Yesterday, while driving home from the Winter SWL Fest, I learned that inventor Trevor Baylis passed away at the age of 80.
Many thanks to a number of SWLing Post contributors who sent me news articles and obituaries.
I’m honored to have spoken with Mr. Baylis over the years; he’s a brilliant, caring fellow with a sharp mind for solving problems and inventing solutions. Indeed, his advice has been invaluable for my charity, Ears To Our World.
Not only did his clockwork radio design lead to a staple resource in our mission, but he was especially helpful as we invented, produced and distributed our flashlight that runs on dead batteries–the HumanaLight.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
Emergency Preparedness Part 1: Choosing the right radios (this post)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.