© 2000 - 2006 Richard C. Rhodes
Weather Radio Update 2006 - by K5OQ
On my main Web page, under Ham Radio, I long ago posted two articles about Weather Alert Radios. One article went into great depth about the 1999 Radio Shack model 12-250. This radio incorporated the new SAME technology, which stands for Specific Area Message Encoding. SAME allows you to set your weather radio (WX radio) to pick up alerts only from specific areas and also allows you to select which individual type alerts you want to hear. Some alerts cannot be blocked out, like a Tornado Warning. What is the point of having a WX radio if you can block out the critical warnings?
If you live in an area where there are never any Tsunamis, you cannot block TSUNAMI WARNING from most weather radios, but the short range of the NOAA transmitters would prevent you from getting a TSUNAMI WARNING from some distant area. Not all WX radios handle SAME technology in the identical way. You should be able to at least program in the SAME six-digit county code for your county and adjacent counties, and disable the siren or voice announcement for all "non-critical" alerts.
Some radios scan automatically for the strongest local reception from a NOAA transmitter. It helps to be able to download the instruction manual before you buy a WX radio to make sure it will do exactly what you want.
NOAA now sends bulletins from the U.S. Emergency Alert System and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. These additional bulletins might include, for example, toxic chemical incidents and hazardous explosions and fires. In recent years, Amber Alerts (missing child) alerts have been added to the codes.
Some WX radios say they have NOAA WX coverage and WX "alerts." If the radio does not use the SAME technology, your radio will alert on EVERY possible type of weather "watch" and "warning." You may live on a 1000-foot hill and get "flash flood watch" alerts from nearly a hundred miles away, and on and on - often waking you in the middle of the night. In other words, a WX radio with just a "weather alert" function, and not a SAME capability, is nearly useless - except to turn it on at your pleasure, listen to the WX forecast - and turn it off. Some "all alert" radios have a function where a light comes on when there is an alert. This is mildly useful, unless like me, you don't notice the blinking light on the answering machine for two days.
Read the update at the end of this article about SAME WX radios that do not allow blocking of individual alerts.
If you just want to be able to tune in to the NOAA weather reports on demand, you do NOT need a SAME-enabled radio. You can get an inexpensive radio, scanner, or receive NOAA broadcasts on various ham-radio VHF radios. My table AM/FM radio has a NOAA band on it - with a WX Alert feature, but without the SAME technology. NOAA broadcasts on seven different frequencies in the 162 MHz range. Since this is a short-range (25-50 miles average) transmission, NOAA transmitters in different cities do not normally interfere with each other. The frequencies are: 162.400, .425, .450, .475, .500, .525, and 162.550 MHz. If you have a VHF scanner, you should be able to pick up one of these frequencies in or near most cities of any reasonable size.
The Channels and Frequencies
Ch-1 162.400 MHz
It is very important to understand the difference between WX "watches" and "warnings." "Watch" mean that conditions are "favorable" for an event. Thousands of "thunderstorm watches" never turn into actual thunderstorms, for example. A "Warning" means that the actual event has been observed by a valid storm spotter, such as a public-service official or ham-radio trained weather-watcher in the reporting area OR there is strong evidence from WX radar that the event is occurring.
So, if you have a SAME equipped radio, you might disable audible alerts for severe thunderstorm "watches" and allow the Severe Thunderstorm Warnings and Tornado Watches and Warnings to sound the siren, or give a voice announcement. Some people block Tornado Watches because they will often wake you at night and many Watches never turn into a Warning. Remember, a Watch only means that conditions are "favorable" for a weather event to happen.
Earlier, I mentioned the Radio Shack 12-250 SAME WX radio, which in its day was a great radio - other than its brutally hard setup routine. One night I was awakened about 3 a.m. by an Amber Alert that happened a long way from my house. The Radio-Shack 12-250 was hard enough to program initially, but I never could figure out how to block a new SAME code that showed up, the Amber Alert. I sent an e-mail to tech-support and years later I still have no response. For a couple of years, I turned off the RS 12-250 and listened to my "on-demand" radios for WX reports, such as scanner, ham-radio walkie-talkie, and ham-radio in my truck.
Update: May 13, 2006: I stumbled across a Web page by another ham, Bob, N2JTX, where he lists all the FIPS codes recognized by the RS 12-250. He also notes the codes that were added since the radio was produced (such as the Child Abduction Emergency - CAE) and tells how they might show up on the 12-250. This, in essence, tells you how to block the new ones you don't want. See: http://www.schaffrath.net/weatheradio-12-250.html
With the spate of destructive tornadoes of late, I started looking for a new SAME radio. There are many that now incorporate the SAME technology, that is, will program only for the counties you want and for the type of alerts you want. Some of the names are Midland, Oregon Scientific, First Alert, Reecom, Radio Shack, and several others. I was able to download the .PDF manual for the Midland WR-300, and it seemed to have all the SAME features I wanted. Plus, it had an external antenna jack and a jack for a flashing strobe light to get your attention if the siren is turned off - or you are hard of hearing. I bought the Midland WR-300 from a ham-radio store, since hams are hyper-critical and the store would not normally stock a piece of gear that had substantial problems. Later, I bought the new Radio Shack 12-262 SAME WX radio.
Setting Up a SAME Radio
There are three main things you have to consider. Where is the NOAA WX station in the 162 MHz range (channels 1-7) from which my radio will consistently receive a strong signal? From which counties covered by that strong station do I want to monitor alerts? Which alerts do I want to block?
In my area, there are two NOAA stations that I can receive good signals from that are within about a 50-mile range. The slightly weaker one is the one I prefer to listen to because it covers my county and counties to my West and Southwest - from which most of the bad WX comes at us.
The Radio Shack 12-262 manual mentions that you might pick up more than one station and suggests learning more about broadcast locations. That's not a lot of help to someone who has not played with SAME radios since their inception, as I have. If you select Auto, the radio locks onto the strongest station. In my area, that station is to the East (in Paris, TX). This station sends out all alerts for all counties within about a 50 mile radius unless you program your receiver to be more selective about which counties and alerts you want to listen to.
In my area, the NOAA station to the West in Sherman, TX, (about 55 miles) broadcasts, among other counties, the alerts for my county, FANNIN. The station in Paris, TX, (about 25 miles) to my East, also broadcasts alerts, among others, for FANNIN county. But, then the situation gets sticky. Most of our bad weather comes from the West or Southwest. If I let a radio Auto tune (as with a Radio Shack 12-262), it will always pick up the stronger station in Paris. But Paris does not broadcast the alerts for the counties to the West and Southwest of me - they are covered from the Sherman NOAA station. I ended up with two SAME WX radios, one tuned to Paris and one tuned to Sherman. I will explain briefly how the different radios are programmed.
I use the Midland WR-300 to pick up the weaker station from Sherman by manually entering the Sherman transmitter frequency into the radio. This radio requires you to manually select the NOAA channel and the county-specific FIPS codes. There are only seven (7) channels. Then, I went to the NOAA Web site and downloaded all the information about which stations cover which counties and a list of the FIPS codes, the six-letter county-specific codes - for Texas and Oklahoma.
I programmed the Midland WR-300 to pick up alerts from my county, FANNIN, and the adjacent county to the West, GRAYSON. Then, I blocked most of the "Watches" and the Amber Alert. There are few runaways and kidnappers driving down my gravel road here in the Outback. So, I ended up allowing alerts from FANNIN and GRAYSON counties for Severe Thunderstorm Warnings and for Tornado Watches and Warnings. In time, I may block the Tornado Watch, if it gets to be a nuisance. Few Watches turn into Warnings. Flash Flood Watches and Warnings are blocked, since I am on high-sloping ground and generally do not drive at night or during periods when heavy rain is imminent. There are many codes, such as Nuclear Powerplant Warning, that you cannot block. Sounds reasonable. In all there are now about 79 codes!
The Radio Shack 12-262 is different from the Midland WR-300 in several respects. The RS 12-262 has an AUTO tune feature that will tune in the strongest NOAA station in your area. And instead of FIPS codes that you have to look up on the NOAA Web site, it has selections for specific states and counties by name. The FIPS codes are automatically used when you click on LOCATION and enter a state and then a county name. This is supposed to be easier for the technically unsophisticated.
You are given a choice of ALL, SINGLE, of MULTIPLE. ALL is the default when you do Auto-tune. This provides All alerts within about a 50-mile radius. This is NOT normally what you want. For example, if your Auto-Tune has locked onto the NOAA station in Paris, TX, and you leave the radio set to ALL (counties), you get alerts from 10 counties, two of them just North in Oklahoma, and some counties quiet far to the East from where I live. The problem is that most of the bad weather comes in from the West, Southwest, or possibly Northwest. Alerts from the several counties to the East of Paris are normally useless, as they are "history" when you hear them.
The Radio Shack 12-262 also has a Single mode, to receive alerts from only one county. This makes little sense around here - if you set the single county as your home county. You miss all the alerts from adjoining counties where your upcoming weather is no doubt developing.
So, we have finally come to the useful selection, MULTIPLE. Here you can enter only those counties that you think might affect you. In the case of my area, I can program the radio to give out alerts for my county, the one to the South and the one to the East in which the NOAA transmitter is located, just in case a storm rolls in from the East or South.
The Radio Shack 12-262 manual does mention that you might pick up more than one station and suggests learning more about broadcast locations. What is not made clear is that when you set up the radio, you can manually select the NOAA transmitter you want to listen to, instead of using Auto-tune. So, if like me, you can pick up another station that provides useful information to you, select that station manually, make sure that it is being received well, and program it for the counties that you want that are broadcast from that station.
It is best to go to the NOAA Web site and make sure that the counties from which you want to hear alerts are broadcast from the transmitter you select. The NOAA lists show you the frequency in MHz, the location of the transmitter, and its callsign and power output. You can read all of the counties for which alerts are broadcast by the station you chose. It is not rocket science. The RS 12-262 will give you an error message if you try to select a county that is not broadcast by the station you have selected.
So, you have gone through most of a bottle of wine and finally have the radio(s) set up to receive the transmitter location you want and the county alerts you want. Now, to block the unwanted alerts. I found it much easier to block the Alerts in the Midland WR-300. In the Midland, you go into the blocking menu and scroll down to an alert and click a button to block it and move on to the next one. Pretty simple and intuitive.
In the Radio Shack 12-262, you go into the SET ALERT? menu and first have to decide on Warning, Watch, or Advisory. (In the Midland, all the alerts are in one menu.) The Watch, Warning, Advisory lists are not a bad idea, as long as you closely examine the list of alerts that are possible. Then, there are several steps to block a specific alert. I was pretty much confused during this process. I had to keep looking back at the manual. And on and on, clicking and SELECTing, changing the alert from ON to OFF, and working through the WARNING, WATCH, ADVISORY lists. There must be an evil-twin at Radio Shack who thought up the original blocking menus in the 12-250 who worked on the new 12-262. You need to carefully read pages 14, 16, 17, and 18 in the manual regading the list of alerts and how to block ones you don't want to hear.
The setup for the Midland WR-300 was much simpler than for the old Radio Shack 12-250. I liked the manual input of info on the Midland WR-300 better than the Auto mode on the RS 12-262 and the endless lists of states and counties you must plow through to get set up. Remember, this Auto-mode with English names for all states and counties is supposed to be easier than setting one of 7 channels for reception and 2-5 counties by using a six-digit code for each county. Radio Shack has decided that finding and entering a six-digit code is perhaps too difficult for its customers. Whatever. It's still better than the nightmare of trying to program the original Radio Shack 12-250 SAME radio.
The Midland picks up two NOAA stations, one about 25 miles away and another about 55 miles away, with just the telescoping whip antenna. For reasons I describe, I tune to the more distant station in Sherman, Texas. Disabling the unwanted alerts is simple, and there are choices of alerts using a siren, voice announcements, or just LEDs on the panel. Four AA batteries will keep the WX radio going for a while during a power outage. There is also an AM/FM radio built in, but since I have several superior AM/FM radios, this feature will not be used. There is a clock with an alarm feature. I have enough clocks! I just want to hear the weather alerts and reports.
On the RS 12-262, there is a telescoping antenna, an external antenna jack, a clock with alarm, and external jack to connect flashers, etc., and a battery backup feature. There is no AM/FM radio, but this is one less thing to program.
The Midland WR-300 has a capability to add "future alert codes" to the radio. I do not see this feature in the RS 12-262 manual. It was the lack of this feature that caused me to quit using the Radio Shack 12-250 when the Amber Code was introduced - after the RS 12-250 was produced.
On the RS 12-262 and the Midland WR-300, if you have blocked an audible alert, that alert will still show up as an LED alert and the type of alert scrolls across the screen in large letters. Red is a Warning, Orange is a Watch, and Yellow is an Advisory. So, if you see the LED is Orange, you can walk over to see what kind of Watch is being broadcast - or punch a button and listen to the alert. Nice feature.
When the Radio Shack 12-250 first came out - and SAME technology was brand new - the part of the manual about blocking specific alerts was very unclear. I found a source at Radio Shack who actually knew how the radio worked and he sent me an e-mail with comments on how to block alerts. I cleaned that up and posted those instructions on my Web page. (www.home.earthlink.net/~rickhgtx/wxrad99.html)
Of my two current radios, I prefer the Midland WR-300 over the Radio Shack 12-262. I am not intimidated by entering a few simple codes in the Midland. If you want more of an out-of-box experience, then the Radio Shack 12-262 would be a good choice. But, I guarantee you that shortly after you let the RS 12-262 do Auto-tune, and it picks up all the watches and warnings from all counties within about a 50-mile radius, you will be studying the manual on how to make it do what you really want. That is, make it do what you could have done with the Midland WR-300 with just a little forethought, one visit to the NOAA Web site, and entering a few simple codes.
Update: December 27, 2006
I got an e-mail from someone who mentioned that they did not see a way to change the volume of the Alert Level on the Radio Shack 12-262. The volume of the Alerts and the Voice messages always seemed okay to me. But, after a careful search of the manual and the Menus, I cannot find a way to raise or lower the volume of the Alerts or the Voice messages. This is almost a "no buy" deficiency. On top of that, a couple of months ago I noticed that my Radio Shack 12-262 had lost its lock on the signal from the Paris NOAA station, Ch 7, which is only about 15-18 miles from me. The CCRadio table radio right next to the 12-262 still picked up Paris, Ch 7, with no problem. Also, I can still pick up Paris, Ch 7, on my tiny hand-held ham radio VHF/UHF transceiver (about the size of a cell phone), which covers the WX bands, too. The Midland WR-300 still receives a strong signal from Sherman, Ch 4, which is nearly 60 miles line-of-sight.
I moved the 12-262 all over the house searching for a good signal in a useful location and finally put it up on the fireplace mantle. I can't see the face, but at least it works. I am probably not going to take it back to RS, because obviously it would work in the store in Sherman or Paris, both of which are close to NOAA transmitters. So, given the lack of a volume adjustment and the loss of reception sensitivity, the Radio Shack 12-262 is on my personal "do not buy list." You make up your own mind. If mine dies, I am buying another Midland WR-300.
My Midland WR-300 had a very loud Alert tone and voice messages, but I finally looked in the manual and it clearly tells how to set the volume level of the Alerts and Voice messages to Hi or Low. Mine was on Hi, but I switched it to low. Much better. So, this is one more feature to look for in the radio you eventually buy. There is no excuse for not having different volume levels for the Alerts. My thanks to Ernie for waking me up to this problem. (End of 12-27-06 Update.)
I read some reviews and downloaded the manual (www.simacorp.com) for the SIMA WX-268, also sold as the First Alert WX-268. It is more expensive than the Midland WR-300 or the Radio Shack 12-262, and at first glance I don't see a lot that distinguishes it, other than it syncs to the WWV Atomic Clock in Boulder, Colorado, and has a built-in database of SAME county codes (like the RS 12-262). It appears harder to program and block alerts than the Midland, but I read the manual only briefly. One review said that it can be upgraded via a PC. Some reviewers said they got defective units. Take a look at www.eham.net for some reviews of this and other WX radios. My short reviews are there under my callsign K5OQ.
There are several battery-operated portable SAME radios on the Web. Since I have a VHF/UHF ham radio in the truck, a hand-held scanner, and can pick up NOAA WX on my ham handie-talkie, I have no interest in portable SAME radios. If a portable SAME WX radio appeals to you, do some research and look for reviews - and see if you can download the manual. Once again, make sure you understand the difference between a WX radio that will trigger on all WX "alerts" and one that uses the SAME, county and event-specific technology.Radio Shack 12-259 Handheld SAME WX Radio
This was the first portable SAME (fully SAME operational) WX radio I got to examine. The radio picks up the seven NOAA WX channels, either with Auto Tune to get the strongest one, or Manual Tune. It allows for 1-10 county codes to be entered. It has Tone or Voice alert. The Owner's Manuals says that: "You can turn the alert tone ON or OFF for each of these alerts." They show only a few examples, such as VOLCANO WARNING. If it is true that ALL alerts can be disabled, this radio allows even more disabling than their 12-262, which is their best desktop WX SAME radio. The 12-262 will not allow you to disable VOLCANO ALERT or TORNADO ALERT, for example.
I would have to fully program a portable 12-259 before I would accept that it will allow you to disable TORNADO WARNING. Maybe so. The 12-259 has a clock and it tells the temperature. It has a Travel/Home mode. In Home mode, the radio uses all the default settings you have made. In Travel mode, the radio auto tunes and searches for the strongest station. Auto mode provides all alerts from all the counties covered by the NOAA station being received. The radio has a stubby antenna, so one would expect the receiving range not to be as great as tabletop WX radios with an extended whip antenna. The price is $49.99.
The RS 12-259 (like its big brother the RS 12-262 desktop) has a built-in database of state and county FIPS codes. When you travel, you can select the local state and county without needing to search the Internet for FIPS codes. Thanks to a fellow ham in Virginia, "D.C.", who sent me this note along with comments on how much he liked the radio when traveling.
For info about NOAA Weather Radio, SAME, et al., go to: www.weather.gov/nwr The frequencies for the NOAA WX stations in your area are listed, along with the SAME codes for your county/city area. You will need the individual SAME codes to set up the Midland WR-300, but the RS 12-262 simply has a list of every state and every county within each state. Each radio has its own way of blocking unwanted alerts.
Even if you are not a ham-radio operator, it is a good idea to enter into a scanner the frequency of the local ham-radio weather-watcher repeater. Your local ham-radio club may have a listing in the phone book under "Amateur Radio." There is an annual directory of ham-repeaters for sale from ham-radio stores and from www.arrl.org (Amateur Radio Relay League official site).
A final, final reminder. I did a search on Microsoft's new Shopping Live site for "weather radios," and got 216 hits! On Google's Froogle, a search for "weather radios" brought back 27,953 hits! Oh, dear. Only a fraction of these radios contain the SAME (Specific Area Message Encoding) technology. Some WX radios are as cheap as $7. Among the radios listed is the fine CCrane CCRadioPlus, for about $140. This great radio is a superb AM/FM radio. It also tunes all 7 NOAA weather channels and has a "Weather Alert" function - which is NOT SAME. I use this bedside radio to make a final (manual) check of the weather forecast in my area before I nod off. Not to worry, my two SAME radios will awaken me if some really bad WX is coming my way - and I need to head for the bathtub with my gallon of water, heavy quilt, cell phone, hand-crank AM/FM radio, battery-operated TV, a portable phone, flashlight, spare batteries, crank-operated LED lantern, a hand-held ham-radio transceiver, a heavy winter jacket, leather work gloves, safety goggles, and a motorcycle helmet. This is Tornado Alley. After viewing some of the Tornado devastation in other areas, I updated my photos of all my belongings, scanned the receipts to .PDF files, and burned them to a CD - one CD to my insurance agent and one for the safe.<>NOAA Ooops! When I downloaded the NOAA official list of stations and DIPS codes, the listing for the station in Paris, TX, said that it covered Runnels County (FIPS 048399). I was making a list of all the counties and FIPS codes covered by both NOAA in Paris and Sherman to pass out or e-mail to those in my area who had SAME radios. Runnels County is in West Texas, near Abilene. It is 254 airline miles from Paris, TX to Abilene, TX. I sent an e-mail to NOAA and within an hour or two I got an e-mail thanking me for my "catch" and that they would have their programmer correct the error. Update: As of July 1, 2006, the NOAA listings for Paris, TX, still show Runnels County as a covered county. It also correctly shows Runnels County covered by the NOAA transmitter in Abilene. Apparently the guy who thanked me for catching the error could never convince the programmer to make the change in the database. Or is this the classic "stovepipe" we heard so much about, with government intelligence agencies not sharing information and data. Your government in action. Wal-Mart, Office-Max, Radio-Shack, et al., could probably correct an error on their Web page within hours. I often make changes to my Web page within 60-90 seconds of someone pointing out an error. I am not going to send another e-mail to NOAA. I just hope a boss at NOAA reads this paragraph.
NOAA broadcasts a weekly TEST. During that test, if your speaker is on, you will hear the names of the counties that are covered by the particular transmitter you are tuned to. This is all the counties that transmitter is capable of transmitting. You, of course, may have selected to hear alerts from only one or a few of the available counties during your setup routine.
There are coverage maps for NOAA transmitters at: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/usframes.html
If you click on the Texas map and then click on Sherman and next on Paris, you will see the projected coverage area of each of these stations. The white (good coverage) areas for both Sherman and Paris show coverage into most of FANNIN County. You can see from the diagram provided below that in practice a receiver in FANNIN County should be able to pick up a signal from the NOAA stations in Sherman and Paris. I do that with two separate receivers, as described. These maps can help you determine if your WX radio has a good (sensitive) receiver, or if it is sub-standard. Remember that most of the top-dollar receivers have a jack for an external (possibly mounted outside) antenna.
Although expensive, my favorite Scanner/WX radio outside antenna is a Discone. Radio Shack sells one for $73 (Model 20-043). It covers 25-1300 MHz and can be used to transmit on several VHF and UHF ham bands. It is omni-directional, that is, it picks up signals from 360 degrees. I have a heavy-duty model I bought through a ham-radio store. There are simple "bow-tie" type antennas available for WX radios for about $20. For my current WX radios, I am using just the indoor whip antennas and I get a good signal from Sherman, which is over 50 miles away.
Shows the overlap of signals from two NOAA stations in a rural area. Both cover my county. But otherwise, Paris and Sherman cover different counties in Texas.
So, you have to make a choice of NOAA locations with a programmed receiver, or have two receivers - one tuned to Paris and one to Sherman. When I had only one auto-alert SAME WX radio, I tuned it to Sherman, TX, covering the West and Southewest - as those are the directions from which most of our bad weather originates.
The Northern portion of FANNIN County borders on Oklahoma. Both Sherman and Paris cover some Southern Okla. counties.
By programming the two receivers appropriately, alerts can be heard from all directions, but limited to my county and all nearby counties.
By adding just one county to my Sherman NOAA list, I could pick up Collin County, just North of Dallas and SW of my location. But a lot of that weather never makes it to here. You have to make some judgement calls, or you will be overwhelmed with alerts.
Update, May 9, 2006 p.m to May 10 a.m.:
It did not take long for my new WX radios to be tested. Both of my radios sounded their alerts through much of the evening and night. Very strong thunderstorms to our N.W. and S.W. generated several Tornadoes in Southern Oklahoma and NorthEast Texas. Ironically, one Tornado touched down in Collin County, which I had said I left off of my list of counties from which to be alerted. But, the storm, which killed three people and injured at least 10, was also reported as part of my Grayson County alerts - as the storm was also tracking through part of Southern Grayson County. It was my Midland WR-300, tuned to the Sherman NOAA WX station (to my West) that sounded the first alert of the Tornado in Collin County, which was heading our way. Since that Tornado, I have added Collin County to my list of counties to be covered. I got the message!
Then, by watching the radar on TV Ch 11 (CBS) out of Dallas, the radar from Ch 12 (CBS) in Sherman to our West, and tracking radars available on the Internet, we could see that the Collin County storm was moving to a point just a few miles to the South of us. Still, too close for comfort. I did fully dress and moved some more of my emergency supplies into the bathroom on the East side of the house. Monitoring the ham-radio WX net also provided a window into the track of the storm(s). Since I had no weather at my site that met the "minimum reporting criteria," I simply monitored several ham frequencies in three counties and the local Sheriff's radio channel. The Tornadoes in Southern Oklahoma never crossed into Texas near our location.
There are ham-radio operators at both the National Weather Service in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and a ham at the CBS station in Sherman. So, from time to time you can hear up-to-the-second WX reports and radar tracks of storms when these hams check into local ham weather-watcher nets. Local weather forcasters often obtain much of their up-to-the-minute reporting of events on the ground from ham-radio operators - many of whom track storms in their personal vehicles.
It was a long night, with WX alerts once again sounding in the wee hours of the morning. We got a little rain and some hail when this late-night/early morning storm passed through, but the Tornadoes went either North or South of this location. Our condolences to those who lost their homes in the Westminster, TX area, and to the families of those who lost loved ones in that Tornado. I would imagine that there will now be lot more WX radios sold in this general area after these recent weather events.
Update on the Midland WR-300
Although it is probably not a widespread problem, I got one call from a fellow - and I found one comment in a review - about the Advisory Yellow light not going off after a weekly Test Alert was terminated. A normal alert can last from about 15 minutes to 6 hours. At the end of the alert, the appropriate light at the left side should turn off. On my WR-300, the weekly Test Alert showed that it would expire in about 12 minutes, and at the end of the time the Yellow light went out. Some people have had the Yellow light stay on indefinitely.
An e-mail from Midland to the person who called me advised that if the light did not go out at the end of the alert, to unplug the AC plug and remove the battery. Then, after a couple of minutes, put the battery back in and plug the unit back in. All of your SAME alert programming should remain intact, but you will have to set the clock/date and probably the AM/FM radio (if you use it). Doing this procedure one time should cure the problem. Any corrections or additions gladly accepted.
ALERT! WX SAME Radios that will NOT allow you to block unwanted alerts.
As the result of an exchange with a newspaper writer who had written about SAME radios being available in the $30-$50 range, I was pointed to the Midland WR-100B, which sells for around $30. After downloading the manual for the WR-100B, I discovered something that everyone should be aware of. The WR-100B allows you to select up to 25 counties for SAME alerts. But, it has no capability to selectively block unwanted alerts. I went to great lengths in this article to spell out the history of SAME and compared SAME radios with WX radios that provide weather alerts for all counties and all alerts for a single NOAA station.
The WR-100B allows you to set from 1-25 counties for any given NOAA transmitter that you can receive. It will, however, then alert on ALL 50 alerts for which the radio is permanently programmed. You CANNOT selectively block unwanted alerts! Several reviewers of the WR-100B spoke well of the receiver. Those people will probably begin to question their enthusiasm when they are awakened at 3 a.m. by a Flash Flood Watch or an Amber Alert from up to 50 miles away. They will not be pleased with a Flash Flood Watch alert in their own county if they live on high ground and are in bed at the time of the warning, and so on.
It is my opinion that a SAME radio without the capability to block unwanted alerts is only one step above the ALL COUNTY, ALL ALERT radios I noted earlier. It is a small step up, which for most people will not meet their real needs. Personally, I would find the WR-100B to be nearly useless, and it would be turned off most of the time.
Technically, the Midland WR-100B is a SAME WX receiver. I think it is fair to say that for consumers who have had any previous association with SAME radios, they expect that you can block unwanted alerts. Even the early Radio Shack 12-250 had this blocking capability. In the past, most WX radios that alerted on ALL counties in the range of the transmitter and ALL alerts, were usually turned off.
The following are quotes from a NOAA press release that was put out after the SAME specifications had been formulated, but before any radio had been produced to fully implement those standards:
"We want to reduce the 'Boy Who Cried Wolf' syndrome by targeting our alarms for specific segments of the listening area," says Louis J. Boezi, The National Weather Service's deputy director for modernization.
".... because it (SAME) lets NOAA Weather Radio listeners screen out the severe weather alarms they don't want to hear.
"....feature that allows consumers to choose only the official NWS watches and warnings they want."
Could it be any more clear what NOAA intended?
Now, it seems that manufacturers are regressing from county-specific/alert specific radios - to just county-specific radios - in order to sell "cheaper" models. This is not what NOAA had in mind when they went to all the trouble to develop the "alert-specific" codes in the SAME specification. The consumer is being cheated out of the full capability of the SAME technology with these cheaper half-way radios. As the SAME weather-radio technology was being perfected, and before any commercial civilian units were available, I was in frequent touch with one of the top people at NOAA who was working on the project. How disappointed he must be, as am I, that the words "SAME Technology" are tossed around so cavalierly, when many of the cheaper radios do not come close to facilitating what NOAA had in mind in the first place.
Here is my take on this practice. "If it says SAME (without any qualifications), then the radio should tune all available NOAA channels and have the capability to defeat alerts for all unwanted events - except for such potentially catastrophic events as Tornado Warnings, Tsunami Warnings, hazardous spills and leaks - and the like." But leave it to the greedy manufacturers to use SAME as an advertising gimmick, when the radio does not fully implement the full SAME standards. If the FTC had a bigger staff, I would write them, as I have about outrageous claims by Bayer, Lipitor, et al., and suggest they start clamping down on "false and deceptive advertising of SAME radios that do not fully implement the SAME standards." There's a project for you in your spare time.
I will bet that there are millions of All Alert (non-alert blocking) radios turned off or sitting in closets when people found out that the radio produced more warnings than a hyperactive watch dog who barks at cars.As a former marketing director in a division of a $9 billion company, I think that calling the WR-100B a SAME radio, without qualification, is misleading. If you read the specification sheet, there is no mention of a capability to block unwanted alerts. Fine, that's all legal. If I were the marketing guy, I would add that the radio does not have a capability to block specific alerts "as is provided in our WR-300." In other words, this is our 4-cylinder model. Good gas mileage but no pickup. But, I was too honest to be in the corporate world. Seriously.
SAME WX Radios That Do Not Allow Blocking of Specific Alerts
Midland WR-100B Desktop (See above comments)
Oregon Scientific WR103NX Portable - Allows for 6 county codes.
Oregon Scientific WR102 Portable - Allows for 6 county codes.
Oregon Scientific WR108 Portable - Allows for 9 county codes.
Midland 74-250C Portable - Allows for 9 county codes.
So far, the portables appear to respond to a far less number of alerts (about 40-56) than the top-of-the-line desktop units. Also, it appears that $50 is more or less the price point for alert-blocking capability. If a SAME WX radio costs less than $50, there is a good chance that you cannot block alerts.
The First Alert WX-167 is right on the cusp. At some vendors, it sells for just under $50, but it does have alert blocking. The Radio Shack 12-261, which sells for $49.97, does have alert-blocking.
Update: May 2, 2008 - NBC (KXAS) Station in Dallas/Ft.Worth Touting the Midland WR-100
I was livid when I saw the news team on KXAS touting a tie-in with Walgreens for a Midland WR-100 for $29.95. First, this is no bargain. You can buy that radio for $29.95 on many reputable Web sites on any day of the week. More importantly, the WR-100 does not allow for blocking specific alerts. The WR-100 is the first one I noted in the short list above that does not allow blocking of specific alerts. Trust me, this means that eventually most of these radios will be turned off - with their constant stream of watches and warnings - many of which have no bearing, or are of little interest, for most people. I wrote this article in 2006!
You can only select the counties from which you want to receive alerts. It borders on broadcast malfeasance to tout this radio on a major TV station. They say that it is the most popular WX radio in the country. The reason is that the whole S.A.M.E. concept is never explained to most people and they tend to think it is a good deal at $29.95, even though it will eventually be turned off most of the time, as I have so clearly and painfully described in my very long article. Go into a radio store and try to get a clerk to explain the interplay of county enabling/blocking and specific alert enabling/blocking features of S.A.M.E weather radios - and which ones have specific alert blocking. Only a few actually understand the subject.
Just wait until people buy this radio based on the recommendation of the weather man and news team and discover that they cannot turn off "thunderstorm watches," "flash flood watches" which seldom turn into "warnings." They are awakened at 3 a.m. to be told of a missing child, as though they could do anything about it at 3 a.m. - and those on high ground who cannot turn off either "flood watches" or "flood warnings." The list of the 50 plus watches and warnings goes on and on.
I have learned the hard way, using all types of weather radios, including the first mass-market radio that allowed you to block individual watches and warnings - from Radio Shack many years ago. The Midland WR-300 will do all you need it to do, as will the Radio Shack 12-262 - and a few others. The Midland WR-100 is worth $29.95 if the only time you turn it on is when the weather person on TV tells you that you are in the path of a "potential" Tornado. Otherwise, it makes an attractive paper weight.
I just hope that thousands of people who buy the Midland WR-100 and find its Achilles heel, call David Finfrock, the weather guy at KXAS (Dallas/Ft. Worth), the news director, and anybody on the news anchor desk or news department who had anything to do with recommending this radio. "You never told me that I had to listen to all 50 plus watches and warnings from the counties I select, most of which I have no interest in hearing."
I was surprised to learn that the above article by me is referred to, and quoted from at length, at www.consumersearch.com. It confirms what I always knew. There is precious little comprehensive writing on the Web by people who actually use and test weather radios. I was singled out as having one of the best articles on weather radios and the full story about S.A.M.E. enabled radios. Interestingly, one of the topics they quoted from my article was: "It is my opinion that a SAME radio without the capability to block unwanted alerts is only one step above the ALL COUNTY, ALL ALERT radios I noted earlier. It is a small step up, which for most people will not meet their real needs. Personally, I would find the WR-100B to be nearly useless, and it would be turned off most of the time."Gracias. How prophetic. Too bad that KXAS, David Finfrock, Walgreen's buyer, et al., did not read my article before they did the disservice to the public by jumping on the WR-100 bandwagon.
Update May 20, 2008 - A Complaint About Weak AM Radio on WR-300
A reader sent me an e-mail complaining about the weak AM radio on the Midland WR-300. This is the kind of problem you have when you make a relatively inexpensive device try to do too many things. If I were the boss at Midland, I would have left off the AM/FM radio. The external antenna jack is for extending the range of the VHF weather receiver. The AM radio no doubt has an internal ferrite-loop antenna. If you move the radio on a horizontal axis, weak signals should vary in strength as you move the radio. My advice: Get a good AM/FM radio, with the capability to use an external AM antenna, like the CCrane.com CCRadio Plus. The radio also has an All ALERT weather band, which is handy if you just want to make a quick check of the weather forecast and your weather radio is in another room.
The CCRadio has a TV audio band, which picks up channels 2-13. After Feb. 17, 2009, when most analog TV stations will switch to digital mode, the CCRadio Plus TV audio band will no longer be useful. But, when was the last time you listened to TV audio on a table-top radio? The CCRadio Plus Web description has a link that comments on the change of TV from analog to digital and the problem with radios that now receive TV audio. I have found CCrane to be a first-rate operation.
Update June 1, 2009 -
CBS TV Ch11, in the Dallas/Ft. Worth market has been running a promotion for the Midland WR-100 "S.A.M.E. weather radio, for a sale price of $29.95 at Walgreens and Radio Shack. As I noted when KXAS NBC in Dallas/Ft. Worth ran the same promotion, this is no "special sale price." That radio is available on many Web sites for $29.95 - every day. Worse, they refer to the radio as a radio that uses S.A.M.E. technology. They note that you can program the radio for specific counties. As I noted, over and over, if you cannot selectively disable unwanted alerts, you will most likely turn the radio off when it constantly alerts you to things you have no interest in, from as far away as 50-60 miles. The WR-100 is thus only HALF a S.A.M.E. radio and will make a nice paperweight once folks discover 50 or so types of alerts being broadcast, most of which they have no desire to hear about.
Thus, CBS TV in Dallas/Ft. Worth joins the other TV morons who will make few friends by telling them how valuable a tool the Midland WR-100 radio can be. One of the two stations in Sherman, Texas has also touted this radio. One weatherman proudly stated that he had one in his home to protect his family. Well, I hope he knows more about weather than he does about weather radios.
I got yet another e-mail from somebody who wanted to buy a weather radio that said it was a S.A.M.E. - enabled radio. Yet, he could find no mention in the downloaded manual of a way to block specific alerts. I responded that was because there is no way on that radio to block specific alerts. I suggested he write Oregon Scientific and tell them that as a newbie he thought that all S.A.M.E. radios could block unwanted alerts. And to tell them they were being purposely evasive when they mentioned that the radio could select specific "counties" from which to receive alerts. All such half-way S.A.M.E. weather-radio ads, Web sites and brochures should be required to add "This radio cannot block specific (unwanted) alerts within the counties selected." You may call it obfuscation. I prefer to call it lying. Isn't a half-truth a lie?Back to the list of Topics in this Section
Richard RhodesRevised 7/2/2006