“If Memory Serves Me Right, . . .”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Bob Colegrove, who shares the following guest post:

If Memory Serves Me Right, . . .

By Bob Colegrove

The radio in my ’61 Ford Falcon came with memory.

Memory features on portable radios have become increasingly popular in recent years.  I would say the subject ranks up there with antennas and batteries in many discussion groups.  Memory is really a matter of convenience; that is, the quick and easy recall of favored frequencies.

Mechanical Memory

Memory-capable radios are nothing new.  My very first multi-band radio was a Howard Radio Company Model 308 radio-phonograph console.  It was manufactured sometime in the late 1930s and came with four memories.  These were in the form of pushbuttons, which when pressed, quickly accelerated rotation of the variable capacitor to frequencies of local interest.  The radio even came with a set of call letter stickers for AM stations all over the country.  Memory in car radios goes back almost as far.  It was convenient when you were driving.

During daylight hours it wasn’t hard to find stations in the nearby radio listening area, so you could just twirl the tuning knob in the usual manner until you got to the desired station.  In lieu of push buttons, my mother marked the dial of her kitchen radio with red fingernail polish, WXLW, WIBC, WIRE, WFBM, WISH.  At night it was quite another problem, when the great ionosphereic mirror in the sky began to reflect radio signals from hundreds of miles away.  That’s when the buttons really became useful.  Being a mechanical system, you had to be careful; a hard press of a button would cause the mechanism to overshoot the frequency.

Digital Memory

The digital age brought with it the capability of adding electronic memory to the product, as well as much more precision.  My next experience with radio memory came in the mid-eighties with the Sony ICF-2010.  This radio has a matrix of 8 x 4 = 32 dedicated keys on the front panel, each key recalling one stored frequency.  Further, in the case of SW, the single-sideband and bandwidth settings can be saved.  I found the feature very useful and managed to keep many of the 32 memory locations occupied a good deal of the time, honestly never giving much thought to the need for more memory.

Memory matrix on the Sony ICF-2010.  In conjunction with the SHIFT key,
many buttons have a secondary function for scanning or band selection.

But today’s small multiband portables do not have the available real estate for a large matrix of memory buttons on the front panel.  It’s now done with a sequence of key presses or possibly rotation of the tuning knob.  Since the Sony ICF-2001/2010, there has been a race among manufacturers to include more and more memory capacity in their radios.  “If you build it, they will come.”  Below is a sample of the total memory locations in some popular portable radios.

I am reminded of a passage in Life on the Mississippi in which Mark Twain speculated about the continual shortening of the Mississippi River due to new channels flooding across its bends.  According to his extrapolation, in 742 years Cairo, Illinois will be joined with New Orleans.  Similarly, we may soon reach the point where memory capacity of a multiband radio exceeds the total number of available channels.  But memory is cheap these days.  I suppose it’s already on the chip, so why not make it available and tout it as a feature?

As a result of this large memory capacity, recalling a saved station can quickly become a problem.  First, if you have band-specific paging, you must ensure you are on the appropriate band.  On page memory radios, it requires that you first recall the page number and button on the number pad where you have saved the frequency.  In any event, you navigate through the stored locations mentally correlating location numbers with frequencies.

There is no standard by which manufacturers implement memory.  On the Skywave SSB 2, D-808, and ICF-SW-7600GR, the number pad defaults to memory tuning.  For direct frequency tuning, you must first press FREQ on the SSB 2 and D-808.  The Tecsun radios on the other hand have toggling VF and VM modes, and you best be careful which one is active.  To recall memory on the PL-330, you can either spin the tuning dial to the channel or key the channel on the number pad if you can remember it.

To directly enter a frequency Sony ICF-SW7600GR, there are two extra key presses:
DIRECT before the frequency and ENTER after.

At this point I must ask, at what point does it become more convenient just to directly key in a 4- or 5-digit frequency?

One of the things to remember about radio memory, even the old push-button kind, is that it stores frequencies not stations.  If another shortwave station is broadcasting on a frequency you saved, that may be what you will hear when the frequency is recalled.  With some extra effort, the Sangean ATS-909X will allow you to record a memo (i.e., station call or name) with frequencies you have stored.  Just remember, this may not be the station you thought you saved.

As an aside, the C. Crane Skywave SSB 2 can scan the first page of AIR band storage (10 frequencies).  If you don’t have 10 frequencies of interest, simply duplicate some of them to fill out the page.  This is also a good way to prioritize a favored frequency.


If you use the auto tune system (ATS) the computer searches and memorizes all detectable signals for AM, SW, FM or possibly AIR – each band separately.  When it’s done, you’ve caught a net full of fish, and are then confronted with a memory bank full of frequencies, many of which you may not be interested in, but must tune through in much the same way as with conventional tuning.  Finally, there is no easier way to destroy a meticulously hand-programmed memory page than to hold a button down too long and inadvertently activate ATS.  How do I know that?

Keep in mind, ATS requires a broad-band antenna to keep the playing field level during the scan.  The whip is generally all I need.  In the dense population of FM stations along the US East Coast, a completely retracted whip is often best.  I find the Tecsuns best for adding or deleting frequencies after the ATS scan.

Enhanced Tuning Mode

Tecsun has introduced ETM in recent years.  It is interesting and useful.  The most recent incarnation is called Enhanced Tuning Mode (ETM+), and the manufacturer has dedicated 3 ½ pages of the PL-330 manual to explain it.  In essence, it operates on each band much like auto tuning storage (ATS), but protects whatever you have in the radio’s main memory, and allows you to store time-specific sets of frequencies in separate ETM pages.  This expands the total memory to whatever extent on-air stations are detected during each time period.  I haven’t been able to put a number on it.

This Tecsun PL-330 display indicates the radio captured 45 frequencies
on an ETM scan of international broadcast bands made during the 00 UTC hour.

ETM is a quick way to find out what’s currently on SW international broadcast bands.  ETM logs SW broadcast stations to memory and reports the total number of stations captured at a given time (think of it as a separate page).  The total number could be used to determine SW reception conditions by comparing it with a previously calculated average for the same period.  For AM and FM, the feature can be used to store stations at a travel location without affecting main storage.  Regardless of how you use ETM, there is a learning curve, as well as a need to be continually alert to what you are doing.

Virtual ETM

For any other radio with page memory, you can still have many of the advantages of ETM, as well as avoid the likelihood of accidentally wiping out your carefully programmed frequencies.  Here’s how.

ATS on most radios begins saving frequencies on the lowest numbered page.  Note that the lowest page on the SSB 2 is 1, while it is 0 on the D-808, and the first station on each page is at button 0 (bottom).  My experience in the highly congested AM and FM bands on the US East Coast is that an ATS scan will likely take up no more than four or five pages of memory.  Likewise, ATS for SW is limited to AM stations on the international broadcast bands and will not require many pages, even at night.  By manually programming your favorite frequencies beginning on the sixth page of a 10-page memory arrangement they will likely be out of reach of an ATS scan and your manually-saved frequencies will still be there when you want them.

The travel benefit also applies to virtual ETM.  An ATS scan performed at a different location using the lower pages will quickly put you in touch with local stations in that area and preserve your manually saved frequencies at home.

As an aside, I would also suggest that sideband frequencies be kept together on separate pages, as the SSB function must be engaged separately to detect them.  With SSB engaged, the C. Crane Skywave SSB 2 will recall the saved LSB or USB mode, but you may have to switch from one to the other on the XDATA D-808.

Example of virtual ETM for D-808 on the shortwave band.
Skywave SSB 2 would be similar.

Virtual ETM is not perfect.  This method does not provide all the time-specific paging that the Tecsun PL-330 has.  Also, there is a danger if your radio has an auto-sorting feature which might be inadvertently activated.  Lock the buttons on your radio when you turn it off or pack it up.


Apart from simply listening to the radio, it’s still entertaining to press buttons and see what they do – something like an electronic Rubic’s Cube.  I will go as far as to put a half dozen favorite AM and FM stations into memory.  I may enter a DX frequency or two I want to check out periodically.  That said, there are a limited number of storage locations beyond which memory ceases to be convenient, and for me the number is well short of what is generally available.

On the other hand, ETM or virtual ETM opens some useful possibilities if you take one of these small portables on travel or want to do a quick scan to see what’s currently on shortwave.

No radios were harmed in the preparation of this blog.

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24 thoughts on ““If Memory Serves Me Right, . . .”

  1. Andy Kristovich

    Hey Bob, Great article! Loved it! R/AndyK
    PS – I’m the guy who bought your Queen Maria Ct house back in ‘79. Hope you’re doing well. Maybe see you at a WOLAA lunch sometime?

  2. John H. Ke4idw

    Great read but Sorry but you have a fact backwards. During the night the ” great mirror” dissipates and AM station’s radio waves propagate via ground wave. During daylight the F-1. And F-2 layers are charged via sunlight and creates the mirror. This how Amateur Radio op’s make DX QSO’s.

    1. Thomas Post author

      Hi, John,

      So actually, it is not ground wave at night–not for AM or Mediumwave signals. It’s mostly ground wave during the day when D layer absorption pretty much prevents anything else (there are always exceptions).

      At sunset, D layer absorption decreases rapidly, permitting AM or MW signals to pass through to higher regions where they are reflected back to earth. Depending on a few factors, reflection typically occurs in the E or F layers/regions. This is why you can do AM Broadcast or Mediumwave DXing at night.


  3. Sorin

    Seems that you are from USA, or whereabouts.
    Otherwise I cannot imagine why you totally missed to mention the varicap tuning and the “memories” (more like prest staions) that MANY of the car, kitchen, portable or hi-fi radios and receivers (TVs as well) of Europe had, starting with the mid 60s and up to the beginning of the 80s.
    Those worked by adjusting the highly stable tuning voltage of varicap diodes.
    There was absolutely NO bulky capacitor that could get all scratchy.
    From personal experience, they do work, like a charm, absolutely no issues, you can turn the radio on a year later and it will be spot on, on the right frequency

  4. mangosman

    Another use for memories.
    An amateur radio group when they hear of a stolen rig, go to the pawn brokers and compare the stored frequencies and their order. If they match, it is proof of who owns the radio because no two radios will have the same stored frequencies and in the same order.

  5. OZ

    Nice article but in reality, at least for me. Nothing beats grabbing the analog tuner knob and slowly turning the knob to find a station.
    Sometimes the old ways are best.

  6. William, KR8L

    An interesting and fun article, thanks! I generally find memories on a general coverage receiver to be more trouble than they are worth. Other than using them to temporarily keep track of a station or frequency that I want to come back to in a few minutes while tuning around, I don’t use them much. It’s easier to just use one of the websites to look up the station want and then tune them in. My one exception is putting Aeronautical HF frequencies in a memory bank.

  7. John W Shields

    We had a grundig AM FM short wave phonograph console growing up, sat at it for hours listening. Capture Germany, France, England, many ore and some pirates.

  8. Steve

    We have a term in my family: “knucklebuster”. It referred to a song coming on the radio that was so bad, the driver was forced to punch the memory buttons on the old-style car stereo in a desperate attempt to change the station immediately.

    Even if no one today remembers the pain that the driver was willing to suffer in the name of saving everyone’s ears, we know, and we remember.

  9. Bill Hemphill

    Good overview of memories and some of the issues we experience when using them.

    I use the ATM/ETM feature of the Tecsun radios all time to do a quick scan and then check to see what stations are active. This was probably one of the best memory additions added to our pocket shortwave radios.

    I have never made much use of memories (other than the ATM/ETM) that most radios have. With the exception of only a few radios, there is no way to store an alpha name along with the frequency. And when there is the ability it means scrolling through the alphabet to create the name. Way too much trouble.

    I have owned many ham radio HT’s over the past 30 years and they all had the ability to save an alpha name with the frequency as well as many other parameters. And these memories can be programmed using a computer program. I just don’t understand why newer short wave radios don’t have the computer programming with names of the memories.

    Bill WD9EQD
    Smithville, NJ

  10. Dennis K2DCD

    The question that is begged in our Hobby is… With the ever diminishing potential of Shortwave Stations to listen to, what is the use of the ever increasing amount of memories? Then of course, how does a “Hobbiest Human” recall what’s in all the memory positions? Maybe there’s a new kind of memory button for that too that hadn’t been thought of yet.

    1. bob

      Many listen to utility stations and hams which can take up a lot of memories. There is a lot to monitor on sw besides the broadcasters. Sites like HF underground prove this beyond dispute.

  11. Don W8SWL

    When traveling I found the ETM feature very good for a local bandscan at a new destination. I was using a County Comm GP5/SSB and now the most recent Tecsun PL-368 model. Sure helps when looking for a source of BBC news and looking for local PBS stations on the FM dial.

  12. Rob

    Excellent write up!
    I’d like to see a similar discussion about the uses of the scanning functions often found on amateur radio HF rigs. I struggle to see any use for that function (SSB is nearly impossible, very little AM or FM in HF amateur radio, people are rarely on ‘standard’ frequencies, etc.).

  13. Tom

    I do not remember the radio model, other than it was a Grundig FM tabletop model, from the 1960s. What was unique was this:: Sure, it had a main tuning dial. But it also had five other memories. But they weren’t memories in the traditional sense. Located below the main tuning dial, were five more TUNERS, in miniature ! Those gave you the five extra ‘memories.’ They were selected by another switch.

  14. Jock Elliott


    I run the “Radio Monitoring Net” on 146.94 here in Troy, NY, on Tuesday evenings. Afterwards, I normally a “Useful Goodies” email to the listeners.

    With your kind permission, I want to convert your post to a PDF that I can distribute to “Our Merry Band of Monitors.”

    Cheers, Jock

  15. adid

    There is a simple solution to all these gazillion useless memories, simple to jump thru them…
    Let me be more clear, on my D808 the tuning knob can be set to fast/slow/stop if while on STOP mode I could browse thru the memories they will become more useful (but the D808 can’t do so..)

    **The V115 can.

  16. Mario

    Thanks for the article, Bob.
    Anyone remember what those triangular markings at 640 and 1240 kilocycles meant on old car and portable radios as depicted in the first picture? I think they were used up ’til about 1963.

  17. Robert Gulley

    Great article and summation of radio memory features and drawbacks! Radio manufacturers have gone wild with memories in recent years, and it makes them less useful.
    You have suggested some interesting ways to use these additional pages and I may have to try some of these.

    In the past I have found myself relying on books like WRTH, World Listening Guide, or shortwave internet sites to locate or find out what is on the air at a given time. Of course, the age old practice of tuning around the band is always enjoyable to me as well.

    Good food for thought! Cheers!

  18. Jock Elliott

    Wow, Bob, that is a GREAT post . . . really well written and highly useful.

    In fact, so useful that I am printing a copy so I can make more effective use of memories on my radios. And it promises to be especially useful when I change between radios and have to deal with how different brands have different memory schemes.

    Well done, sir, well done.

    Cheers, Jock


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