Radios I Have Known

Sangean DT-400W AM/FM/weather band radio

Sangean DT-400W in retail package

I don't have many radios capable of picking up the specialized National Weather Service broadcasts. The best radio I have for this purpose is the Sangean DT-400W. It has the usual AM and FM bands as well as the ability to pick up National Weather Service broadcasts. It's shown here in the packaging in which it arrived from Amazon. It definitely wasn't frustration-free packaging!

The radio's appearance is strikingly different from the usual black or silver radio (with gray for an added splash of variety). It's yellow and black. Otherwise, it's similar to the DT-200VX that is also featured at this site. I believe that the DT-400W's AM and FM circuitry are identical, and the controls are nearly the same as in the DT-200VX.

The unusually noise-free AM performance is definitely similar to the DT-200VX. When I first got it, I tested it out in my noisy, computer-filled San Francisco office. That's an environment that defeats most AM radios, but not this one: I could get clear, clean audio from KCBS and KGO. Other local stations had some noise but could at least be heard. That means it's another candidate to be a hotel bathroom radio (that's a compliment). FM performance was acceptable - at least there was very little tuner overload - but it was so-so, just like the DT-200VX.

It's also great to have a weather radio with me as I travel. With local AM and FM stations being increasingly automated, and decreasingly likely to have weather forecasts and other information, it's a useful travel companion.

The DT-400W can tune all seven channels on the special VHF band that's reserved for the National Weather Service broadcasts. An article in the May 1973 issue of Popular Electronics explained that the special weather-radio service had its origins in Chicago in the early 1950's, expanding to Kansas City and New York City by 1962. By 1973, there were around 60 stations. There are now many more. There are five stations serving parts of the San Francisco Bay Area. The overlapping coverage is necessary because of the difficult terrain that blocks signals.

Weather band button on the Sangean-DT400W

The weather band is selected by pressing the WX button on the side of the radio. Holding that button down allows the use of its alerting feature. In the event of a weather warning, the Weather Service sends out an alert signal that will activate specially equipped radios. This is one such radio. The alert feature can be set to be on for 4, 8, or 12 hours at a time. In the Bay Area, I would expect that it would be rarely activated. In the Midwest in the spring, that would be another story altogether.

Also on the side is a locking switch, to prevent the unit from being turned on (or off) accidentally. The DT-200VX has the same switch. Both radios also have a built-in clock that displays when the radio is off. They both have a 90-minute sleep timer that's on by default. You have to hold down the power button when first turning on the radio to turn off the sleep timer. I think this feature of the radio is not well done and isn't even necessary. There are 19 presets, just like the DT-200VX. Presets can't be set for weather-band stations, though.

Sangean DT-400W weather band display by channel number

The radio comes with a plug-in antenna, shown in the photos here. On the weather band, the radio seems to be quite sensitive. I could easily get the main Weather Service station for the Bay Area from San Francisco on channel 1 (162.400 MHz), but I got an even better signal from a lower-power fill-in station intended to serve Napa and Marin counties on channel 5 (162.500 MHz). I was even able to get the station targeted toward Contra Contra County on channel 2 (162.425 MHz) even though it broadcasts from Mt. Diablo. Even though I live less than half a mile away from the county line, we're downslope from Mt. Diablo and can't receive either of the TV stations that broadcast from that site. But I was able to get a weak yet listenable signal on the weather radio. Reception from the South Bay station on Mt. Umunhum is good (channel 7, 162.550 MHz).

Overall, this is a well-designed radio that's especially good on the weather band, good on AM, and passable (albeit mediocre) on regular broadcast FM. The alert feature could be a lifesaver in severe weather. How could the radio be improved? Better FM reception to start with, and the ability either to stand up or the addition of a stand. I'd also get rid of the sleep timer. Aside from the issue with FM reception, though, these aren't big deficiencies. For $55 from Amazon, I think it's worth the price. The yellow color adds just a little interest, too.

Posted October 11, 2011