Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:
The Crisis Radio
By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM
Sooner or later, it will happen to you. What’s ‘it’? Short answer: a crisis.
It could be as simple as you wake in the morning to find the power is out; you don’t know how long it has been out, and you don’t know when it is coming back. It might be a weather event: a blizzard, a sandstorm, a tornado, a derecho, a hurricane. It might be a geologic event like a tsunami, earthquake, or even volcanic activity. As recent events have shown, it could even be a war or a revolution.
When normal life is disrupted, and uncertainty is perched on your shoulder like a vulture, you will want to know what’s going on, and your usual means of getting information – telephone, smart phone, internet device – may also be disrupted.
When that happens, radio can come to your rescue. Your local FM or AM (medium wave) station may be on the air, providing vital information to your community, or NOAA Weather Radio may be providing hazard information. In extreme cases, shortwave radio may be beaming information to your area when all else fails.
One of the points that was made when our own Thomas Witherspoon was interviewed recently was that people tend to regard shortwave radio as “crisis” radio.
So I have a couple of very specific recommendations.
First, make sure that your household has a “crisis radio.” By that I mean one that will receive your local AM and FM broadcasters as well as shortwave radio, and, if you live in the US or Canada, NOAA Weather Radio. If you can afford it, I recommend getting a crisis radio that has single sideband capability (SSB) so that you have the ability to intercept ham radio communications, which might be another source of information.
Toward that end, I can heartily recommend the CCrane Skywave SSB radio. (Let’s be clear: I have no commercial connection with CCrane; I get nothing from them for making this recommendation, I purchased my Skywave SSB with my own money.) It has AM, FM, Shortwave, Weather, VHF, Aviation and SSB Bands. It is very small, measuring just 4.8″ W x 3″ H x 1″ D and weighing just 6 ounces without batteries. It will run for over 50 hours on a couple of AA batteries and comes with CC Earbuds, SkyWave SSB Carry Case, and CC SW Reel Antenna which boost sensitivity for shortwave and ham radio listening.
It is a crisis radio that you can stick in your pocket, backpack, purse or briefcase for deployment when the need arises or you simply want to listen to some radio programming. Further, you don’t have to be an expert to operate the CCrane Skywave SSB. Thanks to the Automatic Tuning System, just select the band you want to listen to, press and hold the ATS button for two seconds, and the Skywave SSB will automatically search for stations in that band (AM, FM, Shortwave, etc.) and store those stations in the memory banks for that band. You can later check those memories to hear what programming those stations are broadcasting.
Second, and this is important, if you listen to shortwave radio at all, take the time to let the stations know. Drop them a postcard; shoot them an email, do whatever you can to inform them you are listening, and you value their transmissions.
Why? Because we all want those stations to be there if and when the next crisis happens. And if your local AM or FM station provides special programming to the community a weather event or geologic emergency, for the same reason, be sure to let them know how much you appreciate their efforts.
As a fire captain observed a couple of years after the North Ridge earthquake in California: “You cannot be over-prepared for communications in an emergency.”
While HF SSB reception is important, even more so here in the US is the 2-meter ham band. Most Skywarn activity takes place over local 2 meter repeaters, and the ability to monitor those repeaters for local severe weather can be important. C. Crane makes what I’m told is an excellent AM/FM/2meter radio, or you can just purchase one of the inexpensive Chinese handheld ham radios (no license needed to just listen) such as those made by Baofeng. Or even better, reach out to your local ham radio club and see if one of their members has a 2-meter handheld they’d be interested in selling. I guarantee it would come with ‘tech support’.
Those are excellent points, and I agree. In fact, my “ultimate crisis radio bag” would include CCrane Skywave SSB, a meter ham radio, and a scanner (probably a Uniden BC125AT).
That’s “2-meter” ham radio.
In a real crisis one needs an emergency radio that is powered by solar and hand crank in addition to AA batteries.
As for storing AA batteries over time – I’ve found that alkalines will of course leak so don’t keep them in a radio which is in storage otherwise you’ll damage your receiver.
Not all NiMH rechargeable batteries are made equal. The Duracells are the worst with Energizer not far behind. Storing these batteries over time will erode the chemistry and reduce charging capacity.
The best NiMH rechargeable batteries are Eneloops which most people here know about because of their LSD nature and suitability for long term storage in a radio.
Good to know. Thanks for the battery recommendation.
You want an EMP resistant container, I’ll bet that you have one. A microwave oven is a Faraday Cage.
If you have an old one, that’s non-working, cut the power cord and gut the trays out. Instant RF / EMP
proof container. As far as my Emergency / Crisis Radio goes, I still have the original generator power
Baygen Wind-Up AM / FM / SW radio. Not a DX champs, by any means, but fine for the local stations
and the easy-catch SW stations.
You want an EMP resistant container, I’ll bet that you have one. A microwave oven is a Faraday Cage. If you have an old one, that’s non-working, cut the power cord and gut the trays out. Instant RF / EMP proof container. As far as my Emergency / Crisis Radio goes, I still have the original generator power Baygen Wind-Up AM / FM / SW radio. Not a DX champs, by any means, but fine for the local stations and the easy-catch SW stations.
How about inside a galvanized garbage can with the lid on?
There is another thing though. Should a nuclear weapon go off within range of your radio the transistors will be cooked. by the electro magnetic pulse. Having a valve radio or storing your emergency radio in an EMP proof box would also be wise
If you know of a source of EMP proof boxes, I would be glad to know of it.
Also, there’s this previous post which discusses EMPs and how you can make a galvanized trash can work very well indeed!
Realistically enough battery for 3 days intermittent use of your emergency radio is probably enough for a 1st world urban situation. For the CC Skywave SSB one installed set of charged, NiMH low self discharge (not alkaline) AA batteries should do. No need to try and rush out to buy more cells or hope it is sunny enough to solar charge. The problem with so-called “stock” AA primary cells is that they are usually alkaline chemistry and they will probably leak at some point and damage any radio they are installed in, hence my preference for NiMH LSD batteries. I have never found a piece of kit that won’t work even with the lower nominal voltage (and alkaline’s drop to close to the NiMH voltage as they discharge anyway).
Yes, I have had equipment damaged by leaking alkaline batteries.
How about the notion of replacing alkalines on a schedule? Say, once a year, when you change the batteries on your smoke detectors . . .
In real emergencies, intermittent listening is not enough, because you can miss evacuation warnings which could come at any time.
I agree about batteries. You have your emergency kit stored, unused until there is an emergency and then you find the batteries don’t work. A vehicle battery which is in use is at least known to work and has a much larger capacity than any radio battery. It can be used to recharge a radio battery through an adaptor on the “cigarette lighter” socket.
A key point is this is to be stored in an emergency grab and go bag. How do you keep a car battery inside that and then carry it around when you evacuate?
Alternative sources for power are always a concern. Even with stock batteries as they do last a good while when in storage but that time limit has dire consequences, when they run out, the cause nearly un repairable damage. So, in the case of crisis equipment, do not leave the batteries in the device but place them in a sealed container to keep moisture from getting to those batteries! Condensation is enough to cause damage. Put a tester in with your equipment stash, along with a solar charger assembly, it’s a good idea to get one of those that can be configured to charge several different types of batteries, even get a hand crank device that can recharge those batteries just in case you are forced into a situation where you may not be able to make use of solar power. It is a fact of life one can never have enough power in a crisis so you must make adjustments based on the best logic and consider all possibilities and address them ahead of the coming crisis which from the way it looks is sure to come at the most inappropriate time.
I like your perspective: “is sure to come at the most inappropriate time.”
Ah, yes, Murphy’s Law. Do you know the most devastating corollary to Murphy’s Law?
Here it is: Murphy was an optimist.
Many emergencies can be extended like the NSW floods and large bush fires which occur in Australia.
It is common for the electricity suppliers to switch off the supply for safety reasons. This will usually disable mobile phone base stations after a few hours, leaving radio stations the only source of information. The advantage of radio stations is that they can be outside of the emergency area and can have backup electricity supply, locally generated.
More important than having spare batteries is to have a radio with rechargeable batteries. These days these radios have a USB-C power socket like those used on mobile phones. Then using a USB cable and an adaptor which fits into the “cigarette lighter” socket in a vehicle the radio can be recharged. In addition nearly every vehicle has a radio. Just remember that if the ignition is off, the charger will not operate. The ignition switch needs to be in the accessory position. The storage of a car battery is significantly more than the radio requires over many days. Depending on your location going to buy non rechargeable batteries may not be possible. Also they slowly discharge when not in use and how often are emergencies?!
By the way solar chargers are not useful in emergencies because they will not operate at night, in storms and bushfires the sun is obscured making charging impossible.
Digital Radio Mondiale and DAB+ receivers can be capable of the Emergency Warning Function which would have been very useful in the recent floods because the evacuation order was made in the middle of the night when many were sleeping. EWF will wake a radio on standby, increase the volume and sound an alarm followed by a spoken message. In addition a map of the emergency, indexed detailed text instructions in multiple languages as well as reprogramming vehicle navigation systems around closed roads are all part of these broadcast standards. Unfortunately in HD Radio only the announcement function is possible.
I would like to reinforce the suggestions that AA and AAA battery power is almost essential. This applies to other “crisis” essentials such as torches as well.
I live in the Canary Islands that are part of Spain and part of the EU (i.e. first world). Recently it has become almost impossible to obtain Lithium batteries of any description due to various new government regulations regarding their transport. I am not only talking about LiPo and LiFePO4 secondary batteries for QRP use for example. Even Li AA, AAA and 9V primary batteries have become unobtainium!
If anyone knows of anybody still selling Lithium batteries in the Canaries please let me know.
Need medium-wave AM at minimum – at least in US – for crisis radio. This because the National Public Warning System (NPWS) is based mainly on AM stations.
Thanks for that . . . good info!
I would suggest a radio with a solar charger built-in. There a number of radios like this and I have reviewed a lot of them on my YouTube channel. These can also charge your cellphone batteries to keep them working, although the cellphone towers may be down too.
Tom Stiles (hamrad88)
Thanks for your input.
I will have to take look at your channe.
I would recommend to get one which runs on readily available stock AAA, AA or D batteries. The last when stored for years and are readily available.
Where exactly are you going to charge your (inbuilt) Lion-Battery when power is out?
Stock batteries are my strategy.
I really like my Tecsun 880, but I wish there were an alternative power source for it that could use stock batteries.
Thank you for the excellent post and reminder, Jock.
I couldn’t agree with you more: I think the CC Skywave SSB is an ideal “crisis” radio for all of the reasons you point out here. There are few other radios on the market that sport all of these useful radio bands, run on AA batteries for days at a time, and actually have amazing reception–exceptionally for a radio in this price class and size.
The CC Skywave SSB is also my favorite travel radio (I love the Belka-DX as well and always have it packed in my EDC bag, but it’s limited to HF reception).
Thanks again for the excellent post, Jock!
Thomas, thank for the kind words.