Category Archives: EDC

NOAA Weather Radio Review: three excellent choices under $90

The Midland WR120 weather radio.

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Jim T, who writes with the following inquiry:

Wondering if you can give me some guidance re: NOAA weather radios.

We’re looking to be better prepared for disasters, bad weather etc. and have narrowed our radio candidates to CC Crane, Sangean and Kaito.

AM/FM would be nice, hand cranking and solar as well, but just want to get NOAA alerts should we have an earthquake here in the NW. Willing to spend $50-100 for something quality with relevant features to it. Your thoughts would be appreciated!

Thanks for your message, Jim. There are dozens of inexpensive weather radio models on the market, but I know a few good options based on my personal experience.

Note that all of these radios work in both the US (via NOAA) and Canada (via Environment Canada)–both countries have been using the S.A.M.E. (Specific Area Message Encoding) weather alert system since 2004.

The Midland WR120: A dedicated weather radio

If you’re looking for a weather radio to plug in and continuously monitor weather alerts through the S.A.M.E. system, I recommend a dedicated weather radio like theMidland WR120. These radios don’t typically have AM/FM functions, but are entirely devoted to the seven weather radio frequencies in the US and Canada (162.400, 162.425, 162.450, 162.475, 162.500, 162.525, and 162.550 MHz). They plug into mains power and the better ones have battery backup in case of power outages.

I have family that own the Midland WR120. They’ve used it for years and it’s worked flawlessly. Once you set up the radio with your preferred NOAA frequency and SAME alert regions, it will alarm and automatically play NOAA weather radio alerts when they’re issued for your area.  My family use this for tornado and storm alerts.

The Midland WR120 uses three AA alkaline cells for emergency power back-up. It’s very much a “set it and forget it” radio and, in my opinion, a bargain at $29.99.

As with any SAME alert radio, be aware that sometimes the alarm can be annoying. Depending on where you live and how the alert system is set up, you might get notifications for isolated weather events on the other side of your county–the S.A.M.E. system cannot pinpoint your neighborhood.

Still, I believe S.A.M.E. notifications are worth any extra inconvenience, especially if you live in an area prone to sudden storms and earthquakes.

Purchase options:

C. Crane CC Skywave: A portable shortwave radio with excellent NOAA weather reception

The C.Crane CC Skywave

If you’re looking for a battery powered radio to use during emergencies that has much more than NOAA weather radio, I’d recommend the C.Crane CC Skywave. Not only is it a full-fledged AM/FM/Shortwave and Air band radio, but it has exceptional NOAA weather radio reception with a weather alert function. The CC Skywave is a great radio to take on travels or keep in the home in case of an emergency. It’ll operate for ages on a set of two AA batteries, though I always keep a pack of four on standby just in case.

You can read a thorough review of the CC Skywave by clicking here. Note that C. Crane is also taking orders for their new CC Skywave SSB which is an upgraded version of the original CC Skywave and includes SSB mode, but costs $80 more than the original.

Purchase options:

C. Crane CC Solar Observer: A self-powered AM/FM NOAA weather radio

There are a number of self-powered NOAA weather radios out there, but frankly, many are very cheap and the mechanical action of the hand crank are prone to fail early.

I believe one of the best is the CC Solar Observer by C. Crane. It’s durable, and can also run on three AA cells, and is an overall great radio in terms of sensitivity on AM/FM as well. Unique in the world of self-powered radios, it also has a backlit display (which can be turned off or on)–a fantastic feature if the power is out.

Like other self-powered analog radios, the CC Solar Observer has no S.A.M.E. alert functionality.

Purchase options:

One more option: Eton self-powered weather radios

The Eton FRX5 sport weather alert, a digital display and futuristic design.

I would also encourage you to check out the wide selection of self-powered weather radios through Eton Corporation.

Many are digital and even have S.A.M.E. weather alerts. I haven’t commented on performance since I haven’t personally tested the 2016 and later models.

Eton typically packs a lot of features in their self-powered radios–having manufactured them for well over a decade, they’ve implemented iterative improvements along the way.

I have tested previous models extensively.

I particularly like the Eton FRX5 although being a digital radio, you get less play time per hand-powered crank–that’s why I prefer analog self-powered radios. The CC Solar Observer, for example, will yield roughly 40 minutes of listening time (at moderate volume levels) on 2-4 minutes of cranking.

Still, if charged fully in advance, I’m sure the FRX5 will play for hours. Note that using S.A.M.E. functionality in standby mode will deplete batteries more quickly.

Click here to view Eton’s full Red Cross radio line on the Eton Corporation website.

Any other recommendations?

Post readers, if I’ve omitted a worthy receiver, please comment with your recommendation.

I hope this helps with your decision, Jim! Thanks for the question!

A review of the Red Oxx “Lil Roy”: an excellent radio kit bag

Yesterday, I posted some photos of the yet-to-be-released CC Skywave SSB and a number of readers had the same reaction as Frank (K4FMH):

“Who makes and sells your canvas bag? Inquiring minds want to know!”

Frank was referring to the bag in the background on many of the radio shots–and he wasn’t alone in his inquiry. I received a few email messages and inquiries on Facebook about this bag.

Be warned: I’m an avid bag and pack geek. If you find the topic boring, you should run away now!

The Red Oxx “Lil Roy”

The Lil Roy might look like a typical canvas bag.  But the Lil Roy isn’t made by the typical pack manufacturer–it’s made by Red Oxx Manufacturing in Billings, Montana, USA. Red Oxx gear isn’t just designed in Montana, it’s made in Montana. The two leaders,  Jim Markel and President Perry Jones, are military veterans and bring mil-spec quality to all of their products.

I love the design of Red Oxx bags–they’re not tactical, but they’re not really low-profile or urban either. Markel describes the design as:

“Tactical strength without looking like you’re going to war.”

I was first introduced to Red Oxx gear in 2012 when I traveled to a meeting in Denver with my good friend Ed Harris (who is an SWLing Post reader).

Even though Ed and I had traveled together in Belize and had known each other for quite a while, I never realized he was a one-bag traveler like me. Once the topic came up, we proceeded to talk about our main travel bags. Ed showed me his Air Boss by Red Oxx.

The Red Oxx Air Boss.

I instantly fell in love with the overall quality and the bold Red Oxx design.

All Red Oxx bags are manufactured to the company’s high standards, including the Lil Roy

Four portable radios, an antenna reel and earphones all easily fit into the Lil Roy with room to spare.

Though it looks like a canvas bag, the Lil Roy is made of 1000 weight CORDURA nylon. Red Oxx uses super strong UV resistant threads in the stitching and into every seam. Each stress point is box stitched.

Red Oxx uses large, pricey #10 YKK VISLON zippers on all of their bags. They slide beautifully and if you don’t zip up the bag completely, the zippers won’t slide back open–they essentially lock into place. They’re even field-repairable.

Inside the Lil Roy you’ll find two “stiff mesh” pockets on each inside wall with Red Oxx Mil-Spec snaps to keep things contained.

FYI: If you ever want to check the quality of a bag or pack, flip it inside out and look for frays, bad stitching and incomplete seams. Cheap bags are loaded with them–you won’t find one thread out of place on a Red Oxx bag.

While the Lil Roy is a small bag, I’ve found that it holds a lot of stuff. This month, I’ve had no less than four radios to beta test and review. I found that the Lil Roy can hold all of my portables and accessories, making it easy to grab the whole lot and take them to the field for testing.

While in Canada this summer, I had to do all of my radio listening and testing in the field. I was able to pack my portable radio and my recording gear into the Lil Roy with room to spare.

Listening to the 2017 BBC Antarctic Midwinter Broadcast from the back of my vehicle in Saint-Anne-de-Beaupré, Québec, Canada.

I’ve also packed my CommRadio CR-1a, NASA PA-30 antenna and all assorted cables for a little weekend travel and radio fun. The Lil Roy easily accommodated everything. In the photo below, I simply placed the CR-1a inside (on top of the CC Skywave and CC Skywave SSB) to show how much room there is to spare:

So are there any negatives? Perhaps one: the Lil Roy was never designed to carry radio equipment, so there’s no padding inside.

Indeed, I believe Red Oxx initially designed Lil Roy for someone who wanted a bag to hold their car chains. Of course, most customers use the Lil Roy as an electronics organizer–something to hold tablets, Kindles, cables, etc. Some even use it as a packing cube.

Since there’s no padding in the bag, I’m selective about what I put inside and how I pack it. Most of my portables have soft cases that protect them anyway. When I put something like the CommRadio CR-1a inside, I enclose the radio in a soft padded sack. Even though the sack makes the CR-1a bulkier, the Lil Roy can still easily accommodate it.

In general, Red Oxx gear is considered pricey by most standards. After all, you’re purchasing products wholly designed and made in the United States, so US wages are baked into that price. On top of that, Red Oxx backs all of their stuff with what they call a “No Bull” no question’s asked Lifetime Warranty. Because of this warranty, Red Oxx gear holds its value amazingly well. The warranty still holds even if you purchase the bag used.

I also believe when you’re purchasing from Red Oxx, you’re supporting a good local company that does one thing and does it very well.

The Lil Roy retails for $35 US. I think it’s a fantastic value for a simple, rugged bag that can be used in a variety of applications. The longer I’ve had it, the more uses I’ve found.

I’m considering purchasing the Red Oxx Mini Boss or possibly Skytrain in the next few months to replace my Timbuk2 Small Wingman.

Told you…I’m a pack geek! Don’t say I didn’t warn you! 🙂

Click here to check out the Lil Roy at Red Oxx Manufacturing.

Post readers: Red Oxx is one of three quality pack manufacturers I support–Tom Bihn and Spec Ops Brand are two others. Do you have any favorites?  Please comment!

An EDC Bag for the Classic Sony ICF-SW100 Receiver

In a 2014 article, this site’s administrator Thomas Witherspoon introduced readers to the CIA’s Survival Kit which is housed in a superbly sturdy waistpack, the Maxpedition M-2. Thomas observed that the M-2 pouch is perfectly suited to holding the diminutive Sony ICF-SW100 receiver.

I was intrigued by that possibility, but only recently tried to combine the two after I resurrected another ICF-SW100 that fell silent to the chronic broken ribbon cable problem. Indeed, the radio is a perfect fit and the M-2 is impressively solid and well designed. I was not aware of the Maxpedition firm prior to learning of the M-2 bag, but I see in various forums they are a major player in well-made gear for the survivalist and outdoor enthusiast crowds. The M-2 is a very popular item, and one or more of the four available colors are sometimes out of stock at the manufacturer. Fortunately there are many sellers on Amazon and Ebay who have these waistpacks available.

What is EDC you may ask? It refers to “Every Day Carry”, the essentials that an individual deems necessary for their lifestyle or a particular activity. For me, an EDC bag is taken along on hikes or other outings to the countryside and typically contains a compact shortwave radio and related accessories. It’s always fun to stop for lunch or a break in a remote location and be able to search for interesting stations whenever the mood strikes.

This photo shows what I’m able to carry in the Maxpedition M-2 bag; a coffee mug is shown for size comparison. Contents of the “kit” include:

  • The Sony ICF-SW100 receiver
  • Zero Audio Carbo Tenore In-Ear Monitors & soft pouch
  • Sony AN-71 reel-up antenna
  • Panasonic RR-XS400 Digital Voice Recorder
  • Short 3.5mm male-to-male stereo audio patch cable
  • Two extra AA batteries for the Sony receiver
  • An extra AAA battery for the Panasonic Digital Voice Recorder

A few comments on the contents. The Zero Audio Carbo Tenore In-Ear Monitors (IEMs) provide excellent audio quality for their price. They are among a handful of IEMs regularly recommended by budget-minded audiophiles on the popular Head-fi.org site. I like these IEMs not only for the audio quality, but also their small size (in the cloth bag) which barely fits into the M-2’s main compartment along with the ICF-SW100. Larger earbuds or IEMs might not fit the M-2 without being mangled by the hefty YKK zippers. One caution: the similar Carbo Basso model by Zero Audio is deemed by many to be overly heavy on the bass frequencies. I find the Carbo Tenore to be more than sufficient for bass heavy genres like Electronica.

The Panasonic RR-XS400 digital voice recorder has been out of production a few years, but is a highly capable and compact recorder. It contains a hidden USB plug for charging and data transfer, has a fully featured and backlit LCD display, built-in stereo microphones, switchable LINE/MIC inputs, and other useful features. In excellent used condition the RR-XS400 is worth about $50 USD in 2017, despite some Amazon sellers trying to move them at the original $280 price.

The extra AAA battery for the recorder slips into the front pouch of the M-2 bag along with the Sony AN-71 antenna. The additional AA batteries for the radio, however, are held in the two “pen loops” on the left and right of the M-2. Despite these loops being open-bottomed tubes, the fit is tight enough to hold the batteries securely.

Like every portion of the Maxpedition M-2 bag, the belt loop is proportioned perfectly and sewn with precision. With the Sony ICF-SW100 EDC “kit” secured to my belt on a hike, I’m assured of quick access to a DXing opportunity, such as when hiking the Naches Loop Trail near beautiful Mt. Rainier:

Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

Dave’s Yaesu VX-3R notes

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dave Zantow, who shares the following in reply to my recent post about the Yaesu VX-3R:

The VX-3R has a tiny internal ferrite bar for AM/mediumwave broadcast listening.

Yes, it’s indeed true the VX-3R is discontinued and is already pretty much sold out.

Rumors of a VX-4R has been around for years and let’s hope that happens–?? Have a sneaky feeling that IF it come to pass it will include C4FM digital (Yaesu Fusion) ?? I actually preferred the older VX-2R over the 3, but that was me (have reviews on both models on my web page). But my two VX-3R test samples were very early production (lots of QC bugs).

http://webpages.charter.net/n9ewo2/vx2r.html
http://webpages.charter.net/n9ewo2/vx3r.html

As I cover on my news page Yaesu is coming out with a number of new HT’s soon.

Sorry no word of a tiny VX-3R replacement yet. Will of course cover that IF and when it happens on the web page.

http://webpages.charter.net/n9ewo2/news.html

Thank you, Dave!  I’ll certainly consider purchasing the VX-4R (if it comes to fruition) if for no other reason than to compare it with the VX-3R.

Again, I love this little all-in-one micro-sized HT as an Everyday Carry radio. If you’re interested in the VX-3R, your best bet will be to check with radio retailers like Universal Radio and Ham Radio Outlet for used/demo units. Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, you might also follow a VX-3R search on eBay where I recently purchased an open box unit for $119 shipped.

Video: Shortwave listening and radio astronomy

Sony-ICF-SW100

On Thursday I attended an event at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI)–location of the 2015 SWLing Post DXPedition.

During a break, I had a couple of free hours, so I reached in my messenger bag and pulled out the Sony ICF-SW100: a radio that has quickly surpassed all others as my favorite EDC (everyday carry) radio. It has so many useful features in such a small package!

Radio astronomy observatories are ideal locations for impromptu shortwave radio listening as there is little to no radio interference/noise present.

PARI-26E-and-26W

PARI’s “Building 1” and the 26 West (left) and 26 East (right) radio telescopes.

While the weather on Thursday was gorgeous, HF band conditions were…well…miserable. There was very little to hear other than China Radio International, Radio Havana Cuba and a few other blow torch broadcasters.

Still, time signal station WWV was on my mind since I had just purchased Myke’s new edition of At The Tone and have been reading your excellent comments with early memories of listening to WWV and WWVH.

I tuned to 15 MHz and, of course, there was reliable WWV in Fort Collins, Colorado on frequency. Though WWV’s signal was relatively strong (despite the conditions) I turned on the SW100’s sync detector because fading (QSB) was pronounced at times.

Here’s a short video of the ICF-SW100 on a picnic table in the middle of the PARI campus. That’s PARI’s 26 (meter) West telescope in the background: