They say that a radio is a critical device in a crisis and certainly it seems that it is one of the few ways to receive communications that is reliable and resilient. I’m not going to touch on broadcasting because simple consumer walkie talkies don’t have a good enough range and complicated broadcasting equipment is well, more complicated than I want to invest in that area of prepping. The walkie talkie units cover a distance I could run in around 15 minutes and I don’t see a use for them outside of business.
It’s also very interesting to note that during an extended power outage in Lancaster in the UK DAB digital radio went offline while FM was kept going with a generator and some simple audio equipment. Honestly why this happened isn’t entirely clear to me, I understand that the DAB repeaters were grid powered and went down but what confuses is me is why a DAB signal could not be broadcast with some hacked together equipment and a generator. I’m not sure if it is to do with multiplex licensing and having many stations broadcast on one frequency. Either way what the real world data shows us is that DAB radios eat batteries and are not resilient in a power outage, where FM is very easy going on batteries and is easy for companies to get some kind of signal broadcast in an ad hoc fashion. AM, SW, LW travel further than FM so if you know a second language you can pick up a foreign station in a crisis. Depending on where you live.
What I wanted to touch on for anybody who hasn’t investigated radios beyond scanning some listings on ebay or amazon is that a radio is not just a radio. A high quality radio is not just something built to last but a high performance device. Detecting a low powered radio signal among other signals and background noise is a difficult task. So this prepper focus on hand crank and solar radios I think is misguided. I’m concerned that companies are selling a gimmick wrapped up in a sub par radio.
First things first I’d say is don’t get a digital display FM tuner, get the old style wheel tuner with Phase Loop Lock technology. The simple reason behind that is battery life, with an analog tuner you may forget the thing actually runs on batteries because they run so long. This is why they can make hand cranked radios in the first place. Although they don’t have a memory of stations and they drift slowly off the station over time, they are faster to tune in my opinion and AM works worldwide with an analog tuner. North America has a different frequency step to the rest of the world and some digital radios are tied to specific parts of the world.
Look up DXing if you’re unsure of a good radio. There’s some really good Sony radios on ebay. Some of them still fetch a fair price even though they are years old because of how much better they are than cheap radios. I practice what I preach here too, my radio is a little table top Sony bought from ebay. It locks onto signals faster than a cheap radio I have, ignores interfering taxi signals better and generally gets more stations anywhere in the room. Also AM is amazing on some of these Sonys, they have a ferrite rod internally for the AM aerial.
So what about if you’re still nervous about the power going out and running out of batteries, solar and hand cranking sound better right? Well first up hand cranking is a total pain. Are you really going to sit there and keep cranking up your radio while you’re trying to do other things? Hand cranks are generally good at keeping absolutely nothing charged. They work for radios because they are so low power, but because they are so low powered they are easy to keep going with alternatives. So what about solar radios. It’s not a terrible idea, it will keep a radio charged easily. However my personal preference is to separate my charging from using, that way I can swap and change parts out and it gets more testing. If you don’t test your preps who knows if they will work when you need them.
For charging I like a little USB AA/AAA charger. That way you can grab a solar panel with USB output, keep your radio charged, and your flashlights, and your bluetooth keyboard etc. You can also charge those AAs anywhere you can find a USB port and that’s a lot of places, from generators to community buildings etc. It’s unusual even in a crisis to be able to find no source of power unless it’s extremely serious and/or you are stuck in one location. Of course, have some alkalines lying around too, they’re cheap and they’ll get your radio through a power outage of many days with no headaches. That’ll leave you time to focus on more important preps without hand cranking a radio all night.