Category Archives: Guest Posts

Guest Post: Methods for discovering and recording online radio programming for later listening

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Bill (WD9EQD), who shares the following guest post:


Time Shifting Radio Programs for Later Listening

by Bill (WD9EQD)

There are quite a few programs on shortwave that I enjoy listening to for the actual program content.  If I am lucky, I will receive a strong enough signal to really enjoy the experience.  But all too often, I either can’t directly receive the program or conditions are such that listening is just not enjoyable.  What I was looking for was good quality sound that I could listen to on my schedule.

I could always just go to the station website and listen to the live stream of the program.  But what if there are two programs on different stations at the same time?  I would have to choose which one to listen to.  What I needed was a way to listen to the program on my schedule.

This write-up will be presenting several ways this can be accomplished.

Is the Program Streamed?

In many cases, it is possible to go to the program’s website and then listen to the latest program or even an archive of past programs at your convenience.  Some examples are:

Hobart Radio International http://www.hriradio.org/

Radio Emma Toc https://www.emmatoc.org/worldserviceindex

VORW International https://soundcloud.com/vorw

AWR Wavescan http://eu.awr.org/en/listen/program/143

Blues Radio International: http://www.bluesradiointernational.net/

This is a Music Show https://thisisamusicshow.com/

Radio Northern Europe International: https://www.mixcloud.com/RadioNorthernEurope/

Alt Universe Top 40: https://www.altuniversetop40.com/links

International Radio Report https://www.ckut.ca/en/content/international-radio-report

World of Radio http://worldofradio.com/

The Shortwave Report http://www.outfarpress.com/shortwave.shtml

Lost Discs Radio Show https://www.lostdiscsradio.com/

Grits Radio Show https://archive.org/details/gritsradioshow2020

Le Show with Harry Shearer http://harryshearer.com/le-show/

Can the Program Be Downloaded?

All HRI programs are available on their Archive.org page.

Quite often, the program’s web site will also let you download the program for listening at a later date.  Some examples are:

Hobart Radio International has an Internet Archive page where you can listen to and download their previous programs: https://archive.org/details/@hobart_radio_international

Radio Emma Toc has a button for “broadcast & internet relay services wishing to air our programme”.

But anyone can download the program.

VORW International: https://soundcloud.com/vorw

(Note:  You will have to sign into Soundcloud to be able to download the files)

AWR Wavescan: http://eu.awr.org/en/listen/program/143

Your Weekend Show: https://open.spotify.com/show/2RywtSHWHEvYGjqsK6EYuG

International Radio Report https://www.ckut.ca/en/content/international-radio-report

World of Radio http://worldofradio.com/

The Shortwave Report http://www.outfarpress.com/shortwave.shtml

Lost Discs Radio Show https://www.lostdiscsradio.com/

Grits Radio Show https://archive.org/details/gritsradioshow2020

Le Show with Harry Shearer http://harryshearer.com/le-show/

WBCQ has a link to an Archive of some of their programs.  Just click on the Archive link and you will go to Internet Archive where there are a lot of programs that can be streamed or downloaded.  The programs include:

  • Adventures in Pop Music
  • Analog Telephone Systems Show
  • B Movie Bob
  • Cows in Space
  • Godless Irena 1
  • Grits Radio Show
  • Lost Discs Radio Show
  • Radio Timtron Worldwide
  • Texas Radio Shortwave
  • The Lumpy Gravy Show
  • Zombies in your Brain
  • Vinyl Treasures
  • Plus many, many other programs…

Does the Program Have a Podcast?

Check to see if the program has a podcast.  Many programs do and this makes it easy to always have the latest program updated into my favorite podcast program.

AWR Wavescan is available on a number of podcasting platforms

Some programs that have podcasts:

  • Hobart Radio International
  • AWR Wavescan
  • Blues Radio International:
  • Your Weekend Show
  • International Radio Report
  • World of Radio
  • The Shortwave Report
  • The Lost Discs Radio Show
  • Le Show with Harry Shearer

Directly Record the Stream While It Is Being Broadcast

This method is a little more difficult and requires some setup. The method is to record the program directly from the internet stream of the station as it is broadcasting the program.  Once set up, the procedure is completely automatic and will continue to capture the program until it is disabled in the scheduler.

Let’s walk through a typical program that we want to record.  I like Alan Gray’s “Last Radio Playing” program on WWCR.  It is broadcast weekly on Wednesday at 6pm Central Time on 6115.  While I can receive the program over the air, it’s not very good reception, so I usually just stream it off the internet.

What I want to do is to set up an automatic computer program that will connect to the stream on Wednesday night, record the stream for one hour and then disconnect.  I use the program StreamRipper which can run on either Linux or Windows.

http://streamripper.sourceforge.net/

Since I have a spare Raspberry Pi 4 computer, I chose to use the Linux version.  The following description is based on Linux.  A similar method I’m sure could be done with the Windows version.

Fortunately, StreamRipper is in the current software repository for the Raspberry PI and I could just install it with having to do a compile.  I’m sure other Linux distributions probably also have it in their repository.  It was a simple matter to install it.  In Linux, Streamripper is run from the command line in a terminal window.

A typical command line for SteamRipper is:

streamripper station_URL_stream –a “filename” –A –d directory_path -l seconds

where

station_URL_stream is the http address of the audio stream.  Determining this can sometimes be challenging and some methods were recently discussed in a SWLing Post:

https://swling.com/blog/2021/04/robs-tips-for-uncovering-radio-station-stream-urls/

–a says to record the audio as a single file and not try to break it up into individual songs.

“filename” the filename of the resultant mp3 file goes here in quotes

-A again says to create a single file.

-d tells it the directory path to store the mp3 file.  Place the full directory path after the –d

-l specifies how long to record.  Enter the number of seconds after –l.

(note: this is lower case letter l)

For Last Radio Playing, the command line is:

streamripper http://67.225.254.16:3763 –a “Last Radio Playing” –A –d /home/pi/RIP/wwcr –l 3600

when executed, this would connect to the URL stream, record for 3600 seconds (60 minutes) and then disconnect from the stream  A file called “Last Radio Playing.mp3” would be in the wwcr1 directory.

Save this command line to a shell file, maybe wwcr.sh.  Then make this shell file executable.

Last is to enter a crontab entry to schedule the shell file wwcw.sh to be run every Wednesday at 6pm ct.

At the command line, enter crontab –e to edit the cron table.

Add the following line at the end:

0  19  *  *  3  /home/pi/wwcr.sh

then exit and save the crontab file.

This line says to execute wwcr.sh every Wednesday at 1900 (my computer  is on eastern time).

There are many ways to enhance the shell script.  For example, I have added the date to the mp3 file name.  My wwcr1.sh shell script is:

NOW=$(date +”%Y-%m%d”)

# WWCR1 Last Radio Playing

# Wednesday 7-8pm et

streamripper http://67.225.254.16:3763 -a “$NOW Last Radio Playing” -A -u FreeAmp/2.X -d /media/pi/RIP/wwcr1 -l 3600

This will create a MP3 file with the date in the file name.  For example

2021-0505 Last Radio Playing.mp3

Note: I named the file wwcr1.sh to denote that WWCR transmitter 1 was being streamed. Each of the WWCR transmitters have different stream URL.

Most radio streams work fine with  the default user agent but WWCR required a different user agent which is why the –u FreeAmp/2.X is added.  Normally, –u useragent is not required.  The default works fine.

For each program, just create a similar shell file and add it to the cron scheduler.

Streamripper is very powerful and has many options.  One option is for it to attempt to divide the stream up into individual files – one for each song.  Sometimes this works quite well – it all depends on the metadata that the station is sending over the stream.  I usually just go for a single file for the entire show.  Some stations are a little sloppy on whether the program starts on time – sometimes they start a minute early and sometimes run a minute over.  The solution is to increase the recording time to two minutes longer and then specify in the crontab file that the show starts a minute early.  It’s easy to adjust to whatever condition might be occurring.

Recording the BBC

I have found that the BBC makes it more difficult to use this procedure.   For one thing, they have just changed all their stream URL’s.  And they have decided NOT to make them public. When they did this some of the internet radios broke since they still had the old URL’s.  Of course it didn’t take long for someone to discover and post the new stream URL’s:

https://gist.github.com/bpsib/67089b959e4fa898af69fea59ad74bc3#file-bbc-radio-m3u

I have tested the Radio 4 Extra stream and it does seem to work.  For how long is anyone’s guess.

I found that while streamripper did seem to work on BBC, all the mp3 files came out garbled.  So the method above doesn’t seem to work with the BBC.

I went back to the drawing board (many hours on Google) and discovered another way to create a shell script that can be scheduled to record a stream.  This involves using the programs mplayer and timelimit.

First step is to install the programs mplayer and timelimit to the Linux system.  mplayer is a simple command line audio and video player.  timelimit is a program that will execute another program for a specific length of time.

First I created a shell script bbc30.sh:

#!/bin/bash

NOW=$(date +”%Y-%m%d-%H%M”)

# BBC Extra 4 – 30 minute program

timelimit -t1800 mplayer http://stream.live.vc.bbcmedia.co.uk/bbc_radio_four_extra -dumpstream -dumpfile /media/pi/RIP/$NOW-bbc.mp3

Note: The bold line above is all on one line in the shell file.

This script will execute the timelimit command.  The timelimit command will then execute the mplayer command for 1800 seconds (30 minutes).

The mplayer command then connects to the http stream; the stream instead of playing out loud is dumped to the dumpfile /media/pi/RIP/$NOW-bbc.mp3

The crontab entry becomes:

30  23  11  5  *  /home/pi/bbc30.sh

In this case, the program on May 11 at 2330 will be recorded.

Summary

In conclusion, Podcasts are the easiest way to get the programs.  But automatically recording directly from the station stream is really not that much harder to do.  Just be careful.  It’s very easy to accumulate much more audio than you can ever listen to in this lifetime.

One final note.  The use of a Raspberry Pi makes this a very easy and convenient method.  I run the pi totally headless.  No keyboard, mouse or monitor.  It just sits on a shelf out of the way and does it thing.  I either log in using VNC when I want the graphical desktop, Putty for the command line, or WinSCP for transferring files. The Pi stays out of the way and I don’t end up with another computer system cluttering up my desktop.

Besides recording several shortwave programs, I use Streamripper to record many FM programs from all around the United States.  It’s great for recording that program that is on in the early morning hours.

73

Bill WD9EQD

Smithville, NJ


Thank you for sharing this with the SWLing Post community, Bill! This weekend, I’m going to put one of my RPi 3 units into headless service recording a few of my favorite programs that aren’t available after the live broadcast. Many thanks for the detailed command line tutorial!

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TomL’s guide to making and optimizing shortwave radio SDR music recordings

An example of an AirSpy SDR# software screen.

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


Recording Music on Shortwave

by TomL

I recently became curious about the seasonal music updates posted by Alan Roe.  It is a nicely detailed list of musical offerings to be heard.  Kudos to Alan who has spent the time and effort to make it much easier to see at a glance what might be on the airwaves in an easy to read tabular format.  I do not know of any other listing specifically for shortwave music in any publication or web site.  I especially like the way it lists everything in UTC time since I might want to look for certain time slots to record.  For some listings, I would need to go outdoors away from noise to listen to certain broadcasts.  Current web page is here:  https://swling.com/blog/resources/alan-roes-guide-to-music-on-shortwave/ .

As a side note, I have also found a lot of music embedded in the middle of broadcasts that are unannounced, unattributed, and not part of a regular feature program.  That can be a treasure trove of local music you might not be able to find anywhere on the internet.  It can be worth recording a spectrum of frequencies using the capabilities of the SDR and then quickly combing through the broadcasts at two-minute intervals (most songs are three minutes or longer).  In maybe ten minutes, I will have at least identified all of the listenable music that may or may not be worth saving to a separate file.

Whether at home or outdoors, I have wanted to try to record shortwave broadcasts of music using my AirSpy HF+ but never getting around to it until now.  There is a certain learning curve to dealing with music compared to just a news summary or editorial.  I found myself wishing I could improve the fidelity of what I was hearing.  From static crashes, bad power line noise, fading signals, and adjacent channel interference, it can be quite difficult to get the full appreciation from the musical impact.

I am starting to monitor the stronger shortwave stations like WRMI, Radio Romania International, Radio Nacional do Amazonia, etc.  These type of stations can be received in a strong enough manner to get good quality recordings (at least according to shortwave listening experience).  I am also finding that I appreciate much more than before the effort that these broadcasters put into creating content/commentary to go along with the music and little pieces of background info about the music or the artist.  I have also noticed how exact some broadcasters are in timing the music into the limited time slots.  For instance, Radio Romania International tries to offer one Contemporary piece of music exactly at 14 minutes, Traditional music exactly at 30 minutes, and a Folk tune exactly at 52 minutes into the program (whether in English, French, or Spanish), with nice fade-outs if the music goes too long.

One thing I ran into was to bother checking my hearing range.  If someone has impaired hearing, it does not make much sense to create files that have a lot of sound out of one’s hearing range.  I found this YouTube video (among a bunch of others) and listened to the frequency sweep using my Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro headphones (audiophile/studio type headphones).   My hearing is approximately from 29 Hz through 14400 Hz.  Of course, the extremes fall off drastically, and as with most people, my hearing is most sensitive in the 2000 through 6000 Hz range.

Recording Workflow

Let’s assume that you already know how to record IQ files using your SDR software and can play them back (In the example below, I recorded the whole 49 meter band outputting a series of 1GB WAV files).  Then, when playing back to record to individual files, I have to choose the filters and noise reduction I want.  This gets subjective.  If I do not want to keep huge numbers of Terabytes of WAV files over time, I will want to record to individual WAV files and then delete the much larger spectrum recording.  You might tell me to just record to MP3 or WMA files because there is that option in the SDR software.  We will get into that as we go along.  For the time being,  I do not want to keep buying Terabytes of hard drives to hold onto the original spectrum recordings.

After lots of trial and error, I came up with this workflow:

  1. Record the meter band spectrum of interest using the SDR software.
  2. Record individual snippets of each broadcast in that spectrum to new individual WAV files.  This includes not lopping-off any announcer notes about the music I want to retain.  I also have to choose the bandwidth filter and any noise reduction options in the software.  Because I am not keeping Terabytes of info, this is a permanent decision.
  3. Take an individual recording and apply more processing to it.
  4. Convert the processed  recording to any number of final output formats for further consumption and/or sharing.
  5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 to take care of all the individual WAV files.

Step 4 allows me to create whatever file format I might need it to be: WAV, MP3, WMA, or even use it as background sound to a video if I so choose.  There are also different ways to create some of these files with different quality settings depending on what is needed.  I have chosen to listen to the individual WAV files for personal consumption but there may come a time to create high quality MP3 files and transfer those to a portable player I can take anywhere (or share with anyone).

The example below is a snippet from the latest Radio Northern Europe International broadcast on WRMI.  WRMI has some decent equipment and I like how clean and wide is the bandwidth of many of the music programs.  This is captured on the AirSpy HF+ using SDR Console V.3 with a user-defined 12kHz filter (11kHz also seemed somewhat similar sounding).

If you click on the ellipses, you can Copy an existing filter, type in a new title and change the bandwidth.  I also played around with the different Windowing types and found that I like the Blackman-Harris (7) type best for music and the Hann type for smooth speech rendering (the Kaiser-Bessel types can also have more “punch” for voice recordings).  Click OK TWICE to save the changes.

I also use Slow AGC and the SAM (Sync with both sidebands) to reduce the chance of distortion as the signal fades.  I found that trying to use only one sideband while in Sync mode would make the reception open to loss of Sync with the musical notes warbling and varying all over the place!

Noise Reduction

The SDR Console software has a number of noise reduction choices.   I tried NR1 through 4 and found the smoothest response to music to be NR1 with no more than 3 dB reduction.  More than this seemed to muffle the musical notes, especially acoustic instruments and higher pitched voices. Part of the problem has to do with trying to preserve the crispness of the articulation of the sound and combating shortwave noise at the same time.  At this time, I have chosen NOT to use any NR mode.  More about noise reduction below.

Generic MP3 sounds really bland to my ears, so creating higher quality files will be important to me.  I have been using Audacity which can apply processing and special effects to WAV files and export to any number of file formats.  WAV files are a wonderful thing.  It is a “lossless” file format which means that every single “bit” of computer input is captured and preserved in the file depending on the resolution of the recording device.  This allows one to create any number of those “lossy” output formats or even another WAV file with special effects added.  You can get it here:

https://www.audacityteam.org

One special effect is listed as “Noise Reduction”.  I literally stumbled upon it while reading something else about Audacity (manual link).  Here is how I use it for a shortwave broadcast.  Open the original spectrum recording (in this example the 49m band).  Tune about 25kHz away from the broadcast that was just recorded.  Remember, my hearing extends at least to 14.4k plus there is still the pesky issue of sideband splatter of bandwidth filters.  The old time ceramic and mechanical filters use to spec something called “skirt selectivity” -60db or more down from the center frequency.  This is still an issue with DSP filters even though they SAY they are measured down to -140dB; I can still hear a raspy sideband splatter from strong stations!

Find the same time frame that you recorded the broadcast and make sure it is the same bandwidth filter, AGC, and any noise reduction used.  Now record one minute of empty noise to a WAV file.  Fortunately on 5850 kHz, WRMI has no adjacent interference.

Now in Audacity, open the noise sample and listen for a 5 to 10 second space to copy that is relatively uniform in noise.  We don’t want much beyond that and we don’t really want noise spikes.  The object is to reduce background noise. In this case, I chose Start 39 seconds and End 44 seconds.  Choose Edit – Copy (or CTRL-C).

Choose File Open and find the broadcast WAV file in question.  Now click on the end-of-file arrow or manually type in the Audio Position (in this example 1 minute 15 seconds).  Now Paste (or CTRL-V) the 5 seconds of noise to the end of the broadcast file.  Now, while the pasted noise is still highlighted, go immediately to Effect – Noise Reduction and choose the button Get Noise Profile.  It will blink quickly to read the highlighted 5 seconds of noise and disappear.

Now select all with CTRL-A and the whole file is selected.  Go immediately to Effect – Noise Reduction and choose the parameters in “Step 2”.  Through some trial and error, I found 3db reduction has a noticeable effect without compromising the music.  I have used up to 5 db for some music recorded with narrower bandwidths.  Higher levels of noise reduction seemed to create an artificial flatness that was disturbing to me.  I also use a Sensitivity of 0.50 and Frequency smoothing of 0.  You can choose the Preview button while the Residue circle is checked to actually hear the noise being eliminated.  Press OK in order to process the noise reduction.  You should now see the waveform change slightly as the noise is filtered.  In a nutshell, I find this to be a better noise reduction than using 3db of NR1 in the SDR Console software.  Don’t forget to snip off those 5 seconds of noise before saving the file.

Pseudo Stereo

The SDR Console software has an Option for Pseudo Stereo (for playback only) and it can be useful for Amateur Radio receiving, especially in noisy band conditions when one is straining to hear the other person’s call sign and location.  There is a way in Audacity to add a fake kind of stereo effect to mono audio files.  I found a useful YouTube video that explained it very clearly.

I  do everything listed there except for the Reverb effect.  I find that too fake for my tastes.

I found the added 10ms of Delay on the right channel to be a little too much, so I use 9ms.

My High Pass filter settings are 80 Hz and 24dB/octave.  This is based partly on my hearing preferences as well as established industry standards.  There was a lot of science and audio engineering that went into creating the THX home theater crossover standard.  There is also science that says that anything below 200 Hz is omnidirectional.  The suggested 48dB/octave is too steep in my opinion.

My Low Pass filter settings are more squishy.  The YouTube video suggests 8000 Hz and 6dB/octave.  I feel that is too gentle a rolloff into the upper midrange.  I use 9000 Hz at 12dB/octave for very strong, high quality shortwave broadcasters like WRMI. For more constrained quality broadcasts, like due to limited bandwidth (Cuban broadcasters) or adjacent channel interference, I will decrease down to 8000 or 7000 Hz but still use a 12dB/octave rolloff.  This is subjective but it also means I am making a conscious decision to add that processing to the recording for future listening.

MP3 Quality

Typical MP3 files are a Constant Bit Rate of 128k.  Some interviews and voice-only podcasts are only 64k.  This is adequate but for recording detail in the music I prefer higher quality settings.  Frankly, with these days of 4G cell phone service and Unlimited Data minutes on cell phone plans, there is NO good reason to limit MP3 files to just adequate quality levels.  The typical MP3 file sounds limited in frequency range (muffled sounding) to me and very lacking in dynamic range (narrow amplitude).  This would include limits on stereo files which are about twice the file size of mono files.

I have tried creating WMA files and I actually like the quality a little better than high quality MP3 files.  The WMA files seem slightly more “airy” and defined to my ears.  But it is a proprietary format from Microsoft and not all web sites or devices will easily play them.  They are also a fixed standard and one cannot easily change the quality settings if forced to use a lower quality rendering.

There are many web sites talking about MP3 files, but I found this blog post helpful in summarizing in one paragraph the higher quality settings for a nice MP3 recording using VBR-ABR mode.

https://technical-tips.com/blog/software/mp3-encoding-right–1334

One Minute Samples

So finally for my examples.  Since most web sites still prefer MP3 files, I have created these using that  blog post’s suggestions.  Typically this is Min bitrate=32, Max bitrate=224, VBR quality=9, and Quality=High (Q=2).  Let’s see if you can hear the differences.  It would be much easier to hear if we were listening to WAV files, but those are way too big to post on this web site!  The software I used is Xmedia Recode and I find it easy to use.

https://www.majorgeeks.com/files/details/xmedia_recode.html


Example 1: No noise reduction in SDR Console, no further processing


Example 2: 3dB of NR1 in SDR Console, no further processing


Example 3: No noise reduction in SDR Console, Audacity Noise Reduction of 3dB


Example 4: No noise reduction in SDR Console, Audacity Noise Reduction applied 3 times (3db,0.33+2db,0.50+1db,0.80)


Example 5: No noise reduction in SDR Console, Audacity Noise Reduction applied 3 times (3db,0.33+2db,0.50+1db,0.80), Pseudo Stereo added


I would love to hear comments since I am new to recording music on shortwave and any further tips/tricks would be fun to learn.  Enjoy the music!

TomL

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Gary DeBock’s 2021 Ultralight Radio Shootout!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Gary DeBock, who shares his extensive 2021 Ultralight Radio Shootout.

This is truly a deep dive featuring five popular ultralight portable radios and examining mediumwave, shortwave, FM, and AIR Band performance.

The review is an amazing 40 pages long! In order to display the entire review, click on the “Continue reading” link below.


2021 Ultralight Radio Shootout

Five Hot Little Portables Brighten Up the Pandemic

By Gary DeBock, Puyallup, WA, USA             April 2021

Introduction   The challenges and thrills of DXing with pocket radios have not only survived but thrived since the Ultralight Radio Boom in early 2008, resulting in a worldwide spread of the hobby niche group. Based upon the essential concepts of DXing skill, propagation knowledge and perseverance, the human factor is critical for success in pocket radio DXing, unlike with computer-controlled listening. The hobbyist either sinks or swims according to his own personal choices of DXing times, frequencies and recording decisions during limited propagation openings—all with the added challenge of depending on very basic equipment. DXing success or failure has never been more personal… but on the rare occasions when legendary DX is tracked down despite all of the multiple challenges, the thrill of success is truly exceptional—and based entirely upon one’s own DXing skill.

Ultralight Radio DXing has inspired spinoff fascination not only with portable antennas like the new Ferrite Sleeve Loops (FSL’s) but also with overseas travel DXing, enhanced transoceanic propagation at challenging sites like ocean side cliffs and Alaskan snowfields, as well as at isolated islands far out into the ocean. The extreme portability of advanced pocket radios and FSL antennas has truly allowed hobbyists to “go where no DXer has gone before,” experiencing breakthrough radio propagation, astonishing antenna performance and unforgettable hobby thrills. Among the radio hobby groups of 2021 it is continuing to be one of the most innovative and vibrant segments of the entire community.

The portable radio manufacturing industry has changed pretty dramatically over the past few years as much of the advanced technology used by foreign companies in their radio factories in China has been “appropriated” (to use a generous term) by new Chinese competitors. Without getting into the political ramifications of such behavior the obvious fact in the 2021 portable radio market is that all of the top competitors in this Shootout come from factories in China, and four of the five have Chinese name brands. For those who feel uneasy about this rampant copying of foreign technology the American-designed C. Crane Skywave is still available, although even it is still manufactured in Shenzhen, China—the nerve center of such copying.

Prior to purchasing any of these portables a DXer should assess his own hobby goals, especially whether transoceanic DXing will be part of the mission– in which case a full range of DSP filtering options is essential. Two of the China-brand models use only rechargeable 3.7v lithium type batteries with limited run time, which may not be a good choice for DXers who need long endurance out in the field. A hobbyist should also decide whether a strong manufacturer’s warranty is important. Quality control in some Chinese factories has been lacking, and some of the China-brand radio sellers offer only exchanges—after you pay to ship the defective model back to China. Purchasers should not assume that Western concepts of reliability and refunds apply in China, because in many cases they do not. When purchasing these radios a DXer should try to purchase through a reputable seller offering a meaningful warranty—preferably in their own home country.

One of the unique advantages of Ultralight Radio DXing is the opportunity to sample the latest in innovative technology at a very reasonable cost—and the five pocket radio models chosen for this review include some second-generation DSP chip models with astonishing capabilities. Whether your interest is in domestic or split-frequency AM-DXing, FM, Longwave or Shortwave, the pocket radio manufacturers have designed a breakthrough model for you—and you can try out any (or all) of them at a cost far less than that of a single table receiver. So get ready for some exciting introductions… and an even more exciting four band DXing competition!

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Dan revisits the venerable XHDATA D-808 portable radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who shares the following guest post:


XHDATA D-808Revisiting the XHDATA: What Sangean Should Have Learned from the D-808

by Dan Robinson

Recent additions to the shortwave portable receiver market have been quite impressive, especially considering the continuing decline in the use of shortwave as a transmission method by broadcasters.

In what could be the final models from Tecsun, we saw the PL-330, PL-990x and H-501x all of which bring impressive features and capabilities to the game.  Sangean finally introduced its upgraded ATS-909×2 including an early firmware upgrade that was supposed to correct some issues with this receiver.

As I have observed in some recent reviews, the very fact that the listening community still sees any new receivers is reason for gratitude, though we also have opportunities to acquire numerous classic receivers and can still do an excellent job in today’s listening environment.

One receiver that emerged a few years ago and which took the listening hobby by storm was the XHDATA D-808.  Numerous reviews are online, including ones here on the SWLing Post, and excellent reviews by Gilles Letourneau here and here.

The 808 was and still is compared to the CCrane Skywave SSB, a much smaller and compact receiver.  Unfortunately, in my experience both suffer from soft muting.

I obtained a D-808 shortly after it appeared based on early positive reviews.  I used it once, at the beach in Florida where reception conditions were superior – comparing it to some older portables in my collection such as the SONY ICF-SW07, ICF-SW55, and the Panasonic RF-B65.

I was impressed with the sensitivity of the 808, large speaker, and inclusion of AIR band, though I noticed some digital artifacts and agree with negatives such as slight soft muting and chuffing, and slowness of the processor.

I boxed the D-808 up and stored it away where it sat until recently when I took it back out after my experience using Sangean’s ATS-909×2 – thus the title of this brief commentary.

Sangean made some basic decisions with the 909×2.  Many of them are quite positive over the old 909x.  For many users the 909×2 has more than enough features to justify the higher price of the receiver.

I came to a different conclusion after returning my ATS-909×2, and I started thinking about how the D-808 could have informed engineers at Sangean as they considered which features to put in the 909×2.  To what extent Sangean designers looked at various other portables, including the D-808, we will probably never know.

D-808 DEMONSTRATES IMPORTANCE AND IMPACT OF BANDWIDTH FILTER CAPABILITY IN SSB

AM bandwidth control on the ATS-909×2 is quite nice.  However, what leaps out is the absence of multi-bandwidth capability in SSB mode.  It’s baffling that Sangean seems not to have recognized this as a must-have feature.

Tecsun started providing this on small receivers years ago, and in the PL-880, the excellent though flawed portable that also took the listening world by storm, and in the recent 330, 990x and 501x.

Using the D-808 again after a few years reminded me that this little China-made receiver offers no less than SEVEN bandwidths, in AM mode.  Let me say that again:  SEVEN (7) bandwidths.

You don’t find that kind of selectivity capability even in a Drake R8B.  After that, you’re getting into continuously variable bandwidth control found in premium DSP receivers.

So, in AM mode you have:  6 kHz, 4 kHz, 3 kHz, 2.5 kHz, 2.0 kHz, 1.8 kHz, and 1.00 kHz

The D-808 also has fine tuning capability.  This is not the same as the Tecsuns which actually enable you to re-calibrate, and with adjustment that remains set for both USB and LSB.  On the D-808 you fine tune to zero beat, but have to repeat the correction  for LSB and USB on the frequency you’re on – it’s a bit more twiddly, but on my 808 the fine tuning is nonetheless very smooth.

Nevertheless, combined with SIX bandwidth options when in SSB, the fine tuning option on the 808 is a superb feature, not to mention that on my particular D-808 there is little to no “warbling” when carrying out the fine tune operation.

So, in SSB on on the D-808 you have:  4.0 kHz, 3.0 kHz, 2.2 kHz, 1.2 kHz, 1.0 kHz, and an amazing .5 kHz !  Imagine that:   .5 kHz

I usually remember stuff like this, but when I first tried the D-808 in Florida back in 2018 I was more focused on assessing sensitivity, audio, and issues such as its pretty slow DSP response when changing modes.

Video Demonstration of D-808 bandwidth capability in AM and SSB modes:

So, now you have to pick me up off the floor as I re-visit the D-808 and realize what an amazingly capable little radio it really is – again, see the excellent reviews by Gilles in which he pays a lot of attention to this fact.

Additional years ago, I used receivers such as SONY SW-55s and Panasonic RF-B65s in ocean side DXing.  These are fine receivers, but the 55 is limited to two bandwidths, NARROW and WIDE – similar to the SONY 2010 and SW-77, both of which also had effective synchronous detection.

One of my best DX catches at that time was Radio Rwanda on 6,055 kHz just before it’s sign off in the late afternoon eastern timed.  Using a Panasonic RF-B65 which had NO bandwidth options, I was able to hear and record a full sign off and ID.

However, had a D-808 existed at that time this would have been much easier because of the multiple bandwidths in both AM and SSB.  I imagine a SONY ICF-SW7600GR would have done a good job as well, but it too does not have the multiple bandwidth options that a D-808 has.

These days, with the number of stations on the air reduced even further, examples like this may be fewer and farther between.  But one has to observe that for AMATEUR radio listening, the amazing bandwidth capability of a D-808 really sets it apart from the pack.

Am I glad I re-discovered the D-808?  You bet.  It was on my list of TO SELL receivers.  Now, it has a reprieve and is firmly back on my keeper list.

I have to think that it is highly unlikely that there will be a new version of the D-808, unless someone out there has heard something in the receiver rumor mill that I have not.  Perhaps the folks at XHDATA/RadioWOW will take this hint.

If XHDATA were to re-design the 808, the most improvements one would hope for are obvious:  a newer and faster DSP chip to speed up mode changes, a jack for external recording.  A real long shot would be to hope for the same sort of  calibration adjustment seen in the Tecsun receivers.

When I really get to dreaming, I think of XHDATA or some other maker designing a portable like the 808 – why not call it the 1000 Super DSP – that actually has continuously adjustable bandwidth control.  This will never happen.

It’s doubtful that XHDATA or some other manufacturer will consider competing directly with Tecsun and Sangean.  But the D-808 carved out a place for itself in the small portable category, at an extremely competitive price point.

As this was not an exhaustive retro review of the D-808, I have not gone into the various negatives that every D-808 owner knows to exist.

Lack of a RECORD OUT jack is one.  A D-808x might implement Bluetooth capability as Tecsun has, and MicroSD recording capability (though that gets into issues that appear to have prevented Tecsun from doing the same).  And surely, get rid of the soft muting.

In conclusion, I go back to a question that occurred to me as I used the Sangean ATS-909×2:  what Sangean could or should have learned from the D-808.

Here was a small, well-designed DSP radio that burst upon the scene with outstanding capabilities and which even today is prized among those who own it.  Need I repeat?  SEVEN bandwidths in AM mode, and MW, and SIX in SSB and LW.

Every company that’s still manufacturing receivers makes its own decisions. It’s as important that we voice our gratitude to Sangean for its latest (possibly last) effort to revise the 909xxxx series as it is to Tecsun for offering no fewer than THREE superb world band receivers.

Sangean has received feedback from me and other reviewers about the x2.  All of that is aimed at helping the company possibly correct shortcomings in the new receiver.  I hope that this commentary is another step in that direction.

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Guest Post: Jerome’s experiences as an SWL in Saudi Arabia from 1990-91

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jerome van der Linden, for the following guest post:


Experiences as an SWL in Saudi Arabia 1990 /91

by Jerome van der Linden

From about 1986 I worked for the Broadcasting Division of Telecom Australia (now “Telstra”), in Adelaide, South Australia. This Division of Telecom Australia had responsibility for installation, maintenance and operation of Australian Government funded broadcasting services (radio & TV) such as ABC (including Radio Australia) and SBS. In later years responsibility for this was taken away from Telecom Australia and handed to BAI.

I already had a life long interest in Broadcasting and short wave radio in particular, and I was recruited into a new non technical managerial position in the then new Broadcasting Division of Telecom Australia: it was the perfect job to my mind. In this period of the late 1980s, the organisation was heavily involved in the capital works to get Radio Australia Cox Peninsula (Darwin) back into operation, after it was largely destroyed by cyclone Tracy in 1975, as well as building the three Northern Territory vertical incidence (“shower”) services at Katherine, Tennant Creek, and Alice Springs (VL8K, VL8T, and VL8A respectively).  (The NT is probably about the size of a major US state like Texas). Apart from doing my non technical work, I took every opportunity to learn more and get involved in the technical side of things. On one occasion, when I knew that the technical staff would be testing the new transmission facilities on a range of frequencies, I was able to confirm with the onsite technician a booming signal into Adelaide from the Alice Springs transmitter he was briefly testing on 11715kHz in the daytime.

Alice Springs (VL8A) transmitter site in the last year is was operating (Photo by Jerome van der Linden).

As the opportunity arose, and as I was also part of the Southern Cross DX Club, I regularly participated in the Radio Australia DX program (I cannot even remember its name, 30 years later) that was produced by Mike Bird. I also contacted many rural cattle stations (equivalent to “ranches” in the US) that were spread throughout the Northern Territory to get them to report on how they were receiving the new NT HF service broadcasting stations when they came on the air. I saw it as a way of promoting the shortwave radio services throughout the Northern Territory.

My work gave me the opportunity to visit not just each of the new NT HF transmitter stations, but also included several visits to the Radio Australia (RA) facility at Cox Peninsula. While I also saw the old RA Receiving station on Cox Peninsula (dating from the period when signals were received from RA Shepparton and then re-transmitted from Darwin, in the period pre cyclone Tracy), this was at a time when that facility had already been largely dismantled.

In early 1990, I sought and was awarded a contract position with Telecom Australia’s Saudi project, and I was seconded to that from my job in the Broadcasting Division. From my own research, I knew that radio and TV in Saudi Arabia was quite unlike what I was used to, and I made it a point to take with me, on loan, a Sony ICF 2001D receiver. So it was in March 1990 that I arrived in Riyadh on a single person’s contract. I was allocated a 2 storey 3 bedroom villa for my own use among a large number of other identical villas occupied by other Telecom Australia staff, that were all located within a walled compound close to the Saudi Telecom offices.

Almost immediately, it was obvious that I would have to rely on the BBC World Service for my English news, as the KSABS radio services were nearly all in Arabic, and its TV service was even less appealing to me. I managed to string up some long wire antennas on the roof, and it was not long before I was also able to pick up services from Radio Australia. I got in touch with Nigel Holmes, then RA’s Frequency Manager in Melbourne, and was able to let him know how signals were being received in the Middle East, even though South Asia was about the limit of RA’s intended reach at that time. As my office was in the city of Riyadh some distance away, I was allocated a car for my own use, and – having found these were quite common – soon fitted it with a Short Wave capable car radio. In fact it was the one I reviewed in the 1991 WRTH.

The compound housing the many Australians and their families had its own CCTV system, and the Aussies were entertained by a regular supply of Australian VHS TV tapes. The same CCTV network was also used by Australians from the project making out as wannabee disk jockeys with their own programs before 7am and into the evenings.

As many people will recall, in mid 1990, Sadam Hussein, the then leader of Iraq, invaded Kuwait, and there was some concern he might continue and invade Saudi Arabia. As a direct consequence, radio with World news became even more important for the Australians,  and the many other expats working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

An unexpected benefit to the expats living in Riyadh was the arrival of thousands of US ground forces, who brought with them their very own AFN broadcasting services which operated on FM with their own high pitched professional female DJs who played the latest pop music. This was at a time when this type of music was not heard at all on local Saudi radio, and the only source we had of modern music was the many bootlegged copies of cassette music which were for sale everywhere (in addition to pirated copies of software).

When Sadam Hussein decided to stop international residents from leaving Iraq to travel home, their roles as ‘hostages’ caused international broadcasters to improve their services into the Middle East.

That included Radio Australia, and at least one of its Cox Peninsula transmitters was used to improve the signal to the Middle East in the hours up to its daily shutdown at midnight Darwin time (1430UTC). The strongest signal in those days was a 21MHz frequency, and it mostly boomed in. I recall one evening when the transmitter’s audio sounded very suspect to me. I made a quick international phone call direct to Cox Peninsula; spoke to the duty shift supervisor who I knew personally; described the signal to him; he picked the problem; switched the transmitter off and placed another transmitter online on the same frequency which gave clean audio, that I was able to confirm to him.

A Patriot missiles being fired to intercept a scud missile on 24 Feb, 1991 (Photo by Jerome van der Linden)

It was about this time that I realised my Sony ICF2001D had a feature I could use to the benefit of all my fellow Australians in the compound. In the first instance, I was able to arrange for an audio feed from the 2001D in my villa into the compound’s CCTV system, so that – provided someone plugged the audio in correctly – the signal from my Sony radio’s line out was relayed to every other villa that cared to listen. As I was absent during most of the working day, I used the Sony’s programming feature that allowed for up to 4 separate listening sessions to be set up. Each program required a SW frequency and start/stop times to be programmed. I think each session had a time limit of perhaps 4 hours. This enabled me to set the radio up to relay BBC World Service for most of the day switching automatically to certain frequencies as appropriate, and also provided the people with some brief Radio Australia segments with news from home.

In the period prior to January 1991’s, when George Bush had promised to retake Kuwait if Sadam Hussein did not withdraw, it was also interesting to pick up Iraqi broadcasts intended for (and to try to demoralise) American servicemen. Very strong signals from Baghdad were regularly audible, I seem to recall 11825kHz being one such frequency.

In the event, about January 16, 1991 the allies invaded Kuwait from Saudi Arabia, and made devastating air based attacks on Iraqi facilities. Radio Baghdad’s shortwave service did not seem to last very long after that.

We Australians were told in no uncertain fashion that Iraqi “Scud” missiles were ballistic (hence not accurately targeted), and would definitely not have the range to reach Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The experts were wrong however, and a couple of scuds did reach Riyadh. As our compound was in the “flight path” from Iraq to the Riyadh airbase the Americans were using, it turned out we were not in the best location! The American forces had “Patriot Missiles” set up to intercept any Scuds that got through, but nobody told us that the Patriots break the sound barrier seconds after being fired, and that they’re only capable of intercepting Scud missiles just before they hit the ground. You can imagine the sonic booms that went off the first night Scud missiles arrived: I have photo in my home that some daredevil took outside, that proves all this.

We had been told to tape up the glass on our villas in case it should shatter, and that we should leave our TV sets tuned to our CCTV channel turned on at all times, with the volume up so that if there was an air raid the staff and their families could be alerted by means of a piercing alarm sound that someone had fiendishly created. And so it was that one Thursday, when Jonathan Marks had scheduled a telephone interview with me for Radio Netherland’s Media Network, we were discussing media events in Saudi Arabia when the air raid alarm went off, and we had to postpone the rest of the interview. I seem to recall that he did call me again later the same night and we finished things off. I never did get to hear the program, or I would have recorded it! As far as I know, it’s not one of the programs that Jonathan has been able to find to include in his on line media vault. If anyone else has a copy of this early 1991 edition, I’d love to hear it again.

As the experts had been wrong in their assessment, it was decided that most of the Australians would be removed from Riyadh, and I was sent to do my work from Jeddah, for about 6 weeks. Again it was a slightly different media environment, and while interesting, I missed the ICF2001D, and bought a cheap multi band analogue portable to be able to keep up to date with BBC World Service News broadcasts.

By early March 1991, most of the fighting was over, and it was safe for me to return to Riyadh, where I worked for another two or three months, before returning to my normal job and family in Australia.

Off-Air Audio Recordings

Radio Baghdad to US Troops (1990):

BBC World Service News of the start of Desert Storm (January 16, 1991):

Radio Australia announcement by the acting Foreign Affairs Minister (January 16, 1991):

AFN Riyadh (Brief clip of Army Sergeant Patty Cunningham signing off her shift):

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Guest Post: A visit to Museo Marconi in Villa Griffone, Pontecchio, Bologna


Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ferruccio Manfieri (IZ1096SWL), who shares this report and excellent photo tour from a visit to the Museo Marconi in Bologna, Italy in 2018.

Today is International Marconi Day, so this is a very welcome, and timely post:


A visit to Museo Marconi in Villa Griffone, Pontecchio, Bologna

by Ferruccio Manfieri (IZ1096SWL)

Bologna, in Northern Italy, is renowned to be the seat of the oldest University in Europe and in the world (the Alma Mater Studiorum) and its historic, artistic and culinary heritage. From a scientific perspective, Bologna is the birthplace of Guglielmo Marconi as well as the place of his first experiments in transmission.

The inventor, born in Bologna on April 25th, 1874, was the son of an Italian father (Giuseppe, a wealthy landowner) and an Irish mother (Annie Jameson, of Jameson’s Whiskey family). At the age of 20, Marconi began to conduct experiments in radio waves, building much of his own equipment in the attic of his home at the Villa Griffone in Pontecchio (in the Bolognese countryside).

Marconi received his final resting place in Villa Griffone Mausoleum, an enterred crypt hosting his porphyr sarcophagus. The building was donated to the Guglielmo Marconi Foundation in 1941 after the  death of the inventor (on the 20th of July 1937).

Sadly, Villa Griffone and the Mausoleum suffered heavy damages from WWII bombings and pillages and were patiently rebuilt in post-war years. Today, Villa Griffone is reborn as a hub of research and divulgation activities, hosting Guglielmo Marconi Foundation, the Marconi Museum, a library and two research groups on communication systems.

On the 26th of april 2019 I visited with my family the Museum hosted in the original building (a short trip from Bologna, 20 minutes by public transport)

Villa Griffone and the Marconi Mausoleum

The visit began with a nice stroll in the Villa gardens, home with the nearby hill of the Celestini of the first long-range and not in line of sight transmission experiment in 1895. Marconi managed to send signals over a distance of 2 km, beyond a hill situated between the transmission equipment (to which he had added a grounded vertical antenna) and the reception apparatus (characterised by an extremely sensitive coherer).

Villa Griffone gardens and “Hill of Celestini”

We were in the very spot Marconi was when he transmitted his three signals to the receiver operated by his brother and the gardener behind the hill. Nearby, the replica of eight meter wooden pole with the attached metal boxes used as antenna.

Marconi’s first “long range” antenna – replica

This experiment in universally aknowledged as the birth of radio transmission (and, by the way, the rifle shot used as a confirmation of the reception was the very first QSL…).

Our valent host and guide to the visit was the Director of the Museum, Barbara Valotti, who thoroughly described us (with knowledge, passion and communication skills) the historical framework of Marconi’s biography and works. A more engineering oriented and hands-on visit to the working replicas laboratory was subsequently hosted with passion and knowledge by Adriano Neri I4YCE.

In the Auditorium Dr. Valotti  showed us two videos on the first transmission experiment and on the Republic incident in 1909, on of the first application of Marconi radiotelegraphy in an incident at sea, whose success (no lives were lost in the aftermath of the collision thanks to the coordination of rescue efforts via radiotelegraphy) gave a boost of popularity to radiotelegraphy and to the engineer, eventually leading to the Nobel prize in physics later that year.

A frame of the “Republic” video

This part of the visit emphasized his interest in real technological applications of his inventions and their commercial potential. Marconi was a “modern” mix of engineer (with an unhortodox, non-academic formation) and entrepreneur, ready to see the new potential applications of technologies in the society.  Interestingly, Dr. Valotti underlined that the main focus of Marconi research was always the point-to-point trasmission and not the broadcast.

Hanging on the ceiling of the auditorium, a replica of the kite used by Marconi to lift an emergency antenna in the first transoceanic transmission from Poldhu to St Johns Newfoundland in 1901.

Yacht “Elettra” – memorabilias

The visit continued to the “silkworm room”, the original room (once used to breed silkworms) where Marconi held his laboratory and performed his experiments. The room was full of instruments replicas to show the laboratory as in the young Marconi years.

“Silkworm room” – Marconi’s first laboratory (original place,  instrument replicas)

“Silkworm room” – Marconi’s desk (replica)

It was also possible to replicate the main experiments with educational working replicas.

Marconi transmitter – educational replica

Headphone and coherer used in the first transoceanic transmission (replicas)

The second phase of the visit was a more engineering-oriented explanation of the principles of radio telegraphy conducted by Adriano Neri I4YCE in a didactic laboratory on working replicas of the main epoch instruments.

Experiment table with working replicas: coherers, a wire decoder, a Marconi receiver

Instruments in the educational laboratory

With passion and competence, Mr. Neri explained us in a simple way (there were some very interested young people in the group) the cable telegraphy principles and the sequence of experiments and discoveries that led Marconi to his inventions.

In a detailed and fascinating exposition we saw applications of a Morse writer, the induction coil, the coherer and the first Marconi spark transmitter, all assembled in the end to transmit in the room some morse signals in the air.

Live demonstration of signal transmission by Adriano Neri . Against the wall a Marconi spark transmitter (note the antenna and ground plates), on the table: a Marconi receiver (with a coherer) connected with a Morse writer.

The laboratory, as the whole museum, hosts a huge number of working replicas (a wonderful collection in itself, handmade by Maurizio Bigazzi with rigorous standards of adherence to the original designs and, if possible, reuse of original parts) and some original equipment.

Ship wireless telegraph room – working replica

A last section of the museum is devoted to radio communication during the war (showing a WWI airplane-ground communication system) and radio broadcasting, with original sets of great interest like a 1923 Marconiphone (still working, we had a live demonstration receiving RAI programs) and a Ducati radio (the same Ducati company of motorbikes, based in Bologna).

WWI plane radio and ground receiver

1923 Marconiphone, working original set

Ducati radio

We spent all the morning in the Museum with great fun and interest from all the family.

I highly recommend a visit to the Museum for the place,  its significance in the history of radio transmission and the competent and passionate exposition of the historical and technical themes related to Guglielmo Marconi.

A wealth of information (also in english) can be found of the Guglielmo Marconi Foundation website (www.fgm.it).

A detailed gallery of the Museum can also be found on the new Museum website (www.museomarconi.it)

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Dan Robinson reviews the Sangean ATS-909X2

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, for the following guest post and review:


Sangean v Tecsun in the Battle of Late Shortwave Era Portables:  The ATS909x2

by Dan Robinson

Some years ago – actually more than a decade – I decided to give Sangean a shot at winning me over in the shortwave portable category.

I had and still do use numerous portables with a bias toward the classic SONY, Panasonic, and Grundig sets.  The ones that made an impression stayed, often in multiples, as anyone can see if they visit the radio shack here in Maryland.

These include, for those interested:  the Panasonic RF-B65, SONY ICF-SW77, ICF-2010, ICF-PRO80, ICF-7600D, ICF-7700, ICF-SW1000T, ICF-SW55, ICF-SW100s, ICF-SW07, Grundig Satellit 500, to which were added in more recent times the Toshiba  RP-F11, XHDATA D-808, and Tecsun portables ranging from the PL-365 and new PL-368 to the PL-880, PL-990x, H-501x, and S-8800.

Sangean has generally not been on that list. There’s a good reason – I just never considered Sangean to be competitive when it comes to portables, though they did have some excellent larger sets such as the ATS-803A that made the first forays into multiple bandwidth options.

My last experience with Sangean was with the ATS-909.  I liked the looks and capabilities of that receiver, and even went to the point of having mine modified by Radio Labs.  But those mods were underwhelming, in my view, and the original 909 always seemed to me to be deaf when using the whip antenna.

That issue continued unfortunately with the 909x.  Some of you may have seen a video I did a few years ago in which I set a 909x against a SONY SW-07 and Panasonic RF-B65.  This was done barefoot with only the whip antennas, but near a window.  In short, the other two radios wiped the floor with the 909x.

It took a surprisingly long time for Sangean to update the 909x with the 909×2, during which companies asked valid questions about the need for further development of world band portables.

Eton turned the market on its head when it introduced the still superb E1/XM which competed with the very end of SONY portable production, and co-designed with R.L. Drake added such superb features as Passband Tuning and three selectivity positions.

Meanwhile, Tecsun plugged away, introducing an impressive array of portables including the PL-600 series, then the 880 and now the 990x and H-501 portables.

So, now the 909×2 is here and with its 073 firmware upgrade has become a bit of a holy grail for portable receiver users.  There have been a number of excellent reviews, including Dave Zantow’s deep dive, and some others here on SWLing Post.

I’m going to give you my impressions, using the really detailed Zantow review as a base.  I received my 909×2 from Amazon just today – it is a 073 firmware which confirms that new supplies have the upgrade.

SENSITIVITY ON WHIP

First, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way.  Although I have not undertaken detailed technical testing of the 909×2 – nor do I have the equipment to carry this out – it does seem that Sangean may have finally tackled this crippling flaw that rendered the old 909x nearly useless when using it only on the whip.  I’ll undertake further testing and comparisons with some of my other portables to confirm this.  The whip antenna itself is robust – solid and long, something that Tecsun could take note of.

AIR BAND

Inclusion of air band on this radio is a major selling point for those interested in this type of monitoring.  My initial tests showed the 909×2 to be quite sensitive and useful – I managed to pick up no fewer than five airport comms frequencies in my area here in Maryland.

SELECTIVITY / AUTO-BANDWIDTH

The 909×2 really shines with FIVE available selectivity options that are easily selectable in shortwave mode.  It would have been nice to be able to actually see the values of each filter as one scrolls through, but that’s a minor point.  Think about it – in shortwave AM mode, this is the number of selectivity positions that one finds on such power house communication receivers as a Drake R8.  Amazing that we now have that in a portable.  On the negative side, I find the auto-bandwidth feature on the 909×2 to be nearly useless, as useless as the similar feature found on Tecsun receivers. The automatic switching is distracting and annoying. My advice to users: forget this, and stick with manual bandwidth control.  My advice to Sangean – I wish they had left this feature out but given us multiple bandwidths in SSB.

LCD AND BRIGHTNESS

Sangean hits it out of the park with this multi-stage lighting for the display.  Simply superb and the kind of quality we could only hope for from other manufacturers.

MAIN TUNING / DETENT CONTROL

I found the detents on the old 909x to be annoying – indeed, modifications have been available that could remove this feature.  But Sangean being Sangean, the detent wheel remains in the 909×2 and it is not a deal killer.

AUDIO QUALITY

The radio retains the excellent audio of the 909x – I am not sure the 909×2 exceeds what one hears from a Tecsun 990x or H-501x but it’s right up there and competitive.

POWER SUPPLY

As others have noted, thanks to Sangean for sticking with AA cells.  Together with internal charging when using Ni-Mh cells this is a major selling point.  On the other hand – competitor Tecsun went a step farther with its H-501x which though it uses 18650 lithium batteries, has dual batteries, one of which can be held in standby, and switchable charging.  That’s a design feature that you really have to respect.

VARIABLE RF GAIN

Again, as noted by others Sangean retained the extremely useful thumb wheel RF gain control.  This is an excellent feature.

KEYPAD

Another home run for Sangean when it comes to the keypads on the 909×2, which can be compared in this respect to the Tecsun H-501x which itself improves upon the 990x when it comes to front panel control.  Time will tell, however, and we shall see if the keys on these radios hold up in heavy use.

UP/DOWN SLEWING

These controls which sit outside the circular main tuning knob are excellent, and reminds one of the slewing buttons on the SONY 7600GR, SW1000T and SW100.

S-METER / DISPLAY

RSSI and SN Digital Signal Strength Information are provided on the beautiful 909×2 display.  This is an improvement over the Tecsun signal strength/SNR meters that I wish would be redesigned, if in fact Tecsun has any intention of future modifications to their portables.

NO SOFT MUTING

Thank goodness we don’t have to deal with the annoying soft muting issue that is still seen in some other portables (the XHDATA D808 comes to mind along with the Eton Executive).  Soft muting quite simply ruins a listening session and it’s baffling that any manufacturer still puts it in.

NEGATIVES (I AM IN TEARS)

OK, close all airtight doors and prepare to dive!  Here are the negatives I see with the 909×2.  I held off obtaining one of these radios because I knew there would be issues.  And I was disappointed enough in the past with the 909x and 909 before it that I had almost decided not to go for it.

SIGNS OF LONGWAVE RECEPTION PLAGUED BY CROSS-MOD FROM MEDIUMWAVE 

On my particular unit – it remains to be seen whether this is true for others – long wave seems to be near useless.  The band is filled with mediumwave stations bleeding through.  Turning down the RF obviously helps but I still hear AM stations here in the DC area, when I am in LW mode.

SSB PERFORMANCE

ALERT FOR SANGEAN AND ALMOST A DEAL BREAKERas mentioned in the Zantow review, and in other comments I have seen on the 909×2, the drop in level from AM to LSB is a killer negative.

This is less noticeable in MW.  But if you are in shortwave and have turned your volume up on any particular station, say a strong one such as Greece on 9,420 kHz or Spain, or an AM station, and you then switch to LSB it is like you have almost lost the signal.  This simply needs to be fixed.  Level on USB seems fine and acceptable, but LSB on shortwave requires immediate upwards adjustment of volume, only to have to reverse the process when returning to AM mode.  I find this problem to be sufficiently serious that I would recommend against obtaining a 909×2 until Sangean finds a way to fix it.  This issue is on the same level of BAD as the still unsatisfactory SYNC mode in all three of Tecsun’s shortwave portables.  In fact, I may return the 909×2 I obtained and wait until a fix for this emerges.

Example Video

In this video, I demonstrate the extent of the problem as seen on this particular unit of the 909×2, which carries a serial number dk201043181.

Dave Zantow says his unit does not have this issue, so there is a possibility this is due to unit to unit variation. As you can see, with a strong signal such as 12,160 kHz — switching from AM to LSB instantly reduces listenable level, and signal as measured on the 909×2 drops to zero bars or near zero. In USB, the reduction is less severe. Regardless, having to perform adjustments with main volume just to struggle to hear any signal in SSB is a bit ridiculous. This kind of thing is not seen on the Tecsun H-501x or 990x though as Dave correctly points out, Tecsun receivers are not exactly great performers in SSB. On Tecsun receivers, there is a slight processor pause while the receiver makes the switch into LSB or USB, without the sharp reduction in listenable level.

CALIBRATION ISSUES WITH NO WAY TO ADJUST

Imagine my joy when I first began using the x2.  Initially, it seemed to be smack on frequency – I tried this on WMAL, the powerhouse local AM station here in the DC area, and then again with stronger stations on shortwave, such as 12,160 kHz.  Ah, I said to myself, Sangean has some decent QC and paid attention.  About 30 minutes later, however, what I found matches the Zantow review.  Stations are consistently low of the tuned/displayed frequency by as much as 300 Hz.  The reason this is so disappointing is that I feel Sangean could have taken a clue from Tecsun and provided a re-calibration function (unless it exists and we aren’t being told about it).  On Tecsun radios, the re-calibration capability is the major counter-punch to poor synchronous mode – in my view, one can live with flawed SYNC on a 990x or H-501 or PL-330 as long as you can adjust and at least have zero beat or close to it across frequencies.  At the same time, as Zantow points out, no one should be expecting TCXO level performance from portables such as these.  However, it is a bit disappointing that after all these years and redesign of the 909x to add some really nice features, they’re still landing up to 300 Hz from a tuned frequency.  On the other hand, is this really any worse than one would see from an off-tuned SONY ICF-2010?  No, and adjusting those older receivers required surgery.

CONCLUSIONS

I really like the 909×2.  There simply is something about this design that Sangean knew was a winner when it first arrived on the market years ago, so it’s not surprising that Sangean stuck with it.  It’s clear that some hard thinking went into the step up from the old 909x, notably the larger LCD, addition of finer step tuning to make SSB easier, the robust antenna and the still pretty darn good audio through the wonderful speaker.  The 909×2 is a radio that you can imagine guests would comment on if it were sitting on your coffee table – it just looks THAT GOOD.

But then here in 2021, so does a Tecsun H-501x LOOK THAT GOOD.  As I noted above, where the Tecsuns fall down – with their still challenged synchronous mode – they make up for with the ability to re-calibrate.

That is a huge feature and one that Sangean struck out on, though surely Sangean designers had to know the 909×2 would appeal both to listeners and to hobbyists with obsessions about frequency accuracy.

To repeat, I really (really) like the 909×2.  But another area where the receiver strikes out is the problem with sharp reduction in LSB mode.  Seriously – you have to crank the volume control up to at least 50 percent to hear ANYTHING when you’re in LSB, whereas USB requires going only up to about 30 percent.  Then when you’re completing your carousel back to AM, you have to be sure not to still have the audio up at 50 percent or more to avoid blowing your speaker.

Again, as I said above, the calibration/drift issue on the 909×2 can be lived with.  The problem with LSB, in my opinion, cannot or should not be tolerated.  So, the question is, do you want to purchase a 909×2 now that still has that LSB audio issue, or wait a while until Sangean gets its act together?

These and other earthshaking questions are before us here in 2021.  We have some of the best portables ever made by anyone in a time of sharply declining shortwave use, but they each have their flaws.

I don’t usually do a star rating or RECOMMEND / NOT RECOMMEND for radios.  This time, I am going to make an exception and it links directly to the issue of the LSB problem on the 909×2.  These radios simply should not have been allowed to enter the market with this being as serious a problem as I think it is.  For that reason, I honestly cannot recommend a Sangean 909×2 until this is corrected.

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