Author Archives: Jock Elliott

Weird question . . . from the old retrocrank

The Grundig G3 sported a Dual Conversion PLL Digital tuner with smooth tuning and no discernible muting between frequency steps.

Like some others of my age (roughly) who have posted here, I vastly prefer radios that do NOT mute between tuning steps . . . that provide smooth, continuous tuning.

So, does anyone know of any true, new, currently in production, radios with an analog receiver? Could be AM, FM, and/or shortwave?

And, if there are any, obviously I am interested in the ones that you think work well.

Cheers, Jock

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Checking out the XHDATA D-808

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

Size matters . . . especially when it comes to antennas. In general, the more aluminum or wire you can get up in the air (presuming, of course, that it is properly designed), the more signal you are going to pull in. A radio friend has a 560-foot loop erected on his property, and its performance is, well, impressive.

I’ve had my share of high-performance antennas over the years, and I enjoyed them.

Lately, however, I have yearned for simplicity. So when I encountered the phrase “Ultralight DXing” a couple of years ago, it had a kind of magic allure to it.

At first, I was intrigued: “What the heck is that?” I wondered. After poking around on the internet, I discovered that at the heart of ultralight DXing was the notion of having a whole lot of fun trying to hear distant radio stations (usually on the medium wave band) with tiny, shirt-pocket-sized radios.

Gary DeBock got the whole ultralight DXing thing rolling in 2007. He already had deep experience in DXing, having worked 144 countries as a ham radio operator with a 1-2 watt transmitter he had built. That was his apprenticeship in radio propagation. Then in 2007, he wondered if it would be possible, using his skill and knowledge of propagation, to hear Japanese and Korean broadcasters from his home in Washington State using – wait for it – a cheap pocket radio: a Sony Walkman SRS 59. At 1 am on an autumn night, he put propagation and operating skill to work and heard a couple of medium-wave stations from Japan and one from Korea.

In November 2007, he posted his results on the internet and got a lot pushback, the upshot of which was: “How could you possibly do this?

To which he replied (in essence), “Try it and see for yourself.

Some people did try for themselves, some with notable success. For example, one DXer from Canada logged 300 stations in 30 days. The idea caught fire, and ultralight DXing was born, concentrating on medium wave stations because there are lots of them to DX. (Ultralight DXers have their own forum, which can be found here: )

In the intervening years, ultralight DXers have experimented with exotic antennas and achieved some astonishing results, but for me, the soul of ultralight DXing is simplicity: a tiny radio, a pair of headphones, and a comfortable place to sit.

In 2021, DeBock published an “Ultralight Radio Shootout,” and when I encountered it online, I saved it (I’m a bit of a pack rat with interesting files). Earlier this year, I was rummaging through my computer when I rediscovered the Shootout and found that DeBock thought very highly of the XHDATA D-808.

Now, here’s the weird part: strictly speaking, the XHDATA D-808 is not an ultralight radio. A radio must be no bigger than 20 cubic inches to be considered an “official” ultralight radio. The D-808 is actually around 27 cubic inches.

Curious, I contacted the XHDATA folks, asking if they would like to send me one for review, which they did, without charge.

The D-808 measures just under 6 inches wide, 3.5 inches high, and 1.25 inches deep and weighs about a half a pound. It receives:  FM: 87.5 – 108 (64-108) MHz, LW: 150 – 450 kHz, MW: 522 – 1620 kHz (9k Step) 520 – 1710 kHz (10k step), SW: 1711 – 29999 kHz (including single sideband), and AIR: 118 – 137 MHz. It is powered by an 18650 battery that can be recharged by a USB cable.

Others have written extensively about the D-808, but my overall verdict is that it is indeed, a neat little radio for listening in general. Because it has a larger internal ferrite rod “loopstick” antenna, it can do a better job of pulling in faint medium wave stations than some of the “official” ultralights with smaller internal antennas. In addition, the D-808 has a longer telescoping antenna that makes it easier to hear faint shortwave stations.

On the face of the D-808 are 24 buttons that control various functions, and they pretty much “work as advertised.” There is, however, one small issue that some users may find confusing. Just below the orange power button is a circular button marked SSB. Push it, and it engages single-sideband mode and can be used on medium wave as well as shortwave signals. Below that button, in tiny orange letters is an indication: USB/LSB. It refers to the INFO button below, NOT to the SSB button above. If you press the SSB button, hoping to switch between upper sideband and lower sideband, it will not work, and you will think the radio is broken (I spent several minutes searching the manual, trying find out what was wrong). When SSB is engaged, press the button marked INFO between to switch between sidebands, got it?

Playing around with the D-808 on a rainy Saturday morning, I found that it is a “hot” receiver – for its size – on medium wave, shortwave, and FM. Using the UP and DOWN buttons to search for stations, and I found that it would, indeed, find interesting stuff to hear that I could not hear so readily on “official” ultralight radios with smaller antennas. It’s a small, fun radio that virtually begs me to find a comfy chair, clap on the headphones, and tune around to see what’s out there.

Having said that, if this were a trip to Santa’s lap, there are a couple of things I would change about the D-808. The first is the soft muting that occurs between tuning steps, which is accompanied by a mechanical “clunk, clunk, clunk” at each step in both the main and fine tuning knobs. It’s like driving down a highway with expansion cracks or tar strips every 20 feet . . . it’s annoying. My personal preference is for smooth, continuous tuning, and, even when a radio has jumps between tuning steps, it is possible to deliver a smooth, “clunkless” tuning experience such as in the CCrane EP-PRO or the Tecsun PL-880. You can, however, get around the clunking by directly entering the frequency you want using the keypad (be sure to press the FREQ button first) or by using the UP and DOWN seek buttons to search for stations . . . the radio simply quiets itself until it find the next signal. Second, while the D-808 seems to just sip power from the 18650 battery, I prefer portable radios that are powered by AA batteries, since they are so readily available in so many places. In the grand scheme of things, that is a relatively minor consideration.

Bottom line: the D-808 packs a whole lot of fun and pleasing performance into a package that can be slipped into a jacket pocket. Even more important, it delivers the simplicity of an ultralight: a radio I can grab, kick back in an easy chair, slide on the headphones, and tune around for a bit of radio fun, and I can heartily recommend it.

Check out the XHDATA D-808 at XHDATA.

Check out the D-808 at (affiliate link).

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The Joys of Traveling Light

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

I had intended to travel light; I really did . . . but I betrayed my best intentions.

Instead of a “minimal” radio go-bag, I had stuffed a small cross-body bag with: a ham radio handi-talkie (a Yaesu VX-6R) with high-performance antenna, extra batteries for the handi-talkie, a car plug-in adaptor for the handi-talkie, a scanner (Uniden 436) with high-performance antenna, extra batteries for the scanner, a CCrane Skywave SSB, and a CCrane CC Buds Solo In-Ear Single Earbud.

But when I got near the shore of Lake Ontario, what did I actually use . . . what gear brought me the most radio joy? The CCrane Skywave SSB and the Solo Earbud. In particular, during the early morning hours with sweltering heat, epic humidity, and threatening severe thunderstorms, I found myself happily listening to a trio of NOAA weather radio stations, one of which included a marine forecast for Lake Ontario, and all of which helped us to plan our activities.

Then, at 2130Z, on June 21, I took a crack at hearing the 2024 BBC Midwinter Broadcast to Antarctica. Here’s my report:

Listening from Sodus, NY, near the shores of Lake Ontario, on a barefoot CCrane Skywave SSB, AM mode (tried SSB, it didn’t help). No recording.

9585, 9870 — heard nothing.

11,685 — very difficult copy, surging static. Could hear male and female voices but couldn’t discern what they were saying, occasional music (?)
Around 2140 — child’s voice saying “we miss you.”
Music at end.

So would it have been easier to copy the Midwinter Broadcast with my Big Gun SW receiver and the 50-foot horizontal room loop? Of course.

Was it fun to try anyway with a shirt-pocket-sized radio and a dinky whip antenna? Absolutely.

Sometimes traveling light delivers fun despite its limitations.

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Checking out the CCRadio SolarBT

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

The syllables coming through the headphones were unknown to me. Clearly it was a language, but not one that I knew. So I logged it: 2/18/24, 1101Z, 1660 kHz, unknown language, orchestral music. (I later found out it was a Korean language station from New Jersey.) Then I moved on down the band.

Next stop: 1650 kHz, male voice French. Then: 1630 kHz, pop music, followed by “Arabic sounding music” on 1610 kHz, and so on down the medium wave band. It was a pre-dawn morning, and I have had a great deal of fun, creeping along in 1 kHz increments using the 2.5 kHz bandwidth, turning the radio from side to side in my hand, trying to tease out distant stations, and hoping to hear my first transatlantic DX.

In my lap was a radio that very much resembles a brick, but a very elegant designer brick. In the words of the instruction manual: “The CCRadio Solar is likely the first emergency radio that doesn’t look like one.” The folks at CCrane sent me one for review without charge.

The CCRadio SolarBT measures 6 inches wide by 3 inches high by 2.5 inches deep and weighs just a bit over a pound with batteries installed. Most of the SolarBT’s case is white polymer, but the bottom, top, and sides are covered with a gray rubberized “skin.” The end effect is a solidly built unit that is pleasant to view, easy to handle, and won’t readily slide off a slippery surface.

The CCradio SolarBT can receive AM (MW) band from 520 to 1710 kHz, FM from 87.5 to 108 MHz (76-108 MHz in expanded mode), and 7 NOAA Weather Radio channels from 162.400 MHz to 162.550 MHz. In addition, the SolarBT has a wealth of other interesting capabilities, and we will get to those in just a bit.

Clearly, the CCrane folks are serious about this radio’s emergency capabilities. There are five different ways of powering the SolarBT: (1) an 18650 Li-ion 3.7 volt rechargeable battery which provides around 50 hours of playing time (the manual advises fully charging the internal battery before use), (2) 3 AA batteries (not included, but good for about 40 hours of playing time. The manual warns: don’t use Lithium batteries), (3) a 110 mA solar panel (park the radio in a sunny window to keep it trickle charged), (4) a wind-up dynamo generator (300-500 mA at about two rotations per second. 90 seconds of winding will power the radio for 8-13 minutes or will charge your cell phone enough to make a few quick calls), or (5) a 5-volt DC, 1000 mA micro USB cable or optional AC adapter.

On the left of the front panel, you’ll find a 2-inch, 3-watt speaker. To the right of that is an LCD panel which serves as information central for the SolarBT. The display’s backlight will stay illuminated for about 10 seconds after each button press; you can set the light to stay on continuously if the SolarBT is plugged into continuous power. To the right of the display are a couple of up and down tuning buttons. Press quickly to advance to the next tuning increment. Press and hold to automatically tune to the next strong station. Hold continuously to cycle through the entire band.

Below the display are 5 memory station buttons that have some additional functions we’ll get to in a while. To the right of the memory buttons is the volume knob.

The top of the radio is dominated by a solar panel that, if exposed to direct sunlight for 8 hours will provide 10 to 14 hours of playing time at medium volume. Surrounding the solar panel are 4 buttons: one for power, one for the flashlight, one for changing radio bands, and one for BlueTooth functions. At the extreme back edge of the top is a fold-out telescoping antenna for FM and weather band reception. Inside the case is 10-centimeter a ferrite bar antenna for AM reception (by comparison the ferrite bar inside a CCrane Skywave is 7 centimeters).

CCrane’s attention to detail is evident: the button for the flashlight glows in the dark (very handy if you awake to find the power is out), and the instruction manual is very informative and well-written. In fact, it’s been my experience that CCrane consistently delivers the best-written user manuals in the radio business. Well done!

On the left side of the case is the LED flashlight. On the right side is a soft rubber hatch that provides access to a jack for auxiliary input, a radio power/charging jack, a switch for selecting between the 3 AA batteries or the 18650 rechargeable battery, an earphone jack, and a standard USB port that can be used to charge your cell phone.

On the back of the SolarBT is the fold-out crank for the dynamo generator and a hatch for accessing the 3 AA batteries and the 18650 rechargeable battery. That’s it.

Judicious pressing of the memory buttons provides access to the clock and alarm functions, to selecting 9 or 10 kHz AM band tuning steps, to designate clock or frequency while listening to the radio, to select 1 kHz running steps on the AM band, and to choose among 3 different bandwidths for the AM band: 6 kHz, 4 kHz, or 2.5 kHz. The manual will tell you how.

Yes, you say, but how does it perform? Bottom line: just great.

The SolarBT may be small, but, in my opinion, it punches above its weight and provides excellent sensitivity for its size on the AM, FM, and weather bands. You might buy it as an emergency radio, but my guess is that you will soon discover the joy of DXing with it.

I would be remiss if I didn’t add the following. Normally, I “play radio” using headphones to help compensate for a hearing deficit. Lately, however, I have been listening to the NOAA Weather Radio on the CCRadio SolarBT through the speaker, and I have found that the sound coming through the speaker is very pleasing indeed.

A final note: I did not test any of the Bluetooth connectivity because at present I do not own any gadgets that would connect through Bluetooth.

Bottom line: I liked the CCRadio SolarBT a great deal and can happily recommend it. You might buy it as your emergency radio, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself using it for general listening or for DXing distant stations.

Click here to check out the CC Radio Solar BT at C.Crane.

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A Conversation with Eric Fetters-Walp

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

When the Top 10 DX of the Year 2023 Contest results were posted by the Top DX Radioclub on January 24, 2024 — —  I noticed that Eric Fetters-Walp had placed seventh overall and #1 in North America and #1 in the USA.

I was curious how he had achieved his results, so I contacted him, and he agreed to an interview.

SWLing: Tell me a bit about your history as a SWL.

EFW: When I was about 8 years old in the late 1970s, my Dad and I built a VHF airband radio kit; we were under one of the flight paths for LAX in the suburbs east of Los Angeles. I was into music on AM at the time, especially on 1020 KTNQ, a top 40 station back then.

By then time I was about to turn 13, we were living outside Seattle, and I wanted to upgrade to a better VHF radio. I bought a Realistic Patrolman SW-60, a big analog-dial radio with AM/FM/VHF/UHF and SW. I remember I had to earn the money doing chores, though my dad chipped in the last five bucks.

I brought it home and, while playing around with it, switched it to the shortwave band. I had never heard of shortwave before, but I almost immediately heard HCJB in Ecuador, and I was hooked. I was already a geography geek, so I’d listen while looking through a world atlas book I had. Even today, above my work desk, I have a map on cork board with pins in it.

I got really into collecting QSL cards from all over the world as I listened all through the rest of the 1980s. Shortwave really helped me become a news hound as I thought about studying journalism, and all the Cold War-era stations fed my fascination with history. For my college essay, I wrote about how I felt that being a shortwave listener as a teen helped me learn about the world.

I didn’t have an outdoor antenna at my parents’ house growing up, and I didn’t own a radio with a digital display until the 1990s. So, listening in that era taught me to be super patient, to sometimes just park on a frequency looking for signal to fade in.

By the early 1990s, as I was starting my career, working as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers, I mostly fell out of SWLing. Then, I got married and my wife and I had three kids. My oldest is now 21 and my youngest is 14, so I had started to have some extra time again just a few years ago.

In 2018, I dusted off my old Sony ICF-SW7600G, and I had a little Kaito radio my dad gave me, and I started listening again. A little later on, I acquired the Eton model that became the current Elite Executive. And I strung up a wire on the backyard fence about 60 feet. I have an advantage: our backyard backs up to a wide-open middle school athletic field, which seems advantageous for cutting down the noise. I also have an MLA 30+ loop, and I’ve just started playing with an SDR dongle for hunting signals.

SWLing: What about the contest?

EFW: The rules are you record your best 10 catches during the month of December; they all must be in different countries. The scoring is complicated, but basically you are trying to hear the lowest-power station from the farthest distance. However, no clandestines, no pirates, no military stations, etc.

The first year I entered was 2018 after I read about it on The SWLing Post. I was surprised to do relatively well.

The past few years, my strategy has basically been to map out a list of target stations and then try to catch as many as I can. I started early in this latest contest, and that’s good thing; reception was pretty bad the second half of month. My goal’s always to make a good showing and just not finish last.

In the first week of December, LRA36 from Antarctica could be heard; 300 watts, and that was a huge addition to my points (I checked with the contest organizers to make sure it counted). I also logged Rádio Clube do Pará on 4885 in Brazil, which comes in pretty regularly here, and worked down the rest of my list.

SWLing: Do you have any advice for SWLs?

EFW: Even if you don’t have the most expensive equipment, so much depends on getting an antenna outside—even if it hangs only 6 feet off the ground as mine does.

In addition, a key to success is a willingness to be patient. I listen to relax and try not to be frantic about it. Since I’ve started SWLing again, I have logged nearly 70 countries by doing just that. Also, while I feel like I’m pretty experienced now, I’m always learning from others in this hobby. There are folks out there who are just great DXers, and I’m still reading their tips online to learn more.

Click here to check out Eric’s 2023 Top 10 DX of the Year Notes/Logs (Google Sheets).

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Yet another reason why you need a weather radio

Photo by Raychel Sanner via Unsplash

by Jock Elliott

Today is the 154th birthday of the National Weather Service. The NWS covers from American Samoa to the Virgin Islands and from Hawaii to the Arctic Circle of Alaska, and it does so with fewer than 4,000 employees nationwide.

It is, according to Mike Smith’s blog: “one of the few federal agencies that is essential to the welfare of the Nation.”

And in my view, NOAA Weather Radio is essential for every household. If live in the US you don’t have a radio capable of receiving the Weather Radio channels, you need one.

For more info, check here:

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Taking a look at the XHDATA D109-WB . . . a sweet spot on the price/performance curve

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

The XHDATA D109-WB is a small radio that hits a sweet spot on the price/performance curve, delivering a lot of performance for not a lot of money (probably less than $60 US, depending on the source).

The D109-WB measures 5.9″L x 1.45″W x 3.07″H and weighs just over 10 ounces. It covers FM 64-108MHz, AM (medium wave) 520-1710KHz, LW 153-513KHz(9K), SW 1711-29999KHz, and seven NOAA Weather Radio channels 162.40-162.55MHz with alert function. It does not receive single-sideband signals. It offers 100 FM memories, 100 LW memories, 100 MW memories, and 300 SW memories. Further, it offers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 kHz bandwidths on MW and SW bands.

On the left side of the front panel is a plastic grill that fronts an inch-and-a-half speaker. On the right side is a small LCD screen with backlight that functions as information central for the D109-WB. Below it are 15 buttons (3 rows of 5 buttons each) that control various functions, including an “SOS Emergency Distress Sound and Light Alarm,” manual tuning and various auto scanning and auto memory storage schemes, band selection, DX/local receive mode selection, 9/10 kH MW spacing, clock alarms, bandwidth selection, a key lock/display switch, and a manual tune/memory mode switch, among others. Below those 15 buttons is a 3 x 4 numerical key pad for memory and direct frequency entry functions. To the right of the keypad are 5 buttons set in a circular pattern for controlling Bluetooth use and connectivity and MP3  playback (I did not test these last two functions).

On the right side of the case, you will find a type-C socket for plugging in a cable to charge the 18650 battery, a wheel for volume control, and a tuning knob.

On the left side of the case are 3.5 mm headphone and external antenna jacks.

On the back panel is a flip-out support and a hatch for accessing the battery. On the top, there is a fold-over 21-inch telescoping antenna and, on the bottom, two anti-skid rubber feet.

In all, I found the D109-WB to be solidly constructed with fit and finish appropriate to a radio in its price class. The only serious deficit I found in the D109-WB was the extremely small type in the owner’s manual. Consult the photograph below to see what I mean.

The D109-WB was straightforward to operate, and I enjoyed it. One cute trick was variable-speed tuning: on MW, turn the knob slowly, and it will change frequency in 1 kHz increments. Turn the knob fast, and the tuning rate jumps to 10 kHz increments (or 9 kHz, if you have selected that tuning option). Variable-speed tuning works the same way on the shortwave bands, and on the FM band, the slow tuning rate is .01 MHz, and it jumps to .1 MHz when the knob is turned quickly. I had not experienced variable-speed tuning in any other radio, and I like it . . . a lot.

But what I was really wanted to know was how well did the D109-WB perform?

Now here’s the rub: I don’t have any test equipment . . . but I do own a CCrane Skywave 2. So I sat down on a bright sunny afternoon with the D109-WB and the Skywave 2 side-by-side and compared them. I found that both would receive two weather channels loud and clear and one more weather channel marginally. Then I tuned firm the medium wave band, then the FM band, running the two radios in parallel and found that there was nothing that I could hear on Skywave 2 that I could not also hear on the D109-WB, and vice versa. In other words, I found the electrical performance of the two radios to be very similar . . . except, of course, that the Skywave receives the AIR band, and the D109-WB does not.

One of the things that I enjoy doing is to grab a radio, select a band, punch the SCAN button, and see what’s out there. Since I also own a Tecsun PL-880, I decided to run a scan on each band on each radio (D109-WB, Skywave 2, and PL-880) with its native whip antenna and see how many detectable signals I could find on each. By “signal,” I mean any place where the scan stopped where I could hear music, voices, or anything that sounded like a transmitted signal, as opposed to pure noise.

So here are the results of two different testing sessions on two different nights:

D109-WB vs. CCrane Skywave

D109-WB vs. Tecsun PL-880

A caution: before you start drawing conclusions from the results above about which radio is more sensitive than another, it is important to consider that those results may be heavily skewed by whatever “SCAN” algorithm is programmed into each radio. Further, the parameters of the SCAN algorithm for a particular radio are a black box to those who use the radio. What I can conclude from those results is that, if you want to be a lazy DXer like me and use the SCAN button for cruising the bands, the D109-WB will deliver pleasing results.

Since the D109-WB has a socket for plugging in an external antenna, I plugged in a 45-foot loop antenna. The D109-WB overloaded, but when I set the DX/local switch to local, the overloading went away but there was still a boost in signal-to-noise from the external antenna.

So, the bottom line: the XHDATA D109-WB delivers a whole lot of fun and performance at a very reasonable price, and I can easily recommend it for both newbies and old-timers alike.

In fact, if you want to turn a kid onto radio, here’s an idea: give the child a D109-WB and a paper atlas, explain how both work, then set that kid to work logging as many stations as possible and looking up where they are located. Heck, that sounds like fun to me.

Click here to check out the XHDATA D109-WB on

(note: this affiliate link supports the SWLing Post at no cost to you)

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