A fairly good article on Radio World has recently surfaced about the future of radio broadcasting. It’s an interesting perspective on what could happen if trends continue.
There is no doubt that traditional broadcasting is being transformed thanks to the internet and smartphones. More people have access to various amounts on content and all in the palm of their hands.
Perhaps the most affected medium in today’s world is radio. Before iPhones and Galaxy devices, people would hear their favorite programs and songs on the radio. Today, the smart device gives listeners access to stations worldwide, a massive library of songs, and programs.
What’s even more great about this trend is it is more curative and selective than what you’ll find on traditional media! People no longer have to time-shift or sit at one setting to catch their favorite content.
In 2016, podcast & streaming services like TuneIn, Spotify, and various others allow listeners more freedom in when and where to get radio content. The BBC, one of a few international broadcasters, has seen this coming and is aware of the new trends.
In an article to Radio World the UK-based broadcaster suggests that they “will be moving to an Internet-fit BBC, to be ready for an Internet-only world whenever it comes.” In many ways, it’s already happening.
For anyone who follows shortwave radio, it seems like in each passing day that a broadcaster is going off-the-air. In the past month, stations like The Mighty KBC, All India Radio, Radio Belarus, and Radio Marti have either left the HF bands or considered it. Interestingly, many broadcasters have an online presence and have used that as a way to defuse disappoint of leaving the airwaves.
As for local radio stations, we’re seeing declining audiences but nowhere near the severity of shortwave radio. You’ll also hear many local broadcasters actually push their internet feeds by either the station’s own app, TuneIn, or iHeartRadio. NPR program creators and personalities would like to push their podcasts and other web content, but the public broadcaster is unsure whether to push for web while keeping local member stations.
Radio has been changing over the years but perhaps 2016 is that “coming to Jesus” moment.
Personally, I’ve been listening to internet radio and podcasts for several years and have moved away from more traditional methods. I’ve sold my shortwave radio but instead use a Bluetooth radio and Chromecast.
I’ve also been more curative and selective in my content. There are roughly 21 podcasts subscribed to my Pocket Casts app and roughly 40 stations saved on my TuneIn Radio account (which is actually down from about 80). There’s a handful of local stations on the iHeartRadio app, but the ones I listen to the most are WREC 600 in Memphis & Q 104.3 in NYC.
In 10 years, there will be a significant amount of people listening on mobile devices. The fragmentation of media will be more apparent as more options become available for listeners.
As for content, more programs, whether on-air or not meant for broadcast, will certainly find better success online.
So will radio by completely on-line in 10 years…maybe but don’t expect most of your favorite stations to disappear.
The Tecsun PL-880 hit the radio market in 2013. Despite the decline in shortwave broadcasting, the Chinese radio manufacturer has been churning out receivers and they are meeting some success for this niche market.
The PL-880 is this first of its kind in this series. I have had it for about two weeks, so I put it through its paces and came up with some thoughts and impressions.
Appearance & Build Quality
This radio shares a similar button layout but has a unique design.
The appearance is angular like the PL-680 but has rounded edges.
For example, the numeric keypad buttons are a little larger than the PL-660’s, but is more responsive and clicky. This design choice is truly ergonomic and makes inputting frequencies and switching band easier to tune in.
Like the many of this company’s radios, the Tecsun PL-880 uses hard plastic. However, what sets this receiver apart is its superior build. There’s a hefty weight and everything is firmly placed.
The display and front is glossy but the rest of the set is matte. This is possibly the most well-built radio I’ve put into my hands.
The tuning and volume knobs are not wobbly and firmly in place. In fact, the knobs are metallic instead of the plastic attached to most Tecsun radios.
Here’s what you can expect in this model.
The PL-880 has full continuous coverage of AM, FM, shortwave, and LW bands. There is also Single Sideband Band equipped with BFO (beat frequency oscillator) with a separate fine tuning knob.
You can also adjust bandwidths in AM, SW, SSB, and LW modes. There are about four different selections. For example, in AM & shortwave, users can select between 2.3 (the narrowest), 3.5, 5 (mid-range), 9 Khz (the widest). While listeners may adjust according to reception conditions, I found the 5 KHz bandwidth to be the best choice for causal listening.
While most features in this radio can be found in similar radios like the PL-660 and PL-680, there are many hidden features as well. However, there was one that I truly wanted to test out: sync.
Synchronous detection, also found in the PL-660, PL-680, and Sony ICF-SW7600GR, is a hidden feature in the PL-880. In short, it is a method of signal processing that extracts a weak signal and replaces it with a stronger channel.
This, in turn, reduces or eliminates fading and interference from adjacent stations. Sync detection only works on AM, LW, and SW bands.
You would think that Tecsun would advertise this as a main feature of the PL-880, but there’s a good reason why it’s hidden.
Unlike the PL-660 & PL-680, sync doesn’t perform as well as those radios. Although it does hold a fading signal, the sound coming from a synced signal sounds muffled and garbled. It sounds better to have the feature disabled.
If you hoped sync detection was better in newer models like mine, then you may be disappointed. However, I still found this radio to perform quite well with the feature disabled. Since it is hidden anyway, I do not see it has a huge problem with this radio.
There is an external antenna jack along with a tone switch for bass and treble and antenna sensitivity controls for DX, Normal, and Local. There is a line-out jack for recording and rerouting audio to external speakers.
The radio also has 3050 memory presets with numerous pages to set them. For me, I would never use that many but there is certainly plenty to program favorite stations.
In the box, the Tecsun PL-880 comes with a brown pseudo-leather carrying case, a rechargeable battery (along with a spare), power adapter, a world map, owner’s manual, and a long wire antenna. Tecsun certainly gives you a lot of stuff with your purchase.
The display is also the nearly the same as the PL-660’s. It gives you frequency readout, signal strength/noise radio (numeric instead of signal bars), time in 24-hour format, dual alarms, tuned band, bandwidth or in stereo (FM only), and sync hold. It’s not a huge display but is large enough to display these indications clearly.
The screen is also backlit when you turn the radio on, press a button, or tune the bands. The light stays on for roughly 30 seconds and turns off.
There’s a switch on the side that allows one to keep the backlight on or set it off automatically.
The speaker is sounds much better than the Tecsun PL-660 & PL-680. This one tends to be more mid-range than other radios in the market.
The noise floor on the PL-880 seems to be considerably lower the PL-660. I’ve noticed this on AM and shortwave.
By far, it has the most pleasing audio out of any portable shortwave radio I’ve ever used.
Compared to the PL-660 & PL-680, reception on AM is much better.
Local AM stations here in Memphis were clearly received, and distant ones were received as if they were local.
I tested reception on some clear-channel distant stations as well as local ones. There was no trouble receiving them, even stations like KMOX in St. Louis, WGN in Chicago, and WLAC in Nashville were pleasant to hear.
The weaker stations were subject to more noise, but moving the radios directionally into a sweet spot improved reception greatly.
If you plan on listening to local AM stations or others like KMOX, I highly recommend this radio.
If you own an external loop antenna like the Tecsun AN-200, that might help improve reception as well.
FM performance is the same as the Tecsun PL-680. Local and distant signals came in very well. I don’t do much FM DXing but there is a distant NPR station in Mississippi, WMAV 90.3, that comes in loud and clear and is more than 50 miles from Memphis.
Weaker local stations are received just as well, both on the telescoping whip antenna and external wire antenna bundled with this radio.
Like the PL-660, the Tecsun PL-880 really shines on shortwave. In terms of sensitivity, this one is marginally less sensitive than the PL-660 but still very sensitive compared to other radios. Both on the whip and external antenna’s sensitivity is top-notch.
Every station that I was able to pick up on the PL-660 was received on the PL-880. However, this radio has the edge in better audio, while the PL-660 is able to pick up those signals out of the static and hold them well with sync.
Also, the noise floor on shortwave is much better compared to the PL-660 & PL-680. Signals just sound more pleasant and can allow for some bedtime or armchair listening.
In the United States, there are not any broadcasters that use longwave transmissions. I did give it a test and didn’t pick up one station.
In Europe or other regions that still use LW, there may be better results. However, there is simply no way of knowing how it performs here in the U.S.
Therefore I don’t see that as a negative or positive on the PL-880.
I highly recommend this radio for AM and FM listening. If you can ignore the poor synchronous detection (again it is not an advertised feature), then you’ll enjoy using this radio.
It does have better performance overall with excellent audio quality.
If you plan on buying this solely for shortwave listening, it will serve you well. However, keep in mind most international broadcasters are leaving shortwave for the internet or shutting down completely.
In that aspect, I kind of regret buying this radio. Nowadays, I do the majority of my radio online via TuneIn, iHeartRadio, or podcasts and stream them to my Sangean WR-22.
However, I wanted to get the PL-880 and I can now clearly see why radio enthusiasts like it. It’s a winner.
I don’t know if I’ll keep it as my listening habits change, but this Tecsun radio is on-point.
Build Quality: 5/5
Sound Quality: 5/5
AM Performance: 5/5
FM Performance: 5/5
SW Performance: 4/5
Sync Detection: 2/5
Overall Score: 4.5/5
While throwing away and getting rid of some junk and unnecessary clutter, I found an electronic relic. As a famous archaeologist/adventurer would say, “it belongs in a museum.”
As I dug up some old stuff, I found a CD player that I aggressively used in my freshman and sophomore years in college. It actually might be one of the last ones of its kind.
It is a Sony Walkman D-NF430 CD Player. It was originally purchased in the summer of 2005 for about $60 at Circuit City.
Yeah, it was more than 10 years ago and still in pristine condition. Then again, it has been virtually unused for about 8 years.
It was pretty common piece of tech at the time, but this was a turning point when MP3 players and iPods were becoming more popular. Just by looking at the image, you can clearly see why this device was an attractive alternative and inspired by the times.
Appearance & Build Quality
Like most Sony products, this Walkman is well-built. It is a hard, white plastic enclosure with silver and chrome plating on the face buttons. Also, it was roughly the size of a CD, but not bulky for its size. Aside from a notch (where a single AA battery rests), it was thin enough to slip into a jacket pocket or awkwardly into a jeans front pocket.
The Sony D-NF430 is a very unique CD Player. Not so unusual for the company, but it is not a normal thing you see on many media devices, especially today.
Aside from playing normal CDs, this Walkman reads MP3 files if stored on a disk. Like a MP3 player, you could just drop a bunch of songs on a data disk and the device would recognize them instead of tracks. Of course, the limitation of space relied on how much storage a CD-R would have (which generally would hold up to 700 MB).
In addition, Sony has a proprietary audio compression format called ATRAC. The process was similar to MP4 or AAC audio where a 128 kbps MP3 would be compressed into half the size while retaining the same audio quality.
This would allow you to fit more songs on a disk without sacrificing audio quality, but would only work on Sony devices such as this Walkman, PlayStation consoles, and MP3 players. In addition, you needed to used Sony’s own software (similar to iTunes) to export & import ATRAC files and burn them onto a CD.
Like many Walkmans, the D-NF430 has a built-in radio. Sony managed to fit several bands into this CD player.
It has the standard AM & FM bands, but also included TV audio channels and NOAA Weather radio. That’s not a typo.
Before the mandatory conversion to HDTV in 2008, the Walkman was able to tune the VHF portion of the electromagnetic spectrum and pick up audio from Channels 2-13. This band is pretty much useless, but it was a cool function to have to catch up on television programming like news and sports while away from home and would otherwise not be carried on local AM/FM stations.
Included with the CD player is a remote control that allows you to adjust volume, change songs and stations, pause tracks, and the like.
The screen on this Walkman is pretty small, but contained plenty of details. While reading MP3s and ATRACs, it would display song, artist, and album information.
Users could also navigate between albums as separate tabs or shuffle all songs together.
Otherwise it would also show frequency if you’re using the radio and track number. The screen was also monochrome black and white and nothing to white home about.
Audio coming from the headphones sounded very good. The player allows you to set bass/treble and several equalizers like pop, rock, jazz, or custom settings. On default, music sounds really nice on the radio or CD.
Radio has been a staple on many Walkmans past and present. While not the greatest receivers, the radio built into them functioned very well. Since the antenna is essentially your headphones cord, reception will vary.
The AM/FM bands on this particular one can pick up local stations clearly with little or no static.
On the FM side, you can pick up some distant ones but you’ll be overpowered with noise especially if you move around a lot. As for AM, forget about picking up clear channels.
Again, Walkmans are meant to those walking or running about and aren’t meant to be used as a radio you can set down and lounge. For its purpose, it handles local stations well and locks onto the signal effectively. Also, no worries with NOAA weather stations as long as you’re inside its coverage area.
Before the popularity of media players like the iPod and Zune, Walkmans were the de facto media player. You always get a quality experience when using one.
Smartphones have pretty much taken over now as a primary source of audio content on-the-go, and I don’t use my Walkman CD Player anymore. It sets unused in a drawer inside a CD wallet.
Before my habits changed, I enjoyed using the D-NF430. It was an amazing device with lots of functionality. I would lug it between classes and have a bunch of my favorite albums on a single CD (which I still have).
During my time using it, podcasts were also loaded onto disks. I would use the Walkman to listen to shows from Radio Netherlands, the BBC, and NPR until I cave in and purchased an iPod Nano.
Overall, it was a fantastic player for its time. Today, I really can’t recommend anyone to buy and carry around a CD Player.
Why would you? I guess if you’re in a nostalgic mood and have a bunch of CDs.
It is no longer in production obviously, but you can still find it online. The cost is roughly $500 brand new! It’s funny considering I bought it for $60.
I didn’t realize how much it was really worth. I don’t think I’ll sell mine, but you can also fine them used for about $50 if you’re looking for a good portable CD player.
Memphians today have been in a fuss on social media about our recent snowstorm. Or rather the blizzard that never happened.
Through the week, meteorologists on TV and National Weather Service were predicting snowfall for the Mid-South. Yesterday, it seemed things were going to be real serious with high winds (gusts upwards to 45 mph) and upwards to 7 inches of snow.
Since I work at a TV station and do not get days off for inclement weather, I took some precautions on getting to work on time today. Since riding a scooter is no bueno on icy roads, I rented a motel room for the night and would report to work the next day.
Now, the storm has pretty much past West Tennessee and moved towards the East Coast. Here is the wake of the “Great Blizzard of 2016.”
What was supposedly going to between 3-7 inches of snow didn’t amount to much in the city. Yeah, impressive right? In fact, I lament that I wasted about $54 on a motel room and could have easily rode into work.
It is easy to poke fun of this scenario. The bread and milk raids leading up to the weather event were for naught. Schools and most businesses were closed for nothing. Everything is a-okay in the city.
So we’ll blame the weathermen, right? “They got it wrong” or “they’re never right” got thrown around a lot on social media today. Many of these comments coming from people who praised the coming winter end times and got their wish for school and/or work to be shut down.
Well, it turns out the meteorologists were right…for the most part. If you look outside right now Memphis, you’ll see snow on the grass. They nailed it on that detail. It’s not 5 inches but it is snow.
Other areas outside of Memphis (especially Jackson and Dyersburg) got a bit more snow than Memphis. This was accurately predicted and is typically the case when dealing with urban vs. rural climates. It wasn’t as impressive as they were hoping either, but the streets are less clear there than in Memphis.
High winds are also present. Instead of 40-45 mph gusts, the winds are roughly 15-20 mph with 25 mph gusts. Not as windy as predicted, but still pretty breezy and that’s still going to be a big factor in the wind chill.
Also, the timing of the storm came as they said it would. It arrived sometime overnight (about 2-3 a.m.) and pretty much left the area by noon.
For all intents and purposes, they got it right. I don’t get the fear-mongering behind the weather forecasts, but it was mostly on-point. We just didn’t see the big snowfall.
But hey, mostly everyone got their wish for having the day-off or having a clear roadways (for the few that are fortunate to grace their presence in the workplace today). We can stop blaming the weather people for “messing up” because they were mostly correct in their forecast.
If there’s anyone to blame…blame Nashville. They stole it from us.
Hello everyone! Some of you may have guess this but I will just go ahead and confirm it. Over the past few months, my schedule has been quite busy and it has been difficult updating the podcast on a weekly basis.
With my schedule and possible life changing plans in motion, I can no longer produce any more episodes of “On The Airwaves” at this moment.
So for now, the podcast is effectively terminated. In addition, I will be taking a prolonged hiatus from podcasting.
Sorry to disappoint everyone with this news. Since 2013, podcast production has been fun and I have enjoyed it when there was time for it. Since working at my current employer last year, my time has been well spent there, but my past projects have been a great way for me to hone in on-air and production skills.
In the future, I will like to revisit podcasting but for now it is not possible. However, I still regularly update my blog at https://chrisfreitas.wordpress.com and I manage to find something worthwhile to post every month. So if you like to read more about radio, electronic media, and other related subjects, please check it out.
Thanks for supporting me and the podcast! I will keep up past episodes on-line on my Sample Works page along with CFOR for anyone interesting in listening to the shows.
On this episode of the podcast, Chris talks about phone carriers pushing for FM radio in smartphones. Additionally, there is news about a host of a popular public radio show finally retiring and a new line of shortwave radios.
Also On The Airwaves, listeners will learn the history of the Russian numbers station called “The Buzzer,” or UVB-76.
Finally, Chris gives an update of rural radio reception on the new Tecsun PL-680.
There’s been a ton of breaking news in Memphis, especially in the past 24 hours and it has caused me to spend more time at work. These news developments haven’t allowed me time to make (or even create) the podcast so please bear with me a little bit longer.
Last week, I told you about taking a break for my birthday camping trip. In short, it was a blast at Enid Lake, MS.
During my outdoor trip, I took the Tecsun PL-680 with me and put it to further use. There are not any recordings with this post because my recorder wasn’t packed and my phone’s battery was drained most of the time.
I will, however, discuss my findings on how the Tecsun PL-680 operated in rural and outdoor settings.
On the FM and Shortwave side of things, sensitivity and clarity of radio stations was excellent. The distance from Memphis and Enid Lake is roughly 70 miles apart and I was able to receive every Memphis FM station (such as WKNO, WMXX, and WUMR) with little or no static.
Reception of broadcasters like Radio Australia and WRMI came in very well and sounded like a local station. Outdoors conditions were noticeably better than back home in Memphis.
Sadly, AM reception didn’t do so well. I think I mentioned on the review that local AM stations could not be received well in Atoka, TN, which is 20 miles away. They were audible but static and noise overwhelmed signals from Memphis stations like WREC 600.
Unfortunately, the PL-680’s MW limitations became more apparent. At Enid Lake, I could not receive any AM station from Memphis. There was nothing but static.
However, clear channel stations like KMOX 1120 AM from St. Louis, MO came in well. In fact, I listened to a Cardinals baseball game on the first night of camping.
It’s a bit odd that a faraway station came in better than a local one like WREC, but it is unsurprising given clear channels operate with more powerful transmitters. Still, it is disappointing that the Tecsun PL-680 isn’t good at AM reception.
It is fine in urban areas, but gets much worse as you move away from the signal’s origin. The PL-680 is certainly not the radio you want to use for AM reception. Otherwise, it is still a fantastic radio and well worth the money.
Art Bell, former host of “Coast to Coast AM,” has created a new show. Starting today, he is starting a test run of “Midnight in the Desert.” While listeners can hear the show online and on certain local radio stations, shortwave listeners can tune into the program on WBCQ on either 7490 kHz and 9330 kHz on weeknights from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.