During times of disaster, you’ll first want to find out what’s happening. And today radio remains the most reliable way to do that when normal services are snuffed out. In our modern gadget-centric world, the Eton FRX3 fills a unique role. It’s a small, multi-use emergency radio ideal as a first line of defense for families.
The FRX3 is small, just 7.875″ high x 7″ wide x 3.5″ deep, but it’s packed with useful features, including a built in solar panel and rechargeable Ni-MH battery (3.6V/600mAh) for extended use when grocery stores aren’t stocking batteries. It also plays on 3 AAA batteries, for times when the sun isn’t out. I tested the solar panel and it took a full day — about 10 hours — to charge the battery. You can keep the radio near an open window, though, and the thing will charge automatically so it’s always ready to use. Another way to charge it is to connect to a laptop computer via the included USB cable.
The batteries can also be recharged with the big hand crank. It took me about two minutes of cranking to bring the charge up to full. The radio features an external, extendable antenna that pulls in broadcast AM and FM stations so you can get emergency messages through the Emergency Broadcast System. One thing to note: The FRX3 does not feature AM shortwave or single side band (SSB) reception.
Full NOAA Weather Radio
However, one of the most useful things about the FRX3 is its robust NOAA Weather Radio. It features pre-programmed frequencies so you can always find one NOAA signal in your area and an ALERT system that springs the radio to life when an emergency alert is issued. I found that the antenna was fine for the AM/FM broadcast station reception but only mediocre in pulling in the NOAA Weather repeaters — which operate in the 162.400- 162.550 MHz range, FM — out in the rural area in which I live. The signal was broken but readable.
If you live closer to a population center you should have no trouble in getting a strong NOAA signal. But just for comparison, I can receive the NOAA signal from a repeater station, which is located about 10 miles away, without any trouble using a small handheld amateur radio transceiver and minimal antenna. So the only improvement to the FRX3 would be to include a separate, internal antenna resonate for 162 MHz — it wouldn’t need to be large or even external, just matched to the right frequencies.