Tag Archives: Grundig Satellit 800

The Satellit 800, the Tecsun PL-880, and two indoor antennas – an afternoon of experimentation

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


The Satellit 800, the Tecsun PL-880, and two indoor antennas – an afternoon of experimentation

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

A search for “shortwave listening antennas” on the internet landed me on the page for the Par EndFedz® EF-SWL receive antenna, which is a 45-foot end-fed wire antenna connected to a wideband 9:1 transformer wound on a “binocular core” inside a UV-resistant box. A link on the page invited me to check out the eHam reviews of this antenna, which are here. What struck me is that there are just page after page of 5 star reviews of this antenna. Hams and SWLs apparently just love it. (If you want to buy of these antennas, they are now sold by Vibroplex and can be found here.)

As I reached for my credit card, I remember that I had an LDG 9:1 unun transformer lying around and some wire left over from the Horizontal Room Loop project. Maybe I could create my own end-fed SWL antenna by wrapping the wire around the perimeter of the room, attaching it to the 9:1 unun and then by coax to the back of my Grundig Satellit 800.

So I did exactly that. The wire for new end-fed antenna travels the same route around the perimeter of the room as the horizontal room loop. The main differences between the two antennas are that the end-fed is not a loop, and it terminates in the 9:1 transformer, which, in turn, feeds the Satellit though a coax cable. But in essence, we’re talking about two indoor wire antennas that are the same length and laid out along the same path about 7 feet in the air around the interior of the 8-foot by 12-foot room that serves as a library and radio shack: the horizontal room loop and the indoor end-fed.

 

The Satellit 800 has three possible antenna inputs: the very tall built-in whip antenna, two clips on the back of the 800 where the horizontal room loop attaches, and a pl-239 coax connector where the new end-fed antenna attaches. In addition, there is a three-position switch that allows me to quickly switch from one antenna to another.

Tuning up on the WWV time stations on 5, 10, 15, and 20 MHz and sliding the switch on the back of the Satellit 800 among the three different positions, I quickly found that the whip antenna was the noisiest of the three choices and offered the poorest signal-to-noise ratio. The comparison between the horizontal room loop and the indoor end-fed antenna was very, very close. While the horizontal room loop was quieter, it seemed to me that the signal offered by the indoor end-fed antenna was the tiniest bit easier to hear, so I decided to leave the Satellit 800 hooked up to the indoor end-fed antenna.

The 100-foot indoor end-fed antenna

Then I did something I had wanted to do for quite a while: I disconnected the horizontal room loop from the back of the Satellit 800 and attached one end of the wire to the indoor end-fed. So now, I had a roughly 100-foot end-fed antenna wrapped twice around the room.

Before we proceed any further, you need to understand this: my comprehension of antenna theory is essentially nil. As the old-timers would have it: you could take the entirety of what I understand about antenna theory, put it in a thimble, and it would rattle like a BB in a boxcar.

Ever since the successful creation of the horizontal room loop, I had wondered: if 50 feet of wire wrapped around a room improves the signal, would 100-feet of wire improve the signal even more? Inquiries to several knowledgeable people produced the same result: they didn’t think so.

Guess what? They were right . . . entirely and completely right. Tuning to the time stations and attaching and detaching the extra 50 feet of wire from the indoor end-fed, I saw (on the signal strength meter) and heard no difference in signal strength or signal-to-noise ratio.

The PL-880 and Satellit 800 comparison

So now, the Satellit 800 is attached to the indoor end-fed antenna, and there is an extra 50 feet wire wrapped around the room on the same path as the end-fed. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could find a way to hook that extra wire up to my Tecsun PL-880?

An old auxiliary wind-up wire antenna from a FreePlay radio came to the rescue. It was an annoying piece of gear; the wire was difficult to deploy and even more difficult to wind up again, and it had languished in a drawer for more than a decade. But it had a really nifty clip on the end that was designed to easily snap on and off a whip antenna.

Pulling an arm-spread of wire out of the reel, I cut it off, stripped the wire, attached it to the end of what had been the horizontal room loop, and clipped it to the whip on the PL-880. Tah-dah . . . instant improvement to the signal coming into the PL-880.

Some time ago, a reader had asked whether I found the Satellit 800 a little deaf in comparison to the Tecsun PL-880. Now, with two indoor antennas of approximately the same length and routed along the same path, I could do the comparison on shortwave frequencies. Starting with the time stations and later with hams in single-sideband on the 20-meter band, I alternated between the two radios. Although the PL-880 has more bandwidth choices, and the two radios have a slightly different sound to them (probably, I’m guessing, due to differences in their circuitry), the bottom line is this: anything I could hear with the Satellit 800 I could also hear with the PL-800 . . . and vice versa. (Note: I did not do any comparison between the two on medium wave or FM.)

In my not-so-humble opinion, both offer worthy performance that is improved with the addition of a 50-foot wire antenna, even if it is indoors.

And that brings us to the final point.

A word of caution

If you decide to add a bit of wire to improve the signal coming into your shortwave portable or desktop receiver, do NOT, under any circumstances, EVER deploy the wire where it could come into contact with a powerline or fall onto a power line or where a power line could fall on it.

As Frank P. Hughes, VE3DQB, neatly put it in his wonderful little book Limited Space Shortwave Antenna Solutions: “Make sure no part of any antenna, its support or guy wires can touch a power line before, after, or during construction. This is a matter of life and death!

And when thunder and lightning threaten, make sure your outdoor antenna is disconnected and grounded.

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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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