Although Irish pirate radio is our main interest, today we explore the lively pirate scene in the Brooklyn area of New York City. The Brooklyn Pirate Radio Sound Map is a fascinating project established by radio producer and audio archivist David Goren and provides interactive maps and historical and contemporary recordings of the many unlicensed stations in Brooklyn.
This is a longer version of an interview by John Walsh with David Goren first featured in Wireless, a series about radio, audio and media on Flirt FM in Galway. It covers the history of pirate radio in Brooklyn and New York generally, attempts to crack down on the unlicensed stations, the role of low-powered FM, the background to the Brooklyn Pirate Radio Sound Map itself and plans for the future. Many thanks to David for taking the time to explain this fantastic project for us. [Read the full article and listen to the interview on the Irish Pirate Radio Audio Archive…]
With the advent of the 9V battery-powered transistor radio in the 1950s, the “Emergency Radio” was born.
Unlike vacuum tube receivers with heavy batteries or unpowered crystal radios, these handheld AM portables were small and simple enough to keep in a drawer. They could then be retrieved whenever man-made or natural disasters knocked out the power, providing listeners with lifeline connections to news, weather and relief information. Continue reading →
1st corollary: Even if anything can’t go wrong, it still will.
2nd corollary: It will go wrong in the worst possible place at the worst possible time.
Most devastating corollary: Murphy was an optimist.
“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” – Yogi Berra
The Better Half thinks I am sick, and maybe she is right, but I am unrepentant: I like disaster movies and books. True stories are better than fiction, but I like both, and I am curious about how people, real or imagined, get through whatever Horrible Event faces them.
As I have written before–here, here, and here–that when bad stuff happens, radio can be a really useful tool.
It was a comment from a reader – Rob, W4ZNG – that got me thinking some more about this. He mentioned enduring three weeks without electricity on the Mississippi Gulf Coast as a result of Katrina. So we had a phone conversation about: What do you want in your radio kit bag when faced with a longer duration, more severe regional or national emergency?
Here’s some of the stuff we agreed upon.
At the most basic level, you want a radio capable of receiving local AM or FM broadcasters, and it would be good to know ahead of time which local stations have local news staffs that can broadcast useful in formation in times of crisis. In addition, if you live in the US or Canada, I absolutely recommend the ability to receive NOAA weather radio. The ability to run off batteries is critical, in case the mains power is out. In addition, a generous supply of batteries, or a means to recharge batteries is in order. If you decide to go with recharging batteries, you need to think about your options now, not when the lights go out.
In Rob’s case, during Katrina, all of the local broadcasters were wiped out. There was a local low-power FM broadcaster who got permission to increase power to 1,000 watts and was broadcasting where to get food and water. There was a New Orleans AM station that was on the air, but all of its coverage was “New Orleans-centric.” After a few days, some local FM broadcaster, working together, cobbled together a station that they put on the air and began broadcasting news. Rob also began DXing AM stations at night to get additional news.
We agreed that shortwave broadcasters were not likely to be very useful in most cases, but a shortwave radio with the ability to hear ham radio single sideband networks might well be.
To scan, or not to scan, that is the question
Another potential source of information are local public agency radio transmissions in the VHF and UHF ranges that could be heard with a scanner. But – and this is a very big but – that depends a lot on whether your local government (first responders, etc.) transmissions are encrypted. You need to check a source like https://www.radioreference.com/db/ to see if Public Safety transmissions in your area are encrypted. If they are, you will be unable to decipher them, no matter what equipment you own. However, an inexpensive analog-only scanner may prove very useful for listening to ham transmissions VHF and UHF (2 meters and 440 primarily) as well as FRS and GMRS.
If your local Public Safety radio systems are not encrypted, the RR database will give the details of the radio systems used by those agencies, and that in turn will determine the level of sophistication of scanner that will be required to hear their transmission.
The Radio Reference database also includes a listing of national radio frequencies including a list of federal disaster frequencies such as might be used by FEMA. In addition, I have found that the folks at the Radio Reference forum are generous with their time and expertise: https://forums.radioreference.com/ . If all this sounds a bit daunting, there are scanners that have built-in databases of all available frequencies and radio systems, and all you need to do is put in your zip code and select which services you want to hear. I own one, they work well, but they are expensive.
Assuming that the power is out, your cell phone may or may not work (during Hurricane Katrina, some people found that they could not make voice phone calls, but text messages would go through).
If the cell phones are not working, two-way radio may be useful to summon help and gather information. Again, some research on your part is in order. Perhaps there are 2-meter or 440 ham repeaters in your area with backup power, or maybe there is a robust GMRS repeater system. If so, get your ham or GMRS license and start participating! (It was his experience during Hurricane Katrina that prompted Rob to get his ham license, and when Hurricane Zeta hit, he was glad he had it.)
FRS bubble-pack radios are good for staying in touch while getting around the immediate neighborhood. It’s also good to have a few spares to hand to neighbors if the need arises. Often on sale (especially after Christmas) in multi-packs for less than $10 each.
Rob notes that great strides have been made in hardening cell phone towers since Katrina. When Hurricane Harvey clobbered Houston in 2017, the cell net stayed up. Even so, it would be prudent not to count on it!
The Bottom Line
At a bare minimum the ability to receive your local AM and FM broadcasters is essential, and NOAA weather radio is also very useful. At the next step up, depending upon your local situation, a scanner may help you to gather information. In addition, the ability to monitor ham transmissions may also add to your information gathering abilities. Finally, having a ham license and the ability to transmit on ham frequencies may be very valuable in a widespread or long-duration emergency.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mei Tao, who writes:
I’m happy to tell you that yesterday [January 29, 2021] Tecsun released a new model Emergency Radio. I’ve included some photos:
The GR-99 includes FM, AM and SW bands. As most of today’s radios, it is also based on the DSP chip which offers good performance. It can be powered by the built-in Ni-MH battery and two AA batteries.
This radio also features hand crank power generator which can charge your device such as smartphone through the micro-USB cable. In case of emergency, GR-99 with flashlight and SOS alarm can give you a hand.
Nearly a month ago, I helped to test the prototype of this radio and gave them my advice. Now it’s great to see it on sale.
At last, provide you with a photo of me, almost two years ago. I took this selfie with my radios.
Oh I must admit that several radio in this photo were my friends’.
Ha ha!!! I love the photo, Mei Tao–absolutely brilliant!
I’m happy to see that not only is Tecsun still producing an emergency radio with an analog dial (which requires less of the battery than a digital display), but also is still including the shortwave bands.
Thank you very much for reporting on this early production run Tecsun radios, Mei Tao!
[…]I did pick up the RegeMoudal Emergency Solar Hand Crank Radio. It looks like it’s made for a couple different companies/brands.
So far I like it a lot, for an emergency radio. Audio is pretty good for a radio in this price range.
[…]I’ve been generally happy with the WX reception. AM and FM are generally clear, if not a bit tinny, but that is dependent on the clarity of the station to begin with as the stronger stations come in smooth and balanced.
The flashlight and reading light are bright and functional LED; the flip up reading light is a really nice addition and would work well in a tent or simply in a power outage.
I haven’t tested it yet, but I bought this unit because of the 2000 mAH battery bank. I’ve got multiple dedicated, higher capacity battery banks, but I figured having one more can’t hurt.
My only wish would be a slightly longer antenna (this one is only nine inches).
I’m currently using rechargable AAA batteries but it comes with a micro USB and has both micro and regular USB inputs for charging, as well as a plug for a headset.
Neat little rig and worth having in the bag for emergencies or power outages. All in all, this is a great emergency radio for under $30 bucks.”
Thank you, Doug. I agree with you: the increased capacity of the internal battery is actually a major plus. I’m also happy to hear that the LED lighting is functional. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a model with a pop-up light on top. Thanks for sharing your review.
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:
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.
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 GreenHR-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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.