Radio nostalgia

Here’s my nostalgia photo from December of 1967. My “radio shack” was a bedroom closet.

My “radio shack” from December, 1967

The Eico signal generator, the Lafayette KT-340 shortwave receiver and the Heath kit IO-21 scope were all built from kits. Sort of in the center is my first shortwave radio, a Nanaola 10NT-504, 10-transistor single conversion radio that covered LW from 145-375m MW, and shortwave from 1.8 to 28 MHz in three contiguous bands. It had Vernier tuning. Great little radio.

On the wall I can recognize QSL cards from Radio Moscow, RCI, CHU, WWHV, Radio Japan, K4USA and WNYW.

In the same file box where I found the photo, I found the instruction sheet for the 10NT-504, which I’ve scanned for posterity. Also in that box was my very first radio:

Gilbert series-tuned “crystal radio” schematic and build sheet

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ZHIWHIS ZWS-603 Shortwave Radio Review

The ZHIWHIS XWS-603 appears to be the same radio as the HanRongDo K-603.

Zhiwhis ZWS-603 front view
Zhiwhis ZWS-603 radio, Bluetooth speaker, MP3 player

What’s unusual about this radio

This one is not like anything I’ve used before in several ways. First, it combines a shortwave radio, an MP3 player, a sound recorder and a Bluetooth speaker.

I’ve come to expect digital displays to consist of 7-segment digits, or predefined messages or bars on the display, but the ZWS-603 is a general dot-matrix screen. This means that it can display menus and draw pictures. It can switch languages and display English, Chinese and Japanese. Also because of the dot matrix design, the radio can put up very large characters, including a very visible frequency display.

XWS-603 Screen Detail

While the display is visible, the button labels are tiny and very difficult to read except in strong light.

One feature that I have never before seen in a portable shortwave radio is a “Mute” button. Just as MP3 players have a Play/Pause button, this radio uses the same button provided for its MP3 function to mute the radio. It’s great for comparing radios.

The radio has relatively few buttons for its functionality, which means that many of the buttons serve dual functions. Multi-use buttons are not unusual, but these will take some getting used to. The volume control doubles as a “next station memory” button with a long-press to change the volume. The MP3 Next/Previous track doubles for up/down tuning in the radio, since it has no tuning knob (or knob of any kind).

In actual use, I didn’t find myself stumbling because of multiple use of a button (something that has been a problem with my Tecsun PL-330).

USB functionality

I plugged a USB cable into the radio and my Windows computer’s USB hub. Nothing happened except that the battery in the radio started charging; however, when I explicitly followed the instructions by plugging in the supplied USB cable directly into the computer, Windows installed a driver for the radio. Once that was done, two things happened. The radio became a speaker for the computer, and the TF card in the radio because accessible as a disk for the computer, where I could copy files. I’m happy to report that music files inside directories are accessible by the radio. When playing a music file, the file name is displayed. According to the advertising, it will also display lyrics for files with them.

Note that the radio cannot be used when the USB cable is connected to a computer, although it can be used when connected to a dumb charger.

Bluetooth

The ZWS-603 is also a Bluetooth speaker. Switching between MP3, auxiliary audio cable (supplied) or Bluetooth input is accomplished with a Mode button.

I was readily able to connect the radio to my Samsung TV via Bluetooth, but I had to try twice before it showed up on my Windows computer. It also paired with an iPhone.

MP3

MP3 is rather straightforward. It has a the typical controls for Next track, Previous Track and Play/Pause. It displays the file names on the screen. When plugged into the computer, songs can be copied directly to the TF/Micro SD card in the radio.

The user can pick a particular song by number, entering the number on the numeric keys. It plays well with folders. Songs can be selected by:

  • Select all songs
  • Repeat the current song
  • Repeat songs in the selected folder
  • Play random songs

Radio

This device is sold as a radio, and it is that. As it comes, the full low FM range is available and the AM step is 10 kHz. The shortwave step is 5 kHz.

I’ll say right off the bat that AM performance sucks. At midnight I could not get a single clear AM station. I could hear stations but all were very noisy. FM was good as was shortwave, not on par with my Tecsun PL-660, but still c0mpetitive.

I tried daytime reception of WWV on 15 MHz around noon local time. It was a weak signal on my PL-330, but very weak on the on the ZWS-603 (with a shorter antenna), but it does demonstrate that the radio doesn’t mute very weak signals.

The MP3 track controls double as tune up/down buttons, and long presses scan for the next station. Repeatedly pressing the SW button selects the various shortwave bands. You can also enter the frequency directly on the number keys and short press Play/Pause. Stepping is quite slow, about 1 second per frequency change.

There are memory presets: 80 on FM, 60 on MW and 300 on shortwave. Stations can be stored manually by long-pressing the 5 key (sub-labeled MEMO), the number, and pressing Play/Pause. Long pressing Play/Pause starts a memory scan with automatic storage.

Recording

Recording can come from 4 sources:

  • Live sound recording
  • Aux input jack
  • Bluetooth
  • The radio

While the recordings are stored on the TF card, they are placed in different folders on the TF/Micro SD card. FMRECORD, for example, is the folder for radio recordings (not just FM) and microphone recordings go into the MRECORD folder. I thought the microphone recordings were quite good. Recordings can be made in 3 quality levels with 128-bit sampling the default.

Conclusion

The ZWS-603 is not going to take the world by storm. It doesn’t have sync/SSB reception. It’s not as sensitive as the Tecsun PL-330/PL-660 radios. There’s no tone/bandwidth control. It’s memory system lacks features. It doesn’t have a clock, and hence no alarm (it does have a sleep timer). However, the wide range of record/playback capability, Bluetooth, the imminently readable display, the compact size/light weight and a very nice speaker make this $25 radio a good deal. If the button labels were easier to read, it would be a keeper.

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Unboxing the ZHIWHIS ZWS-603

My pet peeve about “unboxing” videos is that invariably the item being unboxed was already unboxed before the video, and often not even in the box. This isn’t a video, but this series of photos is authentic, and taken as the radio was being unboxed.

The radio comes with:

  • ZWS-306 radio
  • Plush carry pouch
  • 14-page instruction sheet
  • Audio cable
  • USB cable
  • BL-5C rechargeable battery

The radio covers AM/FM and shortwave between 4.75 and 21.85 MHz.

My first reaction was that the radio was broken because every radio I’ve ever had with a digital display displays a clock after batteries are inserted, but not this one — it doesn’t have a clock. After I remembered that I just pressed the Power button. It didn’t come on. Rather than a separate lock button, this radio requires a long press to turn it on and off. Once I figured that out, the bright green display welcomed me (it actually says “welcome”).

This is my first radio with a menu interface. I was able to tune stations without consulting the instructions, but I will definitely need to read them to get much farther.

This is my first use of the WordPress gallery feature.

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Great price?

I’m completely recycling my shortwave radio inventory, selling mostly, but I bought a couple of new ones to check out.

One new one I ordered this morning was an XHDATA D-808. It’s feature rich, combining SSB with Air band and RDS. One expects a feature set like that to cost at least $80, and I wouldn’t have bought at that price, but AliExpress offered it for half that:

AliExpress listing for XHDATA D-808 radio

In the end, the order totaled $39.36 including shipping.

Just for grins, I checked eBay to see if I could have gotten a better deal. Apparently not. Here’s one offer:

eBay listing for XHDATA D-808 radio

I wondered how that “GREAT PRICE” came about; eBay says:

A Great Price badge helps eBay shoppers quickly and easily discover high quality inventory at highly competitive prices. When a Great Price badge appears with your qualified listing, your item will get buyers’ attention because they know they’ve found a great product at a great price.

https://pages.ebay.com/seller-center/listing-and-marketing/great-price-badge.html

There were 2 offers on eBay at that price with the “GREAT PRICE” logo, and as far as eBay is concerned, that is a great price. There were a total of 36 listings for the radio on eBay, and including shipping that $100.98 is the lowest price, but there were many much higher than that, topping off at $285!

A little reading finds that this is not a new radio, but one from late 2017, shipped to the US for a short time, but then suddenly not available here. You can read about that at the SWLing site. There are also reviews of the radio at eHam, whose readers give it between 1 and 5 stars. One big negative they report is a poor memory management system, but I rarely use that feature.

So I’m either getting a radio at an extraordinary price, or ripped off.

Update:

Well, I guess I’m sort of ripped off.

AliExpress listing for XHDATA D-808 radio

Update 2

That last was just too good to be pass up, so I ordered 2 of them to sell on eBay. As I taught my children, it it sounds too good to be true, then it’s probably not true. Both Ali Express sellers failed to ship the radios and I got refunds instead. $100.98 is more than I want to pay for a radio that’s not especially better than what I already have, so I’ll just do without.

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Deciphering the Kchibo KK-9615

The Kchibo KK-9615 is a Chinese AM/FM/Shortwave shirt-pocket radio from a decade or so ago. It has analog tuning and a digital display with clock and alarm.

I know of no English-language manual for the Kchibo KK-9615, but through trial and error I discovered how it works. Below is a labeled photo.

Kchibo KK-9615 Radio with Labeled Buttons

Radio operation

The power switch is on the side of the radio, lower right. The tuning knob is on the side of the radio, upper right. The volume control is on the side of the radio, upper left. To tune an FM station, flip the power switch downward, extend the antenna, press the FM button (see photo), and tune the radio with the tuning knob. The large display shows “FM” and the frequency below. To tune MW (AM) press the MW/SW button and set the band selection (top of radio) to MW. The display shows “MW.” To tune shortwave, again press the MW/SW switch and use the band selector to pick the desired shortwave band; the display shows “SW.”

Bandswitch

Alarm On/Off/View

With the radio on or off, press the Alarm Off/on button to turn the alarm on or off. A clock icon will display on the radio screen to indicate when it’s set. To display the alarm time, press the View Alarm button.

Time/Alarm setting

To set the clock or the alarm time, first turn the radio off. Press and hold the Time 1 button while pressing the Time 2 button repeatedly to set the hour. Press and hold the Time 2 button while repeatedly pressing the Time 3 button to set the clock minutes. To set the Alarm time, press and hold the View Alarm button while repeatedly pressing the Time 1 button to set alarm hour. Press and hold the View Alarm button while repeatedly pressing the Time 3 button to set the alarm minutes.

Using the Radio

The most noticeable thing about the radio is how loud it is, especially for its size. The size is quite small; I measured 113 x 72 x 21 mm. I found reception to be good for a cheap pocket radio. Here is the frequency coverage:

Kchibo KK-9615 Back Detail
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Keepers

I’ve been interested in shortwave radio since I was a teenager, and over the decades I’ve owned quite a few shortwave radios. Now it’s time to downsize and I’ve been selling radios on eBay right and left, 61 so far. As the inventory dwindles, it’s time to decide what to keep.

Some I want to keep for sentimental value and some to use. The first shortwave radio I had was in the 1960’s in high school, a Nanaola Model 10NT504. That radio is long gone, but I found a photo of one online:

Nanaola 10NT504 Shortwave Radio

It had MW, longwave and 3 shortwave bands. The two features I fondly remember were the dial light button and the concentric tuning control with the outside control knob for coarse tuning and the central knob for fine tuning. It worked quite well.

My next radio was a Lafayette KT-340, a multi-band shortwave radio that I built from a kit. This is what it looked like:

Lafayette KT-340 – Photo from Rigreference.com

Here’s a photo from 1967 of me with both of these radios.

Photo of my radio equipment in 1967

A number of other radios have come and gone including a RadioShack DX-60, DX-300 and DX-400 that I very much enjoyed at the time, but back to the question of what to hang onto from the existing accumulation.

Panasonic RF-085

Panasonic RF-085 AM/FM/Shortwave radio.
Panasonic RF-085 5-band receiver

This is the oldest shortwave radio I still own. They were made around 1985. It’s a single conversion AM/FM/Shortwave radio. Shortwave is segmented into 3 bands, but provides continuous coverage from 2.3 to 18 MHz; it has an LED tuning indicator and a tone control plus a connection for an external antenna that can be wired as a dipole for FM or a long wire with ground for shortwave. That’s pretty advanced, and the only radio I still have with an explicit connection for ground. I still have the external AC power supply for it. This one is definitely a keeper for sentimental reasons.

I took it for a spin and I was immediately impressed by the big sound from the speaker. It latched onto stations well and the LED tuning indicator was helpful. One thing stuck me about tuning this receiver, that it is quiet between stations, where I’m used to hearing a great deal of noise. I finally found my original Panasonic RF-085 Operating Instructions (manual) and since there appears to be none online, I scanned it put it here on the blog as well as some product specifications I found online.

Panasonic RF-085 Specifications

Lextronix E1100

Eton E1100 – Stock photo

The E1100 (AKA Tecsun DR-920, AKA Grundig G1100) is a very simple radio, a basic analog tuned, single conversion radio with a digital frequency display. It receives AM, FM and 10 shortwave bands. I used to have two of these and I gave one to a friend who had been a ham radio operator earlier in his life. He died of cancer and I heard that he enjoyed the radio towards the end. So this radio reminds me of him.

I gave the radio a try and was pleasantly rewarded with a good number of stations from this sensitive receiver.

Next: Three radios from Tecsun on my potential keeper list

Tecsun PL-330, PL-380, PL-660

Tecsun PL-660

I think this is probably the best radio I have, making it a strong candidate for a keeper. It has a staggering 2000 memories, covering AM/FM/LW/SW with SSB demodulation. It’s my only air band radio, not that I listen to that very often. This radio is larger and heavier, less amenable to travel. It has an external antenna jack.

Tecsun PL-380

I bought several digital signal processing radios from Tecsun over the years looking for the ultimate travel radio. The PL-380 has been around the world with me and it has done a very good job. It has automatic band scanning, 550 memories, and direct frequency entry. It also has a thermometer. The one odd omission is that it lacks an external antenna jack. It’s a very compact radio lightweight radio, has nice padded case and can charge its 3 AA batteries with a mini USB cable. It was definitely on my keeper list, at least until recently when I bought the next model. Now it’s sold.

Tecsun PL-330

This moderately-priced radio does it all, building on the PL-380 while adding SSB demodulation. It also has Enhanced Tuning Mode (ETM+) that scans the entire shortwave band and stores the stations it finds in a separate bank of memories for each hour of the day. That’s on top of other banks of memories that can be scanned and stored separately. It adds the external antenna jack, but loses the thermometer. This radio uses a smaller rechargeable battery, making it thinner and lighter than the PL-380. It uses a micro USB cable for charging. This one goes on my next trip.

What I don’t like about the PL-380 and the PL-330 is that it’s obvious that they use synthesized tuning as there is a chuffing sound between each frequency tuned. The PL-660 doesn’t have that unpleasantness.

That’s it for the serious shortwave listening radios, but there are a few more keeper candidates.

Zhiwhis ZWS-603

This was a $24.99 whim from Amazon, the Zhiwhis (I hear that as “gee whiz”) ZWS-603. It not only has MP3 but also Bluetooth and a feature I wish I had in other radios, recording (from four sources: an internal microphone, an audio cable, Bluetooth and the radio). It also has a remarkable 3W speaker and a claimed bass port (keeping in mind that the speaker is only 2.7″). This is what it looks like:

Zhiwhis ZWS-603 – Amazon product photo

On a 19″ monitor, that picture is a 50% bigger than the real radio.

We’ll see if this one is a keeper. One major drawback is that it has no clock.😱

Degen DE15

Degen DE15

I just like the ergonomics of this one and the really bright green screen. It’s as bright as in the photo. It has synthesized tuning and can also use a USB cable to charge batteries (3 AAA in this case). It’s definitely a shirt-pocket radio. It also sounds rather good, especially with stereo headphones. It’s main drawback is that it lacks a tuning dial, relying instead on buttons.

A new/old entry – Kaito RWX911

I discovered that I had salted away a Kaito RWX911 because it had such a nice metallic blue color and it had a real tuning dial.

Kaito RWX911 Shortwave receiver

One useful technique for keeping within my 9 shortwave radio budget is reclassification; therefore, any radio with a weather band is classified a “weather radio” whether it has shortwave or not, a radio up for auction on eBay or that didn’t sell is classified as “stored stuff” and a software defined radio is classified as an SDR (after all, it can receive weather!). I have two weather radios, around 6 “stored stuff” radios and one SDR.

Kaito KA29

This article continues to be updated. In addition to the 7 (by my count) radios in the list, I added a Kaito KA29. This shortwave radio can be used as a recording device and it has very good sound with quality headphones. Whether I’ll keep it for the long term is an open question. The display and button labels are very easy to read, but operation is somewhat counterintuitive, and shortwave coverage is separated into bands, leaving gaps between.

I’ve written another article comparing the Zhiwhis ZWS-603 and the Kaito KA29. Zhiwhis ZWS-603 vs Kaito KA29, These two radios occupy one niche and probably one of them will be retired or reclassified somehow.

That leaves one slot open

Originally that slot was reserved for an XHDATA D-808, an excellent radio that I thought I was going to get for a good price, but two orders for one defaulted and I’m left with the option of paying over $100. The radio might arguably be worth that (or not), but I already have two solid Tecsun radios for serious listening.

There are now 9 radios on the keeper list:

  1. Tecsun PL-660 (because it doesn’t chuff, is a great all around radio, has SYNC, and air band)
  2. Tecsun PL-330 (lightweight and convenient for travel, Enhanced Tuning System, and SSB)
  3. Eton E1100 (same as Tecsun DR-920, sensitive and simple)
  4. Kaito RWX911 (same as Tecsun R-911, because it’s blue and has a real tuning dial)
  5. Degen DE15 (a true pocket radio with a bright display, synthesized tuning, but alas no tuning knob)
  6. Panasonic RF-085 (my oldest remaining radio, sentimental, about the same size as the PL-660, great sound and remarkably quiet tuning shortwave)
  7. ZHIWHIS ZWS-603 (because I can record with it and it has a big 3W speaker and a “bass port.” I can use it to boost the sound of the other smaller radios and it has a very low price
  8. Kaito KA29 (because it has big buttons and orange accents)
  9. TBD
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Comparing 3 Tecsun radios: PL-660, PL-380, PL-330

I haven’t bought a radio in quite a while, but the new Tecsun PL-330 seemed quite capable, so I used the proceeds from selling off older radios on eBay to buy a new PL-330 (with firmware version 3306). I was primarily looking for an all-purpose model with emphasis on travel.

The PL-330 invites comparison with the earlier PL-380, both at similar price points and size, so I dug out my old A/B switch, plugged in the headphones and compared reception of CHU on 3300 kHz. I could not detect any difference in reception between the two radios — I thought the switch was broken. The switch was fine; the radios were just that close.

Tecsun PL-330, PL-380, PL-660

Note: the only manual that came with my PL-380 was in Chinese, so I found one online and have included it here. The others came with English-language manuals.

Size matters:

For travel purposes, size and weight are concerns. There’s a big difference. (Specifications from the manuals, weight with battery and case measured.)

  • PL-330 – 130 x 80 x 26 mm – 210g (238g with case and battery)
  • PL-380 – 135 x 86 x 26 mm – 200g (324 with case and batteries)
  • PL-660 – 187 x 114 x 33 mm – 470g (649 with case and batteries)

The PL-660 with case and batteries weighs more than the other two radios combined! The manual is just wrong on the depth measurement. The PL-330 is 24mm deep and the PL-380 is 29mm (rounded down). Part of the difference in depth is that the PL-380 has a kickstand structure on the back that adds to the thickness, but even without the kickstand, the PL-380 is noticeably thicker.

Batteries

Part of the weight difference comes from the batteries (my measurements used eneloop brand rechargeable batteries). The PL-660 uses 4 AA batteries; the PL-380 uses three AA batteries and the PL-330 uses one BL-5C cell phone battery (included), available on eBay for under $5 with free shipping.

Both the PL-330 and PL-380 can be charged in the radio by connecting a 5V DC source. The PL-380 uses a mini USB connector and the PL-330 a micro USB connector (in the models I have). The PL-660 requires a 6V external supply to charge the batteries.

Each radio has a setting to enable internal charging and to change the battery charge status indictor to take into account the lower voltage of rechargeable batteries.

Various features

The PL-380 seems to be unique among the three in having a thermometer. Use the “Display” mode button to switch between what’s displayed in the upper right corner of the screen. A long press of the “3” key with the radio OFF switches between 9 kHz and 10 kHz steps on the AM band and at the same time switches the temperature display from C to F.

The PL-380 and PL-660 have kickstands but the PL-33o does not. The PL-660 has an aircraft band but the other two do not. The PL-330 and PL-660 have external antenna connectors, but the PL-380 does not. Supposedly there is a secret long-press (“3” with the radio ON) for the PL-330 to switch AM/LW reception from the internal ferrite antenna to the external antenna. For more hidden features, visit the swling site.

The PL-330 can tune in 5 kHz or 1 kHz steps on shortwave, but in addition can be set to tune to a precision of just 10 Hz. This is used for SSB and SYNC tuning.

The PL-330 and PL 380 each have 27 buttons and 2 knobs, albeit not exactly the same ones. The PL-660 forges ahead with 28 buttons, 2 switches and 3 knobs. The two switches are for features lacking in the other radios, a DX/Normal/Local switch and a tone switch.

Sensitivity specifications are identical for each radio except for longwave where the PL-660 is rated at 5 mV/m compared to 10 mV/m for the other two.

Memories

All three radios have better memory than I do, organized in different ways:

  • PL-330. 850 memories, 100 LW, 150 MW, 300 SW, 100 AM, 100 SSB, 100 SYNC. In addition there is a separate memory set for the Enhanced Tuning Mode (ETM+) that stores stations found by automatic scanning, organized by band and for some bands, by time of day. For shortwave, there is a separate bank of memories for each hour of the day, and for AM there are 6 segments of time with their own memory bank. FM has only one bank. The user can also store individual stations manually. There is a total of 21 banks of ETM+ memory, but the number in each bank is not specified in the manual.
  • The PL-660 has an incredible 2000 memories. It has an Easy Tuning Mode (ETM) that can store 100 FM/AM/LW/Air stations each, 200 shortwave stations and 200 SSB frequencies. On top of that there are an additional 1200 memories organized in 12 pages of 100 memories each. It also has manual storing.
  • The PL-380 has a pathetic (just joking) 550 memories, 100 each for AM/FM/LW and 250 for SW. It also can scan and automatically store stations.

Frequency coverage

  • PL-330
    • LW 153-512 kHz
    • MW 520-1710 / 522-1620 kHz
    • SW 1711-29999 kHz
    • FM 64-108 / 76-108 / 88-108 MHz (depending on region; mine goes 87-108)
  • PL-380
    • LW 153-513 kHz
    • MW 520-1710 / 522-1620 kHz
    • SW 2300-21950
    • FM 87-108 / 64-108 / 75-108 MHz (depending on region; mine goes 87-108)
  • PL-660
    • LW 100-519 kHz
    • MW 520-1710 / 522-1620 kHz
    • SW 1711-29999 kHz
    • FM 76-108 / 87 MHz-108 MHz (depending on region; mine goes 87-108)
    • Air 118-137 MHz

Single sideband (SSB)

Only the PL-330 and PL-660 support SSB transmissions. The PL-660 uses a more traditional approach. On tunes the station and then uses a separate SSB BFO (beat frequency oscillator) control to zero in on the setting that generates the missing sideband. The PL-330 simply tunes the station by frequency and nails the reception. It is possible for the station or the radio to be slightly off frequency and for that the turning step can be set for 10 Hz to get it precisely, although this is usually not needed.

The two SSB radios also have synchronous tuning, a technique where only one sideband is received and the other excluded and regenerated in the radio. This can perform miracles when two stations are very close together.

Picking

Up until now, my go to radio for home use was the PL-660 and for traveling the PL-380. I prefer the PL-660 overall because of the lack of chuffing, the “chuff, chuff, chuff” sound heard when tuning. It’s annoying. The PL-660 tuning dial turns smoothly, while on the other radios there is a detent for each position that can be felt (more so on the PL-380 than the PL-330). At this point I don’t see any need to keep the PL-380 and I’ll probably sell it.

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