Category Archives: Weather Radio

Guest Post: Everyone should have a “Crisis Radio”

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.”

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Jock shares: “A bit more about NOAA Weather Radio”

Photo by Raychel Sanner via Unsplash

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


A bit more about NOAA Weather Radio

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m a fan, an advocate, an evangelist for NOAA Weather Radio (NWR).

Why? Because, quite simply, if you live in the United States, it is one of the very best deals you are ever likely to get. NWR is the voice of the National Weather Service. It is the fastest and most reliable means of receiving alerts when hazardous weather approaches.

NWR includes more than 1000 transmitters, covering some or all of 50 states, adjacent coastal waters, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Pacific Territories. Broadcasts are found in the VHF public service band at these seven frequencies (MHz): 162.400, 162.425, 162.450, 162.475, 162.500, 162.525, and 162.550. Radios capable of receiving NWR signals may include consumer radios, ham radios, scanners, and dedicated weather radios.

For more information about coverage, check these:

NOAA Weather Radio is free. There are no commercials, you don’t have to wait for other programming to be completed to hear the weather forecast, and, because it is radio, you can listen and get a concise summary of what’s going on with the weather in your area while you are doing something else. Even better, the folks at the National Weather Service tell me that over 80 percent of the NWR transmitters have some form of backup or emergency power, many of which can continue to operate for 5-10 days while the main power is out. There is a wealth of information about NWR here: https://www.weather.gov/phi/nwrfaq scroll down to see details.

Why do you want a receiver that can hear NOAA Weather Radio? Short answer: because every state in the Union has some form of hazardous weather that could prove lethal. Early warning just might save your life.

In his excellent book Warnings – the true story of how science tamed the weather, Mike Smith points out how successful meteorology has been at saving lives. In the 1950s, with the beginning of the tornado warning system, the death rate from tornados was 1.5 deaths per million people. By 2009, the death rate was down to .068 deaths per million, a decrease or more than 95 percent. The investment weather radar, prediction techniques, and warning systems such as NWR has paid handsome dividends.

So what makes an NWR-capable radio good? First, sensitivity. Greater sensitivity increases the odds that the radio will be able to hear more NWR stations in your local area, which in turn raises the probability that you’ll be able to hear an NWR station with backup power when the lights go out.

Second, alert capability. An alert function – that is, the ability to put the radio in standby mode and have it automatically switch on when NWR transmits an alert tone is a great plus. You can go about your business, and the radio will wake up and alert you when you need to pay attention.

Third, advanced alert capability. Ideally, you would like to be alerted only when a hazard is close to your immediate vicinity. Some dedicated weather radios and advanced scanners offer Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) that can be programmed by the user to only alarm for weather and other emergency events in specific, desired counties, thereby eliminating unwanted alerts for areas that are not of concern to the listener. In addition, some weather radios have a selectable alert option that can be programmed to alert only when certain hazard codes – ranging from Avalanche to Winter Storm Warning – have been selected by the user and are transmitted by the local NWR station.

With that in mind, here are some NWR-capable radios with which I have had personal experience. With each radio, I did a quick search from the same location to see how many local NWR stations it would receive, as a rough indication of sensitivity. The good news is that every single one of the radios below could receive at least two NWR stations in my local area and had basic alert capabilities.

Consumer radios with AM/FM receive

CC Skywave SSB

CCrane 2E –could hear clearly 3 NWR stations in my area, basic alert function, house mains and battery power (over 200 hours).

CCrane Skywave SSB – could hear 2 NWR stations clearly and one scratchy, basic alert function, battery power (over 50 hours).

Eton FRX3+ — could hear NWR 3 stations clearly, basic alert capability, power options include solar, hand-crank dynamo, and rechargeable battery (can also be recharged off house power with USB capable), internal battery can be used to recharge cell phone battery.

Ham radio hand-talkies

Icom V80 with aftermarket high-performance antenna – could hear 2 NWR stations clearly and one scratchy, basic alert capability.

Yaesu VX-6 with Diamond 77 aftermarket antenna — could hear 2 NWR stations clearly and one scratchy, basic alert capability.

Scanners

Uniden BC125AT with Diamond 77 aftermarket antenna – could hear 3 NWR stations clearly, basic alert function.

Uniden SDS200 with homebrew off-center-fed dipole antenna (see below) – could hear 6 NWR stations clearly, highly sophisticated programmable SAME and specific hazard alert functions, no battery power (the SDS100, handheld version of this scanner provides battery power); would require uninterruptible power supply or something similar if mains power goes off. Author’s note: while the performance is stellar, this is by far the most expensive option. With the stock antenna that comes with the SDS200, I could hear two NWR stations clearly.

Dedicated NOAA Weather Radio Receiver

Midland WR120 Weather Alert Radio – At the time I began this write-up, I did not own a dedicated weather radio receiver, so I reached out to www.midlandusa.com, and they were kind enough to send me this unit, which is built solely to receive National Weather Radio stations. With the built-in whip antenna extended, the receiver was clearly very sensitive. I could hear 4 of my local NWR stations clearly, and 2 more scratchy but copyable. If you are in a fringe area, there is a socket for plugging in an external antenna such as the one I describe below.

There is a little symbol on the box that says “EZ Progamming,” and I was pleasantly surprised that it was true. Between the MENU and SELECT keys, it is easy to walk through the setup. I thought that I would have to look up the SAME code for my location, but the WR120 has a built-in database of all the states and counties, so selecting my county was a snap. In addition to SAME programming, the WR120 has a long list of selectable alert options that you can choose to meet your needs. That list can be downloaded here: https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0531/2856/0817/files/SAME_List_of_Emergencies_Non-Weather_Emergencies.pdf?v=1636648846

The WR120 is powered by a tiny wall-wart transformer that plugs into house power, and the user installs 3 AA batteries to provide back-up power in case the lights go out. The manual does not say how long it will operate on battery power.

It seems to me that if you do not already own a device that will receive NOAA Weather Radio stations, the WR120 would be an excellent choice.

Boosting Performance

If you want to boost the performance of the radio you are using to listen to NOAA Weather Radio, I can highly recommend this antenna: https://wiki.radioreference.com/index.php/Homebrewed_Off-Center_Fed_Dipole .

I built the wire version, hung it inside in a corner of my radio shack, and with it attached to either Uniden scanner or my Icom V80 ham handi-talkie, I can hear six NWR stations from my location. This antenna offers a large boost in performance for a modest investment of time and money.

In his blog, Smith argues that each of us ought to have redundant means of alerting us to hazardous weather: an app on your smart phone, plus an NWR-capable radio with alert function at home, plus your local TV or radio stations. To which I say: darn good idea!

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Jock explores “The Essential Listening Post Part II – When the lights go out”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


Photo by Parker Coffman on Unsplash

When the lights go out: The Essential Listening Post – Part II

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

What’s the most valuable commodity in an emergency? Information.

Without information, it is very difficult to make decisions of what actions you should – or shouldn’t – take. Fortunately, as swling.com readers know, radio can come to your rescue.

As an example, I offer for your approval this minor incident that happened just a few mornings ago.

At 4:30 am, I awoke. That’s not particularly unusual; I get up early lots of mornings to run the Commuter Assistance Network on ham radio.

What made this morning unusual were the things I couldn’t see: the digital clock across the room, the tiny LED lamp that illuminates the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. They were both dark. In fact, the only light that I could see was the LED from the uninterruptable power supply for the computer in the next room. It was pulsing, indicating the power from the mains was out.

With the help of a flashlight kept within easy reach of the bed, I made my way downstairs. A peek out the windows revealed the surrounding area was dark; no lights in local houses, no street lights. A house across the ravine behind my house had a single light, but it had the bright white look of an emergency lantern. So this outage was wider spread than just the lane where I live. But how widespread was it? In early February in upstate New York, it’s winter; temperature about 6 degrees Fahrenheit on this particular morning. The thermostat on the wall has already dropped below where the furnace should have kicked on. With no electricity; no furnace.

With no house power, I had no internet, so I couldn’t look things up to find out why there was no house power. Because we use Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), with no internet, no house phone.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Well, dummy, fire up your smart phone, and in a few moments you’ll have your answers.”

To that I say: “Not so fast there, pardner.

I consulted with a ham radio friend who makes his living in the commercial radio business. He consults with many companies, including cell phone companies, so he knows what he is talking about.

It turns out there are three things that could render your smart phone useless.

The first is whether your local cell tower(s) have battery back-up. Most do, but how many hours the batteries will run the cell tower can vary widely from just a couple of hours to perhaps eight. Depending upon when the power went out, you may or may not be able to connect.

The second is that many cell phone towers themselves connect to the rest of the network through wire or fiber optic cable. If a vehicle has taken down a pole, or a falling tree has taken down a cable, the network may be disrupted.

Finally, if there is high demand for your local cell phone tower, you may not be able to make a connection. My commercial radio “guru” relates that he went to an event at a local community college. There is a cell tower right on the property, but he had great difficulty connecting simply because so many people were trying to use the tower.

During emergencies, cell phone networks frequently go into gridlock because of high demand, so it’s a good idea to have other means of gathering information. An interesting aside: some years ago, I heard a presentation from one of the hospital administrators who was in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. They were unable to make voice phone calls, but apparently they could sometimes send and receive text messages.

Getting back to my small lights-out incident, I was in the actual act of firing up a radio to check out what local broadcasters on the AM (medium wave) band had to say, when the lights came on, the furnace started, and internet and phone service were restored. My greatest inconvenience was having to reset a couple of digital clocks.

But it raised a serious question: what should be your essential listening post if the lights go out, the fertilizer hits the ventilation equipment?

First and foremost, a battery-powered radio capable of receiving your local broadcasters. You need to know – or find out – which ones have back-up power so they can keep transmitting. Knowing that will do two things for you: first, tuning in to a station with back-up power will hopefully get you the information you need, and second, if stations that don’t have back-up power are off the air, that will give you an indication of how widespread the power outage is.

Knowing the extent of the blackout can be important. A couple of decades ago, on an August afternoon, my better half and I took our young son to a local park where there was a water fountain that the kids could run through. When we got home later, the power was out. I saw the neighbor standing in her yard and asked if she had reported the outage. “No point,” she said. “Why?” I asked. “Because the lights are out from Canada to Virginia.” Oh.

In addition to knowing which stations are likely to be on the air, it’s also good to know which local stations have news staff that are likely to collect and broadcast information that is needed during an emergency.

Second, if you live in the United States or Canada, you need a weather radio. Every state in the Union has bad weather of one sort or another . . . and some of them can kill you. NOAA weather radio is an excellent source of information. It’s free, and it does a fine job of delivering weather-related info in a concise and useful format.

Third, it would be very useful to have a scanner or ham radio capable of receiving your local 2 meter repeaters. This could be an additional source of useful information in a crisis.

So, are there any radios that I would recommend for “The Essential Listening Post” when the lights go out?

Yes, there are.

The C.Crane CCRadio 2E

First on my list would be the C.Crane CCRadio 2E (or CCRadio3). It receives AM, FM, NOAA Weather Band with Weather Alert and the 2-Meter Ham Band. It will run on house power or, if the lights are out, over 200 hours on batteries. By all accounts, it offers excellent performance on AM and FM, and it is one of the most sensitive NOAA weather radio receivers I have tested. I bought one and can heartily recommend it.

CC Skywave SSB

The CCrane Skywave SSB receives AM, FM, NOAA Weather band plus Alert, Shortwave (1711-29.999MHz) with SSB, VHF Aviation Band. It doesn’t receive the 2 meter ham band, but it will receive hams on HF frequencies, which might come in handy in an emergency. It is not quite as sensitive as the CCrane 2E on NOAA weather frequencies, but, as I reported last year it was the most sensitive NOAA weather radio receiver I took to Sodus, NY. It is very small and portable and will run for over 50 hours on batteries. I bought one and can heartily recommend it.

The Eton FRX3+

The Eton FRX3+ is an interesting alternative for a “when the lights go out” radio. This battery-powered radio receives AM, FM, and NOAA weather radio with alert. It has a couple of LED lights for navigating in the dark and can be charged by a built-in solar panel, hand-crank, or USB cable, and can even be used to charge your cell phone. Eton Corp. sent me one of these, and I find that it offers worthy performance on AM and FM, and excellent sensitivity on NOAA weather radio. Recommended.

In the future, I hope to offer some additional useful information about NOAA weather radio as well as a comparison of different ways to receive NOAA weather radio, including dedicated weather radio, consumer radio, scanner, and ham handi-talkie.

-Jock Elliott

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Guest Post: An Introduction to DXing the MF Marine Bands

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Don Moore–author of  Following Ghosts in Northern Peru–for the following guest post:


Monitoring the MF Marine Bands

By Don Moore

For me, DXing has always been about the challenge of receiving difficult-to-hear radio stations, regardless of the type of station or frequency range. In my five decades in the radio hobby I’ve logged a lot of different kinds of stations – shortwave broadcast, medium wave, shortwave utility, longwave beacons, etc. But some of my favorite catches have been in the upper end of the medium frequency range.

Technically speaking, medium frequency (MF) is the range from 300 to 3000 kHz and includes the standard medium wave (AM) broadcast band. The upper end of the MF band, from 1600 to 3000 kHz (except for a small portion reserved for amateur radio),  has always been assigned to various types of utility uses including broadcasts and other voice communications from regional maritime stations. And while digital modes and satellites have done a lot to change the nature of communication with ships at sea, there is still a lot of good human-voice DX to be heard.

Several dozen stations, mostly in Europe and North America, broadcast regularly scheduled marine information broadcasts in the MF range. These broadcasts are usually between five to ten minutes in length and include weather forecasts, navigational warnings, and other notices to keep ships at sea safe. On occasion it’s possible to hear two-way voice communication here between ships and shore stations, although that’s much less common today.

The Equipment

Nothing special is needed to DX the marine MF band other than a receiver that covers the frequency range and can receive USB mode (which all these broadcasts are in). However, for reasons explained below, I highly recommend using an SDR to make spectrum recordings of the entire band to go through later. Continue reading

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Jock satisfies his inner radio nerd with a deeper dive into NOAA weather radio

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.

Continue reading

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Maintenance at DWD Pinneberg transmitter

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Ralf Bender, who notes:

Hello Thomas,

For all interested, extensive technical work is in progress at the DWD Pinneberg weather radio transmitter. Affected are NAVTEX, facsimile, rtty and voice transmissions.

Complete shutdown:
16.08.2021 00:00 by 21.08.2021 24:00 UTC. Other scheduled shutdowns will occur during the day on the following dates:
23.08.2021 05:00-17:00 UTC
24.08.2021 05:00-17:00 UTC
25.08.2021 05:00-17:00 UTC
30.08.2021 05:00-17:00 UTC
31.08.2021 05:00-17:00 UTC

73 Ralf

DL0103SWL
DO5RBB

Thank you for sharing this, Ralf and apologies for not getting this posted earlier. Yours was one of the emails lost in my SPAM box.

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Weather radios given to communities in path of natural disasters

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, NT, who writes:

Hi Thomas,

A few months ago, a city in northern California gave away weather radios to help their community prepare for fire season. And last year a county in Georgia did the same thing in advance of extreme weather.

With all the fires and severe weather happening around the world, I’m curious if other communities have been doing emergency radio give-aways? I thought you or other SWLing Post readers might have seen similar stories?

73,
NT

Great question, NT!

Post readers: please comment if you know of other communities around the world who’ve deployed weather radios in an effort to prepare for natural disasters.

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