For some reason I was thinking about weather emergencies, so I started looking for a battery-powered weather radio. In Thailand I had a shortwave radio that could get broadcasts of Voice of America and BBC which was pretty neat and I thought I might want a shortwave radio. But those get kind of expensive and I just don’t see me using it that much since everything on TV and radio in the US is already in English. I found a couple of radios out there that use hand cranks that you can use for a minute or so to charge the internal battery and then get 15-30 minutes of radio play. What I would really prefer is a radio that uses regular AA (or AAA) NiMH batteries that could be charged by the crank. That’s because the little NiMH battery pack can wear out or stop holding a charge, which is pretty likely since it’s being drained down pretty far, and then you would have to get a new one for who knows how much.
For weather, there are 7 different weather station frequencies used by NOAA and the National Weather Service. The frequencies are in VHF instead of AM or FM where it would have been really easy. There used to be real people broadcasting the weather, but now it is all automated robot voices, which isn’t too bad because it seems to be more current.
One feature they have now is radios that come on by themselves when there is a severe weather alert. They also have Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME). This lets you enter the county where you live so that the radio comes on only for weather emergencies that affect your county. You can also program the type of alert you want to hear about, for instance severe thunderstorms, tornado watches, tornado warning, etc. Live on high ground? Then you can cancel tsunami alerts.
So that’s a neat feature but reading through Amazon’s reviews, the alert radios like that use a lot of battery power because they are really on all the time monitoring the broadcast. So people recommended getting an AC power SAME radio to get the alert and then a portable battery-powered radio for after the power goes out. That made sense, but I skipped the alert radio altogether and just got the little battery-powered one.
So Eton makes a whole range of these radios. A lot of them have cranks so that you don’t have to worry about a dead battery. The one I picked out is pretty small but has a ton of features. It also has a solar cell on top so that it be powered by the sun although they say it takes 8 hours of sun to get 3 hours of radio play, which means the sun can’t even keep it running (though maybe using headphones it would). It has AM and FM too which is good and people said the sound is good (and it really is for such a small radio) and has 3 little white LED’s that are used as a really weak flashlight, but the most intriguing feature is a USB power port. You can turn the crank and it powers the USB port which can then charge your phone, iPod, or anything else that can get power from a USB port. Well . . . I got it and it doesn’t charge my iPod Touch. And the charging icon on my 4G nano flashes on and off, so I don’t know if it is really charging or not. I ordered a universal USB-to-gadget connector for it to see if it would charge my phone. I’m not real hopeful on that either though since it said you might need to crank for 15-30 minutes to get 1 minute of phone time. The problem is that the power supplied by the crank is extremely variable unless you could somehow crank at a perfectly constant speed. What I think would be good is if it had a USB port powered by the regular NiMH batteries I also wish it had. Then you could use it as a battery charger, cranking until the batteries were full and then putting in some depleted batteries. I’m not real sure that would work though because I don’t think the crank is producing a whole lot of power at all, though clearly more than the little solar panel which requires hours of direct sunlight to get a couple of minutes worth of cranking power.