New Directions Radio: Shortwave Radio Receivers

In this installment of his regular column, the author emphasizes the value of shortwave radio receivers that can pick up a wide spectrum of radio bands.

| November/December 1978

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    Shortwave radio enthusiast Copthorne Macdonald is also the inventor of slow-scan television, a method of amateur radio transmission that allows ham operators to both hear and see each other during shortwave broadcasts.

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Shortwave radio is really buzzing with activity these days. The entire spectrum between 3 and 30 MHz bristles with signals from distant hams, CB-ers, shortwave broadcasters, ships, planes, government installations, and the world press.

These various types of signals, as you probably know, are segregated into slices of the spectrum called "bands." There are, for example, international broadcast bands, amateur radio bands, and, of course, the citizens' band. In recent years manufacturers have shown a growing tendency toward the production of specialized equipment that centers upon just one specific type of these many radio services. Store shelves are packed with CB rigs, ham-band-only receivers, shortwave broadcast receivers, and other "limited use" equipment.

Often, however, a newcomer to the shortwave scene would like to sample a variety of goings-on—to listen not only to foreign broadcasts, for instance, but to time signals and ham operators too. Fortunately, there are some excellent "general coverage" receivers available today, and they do a decent job of bringing in this wide assortment of signals.

A "Versatile" Receiver

The Sony ICF-5900W, for instance, is a battery (or AC) operated portable and sells for as little as $150 in the United States. It's one of the best buys available for the serious shortwave listener whose main interest is monitoring international broadcasts, but who would also like to tune in on ham conversations once in a while. This highly sensitive set covers the most widely used bands and has two essential features that aren't usually found on low-priced sets.

The first of these "extra" features is a built-in crystal marker calibration system, which allows receiver tuning to be set to an accuracy of 10 kHz or better. (This ability to go directly to a particular radio station's "address" will be a help in avoiding the frustration that usually accompanies a hit-or-miss search with a poorly calibrated receiver.)

The Sony's second "bonus" is its beat frequency oscillator (BFO), which makes code signals audible and single-sideband (SSB) signals intelligible. Virtually all hams, most point-to-point government stations, and even some international broadcasters now use the SSB mode for all voice transmissions, so a BFO is "necessary equipment" for any multi use receiver. You can check out the ICF5900W at most any Sony retail dealer.

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