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Sangean ATS-803A/RadioShack DX-440 FAQ

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The Sangean ATS-803A was a very popular dual conversion superhetrodyne LW/MW/SW/FM portable manufactured between 1989 and 1995. It was marketed under brand names including the DX-440 (Radio Shack/Realistic). This beefy portable measures 6.5"H x 11.5"W x 2.5"D and weighs approximately 5.75 lbs (with installed batteries). A shoulder strap functions as a carrying handle.


Is continuous from 150 khz to 29999 khz and from 87.5 MHz - 108 MHz.

The 803A "labels" 150-281 khz as LW, 520-1620 khz as MW, twelve (12) shortwave band segments as SW, 87.5-108 MHz as FM and everything else as AM.


Two AA cells provide power for the clocks and memories. Six D cells power the radio.
The 803A can also be powered from an external 9 volt AC adapter.

Front Panel

Front Panel - Left
The front panel (left) is dominated by a speaker grill.

Front Panel - Upper Center
The LCD display area (3" x 1") features the tuned frequency with easy to read numerals approximately 7/16" high. Also displayed is the "band" (AM, LW, FM, MW, SW). When the radio is tuned to one of the defined shortwave band segments (120, 90, 75, 60, 49, 41, 31, 25, 19, 16, 13, 11 meters), that is shown as well. Additionally, when a frequency in memory is selected, the memory position is shown. The 24 hour clock is shown when the radio is off or when the Mode button is pushed during radio operation.

The display area will also show if the sleep timer is engaged and/or the alarm. To the left of the display is a 5 position red LED signal strength indicator. A red power on LED is located to the right of the display as is a green FM Stereo LED. The 12 shortwave band segments are printed on the radio underneath the display.

Front Panel - Lower Center
This is where the direct entry keypad is located. "Hot-key" buttons under the keypad are provided to take you to the last frequency listened to on any of the "bands" (FM, AM, LW, SW, MW). To the right of the keyboard are the buttons for MODE (toggling between clock and frequency display), STORE (used to store memories), CALL MEMO (to recall preset memories) and START/STOP (to scan up to the next signal received in the selected "band"). DOWN and UP buttons change the frequency - more on that later.

Front Panel - Right
From top to bottom: Power button, slider controls for volume, balance (stereo), treble and bass. Next are two rotary controls, a BFO control to the left and RF Gain to the right. Underneath the rotary controls are three switches. From left to right: dual function switch (Mono/Stereo when in FM and Wide/Narrow filter setting in all other "bands"); BFO on/off and Lock on/off.

Right Side
A tuning knob is on the upper right side with a finger "hole" to speed up tuning speed.


Left Side
There are three jacks present on the left side. From top to bottom: record out, earphone, DC input.


There is an external antenna jack (RCA phono) and an external/internal antenna switch next to the jack. The battery compartment is in the rear. Inside the battery compartment is a 9 khz/10 khz step switch. A folding metal stand is provided as well.


There are thee buttons along the top left of the 803A. From left to right: Light (a momentary display backlight), Timer (alarm) and Sleep (countdown timer).

LW and MW signals are received off the 803A's internal loopstick ferrite antenna.
Shortwave and FM is received off the whip antenna. The 803A has a giant size whip antenna (extends to 55"). Unlike other radios, the whip pivots from the right side of the radio. A jack is provided at the rear of the radio (RCA phono) to connect an external antenna for FM, SW or MW.

The 803A features a very straightforward direct tuning arrangement….just enter the desired frequency and hit the "Execute" button. There is no need to find the annoying decimal point button on FM and there is no Frequency button to hit first.

Manual tuning is possible with the tuning knob. The amount of frequency movement varies according to how fast the tuning knob is twirled. According to the manual, slow turning results in 1 khz changes, slightly faster causes a 10 khz change while fast tuning makes the frequency move by 100 khz. This is one of the quirks of the 803A. It is hard to predict just how much the frequency will increase/decrease when you turn the dial. To use the dial for reliable tuning of anything other than 1 khz increments (slow) will likely result in frustration. Note: in FM, using the tuning knob results in the frequency changing by .05 MHz.

Another option is to use the Up/Down buttons. In FM, a repeated push of an up/down button will change the frequency by .05 MHz. In LW/SW/MW/AM, repeated pushes of the up/down buttons move the frequency by 1 khz. Holding down the up/down button results in an increase/decrease by 10 kHz. Unfortunately, when you do this, the 803A first registers a 1 kHz step (like it is the first in a series of repeated pushes to come) and then it moves 10 kHz. So, if you are on 600 kHz and hold down the up button, it will quickly go to 601 and then begin adding 10 kHz increments as you hold the button down (611, 621, 631….).

The 803A also has a scan/search feature within its defined band segments. When the START/STOP button is pushed, the 803A begins to scan as it goes up in frequencies. The radio stops when it receives a station. If the 803A reaches the upper limit of the defined band segment, it will start over again at the bottom of the segment.

If you gotta have lots of preset memories, pass on the 803A. Only nine are available…that's nine in grand total.

Other Features
The 803A has a 24 hour clock and an alarm feature which you can set to turn the radio on to the last frequency you were listening to. There is no "beep" option for the alarm. There is also a sleep timer. This causes the radio to turn itself off after 90 minutes (maximum). The sleep timer can be adjusted to shut itself down after any 10 minute interval between 10 and 90 minutes. Note: the 803A clock can be displayed while the radio is playing, just by pushing the Mode button.

The 803A is a real rugged workhorse with solid performance. It is an exceptional performer in the MW band.

MW - performs very well with both the internal loopstick antenna and with an external antenna.

SW - overall fine reception. Like most Sangean radios, the 803A is a little on the deaf side with just the whip antenna (I wonder if that is why they provided such a long whip?). An external antenna really brings it to life. Sideband/cw reception is average with the BFO tuning arrangement. One very nice feature of the 803A is that the wide/narrow filter works in sideband - this is not always true in shortwave portables. Stations are easily received all across the SW spectrum with a modest length external wire antenna.

FM - excellent audio. Receives in stereo when headphones are connected. Ability to separate weak stations from adjacent strongboys is average.

Battery life is above average.

What I like best
As mentioned earlier, performance is very good in the MW band. This is the band I scan the most.

The RF gain control is effective and is a nice feature…not all modern day portables provide this. Note that the RF gain works on all bands, including FM…a rarity indeed.

Quality. This is a very well build solid radio. The wire flip stand arrangement is a nice touch. Simply put, they don't build them like this anymore.

I like the simple straightforward direct frequency entry…push in the numbers, hit execute and you are there. No hunting around for decimal point keys, frequency enter keys.

Good battery life.

Despite my frustrations with the tuning knob speed mechanism, I still like radios that have them. It is an advantage.

The 803A ain't no sissy boy. You can push all the buttons, etc without having to worry about the radio wandering away from you or tipping over.

That you can use the wide/narrow filter in sideband.

Frequency display is legible. You can actually see the numbers (what a concept!)

What bugs me?
Having a phono jack for the external antenna. This is the only radio I have with this "oddball" jack. Using an adapter for a 1/8" jack makes it difficult to use the flip stand (the adapter gets in the way). A right angle adapter helps.

The erratic tuning knob. Just how far will it take me this time? I've learned to just use the keyboard to get me close and then I tune slow from there. An occasional cleaning of the encoder (spray De-Oxit behind the knob from inside the radio) makes a significant improvement.

The up/down buttons that really don't take you to the next 10 kHz increment in MW (see text)

Those eensie weensie teenie weenie knobs for BFO and RF Gain.

I just don't care for slider controls and the 803A uses four of them. I think these were "the in thing" back in the mid/late 80's.

The backlight is only momentary.

Lack of memories (actually this doesn't bug me, but it probably will be an issue for others)

I wish it had a mechanical on/off switch vs. the momentary power on/off switch. This would make it possible to use the 803A for unattended recording (very few people will care about this).

The Sangean ATS-803A provides a lot of value. It is no wonder they were so popular. It is a well rounded versatile portable radio. 803A's (or their Radio Shack cousins, DX-440's) are frequently sold used in the $60-$100 range. The days of manufacturing portables at this kind of quality level have passed us by. The 803A is a good all-around player for any MW/SW listener, especially if you can string up even a moderate length external antenna. If you can find one in good condition in the $60-$80 range, you are staring a bargain in the face.

Note on Modifications
This radio has proven to be a modifier's delight. Components inside are relatively easy to get to and there is ample room inside to move things around, add stuff, etc. Among the mods chronicled on the internet: "Anti-chuff," fine tuning and improved whip sensitivity. The fine tune mod is especially valuable for MW work. The fine tune mod provides +/- 3 kHz from the BFO control, when operating in the BFO Off position.

Differences of the 803A vs. DX-440 version
I have never owned the 440, but from what I have read, the main difference is that the 440 did not have a record out jack. Also the 440 renamed some of the functions/controls (START/STOP became SCAN. CALL MEMO became RECALL). If anyone is aware of other differences, please email me and we will include them. Thanks.

Best DX
Russ K3PI

Do You Remember The Ambassador 2020 ?
The Ambassador 2020 was a rebadged Sangean 803A. Thanks to our "anonymous" friend for sending in this old EEB ad for the Ambassador 2020. [CLICK HERE TO SEE THE AD]


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