Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Shortwave receiver update

Last October I noted how, after decades of a lapse, I'd been bitten by the shortwave bug.

I've now taken the next step on the shortwave listening side of my ressurected radio hobby. I've picked up a full size table top receiver to take things to the next level. Two of 'em actually. Oldies but goodies.

A pair if Yaesu Musen FRG-7s have joined my growing radio collection. These are good, solid rigs built in the late 1970s to around 1980, but ones that still perform well today. I bought mine off Ebay, getting the pair for around $320 total.

Yes, there's risk to buying older radios sight unseen, but I felt the risk was worth the potential reward, and so far I feel vindicated. One was advertised at tested and working, the other was an 'estate find' and appeared well cared for.

Each arrived in impressive working order. The estate find was a later model, and looked to be three to five years old rather than its actual 35 or so years of age. It is the later FRG-7 model with a fine tuning control to better clarify single sideband reception. The other radio came packed with a load of dust and grime on the inside, and may have had some internal modification at some point. Interior cleaning took about half an hour. This second set also lacks the fine tuning control, but it came with an internal battery holder for D-size cells which the other didn't have. The battery compartment can easily be swapped between the two sets.

A modern table top receiver can set you back hundreds more than the $300 I paid for my set of older "Frogs." Now I not only have a main set but a spare as well. Sensitivity is more than adequate for my needs at this time, both sets seem matched in that area. I've pulled in signals out of the Middle East using only my home rain gutter as an antenna. An antenna upgrade is the next logical step, and will include some experimentation to see what works best to make the most of what's still on the shortwave broadcast bands.

If I'm going to do fault finding, I'd say the FRG-7 isn't the sharpest performer in parsing out single sideband signals used by many amateurs. On the plus side, it seems to do a rockin' job on AM radio distance listening. The FRG-7 also lacks a digital frequency readout, but the analog dial seems plenty accurate once you understand the multi-step Wadley tuning system.

Much of my attraction to the FRG-7 was its robust older design. It has an all metal case, and predates the era of specialized chips. Most components on the inside remain available or there are direct substitutes. The mechanical tuner mechanisms are pretty much built to last a lifetime. Unlike many radios today, it can be serviced by someone with some basic electronics know-how.

Buyers should understand that these radios are approaching an age where some capacitors may need replacing.

A FRG-7 may need some servicing to perform well for its next 30 years, but when taken care of, it can probably be expected to fulfill that long term mission.  I plan to keep one set up for regular use. The spare will be wrapped for storage and placed in a grounded metal filing cabinet for safe keeping.

(I'll update this post with some photos a little later).

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