Every Radio is an Adventure!
Talking with a friend of mine Rod (KJ4IAM) tonight about radios, he made an insightful comment. He said whenever he listens to a new radio, regardless of how simple or complex the radio, it is like hearing the world from a different angle. I was struck by that comment because I believe it may be why those of us enamored by radio seem to always have room for “one more” in the old radio arsenal.
I just recently purchased an inexpensive portable by Tecsun mainly because of the price and reputation of the radio. It’s not like I need another portable, but since a company had them for almost half their normal price, I couldn’t resist. I found out about the sale thanks to SWLing’s author Thomas Witherspoon, who often posts deals he finds on his blog. He has cost me not a small amount of money over the years! The PL-380 has a good reputation as a solid portable radio, and at $25 with free shipping, can you blame me?!
While I only received it today, I was immediately impressed by the heft of the radio and the solid build, as well as the number of accessories which came with the radio. The manual was in English (thankfully!), there was a case, a pair of ear buds, and a clip-on antenna. Very impressive! The features of the PL-380 are readily available so I won’t go over them here, but I was immediately impressed when I saw the radio includes a temperature display when turned off, along with the usual clock. Nice feature! I also appreciate that it has a tuning dial that, while not completely like an analog dial of old, allows random tuning without having to press a button.
I decided to give it it’s first challenge by seeing if it could capture a station I was hearing with my main ham rig connected to an outdoor antenna. Perhaps a bit unfair, but I was curious. The station was a pirate broadcast (“Radio Free Whatever”) on 6.965 MHz, broadcast on USB. While the PL-380 does not have sideband capability, I was still curious if it could hear the station at all. It was able to pick up the station, and while not as strong as that coming from the outdoor antenna, it would have been copyable if tuned to USB. I am looking forward to playing with this radio more as time allows.
Every Radio is Unique
Back to my original point, every radio hears the world differently, and as we get attuned to our various radios, we hear the subtle differences. This may be due to different manufacturers, different components, different speaker sizes or antenna lengths, but they are all just a bit different. They feel different in the hand, they respond to tuning differently, and a dozen other little nuances. Each radio puts its own touch to the received signal, and this becomes part of the fun of listening. Some folks find this a distraction, but I do not. It is part of what I enjoy about the hobby. I listen to a radio not to see what is wrong with it, but rather to discover what about the radio I can enjoy.
A radio like my Yaesu FRG-7 is a joy because it is a “blast from the past” requiring a much more complicated tuning process. I compare it to driving a stick shift versus driving an automatic. A stick shift makes you feel a real part of the machine, and so does tuning in the FRG-7’s three-stage tuning process. But I love it! If I am not in the mood to be quite as involved, I will certainly pick up a different radio and enjoy the automatic tuning controls which allow me just to spin the dial and forget it.
If you get caught up in pinpoint accuracy, filter manipulations, and crystal clear audio, then the older radios will not be of much interest. And that’s okay! There are plenty of modern radios with all the bells and whistles you could want, and I own several. But I personally enjoy spending an evening with an old boat anchor like the FRG-7 or a Swan 350 or a Realistic DX-160 to feel the nostalgia such radios engender, as well as the warmth of their unfiltered signals. Occasionally I go back in time even farther with an old Halicrafters I have, or an old Delco radio given to me by a dear friend, both from the 1940s.
From old tube radios, to transistor radios on up through SDR with virtually no analog control, all radios hold a fascination for me and I hope they always will. Seeing as how I have had a special relationship with radios for the last 45 years or more, I feel pretty confident I will shuffle off this mortal coil with more radios around me than a man has a right to, but what a way to go!