In the history of affordable AM/FM portable radios, there have been few that combine sensitivity (the ability to reliably receive distant stations) with selectivity (the ability to separate them for clear, intelligible listening). Even fewer AM/FM portables have combined those characteristics with great sound, the most notable being the legendary GE Superadio/Superadio II series of the 1980s and early 1990s. (Many used Superadios are selling above their original list prices on eBay today.)
The new $89.99 CCRadio-EP PRO belongs to this exclusive club. Created by Bob Crane, long-time radio innovator/retailer and owner of the C. Crane Co., the CCRadio-EP PRO combines AM/FM sensitivity, selectivity and great sound in a large, analog-style radio receiver, complete with a large illuminated “slide rule” tuning dial.
Although the CCRadio-EP PRO looks like old-tech analog, it is anything but. Inside this 20th century-style case is the brain of a very 21st century digital radio.
A DECEPTIVE SIMPLICITY
At first glance, the CCRadio-EP PRO doesn’t look like a premium AM/FM portable. There’s a lot of unused space on its main front panel, like the blank dashboard of a economy car whose owner wouldn’t spring for an AM radio.
This uncluttered simplicity is misleading because the CCRadio-EP PRO is a sophisticated receiver. The deceptive appearance was a deliberate choice, driven by Crane’s core market for this radio: “It is somewhat embarrassing, but the original CCRadio-EP was made for my mother,” he said. “She painted with watercolors and drove until she was 90, but a digital radio was one thing she did not want to invest her valuable time in to learn.”
Now one mother is not enough to base a product launch on. However, when it came to the CCRadio-EP PRO, “We presumed there were a modest amount of radio listeners in the same boat,” Crane said.
“This radio was designed as a gift to radio lovers who want radio listening to be easy or uncomplicated or simple,” he added. In this way, “it has a similar position in the market as the older models of the GE Superadio.”
Built as an enhanced version of C. Crane’s CCRadio-EP analog AM/FM radio, the CCRadio-EP PRO is contained inside a grey plastic case (with black trim) measuring 11.4 inches wide by 7.3 high and 2.75 wide. It comes with a 5-inch speaker and high-fidelity amplifier. Sound can be heard in mono through the front speaker, or stereo (for FM only) through earbuds or headsets.
Because he prefers analog technology, Bob Crane didn’t want to go digital with this new mode. But he had no choice.
“The analog chipset we used in the first model was not available anymore,” Crane told Radio World. “Analog chips are generally not manufactured anymore. We also lost our ferrite antenna manufacturer at same time. Changing chipsets is sometimes challenging but finding a new ferrite manufacturer was positively chilling.”
The top of the CCRadio-EP PRO has an extendable FM whip antenna plus power and display light buttons. (Being able to turn off the display light saves battery power and keeps from disturbing others at night.) There is also a flip-up handle that locks in place for easy carrying. The CCRadio-EP PRO is powered by an included 6V AC adaptor, or four D batteries.
The CCRadio-EP PRO’s speaker is on the left side of the front panel; the audio controls on the lower right side. These controls are the FM stereo/FM/AM switch for selecting bands, bass and treble knobs for adjusting audio quality and the wide/narrow bandwidth switch for the AM band. (This last switch is central to the CCRadio-EP PRO’s outstanding AM sensitivity. The narrow setting filters out adjacent AM stations to improve selectivity.) The large horizontal tuning display is at the top right side of the front panel.
On the right side end of the CCRadio-EP PRO is the large tuning knob, the AM Fine Tuning knob (for directionally tweaking the built-in C. Crane-patented Twin Coil Ferrite AM Antenna) and the volume knob.
“We actually have a total of five coils on the ferrite devoted to AM reception,” said Crane. “Four coils take advantage of the magnetic north/south axis of ferrite for a 3 dB boost over a typical AM antenna with one coil. The fifth coil is for the external AM antenna interface.”
On the left side end are located a headphone jack, a line input jack that allows the CCRadio-EP PRO to serve as an amplified speaker for a connected music player/smartphone, and the AC adaptor power jack.
Finally, the back panel of the CCRadio-EP PRO contains ports to attach a two-wire AM and/or coaxial-style FM external antenna, an Internal/external antenna switch, a 9 kHz/10 kHz tuning step switch (for using this radio in countries with 9 kHz spacing between AM stations rather than the 10 kHz gaps of the United States), and the battery compartment door.
The company estimates that the CCRadio-EP PRO will run for up to 300 hours on D cell batteries, if the display light is kept off.
AM TV-STYLE PERFORMANCE
Back in 2010, I measured the crowded nighttime AM radio landscape in my hometown of Ottawa, Canada, using the stock AM/FM receiver inside my 2006 Mazda MPV minivan (which is still on the road today). Available at https://tinyurl.com/rw-am-dx, the test showed that U.S. AM stations such as WSB-750 Atlanta (935 miles away) can be received in Ottawa at night, when AM signals propagate over the horizon due to bouncing off the ionosphere.
I certainly expected the CCRadio-EP PRO to be even more sensitive than the Mazda’s AM radio, and it did not disappoint. The AM band on the CCRadio-EP PRO was jammed at night. But thanks to this radio’s wide/narrow filter set to the narrow setting (you lose a bit of audio range using the Narrow filter in exchange for eliminating adjacent channel overlap), the CCRadio-EP PRO was never overloaded. Scanning across the AM band in narrow mode was like flipping channels on a television set. The selectivity was that good.
Meanwhile, the AM fine tuning knob allowed me to boost a selected AM station’s power and clarity (as did rotating the radio on its horizontal axis to improve directional reception). In cases where two radio stations were on the same channel, I was able to tune one out in favor of the other. (Granted, AM signals did fade in and out, which is due to the nature of AM propagation at night.)
The most impressive proof of the CCRadio-EP PRO’s selectivity was its ability to separate New York’s WCBS(AM) on 880 from Chicago’s WLS(AM) on 890. WCBS is a powerhouse in Ottawa at night, even coming in occasionally during the day if the atmospheric conditions are right. On other radios, WLS would be drowned out by WCBS. On the CCRadio-EP PRO, WLS punched through.
FM STEREO SURPRISE
I assumed that the CCRadio-EP PRO’s FM performance would be excellent, and again this radio did not disappoint. It received and separated lots of FM stations effortlessly, even without the whip antenna extended.
The big surprise was how different each FM music station sounded on the ear buds. Depending on the era that the song was recorded in, the frequency separations varied widely. Some songs in stereo had the highs and lows congregated together. Others had the bass guitar on the far side of the left channel (or so it seemed to this listener), and the drums far on the right.
The CCRadio-EP PRO is what it promises to be, and more. For $89.99, C. Crane Co. has created a top-of-the-line AM/FM receiver that makes radio listening fun again, all driven by Bob Crane’s undying love for this medium, and for his mother.
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