The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and KHKA, CBS 1500,
unveiled Hawaii’s first Primary Entry Point (PEP) emergency broadcast
facility today. The KHKA facility, located at Kahauiki Village, joins
FEMA’s National Public Warning System (NPWS), which provides critical
information to the public before, during, and after emergency incidents
The NPWS emergency broadcast facility, part of the Integrated Public
Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), includes improved operational
capabilities for up to two months, expanded broadcast capacity,
emergency power generation, and other resilient protective measures for
all types of hazardous events, increasing KHKA’s ability to continue
broadcasting during emergencies.
In the event of a disaster, trained staff can operate the emergency
facilities for several weeks to keep KHKA on air to broadcast messages
from the local, state, and federal governments, as well as community
– – –
FEMA Unveils Disaster-Resistant Broadcast Studio in Hawaii KHNL-TV Honolulu, HI
As the official start of hurricane season approaches on June 1, federal
and local emergency officials introduced a critical tool Wednesday to
keep the public informed in the event of a disaster.
FEMA unveiled a brand new emergency broadcast radio studio that sits on
the grounds of Kahauiki village near Keehi Lagoon.
The facility features a full media setup designed to keep transmitting
communications through any type of threat.
“Everything from tsunamis to earthquakes to tornadoes to hurricanes,”
said FEMA national public warning system manager Manny Centeno.
– – –
Prepared for Anything: Hawaii’s Emergency Broadcast Studio KHON-TV Honolulu, HI
A new facility on Oahu is already relaying information to help recovery
efforts in Guam, even though Hawaii is almost 4,000 miles away.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency gave a tour of their new
emergency broadcast studio on Wednesday, May 24; but the hope is that
locals never need to use it.
The footprint of the studio itself is small, but it is quite a tank. It
is engineered to keep broadcasting before, during and after natural
emergencies like hurricanes and tsunamis. The station is even made to
withstand man-made catastrophes.
“This thing is designed to protect against high-altitude electromagnetic
pulse, EMP. So, this is EMP protected. it is also chemical, biological,
radiological and nuclear protected,” said FEMA National Public Warning
System project manager Manny Centeno.
Before we get into specifics, two things are worth mentioning right off:
I was asked if I would be interested in reviewing this radio by our fearless shortwave listening leader, Thomas, and the copy I have was provided to me at no cost by Radioddity directly. (I have no other affiliation with them, but have recently purchased a GMRS mobile radio from them which I am looking forward to using when I finish my review of the RF75A.)
This is, as you will see from the photos I am including, a pocket radio, not to be confused with a tabletop radio or a small portable radio such as the CCRadio Skywave or similar radio. I mention this because invariably there will be folks who expect tabletop or portable quality from a radio about the size of a playing card. It is not going to happen!
Having those thoughts out of the way, the quick and dirty answer as to the quality of the radio is, I am impressed. For those who have not read anything related to my past experience with radios, I have been a shortwave listener since I was about 10 years old, and now in my early sixties. So, I have seen a fair number of radios in my time (speaking as an old codger, or is that curmudgeon?) and have even moved with the times to incorporate SDRs into my radio arsenal.
Each style of radio has its place, and a pocket radio is designed to be the ultimate in portability and space savings. As light as this shirt pocket radio is, it still manages to feel reasonably solid, and of course, it could be packed into anything one was taking along for a trip.
The radio measures 2.5″ x 3.5″ x 1″. Playing card and cell phone battery for comparison.
Here are some specs from the manufacturer’s website (saving you my long-winded descriptions!):
APP Control SW Radio: Thanks to the app intelligent remote control and Bluetooth 5.0 features, you can enjoy the convenience of RF75A. With its intuitive user interface and powerful wireless capabilities, you can easily control your radio from your devices (support iOS, Android, and HarmonyOS systems).
Wider Reception Range: Listen to FM, VHF, AM, SW, and WB, and stay up-to-date with your favorite radio shows and music with this powerful multi-band receiver. RF75A has a wider range of shortwave frequencies compared to the RF750.
Automatic Scan and Manual Storage: You can save up to 396 stations, so you can easily access your favorite stations. Experience powerful sound and crystal-clear reception with its 9.85′ wire antenna.
Personal Music Player: Boost your music experience with this all-in-one outdoor audio system. With Bluetooth 5.0 feature, a 3.5mm earphone socket, and a TF card socket, you can easily connect to your personal audio devices and connect to your computer as a speaker.
Outdoor Companion: This one-of-a-kind radio is designed to be small and lightweight, making it ideal for travel and outdoor activities. Use the flashlight and SOS for emergencies.
What’s in the box?
1 x Raddy RF75A
1 x Storage bag
1 x Lanyard
1 x Wire antenna
1 x Type-C charging cable
1 x Earphone
I always like to start a radio review by either listening to AM stations first, or WWV time stations for checking out shortwave reception. In this instance I started listening to AM stations in the daytime to see what I could hear on a typical day (no storms nearby, early spring, etc.).
Living in a fairly remote area I was surprised it captured as many stations as it did, making me think the ferrite bar inside must designed well for such a small radio. Evening and nighttime listening brought in many of the usual stations with which we are familiar, particularly the so-called Clear Channel stations. What was more impressive were the many small stations I was able to pick up, not only at night, but early in the morning around 8 a.m.
Surprisingly effective Ferrite Bar
Side vide showing the magnetic wire wrap
One in particular caught my attention as I am quite certain I have never captured them before, was WHKY 1290, Hickory North Carolina. That’s a distance of about 285 miles, received in the morning. I am only about 50 miles from Cincinnati and cannot receive some of their smaller stations on any radio! Color me impressed!
Nighttime brought stations in from several thousand miles, as you would expect, yet I was likewise impressed with this little radio’s capabilities on AM.
I confess to not being much of an FM listener, but I did tune around the band for FM stations to test its ability to “lock on” to signals (as indicated by a tiny red light) and to pick up stations from quite a good distance away with clarity and good sound.
This might be a good time to mention the quality of sound from the small 3 Watt(!) speaker and bass boost from the back. Again, this is not my Sangean 909 X2 with a large speaker, nor my CC Radio EP, but it has rather amazing clarity and volume capability for such a small radio. I cranked the volume up quite high with no distortion, and even though the speaker is small, the bass boost seems to round out the sound quite nicely, avoiding some of tinny sounding speakers common in such a small radio.
The radio has coverage of the NOAA weather radio stations and it surprised me with being able to receive 4-5 stations, more than I have gotten with most other radios. All but one of the signals were crystal clear, with the fifth having some noise, but still quite intelligible.
This radio includes the air band frequencies and amateur 2-meter frequencies (30.000-199.975 MHZ). I am usually able to receive some signals, but I am quite far away from any local airports or repeaters, so my main reception is from CVG, Greater Cincinnati Airport. While the radio scans the air band frequencies, like any other radio, it is best to find local frequencies you want to hear and program them into memory so you are not wasting a lot of time scanning dead air (these are country specific). Likewise amateur repeaters or GMRS, marine, or public service channels would be best used in memory channels except when scanning for new frequencies.
Shortwave listening is very respectable, with frequency ranges between 4.750-21.850 MHz (it does not have SSB capability). Tuning can be accomplished by pressing and holding one of the directional tuning keys for about 2 seconds, a long press scans faster. A single press of either directional button will move the frequency increment based on the band/mode chosen.
The radio also features something I have come to really like: a pause button which works not only in music mode, but also when receiving regular radio signals, activated by a quick press of the power button. The frequency is held while pause is active, and then releasing the pause with a second quick press of the power button resumes with all your setting still active.
When comparing this with another radio it was particularly useful instead of having to turn the volume down like most radios. This feature is also nice for answering a call or other interruption, and you resume right where you left off.
Sound Effects, TF Card, Audio in, Bluetooth Usage and other Errata
I have not covered these features as they do not impact radio reception, but I mention them just for completeness. All of these features are available and can be read about in the user’s manual. I will mention the flashlight feature and the emergency siren features, as these are useful for portable operation. The light is quite bright, and the siren will hurt your ears if you trip it accidentally, especially more than once. Ask me how I know!
There is a sleep timer as well as an alarm clock function, with the sleep timer adjustable by default starting at 90 minutes. Most buttons have multiple functions depending on the mode employed, so reading the manual is important for some of these features. I was able to get up and running without reading the manual initially, but some features were functional only in certain modes, so eventually you will need the manual which can be downloaded from the Radioddity site.
A bit of a novelty in this size and type of radio is the Apple/Android app available to control radio functions remotely through Bluetooth connectivity. I have to say, on Android at least, the app is beautiful and I wish more apps used such a clear color scheme and large controls. Your mileage may vary based on your preferences, but I like it!
The free Phone app on an Android phone. I like the crisp, clear layout and colors, and the intuitive design.
As to function, the app gives you more information than the radio screen, such as the Bandwidth, SNR, received signal strength and the volume setting in one display. As a side note, the radio can still be adjusted at the radio, and then changes are reflected in the app almost instantaneously.
Of course, the main use for the app is to operate remotely, and the controls are easy to use, including, most importantly, direct keyboard entry of frequencies! This is always the biggest drawback to small radios without a keypad. There are instructions for using the app, but for the most part the app is laid out so well you can control the radio pretty much intuitively.
Yep, there are a few. When tuning with a single press each time there is some soft muting – fortunately it does not last long, but it is there. The buttons also make a clicking sound, not too loud, but it is there. If something like that annoys you, be aware all the buttons make a mechanical click.
I have noticed on several occasions that the band/mode button may stick slightly and take you past where you want to go. Not a big problem, but it does happen now and again. Of course, this could just be my unit.
Also, naturally, the buttons are small. And while I did not have much of an issue even with fairly large fingers, there were times when I pressed the desired button but also hit the one below it. Not a problem for me, but again, if you have very large fingers you may find the radio a bit tricky to navigate in some places. (This only happened on the front buttons for me, the tuning buttons are adequately spaced for most anyone I think.)
The telescoping antenna is probably the weakest point on the radio – similar to most radios, really. It is thin and could be bent easily. I had no difficulties, but I always took care to raise it gently and watched where I was moving the radio around. Then again, I do that will all my radios with telescoping antennas. Just a heads-up to be careful.
I like this little radio, and will probably keep it in my car for those times when I might want to listen to the radio out and about, check the NOAA weather forecast, use the flashlight, or (hopefully never need) to use the siren. The battery seems to last a long time on a charge when using the radio – I cannot speak to the MP3 drain or a prolonged flashlight/siren drain, but under normal use it seems excellent. It uses a USB-C connection like my phone, so charging is not an issue for me. It will almost fully charge in an hour; the instructions say 2 hours.
Pocket radios certainly have their niche, and I think this one does quite well in that role. If you are in the market for such a radio, I think you will be pleased, especially for the price and the addition of the free remote-control app. 73!
A collection of over 150 “QSL cards”, QSL? chronicles a moment in time before the Internet age, when global communication was thriving via amateur, or “ham”, radio operators.
Discovered by designer Roger Bova, the distinctly designed cards follow the international correspondence of one ham, station W2RP, who turned out to be the longest-standing licensed operator in The United States.
TAIPEI, Taiwan — On Tuesday nights, BX2AN sits near the Xindian River, motionless but for his thumb and middle finger, rhythmically tapping against two small metal paddles. They emit a sound each time his hand makes contact — from the right, a dit, or dot; from the left, a dah, or dash, the building blocks of the Morse code alphabet.
“Is anyone there?” he taps.
The replies come back in fits and starts: from Japan, then Greece, then Bulgaria. Each time, BX2AN, as he is known on the radio waves, jots down a series of numbers and letters: call signs, names, dates, locations. Then he adjusts a black round knob on his transceiver box, its screens glowing yellow in the dark.
There can be no doubt that this is his setup. That unique call sign is stamped across the front of his black radio set, scrawled in faded Sharpie on his travel mug and engraved in a plaque on his car dashboard. On the edge of his notepad, he’s absent-mindedly doodled it again, BX2AN.
In the corporeal world he is Lee Jiann-shing, a 71-year-old retired bakery owner, husband, father of five, grandfather of eight and a ham radio enthusiast for 30 years. Every week, he is the first to arrive at this regular meeting for Taipei’s amateur radio hobbyists.
[…]The self-governing island, about 100 miles east of China, is weighing wartime scenarios in the face of growing military aggression from its vastly more powerful neighbor. If cell towers are down and internet cables have been cut, the ability of shortwave radio frequencies to transmit long-distance messages could become crucial for civilians and officials alike. [Continue reading…]
CARACAS, Oct 26 (Reuters) – In July officials from Venezuela’s telecommunications regulator entered the Moda 105.1 FM radio station, in the northwestern state of Cojedes, accompanied by members of the national guard and demanding to see all the station’s licensing.
Hours later they stopped it broadcasting – making Moda one of at least 50 stations in Venezuela’s interior which have been closed so far this year by the Conatel regulator because it says they lack valid licenses.
The accelerated closures are a new step in efforts by the government of President Nicolas Maduro to control information and give state media hegemony over communications, journalist guilds and non-governmental organizations say, continuing a policy begun under his predecessor Hugo Chavez. [Continue reading…]
We have arrived at a milestone. The 100th edition of The ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications is here: Handbook 100. How do you celebrate the most widely used one-stop reference and guide to radio technology principles and practices? By continuing to fill the pages of another edition with the progress and achievement of radio amateurs. Handbook 100 is written for everyone with a desire to advance the pursuit of wireless technology. Here is your guide to radio experimentation, discovery, and innovation.
Each chapter is filled with the most up-to-date knowledge representative of the wide and ever-expanding range of interests among radio amateurs. There are practical, hands-on projects for all skill levels — from simple accessories and small power supplies to legal-limit amplifiers and high-gain antennas.
Radio electronics theory and principles
Circuit design and equipment
Signal transmission and propagation
Digital modulation and protocols
Antennas and transmission lines
Updated with new projects and content, including:
An all-new chapter on radio propagation covering a wide range of bands and modes
New and updated sections on electronic circuit simulation
New cavity filter and high-power HF filter projects
New coverage on digital protocols and modes
New material on RFI from low-voltage lighting and other sources
Revised sections covering new RF exposure limits
New content on portable station equipment, antennas, power, and assembly
New material on ferrite uses and types
New section on how to use portable SDR to locate sources of RFI …and more.
1st corollary: Even if anything can’t go wrong, it still will.
2nd corollary: It will go wrong in the worst possible place at the worst possible time.
Most devastating corollary: Murphy was an optimist.
“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” – Yogi Berra
The Better Half thinks I am sick, and maybe she is right, but I am unrepentant: I like disaster movies and books. True stories are better than fiction, but I like both, and I am curious about how people, real or imagined, get through whatever Horrible Event faces them.
As I have written before–here, here, and here–that when bad stuff happens, radio can be a really useful tool.
It was a comment from a reader – Rob, W4ZNG – that got me thinking some more about this. He mentioned enduring three weeks without electricity on the Mississippi Gulf Coast as a result of Katrina. So we had a phone conversation about: What do you want in your radio kit bag when faced with a longer duration, more severe regional or national emergency?
Here’s some of the stuff we agreed upon.
At the most basic level, you want a radio capable of receiving local AM or FM broadcasters, and it would be good to know ahead of time which local stations have local news staffs that can broadcast useful in formation in times of crisis. In addition, if you live in the US or Canada, I absolutely recommend the ability to receive NOAA weather radio. The ability to run off batteries is critical, in case the mains power is out. In addition, a generous supply of batteries, or a means to recharge batteries is in order. If you decide to go with recharging batteries, you need to think about your options now, not when the lights go out.
In Rob’s case, during Katrina, all of the local broadcasters were wiped out. There was a local low-power FM broadcaster who got permission to increase power to 1,000 watts and was broadcasting where to get food and water. There was a New Orleans AM station that was on the air, but all of its coverage was “New Orleans-centric.” After a few days, some local FM broadcaster, working together, cobbled together a station that they put on the air and began broadcasting news. Rob also began DXing AM stations at night to get additional news.
We agreed that shortwave broadcasters were not likely to be very useful in most cases, but a shortwave radio with the ability to hear ham radio single sideband networks might well be.
To scan, or not to scan, that is the question
Another potential source of information are local public agency radio transmissions in the VHF and UHF ranges that could be heard with a scanner. But – and this is a very big but – that depends a lot on whether your local government (first responders, etc.) transmissions are encrypted. You need to check a source like https://www.radioreference.com/db/ to see if Public Safety transmissions in your area are encrypted. If they are, you will be unable to decipher them, no matter what equipment you own. However, an inexpensive analog-only scanner may prove very useful for listening to ham transmissions VHF and UHF (2 meters and 440 primarily) as well as FRS and GMRS.
If your local Public Safety radio systems are not encrypted, the RR database will give the details of the radio systems used by those agencies, and that in turn will determine the level of sophistication of scanner that will be required to hear their transmission.
The Radio Reference database also includes a listing of national radio frequencies including a list of federal disaster frequencies such as might be used by FEMA. In addition, I have found that the folks at the Radio Reference forum are generous with their time and expertise: https://forums.radioreference.com/ . If all this sounds a bit daunting, there are scanners that have built-in databases of all available frequencies and radio systems, and all you need to do is put in your zip code and select which services you want to hear. I own one, they work well, but they are expensive.
Assuming that the power is out, your cell phone may or may not work (during Hurricane Katrina, some people found that they could not make voice phone calls, but text messages would go through).
If the cell phones are not working, two-way radio may be useful to summon help and gather information. Again, some research on your part is in order. Perhaps there are 2-meter or 440 ham repeaters in your area with backup power, or maybe there is a robust GMRS repeater system. If so, get your ham or GMRS license and start participating! (It was his experience during Hurricane Katrina that prompted Rob to get his ham license, and when Hurricane Zeta hit, he was glad he had it.)
FRS bubble-pack radios are good for staying in touch while getting around the immediate neighborhood. It’s also good to have a few spares to hand to neighbors if the need arises. Often on sale (especially after Christmas) in multi-packs for less than $10 each.
Rob notes that great strides have been made in hardening cell phone towers since Katrina. When Hurricane Harvey clobbered Houston in 2017, the cell net stayed up. Even so, it would be prudent not to count on it!
The Bottom Line
At a bare minimum the ability to receive your local AM and FM broadcasters is essential, and NOAA weather radio is also very useful. At the next step up, depending upon your local situation, a scanner may help you to gather information. In addition, the ability to monitor ham transmissions may also add to your information gathering abilities. Finally, having a ham license and the ability to transmit on ham frequencies may be very valuable in a widespread or long-duration emergency.
What made this morning unusual were the things I couldn’t see: the digital clock across the room, the tiny LED lamp that illuminates the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. They were both dark. In fact, the only light that I could see was the LED from the uninterruptable power supply for the computer in the next room. It was pulsing, indicating the power from the mains was out.
With the help of a flashlight kept within easy reach of the bed, I made my way downstairs. A peek out the windows revealed the surrounding area was dark; no lights in local houses, no street lights. A house across the ravine behind my house had a single light, but it had the bright white look of an emergency lantern. So this outage was wider spread than just the lane where I live. But how widespread was it? In early February in upstate New York, it’s winter; temperature about 6 degrees Fahrenheit on this particular morning. The thermostat on the wall has already dropped below where the furnace should have kicked on. With no electricity; no furnace.
With no house power, I had no internet, so I couldn’t look things up to find out why there was no house power. Because we use Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), with no internet, no house phone.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Well, dummy, fire up your smart phone, and in a few moments you’ll have your answers.”
To that I say: “Not so fast there, pardner.”
I consulted with a ham radio friend who makes his living in the commercial radio business. He consults with many companies, including cell phone companies, so he knows what he is talking about.
It turns out there are three things that could render your smart phone useless.
The first is whether your local cell tower(s) have battery back-up. Most do, but how many hours the batteries will run the cell tower can vary widely from just a couple of hours to perhaps eight. Depending upon when the power went out, you may or may not be able to connect.
The second is that many cell phone towers themselves connect to the rest of the network through wire or fiber optic cable. If a vehicle has taken down a pole, or a falling tree has taken down a cable, the network may be disrupted.
Finally, if there is high demand for your local cell phone tower, you may not be able to make a connection. My commercial radio “guru” relates that he went to an event at a local community college. There is a cell tower right on the property, but he had great difficulty connecting simply because so many people were trying to use the tower.
During emergencies, cell phone networks frequently go into gridlock because of high demand, so it’s a good idea to have other means of gathering information. An interesting aside: some years ago, I heard a presentation from one of the hospital administrators who was in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. They were unable to make voice phone calls, but apparently they could sometimes send and receive text messages.
Getting back to my small lights-out incident, I was in the actual act of firing up a radio to check out what local broadcasters on the AM (medium wave) band had to say, when the lights came on, the furnace started, and internet and phone service were restored. My greatest inconvenience was having to reset a couple of digital clocks.
But it raised a serious question:what should be your essential listening post if the lights go out, the fertilizer hits the ventilation equipment?
First and foremost, a battery-powered radio capable of receiving your local broadcasters. You need to know – or find out – which ones have back-up power so they can keep transmitting. Knowing that will do two things for you: first, tuning in to a station with back-up power will hopefully get you the information you need, and second, if stations that don’t have back-up power are off the air, that will give you an indication of how widespread the power outage is.
Knowing the extent of the blackout can be important. A couple of decades ago, on an August afternoon, my better half and I took our young son to a local park where there was a water fountain that the kids could run through. When we got home later, the power was out. I saw the neighbor standing in her yard and asked if she had reported the outage. “No point,” she said. “Why?” I asked. “Because the lights are out from Canada to Virginia.” Oh.
In addition to knowing which stations are likely to be on the air, it’s also good to know which local stations have news staff that are likely to collect and broadcast information that is needed during an emergency.
Second, if you live in the United States or Canada, you need a weather radio. Every state in the Union has bad weather of one sort or another . . . and some of them can kill you. NOAA weather radio is an excellent source of information. It’s free, and it does a fine job of delivering weather-related info in a concise and useful format.
Third, it would be very useful to have a scanner or ham radio capable of receiving your local 2 meter repeaters. This could be an additional source of useful information in a crisis.
So, are there any radios that I would recommend for “The Essential Listening Post” when the lights go out?
Yes, there are.
The C.Crane CCRadio 2E
First on my list would be the C.Crane CCRadio 2E (or CCRadio3). It receives AM, FM, NOAA Weather Band with Weather Alert and the 2-Meter Ham Band. It will run on house power or, if the lights are out, over 200 hours on batteries. By all accounts, it offers excellent performance on AM and FM, and it is one of the most sensitive NOAA weather radio receivers I have tested. I bought one and can heartily recommend it.
CC Skywave SSB
The CCrane Skywave SSB receives AM, FM, NOAA Weather band plus Alert, Shortwave (1711-29.999MHz) with SSB, VHF Aviation Band. It doesn’t receive the 2 meter ham band, but it will receive hams on HF frequencies, which might come in handy in an emergency. It is not quite as sensitive as the CCrane 2E on NOAA weather frequencies, but, as I reported last year it was the most sensitive NOAA weather radio receiver I took to Sodus, NY. It is very small and portable and will run for over 50 hours on batteries. I bought one and can heartily recommend it.
The Eton FRX3+
The Eton FRX3+ is an interesting alternative for a “when the lights go out” radio. This battery-powered radio receives AM, FM, and NOAA weather radio with alert. It has a couple of LED lights for navigating in the dark and can be charged by a built-in solar panel, hand-crank, or USB cable, and can even be used to charge your cell phone. Eton Corp. sent me one of these, and I find that it offers worthy performance on AM and FM, and excellent sensitivity on NOAA weather radio. Recommended.
In the future, I hope to offer some additional useful information about NOAA weather radio as well as a comparison of different ways to receive NOAA weather radio, including dedicated weather radio, consumer radio, scanner, and ham handi-talkie.
Radio Waves: Stories Making Waves in the World of Radio
Because I keep my ear to the waves, as well as receive many tips from others who do the same, I find myself privy to radio-related stories that might interest SWLing Post readers. To that end: Welcome to the SWLing Post’sRadio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Dan Van Hoy, Dennis Dura, Rich Cuff, and the Southgate ARC for the following tips:
There’s still lots to listen to, and new ways to do it
Surprise! Shortwave radio as a broadcast medium is holding its own, despite the intrusion of the internet, transmission cutbacks by major broadcasters such as the BBC World Service and Voice of America and abandonment of the SW bands by other state-owned broadcasters.
Meanwhile, the ways in which people listen to SW radio transmissions are evolving, because SW receiver manufacturers are keeping up with the technological times.
There is no doubt that the variety of stations on the SW bands has declined, due to the end of the Cold War — the propaganda war of which drove the medium in the 1950s and 1960s — and the emergence of the internet.
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.
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)
Select the MW or LW band.
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.
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)
In power-off mode, press and hold the [ 3 ] key to set the MW tuning steps to 9kHz.
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.
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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