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Digital tuning and easy-read LCD screen so you can dial in the exact signal you want. Auto signal-seeking feature. Includes a high level of waterproof protection for an electronic device. Runs from replaceable batteries or AC adapter.
Some problems with build quality and longevity. Audio quality lags behind some others.
Runs from a hand crank, USB connection, or solar panel. Includes weather alerts with both AM and FM signal reception, and a power bank to charge mobile devices. Extremely small radio; fits in a backpack.
Doesn't store a lot of power with the hand crank. Build quality is questionable.
Five colors available. Has weather and emergency radio reception capability. Radio can be powered by solar panel, hand crank, batteries, USB, or AC/DC. Includes antenna to pull in distant signals.
Hand crank and solar panel only provide electrical power for a few minutes.
Uses a digital tuner to dial in an exact signal. Stores up to 5 preset AM stations. Includes an alarm. Available in black or white. Easy-to-read LCD screen lets you see the exact station to which you're tuned.
Burns through batteries fast. Signal quality over a distance is lacking.
This portable radio has a digital tuner and delivers excellent sound quality. The interface is easy to use and read, and Auto Frequency Control allows for stable tuning. Comes with a power adapter but also works with 4 AA batteries, and has a headphone jack.
The antenna is flimsy, as some users reported that it broke easily.
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Even in these days of smartphones and instant online information, the simple AM radio still has a place. An AM radio can receive over-the-air signals from throughout your region, all for free. You don’t have to worry about finding an app, paying subscription fees, or having your personal data tracked. Just turn on the radio and enjoy a wealth of information and music coming through the speaker.
Plus, having an AM radio on hand is great for emergencies. When severe weather knocks out the power and your smartphone’s battery is drained, having a simple, battery-powered AM radio can keep you informed and safe. There are lots of options out there, and AM radios have more features now than ever.
You may be surprised by how much has to happen before you can hear your favorite team’s baseball game on an AM radio.
Modulation: The AM radio station encodes information (in the form of spoken audio or music) on a radio wave in a process called modulation.
Transmission: The station then uses an transmitter to broadcast the signal out to the world on a particular frequency. AM radio signals use frequencies between 535 kHz and 1705 kHz. This is where AM radios get their call numbers, like 590 or 1620.
This signal may travel a few dozen or a few hundred miles during the day, depending on the strength of the transmitter. And with the right atmospheric conditions at night, some AM radio signals can even travel 1,000 miles or more.
Reception: All AM radios have an antenna built in. Some have a silver-colored telescopic antenna that extends out of the unit. Others have a tiny antenna built into the radio body that you may never see or notice.
To pick up the AM radio signal you want, you dial the tuner to the proper frequency, such as 1620 kHz. The radio then ignores all other radio signals it receives. The AM radio decodes the signal and turns it into an audio signal that plays through the speaker.
Although all AM radios can pull in over-the-air radio signals in the 535 kHz to 1705 kHz band, these units can also do much more. AM radios set themselves apart from each other through the extra features they offer.
Batteries: Most AM radios run on alkaline batteries, although some use rechargeable batteries. Small radios may use one or two AAA, AA, or 9-volt batteries. Larger radios may run from several C or D batteries, which cost more to replace.
Power adapter: With larger AM radios, it’s helpful to have the option of running it from a power adapter plugged into an outlet.
Hand crank: Some small AM radios have an additional option for generating power by using a hand crank. This is a great feature for emergency situations or when you’re camping and don’t want to take extra batteries.
Extendable antenna: Most AM radios have an antenna that extends from the radio for better signal reception. The telescopic antenna collapses for storage.
Headphone jack: If you want to listen to the AM radio in private, a headphone jack in the unit is a must.
Digital tuner: All AM radios have an analog tuner, but only some have a digital tuner. Analog signals travel farther, but digital signals are clearer. Some radio stations now transmit both analog and digital signals, so choose an AM radio with a digital tuner if you want to pick up the digital signals.
Digital screen: Some AM radios have a small screen that shows you the frequency so you can precisely dial in the desired radio station. If you have a digital tuner, the screen will show you the name of the radio station, and it may even list the name of the current song or program.
Tuning options: Some tuners use a dial that you turn to tune into the signal you want. This dial moves a small bar across a window with the frequency numbers printed on it. This isn’t as precise as digital AM.
FM signal: Nearly all AM radios can also pull in FM signals. You might have to press a lever or button to switch over to the FM radio band.
Preset stations: Larger AM radios may allow you to program certain buttons to favorite radio stations. This feature is similar to that found on a car radio.
Waterproof protection: Some AM radios are waterproof and can be operated in any kind of weather or even the shower. (Only use AM radios specifically designed for this purpose in the shower or bath!)
Most AM radios aren’t expensive. While a simple, inexpensive radio is nice to have on hand, it won’t have the features of the more advanced AM radios that cost a little more. Nearly all AM radios provide features like an extendable antenna, headphone jack, speaker, and the ability to receive FM radio signals. If the radio has a digital tuner in it to receive digital signals, you’ll pay a little extra. You can expect to pay from under $20 to about $100 for an AM radio.
Handheld AM radios
A simple AM radio with a dial costs less than $20. Most of these are a bit bulkier than a deck of playing cards and run on batteries. You probably won’t be able to receive distant stations clearly with a budget handheld radio.
Table AM radios
Larger AM radios, about the size of a lunch box, sit upright on a table and run off batteries or an electrical adapter. You can pay less than $40 for this style of AM radio, although some high-end models that can receive distant signals cost up to $100.
You may pay extra for an AM radio that has an alarm clock, a retro design, or a digital display. Some AM radios include USB ports for charging mobile devices or streaming music from your smartphone through the speakers. Some AM radios can play audio CDs, and some have Bluetooth connectivity, too.
Q. Why can I sometimes hear distant AM radio signals at night?
A. AM radio signals bounce back and forth between the earth and the ionosphere. During the night, when the right conditions exist in the ionosphere, the AM signal can travel long distances, sometimes 1,000 miles or more. The FCC requires some AM radio stations to reduce their signal power at night, while others can broadcast at regular power. This reduces potential interference from the boosted signal distance. You’re hearing the regular-power stations over great distances at night.
Q. What is a digital AM radio?
A. Some AM radios that use technology to clean up the analog signal to remove static are called “digital” radios. However, a true digital AM radio should have a digital tuner. If the radio has a digital tuner, it can pick up digital radio signals, which are clearer than analog, as well as the analog signals.
Q. Why does my AM radio signal have so much static?
A. Because of the way AM radio signals work, they are susceptible to static. If there is a slight variance in the amplitude of the wave (which could be caused by weather, interference from objects, or distance), it creates a change in the signal. This change comes across as static in the playback signal. FM radio signals can also experience changes in the amplitude of the wave, but FM signals are not susceptible to static because of the way the signal is carried.
Q. Why is it called AM radio?
A. AM is short for “amplitude modulation,” which describes the type of radio waves in use. To allow the wave for AM radio to carry encoded information (the audio), the signal’s amplitude must be varied in a certain way. An FM radio signal relies on a slightly different technology to carry the encoded information. FM is short for “frequency modulation.” An FM radio uses the number of times the signal changes direction per second – the frequency – to carry information.
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