Radio of The Month: Sony ICF-2010

I’ve always wanted a nice shortwave radio receiver, but they don’t show up in thrift stores very often, so when I saw this one at Deseret for $7 a couple of months ago, I snapped it up without hesitation. However, when I got it home and rigged up a regulated power supply for it, I found it wouldn’t power up. *sigh* – into the “to look at later and maybe fix” pile it went.

Sony ICF-2010 AIR/FM/LW/MW/SW Radio

Sony ICF-2010 AIR/FM/LW/MW/SW Radio

“Later” ended up being yesterday, when I dug it out, took a closer look, and went to the Intertubes to find out what might be wrong with it. The answer turned out to be pretty simple: The Sony ICF-2010 has a weird quirk where it will not power up unless the internal tuning computer has battery power, and simply plugging it into a wall socket won’t provide that power. It requires 3 AA batteries to be installed in a small sub-compartment buried deep inside the main battery compartment to work at all. When supplied with these batteries, the internal computer booted up and allowed the rest of the radio to work properly with mains power again.  Confusing, but YAY! This quirk might have been the reason someone tossed it in the first place.

Really impressive tuning range for a portable.

Really impressive tuning range for a portable.

My research also indicated that I picked a really good starter radio for getting into DXing too. The ICF-2010 is nearly a legendary portable shortwave receiver in enthusiasts’ circles, with an incredibly wide tuning capability (AIR/FM and AM LW/MW/SW from 150kHz to 136MHz), PLL digital tuning and loads of tuning filters for syncing and locking in distant stations.  First introduced by Sony in 1985, it had been in continuous production until 2003, when it was superceded (much to the dismay of afficionados) by models that did not have the same wide tuning range. Used models on eBay today seem to be selling for upwards of $300-$500 in good condition, a pretty telling testimonial of the desirability of this unit among serious listeners.

IMG_7409 IMG_7406As a beginner DX’er, I don’t have the slightest idea where to start with tuning, other than to spin the tuning knob slowly across the unit’s gigantic tuning range, and randomly poking the filter buttons when I find something interesting, but last night I was able to get a lock on the Navajo Nation radio station (broadcasting traditional chants with a DJ speaking Navajo, but playing commercials in English), innumerable religious broadcasts and hyper-conservative John Bircher types, gobs of strange feedbacky tone generating stations (which are fun to scroll through by flipping the tuning knob back and forth to make goofy R2-D2 sounds), and even one very faint “numbers station” that broadcast a stream of numbers in Spanish for about 2 minutes, ending with 3 chimes, then vanished into the ether.

Buh, wha? It's gonna take me awhile to figure out how to properly work this beast...

Buh, wha? It’s gonna take me awhile to figure out how to properly work this beast…

Finding a list of station frequencies seems to be a challenge. Every list I found on the Internet is either outdated or broken, as it seems shortwave broadcasters routinely switch what frequency they broadcast on (and only broadcast at certain times/days) depending on atmospheric conditions. I’m hoping to find a decent list somewhere to follow, but for now I’m just familiarizing myself with the complex interface of the Sony and plugging frequency ranges into the “Scan” function and enjoying the surprises that come up when the radio locks onto a broadcast. :D


Updated: October 25, 2018 — 10:23 pm


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  1. i know the BBC has been scaling back coverage too. It’s most vexing how all the old infrastructure is just allowed to atrophy that way. The hunt and pounce is really the way to go.

    1. yeah, I noted that the BBC website no longer lists any shortwave schedules other than ones broadcast to certain African countries. The “Listen on Shortwave” link appears to be a dead link. I was looking forward to catching the Beeb :P

  2. I’ve always wanted a nice SW radio as well, but I think the transmissions are very sporadic. As you noticed, there aren’t any schedules published that I know of. My guess is that most transmitting equipment has reached an age where it requires replacement and it just doesn’t make sense to invest the money, causing transmitters to go dark.

  3. I had a similar rig when i was younger. Actually… I think it is still buried in the stuff I left at my dad’s house when I left for Queensland. Hmmm. Maybe time to pop over and did it out.

  4. For a moment I thought it was a typically Japanese combination of a transistor radio with a scientific calculator of sorts! Looks impressive!

  5. Thanks for the tip about the internal computer and the 3 AA batteries. I recently found one of these at the Goodwill store across the street and was deeply disappointed when I plugged in the power supply that came with it and it would not power up.
    For a current list of WORKING SW stations try the list in Popular Communications Magazine.
    (BRB- I wanna get a few AA batteries and try this suggestion out and see iffn it works.)

    1. Most welcome! (:
      ..Although, I’m just the latest in the line of commentators who prominently mention that quirk. I expect it’s why these things end up in thrift shops in the first place – commonly enough found in this condition, so it’s always worth mentioning. Excellent find, indeed, and thanks for the tip on Popular Communications Magazine.

  6. You might call it a starter radio but it does not get much better than this. Just be careful what you feed it with (antenna) as it has a built in active antenna and the FET (Field Effect Transistor) will cook real easy with a small amount of static discharge to the antenna. Especially if you have carpet on low humidity days.

    Pat KD4OBQ

  7. I had this radio and listened constantly most nights in the mid to late 80s and early 90s. Around 2004 it eventually developed a different fault and the LCD stopped displaying so it made it impossible to tune, but it was a fantastic radio. Along with broadcasters around the world, I used to enjoy logging US Coast Guard search and rescue helicopter operations in the Atlantic from my parents’ home in Toronto, and lots of ionosphere skip AM radio stations from the central and south US states on some nights in the summer. Even the cryptic NORAD ‘SkyKing’ B-52 bomber messages on their constant nuclear patrols. You got a great radio for a steal for sure. I was actually looking for another one here in Ontario and came across your post. Hope you are still enjoying it. :)

    1. I am! It’s an excellent radio (:

  8. Far from a starter radio, the 2010 is considered by many to be the ultimate portable SW receiver, which explains its eBay prices.
    Mine was a gift from a friend who I introduced to the radio hobby.
    On the AA processer batteries, I’ve found a number of Sangean Radio Shack branded models at yard sales and thrift stores for low prices like $5 because they’re thought to be non-functional and the AA batteries are buried beneath the regular batteries. If there’s sign of leaking batteries do a thorough cleaning, polish the battery contacts and you’re usualy back in business.

  9. If you do not know where to tune, you can always try this side:
    Greetings from Belgium :-)

  10. Harry Karanassos

    My Sony ICF SW55 has been with me since 1978 and it has travelled to all of the Middle East. When I retired back in UK I dag it up and regrettably it would not power up. It shows a battery with a slash through it and it will not start on batteries or on transformer. I would like to reinstate it but I have no idea how to go about it. I will be very grateful if you could help with ideas. Thank you in advance

    1. try looking inside the battery compartment for an inner compartment for AA batteries. it’s buried under the regular battery holder.

  11. Have a never used before icf 2010 . To get it into operaration was rather complicated, but it works at least the normal FM /AM function , however the – light- switch does not illuminate the display. Does anybody have an idea how this problem can be solved? I would highly appreciate advice.Thanks

  12. A little late to this party, but I owned an ICF-2010 for many years and have some tips.

    1. On older models the compartment for the AA data batteries lacks the plastic retaining clip found in later production runs. Because of this, the batteries are easily jostled and settings can be lost. I cut a piece from a 3×5 index card to help secure the batteries.

    2. I never had access to a regulated power supply so always used batteries. The AC converter that came with my radio didn’t have polarized blades so it was easy to insert the wall wart incorrectly. If the polarity is wrong, you’ll feel an electric tingle when you gently brush your fingertips across the metal plate surrounding the panel buttons.

    3. The FET (front-end transistor) on the ICF-2010 is notorious for being blown out by static electricity. Always make sure to ground yourself before touch the radio or, especially, the built-in antenna. A sudden loss in sensitivity could be a clue to FET problems.

    4. The selectable-sideband feature works really well to improve reception of borderline signals. This allowed me to log a number of pirate and numbers stations from a Chicago apartment using on the whip antenna.

    Hope this helps!

    1. Nice tips, thanks! I still have this radio, and it still gives good service 5 years later. I think I got my $7 worth out of it. :D

  13. Digging in your archive, I was pleased to find this. Ever since Indro first showed us his massive shortwave setup on Typewriter Club LIVE, I’ve thought about dipping my toes into the hobby. (Like I need another hobby!) A little unit like this would probably be the way to go. But lately I’ve been tempted by the far more practical police/fire scanners. Seems like we hear many more sirens these days.

    1. I’ve got a couple Radio Shack police/fire band scanners, one of which does trunking, but even so most of the city’s police bands are encrypted packets now, so I only get a few cross-juristiction police channels. Still get Fire and the other city/state bands, tho. (:

      These were all thrift store finds, of course – so my investment in the hobby is low, but I have pretty good listening coverage of the fun stuff that happens in the air around us.

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