Even though it’s fairly common for most transceivers to include general coverage receive that wasn’t always the case. Not all that long ago if you wanted general coverage receive capability it meant that you had a separate receiver for that purpose. My first HF rig was a Swan 350 and at that time I also had a Hallicrafters S-20R that was my grandpa’s for many years. When he had it, most all of the time it was tuned to WSM and The Grand Ole Opry. It was part of my first radio station. Somewhere over the years it was sold and yes, like most radios that you sell, I wish I still had it.
Some years ago I wanted an SW receiver and purchased a nice new Sony ICF-SW7600GR. It was still a time when there were a lot more portable SW radios available than today. The Sony was appealing due to its portability and probably a fair amount of brand reputation. It has provided good service over the years and still sees a fair amount of use each week between my XYL and I. In fact, earlier this year I had to buy my XYL her own radio so that she’d leave mine alone. Since she used it solely for AM\FM reception I purchased her a Tecsun PL398MP. Now my Sony stays in the last place that I put it.
One of the things that I’ve never liked about the Sony is that it does not have a VFO knob. It uses a a set of +/- buttons to tune the radio. It’s just not the same as tuning a radio with a VFO knob and I’ve never grown used to it. It’s clearly a first world problem that really didn’t need to be solved but the longing for a VFO knob was lurking in my subconscious wondering if there was some manner in which to resolve this “problem.”
For some time now, one of my favorite blogs has been The SWLing Post. Little did I know that the seed to a “solution” to my aforementioned “problem” would be planted by what appeared at the time to be an innocuous blog post that I read back in the summer of 2014. Among a bunch of things, Thomas (K4SWL / M0CYI), the proprietor of The SWLing Post, does a superb job of reviewing SW radios. He goes into great detail and provides very useful insight into the radios that he reviews. Several years ago I read a post that he wrote called “Mega Review: the Tecsun PL-880, PL-660, Sangean ATS-909X, and Sony ICF-SW7600GR go head-to-head.” It was (and still is) a very comprehensive review of some of the best portable shortwave receivers available at that time. The review was also published in the June 2014 issue of The Spectrum Monitor.
I had the Sony and I wasn’t really in the market for another SW radio. I was probably vaguely aware of the Tecsun PL-880 prior to reading this review but not being in the market for another SW radio I really hadn’t paid any attention to it. Then I read the review. That review planted the seed that’s been growing for the past several years. Unfortunately, the PL-880 compared very favorably to the Sony ICF-SW7600GR and worst of all it had not one but two VFO knobs, a main tuning knob and a fine tuning knob. They reminded me of the Main Tuning and Bandspread of my old S-20R. Every time that I used the Sony after reading that review the thought of not one but two VFO knobs was refreshed. Like I said, first world problems.
For the last several years I’ve rationalized the purchase of this tandem VFO knobbed wonder but never could tip the balance until a couple of days ago. Amazon Primed it to me late this afternoon.
This thing is very very nice. It is really well built and works wonderfully. The package includes a very nice case, an external antenna, an 18650 battery, a USB cable, a set of earbuds and documentation.
The left side panel includes the following I\O and settings:
The right looks like this:
I’ll defer to Thomas for the details.
As I was writing this tonight I had it tuned to 650 AM, WSM. WSM is located in Nashville, Tennessee, a bit over 500 miles south of my QTH. It’s a Clear Channel station with 50, 000 watts and it was coming in clean and clear on the telescoping whip antenna of the PL-880 as it sat on the desk in my shack in the basement of our home. It brings back a lot of memories of the old S-20R at my grandparent’s home and the music that it played. Unbeknownst to me, tonight’s show is celebrating Marty Stuart’s 25th anniversary as a member of The Grand Ole Opry. He’s one of my favorites, not only as a superb musician of anything with strings, but for his love and respect for the tradition of the music. He started traveling with Ralph Stanley when he was 13 years old and has been at it ever since. It was extra special to hear The Opry with that show on the first night with this new radio. Little did I know that in addition to being a fine radio, the Tecsun PL-880 is a memory machine.
The two knobs pale in light of those memories.