The Sony Super Radio

ICF-S5-1

For those who do not know, the General Electric Super Radio (SR) is a bit of a modern day classic. in fact, it introduced a lot of us to the world of “serious” broadcast band DXing. These radios, which sold for about $50, provided the listener with nice audio, decent selectivity, and that big, sensitive ferrite rod antenna. Their analog dial might not have been the most accurate, and the later production model IIIs could sound atrocious, but I don’t think you could do much better for the money.

A couple of years ago, I discovered that Panasonic made its own ‘version’ of the SR. For some reason, in spite of knowing all about the many competitors to the Trans-Oceanic, it never dawned on me that anyone would try to compete with GE in this marketplace. Sure enough, the Panasonic rf-1401 is certainly in the same league as its counterparts at GE. It has similar size, layout, and, after the ferrite rod antenna upgrade, can compete with GE’s best. Now that I knew about the Panasonic, and the Realistic brand ‘TRF’, what about other brands? I mean, if Panasonic felt the need to release a radio to compete with the GE, did Sony come out with a competitor as well? And if they did, well, what was it?

Of course, my first stop was (where else?) eBay. I sorted through all kinds of Sony portables and didn’t find much that would match up with what I was looking for. I found lots of 2010s, but that started being made in 1985, and was well above the price range I was looking for. I also found several Earth Orbiters, but that was a TransOceanic competitor, not a Super Radio.

The Sony TFM–7720W
The Sony TFM–7720W

I did, however, manage to turn up the The Sony TFM–7720W, a double conversion receiver that looks a lot like the SRs. It has a similar size to its GE counterparts, complete with an analog dial, but its tone adjustment is limited to a low/high switch. Its production run may have started as early as 1970 as well, which would predate the GE’s, so it’s not quite what I am looking for. It’s still an intriguing looking radio though, and one that is still surrounded by a bit of mystery as well. There just isn’t a lot on the web about these radios, although I did find a post saying that it wasn’t quite up to the performance of the SR II. I have a feeling one of these will probably end up in Tim’s Wayward Home for Radios, and might even get the same antenna upgrade as the rf-1401.

Enter the ‘Superstar’

icf-s5

I figured my quest had come to an end with the TFM, but that all changed when I stumbled across a demonstration video made by the AM DXer Gary DeBock. Mr. DeBock has done a lot of work in developing the ferrite sleeve loop (FSL) antenna for ultralight DXing, and has a log book I can only dream of. His YouTube channel is full of great stuff, and I highly recommend checking it out. It was in one of these loop demonstration videos where the Sony portable he was using immediately caught my eye. This one looked kind of like the Sony TFM, but it had sliding controls along the side, and no other visible front controls. Nope, this was definitely not the TFM, but what in the world was it??

As it turns out, the radio is a Sony ICF-S5, and it has a rather legendary reputation in the broadcast band DXing community, When it comes to pure sensitivity, this radio may be the king of the mediumwave portables. Not only that though, they also had a Murata 455 kHz filter inside, giving them good selectivity as well. In addition, they had that certain Sony touch that the best of their designs always seem to have. In this case, it was a green and red LED indicator on the dial to give you an idea of your best signal strength.

These remarkable radios had an Achilles heel though. All that sensitivity came at the cost of strong signal images in several places across the band. If you thought that local broadcaster was a pest before now, this radio gave you the chance to hear it again on 910 kHz. In spite of this drawback, the S5 developed a cult like following, and is still well regarded to this day. To quote Gary DeBock’s write up on this radio for the IRCA reflector:

For the Japanese, who have far more radio  enthusiasts 
per capita than do North Americans, the ICF-S5 was an overnight  sensation, with AM sensitivity superior to anything else on the market at  the time.  It gained the nickname of the "Superstar," and when I was  stationed at Yokosuka, Japan in the Navy (in early 1980), its photo was  displayed in train stations and shopping centers, similar to those of the  most popular Japanese actresses 
and pop singers.

In other words, how in the world had I not heard of this one before??

Well, that question is an easy one. The S5 was only released in the Japanese domestic market, so there are not a lot of them over here in the states. They did make a North American version called the S5W, but they only made it for one year (1981) before ceasing production of both models. That makes the S5W a very rare beast indeed, and a very expensive one as well. If you can find one, you can expect to pay upwards of $200.

The good news is that its replacement in the JDM was the ICF-EX5, a radio I have come to know and love. It shares a lot of the features of the S5 line, plus the addition of that bulldog of a synch detector. While this radio is not technically available in North America, you can pick one up on Amazon or eBay. It’s a fitting heir to the throne, but you know I will be on the lookout for an S5 from here on out.

While my wallet may have different feeling about all of this, I would like to thank Mr. DeBock for sharing his information about this gem of a radio. This post couldn’t have been written without it.

Breaking the Silence

IMG_20180327_210549So I read somewhere that it’s not good to go 547 days between blog posts. Well, it’s a good thing that we’ve only gone 546 days between posts here at HF Radio Review, and will manage to get a new post in just before that magic 547 day deadline.* What can I say, people? If life takes its toll on the best of us., you can only imagine what it does at times to a schmuck like me. fortunately I am coming up for air long enough to let you know what’s been going on around here as far as radios go.

New Portables 

IMG_20180320_194506-1.jpgThe portable radio kick continues with a couple of new additions to the menagerie. The GE Monitor 10 is pure nostalgia for me. I could only dream about having a radio like this when I was a kid, so it only seemed fitting to give this one a home now. It can’t hold a candle to some of the other portables in the shack, but its still an enjoyable radio. The weather band is a useful feature, and that big speaker pays off with a nice, rich tone. It may not be a DXing beast, but it’s great for listening to a ballgame.

94-2While it would be easy to dismiss the Zenith Royal 94 as little more than nostalgia as well, this one can hold its own, especially on the mediumwave band. All in all, I’d say it’s about on par with its big brother the TransOceanic, which is pretty good in my book. It could use a little TLC to get it in real fighting shape, but it will be worth the effort, as this is already a great radio. Besides, this one is a real looker. Even people who aren’t into radios can appreciate this beauty. Commander mcDonald really outdid himself with this one.

IMG_20180403_212429Fast forward a couple of decades to the early 80s, when the Panasonic rf-1401 made its debut.  I picked this one up a while ago, but it didn’t do much for me.While it had that nice big audio that I’ve come to know and love from Panasonic, it just fell short in the performance department.  Deedless to say, this one didn’t do it for me, and it ended up on the shelf for the better part of two years.

A few weeks ago, I finally decided to do the Jay Allen antenna mod on this radio, and I swear the thing came to life! The AM sensitivity is much better, maybe even better than the GE 7-2990. it still has some ‘quirks’ around strong signals, but that new ferrite rod antenna has turned an OK radio into a great one, and is an upgrade that’s well worth the effort. I’m looking forward to really putting this one through its paces.

A Second Loop Antenna

IMG_20180417_192810If you don’t have the room to put a lot of metal up in the air, or live in a noisy urban environment, the magnetic loop is a godsend. These small wonders are famous for their ability to cut through the man made noise and get to the signal you’re looking for. Larry Plummer, W6LVP, took the magnetic loop and made it portable. Thanks to a loop made from coax cable, this antenna gives you all the benefits of a Wellbrook or Pro-1B in a package that can be put up and taken down in minutes. I’ve had the opportunity to play around with this antenna for a while now, and it has proven itself to be a great performer. Expect a comparison between it and the Pro-1B here shortly.

By the way, Larry has a $25 off sale for his loops this month. If you are in the market for a new receive antenna, I would jump on this one. If you already have one of his loops but would like to make it even more portable, you can get a battery box like the ones used on his new portable loop from Adafruit industries.

A New Mediumwave Catch

While I may seem a little fixated on portables these days, that doesn’t mean that the Perseus hasn’t been put to good use. I made this recording last october, but didn’t do much with it as I wasn’t all that pleased with the quality. After giving it a second listen though, it’s much better than I remembered. Still rough mind you, but it’s easily my best mediumwave catch ever. This recording is of a signal I caught around local sunrise on 1098 kHz with the SAL-30 pointed to the Northwest. While I should’ve looked for parallel transmissions on the shortwave bands, the audio and frequency would match up with the 1000 KW (and no, that is not a typo) China National Radio transmitter out of Golmud.

6989 miles away from my SAL.

Here’s a clip of what I heard that morning in October. Take a listen and decide for yourself.

So How Many Days Will You Go between Posts This Time?

Hey, what can I say? Sometimes life gets in the way of things, and your passions need to take a back seat. Hopefully I will have a little more time to devote to my beloved hobby soon though, and if things go well, 2018 could be a great year for my radio addiction. I am hoping to put together a ferrite sleeve loop antenna this summer, which will make my portables even better. I am also in the preliminary stages of possibly doing a DXPedition this fall, but we’ll see have to wait and see. Stay tuned, folks.

*Yes, I had to go back and edit this part when I was unable to finish the post on time. Don’t judge me. That’s Boris’s job.

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