Author Archives: Robert Gulley

The RADDY RF760: Light, Portable, Powerful

(Guest Post)

 By Robert Gulley K4PKM

(Note: This review was requested by Radioddity, who provided the in-production radio to the reviewer, with no strings attached or pre-approval.)

I confess to have been a little bit skeptical when Thomas asked me to review this radio, not because of past experience with RADDY, but because tiny radios in general don’t usually impress me, and I have had plenty of them over the years and considered most of them a novelty. There are a few exceptions, of course, such as the C.Crane Skywave or the Tecsun PL-368, but for the most part there are simply too many limitations to tiny radios for my listening style (this one can literally fit in a shirt pocket!). Upon opening the box I was still skeptical, despite the rather impressive packaging and extras. But hey, a little skepticism is a good thing, right?!

The radio comes with some nice accessories!

Accessories

The radio comes with a thin carry case to protect it from scratches, a rechargeable lithium battery, strap, earbuds and a wire antenna to improve shortwave reception. There is also a Type “C” USB cable for charging the battery. Oh, and a spare set of earbud covers – a nice touch!

Ergonomics

Picking up the radio I noticed right away it has a solid, comfortable feel to the unit. I start with that because most tiny radios feel very flimsy, and usually have something of a rough or hard plastic feel to them. This radio has a glossy feel to it, meaning it is comfortable and actually nice looking. Looks aside, I must admit the ergonomics of the radio impress me. I like the feel of it in my hand, and the controls are laid out well for one-handed operation. Being left-handed, that is not always the case, but the controls seem well thought out for either right- or left-handed folks.

As you can see in the images there are two primary rows of buttons, as well as a tuning knob on the right side of the radio. There is also a belt clip on the back which is unobtrusive – I can’t speak to its longevity as I really never clip a radio to my belt, but for those who do, I suspect it will hold up well with a little care.

The telescopic antenna (fixed) is rather impressive as well, measuring ~18 inches in height when fully extended. As one might imagine, at this length the antenna is fairly fragile – I would not walk around with it fully extended while attached to my belt. For hand-holding it should be just fine, and standing upright on a table it does not tip over, but if out in an open-air environment with a strong breeze it will tip over, so a stand would be advisable.

The display is very readable, and the orange background light which pops on when making adjustments is quite nice. The light stays on for ~9 seconds after pushing any of the buttons. Another nice feature of the radio is a press of any button while the radio is off will turn on the display, indicating time, temperature, and battery strength. Yes, it has a built-in thermometer, and it seems quite accurate, at least on the unit I received.

On top there is an external antenna jack, headphone jack, and slot for the strap.

Operation

For such a small radio it is literally packed with features. I will not go over all of them in this review, but I will cover some of the highlights as well as make mention of most features at least in passing. I was not expecting so many features in this little radio, so I was pleasantly surprised by some of the more advanced options.

Naturally the radio has AM/FM capabilities, as well as weather, air, VHF above the air band, SW and CB (yes, CB!). There is also a customizable frequency range setting for monitoring a desired set of user-selected frequencies. There are presets available for various modes listed in the manual, including predefined amateur radio bands and shortwave stations (always subject to change, of course!).

There is an attenuate function available if needed, as well as numerous step modes for tuning various modes. One interesting feature of the radio is two separate tuning methods, one by up and down buttons, and the other by a tuning knob on the side. These can be set independently of each other in terms of the step-change on a given band. This is particularly useful when scanning a band with the buttons after a station is found, because sometimes being slightly off frequency can produce a better signal – the scroll wheel can be used to make as little as 1 Hz changes.

Finally, there is a very useful bandwidth feature which can change between 3, 2.5, 2, 1.8, 1, and 6 kHz. Tuning is quite functional both with the scroll wheel and the tuning buttons. Holding down the tuning buttons will start a scan of the current band, and a longer press will speed up the scan if no stations are found initially. Unlike some scanning radios, when a signal is found, scanning stops and does not resume. I like that feature better than the alternative method of some radios restarting a scan after 5 seconds or similar. I want time to figure out what I am hearing, and a short stop does not really allow for that most of the time.

This is a very compact and lightweight radio!

Reception

I have to say I am impressed with this little radio. I have listened to amateur frequencies, shortwave frequencies, AM/FM, weather and tried airband (nothing close to me except a minor airfield). I live in a very quiet location in terms of local man-made interference, and this provides a great opportunity to really test out a radio’s sensitivity. My conclusion may surprise you as it did me. This is one sensitive radio, given its small form factor and limited antenna movement. (I did not test the external antenna option. While it has one, I felt it only fair to make tests using the built-in antenna on all the radios I compared it with, thus eliminating extraneous or otherwise hard to compare situations.)

Side by side with one of my favorite portables, the Sangean ATS-909X2, this little guy was right in there with difficult to receive stations. While the Sangean has a much larger speaker and therefore fuller sound, in terms of actual reception, most stations came in about equally. I even used an old, but very reliable Select-A-Tenna to boost AM reception on both radios, assuming the Sangean has a much larger ferrite rod given its size, and yet both performed equally well next to the passive antenna. Impressive!

On various shortwave and amateur stations the RADDY RF760 held its own again, picking up almost station for station what the Sangean and the Sony 7600 GR (another favorite of mine) did, in a package less than 1/3 the size of the Sony, and about ¼ the size of the Sangean. Am I going to dump my Sony and/or my Sangean? Of course not – there are many reasons I prefer those radios for my daily use. But if I were wanting to go extremely lightweight/portable, the RADDY is a keeper with impressive performance and most features one could want in a portable radio, all while still fitting in your shirt pocket. I truly do not know how one could get much better performance or features in another radio this size. It makes one wonder where can they go from here?

FM reception is also quite good, pulling in weaker stations while still being quite listenable. I have heard a few stations on this radio which I have not caught before, and this with some atmospheric noise due to storms in the region. Likewise, listening to AM while there were storms in the general area, still allowed for reasonable reception. As we all know AM broadcasts are highly susceptible to atmospheric noise, especially lightning, but this radio recovered nicely after each static crash. Some radios seem to linger longer in recovery after such events, but this radio was quick to bring back in the signals.

Negatives

In short, there really are not any glaring negatives to this radio, so allow me to point out some little things which are, after all more about personal preference than any deficiency in the radio. Your mileage may vary, as they say.

  • An articulating antenna would be a nice touch, but that might require an increase in size, and likely would make the antenna more susceptible to damage. Many times, being able to bend an antenna this way or that can improve a signal.
  • Changing the frequency steps can be a little fiddly at times, but that’s probably me
  • When powering on, the short press acts like pressing any other button, meaning the light comes on, the time, temp, and battery power indicator displays. A longer press brings up the sleep timer. Two short presses turns on the radio, but not too short of presses. This takes a little getting used to, and I would prefer one longer press to turn on the radio, with the two short presses activating the sleep timer, but that, I know, is getting really nit-picky!

Conclusion

If you are in the market for a small, lightweight, but solid radio – this RF760 is definitely one you should consider. It is so light as to be almost weightless, compact but with easily reachable and useful controls, and has more modes and features than almost any similar radio I have run across. As an old-timer I have to shake my head in amazement at what can be packed into such a small radio these days! This certainly isn’t your grandpa’s transistor radio (and it’s even smaller!). Cheers!

Check out the Raddy RF760 at Radioddity.

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Termination Event May Indicate Solar Cycle Strength

Predictions for Solar Cycle 25. Blue is the “official” prediction of a weak cycle. Red is a new prediction based on the Termination Event.

Feb. 26, 2022: Something big just happened on the sun. Solar physicists Scott McIntosh (NCAR) and Bob Leamon (U. Maryland-Baltimore County) call it “The Termination Event.”

“Old Solar Cycle 24 has finally died–it was terminated!” says McIntosh. “Now the new solar cycle, Solar Cycle 25, can really take off.”

The “Termination Event” is a new idea in solar physics, outlined by McIntosh and Leamon in a December 2020 paper in the journal Solar Physics. Not everyone accepts it–yet. If Solar Cycle 25 unfolds as McIntosh and Leamon predict, the Termination Event will have to be taken seriously.

(Read the full story here at Spaceweather.com)

Robert Gulley, K4PKM (formerly AK3Q), is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. 

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Additional Hidden Feature of Tecsun PL-368

For potential Tecsun PL-368 owners, this is an exciting update! I just received the email below from Anna at ANON-CO:

Hello Robert,

I just wanted to let you know that we are expecting to receive our PL-368 radios around the middle or end of next week. It turns out that these radios will have one (hidden) feature that was not included with the “final” version that you receive in June, and that is a calibration feature for SSB.

If you have any questions please feel free to let me know.

Best regards,
Anna

This is a feature in some of the latest Tecsun models, and seemed odd to not be included in the PL-368, so this is good news indeed!

Cheers, Robert

Robert Gulley, K4PKM (formerly AK3Q), is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. 

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Tecsun PL-368: An Everyman Review

Guest Post

The Tecsun PL-368: An Everyman Review

By Robert Gulley

I entitled this review an “Everyman” review because, while I am far from “normal” (just ask any of my friends!), I am not a hard-core SWL. I am a hard-core amateur radio operator perhaps, but only for the last decade(+). I have been casually listening to shortwave radio for about 50 yrs. So, my perspective on this radio comes from someone who cut his teeth on a Realistic DX-160 (still love those radios!), progressing through various desktop and portable radios, to three of my current favorites, the FRG-7, the Sangean 909X2, and the Sony 7600GR. Of course, this doesn’t count some vintage WWII-era radios and earlier, but they are favorites for other reasons.

Now, the purpose of this little reflection on equipment is to say all radios have their place in the pantheon of shortwave radios, and no one radio “does it all.” The Tecsun radio, I believe, fills a very specific niche in the radio world, and it is excellent for those purposes. It does not, however, rival other radios whose goals are different, such as ones designed around sound fidelity, digital signal processing, SDR capability etc.

What this radio does do is present a very capable radio in an ultra-small package, designed to fit easily for travel and for survival/emergency situations, or for armchair operation. That middle one may surprise you, so allow me to explain.

I have a previous model of this radio (GP-5/SSB still available) sold by CountyComm, which was modified from Tecsun’s stock production PL-365, to have features suitable for government use. This has become a rather popular radio for preppers because of those modifications. The idea behind this radio as a compact piece of kit for government embassy people was to have something which could be easily concealable, operated with one hand, and have a wide range of reception capabilities. Of course, good reception of shortwave, AM, and FM bands was considered a must. You can look at the CountryComm website to find out specific features of the modified units if interested, as that radio, or the PL-365, are not the subject of this review.

While not a real “prepper” myself, I was intrigued by the AM broadcast reception capabilities due to the plug-in ferrite antenna, and also liked the idea of the small footprint. In actual use I found the radio to be quite versatile, a good performer, but rather awkward to use as there was no quick way to get to specific frequencies, unless already programmed into a memory location. With no direct keyboard entry on the GP-5, going to random locations to channel surf was, for me, frankly a bit annoying.

Enter the PL-368 which boasts a direct keyboard entry! Yes!! This one feature has taken the radio to a new level of performance which makes it a joy to use in this reviewer’s humble opinion. (Full disclosure, the unit I received for this review was provided by ANON-CO, and is the latest model after the recent firmware update incorporated by Tecsun. However, I have no other connection to ANON-CO or Tecsun, and my willingness to do the review is purely based on my previous purchase and experience with the CountyComm model.)

Despite having an unusual number of stormy days and nights here in the Midwestern U.S. recently, I have managed to enjoy some very productive listening opportunities with this little radio. For example, being an amateur radio operator, I appreciate the ability to listen in on the amateur frequencies now an again, and the recent ARRL Field Day afforded me the opportunity to really test out the radio’s USB/LSB reception capabilities, and its ability to dig out signals on a really crowded band. I was quite impressed both with its DSP and bandwidth capabilities and the reasonable clarity of the audio when tuning in various signals. Does it have the richness of audio that my Sangean 909X2 has? No, of course not. The speaker is much smaller in the PL-368, but it was quite listenable. Likewise, listening to various nets on 80 meters was quite acceptable with the built-in antenna, where noise and local interference are common gremlins on any radio.

For shortwave stations I found the radio to be quite sensitive just using the built-in antenna, which is key to portable listening. If I have to attach an external antenna, my mobility becomes limited, and I might as well just listen to one of my desktop radios. Some reception examples include: NHK World Radio 9560, Helliniki Radiophonia Voice of Greece 9420, WRMI relay of KSKO 89.5’s Paul Walker from McGrath Alaska on 7780 (beamed to east coast U.S., as well as on 7730 beamed to west coast, Hawaii, and South Pacific).

Of course, reception of CRI, Radio Havana Cuba, and numerous religious broadcasts were heard on all the usual places. I also listened to WWV signals at various locations, my go-to initial band reception check, as well as listening to HF aircraft broadcasts, military planes training on 11175 (USB), and maritime weather broadcasts. While I did not try digital mode reception such as FT8 with WSJT-X from the headphone jack, I have no doubt I would have been able to monitor these stations on various bands easily as the signals were immediately recognizable. The same holds true for CW reception.

Operational Notes

For a thoughtful, in-depth review of many technical aspects of this radio Dan Robinson has written an excellent piece on the PL-368, along with an updated review of the latest firmware’s effect on the radio. One aspect worth mentioning in my experience with this radio is that, unlike Dan, I did not find an issue with changing sensitivity when touching/holding the radio versus the radio standing on its own. Your mileage may vary, of course, so this goes in the “for what it’s worth” category. Maybe this issue has been resolved in later production runs? Or maybe my capacitance is running low and I need more electrolytes<grin>!

Like Dan, I found the SYNC detection of USB/LSB to be marginal at best, mostly making the signals harder to hear. On the upside, standard reception was quite good, and I did not experience significant fading most of the time.

Below are some of the hidden keyboard functions as listed, provided by Anna of ANON-CO, but I wanted to mention a feature I have either forgotten when using my GP5 CountyComm model, or which has been added (sorry, I don’t have access to the GP5 right now as it is packed away due to a recent move in progress). When “speed tuning” as I call it (turning the tuning dial quickly) with the “step” selected to the smallest increment on SW, what starts as increments of 10Hz will jump to 50Hz at a time after a few moments. This helps in trying to quickly latch on to a signal when increments of 10 are not necessary. The tuning will revert to 10Hz units when stopped for a few seconds.

Now for some undocumented features:

Switch between internal ferrite rod and whip on AM (MW & LW)

  1. Select the MW or LW band.
  2. Press and hold key ‘3’ for about 2 seconds.

When the display briefly shows “CH-5” this means that the device is set to MW/LW reception using the telescopic antenna. The display shows MW (or LW) and SW on the left side of the screen.

When the display briefly shows “CH-A” this means that the device is set to MW/LW reception using the internal ferrite antenna. The display shows only MW (or LW) on the left side of the screen.

Adjusting the maximum volume level

Select the frequency band, then press and hold key ‘7’ for 2 seconds until a number is displayed. At this moment, rotate the [ TUNING ] knob to adjust and press the key ‘7’ again to save and exit.

Firmware Version

In power-off mode, press and hold [ VF/VM ] for 0.5 seconds until all characters on the display are shown, then wait a few seconds until the firmware version is briefly displayed in the middle of the display.

Extend SW-range for European setting (1621-29999 kHz)

  1. In power-off mode, press and hold the [ 3 ] key to set the MW tuning steps to 9kHz.
  2. Select the SW band, and then press and hold the [ 5 ] key for 10 seconds to enable/disable the SW frequency extension. The starting point of the SW frequency range will become 1621 or 1711 kHz.

Some Nitpicks (There had to be some, right?!)

I wish the batteries were still standard AA units instead of the flat rechargeable unit. This is merely a personal preference, but as a radio designed for carry-anywhere usage, I like a radio to use batteries I can pick up anywhere if needed. I tend to use rechargeable AA and AAA batteries anyway, but I like knowing I can use ubiquitous alkaline batteries available at almost any store in a pinch.

I suspect the change was made to allow for more space for the direct keypad entry, and that is definitely a tradeoff I am willing to make!

On a related note, the recharging port uses the USB micro-b connector which I have found in cell phones, tablets, etc. to be a weak point as cables often seem to go bad, or the connector itself gets damaged. The larger mini-b would be my preference, but hey, again, that’s a nitpick.

Finally, the case does appear to be a little thin which makes me wonder how it might survive if dropped or knocked off a table. This is not a deal-breaker by any means, but something to consider when carrying it around or when packing it for a trip. It may survive quite well, but that’s a test I don’t want to try out just to see what happens.

Final Thoughts

For me, as a casual shortwave listener, I look for several things in a portable radio. I want true portability – if a so-called portable radio must be tethered to an external antenna to work decently, chances are I am not going to use it often – my various desktop models attached to outdoor antennas will always out-perform a portable. I also want a simplified layout of controls. I do not want to dig through menus, have be a contortionist to work the buttons/controls, or carry a manual with me to find out how to use the radio each time because the controls are confusing. I also want reasonable audio and clarity, or the ability to fine-tune a signal to minimize adjacent signals.

I find the PL-368 does for me what I want a portable to do and does it reasonably well. Is it the best portable out there? No. Is it a benchmark radio? No. But it is extremely portable, easily handled with just one hand, and its reception capabilities put it far above some other portables I have used. If you are looking for something which can easily fit into a pocket, bag, or purse, this radio is great. If you want a radio which performs well over a wide range of signals using the built-in antenna, this radio fills the bill. And if you want true USB/LSB, along with good bandwidth options in your portable, this is a great choice. Cheers!

(edit, July 23, 2021: an additional “hidden” feature to be included in the shipping version not included in this reviewed unit is an SSB calibration capability – definitely a plus! — Robert)

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A Super-Charged Solar Cycle 25?!

There’s an interesting post from spaceweather.com about two scientists who believe they have found evidence of solar activity which might indicate a super-cycle rivaling the best solar cycles ever recorded. (I, for one, would be thrilled for this since the last such super-cycle seems to have been before I was born, and that was a real long time ago!)

Here’s the link to the article at spaceweather.com:

The Termination Event

73,Robert

Robert Gulley, K4PKM (formerly AK3Q), is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. 

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MULTIPSK Update

Patrick Lindecker, author of MULTIPSK, has announced an update to the software with the addition of DMR decoding (not to be confused with DRM, the subject of several recent posts – alphabet soup!!).

Here is a portion of the announcement:

New release of MULTIPSK (4.42)

The new release of MultiPSK (4.42) is on my Web site (http://f6cte.free.fr/index_anglais.htm).
The mirror site is Earl’s, N8KBR: https://www.paazig.net/f6cte/MULTIPSK_setup.exe

The main improvement of MULTIPSK 4.42 is the following:
Ham DMR decoding (but not the voice)

“DMR” is the acronym for “Digital Mobile Radio”. The basic specifications of this mode are public (ETSI TS 102 361-1 to 3 for the “Tier II” protocol used by Hams), but any supplier can add supplementary functions. It is used in VHF and in UHF, mainly for voice communication but also for data communication. It is a mode for professionals but also used by amateurs (according to a precise organization). For Hams, it is spread in a world net by using, among other means, repeaters and Internet.

The amateur DMR communications are the sole object of the Multipsk decoding (professional communications are decoded but ignored). The DMR is considered as a “professional” mode by Multipsk (but the Ham decoding is not limited in time).

It is here only considered the data communication which summarizes to identifiers (callsigns+first names) and possible text messages (with some rare positions).

Example:

F9XYZ Michel (2088006 – France), via TG 20800 (YSF France) – Slot 1

F0ZZZ Yves (2083004 – France), via TG 20800 (YSF France) – Slot 1

Note: the voice communication decoding is excluded because it needs an AMBE+2 Codec (under a proprietary licence).

For Hams and SWL, the DMR signal can be received:

· either from the discriminator output of a classical VHF/UHF FM receiver via a direct connection to the PC sound card. However, the receiver must have a large reception bandwidth due to the high modulation speed,

· or with a SdR receiver (FunCube Dongle, RTL SDR,…) and directly demodulated by Multipsk. It is the simplest solution.

Here is the WEB address where you can know where all DMR repeaters are located, with their frequencies, for each country: https://www.repeaterbook.com/repeaters/niche/index.php?mode=DMR

This mode is in freeware, so without time limitation.

MULTIPSK comes in two versions – a freeware version and a one-time paid version. It’s the same download, but buying a serial number unlocks many additional features. Note however, the DMR function is part of the free program.

While there have been many additional updates to the software from the time I wrote a review of the program, if interested you can access my review (published in The Spectrum Monitor) here:

MULTIPSK Review

Cheers! Robert K4PKM

Robert Gulley, K4PKM (formerly AK3Q), is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.       Robert also blogs at All Things Radio.

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CQ Serenade – Very Cool!

This link was forwarded to our Amateur Radio Club by a member (who is quite proficient in Morse code, unlike me!) and I just had to share it with Thomas and the SWLing gang!

https://www.on6zq.be/w/index.php/Audio/CqSerenadeFr

There is both a French version and an English version of the song, so enjoy them both!

Robert Gulley, K4PKM (formerly AK3Q), is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.       Robert also blogs at All Things Radio.

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