Tag Archives: Weather Radio

Guest Post: Keeping an ear on the US Coast Guard

Photo: US Coast Guard

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


Keeping an ear on the US Coast Guard

By Jock Elliott KB2GOM

Wandering the vast expanses of YouTube, I encountered an episode of “Coast Guard Alaska” on DangerTV’s Protecting Our Waters/Coast Guard Rescue Series playlist. One episode led to another, and before long, I was binge-watching the series.

Why? Because the courage, dedication and performance of the “Coasties” is just extraordinary. They dangle from hoist cables to pluck survivors from the water, injured sailors from the decks of ships, mariners from sinking vessels, and even incapacitated hikers from mountains. They medevac sick and injured men, women, and children out of remote Alaskan villages; provide medical support while flying them to higher levels of care, and intercept drug smugglers in southern waters. I stand in awe of these men and women. (And – woe is me – it turns out there are similar series for Coast Guard Pacific Northwest and Coast Guard Florida.)

So, I wondered, could I hear the US Coast Guard on the radio? The answer, it turns out is a mixed bag.

The U.S. Coast Guard ceased monitoring all High Frequency (HF) shortwave voice distress frequencies within the contiguous United States and Hawaii on 7 February 2022.  HF voice distress watchkeeping continues unaffected in Alaska and Guam. See below for the Alaska and Guam USB frequencies.

kHz SHIP STATION kHz COAST STATION Station and Schedule (UTC)
NOJ (Kodiak AK)
4125 4125 24 HRS
6215 6215 24 HRS
8291 8291 24 HRS
12290 12290
kHz SHIP STATION kHz COAST STATION Station and Schedule (UTC)
Guam
6215 6215 0900-2100Z
12290 12290 2100-0900Z

Note: 12290 kHz is available under NOJ upon request
Note: 16420 kHz is available at NOJ and Guam upon request

So, if you have a good radio capable of upper sideband (USB) reception, a decent antenna and your location and/or propagation favors you, you might have a shot at hearing USCG Alaska or Guam HF communications.

National Weather Service Marine Products via U.S. Coast Guard HF Voice

You have a much better chance of hearing the U.S. Coast Guard broadcasting National Weather Service high seas forecasts and storm warnings from six high seas communication stations. See table below for station locations and schedules. Transmission range depends on operating frequency, time of day and atmospheric conditions and can vary from only short distances to several thousand miles.

For example, I have heard a weather forecast from the US Coast Guard Communications Command in Chesapeake, including a forecast of tropical weather from the National Hurricane Center, on 4426 USB at my home in upstate New York.

Here are the schedules:

Chesapeake (NMN)
HF Voice Broadcast Schedule

4426, 6501, 8764 kHz (USB) 0330Z1 0515Z2 0930Z1
6501, 8764, 13089 kHz (USB) 1115Z2 1530Z1 2130Z1 2315Z2
8764, 13089, 17314 kHz (USB) 1715Z2
1 Offshore Forecasts, hurricane information

2 High seas Forecast, hurricane information

Broadcast of hurricane and other weather broadcasts from this station may on occasion be preempted, as the frequencies are shared with other USCG stations.

New Orleans (NMG)
HF Voice Broadcast Schedule

4316, 8502, 12788 kHz (USB) 0330Z1 0515Z2 0930Z1 1115Z2 1530Z1 1715Z2 2130Z1 2315Z2
1 Offshore Forecasts, hurricane information

2 Highseas Forecast, hurricane information

Broadcast of hurricane and other weather broadcasts from this station may on occasion be preempted, as the transmitters are shared with the radiofax broadcast.

Pt. Reyes (NMC)
HF Voice Broadcast Schedule

4426, 8764, 13089 kHz (USB) 0430Z 1030Z
8764, 13089, 17314 kHz (USB) 1630Z 2230Z
Broadcast of hurricane and other weather broadcasts from this station may on occasion be preempted, as the frequencies are shared with other USCG stations, and the transmitters are shared with the radiofax broadcast.

Kodiak (NOJ)
HF Voice Broadcast Schedule

6501 kHz (USB) 0203Z 1645Z

Honolulu (NMO)
HF Voice Broadcast Schedule

6501, 8764 kHz (USB) 0600Z 1200Z
8764, 13089 kHz (USB) 0005Z 1800Z

Guam (NRV)
HF Voice Broadcast Schedule

6501 kHz (USB) 0930Z 1530Z
13089 kHz (USB) 0330Z 2130Z

Coastal Maritime Safety Broadcasts on VHF

The other place in the radio spectrum where you might hear voice transmissions from the Coast Guard would be on the maritime VHF channels. Urgent marine navigational and weather information is broadcast over VHF channel 22A (157.1 MHz) from over 200 sites covering the coastal areas of the U.S., including the Great Lakes, major inland waterways, Puerto Rico, Alaska, Hawaii and Guam. Broadcasts are first announced over the distress, safety and calling channel 16 (156.8 MHz) before they are made. All ships in U.S. waters over 20m in length are required to monitor VHF channel 16, and must have radios capable of tuning to the VHF simplex channel 22A.

Although VHF signals are generally short range, here at El Rancho Elliott, I can clearly hear the announcement on channel 16 on a scanner and then I can switch to channel 22A to hear the broadcast, even though my location is at least 140 miles from the nearest large body of water.  In addition, propagation sometimes opens up so that VHF signals can be heard at long distances.

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Jock shares: “A bit more about NOAA Weather Radio”

Photo by Raychel Sanner via Unsplash

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


A bit more about NOAA Weather Radio

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m a fan, an advocate, an evangelist for NOAA Weather Radio (NWR).

Why? Because, quite simply, if you live in the United States, it is one of the very best deals you are ever likely to get. NWR is the voice of the National Weather Service. It is the fastest and most reliable means of receiving alerts when hazardous weather approaches.

NWR includes more than 1000 transmitters, covering some or all of 50 states, adjacent coastal waters, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Pacific Territories. Broadcasts are found in the VHF public service band at these seven frequencies (MHz): 162.400, 162.425, 162.450, 162.475, 162.500, 162.525, and 162.550. Radios capable of receiving NWR signals may include consumer radios, ham radios, scanners, and dedicated weather radios.

For more information about coverage, check these:

NOAA Weather Radio is free. There are no commercials, you don’t have to wait for other programming to be completed to hear the weather forecast, and, because it is radio, you can listen and get a concise summary of what’s going on with the weather in your area while you are doing something else. Even better, the folks at the National Weather Service tell me that over 80 percent of the NWR transmitters have some form of backup or emergency power, many of which can continue to operate for 5-10 days while the main power is out. There is a wealth of information about NWR here: https://www.weather.gov/phi/nwrfaq scroll down to see details.

Why do you want a receiver that can hear NOAA Weather Radio? Short answer: because every state in the Union has some form of hazardous weather that could prove lethal. Early warning just might save your life.

In his excellent book Warnings – the true story of how science tamed the weather, Mike Smith points out how successful meteorology has been at saving lives. In the 1950s, with the beginning of the tornado warning system, the death rate from tornados was 1.5 deaths per million people. By 2009, the death rate was down to .068 deaths per million, a decrease or more than 95 percent. The investment weather radar, prediction techniques, and warning systems such as NWR has paid handsome dividends.

So what makes an NWR-capable radio good? First, sensitivity. Greater sensitivity increases the odds that the radio will be able to hear more NWR stations in your local area, which in turn raises the probability that you’ll be able to hear an NWR station with backup power when the lights go out.

Second, alert capability. An alert function – that is, the ability to put the radio in standby mode and have it automatically switch on when NWR transmits an alert tone is a great plus. You can go about your business, and the radio will wake up and alert you when you need to pay attention.

Third, advanced alert capability. Ideally, you would like to be alerted only when a hazard is close to your immediate vicinity. Some dedicated weather radios and advanced scanners offer Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) that can be programmed by the user to only alarm for weather and other emergency events in specific, desired counties, thereby eliminating unwanted alerts for areas that are not of concern to the listener. In addition, some weather radios have a selectable alert option that can be programmed to alert only when certain hazard codes – ranging from Avalanche to Winter Storm Warning – have been selected by the user and are transmitted by the local NWR station.

With that in mind, here are some NWR-capable radios with which I have had personal experience. With each radio, I did a quick search from the same location to see how many local NWR stations it would receive, as a rough indication of sensitivity. The good news is that every single one of the radios below could receive at least two NWR stations in my local area and had basic alert capabilities.

Consumer radios with AM/FM receive

CC Skywave SSB

CCrane 2E –could hear clearly 3 NWR stations in my area, basic alert function, house mains and battery power (over 200 hours).

CCrane Skywave SSB – could hear 2 NWR stations clearly and one scratchy, basic alert function, battery power (over 50 hours).

Eton FRX3+ — could hear NWR 3 stations clearly, basic alert capability, power options include solar, hand-crank dynamo, and rechargeable battery (can also be recharged off house power with USB capable), internal battery can be used to recharge cell phone battery.

Ham radio hand-talkies

Icom V80 with aftermarket high-performance antenna – could hear 2 NWR stations clearly and one scratchy, basic alert capability.

Yaesu VX-6 with Diamond 77 aftermarket antenna — could hear 2 NWR stations clearly and one scratchy, basic alert capability.

Scanners

Uniden BC125AT with Diamond 77 aftermarket antenna – could hear 3 NWR stations clearly, basic alert function.

Uniden SDS200 with homebrew off-center-fed dipole antenna (see below) – could hear 6 NWR stations clearly, highly sophisticated programmable SAME and specific hazard alert functions, no battery power (the SDS100, handheld version of this scanner provides battery power); would require uninterruptible power supply or something similar if mains power goes off. Author’s note: while the performance is stellar, this is by far the most expensive option. With the stock antenna that comes with the SDS200, I could hear two NWR stations clearly.

Dedicated NOAA Weather Radio Receiver

Midland WR120 Weather Alert Radio – At the time I began this write-up, I did not own a dedicated weather radio receiver, so I reached out to www.midlandusa.com, and they were kind enough to send me this unit, which is built solely to receive National Weather Radio stations. With the built-in whip antenna extended, the receiver was clearly very sensitive. I could hear 4 of my local NWR stations clearly, and 2 more scratchy but copyable. If you are in a fringe area, there is a socket for plugging in an external antenna such as the one I describe below.

There is a little symbol on the box that says “EZ Progamming,” and I was pleasantly surprised that it was true. Between the MENU and SELECT keys, it is easy to walk through the setup. I thought that I would have to look up the SAME code for my location, but the WR120 has a built-in database of all the states and counties, so selecting my county was a snap. In addition to SAME programming, the WR120 has a long list of selectable alert options that you can choose to meet your needs. That list can be downloaded here: https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0531/2856/0817/files/SAME_List_of_Emergencies_Non-Weather_Emergencies.pdf?v=1636648846

The WR120 is powered by a tiny wall-wart transformer that plugs into house power, and the user installs 3 AA batteries to provide back-up power in case the lights go out. The manual does not say how long it will operate on battery power.

It seems to me that if you do not already own a device that will receive NOAA Weather Radio stations, the WR120 would be an excellent choice.

Boosting Performance

If you want to boost the performance of the radio you are using to listen to NOAA Weather Radio, I can highly recommend this antenna: https://wiki.radioreference.com/index.php/Homebrewed_Off-Center_Fed_Dipole .

I built the wire version, hung it inside in a corner of my radio shack, and with it attached to either Uniden scanner or my Icom V80 ham handi-talkie, I can hear six NWR stations from my location. This antenna offers a large boost in performance for a modest investment of time and money.

In his blog, Smith argues that each of us ought to have redundant means of alerting us to hazardous weather: an app on your smart phone, plus an NWR-capable radio with alert function at home, plus your local TV or radio stations. To which I say: darn good idea!

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Jock explores “The Essential Listening Post Part II – When the lights go out”

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


Photo by Parker Coffman on Unsplash

When the lights go out: The Essential Listening Post – Part II

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

What’s the most valuable commodity in an emergency? Information.

Without information, it is very difficult to make decisions of what actions you should – or shouldn’t – take. Fortunately, as swling.com readers know, radio can come to your rescue.

As an example, I offer for your approval this minor incident that happened just a few mornings ago.

At 4:30 am, I awoke. That’s not particularly unusual; I get up early lots of mornings to run the Commuter Assistance Network on ham radio.

What made this morning unusual were the things I couldn’t see: the digital clock across the room, the tiny LED lamp that illuminates the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. They were both dark. In fact, the only light that I could see was the LED from the uninterruptable power supply for the computer in the next room. It was pulsing, indicating the power from the mains was out.

With the help of a flashlight kept within easy reach of the bed, I made my way downstairs. A peek out the windows revealed the surrounding area was dark; no lights in local houses, no street lights. A house across the ravine behind my house had a single light, but it had the bright white look of an emergency lantern. So this outage was wider spread than just the lane where I live. But how widespread was it? In early February in upstate New York, it’s winter; temperature about 6 degrees Fahrenheit on this particular morning. The thermostat on the wall has already dropped below where the furnace should have kicked on. With no electricity; no furnace.

With no house power, I had no internet, so I couldn’t look things up to find out why there was no house power. Because we use Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), with no internet, no house phone.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Well, dummy, fire up your smart phone, and in a few moments you’ll have your answers.”

To that I say: “Not so fast there, pardner.

I consulted with a ham radio friend who makes his living in the commercial radio business. He consults with many companies, including cell phone companies, so he knows what he is talking about.

It turns out there are three things that could render your smart phone useless.

The first is whether your local cell tower(s) have battery back-up. Most do, but how many hours the batteries will run the cell tower can vary widely from just a couple of hours to perhaps eight. Depending upon when the power went out, you may or may not be able to connect.

The second is that many cell phone towers themselves connect to the rest of the network through wire or fiber optic cable. If a vehicle has taken down a pole, or a falling tree has taken down a cable, the network may be disrupted.

Finally, if there is high demand for your local cell phone tower, you may not be able to make a connection. My commercial radio “guru” relates that he went to an event at a local community college. There is a cell tower right on the property, but he had great difficulty connecting simply because so many people were trying to use the tower.

During emergencies, cell phone networks frequently go into gridlock because of high demand, so it’s a good idea to have other means of gathering information. An interesting aside: some years ago, I heard a presentation from one of the hospital administrators who was in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. They were unable to make voice phone calls, but apparently they could sometimes send and receive text messages.

Getting back to my small lights-out incident, I was in the actual act of firing up a radio to check out what local broadcasters on the AM (medium wave) band had to say, when the lights came on, the furnace started, and internet and phone service were restored. My greatest inconvenience was having to reset a couple of digital clocks.

But it raised a serious question: what should be your essential listening post if the lights go out, the fertilizer hits the ventilation equipment?

First and foremost, a battery-powered radio capable of receiving your local broadcasters. You need to know – or find out – which ones have back-up power so they can keep transmitting. Knowing that will do two things for you: first, tuning in to a station with back-up power will hopefully get you the information you need, and second, if stations that don’t have back-up power are off the air, that will give you an indication of how widespread the power outage is.

Knowing the extent of the blackout can be important. A couple of decades ago, on an August afternoon, my better half and I took our young son to a local park where there was a water fountain that the kids could run through. When we got home later, the power was out. I saw the neighbor standing in her yard and asked if she had reported the outage. “No point,” she said. “Why?” I asked. “Because the lights are out from Canada to Virginia.” Oh.

In addition to knowing which stations are likely to be on the air, it’s also good to know which local stations have news staff that are likely to collect and broadcast information that is needed during an emergency.

Second, if you live in the United States or Canada, you need a weather radio. Every state in the Union has bad weather of one sort or another . . . and some of them can kill you. NOAA weather radio is an excellent source of information. It’s free, and it does a fine job of delivering weather-related info in a concise and useful format.

Third, it would be very useful to have a scanner or ham radio capable of receiving your local 2 meter repeaters. This could be an additional source of useful information in a crisis.

So, are there any radios that I would recommend for “The Essential Listening Post” when the lights go out?

Yes, there are.

The C.Crane CCRadio 2E

First on my list would be the C.Crane CCRadio 2E (or CCRadio3). It receives AM, FM, NOAA Weather Band with Weather Alert and the 2-Meter Ham Band. It will run on house power or, if the lights are out, over 200 hours on batteries. By all accounts, it offers excellent performance on AM and FM, and it is one of the most sensitive NOAA weather radio receivers I have tested. I bought one and can heartily recommend it.

CC Skywave SSB

The CCrane Skywave SSB receives AM, FM, NOAA Weather band plus Alert, Shortwave (1711-29.999MHz) with SSB, VHF Aviation Band. It doesn’t receive the 2 meter ham band, but it will receive hams on HF frequencies, which might come in handy in an emergency. It is not quite as sensitive as the CCrane 2E on NOAA weather frequencies, but, as I reported last year it was the most sensitive NOAA weather radio receiver I took to Sodus, NY. It is very small and portable and will run for over 50 hours on batteries. I bought one and can heartily recommend it.

The Eton FRX3+

The Eton FRX3+ is an interesting alternative for a “when the lights go out” radio. This battery-powered radio receives AM, FM, and NOAA weather radio with alert. It has a couple of LED lights for navigating in the dark and can be charged by a built-in solar panel, hand-crank, or USB cable, and can even be used to charge your cell phone. Eton Corp. sent me one of these, and I find that it offers worthy performance on AM and FM, and excellent sensitivity on NOAA weather radio. Recommended.

In the future, I hope to offer some additional useful information about NOAA weather radio as well as a comparison of different ways to receive NOAA weather radio, including dedicated weather radio, consumer radio, scanner, and ham handi-talkie.

-Jock Elliott

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Jock satisfies his inner radio nerd with a deeper dive into NOAA weather radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


Perhaps the ultimate radio nerd story . . .

by Jock Elliott (KB2GOM)

Perhaps I am the only guy on planet earth with a “kinda” interest in DXing NOAA weather radio, but there you have it, and this led me down an interesting rabbit hole in the world of radio.

Earlier this year, I found myself in Sodus, NY, in the western part of the state, near the shores of Lake Ontario. I had with me the following: an Icom V80 2-meter handy-talkie with a sharply tuned commercial antenna that works great on my home repeater (146.94) in Troy, NY; a Uniden BC125AT scanner with a Diamond 77 antenna, and a CCrane Skywave SSB. All receive the NOAA weather channels.

In the early morning, I checked www.wunderground.com for weather in the Sodus area. Snow was expected overnight. So I grab the Uniden 125AT, activate the weather scan function, and found that it received NOAA weather radio channels 1, 2, and 3, and the audio sounded great through my headphones. I tried stepping through the weather radio channels on my Icom V80 and found that it received channels 1, 2, and 3, but with just a wee bit of static in the background. I tried switching the antennas between the 125AT and the V80, and there was no appreciable difference.

Now, here’s the interesting part: I tried the same trick on the CCrane Skywave SSB with its telescoping whip fully extended, and it received weather channel 1 just fine with excellent audio through the headphones. But channel 2 was way down in the soup, a hair above “barely audible.” I tried waving the Skywave around, point the whip antenna in different directions and orientations to see if I could improve the signal. I succeeded only in nulling it out. Weather radio channel 3 was not audible at all, but channel 4 was coming in well, and so was channel 7 . . . and the other two radios were not receiving channels 4 and 7 at all.

Frankly, I didn’t know what to make of this. To be clear, I was able to hear that forecast that I needed to hear — for Wayne County, NY — on all three radios. But why would there be such a stark difference between the CCrane Skywave SSB and the other two radios?

At this point, I was really curious what the answer might be.

The V80 and the 125AT “agreed” with each; both were receiving NOAA weather radio channels 1, 2, 3. The CCrane Skywave SSB appeared to be the anomaly, receiving channels 1, 2 (barely), and 4 and 7, which the V80 and 125AT did not receive.

Continue reading

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Weather radios given to communities in path of natural disasters

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, NT, who writes:

Hi Thomas,

A few months ago, a city in northern California gave away weather radios to help their community prepare for fire season. And last year a county in Georgia did the same thing in advance of extreme weather.

With all the fires and severe weather happening around the world, I’m curious if other communities have been doing emergency radio give-aways? I thought you or other SWLing Post readers might have seen similar stories?

73,
NT

Great question, NT!

Post readers: please comment if you know of other communities around the world who’ve deployed weather radios in an effort to prepare for natural disasters.

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Weatheradio Canada considers shutting down 48 network transmitters across the country

Storm with lighteningMany thanks to a number of SWLing Post readers who’ve recently contacted me regarding announced closures at Weatheradio Canada. Dennis Dura recently shared this link from the Weatheradio Newsletter which is essentially a call to action to save the Weatheradio service.

For those of you not familiar, Weatheradio Canada is very much like NOAA Weather Radio service in the US: essentially, a vast network of transmitters which provide local forecasts and weather warnings. Both Weatheradio Canada and NOAA Weather Radio use seven fixed frequencies of 162.400, 162.425, 162.450, 162.475, 162.500, 162.525, and 162.550 MHz.

I found it difficult to believe that Canada would close their entire network of Weatheradio FM transmitters because, like the US, there are vast rural and remote areas that are well-served by the radio network. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been camping or travelling outside of mobile phone network coverage in the US and Canada and relied on weather radio for my forecast.

I decided to reach out to Environment and Climate Change Canada and get their official word. Here’s the response I received from their Media Relations representative:

As Canada’s official source for weather forecasts and alerts, Canadians rely on getting the latest current weather conditions from Environment and Climate Change Canada’s (ECCC) Meteorological Service. Since 1871, Canada’s Meteorological Service has continuously adapted to and taken advantage of the latest science and technology to maximize services to Canadians, including those living in remote or Northern areas, or areas without cellular service.

The Weatheradio network, introduced in the 70’s, is made up of 230 transmitting stations. For the most part, these Weatheradio transmitters are in urban areas with plenty of options for accessing weather information and alerts, e.g. internet, mobile apps, radio, television. ECCC has identified 48 Weatheradio transmitters across Canada for potential decommissioning. Of these 48, 12 in Ontario, three are in BC, three in AB, five in SK, four in MB, five in QC, five in NB, three in NS, one in PEI and seven in NL.

In other words, Environment and Climate Change Canada is considering decommissioning about 21% of their Weatheradio transmitters, targeting ones located in urban areas.

The Midland WR120 weather radio.

I haven’t seen a map of the transmitters marked for potential closure, but I strongly suspect if you live in a very rural area you’re unlikely to be affected.

If you live in an urban area, however, and routinely rely on a weather radio for forecasts and automatic alerts, you may soon only hear static.

If you feel strongly about these potential changes within the Weatheradio Canada network, I suggest you reach out to your Member of Parliament and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

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Sangean DT-800 Review: AM/FM/Weather ultra-compact radio

Two months ago, SWLing Post reader Paul Adler wrote to ask:

“Any reviews and comparisons of the Sangean DT-800?”

The Sangean DT-800? This caught my attention, as I wasn’t, at the time, familiar with this recent addition to the Sangean product family.  So I promptly began investigating the new product, and checked out the manual; I found it has a few features that really intrigue me, namely:

  • The ability to turn off soft muting
  • The ability to internally recharge NiMH AA batteries
  • Multiple bandwidth on AM and FM
  • Weather band with weather alerts
  • FM RDS
  • No telescoping antenna––rather, an included wire antenna

In my mind, these features seemed to set it apart from other similar portables.  And with the ability to defeat the soft mute, I wondered if it could make for a formidable Ultralight DX radio?

I contacted Sangean, and they kindly sent me a review sample of the DT-800. It comes in two chassis colors: standard black and and a bright fire yellow. I chose yellow, which makes it easier to spot should this handheld be lost or dropped in an outdoor setting.

Thanks for the suggestion, Paul!

Giveaway!  By the way: since this is a product sample and was sent to me free of charge, I’m going to give it away to a lucky SWLing Post Coffee Fund or Patreon supporter next week, just to say thanks!

Now, let’s get on with the review…

Initial impressions

As with almost all Sangean products, the DT-800 arrives as a complete package, with all accessories. Inside, you’ll find the radio, a full-length multi-language owner’s manual, a warranty card, an AC adapter (with in-line RF chokes, nice touch), in-ear headphones, an external wire antenna, and a belt clip.

The DT-800 fits nicely in the hand, and the matte finish on the sides and bottom of the radio make gripping it quite easy, lessening the chance of dropping or losing the unit.

The front panel is simple: five multi-function preset buttons and a Page/Menu button. All of the buttons are tactile and have a matte finish, as well; they feel of good quality and have a great response.

The right side of the radio (see side view, above) has a tuning/select up/down jog switch, a mechanical keylock button and a MicroUSB DC in port.

On the left side of the radio (see left side view, above) you’ll find the volume up/down buttons and a stereo/mono/speaker mechanical switch which you can use to switch between the internal speaker and headphones.

On top of the radio (above) you’ll find the power button, band selection button and the headphones port, which doubles as the external antenna port.

On the back of the radio you’ll find the DBB bass-boost slider switch, the battery compartment, and a belt clip.

One thing you’ll quickly notice is a lack of any telescoping whip antenna. Instead, the DT-800 ships with a wire antenna that’s almost three feet long. I suspect that this is the same type of FM antenna that shipped with the Sangean WR-7 (click here to read review).

Design/Ergonomics

All in all, I’m very pleased with the DT-800’s design: it fits well in the hand, the buttons and controls are easy to use, and it’s small enough––and flat enough––to easily slip in a pocket, go-bag, or carry-on. A great portable for one-hand operation. It’s also lightweight, even with the batteries inserted. Truly, this appears to be a quality little radio.

Tuning the DT-800 is a simple process: simply utilize the up/down rocker switch on the right side of the radio to increase by specified frequency steps (selectable 50/100 kHz FM or 1/9/10 kHz AM), or push and hold it in one direction to skip across the band. While the DT-800 does mute between frequencies, it’s not annoying––in fact, muting is brief and audio recovery is rapid so you can actually carry out meaningful band-scanning, actually hearing stations between the steps. If you press the rocker switch, it will initiate an auto-scan in the direction you’re tuning.

While the DT-800 lacks a keypad for frequency input (in truth, I would not expect such a thing on a walkman-style receiver)  it does make tuning to your favorite stations quite easy with 20 FM, 20 AM, and 5 WX presets. Saving a station to memory is truly a breeze: simply select the page you’d like to save it to, then press and hold the preset button to save it to one of the numbered presets. Really, it couldn’t be easier.

To change the volume on this radio, you use rocker buttons on the left side of the radio to increase or decrease volume up to 25 levels. I particularly like the fact that level 1 is very quiet and 25 is as loud as you would ever want from a small radio. I mention this because, in the past, I have reviewed radios that had coarse volume steps, and the lowest setting is louder than I prefer: not so with this little rig.

Entering menu items on the DT-800 is quite easy, too.  Some are accessed by pressing and holding the Page/Menu button and then cycling through and selecting items with the tuning up/down switch. Others are accessed by pressing and holding the Page/Menu button, then selecting one of the five buttons on the front panel (note that each menu function is listed below the numbered button).

The DT-800’s display is backlit and large, thus very easy to read at any viewing angle.

AC Adapter

I can’t think of the last time I gave an included AC adapter its own subheading in a review, but the DT-800 power supply deserves one.

Not only does the DT-800 ship with a power supply (AC adapter), but it’s a quality one: the cord jacketing is thick and feels exceptionally durable––and though I’m not going to cut it apart to find out, I expect the wiring within it is a heavier gauge, as well. This adapter also has no less than two in-line RF chokes.

In a day and age when included “wall wart” power supplies are often of the cheapest quality and spew so much radio interference that they render attached receivers useless, the DT-800 adapter is a very welcome addition to this radio’s kit.

Well played, Sangean! I hope other radio manufacturers follow your lead.

Batteries

Lately, it seems most new radios are being designed to accommodate slim Lithium Ion battery packs. So, another welcome sight was opening the DT-800’s battery compartment to find slots for two AA batteries.

While Li-ion batteries have advantages in terms of weight and size, I prefer AA batteries for pocket and travel radios, as AA batteries are so ubiquitous on this planet and are available in all but the most remote regions of the world.

And better yet? You can internally recharge NiMH batteries with the DT-800. The DT-800 ships with a default setting for alkaline batteries. But to internally recharge NiMH batteries, simply open the battery compartment and change the battery type switch from “Alkaline” to “NiMH.”

This is an amazing and useful feature, but just be sure if you ever use the NiMH internal recharging function and then switch to alkaline cells, that you change the battery selection switch back to the alkaline setting. You certainly wouldn’t want the DT-800 to attempt recharging your alkaline cells!

As you can see in this photo, I’ve been using Panasonic Eneloop NiMH batteries in the DT-800. I use a special charger for Eneloops, so have kept the battery selection switch set to alkaline so the DT-800 doesn’t attempt to charge them. I might even put a small piece of colored tape on the switch to keep it in place for now.

Audio

The audio via headphones? It sounds great on the DT-800!

Indeed, the DT-800’s included in-ear style stereo earphones are a cut above most other included-with-a-product earphones, and as a result, produce more pleasant audio.

With the headphones engaged, FM offers selectable mono or stereo; mono, of course, makes marginal stations more stable since the stereo lock isn’t struggling.

Like the Walkman radios of days gone by, the DT-800 uses the headphone cord as an antenna when it’s attached. If you’re using the internal speaker, you’ll need to attach the included external wire antenna for FM and WX bands.

The DT-800 internal speaker produces decent audio for the size of the radio. The speaker is tiny, so the audio is somewhat tinny (narrow in range) when listening to music. But the DT-800 also has a DBB (Dynamic Bass Boost) switch––engaging this will increase the bass response a bit, most noticeable when using headphones.

Performance

The DT-800 has three bands: FM, AM (mediumwave), and WX (weather). Let’s take a look at each.

FM Band

The DT-800 sports a unique feature on the FM band: the ability to select between a wide or a narrow filter. Since the dawn of the DSP chip, many a portable radio has enjoyed selectable bandwidth filters, but it’s a rare portable that has FM filters. I do pretty much all of my FM listening with the wide filter engaged, but if you live in an urban area with a crowded FM band, choosing the narrow filter, even if it compromises audio fidelity a bit, will give you better selectivity. Nice touch, Sangean!

In terms of sensitivity, with the external antenna inserted, I’ve been very pleased with the DT-800. It receives all of my benchmark FM stations. With headphones inserted (used as an antenna) and stereo engaged, it has ever-so-slightly less sensitivity than several of my other DSP portables. With the headphones inserted and FM in mono, I find that it’s on par with––or surpasses––my other reference DSP portables.

Here’s a little wrinkle, though: when listening with the internal speaker, you must insert the external wire antenna to use this receiver on FM. Without the external antenna, sensitivity decreases by a good 70-80%, as you essentially have no antenna. If you live in an area with strong FM stations, you’ve nothing to fear, but if you live in a rural area, you’ll certainly want to keep that wire antenna handy.

On one hand, the wire antenna is easier and more flexible to deploy than attached telescopic antennas, which can be bent or broken. But on the other, an external wire antenna is just another item you’ll need to pack and take along with the radio if you plan to listen via the internal speaker.

If you plan to listen with headphones, however, no worries! I find the sensitivity with headphones inserted to be just as effective. In fact, instead of taking along the wire antenna you could bring the included headphones, and they’ll double as an external antenna while listening via the internal speaker. In my tests, the headphones performed about as well as the external wire antenna.

My advice? If you purchase the DT-800, either keep the small wire antenna or a pair of headphones nearby to insure you’re getting the best FM reception.

Weather Band

The same notes above about the necessity of an external wire antenna apply on the weather band as well as the FM band.

With the wire antenna or a set of headphones connected, weather radio reception is good. I was able to receive both of my local NOAA weather reference frequencies.

To be clear, the DT-800 is not as sensitive as my C. Crane CC Skywave or CC Skywave SSB––which are truly WX band benchmarks––but it will likely receive your local NOAA or Environment Canada broadcasts as well as most other weather radios.

The DT-800 also includes a Weather Alert feature, but as Sangean notes, you should only use this feature while the radio is plugged into mains power, as it will drain batteries about as effectively as if you were listening to an FM radio station.

AM/Mediumwave Band

If there’s a weak point on the DT-800, I would say it’s the AM band.

Don’t get me wrong: at first blush, the DT-800 looks like a little Ultralight DXing dream, as it’s loaded with great features, such as:

  • multiple bandwidths (wide/narrow),
  • 9/10 kHz spacing,
  • well-balanced AGC (auto gain control),
  • as well as the ability to turn off soft muting.

Yes, the DT-800 has the ability to disable soft mute. Thank you, Sangean! So far, Sangean seems to be one of the only radio manufacturers that enables this DSP chip option in their product line. Another receiver with the ability to disable soft mute was the Sangean ATS-405 (check out our ATS-405 review). I wish other radio manufacturers would do the same because soft mute is what often makes listening to weak mediumwave signals so fatiguing. With soft mute disengaged, weak signals enjoy better audio stability as they’re not fighting to stay above the muting threshold.

But, I’m sorry, DXers: unfortunately, the DT-800’s weakness on AM is the same as the ATS-405 on AM (and shortwave): a higher-than-average noise floor. Somehow, internal noise is being generated and not being contained by shielding and grounding.

I made a short comparison video to demonstrate the noises heard via the DT-800. Before you ask: yes, these noises are present regardless of radio location, or whether or not there are other radios nearby. In addition, I made this video on a folding table far away from my house or any other potential sources of noise (with the exception of my iPhone which was used to make the video). This is the same low-noise spot I use to do comparison tests of all my portable receivers:

Click here to view this video on YouTube.

As I note in the video, the noise floor isn’t consistent across the band––some parts are lower, other parts higher. One of the noise peaks is around 1600 kHz which, unfortunately for me, is where my favorite local AM station resides.

So is this a deal-breaker?  No…not necessarily.  For the casual AM radio listener––a listener primarily focused on listening to local AM stations––I think the DT-800 will please. In fact, I might not have noticed the elevated noise floor had I not: 1) listened to weaker AM stations, and 2) compared the DT-800 with other radios.

Since I’ve been using and listening to this radio for the better part of a month, I can state with confidence that most of my other portables outperform the DT-800 on mediumwave. I compared it with these rigs:

  • Sony ICF-S10MK2
  • Tecsun PL-310ET
  • CC Skywave
  • CC Skywave SSB
  • Radiwow R-108

To be clear, I believe the DT-800 has average MW sensitivity for a radio this size, but the noise floor sort of spoils any hopes of doing marginal or weak signal work, thus also making that awesome soft mute toggle less effective.

If you pair the DT-800 with a loop antenna like the AN200, which I highly recommend doing, it will help those weak signals rise above the noise. Otherwise, if your primary goal in purchasing the DT-800 is to listen to mediumwave, I regret to say, you might want to take a pass on this one.

Summary

Every radio has its pros and cons. Each time 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 DT-800’s list, from the first moments I turned it on, to the time of writing this review:

Pros:

  • Great overall performance on FM
  • Quality construction and thoughtful ergonomics
  • Both clock and alarm for the traveler
  • Ability to switch between FM stereo/mono with headphones in use
  • Wide/narrow AM and FM filters
  • NiMH AA batteries can be recharged internally [make sure switch inside battery compartment is set to “NiMH”]
  • FM RDS (one mode)
  • Mechanical keylock switch
  • Ability to disable soft mute (other radio manufacturers take note!)
  • Small internal speaker providing quite decent audio
  • Comprehensive gear package includes radio, manuals, quality earphones, quality AC adapter, wire antenna
  • DC port is standard MicroUSB
  • Belt clip
  • Built-in speaker
  • Dynamic Bass Boost

Cons:

  • While listening via the DT-800’s internal speaker without antenna wire or headphones inserted: FM performance is lacking, while weather radio performance is very much lacking
  • AM band: Noise floor is higher than on comparable radios

Conclusion

The Sangean DT-800 is a solid little radio: it’s simple to operate and feels like a quality piece of kit. It’s perfect for hiking, or any sport or task where you’d like one-hand operation.

The DT-800 also has a surprising amount of features and customization through the menu settings––much more than one would expect––which puts it firmly into what I would call the “enthusiast-grade” radio category.

It’s for this reason that it’s a bit disappointing AM reception on this Sangean isn’t better.

The DT-800 has a lot of icing on the cake, otherwise: FM RDS, the ability to internally recharge AA batteries, built-in speaker, Dynamic Bass Boost, multiple bandwidths on AM and FM, the ability to disable soft mute–all of these are essentially pro features.

So, if you’re looking for a quality portable radio primarily for FM and WX band listening and perhaps catching the odd local AM broadcast, the DT-800 is a great choice.

Sangean DT-800 retailers:

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