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He Hears a Bounty of Listening Options

Riismandel: ‘It’s an amazing time for radio and audio media’

Paul Riismandel is co-founder and technology editor for and the advisor to student-run WNUR(FM) at Northwestern University. He has written on the Radio Survivor blog about his favorite radios, to buy or give as gifts. I chatted with him via email recently about radio models and listening habits.

The holidays may be past but the question remains an interesting one. What is your favorite radio? Why?
That’s a difficult question, because to me different radios have different purposes, from portable listening to DXing. But for everyday use my absolute favorite is the Tivoli Model One. It’s a classic and simple analog design with precise tuning, very good sensitivity (especially on FM) and a pleasing, well-rounded sound that’s equally appropriate for voice and music.

Tivoli Model One AM/FM table radio

Where can someone buy a high-quality AM radio these days?
These days I think you have to go online or to Radio Shack, which I think still stocks a few Etons or Radio Shack rebranded Etons with credible performance. Amazon has had the stalwart RCA (formerly GE) Superadio III in stock, which is renowned for the quality of its AM reception and sound. Although I’ve never tried one myself, I know that many people like the C. Crane CCRadio, which is available directly from the company.

What other models do you like?
I almost always travel with a radio. When I’m packing light I like the Kaito WRX911, which is only a little bigger than a smartphone and costs less than $25. It has an analog tuner with AM, FM and nine shortwave bands packed into it. It’s not designed for DXing but still brings in strong stations well, including powerful international broadcasters like Deutsche Welle and Radio Netherlands.

At work I use the Tivoli Audio Songbook, which is their portable digital AM/FM. It’s pretty rugged and comes in nice primary colors. Mine is blue and often attracts attention from visitors. I don’t think it’s quite as sensitive as the Model One, but it still does a remarkable job in my windowless office, which is situated in the interior of an early ’70s-vintage poured concrete building.

You and I probably pay more attention to radio product models than the average consumer. Do you think many Americans still talk about going out and “buying a radio”?
I think people tend to take radio for granted until the electricity goes out, they can’t get cell reception or their computer is on the fritz. It seems to me that at holiday time folks often like to give so-called emergency radios that run on crank or solar power. When there’s recently been bad weather or some other disaster that causes the power to go out for more than a day, people get reminded that they can turn to radio for information and entertainment long after their smartphone battery has died. I’d be curious to know if stores had a run on radios when Hurricane Irene was threatening the East Coast.

Kaito WRX911

Have Internet “radio” and personalized “radio” platforms changed your own radio listening habits?
Honestly it’s an amazing time for radio and audio media, and having this bounty of listening options has truly changed my listening habits.

I’ve been listening to Internet radio since it first became feasible in the late 1990s. At that time it was thrilling to listen to unique stations in other cities or countries that I might not otherwise hear. I still do that now, but I also supplement with services like Pandora, Rdio and Spotify, alongside a steady diet of podcasts.

I use the personalized radio platforms to check out new music or artists I’ve heard about, or when I want something a little more customized to my mood than a typical broadcast playlist. Many of the podcasts I listen to are radio programs, so catching them by podcast lets me listen on my schedule.

At the same time, I still turn on the “real” broadcast radio first thing every morning. With all these options, if anything I consume more “radio,” rather than less.

Other thoughts about the state of the radio product marketplace?
Radio refuses to go away, it just converges with other technologies. So while the variety of single-purpose radio receivers has dwindled, you still find radio receivers bundled into so much audio gear.

For instance, my Android smartphone has a surprisingly capable FM radio. I like it because it uses less power than listening to Internet streams, and, of course, it uses absolutely no data. Just about every car on the road and in the showroom still has a radio, even if it is a truly multifunctional device. Yet, I still can walk around the corner to my local Walgreens and buy a radio for about 10 bucks that will play for days on a set of AA batteries.

What are your favorite listening devices? Tell us at [email protected].