Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:
Perhaps the ultimate radio nerd story . . .
by Jock Elliott (KB2GOM)
Perhaps I am the only guy on planet earth with a “kinda” interest in DXing NOAA weather radio, but there you have it, and this led me down an interesting rabbit hole in the world of radio.
Earlier this year, I found myself in Sodus, NY, in the western part of the state, near the shores of Lake Ontario. I had with me the following: an Icom V80 2-meter handy-talkie with a sharply tuned commercial antenna that works great on my home repeater (146.94) in Troy, NY; a Uniden BC125AT scanner with a Diamond 77 antenna, and a CCrane Skywave SSB. All receive the NOAA weather channels.
In the early morning, I checked www.wunderground.com for weather in the Sodus area. Snow was expected overnight. So I grab the Uniden 125AT, activate the weather scan function, and found that it received NOAA weather radio channels 1, 2, and 3, and the audio sounded great through my headphones. I tried stepping through the weather radio channels on my Icom V80 and found that it received channels 1, 2, and 3, but with just a wee bit of static in the background. I tried switching the antennas between the 125AT and the V80, and there was no appreciable difference.
Now, here’s the interesting part: I tried the same trick on the CCrane Skywave SSB with its telescoping whip fully extended, and it received weather channel 1 just fine with excellent audio through the headphones. But channel 2 was way down in the soup, a hair above “barely audible.” I tried waving the Skywave around, point the whip antenna in different directions and orientations to see if I could improve the signal. I succeeded only in nulling it out. Weather radio channel 3 was not audible at all, but channel 4 was coming in well, and so was channel 7 . . . and the other two radios were not receiving channels 4 and 7 at all.
Frankly, I didn’t know what to make of this. To be clear, I was able to hear that forecast that I needed to hear — for Wayne County, NY — on all three radios. But why would there be such a stark difference between the CCrane Skywave SSB and the other two radios?
At this point, I was really curious what the answer might be.
The V80 and the 125AT “agreed” with each; both were receiving NOAA weather radio channels 1, 2, 3. The CCrane Skywave SSB appeared to be the anomaly, receiving channels 1, 2 (barely), and 4 and 7, which the V80 and 125AT did not receive.
I checked, and the NOAA weather radio frequencies occupy a fairly narrow spread: each channel represents one of seven frequencies between 162.400 MHz to 162.550 MHz.
All three radios were tested in my lap at the same location and then tested again in another room within inches of each other. I turned one radio on, checked the channels it could receive, turned it off, then tested the next radio, etc. Same results in both cases.
After posting the problem on Radio Reference, one of the members, Chill1971, asked: “Did you check the actual frequencies received on the radios? Some radios number the channels from lowest to highest frequency and others use the NOAA assigned channel numbers.”
To this I replied: “Hmmmm. Interesting idea.”
This started a research project on the internet.
Modern Survival Blog reveals that NOAA weather channels may be displayed in two different ways, depending upon the manufacturer: chronological or in increasing frequency order.
The Uniden displays Channel numbers and frequencies, so: Ch. 1, 162.550; Ch. 2. 162.400; Ch. 3 162.475, etc. The Icom V80 lists only channel numbers, but no frequencies. However, it receives the same channels as the Uniden.
This appears to be the chronological sequence – the sequence to which the radio frequencies were allocated over time to the NOAA weather radio service. This is the ordered sequence used by some weather radio manufacturers:
The CCrane Skywave SSB lists only channel numbers. But, if it follows the weather radio channels in increasing frequency, the result would be:
If that is so, this would square up with my NOAA weather radio receiving results in Sodus, NY: the CCrane receives Ch 1, 162.400 (which is Ch. 2 on the other two radios); Ch 2, 162.425 faintly (Ch. 4 on the other radios), Ch 4, 162.475 (Ch. 3 on Uniden and Icom), and Ch 7, 162.550 (which would be Ch. 1 on the other two radios).
So all three radios are receiving the same frequencies, but with different channel numbers assigned to them . . . and the CCrane appears to be a hair more sensitive, also receiving the 162.425 channel very faintly.
As Inspector Clouseau would say: “The case is sol-ved.”
You now know more about NOAA weather radio (probably) than you ever wanted to know!
But if, like me, you think NOAA weather radio is really neat, here are a couple of resources that you might find informative and interesting:
Nationwide Station Listing Using Broadcast Frequencies
County Coverage Listings by State
Click on the station callsign highlighted in blue for additional details, including a propagation map.
Finally, I would like to recommend a book by a fellow whose blog I read (he didn’t ask me to do this, and I have no financial interest in making the recommendation). Mike Smith was a TV weatherman who ultimately started his own weather consulting firm that helped companies (like railroads) keep their valuable rolling stock out of harm’s way. The book is Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather (SWLing Post affiliate link).
Smith was a pioneer in the use of radar to warn the public of impending tornadoes. The book is my favorite combo: a ripping good read and an excellent science story. I’ve read the Kindle version at least three times and recommend it highly to anyone with an interest in the weather.
— Jock Elliott, KB2GOM