Is the Mighty KBC Back on Shortwave?

Recently, The Mighty KBC ended shortwave transmissions and went with DAB and internet broadcasting. On their Facebook page this past Saturday, I saw announcement that the station would be on-the-air on 9925 kHz between 0000-0200 UTC.

I decided to take my Tecsun PL-680 on the porch and tune in. Seems like it has a strong signal.

There’s a longer version of this video but the audio is muted thanks to YouTube’s copyright restrictions (because who would ever copy music off of YouTube). However this minute clip on Instagram gives you an idea of The Mighty KBC’s reception.

Will Radio Will Be Internet-Only In 10 Years?

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.

Tecsun Builds A Premium Radio: A Review Of The Tecsun PL-880

pl-8802

Introduction

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.

Features

pl8801The Tecsun PL-880 has a feature set that sets itself apart from the rest of their lineup.

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.

Display

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.

Sound Quality

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.

AM Performance

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

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.

Shortwave Performance

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.

LW Performance

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.

Overall

To sum up my experience with the Tecsun PL-880, it is worthwhile radio. It performs well in most areas, except sync.pl-8802

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.

Score Breakdown

Build Quality: 5/5
Sound Quality: 5/5
Affordability: 3.5/5
Features: 5/5
Portability: 5/5
AM Performance: 5/5
FM Performance: 5/5
SW Performance: 4/5
Sync Detection: 2/5

Overall Score: 4.5/5

Radio Cameo On Metal Gear Solid V

Being a fan of video games and radio, I appreciate seeing this in Metal Gear Solid V. I don’t have my own screen capture, but I was surprised to see it when I played the game this fall. I have shared a picture from imgur and radio fans will like this neat little cameo.

If you look towards the middle, you’ll see a large radio. Upon a closer inspection, it looks like a Sony ICF-2001.

I caught this cameo in the opening scenes leading up to Big Boss’s (aka Venom Snake) awakening in the hospital in Cyprus. I know the radio looked familiar then closely looked at it in-game and saw that it appears to be similar to the ICF-2001.

I never had one, but the ICF-2001 was already released (1980) and this game’s story takes place in 1984. Shortwave was also still relevant in this point in history so it makes sense why it’s there.

The Cold War was still happening and many shortwave broadcasters like the BBC and Voice of America had a larger on-air presence too, so this radio definitely fits into MGS V very well. Snake also uses a Sony Walkman so it is no surprise to see another Sony product popular in the 80s featured in a game full of 80s nostalgia.

An Update on the Tecsun PL-680

20150706_114807Hey folks! Sorry for the delay on making this week’s episode of On The Airwaves. I intend to have the episode up and available by tonight, but don’t quote me on that.

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.

Midnight in the Desert with Art Bell on Shortwave

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.

Episode 5 – On The Shortwaves (Part 2)

On-The-AirwavesIn this episode of the podcast, Chris talks about a new international broadcaster coming to shortwave later this year. Also there is news about a cable provider offering streaming video services and a project to bring shortwave to car radios.

Later in the podcast, you’ll hear Part 2 of “Sounds of Shortwave” and details about next week.

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