Travel radio decisions: Jack seeks your input!


Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jack Kratoville, for the following guest post:


Important travel decisions…

For the first time, (in a very long time), I’ll be traveling outside the country. This will be my first visit to Germany, and while I’ve already put Thomas’ packing skills to the test domestically with moderate success and confidence, I thought I would ask for assistance on what radio to bring.

The following is what I have, along with my current personal pros and cons regarding each one for this specific trip. I’m traveling with my wife, daughter & mother-in-law and staying with her family. This probably excludes a lot of alone time dedicated specifically to radio listening and DXing.

Now, from what I’ve been reading, MW and LW have been eliminated in favor of digital signals. This changes the equation a bit. Lack of SSB is NOT a deal-breaker. The amount of time I spend listening is miniscule. Here’s the receivers:

CC Skywave

The CC Skywave

This has been on every domestic trip I’ve taken since its purchase in 2015. Perfect size (even with the hard case) and excellent performance. Two quality AA batteries will last for 2 weeks easily. However, my favorite feature, WX, is useless there. Best MW reception in an ultralight, but does that matter in the land of DAB? Assuming there’s no LW to listen to either, the Skywave’s lack of it shouldn’t factor in. I like the Skywave’s super-fast scanning, but I think I’ll wish I had the ETM feature of other radios. I’ve used the Air Band, but I won’t be staying anywhere near an airport and I doubt I’ll be sitting in an airport with an extended antenna anytime soon. Non-digital audio control gives me exact control to go “unnoticed” if others are sleeping. The lack of ETM may keep this unit home.

Tecsun PL-360

Another favorite travel companion that does feature ETM, this radio is small and compact – and my unit still works like new. I can recharge the batteries with a computer cable, not that it’s ever shown high power consumption. I had thought this was a front runner, but tinny audio and that extra antenna to lose is giving me second thoughts. It’s physical build lends to more hand-held than bedside table use and that is definitely a factor worth considering. Analog audio control, but it has gotten noisy.

Digitech AR1780

The Digitech AR1780

Has it all: LW/MW/Air/FM(RDS)/SSB and fantastic audio. For positives, it checks all the boxes. It is a slow scanner – and that is a persistent downside. Further considerations, I’m committed to carry-on travel only (European dimensions!) and this receiver will command more real estate in the bag. Now if I didn’t need to pack socks for a couple of weeks… I may also be shoving a radio in my pocket for those “here’s-what-we-have-planned” moments and I don’t want to look like I’m obviously addicted to my hobby. With that non-existent charging cord, four replacement double-A’s might also be an issue if I do use it for any reasonable amount of time. I had considered this a shoe-in when we first talked Germany prior to pandemic, but it seems more unsuitable every time I weigh the pros and cons.

Tecsun PL-310ET

The PL-310ET

A radio gifted to me that was immediately assigned to basic alarm clock duty bedside – now surprisingly is part of the discussion. Not enough sizzle to replace my favorites domestically, but it may have the right combo for a few weeks in Germany. Quick scanning, ETM, multiple tuning modes, a decent speaker. Unlike the PL-360, you can’t “fast-tune” with the knob, but you can direct-input frequencies. I would miss RDS on FM, but I’ve scanned most of my life without it. Now, I’ve had a few other Tecsuns (along with the Grundig G8) and they all eventually fail with tuning and volume knobs (the PL-360 is the honorable exception). Since I haven’t used this unit much, I’m confident it’s well before its failure phase, if it ever does. I am not a fan of digital volume knobs, but this one seems to be better balanced than most. Not sure how it does on 3 AA consumption, but I’m testing rigorously. I would have never guessed, but this is the front-runner at the moment.

Eton Traveler III

The Eton Traveler III

While I’ve enjoyed RCS and the adjustable lighted dial at the beach, I’m not impressed. Sounds and looks nice, but lack of user-friendly functionality has kept this unit from any serious travel. Not to mention a battery hog with 4 AAs!

What do you think?

While I might fantasize about making room for the Eton Executive Satellit or putting batteries back in my G5, I’m limiting choices to the above! I appreciate all input and any thoughts on radio listening in Germany. Please comment!

Any SW frequencies I should direct input? We’ll be staying just outside of Kiel, which could include a day trip to Denmark.

Now it’s off to Hodinkee for GMT watch suggestions.

Spread the radio love

31 thoughts on “Travel radio decisions: Jack seeks your input!

  1. K.U.

    Here is a list of night time medium and longwave frequencies for Germany:
    http://www.mediumwave.de/

    Notice, however, that radios with DSP frontend are typically deaf on longwaves below approx. 300 kHz. They don’t even have a longwave antenna inside.

    Reply
  2. Ve7wae

    Long wave is still available: In the evening, I listened to BBC on 198 kHz during a river cruise in Hungary… using an old Sony icf-sw7600gr

    Reply
  3. Andrew (grayhat)

    Late on this, but here’s my suggestion; pick the receiver offering as much features as possible (I mean modes), but ensure it has an external antenna connector, then while at home buy or build a plug with a short wire terminated by (e.g.) alligator clips (antenna and ground), it won’t take up so much room in your luggage; at that point, once in Germany, visit a “home improvement” ok a similar store and buy some zip cord (speaker wire) and a bit of thin rope, that will allow you to put up some easy antennas (including a simple doublet) and to chase some more signals 🙂

    Reply
  4. stogieguy7

    I guess this echoes some of the other comments, but given the choices you have there (and I have many of the same rigs), I would recommend the CC Skywave and the Tecsun PL310. The former for all around capability, the latter because it includes LW which does still exist over there. When it’s my turn to cross the pond (we were supposed to do it next month but have cancelled), I would also bring a CC Pocket for MW/FM listening, which also interests me. You would want to travel light, and these 3 little radios won’t weigh much or take up much space and all three give a lot of bang for the buck.

    Reply
    1. Jack K.

      Going back and forth, I find both the CC Skywave and PL-310ET to posses similar capabilities with the 310ET edging out with ETM. I have the CC Pocket, but prefer the Sangean DT-210 as it’s even smaller and has incredible FM sensitivity and selectivity despite being a PLL receiver. (Sounds better too.) Yeah, it’s coming as well!

      Reply
  5. James

    If we stick with the choices given in the article and weigh the things you seem to feel are important, the CC Skywave and the Tecsun PL-310ET are near the top of the list . Small and light for carry-on, easy battery requirements (small number of commonly available AAs). It *seems* to me from your article that you don’t highly value AIR band in this specific scenario and that you do value ETM as provided by the Tecsun. If those assumptions are accurate, the PL-310ET seems the obvious winner. Personally I find the ergonomics on the Skywave pretty bad. However I DO like to have SSB and AIR band. For that reason I often travel with the newer Skywave SSB or with that same Digitech AR1780.

    Reply
    1. Jack K

      James – excellent insight, although I’m curious about your dislike of the ergonomics of the Skywave. I find it one of the easiest portables to operate in the dark. The PL-310ET is fairly simple as I become more familiar with its layout, but the AR1780 is difficult to “memorize.” That said, with yours and others recommending Air, RDS and SSB, I will definitely give the AR1780 more thought. Let’s see how it fits when I start packing the bag!

      Appreciate your input.

      Reply
      1. James

        I just find the Skywave a little small and cramped for my hands, and the AR1780 is only a little bit better in that regard. However I really detest portables where I have to press a lot of extra buttons – I don’t like having to press a “frequency” button before entering, and I really like radios which let me rotate or step through memories with up/down buttons or tuning knobs. Tecsun radios excel in both those areas. The Skywave is as bad as they get for my preferred ways of operating. I still recognize it is an engineering marvel.

        Reply
  6. Yuriy

    On the page you have provided, I only have a TECSUN PL-310ET. A very good “feel” in almost all ranges. And I also liked the presence of an electronic internal thermometer, which I think is not superfluous when traveling. The weight is pleasantly small and the pocket dimensions are not like in other “brothers” for example TECSUN PL-880 or TECSUN PL-660 …

    Reply
  7. Robert Richmond

    I actually would want a receiver with SSB support. I listen to pirate radio, and there are active Europirates on the HF bands. If you have a G5, spend a few more dollars for lithium AA batteries and take it IMO.

    Also as important is an antenna, again IMO. Even just a 15′ or so wire antenna, be it a reel type or a chunk of scrap wire with an alligator clip.

    Reply
    1. Chuck

      One negative though about the G5 – with its limited volume increments, it is either too quiet or too loud IMHO. Very frustrating at times.

      Reply
    1. Thomas Post author

      Oh no. Sorry, Clint! I found this in my photo SWLing Post media library and assumed it was from a previous SWLing Post review. Apologies. I’ll remove ASAP.

      Reply
      1. Jack K

        Thomas, you always do a terrific job editing my guest posts; which include adding photos, proper html formatting and outside links. I’ll send you a photo of the PL-360 for this post.

        Reply
  8. Lee

    You will still want to have MW and LW available. Although a number of countries have discontinued service on those frequencies this means that the chance of hearing a distant country’s service instead is that much greater as a result. And there are a fair amount of non broadcast utilities to be heard as well on LW.

    Myself, I’d suggest a LW/MW/SW/FM portable (with RDS if you can get one) *and* a standalone portable DAB receiver.

    You cover all bases that way.

    And don’t forget to catch the 0000 Shipping Forecast on Radio 4 Longwave.

    Reply
  9. Mike S

    Hi Jack,

    Having travelled to Europe at least yearly prior to recent lockdowns i have to agree with the others about the limited utility of a MW/SW receiver. DAB+ and FM-RDS are an absolute must for local listening (though there still are some western European countries that are not sold on DAB+ like Spain, Portugal, etc.) Current-model portables which include AM modes as well as FM/DAB+ are pretty much non-existent.

    Getting a decent DAB+ portable delivered to the US is a bit challenging since they are not marketed to this country and most European or Australian dealers won’t ship them to the US. I’ve found the UK and German branches of Amazon to be good sources as there at least some dealers that will ship to the US. On the UK site in particular, you can get a variety of well-reviewed sets from Majority.

    Reply
    1. Jack K

      Mike, good suggestions. I’m not sold on DAB listening at the moment. Reminds me of my foray into HD years back. It’s still out there, but I gave up long ago. Not too mention I’m saving the cash for food and other goodies rather than another receiver! I will check for fringe MW signals at night! Still on the fence with RDS over ETM. I can still look up stations by frequency on the Internet.

      Thanks for replying.

      Reply
  10. Broadwing

    I didn’t catch any reference to DXing for SW stations? That’s what I’d be going for. I’ve entered world wide DX contests and European DXers always had the most catches. What a great opportunity to pick up new SW stations you can’t receive here in the US. New catches and reception reports would be high on my list. Personally I’d take a Tecsun PL-660 as my primary receiver if you have one. If your just going to listen to AM or FM just spend a few Euros for a German Portable. Good luck on your trip! 73!

    Reply
    1. Jack K

      The Tecsun PL-660 is a great receiver, but a bit big for my consideration. Now, if I was going without family and sitting by the pool alone for a few hours a day………..

      Reply
  11. Rob

    I can only offer a radical suggestion.
    In the way of background, I’m a huge radio nut and pre-pandy traveled extensively– my shortest trips were 3 months and the longest 9 months. However, unless I’m going somewhere extremely remote, I’ve given up on traveling with a radio all together. My smartphone is all the entertainment I need- the BBC (and a few others) are always available online, web SDR’s suffice for that over-the-air experience, and Echolink / Peanut take care of amateur communications. I also download all the podcasts I’m interested in prior to leaving and have endless fulfillment listening to that. And if scanning is your thing, Broadcastify has many live feeds globally.
    We all know how the internet negativity impacted the radio hobby, but good apps in a smartphone gets some of it back. Another thing to consider is experiencing something different when abroad and enjoying that rather than taking your home routine somewhere else, if you know what I mean.
    Have fun on your trip!

    Reply
    1. Jack K

      Rob, all valid points indeed. And while I agree with your comments, I’m not looking for anything specific, rather than seeing what a good DSP receiver will pick up. I will have phone / laptop which will connect me easily to the BBC and my own music-streaming. My days of using a radio for specific entertainment & information have faded, but pulling up an antenna and catching terrestrial signals is an event unto itself!

      Thank you. Looking forward to it.

      Reply
  12. Alexander, DL4NO

    Local services here in Germany are exclusively in FM or DAB+. The main difference between DAB and DAB+ is the usage of better sound encoders. A DAB-only radio remains mute.

    With very few exceptions all programs are in German. The RDS note is important: The FM band is extremely full over here.

    If you have a very good AM receiver and a quiet location, you might be able to hear a few British stations. But most of these have been switched off, too. At night, you can easily hear Spanish stations and a few Italain ones.

    Reply
  13. Ken K. in NJ

    I think you hit on the main point when you mentioned ETM. I find it is the most desirable feature of all when traveling. You can scan for the presets and be set for the duration of your stay. With that said, I have the Tecsun PL 310 ET and have taken it on several trips when space it at a premium. It sounds good enough, and it’s a good performer for the price. I’d take that one.

    Reply
  14. Abigail

    You’re right that MW and LW are long since defunct in Germany. FM is the mainstream, but DAB+ (note the +!) is in the ascendancy. You’re missing quite a few of the available local and national stations if you don’t have a DAB+ radio in most of Europe at this point. The issue is probably availability of such sets in the US, where they are of course useless.

    I wouldn’t bother with any FM radio that doesn’t have RDS in Europe – it’s far more widely used than in the US and is a quick and easy way to identify stations, especially if you’re travelling and they’re in a language you don’t speak.

    Reply
    1. Jack K.

      Interesting, I enjoy RDS here in the states although I can pretty much rattle off most FM stations in larger markets. But I figured Germany would be A: in German: and B: I’m looking to discover, not necessarily trying to find Pop, Classical or specific formats. I’ll have to think about this a bit.

      Reply

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