A (semi) comprehensive guide to
NOAA All-Hazards Radio

The key part of your personal weather warning system is a NOAA All-Hazards Radio. When severe weather threatens, normal programming is interrupted, and appropriate alerting information is immediately put on the air.

Originally established as a service to boaters, NOAA All-Hazards Radio (AHR) has evolved into the all hazards warning system that it is today. In the early 1990s, a major improvement effort was ordered by then Vice President Al Gore to improve coverage of the NOAA All-Hazards Radio system. Now, there are over 900 transmitters operating across all fifty states, broadcasting general weather forecasts and information 24 hours a day, seven days a week. After the recent attack on our nation, it was decided that AHR is an excellent means to communicate 'all hazards' information to the general population. The latest model radios are capable of alerting for weather emergencies, man made mishaps, other natural occurrences like earthquakes and tsunamis, and even Amber alerts, according to the wishes of the local emergency managers, police, and other civil authorities. This is accomplished using Specific Area Message Encoding or SAME. SAME allows capable radios to be muted and only alarm for the events that you feel important, and affecting only your area. This avoids the pitfall of the older alerting radios which sounded for every alert broadcast, whether one's location was in imminent danger or not. This led to many radios being shut off when they were needed most due to a perception of alarming too frequently. The SAME system lessens the possiblity of excessive alarms.

We here in the tri-county area are covered by two easily heard AHR transmitters and one relay transmitter. Our primary AHR source is KXI58, located on the WSPY tower in Plano. It broadcasts alerts for DeKalb, Kendall, Kane, and LaSalle Counties. A secondary source is WNG536, located on the campus of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. It broadcasts alerts for DeKalb, Ogle, Lee, Boone, Winnebago, and Stephenson Counties. There are at least two other AHR stations that can be heard in our area, but their signals are not strong enough to reliably activate the radios. In addition, the Sandwich Emergency Management Agency rebroadcasts the signal of KXI58/Plano on our low-power AM radio station, which operates on a frequency of 530kHz, or the low end of your AM dial. This signal won't set off alarms on a standard AM radio, but it is an ideal backup signal for when you are running errands around town, or otherwise away from your AHR back at home.

Which AHR is for you? That depends on your needs. We strongly suggest a SAME capable radio, to avoid someone shutting that noisy thing off when it's needed the most. Many electronics and department stores carry several different types of AHR. The largest retailer of AHR is easily Radio Shack. They have a spectrum of units, ranging from a pocket radio to several combination AHR and clock radios, most of them SAME capable. They also have tunable monitors for the radio enthusiast that cover the AHR frequencies. The SAME capable units are at the higher end of the price range, but well worth the cost. Farm and Fleet carries First Alert and Oregon Scientific SAME capable units. Gander Mountain and Dick's/Galyan's carry several units aimed at the outdoorsman, primarily the Oregon Scientific brand. Oregon Scientific markets a selection of AHR via their web site, as does Midland. Additionally, there are many online sellers of AHR offering numerous brands and models at various prices. Which radio? There is no 'best' unit. It depends completely on what your needs are. Will you be using the radio at home? Maybe you need a portable AHR because you spend a lot of time outdoors. There are even combination AHR and FRS handie-talkies available. It's all dependent upon your needs and budget. We suggest that you purchase at least a SAME capable radio, AC powered with battery backup. However, I've seen alerting only AHR, which are better than nothing at all, for sale at liquidators like Big Lots for under $15. If you shop, you can find a nice addition to your personal warning system for very little money.

Once you've selected your AHR, set it up according to the instructions included with the radio. Program the county and event codes per the manual. Make sure that you can hear the AHR signal when the radio is in the unmuted condition at the location where you want to place the radio. I have personally programmed radios for family members as gifts and find later that the recipient has placed it in a basement or inside a cabinet or some other place where no signal can reach. If the radio won't receive an unmuted signal under normal conditions, it won't alert properly either. Adjust the volume for a normal level, mute the radio, and you are set.


"At the end of the day, you are responsible for yourself and your own safety. We're here to help."

Portions copyright 1998
by the author and 2016 Sandwich, Illinois
Emergency Management Agency.