Emergency Radio Reviews – Updated for 2017

Time for another survey of our emergency radios. We still have 7 in the house, plus a couple in the cars (and a ham radio in the car, too).

When the power goes out here, we’re ready!

Emergency radios

Part of the collection

It does go out here on a disturbingly regular basis. We have had four power outages in the past two years, one of which lasted about 9 hours. Long enough to test our equipment.

You may not need as many emergency radios to outfit your house and cars, but you certainly need at least one. And you want to be able to count on it when you need it.

Why do I need an emergency radio?

In a widespread or sudden overwhelming emergency, the only way you can stay safe is to know what’s going on.

  • Is the emergency over or is there more to come?
  • Where are buildings down or fires burning?
  • What roads are passable and which are blocked?
  • Is there civil unrest and where is it?

You want your emergency radio to answer these questions!

As with a lot of survival gear, you can spend a lot and get more than you’ll ever need. So, stop and think about where you are and what you want your radio to do. You can get a good radio for $30 – 50, and a whole lot more for $50 – 100.

The answers to these questions should help you decide.

Just a Basic Emergency Radio?

Emergency radios

Radios labeled with local emergency station

The only news you can count on in a catastrophe will be from your local emergency broadcasting system. Most of these stations broadcast on the AM band. THAT’s what you want your emergency radio to pick up at a bare minimum.

Not sure about the call numbers of your own local station? Go to Google and type in “[Your City Name] Emergency Radio.” Or, look for your state and city on this list. http://www.homelandag.com/blog/2011/02/look-up-your-local-emergency-radio-station/

When you know the station, make stickers and put them on all your emergency radios.

Emergency Weather Radio?

If you live in a place where sudden storms or tornadoes can hit, you want your radio to let you know with an ALERT. Weather forecasts and alerts notices are provided 24/7 by the NOAA, or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather service. (When I checked on 3-17-2017, stations in Chicago and New York were “temporarily out of service” because of a giant storm!)  If weather info is important to you, then you want a radio labeled NOAA. There are seven pre-set weather bands.

NOAA broadcasts cannot be heard on a simple AM/FM radio.

As you’re looking at emergency weather radios,  you may also see the logo for Public Alert. It’s a competitor to NOAA — but both serve the same purpose — to warn you of impending weather disasters. Here’s what the logos look like:

Localized Weather Alerts?

You may want the next level of protection provided by SAME, or Specific Area Message Encoding. It allows you to program your county and surrounding counties for increased warning time. SAME receivers will only receive alerts from the areas you have programmed.

SAME alerts can be transmitted via text or with a tone. Some radios even have a jack where you can plug in additional signaling devices like strobe lights or bed shakers.

Interested in Short Wave?

Many emergency radios also offer short wave reception – sometimes labeled SW1 and SW2.  (These are medium bands.) Having shortwave will extend your reach and perhaps add a couple of dollars to the price of your radio.

Generally, inexpensive shortwave radios will be limited in their reach and quality of reception.

Being able to TALK via short wave is another feature altogether, and you may need to get licensed as a Ham radio operator. Here are Ham radio details.

Sole or Multiple Power Sources?

In an emergency, your radio NEEDS TO WORK!  (Be sure to test it regularly.) Over the past several year, a number of great, inexpensive radios have come on the market that connect to multiple power sources. Look for most if not ALL of these in your radio:

    • Hand-crank – essential!
    • Plug into the wall (AC)
    • Plug into computer (or plug a phone into the radio) using a USB
    • Power by batteries (DC) (rechargeable or regular)
    • Power using built-in or attachable solar panel

Specialty Needs or Desires?

  1. Looking for a light or flashlight? How big and how bright? An emergency blinker?  The best emergency radios are multi-purpose pieces of equipment, and a good light is desirable.
  2. Does the radio have a siren or glow-in-the-dark feature to help you find it and people find you?
  3. How big and how heavy is the radio?  How sturdy?  Waterproof? How packable (rounded edges)?
  4. Have other devices to power? If your radio has plenty of batteries, you may want to use it to power up a phone or tablet, even run a DVD player.

WARNING: As mobile phones and computers continue to evolve, the connectors between the emergency radio and YOUR device/s may not match. When your radio arrives, be sure to check right away for plug compatibility. If necessary, simply buy the right connector as a separate piece of equipment. It may add another $4-$15 to the price of your radio.

WARNING #2: Be sure you know what accessories are included with the radios.  For example, specifications may say that the radio can be plugged into AC for charging, but if you see “AC Adapter optional” realize the adapter is not actually included in the package.

Emergency radio reviews

Here are comments about six of our favorite radios. They will give you some idea of what to expect as you shop. As you will see, we prefer to use Amazon.com as the best place to shop. It consistently has the best prices and a great deal of valuable feedback via customer questions and reviews. We are Amazon Affiliates and may receive a commission if you buy through our link; your price won’t be impacted, of course.

1. A new low-cost favorite!

RunningSnail Solar Crank NOAA Weather Radio For Emergency, with 2000mAh Power Bank, Flashlight and Reading Lamp

We loved our Ambient Weather radios -- and still have them and they still work -- but times and devices change. This radio by RunningSnail seems to have to have everything a basic radio should have at a very affordable price -- under $30. It has AM, FM and weather channels. It also has some extras, including two light modes, good enough for actually reading in the dark!

What I like best is the fact that you can power this with the hand crank, with solar and also with AAA batteries as well as the rechargeable lithium ion. In an emergency, rechargeable will eventually be worthless. Oh, and I like the red/green lights that give you an idea of whether your batteries are charging or charged.

Note the adjustable solar panel along the top. Remember that it takes full outdoors sunlight to really get a small system like this one fully charged.

2. S.A.M.E. technology as main feature

We have used Midland products for years, mostly for our walkie talkies, so we were pleased to see this model emergency radio. It only plugs into the wall, or runs on batteries when the power is out (Have extras handy!) but it has the SAME technology that allow you to PROGRAM in weather alerts for your county and surrounding areas.

Midland WR120 NOAA Weather and All Hazard Public Alert Certified Radio with SAME, Trilingual Display and Alarm Clock - Box Packaging

Keep it by the bed as a clock with snooze alarm -- and when disaster approaches, you'll know via a siren, voice alert and flashing LED. If I lived in tornado country I'd certainly have one of these!
3. Extra rugged construction

I grabbed this radio right away because it reminded me of our favorite radio -- alas, no longer manufactured. It has a similar shape and feel (light) but is even sturdier and tougher! The radio is: Sangean MMR-88 AM/FM/Weather+Alert Emergency Radio. Solar/Hand Crank/USB/Flashlight, Siren, Smartphone Charger

This radio has the Public Alert certification (as opposed to NOAA -- they are similar) and allows you to preset channels. It also contains a USB A to Micro B Cable. (When you plug in your earphones the audio mutes.) It has a hand strap and LED flashlight which would make it good for hiking or camping.

Note that this radio does NOT run with regular batteries. It has a 850mAh Lithium-ion rechargeable battery that can be charged using the built-in hand crank/dynamo power, USB, or built-in solar panel.

4. My favorite thanks to best lighting options!

I really like the feel of the Voyager by Kaito, and it has by far the best lighting options. (I'm willing to pay extra just for that!) The radio has a bank of 5 LEDs for reading or ambient lighting (located underneath the solar panel), as well as a flashlight with red strobe.

At the top is the "patented 180-degree adjustable solar panel" -- the largest solar panel of the lot. This radio also receives shortwave broadcasts SW1 and SW2, and has an easy to read and easily adjustable display.

Five way power: AC/DC adapter, AA batteries plus bullt-in rechargeable Ni-MH battery, hand crank, solar and computer. (Its crank is a strange dog-leg shape but it seems to work perfectly well.)

Here;s the link: Kaito Voyager Pro KA600 Digital Solar Dynamo,Wind Up,Dynamo Cranking AM/FM/LW/SW & NOAA Weather Emergency Radio with Flashlight, Reading Lamp Alert,Smart Phone Charger & RDS and Real-Time Alert, with AC Adapter, Black

5 Want to follow worldwide happenings?

Many of us have friends and relatives across the globe, and when we hear about disasters we'd like to know the details. That's where a better quality short-wave radio comes in, like this one: C Crane CC Skywave AM, FM, Shortwave, Weather and Airband Portable Travel Radio with Clock and Alarm This radio has local weather band alerts, runs on AA batteries. You can get an optional AC adaptor for it.

Of course, there's more than just news or local aircraft transmission available on your shortwave radio. You may be able to tune in on much more including ships at sea, international weather broadcasts, research and "pirate" vessels and Ham radio operators from around the world. (Again, listening is "free." Broadcasting via ham radio requires different equipment and a license. )

Some notes about shortwave. These signals "skip" across the earth and reception can vary dramatically depending where you have your radio in the house, what weather conditions are like, the quality of your antenna, what time of day you're listening, etc. Don't be discouraged if you don't get much when you first turn it on -- plan to spend some time learning to adjust the signal.

Adding an extra antenna to any shortwave radio makes sense. C Crane makes a reel-antenna that fits this radio and also the enhanced model described below.

C Crane's "Enhanced" model has a better built-in antenna, strengthening AM reception. (The radio actually "locks on" to the station after a few seconds.) It has a 2-meter Ham band, comes in black and titanium. (You can also add the extra antenna, get a carrying case, etc.) The radio runs on AC current and D batteries.

P.S. Joe is a licensed ham radio operator. His advice: "When it comes to shortwave radios, get the best you can afford."

6. The best shortwave reception

The Eton Grundig Satellit 750 Ultimate AM/FM Stereo also Receives Shortwave, Aircraft Bands - Black (NGSAT750B) is a couple hundred dollars more expensive than any other radio on our list. But it has features that none of the others can boast of.

First, of course, it its name. Grundig has been around since the early 60s and maintains an unassailable reputation.

This receiver gets all the wavelengths we've mentioned in this article - AM, FM, LW, SW, SSB (single side band), and VHF aircraft band. And unlike less expensive radios, you can program in up to 1000 of the channels you want to listen to. (Tuning is made easier because of the over-sized knobs.)

As you might expect, its antenna is top quality -- and swivels 360 degrees to pick up the clearest and strongest signal. With this radio you can pick up news and music from around the world. And it has both line-in and line-out sockets, plus a socket for plugging in an external antenna.

As with most shortwave radios, you will SERIOUSLY want to consider adding a high-quality external antenna to improve reception.

As you can see, this probably isn't the small, light-weight radio you'd want to pack in your emergency bag. But for the most comprehensive coverage, this is it.

Now as for our last radio. Here’s the picture. Note the red X!

Small emergency radio with red x showing it's not to be recommended.

Hand-held radio a disappointment.

This hand-held radio was a disappointment.

I’ve included this picture because it holds fond memories. It was the very first hand-crank radio we bought, probably around 2003. It was inexpensive, looked great and was extremely handy to tuck in the door or glove compartment. Today, there are other compact light/radios on the market, too. I urge caution with these based on my own experience.  These small radios may require pretty much constant cranking for you to get any signal or have much light.  Still, the small size makes them attractive.


One final comment. Radios, like all electronic gadgets, continue to evolve. What you can buy this month may not be available next month, but don’t spend time waiting for the perfect emergency radio!  When the emergency hits, you’ll want more than one to be sure you can get the information you need.

If you’re not sure which one to get, consider any one of the emergency radios listed above. Get one now, add to your collection later on as it becomes clearer what you really want.