Monthly Archives: September 2021

Guest Post: A “Horizontal DXer” explores the CC Skywave SSB and PL-880

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


Confessions of a horizontal DXer and some initial impressions of the Tecsun PL-880

by Jock Elliott

Back in the day when I wrote for Passport To World Band Radio, one of my favorite things to do, while my better half drifted off to sleep, was to clamp on a pair of headphones, lean back against the pillows, and mess around with a Sony 6800W shortwave receiver.

It wasn’t a radio that was built for band scanning: you had to rotate a dial to select the megahertz segment of the bands that you wanted, tune a built-in preselector to the appropriate area, and then dial in the frequency with a tuning knob. And memories? Ha! You want memories?!! There were no stinking memories . . . you had to remember what frequencies you wanted or at least what portions of the bands you wanted to tune. The memories were between your ears.

But it was a receiver with an extraordinarily low noise floor, and many a happy evening I enjoyed programming from half a world away. Drifting off to sleep with headphones piping in a signal from a distant land was not without its dangers, though. One night I fell asleep listening to the news from Radio Australia beamed, in English, to Papua, New Guinea. I woke a while later to the same newscast beamed to Papua, New Guinea, but this time in Pidgin English. I heard some English words, but the rest did not make sense. I panicked, thinking some neurologic event had scrambled my brain, but a crisp voice rescued me: “This has been the news in Pidgin English, from Radio Australia.” Thank God!

When Passport ceased publication, I neglected shortwave radio for over a decade, busy with freelance writing and running the Commuter Assistance Net on two meter ham radio.

Earlier this year, the SWLing bug bit me again, and I fired up a long-neglected Grundig Satellit 800 and started cruising around the HF frequencies. Many of the big-gun shortwave stations were gone, or they weren’t aiming programming at North America, but there was plenty to listen to, including shortwave stations, HF ham bands, and some utility stations.

Gee, I thought, it might be great to have a radio for a little horizontal in-bed DXing before shutting off the lights for the night . . . something I could hold in my lap, turn the tuning knob, and discover hidden treasures. The Satellit 800, emphatically, was not the answer. It is a large radio, roughly the size of the vaunted Zenith Transoceanic radios, and definitely not suited for laps.

So, based on a great reputation and excellent reviews, I bought a CCrane Skywave SSB. The Skywave SSB is a powerhouse, offering AM, FM, Weather, Air, SW, and SSB in a package roughly the size of a deck of cards and perhaps twice as thick. And it delivers the goods, offering worthy performance on every band, although SW performance is greatly enhanced by attaching the wire antenna that is included with the Skywave SSB.

Two factors, I discovered, reduced the suitability of the Skywave SSB for bedside DXing. First, the tuning knob is really small, so you can’t just twirl your finger to traverse the bands. It also has click-detents on the tuning knob and muting between tuning steps, so the tuning is non-continuous, which diminishes the pleasure for me. So the drill becomes: use the automatic tuning system (ATS) to search the bands and store stations in memory and then use the keypad buttons to jump from stored station to stored station. Further, each keypad key makes a distinct “click” sound when properly depressed. And that brings us to the second factor: one night, I am attempting to explore the stations stored by the ATS when my bride, who was trying to doze off, taps me. “What?” I say. “Too much clicky-clicky,” she says. Oh, I thought; now I need to find a radio that is quiet, so long as I am wearing headphones.

Now, just to be clear: I would highly recommend the CCrane Skywave SSB (except for use next to a spouse who is attempting to sleep), particularly for traveling because it is so small and performs so well. To underscore the value of a shortwave-capable travel radio, some years ago, I spoke with a journalist who was in Russia when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster took place. Russian media were not reporting on it at all; he found out about Chernobyl by listening to the BBC on a shortwave radio he had tucked into his luggage, and he rapidly made plans to leave Russia.

A bunch of research eventually led me to the Tecsun PL-880, which is about the size of a trade paperback book. According to some reviewers (including Dan Robinson), the 880 is a bit more sensitive and shortwave than the PL-990. The 880 offers a bunch of bandwidths on both AM and SSB, and the tuning is butter smooth with no muting or detents. The smallish tuning knob has a bit of knurling on the edge, which make it possible to twirl the knob with one finger; you can fine-tune SSB with another knob, and, with one button-press, use the tuning knob to select filter bandwidths or memory channels. In short, if you avoid the keypad, this is a radio that can be operated in near silence next to a better half who wishes to snooze.

The performance, so far, is exemplary; using the PL-880 whip antenna, I could readily hear Gander, Newfoundland, broadcasting aeronautical weather as well as Shannon, Ireland, air traffic controllers directing aircraft crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Yes! I haven’t yet begun to explore all that the PL-880 can do, but it promises to be a lot of fun.


Click here to read more posts by Jock Elliott.

Spread the radio love

Special Broadcast: México le canta a las Americas


Special Broadcast: 

México le canta a las Américas (Mexico Sings To the Americas)
Date/Time: Tuesday, September 28th, 0300-0400 UTC**
**Monday, September 27 2200-2300 Mexico City Time / CDT
WRMI 5800 kHz
In honor of the 200th anniversary of the end of the Mexican War of Independence, a special hour of Mexican music hosted by Luis Alejandro Vallebueno with guests Gabriela Ortíz and “Uncle Bill” Tilford  will air on WRMI with support from Grupo DX México.   It will be in Spanish and directed towards Central and South America, but the back end of the transmission should be listenable in most of North America and parts of Western Europe and Africa.  The music will be a combination of world-famous artists and others probably not known outside of Mexico.  There will also be some items regarding history, customs and shortwave in Mexico including  special appearances by a veteran of  Radio México Internacional (aka XERMX in its days on shortwave)  and a long-time member of Grupo DX México.

Spread the radio love

Sam found where genealogy and radio meet

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Sam Alcom (KB3DFJ), who shares the following guest post:


Genealogy and radio meet

by Sam Alcom (KB3DFJ)

Who knew two of my hobbies – genealogy and radio – would joyfully collide in such an unexpected way?

My grandfather died in the 1950s when I was just a few months old, so I didn’t know him, let alone have some misty recollection of him. Seemingly, our only connection was the DNA bloodline though my father.

But as I dove into my family’s history, one web search led me to William H. Alcorn and 3ADJ. What the heck was 3ADJ? I dug deeper and found Amateur Radio Stations of the United States, U.S. Department of Commerce, Radio Division from June 30, 1924. Both of us were hams!

He was licensed as amateur radio station 3ADJ in Port Norris, N.J. with authorization to operate up to 50 watts.

I found him and his 3ADJ callsign again listed in 1925 in the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Navigation, Radio Service publication. The “3” in his sign threw me for a brief loop, but I learned that in the early days of radio Southern New Jersey was part of the third call district along with Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, certain counties of Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

The worldradiohistory.com website, a goldmine for anyone delving into all aspects of broadcasting’s past, led me to more publications where I spied my grandfather in the late fall 1925 edition of Radio Listeners’ Guide and Call Book and the 1926 edition of Citizens’ Radio Call Book and Complete Radio Cyclopedia.

The last radio trace I find was in the June 30, 1927, edition of the Amateur Callbook.

It was around this time that the U.S.  began using “W” to start callsigns and I wondered if my grandfather continued with his radio hobby under the new designation. I looked up W2ADJ and found William Czak of West Brighton, N.Y., owning that sign. Likewise, W3ADJ belonged to the University of Maryland in College Park, Md. Both were from 1929.

I dug a little deeper to learn if he possibly had been an amateur prior to 1924, but I saw 3ADJ licensed to Horace Derby of Norfolk, VA., 1920 through 1923.

His amateur radio interest appears to have started sometime after 1921 and a stint in U.S. Navy as a Seaman Second Class and then seems to have waned – at least license-wise – as marriage and the first of my aunts, uncles and my dad were being born.  I wonder if my dad had known about his dad’s radio hobby. In all the years I’ve been a licensed ham and bono fide radio nerd, he never mentioned it.

Of course, learning on this radio connection to my grandfather raised a host of other questions. Did he enjoy CW as much as I do? What kind of contacts was he making with 50 watts? Would he have admired the WAS and DXCC award certificates hanging on my wall? Would my hefty binder of shortwave QSL cards impressed him?

So, I’ll keep poking, looking for more radio connections. Who knows, maybe, somewhere, there’s a 3ADJ QSL signed by my grandfather.

Spread the radio love

Dan adds updates to his Malahit SDR and variant reviews

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, for the following update to his previous post regard the DSP-2 and HFDY Malahit SDRs:


HFDY clone of the Russian-made Malahit SDR

Malahit and HFDY Updates

by Dan Robinson

HFDY CLONE:  As noted by a reader in comments, the Chinese-made HFDY leaves out a large portion of the military AIR band, with no coverage from 250MHz to 400MHz, or about 150MHz, whereas the Russian-made DSP2 only loses 20MHz from 380MHz to 400MHz.  This may be of concern for some readers, others not.

RUSSIAN DSP-2:  As users of the Russia-made DSP-2 may or may not have noticed, the current firmware shows SIX memory bank pages when there are only 5.  This appears not to have been discussed much on the Malahiteam Telegram group or elsewhere.  In response on this, Georgiy of Malahiteam says this “is normal and for our future features” so clearly there are future plans that we are not aware of.

CHINESE-MADE FIRE BROTHERS CLONE:  On September 21st, I took delivery of another China-manufactured clone, with a heavy metal cabinet, a vertical format with controls on top, and twin front-firing speakers.  Obtained via Alibaba, and branded as “Fire Brothers” this has a thick built-in telescopic antenna and a separate SMA jack which the maker describes as “[supporting] a better external shortwave antenna”

On Alibaba, prospective buyers of this receiver are given two options:  Type 1: 50KHz-2GHz without firmware updates supported, and Type 2 with support for updates.   The unit did arrive with 1.10c Malahit firmware with a 160 kHz bandscope width.

As noted above, this China-manufactured clone also blocks 200 mHz – 400 mHz and shows the Msi001 chip and STM32h743 and a claimed blocking figure of 85dB and  sensitivity up to 250MHz of 0.3?V = 10dB.  The battery is described as 5000 mAh and presumed to be flat type Lithium Ion.

The only thing included with this clone, which arrives in a plain black box marked “Fire Bros.Radio” is a USB-C cable.  That’s in stark contrast with the HFDY clone which comes in a high quality fabric zipper case, flexible whip antenna, USB-C cable, and a small metal stand.

The Fire Brothers manufacturer highlights the “high quality speakers” which not only fire out the front of the receiver, but also wrap around with openings on left and right sides of the radio.  My first tests show that audio is indeed quite nice, certainly equal to the Russia-made DSP-2, possibly an improvement on the HFDY clone which has a single front-firing speaker.

I’ll have more on this Chinese clone and some comparisons with the DSP-2, HFDY, and Afedri SDRs, in future articles here on SWLing Post.

Spread the radio love

Cities and Memory: “Remix and reimagine the world of shortwave radio”

I’m absolutely chuffed to announce that the excellent Cities and Memory sound project has partnered with the Shortwave Radio Audio Archive for an all-new take on the soundscape of cities, and YOU are invited to be part of it.

From Cities and Memory:

Open call – remix and reimagine the world of shortwave radio

Shortwave radio is one of the most fascinating sonic worlds – capturing vital moments in world history as well as pirate radio, clandestine stations, secretive number stations and military and spy radio, all of humanity is there to be listened to at the turn of a dial.

We’re delighted to have teamed up with The Shortwave Radio Archive to present 100 incredible recordings from the history of shortwave radio all over the world for artists to remix and reimagine.

Shortwave Transmissions is our latest global project, and we’re calling for sound artists and musicians to get involved by reimagining shortwave radio recordings from across the world.

Here’s how to get involved:

    1. Email us to let us know you’re interested – and we’ll send you the database of recordings to choose from.
    2. Let us know your top two choices, and we’ll allocate one of those sounds to you to work with.
    3. Create your composition – it must contain some elements of the original recording in some form, but otherwise is a completely free composition (music, sound art, radio art, composition, narrative storytelling – everything is valid!).
    4. Submit your composition – the final deadline will be Sunday 14 November.

There are some incredibly rich recordings to work with as source material – here is just a sample selection:

    • Recordings from the mysterious “numbers stations” around the world
    • Coverage of world-changing events such as 9/11, the invasion of Kuwait, Kennedy’s assassination, Tiananmen Square protests, the death of Fidel Castro and many more
    • Rare international recordings from St. Helena, Nicaragua, Saudi Arabia, the Falkland Islands and Antarctica
    • Recordings covering a huge period of time from 1934 through to the present day
    • Space travel documented, including the Sputnik, Apollo and Challenger missions
    • Recordings of famous voices such as Winston Churchill and King George V
    • Station IDsinterval signals and final broadcasts from radio stations

Compositions will be presented in the Shortwave Transmissions project in late November and to thousands of listeners across the Cities and Memory podcast, and a selection of compositions will be chosen for an accompanying album release

Sound artists and mixers, jump in to the Archive and see what you can unearth from the depths of our audio. We hope you’ll want to part in what we believe will be one of the most intriguing projects we’ve launched; in partnership with Cities and Memory, there’s no doubt it can be.  We look forward to your contributions!

Click here for full details at Cities and Memory.

Spread the radio love

FTIOM & UBMP, September 26-October 2


From the Isle of Music, September 26-October 2:

This week we reprise our episode featuring Manolito Simonet, producer/participant in the album Al son del caballero by the Alianza Musical de Cuba. This tribute to Adalberto Álvarez won a Grand Prize, the Producer’s Prize, and one of the Popular Dance Music prizes in Cubadisco this year. Aldalberto passed away recently, and the following week will be a special
tribute to his life and music.
1. For Eastern Europe but audible well beyond the target area in most of the Eastern Hemisphere (including parts of East Asia and Oceania) with 100Kw, Sunday 1500-1600 UTC on SpaceLine, 9400 KHz, from Sofia, Bulgaria (1800-1900 MSK)
2. For the Americas and parts of Europe, Tuesday 0000-0100 UTC on WBCQ, 7490 kHz from Monticello, ME, USA (Monday 8-9PM EDT in the US).
3 & 4. For Europe and sometimes beyond, Tuesday 1900-2000 UTC and Saturday 1200-1300 UTC on Channel 292, 6070 kHz from Rohrbach, Germany.
Our Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/fromtheisleofmusic/
Our V-Kontakte page is https://vk.com/fromtheisleofmusic
Our Patreon page is https://www.patreon.com/tilford

Uncle Bill’s Melting Pot, September 26-October 2:
In episode 236, we present a musical tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Festival Rock y Ruedas de Avándaro, Mexico’s answer to Woodstock.
The transmissions take place:
1.Sunday 2200-2300 (6:00PM -7:00PM EDT) on WBCQ The Planet 7490 kHz from the US to the Americas and parts of Europe
2. Tuesday 2000-2100 UTC on Channel 292, 6070 kHz from Rohrbach, Germany for Europe.
3. Saturday 0800-0900 UTC on Channel 292, 9670 kHz from Rohrbach, Germany for Europe with a directional booster aimed eastward.
Our Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/UncleBillsMeltingPot/
Our V-Kontakte page is https://vk.com/fromtheisleofmusic
Our Patreon page is https://www.patreon.com/tilford

Spread the radio love

Malahit DSP-2 versus Chinese Clone: Taking the Gloves Off

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


Malahit 2 versus Chinese Clone: Taking the Gloves Off

New DDC (Direct Digital Conversion) Version in Development

by Dan Robinson

It’s been a few weeks since my last commentary on the Malahit/Malachite, which as of this writing remains at the DSP-2 level, though there are continuing hints from the Malahiteam in Russia about future changes, including a DDC version.

All of the observations I made in previous articles are unchanged.  As of today in mid-September, the latest test firmware version posted by the Malahiteam remains M2_FW2_10D.  This includes a widening of the waterfall bandwidth from 160 kHz to 192 kHz.  See my previous articles for more information.

Recently, I obtained a Chinese clone, one which will be familiar to anyone who has taken a dive into the clone market.  This one is by HFDY and is immediately recognizable for its front speaker and longer slim rectangular form factor.

The HFDY (Malahit SDR V 3) has two high quality black metal encoder knobs on the right, with a large power button between, and USB-C and a headphone jack on the left side.  On the bottom are two OFF/ON slide switches, one marked for 3.3 volts and the other BOOT(O).

Continue reading

Spread the radio love