Saturday, March 19, 2011

More Radio Reminiscing....

In the seventies, the idea of a radio with ACCURATE display of the frequency was at first left to high priced bench radios. The rest of us would have to guess at the frequencies with our portables. As some of the earlier direct-readout radios appeared that were more mainstream (read: affordable), I started to save up for something that would work better for me.

Sony and Panasonic seemed to be competing at the time, releasing similar technology, and features at about the same price point. Panasonic's entry was the now highly-regarded RF-2200/DR22 model. The Panasonic was a large analog set, known for it's performance. It had a crystal-based calibration setup that allowed you to calibrate a band-spread readout for each band you were tuning, Sony's entry was the ICF-5900W. The reviews at the time praised both radios. The Panasonic had the edge on audio (partially because of its HUGE cabinet), while the Sony was clearly more compact and easier to deal with. I had saved up for one of them, and the Panasonic won, after a local department store advertised it one Sunday for somewhere around $140 I think. For the first time, I knew what frequency I was on without having to find a known station first and play "creep-and-guess". It was also my first portable with a useful BFO for utility and ham listening. The Panasonic became the center of the collection, with a couple of portables surrounding it, and a Mosley CM-1 ham receiver that was purchased to encourage me to get my license.

As digital portables evolved, one Sony model stood out as a particular bargain in performance. Sometime in the early 80's I purchased a Sony ICF-6500L. The Sony was much more portable than the RF-2200, and didn't need to be re-calibrated every 1 or 2 MHz. I gave the RF-2200 to my brother Paul. My sister in law still proudly displays it front and center as her main radio. The 6500 was accompanied by some less expensive portable at the time. A Toshiba RP-F11, a Magnavox D1875, an Emerson PSW-4010, a Realistic DX-370, and a few others that I may not remember. The Emerson recently turned up though when I was cleaning out my old garage. It had unfortunately not weathered the years so well. The Emerson was an interesting find. I think I purchased it at the Emerson factory outlet store in NJ. For a cheap radio, it performed very well, and had very powerful audio output. I used to to drive a good-size set of external speakers with it, and used it as a shop radio for years.

All of these were sold off at some point, or given away, except the Emerson. The Sony went to a good friend who I think still uses it. The Mosley went at a ham auction, along with some other ham gear. I'd love to pick up another 6500 but they bring quite a premium on eBay in good condition. I think the Emerson is another I would like to replace. I missed a NIB example once recently that came up for auction. Have to keep watching.

The next evolution for me was to PLL-tuned radios. More later.

Photo by Radio Rover on Flickr

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


11 and a half years ago, I joined the Tech industry. My career and my hobby merged at that point. I know that some people say that you should keep the two separate, but it works for me. I've decided to look back at the various technical interests I have had, and write a bit about them. I feel that everyone has something they do well. The secret is to find it.

As a child, my first fascination was with record players. I was obsessed with them and constantly tried to learn how they worked. I broke a few family phonographs trying to figure them out, and my mother tells me that I was always trying to make phonographs out of my tinker toys. One even "played" records. I used a safety pin as a needle and wedged a plastic margarine cup in for basic amplification. The record player obsession mellowed and in later years, turned into a great love for high fidelity equipment. More on that in a later post.

My brothers had radios. I remember Lee had a Wards Airline radio at some point and he used to see how many stations he could get. Chicago, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, these were places that were far away. Listening to a voice from these places was like magic to me. I started to listen myself.

We had a close family friend who called herself The Baroness Charlotte Serneaux Gregorin. Charlotte had travelled the world, and collected many worldly things. Upon hearing that I was interested in radio, she gave me a small National Panasonic 2-band portable radio, an R-803H. The AM portion of the radio got used right away. The shortwave band confused me though. I caught stations, but they moved around, and changed languages. I had a copy of Communications World laying around for the White's Radio Log AM guide, and there was a small section on shortwave in the back. I think it was finally a book I found at Radio Shack that explained things. Then the radio really got a workout.

This original radio started a lifelong love of shortwave radios. Not just for me though. When Charlotte upgraded me to another National Panasonic, an RF-355 I gave the R-803H to my friend David. He recently got back in touch with me after quite a few years, and thanked me for getting him interested in Radio, which he said started him along a path that defined his career. I still have the RF-355. It has long since passed it's mechanical half-life, and barely holds together, but is a reminder of where I came from, and the amazing woman that pointed me in the right direction.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Windows Mobile Revisited

After ending up with a bricked LG Optimus S the other day, I pulled Alec's old HTC Touch out of the mothballs as a quick stand-in. I have experimented with getting this WM 6.1 device to run Android several times (succesfully... see here) which it did a lot better than I expected. Now with getting used to Android on the Touch, and a few months with the Optimus, (plus time with iOS on my work-issued iPhone) I found that I had to flash the Touch back to its original WM 6.1 state to re-activate it.

I cannot believe I ever successfully used this device without throwing it from a speeding train (preferably into the path of a second speeding train passing by). It once made sense. Once. Now I cannot begin to tell of the frustrations of trying to navigate emails and other necessities of the day on this thing. The browser is a cruel joke against humanity. Also the lack of a decent podcasting app (Google Listen is great on Android), and a Google Reader client were killing me.

Upon hearing that I would have to wait a couple more days for the replacement Optimus, I re-flashed the Touch to Android 2.2. A little slow? Yes. A little buggy? Yes. I'll live with buggy slowness though. I recently heard that Microsoft's founder was a BIG fan of stylus interfaces, and felt that was the way to go in this emerging market. I think he's also the guy who thought the internet was a passing fad once. Fail Fail FAIL

With that said, I will be trying out a Windows Phone 7 device soon. Stay tuned.