Radio is a sound salvation. But sometimes, you just need the news.
March 13, 2017 9:03 AM   Subscribe

I give up. I need a radio. A plain old tabletop radio that plugs into the wall. Not a tuner, not an internet appliance, but a radio. We lost power for three and a half days, and when the electricity goes out, the internet soon follows (even if the home network stays up, it goes out upstream); and cell coverage is, um, spotty and unreliable until it, too, goes out.

I realised about halfway through day two that we needed a better radio than the cheap battery-operated one we have, which is OK for getting weather updates, but not for anything else.

The only real criteria is that it have good AM and FM reception, even in remote areas (I don't usually think of where I live as 'remote', but the radios and tuners we've had struggle to get more than one or two FM stations and only pick up the strongest AM stations). I stream the local radio station for daily use, but that doesn't work when there's no internet. Budget is preferably under $100US. I don't want charging ports or AUX inputs or a CD player, and don't need a clock.

Bonus question: a battery operated radio with decent reception. And I mean replaceable batteries, not a rechargeable battery pack. Not a boombox -- I have a couple, and the radios are horrible.
posted by jlkr to Shopping (19 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I have an internet radio from C-Crane, which is wonderful, though spendy. They do tout their products as "Portable AM FM radios with the best reception." I did find one of their regular radios from a thrift store and we can receive radio signals (albeit a little static-y) from Chicago radio stations when we are 400 miles away at our vacation home.
posted by sarajane at 9:20 AM on March 13, 2017

Yeah, definitely look at C-Crane, also Universal Radio. They are companies that take radio seriously, so you're going to find AM/FM radios that do much better than boom boxes.
posted by JanetLand at 9:28 AM on March 13, 2017

I have a Midland radio, I think it's this one. I haven't taken it to a remote area, so I don't know how good the reception is, but it's better than the radio it replaced (a Grundig). My Midland one can take AA batteries or a rechargeable battery (or hand crank, or solar).
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:31 AM on March 13, 2017

I've had good luck with Sangean. If you're in the US, consider something that can handle HD Radio.
posted by zamboni at 9:34 AM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have a Tecsun PL-390 and it has great reception. Costs $60 and takes AA batteries which last a long time and can be powered from a wall wart. The user interface is kind of clumsy but not the end of the world.
posted by exogenous at 9:35 AM on March 13, 2017

For home (IE: non portable) use your best bet for FM is pretty much any radio you like as long as it accommodates an external antenna. Then pair it with the biggest, baddest antenna you can (money and aesthetics wise). Something like the this $26 dollar Wineguard omnidirectional (HD-6010) will vastly increase effective signal strength and clarity. If all your target transmitters are in one direction then a directional aimed that way is even better.
posted by Mitheral at 9:40 AM on March 13, 2017 [6 favorites]

Check out Eton radios, the Mini looks like it would satisfy both needs. LLBean carries them, so you also get a lifetime warranty with it.

I love my HD radio and it would work fine for your needs, but if you are in a rural area I doubt you'd get all the benefits (check if any of your local stations are HD first).
posted by veery at 10:08 AM on March 13, 2017

Sangean radios are fantastic. I am partial to the WR-11.

On the other hand, if you don't mind buying used, there is no better radio for long-range reception than the GE SuperRadio II. It runs off line power or batteries. In mine, a set of D-Cell batteries lasts for a couple years, and I use it quite a bit. Expect to pay $50 to $100 for one on eBay. You really can't beat it for reception with anything currently sold on the market.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:17 AM on March 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

I spelled GE Superadio wrong in my post (should be one "r" not two), if you decide to look for one on ebay. Don't bother with the III (the all-black one), it isn't nearly as good as the I and II. I've had all three models, and the only one I got rid of was the III.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:31 AM on March 13, 2017

For pulling in and cleaning up distant AM signals, nothing ever came close to my old Sony ICF 2010.

Discontinued and probably rare, no FM stereo, no HD -- and speaking of HD, Sony made a very nice HD radio for ~$150 which has been widely described as 'the best radio ever made', but discontinued it almost as soon as it was introduced, almost certainly because they realized it would allow people to make high-quality copies of music they owned. Last time I looked for it (can't find or remember the model#), it was selling for 3-4 x the new price on eBay.
posted by jamjam at 12:21 PM on March 13, 2017

I have a Sangean H201 that might work. Takes batteries or a wall wart, though the wall wart is not included. It's marketed as a shower radio, but I use it outside. Battery life is pretty good. There's a slightly fancier version that has bluetooth.

The only downside is that it's styled like a shower radio. All white plastic.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:42 PM on March 13, 2017

Ah, here it is, the Sony XDR-F1HD.
posted by jamjam at 12:58 PM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sangean radios are fantastic. I am partial to the WR-11.

Agreed -- I loved my little DT-400W, but dropped it too many times, alas. Trying to remember where I got it -- online somewhere, probably Amazon. Haven't replaced it, 'cause now I want HD and that unit in veery's link is tempting.
posted by Rash at 4:21 PM on March 13, 2017

Seconding GE Superadio II.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 4:55 PM on March 13, 2017

I have spent a lot of my time in remote field camps and yes, you want something that can accept an external antennae for truly good reception. In a pinch most radios can be tricked into working with an antennae in some way or another.

Building and constantly tweaking the antennae will also give you something to do until the power comes back on.

Then of course you need a solar system to recharge the radio. And a battery bank, because why waste all that sun?
posted by fshgrl at 9:49 PM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think the product you seek is called a "table radio". Consider the charming Tivoli Model One, though it's over budget at $150.
posted by actionstations at 11:30 PM on March 13, 2017

If you're after a radio as a source of information during a local emergency -- severe weather, etc. -- then you surely need one that can be switched to battery power. The longer the batter life while operating, the better.

Local information is going to come from local radio. So, if you are in an urban area, the ability to listen to stations 100 miles away isn't an advantage. In that case, both local AM and FM stations should not be a reception problem.

If you're in the boonies, then using an external antenna can significantly increase the sensitivity of a radio for FM signals. Look for a product that has an external radio attachment. (An external antenna can also be used on the AM side, but the connection would be different, and likely not be there at all.) AM signals propagate differently than FM signals and can be received over greater distances, especially at night.)

Many music-format stations are minimally staffed, so they are unlikely to be a source of any useful info. Look for local stations that do actual local news with actual people.

Buy a supply of replacement batteries, too.

"Sensitivity" is radio jargon for the ability to detect transmissions. More is better. "Selectivity" is jargon for the appliance's ability to separate stations broadcasting on adjacent frequencies.
posted by justcorbly at 5:11 AM on March 14, 2017

if you are in an urban area, the ability to listen to stations 100 miles away isn't an advantage.

The proliferation of hyperlocal low-power FM stations argues against this. It's possible to lose an LPFM signal only 10 miles out, but their hyperlocal orientation means they are among the best sources of local information. A powerful antenna can be very helpful here.
posted by Miko at 8:16 AM on March 14, 2017

Thanks all! I've ordered a couple of Sangeans -- a tabletop and a small battery-operated one, and am lurking on eBay for a Superadio (those take me back - Dad had one in the barn).

To address some comments in the responses: we have a generator, will add a solar array in the next couple of years (when we replace the shingles on the south roof), and have an external antenna for the tuners already.

justcorbly - I realise that you were trying to be helpful, but there was a lot of man-splaining going on there. Do note that I mentioned a battery-operated radio, local radio, and made a reference to "remote area" in the original question, leading me to believe that you didn't actually read the "more inside" portion. (I'm being charitable here. I resent the hell out of the "lecture the OP like they are 10" tone of your response. I didn't ask for that.)
posted by jlkr at 8:42 AM on March 14, 2017

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