Tag Archives: Visually Impaired

Christoph’s homebrew custom hotkey pad for SDR applications

Last week, I saw a fascinating post by Christoph Jahn on the SDRplay Facebook page.

Christoph created a custom hotkey pad for use with SDRuno.  The project is actually quite simple and his finished product looks amazing:

The steps involve downloading “LuaMacros” a freeware macros utility that allows you to map macros to an external USB device like a cheap numeric keypad. Christoph then designed the key templates and printed them on a strong adhesive vinyl foil.

I asked Christoph if I could post his project on the SWLing Post and he kindly sent me the followed PDF with step-by-step instructions.

Click here to download the instructions as a PDF (6.71MB).

Christoph also shared the macros file he used for his project (download .XML file 8.77 KB).

Thank you so much for sharing this, Christoph!  Your finished product is so professional, I would have thought it was produced by SDRplay!

This could be a useful tool for a radio friend who is visually-impaired and, of course, could be compatible with a wide range of SDR apps and rig control software that allow keyboard shortcuts.

Readers: Have you done a similar project? Please comment with your experience and any details–especially noting applications and programs you find are compatible with keyboard shortcut mapping. This could be very beneficial for radio enthusiasts with disabilities!

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Ed discovers a shortwave portable marketed to visually impaired listeners

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ed, who writes:

While perusing products for a disabled family member, I came across this shortwave portable for visually impaired listeners. Its HF coverage is limited to 2300 – 21950KHz, but it also receives
standard AM & FM and plays mp3 files from a microSD card. Interestingly, its advertised features include, “Large easy to see buttons, Large LED display screen, Unique memory and delete design”!

This could be a piece of Chinese junk, but I’ve long been drawn to weird and unusual radios, no matter how well they perform. For $39.95 this radio might be fun to play with and give to a
visually-impaired friend or family member if it works. Do you or any SWLing Post readers know anything about this strange radio?


Post readers: Please comment if you have any experience using this radio!  I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this model marketed under other brand names.

Thanks, Ed!

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A review of the Sangean PR-D17 portable AM/FM radio for the visually impaired

Photo of the Sangean PR-D17 AM FM Radio while tuned to 96.1 FM and showing RDS backlit display

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor and producer, Peter Atkinson, who shares the following review of the new Sangean PR-D17 AM/FM radio:

Sangean PR-D17 review

by Peter Atkinson

I’ve been visually impaired all my life and a radio enthusiast for over 40 years.  I was intrigued when I learned that Sangean was offering a radio for the visually impaired.  I purchased one, and wanted to share my thoughts about the Sangean PR-D17 from the perspective of a visually impaired listener.

Photo of the PR-D17 box

For those readers who are mainly interested in the performance of this radio, please stay tuned, while I talk a moment about the features geared to the visually impaired.

Photo of the radio manual.

First of all: the manual, [see photo above] while it is comprehensive (as most from Sangean are), it is odd that it’s printed in the smallest type I’ve seen from this manufacturer.

Image of the PR-D17 tactile preset keys with Braille.

The yellow controls on a black radio are easily seen.  I like that the preset buttons on the bottom row of the front panel, are in Braille.  The raised symbols, however, on the upper row, may be too complicated to be easily discerned by touch alone.  The yellow-on-black motif, is reminiscent of my Sangean HDR-16.

When the 6 C batteries are first inserted, or AC power is connected, the radio announces that it has entered the setup menu.  The voice prompt menus (whose volume can be adjusted independently of the radios’ main volume but cannot be disabled) make setting up this radio somewhat straightforward.  The setup might have been easier, if the clock setting function was available as part of the menu system. The voice prompts are surprisingly comprehensive. The voice not only speaks the frequency, time & menu options, but will also tell you when something is connected to (or disconnected from) the AC input, headphone or AUX-IN jacks.

When the radio is turned on, it announces that the radio is on, the battery level & the frequency to which it is tuned.

When tuning, the voice gives the frequency at each change. It’s especially helpful when using the seek function, knowing where the next station was found.

Click here to download audio clip of tuning voice prompt.

When storing a station into a preset, the voice says exactly what frequency has been stored & at which present position.

Click here to download audio clip of tuning voice prompt.

The same information is given when recalling a preset. One quirk of the voice prompt, is that when announcing the time, it speaks full numbers (e.g. “twelve thirty-seven’), but when giving the frequency, each digit is spoken (e.g. “one two three zero” or “nine six point one”).

Click here to download audio clip of time voice prompt.

Finally:  Tuning time.  

Image showing that the HDR-16 and PR-D17 are identical in size.

Comparing the Sangean HDR-16 with the PR-D17

This radio is the same cabinet as the HDR-16.  Aside from the voice prompts, it operates similar to the PR-D5.  Therefore, I’m comparing its performance to that model. Like the PR-D5, the AM tuning steps can be set for 9 or 10KHz, but the FM tuning steps are fixed at 100KHz (0.1MHz).

Image showing right side of radio.

There are 5 presets per band. The display also shows RDS information for any FM station that transmits RDS. The clock can be set from the RDS signal, as well.  I’ve found several stations, in my area, that are sending the wrong time.


The sound from the twin 2-1/2” speakers is very balanced.  The bass is substantial, but not overpowering. The highs are good for definition, without being too brassy.  There are no provisions for customization, though.

Image showing left side of radio.

There is a 3.5mm AUX-IN jack for connecting an external sound source, such as an MP3 player or smartphone.


While the AM sound is a bit muffled for my taste (the bandwidth cannot be changed) it makes for excellent selectivity.  There was no hint of my nearby 50KW 620, on 610 or 630. Like many Sangean radios, the noise floor is very quiet. The long 200mm internal ferrite bar antenna does a superb job at snagging those weak stations.  I was able to get a noisy, but readable signal on a 50KW station on 700, at 350 miles, during the day. That one is my benchmark for a great DX machine. The top end of the band is no slouch, either. Another benchmark station (10KW 1690 at 75 miles) came in loud and clear.  The long ferrite antenna also helps to better null unwanted signals. This is a greater benefit for nighttime DXing.


The PR-D17’s performance on FM is stellar.  It has shown to be very sensitive, pulling in stations as well as my PR-D5 & PR-D9W.  I easily hear FMs at 60 miles. The selectivity is also amazing. I can listen to stations on 95.9 & 96.3, with a 6KW station on 96.1 less than 10 blocks from my window.  Even though the PR-D17 pulls in those weak stations with ease, it requires a stronger signal to receive stereo.

Close up of RDS display

The RDS is quick to display station information. It starts off by showing the 8-character PS information of the RDS signal, then switches to the scrolling display of the RT segment.


Overall, I am very happy with the Sangean PR-D17.  It is a superior radio, now with the added benefit of voice prompts.  Hopefully, this will alleviate some of the annoyances visually impaired listeners may have with operating a digitally-tuned radio.

Thank you so much for sharing your review, Peter and thank you for being an SWLing Post producer!

It looks like the Sangean PR-D17 is an excellent choice for those radio listeners who would appreciate voice prompts, high contrast controls and tactile keys. I’m also happy to hear you rate AM selectivity as excellent. When radios only have one chosen bandwidth, I’d rather give priority to selectivity than audio fidelity for the purposes of nighttime AM DXing. 

Sangean PR-D17 retailers:

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Sangean PR-D17 now shipping

I just received the following note from my contact at Sangean:

“We received our first [PR-D17] shipment yesterday and are starting to ship to our customers.”

After making an initial post about the PR-D17–a radio designed specifically for those who are visually-impaired– I’ve received several inquiries so I thought I’d share this status!

Click here to read about the PR-D17 at Sangean.

Click here to purchase the PR-D17 at Universal Radio.

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The Sangean PR-D17: An AM/FM stereo radio designed for those who are visually impaired

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Doug Hunsinger, who notes that Universal Radio is now shipping the Sangean PR-D17.

The PR-D17 has a unique design to make operation easier for those who are visually impaired. Per Universal Radio:

It has high-contrast, large yellow rotary tuning and volume control knobs, preset buttons with raised symbols to aid in identification and thoughtful voice prompts of all controls that announce all functions in English or Spanish.

It has a large and easy-to-read backlit LCD display that highlights RDS information, frequency, signal strength, battery status and alarm symbols. It has a 200 mm ferrite AM antenna for the best possible AM reception. The controls are very easy to use and you get 5 presets for AM and 5 for FM. And you can auto scan stations. The RDS technology can display station name, call sign, song title or other transmitted information, plus it can set the clock automatically. There is a stereo mono switch. There is a built in clock timer with sleep function and humane wake up system to buzzer or radio. The left side of the radio has an auxiliary input and a stereo earphone jack. The perfect solution for the radio enthusiast who is visually impaired.

Click here to check out the Sangean PR-D17 at Universal Radio.

Doug notes that he may purchase the PR-D17 and share a review here on the SWLing Post. He is especially interested in how it might compare with similar voice prompt radio models.

Post readers: If you’re visually impaired, what radio models do you prefer? PLease share your thoughts and comments by clicking here.

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Portable SSB radios for people who are visually impaired

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Svein Tore, who writes:

I’m blind. The type of shortwave radio I like best, is the analogue type with a tuning wheel, because I don’t need sight to use it, and I have full control over the receiver.

I would like to buy a radio with SSB, but it seems that all of the radios with SSB are digital, and you need to see the display to use the radio.

Are there any analogue radios with SSB?

If not, what is the simplest radio receiver with SSB?

I’m looking for a radio with as few functions and menus as possible, but it should have SSB.

I’m looking for a small or medium sized receiver, but if you are thinking of a big radio that seems to be right for me, please tell me about it.

Perhaps I have given you an impossible question now? I’m sorry for that.

Thanks 🙂

Greetings from Norway.

Svein Tore

Excellent question, Svien. I thought it would make sense to share your inquiry with the SWLing Post community as I know we have other readers who are visually impaired. Readers, please comment with any suggestions you may have.

To my knowledge, there are no analog shortwave radios with a BFO (for SSB) that are in production today. There are, however, numerous analog models from the 60s, 70s and 80s with a BFO (two examples: the Sony ICF-5800H and the Panasonic RF-2200).

My trusty Zenith Trans Oceanic will always be a part of my radio collection (Click to enlarge)

In fact, my first proper radio was a Zenith Transoceanic. I’ll never forget taking it to our local RadioShack, when I was eight years old, to ask one of the employees (who I knew was a DXer) what the heck “this strange BFO knob” does!

There is the analog Sony ICF-EX5MKII that SWLing Post contributor Troy Riedel reviewed, but I don’t believe it has a BFO–only a synchronous detector which can be switched between upper and lower sidebands. Perhaps a reader can confirm this.

Since I can’t recommend a current analog model, I do have a digital solution that I believe may work for you:

The Tecsun PL-660

Listening to Channel Z in a parking lot with the Tecsun PL-660.

Listening to Channel Z in a parking lot with the Tecsun PL-660.


Though not an analog radio, the menus on the PL-660 are not “deep”–most buttons simply toggle features. There is no hardware “switch” to change bands, but I think you would find it easy enough to use the direct frequency entry keypad to navigate across the spectrum. The SSB feature works more like an analog radio as it has a BFO dial on the right side of the radio. The buttons and dials are also raised and tactile. Best yet, the tuning sounds like an analog radio since there is no muting between frequency changes.

There are a number of other portables out there that are about as simple to operate as the PL-660, but I like the price point of the PL-660 and its overall performance characteristics. For a little less money, and a similar form factor and function set–minus a synchronous detector function–you might also consider the Tecsun PL-600 as well.

Again, I’m hoping Post readers might chime in with even better suggestions! Please comment!

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Software Defined Receivers (SDRs) for the visually impaired listener

Spectrum Display 31 Meters on the WinRadio Excalibur

At the 2015 Winter SWL Fest, I co-hosting a forum on Software-Defined Radios.  Afterwards, a radio friend–who happens to be visually impaired–approached me to ask:

“What is the best SDR for those who are blind or visually impaired?”

I’d never been asked the question before, and replied that I’d have to do a little research. In truth, I suspected that research would turn up very little that was useful:  after all, SDRs require a lot of pointing and clicking, and some of the interfaces are rather complicated. Spectrum and waterfalls displays, often at the heart of the SDR app, are visual displays.

But I kept thinking of my friend’s question. Upon my return, I set out to do a little research and possibly pose the question here on the SWLing Post.  Then assistance stepped in…in the form of medium wave DXer Tore Johnny Bråtveit.

If Mr. Bråtveit’s name sounds familiar, that would be because I recently posted a link to an Oregon Public Broadcasting interview with him. In the interview, he mentioned that he uses SDRs to chase MW DX, and that he is visually impaired.

I reached out to Mr. Bråtveit via his website and asked for any advice he could give about SDRs for those who are blind or visually impaired.  His enlightening response:

“In the interview I mentioned screen reader software and the need to find SDR software that plays well along with such screen reader software. For those visually impaired who have some eyesight, this aspect may not apply, since many of them are well helped by a screen magnifier software package.

For those without eyesight at all, or with so little left of the eyesight that they cannot make practical use of the screen, there are these screen reader software packages. They all do the same, but they solve the job in a somewhat different way and are good at different tasks.

I began using SDRs back in 2007. First I used some [RFspace] SDR-IQs for a few years, until I purchased a Winradio G31DDC in 2010. The user experience with Winradio was so good that I have stayed with those radios since then, using both G31DDC and G33DDC receivers at my remote listening places.

I think I can say that all the software packages delivered with SDRs have issues and challenges when it comes to using them along with a screen reader. The worst example of unusable native software I have seen so far, is the software package delivered with the [Microtelecom] Perseus. I had a thought purchasing one some years ago and make some scripts for my screen reader JAWS to see if I could make the Perseus possible to use effectively, but I dropped the idea at that time in favor of Winradio.

The SpectraVue software delivered with SDR-IQ was usable, but I had to script it quite extensively, especially to be able to use the timeline when playing back recordings. Also the frequency selector was a bit tricky, so I had to assign some hotkey combinations to it. Otherwise it worked fine.

The Winradio software for the G3x series works quite fine right out of the box. They have apparently thought [through] keyboard operation, and there are shortcuts for almost everything. Such shortcut keys are necessary, as navigating the program interface with a screen reader can be a bit too complicated, especially for those only using speech output from the screen reader to access the screen content.

I personally am living in a country where we have good access to refreshable Braille displays, which gives me the opportunity to turn off the speech entirely if I want and only use Braille output. This way I can navigate the program interface quite effectively to understand how things are laid out.

The only real issues I have had with Winradio software, is:

1. Changing shortcut keys:
Normally, the Tab key is used to move between elements on a screen, so it would be natural to think that pressing the Tab key will bring me to the next shortcut key definition. Not in Winradio. Tab can be defined as a shortcut key itself, so trying to navigate the shortcut keys dialog with that key gives you a number of options, all connected to the Tab key. My way around this was to navigate with the Braille display until I found the shortcut key definition I wanted to change, focus on it by pressing a cursor routing key in that position and changing the definition. Then navigate further down to the OK button and activate it.

2. The timeline:
The timeline used when playing back recordings can be hard to locate when using a screen reader, and even more difficult to work with, since when you press a cursor routing key on the Braille display to simulate a mouse click on it, the focus often moves to somewhere else on the screen. Then you have to work hard to locate back to that timeline again. My solution here was to script my screen reader with a hotspot at the timeline with a shortcut key assigned to it, so that I could move focus back there by pressing a key.

Among the third-party software packages developed for SDRs, I have found few that I can recommend. The only one I can think of, is HDSDR. Especially in the current version from November 2013, there are a number of useful shortcut keys, and the program seem to work very well. I have used it a bit with an AFEDRI SDR I have, and have also used it to play back older SDR-IQ recordings.

So, if nothing else works, Iwould say that HDSDR is the solution, since it is both easy to use and have support for a number of receivers. And it is free, as you certainly know.

[…]Please write back if I can help you any further”

Brilliant!  What a treasure trove of information for our visually-impaired SDR listeners and operators.  Thanks so much, Mr. Bråtveit, and please keep in touch with us here at the SWLing Post.  73s!

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