I’ve mentioned here in the past that I am an astronomy hobbyist first, and an SWL hobbyist second (call SWL my cloudy nights hobby).
A couple of years ago my Grundig G6 suffered from the troublesome “sticky” body that afflicts all of the Grundig/Eton radios of that era. I used the recommended cleaning agent as has been posted here (Purple Power) to remove the sticky residue. It worked great – but I discovered one must be very careful using this cleaner. Why? Excess cleaner seeped into the crevices where the radio stand mounts, was not fully removed/dried, and the cleaner “ate” the nubs off that hold the radio stand in place. The result: a broken radio stand! Right Photo: you’ll see glue residue smeared on the broken stand – where I tried to make & glue new nubs and failed miserably.
Through my astronomy hobby, I discovered someone (Joel) who 3D prints some astronomical accessories. After ordering & receiving three quality products, we established a friendly rapport. I asked him if he knew of anyone who 3D printed and commercially sold radio stands.
He replied “No” – and frankly he wasn’t quite sure what I was referring to – but he essentially conveyed “if you supply me a photo and dimensions, I will gladly print one that you can try”. Great news!
After supplying him a photo and supplying dimensions, Joel printed off a stand plus a spare and shipped it to me. Unfortunately, it did not fit … the side nubs were simply too small.
I wrote-off the encounter as having been worth the nominal cost & effort. But Joel was not ready to write this off! He asked for more details re: why it didn’t fit (we designed the stand about .25mm too thin – a small tolerance but significant in that the stand simply would not fit – the nubs were too small at the thickness that was printed). We consulted, both made recommendations, then Joel promptly 3D printed another stand (v.2) and mailed it to me.
The end result: it fits perfectly – works perfectly. I now have a replacement G6 stand and I feel my little Grundig Aviator Buzz Aldrin Edition (note the astronomy connection) was now, once again, whole!
For those who’ve replaced radio stands before, the biggest obstacle is *not* breaking it when you try to insert it into the back of the radio. A tried and true trick is to freeze the replacement stand, so it contracts very slightly (by the mm), and then insert it into the body of the radio. The great thing about this stand: it is designed with a cut-out on each side. This cut-out allows the stand to ever-so-slightly flex (better – and probably more safely – than the freezing trick). This design allowed me to safely and rather effortlessly insert the stand without fear of breaking it. And the stand’s thickness is quite capable of supporting the weight of the radio (note: the plastic of the 3D printed stand is not quite as hard as the OEM stand but it is still more than capable of supporting the radio’s weight).
I’m sharing this because Joel has added the G6 stand to his little BuckeyeStargazer Web Store , for $10 – what a great deal for us suffering G6 folks with broken stands.
At this time, the Buckeye Stargazer only offers the G6 stand. But, who knows? Before I came along, he didn’t offer any stand. You might be able to cajole Joel into prototyping another stand? For that – you’d have to contact him directly to see if he were receptive to more experimentation.
So, thanks again to the Buckeye Stargazer! It’s always nice to tie my two hobbies together: astronomy & shortwave radio.
[IMPORTANT UPDATE (October 21, 2018): I’m pleased to report that C. Crane have addressed issues that I found in the first production run of the CC Skywave SSB. Click here to read the update.]
Those who know me know I’m all about travel, and all the things that make the travel experience enjoyable. I like to pack light, taking only the essentials, and if I’m traveling by air, I can easily fit two weeks of fun into one small carry-on. To me, the idea of lugging a huge suitcase, being subject to lost check-in luggage, and fretting over finding room in an overhead bin to squeeze in a huge bag simply has no appeal. Even though I often opt for the budget ticket, which means loading later, I know I can literally be the last one on board without fear because my travel bag is so compact that, if nothing else, it will fit underneath the seat in front of me.
Yet even though I travel light, I never ever travel without a radio. That’s a given in my bag. Since packable real estate in my carry-on is at a premium, I opt for the most bang-for-buck I can manage in a portable radio.
My radio travel partners
To date, I have a few favorite full-featured travel radios and know quite well both their strengths and weaknesses. Here’s a list with some notable pros and cons:
Pros: A 1990s era marvel of compact technology, it sports SSB mode, sync detection, headphone and audio out jacks, external antenna jack, and long life on two AA batteries. It has excellent sensitivity and selectivity. No muting between frequencies spoils listening pleasure.
Cons: Speaker audio is poor, no FM RDS, no weather radio, no AIR band, the battery cover may be easily broken, ribbon cable can break (in early models) and the clamshell design, while a cool feature, isn’t always practical and makes the unit feel prone to damage. Plus, the SW100 series is no longer manufactured and, due to desirability, typically have a price point well above the competition.
Pros: A compact, ergonomic full-featured radio which sports SSB mode, AIR band, external antenna jack, reasonable audio from internal speaker, very good shortwave and mediumwave performance for the size. No muting between frequencies.
Cons: Rubberized coating becomes sticky as it deteriorates, no weather radio, no audio-out jack, no RDS, and it’s no longer manufactured.
Pros: Very affordable (typically $40-50 shipped), excellent shortwave, mediumwave and FM reception, external antenna jack, average audio fidelity from built-in speaker, internal battery charging, common 5V mini USB plug, reasonably durable.
Cons: No SSB mode, no weather radio, no AIR band, no RDS, no dedicated audio-out jack, limited shortwave coverage compared with other portables 2.3 – 21.95 MHz
Pros: SSB mode, great shortwave, mediumwave, fm reception, vertical form factor great for handheld listening while walking/hiking, external ferrite bar antenna enables excellent AM/mediumwave reception.
Cons: Vertical form factor means it’s prone to fall over if placed on a bedside table, no direct entry keypad for frequencies, tinny audio from built-in speaker, no RDS, no AIR band, detachable external ferrite bar antenna is an extra piece to keep up with while traveling.
Pros: Overall excellent performance on shortwave, mediumwave, and FM. AIR band, North America weather radio (excellent sensitivity) with alerts, squelch control, common 5 VDC USB mini power port with charging capability, a great value at $89
Cons: No SSB mode, no external antenna jack, no RDS,
What radio I decide to pack really depends on the type of trip I’m taking.
If I really want SSB mode to listen to HF pirates, ham radio, or utility stations, I tend to grab the Sony ICF-SW100, the Grundig G6, or more recently, the Digitech AR-1780 [and now the XHDATA D-808].
If I plan to do extended hiking or walking during my trip, I might grab the CountyComm GP5-SSB.
If I only plan to listen to AM/FM/SW broadcasts, and it’s a short trip––or one during which the radio might receive rough treatment––then I might grab the Tecsun PL-310ET. If I leave the PL-310ET in a hotel or drop it, I’m only out about $40. I’ve even been known to simply give one of these to someone, like a kid for example, who shows a fascination in shortwave radio.
If I plan to do off-air audio recordings during my travels, then the Sony ICF-SW100 because it’s the only radio with a dedicated audio-out port. Plus, it’s a great performer.
If I’m travelling by air, however, I almost always choose the CC Skywave: its unique combination of AM/FM/SW coverage, NOAA weather, and AIR band are simply hard to beat. It’s compact, durable, and gets the job done. Plus, the Skywave seems to operate for ages on a set of AA batteries. C. Crane really knocked it out of the ballpark with the CC Skywave.
But there was one glaring omission on the original CC Skywave: Single-sideband (SSB) mode.
Enter the CC Skywave SSB
Earlier this year, I learned about a new radio in development at C. Crane: the CC Skywave SSB. I saw a Beta unit very early on and a few weeks later, knowing how much I appreciate the original Skywave, C. Crane asked me to help test the new Skywave SSB. I was happy to do my bit.
I actually do quite a bit of alpha- and beta-testing for manufacturers. While it’s time-consuming volunteer work, and requires meticulous attention to detail––even seemingly minor details––it gives me an opportunity to have meaningful positive impact on an upcoming product. Manufacturers that actively involve enthusiasts in their testing phase tend to produce better quality. I wish all manufacturers did this (yes, Tecsun, I’m looking squarely at you!).
After the Skywave SSB arrived, I started putting it through its paces. Typically, pilot run units have quirks and glitches buried in non-standard operating procedures. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any on the Skywave SSB. I’ve since learned that C. Crane invests heavily in pre-production testing; I saw their full list of iterative notes, and they were incredibly detailed. Result? No obvious problems. I’ve always believed that while C. Crane doesn’t always produce the most affordable products––nor do they stuff every bell-and-whistle into them––what they do produce is well thought out, user friendly, well documented, and performs at or near the top of its class.
The CC Skywave SSB comes with a surprising amount of features for such a compact radio. Many of these features are also found on the original CC Skywave.
I’ve placed upgraded features in bold:
AM, FM, NOAA Weather band plus Alert, Shortwave (1711-29.999MHz) with SSB mode, and Airband
Frequency direct entry, plus auto scan and store
Lighted LCD display
Selectable fast or fine tuning (on all bands except weather)
Dedicated fine tuning control, selectable on front panel
400 memory presets
Runs on 2 AA Alkaline batteries (not included)
(Optional) CC Skywave AC power adapter w/ mini USB plug required for charging NiMH batteries.
Stereo headphone jack and fold-out back stand
Clock with 12/24 hour format and alarm
Rotary volume knob
High quality CC Buds Earphones and radio carry case included
Run Time (on batteries––approximate):
± 70 hours (earbuds)
± 60 Hours (built-in speaker)
10 Aviation Memories can be scanned for activity
You’ll notice there are actually very few obvious upgrades from the original Skywave to the Skywave SSB: just SSB mode, expanded HF coverage (from 1,711 to 29,999 kHz), and dedicated fine tune button/control. I’ve also learned that aviation band scanning is much faster on the newer model than on the original Skywave.
Other than those items, in terms of features, it’s very similar to the original CC Skywave.
CC Skywave SSB (left) and the original CC Skywave (right)
The original Skywave and Skywave SSB are nearly identical in terms of form factor; overall dimensions are identical (4.8″ W x 3″ H x 1″ D), although the Skywave SSB weighs 1.2 oz more than the original––a difference that’s scarcely detectable.
The tuning knob, volume control, power port, and headphones jack are in the same places on the SSB. The chassis color is different, however; the original Skywave is black, whereas the new Skywave SSB is grey––a dark warm or “dim” grey,” to be accurate.
Original CC Skywave (left) and CC Skywave SSB (right)
Where one finds the true difference between the new Skywave SSB and its predecessor is on the front panel. The Skywave SSB has dedicated buttons to enable both SSB mode, select upper or lower sideband, and a fine-tune control. The Skywave also has a dedicated backlight button. This accounts for a total of four additional buttons compared with the original Skywave.
In a rather nice touch, both the SSB and fine tune buttons have tiny red LED indicators to let the user know when they’re engaged.
The CC Skywave SSB also has a redesigned speaker grill which more closely resembles the grill on their CC Pocket radio. Much to my surprise, once I shared detailed photos of the CC Skywave SSB, many of my readers expressed their disappointment with the speaker design. Many claimed it looked “cheap” as compared with the original Skywave and thus felt the chassis might be more subject to breakage. Some even got the impression that the speaker grill was raised in a way that it would lend itself to harm.
Actually, this is not accurate. Though it may appear that the speaker grill is elevated in photos, it’s actually in a recessed portion of the chassis and surrounded by an absorbent rubber ring, rising only ? 1 mm above the chassis, if that. And the hard plastic case feels as solid and robust as any portable I’ve tested. I wouldn’t hesitate to toss it in my pack.
Personally, I think the Skywave SSB is a handsome little radio! Perhaps I’m not as sensitive as others about chassis design, but I’m actually happy it’s not a clone of the original Skywave, making it much easier for owners of both models to distinguish them when packing!
From Pilot/Beta to production
While C. Crane allowed me to post a number of photos once the product announcement had been made, I would not publicly comment on performance. Indeed, I never post performance comments about pre-production units since I wouldn’t be evaluating the same product that hits the store shelves.
So once C. Crane posted an ordering page for the Skywave SSB, I placed an order, just like everyone else.
In truth, I was told there were only minor differences between the pilot unit and the production unit: some silk screening and other very minor changes.
[IMPORTANT UPDATE: Again, please note that the following production quirks have been addressed in the second production run of the CC Skywave SSB. Click here to review the update.]
I was eager to get started on the review of the Skywave SSB, so as soon as I received it, I did what I always do: compared it with other radios!
I make my comparisons, by the way, at least fifty yards from my house to separate the radios from any inadvertent sources of local noise.
Production Radio #1
My first comparison was with the Digitech AR-1780 and the original CC Skywave. I quickly noted that the Skywave SSB was very slightly less sensitive than the other radios. I had tested the pre-production unit enough to know that the Skywave SSB’s performance should at least be on par with, if not a little better than, the original Skywave.
Upon careful listening, I discovered the production unit had a faint, internally-generated whine on some of the shortwave bands; when tuned to marginal signals, this whine manifested in the form of variable background noise. Between signals it was audible as a faint background whine, hardly noticeable. With that said, the whine was most notable while tuning––since the Skywave SSB mutes between frequency changes, the whine was most conspicuous during audio recovery between steps.
The pre-production unit had no trace of an internally-generated whine. Audio was very clean in comparison.
Here’s a sample of the first production radio being tuned down from 10,000 kHz in 5 kHz tuning steps:
I contacted C. Crane promptly, and to their credit, they immediately dispatched another unit from inventory, via UPS Next Day, along with a return label to send my faulty unit back to their engineering team.
Production Radio #2
The second unit arrived while I was on Thanksgiving vacation, but was sent to me directly at my hotel. The day I received the replacement Skywave SSB, I put it on the air. The first listening session with it, alone, revealed that this unit did not have the internally-generated whine, however, this unit had issues with sensitivity. All of my comparison receivers were outperforming this Skywave SSB on the shortwave broadcast bands. When I compared it with the pre-production Skywave SSB unit and the first production unit, the second production unit was about four to five S-units less sensitive…Odd.
I sent both production radios back to C. Crane with detailed notes and sample recordings. Their engineering team confirmed my findings and started looking into the variations in QC and double-checking their inventory to make sure none shipped with these problems.
Production Radio #3
A few days later, I was sent a third production unit. After putting it on the air, I immediately noticed the same faint noise characteristics of my first full production unit, which is to say, the notorious whine.
Once again, I contacted C. Crane. This time, I requested that no less than three radios be sent to me, and that they kindly expedite the request.
Production Radios #4, #5, and #6
I tested all three radios from this final batch of production units. What follows is an assessment of those radios.
First production run noises
I spent two full hours searching for birdies (internally generated noises) and other anomalies on the three CC Skywave SSB production units I received that Monday. Each radio’s noise location varied slightly (within 20-40 kHz).
Birdies are a fairly common occurrence among sensitive receivers, and the CC Skywave SSB has about an average number. Fortunately, the birdies I noted are outside the space where I do my broadcast listening:
Background audio whine/tone
All of the production units (save Radio #2) had a very slight audio whine present––either via the internal speaker or headphones––on certain portions of the spectrum.
In the first full production unit I received, I believe this whine may have slightly affected the unit’s overall sensitivity. On the last three production units I received, the whine didn’t seem to have as much of an impact on overall sensitivity.
The whine is still there, however. And occasionally when the unit is tuned to a weak signal within one of these zones, other faint sweeping noises can be detected in the background.
Sometimes it’s even more noticeable when the broadcaster is weak and is located within one of the “whine zones.” Here’s an example of 10 MHz WWV time station comparing the original Skywave with the Skywave SSB. Note that at the time this was recorded we had terrible propagation due to a geo storm, so WWV was very weak, indeed.
I noted no birdies or noises on the mediumwave band.
I’ve no doubt, C. Crane will tackle these issues and solve them by the time the second production run ships.
In the meantime, I’ve become somewhat of an expert on the CC Skywave SSB, having evaluated a total of seven models and spending more time evaluating them than I have any other portable.
Let’s take a look at what we can expect from the CC Skywave SSB with these first production quirks aside.
Like its predecessor and many other travel radios (the Digitech AR-1780 and XHDATA D-808 being notable exceptions) the Skywave SSB’s audio from the internal speaker is adequate. It’s just shy of what I would call “tinny” because it does cover the mid-range . For spoken word content in AM and SSB, it does the job quite well. With music, you simply can’t expect any bass notes or room-filling audio. But then again, in a compact radio, my expectations are simply lower. The Digitech AR-1780 and XHDATA D-808 have the best audio of my compact travel radios, but they’re also the largest, so have a slightly bigger speaker.
I did note a minor amount of background hiss present somewhere in the audio amplification chain on the first production run units–most noticeable via headphones.
With the supplied CC Buds, you’ll be a happy camper.
Audio sounds rich via the headphones jack.
Of course, what we all want to know is how well the CC Skywave SSB performs. In a nutshell (spoiler alert!) it’s very similar to the original Skywave.
I break this down band-by-band below, starting with my favorite band.
Keeping in mind the frustrating experience with quality control, when I received the final three production units, I was very pleased with performance on the shortwave bands. The AGC characteristics are relatively stable, making weak signal listening a pleasant experience. Even though the Skywave SSB lacks a synchronous detector, I found that stability––even with periods of notable selective fading––is impressive.
In the realm of compact travel radios, both my pre-production and (better functioning) production models are strong performers. The Skywave SSB is slightly less sensitive than my larger, full-featured portables like the Tecsun PL-660, PL-680, PL-880, and Grundig Satellit. All of these radios, however, have longer telescoping whip antennas. If I add the gain from the included CC Reel antenna, the Skywave SSB can even hold its own with many of these.
I’ve been very pleased with the original Skywave for broadcast SWLing for a few years now. I’m happy to report that the Skywave SSB offers an incremental improvement over the original Skywave.
Much like other modern DSP portables, FM performance is stellar for such a compact radio. The Skywave SSB was able to receive all of my benchmark FM stations. While audio fidelity from the Skywave SSB’s internal speaker is not a strong point, via headphones you’ll be quite pleased.
I’ve found the Skywave SSB to be capable mediumwave receiver. Performance characteristics are very similar to the original Skywave and the AGC settings even make MW DXing a pleasant experience. Since the internal ferrite bar isn’t terribly large, better performance can be achieved by coupling the Skywave SSB to an inexpensive loop antenna, like the Grundig AN200 AM Antenna.
Like the original Skywave, the Skywave SSB is an impressively capable weather radio receiver. From my home, I’m able to pick up a marginal NOAA weather radio frequency that most of my other weather radios cannot. The Skywave SSB also includes a handy weather alert feature that will monitor your chosen NOAA/Environment Canada frequency and wake up the receiver if an alert is issued.
Note that the weather alert feature works on a timer and, most importantly, if operating from battery, drains batteries as quickly as if you were monitoring a live station with the squelch open.
While I didn’t compare performance with a triple conversion scanner, I’m favorably impressed with AIR band performance. During my tests, I noted no imaging or overloading on the AIR band, a very good thing. Additionally, the Skywave SSB offers improved scanning features for the AIR band, making it easier to monitor ground, tower, and even approach/departure frequencies at larger airports. When employing the squelch feature, you almost get the impression you’re holding a scanner, rather than a shortwave portable, in your hands.
Like the original CC Skywave, the SSB does not cover the longwave band. In North America, there is very little to listen to on longwave, so many consumers will never take notice. I’m sure longwave DXers will wish it was a part of the package, however. Admittedly, when I’m traveling in Europe and other parts of the world where there are still stations on longwave, I’ll certainly miss the band.
Comparing to other compact travel radios
Trying to decide if the CC Skywave SSB will have the performance characteristics to displace my other travel portables, I compared it with the radios I mention at the beginning of this article.
In terms of overall sensitivity and selectivity, the CC Skywave SSB essentially runs neck-and-neck with, or in some respects slightly edges out, the Tecsun PL-310ET, Grundig G6, and CountyComm GP5-SSB.
However, both the Sony ICF-SW100 and the Digitech AR-1780 are more sensitive than the Skywave SSB. The Digitech AR-1780 has the best audio characteristics of the competitors, but is also slightly larger and heavier than the others.
Note, too, that the Sony ICF-SW100 and Grundig G6 are the only radios in this comparison that don’t mute between frequency changes. They’re the best band-scanning receivers.
And how does the Skywave SSB compare with the original CC Skywave? I find that the Skywave SSB has a slightly lower noise floor which is perhaps helped even further by better audio/tone characteristics. Sensitivity is about the same, but signals pop out of the background static better on the Skywave SSB.
In terms of features, the Skywave SSB likely offers the most for the traveler.
Every radio has its pros and cons, of course. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget my initial impressions. Following is the list I’ve formed over the time I’ve been evaluating the CC Skywave SSB:
Overall well thought out, considerate design
Excellent form factor for travel
Very good sensitivity and selectivity for a compact radio
Faster AIR scanning compared with the original Skywave
Better HF frequency coverage than the original Skywave (1.711-29.999 MHz, compared to 2.300-26.100 MHz)
Pleasant SSB audio
Multiple bandwidths in both AM and SSB modes
No overloading noted
Well-written operation manual
Excellent weather band reception
Nice red LED indication lamps for SSB and Fine Tune engagement
a quality external reel antenna
CC Buds earphones
Soft case with Velcro closure
Excellent battery life from two AA cells (AA cells are a plus for travelers as they’re so ubiquitous)
Engaging SSB mode requires 2-3 seconds of delay (common for this DSP chip)
Some ticking noise in audio when pressing buttons (identical to the Digitech AR-1780)
No audio-out jack
No longwave reception
ATS Scanning in 1st production run stops at 26,100 kHz
No synchronous detection (though not expected in this class of compact portable)
Shortwave ATS tuning time about half as fast as the original Skywave (original is quite speedy!)
$149 $169 price is at the top of its class
I love the CC Skywave SSB. Sure, I wish it had RDS, an audio-out jack, didn’t mute between frequencies, and was a little less expensive. But overall, it’s a fantastic package. I’m impressed with the amount of performance the Skywave SSB provides with such a short telescoping antenna.
Most reading this review will be scratching their heads wondering if: a) having SSB mode is worth the $60 premium over the original Skywave ($89 vs. $149)? and b) is any compact radio, for that matter, really worth $149––?
Because of how I travel, I would say that I easily use ultra-compact portables like the Skywave SSB about 70% of the time I’m found listening to portables.
When the Skywave SSB was first placed on the C. Crane website, they posted a price of $169––when the units started shipping, they reduced the cost to $149, and reimbursed those who had placed an order with the higher price. [UPDATE: Early 2018, they once again increased the price to $169.]
Though the initial $169 price made me wince a bit, I still ordered one. Why? Because to me being a traveler who loves an ultra compact, having an ergonomic, full-featured, durable, compact travel radio with SSB, AIR and NOAA weather radio is worth it!
Therefore, the CC Skywave SSB will be my travel radio of choice going forward––it’s essentially a Swiss Army Knife of a travel radio.
There’s another factor, too: I trust C. Crane. Despite the frustrating quirks I experienced reviewing my first production run units, I know C. Crane takes care of their customers in the long run, and will replace any faulty units without hesitation. They’ve taken every item of feedback I’ve provided directly to their engineers and quality-control specialists, and the work continues to resolve this radio’s concerns. If you have a Skywave SSB with noise, don’t hesitate to contact C. Crane about it.
Overall, I am optimistic about this radio. I expect the second production run will produce radios performing as they should––like the final production units I tested, but without the internally-generated noises. [Click here to read second production run update.] And if this occurs as I expect, you can expect good performers.
At any rate, I know this: I’ll be one of the first to test units of their second production run…and to let you know just what I find. (Bookmark the tag CC Skywave SSB for updates.)
The Grundig G6 (top) and C.Crane CC Skywave (bottom)
Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Neil Bernstein, who writes:
I travel quite a bit for my job and I want your opinion and your readers’ opinions on whether it is more important to have the NOAA weather radio stations or shortwave radio (with or without SSB), in a compact travel emergency radio.
At this point I’m trying to decide between the CCrane Skywave and the Grundig G6 Aviator.
Any input would really be appreciated.
Ah, the travel radio! One of my favorite topics, Neil.
I’ve used both the Grundig G6 and CC Skywave during domestic and international travel. In my opinion, both are great receivers, especially considering the compact size of each. Here are a few things to note about each radio…
(And Post readers, you’re most welcome to comment with your own additions and views.)
The Grundig G6
A great little unit, albeit no longer in production; you can buy a used unit on eBay or similar sites. A quick eBay search reveals that prices vary between about $75-150 US. Note: Personally, I believe anything over $80 shipped is probably asking too much for a used G6.
This unit offers weather frequencies, useful in emergencies, but lacks SSB mode
Since the CC Skywave hit the market, it’s been my go-to portable for travel at least 80% of the time. Of course, I still pack the Grundig G6 occasionally, and even my Sony ICF-SW100.
Personally I prefer the Skywave because, frankly, it’s just better tailored to one-bag travel. I like listening to the airport tower and other comms while traveling. Since most of my travel is in North America, I appreciate the weather radio frequencies as well.
I suppose if all of my travels were outside North America, I might lean slightly toward the Grundig G6 just so I could have the added benefit of SSB reception. In truth, however, I rarely listen to SSB while traveling. SSB may possibly be useful during civil/communication emergencies. If SSB reception and portability is important to you, another radio worth considering would be the CountyComm GP5-SSB–though, like the G6, it also lacks weather frequencies.
Grab a CC Skywave. It’s a great performer, very compact, and–unlike the Grundig G6–is currently in production. I’d only buy a new CC Skywave, however, since some of the early models were prone to overloading. The current production run incorporates an update which remedies this.
Post readers: Please comment with your thoughts and suggestions! What radio do you pack for travels, and why?
Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Danny Garris (KJ4FH), for the following guest post which originally appeared on his blog, Up In This Brain:
How I cleaned the sticky coating off of my Grundig G6 radio with guidance from KJ4FH
A few weeks ago, I reached out to Danny Garris, KJ4FH, for help on getting the sticky coating off of my Eton E5 radio. I noticed on eBay that he was selling Eton radios with the gunk cleaned off and I was wondering how he did it.
Where does the sticky gunk come from? Well, for some reason the “geniuses” up at Eton/Grundig put a rubberized, chemical coating on a series of radios they released. They looked great new but over time, them coating seems to get adhesive-like properties, almost like it is melting off. It apparently has something to do with humidity and over time it makes everything stick to the radios – dust, dirt, you name it. It’s terribly annoying and just plain nasty. Shame on Eton/Grundig for doing this because a whole generation of good radios are impacted.
This leads me back to Danny and the instructions I have posted below in my Dropbox with his permission.
I used rubbing alcohol at first on my Eton E5 based on some back and forth emails I had with Danny and it did remove a ton of the gunk but I also ended up with places in the finish where the paint was removed, as he warned. Still, my concern was getting rid of the gunk more than appearances since my Eton E5 is a radio I use almost daily that I have no intention of selling. In fact, I am keeping an eye on eBay for a spare unit to purchase just in case because the E5(also Grundig G5) is an amazing radio.
Not long after getting his full instructions with oven cleaner as a new ingredient to try, I noticed a Grundig G6 for sale on eBay for just $19.99 as a buy it now price. I briefly had a G6 years ago and I have always missed it but good units are typically somewhat expensive and rare. This G6 was advertised as working perfectly but completely sticky. The seller posted pictures showing it was one of the stickiest and nastiest radios I had ever seen. But, armed with Danny’s method for cleaning the radios, I grabbed it, knowing I probably would not get another chance at a G6 for such a cheap price.
Below are before and after pictures. The before pictures are from the eBay auction and the radio did in fact arrive that nasty but it does work perfectly! In fact, it is a fantastic performer for the size. I love the tuning knob and the tuning method alone makes it much easier and more fun to use than my Tecsun radios and my recently purchased Eton Traveller III. The G6 is a worthy companion for my Eton E5 and I am very pleased with this purchase.
The after pictures are from the hour of work I did cleaning the radio last night. So far I have cleaned the radio with oven cleaner only. I took about 45 minutes using the Q-tip method and then about 15 minutes “polishing” with a clean white cloth dipped in oven cleaner as I went. I still have some additional detail cleaning to do but the results so far are like night and day.
I owe Danny a big thank you as you can see in the images below and, keep in mind, I still have a bit more work to do so this radio is going to look even better shortly!
Here is the front as shown in the auction. Gross! According to the description, the seller bought it at an estate sale.
What a difference some over cleaner makes! I need to blow out the speaker with compressed air to get the Q-tip remnants out and do some minor detail work but the front is almost in new condition now.
As shown in the auction listing, yuk!
I may do a little work with rubbing alcohol or WD-40 to get the shine back on this side but wow – what a difference!
I wonder if this radio was laying in the grass or something. It was nasty to even pick up and touch!
After oven cleaner, it’s like new again. I need to do a little more detail work but that’s it!
This picture in the auction made me wonder if I was biting off a bit more than I could chew!
I still have a bit of work to do on the back but WOW! What a difference!
What a difference, indeed! Thanks for sharing your experience and results, Danny!
I love my little Grundig G6 and, for some reason, the coating has yet to become properly sticky. I know it’s only a matter of time, though, so I’ll keep this procedure in mind.
With spring around the corner, my thoughts drift toward the outdoors…and especially, toward travel. Those who know me know that I love travelling, anywhere and everywhere–and that I prefer to travel light, with only one bag. In fact, I can easily live for two weeks out of a convertible shoulderbag/backpack (the Timbuk2 Wingman) that’s so compact, I can fit it under the the seat of even the smallest, most restrictive aircraft. I never have to check luggage unless the nature of my travel requires extra supplies (I run Ears To Our World, a non-profit that donates radios and other technologies to powerless regions in the developing world).
My Timbuk2 Small Wingman is very compact, yet holds everything I need for two weeks (or more!) of travel.
So, why not pack everything you could possibly ever want on a journey? While this remains an option, travelling light has many advantages over the take-it-all traveler’s method. First, it gives one incredible freedom, especially when travelling by air or train. I never have to worry about being among the first to be seated in an aircraft, nor do I worry about my luggage not making a connection when I do. Second, it’s kinder on the back and shoulders, and easier to maneuver wherever I go–no wheels required–whether in a busy first-world airport or bustling third-world street market. Third, I always have my most important gear right there with me. And finally (I must admit) I find light travel to be fun, an entertaining challenge; the looks on friends’ faces when they meet me at the airport to “help” with my luggage is, frankly, priceless. Seeing me hop off a flight with my small shoulder bag, friends ask in bewilderment, “Where’s your stuff?” It’s music to my ears.
You would think that having such self-imposed restrictions on travel–carrying a small, light bag–would make it nearly impossible to travel with radio. On the contrary! Radio is requisite, in my book–er, bag. I carry a surprising amount of gear in my small bag: once at an airport security checkpoint, an inspector commented, “It’s like you have the contents of a Radio Shack in here–!” But more significantly, each piece–and radio–is carefully selected to give me the best performance, durability, versatility, and reliability.
So what do I look for in a travel radio? Let’s take a closer look.
Travel Radio Features
The CountyComm GP5DSP has three different ways of auto tuning stations quickly, an alarm function and the display will even indicate the current temperature. Its unique vertical, thin body might be easier to pack at times, depending on your travel gear.
In a travel shortwave radio, I search for features I wouldn’t necessarily pick for home use, where I’m mainly concerned with raw performance. I don’t want to carry an expensive receiver while traveling, either: $100.00 US is usually my maximum. This way, if I accidently break the radio (or my gear gets stolen), I won’t feel like I’m out very much money. I also prioritize features that benefit a traveler, of course; here are some that I look for:
Small size: Naturally, it’s sensible to look for a travel radio that’s small for its receiver class for ease in packing.
Overall sturdy chassis: Any travel radio should have a sturdy body case that can withstand the rigors of travel.
Built-in Alarm/Sleep Timer functions: While my iPhone works as an alarm, I hate to miss an early flight or connection, so it’s extra security when I can set a back-up alarm.
Powered by AA batteries: While the newer lithium ion battery packs are fairly efficient, I still prefer the AA battery standard, which allows me to obtain batteries as needed in most settings; a fresh set of alkaline (or freshly-charged) batteries will power most portables for hours on end.
Standard USB charging cable: If I can charge batteries internally, a USB charging cable can simply plug into my smart phone’s USB power adapter or the USB port on my laptop; no extra “wall wart” equals less weight and less annoyance.
ETM: Many new digital portables have an ETM function which allow auto-scanning of a radio band (AM/FM/SW), saving what it finds in temporary memory locations–a great way to get a quick overview of stations. (As this function typically takes several minutes to complete on shortwave, I usually set it before unpacking or taking a shower. When I return to my radio, it’s ready to browse.)
Single-Side Band: While I rarely listen to SSB broadcasts when traveling, I still like to pack an SSB-capable receiver when travelling for an extended time.
RDS: Though an RDS (Radio Data System) is FM-only, it’s a great feature for identifying station call signs and genre (i.e., public radio, rock, pop, country, jazz, classical, etc.)
External antenna jack: I like to carry a reel-type or clip-on wire external antenna if I plan to spend serious time SWLing. Having a built-in external jack means that the connection is easy, no need to bother with wire and an alligator clip to the telescoping whip.
Tuning wheel/knob: Since I spend a lot of time band-scanning while travelling, I prefer a tactile wheel or knob for tuning my travel radio.
Key lock: Most radios have a key lock to prevent accidentally turning a radio on in transit–but with a travel radio, it’s especially important to have a key lock that can’t be accidentally disengaged.
LED flashlight: Few radios have this, but it’s handy to have when travelling.
Temperature display: Many DSP-based radios have a built-in thermometer and temperature display; I like this when I travel anytime, but especially when I’m camping.
While I don’t have a portable that meets 100% of the above travel radio wish-list, I do have several that score very highly. I also rank my travel radios by size, as sometimes limited space will force me to select a smaller radio.
Here are a few of the radios I’ve used and/or evaluated for travel–I’ll break them down by size. Note that all portable radios have alarm/timer functions, unless noted otherwise.
I often grab the Tecsun PL-380 for travel. It’s an ultra-portable that truly performs and even has a selection of six AM bandwidths.
Sangean ATS-909X • Pros: Good performance, RDS, nice display; • Cons: priciest of the full-featured radios
Sony ICF-SW7600GR • Pros: Study chassis, great performace • Cons: no tuning knob, poor ergonomics
I have also been known to travel with an SDR (software defined radio), especially if travelling to an RF-quiet location where I could make spectrum recordings. While SDRs all require a computer (laptop) to operate, those best suited for travel derive their power from the same USB cable plugged into the PC. Neither of the SDR models below require a power source other than what’s provided by their USB cable.
The RadioJet is an excellent travel radio: it’s an excellent performer, über-rugged and is powered by one USB cable.
“Black box” radios (SDRs & PC-controlled radios):
RFSpace SDR-IQ • Pros: Small size, works on multiple operating systems (Windows, Mac, Linux) • Cons: front end can overload if close to strong signals
Bonito RadioJet • Pros: Great performance, low noise floor, good audio, flexible graphic interface; • Cons: Windows only, limited bandwidth on IF recordings, no third-party applications (note that the RadioJet is technically an IF receiver). Check out our full review.
The CommRadio CR-1
Seriously? A travel-ready, full-featured tabletop–? Until last year, I would have argued that it was impossible to travel lightly with a full-featured desktop radio in tow.
My view changed when I got my hands on the CommRadio CR-1 tabletop SDR. Indeed, other than it being pricey ($600, as compared with $100 portables) this rig is ideally suited to travel!
The CR-1 has an array of features–most everything you’d expect from a tabletop radio–and even covers some VHF/UHF frequencies. Its built-in rechargeable battery not only powers it for hours at a time, but meets the strict airline standards for battery safety. The CR-1 can also be powered and charged via a common USB cable. It’s also engineered to be tough and is almost identical in size to the Tecsun PL-880.
Though I’ve never needed to do so, you can even remove its resin feet to save still more space. Its only less than travel-friendly feature is the fact that it’s quite possible to accidently power up the CR-1 by bumping the volume button during travel–a problem easily remedied, however, by simply twisting an insulated wire around the stem of the volume knob (see photo).
The importance of a Go-Bag
The Spec-Ops Pack-Rat
I keep a dedicated “go-bag” with radio and supplies–specifically, the Spec-Ops Brand Pack-Rat–packed and ready to travel, at the drop of a hat. Why? First of all, I know exactly what I’ll be taking, no need to ponder if I have everything.
If something’s missing, there’s an obvious blank spot in my bag. I also know exactly where and how it fits into my carry-on bag, so if it’s missing, it’s conspicuously missing. Since I’ve been using this go-bag, I’ve never left anything from my pack behind. Incidentally, this is how I pack the rest of my bag, as well: everything has its place, and any gap will draw my attention to exactly what’s missing.
There’s another benefit to having a dedicated go-bag: when flying, before I place my carry-on under the seat in front of me or in an overhead compartment, I can pull the go-bag out of my carry-on and have my Android tablet close at hand with other electronics. As an added bonus, when going through airport security, all of my electronics can be easily removed from my flight bag by taking out just this kit.
I’ve had many versions of the Go-Bag over the years, and they’ve all done a great job. What I love about the Spec-Ops Brand Pack-Rat, though, is the fact that it’s military grade–very durable–opens with all of the main storage pockets on the inside, has a bright yellow interior which makes it easy to see the contents (even in the dimness of a night flight), and it’s just the right size to hold my usual travel gear. The Spec-Ops Brand Pack-Rat also carries a lifetime, no-matter-what, guarantee.
There are thousands of similar packs on the market, and you may already have one, but you should look for something with multiple storage pockets. Small packs I’ve used in the past that only had one or two main compartments made it easy to leave something out when packing.
The travel radios I reach for most often. Top Row (L to R, Top to Bottom) Tecsun PL-380, Sony 7600GR, CommRadio GP-5DSP, Grundig G6, Tecsun PL-660, and the CommRadio CR-1 (Click to enlarge)
When I spent a year in France during my undergraduate studies in the early 1990s, shortwave radio was my link with home. I would listen to the VOA–the only source of English I permitted myself to hear–like clockwork, each week. Today, although I travel with a smartphone which can tune in thousands of stations, I always choose to listen to radio. Besides, if the Internet goes down or if–heaven forbid!–your trip takes you into a natural disaster, it’s radio that you will turn to to stay safe and informed.
If you take anything away from this reading, I hope it’s that even when you’re presented with travel restrictions, you won’t hesitate to take your hobby, in the form of a portable radio and a few accessories along. It contributes measurably to the fun of travel, as I’ve discovered when I’m able to tune in local and international stations so different from those I hear at home. Or sometimes, it’s just the opposite–it’s the chance to pick up a favorite broadcaster or program while you’re on the road.
After all, for me and other travelers like me, the world’s familiar voice is radio.
I know, beyond SW Radios, your secondary passion is which ‘bag’ will you use to pack your radios for a trip. I have admired your photos of your Eagle Creek Pack w/ Tecsun PL-380 & Sony AN-LP1. I searched high and low for something like your Eagle Creek pack and I stumbled across this $19.99 gem: the Vespa Mini-Backpack.
It’s sold by eBags on their web site, via Amazon and also via eBay. Despite all three sites being the same vendor, eBay is the least expensive as they offer Free Shipping through that site [though looks like the price just nudged up a bit]. At $19.99 I’m amazed at what I can get into it: A 1st GEN iPad cloaked in a thick leather case with bluetooth keyboard, a PL-390 (I love the ETM for travel) and what I think is the most underrated Grundig of them all – the G6 Aviator (I have the BA Edition). Plus I still have room for my TG34 Antenna, my iSound 4 USB Wall Charger, (2) USB Cables, some spare rechargeable AA Batteries and a dual USB Car Adapter that can recharge my iPad and iPhone.
Oh yeah, the Vespa has a cell phone pouch on one of the pack’s shoulder straps. All for $19.99 delivered from eBay. I have to admit, I haven’t had it long enough to testify to its durability but it seems to be built fairly well despite its price point.
Here are the first two links – you can easily find the eBay links (it comes in a variety of colors though it appears white is out of stock):
Thanks, Troy! You know me well; I love backpacks and travel gear. You probably know eBags have a pretty strong following and good reputation amongst one baggers. I’ll have to check out this little bag. Thanks for sharing!
The Grundig G6 makes for an excellent travel companion
Last week, I traveled to New York City by air and used trains, taxis and buses en route to Philadelphia. All the while, I carted along my luggage–and it’s a good thing I like to travel light.
Indeed, I almost never check in luggage, no doubt a remnant of my days as an expatriate, when I was required to travel throughout Europe at a moment’s notice. But I love traveling with only one bag. It’s incredibly liberating. I revel in the challenge of fitting everything I need into one Eagle Creek convertible backpack/suitcase.
This latest trip was no exception, and I planned to do a little shortwave and medium wave DX along the way. So which radio did I reach for? Oddly enough, none of those I listed from my travel radio suggestions, my usual stand-bys. This time, I chose my Grundig G6.
Keypad for direct entry and as with most Grundig radios, the G6has a logical, simple key combination for entering frequencies.
I have had a mini Grundig G6 review out for a couple years now in which I praise it highly. I am surprised to find that many other reviewers only give it a lukewarm rating. I believe a lot of this stems from the fact that the radio’s aircraft band (117-137 MHz) is not terribly sensitive or selective. Since purchasing the G6, I’ve only used the aircraft band once–during review. I leave aircraft and VHF/UHF listening to a proper scanner, preferably one with triple-conversion circuitry.
Yet I find that the Grundig G6 performs quite well on the shortwave and medium wave bands. Last week, while in NYC and Philadelphia, I was surrounded by big signals and didn’t hear many instances of overloading or imaging. Sure, larger portables (like the Grundig G3, Tecsun PL-660, Sony ICF-SW7600GR, Sangean ATS-909X) will outperform the G6 on SW and MW, but none of those radios can comfortably fit in my pocket. In fact, the G6 is so small that it can get lost in my suitcase–oh, there it is, tucked among my socks. The portables mentioned above, though reasonably sized, will need some dedicated space.
The placement and orientation of the tuning knob on the G6 is genius. My favorite ultra-portable radio for band-scanning
There’s another plus about the G6. It feels good in your hand. I have big, clumsy fingers, yet I still manage to punch in the frequency correctly every time. Having the (smooth) tuning knob in the upper left corner of the radio where it’s accessible both on the side, and (more importantly) on the face, was a stroke of ergonomic genius by this little radio’s designer. I wish more manufacturers would do this. It’s so easy and comfortable to band scan using your thumb on the face of the tuning wheel, which is great when you’re sitting around a campfire or listening to FM on a bumpy bus ride.
Don’t get me wrong: if I were going on a DX vacation where I needed top-notch filtering, sync-detection and SSB, I would not pick the G6. For the odd business trip, though, it’s the perfect little radio.
The G6 even has an external antenna connection.
Small, affordable and full-featured
Shortwave and medium wave reception are comparable to others in price class
Two bandwidth choices
Direct keypad entry of frequencies
Fluid and well-placed tuning knob
No chuffing/muting during band scans
Includes SSB (see con)
Great audio for a tiny speaker
Excellent ergonomics (especially for such a small package)
Aircraft Band (see con)
SSB reception is mediocre–fine tuning is difficult
Volume button increments a little too steep (between 8-12) with headphones
Keypad not backlit
Some image problems on aircraft band
The Grundig G6 has been on the market a long time, in a consumer electronics life span. I would not wait to purchase one. Occasionally, RadioShack (in the US and Canada) will close out their stock of shortwave radios and the G6 can be found at bargain prices. Universal Radio currently has a promotion where if you buy a Grundig Satellit 750 for $299.95, you will receive a free Grundig G6. You get both a large portable/tabletop radio and a pocket-sized one in the same deal. That’s great value!