or not.

  7. Robert

    A blind friend of mine regularly used the ICF-SW7600GR as well as the Grundig G5. His ability to memorize radios was amazing, including using a Kenwood TS-2000, which has something like 50 buttons and dials. He had not quite mastered it before he passed away, but he was close. Absolutely amazing!
    Cheers! Robert


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