Buying Guide

How to Choose a Radio - C. Crane's Radio Buying Guide

Radios come in all shapes and sizes and, with so many different features and configurations available, it can be tough finding the one built to satisfy your needs. Whether you want a pocket radio for your daily walk, a portable radio for your next trip, or one that will be used mainly by your bed, we're going to lay out the details on what to look for in your perfect match.


Size Matters

If you are an avid broadcast radio listener, you will want the best reception possible. In general, bigger means better. The more space a radio has inside for a bigger antenna, the more stations you will find and at a much greater distance. If you're going on a hike in the woods, you're not going to want a massive communications receiver in your backpack. Conversely, you'll probably want more than something with a 2-inch speaker to fill your room with quality audio.

Pocket Radios

The first choice is for people on the move or someone with very limited space. Pocket radios can be as big as a paperback book or as small as a wristwatch. As the radio gets smaller, a sacrifice has to be made for features and functionality. You probably won't find too many good quality pocket-sized units with a full-function keypad or a high definition color display.

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Portable Radios

The next category is what can be called the "middle ground". Portable radios can range from something you can comfortably toss into your purse all the way up to massive "boom boxes". Anything that can be run on batteries and you are willing to carry with you to where you're going can be considered portable. This group also has some of the best reception capabilities available due to their ability to be moved easily.

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Table-top Radios

The third group contains the work horses of radios. Devices that would fall into the table-top category have all the bells and whistles anyone could ever want and even some will never need. They plug directly into the wall for their power and have extra connections for external antennas, speakers, controllers and accessories. They often come with remote controls, multi-line digital displays, built-in keypads and multiple dials for every function available. Some even come with connections for hooking up to a home computer for added flexibility. These are where you will probably spend the greatest amount of money due to their complexity. The fact that some portables can be used as table-top radios gives them a great advantage when searching for the right one. You could leave it plugged into the wall for daily (or nightly) use, or you could take it to the back yard for a family cookout.

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WiFi Internet Radios - A New Challenger

Even though they are relatively new technology, digital streaming radios, also more commonly known as internet or WiFi radios, are quickly becoming more popular. Streaming media can be found all across the internet, and people are discovering that these streams are much clearer and easier to listen to than traditional radios.

The chances are better and better as time progresses that the station you listen to is already streaming their broadcast* on the internet, so it doesn't matter that you're in your concrete basement workshop, or in the middle of an apartment complex that gets horrible reception. Anywhere you can receive an internet connection, whether wired or wireless, is where you can put these WiFi radios. Some models will only get internet streams while others can connect to a home media server and play your own personal music collection.

For more information on WiFi Internet Radios, check our blog post Pros and Cons of WiFi and Internet Radios.

* Not all professional sports are available for internet streaming without a subscription to their respective services, and might not even be compatible with internet radios due to their choice of streaming technology. Please check with the stream provider before making any decisions on a WiFi/internet radio if that will be the radio's main purpose.

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Don't Panic!

Everyone has experienced some type of emergency situation where communication with the outside world has been severed by one method or another. Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding, fires and other natural disasters happen no matter where you are, so being able to get information before, during and after these events is critical for the survival of you and your family.

Emergency radios can save your life. You won't always have access to electricity, and they fill the communications gap when all other power is out. Many have multiple power choices, such as alkaline or rechargeable batteries, crank generators, 12-volt adapters (for use in vehicles) and, more recently, built-in solar panels. They will generally have your standard AM/FM radio bands, but what really sets them apart is the weather band. Broadcasts on the NOAA weather frequencies keep you abreast of news and critical information regarding your immediate location and surrounding areas.

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Location, Location, Location

Where the radio will ultimately live and find its heaviest usage is a massive factor in choosing its size, function and capabilities. Many of the larger radios wouldn't be able to sit comfortably on your bedside stand, so we'll start by finding where you're going to use the radio most. Once you have a better idea of where the radio will be, you can then make a more informed decision on the radio you want.

Most companies will have the dimensions of the radio either right on the box or at least detailed somewhere on their website. This will give you a chance to see if it really will fit on your night stand or that little shelf in the bathroom where the potpourri is kept.

Radio Bands

Some research into which radio bands you need will be necessary. So many different features exist, though, that this one may be the most intimidating task of all. Start with the major broadcast bands you will be tuning in, such as:

  • AM (Amplitude Modulation)
  • FM (Frequency Modulation)
  • Weather (162.400 MHz to 162.550 MHz)
  • 2 Meter Ham Band
  • SSB Shortwave
  • Shortwave (1.8 MHz - 30 MHz)
  • Includes the popular 10-meter band
  • Marine VHF Band
  • Amateur and Citizen's Band
  • Ham Bands
  • Aviation
  • Digital or WiFi radio reception

As you look through the specifications of a particular radio, it may have only one band, just a few or a huge selection of them. You'll likely never find a radio that contains all the bands, so choosing which you will use most and focusing on those few will narrow your search to a much smarter selection.

Additional Features to Consider

Once you've selected the type of radio with the different bands you want to listen to, you'll want to consider the different features you'll want.

Bells and whistles, knobs and buttons, colors, shapes and styles. We all want radios for specific listening reasons, but how you make it get to where it's supposed to be can run the gamut of combinations.

  • Clock
  • Alarm function
  • Sleep timer function
  • Memory presets
  • Auto Scan
  • Built-in Speaker
  • Headphone and/or Line-level output Jack
  • Antenna Jack
  • Direct input keypads
  • Internal or external antenna
  • Jack for outdoor antenna access
  • Tone controls
  • Battery or AC power
  • Remote control

The amount of functions you want in a radio will depend greatly on its size. Many smaller radios sacrifice external controls or an external speaker for higher audio quality or a larger antenna.

Additional Tips

Setting a budget for a new radio isn't unheard of today, what with the multitude of different radios available. Do you want to spend just enough to get a couple of the features you need, or go all out and get your dream rig all at once? It's worth working out what your budget is before you even start looking so that you can narrow your choices before spending money on something you don't really like. Radios with a lower price tag will usually have fewer features, and sound quality will be diminished when compared to larger, more expensive units.

You may even want to include a little extra in the budget for accessories like headphones, cases, antennas, AC adapters or batteries depending on which type you're looking for. The perfect radio would already come with all the accessories you need, but the perfect package doesn't always exist, so it's best to do your research and have a plan ahead to get the biggest benefit.


Finding the right radio for you may seem intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. Once you know where and how your new radio will be used, as well as what you will ultimately be listening to the most, you can begin to find out just which radio will fit the bill the best. Also, it never hurts to ask for assistance. The staff at C. Crane have decades of accumulated and combined knowledge regarding radio in all its forms. If you're stuck, give us a call at 800-522-8863 or click here to send us an email. We are here to assist you with any questions you may have.