Category Archives: Emergency Preparedness

A review of the Tivdio HR-11S self-powered shortwave radio

A few months ago, the radio manufacturer Tivdio contacted me to see if I would be interested in evaluating their new Tivdio HR-11S self-powered emergency radio. I receive requests like this frequently, and often pass on the opportunity since I generally don’t have the time to evaluate the overwhelming number of inexpensive DSP radios that have hit the market in the past few years.

But this time, I seriously considered it.  There were two reasons I was interested in the HR-11S:

  1. I purchased a Tivdio V-117 last year, and have been pretty pleased with it; indeed, I’m overdue a review on this unit. We’ve also posted several positive reviews of the Tivdio V-115.
  2. At our non-profit ETOW, we’re always looking for reliable self-powered radios with shortwave for use in areas of the world where radio remains the primary news source.

Thus this radio is a rather rare breed.  Tivdio dispatched the radio very quickly, but my work with the Radio Spectrum Archive and several other reviews already in the pipeline took priority.

I’ve had the HR-11S in service for several months, and have now explored every feature to some degree. What follows is my summary and review notes.

Green and Red radios are different models

First things first: note that I’m reviewing the Green HR-11S. Tivdio also makes a Red version which is actually a different model number: the HR-11W.

The main difference between these models, as I understand it, is the green HR-11S is a shortwave version, and the red HR-11W is a NOAA weather radio version.

Both are useful; why not combine the two roles in one unit?  I’m not surprised this radio can’t include both shortwave and NOAA weather radio. Through Ears To Our World, I’ve worked with self-powered DSP radios for many years, and know that a limitation of the DSP chip is that it can be set to feature either shortwave or weather radio, but not both, simultaneously, if both AM and FM are included.

Form factor

The HR-11S has a built-in solar panel.

The HR-11S adopts the standard “flashlight” form factor found in so many other self-powered radios. I think the flashlight functionality is a useful feature and results in a handy form factor.  It’s compact, lightweight, and seems relatively sturdy, so is suitable for camping, travel, and off-grid utility.

Flashlight/Siren switch

A small switch on top toggles between four positions. The first two positions are off/on for the main white LED. Though the flashlight aperture is relatively small, the white LED provides enough luminosity to light your immediate path at night, and certainly more than enough to read by.

The third switch position engages a flashing red LED. The red LED is not terribly bright and I’m not sure how helpful this would be in an emergency situation.

The red LED is rather dim and can only flash.

I would much rather have the red LED maintain a steady beam which would be great for amateur astronomers, campers, or anyone else wishing to preserve their night vision.

The fourth position engages a LOUD siren. More than once when attempting to turn on the flashlight in the dark, I’ve accidentally engaged this pain-inducing feature. The switch is small, thus it’s very easy to engage the siren. In a quiet campground, this might annoy your neighbors––not to mention you, yourself.  Of course, in an emergency situation, a loud siren could come in handy. I just wish its switch wasn’t combined with the flashlight switch.

The display HR-11S display is backlit and easy to read.

The HR-11S sports a keypad that allows direct frequency input––a very good thing, considering there is no tuning knob.

To band scan, you must use the #7 and #8 key on the keypad to increase and decrease frequency in predetermined steps. And, yes, the radio mutes between frequency changes.

You can also press and hold the #7 or #8 buttons to engage an auto-tune feature that finds the next strong signal.

The HR-11S’ rechargeable battery pack.

To input a frequency directly, simply press the enter button, key in the frequency, then press the enter button once more to engage that frequency. Very simple.

The volume up/down buttons are #1 and #2 on the keypad.

The keypad is not backlit and the layout for volume control, tuning, mode switching, etc., is a bit confusing; it doesn’t match any other radio I’ve ever used.  Of course, with time you’ll master the keypad functions, but the design could be made more user-friendly.

Performance: setting expectations

SWLing Post community members know that I tend to review what I call “enthusiast grade” radios: receivers that perform well enough to attract the attention of DXers and dedicated listeners.

Self-powered radios, with few exceptions, rarely impress me in terms of performance. Indeed, some of the best that have been on the market have been analog units (I’m particularly fond of the Grundig FR200).

The Tivdio HR-11S is no exception––don’t expect to snag elusive DX with this unit. It’s not going to happen.

FM

The HR-11S is a capable FM receiver. Performance is on par with most average FM radios: you’ll easily receive all of your local broadcasters, but distant stations may require holding the unit in your hand, careful positioning, or adding an extra bit of wire to the antenna.

The FM audio is quite good via the HR-11S’s built-in speaker.

AM

The mediumwave, or AM broadcast band, is the HR-11S’ weakest suit. AM is plagued with internally-generated noises–especially in the lower part of the band–thus you’ll only be able to clearly receive local AM broadcasters that rise well above the noise floor. Thus I cannot recommend this radio for AM reception.

Shortwave

Shortwave reception is on par with other DSP self-powered radios I’ve tested. As I write this section of the review, I’m listening to China Radio International on 9,570 kHz in my office without even having the telescopic whip antenna extended. (CRI is a blowtorch station, however).

I find that the HR-11S can receive most strong broadcasters and even weaker stations, though the AGC is not ideal when fading is present.

If you’re seeking a self-powered radio with shortwave, the HR-11S is somewhat useful in this regard and is worth consideration.

Keep in mind, though, that an inexpensive dedicated ultralight shortwave radio like the Tecsun PL-310ET will perform circles around this unit.

Bluetooth

One feature I’ve found incredibly useful is the Bluetooth functionality.  With Bluetooth mode engaged, you can connect the HR-11S to pretty much any mobile device and use it as a wireless portable external speaker. Since the speaker has decent audio fidelity for the size, and can be powered by battery, it’s a brilliant feature and will make watching videos on your smartphone, for example, that much better.

One negative? At least in my unit, I can hear some internally-generated noises in Bluetooth mode. This is especially noticeable at lower volume levels.

Recording

In full disclosure, I haven’t tested the recording functionality extensively. Built-in radio recording is an interesting feature, but one I would rarely use in a self-powered radio. I did make a handful of test recordings, however, and like many other DSP radios with a recording function, the HR-11S injects noise in the recordings.

Summary

Every radio has its pros and cons. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget my initial impressions and observations. Here’s the Tivdio HR-11S pro/con list, from the first moments I turned it on to the present:

Pros:

  • Keypad entry
  • Great audio for size
  • Replaceable battery (Note: after unboxing unit, you must place battery in battery compartment; it’s packed in the side box)
  • Siren  (see con)
  • Micro SD card for digital storage
  • USB can port audio from PC
  • Bluetooth––use as a portable wireless speaker for mobile devices (see con)
  • ATS (auto tune) function
  • Multiple power sources:
    • 850mAh rechargeable lithium battery
    • hand-crank dynamo generator
    • Mini solar panel
    • DC 5V input (standard micro USB)
  • Backlit informative display
  • Customer service: Tivdio representatives seem to respond quickly to customer emails and comments on Amazon.com.

Cons:

  • Tuning is cumbersome (no tuning knob)
  • Mutes between frequencies
  • Siren too easy to activate, resulting in accidental activation
  • AM broadcast band (MW) is plagued with internally-generated noises
  • Keypad configuration is not intuitive and difficult to memorize for use at night or low light settings
  • Hand strap is very difficult to insert (hint: use a thin loop of wire to help thread it)
  • At low volume, noises can be heard in Bluetooth mode
  • Noises heard in recording function

Conclusion

Running an ATS scan on shortwave.

As I mentioned early in this review, I must set realistic expectations when reviewing self-powered radios. When most consumers consider a self-powered radio, they’re seeking a simple, basic radio that will provide information during times of need: power outages, natural disasters, or while hiking, camping, boating, or simply in an off-grid setting.

Internally-generated noises––especially on the AM band––will disappoint radio enthusiasts. If Tivdio could address this in future iterations of the HR-11S, it would substantially improve this unit.

My overall impression is that the HR-11S is chock-full of features, but none of them are terribly refined. There are even some internally-generated noises in Bluetooth mode, which really surprised me as it seems like an oversight by engineering.

I see the Tivdio HR-11S is a bit of a “Swiss Army Knife” of a self-powered radio. It has more functionality and connectivity than any other self-powered radio I’ve tested to date. Its features will, no doubt, appeal to the average consumer––and a quick look at Amazon reviews seem to support this theory. As a radio enthusiast, however, I would pass on the HR-11S until the internally-generated noises have been addressed.

Click here to view to the Tivdio HR-11S on Amazon.com (affiliate link supports this site).

See coupon codes below.

For those who are interested, Tivdio passed along several coupon codes that SWLing Post readers can use to save money, should they decide to purchase the HR-11S:

For a 5% discount, use code:

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NBC: “Hawaii’s communication breakdown and how going ham could save us”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Curtis, who shares the following video from NBC Left Field:

Hawaii’s recent false nuclear missile alert showed us how reliant we are on cell phones and modern technology—and how unprepared we are if they become inaccessible. But in case the unexpected happens, an unlikely group of hobbyists—ham radio operators—are standing at the ready and may save us all.

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The 1770 solar storm that turned the skies red for a week

(Source: Wired UK via Mark Hirst)

Records kept by people living in Korea, China and Japan in 1770 have revealed evidence for the longest geomagnetic storm in recorded history

Almost 250 years ago, for over two weeks, the skies above parts of Asia lit up in what looked like a burst of fiery red. Those who saw the strange phenomenon kept notes of the event, and now it has been identified as potentially the longest geomagnetic storm ever recorded.

A dim red sky reported to have been observed between the September 16 to 18, 1770 in East Asia was considered one of history’s greatest geomagnetic storms. But now, new materials have come to light suggesting the storm lasted much longer, for nine nights, and covered an area twice as large as originally thought.

A group of Japanese scientists led by Hisashi Hayakawa from Osaka University studied hundreds of historical records dating between September and October 1770, including government records and people’s personal diaries. Using these records, they were able to piece together what happened during the event, and link this to sunspot drawings from the time.[…]

Continue reading at the Wired UK website.

Thanks for the tip, Mark–fascinating!

Of course, I’ve read in-depth information about the Carrington Event, but was completely unaware of the 1770 event.  I’ve always said the biggest EMP threat will come from our local star. Frankly, it’s just a matter of time.  I hope we’re ready!

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Weather Radio Review: Grant recommends the Reecom R-1650

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Grant, who comments on our recent post about weather radios:

I’ve been pretty happy with the Reecom R-1650.

I’ve had it over 10 years and it’s been a solid performer. It has a long battery backup on 4 AA’s. It also does AM/FM, has alarm out, antenna in, audio out etc.

It’s fairly smart and doesn’t alert me when the Wednesday tests are happening but does light up during the test so it’s easy to see that it’s working and receiving alerts as it should. Getting through the programming menu is a little weird (as it is with most weather radios) but I can usually figure it out with having to hunt down the manual even though I haven’t been in the menu in years.

With the advent of the cell phone, where no one thinks they need a radio anymore for anything, the best deal in weather radios is often found at Goodwill or your local thrift shop. You can often find models with S.A.M.E for $2-3.

Thank you for the recommendation, Grant! I was not familiar with Reecom weather products. I’m especially impressed with the 185 hour backup time from a set of four AA cells! Impressive. I doubt other models can claim that amount of backup power time–a full week.

Even eHam has positive reviews of Reecom dating back to 2006.

It appears Reecom only distributes their products through Amazon.com, but I discovered a load of Reecom radios on eBay, many at prices well below $30 shipped. 

Grant, you also make a great point about checking out thrift stores. Many people don’t know what a weather radio is, so thrift stores sell them for $2.00 or $3.00 in their electronics pile. Just make sure you find the matching power supply.

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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!

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