Tag Archives: Blind Shortwave Listeners

Portable SSB radios for people who are visually impaired

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Svein Tore, who writes:

I’m blind. The type of shortwave radio I like best, is the analogue type with a tuning wheel, because I don’t need sight to use it, and I have full control over the receiver.

I would like to buy a radio with SSB, but it seems that all of the radios with SSB are digital, and you need to see the display to use the radio.

Are there any analogue radios with SSB?

If not, what is the simplest radio receiver with SSB?

I’m looking for a radio with as few functions and menus as possible, but it should have SSB.

I’m looking for a small or medium sized receiver, but if you are thinking of a big radio that seems to be right for me, please tell me about it.

Perhaps I have given you an impossible question now? I’m sorry for that.

Thanks 🙂

Greetings from Norway.

Svein Tore

Excellent question, Svien. I thought it would make sense to share your inquiry with the SWLing Post community as I know we have other readers who are visually impaired. Readers, please comment with any suggestions you may have.

To my knowledge, there are no analog shortwave radios with a BFO (for SSB) that are in production today. There are, however, numerous analog models from the 60s, 70s and 80s with a BFO (two examples: the Sony ICF-5800H and the Panasonic RF-2200).

My trusty Zenith Trans Oceanic will always be a part of my radio collection (Click to enlarge)

In fact, my first proper radio was a Zenith Transoceanic. I’ll never forget taking it to our local RadioShack, when I was eight years old, to ask one of the employees (who I knew was a DXer) what the heck “this strange BFO knob” does!

There is the analog Sony ICF-EX5MKII that SWLing Post contributor Troy Riedel reviewed, but I don’t believe it has a BFO–only a synchronous detector which can be switched between upper and lower sidebands. Perhaps a reader can confirm this.

Since I can’t recommend a current analog model, I do have a digital solution that I believe may work for you:

The Tecsun PL-660

Listening to Channel Z in a parking lot with the Tecsun PL-660.

Listening to Channel Z in a parking lot with the Tecsun PL-660.


Though not an analog radio, the menus on the PL-660 are not “deep”–most buttons simply toggle features. There is no hardware “switch” to change bands, but I think you would find it easy enough to use the direct frequency entry keypad to navigate across the spectrum. The SSB feature works more like an analog radio as it has a BFO dial on the right side of the radio. The buttons and dials are also raised and tactile. Best yet, the tuning sounds like an analog radio since there is no muting between frequency changes.

There are a number of other portables out there that are about as simple to operate as the PL-660, but I like the price point of the PL-660 and its overall performance characteristics. For a little less money, and a similar form factor and function set–minus a synchronous detector function–you might also consider the Tecsun PL-600 as well.

Again, I’m hoping Post readers might chime in with even better suggestions! Please comment!

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Software Defined Receivers (SDRs) for the visually impaired listener

Spectrum Display 31 Meters on the WinRadio Excalibur

At the 2015 Winter SWL Fest, I co-hosting a forum on Software-Defined Radios.  Afterwards, a radio friend–who happens to be visually impaired–approached me to ask:

“What is the best SDR for those who are blind or visually impaired?”

I’d never been asked the question before, and replied that I’d have to do a little research. In truth, I suspected that research would turn up very little that was useful:  after all, SDRs require a lot of pointing and clicking, and some of the interfaces are rather complicated. Spectrum and waterfalls displays, often at the heart of the SDR app, are visual displays.

But I kept thinking of my friend’s question. Upon my return, I set out to do a little research and possibly pose the question here on the SWLing Post.  Then assistance stepped in…in the form of medium wave DXer Tore Johnny Bråtveit.

If Mr. Bråtveit’s name sounds familiar, that would be because I recently posted a link to an Oregon Public Broadcasting interview with him. In the interview, he mentioned that he uses SDRs to chase MW DX, and that he is visually impaired.

I reached out to Mr. Bråtveit via his website and asked for any advice he could give about SDRs for those who are blind or visually impaired.  His enlightening response:

“In the interview I mentioned screen reader software and the need to find SDR software that plays well along with such screen reader software. For those visually impaired who have some eyesight, this aspect may not apply, since many of them are well helped by a screen magnifier software package.

For those without eyesight at all, or with so little left of the eyesight that they cannot make practical use of the screen, there are these screen reader software packages. They all do the same, but they solve the job in a somewhat different way and are good at different tasks.

I began using SDRs back in 2007. First I used some [RFspace] SDR-IQs for a few years, until I purchased a Winradio G31DDC in 2010. The user experience with Winradio was so good that I have stayed with those radios since then, using both G31DDC and G33DDC receivers at my remote listening places.

I think I can say that all the software packages delivered with SDRs have issues and challenges when it comes to using them along with a screen reader. The worst example of unusable native software I have seen so far, is the software package delivered with the [Microtelecom] Perseus. I had a thought purchasing one some years ago and make some scripts for my screen reader JAWS to see if I could make the Perseus possible to use effectively, but I dropped the idea at that time in favor of Winradio.

The SpectraVue software delivered with SDR-IQ was usable, but I had to script it quite extensively, especially to be able to use the timeline when playing back recordings. Also the frequency selector was a bit tricky, so I had to assign some hotkey combinations to it. Otherwise it worked fine.

The Winradio software for the G3x series works quite fine right out of the box. They have apparently thought [through] keyboard operation, and there are shortcuts for almost everything. Such shortcut keys are necessary, as navigating the program interface with a screen reader can be a bit too complicated, especially for those only using speech output from the screen reader to access the screen content.

I personally am living in a country where we have good access to refreshable Braille displays, which gives me the opportunity to turn off the speech entirely if I want and only use Braille output. This way I can navigate the program interface quite effectively to understand how things are laid out.

The only real issues I have had with Winradio software, is:

1. Changing shortcut keys:
Normally, the Tab key is used to move between elements on a screen, so it would be natural to think that pressing the Tab key will bring me to the next shortcut key definition. Not in Winradio. Tab can be defined as a shortcut key itself, so trying to navigate the shortcut keys dialog with that key gives you a number of options, all connected to the Tab key. My way around this was to navigate with the Braille display until I found the shortcut key definition I wanted to change, focus on it by pressing a cursor routing key in that position and changing the definition. Then navigate further down to the OK button and activate it.

2. The timeline:
The timeline used when playing back recordings can be hard to locate when using a screen reader, and even more difficult to work with, since when you press a cursor routing key on the Braille display to simulate a mouse click on it, the focus often moves to somewhere else on the screen. Then you have to work hard to locate back to that timeline again. My solution here was to script my screen reader with a hotspot at the timeline with a shortcut key assigned to it, so that I could move focus back there by pressing a key.

Among the third-party software packages developed for SDRs, I have found few that I can recommend. The only one I can think of, is HDSDR. Especially in the current version from November 2013, there are a number of useful shortcut keys, and the program seem to work very well. I have used it a bit with an AFEDRI SDR I have, and have also used it to play back older SDR-IQ recordings.

So, if nothing else works, Iwould say that HDSDR is the solution, since it is both easy to use and have support for a number of receivers. And it is free, as you certainly know.

[…]Please write back if I can help you any further”

Brilliant!  What a treasure trove of information for our visually-impaired SDR listeners and operators.  Thanks so much, Mr. Bråtveit, and please keep in touch with us here at the SWLing Post.  73s!

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