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Tecsun PL-660 Radio

Today, my Tecsun PL-660 radio takes the stage! 

This is my go to radio for all of the delights that broadcast in single sideband on the shortwave dial.

What is single-sideband? 

According to Wikipedia:

In radio communications, single-sideband modulation (SSB) or single-sideband suppressed-carrier modulation (SSB-SC) is a type of modulation used to transmit information, such as an audio signal, by radio waves. A refinement of amplitude modulation, it uses transmitter power and bandwidth more efficiently. Amplitude modulation produces an output signal the bandwidth of which is twice the maximum frequency of the original baseband signal. Single-sideband modulation avoids this bandwidth increase, and the power wasted on a carrier, at the cost of increased device complexity and more difficult tuning at the receiver.

That's a mouthful! It means the signal carries further with less power and bandwidth.

What can you hear in single-sideband?

Airplanes, ships, pirate radio stations, amateur radio and more!

I listen mostly to amateur radio. These are conversations being broadcast out over public airwaves that do require a special radio (that is pretty widely available) to hear so for the most part, you don't hear anything too nuts. But on rare occasions, you do and that's just a bonus.

I listen because I am trying to log all of the states and provinces in the US and Canada. When I hear an amateur broadcaster announce their ID, I write that in the log book and when I am done listening I look those up and log the locations. Then, I fill out any new locations on the grid of pages I have glued into my log book.

Is this a weird hobby? Maybe but it beats mindlessly scrolling on the iPad in my easy chair each night.

Last night, I logged Alberta and Nebraska for the first time since I started doing this. Sure, I probably heard many of these locations way back when I was listening all the time but I have started over from scratch! 

WOO HOO!

Enough of that. Here is my Tecsun PL-660. I wanted the silver color. You press the SSB key to turn on single-sideband for either LSB (lower-sideband) or USB (upper-sideband). I do most of my listening around 7 megahertz so that is LSB.


Once you find a signal, you adjust it to hear the voices correctly using the SSB BFO knob. The good news is that you can make most people sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks if you want. 

Switches that I never touch and a place to plug in my C Crane earbuds!


The good/bad news about this radio is that I bought it on eBay a few years ago and when I received it, instead of being in great shape as listed, it was out of alignment on FM and the Air band. This is a common problem with these radios and never versions have a calibration function built in. This is not a newer version. Since I wanted it just for shortwave, I asked for a partial refund that brought the price down to $25 shipped. Not bad for a radio that is easily the best shortwave radio I have ever owned and also the second best AM radio I have owned!

A bag AND a radio!

It's been a busy week, so busy that I haven't had any radio time but I took a few minutes just a bit ago to sit out on the deck and scan around the 40 meter band and I was rewarded with a new state received for the log book.

This is my radio bag. It's a tablet bag that has been discontinued for a long time, the Jett by Wenger (SKU 27695090):


When I need a bit of radio time, I can grab this bag and go.

It's quite full:

Inside, I have:
  • My Tecsun PL-660 radio
  • My log book which is an Exceed notebook I bought at Walmart
  • My Casio PQ-13 travel clock set on UTC
  • My Sangean ANT-60 longwire antenna
  • My CCrane earbuds in a dollar store fabric sunglasses case
  • One pencil
My Tecsun PL-660 is the best shortwave radio I've ever owned and is used mostly for listening to the amateur bands. In my log book, I have grids listing all of the states in the US and provinces in Canada and I'm working on logging each one of them on the amateur bands and on the AM band. Some may never happen. Who knows. 

I've heard a lot of stations over the years but I just recently decided to start fresh and see what I get. Today I added Missouri on the amateur band. A few nights back, I had my Grundig S450DLX on the deck and added Pennsylvania to the AM radio list.

I listen to more than I log and I find that tuning around through the bands is a relaxing and brain-clearing break especially on busy days. I just need to find more time to get out with a radio and listen!

Wenger Cobalt Backpack

The Post Office finally decided to deliver a package which has sat at the local distribution hub since Monday and in that package was a used older version of the Wenger Cobalt Backpack. Is Wenger and Swissgear the same thing? I guess?

I got this one for $16 shipped and it typically goes for $49 to $70 new. This backpack is quite used and obviously not as well taken care of as I would treat a backpack but that is OK. There is still some life in it and it will get only minor use in the future.

I bought it for my large Dell Inspiron 5558 Laptop which is my workhorse laptop used for editing podcasts and the website work I do among other things. I bought the Cobalt to replace the Solo New York Region Laptop Backpack (bought on the clearance rack a while back) I have been previously using due to a bit of a mishap that happened when the laptop was in that backpack.

I rarely take my big laptop out of the house but I had to one day and it was in the far back of the car behind the seats. At some point driving, it must have shifted around because when I opened the hatch, it lept for freedom and nosedived upside down onto the driveway. 

This resulted in me finding out about the one weakness of the Solo backpack - the top of it. There is no strap to keep the laptop from moving right to the top of the bag and striking any surface it collides with since there is very little padding up there. 

Luckily, it offered enough protection to keep the damage minimal. The bezel of my screen has a small crack from the impact and the DVD drive door got bend up pretty badly since the frame took quite a hit.

The Wenger backpack has a Velcro strap to keep the laptop snug and offers more room between the laptop and the top of the bag so there will be more padding in case of a future mishap although I plan to be super careful moving forward. 

The shame of this is that the Solo Backpack has the best zippers I have ever had in a backpack. Also, even though it is advertised to hold a 15.6 inch laptop, it probably should not which is my fault. I should have known better. The fact that it is missing a velcro strap at the top to keep a laptop secure means I am now a bit afraid to carry my 13.3 inch laptop in it also so this one will probably end up going to the help center at some point.

Now that my bags habit is fueling this website, I have ordered ANOTHER ONE today so come back for more bag observations in the future!

Swissgear 1270 Scansmart Laptop Backpack

My first new to me bag,since I started this site just two days ago, the Swissgear 1270 Scansmart Laptop Backpack, has arrived and it is a long overdue replacement for my work backpack.

Oddly enough, it is almost completely identical to my work backpack which has served me well for many years and travelled with me for thousands of miles back when I was travelling a lot up until about 2012.

On the left is my "old" bag which has been very well taken care of. On the right is my new to me bag. There is not a whole lot of difference, as you can see. The weight is about the same. The pockets are nearly identical.



The big difference is the ScanSmart pockets. The new to me bag has a dedicated tablet pocket which I have wanted for a long time. As you can see on the left, my old backpack has a pocket for folders but no protection for a tablet and I would travel with my Kindle if I ever needed to travel again and I see at least a little possible travel happening in 2021.



The new to me back is an older version of the Swissgear 1270 so I am not sure if that is the correct item number or not. Swiss Gear makes little changes to designs over time and it's really tough to keep up with them. What I do know is that the 1270 runs between $60 and $80 most of the time and I paid just under $20 shipped to get this one so I am quite pleased.


I know you are wondering if my old bag will end up donated to the help center and the answer is no! I did donate the bag I had from about 2000 until I got the old bag and I always have regretted it so my old bag is staying in the family just in case there is a need for it in the future. Swiss Gear bags are so well made that there is still a lot of life left in it.

I have several additional new to me Swiss Gear items inbound that are delayed by the postal service but should be here by next week so stay tuned!

My favorite all-around radio - Grundig S450DLX Field Radio

Going back to my first shortwave radio in 1986, a Toshiba RP-F11, to now, I have had a lot of shortwave radios over the years. I am down only a few now with three packed away that I will probably get rid of at some point.

Shortwave radio has lost many stations but there are still interesting signals out there and my favorite all-around radio for pulling in commercial signals is my Grundig S450DLX Field Radio.

This is an older, discontinued model now and its reputation suffers from having many defective units in the initial run and quite a few not so great units mixed in until it finally left the market. However, there were good units out there if you were lucky enough to get your hands on one like I was.

Mine suffers none of the main issues I have seen reported over the years including wobbly knobs and calibration issues. Mine works perfectly and has amazing reception which is on par with my favorite shortwave portable, the Tecsun PL-660.

This radio has a great sound thanks to its size and the size of its speaker. It has great reception thanks to the size of the antennas, both the rod and the internal ferrite. It performs great on each band - AM, FM and Shortwave.

What does it lack? Single Sideband so I have my Tecsun PL-660 for that. It also lacks a keypad but the quick tune feature and available memories work great for me. 

This radio is an all-around winner and it keeps me going in the hobby because it's just plain fun to operate.

Here's the radio with my log book which I use to keep track of stations I hear during different times of the day.


Here begins something new

Whenever I decide to do create something new, my mind goes back to the first episode of CBS Sunday Morning. It's hard to believe that was over forty-one years ago. I rarely missed an episode during the Charles Kuralt years. It made me interested in all kinds of subjects - art, music, architecture, etc. - all things creative. And those intro graphics! You could never improve on that!

Today, I begin something new that has been many years coming. I have always had a love of radios and bags and in past blogs, I have written about many of them but I always intermingled that writing with personal writing about day to day life or politics or whatever was on my mind at the time. This ended up making the sites feel messy and distracting. It was too much even for me, the one writing it.

For the past couple of months, I stopped blogging and turned my writing attention to what you might call slow internet sites like special.fish and flounder. But I still had the itch to write about the items that bring me so much joy and instead of feeling ashamed about this, I had to embrace the fact that many people collect items. Some collect spoons. One friend I know collects hats. Ken has an incredible collection of items that are all meaningful and he has created a wonderful video series highlighting some of them.

I collect and use and enjoy radios and bags. I have reduced my collection down to items I use regularly because I needed to focus more on the items that really had meaning (yes, like Marie Kondo said we should) and not feel so overwhelmed surrounded by items that didn't.

That brings me to today and to this site, a site simply named radiosandbags.upinthisbrain.com. While I will allow myself to sneak in a different type of gadget or item here and there, my main focus will be on radios, mostly shortwave radios, and bags, mostly backpacks.

And this won't be an extensive review site either. I intend to share observations of me actually using these items. Today I plan to introduce you to my favorite all-around radio and a new to me backpack that is arriving in the mail that I am pretty excited about. I won't go into in-depth discussions of either but if you keep up with the site, both items will pop up again and again over time, showing them being used in various ways with observations on how good or not so good they might be in certain situations.

Sound interesting? I hope so. I promise not to write overwhelming posts. This one will probably be the longest one I write here.

Two items to note:

First - this is a work in progress. I am doing nothing with this first post but writing it and posting it. I am not tweaking the layout of the site or adding links. That will all happen over time.

Second - my personal day to day personal writing will still be happening at special.fish and flounder for now although I have two other sites I am playing with to see if one of them will be better than the others. Time will tell and over time, it will end up where it needs to end up. As Charles Kuralt said, "We're not going to rush through it."

Thanks for seeing the link and giving this a read. If radios and bags are even a bit interesting to you, please come back around when you can.