Category Archives: FM

Radio Deal: C. Crane CCRadio 2 at NPR Shop

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Kevin Turinsky, who notes that NPR is having a “final” clearance sale on the excellent C. Crane CCRadio-2. The price is $110.11 US plus shipping.

Click here to view the CCRadio 2 on the NPR Shop.

A review of the Sangean HDR-16 AM/FM HD Radio

It’s funny that, while I’ve written dozens and dozens of radio reviews over the years, I’ve never written even a single review that included an HD radio.

Well, the time to begin is now: HD radio, here we come.

Those readers living outside North America may be scratching their heads, asking, “What exactly is ‘HD radio?’” To answer in clear terms, I’ll turn the question over to Wikipedia:

HD Radio is a trademarked term for iBiquity’s in-band on-channel (IBOC) digital radio technology used by AM and FM radio stations to transmit audio and data by using a digital signal embedded “on-frequency” immediately above and below a station’s standard analog signal, providing the means to listen to the same program in either HD (digital radio with less noise) or as a standard broadcast (analog radio with standard sound quality). The HD format also provides the means for a single radio station to simultaneously broadcast one or more different programs in addition to the program being transmitted on the radio station’s analog channel.

Got that?  In brief, HD radio is digital radio broadcasts that occupy the same FM/AM spectrum currently allocated for analog broadcasts.  Wikipedia adds:

[HD radio] was selected by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2002 as a digital audio broadcasting method for the United States, and is the only digital system approved by the FCC for digital AM/FM broadcasts in the United States.

For my own part I had mostly ignored HD radio, assuming there would be few stations to listen to from my rural home location. That is, until recently, when I purchased a car that has built-in HD radio reception. I was impressed by the number of commercial stations I found that I can receive via HD radio. In truth, only a handful of the mainstream HD station offerings had any appeal for me, but I really took notice when I received a commercial-free jazz station via the HD2 channel of my favorite NPR member station, WFAE.  Having been a jazz fan since I studied music in college, I was intrigued: could a portable HD radio receive this distant HD station reliably?  I had my doubts; moreover, I really didn’t want to purchase a radio, then be obligated to send it back if it didn’t receive anything.

Instead, I contacted Sangean.  The company was more than happy to send me a loaner radio for review. I requested the HDR-16––at the time it was Sangean’s most affordable HD portable, one about which a number of SWLing Post readers had expressed their curiosity.

Overview

The Sangean HDR-16 is a simple radio with a modern design. The chassis is a glossy black hard plastic and feels substantial. It has a useful fold-out carry handle and substantial telescoping whip antenna. The front face features a 16-character two-line backlit display, five function buttons, five dedicated preset buttons, and a dedicated power button. On the right side of the radio you’ll find a dedicated (two function) tuning knob and smaller volume/tone knob. The left side of the radio features an “aux-in” port, a “rec-out” port, an earphone jack, and a 7.5 volt “DC-in” port.

Features

  • HD Radio digital and analog AM / FM-Stereo reception
  • 10 Memory Presets (5 FM, 5 AM)
  • PAD (Program-Associated Data) Service
  • Support for Emergency Alerts Function
  • Automatic Multicast Re-Configuration
  • Automatic Simulcast Re-Configuration
  • Auto Ensemble Seek
  • Real Time Clock and Date with Alarm and Sleep Function
  • 2 Alarm Timer by Radio, Buzzer
  • HWS (Humane Wake System) Buzzer and Radio
  • Snooze Function
  • Tone & Bass Control
  • Information Display for Channel Frequency, Call Sign, Radio Text, Audio Mode, Service Mode,   Signal Quality and Clock Time
  • Easy to Read LCD Display with Backlight
  • “Battery Low” LED Indication
  • Auxiliary Input for Additional Audio Sources
  • Record Output for Connecting to Hi-Fi System or Recording from Audio Program
  • I/O Jacks: DC In, Line-Out (Rec-Out), Aux-In, Headphone and HD / FM Rod Antenna

Audio

The HDR-16 sports two 2.5” front-facing speakers that deliver crisp audio that can be customized with simple treble/bass EQ settings. I found increasing the treble just a bit and the bass quite a lot produced the best audio for music broadcasts.  Even the default audio settings are pretty good, however. The HDR-16 doesn’t have the rich fidelity of the Eton Field BT or the Tecsun S-8800, but it does offer stereo sound that is room filling and pleasant. Sangean obviously took audio fidelity seriously when designing the HDR-16.

The left side features AUX in, Record Out, Earphone and a DC power port.

Note that the the HDR-16 sounds especially good in spoken word/news broadcasts.

Operation and Ergonomics

The Sangean HDR-16 is a very simple and intuitive radio to operate. I sorted out all of its functions simply by following button and knob labels, but even the most tech-challenged person in your family could give the owner’s manual a single read-through and operate the HDR-16 with ease.

But let’s get one gripe out of the way…perhaps a case of simplicity gone too far:  the HDR-16 only has five station preset buttons. Five! Actually, it offers a total of 10 memory allocations: five for AM, five for FM. Still…even in my rural market, I can easily program ten station memories on an FM radio, especially since HD Radio channels offer that many more new options. But the HDR-16 forces me to curate my presets down to a mere five stations per band. In my view, this strict limitation is an unfortunate design oversight.

Performance

The HDR-16 is an AM/FM radio that receives both legacy analog broadcasts and HD/digital broadcasts on both bands.  I’ll break down performance by mode and band below.

HD performance

Digital FM

Of course, what I was most eager to explore was FM HD reception from my home. After unpacking the HDR-16, I placed the radio on my kitchen countertop and initiated an HD Seek scan via the dedicated button on the front panel. Couldn’t have been easier.

The HDR-16’s scan/seek functionality is impressively quick.

I quickly found there were a number of commercial radio stations––about four, to be exact––that I could instantly receive with little to no effort. Mind you, I live in a relatively rural market in a mountainous area. No doubt, if I initiated an HD radio search in LA or New York City, the dial would be chock-full of terrific stations.

All of the HD radio stations I received were either local, or powerhouses from neighboring markets. I was disappointed to find that I could not receive my most desired station, WFAE HD2.

I then moved the HDR-16 to a south-facing window and tuned to WFAE’s FM frequency of 90.7. I found I could easily receive the analog station and its RDS information, but still had no option to listen to HD2. After tinkering with antenna position and placement in our kitchen window, a sweet spot for reception was found, and voila! WFAE HD2 came in fully decoded, without any drops.

Recalling the days when I used to tinker with the rabbit ears on a TV, once I found that sweet spot, I carefully left the HDR-16 alone and didn’t move it further. As a result, over the course of the afternoon, I had nearly 100% copy from WFAE HD2.

I knew WFAE was a fringe station and checked their propagation map for HD radio. My location was actually outside of the fringe reception area.  I looked up GPS coordinates of the WFAE 90.7 MHz transmitting site and found it is exactly 101 miles/162 km from my home.

Obviously, the HDR-16 is a sensitive HD radio on FM!

Via the 1/8″ stereo AUX in jack, you can use the HDR-16 as amplified stereo speakers for your favorite portable music device.

Turns out, FM HD reception is pretty flaky when dealing with fringe stations, though.

Over the course of the next weeks, I tried the HDR-16 in different positions and locations.  There was only one spot in my house where the HDR-16 could get reliable reception of WFAE HD2. When I started the evaluation, it was August; our trees were still had a canopy full of green leaves. Sangean kindly allowed me to hang onto the HDR-16 to see if reception improved in late fall when all of the leaves were off the trees. As I write this review, we’re in winter, and the tree branches are bare. But curiously, reception of WFAE’s fringe signal is about the same as before. Nor have I noticed any difference in the reception of other commercial stations.

The HDR-16 accepts four C cells.

My conclusion is that the HDR-16 is a true performer on the FM band in HD mode. I have no other HD radios with which to compare it, but based on what I know about HD radio, this rig certainly exceeded my expectations.

Digital AM

The HDR-16 can also receive AM HD signals. There are far fewer AM HD broadcasters on the air, however. In fact, one of the first in our region dropped their HD coverage last year due to a lack of listeners.

With that said, I’ve read that a number of HDR-16 owners who live in the vicinity of AM HD broadcasters love the fact they get a digital audio quality signal on the AM band. One SWLing Post reader recently told me he even gets the occasional night-time AM HD DX signal with an HDR-16.

There are no local AM HD stations near me, and despite my best efforts, I never decoded an AM HD broadcaster in the evening. Perhaps if I did a little research and planning, then inductively coupled the HDR-16 to a MW mag-loop antenna, it would increase my chances.

Analog performance

FM

I’ve done almost as much analog FM listening on the HDR-16 as I have HD listening.

The HDR-16 can hold its own with most of my portable radios, in that it can receive all of my benchmark FM stations, and even some fringe analog stations.

RDS decoding also seems to be quite effective, even with fringe stations.

AM

AM (mediumwave) performance is surprisingly good. Perhaps my expectations were low, but I expected analog AM reception to be an afterthought. Or perhaps to have acceptable AM HD reception, Sangean had to put some extra effort into overall AM performance. Honestly, I don’t know, but what I do know is I’ve been pleased with the HDR-16 on the AM band. The AGC is pretty stable, noise relatively low, and sensitivity better than on other similar digital radios.

Many of my shortwave portables, like the PL-660, PL-310ET, and PL-880, could outperform the HDR-16 on the AM band, but frankly performance is on a level that it’s going to please most radio listeners. I’ve even had luck getting solid copy from one of my favorite AM DX stations, CFZM (740 kHz) with the HDR-16.

Should you purchase the HDR-16 for AM/MW DXing? No; there are better radios for this exclusive function. But for what I would consider a “bonus” band on a digital radio, I’m very pleased.

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 some of my initial impressions. Here’s the list I’ve developed over the time I’ve spent evaluating the HDR-16.

Pros:

  • Excellent FM HD radio reception
  • Excellent FM analog reception
  • Very good AM broadcast band reception for a modern digital portable
  • Good audio from internal stereo speakers
  • Nice carry handle that tucks away
  • Both auxiliary-in and -out jacks for audio
  • Dedicated earphone jack
  • Design is compact, sleek, yet sturdy
  • One of the more affordable HD radio options currently on the market
  • Easy access to bass/treble tone controls through volume multi-function
  • HD seek functions work on all but the most fringe stations

Cons:

  • No ability to internally recharge C batteries
  • No external antenna jack to improve FM HD reception with directional antenna
  • Limited to just 10 memory presets (five for AM, five for FM)
  • Fringe HD stations may continuously flip between digital and analog, annoying when HD station content and analog broadcast content are quite different Update: I recently tried to have the receiver replicate this behavior but it did not, so I’m striking it from the cons list!

Conclusion

Can I recommend the HDR-16? Absolutely.

If you’re looking for an AM/FM HD radio that’s well-rounded, simple to operate, and provides quality audio, I don’t believe you could go wrong with the HDR-16. The HDR-16 has proven to me that it’s a worthy FM HD receiver as it’s sensitive enough to snag fringe HD stations with some reliability. I’m certain I could design a small FM antenna and get 100% copy from my favorite HD station 101 miles from my home.

I think the HDR-16 would be a safe purchase for anyone, as it’s easy to operate, relatively compact, and makes the process of seeking HD stations a breeze.

I’m especially pleased with the HDR-16’s AM analog reception. It pleasantly surpassed my expectations and makes it easy to recommend the HDR-16. The HDR-16 is one of the few HD portables that also includes AM HD reception.

If you’re looking for a well-rounded HD and analog portable, grab the HDR-16. If you’re looking for a mediumwave DX machine, go for a benchmark mediumwave radio instead, like a GE Super Radio, C.Crane CC Radio 2E, CC Radio EP Pro or even a “Holy Grail” vintage Panasonic RF-2200.

I like Sangean’s high gloss finish (though it does show fingerprints rather well!).

I’m very tempted to purchase the HDR-16; I’ve found it difficult to justify, though. Living in a rural location, I have fewer HD stations to choose from––all but one are commercial, chock-full of advertising, and lack any real variety and diversity. I am very pleased with WFAE’s jazz station on HD2, but it’s hard to justify a $100 purchase just to receive one station over the air. Especially since I can easily stream WFAE HD2 from my Sangean WFR-28, Como Audio Solo, or Amazon Echo.

But if I lived in an urban area, with the accompanying diverse radio market, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy the HDR-16.

Here are some retail options for the HDR-16––at the time of this writing, almost all retailers price it at $100–Amazon, New Egg and some eBay vendors offer free shipping:

In closing…I should add that there’s another tempting Sangean HD radio coming just around the corner: the HDR-14. It’ll be priced lower than the HDR-16, and is even more compact, suggesting that it might make an excellent portable for the traveler. I will certainly review the HDR-14 when it’s available, as I’ll be very curious if its equally effective at snagging fringe HD FM stations.  Note that the HDR-14, unlike the HDR-16, has only one speaker, so I doubt audio fidelity will match that of the HDR-16, which should be a better choice for home and local use.

NY Times on the rise of low power community radio

When listening to marginal FM signals, the AR1780 can be set to mono mode instead of default stereo mode.

(Source: NY Times via Mike Hansgen)

As Low-Power Local Radio Rises, Tiny Voices Become a Collective Shout

SEATTLE — A knowledge of geography is essential if you are running a tiny, 100-watt radio station. Hills are bad, for example, as are tall buildings. Salt water, though, which lies at this city’s doorstep, can boost a radio signal for miles, like a skipped rock.

For a low-power FM radio station, anything measurable in miles is good.

But on a recent Thursday night, one station, KBFG, was struggling to even get on the air. The station’s signal, audible since November in an area measurable in square blocks, had flatlined. The Ballard High School basketball team was about to take the court and the live play-by-play was in doubt.

“We’re bootstrapping it,” said Eric Muhs, a physics and astronomy teacher. Headphones were slung around his neck, and a mop of unruly gray hair came further undone as he leaned into his laptop trying to fix a software glitch. But Mr. Muhs, 60, one of KBFG’s founders, admitted that the stakes for failure were relatively low. “Almost nobody knows that we exist,” he said.

Low-power nonprofit FM stations are the still, small voices of media. They whisper out from basements and attics, and from miniscule studios and on-the-fly live broadcasts like KBFG’s. They have traditionally been rural and often run by churches; many date to the early 2000s, when the first surge of federal licenses were issued.

But in the last year, a diverse new wave of stations has arrived in urban America, cranking up in cities from Miami to the Twin Cities in Minnesota, and especially here in the Northwest, where six community stations began to broadcast in Seattle.[…]

Continue reading at the New York Times.

Jack reviews the Digitech AR-1780

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jack Kratoville, who shares the following guest post:


A review of the Digitech AR-1780

by Jack Kratoville

As a previous post noted, the quest for the perfect radio drives us far and wide; in this case, as far as Australia. Since it’s rare these days to be able to walk into brick and mortar to touch, play and even bring home a radio to test; I’m grateful for online communities like the SWLing Post to research new and existing product. The caveat being “another must-have for my collection.”

I truly thought I had found happiness with my traveling Grundig tandem of the G5 and G6 – that is until the DSP chip was introduced. For the past 2 years, I’ve been satisfied packing the CCrane Skywave, Tecsun PL-360 and one wild card for domestic travel. My bottom line is when I’m listening to a certain radio in a given location, did I ever regret not bringing something else? The Skywave has satisfied over 95% of the time.

When the AR1780 popped up on this site, something about it piqued my interest. I had heard the Digitech name and it was always associated with a less than favorable opinion. This radio, however, was drawing unexpected praise. It was the video reviews that put me over the top with rich audio coming through even cheap condenser mics. I called Jaycar and had one shipped. Now you can add me to the list of those who are quite pleased with this addition to my radio family.

I’ll start with the primary reason to consider this radio – the sound emanating from the on board speaker. The AR1780 sounds better or as good as any unit this size. And this isn’t just a benefit for FM listening, but for AM/SW/AIR as well. I’ve never seen such tonal balance across all bands.

If you’re looking for a smaller portable with above par performance and excellent audio, you can stop here and place your order. Otherwise, on to my observations:

FM

I enjoy FM DXing and the fidelity of this band. Even though I’ve become accustomed to the sound of the Skywave (it does mellow with age), the AR1780 blows me away. Crisp highs and lows with rich bass that highlights both music and vocals. There is no tonal adjustment on this radio and, frankly to my ears, it doesn’t need one.

Performance is on par with the Skywave and other DSP units. While the Skywave has slightly better selectivity, the 1780 pulls in a tad more signal with its longer whip. The RDS feature works great and is a plus when skips and trop bring in distant signals.

Mediumwave / AM

As sensitive as the Skywave and G5. I’ve gone up and down the dial and my unit doesn’t produce birdies or hets anywhere. Very happy about that. For local signals, once again the sound is wonderful with choices of wide bandwidth. And even with distant music stations, rare as they may be, the AR1780 produces more fidelity than noise. When Zoomer 740 comes in full strength, this radio sounds as good as it gets. Where the Skywave has a tonal advantage is when filtering is at its narrowest. I can still hear signals clearly, whereas the Digitech can get a bit muddy. Depends on signal.

I’ll mention here that the advantage of CCrane’s products is upgraded filtering. The AR1780 burps and clicks when you enter anything on the keypad – even from the Skywave’s keypad if the radios are close to each other! Otherwise, they are very similar in response to outside RF and other noise producing electronics.

Shortwave

I receive everything on this radio as I do on the Skywave & G5.

Where I find weakness with the AR1780 is the soft muting and the scan feature is far, far slower than the Skywave. I’ve scanned for signals on other radios and loaded the presets on the Digitech.

I haven’t found any birdies yet, but it will whistle while starting up on Radio Miami, then calm down completely once fully captured. But that’s only when 9395 is the start up frequency. If I switch to SW and it starts elsewhere and I hit the preset for 9395 – nothing! Strange, but an acceptable artifact. I have to admit, it sounds great listening to music on WRMI!

SSB

I don’t have the Skywave SSB, but the Digitech is slightly less sensitive than the G5. Not sure if it’s due to filtering, antenna length, the DSP chip or all of the above. It’s there, but sometimes not worth straining to listen to. I haven’t tried an external antenna as of yet. The G5 doesn’t feature the USB / LSB option, so the Digitech is easier to tune. Full disclosure, SSB was never a deal breaker for me and I’m satisfied with what I can hear.

AIR Band

A touch more sensitive than the Skywave here. As all my testing is done strictly from the whip – that might be the advantage.

General

I have to say the build of this radio is very impressive. Buttons are very firm and responsive. The tuning knob is superb. As the weakest physical part of the Skywave, the AR1780’s knob, and its fine tuning counterpart, are spot on perfect. Nothing sloppy here.

Battery consumption (4 AA) seems above average, although not super-impressive. It’s hard for me to analyze at the moment as I’ve been playing with this radio constantly. I probably take more notice when I’m replacing 4 instead of 2 and may eventually jump over to rechargeable AAs. Interestingly, I took the 4 batteries I had worn down just one notch in the AR1780 and stuck them in a Sangean PDR-18. The meter on the PDR-18 showed only one bar or less.

The Skywave gives you 10 pages of 10 memories, the AR1780 gives you 50 pages! Even without explanation in the manual, setting these up are very intuitive.

The dial provides plenty of information. Curiously, if tilted while off, there are indicators for Music, Voice, Snyc, DAB & WB. While none are employed by the AR1780, perhaps there’s something else in the works!

What I find annoying

The display defaults to the temperature or the alarm. If you use signal strength or time during operation, it defaults to temp when you turn it off. Both of my Tecsuns will let you set display for both radio on and off. It bugs me most because holding the radio always sends the thermometer up by 10-12 degrees!

It takes a good 3 seconds to power up or switch bands. I’ve heard of other radios having this trait, but this is my first experience. And this action does use a bit of power because switching bands, not the dial light, will show the first signs of battery wear. (Again, I’ve had no issues with severe battery draw and compare 4 alkaline usage with my G5.)

The Skywave has spoiled me with its super-fast scanning. The Digitech is similar to most Tecsuns. I’ve noticed them all skipping segments on the SW band.

I hear a difference between FM stereo and monaural from the onboard speaker. This is the result of a right or left channel only feed to the speaker when the radio is in stereo. The Grundig Mini 100 did this and without a mono setting, it drove me crazy. I like to see the stereo indicator, but it looks like the AR1780 needs to be set in Mono when listening to FM through the speaker.

There are a number of general traits that the AR1780 shares with the Skywave that I would have preferred to be more like the CC Pocket:

  • I prefer a lock switch over a long-press lock button.
  • When you switch to a different page on the Pocket, it only changes that band and stays on the current frequency. Both the Digitech and Skywave switch over all bands to that page number.
  • One last minor annoyance (getting very picky here), the dial light seems to flash when you turn the radio off. The Pocket doesn’t.

OK, the bad

As a portable / travel radio, I can’t image why there is no pouch!

Add $5 and provide something to protect this in the go bag. At least this problem can be remedied. A pouch from the Sangean ATS-606 fits perfectly.

But the biggest flaw I found (and this may answer the power consumption others have noted) is the light continues to function in the locked position! All buttons are disabled, but press anything and the light comes on. I can imagine packing this radio and as it gets pressed against something else, the light remains on until the batteries are drained. A major design error here.

Conclusion

I’m more than impressed and extremely happy I made this purchase. I have no doubt this radio will be a primary travel companion. Since I always take a few on the road, surprisingly this won’t displace the Skywave. (I really enjoy that radio), but rather the veteran Grundig G5. While still considered one of my favorites, the Digitech provides as much performance and a few more features in a smaller package.

If I were choosing between the Digitech AR1780 and the Skywave SSB – that would be a touch choice. As I mentioned before, SSB has never been a deal breaker during travel and I love the original Skywave as is. Portable means smaller and the Skywave is the perfect size. I use the weather band more than LW, but the fidelity on the AR1780 is absolutely superb.

And while I’ve read the Skywave SSB is going through initial run growing pains, CCrane has been stellar when it comes to customer service and final product. They’re radio geeks like us – Digitech is simply a badge on a product manufactured by another company. (Jaycar seems like decent people.) Bottom line – let’s see how the Digitech is holding up after 2-3 years of usage.

I treat my radios like babies, but I’ve seen most wear down with unresponsive buttons, scratchy volume or fading displays. In fact, the only two grizzled veterans still operating at 100% are my Grundig G6 and Tecsun PL-360. Even my 7600GR’s volume is failing.

Worth it so far? Absolutely – without a doubt. Any future quirks, discoveries and disappointments will be shared.


Jack, thank you for sharing this excellent review!

I couldn’t agree with you more–the AR-1780 must have the best on-board audio of any compact shortwave portable I’ve tested. As you state, what makes it stand out is the fact that audio is wonderfully balanced across the bands. And what better way to check mediumwave audio? Why Zoomer Radio (CFZM) of course! One of my favorite night time catches. 

Thanks for the note about switching FM to mono while listening via the built-in speaker. I don’t believe I had tried that yet.

And, like you, I find the active backlight during keylock such an odd behavior. I actually opened one of my travel bags during the holidays to find that the backlight was somehow fixed in the “on” position…with keylock engaged! I supposed the LED backlight has little effect on battery consumption because I imagine this the backlight was engaged for as much as three days, yet the battery still showed full bars. 

The AR-1780 is a quirky radio, but by golly it’s a good one and a great value! Thanks again for the excellent review, Jack.

Finland: Global listenership saves Latin radio news service

(Source: The Mainichi via Kim Elliott)

HELSINKI (AP) — For nearly three decades, Finland’s YLE radio has broadcast a weekly news program in Latin to a small group of committed listeners around the globe.

With the audience numbering just 10,000 and people increasingly turning to the internet for content, Friday was meant to be the end of the road for “Nuntii Latini,” which means “news in Latin.” But don’t underestimate the passion of Latin aficionados — more than 3,000 of them wrote in from around the globe, some in fluent Latin, encouraging the station to save the program.

YLE leadership listened, agreeing to extend it until at least its 30th anniversary in 2019.

“Ne umquam desperaveris,” (loosely translated: “never give up,”) said co-announcer Reijo Pitkaranta, a docent and lecturer in Latin at the University of Helsinki.[…]

Click here to read the full article.

Click here to listen to Nuntii Latini.