C.Crane CC Skywave SSB AM/FM/AIR/WX/SWL receiver

I’ve always had a passion for listening to distant stations. It’s a big reason I eventually got into ham radio. Of course growing up there were a lot more shortwave stations out there than today, but there are still a few stations out there. The only shortwave receiver I have had since I was a teenager was my Radio Shack DX-392. I always use to take it with me to my grandma’s house and would listen to it for hours. (no smartphones or iPads back in those days!)

I still have the receiver today but it doesn’t seem to receive very well in my apartment. (not much does with all the electronics and RFI floating around) Still, I wondered if there was something newer that I could get that might work a little better. As you can see from the photo above, my DX-392 is huge and somewhat bulky to carry around. I wanted something a little smaller that I could take anywhere and enjoy listening to various signals. I researched the crap out of various shortwave receivers out there and was overwhelmed at what to get. I had to really ask myself what I wanted in a new radio. Size was the first priority but I didn’t want to give up performance.

I looked at the popular Tecsun models out there which everyone seems to really enjoy. I wasn’t sure but there was something about them that didn’t seem to be a fit for me. Maybe it was the weird signal strength display or the quirky undocumented features. Somehow I ended up looking at the C.Crane Skywave radio that was going for around $90-100 online. Everything about that looked great except no SSB. Being a ham, I like to listen to various digital and voice signals so this was a deal breaker to me.

As I was doing more reviews, I stumbled across a blog post over at The SWLing Post about a new radio from C.Crane with SSB. I went to the C.Crane website and investigated the CC Skywave SSB further. Not only did it have SSB on shortwave, but it also had the aviation band and NOAA weather radio frequencies.

Everyone seemed to be complaining more about the price than anything else. It was going for $169.99 though was on sale (and still is at the time of this post) for $149.99. Apparently they didn’t think the simple addition of SSB was worth almost doubling the price of the radio. Bah! Just take my money already! 🙂 I ordered the radio along with the power cord and some rechargeable AA batteries. I think I spent more time reading through their shipping policies which made me splurge for 2-day shipping as I didn’t want to wait forever to receive it.

Two days later I did in fact receive the radio. As soon as I opened the box I couldn’t believe just how small the radio was. I snapped a picture of it side by side with my DX-392 radio and it’s crazy how small it is. In the box they included one of those shortwave antenna reels that clips on to the telescoping antenna as well as some earbuds. The radio has a regular mini-usb for power/charging so if you have one of those laying around you can charge it that way too. (or charge the AA’s outside of the radio)

Ok that’s great and all but what does it sound like? First off I tried the shortwave bands and trusty WWV. I never expected to pick it up on the built in antenna but I did. I switched to the ham bands and was able to pick up lots of CW signals as well as a few voice stations. The filter choices are pretty nice as it goes from 6 khz all the way down to 500 hz which helps for those digital signals.

SSB: 4khz, 3khz, 2.2khz, 1.2khz, 1khz, 0.5khz
AM: 6khz, 4khz, 3khz, 2khz, 1khz

As for as tuning, there is a slight muting every time you turn the dial or press the up/down keys. I think that is normal with most shortwave radios including my old DX-392. You can switch to a slower 1khz tuning by gently pushing in on the tune knob. There is also a fine tune button when in SSB mode which acts like an RIT button in the ham world. It tunes in 10 hz steps to really tune in the signal which is great for ham conversations slightly off frequency.

A few notes about SSB mode. Yes, it has both LSB and USB! It takes a few seconds to engage once you press the SSB button. Also, I noticed on CW signals that there is a warble sound like the frequency isn’t stable. Not a big deal but just wanted to mention it.

Broadcast FM stations sound great too. It does not have RDS which was something I wanted but gave up for all the other features but I can live without that. The airband hasn’t impressed me much though we don’t have too much air traffic in the area. I can pick up the ATIS weather but the audio is really low. I’m not sure if that’s the signal itself or the radio just having low audio on that band. It’s not a big deal as I don’t monitor the air bands much anyway but just wanted to point it out.

The NOAA weather band works great and picked up the local station full scale no problems. It does have a weather alert feature, but it’s very basic and only works for 4, 8 or 16 hours. I think it’s meant more for people traveling or hiking to temporarily alert them vs a 24/7 alert feature you’d get in a dedicated weather radio.

The surprising band I’m really enjoying is the AM broadcast band. It really comes alive at night when some stations can run more power. I live in downstate Illinois and have consistently picked up WLW-700 in Cincinnati, Ohio, WSM-650 in Nashville, Tennessee, CJBC-860 in Toronto, Canada and even WCBS-880 in New York! This is all using the internal antenna inside of an apartment. A lot of stations have noise on the signal but if you turn the radio one way or the other it often nulls out the noise which is awesome. Since it’s so small and portable, you can move it around and find the best position for the particular station you are trying to receive.

As for battery life, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about running out. Even with the backlight on, it should last you a long time. I haven’t run it down yet and only charged it once. That is a lot better than my DX-392 which requires 3 AA batteries to store the memories and 4 D batteries to actually power the thing. The CC Skywave SSB only takes 2 AA batteries. The manual states around 60+ hours of battery using speaker and 70+ hours using the earbuds.

So if you are in the market for a very portable radio that does AM/FM/AIR/WX/SWL with SSB then I would definitely recommend this radio. I’ve had a lot of fun with it and can’t wait to take it with me wherever I travel.

More info/Purchase: C.Crane CC Skywave SSB radio

FM Bandscan in Champaign IL

I did a bandscan of the broadcast FM band this afternoon for Champaign, IL. It was interesting that for some stations I had to turn the gain almost to 0 to get the interference from stronger stations to go away. I’m hoping that I better receiver would help a little bit in those situations. I’m still impressed though by the number of stations that I can pick up with a cheap RTLSDR dongle.

Receiver: RTL-SDR R820T2
Antenna: Stellar Labs 4-el Yagi (driven element only, indoors)
Software: GQRX v2.7 on macOS 10.12

https://youtu.be/SF45N_GkzX4

88.3: W202CF – Champaign, IL – 2.4mi @ 60W
88.7: WPCD – Champaign, IL – 7.7mi @ 10,500W – RDS PI: 7C7B
89.3: WGNJ – St Joseph, IL – 20.9mi @ 50,000W
90.1: WEFT – Champaign, IL – 5mi @ 10,000W
90.9: WILL – Monticello, IL – 20.8mi @ 105,000W – RDS PI: 6AF1
91.7: WBGL – Urbana, IL – 9.6mi @ 20,000W – RDS PI: 57F3
91.9: WUIS – Springfield, IL – 65.4mi @ 50,000W (hard to receive)
92.1: W221CK – Champaign, IL – 1mi @ 195W – RDS PI: F001 (invalid PI code)
92.5: WREE – Philo, IL – 10.4mi @ 16,000W – RDS PI: 81F8
92.9: WRPW – Colfax, IL – 34.7mi @ 6,000 (weak)
93.1: WYDS – Decatur, IL – 43.5mi @ 4,600
93.5: WSJK – Tuscola, IL – 14.2mi @ 5,000W – RDS PI: 8524
94.5: WLRW – Champaign, IL – 1mi @ 50,000W – RDS PI: 7384
95.3: WJEK – Rantoul, IL – 11.7mi @ 1,900W
95.7: WLHF-LP – Champaign, IL – 2.4mi @ 33W
95.9: WEZC – Clinton, IL – 35.7mi @ 6,000W
96.1: WQQB – Rantoul, IL – 7.7mi @ 3,800W – RDS PI: A889
97.5: WHMS – Champaign, IL – 2.9mi @ 50,000W – RDS PI: 686E
97.9: W250BL – Champaign, IL – 1mi @ 250W
98.3: WWHP – Farmer City, IL – 25.8mi @ 5,200W
98.5: WWVR – Paris, IL – 46mi @ 50,000 (weak)
99.1: WYXY – Oakwood, IL – 27.4mi @ 50,000W – RDS PI: 9676
99.3: WXFM – Mount Zion, IL – 40mi @ 1,150W
99.7: W259BG – Champaign, IL – 1mi @ 250W – RDS PI: F002 (invalid PI code)
100.3: WIXY – Philo, IL – 10.4mi @ 13,000W – RDS PI: 6C36
100.9: WZUS – Macon, IL – 43.6mi @ 6,000W (weak)
101.1: W266AF – Urbana, IL – 3.5mi @ 250W
101.5: WBNQ – Bloomington, IL – 44.8mi @ 50,000W
102.1: WDNL – Danville, IL – 35.2mi @ 50,000W (weak as they are in the opposite direction)
102.5: WGNN – Fisher, IL – 16.8mi @ 6,000W
102.9: WSOY – Decatur, IL – 38.3mi @ 54,000W – RDS PI: 85B4
103.9: W280DE – Champaign, IL – 2.5mi @ 120W
104.1: WBWN – Leroy, IL – 37.7mi @ 47,000W
104.5: WRFU – Urbana, IL – 4.3mi @ 100W
104.9: WPXN – Paxton, IL – 25.5mi @ 3,000W
105.1: WEJT – Shelbyville, IL – 46.4mi @ 13,000W
105.5: WCZQ – Monticello, IL – 15.7mi @ 6,000W – RDS PI: 008A
105.9: WGKC – Mahomet, IL – 7.7mi @ 2,500W – RDS PI: 6586
106.3: WGCY – Gibson City, IL – 31.4mi @ 6,000W
106.7: WZNX – Sullivan, IL – 40.7mi @ 9,500
107.1: WPGU – Champaign, IL – 2.8mi @ 3,000W
107.3: WDKR – Maroa, IL – 42mi @ 3,000
107.7: WIBL – Fairbury, IL – 44.2mi @ 14,000W
107.9: WKIO – Arcola, IL – 16.8mi @ 3,600W – RDS PI: 6FEE

TV DX (7/17/17)

For some unknown reason, I woke up around 4am this morning. Just for kicks, I looked at the current stations being received by the automated receiver on my phone. I noticed lots of stations from Chicago which I’ve never picked up, especially with the indoor antenna pointed to the west-southwest. I then noticed WVTV from Milwaukee, WI (207 miles) and then WTLJ in the Grand Rapids, MI area (232 miles).

Not wanting to get out of bed, I quickly scanned the tuner on my iPhone using the Channels app. I was able to confirm WFLD (127 miles), WQPT (137 miles), KWQC (137 miles) and WQAD (137 miles).

Did anyone else pick up any distant stations this morning?

WFLD - Chicago, IL
WFLD – Chicago, IL (127 miles) via HDHomeRun Connect
WQPT - Lynn Center, IL
WQPT – Lynn Center, IL (137 miles) via HDHomeRun Connect
KWQC - Lynn Center, IL
KWQC – Lynn Center, IL (137 miles) via HDHomeRun Connect
WQAD - Lynn Center, IA
WQAD – Lynn Center, IA (137 miles) via HDHomerun Tuner
VHF propagation (7/17/17)
VHF propagation (7/17/17)

TV DX Log from automated tuner (7/17/2017)
*stations in bold are confirmed

WFLD – Chicago, IL – 127 miles
WCIU – Chicago, IL – 127 miles
WPWR – Chicago, IL – 127 miles
WJYS – Chicago, IL – 127 miles
WSNS – Chicago, IL – 127 miles
WXFT – Chicago, IL – 127 miles
WMAQ – Chicago, IL – 127 miles
WGN – Chicago, IL – 127 miles
WGBO – Chicago, IL – 128 miles
WYCC – Chicago, IL – 128 miles
WQPT – Lynn Center, IL – 137 miles
KWQC – Lynn Center, IL – 137 miles
KLJB – Lynn Center, IL – 137 miles
WQAD – Lynn Center, IL – 137 miles
WVTV – Milwaukee, WI – 207 miles
WTLJ – Allendale, MI – 232 miles
KGAN – Walker, IA – 240 miles
KRIN – Walker, IA – 240 miles
KFXA – Van Horne, IA – 240 miles

TV DX (7/11/17 – 7/12/17)

The tropo propagation was hopping on Tuesday July 11, 2017 into Wednesday July 12, 2017 here in eastern Illinois. With my automated HDHomeRun tuner scanning constantly, I started seeing stations showing up from eastern Iowa to northwestern Illinois to St. Louis, MO to southern Illinois. (KYOU, WTJR, KDNL, KPLR, KSDK, KTVI, KMOV, WSIL, WPSD)

Then I noticed WMYO coming in from Louisville, KY. Then a little while later, several stations from Indianapolis/Bloomington, IN. (WXIN, WFYI, WRTV, WHMB, WTTK, WIPX) Finally, I picked up WSTR over 200 miles to the east in Cincinnati, OH!

This is really crazy because my indoor antenna is pointed to the WSW with buildings blocking everything to the east. Amazing how strong propagation can enhance signals.

While all of these automated hits are great, I don’t consider them to be true captures unless I have some sort of screenshot/photo of the picture. Sadly most of these happened when I was unavailable to scan on a TV. I did, however, capture a couple of new ones to me.

WSIL
WSIL – Harrisburg, IL (175 miles) via TiVo OTA tuner
WHMB
WHMB – Indianapolis, IN (111 miles) via HDHomeRun Connect
WXIN
WXIN – Indianapolis, IN (111 miles) via HDHomeRun Connect

TV DX Log from automated tuner (7/11/2017 – 7/12/2017)
WHMB – Indianapolis, IN – 111.5 miles
WFYI – Indianapolis, IN – 111.7 miles
WRTV – Indianapolis, IN – 111.7 miles
WTTK – Indianapolis, IN – 111.8 miles
WXIN – Indianapolis, IN – 111.8 miles
WIPX – Bloomington, IN – 124.2 miles
WTJR – Quincy, IL – 161.5 miles
WSIL – Harrisburg, IL – 175.2 miles
WMYO – Salem, IN – 178.6 miles
WPSD – Paducah, KY – 204.9 miles
KYOU – Ottumwa, IA – 206.6 miles
WSTR – Cincinnati, OH – 210.4 miles

TV DXing with an indoor antenna

I’ve always been fascinated by picking up distant stations whether it’s on the ham band, shortwave or more recently TV. I live on the first floor of an apartment building with no ability for outdoor antennas so I figured my DX opportunities were limited. I’ve tried numerous indoor antennas from the flat thin things that hang in a window to the amplified square boxes. None really brought the channels in that I wanted to watch. Most of our stations are to the west-southwest of me which is great as there is a window on that side of the apartment. The problem is Fox and ABC are in the northeast and east directions which are blocked by walls and other apartment buildings.

TV Fool report from my location in Champaign, IL

My only remote shot at them is going for the Springfield, IL stations which are 65 miles away. Impossible with an indoor antenna? I don’t give up that easily! I originally tried my old Terk HDTVi (non-amplified) antenna. Sure, it’s bulky but it’s very directional which in my case helps. I was able to pick up the stations in Springfield, but they were in and out. I decided to spring for the Terk HDTVa amplified version of the antenna and I now consistently get stable signals from the Fox and ABC stations now pointed out a west window.

Terk HDTVa amplified indoor antenna

I started doing morning channel scans last summer and to my surprise, I picked up 3 stations out of St. Louis, MO which is just over 150 miles away from here. Some days they were just as strong as some of our local stations! I also managed to pick up WTJR out of Quincy, IL which is 161 miles away. Pretty exciting for an indoor antenna! I figured that was the limit of my minimal indoor setup until last week.

I woke up earlier than normal and decided to do a channel scan. I noticed it picked up 1 new channel that I’d never seen. I was thinking it was somewhere in St. Louis since the callsign started with a K rather than a W. It claimed to be KDCU. I looked it up and it said it was in Derby, KS.

My first thought was this was some receiver issue and it was misidentifying some local station. At first it wasn’t strong enough to show a picture. I left it on just for kicks while I had some breakfast and saw the picture blink a few times like it was starting to decode. I was able to make out 4 letters on the screen which said KDCU. Holy crap! 522 miles away on an indoor antenna!

Seeing how no one would ever believe me, I grabbed my cell phone and took a picture of the screen. I asked around on the WTFDA forum and I wasn’t the only one in Illinois to pick it up. An automated receiver northeast of me in Milford, IL also picked it up and they have a slightly better antenna than I do. 🙂

Propagation map during my reception of KDCU in Derby, KS.
6/22/2017 – KDCU-TV in Derby, KS (522 miles)

So this made me wonder how much I am missing when I’m not able to sit and do channel scans all day. I started looking into automated options and everyone seems to use a variation of the HDHomerun receivers. I just ordered the HDHomerun Connect and it should be here later this week so we’ll see what sort of stations we can pick up when I’m asleep or not here to scan manually.

Anyone else do any TV DXing? What gear do you use? What’s the best distance you have achieved?

Samlex 1223 power supply noise

samlex1223-2

I’ve had a Samlex SEC 1223 – 23 amp power supply for many years now and it has always made a strange noise. I have two Uniden BC350A scanners hooked up to it that I use to stream local repeaters to Radio Reference / Broadcastify.

I decided to record the noise with my digital audio recorder so I could get some feedback from others on what it might be. It starts in the off position and then you hear me flip the switch on and then off again. (ignore the background noise of my furnace)

If you have any ideas what it is or how to fix it, please let me know. Thanks!

Icom 880H D-STAR radio GPS setup

Garmin GPS 18x PC
I’m slowly rebuilding my ham radio shack after getting rid of everything a few years ago. One of the things I missed the most was the trusty dual band rig in the car. I decided to sell my iPad to help fund the radio purchase. I couldn’t afford a brand new rig, so I looked at the ham classified sites to see what was available. I settled on the Icom 880H 2m/70cm mobile rig. One thing that intrigued me about this setup was the fact that it has D-STAR capability built into it. We have a growing D-STAR network here in Illinois so it seemed like a good idea to have a radio with D-STAR.

When I got the rig, I tried programming a few repeaters in manually just to see if I could do it. The analog frequencies weren’t too difficult, but D-STAR was a bit more difficult. I figured it would be a good idea to program it with the computer, so I ordered the OPC-1529R data cable. I know most folks prefer the RT Systems software, but I decided to try the free Icom programming software instead.

It’s a pretty basic program, but it gets the job done. The problem is there is no way to directly import frequencies from sites like RepeaterBook and RFinder. There is another free programming software called CHIRP that lets you import from these sites. However, getting it from CHIRP into the Icom software is very clunky.

I finally decided to go to the Illinois Repeater Association website and copy/paste the repeaters into a text file. I then opened it in a spreadsheet program called LibreOffice Calc (Microsoft Office works as well) which then lets me sort and filter by regions of the state. Now this still doesn’t let me import into the Icom software. I ended up putting the spreadsheet on one side of my screen and the Icom software on the other and manually typing in the repeaters that I wanted. It’s a time consuming process but at least I can put the frequencies where I want them in the radio.

I have the radio plugged into my Comet CA2X4SR dual band antenna mounted on the door with a Diamond K400 mount. I’ve had this antenna hooked up to other radios over the years and it works great with the 880H. Another nice thing is the radio has a weather alert that lets you know when bad weather is approaching. It also scans air frequencies which are fun to listen to once in a while.

One thing I’ve missed that my old Kenwood D700A had is the APRS functionality. There is a way to get your position on the Icom 880H to the APRS network, but you need to add a GPS to the radio. (most of the other D-STAR radios have GPS built in) I chose the Garmin GPS 18x PC for my setup. It’s a very basic GPS unit with a 12v cigarette plug and 9-pin serial port on it. You hook it up to the Icom 880H with a null modem adapter.

There’s a few things in the radio you need to change before the GPS will work. The first is the data speed which defaults to 9600 bps. You need to change it to 4800 bps for it to work with the GPS 18x unit. Go into the SET menu, then FUNC and then SPEED and change it to 4800. If everything is hooked up properly, you will see the GPS indicator in the top right start blinking indicating it sees your GPS. When it has acquired a good satellite lock, the indicator will stay on.

Another thing you need to change for it to work with APRS is the GPS-TX mode. It defaults to DVG, but needs to be on DVA. It’s in the GPS –> GPS-TX menu. Inside that menu you’ll also want to change your symbol (the icon that shows up on the APRS map), add a comment and enable the direction/speed (DT EXT –> CUR.SPD) if you want that to show up.

You can see my position on the APRS network:
http://aprs.fi/#!call=a%2FK9SWX

Please note that your position will only show up on APRS when you push the PTT button on the microphone. You can set it up to automatically send it every so often, but that is highly frowned upon. (especially if the repeater is linked to a reflector or another repeater.)

I’ve put together a little video about my Icom 880H. Check it out and let me know what you think!

https://youtube.com/watch?v=vPhTctUpeIU

Parts list

Please let me know if you have any questions about all of this. Thanks! 73..

Stan – K9SWX

Shortwave radio itch

Before getting into ham radio, I really enjoyed listening to shortwave radio. My first rig was a Realistic DX-300. Later on, my parents bought me a Radio Shack DX-392 radio. The nice thing about this radio was that it had SSB capability so I could listen to hams and other SSB signals. It also had a cassette recorder and could record programs automatically while you were away. One of my favorite stations to listen to back in the day was HCJB: The Voice of the Andes in Quito Ecuador. I remember corresponding with host Allen Graham who read some of my letters on his shows. Sadly they ceased shortwave transmission in 2009. (If anyone knows of a website that archived their recordings, please let me know!)

Last month while I was visiting my parents, I asked if they still had the DX-392. Sure enough, it was easily found and it came home with me. I live in an apartment, so getting any signals was going to be a challenge. I tried using the built-in telescopic whip, but that was futile with all the interference in the building. I then decided to string up a wire from one end of the apartment to the other which faces the outside wall. Using an alligator clip, I attached the wire to my whip and started picking up signals.

Last weekend I stopped by Barnes and Noble to see if they had any shortwave books. I dug around and found the World Radio TV Handbook 2014 book in the science section. I thumbed through it and was impressed with all the information, so I purchased it.

There is something about spinning the dial and researching where a signal is coming from that makes the hobby fun. Between the WRTH 2014 book and various online resources, it is pretty exciting to figure out what you are hearing.

Anyone else into shortwave radio? Are you using a dedicated receiver or one of your ham rigs? Any tips for indoor antennas?

2011 CQWW SSB contest

I took a little drive today to my favorite park outside of town to work a few stations in the CQWW contest. I usually don’t work very many contests, but anytime I hear lots of stations on 10m I just have to try a few QSOs. Using the FT-857D in the mobile at 100w and ATAS120A antenna, I was easily working DX. In a short period of time, I worked SN3R (Poland), IR8C (Italy), GW9T (Wales), G5O (England) and F5TTI (France). I setup the video camera and captured these contacts. (sorry about the shaky shots, should have used the tripod)

https://youtube.com/watch?v=yrHGE_xU1iY

Working Spain from the mobile

While I was running some errands yesterday, I decided to tune around the HF bands to see how conditions were doing. I noticed numerous DX stations on 10 meters, but wasn’t sure they’d hear my little mobile station. I stumbled across EA1DR (Oscar) in northern Spain who was coming in pretty strong. I pulled over into a parking lot and tried answering his CQ DX call numerous times, but to no avail. I pulled out of the parking lot and decided to try him one more time. Success! It was a short 30 second contact, but he said my mobile station was doing a great job into Spain. Amazing how one little contact like this can brighten up my day.

Something I’ve been trying to do more of is recording the audio of my HF QSO’s, at least the DX ones. I remembered to hit the record button on my iPhone audio app and captured this nifty QSO.

EA1DR
10-06-2011-EA1DR