WARNING: due to the graphic nature of these photos, those radio enthusiasts who love the Sony ICF-SW100 may want to look away. Parental Discretion is advised.
Guest Post by Troy Riedel
Some of you may remember my recent lamenting regarding the unexpected loss of my beloved Sony ICF-SW100 posted on this blog. The Medical Examiner opened the radio’s chassis last week. The manner of death is rather obvious, but what caused it? Before I reveal my research, allow me to quicky remind you of the context to the situation.
Due to a medical emergency, I “deployed” for two months to tend a remote farm (one of the few benefits was being able to drive a tractor – a kid from my generation grew-up dreaming of piloting heavy construction equipment and farm implements). I traveled there with two shortwave portables: the Sony ICF-SW100s and the XHDATA D-808. After a long day of work, shortwave radio was my only mode of relaxation during my extended period of solitude.
I had always used Eneloop nickel metal hydride (NiMH or Ni-MH) rechargeable batteries in my SW100. I’m not a physics nor a chemistry major (the closest knowledge I have is enough atmospheric physics to have once been a moderately successful synoptic weather forecaster & aviation weather briefer in the military). As such, my education doesn’t directly correlate so I offer an advance apology for my overly simplistic and layperson synopsis of the specific cause & manner of death of my SW100.
I think we all know that a battery is “energy stored inside of a small container”. And energy is heat – measured by random motion (random motion is directly proportional to heat meaning as motion increases or decreases, the heat generated by the motion will do the same).
NiMH & Lithium battery cells have an alkaline electrolyte, usually potassium hydroxide (potash). The electrolyte serves as the catalyst to make a battery conductive by promoting the movement of ions from the cathode to the anode on charge and in reverse on discharge. The electrolyte is sensitive as it has to be to promote charging & to generate power. And the heat that’s produced by the battery can be dangerous because as we previously discussed, a battery is a “closed” container that stores energy … and if we think about it, so is a bomb, right?
Well, the term closed is slightly misleading and not 100% correct. A rechargeable household battery has a vent which acts as an exhaust. This vent allows excess heat to escape. If you Google image search “NiMH battery anatomy”, there are two ways to vent heat. On Panasonic Eneloops and most commercial household batteries, the vent is the rubber puck (disk) under the positive button tab. This disk seals the internals (thus the term “closed”) while also permitting excess heat to [generally] safely vent. Some manufacturers actually have multiple exhaust openings (holes) around the button top that act as vents. Regardless of how it’s done, these batteries do have an exhaust or venting system.
To summarize thus far, rechargeable batteries vent excess heat (whether generated during use or during charging) from the top of the battery. Venting heat during charging is critical because as well all know, one does not want to overheat batteries during (re)charging. This is why everyone should use a smart charger. A smart charger is one that monitors the energy level of the battery and shuts-off when it reaches capacity (I learned that capacity is defined differently by different manufacturers but all seem to shut-off somewhere at 90% or greater). I remember the portables that were released maybe 10-15 years ago that introduced charging inside the radio. The very early models were not smart, the user had to either program how many hours you wished to charge the battery/batteries or the radio itself was programmed to charge for x-amount of hours regardless of whether the batteries needed to be charged for that long (you could very easily continue charging for hours after the battery attained 100% capacity – a very dangerous situation for your valuable radio!). Thankfully most newer radios, except the inexpensive “no-frills” radios, have smart changing technology. Regardless, I have never been a fan of using my radio to charge batteries as I’ve always felt this is too dangerous because the process produces heat and I do not want [excess] heat generated (or vented) inside of my radio!
There are typically more shipping restrictions, more transportation restrictions with Lithium batteries than there are for NiMH batteries (I’m sure most people have noticed shipping restrictions when buying electronics regarding the shipment of Lithium batteries – and if shipment is allowed, it’ll cost more to ship because Lithium batteries cannot be shipped via all modes). Lithium (3.7v) & NiMH (1.2v) batteries are essentially the same technology, except Lithium generates more “power” aka “more heat” (3x the voltage) and are thus much more sensitive to heat (including environmental heat) .
In doing my research, I found a slight conflict regarding the stability of NiMH batteries in storage. Some manufacturers warn that NiMH batteries should not be stored in temperatures over 30C (86F) while others list 40C (104F) as the threshold. What happens above this threshold? The electrolyte catalyst is activated, and the battery will generate its own heat (heat that must be vented).
At this point, I’m sure you can see where this is going. I had two NiMH batteries inside of my SW100. The two stacked batteries increased the inherent risk (in a worst-case situation, two batteries would create & release/vent more heat than a single battery). I was in a hot environment, I lacked air conditioning for most of the time, and I had a long drive of nearly 300-miles to/from my location at the start & the end of the two months I was there. My SW100 was apparently put into peril when it encountered environmental [ambient] temperatures that exceeded the Eneloops threshold (30C? 40C?). And this caused the NiMH Eneloops to heat-up beyond normal, vent the excess heat, and thus “melt” part of the PCB and the back case of the SW100.
This did not happen during normal storage of my radio in my temperature-controlled house, but rather it happened in the adverse environment I temporarily subjected the radio to.
Yes, I know … think what you want (but please don’t say it). User error. I should have known better. It was my fault. It was dumb. Yes, yes, yes & yes answer those four statements. I know, I know …
There are three positives to this:
(1) I learned a painful albeit valuable lesson;
(2) Maybe others can learn from my folly; and
(3) Parts to maintain these classics must be salvaged. I donated my radio (including the AC adapter) – it’s not a total loss and it still has value as a “parts radio”. My SW100 is now in the hands of a skilled, master technician who might be able to save the life of another (or multiple) SW100 radio(s).
My loss just might be someone else’s gain? I take comfort that my radio may live on (as an organ donor) to potentially provide years of enjoyment for someone else.
I have picked-up a few of my other shortwave radios since my initial post (PL-390, PL-880, XHDATA D-808, Satellit 750) & I have started listening again.
And I did have surgery a couple of weeks ago for the physical injury I sustained while tending the farm (my ICF-SW100 wasn’t the only casualty during this period of time). After a frustrating 2+ weeks, I’m starting to make progress with my physical healing. And now that I have a definitive answer on the manner & cause of death of my SW100, I’m psychologically healing from that as well.
UPDATE after my initial post:
I neglected to make the following statement: one can debate whether the excessive heat being vented caused the PCB & case to melt, or if the vent(s) in one or both batteries failed, or if the battery heated-up too quickly & too much for it to safely vent? The only thing I do know: the batteries exhibit no physical damage or defect so the exact mechanism of the the excessive heat will remain unknown.
Following our post yesterday regarding Eneloop rechargeable cells, SWLing Post contribtors Guy Atkins and Ivan Cholakov both warned of numerous fake and counterfeit batteries available from sellers on eBay and elsewhere. Ivan notes:
Please be aware Eneloop batteries are widely copied and there are many many fakes out there. You should only buy them from a reputable source.
Thank you for that warning, Ivan!
Guy also comments:
I use Eneloop Pro AA batteries in small portables. The newest version of the “Pro” comes in a 2500 maH size and retains 85% of the charge for one year. The downsize is that this model is “only” good for 500 recharges. A useful comparison chart is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eneloop
[…]Here is a FAR more comprehensive page of Eneloop model & version comparisons, charts, FAQs, tips, warnings, etc.: https://eneloop101.com/batteries/complete-lineup/. This web site also contains warnings about Ebay fake Eneloops, and other useful details…probably more than most people want to know but if you want to make the most informed choice, check it out!
Many thanks to both of you for sharing. I agree that purchasing Eneloops from a reputable seller is incredibly important. For one thing, if you plan to invest in Eneloops, there is no rationale to buy something sub-standard. Additionally, I do worry about counterfeit cells having an unstable chemistry which could result in overheating or fire.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Marcus Keulertz, who writes:
I use these special rechargeable batteries [Panasonic Eneloop cells] for almost everything especially in household appliances and think what else?
In my energy hungry portable radios and active Loop Antennas. They are reliable power sources, especially in the cold weather period right now. They are quite expensive but worth to have them with you, when travelling.
Thanks for sharing, Marcus! Like you, I almost exclusively use Eneloop cells in my portable shortwave radios (save when I’m doing an evaluation and use fresh alkalines for comparison consistency). I even use Eneloops in my Elecraft KX3 transceiver. They’re brilliant! For daily use, Eneloops are simply invaluable as they hold a charge much longer than standard AA cells.
We’ve purchased three of the Eneloop starter packs in the past–two via Amazon.com (affiliate link) and one via Costco (who no longer sells them). I’ve also purchased these multi-packs of AA cells since they’re the most widely used battery in our household. The great thing about the starter packs is that they include AAA cells and D and C cell adapters.
True: Eneloops aren’t cheap, but I think they’re worth the price. Once I invested in them, I gave my other rechargeable cells away.
Your goal was to assemble the best shortwave listening set-up possible for your virtual budget of $200 US. You were tasked to track down a radio kit that would keep you in touch with the world, and potentially afford you some very unique DX. [If you haven’t read the full virtual radio challenge, including all of the limitations you might face, I encourage you to check out this post before continuing.]
Your Reader Responses
And, wow, what great responses–! First, I want to thank all who participated in this challenge. No two responses were identical. Some truly surprised me…I must say, I sincerely hope you enjoyed this exercise as much as I enjoyed reading what you’ve sent to the SWLing Post!
Below you will find ten responses from readers, representing remarkable diversity in radio set-ups. Note that my comments follow; they are italicized and in bold.
Now, with no further ado…I welcome you to radio DX on Tristan de Cunha!
from Frank Holden
First up, Frank Holden, who submitted his entry at 3:00 AM–prior to leaving on a 6:40 AM flight. Obviously, travel was on this Post reader’s mind.
Based on both my own experience and recent swling.com research I would choose a:
Duct tape (for securing joints on Squidpole and taping top of ant to top of Squidpole) $2
20 metres of wire for antenna with fitted plug. $10
Cable ties for securing Squidpole to stake. $1
Coil 3mm diam polyester line for stays $10
One dozen big tent pegs. $12
Big hammer [Available locally!]
Squidpole Antenna (Photo courtesy of http://www.perite.com/)
Total is $210 Australian, so you will get change out of $200 US.
Feed antenna up inside the Squidpole and tape at the top…. The rubber ‘bobble’ is removeable.
Maybe run a short length of coax from radio to base of Squidpole.
Make sure the Squidpole is well stayed. My experience in VP8land and Tierra del Fuego is that the constant flexing in high winds will lead to squid pole failure. Mine were secured to the taffrail on my boat… i.e. at the base and 50cm up from base…. Failed at the 50 cm point. I have also had a 5 metre high quality (marine grade) alloy whip fail in the same manner.
Utilise rest of baggage allowance with warm clothes, rum (power outages… for use during), etc.
Thanks, Frank! I love the idea of the Squidpole as it can give you a little height when trees are absent. I have used a similar telescoping pole for Ham Radio QRP operations: a Jackite pole. I’ve broken the tip section twice already due to my own clumsiness–fortunately, the tip can be purchased separately. As you suggest, I bet the winds on Tristan Da Cunha would give the Squidpole a run for its money!
The Ham It Up v1.2 – NooElec RF Upconverter converts your RTL-SDR dongle into an HF receiver.
I propose using my current setup, since a laptop is a freebie here. I use the following in my setup:
That’s $157. That leaves $43 for a 25? length of coax and two MCX adapters. Coax run is $15 (at $0.39/ft for RG-8X.) I forgot how much the adapters were, but less than the $28 left over after buying the coax run.
Downside? I have no pole to support this, and houses on the island are only one story structures. I’ll have to attach the high end of the sloper to the peak of the home where I’m staying, and I’m sure that height is less than the 25? recommended by AlphaDelta. In addition, I’ll have to plant a stake at the lower end of the sloper to keep that end the recommended 8? above ground. I also made no provision for extra power if a power outage exceeded the amount of juice in my laptop battery.
If push came to shove, I would drop the MFJ 1020B for an extra $50 to buy supports or an extra battery.
Thanks, AB3RU! I’m willing to bet that you might find something on the island to support one end of your sloping antenna. It might be a challenge to meet the 25′ recommended height, as you stated. Still, this is an innovative and quite portable option!
Here are my choices:
A 50-100m wire to be used as an antenna for SW and MW. I imagine I’ll be able to catch a few MW stations from South America or Africa. As for choosing a radio…
I’ll need a good radio which allows using an external antenna not only for SW (all of them do) but also for MW (few of them do). I think there is only one radio which fits this requirement within the budget: the Sony ICF-SW7600GR, available on Amazon.com at prices around $140. My other choice would be a Sangean ATS-909X which works very well with external antennas, but it’s more expensive.
I’ll also need two packs of 4 AA rechargeable batteries and a charger.
Thanks, Tudor! I believe your choice of the Sony ICF-SW7600GR is a very good one, as the Sony is a solid performer. It would be a challenge to find a new Sangean ATS-909X within your $200 budget–you would need to track down a used one, most likely. With the PL-660 in tow, you would then have a full $60 to purchase batteries, charger, and your antenna wire. Very workable!
It is through hole soldered so replacing parts is easy. Bring a bag of spare parts and a couple batteries. Get two headphones so that you and a friend can listen at the same time.
Thanks, KK6AYC! At $110 US, you would certainly have enough budget for spare parts, batteries, and antenna wire. While a regen receiver may not be for everyone, these do provide excellent sensitivity once you pass this rig’s learning curve for tuning. If the winds blow your external antenna around, you might have to ride that regen control! Great alternative to the typical portable–!
from John Treager
Next, John Treager, who writes:
Neat thought experiment! I’ve recently got back into SW listening after years away. I’ve been hitting your sites for two or three months and your weak station comparison really grabbed my attention but this one has lit the fire again.
[…]I’m a contract engineer who lives away from my primary residence most of the time so this challenge kind of strikes a chord. And, as I’m getting back into SWL, you’ve given me a reason to research (something engineers love to do!).
If I’m renting a room with a family on the island, headphones are a must. I’m cheap and traveling light so let’s go with Sony MDRZX100 headphones. I’ve used them for quite a while and like them. I find them comfortable for at least a couple of hours. Currently $15.09 on Amazon.
I enjoy the challenge of simplicity so, as far as an antenna goes, I would choose a simple long wire. Either a reel or one I build, $10-15. I get as much enjoyment from fussing with antennas as I do from turning knobs and dials. If my simple wire antenna doesn’t work when I get on location, then investigating and tinkering with antenna design and construction will fill the hours!
By the rules of the challenge, power is available but somewhat unreliable it sounds like. To meet that, I’m going with rechargeable batteries and enough to last for a while. AmazonBasics AA NiMH Rechargeable batteries (16 pack, 2000 mAh). Not the newest version, but should suffice for one year and 16 batteries should be enough for extended periods of no power. And, this may be a bit of a cheat, but I use AA batteries for everything, so I already have a charger!
Next, some sort of reference. I usually use either my laptop or a phone/tablet for frequencies/times from various sources, but given that there is no internet access in the residence and power may be occasionally spotty, let’s go with the World Radio/TV Handbook as a backup (I do miss Passport to World Band Radio!). I found WRTH on eBay (new, 2014 edition) for $27.24.
I assume I will have notebooks and pens for other reasons, so not included in the total.
Thanks, John! That should be enough AA batteries to keep you going well over a week with no power. Packing a WRTH makes a lot of sense. Via the island’s library Internet–however variable–you could download WRTH updates, as well.
from London Shortwave
The Global AT-2000 (Photo: RadioPics.com)
London Shortwave sent his suggestion in by tweet–a simple, proven combo:
If a laptop was coming along, I would have to use an SDR.
I would get the Afedri SDR USB-only model [see AFEDRI SDR-USB-HS above] for $159 (board only, I’d have to mount it in a sardine can). I would then use the remaining $41 for a cheap used antenna tuner and a random wire for an antenna. I think this kit would make for an excellent listening post.
Backup power would be a concern with the outages, so I am contemplating a 6-volt battery backup power system to power my Phillips 4-port USB hub (6 volt DC in requirement). From there the USB-hub will power/charge a Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet (the laptop), the Afedri SDR and maybe a USB-powered speaker? Would have to test out this backup power scheme before boarding the boat!
I think I could do all of the above for $250 including the backup power system. Although it would likely push $300 when wires, cables etc are all in (does not include the tablet/laptop).
Thanks, Princehifi! So you’re a little over the $200 budget with all of the accessories, but if you already have a laptop and tablet, I think you could tweak your set-up to meet the budget goal. I did not realize that there was a USB only version of the Afedri SDR–I might have to get one of those myself!
Here’s my list. Where can’t get it locally and I don’t have a firm shipping cost, I’ve estimated it as an additional 20%. Stuff I can get locally (Radio Shack, etc.) I haven’t added any shipping or sales tax.
(That’s right, a spare radio. Because middle of nowhere.)
Grand total: $192
Now if I’m allowed to scrounge in the parts bin for stuff like 22 gauge antenna wire, RG58, and earbuds, there might be enough left over for a SECOND spare radio and 4 more Eneloops!
Thanks, Rob–you have a plan, indeed! Well thought through! I, too, would be very curious what sort of medium wave DX I could hear in the South Atlantic, especially since you know there would be no local blow-torch stations around. I have the Grundig version of the Tecsun AN200 and find it an essential antenna for portable MW DXing.
Grand total: $156.89 (all qualify for free shipping)
I’d guess I would save the rest for repair costs in case the radio acts up. Of course, I’d take the one I already have as a spare. When in remote locations, backups are essential so I probably bought more than most people think I need. And as far as the battery charger, rapid chargers are bad for most NiMH batteries so I went with a slower charger. And don’t forget that the Tecsun can charge the batteries in the radio when not in use.
Thanks, Michael! You are erring on the side of having extra batteries and more than enough wire for antennas; there’s no way you’ll run out in your one-year stay. On Tristan, I know that locals often trade supplies: those extra batteries may turn into an antenna support!
from Kenny B
Kenny B writes:
I love your site, I’m there everyday and almost forgot to enter so here it is:
1. Kaito 1102, I have had good luck with it and it has ssb, second choice would be a Tecsun PL-380, I really love this radio and it’s a great little dxing machine but no ssb. The Kaito is 64.95 on Amazon, free shipping.
8. Radio Shack 1/8th inch miniplug for end of coax, $4.00
Wow! Thanks, Kenny B! Other than the KA1102, your complete kit is DIY–I like it! You could build the battery charger and antenna prior to leaving.
1. Receiver: Wandel & Goltermann FE-8 Spy Radio Receiver (US$ 120 at a Hamfest)
Wandel & Goltermann FE-8 Spy Radio Receiver from the cold war (mine was manufactured in 1963. I bought it at a Hamfest in Sweden a month ago for the equivalent of US$ 120.[…]
For ruggedness there is nothing else like it. It is completely sealed and constructed from a single piece of die-cast machined aluminium and stainless steel. Just the thing for wet and rainy Atlantic islands! Covers 2.5 – 24 MHz and only needs 6 Volts at 8mA. A pack of twelve AAs will fit in my pocket and last at least a year with about three hours of listening every day. No adapter, no charger. The razor sharp 3.1 kHz Collins Mechanical Filter is not ideal for music but hard to beat for general news and SSB utility listening. Like the famous Collins R390 it uses a mechanical “digital” dial accurate to 1 kHz which also glows in the dark. […]It is smaller that a Tecsun 660 though it weighs a lot more. More about this radio here http://www.cryptomuseum.com/spy/sp15/fe8.htm
2. Antenna & Earth (US$ 15 in any electrical store)
Random length PVC insulated wires with a banana plugs- total 50 meters. The radio has a hi-impedance input and is sensitive enough to do a great job with just 20 m of wire. The rest is spare.
I’m all set for the trip now with $10 to spend on a supply of chewing gum. I know that this radio setup can easily deal with whatever is thrown at it… the question is if I can!
Thanks, Anil! Wow…I never saw that spy radio coming! It does look like an ideal radio for prolonged use and for pretty much any environmental conditions. I hope you realize that I will be bugging you (okay, pun intended!) to provide us with a few broadcast recordings from the FE-8. It’s certainly got my interest piqued!
Now, that was fun! Thank you all…
I know this sort of challenge may not appeal to everyone, but I really enjoy it. This sort of exercise forces you (though safely) outside the comfort-zone of a home radio set-up. Your responses are truly innovative. I only wish the Post could actually send our participants to Tristan de Cunha to try their set-ups out first-hand! I, for one, would love to come along…
Thanks, again, for your participation! If your response wasn’t included above, or I didn’t respond to you directly, please let me know: it’s possible I skipped over yours by mistake as there were quite a few responses to collate, and my email is managed by a rather discriminating SPAM filter.
Meanwhile, if you think of an alternative set-up–or would like to add your own to this post–please comment below!
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