Any good high sensitivity portable FM radio?



Despite all the hype of Internet and digital radio, it is hard to beat a good FM radio, particularly during Internet/Power outages. FM also appears to propagate a lot further than DAB and it’s surprising what a good FM radio can pick up, particularly some car radios. For example, I live fairly close to the Northern Ireland border and my uncle’s Ford pick-up truck can pick up the BBC FM stations along with various other UK stations very clear in stereo in front of my house. As for DAB, there is not the faintest signal, even well up a hill in the area.

I have several Dab/FM radios in the house and while each pick up the local FM stations fine, they are barely able to pick up a faint signal on the BBC FM stations, when with the radio outside. In the past, I had a handheld solar/rechargeable radio that could pick up the BBC FM stations surprisingly clear, but something went in the radio a few years ago. Every phone I owned with a FM tuner could only pick up the local stations.

Does anyone have or know of a good portable FM radio (can be dial or electronic) that can pick up very weak FM stations, that’s still available?


I don’t know of a specific one. My boom box does fine but most of the Texas panhandle is fairly flat . That gets about as good of distance FM reception as can be done.
The reason I posted is most car stereos have a Local/Distance button that helps.
A better antenna too. You do realize the mast or windshield antenna is only the small part . The whole car body is the rest of the antenna the ground or common side . I put it that way because some of the UK cars used to have a positive ground.


I never thought about the car grounding as helping the reception, but then again the reception does vary a lot from car to car. My previous car radio had reception similar to a handheld radio and my current one is a little better.

As for the ‘Local/Distance’ feature, it’s an RDS feature in car radios (usually titled ‘EON’) for traffic announcements, so when a local or national (distant) radio station is announcing traffic information, the radio automatically switches to that station for the duration of the traffic announcement. It could be a different feature over there, but it’s nothing to do with radio sensitivity here.

So far from a look across user reviews on various FM radios on Amazon, it appears that the basic manual dial radios have better reception, particularly over combo FM/DAB radios even for the same brand. The Roberts R9954 appears to be one getting the most positive feedback about reception, particularly in reviews that compare it with other radios. On the other hand, it’s quite expensive at £27 (US$44) for a dial radio, but may be worth it.

There are two things that are bugging me about Dab - One being the lack of reception and the second being the dreadful bitrates they’re using for some stations. For example, at my workplace where I do pick up Dab, the station we mainly listen to “Heat Radio” has recently dropped its bitrate to 80kbps. Unlike most DAB+ stations, DAB uses MP2 encoding which is not even MP3 quality for the same bitrate, i.e. even with a perfect signal, the sound quality is terrible.


This is information I got from online manuals from two different car radios.
So the local/distance has the function I posted here.
I could look up the manuals for my own car radios but I would have to type that.

LOCAL/DISTANCE MODE: When in the radio mode, press it to select local ordistance broadcast station receive sensitivity.

LOCAL/DISTANCE BUTTON Radio station search mode is divided by this LOC/DX switch, this button can be used to control an attenuator in the tuner during search. The detecting level of seek, scan, auto-memory will be reduced as much as the attenuated level of the tuner. In radio mode, press the LOC button to change local reception or distance reception. Note: This button is only for FM reception. In AM mode, LOC is void.


I’ve spoken with a friend (a Ham radio amateur) who has all sorts of radio equipment and huge aerials. Between stuff I read on ham radio websites and checking with him, I’ve gone with a Tecsun radio, in this case the model PL606.

Based on what I read, it easily pulls in distant FM radio stations over 50 miles (80km) away as if they were local stations, so I’ll see when it turns up. I may need to get a decent aerial though as according to my friend, a good aerial is just as important if not more so than the radio. The Tecsun PL606 does have external antenna inputs which most basic portable radios lack, so will make it interesting to play around with the short wave bands also. :slight_smile:


I watched a YouTube on the Tecsun PL606 & it looks like a nice portable radio .
When I posted about boom boxes I didn’t realize you meant a small portable radio.
From the video it looks like it has some nice tuning features . I like the band narrowing feature to keep a strong staion from completely overpowering a weaker station. That probably won’t always work completely but it should help.
I don’t have anything with that feature.
I also like the external mast antenna . It looks like it’s removable if you don’t need it also.


GE in the States used to make mono SUPER Radios that had all the tricks the old school tube type radios had, like the extra RF stage, and a really nice speaker. If you could find one of those at a junk shop there it would also probably serve you well and be very easy to drag around. They were battery and AC powered too.
I HAD/HAVE one somewhere around here if it didn’t walk away or get lost and it was really beat up used but still sounded and received AM and FM excellent.
Very hard to find real quality radios these days. I have many old military and newer shortwave receivers, plus a few old tube Zenith table radios with the extra RF stage that really receive distant AM and skip well but no FM and AC only, plus heavy and HUGE.
Hope the radio you found sounds nice and receives like the old guys did, some makers do still make better quality ones.


Choice of antenna is another issue.

The standard portable rod antenna is vertically polarised (unless you lay it flat) - though it seems many stations use mixed polarisation now, instead of the traditional horizontal that was not very good for portables and card where the antennas were predominantly vertical.

There are, of course, directional antennas which could be used to favour a particular direction (unless rotatable, you have reduced coverage in the other directions).

The circular antenna (a folded dipole bent into circular form) is a horizontally polarized omnidirectional, but actually has a LOSS in relation to an ordinary dipole - which is broadside directional (horizontal).


My Tecsun radio finally arrived and I don’t think I’ve had as much excitement with technology as since my last PC build, particularly when I turned on the radio and a local FM station came in cloud and clear without me even pulling up the antenna!

When I took the radio outside, I was able to tune in the BBC stations pretty clear using the provided FM antenna extender, i.e. slight hiss, but not in stereo. I had to hold the aerial in a horizontal position as otherwise the much stronger local stations near the frequencies would cut in. Then again, I can’t pick these stations up at all with any other portable, i.e. just pure static.

The difference in reception compared to every portable FM radio in our house is pretty incredible. For example, on my AGK FM/DAB radio, I can tune in a weak station at 105.0MHz with very noisy static when I stand in a certain spot outside. At that same spot, the Tecsun tunes that station clear in stereo with ~13dB on its signal meter, without using the aerial extender. Its built-in aerial is just a little longer than the AGK radio aerial. When I attached the provided aerial extender, it gives a very nice boost. :wink:

Based on my short experience with the radio, I’m going to start looking into getting an outdoor FM aerial as the radio has an external connection for FM and Shortwave. Based on how intense the local stations were coming in, I’ll go for a dipole as this way I can position it horizontally and aim it for the weaker transmissions.

The only main drawback I noticed besides its tiny internal speaker is that it doesn’t have RDS, so will need to listen to each station for a while until the name is announced or try to look them up online.


Seán , This YouTube is the one I watched about this radio. If you don’t want to watch the whole video listen to about 2:15 to 3:10 in about narrowing the band.



I have had a few portable radios in my past and I found there was not much consistency in the quality of reception verses the price paid. Some of the cheapest radios I bought had the best reception but not the best sound quality.


[QUOTE=cholla;2737110]If you don’t want to watch the whole video listen to about 2:15 to 3:10 in about narrowing the band.[/QUOTE]
The narrowing of the band only works on AM. On FM that button only switches between Mono and Stereo.

This evening I tried another radio with a detachable aerial, a Roberts Stream 83i Internet radio, which also does FM and DAB. Detaching its antenna turned out to be an all-evening task, so for anyone planning on connecting an aerial to this radio (or I’m sure any other Roberts radio), be sure to have a variety of tools handy. :slight_smile:

After some initial frustration getting it off, I spent quite a while searching online and mainly got unanswered threads on how to detach it, other than a useful clue that the telescopic aerial has an an F-connector. As I really wanted to try it with an external aerial to compare with my Tecsun, I started trying various methods.

Long needle pliers couldn’t get a grip on it, so I tried a socket 11mm wrench which F-connectors generally use. It wasn’t deep enough. So I tried what I thought was a 12mm deep socket wrench, but turned out my brother often doesn’t put things back where they belong and ended up loosening the entire aerial socket with a 13mm deep socket! :doh: At that point I thought i ruined the aerial socket as while the proper 12mm deep socket does grip the f-connector, the whole socket still turned, making it impossible to remove, so I thought I ripped it off the circuit board.

So the next task I tried was take the entire back off the radio, i.e. all the screws marked with an arrow. It turns out that the aerial socket is actually just a double-ended F-plug joiner. Basically, the internal wire F-connector ended up unscrewing and detached. With that exposed, I was able to grip it with a 11mm socket and use the 13mm deep socket at the other side to screw the inner nut tight, then use the 12mm deep socket to finally unscrew the F-connector of the aerial.

I used a VHF TV aerial as a temporary FM aerial. Basically, to turn it into a dipole, both telescopic antennas need to be extended to about 73cm (for centre of band) and then aimed in opposite directions to each other. I then turned it so the entire aerial was vertical and tied it to a camera tripod, again as a temporary set up. I used an F-connector to coax adapter to attach it and saw a nice boost on the Roberts radio. The BBC stations came in weak, but listenable, compared to nothing at all with the Roberts built-in aerial.

I had to order a 3.5mm to F-Plug adapter for the Tecsun as it has a 3.5mm aerial jack. So once it arrives, I can do a good comparison of the two.

One other thing I did discover is that some LED bulbs cause terrible interference on the weaker FM stations when using either radio’s internal aerial while inside the house. The LED bulb in my bedside lamp appears to have no affect, so one workaround is to turn off the main room light.

Another more serious shortwave interference problem I came across is something my ham radio friend told me about years ago - Homeplug units are an amateur radio nightmare, i.e. those units that run Ethernet over the mains electricity. Sure enough, the pair in my house obliterate the shortwave band to the point where I only pick up 5 stations across the entire band! When I head outside away from the house, the shortwave band becomes pretty clear and can easily tune over 100 stations. The homeplug units don’t appear to affect Medium Wave or FM, unlike the LED bulbs (and most CFLs).


Good to know that it only works on AM band.
They could have said that in the video.

I have very few LED bulbs mostly CFL.
Still some incandescent too.

I don’t have any Internet over home wring so no interference of that type.
Sounds like you had a good time with the Roberts radio.


The most distant station I’ve picked up so far on the Tecsun radio is Galway Bay FM on 95.8MHz, using its internal aerial and extension. It’s rather fuzzy and the radio needs to be carefully positioned.

I’m not sure if it is due to DX conditions, but the weak signal appears much the same today as yesterday. Going by Google maps, Galyway city is 157km (about 98 miles) from me. It caught me by surprise as I certainly wasn’t expecting to pick something up from that far away, until the station announced its name after the ads.

The main issue I’ve run into with trying to tune distant stations is that the national RTÉ stations broadcast on so many frequencies, some within 0.1MHz of a distant station. A 5 element directional antenna sure would be handy. If I do get one, I’ll probably only set it up intermittently as those those things are huge - 2.05M (6’ 8") in length, but would make an interesting away of passing the time that doesn’t involve a PC.


I had a little bit of DX fun the past couple of days with the FM band appearing as if it was a shortwave band.

I borrowed by brother’s modified Sangean ATS 909 radio which has RDS capability. With side-by-side comparison using their internal aerials, the Sangean has slightly better sound quality of weak FM stations, while the Tecsun beats it on selectivity where a weak station is 0.2MHz off a strong station.

When it came to picking up DX over the past few days, the Sangean’s RDS came in handy. The station needs to come in strong for the RDS to work.

Here’s a few selection I picked up last Sunday from France, Germany and Italy in the respective order:

This evening I picked up a handful from Spain, with the following two that were strong enough for the RDS:

Capital London was another as the station happened to announce its name as I had it tuned in.

I only had the DX reception for about 30 minutes last Saturday and 20 minutes this evening, both around 8:30pm to 9pm.