Radio Waves: Stories Making Waves in the World of Radio
Because I keep my ear to the waves, as well as receive many tips from others who do the same, I find myself privy to radio-related stories that might interest SWLing Post readers. To that end: Welcome to the SWLing Post’sRadio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Paul, Richard Langley, Troy Riedel, and the Southgate ARC for the following tips:
Solar-powered portable radios that put audio quality second are nothing new. But a solar-powered portable radio that sounds as good as a non-solar high-fidelity radio: This is worth talking about.
The new CCRadio Solar from C.Crane fits this double-barreled description. With its generous top-mounted solar panel (3.75 by 1.5 inches) plus back-mounted generator crank for recharging its Lithium-Ion battery pack, this is a radio for blackouts and other emergency situations.
After an initial conditioning charge-up of the Lithium-Ion battery from a 5V DC adaptor, just leave it in a sunny window, and the radio is always ready to go.
In non-emergency situations, the CCRadio Solar can be powered with three AA batteries or a 5V DC charger plugged into its micro-USB port.[…]
The U.S. Congress is reportedly taking steps to officially recognize the important contributions made by amateur radio operators.
According to an article on the website of the ARRL, Congresswoman Debbie Lesko (AZ) has introduced a bipartisan resolution to designate April 18, 2022 as National Amateur Radio Operators Day. April 18th is the anniversary of the founding of the International Amateur Radio Union (IARU) which was established in 1925.[…]
YOUR GRANDPARENTS’ ancient transistor radio might still turn on and tune in to stations broadcasting conventional AM or FM signals. But in this Internet age, a blizzard of content is available from sources accessible only via the Web. What’s more, instead of speakers that flood a room with sound, we’ve grown accustomed to personal listening using earbuds and headphones. Now engineers like Guillaume Alday, founder of Les Doyens in Bordeaux, France, have come to the radio’s rescue. Alday keeps old-school radios from slipping into obsolescence by retrofitting their innards with components that transform them into Wi-Fi- and Bluetooth- enabled devices.[…]
The BBC reports the first message sent back to Britain by a ‘trailblazing’ special agent in World War Two has been commemorated, 80 years on, by radio amateurs using GB1SOE
Georges Begue, of the Special Operations Executive, was parachuted into occupied France in 1941 to set up wireless communications with the UK.
Amateur radio enthusiasts have marked his achievement by sending and receiving messages at Bletchley Park.
On Thursday and Friday May 6-7, Milton Keynes Amateur Radio Society is using replica equipment to transmit Morse code messages from the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley to fellow radio enthusiasts in central France, stationed less than a mile from where Begue landed.
The original CC Skywave portable radio is among the pricier of my suggestions, but also packs the most features. Seen here on location in Canada.
Over the past four weeks, I’ve gotten a number of emails from first-time readers of the SWLing Post who’ve landed here because they’re searching for a new radio. While not all these readers are necessarily interested in shortwave, what they are interested in is a good, solid battery-powered radio to receive local news on AM and FM. A few have specifically asked for a radio with NOAA/Environment Canada weather radio reception. Others are looking for a self-powered or hand crank radio option, while some specifically asked for a shortwave radio to listen to international broadcasts. A common point was that no one wanted to spend a lot, inclining toward something cost-effective––understandable in these uncertain times––but they nonetheless are looking for quality, for a radio that won’t fail them, even if their Internet service does.
Radios provide local connection
The following post is my response to these questions. I’ve selected five radios under $90 USD that can fill a variety of needs, and also offer good information support in the event of an emergency. I gave priority to radios that can be powered by common AA batteries––all but one model can be powered by common AA cells. Also, three of the five radios below can receive North American weather radio frequencies.
Note that while many of these models have been chosen with North American readers in mind, there are a number of similar models available in Europe, Asia, and the Pacific that have DAB/DAB+ reception. This list is by no means comprehensive, as there are literally hundreds of similar radios on the market; if you feel I’ve left an ideal radio off this list, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.
Self-Powered Radios: The C. Crane CC Solar Observer ($50)
There are a number of self-powered (hand-crank and/or solar powered) radios on the market. My favorite self-powered radio for receiving local news and weather here in North America is the C. Crane CC Solar Observer.
I like the CC Solar Observer because it’s substantial, well made by a company I trust, and has three different ways to power it (AA batteries/AC adapter, a hand crank, and solar charging). The internal rechargeable battery pack stores energy from the hand crank, solar panel, or AC adapter. In a pinch, this radio can even charge a mobile phone via a supplied USB adapter.
The backlit dial is such a thoughtful design feature: whether the power’s out or you’re just out camping, it’s good to be able to see where you’re tuning in.
And, of course, this radio performs very well, indeed. You’ll be pleased with AM, FM and weather radio reception. Audio is quite respectable via the internal speaker, and the overall build quality is excellent. The CC Solar Observer also sports an LED flashlight, and is, to my knowledge, the only self-powered radio with a very handy backlit dial!
This is not the cheapest in the line-up: new, these retail anywhere from $45 to $60 USD. Still, I think this radio is a very worthwhile investment, and really, the best of the bunch.
Other Options: The Degen DE13 DSP is much smaller, sports the shortwave band, and is less expensive (roughly $25 USD). I also like the Tecsun GR-88, which has a similar form factor to the CC Solar Observer, and also includes the shortwave bands (roughly $55 USD). Negatives for both of these radios is that many are sold from China, which could mean longer-than-normal shipping times, should you need it soon. Also, neither of these models include North American weather radio frequencies.
Simple Pocket Radios With Built-In Speaker: Sangean SR-35 ($20)
Small form factor ideal for you? I like the Sangean SR-35 because it’s such a simple, easy-to-use radio, is obviously incredibly portable, and produces respectable audio for a pocket radio. (The SR-35 is also a favorite among SWLing Post readers.) The SR-35 sports an 18” telescopic FM antenna and built-in AM antenna. Performance is fantastic for a radio in this price class. If you don’t mind an analog dial and the fact the SR-35 can’t receive North American weather radio frequencies, you’ll love this affordable little pocket radio.
I like the Sangean DT-160 because it’s a respectable AM/FM portable radio that can run on two AA batteries for an impressive 116 hours. I can confirm this because I once tested its clear-case cousin, the DT-160CL. It’s very compact, and sports excellent FM and AM performance that will snag all of your local broadcasters. Unlike some of the other selections on this page, it lacks an internal speaker and North American weather radio frequencies. Still, if you’re looking for a pocket portable with digital display that’s an incredible battery miser, look no further than the Sangean DT-160.
Other Options: I’ve only tested a handful of radios for battery performance. The DT-160 is certainly king in this category, although no doubt there are many analog models that could achieve even better battery longevity. The models that have impressed me the most both in terms of performance and battery life are the Sony SRF-59 and SRF-39FP (clear case). Sadly, neither of these models is still in production, but you can still track down used ones on eBay.
Large Portable Radios: Sangean PR-D4W ($65)
Sangean radios are a favorite among SWLing Post readers because they’re built well and typically perform exactly as they should. In fact, when I mentioned I would be writing this post, several readers immediately suggested the Sangean “PR” series radios, and perhaps my pick of this bunch is the venerable Sangean PR-D4W. I like this particular model because it receives AM, FM and North American weather radio frequencies. It even has a weather alert function. Audio from the built-in speaker is pleasing and operation is very simple. Most functions are available via one-button press. Note that Sangean also produces a PR model for visually-impaired customers that is similar to the PR-D4W, although it lacks weather radio; this is the Sangean PR-D17 (click here to read a full review). The only gripe I have with the PR-D4W (and many of the “PR” series radios) is a lack of carry handle. Unlike the other radios in this list, the PR-D4W requires four “D” cells for battery operation.
Other Options:Click here to check out the full line of Sangean “PR” series radios.
Portable Shortwave Radios: C. Crane CC Skywave ($85)
The C.Crane CC Skywave
The CC Skywave is a brilliant little radio and is certainly time-tested. It’s a fine broadcast receiver and one of the most sensitive travel portables on the market. For those of us living and traveling in North America, the CC Skywave is a veritable “Swiss Army Knife” receiver, as it not only covers AM, FM and shortwave, but is a capable AIR band receiver plus incredibly adept NOAA/Environment Canada weather radio receiver. At $90 USD, I believe it’s the best radio value in the C. Crane product line.Click here to read our full review of the CC Skywave.
Other Options: Although it lacks North American weather radio reception and no AIR band like the CC Skywave, the Tecsun PL-310ET is a time-tested benchmark portable radio. At $48 shipped (via Amazon), it’s a bargain. An even less expensive option is the Retekess V115, at $29.99 shipped, and though its performance is pretty impressive for the price, I prefer the overall quality of the Tecsun and C. Crane better.
If you’ve found this post because you’re looking for a reliable AM/FM radio, I hope the selections above will give you some guidance. There are so many AM/FM radios on the market, we can’t cover them all. But these solid radios are time tested, and in my view, among the best; they’re not likely to let you down when you need them most.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.