I have a few receivers knocking about that have provided hours of fun over the years.
Icom PCR-1000 PC controlled communications receiver
This little receiver cost me about £300 a few years back. It’s controlled by means of a serial port, and Icom supply windows based software that decorates your screen as if you were in front of a rather expensive communications receiver. It covers from 100Khz to 1GHz with no gaps. As it has to be plugged in to a PC for normal operation (although there are a few hacks out there to make it hold it’s current frequency without a PC), it can be a little noisy to operate, but on the whole it’s a pretty good box for the price. I have heard that some units have got a little hot whist working it hard in scanning mode, but personally it’s as cool as a cucumber whilst operating. I have run this receiver for several months at a time, and fed the received audio on to the internet using MP3 Streaming from my servers, allowing me to do SSTV reception whilst at work :D. I was very surprised that SSTV signals survived MP3 Encoding at 32KB/s (Don’t tell the boss). Because it was using windows software I spent a little while hunting around on the web for some linux software. There is some C-Code out there that can be compiled on most machines, including Sun and Linux boxes. The code is pretty basic, but it does work nicely for remote operations that don’t require a scanning facility. I wrote a perl cgi script wrapper for the control program and was able to change some parameters online via a web page, namely the frequency, Modulation mode, and receive bandwidth functions. It has a nice wide bandwidth for receiving NOAA APT transmissions on 137.62MHz, and 137.500MHz. I never got round to making it change frequency based on the time of day, but it’s very do-able with a unix like operating system. Just stick it in the crontab 🙂 As there are no gaps it is even possible to even receive pager messages at 1200 and 2400 baud, and decode them if you have the appropriate software or coding experience. !! Don’t you just love datacomms 🙂
There is just one MAJOR problem in my option with this product. The alignment settings are held in the EEPROM, but they are not locked. Should you send an inappropriate command over the serial port, you can knock out your alignment. If you do happen to do this, and don’t have a backup of your settings available, then the re-alignment costs charged by ICOM are such that you might as well use it as an expensive paper-weight. That said, if you back up your eeprom settings with a DOS program that is available on the web then you should be safe. There are even reports of people using this receiver with the supplied windows based software and having this very problem due to computer glitches. So be warned, if you have one of these and haven’t backed up the EEPROM contents – you probably should- but then….. I’m no ICOM expert… What do I know? 😛
Great rx – shame about the lack of EEPROM lock
Radio Shack Pro-90 trunk tracker
I brought this little scanner whilst in the states for an extended period in 2000. If I remember rightly it cost me about 80 bucks, and allowed me to explore their airwaves whilst down in Florida. I’d not seen or heard about radio trunks at the time, but after a read of the manual and a bit of poking about with the buttons, I managed to get it trunk tracking on UHF. The cool thing was that the ID of the transmitting station came up on the screen, and it followed the frequency hopping of the transmissions – quite cool, and also there was a Wx button that allowed me to tune in to the automated weather stations there, which was also a novelty at the time. As it turned out the WX function is quite common in the states, and it certainly came in to it’s own when the CAT-5 hurricane Floyd was announced. Thankfully the hurricane took a last minute turn before it properly hit Orlando, but watching the weather reports as it came closer were more than scary, and the TV made lots of references to hurricane andrew which destroyed lots of the area about 10 years previous. As I was stuck there, the best thing to be done was to have a hurricane party with some of the students I met from the University of Florida. I wish we had surplus stores in the UK like they do in the US. There was some mad kit for sale for literally pence. This radio also became useful when back in the UK. As it wasn’t a complete coverage receiver some of the – lets say – more interesting bands were blocked, however as it turned out, back in the UK those interesting bands happened to be in a different place, and whilst similar receivers in this price band were blocked in in the UK, this receiver was blocked in different places, however those frequencies are no longer really used in the UK. It still makes a great air-band receiver though 🙂