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Yesterday's Technology - Be Prepared to Be Annoyed
on April 12, 2008
For several years, the National Weather Service weather radio network has been delivering warnings using two sets of technologies - a very old school single tone burst, which some older weather radios are trained to respond to, and the newer SAME codes, which deliver three sets of short data bursts which contain information about the county/counties the warning applies to, the type of warning issued, and the duration of the warning event.
SAME technology has allowed weather radios to respond with alerts intended only for your specific county. No more 3:00am weather warnings for an event three counties and 60+ miles away that will never impact you. Assuming you program these radios correctly, they will respond only to the warning criteria you set.
The Midland WR-300 conforms to the very basics of the SAME standard, but, like many of its competitors, has never implemented the full standard, which makes the radio obnoxious to deal with, particularly with its complete lack of support for the End of Message (EOM) standard. If you listen to a weather warning or test, you'll notice at the end of the message, three short data bursts are sent. That is the SAME standard method to tell weather radios that the warning message has concluded.
Well built weather radios recognize this EOM signal, and will immediately mute themselves.
The Midland series of radios, as a way of cutting engineering costs, ignore the EOM and simply have a five minute timer, which will eventually mute the radio.
After your third or fourth middle-of-the-night weather warning, you'll start to curse Midland for ignoring this important specification, as you either lie awake forced to listen to the radio blare for five minutes or you get up to go and shut it off.
In 2008, with the cost of producing a SAME chipset for weather radios costing next to nothing, any weather radio that does not respond to EOM is unacceptable in my opinion, and upon learning this one does not, I returned it.
And if this function did not irritate you before, wait.
In 2008, the National Weather Service is rolling out a new system to deliver weather warnings over the weather radio network. Soon, weather warnings will be issued for specific towns or sections within your county, and an entire new set of SAME codes will be issued (starting with a 1 or 2 instead of the usual 0). Many weather radios expect SAME codes to only start with 0 and will not work with the new codes.
Those that don't (or more commonly the individual owner won't realize the new codes exist and simply leave the county code programmed) will still respond to warnings, but now the radio will sound alerts repeatedly for warnings issued specifically to different parts of your county. For a severe thunderstorm or tornado, this can easily result in three to five warnings per event, coming every few minutes as a storm progresses through your county. And this means your weather radio will sound for every last one of them.
With a five minute timer on this unit, that means a thunderstorm will likely leave your weather radio audio on for 15-20 minutes minimum, unless you get up and turn the thing off each time it sounds.
The NOAA Weather Radio network will also shortly begin sending warnings including Amber Alerts, 911 outages, public safety warnings and advisories issued by the Department of Homeland Security, and other public safety agencies, which will sound the siren for each warning.
To not have EOM enabled is the equivalent to owning a smoke detector that goes off when you put something in the microwave. Eventually, you're going to start turning it off or unplugging it, which is exactly contrary to why we need weather radios.
At this point, you should only consider weather radio models that fully implement the SAME standard (including the new forthcoming SAME codes) and fully supports the EOM standard. You'll be far happier with products that do.
I still have this radio and it now serves as the source for the 24/7 streaming I provide of our local NOAA Weather Radio station for Rochester, N.Y. on Weather Underground. I have not used it for anything else for the reasons described above, but the radio is still working fine after several years of continuous operation.
Several people asked me my recommendation for an alternative to this radio. My primary workhorse top recommendation is the Reecom R-1650, which is a bit expensive, but has full support for SAME including EOM (which silences the radio after the alert). The only problem I have ever had with the 1650 is back to back weather alerts confuse the radio occasionally and will not mute the audio after the warning. I am concerned about Reecom's apparently poor customer service mentioned in reviews, so if you buy one new and it is a dud, return it to Amazon, not to Reecom.
Also worthy of consideration is the Sangean CL-100 which has EOM support and good reviews.