Tag Archives: CC Solar Observer

Five solid radios to get you through the pandemic (or any emergency, for that matter)

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.

Retailers:

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.

For more emergency radios, also check out Eton Corporation’s offerings.

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.

Retailers:

Other Options: Although the Sangean DT-800 is pricier (roughly $55 via Amazon, $79 via Universal Radio) it includes weather radio reception and even weather alerts––click here for my full review. The C. Crane CC Pocket is very similar to the DT-800, and retails for $65 via C. Crane, $60 via Universal, and $65 via Amazon. I’m also a massive fan of the Sony ICF-S10MKII for its AM/FM performance and superb battery life, but unfortunately it’s no longer in production, so your best bet is to look for one on eBay.

Battery Endurance Radios: Sangean DT-160 ($50)

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.

Retailers:

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.

Retailers:

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.

Retailers:

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.

Summary

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.


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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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