Category Archives: Emergency Preparedness

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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Radio Waves: A Perfect CME, FCC Construction Permit Auction, More Music On AM, and Virtual SWL Fest Reminder

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’s Radio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Eric McFadden, Mike Terry, for the following tips:


A “Perfect Coronal Mass Ejection” Could Be a Nightmare (ARRL News)

A new study in the research journal Space Weather considers what might happen if a worst-case coronal mass ejection (CME) hit Earth — a “perfect solar storm,” if you will.

In 2014, Bruce Tsurutani of Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Gurbax Lakhina of the Indian Institute of Geomagnetism introduced the “perfect CME.” It could create a magnetic storm with intensity up to the saturation limit, a value greater than the Carrington Event of 1859, the researchers said. Many other spaceweather effects would not be limited by saturation effects, however. The interplanetary shock would arrive at Earth within about 12 hours, the shock impingement onto the magnetosphere would create a sudden impulse of around 234 nanoteslas (nT), and the magnetic pulse duration in the magnetosphere would be about 22 seconds. Orbiting satellites would be exposed to “extreme levels of flare and interplanetary CME (ICME) shock-accelerated particle radiation,” they said. The event would follow an initial CME that would “clear the path in front of it, allowing the storm cloud to hit Earth with maximum force.”

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) has observed CMEs leaving the sun at speeds of up to 3,000 kilometers per second, and many instances of one CME clearing the way for another have been recorded.

The CME’s 12-hour travel time would allow little margin for preparation. The CME would hit Earth’s magnetosphere at 45 times the local speed of sound, and the resulting geomagnetic storm could be as much as twice as strong as the Carrington Event. Power grids, GPS, and other services could experience significant outages.

More recent research led by physicist Dan Welling of the University of Texas at Arlington took a fresh look at Tsurutani and Lakhina’s “perfect CME,” and given improvements in spaceweather modeling, he was able to reach new conclusions.

Welling’s team found that geomagnetic disturbances in response to a perfect CME could be 10 times stronger than Tsurutani and Lakhina had calculated, especially at latitudes above 45 to 50 °. “[Our results] exceed values observed during many past extreme events, including the March 1989 storm that brought down the Hydro-Québec power grid in eastern Canada, the May 1921 railroad storm, and the Carrington Event itself,” Welling summarized.

A key result of the new study is how the CME would distort and compress Earth’s magnetosphere. The strike would push the magnetopause down until it’s only 2 Earth-radii above Earth’s surface. Satellites in Earth orbit would suddenly find themselves exposed to a hail of energetic, and potentially damaging, charged particles.

Other research has indicated that phenomena such as the Carrington Event may not be as rare as once thought. A much weaker magnetic storm brought down the Canadian Hydro?Québec system in 1989.

Scientists believe a perfect CME will happen someday. As Welling et al conclude, “Further exploring and preparing for such extreme activity is important to mitigate spaceweather-related catastrophes.”

In July 2012, NASA and European spacecraft watched an extreme solar storm erupt from the sun and narrowly miss Earth. “If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces,” said Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado at a NOAA Space Weather Workshop 2 years later. “It might have been stronger than the Carrington Event itself.”

Click here to read at the ARRL News.

FCC To Auction Off 140 Radio Stations (Radio Ink)

The FCC has announced that on July 27th an auction will be held for 136 FM construction permits and 4 AM’s. In this auction, the 130 FM permits that were previously included in the March 2020 auction, that had to be canceled due to COVID, will be included plus an additional 6 permits. Anyone who applied for stations in the planned 2020 auction must reapply. All applications for the previous auction have been dismissed.

[…]You can see the FM stations to be auctioned off HERE.

The Commission is proposing a simultaneous multiple-round auction format. This type of auction offers every construction permit for bid at the same time and consists of successive bidding rounds in which qualified bidders may place bids on individual construction permits. Typically, bidding remains open on all construction permits until bidding stops on every construction permit.

Get more details from the FCC website HERE.[]

Why There’s More Music on AM Now (Radio Survivor)

by Paul Riismandel

A number of months ago I was scanning around the AM dial late in the evening from my Portland, Oregon abode. I stumbled upon a station playing hard rock, which I thought to be an unusual find. As the AM dial has become mostly the domain of conservative and sports talk, I rarely encounter music that isn’t a bumper or part of some leased-time foreign-language programming.

In fact, at first I thought perhaps the music was a lead-in to just another talk show, but eventually I heard a full set of three songs. The station identified itself as “The Bear,” but curiously gave an FM frequency, not one on the AM dial.

An internet search the next day confirmed that “the Bear” is indeed an active rock formatted station located in Merced, California. Its logo features 105.7 FM prominently, with the 1660 AM frequency tucked in the corner. Yet, the AM signal is actually the primary one – the FM is a 250 watt repeater (translator) station.

Here’s a quick aircheck of the Bear’s station ID, during a break in the syndicated hard rock “Loudwire” program.

Now, AM stations have been permitted to get FM translators for a few years now as part of the FCC’s so-called “AM revitalization” initiative. But mostly I’ve heard sports and news/talk stations get repeated on FM.

I filed away this experience in memory, but kind of considered it a one-off. That was until my recent vacation in the Wallowa Mountains of Northeastern Oregon. Stowed away and social distancing in a mountainside cabin with limited internet and no cable, I spent quite a bit of time scanning the AM and shortwave bands in search of interesting sounds. Continue reading at Radio Survivor…

Register for the 2021 34th “Virtual” Winter SWL Fest!

If you’ve thought about attending the annual Winter SWL Fest, but found it difficult to make the travel arrangements, this year you can get a taste of the Fest by attending virtually.

You’ll find the program below, but click here to view it at the Winter SWL Fest site, and click here to register (only $5 for both days including all presentations and the hospitality room).

The event takes place February 27-28, 2021.


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Photos of the new Tecsun GR-99 emergency radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mei Tao, who writes:

Hi Thomas:

I’m happy to tell you that yesterday [January 29, 2021] Tecsun released a new model Emergency Radio. I’ve included some photos:

The GR-99 includes FM, AM and SW bands. As most of today’s radios, it is also based on the DSP chip which offers good performance. It can be powered by the built-in Ni-MH battery and two AA batteries.

This radio also features hand crank power generator which can charge your device such as smartphone through the micro-USB cable. In case of emergency, GR-99 with flashlight and SOS alarm can give you a hand.

Nearly a month ago, I helped to test the prototype of this radio and gave them my advice. Now it’s great to see it on sale.

At last, provide you with a photo of me, almost two years ago. I took this selfie with my radios.

Oh I must admit that several radio in this photo were my friends’.

Sincerely

Mei Tao

Ha ha!!! I love the photo, Mei Tao–absolutely brilliant!

I’m happy to see that not only is Tecsun still producing an emergency radio with an analog dial (which requires less of the battery than a digital display), but also is still including the shortwave bands.

Thank you very much for reporting on this early production run Tecsun radios, Mei Tao!

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Doug recommends the RegeMoudal Emergency Solar Hand Crank AM/FM/WX Radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Doug Nickle, who writes:

“You once recommended some alternatives to the CCrane Solar Observer. In looking at the RunningSnail you initially recommended, I came across this other upgraded version (with a slightly larger battery bank, 2000 mAh, vs. 1000 mAh).

[…]I did pick up the RegeMoudal Emergency Solar Hand Crank Radio. It looks like it’s made for a couple different companies/brands.

So far I like it a lot, for an emergency radio. Audio is pretty good for a radio in this price range.

[…]I’ve been generally happy with the WX reception. AM and FM are generally clear, if not a bit tinny, but that is dependent on the clarity of the station to begin with as the stronger stations come in smooth and balanced.

The flashlight and reading light are bright and functional LED; the flip up reading light is a really nice addition and would work well in a tent or simply in a power outage.

I haven’t tested it yet, but I bought this unit because of the 2000 mAH battery bank. I’ve got multiple dedicated, higher capacity battery banks, but I figured having one more can’t hurt.

My only wish would be a slightly longer antenna (this one is only nine inches).

I’m currently using rechargable AAA batteries but it comes with a micro USB and has both micro and regular USB inputs for charging, as well as a plug for a headset.

Neat little rig and worth having in the bag for emergencies or power outages. All in all, this is a great emergency radio for under $30 bucks.”

Click here to view on Amazon (note: this affiliate link supports the SWLing Post)

Thank you, Doug.  I agree with you: the increased capacity of the internal battery is actually a major plus. I’m also happy to hear that the LED lighting is functional.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a model with a pop-up light on top. Thanks for sharing your review.

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Frequency coordination news and IRDR updates

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Alan Hughes, who shares this article by WRMI’s Jeff White in Radio World magazine. Besides covering updates in the A19 broadcast season, and Radio Exterior de España’s increased broadcasts, Jeff notes frequencies and updates for the International Radio for Disaster Relief initiative.

For more information about the IRDR, check out the information below taken from this page on the HFCC website:

International Radio for Disaster Relief (IRDR)
Humanitarian Aspects of HFCC Activities

From its infancy since 1920s shortwave radio has been associated with its potential of being a communication tool in emergencies. This use of shortwave radio is still very much present among amateur radio enthusiasts for example, who discovered its long distance properties early in the twentieth century. Amateur radio provides a means of communication on shortwaves and other frequencies “when all else fails”. This role of amateur radio is well recognised, valued and appreciated both by the public and by the world institutions managing and regulating the use of the radio spectrum.

In contrast the huge technical potential of international shortwave broadcasting that operates transmitter facilities tens, or hundred times, more powerful than those of amateur radio, remains almost unused in emergencies. At the moment when local and even regional communication and information networks are needed most, they are destroyed or overloaded and the population suffers from an information blackout. Shortwave radio is capable of remaining the only source of information.

Although the life-saving role of radio broadcasting is widely recognised by the public, and confirmed by surveys conducted after the recent disasters – and even acknowledged by world leaders – no concrete projects have been ever designed and no regulatory framework has been developed.

That is why the HFCC – International Broadcasting Delivery in co-operation with the Arab States and Asia-Pacific broadcasting unions are working on an International Radio for Disaster Relief (IRDR) project that is based on the system of online co-ordination of frequencies managed by the HFCC in accordance with International Radio Regulations.

The HFCC is aware of the humanitarian aspects of international broadcasting. It pointed out in 2012 – as the UNESCO partner for the preparation of the World Radio Day – that terrestrial shortwave radio in particular is still considered as a powerful communication and information tool during emergency situations. Read more >>

Receivers are inexpensive and require no access fees. Shortwave radio is important for people living in remote and isolated regions of the world. It reaches across the digital divide to the most disadvantaged and marginalised societies. This is also in keeping with the Declaration and Action Plan of the World Summit on the Information Society.

The annual edition of the World Disasters Report of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) issued in October 2013 stressed again that with only 6 percent of people in low-income countries using the internet in 2011 the digital divide is still stark, and access to low cost media technology is really the key.

The HFCC is a strong advocate for incorporating terrestrial broadcasting permanently on the disaster risk reduction agendas of the ITU and other UN agencies and institutions. It submitted two documents for the ITU-R Working Party 6A November 2013 meeting:

HFCC – The Importance of Terrestrial radio in International Broadcasting
HFCC – The International Radio for Disaster Relief Project

Both documents are annexes in Section 8 of the ITU-R Study Group 6 Report BT.2266 “Broadcasting for public warning, disaster mitigation and relief”. The report can be downloaded via this link.

A workshop was held during the November 2013 meeting addressing these issues. The web site of the Emergency Broadcasting Workshop can be accessed here. The web site also contains copies of all the presentations that were made at the workshop, and a Video interview with Christoph Dosch, Chairman of ITU-R Study Group 6 (Broadcasting service)

The HFCC has applied for membership in the CDAC (Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities) Network in keeping with the conclusion of the debate on emergency communication during the Bratislava B13 Conference. Read more >>

The HFCC is staying in touch with the Information and Communication Sector of the UNESCO agency on the preparation of the World Radio Days that are celebrated each year on February 13th.

Humanitarian aspects of terrestrial broadcasting were also on the agenda of the Global Kuala Lumpur conference in January 2014. Read Opening Remarks.

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A review of the Tivdio HR-11S self-powered shortwave radio

A few months ago, the radio manufacturer Tivdio contacted me to see if I would be interested in evaluating their new Tivdio HR-11S self-powered emergency radio. I receive requests like this frequently, and often pass on the opportunity since I generally don’t have the time to evaluate the overwhelming number of inexpensive DSP radios that have hit the market in the past few years.

But this time, I seriously considered it.  There were two reasons I was interested in the HR-11S:

  1. I purchased a Tivdio V-117 last year, and have been pretty pleased with it; indeed, I’m overdue a review on this unit. We’ve also posted several positive reviews of the Tivdio V-115.
  2. At our non-profit ETOW, we’re always looking for reliable self-powered radios with shortwave for use in areas of the world where radio remains the primary news source.

Thus this radio is a rather rare breed.  Tivdio dispatched the radio very quickly, but my work with the Radio Spectrum Archive and several other reviews already in the pipeline took priority.

I’ve had the HR-11S in service for several months, and have now explored every feature to some degree. What follows is my summary and review notes.

Green and Red radios are different models

First things first: note that I’m reviewing the Green HR-11S. Tivdio also makes a Red version which is actually a different model number: the HR-11W.

The main difference between these models, as I understand it, is the green HR-11S is a shortwave version, and the red HR-11W is a NOAA weather radio version.

Both are useful; why not combine the two roles in one unit?  I’m not surprised this radio can’t include both shortwave and NOAA weather radio. Through Ears To Our World, I’ve worked with self-powered DSP radios for many years, and know that a limitation of the DSP chip is that it can be set to feature either shortwave or weather radio, but not both, simultaneously, if both AM and FM are included.

Form factor

The HR-11S has a built-in solar panel.

The HR-11S adopts the standard “flashlight” form factor found in so many other self-powered radios. I think the flashlight functionality is a useful feature and results in a handy form factor.  It’s compact, lightweight, and seems relatively sturdy, so is suitable for camping, travel, and off-grid utility.

Flashlight/Siren switch

A small switch on top toggles between four positions. The first two positions are off/on for the main white LED. Though the flashlight aperture is relatively small, the white LED provides enough luminosity to light your immediate path at night, and certainly more than enough to read by.

The third switch position engages a flashing red LED. The red LED is not terribly bright and I’m not sure how helpful this would be in an emergency situation.

The red LED is rather dim and can only flash.

I would much rather have the red LED maintain a steady beam which would be great for amateur astronomers, campers, or anyone else wishing to preserve their night vision.

The fourth position engages a LOUD siren. More than once when attempting to turn on the flashlight in the dark, I’ve accidentally engaged this pain-inducing feature. The switch is small, thus it’s very easy to engage the siren. In a quiet campground, this might annoy your neighbors––not to mention you, yourself.  Of course, in an emergency situation, a loud siren could come in handy. I just wish its switch wasn’t combined with the flashlight switch.

The display HR-11S display is backlit and easy to read.

The HR-11S sports a keypad that allows direct frequency input––a very good thing, considering there is no tuning knob.

To band scan, you must use the #7 and #8 key on the keypad to increase and decrease frequency in predetermined steps. And, yes, the radio mutes between frequency changes.

You can also press and hold the #7 or #8 buttons to engage an auto-tune feature that finds the next strong signal.

The HR-11S’ rechargeable battery pack.

To input a frequency directly, simply press the enter button, key in the frequency, then press the enter button once more to engage that frequency. Very simple.

The volume up/down buttons are #1 and #2 on the keypad.

The keypad is not backlit and the layout for volume control, tuning, mode switching, etc., is a bit confusing; it doesn’t match any other radio I’ve ever used.  Of course, with time you’ll master the keypad functions, but the design could be made more user-friendly.

Performance: setting expectations

SWLing Post community members know that I tend to review what I call “enthusiast grade” radios: receivers that perform well enough to attract the attention of DXers and dedicated listeners.

Self-powered radios, with few exceptions, rarely impress me in terms of performance. Indeed, some of the best that have been on the market have been analog units (I’m particularly fond of the Grundig FR200).

The Tivdio HR-11S is no exception––don’t expect to snag elusive DX with this unit. It’s not going to happen.

FM

The HR-11S is a capable FM receiver. Performance is on par with most average FM radios: you’ll easily receive all of your local broadcasters, but distant stations may require holding the unit in your hand, careful positioning, or adding an extra bit of wire to the antenna.

The FM audio is quite good via the HR-11S’s built-in speaker.

AM

The mediumwave, or AM broadcast band, is the HR-11S’ weakest suit. AM is plagued with internally-generated noises–especially in the lower part of the band–thus you’ll only be able to clearly receive local AM broadcasters that rise well above the noise floor. Thus I cannot recommend this radio for AM reception.

Shortwave

Shortwave reception is on par with other DSP self-powered radios I’ve tested. As I write this section of the review, I’m listening to China Radio International on 9,570 kHz in my office without even having the telescopic whip antenna extended. (CRI is a blowtorch station, however).

I find that the HR-11S can receive most strong broadcasters and even weaker stations, though the AGC is not ideal when fading is present.

If you’re seeking a self-powered radio with shortwave, the HR-11S is somewhat useful in this regard and is worth consideration.

Keep in mind, though, that an inexpensive dedicated ultralight shortwave radio like the Tecsun PL-310ET will perform circles around this unit.

Bluetooth

One feature I’ve found incredibly useful is the Bluetooth functionality.  With Bluetooth mode engaged, you can connect the HR-11S to pretty much any mobile device and use it as a wireless portable external speaker. Since the speaker has decent audio fidelity for the size, and can be powered by battery, it’s a brilliant feature and will make watching videos on your smartphone, for example, that much better.

One negative? At least in my unit, I can hear some internally-generated noises in Bluetooth mode. This is especially noticeable at lower volume levels.

Recording

In full disclosure, I haven’t tested the recording functionality extensively. Built-in radio recording is an interesting feature, but one I would rarely use in a self-powered radio. I did make a handful of test recordings, however, and like many other DSP radios with a recording function, the HR-11S injects noise in the recordings.

Summary

Every radio has its pros and cons. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget my initial impressions and observations. Here’s the Tivdio HR-11S pro/con list, from the first moments I turned it on to the present:

Pros:

  • Keypad entry
  • Great audio for size
  • Replaceable battery (Note: after unboxing unit, you must place battery in battery compartment; it’s packed in the side box)
  • Siren  (see con)
  • Micro SD card for digital storage
  • USB can port audio from PC
  • Bluetooth––use as a portable wireless speaker for mobile devices (see con)
  • ATS (auto tune) function
  • Multiple power sources:
    • 850mAh rechargeable lithium battery
    • hand-crank dynamo generator
    • Mini solar panel
    • DC 5V input (standard micro USB)
  • Backlit informative display
  • Customer service: Tivdio representatives seem to respond quickly to customer emails and comments on Amazon.com.

Cons:

  • Tuning is cumbersome (no tuning knob)
  • Mutes between frequencies
  • Siren too easy to activate, resulting in accidental activation
  • AM broadcast band (MW) is plagued with internally-generated noises
  • Keypad configuration is not intuitive and difficult to memorize for use at night or low light settings
  • Hand strap is very difficult to insert (hint: use a thin loop of wire to help thread it)
  • At low volume, noises can be heard in Bluetooth mode
  • Noises heard in recording function

Conclusion

Running an ATS scan on shortwave.

As I mentioned early in this review, I must set realistic expectations when reviewing self-powered radios. When most consumers consider a self-powered radio, they’re seeking a simple, basic radio that will provide information during times of need: power outages, natural disasters, or while hiking, camping, boating, or simply in an off-grid setting.

Internally-generated noises––especially on the AM band––will disappoint radio enthusiasts. If Tivdio could address this in future iterations of the HR-11S, it would substantially improve this unit.

My overall impression is that the HR-11S is chock-full of features, but none of them are terribly refined. There are even some internally-generated noises in Bluetooth mode, which really surprised me as it seems like an oversight by engineering.

I see the Tivdio HR-11S is a bit of a “Swiss Army Knife” of a self-powered radio. It has more functionality and connectivity than any other self-powered radio I’ve tested to date. Its features will, no doubt, appeal to the average consumer––and a quick look at Amazon reviews seem to support this theory. As a radio enthusiast, however, I would pass on the HR-11S until the internally-generated noises have been addressed.

Click here to view to the Tivdio HR-11S on Amazon.com (affiliate link supports this site).

See coupon codes below.

For those who are interested, Tivdio passed along several coupon codes that SWLing Post readers can use to save money, should they decide to purchase the HR-11S:

For a 5% discount, use code:

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NBC: “Hawaii’s communication breakdown and how going ham could save us”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Curtis, who shares the following video from NBC Left Field:

Hawaii’s recent false nuclear missile alert showed us how reliant we are on cell phones and modern technology—and how unprepared we are if they become inaccessible. But in case the unexpected happens, an unlikely group of hobbyists—ham radio operators—are standing at the ready and may save us all.

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