Super Cheap, and Almost Super

As an urban dweller living in close quarters, I do have one luxury– my own room, or office of sorts. Maybe if you’re lucky you have one too. It’s where I write, think, browse the web and fool with audio. And being a somewhat modern guy, I do most of these things with computers. In fact there’s a few computers here, a monitor, and a bunch of external devices, power supplies and a battery charger or two. It all makes for a very noisy environment. But it’s not the kind of noise that wakes the neighbors. No, it’s the scourge of AM and shortwave listening, RF noise, that fills my room. And as someone who regularly partakes of the amplitude modulation, listening to the radio where I spend much of my time is chronically problematic.

This is why I don’t do much DXing around the house. Too frustrating. A few times I have set up a couple of radios on the other end of the apartment, but here in the big city there’s already quite a bit of RF to contend with anyway. For example, my neighbor four or five buildings down the street has some loud high pulsing noise I can hear at a certain AM frequency from my bathroom, and it’s much louder when I drive by his house. Wonder what he’s doing over there?

Anyway, I’m happy to report I’ve found a solution of sorts– a GE Superadio III. Actually it’s recently been re-branded as an RCA Superadio, but it’s bascially the same affordable workhorse that’s been around for a few decades. No shortwave, just AM and FM. While I hear the FM works pretty darn good, the Superadio really shines as an AM receiver. I have to admit that I haven’t had this radio long enough to cart it out to a good RF quiet spot (which usually means getting out of town) and actually DX with it, I can tell you that more than any other AM I own, it really stands up bravely to the RF barrage. It’s quickly become my radio of choice while I work and write here at the house.

Typical AM DX mainstays around here like AM 740 and CBC’s 860 frequency in Toronto, and WBT in Charlotte can indeed be heard here at night with the Superadio only a few feet from three computers, albeit with a thin layer of noise on top. Which is actually pretty impressive. But what it does really well for me, is bring in many local stations with clarity in the midst of a lot of RF pollution.

And it sounds good too. Has a large six inch speaker and a tweeter for the highs. It’s quite loud if you want to crank it. On the downside, it’s a bit big and not so portable. It’s made in China these days, and the "feel" of the workmanship and the response of the controls tells you that this is not a luxury item. Some people might be put off by the analog tuning, which I have little problem with on medium wave (it’s a bigger issue with shortwave tuning). Speaking of that, perhaps the most annoying issue is the AM dial calibration is WAY off. And unlike the RF-2200‘s beautiful analog tuning setup, the frequencies are increasingly closer together as you go up the dial. On mine, twenty or so AM frequencies occupy the first half of the dial, and the other ninety-some occupy the second half. Somebody’s posted a rather technical and difficult fix for this here, and I see that if you buy the radio from C. Crane they’ll fix this up for you for an extra ten bucks (on top of fifty for the radio, and the shipping).

From what I’ve read online, what accounts for the Superadio’s good behavior in a heightened RF environment also accounts for the sloppy tuning scale situation. Unlike the Superadio I and II, the third version uses something called varactor tuning diodes instead of the usual variable capacitor tuning. In retrospect, what seems to have happened was that during the process of upgrading the performance of the Superadio in the early nineties, they didn’t complete the job of perfecting the interface.

However, if you know the AM dial well and have patient tuning fingers you can work around the dial issues. What makes this radio worth having is that it’s a time-tested performer. It also sounds good. And it’s inexpensive. I found one brand new on ebay for just over thirty bucks, and only ten dollars shipping. Hell, that’s what? Two or three large pizzas? Otherwise you can find the Superadio for forty of fifty dollars in many places online, and in some stores as well I’ve never seen it in a store, but I read that some carry them. Other than J&R in downtown Manhattan I never see DX worthy radios in stores these days. (For fun, go in a Radio Shack and TRY to find the radios.)

I already knew this was a decent radio to have around, and when found it selling at such a bargain price I impulsively bought one for myself. I actually already had a Radio Shack copycat version of the Superadio, which isn’t bad either. But the real thing outshines it. If you look online, there’s quite a mythology/community surrounding the various versions of the Superadio. All three are good radios, and can be found easily on ebay. And if you’re looking for something more classic and handsome, the great granddaddy of the Superadio series, the GE P780 (from the early 1960’s) shows up on ebay now and then. From what I hear, it’s a helluva of a performer. (I’d love to snag one someday.) For a little radio history, you can pick up a little here from one of the key developers of the P780, Conrad Jutson.

Looking forward to taking this black plastic box into the hinterlands (along with my external loop AM antenna) and hearing how it performs in the wild. Speaking of that, while I don’t have any audio from the Superadio to offer here yet, I do have a video. It’s nothing I made. I just came across it on YouTube in the middle of a web search. It’s a quick daytime DX scan of the AM band (from Pennsylvania perhaps) with a Superadio II. While none of the reception is logged or identified, he does pick up nearly seventy stations in one sweep of the band.

While I’m not sure I’ve ever come across an audio archive a radio bandscan on the web (other than ones I’ve posted), not long ago I discovered that there’s actually quite a number of videos of bandscans posted on YouTube. Search under “bandscan” or “dxing” and you’ll find quite a few. However, no videos I’ve seen make a point of identifying much of the reception they come across, but it’s interesting and a little enlightening to hear (and see) what other radios in other places can access out of the ether.

And for me it’s reassuring to know other people do such things, and admit it online. That’s part of why I started this blog, to know that there’s other people who sit alone (typically at night) turning knobs and listening intently, and have a good time.

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6 Responses to “Super Cheap, and Almost Super”

  1. Dale Hazelton Says:

    Good lookinig site, Professor!

    I wish I had this radio….I bought the Radio Shack version back when they actually sold radios, thinking “It looks the same, therefore it must BE the same.” Wrong!

  2. Dave K. Says:

    Great to hear from you.
    Thanks for the commentary, I purchased a Kaito 1103 on your word and find it to be a superior product. Thanks! My main radio has been a Radio Shack DX-392 purchased in the 80’s or early 90’s. The cassette drawer mechanism broke, but a butter knife will do. My job takes me overseas and I bring a Sangean SG 662. I have snippets of programs from ???. I’ll try to condense to a SW comp. Cheers, Dave K

  3. tdevine Says:

    Welcome back! And thanks for the e-mail telling me the blog is back. I had my gf read a few the old “Shortwave Radio Series” on the WFMU blog, and finally understood what was wrong with me 🙂

    I have a SuperRadio II, but very sadly of all things the AM stopped working on it. I’ll probably get a current version of the radio to replace it.

    At the moment I have a DX-398 audio patched to my 3-piece stereo. This stereo is also hooked to XM and Sirius, talk about options! (along with the stereo’s built-in AM/FM). The DX-398 has a could yards of wire on the antenna which brings in the big guns. I also have a Icom 706 which is my main amateur radio (talking and listening), and that has a 70 foot wire between 2 trees. NICE DX on that.

  4. K. Says:

    Indeed! Spamming us was a good idea; better would be to post something on the FMU blog as I’m sure like many folks I have long since ceased to post a real email address of any sort there.

    My DX’ing has been limited to a vintage Bogen RX-150 I fished out of the neighbors trash a few months ago. After cleaning it of the basement soot, the only thing wrong with it was that the plug had been cut ( BTW why do people always do this when they throw electronics away? Is there some amazing use for 120V plugs that I am not aware of? ) and the cotter pin holding the lead counterweight for the tuning capacitor had broken ( a piece of brass wire fixed that easily enough ). The tuner feels like it has a bowling ball attached to it, giving the instrument a beautiful feel and a much more sensitive touch. Wood case, steel chassis, and not an IC in sight. The output stage is a couple of 2N3055’s, so I could put some real speakers on it if I was inclined. It’s sad to look at this thing, and realize that this kind of quality of design is no longer available in consumer electronics. The only place you can find such high quality equipment is, naturally, the trash.

    I’ve been considering building an AM antenna for this thing. Any suggestions? It’d have to be small enough to fit in the kitchen, as I live in a brownstone apartment. I’ve been mulling over a design using a 6 inch diameter basket weave coil self resonant at the top end of the AM band, with an inductively coupled variable capacitor to tune the antenna to resonance at the frequency I’m trying to receive. You could open circuit the tuning capacitor, tune the radio to around the signal, then put the capacitor in the circuit and tune the antenna to the same frequency. I rather suspect I could pull in some seriously weak signals with that combination, and the selectivity would be superb.

  5. Cris Says:

    I bought a Superadio III and was so disappointed with it, I returned it to the store. the Superadio II is such a valued collectors item that they routinely go for two to three times their original price in internet auctions.

    I recently reacquired my original Superadio II after about ten years of lending it to someone else and I am still impressed by the performance.

  6. Bill Oettle Says:

    Yeah…I also sit at night (with dog at feet) and scan the airwaves…I now have 2 of the old P780's, and one of the GE "Super Radio II's" which I wasn't too impressed with..maybe it's just my radio, but i get way better reception of the orlando stations on my little SONY AM only set…(i forget off hand which model..) from the 60's…and of course – now that Tom has repaired my P780 that will grab some nice air… I have recently bought a Grundig 750 for shortwave DXing…I couldn't be more pleased at it's performance…You get what you pay for in most cases I guess…
       I'll probably never be completly finished with my quest for the ultimate AM DXing radio though…The search continues for now…Thanks for this awesome web site ..Very usefull!  Bill Palm Bay fl.

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