Episode 10 – How I Got Into Radio

This 10th episode of CFOR kicks off a brand-new season. In the starting entry into Season 2, Chris explains in depth on how he got interested in radio as a hobby. This extracurricular activity eventually compels him into pursuing it as a career.

Listeners also get a taste of “Sounds of Shortwave,” a cassette tape that cam packaged with a book titled, Listening to Shortwave. This book/tape from Radio Shack is one resource that helped Chris become more involved with shortwave radio.

For a written account, you can click here to learn more about how Chris got into radio.

Download & Listen

Subtle Changes Coming To CFOR Podcast

20140223_131624For folks following the Chris Freitas On Radio podcast, thanks for listening and your support. Throughout today, I have thought of a few things that will make this show a bit better.

For starters, I am going to change the category of CFOR. It will no longer be a tech show, at least not as broad in subject matter.

Instead, it will be strictly be about radio. The podcast will be something like my Shortwave Tonight & Shortwave Weekly projects before this one. However, it will not be entirely about shortwave.

Shortwave radio will be a part of the subject matter, but I will also talk about FM, AM, satellite, podcasting, and internet radio. Anything that deals with the medium, I will discuss it.

One of the big reasons for this change is because I realize I get a sizable audience when talking or writing about radio (especially shortwave). I haven’t lost interest in gaming or technology but I feel that keeping consistent in format is the best way to progress this show. It’s something that I’ve failed at so far, but I want to improve in that area.

It was never meant to have a large following, but it seems the audience that’s paying attention to it is a group of people interested in radio broadcasting. It also shows in my posts as they have been linked to sites such as Reddit, Facebook, and Google.

So, I am structuring this podcast around the medium of radio. This also makes since from the namesake, Chris Freitas “On Radio.”

Also, I plan to have more guests on the program and co-host with me. This will mean that I will contact folks involved in radio. Whether it will be hobbyists, announcers, producers, etc., I want to have them on CFOR now and then. It also makes the show more fun and enjoyable.

As part of this refocused mission, Episode 10 will change. Originally, I set out to produce an episode on e-bikes. I am shifting gears to talk about how I got started in the radio. You can read up on the article, but I will go more in detail on this upcoming show.

Worldstar RadioAfterwards, I plan to do some reviews including some “retro radio reviews” of ones that I’ve used long ago. I’ll include written reviews alongside the podcast version as well.

All the social media links, hosting sites, feeds will stay the same. The podcast will still continue. I am just “fine tuning” the format and adjusting content towards my audience. Perhaps I’ll gain some new listeners in the process.

First Time for Everything: Listening to The Mighty KBC Radio

There’s a first time for everything. For me, it was always inconvenient to listen to The Mighty KBC Radio from the Netherlands (I just didn’t have any time because of work, spending time with friends, or other projects). Like PCJ Media, it is a fairly new and independent broadcast to the shortwave band.

Tonight, I decided to break out my Tecsun PL-660. After lamenting over the cutbacks of some broadcasters on CFOR, I figured to tune to some stations that are left.

Apparently I noticed the Mighty KBC was on-the-air. Surprisingly, the station came in loud-and-clear and played some really great classic rock tunes. Note: This station CANNOT be heard online, but ONLY on shortwave.

I also tuned into WRMI before listening to The Mighty KBC.

Three Years Old: The Tecsun PL-660 Still Rocks

If anyone paid attention to the last blog post, then I mentioned my change in listening habits. To clear the air, I have not & will not abandon the shortwave hobby. 20140223_131624

The article merely points out how shortwave listeners like myself are adjusting their habits. I wanted to gauge how other SWLs felt about the rise of internet radio and if it has (or will) replace the hobby.

While last month’s post seemed negative, there is a lot of fun to have as a shortwave listener. As I am typing this entry, I have my Tecsun PL-660 with me…with intentions to tuning to stations after work. I listen to internet radio more than ever, but I still go back to my shortwave radio every now and then.

This universally acclaimed radio is what this month’s post is all about. When first starting this blog, one of my early articles was about the PL-660.

If readers go to it now, then they will see a dead video. You can thank YouTube trolls for thinking they are Steven Spielberg while posting negative nitpicks on video production (With that, I am not longer doing video reviews, but I’ll upload my catches). However, I had a positive experience using the PL-660 when I first ordered it on Amazon in 2011.

20140223_131653It has been about three years and I am proud to admit that it works the same as it did on Day One. The only problem I had was a broken antenna hinge after it fell on the floor. The antenna has been replaced and there’s no permanent damage to the unit luckily.

Performance is still great across the bands. I can still pick up local stations well and distant ones boom. Even though more international broadcasters have left the air, the remaining ones like Radio Australia, WRMI, and Voice of America are received loud and clear.

Synchronous detection still locks and holds fading signals and audio sounds great for a portable radio. Anyone who is looking for a shortwave radio can find this gem for less than $85. Surprisingly enough, it is about $120 on Amazon, which is roughly $20 more expensive than when I bought mine.

For a radio capable of getting all that you want out of shortwave, the Tescun PL-660 is still a great performer and holds up after three years.

20140223_131715I am content with keeping the Tecsun PL-660 for its lifespan. Even if shortwave “goes away” and the radio inevitably “kicks the bucket,” I will probably replace it with another PL-660 if it’s still in production.

Some of the SWLs reading this post might ask, “What about the Tecsun PL-880?” Surely, it appears to be a fine radio and seems better than the PL-660 in most areas.

I can’t really stack both radios up to comparison because…well, I don’t have the PL-880. I swore to myself that PL-660 will be my last shortwave that I will buy. It’s not because I am giving up on shortwave; but it is probably the best radio I’ve used and most others don’t compare well against it.

Except maybe the Tecsun PL-880, but that’s not on my shopping list until the PL-660 finally breaks down.

Time To Retire From Shortwave Or Not

It has been a while since this issue has come across my mind. As international broadcasters transmitting to North America continue to dwindle, I wonder whether or not if I should still listen to shortwave radio.

Most of the stations I listened to left this medium and have found the internet. To be honest, I’ve found myself listening to internet radio and podcasts more frequently than my shortwave radio. Broadcasters such as the BBC, Radio Australia, Voice of America, and Deutsche Welle can be found on the web.

Instead of grabbing my Tecsun PL-660, I am using my HTC One as my radio. Using apps like TuneIn Radio, iHeartRadio, and PocketCasts, I am listening to content that I would have normally heard on the HF bands as a kid or perhaps would never hear (shows like “Stuff You Should Know “and “Umm Yeah Dude”). Even one of my favorite Radio Netherlands programs, “The State We’re In,” survives not on shortwave but as a podcast.

I rather connect an audio line-in cable to my phone and HD Radio/Phone dock instead of listening to static. Sound quality and content is what matters to me,  not the device I am hearing it on.

With content leaving shortwave, is it even worth listening to anymore? As of this writing, I am tuned to some jazzy tunes on CBC Radio One via TuneIn Radio. Aside from Radio Habana Cuba, extreme right-wing religious broadcasters, ham radio operators, and stations transmissions targeted to regions far from North America…it seems like I should close this fun, exciting chapter of my life.

However, I am not simply giving up on a fascinating hobby just quite yet. Yes, internet radio is awesome but shortwave radio is here to stay for just a little while longer.

There are some smaller stations like PCJ Media that are expanding their HF presence, thanks to the free space in the bands. In addition, I have two big annoyance with internet radio: buffering and connection caps (thanks Comcast). Hence, this is a reason my Tecsun radio is turned on and not my TuneIn Radio app.

Regardless, I find it hard to recommend a shortwave radio to anyone who has not bothered to have an interest in the hobby. For people interested getting into international broadcasting, internet radio works just fine.

I am also set on the Tecsun PL-660 being the last shortwave radio that I’ll ever buy. Aside from listening to local and national stations, I won’t have a use for it as SW broadcasters continue to leave the airwaves. tunein-300x246

I haven’t abandoned the hobby but it’s getting time to “throw in the towel.” It’s been fun and there are some great experiences that will stay with me.

I even have a nice collection of QSL cards, but this 16 year-old hobby has ran its course. It’s time to fully move onto the wonderful world of Internet radio.

Despite the change in my listening habits, I did manage to catch Radio Romania broadcasting on 6145 kHz on 1/20/2014 around 0100 UTC. This transmission is being received in Memphis, TN USA. Sorry for the blue tint as this is recorded from my HTC One, which has a camera glitch that causes a blue tint to most photos and video (not a white balance issue).

Taking A Look At The Tecsun PL-390

Before starting off, special thanks are given to Keith Perron and PCJ Media for providing the receiver reviewed in this article.

The Tecsun PL-390 is among the plethora of Chinese radios to flood the market in recent years.  For roughly $60 US on Amazon and Universal Radio, it provides the performance of expensive sets without breaking the bank.

The radio has the standard AM/MW & FM bands and includes shortwave and longwave. For single-sideband hobbyists, the PL-390 does not have SSB.

The receiver is bundled with a carrying case, external wire antenna, and an auxiliary plug. Batteries not included.

It has a line input jack should anyone want to listen to an external device like an iPod or tablet. The radio is also powered by batteries and AC via an USB cable. For complete specifications, visit swling.com.pl390-2

Those hoping for synchronous detection are out of luck, but it has DSP, or Digital Signal Processing. The technology works much the same way by helping reduce interference and fading while providing an audible sound.

Speaking of audio, the speaker quality on the Tecsun PL-390 is good for causal listening. As always, a pair of decent headphones or external speakers would perform better, but the built-in ones should suffice.

The radio allows the user to switch multiple bandwidths between 6, 4, 3, or 2 kHz steps. While most receivers have two settings (wide & narrow), the Tecsun PL-390 gives the listener more options to adjust sound quality.

pl390-1The default setting works best, however the other steps still provide an audible signal. Keep in mind that the 6 kHz sounds better but may be flooded with static while the 2 kHz step reduces the noise but also sacrifices quality.

Performance-wise, the PL-390 is possibly one of the best radios out there. Between the lineup of Tecsun receivers, it works just as well as the more expensive models.

In comparison to the PL-660, the 390 picked up everything the other radio tuned to on all bands.pl-390-3

For example, Radio Australia on 9580 kHz (during 1100 UTC/ 6 a.m. Central) is received very well on both receivers with very little static and fading and no interference. In fact, it sounded better on the PL-390 than PL-660, which costs $40 more.

While it does not compete to the more DXing rigs, it holds its own against others over the $100 price point. This review does not belittle the value of radios such as the PL-660, Sangean ATS-909X, and Eton E5. Those radios are great for multiple reasons.

However, the PL-390 is a great travel radio with the same performance and half the price. It lacks features like SSB and sync detection, but sound quality, reception performance, auxiliary audio ports, and DSP more than make up for it.

In addition to the review, here are some comparison audio files between the Tecsun PL-390 & PL-660. The stations tuned to these radios are Radio Australia and Radio Habana Cuba.

Radio Australia – 9580 kHz (0800 UTC)
Tecsun PL-390
Tecsun PL-660

Radio Habana Cuba – 5040 kHz (0030 UTC)
Tecsun PL-390
Tecsun PL-660

Review of The Worldwide Listening Guide

It has been a long while since my blog/online portfolio has been updated with posts. Nonetheless I am committed to writing articles, especially those related to radio, video games, and photography. With that said, there is something I want to share with you, the reader.

As a shortwave radio listener (SWL), I am aware that some major broadcasters have stopped their transmissions. In fact, the last post explained how Radio Canada International signed off permanently. Additionally, Radio Netherlands Worldwide stopped broadcasting as a whole. It’s nothing more, but a website claiming to promote free speech.

Newcomers to the radio hobby might wonder if there is anything worth tuning into anymore. There is a book that would tell you that so much programming is still available on shortwave. Heck, you don’t even have to listen to it to enjoy this piece of literature.

The book I am referring to is The Worldwide Listening Guide by John Figliozzi. It is among many radio hobbyist literature including World TV/Radio Handbook, Monitoring Times, and Popular Communications.

I actually had an older version of this book back in 1999/2000 when they were sold in Radio Shack. The edition I have now is the 5th Edition, and has served me well since it was purchased January 2012. While it’s not advertised in Radio Shack, it can be purchased on Amazon, eBay, Universal Radio, and C. Crane for about $25 US.

A word of caution: this book is mainly intended for radio hobbyists living in North America. While it can be used by any region, The Worldwide Listening Guide tailors it to this audience. Many sections reference North American time zones, cities, local broadcasters, and even broadcast mediums available in this continent.

However, I can say this book is like TV Guide, but…for radio. First of all, it covers every single way radio is received in North America. Coverage includes shortwave, AM/FM, Satellite, Podcasting, Internet, and even HD Radio.

In the front, there are several sections for each broadcast medium, which gives an overview, types of equipment, content available, advantages & disadvantages, etc. The meat of the The Worldwide Listening Guide is the program guide. This large section covers nearly every radio show broadcasted. Starting at midnight UTC (or 2000 Eastern time), the pages are filled with program name, station name, time and day it airs, frequency or platform, and program type.

To look for a specific genre of radio program, the “Classified Program Lists” will guide you. Say someone wants to listen to rock music shows or sports talk, the book lists that category and follows with a list of programs, the time/day they air, and which station to find it on.

There are other reference pages like the Program Name & Description List, Glossary, and even Listener Log pages where you can fill in details about your listening experience. You don’t have to be a shortwave listener to enjoy this book.

Having owned this for about 9 months, The Worldwide Listening Guide is a great companion to have while listening to your favorite shows and what to figure out what to listen to. While some information does get a little outdated, the author provides a web link for an updated addition to the existing book until the next edition rolls out.

I would not say The Worldwide Listening Guide is any more or less better than the other competing radio hobbyist books out there. It’s more of supplement to the experience. All these books deserve some attention.

With that said, I recommend The Worldwide Listening Guide for the new shortwave or even just radio hobbyist. It’s easy to read: simple but very detailed & informative.