Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jack (W1JS), who writes:
I was just on HRO’s website and noted that they have the C Crane SkyWave on sale for $119.99 until 1/2/2023. https://www.hamradio.com/detail.cfm?pid=H0-016072 That’s a great price! I am fairly sure I paid $170 for mine which I purchased 5 years ago.
73 & Merry Christmas,
Thank you for the tip, Jack! That’s an excellent price on the Skywave SSB. My guess is they’re selling of this original version (Version 1) of the Skywave SSB to make room for the new Skywave SSB 2.
Man on the run thrillers, like The 39 Steps by John Buchan* and Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household hold a special fascination for me. Give me a yarn about someone being pursued by the bad guys, and I am enthralled. (Incidentally, there are a couple of good lists of these thrillers. Here and here).
Sometimes I like to play the mental game of: if I were that guy trying to stay ahead those who wished me evil intent, what radio(s) might I want with me?
The other day I realized I had the perfect combo, a pair of radios that cover a huge swath of spectrum, will fit in a couple of pockets (or one big pocket) and weigh just 14 ounces combined. Further, both will run off ordinary AA batteries, which are widely available.
Candidate number one is the C Crane Skywave SSB, which measures 3 inches by 4.75 inches by 1.1 inches. It receives AM, FM, shortwave (1711-29999 kHz), VHF aviation and NOAA weather radio with alerts. Because it receives single sideband (SSB) on HF frequencies, it can tune in aeronautical, marine and amateur radio stations that transmit in the SSB.
The Skywave SSB comes with a pair of ear buds that fit my ears well and offer pleasing audio. In addition, the SSB comes standard with an auxiliary wire antenna that can be deployed and clipped to the SSB’s whip antenna to boost signal-to-noise. Perhaps most useful for the man on the run, the SSB has excellent “signal seek” functions that can be used on any band. In fact, if you put the radio in SSB mode and activate the signal scan, it will search the ham bands and automatically switch from upper sideband to lower sideband as appropriate.
For the man on the run who can “hole up” for a while, I’ve tried clipping a 50-foot long wire to the SSB’s whip and antenna, and I was amazed at how well it can pull in faint ham signals. It’s the “little radio that could.” About the only thing that I wish I could change on the Skywave SSB is that it mutes between tuning steps when using the tuning knob.
But suppose our man on the run needs to monitor signals above the coverage of the Skywave SSB? Candidate number two is the Icom R6. Measuring just 2.3 inches by 3.4 inches by 1.2 inches, the diminutive R6 covers from 100 kHz to 1309.995 MHz (less cellular and gaps) in AM, FM Narrow and FM wide modes (no SSB). It has 1300 alphanumeric memories, search-and-store capabilities, and rapid scanning of memory channels.
For high stealth, there is a setting that allows the R6 to use the wire that connects headphones or ear buds to the R6 as the antenna instead of the usual antenna. For a non-stealth application, using an aftermarket antenna like the Comet W100RX 25MHz-1300MHz Handheld Scanner Antenna, the R6T does a surprisingly good job of receiving shortwave stations. This antenna has markings on the side so that it can be set to the right length for various frequencies.
As you can see from the photo, the R6 has only a few buttons on its face and two on the side. Every button has multiple functions, and I found trying to program memory channels using the buttons to be a trial. As a result, I can highly recommend the RT Systems cable and programming software for setting up memory channels. In addition, some very useful notes for setting up and using the R6 can be found here: https://forums.radioreference.com/threads/icom-ic-r6-notes.442112/
Finally, I know that there are several tiny ham transceivers that might fill the bill, including the Yaesu VX-6R, although I am not aware of any that can receive single sideband. Besides, if you had the ability to transmit, “they” might be able to direction-find you . . . and we wouldn’t want that, would we?
*For sharp-eyed readers: yes, I know that The 39 Steps is set in a time before radio was widespread, but it is still one of my favorites.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:
The Crisis Radio
By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM
Sooner or later, it will happen to you. What’s ‘it’? Short answer: a crisis.
It could be as simple as you wake in the morning to find the power is out; you don’t know how long it has been out, and you don’t know when it is coming back. It might be a weather event: a blizzard, a sandstorm, a tornado, a derecho, a hurricane. It might be a geologic event like a tsunami, earthquake, or even volcanic activity. As recent events have shown, it could even be a war or a revolution.
When normal life is disrupted, and uncertainty is perched on your shoulder like a vulture, you will want to know what’s going on, and your usual means of getting information – telephone, smart phone, internet device – may also be disrupted.
When that happens, radio can come to your rescue. Your local FM or AM (medium wave) station may be on the air, providing vital information to your community, or NOAA Weather Radio may be providing hazard information. In extreme cases, shortwave radio may be beaming information to your area when all else fails.
So I have a couple of very specific recommendations.
First, make sure that your household has a “crisis radio.” By that I mean one that will receive your local AM and FM broadcasters as well as shortwave radio, and, if you live in the US or Canada, NOAA Weather Radio. If you can afford it, I recommend getting a crisis radio that has single sideband capability (SSB) so that you have the ability to intercept ham radio communications, which might be another source of information.
Toward that end, I can heartily recommend the CCrane Skywave SSB radio. (Let’s be clear: I have no commercial connection with CCrane; I get nothing from them for making this recommendation, I purchased my Skywave SSB with my own money.) It has AM, FM, Shortwave, Weather, VHF, Aviation and SSB Bands. It is very small, measuring just 4.8″ W x 3″ H x 1″ D and weighing just 6 ounces without batteries. It will run for over 50 hours on a couple of AA batteries and comes with CC Earbuds, SkyWave SSB Carry Case, and CC SW Reel Antenna which boost sensitivity for shortwave and ham radio listening.
It is a crisis radio that you can stick in your pocket, backpack, purse or briefcase for deployment when the need arises or you simply want to listen to some radio programming. Further, you don’t have to be an expert to operate the CCrane Skywave SSB. Thanks to the Automatic Tuning System, just select the band you want to listen to, press and hold the ATS button for two seconds, and the Skywave SSB will automatically search for stations in that band (AM, FM, Shortwave, etc.) and store those stations in the memory banks for that band. You can later check those memories to hear what programming those stations are broadcasting.
Second, and this is important, if you listen to shortwave radio at all, take the time to let the stations know. Drop them a postcard; shoot them an email, do whatever you can to inform them you are listening, and you value their transmissions.
Why? Because we all want those stations to be there if and when the next crisis happens. And if your local AM or FM station provides special programming to the community a weather event or geologic emergency, for the same reason, be sure to let them know how much you appreciate their efforts.
As a fire captain observed a couple of years after the North Ridge earthquake in California: “You cannot be over-prepared for communications in an emergency.”
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:
Confessions of a horizontal DXer and some initial impressions of the Tecsun PL-880
by Jock Elliott
Back in the day when I wrote for Passport To World Band Radio, one of my favorite things to do, while my better half drifted off to sleep, was to clamp on a pair of headphones, lean back against the pillows, and mess around with a Sony 6800W shortwave receiver.
It wasn’t a radio that was built for band scanning: you had to rotate a dial to select the megahertz segment of the bands that you wanted, tune a built-in preselector to the appropriate area, and then dial in the frequency with a tuning knob. And memories? Ha! You want memories?!! There were no stinking memories . . . you had to remember what frequencies you wanted or at least what portions of the bands you wanted to tune. The memories were between your ears.
But it was a receiver with an extraordinarily low noise floor, and many a happy evening I enjoyed programming from half a world away. Drifting off to sleep with headphones piping in a signal from a distant land was not without its dangers, though. One night I fell asleep listening to the news from Radio Australia beamed, in English, to Papua, New Guinea. I woke a while later to the same newscast beamed to Papua, New Guinea, but this time in Pidgin English. I heard some English words, but the rest did not make sense. I panicked, thinking some neurologic event had scrambled my brain, but a crisp voice rescued me: “This has been the news in Pidgin English, from Radio Australia.” Thank God!
Earlier this year, the SWLing bug bit me again, and I fired up a long-neglected Grundig Satellit 800 and started cruising around the HF frequencies. Many of the big-gun shortwave stations were gone, or they weren’t aiming programming at North America, but there was plenty to listen to, including shortwave stations, HF ham bands, and some utility stations.
Gee, I thought, it might be great to have a radio for a little horizontal in-bed DXing before shutting off the lights for the night . . . something I could hold in my lap, turn the tuning knob, and discover hidden treasures. The Satellit 800, emphatically, was not the answer. It is a large radio, roughly the size of the vaunted Zenith Transoceanic radios, and definitely not suited for laps.
So, based on a great reputation and excellent reviews, I bought a CCrane Skywave SSB. The Skywave SSB is a powerhouse, offering AM, FM, Weather, Air, SW, and SSB in a package roughly the size of a deck of cards and perhaps twice as thick. And it delivers the goods, offering worthy performance on every band, although SW performance is greatly enhanced by attaching the wire antenna that is included with the Skywave SSB.
Two factors, I discovered, reduced the suitability of the Skywave SSB for bedside DXing. First, the tuning knob is really small, so you can’t just twirl your finger to traverse the bands. It also has click-detents on the tuning knob and muting between tuning steps, so the tuning is non-continuous, which diminishes the pleasure for me. So the drill becomes: use the automatic tuning system (ATS) to search the bands and store stations in memory and then use the keypad buttons to jump from stored station to stored station. Further, each keypad key makes a distinct “click” sound when properly depressed. And that brings us to the second factor: one night, I am attempting to explore the stations stored by the ATS when my bride, who was trying to doze off, taps me. “What?” I say. “Too much clicky-clicky,” she says. Oh, I thought; now I need to find a radio that is quiet, so long as I am wearing headphones.
Now, just to be clear: I would highly recommend the CCrane Skywave SSB (except for use next to a spouse who is attempting to sleep), particularly for traveling because it is so small and performs so well. To underscore the value of a shortwave-capable travel radio, some years ago, I spoke with a journalist who was in Russia when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster took place. Russian media were not reporting on it at all; he found out about Chernobyl by listening to the BBC on a shortwave radio he had tucked into his luggage, and he rapidly made plans to leave Russia.
A bunch of research eventually led me to the Tecsun PL-880, which is about the size of a trade paperback book. According to some reviewers (including Dan Robinson), the 880 is a bit more sensitive and shortwave than the PL-990. The 880 offers a bunch of bandwidths on both AM and SSB, and the tuning is butter smooth with no muting or detents. The smallish tuning knob has a bit of knurling on the edge, which make it possible to twirl the knob with one finger; you can fine-tune SSB with another knob, and, with one button-press, use the tuning knob to select filter bandwidths or memory channels. In short, if you avoid the keypad, this is a radio that can be operated in near silence next to a better half who wishes to snooze.
The performance, so far, is exemplary; using the PL-880 whip antenna, I could readily hear Gander, Newfoundland, broadcasting aeronautical weather as well as Shannon, Ireland, air traffic controllers directing aircraft crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Yes! I haven’t yet begun to explore all that the PL-880 can do, but it promises to be a lot of fun.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dean Bianco, who writes:
I have purchased another C Crane SSB Skywave brand-new from an on-line retailer called KM4MPF Sales On-Line Store out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. [I paid a] discounted price of $149.99 vs the $169.99 price charged by C Crane direct. […] I feel not enough listeners would be aware of the significant discount of this fine, but normally pricey receiver. C Crane still earns money in the process, so it is a guilt-free decision to buy from the Tennessee company I would think.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:
Perhaps the ultimate radio nerd story . . .
by Jock Elliott (KB2GOM)
Perhaps I am the only guy on planet earth with a “kinda” interest in DXing NOAA weather radio, but there you have it, and this led me down an interesting rabbit hole in the world of radio.
Earlier this year, I found myself in Sodus, NY, in the western part of the state, near the shores of Lake Ontario. I had with me the following: an Icom V80 2-meter handy-talkie with a sharply tuned commercial antenna that works great on my home repeater (146.94) in Troy, NY; a Uniden BC125AT scanner with a Diamond 77 antenna, and a CCrane Skywave SSB. All receive the NOAA weather channels.
In the early morning, I checked www.wunderground.com for weather in the Sodus area. Snow was expected overnight. So I grab the Uniden 125AT, activate the weather scan function, and found that it received NOAA weather radio channels 1, 2, and 3, and the audio sounded great through my headphones. I tried stepping through the weather radio channels on my Icom V80 and found that it received channels 1, 2, and 3, but with just a wee bit of static in the background. I tried switching the antennas between the 125AT and the V80, and there was no appreciable difference.
Now, here’s the interesting part: I tried the same trick on the CCrane Skywave SSB with its telescoping whip fully extended, and it received weather channel 1 just fine with excellent audio through the headphones. But channel 2 was way down in the soup, a hair above “barely audible.” I tried waving the Skywave around, point the whip antenna in different directions and orientations to see if I could improve the signal. I succeeded only in nulling it out. Weather radio channel 3 was not audible at all, but channel 4 was coming in well, and so was channel 7 . . . and the other two radios were not receiving channels 4 and 7 at all.
Frankly, I didn’t know what to make of this. To be clear, I was able to hear that forecast that I needed to hear — for Wayne County, NY — on all three radios. But why would there be such a stark difference between the CCrane Skywave SSB and the other two radios?
At this point, I was really curious what the answer might be.
The V80 and the 125AT “agreed” with each; both were receiving NOAA weather radio channels 1, 2, 3. The CCrane Skywave SSB appeared to be the anomaly, receiving channels 1, 2 (barely), and 4 and 7, which the V80 and 125AT did not receive.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott (KB2GOM), who shares the following guest post:
I made a mistake, but it’s good news for CCrane Skywave SSB owners.
Recently, I published a guest post for the SWLing Post in which I wrote enthusiastically about the ATS feature on the CCrane Skywave SSB. Everything I wrote was true, except for one small detail. And that, it turns out, is a nice bonus for Skywave SSB owners.
We’ll get to that in just a moment, but first, let’s take a look at what the Skywave SSB manual says about memory:
“Memory Preset Buttons 0-9. Save your favorite stations to memory buttons. To save a station, press and hold any memory button for 2 seconds while the station is playing. To play a saved station, press the same button once quickly. Note: The CC Skywave SSB is a ‘smart’ radio and will remember current settings when a station is preset into memory. The current settings that will be saved with your stations are: 1. Stereo or Mono selection on FM. 2. Bandwidth selection on AM, Shortwave, or Air Bands. 3. Tone settings.”
Further, the manual says this about the Page Button:
“Each memory page allows you to save 10 additional stations per band. To change to a different page, press the PAGE button once quickly, then press any memory button 0-9 to select the Page you desire.”
So, do the math: there are 10 pages. Each page can store 10 memories. 10 x 10 = 100, right?
So imagine my surprise when I visited the C.Crane website early this AM, and the first thing that pops up is the Skywave SSB, and, prominently displayed, it says: “400 memories.”
I check; the manual says nothing about 400 memories, no hint that by pressing some secret combination of buttons you can access memories beyond the 100 obvious ones.
Then it begins to dawn on me: what if each band – SW, AM, FM, AIR – has its own bank of 100 memories? That would account for C.Crane’s claim of 400 memories. Hmmm. Further, what if the ATS (Automatic Tuning System) function – which “programs all receivable stations in the AM, FM, Air and Shortwave bands to memory buttons” – automatically stores the frequencies in the appropriate memory bank for that band? That would be pretty neat.
So I grab the Skywave SSB and run a quick ATS search on the SW band. Sure enough, it stores some SW stations, starting at Page 1, Memory 1, overwriting whatever had been stored there. Then I select the AIR band and access memories, starting at Page 1, Memory 1. There are only AIR frequencies stored there. I select the FM band and access the memories; nothing but FM stations stored there. Same thing with AM. Clearly, there are separate memory banks for each band.
So here’s the good news: the Skywave SSB does, indeed, have 400 memories, a 100-memory bank for each band: SW, AM, FM, AIR. Further, when you do an ATS search, the frequency “hits” are stored, starting at page 1 for that band. Therefore, if you do an ATS search on the SW band, the hits are stored in the memories for SW, and the memories that are stored for, say, AIR, are not overwritten. (And that is where I got it wrong.)
So, if you are traveling, you can do a search on local AM stations, local FM stations, SW stations, and local AIR stations, each will be stored in its own memory bank, starting at page 1, memory 1, for that band. Pretty neat.
In addition, I need to offer a clarification. I wrote:
“if you put the Skywave SSB in single sideband mode, it will scan the ham bands, automatically changing sidebands appropriately as it hops from ham band to ham band. Note: when you check the memories stored during an ATS ham band search, you may not find anything there, simply because ham transmissions come and go much more often than international broadcasters.”
All of that is true, but the Skywave does not store whether the frequency is USB or LSB. My bad; I should have noticed that.
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