Tag Archives: Emergency Radios

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.


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:


  • 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.


  • 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.

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:

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!

Emergency Preparedness Part 2: All the basics for emergencies

In Emergency Preparedness Part 1: Choosing the right radios, we focused on various types of radios you should consider having on hand in times of disaster. This section focuses on other aspects of emergency preparedness.

Beyond radios

Of course, there’s more to the art of being prepared than simply purchasing a few radios. Being prepared is about having enough supplies, making a plan, and knowing how to get in touch with family/friends, where to meet and what to do should you lose contact. Fortunately, a great percentage of the time, being prepared is about dealing with a few days–not months–of difficult conditions.

What I’m trying to say is, don’t feel like you have to spend a lot of money stock-piling months of food, or buy several bricks of gold to bury at your house (hate to burst your bubble, but gold is, unfortunately, a rotten investment in times of disaster).

Don’t feel like there’s a financial barrier to being prepared, either. It’s easy, and you can gather everything you need in one day.


I find that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a well thought-through list of items you should have in your preparedness “kit.” I have listed them below (courtesy of FEMA) and included my own comments under some of the suggestions.

FEMA Recommended Items To Include In A Basic Emergency Supply Kit:

    • Distilled water is inexpensive and very easy to store.

      Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation

      • I suggest purchasing inexpensive gallons of distilled water from your local store. When you bring them home, mark them with the date purchased. Over time, you can use and replace them with new ones.
    • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
      • Include a lot of shelf-stable foods ready to be eaten without preparation–trail mix, dehydrated fruits and vegetables, etc.
      • FoodSafety.gov has an excellent guide to preserving, preparing and storing food
    • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
    • Flashlight and extra batteries
      • Also consider purchasing at least one flashlight that can be hand-cranked
  • A first aid kit is a must–make sure to include any specific medications family members may need

    First aid kit

  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air, and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
    • At least have a Gerber or Leatherman tool with a built-in pair of pliers.
  • Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
    • Very important–have you ever tried opening a can of food without a can opener? They’re cheap–buy one specifically for your kit
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger
    • Many of the radios above can charge a USB-based cell phone. If you are looking for a durable solar panel, consider the Goal Zero foldable panel or any roll-up/foldable panel by Power Film Solar.

Additional Items To Consider Adding To An Emergency Supply Kit:

  • Prescription medications and glasses
    • This is extremely important–you should certainly stock up on medical supplies if you’re in the path of a natural disaster like a hurricane. Pharmacies may be closed for several days and you certainly want your prescription heart medication on hand!
  • Infant formula and diapers
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
    • Don’t forget Rover or Whiskers–!
  • Cash or traveler’s checks and change
  • Important family documents, such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container. You can use the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK) – PDF, 277Kb) developed by Operation Hope, FEMA and Citizen Corps to help you organize your information.
  • Emergency reference material, such as a first aid book or information from www.ready.gov.
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person. Consider additional bedding if you live in a cold-weather climate.
  • Complete change of clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes. Consider additional clothing if you live in a cold-weather climate.
  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper – When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Please do not use scented or color safe bleach, or bleaches with added cleaners.
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, paper towels
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
    • Often overlooked, but quite important–you may be without power, television and internet for days. You should have a back-up plan for your children. Board games are fun, burn a little time, and require absolutely no batteries!

Other recommendations I would add

  • Fill up your vehicles with fuel.  Indeed, it’s not a bad idea to top-off your fuel on a regular basis.
  • Listen to local radio stations and follow any directions from local officials who are coordinating recovery.
  • Know potential evacuation routes and emergency contact information. This is especially important if you live in an area prone to hurricanes or typhoons

Making a plan and being informed

Being prepared, as I said earlier, is more than just having supplies. It’s about being prepared mentally and having your close family and friends on the same page should disaster strike. Also, you should be well aware of how things are handled locally.
Ready.gov has an excellent guide to making a plan (including downloadable forms) and general information about being informed.
SWLing.com has a lot of guests (almost half of our guests!) who visit us from outside of the USA. The information I have posted above may not be relevant to the place you live (for example, NOAA weather radio).  Still, keep in mind the following:
  • Check to see if your national weather service has specific frequencies with weather or emergency information. If so, make sure you have a radio that can receive these broadcasts.
  • Check with your local emergency management office. If you have any specific needs (medical or otherwise), make sure your local authorities know.

Summary: Preparedness is crucial!

This is, perhaps, one of the longest posts I’ve ever written on the SWLing Post; you can probably tell that I’m an advocate of preparedness.  I hope I’ve shown you that there’s a lot to think about prior to a disaster, whether natural or man-made. It’s not expensive to prepare, but does take a bit of dedicated time and energy.  Once you you do it, though, I promise that you will feel better prepared and more secure than before.  And one more thing:  once you’ve taken care of your own or your family’s needs, please be prepared to help others however you can–sharing and caring is part of any disaster recovery process.

Emergency Preparedness Part 1: Choosing the right radios

Today is the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks here in the US; also, here in the US, September is National Preparedness Month.

Hurricane Katrina (photo source: NOAA)

These two facts, coming as they do on the heels of several recent natural disasters in the US (hurricane, flooding, fires, an earthquake) have meant that I’ve received several inquiries about what radios (and supplies) are best for emergency preparedness.

So, I’ve decided to offer a comprehensive guide to preparedness. It includes specific suggestions for radios and other supplies (food, medical, etc.) one should have in stock in case of an emergency.

This is a lot of information, so I have broken it down into two posts:

I’m no preparedness expert–and I’m certainly not a devotee of apocalyptic thinking–but in the rural area where I live, in a passive solar home, preparedness is an everyday fact. Power from the grid goes out here frequently, and when it snows, we can be stuck out here for a day or two at least. When weather or other problems occur, as they invariably do, we’re guided by the three emergen-Cs:  we simply stay calm, use common sense, and solve any problems creatively. We keep several days of food in stock, have on hand emergency lighting, a generator (which we regularly maintenance), and spare fuel for the generator; meanwhile, my ham radio station can run on a fully-charged battery bank for days. Our refrigerator and freezer are solar-powered with battery back-up as well. When the power goes out, we may notice it, but only just.

We also believe in helping the neighbors whenever we can.  Oh, and a sense of humor helps keeps things in perspective.

In the wake of natural or man-made disasters, radio is your friend

As this thought-provoking video points out, no matter where you live in the world, communication is one of the most important ways you can maintain control when the world around you is out of control.

What type of radio do you need? More than one type, in my view, if you can afford them. At a minimum, you should keep on hand the following:

  • One self-powered (hand-crank) radio with AM/FM and emergency flashlight. If you live in the US, this radio should also include the NOAA weather radio frequencies.
  • One capable digital portable shortwave radio with SSB (single-side band) mode.
  • Several sets of fully-charged rechargeable batteries to power the shortwave radio and other devices like flashlights
  • Solar or DC powered battery charger
  • Other non-radio supplies (see list at bottom of page)
I’ll start with recommendations of self-powered radios, then suggest a few portable digital radios and  self-powered shortwave radios. Finally, I’ll also include FEMA recommendations for supplies that should be kept on hand for emergencies, just in case.

Review of the  best self-powered emergency radios

Below, I’ve laid out what I consider to be the best self-powered radios on the market today. Note that many of these radios cannot receive on shortwave, but do receive AM/FM and NOAA frequencies (NOAA weather frequencies are only helpful in the USA, please remember). During natural disasters or in times of emergency, local AM and FM stations tend to be more information-relevant than international broadcasters on shortwave. Of course, I believe you should have a shortwave radio on hand as well, so I have also provided a list of self-powered shortwave radios.

The Eton FR160 self-powered AM/FM weather radio with USB charger

Self-powered AM/FM NOAA weather radios

The Eton FR160 ($30-40 US)

The Eton FR160 is a durable, portable hand-crank and solar powered AM/FM Weather Band radio. It’s quite easy to use and does a fine job tuning in local stations including NOAA weather radio (you can chose from a selection of all seven frequencies). The FR160 has another very useful feature–you can connect any USB-based charger into its built in USB port and use the radio’s hand crank to charge your cell phone or other portable USB device–very cool! Be aware that it takes a lot of cranking to charge a typical cell phone enough for a 5 minute phone call, but in an emergency, it’s worth the trouble. The built-in LED flashlight is also very bright and lasts a long time on 2 minutes of cranking. The solar panel is adequate for charging the radio or for playing it (in full sunlight).

Purchase the FR160 from:

  • Universal Radio
  • Eton Corp
  • National Geographic
  • NPR

The Eton Scorpion self-powered AM/FM Weather radio with built-in caribbeaner and bottle opener!

The Eton Scorpion ($50-60 US)

The Eton Scorpion is very similar to the FR160, but has the added features of an auxiliary line-in input, a larger solar panel, and is splash-proof. The Scorpion has an aluminum carabineer  to attach it to your belt or pack, a bottle opener, and is overall a very rugged device, so is ideal for camping, too.

Purchase the Scorpion from:

  • Universal Radio
  • Eton Corp

Other self-powered AM/FM/NOAA weather radios worth considering

Eton Corporation also produces the Axis and Rover–I have never used these, but assume they would be worth considering. Eton is certainly the king of self-powered radio technologies and produces many of their radios branded with the Red Cross. They’re sturdy and effective.  I know of no self-powered weather band radios as reliable as those produced by Eton.

The Grundig G3 or Sony ICF-SW7600GR (in background) are both reliable and have excellent SSB reception.

Shortwave radios

I strongly recommend you have a capable, full-fledged digital shortwave radio tucked away for emergencies. If you already own one, just make sure you always have fresh batteries for it standing by.

What radio, specifically, am I talking about?  Basically any radio I have listed on our main reviews page that has SSB capabilities. With SSB, you can tune to the ham radio bands and listen to information which amateur radio operators (both locally, and across the globe) are sharing. If you’re riding out a hurricane (or living in the aftermath of one, such as Hurricane Katrina) SATERN or the Hurricane Watch Net could provide invaluable, immediate and practical information for your situation. You will need SSB to hear them. I actually wrote a tutorial on listening to hurricane watch nets here.

Here are a selection of radios I would recommend:

Self-powered shortwave radios

While these radios lack SSB and the advanced functionality of the modern digital portable, they can operate with the turn of the crank.  This is great, just in case you forget to have a set of fresh batteries among your supplies. All of the radios below have excellent reception characteristics for an analog radio. Why did I only choose analog radios?  Mainly because I have yet to find a self-powered digital shortwave radio that has the sensitivity of the analog ones, or the battery longevity. Digital radios look cool and are great for casual use, but I wouldn’t rely on one in an emergency. Stick with these analog units instead:

Still on the market as the Tecsun Green 88, this little self-powered radio packs a big punch.

Tecsun Green 88/Grundig FR200 ($25-35 US)

My all-time favorite self-powered shortwave radio is the Grundig FR200 or Tecsun Green 88. This radio used to be widely available as the Grundig FR200, but Grundig has since stopped producing it. The radio can, however, still be purchased by Tecsun Corporation from vendors in Honk Kong on eBay (link provided below).

What do I love about the Tecsun Green 88? It is:

  • durable
  • covers the shortwave spectrum down to 3.2 MHz
  • sensitive, even just using the built-in telescopic antenna
  • has fine-tuning control
  • runs for 40 minutes (with fresh NiMH battery pack) off of 2 minutes of hand-cranking


Other notable self-powered shortwave radios

I’m also very fond of several other self-powered shortwave radios, but none of them quite match up to the Tecsun Green 88 (Grundig FR200). I’ve listed a few below that are certainly worth considering.

Click here to read Emergency Preparedness Part 2: All the basics for emergencies.

Review of the Kaito KA 500 Self-Powered Radio

I tested the KA500 along with several other self-powered radios for a project I’m working on in Africa. I found that the KA500 is a very capable shortwave receiver it’s just not nearly as rugged as its current competitors. Here are my thoughts:

What I like about the KA500:

  • Solar Panel–the KA500 is one of the only portable shortwave receivers out there with a built-in solar panel. The panel is effective enough that it will power the radio (if in direct sunlight) without batteries and produce a reasonable amount of volume through its built-in speaker.
  • The 5 LED reading lamp — This reading lamp is impressive. If the batteries are fully charged, the lamp works for VERY long periods of time. I’m also an amateur radio operator and found that the reading lamp is bright enough that it lit up my large radio table.
  • Good shortwave sensitivity — For a self-powered analog radio, I was impressed with the shortwave sensitivity. I also found the AM broadcast and FM bands adequate/average.
  • Good selectivity — When a station is tuned-in well, you don’t often hear adjacent signals.
  • Good frequency coverage — I like the fact that KA500 covers the NOAA weather frequencies, FM, AM and a very large portion of the SW spectrum (from 3.2 MHZ to 22MHz, missing only a little used piece between 8 & 9 MHz)

What I didn’t like:

  • Quality — Though the radio feels solid in your hand, I found through my testing that the quality of the KA500 is actually quite poor. More than once, the tuning mechanism would slip and the needle would get stuck in the middle of the dial. The worst part, though, is the poor quality of the hand-crank mechanism. The dynamo and crank arm feel cheap. Well, they are cheap. After only a month of occasional testing–and with me being very careful with the hand crank–the dynamo started showing signs of failing. The crank became less fluid to turn and would rub the side of the radio chassis. One day, while slowly cranking, the crank arm just snapped in half. No more crank power.
  • No Fine Tune control — Kaito fits the whole SW1 and SW2 spectrum on a small dial. There were a few times I wish this radio had a fine tune control like the Grundig FR200.

Bottom line

I sent my KA500 back and did not get it replaced. It’s a shame, really. I loved the radio’s features and overall performance, but was very disappointed with quality.

I could only recommend this radio to someone who plans on tucking it away and using it on rare occasions or someone who wants a basic full-featured radio but never plans on using the hand-crank. I’d also keep the receipt handy for the return (and buy from an authorized dealer like Universal Radio).

For my purposes, I will be using the Grundig/Etón FR350 and the FR200. The difference in quality between these and the KA500 is night and day. The Grundigs/Etóns are very rugged, water resistant and time tested. The crank arms are made better and even after long-term use, continue to function properly. They’re simply designed and tested better (before hitting the retail shelf).

Sure wish Kaito would work on the quality of the KA500, they’d have a very competitive product.

[Update 8/11/10: Since the time I first published this review, Etón now makes self-powered radios with built-in solar panels along with hand cranks–the FR600 is a fine example.  I have not noticed that the quality of the KA500 has been improved upon.]