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.
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’
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.