RDS / RBDS: FM on Display

The Radio Broadcast Data System (RBDS),1 as it is called in the North America, or simply RDS in the rest of the world, is a protocol for embedding data in an FM/VHF broadcast. The data can include the station name, program content and even the time of day. I have three radios that display some of this information on the FM band, some better than others.

RDS information is divided into segments, some of which are displayed on one or more of my radios:

  • PS: Program Service Name – may identify the station
  • PTY: Program Type – comes from a fixed list including things line NEWS or SPORTS
  • RT: Radio Text – this is a 64-character string of text that could provide more information about the station, program, or the title and artist of a song being played
  • DATA or CT: Time and date. May also include station call sign.
  • PI: Program identification: identifies the station with a regionally unique 4-digit hexadecimal number. Codes for the US can be found at the National Radio Systems Committee page.

It would seem that there are three practical uses for the radio enthusiast:

  1. Identifying the station
  2. Identifying the program content
  3. Setting a clock

Features and differences

Here are my three radios and what they can do:

Segment/featureEton Elite ExecutiveQodosen SR-286XHDATA D-808
PSYYY
PTYYYY
RTYYY
DATAYYY
PIY
Set clockYYY
RDS/RBDS settingY
RDS Off/OnYY
Radio Model RDS Capabilities

Clock setting for these radios is either Manual or Automatic. In Automatic mode, each of these radios automatically sets the clock from RDS data when it is received. I consider the feature useless because stations do not always have the right time; for example, one local station didn’t “spring forward” and update their time for Daylight Savings Time.

Each radio has a button to select which segment to display: it’s the [R·D·S] button on the SR-286, [RDS MODE] on the Elite Executive and [INFO] on the D-808. The RDS feature has to be turned on explicitly on the Elite Executive by pressing the [RDS] button or the [PAGE] plus [R·D·S] on the SR-286.

RDS vs RBDS

Differences exist between the two implementations; for example, the DATA segment is supposed to indicate the station call sign in RBDS, but not RDS. Also the Program Type codes are different.

Only the Qodosen SR-286 has an explicit setting for the mode. We’ll test to see if the other radios figure it out correctly. The Wikipedia article footnoted at the end has full technical details.

Testing

Testing is made more complicated by the need for a strong signal to get RDS information, inconsistencies in what radio stations actually include and the fact that information is not always available immediately. It may require a one-minute wait for the DATA segment to be broadcast during which the radio may display “NO DATA” (the D-808 will display “NO DATE”). I was misled to think none of my local stations had time data by not waiting long enough.

Note: the SR-286 manual has a mistake, saying that repeated presses of the [R·D·S] button cycle through PS/PTY/RT/DATA/PI. It actually displays them in the order, PTY/PS/RT/DATA/PI.

PS Segment

Three Radios displaying PS Segment (click to expand)
Continue reading
Posted in Radio | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thunderous Clash of the Weather Radios

Weather radios are an interesting genre of radio. Some of them are specifically designed as emergency radios and some are general coverage radios with a weather feature added. I seem to have accumulated 8 weather radios. Here’s the photo array:

Top row: HanRongDa HRD-701, Mesqool CR1009 Pro, LiJiANi Rd239
Second row: iRonsnow IR-688, XDATA D-109WB
Third row: XHDATA D-608WB, Mesqool CR1015, Raddy RF75A

Disclosure: XHDATA provided me with a pre-sales version of D-608WB in exchange for my input on their product manual. The radio tested here may not be the final version. I am under no obligation to review the radio publicly or to say nice things about it.

I used to own a Kaito weather radio, but it got wet and died. The radios tested here are on the low end of the emergency radio market.

Continue reading
Posted in Product Reviews, Radio | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Before the battle: iRonsnow IR-688.

I have a new radio this week, an iRonsnow IR-688 emergency radio.

iRonsnow emergency radio (photo by author)

I bought it on sale for $34.99 from Amazon, not to collect or to test, but to sit in the window and get weather alerts. It did arrive, however, in time to participate in my Thunderous Clash of the Weather Radios.

I don’t plan to make an in-depth review because while it does receive shortwave, it’s not particularly useful in the genre both for lack of sensitivity and because tuning takes a very long time. Todd Erbert has a fine YouTube video for someone interested in deciding whether or not to buy one of these. His conclusion is that it’s not worth it unless maybe on sale for $35 or less.

Several of my radios are capable of receiving weather alerts, but only 3, including this one, that could be classed as emergency radios: solar charging, crank charging, flashlight, SOS siren, high-capacity battery and the ability to charge other devices. The other two didn’t work out for me.

The iRonsnow IR-688. It has an advertised 10,000 mAh charging capacity that is provided by 2X 5000 mAh (without disassembling the radio, I can’t say what the two batteries are, but 21700’s are a good bet). Todd Erbert measured the capacity and concluded that the batteries actually totaled 8000 mAh, but that is still a lot.

It reminds me a lot of my old Mesqool CR-1009, but that’s not worth detailing. The important bits are:

  • Advertised 10,000 mAh reserve power (or 8,000 measured)
  • Solar charging
  • Crank charging
  • SOS siren
  • Flashlight, flood light and reading light
  • Digital display
  • Can be powered by 3 AAA batteries
  • Permanently attached battery door
  • Handle
  • Can charge external devices (USB A jack)
  • Charged via USB-C, but not with USB-C power distribution chargers. USB-A cable is supplied.
  • Stereo (2 speakers)
  • ATS memory.

It’s advertised as IPX3, defined as:

IPX3 is a water resistance rating that means a device is protected from sprays of water up to 60°. The equipment being tested must not experience any harmful effects from the water being sprayed at it from any direction.

There is an easy way for water to get in the battery door, so don’t spray it from the back or leave it in the rain.

The radio seems to work and I received stations on all bands. FM stereo was nice for such small speakers, but nothing to write home about. This radio suffered from a lot pop with everything you did when using headphones. Headphones were OK otherwise, but not outstanding.

The manual is extremely brief, although the radio isn’t complicated. One warning left me pondering: “In case of a crash, please directly dial “AAA.” It would seem more normal to dial “911” but maybe China is different. The radio has auto tune storage (ATS) that scans the full bands, not just broadcast frequencies, turning a long process into a painfully long process. There is no specification of how many memories are supported. It seems to be at least 30 per band.

There are two shortwave bands: 3.2 – 10 MHZ and 10 – 22 MHz. Why two bands? Given the painfully slow tuning, it helps a little to get to a closer staring point. It also gives more ATS memory slots.

In testing, I found the performance good on FM, about average for the radios I own. MW was essentially useless. It only weakly received my strongest local station during the daytime, although it did pick up more at night.

The burning question is how long it can stay on the window sill in weather alert mode supplemented by the tiny solar panel.

Posted in Radio | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Qodosen SR-286 Tuning Tutorial

I’ve never seen a radio with more tuning modes than the Qodosen SR-286. I thought it might be worth the time to go through everything related to the topic in a tutorial.

Broadly speaking there are 5 areas in tuning:

  1. Direct frequency entry
  2. The Tuning knob
  3. Auto Tune Storage (ATS)
  4. The Arrow keys
  5. Automatic searches (seek)

Within those, there are several options.

Direct Frequency Entry

The primary means of direct entry is to key the frequency and then press AM or FM. If one keys 153+AM, the radio will tune to 153 kHz and set the band to LW. Keying 1530+AM sets the band to MW and tuns to 1530 kHz. Keying 15300+AM sets the band to SW and tunes the radio to 15300 kHz. FM of course selects the FM band. This automatic band selection is very convenient and makes a lot of sense. The user doesn’t have to figure out what the current band is, or worry about setting it to quickly tune a station.

Continue reading
Posted in Radio | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Qodosen SR-286 Update

It’s been a few weeks now with the Qodosen SR-286 receiver. This is a status report.

I have over 30 shortwave receivers, some pretty good ones. I find myself using the SR-286 almost all of the time. The only exceptions are when I get out the Tecsun PL-990 to receive SSB — in particular LRA-36 in Antarctica, and the XHDATA D-808 to compare something.

I use the SR-286 with its telescopic antenna alone, with Tecsun AN-07 extender, and with an external long wire. I’m not using the MLA-30+ much right now.

I really like the radio. One advantage is its compact size over the PL-990. I like the controls. The automatic scans pick up weak stations so well that I don’t need to do band scans by hand.

It’s sensitive, it sounds good and it’s fun to operate. The display is easy on the eyes in any light.

The bottom line is that I’m using the SR-286 to the exclusion of the others.

Update:

I tried a feature on my SR-286 for the first time last night and I really like it.

When the tuning knob is pressed in, the radio switches between FAST, SLOW, AUTO and STOP modes. I tried AUTO. In this mode, the radio begins a search for the next station and stops when one is found (either up or down depending on which way it’s turned). I found that it stopped for faint stations. There is no DSP chuffing sound when tuning this way.

Update 2

Hint for North American SR-286 users:

The DEFAULT values for FM de-emphasis and RDS settings are wrong for North America. Also the MW step should be set.

To change the values, turn the radio off, then long-press the SET button until MW-XXK appears. (XX will either be 9K or 10K).

If you see MW-9K, short press the SET button to change it to MW-10K.

Continue turning the knob until you see either FM-RDS or FM-RBDS. If it’s FM-RDS, short press the SET button to changed it to FM-RBDS.

Continue turning until you see “FMDE-XXUS.” If XX is 50, quick press SET to change it to “FMDE-75US.”

Posted in Radio | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Burning Question: is the Qodosen SR-286 worth it?

Introduction

The Qodosen SR-286 set me back $129 US, a price tag that made me pause before purchasing. I wasn’t buying a radio on a whim. What drew me in was its novelty and the promise of improved performance compared to my current setup. An online review even touted its superiority on FM.1 [Update: new price $113.57 US with free shipping]

As I share my findings and experiences with the SR-286 through information and videos, I expect to field questions about its value proposition. Is it worth the price, or would a more budget-friendly option like the XHDATA D-808 suffice? Perhaps some might wonder if it’s worth holding out for a pricier model like the Sangean ATS-909 X2.

It’s essential to recognize that different people prioritize different features. For instance, one comment on Facebook said, “If it doesn’t have SSB, it’s off my list.” If you share that sentiment, need AIR band coverage, or specifically require a radio that runs on AA batteries, then the SR-286 might not be the right fit for you. Its HF coverage tops off at 27,000 kHz, so you won’t pick up the US Citizens Band (CB) or the 10m amateur radio band. Additionally, it lacks weather band and VHF functionality. However, once you move past those limitations, the SR-286 starts to reveal its intriguing qualities.

Conventional wisdom in the world of portable receivers suggests that once you enter the upper echelon, all radios essentially receive the same stations; however, I’m inclined to challenge that assumption with the SR-286.

Continue reading
Posted in Product Reviews, Radio | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Qodosen SR-286: First Impressions

Qodosen SR-286 (photo by author)

I’ve been waiting for 21 days for the radio to arrive and in that time I wrote a blog article in anticipation and studied the manual. Now that it’s here I want to share my first impressions. During the wait I researched and decided that I was going pronounce the brand, “CHO do sen.”

First, the radio felt heavy, but really isn’t particularly heavy; it’s just small. It actually weighed 8.6 oz. with the battery installed. I checked and yes, it has rubber feet. It comes in a fold over Velcro fastened case, sort of a khaki color. I like having a case. The kit also includes a USB Micro charging cable. What aren’t included are earphones, a product box and a manual. Good thing I found a manual on line. The manual says that the radio comes with a manual. OOPS.

The radio is small, in fact identical in size to the Sihuadon R-108, with the same 19 1/4″ antenna length.

I quickly noted that I really like the way this radio tunes. You don’t have to set a band. If you want 351 kHz LW, just punch in 351 and hit AM. If you want 1070 kHz MW, just punch in 1070 and hit AM. If you want 6070 kHz SW, just punch in 6070 and hit AM. If you repeatedly press AM without entering a frequency, it will skip from LW to MW to SW. The buttons feel good too.

Continue reading
Posted in Product Reviews, Radio | Tagged , | 1 Comment