Category Archives: Radios

The Satellit 800, the Tecsun PL-880, and two indoor antennas – an afternoon of experimentation

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


The Satellit 800, the Tecsun PL-880, and two indoor antennas – an afternoon of experimentation

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

A search for “shortwave listening antennas” on the internet landed me on the page for the Par EndFedz® EF-SWL receive antenna, which is a 45-foot end-fed wire antenna connected to a wideband 9:1 transformer wound on a “binocular core” inside a UV-resistant box. A link on the page invited me to check out the eHam reviews of this antenna, which are here. What struck me is that there are just page after page of 5 star reviews of this antenna. Hams and SWLs apparently just love it. (If you want to buy of these antennas, they are now sold by Vibroplex and can be found here.)

As I reached for my credit card, I remember that I had an LDG 9:1 unun transformer lying around and some wire left over from the Horizontal Room Loop project. Maybe I could create my own end-fed SWL antenna by wrapping the wire around the perimeter of the room, attaching it to the 9:1 unun and then by coax to the back of my Grundig Satellit 800.

So I did exactly that. The wire for new end-fed antenna travels the same route around the perimeter of the room as the horizontal room loop. The main differences between the two antennas are that the end-fed is not a loop, and it terminates in the 9:1 transformer, which, in turn, feeds the Satellit though a coax cable. But in essence, we’re talking about two indoor wire antennas that are the same length and laid out along the same path about 7 feet in the air around the interior of the 8-foot by 12-foot room that serves as a library and radio shack: the horizontal room loop and the indoor end-fed.

 

The Satellit 800 has three possible antenna inputs: the very tall built-in whip antenna, two clips on the back of the 800 where the horizontal room loop attaches, and a pl-239 coax connector where the new end-fed antenna attaches. In addition, there is a three-position switch that allows me to quickly switch from one antenna to another.

Tuning up on the WWV time stations on 5, 10, 15, and 20 MHz and sliding the switch on the back of the Satellit 800 among the three different positions, I quickly found that the whip antenna was the noisiest of the three choices and offered the poorest signal-to-noise ratio. The comparison between the horizontal room loop and the indoor end-fed antenna was very, very close. While the horizontal room loop was quieter, it seemed to me that the signal offered by the indoor end-fed antenna was the tiniest bit easier to hear, so I decided to leave the Satellit 800 hooked up to the indoor end-fed antenna.

The 100-foot indoor end-fed antenna

Then I did something I had wanted to do for quite a while: I disconnected the horizontal room loop from the back of the Satellit 800 and attached one end of the wire to the indoor end-fed. So now, I had a roughly 100-foot end-fed antenna wrapped twice around the room.

Before we proceed any further, you need to understand this: my comprehension of antenna theory is essentially nil. As the old-timers would have it: you could take the entirety of what I understand about antenna theory, put it in a thimble, and it would rattle like a BB in a boxcar.

Ever since the successful creation of the horizontal room loop, I had wondered: if 50 feet of wire wrapped around a room improves the signal, would 100-feet of wire improve the signal even more? Inquiries to several knowledgeable people produced the same result: they didn’t think so.

Guess what? They were right . . . entirely and completely right. Tuning to the time stations and attaching and detaching the extra 50 feet of wire from the indoor end-fed, I saw (on the signal strength meter) and heard no difference in signal strength or signal-to-noise ratio.

The PL-880 and Satellit 800 comparison

So now, the Satellit 800 is attached to the indoor end-fed antenna, and there is an extra 50 feet wire wrapped around the room on the same path as the end-fed. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could find a way to hook that extra wire up to my Tecsun PL-880?

An old auxiliary wind-up wire antenna from a FreePlay radio came to the rescue. It was an annoying piece of gear; the wire was difficult to deploy and even more difficult to wind up again, and it had languished in a drawer for more than a decade. But it had a really nifty clip on the end that was designed to easily snap on and off a whip antenna.

Pulling an arm-spread of wire out of the reel, I cut it off, stripped the wire, attached it to the end of what had been the horizontal room loop, and clipped it to the whip on the PL-880. Tah-dah . . . instant improvement to the signal coming into the PL-880.

Some time ago, a reader had asked whether I found the Satellit 800 a little deaf in comparison to the Tecsun PL-880. Now, with two indoor antennas of approximately the same length and routed along the same path, I could do the comparison on shortwave frequencies. Starting with the time stations and later with hams in single-sideband on the 20-meter band, I alternated between the two radios. Although the PL-880 has more bandwidth choices, and the two radios have a slightly different sound to them (probably, I’m guessing, due to differences in their circuitry), the bottom line is this: anything I could hear with the Satellit 800 I could also hear with the PL-800 . . . and vice versa. (Note: I did not do any comparison between the two on medium wave or FM.)

In my not-so-humble opinion, both offer worthy performance that is improved with the addition of a 50-foot wire antenna, even if it is indoors.

And that brings us to the final point.

A word of caution

If you decide to add a bit of wire to improve the signal coming into your shortwave portable or desktop receiver, do NOT, under any circumstances, EVER deploy the wire where it could come into contact with a powerline or fall onto a power line or where a power line could fall on it.

As Frank P. Hughes, VE3DQB, neatly put it in his wonderful little book Limited Space Shortwave Antenna Solutions: “Make sure no part of any antenna, its support or guy wires can touch a power line before, after, or during construction. This is a matter of life and death!

And when thunder and lightning threaten, make sure your outdoor antenna is disconnected and grounded.

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Matt’s 2022 Rooftop Receiver Shootout!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Matt Blaze, for the following guest post:


2022 rooftop receiver shootout

by Matt Blaze

I realized it’s been long past time for me to do another head-to-head receiver comparison “shootout”, where you can compare the audio from multiple radios receiving the same signal at the same time. Long time readers of Thomas’ blog may remember I’ve posted a few of these before.

So I took advantage of the nice weather and brought a bunch of radios, recording gear, and an antenna up to the roof to listen and record signals under an open sky. My neighbors, no doubt, wondered what I must have been up to. (Don’t tell them I’m just a harmless radio nerd.)

This year, our focus is on eight “dream receivers” from the 1980’s to the present. Each radio is at or near the top of the line in its class at the time of its release. Our radios include, in roughly reverse chronological order:

  • Icom R-8600, a current production “DC to Daylight” (or up to 3 GHz, at least) general coverage communications receiver, with highly regarded shortwave performance.
  • AOR AR-ONE, another DC to Daylight general coverage radio, less well known due to the high price and limited US availability. Excellent performer, but a terrible (menu-driven) user interface for shortwave, in my opinion.
  • Reuter RDR Pocket, a very cute, if virtually impossible to get in the US, small production, high performance SDR-based shortwave portable receiver. It’s got an excellent spectrum display and packs a lot of performance into a surprisingly small package.
  • AOR 7030Plus, an extremely well regarded shortwave receiver from the late 90’s; designed in the UK. It’s got a quirky menu-driven user interface but is a lot of fun to use.
  • Drake R8B, the last of the much-beloved Drake receivers. Probably the chief competitor to the 7030.
  • Drake R7A, an excellent analog communications receiver (but with a digital VFO) from the early 80’s. It still outperforms even many current radios.
  • Sony ICF-6800W, a top of the line “boom box” style consumer receiver from the early 80’s. Great radio, but hard to use on SSB.
  • Panasonic RF-4900, the main competition for the Sony. Boat-anchor form factor, but runs on batteries. Excellent performer, but also hard to use on SSB.

The radios were fed from my portable Wellbrook FLX-1530 antenna, using a Stridsberg Engineering HF distribution amplifier. So every radio was getting pretty close to exactly the same signal at its RF input.

Recordings were taken from the line output, if one was available, or the external speaker/headphone output otherwise. In either case, the audio was then isolated and converted to a balanced signal for recording.

For each signal, I recorded monaural “solo” tracks for each radio, as well as a narrated stereo track in which I compared the audio from each radio (one after the other) against the Icom R8600, with the audio from the R8600 on the left channel and the audio from the other radios on the right channel. This gives you a quick overview of what all the radios sound like.

The stereo recording requires some explanation. For it to make any sense, you MUST listen in stereo, using decent headphones if at all possible. You can switch earpieces back and forth (with your finger on pause and rewind) to get a quick idea of what each radio sounds like compared with a modern receiver, and how they handle things like fades and static.

The solo tracks, on the other hand, consist entirely of the continuous audio from a single radio, with no narration or interruption.

I recorded three different signals, for a three part comparison. (Parts four and up will come, hopefully, soon). I think both the differences and similarities will surprise you.

Part One

Our first signal was the BBC on 9915 KHz, broadcasting from Madagascar to western Africa. This signal was extremely marginal here, intended to show how each receiver can or can’t handle signals down in the noise. It’s definitely not “armchair copy”.

The stereo overview is at:

The individual receiver solo tracks can be found here:

Icom R-8600:

AOR AR-ONE:

Reuter RDR Pocket:

AOR 7030Plus:

Drake R8B:

Drake R7A:

Sony ICF-6800W:

Panasonic RF-4900:

Part Two

Our next signal was the Shannon (Ireland) aviation VOLMET broadcast on 5505 KHz USB. This synthesized voice gives the latest meteorological conditions at airports around Europe. The signal was not strong, but entirely readable. It shows how the radios handle a weak SSB signal. Note that the Sony and Panasonic consumer radios, though equipped with a BFO, were VERY hard to tune properly.

The stereo overview is at:

Receiver solo tracks can be found here:

Icom R-8600:

AOR AR-ONE:

Reuter RDR Pocket:

AOR 7030Plus:

Drake R8B:

Drake R7A:

Sony ICF-6800W:

Panasonic RF-4900:

 

Part Three

Our final signal was a stronger, though occasionally fading, shortwave broadcaster, Radio Romania International on 13650 KHz AM. This gives you a sense of how the receivers performed on a typical “average” signal that you might actually want to enjoy listening to. Because the radios have different filters and other capabilities, I tuned each radio to whatever sounded best; I did not attempt to use comparable settings (since no common settings existed).

The stereo overview can be found at:

And the individual solo tracks are here:

Icom R-8600:

AOR AR-ONE:

Reuter RDR Pocket:

AOR 7030Plus:

Drake R8B:

Drake R7A:

Sony ICF-6800W:

Panasonic RF-4900:

Subsequent comparisons, hopefully soon, will focus on receiver performance on signals in crowded bands and under various kinds of interference and noise.

A quick note on production: The recordings were made with a 12 channel Sound Devices 833 recorder with a Sound Devices SL-16 mixing console. The audio was isolated and converted to balanced output with Switchcraft 318 direct interface boxes (highly recommended for recording radios with pro audio gear).

The stereo track narration was done by me in real time, as the signals were being recorded. I made some comments about which receivers I thought sounded best that were not always the same as what I would later conclude after carefully listening to the solo tracks once back inside. But judge for yourself. I used a Coles “lip” microphone, an amazing ribbon mic designed decades ago for the BBC for use in highly noisy environments. It was very effective in reducing the sometimes considerable street noise and other ambient outdoor sounds.

Thanks for listening and 73!

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Mark seeks a vintage radio repair technician in the DC metro area

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mark Irish, who writes:

Good afternoon Mr. Witherspoon,

Just wanted to follow up on a contact for fixing several shortwave radios from the primarily the 70s and 80s, preferably someone located in the DC Metropolitan area, Virginia or North Carolina. These would include the Zenith R-7000-2 and General Electric World Monitor P4990A. Is this something that you could post on your blog? If possible, please let me know either way.

Thank you,

Mark Irish

Great question, Mark! It’s difficult to find radio repair technicians these days. 

I have a couple of suggestions, but perhaps the SWLing Post community can comment with even more options!

You might check with Vlado at HamRadio.repair. He has worked on some vintage solid state radios in the past–he’s located near Asheville, North Carolina.

Also, you might reach out to the National Capital Radio & TV Museum in Bowie, MD. They offer classes in radio repair and I imagine they would be the best source to find a technician in the DC Metro area.

Post readers: Please comment if you know of other resources for Mark!

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Pavel fixes a stereo lock in the Eton E1

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


Eton E1 – fault in stereo reception

I recently became the owner of an Eton E1 receiver, which I obtained on eBay from the USA.

The receiver is great, everything worked, error-free display. The only problem was that even FM and strong local stations did not play stereo even though stereo reception was set in the menu. The stereo text on the display flashed several times when the stations were not tuned in precisely, but after the stereo tuned, the text went out. I know that stereo reception is not the most important thing for this receiver, but it bothered me that there was a defect at all.

The Sanyo 3335 stereo decoder is used in this radio. The stereo reception switching threshold can be set with a 10kohm potentiometer which is connected to terminal 4 of the integrated circuit:

I disassembled the radio by loosening the screws on the back of the radio. The receiver is divided into two parts. I removed the XM module and disconnected the part of the radio with the display from the flat wires on the second printed circuit board of the radio

I then removed the screws on the circuit board located at the back of the radio.

I removed the printed circuit board and found a matching resistor trimmer on the other side of the circuit.

Then I connected these two points with a wire (when running on batteries) so that I could turn on the receiver:

After tuning in to a strong local transmitter, I carefully turned the trimmer until the stereo sign lit up and listening to the headphones made sure the sound matched the stereo. I repeated this at several local stations.

The receiver now plays stereo perfectly and the settings do not affect other parameters of the receiver. After assembling the radio, I was able to enjoy quality stereo reception.

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Carlos buys a vintage Wahda transistor radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Carlos Latuff, who writes:

Hey Thomas, check this radio set I just bought.

Portable, MW only, working with 4 AA batteries. It’s working perfectly.

This piece was made in Japan, I don’t know the year, but the curious thing is the Arabic name on it.

Maybe a model directed to Middle East markets?

Who knows, your readers may come with some information about this model.

All the best,

Carlos Latuff

What a cool little transistor radio! Thanks for sharing the photos, Carlos.

Post Readers: Please comment if you’re familiar with this particular radio model–or the Wahda brand–and have any insight to share with Carlos.

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Guest Post: “Tinkering with History”

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


Tinkering with History

By Bob Colegrove

One of the attractive aspects of radio as a hobby is that it has so many specialties to channel our time.  Just for the sake of classification, I would group these into two categories, listening and tinkering.  I think the meaning of each category is fairly intuitive.  Probably few of us approach our interest in radio in the same way.  Most of us have dabbled in more than one listening or tinkering specialty.  Perhaps we have been drawn to one particular area of interest, or we may have bounced around from one to another over a period of time.  I know the latter has been my case.

Tinkering might start with a simple curiosity about what makes the radio play, or hum, or buzz, and progress to an obsessive, compulsive disorder in making it play, hum or buzz better.  Unfortunately, over the past 30 years or so, the use of proprietary integrated circuits, as well as robotically-installed, surface-mounted components have greatly short-circuited what the average radio tinker can do.  For example, I have noticed a lot more interest in antennas over that period, and I think the reason is simple.  The antenna is one remaining area where a committed tinker can still cobble up a length of wire and supporting structure and draw some satisfaction.  But the complexity and lack of adequate documentation have largely kept newer radio cabinets intact and soldering irons cold.  Bill Halligan knew you were going to tinker with his radios, so he told you how they were put together.  The fun began when you took your radio out of warranty.  If you did get in over your head, there was usually somebody’s cousin not far away who could help you out.  The following is a sample of how one resolute tinker managed to overcome the problem of locked-down radios in the modern age. Continue reading

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Guest Post: Comparing the Reuter Pocket and the Icom IC-705 from an SWL’s perspective

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Uli (DK5ZU), who shares the following guest post:


SWL with a Reuter Pocket and the Icom IC-705

by Uli (DK5ZU)

Some time ago I asked how the IC-705 performs on longwave and I got some great feedback. Thanks a lot again. Since the HAM bug bit me again, I wanted to do SWL and HAM Radio portable with one rig. I started with SWL some weeks ago (just before the bug bit). I acquired a second hand Reuter Pocket RDR 51 Version B2. It is a standalone SDR Receiver 0 … 30 MHz / 50 ..71 MHz, and in my B2 version it has also FM (Stereo/RDS) and Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB). You may find the detailed specs here:
https://www.reuter-elektronik.com/html/pocket.html

The Reuter Pocket could, at one point, be configured as an QRP Transceiver, but it is no longer supported. There is a new RDR 52 small tabletop models, which can be ordered as a transceiver, too. But due to Covid related supply chain problems and price changes for the components, the new model is currently postponed.

The IC-705 is available, though. And for portable HAM operations it is a no brainer; obviously with a high price tag, but comparable with a new Reuter RDR 52 tabletop. And since my budget for the hobby is limited, I thought about funding part of the IC-705 price by selling the Reuter Pocket. But I wanted to do a side-by-side comparison so I ordered the 705 and was able to check them both on one antenna. The goal was to compare their sensitivity and selectivity on the lower bands: BC on AM and HAM bands for SSB. I did not compare CW since I am not a CW operator.

The antenna is a MiniWhip from PA0RDT which works quite well on the lower bands.

This comparison is not at all scientific and reflects just my opinion and what I heard. But anyway, there may be some people out there interested in this. So much for the intro.

Let’s start with my overall findings. Continue reading

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