Portable Shortwave Radios

Today’s communications methods and technologies are a lot different from what they used to be decades ago. Shortwave Radio, even HAM Radio, is not nearly as popular as it once was. However it’s still a viable means of communicating, and it has its advantages too.

On the plus side, these radio technologies do not depend on the power grid or the internet, making them good choices for emergency or disaster. A battery operated portable shortwave radio is one (of many) recommended preparedness-minded assets.

I own a few portable shortwave radios. One in particular has been excellent, and I’ve taken it with me all over the world when I used to travel a lot. Nowadays, I simply feel assured having it for “just in case”. I dust it off once in awhile and scan the bands for activity and listening enjoyment. They don’t make that particular model anymore. However I’ll recommend a few alternatives…

Best Shortwave Radio (Portable)

In my research there are four that you really can’t go wrong with. They have different price points, varying features, and arguably some differences in performance. They are as follows:

SW7600GR by Sony

 Many years ago I bought the Sony SW7600GR. After research, I felt that it was the best shortwave radio in its class that I could get. It’s now on my nightstand (a fun hobby sometimes in the evening). I also take it with me on EVERY trip that I travel (vacation, etc..). I do believe that it’s the best of its class, despite some of its comparative shortcomings with a few newer shortwave radios.

One thing that I really do wish it had, is a tuning knob (buttons instead). But it scans well enough. It lacks some of the advanced memory functions of newer radios. Its small, basic display is not as fancy and informative as newer portables. The manual is often necessary for a reminder how to use some of its features (not intuitive).

HOWEVER, the AGC / sync detector feature is the best of the rest. Great performance. Reliable.

You cannot get it “new” anymore. However there are used radios for sale: Sony ICF-SW7600GR AM/FM/Shortwave Receiver

So what’s the next best shortwave radio in the portable handheld department? Well, that’s often subjective. But there are some clear front runners…

ATX-909X by Sangean

Recently I had a commenter highly recommend the following shortwave radio: ATS-909X by Sangean

Here’s what it looks like:

That sure looks nice! If I didn’t already have “the best shortwave radio” (my SW7600GR) 😉 , I would surely look into the ATX-909X.

Side note: Though we typically refer to these radios as “shortwave radios”, they actually receive more than that. For example here are the frequency specifications of the ATX-909X:

  • (MW) medium wave, it’s actually the AM radio band (520 – 1710 kHz)
  • (LW) long wave, frequencies below the AM band (153 – 519 kHz)
  • (SW) shortwave frequency range (1.711 – 29.999 MHz)
  • (SW) shortwave (meter bands), 120, 90, 75, 60, 49, 41, 31, 25, 21, 19, 16, 15, 13, 11
  • (FM) radio band, 87.8 – 108 MHz including FM RDS (RBDS) – CT

The feature set looks great too! In fact there are several nice features in the ATX-909X that are not in my Sony SW7600R. Great ergonomics and design. Wins “best looking shortwave radio”. Biggest display. Good audio quality. Advanced memory options, can store alphanumeric “name” along with frequency.

PL-660 by Tecsun

The Tecsun PL-660 may be the best shortwave radio vs. price tag.

Lots of features for its price. Good sync detector locks on to a station nicely, similar to the SW7600GR. Nice tuning knob and front panel functionality. It’s not terribly complicated to operate. And best of all, it performs very well. This would make for a great little portable shortwave radio for most people who aren’t necessarily looking for advanced features.

PL-880 by Tecsun

The Tecsun PL-880 is a VERY popular shortwave radio.

Not only does it have a tuning knob, but it also has a fine tuning knob. That’s pretty nice! One of the most popular perks of this radio is the audio speaker / quality sound.

The radio has more filter options than the others. SSB mode offers 4, 3, 2.3, 1.2, 0.5 kHz filters. AM has 9, 5, 3.5, 2.3 kHz filters. All nice for various listening/receiving conditions.

It can be complicated to operate. Some features are actually hidden (why? I don’t know). But overall it has become a highly popular portable shortwave radio.

The Takeaway

The shortwave radios listed above are pretty much the most popular regarded and reviewed in its class on the market.

Being preparedness-minded and ready for emergency or disaster situations involves discovering information. Though modern communications are not the same as it used to be, “if” things were really bad (large-scale grid-down?), HAM radio and other traditional radio wave communications do not require the grid or internet to operate.

It can also simply be an enjoyable hobby for the geek out there 😉

If the SHTF,

My very first action would be to asses the situation as best I can, because further decisions will hinge greatly on that assessment.

This involves verifying the extent of the situation and other things that may have occurred as a result.

One method of discovery will be to turn on a portable AM/FM/Shortwave radio and LISTEN. Depending on the event or potential grid-down situation, some stations may be on generator and broadcasting news & information. Obviously AM and FM radio info would be fairly local (caveat: AM in the evening can go pretty far!). VHF and UHF radios (not covered in this article) are also very local for 2-way comms. However, Shortwave, HAM (HF) bands, they can reach out far…

If you have a good shortwave radio like any listed above, you will be able to pick up many HAM radio bands depending on conditions and time of day. You might possibly hear other HAM radio operators around the country and world who may be transmitting by way of battery power or alternative energy sources.

Pro Tip: When I travel, or when I camp, I always bring a portable external long wire antenna as an accessory for my shortwave radio. The built-in telescopic antenna works great. But clipping on this antenna helps! Our long-time sponsor, ReadyMadeResources, sells this antenna which I highly recommend:

ANT-60 Shortwave Antenna

Continue reading: Best AM Radio for DX Long Range Listening (review)

Radio Communications Post-SHTF

Batteries That Won’t Leak or Corrode (Important for your Radio!)