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AL - 990

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überarbeitet am 22.10.2010

Philips AL-990

In 1982, Philips presented their first shortwave radio with an integrated digital frequency display, the AL-990. Similarly to the Panasonic RF-2200, is has been equipped with a rotable ferrite antenna for long- and mediumwaves to "locate" the transmitter direction, like in other shortwave receivers from that era, it had also a plug-in loop antenna.

Double conversion,

Digital frequency counter, 1 kHz

LW, MW, SW 1,6 - 26,2 MHz, 87,5 - 108 MHz


Selectivity -6 dB/ -60 dB
3,4 / 8,9 kHz

SSB < 1,4 uV, AM < 2 uV

RF gain, BFO, bass / treble controls, AFC (FM)
digital clock and timer

In a similar way, as found in Panasonic's RF-2800 / 2900 receivers, the Philips AL-990 is a large portable shortwave radio with handles to protect it's front on both sides of the frontpanel. It's dimensions are 34 x 24 (with the ferrite antenne 28) x 14 cm and it's weight 4,6 kilograms. The cabinet is made from black plastic.
Technically, the radio is a double conversion receiver covering shortwaves in six ranges with an integrated frequency counter with an accuracy of 1 kHz, it's in fact a construction of an analog radio with an integrated counter and not a PLL synthesized radio.

The left third of the frontpanel is been taken by the grill of the quite large speaker. All other controls are arranged in three vertical rows at the right hand.
In a small vertical row on the right next to the speaker, You find four rotary controls and two rotary switches. From the bottom these are the volume control and separate controls for bass and treble. A switch is used to set the indicator instrument to display the battery power, the antenna signal strength (TUNING) and the A.F. signal (POWER) level. The switch just above is used to select the narrow and wide I.F. bandwidth and the topmost control is to adjust the antenna for maximum antenna gain.

In the middle vertical row of controls below the frequency dials, You find several switches in the bottom row: The radio's main power switch combined with timer operation switch, the switch for the dial illumination, the switch to select buzzer or radio for timer operation, the AFC switch for automated frequency control on FM and the BFO switch for CW / SSB operation on the shortwaves.
Just above the tiny pushuttons, You find the LCD frequency and time display, the analog signal strength meter that can be set to indicate battery strength.
On top, You find the frequency dials, they are quite small with coarse frequency markinsgs. A small LED indicates the active band. This coarse dial will give an impression to which part of the shortwave band You are tuned to, but it's far too coarse to be used to tune in a station on a known frequency - use the digital frequency display for this.

In the right column of controls, You find from the bottom the rotary BFO control, the BFO is activated by the switch next to it. At it's right, You find the R.F. gain control; the huge main tuning knob is equipped with a gear, for fast tuning speed, pull it out slightly. After touching the main tuning control, the digital frequency display is activated for a few seconds by a touch sensor.
Just above the main tuning knob, You find the band switches, the upper one let's You select longwaves, mediumwaves, FM and MB, the "Marine Band" stands for the 1,6 - 4,5 MHz shortwave band, the bottom band switch selects the shortwave ranges SW1 (4,5 - 9 MHz), SW2 (9-15 MHz), SW3 (15-20 MHz), SW4 (20-24 MHz) and SW5 (24-26,2 MHz. This band segment looks very small to me, so I suppose, there has been an international version of the receiver with frequency coverage up to 30 MHz.

There are a few other controls: A sensor touch buttons to turn off the radio's alarm when in timer mode is located at the top face; another panel with several tiny controls for clock and timer control pops out below the speaker.
Without the printed user's manual, operating the clock / timer is not that intuitive at all: The pushbutton ACTUAL TIME will set the display to indicate the actual time, use the procedure STORE (red button at the left) - 1 - 8 - 0 - 5 - S/S (red button at the right) to store the actual time. Use the key DUAL TIME to display time in another time zone, by pressing STORE - 1 - 6 - 0 - 5 - S/S while a black triangular indicator is on dual time, I have stored UTC time. A similar procedure is used to store ALARM and SLUMBER time. After You have stored all these times into the digital clock, You can use the tiny buttons below the frequency display to indicate the second time zone, alarm time or frequency, after a few seconds, the set returns to show You the local time automatically.

A rotable ferrite antenna can be used to locate a longwave beacon or to eliminate interference from a co-channel mediumwave station. A shortwave loop a antenna with less directional effect can be plugged in, for transport, it is attached to the rear face of the set.

At the left small face of the radio, You find a 6,3 mm headphones jack, at the rear a cassette recorder jack, 12 V and mains power connectors, a switch to change the mediumwave I.F. to reduce interfering noise when doing recordings and screw connectors for shortwave and FM antennas.
The big battery compartment at the rear will fit four UM-1 batteries to power the radio and another two UM-3 batteries to power the clock / timer. The mains cable can be stored in another compartment.

The operation scheme of the Philips AL-990 is not too complicated in spite of the big number of different controls. Turn the radio on with the switch RADIO-ON, to set it to receive Radio Deutsche Welle on 6075 kHz, set the upper bandswitch to SW1-SW5 and the bottom one to SW1. When You touch the main tuning knob, the actual frequency is indicated in the radio's LCD display, tune it to 6.075 MHz. Now You should hear the program coming from Cologne and find the signal strength meter indicating a strong signal. If this is not the case, make sure that the BFO is switched of and the R.F. gain is fully open.
On my set, a slight hum is heard, when the frequency display is activated, there is also a certain amount of backlash when You operate the main tuning knob, this is even more inconvenient, when You have to readjust the receiver because it has a certain frequency drift still present after warming up. SSB reception is very poor due to the lack of frequency stability and tuning accuracy, using a RTTY converter is not recommended.

In summary, the Philips AL-990 was a reasonably priced shortwave receiver with many features when it came out - it's shortwave performance equalled the price of the set, so the Philips has been an entry level shortwave receiver for the shortwave listener but not that machine to go for for a shortwave DXer with some ambitions.
The digital frequency display and a quartz clock with timer functions were features found only on more expensive sets in the early eighties. Nowadays, these features are found in nearly every entry level shortwave receiver, so the Philips AL-990 is more a collector's item and a witness of Philips' attempts to enter the "real" shortwave receiver market.

Many thanks to OM Mark S. Weiner for sending me the schematics of this radio!

© Martin Bösch, 5.8.2004