Tag Archives: C.Crane CC Skywave SSB

Guest Post: A “Horizontal DXer” explores the CC Skywave SSB and PL-880

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!

When Passport ceased publication, I neglected shortwave radio for over a decade, busy with freelance writing and running the Commuter Assistance Net on two meter ham radio.

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.


Click here to read more posts by Jock Elliott.

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Dean recommends KM4MPF Sales

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.

Click here to check out KM4MPF’s selection of radios.

Thank you for sharing this, Dean! I know I have seen KM4MPF at local hamfests in the past. He has a great inventory of radios. Thanks for the tip!

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Jock satisfies his inner radio nerd with a deeper dive into NOAA weather radio

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.

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C.Crane CC Skywave SSB: Jock adds a correction/addendum to his guest post about ATS tuning

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.”

Whaaaat?!

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.

Cheers, Jock

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Jock discovers the joys of ATS tuning with the C.Crane CC Skywave SSB

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott (KB2GOM), who shares the following guest post:


Really cool trick the CCrane Skywave SSB will do — the “radio butler”?

To paraphrase Ratty from Wind in the Willows: ” “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing–absolutely nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about with radios.”

That is precisely what I was doing . . . messing, simply messing about with the CCrane Skywave SSB.

Then I observed something. Just above the LIGHT button is some lettering: “ATS.” Not having taken notice of it before, I looked it up in the manual. It stands of Automatic Tuning System, and the manual says this about it:

“This feature programs all receivable stations in the AM, FM, Air and Shortwave bands to memory buttons. To use ATS, select your desired band: AM, FM, Air or Shortwave, and press and hold the ATS button for two seconds. The CCrane Skywave SSB will scan the entire band and automatically set all available stations in sequence 1-20. If more than stations are available, then the remaining stations will be preset to the next memory page, and so on.”

So I tried it; I punched in a shortwave frequency — 9250 — and pressed and held the ATS button for two seconds. The Skywave then muted itself and went to the bottom of the shortwave bands — 2300 — and started silently scanning through all of the international shortwave bands, hopping from one shortwave band to the next. Occasionally it would stop and silently store a frequency. After a while it stopped, unmuted, and began playing the very first memory that it stored. I checked the other memories that were stored and — sonofagun! — there were stations stored in each memory. Some of them were really faint, and I had to mess with single sideband and bandwidths to make them fully copyable, but they were there, automatically scanned and stored by the CCrane Skywave SSB. Obviously, you might want to repeat the ATS scan as shortwave propagation changes, say, from day to night.

Well, I thought, would it do it also for Air frequencies? Short answer: it certainly will. And it will do the same for AM, FM, and — get this — 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.

There is one downside to the ATS function. When the Skywave scans and stores stations, it does so starting at Page 1, Memory 1 of the memory system . . . always. So, if you scan the Shortwave frequencies and store frequencies they will be stored starting at Page 1, Memory 1, wiping out anything that you have already stored there. If you then use ATS on the Air band, it will then write over whatever you stored from the Shortwave frequencies. I wish there were a way for the user to designate at which page in the memory system ATS will begin storing frequencies so that the information stored starting at Page 1, Memory 1 is not constantly overwritten.

However, there is another trick the Skywave will do: if you have used ATS to scan and store Air frequencies in Page 1 of the memory system (which it does automatically), you can then press and hold the UP and DOWN buttons at the same time, the Skywave will then scan through the Air frequencies that are stored there. Further, there is a squelch function on the Skywave that works only on the Air frequencies. So, with a little persuasion (very little), the CCrane Skywave turns itself into a civilian air scanner.

The ATS function on the CCrane Skywave SSB is a bit like having a radio butler: “I say, Jeeves, find me what’s on the air this evening.” A short while later, Jeeves reports back: “Here you are, sir, I found 10 shortwave stations you might like to listen to.”

Frankly, I don’t know if other modern shortwave portable radios offer a similar function, but if you have a CCrane Skywave SSB, give the ATS function a try; it’s pretty slick.

— Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

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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’s Fridge Counterpoise and Butter Cookie Signal Booster

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Van Hoy, who writes:

Here’s something you and the SWLing Post bunch might enjoy. My latest innovation in signal enhancement. Listening to KNLS from Anchor Point, Alaska on the 30m band. Not sure how much signal gain is achieved with the butter cookie tin, but it looks intriguing! And the 40 KV electrolyte just happened to be in the area. I’m sure it adds at least another 3dB to the received signal strength. ??

Continuing the relentless pursuit for better radio!

Ha ha! I had no idea that Danish Butter Cookies could help with DX! So much better than setting the Skywave SSB on an Altoids tin! Thanks for the chuckle, Dan!

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