General Purpose Radio
by George Paul Tire
The first thing that struck me about the $74.95 GP-5 is the shape, thin, narrow and long, more like a TV remote than what I’m used to with portable receivers. The second was the size; at only 6.20 x 2.05 x .80”, it is quite small and easily fits into a shirt or jacket pocket. The third was how well it worked.
It runs off of 3 AA alkaline or rechargeable NiMH batteries or a micro USB cable. The batteries take up over a third of the case There is a button that allows you to select whether the batteries are rechargeable or not. If they are, they can be recharged in the radio, even if you are using it. A small solar panel could keep it running for a long time. It can operate on USB without batteries, a nice touch.
The 18” pull out antenna for shortwave and FM scares me a little. Due to its size and shape, the radio is easy to knock over which could bend the antenna. It occurred to me that a coffee mug makes a fine holder for it, keeping it safely erect. Just drink the coffee first!
The GP 5 comes with a clip that can help keep it in a pocket, but it isn’t wide enough for the heavy belts I wear, plus it doesn’t have a hook to keep it from popping off. The clip is, however, perfectly placed to work with a shirt pocket. It also comes with a case that has 1 ¾” loops to allow you to carry it vertically or horizontally so you could put it on a shoulder strap or belt.
CountyComm also includes a set of ear buds, a clip-on wire antenna and a plug-in directional antenna for distant AM frequencies to supplement the built-in one. A USB cord might be a nice addition, but most of us probably already have some cluttering up our lives anyway.
The radio covers a wide range of frequencies, from 150 KHz to 29.999 MHz in AM and single side band (SSB) and 76-108 MHz in FM. The SSB coverage is what really distinguishes the GP-5 from the crowd. It is the first radio I’ve found in this size and price range to have it. SSB is used by amateur, governmental and commercial stations that could provide a lot of information in a crisis.
There is an alarm and a sleep mode along with the first thermometer I have encountered on a radio. Additionally, there are signal strength and signal to noise readouts. The display has a back light so you can read all of this in the dark.
The controls are minimal and will, alas, require study of the manual, but thankfully, the learning curve isn’t too awful. Some controls do different things depending on how they are pressed and some perform functions when the radio is off. Thankfully, there is a lock button to keep things from being altered when accidentally touched. Frequency selection is by a rotary knob and band select buttons.
I found a couple of neat features that help get things done. First, when you choose to listen to sideband, the shortwave band selector jumps through the amateur bands. When you switch to AM, it jumps through the shortwave broadcast bands. The next one is that if you spin the frequency control fast enough, it starts jumping in 5 KHz increments rather than 1 KHz. This helps you get up or down the spectrum faster.
Another helpful function is the Easy Tuning Mode (ETM.) It allows you to scan a band, for stations which it then holds in ETM memory until the next time you do a scan. When in ETM mode, you can use the tuning knob to hop from one station to the next without having to scroll through the whole band. It works well for broadcast stations, but not so well for amateur or utility ones which are often intermittent. I found ETM a great way to find things to listen to.
Speaking of memory, you can also save 100 AM medium wave, 100 FM, 100 SSB shortwave and 250 shortwave AM frequencies, independent of ETM. A trick many people use with the memory presets is to set some at regular intervals through the shortwave band to help get close to a desired frequency and then going the rest of the way with the knob.
Audio quality was excellent considering how tiny the speaker is. That’s tiny, by the way, not tinny. Headphones or an external speaker improve it nicely
As expected, local AM medium wave and FM stations came through well, but it was likewise quite capable with shortwave broadcasts. What impressed me the most, however, is that I was able to copy ham radio stations on SSB using a 50 foot long wire antenna almost as well as I was doing with my Kenwood amateur transceiver. I didn’t expect that.
There are only two things that bother me about this radio. First, I would love a keypad to enter frequencies as I find the tuning wheel cumbersome at times. I don’t see much way, however, to put a keypad on the radio and keep it so diminutive. Second, it would be helpful to have the weather frequencies and aircraft band available. Again, there is only so much you can squeeze into this tiny package.
The GP-5 is a bargain considering what it does and I am going to have to get one of the little buggers.