26 November 2005

kbs qsl card

I sent a reception report to South Korea's KBS world radio in September 2005. They sent me a QSL (reception verification) card and two reception log forms. This picture shows the front of the QSL card.

Here's a photo of the reception log forms.

tecsun pl-350 review and experiences

I ordered a Tecsun PL-350 on eBay from Liypn, and received it approximately two weeks after sending the PayPal payment. There is already an excellent RadioIntel review of the PL-350, so I'm writing an addendum to that.

Overall I like the size, appearance, and feel of this radio. The size is ideal for a shortwave portable. The control layout on the front panel is sensible, although I often forget the function of the buttons along the right side. (The button labels are in Chinese, and the translated manual isn't always handy.)

The LCD display's amber backlight looks good and makes the screen readable in the dark. The display shows the frequency and the time simultaneously. A strength meter shows the battery life when the radio is off, and the signal strength with the radio on.

I like the size and responsiveness of the tuning knob. The radio has useful values for the fast and slow knob tuning modes, which are toggled with a button. It would be nicer to allow programmable fast and slow tuning steps. I mention a gripe in my previous article about tuning knobs, where fast tuning can leave the knob between notches.

The keypad lock button on the bottom right side of the radio has a nice click feel. One problem with the keypad lock is that sometimes I try to use a control, like the tuning knob or enter button, and the lock icon will blink even though the lock was off. I had to turn the radio off and on again to resolve this.

The flip stand on the back of the radio is a good size and thickness, but it has snapped out a couple times. I am taking more care to avoid losing the flip stand.

The rechargeable batteries included with the Tecsun PL-350 are only 1100 mAh, but one charge seems to last a reasonably long time. I had a bad experience with the battery sensor recently when it showed two bars with the radio off. In my opinion, that should provide at least a couple hours of operation. When I switched on the radio, it turned itself off and flashed an arrow under the battery icon to indicate the batteries were drained. Then the battery sensor displayed two bars again. This inaccuracy was frustrating as I was away from home when it happened.

The plastic grill over the speaker is somewhat flexible, so if I hold the radio in my left hand and place my thumb over the speaker, it flexes inward a bit under my thumb. I like the solid construction of other radios with a harder plastic case (such as the Kaito 1102 and Sony ICF SW7600GR).

I occasionally hear images while listening to shortwave. This is to be expected for a single-conversion radio, although the IF switch doesn't seem to help as I thought it would.

Having to use an antenna tuning dial in addition to tuning the radio's frequency may make using this radio a bit more complicated. I don't find it to be difficult, since the dial has a fixed range and the sweet spot for a given frequency can be found quickly.

Both the Tecsun PL-200 and PL-350 emit a constant, audible hiss through the speaker or headphones when the radio is on, even with the volume at zero. With the volume above zero, the hiss is less noticeable. My Tecsun digitally-tuned radios are definitely the hissiest in my radio collection.

This is a fun and useful radio. It reminds me somewhat of my Kaito 1102, with some additional features (a tuning knob, an antenna tuner, additional memory locations) while lacking other features (single sideband, dual conversion). If I get my hands on the new Eton E5 however, both the Kaito 1102 and Tecsun PL-350 may get less use.

22 November 2005

multiple radios: making the case

Before I purchased my first radio, I noticed a trend in shortwave radio reviews, where the reviewers compared each radio with several other similar radios. These people own so many radios with essentially similar features! Alas, now I have several shortwave radios of my own.

So how would I justify all of the radios I purchased? Each radio has one major feature or purpose that made it a must-have for me...

"I want a full-featured digitally-tuned portable shortwave radio." My first purchase was the Kaito KA1102. I was impressed by full coverage of the 3-30 mhz range, single sideband functionality, and a sub-$100 price. Truth be told, I could've stopped here and I'd be quite well equipped for shortwave broadcast listening.

"I want a radio with synchronous detect." For this feature I made the obvious choice of the Sony ICF SW7600GR. I understand that this radio's sync detect isn't as powerful as it could be; more powerful sync detect could help pull in weak signals. That would provide a benefit to my listening experience, as the SW7600GR is mostly useful for improving signals I can already receive adequately.

"I want a radio with a tuning knob." To discover the tuning knob experience, I purchased a Tecsun PL-350. After much use, I'll say that this is a terrific radio. The unit is well designed and constructed, and similar in operation to the PL-200 (and probably the PL-550 as well). However, it's only a single conversion receiver so it suffers from imaging problems. It also sometimes picks up unusual interference that goes away if I tune to another frequency and back again. I'll probably have a future post focusing on this radio.

"A tiny portable shortwave radio would be fun to have." Countycomm's GP-4L (a rebranded Degen DE202) looked nifty and tiny! I ordered it along with other nifty gadgets from Countycomm. This is the least useful (and least used) radio in my collection. It used to be my bathroom radio, but now I use a Tecsun PL-200 there.

"I should explore the low-cost, analog-tuned radio segment." My enthusiasm for this niche and fading hobby has me seeking to possess knowledge about radios at all price points. What could I recommend to someone in the $30 range? The Kaito WRX911 seemed obvious, and I learned that this radio (like many others commonly discussed today) originates with Tecsun. A recent article on this weblog covers similarities and differences of Tecsun's R-911, R-912, and R-9012 radios. The R-9012 looks to be the nicest in this bunch, although I wish it supported FM stereo.

16 November 2005

radio havana cuba schedule

Thanks to the wonderful and now-free Google analytics, I discovered that someone visited this weblog looking for Radio Havana (Cuba) frequencies. Here is the current English to North America schedule to my knowledge:

0100-0500 UTC: 6000 khz, 9820 khz
0500-0700 UTC: 6000 khz, 6060 khz, 9550 khz

I believe there are some additional frequencies, including a broadcast directed at Cuba itself in the "tropical" 75 meter band and one in the 25 meter band, but the frequencies listed above are the most reliable for me. Between 0100-0500 UTC I typically encounter strong interference, so I prefer to listen during 0500-0700 UTC.

Be sure to pay prime time shortwave a visit to look up more English broadcast schedules.

13 November 2005

tecsun r-912

I wanted to evaluate a low-end shortwave radio like the Tecsun R-911 (aka Kaito WRX911). I purchased a Tecsun R-912 on eBay for $21.90 (plus $4.60 for shipping). It shipped from China in a little more than a week. This article will highlight the differences between the R-911 (which I haven't used) and the R-912, as well as some notable features.

* The R-912 produces FM stereo through headphones whereas the R-911 only offers mono.
* The R-912 offers a 75m band, displaying a frequency range from 3.55 to 4.00 mhz; the R-911 lacks this band.
* Frequency ranges of shortwave bands differ slightly between these two radios, but both cover the full range of the so-called broadcast bands.
* On my R-912, although the 31m band shows its upper frequency as 9.90 mhz, I'm able to receive WWV's 10 mhz broadcast.
* The R-911 includes AM and FM on the band switch, but the R-912 has a separate AM/FM button.
* The R-912 defaults to FM when turned on. To hear AM or any shortwave band, the AM/FM button must be pressed.
* As discussed in a previous article, if you want the upper end of the North American AM band (1620-1710 khz), get the Kaito WRX911 rather than one of the Tecsun radios. The Tecsun radios only go as high as 1610 khz in the AM band.

I'm really happy with the sound through headphones with my Tecsun R-912. I use iPod earbud headphones. Aside from the tiny and small-sounding speaker, the radio is a great size. The whip antenna and flip stand are sturdy. Tuning drift is a problem for shortwave with this radio.

The Tecsun R-9012 is a new offering that has an R-911 style band switch, a 75m band like the R-912, wide frequency ranges for each band, and a tuning knob rather than a dial. It doesn't support FM stereo though.

To learn more about these radios, search ebay.com for "tecsun radio", and check the reviews page at RadioIntel.com.

12 November 2005

street lights

Before I moved at the end of October, I frequently walked along a bike trail near my apartment while listening to shortwave. A shopping center and a large parking lot were adjacent to the trail. I also spent time listening to my radios in the parking lot because of the lack of interference. At the far corner of the parking lot was a street light that flickered on and off every couple minutes.

Tonight, I took my first shortwave stroll in my new (but familiar) surroundings. After walking through a nearby park and returning to linger at a street corner near home, I noticed the street light above me changing color from white to pink. It then went out, and came back on with white light a short time later.

I appreciate returning to an old routine and duplicating it so precisely!

07 November 2005

shortwave summary: 07 nov 2005

Here are some of my older reception reports. I wanted to collect more before posting, but I have been busy moving. Also, it's rainy season in Northern California and I don't get good indoor reception. I have a DE31 active loop antenna but embarrassingly, I don't have it working yet. (I would love any advice my readers may have! I can post more in the comments section if you're curious.) (Edit: I just discovered that the wire between the radio and the antenna was backwards. Now it works!)

* 24 Oct 2005: Radio Havana Cuba was silent on 6000 / 6060 / 9550 khz at 0500 UTC, possibly because Hurricane Wilma was in the area. I heard RHC the next night but they didn't mention being off the air the day before.

* 18 Oct 2005: Some tribunal is meeting to determine if President George W. Bush's administration is responsible for crimes against humanity. (Radio Havana Cuba, 0515 UTC, 6000 khz, SIO 544)

* 17 Oct 2005: I briefly listened to the BBC (0339 UTC, 7120 khz, SIO 434) but there was a morse code message broadcasting on the same frequency, which was annoying. The BBC story was about popular dance music in Tanzania that is created with homemade instruments. Learning about music from a shortwave broadcast is always a pleasure.

* 17 Oct 2005: Based on what the Radio Taiwan International announcers were saying, the tapwater in Taipei isn't drinkable. Also: "Taiwan is not just an urban wasteland", and they mentioned that Taiwan is one of the most densely-populated parts of the world. I've never been to Asia, but now I have this image of concrete and steel cities, jammed with houses and apartment buildings. I've seen images of Tokyo in the movie, Lost in Translation. Anyway, their point was to talk about some of the beautiful natural scenery available in Taiwan. (0257 UTC, 5950 khz, SIO 555)

* 16 Oct 2005: Radio Havana Cuba announced that the United States was forming the National Clandestine Service which would focus on spying and covert operations. I don't get it. So what will the CIA be doing? (0510 UTC, 6060 khz, SIO 433)

05 November 2005

speaker-less portables

My initial use of portable shortwave radios was on walks while using headphones. So I started imagining a portable shortwave radio that didn't include a speaker. I purchased some used Eton E100 radios (aka the Tecsun PL-200) so I could experiment with simple modifications, including removing the speaker. (This is still on my to-do list.) I figured this would reduce the weight of the already-light radio, and possibly slightly improve battery life as the speaker wouldn't need to be switched on. Of course, the size of the radio would not change with this modification.

When I first saw the Eton website in the summer of 2005, they had announced the P'7132 radio which vaguely resembles an iPod. It is a black portable shortwave radio without a speaker. However, as I visit the Eton website today, details for the P'7132 are still unavailable. An email to Eton on 12 August 2005 asking about the P'7132 went unanswered; I sent them a second query just now.

When using a pocket shortwave radio like the P'7132, it would be nice to have a wire antenna running alongside headphone wires. I wonder if interference would be a problem.

Anyway, why did Eton announce the P'7132 on their website so many months before availability?