Tag Archives: Off-Grid radio

Winter radio life and preparing for power outages

Listening to a local station with the BC-348-Q until we lose power.

Here at SWLing Post HQ we’ve been under a Winter Storm Warning since yesterday–it’s not set to expire until sometime tomorrow. This storm hasn’t been all snow–it’s a mixture of snow and ice. If this continues, I fully expect to lose power at some point today.

In general, we’re prepared to handle this sort of thing: our refrigerator and freezer are powered by solar and completely off-grid, we have a super efficient RAIS woodstove to keep us warm and of course, we have a generator at the ready if needed.

Playing radio off-grid

As I write this post, I’m listening to the Signal Corps BC-348-Q (photo above) which is tuned to a local AM broadcaster. It’ll fill my shack with local news/tunes and its vintage valves will do a fine job warming this small room until the power eventually goes out.

When it does go out, I’ll switch to my blackout buddy, the CommRadio CR-1A.

I find that the CR-1A is nearly ideal for off-grid and field listening, as long as you have a good external antenna. The internal Li-Ion battery powers the thing for ages and it has an incredibly capable receiver.

Of course, I also have an Elecraft KX3 and KX2 which can be powered by battery, but I tend to use the CR-1A for broadcast listening and save the KX2/KX3 for off-grid ham radio QRP fun.

In addition, I have the new battery-powered CommRadio CTX-10 transceiver in the shack.

I’ve been receiving numerous emails about this particular field rig because there are so few CTX-10 reviews out there even though it’s been on the market since late July.

Please note that I’ve been giving the CTX-10 a thorough evaluation over the past few weeks and plan to publish my initial review in the next few days.

Bye-bye noise!

Even though I live in a very rural and remote area with little-to-no RFI, when the power is cut, my noise floor still drops . We’re not immune–like most homes, we have power supplies and devices that emit radio interference.

It’s funny: most urban radio enthusiasts I know don’t fear power outages, they prepare for and embrace them! When all of those RFI-spewing devices go silent, it’s simply amazing what you can hear from home on frequencies below 30 MHz with pretty much any receiver.

Personally, as long as I have a means of 1.) powering my radios, and 2.) making coffee (extremely important), I consider myself properly prepared.

I’ve always got those two points covered.

Bring it, old man winter!  I’m ready to play radio!


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Steve searches for a USB-powered battery charger for solar recharging

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Steven Crawford, who writes with the following inquiry:

[I’m searching for] good quality USB powered battery chargers for AA and D size rechargeable batteries.

Wall outlet chargers are common but quality USB powered battery chargers appear much less common…less common than the packable solar panels with USB ports such as Anker’s, that could be used to power them. Ideally the charger should handle Nicad’s, NIMH and Ii-on but have standardized on AA, AA + D adapter sleeves, and D batteries for my storm supplies.

If I understand correctly, you’re searching for a good qualityUSB-powered battery charger that supports multiple battery chemistries (nickel-cadmium, NIMH and lithium ion) so you can recharge AA, AAA and D batteries with a portable solar panel.

I’m hoping SWLing Post readers can offer some suggestions.

I’ve also looked into this type of charger for both Ears To Our World and my own personal use when off-grid in the summer. I’ve never found one that truly supports all of the battery chemistries you mentioned. The one I’ve used (an EBL) works quite well, but only supports NiMH AA and AAA batteries. As you mentioned, you can use D cell sleeves with the AAs.

EBL makes a number of USB chargers that can be found by searching Amazon. This one–an EBL Quick Charger (affiliate link)–can recharge NiMH batteries within 40 minutes and I’ve personally used one. I’ve been pleased with EBL batteries as well.

I never use nickel cadmium rechargeable batteries at this point, so really don’t know what’s available on the market.

I have found that there are a number of USB-powered lithium battery chargers, but typically for specific lithium cell configurations like 18650, 16340, 14500, 26650, etc. Some of these inexpensive chargers have magnetic contacts that can fit almost any battery type and on Amazon and eBay they claim to recharge multiple battery chemistries, but frankly I’m quite skeptical. These $9 devices don’t seem to have a way of detecting battery chemistry, thus I’m not sure how they would adjust the charging cycle accordingly. Perhaps I’m incorrect in this assumption?

Other than using Powerfilm solar NiMH battery chargers (I can recommend these) which are incorporated in their folding panels, I’ve never charged batteries directly from a solar panel. Typically I have a 9ah or larger 12V battery floating between the PV panel and the charger.

I’ve found that using a 12VDC charger–like this–that’s pulling power from a 12V battery is simply a little more efficient, faster and reliable than charging directly from a small PV panel. Since I always have 12V batteries on hand when off grid, it’s a simple solution for for my system.

Post readers: do you have any USB-powered battery charging suggestions for Steven? Please comment!

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Off-grid/RV enthusiasts need a radio-quiet solar charge controller: reader advice?

The Solar Boost 3000i solar MPPT charge controller

I’m currently in the process of adding 200-300 watts of 12-volt solar panels to my truck camper.

Solar panels will keep my camper’s 12V deep-cycle battery topped off, thus allowing longer stretches of time for boon-docking or primitive camping, during which an occupied camper is off-grid from shore power.

My truck camper actually came with a simple built-in charge controller which charges the battery via shore power. Thing is…this shore power charger is incredibly noisy when I’m on the radio.  The QRM it generates is broadband, and almost entirely wipes out HF and MW radio listening.

Because of this, I’m forced to unplug my power whenever I’m in the camper and want to hop on the air. And since the whole idea of camper living is to enjoy a bit of rest-and-relaxation, in other words, to pursue one’s hobbies in modest comfort, having to unplug the power––or else not play radio––limits my total enjoyment of RV camping.

But. Before I invest in a new solar charge controller, which would essentially charge the battery any time the sun is out, I need to be absolutely certain it doesn’t create RFI, too. Yet I’m finding it difficult to confirm whether a charge controller is RF-quiet prior to purchasing…

What’s more, I suspect I’m not the only radio listener or ham radio operator with an RV who has encountered the noise dilemma.

What’s a radio geek with an RV to do––?

A ham radio buddy who is an avid RVer recommended the Solar Boost 3000i (see top photo above). While it might be overkill for my application, I’m willing to invest, knowing it may charge without creating RFI.

But before I do, I’m curious if any SWLing Post readers have any experience with solar charge controllers, and/or can confirm models that create little to no RFI? I’d even appreciate knowing which models do pollute the spectrum––models to avoid, in other words, if radio listening or ham radio operations are your goal.

My hope is that SWLing Post reader recommendations may not only help me with this problem, but might help other RVer/off-grid radio enthusiasts, as well.

Please comment!

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Off-Grid Radio: Portable power recommendations?

Elecraft-KX3This year, I have a lot of portable radio play in mind as I travel across the continent. At some point, I even plan to spend several days in an off-grid cabin on the coast.

In the past, I’ve powered my 12 VDC ham radio transceivers with a system comprised of three PowerFilm solar 5 watt foldable PV panels (see below), a Micro M+ charge controller and several gel cell type sealed batteries (a couple 7 Ah and one 20 Ah).Powerfilm-Solar-Panel

The system works well, but the batteries are a little heavy and unhandy when I want to hike into a remote site or play radio on the beach, for example.

PowerFilmAACharger-1

In terms of receivers, my portables (like the Sony ICF-SW7600GR, Tecsun PL-660, etc.) simply use AA batteries which I charge with PowerFilm AA PV chargers (see above). My CommRadio CR-1a has an internal battery that will power it for hours at a time.

Power is much less of an issue with receivers because they’re quite resource efficient.

I mainly need a system to power my QRP ham radio gear, and that’s where I could use your experience!

Wish list

Charge controller

I need a new charge controller since my Micro M+ (no longer produced) is now being used to power a remote antenna tuner.

Of course, I’ll need an inexpensive charge controller that doesn’t produce RFI (radio interference).

It would be an added bonus if the charge controller could also charge my batteries when grid power is available.

12 VDC Battery packs

I’d like something relatively lightweight and safe.

Note: LiPo packs worry me, especially since I had one (an early GoalZero model) quite literally melt down and burn up on my bed only a few hours after bringing it back from an eight hour flight a few years ago. Scary!

Pure Sine Wave Inverter

PureSineWaveInverter

I’d also like a small, efficient pure sine wave inverter that I I could connect to my largest battery and power my laptop for extended SDR spectrum recording sessions while off-grid.

I’d love a recommendation from someone who uses one and can confirm a model that doesn’t create radio interference while operating.

Recommendations?

Post readers: Please comment with your recommendations and include model numbers and links if possible. Thank you in advance!

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CommRadio CR-1 and WRTH: Power outage essentials

20140107-092801.jpg
Like much of North America, we’re currently experiencing record low temperatures and strong winds here at our mountain home. This morning, I woke to no power and no Internet. My iPhone still works though, hence the ability to publish this post.

But no power is really no problem when it comes to SWLing. Indeed, for those living in urban areas, power outages represent temporary refuge from all of those electronic noises (RFI) that plague daily listening.

I’ve spent the morning SWLing with my CommRadio CR-1. The beauty of the CR-1 is that it can operate for hours on its internal battery and can also be charged/powered via USB or anything from a 6V to 18v DC power source. I’m currently charging the CR-1’s battery from our solar-powered battery bank. It makes me realize that the CR-1 is an ideal, top-shelf radio for off-grid DXing.

Additionally, I received my 2014 WRTH yesterday in the post. The WRTH is always a welcome delivery, but this morning was even more appreciated since it requires no power source whatsoever to work!

No power? No worries! With a WRTH and CommRadio CR-1 combo, I’m a happy listener!

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