* Prices may differ from that shown
We've always liked to take a portable 'world radio' with us on our travels. Not so I can listen to the cricket whilst in Iceland or the BBC World Service from just about anywhere. It's just that I delight in combing the air-waves once installed wherever it is I'm going. Now that the cut-off date for killing VHF/FM in Britain seems to have moved yet again, I feel quite safe in buying a 'non-DAB' radio, in the knowledge that it'll still be working in the UK for years to come, and anyway, local stations will continue on analog FM.
Our current radio, a Sony, which we bought quite literally donkey's years ago at Luton Airport whilst waiting for a delayed Cyprus flight had served well, but just lately it's felt a little like it was on its last legs, as the aerial mount seems to have cracked and fallen away, leaving the extending antenna rather vulnerable to the slightest extra blow, either physical or a strong wind!
In checking e-bay, I was pleased to find that practically the same radio is still available. I was less pleased to see that it cost over £100. Thinking about it, it cost us about £45 in circa 1990, so that should come as no surprise.
This led to the inevitable churn of what else was around when searching for 'world radios'. Time and time again, the name Tecsun kept cropping up. Not necessarily a name you'd recognise, as it's an emerging Chinese brand, but I'm reliably informed that companies like this also make 'badged' offerings for the likes of Grundig and so on.
Tecsun make an alarming array of multi-band radios, in a huge range of prices from about twenty quid up to £130.
After reading around on the subject on various 'radio ham' sites, it appears that the model PL-660* is pretty highly thought-of in such circles, the one reviewer on Amazon.co.uk referring to it as the 'best sub-£200 portable'.
(* This is not to be confused with their somewhat cheaper PL-606 model, before someone tells me that I've paid too much!)
This is pretty impressive as it cost me £70 to import one from Hong Kong including postage, but running the risk of letting HMRC get their teeth into taxing it on entry to the UK. Even so, and if they can be bothered, you'll still pay less than the cheapest UK supplier at £88, what a surprise. In the end I had to pay £11.25 before my local Post Office would release it. It wasn't till I got home that I realised that only £3.25 of that was duty, the other £8 was Royal Mail's outrageous 'handling fee'. Apparently, according to my friendly guy at the parcels' desk, they're obliged by their licence to 'make a profit', and I'm seemingly paying for the entire cost of running the service, including the expense of sending back other's unclaimed goods to sender.
Presumably, once they've seen the handling fee, it isn't worth paying for parking to collect let's say '19-quids-worth' of goods, £18 being the magic number below which HMRC won't stoop!
WHAT YOU GET FOR YOUR SEVENTY (OR EIGHTY) QUID
a) The radio - obviously.
b) Four rechargeable NiMh AA batteries - how refreshing is that? (It will run off standard AAs too).
c) The charger to go with them, including a UK plug adapter.
d) They give you a wire aerial reel to hang somewhere strategic when you really do want to pull in distant stations and don't mind turning your hotel room into something looking like an "Allo, Allo" bedroom in occupied France. This is in addition to the normal telescopic aerial fixed to the radio which does for all local use, as you'd expect.
e) A travel-wallet to protect the radio although it's wise to operate the power lock button so as not to turn it on through the soft material whilst in transit, possibly causing an 'international incident' as you're asked to explain the 'shushing noise' or time-pips emanating from your luggage.
f) The instruction booklet (also available as a download).
Compared to my last radio, the Sony, this one is quite large, being 187mm wide, 33mm deep and 114mm tall. This leaves it looking rather slim, and since the facia leans back in a curve, prone to falling over especially when the telescopic aerial is extended. However, help is at hand in two forms. Firstly, there's a pull-out metal wire foot at the base, and secondly, there's a flap at the back that hinges up and out, so that the radio can be rested at about 45 degrees, i.e. lay it down before it falls down. This is a good viewing angle when tuning it for a table top.
Standard of construction seems to be favourable for something made by a firm you've never heard of, and this is no doubt how firms like this get the contracts for larger well known brands like Grundig or Philips to put their badges on.
You CAN specify a silver one, but I figured that this was most likely a paint finish, and since you have to 'thumb' this box quite a lot, whilst working the myriad other controls, the black semi-matt seemed a better idea.
The tonal range of the radio when operating on one speaker is fine, and there's a two-way switch to better suit it to music or speech. I guess this is a benefit of it being a tad larger than what I've been using - even the speaker is larger. The tonal range when using stereo headphones (yes, it's FM Stereo too) largely depends on how good are the headphones.
Well, there aren't too many to be honest. The only major let-down was the fact that there's now hardly anything on Short Wave, as most nations keen to show-case their way of life, or put their own slant on the news do so via the Wibbly-Wobbly Way Interweb Browser thingy these days, and that's hardly the radio's fault. I did manage to pick up a very strong Chinese station broadcasting in English so I know it works!
Living near Heathrow, I trawled the entire 'Air Band' to find nothing. Presumably airliners have gone digital? I'll give it another try when I'm nearer to a lesser airfield.
Whatever happened to the 'London VOLMET' channel? I used to enjoy telling my classmates how many octars of cloud cover we could expect in Hounslow!
There's a friendly back-light behind the LCD display, and you can operate a power lock by pressing both the OFF button and a Lock symbol to prevent the radio wasting power when in its soft pouch.
Sadly, the back-light doesn't seem to form part of this security lock, and can be tripped on and off by outside pressure on just the wrong spot.
The instructions in English do leave a little to be desired, and sometimes take quite a bit of 'retranslating' to make any sense of them.
For example "Note: For the silk-printing in red or orange on radio with brackets, it means that you can only operate it when radio is off."
I now know this to mean "Note: Buttons labelled in brackets, where printed in red or orange only function when the radio is off." Why I need to know that they are silk-screen-printed is anyone's guess.
It just goes to show that you really do need a 'native speaker' of English, or any language for that matter, not just somebody claiming to be fluent in it. I'm for ever reminded of my late Dad's Honda commuter bike, the instructions of which proclaimed in capitals "IT IS MOST IMPORTEND!" We never did find out what was so 'importend'.
Inevitably, the electronic revolution has turned the emphasis away from 'knobs' to select things in favour of everything being 'menu-driven', which means a steep learning curve if you thought that radio means 'steam-radio'.
Yes, I'm glad I bought it; after all the old Sony isn't going to last much longer, but anyone wanting to pull the world into their room now needs internet access instead as the world deserts radio in droves. However, it is quite compact in its pouch and I particularly like the fact that it has rechargeable batteries, which as yet, I've not run down.
Anyway, there's always the BBC World Service!