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The number of natural disasters has been steadily increasing in recent decades and many experts say this trend is likely to continue. From hurricanes slamming into the coast of Florida to torrential rains leaving many Texans underwater, there always seems to be a natural disaster happening somewhere.
Unfortunately, these disasters rack up billions of dollars in damages and often cost lives. Having the proper gear in information when disaster strikes can make all the difference and that’s where emergency radios, also referred to as weather radios, come in.
As you already know, we are a society that puts a great deal of trust in technology and when that technology fails us we are usually left uninformed and unprotected. I’m guessing you or someone you love has been in a situation where technology has let you down. Maybe you were in the middle of nowhere and your GPS stopped working.
Fortunately, the simple radio is a technology that for the most part can be relied on. Credit for the invention of the radio is mostly attributed to Guglielmo Marconi but like most revolutionary inventions, there is a bit of drama. Marconi is said to have used the design created by Nikola Tesla.
When Marconi went to file for his patent he was initially denied since it relied on the use of Tesla coils. Marconi used his family’s connections and wealth to eventually have the U.S. Patent Office reverse their decision. Marconi soon after won the Nobel Prize for physics.
On December 12, 1901, Marconi became the first person to transmit a radio signal across the Atlantic. So, radio transmission has been around for a long time and hasn’t really changed much since the beginning. The tools have changed but the physics haven’t.
Pretty much any technology we use today that communicates to another device or can wirelessly connect to another device using radio waves. We sometimes forget that the shiny interfaces and cool apps only work because of this basic technology.
When the world is turned upside down by a weather event, picking up a broadcasted radio transmission is usually the most reliable way to get information.
How to Choose the Right Emergency Radio (Buying Guide)
This section is for those of you who want to learn more about radios before seeing the list of the best emergency radios. For those of you who already know what to look for or simply don’t care, feel free to use the quick navigation menu above or simply keep scrolling to skip straight to the reviews section! I also made a video review for you guys that I’ll drop below!
Who Are Emergency Radios For?
If you live in a climate affected by any kind of weather then I’ll go out on a limb and say you need one. Seriously, the technology is so rudimentary and simple that you can buy a great weather radio for less than two Starbucks coffees. We all have spent more than $20 dollars on something pretty useless. Just make sure the next time you do spend some money you spend it on something that can save your life.
So, I’m going to use the phrase that has never made a story shorter in the history of mankind, “to make a long story short”, a weather radio is for everyone. Even if you live somewhere that doesn’t experience much crazy weather you can still utilize a weather radio. I am looking at you sunny and mild California! All this talk of tornadoes probably has some of you rolling your eyes but a weather radio will keep you informed about anything that is an emergency event, like wildfires and earthquakes.
So What Are Weather Radios?
A weather radio works just the same as any other radio but includes more survival based features. In my mind, a weather/emergency radio is one that doesn’t depend on having access to a power plug in order to work. I would even say it has to have a hand crank to give it a charge. The other feature it should have is the ability to tune a NOAA weather band, but even if it doesn’t you can tune a local station and get emergency alerts.
Most weather radios allow you to charge your radio by a hand crank, include multiple battery sources, have small solar panels, and give you the option to charge external devices. These extra features are nice to have but most of the time they don’t function like you need them to.
The solar panels on every radio I have ever had has been a disappointment. Heck, even the dedicated field charging stations never did anything amazing as far as charging devices goes. Hand cranking a small generator for power is indeed helpful but don’t think for a second you just give it a couple of twirls and you are fully charged and ready to go. No, we live in the real world. Most weather radios take a solid day of winding in order to get a fully charged battery.
Just keep in mind that these features are only helpful features. They aren’t something to put a whole lot of stock in and they definitely shouldn’t drive your decision on purchasing a radio.
The real question to keep in mind while reading this article is how do you plan to use a weather radio? Do you need one for the house, for the car, or for hiking? If you can answer these questions before you dive in then you will almost instantly be able to determine which radio you need.
Do You Need a Weather Radio?
I briefly touched on this but the answer should be a resounding yes for everyone. If you are really debating whether or not to buy a weather radio then ask yourself what are the last 5 things you spent $20 on. More than likely at least one of those items is not going to save your life.
Let’s be realistic. Most people aren’t going to use their weather radio to charge their phone on a regular basis, but consider a Katrina level event. There were a lot of people stranded for a very long time without access to electricity or any way to get information about where to go or what to do to get help. Cell phones die faster than you think they will when your life depends on it. And when it does die, your little safety net is nothing more than a paperweight.
An emergency radio can give you a way to charge your phone enough to make a few calls. This is probably one of the more important features these types of radios offer. Most radios also have a built in light source as well. So with a good radio, you can get the information you need, charge your phone, and find your way in the dark.
I would say having all those things when your life is on the line is worth the $20 to $50 you will spend on one of these radios.
What Are the Alternatives?
In order to get everything a weather radio has to offer you will need to combine a few pieces of everyday technology. Almost everyone has a regular radio and that is the best place to start. Your car can power it’s radio for 5-10 hours straight but when the battery dies you are done.
As far as battery charging capability goes you will need a generator. Most generators aren’t cheap and when bad things happen they end up being highly desired by unscrupulous characters. When the tornado went through Tuscaloosa, a friend of mine had his generator stolen in the middle of the night. He woke up with no power but could still hear the generator running. When he walked outside he saw his lawnmower running next to where the generator used to be.
Nothing beats a good generator and if you have the money you should buy one no matter what. But the weather radio can charge your phone for $20 and you can put most of them in your pocket.
I will say one of the most useful alternatives to a weather radio is a Ham radio. You can’t charge your phone with one but you can transmit on whatever frequency you want. And most ham radios can receive on multiple bands. The only drawback is you need to purchase extra batteries to keep it charged but the flexibility they offer sometimes outweighs the power problem. Just buy a bunch of batteries and make sure they are charged.
Features to Consider
It should be a no-brainer that you need your weather radio to actually pick up the right frequency bands. But it could be pretty easy to buy a radio that is not marketed as a weather radio and only end up with FM and AM. It would work, but having a radio that can pick up the VHF NOAA weather radio band gives you 24/7 weather reports for your area.
Hand crank power generation is another must-have for a weather radio. You not going to be able to charge all your devices at the same time but you will be able to generate enough power to keep listening to your radio and give your phone enough charge for a couple of calls.
LED lights are another feature most of these radios have. When it is dark and you have no power you quickly realize how much of a crutch electricity is. And when you are trying to survive, it is not smart to use all of your cell phone battery to light your way.
Just about all emergency radios come with a rechargeable Li-ion battery. But these batteries have been known to be temperamental. Every radio in this list comes with a warning to maintain the battery by charging once every three months or so. Li-ion batteries are powerful but because of the design they can become unstable when they lose their charge.
Believe me, I’ve had a laptop battery swell and break the keyboard and trackpad because it completely lost its charge.
So, consider buying a radio that has both a Li-ion battery as well as a place to put good old AA or AAA dry cells.
Factors I Considered
Overall quality and functionality are the most important aspects that I used to determine which radios are best. Pretty much everything now days is built out of plastic on a massive assembly line in China. But there are some really good products that come from these places, you just have to look for them.
Radio features were the second criteria I had. I really like having a place to put extra batteries but if the radio isn’t the best build quality I didn’t rate it as highly.
When it came down to making the decision on the order, I asked myself what would I want to have in my possession if I was stuck in a hurricane Katrina type scenario. This question is the reason why this list exists in the current order.
If I were to ask myself what radio would I keep in my house next to my bed I would pick the Eton FRX3+. If I wanted a radio to take on hikes I would pick one of the Running Snails. Keep these factors in mind as you read this list. Just because a radio is ranked number 1 for me doesn’t mean it will be the best choice for your use.
Here Are the Best Emergency Radios
1.Running Snail MD-090 Weather Radio
My Review: Right out of the box this radio seemed well-designed. It is pretty durable and for the size, you can’t beat the features that come with it. There are a lot of features crammed into a unit of this size. I can fit this into the front pocket of my jeans. Yes, it is uncomfortable but it can be done.
The LED light on the front is a decent size and puts out enough light to be useful for navigating in the dark. It is also nice to have the reading lamp which can light a small room.
The hand crank on the back is well concealed and feels pretty sturdy. I also like how the shallow angle allows for easy turning without it wanting to fold in on itself. I know this seems a little nit-picky but when you are winding this thing for several hours, it starts to drive you insane.
The reception for this radio was consistently good and has an indicator light that lets you know when you nailed a solid signal.
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I like that this radio has an SOS siren. I accidentally discovered this and almost jumped out of my seat. So yeah, it is loud.
It also has a small lanyard with a D-ring on the end. This makes it easy to clip to your gear to make sure it doesn’t get lost or dropped. I am a big fan of D-rings.
What I don’t like:
I’m not a big fan of the tuning knob. It works and that is about it. The problem I have is while you are trying to tune a station the knob doesn’t turn smoothly. What happens is you end up skipping through the frequencies in sudden jumps. So when you get close to the frequency you want it sometimes completely jumps over it. This was frustrating since I was unable to fine-tune anything. I had to just go back and forth until I finally got it on the station.
The manual isn’t very helpful either. In reality, nobody will use the manual unless they can’t figure something out but if you reach that point you probably won’t find it useful. The manual definitely wasn’t written by a native English speaker and is most likely the result of over dependency on Google Translate.
- 2000 mAh power bank capable of supplying power to small tablets and smart phones.
- 3 power sources comprised of AAA batteries, solar power, and a small hand crank generator.
- 2 LED light sources. A 1W flashlight and a reading light with 4 small LEDs.
- Receives AM, FM, and NOAA weather bands.
- Limited Lifetime Warranty (if you care about those things). Running Snail is very willing to send you a new radio if there is some type of manufacturing defect.
- 4.5 hours to charge when connected to an outlet, 7 hours to charge with the hand crank.
- 1 minute of cranking yields 5-10 minutes of radio at medium power.
This radio is sold by other manufacturers as well as Running Snail. I also tested the Compass Culture brand radio and the FosPower and can say that they are exactly the same radio. The red Compass Culture radio did come with a parachute cord bracelet that had a compass on it. I thought getting a compass was a cool addition.
2. Kaito KA500
My Review: The KA500 is on the larger side of most weather radios but you get a few extra features compared to the smaller radios. It also feels pretty durable so you know it won’t break the first time you use it.
This radio comes with a headphone jack which helps save power. You also get a standard AC/DC 6V input port on top of the USB 5V input port. On top of having a Li-ion battery, it has receptacles for 3 AA batteries.
I really like products that fill multiple purposes. The KA500 is one of those products. The Running Snail MD-090 above was the best for survival/outdoor use but the KA500 can do both survival/outdoor as well as indoors. The fact that it has a NOAA Alert setting really sets this radio up to be something that is used on a daily basis. The Alert setting allows the radio to monitor the weather band without making any noise. When it receives a weather alert, it kicks itself on and broadcasts the special weather information.
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It is double the size of the MD-090 but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can’t stick this in your jean pocket but what makes this such a great radio is that it can become a permanent fixture in your home as well as a great radio for when things get really bad. And if this thing stays plugged in next to your bed you won’t have to rummage through a sock drawer to find a radio that has a dead battery when you actually need it.
On top of being able to monitor the NOAA weather bands, you get AM, FM, and two short wavebands. And another major plus is that this radio also comes with a manual that is actually readable and useful.
What I don’t like:
I don’t like the crank arm. The way the body of the radio is designed means the crank arm has to be shaped in a way that puts it at about a 45 degree angle from the plane of rotation. This design makes it difficult to turn the crank without it folding in on itself. It takes a lot of focus to crank this thing. As soon as your mind starts to wander you’ll smack a knuckle on the case.
For the size of this radio, the LED flashlight is microscopic. I don’t understand why it isn’t more powerful. It has reading lights that seem to be brighter. At the end of the day, I guess some light is better than no light but if you want to use this as a flashlight forget about seeing anything further away than 10 feet.
- It can be powered 6 different ways: hand crank, solar, AA batteries, NiMH battery, 5V USB, and 6V AC/DC.
- It has a 14.5 inch telescopic antenna and LED signal strength indicator.
- DC 5V USB output for charging mobile devices.
- 7 pre-programmed NOAA stations, AM, FM, and 2 shortwave radio bands.
- Public Emergency Alert System (PEAS)
3. POVO PO-R01
My Review: I like the SOS alarm on this radio. I know that sounds silly but this thing is loud and if you are trapped under a house after a tornado or hurricane it is sure to reach someone’s ear.
It has an LED flashlight that has different brightness levels as well as having a blink function.
Remember before when I complained about how hard it was to tune one of the radios? Well, this one is completely different. The tune knob is silky smooth and allows for you to finely adjust the frequency so you can get the most solid signal.
This radio also has a headphone jack which is great for saving the battery since it doesn’t have to use the larger speaker. And while I’m on the topic of listening, you can use a USB or micro SD card to listen to MP3s. Really this is the last thing you should be thinking of when trying to conserve power but if you have a ton of AAA batteries then switch the power source off the Lithium battery and jam out.
What I don’t like:
It kind of feels cheap. I know it only cost $30 but some of the other radios on here seem better built for the same price. A good test I like to do that gives me an indication of how well something is built is by doing a shake test. When I shake this radio I hear a lot of stuff rattling. There doesn’t seem to be anything broken but it tells me something isn’t fit properly which could lead to an issue down the road on top of telling me the design isn’t the best.
It is small, but it is clunky. It doesn’t have a very good look or feel to it. This may not be something you care about but I like my stuff to work well and look good.
- Power sources: Li-ion battery, hand crank generator, 5V USB cable, solar power, and 3 AAA batteries.
- 2200 mAh power bank for charging small devices.
- Weather band, AM, and FM band selection.
- USB and micro SD music player.
4. Eton FRX3 Plus
My Review: Overall this is the highest quality radio on the list. It feels solid and looks good. And you just can’t beat the backlit LCD screen. It is also very smooth and simple to tune. The crank arm is positioned front and center and is very easy to turn.
It has a flashlight on the front which isn’t the greatest but certainly not the worst. This radio is perfect as a bedside radio. It has an alarm function as well as a weather alert function.
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This radio gets the best reception out of all the radios on the list. And that goes for all the bands. AM, FM, and the preset weather band all sound great. And you have two headphone jacks in the back.
The manual that comes with it is very helpful. It just seems like someone really tried with this one.
What I don’t like:
Even though I think this is a great radio, it doesn’t make the top of the list. Why do you ask? Well, it appears to have been designed as only a bedside weather radio. It’s the kind of radio you don’t want to carry around. It is awkward to hold while using the crank and really just awkward in general. I mean I guess the shape is cool but it just isn’t functional for use in the field.
I really wish they would have made a place for dry cell batteries. When most other weather radios have two battery sources it is easy to take one of them over this one. Having redundant battery systems really is a must. You don’t want to be cranking all the time.
- Reaches full charge in two hours when connected to a wall outlet and takes 10 hours in direct sunlight.
- 4 minutes of hand cranking will provide 10-15 minutes of radio power at medium volume.
- Weather alert function (PEAS) as well as an alarm clock.
- Charges small devices
5. Running Snail MD-088s
My Review: This weather radio is the smallest on the list. It can easily be fit into a pocket and taken on the go with little thought. The LED flashlight is bright for its size and the crank handle is just about as perfectly situated as you can get.
It feels like a pretty tough little radio and doesn’t have any trouble picking up weather bands, AM, or FM stations.
What I don’t like:
First off, the solar panel might as well not even be there. It is so small that I highly doubt anyone could get much use out of it other than maintaining a phone battery.
The tuning knob has the same problem as the other Running Snail on the list. It is almost impossible to land on the station you want on the first try.
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I also wish this unit had dry cell battery receptacles. And just like the other Running Snail, the instruction book is laughable. For a really good time on a Friday night check out the product photographs on its Amazon page.
- 1000 mAh power bank for charging small devices.
- Charge with hand crank, wall charger, or solar power.
- 1W LED flashlight.
- AM/FM/ and NOAA weather radio band.
6. Baofeng BF-F8HP Ham Radio
My Review: Just a quick disclaimer, this radio isn’t considered a weather radio but it gives us a good comparison between two types of radios. In this case, a HAM radio and a weather radio.
This radio is considered to be one of the best two-way radios on the market. On top of being able to tune FM and NOAA stations, you have the ability to tune VHF and UHF frequencies as well. Being able to transmit on many different bands during a survival scenario could get you rescued very quickly. If your life isn’t on the line then it could land you a hefty fine. Just don’t transmit unless you are properly trained and licensed.
This radio has many features and requires the user to read the manual in order to figure out how to properly use it. But when you put in the time, you have capabilities that far exceed the lowly weather radio.
The docking station is nice to have and you can always buy more batteries than you think you might need. It is also smaller than anything else on the list.
What I don’t like:
Well, this should be pretty easy because we are really talking about emergency radios. When the battery dies on this one you are done. There is no hand crank, no dry cell battery port, and no solar power capability. It does have a little flashlight but it is a single LED bulb that will only help you find a bigger flashlight.
It is complicated for someone who just wants to listen to weather alerts. If you are in to amateur radio then you probably already have one of these. For most people it is a bit overkill, especially when you can’t legally transmit.
I’m not saying it is a bad radio at all. It is one of the best radios out there but everything has a purpose and a HAM radio just isn’t something to rely on to get your weather info. If you already have a weather radio then having one of these is a great idea. But if you are looking for a highly dependable way to only receive weather updates then this is not the solution.
I just have to say this again, if you are unlicensed and you happen to transmit, you will quickly have law enforcement show up in your driveway. RF is heavily regulated and monitored in the US. And let me tell you, it is very very easy to triangulate the position of an RF source.
- Very durable shell
- High/Medium/Low Power settings
- Weather Radio, FM, VHF, UHF
- Digital backlit LCD panel
- Programmable channels
7. Midland WR400
My Review: These are excellent little radios that work extremely well as a bedside alarm clock and standard radio that you can program to go off with an alarm in the event of inclement weather. Many people use these as bedside alarm clocks 99% of the time and rely on them to wake them up when things get a little crazy outside.
Another great usage for these radios is to use them in a camper. When you pull up to a campsite that has electricity, simply leave the radio plugged in and you’ll have a weather radio always there looking, or rather hearing, out for you. If the power goes out or you need your radio on the go, they automatically switch to battery power and are still hearing out for ya no matter what.
A lot of the weather radios on the market are going to require batteries or charging to constantly be on but with this configuration, you get a nice base point where the radio is plugged in and always on and then when you need to head out, just unplug and go! These are powered by 4 AA batteries and swapping them out is extremely easy.
I’ve seen models that are similar to this from other brands but you know what really stands out to me? The little light indicators on the top that tell you if the broadcast or alert you’re receiving is just a helpful piece of advice, something you should watch, or an actual warning to take cover. If you’ve spent any time in the midwest during spring you know there are storms several times a week and this radio makes it easy to just peer over when you hear an alarm and see if you need to dive into the basement or not.
By the way, these scan through the popular weather bands and will automatically tune in to the clearest and strongest signals. These radios are extremely easy to program and use and have many helpful features that help you get a little bang for your buck even when you don’t necessarily need a weather radio function.
What I don’t like:
Okay, so it is portable to an extent because it has battery power when not plugged in but let’s be honest, if portability is your primary use case, this isn’t the easiest form factor to carry or pack away. Not a major con but more so just think about how you plan to use it. If you’re looking for a backpacking weather radio, pass on this one and take a look at the other more easily carriable radios.
A last little gripe I can come up with is that the 4 AA batteries are dependable and they are easily changeable, but if you run out of batteries, you are screwed. There are no solar capabilities, there is no winding handle, there is nothing you can do to breathe life into this little piece of tech unless you scrounge up batteries or find a working power outlet.
- Multi-talented package including weather alarms, severity indicators, programmable alarm clock, customized alarms, and alarm sound levels, and many more features
- A.M.E automatic channel lock on ensuring you’re always tuned in to the closest, strongest, and most relevant weather broadcasts
- Programmable multi-county weather alerts to stay up to date on the happenings when your friends or family are venturing out past your own county lines
- Plugs into the wall and automatically switches to battery backup when power is interrupted
8. Kaito Voyager Pro KA600
My Review: We already discussed the little brother of this radio, the Kaito KA500, but the KA600 is also worth a mention because of its outstanding quality, bang for the buck, and a suite of functions and features. Some of those features include a display with information regarding humidity, temperature, and the type of weather you can expect in your area. When there’s craziness in your area of operation, the screen simply says “TORNADO” and your county and now you know without needing to listen through a broadcast.
The power options are insane on this thing. I feel like the guys engineering this couldn’t decide what methods they wanted to implement so they simply implemented all of them. You can sit there and crank this sucker up, you can plop in some fresh AA batteries, you can let it bask in the sun and collect energy from our favorite star, or, you can crank away in the sun with batteries in the unit, it’s up to you! Oh yeah, you can plug it in with the AC/DC adapter too, but that takes the fun out of it.
These are some of the most sensitive purpose-built weather radios on the market. They provide crystal clear broadcast information in places you may otherwise get shoddy and interrupted signals with lower quality weather radios, which may really make a huge difference if the need arises.
These radios are some of the most trusted radios in the market and are utilized in the military and in humanitarian relief situations. They wouldn’t be giving people these radios, people whose lives literally depend on these as they have no other choice if they weren’t reliable and worked efficiently.
What I don’t like:
I guess to keep it light and portable they couldn’t make it too thick and heavy and that really shows. The initial impression you get from the marketing makes you feel like this thing is really tough and rugged but in reality, it’s just mediocre in those categories and feels kind of light and just not exactly what I think a lot of people expect. For the price and seeing as though it functions and performs quite well, I think this can be overlooked, but it is something to be aware of. There are tougher options on the market.
I mentioned earlier that you can plop in some AA batteries and it seems as though that was perhaps an older model and the newer ones being shipped out now use a 18650 cell battery. It doesn’t make a whole lot of difference to me, but it’s something to be aware of and I think many people have gotten the radio without Kaito telling them there was a change, and thus making people lose a little trust in the brand.
- Flip out solar panel, dynamo crank, battery, and AC/DC power capabilities
- Equipped with a reading lamp, backlit display, simple weather detail display, smartphone charger, calendar, multi-programmable alarm clock, and flashlight
- 335 channel memory capability
9. Uniden Bearcat BC125AT – Digital All-Purpose Scanner
My Review: The Uniden Bearcat is one of the most popular scanner style portable radio systems whose sole purpose in life is to tune in on the happenings. From weather to EMS to the 5-0, you can find out what’s going on and tune in for important information. These radios are even capable of picking up military-based radio frequencies, although most of those are now on secured channels, however, you might pick up some regular chatter.
These radios are not only lightweight and extremely portable but they are incredibly powerful and utilize much more advanced technology than just a standard weather radio. If getting a weather alert is ALL you want, this is probably overkill on both functionality and price, but if being able to tap into just about any radio signal and listen in to inform yourself and make better decisions no matter the situation, this radio will help you do that. In a catastrophic event, radios like these might be the only way you find important information and are absolutely invaluable to have if some major life-threatening event were to occur. Oh yeah, they do weather and all the NOAA goodies too as well as over 40,000 other possible frequencies.
We talked about the Baofeng handheld portable amateur radio in our guide and while I love that radio, for people that are unfamiliar with amateur radios entirely, that may not be a good recommendation because it requires a little technical skill and a license. This radio, however, requires absolutely no skill and the only inherent difference is that you cannot communicate through this device because it can only receive. This means there is no risk in misusing and incurring fines as abusing an actual amateur radio could result in.
The build quality is excellent and well worth the money. The display is backlit and is beautifully bright even if you flip it out of your pocket and look down at it all the way down at your waist. The shell is elegant and sleek while also being durable and ergonomic with a rubberized grip. The big antenna hanging off the top can be removed and the radio can be operated with a smaller antenna instead. These radios are powered via 2 AAA batteries so as long as you have a stockpile of AAA’s, this radio will continue to provide crucial information in your time of need.
Speaking of batteries, you can throw in some rechargeable batteries and use the onboard charging port to keep them juiced up. Other ports include an earphone jack so you can use the radio with a set of headphones without making much noise.
What I don’t like:
There isn’t much to gripe about here. It’s a little pricey but I honestly believe the price is well worth the quality and performance you get here. There are also better but more expensive options on the market too, but I think for the occasional weather radio user that wants a little more capability such as being able to listen in on the police or local fire station, this radio is great.
I mentioned earlier that you could use rechargeable batteries and that the unit is equipped with a USB charging port. That’s great, but the radio cannot be turned on while a charger is plugged in, perhaps leaving a solid 30 minutes to an hour of time you aren’t able to access radio channels.
- Over 40,000 channels you can tune into including NOAA weather services
- Can be used with rechargeable AAA batteries and has a charging port
- 500 alpha tagged channels for quick searching
- An excellent choice for use as a weather radio with further radio capabilities as well
10. Whistler TRX-1 Digital Radio Scanner
My Review: The Whistler TRX-1 is an incredibly portable and yet powerful digital radio scanner capable of providing you with the details you need and the details you want. While most weather radios are stuck just listening in to NOAA and perhaps a few FM/AM stations, the TRX-1 is capable is listening across all analogous and digital broadcasts. This means you will have access to channels used by your local police, fire department, EMS, etc. Having a digital scanner during a natural disaster or anomalous events can make a huge difference in how you react and receive information.
These are, of course, not for beginners and will rely on your ability to learn and operate a digital scanner. These can be a little tricky to program and get working properly and if you don’t know how to do it, they won’t work. I recommend the TRX-1 because of its high quality and very reliable but I don’t recommend it to everyone. These scanners are for radio enthusiasts and preppers that really enjoy having radio access to pretty much everything around them.
With that said, if you want something far more capable and powerful than just a radio used for weather channels, these are a solid buy and provide excellent coverage inside a durable and ergonomic body.
What I don’t like:
I don’t like how complicated the firmware and software are. The instructions included aren’t clear and for a total noob when it comes to digital scanners, these radios are very frustrating and difficult to get operating how you want them. Of course, you can always learn and I certainly encourage that, but I feel like these could have been designed to work simpler from the get-go.
- Skywarn weather system
- Recording function up to 50 hours of audio with time-stamped files
- Updatable firmware
- Capable of monitoring NXDN, Conventional DMR, all Moto TRBO related channels, and Hytera XPT unencrypted channels
Frequently Asked Weather Radio Questions
What is the NOAA Weather Band?
Even if you don’t remember what the acronym stands for, you still know that NOAA has to do with official weather. So for starters let’s discuss what NOAA is. NOAA stands for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it’s a standard government acronym that quickly loses its meaning and quickly becomes known as the acronym itself.
NOAA is a scientific agency within the United States Department of Commerce. Their focus is to keep the public informed about all things related to environmental changes from the sky to the ocean floor. That’s right, they like playing at the beach just like I do.
As a community of scientists who seek to understand and predict changes in our climate, NOAA has developed a nationwide network of radio stations. These stations broadcast continuous weather reports that come directly from the National Weather Service. And the National Weather Service is where every news station gets their official news. So if you are getting up to date broadcasts from NOAA, you are getting the same information your local meteorologist is getting.
The nice thing about the 24 hour service is that it updates every 1 to 3 hours when nothing is really going on. When severe weather strikes it will update more frequently in response to rapidly changing weather conditions.
The only caveat is that the weather radios don’t give you much information in terms of severe storm live-tracking. In the last couple of years, there have been many advances in storm tracking technology. I remember when meteorologists only really knew where the storm front was. Now they not only can track storm rotation, but they can also predict where it could possibly go within a great deal of accuracy.
Unfortunately, the NOAA band doesn’t give you such detailed information, but if your electricity goes out, the fancy graphics the meteorologist points to won’t mean anything to you anyway. The main point is that a weather radio can sound an alarm and play the broadcast so you can find a safe place and hunker down.
How Do I Receive a NOAA Broadcast?
If you want to receive a NOAA broadcast you need to have a radio that can pick up the weather frequency band. The weather frequency band is a VHF public service band and ranges from 162.4 MHz to 162.55 MHz. Specifically, the NOAA weather bands are transmitted on 8 different frequencies all over the United States. So if you were to memorize all of them, you are going to be able to pick a station up no matter where you are in the US.
Fortunately, you don’t have to memorize these frequencies if you have a good weather radio because most of them come with the 8 presets built-in. And if you don’t have the 8 presets on your radio, no big deal. As long as your radio can pick up the weather radio band you can just scan until you pick up a good signal.
There are now well over a thousand NOAA weather broadcasting stations. The chances are good that wherever you live you can pick up a station. Broadcast coverage in the United States is over 97% and will continue to improve. So when you are in doubt, just tune up the strongest station (in most cases it will be the only station) and you will be listening to your local NOAA station.
If you really want to know what the frequency is to your nearest station, just check out the National Weather Service website and look under NOAA Weather Radio NWR coverage maps. Or hit the easy button and follow this link to the map: NWR Map.
What Does S.A.M.E Mean and Why Do You Need it?
S.A.M.E is one of those cool things that is super simple but gives us a ton of benefits. S.A.M.E stands for specific area message encoding and basically is an attention signal. This signal is the annoyingly long 1050 Hz beep that precedes a weather statement.
When a severe weather alert is issued and the message is broadcast, the message itself comes in a package. First comes a header, then comes the Attention signal, then the actual message, and finally the message tail (information that tells the radio the message is complete).
You have probably experienced a weather broadcast interrupting a regular station program before. This is done automatically because of the design of the emergency message package. It tells the regular program to turn off, it broadcasts the emergency message, then it tells the radio that the message is complete so it can resume its normal programming.
What is important about the attention signal is that it will actually signal a dormant radio to wake up and broadcast the alert. If you have a radio with this “alert mode” you can set it up and forget about it. When a real alert is issued the radio will come on and give you the emergency weather information.
This feature alone can save you some sleep when those evening thunderstorms roll through. Instead of staying up late to watch the weather you can set the radio alert function and go rack out for the night. I really like the radios that have these features. You can just leave a radio by your bed and know it will work no matter what.
I’ve put the same faith in a phone app before just to wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of tornado sirens. Sometimes the phone apps just don’t work when they need to. And if you leave your phone in your car or someplace far from where you sleep, you probably won’t even hear the alert when it does sound.
There are plenty of advanced weather radios out there that allow you to program different event codes, which starts getting into specific alerts such as flash flood warnings, coastal flooding, avalanche watch, etc. Being able to program alert codes is a nice function to have when you don’t want to be awakened by a flash flood warning.
But since we are talking about emergency radios, we just want basic alert functionality. If you are on a camping trip, pretty much any alert the weather service issues is probably something you want to know about. If you only programmed tornado warning alert codes, you could be caught in bad thunderstorms without your radio ever alerting you. This is one of the reasons the radios on this list don’t have this function.
How Do Emergency Radios Work?
Skip this section unless you want to get technical. But if you want to understand the “black magic” of RF then keep reading. Don’t worry, we won’t be getting deep into physics.
- RF basics
RF or radio frequency is part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The electromagnetic spectrum characterizes any electromagnetic radiation by how long it’s wavelength is. In the case of RF, it sits at the low end of the scale below visible light.
Now, you might have keyed in on the word radiation above, but don’t freak out. Radiation is all around us and part of everyday life. The radiation we should be afraid of is ionizing radiation. This is the type of radiation that is associated with nuclear energy. So we don’t need to worry about being harmed by radiation when dealing with radio frequency.
Now, the electromagnetic spectrum is measured in hertz (Hz) which is a wave cycle per second. If you have ever been to the ocean and watched the waves crash on the beach you have seen a perfect visual representation of what electromagnetic frequencies look like. You could even calculate the frequency of the waves in hertz if you wanted to (somewhere around 0.100 Hz).
Some of the characteristics of RF are similar to that of visible light. After all, they are both in the electromagnetic spectrum. So when weird things happen with your radio just think about how bright sunshine interacts with different objects. Light rays penetrate glass and thin materials, they reflect off shiny surfaces, they refract and diffract. RF does the same thing when interacting with different materials.
Without modulation, we wouldn’t be able to receive or transmit any useful information. Modulation simply means to change the frequency characteristics. Basically what happens in the modulation process is a part of the frequency is slightly varied at certain rates or amplitudes.
Think back to ocean waves. If you look closely at an ocean wave you notice the water isn’t smooth. There are tiny waves all over the larger waves. If you were to measure the tiny waves and the large waves as they passed a static point (like a pier post) you would see a lot of variation in size and frequency.
Using this analogy, the larger ocean wave is a carrier frequency. The large wave carries much smaller waves. In RF, the smaller waves that ride the large waves are where the information is stored.
All a modulator does is record all these variations and turn them into meaningful information, like a voice. When you want to transmit something, the modulator takes the information you give it and alters the wave as it transmits.
- RF radio bands
Now that you know a little more about how RF works and how information is transmitted and received we can discuss the different frequency bands. There are many different radio frequency bands. Each band spans a specific range of frequencies. Since there is such a wide range of frequencies they are split into smaller segments.
These frequency segments are what we call bands. For example, AM radio spans 300 kHz – 3,000 kHz and FM spans 30 MHz – 300 MHz.
- RF antennae
Have you ever tried to use an AM antenna to pick up an FM signal? If you did, you probably didn’t have any luck. This is because the antenna that transmits or receives has to be the proper length in order to operate in a specific band. So an AM antenna is not the right length to pick up an FM signal.
This is another reason why the frequencies are “banded”. You could never have just one antenna that picks up every band perfectly. So we created the band divisions and designed antennae for each band. A good example is the difference in length of a car antenna vs a cell phone antenna.
- Power source
Every radio in this list can be charged by plugging it in to a wall outlet or computer. This is the most reliable way to charge your radio as it takes the least amount of time for a full charge.
An emergency radio should always have a hand crank generator. These generators allow the user to apply a little elbow grease to produce electricity. Hand crank generators are actually quite simple.
Everyone has used an electric motor at some point. Anything that you plug in to a wall outlet or power by batteries that make something spin has an electric motor in it. All a generator is is an electric motor wired in reverse. Instead of using a power source to move the motor, the user spins the motor and creates a current that charges a battery. To make a generator you literally can take any electric motor and rewire it to act as a generator.
Let’s talk about solar power for a second. Even high quality solar panels are only between 15% and 20% efficient at turning the available solar energy into electricity. Solar panels are a great invention but really don’t offer much in terms of capability on these radios. To get enough solar energy to charge a radio battery or phone quickly you really need a much larger panel than what comes on these radios.
All of these radios with the exception of the Baofeng have solar panels. The solar panels are great if you turn your radio off during the day while it charges. You’re more than likely never going to get a full charge so use the radio sparingly if this is the only way you are getting a charge. Most of these systems take more than 10 hours of direct sunlight to fully charge so don’t expect to be able to charge the battery during the day and listen to music all night.
Now that we have gone through the best radios on the market ask yourself how you will be using it. Do you want a bedside storm radio that you can take with you to the shelter when severe weather strikes? This is probably one of the most common uses for a weather radio.
I would even go as far as saying that everyone needs two weather radios. Having one that is constantly on charge that has an alert feature is the best way for you to spend your nights without worrying about being awakened by the howl of high winds and snapping branches.
These radios are so inexpensive that it shouldn’t be a question of which single radio should I get but you should ask yourself which two or three radios can I buy that will give me everything I want?
In my home, my wife and I keep a weather radio on “alert” and on charge on our end table next to our bed. It also doubles as an alarm clock so we can eliminate distractions from our cell phones.
We have another weather radio that we keep charged in our spare battery drawer. So if we need to get to the storm shelter quickly, we can grab the radio and a handful of batteries to go with us.
When we go camping we take a smaller weather radio with spare batteries so we can monitor the local weather and make sure we can get to safety in the event of severe weather while we are exposed.
So what do you have to lose by not settling on just one radio? The answer is nothing. Get multiple weather radios for each area of your life you feel like you need one. Put one in your bedroom, in your kitchen, in your vehicle, at work, in your backpack. The list goes on.
This list has a radio for every use but don’t get focused on the details. We have so much access to information that it is far too easy to read 5 different articles about products, then read all the reviews on Amazon and end up not even buying anything because you basically have just given up on humanity.
I have been there before. Far too many times have I been super excited about buying something only to back out at the last moment because of some off-the-cuff remark by a random dude on Amazon.
So don’t stress out about something like a weather radio. Figure out your needs and just buy one for your needs. You can’t really go wrong buying a radio. The technology has been around for so long that there isn’t much difference from one product to the next. The only real differences are the features offered and the look and feel of the radio.
But at the end of the day you just need a radio. Everything else is just something nice to have.